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Like Water for Chocolate: Recipes and romance

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Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

A bit of classic magical realism today. First published in 1989 in installments, Like Water for Chocolate was a bestseller in Laura Esquivel’s native Mexico and subsequently around the world. A popular film version earned the story a place in yet more hearts (if you are tempted to watch it, don’t watch the version with the English voice-over, stick with the Spanish). The story is a heady combination of love, passion, family drama, food, recipes, and magic, all set against the backdrop of the Mexican Revolution.

Tita is the youngest member of the De La Garza family, destined never to marry but to serve her domineering mother, Mama Elena, until the end of her days. In the face of her mother’s tyranny Tita seeks solace in the family’s cook, the kind and supremely talented Nacha, who passes on her re... Read More

The Vintner’s Luck: Magic realism in a nineteenth century vineyard

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The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth Knox

In many ways this is a strange book in both content and format, but once you read the first few chapters and get used to the way in which the story is told, The Vintner's Luck (1998) is a compelling, page-turning read from an author whose style reminds me of a slightly more refined Joanne Harris.

Sobran Jodeau is a young vintner in early nineteenth century Burgundy; lovelorn and a little drunk when he wanders into his vineyards one summer night. It's there he meets an angel called Xas, physically imposing and with wings that smell like snow. A conversation is struck, and the two agree to meet again at the same place in a year's time.

So begins their relationship, spanning from 1808 to 1863, with each of The Vintner's Luck Read More

The Crowfield Demon: A dark and creepy supernatural read

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The Crowfield Demon by Pat Walsh

In The Crowfield Curse (2012), young William and his friends and allies righted a long-ago wrong at Crowfield Abbey and faced down the terrifying Unseelie King. But now another evil is rising at the abbey — one that has even the Unseelie King running scared.

The Crowfield Demon is even better and spookier than The Crowfield Curse. I didn’t realize how familiar the abbey had begun to feel after one relatively short book; when the structure begins to fail, it’s like a shattering of the world, albeit a small, circumscribed world. Pat Walsh builds the suspense well. Creepy, inexplicable art in the church; mysterious artifacts found beneath the stones; foul odors; unsettling dreams; hidden documents from the past — all of these add up to a great mystery. Will... Read More

The Chimes: Immerse yourself in a dark, beautiful world filled with music

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The Chimes by Anna Smaill

Anna Smaill’s debut fantasy novel The Chimes won the World Fantasy Award in 2016. It became available in the USA in 2017. The Chimes is a dark and beautiful fantasy that is filled with music.

After the death of his parents, Sebastian leaves his home and travels to London. His mother has sent him, with her dying words, to find a woman named Molly. Sebastian has the clothes on his back and a knapsack filled with objectmemories. These objectmemories are important, because in Sebastian’s world, each day is just like the last, and every night when they sleep, people leave behind their memories. Every morning, the melody rings that through the world, Onestory, returns certain memories to people, and at vespers the Chimes plays, a majestic piece of music that seems to remove the memories of the day... Read More

The Changeling: A rich dark fairy tale for the Information Age

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Reposting to include Ray's new review.

The Changeling by Victor LaValle

“How do we protect our children?" Cal said quietly.
Apollo watched the soft little shape in his hand. "Obviously I don’t know."


Victor LaValle’s novel The Changeling (2017) is a five-star book, one of the year’s best. I predict this thoughtful modern dark fantasy novel — or it might be horror — will be shortlisted on several awards and Best Of lists.

LaValle takes the tropes of traditional middle European fairy tales and blends them perfectly with a view of modern living, specifically modern living in New York City. He uses this blend to explore the terrifying state of ... Read More

Railhead: Imaginative and entertaining from beginning to end

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Reposting to include Bill's new review.

Railhead by Philip Reeve

If the idea of a heist aboard a sentient train traveling at faster-than-light speeds appeals to you; if said heist involves assumed identities, the theft of a very old and valuable artifact, and a criminal thumbing his nose at a family-run corporation/empire; if you like believable romance and honest-to-goodness fun, then Philip Reeve’s latest YA novel, Railhead, is for you. (If none of that appeals to you, read on anyway: I may be able to change your mind.)

In a galaxy filled with novelties like sentient trains who travel at faster-than-light speeds on specially crafted rails through K-gates stationed on nearly a thousand worlds and moons, Zen Starling is a light-fingered teen who l... Read More

Echo by Terry Moore

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Echo by Terry Moore

Echo by Terry Moore is a page-turner and tells the story of how good technology gets turned into a weapon. The overall comic book series is suspenseful and reads fast even though the book is a long volume that comes in an omnibus edition. However, the story takes second place to engaging characterization, both in terms of Moore’s writing and his art. As a result, Moore creates a pleasant tension in pacing: The suspense makes you want to turn the pages quickly, but the many close-up views of women and the subtle depiction of their emotions makes you want to stop panel by panel, taking... Read More

Abandoned Cars and The Lonesome Go by Tim Lane

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Abandoned Cars and The Lonesome Go by Tim Lane: The Myths of America(ns) in Comics (an essay review)

Tim Lane’s two books — Abandoned Cars and The Lonesome Go — are near perfect in their look into an America filled with wanderers, hobos, misfits, and your average guy struggling to make it in a country that seems to withhold the promises it is famous for making. These are the stories of dreamers who lost their way, or more often than not, were pushed off the main path onto some side trail of disaster that many of us pretend doe... Read More

A Gathering of Ravens: If Robert E. Howard and Poul Anderson collaborated on a novel…

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A Gathering of Ravens by Scott Oden

Grimnir is a monster, literally. The Norse call him skraelingr. To the Irish, he is the fomoraig, and to the English he is an orcneas. Born and raised to do war, for and against the old gods. Immortal, they spend their endless lives, longing for glory in the final battle of Ragnarok.

So Grimnir's disposition is already brutal, but to add to it, he's the very last of his kind. To say he's a pissed-off is a gross understatement. And what's a centuries-old, angry monster, who only finds satisfaction in violence, to do, all by himself, while waiting around for end-of-time? Seek bloody vengeance, of course. Word of the one called Half-Dane has drawn Grimnir out of his lair, for the Half-Dane is who betrayed Grimnir and his kin. Meanwhile, a new religion has usurped t... Read More

Down Among the Sticks and Bones: Inventive, enthralling, heartbreaking

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Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway (2016) introduces the reader to a reality in which some children get swept away to other worlds. These worlds of whimsy or darkness (and everything in between) become home to the children so much so that they are devastated if they are forced to leave. If they do come back to our world, a fortunate few may find kindred spirits at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children, the setting of that first novella. Now, Down Among the Sticks and Bones (2017) centres on the events leading up to Jack’s and Jill’s stay at the home for ... Read More

Monstress: Demands complete attention, careful consideration

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Monstress by Marjorie Liu (author) & Sana Takeda (artist)

Every now and then, a story will tip you into a strange new world without any attempt at exposition or context, leaving you to catch up on events in the most exhilarating way possible. You either sink or swim, and Monstress is one such graphic novel, demanding complete attention, careful consideration, and at least two re-reads in order to grasp all of its detail.

We first meet Maiko Halfwolf as she's put up for auction as a slave – a pretty clear indication of how dark this story can get, even when it becomes apparent that she's more in control of the situation than first appears. Piece by ... Read More

Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms by Fumiyo Kouno

Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms by Fumiyo Kouno (An Oxford College Student Review!)

In this column, I feature comic book reviews written by my students at Oxford College of Emory University. Oxford College is a small liberal arts school just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I challenge students to read and interpret comics because I believe sequential art and visual literacy are essential parts of education at any level (see my Manifesto!). I’ll be posting the best of my students’ reviews in this column. Today, I am proud to present a review by Grace Nguyen:

Grace Nguyen is a freshman at Oxford College of Emory University and is interested in sociology, law, and business. She was born and raised in Westminster, CA until she turned eight and moved to Macon, GA... Read More

Spoonbenders: Come for the psychic shenanigans, stay for this eccentric family

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Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory

Spoonbenders (2017) by Daryl Gregory, is multi-generational family saga. It’s a coming-of-age story. It’s a psychic adventure story and a weird conspiracy tale for lovers of shadowy CIA projects like MKULTRA. It’s a gangster story. There’s a heist. There is a long con, and a madcap comedy along the lines of classic Marx Brothers routines. There are a couple of romances, a direct-distribution scheme, a medallion, a cow and a puppy. If we’re talking genre, I don’t know what Spoonbenders is. I know I loved it. I know it was fun and made me laugh, I know it was scary at times and I know I closed the book feeling happy and sad. And I know it’s a five-star book.

The book follows the Chicago-based Telemachus f... Read More

The Traitor Baru Cormorant: Breathtakingly original, fiercely intelligent

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

(Foreword: actual rating: 5.5/5 stars. Do not read Dickinson’s short story of the same title; it’s a spoiler for the novel’s ending. Consider yourself forewarned. Also, please see my interview with Seth Dickinson.)

Breathtakingly original and carefully crafted, The Traitor Baru Cormorant by debut novelist Seth Dickinson is one of those very few works that straddle the line between “genre” and “literary” fiction. It’s the story of a girl: a lover, a traitor, a savant, an accountant, and above all, a daughter of a huntress, a smith, and a shield-bearer, but it’s also a story of oppression, of resistance, of identity, and of politics.... Read More

City of Miracles: A perfect close to one of the best trilogies in recent memory

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City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett

Bill: I think it’s going to be impossible to review City of Miracles (2017) without reference to events from Robert Jackson Bennett’s first two books in the series (City of Stairs, City of Blades). or without discussing the major precipitating event (no real pangs of guilt here; that event is also detailed in the official bookseller summary), so consider this your fair warning: There be spoilers ahead!

Bennett picks up the story years after the close of book two, with Sigrud off in lumberjack country, haunted b... Read More

Moon Knight: Lunatic by Jeff Lemire

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Moon Knight (vol. 1): Lunatic by Jeff Lemire (writer) and Greg Smallwood (artist)

Moon Knight: Lunatic is the first volume in a new series that, as I write, is up to the thirteenth issue, and since this volume includes issues one through five, we can anticipate at least two more collected volumes of five issues each. The Marvel character Moon Knight has been around since the mid ‘70s, and though he has similarities with other characters from DC and Marvel, what makes him truly unique is that he has a serious mental diagnosis: Dissociative Identity Disorder, or Multiple Personality Disorder. Over the years, this diagnosis has gained greater focus for writers of the Read More

The Library at Mount Char: We all love it

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Ever wonder what might happen if a god went missing? The Library at Mount Char is Scott Hawkins’ fiction debut, and in my personal opinion, it is flawless. There are no wasted words, no unnecessary plot digressions, no moments in which a character says, “Wow, this crisis is important! We should respond right away!” and then tootles off to fold laundry for ten paragraphs. Each detail is crucial, even if the reader doesn’t realize it for a hundred pages or more, and the resulting novel feels enormous and expansive though the page count doesn’t hit 400.

Garrison Oaks was a lovely little slice of Virginian 1970s suburbia, where Adam Black roasted meats in an enormous metal bull and shared beer with his neighbors. Things changed, though, in one catacl... Read More

Stories of Your Life and Others: Eight carefully crafted stories

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Stories of Your Life: And Others by Ted Chiang

In his review of Ted Chiang’s brilliant short story collection Stories of Your Life and Others (2002) in The Guardian, China Miéville mentions the “humane intelligence [...] that makes us experience each story with immediacy and Chiang’s calm passion.” The oxymoron “calm passion” is an insightful and ingenious way to describe these stories because of the way it hints at their deft melding of the most solid of hard science fiction concepts with an often surpris... Read More

Assassin’s Fate: Thank you, Robin Hobb

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Assassin’s Fate by Robin Hobb

“We follow you, Fitz, to the end, no matter how bitter.”

Kat: If you’re a fan of Robin Hobb’s REALMS OF THE ELDERLINGS books (which include the FARSEER SAGA, TAWNY MAN trilogy, LIVESHIP TRADERS trilogy, RAIN WILDS CHRONICLES, and the FITZ AND THE FOOL trilogy) you know as well as we do that you don’t need to read this review to decide whether to read Assassin’s Fate (2017), the last book in the FITZ AND THE F... Read More

The Wheel of Osheim: A triumphant conclusion

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The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence

There were times during the course of the trilogy when I really found myself wondering where THE RED QUEEN'S WAR was going. There were certainly elements that I was sure would get resolution — the ongoing specter of magical doom and the titular monarch's conflict with the Lady Blue being prominent amongst them — but I admit that I wondered whether the plot would coalesce around these elements or whether it would simply dangle from them. I'm happy to say that my fears were totally unwarranted. The Wheel of Osheim (2016) is not only the best book in the trilogy, it's probably my favorite Mark Lawrence novel to date. It's clever, funny, expertly crafted, and even exceeds its predecessors to demonstrate an elegant plot as well.
... Read More

Crooked Kingdom: The long con in Ketterdam

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Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Note: This review contains spoilers for Six of Crows, the first book in this duology.

Crooked Kingdom (2016) picks up the story begun in Six of Crows and takes off like ― well, there are no freight trains in this world, so ― a runaway Grisha on jurda parem. In Six of Crows, teenage crime lord Kaz Brekker and his handpicked group of five pulled off a near-impossible heist, rescuing a young boy, Kuwei, from the impenetrable Ice Court of Fjerda and returning to Ketterdam with him and, more importantly, his knowledge of his father’s research into how to turn the ordinary jurda plant into jurda parem, a drug that instantly amps up Grishas’ magical powers to... Read More

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women

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The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore

Hard as it may be to fathom, once upon a time (the early 1900s), radium was thought of as a miracle substance, enhancing all it touched. And so companies flooded the market with products like radium makeup, radium water, radium butter, radium toothpaste, and radium paint. The last was used by the young women who painted luminescent numerals on watch dials (a tool that became all-important to the war effort), though they also snuck some paint now and then to paint their nails, their dresses, even sometimes in sillier moments their teeth and faces. They had no idea, of course, that they were poisoning themselves, and the story of the devastation that poison wreaked on their bodies, and their subsequent fight for compensation from the companies who knew of the substance’s danger makes for compelling, infuriating, heartbreaking re... Read More

Feed: One more zombie novel?

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Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Feed by Mira Grant

I have grown weary of zombies. In the past five years, everyone started writing zombie novels, apparently out of ennui at the thought of writing yet another variation on vampires, and that was good. But the mass of zombie material all seemed to hit the market at the same time, and it was too much, too undiluted, with too many books that weren’t good enough to be worth reading. Soon I was avoiding any book that purported to be about zombies, because, hey, enough already.

So when Mira Grant’s Feed came on the market, I was not inclined to read it, especially because it was published in that really annoying new taller and thinner paperback format — it’s less comfortable in the hand and it... Read More

Sex: Summer of Hard by Joe Casey (or: Considering Ethics and Literature)

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Sex (Vol. 1): Summer of Hard by Joe Casey (writing) and Piotr Kowalski (art)

or, Considering Ethics and Literature:

I have been hesitant to read Joe Casey’s Sex because it seems like such a blatant attempt to gain the type of readership of which I did not want to be a part. However, I recently decided I should not judge so harshly before reading it. I must admit, now, that I am impressed with the first eight issues: Sex is a fantastic story with an actual point to it, and it is not simply an indulgence in gratuitous sex. However, later in my review, I will address the graphic content (to put it mildly), which will offend many potential readers, and this content should make you pause a long time before even considering reading Sex. Every type of sex is portrayed; even those resulting in murder... Read More

Prince of Fools: A slick, well-crafted buddy adventure fantasy

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Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

Prince Jalan Kendeth is the black sheep of the family. A self-confessed untrustworthy scoundrel and coward who has taken every advantage of the life of luxury that comes with being royalty, he is perfectly content with his life as it is and has no plans to change or inclination for greater things. However, when he crosses paths with a courageous Viking named Snorri, Jal discovers that he may have been destined to stand against an undead evil. Snorri is returning north to rescue his family and, despite his unwillingness, Jal is bound by mystic forces to accompany him.

For those (like me) who are already die-hard Mark Lawrence fans, Prince of Fools, the first book in the RED QUEEN'S WAR series, is just what we expected — pure awesomeness and then some. But for those of you who found Jorg of Lawrence’s BROKEN EMPIRE TRILOGY Read More