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The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold: Stealing gold from dragons? What could go wrong?

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The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold by Jon Hollins

If you’re a fan of heist stories — particularly the planning, the bickering between co-conspirators, the moments when it all goes dreadfully wrong or sublimely right — and you also happen to enjoy epic fantasies with vicious fire-breathing dragons and their vast caches of filthy lucre, then you’ll be happy to know that there’s a Venn diagram where those two genres meet, and the center is filled by Jon Hollins’ debut fantasy novel, The Dragon Lords: Fool’s Gold.

In the lovely but oppressed Kondorra valley, humans farm and fish and pay taxes to the Dragon Consortium, a united band of dragons who demand exorbitant amounts of gold every year and take pleasure in using their subjects for aerial target practice. The people are downtrodden, miserable, and in desperate need of salvation from a... Read More

Dracula: Stoker original drips with Gothic dread

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Dracula by Bram Stoker

It's Gothic, intricate, romantic, tragic, fun and surprising. I haven't read Bram Stoker's original Dracula in about 20 years and most of the details I'd either forgotten or had been smudged, smeared, and overwritten by a lifetime of modern vampire stories and myths.

Dracula is set in the late 19th century and is presented through a series of letters, memos and recordings between numerous characters who, through no fault of their own, become entangled in Dracula's plot to move away from his rapidly dwindling (and more "vampire-aware") food supply in Romania to the hip and crowded urban life of London.

Stoker's mythology around vampires had a few surprises (to me, at least ... apologies in advance if any of these are common knowledge to Read More

The Killing Moon: A challenging and excellently-crafted work

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin

We’ve all read zillions of fantasies set in medieval Europe, or the equivalent thereof. But lately we’re being treated to fantasies set in cultures that are very different from Western civilization (or even Western Dark Ages), and set instead in places like China (Daniel Fox’s MOSHUI: THE BOOKS OF STONE AND WATER), Mexico (Aliette de Bodard’s OBSIDIAN AND BLOOD) and Arabia (Saladin Ahmed’s THE CRESCENT MOON KINGDOMS). And now N.K. Jemisin i... Read More

Bridge of Birds: Two five-star reviews

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart

Welcome to a “story of ancient China that never was”. Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds (1985) is a real romp of frenetic pace and fairy-tale style mingled with the mythology and legends of ancient China. It's as bonkers and as brilliant as they come.

The story centres on a simple but warm-hearted peasant boy, nicknamed Number 10 Ox for his great strength and the order of his birth. Upon learning that all of the children in his village have been struck down by a terrible disease he sets out to Peking seeking a wise man. Down a grimy back street he stumbles upon the only wise-man he can afford, a cantankerous old trickster, with “a slight flaw in his characternamed Li Kao. Together they set off to find the “root of power”... Read More

Heroine Complex: A fun beginning to an exciting new series

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Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

Heroine Complex, Sarah Kuhn’s debut novel, is fun. I had a big smile on my face while reading most of it, and when I wasn’t smiling, I was gasping in shock at Big Reveals, blushing furiously during the sexy bits, or shaking the book and yelling, “Evie, don’t be stupid!” (In my defense, she was being willfully stupid.) Sure, Heroine Complex is ostensibly about a pair of Asian-American women, one of whom is a superhero and the other is her personal assistant, but it’s also about the power of female friendship, as well as personal identity and exigence in the face of social pressure. Also, it’s about cupcake demons and the earth-shaking power of a high-stakes karaoke battle.

Eight years ago, an inter-dimen... Read More

Sandman (Vol. 7): Brief Lives by Neil Gaiman

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Sandman (Vol. 7): Brief Lives by Neil Gaiman

Sandman Volume 7, Brief Lives, offers a nice contrast to Volume 6, Fables and Reflections. Whereas Fables and Reflections offered nine unrelated tales in terms of plot and characters (there are thematic connections, of course), Brief Lives is a single story, an adventure tale, a road trip. Dream goes on a journey with his youngest sister, Delirium.

Their need to go on this journey is set up in previous books. Repeatedly, the family of the Endless mention their elder missing brother, and they do so rarely by name; however, in Read More

Shadowshaper: Five-star characters with five-star prose

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Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

I’ve commented before that I give very few five-star reviews. Usually, I expect a book to somehow change my thinking, or how I see the world, in order to rate it a five-star book. As I sat down to write this review I was going to say something like, “While that didn’t happen with Shadowshaper, by Daniel José Older, I still…” and then I thought more about it, and decided that Shadowshaper has changed how I think about the world, mostly because of the time I spent with the main character, Sierra Santiago, who is a hero, an artist and a genuine girl.

As far at the plot goes (and it’s a fast-paced one) in many ways Sierra is a classic Chosen One, a trope that some of us feel has been done a... Read More

Railhead: Imaginative and entertaining from beginning to end

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Reposting to include Rebecca'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 wh... Read More

The King Must Die: Blurs the lines between myth, history and religion

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The King Must Die by Mary Renault

"The voices sank and rose, sank and rose higher. It was like the north wind when it blows screaming through mountain gorges; like the keening of a thousand widows in a burning town; like the cry of she-wolves to the moon. And under it, over it, through our blood and skulls and entrails, the bellow of a gong."

Mary Renault weaves a tale so mythic in scope, that the story itself is only outshone by her fabulous prose. Renault takes the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur and works her narrative like Hephaestus works meta:; into a credible story that textures the myth with a realistic vision of its origin.

Theseus is the mythic founder of Athens who killed the Minotaur in the process of ending the Cretan demand for human tribute once every nine years. The King Must Die (1958) is the first in a ... Read More

And I Darken: A triumph

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And I Darken by Kiersten White

We first meet Lada Dragwyla at the tender age of two years old. She is brandishing a knife. At her father. No scene could more succinctly introduce the character of our heroine: she is brutal, fierce, bordering on sociopathic. Kiersten White explained that And I Darken tells the story as if Vlad the Impaler had been born female, and what she has created is one of the most exciting and original characters in fiction that’s been seen in a very long time.

Lada’s story starts at the very beginning, in Wallachia, where she desperately tries to win the affection and respect of her father. But Lada is a girl, which means she is virtually invisible in the time of the Ottoman Empire. She has a younger brother, Radu, who could not be more different to his sister. Where Lada is ruthless and daring, Radu is gentle, sensitiv... Read More

The Sandman (Vol. 4): Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman

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The Sandman (Vol. 4): Season of Mists by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman (Vol. 4): Season of Mists collections issues 21 through 28 of Neil Gaiman’s masterpiece, and since The Sandman, like most series, was a monthly, we should notice that by issue 21 Gaiman was wrapping up his second year on the title and well into his third year by issue 28. He had gained confidence in his writing, and he was getting comfortable working with different artists. He realized that The Sandman wasn’t going to be taken from him at a moment’s notice. The Sandman was just too successful to be cancelled. With that worry behind him, he could concentrate on making it the best series it could be over a period stretching out for as long as he wanted. The bigger problem would be arranging to have a successful comic stop where he wa... Read More

Desperation: In these silences something may rise

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Desperation by Stephen King

My only disappointment in Stephen King’s Desperation is that it isn't longer. This book contains all that makes King so enjoyable to read: strong and believable character development; intuitive and subtle understanding of the childhood psyche; horror as defined by what's creepy, intense, psychological and sometimes gothic; mythological back-story that superbly connects past and present; and the believably supernatural.

Several travelers, mostly strangers to each other, are abducted by a seemingly deranged Sherriff and taken to the dusty Nevada town of Desperation. Mayhem ensues as King delves into the perverse and dark heart of humanity.

Desperation is not generally considered one of King’s stronger ... Read More

Sandman (Vol. 3): Dream Country by Neil Gaiman

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The Sandman (Vol. 3): Dream Country by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman's Dream Country, the third volume in his Sandman series, is a collection of four stand-alone stories. I think it makes for a great introduction to the world of Sandman because each story is incredibly different from the one that precedes it; therefore, this particular volume is more likely to include at least one story that appeals to new readers who may be put off by a volume collecting only a single storyline. In fact, I recommend that readers new to S... Read More

The Sandman (Vol. 2): The Doll’s House

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The Sandman (Vol 2): The Doll’s House by Neil Gaiman (author), Illustrated by Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Chris Bachalo, Michael Zulli, & Steve Parkhouse, Todd Klein (letterer) 

"If you leaf through the series, you'll find either an image of a heart or the word HEART in virtually every issue. Hearts are a major part of what Sandman is about."     ~Neil Gaiman (interview with Hy Bender)

Gaiman's words should be kept in mind as one continues to read what is essentially a horror comic. As we peer into the abyss, Gaiman makes sure we know we are not alone. I think Gaiman always offers hope through the possibility of human connection, often established through the power of telling stories. Keep these words of hope in mind as I summarize some stories that sound solely horrific; my overview can be misleading since I'm trying not to give spoilers. Assume the missing spoilers are often the ... Read More

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories: Presents all the flavors of life

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Reposting to include Bill's new review:

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu

Ken Liu is a writer of many talents, all of which are on full display in his first short story collection, The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories. Each of the fifteen pieces presented here is well-executed; many don’t have happy endings (as much as I would like them to), though Liu makes the best choices possible for the tales he’s telling, and I will admit that the end results frequently left me crying or stunned. He brings characters to life and makes you care about their situations, whether his fiction is based in historical fact or speculation upon a potential future. Despite the fact that these are all short works, dialogue is well-written, plots arc nicely, and character ... Read More

Ash: A Secret History: One of the most important books in the genre

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Ash: A Secret History by Mary Gentle

I have long had a debate in my mind about the place of the woman warrior in fiction, particularly the type most often presented in epic fantasy/sword & sorcery. Robert E. HowardJoe AbercrombieGeorge R.R. MartinDavid Gemmell, and Tobias Buckell, for example, have all included the undaunted, sword-wielding, occasionally bra-defying warrioresses in their tales of adventure and battle. But in these stories, the women are most often just men with breasts. A distracting veneer i... Read More

Central Station: A snapshot of a strangely familiar time

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Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

Central Station is a thoughtful, poignant, human take on a possible future. For the most part Central Station occurs at the titular port on planet earth. This space resides in what we know today as Tel Aviv, but in the distant future it has gone through many names and many people. Everything seems to begin in earnest when Boris Chong arrives in Central Station after spending a great deal of time away — some of which on Mars. Central Station, the place, is a half-thought meeting of a variety of worlds. Central Station the book is more thoughtful than I think I know how to express, but I’ll give it a try.

Central Station occurs in the very spot where humans expanded from our first planet throughout the solar system. Humans, robotniks, children who live... Read More

Sandman (Vol. 1): Preludes and Nocturnes

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Sandman (Vol. 1): Preludes and Nocturnes (Issues 1-8): Neil Gaiman (author), Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg, and Malcolm Jones III (artists), Todd Klein (letterer), Karen Berger (editor)

[This essay is the second in an ongoing series on THE SANDMAN: This lengthy essay-review is for those who want a more thorough introduction than is offered in our shorter overview of the entire series. I recommend reading that one first, particularly since it contains no spoilers and it gives a good sense of what THE SANDMAN is for those who don't know what it's about. When I can, I avoid giving spoilers, but I can't avoid them altogether since I'm going over every story arc in the series. My main goal is to increase the enjoyment of those who want to tackle this masterpiece by calling attention to significant recurring themes, giving information about some of th... Read More

Children of Earth and Sky: Another masterwork from Guy Gavriel Kay

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Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay

A new Guy Gavriel Kay novel is cause for great celebration and anticipation in our household, as he has authored some of our most beloved novels over the decades (by “our” I mean my wife, my fifteen-year-old son, and myself). A consummate storyteller and stylist (the two don’t always go hand in hand), his long-term consistency is remarkable, and his newest work, Children of Earth and Sky, finds him still at the top of his form.

One way to describe a Guy Gavriel Kay novel is that it’s a bit like peering at history as it unfolds at the bottom of a pool of water (think of the water as Kay’s artistic imagination) — you mostly recognize what you’re looking at, but thanks to the effects of refraction and distortion, it’s just a little off, both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. The same holds true he... Read More

The Antelope Wife: Dark, sad, beautiful and funny

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The Antelope Wife by Louise Erdrich

In 1999, Louise Erdrich’s book The Antelope Wife won the World Fantasy Award. Erdrich is not a genre writer; she is firmly planted in literary territory, even if she and her husband did write romance novels under a pseudonym to pay the bills early in their marriage. The Antelope Wife is not a fantasy book. It is a beautiful, dark, sad, funny story, filled with magic and mythology, weaving Plains Indian and Ojibwa myths into a modern-day tale about a large and complicated family in 1990s Minnesota.

From the two cosmic twins who open the book, beading with dark and light, with milky white beads, the indigo beads and the dark red beads with white hearts, and whose threads and sinews comprise the lives of humans in the world, twins loom large in The Antelope Wife Read More

The Stand: The biggest, baddest tale of the apocalypse

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The Stand by Stephen King

Stephen King's The Stand is an awesomely epic creation. It's good versus evil writ large across the American landscape. It's heavy, detailed, and extremely rich in the characterizations of its people and themes. The story is familiar — an apocalyptic virus is accidentally (and inevitably) released from a government lab. Over 99% of all human life is wiped out by what becomes known as Captain Trips. This story is about those who survived.

The survivors are polarized around two god-like characters that magnetize individuals through their dreams. Mother Abigail Freemantle, a 108-year-old woman from Hemingford, Nebraska draws those with inherent goodness. Randall Flagg, from nowhere and everywhere, draws those with a slightly more dubious na... Read More

How Great Science Fiction Works: A college course for science-fiction fans

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How Great Science Fiction Works by Gary K. Wolfe

For years I’ve been a fan of the GREAT COURSES audiobooks, which I usually pick up at my library or at Audible. These are a series of college-level lectures devoted to a specific topic and delivered by an expert in the field. A couple of months ago they released a set called How Great Science Fiction Works. Our teacher is Gary K. Wolfe, a professor of Humanities who received a BA in English from the University of Kansas under the tutelage of science fiction writer James E. Gunn and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Chicago. Wolfe (no relation to Gene Wolfe)... Read More

Grimm’s Fairy Tales: An all-star cast narrates a new audio version

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Grimm’s Fairy Tales by The Brothers Grimm

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, popularly knows as The Brothers Grimm, were German academics who, in the early 19th century, studied, compiled and published hundreds of folklore tales that have become an integral part of Western culture. They published their first edition of tales, titled Children's and Household Tales, or just Grimm's Fairy Tales, in 1812 and many editions have been published since.

Listening Library has just released a new audio version of 21 of the Grimm Brothers’ original fairy tales (not to be confused with the cleaned-up versions they later published as more suitable for civilized children). It’s narrated by a full-cast that includes some of the best and most popular readers in the business.

Here are the stories and narrators:

“Rapunzel” r... Read More

Lois Lane: Double Down: A worthy successor to Fallout

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Lois Lane: Double Down by Gwenda Bond

Building on the successes of 2015’s Lois Lane: Fallout, Gwenda Bond takes everything that fans loved about that book and throws even more entertainment into its sequel, Lois Lane: Double Down. Excellent friendships? Check. An online romance between two people who respect one another and view each other as friends above all else? Check. Hard-nosed investigation of nefarious dealings, sprinkled with a dash of shadowy criminals? Check. Mysterious and possibly crackpot sightings of a flying man? Check. You don’t need to have read Fallout to enjoy Double Down — Bond does a great job of making sure there are allusions to the first book while letting the second stand on its ... Read More

Thriller: One of the scariest TV shows of all time

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Thriller

Viewers who tuned into the new Thriller program on NBC, on the night of September 13, 1960, a Tuesday, could have had little idea that the mildly suspenseful program that they saw that evening — one that concerned a male ad exec being stalked by a female admirer — would soon morph into the show that author Stephen King would later call "the best horror series ever put on TV." The first eight episodes of Thriller came off as hour-long homages to Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which it immediately followed in the 9:00 slot; solid enough episodes of murder, intrigue and suspense, to be sure, with a touch of film noir at their heart. In the face of scathing reviews and poor viewership, however, the program brought in a new production team and drastically rebooted its image, gearing itself now more toward supernatur... Read More