We Love This!

Here are some things we really love. We hope you’ll love them, too!

Oddity: In a folkloric USA, a brave girl fights magic with magic

Oddity by Eli Brown

2021’s Oddity is a wonderful middle-grade adventure, with a valiant and compassionate young heroine, a beguiling take on alternate early-USA history, and a plethora of action and magic. Adults who read it with younger readers might discover it sparks a serious conversation about loyalty, values, and how we decide what’s right and what’s not.

Karin Rytter’s illustrations, which look like woodcuts, enhance the reading experience. So does the tone Brown employs, which reminded me a little of some of Philip Pullman’s middle-grade books, like The Ruby in the Smoke and The Tin Princess. Brown captures the nuance of a folktale while still giving us living, breathing people we care about. Some of those people are other than human.

Clover Cons... Read More

The Twilight Zone: One of the finest anthology series of all time

The Twilight Zone created by Rod Serling

Viewers who tuned in to CBS at 10 PM on October 2, 1959, a Friday, to try out the brand-new show with the unusual title The Twilight Zone could have had little idea that the program they were about to watch would soon develop into one of the legendary glories of 1960s television. Today, of course, The Twilight Zone needs no introduction. For most of us — at least, for those of us younger than 65 years old — it is a show that has always been with us, and one that has been in constant rotation on cable TV. The very name of the program has entered into the everyday lexicon of the average man on the street, supplanting the dictionary definition of “twilight zone” as “a narrow zone in which a pilot flying at the edge of the on-course radio beam can detect both the on-course and off-course signals.” For most of us now, thanks to the ageless power of this program, the “twilight zone” re... Read More

Artificial Condition: Murderbot’s search for answers

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Artificial Condition by Martha Wells

The illicit adventures of Murderbot continue in Artificial Condition (2018), the terrific sequel to Martha Wells’ 2017 Nebula award-winning novella, All Systems Red. Murderbot, a deeply introverted cyborg security unit, or SecUnit, who previously hacked the governor software that forced obedience to human commands, has illegally gone off the grid, eschewing the safety of a mostly-free life with a sympathetic owner in order to travel on its own. Disguising itself as an augmented human, Murderbot takes off for the mining facility space station where, it understands, it once murdered a group of humans that it was charged with protectin... Read More

The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy: What Animals on Earth Reveal About Aliens — and Ourselves

The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy: What Animals on Earth Reveal About Aliens — and Ourselves by Arik Kershenbaum

Usually, when one thinks about “universal laws,” the first disciplines that come to mind are mathematics and physics. Pi, or the law of gravity, for instance. But in The Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy: What Animals on Earth Reveal About Aliens — and Ourselves, Arik Kershenbaum makes the case for “universal laws of biology.” And then further argues that said laws, which we can formulate based on our experiences and observations here on Earth, can be extrapolated to consideration of just what sort of alien life we may encounter out there in the vast reaches of the universe. And methodical and logical as Kershenbaum is in making his case, he never loses touch with the sheer wonder at its core, making for an utterly enjoyable and absorbing read.

At the center of Kershenbaum’s c... Read More

Transgressions of Power: The stakes are higher than ever

Transgressions of Power by Juliette Wade

With the second book of THE BROKEN TRUST series, Juliette Wade widens her world for the readers, and manages to place her characters in even greater danger than they were at the end of Mazes of Power, the first one. This review of Transgressions of Power (2021) may contain mild spoilers for book one. In any event, you must read Mazes of Power first if you really want to understand what’s happening here.

Transgressions of Power starts about thirteen years after the end of book one. Adon is the last child of First Family heads Garr and Tamalera (although Garr died shortly before Adon was born.) Adon, at thirtee... Read More

Soulstar: The culmination is chilling and triumphant

Soulstar by C.L. Polk 

“The knock came an hour after we had put up the stormboards and battened down to wait it out.”

With her opening sentence, C.L. Polk starts the action of Soulstar (2021), book three in her KINGSTON CYCLE. And the action rolls on through the first chapter at a breathless pace, with changes that push Robin Thorpe of the Clan of the Peaceful Waters into the spotlight, as she becomes a leader for societal change, and the target of both character assassination and actual attempts on her life.

This review may contain spoilers for Witchmark and Stormsong. I strongly urge... Read More

The Planetbreaker’s Son: Excellent introduction to this multi-faceted writer

The Planetbreaker’s Son by Nick Mamatas

PM Press’s Outspoken Authors imprint published The Planetbreaker’s Son (2021) by Nick Mamatas. The slim book includes the titular novella, the SF story “Ring, Ring, Ring, Ring, Ring, Ring, Ring,” a personal essay called “The Term Paper Artist,” and an interview with Mamatas hosted by Terry Bisson.

Honestly, the quirky interview with these two guys was worth the price of the book for me.

In a brief statement at the beginning of “Ring, Ring, Ring, Ring, Ring, Ring, Ring,” Mamatas thanks Jeffrey Thomas for an invitation to write in Thomas’s shared-world “Punktown” setting. (The story was originally published in 2018, in the anthology Transmissions from Punktown.) Punktown is a science-fictional megalopolis, filled ... Read More

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle: Compelling, twisty, sneaky

Reposting to include Bill's new review.

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Debut author Stuart Turton’s The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (2018), originally published earlier this year in Great Britain as The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, is an intricately plotted murder mystery, set in an isolated early 20th century English mansion, with a highly imaginative speculative element that is only gradually revealed, as our main character tries to figure out who he really is, and how to solve the mystery of Evelyn Hardcastle’s pending death … or has her death already occurred?

The plot and setting are worthy of Agatha Christie: Lord and Lady Hardcastle have invited a number of guests to their British country mansion, Blackheath House, for a weekend party to celebrate the return of their daughter, Evelyn, from Paris. (The notable guests... Read More

Today I Am Carey: Smart, thoughtful, and touching

Today I Am Carey by Martin L. Shoemaker

Carey is a robot whose job is to provide health care and companionship for humans, especially for elderly people with dementia. Carey is equipped with an “empathy net” which allows him to understand the feelings of the people he cares for, and an “emulation net” which lets him change his appearance, voice, and mannerisms so he can pretend to be someone else. The purpose is to help ease the anxieties of patients with dementia.

When we first meet Carey, he is the caretaker for an elderly woman named Mildred. Her husband is dead and her children and grandchildren, who have jobs and school, can’t be with her all day. When Mildred gets confused and thinks she’s talking to one of them, Carey can morph into a fairly accurate simulation so that he can soothe her better than any other hired caretaker could.

Unexpectedly, Carey has become conscious, something he wonders abou... Read More

The Fugitive: One of the finest dramas of all time

The Fugitive

Viewers who tuned in to ABC at 10 PM on Sept. 17, 1963, a Tuesday, to try out the brand-new show entitled The Fugitive could have no idea that the program they were about to watch would soon develop into one of the true glories of 1960s television. Today, of course, The Fugitive needs no introduction, and you hardly need me to tell you of what a quality and timeless entertainment it remains to this day. Its story line has since become something of a classic, and you would need to have been living in a cave for the past half century not to be familiar with it. The program has since been transformed into a megahit 1993 film starring Harrison Ford, been reimagined into several more television programs, and been the subject of at least a half a dozen books, several conventions, and a lively Facebook fan page. Even those who have never seen or read any of the above probably know, merely by cultural osmosis, that the original TV program,... Read More

The Mask of Mirrors: Does just what you want a first novel in a series to do

The Mask of Mirrors by M.A. Carrick

As a reader, it’s rare for me to find a book that has nearly every trope I love. The Mask of Mirrors (2021), Book One of M.A. Carrick’s ROOK AND ROSE series, manages just that. Reading the Advance Reader Copy of this book was like nibbling my way through a box of gourmet chocolates curated just for Reader Me. A large box of gourmet chocolates.

And what are those favorite tropes? Well, con artists, secret identities, false identities, masked outlaws who fight for the common people, dangerously suave criminals, sword fights, dramas of manners, verbal duels, physical duels, intriguing magic, family secrets, cool clothes, masks of course, and, yes, chocolate. I was going to say, “there were no magic books,” but I’m revising that — there are divination cards that function much the way a good magical book does.
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Piranesi: “The Beauty of the House is immeasurable” indeed

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

I was going to start this review of Piranesi (2020) by Susanna Clarke by stating that I was of two minds on the novel and then noting that this was both appropriate and also strong praise. Appropriate because the book is in many ways of the mind, and is as well of two worlds. Strong praise because my two minds were “I loved it” followed by “I liked it.” But then I thought more about it, and I decided my minds were really “I loved it,” “I liked it,” then “I loved it” again. But I could work with that, because really, the book functions on more than two levels. But then I thought about my reading some more, and I decided that my mind now was simply, singularly, “it’s brilliant.” Which is still, granted, strong praise, but no long... Read More

Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death, and Art

Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death, and Art by Rebecca Wragg Sykes

If your view of a Neanderthal is a sloped-head, grunting, not-so-bright guy hunched against blowing snow while he tracks a mammoth, unaware of his impending extinction and eventual supplantation by his far-smarter and much smugger cousins (that would be us), it’s time to update that image. And archaeologist Rebecca Wragg Sykes has just the method of doing so: her fascinating, detailed, and vivid recreation of our ancestor: Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death, and Art (2020).

For the longest time Neanderthals were seen as a failed species: brutish, dull, dumb, mute, violent creatures just a step above gorillas. That view started to change somewhat about twenty years thanks to new discoveries and some new methodology. But as Sykes does an excellent job showing, newer technologies have exploded our concepts of just who Neanderthals w... Read More

The Hollow Places: I read it in one sitting because I was afraid to put it down

The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

 … and we watched the willow branches bow outward from the passing, and it was invisible except that invisible was not the right word, because its not-there-ness hung in the air like an afterimage.

The Hollow Places (2020), by T. Kingfisher, reminded me a lot of the other folk-horror novel of hers I read recently, The Twisted Ones. Both take place in or close to small southern towns, both have alternate realities, protagonists coming to town to help a relative, and discovered manuscripts. Both were inspired by earlier works of horror or Weird. (This one was inspired by “The Willows” by Algernon Blackw... Read More

Network Effect: Complex connections

Network Effect by Martha Wells

Martha Wells’ Murderbot has been gathering enthusiastic fans (which would be certain to have Murderbot hiding behind its opaque armored faceplate), along with multiple Nebula, Hugo and other awards and nominations, as each of the first four novellas in the MURDERBOT DIARIES series has been published over the last three years. In Network Effect (2020), the first full-length novel in this series, Wells is able to explore a more complex plot and to more fully develop Murderbot’s character and its relationships with others.

Murderbot is now with Dr. Mensah and the other Preservation Station characters who Murderbot was protecting in the first book, All Systems Red, and the fourth, Read More

The Trouble With Peace: A fabulous sequel

The Trouble With Peace by Joe Abercrombie

To my surprise and delight, Joe Abercrombie’s A Little Hatred, the first book in his THE AGE OF MADNESS series, was one of the best books I read last year. As I said in my review, “it’s got everything I’m looking for in a fantasy novel,” including a large cast of interesting and multi-faceted characters, a fascinating setting (a world on the brink of an industrial revolution), and an exciting, often brutal, plot. This review will have spoilers for A Little Hatred.

I’m happy to report that the sequel, The Trouble With Peace (2020), is another winner. ... Read More

The Once and Future Witches: Rage, beauty, and sisterhood

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

Our Daddy never taught us shit, except what a fox teaches chickens — how to run, how to tremble, how to outlive the bastard — and our mama died before she could teach us much of anything. But we had Mama Mags, our mother’s mother, and she didn’t fool around with soup-pots and flowers.

Once upon a time there were three sisters, in a world where women’s magic was outlawed and driven underground. They had to battle an evil man and rediscover their own power, but each was filled with so much rage, pain and loss, that seemed impossible.

2020’s The Once and Future Witches is Alix E. Harrow’s sophomore novel. Harrow excels at so much here. The book is angrier than Read More

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue: A memorable book about what’s-her-name

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab

V.E. Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue (2020) is a charming, thoughtful, sometimes-dark, sometimes moving, story about memory, love, rash decisions, female agency, stubborn defiance, mortality, resilience, and the power of art. In this time of Covid, a novel focused so much on the desire for human contact and fear of dying without leaving “a mark” is especially timely, though The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue would have been a highly recommended book in any other year.

Addie LaRue is a young woman in 18th Century France who yearns to be her own person, like the old woman outside town, Estele, “who belongs to everyone, and no one, and herself” and who is sai... Read More

Troubled Blood: The best addition to the series yet

Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

There are two ways this review could go: either the controversy surrounding Troubled Blood (2020) and the internet backlash against J.K. Rowling for casting one of the main suspects as a cross-dresser could be ignored, or the entire review could be hinged upon it. It would be disingenuous to do the former and reductive to do the latter, so let's leave it at this: if readers want the down-low on the dispute, Google it (and there's plenty of content out there). The rest of this review will centre solely on the merits of the story, of which there are ample.

Detective Cormoran Strike and his partner Robin Ellacot are back, and not without a little personal baggage. Strike's aunt is dying, and he finds himself increasingly needed in Cornwall where she lives, putting pressu... Read More

Meteorite: How Stones from Outer Space Made Our World

Meteorite: How Stones from Outer Space Made Our World by Tim Gregory

Meteorite: The Stones from Outer Space That Made Our World (2020), by Tim Gregory, does what the best popular science books do — uses a vibrant, engaging and distinctive voice to both broadly and deeply inform the lay reader without dumbing down the science down too much while placing it in historical context. Check, check, and check. I already can’t wait for what Gregory turns to in his next non-fiction work.

The title tells you all you need to know about the subject matter. This isn’t a “space” book; it’s all, and almost solely, about, meteorites: how they’re found, where they come from, how they impacted (literally and figuratively) the Earth, what they can tell us about our world, other planets, and the solar system’s creation. As tightly focused as it is, though, Gregory still makes room for some effectively brief digressions into more genera... Read More

The Only Good Indians: Read it with all the lights on

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

When I was a kid growing up in Montana, hunting was a steadfast part of my family’s life. Elk, deer (mulies and white-tails), antelope, pheasant — if you wanted to eat it, you had to go out into the snow-covered woods before the break of dawn and hope that you would find something early enough that you wouldn’t have to spend the rest of the day dragging the cleaned carcass back to your truck. There were rules, of course: respect nature to the point of veneration; don’t shoot what you don’t have a permit for; don’t shoot anything you don’t intend to kill; don’t kill more than you need. The cardinal rule, the one impressed the hardest into my mind, was that you don’t set foot anywhere that you don’t have permission to go, not for any reason.

That particular decree, in myriad permutations, is at the hear... Read More

Return of the Thief: Political intrigue and unforgettable characters

Return of the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Megan Whalen Turner’s QUEEN’S THIEF young adult fantasy series, a masterwork of twisting plots, deceptive plans, and occasional divine interventions from the first book to the last, winds to a close with Return of the Thief (2020), twenty-four years after the publication of The Thief. Return of the Thief introduces us to a new narrator, Pheris, oldest grandson and nominally the heir of Baron Erondites, Eugenides’s powerful enemy from The King of Attolia. (Alert readers, however, will recognize Pheris from a few brief scenes in Read More

Crooked Kingdom: This duology is gripping reading

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

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 Gris... Read More

The Starless Sea: Visually spectacular

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

Given the success of her debut, it would be impossible to write about Erin Morgenstern's eagerly awaited follow-up without alluding to The Night Circus (2011). The bestseller accrued a mass following of 'Rêveurs' – the self-styled fanbase, named after the followers of the circus in the book. It inspired a formidable amount of tattoos and artwork on Pinterest, as well as being translated into thirty-seven languages, no less. It was always going to be a hard act to follow, but can Morgenstern live up to her own success?

The Starless Sea (2019) follows the tale of Zachary Ezra Rawlins, the son of a... Read More

Lovecraft Country: Here there be monsters

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

If the recent television adaptation of Lovecraft Country (2017) is anything like the source material, I think I’m going to enjoy it immensely. Matt Ruff’s novel of interconnected tales is well-written, compelling, horrifying (all the more so because the Lovecraftian horrors experienced by the novel’s African-American characters are not that much worse than the everyday evil of Jim Crow-era America), insightful, and, at times, even funny.

Korean War veteran Atticus Turner, a fan of pulpy sci-fi and horror novels written by the likes of H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Read More