4

Click on stars to FIND REVIEWS BY RATING:
Recommended:
Not Recommended:

No Gods, No Monsters: Thoughtful and well-crafted

No Gods, No Monsters by Cadwell Turnbull

No Gods, No Monsters (2021) is one of the books that had me admiring it more than enjoying it. Strongly crafted on a sentence level, built on a structure both complex and deftly handled, and dealing with some seriously weighty themes, the book still left me, despite all that, a bit cold, a bit resistant to its charms. Still, as you’ll see, I’m mostly strongly recommending it, even if it didn’t wholly win me over.

We begin with a scene that seems all too familiar. One of the main characters, Laina, is at the morgue standing over the body of her brother Lincoln, an unarmed black man killed by a policeman as he was “running through the streets as bare as on the day he was born.” High, Laina assumes of her drug-addicted brother, but then rumors of a tape being kept secret by the police crop up, followed by a visit from Rebecca, one of Lincoln’s friends, who... Read More

Cloud Cuckoo Land: Transcends the sum of its parts

Reposting to include Ray's new review.

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

What do a pair of young kids on the opposite sides of the fall of Constantinople, the protagonist of an ancient Greek tale, an eco-terrorist, a Korean war vet and former prisoner-of-war, and a young girl on a generation ship have in common? Well, besides all being major characters in Anthony Doerr’s newest novel, Cloud Cuckoo Land (2021). To find out what else ties them all together, you’ll have to read the book, which I do recommend despite some issues.

I’m going to leave the plot summary such as it is to the introduction, as part of the pleasure of Cloud Cuckoo Land is sorting through the pieces and seeing how they all fit together. Structurally, as you might guess, the novel’s a bi... Read More

Empire of Jegga: Lovely Vrita and Ho-Ghan’s heroes

Empire of Jegga by David V. Reed

I have a feeling that most people, when they begin a book in the genre of the Golden Age space opera, go in expecting a slam-bang action affair replete with starship battles, interplanetary conflict, weapons of superscience, hissable villains and cheerable heroes. Well, I am here now to tell you of a Golden Age space-opera novel in which all those aspects are indeed most certainly present, but in very much a secondary role. The book is one that you may very well be unfamiliar with, and for good reason, although its author’s name just might ring a bell among some of you.

The book in question is entitled Empire of Jegga, by the NYC-born writer David V. Reed, whose real name was David Levine. Reed’s first novel of four, Empire of Jegga initially appeared complete in the November 1943 issue of Amazing Stories (cover price... Read More

The Icepick Surgeon: An intriguing rogue’s gallery of scientific criminals

The Icepick Surgeon: Murder, Fraud, Sabotage, Piracy, and Other Dastardly Deeds Perpetrated in the Name of Science by Sam Kean 

Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.

~ Albert Einstein

Sam Kean is my favorite pop science author, ever since I read Caesar's Last Breath: Decoding the Secrets of the Air Around Us in 2017. Kean has an engaging voice, a solid understanding of science, and a talent for telling stories, making complex subjects both intelligible and interesting to non-scientific readers (tellingly, he studied both physics and English literature). In his latest book, The Icepick Surgeon (2021), Kean turns his attention to the many ways in which science has been twisted to si... Read More

The Red Planet: A Natural History of Mars

The Red Planet: A Natural History of Mars by Simon Morden

Simon Morden’s The Red Planet: A Natural History of Mars (2021) is a detailed look at the history of Mars’ geology, and there lies both its appeal and, for some, perhaps, its lack of appeal. As fascinating as much of the book is, I confess it sometimes got a little too deep into the weeds (or the rock formations) for my own preferences, though having “too much information” is hardly a major indictment for a non-fiction work. And certainly the questions about how much water Mars had and when/for how long are fascinating, as is their connection to the possibility of life on the supposedly “dead” planet.

Morden begins, well, at the beginning. Or technically, if we’re talking about Mars, before the beginning, starting instead with the formation of the solar system and then explaining how the various planets, including Mar... Read More

The Doom of the Haunted Opera: The kids encounter a necromancer

The Doom of the Haunted Opera by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

The Doom of the Haunted Opera (1995), the sixth book in John Bellairs’ and Brad Strickland’s LEWIS BARNAVELT series for middle grade readers, has best friends Lewis and Rose Rita back together again after having separate adventures in the previous two novels, The Ghost in the Mirror (Rose Rita) and The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder (Lewis).

The adults are away — Uncle Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman have gone to Florida to execute the will of a frien... Read More

Intrigue on the Upper Level: My kind of Hell, Chicago is…

Intrigue on the Upper Level by Thomas Temple Hoyne

Just recently, I had some words to say about Jack Williamson and Dr. Miles J. Breuer’s 1931 novel The Birth of a New Republic, in which a group of citizens (living on the Moon) rises up in rebellion against the despotic corporate forces oppressing them. Well, now I am here to tell you of another sci-fi book of the early ‘30s dealing with still another revolt against the powers that be. The book in question this time is called Intrigue on the Upper Level, by someone named Thomas Temple Hoyne. The chances are very good that you are unfamiliar with both this nove... Read More

The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder: Strickland respectfully continues this series

The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder by John Bellairs & Brad Strickland

Thanks to author Brad Strickland, who picked up John Bellairs’ children’s series after Bellairs’ death, the LEWIS BARNAVELT adventures continue with the fifth installment, The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder (1993). Surprisingly, I can detect no difference between the writing styles of the two authors. Strickland continues this series with the utmost respect for Bellairs’ vision and characters.

In The Vengeance of the Witch-Finder we learn what Lewis and his uncle Jonathan were doing while Lewis’s best friend Rose Rita and Mrs. Zimmerman were having their own adventure in Read More

The Witness for the Dead: Chockablock with intrigue

Reposting to include new reviews by Jana and Bill.

The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison

The Witness for the Dead is the long-hoped-for sequel to Katherine Addison’s marvelous and unusual 2014 fantasy, The Goblin Emperor, in which we met Maia, a half-goblin, half-elf young man who unexpectedly inherited the throne of the elf kingdom when his father, the emperor, was killed along with his brothers in an airship explosion. Thara Celehar, an elven prelate and a Witness for the Dead, was a minor character in that novel who investigated the airship accident at Maia’s request and eventually was able to unearth the truth of why it occurred.

The Witness for the Dead Read More

The Figure In The Shadows: Exciting, scary, and sweet

The Figure In The Shadows by John Bellairs

Lewis Barnavelt, 11 years old and recently orphaned, has been settling in at his uncle’s house. It's 1949, about a year since we saw him last (in The House With a Clock in Its Walls) and he has made a new friend – a tomboy named Rose Rita.

When Uncle Jonathan opens a trunk owned by his father (Lewis’s grandfather), Lewis, a lover of history, is bequeathed with his grandfather’s lucky coin. When he begins wearing the coin around his neck, weird things start happening to Lewis. He gets strange postcards in the middle of the night. He suddenly overcomes his cowardice and punches a bully. He fights with Rose Rita and becomes suspicious of her. He gets the feeling that someone is following him.

Lewis is coming undone but, thankfully, he has a few people w... Read More

The Birth of a New Republic: Of Lunarian bats and atomic vortexes

The Birth of a New Republic by Jack Williamson & Miles J. Breuer

In his 1966 novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, author Robert A. Heinlein gave his readers a tale of a penal colony on the Moon that rebels and declares its independence from Earth. The book went on to win the coveted Hugo Award and probably didn’t hurt Heinlein’s chances of being named sci-fi’s very first Grand Master, in 1974. But, as it turns out, this was not the first time that a writer had presented his fans with such a literally revolutionary scenario. A full 35 years earlier, sci-fi’s second-named Grand Master, Jack Williamson, in collaboration with Dr. Miles J. Breuer, had come out with a novel entitled The Birth of a New Republic Read More

Black Sun: A strong start to a new series

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Rebecca Roanhorse’s Black Sun (2020) introduces a new series set in an ancient Mesoamerica that is a mix of partly-familiar cultures and original fantasy elements, creating a heady brew that rolls along smoothly even as it moves back and forth in time and amongst a quartet of POVs.

Those POVs belong to:

Naranapa: the young Sun Priest based in the holy city of Tova, head of the religious order that has kept peace for three centuries.
Serapio: a young boy groomed since his childhood as the “vessel” of the Crow god, bent on vengeance for his people’s massacre in Tova years ago at the Night of Knives.
Xiala: a ship’s captain and member of the Teek, a (seemingly) all-female peo... Read More

The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry: Witty, rollicking good fun

The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry by C.M. Waggoner

Dellaria Wells is an untrained fire witch, living hand-to-mouth in the slums of Leiscourt, trying to keep track of her drip-addicted mother. Behind on rent and threatened with a curse by her landlady, Delly plans to answer a mysterious advertisement recruiting various women to protect a Lady of Some Importance. When she is interviewed — through the bars of a cell, as it happens — Delly gives a succinct summation of her skills to the interviewer:
“… Why on earth would I be willing to interview a criminal for a position in my employer’s household, Miss Wells?”

 

“If I might beg your pardon, Magister,” Delly said, “I’m only a very petty criminal, but I’m a rare excellent fire witch, and we ain’t so very thickly strewn upon the local thoroughfares…”
Delly is hired along with several women as a protection detail for Mi... Read More

The Hidden Palace: Double the golems and jinnis

The Hidden Palace by Helene Wecker

In The Hidden Palace (2021) Helene Wecker returns to the richly-imagined world of The Golem and the Jinni, fin de siècle New York City, focusing on the Jewish and Syrian immigrant communities. Chava, an intelligent golem created by an evil-hearted genius, was set free by the unexpected death of her intended husband and master, left with the ability to hear the thoughts of all humans instead of just her master. The jinni Ahmad is released from the bottle that imprisoned him, but he is bound to tangible human form with no discernable way to remove the curse. Despite their opposite natures of earth and fire, golem and jinni are drawn together in a world where neither fits in, and both are hiding their true natures from the humans around them … at least, most of them.

A... Read More

Star Rangers: One of Norton’s best

Star Rangers by Andre Norton

Star Rangers (1953) (aka The Last Planet) is the second of Andre Norton’s stand-alone novels included in Star Soldiers, an omnibus released in print by Baen Books in 2001 and in audiobook format by Tantor Media in March 2021. Star Soldiers also includes the novel Star Guard (1955). These two novels are collectively known as the CENTRAL CONTROL stories and, as I mentioned in my review of Star Guard, “I’ve read more than 20 Norton novels and these are some of my favorites. Like most of her work, they’ll be enjoyed most ... Read More

Agatha H. and the Siege of Mechanicsburg: Full of madcap entertainment

Agatha H. and the Siege of Mechanicsburg by Phil & Kaja Foglio

The GIRL GENIUS novels are so much fun! When I picked up the first of these (Agatha H. and the Airship City), I assumed that a novelization of a web comic wouldn’t work very well. Boy, was I wrong! Though the Foglios’ artwork is fabulous, and I urge you with all the force of my will to take a look at it online, I find that I enjoy the story just as much with the novels. The Foglios have a wonderful sense of humor that really comes out in this expanded format, especially with the funny footnotes that allow them to fill in details, remind us of events that happened previously, and provide little jokes just to make us laugh.

Read More

Venus Liberated: When Tinus met Coris

Venus Liberated by Harl Vincent

Have you ever thought to yourself, while reading a particularly good book, “What a fantastic movie this novel would make!”? Of course you have … it’s a practically inevitable occurrence. And it is one that has just happened to me again, while reading Harl Vincent’s 1929 offering Venus Liberated. Indeed, featuring as it does space travel, a visit to two nearby worlds, weapons and assorted gadgets of superscience, romance, warfare, and some truly hissable and hideous aliens, the book would have been a natural, it seems to me, as the source of a 1950s sci-fi film … or, given the requisite $200 million budget, a blockbuster summer movie today. Some kind of ultimate pulp epic of the most colorful kind, this is a book that practically screams for the big-screen treatment.

And yet, the fact that it has not been given any cinematic consideratio... Read More

Synchronized Sorcery: This delightful series continues

Synchronized Sorcery by Juliet Blackwell

Juliet Blackwell’s WITCHRAFT MYSTERIES series has been delighting readers of paranormal cozy mysteries since 2009. At this point, it seems unnecessary to keep reviewing the individual installments, but since Tantor Media graciously sends me review copies (something I look forward to every summer!), I will continue to say something about them. But if you’re a fan of this series, all you need to know is that book 11, Synchronized Sorcery (2021), is just as good as its predecessors, so stop reading this review and go pick it up.

Wait, one more thing: if you haven’t been listening to the audio versions narrated by Xe Sands, you are missing out. Sands does such a wonderful job with these books (as well as the Read More

Thus Far: Like it! Orr not.

Thus Far by J.C. Snaith

Once again, I find myself indebted to the fine folks at the publisher Armchair Fiction, for alerting me about a book whose existence I probably would never have learned of without their assistance; hardly the first time that this has happened. The novel in question in this instance bears the curious title Thus Far, which was initially released in 1925 by both the British publisher Hodder & Stoughton and the American publisher D. Appleton & Co., and then sank into virtual oblivion for a full 96 years, until Armchair chose to revive it for a new generation just a few months back. Thus Far is the product of English author J.C. (John Collis) Snaith, who’d been born in Nottingham in 1876 and was thus pushing 50 at the time of this book’s release. Almost as well known as a cricket player as for his writing... Read More

Ring Shout: The horrors of racism and hatred made tangible

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

In Ring Shout (2020), P. Djèlí Clark melds two types of horror, Lovecraftian monsters and the bloody rise of the Ku Klux Klan in 1922 Georgia, as a group of black resistance fighters take on an enemy with frightening supernatural powers.

As Ku Klux Klan members march down the streets of Macon, Georgia on the Fourth of July, Maryse Boudreaux, who narrates the story, watches from a rooftop with her two companions, sharpshooter Sadie and former soldier Cordelia “Chef” Lawrence, a bomb expert. They’ve baited a trap for the “Ku Kluxes,” who are hellish demons that hide in disguise among the Klan humans, taking over the bodies of the worst of them. The trap works, but the silver pellets and iron slags contained in the bomb aren’... Read More

The Empire’s Ruin: A successful return to an engaging world

The Empire’s Ruin by Brian Staveley 

The Empire’s Ruin (2021) kicks off a new series in Brian Staveley’s universe first introduced in his CHRONICLES OF THE UNHEWN THRONE trilogy and then expanded upon via the standalone novel, Skullsworn. The new series, ASHES OF THE UNHEWN THRONE, is a direct sequel to the earlier trilogy, and I strongly recommend reading in publication order, as several of this book’s characters appeared in the first series, while the events of that series drive the plot and characters of this new one. I will note that I found Staveley’s first Read More

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes: The genesis of the Hunger Games

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins

I loved Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games, thought Catching Fire was quite good if not as great as the first one, and was only so-so on Mockingjay. Also, it's an uphill battle to write a good, enjoyable prequel if the reader already knows what's going to happen to the main character in the later books and (spoiler) it's highly unpleasant. So I hesitated for over a year to read Collin’s latest HUNGER GAMES book, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (2020), but when I saw it... Read More

A Desert Torn Asunder: Jump on in, the series is fine! (and finished)

A Desert Torn Asunder by Bradley P. Beaulieu

If you’re like me, you’re always a bit wary of starting a new series that is obviously going to go on for some time. So much can go wrong: will the next book come out in my lifetime? Will the series go downhill at book three? Will the author actually finish it? So having just read A Desert Torn Asunder (2021), the conclusion to Bradley P. Beaulieu’s THE SONG OF THE SHATTERED SANDS, I’m happily adding it to my list of highly recommended DIRTI (Despite Its Required Time Investment) series. Hmm, maybe I should work on that acronym a bit more.

Beaulieu’s sixth book brings this excellent series to a proper close, offering up a number of exciting battle scenes, several one-on-one tense confrontations, and a realignment on scales ranging from the local (the desert and city of Sharakhai) to the cosmic. I’m not going to do the usual plot sum... Read More

A Broken Darkness: Nick’s in more trouble than ever

A Broken Darkness by Premee Mohamed

At the end of Beneath the Rising, the first book in Premee Mohamed’s cosmic horror trilogy of the same name, I thought narrator Nick Prasad couldn’t be worse off. Yes, he and his prodigy friend Joanna “Johnny” Chambers had closed an interdimensional rift and stopped the Ancient Ones from invading earth, but at the end Nick is left heartbroken, betrayed and disillusioned by what he has learned about Johnny. Like I said, I didn’t think it could get worse for him.

I was so wrong.

This review contains mild spoilers for Beneath the Rising.

Johnny and Nick did manage to close the rift, but it was open for nearly two minutes. In that time period,... Read More

We Are Satellites: A science fiction novel that will stay in your head

We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker

Often in magical realism, a writer takes one little bit of magic and plunks it into an otherwise entirely realistic story, like adding a single drop of blue food dye into a glass of water that remains water, but water newly, wholly colored by that one tiny drop. In Sarah Pinsker’s novel, We Are Satellites (2021), we have what one might class science-fictional realism; she eschews building the usual futuristic world full of advances and instead offers up a single drop in the form of the Pilot, a brain implant that allows the wearers to multitask without loss of focus, making them incredibly efficient.

Pinsker further narrows the story by focusing like a laser on a single family and the varying impact the introduction of the Pilot into society has on each member, crafting a quiet, character-drive... Read More