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The Human Target: A thriller about a man with a thousand faces

The Human Target by Peter Milligan (writer), Edvin Biukovic (artist), Lee Loughridge (colorist), and Robert Solanovic (letterer)

Christopher Chance is the Human Target. He is able to impersonate anybody, and he takes the place of those whose lives are in danger, often when there is a hitman pursuing them. He digs deep in his method acting to really become the person he impersonates. He is a master of disguise, but sometimes a human target can be too good at imitation, perhaps even forgetting at times that he is not the person imitated. For example, in this story, the Human Target, a white man, takes the place of a black minister who is trying to clean up his neighborhood, get drugs and drug lords out of the community. The minister has a wife and young child, and the impersonation lasts for over a month. After that long, the Human Target starts to believe he is really married to the wife and a father to the child. He wil... Read More

The Last Graduate: A dubious sanctuary for magical students

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

The Last Graduate (2021) completely sucked me in from start to finish! Galadriel has managed to survive three years at her deadly magical school, the Scholomance, with her junior year capped by an epic battle against a fearsome assembly of maleficaria (magical creatures that feast on wizards, especially youthful ones), as related in the first book in this fantasy series, A Deadly Education. Now El is in her last year at the Scholomance and has achieved her goal of becoming part of an alliance of fellow students (albeit a very small, less powerful one) who will protect each other when they run the gauntlet of ravenous mals that line the hallway leading to the graduation exit. And Orion Lake, the best mal-killer in the school, has progressed from mere annoyance to occasionally still aggrava... Read More

The Escapement: Brilliantly weird (or possibly weirdly brilliant)

The Escapement by Lavie Tidhar

Lavie Tidhar’s The Escapement (2021)is a fantastic and fantastical fever dream of a novel, a Weird Western via Lewis Carroll, Gilgamesh if had been translated and illustrated by Norton Juster and scored by Ennio Morricone, The Searchers if it had starred Buster Keaton, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had it been directed by David Lynch from a screenplay co-written by Steven King, Raymond Carver, and Italo Calvino and storyboarded by Salvador Dali. It’s a wondrous riot of imagination that veers back and forth from horrific to heartbreaking to laugh-out-loud funny to macabre to absurdist. Defying genre,... Read More

Breath of Earth: Alt-history and magic in a high-stakes adventure

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Breath of Earth by Beth Cato

Breath of Earth begins a new fantastical alternative-history series from Beth Cato, in which hydrogen-filled airships dot the skies, giant beasts in the ground cause earthquakes, and Teddy Roosevelt became an internationally-renowned Ambassador rather than the 26th U.S. President. (There’s also a nationally touring opera prominently featured in a side plot; if Lincoln isn’t a sly nod to a certain massively popular Tony-winning musical, I will eat my least-favorite hat.)

In an almost-recognizable San Francisco, a permanent establishment of geomancer wardens keeps the city and the surrounding countryside safe from tremors and other manifestations of magical energy. By absorbing the earth’s power and transferring it to crystals of a special mineral known as kermanite, the wardens all... Read More

Courtney Crumrin: The Night Things: A Young Witch in the Making

Courtney Crumrin (Volume 1): The Night Things by Ted Naifeh (writer and artist) and Warren Wucinich (colorist)

Courtney Crumrin is an instant classic of a children’s tale. There is no doubt that this entire series, over seven volumes long now, is a five-star production, with fantastic art and dark, nightmarish storytelling. This is not a light-hearted fairy tale about a nice little girl. Courtney is decidedly not good-natured, and she’s always got plans that get others in trouble.

First, we meet Butterworm, a creature lurking in the backyard of Professor Crumrin’s house. He gives us an introduction to the professor and the rumors in the neighborhood that surround him. The professor is Courtney’s uncle, and when Courtney comes to stay with him, her adventures begin. She brings along with her a pair of vapid parents who care only about getting ahead and what the neighbors might think.

Courtney is apprehensive ... Read More

Ace of Spades: Dark academia meets Gossip Girl, and no place is safe

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

Ace of Spades (2021) is Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s first novel. It’s a YA thriller and doesn’t have any speculative elements, but if you like good prose, good characterization and high-suspense thrillers this book might be for you. I was not the target audience for this book, but after the first couple of chapters, I could not put it down.

Chiamaka and Devon are students at an upscale private high school called Niveus Academy. It’s senior year, and the two are each selected to be Senior Prefects (the school, while located in the USA, follows certain British school traditions.) For Chiamaka, this simply ticks another box on her personal to-do list, which include being crowned queen of the school ball and accepted into Yale premed. Devon, a scholarship student, is stunned that he’s been made prefect, because he has no friends and k... Read More

You Brought Me the Ocean: A sweet romance with beautiful artwork

You Brought Me the Ocean by Alex Sanchez, drawn by Julie Maroh

Jake Hyde dreams of the ocean and has secretly applied to the marine biology program at the University of Miami, but in waking life, the ocean is limited to the aquarium in his room. His father drowned, and since then his mother has resolutely kept him away from water (hence the secrecy about University of Miami). She even moved them to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, to keep her son away from water.

A yearning for the ocean’s not the only secret Jake is keeping. He likes guys, a fact he hasn’t shared with his best-friend-since-forever, Maria, whose feelings for him are clearly changing. Meanwhile, Jake is attracted to Kenny Liu, the school swim team captain, who is out and proud.

You Brought Me the Ocean (2020) is a graphic novel, a coming-out romance set in the world of DC Comics. Jake is a reimagining of a 1960s Aquama... Read More

Dead Day: Transcends the Zombie Genre

Dead Day by Ryan Parrott (writer) and Evgeniy Bornyakov (artist)

“What would you do if the dead could come back for one day?” asks writer Ryan Parrott in describing in the introduction his motivations for writing Dead Day. Indeed, Parrott imagines a world in which the dead do, in fact, come back for one day, and we see that they all have different desires, ranging wildly from the mundane to the violent, as might be expected from a horror comic, but what really makes this story work is the way the living talk about their expectations from the dead when dead day rolls around, which is a sporadic event having to do with the alignment of the stars, or some such cosmic happening.

The story starts a few hours before sunset on the fifth ever dead day; a couple with children fight about what the wife, Mel, will do if someone close to her returns from the dead.  But not all the dead come back, and those who h... Read More

Revelator: A high-proof distillation of horror

Revelator by Daryl Gregory

Stella Birch sees her family’s god when she is nine years old, in 1933. Her father has dropped her off in a sheltered valley, the cove, in the Smoky Mountains. He says he’s leaving her with Motty, her grandmother, while he looks for work, but he’s never coming back.

Daryl Gregory’s 2021 southern gothic horror novel Revelator trades in bone-deep horror, stunning beauty, strangeness, and acid-etched banter. Moving between two timelines, Stella’s time with Motty in the cove and her present life as a moonshiner in 1948, the novel reveals the secret of the Birch women and the god in the mountain, and includes interesting bits of history, like the creation of the Smoky Mountain National Park, which will inclu... 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

The Goblin Emperor: A beautiful world and protagonist

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

A few weeks ago I finally finished with revisions to my dissertation and rewarded myself with a read of The Goblin Emperor, the first book published under the name of Katherine Addison (the pen-name for Sarah Monette, accomplished spec-fic author).

It’s been a while since I experienced such pure undiluted reading enjoyment. I was thrilled on every page that this book even existed, and even more excited that Katherine Addison is a young writer so that, hopefully, I have much more to look forward to.

One of the reasons The Goblin Emperoris so enjoyable is that the world Addison describes is jewel-like in its uniqueness and detail. In the elvish kingdom of Ethuveraz, airships cruise the skies (and sometimes cras... Read More

How to Make an Apple Pie from Scratch: In Search of the Recipe for Our Universe

How to Make an Apple Pie from Scratch: In Search of the Recipe for Our Universe by Harry Cliff

Harry Cliff takes the title for his wonderful non-fiction work, How to Make an Apple Pie from Scratch (2021), from the TV series Cosmos, the original one narrated by Carl Sagan, not the most recent Neil DeGrasse Tyson version (you should watch both, btw). Early on in his book, Cliff recounts how in one of the episodes Sagan “turns to the camera and with a twinkle in his eye says, ‘If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.’” Well, in the 40 years since Cosmos, humans have managed to figure out a few more ingredients and a few more steps in the recipe, and Cliff is here — with his own stylistic twinkle — to explain it to those of us who aren’t astrophysicists, particle physicists, theoretical phys-, well, let’s just say those of ... 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

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (Vol. 3): Russia: If there is horror to be found, the B.P.R.D. will find it!

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (Vol. 3): Russia by Mike Mignola (writer), John Arcudi (writer), Tyler Crook (artist), Dave Stewart (colorist), and Clem Robins (letterer).

As in all my reviews of long series, I do give spoilers for previous books in the series, so I can now mention the major event of volume 2: Abe is shot by the runaway teenager Fenix, and at the close of the volume, Abe seems to be brain dead and barely alive physically. I can also mention what happened when he was shot: Devon observed the shooting, but he not only did not arrest the girl, he let her go. And he reported officially that he had no idea who shot Abe. We find out at the beginning of this book that Devon has been sent to find Fenix (and who shot Abe, if possible). Devon travels the railroads in boxcars, seeking for word of Fenix.

Meanwhile, Johann and Kate fly to Moscow to investigate a supernatural event. They meet with the director there, who seems more fort... Read More

A Psalm for the Wild-Built: Tea and empathy

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

Becky Chambersfirst novella in the MONK AND ROBOT series, A Psalm for the Wild-Built (2021), is a lovely and optimistic tale of a tea monk who, while seeking an answer to the question of “What am I looking for?” meets a robot looking for an answer to the question of “What do you need, and how can I help?” More generally, the robot is trying to answer the question of what all people need, but upon the moon of Panga (or anywhere you might find humans, truthfully), that’s not exactly a simple question to answer.

Sibling Dex, the tea monk, is an acolyte of Allalae (God of Small Comforts, represented as a bear), one of the six gods of Panga. Dex has been a tea monk for only a few years, having left Panga’s only City in searc... Read More

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures by Merlin Sheldrake

Entangled Life: How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds, and Shape Our Futures (2020), by Merlin Sheldrake, is an always informative and often fascinating look at the (mostly) hidden world of fungi. There’s a lot more to them than those shitakes you’re adding to your stir-fry and Sheldrake makes for an enthusiastic tour guide to all that lies beyond the edible mushroom (though he touches on those too).

Sheldrake begins with truffles (he goes on a truffle hunt with a couple of dogs and their trainer) and uses this early part to introduce us to the basics of fungal life and their development on Earth. Like the entirety of the book, this section is filled with choice details (a 2 to 8000-yr-old fungus in Oregon taking up ten square k... Read More

The Rock Eaters: Strongest story collection I’ve read in some time

The Rock Eaters by Brenda Peynado

It has been quite a while since I’ve read a collection of short stories that so completely and consistently won me over. I’m typically satisfied if roughly half the stories in a collection work for me and thrilled if three-quarters do. But Brenda Peynado hit it out of the ballpark with The Rock Eaters, with stories that range almost entirely from good (a few) to excellent (most) to wonderfully, lingeringly strange and powerful (many). It’s easily the best story collection I’ve read in years, a must-read mix of fantasy, science fiction, magical realism, fabulist fiction, horror, and even a realistic story in there, with all the inherent blurring of genre lines those arbitrary categories convey. Think of a George Saunders or Kelly Link type of story, though Peynado is absolutely her own writer; there is nothing derivative here.

The book’s strengths are both plenti... Read More

Theodore Savage: An absolutely splendid post-apocalyptic work

Theodore Savage by Cicely Hamilton

By the time WW1 ended in 1918, London-born Cicely Hamilton had already earned a name for herself as an advocate for both women’s rights and marriage equality. As one of Britain’s most vocal suffragettes, she’d campaigned for the right of women to vote; as a renowned playwright, she’d written socially biting works for the stage, and indeed, her suffrage dramas How the Vote Was Won (1909) and A Pageant of Great Women (1910) were both highly successful. But during the Great War, Hamilton also served in France, both in a nursing unit and in a revue for the entertainment of the troops, and her wartime experiences soon resulted in her penning her one and only science fiction novel, entitled Theodore Savage.

A wonderfully well written and emotionally affectin... Read More

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (Vol. 1): New World: Abe Sapien Tackles Monsters with an Old Friend from the B.P.R.D.

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (Vol. 1): New World by Mike Mignola (writer), John Arcudi (writer), Guy Davis (artist), Dave Stewart (colorist), and Clem Robins (letterer).

This volume jumps back and forth between Abe out in the field and what is going on at the B.P.R.D. base back in Colorado. At the base, Kate is trying to manage all the teams in the field, Johann is still obsessed with the possibility of getting another body so he can feel physical sensations again, and Devon is assigned his own mission in France. Meanwhile, come-to-life mummy Panya seems to be manipulating creatures on the base for her own secret purposes.

Out in the field, Abe tracks down an old friend and fellow-agent who went missing in previous B.P.R.D. volumes. The two of them work together to figure out what mysterious creature is haunting the woods and what connection it might have to the large number of disappearances in a nearby small town. At the center of the... Read More

B.P.R.D.: Vampire: The story from B.P.R.D.: 1947 and 1948 is continued

B.P.R.D.: Vampire by Mike Mignola (writer), Joshua Dysart (writer), Gabriel Ba (artist), Fabio Moon (artist), Dave Stewart (colorist), and Clem Robins (letterer)

It’s essential to read B.P.R.D: 1947 and 1948 before reading Vampire, which continues the story of Anders, an early B.P.R.D. agent who, after being taken hostage by two vampire sisters, has had a supernatural cure: The spirits of the two vampires have been locked away inside him, and they are trying to get out. Anders asks the professor for the opportunity to leave the B.P.R.D. before he gets even worse. And, primarily, Anders wants to seek out and destroy vampires as his way to seek revenge.

On his journey, Anders traces family bloodlines and history and rumors that will lead him to the gathering of witches and vampires to worship Hecate. When he is assisted by a local young woman who is seem... Read More

The Chosen and the Beautiful: A five-star book I will read again

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

What if Jay Gatsby literally sold his soul to a demon, in order to woo and win the love of Daisy Buchanan? With that one question, Nghi Vo ushers us into a strange, familiar, wonderful and terrifying world with her first full-length novel, The Chosen and the Beautiful (2021).

In a 1920s USA where magic is common and ghosts walk side by side with people, Vo introduces us to Jordan Baker, bosom friend of Daisy Fay Buchanan. Through Jordan’s eyes we see the story of Gatsby, a man doomed to destruction by his love for Daisy, from a different angle. Unlike the expository Jordan Baker character in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, this Jordan, while she was raised wealthy and inherited money, is an outsider and always will be. She was adopted by the Bakers, from the country of T... Read More

The Album of Dr. Moreau: I stayed up too late to finish it

The Album of Dr. Moreau by Daryl Gregory

It’s 2001, and Luce Delgado, homicide detective for the Las Vegas PD, has come to a casino on the strip to deal with a celebrity murder. Dead, “Dr. M,” manager of the hottest boy-band act on the planet, the WyldBoyZ. Suspects? There are plenty, but her top five are the brilliantly harmonizing human/other-mammalian hybrid band members, the Boyz themselves. The challenge? A locked room on the fifty-sixth floor of the casino hotel.

Almost equally important to Luce is her attempt to keep from breaking the heart of the WyldBoyZ’s number one fan — Luce’s nine-year-old daughter Melanie.

Published in 2021, Daryl Gregory’s latest novella, The Album of Dr. Moreau, is a locked room mystery that pokes fun at mysteries, at fans, at boy bands and at Read More

The Crossroads at Midnight: An excellent collection of five horror stories

The Crossroads at Midnight by Abby Howard (words & art)

In this wonderfully disturbing collection of five short horror stories in a 340-page book, Abby Howard takes us on five very different journeys. The Crossroads at Midnight is a near-perfect collection of tales, with flowing artwork that makes the horrific quite surprising when it makes its appearance. In the first story, “The Girl In the Fields,” we meet a teenager — about fifteen-years-old — who is misunderstood by their parents. They call their daughter by their given name — Francine. However, Francine insists on being called Frankie. Her less-than-progressive parents seem to be always ready to pick a fight with Frankie, and they are so intrusive as to read private information off of Frankie’s computer. Frankie does not back down from these fights, but does retreat to the backyard to lean against the fence crying. She is interrupted by a kind voic... Read More

Klara and the Sun: An understated masterpiece

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Klara and the Sun (2021) is the newest novel by Kazuo Ishiguro, and the best description I can think of it is that it’s the newest novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. In other words, it’s very “Ishiguro”-like in its themes, its voice, its prose style and will call up memories of earlier works such as Never Let Me Go and The Remains of the Day, which I consider high praise indeed.

The setting is a near-future where most children are “lifted” (genetically enhanced for intelligence) and do all of their schooling at home. Their social life, as it exists, consists of “interaction parties” and AF’s, or Artificial Friends. Klara, our narrator, is one such ... Read More

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