Abe Sapien (Vol. 1): The Drowning: Abe Sapien disturbs a shipwreck

Abe Sapien (Vol. 1): The Drowning by Mike Mignola (writer), Jason Shawn Alexander (artist), Dave Stewart (colors), and Clem Robins (letters)

The Abe Sapien series is nine volumes long, and it is an essential part of the Hellboy canon. The series is as good as the Hellboy series and should not be missed by any fans of Mignola’s Hellboy universe. Abe Sapien: The Drowning starts off mysteriously in 1884 as a man boards a ship from a Victorian steampunk-like blimp and begins shooting men with writing on their chests. The action is accompanied only by the words of “You Gentlemen of England” by Martin Parks. It is a fantastic, haunting, opening sequence. The man, we soon find out, is Sir Edward Grey, British occult detective and special agent to Queen Victoria (Mignola has written a series about Sir Edward Grey). Grey, unfortunately, goes down with t... Read More

The Winter Sea: Jacobite uprising and romantic turbulence

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

My recent read of Bellewether, the 2018 historical novel by Susanna Kearsley, left me slightly dissatisfied, but I knew (and was assured by historical novel-loving friends) that she was capable of far more engaging storytelling, so I dove into her older duology of Jacobite-era novels, The Winter Sea (2008) and The Firebird. Both of these books ― in which Kearsley employs her favored dual-timeline approach with romance subplots, a paranormal element, and stellar historical research ― were thoroughly enjoyable.

In The Winter Sea, Carolyn (Carrie) MClelland is a successful author of historical novels who is having trouble settling on the ... Read More

Little Brother: Techno-anarchy for juveniles

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

I’m willing to bear with a writer whose style is less than polished if they have — or seem to have — good ideas. I’m willing to set aside wooden characterization if it serves a larger purpose. I’ll accept a little glossing over if the intentions are good. I’m even willing to ignore large holes in ideology if the story is good. Unfortunately for Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother (2008), the combination of these flaws is too heavy. With all of these issues glaringly apparent, the novel is nothing more than inconsistent, juvenile fiction which complains about society’s problems in conspiracy theory fashion rather than offering imaginative, plausible solutions. When raising the red flag, it’s best to have your ideas formed before making the effort.

Little Brothe... Read More

Alpha and Omega: A MERCY companion series kicks off with this novella

Alpha and Omega by Patricia Briggs

Concurrently with her MERCY THOMPSON urban fantasy series about a coyote shapeshifter and her adventures with werewolves, vampires, fae and other supernatural beings, Patricia Briggs has been writing the ALPHA AND OMEGA series about an “Omega” werewolf, who has unique powers for a werewolf. This novella introduces Anna, a seemingly submissive, sexually and physically abused werewolf in an appalling mess of a pack in Chicago. Anna was unwillingly turned into a werewolf three years ago and her life has been miserable since. But when she reads an newspaper article about a missing teenager and realizes that this is the same boy she had seen in a werewolf cage in the pack leader’s home, she drums up her courage and finally telephones Bran, the Montana-based “Marrok” or leader of all the werewolf packs in North America, to let him know that she had seen the... Read More

Empire in Black and Gold: Ought not to work

Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky

If all I had to go by was the cover art (Tor 2008 edition), the title of the book and the synopsis, I probably wouldn’t give Adrian Tchaikovsky’s debut a second glimpse. After all, the artwork fails to capture the eye, the book title is bland, and the summary makes the novel sound formulaic. I mean how many times have authors written about a powerful ‘Empire’ bent on conquering the world and the unlikely heroes determined to stop them? For that matter, how many novels feature youthful protagonists who become much more than they ever dreamed of, haunted forests, a spy who can steal peoples’ faces, rescuing characters from slavers, inciting a revolution and so on? These are all common fantasy conventions utilized by Adrian Tchaikovsky, not to mention the requisite world map, hefty page count, and inevitable sequels. Yet, Empire in Black and Gold is ... Read More

Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft by Joe Hill (author) & Gabriel Rodriguez (artist)

Psst. Hey, you. Yeah, you. You wanna see something really scary? Here. It’s the first volume of Joe Hill’s horror comic Locke and Key: Welcome to Lovecraft, the trade collection of the first six chapters in this story. The art is done by Gabriel Rodriguez. The volume is beautifully drawn, emotionally authentic and downright scary.

In the opening pages, a deranged student, Sam Lesser, savagely murders high school guidance counselor Rendell Locke. Only the quick thinking of Rendell’s children, Tyler, Kinsey and Bode, and their mother Nina’s ferocity, save them f... Read More

The January Dancer: A very good space opera

The January Dancer by Michael Flynn

The January Dancer is a very good space opera… I wish it had tipped over into great. There is a lot going on here to love: a sufficiently deep future history created through the liberal use of allusion that references any number of existing earth cultures (heavily relying on Celtic and cultures from the Indian subcontinent) along with some pretty swell creations of Flynn’s own (the Hounds, ‘those of Name’, the Terran Corners, the Rift, the People of Sand & Iron, etc.) in which the diaspora of humanity has settled across the cosmos, making use of an intriguingly pseudo-scientific explanation for FTL travel; a cast of varied and interesting characters of disparate parts coming together, as though by chance, to solve the mystery of a powerful pre-human artifact; and perhaps most of all the well-crafted prose of Michael Flynn that provides a certain shine to what might have be... Read More

Shadowbridge: Exquisite imagery and magic

Shadowbridge by Gregory Frost

Gregory Frost graduated from Clarion Workshop, authored five novels and the critically-acclaimed short story collection Attack of the Jazz Giants & Other Stories, and has been a finalist for nearly every major award in the fantasy field including the Hugo, the Nebula, the James Tiptree, and the World Fantasy Award.

Impressive, but what did I think of Shadowbridge? Well, for the most part I enjoyed reading Shadowbridge and while I may have liked the novel, I can’t say that I loved it.

It was the concept that really grabbed my attention. Gregory Frost’s book introduces a world that is comprised mainly of ocean and the Shadowbridge, a seemingly never-ending bridge that is divided into numerous spirals and spans, each with the... Read More

AMULET: The Stonekeeper & The Stonekeeper’s Curse by Kazu Kibuishi

The Stonekeeper & The Stonekeeper’s Curse by Kazu Kibuishi

Kazu Kibuishi is the author of the AMULET series, a set of young adult graphic novels published by Scholastic. Book One, The Stonekeeper, and Book Two, The Stonekeeper’s Curse, are fast, accessible stories with likeable characters who face difficult challenges.

In The Stonekeeper, Emily and Navin’s impoverished mother moves them away from everything they know after their father is killed in a car accident on an icy road. They move into a dilapidated house owned by Emily’s great-grandfather Silas Charnon, who mysteriously disappeared years ago. Silas was a puzzle-maker and a toymaker, and up in the attic Emily finds a strange amulet. Although she and Navin don’t know it, they are being watched by a sinister figure and his e... Read More

The Knife of Never Letting Go: A voice that will stay with you

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

The Knife of Never Letting Go is the first book in the CHAOS WALKING trilogy by Patrick Ness. The series is set on a world colonized some time ago by settlers who met a few surprises upon their arrival. The biggest was the effect of a plague/virus, which caused all males (human and animal) to uncontrollably and constantly broadcast their thoughts so everyone hears what they were thinking. Because the thoughts couldn’t be turned off or tuned out, the constant background became known as “The Noise.” The second shock was that the planet held an intelligent native species the colonists call the Spackle. Between the ensuing war with the Spackle (won by the colonists), the social disruption caused by the Noise, and the general degradation of technology (often willful — the colonists wanted to get back to more basic, traditional living), l... Read More

Into the Storm: Naval historical fantasy

Destroyermen: Into the Storm by Taylor Anderson

During the Second Battle of the Java Sea, Lieutenant Commander Matthew Reddy and the crew of the destroyer USS Walker have been ordered to pull out of the Philippines. As they attempt to flee with several other Allied Navy ships, they’re attacked by the Japanese. The Allied ships are sunk, one by one, until only USS Walker and the crippled USS Mahan are left. When the huge Japanese battlecruiser Amagi s... Read More

Theft of Swords: Juicy

Theft of Swords by Michael J. Sullivan

The first thing you should know about Theft of Swords is that it’s not a fine dining experience. This book is not the literary equivalent of going to a fancy restaurant and getting one of those huge plates that are mostly empty except for a tiny stalk of asparagus artfully drizzled with a delicate sauce. Instead, it’s more like sitting down hungry and getting a big, tasty burger you can just grab and sink your teeth into. (Vegetarians, please substitute for the vegetarian equivalent of a big, tasty burger. I’ve been trying to think of one, and I can’t. A veggie burger just doesn’t feel the same.) In other words, this book is straightforward. It’s huge. It’s low on subtlety but high on enjoyment. It is (and I fully realize this is not proper Literary Theory terminology) juicy. At this point I think I’ve stretched the food metaphor about as far as it’s goin... Read More

Any Given Doomsday: A pleasant way to spend a few hours

Any Given Doomsday by Lori Handeland

Lori Handeland’s Any Given Doomsday is a fun urban fantasy, following the standard recipe with no real surprises. The voice of her main character, Liz Phoenix, is sharp, breezy and sarcastic. The story moves pretty briskly with only a few slack points, and there is a lot of gorgeous, dreamy, steamy sex.

Liz is a bartender at a cop bar. She used to be a cop herself, but her psychic abilities kept her an outsider and even a figure of suspicion because her “hunches” were too accurate. Those psychic senses are pinging now, though, calling Liz to the home of her foster mother, Ruthie, who she finds bleeding and savaged in her kitchen. Ruthie dies after making a startling pronouncement to Liz.

With this event, Liz’s life changes. Ruthie was a seer, and with her death, Liz has become one. Seers direct Demon Killers — or DKs — on mis... Read More

Moonshadow: Read the first book, skip the sequel

Moonshadow: Rise of the Ninja & The Nightmare Ninja by Simon Higgins

Moonshadow: Rise of the Ninja and Moonshadow: The Nightmare Ninja are the first two installments in a series of children's books by Simon Higgins about, well, ninjas. The first book is mostly entertaining if a bit slight, but the second, unfortunately, is disappointing due to an overreliance on fight scenes. While the Moonshadow series has potential, it took a step backward in book two.

Moonshadow is the title character, a young member of the Grey Light Order of ninjas. In Rise of the Ninja, we meet him as he is completing the final stage of his training. Upon succeeding, he is granted his new ninja name — Moonshadow — and his first assignment: to steal the plans for a new kind of weapon from Silver Wolf, an ev... Read More

Blood Blade: A workable urban fantasy world

Blood Blade by Marcus Pelegrimas

Blood Blade, the first installment in the Skinners series by Marcus Pelegrimas, is a solid urban fantasy novel. All of the major elements of this genre — such as vampires, werewolves, humans fighting them, and a little relationship drama — are present. The challenge of late has been finding an author who could still make this combination fun to read. Marcus Pelegrimas did just that; he made it fun to read.

Cole Warnecki, our hero, is a computer programmer by trade who has gotten a little bored with his life. He is not the typical sit-behind-a-keyboard-and-do-nothing sort of guy, so he decides to go on an extreme hunting expedition to add some experience and feeling to a new project. The hunting trip goes awry when his group is attacked by an enormous monster. The monster ravages the group... Read More

The Affinity Bridge: Clever idea, poor execution

The Affinity Bridge by George Mann

I did not have any expectations for George Mann’s The Affinity Bridge, and it managed to disappoint me anyway.

The book is beautifully presented. I must remember what they say about books and covers. Besides the beautiful cover, The Affinity Bridge has a clever idea: a Holmesian detective who is an Agent of the Crown, and his plucky female Dr Watson, in a steampunk world. Poor plotting, shallow characterization and bad prose stand between this idea and its execution.

In the Whitechapel slums, people are being strangled by a strange “blue glowing policeman.” Just as Newbury and Hobbes, our two protagonists, begin to investigate, Queen Victoria calls them away to solve the mystery of an airship crash. It is immediately clear to the reader that the slum murders and the crash will be connected, and it is soon cl... Read More

The Accidental Demon Slayer: Did Not Finish

The Accidental Demon Slayer by Angie Fox

Lizzie’s long-lost grandmother reappears in her life, turns out to be a witch, and informs Lizzie she’s destined to be a demon slayer. A demon pops out of Lizzie’s toilet. Lizzie suddenly gains the ability to understand what her dog is saying. Her grandmother introduces her to her coven of elderly biker witches. Oh, and there’s a hunky griffin shapeshifter.

If this sounds a little chaotic, that’s because it is. Angie Fox bombards the reader with one wacky event after another in The Accidental Demon Slayer, and the plot feels like a random string of these odd events rather than a coherent whole.

Characters are inconsistent; for example, the biker witches know Lizzie has just found out she’s a demon slayer, but then berate her for not already knowing all about demon slaying. Action scenes are confusing to follow. The witch... Read More

Promise of the Wolves: Completely charming

Promise of the Wolves by Dorothy Hearst

CLASSIFICATION: In the publisher’s press release, Promise of the Wolves is compared to Jean M. Auel’s The Clan of the Cave Bear and Richard AdamsWatership Down, neither of which I’ve read. So for me, I was reminded of The Lion King — if the movie had been set 14,000 years ago in southern Europe and starred wolves, ravens, humans, and elkryn instead of lions, meercats and warthogs — Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novels, and White Fang and Call of the Wild by Jack London. Because of some v... Read More

Philippa Fisher and the Fairy Godsister: Sweet story with a good message

Philippa Fisher and the Fairy Godsister by Liz Kessler

Philippa Fisher is your average 11½ year old — her parents are embarrassing and she wishes she was popular. When her best friend moves away, she is so sad that she comes to the attention of the fairy godmothers. They assign Daisy, who’s never worked with humans before, to Philippa’s case. Daisy must grant Philippa three wishes, but Daisy also has her own lessons to learn about compassion if she wants to advance in fairy society.

I listened to the audiobook version of Philippa Fisher and the Fairy Godsister (also titled Philippa Fisher’s Fairy Godsister in some markets) with my 9 year old daughter, Tali. We thought Philippa was charming and that the audiobook reader, Kate Reinders, did a wonderful job with all of the characters. In fact, the perfection of the reading was one of the best parts of my experience with ... Read More

Graceling: A breath of fresh air in the YA genre

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

I had heard the buzz surrounding Kristin Cashore's Graceling and my curiosity was piqued. Sitting down to read, I hoped that it hadn't been over-hyped, but was pleasantly surprised to find myself reading a fast-paced, intriguing fantasy novel with a wonderfully real and sympathetic female protagonist — which is rarer than you might think.

The world in which Katsa lives has amidst its population people known as Gracelings: individuals with extraordinary, but rather arbitrary talents. Identified by their mismatched eyes, their gifts can range from mind reading to super-sensory hearing to simply being a strong swimmer. The Gracelings are feared by their neighbors and exploited by their kings, and Katsa is no exception, particularly since her own Grace is the skill of killing.

She lives under the command of her uncle, King Randa of the Middluns, w... Read More

The Poison Throne: Immediately engaging characters

The Poison Throne by Celine Kiernan

After five years away on the King’s business, Wynter Moorehawke and Lorcan, her father, have returned to court. Though they are carpenters of common birth, they also serve their friend, King Jonathan, as Lord and Lady Protector. Wynter is excited to be reunited with her childhood friends Alberon and Razi, the King’s legitimate and illegitimate sons, respectively. They were like brothers to her and she and Lorcan were practically part of the King’s family. But it quickly becomes clear that things have changed dramatically since she’s been gone. King Jonathan has become a tyrant, and with her father’s fading health, Wynter realizes that even her own life could be in danger.

The Poison Throne is a pleasant read due to some immediately engaging characters: Wynter, Lorcan, Razi, Razi’s new friend Christopher, a ghost, and a palace cat. Kate Rudd, who narrated the... Read More

Night Child: Unoriginal, but lots of heart

Night Child by Jes Battis

Let's get the obvious stuff out of the way first. All of these paranormal investigator potboilers coming down the pike are more or less the same. It's all a question of how well each one rearranges the furniture. Some do it sufficiently well so as to avoid the easiest of criticisms, that the book in question is little more than a CC of the latest Laurell K. Hamilton/Jim Butcher/Kim Harrison opus. Some manage to establish their own voice adequately, then fail to do enough with it to rise above the para-pack. In 2008 at Armadillocon, there was a panel on a closely-related subgenre, paranormal romance (which they didn't put me on, wisely), which asked the q... Read More

The Stowaway: A YA adventure in the Forgotten Realms

The Stowaway by R.A. & Geno Salvatore

FORGOTTEN REALMS books are good for a quick, fun read, where I don’t normally expect a lot of character development and the world has been built so well that you can download maps of the different cities. The Stowaway is a perfect example: a quick, light YA adventure through well-known areas of a well-developed world.

The Stowaway begins with a young child being saved from certain death by a group of noble, powerful people. Maimun, a young orphan, grows up under the sheltering protection of a female druid and later a male magic user/adventurer named Perrault. Maimun is a classic example of the unloved, sarcastic, scared kid whose adventures are the center of the story.

The Stowaway spans a fair amount of the FORGOTTEN REALMS world. Maimun is under constant threat... Read More

Keeper of the Grail: Reluctant readers, especially boys, will like this one

Keeper of the Grail by Michael P. Spradlin

Tristan of Saint Albans is an orphan foundling, raised by the monks and with no idea who his birth-parents are. Despite this, he's happy enough living in the monastery, and is given a good education by the time a group of Templar Knights arrive on their way to the Holy Land. One of them, Sir Thomas, takes an interest in young Tristan, just as another, Sir Hugh, takes an immediate dislike. To Tristan's astonishment, Sir Thomas offers him a job as his squire and by the next morning, Tristan is leaving with the other knights to the Holy Land and King Richard's war to regain control of Jerusalem.

On the voyage there, and in the ensuing battles that take place in Acre, Tristan finds out that the Templars — and in particular, his master — are in possession of some of the most sacred relics of Christendom: the Ark of the Covenant, the One True Cross and the Holy Grail. It is the Holy Grail (... Read More

The Sweet Scent of Blood: Too confusing

The Sweet Scent of Blood by Suzanne McLeod

Genevieve is the only sidhe fae in London and has a traumatic past involving vampires, which we readers learn about in flashbacks throughout the story. She works as a spellcracker, removing hexes from objects. There are two ways she can remove a spell. She can “crack” the spell, thereby destroying both the spell and the object, or she can absorb it into herself, which carries its own problems. As the story begins, a celebrity vampire stands accused of murdering his girlfriend, Melissa. The vampire’s father hires Genny to examine Melissa’s body for evidence of magic. His theory is that someone killed Melissa with a spell and then made it look like a vampire attack.

Or at least that’s the ostensible plot. As it happens, Genny never does examine Melissa’s body, instead becoming embroiled in a tangled power struggle among several powerful vampires. Any of them could be a suspect, ... Read More