We Love This!

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

Siren Queen: Another five-star read from Vo

Siren Queen by Nghi Vo

2022’s Siren Queen by Nghi Vo is another 5-star read. Set in the same world as The Chosen and the Beautiful, Siren Queen looks at the magic of movies, and the exploitative studio system of the medium’s early days. In Vo’s world, the magic of movies is real magic, and that magic is often hungry.

Our main character is a Chinese American girl in Los Angeles who becomes enthralled with the magic of moving pictures. Soon, a director picks her up as an extra, and he starts using her more and more frequently. Her father disapproves, but her mother sees that the family needs the money. When our protagonist is given a line to speak in a film, she feels the magic envelope her as she speaks, and knows this is what she wants to do with her life. The question is, can she do it on her own terms? The entire system is arrayed against her. Read More

The Stardust Thief: An impressive debut

The Stardust Thief by Chelsea Abdullah

The Stardust Thief (2022), by Chelsea Abdullah, is one of the more impressive debut novels I’ve read lately, offering up a bevy of strong narrative elements with barely a weakness to be found and using a well-known tale (1001 Nights) not as a basis for a retelling but as the germ of something that is its own lushly original story. It wasn’t until I neared the end that I had the happy realization this wasn’t a stand-alone novel but would give me two more chances to spend time in this world.

As a child, Loulie (AKA the Midnight Merchant) was the sole survivor when her tribe was massacred, rescued from the desert by Qadir, who now serves as her bodyguard as she plies her trade of finding and selling magical jinn relics. Her unique success in that area has caugh... Read More

All the Seas of the World: A master working at the top of his craft

All the Seas of the World by Guy Gavriel Kay

As I write this, it’s early spring in Rochester, and those who live in the Northeast knows what that means. Cold. Clouds. Wind. The false promise of warmth. The precipitation that no longer falls in feet and inches but instead has become a more annoying (and far less pretty) alternation of rain and sleet and hail that you know has to stop soon, will stop soon, but still Just. Keeps. On. Happening. Bleak, yes. But then here it is: a new Guy Gavriel Kay book arriving like an early harbinger of spring — a shaft of sun through the cloud cover, a cardinal’s trill cutting through the wind in the bushes, a sudden spike into the sixties. And suddenly you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

At least, not for a few hours, which is how long it took me to read All the Seas of the World, because when you start a Kay novel, you don’t want to put it down. Let the wor... Read More

Dionysos: The (sadly) final installment in a brilliant series

Dionysos by George O’Connor

With Dionysos, writer/illustrator George O’Connor’s OLYMPIANS series comes to an end after 12 titles and at this point, having reviewed a third of them and read more, all’s that need be said is either now you can complete your collection or, if you haven’t yet purchased any — and really, why haven’t you? —, now you can go out and get the whole thing. Because it’s simply great, start to finish. We've reviewed these previous installments: Zeus, Ares, Artemis, Hermes.

Every book i... Read More

Dead Silence: In space, no one can hear you go mad

Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes

“I have a screw loose. Somewhere.”

S.A. Barnes’s Dead Silence (2022) is a creepy, atmospheric, compelling “haunted house in space” story, told by a character whose self-concept is deeply fractured by PTSD and survivor guilt. Barnes glides through various types of horror, driving up the fear and suspense with every new discovery a salvage team makes on the derelict luxury space liner they find.

Claire Kovalik is the Team Leader of a small crew of in-solar-system communication-web maintenance workers. The system is being upgraded, rendering their jobs obsolete. Everyone on the five-person crew is eager to head back to earth — except Claire, who seriously considers unclipping her tether and dying in space rather than returning planetside. When Lourdes, her comms person, picks up a faint distress call on an outdated frequency, Claire jumps at the... Read More

Age of Ash: The first in yet another must-read series

Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham

I have to say, my timing of reading Daniel Abraham’s newest novel, Age of Ash (2022), couldn’t have been better, coming as it did right after I finished the last EXPANSE novel, the series he co-wrote with Ty Franck (as James S.A. Corey). After all, while THE EXPANSE has been my favorite sci-fi series for the past number of years, Abraham was also responsible for two of my favorite fantasy series: THE LONG PRICE QUARTET and Read More

The Human Chord: “What’s in a name?”

The Human Chord by Algernon Blackwood

In his masterful collection of 1912 entitled Pan’s Garden, British author Algernon Blackwood clearly displayed his belief in the sentience and awareness of such facets of Nature as trees, snow, gardens, the wind, subterranean fires, the seas and the deserts, and of their transformative powers for those with the ability to discern them. One facet of Nature not dealt with in Pan’s Garden, however, was sound itself, and now that I have finally experienced Blackwood’s novel of two years earlier, The Human Chord, I believe I know why. The subject of sound, you see, and of its ability to transfigure and create, lies at the very heart of this novel, and is dealt with in a very ... Read More

Goliath: Sets a high bar for 2022

Goliath by Tochi Onyebuchi 

Goliath (2022), by Tochi Onyebuchi, is the first 2022 book I've read and already I'm assuming it's going to be on my Best of the Year list next December. That said, while I'm obviously strongly recommending it, thanks to its structure and style, it won't be to everyone's taste (What book is?), though I certainly hope everyone gives it a shot.

The novel is set in a near-future, post-pandemic, post-natural disaster, post-man-made disaster, post-apocalyptic Earth (New Haven in particular) that has been abandoned by those with the economic and racial privilege to take up residency in the Colonies — large orbital habitats free from the environmental devastation below, a planet poisoned by radiation and pollution and wracked by climate change. A planet where some (... Read More

Pan’s Garden: A stunning collection from “The Ghost Man”

Pan’s Garden by Algernon Blackwood

By the time the renowned British writer Algernon Blackwood released his first collection of short stories, The Empty House, in 1906, he was already 37 years old and had led a life as full of adventure and incident as anyone you might possibly name. He had already worked as a dairy farmer and hotel operator in Canada, gone prospecting for gold in Alaska, been a bartender, and worked as a NYC reporter for The Evening Sun, among other things; occupations that would go to make good material for his 1923 autobiography Episodes Before Thirty. As the new century got under way, Blackwood, long interested in Buddhism, philosophy and the supernatural, joined several occult societies, including The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. His love of nature compelled him to... Read More

The Sentence: A haunted bookshop is a window into America

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

“sentence (n)1. A grammatical unit comprising a word or a group of words that is separate from any other grammatical construction, and usually consists of at least one subject with its predicate and contains a finite verb or verb phrase; for example, ‘The door is open’ and ‘Go!’ are sentences.”

I didn’t know what to expect from Louise Erdrich’s metafictional ghost story The Sentence (2021) and she still managed to surprise me. Starting with the title, Erdrich addresses a number of issues in this story, told mostly by Tookie, who works at a bookstore in Minneapolis, owned by a well-known writer named Louise. Tookie is being haunted by Flora, a (dead) customer.

Tookie served ten years of a different kind of sentence, a sixty-year sentence for movin... Read More

Black Magic: Sandy’s Favorite Read of 2021

Black Magic by Marjorie Bowen

The British publishing firm Sphere Books had a really wonderful thing going for itself back in the 1970s: a series of 45 books, both fiction and nonfiction, curated by the hugely popular English supernatural novelist Dennis Wheatley, and titled Dennis Wheatley’s Library of the Occult. This reader had already experienced seven of these novels in the natural order of things, in other editions – titles such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), Read More

The Annual Migration of Clouds: Hope gleams through a dark future

The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamad

Whether it’s writing weird horror, fantasy, science fiction or science horror fiction — a subgenre I think I just made up — Premee Mohamad is one of the best around right now, and she does great work in the novella length. Her latest example is 2021’s The Annual Migration of Clouds, a short, harrowing work set in a tight-knit community surviving after catastrophic climate change and a loss of arable topsoil.

Reid is a teenaged girl in a small, successful community. This group is egalitarian, with each person doing their part to keep things running, even though they have no farmland, no electricity, and little in the way of medicine. Reid is one of the miraculously lucky few who just got an invitation to Howse University, an enclave of pre-disaster learning and... Read More

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 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, defying ... 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

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

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 include the... 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 by teenag... 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 crash),... 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’t e... 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 search o... 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 affecting w... 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 Tonk... Read More