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Hell Bent: Return to magical Yale

Hell Bent by Leigh Bardugo

When 2023’s Hell Bent, by Leigh Bardugo, opens, a demon has trapped Galaxy Stern, who goes by Alex, in the basement of the Black Elm house, along with two ghosts. Upstairs, her friend and mentor, Darlington, who was sucked into a hell dimension in Ninth House, Book One of the ALEX STERN series, waits in demon form. It’s safe to say things aren’t going well.

The second book brings us back to dark Yale and the home of the various secret societies, all of whom use magic. Alex, together with Pam Dawes, the archivist or “Oculus” of Lethe House, and Detective Turner, a New Haven cop who is in on the magic deal and serves as “Centurion,” are determined to restore Darlington to this realm. As you’d expect, all forces are arrayed against them; demonic, mundane and a... Read More

Legendborn: There’s much to like in this debut

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Legendborn by Tracy Deonn

Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn (2020), the first book in her LEGENDBORN CYCLE, wasn’t on my radar until I saw it on the Locus Awards finalists list for Best Young Adult novel. I grabbed the audiobook and one of the YAs that lives in my house (Tali, my 18-year-old daughter) and we listened to Legendborn together as we worked a jigsaw puzzle. We agreed to give Legendborn a rating of 3.5 which is quite a bit lower than the book currently rates at both Amazon and GoodReads, so keep that in mind (YMMV). The bottom line is that we found the story entertaining and wanted to know what happened, but there were too many issues for us to fully endorse Legendborn.

Bree Matthews is a young black high school student who is smart and succ... Read More

Even Though I Knew the End: Powerful setting and period piece

Even Though I Knew the End by C.L. Polk

Let me start with what I loved about C.L. Polk’s 2022 novella, Even Though I Knew the End. I loved the premise of the magical system at play here, and the story delivered a 1940s Chicago, Illinois, that was both familiar and convincingly strange. The Wink, a lesbian bar that has rolled through several incarnations in its lifetime, is a sheer delight of evocative description.

I liked the fast-moving plot and Polk’s spin on the hard-boiled detective story. Helen Brandt was a promising auspex or magical practitioner (her original area of expertise was astrology), destined to assist her brother in the Brotherhood of the Compass. When a car accident derailed her entire life, Helen made a decision that was anathema to the Brotherhood — and to many others in this world where conventional Christianity (presumably all organized religions) and magic live side-by-side. N... Read More

Knock Three Times: Wizards and Warriors join forces

Knock Three Times by Cressida Cowell

The third book in Cressida Cowell's THE WIZARDS OF ONCE sees our young protagonists on an adventure to collect the rare ingredients needed to banish the terrible Witches that have recently awoken all across Ancient Britain.

As difficult as it may be to find the scales of a Nuckalavee, it's even stranger to consider the team they've assembled to retrieve them. Xar is the youngest son of the Head Wizard Encanzo, while Wish is the daughter of the cold Queen Sychorax, two tribes that have been at war for generations.

To make matters worse, Xar is struggling with the Witchstain on his hand (the result of his ill-fated attempt to gain magical powers) and Wish has recently found out that she has magical abilities that can work on iron (though magic is strictly forbidden among the Warrior tribes).... Read More

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau: A lush SF melodrama

The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

It’s 1877, and on a decaying rancho deep in the Yucatán peninsula, Carlota Moreau’s sheltered life — and world — is about to change. Carlota’s father, Doctor Moreau, conducts experiments on human-animal hybrids, with a stated goal of improving humanity. When his patrons, the Lizalde family, threaten to withdraw their support, catastrophic events are set in motion with Carlota at their center.

“Melodrama” has a bad reputation, but when it’s done intentionally and well, it is a high-quality entertainment form. In the hands of a prose stylist as good as Moreno-Garcia, it’s elevated. 2022’s The Daughter of Doctor Moreau was inspired by the H.G. Wells book The Island of Doctor Moreau, but it isn’t a retelling. With many of the same issues, it is a different story. Alongside the ethical questions of the doctor... Read More

Living Memory: A fast-paced techno-thriller

Living Memory by David Walton

Living Memory (2022), by David Walton, is a fast-paced techno-thriller that reads with a bit of an echo of Michael Crichton, though with a premise that I’d say is more richly imaginative than at least the several Crichton works I’ve read. The beginning of a new series, this first book will leave many a reader eager for more.

The story’s opening is set in Thailand where an American-funded group of paleontologists, led by American Samira Shannon, are frantically wrapping up a dig site thanks to a just-announced deportation policy following the installation of a new government via a Chinese-backed coup.  As they’re readying to leave, the paleontologists make a stunning discovery, but before they can further explore it, they find themselves arrested by the Thai police/military as CIA spies. Eventually the narrative splits into several strands. One follows Samira’s expe... Read More

Stan Lee: A Life

Stan Lee: A Life (Centennial Edition) by Bob Batchelor

Bob Batchelor’s biography of Stan Lee, titled unsurprisingly Stan Lee, is a solid if somewhat stylistically flat look at the life of a man who has had a huge cultural impact. People who pay attention to this sort of thing won’t find a lot new here, and may even find the book’s gloss over things a bit frustrating, but for casual fans of Marvel movies who have a first-time interest in where this behemoth began, the book suffices.

We pick up with a young Stanley Lieber growing up in NYC in the 30s, important because of how, as Batchelor makes clear throughout the book, the problems Lee’s father had in finding/keeping a steady job had a major impact on Lee, creating not only a strong work ethic but also making it nigh on impossible for him to quit a job that he wasn’t sure he wanted or enjoyed. Luckily for many of us, that belief in keeping the ... Read More

The Ecolitan Operation: I’d like to see where this is going

The Ecolitan Operation by L.E. Modesitt Jr

Major Jimjoy Wright is the Empire’s most successful secret agent. That’s because he’s strong, brave, clever, deceptive, ruthless, and totally goal-oriented. Once he accepts a mission from his government, nothing gets in his way. He always gets the job done.

Though JimJoy thinks he’s highly ethical, most people would find his consequentialism to be psychopathic. For example, JimJoy is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people. This doesn’t bother him because if he hadn’t destroyed them, millions of other innocent people probably would have died (it’s like an extreme version of the Trolley Problem).

The fall-out from JimJoy’s actions are causing problems f... Read More

The Deep and Shining Dark: Intriguing enough to check out book 2

The Deep and Shining Dark by Juliet Kemp

The opening of a new series, The Deep and Shining Dark is a debut novel by Juliet Kemp, that for the most part avoids many if not all of the common issues of first books, making for a smoothly enjoyable read that falls just a bit short of a richly realized story.

The city of Marek is ostensibly part of the larger nation of Teren. It for some time now has operated as an independent city-state thanks to several factors: being a port city, having a strong trading relationship with the dominant sea-faring nation of Salina, and being the only place in Teren where magic doesn’t require blood.

This last is due to a century-old agreement made between the founders of the city and a spirit known since then as the cityangel. Now though, change is coming to disrupt the city’s long-standing stability — a plague has killed all but two of Marek’s sorcerers,... Read More

The People that Time Forgot: Adventure and romance

Reposting to include Sandy's new review.

The People that Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The People that Time Forgot (1918) is the second novel in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ CASPAK trilogy. In the first installment, The Land that Time Forgot, Bowen Tyler gets stranded on Caspak, a lost world where prehistoric animals and subhuman people exist. The story picks up in The People that Time Forgot as Bowen’s friend Tom Billings decides to go looking for him. When Tom lands on Caspak, he doesn’t have much time to search for his friend because it takes all his effort just to survive.

The People that Time Forgot offers all of the pulpy masculine adventure found in The Land that Time Forgot. There’s a constant stream of bears, dinosaurs, sabertooth tigers, barbarian warriors, and other creatures to fight, so Tom gets to prove his manliness as he... Read More

Off to be the Wizard: Silly, charming, and just what I needed

Off to be the Wizard by Scott Meyer

After being on a bit of a horror and dark fantasy diet, I decided I needed something lighter, a palate cleanser if you will. Off to Be the Wizard (2014) by Scott Meyer kept showing up in my recommendations for a light and humorous fantasy. As it turned out, Off to be the Wizard was exactly what I was looking for.

The story follows Martin Banks who is a data entry clerk for a large company. In his spare time he browses the massive databases of these corporations hoping to find something interesting. He stumbles upon a file that, when edited, alters reality. He finds his own personal entry in the file and begins to change his life.

It should be noted that Martin is kind of an idiot. He rarely thinks things through, and it lands him in trouble. He eventually finds himself in medieval Englund pretending to be a wizar... Read More

The Untold Story: A convincing finale

The Untold Story by Genevieve Cogman

Irene and her team face the most dangerous question of all in 2021’s The Untold Story. With this book, the overarching plotline of the INVISIBLE LIBRARY series is resolved, although Genevieve Cogman has tweeted that there may be different stories in the future.

This review may contain spoilers for earlier books in the series.

Like all the INVISIBLE LIBRARY books, this one plunges us straight into danger and action, as librarian Irene and her Great Detective friend Vale enter a secret undersea base in search of a letter. The letter should contain vital information about worlds that have suddenly disappeared. In Irene’s universe, realities range between two poles: Order, represented by the Dragons, and Chaos, represented by the Fae. Both the Fa... Read More

Minimum Wage Magic: A new DFZ series

Minimum Wage Magic by Rachel Aaron

My teenage daughter (Tali) and I enjoyed listening together to the audiobook editions of Rachel Aaron’s HEARTSTRIKERS series, so we were pleased to learn that Aaron wrote (and self-published) a spin-off series also set in the Detroit Free Zone (DFZ), which takes place a couple of decades after the end of Last Dragon Standing.

But you don’t need to read the HEARTSTRIKERS books first, so feel free to jump in right here with Minimum Wage Magic (2018).

The DFZ series, beginning with Minimum Wage Magic, stars Opal Yong-ae, a young mage who ekes out a living in the DFZ by working as a “Cleaner.” This nasty, bu... Read More

The Cave of a Thousand Columns: The land down UNDER

The Cave of a Thousand Columns by T.E. Grattan-Smith

I have never been to the continent of Australia before, and after watching a number of videos, both online and on television, concerning the fauna and flora there, I am really in no great rush to go. Perhaps you’re familiar with some of the videos I mean? Australia, it would seem, is home to the inland taipan snake (the world’s most venomous snake), kamikaze magpies, the freshwater bull shark, the Australian honeybee (one of the world’s most poisonous insects), raining spiders, the flying fox (the largest bat in the world), paralysis ticks, and the toxic gympie gympie tree. Still planning a visit? The country is also home to the predatory saltwater crocodile, giant centipedes, red-backed spiders (poisonous, natch), swarming soldier beetles, the Sydney funnel-web spider (the world’s most venomous spider), the coastal taipan snake (almost as bad as the inland one!), strychnine t... Read More

The Dark Archive: One for the fans

The Dark Archive by Genevieve Cogman

Fans of THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY series will enjoy 2020’s The Dark Archive. Cogman’s intrepid librarian Irene bounds from one adventure to another, armed with her wits, magical knowledge and the power of the Library’s Language. This story adds important information to the conspiracy that is bubbling in the background, while serving up a comfortable, familiar set of adventures for Irene and her team. Along the way, we get to know some secondary characters a bit better.

When Irene’s detective friend Peregrine Vale takes Irene through a suboceanic tunnel to retrieve a vitally important letter, the two realize almost immediately that they’ve been lured into a trap, fighting zombiefied sailors who are being compelled by mechanical cerebral controllers. Escaping them, Irene co... Read More

Noor: Okorafor weaves another stunning imaginary world

Noor by Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor’s 2021 Noor is a short, fast-paced science fiction novel. The futuristic energy delivery system called Noor, and the “Red Spot” dust storm are innovative, made plausible by Okorafor’s grounded writing and her fine eye for detail.

Anwuli calls herself AO for Artificial Organism. Considered “wrong” even before birth, AO was seriously injured in a car accident when she was a young adult. An experimental process gave her prosthetic limbs and cerebral implants. She is an outsider, tolerated, barely, because of her useful skills. Her peaceful life in a small Nigerian town ends when, on a trip to the market, a group of men attack her with no provocation. AO’s instinctive reaction leaves dead people in her wake, and her on the run, heading into the desert.

While she is es... Read More

The Sea Girl: The original water-gate break-in

The Sea Girl by Ray Cummings

A little while back, I had some words to say concerning Garrett P. Serviss’ truly excellent apocalyptic novel The Second Deluge, which was originally released in 1911. In that book, the Earth passes through a so-called “watery nebula,” and the resultant downpours cause the world’s oceans to rise over 30,000 feet, effectively inundating the entire planet! Well, now I am here to tell you about another Radium Age wonder, with precisely the opposite scenario. In Ray CummingsThe Sea Girl, all the oceans on Earth mysteriously start to drop ever lower, until the point is reached where barely a drop remains, thus changing practically everything on our fair planet!

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Devolution: A Bigfoot horror story

Devolution by Max Brooks

I spent countless hours as a kid rummaging the local libraries and shops for stories about Bigfoot. I was a walking encyclopedia for all things Sasquatch, Yeti, Yowie, Skunk Ape, Hairy Man, and even Harry Henderson. The idea of an 8-foot primate rampaging through the forest terrorizing campers is really my jam.

Although I now may no longer “believe” in the Bigfoot story as an actual thing that exists, I’m still a sucker for a good Sasquatch story. I couldn’t get to the bookstore fast enough when I heard that World War Z author Max Brooks had taken a crack at some Bigfoot horror with his novel Devolution (2020).

The story takes place after the eruption of Mt. Rainier... Read More

Vampires of the Andes: Almost too much for me

Vampires of the Andes by Henry Carew

Just as it’s patently obvious that “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” it seems to me that one might justifiably add the statement “You can’t judge a book by its title, either.” Case in point: the novel that I recently experienced, Vampires of the Andes. Now, with a title like that, one might automatically be led to assume that this would be a rather pulpy, empty-headed affair; a simply written story, perhaps concerning a gaggle of caped and transplanted Carpathian neck noshers, now residing in South America and sucking on the maidenly necks of the local senoritas. And as it turns out, you would be incorrect pretty much all the way down the line, as the book is anything but simply written, and the vampires of its title are rather … well, more on them in a moment.

Vampires of the Andes was originally release... Read More

The Circus Infinite: A night at the circus

The Circus Infinite by Khan Wong

I’ll start off with a list of things I liked from 2022’s The Circus Infinite, a science fiction novel by Khan Wong:

Wonderful, occasionally psychedelic visuals
Interesting world building
Unusual non-human characters
“What happens on Persephone-9 stays on Persephone-9”
A brisk start that balances action with exposition
The circus!

The Circus Infinite introduces us to Jes, who is on the lam from an evil Institute when the story opens. Jes lays down a false trail at a spaceport, and leaves the planet of Indra for Persephone-9, a moon orbiting the planet of Persephone. The pleasure moon is the Las Vegas of this star system, and Jes hopes he can keep his head down, that he and his extraordinary ability can avoid detection.

Well, that doesn’t happen.
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The Quarter Storm: An engaging hero helms this new contemporary fantasy series

The Quarter Storm by Veronica G. Henry

Mambo Reina Dumond is a Vodou practitioner, a servant of the lwa Erzulie, whose domain comprises river waters, healing and love. Born in Haiti, Reina moved with her family to the USA when she was a child, and now she lives and practices her tradition in New Orleans. Reina’s life is beset by mundane struggles—like getting paid for her sessions or having a bad hair day—until a brutal mutilation-murder in the French Quarter seems to point to a fellow vodouisant, Mambo Salimah. When Reina starts to investigate, she faces wall after wall of obstacles, some of which threaten her safety and her life.

The Quarter Storm (2022), by Veronica G. Henry is Book One of the MAMBO REINA series. I really enjoyed this protagonist. Reina is a little older than the average “urban fantasy... Read More

The Sea Demons: When Ira Met Ida

The Sea Demons by Victor Rousseau

In his 1896 short story entitled “The Sea Raiders,” British author H. G. Wells wrote of a newly discovered race of giant cephalopods, Haploteuthis ferox, that suddenly takes to terrorizing and devouring some unfortunate residents on the Devonshire coast. It is a wonderful tale, really, expertly written by the legendary author in an almost documentary manner. But this, of course, was hardly the first time that an English writer would give us a tale of oceanic monstrosities rising up from the deep. Just 20 years later, thus, the world was given another such story, one that was not nearly as well written as the Wells piece, but, to its credit, posited a menace on a much broader geographic scale. The book in question, The Sea Demons, was written by an author named Victor Rousseau and has, like i... Read More

The Unspoken Name: An interesting mix of fantasy and science fiction

The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood

The Unspoken Name
(2020) is the first in A.K. Larkwood’s SERPENT’S GATE series, and it’s an intriguing opener that creates a fascinating world and introduces more than a few interesting characters, though the book had a few pacing issues and overall didn’t quite fulfill I’d say its full potential. That said, having read book two, I can say that those issues disappear in the sequel, so readers should feel fine jumping in and knowing the journey is worth it.

The main character, Cswore, is the chosen one of a cult that worships a nameless god (the Shrine of the Unspoken Name). While Chosen One often means the hero of a tale, here, unfortunately for Cswore, it means she’s been selected as a child to be sacrificed to the god when she comes of age (at 14). The story has a bit of... Read More

Cress: Full of action, humor, and romance

Cress by Marissa Meyer

My teenage daughter and I have been enjoying the audio versions of Marissa Meyer’s LUNAR CHRONICLES. The third one is Cress (2014) and it follows Cinder and Scarlet, which you’ll need to read first. (There are bound to be some spoilers for those novels in this review of Cress.)

Each of the LUNAR CHRONICLES stories is a fresh and loose retelling of a classic fairy tale: Cinder = Cinderella, Scarlet = Red Riding Hood, and Cress = Rapunzel.

Cress begins with a helpful summary of events so far in which we are ... Read More

Invaders From the Dark: Wolf’s Bane

Invaders From the Dark by Greye La Spina

In my review of the splendid collection entitled The Women of Weird Tales, which was released by Valancourt Books in 2020, I mentioned that I’d been very impressed with the five stories by Greye La Spina to be found therein, and was now interested in checking out the author’s classic novel of modern-day lycanthropy, Invaders From the Dark. Well, it took a little searching until I found a copy of said book for what I considered a decent price, but I am here now to tell you … mission accomplished, and to share some thoughts on what has turned out to be a fun and surprisingly grisly novel, indeed.

La Spina, for those of you who are unfamiliar with this unjustly neglected writer, was born Fanny Greye Bragg, in Wakefield, Massach... Read More