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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

Twice Magic: A strong follow-up to the first story

Twice Magic by Cressida Cowell

The second book in Cressida Cowell's WIZARDS OF ONCE series does everything a good sequel should: expand the world, develop the characters, and deepen the story. As we discovered in The Wizards of Once, Ancient Britain is inhabited by two distinct races: the Wizards, who live among the magical creatures of the forest, and the Warriors, who are armed with iron weapons, the only metal that can repel magic.

In the first book, we met Xar and Wish, two young people who've grown up on each side of this conflict. Xar is the rather arrogant and vainglorious youngest son of the King Wizard, Encanzo, while Wish is the more introspective and sweet-natured daughter of Queen Sychorax, leader of the Warriors. Read More

Last Dragon Standing: The epic finale

Last Dragon Standing by Rachel Aaron

Last Dragon Standing (2018) is the epic finale of Rachel Aaron’s self-published HEARTSTRIKERS series. I’ve been listening to the audio edition of the HEARTSTRIKERS novels and can recommend them without reservation to readers interested in this fun and heart-warming saga. I listened to them with my 19-year-old daughter and we loved the narration by Vikas Adam. If you haven’t read the previous four books, Nice Dragons Finish Last, One Good Dragon Deserves Another, No Good D... Read More

A Dragon of a Different Color: Not the best, but an essential, installment

A Dragon of a Different Color by Rachel Aaron

Rachel Aaron’s HEARTSTRIKERS series continues with the fourth novel, A Dragon of a Different Color (2017). It’s really no use to start this story here – you should first read Nice Dragons Finish Last, One Good Dragon Deserves Another, and No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished. At this point in the story, it’s hard to avoid a few spoilers for the previous books, but I’ll do my best.

In the prologue of A Dragon of a Different Color, we finally learn the history of the Detroit Free Zone (the DFZ), ... Read More

Aurora’s End: Squad 312’s galactic conflicts in the past, present and future

Aurora’s End by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

Aurora’s End, the final book in the AURORA CYCLE YA science fiction trilogy by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, begins and finishes with a bang — literally, lots of them — and sandwiches all kinds of wild events in between. (Note: this review includes some spoilers for the prior books in this series.)

When we left Squad 312, a group of young adult space academy grads trying to save the galaxy, at the end of book #2, Aurora Burning, they were split into three groups, ALL of them on the verge of being murdered in one way or another. As I commented in my review of Aurora Burning,... Read More

Understanding Genes: Might be tough reading for some, and too easy for others

Understanding Genes by Kostas Kampourakis 

Understanding Genes (2021), by Kostas Kampourakis, sits in a sometimes-awkward position betwixt and between a popular science book and a textbook. As such, lay readers looking for simple, smooth, easy-to-follow explanations may want to look elsewhere or be prepared to struggle and/or skim. Those with some background in biology (beyond their high school/early college courses) will fare better.

The intent of the book is a caution against genetic essentialism or fatalism and against the over-simplification, over-aggrandization, and over-simplification of the role genes play in human development generally, but especially (and mostly) with regard to disease. Here’s where the betwixt and between is a bit awkward, because while those who read about genetics only via the newspaper or online/TV news might be subjected to such ... Read More

The Girl and the Mountain: Stunning scenery

The Girl and the Mountain by Mark Lawrence

The Girl and the Mountain (2021) is the second installment in Mark Lawrence’s BOOK OF THE ICE series. It follows The Girl and the Stars, which you need to read first. There will be a few spoilers for that book in this review.

The Girl and the Stars introduced an icy world inhabited by tribes that follow a spiritual leader who, every few years, chooses each tribes’ weakest children and throws them into a hole in the ice where they, presumably, die. But when our hero, Yaz, jumps in after her brother, she discovers a new world below the ice where the children who’ve been disposed of have built their own civilization. When she realizes that the pr... Read More

Scribe: Come for the bleakness, stay for the poetry

Scribe by Alyson Hagy

Alyson Hagy’s slim 2018 literary novella Scribe mines Appalachian folktales for a bleak, harrowing and poetic story about loss, guilt, love and honor. By deliberately setting the story in a world outside of our time and space, Hagy forces attention onto the characters, which at times gives the book the feel of a stage-play more than a story or a poem.

In spite of an otherworldly setting, this novel isn’t speculative fiction. Hagy isn’t raising questions about how people live in a world like this one. She’s exploring the effects of isolation, guilt and trauma against a folkloric setting, and asking, “In a terrible situation, how do we find the good in each other?”

In order to help set expectations, I will engage in a mild spoiler. In this world, there has been an historic civil war. There have, it seems, been several wars. There have been mi... Read More

The Green Man: Screwball sci-fi

The Green Man by Harold M. Sherman

A short while back, I had some words to say about Festus Pragnell’s 1935 novel The Green Man of Graypec, which had originally appeared in the pages of Wonder Stories magazine and had given us the tale of a green-furred caveman living in a subatomic world. Now I am here to report on another green man, but one of a wholly different nature; one who hails not from the infinitesimally small microverse, but rather from a planet over a trillion miles away. The book in question is fittingly called The Green Man, was released over a decade after Pragnell’s novel and is very much lighter in tone. Most importantly, though, the book has revealed itself to be a delight to read.... Read More

Along the Saltwise Sea: Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for a week

Along the Saltwise Sea by A. Deborah Baker 

In the 2020 portal fantasy Over the Woodward Wall, by A. Deborah Baker (a pseudonym for the prolific Seanan McGuire), two children, Avery and Zib, climbed a granite wall that had inexplicably appeared in the road and were transported to a magical world, the Up-and-Under. It’s much like the land of Oz but with far sharper teeth, and Avery and Zib are anxious to find their way home to our world. They are told to follow the improbable road to the Impossible City, and there ask the Queen of Wands for help getting home.

Following the improbable road... Read More

12 Bytes: How We Got Here. Where We Might Go Next

12 Bytes: How We Got Here. Where We Might Go Next by Jeanette Winterson

In 12 Bytes: How We Got Here. Where We Might Go Next (2021), Jeanette Winterson offers up a dozen essays on Artificial Intelligence divided into four sections: “How we got here” (a dip into the history of computing), “What’s Your Superpower” (a philosophical/religious change in vision of matter), “Sex and Other Stories” (AI’s potential impact on love and sex), and “The Future” (what will change and what might not with the advent of AI). The essays are generally interesting and well written; there’s really not a “bad” one in the bunch. They do, however, still range somewhat in impact; in her introduction Winterson notes her “aim is modest,” and some of the essays, admittedly, don’t exceed that relatively humble goal.
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Call of Fire: Searching for friends in the shadow of Mount Rainier

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Call of Fire by Beth Cato

Call of Fire (2017) continues the adventures of Ingrid Carmichael, introduced in Breath of Earth as a secretary at a geomancy school with tremendous hidden powers and who, in this second BLOOD OF EARTH novel, is on the run from an ambitious ambassador with deadly secrets. This time, Beth Cato takes Ingrid, Lee Fong, Cy Jennings, and the brilliant engineer Mr. Fenris up the Pacific Northwest coastline to Portland and Seattle, where the Japanese influence of the United Pacific conglomeration is inescapable.

Ambassador Blum, a mysterious woman who can change her physical form and practices a dark form of reiki, desperately wants to get her hands on Ingrid, which forebodes all kinds of suffer... Read More

Nightshifted: Nurse Edie Spence’s first adventure

Nightshifted by Cassie Alexander

Edie Spence has a degree in nursing and a job at the County Hospital, in the Y4 ward. County Hospital, the public hospital that treats everyone, insured or not, is a tough gig at any time — Y4 is both tougher and weirder, being the floor that treats daylight servants of vampires, vampires themselves, shapeshifters, and all sorts of were-folk. Oh, and did I mention zombies? The work is hard and dangerous, the pay is abysmal, but by working here, Edie guarantees protection for her junkie brother.  As Nightshifted opens, Edie is consigning her decision to just one more in a long list of bad life choices.

Then a vampire patient dies, but not before giving Edie a puzzle, or perhaps placing her under a compulsion. When the night shift is over, Edie goes out searching for a person named Anna, the vampire’s dying request. She finds a dark apartment with a wall of pictures of ... Read More