5

Click on stars to FIND REVIEWS BY RATING:
Recommended:
Not Recommended:

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (vol. 9): The Reign of the Black Flame: The return of the Fire Starter

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (vol. 9): The Reign of the Black Flame by Mike Mignola (writer), John Arcudi (writer), James Harren (art), Dave Stewart (colors), Clem Robins (letters). 

At the end of last issue, Liz regains her powers and returns to the B.P.R.D., and Fenix, too, returns to the base. Both of them are in time to join the teams going into New York, so this issue starts with them on the ground, on a fact-finding mission. Kate Corrigan gave them orders to assess the threats in New York and, if possible, reduce those threats. Theirs is not a rescue mission, though that doesn’t seem a possibility anyway, since they don’t seem to be able to find anybody left in New York as they make their way in on foot.

There’s a secondary team coming in through New Jersey, and they are working with the Russians, so Iosif is leading that mission. Without Fenix, they are unable to avoid dangerous situations, and th... Read More

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

How to Build a Human: In Seven Evolutionary Steps

How to Build a Human: In Seven Evolutionary Steps by Pamela S. Turner and illustrated by John Gurche

I often tell my first-year college students that when they start out doing research, they should begin not with the academic journals, which so many of them do, and not with the newspaper or magazine articles, but with books written for young readers. Because what they want is something that is brief, broad, shallow but informative, easy to understand. Something that strips out the overwhelming details and provides them a strong foundational understanding of the major points so that when they do eventually research more deeply, the details will make a lot more sense to them, will be “fitted into” an intellectual framework they’ve constructed for themselves. I add as well that they are lucky in that they’re currently living in a golden age of non-fiction for young readers, not only in terms of quantity but quality as well.

E... 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

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (vol. 8): Lake of Fire: The humans fight back against the monsters

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (vol. 8): Lake of Fire by Mike Mignola (writer), John Arcudi (writer), Tyler Crook (art), Dave Stewart (colors), Clem Robins (letters)

The B.P.R.D. is running missions to try to save people from the apocalyptic events happening around the world. They’ve lost to the monsters in England and in multiple large cities in the U.S., so at the moment they are focusing on trying to get into New York and launch some rescue missions. We follow some of the B.P.R.D. agents who are going into New York, including Howards with his mystical, mythical sword with which he is deadly. But in this volume, we don’t yet get to see this mission launched. We see only the preparations. We also see that the B.P.R.D., with the help of the Russians, is starting to investigate Zinco, which is based in New York.

Liz is in a hospital and trying to recover from injury from a collapsed building. She’s been bedridden for two months. She... Read More

Inheritors of Power: The truth of the broken trust is revealed

Inheritors of Power by Juliette Wade

“…A single executive, when chosen by vote of the general population, is not at all the same as a king.”

Inheritors of Power (2022) is like a magic trick, exploding everything I thought I understood about the Varin society from the first two books in the BROKEN TRUST series. I had assumed that the political system in place in Varin’s underground cities had started off basically good and jiggled off-track over time. With Book Three, I have to re-examine that conclusion, and I’m not the only one. Revelations in this book upend belief systems for in-world characters as well as the reader.

To take care of the trivial issues first: I also assumed that the series title, “The Broken Trust” was meant metaphorically. This book sets me straight, revealing the meaning of the series name. It also continues the family saga of V... Read More

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (Vol. 6): The Return of the Master: Apocalypse now

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (Vol. 6): The Return of the Master by Mike Mignola (writer), John Arcudi (writer), Tyler Crook (art), Dave Stewart (colors), and Clem Robins (letters)

In Colorado, Fenix, the young girl who shot Abe Sapien, confesses to Kate at the B.P.R.D., and she also offers her services since she can tell when certain events are going to happen, though she doesn’t have a lot of control over her power. So far, she’s been able to lead a group of young people safely during the apocalyptic evens of B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth. But now she has made her way to the B.P.R.D. and will join forces with them. Devon takes Fenix to Panya, who will help her hone her mystical skills. But that training is hard on Fenix, and she’s not sure she wants to continue with it. Fenix’s journey in this book will take her beyond the B.P.R.D.

Kate sends an agent to Scotland to investigate new supernatural threats, and w... 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

Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites: Animal horror adventure stories

Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites by Evan Dorkin (writer) and Jill Thompson (artist)

Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites is about a group of dogs that seek out the supernatural. In the first story, they call on a wise dog who helps them free the spirit of a dog haunting a doghouse. In the second story, they deal with a black cat who is acting as a familiar for humans about to enact a sacred ritual of black magic. First they capture the black cat, and then they go to see and disrupt the ritual (with dire consequences for the humans). On each adventure, they drag one of the neighborhood cats, “Orphan,” into their plans.

In the third story, “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie,” is about the return of the black cat who raises dead dogs from the grave using a spell from her previous masters. The cat wants to command the zombie dogs to attack the dogs that captured her, but it turns out zombie dogs don’t like cats any mo... Read More

Resident Alien (Vol. 3): The Sam Hain Mystery: The mystery of an old pulp fiction novelist

Resident Alien (Vol. 3): The Sam Hain Mystery By Peter Hogan (writer) and Steve Parkhouse (artist)

In Resident Alien: The Sam Hain Mystery, Harry’s arrival in the town of Patience a few years ago is revealed as well as how he acquired the money needed to live for years without an income. We also find out why he came to earth in the first place. These flashbacks are accompanied with what the secret government agency is doing to track down Harry (code name Icarus). Given the mistake he made in the last volume, the agency has picked up his trail again: A random photographer accidentally got pictures of Harry and Asta in the background of a picture he was taking and has published pictures of Harry on the web. The link goes viral, and the government intensifies their search for Icarus.

In Patience, Harry is moving from the cabin outside of town that he’s lived in for the past two-and-a-half years. With the... 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

Resident Alien (Vol. 2): The Suicide Blonde: Another murder mystery for an alien detective

Resident Alien (Vol. 2): The Suicide Blonde By Peter Hogan (writer) and Steve Parkhouse (artist)

In Resident Alien: The Suicide Blonde, the story opens with Asta (the nurse) and her father spirit walking in a dream-state, looking in on our resident alien, Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle. Asta’s father warns her not to let Harry know that she knows he is an alien. They do not want to alarm Harry and cause him to run. Asta’s father says that there are people looking for him, and that if he runs, it will call unnecessary attention to Harry.

We also get flashbacks to three years ago when Harry first landed, and we see the government agency go into action trying to track him down after finding his spaceship. They have one image of Harry looking like an alien, an image taken from an ATM at a local mall not far from where Harry crashed. We also get scenes of Harry trying to escape the area three years ago. We follow... 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

Resident Alien (Vol. 1): Welcome to Earth!: A murder mystery with an alien investigator

Resident Alien (Vol. 1): Welcome to Earth! By Peter Hogan (writer) and Steve Parkhouse (artist)

In Resident Alien, Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle is a ship-wrecked alien in a small town, acting as a general practitioner. He appears as a human to adults — only small children can see his alien appearance. So, he goes undetected. He’s a matter-of-fact, down-to-earth kind of guy, and this first volume (of six volumes so far) by Peter Hogan tells us the story of how he came to be a doctor in the first place.

When our story opens, he’s been living for two years in isolation in a cabin on the outskirts of town. He’s out on the lake in front of the cabin fishing one day when the police come to request his help, since they’ve heard he’s a doctor. When we first see him, we, as readers, can see him as an alien, but the police see only a man in a boat. The police chief, Mike, calls to the alien. When he gets to ... 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

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (Vol. 4): The Devil’s Engine and The Long Death: Two stories about confronting monsters

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (Vol. 4): The Devil’s Engine and The Long Death by Mike Mignola (writer), John Arcudi (writer), Tyler Crook (artist), James Harren (artist), Dave Stewart (colorist), and Clem Robins (letterer).

B.P.R.D. Hell on Earth (Vol. 4) gets off to a quick start. In The Devil’s Engine, we begin in New Mexico with Fenix the psychic boarding a train that, she says, makes her uncomfortable. This can be only a bad sign from a psychic. She’s accompanied by field agent Andrew Devon from the B.P.R.D. who is escorting Fenix back to the Colorado B.P.R.D. base. When Fenix’s predictions about the train start to come true at the start of the story, Devon’s and Fenix’s journey turns into a road trip from hell. They must face some of the monsters that are roaming the world and take them head-on. Also, Devon has a burning question that he’s been curious to ask Fenix about.
Read More

The Many Deaths of Laila Starr: Contemplative comic on death and memory

The Many Deaths of Laila Starr by Ram V (writer) and Filipe Andrade (art)

I really like this comic book by Ram V and Filipe Andrade: It tells the story of a man who has to meet with the former Goddess of Death once every decade or so. When a baby, prophesized to one day create immortality, was born, Laila Starr lost her job as Goddess of Death. She is returned to earth in a mortal body of a woman who just died and seeks out the baby to kill it. But with the baby in her hands in the hospital nursery, she is unable to do the unspeakable. Pursued by police at the hospital, she makes her escape. At the end of issue one (of five), Laila dies for the first time.

The multiple lives of Laila and the baby—Darius—are intertwined in this story. We get the story of Darius as a twenty-year-old in issue three enjoying, first, being in love and then, suffering his first breakup. With issues four and five, we see him get older by many years, ... 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 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 aggravatin... Read More