May 252018

Cover of Brief Cases by Jim Butcher.Locus: This new collection in the Dresden Files series offers 12 entertaining stories, some real gems. Three of my favorites, previously collected as Working for Bigfoot, are relatively light stories about Harry and a sasquatch who needs help for his half-human son. Several take the viewpoint of characters other than Harry Dresden, with a couple of standouts featuring Harry’s apprentice Molly, who gets all dressed up to rescue Harry’s brother Thomas from svartalves and Fomor in “Bombshells” and then gets sent off to Alaska in her role as Winter Lady of the Fae for the more harrowing “Cold Case” with Lovecraftian overtones. “Day One” finds medical examiner Waldo Butters on his first mission as a Knight of the Cross, battling necromancers in ways that involve his love of gaming and polka.

The collection wraps up with the one original tale, the charming novella “Zoo Day”, about Harry trying to be a dad, with a day at the zoo with his daughter Maggie and his magical dog Mouse, with everyone doing their best to make it a good outing until magical threats interfere. First Harry narrates, as he goes off to deal with a teen warlock, then Maggie takes over in an encounter with “creeps” only kids can see, and then Mouse tells about a battle of his own – and only Mouse is really aware of what the others are doing, too, providing a charmingly different viewpoint that sums it all up nicely.

Butcher adds some insight into his process with amusing and revealing notes on the stories and characters.

May 232018

Cover of The Great Bastards by Jonathan French.Publishers Weekly: French’s half-orcs, halflings, centaurs, and others have rich histories and folklore, giving the work depth while never getting in the way of the fun. This is excellent fantasy fare on all levels.

May 182018

Cover of Artificial Condition by Martha Wells.RT Book Reviews: Much like the anxiety-ridden but good-hearted Murderbot itself, this series is a delight, carefully balancing snark and other humor without ever concealing (or even really trying to conceal) the real and serious character work and emotional intensity that’s at work here.

Wells doesn’t downplay the trauma and existential questions [that] underpin parts of the story, but also keeps it swift-moving and delightful, partly by respecting those aspects of the story instead of trying to gloss over them.

As before, Murderbot makes for a wonderful protagonist and narrative voice, one of the most compelling reluctant heroes science fiction has seen in a while.

May 172018

Cover of Always Never Yours by Austin Siegemund-Broka and Emily Wibberley.School Library Journal: Megan Harper has always played a supporting character in her own life. Every boyfriend she has had has found a better match right after breaking up with her.

Megan has one true passion in life: directing theater productions. She is excited to hopefully attend a local theater program for college, but first she must get an acting credit. She hopes for a small role, but is surprised when she is cast as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, opposite her best friend’s boyfriend who also happens to be Megan’s most recent ex. When she falls for a stagehand named Will, she enlists the help of her new friend Owen Okita to land the new guy. It’s Owen, however, who truly sees Megan for who she is.

Megan is no wallflower and she doesn’t subscribe to any conventions when it comes to romance and sex. She is a direct young woman who doesn’t play games but also doesn’t yet know what she really wants. The diverse cast includes a Japanese American love interest and a black, gay friend who struggles in a relationship with a boy who is still in the closet, in addition to the white female lead.

A delightful, light romance readers won’t be able to put down.
May 102018

Cover of Lake Silence by Anne Bishop.Locus: The need for understanding between humans and Others remains the crux of this first volume in a new arc in Bishop’s world of the Others.

There are definite similarities with the previous volumes, such as the focus on bemused Others learning from a human female needing protection from bad men, but new characters and the small-town setting offer intriguing differences. Vicki DeVine got the run-down lakeside resort called The Tumble as part of her divorce settlement, and though she knows the land itself is controlled by the Others, she doesn’t come face-to-face with the fact until she catches her only lodger, Aggie Crowe, microwaving a human eyeball. Aggie’s one of the shapeshifting Others, a crow, who stumbled across a human body.

Misunderstandings continually crop up, often with amusing results, but also with an edge of fear, since some of the Others have great power, no tolerance for human stupidity, and no compunction about killing. 

The tone edges towards horror at points, though it’s frequently defused as things go amusingly over-the-top. The bad guys are loathsome, some of the locals are delightful, and new types of Others help keep things fun.

May 082018

Cover of The Great Bastards by Jonathan French.Kirkus: French’s adrenaline-fueled adventure fantasy, which features badass gangs of tattooed half-orcs on the backs of giant war hogs thundering across a lawless wasteland, is an unapologetically brutal thrill ride—like Mad Max set in Tolkien’s Middle-earth.

Powered by unparalleled worldbuilding, polished storytelling, and relentless pacing, French’s novel is a cool fusion of classic adventure fantasy and 21st-century pop-culture sensibilities with nonstop action; a cast of unforgettable and brilliantly authentic characters; vulgar but witty dialogue; and strong female characters who overturn old sexist conventions. This is a dirty, blood-soaked gem of a novel. An addictively readable—and undeniably cool—fantasy masterwork.

Apr 242018

Cover of Always Never Yours by Austin Siegemund-Broka and Emily Wibberley.RT Book Reviews: Shakespeare fans, this book was written for you! The witty, seductive characters, the incredible plot — there is no doubt that all types of YA readers will find something to swoon over in this high school love story.

Apr 202018

Cover of Artificial Condition by Martha Wells.Booklist: Everyone’s favorite Murderbot is back. The second installment in Wells’ Murderbot Diaries picks up where All Systems Red (2017) left off, with the series’ titular character seeking answers to its origin by traveling back to where it first went rogue to learn what really happened.

Along the way, it makes friends with an intelligent research transport ship and agrees to protect a group of naive researchers whose discoveries make them a target for murder. Murderbot is one of the most delightful characters in current science fiction: a killing machine who chooses to be a good person, a robot who suffers from crippling social anxiety, a sarcastic misanthrope who really just wants to be left alone to watch TV. The relationship between Murderbot and ART (the intelligent ship) adds an entertaining The Odd Couple element to the story.

Like the first book, this one is a fast, fun, exciting read, and the series keeps getting funnier. Perfect entertainment for a quiet evening.

Apr 192018

Cover of The Darkest Time of Night by Jeremy Finley.Publishers Weekly: [An] outstanding debut. . . . Finley’s complex portrayal of his heroic lead will carry readers through plot developments that would come across as unconvincing in the hands of a lesser writer. X-Files fans will be enthralled.

Apr 132018

Cover of Stone Mad: A Karen Memory Adventure by Elizabeth Bear deftly weaves this exploration of relationships and vulnerabilities, betrayal and compromise… Though this is a short volume—while being a long novella—the characters are elegantly drawn as entire individuals.

For all that Stone Mad has a lot to say about relationships, it avoids didacticism. Bear has an argument here, but it’s definitely an argument, with no easy answers. The only answer, it seems, is compassion and choosing to be kind—the same vein of kindness that runs underneath the entire story.

I loved Stone Mad. I found it powerful and deeply full of meaning. As well as entertaining: Karen is a magnificently engaging character, and a compelling one. I hope to see Bear write more about her, because she’s enormously fun.