Oct 052018
 

Cover of The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson.Publishers Weekly: The challenging second installment of this sweeping fantasy trilogy picks up where 2016’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant left off. Baru, intent on bringing down the Empire of Masks from within, has finally ascended to her new role as one of the Empire’s secretive, all-powerful cryptarchs, but only by betraying those who believed in her.

To cement her position and eliminate visible weaknesses, she even has her lover executed for treason, a heinous act that affects her more than she can afford to reveal. Now swept up in the affairs of state, dealing with conspiracies, enemies, and potential war at every turn, Baru risks losing her soul in the pursuit of her goal: freeing her island home from the Empire’s grip. Dickinson packs a lot into this dense, multilayered, complicated epic, letting the story unfold through multiple perspectives, flashbacks, tense shifts, and other narrative devices.

As Baru juggles increasing amounts of trauma with an unrelenting focus on the endgame, she continually proves herself as a fascinating, morally grey protagonist in a complex world where conflicts take place on the high seas, in the ballroom, and in the marketplace. It all builds to a powerful cliff-hanger, with hints of much more to come.

Oct 012018
 

Cover of Exit Strategy by Martha Wells.Library Journal: Having gathered a lot of pertinent information to take down GrayCris Corporation, Murderbot returns to its place of origin to help Dr. Mensah, who started this quest. However, with a special security team on its tail, Murderbot soon discovers that GrayCris is well on its way to covering its tracks.

Mensah has been accused of corporate espionage and is being held at another station. Realizing Mensah’s situation is a result of its own actions, Murderbot must help its former owner/friend escape, along with the rest of the Preservation team, even if it means this SecUnit will finally get caught. Coming full circle from the beginning of its journey to awareness, Murderbot once again works to save the fragile humans and discovers that trying to avoid humanity is one sure way to get caught in the midst of it.

VERDICT: The last of Hugo Award winner Wells’s “Murderbot Diaries” (after Rogue Protocol) brings the concept of an AI’s dealing with humanity—for better and worse—to a sarcastic, sharp, thrilling conclusion.

Sep 132018
 

Cover of Dragon Pear by Yoon Ha Lee. Kirkus: This latest in the Rick Riordan Presents imprint launches Korean mythological creatures into outer space.

Thirteen-year-old Min cannot believe her older brother, Jun, has deserted his Space Force post, as he’s been accused of doing. Naturally, Min runs away from home to clear her brother’s name. It’s a Rick Riordan trademark to thrust mythological figures into new settings. Fans will breathlessly watch while fox-spirit Min charms her way onto a hijacked starship, ending up on her brother’s military star cruiser on the way to the lawless Ghost Sector.

Lee has created an adrenaline-filled space opera with mythological creatures living alongside humans. Min and her family are gumiho, or shape-shifting foxes, but they present as human to hide their magical natures. She takes on the identity of Jang, a male cadet killed in battle, and enlists the aid of two other supernatural Space Force cadets: Haneul, a female dragon, and Sujin, a nonbinary goblin. Min is first and foremost a teenager on a mission and a magical being second. The ambivalence of her identity (fox or human, male or female, hero or traitor,) echoes ethical questions that many kid readers face. It is refreshing to see both Korean elements and a nonbinary character seamlessly integrated into the storyline. Narrator Min explains Korean mythology smoothly as the action progresses for readers with no previous knowledge.

A high-octane, science-fiction thriller painted with a Korean brush and a brilliant example of how different cultures can have unique but accessible cosmology and universal appeal.

Sep 072018
 

The Agony House by Cherie Priest.Booklist: Following up on their successful collaboration in I AM PRINCESS X (2016), Priest and O’Connor neatly weave together the history of comic books and contemporary concerns about gentrification in this eerie ghost story set in a ramshackle house that’s as much a character as the people living in it.

Denise, her mom, and stepdad have just moved into an nearly destroyed, once-beautiful house in New Orleans, and almost right away, Denise starts noticing odd things. First, they’re harmless, if creepy, but later, unexplained, dangerous accidents happen as they renovate the house. But the comic book manuscript Denise finds carefully hidden in the attic (pages of which appear throughout the novel) is the key to source of the poltergeists. Meanwhile, Denise’s neighbors are uneasy about outsiders capitalizing on cheap property in New Orleans, and Priest does a great job of skillfully including the important conversations Denise and her family have with their new community.

At its heart, though, this is a ghost story, and Priest excels at building palpable atmosphere: Denise’s parents’ anxiety about their shoestring budget, the sweltering New Orleans summer heat, the disrepair of the house (“soggy plaster fell from the studs like wet cake”), and the increasingly terrifying haunting. Dynamic characters and a surprising mystery round out this sharp, satisfying, and engrossingly spooky story.

Aug 282018
 

Cover of Classic American Crime Fiction of the 1920's Edited and Annotated by Leslie S. Klinger.Publishers Weekly: Klinger (The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes) offers a veritable buffet of food for thought for crime fiction fans.

Aug 242018
 

Cover of Exit Strategy by Martha Wells.Booklist: After finding evidence proving that the GrayCris Corporation engaged in illegal activities, Murderbot heads out to hand the case over to Dr. Mensah, its former owner. But Dr. Mensah has disappeared, and Murderbot must track her down—straight into the heart of enemy territory.

Saving its mentor and taking down GrayCris are just the beginning of its challenges—Murderbot also has to figure out who it is, where it fits in society, and just how it is supposed to relate to all these people. The fourth installment of Wells’ Murderbot Diaries (after Rogue Protocol, 2018) will satisfy readers’ hopes for this series finale. It follows the same basic structural formula as its predecessors, so it has all the action fans expect. Exit Strategy tones down the humor a bit but adds depth to Murderbot’s introspection as it wrestles with questions of identity that it has been avoiding, and the story leaves it to decide its own future.

Everything comes full circle while remaining appropriately open ended. Wells gives us a worthy conclusion to one of the best series in recent memory.

Aug 212018
 

Cover of The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal.Publishers Weekly: Kowal continues her exquisite exploration of race and gender relations in an alternate 1961 that is still shockingly close to our own.

The stunning second part of Kowal’s duology picks up 10 years after a meteor strikes Earth (depicted in The Calculating Stars) with series heroine Elma now serving as a pilot to the lunar colony. After she survives being taken hostage by a terrorist organization opposed to space travel, Elma is asked to join the first Mars mission, replacing a close friend and incurring the resentment of the existing crew. For Elma and her colleagues on both ships, contained in close quarters for three years far from family and friends, the journey is filled with tension, joy, terror, and sorrow, including the deaths of crew members and an anxious period when contact with Earth is cut off.

The clever details of life in space—from baking challah in zero gravity to finding tricks for communicating privately, as well as the more horrifying practicalities of how to deal with illness and corpses—create an immersive world that will stay with the reader well past the final page.

Aug 172018
 

Cover of Exit Strategy by Martha Wells.Tor.com: Wells’ characterisation is pitch-perfect. Murderbot’s voice is darkly—and frequently not-so-darkly—funny, and Murderbot itself is a deeply appealing character. Other characters, as is appropriate for a writer of Wells’ talents, feel like fully formed individuals with lives and goals of their own, despite how little time the reader spends in their company. The pacing is excellent, tension mounting to an explosive conclusion, and like all of Wells’ work, it has atmosphere in spades.

And thematically, it’s about what it means to be human, and the nature of responsibility.

I really enjoyed this installment of the adventures of Murderbot. I’m looking forward to Exit Strategy, the next novella, and to the recently-announced forthcoming Murderbot novel. The world needs more Murderbot, because Murderbot is delightful.

Aug 152018
 

Cover of Girls Resist!: A Guide to Activism, Leadership, and Starting a Revolution by KaeLyn Rich.Publishers Weekly: An inspiring and practical handbook for meaningful resistance.