Jun 182018
 

Cover of Always Never Yours by Austin Siegemund-Broka and Emily Wibberley.Entertainment Weekly: The book is a love letter to high school drama classes, Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet most especially), the power of friendship, first love, and the empowering act of recognizing one’s own self-worth. Every page bursts with humor, squee-inducing romance, and an abiding sense of the deep love and joy of its two writers.

Designed to induce both heart-warming bursts of happiness and a sense of recognition and pangs of empathy for Megan’s struggles, Always Never Yours is a necessary, feel-good addition to the YA canon.

Jun 122018
 

Cover of Revenant Gun by Yoon Ha Lee.Locus: Revenant Gun is a fast, gripping story. Its shifting viewpoints – all seeing some part of the picture, none with a complete view or good insight into other people’s motivations – and potential for betrayals make it feel complex and demanding. At base, though, it’s a thriller crossed with a story about learning to live with consequences you didn’t choose.

It’s a story in part about mortality: it holds a contrast between someone who wants to die and someone who wants to never die, and the costs, to oneself or to others, of taking those desires to extremes. Jedao, like Cheris, is an extremely compelling character – as is, somewhat to my surprise, the robot servitor Hemiole, whose naiveté and determination make an interesting comparison with the other, more jaded characters.

I really enjoyed Revenant Gun, and I sincerely hope that Lee has the opportunity to write many more novels. This is excellent space opera, and I wish there were more like it.

Jun 052018
 

Cover of Brief Cases by Jim Butcher.Library Journal: In a collection that follows Side Jobs, 12 stories, including a trio of Bigfoot tales and the never-before-published “Zoo Day,” star wizard Harry Dresden and his associates once again.

John Marcone shows that even criminals have rules when he defends those seeking shelter with him in “Even Hand.” Apprentice Molly Carpenter learns WWHD—What Would Harry Do?—as she searches for vampire Thomas Roth in “Bombshells,” then uncovers the truth of her new role as the Winter Lady in “Cold Case.”

It’s been four years since the last full Dresden novel (Skin Game) was released, so readers will become reacquainted with Dresden’s gritty wit, the Chicago setting, and the not-so-happy endings typical of these urban fantasy tales. Butcher shows there is a dark side, even to those considered heroes. And while these pieces will be familiar to those already acquainted with the series, as many have been previously published, newbies meeting the author’s iconic protagonists for the first time will not be too lost within these pages.

VERDICT: Butcher’s die-hard fans, along with short story fantasy enthusiasts, will find this compilation irresistible.

Jun 042018
 

Cover of Artificial Condition by Martha Wells.Tor.com: Martha Wells can always be relied upon for atmospheric novels with great voice and precise, gorgeously descriptive turns of phrase.

In the Murderbot Diaries, Wells’ enormous talent for voice and atmosphere has full reign in a space opera setting—and her deft facility with characterisation makes Murderbot an incredibly appealing character. Self-conscious, awkward, and self contradictory: we can all recognise ourselves in Murderbot’s struggles with acting like a person.

Jun 012018
 

Cover of Brief Cases by Jim Butcher.Publishers Weekly: This entertaining collection assembles 11 reprints and one brand new novella, all set in the world of Butcher’s popular Chicago based wizard PI, Harry Dresden (last seen in 2014’s Skin Game).

In a trio of lighthearted Bigfoot-centric stories, Harry helps out an erudite Sasquatch named River Shoulders on behalf of his half-human son, Irwin. In “Bombshells,” Harry’s apprentice, the quick-thinking Molly Carpenter, goes up against a powerful foe (while wearing a little black dress, no less), and in “Even Hand,” Harry’s sworn enemy, dapper crime boss John Marcone, takes drastic steps to protect an innocent child. The Wild West–set crowd-pleaser “A Fistful of Warlocks” features White Council Warden Anastasia Luccio, who teams up with Wyatt Earp to put a stop to some very dark deeds. The standout is the tender original novella, “Zoo Day,” in which Harry takes his 10-year-old daughter, Maggie, to the zoo. First they encounter a young warlock in need of Harry’s help, and then Maggie is attacked by a group of haunts.

May 302018
 

Cover of The Calculating Stars: A Lady Astronaut Novel by Mary Robinette Kowal.Publishers Weekly: Kowal’s outstanding prequel to her Hugo-winning novelette “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” shows the alternate history that created a mid-20th-century Mars colony.

In 1952, mathematician and pilot Elma York is on vacation with her rocket scientist husband, Nathaniel, when a meteor strikes Chesapeake Bay, obliterating most of the East Coast. Elma quickly realizes that this is an extinction event, and that the only option for humanity’s survival is off-world colonization. In a compelling parallel to our own history, Elma, who is Jewish, fights to have women of all races and backgrounds included in the burgeoning space program, squaring off against patriarchal attitudes, her own anxiety, and an adversary from her past service as a war pilot.

Kowal explores a wide range of issues-including religion, grief, survivor’s guilt, mental health, racism, misogyny, and globalism-without sermonising or subsuming the characters and plot. Elma’s struggles with her own prejudices and relationships, including her relationship with herself, provide a captivating human center to the apocalyptic background.

Readers will thrill to the story of this “lady astronaut” and eagerly anticipate the promised sequels.

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.