Feb 062024

Booklist: The second installment of Fulton and McClaren’s Horror Hotel series (Horror Hotel, 2022) finds the Ghost Gang attempting to recover from the traumatic events of their last adventure while growing their popular ghost-hunting YouTube channel. An invitation to a voyage on the RMS Queen Anne, a ship famously haunted by a woman in white, seems like the perfect opportunity to increase their viewership and test-drive the new romantic relationships that have recently developed within the group. Rival YouTubers and a complex haunting throw the foursome for a loop and keep the plot moving along at a steady clip. The first-person narration shifts between the four main characters, which offers readers insight into the personal relationships playing out alongside the spooky stuff but also results in a choppy and slightly disorienting reading experience. A quick read for fans of the first novel and readers who can’t get enough light horror.

Feb 022024

Bookpage: Dickinson’s obsession with detail greatly enriches the atmosphere of Exordia, which rockets across many points of view and locations as various team members look for clues to unravel the mystery. Dickinson has crafted a number of very human stories in a book ostensibly about aliens. Trauma, morality in the face of disaster, forgiveness, guilt, lost love and the bond between parents and children all find their way to the page.

…there’s no question that it will be many sci-fi fans’ favorite book of the year, especially those willing to surrender to it, and be consumed.

Also, author Seth Dickinson gives a full Q&A in Bookpage regarding EXORDIA that you don’t want to miss!

Jan 302024

Kirkus: Sherlock Holmes meets Game of Thrones.

Call Bennett’s latest a drawing-room mystery, albeit the drawing room is the size of a small otherworldly kingdom. It begins, natch, with a corpse. “You were informed that the nature of his death was an alteration, yes, sir?” So asks a military officer of young Signum Dinios Kol, a.k.a. Din, who’s noted that a tree has torn the unfortunate victim apart. Din works for an oddball private detective, Immunis Anagosa Dolabra, a.k.a. Ana, who combines the wiles of Irene Adler with the eccentricities of Sherlock Holmes, including his penchant for narcotics. Din suspects that members of the Haza clan, corrupt 1 percenters, are mixed up in the nastiness, for they’re in the way of acquiring some real estate in the area, and the victim was an impediment. The whole business is complicated by the fact that someone has been undermining the walls of the empire so that leviathans can slither in from the ocean and add their mischief to the evil doings of errant titans abroad in the land. Ana has a fierce temper and is more loquacious than the subdued but sometimes lethal Din: “I do so admire,” she tells him, “how you can be a flippant shit with a mere handful of syllables. Quite a talent.” Bennett borrows from his own Foundryside series for a detail: Where those books involved a strange art called “scriving,” here Din is an Imperial engraver, “altered to remember everything I experienced, always and forever,” handy when it comes to memorizing safe combinations and the exact wording of past conversations. With plenty of red herrings—beg pardon, red leviathans—and neatly imagined plot twists to work through, the reader fond of faux medieval neologisms and occasional grownup moments (“a glimpse of her body, and a winking tuft of pubic thatch”) will enjoy solving the mystery with our heroes.

A rousing adventure for alt-fantasy fans.

Jan 292024

Publishers Weekly: In this enticing domestic thriller, Thompson (All the Dirty Secrets) zeroes in on the wealthy Calhoun family, who live in the exclusive Somerwood neighborhood of Chevy Chase, Md., just outside of Washington, D.C. It’s springtime, and Ginny and Thom Calhoun are hosting their annual cherry blossom party with their three grown children on hand: Trey, who works for Thom’s real estate development business; Nate, a marine biologist who lives in California; and lifestyle influencer Ellie Grace. When someone’s murdered during the party, it first appears to be the result of a robbery gone wrong, but Montgomery County police detective Jacqui Washington suspects there’s more to the case than meets the eye. News of the murder quickly spreads on social media, and the combination of legal and public scrutiny starts to form cracks in the Calhouns’ carefully constructed facade, causing old resentments and long-held secrets to come tumbling out. Thompson gives each of her vivid characters plausible motives and overlapping secrets, effectively laying the groundwork for a cascade of plot twists, each more jolting than the last. The end result is a decadent, stay-up-all-night page-turner. (Mar.)

Jan 252024
Kirkus: Two generations before the events of Elatsoe (2020), Shane, a 17-year-old Lipan Apache girl, helps her mother, Lorenza, perform volunteer search-and-rescue operations.

Familiar both with tracking to survive in the wilderness and counting change to survive under capitalism, Shane possesses the resourcefulness of an irresistible protagonist. Her practicality also provides the perfect foil for her extraordinary ability—inherited from her four-great-grandmother—to summon dead creatures, adding texture to her supernatural world. What starts out as Lorenza’s quest to locate two missing children becomes Shane’s journey through Texas, Arkansas, Colorado, and the ghostly land Below to find her mother after she disappears. While faeries and vampires inhabit Shane’s surroundings, the heart of her story is her family’s endurance despite various tragedies, including climate devastation and rich settlers’ betrayal and theft. Frequent flashbacks and late-breaking perspective changes add narrative complexity, alongside rich depictions of cultural identity, generational trauma, and community care. A secondary character’s revelatory discovery offers an empowering narrative of reclaiming one’s stolen ancestry. Shane’s protectiveness toward her younger brother, complex love for her inconstant grandfather, and sturdy bond with her mathematically minded best friend add further relationship depth. Bug enthusiasts will also find kindred spirits in Shane and new acquaintance Dr. Richards, an older Black scholar of biology, magic, and comics.

A classic fantasy adventure and a balm for any soul weary of oppression. (note on the title) (Speculative fiction. 12-18)

Jan 152024

Scientific American: In Seth Dickinson’s 2015 debut novel, The Traitor Baru Cormorant, a fiercely willful woman from a colonized island plots her revenge against a brutal empire. This fascination with weighing the value of specific lives against a greater good also powers his new book, a mind-shredding first-contact epic. A spaceship or weapon or something has appeared in Kurdistan, where its mysteries get puzzled over by a sprawling cast. There are nukes, alien brain locks, intergalactic warfare and a scope that keeps expanding long after the stakes seem clear. This thrilling novel grips hardest when Dickinson’s characters must reason through the science of seemingly impossible phenomena. —Alan Scherstuhl

Jan 112024

Kirkus: For three teen competitors at the exclusive Bastille Invitational tennis tournament in Florida, there’s more at stake than the winner’s trophy.

Taiwanese American Alice Wu arrives still reeling from the loss of her father, who was also her coach. Mixed with her grief is the betrayal she feels toward the rest of her family, who hid Baba’s illness so she could have a “normal” life as long as possible. Alice receives another shock when she discovers that she’s rooming with rising tennis star Violetta Masuda, a white-passing social media influencer of Japanese and European descent. Violetta is bubbly, glamorous, and well connected, but there are cracks beneath the surface. Relentless pressure from her mother, a former professional tennis player, drives Violetta to increasingly seek relief through vaping. It doesn’t help that the dorm’s third occupant is Leylah Lê, Violetta’s former friend. Leylah holds her partially responsible for the disastrous conclusion to her previous appearance at the Bastille Invitational. Leylah, who has Type 1 diabetes and whose parents are Khmer and Vietnamese, is determined to prove that she belongs in the tennis world without compromising who she is, from her appearance to her brusque demeanor. Gracia engages readers from the start with well-developed characters whose motivations and secrets are carefully revealed over the course of the tournament. Chapters alternate between Alice’s, Violetta’s, and Leylah’s perspectives and examine trauma, addiction, class, and representation through the passion—and desperation—of elite athletes.
Compelling and memorable. (Fiction. 13-18)
Jan 032024

Shelf Awareness: A secret superweapon capable of wiping out entire populations tips a world into full warfare in the action-packed The Olympian Affair, second in the steampunk Cinder Spires series from Jim Butcher (The Aeronaut’s Windlass).

Humanity has long lived in the Spires, high above the dangers of the planet’s surface. Fleets of airships sail among them, powered by ether and carrying out trade–and, of course, war. The Spire of Aurora’s armada has unleashed a new weapon that has completely destroyed some smaller outposts, and it won’t be long before they take on more ambitious targets. Spire Albion will need all its diplomatic force at the upcoming trade summit at Spire Olympia in order to gather allies to stand against them, but there may be dissent growing in the Auroran ranks. Not everyone is comfortable with wielding Spire-destroying weapons.

The result is a thrilling tale of high-stakes duels, monstrous creatures, and diplomatic negotiations featuring a wide cast of appealing characters, including some talkative cats. Although this is the second in the series, new readers and those who haven’t read The Aeronaut’s Windlass since its release in 2015 will quickly be able to orient themselves. The multiple plot threads, including battles between airships and opponents facing each other down with crossed blades, sometimes move around so much that a chapter’s cliffhanger may dangle for some time, but any frustration is purely due to the successful creation of suspense. Readers will be eager to see where the series goes next.

Jan 022024
Library Journal: Veris Thorn once rescued a child from the rapacious Elmever Forest and knows better than to ever enter it again. But she’s forced to relive her nightmare when the equally rapacious Tyrant forces her back to the forest to rescue his adventurous children. Veris has one day to get them out before the Tyrant burns her village and the Elmever takes all their souls. But the Elmever wants the only thing from Veris that she can’t give, and the price is as monstrously high as it was the first time she escaped. In Veris’s soul-searching and redemptive rescue quest, there’s a constant struggle between her desire to save these children as she could not save her own and her fear that they will become just like their father the Tyrant, who is responsible for the deaths of her family. She’ll have to face the past as well as the monsters of the forest.
VERDICT The latest from Mohamed (No One Will Come Back for Us) is recommended for readers of magical-bargain and forest-journey novels, such as Emily Tesh’s “Greenhollow” duology and Peter S. Beagle’s The Way Home.
Dec 222023

Wall Street Journal: The world in this current timeline has been a bit bleak lately. Fortunately for readers of alternate futures, the writer Martha Wells has delivered to us a hyperblast of joy: another wonderfully delightful offbeat adventure of the artificial consciousness readers have come to know as Murderbot.

The Murderbot Diaries started in 2017 with “All Systems Red” and reach their seventh installment with “System Collapse.” These compact, delightful stories are set in a downbeat future in which corporations control humankind’s interstellar colonies and keep many in lives of servitude. An even worse fate is life as a SecUnit, a Security Unit cyborg usually tasked with killing troublesome people and controlled by a module that eliminates free will. Our first-person narrator has been crafty enough to hack itself free—but instead of taking revenge on its creators and destroying every terrible human it encounters, this SecUnit (which decides to call itself Murderbot) would rather watch TV.

If you’re expecting a fast-moving android-becomes-human emotional arc, you’re going to be disappointed. Murderbot learns a little more about humans in each book but mostly remains grumpy, bored and uncomfortable when forced to spend time with its all-flesh counterparts.

In “System Collapse,” the Barish-Estranza corporation is offering to help the colonists of a planet whose machines have been contaminated by alien tech. But the company’s proposal to relocate the colonists sounds almost too good to be true. (It is.) Working with a cognitively powerful (and equally testy) spaceship called ART and a few human friends, our cyborg hero must fight off berserk robots, keep the good humans safe from the bad ones, and figure out how to convince the colonists that the corporation is not on their side. Murderbot also suffers frozen moments of human-style post-traumatic stress—all the more mysterious because the episodes seem to have been caused by an incident that never happened.

The SecUnit remains every bit as snarky and funny as it has been in the last six books, the perfectly conceived action as nearly nonstop as ever. (And we finally get to see the benefits of Murderbot’s TV addiction.) If there is anything negative to say about “System Collapse,” it’s that there doesn’t seem to be an actual system collapse. And sometimes the bits with humans emoting over things go on a little long (but that might be the Murderbot in me talking).

Outside of this series, Ms. Wells has written many other excellent books, including “Witch King,” which was reviewed here earlier this year. If you need something light, a little violent and laugh-out-loud hilarious, dive into this series: You may find that you have more in common with Murderbot than you think.