Category Archives: Book reviews

Review: I’m desperate for a good book here

The Ghost Manuscript by Kris Frieswick. 1/5
I thought I would like this book-it’s got lots of elements I usually enjoy: archives, antiquarian books, manuscripts, lost documents, secret places and things related to history. But alas. It’s got too many problems for me to enjoy, starting with the use of the term “Dark Ages,” which historians and literature scholars and everyone in the know stopped using years ago because of its problematic assumptions. Right there the book’s offended or come across as so poorly researched and written that no one with interests in history would read it. Then there was the claim that Welsh was “incomprehensible.” That just turned off all of the language nerds. Then there were the characters, who were right out of central casting and notably lacking in depth. In fact, the main character’s complaint that her relationships go nowhere–and/or that she can’t maintain relationships–is because she’s so flat as a character that there’s nothing for anyone to be attracted to. Add to these things a bevy of minor irritations because of lack of research and understanding of the scholarly fields the author is trying to tap into, and the book is a mess.

The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia. 2/5
The beginning of this book hints at the magical realism of Garcia Marquez and others from Latin America, but the novel never really fulfills this. What follows is a rather tepid family saga, set during the Spanish flu, Mexican governmental reform and land rights issues, and women’s rights during the early 20th century. None of the characters are particularly well-developed or deep, and the writing was occasionally awkward and difficult to parse.

Death and Destruction on the Thames in London by Anthony Galvin. 1/5
By the writing style I assumed this was for young readers. Then I read a passage quoting Samuel Pepys’s description of him having sex with one of his servants and it was a bit explicit for the ages 6-8 set. So then I though, “perhaps it’s just condescending.” This was verified as I read further. It’s condescending and annoying and not very historical. It’s full of anecdotes, mostly told badly, with some asinine sexist jokes. There’s little actually about the Thames; the connections are very tenuous, as in Jane Grey was executed and was transported via the Thames to the Tower. Give it a miss.

Book reviews: the good, the boring, and the sociopath

Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones by Micah Dean Hicks. 4/5
On the surface, this is a surreal story in which the living can be haunted and possessed by the dead, create walking, talking, cogent pigs that will slaughter and package up their own kind in a meat factory, there are people who can remove their own hearts to stay safe from the ghosts, but lose their memories as well, and aliens, and all sorts of other supernatural things. Below that surface, though, this is a book about innate talent and what it can give to and take away from those who have it. It’s also about race, and how white society, no matter what class, is always on the lookout for the Other, in order to oppose and oppress it. It’s also about class and social status and whether you eat this week or fix the car you need for your job. It’s about creating underclasses to do the worst work, and what happens when the underclass becomes too successful. It’s about domestic abuse and taking or abandoning responsibilities. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but it’s a book that can be read in a great many ways, and would be excellent as a class read for high school.

City of Flickering Light by Juliette Fay. 1/5
This isn’t terrible, it’s just boring and predictable and uses a lot of cliches. The characters are cardboard. In the mid-1920s, three white folks–responsible, clever Irene, dim, cuddly MIllie, and handsome, gay Henry–go to Hollywood to become stars. Along the way, of course, there is sexism and a rape and gay-bashing and the perils of heroin addiction, but then everyone is spotted as the talents they are and get jobs they like! Irene becomes a writer, Millie becomes an actress and then a mother, and Henry learns about gay Hollywood and has a romance with a director. The director is murdered, but Henry gets over it, marries a white woman in a relationship with a black man, and gets to find new lovers. Everyone lives near each other and have a happily ever after. The author calls women’s breasts “orbs,” and uses about a thousand other tired descriptors and phrases I could do with never reading again. The author also tries to cite a lot of 1920s events and realities of Hollywood, but they remain on the surface, window-dressing. The reader’s guide at the back is terrible and earnest and is apparently geared towards five-year-olds.

Miraculum by Steph Post. 1/5
Less a miraculum than a slightly over-stuffed novel in which not much happens. Ruby, tattooed by a stereotypical and offensive “vodoo” woman and covered in symbols that protect her from supernatural evil, works as the snake charmer in a carnival owned by her father, who is incompetent are barely shows up in the book, and another stereotype, the noble savage, an African man whose knowledge of everything is unsurpassed. Ruby has a friend, January, who dances in the “cootch show,” and an on-again off-again boyfriend who is pretty useless and doesn’t play much of a role. When Daniel, an ancient immortal evil, joins the carnival to entertain himself by causing evil chaos, Ruby is the only one immune to his powers of suggestion. When he causes multiple deaths and the carnival burns down, taking Ruby’s father and January with it, Ruby decides her destiny is to fight Daniel. Accompanied by the useless boyfriend, Ruby and Daniel have a stare-down that is the most boring climax of any book I have ever read. Daniel is defeated. Ruby lives. The boyfriend remains useless.

The author hints at things she never develops, or drops altogether. In the first few chapters, there are references to Ruby seeing things others don’t. This apparently turns out to be that she can tell when people are untrustworthy. Not so much seeing in a supernatural way. We read about Ruby’s long-dead mother, but she ends up not being terribly important. We read about arcane books, one of which turns out to be kind of useful but not very interesting. the trappings of the carnival are present, but there are no interesting characters and none of those who survive develop at all. I’d have liked it better if Ruby and January had teamed up to stop the immortal evil. Or if she had become apprenticed to the owner of the arcane books and they had worked together. But nope, Ruby is special and capable only because of a mixed-race woman who gave her magic tattoos (and who is killed off in a gruesome fashion by the immortal evil). Ultimately, this is a story in which white folks triumph, the black folks mostly get killed, and women are reduced to being skin.

Oksana, Behave! by Maria Kuznetsova. 1/5
Oksana doesn’t need to be have so much as she needs to be able to have feelings, admit that other people also have feelings, and stop being quite so sociopathic. Told in first-person, this novel follows Oksana from Kiev to the United States, where she grows up, is disaffected, lacks interest in anything, is unwilling to try very hard to do anything, uses people like tissue, is totally self-centered, and is instantly recognizable as a person I wouldn’t go anywhere near. I don’t care that she smokes and does various drugs and drinks and has a lot of casual sex, cheats on committed partners. Maybe those are the things where she’s supposed to “behave”? The things I did want her to do were stop being such a quitter and stop being such an asshole. But maybe she can’t. Maybe she is, actually, a sociopath. That would make sense for most of the things she does. SO maybe the title should be less, Oksana, Behave! and more Everybody, Avoid Oksana! That said, the book is well-written and I liked a lot of the other characters and how they were developed.

Reviews: two to read, two to compost

To read:

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire. 5/5
This stand-alone novel from McGuire is a rare bird: a time-manipulation novel that doesn’t try to justify itself with bad or fake real-world-based science, and which is compelling rather than a chore to read (in other books that deal with multiverses and temporal repeats, it’s often a drag to have to remember things like “which life are they on? who died this go-round? It gets tedious, as do the inevitable paradoxes that are too often solved with nonsensical machinations) . In a world very much like our own but in which magic and necromancy and alchemy also exist and function, a megalomaniac decides to take control of the universe by embodying paired traits like Chaos and Order, Language and Math, and so on, and then controlling them. He creates flesh golems, breeds children, and generally wreaks havoc and kills a lot of people on the way to creating a few sets of twins who embody the things he’s seeking. But the twins have minds of their own, and use them to great effect to put their abusive creator out of business. Middlegame, like all of McGuire;s books, is an excellent blend of the mundane, everyday world, and original, fantasy elements. As she does in her October Daye books, McGuire is able to make high fantasy compatible with cell phones and cat litter and pizza. The characters might be embodiments of abstract and powerful things, but they are still completely relatable to: they brush their teeth, get embarrassed, have odd quirks, do annoying things, do endearing things. And for readers of McGuire’s other books, Middlegame contains a few small Easter Eggs for close readers.

Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham. 4/5
Midnight in Chernobyl is perhaps the best English-language account of the 1986 nuclear disaster available. Higginbotham writes directly and clearly about complex scientific topics for lay readers, making the murky manageable, and covers the story from various aspects, adding depth and humanity to the facts of the accident. I appreciated the explanations of processes, hierarchies, and the bureaucracy that condemned so many both inside and outside of the USSR to death. The Higginbotham detail provided in describing locations, the geography, and the lives of those involved is excellent. The coverage of nuclear medicine is fascinating and often neglected in stories about Chernobyl. My only objection is the use of the term “abortion epidemic,” which comes near the end of the book and is highly problematic and politicizes the book in a way that is neither appropriate nor meaningful. I would otherwise give this five stars.

To avoid like the plague:

Find Me Falling by Fiona Vigo Marshall. 1/5 (0 if I could)
I utterly loathed this book. It’s cynical and perpetuates offensive models of disability and mental illness. It’s characters and their actions are devoid of humanity. The author’s attempt at writing a Gothic work is superficial and ultimately boring.

A woman musician gives birth prematurely; after the birth she is somehow disabled and cannot read or write or play or do much of anything, but of course her disability is somehow Gothic and magic and nothing helps except for perhaps retreating from society and trying to become a human ghost, which would be fine if the author actually addressed depression and other disabilities but she doesn’t, so that is a major problem with the book.. The musician and her husband and child move to a grand house overlooking the sea, where she and her spouse cannot communicate with each other, do not seem to care at all for each other or for their child, and do not seem to understand how to be human beings in any sense of that word. The woman wanders the area. Her husband is angry at her because she can’t fix herself. She meeds an enigmatic and manipulative street-sweeper. Her husband presses her for a second child. She has an affair with the street-sweeper. There are ghosts in the house. Everyone is emotionally abusive to everyone else. Some people will love this book. I feel bad for their partners and kids.

Merlin’s Shakespeare by Carol Anne Douglas. 1/5 (0)
This is a book that seems to have been written by a very young child, one who dislikes logic, thinks they’re extra clever when they’re not, and hasn’t had enough experience writing to understand how to write well. If it was written by a child, that child’s parents or guardians should not have allowed it to be published, because it will embarrass the child to no end when that child is even a little bit older. If it was written by an adult, then it still shouldn’t have been published, because it’s a complete mess. Everything in it is poorly done: the names, the characters’ descriptions, the dialogue, the plot, the writing overall. It was painful to read.

Reviews: a good handful

The Dark Fantastic by Ebony Elizabeth Thomas. 2/5
I have mixed responses to this book. On the one hand, it’s a very important study of how race is used, viewed, and created in children’s and YA literature. Thomas discusses various authors’ approaches to race in their works and in the adaptations and fan creations made of them, with studies on Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Merlin, and The Vampire Diaries. This discussion can be nuanced and thoughtful, but at times it is repetitive and superficial, relying on single statements by fans that are cherry-picked to fit Thomas’s hypothesis, On the other hand, Thomas’s work is clearly influenced by her involvement in HP fanfiction and is still smarting from being criticized for using another writer’s texts in her own FF. In any other field this would be outright plagiarism, but Thomas makes the case that in FF, it is acceptable. Her argument is weak, though, especially as now she is a PhD who should have some scholarly and personal distance from her own, younger, naive understanding of how ethics in fiction works, fan or professional. In any case, I found the book to be unready for publication: it needs better-integrated discussions of theory (not just dropping in a useful quote here and there, but real, deep engagement); it needs more clarity and focus in each chapter/case study (these read like student papers that had not been outlined well); and it needs editing, both developmental and copy-. The book feels rushed, unpolished, and rather simplistic. Thomas has a lot of important things to say about race, fantasy, and fanfiction, but this book was a big disappointment.

Sacred Cesium Ground and Isa’s Deluge by Kimura Yūsuke, translated by Doug Slaymaker. 3/5
This pair of twin novellas examines life in the aftermath of Japan’s nuclear 3/11 disaster. The first, Sacred Cesium Ground, is more successful: it follows the thoughts and actions of a young woman who has left–at least temporarily–an abusive marriage to help take care of cows abandoned when they were dosed with radiation. As she mucks and feeds them, and interacts with the others who live at or regularly visit the remote area where they are kept, she muses on the nature of animals and the human-animal connection, its responsibilities, and its function. The language is often lovely and the entire work is thoughtful and meditative. Isa’s Deluge, on the other hand, is a rambling account of men seeking to understand their relative, Isa. Isa is violent and a sexual predator, and through memories and interviews, the protagonists seek and understanding of him, but there is none. The novella may be trying to point to human connections, the ambiguous natures of family and familial behavior, work cultures, and/or Japanese culture in regard to men, but I was anxious to finish it and be done.

Brides in the Sky by Cary Holladay. 5/5
This collection of short stories and a novella is a wonder and a delight. Focusing in part on middle-class Americans in the 1960s and in part on women’s experiences in westward expansion, the book is full of astonishingly original and evocative description and character realization. In every piece included here, Holladay captures historical contexts and deftly weaves them in with personal crises, concerns, and changes. The women in the stories come of age, detach from family, and grapple with identity in fascinating ways. The historical settings and use of real-life figures mirrors in some ways Emma Donoghue’s books like The Woman Who Gave Birth To Rabbits, but the writing is uniquely Hollday’s. Revel in this book.

Underground by Will Hunt. 5/5
Will Hunt writes about being underground so well that I actually experienced a touch of claustrophobia reading this book. It’s a terrific read: one very individual lifelong interest in what lies beneath our cities, fields, farms, mountains, and deserts. Hunt goes caving and lives with the dark in numerous places and with complete respect for the cultures into whose caves he ventures.I loved learning about how cave spirits are universal, that the worship of cave deities is common, that caves have preserved far more art and archaeological information than just cave paintings. My only complaint is that the photos desperately need captions. In the Kindle version I read, none of the photos were captioned, so I often wasn’t sure what I was looking at. Add those in, and you’ve got a book everyone who has ever wondered about what’s under their feet will love.

A Tear in the Ocean by H.M. Bouwman. 5/5
This is a great book. I love that it’s both an adventure story and an allegory, that it shows readers why history is important and talking to each other is crucial without being pedantic or preachy. I love that the characters are not white. I love that each character has their own special competencies as well as a bunch of common ones. I love that it’s full of terrific description and resists easy answers and has character growth and doesn’t have a fairy tale ending. It’s a perfect book for kids and for parents and for kids and parents and families to read together.

Clade by James Bradley. 5/5
An astonishing and compelling novel of climate change and the effects–physical, emotional, practical–it will have on human life. Set in Australia, Clade is an outstanding companion to Nevil Shute’s classic On the Beach, which is about the end of human life on earth. Clade, with its survivors and vision of the future, addresses many of the same responses and feelings, couched in an entirely modern and well-researched manner. By following a single family line through the 2020s and forward, Bradley creates unique characters who clearly learn from and are influenced by their progenitors and their actions. I’d love to teach this novel in conjunction with Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy and On the Beach, as they all offer distinct and endlessly fascinating ideas of what will come.

Reviews: a January round-up

NEW SUNS ed. by Nisi Shawl. 5/5
This is an absolutely fantastic collection of short stories set in non-Eurocentric/white American worlds. I loved it and am recommending it to everyone i know who enjoys speculative fiction. The stories and settings include Asian-inspired cultures in which translators collude to save vast populations; a stunning South America under a Nazi-like rule by the Spanish; numerous tales in which colonizers get their just desserts (including a euthanasia-vacation tropical island); and erotic encounters that question traditional roles and cultural norms. I want to read more stories set in all of the realms introduced here. And LeVar Burton’s foreword is a gem, a beautiful piece of writing about the long-needed support of non-white writers in the genre.

THE OUTCAST HOURS ed. by Jared Shurin & Mahvesh Murad. 5/5
I really enjoyed this compilation of stories. While some weren’t exactly my cup of tea, enough were well-written and plotted enough to keep me reading. I especially enjoyed the deliberate focus on non-Western/non-North American cultures and writers, and on speculative writing from unique points of view. Many of the ideas–a babysitter for especially difficult children and parents, a story you think will end in gore but has a radically hopepunk ending instead–are new to me and fun to read.

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine. 1/5
I know this has gotten a lot of positive press and a lot of hype but it felt too much like Ann Leckie or Mur Lafferty fanfiction to me–clones and permanent, immortal memory, and uprisings and politics and etiquette. It often dragged and the characters weren’t terribly interesting. Protagonist Mahit Dzmare veers from being merely unprepared to being ridiculously silly in her actions and choices, and the thriller aspect–who killed her predecessor?–turns out to be revealed in one of those non-mysteries wherein the villain reveals themselves after the protagonist can’t figure it out, making them all look dim. I never truly got a sense of the culture or the why behind many of the events and intrigues conjured up.

Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with Recipes) by Lorna Landvik. 3/5
This is a sweet book that will find appreciative readers in book clubs, especially those that include parents and their kids, or are for high-school students. When the long-time columnist–the ‘Radical Hag’ of the title, so-called by one of her detractors–of a paper in a small town has a stroke, the paper begins reprinting her old essays and the responses they provoked. The essays touch on everything from politics to gardening to theater to abortion, and are always personal and unique. People in the town and students at the local high school begin reading the old columns, and gain insights about themselves, their community, and their neighbors. While it was all a little too simple and tidy for me, a lot of people will enjoy this one. And the recipes are pretty good.

Douglas Fairbanks by Ralph Hancock and Letitia Fairbanks; Edited by Kelley Smoot. 1/5
A light and glossy coffee-table biography of Douglas Fairbanks, this book is long on anecdote and short on reflection. While relatives of famous stars often pen romanticized accounts of their better-known family members’ lives, this one manages to completely ignore the problematic nature of early Hollywood, its people, and its films. And the author seems to have significant biases as well. D. W. Griffith’s horrific racist film Birth of a Nation is simply described as “famed and revolutionary”; Mary Pickford is written of as “unlike many career women who develop an almost masculine aggressiveness, she remained entirely feminine.” Early film pioneers are “social misfits” and women actors are “bathing beauties” and “sirens,” and perhaps worst of all, the phrase “Southern mammies” figures in a sentence about superstition. I expect this kind of sexist, racist, and utterly unaware language when I’m reading magazines published in the 1920s about the film business, but it has no place in a modern book that uses it without offering context and a reason for doing so. While I’m sure fans of Fairbanks will be drawn to the book because of its numerous photos and the involvement of his niece as a co-author, I cannot recommend it to anyone.

A Dangerous Collaboration by Deanna Raybourn. 4/5
This is a new installment in a series of period mysteries, but requires no previous knowledge of the earlier volumes in the series to enjoy, a big plus for me. Veronica Speedwell and her mystery-solving partner Stoker become embroiled in a mystery that includes elements of the Victorian ghost story The Mistletoe Bough, pirate lore on the Cornish Coast, Spiritualism, and poison gardens. As Veronica and Stoker try to figure out the disappearance of a bride who vanished on her wedding night, they must also contend with Stoker’s brother’s interest in Veronica and their own slow-burn romance. While the mystery solves itself when the murderer announces themselves, the story is still entertaining and a fun read with good characters and little details that charm the reader (Chester the felt mouse, among others).

The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs by Katherine Howe. 1/5
The first book in this series annoyed me for the author’s apparent need to mix up both accurate and totally fantastical things about academia and present them as if they somehow represented real life. She does it again here, and in this case it’s much more irritating because it plays into her plot, which is, even on its own, totally non-sensical, even in a setting where witchcraft is real and people are magic. In addition, the characters are all cardboard and stereotypical, from the witchy mom who knows her daughter is pregnant before the daughter knows; to the daughter, who is a disorganized academia; and to the daughter’s her sassy black friend, er, graduate student. There’s also The Man Who Does Not Understand Academia, despite having had an academic partner for a long time, and the Madman/Old Professor. Also, apparently everything the work of this book is pale: people have pal skin, pale eyes, and there are pale stains on a table. Please hire a copyeditor who knows about academia, can read for sensitivity regarding the Black Sassy Friend, and knows synonyms for “pale.”

Reviews: 7 for the last day of the year

The Montreal Stetl by Zelda Abramson & John Lynch. 5/5
An excellent ethnography of the Shoah survivors who settled post-war in Montreal. Researched with care and respect, and with ethics and a thoughtfulness and intellect not often found in today’s non-fiction, The Montreal Shetl is an important and beautifully crafted book about Jews in North America, their lives as immigrants and outsiders, and the power of their testimonies.

Ghosts of Gotham by Craig Schaefer. 5/5
Smart and brilliant, this thriller is a roller-coaster ride into a world where gods and demigods and semigods and immortals are all still around and occasionally move not just the scenery but the course of the action as well. Lionel Page, a reporter who has spent his career debunking frauds of the purportedly psychic type, becomes involved in an ever-shifting and complex race to track a murderer, keep old gods from killing, and learn some life-saving magic. Along the way readers meet his mentor, Maddie, members of an elitist cult, several cool witches, and some very hungry ghouls. Super fun.

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C. A. Fletcher (excerpt). 4/5
I really want to read the rest of this book! The dystopian/apocalyptic setting is rich and nuanced, and I liked the characters and premise. (Please change the dog’s name, though: “Jip” is a variant of “Gyp(sy)” and is offensive.) I want to know more about this world and its people and how they are surviving and what they value.

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon (excerpt). 4/5
A promising start to what I think will be an engrossing novel. Two cultures, two faiths, and two women appear to be poised to break new ground in their own territories by managing political and personal challenges. One, trained from birth to ride dragons in defense of her kingdom, attains her goal of becoming a dragon ride, but her willingness to take risks by sheltering outsiders and seeking answers about her heritage place her in a precarious spot. The other, a servant of the leader of her matriarchal society, is being manipulated by political forces as she seeks political knowledge herself. I hope the full book will be available to read soon.

The Unicorn Anthology by Peter S. Beagle, Garth Nix, Carrie Vaughn, Patricia A. McKillip, Bruce Coville, Carlos Hernandez, Karen Joy Fowler, Jane Yolen, Nancy Springer, Cailtin R. Kiernan, Margo Lanagan. 1/5
Lots of people will buy this book, in part because of Peter Beagle’s name. But they shouldn’t. And it’s a damn shame that Tachyon has pushed Beagle to co-edit it and write an Introduction. As his Introduction states, eloquently and bitterly, Beagle has become “the unicorn guy.” It’s not what he wanted; he thinks his best work is still his first novel, the ghostly romance A Fine and Private Place. But he’s been hemmed in by the unicorn-lovers and especially those who would capitalize on them. This book is an attempt to do just that–cash in on the unicorn-lovers, who may or may not know Beagle’s views on the matter. A lot of these stories are good, but many of them are from other, readily available anthologies, such as Zombies vs. Unicorns, which is very-well represented here (by which I mean: just go read Zombies vs Unicorns instead of this book).

I won’t even get into the problems of all of the pieces in which “virginity” is given actual consideration in the course of the story.

Leave Beagle alone. Go read his unicorn book, and his other books, and the other books that this anthology borrows from. But don’t keep asking him to be “the unicorn guy” anymore.

D-Day Girls by Sarah Rose. 1/5
This book will sell well to general readers. It shouldn’t. It’s disorganized and messy, and both condescends to its readers and lacks essential information on its topic. Author Sarah Rose makes sweeping generalizations about France and its citizens during WWII; misstates historical facts; engages in inaccurate and sometimes offensive hyperbole; and has apparently done little research into the role of women in war, women in WWI, or the history of war in general. She refers to figures in the book by their first names, which diminishes them in contrast with the leaders: she gives Hitler his self-appointed titles, though. She characterizes figures in the book with no documentation to do so: is this person really “sniveling,” was this one “no longer fecund” and why do those things matter? She uses outdated and unacceptable ethnic terms–“gypsy” comes to mind–and uses other inappropriate or incorrect words that an editor should have caught (“snarked,” “fulsome,” others). I’d like to read a good book on the work of women–who, no matter how young, were not “girls”–in the French Resistance in France during the war, but this definitely isn’t it.

Do The Dead Dream? by F. P. Dorchak. 1/5
After wading through several introductory essays in which people claimed that the stories in this book were good, I found that, in fact, they were not. These are unedited, formless, and self-indulgent stories that all too often go on far too long. The author fancies himself a genius, which apparently means that he can mix up multiple genres (badly), be sexist, and run wild with all caps or italicized writing….all for no reason. It’s kinda like early Stephen King but with no editor and no rewrites and less imagination. Pretty much unreadable.

2018 Review round-up

I read 66 new or soon-to-be-published books through NetGalley and about 100 more that were already commercially available this year. You can follow me on Goodreads for all of my non-scholarly reading and reviews. Here’s what I liked that came out this year or will be out in early 2019:

5/5:
A People’s Future of the United States: Speculative Fiction from 25 Extraordinary Writers edited by Victor LaValle
The Wolf in the Whale by Jordanna Max Brodsky
Women and War in the 21st Century: A Country-By-Country Guide by Margaret D. Sankey
Hildegard of Bingen by Honey Meconi
Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar
There Are Things I Know by Karen B. Golightly
The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark
The Lady in the Cellar: Murder, Scandal and Insanity in Victorian Bloomsbury by Sinclair McKay
The Girl in the Tower and The Winter of the Witch (Winternight Trilogy #2 and #3) by Katherine Arden
Guardian (Steeplejack #3) by A.J. Hartley
Heresy by Melissa Lenhardt
Salt by Hannah Moskowitz
The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey
Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn
The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson
Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft edited by Tess Sharpe and Jessica Spotswood
The Barrow Will Send What it May by Margaret Killjoy
Virgil Wander by Leif Enger
Night and Silence by Seanan McGuire
Travels with Foxfire: Stories of People, Passions, and Practices from Southern Appalachia by Foxfire Fund Inc
Driving to Geronimo’s Grave: and Other Stories by Joe R. Lansdale
Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer by Barbara Ehrenreich
Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit (Kopp Sisters #4) by Amy Stewart
Selling Dead People’s Things: Inexplicably True Tales, Vintage Fails & Objects of Objectionable Estates by Duane Scott Cerny
So Lucky by Nicola Griffith
Stone Mad (Karen Memory #2) by Elizabeth Bear
The Widows of Malabar Hill (Perveen Mistry #1) by Sujata Massey
Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers #3) by Becky Chambers

4/5 books published in 2018 include:
Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
The Penguin Book of Hell, ed. Scott G. Bruce
Children of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha, #1) by Tomi Adeyemi
Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry by Imani Perry
Revenant Gun (Machineries of Empire #3) by Yoon Ha Lee
The Curse of Oak Island: The Story of the World’s Longest Treasure Hunt by Randall Sullivan
Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg
Victory Disc (The Vinyl Detective #3) by Andrew Cartmel
Bringing Down the Colonel: A Sex Scandal of the Gilded Age, and the “Powerless” Woman Who Took On Washington by Patricia Miller
A Borrowing of Bones (Mercy & Elvis Mysteries #1) by Paula Munier
Night and Silence (October Daye #12) by Seanan McGuire
Prairie Fairies: A History of Queer Communities and People in Western Canada, 1930-1985 by Valerie Korinek
Deep Roots (The Innsmouth Legacy #2) by Ruthanna Emrys
Red Clocks by Leni Zumas
The Lost Plot (The Invisible Library #4) by Genevieve Cogman

Review: folklore and magic to love, and YA that disappoints

The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden. 5/5
This is the exhilarating and beautiful conclusion to Arden’s Russian trilogy. Beginning with death and ending with resurrection, it is at its heart a romance in the oldest sense of the word, and a story about a girl and a horse. When Vasya, a young woman gifted with the ability to see and communicate with the old pagan spirits of Russia, is condemned to death by a conflicted and zealous priest egged on by a chaos demon, it appears that the new religion of Christianity will cause the old spirits to become extinct. But Vasya throws herself into unknown lands, magic, and war to find a way to allow both faiths continue. This is an epic full of beautifully worked language and images that still retains a sense of humanity and humor among the characters, as mythic as they often are. And I love these books for the relationships between Vasya and the horses with whom she can speak. Her stallion Solovey is a rare treasure in literature about horses. This entire series is on my permanent list of fantasy I recommend to anyone seeking magic in history, history in magic, and the beauty of folklore.

Glow : Book I, Potency by Aubrey Hadley. 1/5
This is the most amazingly bad thing I have read in a long time. In the author’s attempt to write YA, they create inexplicably bizarre characters whose actions make no sense, a plot line that borrows from the worst of 1950s low-budget, low-creativity sci-fi, and dialogue that is pedantic and expository to a ridiculous degree: dialogue that tells…and tells…and tells, instead of writing anything that shows. If this had been satire, it might have been funny. But since it’s not, it’s just bad.

Review: another winner

Heresy by Melissa Lenhardt. 5/5

A great rollicking Western about a gang of outlaw women and their exploits in the 1870s. Led by a freed slave and an Englishwoman with a knack for training horses, this group gets revenge for one of its leaders, runs a ranch, helps out the nearest town, hides and saves abused folks, and lives life to the fullest. People get shot; people die; people get saved; people find love. A wonderful book all around. This will especially appeal to women and girls looking for representation in a historical setting, anyone interested in the “wild west,” and readers who love a well-told adventure story with complex and interesting characters.

Review: Salt by Hannah Moskowitz

Salt by Hannah Moskowitz. 5/5

This is a terrific and fast-paced novella telling the story of four orphaned siblings sailing the oceans in search of monsters to kill and information about their parents. Each character is well-drawn and strongly individual and true to life, the descriptions of the sea-monster hunts are exciting, and the whole thing is perfectly paced. I loved it. It’s a great book for anyone 12 and up, folks who love adventure stories, who wanted a little more excitement in Swallows and Amazons, who like cryptozoology, who like sailing, and who want a fresh and interesting bunch of characters.