It seems rare these days, kids and teens who enjoy reading. With the glamor of the Internet and cell phone apps constantly keeping us glued to our devices, there’s not much room in those hands to hold a book. Even rarer still is a child who wants to be a writer. Beyond that is the unicorn: a female pre-teen who wants to write horror.

I love history, so when I was approached to read the ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of an anthology of historical fiction about the interaction of Viking voyagers with Islamic emissaries in the 10th century, I had to say yes. I mean, who doesn’t love Vikings mixing it up with the dynamic and powerful Islamic kingdoms of that time period? I do admit that having a Master’s degree in Arabic and the Cultural History of the Arabs did influence me a bit. But then again, it has Vikings.

Yan Ge’s hauntingly surreal novel, Strange Beasts of China, has been slotted under Science Fiction and Fantasy, but it’s a work that doesn’t fully fit into any single genre.  The collection of interconnected stories centered on a failed cryptozoologist turned pulp journalist resonated as modern fairy tales, and I loved how each new section about a beast of Yong’an added to the author’s world building to reveal new facets about the nature of humanity.  

I bet you’ve heard the name of Jack the Ripper, right? But have you ever heard the names of his victims: Polly, Annie, Elisabeth, Catherine, and Mary Jane? I’m sure most would answer no, myself included, until I read The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper. As with many crimes against women, the male perpetrator grabs the headlines while the women are lost to obscurity. Ms. Hallie Rubenhold aims to do something about that in this well-researched book.

If Ungent and Shol thought they’d be off the hook after saving the universe from the Quishik threat probability, the multiple threads of time and space have other plans.  The Quishik’s prison is hardly infallible (especially when dealing with psychic beings that can harvest brain power/life), there are others who need Ungent’s sage advice, and Shol is trying to endure adolescence trapped on a space craft with a middle-age crustacean and an AI.  The mysterious Ootray continue to hold the key to . . . well, everything, but they don’t seem eager to be found, even though they’re responsible for the biggest threat to all life as the cast knows it.  All sentient beings need to band together to face the harsh truth that the Quishiks will be back, but can they overcome personal feelings and deep-seated beliefs to make a final decision?

Ghosts, djinns, and other supernatural beings inhabit this charming and fun alternate history/steampunk fantasy set in a Cairo, where the British have been expelled and Egypt has become a world power in their own right.  

Penny’s finally tied the knot with Raven, her dragon suitor, and returned to Lloegyr, but life can’t ever stay calm for the world-hopping vicar.  Sue Harkness continues to lean into her anger against the alternate world, and anyone tied to Penny may be at risk.  To make matters worse, fellow clergy may be helping with Harkness’ plans to make Daer’s denizens pay for her maternal neglect, and the Rat Kings definitely are willing to broker deals with England at the expense of other species.  Penny needs to come up with a solution for the refugees stuck in both worlds, but when one world is secret from the other, it’s a tall order.  Is humanity ready for the truth about mythical creatures?  Penny may have to take the gamble of her life and hope that faith is enough to save everyone.

I've been playing Dungeons & Dragons for over twenty years, and during that time, I've seen all manner of ways to heighten the immersion of the hobby, be it fully ensconcing yourself in foam armor and heading out into the woods for a weekend, skillfully crafting ancient-looking maps and scrolls with tea and patience, or referring to each party member as only their character's name throughout the entire night.  One thing that always breaks the immersion is when you reach for your Funyuns and Mountain Dew (unless you're in the Mad Mage's cells...then anything's fair game), or dipping E.L. Fudge cookies in red wine (The author does not admit to being party to this behavior, but heartily recommends against in the in strongest terms.), or just annihilating the sleeve of Oatmeal Pies.  Well, friends, some great minds in gaming have taken the next logical step in game session food immersion and created a cookbook full of dishes from the most famous of the Realms in the D&D canon, including Greyhawk, Eberron, Faerun, and Krynn.  Steeped in the countless tomes of lore and the rich history of the world's best-known role-playing game, there has been a lot of love poured into making this book a recipe for not only gastronomic experimentation, but camaraderie and shared experiences, as well.

In a combination of alternate-history, secret society with a little steampunk thrown in, The Clockwork Dynasty tells the dual story of June Stefanov (an anthropologist who specializes in ancient technology) and the mechanical being Peter. After having found a unique automaton doll, June is unwittingly dragged into a centuries-long conflict between two warring factions of a world she never knew existed: a group of automatons who have been living among us for what might be over a thousand years.  Rescued by Peter after she finds out that the automatons exist, June learns they are dying, and she and Peter must rediscover their primary power source in order to preserve their future. But the real question is: who made them and why?

Next up on the review list from the Hugo Awards is N.K. Jemison’s Emergency Skin, the winner for best novelette for 2020. For those of you unfamiliar with Ms. Jemisin, she is a multiple Hugo Award winner for her Broken Earth novels, as well as other accolades too numerous to mention.  Emergency Skin is part of the Forward Collection (Amazon Original Stories) which contains a total of six stories from Veronica Roth, Andy Weir, and four others.  The editor, Blake Crouch, came up with the idea of asking some of his favorite authors to write about emerging technologies and how they may affect the earth, our society, and who we are.

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