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Category Archives: Books

The Beyond is ever-shifting, a fluctuating space of deadly light and impassible dark, filled with dangerous creatures. An adventuring party must consist of six members in order to venture across the Beyond. One Gate (to open the way and find the paths in the shifting wilderness), one Ghost (who becomes a silent, intangible scout once in the Beyond), one Shotgun (the party’s primary combatant), one Voice (the polyglot communications specialist), one Lantern (to light the way), and one Keeper (who remains behind at the group’s Keep, maintaining a stable entry platform that bridges the Beyond and the solid reality of the Realms. These six members make a Hex. Why six? Something about the magic that the dragons use to travel through the Beyond on their own can only be replicated by a group of six. Too many more than that, and the Beyond can destabilize even further. Too few, and you can’t be protected from the various monsters that call that nightmare place home.

Esther is a Lantern, but she’s semi-retired. Her Hex was suspended from operating a year ago, leaving the rest of her closest friends out of work. One night, a mysterious phone call wakes Esther, a single word from David, her son and the Keeper of the Hex. Immediately, she springs into action to gather the other members of the Hex and rally at the Keep to gather information. David, it seems, has been kidnapped, leaving his spouse Kai and their children behind in the unguarded Keep. Someone has captured him, and Esther must journey across the Beyond to find the party responsible. While Marianne, Gus, Lydia, and Faye all answer Esther’s summons, not all of the Hex is happy to see her again, especially since their suspension means that they’re not technically supposed to be operating in the Beyond at all.

So begins a covert mission to find David and bring him safely home. After all, what wouldn’t a parent do to protect their child?

Kate Elliott has crafted a phenomenal sci-fi novella with group mechanics reminiscent of a Dungeons and Dragons party. I’m fascinated by both the Beyond and the many Realms that it links, and I’m honestly sorry that this is my first time tackling one of her stories. I hope that she revisits this world again soon.

The Keeper’s Six is out today. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

My utmost thanks to Tordotcom for providing an eARC of this novella in exchange for a fair review.

It’s no secret that I love Neal Shusterman’s Arc of a Scythe series. I’ve reviewed his books before, and I even had the honor of meeting him in person earlier this fall.

Photo of me (left) with Neal Shusterman (right) at a local book signing.

Now I was surprised partway through Thunderhead when I learned that the series wasn’t a duology, but in fact had a third book announced just a few days prior. I was even more excited when I found out that he was returning to the setting with a new collection of short stories. Gleanings hit store shelves yesterday, and folks, it is fantastic.

It feels so good to be back in this dystopia. Shusterman’s worldbuilding is second to none, and even through brief snippets of poetry and prose, it all came rushing back. A planet full of immortals, a small order of people who can render others permanently dead (and in fact are required to do so), and an artificial intelligence that oversees everything but doesn’t interfere with the business of Scythes: all of these components are now familiar. This anthology presents a wide array of new stories, from Scythe Curie’s first conclave after her apprenticeship and her earning of her legendary title to a Halloween party that echoes Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death. Shusterman and his various co-authors are bringing even more depth to an already expansive world. I can’t thank NetGalley and Simon & Schuster enough for an eARC in exchange for a fair review. Gleanings is out on shelves as of yesterday. Enjoy!

Lord of the Flies is a classic piece of literary history documenting the rapid descent of a group of English schoolboys into chaos after being stranded on a tropical island.

Fyre Festival was a disaster of a different sort, with many promises being made to the would-be attendees about an island music festival that would never actually happen.

Goldy Moldavsky’s new YA novel, Lord of the Fly Fest is a beautiful and terrible blend of these two, otherwise unrelated things. Our protagonist, Rafi, is a young and (hopefully) upcoming podcast host with a show called “Musical Mysteries.” She’s staked the success of her show’s second season on snagging an interview with River Stone, the hottest musical act to ever come out of Australia, and also a bad murderer, maybe. His former girlfriend, Tracy, disappeared, and he was the last person to have seen her. So Rafi spends every last dollar she has to be at Fly Fest, an upcoming music festival that everybody who’s anybody on the internet has been promoting. Arrival on the island quickly proves that everything involved with the preparation for the event has gone wrong. There’s no staff to welcome the guests, few tents for shelter, and nothing but an abandoned shipping container full of inedible “cheese” sandwiches for food. Worst of all? None of the musicians who were slated to appear have shown up. None, that is, except for River Stone.

So now, Rafi is faced with a quandary. Does she band resources together to contact the outside world and summon rescue? Or does she let things drag out in the hope of getting that exclusive interview with River, getting the big celebrity shot her podcast needs to get the big endorsement deals (and, y’know, maybe some justice for River’s dead [again, maybe] girlfriend, Tracy). She’s got to navigate an island full of upset social media influencers and makeup gurus to make her plan work, one way or another. But what if getting River out on an island without contact with the mainland is exactly what he needs to kill again? What really lies beneath the surface of Fly Fest?

Lord of the Fly Fest is brilliant, combining the satirical takes of Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens (I’m looking at you, fictional influencer/musician Hella Badid, and bland interchangeable Paul and Ryan) with the atmospheric tension of Agatha Christie. My utmost thanks to NetGalley and MacMillan for an eARC in exchange for a fair review.

Babel, or the Necessity of Violence: An Arcane History of the Oxford Translators’ Revolution is not only a hell of a title, it’s a hell of a book. Author R.R. Kuang (The Poppy War) has produced a brilliant alternate history in which The British Empire rose to power utilizing magic based on silver and linguistics. In the 1820s, a young man from Canton (Guangzhou) is taken from his life on the docks where he picked up bits of language from sailors and raised in London by a man named Professor Lovell. Re-named Robin Swift by his own love of English literature, the boy is drilled with lessons on Greek and Latin, preparing him for a new life at Oxford University.

When Robin arrives at Oxford to take his place at the Translation Institute, however, nothing is what he expected. His neighbor, Ramy, is immediately welcoming (perhaps because they’re both outsiders by virtue of their foreign birth), while the rest of the residents of their hall are less so. A dark conspiracy seems to be building involving a looming war between England and China, and Robin’s skills in the languages of both nations will play a part, whether he wants them to or not.

Kuang’s latest work is a brilliant novel exploring the dark sides of academia and colonization. Robin’s conflict between his heritage and his upbringing mirror the greater struggle between England and China. Class warfare and linguistics blur together as Robin navigates a world that is simultaneously much larger than he knew and much smaller than he could have imagined. You’ll have to read it to believe it.

Babel is out on store shelves as of yesterday. Check it out.

My utmost thanks to NetGalley and Harper Voyager for an eARC in exchange for a fair review.

How far would you go to protect your children?

For Devon and her son, Cai, there doesn’t seem to be a limit. She’s prepared to leave every other member of her extended family behind, betraying everything she’s ever known to ensure that her son will be able to live. She’s even willing to bring strangers home for Cai to feast on when he’s hungry. See, Devon and her son aren’t quite human, despite their appearance. They’re members of a species known as Book Eaters. They are sustained not by food and drink, but by paper and ink. Devour a book and immediately know all of the contents of it. Memorize a document in seconds by digesting it. And Cai? Cai’s not a standard ‘eater. Unlike most members of his species, he craves memories and personalities eaten directly from a victim’s brain.

The Book Eaters are endangered, though, with girls being rare. Women in the Six Families of Book Eaters are married out of their manors into arranged weddings in order to provide genetically viable heirs. Two births per mother, then they can live a comfortable existence in one of the family manors. That’s the way it has to be. But Devon’s separation from her first child left her traumatized, and she was unwilling to go through that pain again.

When Cai is born, it’s expected that he’ll be drafted into the family’s enforcement division as a “dragon” after his limited time with his mother passes. Instead, Devon takes her young son and flees the other Book Eaters, hoping to find a source of a drug that will allow Cai to subsist on books as she does. How long can she make it when a team of dragons is chasing her? How will she cope knowing that her own brother is leading them? You’ll have to read Sunyi Dean’s The Book Eaters to find out.

The Book Eaters is out in stores as of yesterday. My utmost thanks to NetGalley and Tor/Forge for an advance copy in exchange for a fair review.

A while back, Tor Nightfire reached out to me after I reviewed one of their horror titles. They asked if I was interested in an upcoming non-fiction book about horror, and why people like it. I, naturally, said yes. So I was sent a copy of Nina Nesseth’s Nightmare Fuel: The Science of Horror Films, and reader, I loved it.

Nightmare Fuel digs deep into the reasons that people like me enjoy horror movies. A breakdown of the techniques used in horror, like jump scares and repetition, sheds light on the false assumption that horror movies are “switch your brain off” entertainment. Nesseth covers the definitions of fear, horror, terror, and various other terms that tie in to the film watching experience. The book examines the physiological structures in the human brain that respond to particular aspects of horror movies, explaining why our bodies respond the way they do (and consequently, how we create a barrier in our minds to help us understand the difference between a real threat situation and one that’s being shown to us in film).

As I’ve said before, I’m not much of a non-fiction reader under normal circumstances. However, Nina Nesseth has knocked this one out of the park. Nightmare Fuel is a must-read for horror movie fans, combining the science of fear with the history of the genre into a beautiful, quick read. It’s out in the world as of yesterday, so go check it out.

My utmost gratitude to Tor Nightfire and NetGalley for an eARC of the book in exchange for a fair review.

Y’all.

I love steampunk.

I love alternate history, and steampunk has been a favorite genre of mine for almost twenty years. Today, I get to tell you about my new favorite steampunk novel, and it’s part Star Wars, part Ocean’s Eleven.

In Lucas J. W. Johnson’s The Clockwork Empire, Rome never fell. Instead, the Roman Empire continued to grow and expand its grip around the world. Almost all of Europe lives under their control, and over the centuries, they’ve only gotten more powerful with the development of new technologies. People who are injured can be remade, with clockwork prosthetics being grafted on. Airships hover over cities, and Legionaries patrol the streets.

Julian was remade. Forced into slavery, he was experimented on and left with a clockwork heart—the first of its kind, and something the Empire desperately wants to keep secret. Shortly after the process was completed, however, he managed to escape from the scientist who had enslaved him. Now he seeks to reunite with his lost love, Gaius, and plan his revenge against those who are corrupting the empire for their own benefit.

Lia was a Praetorian, a member of the Emperor’s own guard, and one of the best soldiers to be found. When she and her comrades got too close to the truth about the goals of an overly ambitious senator, they were all disavowed and forced to go on the run.

After a chance meeting in a small caffè, Julian & Gaius find themselves teaming up with Lia’s crew. The realization that they have a mutual enemy in Senator Vivarius spurs them to action. What ensues is a grand adventure across the Roman Empire in a stolen airship.

So, let’s see. Big cast of queer characters? Check. Prosthetics technology that would make Winry Rockbell swoon? Check. Smashing fascism? Check. Train heist? Check. I really don’t know what else I could need.

My most sincere thanks Lucas J. W. Johnson for crafting an incredible story, and to Fireside Fiction (specifically Brian J. White) for providing me with a copy in exchange for a fair review.

The Clockwork Empire is out in the world today. Go get it.

Zachary Ying doesn’t want to stand out, a difficult task when he’s usually the only Asian kid in his school. He wants to finish summer classes and play Mythrealm, an augmented reality game that blends elements of Pokémon GO and trading card games like Yu-Gi-Oh! with classic mythology. Zack never learned a lot about Chinese myths and history from his mother, who had complicated feelings regarding their homeland. It comes as quite a shock when a Chinese transfer student, Simon Li, introduces himself and explains that Zack’s likely a direct descendent of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. Before he knows what’s happening, the spirit of his ancestor has possessed him, or rather, his portal-lens, the AR headset he wears to play Mythrealm.

Qin Shi Huang is on a mission, and he needs Zack’s body to do it. The long-dead emperor has to seal a portal to the Chinese underworld to prevent all manner of demons and spirits from flooding out into the human world, and the clock is ticking. Zack needs to get to Qin Shi Huang’s tomb in China, and he needs to strengthen the bond between himself and the emperor’s spirit, or his mother’s soul may be devoured. Zack has to learn as much as he can about the Dragon Emperor and his exploits so that he can channel the magic necessary to close the gap between the realms.

Qin Shi Huang isn’t the only dead emperor setting out to save China. Simon is possessed by the spirit of his own ancestor, Tang Taizong, and he’s partnered with Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor, hosted by her own descendent, Melissa Wu. Together, the three kids and their spirit partners navigate an escalating series of heists and battles with mythological figures and monsters. If they fail, China—and the rest of the world—are doomed.

Xiran Jay Zhao has crafted a most excellent middle grade adventure here. They’ve taken some of the best bits of Yu-Gi-Oh! (which I’ve loved since seeing the first episodes land in English back in 2001) and wrapped it in an intense love of Chinese history and myth, with an end result that will satisfy readers of all ages and make the folks at Disney jealous that they didn’t pick this one up for a Rick Riordan Presents title. Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor is fun, fast-paced, and clever. It’s out tomorrow, May 10th.

My thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for an eARC in exchange for a fair review.

And my additional thanks to Xiran for their signature on a copy of Iron Widow and a selfie with them back in April!

Selfie of me, Philip (he/they), standing in front of Xiran Jay Zhao (they/them), the author of Zachary Ying and the Dragon Emperor as well as Iron Widow.

I’m late to the party, I know.

I saw so many of my twitter friends talking up a new fantasy novel earlier this year. Something outside the traditional realm of sword and sorcery, but embracing the roots of the genre and crafting it into a drastically different form.

I’m talking, of course, about Travis Baldree’s debut novel, Legends & Lattes. I don’t remember which author I saw first promoting it, but it caught my attention almost immediately. What’s not to love about the premise? An orc adventurer finally tires of the life she’s led and decides to cash out after one final score, wherein she claims a legendary artifact that’s believed to bring great luck to the one who owns it. Viv leaves her old group of companions (let’s not pretend that they’re all friends) and settles down in the city of Thune to found a business the likes of which no one in the area has ever seen: a coffee shop.

Putting years of earnings from monster hunting to use, Viv transforms an old livery into a bustling café. She befriends numerous locals, especially the succubus Tandri, who quickly learns the trade as Viv’s first official hired barista. Not everyone is thrilled with her success, however, and Viv’s past has a way of catching up with her at the least opportune times. Between jealous former partners, a local protection racket, and the fact that literally no one in Thune knows what coffee is, she’s got her work cut out for her. Still, she might just have found exactly the place and the people to help her leave her old life behind once and for all.

Legends & Lattes is ridiculously cute, y’all. It’s a fantasy adventure with a great heart, and without the fate of the world at stake. It’s a wonderful reminder that, as Viv herself says, “Things don’t have to stay as what they started out as.” Take a chance on it. You’ll be glad you did.

I was in middle school the first time I saw the word “kaiju” in print. I was on a Godzilla kick, because I was in middle school, and Godzilla books had been readily available for a few years at that point, thanks mostly (I guess) to Roland Emmerich’s 1998 film. I had been to my parents’ bookstore and found a couple of mass market paperbacks of other Godzilla titles, and started to learn my way around the other residents of Monster Island. A love of the giant creatures was born that has persisted to this day, across films like Pacific Rim and the films and comics within the Godzilla franchise. Now imagine my joy when one of my favorite sci-fi writers announced an upcoming novel titled The Kaiju Preservation Society.

John Scalzi is a remarkably fun writer to read, and since it’s been a while since the last time I read one of his books, I’d forgotten that. TKPS is a ridiculously fun ride. When Jamie Gray loses his job in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, he turns to delivering food around New York in an attempt to keep up with his bills. This brings him into contact with Tom, an old college friend who tells Jamie that he has a job opportunity for him with a group that does preservation work for large animals. What Jamie was not expecting was for that job to be on the other side of a dimensional barrier separating our Earth from an alternate one populated by nuclear-powered creatures the size of apartment buildings.

Jamie emerges on the other side of the barrier to find a small scientific research base, where he will serve as a gofer for the numerous scientists studying the kaiju that inhabit this parallel world. He quickly makes friends and becomes acclimated to the bizarre biology of the local populace, learning what a threat virtually everything on that side of the barrier is (in short, everything will either kill you or try really hard to do so). Rapidly changing circumstances lead Jamie to understand, however, that not everyone associated with The Kaiju Preservation Society is as well-intentioned as he is, as an impending disaster threatens everyone and everything on both sides of the rift.

This was a fast-paced, very fun novel, that reads like a mashup of Pacific Rim and Jurassic Park. My only complaint is that we don’t get to spend a lot of time in the world, and I would love to see Scalzi release a sequel at some point down the line. The Kaiju Preservation Society is out in stores tomorrow, March 15th. Go get yourself a copy asap. My utmost thanks to Macmillan/Tor and NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for an honest review.