Publicity Manager, Events Coordinator, and MG co-owner Maryelizabeth (M'e) reads across all of our chosen genres, with an emphasis on sociological fiction. Whether a book involves werewolves, spaceships, faeries, forensics, kissing, or all of the above, her main concern is the impact of their world on the characters in it.
Check out Maryelizabeth's past reviews in Maryelizabeth's Miscellany!
Immersive action scenes and nuanced understandings of persuasion, power, and manipulation inform the second novel featuring kidnap and rescue expert Thea Paris and her allies, adversaries, and family members (some of whom fall into more than one camp). From its nausea-inducing opening scene of a skyjacked plane being forced to land in the Libyan Desert to its explosive dramatic multi-agenda actors finale, Skyjack never loses sight of the very human motivations and foibles of its protagonists and antagonists. My favorite new thriller series.
Inkmistress is just your standard “demigoddess with the power to alter reality by expressing how she’d like to see the world in her blood accidently catalysts her girlfriend’s transformation into a dragon, setting off deadly consequences for the inhabitants of their country fairy tale.” Asra, who has been raised in very sheltered circumstances by the local healer, must not only deal with trying to rein in Ina’s quest for vengeance, but also question her own mythological heritage, determine whether a group of assassins are allies or adversaries, and muddle through everyday interactions with other beings in a far more concentrated form than she has previously experienced. Recommended for fantasy readers who like their magical creatures interspersed with plenty of kissing.
Children of Blood and Bone, the first book in Tomi’s Legacy of Orisha young adult fantasy trilogy, introduces readers to the West Africa-reminiscent kingdom and its once common, now persecuted minority magic wielders, the divîners. Tomi interweaves the point of view of divîner Zélie Adebola, who is both eager and fearful to embrace her heritage, and fanatically anti-maji King Saran’s offspring, Princess Amari who questions the established narrative, and Crown Prince Inan, torn between fulfilling his father’s expectations and determining his own values. At times as graphically brutal as it is compelling, this stellar new fantasy will have an enduring legacy. Highly recommended.
The tale of the ill-fated Donner Party’s passage through the Sierra Mountains is a staple of American Western mythology. Scholars blame arrogance, a late start, an untested shortcut, and other poor decisions for the party’s being stranded by winter, leading to the deaths of about half the group, and a significant number of the survivors turning to cannibalism. But what if there was a more sinister cause for their behavior? “Turn back, or you will all die.” You’ve been warned! Recommended for fans of Dan Simmons’ The Terror and Christopher Golden’s Ararat.
Granted, I was predisposed to like this before I cracked the cover. “An action-packed tale full of romance, royalty, and adventure, inspired by the story of Anastasia” is right up my alley! But Ashley applies the same geeky insights and charm that made Geekerella a fun update to the tale, with plenty of scoundrels, rogues, and charmers to root for … carefully, with an eye on one’s valuables, and a protagonist whose most interesting trait is not that she may be space royalty.
New Mexico has a reputation as the home state to a significant number of human / alien encounters, but none may be as strange or heart-wrenching as the encounter between extraterrestrial Luz and the Vasquez children. Hank, Ana, and Milo and their mother, Maggie, are preparing to navigate the unfamiliar territory of their first summer without the kids’ father as part of the family when Luz enters their lives. Luz interprets the three children as discrete parts of a single entity, and observes the world through their senses – semi-appropriating and enhancing their perceptions through their hands, eyes, and ears, respectively. Leah’s story intertwines multiple perspectives in a moving tale of family, loss, and recovery.
Embracing one’s true self is the all the fashion in Wang’s charming alternate 19th-century Paris tale of underappreciated seamstress Frances and her inspiring mysterious model, Lady Crystallia, who is the secret alter ego of the crown prince. While Prince Sebastian is delighted to find someone who can craft the gorgeous creations for Lady Crystallia, his dedication to keeping his secret from his family and the fashion world inhibits Frances from achieving proper recognition for her designs. This book is both a visual treat, and also a great positive affirmation of acceptance and love.
I was enthralled by Holly Black’s tale of Jude, a mortal teen raised in Faerie and determined to earn a permanent place for herself. Holly not only involves readers with familiar themes of teen alienation from family (including fey and mortal and blended siblings), choosing one’s own path and companions, and conflicts with schoolmates (who just happen to be Faerie royalty), but also builds a Faerie that is wonderfully weird and alien. Recommended for fans of Laini Taylor and Kiersten White.
Cosplaying teen Edan Kupferman has an easier time expressing her anger at chaotic and troubling circumstances in her life when wearing the mask of super-powered Gargantua. An insightful look into what so many of us love about comics – and some of the challenges we have to face in the field. Cecil’s latest pairs well with Sarah Kuhn’s Heroine geeky romance series!
Los Angeles screenwriter Tarkoff’s debut near-future SF novel is set in a world with a near-global acceptance of a single religious being, the Great Spirit, following the apparent manifestation of individual’s morality in their physical appearance. People’s interior values are reflected in their looks, ranging from the healthy clear skin and appealing faces of the “good,” to physical distortions among the Outcast so severe as to result in fatalities. Preacher’s daughter Grace Luther is a believer, but she begins to question the reliability and apparent capriciousness of the judgments. An interesting examination of the values society sets on beautiful people.
New Zealand author and illustrator O’Neill’s (Princess Princess Ever After) Tea Dragon Society web comic is now a gentle and beautiful book about appreciating and valuing craft. Greta is following in the career path of her blacksmith mother, but has time to pursue the charming but delicate vocation of caring for tea dragons, who produce tea leaves along with their scales. The patient teamerchant, Hesekiel, along with his spouse, adventurer-cum-gardener Erik, and their mysterious foster daughter, Minette, share their story and care throughout the seasons with Greta. Highly recommended for fantasy and tea fans!
On the eve of the one-year anniversary of her best friend Lottie’s death, 18-year-old Ryn has even less desire than most travelers to spend one long day and night snowed in at the Denver airport. However, a chance encounter with a stranger with the same cell phone and case is the first in a series of events that draw Ryn out of her protective self-imposed emotional and artistic stasis. Lottie sent Ryn a text message right before her death; to Ryn’s magical thinking process, as long as it remains unread, there’s still a part of Lottie alive in her world. Charming, immediately emotional, and filled with wry observations about life, death, and the universe’s tendency towards chaos, this is a rewarding read.
Sorrow Lovegood’s strongly matriarchal family trees, depicted in the endpapers, are a strongly defining characteristic of herself – but she has been separated from that part of her roots since she was eight years old. Now, at 16, she returns for the summer to her mother and grandmother on their ancestral apple orchard in Vermont. Sorrow left because of the tragic death of her sister, Patience, who died under circumstances Sorrow can’t quite remember. Back with her depressed mother and silent-by-choice grandmother, Sorrow’s memories are stirred, especially when she comes into contact with the Lovegood’s historical adversaries, the Abrams. Wallace’s second novel will please readers of Shallow Graves, while providing a very different reading experience.
This murder mystery reminded me a great deal of works by Megan Abbott and Laura Lippman. Told in two discrete sections, first in first person from the point of view of possibly unreliable narrator Jess Wong, then from a broader third person POV, it offers readers a reminder of the sometimes suffocating emotions of teenage girls and the occasionally explosive consequences. Jess is no paragon, especially because she stifles her romantic feelings for her best friend to the detriment of their relationship and more, but she is still a sympathetic and recognizable individual. A strong entry in the teen thriller field.
Otherworld, set in the near future, asks the important question of what real-world sacrifices people would be willing to make when offered the chance to immerse themselves in a virtual reality that engages all their senses. The mysterious Company that constructed Otherworld promises players a chance to live their “best lives,” with “No laws. No limits. No judgements.” But what are the consequences of (virtually) living without limits, whether engaging in survival tactics, or indulging one’s secret desires? What may be one participant’s utopia may be another’s nightmare. Teens Simon and Kat, once the closest of friends in real life, now are only able to connect in Otherworld. When Simon is desperately seeking Kat, he discovers much more than they bargained for.
Morrigan Moore, the personification of teen ennui, unwillingly accompanies her writer mother and elder brother on their move to a small town to immerse themselves in the local legend of the rapacious King of Crows, and the Scarecrow Prince who opposes him. Morrigan begins to form relationships with a local teen and the town’s elderly eccentric, but she has drawn the attention of the local murder of crows and the presence behind them. Vibrant art and engaging characters add to the satisfying storyline, suitable for tweens and up.
This quasi-epistolary work recounts the relationship between O-Shizuka (the Phoenix Empress, Daughter of Heaven, the Light of Hokaro, Celestial Flame, and swordswoman extraordinaire) and Barsalyya Shefali Alshar (Qorin horsewoman and leader). The two were born a month apart, mystically connected from their birth, both through omens and through the belief of their mothers, and yet vastly different in their upbringings and passions. Both their peoples engage in battle against invading demons in the Asian-inspired landscape. K. is a passionate tabletop fantasy gamer, and that influence comes through in the best way as Shizuka and Shefali face trials and tribulations together and separately. Compelling characters – I can’t wait to return to this world for more adventures
Autonomous takes a keen look at an all too possible future, examining ideas of intellectual and personal freedom, gender identity, whether corporate morality is an oxymoron, and more – all while presenting an entertaining race-against-the-clock scenario with characters the reader will care about (even though some of the point-of-view characters have conflicting agendas). My favorite new pirate, Captain Judith “Jack” Chen, makes a living crafting street versions of pharmaceuticals – she discovers the latest drug, marketed as a performance enhancer, has an unintended side effect of being super-effective to the detriment of the user, and anyone in their manic work path. The parent company isn’t admitting any wrong-doing, and indeed has suggested Jack’s faux version is at fault. Jack endeavors to create an effective counteragent before she’s captured by the zealous agents of the International Property Coalition. This is a delicious balance of story and thought-provoking ideas.
Nahri uses her quick wits and small magics to eke out a living in 18th Century Cairo; when her actions in soothing a possessed young woman have unexpected results, Nahri releases both the djinn, Dara, and a number of ghouls, neither of which she is prepared to encounter. Nahri, Dara, and their companions embark on adventures that will lead them beyond Daevabad, the titular city, from Qart Sahar to Tukharistan, engaging with extraordinary and magical beings associated with the four elements, and discovering the significance of Nahri’s mysterious heritage. Lush and rich with the power of storytelling, The City of Brass is a tale to savor over several pots of cardamom tea.
Zac Brewer manages the delicate balance between making the point of view of a teenager with suicidal ideation empathetic and accessible without glorifying her emotional crisis in Madness. When Brooke is released from her recovery center after a suicide attempt, she struggles with reestablishing relationships and routines with family, friends, and schoolmates, even her BFF, Duckie. At first, new arrival Derek seems to be Brooke’s soulmate, the only person who understands what she’s feeling – but is their budding romance helpful or harmful, especially as it begins to isolate Brooke from other people she loves? Part Pretty in Pink and more than a little Heathers for teens in the 21st Century, the book also offers resources for any readers identifying with Brooke’s pain.
Solomon’s stellar Afrofuturistic debut (a first for Akashic) is set aboard the HSS Matilda, an interstellar space vessel that carries not only a broad spectrum of humanity, but also some of its most virulent traits, including racism and classism. Self-taught medic Aster Grey administers to those in need on the ship’s lower decks, tends a secret botanical laboratory, and seeks answers to the secrets of her dead mother’s past – when she’s not performing mandatory slave labor for benefit of the ruling white supremacists, experiencing violence at the hand of the ship’s enforcers, or trying to have an intellectual if not emotional understanding of how to interact with those closest to her. The inevitable comparisons to Octavia Butler’s work are deserved, and I look forward to seeing more from Solomon.
A civilization of survivors in a future version of the United States’ West Coast – which has been ravaged by extreme weather and other consequences of human behavior – recognize the importance of strict shared behavioral guidelines, including population control, to create a survivable environment. But even in a time of enforced social contracts, there are occasional violations, and a need for law enforcement professionals, called investigators. Her first significant case, investigating the suspicious death of a man in a nearby town, is further complicated when it reunites investigator Enid with a past lover. This cross-genre work will appeal to both SF and mystery readers.
Sunny Nwazue was introduced to fantasy readers in Akata Witch, in which the Nigerian-American 12-year-old with albinism discovered that the differences between her New York City birthplace and the home she shares with her Igbo parents in Nigeria are separated by more than just cultural differences. Sunny is a member of the magic-wielding Leopard People; in addition to attending traditional school and playing soccer, she attends a magical school with other Leopard People students, and lives a life beyond her family’s scope. When Sunny experiences troubling dreams, she is informed that they are portents of a significant ecological disaster – one she and her allies can take action against, if Sunny can get herself out of the difficulties she’s created with her teacher by breaking the rules of her magic. Nnedi’s integration of multiple cultures and magical systems, including both Nigerian magic and creations of her own invention, will delight readers of all ages.
Warbringer ably sits in the sweet spot of the Venn diagram between established fans of the tales of Diana, Amazon Princess of Themyscria, and those who may not have experienced her stories beyond her role in the biggest box office smash of summer 2017. Teenage Diana is struggling to define herself on the mystical island, inhabited by warrior women of all cultures, transported there after their deaths in battle. Diana’s rescue of contemporary teen Alia is a literally earth-shaking violation of the island’s laws – she is advised by the Oracle to let Alia, a descendant of Helen of Troy, first of the haptandra, the Warbringers, die, in order to reduce world-wide strife. Diana defies the Oracle and leaves the island with Alia, determined to try to put an end to the curse of her lineage. This is a great story of female friendships, and difficult choices.
“Let’s have terrible things happen to a significant woman in the protagonist’s life in order to provide the protagonist with motivation” is neither a new trope, nor one exclusive to comics storytelling, but the medium is rife with examples thereof, six of which are brilliantly tweaked just enough to avoid existing in any particular comic universes in this powerful collection. The characters in Valente’s stories are angry, sad, and fully aware of the way in which they previously existed less as characters in their own right, than as plot devices – just one of the topics they discuss in the strange limboland they exist in, where they periodically gather as the Hell Hath Club in the Lethe Café to recount their tales.
Goal-oriented superheroine Aveda Jupiter (aka Annie Chang) is largely recovered from the injury that sidelined her in Heroine Complex – just in time to face a San Francisco landscape that’s been cleared by demons thanks to the work of her BFF Evie Tanaka and their team. Aveda turns her laser-like (figurative, not actual, because superpowers!) focus to a different task – being the best maid of honor for Evie, even if it means overriding Evie’s preferences with her own superior options. There’s so much to love in this series, including its celebration of female relationships, its enthusiastic embracing of geek culture, and hot nerd romance!
Cindy Pon takes readers to a future Taiwan with stark divisions between the you – the privileged few who have all the necessary resources and more, who can not only survive, but also thrive and indulge, and the mei – the marginalized underprivileged masses who struggle to breathe and eat in a contaminated environment. Jason Zhou and his friends intend for him to form a relationship with Daiyu, heiress to the Jin Corporation, which manufactures the environmental suits that the elite wear to protect themselves from their damaged environment, in order to infiltrate the company. When he develops feelings for Daiyu, will he betray his cause, his friends, and the memory of his mother? Great dystopian class warfare drama.
As North America prepares for a total eclipse of the sun in August, Erin Kelly examines how slippery the concept of truth can be among overlapping narratives with he said / she said, which asks the reader, “#WhoDoYouBelieve ?” Kit McCall is a passionate eclipse chaser, traveling the world to be in the ideal viewing location. In 1999, he and his girlfriend, Laura, witness the fairly immediate aftermath of a sexual assault, and testify on behalf of the victim, Beth, against the privileged aggressor, Jamie. In the ensuing years, they develop a relationship with Beth, but when concerning incidents begin, they go undercover. In 2015, a pregnant Laura remains at home while Kit treks out of the country to view another eclipse, but their past returns in a violent and destructive fashion. While the stories are wildly divergent, this had a similar ambiance to Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes.
Eleven-year-old Polly McClusky thinks of herself as being from Venus – calm on the surface, but with uncharted swirling, screaming depths. She has positive, if vague, memories of Nate, her father. A professional criminal thanks to his brother, Nate has spent most of Polly’s youth behind bars. Nate is released, but with a target on his back, thanks to a fatal encounter with a member of a white supremacist gang. The target extends to his ex-wife and Polly. While the chase is on from the moment Nate picks up Polly and her stuffed bear on the steps of her middle school, their relationship also grows and develops apace thanks to Harper’s deft storytelling.
Debut novelist Corlett makes the most of the correlations between physical distances and emotional distances in her tale of the choices made by the tiny tiny remnants of the human species (0.001 percent survival rate) following an interplanetary plague. While Jamie Allenby sought a job on a sparsely-populated frontier planet to create space to recover from a difficult romantic relationship and miscarriage, she is still pleased to discover she is not the sole survivor on her planet. Compelled by a promise to her ex, Jamie embarks on a journey back to Earth, discovering truths both about herself and about the origins of the plague in the process. A thoughtful examination about the dangers of getting what one wishes for.
I am delighted that I was prompted by April’s Los Angeles Times Festival of Books to elevate this to the top of my to-be-read-pile, where it had languished since the previous summer. Shortly after new-to-extended-space-voyages bookkeeper Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the spaceship Wayfarer, they receive a lucrative assignment to create a wormhole into space occupied by new-to-the-Galactic-Commons beings. Much space drama ensues, on both a grand and a small scale. And readers can binge right into A Closed and Common Orbit. Highly recommended to fans of C. J. Cherryh, Jo Clayton, or Tanya Huff’s rich multilayered science fiction.
Christopher Golden reminds readers that some mysteries are best left unsolved, as his adventurous reality television power couple and their team investigate a significant and controversial discovery on the infamous site of Mt. Ararat. With Ararat, Chris has crafted a high-adrenaline tale that combines archaeology, a locked room puzzle, and mythical horrors made manifest, that left me breathless and chilled -- and not just from the descriptions of the extreme storm conditions
One of the traits that make Jennifer McMahon’s books such compelling reads for me is her ability to suck me in to her characters’ worlds and perceptions, no matter how skewed or improbable. Burntown is no exception to this experience. Teenager Necco and her mother, Lily, become Burntown residents, part of those who live off the grid in abandoned factories and mills, after the traumatic death of Necco’s father. When danger stalks again, Necco and her unexpected allies – a high school student she only knows through their illicit transactions, a cafeteria chef with deeper ambitions, a part-time private eye, and a group of mystical women – must dig through Necco’s cloudy past for answers.
The Shirley Jackson Centennial began in December, but my enthusiasm for her works is perpetual. While fellow-enthusiasts, including Charlaine Harris, Jonathan Maberry, and Grady Hendrix, usually know a broad spectrum of Jackson’s works, some readers have only encountered one or two of her stories, often having memories of reading “The Lottery” for a school assignment. I strongly recommend checking out this engaging adaptation by Jackson’s grandson Hyman, whether you are revisiting a favorite or entering her world of subtle horror for the first time. Also available: Ruth Franklin’s recent biography of Jackson; We Have Always Lived in the Castle t-shirts from Out of Print, and more! Check out my Staff Picks shelf.
While a lot of attention in the first few months of 2017 has focused on Butler’s eerily prescient Parable of the Sower (which was just reissued by Seven Stories Press with stunning cover art), readers are also encouraged to pick up this graphic novel adaptation. Butler’s tale of Dana, a woman of color in the mid-1970s who is repeatedly involuntarily transported to the antebellum South, and the ways in which her experience there are shaped by her skin color, is brought vividly and viscerally to life by the team of Duffy and Jennings. Recommended.
Adele Martin’s entire being is focused on one goal – nurturing her marriage to her husband, therapist David. Shortly before David begins a job at a new London clinic, he flirts with a woman in a bar. Later, despite her better intentions upon discovering that David is not only married but is also her new boss at the clinic, secretary and single mother Louise is unable to resist beginning an affair with him. The affair continues, even after Adele befriends Louise, and Louise begins to question David’s behavior towards both women. Even with insights from chapters in her point of view, experienced readers will be kept guessing what Adele’s motivations and actions will lead to (hence the hashtag #WTFthatending), in Sarah’s stunningly twisty suspense novel.
The Weird Wild West of The Territory reveals new challenges as Isobel grows into her role and responsibilities as The Devil’s Left Hand. Along with her mentor, Gabriel, she rides roads filled with natural and unnatural magic, Native and settler, magicians and deeper powers of the terrain – terrain where most inhabitants, like Isobel, have made a deal with the Devil. When a new natural / supernatural disaster with earth-shaking consequences manifests, it will test all she knows about her role and abilities. The sophomore installment in Laura Anne’s tale continues to give the sense not of a new story, but of a retelling of an established mythology of the American West.
When describing this book, my first instinct is to quote the opening to Charlie’s Angels: “Once upon a time, there were three little girls…” Except these three grew up Asian American in an alternate San Francisco where demonic invaders from another dimension periodically wreak havoc, and have invested some people with superpowers. San Francisco’s premier superheroine is Aveda Jupiter. Aveda’s assistant is her childhood BFF, Evie Tanaka, who is also the caretaker for her teenage sister, Bea. Evie’s assistant role includes managing Aveda’s public image, including wardrobe clean-up after battling demonic cupcakes, and offering measured responses to a local columnist’s mean girl comments. But when Aveda is injured, Evie must doff her cartoon duck t-shirt and don the attire of the city’s protector. Can Evie handle the spotlight? A great fun read – and did I mention there’s hot nerd romance?!