Creating Conversations bookseller Maryelizabeth (M'e) reads across all of the Galaxy's 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.
Japanese-American high school senior Kimi Nakamura is supposed to be spending her spring break completing paintings that will cement her continued education at the prestigious Liu art academy. What Kimi’s parents don’t know is that Kimi hasn’t painted in months, dropping her high school Advanced Fine Arts class, and hiding her lack of progress at home by asserting that she’s striving to find her artistic point of view. Following her mother’s discovery that Kimi’s off the predetermined path, Kimi takes advantage of the fortuitously-timed gift of a paid ticket to visit her largely estranged grandparents in Kyoto during the break. While in Kyoto, she has the opportunity to get to know more about her grandparents and Japanese culture and the many ways it differs from Japanese-American culture. There’s also a meet cute with a giant mochi mascot, tons of description of delicious food, and a strong supportive girl gang – because this is a Sarah Kuhn novel, after all. A great summertime romance!
Castallan Crown Prince Alfehr, or Alfie, the prince without a future, is reluctantly preparing to assume his royal duties – duties he grew up believing would be his older brother’s, until Dez was the victim of a sorcerous attack. Finn, a thief with the magical ability (or propio) to transform her face into any other likeness, is dedicated to her autonomous survival. The two cross paths and objectives at a high stakes card game, where the prize is a collection of magical books that Alfie hopes will hold the secrets to bringing Dez back. When Alfie makes a sentimental decision to save his cousin Luka that frees the god of darkness, Sombra, whose release threatens the entire world with Nocturna – an endless night filled with the worst monsters, including human ones – the pair must reluctantly team up to make the most of their shared magic, an extensive library, and the royal cloak of invisibility to stop Sombra. Strong protagonists, an intriguing magical system, and a Latinx-influenced world all enhance this Indies Introduce pick.
The life of Stella Fortuna, née Mariastella Fortuna the Second, is told into sections titled with the nature of her near-death experiences: Burns; Evisceration; Bludgeoning; Rape; Exsanguination; Choking; Cerebral Hemorrhage. Stella’s life story, from her birth in the Calabrese region of Italy in 1920 to her life as a grandmother in contemporary Connecticut, is pieced together by her granddaughter. Stella’s story is simultaneously her own, and that of Everywoman, especially those who immigrated to the United States in the mid-20th Century. Grames’ looping narrative provides readers with the sensation of shared family stories and secrets – even when, to quote Stella’s sister, Tina, “some parts of the story, they no nice.” Engaging and enthralling. Narrator Lisa Flanagan does a stellar job of sharing Stella’s story on
HarperAudio via Libro.fm.
(Content warning: There is family violence and sexual assault in the story)
Governor-Militant Tretta Stern is committed to the her service to the Revolution of the Fist and Flame, against Imperial Cathma, and dedicated to the well-being of as many people under her command as possible. Her intention is to efficiently interrogate captured Vagrant -- a kind of vigilante mage -- Sal the Cacophony, and then execute her; a plan that is delayed by Sal's gradual sharing information about a missing officer of the Revolution, interspersed with the tale of the journey that led Sal to be in Tretta's prison. Sykes keeps Tretta's voice in her third person POV chapters distinct from Sal's breathtaking, darkly humorous, occasionally unexpectedly poignant, and exceedingly profanity-laden first person narration. A classic epic fantasy map, with its "handwritten" notations like "where the trouble starts," and "not important, but great whiskey," sets the tone for Sal's misadventures, and identifies locations, which are also chapter headings. Recommended for fans of big messy sprawling and endlessly entertaining epic series.
DC Comics' new young adult imprint, DC Ink, gets off to a strong start with Danielle Paige's rendition of Mera's teenage adventures, including her first encounter with Arthur Curry (AKA Aquaman). Princess Mera of Xebel, daughter of a warrior, struggles with the Xebellian people's oppression at the hands of the Atlanteans, and her father's and her role in the royal family's limitations on her. Confident in the training she has received from Hikara, she leaves familiar troubled waters in pursuit of the mysterious heir to Atlantis, intent on assassinating him. Paige's television background serves her well in understanding the different storytelling pacing of the medium, managing to incorporate themes of romance, preconceptions and prejudice, and coming-of-age while still leaving plenty of room on the page for Byrne's art. The limited palette with its emphasis on Mera's trademark red locks is a particularly effective choice in a book satisfying to both established fans and new readers.
Poston’s stellar love letter to fandom continues, this time focusing on the female lead in the Starfield franchise relaunch film and one of the character’s biggest fans. Actress Jessica Stone is the opposite of lead actor Darien Freeman (romantic interest in Geekerella) – she’s no closet fan, she doesn’t “get” fandom in general. Jessica’s only interested in recreating the iconic role of Princess Amara as an acting job, one she hopes will open non-genre movie doors for her, especially following the character’s noble death at the end of the film. Superfan Imogen Lovelace is not only leading a #SaveAmara campaign, but also looks uncannily like Jessica, especially when sporting an artistic SPACE QUEEN beanie. Intrigue around the sequel’s script gives the two a reason to swap places during ExcelsiCon, leading to general con-fusion and growth opportunities for both young women. Highly recommended.
My favorite part of Quinn’s absorbing WWII espionage novel was learning about Russia’s Night Witches, female pilots who flew against the Axis powers. The story is told via multiple timelines leading up to and after the war. The point of view characters include fierce “rusalka“ Night Witch Nina Markova; her husband of convenience, British journalist turned Nazi hunter Ian Graham; and Bostonian thwarted professional photographer Jordan McBride. The suspense lies not so much in the identification of the Huntress (a Nazi responsible for Ian’s brother’s death, among others), as in the convoluted process by which Ian and his allies determine her location and new identity. Wonderfully read on audio.
Fans of retellings will welcome this addition, building on “Cupid & Psyche,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” and “Tam Lin,” with a healthy dollop of originality.
Echo Alkaev, scarred in an incident freeing a fierce white wolf from a hunter’s trap, works in her father’s bookshop and leads a quiet life until her father remarries, selecting a woman whose ambitions drive the family to the brink of poverty. When her father is lost in the woods returning from a last-ditch gamble on redeeming the family’s finances, Echo searches for him. Echo finds the white wolf as well, and strikes a bargain to stay with him in his enchanted home in return for her father’s safety. The house offers wonders, terrors, and terrible things (it doesn’t know how to make a proper tea!). Gorgeous and romantic.
Whether or not one is already a reader of Cole’s Reluctant Royals (and if you aren’t, I encourage you to explore the other titles in this charming, sexy, and fun contemporary series), this novella of re-meeting cute offers a lovely New York adventure. Likotsi, the able assistant of Prince Thabiso of Thesolo, and jewelry designer Fabiola dated briefly, but their relationship ended abruptly, even though it was anticipated to be a finite romance. Now they’ve reconnected and may have a chance at a happily ever after, if they can forgive past hurts. The promise of the stunning purple cover delivers!
Readers will find a lot to identify with in the character of struggling Austin stand-up comedian Dana Diaz, at least initially. Dana has returned to Austin after discouraging experiences in Los Angeles, the least of which include lack of support from her less talented white male partner, and harassment. One evening after a set Dana is approached by tech savvy Amanda Dorn, who has experienced horrors of her own as a computer programmer. At first Dana is lured by the seductive opportunity to release some of her anger in a twisted partnership proposed by Amanda, with a significant nod to Patricia Highsmith; but, in true noir fashion, events escalate rapidly, and soon it’s unclear who will be the Last Woman Standing.
Debut author Hammer vividly conveys the blistering January landscape setting of small Australian town Riversend, recovering from a bewildering mass shooting committed by the local priest. A year after the event, Sydney journalist Martin Scarsden, recovering from trauma sustained while covering events in the Middle East, is sent to write a piece documenting how the town’s faring. As Scarsden asks questions, the answers take him down unexpected paths, revealing many complex layers to the townspeople and their relationships. I found Scarsden to be an unlikable character, and thought perhaps the plot took one twist too many, but the overall writing quality of the book and author’s storytelling skills outweighed those hesitations.
Arwen’s great, thoughtful, and touching stories about genetic possibilities, opportunities, and dangers, and how science can impact what is considered “human” was enhanced by the choice of multiple readers in the Libro.fm version. Told in sections – “A few years from now …” “A few more years from now …” “Let’s leap ahead a little more …” “A lot of time has passed …” “We are definitely in the future now …” “They have left us far behind …” – with limited connecting characters, the story still provides a satisfying overall arc. Sure to linger with readers.
This collection of nearly two dozen stories written over about 15 years by the extraordinary multiple-award winning Nora Jemisin, best known for The Broken Earth Trilogy, offers a spectacular range of subgenres, characters, and emotional tones. Unsurprisingly to anyone aware of my deep enthusiasm for competitive cooking shows, my favorite is the tale of Franca, “L’Alchimista,” tasked with creating literally magical concoctions from vague recipes that even “The Great British Baking Show” judges would deem too vague. “The Ones Who Stay and Fight,” a response to Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” is just as emotionally invested as its inspiration, while investing in a different response to community injustices and lack of compassion. While some stories have greater resonance than others, they all offer great value, and the opportunity to be angry, wistful, thoughtful, and more. Highly recommended.
Jane Yolen chose verse to tell the story of Natasha, who runs away from her abusive home situation into the woods, where she becomes part of the Baba’s household, learning to embrace the idea of being a witch, rather than thinking it’s a pejorative, and rethinking some of the lessons the outside world tried to force upon her. Sparse thoughtful prose and evocative illustrations make this a gem of a book whose impact will last far beyond the short time needed to read it.
The latest middle grade graphic novel from the incredibly talented Katie O’Neill, creator of The Tea Dragon Society and Princess Princess Ever After is a tale of loss, intergenerational conservation work, and fantasy. Lana and her father pay a visit to her maternal aunt to assist in clean-up after significant storm damage. Lana discovers an injured young aquicorn – a magical seahorse variant – in a tidepool, and becomes its guardian, learning more about its reef home and the protections it provides to both marine and land dwellers in the process.
Molly Brooks launches the delightful adventures of space-faring BFFs Sanity & Tallulah with this vastly entertaining middle grade graphic novel. Resources are limited and valuable on their home space station; therefore, Sanity’s creating an amazingly cute three-headed kitten (Princess, Sparkle, Destroyer of Worlds) is definitely against the rules, even before Princess, Sparkle, Destroyer of Worlds escapes, endangering their family, friends, and everyone else on the station. Molly’s illustrations and text have the assurance of an established creator, even though this is her debut. Recommended for fans of Zita the Spacegirl, Phoebe and her Unicorn, and budding scientists!
Discover the athletes, activists, warriors, scientists, and artists collectives spanning millennia and the globe spotlighted in this inspiring and informative collection. The persistent and pestilent narrative of women and women-identified people only prospering in a male-dominated culture by being competitive instead of cooperative is put paid to in these fun and factual tales of female friendship. The perfect gift for the badass members of your #girlsquad.
Librarian dreamer Lazlo Strange and dream goddess Sarai’s tale continues, resuming almost immediately following the wonderful and terrible events at the conclusion of the first in Laini’s magical duology. The inhabitants of the no longer involatile godspawn’s citadel above Weep and the city’s residents are not the only ones caught in the consequences rippling out from Lazlo and Sarai’s connection, as multiple players seek to wreak devastating revenge on humans and gods alike. A gorgeous tale, beautifully told. (A limited number of sleep masks are available with purchase, while supplies last.)
In this collection, subtitled "Final Poems: 2014 - 2018," Ursula K. Le Guin embraces her mastery of the form (first showcased in chapbook collection Wild Angels in 1974) to reflect on the finite span of life, the import of nature, and the delightful mystery of felines.
- Compact Disc (September 8th, 2018): $39.99
- Pre-Recorded Audio Player (December 8th, 2018): $97.74
It’s a compliment to Lisa’s craft that Black Swan Rising reads so much like a current affairs book rather than a novel that it probably should come with a trigger warning for anyone distressed by the national political clime in recent years. Protagonists Sarah Price, who runs social media for a San Diego congressman, and local television reporter Casey Cheng, are both operating in the toxic and deadly atmosphere of MRA and white nationalist activists, and multiple active shooter incidents. The sometimes anxiety-inducing thriller components are leavened with Lisa’s loving travelogue of many of San Diego’s local eateries and breweries, both actual and fictional. An important if upsetting read for mystery and suspense readers.
There’s possibly no surer way to get me to pick up a book than draw a comparison to Shirley Jackson, and I am pleased to share that the story of Samuel, an unreliable firstperson narrator because of his youth and strongly held convictions, is a worthy analogous work. In the early 1960’s, Samuel Clay resides in a vast gloomy house in England, looked after by housekeeper Ruth. Samuel is in a sustained state of impatience, awaiting his mother’s return from her business trip to the United States – as her absence continues, Samuel begins to suspect that perhaps there’s a darker truth to be discovered. Chilling.
Writer and creative director Pascoe’s long history with Mysterious Galaxy includes his career as an author and publisher with Ugly Town, writing Buffy the Vampire Slayer comics, and novelisations of Kim Possible episodes – all near and dear to my heart. Jim and Heidi have created a magical world where Bridgebelle is a productive member of her rabbit community, who also creates art from the mysterious cha, when not evading the predatory canines who seek to enslave the rabbits and gain control of their resources. A gorgeous and thrilling animal fable.
Maryelizabeth’s redundant review of redundancy: “Part of the joy of reading this epistolary series is the pace at which Significant Things Happen! So I don’t want to discuss much of the plot and the further developments…”
Just finished Only Human, and it was a perfect ending to a wonderful story. Count me firmly among the Themisfiles!
— Mark Yturralde
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.
Adding my enthusiasm for the top Indies Next Pick from April 2018 – in particular, for its audio incarnation via Libro.fm. Tangier in the mid-1950s is perceived as a “strange, lawless city that belonged to everyone and no one,” according to Alice Shipley, one of the two narrators. Alice and her college roommate, Lucy Mason, once intimates, have been separated for a year before Lucy follows Alice and her new husband, John McAllister, to Morocco. Tangerine deserves its frequent comparison to the suspense works of Patricia Highsmith, and the audio version, read by Barrie Kreinik and Erin Mallon, assists the reader in keeping track of the alternating first-person narration.
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.