Posted in Fantasy, Witches, Women's Fiction

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

Superficially, the story is as old as time. Three sisters are born in a rural area, living a fairly meager existence. Their mother dies, their father becomes cruel and only their wise grandmother gives them love. When grandmother dies, the two older sisters are shipped off, leaving the youngest to deal with her abusive father. They lose touch with each other and the youngest becomes feral and angry. She assumes she’s been abandoned by her sisters.

The three sisters learn words and charms from their grandmother. These are simple things, rhymes that make life just a little easier. When the three woman become adults, these charms are mostly forgotten. Then one day, evil comes to the town of New Salem and the women are pulled together by forces they barely knew existed. Soon, they are at the center of a revolution.

As the novel progresses, it becomes apparent that this is so much more than a story about three witches. This is a novel about the oppression of women by men (and sometimes other women). The Once and Future Witches is both fantasy and reality. Although the novel is set in a fictional past, it is thoroughly modern. Just substitute shirtwaist factories and suffrage with economic justice, reproductive rights and domestic violence.

The writing is very clever and often made think, look twice at what I just read or smile. The spells are drawn from fairy tales and childhood nursery rhymes, which were very relatable and simple. No need for eye of newt, cauldrons or memorizing complicated spells. These were so simple, any woman could do them. And that was just the point. ANY woman could rise above, be more, reach her full potential, could be a witch.

It took me a while to get into this book, but once I did, I was absolutely gobsmacked by the layers of meaning. This book won The Robert Holdstock Award for Best Fantasy Novel in 2021, given by the British Fantasy Society.

Rating: 5 Stars, Grade A+

Posted in Alternative History, Science Fiction, Time Travel

The Paradox Hotel by Rob Hart

Set a few decades into the future, The Paradox Hotel is a mind bending book about the possibilities and pitfalls of time travel. A summit of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful are gathering to submit bids to purchase the hotel from the government. They all have their private agendas and wish lists for what they wish to change from the past. The sale is a tricky and dangerous undertaking.

January Cole, the head of security, is struggling with time flashbacks and flash forwards. Time travel does have its mental and physical downsides, if you do it too frequently. In her flashes, she sees murders and nefarious schemes all around her.

Adding to the general mayhem of the summit, logistics, electrical outages, cancelled trips and mysterious strangers, someone brought back three velociraptors that manage to get loose. Honestly, this was one of my favorite parts of the book. The dinosaurs provide both horror and dark comic relief.

It took me quite a while to get into the writing style. All the time-flipping was confusing until I just let it ride. Once I got used to it, the novel was unique and enjoyable.

I picked up this book because I like science fiction, but also because I’ve read another book by Rob Hart, The Warehouse, which I absolutely loved. For creepily timely topics and general readability, The Warehouse is the better book, but The Paradox Hotel is unique and unconventional.

My Rating : 4 Stars, Grade B

Posted in Apocalyptic Fiction, Best Sellers, Fantasy

Year One by Nora Roberts (Chronicles of The One, #1)

Publication Info: Published December 5, 2017 by St. Martin’s Press. I read the hardback edition, purchased from a local used book store, 2nd & Charles. Other editions available.

Summary: A man vacationing with his family in Scotland shoots a pheasant. It falls into the center of a stone circle, spilling blood and awakening ancient magicks. Shortly afterward, a virus dubbed The Doom, begins to spread, infecting others as the family members fly back home. This virus is virulent and there is no cure. Within months the world’s population is decimated, governments collapse and anarchy arises.

There are some survivors, many of whom have latent talents from old bloodlines. Some people with faerie blood grow wings. Practicing witches find their minimal skills are now exceptional. There are sorcerers, elves and dryads. But not all of the supernaturals follow the good and the light. There are those who have turned to the dark and wish to destroy everything that is good. The few regular humans who survived the plague, are caught in the crossfire and must choose sides.

The story centers on a few of the supernatural and human survivors, most of whom are good. They try to pick up the pieces of society and rebuild a community. When they are savagely attacked, one woman in their group must be protected at all costs, for she bears the savior.

Comments: I am not generally a Nora Roberts fan. I’ve tried several of her books over the decades and they just didn’t do anything for me. They were… meh. But when I read about this apocalyptic fantasy series, I decided to give it a try.

At 419 pages, it took me three days to read, but I actually looked forward to picking it up again. That alone scored a few points. It’s not amazing literature by any means, but the story moves along and the characters are interesting enough. She does know how to write a readable story, even if it’s not particularly deep or insightful. The author has hit the New York Times best seller list 69 times to date, so she’s obviously hitting a chord with many readers. If not a full chord, Year One finally hit at least an intriguing note with me. I definitely plan on reading the next book in the series, Of Blood and Bone.

Recommended for readers of Apocalyptic Fiction, Best Sellers, and books dealing with magic and light fantasy.

My rating: 3.5 STARS

Posted in Science Fiction, Thrillers

The Dark Above by Jeremy Finley (William Chance & Lynn Roseworth #2)

Publication Info: Published July 23, 2019 by St. Martin’s Press. Hardcover edition courtesy of my local library. Other editions available.

Summary: William Chance is in hiding. Once the focus of a media frenzy after his mysterious disappearance and recovery fifteen years ago, he hasn’t been forgotten. William fears that if he is found, the danger to his family and the world-wide disasters will get even worse.

William makes one mistake and suddenly the media and some mysterious government operatives swarm around his rented trailer in Arkansas. Only his own prior planning, a mysterious little girl with the power to kill and an ardent, wealthy fan save him from capture. As this unlikely trio goes on the run together, Chance’s nightmares increase and the worldwide storms and fires escalate.

Lynn Roseworth, Chance’s grandmother, rescued her grandson from captivity when he was a child. She fully understands the danger to herself and the entire planet if William is held captive again. She and her friend, Roxy, embark on a mission to help William Chance save the world from alien forces.

Comments: I really liked the first book in this series, The Darkest Time of Night. I expected a continuation of the story of Lynn, William and their families. While technically that’s what is in this novel, it lacks the humanity that captivated me in the first book. The Dark Above is non-stop action without character development. Reading it felt like watching a Sci-Fi Thriller film that was so intent on special effects, it lacked depth.

Genres: Science Fiction, Thriller, Alien Invasion.

My rating: 3.5 STARS

Posted in Hard SF, Science Fiction

Reentry by Peter Cawdron (Mars Endeavour #2)

Publication Info: Published June 11th 2019 by John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Hardback edition courtesy of my local library. Other editions available.

Summary: After the nuclear devastation of several cities around the world and the disaster on Mars in Retrograde, three of the scientists are recalled to Earth. Also traveling with them are the stored memory of the deceased Chinese scientist, Jai, and the Artificial Intelligence that attacked both Earth and Mars.

When they three scientists — Liz, Wen and Su-Shun — arrive on earth, they are shocked by what they find. They expected to find destruction and chaos, but they didn’t expect the waves of paranoia and pure hatred directed at them through protests and direct actions against them. Liz, the only American in the group of returnees, is called to testify in front of Congress about the events on Mars and her interactions with the Artificial Intelligence that caused the wars on both planets. As her actions and decisions are deeply scrutinized, Liz begins to realize the danger she and her companions are in. When the three scientists are methodically hunted down in their hotel, the AI becomes their only ally.

Comments: Reentry is a great sequel to Retrograde. It addresses several of the issues left hanging in the first book. I’ve really gotten into the main characters and I’m hoping for a third installment.

Reentry has a lot more fast action with fewer pauses for scientific facts than Retrograde, but it still falls solidly in the Hard Sci-Fi category.

Recommended for readers of Hard Sci-Fi and near-future Science Fiction.

My Rating 4 STARS

Posted in Hard SF, Science Fiction

Retrograde by Peter Cawdron (Mars Endeavour #1)

Publication Information : Published September 12, 2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. First publication September 8, 2016. I read the Kindle edition through my Kindle Unlimited membership. Other editions available.

Summary: An international group of scientists is stationed on Mars. They live underground in four separate pods with a central skylight domed hub. Each of them has a specialty, although some specialties, such as medical, are duplicated for the safety of the group.

Late one night while drinking and playing a game in the Chinese pod, their leader screams at the two visiting Americans and shoves them back toward their area, locking theme out. When they get inside the American pod, they are informed that nuclear bombs have dropped on several major world cities. They quickly realize that their situation will become precarious when supplies dwindle without support from Earth.

The short communications with earth are full of disinformation and propaganda. Then everything falls completely silent. Some of the scientists realize they will have to overcome national allegiances and get everyone to cooperate if they are to survive. Others steal and stockpile valuable resources. They don’t start to fully cooperate with each other until a serious incident makes them realize that the war isn’t just happening on Earth: it is also endangering them on Mars.

Comments: Reading Retrograde brought me back to my childhood, when I read the Hard Sci-Fi books of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein. Back in the 60’s and 70’s Mars was still full of unknown potential and fanciful tales about the red planet were in print and film. While there are no longer stories written about little green men on Mars, the dreams of exploration still abound in science and story.

I admit I skimmed over the science facts, but the fact that they were there was enough to ground the novel for me. From the author’s descriptions, I was able to clearly visualize the colony, the landscape and environment. There was more than enough action to keep the story moving. I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Reentry.

Recommended for readers of Hard Science-Fiction and those with an interest in novels about Mars and Planetary Exploration.

Graphic inspired by Retrograde (The Brown Bookloft)

My Rating: 4 STARS

Posted in Science Fiction, Thrillers

The Darkest Time of Night by Jeremy Finley (William Chance & Lynn Roseworth #1)

Publication Info: Published June 26, 2018 by St. Martin’s Press. Hardcover edition courtesy of my local library. Other editions available.

Summary: As a young child, Lynn Roseworth was repeatedly warned by her father to never go into the woods. The one time she went in there, she saw something terrifying. Now in her 70’s, she lives with her senator husband in her childhood home. Her eldest daughter lives next door with her husband and sons. Lynn instilled the fear of the woods into her own children, but her grandsons are less cautious. One day the youngest wanders into the woods and vanishes.

When she was in her 20’s, Lynn worked for an astronomy professor who studied disappearances. He was sure that people who vanished were taken by extraterrestrials. Lynn became very involved with his work until something happened to make her break off all contact with him. Now she seeks his help in finding her grandson. But her past association with the professor could potentially put her marriage and her husband’s career in jeopardy.

Comments: I found The Darkest Time of Night while perusing the shelves at the library. The book really zips along and I read it almost in a single sitting. I confess to having a love of books about alien contacts and civilizations. This book takes the basic theme of alien kidnapping and probing and turns it into a fine thriller. It was actually nice to read a thriller that didn’t involve a woman doing something stupid, being mentally unbalanced or being threatened by a man. Lynn Roseworth and her friend, Roxy are kick-ass senior citizens. I love it!

Recommended for readers of Thrillers and Soft Sci-Fi.

My rating: 4 STARS

Posted in Apocalyptic Fiction, Beach Read, Best Sellers, Contemporary Fiction, Popular Fiction, Science Fiction

The Warehouse by Rob Hart

Publication Info: Published August 20, 2019 by Crown. Kindle pre-pub edition courtesy of NetGalley.

Summary: In the near future, global warming has turned much of the country into permanent desert conditions. Small towns are nearly abandoned and cities are hot and overcrowded. After the Black Friday Massacre, when thousands of people were shot while doing their holiday shopping, people are afraid to leave their homes for even routine errands. Most brick and mortar stores have gone out of business except for the very largest ones and a few determined mom-and-pop stores.

One man, Gibson Wells, is behind the solution. He created mega centers where people live and work. Deliveries to homes outside of Cloud are made with a well-designed drone system. When people work for MotherCloud aka Cloud, they have everything they need right on the climate controlled property, which is described as much like an oversized airport terminal.

As the story begins, Gibson Wells is dying from cancer. He is taking his last year to visit his MotherCloud centers and greet workers personally. He has yet to choose his successor.

At one of the centers, two new employees have different agendas. Paxton has an axe to grind with Gibson Wells. Paxton invented a device that cooked a perfect hard-boiled egg. Cloud purchased the product and then undercut the prices time after time, putting Paxton out of business. He wants to meet Gibson Wells and give him a piece of his mind. Zinnia is a corporate spy, sent to discover weaknesses and deceit in Cloud’s power systems.

Paxton and Zinna find themselves unexpectedly sucked into the Cloud mentality. It seems to not be quite as bad as they thought. But slowly, they discover things that put their very lives in danger.

Comments: This is a whiz-bang, first-rate page turner! I romped through it in a single day. The author has created a very believable world, in which things that actually exist today are just taken to the next horrific step. The characters are all very relatable and the alternating chapters in their voices gives the reader a well-rounded perspective.

A bit of an amusing personal aside on current delivery systems, I’m currently waiting for a package delivery. The package was apparently farmed out to an individual who does deliveries after work. The building I’m living in locks the doors at 5 pm. This package is going round and round trying to get here. I’ve tried to resolve this problem, but haven’t been able to yet. It definitely would be nice if a drone could drop it on my balcony!

Very highly recommended for readers of General Fiction, Science Fiction, Apocolyptic and Dystopian Fiction, and Contemporary Fiction. It would also make a great Beach or Travel read and I’d love to see it hit the best-seller lists.

Director Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment has already opted to adapt The Warehouse into a movie. I don’t watch many movies, but I’m already looking forward to this one!

My rating: 5 STARS

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Fiction, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, World Building

A Song for a New Day by Sarah Pinsker

Publication Info: Expected publication date September 10, 2019 by Berkley. Pre-pub Kindle edition courtesy of NetGalley

Summary: Due to a rash of bombings and shootings that killed thousands of people, the government passed the congregation laws. Public gatherings of more than two or three people in an area are prohibited. This changed the way restaurants and hotels function. Large office buildings are sometimes completely abandoned. There are no more movie theaters or concert venues. Traditional stores can no longer operate and have been subsumed into a huge, automated center called Superwally, that provides drone delivery service for everything anyone could need.

Rosemary, a young woman, still lives with her parents on their family farm. She works for Superwally from her bedroom via “hoodie space”, a virtual reality conduit. She is a tech troubleshooter. She’s never seen anything beyond the farm, is very isolated and is too young to remember “before”.

One day, Rosemary does some troubleshooting for a representative of StageHolo. He offers her a chance to see a StageHolo concert and sends her an upgraded hoodie. Rosemary is suddenly introduced to the larger virtual reality world, where people meet in cyberspace to hear music, dance, drink and share experiences.

The flashy concert brings some excitement into Rosemary’s dull life. She decides to apply for a job with StageHolo and leaves home for the first time. She is now a recruiting agent, looking for bands in hiding, playing in private homes and illegal clubs around the country.

She soon realizes she’s made a deal with the devil and determines to help the musicians she finds in a very different way.

Comments: A Song for a New Day is an amazing book. It projects from the current situation in the US to a not too distant future, where people live in fear and isolation. The book also addresses the loneliness and falsehoods in social media. People project avatars in hoodie space that homogenize them. This is a place where mega-corporations rule and the government dictates behavior. In our current world, laws that separate us are being passed now. Not to this extreme, but the seeds are being planted. We are living in fear of shooters at malls, concerts and schools.

I related to this book on multiple levels. I grew up in a suburb of Baltimore, where some of this book takes place. I used to play guitar and sing in small venues and coffee houses in the area. I saw those struggle to stay in business.

But most of all, I have been a resident in virtual reality for thirteen years. I know how it feels to attend cyberspace concerts and clubs, to have coffee with friends that I never meet in person. I have experienced deep isolation with most of my friends being just contacts on social media.

Sarah Pinsker hits the mark on so many points. I’ve become an instant fan of her writing and hope she writes more novels!

My Goodreads rating– 5 stars