Reviews by Jane Funk

Review

The Antidote

Posted: February 19, 2019 by Jane Funk in Books that are Mediocre Meta: Shelley Sackier, Fantasy, Young Adult
The Antidote

THE ANTIDOTE by Shelley Sackier reads like a fairytale–and not one that the Brothers Grimm recorded; there is no real peril here in Sackier’s stage-set world building. With a lively protagonist and a plenty of twists, THE ANTIDOTE should be a bubbly little read, but a fumble on some story fundamentals makes it more frustrating than fun.
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Review

The Fever King

Posted: February 5, 2019 by Jane Funk in Books We Like Meta: Victoria Lee, Dark Fantasy, Young Adult
The Fever King

To borrow a phrase from The Princess Bride, Victoria Lee isn’t writing to the death in THE FEVER KING — she’s writing to the pain. So when I characterize this novel as dark and unsettling, I have to believe that Lee would take that as a complement.
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Review

Avengers of the Moon

Posted: January 24, 2019 by Jane Funk in Books that are Mediocre Meta: Allen Steele, Science Fiction
Avengers of the Moon

Sherlock. Queer Eye. Sabrina. An endless parade of Spider-Men (is ‘parade’ the right collective noun for spiders? Update: the internet informs me it might more correctly be called a ‘cluster of Spider-Men’).

Anyways.

Reboots are everywhere and Allen Steele’s AVENGERS OF THE MOON is one of them, a reboot of a classic, pulpy sci-fi series called Captain Future. I’m going to date myself by saying it was WELL before my time and that I’ve never read the previous series; regardless, I think the reboot criteria are clear:

A reboot should stand on its own.

A reboot should make characters and story arcs more accessible to modern audiences by updating the piece’s sensibilities.

A reboot should retain some of the essential qualities that made the work popular in the first place.

So does Steele deliver?
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Review

The Final Six

Posted: December 20, 2018 by Jane Funk in Books We Don't Like Meta: Alexandra Monir, Science Fiction, Young Adult
The Final Six

It’s the end of the world as we know it. The effects of global warming are claiming city after city and millions of lives have been lost. Nope, it’s not the front page of the newspaper. It’s the plot of THE FINAL SIX (Amazon) by Alexandra Monir.

Looking to escape an increasingly devastated earth, the international community selects Europa as a site for future colonization. And who better to colonize a distant moon and save humanity than six teenagers?
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Review

Record of a Spaceborn Few

Posted: December 6, 2018 by Jane Funk in Books We Like Meta: Becky Chambers, Science Fiction
Record of a Spaceborn Few

Science fiction is not known for being gentle. Technical? Yes. Explosive? Often. Operatic? You betcha.

RECORD OF A SPACEBORN FEW eschews explosions in favor of internal drama. Like the rest of Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers Series, this quiet story explores what it means to be a part of a family, a crew, a community, a species–this time through the fate of the Exodan fleet. Read the rest of this review »

Review

Damsel

Posted: November 1, 2018 by Jane Funk in Books We Like Meta: Elana K. Arnold, Fantasy
Damsel

Considering the sometimes tortuous path of traditional publishing, DAMSEL by Elana K. Arnold debuts precisely as the narratives we tell about sexuality and power have come under close examination.

DAMSEL exposes the undercurrents of violence/power/sexuality in established narratives while (mostly) avoiding feeling too heavy-handed. Particularly considering this is a YA novel, DAMSEL may be the first time that many readers have come across this topic in a way that isn’t explicitly didactic while still providing teens with a way to grapple with the discomforting questions that fairy tales elicit. Read the rest of this review »

Review

Strange Practice

Posted: October 23, 2018 by Jane Funk in Books We Like Meta: Vivian Shaw, Urban Fantasy
Strange Practice

With Halloween just around the corner, STRANGE PRACTICE by Vivian Shaw seemed like just the novel to review–with a plot full of vampires, ghouls, and creepy cultists, it’s a fun (and seasonally appropriate) read.
Like many doctors, Greta Helsing (her family having quietly dropped the ‘van’) works hard to keep her solo medical practice afloat. However, as one of the only doctors in England who caters to the supernatural community, Greta deals with an additional set of stressors including anything from keeping her patients’ identities safe to hand-carving new bones for disintegrating mummies.
When Greta’s good friend (and vampire) Lord Ruthven calls with an account of a mysterious assault, Greta’s life only gets more complicated. The victim is Sir Francis Varney (also a vampire) who was assaulted by a group of men dressed like monks. Their weapon of choice was a strangely shaped dagger smeared with poison that appears designed to target a wide-spectrum of supernatural […]Read the rest of this review »

Review

Dive Smack

Dive Smack

DIVE SMACK , Demetra Brodsky’s debut YA novel, is a fast-paced mystery that conveys both the exhilaration and exhaustion of teen life with a supernatural twist. In diving parlance, a ‘dive smack’ occurs when a diver mis-judges their entry and hits the water painfully instead of smoothly. It also describes the situation of Theo Mackey, who’s the captain of the dive team and has a good shot at a scholarship to Stanford–if he can keep the rest of his life from spiraling out of control.
When Theo is assigned a family history project at school he freaks out. Theo has a good reason though–hewas playing with matches the night his house burned down, killing his mother. He blames himself her death as well as his father’s, which followed three years later. So when Theo is assigned a family history project at school he…freaks out. The bad news is that the only way Theo can find out about his family history is by asking his alcoholic grandfather, or his Uncle Phil, […]Read the rest of this review »

Review

Nebula Awards Showcase 2018

Nebula Awards Showcase 2018

When I mentioned to my husband that I was reviewing the NEBULA AWARDS SHOWCASE 2018 he asked: isn’t the fact that all of these pieces were nominated for an award a review in and of itself?
It’s not a bad question. But I think the answer is only: sort of? Anthologies are are hard. Even anthologies where the stories have all been previously vetted can feel bloated or uneven. In fact, I haven’t picked up an anthology in long time for these two reasons–the last few I read felt like a lot of panning and sifting for very little gold. So even with the words “Nebula Awards Showcase” emblazoned across the front I was skeptical.
And I was wrong. This anthology is full of strong pieces, both short stories and novelettes, as well as (unfortunately, but probably inevitably) excerpted novellas. Jane Yolen, who was the editor of this anthology, faced a tough job but I felt like the pieces she included from the awards spoke to the breadth and depth of the field. She arranged the […]Read the rest of this review »

Review

Ball Lightning

Posted: September 11, 2018 by Jane Funk in Books We Like Meta: Cixin Liu, Science Fiction
Ball Lightning

You’re probably going to do this anyways, so instead of leaving halfway through the review I’ll suggest now that you type ‘ball lightning’ into Youtube/Wikipedia and get it out of your system.

Pretty weird, huh?

Alright, back to the review.

If Cixin Liu’s name sounded familiar to you a few years ago, it might have been because you were following the speculative fiction scene in China, where Liu has won multiple Galaxy and Xingyun Awards (equivalent to winning multiple Hugos and Nebulas, respectively).

If Liu’s name sounds familiar to you now, it’s probably because he was the first Chinese author to win a Hugo award for his novel THE THREE BODY PROBLEM, the first book in The Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy.
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Review

City of Lies

Posted: August 21, 2018 by Jane Funk in Books We Like Meta: Sam Hawke, Epic Fantasy, Urban Fantasy
City of Lies

“I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me” (p. 1). So begins Sam Hawke’s debut novel, CITY OF LIES (Amazon). It’s a good start, with a fun premise that deepens as the story goes. The story follows the dual POVs of Jovan and Kalina, siblings from one of the most powerful families in the prosperous city-state of Silasta. Jovan and Kalina are close friends with the heir to the city, Tain. However, Jovan is more than Tain’s friend; he has spent his entire life preparing to be Tain’s ‘proofer,’ or food taster. Jovan and Kalina’s Uncle Etan, known in Silastan culture as their tashi, currently serves as city Chancellor’s proofer.
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Review

Armistice

Posted: August 14, 2018 by Jane Funk in Books We Like Meta: Lara Elena Donnelly, Fantasy
Armistice

ARMISTICE (Amazon) picks just long enough after AMBERLOUGH (EBR Review) to have the intervening events thoroughly demoralize our protagonists. The glitter and stage lights are gone, leaving behind heartache and fatigue. And only some of the survivors are back.
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Review

Starless

Starless

About halfway through STARLESS (Amazon), Jacqueline Carey’s latest novel, the narrative takes a distinct turn towards myth and fable. The move from specific to generic forfeits much of what was interesting in the first half of the book in favor of an almost childlike story of wonder and adventure, leaving the reader holding a novel that feels less than satisfying despite many interesting elements.

STARLESS takes place, perhaps not surprisingly, in a world where all of the stars have fallen to earth. Each of these fallen ‘children of heaven’ now rule as a god or goddess in the realm where they fell. Born at the exact moment of an eclipse, Khai is chosen by the Brotherhood of Parkhun to be raised as the ‘shadow’ to Princess Zariya, who was also born under this same celestial event. Zariya is part of the House of the Ageless, the royal family who partake each year of a special seed that prevents aging, keeping them alive for hundreds of years.
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Review

Freeze Frame Revolution

Posted: July 17, 2018 by Jane Funk in Books We Love Meta: Peter Watts, Science Fiction
Freeze Frame Revolution

Author Peter Watts’ newest offering, FREEZE FRAME REVOLUTION exists somewhere in the squishy space between a novella and a novel (according to the ‘Afterword’ it’s 1,000 words over the length of a standard novella, but who’s counting?). Watts is of the opinion that he has written a novella and I think that the story he tells is well-served at this length, which allows him to explore a single incident in-depth and with a focus that wouldn’t be well-served by irksome sub-plots or other novel-length narrative features.
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Review

Amberlough

Posted: July 3, 2018 by Jane Funk in Books We Like Meta: Lara Elena Donnelly, Fantasy
Amberlough

AMBERLOUGH is the kind of novel that makes you want to throw adjectives at it. Sleek! Provocative! Captivating! This is due in large part to Lara Elena Donnelly’s prose, which gives the alternate world setting an immediate and richly textured sense of place. AMBERLOUGH (Amazon) is a remarkably self-assured debut, as Donnelly carves an unique space for herself in the fantasy world.
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Review

Soleri

Posted: May 31, 2018 by Jane Funk in Books We Don't Like Meta: Michael Johnston, Epic Fantasy
Soleri

One of my favorite things about reading a book is reaching that point where you just can’t put it down. It’s always magical to feel immersed in another world. Some books draw you in right away. Others can be a slow burn, but the wait feels worth it when you go from “I’m enjoying this book” to “talk to me in approximately 150 pages.” And then, there are the books that just never take off. Michael Johnston’s SOLERI (Amazon), despite its interesting premise, is one of those.
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Review

Provenance

Posted: May 10, 2018 by Jane Funk in Books We Like Meta: Ann Leckie, Science Fiction
Provenance

Ann Leckie’s PROVENANCE (Amazon) is not a space opera. While the scope is broad, covering an uneasy interstellar treaty and the implications of a society obsessed with origins and authenticity, the real focus is on Ingray Aughskold, a foster child from a public crèche, acutely aware that in her mother’s eyes, she has always lacked “a certain something” (423). PROVENANCE plays out on an intimate scale, the coming-of-age story of a woman who should have come into her own years ago.
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Review

Weave a Circle Round

Posted: May 8, 2018 by Jane Funk in Books We Like Meta: Kari Maaren, Fantasy, Young Adult
Weave a Circle Round

I hate to start a review by saying that a book was good because of what it did NOT contain, but when a YA novel does NOT contain handsome supernatural beings, sorting, life-or-death romantic longing, cancer, or shockingly young children being pressed into military service, I feel like that bears mentioning. In fact, I’m not sure I can remember the last time I read a YA novel in which not a single character was sorted into a color-coded societal group. ‘Sorting’ isn’t necessarily a bad thing; like any trope, the success depends on the author’s skill. Still, reading WEAVE A CIRCLE ROUND (Amazon) and not having to remember which ‘team’ anyone was on was… genuinely refreshing.
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Review

The Genius Plague

Posted: April 3, 2018 by Jane Funk in Books We Like Meta: David Walton, Techno Thriller
The Genius Plague

I was telling a friend about this book and the first thing that came out of my mouth was “I learned a lot about fungus.” Don’t worry! There are plenty of other fun things to recommend this book, such as NSA code breaking and creepy assassinations, but Walton has found an interesting hook and then amplified it until you will willingly read an entire book about fungus taking over people’s brains. Really.
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Review

Elantris

Posted: March 27, 2018 by Jane Funk in Books We Like Meta: Brandon Sanderson, Fantasy
Elantris

I love a good series. From J.R.R. to George R.R., there’s a plethora of ways to enjoy the intricate plot and character development that occurs when you start counting pages not in the hundreds, but in the thousands. But sometimes I just… want to read a book? Singular?

Brandon Sanderson’s ELANTRIS is one of these rare standalone novels; rare in the sense that the genre, and Sanderson in particular, tends towards producing series. Not that I would complain if ELANTRIS became a series–I had a great time reading it and I would say that thirteen years after its initial publication the story is as fun and compelling as ever.

ELANTRIS (Amazon) begins with Princess Sarene of Teod sailing into the kingdom of Arelon only to discover that she is a widow. The man she was supposed to marry, Prince Raoden, has died, but her marriage contract stipulates that she is still his wife, whether or not she had the chance to meet him. Disappointed but not distraught, Sarene immediately begins puzzling out the political situation in Arelon.
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Review

Children of the Fleet

Posted: March 21, 2018 by Jane Funk in Books We Like Meta: Orson Scott Card, Science Fiction
Children of the Fleet

I first learned the term “bottle episode” while watching “Community” (thank you, Abed). One episode of Season 2 takes place entirely in a locked room as the characters search for a missing pen. While the premise is absurd, trapping everyone in the same room allows for hilarity, as well as serious revelations about their relationships, to ensue. Not only are ‘bottle episodes’ cheap to shoot, relying on one set instead of several, they are also light on plot, allowing writers to spend more time focusing on character development. In his newest addition to the Enderverse, CHILDREN OF THE FLEET, Card immerses his readers once again in a world of precocious children, absent but watchful adults, and a life or death mission. While it’s not exactly a bottle episode, Card’s narrative shares a similar intense focus on depth, not breadth. By limiting himself to a relatively simple plot and using the already familiar setting of Battle Fleet School, Card can fully explore the emotional journey of Dabeet Ochoa.

Set in the aftermath of Ender’s victory in the Third Formic war, CHILDREN OF THE FLEET (Amazon) begins after Battle School has been converted to Fleet School, a place to train future leaders for humanity’s colonization efforts. Dabeet Ochoa is a preternaturally intelligent child who is convinced that he belongs in Fleet School, not stuck on Earth.
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