Blender Update April 2019

Have you visited the Blender lately?  Although I haven’t been adding new content to the blog in many moons, I have been adding new titles to the blender now and again. Recently I finally made a big push to update the blender, adding over 90 titles. These titles range across all genres, and include older titles and titles published since my last big update about a year ago. I have also been making a push to include more diversity in selections included in the blender. This was no hardship, as there are fantastic books by authors of color and from the LGBT community that tell stories that skillfully blend genres. I’ve also added some additional YA blends, although the focus of the blender remains adult titles. And one other things I’ve tried to do is cast my net beyond the big five publishers, showcasing some small presses and indie author. There’s a lot farther I could go with promoting diverse books, and I know it. But I’ll keep trying.

Now that the Blender database is getting close to 1000 titles, I also hope to add some Top Ten lists to the results (and this space) so that folks don’t get overwhelmed when they get close to 100 titles for the more popular blends.

So I hope you keep blending away and enjoy some of the new content.  Here are just a favorites and notable books from the most recent update:

River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

Did you know that at the turn of the last century, the US government considered importing hippos as a source of food? True fact. And this whackadoodle but true fact is the germ that grew into an alternative history novella set around 1890 where ranchers raise hippos like cattle, while riding the more intelligent breeds like horses. Quite a visual! Winslow Houndstooth is putting together a crew for a job that involves hippo wrangling and revenge. The story combines alternate history, magic, non-binary romance, and–my favorite–a caper plot. This was a lot of fun, and those wanting to read it and the sequel novella can get them both in the single volume (with some additional stories) titled American Hippo.

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

This had one of the best opening scenes of a book that I have ready in a long time. Six clones wake on a spaceship surrounded by dead bodies of their former selves. The crew soon realize that the ship is in trouble and they have all had their backup memories wiped. They’ve all been convicted of crimes in their past lives and have taken the trip as a way to earn pardons, so there are no shortage of suspects. This is a tense locked-room mystery as one of the crew must be a brutal killer and they have no idea who. Those interested in the ethical quagmire of cloning will have plenty to chew on, but the mystery wins this blend.

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

The Jim Crow-era was fraught with everyday dangers for African Americans. As Atticus Turner heads home to Chicago to visit family, his life is in repeated danger from the distressingly commonplace racism of the era. But soon he is in danger of a more esoteric variety, as he and his uncle are lured to a small New England town.  It seems a strange cult want to use Atticus as a part of a sorcerous summoning ritual. This is just one tale in a collection of linked stories about the Turner family and their friends. They range from the Lovecraftian horror of the opening story, to more subtle ghostly horror and science fictional tales. The historical setting is an important part of the success of this work, adding the mundane evil of bigotry and racism.

Nightchaser by Amanda Bouchet

Bouchet, who wrote the excellent fantasy/romance blend that started with Promise of Fire, here starts a new series of science fiction romance. Tess Bailey is the captain of the Endeavor, but she is hiding a secret. On the run from the government, she is a smuggler in a Robin Hood kind of way, but once the government police realize who she is, the stakes get higher. After her ship gets beat up, she and her crew are stranded on a planet while they try to make repairs. Shade Ganavan agrees to help her with repairs, but things get sticky when the two can’t keep their hands off each other.  I loved the fast pace, the plucky heroine, the hot romance, and the promise of future adventures.

An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

This historical romance novels is a winner not only because it is a welcome change from all the regency settings that crowd the romance shelves, but because of the skill of the author, Alyssa Cole. Set during the Civil War, An Extraordinary Union is the first in a series of romances that focus on the activities of the Loyal League, a secret society of freed blacks and slaves who funnel information to the Union. Elle Burns is a former slave working undercover on a Southern plantation when she meets Malcolm McCall. Malcolm looks every inch the Confederate gentleman, but in actuality he is a Pinkerton detective. When the two agree to work together, there is romance and danger and spying and a story based on actual historical events.  Genre blending gold!

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

While fantasy/mystery blends overwhelmingly trend toward the real world settings of urban fantasy, there are some delightful exceptions. One is the Divine Cities series that began with City of Stairs. The gods of Bulikov are dead and the city conquered, its people forbidden from studying their own history. When a foreign scholar is murdered, diplomat and spy Shara Thivani is sent from Saypur to find his killer. She discovers Bulikov’s gods might not be as dead as everyone thinks.  I love this series mostly for the fascinating characters and memorable setting, but the tightly plotted mystery does pull you in.

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

In 1940, eighteen-year old Juliet Armstrong is reluctantly recruited into the world of espionage. Sent to an obscure department of MI5 tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of British Fascist sympathizers, she first just transcribes their conversations, but soon is pulled in deeper. Ten years later, Juliet is unexpectedly confronted by figures from her past. The shifting time periods adds to the drama and suspense, and that nothings is as it seems.  Atkinson is a master at taking a genre we know and classing it up with writing that sparkles and characters that are murky and real.  I love a good historical espionage story, and Kate Atkinson, who wrote another fascinating novel that played with genre in Life After Life, is always a pleasure.

Introducing the Urban Fantasy Gazetteer

gazetteer map

Click through for an interactive map of contemporary fantasy by state at

One of the pleasures of reading contemporary or urban fantasy, as opposed to epic fantasy, is the fact that it is set in our own world. The intersection of magic and the mundane can be hugely appealing. If a novel is set in an imaginary land, you know to expect magical things on the page. But crack open an urban fantasy set in Chicago or Atlanta and you don’t know what to expect. Wizards? Werewolves? Vampires? Dragons in disguise? Maybe some or all of these, maybe something even more unexpected. There is always a bit of narrative distance when you place a story in a fictional land. While the reader can bond with any well-written character, it take a little more effort to put yourself in the shoes of an epic fantasy character, whether they be pig-farming peasants or high-born nobles. On the other hand, urban fantasy characters inhabit lives and landscapes that resemble our own — they own houses or rent apartments, they eat at restaurants, hold down jobs, and walk city streets.

When you are reading any kind of book set in the real world, it is especially fun to read one set in your own hometown. If the author has done his or her job well, you can walk the same streets and see the same sights in books that you see when you walk to work. Maybe the characters eat at your favorite deli or BBQ joint, hang out in the park down the street, or work in an office building you’ve walked past a million times. They talk like you, and drink that weird soda that no one else drinks (what the hell is cheerwine, anyway?). And every time you have that moment of “hey! I know that place!” it can bond you to the story, as long as the author gets it right (I haven’t read all of these, so forgive me if they don’t, in fact, get it right). Readers who live in big cities like Chicago or San Francisco get this treat all the time, but I’ve searched for urban fantasy set in every state.  I got close, with only a couple of voids. I didn’t do any international urban fantasies (I’ll do those in a future post), no YA,  and I didn’t include any historical fantasies, despite there being quite a few great ones set in cities like Chicago, LA, and SF. I did, however, dip into paranormal romance and supernatural mysteries when I needed something for a state. The image of a map at the top of the post takes you to an interactive map showing my pick for the urban fantasy that best represents each state (or sometimes just my favorite, if there were many to choose from).  Because some places like New York has had a lot of books set on its streets, I’ll list some of the other novels set in the state in the full gazetteer below.

Urban Fantasy by Setting






rosemaryandrueSan Francisco

Los Angelessandmanslim











[How is it possible there isn’t an urban fantasy set in Hawaii? I would read the hell out of that.]









New Orleans
















New York Cityalreadydead






















Anticipated Science Fiction and Fantasy for late 2016

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be able to attend BookExpo in Chicago, where I saw the books that publishers are excited about for fall. I came away with a huge list of books for my own TBR pile. It also reminded me that while I did a list of anticipated books in the science fiction and fantasy genres for 2016, I only went through July. Now there are lots of new titles appearing on publishers’ schedules and a ton books I hadn’t even dreamt of when I made my first list for the year, in January. So, I decided I would round up my anticipated SFF reads for the second half of 2016. I’ll try and update this list as new titles are announced. These are things I’m personally looking forward to, but what looks good to you?









  • Crosstalk by Connie Willis
    [Always fabulous Willis takes a break from time traveling historian for a near future romance]
  • Firewalk by Chris Roberson
    [Interesting sounding supernatural crime thriller]
  • The Wall of Storms (The Dandelion Dynasty) by Ken Liu
    [Grace of Kings, was a little slow and could have had more interesting women characters, but it was ambitious and different. High hopes for book 2! ]
  • Conspiracy of Ravens (The Shadow) by Lila Bowen
    [Sequel to the great weird west debut Wake of Vultures]
  • Certain Dark Things by Silvia Garcia-Moreno
    [I really liked Signal to Noise and this novel of ‘noir-punk’ Mexico City vampires looks great]
  • The Motion of Puppets by Keith Donohue
    [Donohoe does literary horror, and this one is about creepy puppets. I’m scared already.]
  • Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty
    [While I’d like another Shambling Guide, I’ll happily take this SF mystery with clones.]
  • The Cold Eye (The Devil’s West Book 2) by Laura Anne Gilman
    [I loved The Silver on the Road so I can’t wait for this one]
  • Remnants of Trust (Central Corps) by Elizabeth Bonesteel
    [Another anticipated sequel. Cold Between was a SF/mystery/romance blend, but this one looks more political ]
  • Feedback (Newsflesh) by Mira Grant
    [Another perspective on the events of the fantastic first Newsflesh novel, Feed.]




Updates to the Blender

blenderApologies up front how long it has been since the blender last got an update. I had a hell of a year last year, and had to focus on my work and my health. I hope to be much better going forward about making regular updates to the blender, to make sure that not only do new titles get added but I continue to add older titles that exemplify interesting blends.

Since the last update, I have added over 200 titles, mostly published in 2015 and 2016. Here are some of my favorite titles among those newly added to the database. The bulk of what I tend to add seems to trend toward science fiction and fantasy blends. One reason for this bias is that I read those genres for review, and just come across the blends most often. But I also think some of the most interest blends are happening in the speculative fiction genres. These are genres that just naturally like to take narrative risks. But there are plenty of blends of all genres that are new to the blender.


Historical mystery is one of the most popular blends, to the point where it is usually considered a genre of its own. There are plenty of historical mysteries published every year, but I have included a few that were very well-reviewed and brought something new to the genre. Two that I would draw attention to are The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter, set in 1930s India, and Girl Waits with Gun set in 1914 New Jersey. There’s also the bonus blend of A Murder in Time by Julie McElwain, which adds a time-traveling FBI agent.



Another blend that takes up a sizable market share of its genre is historical romance. Regencies still dominate the historical romance scene, and I’ve added a few great ones, including The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean. But there are other eras to explore, like the Gilded Age New York setting of Joanna Shupe’s Magnate. I also beefed up Romance/Adrenaline (aka romantic suspense) with titles like Virtue Falls by Christina Dodd, an example of a book that is not new, but new to the blender.



Horror edges into other genres in interesting ways, bringing its monsters and its sense of dread. A couple of good historical horror novels got added, notably Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff that looks at a family in the Jim Crow-era South and their encounters with the occult. And If you like your horror with the excitement of a heist thriller, I offer up The Fifth House of the Heart by Ben Tripp and promise you will thank me.


sleepinggiantsScience Fiction

There’s a lot of ways to mix it up in SF. One of my favorite ways is to add a mystery, and there are a few new SF/Mystery blends in the blender, including The Ark by Patrick S. Tomlinson (locked room-type mystery on a generation ship). Depth, by Lev A.C. Rosen brings the noir to a drowned New York, and The Cold Between by Elizabeth Bonesteel offers a murder on a colony with a bonus romance. If you want SF with the pacing of a thriller, I highly recommend The Fold by Peter Cline about a man looking into a research team who claim to have figured out teleportation or Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel about the discovery of an alien artifact.



Oh so many fantasy blends. If you like it historical, try the regency set Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho or Prohibition era A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly. A bumper crop of weird west have been added like Silver on the Road by Laura Ann Gilman. And if you want mystery mixed in (and it is my biggest category), you could sample some great urban fantasies like Borderline by Mishell Baker or a rural take on an urban fantasy with Charlaine Harris’s Midnight Crossroad. Epic fantasy can get blendy too, as evidenced by the terrific City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett, which combines great worldbuilding and a mystery.

Of course there is plenty more to explore, with the blender now topping 725 titles. I hope it continues to be of use to those who like their fiction mixed, crossed, bended, and blended. Enjoy!

Psychics in Science Fiction

Usually when people think of science fiction, it is a rule-based setting. Near future, far future, alternate past –  the “what if” of a good science fiction novel usually sticks with what could be, if things develop according to the way society is trending and the rules of science allow. But what then do you do with science fiction that adds in something fantastical? For my purposes you get a Science Fiction/Fantasy blend.

Psychic powers are one of the most common fantasy elements that get added to what can otherwise be straightforward science fiction.  There is no scientific basis (at this time!) for psychic powers. No proof that they exist or could exist, or would exist if the conditions were right.  But they are irresistible to authors in many genres. Some even bother to walk through scientific example of why the powers manifest.  But really, they’re just cool. The great thing about genre blends is that authors feel free to borrow whatever cool bits they like from other genres. It’s a big part of why I like blends. So with no further ado, here are some great examples of SF with psychic powers


foundationFoundation series by Isaac Asimov

Start with: Foundation

Asimov’s classic series is the story of a galactic empire in decline. Hari Sheldon is the inventor of psychohistory, the ability to see the future through the use of history, psychology and statistics. He foresees the end of society and brings together humanity’s greatest thinkers to create a safe hold, a foundation at the edge of the galaxy. But that’s not even the psychic part!  There is a character of Mule, whose ability to control others through their emotions makes him a dangerous man, and a threat to Hari’s plans.  There’s some other psychic stuff running through the series, but none of this makes it any less of a classic of the science fiction genre.

bloodysunDarkover series by Marian Zimmer Bradley

Start with: The Bloody Sun

People have been arguing about the Darkover series since it was first published.  SF or fantasy? There are also quite a few arguments over whether it is worth reading.  The quality of the series is really, really all over the place. I loved the books as a teen but see their flaws quite clearly as an adult.  But somehow I have fond feelings for them, and their cray-cray sf/fantasy weirdness. On the one hand, some of the volumes have a completely fantasy feel, with a feudal society where the aristocracy have psychic powers. Best examples for those books are HawkMistress! or StormQueen! (or as I think of them – the exclamation point books!). But The Bloody Sun is a better example of the books that deal with this feudal, psychic society’s clash with earth, which has a much more SF feel. MZB gives a semi-scientific example for her psychic powers in these later volumes.

dunesmDune series by James Herbert

Start with: Dune

Hmm… how to talk about the psychic woo-woo stuff in Dune without giving too much away? I fully admit to bouncing off Dune hard when I first tried to read it, as it starts with a very dry explanation of galactic politics. But once you get on the planet of Dune, and our young hero Paul starts to take his place in destiny, it starts to really work. In the series, one of the galaxy’s master manipulators is a group known as the Bene Gesserit. Through a combo of long-game genetic manipulation and the use of the mysterious Spice, found only on Arrakis, they have developed a whole range of psychic powers, especially telepathy and precognition. Oh, and the basis of interstellar travel has a psychic element as well, as the navigators use Spice to put themselves into a weird state that allows faster-than-light travel.

manycoloredlandSaga of the Pliocene Exile by Julian May

Start with: The Many-Colored Land

In the Pliocene Exile books, a man from the future (just looked it up 2034 – not too future now!) discovers a portal to the past of six million years ago. Ever since, certain disaffected mavericks have made the one-way journey to the presumed peaceful and idyllic era. The first book follows a group that make the trip from 2110 to the Pliocene, only to find two warring humanoid but alien races already living there. Both races have paranormal powers, and the humans find themselves drawn into the conflict between them. The psychic powers are not alien-specific, though. As you read the whole series the set-up is that humanity, as a species, has been developing ESP powers as well. Some of the exiles who chose to jump to the past do so because they feel out of step with the new galactic mind.  It’s been decades since I read these books, but I really enjoyed them.

demolishedman starsmydestinationThe Demolished Man  and

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

The Demolished Man is a classic of the SF genre. Everyone in the future society written about here has psychic powers – it’s just a matter of how much. The story revolves around a man who is determined to kill a business rival, but how do you commit murder in a society of telepaths? This clever SF/Mystery blend won the Hugo in 1953, and has some obvious noir influences. Bester also dabbled in psychic powers for his novel The Stars My Destination (a book that inspired the name of the SFF bookstore I spent many a happy hour in when I lived in Chicago in the late 1980s and 1990s, The Stars Our Destination). That novel hinges on personal teleportation, a skill that is apparently psychically controlled. Both novels feel like SF (Stars is often cited as a precursor to cyberpunk), while skillfully borrowing the fantastical element of psychic abilities,

rowanThe Tower and Hive series by Anne McCaffrey

Start with: The Rowan

Loosely connected to each other and to other McCaffrey books, this first novel in the Tower and Hive series sets up the premise of a future human society where certain individuals with psychic abilities are known as Talents. Rowan survived an alien attack that destroyed her planet and family when she was a young child. She grew up to be a major Talent, known as a “prime”, and worked for the Federal Telepath & Teleport network, which controls all communication and shipping in the galaxy. Her talents set her apart and leave her lonely, until she hears the distant psychic call of fellow-talent Jeff Raven from across space. The two fall and love and fight aliens together. Like you do.


soldiersdutyTheirs Not to Reason Why series by Jean Johnson

Start with: A Soldier’s Duty

While most of the books on this list are pretty old (I read most as a teen and I am also old), this is a relatively new series, and one that also blends sf and romance, which is a blend of which I am particularly fond.  I just started reading it, so I’ll crib from the publisher blurb. “Ia is a precog, tormented by visions of the future where her home galaxy has been devastated. To prevent this vision from coming true, Ia enlists in the Terran United Planets military with a plan to become a soldier who will inspire generations for the next three hundred years-a soldier history will call Bloody Mary.”  As I said, I’m reading this one now, but I loved how Ia sees the future, or should I say the many possible futures, sifting through them to try to get the one she needs, the one that doesn’t end in the death of everyone and everything she loves.

Online Readers’ Advisory Sources

As part of a presentation I’m doing for the Biennial National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals, I have gathered together some of my favorite online RA sources.  I thought I would share them here.

Keeping track of what you read:

Keeping current:


Books in series:

Can you find me a good book?


General RA sites


General Fiction/Nonfiction sites

Audiobook Websites:

Mystery & Crime


Science Fiction & Fantasy


Historical Fiction & Westerns

Inspirational Fiction


General Fiction/Nonfiction

Genre Fiction Awards



Science Fiction & Fantasy


Historical Fiction & Western

Inspirational Fiction





Anticipated Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016

The explosion in publishing for science fiction, fantasy and horror makes me believe that 2016 will be an amazing years for these genres.  Orbit has stated they are expanding their publishing efforts, Houghton Mifflin has added a new SFF imprint, Marvelous SFF podcast/book club Sword and Laser seem to have started up a publishing endeavor, and of course there is the ongoing boom in self-publishing.  I have so many books I want to read, and I’m lucky enough that my gig as the science fiction and fantasy columnist for Library Journal means that I will probably not only get to read most of these, but I can share my joy (or occasional disappointment) with them in my reviews for librarians around the country.  But let’s face it. I’d read most of these even if I didn’t have to. Of course, print magazine publishing being what it is, my deadlines mean that I’ve actually read some of these, which I will note throughout. So without further ado, here are the titles I am most excited about for the first half of 2016. There’s a couple of titles scheduled later in the year (Crosstalk by Connie Willis, Cloudbound by Fran Wilde are just two examples) that I will undoubtedly devour, but that’s so far out that you never know if the pub dates will shift. I’m sure there are so many more great ones coming, so if I missed something you’re dying to read, feel free to tell me in the comments!


All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders  (Read, LOVED)
City of Blades (The Divine Cities, book 2) by Robert Jackson Bennett (Read, LOVED)
This Census-Taker by China Mieville
Medusa’s Web by Tim Powers (Read, LOVED)
Feverborn (Fever) by Karen Marie Moning



A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab (Read, LOVED)
A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly (Read, LOVED)
The Immortals (Olympus Bound) by Jordanna Max Brodsky (Read, LOVED)
Morning Star (Red Rising, book 3) by Pierce Brown 
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen (Vorkosigan Saga) by Lois McMaster Bujold



Marked In Flesh (Others, book 4) by Anne Bishop (Read, LOVED)
Fire Touched (Mercy Thompson) by Patricia Briggs (Read, LOVED)
Kingfisher by Patricia McKillip
Borderline (The Arcadia Project Book 1) by Mishell Baker
The Cold Between (Central Corps, book 1) by Elizabeth Bonesteel (Read, LOVED)


Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Fellside by M. R. Carey
The Everything Box by Richard Kadrey (Read, LOVED)
Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel (Read, LOVED)
HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
The Family Plot by Cherie Priest
Dead Letters  ed. by Conrad Williams (horror anthology with exciting list of contributors)
Join by Steve Toutonghi



Central Station by Lavie Tidhar
Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay
Company Town by Madeline Ashby
The Fireman by Joe Hill
Sixth Watch (Night Watch) by Sergei Lukyanenko
Voodoo Killings
by Kristi Charish (Canadian, but hopefully getting a US release)



Stiletto (The Rook Files) by  Daniel O’Malley
Dark Run by Mike Brooks
Necessity (Thessaly) by Jo Walton
The Hanging Tree (Rivers of London) by Ben Aaronovitch
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
The Perdition Score (Sandman Slim) by Richard Kadrey
The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library Series)by Genevieve Cogman
Babylon’s Ashes (The Expanse) by James S.A. Corey


Supernova by C.A. Higgins
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal
Four Roads Cross (Craft Sequence) by Max Gladstone
Time Siege by Wesley Chu
Assassin’s Fate (Fitz and the Fool, book 3) by Robin Hobb



These titles have not been announced yet, but that doesn’t keep me from hoping, right?

Winds of Winter by George R.R. Martin
Doors of Stone by Patrick Rothfuss

Favorite Reads of 2015

As a librarian and a book reviewer, I read a lot of books.  This year I actually read fewer books than I have in a long time, due to a perfect storm of moving, changing jobs, and dealing with a serious illness. I got some help on the reviewing front, sharing my Library Journal column on science fiction, fantasy, and horror with a co-columnist which helped quite a bit. I still managed to read about 175 books in 2015, reviewing 146 for Library Journal.

Looking back at all that reading, some titles float right to the top as favorites. I participated in the twitter hashtag #libfaves15, which was fun but difficult to limit to only 10 titles.  I also ran down my favorites for Library Journal, but that was an even more torturous limit of 5 titles.  So here I thought I would run down my favorites in several SFF genres, NO LIMITS!  I’m not going to give full reviews here as i reviewed all of these in Library Journal, but I’ll just give a brief note about why I loved them.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone that a lot of my favorites were genre blends!

Urban Fantasy

Owl and the Japanese Circus (The Owl Series) by Kristi Charish

Why? This had a great Indiana Jones vibe with adventuress heroine Owl and plenty of exotic locales. Owl is prickly and difficult, giving the author plenty of room for character growth over this new series.

Killing Pretty: A Sandman Slim Novel by Richard Kadrey

Why? Because Kadrey has managed to turn this series in a new direction, more of an old-skool urban fantasy with Stark as a supernatural P.I. Of course, he’s still Stark (aka Sandman Slim) so there’s all the seediness and profanity that series regulars love.

Vision in Silver: A Novel of the Others by Anne Bishop

Why? This is one of my favorite urban fantasy series (although it’s not really urban), with a fascinating world and a continuous storyline (don’t jump in here) with tension building slowly to a major showdown between humans and Others.

Menagerie (The Menagerie Series) by Rachel Vincent

Why? I like the angsty melodrama of this new series. Delilah’s struggles when she realizes she is not human and her imprisonment in the carnival is dark, dark dark. Not a bad readalike for Bishop’s Others series, actually.

Dragon Coast (Daniel Blackland) by Greg Van Eekhout

Why? After the amazing California Bones, the second book (Pacific Fire) was a bit of a disappointment. But Van Eekhout brings it back with this final volume. Another heist plot (yay!) and more of the character bonding that I loved so much makes this a great ending for the series.

Epic Fantasy


Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Why? This gorgeous fairy tale has a terrific heroine who fights for her friends and family but is no simple storybook cutout.  I love that it has an Eastern European flavor and the romance was lovely but didn’t overpower the story.  Great teen appeal too.

Updraft by Fran Wilde

Why? Wow, this world.  Another book I would hand to adults and teens with equal glee, the biggest appeal for me was the worldbuilding where people live in towers grown of bone and fly on man-made glider wings.  There’s family drama, teen angst, and lovely writing in this debut.

Black Wolves (The Black Wolves Trilogy) by Kate Elliott

Why? Although this was based in an established world of Elliott’s, it stands alone well and starts a fascinating new series.  I loved the world, with complicated politics and divided loyalties. Lots of Asian influences, but swirled in new ways.

City of Blades (The Divine Cities) by Robert Jackson Bennett

Why? City of Stairs was one of my favorite books of 2014, and this follow-up is just as good, while being completely different.  The action moves to a new, broken city and brings back Mulagesh and Sigrud and more of the fascinating toppled gods.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

Why? I love unreliable narrators, and Baru is fascinating in her ability to be what other people want her to be while holding on to her dream of revenge against the powers that conquered her country.

Historical Fantasy, Alt History, and Steampunk


A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Why?  Four Londons, each with their own level of magic, including Grey London (our London under George III) with no magic but one intrepid thief named Lila. I loved Kell, his changeable coat, and his ability to travel between the worlds but man did I love Lila!

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Why? This amazing alternate Napoleonic England is so diverse that it might destroy SFF (kidding). Zacharias is a great embattled hero, a former slave holding the highest magical post in the land. The story really takes off when he meets Prunella, a young woman with a brash spirit and a natural magical talent.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

Why? Victorian Civil Servant Thaniel is so delightfully confused about what he wants. When he gets an anonymous gift of a watch and tracks down maker Keito Mori, his life changes foever. I adored Keito and his unusual abilities and his mechanical animals.  I want a clockwork octopus like Katsu.

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Why? Bear sets her story in an unnamed Old West city that is delightfully rough, violent and FULL of prostitutes. I loved Madame Damnable’s brothel and the ladies who plied their trade there. This has an amazing cast of characters (including a really brutal villain) and a touch of steampunk gadgetry.

The House of Shattered Wings  by Aliette de Bodard

Why? The vivid setting in a ravaged Paris filled with warring houses of fallen angels and witches has stuck in my mind since reading this beautifully written fantasy.  There are a bunch of little mysteries, that will keep you turning pages, not the least of which is the nature of hero Phillippe and fate of most famous fallen angel Lucifer.

The Mechanical (The Alchemy Wars) by Ian Tregillis

Why? What if the Dutch developed robots 250 years ago, using alchemy to bind the “Clakkers” to their will? How cool is that?!?  The Dutch rule the world, France is almost destroyed, and one Clakker has found a way to throw off his yoke and experience free will. There is plenty of action and spies making this more than just a cool idea.

Science Fiction


Ancillary Mercy (Imperial Radch) by Ann Leckie

Why? Even though this didn’t flatten me with awe the way the first book did, this is still easily one of the best SF books of the year. Breq’s arc has been pretty weird, but so, so satisfying. This series tackles huge ideas like what is identity, how to do the right thing (and know what the right thing is), imperialism, etc. – and makes them FUN.

The Fold by Peter Clines

Why? This works well as a smart techno thriller, with the tantalizing possibility that a government funded group has developed teleportation technology. But it takes a great step sideways into the weird midway through, and that’s what made it a winner for me. I also loved hero Mike, a genius with an eidetic memory who gets sent to check on the progress of the research group.

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

Why? Ripped from the headlines! The drought in the western states of America makes this SF/Thriller about the fight for water rights completely believable. Angel Velaquez (the eponymous water knife) should be too much of a violent thug to be a hero as he swindles and schemes and kills to make sure Las Vegas gets its water, but somehow he remains engaging.

Luna: New Moon

Why? Ian McDonald is such an amazing writer, but his books are sometimes challenging reads, dense with ideas. This one is interesting, but still a LOT of fun, especially the last half. I loved the feuding families on the moon (very Game of Thrones) as well as the touches of mystery. Can’t wait for the next book!

Golden Son: Book II of The Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown

Why? While Red Rising was fantastic, the scale was small, focused on the competition on Mars and it had a YA vibe. Now the scope has busted wide open, giving the talented author room to strut his stuff while still keeping the story of Darrow and his goal to overthrow the government from within.

Horror & Dark Fantasy


The Fifth House of the Heart by Ben Tripp

Why? The character of antiques dealer Sax was so wonderful – cranky, gay, vain, clever, cowardly – all that and more! And he steals from vampires? That’s a risky career move. Plus it has a heist plot (my catnip) and vampires that are truly scary again.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Why? The idea of children being taken from their homes and raised by a psychotic godlike father figure who makes (most) of them into psychotics as well was irresistible, especially as the now grown Carolyn tries to interact with the regular humans as she looks for her missing father. Surprisingly funny while still chilling at time.

Positive by David Wellington

Why? Zombies are over, right? But this thriller of humanity after the devastation of a zombie apocalypse is gripping and scary, especially as the real monsters are (of course!) altogether human.


Genre Blend New Releases – January 2016

Another year begins, and there are plenty of new releases coming in January to satisfy genre readers who like to mix things up a little. I can personally vouch for City of Light , Keri Arthur’s new series that presents readers with a really interesting new world that meshes SF and Fantasy in a way that reminded me of Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling world. I also loved Tim Power’s new title Medusa’s Web, which shows his usual gonzo inventiveness. City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett was a fantastic follow-up to City of Stairs that manages both to take the series in a new direction but also satisfy fans. Finally, All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders is a beautifully written mix of SF and Fantasy, funny and melancholy and just lovely. I haven’t read Carol Goodman’s latest and so I’m not positive what the fantasy element is, but I’ve loved everything she’s written, and her books often have a gothic vibe. I’m also tempted by the latest book in the Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne.  Hopefully you find something good here to tempt you to start the new year out blending things up!

January 5



January 12


January 19


January 26


What to read after watching The Expanse

expanseLast night was the official Syfy network premiere of the new space opera tv series The Expanse, although some folks watched the show online when it went up a couple of weeks ago. Tonight will be episode two, setting the hook even deeper to get viewers sucked into this new series that promises to bring the network back to its science fiction roots. So far, it’s a stylish adaptation, with some nice acting and great scenery. I can’t wait to see how it develops as the season goes on and how faithful it remains to its source material. I promise not to spoil anything for those who haven’t watched yet!


leviathanwakesThis season of The Expanse is based on the first book of James S.A. Corey’s series, Leviathan Wakes.  In this novel, humanity has spread throughout the solar system, but no further. Divisions in human society have developed between the major outposts of Earth, Mars and the outer planets, with mutual distrust between all factions. It’s a canny choice, keeping the action close to our planetary home and the actors human. It makes the series more accessible to readers (and now viewers) who are not necessarily long-time SF fans. The other clever thing the authors (Corey is a pseudonym for two sf writers, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) have done to bring in a wide readership is to have the first volume adopt some of the trappings of another popular genre, the mystery. There is a missing person case, a hangdog cop and plenty of noir atmosphere.

If you have been loving the show so far or are a fan of the books that the show is based on, I have some suggestions of books to read.

The book (and presumably series) has two main points of view, that of Jim Holden and focused on him and his crew, and a second point of view with noir-tinged belter cop Miller. If you like the shipboard bits with Holden and how his crew work together, here are some books to try:

OnBasiliskStationHonor Harrington series by David Weber, beginning with On Basilisk Station

This long-running space opera series is centered on Royal Manticore Naval office Honor Harrington. Much of the focus is on shipboard life and crew dynamics, which should appeal to fans of The Expanse. In this first volume, Honor has been set up to fail by a superior who hates her and sent to a backwater system. But things are more exciting than she anticipated.  This series is very much for fans of C.S. Forster and Patrick O’Brian, but in space. It doesn’t have the tight focus on our solar system and there are aliens, so probably more for the SF fans.

fortunespawn-coverParadox series by Rachel Bach, beginning with Fortune’s Pawn

A huge part of the appeal of this series is lead character Devi Morris, a mercenary who has a strangely intimate relationship with her weapons, a love ’em and leave ’em attitude towards relationships, and a burning ambition. Sounds like a dude, right? But she’s a kick ass female soldier.  She takes a position on a ship called The Glorious Fool because she was told a year on board would give her enough of a reputation that she would be a shoe-in to win a place amongst the king’s guard known as Devastators.  But the ship is even more dangerous than she thought.  There’s plenty of action, danger, and space opera shenanigans, but also a big dash of romance. Hopefully that won’t keep away male readers, because this is grade ‘A’ SF.

retributionfallsTales of the Kitty Jay by Chris Wooding, beginning with Retribution Falls

Not space opera, but more of a steampunk-ish fantasy heist. BUT WAIT.  It has one of the most entertaining crews in SFF with the motley assemblage of misfits who keep the airship Kitty Jay in the air. While Frey, captain of the Kitty Jay,  is more of a ne’er-do-well than Holden, who always strives to do the right thing, the two crews share the camaraderie of those forced to live and work together in tight spaces, and yet have their own secrets to keep.  I wrote about this book in a review post, where I recommended it to fans of the TV series Firefly, another wonderful example of a crew to fall in love with.

More great space opera:

If you like the mixture of noir and SF, I have a whole different batch of recommendations for you.  I did a post with a flowchart of mystery/SF blends that you might want to check out, but here are just a few of my favorite science fiction mysteries set in space:

disappearedRetrieval Artist series by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, beginning with The Disappeared

In this first book of the series, Miles Flint is a Retrieval Artist: a kind of cop tasked with hunting down humans who break alien laws. HIs conflict is that the alien laws are often draconian beyond all reason, so Miles will need to find a way to reconcile his job and his ideas of justice. It takes place on the moon and has a nice combo of sf ideas and mundane police routines. Rusch is not read as much as she should be.  In addition to this fabulous series she also has the Diving universe books, which also usually have a nice mystery element.

seekerAlex Benedict series by Jack McDevitt, starting with my favorite: Seeker

In the year 2688 a colony ship called Seeker left earth only to disappear.  Thousands of years later, antiquities dealer Alex Benedict finds a relic from the lost ship and decides to try to finally solve the mystery of what happened to Seeker.  But that’s not the only mystery Alex and his assistant Chase Kolpath will have to solve.  There’s nothing wrong with book one of the series, A Talent For War, but I think they all stand alone well and this (book 3) has a better mystery. These books are fun thriller/mysteries with enough interesting science fiction to satisfy both crowds.

alteredcarbonTakeshi Kovacs series by Richard Morgan, starting with Altered Carbon

In the 25th century, technology exists where people can download their consciousness into a new body or “sleeve”, essentially living forever. Centuries-old billionaire Laurens Bancroft brings U.N. Envoy Takeshi Kovacs to Earth, where Kovacs is sleeved in a cop’s body to investigate Bancroft’s murder. The wealthy man resleeved, of course, but his cortical stack was deliberately damaged and he wants Kovacs to find whoever tried to kill him permanently. Morgan explores the consequences of life where death can be cheated by anyone with enough money. Oh, and it is really violent and swear-y, just so you know.

Don’t forget that you can use the blender to find more science fiction/mystery mixes.