Category: Alternate Reality

Sunshine, by Robin McKinley

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This is one of my favorite books ever, one I reread multiple times. Most recently, I’ve reread it along with Mark Reads on YouTube, and that has added joy to my own reactions on the book.

For the uninitiated, Sunshine focuses on Rae, also called Sunshine, who is a 20something coffee-house baker, and on what happens during and after her encounter with vampires. Sunshine’s narrative is first-person, and McKinley’s world-building, at least the glimpses that we see through Sunshine’s narrative, is exceptional.

I love living in Sunshine’s world. If you hate sparkly vampires, this book is for you. And if you are looking for a good stand-alone novel, this is also your book. Gorgeously written (as all of McKinley’s work is), Sunshine is an immersive page-turner. Highly recommended, for 18 and up.

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Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal

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This novel’s concept, of a Jane Austen-style novel with a magic overlay, is interesting enough, but it lacked Austen’s depth of characterization, so when the romance is finally revealed it comes as a surprise to us as well as the heroine. So lacking a budding romance to root for, the focus falls more harshly on our passive heroine, and it does the novel no favors. A quick, disposable read, for 16 and up.

The Iron Thorn, by Caitlin Kittredge

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This YA novel is dystopian steampunk, and the early sections are so bleak and unremitting that I almost walked away from it. But once we get hints of resolution, of understanding, I picked up steam (heh) and powered through the book. The visionary world-building in this book is so detailed that it haunts you like a dreamscape, one filled with steam, and soot, and the monsters of the guttering dark. Our 15-year-old heroine, Aoife, has had a tough life already and she is looking down the gunsight of her family’s hereditary madness when she turns 16. So when her only brother mysteriously needs help, she is ready to provide it, even if it means her arrest. For older YAs and up who are ready to face the monsters.

Lamp Black, Wolf Gray by Paula Brackston

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Laura and her husband Dan have moved to Wales from London for a fresh start, but from the first, Laura is more entranced with the rural countryside than Dan is. And since Dan is still working in London, Laura is spending the week there alone. This is, in some ways, a story about a woman who “goes native” and how it endangers her and all she thinks she values, but there is a parallel story, set in the distant past, of Merlin and a young woman he falls in love with, and the ripples that story has on the present day echo throughout the book. Strangely haunting.

The Sword of Summer, by Rick Riordan

Riordan’s new Norse-themed adventure is simply a rollicking good time. Magnus Chase, our 16-year-old hero, has a darker edge than Percy ever did, and I enjoy his sense of humor as well. Though it’s still appropriate for middle schoolers, there is a lot more in there for adult sensibilities as well. We also have a great kick-ass Muslim heroine who wears a hajib, which is refreshing. Highly recommended.

Spellbound, by Larry Correia

In this terrific followup to Hard Magic, Correia deepens his already astonishing world-building, further expanding his book-noir alternate history. Set in a 1930s that is filled with Actives, people with specific magical powers, and scarred by a Great War filled with zombies, the story focuses on the various members of the Grimnoir, a secret society that has repeatedly saved humanity but is now being ostracized and targeted by FDR’s government. I can’t wait to read the third one. Recommended.

Hard Magic, by Larry Correia

Interesting film noir-style alternate fantasy that focuses on hard-bitten Actives, or magic-users. War hero, magic-user, and PI Jake Sullivan is tasked by the FBI to arrest a former flame. The world-building in this is so immersive and specific, and the perspective shifts so frequent, that it took me about 100 pages to follow along, pick up the slang, and roll with it. But once I did, it was a great ride.