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Book Review: The Jane Austen Project, by Kathleen Flynn

Time Travelers go back in time to meet Jane Austen.


The Jane Austen Project

Harper Perennial, 2017, 384 pages



Perfect for fans of Jane Austen, this engrossing debut novel offers an unusual twist on the legacy of one of the world's most celebrated and beloved authors: Two researchers from the future are sent back in time to meet Jane and recover a suspected unpublished novel.

London, 1815: Two travelers - Rachel Katzman and Liam Finucane - arrive in a field in rural England, disheveled and weighed down with hidden money. Turned away at a nearby inn, they are forced to travel by coach all night to London. They are not what they seem but rather colleagues who have come back in time from a technologically advanced future, posing as wealthy West Indies planters - a doctor and his spinster sister. While Rachel and Liam aren't the first team from the future to "go back", their mission is by far the most audacious: meet, befriend, and steal from Jane Austen herself.

Carefully selected and rigorously trained by The Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics, disaster-relief doctor Rachel and actor-turned-scholar Liam have little in common besides the extraordinary circumstances they find themselves in. Circumstances that call for Rachel to stifle her independent nature and let Liam take the lead as they infiltrate Austen's circle via her favorite brother, Henry.

But diagnosing Jane's fatal illness and obtaining an unpublished novel hinted at in her letters pose enough of a challenge without the continuous convolutions of living a lie. While her friendship with Jane deepens and her relationship with Liam grows complicated, Rachel fights to reconcile the woman she is with the proper lady 19th-century society expects her to be. As their portal to the future prepares to close, Rachel and Liam struggle with their directive to leave history intact and exactly as they found it...however heartbreaking that may prove.


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Book Review: The Mask of Mirrors, by M.A. Carrick

A plotty pseudo-Renaissance swords & sorcery caper.


The Mask of Mirrors

Orbit, 2021, 630 pages



This is your past, the good and the ill of it, and that which is neither.
Arenza Lenskaya is a liar and a thief, a pattern reader and a daughter of no clan. Raised in the slums of Nadežra, she fled that world to save her sister.

This is your present, the good and the ill of it, and that which is neither.
Renata Viraudax is a con artist recently arrived in Nadežra. She has one goal: to trick her way into a noble house and secure her fortune.

This is your future, the good and the ill of it, and that which is neither.
But when corrupt nightmares begin to weave their way through the City of Dreams, Ren realizes her masquerade is just one of many surrounding her—and if she cannot sort the truth from the lies, it'll mean the destruction of her city.

Darkly magical and intricately imagined, The Mask of Mirrors is the unmissable start to the Rook & Rose trilogy, a dazzling fantasy adventure from an incredible new voice.


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Book Review: Words of Radiance, by Brandon Sanderson

Book two of the Stormlight Archive, with big reveals, big battles, and a big hump to finish.


Words of Radiance

Tor Books, 2014, 1087 pages



Expected by his enemies to die the miserable death of a military slave, Kaladin survived to be given command of the royal bodyguards, a controversial first for a low-status "darkeyes". Now he must protect the king and Dalinar from every common peril as well as the distinctly uncommon threat of the Assassin, all while secretly struggling to master remarkable new powers that are somehow linked to his honorspren, Syl.

The Assassin, Szeth, is active again, murdering rulers all over the world of Roshar, using his baffling powers to thwart every bodyguard and elude all pursuers. Among his prime targets is Highprince Dalinar, widely considered the power behind the Alethi throne. His leading role in the war would seem reason enough, but the Assassin’s master has much deeper motives.

Brilliant but troubled Shallan strives along a parallel path. Despite being broken in ways she refuses to acknowledge, she bears a terrible burden: to somehow prevent the return of the legendary Voidbringers and the civilization-ending Desolation that will follow. The secrets she needs can be found at the Shattered Plains, but just arriving there proves more difficult than she could have imagined.

Meanwhile, at the heart of the Shattered Plains, the Parshendi are making an epochal decision. Hard pressed by years of Alethi attacks, their numbers ever shrinking, they are convinced by their war leader, Eshonai, to risk everything on a desperate gamble with the very supernatural forces they once fled. The possible consequences for Parshendi and humans alike, indeed, for Roshar itself, are as dangerous as they are incalculable.


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Also by Brandon Sanderson: My reviews of Elantris, The Mistborn trilogy, The Alloy of Law, Steelheart, The Way of Kings, Warbreaker, Skyward, and Starsight.




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Book Review: Medusa Uploaded, by Emily Devenport

A homicidal protagonist in a YA novel pretending to be adult SF.


Medusa Uploaded

Tor Books, 2018, 317 pages



My name is Oichi Angelis, and I am a worm. They see me every day. They consider me harmless. And that's the trick, isn't it?

A generation starship can hide many secrets. When an Executive clan suspects Oichi of insurgency and discreetly shoves her out an airlock, one of those secrets finds and rescues her. Officially dead, Oichi begins to rebalance power one assassination at a time and uncovers the shocking truth behind the generation starship and the Executive clans.


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Book Review: Black Mountain, by Laird Barron

Isaiah Coleridge #2: our heavy hitter runs into a heavier hitter.


Black Mountain

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019, 308 pages



Ex-mob enforcer Isaiah Coledrige has hung out a shingle as a private eye in New York's Hudson Valley, and in his newest case, a seemingly simple murder investigation leads him to the most terrifying enemy he has ever faced.

When a small-time criminal named Harold Lee turns up in the Ashokan Reservoir - sans a heartbeat, head, or hands - the local mafia capo hires Isaiah Coleridge to look into the matter. The mob likes crime, but only the crime it controls...and as it turns out, Lee is the second independent contractor to meet a bad end on the business side of a serrated knife. One such death can be overlooked. Two makes a man wonder.

A guy in Harold Lee's business would make his fair share of enemies, and it seems a likely case of pure revenge. But as Coledrige turns over more stones, he finds himself dragged into something deeper and more insidious than he could have imagined, in a labyrinthine case spanning decades. At the center are an heiress moonlighting as a cabaret dancer, a powerful corporation with high-placed connections, and a serial killer who may have been honing his skills since the Vietnam War....

A twisty, action-packed follow-up to the acclaimed Blood Standard, Black Mountain cements Laird Barron as an inventive and remarkable voice in crime fiction.


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Also by Laird Barron: My reviews of The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All, The Croning, Occultation, and Blood Standard.




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Book Review: Waste Tide, by Chen Qiufan

A Chinese cyberpunk novel about exploitation, the environment, family and cultural ties, and a possessed mecha.


Waste Tide

Tor Books, 2013, 352 pages



Mimi is a "waste girl". A member of the lowest caste on Silicon Isle, located off China’s southeastern coast, and home to the world’s largest electronic waste recycling center. There, thousands of miles from home, Mimi struggles to earn a living for her family and dreams of a better life.

Luo Jincheng is the head of one of three clans who run the island, a role passed down from his father and grandfather before him. As the government enforces tighter restrictions, Luo in turn tightens the reins on the waste workers in his employ. Ruthlessness is his means of survival.

Scott Brandle has come to Silicon Isle representing TerraGreen Recycling, an American corporation that stands to earn ungodly sums if they can reach a deal to modernize the island’s recycling process.

Chen Kaizong, a Chinese American, travels to Silicon Isle as Scott’s interpreter. There, Kaizong is hoping to find his heritage, but finds only more questions. The home he longs for may not exist.

As these forces collide, a dark futuristic virus is unleashed on the island. Against the backdrop of a gritty near-future Chinese landscape, in a world of body modifications and virtual reality, a war erupts - between the rich and the poor; between ancient traditions and modern ambition; between humanity’s past and its future.


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Book Review: Anathem, by Neal Stephenson

A wizardmonkFra must venture out among the Muggles, by an author who is the Cleverest Boy.


Anathem

William Morrow, 2008, 937 pages



Fraa Erasmus is a young avout living in the Concent of Saunt Edhar, a sanctuary for mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers, protected from the corrupting influences of the "Saecular" world by ancient stone, honored traditions, and complex rituals.

Over the centuries, cities, and governments have risen and fallen beyond the concent's walls. Three times during history's darkest epochs, bloody violence born of superstition and ignorance has invaded and devastated the cloistered mathic community. Yet always the avout have managed to adapt in the wake of catastrophe, becoming out of necessity more austere and less dependent on technology and material things. Erasmus, however, has no fear of the outside - the Extramuros - for the last of the terrible times was long, long ago.

Now, in celebration of the week-long, once-in-a-decade rite of Apert, the fras and suurs prepare to venture outside the concent's gates - opening them wide at the same time to welcome the curious "extras" in.

During his first Apert as a fra, Erasmus eagerly anticipates reconnecting with the landmarks and family he hasn't seen since he was "collected". But before the week is out, both the existence he abandoned and the one he embraced will stand poised on the perilous brink of cataclysmic change.

Powerful unforeseen forces threaten the peaceful stability of mathic life and the established ennui of the Extramuros - a threat that only an unsteady alliance of Saecular and avout can oppose - as, one by one, Raz's colleagues, teachers, and friends are all called forth from the safety of the concent in hopes of warding off global disaster.

Suddenly burdened with a worlds-shattering responsibility, Erasmus finds himself a major player in a drama that will determine the future of everything - as he sets out on an extraordinary odyssey that will carry him to the most dangerous, inhospitable corners of an unfamiliar planet...and far beyond.


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Also by Neal Stephenson: My reviews of Reamde, Seveneves, and The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O..




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Book Review: Ballistic, by Marko Kloos

Book two ramps up tensions and conspiracies IN SPAAAACE!


Ballistic

47North, 2020, 318 pages



There is a personal price to pay for having aligned with the wrong side in a reckless war. For Aden Jansen it's the need to adopt a new identity while keeping his past hidden. Now he's integrated himself aboard the Zephyr, a merchant ship smuggling critical goods through dangerous space. But danger is imminent on planet Gretia, as well. Under occupation, torn between postwar reformers and loyalists, it's a polestar for civil unrest.

Meanwhile an occupation forces officer is pulled right back into the fray when the battle alarm is raised, an ambitious heiress is entangled in a subversive political conspiracy, and an Allied captain is about to meet the enemy head-on.

As Aden discovers, the insurgents on Gretia - and in space - are connected, organized, and ready to break into full-scale rebellion. History is threatening to repeat itself. It's time that Aden rediscovers who he is, whom he can trust, and what he must fight for now.


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Also by Marko Kloos: My reviews of Terms of Enlistment, Lines of Departure, Angles of Attack, Chains of Command, Fields of Fire, Points of Impact, Orders of Battle, and Aftershocks.




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Book Review: Martin Van Buren and the American Political System, by Donald B. Cole

POTUS #8 was a professional politician and a party man.


Martin Van Buren and the American Political System

Eastern National Park and Monument Association, 1984, 477 pages



Donald Cole analyzes the political skills that brought Van Buren the nickname "Little Magician," describing how he built the Albany Regency (which became a model for political party machines) and how he created the Democratic party of Andrew Jackson.


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Book Review: The Gray House, by Mariam Petrosyan

A long, complicated Russian novel about disabled children at a strange school that's neither magical nor mundane.


The Gray House

Amazon Crossing, 2009, 732 pages



The Gray House is an astounding tale of how what others understand as liabilities can be leveraged into strengths.

Bound to wheelchairs and dependent on prosthetic limbs, the physically disabled students living in the House are overlooked by the Outsides. Not that it matters to anyone living in the House, a hulking old structure that its residents know is alive. From the corridors and crawl spaces to the classrooms and dorms, the House is full of tribes, tinctures, scared teachers, and laws - all seen and understood through a prismatic array of teenagers' eyes.

But student deaths and mounting pressure from the Outsides put the time-defying order of the House in danger. As the tribe leaders struggle to maintain power, they defer to the awesome power of the House, attempting to make it through days and nights that pass in ways that clocks and watches cannot record.



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