Rothfuss, Patrick. The Name of the Wind.

NY: DAW, 2007.

I’ve been hearing good things about this author’s first fantasy novel, the first third of a trilogy, but I was delaying until the whole thing had been published so I wouldn’t have to wait between volumes to see what happens next. But the third volume has been very slow to appear, so I finally gave up and jumped in, and I’m glad I did. It’s an amazing book for any author, but even more so for a first book.

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Stone, Juliana. Boys Like You.

Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2014.

Stone has published a few earlier novels of the adult romance variety but this appears to be her first attempt at a YA story, and it’s not bad. In fact, its frequent emotional intensity will undoubtedly appeal to many younger readers. Monroe Blackwell is a sixteen-year-old New York girl, but she has Louisiana roots on her father’s side, and she’s spending the summer on the plantation her grandmother owns, now converted to a B&B. She was at least partly to blame in the recent death of someone very close to her (we don’t find out who that was for some time) and she’s having a very hard time dealing with the guilt.

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Mastai, Elan. All Our Wrong Todays.

NY: Dutton, 2017.

I’ve always been a sucker for a good time travel story, and this first novel is not only well-written and complexly plotted, it’s very innovative. Consider what the world might be like in 2016 if an essentially free and unlimited power source had been discovered back in July 1965. Turns out it’s very much like the covers of the pulps of the ’50s, with flying cars, jet packs, domestic robots, teleportation, antigravity, plentiful food, no wars to speak of, and very little crime.

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Kearsley, Susanna. The Shadowy Horses.

NY: Bantam, 1997.

I read a great deal, in nearly every genre and flavor of fiction, and I strongly disagree with the elitists who insist that certain entire categories of books simply aren’t worth their time. That’s pure snobbery, and it’s generally based on prejudice, not experience. Because a book is either well-written or it isn’t, and while there are plenty of books that I haven’t bothered to finish, and certain authors whose repeated lame attempts I have learned (usually) to avoid, the occasional losers are spread across the whole of literature. There are almost always books in any niche that are worth your time. And this one, a romance novel with a strong psychic flavor, is one of them.

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Gaiman, Neil & Charles Vess. Stardust: Being a Romance Within the Realms of Faerie.

NY: DC Comics, 1997.

Neil is the modern master of the fairy tale, and he writes all kinds, from comic to wistful to thoroughly noir. This one is of the traditional variety, though often with tongue firmly in cheek. Gaiman won a number of awards for this one, and deserved them. Vess won another bunch of awards for the art which greatly enhances nearly every page. He reminds me a little of Arthur Rackham and a lot of Alicia Austin, and that’s praise.

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Ashford, Lindsay Jayne. The Woman on the Orient Express.

Seattle: Lake Union Publishing, 2016.

It’s a historical fact that in the fall of 1928, still recovering mentally from a very painful divorce and not wanting to be trapped by the press in England when her ex-husband married his mistress, Agatha Christie, already famous as the author of ten mystery novels (and also for her public bout of “amnesia”), anonymously crossed the Channel and boarded the Orient Express, headed for Baghdad.

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Waters, Sarah. Tipping the Velvet.

NY: Penguin, 1998.

This was apparently Waters’s first novel and it sort of sets the pace for the five books (so far) that have followed. It’s 1888 and eighteen-year-old Nancy Astley spends her days help her family run its oyster business in Whitstable, down in Kent. Though it’s only an hour or so away by train, none of them have ever visited London, but Nance frequents the Palace music hall in nearby Canterbury and knows all the tunes and the comic turns from the big city.

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George, Elizabeth. For the Sake of Elena.

NY: Bantam, 1992.

With the death of P. D. James, George has become the primary writer in English of the “literary mystery.” This fifth book in the lengthy series featuring Detective Inspective Thomas Lynley (who is not only a card-carrying English gentleman but also the Earl of Asherton) and his sidekick, the often belligerently working-class Sergeant Barbara Havers, takes the team to Cambridge University where a young woman, the daughter of a top-level academic. was beaten to death while out jogging one very early, very cold, very foggy November morning.

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Bunch, Chris. The Last Battle.

London: Orbit, 2004.

This concluding volume of the “Dragonmaster” trilogy is rather different from the first two, and I don’t think it’s quite as successful. The great war between the nation of Deraine and its junior ally, Sagene, on one side and the loathsome enemy of Roche on the other, a widespread and exhausting conflict that filled the previous two books, is over now, and Hal Kailas, the Dragonmaster of Deraine, is at loose ends.

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Fellowes, Julian. Belgravia.

NY: Grand Central Publishing, 2016.

The famous ball hosted by the Duchess of Richmond in Brussels in June 1815, while Napoleon’s resurgent armies moved in on the city, is one of the great cultural icons in modern British history. Many of the officers in attendance would be fighting for their lives against the French the next day at Quatre Bras, and then Waterloo, and for those who survived, soldiers and civilians alike, the ball was a defining moment in their lives.

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