Recent Additions

Buckaroo Banzai’s second adventure arrives on the shelves at last

Fans of the 1984 film and book The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension will be thrilled to learn that, finally, the chronicles of the world-famous Buckaroo Banzai, MD, GBE (adventurer, scientist, rock star, race car driver, and neurosurgeon) are being continued. As promised at the end of the film, the title of the next adventure is Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League: A Compendium of Evils. The author, as with the first book, is Earl Mac Rauch, but the cover says it was written by The Reno Kid with the assistance of E. M. Rauch, who claims to be a Professor of Oratory at the Banzai Institute.

Pretending that the book was actually written by one of its characters is only the first layer of fun. It is also assumed that the reader lives in the world that our hero Buckaroo (and his band, The Hong Kong Cavaliers) recently saved from the Lectroids from the 8th dimension. The book claims to be a very serious attempt to document various misunderstood historical events surrounding its mysterious and highly accomplished protagonist.

Sadly, this includes a Preface, written in hilariously unreadable faux academic-ese, and an ongoing attempt to explain or revise history citing a variety of (non-existent, I hope) academic sources. The well-informed reader will see through the supposed scientific objectivity, but it makes very dense reading. I must confess that I have not yet finished the book. Readers unfamiliar with the Buckaroo Banzai legend will likely be completely lost.

This is a great Christmas present for those who are already fans. Others are advised to watch the film and become fans as soon as possible.

The Bookshop of Dust and Dreams by Mindy Thompson

As a bookseller, any story that features a bookstore makes me happy, but this time-travelling fantasy really stands out. The bookshop in question is named Rhyme and Reason, and is run by our teenage protagonist, Poppy Fulbright’s, father. It is sentient and brimming with its own magic, though it can communicate only by changing the décor and occasionally writing quotes from books on a little blackboard. Its front door opens to customers who need a haven in both the near future and recent past. Poppy’s family’s door opens to 1944 New York, where World War Two is still raging. 

Poppy loves the bookshop (which clearly loves her back) and wants someday to be a Shopkeeper like her father, though her older brother is supposed to inherit the shop. But Poppy’s brother is messing up the bookshop’s magic with his grief over his closest friend’s death in the War overseas. When her father falls ill, it is up to Poppy to keep the shop open and happy. But things are far more broken that she can imagine. 

Though the book is aimed at “upper middle grade” readers, the language is elegant and eloquent. The story is deep and emotionally complex but, while there are adults whose actions are important, it never leaves Poppy’s point of view. The author is willing to tackle the consequences of everyone’s actions in a way rarely seen in books for kids. The bittersweet ending makes the book, I think, a potential contender for the Newbery Award. 

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy by Anne Ursu

I’ve been a fan of Anne Ursu since reading her first fantasy for young adults, The Shadow Thieves, some years ago. I love her simple but elegant style, that never talks down to kids. I hadn’t known, until the arrival of The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy, that she is a local writer, currently teaching at Hamline University.

In the land of Dragomir, there is a dire need for sorcerers to fight the Dread, remnants of spells left behind by the war with the neighboring kingdom’s witches two hundred years ago. All boys with the slightest inclination toward magic are given vast wealth and scrupulous training. For the girls, though, it is an entirely different matter. After Marya’s brother is tested for magical potential, she receives a letter consigning her to the Dragomir Academy for Troubled Girls.

This is a story that has been told before–a girl coming of age in a place where men are the only people who are trusted with magic–but it’s rarely been so well-told for a younger audience. (For a grown-up version, see The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow.) Marya is both resourceful and naïve, willing to question what she is told but still prone to believing the adults in authority. She has many things to be angry about, but never resorts to sulking about the unfairness. As Marya sorts through the things about herself that she needs to change and the things about the world that cause her problems but are not actually her fault, the young (or older) reader might recognize something of her in themselves.

The Way of the Argosi by Sebastian De Castell

Every now and then, a reader needs to step away from great literature, or horror as metaphor, or fantasy that reflects the end of civilization, and pick up an old-fashioned, sword-and-sorcery adventure. I have been a fan of Canadian writer Sebastian De Castell since discovering his four-book Greatcoats Series. Since then, there has been the Spellslinger Series, which has six books and, now, Way of the Argosi.

De Castell knows how to deliver a page-turning adventure with just the right mixture of humor, wisdom, and suspense. His protagonists go through, perhaps, way more physical and emotional trauma than is reasonable but, then again, they’re heroes. They tell their stories in first person, so you know that they won’t actually die. They also never leave horrible cliffhangers at the end of a book.

Way of the Argosi features a female hero who was a minor character in a Spellslinger book, and she is no more unbelievable than De Castell’s other heroes. She is incredibly resourceful for a teenager who is abandoned (three times), tortured, hated, and constantly on the edge of starvation. Her luck changes, sort of, when she meets a wandering, disreputable-looking dude, who calls himself an Argosi. It looks to be the beginning of many exciting, dangerous, and borderline insane adventures, which doubtlessly will continue in a new series. In fact, Book Two is called Fall of the Argosi, and should be arriving soon.

How Do You Live? by Genzaburo Yoshino

This book comes highly recommended by Neil Gaiman, who reports in the forward that it was Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki’s favorite book as a teenager, and was a huge influence on his life and films. It took me a little while to get into it because I was expecting a children’s story, and it is not, really. It is instead a series of simple but profound philosophy lessons, written in 1937 and aimed at young teenage Japanese boys.

The story, such as it is, is about fifteen-year-old Jun’ichi, who is called Copper (short for Copernicus). His father is deceased, so his uncle writes long letters to him, more or less to give him advice and support. The book alternates between Copper’s fairly mundane school days and the uncle’s analysis of them. His uncle has a good deal of understanding and wisdom, but not exactly what you might expect. This is not an American story. It is already assumed that Copper knows how to study in school and respect his teachers and elders. It is obvious that fitting in, overcoming differences, and coping with his father’s death are considered fairly trivial. Romance doesn’t even come up.

Instead, Copper learns lessons from history, ethics, and philosophy. Standing on a rooftop in Tokyo, in a scene that seemed familiar from many anime, he realizes his own insignificance. He learns about greatness and the misuse of power from the life of Napoleon. He learns about poverty and wealth, cowardice and taking responsibility, and the interconnectedness of all human beings. But mostly, in the course of his lessons, he decides that, no matter what, he must work hard to grow up, so that he can become a “great example of human being.” This, too, should be a familiar theme to anyone who watches anime, from Miyazaki’s films to Naruto and My Hero Academia.

The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente

The cover copy states that “hope is a fragile thing,” yet this brilliant little book is full of it. Despite having an overwhelming number of things to despair about, the narrator, Tetley Abednego, feels herself beloved and living in a most wonderful place.

Tetley’s world is a dire post-climate-change future where dry land no longer exists and only a few humans, mostly those with boats, survived. But some of the poorest people seemingly found a floating pile of all of the unused things from our age, which had inexplicably been sorted by type. Tetley lives on this floating Garbagetown, well after the environmental disasters and the Great Sorting. She is born in Candle Hole, walks to Electric City to get her name, and travels as far as Pill Hill to find her destiny.

Everywhere she looks on her island of garbage, Tetley sees beauty and love. There are gorgeous sunsets over mounds of partly-used candles, lovely colors in backlit piles of pill bottles, amazing creatures (many dangerous), and interesting humans (who mostly hate her). The book is a reminder that even people living in circumstances that seem impossible can find happiness and moments of poetic beauty. It gives me hope that the world my generation (which Tetley calls the Fuckwits) is leaving behind will not be entirely filled with horror.

The Actual Star by Monica Byrne

This is a second novel for Byrne, whose first novel, The Girl in the Road, won the Tiptree (now Otherwise) Award in 2015. It is a dense, disturbing work, spanning two millennia and three human civilizations: a well-researched Mayan realm called Toyna in 1012, modern Belize in 2012, and a world-spanning future in 3012. The civilizations in all three eras are poised on the brink of change and full of unacknowledged cruelty. The author posts a trigger warning for self-cutting, but not for human sacrifice, euthanasia/murder, or the individual attainment of another world, called Xibalba, which looked to me very much like suicide.

The protagonists in all three eras live with the philosophy that they, personally, if not all of humanity, do not belong in what we would call the real world. They center their lives around the possibility of reaching Xibalba, a place of fear and wonder, the true realm. In 1012, this seems to be only for the Mayan nobility, but by 3012 everyone lives for this goal, traveling constantly, mostly on foot, trying to find their own, personal entrance to that place where they truly belong. In a nice interweaving of stories, each civilization has been inspired by the ideas and accomplishments, slowly adopted over time, of the protagonists of the previous eras.

The world of 3012 is richly visualized and, to me, the most interesting part of the story, though the characters exist mostly to describe how they live. The civilization seems almost a utopia: with complete freedom to change gender, race, culture, and sexual orientation; worldwide wireless communication; and equal sharing of resources. But there are far fewer people, and they must use advanced technology and ongoing genetic engineering to survive the harsh climate. They have given up all personal possessions and also, sadly, all permanent ties with others. Like many well-imagined utopias, it raises questions about which parts of being human are essential and explores the place of humanity in the universe.

Burn by Patrick Ness

I have been a fan of British-American author Patrick Ness’ books since The Knife of Never Letting Go, which won the Tiptree (now Otherwise) Award in 2008. He also wrote another of my favorite fantasy books, A Monster Calls. His books are marketed for young adults but are deep and complex, and never hold back on the ugliness that some people create for themselves and their children. His teenage protagonists don’t so much learn to get over their problems as learn to go on living anyway.

Burn is no exception, living up to the cover copy which states, “How does the world end? It ends in fire.” It takes place in a fictional 1957 Frome, Washington threatened more by nuclear war than the powerful dragons which have mostly withdrawn to the Dragon Wastes of northern Canada. The end of the world will involve three teenagers; Sarah whose dead mother was Black, Jason whose mother died in a Japanese internment camp, and “Malcolm” who was raised by a pro-dragon cult to be an assassin (and is also gay). There is also Kazimir who, at 200 years old, is probably still a teenage dragon.

If you want a book where teenagers resolve their insecurities by falling in love or becoming heroes, you will be disappointed. This is a rich fantasy full of horror and wonder. It is a story of worlds within worlds, where an ancient rivalry between dragon nature and humanity is played out over millennia and where adolescent problems are just part of life.

A Master of Djinn by P. Djeli Clark

Fatma el-Sha’awari, of the Egyptian Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities, prefers to wear European suits, always impeccably matched with shirt, tie, and bowler hat, of course. Since the 1912 Cairo in need of magical protection is a colorful and diverse city, host to people and magical beings from all over the world, this does not stand out. Well, not very much, anyway.

This is P. Djeli Clark’s first novel, but Agent Fatma and the magical cases she solves have appeared in several novellas (available at Tor.com). It is not the first appearance of Clark’s vibrant version of Cairo, either. This Cairo has been transformed into a world power by the emergence of magic brought about four decades ago by the genius magician Al-Jahiz. It is a fascinating place, run with the help of clockwork artificial intelligence and powered by magic and steam.

But this might be Agent Fatma’s toughest case yet. A person claiming to be Al-Jahiz returned, is terrorizing the people and djinn of Cairo, beginning by murdering an entire secret society of Englishmen dedicated to preserving the wisdom of the original Al-Jahiz. Plus, only slightly less concerning, Agent Fatma, who is famous for always working alone, has been saddled with a partner, a hijab-wearing new trainee who really admires her detective work.

The murder investigation makes a tense and entertaining read, highly recommended particularly for fans of snarky magical detectives like Ben Aaronivich’s Peter Grant.

The Taking of Jake Livingston by Ryan Douglass

Jake Livingston is a “medium” who can see ghosts and ghouls, mostly of people who died violently, replaying their deaths in fading “death loops” on street corners and in schools and just about everywhere. It’s disturbing and distracting and, since they come in his dreams too, exhausting. Jake is also gay, but hasn’t come out yet to anyone. His father is gone, leaving home after beating him for having a gay magazine. But Jake’s worst problem is that he is one of the only Black kids at St Clair Prep, an elite high school in the next town, where he daily encounters both bullying and casual, unrecognized racism.

He has all this pretty much under control until the kid next door is murdered. Matteo Mooney had been a survivor of a school shooting at nearby Heritage High School a year ago. The death loop replaying in Matteo’s home is gruesome, and the ghouls attracted by the death are horrific. Even worse, it looks like Matteo’s murderer is Sawyer Doon, the boy who killed six of his classmates at Heritage before killing himself. But ghosts are not supposed to be able to act on the world of the living.


Jake is unavoidably drawn into the mystery of Matteo’s death, not only because the haunting is next door but because Sawyer (or his ghost) is seemingly attracted to Jake’s power. In order to survive, and to prevent more murders of Heritage students, Jake must untangle Sawyer’s life and death. He must witness the death loops still replaying in chaotic profusion at the high school. It’s an angry and upsetting story, told in gorgeous prose that is almost too poetic for the violent events it describes.

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

This brutal, magnificent historical novel takes place in central China (sort of around Wuhan, if my correlation between the map in the book and today’s maps is correct), when the Han Red Turban Rebellion was fighting against the Mongol Yuan dynasty (1345-1356). There is very little fantasy, except that some of the characters with the courage to maintain their destined paths can see ghosts and sometimes make themselves glow with the light of Heaven. Neither of these talents is particularly useful–though it seems to be necessary to glow in order to become Emperor, that ability does not guarantee survival. But there is plenty of sweeping war, calculated murder, and exquisite betrayal.

At the same time, it is an insightful novel of self-discovery, an exploration of gender and identity, and a critique of the idea of destiny. A peasant woman who calls herself by her brother’s name, Zhu Chongba, with a combination of skill and luck, becomes a leader in the Red Turban Rebellion. In order to rise in power, and claim the destiny of “greatness” her brother refused by dying, she must deny both gender and self. The brilliant general leading the war against the Rebellion, Ouyang, is an enslaved eunuch from a disgraced and murdered family. He lives despite the shame of his lost masculinity, feeling himself worthy of nothing except to carry out revenge. They both adhere to their misguided destinies regardless of the cost to themselves or those around them. 

However, both the general who is not quite a man and the peasant risen to lead a rebel army, who is not entirely a woman, seem to want the same thing: the overthrow of the Yuan emperor in far-off Khanbaliq (near modern Beijing). Many of the characters in the book are actual historic figures, including Zhu who later renames herself Yuanzhang. Since the Yuan dynasty actually was overthrown by the Red Turban Army led by Zhu Yuanzhang in 1368, presumably that desire will be granted. This will have to happen in our imaginations unless, of course, there is a second book. 

The Extraordinaries by TJ Klune

This was supposed to be a review of TJ Klune’s newest book for young adults, Flash Fire, but that is a sequel to The Extraordinaries, and I found that I couldn’t write about the second book without revealing spoilers from the first one. I am quite fond of Klune’s writing, and liked both books for their snide humor and ability to explore relationships between queer teens without the need for them to question their orientation. So I’ll stick with the first book.

The main protagonist (of both books) is sixteen-year-old Nick Bell, who has problems focusing and often blurts out things he shouldn’t say, but is totally focused when it comes to his crush, an “Extraordinary” who calls himself Shadow Star. Nick has never met Shadow Star, but has generated hundreds of thousands of words of fan-fic starring himself being rescued by Shadow Star, usually from his nemesis, Pyro Storm. His story seems to be stalled because Nick seems a little fuzzy on (if not grossed out by) what, exactly, is involved when it comes to post-rescue things like physical intimacy and being in love.

Nick is surrounded by a supportive and wonderful cast of both kids and adults. His best friend forever, Seth Gray, is ready to do anything for Nick, from beta reading his fan-fic to making sure he gets to school on time — anything, that is, except acknowledge their feelings for each other. At school, they hang out with Gibby, a Black self-described “baby dyke,” and her cheerleader girlfriend, Jazz, both mouthy and critical without being condescending. Then there is Owen, who lurks in the background but once was Nick’s almost-boyfriend.


Together Nick and Seth are feeling their way toward self-acceptance and adult relationships, despite the meant-to-be-helpful advice of their loving parents. (Okay, as in many YA books, most of the parents are dead. Nick has a father, and Seth an aunt and uncle. Happily, none of them ever question their offsprings’ orientation.) Their romance is hilarious and tormented, weird and completely normal, and unfolds as the real Extraordinaries Shadow Star and Pyro Storm become increasingly violent in their attempts to bring justice to the city.

NEWS ALERT NEWS ALERT

We have so much going on next week here in the store!

Wednesday the 28th, we will be hosting a pop-up shop for Vinegar Syndrome, a fantastic boutique shop for the weird and wonderful on DVD and Blu-Ray. A representative will be here from 4-8 pm with a selection of their best, offering special deals and giveaways. Check them out online at VinegarSyndrome.com and if you like what you see, come on down and see what they bring!

Thursday the 29th, Speculations will be back with their first reading here at the store since the onset of Covid with two authors, Michael Merriam and Abra Staffin-Weibe. The event runs from 6:30-7:45 pm and refreshments will be provided. Merriam and Staffin-Weibe are guests at Diversicon 2021, taking place July 30- August 1st.

And finally, Saturday the 31st, authors Larry Correia and Mike Kupari will be signing their books from 3-5 pm as a fundraiser for Uncle Hugo’s Bookstore. All proceeds from the sales of their latest titles, Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter Bloodlines and Mike Kupari’s The Family Business will go toward helping Uncle Hugo’s reopen.

Any Way the Wind Blows by Rainbow Rowell

I have been a fan of Rainbow Rowell since reading her first novel for young adults, Eleanor and Park, which remains one of my favorite nerd romances. I also very much liked Fangirl, about a young fan writer who learns some difficult lessons about love, family, and writing your own story during her freshman year as a college English major. (Look for the new graphic novel adaptation from VIZ Media!)

In order to write about a fan writer for Fangirl, Rowell needed a popular fantasy series for her protagonist to be a fan of. She invented the “Simon Snow series,” a Harry-Potter-like fantasy that takes place at Watford School of Magicks, a residential school for magicians which is invisible and inaccessible to “Normals.” Her fangirl protagonist writes slash fan-fic about Simon Snow, who just might be the Chosen One destined to save the World of Mages, and Basilton (Baz) Grimm-Pitch, his roommate, who just might be his worst enemy. Rowell’s fictional series became real when she wrote Carry On, the story of Simon and Baz’s years at Watford, and then Wayward Son, which begins to deal with the effects of their traumatic experiences.

Any Way the Wind Blows is the third book in Rowell’s Simon Snow trilogy. By this time, Simon and Baz are past admiring each other in secret and on their way to becoming lovers. But memories and misunderstandings from their school years, when they fought for and saved the World of Mages, constantly intrude. I do not usually seek out angsty romance, but found Simon and Baz tender, funny, and engaging. I enjoyed watching them grope their way (literally at times) toward growing up and moving past their heroic roles. Not many books acknowledge that, when someone saves the world as a teenager, getting on with the rest of their life might be somewhat difficult.