Phoenix and Ashes by Mercedes Lackey

Phoenix and AshesFans have endured a long three-year wait for the Elemental Masters’ return, but they need not languish in suspense any longer. Mercedes Lackey sets her Cinderella tale against the backdrop of World War I in Phoenix and Ashes.

Eleanor Robinson’s fortunes have gone from good to intolerable. When her father remarried, she found herself relegated to the status of a servant. But upon her father’s untimely death in France, the horror truly begins: Her stepmother, Alison, cuts off one of Eleanor’s little fingers and uses it to magically bind her to the house in utter servitude. Freedom still may be at hand, though, in the forms of Eleanor’s godmother (also a mage) and the little creatures that live in the fire.

Eleanor isn’t her stepmother’s only target. Reggie Fenyx, a pilot and Air Master, has come home wounded and shell-shocked. While trapped in a collapsed bunker and tormented by Earth monsters, he shut himself off from his power. He must regain it before Alison launches an attempt to marry him off to one of her daughters. She’ll use any means to achieve her ends, magical or mundane, because Dark Masters never are satisfied with anything less than destruction. Even greater dangers await both Reggie and Eleanor, unless a way is found to fight back.

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Wolfskin by Juliet Marillier

WolfskinJuliet Marillier’s past work has integrated Irish mythology with tales of battle and sacrifice. In her newest book, although she remains in the general vicinity of the Emerald Isle, Marillier has shifted her focus to the Orkney Islands and their Viking settlers. Wolfskin is a tale of the love between a berserker and a priestess.

Eyvind’s greatest ambition is to be a Wolfskin, a mighty warrior directly inspired by the god Thor. When Eyvind achieves his goal, he thinks that life can offer nothing better than such service. But a childhood friend, Somerled, will lead him into a life beyond anything imagined. When they and others journey across the ocean to settle in the mysterious lands past the sunset, Eyvind confronts the possibility of a life without battle or his god.

Nessa, priestess of an ancient land, also is the niece of the islands’ high king. She, too, will find her world turned upside-down by Somerled when the Vikings arrive at her home. Although the expedition’s leader desires nothing but peace, Somerled has much greater ambitions. Murder and broken treaties soon threaten the islanders’ stability and well-being, and Nessa and Eyvind must try to forge some kind of path through the ruin that threatens to engulf them all in catastrophe.

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Scatterbrain by Larry Niven

ScatterbrainSci-fi legend Larry Niven has written on countless subjects during his long career. In his latest anthology, Scatterbrain, he showcases short stories, essays and some pieces of writing that completely defy description.

Right off the top, the fiction entries are the strongest. Along with the aforementioned short stories, the collection includes excerpts from the novels “Destiny’s Road” and “The Ringworld Throne,” both of which provide glimpses into Niven’s worlds. Readers also will find some collaborations with authors such as Jerry Pournelle and Steven Barnes.

Several pieces count as essays, although usually in an unconventional format. Two of the most amusing and interesting of these are “Autograph Etiquette,” in which Niven explains the rules by which authors and their fans should live;, and “Collaboration,” which studies a healthy working relationship between authors.

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Squaring the Circle by Niel Hancock

Squaring the CircleTolkien may be too advanced for some young readers to comprehend. As a genre, though, fantasy novels have such wonderful stories that parents naturally want simpler books to catch their children’s interest.

Niel Hancock answered that need more than 20 years ago with his series, The Circle of Four, which has just been re-released. The fourth book, Squaring the Circle, brings the epic tale to a rousing conclusion.

Bear, Otter and Dwarf have risked much thus far, crossing the mighty river Calix Stay and aiding the wizard Greyfax Grimwald in his quest to protect the five magical Secrets from Dorini, the Lady of Darkness. But the burden of carrying them in the fabled Arkenchest, entrusted to Dwarf by Grimwald, proves to be too difficult.

Wandering and led astray from his task, Dwarf flees his friends and retreats with it deep underground. But even that can’t put him out of the reach of the agents of darkness.

Meanwhile, Lorini, the Lady of Light, sits powerless after the abduction of her daughter, Cybelle, by Dorini’s minions. The Circle of Light assures her that all will be well, if only she trusts that events will unfold for the good.

What happens now was foretold long ago, and will play out as it was meant to. Grimwald, Bear, Otter and Dwarf are more than they seem, and have crossed time and space to play out the parts that Fate has set for them.

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Camouflage by Joe Haldeman

CamouflageIn a genre packed with trilogies and extended series, Joe Haldeman dares to write stand-alone novels. Refreshing in their ability to neatly wrap up a plot, such books almost are a lost art. Haldeman’s newest, Camouflage, spans eons and tells of a quite unusual alien invasion.

From time’s beginning, there were two life-forms: the changeling and the chameleon. The changeling survived by adapting to its environment and learning from it. After thousands of years in the sea, it came ashore and learned from the strange bipedal creatures it found there.

The chameleon, however, took the opposite route and lived by killing and dominating all in its path. It discovered humans early and took sadistic pleasure in exploiting them.

In our near future, an amazing artifact is discovered in a deep-sea trench. The artifact is made from an unfamiliar material, and scientists’ best efforts can’t make a dent in it. Convinced that wonderful revelations lie inside, the government asks marine biologist Russell Sutton to lend his expertise. Unfortunately, Sutton doesn’t know that aliens have a vested interest in the artifact, and both are making their way to the island where it lies waiting…

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Lost and Found by Alan Dean Foster

Lost and FoundAlan Dean Foster, well-known to science fiction fans, makes a habit of producing wildly original stories. His latest sci-fi effort, Lost and Found, combines space drama with a prison breakout storyline.

Marcus Walker is enjoying a well-deserved vacation, while camping in the Sierra Nevadas. But one morning he awakens and realizes that something is wrong.

As it turns out, he has been kidnapped by aliens and dumped into a cell that exactly replicates his campsite. Unable to make his alien captors talk to him, Marc slips into apathy and simply awaits his fate … until he meets George, an Earth dog who has been given a brain boost to allow him to talk and think.

Soon, Marc and George are interacting with other alien prisoners in a vast common room. Imbued now with a renewed sense of outrage, Marc enlists the aid of other like-minded beings to plan a means of getting them all back home. But on a ship light-years from anywhere familiar, what are the chances of escaping the fate of being sold as pets?

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Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde

Something Rotten“Smart” fiction is a term that may put some readers off; not everyone wants to think while reading a novel for pleasure. But don’t let the label fool you, because Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels are clever enough for any level of concentration. Something Rotten wraps up some burning questions while providing some very “smart” storytelling indeed.

Thursday, leader of the Jurisfiction, the Bookworld literary police, has decided to re-enter the real world with her 2-year-old son Friday, in search of a way to bring her husband Landen back from eradication. When he was killed at the age of 2 by the time-traveling Chronoguard, everyone forgot that he’d ever existed … except Thursday. She returns to find that a fictional character named Yorrick Kaine is on the verge of being declared Dictator, and then plunging the world into global war.

It’s up to Thursday to head off this threat. This is no mean feat, as she’s currently juggling her dilemma with Landen, attempting to get her job back, baby-sitting a broody Hamlet (visiting from Bookworld), and trying to find childcare more socially acceptable than a talking gorilla.

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The Searcher and the Sword by Wendy and Richard Pini

The Searcher and the SwordElfquest, the breakout fantasy comic that debuted in 1977, has been noticeably absent for several years. New material has appeared, but only sporadically, with the last stories published nearly two years ago. But now Wendy and Richard Pini are back with a beautiful new graphic novel, The Searcher and the Sword.

The elf-like Wolfriders, led by Cutter Kinseeker, have returned to their ancient forest home after untold years of wandering and war.

Accompanying them is Shuna, a human girl adopted by Cutter and his lifemate Leetah, after the last brutal clash between elves and humans.

But Shuna wants to be more than just a hanger-on in the close-knit tribe; to that end, Shuna travels with her friends Dart and Kimo, to try to form peaceable contacts between the Wolfriders and humans.

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The Third Magic by Molly Cochran

The Third MagicLegend has it that King Arthur will return in the hour of England’s greatest need … although he’s already alive and well in several popular novels and a big-budget summer movie.

But what would happen if the once and future king really did appear in our own time? What challenges would he face, and how would the world react to such an event?

Molly Cochran writes about these issues with rare power in The Third Magic, sequel to The Forever King and The Broken Sword.

Arthur’s reappearance has been fraught with controversy and danger. The Round Table knights have kept the young man in hiding for four years, but the time has come for him to fulfill his destiny.

The problem is that not even Merlin, architect of the king’s return, can predict what that destiny might be.

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