I just finished Cloak of War by Rhonda Mason. This is the second in her Empress Game trilogy, the first of which I finished in a speedy couple of hours and rhapsodized over last week. This sequel suffers from the problems many follow-up novels do — more than a chapter of heavy exposition amounts to a “Previously, in The Empress Game…”, which is pretty tiresome. It’s all very well for those who read the first book when it came out and have been waiting a year for the next one, perhaps they need the reminder, but what about in the future when the trilogy is complete and you have people binge-reading them one after the other? We already know. (Anyone who is reading this book not having read the first in the trilogy deserve no consideration. Who ARE these people?) Happily, once we’re done with stuff already covered it all progresses in a flurry of corruption and betrayal and murder and blackmail, and while there were times when I wanted to scream at just how foolish everyone was being — the big secret our heroes are trying to hide is the worst kept secret in the Empire, and yet they’re constantly wondering just how anyone could POSSIBLY know about it — there was no point at which I wanted the book to end. Even now, I am sad it is over. Book 3 quickly, please!

Rachel Hyland, Editor-in-Chief

Cloak of War by Rhonda Mason
Space Opera | Titan | 2016
I’m enjoying a couple of beautiful coffee-table books from HarperCollins.

Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth: Inside the Creation of a Modern Fairy Tale by Mark Cotta Vaz and Nick Nunziata, with a forward by del Toro himself, was published on October 16. This lavishly-produced book features concept art, on-set photos, and excerpts from the filmmaker’s journals, along with reminiscences from the actors providing insights as to how some of the more memorable effects were achieved. Colorful and informative, this is a must-read for anyone who enjoyed the Oscar-winning movie, now celebrating the tenth anniversary of its release.

Star Wars Propaganda: A History of Persuasive Art in the Galaxy by Pablo Hidalgo presents a collection of around fifty pieces of propaganda aimed at various audiences within the Star Wars universe, along with commentary describing their purpose, audience, and history, along with information about the Galactic “artists” who created them. These pieces — some of which are absolutely stunning — support and extend the Star Wars mythology and universe and will help tide fans over until Rogue One is released later this year.

Kate Nagy, Editor at Large

Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth: Inside the Creation of a Modern Fairy Tale by Mark Cotta Vaz and Nick Nunziata
Non-Fiction | HarperCollins | 2016

Star Wars Propaganda: A History of Persuasive Art in the Galaxy by Pablo Hidalgo
Non-Fiction | HarperCollins | 2016

I am reading The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death by Daniel Pinkwater.

Back in the 1980’s, when smoking was still common and avocados were still uncommon and magnet schools were a dream, an unheroic duo named Walter and Winston set forth to survive Ghengis Khan High School. They weren’t good students and they didn’t particularly care. Their biggest goal was to serially sneak (“snark”) out of their families’ apartments at night and go to the Snark Theater. And the Snark Theater, where the late-night double-features are chosen at random from viewer suggestions, provided a chance to interact with the real characters of town.

And through a series of coincidences and sidetracks, Walter and Winston meet Bentley Saunders Harrison Matthews III — aka “Rat” — and Rat’s oddball family. Uncle Flipping has invented an avocado-based machine which, when finished, will destroy the invading aliens posing as real estate agents. Between one meeting and the next, Uncle Flipping goes missing, along with his avocado. There ensues a riotous and surreal expedition across and under the town involving the self-declared greatest detective (with his trusty hockey stick) and such Mad-Lib items as a chimpanzee, a singing chicken, a criminal mastermind who ties up his victims with Scotch tape, and more odd foods than even Winston could eat.

As a 6th grader, I adored this book. Everything in it was oddly off-centered and absolutely hilarious. I was perfectly happy to accept the ideas that there were welcoming criminals, talking animals, and an off-screen alien menace. As an adult in a politically correct world of now, I see boatloads of anachronisms such as the repeated use of “retarded,” the casual racism, hardcopy newspapers, and the smoking in theaters. I’m willing to set that aside, though, for a chance to revisit the speeches at Blueberry Park and snicker along with Rat when Winston gets hit with the music.

Colleen Reed, Contributing Writer

The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death by Daniel Pinkwater
YA SF | Signet | 1982

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