All posts by Andrea Johnson

Andrea Johnson also blogs over at Little Red Reviewer and is co-creator of Bookstore Bookblogger Connection. When not lurking online, she can usually be trolling used bookstores.

BOOK REVIEW: The Genome by Sergei Lukyanenko

REVIEW SUMMARY: From the author of the famous Nightwatch series comes a futuristic thriller where genetic modifications are as freeing as they are enslaving.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: After taking a young woman under his protection, Master Pilot Alex Romanov gets an offer he can’t refuse, and gets in way over his head.

PROS: Enjoyable characters; subtle world building; story was easy to get into; I got a huge chuckle out of the Detective.
CONS: Novel struggles with what it wants to be; ending felt very rushed.
BOTTOM LINE: If you enjoy multi-layered stories that balance well drawn and diverse characters with subtle social commentary, this is a novel for you.

Alex Romanov woke up dead broke and put back together. After a terrible accident that quite literally sliced him in half, he spent 5 months in the hospital, regrowing limbs and learning how to walk again. As a licensed master pilot, he can pretty much write his own paycheck once the hospital released him. Provided he’s on a planet that has a need for master pilots. Which currently, he isn’t. Never one to keep his life simple, Alex takes on the responsibility of helping a young woman through her genetic transformation. And when it comes right down to it, it’s not like he had a choice.

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An Interview with Graphic Novelist Frederik Peeters

Frederik Peeters has received five nominations in the Best Book category at Angoulême (the so-called “Cannes of comics”) and in 2013 won the Best Series prize for the first two volumes of Aâma. He lives in Geneva, Switzerland.

Frederik was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about Aâma, artists and authors who have influenced him, the very personal graphic novel called Blue Pills that launched his career, and more!

Andrea Johnson: Congratulations on the recent publication of your newest graphic novel Aâma: The Invisible Throng. This is the second volume in the Aâma series, a futuristic science fiction story with high-tech body augmentations, a robot monkey, and a mysterious biorobotic experiment called “AAMA”. What else can you tell us about this story, and where it is going?

Frederik Peeters: I can’t tell you where the story is going like this, in an interview – otherwise there’s no point in spending years creating books. All I can tell you is that I had two main directions in mind when doing it: first, try to think about the relationship humanity has with the technology it’s creating, and second, the love story between a father and his daughter. All this wrapped within a big adventure story full of strange, intimate poetry.
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Convention Attention: John Wenger on 35 Years of Attending Conventions

My friend John has been to a lot of conventions, and I mean a lot. I don’t want to make him feel old, but he attended his first convention the same year I was born. When he mentioned that he’d kept the program books from most if not all of the cons he’d attended, I knew I had to snag him for a Convention Attention interview! He even let me snap photos of a bunch of the program books. Just wait till you see the artwork on these, everything from book cover quality to copyright infringing fan art.

In a way, I’ve got John to thank for the existence of this monthly column. He’s the guy who talked me into going to my very first scifi convention a few years ago. I had a fantastic time, and couldn’t wait to go to another one, and then another one, and then another one.

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MIND MELD: The Evolution of the Author/Fan Relationship

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

Twitter, facebook and blogging are more popular than ever, and every year the attendance at speculative fiction-focused conventions seems to increase. With that in mind, I asked our panelists the following question:

Q: With the growing popularity of social media and face to face events, how has the relationship between writing professions (writers, editors, artists, etc.) and fans changed over the years?

Here’s what they said…!

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BOOK REVIEW: Hawk by Steven Brust

REVIEW SUMMARY: Feeling like a who’s-who of Vlad’s friends in Adrilankha, Hawk balances fatalism with hope, and never misses a beat with the humor and rapid fire dialog for which Brust is known. Long time fans of the series will appreciate seeing their favorite supporting characters.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Done with running from the Jhereg, Vlad returns to Adrilankha. But this time, he has a plan to get the Jhereg off his back for good.

PROS: A surprisingly great starting place for readers new to this series; perfect pacing; spotlights Brust’s famous dry wit.
CONS: The trendy-sounding slang may sound dated after a few years.
BOTTOM LINE: Brust succeeds wildly in playing the long game, and in making this “nearly the end of a series” book completely accessible to brand new readers. Fans of the series will appreciate that Hawk moves the chronological plot line forward.

This is Brust’s 14th Vlad Taltos book, a series that stars its titular character and takes place in and around the Dragaeran empire. Each of the seventeen Dragaeran Great Houses are named after an indigenous species, and members of that House are rumored to share the qualities and mannerisms of that animal. Vlad, an Easterner (that means he’s a human), obviously wasn’t born into a Dragearan house, so his father did the only thing one could do it that situation: he purchased a title in the house of Jhereg. Lord Vladimir Taltos, Count Szurke, sometimes-friend of the Empress, broke the rules and has been running from the House of the Jhereg ever since. It’s an issue, because the Jhereg don’t just want him dead, they want him soul dead, the type of assassination that can only be done with a rare Morganti weapon. Oh, didn’t I mention? The House of Jhereg runs all the organized crime in the empire.
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ON MY RADAR: The Awakened Kingdom by N.K. Jemisin, Severance by Chris Bucholz, and The Very Best of Kate Elliott, by Kate Elliott

Here are a few book that I’m looking forward to reading…

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On My Radar: PACIFIC FIRE by Greg van Eekhout / THE JUST CITY by Jo Walton / THE COLLECTED STORIES OF FRANK HERBERT by Frank Herbert

Here’s a trio of books coming out soon that would get bounced to top of my TBR priority list!

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CONVENTION ATTENTION: Context27 in Columbus, Ohio

Context27 logoLast month I attended Context27, a small and cozy speculative fiction convention in Columbus, OH. Context is a writers convention, and this year’s guests of honor where Jonathan Maberry and Betsy Mitchell. Other guests included Laura Resnick, Jennifer Brozek, Maurice Broaddus, Jerry Gordon, Jason Sizemore, Daniel and Trista Robichaud, Lucy Snyder, Ferrett Steinmetz, Michael West and more. Along with panels and workshops, the convention also had a flash fiction contest, well-appointed dealer room, a live recording of the Funky Werepig podcast, a consuite, and of course, parties! This was also my first time on panels, but more on that later.

For a small additional fee, attendees could sign up for one of the many workshops, which included Writing for Young Adults, Crafting a Compelling Plot, Characterization Through Dialog,Anthology Editing, and Point of View, among many others. The panels were also primarily writer and publishing focused, and included topics such as Busting Writer’s Block, Hot New Writers, Classics You May Have Missed, Getting a Day Job in Publishing, The Care and Feeding of Beta Readers, Skewering the Tropes, The Art of the Short Story, Social Media for Authors and Readers, Homebrewing Science, Podcasting, Publishing Disasters, Tales from the Slushpile, The Future of Magazines and Periodicals, What is an MFA and Do I Want One,and about a bazillion more. I really have no idea how all this incredible programming was jammed into 48 hours.
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MIND MELD: The Best Alien Characters in Science Fiction (and What Makes Them so Successful)

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

Humans with funny foreheads are easy; truly alien aliens are hard. With that in mind, here’s what we asked our panel of experts:

Q: What successfully makes an alien character, well, really alien?

Here’s what they said!

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BOOK REVIEW: Endgame: The Calling by James Frey and Nils Johnson-Shelton

REVIEW SUMMARY: Lukewarm plot is window dressing for real life puzzles and games that have been created around this new series.


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Hunger Games meets alien invasion story pits twelve teenagers against each other in a fight to the death that will save their own civilizations.

PROS: Globe spanning plot; easy to read; fun and very challenging puzzles are embedded into the text.
CONS: Will require more suspension of disbelief that many readers will be willing to give; I was turned off by the teen-against-teen ultraviolence; very light characterization.
BOTTOM LINE: Preteens and teens will probably find this to be an edgy action story, adults will enjoy decrypting the puzzles.

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ENDGAME is Real. ENDGAME is Now. An Interview with James Frey and Nils Johnson-Shelton

Twelve bloodlines, twelve players, only one can win. Endgame: The Calling by James Frey and Nils Johnson-Shelton is a young adult adventure with a twist. There will of course, be a character who prevails as the winner, but there will also be readers who prevail as winners. The novel is filled with codes and puzzles and keys and hints. Solve them and the prize is yours.

Nils Johnson-Shelton is the coauthor of the international bestseller No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels. He is also the author of the Full Fathom Five series for tweens Otherworld Chronicles.

James Frey is originally from Cleveland. All four of his books, A Million Little Pieces, My Friend Leonard, Bright Shiny Morning, and The Final Testament of the Holy Bible, were international bestsellers.

James and Nils were kind enough to answer my questions about collaborative writing, the fun ideas behind Endgame, and what’s next for the series.

Andrea Johnson: Endgame has a lot of everything: lots of action, lots of end-of-the-world cataclysm, a massive mysterious puzzle, secrets that have been passed through generations, and a global group of young people fighting to stay alive. The whole thing is on a truly massive scale. What inspired this story, and how did that initial seed of an idea become Endgame?

James Frey: As far as the initial seed, it would have to be the ancient aliens theory of human evolution, which is pretty whacked out but at least plausible. Basically it says that at some point about 12,000 years a highly intelligent alien race visited earth and literally rejiggered our DNA, changing the way our brains work and completely changing the way our culture could evolve going forward. This is pretty easy to dismiss as a conspiracy theory, but I don’t really care. I love conspiracy theories. If nothing else, they make for great stories.
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On My Radar: UNSEAMING by Mike Allen, THE GENOME by Sergei Lukyanenko, FEARSOME MAGICS edited by Jonathan Strahan

Here’s a trio of upcoming books I’m really looking forward to! Continue reading

Temporally Talking: An Interview With Joshua Palmatier

Joshua Palmatier is a fantasy writer with a PhD in mathematics. He currently works at SUNY Oneonta, while working on novels, short stories, and editing anthologies with Patricia Bray in his spare time. He has six novels on the shelf at the moment- – the Throne of Amenkor series (The Skewed Throne, The Cracked Throne, and The Vacant Throne), two novels written under the pseudonym Benjamin Tate (Well Of Sorrows and Leaves Of Flame), and the first book in a new series, Shattering The Ley. He is hard at work on the sequel. With co-editor and co-conspirator Patricia Bray, he also delved into the world of anthologies, editing two for DAW Books, and recently founded the small press Zombies Need Brains LLC so that he could continue editing anthology projects. He currently lives in upstate New York.

Joshua was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about his newest kickstarer project, Temporally Out of Order, and his new small press, Zombies Need Brains LLC. To visit the kickstarter page for Temporally Out of Order, click here. In the meantime, let’s get to the interview!

Andrea Johnson: Your new anthology is called Temporally Out of Order. What inspired this title, and what themes can readers expect out of the anthology?

Joshua Palmatier: Ah, Temporally Out of Order. Actually, the genesis of the theme for this anthology is kind of interesting… Continue reading

MIND MELD MAKE-UP: Vylar Kaftan on Disabilities in Speculative Fiction

We have an additional entry on our Mind Meld on Disabilities in Speculative Fiction, from Nebula Award winning author Vylar Kaftan!

Q: What are some examples of speculative fiction titles where disabilities and disabled characters have been handled the right way? Are there specific disabilities that you’ve yet to see written into a speculative fiction story in a positive way?

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MIND MELD: Disabilities in Speculative Fiction

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

Sarah Chorn’s highly successful Special Needs in Strange Worlds column…the recent Kaleidoscope anthology…the upcoming Accessing The Future anthology… Fiction focusing on discussions of disabilities, different abilities, special needs and different needs are increasingly important in the speculative fiction community.

With that in mind, here’s what I asked our panelists:

Q: What are some examples of speculative fiction titles where disabilities and disabled characters have been handled the right way? Are there specific disabilities that you’ve yet to see written into a speculative fiction story in a positive way?

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Amy Herrick is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Every morning, she and her dog take a long walk in Prospect Park looking for adventure. They’ve seen and heard many wondrous things there, some of which have served as inspiration for this story. The Time Fetch is her first book for young readers. Learn more at

Amy was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about how the The Time Fetch came into existence, her love of folklore, and what she’s working on next!

[Thanks to Algonquin Young Readers, we have three copies of The Time Fetch up for grabs — check the bottom of this post for details about the give away!]

ANDREA JOHNSON: Your brand new book is The Time Fetch. Can you tell us what the story is about?

AMY HERRICK: The Time Fetch is a modern-day winter solstice fairy tale. It also has some elements of mythology and science fiction which crashed the party without an invitation.
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Convention Attention: NASFiC & DetCon1’s Committment to Diversity

I know the big news lately is the Hugo Awards (congrats to all the winners by the way!), and we all know it’s called Worldcon because it moves around the World. But what if you live in the US, and international travel isn’t an option for you? Don’t worry, we got you covered. When Worldcon is outside the United States, a lucky US city gets to hold NASFiC, our National Convention. In July of this year, NASFiC was held in Detroit Michigan, and some of the organizers were kind enough to chat me about what NASFiC is all about, their commitment towards diversity, and how to get involved in NASFiC and other conventions.

(Don’t live in the US? no problem. More and more countries have National Science Fiction Conventions that move from city to city within that country. Australia has NatCon, the UK has EasterCon, Finland has FinnCon, Poland has PolCon, New Zealand has their NatCon, Sweden has SweCon, and even though I’m sure I missed plenty, I bet you get the idea.)

The recent NASFiC that was held in Detroit was called DetCon1, and it boasted over 1400 attendees, with Guests of Honor Steven Barnes, Nnedi Okorafor, John Picacio, Helen Greiner, and the musicians Bill and Brenda Sutton, among others. The Golden Duck award for excellence in children’s speculative fiction was also presented at DetCon1 for Middle Grade and YA fiction. Wow, that’s a lot going on, isn’t it? Shall we get to the roundtable with Anne K. Gray (Diversity Facilitator), Tammy Coxen (Con Chair), Christine Humphrey (Volunteer Coordinator) and Anna O’Connell (Volunteer Co-Coordinator)? Yes, lets!

Andrea Johnson: DetCon1 was a NASFiC. What’s NASFiC, when does it occur, and how is the location decided?

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INTERVIEW: Discussing Science Fiction Romance with Author Yolanda Sfetsos

Australian author Yolanda Sfetsos can be described as a wife, mother, writer, bibliophile, dreamer, animal lover, and lover of supernatural and all thing horror related. She was kind enough to take some time out of her busy schedule to talk with me about her current science fiction romance series Recast, NaNoWriMo, how far e-publishing has come, and her other series. You can learn more about Yolanda by visiting her website, or following her on twitter as @YolandaSfetsos or Goodreads.

Let’s get to the interview!

AJ: You’re currently working on your Recast series, the first two of which (Wither and Clash) are being reprinted from Samhain publishing. Tell us a little about this series, and what types of plot lines readers can expect. From reading the synopses of the novels, I know my first question is “What’s a ‘recast'”?

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BOOK REVIEW: Wolfsbane by Gillian Philip (Rebel Angels, Book 3)

REVIEW SUMMARY: A highly satisfying read, this third (out of four) book in Philip’s Rebel Angels series gets us one step closer to the dissolution of the veil that separates our world from the Sithe world. Meanwhile, Seth is trying to keep his clan safe and his son Rory out of trouble, and not succeeding with either.


PROS: Excellent characterization; well paced plot; Philip’s writing is sure to get an emotional reaction out of the reader as she builds on the previous installments in the series.
CONS: Change in character POVs and jumps between 1st person and 3rd person POV can be jarring; readers new to the series are not advised to leap right in at this volume.
BOTTOM LINE: While much Urban Fantasy hasn’t thrilled me, Philip’s Rebel Angels series easily defines everything I want out of an Urban Fantasy novel. If you’re in need of an UF palate cleanser and enjoy adventures into the Fae realm, this might be just the thing.

For those of you new to this multi-generational urban fantasy series, here’s a very quick and simplified recap of the story so far:

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MIND MELD: Our Favorite Library and Bookstore Memories

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

These summer days have me feeling nostalgic for the summers of my youth, when I’d ride my bike to the local library for another stack of paperbacks. It was experiences like that that helped make me a reader for life.

With that in mind, I asked our panelists this question:

Q: What is your favorite childhood memory of a library or bookstore?

Here is how they responded…
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