The Penguins of Doom by Greg R. Fishbone

Septina Nash’s sister, Sexta, is missing, and Septina is willing to face mad scientists, ninjas, the need to learn skateboarding, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, penguins, and much more in order to find her–if only her teachers would understand! Subtitled ‘from the Desk of Septina Nash,’ this epistolary book is a long series of letters that either describe a real, weird, zany adventure, or show just how far one grade-school girl will go to explain why her homework isn’t done and she had to skip certain classes.

That this works at all is a tribute to Greg Fishbone’s ability to write a central character at once relentlessly likeable and so committed to her way of seeing the world that nothing will stand in her way. It’s appeal isn’t quite so broad as that of his Galaxy Games–it’s bright, high-speed whimsy is more suited to tweens than teens or adults. (Though there were some bits that cracked this 42-year-old up, nonetheless.) That said, it’s a great fantasy book for that age group–I’m planning on getting a copy for my niece when she’s a bit older.

The Blood Reapers by Darren Frey

Julian Frost, whose life is already dark due to the murder of his parents and the loss of his sister, believes he has found his salvation in his new love, a vampire named Violet. But fate has more troubles in store for him, and he must decide if he is to let her make him into a vampire, so that he might face the vampire hunter that menaces her, and perhaps finally take revenge on his parents’ killer.

There is a lot going on in this book, and it’s to the author’s credit that it never becomes confusing and that none of the scenes are gratuitous. Julian is a compelling character, and his struggles were well presented. The one knock I have against this book is that it feels like it zips along too quickly–there are enough story developments along the way for a novel twice this length–and secondary characters and overall atmosphere take a few hits along the way. But what’s there is entertaining, and should be enjoyed by fans of non-sparkly vampires.

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Gary W. Olson is the author of the dark fantasy novel Brutal Light and several previously published and forthcoming short stories. He can be found via his website, his blog A Taste of Strange, as @gwox on Twitter, and in many other far-flung places on the Internet.