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The Darkest Part of the Forest: A fairy-tale remix with a touch of realism

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black

Holly Black's latest book, The Darkest Part of the Forest, is a marvelous YA fairy-tale remix. It follows siblings Hazel and Ben as they work to unfold the mystery surrounding the sleeping prince in the forest outside of Fairfold, a town where humans live in close contact with the fairies the rest of the world doesn't believe in. As Hazel and Ben get closer to understanding the history of the town and the forest, they begin to hide secrets from each other and themselves. Only when all the secrets are told can they work to save the people they love.

Jana and I read this book at the same time. I listened to the audio version. Here are our thoughts.

Kate: The Darkest Part of the Forest combines the favorite themes of young adult fi... Read More

The Affinities: What if online dating worked?

The Affinities by Robert Charles Wilson

Adam Fink was just another graphic art student in Toronto before he took InterAlia’a affinity test. The affinity test examines a person’s genes, brain patterns, and behavior and sorts people into one of twenty-two affinities (or into none of them). InterAlia has an algorithm that’s sort of like online dating, but it looks like they got it right this time.

The Affinities are still new when Adam takes the test. Not a lot is widely known about them, but there are twenty-two Affinity groups. The Taus might be the largest Affinity, and though it’s wrong to generalize, their members tend to smoke pot, they tend to enter open relationships, and they tend to prefer decentralized groups to hierarchical leadership. The Hets, meanwhile, are extremely hierarchical and deeply concerned with power and dominance. Given that Read More

The Island of Dr. Moreau: A dark fable of mad science and Beast Men

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells

H. G. Wells’ 1896 novel is dark, disturbing and thought-provoking. Coming just several decades after the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859), it tells the tale of a man named Edward Prendick who gets shipwrecked on a remote island, subsequently encountering a sinister figure named Dr. Moreau, who he discovers conducts vivisections of animals, combining various creatures to make subhuman beasts who he then loses interest in and releases to roam the island. Some of these Beast Men have banded together and recite a Law that rules their actions:
Not to go on all-fours; that is the Law. Are we not Men? Not to suck up Drink; that is the Law. Are we not Men? Not to eat Fish or Flesh; that is the Law. Are we not Men? Not to claw the Bark of Trees; that is the Law.... Read More

Dandelion Wine: A perfectly-distilled small-town summer

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

Can you be nostalgic for a place you never lived in, for a time long gone before you were born? I certainly never lived in Waukegan, Illinois in the summer of 1928 as a 12-year old boy named Douglas Spalding, but Ray Bradbury has perfectly evoked a magical world of a long-lost Midwest small town as seen from the eyes of a bright, energetic young boy.

You would think small town life is fairly boring and uneventful, but in the lyrical hands of Bradbury, think again. The short vignettes he tells are always unexpected, and verge from wryly-amusing to heart-breaking to outright terrifying, all because of the skill and love with which Bradbury approaches these characters.

Strangely enough, I didn't like The Martian Chronicles much, because it merely used Mars as a stage to ex... Read More

The Buried Giant: I Enjoyed It. Others Might Not.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

I enjoyed it. Others might not. I suppose I could put that title on a lot of my reviews without sacrificing much for accuracy, but I mean it to be suggestive here that The Buried Giant is going to be a bit divisive. It’s a well-crafted book, certainly, and it has as much thematic heft to keep anyone happy, but whether or not it’s an appealing book may be a bit less cut-and-dried.

The story, in brief, is as follows: sometime in early British history, an elderly couple named Axl and Beatrice set out on a quest to find their son. They have a general idea that he left them at some point, but they aren’t sure how long ago that was or what drove the family apart. The land is swathed in what our protagonists call “the mist,” a kind of metaphysical force that fogs the memories of anyone who lives in it to the extent that they might forget events that occurred... Read More

Childhood’s End: The Overlords have a plan for us

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

There's something very comforting in the SF novels of Arthur C. Clarke, my favorite of the Big Three SF writers of the Golden Age (the other two being Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov). His stories are clearly-written, unembellished, and precise, and they focus on science, ideas, and plot. Though some claim his characters are fairly wooden, I don’t see it that way. They tend to be fairly level-headed and logical, and focus on handling the situations on hand in an intelligent manner. In Clarke's world, the average protagonist is a smart and scientific-minded person, much like ... the author himself. And I think his target audience is also readers who think scie... Read More

The Rediscovery of Man: The strangest future mythology you’ll ever read

The Rediscovery of Man by Cordwainer Smith

The universe that Cordwainer Smith created has captured the imagination of many SF fans and authors thanks to the short stories that have been collected in The Instrumentality of Mankind (1974), The Best of Cordwainer Smith (1975), and The Rediscovery of Man (1993). It is without doubt one of the strangest and most memorable creations in SF, even if it only affords short, tantalizing glimpses of a much greater tapestry that the author was never able to fully reveal due to his untimely death at age 53.

The most famous of those stories are included in the Gollancz edition:

Scanners Live in Vain (1950)
The Lady Who Sailed the Soul (1960)
The Game of Rat and Dragon (1955)
The Burning of the Brain (1958)
Golden the Ship Was — Oh! Oh! Oh! (1959)
The ... Read More

How to Clone a Mammoth: Highly informative and readable

How to Clone a Mammoth by Beth Shapiro

Those very few times we have covered non-fiction titles here, they’ve all been pretty firmly and directly connected to our main focus, limited to reviews of biographies or critical of well-known fantasy/science fiction authors.

Today though, I’m going to wander a bit further afield with a review of Beth Shapiro’s How to Clone a Mammoth, a straight popular science book. Why? Three basic reasons:

Jurassic Park, a science fiction franchise which made use of the concept of bringing back extinct creatures to the tune of some several billion dollars (and counting with the upcoming release of the fourth film). Other authors as well have used the idea, so while this book isn’t a genre title, its subject matter of “de-extinction” continues to have an impact on the genre
It’s science, it’s Pleis... Read More

The Knife of Never Letting Go: A voice that will stay with you

The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness

“The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk,” opens The Knife of Never Letting Go, “is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say.” This has been described by one critic as one of the best opening sentences he’d ever read, and boy does the rest of the book deliver too. It marks the first instalment of Patrick Ness’s CHAOS WALKING trilogy, a science fiction series set in a dystopian world where the thoughts of animals and men can be heard in a phenomenon called Noise. Unlike some of the other heavyweight dystopian trilogies, CHAOS WALKING has remained somewhat under the radar (although the film adaptation in the pipe line may soon change that). But it is unlike any of the other dystopian YAs out there, with their prescript... Read More

Horrible Monday: Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis

Bones & All by Camille DeAngelis

Honestly, I’ve never read anything like Bones & All. Camille DeAngelis makes clear from the very beginning that this is not your typical fluffy YA novel — there are real stakes, real consequences to everything that happens. It’s fascinating to watch Maren’s evolution from shy, awkward teenager to self-assured predator, like reading about the humble beginnings of a fairy-tale villain rather than the plucky prince who must vanquish her in order to fulfill his destiny.

So who is Maren Yearly? An introverted sixteen-year-old girl who loves to read books and wants to find her place in the world. Maren’s not concerned with make-up or boys or fitting in with the cool kids; she’s more concerned with survival and how to hide the compulsion in her belly. Maren is an eater: she consumes human flesh, bones and all, except for certain inedible or in... Read More

We: An early dystopian masterpiece from Russia

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We is widely recognized as a direct influence on George Orwell when composing his dystopian masterpiece Nineteen Eighty-Four, and there are certainly strong signs of influence in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World as well. Zamyatin edited Russian translations of works of Jack London and H.G. Wells, and We can be viewed as a reaction against the optimistic scientific socialist utopias promoted by Wells. (Note: Aldous Huxley claimed no influence from We, stating that he was also opposed to the utopian ideals of H.G. Wells.)

How does the book read now, almost 100 years after its first English publication? Wo... Read More

The Man in the Maze: Your attention, please, Mr. Cameron

The Man in the Maze by Robert Silverberg

In one of Robert Silverberg’s novels from 1967, Thorns, the future sci-fi Grand Master presented his readers with one of his most unfortunate characters, Minner Burris. An intrepid space explorer, Burris had been captured by the residents of the planet Manipool, surgically altered and then released. Upon his return to Earth, Burris was grotesque to behold, resulting in one very withdrawn, depressed, reclusive and psychologically warped individual indeed. And a year later, in the author’s even more masterful The Man in the Maze, we encounter still another space explorer who had been surgically altered by aliens, but this time, the alterations are mental, rather than physical, although no less devastating to the subject’s sense of... Read More

The Forgotten Sisters: A wonderful story for girls AND BOYS

The Forgotten Sisters by Shannon Hale

I just adore Shannon Hale’s PRINCESS ACADEMY books for young readers. The Forgotten Sisters, released earlier this week, is the third and final installment. This review will contain spoilers for the previous books.

In book one, Princess Academy, the first school was built in Mount Eskel, an uneducated rural mining community. The purpose of the school was to educate marriageable young ladies so that the prince of their realm could choose a fitting bride. One of the potential princess wannabees, Miri, wasn’t chosen to be princess, but she learned subjects and skills that she used to better Mount Eskel’s economic situation. In the second book, Palace of Stone, Miri goes to the capital city for more education and ends up qu... Read More

A Place Called Armageddon: Deftly written historical fiction

A Place Called Armageddon by C.C. Humphreys

“I am Constantine Palaiologos, emperor, son of Caesars. I am a baker, a ropewright, a fisherman, a monk, a merchant. I am a soldier. I am Roman. I am Greek. I am two thousand years old. I was born in freedom only yesterday. This is my city, Turk. Take it if you can.”

In C.C. Humphreys’ novel A Place Called Armageddon, it’s 1453, and the Byzantine Empire is an empire only in name. Its last bastion is Constantinople and the brilliant, arrogant young sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmet II, has his sights set on it, set on completing his father Murad’s work in eliminating his Greco-Christian foes once and for all. Murad was everything his son was not — statesman, soldier, commander — and Mehmet’s accession to the throne saw him immediately shadowed by his father... Read More

The Magician’s Land: The trilogy that keeps on giving

The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

May contain spoilers for The Magicians and The Magician King

When we first met Quentin in The Magicians, he had it all: he’d graduated from the magical college of Brakebills, he was with Alice (kind and lovely and talented Alice), and he’d managed to get into the magical land of Fillory. He was also an insufferable asshole. Now, in the final instalment of Grossman’s MAGICIANS trilogy, Quentin has pretty much hit rock bottom. Not only has he been exiled from Fillory, but also from Brakebills, where he’d held a post as professor. Yet strangely he is at his most likeable and noble yet. The Magician’s Land will tie the loose ends of Quentin’s tale as he finally figures out what he believes is worth fighting for.

The story opens in a bookshop. Quentin h... Read More