4.5

Click on stars to FIND REVIEWS BY RATING:
Recommended:
Not Recommended:

The Wanderers: A wonderfully intimate, character-driven story

Readers’ average rating:

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

The Wanderers
(2017), by Meg Howrey, focuses on a simulated mission (code name: Eidolon) to Mars more realistic than anything ever attempted before. Prime Space has chosen three exemplary, experienced astronauts (American Helen, Japanese Yoshi, and Russian Sergei) for a 17-month, fully immersive simulation in the Utah desert in preparation for the real thing two years later. We join the “journey” via their 3rd-person POVs, but are also given a broader view thanks to their family members (one might consider them “satellites” orbiting the main characters — always tied to them): Helen’s actress daughter Mireille, Yoshi’s robot-salesperson wife Madoka, and Sergei’s sexually-uncertain 15-year-old son Dmitri. We also get a POV from Luke, one of the “Obbers” — the Prime Space employees tasked with observing the crew an... Read More

The Evil Wizard Smallbone: Young readers will love this funny, exciting fantasy

Readers’ average rating:

The Evil Wizard Smallbone by Delia Sherman

What is it about Maine? Stephen King and John Connolly both write terrifying horror stories set there, and Delia Sherman places The Evil Wizard Smallbone, a middle-grade fantasy published in 2016, in Maine in the winter. That state must have a lot of magical juice.

The Evil Wizard Smallbone not only shares the horror of a Maine winter, it’s got an evil wizard, shape-shifting coyote-bikers, a small and somewhat magical town called Smallbone Cove whose residents have forgotten their own strange history to their peril, and a scrappy boy named Nick who stumb... Read More

Mr. Adam: The last fertile man on Earth

Readers’ average rating:

Mr. Adam
by Pat Frank

Pat Frank’s Mr. Adam (1946) is billed as “[o]ne of literature’s first responses to the atomic bomb,” and the uncertainty of the freshly-minted Atomic Age is palpable within the novel’s pages. With the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki still fresh in his mind, and within the minds of his readers, Frank crafted a cautionary tale regarding the dangers of nuclear power and its invisible, unstoppable effects on the future of mankind.

Steve Smith, intrepid journalist and recent veteran of the European theatre in WWII, quite literally stumbles through winter snow into the biggest story of his life: there are absolutely no maternity ward reservations booked in New York City after June 21. In fact, there are no reservations for maternity wards anywhere... Read More

Passing Strange: Simply irresistible

Readers’ average rating:

Passing Strange by Ellen Klages

Ellen Klages’ short novel Passing Strange (2017) is a beautiful, fantastical melding of history, romance, magic and revenge, set against a meticulously researched San Francisco of 1940. At just over 200 hundred pages, the story follows six women in the city, each one in some way an outcast. Add a present-day story frame that includes secret passages in Chinatown, pulp magazine covers of the 1940s, and an elaborate scam, and for many of us you have something irresistible.

I loved Passing Strange from the cover by Gregory Manchess. That wistful moonlit scene is central to the story in more than one way. Take a moment to study that cover before you open the book, and then, when you’ve finished, feel free to go back and savor it some more.

In the present day, Helen Young, a ... Read More

Magic of Blood and Sea: Boundless freedom awaits on a wave-tossed ship

Readers’ average rating:

Magic of Blood and Sea by Cassandra Rose Clarke

Magic of Blood and Sea (2017) combines two of Cassandra Rose Clarke’s novels, The Assassin’s Curse (2012) and The Pirate’s Wish (2013), into one volume. Originally, these novels were published by Strange Chemistry, the YA branch of Angry Robot Books, but the imprint went defunct (as sometimes happens) and the publication rights to their various books were scattered to the four winds. In this particular case, Saga Press swooped in to save the day, and not only did The Assassin’s Curse and The Pirate’s Wish get a shiny new re-packaging, but two oth... Read More

Greatmask: A satisfying conclusion to a rewarding trilogy

Readers’ average rating:

Greatmask by Ashley Capes

Greatmask (2016), the third and final book in Ashley Capes's BONE MASK TRILOGY successfully brings each character's arc to a satisfying conclusion and wraps up all the disparate subplots — while still leaving room for the promise of new adventures on the horizon.

Anaskar has been invaded by the blue-cloaked Ecsoli; they now control all three tiers of the city, from the seaside docks to the lofty palace where King Oseto is held captive. Would-be rebels hide in the back alleys and taverns, slowly building up a resistance and waiting for an opportunity to fight back. Among them is Flir, whose preternatural strength seems useless against the powers of the Ecsoli, and who doesn't know who to trust among her own people.

Meanwhile, Sofia Falco and her father make the journey back toward Anaskar... Read More

Hold Back the Night: Not for the faint of heart

Readers’ average rating:

Hold Back the Night by Pat Frank

Hold Back the Night (1951; 2017) is the third of Pat Frank’s classic Cold War-era novels receiving a re-issue from Harper Perennial, after Mr. Adam (1946; 2016) and Forbidden Area (1956; 2016). Originally published during the Korean War, Hold Back the Night finds inspiration from the very real events which occurred during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir and tells the story of a single group of U.S. Marines. Frank’s intimate descriptions of military life during wartime, especially the differences separating enlisted men and their commanding... Read More

Warm Bodies: Romeo and Juliet and zombies

Readers’ average rating:

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

In Warm Bodies (2010), our world has been overrun by the zombies, and the few humans who are left are fighting a rearguard action. They huddle in walled enclosures, sending out occasional armed expeditions for food and supplies. Regular school classes have fallen by the wayside, replaced by classes and demonstrations on how to best kill a zombie permanently (head shots).

R is a zombie who doesn’t remember his past life, except that his name maybe started with the letter R. He can speak a few syllables, more than most of his zombie companions, and think complex thoughts that his tongue can’t share. R and hundreds of other zombies live in an abandoned airport, going on group hunts to the city to try to find food, in the form of humans. When they eat the brains of the Living, they experience fragments of the human’s memories, and it... Read More

The Bone Witch: Monsters and necromancy galore

Readers’ average rating:

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

Tea starts her story by accidentally raising her brother from the dead. This is surely a traumatic enough experience for a young girl, but it marks her with the dark magic of the bone witch, unlike her sisters who possess 'normal' magic. So on top of having to deal with her corpse brother, Tea is now spurned by the village she's grown up in. The Bone Witch (2017) explores Tea's journey of coming to terms with the darkness within her and finding her place in a world that fears her.

You'd think that raising your brother from the dead was a decent hook if there ever was one, but the story had some problems getting off the ground. Rin Chupeco frames her tale with a narrative told by an unknown narrator before jumping straight into Tea's recollection of her childhood. Perhaps it’s the leaping between time and character,... Read More

Little Heaven: Righteously savage and bound to be a top horror novel in 2017

Readers’ average rating: Comment Reviews for this post are disabled. Please enable it first

Little Heaven by Nick Cutter 

There is an old saying that goes: Evil never dies; it merely sleeps. And when that evil awakes, it does so soundlessly — or almost so.

Nick Cutter has built upon the foundations laid by Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft and Clive Barker to deliver a thoroughly thrilling novel that should be on the lists of top horror of 2017. There were points where I actually smiled while reading Cutter's Little Heaven. Not because of a bright, happy or uplifting event — there were few enough of those throughout this book — but... Read More

Forbidden Area: As chilling now as when it was first published

Readers’ average rating:

Forbidden Area by Pat Frank

Foreign espionage and sabotage undermining the credibility of American armed forces. A counter-intelligence group mocked and silenced for its theories. Shadowy plans, decades in the making. The fate of the world caught in the balance between devastation and salvation. Pat Frank describes all of these in Forbidden Area, which was first published in 1956 and is still terrifying sixty-one years later.

Harper Perennial’s 2016 re-issue of Forbidden Area only clocks in at just over 200 pages and contains four interlocking plotlines, each of which is essential to the overarching story. First there’s the introductory tale of Henry and Nina, two teenagers who happen to be necking in the Florida surf on what, in hindsight, will be an extremely momentous night. They see something that should be impos... Read More

Smash written by Sara Latta and illustrated by Jeff Weigel

Readers’ average rating: 

Smash written by Sara Latta and illustrated by Jeff Weigel

Smash, written by Sara Latta and illustrated by Jeff Weigel, is a clear and concise explanation for young people of the standard model of physics (including the newly discovered Higgs Boson) and in particular of how the giant CERN supercollider contributes to furthering the model’s accuracy/completeness. Saying the book is aimed at the young, however, does it a bit of a disservice, as it works just as well for adults looking for that same clarity and concision.


In tried and true format, Latta has much of the explanation take the form of a dialogue between one knowledgeable person (Sophie, whose parents work at CERN) explaining a difficult concept to one struggling to understand it (her cousin Nick, visiting CERN in hope of finding inspiration for a superhero comic he’s drawing for a contest).... Read More

Amberlough: A rich, well-written romance and instant classic

Readers’ average rating:

Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly

While Lara Elena Donnelly’s debut novel Amberlough (2017) isn’t quite the Fleming-esque spy thriller it purports to be, Amberlough certainly doesn’t disappoint. Set in Amberlough City, a decadent, Industrial-era locale reminiscent of Paris in the early 1900s, Amberlough tells the story of Cyril DePaul and his lover Aristide Makricosta, who also happens to be the city’s greatest crime lord. Cyril, a former field operative in Amberlough’s Federal Office of Central Intelligence Services who landed a cushy desk job after an assignment went awry, is supposed to be keeping tabs on Aristide by seducing him but instead finds himself truly falling for Aristide instead. At the same time, a fascist movement is coming to power in Amberlough’s vibrant democracy, so life in the ... Read More

Gilded Cage: The abuse of power by the super-powered

Readers’ average rating: 

Gilded Cage by Vic James

In the world of Gilded Cage (2017), there are those who are called Equals ― but there’s a deep divide between Equals, who have magical Skills, and the commoners, the Skilless, and they are decisively not equal. In England the Equals are both the aristocrats and the sole parliament, and they hold all the power, with the magical ability to enforce it.

One of the ways the Equals use their power is to require all commoners to spend ten years of their lives as slaves, known as slavedays. There are some interesting rules associated with this 10-year slavery law: there are advantages to doing it early in your life (such as the right to own a home, travel abroad, and hold certain jobs), you are required to begin them no later than age 55, and those under age 18 are to serve in the same place with their parents.

When 18-year-ol... Read More

American Gods: Mixed opinions

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This is a bad land for Gods... The old gods are ignored. The new gods are as quickly taken up as they are abandoned, cast aside for the next big thing. Either you've been forgotten, or you're scared you're going to be rendered obsolete, or maybe you're just getting tired of existing on the whims of people.

Shadow, just out of prison and with nothing to go home to, is hired to be Mr. Wednesday's bodyguard as he travels around America to warn all the other incarnations of gods, legends, and myths, that “a storm is coming.” There's going to be a battle between the old gods who were brought to melting pot America by their faithful followers generations ago, and the new gods of technology, convenience, and individuality.

That's the premise of Read More

Six Wakes: A labyrinthine whodunit

Readers’ average rating: Comment Reviews for this post are disabled. Please enable it first

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

It may be obvious from reading some of my previous reviews that I really enjoy books in which authors successfully blend elements of detective fiction into their speculative fiction. Six Wakes (2017), by Mur Lafferty, folds the concept of a locked-room mystery into a generation-ship tale, much to my delight.

Six Wakes begins when Maria Arena, a clone, comes to consciousness in the cloning bay of the Dormire and discovers that the exterior of her clone-vat is smeared with blood. All of the six-person crew — including her previous iteration — have been viciously attacked, leaving grisly remains and destroyed equipment from stem to stern. The... Read More

Dreams of Distant Shores: A treasure box of stories

Readers’ average rating: Comment Reviews for this post are disabled. Please enable it first

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Dreams of Distant Shores by Patricia McKillip

Dreams of Distant Shores is a collection of seven shorter fantasy works ― five short stories and two novellas ― and a non-fictional essay by one of my favorite fantasy authors, Patricia McKillip. Several of these works are reprints of stories originally published elsewhere; “Mer,” “Edith and Henry Go Motoring” and “Alien” are the only ones original to this collection, but since I had never seen any of these stories elsewhere, they were all doorways to new and enchanting worlds for me. This collection, where faeries and other fantastical creatures and beings intersect with commonplace people,... Read More

The Sandman Mystery Theatre Book One by Matt Wagner

Readers’ average rating: 



The Sandman Mystery Theatre Book One by Matt Wagner

The Sandman Mystery Theatre is a near-perfect noir comic book series written in the 1990s by Matt Wagner, though the stories are set in the late 1930s. In some ways, Wagner is making a return to the older, original Sandman character created in 1939 (who also went by the name of Wesley Dodds), but the Sandman has had various incarnations since then, including Kirby’s in the 1970s. And of course, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is the most famous of them all, but he simply took the name and completely reinvented the character as an immortal entity, also known as Morpheus and Dream. Wagner takes us back to the... Read More

Martians Abroad: Fun from the first page to the last

Readers’ average rating:

Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn

In Martians Abroad (2017), Carrie Vaughn re-envisions aspects of the “juvenile” novel Podkayne of Mars by Robert A. Heinlein, turning his classic spacefaring story into something refreshing and new while retaining the sense of limitless adventure. Kat has mentioned in her reviews of Heinlein’s juveniles that they were instrumental in forming her love of science fiction, and the same is true for me: books like Have Space Suit — Will Travel and Read More

A Face Like Glass: Hardinge has a wonderful way with weird

Readers’ average rating:

A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge

Frances Hardinge is rumoured to be made “entirely of velvet”, or so her biography would have us believe. A mysteriously “unphotographable” author who wears a black hat. She seems to covet a certain strangeness, a sense of mystery that shrouds both her writing and herself.

Well if that’s what it takes to write stories as well as she does, then I’m all for it.

Once again on reading Hardinge, I am struck that the age-old question — where do you get your ideas? — is entirely appropriate. There are familiar motifs in her work and yet there are also other ideas that leap from the page defying normality and expectation. I felt this in Cuckoo Song Read More

The Bear and the Nightingale: A feast of Russian folklore-inspired fantasy

Readers’ average rating:  

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

In the northern lands of medieval Rus’, a daughter is born to Pyotr Vladimirovich, a boyar, lord over many lands, and his wife Marina, who dies in childbirth. But Marina, daughter of the Grand Prince of Moscow and a mysterious, swan-like beggar girl, has bequeathed her daughter Vasilisa a mystical heritage. Vasilisa, or Vasya, grows up to be a spirited and rather rebellious young girl who, like an untamed colt, freely roams the fields and forest, and is able to see and communicate with the domovoi (a guardian of the home), rusalka (a dangerous water nymph), and other natural spirits of the home and land. Her beloved nurse Dunya tells Vasya and her siblings stories of Ivan and the Gray Wolf, the Firebird, and the frost-king, Morozko.

But Vasya’s carefree life ends when her father finally decides to remarry. He brings h... Read More

Babylon’s Ashes: A great read in the best sci-fi series going

Readers’ average rating: Comment Reviews for this post are disabled. Please enable it first

Babylon’s Ashes by James S. A. Corey

Here’s the short version of the review of James S. A. Corey’s Babylon’s Ashes (2016), book six in THE EXPANSE series: I’ve long considered THE EXPANSE my favorite science fiction series I’ve read as an adult, and Babylon’s Ashes does nothing to change that opinion. If you’ve read the other books (and if you haven’t, why are you reading this?), jump in with all confidence. The long version follows with major spoilers for prior novels.

Babylon’s Ashes picks up right after the operatically cataclysmic events of Read More

Rosewater: Weird, gritty, gorgeous alien invasion story

Readers’ average rating:

Rosewater by Tade Thompson

In the Nigerian town of Rosewater, Kaaro, the main character of Tade Thompson’s Rosewater (2016), works for Section 45, a sinister government agency. Rosewater is built next to an alien dome, Utopicity, and the arrival of the aliens ten years earlier seems to have unleashed a host of unusual occurrences and abilities within the human population of Rosewater. Kaaro is one of these people — for his job at Section 45, he prevents crime, can read the minds of prisoners, and finds people by entering the ‘xenosphere,’ an ability which makes him a ‘sensitive.’ Unfortunately, sensitives like Kaaro are dying and he may be next. The answer to this problem might lie with Molara, a woman who appears to Kaaro in the xenosphere under the guise of a butterfly, and who keeps contacting him. But as he discovers more about Molara and tries... Read More

Feedback: The cure for the common zombie nonsense

Readers’ average rating:

Reposting to include Kate's new review.

Feedback by Mira Grant

I am not, historically, a fan of zombie narratives — neither in books nor in movies. The allegories are too obvious: consumerism, racism, opposing political party members, generalized xenophobia, etc. There’s hardly ever a satisfying answer as to why any of this is happening. Characters rarely do anything more interesting than board up windows, shriek at each other, get chewed on, and then do a little chewing of their own before dying gruesomely. Imagine my grateful surprise, then, when I opened up a copy of Mira Grant’s Feedback (2016), and discovered a wickedly smart novel drenched in bleach and blood.

Functioning as a companion/stand-alone novel to Grant’s existing NEWSF... Read More

Arrowood: Creepy, tragic Gothic mystery

Readers’ average rating:

Arrowood by Laura McHugh

When Arden Arrowood was a little girl, her younger twin sisters vanished without a trace. The last Arden saw of them was a flash of blonde hair, speeding away in the back of a gold car. A local man with a car fitting the description was questioned; nothing could ever be pinned on him, but the whole town thought he was guilty anyway.

The girls were never found, and their loss became a wound that destroyed the Arrowood family and continues to haunt Arden, now in her twenties. Then her father dies, and Arden learns she has inherited the family home, also called Arrowood, in Keokuk, Iowa. Reeling from academic and romantic troubles, Arden decides to go home and regroup. But the old house is full of secrets, and Arden soon learns that there might be more to her sisters’ disappearance than she realized as a child.

Arrowood is a... Read More