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

Slade House: Come on in!

Slade House by David Mitchell

(Reposting to include Tadiana's and Marions's reviews.)

I may have to give up my long-held identity as someone who doesn’t enjoy reading horror, because I have really enjoyed some horror novels lately. David Mitchell’s latest, Slade House, is a sort of haunted house-slash-mystery story told over several decades, in several different voices, and it was delightful.

The book begins with a young boy, Nathan, who visits a house down narrow, twisting Slade Alley with his mother. The gate is set in the wall of the alley, and when he enters, he has the sense of entering a lovely, secret paradise of a place. He and his mother are fed and he meets another child, Jonah, a playmate and new friend for him. Their game of Fox and Hounds turns bizarre and unreal, but Nathan's mother dism... Read More

The Hunt for Vulcan: Wonderful exploration of the search of the hidden planet

The Hunt for Vulcan: How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe by Thomas Levenson

With recently-demoted-from-the-planetary-ranks Pluto in the news lately thanks to the New Horizons probe, it’s a good time to recall when the solar system, rather than shrinking, used to be larger by one planet. That would be the planet Vulcan, which for decades was listed as lying just inside the orbit of Mercury. Why did people think Vulcan existed? More interestingly perhaps, why did so many people think they actually saw it? And what eventually convinced the scientific community that it wasn’t there? That’s the story of The Hunt for Vulcan by Thomas Levenson, and the answer to that third question lies in the book’s subtitle: How Albert Einstein Destroyed a Planet, Discovered Relativity, and Deciphered the Universe. Read More

The Philosopher Kings: Surprises and philosophy, with a touch of Greek mythology

The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton

My jaw remained open whilst I read the last pages of Jo Walton’s The Just City, and for a little while afterwards. Released earlier this year, Walton’s first novel in a new trilogy saw the start of a story whose foundational ideas are so wild, so daring, that only an author with the fullest grasp of her talent could even think of trying to wrestle with them, let alone to actually subdue and then use them to write an engaging story.

In that novel, scholars and philosophers from different times and places are selected by the goddess Athene to build the ideal society depicted in Plato’s famous dialogue, The Republic. To accomplish that, she gifts them multiple robots from the future whom we later learn are able to develop self-awareness. Those same schola... Read More

Retribution Falls: Everything I wanted from a tale about sky pirates

Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding

Confession: I love pirates. Stories with pirates in them have captivated me for as long as I can remember (and I’ll blame my family for sitting me in front of such movies as Muppets Treasure Island and The Princess Bride) and continue to bring me great joy. With this in mind, you can imagine how excited I was when I found a pirate story by one of my favourite authors, Chris Wooding. Retribution Falls is everything I could have asked for from a swashbuckling tale: there are old foes, daring escapes, dirty jobs, betrayal, heartbreak, and breathtaking battles. Also, in a fashion I have grown to love, Wooding delivers a myriad of things that I didn’t ask for but absolutely wanted. If it wasn’t already apparent, I loved this story about flying pirates.

Darian F... Read More

Minority Report and Other Stories: 4 PKD stories that inspired movies

Minority Report and Other Stories by Philip K. Dick

Philip K. Dick is the classic case of a brilliant but struggling artist who only got full recognition after he passed away. Despite publishing an incredible 44 novels and 121 stories during his lifetime, it was not until the Ridley Scott film Blade Runner was released in 1982 that PKD gained more mainstream attention, and sadly he died before being able to see the final theatrical release.

A number of his short stories were adapted into feature-length films, and this audibook contains “The Minority Report” (1956), which inspired the 2002 Steven Spielberg film Minority Report starring Tom Cruise, “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” (1966), which was the loose basis for the 1990 Paul Verhoeven film Total Recall and a 2012 reboot starring Colin Farrell, ... Read More

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind, translated into English by John E. Woods

If you are anything like me, then Perfume: The Story of a Murderer will prove a most tantalising title. And, if you are anything like me, you will not be disappointed upon delving inside. This is a story of human nature at its most despicable and scent at its most sublime, a heady combination of depravity and olfactory beauty.

Published in 1985, Perfume fast became a best-seller in Patrick Suskind’s native German. I can only assume the translation is sublime (indeed John Woods received a PEN Translation prize in 1987 for his work on this novel), as sadly I cannot read a word of German in order to compare. This always leaves me perplexed. I can't help feeling there will always be something of the author I am missing. But perhaps that is a discussion for another day. Read More

The Fifth Season: Displays Jemisin’s stunning imagination

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

I am awestricken by the imagination of N.K. Jemisin, but it isn’t just her wild vision of a seismically turbulent planet that makes The Fifth Season so successful. Jemisin depicts her strange and harrowing world through the old-fashioned tools of fine writing and hard work, done so well that it looks easy – transparent – to the reader.

The world of The Fifth Season, or at least one large continent of it, is shaking apart. Against this backdrop we follow three different stories set in three different time periods, one in the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe, two sometime earlier. The three storylines have themes and plot points that eventually converge, but the changes in narration let us as readers put together clues and see what’s going on even before some of the characters do.

On this unstable continent, people called ... Read More

Ancillary Mercy: A triumphant conclusion to an original Space Opera

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

I loved Ancillary Justice and Ancillary Sword, but as I got to the end of Ancillary Sword, I began to have some doubts. As good as the books were, and as good as Ann Leckie is, I didn’t see how she could possibly wrap up such an elaborate story. I should have had more faith! Ancillary Mercy completes Breq’s tale, resolves the story of the intelligent Ships and tells a bit more about what’s beyond the Ghost Gate, all without leaving the Athoek system or even Athoek Station, where the bulk of the story takes place.

Ancillary Mercy picks up days or maybe hours after the ending of Ancillary Sword, when Breq gets some bad news via her Ship; The Lord of the Radch, Anaander Mianaai, or a faction of her, has taken the Tstur system. I... Read More

Sandman (Vol. 5): A Game of You by Neil Gaiman

Sandman (Vol. 5): A Game of You by Neil Gaiman

One of the key points of A Game of You is that nobody is a stereotype, and nobody is what he or she seems on the surface, once you get to know the person. Every single one of us has glorious, weird, majestic, stupid, magical worlds inside us.*   –Neil Gaiman

Sandman (Vol. 5): A Game of You collects issues 32 through 37, skipping issues 29-31, which are collected in volume six of The Sandman. A Game of You is a six-issue story arc that is unified in terms of theme and plot, focusing on a handful of characters, all of whom live in the same building in New Y... Read More

Isle of the Dead: “Vorvolaka! Vorvolaka!”

Isle of the Dead directed by Mark Robson

The history of the American horror film in the 1940s can practically be summarized with two words: "Universal" and "Lewton." Throughout that decade, megastudio Universal pleased audiences with a steady stream of films dealing with Frankenstein, the Invisible Man, the Mummy and the Wolfman, culminating with the finest horror comedy ever made, 1948's Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Meanwhile, over at RKO, producer Val Lewton was taking a wholly different tack, and between the years 1942 and '46, brought to the screen no less than nine wonderful, literate, intelligent and highly atmospheric horror outings. Those films – Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie, The Leopard Man, The Seventh Victim, The Ghost Ship, The Curse of the Cat People (hardly a sequel!), The Body Snatcher, Isle of the Dead and Bedlam – all d... Read More

The Rim of the Morning: Great old school cosmic horror

The Rim of the Morning: Two Tales of Cosmic Horror by William Sloane

New York Review Books Classics has just packaged two novels by renowned author, editor and teacher William Sloane into a single offering, The Rim of the Morning: Two Tales of Cosmic Horror. Sloane is not an author I’d previously known, probably due to the fact that these stories are two of only three novels that he ever published. Stephen King contributes a short but impeccable introduction, providing a tight analysis of the stories and windows into Sloane’s background and style. Sloane wrote and edited primarily supernatural mystery/scifi, but is known in literary worlds as a writing teacher.

The first of these novels, To Walk the Night, is a Lovecraftian tale of the investigation into an a... Read More

Clockwork: Bad things happen when you don’t finish a story

Clockwork: or All Wound Up by Philip Pullman

Clockwork: or All Wound Up (1996) is a very short (about 100 pages) children’s fairytale by Philip Pullman. It stars Karl and Fritz, two young Germans who have not finished a job that they were supposed to do and are worried about what will happen when the townspeople find out. Karl and Fritz meet one snowy evening in the local tavern. Karl, the clockmaker’s apprentice, is brooding because tomorrow is the day when he must unveil the mechanical project he’s supposed to have finished. For hundreds of years, each apprentice has contributed an exquisite clockwork figure to the town’s clock and everyone gathers on graduation day to admire it in the town square. Karl confesses to Fritz that he has not created anything.

Fritz, a writer, tells Karl that authors also ha... Read More

Battlemage: One of my favourites this year. Best read while listening to heavy metal.

Battlemage by Stephen Aryan

Not too long ago, as I pondered which book to read next, it came to me on a whim that I was craving an epic fantasy novel where wars were battled with not only bow and sword, but with devastating magic. Granted, it’s a simple wish. I wasn’t looking for a deep exploration of human relationships or an allegory about the state of our current world. I just wanted to read about some big-ass battles fought with dazzling magic. I went to Amazon to search for that hypothetical book and the first search word that popped into my mind was “battlemage.” Lo and behold, right there as the first result of my query, was Stephen Aryan’s debut, aptly named, Battlemage. I read its description and it felt as if all my prayers had been answered. I clicked the pre-order button.

The premise of Battlemage is simple. War is coming to Seveldrom as a mad king has risen... Read More

Resurrection Science: Conservation, De-extinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things

Resurrection Science: Conservation, De-extinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things by M.R. O’Connor

We’ve seen a number of books lately dealing with what has been called the “sixth extinction,” referring to the ongoing mass extinction event, and ways in which we might deal with the crisis. Elizabeth Kolbert’s forthrightly named The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History and Beth Shapiro’s How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-extinction are two excellent examples of such titles (I’d also include, though not quite as directly related, Michael Tennesen’s The Next Species). Now you can add Resurre... Read More

Robot Dreams: 21 stories by Asimov

Robot Dreams by Isaac Asimov

Every time I see a short story collection by Isaac Asimov in audio format, I pick it up because I love his short stories more than I love his novels. Last year Recorded Books released Robot Dreams, which was originally published in print form in 1986. The audiobook is 14.5 hours long and narrated by the wonderful George Guidall.

Robot Dreams contains these 21 excellent stories. All but the titular story were originally published in periodicals (noted here):

“Little Lost Robot” — (originally published in Astounding Science Fiction, 1947) When a human tells the robot named Nestor to “get lost,” he does, by hiding himself in a room full of identical robots. This is a problem for Dr. Susan Calvin and the other scientists because N... Read More

Grasshopper Jungle: Gross and awesome

Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Grasshopper Jungle is a weird book in many ways. Not only is it literally weird (it is a book about a giant 6-foot praying mantis invasion, genetically modified testicle-dissolving corn, a secret underground bunker for humanity to reproduce itself in and a dog that’s lost its bark), but it is also literaryily weird. That is, it’s hard to define. The marketing team must’ve realised that too, because it has been toted as appealing to fans of John Green, Stephen King and Michael Grant. It doesn’t really narrow down what readers ought to expect from the novel, but what transpired was one of the most moving, gross and groundbreaking books in YA today.

Austin, our protagonist, is as sexually confused as the novel is ge... Read More

The Cute Girl Network by Greg Means and MK Read

The Cute Girl Network by Greg Means and MK Read

The Cute Girl Network by Greg Means and MK Read is a text-book example of the old don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover warning. And in this case, I’d say it also serves as an additional warning not to judge a book by its title. I’m not sure how well this book sold in 2013, but however it did, I’m sure it missed its target audience because of the title and cover. I hope First Second, one of my favorite publishers, will re-release this book with a new title and new cover. It deserves republication and another chance as a newly marketed book.

I really like The Cute Girl Network, and I was surprised because I t... Read More

Persona: A novel with many strengths and virtually no weaknesses

Persona by Genevieve Valentine

Persona by Genevieve Valentine is an excellent novel. This probably will come as no surprise to those of you who have read the author’s two previous, critically acclaimed novels, Mechanique and The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, but as a newcomer to Valentine’s works I was quite blown away. (I should probably add that, based on feedback from friends and on those two books’ blurbs, Persona appears to be very different from her earlier work.)

Persona starts off in near-future Paris, where Suyana Sapaki is about to cast a vote in the International Assembly (IA). Suyana is the “Face” representing her country in the IA, which means she has virtually zero decision-making power: she is a figurehead, a glorified spokesperson who says what she is told to say and votes the wa... Read More

Clover Honey by Rich Tommaso

Clover Honey by Rich Tommaso

Clover Honey by Rich Tommaso is a re-release of his first graphic novel, originally published in 1995, when Tommaso was twenty-three-year-old. I’ve never read anything quite like it. It’s a quick read — I think it took me all of forty-five minutes to read it — but I think it’s going to stay with me for some time to come. And I’m sure I’ll return to it. My initial impression is four stars, but I think with time I’d be willing to go higher. I suspect that the more time I spend with the book and thinking about it, the more it will grow on me.

Clover Honey is a black-and-white slice-of-life story that deals with the ... Read More

Touch: A nearly perfect thriller

Touch by Claire North

Touch, by Claire North, took me completely by surprise. I’d never heard of Claire North. (Yes, I know. More about that later.) I hadn’t seen much pre-release buzz about the book. I don’t think I’d ever read a book from (Hachette imprint) Redhook before. I frankly thought the blurb sounded a bit too standard-horror-ish, but I picked it up anyway to try a few pages and see if it could draw me in.

Am I ever glad I did. Touch is a gloriously dark and almost perfectly executed novel. (More about that “almost” later, too.) It’s so good that I set out to get the author’s first novel, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, even before I finished Touch, and then read it before I got around to wr... Read More

Now Wait for Last Year: A virtual compendium of Dick’s pet themes

Now Wait for Last Year by Philip K. Dick

A virtual compendium of many of Philip K. Dick's pet themes, tropes and obsessions, Now Wait for Last Year, the author's 17th published sci-fi novel, originally appeared as a Doubleday hardcover in 1966. (As revealed in Lawrence Sutin's biography on Dick, the novel was actually written as early as 1963 and rewritten two years later.) Phil was on some kind of a roll at this point in his career, having recently come out with the masterpieces The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and Dr. Bloodmoney, and Now Wait for Last Year is still another great one for this important writer.

In it, the Earth of the year 2055 is in big trouble, fighting a protracted, losing war with the 6-f... Read More

Court of Fives: The dangers of imperialism, racism, and ambition

Court of Fives by Kate Elliott

Kate Elliott has a well-deserved reputation for writing excellent science-fiction and fantasy for adults. Her characters, world-building, and societies are not only entertaining but well-crafted. It seems only natural that, at some point in her career, she would try her hand at Young Adult fiction. The result is Court of Fives, the first in a planned fantasy trilogy which is sure to appeal to younger readers as well as Elliott’s established fan base. While I’ve seen the novel described as “YA meets Game of Thrones,” Elliott herself has said, “I prefer Little Women meets American Ninja Warrior,” which is far more relevant to my personal interests (and a more unique combination).

A quick note for readers who may not be aware: A... Read More

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street: On the Edge

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

In our Edge of the Universe column, we review mainstream authors that incorporate elements of speculative fiction into their “literary” work. However you want to label them, we hope you’ll enjoy discussing these books with us.

When a clockwork octopus is your favourite character in a book, you know you’re onto a winner. Katsu (said octopus) is the creation of Keita Mori, the enigmatic watchmaker around whom events of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street centre. Natasha Pulley’s debut is as intricate as the clockwork it describes, and the plot runs just as smoothly.

Thaniel Steepleton has spent the last four years in the soul-destroyingly dull position of a telegraphist f... Read More

Horrible Monday: The Creeping by Alexandra Sirowy

The Creeping by Alexandra Sirowy

What’s more frightening: a monster lurking in the shadows, kidnapping children for its dark and nefarious purposes — or a human being who does the same, terrible thing? Are there really supernatural creatures lurking at the edge of human existence, or do we just tell ourselves stories to gloss over how awful our species can be? Even worse, what if both scenarios are true? Alexandra Sirowy explores these questions in her Young Adult debut novel, The Creeping, and I would guess that what readers think about her answers will tell you a lot about themselves and the things they fear.

When Jeanie Talcott and Stella Cambren were six years old, they went into the forest surrounding their sleepy Minnesota town to pick strawberries. Only Stella came out, wild-eyed and rambling about monsters in the woods, covered in Jeanie’s blood. Jeanie’s body was never fo... Read More

Half a War: Memorable grimdark saturated with Abercrombiean plot twists

Half a War by Joe Abercrombie

Warning: Will contain mild spoilers for Half a King and Half a World

One of the worst aspects of Joe Abercrombie’s Half a War, book three of his SHATTERED SEA trilogy, is the cover art — a depiction of assorted medieval weaponry formed by tongues of flame lapping at the darkness. Needless to say, the cover art is pretty freakin’ awesome, so Abercrombie must have put an extraordinary amount of work into the substance of Half a War to make it even better than the attention-grabbing visual that serves as its housing. With the return of Brand, Thorn, Yarvi, and the cast from books one and two, the conclusion to Abercrombie’s YA series picks up with the painstaking combat against the Hi... Read More