Stand-Alone

These are stand alone novels (not part of a series).

Under the Andes: Rex Stout shines in his second novel

Under the Andes by Rex Stout

Because author Rex Stout is so closely associated with his most famous fictional character, housebound detective extraordinaire Nero Wolfe, fans may find it hard to believe that the Indiana-born writer ever wrote anything else. And that, I suppose, is understandable, seeing that between 1934 and 1975, Stout came out with no fewer than 33 novels and 40 or so novellas featuring one of crimedom’s most well-known sleuths. But just as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote in many other genres besides the one featuring Sherlock Holmes, so too did Stout: 13 non-Wolfe novels and 44 short stories in the thriller, mystery, historical adventure, lost world/lost race, and even romance genres, to be precise. And thanks to Armchair Fiction’s current 24-volume LOST WORLD/LOST RACE series, readers may now expe... Read More

Frostfire: A good MG adventure with lots of derring-do

Frostfire by Jamie Smith

Frostfire (2019), by Jamie Smith, is a middle-grade fantasy set in the mountainous land of Adranna. Adranna lies in the shadow of the great peak of Aderast, and all of its magic comes from the shimmering glacier that flows from it. A handful of young people are chosen each year to climb to the glacier and claim a small piece of it, a frostsliver, which gives them special abilities and marks them as people of importance in Adranna’s society.

Sabira is a fourteen-year-old girl who has been chosen to receive a frostsliver. The novel opens as she is making her climb. The narrative then flashes back to the previous year, when Sabira’s brother Kyran was chosen. Tensions have been growing with the neighboring nation of Ignata, and after an Ignatian raiding party attacked Sabira’s family, everything started going wrong for Kyran. Now he is missing, and Sabira is det... Read More

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club: Twelve dancing princesses meet the Roaring Twenties

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

As far as fairy tale retellings go, mingling the tale of The Twelve Dancing Princesses with the 1920's New York speakeasies makes a lovely kind of sense. The prohibition, the dance halls, the high society – it all fits perfectly with the story of twelve princesses who sneak out of their rooms every night, much to the bewilderment of their father when he sees their worn-out shoes every morning.

Genevieve Valentine transports the familiar beats of the story to a Fifth Avenue townhouse in the Roaring Twenties, in which the daughters of wealthy magnate Joseph Hamilton are kept in captivity, seen by no one but themselves. He was eager for a son of course, but his wife died after twelve girls (including two sets of twins).

This leaves Josephine, the firstborn... Read More

Salvation Day: Multiple issues, some bright spots

Salvation Day by Kari Wallace

In the prologue to Kari Wallace’s debut adult novel, Salvation Day (2019), we witness the fate of the huge spaceship House of Wisdom after a biological weapon killed every member aboard except for a 12 year old boy named Jaswinder Bhattacharya, whose mother engineered his escape.

Now it’s a decade later and Jaswinder is a young man, well-educated, talented, and famous for his survival. A group of cultish separatists who are angry at the way they’ve been treated by Earth’s government plan to kidnap Jaswinder so they can gain access to House of Wisdom and get away from Earth. Their terrorist team is led by Zahra, the daughter of the man who released the virus. But when Jaswinder and the terrorists enter the ship, they make some discoveries that endanger the entire population of Earth.

To put things bluntly, S... Read More

The Confession: As magical as The Miniaturist

The Confession by Jessie Burton

After the phenomenal success of The Miniaturist (and The Muse after it), the buzz surrounding Jessie Burton's latest release should come as no surprise. Whilst The Confession (2019) might seem like a very different kind of book (gone are the elements of the fantastical and the uncanny), Burton's signature tension, suspense and an intricately characterised female cast remain.

In the winter of 1980, Elise Morceau meets Constance Holden on Hampstead Heath by chance. Connie is a successful writer. Older than Elise, she is alluring in a way that Elise has never known. The women's lives quickly become e... Read More

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter: A Lovecraftian Sherlock Holmes pastiche

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall

Captain John Wyndham has returned to Khelathra-Ven after being away with the army for several years. Rents are high, so he decides to answer an ad for a housemate. When he moves in, he discovers that his new companion is Shaharazad Haas, a renowned and powerful sorceress who’s addicted to opium. When Ms. Haas is asked to find out who is blackmailing her ex-girlfriend, Captain Wyndham tags along and starts getting involved in a case which turns into a weird and wacky adventure.

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter (2019) is a gender-bending Lovecraftian Sherlock Holmes pastiche. Shaharazad Haas is Sherlock Holmes and Captain Wyndham, who was female when he was young, is Watson. The plot, which is quirky... Read More

The Gossamer Mage: A mixed bag

The Gossamer Mage by Julie E. Czerneda

I really wanted to like The Gossamer Mage (2019) by Julie E. Czerneda, because there is so much to like in it: the premise, the themes, the character cores. But more than usual, I felt the book was fighting me the whole way, so that while it always was in the realm of wholly enjoyable, something always got in the way of it reaching its full potential.

The story is set in the relatively small, isolated land of Tananen, apparently the only place in this world that still has magic, though it’s a particularly costly form. The magic is a “gift” from the Deathless Goddess, who bestows her magic words in different fashion to men and women. Men with the “gift” can be mage scribes, people who can write the Goddess’ words with “intention” and thus create made creatures such as unfailing oxen, powerful bodyguards, illuminating insects, etc. (Som... Read More

Walking to Aldebaran: Literary musings in an alien cavern of horrors

Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I never know what to expect from Adrian Tchaikovsky, but he’s always entertaining. Walking to Aldebaran (2019) is unlike anything I’ve read from Tchaikovsky to date, a powerful, literary SF novella with an edgy, dark sense of humor and a strain of horror that gradually intensifies until its shocking ending.

British astronaut Gary Rendell is part of an international space team sent from Earth to explore a moon-sized, alien-made object ― officially called the Artefact, unofficially called the Frog God because of its appearance in photos ― that a space probe has found lurking in the outer reaches of our solar system. Through a series of events that are gradually unfolded to the reader, Rendell is now wandering alone inside the cold, endless, crypt-like tunnels i... Read More

The Porcelain Dove: A gothic fairy tale

The Porcelain Dove by Delia Sherman

Years ago, I got into “fantasies of manners” at about the same time as I was going through a big Revolutionary France phase. When I heard about Delia Sherman’s The Porcelain Dove (1993) — a fantasy set in that time period, and which won the Mythopoeic Award for 1994 — it sounded like the perfect book for me. I could never find it in the used bookstores, though. (I did, before I successfully committed the title to memory, buy two different other books thinking they might be it.) The rise of e-books has fortunately made it possible for us to track down some of our elusive great white whales, or in this case, our porcelain doves.

I don’t know what gave me the idea The Porcelain Dove would be a light, frothy novel. It is not. It is also... Read More

The Ten Thousand Doors of January: Go read it now

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow

The Ten Thousand Doors of January (2019), by Alix E. Harrow, is one of the most beautiful books you will read in 2019. It may be one of the most beautiful books you’ll read in your lifetime. When I say it’s beautiful, I don’t simply mean the prose and the imagery, although those both are gorgeous. I mean that this is a beautiful story. The journey of January Scaller, set against the USA’s Long Gilded Age, is a story of plausible hope, of learning to use your own power, and a story of the power of stories.

January Scaller is an “in-between” girl, the ward of the wealthy, powerful and mysterious Cornelius Locke. She is always conscious of her tenuous status.
Sometimes I felt like an item in Mr. Locke’s collection labeled "January Scaller... Read More

Esbae: Where’s Hermione Granger when you need her?

Esbae by Linda Haldeman

I love fantasies set at colleges, so when I heard about Linda Haldeman’s Esbae: A Winter’s Tale (1981), I had to track it down and read it. The titular Esbae is a spirit who is found wanting by some greater power, and cast down to earth. It attaches itself to an awkward college student, Sophie, and is caught up in a magical battle between good and evil.

The three main human characters are all to be found in Dr. Leo Ernst’s history class. (We know that this is fantasy, because even after an ice storm, everybody goes t... Read More

Gods of Jade and Shadow: Romantic fantasy set in 1920s Mexico

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Casiopeia Tun is the poor relation of the Leyva family, put to work as a servant to her grandfather, aunts, uncles, and cousins. It’s established early, though, that she’s not one to take easily to subservience. Sure, she’ll probably do what she’s told — eventually — but it won’t be with a smile. She cherishes a few modest dreams of the things she’d see and do if she could only escape the family home and the dusty little town of Uukumil. When the family leaves her out of an outing as punishment, she sees her chance and opens the forbidden chest in her grandfather’s room. She’s hoping for a few coins to fund her escape to Mérida. Instead, she awakens Hun-Kamé, a Mayan death god.

It turns out that he was imprisoned there by his jealous brother, Vucub-Kamé, in order to usurp the throne of the underw... Read More

The White Road: (to Nowhere)

The White Road by Sarah Lotz

I’ll admit it — I’m pretty scared of Mount Everest before you populate it with ghosts. Ever since I read Jon Krakauer’s riveting nonfiction book Into Thin Air, I’ve felt a little shudder at the very thought of climbing it. So when I heard about The White Road (2017), a horror novel set on Everest, I figured it was guaranteed to freak me out in epic fashion.

Simon and his friend Thierry run a website dedicated to creepy things. The White Road begins with Simon teaming up with a sketchy older man, Ed, to explore a Welsh cave system. Some spelunkers died there years ago, and their bodies are still in the cave; Simon hopes to get footage of the corpses for the website. Simon and Ed get into trouble in the cave. Simon nearly dies, an... Read More

The Temple of Fire: An exciting Lost World novel for younger readers

The Temple of Fire by Francis Henry Atkins (Frank Aubrey/Fred Ashley)


As I mentioned in my review of English author Francis Henry Atkins’ third novel, The King of the Dead (1903), this was a writer who chose to hide behind a number of sobriquets, all of which featured the initials “F.A.” Those pen names were Frank Aubrey (which he used for that 1903 novel), Frank Atkins, Fenton Ash and Fred Ashley. I had hugely enjoyed the third novel by this seldom-discussed author, so eagerly jumped at the chance to try my luck at another. Fortunately, Armchair Fiction’s current 24-volume Lost World/Lost Race series has now made another of this unjustly neglected writer’s works available, namely The Templ... Read More

The House on Parchment Street: A ghost story from a developing fantasy writer

The House on Parchment Street by Patricia McKillip

I probably would never have known about The House on Parchment Street (1973) were I not such a huge fan of Patricia McKillip's fantasy stories, and while browsing her name on a library search engine, this title popped up. It was obviously one of her earliest published works, so I was willing to give it a go.

The House on Parchment Street is profoundly different from her later stories, which are not only told with dense poetic-prose, but focus more on fantasy worlds and creatures. This is a fairly straightforward ghost story, with equally straightforward prose, about a girl called Carol Christopher who travels from America to stay with her cousin Bruce, Aunt Catherine, and Uncle Harold in a small English village.

Carol a... Read More

The Last Light of the Sun: Another lovely historical fantasy by GGK

Reposting to include Bill's new review.

The Last Light of the Sun by Guy Gavriel Kay

The Last Light of the Sun is another of Guy Gavriel Kay’s lovely historical fantasies. This one blends Norse, Celtic, and Anglo-Saxon histories with a bit of faerie mythos. We follow a few main characters from each of these societies as they interact with each other to shape their land and destinies. As usual in a Guy Gavriel Kay novel, we see the struggles from each perspective, so there’s no single “hero” or “villain.” We understand what motivates each of the characters and their culture and we can admire their strengths and recognize their weaknesses. In the end, we want everyone to win but, of course, that’s not what happens.

I thought the cast of The Last Light of the Sun was not as accessible or compelling as that of Tigana Read More

This Body’s Not Big Enough for the Both of Us: A meta-fictional roller coaster

This Body’s Not Big Enough for the Both of Us by Edgar Cantero

This Body’s Not Big Enough for the Both of Us (2019), by Edgar Cantero, is a metafictional roller coaster ride in which the safety bar that holds you into your seat occasionally turns into licorice whips else or disappears completely.

One definition of metafiction is a form of fiction that comments on fictional and literary elements by self-consciously departing from literary conventions within the narrative. If you like metafiction, you will get a kick out of Cantero’s story, and you will probably especially enjoy the opening, which restarts four times, I think, utilizes screenplay format, and has sentences like this one:
She wandered in like a fairy-tale top model into a CGI forest, a flutter of long skirts and flaming red hair kiting be... Read More

Strange Toys: An odd, creepy novel

Strange Toys by Patricia Geary

Strange Toys is an odd, creepy novel. It won the Philip K. Dick Award in 1987, though apparently Patricia Geary hadn’t actually intended it as science fiction at all. I found it while exploring the labyrinthine basement of a local used bookstore, but it was reprinted in electronic form in 2018.

The heroine, nicknamed Pet, is the baby of her family. (We never learn her real name.) She is nine years old as the book begins, in the late 1950s. Her twelve-year-old sister, June, bullies her. Her sixteen-year-old sister, Deane, is worse. Deane is in some kind of unspecified trouble with the law (she’s into the occult, too), and the girls’ parents leave home abruptly with Pet and June because they fear retribution from Deane’s criminal friends.

What follo... Read More

Electric Forest: Interesting, but not one of Lee’s best

Electric Forest by Tanith Lee

Magdala Cled is an unattractive disabled woman living in a world where genetic engineering has ensured that everyone around her is beautiful and healthy. She’s a genetic misfit who has no family, friends, or social support of any type.

When a handsome rich man offers to make her beautiful, she goes along with his plan. What Magda doesn’t know is that her new body is the clone of a scientist/entrepreneur that her benefactor is competing with and for whom he has some evil plans.

I greatly admire Tanith Lee’s style, so I was pleased to have a chance to read Brilliance Audio’s new edition of Electric Forest (1979).

This stand-alone novel, however, is not one of her better titles. None of the characters are likeable and their focus on beauty, luxury, and ... Read More

A Green and Ancient Light: Beautifully written, gently melancholy

A Green and Ancient Light by Frederic S. Durbin

A war is raging, and a young boy is sent to spend the summer with his grandmother in her small country village. His life changes forever when she decides to rescue a downed enemy pilot and nurse him back to health. While helping her tend to the injured man, the boy also meets Mr. Girandole, a faun, who was once his grandmother’s love and is still her dear friend.

She knows just the place to conceal the pilot while he convalesces: a crooked little tower in an overgrown sculpture garden in the woods. Throughout the summer, the boy explores the garden, which was built long ago by an eccentric Duke who lost his beloved wife. The garden is reputed to contain a riddle that, if answered, will open a door to Faery.

A Green and Ancient Light (2016) is a beautifully written, gently melancholy tale. The pace is perhaps too slow at the start, with a lot... Read More

The King of the Dead: Brazil nuts

The King of the Dead by Frank Aubrey

As I have written elsewhere, Armchair Fiction’s current 24-book Lost World/Lost Race series is a godsend for all readers who enjoy this particular subgenre of fantastic literature, as jump-started and popularized by English author H. Rider Haggard in the mid-1880s. I’ve recently written about two of these 24, David DouglasThe Silver God of the Orang Hutan and John Taine’s The Purple Sapphire, and now would like to offer some words about another of these terrifically en... Read More

Three Laws Lethal: Exciting, fascinating, and timely

Three Laws Lethal by David Walton

Best friends Tyler and Brandon are building a new ride-hailing service that uses autonomous vehicles. Their software is spectacular, especially with the secret AI algorithm developed by Naomi, one the two sisters they’ve partnered with. When a tragedy occurs during their public media demo, all of their plans and hopes are dashed and the college friends all go their separate ways. Within a few years, Tyler and Brandon become competitors and their feud gets ugly, leading to more tragic accidents and even murder.

Meanwhile, as Naomi continues to develop her algorithm, she makes some exciting but unsettling discoveries about what her artificial intelligence can do and she has to make some hard decisions about what she’ll do with the information she learns.

It takes a while for David Walton’... Read More

The Violent Century: A thoughtful exploration of heroes and history

The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar

Thanks to his two most recent novels, Central Station and Unholy Land, Lavie Tidhar has quickly become one of my favorite contemporary novelists, and so when I was given the opportunity to read a re-release of his earlier book, The Violent Century (2013), I leapt right on it. Clearly, the last two books were not evidence of some sudden leap upward in achievement, as The Violent Century stands side by side in craft, structure, and thoughtfulness.

The novel posits an alternate history where in the early 1930s, a “probability wave” (promulgated accidentally by a German scientist) c... Read More

The Glass Bead Game: Surprisingly appealing

The Glass Bead Game (or Das Glasperlenspiel or Magister Ludi) by Hermann Hesse

The Glass Bead Game (1943), written by Hermann Hesse, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946, is a finalist for a Retro Hugo Award this year. I picked up the audio edition produced by Blackstone Audio and pleasantly read by David Colacci. It’s more than 21 hours long.

The first section of the novel, which lasts 1.25 hours in the audiobook version, is titled “The Glass Bead Game: A General Introduction to its History For the Layman.” In this section, the book’s narrator explains why this book was written, some general problems with published biographies, and some history and background of the Glass Bead Game, including its origin and purpose and how it was responsible for changing culture. (How the game is played is something we never a... Read More

Yarrow: Very early de Lint

Yarrow by Charles de Lint

I’d been meaning to read Yarrow (1986) for years. I loved Charles de Lint’s Memory and Dream, in which he tells the story of a painter touched by the Otherworld. And I’m a writer (or at least a wannabe one), not a visual artist, so I figured, “if I liked his artist book so much, how much more am I going to love his writer book?” Unfortunately, the answer is “not as much.” Yarrow is very early de Lint, and not my favorite book of his that I’ve read.

Yarrow is set in Ottawa and loosely follows Moonheart; the plots are standalone, but T... Read More