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

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill: finding magic and wings in dark times

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The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd

Emmaline knows a secret: Briar Hill, a Shropshire mansion which has been turned into a children’s hospital during World War II, has beautiful winged horses that live in the mirrors of its elegant rooms. They move in and out of the mirror-rooms, walking through doorways, nosing half-finished cups of tea. But only Emmaline can see them, and she keeps the secret to herself. She knows the boys like Benny and Jack will tease her mercilessly if they knew. She doesn’t even tell her best friend Anna, who’s the most ill person at the hospital, for fear that she’ll distress Anna.

One day Benny steals a treasured piece of chocolate from Emmaline and eats it. Upset, Emmaline runs outside and (breaking the hospital rules) climbs over the ivy of a walled garden on the grounds. Inside the abandoned garden, a beautiful white horse with a soft gr... Read More

Frankenstein: A classic for a reason

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Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley’s first novel was written in 1818 when Shelley (then Mary Godwin) was only 20. She was staying with her husband-to-be, the married poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, on Lake Geneva. As a kind of game, Lord Byron, their friend and companion, proposed that each person in the party write a ghost story. Byron wrote the third canto of Childe Harold; another friend, Polidori, was inspired to write the first vampire novel, “The Vampyre.” But Mary Shelley’s response to the prompt would ultimately become the most famous: Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (betcha didn’t know about that subtitle, huh?).

If you’re mostly familiar with the plot of Frankenstein from the 1931 film or various parodies of it, you might have missed a lot about this particular book. Or, more likely, have i... Read More

Prelude to Space: Clarke’s 1951 debut

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Prelude to Space by Arthur C. Clarke

Prelude to Space is the first novel Arthur C. Clarke wrote and is generally not considered as good as Childhood's End (1953), probably the most famous of Clarke's early novels. The publication history of this story is not unusual for the period. Clarke wrote the novel in the space of a month in 1947 but it wasn't until 1951 that the whole novel was published in magazine format by Galaxy Science Fiction. It was followed by a hardcover edition in 1953. What is atypical about it is that the novel does not appear to be based on one of Clarke's short stories. Although one of his lesser works, it has been reprinted numerous times. The edition I read was printed in... Read More

Amazonia: A Haggardian adventure for the modern age

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Amazonia by James Rollins (aka James Clemens)

A scientific expedition of thirty people enters the Amazon jungle and is never heard from again. One of the expedition’s members was Gerald Clark, a former special forces turned CIA agent after he lost an arm in combat. Four years after he disappeared with the expedition, Agent Clark stumbles into a remote mission — covered in markings, his tongue cut out — and then dies in a fit of convulsions. That’s not even the strangest part. When Agent Gerald Clark comes out of the jungle, he has two arms.

How’s that for a premise? If that’s not a spectacular story hook, then I don't know what would be. While not technically classified as fantasy, Amazonia does contain its fair share of monsters, magic, and lost worlds. It’s fanta... Read More

Almuric: Overwhelming storytelling gusto

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Almuric by Robert E. Howard

It is truly remarkable how much work pulp author Robert E. Howard managed to accomplish during his brief 30 years of life. Indeed, a look at his bibliography, on a certain Wiki site, should surely flabbergast any reader who knows the Texan writer only as the creator of Conan the Cimmerian, King Kull, Bran Mak Morn, Solomon Kane and, essentially, the entire genre known as Sword & Sorcery. Hundreds upon hundreds of titles can be found there, in such variegated categories as boxing, Westerns, Oriental exoticism, sword & sorcery (natch), horror, fantasy, crime, historical tales, detective stories, adventure … even comedy, “spicy stories,” essays and poetry. But of all these myriad story types, one salient fact emerges: Most of them are just that — short stories. Howard, de... Read More

The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter: Starts strong but loses focus and energy

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The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter by John Pipkin

The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter by John Pipkin is the second book I’ve read this year that makes use of the story of Caroline Herschel, sister of famed astronomer William Herschel, though I’d say with less success than the first (The Stargazer’s Sister by Carrie Brown). Pipkin’s novel has some nicely lyrical passages and is rife with sharp historical and scientific detail, but the author seems to lose control of his story about halfway through, leading to a dissipation of effect.

It is another Caroline, not William’s sister, who is actually the focal point of The Blind Astronomer’s Daughter. This is Caroline... Read More

The Graveyard Book: Even the dead characters seem alive

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Reposting to include Skye's new review:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

Ignore the YA label slapped on this one if that gives you pause. Though that won’t be hard to do because The Graveyard Book opens with a hand in the darkness holding a knife wet with the blood of almost an entire family: father, mother, and older child. The knife lacks only the blood of the toddler son to finish its job. Luckily for the reader (and the boy) he escapes into a nearby cemetery where a mothering ghost convinces the cemetery community to protect him. Another reason to ignore the YA label, or better yet, to revel in it, is that Neil Gaiman’s YA-listed material is stronger than his adult work: tighter, more focused, more intense all around. All that holds true here and The Graveyard Book’s clarity and brevity, often seen as constraints in ... Read More

Crosstalk: The perils of over-communication

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Crosstalk by Connie Willis

In Crosstalk, Connie Willis’ new near-future science fiction novel, Briddey works for Commspan, a smartphone company that is anxious to compete with Apple. For the last six weeks Briddey has been in a whirlwind romance with Trent, a hot young executive at Commspan, who swept Briddey off her feet with his suave charm and his Porsche. Now Trent has invited Briddey, as a prelude to getting engaged, to get a popular “minor” neurological brain surgery, called an EED, along with him, to enhance their ability to sense each other's emotions. Emotional telepathy, if you will. Briddey's co-workers are thrilled for her, but her Irish relatives and her co-worker C.B. Schwartz are urgently telling her not to get the EED: her relatives because they dislike Trent, and C.B. because it’s brain surgery and unintended consequences are always a danger. Briddey, ... Read More

Peace: Mysterious, atmospheric and tinged with nostalgia

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

Peace by Gene Wolfe

Although virtually unclassifiable, Gene Wolfe's 1975 novel, Peace, was chosen for inclusion in both David Pringle's Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels AND Jones & Newman's Horror: Another 100 Best Books. While the novel certainly does have shadings of both the horrific and the fantastic, it will most likely strike the casual reader — on the surface, at least — as more of an autob... Read More

The Wolf in the Attic: Like reading two different books. I really liked one of them.

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The Wolf in the Attic by Paul Kearney

Reading The Wolf in the Attic, by Paul Kearney, was like reading two different books. One of these books was a solid three-star read. The other was very familiar and ultimately unsatisfying, and would probably get a 2.5 star rating from me. I’ll explain at the end of the review how I came to the overall rating I chose.

Kearney’s other work is described as second-world epic fantasy and he is compared to David Gemell. The Wolf in the Attic is a departure for him. It’s set in 1920s Oxford, England, and the main character is an eleven-year-old girl named Anna.

Anna Francis, like her father, is a Greek refugee, forced t... Read More

A Fine and Private Place: A gentle tale of love, death, and lost souls

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A Fine and Private Place by Peter S. Beagle

Peter S. Beagle is a well-known author of many fantasy novels, including the classic The Last Unicorn. However, I don’t often hear mention of his debut novel, A Fine and Private Place (1960), written when he was only 19 years old. Given his age it’s a phenomenal achievement — the prose is polished, filled with pathos and humor, and the characters’ relationships are deftly described. And yet I couldn’t get into the story at all, because there was almost no dramatic tension of any kind — just two central romantic relations, one between two people lonely and disconnected in the living world, and one between two recently deceased spirits not ready to let go of life.

The story bears remarkable sim... Read More

The Time Traveler’s Wife: A haunting and bittersweet love story

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The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

I'm certainly late to the party when it comes to reading Audrey Niffenegger's first novel — I remember it making a huge splash when it was first published, and was astonished to flip open my copy and realise it was released back in 2003. Time certainly flies, which is an apt idiom to recall when reading The Time Traveler's Wife.

Clare meets Henry for the first time when she's six and he's thirty-six. Henry meets Clare for the first time when he's twenty-eight and she's twenty. This is made possible by the fact Henry is born with a rare genetic disease that sporadically pulls him into his past or future, often depositing him in strange locations where he's left stranded and alone.

What makes matters worse... Read More

The Saliva Tree: A tribute to H.G. Wells

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The Saliva Tree by Brian W. Aldiss

In 1966, with the 100th anniversary of H.G. Wells’ birthday approaching, Brian W. Aldiss wrote a story in tribute of one of, if not, the genre’s grandfather. The resulting novella, The Saliva Tree, distills elements of The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds into a suspenseful horror story that has just the socio-political agenda ‘grandpa’ would have approved of.

Set in the late 19th century, The Saliva Tree opens with two “scientifically enlightened” young men standing in the countryside of rural England, watch... Read More

Claimed: 3 for 3

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Claimed by Francis Stevens

At the tail end of my review of Francis Stevens’ 1919 novel The Heads of Cerberus, I mentioned that the author was now a very solid 2 for 2 with me, having loved that book as well as 1918’s The Citadel of Fear, and that I had a feeling that once I took in her 1920 novel, Claimed, that she would be an even more solid 3 for 3. Well, as I predicted, such is indeed the case, now that I have finally read her most impressive third novel. While Citadel had dealt with the discovery of a lost Aztec city and battling gods (Quetzalcoatl and Nacoc-Yaotl), and the dystopian Cerberus with a totalitarian Philadelphia in an alternate-reality future, Claimed... Read More

Kingfisher: A Camelot-type court in the modern era

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review:

Kingfisher by Patricia A. McKillip

Knights dress in black and ride motorcycles, sorcerers and sorceresses run restaurants, and maybe your grandpa isn’t actually crazy. Such is the world in which Patricia A. McKillip’s Kingfisher takes place. Though it may begin with a deceivingly simple quest of a young man looking for his long-lost father, Kingfisher becomes much more than that very quickly. It ends up following the stories of four young people as they navigate their changing worlds and values as well as deftly interweaving their lives in surprisingly satisfying ways. I was leery (and a bit confused) at first, but Kingfisher delivers an enchanting tale of anci... Read More

A Window into Time: A charming SF novella

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A Window into Time by Peter F. Hamilton

Julian is 17 and, though he looks like a normal teenager and he’s a really nice kid, he’s something of a misfit. He doesn’t have a normal family life, he doesn’t have any friends, he’s a little too smart, and everyone thinks he’s strange. The weirdest part about Julian, though, is that he remembers pretty much everything that ever happened to him.

When Julian starts remembering things that didn’t happen, he decides there must be some twist in the fabric of space-time that’s causing his life to get mixed up with someone else’s. That person seems to be in danger and Julian would like to warn him but, if he gets involved, he’ll be risking his own life. However, if Julian can’t figure out how to straighten things out, without causing a time paradox, he may ... Read More

Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee

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Reposting to include Tim's new review.

Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee

Batman: Hush (2002-2003) is a story arc that appeared originally as Batman #608-619. I first saw it as a bound collection at Barnes & Noble when my daughter was shopping for Christmas presents. I knew nothing about internal chronology, but I picked it up and was just stunned by the glossy, dynamic, sensual and powerful artwork of Jim Lee. This guy is really something else, I can understand why he is so popular.

Before reading Batman: Hush I did m... Read More

The Underground Railroad: A moving, substantive, mature work of fiction

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The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Colson Whitehead’s new novel, The Underground Railroad, is a brilliantly realized blend of magical and literary realism that grabs one hard at the start and rarely lets go. The magical aspect appears via Whitehead’s decision to make the railroad literal as opposed to a metaphor and in the way he has his protagonist Cora journey through an alternate history version of the South. The literary realism is seen in his searingly graphic depiction of the slave trade in all its gruesome aspects. The end result will linger some time in the reader’s mind, leaving an indelible impact.

The novel opens with a painfully vivid description of three generations of female slaves, ending with a focus on 16 or 17-year-old (like many slaves, she doesn’t know her age or birthday) Cora, whose mother Mabel abandoned h... Read More

The Book of Speculation: Doesn’t quite come together as expected

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Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

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.

The Book of Speculation, by Erika Swyler, is one of those perplexing novels I come across now and then where the book has everything I would usually lap up as a reader, but for some reason it falls just a little flat, resulting in a book that is "good enough," but falls short of the great read I would normally have expected.

In this case, the specific enticing nove... Read More

The Village in the Treetops: Verne reacting to Darwin

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The Village in the Treetops by Jules Verne

When English naturalist Charles Darwin released his groundbreaking work On the Origin of Species in November 1859, it set off a firestorm of controversy regarding its central tenet: organic evolution, and the descent of life from a common ancestral source. Indeed, such was the brouhaha over this novel concept that even 66 years later, during the so-called Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee, the subject was hotly debated, and in fact, to this very day, over 150 years since Darwin’s most famous work was published, there are still millions of religious fundamentalists who adamantly deny its veracity. And so, it may well be understood that Jules Verne — the Frenchman who has been called “The Father of Science Fi... Read More

Children of the Different: A post-apocalyptic dream world

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Children of the Different by S. C. Flynn

S.C. Flynn’s debut novel, Children of the Different (2016), begins as Arika, a thirteen-year-old girl, enters her Changing, a comatose state during which the child explores the Changeland, a dream-like world, and gain new powers. Arika’s twin brother, Narrah, is upset to watch his sister slip into her Changing. Not only does it sever their telepathic bond, The Path, but it also means that his Changing is coming up at any time. When he finally does succumb to his own Changing, Arika has already exited hers. For most of the novel, Narrah and Arika are separated, one in the world of the living, one in the Changeland, and both trying to solve mysteries that relate to the past and future of their world.

Flynn’s setting for Read More

Ghost Talkers: Thought-provoking, action-packed paranormal spy drama

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Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal

Mary Robinette Kowal leaves behind the British Regency period in Ghost Talkers (2016), setting this paranormal tale during World War I. The British have learned that spiritualism is real, and they are using a circle of mediums to interact with the spirits of recently killed British soldiers, who seek out the mediums to provide whatever information they can from the scene of their deaths. Ginger Stuyvesant is an American medium, engaged to a British intelligence officer, and the main character of this action-packed paranormal spy drama.

This is a fascinating idea and Kowal develops it thoroughly. Realistically, most soldiers who died in a trench aren’t going to have useful intel to bring back; Kowal, a consummate professional,... Read More

I Am Princess X: An exciting YA thriller

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

My 14 year-old daughter (Tali) and I recently listened to the audiobook version of Cherie Priest’s I Am Princess X. We took a look at the print version, too, since the story is part novel, part comic. It’s about a slightly awkward girl named May who, back in fifth-grade, became best friends with a girl named Libby during recess when the two of them, both new to the school, had to sit out. Bored on the playground, together they created a cartoon heroine named Princess X. She has blue hair, wears red Chuck Taylors with her princess dress, and carries a katana instead of a wand (because “anyone can be awesome with magic... Read More

The Shockwave Rider: An important SF work from a lesser known writer

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The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

Something of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, John Brunner is one of the more intriguing though lesser recognized figures in science fiction history. Much the same as Robert Silverberg, he cut a path for himself in genre writing that is essentially pulp sci-fi but later began introducing novels of significantly greater depth to his oeuvre. Stand on ZanzibarThe Sheep Look Up, and The Jagged Orbit are some of the most important novels the field has produced. Drastically elevating the form above c... Read More

Summerlong: Light on both poetry and mystery

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Summerlong by Peter S. Beagle

Summerlong is the latest stand-alone work by Peter S. Beagle, an author widely lauded and respected for his skillful turns of phrase, complicated characters, and his ability to credibly blend the fantastic into the mundane. In Summerlong, Beagle turns his gaze on Puget Sound and a small island off Seattle’s coast, an unremarkable little place which undergoes a transformation over the course of just a few months, changing the lives of its residents in profound and irrevocable ways.

The greatest changes come to Joanna Delvecchio and Abe Aronson, a late-middle-aged couple who have settled into a comfortable routine over their two decades of coupleship: she’s a flight attendant and basketball fanatic, he’s a history... Read More