Stand-Alone

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

Od Magic: A mild book

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Od Magic by Patricia A. McKillip

The city of Numis is home to the famous Od School of Magic, founded years ago by the legendary giantess Od. She’s apparently immortal, but appears only occasionally, and therefore the school lies in the hands of the king Galin and the wizard-headmaster Valoren, who demand strict obedience from its students. Any unorthodox magic is outlawed, any student that step outside the boundaries set for them are expelled. This is especially true of any student who goes wandering in the Twilight Quarter of the city: a neighborhood that comes alive only after dark, a place of wild and uncontrollable magic that the king is determined to stifle.

This is particularly true when two new faces arrive in Kelior. One in a simple gardener named Brenden Vetch, sent by Od herself to the school in order to take up... Read More

Revival: King channels Lovecraft

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Revival by Stephen King

Revival is a very modern Stephen King novel that channels H.P. Lovecraft at his cyclopean best. His key characters are bold, if not as colorful as some of his best work, and his themes are of familiar and well-trodden King territory. Often hammered by critics (professional and amateur alike) for his weak endings, King builds up to a conclusion that is strong and memorable. It’s monstrous, dark and creepy as hell. It’s pure Lovecraft and beautiful in its austerity.

Revival is a story about religion and anti-religion; a story about belief and the loss of belief … and an inability t... Read More

The Philosopher’s Flight: Quite a thrilling ride

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The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller

The Philosopher’s Flight (2018) is an ambitious World-War-I alternate history fantasy with an unconventional social justice agenda, which only partially caves in on itself. On balance, the story is quite a lot of fun. I have to admit I’ll be looking for more from this talented new author.

This is essentially a coming of age story, and the smarts (and fantasy) of this novel hinge heavily on Tom Miller’s very clever world building around the “science” of empirical philosophy — “sigilry” in layman’s terms. Miller frames up what is effectively magic hokery into a technical discipline mastered only by women, whereby the gentle (ahem) sex execute extraordinary feats of strength (and technology) undreamt of in the WWI era: flight, almost instantaneous mass transit, speed messaging, smoke carving... Read More

A City Dreaming: Intriguing hero, intriguing setting

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A City Dreaming by Daniel Polansky

First things first: A City Dreaming (2016) is not really a novel (as its cover claims). It’s more like a collection of connected short stories that all feature the same protagonist (an adept named M) in the same setting (a supernatural New York City). The stories progress chronologically and have a cast of recurring characters. I liked this set-up quite well, but I suspect that some readers will want to be warned about this straight off so they can choose to approach A City Dreaming when they’re in the mood for a more episodic adventure.

M has just returned to NYC after being out of the country for years. He’s introverted and somewhat of a loner, so at first he doesn’t let anyone know he’s in town, but soon the magical community becomes aware of his presence and then his friends, acquaintances... Read More

The Black Flame: Looooooooong live the princess!

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The Black Flame by Stanley G. Weinbaum

Although Kentucky-born sci-fi author Stanley G. Weinbaum is today considered a seminal writer in his chosen field, his actual career was, sadly, an exceedingly brief one. After making a huge splash with his short story “A Martian Odyssey,” featuring the truly alien, ostrichlike Tweel, in the July ’34 issue of Wonder Stories, Weinbaum shifted into high gear, creating some two dozen short pieces and three novels before succumbing to cancer in December ’35, at the age of 33. His entire career, thus, spanned a mere 18 months. I had previously enjoyed The Best of Stanley G. Weinbaum... Read More

Verdigris Deep: Be careful what you wish for

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Verdigris Deep by Frances Hardinge

A glance back at former reviews of Frances Hardinge’s work reveals that I have overused the word “weird.” Hardly the nicest word, and yet I meant it as a compliment. It’s a testament to my struggle to pinpoint what it is that makes Hardinge’s books stand out. Nevertheless, stand out they do.

Verdigris Deep (2008) is a weird book and, once again, that’s meant as a compliment. Ryan, Josh and Chelle get stranded in a forbidden village when they miss their bus home. Finding they have no money for the next bus they resort to pinching coins from an old wishing well hidden in the wood. What they don’t know is that the well is inhabited by an angry well spirit who doesn't react well to having her coins stolen. ... Read More

Your One & Only: Entirely too familiar

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Your One & Only by Adrianne Finlay

While it’s debatable whether there are any new stories left to be told, I think that discovering fresh ideas or interesting twists within familiar stories is part of what makes reading so enjoyable. Aldous Huxley certainly didn’t create the Dystopian genre with Brave New World, nor did Lois Lowry with The Giver, and neither did Kazuo Ishiguro with Never Let Me Go Read More

How to Stop Time: It isn’t you; it’s me.

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How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

How To Stop Time (HTST): So, do you want to, like, go out again next week or ...

ME: I’m, I’m sorry, but I don’t think, I don’t think this is going to —

HTST: Was it something I —

ME: No. No. It isn’t you; it’s me.

HTST: Not that old —

ME: No, really. Look, there are lots of nice readers out there for you. Millions.

HTST: Millions?

ME: Millions. Like, maybe even best seller millions. And book clubs. And —

HTST: Book clubs? You think?

ME: Definitely. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself a nice screenwriter either, someone who will like you for your good qualities, treat you right, and adapt you.

HTST: You’re not just saying that? Be honest with me.

ME: I’m not just saying it. I am... Read More

Golden Blood: Durand of Arabia

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Golden Blood by Jack Williamson

I’d like to tell you about a terrific book that I have just finished reading. In it, a 2,000-year-old Arabian woman, living her immortal existence in the heart of an extinct volcano after being endowed by a mysterious force of nature, waits patiently for the reincarnation of her dead lover to reappear to her. “Hold on,” I can almost hear you saying. “I know that book … that’s She!” And if that is indeed your reaction, a gold star for you, my friend, for being familiar with one of the most classic, and indeed seminal, works of fantasy literature of the past 150 years. But no, it is not to H. Rider Haggard’s 1886 classic that I refer to here, but rather to a work that came out almost a full half cen... Read More

Future Home of the Living God: Good, but bleak. Really, really, bleak.

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Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich

It’s winter. It’s cold. Our government is a mess. If you’re looking for a flight from reality, a pleasant escape, or a cozy book that offers comfort, do not reach for Louise Erdrich’s 2017 novel Future Home of the Living God. It’s not that book.

On the other hand, if you’ve been wondering what an update of the Margaret Atwood classic The Handmaid’s Tale might read like, or you just love Erdrich’s prose and keen eye for detail, Future Home of the Living God... Read More

The Glass Town Game: A strange, unsettling and deeply personal project

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The Glass Town Game by Catherynne M. Valente

Any book by Catherynne M. Valente contains both the unexpected and the unsurprising. You can always anticipate clever wordplay, a sense of whimsy, and prose that just stops short of purple, but in regards to content all bets are off. She can write anything, from a Wild-Western Snow White, to a brand new take on Arabian Nights, to a sci-fi, alt-history space opera mystery.

And in this case, the plot of The Glass Town Game (2017) almost defies description. Four children, who just happen to be Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne Brontë (yes, THOSE Brontës), are being sent away to boarding school when a mysterious train pulls up and whisks them away to Glass Town. Astonishment reigns since this is the imagi... Read More

The Only Harmless Great Thing: A poetically imaginative work of social fiction

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The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander

Brooke Bolander’s The Only Harmless Great Thing (2018) is a lyrical, often moving, and sometimes searing novella that sets itself in an alternate reality that entangles two historical events: the public electrocution of Topsy the elephant at Coney Island in 1903 and the “Radium Girls” scandal in the early 1900s. That the two events were not simultaneous as in the novella is only part of the “alternate” part of this alternate reality. More central to the plot is the fact that elephants in this world are sentient.

The plot itself, which has two time strands, is relatively simple. In the early strand, Regan, a young radium girl already dying from the radiation she’s been exposed to in her job painting watch dials, trains a young elephant, Topsy, to replace her, both of them knowing what th... Read More

Mixed Up: Stories and cocktail recipes; both are intoxicating

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Mixed Up edited by Nick Mamatas & Molly Tanzer

Mixed Up (2017) is an anthology of cocktail-themed flash fiction and cocktail recipes, edited by Nick Mamatas and Molly Tanzer. The stories, like the drink recipes, are grouped by type and theme. I thought the editors took the most liberal view of “flash” here, because I think some of these works might run to 1200 words or slightly over, and I think of flash as topping out at 1,000 words. I don’t think there is a hard and fast threshold, and certainly the spirit of flash fiction (see what I did there?) is met.

Nick Mamatas says in his introduction to the stories that this is conceived as an old-fashioned “all-stories” magazine. The tales in the book includ... Read More

The Sky is Yours: I wrestled with this literary SF novel

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The Sky is Yours by Chandler Klang Smith

I wrestled with this review for Chandler Klang Smith’s 2018 novel The Sky is Yours from the first paragraph. I wanted to refer to it as a “zeitgeist novel.” After I wrote that, I glanced at Wikipedia and decided that, as Inigo Montoya says to the Sicilian in The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” So, I’ve decided that The Sky is Yours is not a zeitgeist novel. It’s more self-conscious than that. It is a novel of the zeitgeist, using a future-dystopia to comment on the values, concerns and fears of modern living.

The Sky is Yours is about the future the way William Gibson’s SPRAWL Read More

When the Birds Fly South: Urge for going

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When the Birds Fly South by Stanton A. Coblentz

Never let it be said that you can’t learn anything from Facebook! It was on the Vintage Paperback and Pulp Forum there, for example, that this reader recently discovered his newest favorite author. Several of my very knowledgeable fellow members on that page happened to be discussing the merits of a writer who I had previously never even heard of before; a man with the curious name Stanton A. Coblentz. Very much intrigued, I later did a little nosing about, and managed to lay my hands on Coblentz’ highly regarded When the Birds Fly South. And I am so glad that I did. This novel, as the author revealed later, was his very favorite of all his many sci-fi/fantasy works. It was, appropriately enough, originally released in 1945 as a Wings Press hardcover (“wings,” birds, and flight ar... Read More

Bryony and Roses: Bryony and the Beast

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Bryony and Roses by T. Kingfisher

Seventeen year old Bryony and her sisters, Holly and Iris (I’m sensing a horticultural theme here) were the daughters of a wealthy merchant who lost his fortune through risky investments three years earlier. They moved to the remote village of Lostfarthing, where the now-orphaned sisters are barely scraping by. Bryony, a dedicated and enthusiastic gardener, hears about some particularly hardy rutabaga seeds available in a nearby village, and sets off to get some. Unfortunately, on the way back she’s caught in a spring blizzard. She and her pony are nearly frozen when they come across an impossible road that leads to an equally improbable manor house in the forest. In the manor house is magically provided food, a lovely rose in a vase … and, of course, a Beast.

For about the first half of Bryony and Roses (2015), this novel... Read More

The Power: Simple concept, compelling read

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Reposting to include Bill's new review.

The Power by Naomi Alderman

One thing’s for sure, The Power (2016 in the UK, Oct 2017 in the US) demands attention. Margaret Atwood has given it her blessing and I’ll eat my hat if The Power doesn’t have its own Netflix series sometime soon. Naomi Alderman could well be the next big name in subversive, feminist fiction.

The Power asks — what would happen if all women could physically dominate men? Over five years, Alderman answers that question and the answer is explosive, bloody, wild and thought-provoking.

One day, across the globe, fifteen-year-old girls realise they have electrical power in their fingertips. For some of them it... Read More

Doctor Who: The Book of Whoniversal Records: Official Timey-Wimey Edition

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Doctor Who: The Book of Whoniversal Records: Official Timey-Wimey Edition by Simon Guerrier

It’s impossible to deny the appeal of acquiring trivia relevant to one’s interests or chosen fandom; whether slinging obscure Star Wars minutiae across a family dining table or competing against teams at a local bar’s Harry Potter-themed trivia contest, it’s always fun to discover what fan is truly the most committed. To that end, I present Simon Guerrier’s Doctor Who: The Book of Whoniversal Records: Official Timey-Wimey Edition (2018).

If you’ve ever wondered what the “greatest potential threat to Gallifrey” was, when the very first Dalek appeared on screen, or which of the various Companions appeared in the most episodes, that information and much, much more will be found within these pages. Perhaps you want to know which of the Doctors was the longest-l... Read More

Central Station: A wealth of ideas, a breathtaking vision

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Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Central Station by Lavie Tidhar

Central Station is a thoughtful, poignant, human take on a possible future. For the most part Central Station occurs at the titular port on planet earth. This space resides in what we know today as Tel Aviv, but in the distant future it has gone through many names and many people. Everything seems to begin in earnest when Boris Chong arrives in Central Station after spending a great deal of time away — some of which on Mars. Central Station, the place, is a half-thought meeting of a variety of worlds. Central Station the book is more thoughtful than I think I know how to express, but I’ll give it a try.

Central Station occurs in the very spot where humans expanded from our first planet... Read More

Raw Spirit: The search for Scotch

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Raw Spirit by Iain Banks

In Raw Spirit (2003), Iain Banks (Iain M. Banks to science fiction readers) and his friends journey in search of the perfect dram.

It would not be wise to approach this book for an overview of Scotch, how it’s made, and how to drink it. One part stunt memoir, one part travelogue, and one part wide ranging digressions, Raw Spirit is really held together by Banks’ love of Scotch and of hanging around with his buddies. In essence, this means that they tour around Scotland in fast cars, they travel to midge-infested islands to look at distilleries, and, generally speaking, eat until they’re stuffed and drink until they’re loaded. There’s a section of recommended books for further reading, the table of contents is quite... Read More

Creatures of Will and Temper: A Wilde pastiche

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Reposting to include Marion's new review.

Creatures of Will and Temper by Molly Tanzer

Molly Tanzer took quite a bit of inspiration from Oscar Wilde’s classic 1891 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray for her 2017 novel Creatures of Will and Temper, and yet manages to make her story far more unique than simply gender-switching some characters and tossing in modern-sounding references to changing social mores.

Evadne Gray and her younger sister Dorina are completely different — Evadne loves fencing above all else, while Dorina nurtures dreams of someday becoming an art critic — so being forced to take a trip to London together, with Evadne acting as Dorina’s chaperone, is cause for tremendous friction between the two. Th... Read More

Unsong: Celestial spheres and whale puns

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Unsong by Scott Alexander

Sometimes, you pick up a book expecting to know what’s in it, and expecting that you’ll like it, and your expectations are met and everyone goes home happy. This scenario is at least good, often excellent, sometimes superlative, and by this time in my book-reading life that’s usually what I get.

But there’s a peculiar kind of pleasure in picking up a book which you have no expectations for, good or bad, putting it down after the first chapter, and saying, “I don’t know what’s going on here, but I think I like it.”

Scott Alexander’s Unsong (2017) fell into that category for me, and that’s a big part of what makes it one of my favorite books this year.

Unsong is set in a world which... Read More

The Bird’s Child: Beauty and brutality, magic and illusion

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The Bird’s Child by Sandra Leigh Price

There’s something to be said for seeking out authors from more unfamiliar places, especially when experiencing a dry phase in which nothing read quite hits the mark. The experience can be illuminating and so it was with The Bird’s Child, a 2015 debut novel by Australian author Sandra Leigh Price.

The Bird’s Child tells the story of three people living in Sydney in 1929, all with pasts they’d rather forget. There’s Ari, a young Jewish man, victim of a pogrom, who lives with his zealous uncle but dreams forbidden dreams of Houdini and magic. There’s Lily, a mysteriously beautiful young woman whose pale skin and hair have the power to bewitch those around her. And finally there’s Billy, haunted and dangerous, determined to have whatever and whoever he wants.
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Spoonbenders: Heartwarming and extraordinary

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Reposting to include Tadiana's new review.

Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory

Spoonbenders (2017) by Daryl Gregory, is multi-generational family saga. It’s a coming-of-age story. It’s a psychic adventure story and a weird conspiracy tale for lovers of shadowy CIA projects like MKULTRA. It’s a gangster story. There’s a heist. There is a long con, and a madcap comedy along the lines of classic Marx Brothers routines. There are a couple of romances, a direct-distribution scheme, a medallion, a cow and a puppy. If we’re talking genre, I don’t know what Spoonbenders is. I know I loved it. I know it was fun and made me laugh, I know it was scary at times and I know I closed the book feeling happy and sad. And I know it’s a five-star b... Read More

The Woman in Black: A classic ghost story

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Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

So what does a young actor do after starring in one of the most lucrative franchises in cinema history? That was the precise dilemma facing the 22-year-old Daniel Radcliffe in 2011, upon the completion of his 8th and final Harry Potter film. The Potter series had brought in a whopping $7.7 billion worldwide over its 10-year run, firmly establishing Radcliffe as an international star. And so, the question: What next? Wisely, the young actor’s follow-up project was another in the supernatural/fantasy vein, and one that was also based on an already well-loved source. The film was 2012’s The Woman In Black, another successful film for Radcliffe, having been produced for $15 million and bringing in almost $130 million at the box office. The film was based on English author Read More