Stand-Alone

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

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

The Doomed City: A fascinating and thoughtful work of Russian science fiction

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The Doomed City by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky, translated by Andrew Bromfield

The Doomed City is a late 1980’s work by, according to my jacket liner, the two “greatest Russian science fiction masters”: Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. Having never read their other works, or much at all by any other Russian sci-fi authors, I can’t speak to the validity of that statement. But certainly The Doomed City, translated here by Andrew Bromfield, is a fascinating and thoughtful work, one that I thoroughly enjoyed even as I sensed I was probably missing some of the layers/allusions more specific to their homeland.

The setting is a roughly 50-square-kilometer metropolis lit by an artif... Read More

The Muse: A dual timeline mystery

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The Muse by Jessie Burton

In her follow-up to her acclaimed novel The Miniaturist, Jessie Burton adopts a dual timeline structure, following the lives of two creatively gifted women separated by time and place, but linked by a luminous, long-hidden painting that bodes well to take the art world by storm, and a decades-old mystery about the artist. The Muse (2016) lacks the subtle element of magical realism that lent a mysterious aura to the dollhouse and the titular miniaturist who furnished it in her debut novel, but there are other compelling mysteries and themes that drive the plot of The Muse and knit together its two timelines.

In 1967 London, ... Read More

Girls and Goddesses: Stories of Heroines from Around the World

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Girls and Goddesses: Stories of Heroines from Around the World by Lari Don & Francesca Greenwood

Girls and Goddesses: Stories of Heroines from Around the World, written by Lari Don and illustrated by Francesca Greenwood, is a collection of thirteen folktales in a wide range of time and place. While the language is a little flat, for the most part I found it an enjoyable read. And it’s yet another alternative to all those princess-rescued-by-the-boy-hero that used to be the norm.

The cultures/regions included are:



China
Sumeria
France
Greece
Cameroon
Native American
Venezuela
Scandinavia
Japan
Scotland
India
Russia



The tales are relatively short, ranging from six to twelve pages, with mo... Read More

The Jagged Orbit: A dark, unsettling read

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The Jagged Orbit by John Brunner

The 1950s and 60s was a time in the US rife with social tension and conflict. With unpopular wars being fought on foreign soil, blood was also being shed on American streets as ethnic, gender, and counter-culture concerns often turned to violence. Partially a reaction to these social issues, the New Wave science fiction movement, spearheaded by such writers as Ursula Le GuinSamuel DelanyRobert Silverberg, Barry Malzberg, Joanna Russ, and others shifted the genre’s gears, moving away from a hard science, extra-terrestrial focus toward Earth-side concerns. John Bru... Read More

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir: As charming as the film, but deeper and wiser

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The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by R.A. Dick

If you were to ask me to name my top two or three favorite fantasy novels, the answer would take me a long time to come up with, given the overwhelming number of possible choices. But if you wanted to know my top two or three fantasy films, well, I could give you that reply fairly quickly. One of them would of course be The Wizard of Oz (1939), which I steadfastly maintain must be viewed on the big screen. Next up, for me, is The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953), co-created by Dr. Seuss himself. And third, a film that has been charming me (and millions of others) for decades now, 1947’s The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. The only one of these three to be shot completely in B&W, the film provided one of my very favorite actresses, Gene Tierney, with one of her greatest roles (Laura Hunt in 1944’s Laura and Ellen Berent ... Read More

The Ocean at the End of the Lane: An evocative return to childhood

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Reposting to include Stuart's new review.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I’ll start by saying that I’m not hugely familiar with Neil Gaiman’s work. I’ve read Stardust and watched his two Doctor Who episodes… and that’s it. At first I wasn’t sure whether or not to absorb more of his work before tackling The Ocean at the End of the Lane, but decided against it for the sake of a fresh perspective. So consider this a review from someone who has very few preconceptions about Gaiman’s style and themes.

Our middle-aged protagonist (I don’t recall if we ever learn his name) recounts to us his movements after a family funeral. Instead of going to the wake he drives through Sussex to his childhood home where vague memories begin to stir. Going down a little country lane he arrives at the He... Read More

I Am Providence: A smart, dark, funny Lovecraftian mystery

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I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas

“On any other weekend, my body would have been discovered more quickly.” 

Panos Panossian is not the kind of a guy to let the mere fact that he is dead stop him from narrating; even if his first-person narration starts after he’s been killed, and is a faceless corpse in a cabinet in the morgue. That quote is the opening sentence in I Am Providence, a multi-genrebending novel by Nick Mamatas.

Panossian is, well, was a novelist, and a novelist in a very specific niche with a very specific fandom; he wrote Lovecraftian fiction. He was attending the annual Summer Tentacular, a Lovecraft convention held in Providenc... Read More

Stand on Zanzibar: It’s time for everybody to read it

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Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner

George Orwell and Aldous Huxley were two writers who initially established themselves not only in the world of realist fiction, but also as effective observers on society. As a result, their later novels Nineteen Eighty-four and Brave New World are heralded as two of the greatest science fiction novels ever written, with literary purists even willing to make allowances despite the sci-fi leanings. Perhaps it is John Brunner’s misfortune that his career was established in the world of science fiction. When Stand on Zanzibar was published in 1968, only those within the genre took notice of its qualities. As poignant literature that transcends genre, it too comments with profound relevance on the human condition.

The book’s title is based on the idea that 7 billion people ... Read More

The Last Days of New Paris: Surrealism comes for us all

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The Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville

Putting it simply, China Miéville’s The Last Days of New Paris is a “China Miéville” story. For many readers, that’s sufficient information to begin reading.

But here are some additional details, just in case. The Last Days of New Paris is a novella length alternate history in which the Nazis and the resistance fight to control Paris. Something weird is going on in this timeline: surreal creatures called “manifs” wander the streets of Paris after an S-Blast took the surreal creatures out of the artworks and into the world. The “manifs” don’t like Nazis, and so the latter counter the former by m... Read More