Stand-Alone

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

A Town Divided by Christmas: A humorous mix of science and romance

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A Town Divided by Christmas by Orson Scott Card

The scientific method collides with southern small town culture and a local mystery in Orson Scott Card’s charming and insightful novella A Town Divided by Christmas (2018). Two post-doc academics ― Dr. Delilah (Spunky) Spunk, an economist, and Dr. Elyon Dewey, a geneticist ― are sent to Good Shepherd, North Carolina to do a genetic and sociological study. The hope is that by studying a relatively genetically isolated population, they can prove or disprove the theory that certain people carry a “homebody marker": a genetic tendency to remain in their native community or return to it. Spunky, the more personable of the two, is charged with interviewing the townspeople and convincing them to give genetic samples; Elyon (“that mo... Read More

Batman: Year One: Worth reading and rereading

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Reposting to include Brad's new review.

Batman: Year One by Frank Miller

Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986) completely reinvented Batman as an angry and bitter older man coming out of retirement to stem a rising tide of crime in Gotham City alongside Police Commissioner Jim Gordon. This was a dark vision of a complex and troubled soul driven to fight crime to avenge his parent’s senseless death, and it resonated with a new generation of readers and gained comics greater credibility among mainstream readers. Just one year later Miller produced a four-part story arc called Read More

Spinning Silver: We all love this

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Reposting to include Taya and Nathan's new reviews.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

Let’s get this out of the way early. Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver (2018) is not perfect. It’s a little overlong, with a bit of a pacing issue about two-thirds of the way through. Beyond that, other problems include ... no, wait. I forgot. There are no other problems. And I lifted up each and every page to check under them. Zip. Nada. Nothing. So yeah, the biggest problem with Spinning Silver is kind of like the problem you have when the waiter brings out your chocolate cake dessert, and it’s a little bit bigger than you were planning on. Oh, the humanity.

My marketing info calls this a “retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin fairytale,”... Read More

A Nameless Witch: Trips along merrily without any pretensions

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A Nameless Witch by A. Lee Martinez

This silly little tale is about a beautiful witch who doesn’t have a name. When she was young she was taken in by an old ugly witch who educated her in magic spells and other witchiness. Part of her education involved learning how to make herself appear ugly with sloppy clothes, hair coverings, and warts, because nobody trusts a beautiful witch.

After the death of her mentor, the young nameless witch was on her own, though she acquired a few companions: an enchanted broom, a troll, and a demonic duck. After they settled into a friendly village, a brave knight came along and warned them that a goblin horde was approaching. The witch, her companions, and the knight teamed up to defeat the goblins and an evil magician who had plans to remake the world. During the process, the witch realizes she’s got the hots for the knight, but she worries she may eat... Read More

The Gates of Eden: Interesting ideas about evolution and species diversity

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The Gates of Eden by Brian Stableford

Lee Caretta is a geneticist who has been sent, along with a xenobiologist, to the newly discovered planet of Naxos to investigate the mysterious deaths of the first exploratory team to arrive on the planet. As far as anyone knows, there are no sentient species on Naxos, but Lee and his colleagues will learn that there is life on Naxos, and it is strange and dangerous.

But it’s not only the new planet that is hostile. There is some political and personal intrigue going on, too, and it might be just as deadly. Lee will be hard-pressed to discover the planet’s secrets, as well as the humans’ secrets, before it’s too late.

The Gates of Eden (1983) is an entertaining, tense, and pretty quick read. I was interested in the planet’s ecology and I wanted to know what killed the exploratory team. Lee h... Read More

The Soul Eater: Moby Dick in space

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The Soul Eater by Mike Resnick

Nicobar Lane is a hunter. People hire him to acquire (dead or alive) exotic species from all over the galaxy. They pay him a lot of money to do this and he’s very successful. But there’s one creature who he refuses to hunt: a creature known by different cultures throughout the galaxy as the Soul Eater, or the Dreamwish Beast, or Starduster. People say this creature lives in space, is not affected by black holes, and perhaps even eats them! Nicobar thinks the beast is a legend and that it’s not worth his time to go looking for it.

But then he meets an old man who claims to have encountered the legendary beast many years ago. The man offers Nicobar a deal: if the old man can help Nicobar finish his current hunt in a fraction of the time it usually takes, then they’ll spend the time they save looking for the Soul Eater. That’s how Nicobar discovers th... Read More

Witch House: Sarai, Sarai, quite contrary

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Witch House by Evangeline Walton

Ever since British author Horace Walpole kick-started the haunted house genre with his seminal short novel of Gothic romance, The Castle of Otranto (1765), there have been hundreds of short stories and dozens of novels centered on this most shuddery of literary subjects. But for this reader, the two novels at the very top of the ectoplasmic heap have long been Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House (1959), still the most spine-tingling book that I have ever read, and Richard Matheson’s ubercreepy Hell House (1971); perhaps not surprisingly, those two were later adapted into exquisitely scary cinematic fare, in, respectively, The Haunting Read More

Dimension of Miracles: Absurd, amusing, thought-provoking

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Dimension of Miracles by Robert Sheckley

A few years ago, Neil Gaiman produced a series of audiobooks called Neil Gaiman Presents in which he identified several of his favorite novels that had not yet been produced in audio format, found suitable narrators, and provided his own introductions to the books. I’ve purchased almost all of them.

In his introduction to Robert Sheckley’s Dimension of Miracles (1968), Gaiman discusses his disco... Read More

The Man Who Fell to Earth: A vivid portrayal of alcoholism

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The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis

Thomas Jerome Newton is a humanoid alien who has come to Earth on a mission. He hopes to save the remaining 300 aliens who are dying on his home planet. Since childhood he’s been preparing for this, training by watching and listening to Earth’s radio and TV broadcasts. Being mostly humanoid in appearance, and understanding much of Earth’s culture, he has disguised himself to successfully pass as a man from Kentucky.

Soon after his arrival, he contacts a patent lawyer and begins to “invent” the technology of his superior planet. His goal is to earn half a billion dollars so he can have the money he needs to fund his mission. He needs to keep his identity secret because, though his intentions toward the humans are completely benevolent, who knows what they will do if they find out there’s an alien among them.

But there is ... Read More

The Devil’s Bride: The only Jules de Grandin novel

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The Devil’s Bride by Seabury Quinn

Pop Quiz: Which author was the most frequently published in the pages of the legendary pulp magazine Weird Tales? If your answer is the obvious one, H.P. Lovecraft, guess again. Robert E. Howard, C.L. Moore, Henry Kuttner, Edmond Hamilton, Robert Bloch? Still wrong. Surprisingly, the answer is Washington, D.C.-born Seabury Quinn, who, during the 279-issue run of Weird Tales, dating from 1923 - ... Read More

Kingdoms of Elfin: Brrr!

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Kingdoms of Elfin by Sylvia Townsend Warner

I first read Sylvia Townsend Warner’s Kingdoms of Elfin (1977) almost twenty years ago. At the time, I was using the recommendation lists in the back of Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s fairy tale books as a to-read list (side note: I highly recommend this; I found lots of amazing books that way). The online used-book market was not what it is today, so I found most of them by haunting the local used bookstores constantly to see if anything on the list had appeared since my last visit. Kingdoms of Elfin was one of the hardest to find. When I finally did, it left me with a lasting impression of sad and unsettling content delivered in beau... Read More

Rock Manning Goes for Broke: A strange and original tale by a brilliant writer

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Rock Manning Goes for Broke by Charlie Jane Anders

The thing I loved the most about Rock Manning Goes for Broke, the 2018 novella by Charlie Jane Anders, is the narrative voce of Rock himself. Here are the opening lines:

Earliest I remember, Daddy threw me off the roof of our split-level house. “Boy’s gotta learn to fall sometime,” he told my mom just before he slung my pants seat and let me go.

That’s the flavor of this brief, fast-paced, action-packed dystopian, heroic dark comedy and kinda-love story.

Dad is not a psycho, or maybe he is, but he is also a stuntman, teaching his sons the trade. Rock gets older and enters school, where his class-clown antics bring him to the attention of the school bully, and also to the... Read More

Moon of the Crusted Snow: History repeats itself as the world ends

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Moon of the Crusted Snow by Waubgeshig Rice

History, legacy, identity, family, and community are all at stake against the backdrop of the modern world coming quietly to an end in Waubgeshig Rice’s slim, but powerful, novel Moon of the Crusted Snow (2018). Survival isn’t just an issue of preparation here — in order for any one person to thrive, the community must be strong; in order for the community to survive, each person must contribute unselfishly. Human nature being what it is, unfortunately, that’s often easier said than done.

As winter draws near, Evan Whitesky and many other members of his small Anishinaabe community are stocking up supplies, food, and firewood. The electricity, television, and phone services the reservation receives from nearby Canadian suppliers aren’t always reliable, so the tribal council places an imperativ... Read More

The Song of Achilles: An epic love story

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The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The story of Achilles has been passed down through the ages and adapted countless times, most recently in Pat Barker's The Silence of the Girls, but also in less successful interpretations of the tale (Brad Pitt in Troy, I'm looking at you). The Song of Achilles (2011) by Madeline Miller offers an entirely new perspective altogether. It is something of an origins story, but most unusually is that it is told through the eyes of Achilles' lover, Patroclus.

We first meet Patroclus as a young boy. His mother, he tells us, is simple and he l... Read More

The Book of Hidden Things: Well, that was interesting

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The Book of Hidden Things by Francesco Dimitri

Francesco Dimitri’s 2018 novel The Book of Hidden Things is one that I appreciated more than I liked. In fact, I had to think about it for a few days before I wrote this review, because I started seeing more positives in it upon reflection. This is because, despite the title and the packaging, I’m probably not the ideal audience for this book. In reading this review, understand that your mileage may vary.

The Book of Hidden Things takes place in Salento, where every year, on a specific day, four men gather at The American Pizza pizzeria. They made this Pact, to always meet on this day, when they were teenagers. This year, though, Arturo, who goes by Art, is missing. His three friends, Tony, Mauro and Fabio, embark on a search for him that leads them into madness, mysteri... Read More

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle: A compelling murder mystery wrapped in an enigma

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The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Debut author Stuart Turton’s The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (2018), originally published earlier this year in Great Britain as The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, is an intricately plotted murder mystery, set in an isolated early 20th century English mansion, with a highly imaginative speculative element that is only gradually revealed, as our main character tries to figure out who he really is, and how to solve the mystery of Evelyn Hardcastle’s pending death … or has her death already occurred?

The plot and setting are worthy of Agatha Christie: Lord and Lady Hardcastle have invited a number of guests to their British country mansion, Blackheath House, for a weekend party to celebrate the return of their daughter, Evelyn, from Paris. (The notable guests ... Read More

The People’s Republic of Everything: Not the right collection for me

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The People’s Republic of Everything by Nick Mamatas

I don’t know if I simply wasn’t in the right mood for Nick Mamatas’ short-story collection The People’s Republic of Everything (2018), or if I’m not the right audience for his preferred themes and overall style, but this book and I just could not mesh.

There was one story, “Tom Silex, Spirit-Smasher,” which gripped my attention and had everything I look for in short fiction. The story focuses on Rosa Martinez, whose elderly grandmother might — through quirks of legality regarding her first marriage and the question of ownership of her first husband’s pulp publications — own the rights to a series of stories revolving around psychopomp Tom Silex. The character work is strong, the plot is laser-focuse... Read More

The Silence of the Girls: Powerful retelling of The Iliad from the female perspective

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Reposting to include Ray's new review.

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

Toward the end of Pat Barker’s newest novel, her main character Briseis thinks to herself:

“Yes, the death of young men in battle is a tragedy ... worthy of any number of laments — but theirs is not the worst fate. I looked at Andromache, who’d have to live the rest of her amputated life as a slave, and I thought: We need a new song.

The eloquently powerful The Silence of the Girls (2018) is Barker’s attempt to create just that, and she just about nails it.

Barker’s novel is a re-telling of Homer’s The Iliad, told mostly from the point of view of Briseis, the young girl taken by Achilles as a spoil of war and then later taken from him by Agamemnon as compensation fo... Read More

Good Guys: Pleasant but forgettable

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Good Guys by Steven Brust

The Foundation, a secretive government agency, collects people who have magical powers and puts them to work for minimum wage. They are tasked with keeping evil magic users under control while ensuring that normal people don’t find out that magic exists.

In Good Guys (2018) we follow three of these folks: Donovan, Susan “Hippie Chick,” and Marci. At the Foundation’s direction, they are working together to investigate a string of magical murders which are getting progressively more gruesome and seem to have a particular end-game in mind. Donovan, Susan, and Marci investigate crime scenes, find clues, make deductions (and huge leaps of logic), and attempt to find and stop the killer before the killer gets them.

This is all very dangerous and they don’t get a lot of support (or pay) from the bureaucratic organizatio... Read More

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster: Best MG book I’ve read in some time

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Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster (2018), by Jonathan Auxier, is a wonderfully, bittersweetly poignant MG/YA book that I highly recommend for its warmth and gentle eloquence.

Set in Victorian England, Auxier’s Dickensian story focuses on young chimneysweep Nan, who grew up mentored in the field by The Sweep. When he disappears one night though, all Nan has left from him are his hat, her skills, and on odd lump of charcoal. Nan spends the next few years in indentured employment to the cruel, abusive Wilkie Crudd, but a near-fatal flue fire changes her life forever as she finds herself free of Crudd and a mentor herself, albeit to a child-like golem named Charlie rather than another chimneysweep.

There’s so much to love about Sweep, beginning with the main cha... Read More

Sourdough: Celebrates the appreciation of excellent food

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Sourdough by Robin Sloan

I really loved Robin Sloan’s Sourdough (2017), but not everyone will. You probably will if you’re a foodie (I am), an introvert (I am), and a bit geeky (I am). If you love sourdough bread (I do) and magical realism (I do), you’ve just got to read Sourdough. And you must try the audio version. It’s amazing.

Lois is new to San Francisco. She moved from Michigan, where she grew up, and she’s starting a job as a programmer of robotic arms at a tech company where everyone works so hard that they basically have no other life. Most of them just eat a nutritive slurry rather than bothering to plan, shop, and prepare meals.

Most nights Lois orders her dinner from a food delivery se... Read More

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing: It’s not about aliens, it’s about us

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An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

Disclaimer: As my students know, I’ve had a crush on Hank Green for years. I will try to not let this bias my review.

In the middle of the night when April May, a graphic designer, is on her way home from work in Manhattan, she’s the first person to notice a huge new statue on the sidewalk. It’s totally out of place, but she appreciates its artistry, so she calls her friend Andy and asks him to help her make a video about the statue (which she names Carl). When Andy uploads it to YouTube, it goes viral. When other Carls are discovered in other major world cities, April, the first person to report on the Carls, becomes famous and begins to relish her role as their spokesperson. Her fame opens many doors but also causes problems and, eventually, becomes dangerous. Read More

Free Live Free: No rent, but you’ll have to pay in brain cells

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Free Live Free by Gene Wolfe

First of all, let me lay a few cards on the table: Gene Wolfe is my favorite science-fiction author and might be my favorite author, period. I’d give something like fifteen of his books five-star reviews; the only other author who comes close to that is Jack Vance.

Free Live Free (1984) is one of his two books that I just. Don’t. Get. (Castleview is the other.) I’ve read it at least three times, I’ve puzzled over the explanatory synopsis of one character’s actions at the end (I believe the publisher insisted on its inclusion), I’ve read a couple of essays commenting on it, and I still have no clear idea how most of the story connects to ... Read More

Voyage of the Dogs: A book for dog lovers of all ages

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Voyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout

Voyage of the Dogs (2018) by Greg van Eekhout is a middle-grade science fiction book. Young readers will certainly enjoy this action-packed book with dog main characters. Adult dog lovers can enjoy it too.

Lopside is part of a team of “Barkonauts,” specially trained uplifted dogs who are part of the first interstellar space voyage. The Laika is aimed at a planet nicknamed Stepping Stone. Along with the human crew, embryos of cattle and sheep, and fertilized chicken eggs, four dogs comprise the manifest of the ship. As he fulfills his other duties, Lopside searches the starship every day for rats, because he is part terrier. He never finds any, but he is diligent. Lopside feels a little uncomfortable among the other thr... Read More

Blackfish City: The cyberpunk novel I didn’t know I was missing

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Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller 

“People would say she came to Qaanaaq in a skiff towed by a killer whale harnessed to the front like a horse. In these stories, which grew astonishingly elaborate in the days and weeks after her arrival, the polar bear paced beside her on flat bloody deck of the boat. Her face was clenched and angry…”

Blackfish City (2018) is the cyberpunk book I’ve been wanting to read for a while now, without really knowing it. With a strange and wonderful setting, augmented humans, powerful AIs, catastrophically tilted wealth-and-power dynamics, an “information disease,” crazy-wild urban sports and vivid visuals, Sam J. Miller’s novel picks up the old baton of William Gibson and carries it into some twisty, complex post... Read More