Stand-Alone

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

Dark Piper: Intense and memorable for young readers

Dark Piper by Andre Norton

A decade-long war is finally over and the people who live on the planet of Beltane are relieved. During the war, Beltane, where many scientists lived, was recruited for the war effort and served, unwillingly, as an experimental lab. After the war, most of the scientists left the planet, creating a brain drain, and the people who remained were pacifists who looked forward to starting a new way of life without interference from the Confederation.

When a disfigured veteran named Griss Lugard is brought back home to Beltane, he warns the citizens that because the Confederacy has fallen, there is no law, and they shouldn’t trust people who want to come to Beltane because they might have bad intentions. While the citizens of Beltane are eager to accept and shelter refugees fleeing war-ravaged worlds, Lugard vehemently objects, arguing that some of the refugees could be pirates looking for government and mili... Read More

Cloud Cuckoo Land: Transcends the sum of its parts

Reposting to include Ray's new review.

Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

What do a pair of young kids on the opposite sides of the fall of Constantinople, the protagonist of an ancient Greek tale, an eco-terrorist, a Korean war vet and former prisoner-of-war, and a young girl on a generation ship have in common? Well, besides all being major characters in Anthony Doerr’s newest novel, Cloud Cuckoo Land (2021). To find out what else ties them all together, you’ll have to read the book, which I do recommend despite some issues.

I’m going to leave the plot summary such as it is to the introduction, as part of the pleasure of Cloud Cuckoo Land is sorting through the pieces and seeing how they all fit together. Structurally, as you might guess, the novel’s a bi... Read More

And What Can We Offer You Tonight: Dreamlike, angry horror

And What Can We Offer You Tonight by Premee Mohamed

Premee Mohamed’s novella And What Can We Offer You Tonight (2021) is set in a drowning city where human life is not cheap — it’s worthless. If starvation, violence or disease doesn’t kill you, probably one of the routine government “culls” will, unless you are one of the uber-wealthy, living elsewhere and treating the city like a personal playground/hunting-ground, or a person who services the very wealthy. This leads us to Jewel, our first-person narrator, a courtesan in an elite, exclusive and very expensive “house,” the House of Bicchieri.

Jewel gets a portion of every client’s payment, and a share of any tips; it seems like she would have enough money to escape the “gilded cage” in which she lives, if she wanted to, but the courtesans ... Read More

Empire of Jegga: Lovely Vrita and Ho-Ghan’s heroes

Empire of Jegga by David V. Reed

I have a feeling that most people, when they begin a book in the genre of the Golden Age space opera, go in expecting a slam-bang action affair replete with starship battles, interplanetary conflict, weapons of superscience, hissable villains and cheerable heroes. Well, I am here now to tell you of a Golden Age space-opera novel in which all those aspects are indeed most certainly present, but in very much a secondary role. The book is one that you may very well be unfamiliar with, and for good reason, although its author’s name just might ring a bell among some of you.

The book in question is entitled Empire of Jegga, by the NYC-born writer David V. Reed, whose real name was David Levine. Reed’s first novel of four, Empire of Jegga initially appeared complete in the November 1943 issue of Amazing Stories (cover price... Read More

The Original: A short SF thriller

The Original by Brandon Sanderson & Mary Robinette Kowal

Holly wakes up in the hospital. Her last memory is being at a party with Jonathan, her husband. The party was for a potter and she remembers being thrilled to actually be able to touch the clay – something real to feel and even deconstruct. She has no idea how she ended up in the hospital, and it takes a while to get some answers, but finally she learns that she has been cloned as a Provisional Replica because her real self (her Original) murdered her husband. She has four days to find her Original and bring it to justice.

Holly is confused because not only does she not remember killing her husband, but she loves him, they get along great, and the goriness of the murder doesn’t sound like her style. Yet, there is plenty of evidence that she is the culprit. As a provisional clone, Holly’s genes have been edited to give her the kinds of skills she needs to hunt down ... Read More

The Escapement: Brilliantly weird (or possibly weirdly brilliant)

The Escapement by Lavie Tidhar

Lavie Tidhar’s The Escapement (2021)is a fantastic and fantastical fever dream of a novel, a Weird Western via Lewis Carroll, Gilgamesh if had been translated and illustrated by Norton Juster and scored by Ennio Morricone, The Searchers if it had starred Buster Keaton, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid had it been directed by David Lynch from a screenplay co-written by Steven King, Raymond Carver, and Italo Calvino and storyboarded by Salvador Dali. It’s a wondrous riot of imagination that veers back and forth from horrific to heartbreaking to laugh-out-loud funny to macabre to absurdist. Defying genre,... Read More

The Green Man of Graypec: Kastrove convertible

The Green Man of Graypec by Festus Pragnell

In his famous short story of 1858 entitled “The Diamond Lens,” Irish-American author Fitz-James O’Brien gave his readers a tale of a scientist who invents a new type of microscope and with it discovers a woman living in a droplet of water. This fascinating premise of humanoid life existing in a microscopic realm was later amplified by NYC-born author Ray Cummings, whose 1919 novella “The Girl in the Golden Atom” told of a chemist who’d discovered a beautiful female living in the subatomic world of his mother’s wedding ring (!), and later invented a miniaturization drug that enabled him to pay this woman a visit. Cummings’ novella was such a success that he came out with a sequel the following year, “People of the Golden Atom”; the two novellas would later be fixed up and combined to form the 1922 novel The Girl in the Golden Atom, which, like O’Brien’s ... Read More

Bacchanal: Trapped souls, a dark carnival and a quest for belonging

Bacchanal by Veronica G. Henry

In the northern hemisphere, it’s heading for autumn, when nature slows and sleeps, when days get shorter, and tales get spookier. It’s the time of year for “dark carnival” tales, and Veronica G. Henry provides us with a new one, Bacchanal (2021), her debut novel.

In the late 1930s, The G.B Bacchanal Carnival makes the south-and-southwest circuit of the USA, and along the way they often pick up new acts. Clay, a red-haired white man from Chicago, is the “face” of the carnival, but all the acts are Black performers. Clay and his lieutenant, Jamey, a Black man born in the south, scout for talent. The people they hire are not your average performers; they all have a touch of magic. And Clay, for all his apparent authority, is not the boss of the operation. That position is held by a powerful African demon, Ahiku, who uses the carnival to search for (... Read More

Among Thieves: A fun, light read

Among Thieves by M.J. Kuhn


Among Thieves (2021), by M.J. Kuhn, is a sort of two-tier book for me. On the one hand, it’s a fast-paced heist novel that speeds along amiably, easily, and with some humor. On the other hand, it’s somewhat of a paint-by-number heist novel that doesn’t really add anything new to the genre and skimps a bit on characterization and world-building. If it’s your first experience with this type of story, or you’re a younger reader, and/or someone who prefers plot-driven rather than character-driven stories, then it’s probably in the 3.5-4.0-star range. If you’ve read similar works, though, or look for more substance and originality in your characters, it’s more likely a 3.0 or, if you’re grumpy that day, a 2.5.

Ryia Cautella, aka the Butcher of Carrowwick... Read More

Ace of Spades: Dark academia meets Gossip Girl, and no place is safe

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

Ace of Spades (2021) is Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé’s first novel. It’s a YA thriller and doesn’t have any speculative elements, but if you like good prose, good characterization and high-suspense thrillers this book might be for you. I was not the target audience for this book, but after the first couple of chapters, I could not put it down.

Chiamaka and Devon are students at an upscale private high school called Niveus Academy. It’s senior year, and the two are each selected to be Senior Prefects (the school, while located in the USA, follows certain British school traditions.) For Chiamaka, this simply ticks another box on her personal to-do list, which include being crowned queen of the school ball and accepted into Yale premed. Devon, a scholarship student, is stunned that he’s been made prefect, because he has no friends and k... Read More

Intrigue on the Upper Level: My kind of Hell, Chicago is…

Intrigue on the Upper Level by Thomas Temple Hoyne

Just recently, I had some words to say about Jack Williamson and Dr. Miles J. Breuer’s 1931 novel The Birth of a New Republic, in which a group of citizens (living on the Moon) rises up in rebellion against the despotic corporate forces oppressing them. Well, now I am here to tell you of another sci-fi book of the early ‘30s dealing with still another revolt against the powers that be. The book in question this time is called Intrigue on the Upper Level, by someone named Thomas Temple Hoyne. The chances are very good that you are unfamiliar with both this nove... Read More

Harlem Shuffle: Another twist from a master storyteller

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

One thing we can be sure to expect from Colson Whitehead is the unexpected. The double Pulitzer Prize winner shot to fame with the alternate history (and FanLit favourite) The Underground Railroad. He debuted with speculative fiction, later wrote a zombie novel, and his work now takes another twist: a heist novel, in the form of his latest release, Harlem Shuffle (2021).

The book follows Ray Carney, a furniture salesman in 1950s - 1960s Harlem. His wife, Elizabeth, is expecting their second child, so when Ray's cousin Freddie — ever the liability — comes to him with the proposition to rob the Hotel Theresa, it's easy to understand why Ray is reluctant to get involved.... Read More

In the Watchful City: Some fresh takes, but needed more development

In the Watchful City by S. Qiouyi Lu

In the Watchful City (2021) is a novel in story form, a structure I’m usually a big fan of, but the stories rarely felt fully developed and in the end they just didn’t coalesce for me into an entirely effective or cohesive whole, though there is a true originality in style and content here.

The setting is the city-state of Ora, which has managed to escape from under the dominating Skyland empire and, in an attempt to keep its residents free and happy, the city uses upgraded humans as “nodes” in an AI-like surveillance network (“the Gleaming”). Some specialized nodes can leap into the bodies of living creatures (though not human ones) and control them in order to intervene when necessary.

Anima is one such node and æ has been happily enacting ær role for some time. Ær regular, contented life, though, is disturbed by the appearance of a fore... Read More

The Angel of the Crows: Too faithful to the originals

Reposting to include Marion's new review.

The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison

For about the first third or perhaps half of Katherine Addison’s newest, The Angel of the Crows (2020), I was thinking I was finally off the schneid, as it had been about two weeks since I’d really thoroughly enjoyed a novel I was reading. And I was definitely enjoying the pastiche of several Sherlock Holmes stories which basically boils down to “It’s Holmes but with angels and vampires!” Which sounds like a lot of fun, and as noted, it was, at least for that first third or so. But then, well, it never really went anywhere beyond “It’s Holmes but with angels and vampires!” and after about the halfway point my enjoyment began to falter, the story began to sag, and by the end I was left feeling that a n... Read More

My Heart is a Chainsaw: Jones nails the slasher-film tone perfectly

My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones

There is so much to like in Stephen Graham JonesMy Heart is a Chainsaw (2021): a can’t-help-but-root-for-her main character, a prom-worthy bucketload of slasher-film references, a wry and sometimes bitingly funny narrative voice, so many red herrings the reader’s gonna need a bigger boat, deftly handled themes exploring race, gentrification, class, parenting (familial and communal), and trauma, and a climax that contains more blood than you can hold in a bank of elevators. So much to like, in fact, that my only real criticism is that there’s too much here, leading to a book that despite its many positives unfortunately begins to feel it has, like Jason or Michael, overstayed its welcome.

Jade (real name Jennifer, but don’t ever call her that... Read More

You Brought Me the Ocean: A sweet romance with beautiful artwork

You Brought Me the Ocean by Alex Sanchez, drawn by Julie Maroh

Jake Hyde dreams of the ocean and has secretly applied to the marine biology program at the University of Miami, but in waking life, the ocean is limited to the aquarium in his room. His father drowned, and since then his mother has resolutely kept him away from water (hence the secrecy about University of Miami). She even moved them to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, to keep her son away from water.

A yearning for the ocean’s not the only secret Jake is keeping. He likes guys, a fact he hasn’t shared with his best-friend-since-forever, Maria, whose feelings for him are clearly changing. Meanwhile, Jake is attracted to Kenny Liu, the school swim team captain, who is out and proud.

You Brought Me the Ocean (2020) is a graphic novel, a coming-out romance set in the world of DC Comics. Jake is a reimagining of a 1960s Aquama... Read More

Sea Siege: An unusual story for Norton

Sea Siege by Andre Norton

In the mid-20th century, Griffith lives in the West Indies with his father, a famous scientist who studies marine biology. Griffith, who helps his father with his research, thinks the work is pretty boring. He hopes to go back to America soon to attend the Air Force Academy.

Griff suddenly becomes more interested in his father’s work when something in the sea starts attacking ships near the island he lives on. Some people think it’s a dupee, others think it’s a Russian submarine. When a large radioactive sea creature washes up on shore, the octopi begin acting weird, and the American Navy arrives to build a facility they aren’t allowed to talk about, the islanders become worried. Not only are they concerned about the environmental effects on the reef, but they are also nervous about their island being caught in the middle of a Cold War that seems t... Read More

The Birth of a New Republic: Of Lunarian bats and atomic vortexes

The Birth of a New Republic by Jack Williamson & Miles J. Breuer

In his 1966 novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, author Robert A. Heinlein gave his readers a tale of a penal colony on the Moon that rebels and declares its independence from Earth. The book went on to win the coveted Hugo Award and probably didn’t hurt Heinlein’s chances of being named sci-fi’s very first Grand Master, in 1974. But, as it turns out, this was not the first time that a writer had presented his fans with such a literally revolutionary scenario. A full 35 years earlier, sci-fi’s second-named Grand Master, Jack Williamson, in collaboration with Dr. Miles J. Breuer, had come out with a novel entitled The Birth of a New Republic Read More

Revelator: A high-proof distillation of horror

Revelator by Daryl Gregory

Stella Birch sees her family’s god when she is nine years old, in 1933. Her father has dropped her off in a sheltered valley, the cove, in the Smoky Mountains. He says he’s leaving her with Motty, her grandmother, while he looks for work, but he’s never coming back.

Daryl Gregory’s 2021 southern gothic horror novel Revelator trades in bone-deep horror, stunning beauty, strangeness, and acid-etched banter. Moving between two timelines, Stella’s time with Motty in the cove and her present life as a moonshiner in 1948, the novel reveals the secret of the Birch women and the god in the mountain, and includes interesting bits of history, like the creation of the Smoky Mountain National Park, which will inclu... Read More

Da Vinci’s Cat: Solidly charming, but has its issues

Da Vinci’s Cat by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Catherine Gilbert Murdock offers up a solidly charming Middle Grade portal story involving travel through time and space, the painting of the Sistine Chapel, shifting timelines, feuding Renaissance artists, and of course, a cat. With a quick pace, high stakes, and two comically mismatched young protagonists, Da Vinci’s Cat (2021) will probably satisfy most young readers, despite some issues.

In 1511 Rome, 11-year-old Federico Gonzaga is a “guest-hostage” to Pope Julius II, ensconced in the Pope’s sumptuous villa to ensure the loyalty of his aristocratic family, particularly his father, who leads the Pope’s army. It’s a lavish, pampered existence for sure, but also constraining (he’s not allowed to leave the admittedly huge complex/grounds) and more than a little lonely. That loneliness is eventually abated by a strange trio who s... Read More

Venus Liberated: When Tinus met Coris

Venus Liberated by Harl Vincent

Have you ever thought to yourself, while reading a particularly good book, “What a fantastic movie this novel would make!”? Of course you have … it’s a practically inevitable occurrence. And it is one that has just happened to me again, while reading Harl Vincent’s 1929 offering Venus Liberated. Indeed, featuring as it does space travel, a visit to two nearby worlds, weapons and assorted gadgets of superscience, romance, warfare, and some truly hissable and hideous aliens, the book would have been a natural, it seems to me, as the source of a 1950s sci-fi film … or, given the requisite $200 million budget, a blockbuster summer movie today. Some kind of ultimate pulp epic of the most colorful kind, this is a book that practically screams for the big-screen treatment.

And yet, the fact that it has not been given any cinematic consideratio... Read More

The Kingdoms: Beautiful prose, complex characterization, some plotting issues

The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley

If Natasha Pulley’s latest novel, The Kingdoms (2021), were a movie script, the elevator pitch might have been “Master and Commander meets The Final Countdown” (look it up, kids). Part time-travel story, part love story (several actually), part Patrick O’Brian story, it curves and recurves through beauty and brutality (more of the latter than the former), time and space, trauma, and rescue (more of the former than the latter), as it delights, horrifies, and frustrates. I loved the first half to two-thirds, felt it went off the rails a bit for some time, then was happy to see it get back on track in time to nail the ending. Which is why I’m recommending it, despite its issues.

The book opens, appropriately enough, with a sentence about memory followed by a... Read More

The Stars are Ours: A fine SF adventure

The Stars are Ours by Andre Norton

Tantor Media has been publishing the omnibus editions of Andre Norton’s science-fiction adventures in audiobook format. The omnibus (originally published by Baen) called Star Flight contains the novels The Stars are Ours and Star Born (the PAX/ASTRA duology). Both novels are set in the same universe (ours, actually) but they stand alone.

The prologue of The Stars are Ours, originally published in 1954, is a big infodump which details a frightening future history of the world in which we basically destroy ourselves with extreme nationalism, a nuclear war, a Cold War, terrorism, a propaganda-spewing anti-science demagogue, and racism. This leads to the destruction of... Read More

Even and Odd: Fun and thought-provoking

Even and Odd by Sarah Beth Durst

Even and Odd are pre-teen sisters living in Stony Haven, Connecticut, where their parents operate a border shop carrying “supplies for the mundane world, as well as imports from the magic world — anything a magical customer might need for their visit here.” Those imports and magically-inclined customers come from the land of Firoth, where Even and Odd were born, and which is accessible via magic portals. The sisters trade off magical abilities on alternating days, leading to their nicknames, though each girl has different opinions on their access to magic: Even, more than anything in the world, wants to become an Academy of Magic-certified hero, while Odd wants to focus on her volunteer work at the local animal rescue center and pretend that she’s completely mundane (unless the opportunity arises to transform Even into a talking skunk, at which point all bets are off).

Much to everyone’s ... Read More

Thus Far: Like it! Orr not.

Thus Far by J.C. Snaith

Once again, I find myself indebted to the fine folks at the publisher Armchair Fiction, for alerting me about a book whose existence I probably would never have learned of without their assistance; hardly the first time that this has happened. The novel in question in this instance bears the curious title Thus Far, which was initially released in 1925 by both the British publisher Hodder & Stoughton and the American publisher D. Appleton & Co., and then sank into virtual oblivion for a full 96 years, until Armchair chose to revive it for a new generation just a few months back. Thus Far is the product of English author J.C. (John Collis) Snaith, who’d been born in Nottingham in 1876 and was thus pushing 50 at the time of this book’s release. Almost as well known as a cricket player as for his writing... Read More