The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

the space between worlds cover

An outsider who can travel between worlds discovers a secret that threatens her new home and her fragile place in it, in a stunning sci-fi debut that’s both a cross-dimensional adventure and a powerful examination of identity, privilege, and belonging.

Multiverse travel is finally possible, but there’s just one catch: No one can visit a world where their counterpart is still alive. Enter Cara, whose parallel selves happen to be exceptionally good at dying—from disease, turf wars, or vendettas they couldn’t outrun. Cara’s life has been cut short on 372 worlds in total.

But trouble finds Cara when one of her eight remaining doppelgängers dies under mysterious circumstances, plunging her into a new world with an old secret. What she discovers will connect her past and her future in ways she could have never imagined—and reveal her own role in a plot that endangers not just her world, but the entire multiverse.

My Thoughts

the space between worlds cover

I had some stellar books to review last year but The Space Between Worlds was probably my favourite!

A sci-fi set in a world where parallel universes not only exist but it is possible to travel between them. The only thing is, if you exist in the world you are travelling to you won’t survive the trip. Cara is one of the “lucky” ones, in most of the other worlds, she is already dead.

This is proper sci-fi with a social conscience that drives the story. This is a world of haves and have-nots, of powerful and rich people that set rules that benefit only themselves.

It’s also an exciting and fast-paced read with plenty of plot-twists that should keep happy anyone that likes a good action / thriller story.

It has strong world-building and a cast of well-realised secondary characters. Esther, Cara’s stepsister at first seems kind and quiet and very religious but is probably one of the strongest characters in the book. Dell, Cara’s sort of handler at work, is another one that almost flies under the radar until you realise what a complex character she has become.

One of the rare few that absolutely lives up to the description on the back, I loved this and I recommend it to anyone that enjoys sci-fi with strong characterisation and an exciting story.

I received a free copy in return for an honest review.

The Space Between Worlds
Micaiah Johnson
Sci-Fi
August 4th 2020
Kindle
336

Semiosis (Semiosis Trilogy #1) by Sue Burke

Semiosis cover

In this character driven novel of first contact by debut author Sue Burke, human survival hinges on an bizarre alliance.

Only mutual communication can forge an alliance with the planet’s sentient species and prove that mammals are more than tools.

Forced to land on a planet they aren’t prepared for, human colonists rely on their limited resources to survive. The planet provides a lush but inexplicable landscape–trees offer edible, addictive fruit one day and poison the next, while the ruins of an alien race are found entwined in the roots of a strange plant. Conflicts between generations arise as they struggle to understand one another and grapple with an unknowable alien intellect.

My Thoughts

Semiosis coverI wasn’t sure about this at first, it took me a while to settle into reading it but once I did I really enjoyed it.

The story kept surprising me, I thought at first that it was going to be daft and not make much sense but it worked really well. It turned out to be a thoughtful and convincing story and I liked how the plants had developed and had wars with each other and tried to subtly control the animals that lived off them.

I liked the development of Sterling, the alien plant intelligence. I was worried that he was going to become an evil dictator type that tries to control the community but it was much more complex than that. Sterling learned, made mistakes and grew along with the community as a whole.

So don’t let the underwhelming blurb fool you, this is an interesting read that is well worth picking up if you enjoy thoughtful sci-fi.

Semiosis
Semiosis
Sue Burke
Sci-Fi
February 6th 2018
Paperback
336

The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Jane Anders

The City in the Middle of the Night

Would you give up everything to change the world?

Humanity clings to life on January–a colonized planet divided between permanently frozen darkness on one side, and blazing endless sunshine on the other.

Two cities, built long ago in the meager temperate zone, serve as the last bastions of civilization–but life inside them is just as dangerous as the uninhabitable wastelands outside.

Sophie, a young student from the wrong side of Xiosphant city, is exiled into the dark after being part of a failed revolution. But she survives–with the help of a mysterious savior from beneath the ice.

Burdened with a dangerous, painful secret, Sophie and her ragtag group of exiles face the ultimate challenge–and they are running out of time.

Welcome to the City in the Middle of the Night .

My Thoughts on The City in the Middle of the Night

The City in the Middle of the Night

“I wish I could be more like you. I want to demolish everyone’s expectations. I want to keep surprising them all until they die of surprise.” She’s not laughing, but her eyes have the same brightness as when she makes a joke. There’s more light in her eyes than in the whole wide sky that I grew up underneath.

The basics of the story here are nothing new – a young woman that doesn’t fit in the world she lives in falls foul of society but ends up changing everything. Everything else that was added to that story more than makes up for that though. So much originality is mixed into this book, from the setting itself to the relationships between the characters that it feels fresh and exciting right from the start.

It’s set in a world where half of it is always in sunlight and the other half in darkness. From burning hot to freezing cold and humans are trying to survive on the edges of the two. And in the darkness live the Gelet, creatures that humans call Crocodiles and have mistakenly disregarded as unintelligent beasts.

Most of all I loved the relationships between the characters, it really went in depth and created some complicated and nuanced connections. Sophie and Bianca have a very frustrating relationship, as much as they seem to really love and care for each other they can’t seem to get themselves to an equal footing. Sophie keeps giving in to Bianca’s wants even though it hurts her in the process. Mouth and Alyssa also have a deep friendship between them of the sort that is rarely seen in fiction. It’s these relationships and the friction it causes between the characters that drive a lot of the story. It’s nice to see such attention paid to them.

To add to all this the writing is beautifully done, and that for me made this book one that I just couldn’t put down.

It’s not a perfect book, the overall feeling of oppression became a little bit much to deal with – it felt to me like there was nowhere in the world where these people could find a safe home – and the pacing wasn’t always perfect, with the middle dragging a little and everything happening in a rush at the end. It stops it from being a 5 star read for me, but it came very close!

The sci-fi universe needs more like this, please and thank you.

The City in the Middle of the Night
Charlie Jane Anders
Sci-Fi
March 31st 2020
Paperback
496

337 by M. Jonathan Lee

337 cover

337 follows the life of Samuel Darte whose mother vanished when he was in his teens. It was his brother, Tom who found her wedding ring on the kitchen table along with the note.

While their father pays the price of his mother’s disappearance, Sam learns that his long-estranged Gramma is living out her last days in a nursing home nearby.

Keen to learn about what really happened that day and realising the importance of how little time there is, he visits her to finally get the truth. Soon it’ll be too late and the family secrets will be lost forever. Reduced to ashes.

But in a story like this, nothing is as it seems.

My Thoughts

337 coverThis was a compulsive read, it took me less than a day to finish it and though I found it kind of depressing in parts I was completely invested in the story and I wanted to find out what had happened.

I have to admit that I didn’t get what the upside-down pages were about. I think I started at the wrong end because I read them after finishing the story and actually it looks like you’re supposed to start with them. It doesn’t seem to make a difference to the story though, I thought maybe there was going to be an alternate viewpoint or some sort of secret added in there but unless I’m missing something there isn’t.

* Please note the double-ended upside-down opening for this book is available in books ordered in hard copy from UK booksellers only. *

For me, 337 was all about Sam’s relationship with his family. His mother disappeared without a trace when he was a young boy and 20 years later Sam seems to be estranged from all his family. Now his grandma is dying and he reluctantly sits with her for her last few days. At first, he doesn’t want to be there due to a serious fall out in their past but he reconnects with her and his heart opens back up to her.

I found this very moving and quite sad to read – Sam seems very lonely and lost at the start, he is separated from his wife, he has no family around him, and he has a job he sleepwalks his way through. But when he visits his grandma and starts to talk to her about his past and he gets back in touch with his brother he seems to realise that the way he sees events are not necessarily the way that everyone else saw them.

It’s like he has been frozen since his mother left but his visit to his grandma forces him to open back up to his family and start to deal with what happened.

This is very moving, compelling reading and despite being hard going at times (I had to put it down halfway through and have a bit of a break) it ends on an upbeat mood.

And for those that don’t like books that don’t give an answer to their big mystery, don’t worry, you do actually find out what happened. Sort of.

I received a free copy in return for an honest review.

337
M. Jonathan Lee
Fiction
Hideaway Fall
November 30th 2020
Hardback
337

The Witch’s Kind by Louisa Morgan

The Witches Kind Cover

From the author of A Secret History of Witches comes an absorbing tale of love, sacrifice, family ties, and magic, set in the Pacific Northwest in the aftermath of World War II.

Barrie Anne Blythe and her aunt Charlotte have always known that the other residents of their small coastal community find them peculiar — two women living alone on the outskirts of town. It is the price of concealing their strange and dangerous family secret.

But two events threaten to upend their lives forever. The first is the arrival of a mysterious abandoned baby with a hint of power like their own. The second is the sudden reappearance of Barrie Anne’s long-lost husband — who is not quite the man she thought she married.

Together, Barrie Anne and Charlotte must decide how far they are willing to go to protect themselves — and the child they think of as their own — from suspicious neighbours, the government, and even their own family

My Thoughts

The Witches Kind Cover

This story was not what I was expecting!

It definitely surprised me, in a good way, but I was expecting a gentle story about witches in 1940’s America. This veers off from that very quickly and has more to do with Roswell and aliens than it does witchcraft.

But actually, neither of those things is the focus of the book and it is more a story of a woman growing up in the early half of the 20th century and learning how to be confident and believe in herself. Barrie-Anne comes from a long line of women with very strong intuitive powers and even does she tries to follow the standard path of marriage and children she finds that her life is not going to be a conventional one.

I loved the way that it was written and I found that I was very quickly engrossed in the story of Barrie-Anne’s life. I couldn’t put it down and it only took me a couple of days to read it.

It’s not what it sounds like it’s going to be but don’t let that put you off. This would be a perfect book to curl up with on a rainy winter’s afternoon.

The Witch's Kind
Louisa Morgan
Fantasy
March 19th 2019
Paperback
440

Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell Jr.

Who Goes There? Cover

“Who Goes There?” The novella that formed the basis of “The Thing” is the John W. Campbell classic about an antarctic research camp that discovers and thaws the ancient, frozen body of a crash-landed alien.

The creature revives with terrifying results, shape-shifting to assume the exact form of animal and man, alike. Paranoia ensues as a band of frightened men work to discern friend from foe, and destroy the menace before it challenges all of humanity!

My Thoughts

kurt russel in the thing - very cold and frosted over

I’m a big fan of the film The Thing, it’s one of the Hallowe’en favourites in my house and we watch it at least once a year. So I was excited to read this, a collection containing the short story it was based on. Set in Antarctica a group of scientists find an alien frozen in the ice. They bring it back to camp and defrost it, accidentally bringing it back to life!

It was written in the 1930s but, apart from a few references to the way they were living, this could easily be a modern-day story. The film was made in the 80s and they didn’t really have to do much to it then to bring it up to date. The sci-fi side of the story I enjoyed and is what made this an enjoyable read for me. Though I’m not sure how accurate the biology in the story is, probably not very, he seems to explain most of it with the idea that it’s alien and therefore works differently. And giving the alien blue hair like worms and telepathy I felt was an odd touch that undermined the rest of the story. Other than that I think this has aged well and it can stand up against modern sci-fi with few issues.

As a horror story I’m not convinced it works that well, the feeling of isolation and fear of the people around you that I was expecting just wasn’t there. This is one of the few times where I would have liked a little bit less science discussion in favour of more emotion.
The rest of the stories in the collection really weren’t my sort of thing. A few of them are written as one person telling someone else a tale of extraordinary events that have happened to them. I found them far fetched and not particularly interesting and I don’t think they’ve aged well.

Worth reading for the first story in the collection, especially if you’re a fan of the film but I wouldn’t bother with the rest of the stories.

Who Goes There?
John W. Campbell Jr.
Sci-Fi
1938
248

Black Unicorn (Unicorn #1) by Tanith Lee

black unicorn cover

Nobody knew where it had come from, or what it wanted. Not even Jaive, the sorceress, could fathom the mystery of the fabled beast. But Tanaquil, Jaive’s completely unmagical daughter, understood it at once. She knew why the unicorn was there: It had come for her. It needed her. Tanaquil was amazed because she was the girl with no talent for magic. She could only fiddle with broken bits of machinery and make them work again. What could she do for a unicorn?

My Thoughts

black unicorn cover

Tanaquil is a young girl, completely unmagical, who doesn’t get on with her mother. She brings to life a unicorn that takes her on an adventure away from the home she has outgrown.

It sounds like just another YA story but The Black Unicorn really doesn’t feel like a YA story. That, I feel, is due to it being written by Tanith Lee who brings a sense of intelligence and maturity to everything that she writes.

And there is nothing childish about this unicorn, magical and scary, this unicorn is fierce. You would not want to get on the wrong side of it!

It can be read as a coming of age story, Tanaquil matures a huge amount through the story and has to make some very mature and hard decisions by the end. Or it could just be a magical adventure story if you wanted it to be. As a main character, I thought she was fab – sensible and down to earth and just very normal.

This is one that I will be holding on to for future re-reads.

I recommend this to anyone that enjoys fantasy and adventure stories, it’s a YA story that really doesn’t feel like a YA story.

Black Unicorn
Unicorn
Tanith Lee
Young Adult Fantasy
1991
Kindle
188

The Quickening by Rhiannon Ward

The Quickening Cover

England, 1925. Louisa Drew lost her husband in the First World War and her six-year-old twin sons in the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Newly re-married to a war-traumatised husband and seven months pregnant, Louisa is asked by her employer to travel to Clewer Hall in Sussex where she is to photograph the contents of the house for auction.

She learns Clewer Hall was host to an infamous séance in 1896, and that the lady of the house has asked those who gathered back then to come together once more to recreate the evening. When a mysterious child appears on the grounds, Louisa finds herself compelled to investigate and becomes embroiled in the strange happenings of the house. Gradually, she unravels the long-held secrets of the inhabitants and what really happened thirty years before… and discovers her own fate is entwined with that of Clewer Hall’s.

My Thoughts

The Quickening Cover

3 / 5 stars

The Quickening seems very similar to a book I read last year and that, unfortunately, gave me a feeling like there was nothing really new to this story. It is a tale that has been told often before though, a haunted house, a ghostly child, it’s been done many times.

That’s not to say that a haunted manor house book can’t still be enjoyable, and I did find this to be a spooky and interesting read. I just felt like I have already read it many times over.

Louisa, the main character in this story, has a very dry and almost cold personality. She lost her husband in the first world war and then her two children to the flu epidemic not long after so I can understand why she is written this way. It suits her story but I found her very hard to connect with. She just didn’t have much of a personality and it makes her very hard to connect with or care about. She has issues with her second husband, the man she is about to have a baby with, as she describes him as being cold and distant but I feel like that can’t be entirely his fault as she is so closed off herself.

As for the actual story, there’s plenty of ghostly happenings and larger than life characters and a nice, satisfying ending – something that I find is rare in a ghost story.

It has a nice, creepy feel to it, I enjoyed it and I think it is just right for curling up with under a blanket in the darker winter months. There’s just nothing special enough about it to make it stand out from the genre.

I received a free copy in return for an honest review.

The Quickening
Rhiannon Ward
Horror
February 6th 2020
Kindle
320

The Lost Ones by Anita Frank

the lost ones cover

Some houses are never at peace.

England, 1917

Reeling from the death of her fiancé, Stella Marcham welcomes the opportunity to stay with her pregnant sister, Madeleine, at her imposing country mansion, Greyswick – but she arrives to discover a house of unease and her sister gripped by fear and suspicion.

Before long, strange incidents begin to trouble Stella – sobbing in the night, little footsteps on the stairs – and as events escalate, she finds herself drawn to the tragic history of the house.

Aided by a wounded war veteran, Stella sets about uncovering Greyswick’s dark and terrible secrets – secrets the dead whisper from the other side.

My Thoughts

the lost ones cover

4 / 5 stars

An atmospheric and spooky ghost story, let down by an ending that fizzled out.

Stella is grieving the loss of her almost fiancee during the first world war. She returns home after serving as a nurse in France and has to find a way to live with her loss. Her sister Madeline helps her through the worst of her grief so when Madeline asks for her help Stella doesn’t hesitate and goes to stay with her in Greyswick, an imposing and unwelcoming country manor. But Madeline claims she is being haunted, she is hearing noises of children crying in the night time and strange objects are been left in her bed. Is Madeline right or is someone in the household tormenting her?

I found this so easy to get into. It has a dark and claustrophobic atmosphere right from the start and Stella and is an interesting character to read. The backdrop of the first world war and the loss of Stella’s fiancee gives the book a big emotional impact and adds weight to Stella’s belief in the ghost and her desperation to uncover the truth.

I felt though that once Stella started investigation the ghostly happenings it started to feel a bit flat. I liked the Agatha Christie influence but the spookiness was lost and the big revelations at the end didn’t have much impact. It ended with a load of people standing in a room talking about things and I wanted more from it.

But that’s a minor point in what I found to be a very enjoyable read. This is a rich and rewarding read and I’m very surprised that it seems to be the author’s first book. I will be looking out for more.

I received a free copy in return for an honest review. 

The Lost Ones
Anita Frank
Horror
October 31st 2019
Kindle
464

The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow

once and future witches cover

n 1893, there’s no such thing as witches. There used to be, in the wild, dark days before the burnings began, but now witching is nothing but tidy charms and nursery rhymes. If the modern woman wants any measure of power, she must find it at the ballot box.

But when the Eastwood sisters–James Juniper, Agnes Amaranth, and Beatrice Belladonna–join the suffragists of New Salem, they begin to pursue the forgotten words and ways that might turn the women’s movement into the witch’s movement. Stalked by shadows and sickness, hunted by forces who will not suffer a witch to vote-and perhaps not even to live-the sisters will need to delve into the oldest magics, draw new alliances, and heal the bond between them if they want to survive.

There’s no such thing as witches. But there will be.

My Thoughts

once and future witches cover

4 / 5 stars

I loved the way this was written. It’s quite a harsh story with a lot of difficult realities to face in it but it also manages to be magical and heartwarming at the same time.

There was a lot going on in the story but I don’t think that any of the characters got lost in it, they were all well written with personalities that came across strongly. James Juniper was definitely my favourite character but I also liked Beatrice Belladonna – the shy and bookish middle sister that works in a library and has to dig deep to find the courage to stand up with her sisters in their fight to bring magic back to the world.

I loved the magic system and the way there was men’s magic and women’s magic and spells passed from parent to child so each family has their own knowledge and skills. Each chapter starts with a spell which is a nice touch that helps to bring the magic to life and ups the fairy tale feel.

It was mostly well paced but it did take me a while to read. Mostly because I was enjoying the way it went in-depth into each character and their lives and I wanted to stretch it out but I also felt it dragged a bit in the middle and my interest started to wander. It picked back up towards the end though and it ended strong.

I recommend this to anyone that likes stories about women and magic and standing up for what you believe in.

I received a free copy in return for an honest review.

The Once and Future Witches
Alix E. Harrow
Fantasy
October 13th 2020
Kindle
528