The Mermaid and the Unicorn

Cover of the Mermaid and the Unicorn by Elizabeth Amy Hajek.
Click through to read a preview on Amazon!

Title: The Mermaid and the Unicorn

Author: Elizabeth Amy Hajek

Nutshell: Daphne is an American in Paris! Specifically a timid, sheltered, American collegiate on a study abroad semester in Paris. Overwhelmed her first night, she takes a walk in the evening and meets a sophisticated woman who invites her to her nightclub and then mysteriously disappears. Days later, accompanied by her bubbly roommate Maddie, she does visit, and meets some very interesting characters. She has a fine time, not aware of the threads of conspiracy woven through the place. She is too busy enjoying Paris, soaking in the art and the atmosphere, and of course struggling with the language. She even begins dating one of her classmates. But she will not be allowed to remain ignorant forever. In the first place, she saw something astonishing in a courtyard garden. In the second place, a stranger with a covered face attempted to kidnap her. Twice. And in the third place, someone needs her help.

Read-alikes: Lots of “intro to how the fantasy world is still with us” books are like this one, although this is a milder-mannered book: City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare and The Iron King, by Julie Kagawa. This also reminds me very much of A Ring of Endless Light, by Madeleine L’Engle. Also, of books I have read recently, Her Royal Spyness is similar in feel, because of how the main character is a sheltered young woman finding her way in a city, although the content is vastly different.Read More »


Cover of Randoms by David Liss. Art by Derek Stenning.
Art by Derek Stenning. Click through to read a preview on Amazon!


Author: David Liss

Nutshell: Zeke Reynolds was standing between the Neko and the advancing army of robots, his Browncoat duster billowing. He only had seconds before the robots attacked, and he couldn’t think of a single pithy quote to shout. Raising his fist, he shouted the only thing that came to mind: “I’m Batman!”

Alright, so that’s not how it happened. But its way closer to the way Earth’s first contact went than anyone would expect. Turns out, being a geek when aliens arrive on earth is a huge bonus, and Zeke is as geeky as they come. Good thing, too, because the aliens take him up to their stellar academy to represent Earth. If he does well, Earth could join the unified sentient races and be granted an end to all disease. If he does badly… his mother could die.

Read-alikes: Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson.

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The Search for Fierra

Cover of The Search for Fierra by Stephen Lawhead. Art by Richard Chetland.
Art by Richard Chetland. Click through to read a preview on Amazon!

Title: The Search for Fierra

Author: Stephen Lawhead

Nutshell: From the time of 1980s science fiction, where worldbuilding was a new and fascinating thing (thereby leading to long sections of prose devoted to cataloguing it wholesale) and all sci-fi sounded vaguely like Star Trek, comes The Search for Fierra, a typical space dystopia from a time when space dystopia was atypical.

Meet Orion Treet, a man who thinks of himself only by his last name, despite never using anyone else’s last name ever. He’s just been shanghied onto an interplanetary voyage intended to reestablish contact with a colony that lost contact. He is not, of course, wondering what a small-time historian is doing on a colonial mission. He’s too busy being distracted by:

Yarden Talazac, the ultimate male portrayal of the incomprehensible female mind. She is an empath, which mostly means she can read Treet’s mind and maybe fly spaceships through wormholes? This empathic bond means she has very strong opinions about Treet’s actions. Which makes her the love interest because she challenges him, I guess.

Also meet Pizzle, the most unfortunately named nerd in the Galaxy. They (and Crocker) will bravely attempt to contact the lost colony (It’s been lost for about a month, fyi) and discover how it has flourished. Alas, due to something called “wormhole physics”, the team finds themselves 3000 years in the future, where the very, very well established colony has divided into today’s slight-less-unsubtle-than-usual dystopia with symbolic underpinnings.

Watch them plod through the drudgery of life in Dome, the caste-segregated, communistic, nanny-state with literal mind control, until they finally meet up and escape to Fierra, a perfect paradise. Peruse pages in which they ask none of the questions the reader is asking, like, “Why do the Dome dwellers wear breathers with stored air when the air on this planet is perfectly breathable?” “Why don’t even the rulers of Dome go into their Archives containing the knowledge of centuries?” and “Why is Pizzle even in this book?” Also peruse pages in which they ask the questions the reader is asking and then immediately provide glib answers, leaving the question open for the reader but that’s probably all the explanation they’ll give you.

Yes, experience this forerunner to the dystopia genre, if only so that you can say that you have. Mystery-Science-Theatre-3000 your way through it if you’d like. Auto-Schaudenfruede is still a form of enjoyment.

Readalikes: Most of the dustier dystopias. Try The Giver, Farehnheit 451, or 1984. But this also has similarity to Star Trek and other divergent-colony novels such as the Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffery. Aspects of it remind me of Ted Dekker’s Red Black White Green cycle, but it’s hard to be sure.Read More »

All Fall Down

Cover of All Fall Down by Ally Carter. Cover art by Kenneth Choi.
Art by Kenneth Choi. Click to read a preview!

Title: All Fall Down

Author: Ally Carter

Nutshell: Grace should probably be your typical Army brat. She gets into scrapes, has moved more than a dozen times, and knows way more than the average team about international relations. Instead, Grace is crazy. Her mother died in a fire three years ago, and her mind cracked from the trauma. Now, living with her grandfather in the US embassy to Adria, she is haunted by visions of her mother and surrounded by people who love and support her.

Or is she? You see, Grace doesn’t remember a store fire, tragic but accidental. Grace remembers a bomb. And a man with a gun. A man with a scar. A man that everyone claims does not exist.

A man Grace just saw in the streets of Adria.

While everyone around her tells her that she’s crazy, Grace must face her fears and her nightmares to stop her mother’s murderer from killing again.

Readalikes: The Gallagher Girls Series by (surprise!) Ally Carter. The Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz.Read More »

Strong Poison

Cover of Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers. Cover by Robin Bildardello.
Cover by Robin Bilardello. Click to read a preview!

Title: Strong Poison

Author: Dorothy Sayers

Nutshell: Lord Peter Wimsey is the extraneous brother of an English Duke in the 1930s. He is quite well off, and spends his time and money solving crimes. The case in his sights is the poisoning of a little-known author. The suspect is the author’s ex-lover (Shocked gasps are appropriate. Lovers simply were not had without social stigma in the ‘30s.), Harriet Vane, who was the only person with opportunity to poison him, had a clear grudge, and also had the misfortune to acquire a large quantity of arsenic before the murderous incident. Enter Lord Wimsey, who, on the premise that such a clear-cut case must have missed crucial information, determines to discover the true culprit and exonerate Miss Vane.

Also he has fallen in love with her.

Driven by love, punctuated by hilarity, Peter Wimsey must discover which is tougher to crack: a despicably airtight murder case, or the heart of the accused murderess?

Read-alikes: Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is not too far removed from this, although more intellectual and less humorous. Agatha Christie knows somewhat more of humor. Georgette Heyer’s books, though neither mysteries nor set in the 1930s, have a similar flavor of ridiculous to their humor, especially in how close both authors run to satirizing their characters. And my recent read Her Royal Spyness has a similar setting, though obviously a more modern tone and content.

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