June 2019 Recommended Books

We built a patio this June, something large enough to eventually put in a fire pit and bench when we get our strength and motivation back (and maybe when summer is starting to fade). I have been informed I could now officially be an apprentice to a mason as I have gained some basic sand-slinging and leveling skills.

Taught my son to play Misty Mountains on the keyboard as well! He picked it up quick enough, transferring over his training from the violin, and we had a great time coming up with personal mnemonics to remember the notes. Great Big Dinosaurs Fart Atrociously was perhaps the winner. He’ll certainly not forget it, which was the point XD

These are my favorite books I read in June, with an addendum that I also read and enjoyed Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson (a YA Fantasy about dangerous, fantastical libraries) and that it’s gone on my shelf awaiting to be picked up by the girl in a few years.

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The Seven 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
(Fantasy Mystery)

This book. Probably one of my favorites for the year so far. While reading I could clearly see the nod to Agatha Christie and it was no surprise to discover Turton made a comment about her in his Q&A at the back end of my copy. This blend of mystery and fantasy is one I continually reach for and yet, quite often, the urban fantasy that overwhelmingly attempts to tap into the mystery genre does not come close to satisfying my desires. The Seven 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle went beyond my expectations despite all the praise I knew it to have. The prose by itself would have made the story. Then add in all the twists, the turns, the confusion and excitement, and the existential question of who is Aiden Bishop underneath all these hosts he wears made this novel go straight to sitting next to some of favorite Agatha Christie. I can not wait to see what Turton writes next!

Five Unicorn Flush by T. J. Berry
(Science Fantasy)

Sequel to Space Unicorn Blues, Five Unicorn Flush came out this past May and covers what happens after the separation of some of the characters at the end of the previous novel. I can’t say much for fear of spoilers, however, I was relieved that our lead, Jenny, did not suddenly and magically become able-bodied, since that would have felt unrealistic and unachievable, and she continued to be the stubborn, successful character we met before. The darkly humorous bent this series owns continued on through this book, making it fun despite serious under-workings.

The Simple Art of Flying by Cory Leonardo
(Middle Grade Fantasy)

I don’t normally recommend the middle grade books I read to my kids, but this book is so touching and well-crafted I can’t help but make an exception. The main story is told by an African grey who desperately wishes to fly free from the pet store in which he’d been born, while two other (human) characters are shown through journal entries and letters. The underlying theme of grief and growth is seamlessly folded into each character’s arc in a poignant, but different way. Enough so that while reading the second half of this book my daughter kept telling me she felt funny, felt like she needed to cry, and I agreed with her wholeheartedly. Even better, Leonardo took famous poems as inspiration to write others from the bird’s perspective in such a way that the poems were accessible to children who had never heard of Carroll or Frost or Keats. I ended up adoring this book!

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May 2019 Recommended Books

Last month I read a few more nonfiction books than I normally do, so they took the place of the fantasy and science-fiction novels I have from the library. But I still found some really great ones out of what I read!

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Every Heart a Doorway
by Seanan McGuire
(Fantasy)

This was the most poignant book I read last month, dealing with belonging, sense of self and the pain of others’ rejection of that self. What I found so intriguing was the story takes that particular order as well, with each character having found the place they belong, finding themselves within that place and then their newly-realized self being rejected by their home or their parents,etc. Very often you’d see this story unfold the opposite direction, with characters discovering themselves and then finding the place they belong. There’s a desperation in each of these young people that is achingly similar, yet their very desires are so different from one another.

The Deepest Blue by Sarah Beth Durst
(High Fantasy)

Are you surprised to see this book on my rec list this month? I tried my best to save this novel for June, but my willpower fizzled. I adored going back to Renthia and being introduced to an entirely new region. The islands have their own harsh rules in this world, many born from necessity, and the characters all respond to those restrictions and trials in their own ways, though each of them has the hope of seeing something better for the future. Loved this book and hope dearly that Ms. Durst writes more in Renthia, no matter where she sets the stories.

Mechanical Failure by Joe Zieja
(Humorous Military Sci-Fi)

This book did not take itself seriously and was amazing for that fact! The story gave me some Catch-22 vibes, where much of the humor resides in the absurdness of the situations with a character who doesn’t truly know what he’s doing or even if he wants to be doing it. There are many instances of poking fun at science fiction cliches or military expectations, but done in a good-natured way that the entire story leaves you with a smile on your face.

Balticon 53

It’s been a great many years since I’ve attended a con and though I’ve been looking at Balticon off and on over those years, I finally throttled my social anxiety enough to attend on my own. Promised myself I didn’t need to speak to a single soul, that I could just go, attend panels and presentations, look at fantasy and science fiction art, and flit around the dealer rooms, in order to give myself a bit of confidence for next time around.

Now the con is over and my heart has found a regular rhythm again, I’m incredibly proud of myself, for I did go a little beyond my expectations in terms of actually opening my mouth without my throat choking off words. Even got to chat with Tom Doyle, one of the other Writers of the Future winners from my year.

I didn’t take a lot of photos at the con itself, but I did when I headed across the street into the harbor to take a tour of the Constellation. The  harbor itself was packed, but on board the ship was generally quiet.

While there, I snapped a photo, albeit a poor quality one (old, old phone), of the barrels in the bowels of the ship. This was incredibly cool to see firsthand because the distillery that ages these casks on board happens to be local to me, as in just down the street. In fact, they’re building a tasting room right now that I pass any time I go north. I’ve seen plenty of photos of the process of lowering and removing the barrels, but had never gone up to see for myself, so Balticon gave me a great excuse to check them out!

I didn’t remain the whole weekend-left Sunday evening at about seven so I could spend memorial Day with my family. However, the last panel I attended, Tales from the Slush Pile, I did snap my first, last, and only picture from inside the hotel. (I’ll get better at that) The panelists acted out a skit from a submission in a hilarious spontaneous theater performance that had the whole room in hysterics.

Historical Nebula Nomination Read Series [1965] Introduction

In my lack of infinite wisdom, I’ve decided to go on an auspicious journey to expand my horizons. Let me sum up.

I’ve been reading science fiction and fantasy for as long as I can remember, generally like most writers of the genres, however there are a ton of books I haven’t touched. No matter how many authors I’ve read, there are dozens more I haven’t, including some of the classics in sci-fi and fantasy.

At first, I just started picking up random older, less-known books along with some of the famous ones I’d previously skipped, but I didn’t have much order to my findings and readings and, let’s face it, I was searching for authors, most of whom I was already familiar to at least some degree. When trying to come up with further lists of books to look into, I kept finding the same exact books being recommended time and time again, with little variation or imagination to the recommendations. Which was…frustrating.

Then I thought, what about the nominated books that didn’t end up winning a Hugo or a Nebula or didn’t end up skyrocketing into fame? When we talk about the nominations in current years we usually consider many of them worthy of the award, yet there are always those who think a different story should have beat out the others for the top spot. (There are also books that some people think are snubbed from year to year in terms of nominations themselves, but unfortunately, that’s not something I can easily look up.)

But I can easily look up the Hugo and Nebula nominations and wins. And wouldn’t it be fun to read all the noms in previous years (just as people have done or are doing with this years nominations) and then determine which book I personally would have wanted to win that year?

So that’s exactly what I’m going to do! Starting with the Nebulas.

1965 is up first. Of the 12 nominees (yes, 12, but 1966 only had 3 and 2 of them jointly won, so it evens out) I’ve only read Dune, which isn’t surprising because it won the first Nebula and is one of the most famous science-fiction novels of all time. I’m planning on rereading it, along with reading the other 11 books for the first time. They are:

  • The Star Fox by Poul Anderson
  • Nova Express by William S. Burroughs
  • Rogue Dragon by Avram Davidson
  • Dr. Bloodmoney by Phillip K. Dick
  • The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Phillip K Dick
  • The Genocides by Thomas M Disch
  • The Ship that Sailed the Time Stream by G C Edmondson
  • A Plague of Demons by Keith Laumer
  • All Flesh is Grass by Clifford D Simak
  • The Clone by Theodore L Thomas & Kate Wilhelm
  • The Escape Orbit by James White
  • Dune by Frank Herbert

There’s a possibility I may have to read a total of 14 books before this is finished since Borroughs’ Nova Express is the third book in what looks like a trilogy and I prefer to start at the beginning. But what’s another couple of books :)

I let my daughter choose which book I started with: Rogue Dragon. Not surprised in the least. It has the word dragon in it and that’s far more interesting to an 8 year old than the rest of those titles.

One more thing to note: I read Dune a long time ago, so nostalgia can easily bias this first year’s pick when all books have been read. I’m going to do my best to read without the nostalgia, but eradicating my emotions completely isn’t possible, so I’ve already come to terms with the fact that I may just choose Dune, along with the rest of the voters in 1966, because of youthful love. Yet the point is to read, to experience, so whether or not that happens, I’m still gaining.

Will be writing a check-in blog in June to note my thoughts on the books I’ll have finished thus far :)

April 2019 Recommended Books

One of the books I read this past month was Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu–read to my daughter. There were so many references to other famous stories and fairy tales that I realized she wasn’t familiar with yet, so we got an abrupt jump to the length of our list of to-read together.

As for my favorites, these stories I’m recommending because I enjoyed them the most out of everything I read :)

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The Ingenious by Darius Hinks
(Dark Fantasy)

This was my absolute favorite book of April. The description of the City drew me to this novel in the first place–a city that absorbs people, culture and even land and then moves on after a few years to another place, creating a setting filled with thousands of years of possibility and differences. The whole of the story held a haunting, somber feel while you follow a woman dealing with layers of addiction who yet is still striving to stand up to the heavy expectations thrust on her at an early age. I found the story powerful and the writing beautiful, painfully beautiful at times when it seems as if Hinks was mixing the fugue-filled state of Isten within the storytelling.

The Reluctant Queen & The Queen of Sorrow by Sarah Beth Durst
(High Fantasy)

It’s not often you read about a woman heroine with kids. Not unless the kids are dead, long moved beyond needing mothering or the kids show up at the end as part of the happily ever after. So maybe I’m a tiny bit biased, but I loved getting to read from the perspective of a woman who doesn’t have illusions of grandeur, doesn’t have the desires that spark grand, sprawling adventures and is making most of her choices based on what’s best for her family rather than the rest of the world. And the world of Renthia is still its conflicted self, dark, yet filled with possibility. There were a few obvious plot threads, but when the world is this magical and the story fun, I care far less about being completely surprised at every turn. (Yep, The Deepest Blue is on my list to read come May! Already have it on my bookshelf taunting me!)

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
(Mythological Romance)

I read Circe last year and absolutely adored the story, so picking up its predecessor this year was a no-brainer. I admit, Achilles wasn’t what I expected. I thought there would be more focus on the retelling of the Iliad section of the novel, less focus on Patroclus and Achilles growing up. More grittiness and less drama, yet I found I loved it regardless of expectations. This novel is essentially a crème de la crème of gay fantasy romance and while it’s not so much a retelling of Greek myth, it uses the setting beautifully. And now I have to wait for Miller to write a new book because there is no more back-list to mine.

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A mention I want to add: I read Foundation (Isaac Asimov) for the first time in April. I’d read all his robots books as a youth and loved them; have reread The Caves of Steel multiple times. While I found Foundation interesting, it wasn’t as eye-opening and intriguing as I think it might have been had I read it while still young enough to be surprised by some of the changes to the economy. I also read Hyperion for the first time, however, I’m holding out on a complete opinion until after I read through more of the series. So much world-building though!