Category Archives: Recommendation

February 2020 Recommended Books

This month has been more spring than winter where I live. Can’t complain about that XD Yet, I worry there won’t be that final frost to kill all the bugs and we’ll be beset with a gnat and mosquito swarmed, spider-cloud explosion in a month or two.

You know those days where the air is filled with delightful floating cotton balls reminiscent of Charlotte’s Web? We might have a difficult time dodging them this year. Ah, well.

I’ve recently joined SWFA (yay!). Now I’m officially a member!

Also just hosted a sixth book club meeting at my house, which means that it’s been successful for an entire year and looking strong. Going to have to come up with something fun for our anniversary meeting in two months. We shall see…


THE TEN THOUSAND DOORS OF JANUARY

by Alix E. Harrow

The meta portal fantasy I never knew I wanted.

This epistolary novel is told from the perspective of a girl who has always felt in between. About the many doors to other worlds we, as readers, have always experienced, so there’s an instant ability to empathize. There are slow revelations and deeply insidious dangers that mimic the realities of most dangers of our world better than the average novel.

Thematically, the novel is about change. About clinging to, or running from change. About choosing the change we want, rejecting the change that doesn’t suit us. Even more, it’s about the fear of change that exists in every one of us and all the different ways we face it.

As much as Ten Thousand Doors is a portal fantasy, it’s less about the worlds themselves and more about the possibility of worlds and all they might contain.


STARLESS

by Jacqueline Carey

Starless is divided into three main parts, with these parts being so uniquely different from one another that it’s necessary to mention. The first section centers on Khai’s training, the second his introduction to court life, and the third an oceanic adventure. Part one is by far my favorite of the three, delving into a setting where the gods are physical beings that grant their blessings specifically and with an eternal reason behind it. While each of the sections is divided by tone and purpose and even cast to some extent, I greatly enjoyed the entire process, from child-in-training, to the dangers of court and city, and the travels beyond.

There are larger aspects dealt with in the novel, especially that of knowing and accepting oneself, though it’s done primarily through the scope of Khai and one other who is introduced in the second part of the novel. However, though there might be a few interesting questions and a couple of characters that add to the great diversity in the fantasy and science-fiction realm these days, Starless is much more an adventure fantasy from start to finish, which I happened to love.


SPINNING SILVER

by Naomi Novik

I picked up Spinning Silver in response to having read Uprooted and though I admit to loving Uprooted just a little more than Spinning Silver, that’s not in any way a complaint against this novel. For Spinning Silver is a beautiful fairy tale-esque story revolving around a moneylender and the people in her life as she strives to not just overcome the struggles of her family, but to best those conflicts entirely.

There’s an entire parallel world, one filled with a cold fae people and their own unique culture, that is brought to the forefront during this journey, as well as an enemy far closer to home. All the pieces of this novel expand across numerous characters and settings and yet, every single thread is interwoven tightly and meaningfully.

One of those books that starts slow by necessity because of all the introduced characters, but builds and builds into a rush of a climax. A really fun book.

January 2020 Recommended Books

I haven’t posted this before, but I feel the need to announce I’m now the parent of a teenager and have been for a few months. I don’t feel old enough to have a teenager. Nor do I feel capable of keeping up with feeding one. How does one do that? Add an addition to our pantry? Daily drop-offs from the grocery store? Buy intravenous feeding tubes? If ever there were black holes on earth, they would be teenaged stomachs XD

Monstress Vol 1: Awakening & Monstress Vol. 2: The Blood
by Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda

The first thing you notice about these graphic novels is the gorgeous artistry by Takeda. She brings such detail into every panel, making every page a thing of beauty to be admired. The world itself, as grim as it is, is vast, multi-cultural, with layers hidden within layers. Just for those two aspects, Monstress is worth reading. But there’s more. The character of Maika is conflicted, blunt, and horrible, yet also one who evokes sympathy. She fits in that classic trope of the abrasive character who does her best to keep people away from her for their own good. Yet she’s failing even in that and desperate for answers to what is happening to her. There is a cast of secondary characters both interesting and strange and Liu does not shy away from showing the dreadful sides of avarice and bigotry through them all.

Both my children stole all three volumes from me to read. I haven’t even read the third volume (though they have), so I guess it gets the stamp of approval from a younger generation too :)

As You Wish by Cary Elwes

Does this count as Fantasy or Science Fiction? Maybe not :) It’s all nonfiction, relaying fun stories through Elwes’s eyes during the process of making The Princess Bride, one of the most iconic movie/book combos of the last century.

There was at least one vignette I was already familiar with, so I’m assuming I read an excerpt of the book at some point, but most of the information was new to me, and given it was filtered through Elwes’s eyes, it carried an air of nostalgia with an overlay of all of his excitement, nervousness and, occasionally, embarrassment.

You get to walk through the process, from him first getting the job to the final days. Get to hear about the arduous process of creating the duel between Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin. For me, it felt like traveling back in time to my childhood.

The Princess Bride
by William Goldman

Speaking of The Princess Bride, why yes, I was inspired to pick it back up. I’d never read it all the way through, just bits and pieces. And before I get to the story, I’m going to fully admit that I was one of those many people (long ago) who thought the book was actually abridged and searched for the unabridged version to no avail. Luckily, I don’t also have to admit that this happened recently (but I did have a moment–just a moment--when I picked it up off the shelf and thought wait–what? In my defense, I had just learned that Dune had an abridged version and I went searching to figure out whether I’d read the wrong damn book some twenty-five years ago. Spoiler alert: I hadn’t. I read it in all its wonderful glory the first time.)

The story is almost completely the same as the movie, with the notable exception being the Zoo of Death, which was understandable in its absence in the movie, but also pretty entertaining. There are other smaller changes as well, but none of them huge or plot/character changing. This is one of those, if you love the movie, you will undoubtedly love the book and vice versa. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth the read if you’ve already seen the movie. Just the opposite.

August 2019 Recommended Books

We ended up breaking in the new patio with a barbecue. Was pleasant to actually have space enough for people for the first time :) After, Steve went out and bought a on-clearance gas fire pit that almost (but not really) matches the blocks we used. Call us lazy, but building a patio was a bit back-breaking so I’m just as happy to hold off on the next phase.

We had a bit of a medical issue with the girl that was originally diagnosed as cat scratch disease, allowing the sores to spread all over her body, only to have it end up being impetigo. Miss Thing got blamed at first and it wasn’t anything to do with her! Poor girl has been on medicine for the past two months to keep her nose from breaking back out in a rash again, but at least the rest of her sores have healed up or turned to scars.  That’s been an adventure.

This was my first time reading Novik’s work and I’m right now waiting for my library to get in Her Majesty’s Dragon to keep going :)

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Uprooted by Naomi Novik
(Fairy Tale Fantasy)

I adored this novel. I normally read library books and only buy when I loved the book yet this one I bought before I’d even finished reading the story. It’s technically a retelling, a tale about a dark Wood that is swallowing the land and all of the inhabitants, with only a single wizard standing in the way. The lead is a stubborn young woman convinced more can be done. She’s heroic without being masculine, powerful without being cruel. The Wood itself is terrifying in its creation and yet gorgeously described. Highly recommend this one!

Down Among the Sticks and Bones, Beneath the Sugar Sky and In an Absent Dream by Seanan McQuire
(Portal Fantasy)

I read the rest of McQuire’s Wayward Children series in July and found them to be just as dear as the first. Sticks and Bones is a wonderful example of how expectations and pigeonholing our children (and adults) will stunt them, force them into a mental frame where they imagine they can only be this or that, but never this and that. Sugar Sky is more a quest-type tale, but gave us a journey through multiple worlds where the rules aren’t always the same, which is no different then growing up, moving away, and realizing that sometimes everything you’ve learned no longer applies in this new place. In an Absent Dream is arguably my favorite of the series thus far. The goblin market is destructive and manipulative and yet seductive in its inherent fairness. It also holds a lesson at its heart: that fair doesn’t always mean right and equitable doesn’t always mean the same. These are perfect for both adults and youngsters.

Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach by Kelly Robson
(Science-Fiction)

This is one of those stories that sticks with you, making you think, long after you’ve finished. Robson packed so many ideas into such a small space that you might suspect there’s not enough room for it all, but there is. She handled ecological concerns, bodily biases, and historical tampering all along with the simpler themes of the morality of playing god and asking the questions of what makes a monster a monster. The interpersonal conflicts of the characters were on point as well because traits were called out, forcing the lead to reexamine her beliefs and behavior.

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!

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.