Books, Reviews, Writing

Great books, great stories – a reading list

I finally got my act together to post about some of the many awesome books I’ve enjoyed recently. For more reading recommendations by me, you can check out some of my recent posts at B&N’s Sci-Fi & Fantasy Blog:

Great books, great stories

Short story collections

Next Curious Thing, by Ephiny Gale
Ephiny Gale is a hugely talented writer and this collection showcases her talents for telling strangely fantastic and fantastically strange stories that flip the world you think you know inside and out and upside down, and finds the cracks in reality where the light and the darkness seeps in. With gorgeously wrought prose and characters that grab hold of you, this collection is a must-read for any fan of speculative fiction.

How Long ’til Black Future Month, by N.K. Jemisin
It should come as no surprise that a short story collection by N.K. Jemisin is one of the best short story collections you can put in your eyeballs. Her Hugo-nominated story “The City Born Great” (the basis for her next novel) is worth the cover price on its own, but my favourite might just be the food-intoxicating “L’Alchimista”.

Lost Objects, by Marian Womack
A luminous collection of beautiful and haunting short stories. In every story, the world and the people and creatures in it seem in the process of changing and transforming. Landscapes, animals and humans seem to shiver between dream and nightmare, between one state of being and another and the stories capture that uncertain state in all its dark glory.

Dark, weird, and memorable speculative fiction.

Apocalypse Nyx, by Kameron Hurley
An outstanding collection of kick-ass science fiction stories featuring Hurley’s foul-mouthed and hard-drinking (and badass) Nyx, this is a great read for anyone who loves their sci-fi on the gritty, gutsy, bloody, dirty, messy side. Nyx and her band of misfits are so damn entertaining I could keep reading about them 24/7.

Short story anthologies

The Reincarnated Giant, edited by Mingwei Song & Theodore Huters
An excellent anthology of Chinese sci-fi with a wide range of stories. I was unfamiliar with most of the writers here, except Liu Cixin, but I found many authors I wanted to read more by. Highly recommended for any and all science fiction fans.

Gunsmoke & Dragonfire: A Fantasy Western Anthology, edited Diane Morrison
This is a fantastic anthology of “stories in the grand pulp fiction tradition: from weird westerns, to sci-fi and space westerns, to post-apocalyptic westerns, alternate history, time travel, and cattlepunk”. There are 25 entertaining and strange western tales in this book, including a classic Solomon Kane story by Robert E. Howard.


The Rampant, by Julie Day
(Set for publication later this year, ARCs are now available for book-bloggers and reviewers at NetGalley.) Funny, dark, strange, and heartwarming at the same time, this is a fast-paced horror/dark fantasy story about two queer girls in love who try to save the world by bringing about the Sumerian Rapture (which might seem to be an odd way of saving the world, but hey, in this cast it works). The characters are wonderful in all their fiery, gnarly teen girl glory, and their “road trip” adventure through the underworld is phantasmagorically trippy. The story moves at a fast clip, and it was the voice of the main characters and their bond that really kept me hooked.

Icefall, by Stephanie Gunn
A compelling science fiction story about the connections between us and the world around us, and between each other, about climbing impossible mountains, and about miracles that might be possible. “Icefall” is gripping and quietly devastating in its description of love and longing and loss. The whole novella is fantastic, but the last third of it is just edge-of-your-seat riveting.


The Traveling Triple-C Incorporeal Circus, by Alanna McFall
Alanna McFall’s debut novel, “The Traveling Triple-C Incorporeal Circus”, is a story about what might just be the quirkiest and most unique road-trip trio you’ve ever encountered: two ghosts and a mime, walking from the East coast to the west coast to attend a wedding. Does that sound weird? It is. But in McFall’s capable hands, it’s also a moving and wonderful story about the importance of friendship and empathy, and about hard it can be to let go and move on even when you know you have to.

McFall hooks you with her knack for writing entertaining dialogue, and for creating flawed but compelling characters. She also vividly describes the ghostly realities of life after death, and there are some bone-chilling moments in the story, including a jaw-dropping and unforgettable scene with a group of poltergeists. For all its spooky quirkiness, this is a story that never flinches from the difficult realities of life, or the afterlife. Yet it remains both joyous and uplifting, even as it deals with dark and heavy subjects like death, violence, poverty, and grief.

What makes this book work so beautifully in all its poignant and slightly macabre glory, is that McFall threads a delightfully subtle and gentle sense of humour through every part of the story. It’s that warmth and light that draws you in and makes the book both funny and profoundly moving.

The Withered King (Tempest Blades Book 1), by Ricardo Victoria
The Withered King by Ricardo Victoria is an action-packed blend of magic and mayhem, sword and sorcery, science fiction and fantasy. The book is full of entertaining characters, has a sense of humor and adventure, and there’s a crackling video-game vibe added for good measure. It’s a book that should appeal to readers looking for adventure and fun.

Make Me No Grave: A Weird West Novel, by Hayley Stone
A fantastic, entertaining read from author Hayley Stone! I already loved her scifi books (Machinations and Counterpart), so I had some high expectations going in, and this wild, weird western tale quickly exceeded any and all of those expectations. The book is full of fantastic characters and has an intriguing mix of magic and fantasy, wild west grit, and romance. An excellent read from start to finish.

The Mere Wife, by Maria Dahvana-Headley
I found it very hard to put this book down once I start reading it. It is a riveting and harrowing read, full of blood and violence, but also full of love and hope, though a lot of it is crushed by the end. Beautiful prose makes this gloriously strange and tangled, dark and sharp tale shine.

The History of Soul 2065, by Barbra Krasnoff
This epic mosaic novel, made up of 20 connected short stories, is a literary gem, both profoundly moving and deeply human as it delves into the supernatural, fantasy, the real historical horrors of the Holocaust, and even science fiction. It begins just before World War I when two Jewish girls—one from Russia, the other from Germany—meet in a magical forest glade. Though they never meet again, their connection continues through the intertwined lives of their descendants. Krasnoff blends an earthy sense of realism with delicate strands of the fantastical, showing us how “ordinary” lives are never quite as ordinary as we might believe, and revealing the quiet, subtle magic that runs through the world. In the end, her stories explore how lives can intersect and affect each other, how people can be connected through time and space, and how we all matter to others in ways we don’t always understand. The History of Soul 2065 includes “Sabbath Wine,” a finalist for the 2016 Nebula Award.

Trail of Lightning (The Sixth World #1) & Storm of Locusts (The Sixth World #2), by Rebecca Roanhorse
Trail of Lightning is a fantastic book – action packed, full of characters that just pop off the page, and vividly pulling together legends, myth, magic, urban fantasy, and a post-apocalyptic society. Roanhorse has created a vivid and hugely entertaining world, and the story hooked me from the get-go and never let me go. The sequel is receiving stellar reviews and I cannot wait to read it.


Ninth Step Station (The Complete Season 1), by Malka Older, Fran Wilde, Jacqueline Koyanagi, Curtis C. Chen
Mix a near-future setting (Japan has been laid low by natural disasters and Chinese interference, and is now a divided nation) with some very plausible scifi-tech (body-mods, implants, and people who use tech-y “sleeves” to communicate and interface), and make it all a cyber-punkish police procedural, and you get the vibe of this excellent story. But what really sells this for me, are the two main characters, US peacekeeper Emma Higashi and Tokyo Metropolitan Police Detective Miyako Koreda who are assigned to work together.

The two have a great odd-couple/burgeoning buddy-cop vibe, and their different backgrounds gives insight into the world and the society they now have to navigate.

Written as a serial, Higashi and Koreda deal with various crimes (often involving technology and politics) and each part of this story is entertaining and gripping. (Check out the audio version at SerialBox for an extra-delicious enhanced version!)

Middle-grade & YA books

Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland
Ireland’s bestselling book combines zombies with alternate history and confronts racism head on. It’s a gripping, entertaining read for YA readers and adults alike and if you haven’t read it yet, you should get on that ASAP. From the official blurb:

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. —- But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

Riverland, by Fran Wilde
This book is wild and wondrous, it is terrifying and true, and it is its very own magic. It’s a book for kids. It’s also a book for adults, whether you remember, forgot, or never knew what it’s like to be a child in danger. It’s also very much a book that captures the reality of how kids, siblings especially maybe, can take care of, and feel a deep responsibility for, each other and for their family in a way that can be hard to understand for outsiders and adults.

Sal & Gabi Break the Universe, by Carlos Hernandez
(Read my full review.) What wonderful read this is. A story about two kids who meet, find themselves (sort of) at odds initially, and then become fast friends. Oh, and they sort of break (or at least poke a lot of holes) in the universe in the process. Sal & Gabi Break the Universe is funny, sharp, smart, and full of magic, science, food, friendship, family, life, love, and even death, and Hernandez keeps the story moving at a great pace throughout.

I love how this book treats the kids like they are real people, complex and flawed as well as charming. I also love how the book never talks down to kids. Nothing is sugar-coated here – Sal and Gabi deal with real problems (in addition to their travails with the alternate universes) – navigating troubles at school, living with diabetes, losing a parent, having a baby brother in the NICU, and helping a friend who has trouble at home – and the story allows them to deal with all of that in a real, down-to-earth, non-sappy way.

The ending is fantastic, setting things up for one heck of a sequel (I can’t wait to read it).

I’d recommend this book for kids ages 8 and up, and as an adult, I found it hugely entertaining as well.

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