Thoughtful Thursday: What’s the best book you read last month?

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsIt’s the first Thursday of the month. You know what that means, ’cause we do this on the first Thursday of every month! Time to report!

What is the best book you read in May 2019 and why did you love it? It doesn’t have to be a newly published book, or even SFF. We just want to share some great reading material. Feel free to post a full review of the book here, or a link to the review on your blog, or just write a few sentences about why you thought it was awesome.

(And don’t forget that we always have plenty more reading recommendations on our Fanlit Faves page and our 5-Star SFF page. And we’ve also got a constantly updating list of new and forthcoming releases.)

As always, one commenter will choose a book from our stacks.


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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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18 comments

  1. Kevin S. /

    I read several good books in May but one stood out as very, very good: Scythe by Neal Shusterman. The ending provided solid closure to the events in the story but it also transitions perfectly into the next book in the series. Can’t wait to start Thunderhead!

  2. April /

    I read only one five star book (that wasn’t a re-read) and it wasn’t genre:

    Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson Absolutely hilarious look at the life and times of someone with multiple mental issues like anxiety and depression.

    I also read three, four star books:
    Storm Cursed by Patricia Briggs, the latest in the Mercy Thompson series.

    The Black Wolves of Boston by Wen Spencer is an urban fantasy with quite a bit of differences from the norm. Contains werewolves.

    Dread Nation by Justina Ireland is an antebellum zombie novel.

  3. Noneofyourbusiness /

    I picked up the second issue of Squarriors (the first wasn’t around), and it actually made me quite interested for the rest of the series.

  4. Mary Henaghen /

    Parasite by Mira Grant is a great read
    Still working my was thru it, but definitely the best thing I read last month

  5. Lady Morar /

    “Shadows of the Workhouse” by Jenny Worth continues the saga that inspired the hit BBC series Call the Midwife.

  6. “Her Silhouette Drawn in Water” by Vylar Kaftan is a beautiful novella. “An Illusion of Thieves” by Cate Glass kept my interest because it was NOT the story I thought it was going to be, which made me love it more!

  7. The Distinguished Professor /

    I began Garth Nix’s “Keys to the Kingdom” series with Mister Monday and was once again impressed by his imaginative worldbuilding.

  8. Paul Connelly /

    “Can I write a 400 page novel about one woman deep in a cave system and keep readers turning the pages?” That’s the challenge Caitlin Starling takes on in best May read The Luminous Dead, and she fairly aces it. It’s essentially a grim two character drama with only one of them physically present. Gyre, a poor woman desperate to get off-planet, has faked her credentials as a professional caver to win a job with a huge payday. She descends into the killer cave system in a high tech suit of power armor, expecting that a team of pro technicians above will be guiding her to the mystery objective. But instead there is just one person “upstairs”, the extremely wealthy and obsessive Em, the remote Captain Ahab of this expedition, able to take control of Gyre’s armor and push drugs and hormones into Gyre’s bloodstream as she deems fit from her remote vantage point. If this were a movie it would be a cross between a Hitchcock suspense nailbiter and Bergman’s Persona, set completely underground. The term “Stockholm syndrome” comes to mind, although as the story progresses it becomes less clear who is in the hostage role. A part of Em is struggling to reclaim her suppressed humanity and her sanity, while Gyre is struggling not to lose hers in a perilous environment that becomes increasingly hallucinatory. On one level the two women are bitter antagonists, but on another each may be the last best hope for the other’s survival. And you have to keep reading to find out which way things ultimately go.

    The Winter Road (Adrian Selby) is bloody, grim and dark, but it doesn’t exactly fit into the grimdark niche. Set in an imaginary world that resembles northern Europe anywhere between 500 BC and 500 AD, its protagonist is an ex-soldier who has gotten wealthy via trading and who now looks to expand trade by building a road across the wilderness to bring the clans in the interior closer together. Unknown to her, there is a charismatic psychopath already uniting the clans by extreme violence, and the first part of the book chronicles her march into disaster and her desparate return home in two parallel timelines. In the second part she joins a crew of soldiers looking for revenge, and in the third part there is a long coda in letters between her and a former lover that shows what happened to these people over the remainder of their lives. Idealism doesn’t always get broken and honest people aren’t always defeated, so it’s not totally grimdark–you could say it has some Guy Gavriel Kay DNA in its makeup. But there is a lot of killing. Warriors in this world take various herbal concoctions, known collectively as “plant”, that heighten their senses or let them go berserk in battle, and long-term use visibly marks users, changing their skin and eye color. Not so easy for old soldiers to just fade away back into a peacetime life. There’s a lot to like about this book, if you can take the violence.

    On the other hand, Ed McDonald’s Blackwing fits the grimdark fantasy category much better, with some stylistic similarities to Glen Cook’s Black Company books. At the start it seems to be trying a little too hard–almost every character has suffered some past mutilation and the landscape is massively scarred by the infernal weapons used in previous battles. But it settles down eventually into pretty good story about conspiracies surrounding the super-weapon that is supposed to be keeping the evil enemy demigods at bay (the demigods on both sides of the struggle seem pretty evil). The hero is a disgraced former aristocrat turned hard-bitten mercenary, commissioned in middle age to save the woman genius who was his unrequited teenage love–obviously he’s still in love with her (do authors who have gone through middle age ever write this scenario? I doubt it). There’s a very high body count in this story, but the big military clashes are saved up for the very end. There will be more in this series, according to the book jacket.

    The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion (Margaret Killjoy) is a short contemporary fantasy about a woman who stumbles into an anarchist community squatting in a midwestern ghost town. The town is bitterly divided after four members have used witchcraft to summon a spirit deer to invert the normal relations of predator and prey and kill an upstart leader who was trying to take over the community. What could go wrong with that, right? As more deaths ensue, some people want to send the killer deer back where it came from (if that’s possible), while others want to send the deer to slaughter the first set of people. This is another book with lots of too hip characters who are, at best, seriously misguided. Fortunately the narrator, Danielle, and her potential love interest are both at least somewhat likable. And it is short. I wasn’t quite sure why the deer was killing other prey animals as well as humans, but the premise is probably better not questioned too deeply. So, a bit off the wall, but I’m curious enough to try the sequel.

    Another novel with a hip anarchist collective is Infinite Detail by Tim Maughan, with two parallel story timelines, one in the weeks leading up to the destruction of the Internet and many communication devices attached to it, the other set a bit less than ten years later. The anarchists in the earlier timeline have at least one super-hacker, but they aren’t the ones who bring down the net, although they give long diatribes on why the Internet has become the tool of evil global capitalism for surveillance and thought control. The aftermath timeline shows how anarchic things become, as businesses and governments all collapse messily and rule by petty gang lords and fascistic militias ensues. As one gangster says, if you’re going to destroy civilization then you’d better have a plan for what comes next, not just fantasies about spontaneous peaceful collective self-rule. The characters aren’t wholly believable, unfortunately. Super-hacker Rush is very anti-Internet but he uses it to find remote romance rather than meeting someone locally. And murderous fanatic Anika gets so sentimental when she’s not preparing to kill some random person. But the story highlights how dependent we’ve become on the Internet in just 25 years. Even if it couldn’t be totally killed as in the quasi-magical hacker strike here, you can see the impact (including deaths and civil disorder) of a prolonged successful large-scale attack.

  9. I finished rereading the Queen’s Thief series with A Conspiracy of Kings and Thick as Thieves. Well, at least it’s under two years for the next and last book in the series.

    Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse was probably the best book I read. I wasn’t sure I was up to the violence so it sat for a week or so. Once I started it, I was sucked right in and finished it off in a day or so.

    Also read a novella by Lindsey Davis which focuses on some of Falco’s relatives who live near Vesuvius. It’s a pretty dark story, as you might imagine.

  10. Katharine Ott /

    I did not read any five star books in May (except a lovely picture book, “Ocean Meets Sky” by the Fan Brothers), but two notable books were “All the Names” by Jose Saramago, an unusual and fascinating story about a Portuguese clerk who becomes obsessed with names, and Eowyn Ivey’s “To the Bright Edge of the World” which describes an exploratory trip into the wilds of Alaska in 1885, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1549090211. Just starting Terry Pratchett’s “The Wee Free Men.”

  11. John Smith /

    “Slade House” by David Mitchell.

    • E.J. Jones /

      This is such a wonderful horror novel! I don’t even like horror that much, but I was riveted by this one (also was scared of the dark for days after reading it).

  12. E.J. Jones /

    My own favorite read of May was a book called 1066 and All That, which I stumbled across in a London bookstore. I hadn’t heard of it, but I now understand it’s a modern humor classic (I’m American but love Brit humor). It’s a short explanation of English history from the perspective of what people manage to remember from history class – which is to say, not very much. I read it on the way back to the States and have never laughed so hard or so long on a plane.

  13. Sethia /

    Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames, bloody good time!

  14. Paul Connelly, if you live in the USA, you win a book of your choice from our stacks.
    Please contact me (Marion) with your choice and a US address. Happy reading!

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