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

fantasy and science fiction book reviews

It’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 July 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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28 comments

  1. Probably either The Brightest Fell or Shadowhouse Fall! I guess I’m all about falling this month!

  2. Lady Morar /

    Martha Hall Kelly followed up “The Lilac Girls” with another story featuring Caroline’s mother in the first World War in “Lost Roses”.

  3. The Distinguished Professor /

    “Drowned Wednesday” is the third book in Garth Nix’s “The Keys to the Kingdom” series but was the first one I picked up in the store. Let’s call it a “whale” of a tale.

  4. Noneofyourbusiness /

    I picked up a non-fiction book this time. “Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties” by Tom O’Neill with contributions from Dan Piepenbring. It certainly was a chaotic and paranoid era.

  5. I have 3! “The Gutter Prayer” by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan and narrated by John Banks (I listened to the audiobook), “Gods of Jade and Shadow” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and “The Survival of Molly Southbourne” by Tade Thompson!

  6. I’m going through a Malazan reread at the moment (so that I can finish the series):

    Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson was even better than the first time I read it.

  7. David Hand /

    I am currently reading Foundryside book 1 by Robert Jackson Bennett and am thoroughly enjoying the story. What a brilliant and clever idea Cannot wait for book 2.Highly recommended.

  8. Lindsey /

    This month I read both Magic for Liars and Empress of Forever. I was surprised by the ending of Magic for Liars, usually I can guess murder mysteries, but not this one. Empress of Forever is fantastic. I love the characters, especially Zanj.

  9. Kevin S. /

    The Last Wish (The Witcher, #0.5) by Andrzej Sapkowski

    Caliban’s War (The Expanse, #2) by James S. A. Corey

  10. John Smith /

    I hugely enjoyed “Enchanted Glass” by Diana Wynne Jones. I recommend the audiobook, which is really well done! And the villain is excellent!

  11. Katharine Ott /

    My favorite in July would be “Uprooted” by Naomi Novik: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1101504649. “His name tasted of fire and wings, of curling smoke, of subtlety and strength and the rasping whisper of scales.” A great read!

  12. Paul Connelly /

    No one clear standout in July, but Chen Qiufan’s Waste Tide came closest, so that’s my pick. This is updated cyberpunk set in China, where impoverished workers, lured in from the countryside, process toxic electronic waste while mobster families reap the profits. An American arrives with a proposal for an environmentally friendly recycling operation, but that company is a front for the usual military industrial complex crooks. The American’s interpreter befriends a “waste girl” who works in the toxic dump, and that sets off a violent cascade of plots and counterplots by the mob families, the American, and a shady labor organizer among the “waste people”. There are also digressions on feng shui, experimental CIA hallucinogens, anarchist network server farms in orbit, a killer robot, and a digitized neural backup of the brain of Hedy Lamarr. As with some of William Gibson’s pioneering cyberpunk novels, I was left unsure of what really was accomplished in the end, but it was very entertaining to get there.

    The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge (Anderson and Yelchin) tells the story of an elf sent to the goblin court–ostensibly as a diplomatic overture, in the elf’s mind to spy out goblin secrets, and in his superior’s intention to conveniently die while delivering a disguised bomb. The stiff-necked elf, Spurge, is hosted by an idealistic goblin named Werfel (I mentally pronounced it like Alma’s husband), who tries to entertain him until Spurge’s scheduled appointment with the goblin ruler. This story is rather creative–it’s clever and amusing, though not riotously so–and a lot of the appeal is due to the disparity in the story being conveyed by the narrative and the one conveyed by the numerous illustrations. Not sure who the target audience is, but hopefully there is a decent sized one for it.

    Ravencry continues Ed McDonald’s grim and often gruesome Raven’s Mark saga. Hard-drinking hero Ryhalt Galharrow is back, trying to defend his city and its human population against the immortal Deep Kings. The Nameless god Crowfoot, his inhuman patron, goads him on. The surviving cast from Blackwing are also back, and a desperate deal made with an evil sorcerer to help win the battle at the end of the first book is now turning out to have dire consequences. Meanwhile the cult of the Bright Lady is dividing the city and leading to civil conflict, with cultists and the devout Governor on one side and the military and the Range Marshal on the other. Is the Bright Lady Ezabeth Tanza? Well, it would surely be a disappointment if she wasn’t, to her old love Galharrow in particular. In this installment we get to see much more of the Misery, the wasteland blasted into reality by Crowfoot, as our hero has to make a long trek through it after being captured by the enemy. Not all the character notes rang true for me, but still a good story.

    The Invasion is Peadar O Guilin’s suspenseful sequel to The Call (a horror fantasy in which teens wait to be “called” to the faerie Grey Land and try not to come back dead or twisted hideously by the malevolent Sidhe). Starcrossed teen lovers Nessa and Anto return, with Nessa under arrest as a suspected traitor. And Anto is drafted into a paramilitary unit, because the Sidhe have found a way to open doors to our world and are leading armies of twisted and tortured humans against the decimated Irish population. Like his earlier SF series (The Inferior, The Deserter, and The Volunteer), The Call and this book are marketed as YA. And they’re similarly dark and bloody, with a very strong helping of Hieronymous Bosch-like grotesquerie. The Invasion is easy to get caught up in, but it spends less time on character development than The Call, so the emotional impact of what happens is muted.

    I admit I bought Rebecca Roanhorse’s Storm of Locusts for the Tommy Arnold cover, which is ultra-badass. But I liked the story better than Trail of Lightning, partly because annoyingly gorgeous and hyper-cool boy lust object Kai is off-screen for most of the story, and partly because the events that make up the plot are a little less random. An evil cult leader wants to strike back at the Dine gods by unleashing a watery apocalypse on Dinetah, and he seemingly has persuaded Kai to help him (but we know better). The “White Locust” has a clan super-power of persuasion similar to Kai’s, plus a mystery second clan power. Maggie is trying to chase him down, at first just to get Kai back, but then to stop the apocalypse from happening. With her are Rissa Goodacre (from ToL) and a teenage girl, Ben, that Maggie more or less inherits as a ward (so those are the three heavily armed women on the cover). There are one or two rough spots, but this is a smoother read than Trail of Lightning, with less romantic angst featured.

    The Red-Stained Wings is the second book in Elizabeth Bear’s Lotus Kingdoms trilogy. As with The Stone in the Skull, parts of it are reminiscent of Roger Zelazny. (Her Jacob’s Ladder trilogy likewise reminded me of Zelazny.) This should be a good thing, since I love Zelazny, but it doesn’t quite work out. Zelazny had characters that just appear in the story for their cool factor, though the character might lack much depth or even a crucial role in the story–yet Zelazny pulled it off with an economy of description and backstory. Bear has two characters she must feel are cool, the Gage (a metal man) and the Dead Man, whose very titles are Zelazny-ish, but she is just a bit too wordy with them, taking up pages with their introspection and philosophical musings. Sadly, this never makes them interesting enough. The two rajnis, Sayeh and Mrithuri, are more compelling characters (though even Mrithuri is flagging in this installment), but they get at best half the page count. (My two favorite characters were Hathi the elephant and Syama the bear-dog. No introspection from them!) This manages to be an interesting story, but where it’s headed is a puzzle, now that we’ve endured (just in this volume) a city besieged, a quest across a poisoned desert, several dragons, and a boatload of magical illusions (the latter dispelled by the crystal eye of another portentously titled character, the Godmade). But who is inciting the sorcerous and military havoc, and to what end? Perhaps as in some Marvel comics, behind the villain we’ll find a super-villain, and behind the super-villain a super-super-villain, and so forth. Onward to volume three!

  13. I’m loving Ben Aaronovich’s Rivers of London series. Seriously bingeing on them

  14. I was on vacation for 2.5 weeks in July and ended up reading a lot more than is usually possible.

    The best in the F/SF realm was Mapping Winter by Marta Randall. It’s rewritten (I think extensively) from her earlier A Sword in Winter and is a start to a new series.

    The various realms are connected with a Rider’s Guild which is in danger of being replaced with a telegraph system and other technological advances. The main character, Kieve, has been oathbound to a diabolical ruler for several years. He’s on his deathbed and she can hardly wait until he dies and free her from her oath. Meanwhile he hasn’t named an heir and various relatives and lords are congregating…

    I continued reading A.J. Demas’s stories: Thalia’s Gift, Something Human, and Sword Dance. These are set in an alternative Greek/Persian world with Sword Dance set several years after One Night in Boukos, I believe.

    A comment somewhere let me know that Bujold had published a new Penric and Desdemona book, The Orphans of Raspay. Penric is now married to Nikys and is returning home from a mission when his ship is attacked by pirates. Many shenanigans ensue as Penric get increasingly frantic trying to escape and rescue some orphans.

    The rest of my reading were books in the Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series by S.J. Rozan. She just published a new book, Paper Son. Lydia is an ABC (American-born Chinese) who is a PI in New York City. She often partners with Bill Smith, ex-Navy, older white guy. The books in the series alternate narrators, so some are labeled with Bill Smith/Lydia Chin instead! In Paper Son, Lydia and Bill are dispatched to the south to help a relative. Because of immigration restrictions, Chinese men already established in the US would return to China and state that so-and-so is my son. The “son” would be primed with details about the village, relatives and so on.

    I’d been meaning to reread the series for a while, so this triggered the start. Being away from home, I had to stick to ebooks and there are several that haven’t been released as ebooks yet. So far, I’ve finished:

    China Trade (1, some Chinese porcelains have been stolen, museums and provenance)
    Concourse (2, deaths at a home for the aged in the Bronx, non-profits and politics)
    Mandarin Plaid (3, start-up designer, her lo faan (white) boyfriend, high society)
    No Colder Place, (4, construction site, bribes, unions)
    Winter and Night (8, Bill’s nephew Gary is picked up by the police, is released to Bill and then disappears, small-town football, many details about Bill’s past)
    The Shanghai Moon (9, stolen jewelry from Shanghai and a dead policeman, wartime atrocities)

    5,6, and 7 don’t appear to have ebook versions, so I’ve borrowed one from the internet archive. Now that I’m home, I can read my hard copy instead.

    This series debuted in 1994 so no cell phones and definitely of its time. Bill is in love with Lydia before she starts reciprocating. The earliest books made me roll my eyes a bit because of that on this reread.

    Lydia still lives with her mother in Chinatown. The mom’s a hoot, still trying to get Lydia to stop her embarrassing PI work and marry a nice Chinese man.

    • Noneofyourbusiness /

      Can you help me out? I’ve tried Google and Goodreads and can’t find any evidence of a book called Thalia’s Gift like you mentioned.

    • Melita, Marta Randall is the leader of my writers workshop and we workshopped MAPPING WINTER. In the 1980s when SWORD OF WINTER was published, the publisher required editorial changes that Marta never liked. MAPPING WINTER, gets closer to the issues she likes to explore. I love the society that on the cusp of technological and societal change!

  15. E. J. Jones /

    Best book I read in July was Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. Best SFF book was Hephaistos: God of Fire by George O’Connor. (I suppose it’s really nonfiction, if you want to get technical about it, but I don’t in particular.)

  16. Three Laws Lethal by David Walton. I will try to write the review soon.

  17. The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow, hands down. It’s an excellent portal fantasy. Publication date is Sept. 10.

  18. April /

    The best ‘new to me’ book I read in July was All Systems Red by Martha Wells. It was a fabulous look at an unusual perspective and I’m kind of sad it took me so long to read it – I was afraid it was going to be a gory and horrific kind of thing but it very much isn’t.

    Otherwise in July I did a lot of re-reading because the world around us is kind of carpy at the moment so I fell back on some favorites like the Mercy Thompson series, the Alpha & Omega series and the Kate Daniels series. Then I also read a bunch of romances because ridiculous shenanigans and HEAs make my heart happy which is desperately needed these days.

  19. Lindsey, 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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