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. Time to report!

What is the best book you read in January 2020 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.) And please don’t miss our favorite books of 2019 and the 2020 books we can’t wait for.

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


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21 comments

  1. SandyG /

    I read Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire. This series is always strange but I enjoy them

  2. Noneofyourbusiness /

    “Paleolove” in Dark Horse Presents is an interesting and challenging prehistoric love story.

  3. I started “The Nine Realms” by Sarah Kozloff! The first book in the series/omnibus, “A Queen in Hiding” was amazing! The book starts with the conflict across several regions with different forms of government and religious beliefs. The book is over 500 pages long, but the pace of the story makes those pages go quickly! “The Nine Realms” is an epic fantasy which is divided into 4 parts (think of “The Priory of the Orange Tree” divided the same way as “The Lord of the Rings”), and the story, the characters and the world-building doesn’t end with the first book! I’m already looking forward to reading “The Queen of Raiders”!

  4. Susan Whitehead /

    I discovered the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka. What fun! Urban fantasy similar to The Dresden Files with the same fast pace. Good core set of characters. 10 books in the series so far and I blew through them in one month. A great way to overcome the post holidays slump.

  5. The Distinguished Professor /

    More of Garth Nix’s Abhorsen saga and other tales in “Across the Wall and Other Stories”.

  6. I read so many good books last month it’s hard to pick just one. I read the last several volumes in Neil Gaiman’s original Sandman series. The closure and reset were perfect.

    I read the first of Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels, Consider Phlebas. It was okay, introducing the reader to the civilization known as the Culture in an oblique way, through the eyes of a protagonist not part of the Culture and fighting against it on philosophical grounds. The second novel, The Player of Games, is a giant leap forward, in my opinion, but I’m not quite finished with it, so I’ll save that for next month.

    I read other, forgettable books. For instance, I had higher hopes for Alexei and Cory Panshin’s Earth Magic, but it just didn’t deliver.

    The best book I finished last month was the first book of Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire series, Ninefox Gambit. I loved the exploration of the connections between belief (sometimes imposed) and reality, between social control and sacrifice (of others), between orthodoxy and heresy, individualism and hive mind. Although I’ve seen all these the s in science fiction before, the way they all fit together in this book was new to me. I look forward to the rest of the series.

  7. Mary Henaghen /

    I’m working my way through Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. I just finished book 11, the knife of Dreams. I am amazed at the scope of the world that Jordan has created and the pieces parts and how they all fit together is astounding.

    • Noneofyourbusiness /

      Yay for you! You’re lucky to be reading it for the first time.

  8. Kevin S. /

    Morning Star (Red Rising Saga #3) by Pierce Brown

    Blue Heaven by CJ Box

    Honorable Mention: The Rage of Dragons (The Burning #1) by Evan Winter

  9. Lady Morar /

    “The Mental Floss History of the World: An Irreverent Romp Through Civilization’s Best Bits” has been entertaining.

  10. Paul Connelly /

    Best was Blood of Empire (Brian McClellan), the final book in a flintlock fantasy trilogy called Gods of Blood and Powder. I enjoyed this book tremendously, but I must confess to not understanding the series name, since there are no gods involved in the ongoing political and military struggles that McClellan depicts, and the point of most of our heroes’ efforts is to *prevent* an evil sorcerer from making himself a god using the monumental “godstones” excavated on the disputed continent. The Dynize invaders from the west are seizing the godstones while being opposed by both the recently independent Fatrastan government and a mercenary army from the continent to the east (that Fatrasta won its independence from). Stuck in the middle of all the killing are the indigenous Palo, already victimized by the colonists from the east and now having their elderly and children surreptitiously stolen away for sorcerous blood sacrifices by their ethnic kin, the Dynize. Meanwhile Ben Styke and his Mad Lancers have launched their own invasion…of the Dynize homeland. We also follow General Flint and her army, as they try to prevent the godstone in the Fatrastan capital from being used, and Palo spy Michel Bravis, who is fomenting rebellion among his downtrodden people. If you have been reading this series, you may well guess that it’s going to come down to Ka-Sedial, the evil sorcerer, battling the two granddaughters whose blood he hopes to shed to ascend to divinity. There were several plot points I didn’t quite get, like why Sedial launched a purge against his political foes so soon. And several characters suffer horrendous injuries that they bounce back from rather quickly. But otherwise this was an excellent finish, with McClellan taking care to show the good people on all sides of the conflict caught up in the plotting of the power-hungry few.

    Holly Black’s The Queen of Nothing is the concluding volume in her Folk of the Air trilogy. The previous book ended with Jude, our mortal heroine, getting married and then exiled from Elfhame almost immediately. Now she’s trying to scheme her way back into power, against the presumed opposition both of her husband, the “cruel” and “wicked” Cardan, and of her manipulative stepfather, Madoc (the fae who raised her after murdering her real parents). Cardan was prophesied to bring ruin on the kingdom, which is supposedly why he was treated so badly as a child, which is supposedly why he has treated everyone else so badly as an adolescent. But since this is a young adult story, we know that Love must conquer all. I’m a bit leery of a story that seems to imply that your abusive boyfriend can be made into a loving spouse if you Love him and he’s gorgeous to look at (and all YA boyfriends that heroines Love are gorgeous, to show we can have equality of sexual objectification the way we have equality of evil politicians now). In real life we would recognize this as Infatuation and unlikely to lead to anything good, but this is YA. And the story is exciting enough, with several plot twists, that you can overlook a lot of the dubious relationship stuff. I was glad to see certain bad actors get what they deserved in the end, and I wouldn’t be totally shocked to see a follow-on novel or trilogy in the same world. The sub-plot about Vivi and Heather felt a little awkwardly stuffed into the story…like, I was expecting more to develop out of that…so maybe that’s set-up for some kind of continuation of the series.

    Two books by Elizabeth Hand: Wylding Hall is written as an oral history of Windhollow Faire, a “psychedelic folk” band from around 1970, as they recorded their famous second (and final) album at a crumbling rural estate. Sent to remote Wylding Hall by their manager to keep them away from distractions, the band encounters a number of eerie supernatural events that end with the disappearance of their male lead singer. Familiar Hand themes of the magic and transience of youth, beauty and artistic inspiration permeate the work. The build-up is pretty good, despite some improbable and conflicting narrative strands, but I thought the ending a bit sketchy, suggesting two possible resolutions for the mystery. But still a diverting tale. Curious Toys is longer and not one of her fantasies, but similarly dark, dealing as it does with a cross-dressing girl and a mentally disturbed man trying to track down a serial killer and rapist of young girls in 1915. Our heroine Pin is a 14 year old girl who cuts her hair short and dresses like a boy for her own safety while hanging around the amusement park where her mother works as a fortune teller. She drifts between the park and a Chicago movie studio, delivering hashish to earn money, but when she suspects a murder and then finds the child’s body, both her disguise and her life are anything but safe. (The police response is predictably “arrest the nearest Negro” based on zero evidence.) The mentally disturbed man that Pin forms an uneasy alliance with is janitor Henry Darger (the actual “outsider artist” who became posthumously famous), and we also get to see some real silent film stars. Not noir as in Hand’s Cass Neary books, but it doesn’t shy away from the grimness of life for the many people (frequently immigrants) as impoverished as Pin and her mother. An interesting period story.

  11. John Smith /

    I very much enjoyed John Connolly’s “The Book Of Lost Things”! I thought it was quite an exciting and atmospheric read!

  12. I didn’t read very much in January, but at the end of the month, I got my hands on an ARC of Network Effect and cackled my way through it. Oh, so snarky. Oh, so many feels. Then I found out that Martha Wells is going to be at a small con in San Antonio at the same time I’m going there for a “celebration of life.” YAY.

    The other book I read was very good. Peg Kerr is republishing her books. The Wild Swans is out and Emerald House Rising is forthcoming. TWS has two threads. A runaway ends up finding a place in NYC while in the other a young woman tries to break a witch’s curse on her brothers. I find the young man’s story more compelling. It’s set in the ’80s. The young woman’s story is in the early American colonies.

    • Noneofyourbusiness /

      Oh, a story based on the fairytale “The Six Swans” (which also inspired the Jim Henson’s The StoryTeller episode “The Three Ravens”), interesting!

  13. The Outsider by Stephen King
    SO good! First time I’ve experienced palpable dread and good old-fashioned fear from SK since Duma Key. Also, enjoying the HBO series.

  14. Katharine Ott /

    The first two books in Katherine Arden’s Winternight trilogy were fantastic, “The Bear and the Nightingale” and “The Girl in the Tower.” I’m on the homestretch with “The Winter of the Witch” and already mourning the loss of more time with Arden’s characters.

  15. BravoLimaPoppa /

    Started in January, and still haven’t finished One Man: A City of Fallen Gods Novel by Harry Connelly. And I’d say it’s very good. Fantasy noir, low stakes (the life of one girl and a man’s redemption of himself). But well done, if violent.
    And I’ve got several I want to read now. For the curious, they are: A Mist of Grit and Splinters, Dragons of Marrow, Darkness Within: and Other Stories (Tales of the Associated Worlds Book 3), The Dread Hammer.

  16. Non fiction book: The Meaning Revolution by Fred Kofman. Amazing book about meaning, motivation and leadership. I could not have started the year with a better book, I think.

  17. I enjoyed Starsight by Brandon Sanderson.

  18. Susan Whitehead, 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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