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 May 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.

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


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18 comments

  1. This is copied from my dreamwidth account at melita66.

    Things settled down a bit in May and I was able to start reading again.

    I decided to read a bunch of the People stories from the Ingathering collection. These are by Zenna Henderson. While there are scary moments in these, they’re also very hopeful. The People are refugees, who have landed on Earth after their planet shook itself apart. The stories take plane in the American southwest, starting late 1800s and into the middle of the 20th century. The People meeting good and bad humans, of course, with a recurring theme of “Different is dead” and finding new homes with found family. There’s some racial profiling with Hispanics like the girls are early to mature, etc.

    I slammed through the four Murderbot novellas and the short story, “Home” that the publisher released to people who bought the hardcover. Home takes place on Preservation Station after Dr. Mensah had been rescued. It’s told from Mensah’s point of view and reveals that she’s struggling with PTSD.

    A short story, “Spoken For”, by A.J. Demas. The continuing story of Pheres and Bedar from “One Night in Boukos”. The power balance is changing as they travel to Zash where Bedar is from.

    A new installment of Desdemona and Penric from Lois McMaster Bujold! The Physicians of Vilnoc find Penric married and with a child. His brother-in-law asks him to investigate an outbreak of disease at the local military fort. The main doctor has died so his second and Penric start treating and investigating the cause of the disease. I squirmed a bit because the timing is not so good because the COVID-19 pandemic. An excellent entry in the series nonetheless.

    K.J. Charles released a few books for free. I’ve seen her books recced multiple places so I thought I give one a try. I picked up The Magpie Lord and quickly read it and its 2 sequels, A Case of Possession and Flight of Magpies. These are fantasy. There’s energy in the ether and some people can use it to do magic. Lucien Vaudrey is now heir after the death of his father and brother. He’s returned to England from China with Crane, his crony. He was sent to China by his father due to his “proclivities.” It turns out there’s a curse on his house and Stephen Day, magician, shows up to get rid of it. There ends up being a conspiracy, many secrets, and so on that wind through the three books. Engaging characters and decent worldbuilding. There are some related stories but I haven’t read them yet.

    I then picked up An Unseen Attraction, a story in the Sins of the Cities series. This one is about Clem Talleyfer, a bastard son who’s been set up as a boarding house keeper and one of his tenants, Rowley Green, a taxidermist. A terrible tenant who has been living there for free at the request of Clem’s brother shows up dead. An author trope showed up–one of the couples will be big and brawny, while the other will be slim, weedy. So far the other books in the series haven’t piqued my interest enough to buy them.

    I switched to another series, The Society of Gentleman, and read the final story, A Gentleman’s Position about David Cyprian, valet to Lord Richard Vane. This series and the previous one are historical, not fantasy. I assume I’ll read more from Charles but will likely try something else next. (Nope, I’ve been continuing to read various Charles book. She’s quite prolific)

    • Noneofyourbusiness /

      Melita, where can I find links to these free stories by KJ Charles, please?

      • It was a promo for the pandemic and/or the publication of her 20th book. She made The Magpie Lord free. She also was running a contest for 2 of her self-published stories but it’s closed already.

        She has some related stories for free on her website, http://kjcharleswriter.com/free-reads/

        • Noneofyourbusiness /

          So “A Case of Possession”, “Flight of Magpies”, “An Unseen Attraction” and “A Gentleman’s Position” were not also free?

  2. SandyG /

    I read The Immortal Conquistador by Carrie Vaughn. It’s a book of short stories featuring The vampire Rick who was a character in her Kitty Norville series.

  3. John Smith /

    “Sigh, Gone: A Misfit’s Memoir Of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight To Fit In” by Phuc Tran.

  4. Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell hands down

  5. For one of my classes (I’m studying to be a librarian), I had to read “The Female of the Species” by Mindy McGinnis. It’s a YA thriller about 3 adolescents in their senior year of high school who have to confront their potential futures outside of rural Ohio while a string of unsolved murders occur within their town. I highly recommend the book!

  6. Paul Connelly /

    Best: The Empress of Salt and Fortune, a novella or very short novel by Nghi Vo, begins with a monk and a talking bird arriving at a shrine watched over by an old woman called Rabbit. As the monk goes about cataloging the artifacts at the shrine, Rabbit recounts her time spent as a servant to the titular Empress. The Empress starts off as, in effect, a hostage exchange from a nation defeated by the Emperor’s military, sent to become his principal wife. After bearing a royal heir, she is banished to live far from the imperial court. But the conquered nation has only superficially submitted to imperial rule, and the Empress serves as a spy in enemy territory and coordinator of the coming counter-strike. This is a revenge tale in a world with much magic and little technology, told with economy and style.

    It’s not much of a spoiler to say that everyone dies at the conclusion of The Light at the End of the World (Lorraine Dopson), since it’s heavily foreshadowed throughout the story, set around 9500 BCE in Europe. As the heroine grows into adolescence and then has a child of her own, over several decades, the omens that her forager tribe’s more shamanic members recognize speak ever more clearly of destruction coming from the sky, and in the implausible but extremely scary ending that’s what happens. The first two thirds of the book seems not unrealistic, but it gets more muddled toward the end (people with ancient Egyptian and Babylonian names more than six and seven *millenia* before those civilizations originated?). The cataclysm portrayed is too late to be the theorized Younger Dryas impact, so I’m not sure what suggested this timeframe to the author. It’s her only novel (from 2002).

    The Gift of Stones by Jim Crace takes place at the end of the Neolithic (around six millenia after the period in Dopson’s book), as we’re about to transition from stone to metal tools. There is an oddly secular 16th century feel to Crace’s late Neolithic, no pagan hedonism here (or in Dopson, really). Maybe always being focused on where the next meal comes from is responsible. The narrator of The Gift of Stones recounts the stories her father told her about how he lost an arm as a child, became the village storyteller as an adolescent, and found her and her mother out on the heath. A slower moving “literary” view of prehistory which seems to say: life is ugly and harsh, animals and nonviolent humans will be cruelly victimized by violent humans, and people live by stories that are usually lies intended to lend glamor to the ugliness. For the comfortable who seek a little momentary affliction, I guess.

    Hearts of Oak is a short novel by Eddie Robson that starts with some people, including an architect named Iona and an unnamed king and his talking cat, in what is obviously a very artificial environment that they accept as normal, a city made mostly of wood that is always engaged in new construction despite the lack of population pressures. As arson and other violent acts threaten the daze the characters are living in, they have to wake up and figure out what’s really going on. I was disappointed that the talking cat didn’t seem more feline in its habits and behavior, and I had somehow gotten the wrong idea that this might be like The Lathe of Heaven, so those factors detracted a wee bit from my enjoyment. But it was an interesting, quick read, with a jaundiced take on the SF cliche of travel via wormhole.

    The Golden Key by Marian Womack takes its name and some motifs from the fantasies of George MacDonald. The setting alternates between London and the fens of East Anglia in the Edwardian era. One plot strand follows a woman investigator who has been hired to solve the disappearance of three girls in the fenland twenty years ago. Another tracks a somewhat disturbed young man, trying to forget a recent tragedy and accompanying his guardian on visits to alleged mediums. A third involves an unhappy young woman near the fens who is trying to look at the unhealthy state of the environment scientifically. There are seances, a rotting mansion full of fungus and green glowing light, a ruined factory, and other creepiness. But to me all the appealing story elements remained fragments that seemed like they were intended to fit together but ultimately didn’t. Also, point of view in some chapters shifted around in an awkward way. Nicely atmospheric but not very coherent in the end.

  7. Lady Morar /

    Mental Floss’s “Genius Instruction Manual”. Nothing like a not-too-wordy combination of fun facts and quips.

  8. Noneofyourbusiness /

    The Free Comic Book Day preview “Hilda’s Back!” got me very interested in this Nordic-inspired graphic novel series aimed at adventurous young readers. Shades of the old “David the Gnome” cartoon. I hadn’t known that there was a “Hilda” animated series on Netflix also.

  9. Katharine Ott /

    Here’s my Goodreads review of my May favorite – it was great! “Everything Under the Heavens” – written by Dana Stabenow and published in 2014 by Gere Donovan Press. This historical fiction novel has elements of several of my favorite things to read – the ancient Eastern world, romance and high adventure. The granddaughter of Marco Polo, who displays both her Venetian and Chinese heritages, is a skilled trader like her father Wu Li, but when he dies, her world is thrown into chaos. Taking items of great value, both living and inanimate, she heads out over the deserts with her comrades, encountering both dangers and delights. “At every league there was a new and almost invariably fatal disease waiting to infect them, thieves and bandits eager to rob them, rival merchants hoping to cheat them, bears and wolves with their next meal on their minds.” Stabenow is especially skilled at describing this ancient, colorful world and the setting comes alive, with never a dull moment. The end of the book is a true cliffhanger and I look forward to continuing in the three-book series.

  10. The Distinguished Professor /

    “Fire and Blood”. I don’t know how George Martin manages to create such intricate but lively histories.

  11. Kevin S. /

    “Death Comes for the Archbishop” by Willa Cather (5 stars)

    “The Hobbit” by JRR Tolkien (4 stars)

    “Valor” (The Faithful and the Fallen, #2) by John Gwynne (4 stars)

  12. 4.5 stars for The Traitor Baru Cormorant (yes, I’m still at the beginning of the series but I have the next two books on my Kindle). My only 5 star reads this last month were two rereads of short stories: Gogol’s “The Overcoat” and Connie Willis’s “Fire Watch.”

  13. Sethia Michaelis /

    I read the first two books in The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey and I really enjoyed them. I also read Sarah J Mass’s new book, not for everyone but I enjoyed it too.

    • Kevin S. /

      I’m halfway into the final book in The Expanse series. Love it!

  14. Kevin S, 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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