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

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsIt’s the first Thursday of the month. Time to report!

What is the best book you read in July 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 with a U.S. mailing address will choose a book from our stacks.


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21 comments

  1. Jillian Williams /

    My favorite book is City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. I have like 50 pages left, but I’m counting it. I’m loving it! Written by anyone else, it would be so corny and I feel like I wouldn’t like it but it’s done so well and is such a fun read. Definitely recommend it and I plan to read all her work.

  2. Kelly Lasiter /

    Conjure Women by Afia Atakora. It made me think *and* was impossible for me to put down, which don’t always occur in the same book.

  3. THE SWORD OF KAIGEN by M.L. Wang. This is a fabulous book full of martial arts, magic, and TONS of emotion.

  4. Noneofyourbusiness /

    “Corum: The King of the Swords” #9. Part of a comic book adaptation of Michael Moorcock’s classic novel series, with a fascinating art style that’s both colorful and minimalist. I want a flying cat, too.

  5. John Smith /

    “The Patient” by Jasper DeWitt. It’s about a mental patient at an asylum, and how everyone who sees him either goes insane or kills themselves. You’ll guess what is going on from the beginning, but it’s told in an interesting way, and I enjoyed the final hideous irony.

  6. Kevin S. /

    July was a great reading month, as I read some really good fantasy and non-fantasy:

    “Tyrant’s Throne” (Greatcoats, #4) by Sebatien de Castell

    “The Water Keeper” by Charles Martin

    “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles

  7. Mike Voss /

    I only read 5 books in July, but all with their own level of excellence:

    Steven Erikson, DEADHOUSE GATES
    Mark Lawrence, ROAD BROTHERS
    David Weber, UNCOMPROMISING HONOR
    Lois McMaster Bujold, THE PHYSICIANS OF VILNOC
    Victor Gischler, THE CITY AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD

    Of these, the clear winners were DEADHOUSE GATES and ROAD BROTHERS. The former brought some more conventional structure into the sprawling Book of the Malazan (after the drop-you-up-sh*t-creek-without- a-paddle GARDENS OF THE MOON, which also sorely lacked a compass or any clue as to what was really going on yet manages to satisfy nevertheless – your mileage may vary!) While Lawrence’s story collection offers both backgrounds for Prince-King-Emperor of Thorns Jorg Ancrath’s motley crew and insights into Jorg himself, including his henius for tactics and strategy.

  8. The Distinguished Professor /

    The second volume of “The Last Lion” by William Manchester, subtitled “Alone”, took us into Churchill’s famous political battles with other members of parliament who wanted to appease Hitler.

    One of the best quotes in the book, though is actually by his colleague, Leo Amery, speaking to those appears (“You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go.”). Who was himself quoting Oliver Cromwell.

    It’s unfortunate that Manchester died before completing the third volume, but it was eventually finished and published posthumously.

  9. (all but the last book copied from my dreamwidth blog, melita66)

    I have still be reading like gang-busters. I’ve upped my goodreads year goal once, and am about to raise it again!

    I read “Of Dragons, Feasts, and Murders” by Aliette de Bodard. I haven’t been interested in her novels but enjoyed “The Tea Master and the Detective” last year so decided to read this novella too even though it’s in her Dominion of the Fallen series. I liked enough that I almost started the series, but wanted to read more about Thuan and Asmodeus which I think is in book 3 so…I’ve left it for now.

    I’ve gotten confused with the Fence drawn story series written by C.S. Pacat, art by Johanna the Mad. 18 issues are out, collected in 3 volumes when I got a notice that volume 4 is out. I don’t think I’ve read the individual issues, although there’s definitely that structure. Quick synopsis: about the members of a fencing squad at a private boys’ school–how they’re going to overcome their problems and become a team.

    Start of new series by Kate Elliott!!! I’d gotten my greedy mitts on a print ARC of Unconquerable Sun but started it late and ended up partially reading it on my phone (where I do almost all my reading) and in dead tree form so I finished it after it had been released. Space opera. Huh, empire that does a lot of gene modification (Cetaganda AKA Medes/Persians), intellectual nation (Beta colony AKA Greece) that has been conquered by war-mad neighbors, Chaonia, who have thrown out conquerors in the previous generation (Not quite Barrayar AKA Macedonia). It’s more likely that Bujold also picked some bits from ancient Greece and Macedonia. Normally, I wouldn’t pick up on parallels like this but I think I was primed by recently reading a review of Wells’s Raksura series where skygiants equated it to McCaffrey’s Dragonriders–except just the dragons. I’d always thought it had more bits corresponding to Stargate (Fell = Wraith).

    Current Queen-Marshal is a brilliant commander and ruler who’s working on solidifying hold on local space and expanding into the empire’s area. Has several concubines, one acknowledged heir, Sun, whose father is unfortunately not Chaonian and is considered and enemy and a barbarian. Sun is continuing trying to impress mom, but never seems to please her enough. Sun has several Companions chosen from the other high houses, often misfits and totally loyal to her. We follow several points of view–Sun, Apama, a newly trained fighter pilot in the Empire, Persephone, Chaonian but from the family that hates Sun and her father the most, Zizou, a warrior from the same culture as Sun’s father, maybe a few others. A bit slow in the beginning maybe as the various characters are introduced, but then it kicks into high gear. Oh yeah, Sun is based on Alexander the Great, and corresponds to him at around age 19.

    Reread of “Home: Habitat, Range, Niche, Territory”, a short story by Martha Wells set before Network Effect. It’s Dr. Mensah’s viewpoint, rather than Murderbot’s.

    Yet another K.J. Charles, Slippery Creatures. Set post-WWI, Will Darling has inherited his uncle’s bookstore. Various people start asking for the information, but Will has no idea what they want. A charming man named Secretan makes his acquaintance and starts to help Will figure out what’s going on…

    Based on recs from several people, I decided to stop outside my usual genres and try Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall, a contemporary M/M romcom (romantic comedy). Oh what fun! I really enjoyed it but couldn’t really explain why I was laughing to my 8 year olds. Luc is the child of minor celebrities who ends in the paparazzi gaze again. It’s spun badly and he’s in danger of losing his job. He’s told to get a nice, tame boyfriend to mend his image or else. Enter Oliver Blackwood, barrister, and friend of friend. He could also use a boyfriend for some upcoming events. They have very little in common, so why not be fake boyfriends for the summer!

    I then went on a Hall kick and read the 4 books + 1 story that make up the Spires series: Glitterland, Waiting for the Flood, For Real, “In Vino”, and Pansies. They’re all M/M, with various past relationship issues and/or kink to be worked through. Glitterland’s main character is bipolar. For Real has BDSM with a 19 year old dom, and a 37 year old sub, and dealing with death of a relative. “In Vino” is set during For Real. Pansies deals with childhood bullying and death (off-screen).

    Then I went back to Charles and read A Queer Trade. Crispin Tredarloe has been learning blood magic as an apprentice. While he was gone, his master dies and all the papers are sold off. Some of the papers contain spells so Crispin rushes off to recover it. That entangles him with Ned Hall, wasteman. There’s a sequel, Rag and Bone. It’s set in the same world as A Charm of Magpies.

    I have a feeling this month will be much slower–school starts next week. Thankfully, they’re distance-learning but I’ll have to ride herd on them at least part of the day.

    Best? Boyfriend Material edges out Unconquerable Sun, but they’re not really comparable.

    • Kelly Lasiter /

      Wasn’t Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders cool? I too definitely want to read the rest of the series now.

  10. Lady Morar /

    I’ve also been reading a Churchill biography, Boris Johnson’s “The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History”, which is better than you might expect.

  11. Paul Connelly /

    Best was The Invention of Morel, a 1940 novella by Adolfo Bioy Casares, one of two Pacific Ocean castaway tales I read in July. A highly unreliable narrator, who claims to be a wanted criminal, has fled in a rowboat from New Guinea to a small island with a mansion and a tidal power station. He spends a period in morose solitude there, until one day over a dozen people appear, all dressed in long out-of-fashion clothing. Around this time he also begins seeing two suns and two moons in the sky. The narrator initially flees to the swamps, fearing that the newcomers will alert police agents to his presence. Eventually he tries timidly making contact with a woman he’s become infatuated with, but she ignores him completely. Soon he finds that none of the intruders seem to recognize his presence. Of course there’s an SFnal explanation, one that prefigures some of Philip K. Dick’s themes.

    Muse of Nightares (Laini Taylor) is the second half of the story begun in Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer. Lazlo Strange has gone from humble librarian to godlike being, but he and Sarai’s ghost must confront the vengeance-crazed child goddess Minya. Many of the characters have suffered horrible traumas, and by the end there is healing for some but not all. Although the two books, 1000+ pages taken together, seem too long for the tale told, apparent author fatigue made some scenes feel skimmed over. But an engaging story overall with often beautiful prose.

    I had high hopes for Melissa Caruso’s The Obsidian Tower, after greatly enjoying her Swords and Fire trilogy. But this one was a struggle. In the previous series, the contrast between Amalia (privileged, hyper-responsible, able to project often unfelt confidence thanks to aristocratic manners) and Zaira (poor, cynical, street smart, crude) really makes the series work, and the resolution of the power imbalances in their relationship is thematically satisfying as well as crucial to the plot. Amalia’s two romantic relationships pale by comparison. In The Obsidian Tower, heroine Ryxander doesn’t have that sort of counter-balancing character relationship. And her life-destroying magic can’t be used in any good way, which makes her mostly incompetent as a guardian of the titular tower. Sadly, the other characters are not very competent either, so too many pages are devoted to characters asking each other, “What should we do?” And not doing a lot, as the situation worsens. Most of the real action is crammed into the last 60-70 pages. There’s also the elder, mysterious helper (Whisper) who withholds vital information, one of my least favorite fantasy tropes. And Ryx wavers in her attractions to several other characters, which may be realistic but makes her seem shallower given the ongoing crises. It’s the world of Swords and Fire but a few generations later; the story is not as involving so far. Hope the sequels improve on this.

    Life of Pi (Yann Martel) is a very compelling and easy to read novel about a castaway in a lifeboat from a sunken ship in the middle of the Pacific. It has a fantastical premise (16 year old boy stuck in a lifeboat with a 450 pound Bengal tiger) but Martel’s storytelling makes everything seem realistic, with detailed descriptions of how Pi fits together a raft, how he fishes, etc. Around three quarters of the way through, the narrative gets more difficult to believe, however (after boy and tiger start going blind from poor nutrition and too much salt air). I loved the story up till that point, but ended up liking it in a more subdued way at the end. Stockton’s “The Lady or the Tiger” has two possible endings, and Martel’s Life of Pi has two possible explanations, so maybe this is a metafictional literary riff on the earlier tiger tale. Given my general lack of enthusiasm for clever literary fiction, keeping the story fantastical and simpler would’ve been more enjoyable.

    After the long, multiple viewpoint saga of Against the Day, Thomas Pynchon retreats to a tight third person single viewpoint in Inherent Vice. When I think of detective fiction a la Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, but updated to this novel’s setting (1971 LA), Ross Macdonald’s Lew Archer springs to mind right away. Pynchon’s detective, Larry “Doc” Sportello is occupying the same scene but as a countercultural version of the always humane Archer. Archer wears a suit and tie and probably reads Freud and Erik Erikson for edification, while Doc is more of a bell bottoms, huaraches and heavy dope smoking version. Doc gets hired for two cases to start with, first to prevent the kidnapping of his ex’s current boyfriend, psychedelicized real estate magnate Mickey Wolfmann, and second to find out if sax man Coy Harlingen really did die of an OD. He fails at the first one (too stoned) but tries to make up for it by tracking down the missing man; and he finds the sax player alive but so entangled in a net of undercover police plots that Doc can’t just reunite Coy with his wife and baby and close the case. And Doc is getting suspicions that his LAPD frenemy, Lt. “Bigfoot” Bjornsen, may be involved with a sadistic loan shark and a heavily armed white supremacist militia. Plus Doc keeps running into traces of the enigmatic Golden Fang (a drug smuggling ship? an investment bank? the “Mob behind the Mob”? vampires?), so we get plenty of the usual Pynchon paranoia, with references to Nixon, Howard Hughes and Lemuria. A pall of marijuana smoke hangs over everything and there’s enough groovy, far out hippie slang to make you cringe. In depth characterization is in short supply here, but Doc does grow on one as a sympathetic protagonist.

  12. BravoLimaPoppa /

    I know it’s a recent release, but it was really very good – Automatic Reload by Ferrett Steinmetz. The backmatter does a very good job of summarizing the book without giving anything away.
    I literally read this over 2 days.
    So, why did I like it?
    First, our hero Mat is a cyborg – all 4 limbs have been replaced. What makes this different from a lot is that each of them can carry out pre-programmed actions, sort of like drones. And they are much, much, much faster than Mat. He likens fights to car crashes.
    Second, Mat has PTSD. A really severe case. I can identify because almost 20 years ago, I did too. It’s not as severe now, but if I even see a certain make of car…
    Anyway, it’s not mental illness as magic superpower. It’s tough. It’s hard. And it’s essentially a part of Mat. It’s a respectful treatment.
    Then there’s our other character Sylvia. Who has her own body issues.
    Anyway, I really liked it (it fought with Paladin’s Grace for my best of the month) and I highly recommend Automatic Reload.

  13. Katharine Ott /

    I read two that I ranked five stars: “Stay Where You Are and Then Leave” by John Boyne, a YA novel centering around a British WWI veteran, moving and so well written, and “The Darwin Affair” by Tim Mason, a cool mixture of a serial killer mystery and the troubles Charles Darwin had when first proposing his theories, Queen Victoria and her consort Albert play important parts too. Scott Lynch’s “The Lies of Locke Lamora” was fun too.

  14. The best book I read last month was definitely, “The Year of the Witching” by Alexis Henderson. I don’t read a lot of occult fiction, but this book had me so immersed in the story, I finished it within 3 days! And, it’s the author’s debut novel.

    The story follows Immanuelle Moore, who is the illegitimate daughter of her mother, a follower of the Good Father, and her father, an Outskirter, a follower of the Dark Mother, who are both deceased. She lives in Bethel with her grandparents and the rest of her family, in a theocratic community. The Prophet rules Bethel with the Good Father’s will, while preaching against caution of the Darkwood, the dwelling of the Dark Mother. Of course, Immanuelle’s mother went against the Good Father’s teachings, hence her being ostracized from most of the community.

    However, one evening, as she is returning from an errand, Immanuelle ends up in the Darkwood, where she runs into the witches who dwell there. They give her a book, which reveals the hidden truth about Immanuelle’s parents and Bethel’s sins, with a warning of a reckoning coming for Bethel.

    This is one of my favorite books of 2020!

  15. Sethia /

    I finished the Expanse series (now wait for book 9 with every one eles). I aslo listened to The 10,000 Doors of January, I have already read it, but the audiobook was amazing.

  16. Lois Young /

    Who won for this month?

  17. Jillian Williams, 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!

  18. Jillian /

    Did you receive my email? I’m not sure if it worked

    • Sorry for the lack of response. I have a pretty good excuse for part of it–last week my device was packed up in my evacuation bag for a couple of days! We did get your email.

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