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 August 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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13 comments

  1. My favorite book of the month wasn’t because of it’s literary merit but because of nostalgia. When I was a kid the old Dark Shadows TV show was everywhere. Comics, board games and magazines. So I came across one of the books loosely based on the show, Barnabas Collins by Marilyn Ross and I enjoyed the memories it invoked.

  2. Noneofyourbusiness /

    Writer Mike Baron and colorist Ray Murtagh capture a world made barren by Chaos and overrun with once-human animal monsters very well in the seventh issue of “Corum: The Queen of the Swords”, adapting Michael Moorcock’s novel.

  3. TL;DR – Most fun among the new books was Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston.

    Anyone have a preference on whether I should continue to do these long posts or just focus on 1 or 2 favorites?

    Even with school starting for my kids, I still managed to finish a bunch of books. Mostly romance plus some fantasy rereads.

    I reread the first three books of the Raksura series by Martha Wells. It’s set on another world with a bunch of different races. The main character, Moon, was separated from his race as a child but was rediscovered about 20-odd years later by another group. So it’s about found family, abandonment issues, etc. I think Martha Wells does great characters who are smart and capable. Catnip for me!

    Based on Kindle rec, I tried In the Middle of Somewhere by Roan Parrish. I was drawn to it because it’s set in northern Michigan. An academic, Daniel, heads there for an interview for a tenure position at a small college. While the interview goes well, he ends up driving into a ditch and rescues a dog. There’s no cell service, of course. He ends up rescued by a local man, Rex, and sparks fly! I liked it enough that I continued reading a bunch of Parrish’s other books. Where We Left Off is the story of a side character in the previous book, who ends up going to NYC to college. I skipped book 2 in the series because the main character (brother of book 1’s main character) is a mean bastard. Several reviewers found the book difficult because of that (even though there’s a HEA, I think) so I decided not right now.

    Parrish’s Small Change duology uses characters from the previous trilogy. Small Change focuses on Ginger, a tattoo artist and best friend of Daniel. Ginger’s been so busy with her business that she’s really had no time for herself. Then she meets Christopher who’s opened a sandwich shop down the street…

    Invitation to the Blues focuses on Faron, a tattoo artist in Ginger’s shop, and Jude, a gifted pianist who suffers from mental illness. As Jude gets his life back together, will he be able to continue his burgeoning relationship with Faron?

    The Riven series starts with the self-titled book about Theo, super-famous, chased by paparazzi lead singer of ahem, Riven. He meets Caleb, a recovering addict and fabulous musician himself. Caleb is very attracted to Theo, but can he stand to be around the music scene which got him into trouble in the first place?

    Book 2, Rend, has another musician, Rhys, and Matt. I can barely remember anything from this book except that Matt has insecurity issues. So ddn’t like it as much as Riven.

    In book 3, Raze, Huey has been a bar owner for a while, and sober for even longer. He comes off as a big, hulking, laconic, bruiser which most people don’t look beyond. Felix has been taking care of his younger siblings for years after the death of their parents. He and his sister sing a Riven song in Huey’s bar one night and Huey arranges an audition with Riven’s ex-singer Theo. Liked this one better than book 2.

    The Remaking of Corbin Wale by Roan Parrish edges into fantasy. Corbin is fey, raised by two aunts in an old house in the woods. We’re never quite sure of the entire backstory. Why did the aunts die together one day? What happened to his parents? Alex ends up losing home and job in the big city and heads home to Michigan to lick his wounds. His mother runs a bakery/coffee shop there. Alex decides to redo it so she can retire. One day Corbin walks in and sits in the corner. Alex is drawn to him and over weeks, begins to draw Corbin out…a really nice, quiet story.

    Looking for Group by Alexis Hall is set at a college. Drew play a MMO, Heroes of Legend and has a good friends group that gets together to watch movies, play board games, and so on. Drew rage quits his guild and applies to join another one. There he meets a female elf-healer who’s really cool and attends another university in the same city. Imagine his surprise when Drew finds out that Kit is a young man, but does it really matter? I enjoyed it quite a bit. I’m not a gamer but know enough that I could figure out most of the jargon and the online conventions like something marked as “so-and-so whispers” means that it’s a private message.

    The Engineer by C.S. Poe is a steampunk, magic alternative western set around 1880s. Gillian Hamilton (is supposed to be a call-out to Niven’s Gil Hamilton? I don’t know) works for the government as a magic-user about the only way it’s legal. He’s sent out west to arrest a madman named the Tinkerer, a gifted inventor of steampunk devices. Gillian runs into Gunner the Deadly, another wanted criminal except Gunner is more of a Robin Hood or masterless samurai, taking out the villains who threaten hard-working folk. Gillian and Gunner team up to get capture the Tinkerer and find their mutual attraction complicates matters. I liked it, but so far not enough to see if there’s a book 2. I was disappointed that the bad guy was literally a madman so he had no reason to kill random people as he’d done.

    I then read two shortish books by Joanna Chambers, Introducing Mr. Winterbourne and Mr. Winterbourne’s Christmas, both Regencies or maybe later–19th century anyway. Lysander Winterbourne is a charming younger son. His sister is engaged to an ambitious mill owner’s brother who sees the connection as his path into politics. The Winterbourne family is deeply in debt so this will help put them on a stable footing. Lysander agrees to take Adam Whitman (mill owner) around society to help easy the brother’s way and make him feel welcome. That goes swimmingly (ha-ha-ha) until Lysander and Adam end up in a fencing salon and they start to see each other’s true selves. Lysander ends up working for Adam on his country estate which leads to other issues in Mr. Winterbourne’s Christmas. Eh. If there’s more about these characters, I’ll read it, but her other books haven’t attracted me.

    I then decided to pick up a present-day comedy-romance that I’ve seen a lot of recs for: Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston. Actually fantasy/alternative history. Alex is the first (and only) son of the first woman president of the US, Ellen Claremont. He’s also half-Hispanic from his mom’s ex-husband. While he’s run into the spare heir of the UK, Prince Henry (third in line, if I figured it out right), they’ve never really gotten on. Sent to the UK to a royal wedding, their latest encounter causes the destruction of the wedding cake. To counter the bad press and relations between the two countries, the two are required to pretend to be best of mates…which gets interesting very quickly. Loads of fun. I’ve already preordered her next book, One Last Stop.

    Monday night, a new Roan Parrish was released, Better Than People, was released. Jack’s life has been on hold for most of a year after being betrayed by his long-time friend (hah!) and collaborator. He hasn’t drawn anything since. He badly breaks his leg while out walking his pack of 4 dogs (1 cat tags along) so he looks for a dogwalker. Simon has extreme anxiety issues and works remotely as a graphic designer. He can’t have pets because his grandmother is allergic. Simon and Jack are attracted to each other, but once Jack can get out again, where does that leave Simon?

    KJ Charles released The Sugared Game, the sequel to Slippery Creatures. Will Darling learned to be a hard man in the war. Now he’s a bookseller. Kim Secretan is from the upper reaches of society…and works for a secret agency in the government that covers up incidents that can’t go to court. Kim’s been chasing a group called the Zodiac. Will ends up involved again as Zodiac hasn’t forgotten him.

    Next up was another Roan Parrish, Natural Enemies. Stefan Albemarle has never felt like he fit in. He now works as a researcher. He meets Milo Rios at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Milo would rather teach kids about botany and gardening than spend his time stuck in a lab somewhere. Can these two completely different people find love?

    I’m waiting for the e-arc of Traders Leap by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller and have downloaded a bunch of samples so far nothing’s caught my attention.

  4. Jillian /

    Definitely the way of Kings. I don’t think I need to say anymore. Sheer perfection.

  5. John Smith /

    I finally read “Night Of the Living Cuddle Bunnies,” by Jonathan Rosen. It was an okay middle-grade novel about dangerous plush bunny rabbits. The book wasn’t quite as good as the cover.

  6. The Distinguished Professor /

    Finally finished the posthumously published third volume of “The Last Lion” (the Churchill biography).

  7. Katharine Ott /

    Of the nine books I read in August, the standout is “Mistress of the Art of Death” by Ariana Franklin. Franklin writes excellent historical fiction, mostly long ago England. My only difficulty with the book was the harm to children theme, but otherwise it was an engrossing, well-told story.

  8. Lady Morar /

    WWII history is always fascinating and complex, and I read about how Great Britain became the tactical center of Western European operations against the Nazis in Lynne Olson’s “Last Hope Island’.

  9. Paul Connelly /

    Long (but still partial) list. Best: Unconquerable Sun by Kate Elliott is an exciting space war trilogy opener. Chaonia has carved out an independent group of star systems between the Yele and Phene empires. The “beacon network” gates allow ships to transfer instantaneously between systems. Princess Sun has just returned from a major victory over the Phene, but her mother, the Queen-Marshal Eirene, is stingy with her praise. Sun is driven by a need for her mother’s approval as well as a strong desire to cement her position as royal heir. The noble Lee family has other ideas though, maneuvering to marry off one of their daughters to the Queen-Marshal (who also has two husbands). Sun finds herself sidelined on a tour of outer Chaonian worlds and then loses two of her Companions (basically other noble family hostages-turned-friends) in an assassination attempt. From that point on she bulls her way through multiple confrontations en route to thwarting another major Phene attack. Non-stop action with three third person viewpoints and one that’s first person (the self-styled “wily Persephone”, a renegade Lee). Usually I find this technique jarring, but it’s done expertly here.

    After four novellas, Network Effect (Martha Wells) brings the first full length Murderbot novel. The beginning feels a little shaky, but once the action picks up it’s as much fun as ever. Our favorite cyborg Security Unit is again guarding members of the Preservation Alliance when they get attacked and kidnapped by ART, the intelligent spaceship Mirderbot met before. But ART has been taken over by humans infected with an alien “remnant”. After popping out of a wormhole at the system of origin of this infestation, Murderbot has to go planetside to deal with it (violently, as usual). Also, the F word–feelings–gets used, to Murderbot’s great discomfort (again, as usual).

    Moon of the Crusted Snow (Waubgeshig Rice) is a pretty straightforward story of how a band of Anishinaabe on a First Nations reserve in northern Ontario adjust to the offstage collapse of the white people’s civilization, as cell phone service cuts out, electricity shuts off, and diesel fuel and kerosene run out. After an initial period of denial and waiting for things to get “back to normal”, the band has to recover some of their old ways before their last stocks of food are gone. And there are a few unwelcome white refugees that have to be dealt with. Mostly we follow young parents Evan and Nicole, who are more familiar with the old ways than some of the other younger members of the band, but who still have some hard lessons to learn. Short and simple but very relatable.

    Providence by Max Barry has Earth fighting a war of extermination against an alien species that we call salamanders, although there is little resemblance. Our four flawed protagonists, Gilligan, Beanfield, Anders and Jackson, are the crew of a miles long spaceship sent out to battle the aliens and destroy their “hives”. But the ship is really run by AI and the crew is mostly there to humanize the unpopular conflict and provide PR for the socially crippling expenses of the war, which like all wars makes big money for select corporations and individuals. The four crew members are distinct personalities while the AI is an inhuman cipher. The aliens learn from the attacks on them and adapt their tactics (almost a Peter Watts feel to them). As with many space war stories, there was an unexplained lack of relativistic effects. Otherwise this was a very good story that I plowed through quickly.

    The Girl and the Stars is the first in a follow-on series to Mark Lawrence’s Book of the Ancestor trilogy. The girl of the title is Yaz, one of a clan of ice-dwelling nomads on Abeth, a world with just a narrow belt of green at the equator thanks to a dying sun. When the priest that Yaz’s clan trades with condemns her younger brother as unfit and throws him into a deep pit in the ice, she jumps in after him and spends all but the final pages underground. There she gets drawn into a conflict between some unfit who have survived their fall (“the Broken”) and other survivors possessed by demons from the ice (“the Tainted”). Also, far below, is a ruined city of Abeth’s pre-human civilization (“the Missing”), where at least one person has been kept alive in an apparent virtual reality construct. Plenty of action, which Lawrence excels at, but it isn’t quite as engaging as Red Sister for a trilogy opener. Ends on a cliffhanger. I’ll be sure to read book two.

    Fountain (Tote Hughes) starts with columnist Pinson Charfo waking to find a note addressed to someone else in his bed. His week goes downhill from there, in a manner resembling a more coherent Firesign Theater episode, or a less coherent version of the Scorsese film “After Hours”. This slipstream story has the logic of a stressful dream and ends like a dream dissolving. The only comparable SF work I can recall is Damon Knight’s Humpty Dumpty: An Oval. Like that strange novel, Fountain has its amusing moments but may not leave a firm impression on you.

    Meet Me in the Future is a collection of Kameron Hurley short stories. Several of the tales were early takes on what would become novels (“Warped Passages” appears to be a precursor to The Stars Are Legion and “The Light Brigade” became the novel of the same name with modifications to the plot). Some, like “Enyo-Enyo”, about a galactic voyager caught in a time loop, are science fictional horror. Most have at least some horror element tied to the frequent appearance of biologically based technology (grossly organic living spaceships, weaponized plagues, poisonous plants, etc.). Many portray social systems completely at odds with ours–for instance, in “The Red Secretary”, soldiers returning from war are scheduled to voluntarily incinerate themselves to prevent their murderous experiences from bleeding out into society at large. No protagonists are gorgeous, sex is sex and not romance, and war is bloody and wholly without glory. Plots and character behaviors don’t always make sense, but the urgent writing carries you through in spite of that.

  10. I got to read an ARC of “Black Sun” by Rebecca Roanhorse! And, let me tell you all the book went way beyond my expectations! Unlike her “Sixth World” series, which is urban fantasy, “Black Sun” is the first book in a historical fantasy trilogy based on Pre-Columbian American folklore. The book will be released in October and I strongly recommend it!!!

  11. White Rage by Carol Anderson, a bracing, essential history of white backlash against Black gains towards political equality in America from Reconstruction to present day. If this were fiction, these could still be incredible stories in some alternative universe in which decent people are in a constant struggle against a morally complex empire haunted by sterling ideals but committed to violence. But they’re all true, and it’s equally incredible that Americans aren’t universally familiar with them.

  12. I had a really good reading month.The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, A Memory called Empire by Arkady Martine, and The Winter of the Witch by Katherine Arden are at the top of my list for the month.

  13. NoneofyoruBusiness, 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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