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 October 2020 and why did you love it? It doesn’t have to be a newly published book, or even SFF, or even fiction. 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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12 comments

  1. SandyG /

    I’m not quite finished with it but my favorite book from October is The Best of Jules de Grandin by Seabury Quinn. It’s a compilation of occult detective stories that originally appeared in Weird Tales.

  2. The Queen of the Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner and half of The King of Attolia before reading Return of the Thief. Pheris, a disregarded son of the house of Erondites, is the narrator. Pheris has also lived his life via deception and misdirection, mostly so is uniquely qualified to tell of the final showdown with the Medes and the now united countries of Sounis, Eddis, and Attolia. Twists and turns as usual in a MWT book. I really need to reread it. Well, finish rereading KoA, Conspiracy of Kings, and Thick of Thieves first. There were some details added that felt like ret-conning and that I wasn’t happy about, but the book was still very good.

    The Love Study by Kris Ripper. A funny, contemporary romance. Declan left his last partner at the altar (they’re friends now) and has a group of good friends but is beginning to feel that there’s something lacking in his life. He ends up agreeing to be set up with several dates with people who watch Sidney, a YouTuber who focuses on advice. I can’t imagine it’s much of a spoiler that he’s smitten with Sidney although it takes a bit to realize it.

    Division Bells by Iona Datt Sharma. Recced by several bloggers who I follow. Another contemporary, this one set in London in a group of civil servants trying to get legislature through Parliament. Ari is the head of the group and is saddled with a special advisor/subject matter expert due to aristocratic fiat named Julian/Jules. Ari is less than thrilled and tosses Julian into the deep end by assigning him to write supporting documentation. Julian actually does a good job and helps them with the legislature. A very interesting look at behind-the-scenes Parliamentary business and a cute love story too.

    Finders, Keepers by N.R. Walker. Set in Australia, contemporary. Griffin finds a lost, muddy dog in a park and texts the owner, Dane. Dane’s stuck at a work conference out-of-town so Griffin watches the dog and takes in on adventures. Very cute and set me on a multi-book streak with this author (in and among some other books).

    Red Dirt Heart, 2, 3, 4, Imago, and Red Dirt Christmas by N.R. Walker. Set in the Northern Territory on a large cattle station. Charlie Sutton has taken over Sutton Station after his estranged father died. He’s got a good crew, and the cook + foreman couple are like his real ma and pa. He’s been slowly upgrading the property and agrees to take on an agronomy student. The last one didn’t work out too well–a paler than pale Englishman who got burnt to a crisp in the Australian summer. This one may do better. Travis was raised on a cattle ranch in Texas so is used to *some* heat. He has some great ideas to further improve the station. There’s a bit of every problem imaginable in these books. Employer/employee, pregnancy (ha, not mpreg), stick-in-the-mud neighboring farmers, communication/lack of issues, poisonous critters, immigration, longlost and surprise family members, etc. A lot of fun, lot of interesting characters. Red Dirt Heart Imago sets up/crosses over with another series read later.

    Guarding Temptation by Talia Hibbert. Set in England. Nina is a radical and ends up threatened after an article is published. She ends up staying with her brother’s friend, James, who’s actually had the hots for her for a while–but she’s a commitment-phobe and she’s his friend’s sister and he’s watched her grow up, and, and…you get the picture. Sexy times end up happening. I don’t know, the steamy bits weren’t quite what I liked or something so this is probably it for me by this author.

    Masquerade in Lodi by Lois McMaster Bujold. Yay, another Penric and Desdemona story! This steps backwards in time to just after Penric realized he was not cut out to be a fulltime healer and started working on old manuscripts, translations, and other work instead. A demon is loose and Pen and Des need to find it. They get aid from a young woman, an orphan, who’s also a saint. She’s thrilled to be set free in the town (from her island-based orphanage) on the eve of a festival. I didn’t find the mystery very compelling/difficult but it was fun still.

    Imago and Imagines by N.R. Walker. Lawson comes to Tasmania to help another lepidopterist find a new species of butterfly. The professor saw it once, but has never seen another one. A local Parks/Wildlife office, Jack, ends up helping Lawson on his search.

    Blind Faith, Through These Eyes, and Blindside by N.R. Walker. Carter, a new veterinarian in town, finds out that the retiring vet still has a handful of people that warrant house calls. One, Isaac, is neglecting his new guide dog out of grief for his previous one. Carter decides to continue the house calls and somehow get Isaac to realize he can love this dog too. It doesn’t hurt that Isaac’s amazing handsome too…These are set in Boston, and there are some words and phrasing that I don’t think fit. “give it a go,” “to Emergency” and things like that. I mean maybe Boston has more English/Australianisms in the local dialect, but I don’t think so. They weren’t terrible, just every once in a while something would catch my eye.

    Favorite was probably the Red Dirt series, but I have a longstanding love of that area of Australia (A Town Like Alice, anyone?).

  3. Jillian /

    I didn’t have a whole lot of time to read last month but definitely Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray. It was perfect and got me so excited for the next one.

  4. John Smith /

    “The Last Siege” by Jonathan Stroud. It’s about some kids getting into mischief at a castle in northern England. There was no fantasy, but it was pretty well done.

  5. Noneofyourbusiness /

    In the tenth issue of First Comics’ adaptation of Michael Moorcock’s “The King of the Swords”, things get interesting as Corum and Jhary land in the medieval times of our own world, and Jhary gives a bit of exposition about the Vladagh, Eldren and Melniboneans.

  6. Paul Connelly /

    Best: Harrow the Ninth (Tamsyn Muir) picks up shortly after the end of Gideon the Ninth, but this time we’re seeing things through the eyes of necromancer Harrowhark (mostly), now a Lyctor of the Undying Emperor. But Harrow’s ascension is imperfect, because she has a slight problem of being, in her own words, “insane”. A third person narrative revisits the events in Canaan House from Gideon the Ninth, but they don’t match the story we read before (and even people Harrow encounters in this narrative tell her, “This isn’t how it happens”). A second person viewpoint follows the current, ongoing story. Several dead people from Gideon the Ninth return, some as ghosts and others in the flesh, and two corpses seem to disappear and reappear. The Emperor is fighting the space monster Resurrection Beasts, which seem like the mindless evil you often find in fantasies. But he’s sacrificing multiple planets to do it, so is Harrow really on the right side participating in this genocide? If I was left confused about some things at the end of the first book, that’s doubly so here (staying up till 2 AM to finish it didn’t help). But there’ll be a third book which may explain it all.

    Minister Faust returns with a much more caustic satire in his second book, From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain. It’s an alternate 1999 (but still with a President Clinton) and the superheroes of F*O*O*J (Fantastic Order of Justice), who helped us win World War II and the Cold War, have just defeated the last major group of supervillains. Now what? Now six of the most psychologically dysfunctional superheroes–Omnipotent Man, Flying Squirrel, Iron Lass, Power Grrrl, Brotherfly and X-Man–get sent to the famous Hyper-Potentiality Clinic on Mt. Palomax, to be treated by Dr. Eva Brain-Silverman. But it’s no coincidence that two of the hyper-patients are running for F*O*O*J Director of Operations: Flying Squirrel, an aged but hormonally amped up fascist, and X-Man, militant from L*A*B (League of Angry Blackmen). While they try to resolve their neuroses with Dr. Brain, the leadership of F*O*O*J is under attack–is there still a supervillain on the loose? To Flying Squirrel, it’s all about maintaining his secret identity’s conglomerate of defense contractors and fast food restaurants. To X-Man it’s about repurposing F*O*O*J to fight poverty and racism. To Dr. Brain, it’s about integrating past conflicts and self-actualizing–she vaguely acknowledges racism and wealth inequality, but believes those are only significant for you, the individual, if you “let” them be, since ultimately “you create your own reality”. So the real conflict going on is filtered through her perspective in this smart and way politically incorrect novel, with her heavy psychoanalytic jargon and ridiculous metaphors partially screening what the real stakes are. The humor is cutting, and you may not feel “actualized” by the end of this parable.

    In Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, an adult orphan helps murder an old man for his money. To say life goes downhill for him after that would be one way of putting it, in this surreal novel that recalls several Ambrose Bierce tales and foreshadows at least one by Stephen King. The narrator’s tangle with two policemen (who make very little sense as they obsess about bicycles) keeps sliding him ever closer to the hangman’s noose, while a running gag about a crackpot philosopher occupies numerous footnotes. Short and totally bizarre.

    The fantastical elements in Yann Martel’s The High Mountains of Portugal are more disparate and more difficult to suspend disbelief for when compared to the one huge fantastical element, Richard Parker, in Life of Pi. The surreal autopsy in the second of the three sections could have come from a Dali painting, and in many other ways the novel feels like an allegory of how one reconciles faith in God with the worst of events, the loss of a spouse or child (or both). And again the way humans relate to animals is a major focus. But I had trouble staying invested in the characters, because it seemed like Martel could arbitrarily move them around any way he wanted to construct his fable–a problem allegory shares with schematic (“show the fall of a powerful character”) and didactic (“teach the reader a valuable lesson”) novels. A marionette show is less appealing when the wires are so apparent.

    Captain Moxley and the Embers of the Empire (Dan Hanks) is unabashedly derivative of Indiana Jones, except here the protagonist is a female ex-fighter pilot. The author admits to seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark at age 7 and having that be a formative experience, and many of the same elements are here, as the heroine, her archeologist sister and the sister’s beau try to find the lost treasure hall of Atlantis while being pursued by a sinister US government agency that employs ex-Nazis. So we have floors dropping away, spikes shooting out of walls, spiders falling from the ceiling, and gouts of fire blocking the way, as the characters make their way through an underground labyrinth. Like similar adventure heroines, Captain Moxley gets beaten up, cut up, shot, stabbed and thrown around by explosions and jumps right back into the thick of things. Pure escapist entertainment, competently done.

  7. “The Once and Future Witches” by Alix E. Harrow was a great historical fantasy story about magic, power and voting rights!

    “The Original” by Brandon Sanderson and Mary Robinette Kowal was better than I thought it would be. Please note, it’s an audiobook.

    Someone suggested that I read “The Moons of Palmares” by Zainab Amadahy. It’s an indie book (available to read for free with a KU subscription) about a government agent who stumbles on a group of revolutionaries who want to stop the mining of their planet before the planet crumbles at their feet, literally. It’s a great sci-fi story about colonization with allusions to our history from the last century. I recommend that you all read it!

  8. The Distinguished Professor /

    “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man” by Mary Trump, for reasons I don’t have to elaborate on.

  9. Katharine Ott /

    I read nine books in October, but looking them over, none I would shout about. The three best were Ann Patchett’s “Bel Canto” which I’m very late to the game in reading, “Stamped” by Jason Reynolds, his “not history history book” about the origins of racism, written for the YA crowd, and “Mister Memory” by Marcus Sedgwick, a Paris murder mystery where the accused has a perfect memory. Hoping for more satisfying reads in November. Thanks for this chance to share – I always enjoy seeing what others are reading.

  10. Lady Morar /

    Gail Collins’s “No Stopping Us Now: The Adventures of Older Women in American History”, a subject close to my heart (since I am one). We’re still sad about Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

    In related news, writing my own books has really taken off.

  11. I did a reread of the Stormlight Archives in anticipation of Rhythm of War. I just love this series!

  12. Katharine Ott,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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