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 2021 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. If you’re outside the U.S., we’ll send you a $5 Amazon gift card.

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19 comments

  1. Glenn Curry /

    Paternus, Dyrk Ashton.

  2. Michael Voss /

    Ben Galley, Heavy Lies the Crown (full review below as seen on Amazon and Goodreads) followed closely by the first book in the series, The Forever King, and Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary, which at 8/10 I enjoyed greatly, just not as much as most readers – The Martian is still his best for me!

    5 stars (8.5/10)

    *I received an advance reader copy of HLTC in exchange for an honest review.
    ** This review may contain minor spoilers.

    Heavy Lies the Crown is the second volume in The Scalussen Chronicles, itself a sequel series to Galley’s Emaneska series, beginning with The Written. While it won’t hurt to read that series beforehand, Scalussen opener The Forever King serves as an alternate entry point to the world of Emaneska. Having recently read The Written, I skipped ahead to start the new series because The Forever King is currently a contender in Mark Lawrence’s seventh Self Published Fantasy Blog-Off contest, where I predict it will make it to the semi-finals at least, and possibly find a slot amongst the final 10 contestants. Time will tell! On to Scalussen 2!

    Heavy Lies the Crown begins where The Forever King left off: the final battle between the denizens of Scalussen, led by Farden, the strongest of a dying breed of mages powered by spellbooks inked onto their skins, and Malvus, the emperor who forbids magic in his realm but secretly uses it to keep his subjects in line and his rule secure, has sorely taxed both sides after nearly annihilating everyone in a deliberately triggered magical volcanic eruption. Malvus is rescued from a fiery death by the trickster god of lies, Loki, and they begin plotting a new, more personal campaign against the “Forever King,” Farden. The bulk of Farden’s followers in Scalussen escape just as narrowly from the volcanic eruption that destroys much of Malvus’s army, fleeing on three massive ships with additional naval support and carrying Scalussen’s survivors, the massive libraries they have stored aboard the ships, and their dragon allies back to the Emaneska capital of Krauslung, unaware until they arrive that Malvus and Loki survived the eruption after all. Chased away when Loki calls forth deadly leviathans of the deep, they flee South, hoping to skirt the nation of Paraia and circle back to find the missing party of Farden, scholar vampyre Durnus, Mithrid, who triggered the eruption, Aspala the Paraian warrior, and Warbringer, the minotaur who carries a soul-taking warhammer.

    Farden’s party had escaped the destruction of the volcano when Durnus employed a teleportation device, the last surviving Weight, to carry them so far East they have no idea where they’ve arrived when they awaken from their ordeal. The location, however, is no accident of Durnus’s haste in pulling them all into the Weight’s transport spell. Farden’s old vampyre friend has a purpose in mind: to acquire an almost mythical artifact that may help them finally overcome Malvus and Loki. Thus while The Forever King fits squarely in the epic fantasy realm, Heavy Lies the Crown adds a new and welcome element, an epic quest!

    Like any quest, theirs entails solving riddles, collecting artifacts, battling monsters to gain access to said artifacts – and demands a final sacrifice upon collecting the object of the quest, a legendary golden spear forged by a god. The abrasive Farden, reeling at the sudden loss of his Written magic and seemingly permanent damage to the magical armor that keeps him from aging, manages to tick off enough locals along the way to rival the enmity of his opponent Malvus, unaware of what Malvus is doing in the meantime, with Loki’s help, to visit the same kind of damage on Farden and his friends as they have done to his previously vast army. What Malvus doesn’t know is the divisions between Farden and the members of his party could as easily undo the Forever King’s efforts before Malvus can even find them again. They will have to sort out a number of threads of contention between them if their quest is to succeed.

    Despite 500-600 pages or so in each volume, The Forever King and Heavy Lies the Crown make for quick reading, each full of blade-swinging action, plot twists, and magical battles to keep readers turning pages. And dragons!

  3. SandyG /

    Shot Caller by Jen J Danna. A NYPD negotiator has to deal with a riot at Rivers Island

  4. sterling /

    I had a lot of fun with “Ashes of the Sun” by Django Wexler. He’s a very reliable author for me. This is the first in a series that he started after thinking through the real ramifications of Jedi Knights. There are burning blades wielded by paladin-types, tech scavengers of pre-fall techno-magic, and a brother and sister who end up on opposite sides of a world-ending struggle.

  5. Travel back in time to Greece and Athens,
    listen to Hermes, the Sphinx, Socrates,
    relive rituals to the God/dess
    with two soul mates, one a pampered citizen, precious as amber, the other a slave, worthless as clay.

    Told in poetry, prose, and with the use of ancient artifacts, using a never before seen format read Amber and Clay, by Schulitz, a Nebula award winner.

    Thought provoking and well researched.

    “Beauty draws forth the soul” (Socrates)

    Read this beautiful book,
    draw forth your soul,
    and change.

  6. John Smith /

    “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” by Hank Green is an excellent book about the need for competent oversight of public sculpture commissions.

  7. Paul Connelly /

    No big standout again, but for best I’ll go with Blackthorn Winter (Liz Williams), which picks up where Comet Weather ended, with the four Fallow sisters still hip-deep in magical intrusions into our world. A suspect venture capitalist is trying to buy into the fashion business of one sister; meanwhile her old beau has been missing for weeks. Ominous visions hint at something sinister happening during the Christmas season, and a green skinned girl takes refuge in Mooncote, the sisters’ ancestral home. And they’re not sure which side their mother is on in the coming conflict. A likable throwback to the Charles de Lint type urban fantasy, in a British (rather than Canadian) setting.

    Balefires is a collection of David Drake’s horror and dark fantasy stories, about half of which are informed by his experiences in the Vietnam War. All of his stories are well-crafted, although a couple had odd formatting in the edition I read. And be warned the stories set in Vietnam have US soldiers frequently using disparaging terms for the locals. Plainly the war was horror enough to Drake, and he layers the supernatural on top of that underlying horror. He also recounts how each tale got to be published.

    They Threw Us Away (Daniel Kraus) is a quite grim children’s tale about four plush teddy bears who wake up in a giant landfill and struggle to get back to the store where they were waiting to be sold to appreciative children. Through their wandering we get to see the underside of American consumerism with all its cynical heartlessness and ubiquitous waste. The teddies are convinced that if they get hugged by a loving child, they will sink into the wonderful Forever Sleep. Which sounds like death but which they somehow conceive of as different. First volume in a planned series.

    The Iron Dragon’s Mother completes Michael Swanwick’s trilogy of loosely related novels set in a Faerie whose heavy industry and elite military forces are dependent on kidnapping, rape, and soul stealing. Dragon pilot Caitlin has a dying woman’s soul attach itself to her during a mission with her squadron, which leads to her superiors framing her for bogus crimes and kicks off the cascade of events that will bring a long overdue reckoning to Faerie. Different characters, but the style and setting are very similar to the two earlier books (The Iron Dragon’s Daughter and The Dragons of Babel): sometimes humorous, sometimes horrifying, but consistently clever.

    Folklorn (Angela Mi Young Hur) could be just fantasy/SF-adjacent, depending on how you read its ending. As in Alan Garner’s Boneland, the protagonist is mentally ill and it’s hard to tell how “real” some episodes are, which is one of several frustrating aspects to the story. The narrator, Elsa, is the daughter of Korean immigrants on a downwardly mobile path in L.A. and seems arrested at an adolescent level of self-involvement despite being a 30 year old physicist working on neutrino detection. The book is mostly about her coming to terms with her family: a schizophrenic brother, a borderline OCD father with bad anger management issues, and a depressive loan shark mother who’s obsessed with Korean folktales featuring female victimization (that she pushes on her daughter). Elsa has an “imaginary friend” and a nagging mystery concerning whether a baby her mother reported as stillborn did in fact die or was secretly put up for adoption. If Elsa wasn’t so unpleasant to everyone she encountered, I would have had an easier time sticking with this story, but it was a difficult read. Carefully crafted but, like Boneland, more admirable than enjoyable.

    Hooting Grange is the 11th in Jeffrey Barlough’s Western Lights series, set in a timeline where British colonists settled an empty west coast of North America before being cut off and isolated by a planetary cataclysm. The society is stuck at a vaguely 18th century level with some prehistoric megafauna still not extinct and various supernatural creatures. Almost no character overlap between books; the story lines mash up comedy of manners with M. R. James type horror tropes. Here we follow a former sea captain who inherits a possibly haunted manor in the fen country, with a typical supporting cast of village rustics. I liked this volume better than the previous couple, but am still unsure if I’ll continue with more.

  8. I read 3 books that everyone should consider reading:

    1) “The House of Always” by Jenn Lyons. This is the 4th book in “A Chorus of Dragons,” and it sets up the plot of what to expect in the 5th and final book. The narrative style was brilliant!

    2) “The Gilded Ones” by Namina Forna. THIS BOOK IS NOT FOR EVERYONE. This book is YA, but contains A LOT of adult themes; these themes are the “hidden reality” many young girls have to deal with in societies throughout the world. That being said, the story and the world-building is AMAZING.

    “Enola Holmes and the Black Barouche” by Nancy Springer. I received an eARC of this book and I couldn’t stop reading the story. I read some of the “Sherlock Holmes” books as a kid, but I never heard of this series until the movie came out on Netflix (I watched it AFTER reading the book). Enola is a hilarious and independent character who gives her older brothers gray hairs whenever she gets the chance. This book (I haven’t read the others yet) reflect the detective styles presented in the original “Sherlock Holmes” books!

  9. Shelter of Leaves by Lenore H. Gay

    Review posted on my blog:

    The Dystopian genre for me has always been something like a zombie apocalypse, nuclear devastation, or a horrific future where teenagers must kill each other in an Olympics style competition. I never thought of the possibility of it happening due to strategic bombings across the country. Not saying this would be any less devastating. It just was something that never really entered my mind.

    Then, along comes Shelter of Leaves and this is the Dystopian world that begins with bombings occurring across the United States. Sabine is in her apartment in Washington D.C. when the bomb hits her apartment building. She escapes and begins a harrowing journey away from the city.

    I definitely got a Walking Dead vibe…without the zombies. What I mean by this is, Sabine ends up being welcomed into a small community at a farm house. The way this group lives and interacts gives off the vibe that is the best part of the Walking Dead series. Feelings of banding together to preserve humanity, order, camaraderie, love.

    The characters are all unique, but the two most interesting characters are Sharp and Sabine. Sabine has had some memory loss, from past trauma, or perhaps from the bombings. As she discovers more and more about her past, a story unfolds that is both heartbreaking and astounding. Sharp is an enigma which makes him very intriguing. His mysterious nature and (seemingly) masculine ways makes Sabine’s interest in him very understandable.

    We never really find out what or who was behind the bombings. I could say I have inside information on a sequel, but I won’t… Here’s hoping the story continues and we learn the truth behind it all. Until then, Shelter of Leaves is definitely a book I would recommend.

  10. I think the only genre book I (re-)read was Magician by K.L. Noone which is now officially published. A half-human magician (wizard) has retreated to a tropical island after almost losing himself in a dragon form. A younger son and heir to a king of a tiny mountain kingdom seeks him out to help with their cold and bandit problems.

    Team Phison by Chace Verity is about two people finding love through an online game. There are 2 books.

    Charlie Novak’s Summer Kisses, middle book of a trilogy about a gourmet pub/restaurant and its chefs, baker, and front of house man. This one is about the chefs which had an enabling and spiraling down relationship several years before and have ended up working together again, both now sober. Great banter and witty.

    K. Evan Coles with Hooked on You (paramedic takes up knitting to help manage his anxiety; meets lovely manager of local yarn shop) and Third Times the Charm (excellent meet cute between a surgeon and a super busy business owner)> Also read the Stealing Hearts trilogy.

  11. Katharine Ott /

    Although I read ten books in July, I wasn’t bowled over by any of them. Three from the top of the list are: “The Whisper Man” by Alex North, a scary thriller that I had my eye on for quite a while; “Vanished” by Sheela Chari, a fun middle-grade mystery about a stolen veena (Indian stringed instrument); and “The Doll Factory” by Elizabeth Macneal, a Victorian drama with a romantic artist, a demented taxidermist and a sweet, unfortunate errand boy, dark but a good read.

  12. Jillian /

    I read so many stunning books I just can’t decide! The humans by Matt Haig was so heart-warming and funny and sad. I loved the characters and the things it had to say. Vicious by V.E. Schwab was just stunning! It definitely lived up to the hype. And the House of Salt and Sorrows by Erin A Craig had so much atmosphere and it was so creepy. I loved that one as well.

  13. Kevin S. /

    The Confessor (Gabriel Allon #3)- Daniel Silva

    The Plot- Jean Hanff Korelitz

  14. Yagiz /

    The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman was my best read in July, and is probably going to remain one of the best this year.

    I loved the gritty humor of the protagonist, I loved some of the other characters, I loved the setting and the author’s story-telling. I’m so looking forward to the next book.

  15. Noneofyourbusiness /

    “William Blake: The Complete Illuminated Books” is an intimidatingly large tome from my professor’s “Heaven, Hell and Judgment” class, but well indexed and worth it for having all of Blake’s synthesis of philosophy and art at your fingertips. It’s nothing to sneeze at that he not only wrote but painted it all himself.

  16. The Distinguished Professor /

    I’m always interested in reading books like Niall Ferguson’s “The Pity of War” that analyze World War II, since my father served in both world wars and I was close to a bombing once when I was a boy.

  17. Lady Morar /

    Toccata and Fugue in D Minor and the Other Bach Transcriptions for Solo Piano (Dover Music for Piano) continued my collecting of classical transcripts as fodder for my novel about a young piano student.

  18. Zina, 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!

    (The winners are chosen at random, but I also loved the style of your post!)

  19. Thank you! <3

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