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 May 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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21 comments

  1. Ring Shout by P Djeli Clark. I still have to write a review, but it was as unique a historical fantasy as I have ever read.

  2. Mario /

    Best book I read last month may actually be The Initiate Brother by Sean Russell. The duology-in-one volume. Last read about 15 years ago. Magnificent eastern/Buddhist-inspired fantasy. Some re-reads just take you back to the same joy of the first read :)

  3. On the contemporary romance side, Jay Hogan, Con Riley, Romeo Alexander, Garrett Leigh, Annabeth Albert.

    On the sf/f side,
    Salt Magic, Skin Magic by A.E. Wasp
    The Assassins of Thasalon by LMB (yay! new Pen and Des!)
    Of Starlit Balls and Starship Captains by K.L. Noone

    I kinda characterize these as romances, but they are fantasy: A Dragon’s Fortune and Black Moon by Sam Burns and W.M. Fawkes. Black Moon was my first foray into an ABO world. I have to admit, when I first saw references to ABO in fan fiction, I thought it had to do with the Japanese theory that blood types have particular personality traits. Bwah-haha, I couldn’t have been more wrong!

    Best would be a contemporary romance by Alexis Hall, Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake. Set at a contest similar to the Great British Bake-Off, Rosaline is a single mother hoping that the prize money would give her some breathing space and a chance at a better life. I still like Boyfriend Material more, but RPTTC has a fun lot of love interests, friends, competitors, and show runners.

    • Michael Voss /

      I can’t believe Bujold has a release out that I haven’t read yet! Pretty much a testament to how good everything else I’ve been reading has been! Gotta work Assassins in asap, lol! Doesn’t help that she expanded to novel length with this one!

  4. Andi /

    I didn’t get a lot of reading done in May, sadly, but I enjoyed Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders–a classic-style space opera romp with a modern sensibility. I’m still reading S. A. Chakraborty’s Kingdom of Copper, but am enjoying it tremendously! This series is going to break my heart, I just know it!

  5. SandyG /

    My favorite was an ARC of Shot Caller by Jen J Danna. A NYPD negotiator has to try and get hostages released after inmates take over a wing of Rikers Island.

  6. Hands down “Fugitive Telemetry,” the latest “The Murderbot Diaries” novella by Martha Wells.

  7. Michael Voss /

    This month it’s a 3-way tie between indie author Michael R Fletcher’s 2nd Obsidian Path book, SHE DREAMS IN BLOOD, his collaboration with fellow indie Clayton W Snyder, the grim noir fantasy NORYLSKA GROANS, and Orbit’s upcoming Anthony Ryan offering THE PARIAH, all with 9/10 scores. A great reading month with a Dresden Files thrown in as a palette cleanser!

  8. Kevin S. /

    The Silent Patient- Alex Michaelides

    Piranesi- Susanna Clarke

  9. John Smith /

    I enjoyed the complete “Extinction” series by Nicholas Sansbury Smith, about how the zombie apocalypse is unleashed by DNA first created to engineer super-soldiers in the Vietnam War. But it creates monsters, and decades later the rest of the world gets infected.

    I have now run through the 3 Sansbury Smith series that are most sci fi-ish, but there’s another series by another author that sounds pretty much the same as the “Extinction” books, and I’ll probably give that a go sometime!

  10. Paul Connelly /

    Two books that couldn’t be less alike are tied for my best of May.

    First: The Mask of Mirrors (M. A. Carrick) is a fat fantasy set in a magical city resembling Venice during the Renaissance. I bought it mostly because I liked co-author Marie Brennan’s Onyx Court tetralogy, and it exceeded my not super high expectations. Street orphans Ren, Tess and Sedge adopt each other as blood siblings while working for a sadistic gang leader. Years later Ren returns pretending to be the daughter of an aristocratic family’s disgraced relative, with Tess as her lady’s maid, hoping to con the family out of big money. But the family the girls plan to con is down on its luck and Ren finds herself becoming much too sympathetic toward them. Her adoptive brother Sedge has survived a near fatal beating and is now working for another crime lord, one with a strange voice in his head. The aristocrats are a remnant invader ethnic group lording it over the majority indigenous population, so naturally there is a native resistance group. Multiple characters on all sides are plotting against each other, with a Zorro-like hero called the Rook sometimes popping up to punish the nobles, and drugs and geometric magic are used as weapons. Like many fantasies, this did get a little too frenetic toward the end, but it’s hard to put down, with well-crafted characters. Not sure if the plot was completely consistent though. Sequel coming.

    Also: After Dark (Haruki Murakami) feels like a screenplay in some places and a prose poem in others. Nineteen year old Mari is staying up till dawn again, reading and pretending to eat in all night downtown restaurants. Back in the suburbs her fashion model older sister is sleeping around the clock–and has been for two months. We see things through a narrative camera and only in two chapters get any purchase on what a character is thinking as opposed to saying and doing. A chance encounter with a former awkward double date partner sends Mari to the aid of a Chinese prostitute who has been beaten up, while the john spends the night on his computer at work, trying to avoid his family at home. Somewhere between low key urban fantasy and magical realism, this novel offers much food for thought in relatively few pages.

    Other books: Fugitive Telemetry is the fifth Murderbot Diaries novella by Martha Wells, with a murder on Preservation Station being investigated by the anti-social cyborg (whose personality is a snarky cross between Morris the cat, from the old 9 Lives commercials, and Terminator). Still fun. The Dark Archive is the next installment in Genevieve Cogman’s series about interdimensional Library agent Irene, trying to preserve a truce between dragons and fae against sabotage by several old foes. Kingdom of the Golden Dragon (Isabel Allende) is the second book in this mid-grade series, this one in the Himalayas with vicious bandits, abominable snowmen, and telepathic Buddhist monks. Don’t expect realism and it’s pretty enjoyable. The Girl and the Mountain continues Mark Lawrence’s Book of the Ice series. Still feels a bit rote compared to the Book of the Ancestor trilogy set on the same world. Avatars of ancient technology are trying to use ice tribe heroine Yaz for their conflicting purposes, most of which are hostile to the humans on her planet. Distrust That Particular Flavor collects William Gibson’s rather uneven non-fiction essays, many describing the Future that Gibson finds emerging in various locations around the globe (but mainly in Asia). An intelligent writer whose choice of subject matter is sometimes baffling.

  11. The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland

    I’ve long heard how good Karen Maitland’s historical mysteries are. I loved this book. I’ve kind of fallen out a bit with historical fiction, but this book has renewed my love for it. Once again, I have learned something new from reading historical fiction. I had no prior knowledge of the lay religious orders of the Beguines. These orders “were active in Western Europe, particularly in the Low Countries, in the 13th–16th centuries. Their members lived in semi-monastic communities but did not take formal religious vows.” The Beguines in the story added such a rich and interesting element. Of course, any society of women without husbands who seemed more fortunate than others who were falling on bad times had to be “witches.” Insert eyeroll. Such were the Medieval times. This story illustrates, like my recent read, The Witch’s Trinity, how these Medieval villages were not quick to let go of their pagan beliefs, and were slow to embrace the Christian faith. This leads to many wrongs done in the name of paganism and Christianity. Hard to stomach, much of the time. Those times were so brutal, especially for women, children, or anyone sickly or just different.

    I also learned of a book written in the 13th century, The Mirror of Simple Souls, “a work of Christian mysticism dealing with the workings of agape (divine love).” It was written by Marguerite Porete, who was a Beguine. “She was burnt at the stake for heresy in Paris in 1310 after a lengthy trial, refusing to remove her book from circulation or recant her views.” The book plays a key part in The Owl Killers and, even though I’m an Agnostic Atheist, I liked many of its messages mentioned in the book. It must have been very threatening to the Church at that time.

    Great book!

  12. Jacqie Hasan /

    I loved When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo. The main character is a monk whose job it is to go out and gather histories, and they get into some wonderful adventures! Stories within stories, talking tigers, and mammoths feature in this one.

  13. Jillian /

    Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson was my favorite. I can hardly believe that I’ll ever read a book from him that I do not absolutely adore.

  14. Noneofyourbusiness /

    “Dark Matter, Vol. 1: Rebirth”, by Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, the graphic novel that later became the TV series “Dark Matter” on Syfy by the same two writers. It covers the same territory as the first two episodes of the show and sets up the very strong premise. Six people and an android awaken on a ship with no memory of who they are or why they’re there.

    The show was cancelled by Syfy after three seasons despite maintaining good ratings and having a dedicated fanbase, but I highly recommend watching it. As TV Tropes Wiki explains,

    “Screwed by the Network: Par for the course for a Syfy show, it was canceled a week after the third season finished airing despite maintaining its audience numbers from the previous season. According to creator and showrunner Joseph Mallozzi in an interview, the show was passed over by the Los Angeles branch of Syfy but given the greenlight by the New York branch. After watching it outperform much of the LA branch’s original programming, once the person in New York who greenlit the show left for another job, the show was unceremoniously tossed out.”

    Joe Mallozzi also posted outlines for the first three episodes of Season Four on his blog, which are linked to along the right-hand side of the Dark Matter reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/DarkMatter/
    .

  15. Katharine Ott /

    Going by stars, the two 5-star books I enjoyed were “Red Adam’s Lady” by Grace Ingram, a historical fiction adventure/romance in 1200s England that was lots of fun – love that medieval vibe. And Matthew FitzSimmons “The Short Drop,” a fast-paced whodunit. I also liked Terry Pratchet’s “Nation” – YA fantasy with added social commentary and “Ferney” by James Long, an Outlander-like tale.

  16. Susan Whitehead /

    The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujoid. This series had been on my “to read” list for a while. I’m generally not very interested in family saga types of stories but I really enjoyed this series. The characters were fascinating, good humor, the universe interesting and some of the topics explored quite thought provoking. I always worry about how a long series like this is ended. The author did an outstanding job of completion, picking up and filing in many of the holes left about one of the major figures, albeit one mostly in the shadows, and letting the characters go. I’d say most of the books hover around the 4 ranking, a few below and a few above. Definitely worth reading.

  17. Lady Morar /

    ” The Mental Floss History of the United States: The (Almost) Complete and (Entirely) Entertaining Story of America”, another hilariously irreverent release from the people behind Mental Floss magazine. Reading it may or may not make you feel smarter, but it will make you feel wittier.

  18. Melita,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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