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 June 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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20 comments

  1. Alright, the only book that could maybe be considered SF/F genre-adjacent was KJ Charles’s Subtle Blood, last book in the Will Darling Adventures trilogy. Maybe it can be classified as an alternative history? Nah. Anyway, strikingly good with great payoffs from the previous books. Will Darling was a close-in specialist during WWI. After the war, he struggled to find work until his uncle took him on to help in his bookstore and then Will inherited it when the uncle died. He then has some strange run-ins with people looking for something that had been sent to his uncle but Will has no idea what it is or where it could be–the bookstore’s a complete mess. Kim Secretan befriends him and they set out to try to find…whatever it is. That’s how book 1 starts. I do not recommend reading Subtle Blood first.

    Otherwise, I continued devouring romances. The highlight authors were Neve Wilder (several musician-related ones), Riley Hart, Rachel Reid, and Raleigh Ruebens.

    I picked up Amy Aislin whose books are mostly hockey-related and a mix of Americans and Canadians. I quite enjoyed these as characters struggled with coming out and maintaining relationships when you could be traded across the country just about any time. There were a few demi/ace characters who I enjoy reading about.

    Then I jumped to two Scottish curling novels by Avery Cockburn followed by the rest of the back list, football-related. These are set in Glasgow where I’ve visited (and watched a lot of Taggart) so I quite enjoyed them.

    Next came Lily Morton and her new release, Beautifully Unexpected, with two older MC (52 and 48) finding love. Her characters are all quite quick-witted and often snarky. I’ve found myself overcome with laughter during most of them and trying not to wake up my bedmate as I struggled to contain myself.

  2. John Smith /

    I very much enjoyed “Heroes Of the Valley” by Jonathan Stroud, a rip-roaring tale set in a medieval, feudal society where people in a valley live in terror of their ancient nemeses the trolls.

    • Andi /

      I just picked up The Screaming Staircase by Stroud–very much looking forward to reading his stuff!

      • John Smith /

        Oh, good, I see that is the first book in the 5 books of the Lockwood & Co. series. I started with book 5 I think it was, because that’s what my library had on audio CDs. And thus I knew the Dazzling Shocking Revelations pretty much from the beginning of my enjoying the series. Alas.

        I highly, highly recommend the audio CDs because the voice acting is so very, very good, and the skull-in-a-jar character is particularly well done!! (The character is an arch, scabrous delight.)

        • Andi /

          I’ll have to see if my library has any of those on CD. Thanks!

  3. Paul Connelly /

    No huge standout, but Nicole Kornher-Stace’s Firebreak was best. This novel jumps backward in time several centuries from the ghost soldiers in Archivist Wasp and Latchkey, to the era when the supersoldiers were alive, fighting for Stellaxis in its corporate war with Greenleaf. Here we follow Mallory, who, with her roommate Jessa, fights in an online “game” version of the war to rack up meaningless points and get crowdfunded by the audience that follows the two women’s simulated live camera action. The corporation creates artificial shortages to keep everyone in line, but the two surviving supersoldiers manage to tip the partners off to the rottenness in the system–at which point everyone’s lives become very precarious. The corporate society is a little hard to believe in, but the characters are mostly sympathetic.

    Rabbits (Terry Miles) is a trip through a reality altering game with clues that can be found anywhere from on the dark web, on archaic PCs, on old vinyl records, in numerology, or even as graffiti on tenement walls. First person narrator K gets more and more enmeshed in the game the more he’s warned away from it, while various acquaintances start mysteriously dying. If you took the paranoia of Philip K. Dick and Thomas Pynchon and dialed it up past the max, crossed maybe with The Lathe of Heaven, you might get close to what this is like. As with Dick sometimes, it felt like Miles was just winging it much of the time, but you might be able to make better sense of the plot than I could. But I read the whole book in one day with only two breaks, so it was definitely very readable.

    Elizabeth Hand tells another tale of doomed lovers in her slipstream novella Illyria. Teenaged Maddy and Rogan are closer than most first cousins, since their fathers were identical twins, and their families are uneasily aware of their relationship, and disapprove but don’t say much. Their great-grandmother was once a famous stage actress, and elderly Aunt Kate wants to see Maddy reclaim the family’s theatrical heritage, so she connives with a substitute English teacher to get the lovers cast in a high school production of Twelfth Night, which becomes a turning point in their lives. There’s just a little magic in this story, but the mad joy of first love and the ominous threat of the adult world can feel uncanny.

    The Dragons of Babel (Michael Swanwick) takes place in pretty much the same industrial/consumerist/punk Faerie as in The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, but this one has more Iraq War undertones. A crashed military dragon takes over young orphan Will’s rustic village and he has to destroy it, but it manages to insinuate a part of itself into his psyche first. Cast out by his adoptive people, he heads toward Babel to find his fortune in a more conventional coming-of-age version of the Hero’s Journey than what Jane went through in the earlier book. But there is still a lot of the same black humor (often based on skewering fantasy stereotypes) mixed with horror, with the humor decreasing as the story progresses (as in the earlier book). Good, but the second half started to feel more predictable.

    Forest of the Pygmies, final novel in Isabel Allende’s mid-grade Alexander Cold trilogy, finds Alex’s travel writer grandmother bringing him and Nadia to Africa. They get diverted after their initial assignment into helping a missionary reach a remote village where two of his colleagues have gone missing. These books were written at the tail end of the thirty or so years when many people took New Age mysticism seriously, and that suffuses the magical aspects of the fantasies. In the current publishing environment the portrayals of indigenous peoples would probably not stand up to a “sensitivity read”, but if you can get past that the books may be enjoyable for readers in the targeted age group.

    Terminal Boredom (Izumi Suzuki) collects seven short stories translated from Japanese. In these SFnal and often surreal stories, Suzuki’s protagonists are not only afflicted by boredom but by a sense of unreality, forgetfulness, unsatisfying relationships, loss of identity, and retreat from the world. There’s a future with very few men, a planet that provides psychotherapy, marriage to an alien just before a human-alien war, “monsters” that mimic the extinct humans that once settled their planet, and murder as a response to ennui. Well written but very downbeat.

  4. Shelter of Leaves by Lenore H. Gay (Dystopian) and The Reincarnationist Papers by D. Eric Maikranz. You can read my review of the latter here: https://www.truebookaddict.com/2021/06/d-eric-maikranzs-reincarnationist.html

  5. Katharine Ott /

    I finished the last two of Dana Stabenow’s “Silk and Song Trilogy,” following the granddaughter of Marco Polo across Asia and Europe, and they were great. But even better was “The French Executioner” by Chris C Humphreys – a comment earlier this month wished for more reviews, so here’s the one I put on Goodreads: “The French Executioner” – written by C C Humphreys and published in 2002, this edition by Sourcebooks, Inc. Working my way through books put on my TBR in 2013, I was disappointed but resigned when I saw Anne Boleyn on the cover. More Henry VIII historical fiction. Boy was I mistaken! True, Anne Boleyn has a strong presence in the story, but it’s essentially (1) a quest, with (2) breathtaking action and (3) a heroic band of misfits traipsing across Europe. What more can you ask for?! A clash between a small galiot and three larger pirate ships, all powered by slave and volunteer rowers, was one of the most thrilling scenes I’ve read in a long time. This book was a sparkling adventure of a novel and I’m glad I persevered and read it.

  6. Andi /

    I didn’t branch out from SFF much in June, though I’m in the process of listening to Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019, edited by Ibram X. Kendi & Keisha N. Blain. It’s excellent so far, though of course it’s emotionally taxing…as it should be. The concept of 90 different authors each covering 5 years of history is a brilliant one.

    I also read A Dead Djinn in Cairo by P. Djeli Clark and Kingdom of Copper by S. A. Chakraborty, both of which were wonderful. I can’t wait to continue/finish these series.

    But the absolute top was Piranesi by Susanna Clark. Not only did I love this book, but it became one of my all-time favorites. I’m planning to re-read it this month, in fact!

  7. I quite enjoyed Feist’s King of Ashes. Good epic fantasy.

    It was not perfect though. It started really well for me, but I thought Feist dropped the quality of his writing here and there, and the plot stumbled a few times along the way.

    The second and the final book of The Firemane Saga is on my list. I’m looking forward to reading it soon.

  8. I read “Shards of Earth” by Adrian Tchaikovsky; I received an early eARC for it, and it releases in the U.S. this August!

    That was the first book I’ve read by that author, and I understand why his stories are so noteworthy! “Shards of Earth” is the first book in a new space opera, and the ending of the first book will have you salivating for Book 2!

    • Yagiz /

      Adrian Tchaikovsky is one of my favorite authors. I love his work!

  9. Sethia /

    I reread the entire Murderbot series by Martha Wells. I highly recommend it to everyone!

    • Andi /

      Agreed!! One of my all-time favorite series now, and one I want to re-read this year, too.

  10. Kevin S. /

    (Disclaimer: I couldn’t read much in June and the books I read weren’t special)

    The English Assassin- Daniel Silva

  11. Noneofyourbusiness /

    Not a book per se, but it *is* reading: the virtual Season 4 episodes of Dark Matter on Joseph Mallozzi’s blog.

  12. Jillian /

    I DNFed so many books this month and didn’t read anything I really liked. The only 5 star wasn’t a full length novel, but I’m going to count it. I read Edgedancer by Brandon Sanderson, the stormlight archives #2.5 and it was amazing, of course!

  13. Lady Morar /

    “Met musici: Elf portretten” (With Musicians: Eleven Portraits), by Jan Brokken.

  14. The Distinguished Professor /

    “The Optickal (sic) Illusion”, Rachel Halliburton’s account of a long con in which London painter is deceived by a father and daughter duo who claim to have discovered the techniques of the Venetian artist Titian.

  15. Andi,if you live in the USA, you win a book of your choice from our stacks. If you live outside the USA, we’ll send a $5 Amazon gift card.
    Please contact me (Marion) with your choice and a US address. Happy reading!

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