Thoughtful Thursday: What’s the best book you read last month?

FanLit Readers' Favorites!It’s the first Thursday of the month. You know what that means, ’cause we do this on the first Thursday of every month! Time to report!

What is the best book you read in June 2018 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. And we’ve also got a constantly updating list of new and forthcoming releases.)

As always, one commenter will choose a book from our stacks.

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  1. Noneofyourbusiness /

    Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” is a true classic. The level of characterization and meaning may surprise those who only know the movie version, where the Creature doesn’t speak. Shelley was ahead of her time.

  2. I loved Michael Mammay‘s Planetside.

    Fast-paced, dialog-rich, great military sci-fi!

  3. Paul Connelly /

    A doubly long list of reads this month, and once again, my best pick is a Melissa Caruso novel, The Defiant Heir, which continues the adventures of Felix and Oscar, I mean Amalia and Zaira, magically yoked together at the start of the previous book (The Tethered Mage). In this one they are more actively set in opposition to the Witch Lords of Vaskandar, the super-powered mage-born who threaten the Serene Republic (governed in part by the aristocratic Amalia’s mother). Amalia and Zaira travel to Vaskandar to persuade the assembled Witch Lords not to unite for war with the Serene Republic, as the psychopathic Lord Ruven is urging. The two women are getting along a tad better–now the emaciated street tough Zaira’s most frequent adjective describing Amalia is “annoying”–that’s an improvement. In Vaskandar, Zaira is accorded great respect, and even the nobles are afraid of her. With good reason, since Zaira is a weapon of mass destruction in human form, as one powerful Witch Lord finds out when he instigates a titanic magical battle with her. Meanwhile Amalia picks up another potential love interest in the suave and friendly seeming Witch Lord Kathe (I pictured a young David Bowie), who involves her in his own schemes for vengeance. A volcano with magical triggers serves as Chekov’s gun, and the author telegraphs who’s going to die tragically a bit too strongly–plus poor Marcello (Amalia’s other, non-aristocratic love interest) can’t get very close to her in this one. But overall the series is still fun.

    Next, time for Cleavon Little as Marshal Gran Carter and Medeline Kahn as Regina Archambault in Blazing Hippos! Well, actually it’s American Hippo (singular) by Sarah Gailey, a cute idea (hippos imported to the US as meat animals going feral in the lower Mississippi) that seems like it should have been more fun. Part of the problem is that the “good outlaws” trying to pull off the caper (yes, Winslow, caper) are not much more likable than the bad ones…by a truly amazing coincidence all four of them have developed consciences and a desire to give up their thieving, murderous ways at about the same time. Yup. And Marshal Carter doesn’t get enough pages to balance them out. But who do we really care about anyway? The hippos, of course! Ruby and Abigail, especially. Your alternate 19th century hippo western.

    The Delirium Brief amps up the darkness and horror aspects of Charles Stross’s Laundry series. The occult intelligence service is in the crosshairs of Parliament and the media after the elf invasion of Yorkshire (in the previous book). And, of course, the solution to their embarrassing failure is: privatization! Stross’s disgust with the political idiocy in the UK and US is mirrored in some disgusting mind-control parasites. But at least Bob Howard returns as the main character, and he and Mo try to make their marriage work again (yay!).

    The Freeze-Frame Revolution is another Peter Watts “cutting edge science” tale about a starship creating wormhole gates for succeeding generations of spacefarers to use. The crew are in cryogenic suspension and the AI running the ship only wakes some up for a few days every few thousand years. After 60+ million years of this, certain crew members are tired of it all and thinking of rebellion against the all-seeing AI, but how do they manage it? Interesting, but short and very dour.

    Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys has a good idea, the marine-human hybrids of Lovecraft’s Innsmouth story as the persecuted minority viewpoint characters, but the characters feel emotionally distant and a bit monotone, which lessens the impact of what are (until the very end) fairly subdued plot developments. I wanted to like this chilly tale more.

    Revenant Gun (Yoon Ha Lee) finishes up the Hexarchate trilogy. The high calendar has been replaced and shadow hexarch Kujen needs to reinstate it to preserve his immortality, so he produces yet another revenant of mad general Jedao to lead an army against the fragile alliances left in the wake of the last Jedao’s “calendrical spike”. But the last Jedao is still around, in hiding, so Jedao will be fighting himself. This one dragged a bit more than the first two, with fewer big space battles. The science is total fakery but the (magic) technology is still glitzy and grotesque.

    Shelter, the latest from Dave Hutchinson, is an exceedingly grim story set in a post-apocalyptic southern England setting, where three teenage boys with crossbows spark a rapidly escalating war between two powerful and once friendly families that leaves hundreds dead. A spy from the last remnants of military authority sent to look in on the situation ends up causing even more bloodshed and destruction by the end. Well written, but a downer. Doesn’t have the cool factor of his Europe books, but I liked it better than his rather gimmicky novella Acadie.

    Laini Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer features a humble ex-monk who travels to an all but mythical city with the hero who slew its gods many years ago. Well, actually, he didn’t slay all of them, because a few of their children are still in hiding, and the awfulness of the previous conflict (and the history that gave rise to it) underlies most of the fraught emotions that the characters have to deal with. Like other Taylor novels, this one is a sensual extravaganza with beautiful descriptions of colors, sounds, tastes and odors. Quite wonderful, but when you get to the end, it turns out this is only the first half of the story. Drat!

    Another type of “half a novel” problem plagues The Tiger’s Daughter (K. Arsenault Rivera), set in a fantasy world resembling medieval Asia (names mostly sound Japanese with some Chinese thrown in). This epistolary tale (the conceit doesn’t get in the way) follows two girls from very different cultures, imperial agrarian and steppe nomadic, pushed together by their famous mothers, and chronicles their progression from toddler distrust (but fascination) to childhood friendship to adolescent love. Both are very entitled (and naive), but still make for sympathetic heroines. The trouble is, somewhere just past the halfway point of what has been quite an engrossing story, all the elements adding mystery, suspense and conflict just fade out. Who is the Traitor? How can the demon attacks be stopped? What is causing the Black Blood disease? We never learn. Most readers will strongly suspect that Amor Omnia Vincit in this type of tale, but the romantic denouement is all we’re left with.

  4. I received an ARC of “Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik, and it was amazing!!! I’ll add my review on the date of the book’s public release on July 10, 2018!

  5. The Distinguished Professor /

    I was hesitant about Susanna Clarke’s “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell” after not being impressed by the lackluster BBC adaptation, but the books has so much more to it! It was a great read, with insight into what makes people tick, and the footnotes were exemplary, like those in the “Bartimaeus” trilogy by Jonathan Stroud.

    • E.J. Jones /

      Everyone I know who watched the BBC Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell before reading the book didn’t like the series, and everyone I know who read the book and then watched the series liked it (including me). Maybe the series was made with readers of the book, who would already understand the background of Clarke’s fictional world, in mind. If that’s why you think you didn’t enjoy the adaptation, you could try watching it again and seeing if you get more out of it this time!

      • The Distinguished Professor /

        Thanks, but I doubt it. The series was inferior because it left things out or changed them.

        • E.J. Jones /

          Well, at any rate, I’m glad you enjoyed the book!

          • The Distinguished Professor /

            It lived up to the hype!

  6. The best thing I read last month is not complete yet! I had almost stopped reading comics before my kids were born, and only pick up Usagi Yojimbo still. I’m very out-of-touch on the current comics scene.

    I don’t know where I saw it, but I found out that Matt Wagner started the third mini-series of Mage. The first two mini-series were subtitled, The Hero Discovered and The Hero Defined. This one is The Hero Denied. There are 9 episodes released out of 15, plus an ashcan (promo story released at last year’s San Diego Comicon. Happily for me, all have been released as ebooks so I didn’t have to try to track down the paper copies.

    While I thought Wagner’s art was striking even from the first issue–and the story is told minimally without long exposition–you can see his technique improving and refining over the course of the first series.

    Just about anything you read about this series will give away significant plot points although the astute readers here will likely twig to who Kevin is pretty soon. The first series has a great set of secondary characters too.

    Beyond those, I read the latest installments of two historical mystery series: Island of the Mad and The Throne of Caesar. The first is the latest in the Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes series, as Mary is asked to find her friend’s aunt who has escaped (along with a nurse) from an insane asylum. The majority of the book is set in Venice. The Throne of Caesar is the latest about Gordianus, a ‘Finder’ in the late Republic/early Empire era. This book starts a week or so before Julius Caesar plans to head out on more conquests–just after the Ides of March. Both were good additions to the series, but not my favorites.

  7. Bradbury’s classic novel. This was a reread for me…I first read it many, many years ago. So good! At one point, I actually wept. That’s how much books mean to me. Like I said, it was really good, but it was also horrifying to read. I’m sure many will understand why.

    I watched the new HBO film after reading it. I was not impressed. Why they felt the need to change the story so much, I’ll never know. I much prefer the older film, but the book is my ultimate preference, of course.

    • Noneofyourbusiness /

      I discovered how good that book was when I read it in class a few years ago, though I wasn’t surprised since I’d read his Martian Chronicles.

  8. John Smith /

    The novel “My Ex-Life” by Stephen McCauley. It’s full of a witty understanding of people and modern life.

  9. Willy /

    The Unseen Hand #2 was a trippy ride through wartorn Eastern Europe, especially the twist at the end where the young protagonist decided to go back and kill the men from the conspiracy who had been ominously threatening him (and succeeded). You don’t see that a lot!

  10. Kevin S. /

    Blue at the Mizzen by Patrick O’Brian. Final complete book (#20) in the Aubrey & Maturin series.

    • Paul Connelly /

      I’m not sure the English language has the right word to describe the mix of emotions that one experiences after reading the last complete Aubrey & Maturin novel. Maybe French or Portuguese would be better at expressing it…

      • Kevin S. /

        I greatly enjoyed the series. It’s a shame O’Brian couldn’t finish it. I don’t know how many novels he had planned to write.

        • Paul Connelly /

          The stretch from Post Captain to The Wine Dark Sea was really the long continuing plotted out part of the series. The other books were more loosely connected in terms of plot, but provided a chance to revisit our favorite characters. A tremendously engaging set of novels!

  11. It’s not out yet, but I absolutely LOVED Detox in Letters by Cheryl Low, which is the second book in her Crowns & Ash series. The uniqueness of the world and the wonderful writing and characters blew me away!

  12. E.J. Jones /

    It’s taken me a while to read The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo, and now it’s my favorite book of hers (and I’ve read all 6 of her books so far). It’s a collection of 6 short fairy tales (ranging from 20 to 80 pages). They all seemed predictable at the beginning, and they all managed to buck my expectations by the end. I’d recommend reading it in print because the illustrations by Sara Kipin are stunning. Pay attention to the edges of the pages as you read because the illustrations of each story start out minimal and accumulate as the story progresses.

  13. I’d have a hard time choosing this time from two very different books.

    It could be Jemisin’s The Stone Sky, conclusion of the Broken Earth series, which has already won the Nebula, and would be my #1 pick for the Hugo this year if I were voting.

    Then along came Rebecca Roanhorse’s debut Trail of Lightning, an exciting science fiction/fantasy/horror hybrid set in Dinétah, the traditional land of the people the white man knows as the Navajo. I’ve never read Westerns, but I can’t imagine L’Amour or Max Brand ever described the landscape as evocatively, or lovingly. The characters are just as memorable, especially the protagonist Maggie Hoskie. I am so glad there will be more in this series, but I have to wait nine months.

  14. Sethia /

    Mine was a reread of Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson. Sanderson is a favorite of mine and he offers the one free on his website, I highly recommend it! I also enjoyed Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo!

  15. I’m kind of behind the times, apparently, but I just finished The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin and I was blown away by the world, the characters, and the magic system. Such a great book and I’m excited to get started on the next one.

  16. Kevin S, 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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