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Favorite science fiction from the last five years

I thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of my favorite SF from the last few years. These are not necessarily books published in the last five years, but ones that I’ve read in that time span. (I feel like I’ve read less SF this year than normal, but I know there are also several I haven’t gotten around to yet.)

ancillary mercyscorpion rulesconservation of shadows

Ambassador by William Alexander: I read Ambassador for the Cybils back in 2014 and loved it. It’s nice to have an SF book about a Latino boy, and Alexander does a great job of incorporating Gabe’s identity and culture into the story. The concept that drives the book works well as a way to combine kids and politics.

Quicksilver and Ultraviolet by RJ Anderson: This is a really fascinating SF duology from one of my favorite authors. I’m never sure what to say about these books, because they have some great twists I don’t want to spoil. But I loved the main characters a lot, and I enjoy the way they have an SF plot with kind of a fantasy sensibility–if that makes any sense whatsoever.

Dove Arising by Karen Bao: I read this YA for the Cybils last year, and it’s really stuck with me. Less the plot (I just had to Google because I couldn’t remember) and more the characters and worldbuilding Bao was doing. I really liked Phaet, and I felt like her outlook on life is one we don’t get very often in YA.

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow: This book. THIS BOOK. It’s terrifying and tense and smart and every time I drink apple cider, I wince. Terrible things happen in it, and yet I also cried because it’s so hopeful and affirming. I can’t say how much I love Greta, and Xie, and all the Children of Peace.

Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen by Lois McMaster Bujold:  I love Bujold’s Vorkosigan series in its entirety, as I’ve documented here many times, but I was really fascinated by some of the turns and choices she made in the latest installment. It was also really lovely to have another story from Cordelia’s point of view.

The Foreigner series by CJ Cherryh: If you’ve been following my blog for a few years, you’ll know that I’ve been glomping my way through Cherryh’s massive series. I love the way she writes the atevi and the political and social customs and issues that arise. While I occasionally quibble with the depiction of the human women, overall the characters are really engaging and wonderful as well.

Promised Land by Cynthia DeFelice and Connie Willis: This is a lighter SF romance, which has turned out to be one of my comfort reads. It’s kind of a space western, but in a very different vein than Firefly.

Jupiter Pirates by Jason Fry: A fun middle-grade space adventure about a family of space privateers. Tycho and his siblings have to compete to win the captain’s seat, but there are also bigger contests going on. Fry has written a number of Star Wars chapter books, and he clearly knows what he’s doing.

And All the Stars by Andrea K Höst: I love Höst’s books, and this was the first one I read. It’s an intimate story, almost quiet, even though it’s about a terrifying world-wide event. Rather than a sweeping epic, Höst keeps the scale on a human level, and makes me care so much about Madeleine and her friends and the outcome of their story.

Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie: I basically always want to be reading this trilogy; Leckie writes ambitiously about identity, loyalty, families, and imperialism. She also pulls it off, mostly because of her rich characters and worldbuilding which also give an emotional core to the big concepts she’s engaging with.

Conservation of Shadows by Yoon Ha Lee: I was really impressed by this short story collection, which features so many fascinating and strange worlds, as well as some really striking characters. The prose itself is also beautiful, even when the subject matter is not. I can’t wait till I get a chance to read Nine Fox Gambit.

Persona by Genevieve Valentine: I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book, but it turns out that near-future socio-political thrillers are very much my thing when Valentine is writing them. Persona is smart and sleek and tense. If UN + red carpet + spies sounds intriguing, this book is probably for you.

bookish posts reviews

A Pocket Full of Murder by R.J. Anderson

pocket full of murderThere are some books you just know you’re going to love as soon as you start reading them. For me, A Pocket Full of Murder was one of these.

Isaveth Breck’s family has been struggling for awhile. She, her father, and her sisters are still grieving for her mother. Without her spell-making abilities, they’re having a hard time making ends meet. Then Isaveth’s father is accused of murder. If Isaveth wants to save him, she’ll have to count on the help of a new friend named Quiz. But Quiz has his own secrets, and Isaveth will have to deal with the fall-out.

I’ve loved all of R.J. Anderson’s books to date, but A Pocket Full of Murder miiiight be my favorite. It’s basically all of my favorite things: great characters, interesting magic and worldbuilding, mysteries, complicated families. While this makes it sound busy, the emotional heart of the story is definitely centered on Isaveth and her quest to save her father and her family. She’s a brave, tenacious heroine, and she makes mistakes and also learns from them and moves past them.

I also liked Quiz quite a bit–although I’m not entirely sure if this is simply due to his snarky charms (definitely possible) or if there’s a bit of reflected glory there. There’s a subtle homage to a Certain Golden Age Mystery woven through this story–one which I am Very Fond of. If the reader doesn’t get the references, the story will certainly stand on its own, but for the reader who’s also a fan, picking out the subtle references is very fun. At any rate, Quiz is definitely his own person, with different emotional beats and backstory.

It’s also worth mentioning that Isaveth and her family are a religious minority–I read them as a minority sect of the major religion in this world–and that this plays an important part in the story. I didn’t feel that this was in any way preachy. The Brecks have different relationships to their faith and this was shown in a natural and organic way. But because they are Moshite, there’s a great deal of prejudice against them, which only hurts Isaveth’s father.

And there are more divisions in this world, particularly between nobles–who have access to a certain kind of magic–and commoners–whose magic is more mundane and less flashy. Isaveth is talented at this kind of magic, taking up her mother’s legacy to keep her family alive and together. I loved the descriptions of the spell tablets she bakes, which are such a unique and interesting way of approaching magic.

In terms of the mystery, I guessed who, but not how or why. Isaveth and Quiz’s attempts to uncover the truth of what happened are well drawn out, and I think would be engaging for a younger reader. Quiz’s secrets play a part in the solution as well, and while I guessed most of them, I think the target audience might not.

At any rate, I thoroughly enjoyed this one from start to finish, and my only complaint is that I wanted more!

(Disclaimer: I’ve known RJ online for a number of years now; however, I’m also genuinely a fan of her books in general and this one in particular.)

Book source: bought it as soon as I heard about it

Book information: 2015, Atheneum; middle grade fantasy/mystery

Other reviews:

bookish posts

Favorite Authors: R.J. Anderson

I first heard about RJ Anderson’s books because she’s been an active member of the Sounis LiveJournal group, which is to say that we have some personal connection. But I just love her books, for several reasons: she writes stories that feel fresh, I like her characters, and I feel like we share a set of references and interests that make her books feel like coming home. Whether she’s writing about faeries or science fiction, she’s also committed to showing diversity in a quiet but very real way.

Favorite R.J. Anderson books
1. Knife
2. Ultraviolet
3. Quicksilver
4. Arrow
5. Swift

All my R.J. Anderson reviews
Knife briefly (2009), and again (2009)
Rebel, briefly (2010)
Arrow, briefly (2014)
Swift, briefly (2014)
Ultraviolet (2011)
Quicksilver (2013)


Recent Reading 1-28-14

I’ve been sick the past few days and not up to much, so here are a few thoughts about books I’ve read recently.

Arrow by R.J. Anderson: Faery Rebels #3. I really like this series, and especially the sense that the world keeps expanding with each new book. I also like the way the characters think a lot about big things without feeling false or preachy.

Thud! by Terry Pratchett: Nearly the last book in the City Watch series, alas. I liked it a lot (and especially enjoyed Young Sam’s favorite book), but it doesn’t have the gravitas or emotional heft of Night Watch. On the other hand, I wasn’t expecting it to.

Scepter of the Ancients by Derek Landy: First Skulduggery Pleasant book. I had tried this one a few months ago and hadn’t quite gotten into it, but this time I really enjoyed Stephanie and Skulduggery. It’s one for a very specific kind of reader, and that reader will likely LOVE it.

The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I mean Noel) by Ellen Raskin: I love The Westing Game, so when I had the chance to read another Raskin book, I seized it. Sadly, I found that MDoL(IMN) lacked a lot of the charm of The Westing Game, leaving instead merely a rather clever puzzle. However, it did occur to me that Raskin is a nearly perfect recommendation for readers who have reached the end of the Lemony Snicket books and are sad there are no more.