#5OnMyTBR: Love

#5OnMyTBR is a bookish meme hosted by E. @ Local Bee Hunter’s Nook and you can learn more about it here or in the post announcing it. It occurs every Monday when we post about 5 books on our TBR. Thank you E. for the awesome graphic for these posts as well!

Hi everyone,

This week, in classic Rachel fashion, I managed to break my glasses! And I have really terrible eyesight. So I’ve had to make do with an old prescription pair and distances have been….blurry, to say the least. And then I had to do the whole ‘trying on glasses and deciding which ones don’t make my face look shit’ but with a mask covering most of my face. So whilst I’ve chosen a pair, I have NO IDEA what my face is actually going to look like, please wish me luck for when they come in three weeks!

This week on #5OnMyTBR we’re looking at books about love! I’m not usually the biggest romance reader, but I do have a few on my TBR, alongside some books which are definitely more contemporary with a side of love!

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers

Okay so this one technically isn’t on my TBR yet because it doesn’t release until the end of the month (and then I have to contend with the delays getting overseas preorders actually to Australia), but I can’t wait to read this one, so it’s on the list!! Honey Girl is all about a straight-A, rule abiding, high achiever who goes to Vegas for a girls trip and gets drunkenly married to a woman whose name she doesn’t remember.

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Henderson

I’ve been meaning to read this romance novel since the middle of last year and still haven’t, yes, I am the actual worst. Boyfriend Material was recommended to me by so many people, and I think I’ll love it, mainly because it has one of my favourite romance tropes: fake-dating!!

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus

Another book I’ve been meaning to read for an embarassingly long time…But this is the month!! I’m planning to read it for one of the prompts for the F/F February readathon happening this month. It’s about a girl from Trinidad who’s caught kissing the pastor’s daughter and is sent to America to live with her father as punishment.

Darius the Great Deserves Better by Adib Khorram

Darius the Great Deserves Better is the sequel to one of my favourite ever YAs, Darius the Great is Not Okay. It dealt so personally and honestly with depression and I can’t wait to see what happens in the sequel, when Darius finds himself with a boyfriend, an internship, and a spot on the soccer team, but now isn’t sure if that’s all he wants.

The Boy From the Mish by Gary Lonesborough

The Boy From the Mish is one of the most exciting LoveOzYA books coming this year (if not the most exciting). YA literature desperately needs more Aboriginal Australian voices. And The Boy From the Mish is queer as well! It’s a funny and heartwarming book about Jackson and the friendship he begins with a troubled boy tagging along with his aunt on their annual visit.

Can’t wait to see what’s on everyone’s lists this week! I really need to read more romance books/books about love because so much of what I read is more depressing and I really do appreciate happier books now! Let me know if you’ve read any of these ones in the comments!

Book review: The Library of the Dead by T.L. Huchu

Title: The Library of the Dead by T.L. Huchu

Publisher: Tor Books

Publication date: 4 February 2021

Genre: Adult | Fantasy

Rep: Scottish Zimbabwean mc/side characters, Scottish Indian main side character, wheelchair user

Page extent: 336 pages

Rating:

Sixth Sense meets Stranger Things in T. L. Huchu’s The Library of the Dead, a sharp contemporary fantasy following a precocious and cynical teen as she explores the shadowy magical underside of modern Edinburgh.

When a child goes missing in Edinburgh’s darkest streets, young Ropa investigates. She’ll need to call on Zimbabwean magic as well as her Scottish pragmatism to hunt down clues. But as shadows lengthen, will the hunter become the hunted?

When ghosts talk, she will listen…

Ropa dropped out of school to become a ghostalker. Now she speaks to Edinburgh’s dead, carrying messages to the living. A girl’s gotta earn a living, and it seems harmless enough. Until, that is, the dead whisper that someone’s bewitching children–leaving them husks, empty of joy and life. It’s on Ropa’s patch, so she feels honor-bound to investigate. But what she learns will change her world.

She’ll dice with death (not part of her life plan…), discovering an occult library and a taste for hidden magic. She’ll also experience dark times. For Edinburgh hides a wealth of secrets, and Ropa’s gonna hunt them all down.

The Library of the Dead is the start of a fascinating new fantasy series set in a dystopian Edinburgh (my home city, kind of…) and inspired by Zimbabwean magic. It has a really interesting world, but there just wasn’t enough time spent with the most interesting parts for me to love this one.

The Library of the Dead follows Ropa, a teen living in a caravan village with her grandmother and sister. Ropa earns money for rent by ghosttalking: she delivers messages from ghosts to living people. But when one ghost asks her to find her missing son, Ropa is drawn into a huge conspiracy that is kidnapping children and milking them for youth.

The book is definitely on the stranger side. It’s written in a very young (young as in teen/hip/cool) style, and is absolutely full of Scottish slang, Scottish idioms, Scottish ways of saying things. It is set in Edinburgh which is the closest city to where I grew up (I lived in the middle of nowhere) so I loved getting to see all this Scottish history, speech and places. Huchu has done an absolutely brilliant job of writing from the POV of a young Scottish teen: it was hugely reminiscent of my childhood, and of pretty much every single conversation I have with everyone back home whenever I talk to them. Unfortunately, I have come to the realisation that the way we Scottish people talk is INFURIATING. How do people put up with us using the word like every two sentences?! Look, Huchu did such a great job getting it sound so realistic, but I just didn’t really get on board with it because it kept annoying me. I think a lot of the annoyance possibly came from the stream of consciousness style first person POV. This is obviously just not a style I jig with, it felt like so much unecessary and random commentary on events. But whether it was the Scottish style of talk or the stream of consciousness that annoyed me most, I now plan to change literally everything about the way I talk because I don’t know how people put up with me if this is what I talk like (and it definitely is, I recognised so many things I say!!)

In saying this, I think this POV/style really helps you discover more about Ropa, who is one of the best things about this book. She is such a brilliant person: so full of spunk and quirkiness and fierceness and anger at the injustice in the world. She’s so full of energy that she really burns off the page and eclipses what’s actually happening. You kind of just want to keep reading just to know what ridiculous thing she’s going to think next – I was snorting with laughter the whole way through. But this did also have the downside of really taking you out of what should be a horrific, gruesome, dark world. Nothing ever felt really serious because of how Ropa reacted to situations. I do also think Priya was written very well (and I love seeing a disabled character in a wheelchair in such an action packed fantasy!!) She was so much fun (hello green hair?! She is definitely my people) and I loved her energy for life and danger.

What I also loved was this world. There are so many fantastic elements. For starters, the magic! Ropa’s ghosttalking uses a mbira (a Zimbabwean musical instrument used for communing with the dead) to help tether ghosts to the human world where she can talk with them. Some of the passages describing the music/mbira as Ropa used it were absolutely beautiful and were some of my favourite passages in the book. I also really liked the magic that requires training aspect: it’s involved lots of science and philosophy as Ropa tried to learn magic, that put a different spin on magic than a lot of other fantasy novels do. But there just wasn’t enough of this! The mbira disappears after the first 20% of the book and I just longed for it to return because that magic was so cool. Some of my favourite scenes are Ropa’s ghosttalking deliveries (particularly the gay baking scene!!) But they also just disappesred fairly early because of the main quest of finding the missing children.

I also loved the very interesting The Library of the Dead, the book’s namesake, a library for Scottish magic built in a tomb! The worlds of the ghosts, such as the EveryThere, were also really fascinating, with the terrifying creatures stalking anyone alive who reaches the place. But as with above, these excellent worldbuilding details barely featured. I would have thought The Library of the Dead especially would have had a more important role in the story, given it’s what the book is named after.

The later half of the book kind of goes back and forth between some really interesting, almost-creepy moments that are weird and darker and you don’t really know what the fuck is going on which is great (like the house with the Brounie!) Or they go slightly too far and verge more into this-doesn’t-make-huge-amounts-of-sense and has come out of nowhere (e.g. Who the actual villain is. A person named only once is the villain? What?!)

So all in all this book was a very conflicting read for me! There are things I absolutely loved and things I really didn’t. But I definitely encourage you to read this one, particularly if you enjoy the stream of consciousness style of writing/first person POV, as I think that was the main thing I struggled with. The world is fascinating and Ropa is such a fierce and gutsy character, so full of life she leaps of the pages.

Find me on Twinkl’s Library Lover’s Campaign, to take part, visit their Library Lover’s Day 2021 blog!

Book review: The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Title: The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

Publisher: Usbourne Publishing

Publication date: 4 February 2021

Genre: Young Adult | Fantasy

Rep: Black/African characters

Page extent: 432 pages

Rating:

Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.

But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.

Knowing the dangers that lie ahead yet yearning for acceptance, Deka decides to leave the only life she’s ever known. But as she journeys to the capital to train for the biggest battle of her life, she will discover that the great walled city holds many surprises. Nothing and no one are quite what they seem to be–not even Deka herself.

Content warnings: torture, murder, blood/gore, rape (mention)

The Gilded Ones has one of the most stunning covers of the year, and after reading it, I think it’s going to be one of the biggest YA fantasy books of the year! It’s a very fast paced, action heavy fantasy with some really excellent worldbuilding and a fascinating patriarchal society built on a religion. I do think the pace was at times detrimental, but this was still a very fun read and it was great to see some grimdark fantasy make the move to YA!

The Gilded Ones opens brutally: Deka is going through a rite of passage that will prove whether she is a pure woman, or if she is a demon. When her blood runs gold, she is proven to be demon and tortured by those she once called friends. Until, rescue comes from the most unlikely of places: the emperor, who wishes her to fight for his army. What follows is a bloody and brutal journey as Deka is trained to fight deathshrieks, unnatural creatures who are viciously murdering hoards of people across the empire. But not everything is quite as it seems, and the more Deka trains and her demon powers grow, the less convinced she is that she’s even a demon.

The worldbuilding is one of the best things about this book. Forna has built this West African inspired society, a place where religion has built a society based on the suffering of women for the will of men. The religion and history of the nation, the history of The Gilded Ones, demons who terrorised the nation before they were imprisoned, and the whole process of women forced to go through the violent rite of passage to prove they are not demon, are all detailed excellently. There is such a sense of history that really put fear behind the power of men. The way Forna writes about the way women have been trained to fear themselves, to fear their power, and to make themselves small for the sake of men, was absolutely brilliant and the parallels to our world were so clearly rendered.

I also thought the plot was absolutely fantastic. The way the mystery of the deathshrieks, the alaki and the Gilded Ones play out was so interesting. I absolutely sped through the book whenever I picked it up because the mystery really drives you forward, it’s so fast paced. There are lots of unexpected twists to the story that I really enjoyed because I was always kept on my toes!

In saying that, the speed of the book is also often it’s downfall. There are so many times, particularly the more emotional behaviours, decisions, feelings etc, that just happen far too fast and it really dragged me out of the story. From how quickly Deka seemed to get over the horrific torture she goes through, to the romance that kinda hits you out of nowhere with almost no time on page with the two characters together, it’s just very jarring in what is an otherwise pretty excellent YA. There’s also a couple of rather annoying plotholes that I couldn’t stop thinking about – where did the awful sense of fear and control at the barracks disappear to after the first scene? I mean, for example, Deka is even allowed to keep a pet?! In the place where they flay you if you don’t kill enough deathshrieks?! It doesn’t really make a lot of sense.

(Please note the next para has minor spoilers.)

The plot between White Hands and the emperor also really annoyed me. How the fuck does White Hands have so much power if the emperor knows exactly who she is? Why would he trust her? It makes absolutely no sense.

(Spoilers over!)

But despite these issues, I think teens are going to absolutely love this book. It has such an impactful and interesting plot that you can get over the few issues with it. It was a very enjoyable read and I’ll definitely pick up the sequel when released!

F/F February TBR

Hi everyone,

It’s February which means it is time for annual readathon F/F February! This month long readathon is run by Imi (@imireviewsbooks on Twitter) and Ellie (@faerieontheshelf) over at Beyond a Bookshelf, and it’s a readathon all about celebrating f/f books! There’s both a reading challenge bingo board and an Instagram challenge, and I’ll be doing both of these. There’s 9 reading prompts, but I’ve also chosen some extra books to switch in and out as I’m feeling very mood-ready this month. So without further ado, here’s my very rough TBR for February!

The bingo board and prompts

My TBR

An F/F Contemporary, historical and/or romance

The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus

An F/F book from 2020 or 2021 debut author

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

An F/F book featuring your favourite trope

The Unbroken by C.L Clark

An F/F audiobook, graphic novel, or multi-media story

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine (okay slightly cheating with this prompt as I don’t have any audiobooks/graphic novels on hand, so I’m reading an ARC instead!)

An F/F backlist book

Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn

A re-read of a book you loved

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling

An F/F sci-fi or fantasy

Seven Devils by Elizabeth May and Laura Lam

A sapphic ownvoices book

Perfect on Paper by Sophie Gonzales

An F/F rec from a friend

Cantoras by Carolina de Robertis

And then here’s a few others I might switch the above out for, depending on my mood!

The Split by Laura Kay

Down Comes the Night by Allison Saft

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang

Cherry Beach by Laura McPhee-Browne

Bestiary by K-Ming Chang

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers (if my pre-order arrives before the end of Feb!)

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M Danforth

I’m also wanting to fit in a reread of N.K Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy….sooooo there is not a chance I can fit all this in.

And that’s my (extremely optimistic) TBR for the month! There is no way I can read this many books, I think I’m going to struggle just to get the nine prompts completed as I’ve still got a lot of judging reading to do for the Aurealis Awards. But I’m giving myself lots of options! Have you read any of these? Which one do you think I should read first? Let me know in the comments!

#5OnMyTBR: Recced by a friend

#5OnMyTBR is a bookish meme hosted by E. @ Local Bee Hunter’s Nook and you can learn more about it here or in the post announcing it. It occurs every Monday when we post about 5 books on our TBR. Thank you E. for the awesome graphic for these posts as well!

Hi everyone,

I can’t believe it’s February already! The last month has both gone by so fast, but also I feel like it has been an entire year since my time off work over Christmas. And there are so many months before I’ll have that much time off again! I feel like I also didn’t get a great start to my reading in January because I have been absolutely obsessed with the game Hades!! I finally, finally beat Hades for the first time over the weekend which I am EXTREMELY happy about! If any fellow Hades fans are about, I would love to talk to you about it!

This week we’re looking at recommendations from friends, so here are five books I’ve been strongly recommended by friends both in and out of the online community!

Cantoras by Carolina de Robertis

I seriously need to read this book. It has been on my TBR for so long. And I keep seeing friends review it and adore it and then reread it 4 times in the space of my 0 times and it’s just getting embarassing. It’s set in 1977 Uruguay and follows five women across 35 years as they live under the Uruguayan dictatorship.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

Piranesi was my best friend’s favourite book of 2020, so of course I need to read it! (Especially after I’m making them read Mexican Gothic, my favourite book of 2020). Piranesi is all about a person called Piranesi who is trapped in a labyrinth house.

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Henderson

I’ve lost count of the number of both online and in real life people who have told me to read this book. WHY AM I SO BAD AT READING BOOKS I SAY I’M GOING TO READ?! Boyfriend Material is a queer romcom with one of my favourite tropes – fake-dating!

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Akata Witch was recommended to me by someone at work. I’ve tried one of Nnedi Okorafor’s other novels (Who Fears Death) but I wasn’t a huge fan so hopefully I’ll have a better go with this middlegrade series! Akata Witch is about an albino girl in Nigeria who joins a coven and has to hunt down a man responsible for kidnapping and maiming children.

Seven Devils by Elizabeth May and Laura Lam

Another book it is embarassing I haven’t read yet – especially since I’m pretty sure it’s the book that appeared on the most #5OnMyTBRs in 2020 and yet somehow, I STILL HAVEN’T READ IT. Seven Devils is a space opera following a mammoth seven different POVs, belonging to seven different resistance fighters who are trying to free the galaxy from a ruthless ruler.

And that’s the first #5OnMyTBR of February! Have you read any of these books? Let me know in the comments! And as I mentioned at the top, if you’re loving Hades, I would love to chat with you about it! What is your favourite weapon? What powers do you love? TELL ME ALL!

Book review: A Dowry of Blood by S.T Gibson

Title: A Dowry of Blood by S.T Gibson

Publisher: Nyx Publishing

Publication date: 31 January 2021

Genre: Adult | Horror | Fantasy

Rep: All bi cast, polyamorous (m/f/f/m)

Page extent: 248 pages

Rating:

A lyrical and dreamy reimagining of Dracula’s brides, A DOWRY OF BLOOD is a story of desire, obsession, and emancipation.

Saved from the brink of death by a mysterious stranger, Constanta is transformed from a medieval peasant into a bride fit for an undying king. But when Dracula draws a cunning aristocrat and a starving artist into his web of passion and deceit, Constanta realizes that her beloved is capable of terrible things. Finding comfort in the arms of her rival consorts, she begins to unravel their husband’s dark secrets.

With the lives of everyone she loves on the line, Constanta will have to choose between her own freedom and her love for her husband. But bonds forged by blood can only be broken by death.

Content warnings from the author: emotional, verbal, and physical intimate partner abuse, gaslighting, war, famine, and plague, blood and gore, consensual sexual content, sadomasochism, self harm, body horror, violence and murder, alcohol use, depression and mania, sexual assault (not directed at any named character), drug use, drowning

Some books just leave you a shuddering, incomplete creature, unsure of how to go on in the world after you read them. This is A Dowry of Blood. There is such beauty and reverence in this prose that, sitting here after immediately finishing and trying to write this review, I find myself unsure of how the world works anymore, unsure of what to do next, longing to just sit and contemplate the words I just read.

A Dowry of Blood is a reimagining of Dracula’s brides, written from the point of view of Constanta, one of his brides, through the form of letters written to Dracula. She tells of their life together, how they came to be joined with his other brides, Magdalena and Alexi, and how they began to discover his dark secrets.

Blood has never been sexier. From the very first pages, this book just oozes with lust and desire, the prose so sumptuous and rich and decadent. It is like drowning in chocolate or wine, pleasure mixing with pain so intimately that you can’t separate one from the other. The fire with which desire floods this book is uncontrollable and obsessive: the way Gibson has written desire as something so deeply embedded in religious worship is so stunning that nothing I can say in this review will ever do it justice. Reading it feels like an awakening: you are as enraptured in the desire as Constanta, Magdalena and Alexi are. This book is a work of art, one that could not more perfectly explore the darkness and danger in desire. The way desire is represented through this sense of worship and faith is unlike anything I’ve read before, and yet so powerful and so beautiful that it feels like nothing will compare to it ever again.

These characters were just as perfectly rendered as the prose. The constant sense of foreboding, that sharp inhale of breath you and his brides take whenever Dracula, unnamed throughout the book but so breathlessly there in every sentence, walks into a room. The power he breathes into this book to have such presence in a world where he is not even named, where Constanta purposefully leaves him nameless to remove his power from her story. Constanta herself, the first of his brides, begins her story in these letters with her guilt and fear of him, but she gathers such strength as she writes her story. She gathers the love he brought into their lives in the form of Magdalena and Alexi and uses them against him. It is her love and pure, protective ferocity that brings about his downfall, that reveals his dark secrets, her fear of seeing them hurt anymore that seals his fate.

Then there’s Magdalena, a glowing, shining light of energy and passion and cleverness, subtly manipulating the room from her very first pages. Her change across the book feels most noticeable, as it leaves the most vivid hole in its wake, as her shining desire for life and freedom is brutally torn apart. And finally, the last of the brides, Alexi. He is the fire and brimstone, the terror who won’t go down without fighting, who will tear away from Dracula’s grasp even as he is strangled by it. These characters are so intricately woven together, their horrors shared together in Dracula’s control as he exerts his manipulation over them, elaborately ensuring they see that no matter what he does, they will shatter into even more pieces without him there. It digs so deeply and hauntingly into that slow journey from love to brutality in abusive relationships that the book feels as raw and bruised as anything I’ve ever read.

A Dowry of Blood is a book full of worship, telling a story about the way pain and pleasure, abuse and desire, can be so intricately wrapped that the unravelling can take centuries and break you in the process. It is a work of art, a book that has prose so beautiful that you come out of the book in a haze, wondering how you can return to the beauty beholden in its pages.

Book review: Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

Title: Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

Publisher: Tor

Publication date: 2 February 2021

Genre: Adult | Science fiction | Romance

Rep: bisexual mc and gay mc, lots of queer side characters

Page extent: 432 pages

Rating:

While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several planets, including Thea, have begun to chafe under Iskat’s rule. When tragedy befalls Imperial Prince Taam, his Thean widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with Taam’s cousin, the disreputable Kiem, in a bid to keep the rising hostilities between the two worlds under control.

But when it comes to light that Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and that Jainan himself may be a suspect, the unlikely pair must overcome their misgivings and learn to trust one another as they navigate the perils of the Iskat court, try to solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war… all while dealing with their growing feelings for each other.

Content warnings: domestic abuse (inc on page verbal, physical, emotional and sexual abuse), torture

There are times when you know a book sounds like everything you’ve dreamed of and you worry it might never live up to your expections. That is definitely not the case with Winter’s Orbit: this book lived up to the hype in my brain so much. It was an absolute joy to behold and read, it is the direction I have been longing for this genre to go – light scifi with romance, familiar, favourite tropes and brilliant character development and queer relationships. I would die for Kiem and Jainan and I long for more stories in their world.

Winter’s Orbit is described as Red, White and Royal Blue in space and I can definitely see that comparison. It follows Kiem and Jainan after they are rushed into an arranged marriage just a month after Jainan’s previous husband, Taam, died, in order to sign a treaty keeping the Iskat Empire from war with the rest of the galaxy. But as it is revealed Taam was murdered, the treaty is at risk and Kiem and Jainan begin investigating.

I can completely see the RW&RB reference. Winter’s Orbit has that same comforting joy about reading it, the sense of feeling completely at home and in love with the book and its characters. Kiem and Jainan were just so perfectly written and I loved the way their relationship developed from the uncommunicative first few days after they’re forcibly married, to the way they risk their lives for the other. Miscommunication is so often a trope in romance, but in this book, it actually makes sense – Jainan with his dark history of the marriage with Taam is so terrified of opening up and sure Kiem wants nothing to do with him. Meanwhile Kiem is distraught that Jainan has been forced to marry him whilst grieving, and does everything he can to give Jainan as much space as possible. It takes time for Jainan to recover from Taam’s actions, and slowly begin to see Kiem as the genuine, lovable, won’t-ever-stop-talking husband that he is. The two of them together brought so much joy to me, they were just perfectly wonderful. I want the world for them.

The murder mystery was also very well done, particularly in the second half. I was absolutely racing to get through the book and find out what was going on and find out what was happening to a particular character that I couldn’t bear to see hurt.

I also loved all the worldbuilding details. It’s definitely not your usual heavy science fiction with so much complicated terminology and world building. Instead, it was expertly woven into the story in a way that kept it light. I was particularly fond of the way gender presentation was included in this world, through use of accessories to know how an individual identified. I love that including things like this is becoming more common in scifi and I really wish we could just see it adapted in the real world! The world is also so expansive, we get little glimpses into other societies across the galaxy and I really hope we get to explore more of the world in Maxwell’s future novels. I’m particularly interested in exploring Thea, Jainan’s home planet with its different clan style system, or the Resolution, the sort of controlling force of the galaxy with some very interesting technology who kind of protect the smaller empires like Iskat from war.

I find it so difficult to write reviews for books I absolutely loved. All I can say about Winter’s Orbit is just that it filled me with so much joy, I am in love with this world and these characters and this is going to be a comfort read for so many years to come!

42 must read science fiction books of 2021!

Hi everyone,

I’m here with another post of books to look out for in 2021. Today, I’m looking at science fiction, and all I say is wow, we have an absolutely incredible year of scifi coming! For some personal most anticipated novels, check out YA books The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He and Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao; and for adult, Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki and the brilliant Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell which I have read and adored!

YA

The Darkness Outside Us by Eliot Schrefer

DOESN’T THIS JUST SOUND DELIGHTFUL?!?! Two sworn enemies from the last two remaining countries on Earth are sent to space to conduct a resuce mission, with missing memories, strange things happening on the ship, and a handsome brooding shipmate. Sign me the fuck up.

Two boys, alone in space.

After the first settler on Titan trips her distress signal, neither remaining country on Earth can afford to scramble a rescue of its own, and so two sworn enemies are installed in the same spaceship.

Ambrose wakes up on the Coordinated Endeavor, with no memory of a launch. There’s more that doesn’t add up: Evidence indicates strangers have been on board, the ship’s operating system is voiced by his mother, and his handsome, brooding shipmate has barricaded himself away. But nothing will stop Ambrose from making his mission succeed—not when he’s rescuing is his own sister.

In order to survive the ship’s secrets, Ambrose and Kodiak will need to work together and learn to trust one another… especially once they discover what they are truly up against. Love might be the only way to survive.

Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders

Legendary adult science fiction author, Charlie Jane Anders, is coming to YA with her debut Victories Greater Than Death. I have an ARC of this one and I can’t wait to read it in the next month or so! It’s described as Star Wars meets Dr Who so there’s almost no way I could dislike this.

A thrilling adventure set against an intergalactic war with international bestselling author Charlie Jane Anders at the helm in her YA debut—think Star Wars meets Doctor Who, and buckle your seatbelts.

Tina has always known her destiny is outside the norm—after all, she is the human clone of the most brilliant alien commander in all the galaxies (even if the rest of the world is still deciding whether aliens exist). But she is tired of waiting for her life to begin.

And then it does—and maybe Tina should have been more prepared. At least she has a crew around her that she can trust—and her best friend at her side. Now, they just have to save the world.

From internationally bestselling author Charlie Jane Anders (All the Birds in the Sky) comes a thrilling adventure set against an intergalactic war—Anders’s long-awaited YA debut.

Yesterday is History by Kosoko Jackson

Yesterday is History is a time travel novel about and by a Black, queer man and I very much need this book in my life. It’s about a boy who gets a liver transplant and can now travel through time. He is torn between one boy in the past and one in his present as he tries to learn the consequences of jumping through time and changing the future.

Weeks ago, Andre Cobb received a much-needed liver transplant.

He’s ready for his life to finally begin, until one night, when he passes out and wakes up somewhere totally unexpected…in 1969, where he connects with a magnetic boy named Michael.

And then, just as suddenly as he arrived, he slips back to present-day Boston, where the family of his donor is waiting to explain that his new liver came with a side effect—the ability to time travel. And they’ve tasked their youngest son, Blake, with teaching Andre how to use his unexpected new gift.

Andre splits his time bouncing between the past and future. Between Michael and Blake. Michael is everything Andre wishes he could be, and Blake, still reeling from the death of his brother, Andre’s donor, keeps him at arm’s length despite their obvious attraction to each other.

Torn between two boys, one in the past and one in the present, Andre has to figure out where he belongs—and more importantly who he wants to be—before the consequences of jumping in time catch up to him and change his future for good.

Rise of the Red Hand by Olivia Chadha

Rise of the Red Hand is coming from a publisher that has only been around about a year, but have published some of the most exciting novels in the genre (Erewhon). It sounds so incredible, a scifi portrayal of the future of climate change set in South Asia and following a hacker and revolutionary trying to take down the government.

A rare, searing portrayal of the future of climate change in South Asia. A streetrat turned revolutionary and the disillusioned hacker son of a politician try to take down a ruthlessly technocratic government that sacrifices its poorest citizens to build its utopia.

The South Asian Province is split in two. Uplanders lead luxurious lives inside a climate-controlled biodome, dependent on technology and gene therapy to keep them healthy and youthful forever. Outside, the poor and forgotten scrape by with discarded black-market robotics, a society of poverty-stricken cyborgs struggling to survive in slums threatened by rising sea levels, unbreathable air, and deadly superbugs.

Ashiva works for the Red Hand, an underground network of revolutionaries fighting the government, which is run by a merciless computer algorithm that dictates every citizen’s fate. She’s a smuggler with the best robotic arm and cybernetic enhancements the slums can offer, and her cargo includes the most vulnerable of the city’s abandoned children.

When Ashiva crosses paths with the brilliant hacker Riz-Ali, a privileged Uplander who finds himself embroiled in the Red Hand’s dangerous activities, they uncover a horrifying conspiracy that the government will do anything to bury. From armed guardians kidnapping children to massive robots flattening the slums, to a pandemic that threatens to sweep through the city like wildfire, Ashiva and Riz-Ali will have to put aside their differences in order to fight the system and save the communities they love from destruction.

Gearbreakers by Zoe Hana Mikuta

One of TWO very exciting Pacific Rim style YA scifi novels coming this year, Gearbreakers follows a rebel who takes down mechanised weapons and finds herself in prison after one of her missions, where she teams up with one of the weapon pilots to take down the rulers who use the weapons to wage war and oppression.

Two girls on opposite sides of a war discover they’re fighting for a common purpose–and falling for each other–in Zoe Hana Mikuta’s high-octane debut Gearbreakers, perfect for fans of Pacific Rim, Pierce Brown’s Red Rising Saga, and Marie Lu’s Legend series.

We went past praying to deities and started to build them instead...

The shadow of Godolia’s tyrannical rule is spreading, aided by their giant mechanized weapons known as Windups. War and oppression are everyday constants for the people of the Badlands, who live under the thumb of their cruel Godolia overlords.

Eris Shindanai is a Gearbreaker, a brash young rebel who specializes in taking down Windups from the inside. When one of her missions goes awry and she finds herself in a Godolia prison, Eris meets Sona Steelcrest, a cybernetically enhanced Windup pilot. At first Eris sees Sona as her mortal enemy, but Sona has a secret: She has intentionally infiltrated the Windup program to destroy Godolia from within.

As the clock ticks down to their deadliest mission yet, a direct attack to end Godolia’s reign once and for all, Eris and Sona grow closer–as comrades, friends, and perhaps something more…

The Infinity Courts by Akemi Dawn Bowman

I’ve only read one novel from Akemi Dawn Bowman (Starfish), but it was such a brilliant book that I know I need to read everything else she has and will write. The Infinity Courts is an afterlife book, set in a place called Infinity, where a virtual assistant used on Earth forces humans into servitude in repayment for how she has been forced to serve in the real world. This sounds different and interesting and I can’t wait to read Bowman in a scifi realm.

Eighteen-year-old Nami Miyamoto is certain her life is just beginning. She has a great family, just graduated high school, and is on her way to a party where her entire class is waiting for her—including, most importantly, the boy she’s been in love with for years.

The only problem? She’s murdered before she gets there.

When Nami wakes up, she learns she’s in a place called Infinity, where human consciousness goes when physical bodies die. She quickly discovers that Ophelia, a virtual assistant widely used by humans on Earth, has taken over the afterlife and is now posing as a queen, forcing humans into servitude the way she’d been forced to serve in the real world. Even worse, Ophelia is inching closer and closer to accomplishing her grand plans of eradicating human existence once and for all.

As Nami works with a team of rebels to bring down Ophelia and save the humans under her imprisonment, she is forced to reckon with her past, her future, and what it is that truly makes us human.
From award-winning author Akemi Dawn Bowman comes an incisive, action-packed tale that explores big questions about technology, grief, love, and humanity.

The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He

Joan He is one of the most exciting authors in YA, I absolutely adored her debut Descendant of the Crane and I am just as excited to read her newest one, The Ones We’re Meant to Find. This is a Black Mirror-esque scifi with He’s trademark twisty nature, and follows two sisters. One is on an abandoned island with no memory of anything except that she has a sister, the other is a STEM prodigy in an eco-city, the last unpolluted place on earth.

One of the most twisty, surprising, engaging page-turner YAs you’ll read this year—We Were Liars with sci-fi scope, Lost with a satisfying resolution.

Cee awoke on an abandoned island three years ago. With no idea of how she was marooned, she only has a rickety house, an old android, and a single memory: she has a sister, and Cee needs to find her.

STEM prodigy Kasey wants escape from the science and home she once trusted. The eco-city—Earth’s last unpolluted place—is meant to be sanctuary for those commited to planetary protection, but it’s populated by people willing to do anything for refuge, even lie. Now, she’ll have to decide if she’s ready to use science to help humanity, even though it failed the people who mattered most.

Aetherbound by E.K Johnston

I really loved E.K Johnston’s The Afterword, a quiet fantasy novel about what happens after the quest is over. I can’t wait to see what she does in a scifi context, in a book about a family-run interstellar freighter.

A thought-provoking new YA space adventure from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Star Wars: Ahsoka.

Set on a family-run interstellar freighter called the Harland and a mysterious remote space station, E. K. Johnston’s latest is story of survival and self-determination.

Pendt Harland’s family sees her as a waste of food on their long-haul space cruiser when her genes reveal an undesirable mutation. But if she plays her cards right she might have a chance to do much more than survive. During a space-station layover, Pendt escapes and forms a lucky bond with the Brannick twins, the teenage heirs of the powerful family that owns the station. Against all odds, the trio hatches a long-shot scheme to take over the station and thwart the destinies they never wished for.

Fragile Remedy by Maria Ingrande Mora

I’ve had an ARC of this book since last year, but as it was pushed back to a 2021 pub date because of covid, I haven’t read it yet! But soon! Fragile Remedy is about a world with genetically engineered medi-tissue people, who have been created as a cure for the rich suffering from fatal lung rot. But GEMs have a failsafe: their health will rapidly deteriorate unless they are regularly dosed with medication by the creators, a way to keep the GEMs close. The book follows a GEM called Nate who has to decide whether to work for the shadowy terrorist organisation to keep himself alive, or stay and die with the boy he loves.

Sixteen-year-old Nate is a GEM—Genetically Engineered Medi-tissue created by the scientists of Gathos City as a cure for the elite from the fatal lung rot ravaging the population. As a child, he was smuggled out of the laboratory where he was held captive and into the Withers—a quarantined, lawless region. Nate manages to survive by using his engineering skills to become a Tinker, fixing broken tech in exchange for food or a safe place to sleep. When he meets Reed, a kind and fiercely protective boy that makes his heart race, and his misfit gang of scavengers, Nate finds the family he’s always longed for—even if he can’t risk telling them what he is.

But Gathos created a genetic failsafe in their GEMs—a flaw that causes their health to rapidly deteriorate as they age unless they are regularly dosed with medication controlled by Gathos City. As Nate’s health declines, his hard-won freedom is put in jeopardy. Violence erupts across the Withers, his illegal supply of medicine is cut off, and a vicious attack on Reed threatens to expose his secret. With time running out, Nate is left with only two options: work for a shadowy terrorist organization that has the means to keep him alive, or stay — and die — with the boy he loves.

The Electric Kingdom by David Arnold

The Electric Kingdom looks to be a more hopeful outlook on a deadly flu pandemic that what the actual world has given us. It follows a girl and her DOG and really that’s all I need to know (and NO the dog does not die!!!! At least according to Goodreads).

When a deadly Fly Flu sweeps the globe, it leaves a shell of the world that once was. Among the survivors are eighteen-year-old Nico and her dog, on a voyage devised by Nico’s father to find a mythical portal; a young artist named Kit, raised in an old abandoned cinema; and the enigmatic Deliverer, who lives Life after Life in an attempt to put the world back together. As swarms of infected Flies roam the earth, these few survivors navigate the woods of post-apocalyptic New England, meeting others along the way, each on their own quest to find life and light in a world gone dark. The Electric Kingdom is a sweeping exploration of love, art, storytelling, eternal life, and above all, a testament to the notion that even in an exterminated world, one person might find beauty in another. 

The Cost of Knowing by Brittney Morris

Brittney Morris’s debut, Slay, was absolutely brilliant (in fact, it is the only book I’ve been able to get my very-not-a-reader partner to read in the past 2 years). Her next novel, The Cost of Knowing, follows a Black teen with the power to see into the future who forsees his brother’s death.

Dear Martin meets They Both Die at the End in this gripping, evocative novel about a Black teen who has the power to see into the future, whose life turns upside down when he foresees his younger brother’s imminent death, from the acclaimed author of SLAY.

Sixteen-year-old Alex Rufus is trying his best. He tries to be the best employee he can be at the local ice cream shop; the best boyfriend he can be to his amazing girlfriend, Talia; the best protector he can be over his little brother, Isaiah. But as much as Alex tries, he often comes up short.

It’s hard to for him to be present when every time he touches an object or person, Alex sees into its future. When he touches a scoop, he has a vision of him using it to scoop ice cream. When he touches his car, he sees it years from now, totaled and underwater. When he touches Talia, he sees them at the precipice of breaking up, and that terrifies him. Alex feels these visions are a curse, distracting him, making him anxious and unable to live an ordinary life.

And when Alex touches a photo that gives him a vision of his brother’s imminent death, everything changes.

With Alex now in a race against time, death, and circumstances, he and Isaiah must grapple with their past, their future, and what it means to be a young Black man in America in the present.

Clues to the Universe by Christina Li

Clues to the Universe reminds me of the kind of soft scifi we saw with K. Ancrum’s The Weight of the Stars, and I just love this genre!! Clues to the Universe follows Rosalind, a teen who is building a rocket with her dad before he dies, and Benjamin, who loves space comics and whose dad left years ago, when they become science partners and help each other with the unfinished business their dads left behind.

This #ownvoices debut about losing and finding family, forging unlikely friendships, and searching for answers to big questions will resonate with fans of Erin Entrada Kelly and Rebecca Stead.

The only thing Rosalind Ling Geraghty loves more than watching NASA launches with her dad is building rockets with him. When he dies unexpectedly, all Ro has left of him is an unfinished model rocket they had been working on together.

Benjamin Burns doesn’t like science, but he can’t get enough of Spacebound, a popular comic book series. When he finds a sketch that suggests that his dad created the comics, he’s thrilled. Too bad his dad walked out years ago, and Benji has no way to contact him.

Though Ro and Benji were only supposed to be science class partners, the pair become unlikely friends: Benji helps Ro finish her rocket, and Ro figures out a way to reunite Benji and his dad. But Benji hesitates, which infuriates Ro. Doesn’t he realize how much Ro wishes she could be in his place?

As the two face bullying, grief, and their own differences, Benji and Ro must try to piece together clues to some of the biggest questions in the universe.

Alone Out Here by Riley Redgate

Lord of the Flies but in space and written by an author of colour?! Yes that sounds absolutely incredible!! This space thriller is set in a future where the first daughter and 53 other teens escape a dying Earth as the only hope for humanity’s survival.

SEVEN WAYS WE LIE, NOTEWORTHY, and FINAL DRAFT author Riley Redgate’s ALONE OUT HERE, pitched as LORD OF THE FLIES in space, a thriller set in a future in which the first daughter and 53 other teens end up on the only ship escaping a dying Earth and must contend with being the last hope for humanity’s survival as they fight to preserve their own humanity

City of Shattered Light by Claire Winn

There is nothing I can say that will sounds more fun than what the author has on her website so, City of Shattered Light is about: Cyborgs! Guns! Flirting! 🔥 Matriarchal crime syndicates! Heists! Brain-tech interfaces! 🎮 Girls kissing girls! Girls kissing boys! 💋 Bass-pumping cyberpunk nightscapes! 🌃 Queer found family! Possessed murderous tech! 💀 Drugged bubblegum! Creepy labs! Organ piracy! ⚡️ Cute girls who are actually steel-and-silicon death machines! Gravity-shifting gladiatorial pits! 🌆154-hour nights!

As darkness closes in on the city of shattered light, an heiress and an outlaw must decide whether to fend for themselves or fight for each other.

As heiress to a powerful tech empire, seventeen-year-old Asa Almeida strives to prove she’s more than her manipulative father’s shadow. But when he uploads her rebellious sister’s mind to an experimental brain, Asa will do anything to save her sister from reprogramming—including fleeing her predetermined future with her sister’s digitized mind in tow. With a bounty on her head and a rogue A.I. hunting her, Asa’s getaway ship crash-lands in the worst possible place: the neon-drenched outlaw paradise, Requiem.

Gun-slinging smuggler Riven Hawthorne is determined to claw her way up Requiem’s underworld hierarchy. A runaway rich girl is exactly the bounty Riven needs—until a nasty computer virus spreads in Asa’s wake, causing a citywide blackout and tech quarantine. To get the payout for Asa and save Requiem from the monster in its circuits, Riven must team up with her captive.

Riven breaks skulls the way Asa breaks circuits, but their opponent is unlike anything they’ve ever seen. The A.I. exploits the girls’ darkest memories and deepest secrets, threatening to shatter the fragile alliance they’re both depending on. As one of Requiem’s 154-hour nights grows darker, the girls must decide whether to fend for themselves or fight for each other before Riven’s city and Asa’s sister are snuffed out forever.

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

Another of my most anticipated books of the year! Iron Widow is a polyamourous retelling of the rise to power of the only female Chinese emperor, Wu Zeitan, if you mixed it up with Pacific Rim and the Handmaid’s Tale.

Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale in this blend of Chinese history and mecha science fiction for YA readers.

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls die from the mental strain.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But when she gets her vengeance, it becomes clear that she is an Iron Widow, a rare kind of female pilot who can sacrifice males to power up Chrysalises instead.

To tame her frightening yet valuable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest male pilot in Huaxia, yet feared and ostracized for killing his father and brothers. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will take over instead, then leverage their combined strength to force her society to stop failing its women and girls. Or die trying.SEE LESS

For All Time by Shanna Miles

I always love a good time travel romance, I think there at least 3 on this list which is so exciting! For All Time follows two lovers repeating their story across hundreds of lifetimes: fall in love, fight to be with each other, die. But now it’s time to break the cycle!

Outlander meets The Sun Is Also a Star in this teen romance that follows two lovers fated to repeat their story across hundreds of lifetimes, who hope to break the cycle once and for all.

Tamar is a headstrong slave in Mali, a high school junior with a terminal illness on a last-chance trip, a young woman struggling for independence in a segregated train car steaming her toward an arranged marriage. She is a musician, a warrior, a survivor.

Fayard is a soldier that must obey all the rules set before him, a charming high school senior who wishes to give his high school sweetheart a promise ring, a lost young man who runs numbers for King Fats in Chicago. He is a con man, a pioneer, a hopeless romantic.

Together, Tamar and Fayard have lived a thousand lives, seen the world go through revolutions and civil wars, and have even watched humanity take to the stars. But in each life one thing remains the same: Tamar and Fayard fall in love. Tamar and Fayard fight to be with each other. Tamar and Fayard die. Over and over again until, perhaps at last, they learn what it will take to break the cycle.

Borderland by Graham Akhurst

We know almost nothing about Borderland, other than one line on Goodreads “A coming-of-age, YA eco-thriller about Indigenous land rights with sci-fi elements” and the fact this is a LoveOzYA book coming from an Indigenous author. Which, really, is exactly all I need to know to know I want to read this book!

Adult

The All-Consuming World by Cassandra Khaw

Adult scifi is looking extremely good this year and starting this list off is The All-Consuming World, a book about a team of half-clone, half-machine, former criminals who get back together to solve the mystery of their last, disastrous mission. But they are up against the highly-evolved AI of the universe who will do anything it takes to stop the humans from being in control every again. Also it has sentient spaceships which is one of my favourite tropes in scifi!!

A diverse team of broken, diminished former criminals get back together to solve the mystery of their last, disastrous mission and to rescue a missing and much-changed comrade… but they’re not the only ones in pursuit of the secret at the heart of the planet Dimmuborgir. The highly-evolved AI of the universe have their own agenda and will do whatever it takes to keep humans from ever controlling the universe again. This band of dangerous women, half-clone and half-machine, must battle their own traumas and a universe of sapient ageships who want them dead, in order to settle their affairs once and for all. 

Cassandra Khaw’s debut novel is a page-turning exploration of humans and machines that is perfect for readers of Ann Leckie, Ursula Le Guin, and Kameron Hurley.

Machinehood by S.B Divya

I love a good scifi that tackles classic scifi tropes such as capitalism, AI, labour rights and big pharma, and that’s what Machinehood is giving us!! The blurb asks us “if we won’t see machines as human, will we instead see humans as machines?” and yes this that just sounds excellent and the exact type of shit I expect to see if capitalism continues for the next 100 years.

From the Hugo Award nominee S.B. Divya, Zero Dark Thirty meets The Social Network in this science fiction thriller about artificial intelligence, sentience, and labor rights in a near future dominated by the gig economy.

Welga Ramirez, executive bodyguard and ex-special forces, is about to retire early when her client is killed in front of her. It’s 2095 and people don’t usually die from violence. Humanity is entirely dependent on pills that not only help them stay alive, but allow them to compete with artificial intelligence in an increasingly competitive gig economy. Daily doses protect against designer diseases, flow enhances focus, zips and buffs enhance physical strength and speed, and juvers speed the healing process.

All that changes when Welga’s client is killed by The Machinehood, a new and mysterious terrorist group that has simultaneously attacked several major pill funders. The Machinehood operatives seem to be part human, part machine, something the world has never seen. They issue an ultimatum: stop all pill production in one week.

Global panic ensues as pill production slows and many become ill. Thousands destroy their bots in fear of a strong AI takeover. But the US government believes the Machinehood is a cover for an old enemy. One that Welga is uniquely qualified to fight.

Welga, determined to take down the Machinehood, is pulled back into intelligence work by the government that betrayed her. But who are the Machinehood and what do they really want?

A thrilling and thought-provoking novel that asks: if we won’t see machines as human, will we instead see humans as machines?

Winter’s Orbit by Everina Maxwell

Yes I have read this and yes it is every bit as excellent as it sounds!! It was my last read of 2020 and of course made it onto my 2020 favourites list. It’s just so brilliantly fun and comforting: it felt like the book equivalent of a hug, all cosy and warm and soft with all your favourite tropes and the best kind of character development. But just as a note, there is a big content warning for past domestic abuse, so do be aware of that going in.

Ancillary Justice meets Red, White & Royal Blue in Everina Maxwell’s exciting debut.

While the Iskat Empire has long dominated the system through treaties and political alliances, several planets, including Thea, have begun to chafe under Iskat’s rule. When tragedy befalls Imperial Prince Taam, his Thean widower, Jainan, is rushed into an arranged marriage with Taam’s cousin, the disreputable Kiem, in a bid to keep the rising hostilities between the two worlds under control.

But when it comes to light that Prince Taam’s death may not have been an accident, and that Jainan himself may be a suspect, the unlikely pair must overcome their misgivings and learn to trust one another as they navigate the perils of the Iskat court, try to solve a murder, and prevent an interplanetary war… all while dealing with their growing feelings for each other.

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

I had such a great time reading Gailey’s novella Upright Women Wanted, a book about queer librarian spies fighting fascists, so I can’t wait to see how they handle something more scifiy. The Echo Wife is about a clone having an affair with her creator’s husband. But now the husband is dead and the two wives have to clean up the mess.

The Echo Wife is a non-stop thrill ride, perfect for readers of Big Little Lies and enthusiasts of “Killing Eve” and “Westworld­”

Martine is a genetically cloned replica made from Evelyn Caldwell’s award-winning research. She’s patient and gentle and obedient. She’s everything Evelyn swore she’d never be. And she’s having an affair with Evelyn’s husband.

Now, the cheating bastard is dead, and the Caldwell wives have a mess to clean up. Good thing Evelyn Caldwell is used to getting her hands dirty.

Dark Lullaby by Polly Ho-Yen

Loving all these Black Mirror books coming in 2021!! Dark Lullaby combines this with the Handmaid’s tale and follows a mother who decides to have a child in a world where parenting standards are extremely heavily surveilled.

For fans of Black Mirror and The Handmaid’s Tale, in Dark Lullaby a mother desperately tries to keep her family together in a society where parenting standards are strictly monitored.

When Kit decides to have a child, she thinks she’s prepared. She knows how demanding Induction is. She’s seen children Extracted. But in a society where parenting is strictly monitored under the watchful gaze of OSIP (The Office of Standards in Parenting), she is forced to ask herself how far she will go to keep her family together.

In the Quick by Kate Hope Day

It feels more rare to find romance in scifi than fantasy, which means I’m extra excited for this science fiction romance! It follows a young astronaut trying to solve the mystery of her uncle’s lost spaceship who falls in love with her uncle’s protégée.

A young, ambitious female astronaut’s life is upended by a fiery love affair that threatens the rescue of a lost crew in this brilliantly imagined novel in the tradition of Station Eleven and The Martian.

June is a brilliant but difficult girl with a gift for mechanical invention, who leaves home to begin a grueling astronaut training program. Six years later, she has gained a coveted post as an engineer on a space station, but is haunted by the mystery of Inquiry, a revolutionary spacecraft powered by her beloved late uncle’s fuel cells. The spacecraft went missing when June was twelve years old, and while the rest of the world has forgotten them, June alone has evidence that makes her believe the crew is still alive.

She seeks out James, her uncle’s former protégée, also brilliant, also difficult, who has been trying to discover why Inquiry’s fuel cells failed. James and June forge an intense intellectual bond that becomes an electric attraction. But the love that develops between them as they work to solve the fuel cell’s fatal flaw threatens to destroy everything they’ve worked so hard to create–and any chance of bringing the Inquiry crew home alive.

Equal parts gripping narrative of scientific discovery and charged love story, In the Quick is an exploration of the strengths and limits of human ability in the face of hardship and the costs of human ingenuity. At its beating heart are June and James, whose love for each other is eclipsed only by their drive to conquer the challenges of space travel.

The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers

It’s a new Becky Chambers!!! Queen of scifi, this is the fourth novel in Chambers’ exceedingly popular Wayfarer’s series. It’s bound to have Chambers’ trademark joy and hope in a genre that often tackles very bleak and pessimistic futures.

With no water, no air, and no native life, the planet Gora is unremarkable. The only thing it has going for it is a chance proximity to more popular worlds, making it a decent stopover for ships traveling between the wormholes that keep the Galactic Commons connected. If deep space is a highway, Gora is just your average truck stop.

At the Five-Hop One-Stop, long-haul spacers can stretch their legs (if they have legs, that is), and get fuel, transit permits, and assorted supplies. The Five-Hop is run by an enterprising alien and her sometimes helpful child, who work hard to provide a little piece of home to everyone passing through.

When a freak technological failure halts all traffic to and from Gora, three strangers—all different species with different aims—are thrown together at the Five-Hop. Grounded, with nothing to do but wait, the trio—an exiled artist with an appointment to keep, a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, and a mysterious individual doing her best to help those on the fringes—are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they are, or could be, to each other.

The Swimmers by Marian Womack

First off, what a stunning cover?! It’s so pretty?! Second of all, The Swimmers is set in a world ravaged by global warming, and now has lots of new strange animals and settings, with humanity separated into those who live on the surface and those who live at the edge of the planet’s atmosphere.

A claustrophobic, literary dystopia set in the hot, luscious landscape of Andalusia from the author of The Golden Key.

After the ravages of global warming, this is place of deep jungles, strange animals, and new taxonomies. Social inequality has ravaged society, now divided into surface dwellers and people who live in the Upper Settlement, a ring perched at the edge of the planet’s atmosphere. Within the surface dwellers, further divisions occur: the techies are old families, connected to the engineer tradition, builders of the Barrier, a huge wall that keeps the plastic-polluted Ocean away. They possess a much higher status than the beanies, their servants.

The novel opens after the Delivery Act has decreed all surface humans are ‘equal’. Narrated by Pearl, a young techie with a thread of shuvani blood, she navigates the complex social hierarchies and monstrous, ever-changing landscape. But a radical attack close to home forces her to question what she knew about herself and the world around her. 

The Effort by Claire Holyrode

The Effort sounds like the kind of scifi that really focuses on humanity and hope, which I think we all need a bit of right now! It follows a group of scientitsts studying a dark comet who have to come up with a plan to destroy the comet, the greatest threat the earth has ever seen, or accept the annihilation of humanity.

When dark comet UD3 was spotted near Jupiter’s orbit, its existence was largely ignored. But to individuals who knew better — scientists like Benjamin Schwartz, manager of NASA’s Center for Near-Earth Object Studies — the threat this eight-kilometer comet posed to the survival of the human race was unthinkable. The 150-million-year reign of the dinosaurs ended when an asteroid impact generated more than a billiontimes the energy of an atomic bomb.

What would happen to Earth’s seven billion inhabitants if a similar event were allowed to occur?

Ben and his indomitable girlfriend Amy Kowalski fly to South America to assemble an international counteraction team, whose notable recruits include Love Mwangi, a UN interpreter and nomad scholar, and Zhen Liu, an extraordinary engineer from China’s national space agency. At the same time, on board a polar icebreaker life continues under the looming shadow of comet UD3. Jack Campbell, a photographer for National Geographic, works to capture the beauty of the Arctic before it is gone forever. Gustavo Wayãpi, a Nobel Laureate poet from Brazil, struggles to accept the recent murder of his beloved twin brother. And Maya Gutiérrez, an impassioned marine biologist is — quite unexpectedly — falling in love for the first time.

Together, these men and women must fight to survive in an unknown future with no rules and nothing to be taken for granted. They have two choices: neutralize the greatest threat the world has ever seen (preferably before mass hysteria hits or world leaders declare World War III) or come to terms with the annihilation of humanity itself.

Their mission is codenamed The Effort.

Skyward Inn by Aliya Whitley

I have an ARC of this one waiting for me right now, better get my act together and read it!! Skyward Inn is about an inn in the middle of nowhere, removed from technology and politics. It’s a story about togetherness and community and belonging and sounds like it will be a beautiful and hopeful science fantasy novel.

This is a place where we can be alone, together.

Skyward Inn, on the moorlands of the Western Protectorate, is removed from modern technology and politics. Theirs is a quiet life – The Protectorate has stood apart from the coalition of world powers that has formed. Instead the inhabitants choose to live simply, many of them farming by day and drinking the local brew at night.

The co-owners of the inn are Jem and Isley. Jem, a veteran of the coalitions’ war on the perfect, peaceful planet of Qita, has a smile for everyone in the bar. Her partner Isley does his cooking in the kitchen and his brewing in the cellar. He’s Qitan, but it’s all right – the locals treat him like one of their own. They think they understand him, but it’s only Jem who knows his homeland well enough to recreate it in the stories she tells him at dawn.

Skyward Inn is Jamaica Inn by way of Ursula Le Guin, bringing the influences, too, of Angela Carter, Michel Faber and Jeff Vandermeer to create a fantastic story of love, belonging, and togetherness. Asking questions of ideas of the individual and the collective, of ownership and historical possession, and of the experience of being human, it is at once timeless and thoroughly of its time.

One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston

The legendary Casey McQuiston is here with time travel romance number 3 on this list!! Yes I love this trope, it’s the yearning that knowing the love is impossible that really gets me. One Last Stop is about a girl who meets another on the subway and falls for her. There’s just one problem: she’s displaced in time from the 1970s.

For cynical twenty-three-year-old August, moving to New York City is supposed to prove her right: that things like magic and cinematic love stories don’t exist, and the only smart way to go through life is alone. She can’t imagine how waiting tables at a 24-hour pancake diner and moving in with too many weird roommates could possibly change that. And there’s certainly no chance of her subway commute being anything more than a daily trudge through boredom and electrical failures.

But then, there’s this gorgeous girl on the train.

Jane. Dazzling, charming, mysterious, impossible Jane. Jane with her rough edges and swoopy hair and soft smile, showing up in a leather jacket to save August’s day when she needed it most. August’s subway crush becomes the best part of her day, but pretty soon, she discovers there’s one big problem: Jane doesn’t just look like an old school punk rocker. She’s literally displaced in time from the 1970s, and August is going to have to use everything she tried to leave in her own past to help her. Maybe it’s time to start believing in some things, after all.

Casey McQuiston’s One Last Stop is a magical, sexy, big-hearted romance where the impossible becomes possible as August does everything in her power to save the girl lost in time.

Persephone Station by Stina Leicht

This is one of my favourite covers of 2021! I want to be the person on the cover so much. Persephone Stations is a space opera about a backwater planet ignored by the government, where a bar that caters to wannabe criminals is located, and the bar owner who seeks out the head of a criminal organisation to do a job for them.

Hugo award-nominated author Stina Leicht has created a take on space opera for fans of The Mandalorian and Cowboy Bebop in this high-stakes adventure.

Persephone Station, a seemingly backwater planet that has largely been ignored by the United Republic of Worlds becomes the focus for the Serrao-Orlov Corporation as the planet has a few secrets the corporation tenaciously wants to exploit.

Rosie—owner of Monk’s Bar, in the corporate town of West Brynner—caters to wannabe criminals and rich Earther tourists, of a sort, at the front bar. However, exactly two types of people drank at Monk’s back bar: members of a rather exclusive criminal class and those who sought to employ them.

Angel—ex-marine and head of a semi-organized band of beneficent criminals, wayward assassins, and washed up mercenaries with a penchant for doing the honorable thing—is asked to perform a job for Rosie. What this job reveals will affect Persephone and put Angel and her squad up against an army. Despite the odds, they are rearing for a fight with the Serrao-Orlov Corporation. For Angel, she knows that once honor is lost, there is no regaining it. That doesn’t mean she can’t damned well try.

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

A Memory Called Empire was one of the most unique, exciting and fresh science fictions I’ve ever read: part love letter to poetry, part murder mystery, part political thriller, part exploration of colonisation and imperialism. It was an absolute triumph of the genre and I am incredibly excited to read the sequel (and read it extremely soon because I have an ARC!!!)

An alien armada lurks on the edges of Teixcalaanli space. No one can communicate with it, no one can destroy it, and Fleet Captain Nine Hibiscus is running out of options.

In a desperate attempt at diplomacy with the mysterious invaders, the fleet captain has sent for a diplomatic envoy. Now Mahit Dzmare and Three Seagrass—still reeling from the recent upheaval in the Empire—face the impossible task of trying to communicate with a hostile entity.

Whether they succeed or fail could change the fate of Teixcalaan forever.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

A Psalm for the Wild-Built is the beginning of a new novella series for sci-fi legend Becky Chambers. Aiming to give hope for the future, A Psalm for the Wild-Built is set centuries after robots gained self-awareness and follows a tea monk who has a run in with a robot who won’t leave until they work out what people need.

It’s been centuries since the robots of Earth gained self-awareness and laid down their tools.
Centuries since they wandered, en masse, into the wilderness, never to be seen again.
Centuries since they faded into myth and urban legend.

One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honor the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of “what do people need?” is answered.

But the answer to that question depends on who you ask, and how.
They’re going to need to ask it a lot.

Becky Chambers’ new series asks: in a world where people have what they want, does having more matter?

The Unraveling by Benjamin Rosenbaum

Coming from one of my favourite new publishers (Erewhon), The Unraveling is set in a future society where biotechnology has revolutionised gender – everyone can have multiple bodies! It follows a bioengineer and a child who accidentally end up in the centre of a scandalous art piece and unintentionally become icons for revolution. Give me all the scifis revolutionising gender please!! I NEED THEM ALL.

In a far-future society where biotechnology has revolutionized gender, young Fift must decide whether to conform or carve a new path.

In the distant future somewhere in the galaxy, a society has emerged where everyone has multiple bodies, cybernetics has abolished privacy, and individual and family success within the rigid social system is reliant upon instantaneous social approbation.
Young Fift is an only child of the staid gender, struggling to maintain their position in the system while developing an intriguing friendship with the poorly-publicized bioengineer Shria–somewhat controversial, since Shria is bail-gendered.
In time, Fift and Shria unintentionally wind up at the center of a scandalous art spectacle which turns into the early stages of a multi-layered revolution against their strict societal system. Suddenly they become celebrities and involuntary standard-bearers for the upheaval.

Fift is torn between the survival of Shria and the success of their family cohort; staying true to their feelings and caving under societal pressure. Whatever Fift decides will make a disproportionately huge impact on the future of the world. What’s a young staid to do when the whole world is watching?

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

Yes, Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro is back with a new book – the first since his win – and it sounds absolutely excellent! Klara and the Sun follows Klara, an Artificial Friend sitting in a shop and waiting for someone to choose her to take home. Look I’m sorry, but even this description makes me teary because WHY DOES NO ONE WANT HER?!

Klara and the Sun is a magnificent new novel from the Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro–author of Never Let Me Go and the Booker Prize-winning The Remains of the Day.

Klara and the Sun, the first novel by Kazuo Ishiguro since he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, tells the story of Klara, an Artificial Friend with outstanding observational qualities, who, from her place in the store, watches carefully the behavior of those who come in to browse, and of those who pass on the street outside. She remains hopeful that a customer will soon choose her.

Klara and the Sun is a thrilling book that offers a look at our changing world through the eyes of an unforgettable narrator, and one that explores the fundamental question: what does it mean to love?

We Are Satellites by Sarah Pinsker

Sarah Pinsker is the author of Nebula award-winning novel A Song for a New Day and her newest book sounds just as epic! We Are Satellites is a novel about a family divided by technology when their teenage son wants a new brain implant, but their teenage daughter rises up against the corporate tech powerhouse, pitting the family against one another.

From award-winning author Sarah Pinsker comes a novel about one family and the technology that divides them.

Everybody’s getting one.

Val and Julie just want what’s best for their kids, David and Sophie. So when teenage son David comes home one day asking for a Pilot, a new brain implant to help with school, they reluctantly agree. This is the future, after all.

Soon, Julie feels mounting pressure at work to get a Pilot to keep pace with her colleagues, leaving Val and Sophie part of the shrinking minority of people without the device.

Before long, the implications are clear, for the family and society: get a Pilot or get left behind. With government subsidies and no downside, why would anyone refuse? And how do you stop a technology once it’s everywhere? Those are the questions Sophie and her anti-Pilot movement rise up to answer, even if it puts them up against the Pilot’s powerful manufacturer and pits Sophie against the people she loves most.

Future Feeling by Joss Lake

Future Feeling sounds all kinds of weird and wonderful! It’s about a dog walker who tries to curse fellow trans man (and Instragram influencer) but accidentally curses a different trans man by sending him to the Shadowlands, an emotional landscape where trans people journey to achieve self-actualisation. Yes this sounds weird but it also sounds magnifcently wonderful and fun and very different!

An embittered dog walker obsessed with a social media influencer inadvertently puts a curse on a young man—and must adventure into mysterious dimension in order to save him—in this wildly inventive, delightfully subversive, genre-nonconforming debut novel about illusion, magic, technology, kinship, and the emergent future.

The year is 20__, and Penfield R. Henderson is in a rut. When he’s not walking dogs for cash or responding to booty calls from his B-list celebrity hookup, he’s holed up in his dingy Bushwick apartment obsessing over holograms of Aiden Chase, a fellow trans man and influencer documenting his much smoother transition into picture-perfect masculinity on the Gram. After an IRL encounter with Aiden leaves Pen feeling especially resentful, Pen enlists his roommates, the Witch and the Stoner-Hacker, to put their respective talents to use in hexing Aiden. Together, they gain access to Aiden’s social media account and post a picture of Pen’s aloe plant, Alice, tied to a curse:

Whosoever beholds the aloe will be pushed into the Shadowlands.

When the hex accidentally bypasses Aiden, sending another young trans man named Blithe to the Shadowlands (the dreaded emotional landscape through which every trans person must journey to achieve true self-actualization), the Rhiz (the quasi-benevolent big brother agency overseeing all trans matters) orders Pen and Aiden to team up and retrieve him. The two trace Blithe to a dilapidated motel in California and bring him back to New York, where they try to coax Blithe to stop speaking only in code and awkwardly try to pass on what little trans wisdom they possess. As the trio makes its way in a world that includes pitless avocados and subway cars that change color based on occupants’ collective moods but still casts judgment on anyone not perfectly straight, Pen starts to learn that sometimes a family isn’t just the people who birthed you.

Magnificently imagined, linguistically dazzling, and riotously fun, Future Feeling presents an alternate future in which advanced technology still can’t replace human connection but may give the trans community new ways to care for its own.

In the Watchful City by S. Qiouyi Lu

Another excellent novella coming from Tor.com!! And also, what a beautiful cover? That illustration is gorgeous! In the Watchful City is a scifi novella about a city that uses a living security network to watch over the city, with ‘extrasensory humans’. The novella follows one of these extrasensory humans as ae comes into contact with a mysterious visitor who carries a cabinet full of curiosities from around the world.

In the Watchful City explores borders, power, diaspora, and transformation in a mosaic novella that melds the futurism of Lavie Tidhar’s Central Station with the magical wonder of Catherynne M. Valente’s Palimpsest.

The city of Ora uses a complex living network to surveil its inhabitants and maintain order. Anima is one of the cloistered extrasensory humans tasked with watching over the city. Aer knowledge of the world begins and ends with what ae can see and experience through the living network, and ae takes pride and comfort in keeping Ora’s citizens safe from all harm.

All that changes when a mysterious visitor arrives enters the city carrying a cabinet of curiosities from around the world, with a story attached to each item. As Anima’s knowledge of aer world expands beyond the borders of Ora to places—and possibilities—ae never before imagined to exist, ae finds aerself asking a question that throws into doubt aer entire purpose: What good is a city if it can’t protect its people?

Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor is another icon in the SFF community and she is back with a new novella set in a future time, about the adopted daughter of death who wanders with no one except for a fox companion, searching for the object that fell from the sky and gave her powers.

“She’s the adopted daughter of the Angel of Death. Beware of her. Mind her. Death guards her like one of its own.”

The day Fatima forgot her name, Death paid a visit. From hereon in she would be known as Sankofa­­–a name that meant nothing to anyone but her, the only tie to her family and her past.

Her touch is death, and with a glance a town can fall. And she walks–alone, except for her fox companion–searching for the object that came from the sky and gave itself to her when the meteors fell and when she was yet unchanged; searching for answers.

But is there a greater purpose for Sankofa, now that Death is her constant companion?

A History of What Comes Next by Sylvain Neuvel

This scifi historical thriller sounds absolutely fascinating. It follows a race of aliens who exist to make sure humans reach space. They will do anything in their power to do so, no matter the cost. A History of What Comes Next follows two of these aliens as they try to lure Wenher Von Braun away from the Nazi party and into the American rocket program, to ensure the space race continues.

Showing that truth is stranger than fiction, Sylvain Neuvel weaves a scfi thriller reminiscent of Blake Crouch and Andy Weir, blending a fast moving, darkly satirical look at 1940s rocketry with an exploration of the amorality of progress and the nature of violence in A History of What Comes Next.

Always run, never fight.
Preserve the knowledge.
Survive at all costs.
Take them to the stars.

Over 99 identical generations, Mia’s family has shaped human history to push them to the stars, making brutal, wrenching choices and sacrificing countless lives. Her turn comes at the dawn of the age of rocketry. Her mission: to lure Wernher Von Braun away from the Nazi party and into the American rocket program, and secure the future of the space race.

But Mia’s family is not the only group pushing the levers of history: an even more ruthless enemy lurks behind the scenes.

A darkly satirical first contact thriller, as seen through the eyes of the women who make progress possible and the men who are determined to stop them…

Dead Space by Kali Wallace

Kali Wallace is the mind behind creepy space horror Salvation Day, and now she’s back with Dead Space, a scifi thriller about a murder on an asteroid mine. Bring on creepy space books!

An investigator must solve a brutal murder on a claustrophobic asteroid mine in this tense science fiction thriller from the author of Salvation Day.

Hester Marley used to have a plan for her life. But when a catastrophic attack left her injured, indebted, and stranded far from home, she was forced to take a dead-end security job with a powerful mining company in the asteroid belt. Now she spends her days investigating petty crimes to help her employer maximize its profits. She’s surprised to hear from an old friend and fellow victim of the terrorist attack that ruined her life–and that surprise quickly turns to suspicion when he claims to have discovered something shocking about their shared history and the tragedy that neither of them can leave behind.

Before Hester can learn more, her friend is violently murdered at a remote asteroid mine. Hester joins the investigation to find the truth, both about her friend’s death and the information he believed he had uncovered. But catching a killer is only the beginning of Hester’s worries, and she soon realizes that everything she learns about her friend, his fellow miners, and the outpost they call home brings her closer to revealing secrets that very powerful and very dangerous people would rather keep hidden in the depths of space.

Unity by Elly Bangs

Unity is the debut novel from queer, trans woman Elly Bang and it sounds like an absolute brilliant piece of work! It’s a philosophical scifi thriller about Danae, a person who was once joined with a collective inside her body. She tries to escape the city, where she is a tech servant, with her lover and an ex-mercenary guide but is hunted by a warlord.

Evoking the gritty cyberpunk of Mad Max and the fluid idealism of Sense8Unity is a spectacular new re-envisioning of humanity. Breakout author Elly Bangs has created an expressive, philosophical, science-fiction thriller that expands upon consciousness itself.

Danae is not only herself. She is concealing a connection to a grieving collective inside of her body. But while she labors as a tech servant in the dangerous underwater enclave of Bloom City, her fractured self cannot mend.

In a desperate escape, Danae and her lover Naoto hire the enigmatic ex-mercenary Alexei to guide them out of the imploding city.

But for Danae to reunify, the three new fugitives will have to flee across the otherworldly beauty of the postapocalyptic Southwest. Meanwhile, Danae’s warlord enemy, the Duke, and a strange new foe, the Borrower, already seek them at any price.

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki

This one also featured on my 21 most anticipated books of 2021 because it looks incredible! This trans scifi is about three women trying to escape their pasts, including one who is trying to escape eternal damnation, and has an absolutely stellar review in from scifi legend Charlie Jane Anders, who described it as hopeful and kind which sounds like the exact type of scifi we need in the current world!

Good Omens meets The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet in this defiantly joyful adventure set in California’s San Gabriel Valley, with cursed violins, Faustian bargains, and queer alien courtship over fresh-baked donuts.

Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.

When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka’s ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She’s found her final candidate.

But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn’t have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan’s kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul’s worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.

As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe is found.

Losing Gravity by Kameron Hurley

We don’t know much about Losing Gravity, but it’s by scifi legend Kameron Hurley and so I don’t really need to know any more than that!

Hugo Award-winning author Kameron Hurley’s LOSING GRAVITY, pitched as Killing Eve meets Die Hard, in space, to Joe Monti at Saga Press, in a very nice deal, for publication in 2021.

And there you have it: a list of the science fiction novels I’m looking forward to reading this year (let’s all just ignore for the moment that there is no way I can read this many books okay?) What science fiction books are you looking forward to reading in 2021? Let me know in the comments!

#5OnMyTBR: Challenging Read

Hi everyone,

This week on #5OnMyTBR, we’re talking about challenging reads. I’ve chosen five books that are challenging to me for lots of different reasons. One is challenging because of the hype and sheer reverence with which it is discussed, others have some very challenging subject matter, whilst others are more challenging due to the writing style. I think the pandemic really impacted my ability to read challenging books, so much of what I wanted to read was joyful, escapist fantasy that could help distract me from the world. But hopefully in 2021 I’ll be able to bring myself to read some more challenging reads such as these again!

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A Little Life is on my list of must read books in 2021. It’s a book I’ve been meaning to read for years and it is far past time that I actually read it. But it sits on such a high pedestal in the reading community that it has been so intimidating to actually pick it up! The blurb itself even mentions its challenging nature – “Brace yourself for the most astonishing, challenging, upsetting, and profoundly moving book in many a season.” It is known for being a book that rips people apart inside, so I’m preparing to be challenged and destroyed, in equal measures.

The Prophets by Robert Johnson Jr

The Prophets is one of my most anticipated books of 2021, and as it was a January release, it means I get to read it very soon! The subject matter looks to be extremely challenging – it is set on a slave plantation and follows two slaves whose love for each other is turned into a sin when one of the other slaves starts preaching their master’s religion.

Plain Bad Heroines by Emily M Danforth

Plain Bad Heroines sounds like it could be amazing – sapphic horror set at a New England boarding school where lots of mysterious deaths took place, all things I love!! But I’ve heard it’s also quite dense and slow, so might be a bit of challenge to get through, we’ll see!

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

Shuggie Bain is another book with some difficult, depressing and challenging subject matter. It’s the winner of the 2020 Booker Prize, and as it’s written by a queer Scot, I obviously have to read it in support. It’s set in 1980s Glasgow and follows a young boy being brought up in run-down public housing as his mother succumbs to addiction.

A Desolation Called Peace by Arkady Martine

And last but not least is the incredible Arkady Martine and the sequel to the most unique scifi I’ve ever read, A Memory Called Empire. I loved that book but it was definitely a challenging read. Half the book reads like a love letter to poetry, the language of the colonising power is poetry, so it is quite an intricate and challenging book to get through. And I’m sure A Desolation Called Peace is going to be just as challenging, but just as brilliant as well!

And those are some of the challenging books on my TBR right now! As I said at the start, they are all challenging for different reasons, from the writing style in Arkady Martine’s work, to the subject matter. What makes a book challenging for you? Do you have any challenging books on your TBR? Let me know in the comments!

Book review: Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Title: Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda Lo

Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers

Publication date: 19 January 2021

Genre: Young Adult | Historical fiction

Rep: Chinese American mc, lesbian mc + li

Page extent: 416 pages

Rating:

Acclaimed author of Ash Malinda Lo returns with her most personal and ambitious novel yet, a gripping story of love and duty set in San Francisco’s Chinatown during the Red Scare.

“That book. It was about two women, and they fell in love with each other.” And then Lily asked the question that had taken root in her, that was even now unfurling its leaves and demanding to be shown the sun: “Have you ever heard of such a thing?”

Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can’t remember exactly when the question took root, but the answer was in full bloom the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club.

America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father—despite his hard-won citizenship—Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day.

What a really lovely first read of 2021! I’ve never read any Malindo Lo before, but I was very interested in this historical YA exploring the intersection of lesbian culture and Chinese American culture. And I’m so impressed! I thought this was a really excellent book, Lo really captures such a clear picture of life in the 50s. The book is absolutely dripping in lesbian culture, and I think the historic details and setting were written exceedingly well.

Last Night at the Telegraph Club follows Chinese American Lily, a baby gay who is just beginning to realise there is something different about her. She becomes friends with the only other girl in her advanced math class who introduces her to a lesbian club, the Telegraph Club, where she begins to explore her identity and tries to figure out how she can be both Chinese American and lesbian.

I thought Lo did an absolutely brilliant job of writing in this time period. You can really tell everything has been so excellently researched. It’s quite a slow book because a lot of time is spent on lots of small details and worldbuilding around the 50s time period, from larger details like the Red Scare/communism, down to the small things to do with clothes or food. I can definitely see that some people might not like this style. But I love books like this, ones that really give you such a perfectly clear vision of the world and setting. I loved the exploration of queer identity during this time period in particular, Lo drops subtle details that really help show what life was like for queer people in this era – my absolute favourite moment of this was Lily being fascinated by the lesbian pulp novels she found at the back of a drug store, and these being what led her to first start thinking she might be lesbian. It’s so funny to me that in the 50s queer people were discovering their identities in the same way I did 70 years later: just through a slightly different medium of literature (pulp novel in a drug store, vs fanfic online!)

The relationship between Kath and Lily was also expertly written. I think it might be one of my favourite relationships in YA. There was such a sense of magic and beauty that is so inherent in your first teenage relationship. It really captured that sense of first love, but in a very queer way – that sense of happiness when you first figure out what your feelings mean, that pure joy when you touch someone, but also that sense of shame and guilt that sometimes follows. The juxtaposition of the shame and happiness was written particularly well, and Lily’s journey to fit her lesbian culture into her Chinese American family was really exceptionally written and very honest.

There were some small issues I had. My main complaint is the small sections interspaced throughout Lily’s story where we got a POV from Lily’s parents or aunts from several years previously. I know these probably were included to give a better understanding of the time period and more history for the communism plot line but they felt very out of place to me. I didn’t really care about them at all, they just kept taking me out of Lily’s story – sometimes even at big cliffhanger moments!! Tell me what’s happening to Lily and Kath please and not her parents 20 years ago! It did also end quite abruptly. After quite a slow, tender and gentle story, the ending felt very rushed in comparison.

But overall, I thought this was a really excellent historical fiction YA. This book just exudes lesbian culture and it was fascinating to read about this time period and explore how queer culture developed during a time where it was illegal. I also thought Lo expertly explores the intersection of Lily’s lesbian and Chinese American culture, it felt like a very honest and very personal story and was beautifully written.