I thought I’d drop in and share some sci-fi, fantasy, and horror “must read” titles.
My 2018 reading list is off to a great start. I’ve had a blast reading my way through my massive TBR pile. Thankfully, there are already some pretty interesting ‘must read’ stories just waiting to be read:
Addictive Urban Fantasy Series
Burn Bright – the 5th book in the Alpha and Omega books – intertwines mystery and magic for a thrilling new installment. This is a spin-off series built around Anna and Charles Cornick mated werewolves and reluctant power couple.
This latest story, like most set in the world of Mercedes Thompson, quickly takes an unexpected turn. What should be merely a struggle not to kill his stepmother Leah, becomes a life and death battle to keep everyone safe. Because someone’s come hunting among the pack’s reclusive wildling members.
From the opening scene to the final word, Patricia Briggs sets an intense pace that reveals heartbreaking betrayals that may just cost the pack dearly. With a stellar use of wit, Briggs brings new and secondary characters to the forefront in unforgettable ways.
I was captivated, crushed, caught off guard and ready for the next one as soon as I read the last sentence.
Burn Bright is not a stand-alone book nor is it a good place to drop into this series. If you like your characters complicated, your magic far from full proof and a world full of werewolves, vampires, fairies and mischievous gods then Patricia Briggs is an author you need to go make friends with. Start with Moon Called – the very first of the Mercedes Thompson novels – and buckle up for a bumpy ride. Add it to your must read list.
Anne Bishop returns with a tale about a town where “not human controlled” takes on real meaning. Lake Silence weaves the loose threads from the first five books into an even more vivid (a psychologically violent) tapestry. Vicki DeVine accepted The Jumble in her divorce as a way to start over. But when she finds lodger, Aggie Crowe, heating up an eyeball for lunch, Vicki discovers the girl’s one of those Crows and her new home is smack in the middle of a terra indigene settlement. The local Others take an interest in Vicki. It’s quickly apparent that they’re all that stands between her and death when her past comes stalking.
The world isn’t the same since human arrogance and foolishness cost so many lives. Smartly so, Lake Silence moves the story away from the well-known and into a whole new danger zone. At first, I was sad not to return to the original characters. I found the story arc built around Meg and Simon intriguing right through to the epic climax. But, Bishop’s unpredictable plots are not to be missed. Her ability to build an alternate world is unlike any other use Lake Silence to keep the world of The Others expanding and dynamic is addictive.
I can’t wait to see who she brings forward next to share their secrets. Lake Silence is book 6 in The Others series. It can be read as a stand alone but for maximum understanding and enjoyment of this world, I strongly suggest starting with Written in Red for a must read. This alternate version of the modern world is well worth the journey to Lake Silence.
Senlin Ascends, book one in what will be a four-book series, is about a man who must ascend (literally) the levels of the tower of Babel in order to find his missing wife.
Thomas Senlin is a quiet headmaster with more than a few idiosyncratic habits. To the astonishment of his entire town, he wooed and wed the vivacious Marya. The pair set off on a honeymoon trip to see the Tower of Babel for themselves. An early landing forces them to disembark far from their intended destination. In the madness and crush of the crowd, Thomas and Marya are separated.
It’s practically impossible to describe this book without spoiling something. So I won’t try. The writing is brilliant, the storyline perfectly plotted, and the characters are intriguing and compelling. I’ve read it twice despite already having the second in series to read. It’s just that gripping.
I will warn you, Senlin Ascends is a slow burn. If you get impatient easily, skip the physical copy and get the audiobook. Bancroft takes his time to create every stage and level of both the tower and its inhabitants. There are no pages you can skim without missing a vital detail. There are mini-story arcs buried within the larger plot at play and it’s worth reading for those side stories alone. But once you realize exactly what’s at stake for the Thomas and his allies, you’ll settle right in for the ever-unfolding adventure
Bancroft’s built a world around the mythical Tower of Babel and brings it to gritty, grimy, glorious life with steampunk brilliance and a journeymen’s tale full of vice, violence, and adventure. Senlin Ascends was an unexpected gem that I’ll be shoving in people’s hands for years to come as a must read.
Former journalist Gray Davenport’s life is in a downward spiral. He’s living in a small city; working as a Campaign consultant without a chance of victory. His candidate in the mayoral race is a perpetual “also ran” who’s, once again, not connecting with voters. takes some strange turns when a freakish creature dominates the race.
It’s a three-man race for mayor of Grand River, a West coast city overrun by pollution and under the thumb of an evil collective of shadowy businessmen. This cabal of puppetmasters all live in gated community pulling strings. Davenport’s marriage is failing, he’s drowning in self-pity as his life crumbles around him. When Davenport observes Reason Wilder, an 8-foot-tall candidate, he’s convinced he’s looking at Frankenstein’s monster. Wilder’s populist promises to offer “A way of the people. A way that reflects us all” strikes a chord with voters. Davenport is determined to uncover Wilder’s secrets. The race heats up and things get dangerous as betrayal becomes its theme as things get ever-more twisted. Joe Ponepinto’s (Curtain Calls) style lends itself well to this political allegory teeming with science fiction madness. It’s, at turns, witty, disturbing and heavily satirical. The story moved at a nice pace and there were twists aplenty. I got caught up in the story but, I have to warn you, Gary Davenport is frustratingly annoying at turns. Mr. Neutron is a bizarre take on political satire married to exploring the origins of one of sci-fi’s most disturbing creations and the evil genius behind its existence. It’s not going to work for everyone but if you like your sci-fi offbeat and existential then this may just be a must read for you.
Must Read Horror
The Murders of Molly Southbourne is the story of a young woman, named Molly, whose life is controlled by one impossible to keep rule: don’t bleed. Every time she fails, her blood births another “molly” and all “new molly” wants is to murder Molly.
Now, if that isn’t a premise that grabs you by the back of the head and shoves your face in this book well, then maybe you just have better impulse control than me. This book builds a world around this young woman and her condition that’s eerily captivating.
Tade Thompson’s done in less than 200 pages what some horror writers never accomplish in full-length novels, allowed his audience to share his main character’s growth from child to adulthood and become so wholly invested in her fate that you’re still trying to figure out how you feel about what you’ve learned weeks later.
Not only is Molly a point of fascination, her relationship with her parents, their relationship with each other, and the deep emotional disconnect her affliction forces upon her held me spellbound as all the ins-and-outs of this constant struggle against well, herself, unfolded on the page. Everything about the character building and story progression only drags you further into this world and pokes at your hind-brain (right where all things better left in the shadows live).
There’s nothing predictable, commonplace, or expected in this novella. Seriously, just as soon as I thought I knew where I was being led I was delightfully wrong. Tade Thompson builds a narrative that’s undeniable in its content, pacing, and addictive quality. This tale is so twisted and brutally vivid I stared at the last page for about ten minutes once I was done. Then I turned back to the first page and read the whole thing again. I called people about it. I’ve ordered it and sent it to people without asking.
The Murders of Molly Southbourne is some very fine psychological horror and one of the best ‘must read’ I read in 2017.
Charles Thomas Tester’s must read story starts as a deceptively short jaunt along the edges of the magical underworld resting somewhere just beyond our field of vision. The Ballad of Black Tom is slick and striking in its simplicity. In few words, Victor LaValle breathes life into the Jazzy 1920s with a glimpse at the wild and wicked heartbeat of Harlem, the raucous rhythms of Red Hook and the deceptive calm of Fleshing Meadows.
This is a tale so morally sardonic and socially insightful you’ll have difficulty convincing yourself we’re not all just a tiny step away from madness. Lovecraft only wishes he understood the dark-side of human nature and the twisted underbelly pressing just beneath the surface with this type of depth.
The Ballad of Black Tom is a brilliant ode to Lovecraftian storytelling and a slap on the wrist for the racist overtones in his [Lovecraft] writing done with such flair you’ll be too engrossed in the tale to realize – at the time – you’ve been given a more nuanced view of both the city and its multicultural inhabitants of the day. LaValle’s language choices, bringing both the characters and the city to life, are keen and insightful. His world familiar and recognizable despite being from a bygone era. His imagery pulls you in creating the sense of walking down the street beside Tom, looking over his shoulder while he strums his guitar, and standing stunned alongside him as he receives devastating news. The sounds of the city are rich and plentiful echoes just out of hearing as you read and the ominous twists and surprising turns of his journey will have you checking the scenery outside your windows for assurance.
The Ballad of Black Tom is a vivid and violent stand-alone parable exposing how brutal treatment begets brutality in turn and swiftly gives way to damnation. LaValle is that little voice whispering in your ear that the devil always gets his due.
If you like any kind of horror, psychological thrillers or just a good story then both these novellas need to move to the top of your ‘must-read’ reading list immediately.
FTC Disclosure: I received Review Copies of these books (for free) in exchange for a review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review because I can’t be bought and no one tells me what to do except my mama.