Independent Bookseller Picks

January Recommendations from Mysterious Galaxy

Mysterious Galaxy established itself as Southern California’s genre store for mystery and speculative fiction in San Diego in 1993, opening a second location in Redondo Beach (South Bay Los Angeles) in September 2011. The store hosts more than 100 author events a year, and participates in local conventions and off-site events, including Comic-Con International, as well as working with organizations, libraries, and schools to connect books and readers everywhere.  The store’s tagline, “Books of Martians, Murder, Magic, Mayhem & More,” reflects the selection of books the staff is passionate about sharing with readers.

Some of our favorite books from 2011 and even a couple of new arrivals for January:

11/22/63 by Stephen King


That’s pretty much the only reasonable reaction to Stephen King’s magnificent 11/22/63. The time-travel novel nominally focuses on an effort to change the future by preventing Lee Harvey Oswald from assassinating JFK, but it’s about so much more, including personal responsibility, the costs (and benefits) of love, the differences between America in 2011 and in the late 1950s and early ’60s. It includes nods to earlier favorites (including Christine and It), but this one, while offering suspense of the highest order, rejects the supernatural and instead offers an explanation for its events rooted in current theoretical physics. 11/22/63 is a seminal work by an American master at the peak of his powers. Don’t miss it.

Jeffrey Jay Mariotte


Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge

It’s been a few years since the Battle of Starship Hill and the titular children are growing up. A few are even starting to doubt the reasons behind their fall from grace, and the players involved in that fall. Most remember their old lives in the Top of the Beyond and long to return to their rightful place in the universe … teen angst to the hundredth power. It’s not easy in the Slow Zone, but you make do. Who knows, maybe they can raise themselves out of their medieval existence and return to the stars? Humankind has done it before. It will do it again.

For now, most Humans and Tines live in relative harmony, each race striving to better itself with the help of the other … some want to leap into space, and some want to prepare. Despite speculation to the contrary, Ravna knows the Blight is still on the way. It was not totally destroyed when Pham Nuwen dimmed the sun, after all, just slowed down. It might take thousands of years … or hundreds … or only a few … but it is coming.

— Patrick Heffernan


The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells

The Cloud Roads is the most immersive fantasy novel experience I enjoyed this year. Moon is an isolated orphan, one who hides his ability to shift forms from the communities he takes refuge in. In his world, many species (all non-human) mingle easily, but the common denominator is they all fear the predatory Fell – a flighted species Moon resembles in his winged form. When Moon finally encounters his own kind, the Raksura, the shock of trying to assimilate into an unfamiliar established culture – one with expectations of him, no less, and one which he may have imperiled beyond salvation – may outweigh the benefits of discovering the answers to all of his questions. A superb read for any lover of fantastic fiction.

— Maryelizabeth Hart


Erekos by A.M. Tuomala

This carefully crafted debut novel will reward thoughtful fantasy readers with a rich universe peopled by men, women, gods and others who are dealing with the collision of cultures at war, and consequences of their actions. Swamp witch Achane, never able to heal her beloved ailing sister, raises the deceased Shabane as a zombi; even the evidence of her own eyes and heart is not enough to persuade her to relinquish the semblance of life she has granted her sister’s corpse. King Milaus crosses paths with the sisters, and kidnaps Achane, determined to persuade her to create an army of zombi soldiers who can continue to wage a costly border war that is harming his nation, which is also suffering from natural disasters. Erekos is also peopled by scholars and warriors from the “opposition” side, and gods, who walk often-unrecognized among the combatants. This quietly emotional novel reminds me of the best of Jo Clayton’s works of grand schemes, and their impact on individuals. Highly recommended.

— Maryelizabeth Hart


The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern

At the turn of the 19th century, there is a circus. Decked out in entirely black and white, it simply appears overnight, in what was an empty field only the day before. As you wander through the prose of this novel, you will encounter vibrant descriptions of tents that are both impossible and wondrous. You will ache for a chance to visit this circus, but it is only open at night, and it disappears as quickly as it came. Behind the curtain of the circus, there is a game. This game is being played by two apprentices – Celia, the illusionist, and Marco, the assistant. Kept at arms’ length from each other, they have been groomed for this challenge their whole lives. But as this game stretches over years, they begin to grow tired of it, and they collide into each other. The result of their plan to end the game could ruin the circus, and all the people who have been wrapped up into it, or could save it. Welcome to Le Cirque des Rêves. Prepare to be enchanted.

— Kate Lockary

The Night Circus is like no other book I have read. You may read it as a novel, with strong characters and enthralling story well and deftly handled, but these usual literary suspects are beside the point of explaining why this book is so strange and appealing. Really, the book is about a place, the night circus itself, with its impossible collection of acts, illusions, and wonders. The place in turn is a world of art, done up principally in silver and black, with other colors appearing as accents, to create for the reader a remarkable visual experience. And the art in turn expresses the interior life of dreams and passions. Everywhere there is beauty, more and more beauty. You read The Night Circus, finally, for the experience, for the intense experience of lapidary beauty and luminous imagination. What a wonderful, truly magical, book!

—David Joslin


Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

James Halliday, probably the most brilliant game designer that ever was, and the creator of the OASIS – a vast virtual universe that is both game and alternate reality – died without an heir or any real friends, leaving the disposition of his multi-multi-billion dollar empire in question. Instead of a will, Halliday left the contest. Somewhere hidden in the OASIS is a virtual Easter Egg. Find the egg and win it all. “Shall we play a game?”

Our young hero Wade Watts, game-name Parzival, is a gunter – an Easter Egg hunter. He’s going to find that egg even if the search kills him a thousand times. Wade lives in the stacks, a sprawling trailer park both horizontal and vertical. To call the world he lives in a dystopia would be an understatement. Humanity is in decline, maybe even on the way out. Thank Halliday for the OASIS. Almost everyone lives the bulk of their lives there. They go to school, work, and play on thousands of virtual worlds. You name it, there’s a world for it, The Matrix gone intergalactic. Without the OASIS, life would suck like nothing has ever sucked before. “So it’s sorta social. Demented and sad, but social.”  End of Line.

– Patrick Heffernan


Stories for the Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory

Although initially it was the cover of Stories for the Nighttime and Some for the Day that I found intriguing, it was a recommendation from another reader that made me give it a try. I am not a usually a fan of short stories, but after reading Loory’s collection, I may have changed my mindset. This fun, quick read is exciting and filled to the brim with charming stories.  This is a great holiday gift for any reader.
Tea sipping Octopi, invisible crowns, sharks that swim in pools, sentient televisions and tiny men in boxes—Loory’s tales are filled with imagery as vivid as any Dali or Ryden painting. Loory gives a coy wink to the preposterous, challenging readers to reflect on the absurdities of the world they live in. Loory’s sly sense of humor is peppered throughout each fable. At the same time, these short little yarns feel very intimate. From the first sentence on, Stories for the Nighttime and Some for the Day creates an atmosphere that can only be compared to what it might be like if we were able to read Loory’s dreams.

— LeAnna Herrera


Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Welcome to Cinderella like you’ve never seen her before. Set in the futuristic city of New Beijing, Cinder is the cyborg stepdaughter in a world where cyborgs are treated as second class citizens, forced to work as a mechanic to support her family after the death of her stepfather. Meanwhile, a deadly plague without a cure ravages the country, the Lunars (people who live on the moon) are threatening invasion, the Emperor is dying, and the annual ball is coming up. When the handsome Prince Kai shows up at her workshop, Cinder gets unwillingly drawn into a deadly game of politics and deceit, and the ending left me desperately wanting more. This exciting debut is the first in a quartet, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next!

— Kate Lockary


Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

This is one of the most richly imagined books I have read in some time. Billed as a Young Adult entry, this engrossing tale of fantasy, romance, war, magic, family, and friendship is one to be savored by readers of all ages. It is powerful on many levels and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

We meet 17-year-old Karou when she is an art student in Prague. She does not know who her real family is and finds it difficult to form attachments to places or people. She is constantly pulled by her other-worldly family to run magical errands all around the world for reasons she does not understand. It is also the story of the angel Akiva who Karou meets while on an errand in Morocco. This sets off a series of events which leads both characters to delve deeply into their pasts and unwind the mystery that binds them. In Daughter of Smoke and Bone, a world where war between two cultures is the norm and peace an unimagined goal is seamlessly integrated with our own.

Ending this book is a heart break. Looking forward to the sequel is a joy.

— Terry Louchheim Gilman


Fracture by Megan Miranda

Maine teenager Delaney Maxwell spends 11 minutes below the surface of an incompletely frozen Maine lake, far beyond the normal limits for survival, let alone survival without significant long-term damage. When she reawakens from her coma, to the surprise of family and friends, she has a number of adjustments to make from the trauma she’s suffered. But are the strange whispers and sensations she’s now experiencing the result of brain damage? Or did something extraordinary awaken in her when she “died,” and if so, is it a gift or a curse? Compelling reading with meditations on life, death, friendship and romance.

— Maryelizabeth Hart


Legend by Marie Lu

This young adult dystopian romance murder mystery offers readers many pleasures, as they get to know Day and June and their colliding worlds. Day is a notorious outlaw, constantly a thorn in the side of the ruling authorities – authorities who are training June to be the best in her class of law enforcers, with the primary goal of stopping Day. But June and Day discover the society they live in may be based on a lie, one that those in power will go to any ends to maintain, with tragic consequences to both their families. Marie’s debut is a stunner, and even the physical presentation is a winner, with different fonts used to tell Day and June’s stories.

— Maryelizabeth Hart


Events of note in January:

Redondo Beach:

Stephen Blackmoore signing
1/6/2012 7:30 pm

Greg Bear signing
1/7/2012 2:30 pm

Brain Herbert signing
1/8/2012 2:30 pm

David Lee Summers signing
1/17/2012 7:30 pm

Jo Walton signing
1/23/2012 7:00 pm

San Diego:

Stephen Blackmoore signing
1/7/2012 2:00 pm

Greg Bear signing
1/8/2012 2:00 pm

Brian Herbert signing
1/11/2012 7:00 pm

Andrea Cremer signing
1/12/2012 7:00 pm

Mutation Nation Event
Including Savannah Kline, Lyle Perez-Tinics, Wendy Rathbone, Maria Alexander, Jarret Keene, Stephen Woodworth, Charles Muir
1/14/2012 2:00 pm

Les Klinger signing
1/21/2012 2:00 pm

Linda Wisdom signing
1/22/2012 2:00 pm

One website, two Facebook Pages, two Twitter accounts:

Maryelizabeth Hart is the co-owner of Mysterious Galaxy Books.


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