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Alex Brown

Hugo Spotlight: Moving Through Trauma in Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi

In the lead-up to the 2021 Hugo Awards, we’re taking time to appreciate this year’s best novel Finalists, and what makes each of them great.

More than a decade passed between Susanna Clarke’s last literary offering, The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories, and Piranesi, her second novel. Clarke rose to fame with her devastatingly fantastic doorstopper of a debut, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. It’s hard to imagine anything living up to the heights that book set, but Piranesi does.

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Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction for October 2021

Normally I like my October to be full of dark and stormy stories. This year I went humorous yet thoughtful, with a splash of the apocalypse for good measure. Many of these authors were new to me, and I got a kick out of getting to know them and their work. Here are my ten—no, scratch that, eleven!—favorite short science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories I read in October.

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A Wonderful Use of YA Tropes: Beasts of Prey by Ayana Gray

In the Pan-African inspired fantasy land of Eshōza, a monster known as the Shetani hunts and kills anyone who strays into its jungle. For nearly a century, the citizens of the city of Lkossa have feared the beast, but now two teens from opposite ends of the social hierarchy are teaming up to take it down.

As an indentured servant to the Night Zoo, Koffi tends to and trains strange and dangerous creatures with her mother. The end of their contract is close enough to taste, but a tragic event pushes that deadline far into the future. Staring down a lifetime of being chained to the zoo, Koffi strikes a deal to pay off her and her loved ones’ debts in exchange for capturing the dreaded Shetani. Ekon, the son of one of the most powerful families in Lkossa, is on the verge of becoming a Son of the Six, elite warriors who protect the city and brutally enforce its rules. When his chance at a promotion is stripped away, he decides his best chance at gaining his position back is to do something spectacular: kill the Shetani. 

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Managing My Ever-Expanding TBR Stack

After reading Molly Templeton’s two recent pieces on the To Be Read conundrum, I got to thinking about how my own queue is structured. Like many of you, my TBR is in constant fluctuation. I add more to it than I remove. At this point I would have to turn reading into a full time job in order to get through them all, and it would still take me literal years.

To help me prioritize my list, I thought I’d pull together the ten books I’m most eager to read off my TBR. I don’t have any big reasons for not having read them yet, other than a lack of time and *gestures vaguely at the panini*. Will I actually get to them in the near future? I certainly hope so. Until then, they’ll keep glaring at me from my bookshelves.

What’s at the top of your To Be Read queue?

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An American Werewolf in Piedmont: Squad by Maggie Tokuda-Hall and Lisa Sterle

After some family turmoil, Becca and her newly-single mom relocate to Piedmont, a wealthy enclave in the San Francisco Bay Area. Becca dreads having to make new friends in a school where she obviously doesn’t fit in. Luckily, after rescuing a bubbly girl named Marley from a period accident, she is pulled into a powerful high school clique. Once she proves her worth, Marley, brusque Amanda, and HBIC Arianna take Becca in and reshape her into their image. At first it’s a change of wardrobe and slang, and then it’s inducting her into their werewolf pack.

Once Becca’s fangs come in, the story kicks into high gear. High on life and the blood of misbehaving boys, Becca and her new friends run wild across the Bay. But with the feds chasing after the line of bodies they leave behind and a new romance blooming between Becca and one of her besties, Arianna’s dominance begins to fracture. And that’s when all hell breaks loose.

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Breakup Brownies and Great Big Feelings Cookies: The Heartbreak Bakery by A.R. Capetta

After a rough breakup, Syd decides to bake away the pain. Unfortunately for the customers at the Proud Muffin, Austin, Texas’ favorite queer-owned bakery, Syd’s brownies cause everyone who eats them to spontaneously break up with their partners. Relationships fracture throughout the close-knit queer community, the worst one being the gay couple who own Syd’s bakery. Determined to undo the damage, Syd seeks help from the cute transmasc demi delivery person Harley. But mending broken hearts and saving the Proud Muffin from greedy hipster gentrifiers will take more than good luck and magic-infused pie. As Syd explores this whole identity thing, a new romance sparks, old friendships deepen, and questions long avoided finally become clear.

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Harley Quinn, Eat the Rich and the Joy of Returning to Comics

I was an avid comic book reader for years… and then I wasn’t. It felt like the same handful of “diverse” characters reenacting the same handful of storylines. Comics publishers were doubling down on keeping or rehiring bad actors. The Big Two were constantly rebooting their characters and jamming in special events that spanned across numerous series, all while delaying trades by months to force people into buying issues or digital.

To put it plainly: I was bored. I figured I’d take a break from comics for a few months and then dive back in. That break turned into two and a half years. What finally pulled me back in? Eat the Rich and Harley Quinn: The Animated Series: The Eat. Bang! Kill. Tour.

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Magical World Building: Cazadora by Romina Garber

For her whole life, Manu has lived as an undocumented person, first as an Argentinian immigrant in Miami and now as the “illegal” child of a human and a Septimus (a magical person). Her werewolf father wants to protect her from his people just as her human mother wants to protect Manu from hers. After the events of the first book, Manu goes on the lam with her Septimus friends, Tiago, a lobizón (a male werewolf) and Manu’s crush, Cata and Saysa, brujas (female witches) who are also secret girlfriends. They race to keep ahead of the Cazadores (basically, a cross between the cops and ICE, but with magic) who want to kill Manu for violating the laws of their portal world of Kerana.

Along the way, the teens meet non-compliant Septimus living on the fringe or hiding in plain sight who all have their own reasons for wanting to break down the walls of their oppressive society. But do they want to dismantle the system or simply reform it? The former would allow Manu to live freely and openly, while the latter would consign her to second class citizenship, with no rights and no say in her life. How much are her friends and new allies willing to risk for Manu? For the betterment of their people? All Manu wants is to finally have a home where she can be herself without fear. In Cazadora, that may be a dream beyond her grasp.

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“Kill your ex. You’ll feel better.” — The Lost Girls by Sonia Hartl

Sixteen-year-old Holly Liddell died in 1987, but she didn’t stay dead. Elton, her ethereally beautiful vampire boyfriend turned her into the undead, luring her in with the promise of an eternal life as his beloved. Thirty years later, he ditched her without a thought or care. Things had been bad for a long time, but Holly kept finding excuses to stay. Being dumped was bad enough, but being a vampire means she’s also stuck trailing behind her maker, following him from town to town. She cannot and does not want to get back together with Elton but is also unable to set down roots or build a new life without him.

Now Elton has dragged her back to her hometown, and the past suddenly becomes the present. Holly is killing time (and customers) at a dead end fast food job when she meets Ida and Rose. Elton always told Holly she was his first love and the only person he’d ever turned, but that’s not even close to true. He whispered the same empty vows to Rose in the 1950s and Ida before that in the 1920s. And just like with Holly, he eventually tired of them and moved on. The girls pull Holly into their plot to free themselves from his toxic existence once and for all, but time is running short. Elton is on the hunt again, and has set his sights on another lost girl, lonely high school student Parker Kerr. To save Parker from a fate worse than death and stop Elton for good, Holly and her new friends must make a terrible choice, one that can never be undone and that will alter their undead lives forever.

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Haunted Houses and Magic Brownies: New Young Adult SFF/H September & October 2021

Summer is waning and the season of pumpkin spice, jack o’lanterns, and 12-foot skeletons is right around the corner. Autumn brings with it a host of intriguing new young adult speculative fiction stories. We’ve got books that will give you goosebumps, books that will give you feels, and books that will make you want to jump out of your seat in excitement. Dust off that library card, friendos. Your TBR is about to grow.

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Must-Read Speculative Short Fiction: August 2021

In August, I was in the mood for stories with teeth, stories with characters who refused to settle for less than what they are owed, stories that looked at trite endings and said, “No thanks, I’ll pass.” I read so many great science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories last month that it was very difficult to whittle it down to my ten favorites, but here we are. Get ready for some darkly fun reading.

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Anti-Doorstoppers: 10 Great SFF Novellas and Novelettes

Did you know that thousands of speculative fiction books are published every year? Did you also know that although most are in the 300-400 page range, books can be as hefty as a doorstopper or as brief as a novelette? The more you know.

Here are ten great science fiction, fantasy, and horror novellas and novelettes—or what I’ve decided to affectionately call anti-doorstoppers—from the last few years that you may have missed.

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Get Your Chaotic Good Fix With Harley Quinn: The Animated Series

Like many older Millennials, many of my fondest childhood television memories involve watching Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series. They introduced me to comics, and the depictions of the characters in those shows were, for many years, the ones against which I judged all others. The early 90s version of Harley was the best and most quintessential version of that kooky, cute clown, and David Ayer was not about to change my mind.

And then came the bedazzled, badass Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), gifted to the world by director Cathy Yan, screenwriter Christina Hodson, and the brilliant Margot Robbie. Their stylistic frenzy carried over into the new Suicide Squad sequel, even if my girl had to share the technicolor spotlight. It makes for a relatively satisfying Harley treat, but if you really want to match that Birds of Prey high, you need Harley Quinn: The Animated Series.

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