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Jessica’s Picks

Jessica has a 50-page rule, a habit of picking up anything with a pretty cover, and loves to go down rabbit holes that often lean toward the macabre in history. All three behaviors have lead to a rather eclectic reading taste but her comfort genre is Young Adult because it is written for an audience that still believes they can change the world and we all need the reminder that there is hope.

All Systems Red

Martha Wells
Hardcover/January 22, 2019

Jessica’s thoughts: I have put off starting the Murderbot diary’s for so long out of fear they would disappoint…the only disappointment so far is that I waited so long to start them. 

Julie’s thoughts: There are few characters I’ve loved more than Murderbot in my entire reading life. And not to brag (or call out my ancient bones), but that’s saying something. I can’t stop demanding people read this, and I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon. 

In a corporate-dominated space-faring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. For their own safety, exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids. But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists is conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid–a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, Murderbot wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is, but when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and Murderbot to get to the truth.


Ocean's Echo

Everina Maxwell
Hardcover/November 1, 2022
Tor Books

Jessica’s thoughts: Winter’s Orbit was a favorite in 2021 so of course this has jumped to the top of my to read list.

Rich socialite, inveterate flirt, and walking disaster Tennalhin Halkana can read minds. Tennal, like all neuromodified “readers,” is a security threat on his own. But when controlled, readers are a rare asset. Not only can they read minds, but they can navigate chaotic space, the maelstroms surrounding the gateway to the wider universe.

Conscripted into the military under dubious circumstances, Tennal is placed into the care of Lieutenant Surit Yeni, a duty-bound soldier, principled leader, and the son of a notorious traitor general. Whereas Tennal can read minds, Surit can influence them. Like all other neuromodified “architects,” he can impose his will onto others, and he’s under orders to control Tennal by merging their minds.

Surit accepted a suspicious promotion-track request out of desperation, but he refuses to go through with his illegal orders to sync and control an unconsenting Tennal. So they lie: They fake a sync bond and plan Tennal’s escape.

Their best chance arrives with a salvage-retrieval mission into chaotic space—to the very neuromodifcation lab that Surit’s traitor mother destroyed twenty years ago. And among the rubble is a treasure both terrible and unimaginably powerful, one that upends a decades-old power struggle, and begins a war.

Tennal and Surit can no longer abandon their unit or their world. The only way to avoid life under full military control is to complete the very sync they’ve been faking.

Can two unwilling weapons of war bring about peace?

Our Crooked Hearts

Melissa Albert
Hardcover/June 28, 2022
Flatiron Books

Jessica’s thoughts: Magic, Mayhem, Mothers and Daughters. A fast paced read of truth and consequences, of a mother’s past and a daughter’s search to understand her present. 

On the way home from a party, seventeen-year-old Ivy and her soon-to-be ex nearly run over a nude young woman standing in the middle of a tree-lined road. It’s only the first in a string of increasingly eerie events and offerings: a dead rabbit in the driveway, a bizarre concoction buried by her mother in the backyard, a box of childhood keepsakes hidden in her parents’ closet safe. Most unsettling of all, corroded recollections of Ivy and her enigmatic mother’s past resurface, with the help of the boy next door.

What if there’s more to Ivy’s mother than meets the eye? And what if the supernatural forces she messed with during her own teen years have come back to haunt them both? Ivy must grapple with these questions and more if she’s going to escape the darkness closing in.

Straddling Ivy’s contemporary suburban town and her mother’s magic-drenched 1990s Chicago, this bewitching and propulsive story rockets towards a conclusion guaranteed to keep readers up all night.

Restore Me

Tahereh Mafi
Hardcover/March 6, 2018

Jessica’s thoughts: Years ago I read the first three books the Shatter Me series, this is book for some reason I never got around to reading the second trilogy in the series, picks up only a few days after the end of book 3, and it’s a great fast read with less angst and more at stake. 

Juliette Ferrars thought she’d won. She took over Sector 45, was named the new Supreme Commander, and now has Warner by her side. But she’s still the girl with the ability to kill with a single touch—and now she’s got the whole world in the palm of her hand. When tragedy hits, who will she become? Will she be able to control the power she wields and use it for good?

The Davenports

Krystal Marquis
Hardcover/January 31, 2023
Dial Books

Jessica’s thoughts: The Davenports is a debut about a wealthy black family in 1910 Chicago. It is inspired by a real life story and offers a glimpse into a period of African-American history that I have never read about before. This sounds like a set up for a very serious social commentary but it is actually wonderful, sweet read that takes you out of a dull January and into a glittery world full of young love. 

The Davenports are one of the few Black families of immense wealth and status in a changing United States, their fortune made through the entrepreneurship of William Davenport, a formerly enslaved man who founded the Davenport Carriage Company years ago. Now it’s 1910, and the Davenports live surrounded by servants, crystal chandeliers, and endless parties, finding their way and finding love—even where they’re not supposed to.

There is Olivia, the beautiful elder Davenport daughter, ready to do her duty by getting married . . . until she meets the charismatic civil rights leader Washington DeWight and sparks fly. The younger daughter, Helen, is more interested in fixing cars than falling in love—unless it’s with her sister’s suitor. Amy-Rose, the childhood friend turned maid to the Davenport sisters, dreams of opening her own business—and marrying the one man she could never be with, Olivia and Helen’s brother, John. But Olivia’s best friend, Ruby, also has her sights set on John Davenport, though she can’t seem to keep his interest . . . until family pressure has her scheming to win his heart, just as someone else wins hers.

Inspired by the real-life story of the Patterson family, The Davenports is the tale of four determined and passionate young Black women discovering the courage to steer their own path in life—and love.

The Scorpio Races

Maggie Stiefvater
Paperback/October 18, 2011

Jessica’s Thoughts: This is another of my comfort reads, I read it at least once a year. When Sean says “The sky and the sand and the sea and Corr,” my breathing slows and my heart rests because I know that feeling of home. 

It happens at the start of every November: the Scorpio Races. Riders attempt to keep hold of their water horses long enough to make it to the finish line. Some riders live. Others die.

At age nineteen, Sean Kendrick is the returning champion. He is a young man of few words, and if he has any fears, he keeps them buried deep, where no one else can see them.

Puck Connolly is different. She never meant to ride in the Scorpio Races. But fate hasn’t given her much of a chance. So she enters the competition — the first girl ever to do so. She is in no way prepared for what is going to happen.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Catherynne M. Valente
Paperback/May 8, 2012
Square Fish

Jessica’s Thoughts: This entire series of four books is a little slice of perfection. Take your time to slow down and enjoy the mini layers because just like a fairytale if you look beneath the surface you will find so much more.

Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.

With exquisite illustrations by acclaimed artist Ana Juan, Fairyland lives up to the sensation it created when the author first posted it online. For readers of all ages who love the charm of Alice in Wonderland and the soul of The Golden Compass, here is a reading experience unto itself: unforgettable, and so very beautiful.

Six of Crows

Leigh Bardugo
Paperback/April 20, 2021
Square Fish

Jessica’s Thoughts: Six people pull off an amazing heist in a cold country, what could be better than that. Oh I know! Kaz and Inej and Matthias judging the rest of them with the line, “My ghost won’t associate with your ghost.”

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone. . . .

A convict with a thirst for revenge

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager

A runaway with a privileged past

A spy known as the Wraith

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes

Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.

The Nineties

Chuck Klosterman
Paperback/February 8, 2022
Penguin Press

Jessica’s thoughts: I am not sure if this is a great overview of the 90’s or if I just found enjoyment in reading something that reflected my own experience. As one of the footnotes says “My experience across the 90s was comically in line with the media caricature of Generation X, almost as if I was character from a Netflix movie set in 1994 but written and directed by a person born in 2001 who only learned about history by watching Primus videos.”

The Nineties: a wise and funny reckoning with the decade that gave us slacker/grunge irony about the sin of trying too hard, during the greatest shift in human consciousness of any decade in American history.

It was long ago, but not as long as it seems: The Berlin Wall fell and the Twin Towers collapsed. In between, one presidential election was allegedly decided by Ross Perot while another was plausibly decided by Ralph Nader. In the beginning, almost every name and address was listed in a phone book, and everyone answered their landlines because you didn’t know who it was. By the end, exposing someone’s address was an act of emotional violence, and nobody picked up their new cell phone if they didn’t know who it was. The ’90s brought about a revolution in the human condition we’re still groping to understand. Happily, Chuck Klosterman is more than up to the job.

Beyond epiphenomena like Cop Killer and Titanic and Zima, there were wholesale shifts in how society was perceived: the rise of the internet, pre-9/11 politics, and the paradoxical belief that nothing was more humiliating than trying too hard. Pop culture accelerated without the aid of a machine that remembered everything, generating an odd comfort in never being certain about anything. On a ’90s Thursday night, more people watched any random episode of Seinfeld than the finale of Game of Thrones. But nobody thought that was important; if you missed it, you simply missed it. It was the last era that held to the idea of a true, hegemonic mainstream before it all began to fracture, whether you found a home in it or defined yourself against it.

In The Nineties, Chuck Klosterman makes a home in all of it: the film, the music, the sports, the TV, the politics, the changes regarding race and class and sexuality, the yin/yang of Oprah and Alan Greenspan. In perhaps no other book ever written would a sentence like, “The video for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was not more consequential than the reunification of Germany” make complete sense. Chuck Klosterman has written a multi-dimensional masterpiece, a work of synthesis so smart and delightful that future historians might well refer to this entire period as Klostermanian.

The Thief

Megan Whalen Turner
Paperback/October 31, 1996
Greenwillow Books

Jessica’s thoughts: The Thief, the first book in the The Queen’s Thief series, is one of my go-to comfort reads. I honestly cannot count how many times I have been through this series. Gen is a thief who is out to prove he is the best- with the least possible effort. But along the road we discover not every narrator is reliable and it is best to embrace hope and possibility.

Eugenides, the queen’s thief, can steal anything—or so he says. When his boasting lands him in prison and the king’s magus invites him on a quest to steal a legendary object, he’s in no position to refuse. The magus thinks he has the right tool for the job, but Gen has plans of his own. The Queen’s Thief novels have been praised by writers, critics, reviewers, and fans, and have been honored with glowing reviews, “best of” citations, and numerous awards, including the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Newbery Honor, the Andre Norton Award shortlist, and the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award.