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WHAT WE'RE READING

Julie’s Picks

Julie’s reading habits are erratic. If it has a dragon or a spaceship—she’ll probably read it. Also lots of nonfiction science, graphic novels, short stories, and anything labeled ‘weird.’ The words ‘genre-bending’ are music to her ears. She loves audiobooks, essays, and role-playing games as well. Her favorite place to read is cuddled up with her dog and cats.

Yellowface

R.F. Kuang
Hardcover/May 16, 2023
William Morrow

Julie’s thoughts: Unreliable narrators are a bit of a fad in the literary world, one that I don’t usually enjoy all that much. However, R.F. Kuang has this incredible habit of making me eat my words. She’s
just so good at setting a scene and building a narrative that I don’t even notice when I’m hooked and devouring a story I forget I’m not supposed to like.

What’s the harm in a pseudonym? New York Times bestselling sensation Juniper Song is not who she says she is, she didn’t write the book she claims she wrote, and she is most certainly not Asian American–in this chilling and hilariously cutting novel from R. F. Kuang.

Authors June Hayward and Athena Liu were supposed to be twin rising stars: same year at Yale, same debut year in publishing. But Athena’s a cross-genre literary darling, and June didn’t even get a paperback release. Nobody wants stories about basic white girls, June thinks.

So when June witnesses Athena’s death in a freak accident, she acts on impulse: she steals Athena’s just-finished masterpiece, an experimental novel about the unsung contributions of Chinese laborers to the British and French war efforts during World War I.

So what if June edits Athena’s novel and sends it to her agent as her own work? So what if she lets her new publisher rebrand her as Juniper Song–complete with an ambiguously ethnic author photo? Doesn’t this piece of history deserve to be told, whoever the teller? That’s what June claims, and the New York Times bestseller list seems to agree.

But June can’t get away from Athena’s shadow, and emerging evidence threatens to bring June’s (stolen) success down around her. As June races to protect her secret, she discovers exactly how far she will go to keep what she thinks she deserves.

With its totally immersive first-person voice, Yellowface takes on questions of diversity, racism, and cultural appropriation not only in the publishing industry but the persistent erasure of Asian-American voices and history by Western white society. R. F. Kuang’s novel is timely, razor-sharp, and eminently readable.

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Bea Wolf

Zach Weinersmith
Hardcover/March 21, 2023
First Second

Julie’s thoughts: I didn’t know I needed a kid’s version of Beowulf, but oh my, did I ever! I adore graphic novels, but this one might be the best I’ve read in years. Full of heart, wit, and some of the best artwork this side of the AI revolution- I can’t recommend this one enough. It’s the perfect book to read with a kid or two, or just to remember what it was like to be a child and seek adventure at every turn. 

A modern middle-grade graphic novel retelling of Beowulf, featuring a gang of troublemaking kids who must defend their tree house from a fun-hating adult who can instantly turn children into grown-ups.

Listen! Hear a tale of mallow-munchers and warriors who answer candy’s clarion call!

Somewhere in a generic suburb stands Treeheart, a kid-forged sanctuary where generations of tireless tykes have spent their youths making merry, spilling soda, and staving off the shadow of adulthood. One day, these brave warriors find their fun cut short by their nefarious neighbor Grindle, who can no longer tolerate the sounds of mirth seeping into his joyless adult life.

As the guardian of gloom lays siege to Treeheart, scores of kids suddenly find themselves transformed into pimply teenagers and sullen adults! The survivors of the onslaught cry out for a savior—a warrior whose will is unbreakable and whose appetite for mischief is unbounded.

They call for Bea Wolf.

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The Thick and the Lean

Chana Porter
Hardcover/April 18, 2023
Gallery / Saga Press

Julie’s thoughts: Issues of class, body-shaming, misogyny, racism and more weave through this thought-provoking and powerful story that ends on an uncertain note, leaving room for interpretation and reflection in the best way. Haunting and exhilarating.

In the quaint religious town of Seagate, abstaining from food brings one closer to God.

But Beatrice Bolano is hungry. She craves the forbidden: butter, flambé, marzipan. As Seagate takes increasingly extreme measures to regulate every calorie its citizens consume, Beatrice must make a choice: give up her secret passion for cooking or leave the only community she has known.

Elsewhere, Reiko Rimando has left her modest roots for a college tech scholarship in the big city. A flawless student, she is set up for success…until her school pulls her funding, leaving her to face either a mountain of debt or a humiliating return home. But Reiko is done being at the mercy of the system. She forges a third path—outside of the law.

With the guidance of a mysterious cookbook written by a kitchen maid centuries ago, Beatrice and Reiko each grasp for a life of freedom—something more easily imagined than achieved in a world dominated by catastrophic corporate greed.

A startling fable of the entwined perils of capitalism, body politics, and the stigmas women face for appetites of every kind, Chana Porter’s profound new novel explores the reclamation of pleasure as a revolutionary act.

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Atalanta

Jennifer Saint
Hardcover/April 11, 2023
Flatiron Books

Julie’s thoughts: This incredibly beautiful retelling of an ancient, inspiring myth is everything I want in a historical story — action-packed, heartfelt, accurate and startlingly relevant. Jennifer Saint is a master storyteller.

From the beloved, bestselling author of Elektra and Ariadne , a reimagining of the myth of Atalanta, a fierce huntress raised by bears and the only woman in the world’s most famous band of heroes, the Argonauts

Princess, Warrior, Lover, Hero

When Princess Atalanta is born, a daughter rather than the son her parents hoped for, she is left on a mountainside to die. But even then, she is a survivor. Raised by a mother bear under the protective eye of the goddess Artemis, Atalanta grows up wild and free, with just one condition: if she marries, Artemis warns, it will be her undoing.

Although she loves her beautiful forest home, Atalanta yearns for adventure. When Artemis offers her the chance to fight in her name alongside the Argonauts, the fiercest band of warriors the world has ever seen, Atalanta seizes it. The Argonauts’ quest for the Golden Fleece is filled with impossible challenges, but Atalanta proves herself equal to the men she fights alongside. As she is swept into a passionate affair, in defiance of Artemis’s warning, she begins to question the goddess’s true intentions. Can Atalanta carve out her own legendary place in a world of men, while staying true to her heart?

Full of joy, passion, and adventure, Atalanta is the story of a woman who refuses to be contained. Jennifer Saint places Atalanta in the pantheon of the greatest heroes in Greek mythology, where she belongs.

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Babel: An Arcane History

R. F Kuang
Hardcover/August 23, 2022
Harper Voyager

Julie’s thoughts: If you’ve never read a R.F. Kuang novel, prepare yourself to confront the dark side of humanity in ways both profound and intense, all while being highly entertained.

1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation—also known as Babel. The tower and its students are the world’s center for translation and, more importantly, magic. Silver-working—the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation using enchanted silver bars—has made the British unparalleled in power, as the arcane craft serves the Empire’s quest for colonization.

For Robin, Oxford is a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge obeys power, and as a Chinese boy raised in Britain, Robin realizes serving Babel means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress, Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to stopping imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide . . .

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White Cat, Black Dog: Stories

Kelly Link
Hardcover/March 28, 2023
Random House

Julie’s thoughts: I like to have my world shaken like a good martini, skip the olives. The stranger the story, the more apt I am to read it. Kelly Link is a bountiful harvest of the weird, brain-melting, unsettling, brilliant, razor-tipped stories I love the most. This collection of twisted, modern fairy tales is exactly the kind of strange I long for. 

Finding seeds of inspiration in the Brothers Grimm, seventeenth-century French lore, and Scottish ballads, Kelly Link spins classic fairy tales into utterly original stories of seekers–characters on the hunt for love, connection, revenge, or their own sense of purpose.

In “The White Cat’s Divorce,” an aging billionaire sends his three sons on a series of absurd goose chases to decide which will become his heir. In “The Girl Who Did Not Know Fear,” a professor with a delicate health condition becomes stranded for days in an airport hotel after a conference, desperate to get home to her wife and young daughter, and in acute danger of being late for an appointment that cannot be missed. In “Skinder’s Veil,” a young man agrees to take over a remote house-sitting gig for a friend. But what should be a chance to focus on his long-avoided dissertation instead becomes a wildly unexpected journey, as the house seems to be a portal for otherworldly travelers–or perhaps a door into his own mysterious psyche.

Twisting and winding in astonishing ways, expertly blending realism and the speculative, witty, empathetic, and never predictable–these stories remind us once again of why Kelly Link is incomparable in the art of short fiction.

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Stateless

Elizabeth Wein
Hardcover/January 2, 2023
Little Brown & Company

Julie’s thoughts: This is a faced-paced, fascinating, and very well-researched book with a lot of heart-stopping action and a brilliant, totally satisfying ending. The writing is superb and I think I fall a little in love with every character Wein writes. This is perfect for fans of strong protagonists, interesting quirks of history, and truly spectacular mysteries.

When Stella North is chosen to represent Britain in Europe’s first air race for young people, she knows all too well how high the stakes are. As the only participating female pilot, it’ll be a constant challenge to prove she’s a worthy competitor. But promoting peace in Europe feels empty to Stella when civil war is raging in Spain and the Nazis are gaining power—and when, right from the start, someone resorts to cutthroat sabotage to get ahead of the competition.

The world is looking for inspiration in what’s meant to be a friendly sporting event. But each of the racers is hiding a turbulent and violent past, and any one of them might be capable of murder…including Stella herself.

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The Crane Husband

Kelly Barnhill
Hardcover/February 28, 2023
Tordotcom

Julie’s thoughts: Sometimes the shortest books leave an impact far larger than they should. Kelly Barnhill has ripped me to shreds before, so I thought I knew what I was in for when I picked up this gorgeous little book. I was deliciously, heart-rendingly wrong. This is a brilliant, creepy rendition of a classic tale- filled with real-life horror along with subversive magical realism.

A fifteen-year-old teenager is the backbone of her small Midwestern family, budgeting the household finances and raising her younger brother while her mom, a talented artist, weaves beautiful tapestries. For six years, it’s been just the three of them—her mom has brought home guests at times, but none have ever stayed.

Yet when her mom brings home a six-foot tall crane with a menacing air, the girl is powerless to prevent her mom letting the intruder into her heart, and her children’s lives. Utterly enchanted and numb to his sharp edges, her mom abandons the world around her to weave the masterpiece the crane demands.

In this stunning contemporary retelling of “The Crane Wife” by the Newbery Medal-winning author of The Girl Who Drank the Moon, one fiercely pragmatic teen forced to grow up faster than was fair will do whatever it takes to protect her family—and change the story.

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Tell Me I'm Worthless

Alison Rumfitt
Paperback/January 17, 2023
Tor Nightfire

Julie’s thoughts: Horror isn’t a genre for everyone, and to be very clear- this is one terrifying book and there is a very apt content warning in it for a reason. If you’re willing to take the risk though, you will be amply rewarded with a true piece of art. If you can handle powerful themes drenched in a truly horrifying package, you are in for something incredible that will haunt you long after it’s over.

Three years ago, Alice spent one night in an abandoned house with her friends, Ila and Hannah. Since then, Alice’s life has spiraled. She lives a haunted existence, selling videos of herself for money, going to parties she hates, drinking herself to sleep.

Memories of that night torment Alice, but when Ila asks her to return to the House, to go past the KEEP OUT sign and over the sick earth where teenagers dare each other to venture, Alice knows she must go.

Together, Alice and Ila must face the horrors that happened there, must pull themselves apart from the inside out, put their differences aside, and try to rescue Hannah, whom the House has chosen to make its own.

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Pandora

Susan Stokes-Chapman
Hardcover/January 17, 2023
Harper Perennial

Julie’s thoughts: This cozy and atmospheric delight was just what I needed for a post-holiday mental vacation. Rich with historical details, copious references to Greek mythology, and effervescent characters; this sweet story left me with the kind of light-hearted feeling that’s hard to find in the middle of dreary winter.

London, 1799. Dora Blake, an aspiring jewelry artist, lives with her odious uncle atop her late parents’ once-famed shop of antiquities. After a mysterious Greek vase is delivered, her uncle begins to act suspiciously, keeping the vase locked in the store’s basement, away from prying eyes–including Dora’s. Intrigued by her uncle’s peculiar behavior, Dora turns to young, ambitious antiquarian scholar Edward Lawrence who eagerly agrees to help. Edward believes the ancient vase is the key that will unlock his academic future; Dora sees it as a chance to establish her own name.

But what Edward discovers about the vase has Dora questioning everything she has believed about her life, her family, and the world as she knows it. As Dora uncovers the truth, she comes to understand that some doors are locked and some mysteries are buried for a reason, while others are closer to the surface than they appear.

Steeped in mystery and rich in imagination, an exhilarating historical novel set in Georgian London where the discovery of a mysterious ancient Greek vase sets in motion conspiracies, revelations, and romance.

The Terraformers

Annalee Newitz
Hardcover/January 31, 2023
Tor Books

Julie’s thoughts: I love sprawling epics and interconnected stories. I love character-driven sci-fi even more. To top it off, I adore everything Annalee Newitz writes. Lo and behold, I absolutely loved
their newest effort- a sci-fi epic presented as three interwoven novellas that managed to feel both huge and impactful, while still very clearly being an intimate character study across generations.

Destry is a top network analyst with the Environmental Rescue Team, an ancient organization devoted to preventing ecosystem collapse. On the planet Sask-E, her mission is to terraform an Earthlike world, with the help of her taciturn moose, Whistle. But then she discovers a city that isn’t supposed to exist, hidden inside a massive volcano. Torn between loyalty to the ERT and the truth of the planet’s history, Destry makes a decision that echoes down the generations.

Centuries later, Destry’s protege, Misha, is building a planetwide transit system when his worldview is turned upside-down by Sulfur, a brilliant engineer from the volcano city. Together, they uncover a dark secret about the real estate company that’s buying up huge swaths of the planet―a secret that could destroy the lives of everyone who isn’t Homo sapiens. Working with a team of robots, naked mole rats, and a very angry cyborg cow, they quietly sow seeds of subversion. But when they’re threatened with violent diaspora, Misha and Sulfur’s very unusual child faces a stark choice: deploy a planet-altering weapon, or watch their people lose everything they’ve built on Sask-E.

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The Light Pirate

Lily Brooks-Dalton
Hardcover/December 6, 2022
Grand Central Publishing

Julie’s thoughts: Change is an incredible, inevitable, potent beast and I don’t think I’ve ever read a piece of fiction that more aptly illustrates that point. This is an incredibly sad story that somehow manages to feel timeless and almost fairy tale-like in its melancholy.

Florida is slipping away. As devastating weather patterns and rising sea levels gradually wreak havoc on the state’s infrastructure, a powerful hurricane approaches a small town on the southeastern coast. Kirby Lowe, an electrical line worker; his pregnant wife, Frida; and their two sons, Flip and Lucas, prepare for the worst. When the boys go missing just before the hurricane hits, Kirby heads out into the high winds to search for them. Left alone, Frida goes into premature labor and gives birth to an unusual child, Wanda, whom she names after the catastrophic storm that ushers her into a society closer to collapse than ever before.

As Florida continues to unravel, Wanda grows. Moving from childhood to adulthood, adapting not only to the changing landscape, but also to the people who stayed behind in a place abandoned by civilization, Wanda loses family, gains community, and ultimately, seeks adventure, love, and purpose in a place remade by nature.

Told in four parts—power, water, light, and time—The Light Pirate mirrors the rhythms of the elements and the sometimes quick, sometimes slow dissolution of the world as we know it. It is a meditation on the changes we would rather not see, the future we would rather not greet, and a call back to the beauty and violence of an untamable wilderness.

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All Systems Red

Martha Wells
Hardcover/January 22, 2019
Tordotcom

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.

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The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

Becky Chambers
Paperback/July 5, 2016
Harper Voyager

Julie says: Part philosophical character study, part ensemble sitcom- this is a warm, delightful exploration of how humanity changes when they aren’t the dominate species in the galaxy. I loved each character so much, I never wanted it to end. Lucky for me, there are three more books in the series!

Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space-and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe-in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star.

Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.

Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. It’s also about to get extremely dangerous when the crew is offered the job of a lifetime. Tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet is definitely lucrative and will keep them comfortable for years. But risking her life wasn’t part of the plan. In the far reaches of deep space, the tiny Wayfarer crew will confront a host of unexpected mishaps and thrilling adventures that force them to depend on each other. To survive, Rosemary’s got to learn how to rely on this assortment of oddballs—an experience that teaches her about love and trust, and that

Toad

Katherine Dunn
Hardcover/November 1, 2022
MCD

Julie’s Thoughts: The darkest, most acerbic wit collides with the sharpest human insights from one of the most incisive writers I’ve ever read. I was utterly delighted to learn there was an unpublished work from much-missed Katherine Dunn. This one is deeply depressing but the twisted characters and bitter hearts speak to something I think might be universal. Not an easy read, but a worthy one.

A previously unpublished novel of the reflections of a deeply scarred and reclusive woman, from the cult icon Katherine Dunn, the author of Geek Love.

Sally Gunnar has been in love, has been mad, has been an agent of destruction, has been spurned; and now she has retreated from the world. She lives in isolation in her small house, where her only companions are a vase of goldfish, a garden toad, and the door-to-door salesman who sells her cleaning supplies once a month. From her comfortable perch, she broods over her deepest regrets: her wayward, weed-hazy college days; her blighted romance with a scornful poet; a tragically comic accident involving a paper cutter; a suicide attempt; and her decision to ultimately relinquish a conventional life.

Colorful, crass, and profound, Toad is Katherine Dunn’s ode to her time as a student at Reed College, filled with the same keen observations, taboo-shirking verve, and singular characters that made Geek Love a cult classic. Through the perceptive Sally, a fish out of water among a cadre of eccentric, privileged young people, we meet Sam, an unwashed collector of other people’s stories; Carlotta, a free spirit who nevertheless fails to escape the deception of marriage; and Rennel, a shallow, self-obsessed philosophy student. With sly self-deprecation and mordant wit, Sally recounts their misadventures, up to the tragedy that tore them apart.

Through it all, Toad demonstrates Dunn’s genius for black humor and irony, her ecstatic celebration of the grotesque. Daring and bizarre, Toad is a brilliant precursor to the book that would make Dunn a misfit hero—even fifty-some years after it was written, it’s a refreshing take on the lives of young outsiders treading the delicate lines between isolation and freedom, love and insanity, hatred and friendship.

Ithaca

Claire North
Hardcover/September 6, 2022
Redhook

Julie’s Thoughts: Rich with detail and compelling characters, this gorgeously written novel left me brimming with warmth and courage. The often misunderstood goddess Hera provides the perfect lens for a new take on this epic tale. I’m loving the rash of feminist mythology these days- keep it coming.

This is the story of Penelope of Ithaca, famed wife of Odysseus, as it has never been told before. Beyond Ithaca’s shores, the whims of gods dictate the wars of men. But on the isle, it is the choices of the abandoned women—and their goddesses—that will change the course of the world.

Seventeen years ago, King Odysseus sailed to war with Troy, taking with him every man of fighting age from the island of Ithaca. None of them has returned, and the women of Ithaca have been left behind to run the kingdom.

Penelope was barely into womanhood when she wed Odysseus. While he lived, her position was secure. But now, years on, speculation is mounting that her husband is dead, and suitors are beginning to knock at her door.

No one man is strong enough to claim Odysseus’ empty throne—not yet. But everyone waits for the balance of power to tip, and Penelope knows that any choice she makes could plunge Ithaca into bloody civil war. Only through cunning, wit, and her trusted circle of maids, can she maintain the tenuous peace needed for the kingdom to survive.

On Ithaca, everyone watches, including the gods. And there is no corner of the land where intrigue does not reign.

From the multi-award winning author Claire North comes a daring, powerful, and moving tale that breathes new life into ancient myth, and tells of the women who stand defiant in a world ruled by ruthless men. It’s time for the women of Ithaca to tell their story…

A Prayer for the Crown-Shy

Becky Chambers
Paperback/July 12, 2022
Tordotcom

Julie’s Thoughts: Short and sweet and weird and complicated, the second book in the Monk and Robot series aptly delivers on the utter joy of the first in the series. If anything, the bittersweet beauty is even stronger amongst these 149 pages. Don’t mistake it’s lack of length for lack of depth- this is a story that lingers, like the warmth from a cup of tea, or a much-needed hug. 

After touring the rural areas of Panga, Sibling Dex (a Tea Monk of some renown) and Mosscap (a robot sent on a quest to determine what humanity really needs) turn their attention to the villages and cities of the little moon they call home.

They hope to find the answers they seek, while making new friends, learning new concepts, and experiencing the entropic nature of the universe.

Becky Chambers’s new series continues to ask: in a world where people have what they want, does having more even matter?

The Rise and Reign of the Mammals: A New History, from the Shadow of the Dinosaurs to Us

Steve Brusatte
Hardcover/June 7, 2022
Mariner Books

Julie’s Notes: It seems crazy to think about, with our limited time perception, but mammals are so young in the grand scheme of the history of the earth. Steve Brusatte does an excellent job of telling the tale of our nearest ancestors in the animal kingdom, while keeping the perspective wide enough to never lose context. It’s not easy to write nonfiction science in a readable way without losing the plot- but this book hits that perfect mix.

Though humans claim to rule the Earth, we are the inheritors of a dynasty that has reigned over the planet for nearly 66 million years, through fiery cataclysm and ice ages: the mammals. Our lineage includes saber-toothed tigers, woolly mammoths, armadillos the size of a car, cave bears three times the weight of a grizzly, clever scurriers that outlasted Tyrannosaurus rex, and even other types of humans, like Neanderthals. Indeed humankind and many of the beloved fellow mammals we share the planet with today–lions, whales, dogs–represent only the few survivors of a sprawling and astonishing family tree that has been pruned by time and mass extinctions. How did we get here?

In his acclaimed bestseller The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, American paleontologist Steve Brusatte enchanted readers with his definitive his – tory of the dinosaurs. Now, picking up the narrative in the ashes of the extinction event that doomed T-rex and its kind, Brusatte explores the remarkable story of the family of animals that inherited the Earth–mammals– and brilliantly reveals that their story is every bit as fascinating and complex as that of the dinosaurs.

Beginning with the earliest days of our lineage some 325 million years ago, Brusatte charts how mammals survived the asteroid that claimed the dinosaurs and made the world their own, becoming the astonishingly diverse range of animals that dominate today’s Earth. Brusatte also brings alive the lost worlds mammals inhabited through time, from ice ages to volcanic catastrophes. Entwined in this story is the detective work he and other scientists have done to piece together our understanding using fossil clues and cutting-edge technology.

A sterling example of scientific storytelling by one of our finest young researchers, The Rise and Reign of the Mammals illustrates how this incredible history laid the foundation for today’s world, for us, and our future.

 

Ordinary Monsters

J.M. Miro
Hardcover/June 7, 2022
Flatiron Books

Julie’s Notes: Atmospheric, seething with tension and grit but just enough heart to claw its way into your brain. I’ve been thinking about this book daily since I finished it months ago. I think it might’ve changed something inside me that needed changing. If you like gothic, labyrinthine, doorstopper-sized novels that will keep you up late, this is for you. 

England, 1882. In Victorian London, two children with mysterious powers are hunted by a figure of darkness —a man made of smoke.

Sixteen-year-old Charlie Ovid, despite a lifetime of brutality, doesn’t have a scar on him. His body heals itself, whether he wants it to or not. Marlowe, a foundling from a railway freight car, shines with a strange bluish light. He can melt or mend flesh. When two grizzled detectives are recruited to escort them north to safety, they are forced to confront the nature of difference, and belonging, and the shadowy edges of the monstrous.

What follows is a journey from the gas-lit streets of London, to an eerie estate outside Edinburgh, where other children with gifts—the Talents—have been gathered. Here, the world of the dead and the world of the living threaten to collide. And as secrets within the Institute unfurl, Marlowe, Charlie and the rest of the Talents will discover the truth about their abilities, and the nature of the force that is stalking them: that the worst monsters sometimes come bearing the sweetest gifts.

With lush prose, mesmerizing world-building, and a gripping plot, Ordinary Monsters presents a catastrophic vision of the Victorian world—and of the gifted, broken children who must save it.

Moon Witch, Spider King

Marlon James
Hardcover/February 15, 2022
Riverhead Books

Julie says: There is a reason the first book in this trilogy was both loudly praised and loudly misunderstood- writing this unique, genre-breaking, and powerful isn’t for the faint-hearted. Someone looking for an easy read will need to look elsewhere, because this isn’t your typical Western fantasy series. It’s so, so worth the effort though. I haven’t read something this groundbreaking in ages. If anything, the second book is even better- richer, deeper, more complicated and paradoxically- more real. Take on the challenge- it’ll change you for the better.

From Marlon James, author of the bestselling National Book Award finalist Black Leopard, Red Wolf, the second book in the Dark Star trilogy, his African Game of Thrones.

In Black Leopard, Red Wolf, Sogolon the Moon Witch proved a worthy adversary to Tracker as they clashed across a mythical African landscape in search of a mysterious boy who disappeared. In Moon Witch, Spider King, Sogolon takes center stage and gives her own account of what happened to the boy, and how she plotted and fought, triumphed and failed as she looked for him. It’s also the story of a century-long feud—seen through the eyes of a 177-year-old witch—that Sogolon had with the Aesi, chancellor to the king. It is said that Aesi works so closely with the king that together they are like the eight limbs of one spider. Aesi’s power is considerable—and deadly. It takes brains and courage to challenge him, which Sogolon does for reasons of her own.

Both a brilliant narrative device—seeing the story told in Black Leopard, Red Wolf from the perspective of an adversary and a woman—as well as a fascinating battle between different versions of empire, Moon Witch, Spider King delves into Sogolon’s world as she fights to tell her own story. Part adventure tale, part chronicle of an indomitable woman who bows to no man, it is a fascinating novel that explores power, personality, and the places where they overlap.

Critical Role: The Mighty Nein Origins: Caleb Widogast

Matthew Mercer
Hardcover/February 1, 2022
Dark Horse

Julie Says: Sad, powerful, brilliant. If you’re a Critter of long-standing or just now getting into the world of Exandria, don’t miss this stunning backstory for the world’s most beloved emo wizard.

In Critical Role: The Mighty Nein Origins: Caleb Widogast, Bren Aldric Ermendrud is chosen to attend the exclusive Soltryce Academy, preparing for an important future in service to the Empire. But nobody — least of all Bren himself — can foresee the cruelty he will endure, and the ways in which it will break and remake him. Witness the events that transform Bren into the Mighty Nein’s Caleb Widogast, and how they inform the path he’ll take in the future.

Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders

Neil Gaiman
Paperback/January 25, 2022
William Morrow Paperbacks

Julie Says: Yes, I am a Neil Gaiman fan-girl. No, I am not ashamed of this. If you’ve ever wanted to try out one of the greatest fiction writers of this generation, you can’t go wrong with his infinitely inventive, magnificently weird, and always satisfying short stories. Presented here with the newly updated cover that I think truly represents the contents within- take a chance and stretch your reading wings with this gorgeous and unsettlingly brilliant collection.

A mysterious circus terrifies an audience for one extraordinary performance before disappearing into the night, taking one of the spectators along with it.
In a novella set two years after the events of American Gods, Shadow pays a visit to an ancient Scottish mansion, and finds himself trapped in a game of murder and monsters.

Another short story is set in a strangely altered Victorian England, the great detective Sherlock Holmes must solve a most unsettling royal murder.

Two teenage boys crash a party and meet the girls of their dreams and nightmares.

The members of an excusive epicurean club lament that they’ve eaten everything that can be eaten, with the exception of a legendary, rare, and exceedingly dangerous Egyptian bird.

Such marvelous creations and more, including a short story set in the world of The Matrix and others set in the worlds of gothic fiction and children’s fiction, can be found in this collection, which showcases Gaiman’s storytelling brilliance as well as his entertaining (and dark) sense of humor. By turns delightful, disturbing, and diverting, Fragile Things is a gift of literary enchantment from one of the most unique writers of our time.

Akata Woman

Nnedi Okorafor
Hardcover/January 18, 2022
Viking Books for Young Readers

Julie Says: Oh how I love this series! Rich in magic, folklore, and the ache of growing up as a child of two worlds. Having spent most of my life traveling and always feeling just a little out of place, these books speak to me in a profound way. Add to that my all-consuming love of inventive, original fantasy and this becomes something that transcends even my usual enthusiasm for story. Go read this series (starting with Akata Witch) and don’t say I didn’t warn you- it’s life-changing.

From the moment Sunny Nwazue discovered she had magic flowing in her blood, she sought to understand and control her powers. Throughout her adventures in Akata Witch and Akata Warrior, she had to navigate the balance between nearly everything in her life–America and Nigeria, the “normal” world and the one infused with juju, human and spirit, good daughter and powerful Leopard Person.

Now, those hard lessons and abilities are put to the test in a quest so dangerous and fantastical, it would be madness to go…but deadly not to. With the help of her friends, Sunny embarks on a mission to find a precious object hidden deep in a magical realm. Defeating the guardians of the prize will take more from Sunny than she has to give, and triumph will mean she will be forever changed.

Impact: How Rocks from Space Led to Life, Culture, and Donkey Kong

Greg Brennecka
Hardcover/February 1, 2022
William Morrow

Julie Says: Bitingly fun, informative, and easy to read. Everything I love in my nonfiction. The far-reaching and surprising links between culture and science never fail to delight me. Highly recommend for the always curious!

The Solar System. Dinosaurs. Donkey Kong. What is the missing link? Surprisingly enough, it’s meteorites. They explain our past, constructed our present, and could define our future.

Impact argues that Earth would be a lifeless, inhospitable piece of rock without being fortuitously assaulted with meteorites throughout the history of the planet. These bombardments transformed Earth’s early atmosphere and delivered the complex organic molecules that allowed life to develop on our planet. While meteorites have provided the raw materials for life to thrive, they have radically devastated life as well, most famously killing off the dinosaurs and paving the way for humans to evolve to where we are today.

As noted meteoriticist Greg Brennecka explains, meteorites did not just set us on the path to becoming human, they helped direct the development of human culture. Meteorites have influenced humanity since the start of civilization. Over the centuries, meteorite falls and other cosmic cinema have started (and stopped) wars, terrified millions, and inspired religions throughout the world.

With humor and an infectious enthusiasm, Brennecka reveals previously untold but important stories sure to delight and inform readers about the most important rocks on Earth.

Last Night at the Telegraph Club

Malinda Lo
Paperback/December 28, 2021
Dutton Books

Julie says: Dark, dreamy, and full of bittersweet hope. A very relevant historical novel with a lot of heart.

Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can’t remember exactly when the feeling took root–that desire to look, to move closer, to touch. Whenever it started growing, it definitely bloomed the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club. Suddenly everything seemed possible.

But 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.

Winter's Orbit

Everina Maxwell
Paperback/December 28, 2021
Tor Books

Julie says: This is SO MUCH fun! I missed this when it first came out, thinking it would be dull and too-much-romance. I’m so glad I got bored and tried it anyway! There is a beautiful romance, but also political intrigue and a fascinating take on sci-fi epics. Highly recommended!

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 Cat Who Saved Books

Sōsuke Natsukawa, Louise Heal Kawai (Translator)
Hardcover/December 7, 2021
HarperVia

Julie says: This is such a beautiful, bittersweet story! Rich, fantastical, and healing- I can’t stop recommending this to everyone who needs an escape from (waves hand around) all of this. 

Bookish high school student Rintaro Natsuki is about to close the secondhand bookstore he inherited from his beloved bookworm grandfather. Then, a talking cat named Tiger appears with an unusual request. The feline asks for—or rather, demands—the teenager’s help in saving books with him. The world is full of lonely books left unread and unloved, and Tiger and Rintaro must liberate them from their neglectful owners.

Their mission sends this odd couple on an amazing journey, where they enter different mazes to set books free. Through their travels, Tiger and Rintaro meet a man who leaves his books to perish on a bookshelf, an unwitting book torturer who cuts the pages of books into snippets to help people speed read, and a publishing drone who only wants to create bestsellers. Their adventures culminate in one final, unforgettable challenge—the last maze that awaits leads Rintaro down a realm only the bravest dare enter…

Call Us What We Carry

Amanda Gorman
Hardcover/December 7, 2021
Viking

Julie says: If I could bottle the feelings these poems give me, I think I’d be a superhero, or at least a better person. Powerful gut-punches that sing with hope and humanity. This is everything we need right now.

Formerly titled The Hill We Climb and Other Poems, Amanda Gorman’s remarkable new collection reveals an energizing and unforgettable voice in American poetry. Call Us What We Carry is Gorman at her finest. Including “The Hill We Climb,” the stirring poem read at the inauguration of the 46th President of the United States, Joe Biden, and bursting with musical language and exploring themes of identity, grief, and memory, this lyric of hope and healing captures an important moment in our country’s consciousness while being utterly timeless.

White on White

Aysegül Savas
Hardcover/November 30, 2021
Riverhead Books

Julie says: Intense, riveting, and oh so vivid. This one  lulled me into complacency, and then blew me into bits. Powerful writing in such a slim volume. Psychological fiction at it’s most aching.

A “marvelous” (Lauren Groff) and riveting novel about a woman who has come undone.

A student moves to the city to research Gothic nudes. She rents an apartment from a painter, Agnes, who lives in another town with her husband. One day, Agnes arrives in the city and settles into the upstairs studio.

In their meetings on the stairs, in the studio, at the corner café, the kitchen at dawn, Agnes tells stories of her youth, her family, her marriage, and ideas for her art – which is always just about to be created. As the months pass, it becomes clear that Agnes might not have a place to return to. The student is increasingly aware of Agnes’s disintegration. Her stories are frenetic; her art scattered and unfinished, white paint on a white canvas.

What emerges is the menacing sense that every life is always at the edge of disaster, no matter its seeming stability. Alongside the research into human figures, the student is learning, from a cool distance, about the narrow divide between happiness and resentment, creativity and madness, contentment and chaos.

White on White is a sharp exploration of empathy and cruelty, and the stunning discovery of what it means to be truly vulnerable, and laid bare.