Ruby's Staff Favorites
Ruby joined the Annie Bloom's staff in 2013. She enjoys fiction (especially science fiction, short stories, and YA) and history.
Series that I highly recommend include The Imperial Radch (starting with Ancillary Justice), The Daevabad Trilogy (start with City of Brass), The Innsmouth Legacy (starting with Winter Tide), and the Perveen Mistry mystery series (starting with The Widows of Malabar Hill). The books of Theodora Goss and Becky Chambers are also favorites!
This side- and footnote-filled graphic novel ties for my favorite along The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace & Babbage; the opposite of Sydney Padua's sadly out of print Adventures, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye takes a fictional comic artist and recreates his work. A biography told in comics, the history of Singapore in the life of one man -- there is so much to see and learn in Sonny Liew's masterpiece! Stunning and endlessly rewarding.
This biography of a fascinating woman also offers a great introduction to the early history of the Mughal Empire. Nur Jahan became the consort of the Mughal ruler Jahangir (father of the Shah Jahan who commissioned the Taj Mahal) and rose to power in her own right. Lal traces the various legends and stories that surround Nur Jahan’s life while also detailing the the intricacies of the Mughal court and its neighbors. While not a household name here, Nur Jahan has her share of pop-culture references—including being the namesake of the main character in Tasha Suri’s Mughal-inspired fantasy novel Empire of Sand. If you’re looking for a good history to sink your teeth into, Empress is inviting and satisfying!
Koya's The Royal Abduls is a powerful novel. In the wake of 9/11 and the fracturing of a serious relationship, Amina moves back East to be closer to her family. I was swept up by Amina's independent spirit and her nephew Omar's struggles to connect with family and friends. The friction between isolation and community that Koya presents so realistically in every character left me both hurt and hopeful. This book would be the perfect choice for any book clubs looking for a hearty discussion!
Welcome back to Daevabad -- where Nahri is settling in to her new life, and political intrigue continues to grip the city. Throw in an exiled prince, and... well, you'll just have to see. A fantastic follow-up to City of Brass, Kingdom of Copper proves that this series needs to be at the top of everyone's lists.
Laura Ruby's latest young adult novel was inspired by her mother-in-law’s childhood, spent in a Chicago orphanage during the Depression and the beginning of World War II. It's a survival story, a war story, and a ghost story. Thirteen Doorways follows Frankie and her siblings, isolated in the orphanage, as first loves and first heartbreaks are compounded by the injustices and struggles that overrun their lives. With the outbreak of World War II, Frankie is forced to contend with horrors inside and outside the orphanage walls. She has an unlikely ally in a ghost girl who has been haunting the orphanage, one who takes special interest in Frankie's story. What kind of power does it take to break a pattern that has been in place longer than you've been alive? Laura Ruby has written a fable that writhes with the turmoil of the twentieth century.
Alexandra Rowland's A Conspiracy of Truths is a fun, satisfying caper. Despite the false accusations of witchcraft and spying that got him locked up in a chilly prison, the bard-like traveler Chant has a plan. With the help of his apprentice, his apprentice's new boyfriend, a bitter lawyer, and quite a few stories, Chant is going to get his name cleared (or at least escape prison)--even if it means bringing the government that locked him up to its knees. Rowland studied folklore and mythologies and the storytelling traditions she created for this tale are immersive.
Sujata Massey introduced us to Perveen Mistry in The Widows of Malabar Hill and has now released a sequel, The Satapur Moonstone. The mysteries are a delightful blend of thoughtful lawyering and high-stakes drawing room drama. Inspired by real-life lawyer Cornelia Sorabji (who also makes an appearance in the first book in the series), Perveen Mistry is a lawyer practicing with her father's firm in 1920s Bombay. Her status as a Parsi woman allows her to assist on cases that a male lawyer could not: representing women who practice purdah. In both books, Perveen takes on cases involving widows and mothers and navigates the tricky waters between British law, Indian law, and a variety of religious tenets. The tangled politics of interwar India, class divides, and women's rights all conspire to make each case trickier than the last. In The Satapur Moonstone, Perveen ventures away from Bombay to the royal palace of Satapur, a fictional kingdom in the Western Ghats south of Bombay. Massey is as deft at conjuring rainy jungles and isolated palaces as she was at bringing cosmopolitan Bombay to life in The Widows of Malabar Hill. It is this wealth of detail and research that make the books stand out, along with Perveen's endearing and forthright spirit.
There are a lot of things to love about Naomi Novik’s latest novel. It’s a retelling of Rumpelstiltskin that plucks the heart out of that fairy-tale and sprints off in a whole new direction. The elves who ride the icy roads around Miryem’s small village care about one thing only, and that’s gold. So when Miryem starts to scrape in enough money to keep her family comfortable through the next winter, she has more to deal with than just the jealousy of her neighbors. Of course, things get more complicated when the crown prince, the local warlord’s daughter, and some magical jewelry get involved. Told in multiple, distinct perspectives, Novik’s Spinning Silver tears along to a powerful ending. It’s my favorite book of 2018, and introduces so many great heroines—this is the kind of fantasy we need more of!
A newspaperman struggles to boost circulation, an education minister realizes he’s about to be out of a job, and five strangers board a bus heading to Lagos. Welcome to Lagos sweeps you up in the intersection of these lives and the city that shapes them. Like the fictional Nigerian Journal commentaries that pepper the pages of her novel, Onuzo employs sharp-eyed observation and humor to create this novel of found-family and the impossibility of doing the right thing.
Nnedi Okorafor’s Akata Witch and its sequel, Akata Warrior, are set mainly in Nigeria, where Sunny discovers a world that exists side-by-side with the one the rest of us inhabit daily. Used to being an outsider in both America and Nigeria, Sunny is awed to discover she belongs to the Leopard People, a group of scholarly and powerful magicians. Finding a place she belongs doesn’t necessarily make all her problems go away; when there’s still homework, and proving to her brother’s friends that a girl can play soccer too—plus some noxious magical attacks that are starting to get pretty scary. Will Sunny learn enough, fast enough, to save herself and her new friends? Okorafor’s writing is wonderful, and she’ll have you rooting for Sunny from page one.
The Vanishing Velazquez is a poetic and scholarly treasure hunt. Laura Cumming reconstructs the story of a bookseller and his quest to prove the existence of a long lost Velazquez portrait of Charles I. John Snare, who worked as a bookseller and printer before claiming to have discovered a Velazquez painting at an estate sale (at which point his life dramatically changed direction), intrigued Cumming from the moment she heard of him. Cumming’s own quest takes her from Spain, to England, and finally to America in a centuries-long chase for the elusive combination of paint and canvas that turns lives upside down. Cumming deftly balances the combination of biography and vivid artistic description; although Snare’s Velazquez is elusive, Cumming gives us the next best thing. Interspersing chapters on the dramatic Snare case with illuminating descriptions of Velazquez’s art and world, Cumming captures the feeling of standing before a great work of art—and it’s this feeling that bonds Cumming to John Snare (and us to her story).
Wulf is one of my favorite science history writers – not least because she always manages to combine language and science, nature and poetry—and Humboldt is a perfect subject for her. With this engaging biography, Alexander von Humboldt is brought to life in all his “chased by 10,000 pigs” glory. Wulf reminds us with vibrancy why we should still care about Humboldt today (alongside some great cameos from 19th century characters of all kinds): climate change, plate tectonics, South American revolutions, the idea that nature is an interconnected web.