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!
So if there wasn't enough tension and the stakes weren't high enough in Casey McQuiston's Red, White, and Royal Blue (there was, and they were) now we're given One Last Stop: a girl lost in a time and a romance that's destined to be a missed connection. Good to the last drop! Just like RW&RB it exists in an "alternate" 2020, which might be a relief to read, or a bit surprising (how can these girls be making out on a subway train, where are their masks?), and makes for perfect romantic escapism with heart and kindness.
If you liked A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine, Winter's Orbit is another equally delightful space (romance) full of politics, intrigue, and great characters. Ann Leckie recommended an early version of the story that was posted online by saying, "Space princes. I mean. Seriously. Give it a look"! I agree!
A thriller? A coming of age? A story of privilege and betrayal? The themes aren't unusual, but the execution is spot on, and Susie Yang flips the tables on recent disatisfied-youth-romantic-entanglement novels. Driven most by character, this novel follows Ivy as she re-enters the wealthy world of her elementary school classmates years after their paths diverged.
I devoured this short story collection in a single evening. While unrelated in plot or character, each story melts into the next, a chorus that ends with a retelling of Antigone.
Naomi Novik writes characters with delightful voices, and this disastrous magical academy won't be a place you'll forget!
Almost like it takes place in the world of The Incredibles -- except we get to see the villain's side, and our protagonist works for a temp agency that hires out henchs. When she's left without healthcare coverage or a job after a posting-gone-wrong, she takes things into her own hands. Funny and emotionally resonant, this is turning out to be one of my escapist (but also soul-enriching) favorites this year.
This YA novel is about proving yourself, finding yourself, and falling in love with a ghost, and I can’t recommend it more. If you’re looking for a sweet romance that tackles some serious themes really strongly and is an amazing urban fantasy/mystery to boot, pick it up!
Kiku Hughes is one of my favorite artists, and this graphic novel is a beautiful and powerful look at memory and history.
A beautiful novel/novella; Rivers Solomon filled The Deep with sentences you'll want to savor and underline.
A total surprise, and I loved it! Spend time on Gideon and Harrow and you won't be disappointed by these space necromancers and their very, very bad jokes.
It's a book that doesn't make sense until you start it, and only then once you've started it a second time. Perfection!
Reads like a dream and a party; and takes you through the difficult moments of both.
A thoughtful companion to reading James Baldwin.
An epic YA fantasy; they got the cover right on this one, so if you're intrigued, trust your gut! It's a good one!
Who Is Vera Kelly? and its sequel, Vera Kelly is Not a Mystery, are spy (and private detective) mysteries set in the 1960s. Spanning the Western hemisphere from New York to Argentina and later to the Dominican Republic, these novels give us a woman who operates outside of every system she encounters, a feat she manages by blending in seamlessly to most situations. But how much can she keep a secret, when she gets closer and closer to the subjects of her mission?
Whimsical and heartwarming, this is the story of a single mother whose life has been gently guided by a self help book that has been mailed to her piecemeal over the course of her life. It is also the strange story of learning to fly, the mystery of a missing brother, and a love story. Jaclyn Moriarty is one of my favorite authors, and this is her first novel for adults––like Rainbow Rowell, she dismantles the boundary between young adult and adult fiction effortlessly.
Alexandra Rowland's sequel to A Conspiracy of Truths picks up with my favorite character and a bunch of footnotes -- what better way to tell a story about stories? As the fantasy version of the Dutch Tulip mania grips a coastal town, the power of stories is once again put to the test, and our new Chant learns that it all depends on how you use them, for money, for politics, or for community.
Ariel Kaplan captures high school and graduation and friendship (and crushes) with hilarious honesty. I wish I'd had all her books to read in high school.
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!
A noir and a magic school murder? Count me in!
This young adult novel should be the next read for fans of contemporary fiction that doesn't flinch away from the heartbreaking and the joyful. Mason Deaver has given us a character whose fight to come into their own should be cheered loudly. Ben has to start over at a new school when they are forced to move in with their sister, who they haven't seen in years. It's a novel about finding support, building trust, and making the world a better place one relationship at a time. Deaver's writing is effortless and emotional, the perfect accompaniment to Ben's journey.
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!
The first in a new series by N K Jemisin, this book is a love story to all cities, but especially to New York. Jemisin brings this opening volume to a slow build, introducing us to a mix of characters who I can't wait to meet again in future books. Tackling the frenetic, contradictory, and changeable nature of "the city," Jemisin never lets you forget that the people who build cities, who live there, who shape them with their feet and breath and experience, are the beating heart of a physical space.
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.
Mahit Dzmare is sent on a diplomatic mission without some vital pieces of information -- but what new ambassador expects their job to be easy? This political- and personal- intrigue space opera has it all; a lot of secret court maneuvering, a little romance, cultural clashes, and some unsolved assassinations.
Beautiful and luminous! Poetry steeped in history.
Literature can be a form of escapism that at its best maps out the ways we can show up in our own lives. Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey is one of those demonstrations. It’s got all the adventure of a solid Western and will pair well with the resurgence of True Grit on many reading lists. When Esther stows away in the back of a traveling librarian's wagon, we are ready to skip town with her. But as we cross the dusty desert of a post-climate-apocalypse American West, it's the community she finds with her travel-mates that shows us the way out of the mire of our preconceptions and self-doubt. The rebel librarians who set Esther on her new path practice the kind of community that nourishes and protects and that we shouldn't wait until an apocalypse to develop. Sarah Gailey's whole body of work is premised on these lessons, from Magic for Liars to their ongoing newsletter recipe series for the pandemic, "Stone Soup." The joy of reading a novel that offers us something in return for sending our minds on a journey someplace far away is that we’ve never really left; what Gailey has to tell us matters right here and right now.
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.
This series is so much fun! Start with Girl Waits with Gun.
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.
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!
S. A. Chakraborty has opened what promises to be a jaw-dropping fantasy trilogy with The City of Brass. I tore through this book, and if you’re looking for a satisfying and dynamic story, this one has it all: magical cities, family feuds, political games, a little romance, friendship, and treachery. When Nahri, a con-artist, is forced to flee Cairo, she finds herself under the protection of a powerful djinn. But is her new refuge all it seems? Age-old resentments are simmering in the City of Brass, and Nahri can’t help but stir the pot.
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.
Read this murderous take on Jane Eyre and then check out Faye's historical fiction romance set in Portland: The Paragon Hotel.
This is the first novel in a four book series that reimagines Sherlock and Watson as their own descendants, Charlotte and Jamie, who have to deal with the legacies of their famous forebears. Every single book adds something powerful and exciting to the series; gripping!
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.
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.