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7834 SW Capitol Hwy, Portland OR, 97219 (map) 503-246-0053 Open 9 AM - 9 PM Mon - Fri, 9 AM - 6 PM Sat-Sun Mask Policy
Ruby joined the Annie Bloom's staff in 2013. She enjoys fiction (especially science fiction, fantasy, and short stories) and history.
Highly recommended series include The Imperial Radch (starting with Ancillary Justice), The Innsmouth Legacy (starting with Winter Tide), and the Perveen Mistry mystery series (starting with The Widows of Malabar Hill). Favorite authors include Theodora Goss and Becky Chambers and Alastair Reynolds!
For middle-grade readers, the Mapmakers Trilogy by S. E. Grove and the York books by Laura Ruby are smartly wonderful.
I've also reviewed the audiobooks of Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri and Ordinary Girls by Blair Thornburgh over at Libro.fm!
Mallory Viridian and Xan Morgan are two of the three people allowed to live on Station Eternity. On Earth they were tangled up in a murder case that ruined both their lives. Finding sanctuary on the sentient space station they now spend their time testing the edibility of alien foods and annoying the only other Earthling there, Ambassador Adrian Casserly-Berry. Unfortunately, their painful bond has made them distant with each other, rather than close. But when the station allows a handful of additional people on board, secrets of their pasts start to come to light and they’ll need to work together to survive what comes next. With nods to classic BBC mysteries and science fiction both, Mallory’s adventures are a satisfying romp through both genres.
The first in a mystery series by Polish partners Jacek Dehnel and Piotr Tarczyński, writing with the pen name Maryla Szymiczkowa. It is a great historical mystery that captures a time and place on the edge of great turmoil. I would highly recommend this series to fans of my other favorite historical mysteries, The Widows of Malabar Hill and Girl Waits with Gun, but Zofia Turbotynska occupies a different place in her society than the heroines of those stories; she is perfectly willing to use the biases of her society to her advantage. Because, or perhaps in spite, of that lack of self-reflection, Zofia waltzes through Cracow at the crux of great change with her extravagant hats held high. The story immerses us in Cracow of the 1890s, and through Zofia and her sleuthing we get to visit the bright and dim corners of this time and place in history.
Reading T. Kingfisher's novels got me through 2020, 2021, and probably 2022. Nettle & Bone is my second most highly anticipated book of 2022 (the first being Nona the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir).
This is a thoughtful and powerful spin on the court-intrigue fantasy, featuring psychics and laboratories. When Charm is offered an unfettered mind in exchange for solving the Emperor's murder, the mechanisms that she had in place to keep herself and her boneghosts safe are threatened. Solving the mystery means tearing both at the seams holding the rotting empire together and the seams of her own life. I love the characters, and the way Mueller details the corrosive and insinuating ways a strictly biased society enforces its power.
This is a romp; with head-banging nods to metaphysics, linguists, and MMORPGs that are reminiscent of a Doctorow or Valente novel, and a spirit of character and heart that reminds me most of Martin Millar.
The Liar's Dictionary is about the creation of a (fictional) encyclopedia, still unfinished when Mallory goes to work for the current editor over a hundred years after the project was first started. The offices of the editor still reside in the same building that Peter Winceworth, early employee of the original founder, diligently cataloged entries in. Separated by time, but not by space, Mallory and Peter both confront the fantastical ability of language to heal and hurt, to invent and to constrain. In the musty, imposing London building, Mallory receives aggressive crank calls each morning, which she unsuccessfully attempts to keep secret from her girlfriend. Peter, in a bid for freedom of the mind when freedom of the body would be impossible, begins adding entries to the encyclopedia for words that do not exist -- but that he believes are necessary additions to the English language. Throughout the novel, Eley Williams' delight in language and the foibles of words is evident; with a tone reminiscent of Ella Minnow Pea, this is another great story for anyone who wants to be captivated and distracted by words -- and a bit of a mystery.
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.
How to say it? Michelle Ruiz Keil's coming of age novels are steeped in the tangled realities of what it means to be a family, to be in a relationship, to stand and run and fight for yourself and for others. But Summer in the City of Roses is like staring at the reverse side of a tapestry or embroidery. Our reality is visible, but the depth and pattern are revealed. Iph and Orr will capture your heart!
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.
Jess has kept secrets from her family her whole life, and she’s about to learn they’ve got some of their own. When her family moves back to Malaysia in the wake of her father’s illness, Jess gets to know her grandmother better—except her grandmother passed away before Jess arrived. Haunted, and realizing that keeping secrets from ghosts is difficult, Jess is forced to confront the forces of family history that set her future spinning out of control. Zen Cho’s usual heartfelt characters and humor ground the story, even as it tackles intense issues, including violence against women and coming out. Black Water Sister is a ghost story and a thriller that immerses the reader in Penang’s George Town. If you want more about Malaysia and Singapore when you finish, check out Sonny Liew’s masterful graphic novel history of Singapore through the eyes of a comics artist; The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye.
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!
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! The series continues with The Last Graduate.
Kiku Hughes is one of my favorite artists, and this graphic novel is a beautiful and powerful look at memory and history.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Ariel Kaplan writes some of my favorite contemporary YA (along with Jennifer Longo) and this Cyrano de Bergerac retelling is as rambunctous as its inspiration.
This series is so much fun! Start with Girl Waits with Gun.
A delightful historical mystery!
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.
Truly the only novel about an MFA poetry program that matters; part parody, part homage, and another* Cyrano de Bergerac retelling, this ridiculous farce of collegiate-town manners and betrayal is a heady read.
*See my YA novel recommendation We Are the Perfect Girl above.
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 space opera coming-of-age with some of the most delightful artwork, and a tender story. Where space operas in novel form get their world-building across in words, Tillie Walden has shaped a universe of physical impossibilities that I long to visit, with images alone.
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.
A historical mystery that is in the spy novel genre; a bit noir, a bit political escapade, Vera Kelly makes for a fantastically memorable series.
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.
These short stories will sweep you up and away into strange houses and worlds beyond the every-day; and yet every single one feels as immediate and perfect as a cup of tea on a cold day.
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.
A beautiful YA novel about what it takes to see someone, and to build a family.
A pocket-sized novel of a real historical figure; the cover matches the mood of this novel, and you'll come away with a real sense of place and person.
In vignette-like chapters, Janina Matthewson creates a neighborhood and a family to root for. A soft and delightful story.
History of technology? Graphic novel? Cartoon? Biography? Filled with footnotes and research? A romp!
A great biography is one that tells the story of one person in the full context of their time and place -- and this account of Ben Franklin's sister does just that.
Amitav Ghosh was a historian, critiqued for his novelistic essays, before becoming a novelist in name as well. This novel tackles the contemporary ramifications of the history of the Sundarbans in northeastern India with an eye to the ineractions between people, convervancy, and the natural world that surrounds them.