TOP PICKS – May 2023
Welcome to this month’s Top Picks!
Every month, we’re going to share with you our favourite reads of the month. We’ve rounded up our contributors and asked them each to recommend just one favourite read of the month. Somehow, it’s the end of another month already, and it’s been a busy one for Wyrd and Wonder!
A big thank you to Nils for coming up with this feature, and our contributors for taking part!
Nils: The Hunters by David Wragg
This month I’ve been reading four fantastic books — Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, The Bone Shard War by Andrea Stewart both of which I had so much fun reading with Beth, and the two other books I read were, The Hunters by David Wragg which made me laugh immensely and Mothtown by Caroline Hardaker which made me cry by its sheer beauty. As we do every May, we took part in Wyrd and Wonder and this year their theme was magic. Out of these four books Howl and The Bone Shard War were the most magical, however I’m choosing between The Hunters and Mothtown, which is difficult because both are polar opposite reads but I loved them equally. As The Hunters is out in July, I’m going to choose it as my favourite because it’s a book which I strongly feel deserves attention right now.
The Hunters follows Ree, a woman with a violent past, and her teenage niece, Javani. Ree wants a quiet life where she and Javani can stay hidden on a remote farm in The Mining Country but when two sets of professional hunters come looking for a woman and child who may have connections to the Shenak throne, that quiet life is no longer possible. If you’ve read David Wragg before you’ll know to expect explosions, chaos, morally grey characters and a lot of banter, yet this book also delivers a lot of emotion. It’s such a fun read which I highly recommend.
Theo: Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree
It’s been a bit of a quiet month for me in terms of reading speculative fiction, but what I have read has been good. I’m currently enjoying the Pratchett-esque humour of J Zachary Pike’s Son of A Liche. I’m catching up on how the careers of SPFBO sensation Gorm Ingerson and friends developed after the events of Orconomics and so getting myself ready for the launch of the third and final book in the series which – I understand – is not too far away at all. However, while I expect to finish this before the end of the month – it won’t be in time for Nils deadline! I’ve also enjoyed Birnam Wood Eleanor Catton’s darkly elegant tale of when an eco-activist group meets a game-playing billionaire.
However, my pick of the month goes to another story championed in the fierce world of self-publishing – Travis Baldree’s Legends and Lattes. It does exactly what it says on the sign, a cosy, comforting, entertaining mix of thumping fantasy and tasty pastry-accompanied beverages. There is a nice message at the end (and I like a book with a message) that exemplifies the connections that drive not just this narrative but the speculative fiction community that I love being a part of. It also surely can’t be a coincidence that I have a sudden revived taste for the delicious chocolate sprinkled froth of a good cappuccino!
Hil: Grave Danger by Alice James
I’ve had a busy reading month. Like Theo, I devoured Legends and Lattes and absolutely recommend its cinnamon bun coffee flavoured shenanigans. As a result of SPFBO 8, I plumped on Small Miracles by Olivia Atwater. It’s definitely got the Good Omens vibes on it, and who wouldn’t love the fallen angel of petty temptations *pet the cat* *eat the chocolate* *buy the book*. wait, what…? Ok, I meant to be lead, +sin points for me. A Portrait in Shadow by Nicole Jarvis was next, telling the story of an alternate Florence where the great artists could harness powerful magics in their arts to either heal or curse, and of course the Medici’s would never stoop to, who am I trying to kid, of course they would. I enjoyed her previous book, The Lights of Prague, which was an Aladdin retelling but with vampires thrown in. A Portrait in Shadow didn’t sit as well with me and I’m not sure why, other than being frustrated by the MCs obsession with every *single* person who ever did her wrong.
My highlight of the month is Grave Danger by Alice James which continues the adventures of Lavington “Toni” Windsor, Estate Agent by Day and Necromancer by Night. She doesn’t get a whole lot of sleep. Like Small Miracles, this one made me giggle out loud, and that doesn’t happen very often! Toni’s brother makes use of her talents to solve murders in his dayjob (it’s waaaaaaaaaaay easier to find out who murdered someone when you can just bring them back from the dead and ask them), but when the murder victim looks a lot like Toni and goes to the same school that she went to, Toni is unable to let the matter Rest in Peace. The next one is out in August and I can’t wait!
Julia: The First Ancestor by JDL Rosell
I don’t think I need to tell you yet again just how much I loved the first book – The Last Ranger. I fell in love with it from the very first moment, and this is a worthy sequel! It’s a lot slower paced, but I didn’t mind because we get to discover a whole new section of the world, and meet a lot more gasts.
I love how Leiyn has grown throughout book one, and is a lot more secure in herself and able to trust people now. However, she’s still wilful, rash and prone to thinking after getting herself in trouble. Good thing she’s so handy with weapons in hand… This books has a bit of romance in it, but after some way too heavy hints in the beginning, it was written well and with a light touch, so even my stoic heart didn’t mind it. So you can add LGBT inclusion to the pros of this series as well! I enjoyed the new characters we meet, especially finding someone able to match Leiyn in skill and stubbornness, it definitely helped to round up both her character and the cast.
For my personal enjoyment the story didn’t have enough action, but there’s plenty of magic, titans, new enemies, training and mysteries to explore to make up for a lack of arrows. The First Ancestor manages to finish it’s own arc in a satisfying way, while leaving the overarching plot open enough to make you crave more of the characters and world. Once again, highly recommended if you love fantasy that has a big if a classic feel to it, but still feels fresh and unique!
Beth: The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow
I’ve had such a great reading month thanks to another brilliant Wyrd and Wonder! As Nils said, we buddy read Howl’s Moving Castle and The Bone Shard War together, and I’m now currently reading Talonsister by Jen Williams – I am absolutely loving it. You can have a taste from the exclusive excerpt we posted!
Choosing between Bone Shard War and Ten Thousand Doors was super difficult; Bone Shard was a brilliant read, the culmination of a trilogy that I have loved following with my bestie and it was a really emotional and bittersweet ending. But considering we’ll be talking about it in our upcoming buddy-read review, I decided to go with the other very excellent and emotional read from this month, Ten Thousand Doors.
I’d somehow managed to read everything else of Harrow’s before coming around to reading her debut, even though this was the first book of hers I’d picked up! It’s been languishing on my shelf for ages and I’m so glad I finally read it. It’s a thoroughly magical portal story, so perfect for this year’s Wyrd and Wonder theme, with a dual POV and framed narrative. Needless to say, as always with Harrow, I blubbed like a baby by the end!
What was your favourite read of the month? Share with us in the comments!