TOP PICKS – September 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, we’ve reached the end of yet another month!
A big thank you to Nils for coming up with this feature, and our contributors for taking part!
Nils: Starling House by Alix E. Harrow
I started off the month reading two quite chunky reads, The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon and Talonsister by Jen Williams. Whilst I struggled with The Bone Season at the beginning because the worldbuilding was overwhelming to say the least, Shannon won me over by the end. I loved this world of Clairvoyants, spirits, criminals and an alien race.
Talonsister, much like The Bone Season has exceptional magical worldbuilding with the addition of my favourite ever surly griffins and a creepy Wild Woods.
Yet Starling House by Alix E Harrow completely stole the show with its unsettling beautiful storytelling. Starling House is a mystery to all in Eden, it’s a derelict mansion where no one enters and no one is said to leave, it’s a house with history. When Opal’s dreams of Starling House escalate and she is drawn to its gates she must find a way to save herself, her brother Jasper, the mysterious Warden of the House and maybe just the rest of Eden. This is a story that drew me in with its rawness, its exploration of grief and finding a place to call home. I’d highly recommend it.
Buddy read review to come | Pre-order now
Beth: The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna
Ok Nils is claiming our buddy read, and rightfully so as it’s been a fantastic read.
But at the start of the month I read The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches by Sangu Mandanna, and I fell deeply and madly in love with this warm and wonderful book. It’s peak cosy fantasy, and it had the most heart-warming messages about finding a family you can be yourself with, about finding a home.
Review to come | Available now
Theo: Stories of Your Life and others by Ted Chiang
I’ve had quietish reading month but I did enjoy Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Sword the sequel to Ancillary Justice with the development of its fascinating world building, captivating AI protagonist and socio-political themes that have sharp contemporary resonances – as seen in this quote “Just how good a citizen does one have to be,” I asked, “in order to have water and air and medical help.”
However, I also picked up a short story anthology – Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and others. The titular short story is one that the 2016 film Arrival was closely based on – though there are some significant differences. The Story of Your Life isn’t purely about linguistics – as with the film (which also added some alien conflict/tension) – it delves into science in fascinating ways. However my second favourite in the collection is the final story Liking What you See: A Documentary which imagines there is a means to turn off people’s natural triggers to perceive and be drawn to physical attractiveness. It explores the theme with far more subtlety and nuance than the film Shallow Hal did, but it also raises the issue that anything that can be controlled can also be manipulated and that the corporations of the beauty industry would have both the vested interest and the financial clout to challenge anything that makes ideas of beauty irrelevant to everyday living. So – for its variety of themes I’m picking Ted Chiang’s anthology as my September favourite.
Hil: A Market of Dreams and Destiny by Trip Galey
I’ve had a quiet month for reading, and I’m currently working my way through Trip Galey’s A Market of Dreams and Destiny, which I love the setting and the feel of. The different magics are a smorgasbord of possibilities and totally feed into the market idea where anything can happen. It’s very rich, which if you like, it’ll work for you.
I’m also excited about The Undetectables by Courtney Smyth (be gay, solve crimes, take naps) where one of the characters is a ghost who’s doomed to eternity wearing the cutest cat ears and Sharpie whiskers. It’s good so far!
Jonathan: Brainwyrms by Alison Rumfitt
Read some absolutely fantastic stuff this month, but my top mention has to go to Alison Rumfitt’s glorious, horrendous, disgusting, brilliant second novel Brainwyrms. Following up Rumfitt’s debut Tell Me I’m Worthless, a brilliant and timely haunted house novel that unflinchingly confronts fascism and transphobia in the UK, was always going to be tricky, but Brainwyrms succeeds and then some. Exploring many of the same themes, but with even more anger and some truly gut-churning body horror, Brainwyrms may well be the most important book you read this year. Not for the faint of heart!
Gray: Pilgrim by Harmon Cooper
I have been thoroughly enjoying the Pilgrim series by Harmon Cooper this month. I can recommend it to anyone who enjoys progression fantasy with an emphasis on its cosier, slice of life aspects and a broad supporting cast of characters that I’m forced to describe as ‘nice.’ My only other experience of Cooper’s work was Sacred Cat Island, which nailed those aspects too. And since these are a few of my favourite things, I’m content.
Cat: The Ungodly Duology by SH Cooper
A lot of my reads this month were novellas, but my favourite is somehow the opposite – two novellas in one! The Ungodly Duology by SH Cooper. The story is good, but the constant creepy mood and characters made me feel as if I was there for the journey as a silent companion. The focus on the strength of mature, professional women was wonderful, as well as finding friendship with strangers. The Lovecraftian core lurking behind the everyday world was excellent – and unexpected in many ways! – but this was so very human. I’ll be returning again and watching this talented author (but not in an evil cult way).
Julia: The Wizard’s Butler by Nathan Lowell
I’m torn between 3 full 5* reviews for the month..
Og-Grim-Dog the Three-Headed Ogre by Jamie Edmundson was a great comedy which had me laugh out loud at times.
The Thunder Heist by Jed Hearne was full of adventure, obviously a nice heist, had a great voice and pace and just quickly sucked me in.
But I think for the actual favourite, I’ll have to go with The Wizard’s Butler by Nathan Lowell! Super slow and cosy slice of life, which not much happening besides keeping the house in order and caring for food and such. But it was such a soothing and relaxing read, I devoured it! Good characters and a tone that just hooked me early on, and I adored the whole book.
What was your favourite read of the month? Share with us in the comments!