Monthly Round-Up

April 2021 Round-up and Short Fiction Focus

Got back on track with the novels this month, although picking up sequels to books I’d loved is definitely playing things on easy mode. But the trend of finding stellar short fiction continued. I think experimental stories by folks named Sarah are my new favorite thing.

Short Stories

April Favorites

  • Where Oaken Hearts Do Gather” (2021) by Sarah Pinsker. A fantastic story told entirely by the comments section of a fictional lyrics website page for a fictional ballad. Wonderfully creative, with a foreboding that gathers as you read. I’d be shocked if this one isn’t on my Hugo nominating ballot next year.
  • For Lack of a Bed” (2021) by John Wiswell. Wiswell loves taking dark tropes and turning them in a hopeful direction, and this one is no exception. Deals with struggling through chronic pain, which is underexplored in genre fiction. Another one to keep in mind for the award nominations.
  • Express to Beijing, West Railway Station” (2020) by Congyun “Mu Ming” Gu. A thoughtful and interesting multiverse story that fully deserves its nomination for this year’s IGNYTE Award. Also led me to realize that there’s an entire magazine for SFF in translation, and I’ll definitely have to check out more.
  • Little Free Library” (2020) by Naomi Kritzer. Portal fantasy through book exchange that’s so well done. It’s definitely going in the top three of my Hugo ballot this year, along with the two finalists that were on my nominating ballot, and it’s giving me something to think about for the top spot.

Other April Reads

  • The Center of the Universe” (2021) by Nadia Shammas. A solid story starring a side character in a Truman Show-style world that really is all about one person.
  • How to Break into a Hotel Room” (2021) by Stephen Graham Jones. Atmospheric horror with comeuppance. As I often say about the horror stories I read, it’s not my standard genre but it’s well done.
  • Home: Habitat, Range, Niche, Territory” (2021) by Martha Wells. An enjoyable Murderbot story from Mensah’s perspective. If you’ve loved the first four novellas, you’ll enjoy this one. If not, skip it.
  • The Mermaid Astronaut” (2020) by Yoon Ha Lee. Just what it says on the title. Nicely done, with the feel of a fairy tale. Not in the story of the year contention for me, but it’s a good one, and I can see why it was popular enough to get a Hugo nomination.
  • Away With the Wolves” (2019) by Sarah Gailey. After her jaw-dropping masterpiece “STET,” I had to read more of Gailey. This one is a werewolf story with well-drawn characters that doesn’t take too many unexpected turns. Solid, but not an all-timer.
  • The Sin of America” (2021) by Catherynne M. Valente. Gripping storytelling but difficult to read all the same, with social commentary that’s more of a bludgeon than a scalpel. If “powerful but stomach-turning” appeals to you, give this one a read.


Reviews Posted

  • Spirit Gate (2006) by Kate Elliott. A strong opening to a chunky epic fantasy trilogy.
  • The Space Between Worlds (2020) by Micaiah Johnson. A stunning debut, featuring a sci-fi thriller in a multiverse, but with twice the depth and some excellent characters.
  • They Mostly Come Out at Night (2016) by Benedict Patrick. The opener to a self-published dark folklore series that still has too many rough edges to really recommend it. However, I have read other work in the same universe and heartily commend the novelette “And They Were Never Heard From Again.”
  • The Devil in Silver (2012) by Victor LaValle. I’m not sure this is actually speculative fiction, despite taking place in a mental institution with a monster. But it’s really fantastic at what it does.
  • The Steerswoman Series (1989-) by Rosemary Kirstein. A hidden science fiction gem wrapped in an adventure fantasy. This series gets better and better, and if you like non-traditional, scholarly leads, I can’t recommend it enough.


  • The Ruins of Ambrai (1994) by Melanie Rawn. DNF at 36%. I’m not sure this really did anything specifically to lose me, but after 200 pages of character introduction and political background and another 100 pages of plot, I never felt myself hooked. And even in an 800-page behemoth, I need to be gathering some more momentum by the time I’ve invested 300 pages. But if you like politics-heavy epic fantasy set in a matriarchy, it may be worth a look.

Other April Reads

  • King’s Shield (2008) by Sherwood Smith. The third book in the Inda Quartet, which I will review as a whole once I finish the fourth. But I’m pretty sure it’ll be positive–Inda and The Fox were two of my favorite books last year, and this one pays off on some setup two books in the making, plus delivers some wonderful interactions between characters that had spent a great deal of time apart. If you like thick fantasy series with tons of factions scheming against each other, this is worth a look.
  • The Sharing Knife: Passage (2008) by Lois McMaster Bujold. Like King’s Shield, the third book in a quartet. And published in 2008 too. Interesting how coincidences like that happen. At any rate, this installment toned down a bit of the romance from the first two books, while increasing the exploration of the magic system and adding more cross-cultural relationships. It’s hard to go wrong with Bujold, and if a slower-paced series in a world inspired by frontier America doesn’t bother you, this should be a winner.


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