Monthly Round-Up

February 2024 Round-up and Short Fiction Miscellany

February is a ridiculous month of a reading. Best of the Year lists are dropping seemingly every week, and with award nominations due soon, I spend a lot of time bingeing eligible works to try to sort out my own favorites. I read more than 60 pieices of short fiction last month alone! For some people, that may not be a lot, but for me, it sure is. Plus five new novels, and a few reviews pulled off the backlist. I’ve got a lot to talk about, so let’s jump in.

Short Fiction

I posted a Recommended Reading List with all of my favorites from 2023. A lot of the best of my February reading went there, along with the best of my reading from the past year. But that list is also overwhelming, so I’ll repeat this month’s short fiction favorites here. I also finished Life Beyond Us, which will get its own review, but again, I’ll include last month’s favorites here. Finally, I posted my monthly magazine review, and there were three stories that would go on my favorites list, led by “Why Don’t We Just Kill the Kid in the Omelas Hole” by Isabel J. Kim. I won’t repeat those, because they’re isolated pretty well in the magazine review, and this round-up is going to be too busy already. So let’s check out the rest:

February Favorites

Fair warning, most of this list is from the 2023-catchup. If you’re looking for 2024, scroll to the very last item in the section!

  • Kwong’s Bath” (2023 short story) by Angela Liu. The second khōréō piece that made my annual favorites list with a story of memory and diaspora, this one telling of a girl having received the ticket to a better life, but at the cost of the memories of her home and family, told in large part through a series of ghostly visits from ancestors and friends. Devastating and deeply personal.
  • Set Yourself on Fire” (2023 short story) by Sam Kyung Yoo. An abusive relationship tale with a fantasy twist, skillfully told in a heart-wrenching second-person narrative.
  • “The Secret History of the Greatest Discovery” (2023 short story) by Valentin D. Ivanov, translated by Valentin D. Ivanov. I usually don’t go in for stories that are mostly science problems, but this does such a beautiful job of capturing the wonder of discovery, and the setting of a summer astronomy camp in 1980s Eastern Europe is bursting with life.
  • Secondhand Music” (2023 short story) by Aleksandra Hill. A talented young violinist recovering from the loss of her arm is given the opportunity to receive a life-changing prosthesis—but the gift comes with strings attached. A lovely story about art and setting your own path.
  • The Invoker and Her Quartet” (2023 short story) by M.H. Ayinde. This has such the feeling of a Beneath Ceaseless Skies piece that I had to double-check the publication–it’s a secondary world fantasy about a magical succession crisis, the rift it created within families, and how they moved forward. Plenty of flawed characters, but in a human way, and with hope of redemption.
  • The Rain Remembers What the Sky Forgets” (2023 short story) by Fran Wilde. This has such the feeling of a Beneath Ceaseless Skies piece that I had to double-check the publication–it’s a secondary world fantasy about a magical succession crisis, the rift it created within families, and how they moved forward. Plenty of flawed characters, but in a human way, and with hope of redemption.
  • Deep Blue Jump” (2023 novelette) by Dean Whitlock. A sci-fi child trafficking story that’s just as weighty as it should be, but offering a glimmer of hope in its focus on the relationship between the tween lead and the smallest child in her group of captives, as they focus on surviving both the present and the future.
  • “Defective” (2023 novelette) by Peter Watts. A first contact story about creatures so alien that all communication breaks down, and the lead’s desperate attempt to avoid the military solution. A fascinating build with a hard-hitting ending.
  • “Forever the Forest” (2023 short story) by Simone Heller. It’s a first contact story written in second person from the perspective of trees. It’d be hard to find a description more my speed, and it’s executed wonderfully, with the narrator slowly coming to grasp the myriad miscommunication and building to a touching emotional climax.
  • “Deep Blue Neon” (2023 short story) by Jana Bianchi. This is a compelling epistolary tale of the single-minded Brazilian scientist who put everything aside to make first contact, with all the risks and sacrifices along the way.
  • Nairuko” (2023 short story) by Dennis Mugaa. After their people were nearly wiped out, a small group of Kenyan survivors use the magic in their blood to profit from conflict but can never escape the guilt over the failures to save their families. An undoubtedly magical story, but at root a hard-hitting and emotional story about guilt and powerlessness, even in people with incredible powers.
  • Ernestine” (2023 novelette) by Octavia Cade. It’s a girl and a ghost at the end of the world, only the ghost has a single-minded focus on making the girl grow potatoes so she won’t starve. A small-scale story, for all that it’s the end of the world, but a heartwarming one that’s a lot of fun to read.
  • Kɛrozin Lamp Kurfi” (2023 short story) by Victor Forna. A very literal story about stories, as the narrator attempts to rescue a child trapped in a story. The shifts back and forth through reality and various changing narrators can be disorienting, but a reader who doesn’t mind a little confusion is treated to some fantastic storytelling with a strong central core and a powerful ending.
  • Accidental Girls” (2023 short story) by Chloe N. Clark. A woman happens upon a stranger who looks just like her childhood best friend, disappeared years earlier. A story content with lingering in uncanny ambiguity, but a deliciously atmospheric piece.
  • We Shall Not Be Bitter at the End of the World” (2024 short story) by David Anaxagoras. It’s the end of the world, and time and reality are bending to create a wild final get-together, with at least three generations of family, plus an alien, some mythical creatures, and even a sentient swarm of bees named Kyle. I’m not sure how to end a story like this in a way that makes the reader go “oh, now it all makes sense,” but my goodness if it wasn’t an absolute riot getting there. The narrative voice is an absolute delight.

Strong Contenders

  • Ivy, Angelica, Bay” (2023 novelette) by C.L. Polk. Lovely prose is the highlight of this tale of a witch trying to protect her neighborhood from gentrifying forces that may have magic on their side as well.
  • All the Things I Know About Ghosts, by Ofelia, Age 10” (2023 short story) by Isabel Cañas. A 10 year-old in an underwater town worries more about the ghosts than their entire strange existence. A poignant story comfortable lingering in ambiguity.
  • Waystation City” (2023 short story) by A.T. Greenblatt. A pair of activists try to leave a city out of time, populated by people who never quite fit in their own time and place. A wonderful setup and intriguing storytelling, but the ostensible main plot is set aside for a pat piece about self-knowledge and acceptance.
  • Junebug” (2023 short story) by Sarah Hollowell. A mysterious failure of all electronics on a road trip provides an opportunity for a meditation on grief and loss, sprinkled with a fair helping of 90s pop culture references.
  • On the Way to Jeju-Do” (2023 short story) by Michelle Denham. The story of two girls being raised to have their brains implanted with the memories of the dead from which they were cloned, looking for their own ways of finding meaning. Poignant and gripping.

Other February Reads

  • Companion Animals in Moho Shojo Kira Kira Sunlight” (2024 flash fiction) by Stewart C Baker. A flash fiction analysis of a fictional magical girl anime with hints of another layer of story underneath. Even not much caring for flash and not knowing much about magical girl anime, it’s an interesting piece. For those in the target audience, perhaps it’s more.
  • Have Your #Hugot Harvested at this Diwata-Owned Cafe” (2020 short story) by Vida Cruz. The story of a magical eatery in the Philippines, written as a restaurant review, probably has more power for those much more familiar with the country’s political history.
  • Matchmaker, Matchmaker” (2022 short story) by E. Broderick. The story of two friends on a small planet competing for a small number of eligible Jewish boys. Does a great job sucking the reader into the lead’s perspective, though the ending is clear a mile away.
  • What it Means to Be a Car” (2023 short story) by James Patrick Kelly. A smart car leads a tour of the resting place of a controversial woman spearheading the preservation of consciousness after death.
  • Brincando Charcos (Jumping Puddles)” (2023 short story) by Ben Francisco. A portal-hopping love story that’s less about the heat and more about communication amongst a pair traumatized by oppression.
  • Interstate Mohinis” (2023 short story) by M.L. Krishnan. A spirit who preys on useless men finds her eye drawn to one woman in particular, trapped in an abusive relationship.
  • The Tyrant Heir’s Tale” (2023 novelette) by Carrie Vaughn. The heir of a coup interrogates his father’s friends as to whether or not they killed the tyrant’s heir. An entertaining tale with a few coincidences that may seem like a stretch but later receive in-story justification.
  • The Sound of Children Screaming” (2023 short story) by Rachael K. Jones. A portal fantasy/horror about school shootings by way of a dark Narnia. A fair sight more blunt in addressing social issues than I typically prefer, but it’s easy to see how the clever structure with pointed social commentary has enamored so many readers.
  • A Name is a Plea and a Prophecy” (2023 short story) by Gabrielle Emem Harry. Beautiful prose and a touching character backstory are the stars of the show about this mythic tale about a deal with Death.
  • Umeboshi” (2023 short story) by Rebecca Nakaba. A few elements of horror in a story mostly about processing the shadow of the lead’s ancestors over her life.
  • The Pit of Babel” (2023 short story) by Kofi Nyameye. A clever reversal of the Tower of Babel story told in a faux biblical style.
  • The Fate of Despair” (2023 short story) by Malena Salazar Maciá. A short science fantasy tale about surviving a wreck in space with a turn toward the magical with a deep resonance to Caribbean culture but wasn’t set up quite well enough to land for me.
  • All the Good You Did Not Do” (2023 short story) by Jolie Toomajan. A few paragraphs of a zombie tale lead into the real story about the fleetingness of the fame of heroism. There’s a feeling of emptiness here that is surely intentional.
  • Stolen Memories” (2023 short story) by Mwanabibi Sikamo. A woman who lives by literally consuming the memories of others finds herself trying to improve her station when a powerful man comes calling. A clever tale without many likable characters.
  • The Pigeon-Keeper’s Daughter” (2023 short story) by Su-Yee Lin. A beautiful piece of writing in the direction of slipstream or magical realism, one that gives the feeling of import lingering just below the surface, but one where I reached the end and wasn’t quite sure what to take away. Would be a fun discussion piece, as long as at least one in the group really feels it resonate.
  • The Case of the Blood-Stained Tower” (2023 short story) by Ray Nayler. A historical mystery story, though one that often feels like the mystery isn’t really the point. Not quite sure the climax landed for me, but I always find Nayler a pleasure to read regardless.
  • Polar Shift” (2023 short story) by Mir Seidel. A disorienting slipstream story that plays fast and loose with time and identity, set in an isolated polar research base.
  • Doctor Souvenir” (2024 short story) by Elly Bangs. A story in the “eternal life in a utopia gets boring eventually” vein, and a solid and entertaining example of the type.

Novels and Novellas

Reviews Posted

  • The Tainted Cup (2024 novel) by Robert Jackson Bennett. A fantasy mystery that really lives up to both the fantasy and the mystery aspects, with a weird ecology, tons of background politics, and a Holmes-like savant of an investigator.
  • The Book of Love (2024 novel) by Kelly Link. The story of four teenagers returned from the dead is excellent in its exploration of the mundane details of life, but I wasn’t as hooked by the magical power struggle at the core of the plot.
  • Chain-Gang All-Stars (2023 novel) by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. An absolutely brutal look at the American prison system that recasts it as a gladiatorial game, with a literary-like exploration of myriad perspectives ranging from prisoners to organizers to fans. A difficult read, but also my top book of 2023.
  • Moon of the Turning Leaves (2023 novel) by Waubgeshig Rice. Something of a post-apocalyptic road (trail?) trip, as a group of Anishinaabe survivors look for a sustainable home.
  • The Haunting of Hill House (1959 novel) by Shirley Jackson. My most belated review in a while, but this book is a classic for a reason, with a haunting and disorienting tale of a house that sends the lead character spiraling to the point that it’s hard to tell which hauntings are inside her head and which are outside.

Other February Reads

  • Girl Squad Volta (2023 novel) by Maya Lin Wang. A magical girl YA novel from an author whose adult work (as M.L. Wang) I’ve enjoyed immensely. A fun palate-cleanser that hews closely to the tropes. Full review to come.
  • Siege of the Burning Grass (2024 novel) by Premee Mohamed. Beautiful prose and interesting themes in this novel of a pacifist coerced into a military mission to try to convince the enemy to give up the fight. Often fascinating, but the plot often takes a backseat to the discussion back and forth between the lead and a soldier who disdains non-violence. Full review to come.
  • Nothing But the Rain (2023 novella) by Naomi Salman. My favorite novella of 2023, an epistolary tale of a town where rain washes away memories, told as three sets of diary entries. The conceit was enough to rope me in quickly, and the story only built from there.
  • Those Beyond the Wall (2024 novel) by Micaiah Johnson. Another entry in the universe of The Space Between Worlds is told through the eyes of an Ashtown enforcer, with the ostensible main multiverse plot taking a backseat to the political struggles between Ashtown and the rich Wiley City, with very intentional parallels to contemporary American politics. Full review to come.


We’re about halfway through the semifinals, and while my team hasn’t posted any official scores, we’ve been reading. I’ve got a couple personal reviews in the pipeline ready to go, and we’ll start getting team scores up near the end of March.


It’s award nomination season, and so I updated and reported my 2023 Recommended Reading List. I read so many good things last year!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *