Krista's Picks

   Calculating Stars

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

This thrilling and well-researched alternate history starts with a meteorite falling to earth in 1952 and obliterating the U.S. east coast. The resulting environmental devastation has been classified as an extinction event, and the planet will need to be evacuated if humanity is to survive. Though not without conflict, countries put aside political differences to create the International Aerospace Coalition, feverishly working to send a man to the moon, the first step in colonizing the stars. But mathematician, engineer, and former WW2 pilot Elma York knows that if humanity is going to succeed, they can’t ignore all of the qualified female scientists and pilots that could contribute. This smart mix of The Martian and Hidden Figures is rooted firmly in real science and history, but with a thought-provoking “what if?” scenario.


Fireborne by Rosaria Munda

This excellent high fantasy starts is one of my favorite reads of 2019! Nine years after a bloody uprising against the ruling class of dragonborn, the city-state of Callipolis is now a fledgling meritocracy. The story follows two teens who grew up together in the same orphanage and now train together as dragonriders: Annie, a former serf whose family was executed under the old regime; and Lee, an aristocrat whose family was murdered in the revolution. Their friendship and their loyalty to Callipolis is tested when survivors of the old regime resurface ready for war. This is a smart, political fantasy that has huge emotional stakes and plenty of dragon action, too.  

   rust maidens

The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste

This uneasy, insightful dark novel follows the lives of six girls and their families in the dying industrial town of Cleveland in the 1980s. Phoebe, the narrator, witnesses as her friends start to transform, not from girls to young women, but from girls to strange creatures of rust and metal, the “rust maidens” of the title. Is it connected to the closing steel mill where their fathers work? This is one of those quiet dread-laden horror novels that are as much about the horror of real life as whatever supernatural thing is happening simultaneously. Themes of transformation, stagnancy, destruction, and renewal ground the story, providing a framework for the changes happening to the town itself and to the girls' bodies. The writing is enigmatic and intimate; though classed as a horror novel, it has strong literary appeal. 

   the black god's drums

The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

This fantasy novella is set in an alternate New Orleans in 1884 where the South has not lost the Civil War and still uses slave labor thanks to an armistice with the North. The story follows Creeper, a clever, homeless black teen, as she discovers a dangerous plot against her neutral city involving a kidnapped Haitian scientist and a weapon called the Black God’s Drums. Creeper also has an African orisha, Oya, the goddess of winds and storms, living inside her, and Oya has her own plans for Creeper. Clark’s writing is top-notch, vivid and sparkling with energy. With strong characters and distinct world-building, this novella is a fast-paced and entertaining read with a lot of depth.

   good omens

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

A funny, heartfelt, feel-good read about the impending apocalypse? Is such a thing possible? It is, with wonderful writers like Pratchett and Gaiman at the helm. The end of the world has been scheduled (for a Saturday, no less); the antichrist has been born on Earth, the Four Horsemen are ready to ride, and the armies of Heaven and Hell are awaiting the final battle. Yet the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley, stationed on Earth for millennia and grown rather fond of the place, and each other, are determined to stop it. Their actions are pure chaos but they just might succeed. This hilarious book has surged back into popularity thanks to Amazon Prime’s new TV adaptation.


The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

What if the fate of humanity rested on an unthinkable choice? Tremblay poses this question in his gripping psychological thriller about the intersection of belief and paranoia and the sacrifices we will make for love. Seven-year-old Wen and her two loving fathers, Eric and Andrew, are vacationing at a remote lakeside cabin when they are confronted by three strangers who wield menacing objects and swear they need help to save the world. This is unnerving, suspenseful, real-world horror at its finest.


Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Read this New-York-Times-bestselling YA fantasy before the movie appears. Magic once ran in the bloodlines of the people of Orïsha. Diviners, children born with white hair, were destined to become magic-weilding maji in their teenage years, until King Saran eradicated the bloodline through the slaughter of all adult maji. Those remaining suffered under restrictive laws. Now seventeen, diviner Zélie remembers the night her mother was killed and dreams of revenge and revolution. But without magic her people are powerless. Then she meets runaway princess Amari, who fled King Saran with an ancient relic that can restore magic. As they embark on a dangerous quest to unlock the relic’s potential, Amari’s conflicted brother Prince Inan pursues them with his father’s soldiers.


The Adventure Zone: Here There Be Gerblins by Clint McElroy, et al.

This graphic novel is based on the popular The Adventure Zone podcast, recorded by the McElroy family (Griffin, Travis, and Justin, the brothers, of “My Brother, My Brother and Me” fame, and their father, Clint), chronicling their zany, clever, and hilarious Dungeons and Dragons adventures. The art is quirky and adorable, befitting this crew of weird-o’s on their journey from low-level dungeoneers to epic-level magical artifact hunters. A trifecta of metafictional fun for fantasy fans, McElroy fans, and humor fans. 

   goblin emperor

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

Do you have a favorite novel that you re-read every year? This is mine. This absorbing high fantasy novel is hopeful, heartfelt, and focused on characters who choose kindness and empathy over and over, even in circumstances when one might turn to cynicism. The story follows Maya, the half-goblin son of the elvish Emperor, who has lived his entire life in exile. When his father and all his other heirs die in an “accident”, Maya becomes Emperor and must navigate an Imperial court filled with deadly intrigue. This is not your typical, by-the-numbers lost heir story; it’s rich, sophisticated, and political, full of steampunk technology, dark magic, and courtly intrigue. You will be charmed. 

   perfect assassin

The Perfect Assassin (Chronicles of Ghadid Book 1), by K.A. Doore

Amastan has trained for years to become an assassin, one of many in his family who dispense divine justice for crimes, sanctioned by God and Ghadid, their vivid desert city. Secretly, though, he worries that when he accepts his first real contract, he won’t be able to take a life. He’s relieved when contracts are temporarily halted due to unrest in Ghadid and he can devote more time to his work as an historian/scribe. Everything changes when he finds the hidden body of a drum chief, one of Ghadid’s leaders, followed by the bodies of other assassins. Someone is killing for revenge and without quieting the victims’ jann (spirits) to stop them from possessing others. This is a thrilling fantasy debut that doubles as a suspenseful murder mystery, complete with vengeful ghosts, family drama, and a sweet m/m romance.  


Alone by Cyn Balog

When Seda’s mother inherits a decrepit mansion that was once a murder mystery hotel, they move there to undertake the renovation. Seda likes all of the secret passages and macabre decorations at first, but it turns oppressive when a blizzard strands a group of teenagers at the house. To keep their new guests entertained, her mother hosts a murder mystery like in the old days, and things get spectacularly spooky. This is a perfect premise for a chilling tale, and Balog brings the scares with clever use of classic horror references and subtly evoking one possible horror or another. Is the house haunted? Is one of the teenagers a killer? What about the voices Seda hears in her head? Balog sets up several possible endings, yet even the most jaded teen reader will be shocked. This title proves YA horror doesn’t have to be tame.


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