2020 Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books You May Have Missed

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this list of 2020 sci-fi and fantasy books are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

2020 sci-fi and fantasy books, Wizard 3D Art Scifi Magic Fantasy Power Cube
Image by Sachu Sanjayan from Pixabay

When the pandemic hit, some 2020 sci-fi and fantasy books may have fallen through the cracks. And if you’re anything like me, you’re probably 84 years behind on your TBR. But it’s okay, because as 2021 comes to an end, now is the perfect time to discover the books you missed when the pandemic started.

Dark and Deepest Red by Anna-Marie McLemore

McLemore creates a haunting and beautiful fairytale retelling with their story about Rosella Oliva and Emil. A pair of red shoes attach themselves to Rosella’s feet, making her dance uncontrollably. Emil reveals the history of the village’s ancestors who once danced themselves to death in those same shoes, and how his family was blamed for it five centuries before.

Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi

Onyebuchi combines the magic of fantasy with the science fiction of dystopian novels. Brother and sister Ella and Kev have supernatural powers that help them navigate a world built on brutality and racism. When Kev is imprisoned simply for being a black man in America, Ella tries to lead her brother to a revolution that can undo the world as they know it.

Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas

This was one of my favorite among the 2020 sci-fi and fantasy books published. Thomas takes their place among the queer young adult book canon. In this YA fantasy, Yadriel, a Latinx brujo wants to prove his place to his family that can’t accept his gender. But when he summons the ghost of Julian Diaz, the school’s bad boy, he can’t get rid of him. After spending time with him though, he’s not sure he wants to. You can see my full review here.

Docile by K.M. Szpara

In Szpara’s dystopian sci-fi novel, Dociles are the new slaves. These unfortunate individuals find themselves in dire straits and need to find a way to survive and provide for their children’s future. But the true horror of this science fiction novel is its all too real resonance with today’s life. It’s a promising read to add to the queer sci-fi canon.

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Roanhorse has earned her place among indigenous authors of renown. With this fantasy novel inspired by Ancestral Puebloan culture, she sets off the Between Earth and Sky trilogy. Featuring a matriarchy, rebel uprising, dark magic and political intrigue, this fantasy series is sure to satiate fans of the genre.

A Beginning at the End by Mike Chen

For sci-fi lovers with a taste for the post-apocalyptic, Chen’s novel fits the wheelhouse. After an epidemic wipes out a large chunk of Earth’s population, the rest are left to rebuild. This splits the world into factions of self-governed cities, gangs in the wastelands and communes for the free-loving. It’s a free-for-all that sci-fi readers will love.

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

Featuring queer librarians who act as spies in the American Southwest working for a rebellion against fascists and bandits, Gailey’s LGBTQ+ fantasy is sure to hit all the right notes this coming year. Esther fell in love with her best friend before they killed her for possessing propaganda from the resistance. When her father betrothed her to the man once engaged to her best friend, she stowed away in a librarian’s wagon.

You can find all the books mentioned here on my Bookshop page.

Wanderlust: Chicago 2017

It’s been a while since I wrote about my travels, so I thought I’d dive back in with my visit to Chicago in December 2017. After the last couple of years with limited traveling due to the pandemic, I think I’m long overdue to share my old adventures.

As I made my way between the buildings, I saw ropes stretched along walkways. I wondered what they were for until the moment a strong gust blew and I had to grab the nearby ropes to keep from blowing over. Ah, that’s why they call it The Windy City.

I flew out to Chicago to visit my friend Angela, but on my first day, I trekked solo while she worked. Filled with skyscrapers, banks, libraries and stores like any other city, at first glance it seems ordinary. But take a closer look at the details and you see a story within the cracks and crevices. Something about the city’s architecture captivated me and made me feel like I’d stepped into a different place. And I had. I wasn’t in Florida anymore, so the buildings held a different history.

the Chicago Theater
The Chicago Theater

Since I went in December, holiday lights and events abounded. I found myself at the Navy Pier and popped inside to escape the cold and rain. I walked into a delightful Christmas festival made more for kids, but still beautiful and enjoyable. Outside, even in the gray light, the waterfront promenade enthralled me. Passing by the Shakespeare Theater and the Ferris wheel in the distance, the Navy Pier holds a whimsical allure.

When visiting Chicago, make sure to get views of the city from up high. A ride on the Ferris wheel at the Navy Pier takes you on a wonderful ride above the skyline, seeing all the way out to the horizon. If you’re not afraid of heights, the Sears Tower also gives an incredible view of the city. It’s a tourist attraction, but stepping into the Skydeck over the city is a thrilling experience.

Chicago Skydeck
Sitting in the Chicago Skydeck

On the days Angela and I did hang out, we went to see the Habichuela as I called it. I hadn’t realized until that day that they actually call it the Bean. Cindy’s Rooftop Bar nearby gives an excellent view of the shining structure from above. But be prepared for a bit of a wait, as even before the pandemic it was a wait to enter.

View of the Bean from Cindy's Rooftop Bar
View of the Bean from Cindy’s Rooftop Bar

Have you visited Chicago? What was your impression of the city? Let me know in the comments.

Update 10/20/2021: Time is such a construct that I forgot my first trip to Chicago was in 2017, not 2018.

Best Books for Fall Lovers

Disclosure: Some of the links in this list of best books for fall are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

best books for fall
Image by hudsoncrafted from Pixabay

With the leaves changing colors and cooler weather comes the perfect opportunity to get cozy in your reading nook. Whether it’s a sweet romance or chilling mystery, there’s something for all Fall lovers. Grab a cup of tea and fall into these six books perfect for Autumn.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

A mystery thriller set in New England makes for one of the best books for fall. A group of smart and strange students become entranced with a new way of thinking about the world, influenced by their charismatic professor. But things go too far, and soon they delve into a world of corruption, betrayal and evil.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

You can always count on Gaiman to deliver creepy fall books perfect for the Halloween season. Part horror and part young adult paranormal fantasy, this story follows Nobody Owens, a boy who escaped the grisly murder that befell his family. He wanders into a graveyard after the incident, where the land’s deceased residents agree to raise him as one of their own.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Among the best cozy autumn books is Setterfield’s novel about a recluse author named Vida Winter who penned 12 delightful tales. But the 13th has been missing, until the time just before her death. With the help of biographer Margaret Lea, Winter finally tells the tale she’s kept hidden her whole life.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

If you’re searching for books that feel like autumn, then look no further than the first of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. In 1945 Barcelona, a boy named Daniel awakes one day to find he can no longer remember his mother’s face. His father attempts to console him by initiating him into the secret library tended by rare-book dealers.

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

One of the best books set in Autumn takes place in London post-World War II. During the war, Juliet Armstrong worked as a transcriber, cracking codes between an MI5 agent and a suspected German sympathizer. Years after the war, she’s dragged back into the world of spy work she wanted to leave behind.

The Autumn Bride by Anne Gracie

A list of fall books is not complete without a historical romance. Abigail Chantry, a governess, finds the Lady Beatrice Davenham’s estate in shambles. To keep her sisters and friends who work for the estate from falling into poverty, she takes over it herself. But when the Lady’s nephew Max returns and doesn’t find his aunt running the place, misunderstandings ensue and lead to the best kind of romance.

Find most of the books on this list here!

The Crimson Crown by Cinda Williams Chima Book Review

Disclosure: Some of the links in this book review for The Crimson Crown are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

It’s taken several years, but I finally finished the Seven Realms Series. Perhaps I’m well past the age of the appropriate audience, but this ending felt lackluster after such a strong series. It was still a fair book, but not great in comparison to the first three.

The Crimson Crown by Cinda Williams Chima paperback
The Crimson Crown by Cinda Williams Chima

Summary

In the final novel of Chima’s high fantasy young adult series, the war that’s been broiling in the realms comes to a head. Raisa, now the queen of the Fells, must contend with all her enemies and bring together people who have been split for centuries. Han Alister, her wizard counselor, and her love interest helps Raisa bring the kingdom together, ensuring everyone has an equal voice. But they can only succeed if they’re honest with each other and bring the truth to light.

Characters of The Crimson Crown

In the past, Han and Raisa’s constant push and pull compelled me. But by the fourth book, it wears out. The will they/won’t they seesaw grew tired and left me unsatisfied in the end. All the relationships felt that way, really. Every dynamic, whether it was Raisa and Amon or the wizards versus clan stretched out too long. It was a relief when it finally came to an end. The prolonged tensions affected the characters’ growth. It felt like three books’ worth of development stagnated and fell short.

Plot

While the characters fell short, the story kept moving along at a pace that worked. However, it did feel a bit uneven as well. The political intrigue dragged a bit on both Raisa’s and Han’s sides. The end approached quickly and culminated in a neat little bow.

Cultural Influences

Throughout the series, I couldn’t help but compare the story to Tamora Pierce’s Trickster duology. Raisa represents the bridge between two peoples who cannot coexist: the colonizers and the colonized. She is the daughter of the queen of the conquering people and the chief of the clan people. It’s hard not to make the connection to the sisters in the Trickster duology.

It also bears acknowledging that both series are written by white women. While mixed characters are certainly worth exploring, a more deft hand is required. Both series create an interesting premise that reflects real-life issues. But they don’t go far enough to understand the nuance of such existence.

Rating Crimson Crown

3 out of 5 stars. I loved the rest of the series enough to finish it. But the book doesn’t stand too well on its own.

Find this book on my Bookshop.org list and other books I’ve reviewed.

Back in the Blogosphere

Hello friends!

Source: Source: Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

I needed a break from blogging. I’ve been doing it because I enjoy it, but I’m feeling burned out with everything I have going on. But I think I’m ready to come back. Only now I’ll have a once a month schedule. My aim is to post the first Saturday each month. So I don’t burn myself out and have time and energy for other projects on the horizon…

I’m excited to be back!

Warmest Regards,

Meagan Kimberly

5 Books Better on Audio to Add to Your TBR

Disclosure: Some of the links in this list for books better on audio are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

5 books better on audio
5 Books Better on Audio

As much as bookworms love to take in words with their eyes, sometimes listening to the story is better. It brings back the nostalgia of being read to as a child and keeps up the oral tradition of storytelling. Here are five books better on audio with great narrators.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Hawkins’s best-selling mystery thriller is narrated by Clare Corbett, Louise Brealey and India Fisher. Mysteries make the best audiobooks. They’re written with a creepy atmosphere that evokes images of sitting around a campfire telling tales. Corbett’s, Brealey’s and Fisher’s voice acting give each of the main characters a distinct voice. The listener always knows who is talking.

World War Z by Max Brooks

This creative exploration of the zombie apocalypse is told through a series of interviews with survivors. It features a full cast in audio form, including Simon Pegg and Mark Hamill. Its style makes it among the books better on audio because its format takes on a documentary quality. It’s made for voice actors.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee

Christian Coulson’s narration brings the main character’s voice – Henry “Monty” Montague – to life in the most delightful way. He brings Monty’s sarcasm and wit to the forefront in a way that reading the words on the page does not suffice. Readers will get caught up in the queer romance as well with Coulson’s dulcet tones.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Another star-studded voice cast, Saunders’s moving tale includes the likes of Lena Dunham, Nick Offerman, David Sedaris and Julian Moore, among others. The full-cast narration brings to life historical figures and fictional characters alike to create a rich story made for listening.

Dreams of My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama

Memoirs make for books better on audio, especially when narrated by the authors themselves. Regardless of politics, many have agreed that former President Obama’s voice commands an audience. Those who heard him speak couldn’t help but listen. The same holds true for his memoir as he reads from his writings on race and family.

If you don’t quite like audiobooks, that’s ok! You can still pick up a copy of these great books here.

Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet Book Review

Disclosure: Some of the links in this book review for Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp Hear Our Voices book tour banner
Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet, Hear Our Voices Book Tour

Thanks to NetGalley and Hear Our Voices Book Tours for an ARC of this wonderful novel. What an absolute delight reading it, including all the overwhelming emotions. It’s an aptly named book, as the story does fall somewhere in between the two.

I would like to disclose at this time this is not exactly an Own Voices book review. Because it said Latinx representation, I assumed that meant an amalgamation of different cultures would appear in the book aside from Mexican-American. However, the story solidly depicts the Mexican-American/Chicanx community. While I did find many similarities between my experiences and the character’s, we do not hail from the same community.

Summary of Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet

Pen Prado loves working at Nacho’s Tacos, her father’s restaurant, alongside her family. She dreams of opening her own pastelería next to his restaurant some day. Those dreams come crashing down when she reveals the truth to her family: she hasn’t been going to school like she said she was. Her father fires her from the restaurant and she chooses to move out rather than stay at home and go to school. Pen discovers who she truly is and her place in the world.

Xander comes to Nacho’s Tacos seeking a job and refuge. He lives undocumented with his grandfather, having been left by his father and mother as a child. He’s looking for a sense of family, including his estranged father, but it might come at a cost. Worse, the neighborhood crook who preys on desperate small businesses and families, J.P., has him in his sights. Together with Pen, he must find out how to save the place he thinks of as home.

Characters

Pen and Xander are electric, both on their own and together. Readers will easily fall in love with these kids as they navigate growing pains and fight for their community. It’s hard to talk about the characters individually, as they are so interconnected with one another and their families. This makes Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet realistic and relatable. Every character is their own person but inextricably tangled with their culture and community.

The relationships feel organic and real. Pen’s role as the little sister to Angel, her more reckless big brother, rings true. Likewise, her bond with Chloe, her best friend, shows the strength and love between two women who become sisters. The whole cast of characters at the restaurant felt like a genuine family. They bickered and played pranks on one another. They also came together and had one another’s backs when it came down to fighting J.P.’s scare tactics.

Depictions of Mental Health Issues

Kemp does a phenomenal job of showcasing Pen’s struggles with depression. When she tries to hold it all in, the atmosphere suffocates you alongside her. As she finds the strength to pull through her depressive episodes, you feel the world opening up right beside her. Throughout every moment Pen deals with her mental illness, the reader feels it with her. Kemp’s writing does an amazing job of creating that mood without being didactic.

Writing

Kemp’s writing creates a lush and vibrant setting throughout. Her writing takes full advantage of all the senses, bringing to life every scent, sound, taste, feeling, and sight. It perfectly reflects the food and what it means to the characters. Fair warning, you will get hungry while reading, so I suggest keeping a snack in hand.

She also perfectly weaves the themes of the story throughout the plot and through character development. She does not shy away from the uglier parts of healing from trauma. But she always shines a light of hope through the characters and their language. The end of the novel doesn’t wrap up neatly, but it leaves a sense of promise for the future.

Rating of Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet

Hands down, this book deserves 5 out of 5 stars. From the story to the characters to the writing, the whole thing is perfect.

Get a copy here!

Essay Collections to Make You a Smarter Person

Disclosure: Some of the links in this booklist of essay collections are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

6 essay collections to make you smarter
Essay collections to make you smarter

Essay collections combine creativity and academic language to make smart, fun-to-read pieces. They help readers step into another’s shoes and experience the world as they do. Furthermore, like short story collections, they’re easy to read in chunks.

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison

Jamison discusses and analyzes empathy from several angles, such as womanhood and as an observer of those suffering from improbable maladies. These essays challenge readers to understand the line between empathy and tragedy voyeurism.

Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom

This collection follows the likes of Roxane Gay and bell hooks. McMillan Cottom discusses subjects such as race, money, beauty, and more. The author puts at the forefront what it means to be thick – physically, mentally, and emotionally.

The Collected Schizophrenias by Esmé Weijun Wang

Wang gives an intimate look into living with mental and chronic illness. The candid discussion of living with schizophrenia helps create a better understanding of an often misrepresented condition.

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker by Damon Young

Young’s memoir as a book of essays explores what it means to be a black man in white America. Though it delves into heavy themes of race, Young does so with a humorous touch. Even when it seems the stories become harder and harder to carry.

Shapes of Native Nonfiction ed. by Elissa Washuta and Theresa Warburton

Editors Washuta and Warburton gathered works from 27 Native writers. It contains pieces by writers across the tribes of Turtle Island. Furthermore, this diverse collection of perspectives holds as one of the best nonfiction essay collections.

Don’t Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

From award-winning poet, Claudia Rankine, comes a collection filled with lyrical precision. Published in the era of the Bush administration, Rankine explores themes of race, terrorism, politics, and more.

Find the books on this list here.

Short Story Collections to Get You Through Your Reading Slump

Disclosure: Some of the links in this book list of short story collections are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

7 short story collections

Collections of short stories often fulfill that reading itch without the long commitment of a novel. You can pick up a story, read it to completion, and then put the book down without losing the thread. Check out these collections of short stories to cushion your reading.

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
Machado bends and breaks genre rules. In doing so, she creates stories that blur the lines between horror, science fiction, and fantasy. Each story also explores the violence often experienced by women and their bodies through various lenses.

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
Liu’s collection is lauded as one of the best short fiction books. It also contains a combination of futuristic science fiction with fantastic myths from Japanese culture. Moreover, these stories explore what it means to be human through narratives of AI, robotics, legendary creatures, and more.

A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin
Berlin’s short story collection blends humor, wit, and gut-wrenching emotion. It tells the stories that happen in settings often found behind the scenes in our everyday lives. These are quiet stories of average people leading average lives, but the way they are told is anything but average.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
From the award-winning author of The Sympathizer comes a short story collection filled with the trials and struggles of being an immigrant. These stories are rich, complex, and so well written it’s impossible to put down.

Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
In Lahiri’s short stories, her characters delve into an exploration of identity. They investigate everything from their ancestors’ Indian heritage to their own American upbringing, for example. It’s a collection of poignant stories that deftly maneuver through the question of cultural identity between generations.

The World Doesn’t Require You: Stories by Rion Amilcar Scott
This collection of short stories strings together tales of various residents of Cross River. The leaders of the only successful slave revolt of the mid-nineteenth century established the town. Moreover, Scott’s debut short story collection is a must-read in today’s world of turmoil.

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
Carter tackles familiar fairy tales and legends in one of the best short story collections of the last century. She tells the stories in this collection with dark and sensual twists that will leave readers wanting more.

Pick up a copy of each of these collections here.

Indigenous Authors Books to Read

Disclosure: Some of the links in this book list of indigenous authors are affiliate links. If you click them to make a purchase I will earn a commission. The decision of whether or not to buy something is completely up to you.

indigenous authors book list

This reading list of indigenous authors will give you plenty to refill your shelves. It includes books like stirring contemporary fiction and contemplative memoirs . Additionally, it’s always a good time to diversify your bookshelves and TBR to expand your horizons.

Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

Wagamese is a native of Canada and offers a novel filled with complicated father-son relationships, as well as man’s struggle to survive nature and the power of healing. This novel is a prime example of indigenous literature. It follows 16-year-old protagonist Franklin Starlight as he answers the call to see his father and make amends.

Two Old Women: An Alaskan Legend of Betrayal, Courage and Survival by Velma Wallis

Wallis makes her mark among indigenous authors. The story takes inspiration from legends passed down for generations among the Gwich’in Athabascan tribe. The book tells the story of two elderly women abandoned by their tribe left to survive the brutal winter on their own or die trying.

There There by Tommy Orange

This contemporary novel by Tommy Orange appears often in many book lists with indigenous characters. Orange, an Arapaho of the Cheyenne tribe, tells a multigenerational story that follows several family members coming together at the Big Oakland Powwow, each for their own reasons.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Erdrich, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band Chippewa, is one of the most well-known First Nations’ writers. She explores her mother’s Ojibwe heritage coupled with the story of a young man as he comes of age. All this after a traumatic experience that turns his family upside down.

Why Storms Are Named After People and Bullets Remain Nameless by Tanaya Winder

Winder, a native of the Duckwater Shoshone, delivers a poignant collection of poems that tug at the heart. Moreover, these poems explore the symbiotic nature of pain and joy. She does it all through an analytical lens focused on the parts of a gun and its role in colonization.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Kimmerer is a botanist trained to look at nature through a scientific lens. She is also a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. As such she understands the healing power of plants through a cultural perspective often overlooked in the sciences. This nonfiction book bridges the gap between modern science and the ancient practices of indigenous people.

Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson

Robinson, a member of the Haisla and Heiltsuk First Nations of British Columbia, combines magical realism with mystery. She creates a mesmerizing coming-of-age tale. Lisamarie investigates the tragic death of her brother while running from her own ghosts and questioning her childhood memories.

Find most of these titles here.