Psychics in Science Fiction

Usually when people think of science fiction, it is a rule-based setting. Near future, far future, alternate past –  the “what if” of a good science fiction novel usually sticks with what could be, if things develop according to the way society is trending and the rules of science allow. But what then do you do with science fiction that adds in something fantastical? For my purposes you get a Science Fiction/Fantasy blend.

Psychic powers are one of the most common fantasy elements that get added to what can otherwise be straightforward science fiction.  There is no scientific basis (at this time!) for psychic powers. No proof that they exist or could exist, or would exist if the conditions were right.  But they are irresistible to authors in many genres. Some even bother to walk through scientific example of why the powers manifest.  But really, they’re just cool. The great thing about genre blends is that authors feel free to borrow whatever cool bits they like from other genres. It’s a big part of why I like blends. So with no further ado, here are some great examples of SF with psychic powers

 

foundationFoundation series by Isaac Asimov

Start with: Foundation

Asimov’s classic series is the story of a galactic empire in decline. Hari Sheldon is the inventor of psychohistory, the ability to see the future through the use of history, psychology and statistics. He foresees the end of society and brings together humanity’s greatest thinkers to create a safe hold, a foundation at the edge of the galaxy. But that’s not even the psychic part!  There is a character of Mule, whose ability to control others through their emotions makes him a dangerous man, and a threat to Hari’s plans.  There’s some other psychic stuff running through the series, but none of this makes it any less of a classic of the science fiction genre.

bloodysunDarkover series by Marian Zimmer Bradley

Start with: The Bloody Sun

People have been arguing about the Darkover series since it was first published.  SF or fantasy? There are also quite a few arguments over whether it is worth reading.  The quality of the series is really, really all over the place. I loved the books as a teen but see their flaws quite clearly as an adult.  But somehow I have fond feelings for them, and their cray-cray sf/fantasy weirdness. On the one hand, some of the volumes have a completely fantasy feel, with a feudal society where the aristocracy have psychic powers. Best examples for those books are HawkMistress! or StormQueen! (or as I think of them – the exclamation point books!). But The Bloody Sun is a better example of the books that deal with this feudal, psychic society’s clash with earth, which has a much more SF feel. MZB gives a semi-scientific example for her psychic powers in these later volumes.

dunesmDune series by James Herbert

Start with: Dune

Hmm… how to talk about the psychic woo-woo stuff in Dune without giving too much away? I fully admit to bouncing off Dune hard when I first tried to read it, as it starts with a very dry explanation of galactic politics. But once you get on the planet of Dune, and our young hero Paul starts to take his place in destiny, it starts to really work. In the series, one of the galaxy’s master manipulators is a group known as the Bene Gesserit. Through a combo of long-game genetic manipulation and the use of the mysterious Spice, found only on Arrakis, they have developed a whole range of psychic powers, especially telepathy and precognition. Oh, and the basis of interstellar travel has a psychic element as well, as the navigators use Spice to put themselves into a weird state that allows faster-than-light travel.

manycoloredlandSaga of the Pliocene Exile by Julian May

Start with: The Many-Colored Land

In the Pliocene Exile books, a man from the future (just looked it up 2034 – not too future now!) discovers a portal to the past of six million years ago. Ever since, certain disaffected mavericks have made the one-way journey to the presumed peaceful and idyllic era. The first book follows a group that make the trip from 2110 to the Pliocene, only to find two warring humanoid but alien races already living there. Both races have paranormal powers, and the humans find themselves drawn into the conflict between them. The psychic powers are not alien-specific, though. As you read the whole series the set-up is that humanity, as a species, has been developing ESP powers as well. Some of the exiles who chose to jump to the past do so because they feel out of step with the new galactic mind.  It’s been decades since I read these books, but I really enjoyed them.

demolishedman starsmydestinationThe Demolished Man  and

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

The Demolished Man is a classic of the SF genre. Everyone in the future society written about here has psychic powers – it’s just a matter of how much. The story revolves around a man who is determined to kill a business rival, but how do you commit murder in a society of telepaths? This clever SF/Mystery blend won the Hugo in 1953, and has some obvious noir influences. Bester also dabbled in psychic powers for his novel The Stars My Destination (a book that inspired the name of the SFF bookstore I spent many a happy hour in when I lived in Chicago in the late 1980s and 1990s, The Stars Our Destination). That novel hinges on personal teleportation, a skill that is apparently psychically controlled. Both novels feel like SF (Stars is often cited as a precursor to cyberpunk), while skillfully borrowing the fantastical element of psychic abilities,

rowanThe Tower and Hive series by Anne McCaffrey

Start with: The Rowan

Loosely connected to each other and to other McCaffrey books, this first novel in the Tower and Hive series sets up the premise of a future human society where certain individuals with psychic abilities are known as Talents. Rowan survived an alien attack that destroyed her planet and family when she was a young child. She grew up to be a major Talent, known as a “prime”, and worked for the Federal Telepath & Teleport network, which controls all communication and shipping in the galaxy. Her talents set her apart and leave her lonely, until she hears the distant psychic call of fellow-talent Jeff Raven from across space. The two fall and love and fight aliens together. Like you do.

 

soldiersdutyTheirs Not to Reason Why series by Jean Johnson

Start with: A Soldier’s Duty

While most of the books on this list are pretty old (I read most as a teen and I am also old), this is a relatively new series, and one that also blends sf and romance, which is a blend of which I am particularly fond.  I just started reading it, so I’ll crib from the publisher blurb. “Ia is a precog, tormented by visions of the future where her home galaxy has been devastated. To prevent this vision from coming true, Ia enlists in the Terran United Planets military with a plan to become a soldier who will inspire generations for the next three hundred years-a soldier history will call Bloody Mary.”  As I said, I’m reading this one now, but I loved how Ia sees the future, or should I say the many possible futures, sifting through them to try to get the one she needs, the one that doesn’t end in the death of everyone and everything she loves.

Online Readers’ Advisory Sources

As part of a presentation I’m doing for the Biennial National Conference of Librarians Serving Blind and Physically Handicapped Individuals, I have gathered together some of my favorite online RA sources.  I thought I would share them here.

Keeping track of what you read:

Keeping current:

FAQs

Books in series:

Can you find me a good book?

 

General RA sites

 

General Fiction/Nonfiction sites

Audiobook Websites:

Mystery & Crime

Romance

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Horror

Historical Fiction & Westerns

Inspirational Fiction

AWARDS

General Fiction/Nonfiction

Genre Fiction Awards

Mystery/Crime

Romance:

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Horror

Historical Fiction & Western

Inspirational Fiction

Audiobooks

 

 

 

Anticipated Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016

The explosion in publishing for science fiction, fantasy and horror makes me believe that 2016 will be an amazing years for these genres.  Orbit has stated they are expanding their publishing efforts, Houghton Mifflin has added a new SFF imprint, Marvelous SFF podcast/book club Sword and Laser seem to have started up a publishing endeavor, and of course there is the ongoing boom in self-publishing.  I have so many books I want to read, and I’m lucky enough that my gig as the science fiction and fantasy columnist for Library Journal means that I will probably not only get to read most of these, but I can share my joy (or occasional disappointment) with them in my reviews for librarians around the country.  But let’s face it. I’d read most of these even if I didn’t have to. Of course, print magazine publishing being what it is, my deadlines mean that I’ve actually read some of these, which I will note throughout. So without further ado, here are the titles I am most excited about for the first half of 2016. There’s a couple of titles scheduled later in the year (Crosstalk by Connie Willis, Cloudbound by Fran Wilde are just two examples) that I will undoubtedly devour, but that’s so far out that you never know if the pub dates will shift. I’m sure there are so many more great ones coming, so if I missed something you’re dying to read, feel free to tell me in the comments!

JANUARY


All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders  (Read, LOVED)
City of Blades (The Divine Cities, book 2) by Robert Jackson Bennett (Read, LOVED)
This Census-Taker by China Mieville
Medusa’s Web by Tim Powers (Read, LOVED)
Feverborn (Fever) by Karen Marie Moning

 

FEBRUARY


A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab (Read, LOVED)
A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly (Read, LOVED)
The Immortals (Olympus Bound) by Jordanna Max Brodsky (Read, LOVED)
Morning Star (Red Rising, book 3) by Pierce Brown 
Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen (Vorkosigan Saga) by Lois McMaster Bujold

 

MARCH

Marked In Flesh (Others, book 4) by Anne Bishop (Read, LOVED)
Fire Touched (Mercy Thompson) by Patricia Briggs (Read, LOVED)
Kingfisher by Patricia McKillip
Borderline (The Arcadia Project Book 1) by Mishell Baker
The Cold Between (Central Corps, book 1) by Elizabeth Bonesteel (Read, LOVED)

APRIL


Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Fellside by M. R. Carey
The Everything Box by Richard Kadrey (Read, LOVED)
Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel (Read, LOVED)
HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
The Family Plot by Cherie Priest
Dead Letters  ed. by Conrad Williams (horror anthology with exciting list of contributors)
Join by Steve Toutonghi

MAY

     voodookillings

Central Station by Lavie Tidhar
Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay
Company Town by Madeline Ashby
The Fireman by Joe Hill
Sixth Watch (Night Watch) by Sergei Lukyanenko
Voodoo Killings
by Kristi Charish (Canadian, but hopefully getting a US release)

 

JUNE

 babyonsashes
Stiletto (The Rook Files) by  Daniel O’Malley
Dark Run by Mike Brooks
Necessity (Thessaly) by Jo Walton
The Hanging Tree (Rivers of London) by Ben Aaronovitch
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
The Perdition Score (Sandman Slim) by Richard Kadrey
The Invisible Library (The Invisible Library Series)by Genevieve Cogman
Babylon’s Ashes (The Expanse) by James S.A. Corey

JULY

  assassinsfate
Supernova by C.A. Higgins
The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal
Four Roads Cross (Craft Sequence) by Max Gladstone
Time Siege by Wesley Chu
Assassin’s Fate (Fitz and the Fool, book 3) by Robin Hobb

 

AT LAST BUT NOT LEAST

These titles have not been announced yet, but that doesn’t keep me from hoping, right?

Winds of Winter by George R.R. Martin
Doors of Stone by Patrick Rothfuss

Favorite Reads of 2015

As a librarian and a book reviewer, I read a lot of books.  This year I actually read fewer books than I have in a long time, due to a perfect storm of moving, changing jobs, and dealing with a serious illness. I got some help on the reviewing front, sharing my Library Journal column on science fiction, fantasy, and horror with a co-columnist which helped quite a bit. I still managed to read about 175 books in 2015, reviewing 146 for Library Journal.

Looking back at all that reading, some titles float right to the top as favorites. I participated in the twitter hashtag #libfaves15, which was fun but difficult to limit to only 10 titles.  I also ran down my favorites for Library Journal, but that was an even more torturous limit of 5 titles.  So here I thought I would run down my favorites in several SFF genres, NO LIMITS!  I’m not going to give full reviews here as i reviewed all of these in Library Journal, but I’ll just give a brief note about why I loved them.  It shouldn’t surprise anyone that a lot of my favorites were genre blends!

Urban Fantasy
            

Owl and the Japanese Circus (The Owl Series) by Kristi Charish

Why? This had a great Indiana Jones vibe with adventuress heroine Owl and plenty of exotic locales. Owl is prickly and difficult, giving the author plenty of room for character growth over this new series.

Killing Pretty: A Sandman Slim Novel by Richard Kadrey

Why? Because Kadrey has managed to turn this series in a new direction, more of an old-skool urban fantasy with Stark as a supernatural P.I. Of course, he’s still Stark (aka Sandman Slim) so there’s all the seediness and profanity that series regulars love.

Vision in Silver: A Novel of the Others by Anne Bishop

Why? This is one of my favorite urban fantasy series (although it’s not really urban), with a fascinating world and a continuous storyline (don’t jump in here) with tension building slowly to a major showdown between humans and Others.

Menagerie (The Menagerie Series) by Rachel Vincent

Why? I like the angsty melodrama of this new series. Delilah’s struggles when she realizes she is not human and her imprisonment in the carnival is dark, dark dark. Not a bad readalike for Bishop’s Others series, actually.

Dragon Coast (Daniel Blackland) by Greg Van Eekhout

Why? After the amazing California Bones, the second book (Pacific Fire) was a bit of a disappointment. But Van Eekhout brings it back with this final volume. Another heist plot (yay!) and more of the character bonding that I loved so much makes this a great ending for the series.

Epic Fantasy

        

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

Why? This gorgeous fairy tale has a terrific heroine who fights for her friends and family but is no simple storybook cutout.  I love that it has an Eastern European flavor and the romance was lovely but didn’t overpower the story.  Great teen appeal too.

Updraft by Fran Wilde

Why? Wow, this world.  Another book I would hand to adults and teens with equal glee, the biggest appeal for me was the worldbuilding where people live in towers grown of bone and fly on man-made glider wings.  There’s family drama, teen angst, and lovely writing in this debut.

Black Wolves (The Black Wolves Trilogy) by Kate Elliott

Why? Although this was based in an established world of Elliott’s, it stands alone well and starts a fascinating new series.  I loved the world, with complicated politics and divided loyalties. Lots of Asian influences, but swirled in new ways.

City of Blades (The Divine Cities) by Robert Jackson Bennett

Why? City of Stairs was one of my favorite books of 2014, and this follow-up is just as good, while being completely different.  The action moves to a new, broken city and brings back Mulagesh and Sigrud and more of the fascinating toppled gods.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

Why? I love unreliable narrators, and Baru is fascinating in her ability to be what other people want her to be while holding on to her dream of revenge against the powers that conquered her country.

Historical Fantasy, Alt History, and Steampunk

         

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Why?  Four Londons, each with their own level of magic, including Grey London (our London under George III) with no magic but one intrepid thief named Lila. I loved Kell, his changeable coat, and his ability to travel between the worlds but man did I love Lila!

Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

Why? This amazing alternate Napoleonic England is so diverse that it might destroy SFF (kidding). Zacharias is a great embattled hero, a former slave holding the highest magical post in the land. The story really takes off when he meets Prunella, a young woman with a brash spirit and a natural magical talent.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

Why? Victorian Civil Servant Thaniel is so delightfully confused about what he wants. When he gets an anonymous gift of a watch and tracks down maker Keito Mori, his life changes foever. I adored Keito and his unusual abilities and his mechanical animals.  I want a clockwork octopus like Katsu.

Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

Why? Bear sets her story in an unnamed Old West city that is delightfully rough, violent and FULL of prostitutes. I loved Madame Damnable’s brothel and the ladies who plied their trade there. This has an amazing cast of characters (including a really brutal villain) and a touch of steampunk gadgetry.

The House of Shattered Wings  by Aliette de Bodard

Why? The vivid setting in a ravaged Paris filled with warring houses of fallen angels and witches has stuck in my mind since reading this beautifully written fantasy.  There are a bunch of little mysteries, that will keep you turning pages, not the least of which is the nature of hero Phillippe and fate of most famous fallen angel Lucifer.

The Mechanical (The Alchemy Wars) by Ian Tregillis

Why? What if the Dutch developed robots 250 years ago, using alchemy to bind the “Clakkers” to their will? How cool is that?!?  The Dutch rule the world, France is almost destroyed, and one Clakker has found a way to throw off his yoke and experience free will. There is plenty of action and spies making this more than just a cool idea.

Science Fiction

       

Ancillary Mercy (Imperial Radch) by Ann Leckie

Why? Even though this didn’t flatten me with awe the way the first book did, this is still easily one of the best SF books of the year. Breq’s arc has been pretty weird, but so, so satisfying. This series tackles huge ideas like what is identity, how to do the right thing (and know what the right thing is), imperialism, etc. – and makes them FUN.

The Fold by Peter Clines

Why? This works well as a smart techno thriller, with the tantalizing possibility that a government funded group has developed teleportation technology. But it takes a great step sideways into the weird midway through, and that’s what made it a winner for me. I also loved hero Mike, a genius with an eidetic memory who gets sent to check on the progress of the research group.

The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi

Why? Ripped from the headlines! The drought in the western states of America makes this SF/Thriller about the fight for water rights completely believable. Angel Velaquez (the eponymous water knife) should be too much of a violent thug to be a hero as he swindles and schemes and kills to make sure Las Vegas gets its water, but somehow he remains engaging.

Luna: New Moon

Why? Ian McDonald is such an amazing writer, but his books are sometimes challenging reads, dense with ideas. This one is interesting, but still a LOT of fun, especially the last half. I loved the feuding families on the moon (very Game of Thrones) as well as the touches of mystery. Can’t wait for the next book!

Golden Son: Book II of The Red Rising Trilogy by Pierce Brown

Why? While Red Rising was fantastic, the scale was small, focused on the competition on Mars and it had a YA vibe. Now the scope has busted wide open, giving the talented author room to strut his stuff while still keeping the story of Darrow and his goal to overthrow the government from within.

Horror & Dark Fantasy

   

The Fifth House of the Heart by Ben Tripp

Why? The character of antiques dealer Sax was so wonderful – cranky, gay, vain, clever, cowardly – all that and more! And he steals from vampires? That’s a risky career move. Plus it has a heist plot (my catnip) and vampires that are truly scary again.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

Why? The idea of children being taken from their homes and raised by a psychotic godlike father figure who makes (most) of them into psychotics as well was irresistible, especially as the now grown Carolyn tries to interact with the regular humans as she looks for her missing father. Surprisingly funny while still chilling at time.

Positive by David Wellington

Why? Zombies are over, right? But this thriller of humanity after the devastation of a zombie apocalypse is gripping and scary, especially as the real monsters are (of course!) altogether human.

 

Genre Blend New Releases – January 2016

Another year begins, and there are plenty of new releases coming in January to satisfy genre readers who like to mix things up a little. I can personally vouch for City of Light , Keri Arthur’s new series that presents readers with a really interesting new world that meshes SF and Fantasy in a way that reminded me of Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling world. I also loved Tim Power’s new title Medusa’s Web, which shows his usual gonzo inventiveness. City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett was a fantastic follow-up to City of Stairs that manages both to take the series in a new direction but also satisfy fans. Finally, All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders is a beautifully written mix of SF and Fantasy, funny and melancholy and just lovely. I haven’t read Carol Goodman’s latest and so I’m not positive what the fantasy element is, but I’ve loved everything she’s written, and her books often have a gothic vibe. I’m also tempted by the latest book in the Iron Druid series by Kevin Hearne.  Hopefully you find something good here to tempt you to start the new year out blending things up!

January 5

               

 

January 12

   

January 19

         

January 26

                        

What to read after watching The Expanse

expanseLast night was the official Syfy network premiere of the new space opera tv series The Expanse, although some folks watched the show online when it went up a couple of weeks ago. Tonight will be episode two, setting the hook even deeper to get viewers sucked into this new series that promises to bring the network back to its science fiction roots. So far, it’s a stylish adaptation, with some nice acting and great scenery. I can’t wait to see how it develops as the season goes on and how faithful it remains to its source material. I promise not to spoil anything for those who haven’t watched yet!

 

leviathanwakesThis season of The Expanse is based on the first book of James S.A. Corey’s series, Leviathan Wakes.  In this novel, humanity has spread throughout the solar system, but no further. Divisions in human society have developed between the major outposts of Earth, Mars and the outer planets, with mutual distrust between all factions. It’s a canny choice, keeping the action close to our planetary home and the actors human. It makes the series more accessible to readers (and now viewers) who are not necessarily long-time SF fans. The other clever thing the authors (Corey is a pseudonym for two sf writers, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) have done to bring in a wide readership is to have the first volume adopt some of the trappings of another popular genre, the mystery. There is a missing person case, a hangdog cop and plenty of noir atmosphere.

If you have been loving the show so far or are a fan of the books that the show is based on, I have some suggestions of books to read.

The book (and presumably series) has two main points of view, that of Jim Holden and focused on him and his crew, and a second point of view with noir-tinged belter cop Miller. If you like the shipboard bits with Holden and how his crew work together, here are some books to try:

OnBasiliskStationHonor Harrington series by David Weber, beginning with On Basilisk Station

This long-running space opera series is centered on Royal Manticore Naval office Honor Harrington. Much of the focus is on shipboard life and crew dynamics, which should appeal to fans of The Expanse. In this first volume, Honor has been set up to fail by a superior who hates her and sent to a backwater system. But things are more exciting than she anticipated.  This series is very much for fans of C.S. Forster and Patrick O’Brian, but in space. It doesn’t have the tight focus on our solar system and there are aliens, so probably more for the SF fans.

fortunespawn-coverParadox series by Rachel Bach, beginning with Fortune’s Pawn

A huge part of the appeal of this series is lead character Devi Morris, a mercenary who has a strangely intimate relationship with her weapons, a love ’em and leave ’em attitude towards relationships, and a burning ambition. Sounds like a dude, right? But she’s a kick ass female soldier.  She takes a position on a ship called The Glorious Fool because she was told a year on board would give her enough of a reputation that she would be a shoe-in to win a place amongst the king’s guard known as Devastators.  But the ship is even more dangerous than she thought.  There’s plenty of action, danger, and space opera shenanigans, but also a big dash of romance. Hopefully that won’t keep away male readers, because this is grade ‘A’ SF.

retributionfallsTales of the Kitty Jay by Chris Wooding, beginning with Retribution Falls

Not space opera, but more of a steampunk-ish fantasy heist. BUT WAIT.  It has one of the most entertaining crews in SFF with the motley assemblage of misfits who keep the airship Kitty Jay in the air. While Frey, captain of the Kitty Jay,  is more of a ne’er-do-well than Holden, who always strives to do the right thing, the two crews share the camaraderie of those forced to live and work together in tight spaces, and yet have their own secrets to keep.  I wrote about this book in a review post, where I recommended it to fans of the TV series Firefly, another wonderful example of a crew to fall in love with.

More great space opera:

If you like the mixture of noir and SF, I have a whole different batch of recommendations for you.  I did a post with a flowchart of mystery/SF blends that you might want to check out, but here are just a few of my favorite science fiction mysteries set in space:

disappearedRetrieval Artist series by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, beginning with The Disappeared

In this first book of the series, Miles Flint is a Retrieval Artist: a kind of cop tasked with hunting down humans who break alien laws. HIs conflict is that the alien laws are often draconian beyond all reason, so Miles will need to find a way to reconcile his job and his ideas of justice. It takes place on the moon and has a nice combo of sf ideas and mundane police routines. Rusch is not read as much as she should be.  In addition to this fabulous series she also has the Diving universe books, which also usually have a nice mystery element.

seekerAlex Benedict series by Jack McDevitt, starting with my favorite: Seeker

In the year 2688 a colony ship called Seeker left earth only to disappear.  Thousands of years later, antiquities dealer Alex Benedict finds a relic from the lost ship and decides to try to finally solve the mystery of what happened to Seeker.  But that’s not the only mystery Alex and his assistant Chase Kolpath will have to solve.  There’s nothing wrong with book one of the series, A Talent For War, but I think they all stand alone well and this (book 3) has a better mystery. These books are fun thriller/mysteries with enough interesting science fiction to satisfy both crowds.

alteredcarbonTakeshi Kovacs series by Richard Morgan, starting with Altered Carbon

In the 25th century, technology exists where people can download their consciousness into a new body or “sleeve”, essentially living forever. Centuries-old billionaire Laurens Bancroft brings U.N. Envoy Takeshi Kovacs to Earth, where Kovacs is sleeved in a cop’s body to investigate Bancroft’s murder. The wealthy man resleeved, of course, but his cortical stack was deliberately damaged and he wants Kovacs to find whoever tried to kill him permanently. Morgan explores the consequences of life where death can be cheated by anyone with enough money. Oh, and it is really violent and swear-y, just so you know.

Don’t forget that you can use the blender to find more science fiction/mystery mixes.

 

 

Genre Blend New Releases – December 2015

December has a lot going for it. Holidays, cookie baking, carolling, my birthday….  But for new books, it’s usually a bit of a slump.  There’s always new blends, though, even in the low tide of publishing.  I enjoyed TIME AND TIME AGAIN quite a bit, if you are in the mood for time travel goodness. And in the historical romance subgenre, two of my favorte authors have new books, Sarah MacLean and Loretta Chase. Alternate History is rarely done better than Ian Tregillis, who continues the series begun with THE MECHANICAL. Finally, I am a huge fan of the weird west branch of steampunk, where the action takes place in the American Old West.  THE CURSE OF JACOB TRACY is another strong entry in this exciting subgenre.  No matter what your tastes, hopefully there is a blend here for you!

DECEMBER 1

                

           

DECEMBER 8

December 15

NO NEW RELEASES

December 22

DECEMBER 29

             

Great Reads for Fans of The Great British Baking Show

GBBOI know this isn’t particularly genre blendy, but I am currently grieving the end of the Great British Baking Show (aka in its native Britain as The Great British Bake Off or GBBO), which finished its run on PBS this weekend.  I usually hate reality TV. In America, it is usually about watching people acting badly, or hoping for people to embarass themselves, or trying to create drama where drama simply doesn’t exist. Even the cooking shows fall victim to this.  I’ve watched Top Chef and enjoyed it, but too much time is spent on personalities rather than food. So I had no particular desire to watch the Great British Baking Show, and in fact missed the first season aired here entirely. I don’t remember who convinced me to watch it this season (someone on Twitter, I’m guessing!), but after one episode I was completely smitten. This was a show about baking, and since it is from the UK it was often about baking things I have never even heard of like suet puddings and Victoria sponge (seriously, endless amounts of Victoria sponge). The bakers, while quite good a bit better than your average home baker, are still amateurs, and their creations often look more than a bit squiffy. We don’t get endless confessional interviews with the contestants (in fact you get virtually no info about their private lives except for a super short segment on each of the finalists). They just show up every weekend and bake. There is no big payday at the end (it seems they just get an engraved cake stand). And the biggest difference between this and every other reality show I’ve watched is that everyone is nice. Really nice. Now that it is over for another season, with no idea when they will air it again, I thought I would pull together a list of books for my fellow rabid fans of the show.  Bon Appetit!

Books for fans of The Great British Baking Show (aka The Great British Bake Off)

artofbakingblindThe Art of Baking Blind by Sarah Vaughan

This British novel is probably the closest we’re going to get to a novelization of The Great British Bake Off. It follows five amateur bakers who are competing to become the next “Mrs. Eaden”. In the 1960s, Kathleen Eaden, wife of a supermarket magnate, wrote a classic bestselling cookbook called the Art of Baking. Now she has died and the market chain wants to find a new baking mascot. If you love the show but wished they gave more backstory on the contestants, this book will scratch that itch. We learn about the five potential Mrs. Eadens and their personal struggles. We also get flashbacks to Kathleen Eaden’s story as she writes the cookbook that inspired the whole thing. There are plenty of tantalizing descriptions of baked goods, so you might want to have a snack handy while reading. It’s a charming, if not particularly memorable novel.

eatcakeEat Cake by Jeanne Ray

Ruth loves cake and bakes as a way to self-comfort and de-stress (I can relate!). When her husband loses her job, her daughter turns overnight into a bratty teenager, and both of her divorced parents move in with her, Ruth will need a lot of baking to deal with the stress. I love this novel. Like the author’s earlier Julie and Romeo, it is women’s fiction with depth and humor and a delightful, mature heroine. Ruth is beset on all sides, but she’s down-to-earth, warm, and funny. And she bakes like a dream! If I recall correctly, along with delectable descriptions of Ruth’s cakes, the author included recipes at the back.

breadaloneBread Alone by Judith Ryan Hendricks

Women’s fiction often follows a pattern wherein a woman experiences a trauma or emotional upheaval in her life and then searches for a way to reinvent herself (or usually find her most authentic self). In Bread Alone, Wynter Morrison (yeah, I hate the name, too, but she goes by Wyn) has moved to Seattle after her husband leaves her for another woman. At loose ends, she spend time in a local bakery cafe, which brings back memories of when she lived in Paris and wanted to be a professional baker. She is offered a job at the Seattle bakery and reconnects with her love of the process of making bread. This does has all the usual women’s fiction ingredients (change of scenery, wise best friend, fraught relationship with her mother, discovery of calling, new chance at love), but combined in a winning way. And yes, there are recipes for bread.

 

lovegoddessschoolofessentialThe School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister  

The Love Goddess’ Cooking School by Melissa Senate

These two novels get grouped together here (and in my head) because they share a structure and I read them about the same time.  Both involve a group of people attending a cooking school. They both break down into character studies of the students: what brought them to the school, the dramas and sorrows in their current lives, and works through how cooking and connecting with others helps them to a better place. In The School of Essential Ingredients, Lillian is a successful chef who hosts cooking classes at her restaurant. We get Lillian’s story alongside the story of her students, as each week they all tackle a new dish. In The Love Goddess’ Cooking School, the focus is more on the heroine. Holly Maguire returns home to Maine to take over her Sicilian grandmother’s cooking school. Trouble is she doesn’t know how to cook, much less does she have her grandmother’s secret to using food to tell fortunes. But she gamely dives in, and we get her story of reinvention alongside the stories of her first four students who also seek to change their lives.  Both of these novels are charming, light reads with mouth-watering descriptions of food.

Just about anything by Sarah Addison Allen

     
When I first fell in love with the books of Sarah Addison Allen, it was with her debut, Garden Spells.  It reminded me of a love child between Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic and Joanne Harris’s Chocolat and from there I was hooked.  Her books have the beautiful characters and relationships of good women’s fiction, with just the right touch of magic. In Garden Spells, Claire Waverly has been living alone in her family home with its magical apple tree in the backyard. She has a catering business that uses the family talents to be able to cook foods that are exactly what people need. Her orderly routine is thrown when her sister Sydney returns with her daughter.  The Sugar Queen has less food, but more magic than Garden Spells. Josey lives in her mother’s house, sneaking romance novels and serious amounts of candy in her bedroom closet. One day she finds local waitress Della Lee hiding in that same closet, and her life is going to get the shaking up it needs. Back to more food again with The Girl Who Chased the Moon. Teen Emily Benedict returns to North Carolina after the death of her mom to find out about the her mother’s life. She moves in with her grandfather and meets Julia, a cake baker who was friend with her mother. Seriously, if you haven’t tried Allen and you like women’s fiction with a healthy dash of magic, give her a try.

There are plenty of other great foodie fiction books out there, and don’t even get me started on foodie movies! Hopefully these will partially satisfy the hunger of GBBO fans longing for more Victoria sponge.

Genre Blend New Releases – November 2015

We’re starting to hit the winter doldrums of publishing, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still some marvelous blends being published. The biggest names are probably Nora Roberts, who has a new paranoral trilogy at the beginning of the month and the new Pendergast novel from Preston and Child that sounds like a return to the horror-tinged thriller of Relic, the very first book in the series. My picks include Tower of Thorns by Marillier, second book in her fantasy series set in ancient Ireland. I also loved The Girl with Ghost Eyes, which is set in 19th century San Francisco’s Chinatown. Have a great November!

 

                 

NOVEMBER 3

     

NOVEMBER 10

  

NOVEMBER 17

            

NOVEMBER 24

Genre Blend New Releases – October 2015

While the fall season of publishing seems thave the biggest month in September, there are plenty of great fall new releases that combine genres this month. I can personally recommend the latest from genre-blender David Wong which is just as funny as his horror/thriller blends like John Dies at the End, but couples his trademark violence with SF this time out.  Laura Anne Gilman’s latest is a weird west gaslamp fantasy set in a fresh take on the old west run by the Devil himself. I’m also looking forward to teh new Kate Morton, who writes like a dream and has a knack for historical settings. Another writer who always impresses is David Mitchell, and this time out he apparently is tackling the ghost story.  Count me in! New historical romances from Lisa Kleypas and Lorraine Heath are always welcome, as well. Finally, I haven’t read it yet, but I hear marvelous thing’s about another weird west tale called Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen, so that’s on the top of my TBR list. Hopefully you will find a blend that’s calling your name as well.

 

                  

OCTOBER 6

OCTOBER 13

 

OCTOBER 20

                  

OCTOBER 27

1 2 3 10