To Hold Up the Sky by Cixin Liu

If you're in the mood for a hard sci-fi short story collection, To Hold Up the Sky by Cixin Liu (translated by Joel Martinsen, Adam Lanphier, John Chu, and Carmen Yiling Yan) certainly delivers. Liu's writing style often makes these stories feel very present-day even when they're obviously not, and his prose is beautiful. Many of these stories read like fables reminding us not to underestimate humanity, showing us the larger-scale impact of seemingly small gestures and our (compared to the universe) fleeting lives. "The Time Migration" reminded me of all the philosophical stuff I love about Star Trek: The Next Generation, Doctor Who, and The Little Prince, but 10x more in depth. "Ode to Joy" is where sci-fi meets…

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The Sacrifice of Darkness by Roxane Gay and Tracy Lynne Oliver

The world feels especially dark and heartless right now, which makes perfect timing for The Sacrifice of Darkness. This strangely hopeful, empowering graphic novel is a collaboration between Roxane Gay and Tracy Lynne Oliver, an adaptation of Roxane Gay's short story of the same title (from the collection Difficult Women), in which the sun's light has disappeared. This book is exactly what I needed to read at this moment in time. I found Rebecca Kirby's art and James Fenner's subdued colors both atmospheric and beautiful. I grew to care about the characters, and I loved the allegorical, speculative sci-fi feel of the story. The Sacrifice of Darkness is the kind of book you reach for when you need a breather…

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The Mindful Universe by Mark Westmoquette

The Mindful Universe is a mindfulness book like none other I've ever read. Written by astronomer Mark Westmoquette, this book communicates the depth of our connection to an incredible, awe-inspiring universe. Westmoquette explains the basic concepts of meditation and mindfulness, such as observing thoughts and how the body processes and responds to stress, in easy-to-access, everyday language. There's also a lot of science in here: physics, astrophysics, quantum mechanics, philosophy, and more. When the narrative did get heavy on the science, I was impressed by what a great teacher the author is. Some of the suggested meditations are really unique! They're also practical and applicable to our lives as they are, not how we wish they'd be. I've found that sometimes…

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Odessa by Jonathan Hill

In Jonathan Hill's Odessa, three siblings search for their mother in a post-apocalyptic United States, several years after a major earthquake has separated California from the rest of the country. Since this is the first book in a series, it spends a lot of time world-building and ends on a cliffhanger. The pacing felt rushed when it came to the conflicts and action that take place along the siblings' journey. Those moments resolved a little too quickly and neatly. The bickering between the siblings was a bit overdone and started to feel like filler. But the art is fantastic and the premise is cool. Odessa held my attention, and the book left me feeling like I must read the sequel(s)…

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Murder with Oolong Tea by Karen Rose Smith

I was in the mood for a cozy mystery, and Karen Rose Smith's Murder with Oolong Tea delivered. I loved the tea shop setting and was glad to find recipes in the back. I don't normally jump into the middle of an unfamiliar-to-me series, but the author dropped just enough detail that it was easy to keep track of the characters' relationships and histories. The main character and amateur sleuth, Daisy, is not perfect - I found her kind of uptight and judgy at first - but she grows, and you really get a sense of her kind, loving nature. You know what to expect going into a cozy mystery, to some degree, but all the charm and twists I…

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Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

"My body is not my own." I'm speechless and my stomach is in knots. The social commentary in Sayaka Murata's Earthlings (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori), about the expectations and pressures society puts on people, and how people put those pressures on each other, is delivered so matter-of-factly and dealt with so aggressively that it heightens disturbing events to a level of disturbing I didn't think was possible. And THAT ENDING, what the hell?! Murata does not hold back. Earthlings is so incredibly weird, devastatingly sad, and deeply distressing, and then the ending got gruesome and even WEIRDER. This would make a good pick for the bravest of book clubs, because you would have endless things to talk about, and…

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Father Guards the Sheep by Sari Rosenblatt

The Iowa Short Fiction Award consistently gives us wonderful short story collections like Sari Rosenblatt's Father Guards the Sheep. These are strong, character-driven stories focusing on different ways fathers watch over their families, from the perspectives of their children, in different ages and stages of their lives. Each story stands alone, but they're also loosely connected in a way that rounds out and finishes the collection well. Rosenblatt writes interesting, complex, and realistic characters. Pick up this book when you want to cozy up with some good people stories.

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Alpha Bots by Ava Lock

Alpha Bots is a take on The Stepford Wives with a robot-powered feminist uprising front and center. It's fast-paced, funny, satirical, and absurd, with some campy horror thrown in (some parts are downright gruesome). Other readers have said this is Stepford Wives meets Fight Club meets Truman Show, and I think that's pretty spot-on. These AI women represent the desires of bottom-of-the-barrel cishet men, from expectations of submissiveness to racial fetishism, but will they be able to push beyond their programming? The satire gets dark, and this is not going to be everyone's cup of tea. It's not for the faint of heart, for sure. I feel like Alpha Bots caught me when I was in just the right mood…

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Kindred by Octavia Butler

Kindred was my second experience reading Octavia Butler and I'm now convinced I must read everything she's written. Good thing I signed up for the Octavia E. Butler Slow Read! Over the course of two years, we'll be reading Butler's entire body of work. Plus, I need to discuss this incredible book with others. It's a damn shame this wasn't required reading in my high school. Kindred got me thinking more about history, ancestry, racism and colorism, enslavement, and intergenerational trauma. It was terrifying and real; Butler's writing style gets the reader fully absorbed in both the setting and the main character's state of mind. And the way she implemented time travel made it so difficult to put the book down.…

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Ciel by Sophie Labelle

Ciel is a character-driven, slice-of-life, coming-of-age novel featuring a gender nonconforming trans kid named Ciel as they start their first year of high school in Montreal. For my fellow American readers (I had to google this myself), that covers ages 12-17. Ciel and their friends are on the lower end of that age range, so this is solidly a middle grade novel. Kids will relate to the excitement and anxieties that come with being in a new school, making new friends, having crushes, further exploring one's own identity, and having the courage to be themselves. Ciel's inner dialogue will resonate really well with tweens and young teens. Best of all, trans and nonbinary kids get to see themselves in a…

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