The Shirt on His Back is tenth in Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series. I always buy her new ones in hardcover, and the line of unread ones on my shelf is a little embarrassing, so I dove in. Such bliss.
Alliance Rising: The Hinder Stars I by C.J. Cherryh and Jane Fancher is the first book set in this universe for a really long time, but since I’d read all of the earlier books in the series, some multiple times, I found I didn’t need to re-read anything to understand what was going on; plus, I think the book was designed for those who would be new to the Alliance-Union setting. This is space opera that gets into the nitty gritty of how economics might work in space, complicated by differing political systems, great distances, and cultural and linguistic shifts. And it’s showing us how the Alliance and the Union came to be. I think some readers might find it dry, and perhaps a bit info-dumpy, but I eat this stuff up with a spoon in each hand. Everything happens relatively slowly, until it doesn’t, and then semi-cliffhanger, agh!
I read Planetside by Michael Mammay based on a recommendation, and really enjoyed it. The first-person narrator is a grumpy colonel (his voice is terrific) sent to solve a missing persons case, except the missing person was fighting aliens on a distant planet. So I think the category is both military sf and mystery, and possibly even space opera because the humans have spread out into space. That said, it’s very much grounded in what this one person can find out and accomplish in the day-to-day, while staying within his orders. The ending was a bit more dramatic than I had expected, and though I could see why the narrator made the choice he did, I still found it unsettling. There’s a sequel now available; I’m curious about the fallout from book one, and will probably get it for a travel read at some point.
The Dreaming Stars by Tim Pratt is book two of a space opera series, but I think a new reader could manage without reading the first, if they don’t mind being spoiled for many major events should they go back to it. I think the first book was better, as it had a lot of exciting new ideas, but this volume is by no means boring, particularly if you enjoy banter. The cast of characters shifted a bit, and some issues from the end of book one were resolved. I would not mind reading the third book, which is out, and perhaps later ones if there are any; it has the feel of a serial, currently, and I like the comfort of serials. I don’t sound hugely enthusiastic, do I? But I enjoyed the book while I was reading it, which is the important part.
Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse is also second in a series, and I enjoyed this one quite a bit because the villain is super-creepy and freaky weird and frankly terrifying; in fact, I would not have minded more of the villain. Second volumes are tricky, aren’t they? They have to remind readers of the events of the first book, and give background to new readers, while still making the plot and characters fresh and exciting. Maggie, the protagonist, is trying to be less of a killer and to create some relationships with other people, but she’s still a stubborn pessimist as well, and a lovely example of the Badass Heroine. There’s character death and supernatural beings that both help and hinder, and a touch of romance, and a stupendous climax that ought to be on a movie screen. I’m in this series for the duration. If you read or used to read a lot of Urban Fantasy sub-genre, I think you would probably like this series quite a bit; note that it leans a smidge towards horror sometimes because the depicted supernatural world is not human or knowable.
A Man of Independent Mind by L.A. Hall was several stories in one, or rather various events in the life of Alexander MacDonald, with appearances by his dear friend Clorinda Cathcart and many other characters readers have grown to know and love through the Comfortable Courtesan series. As with the previous “Clorinda Cathcart’s circle” book, I would recommend reading the main series first. You will probably read them in one huge gulp, and not regret it.
Firebrand by Ankaret Wells was loads of fun, a steampunk (airships!) adventure novel with a romantic subplot that was inspired by Gondal and Angria from the Brontë juvenilia. The first-person narrator, Kadia Warner, is the twice-widowed younger daughter of an airship engineer who inherits her mother’s crowning achievement, a gigantic state-of-the-art airship; the emperor, of course, wants the airship for purposes of further conquest and incidentally wants her as his mistress, so she travels to the single independent duchy remaining in the area and a whole lot of entertaining twisty plot happens before the happy ending. Kadia’s voice is delightfully practical and not in the least missish.
The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal by K.J. Charles is, in my opinion, what sf writers used to call a “fix up,” where a short story was expanded into a novel, or several short stories were cobbled together into a novel. Narrated by a Watson-like character, most of the stories involve ghosts or mysterious supernatural happenings, linked together by the romance between narrator Robert Caldwell and the investigator of the title, Simon Feximal. There are horror elements, which I would judge as slightly darker than those in Spectred Isle, which is set later in the same universe, and which I accidentally read first. It was a good choice for a busy week, as I could dart in and out of it fairly easily.
The Persistence of Memory by st_aurafina takes the Moira MacTaggert from the X-Men: First Class movie and pairs her with Emma Frost on a spy road trip, with a bonus redhaired Russian spy, and do I really need to say anything else? It includes a little comics canon as well.
Love Stories for Tedious People by kristophine is a Captain America and the Winter Soldier AU in which Steve Rogers is a burned-out emergency room physician and Bucky Barnes is a recovering veteran he meets on duty. I think this would be a nice romantic read even if you were not familiar with canon, and portrays Steve figuring out what to do with his life that makes him less depressed, which is a plotline I highly approve of.