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The Thousand Names by Django Wexler

One of the best military fiction novels I’ve read by far. This author has clearly done a ton of research on civil war-era battles and weaponry, and then put that knowledge into a fictional world undercut by dark magic and demons. To me, it was a refreshing change of pace from the usual fantasy novel. The action started early, the characters were fascinating, and, most importantly, it felt authentic and engaging. Unlike other fantasy series, which regularly switch P.O.V’s from soldiers to noncombatants, The Thousand Names keeps you in the heart of the army, battles and all, throughout the entire book. I would have expected to be worn down by this after awhile, but I loved it. The extensive character building and personal conflicts really enriched a storyline that could have turned dry and sluggish with the wrong tone. Overall, Wexler satisfied everything I hoped for in this flintlock fantasy. There’s no better feeling than looking forward to a book and being sufficiently rewarded all the way through! 

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Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

I absolutely loved this series, from the broken characters to the fascinating world to the unique magic system! The plot was fast-paced and unpredictable. It met all my expectations for an immersive military fantasy book. Highly enjoyed this all the way through, and the series has moved up to one of my all-time favorites.

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The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang

Made up of some of my very favorite elements: messed up sibling relationships, rebellion, and gender fluidity. Awesome read!

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Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

While I wouldn’t necessarily say the Imperial Radch series is my favorite of all time, I can easily say that it is the most well-written piece of work I have ever come across. There are a lot of really tricky concepts in this trilogy. The first is that it is written in first person from the point of view of a spaceship. Now, if that’s not unique enough, picture that spaceship being split into hundreds of different bodies and getting a first-person perspective from all of them, more or less simultaneously. This is just one example of what Ann Leckie is able to pull off. She also writes “the other” more ingeniously than I’ve ever seen. This character—Justice of Toren, and later, Breq—actually feels like a spaceship. She has trouble grasping basic concepts, like emotions and gender, yet she has more knowledge of history and battles than anyone alive because she’s lived through them, though they’re a thousand years gone. But Breq shows us through her actions that she’s developed human tics through centuries of observing the humans who pilot her, such as her fondness for music and her hatred of the being who left her as a piece of her former self. Over the course of the trilogy, Leckie delves deeply into the politics of cultural diversity, the psychology of oppression, and ultimately, the bottom line of what defines humanity. Recommended for anyone who loves science fiction but wants to try something way outside the usual.

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Midnight Agency by Ken Hoover

Very well-written weird western with an engaging cast of characters and a high-paced plot! I loved being inside the heads of the different members of the Midnight Agency. Hoover does a great job making each voice unique and captivating. The plot is hard to predict and goes to some very cool settings throughout New Mexico. It was a world I enjoyed being immersed in. I look forward to reading more of these characters, and more from this author in general!

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The Seeds of Dissolution by William C. Tracy

Complex worldbuilding, a diverse cast of characters, and a rich setting make a nice backdrop for a plot involving life-eating holes in reality and long-lost species resurfacing from fairy tales. I liked that the characters were all deeply flawed in realistic ways. It felt more believable, and nicely heightened the tension as well. The action is engaging and well-paced. My favorite parts are the musically-based magic system and the space-bending physics that give this fantasy universe a refreshing scientific edge. Looking forward to more stories from the Dissolutionverse!

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Reality Seed by Philip Charles Stephens

I really enjoyed this trilogy of novellas. All three volumes take place in a distant future, where internally programmed humans, space and parallel universe travel, and nanite-powered weapons are all commonplace. The really fun part of Reality Seed, though, comes from the deep exploration of questions that have haunted humanity since the beginning of time. How far can you trust your own memories? What lengths would you go to in order to save the person you love? Can you stay true to yourself when outside forces challenge your entire existence? Does reality exist as we see it, or as we make it? Stephens cleverly weaves all these issues into a high-action and deeply personal journey, through the lives of three different characters who become intertwined in unexpected ways. The writing is fantastic, and melds with Stephens’ transcendental world beautifully. Recommended for any science fiction or philosophy fanatic.

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The Voodoo Killings by Kristi Charish

Although I’m a fan of Charish’s Owl books, I’d held off on picking up this one because I saw it was about zombies, and I’ve never been able to get into zombies. But I recently saw an interview where Charish said that the idea the books were “about” zombies was kind of a misconception, and that she considered her books to be more about exploring how a person stripped of life would view the world differently. This intrigued me—I’m not into zombies but I’m definitely into death and afterlife exploration. So I picked up Voodoo Killings, and I’m so glad I did! It reminded me a lot of the Dresden Files, except with zombies and ghosts instead of vampires and wizards. The huge difference between this and other zombies is that the zombies here were treated as protagonists and sidekicks instead of bad guys and plague. And the ghosts and related rituals were really interesting. I loved the music slant to the book, too; I’m glad that the rock star angle wasn’t just a character feature, but actually part of the plot. One last thing I really liked is Charish’s voice—it’s lighthearted and snarky in all the right ways and just a lot of fun to read. Highly recommend!

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City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett

Every book in this series is fantastic and incredibly well-written, but City of Blades was my absolute favorite. I fell in love with Mulaghesh—her attitude, her mannerisms, her character arc and tortured past. She’s so saucy and such a badass, but still has compassion and cares about people’s lives. It was very well-done. As always, I loved the melding of the gritty worldbuilding with the divine, and while the books are dark, they thankfully stop short of spilling into too-dark of territory for me. They’re also very full and deep, leaving me with no hanging questions or moments that felt unfulfilled. Worth checking out the whole series!

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Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder

This was a great YA book with a unique premise and an interesting heroine. The characterization was top-notch in this one, and to this day, Valek is one of my favorite male leads in a story. Him and Yelena were a lot of fun together. I also really liked the magic system. This whole series is good, and I really liked the Glass one as well, set in the same world!

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The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu

This series is fun and action-packed, with a fast pace and great humor. The dialogue between the humans and their Quasings were my favorite part, especially Tao. I also liked the explorations of how the special agent lifestyle affects real-life relationships and families. Each book in the series has its own flavor to that respect, and it worked really well. Looking forward to the next Quasing trilogy!

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Shadow Ops series by Myke Cole

A fantastic mixture of magic, military grit, and intriguing internal character dilemmas. There was a nice diversity of characters to the cast, and the plot never went the places I expected it. I found the ending to the series very satisfying as well. A unique and interesting read!

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Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Fantastic series from beginning to end. The author has a unique and beautiful voice, which gives a poetic flavor to a world that wouldn't be right without it. The characters are all wonderfully developed, the subplots are just as fun as the primary story, and the whole trilogy has the perfect mixture of longing and hope that makes for powerfully emotional paybacks. There are amazing action scenes throughout all three books and surprising twists that make it impossible to guess how it will end. Highly recommended!

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Diary of the Dark Years by Jean Guehenno

The definitive bible on occupied France from a man who was actually there. Not a textbook, but—as the title indicates—a detailed diary on daily life under German rule. Guehenno paints a comprehensive portrait of the shame, the terror, the disgust, and the anger the average Parisian endured during the four years of the country’s confinement. He discusses former colleagues who chose to collaborate with their captors, in order to hold onto their prestige in the community; and he shares the stories of students of his who fled to the countryside to join the rebellious armed resistance known as the maquis. He relates his own subtle methods of rebellion in his role as a university teacher, and the ways he and others like him learned to recognize each other under the constant vigilance of Nazi and Vichy soldiers. Diary of the Dark Yearsoffers a vivid and thorough experience of this pivotal time in history in a way no textbook or research paper could come close to. For anyone interested in World War 2, France, or puppet governments, this is a must-read.

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Sashenka by Simon Montefiore

Extremely well-researched, plotted, and written, Sashenka is a terrifyingly realistic portrait of the Russian Revolution and the decades following it. Although the characters at the heart of the story are fictionalized, their struggles and desperation come to life in a very personal way. The novel kept me up night after night--not just because I had trouble putting it down, but because my mind was ensnared in a dark world I had trouble escaping. I haven't yet read an author who brought this period of history to life as vividly and personally as Montefiore does. I can tell this book will stick with me for years to come, and quite possibly for the rest of my life--but I don't know if I could ever bring myself to read it again. Some parts just hit too close to home.

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Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delaney

Dhalgren is a weird case for me, because when I was first reading it and people asked me how it was, I would say, "I really like it, but I'm not sure I would recommend it." It's a very punk novel, in a post-apocalyptic and forgotten city called Bellona, with a poetic and sex-loving wanderer simply named The Kid as the protagonist. The point of view varies from past to present, from first to third tense seemingly at random; punctuation and complete sentences aren't a constant occurrence. It's like nothing I've ever read. It stuck with me long after I'd finished it in a way most books do not, and I came to realize that the reason I liked it so much was this: if I were to live in any bohemian anarchic society, this is the one I would choose. If you want to work you can; if not, you don't. If you want to be part of a gang, they'll welcome you; if you want to pretend life still goes on as normal, move into a vacant apartment. When you want to get laid, there's always someone there for you; if you just want to hang out with friends, they're already there. It follows the life of a free-living writer without getting bogged down in drugs like so many similar novels predictably do. It's creative and different and downright weird. But if you're turned off by detailed and nontraditional sex scenes, this book is not for you. And don't expect all the freaky stuff that happens in Bellona to have a neat and tidy explanation. It doesn't. Dhalgren is straight up something way different and fun for the adventurous. It's definitely a unique read.

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All That Lives Must Die by Eric Nylund

Even better than the first one! And I loved the first one, so that's saying something! "Mortal Coils" introduces you to Fiona and Eliot Post, the offspring of an angel and a demon. In that book, they must face three "heroic trials" to determine whether they belong with the Immortals of Heaven or the Infernals of Hell. Although it seems a decision is reached at the end, "All That Lives Must Die" shows us that the twins are far from done with the other side of their family. They go to a magical school where their story becomes much richer in discovering more about their powers and other immortal beings. The second book has many more colorful characters, more surprising twists, more romance, and more battles between the forces of good and evil. Good for anyone who loves adventure and fantasy, and also those who like mythology, as most of the famous gods, goddesses, and devils make an appearance at some point or another.

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Keeper of Light and Dust by Natasha Mostert

This is one of those books where the less I say about it, the more provocative and tense it will be for the reader. It's about the dangerously seductive Dragonfly, who extends his life by stealing chi from martial artists, and the young tattoo artist Mia, who uses her tattoos to protect those she cares about from his deadly intentions. It makes you think about the significance of a life-force that isn't scientifically measurable, and what it means to our happiness and well-being. A beautiful and exciting novel.

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Freddy and Fredericka by Mark Helprin

This is a fun and witty book about the prince and princess of Wales ("Freddy and Fredericka") being exiled to America to work out their differences with one another. Freddy's extreme eccentricity and Fredericka's playful and often confused demeanor make for some truly hilarious situations. The two main characters' struggle to understand one another, and to make themselves understood in turn, creates some laughably outlandish experiences and an unforgettable adventure. Both a parody and a story of discovery, Freddy and Fredericka had me laughing out loud from beginning to end, and rooting for them the entire way.

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Project Return Fire by Antony Davies & Joe Dinicola

Project Return Fire was made up of some of my very favorite elements to read about: military fiction, World War 2, and time travel.  I thought each of these things was done very well in the novel. The Alpha Team was made up of well-developed and interesting people, and their actions and banter felt wonderfully authentic for a modern military special forces group. I loved the 1940’s soldiers as well, and the way they all interacted. The time travel part of the story was awesome. I was glad it was well-explained throughout the novel, and the author threw in the perfect surprises that make time travel a lot of fun while also not making it too predictable; not an easy thing to do when writing in this genre. Overall, I loved the book and read it very quickly. It was a concise stand-alone story, but with a definite chance for a sequel, which I hope very much to see at some point in the future.

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Gearspire by Jeremiah Reinmiller

Gearspire is hard to categorize—in a good and refreshing way. It’s not quite steampunk, not quite post-apocalytpic, and not quite epic fantasy. It takes place in a dark world made up of leftovers from some lost past, which gives the world wonderful layers and offers great backdrop to a high-action plot. I loved all three of the main characters. Ryle was probably my favorite—self-loathing and tortured, just the way I love my heroes, and with a reckless streak that made him fun to follow. Lastrahn, arrogant and brooding, was the perfect foil for his character, forcing Ryle to face his worst fears about himself. Drailey was well-developed and intelligent, a joy to watch in a whole different arena. Between all three of them, I wasn’t bored the entire book. The action scene at the end went on a little long, but the last couple pages of the book were so powerful and ended on such an awesome note that I was not disappointed! Only one recurring grammatical quirk pulled me out on occasion. Otherwise, I found it very engaging and am very excited to read future volumes, as well as Drailey’s short story. I will definitely keep an eye on this author!