All Science Fiction & Fantasy Coverage

When virtual reality becomes actual reality
Scotto Moore unpacks the myriad inspirations behind his “science fantasy,” Battle of the Linguist Mages, which more than lives up to the nerdy promise of its title.
Scotto Moore unpacks the myriad inspirations behind his “science fantasy,” Battle of the Linguist Mages, which more than lives up to the nerdy promise of its title.
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All Science Fiction & Fantasy Coverage

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New voices are rising to the forefront in sci-fi, fantasy continues to flower in new and surprising ways, and a YA icon is about to make her long-awaited adult debut. 

Goliath jacket

Goliath by Tochi Onyebuchi
Tordotcom | January 25

Riot Baby, Onyebuchi’s 2020 novella, was one heck of a calling card, and he’s letting his prodigious imagination and piercing social critique run rampant in his first adult novel. Set in the 2050s, Goliath follows a large cast of characters as they roam a crumbling Earth that has been largely abandoned by the upper classes, who have decamped to space colonies.

Hunt the Stars by Jessie Mihalik
Harper Voyager | February 1

If you’ve already been introduced to Mihalik’s sci-fi romances, chances are you’re already obsessed with her. Equal parts pulpy fun and steamy love stories, Mihalik’s books are for everyone who’s watched the scene of Han Solo and Princess Leia’s first kiss more times than they’d like to admit. This start to a new series introduces a bounty hunter with a heart of gold, her alien nemesis-turned-employer and an outrageously cute alien that’s like a cross between a cat and fox—and can communicate telepathically.

The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake
Tor | March 1

Dark academia will never go out of style if I have anything to say about it. And it looks like a sizable portion of BookTok agrees with me, as Blake’s self-published series took the platform by storm in 2021. The first novel of the series, which follows six talented, ambitious magicians as they compete to win a place in an elite secret society, has been revised and expanded for its release by a traditional publisher.

The Ravenous Dead jacket

The Ravenous Dead by Darcy Coates 
Poisoned Pen | March 15

The Whispering Dead was one of last year’s little wonders, a horror novel with a surprising amount of humor and heart among all its terrors. This sequel continues Keira’s quest to uncover her lost memories and bring peace to the spirits of the dead, but gives her a new enemy in the form of a ferocious ghost that refuses to go gently into that good night.

The Kaiju Preservation Society by John Scalzi
Tor | March 15

National treasure John Scalzi recently finished a complex sci-fi series, so it makes sense that his first book after that accomplishment is a standalone adventure that sounds like an absolute blast. (It also is the only book that takes place during the COVID-19 pandemic that I’d actually be willing to read.) Jamie is a delivery app driver desperate for a better job. She jumps at the chance to work for an “animal rights organization,” but then learns that she’ll be traveling to a different universe to take care of kaiju! Kaiju are Godzilla-type beasties, but in Scalzi’s version they are not automatically aggressive; they’re more like huge, dangerous pandas. If this book is half as good as the book in my head, it will be a masterpiece.

The Bone Orchard by Sara A. Mueller
Tor | March 22

Even if it didn’t have that absolutely magnificent cover, I would be anxiously awaiting this fantasy debut, which follows Charm, an emperor’s mistress who is also a necromantic witch. When the emperor is poisoned, he tasks Charm with not only solving his murder but also deciding which of his three terrible (large, adult) sons should ascend to the throne. 

Wild & Wicked Things jacket

Wild and Wicked Things by Francesca May
Redhook | March 29

Set on a resort island off the English coast, this book basically sounds like a mashup between Practical Magic and “Downton Abbey.” It’s set right after World War I but in an England where magic has been banned, due to its horrific applications during the war.

Sweep of Stars by Maurice Broaddus
Tor | March 29

There can never be enough ambitious, sweeping space operas in the world, and Broaddus’ start to a new series sounds truly epic. In his vision of the future, humanity has colonized the solar system. Our heroes hail from the Muungano Empire, a collection of city-states established by African space pioneers that is in danger of being destroyed by other human civilizations.

In a Garden Burning Gold by Rory Power
Del Rey | April 5

It’s kind of wild that ancient Greece isn’t a more common inspiration for fantasy worlds, so kudos to YA author Rory Power for using it as a backdrop for her adult debut. This series starter introduces two twins with unnaturally long lives and supernatural powers who help their father rule over their small country. But their father is getting unpredictable and his abilities are fading, while at the same time an independence movement is growing, so the twins have to work together to keep the kingdom under control. All I’m saying is that this kind of sounds like fantasy “Succession.” “Succession” with magical powers? Yes, please.

God of Neverland jacket

God of Neverland by Gama Ray Martinez
Harper Voyager | April 12

I am someone who loved, and I mean truly, deeply loved, the first season or so of “Once Upon a Time.” So here’s hoping that this fantasy about a grown-up Michael Darling returning to Neverland to find a missing Peter Pan (here characterized as a god of chaos and childhood) will fill the Storybrooke-size hole in my heart.  

The Fervor by Alma Katsu
Putnam | April 26

After writing a rather excellent espionage thriller (last year’s Red Widow), Katsu is returning to her idiosyncratic brand of horror: awful events in world history made even worse through supernatural frights. This tale of a demon terrorizing the inhabitants of a World War II-era internment camp will be one of her most personal works yet, as she’ll be drawing from her own family history and heritage as a Japanese American.

Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher
Tor | April 26

Through what I’m sure is some form of black magic, Kingfisher’s books are both totally hilarious and deeply scary. That particular combination is why her latest book, a subversive take on fairy tales, is so very exciting. Nettle & Bone will follow a princess on a quest to save her sister—by murdering her sister’s awful husband. 

Book of Night jacket

Book of Night by Holly Black
Tor | May 3

It seems impossible, but YA fantasy icon Black has never written a novel for adults. Until now. Book of Night centers on Charlie Hall, who lives in a world where it’s possible to magically manipulate shadows. Doing so can alter another person’s memories and perceptions, but the cost is time lost from your own life. Charlie is a bartender and con artist, but she has ties to the shadow trade that prove difficult to sever.  

Boys, Beasts & Men by Sam J. Miller
Tachyon | May 10

The author of acclaimed speculative novels Blackfish City and The Blade Between will release his first collection of short fiction, which is sure to please fans of cli-fi, weird sea creatures, queer SFF and pretty much everyone who wants to read something brilliant, strange and new. 

Siren Queen by Nghi Vo
Tor | May 10

After The Chosen and the Beautiful, her luminous, dreamy take on The Great Gatsby, Vo is heading to the West Coast wonderland of Pre-Code Hollywood. Of course, in her version of the film industry, wannabe movie stars like protagonist Luli Wei must sign magical pacts, selling their entire selves to companies ready to exploit them. 

All the Seas of the World jacket

All the Seas of the World by Guy Gavriel Kay
Berkley | May 17

There’s almost nothing I can tell you about the plot of this book, but it doesn’t really matter because Guy Gavriel Kay is one of the best writers of historical fantasy of all time. This book will return to the Renaissance Italy-inspired world first introduced in the superb A Brightness Long Ago, and I will be ready for him to take me wherever he wants to go. 

A Taste of Gold and Iron by Alexandra Rowland
Tordotcom | June 21

Rowland’s Conspiracy of Truths duology seems destined to become a cult classic; the blisteringly smart fantasy novels flew a bit under the radar but won the hearts of all who read them. I would not be surprised if A Taste of Gold and Iron makes Rowland the next big thing in fantasy. This queer romance set in a world inspired by the Ottoman Empire sounds like a blockbuster hit and a perfect use of Rowland’s talents for world building, intrigue and complex relationships. 

Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey
Tor | July 19

The genre-hopping Gailey seems to be settling down (at least for now) in a delightfully specific niche: female-led thrillers with a supernatural twist. If last year’s The Echo Wife could be described as Alfred Hitchcock meets “Orphan Black,” this tale of the daughter of a serial killer sounds like “I’ll Be Gone in the Dark” mixed with Shirley Jackson, aka the dark cocktail of my dreams.

A Half-Built Garden jacket

A Half-Built Garden by Ruthanna Emrys
Tordotcom | July 26

Cli-fi’s been around long enough that authors are starting to find innovative twists on what was, originally, a pretty bleak sort of formula. (Humans destroy Earth! Here’s the depressing society that’s arisen afterward!) Acclaimed fantasy author Emrys offers her rather brilliant twist on the subgenre. In 2083, the Earth has just begun to heal from the ravages of the climate crisis. But then aliens show up, intent on saving humanity by taking them off the planet—whether they want to or not. 

The Spear Cuts Through the Water by Simon Jimenez
Del Rey | August 30

It’s almost impossible to overhype The Vanished Birds, Jimenez’s debut novel (the first chapter alone was award-worthy). Not one to rest on his laurels, Jimenez is immediately switching from sci-fi to fantasy: His sophomore novel will follow a warrior who teams up with a goddess to overthrow a tyrannical emperor.

There’s never been a better time to be an SFF fan than right now.

Battle of the Linguist Mages, playwright Scotto Moore’s debut novel, more than lives up to the nerdy promise of its title. It follows die-hard gamer Isobel Bailie, who unlocks magical abilities due to her mastery of the virtual reality game Sparkle Dungeon, down a rabbit hole of conspiracies and capitalist enterprise. The reigning champion of the game, Isobel has mastered its vocal spellcasting mechanics. But then she’s let in on a paradigm-shifting secret: The same techniques can be used in the real world. By uttering phrases called power morphemes, Isobel can literally change reality. In this Q&A, Moore unpacks the myriad inspirations behind what he deems his “science fantasy,” from Burning Man and EDM to the very real reality-altering dangers of technology.

Battle of the Linguist Mages is reminiscent of some other speculative fiction I’ve read or seen, like Ready Player One, Snow Crash and Contact, if these were all reflected off a few dozen disco balls and seen through a haze of real-life events. What were your inspirations for this project?
Back in 2010, I had a conversation with a linguist friend of mine who described her work in the field of speech recognition and speech-to-text and scaling that technology out to new languages. And I remember thinking it sounded completely like science fiction to me, a theater artist with no training in linguistics or any other science. Every word you say narrows down the potential words that might happen next, and I sort of cheekily thought, “Well, wouldn’t it be evil if you were capable of surreptitiously planting that first word in the sequence without a subject knowing it?” This ultimately led to me writing a play called Duel of the Linguist Mages, which we produced in Seattle in early 2011.

Then in 2014, I wrote a play called Balconies, which evolved out of a desire to write a giant farce with a romantic comedy wedged into it. I needed two sets of contrasting characters to play on two neighboring balconies, so on one you had a political fundraiser, and next door you had a video game-themed costume party. I’m sure my many Burning Man experiences must’ve inspired Sparkle Dungeon, the video game in that play. By the time I started writing the book, I’d acquired a hobbyist-level interest in DJ culture, so that got added to the mix. Balconies is one of my favorite plays, and the humor in the book is directly inspired by the comedic style of the play. I entertained some wishful thinking about writing a sequel, [but] instead I became motivated to use those characters in a book. That general atmosphere of menace from Duel provided a contrast to the lighthearted nature of the Balconies source material as I started to plot out the book, cherry-picking characters and concepts to use.

“Isobel and Maddy somehow find a way to fight the powers that be without sacrificing conscience or compassion . . .”

Battle of the Linguist Mages (and Sparkle Dungeon itself) sits right between science fiction and fantasy. Do you see your creations as bridging that genre gap or simply filling a niche that neither genre really describes effectively?
I’ve called it science fantasy from the start, although my publisher called it contemporary fantasy at one point, and that seems fair too. There’s so much spellcasting in the book that fantasy probably outweighs the science fiction elements. When I was a playwright, I did often write actual science fiction, but since then, I’ve also come to a better appreciation of fantasy. It feels natural right now to explore the wilder and weirder aspects of my imagination within the context of fantasy or science fantasy.

If someone were to release a real version of Sparkle Dungeon, would you play it?
Well, I don’t actually play video games. So if a Sparkle Dungeon game came out and I wasn’t connected to it in any way, it would miss me altogether. I wouldn’t even notice its release unless it became a monster hit that affected culture at the top level.

I didn’t call this out in the book, but in my imagination, there’s a mode in Sparkle Dungeon that’s like Rock Band, except it’s the DJ equivalent. Whenever Isobel boasts about her DJ skills, she’s actually referring to her mastery of this mode in the game. I might find that mode entertaining, but not “acquire a VR headset” entertaining.

Battle of the Linguist Mages is the exact sort of story that I can see somebody wanting to adapt to the screen, but that might not translate particularly well, given how many things would be challenging to visualize (or auralize). Since you have experience writing for the stage as well, do you think this book is capable of being adapted to another medium?
Oh, you could definitely adapt this book into a film or a streaming series. I mean, I learned working in fringe theater, where the production budgets are ridiculously low, that you can almost always find a way to express a strong creative vision. Resource constraints and limitations become creative opportunities by necessity. Maybe your finished product is rough around the edges, but you can still tell a powerful story. Our version of power morphemes in Duel of the Linguist Mages was a series of intricate sound cues, which the actors lip synced. It was super weird and effective.

In the midst of all that spectacle and action, a very character-driven story engine drives the book. Isobel, Maddy and the Dauphine of the Shimmer Lands feel to me like a charismatic trio of leads you really want to follow through this adventure. They’re like a mini superhero team, but instead of secret identities, they really wear their hearts on their sleeves with each other.

Read our starred review of Battle of the Linguist Mages.

A lot of the characters and organizations in Battle of the Linguist Mages are very, shall we say, recognizable from our real world. How much were those references intended to situate the reader in a familiar world, and how much were they intended to make a point?
I always wanted to situate the reader in our world, in the present day, because I think part of the fun is how our world is a springboard for these elaborate flights of fancy, so to speak. You get mileage out of that contrast, and the real world looks different to them when they return home. And the cabal’s actions have a more visceral impact because the story takes place in California instead of an invented land. It could be you or your own family that gets swept up in their schemes.

Meanwhile, as I developed the characters, it was apparent that Isobel and Maddy (like many of us) were deeply skeptical of modern capitalism, and some of my own rage bled through as they interacted with rich and powerful people in the story or observed how the world was being shaped by such unscrupulous forces.

But Isobel and Maddy somehow find a way to fight the powers that be without sacrificing conscience or compassion, and that’s what makes them so compelling to me.

Battle of the Linguist Mages is also very meta with all its references to literary and video game tropes. Do you think the characters in your book use tropes to describe their lived experiences, or did those tropes causally shape those experiences?
Isobel spends a huge amount of time in Sparkle Dungeon, immersed in the narrative tropes of the game, and she uses her instinctive understanding of those tropes to succeed at the game. That way of thinking does bleed into her daily life. So for instance, when she needs to study new spells with Maddy for several weeks, she flat-out thinks of it as a “training montage.” But this is the era of TV tropes and the culture having a really deep knowledge now of the typical tactics that narratives deploy, so she’s probably not the only character who’s immersed on some level in those tropes. Still, I think Isobel revels a lot more in fulfilling a literal role in a narrative than anyone else in the book.

“Facebook has altered people’s perception of reality so definitively . . .”

I’m a composer and psychomusicologist (it’s a real thing, I promise) by training, so I’m fascinated by your choice of EDM and house music as the vehicle for magic, both in Sparkle Dungeon and outside the game. What attracted you to using that genre in particular?
I think it’s just familiarity more than anything. I’ve been listening to electronic music since the mid-1990s, which is actually late to the game. A friend handed me an Orb CD and an Orbital CD and insisted that I would enjoy them, and she was totally right. And to the extent that my Burning Man experiences influenced Sparkle Dungeon, I mean, electronic music is seemingly everywhere you turn at Burning Man, or it was back when I was regularly attending the festival. Electronic music has been the soundtrack for a big chunk of my life.

The singing scenes are also particularly interesting to me, because they point to power morphemes’ implicit therapeutic potential. Where do you think they lie on the spectrum from therapy to enhancement?
Well, it’s tricky. The way Bradford pacifies the participants in a large brawl by singing sequences of power morphemes is almost akin to a guided MDMA session, so therapeutic potential is certainly there. At the same time, Isobel notes more than once that some of the euphoric healing sequences she uses have addictive potential. Spellcasting in that fashion seems slippery, although if you scaled it up, maybe you’d cure diseases.

But I think it’s telling that instead of curing anything, everyone is a lot more focused on “combat linguistics” and other subversive techniques. It’s like these power morpheme sequences provide steroidal power boosts to the spellcaster, which are a lot more immediately compelling to these people than anything altruistic.

Although power morphemes are speculation, the core premise—the invention or discovery of something that alters people’s perception of reality regardless of their agency—hits a little close to home. Things like power morphemes can cause immense harm but also achieve incredible good. How worried are you about the possibility that real life may come to imitate your art?
It’s happened already. Facebook has altered people’s perception of reality so definitively that otherwise rational people now believe wholesale in bizarre and outright harmful conspiracies. When these users first created their Facebook accounts, hoping to connect with friends and share photo albums or whatever, they never suspected they’d be hammered with insidious lie after lie after lie, propagated by an algorithm that operates with no mercy. I mean, maybe when you agreed to the terms of service, you willingly gave up your agency, but I doubt most people think of it that way.

At one point in the book, Olivia describes her work in advertising as “planting meaning in the culture and guaranteeing its effects.” Facebook mastered this approach, and they used their technological wizardry to torpedo the stability of American democracy and prop up despots around the globe. I’m not seeing the incredible good anywhere in sight. Maybe that’s part of why I like writing fantasy.

Author photo by Ian Johnston.

Scotto Moore unpacks the myriad inspirations behind his “science fantasy,” Battle of the Linguist Mages, which more than lives up to the nerdy promise of its title.

Summarizing Scotto Moore’s debut novel, Battle of the Linguist Mages, is an exercise in futility. Reducing it to the skeleton of its plot—Isobel Bailie discovers a talent that is considered magical, goes on a quest to save the world and maybe falls in love—would be ludicrously simplistic. Treating it as a philosophical treatise or a searing critique of contemporary politics would discount the fact that it’s also a riveting romp of an adventure.

Isobel, an avid gamer who lives in Los Angeles, contends with villains in the form of cynical advertising executives, disinterested game designers, conniving politicians, idealistic anarchists and arrogant gods. Along the way, she has to figure out how to get the “good” ending and she must also confront the mother of all trolley problems. To make matters worse, it’s all happening in real life, not in the friendly confines of her favorite virtual reality game, Sparkle Dungeon. Her talents in that game’s vocal spellcasting mechanic make her an ideal fit to learn power morphemes, vocalizations that alter people’s perceptions of reality so thoroughly that they change reality itself. While becoming the embodiment of a weaponized Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (the idea that the structure of language shapes a person’s perception of reality), Isobel learns that all of existence is under threat and must be saved.

Battle of the Linguist Mages reads like Noam Chomsky and Judith Butler conceived a metaphorical child while high on LSD and blasting Skrillex in a basement. It is hilarious and irreverent, and it relishes the intrinsic ridiculousness of real-life mages and superheroes training in a video game that’s a cross between Kingdom Hearts and Beat Saber. In blindingly inadequate words, Battle of the Linguist Mages is, conceptually, very dense.

Scotto Moore unpacks the myriad inspirations behind his “science fantasy.”

Flashes of social commentary shoot through this lurid unreality like lasers through a nightclub haze, but the most fascinating element is the deftness with which Moore crafts a fantasy epic about characters who role-play fantasy epics. Lying beneath endless music puns, pointed re-creations of Angeleno excess and cynicism about the modern-day celebrity cult is an impressive narrative self-awareness, an acknowledgment of every trope that Moore uses to render the reasonably straightforward core plot (discovery of magical talent, training montage, quest to save the world) as subversive.

The most powerful aspect of Battle of the Linguist Mages is not the sly humor, unrepentant geekiness, slow-burn romance or the trenchant sociopolitical commentary. Rather, it is the story’s tacit argument that books (and video games) are power morphemes. They contain the toolsets to construct entire universes but require readers (or players) for that vision to be fully realized. And, to pursue this analogy to its heavily foreshadowed conclusion, every writer is a linguist mage.

Except writers don’t have to be able to vocalize multiple vowels at once. Thank goodness.

Battle of the Linguist Mages reads like Noam Chomsky and Judith Butler conceived a metaphorical child while high on LSD and blasting Skrillex in a basement.

Xingyin has never met her father, a mortal archer who saved the human world from destruction. She is also the daughter of Chang’e, the infamous moon goddess who became immortal after drinking a potion that was given to her husband in recognition of his heroic deeds. Xingyin has lived a lonely life, hidden away in her mother’s sky-bound prison. That changes when she accidentally accesses her own magical powers and is forced to flee to avoid detection by the Celestial Emperor and his court. While on the run, Xingyin is thrust into the uncomfortable role of learning companion to the Celestial Prince, the son of the very man who imprisoned her mother. As she trains and learns alongside the prince, Xingyin is torn between loyalty to her new friend and the desperate desire to free her mother from her eternal prison.

Daughter of the Moon Goddess, Sue Lynn Tan’s debut novel, is filled with intricate world building, heartbreaking romance and mind-bending intrigue. Tan’s story is mythic in its scope yet personal in its execution. At times, she steps into a writing cadence reminiscent of a storyteller recalling a well-trod tale, as when Xingyin describes her childhood in her mother’s otherworldly prison or when she faces down monsters as First Archer of the Celestial Army. At other times, Tan’s prose is close and personal, pulling readers deep into Xingyin’s fears, drives and desires. The result is an all-consuming work of literary fantasy that is breathtaking both for its beauty and its suspense.

Daughter of the Moon Goddess starts out slowly. Indeed, the first quarter of the narrative seems to exist in an entirely different time zone than the rest of the novel, which careens from one adventure to another as Xingyin fights for her mother’s freedom. However, don’t let the languid pacing of the early scenes of Xingyin’s life with her mother fool you into thinking that this is a book where nothing happens. On the contrary, so much happens in this first installment of the Celestial Kingdom duology that it’s hard to imagine where Tan’s imagination might take Xingyin and her friends next. Wherever that road leads, however, it is sure to be one of boundless invention. 

Sue Lynn Tan’s debut novel is an all-consuming fantasy that is breathtaking both for its beauty and its suspense.

Think about the way you feel after a delicious meal. Although you know there are dishes to wash and leftovers to put away and perhaps a long drive home or work in the morning, as you look around the table at the faces of the people you love, and for that one moment, your spirit feels full, safe, happy, loving and loved. 

If that’s how you’d like to feel after your next read, the BookPage editors suggest one of these 2021 releases. 


Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr

The latest novel from Pulitzer Prize winner Doerr is a vast undertaking, spanning centuries and incorporating multiple storylines. Amid this tangle of events, each character must face what feels like the end of their world, and it feels like a gift to the reader that Doerr’s response to each of these characters, even those who commit potentially unforgivable deeds, is mercy and hope and compassion. We have seen dark times before, and we’ll see them again—and maybe, if we trust in each other, it will all work out in the end.

—Cat Acree, Deputy Editor


The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

If possible, this mystery is even better than the Osman’s charmer of a debut, The Thursday Murder Club. It’s a load of fun and an ode to how important the power of friendship is throughout one’s life but especially during the final stretch. 

—Savanna Walker, Associate Editor


These Precious Days: Essays by Ann Patchett

As BookPage reviewer Kelly Blewett put it, “These Precious Days reinforces what many longtime fans like best about Ann Patchett: her levelheaded appraisal of what is good in the world.” Indeed, this essay collection overflows with goodness: good writing, good stories, good people. (One essay is literally about a priest whose work with unhoused people in his community caused Patchett to label him a “living saint.”) This is a companionable book, full of warmhearted reflections on how to love what we love—books, dogs, family—a little better.

—Christy Lynch, Associate Editor


Love Is a Revolution by Renée Watson

Today’s young readers are so lucky to have a writer like Renée Watson creating books for them, and Love Is a Revolution is a perfect example of why. This YA novel is a master class in characterization, from its grounded yet swoony central couple, to the family and friends who surround them, to Harlem itself, which Watson evokes vividly. Her respect for and belief in the power of young people comes through on every page, but what sets Watson apart are her words. Watson is a poet who writes novels, and that means every few pages, you will encounter a sentence so beautifully phrased that your eyes will brim with tears and your heart will be quietly filled.

—Stephanie Appell, Associate Editor


Very Sincerely Yours by Kerry Winfrey 

A sweet and lighthearted rom-com that will appeal to readers who prefer stories that focus more on character than conflict, Very Sincerely Yours centers on the epistolary relationship between Teddy, a young woman who feels somewhat adrift in life, and Everett, the beloved host of a local children’s show. Both characters are lovingly and carefully drawn by Winfrey, who also creates a cozy, friendship-filled environment around her central pair. 

—Savanna Walker, Associate Editor


Goodbye, Again: Essays, Reflections, and Illustrations by Jonny Sun

On the one hand, reading Goodbye, Again feels like sharing a warm cup of tea with author and illustrator Jonny Sun. On the other hand, your pal Jonny might be a little depressed, or at least deeply introspective, and so your time together, while enriching, might make you cry. They’re good tears though—an overflow of feeling understood, of relief after hearing from someone else who feels as lonely, burnt out and hopeful as you do. Each short essay touches on an aspect of modern life that makes true connection, with yourself and others, harder. Together, they form a kaleidoscopic declaration that it’s worth the effort to nurture yourself and see what grows.

—Christy Lynch, Associate Editor


A Hundred Thousand Welcomes by Mary Lee Donovan, illustrated by Lian Cho

In her author’s note, Mary Lee Donovan writes that this deceptively simple picture book is her “love song to our shared humanity.” In multilingual rhyming couplets, A Hundred Thousand Welcomes offers a benediction for the sacredness of gathering together. Lines such as “The door is wide open— / come in from the storm. / We’ll shelter in peace, / break bread where it’s warm” have a plainspoken power, and Lian Cho’s friendly, colorful illustrations capture the joy of greetings and the happiness to be found around a shared table.

—Stephanie Appell, Associate Editor


Carry On: Reflections for a New Generation by John Lewis

During the last months of Congressman John Lewis’ life, he put pen to paper to collect some parting thoughts after 80 years of remarkable activism and service. Carry On captures Lewis’ memories of growing up as the son of a sharecropper in Alabama, shopping for comic books at the flea market, joining the Freedom Riders movement and more. Interspersed are snippets of advice for the next generation who will carry on the justice work Lewis and others began during the civil rights movement. After his death in 2020, Lewis’ last book reads as an even more precious labor of love, laced through with the congressman’s trademark wisdom, patience, determination and hope.

—Christy Lynch, Associate Editor


A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

The type of book that the word heartwarming was made for, Chambers’ sci-fi novella follows a monk who is literally devoted to small comforts as they brew tea, explore the wild edges of the world and try to offer solace and warmth wherever they can. There are some heady philosophical themes at play, but just enough to engage and not overwhelm your brain as you happily sink into this small, perfectly wrought gem of a story. 

—Savanna Walker, Associate Editor


Of a Feather by Dayna Lorentz

“Two lost souls find each other and the way forward” is a story I will read as if it’s the first time every time. In Dayna Lorentz’ middle grade novel Of a Feather, the lost souls are a young girl named Reenie who’s been sent to live with an aunt she’s never met and a 6-month-old owl named Rufus who has also found himself alone and unprotected in the wide, wild world. Watching these two slowly drop their defenses and open themselves up to healing, love and hope has tremendous appeal and power: It reminds us that no one is ever truly so lost that they cannot be found.

—Stephanie Appell, Associate Editor

If you’d like your next read to leave you feeling uplifted and filled with love, we recommend picking up one of these books.

When I reviewed Fonda Lee’s excellent first installment in her Green Bone Saga, Jade City, I noted how family played such a vital part in the story of the island nation of Kekon. This remains a central pillar of the trilogy’s conclusion, but what surprised me most about Jade Legacy is how willing Lee is to subvert readers’ expectations of how the families at the heart of her world will act. When the world constricts around the Green Bone clans and their powerful jade magic, Hilo, Shae, Anden and the rest of the No Peak clan have to break their own rules in order to survive.

Those familiar with Kekon will feel right at home from page one of Jade Legacy. Pushed by ever-growing pressure from foreign powers interested in controlling the country and gaining access to its jade, which grants users superhuman abilities, the Green Bone clans must decide how to respond. In addition, anti-clan terrorist factions within the capital city of Janloon continue to sow violence and disrupt the peace. The No Peak clan and the Mountain clan, which have always opposed each other, must decide if they will put their long-lasting and bloody war on hold in order to preserve the Green Bone legacy, or if they’ll finish each other off when the opportunity arises.

The Green Bone books are densely populated, but Jade Legacy thankfully includes a list of characters, which readers will find supremely helpful to flip back to. By this point, there are so many characters who have come and gone, but Lee always knows when to let a personal moment stretch out between central characters and gives fan-favorites plenty of room to shine.

Anything seems possible in this last volume, and Lee ratchets up the pressure to 10. (For readers of the previous two books, could you have imagined getting to this point? Where Hilo and Ayt Mada have to work together?) Tragic deaths and triumphant action sequences are as present as they ever were, but there are also moments of humility, forgiveness and even redemption in places where readers might not expect to find them. 

Quite simply, Jade Legacy is the best book in Lee’s fantastic trilogy. It’s the most complex, offers the most surprises and confidently navigates an intricate story with a huge number of characters and factions. It’s likely that if you’re reading this, you simply wanted validation that the last entry is worth your time. The answer is goodness gracious, yes. And if by some miracle you’ve read this far and haven’t yet jumped headfirst into one of the best fantasy worlds of the last five years, here’s your signal: Do it and don’t look back.

Jade Legacy is a spectacular end to the Green Bone Saga, with triumphant action sequences, tragic deaths and unexpected moments of redemption.

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Sefia has lived a lonely and haunted life, pursued for years by the mysterious forces that brutally killed her father and still seek the enigmatic object—the “book”—that has been entrusted to Sefia for safekeeping. When Sefia’s aunt Nin, the only person who knows the truth about Sefia’s family, is kidnapped, Sefia develops several goals: “Learn what the book was for. Rescue Nin from the people who killed her father. And get her revenge.”

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