There’s a lot of fiction this week, and much of it is books that are deep within a series. Now, it’s kind of a hard sell for us to be pitching a bunch of books at you when there are five, six, nineteen or so in the series. There’s really no way we can summarize them well enough to really catch your attention—much less make you think, “Oh, dang. What have I been missing? I need to get caught up with that series RIGHT NOW.” So, let’s be honest here. This might be the one newsletter you can skip this year. 

Or not. Because, maybe that nagging sensation you’ve been wrestling with all year is the fact that you’ve not found a good series to really sink your reading time into. Well then, here we go . . . 

Except we’re going to do this double-step feint thing here first with Year One, a new Nora Roberts. Now, Nora’s been banging out romance novels for umpteen gazillion years, and she’ll be the first one to tell you that those books have put food on her table, put her kids through school, and generally kept her from having to take a seasonal job at the local hardware store. Year One, however, is not a romance, and again, she’s the first to admit that this book is a new direction for her. She caught a glimpse of something, and, well, she says this politely, but it boils down to: “Suck it, kids, Nora’s writing something that tickles her fancy.” And what is Year One about? Well, it’s what happens after the world gets a cataclysmic reboot. It’s like Stephen King’s The Stand meets Cormac McCarthy’s The Road meets Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven. But new and different! 

Anyway, let’s tuck into that list of books that sequels, treequels, and quintupels. First up, we have The Girl in the Tower, the delightful sequel to The Bear and the Nightingale, which was a marvelous debut from Katherine Arden just about a year ago. In The Girl in the Tower, feisty and brave protagonist Vasya must ditch the dull life of the convent to go save the world. Thank goodness, right? Otherwise, this would be a mighty dull sequel. Tune in next episode where the nuns flail the wheat, separating the chaff from the grain. Will they bake bread in time for the harvest feast? Or will the orphans go hungry? Oh noes!

And speaking of wayward neophytes tasked with great responsibilities, store favorite Ken Scholes’ Psalms of Isaak finally wraps up with Hymn, wherein the nature of the world called Lasthome is finally revealed, and the long-time struggle between the Andro-Francine Order of the Named Lands and the Y'Zirite Empire reaches its terrible conclusion. Now, Rudolfo—believing his son to be dead—has joined the Y’zirite forces, but he’s only doing so in order to poison them all from within. Like dropping worm juice in their kettles, or something. Meanwhile, Rudolfo’s wife, Jin Li Tam, is having it out with her father in a family squabble that might wreck the whole empire. And, if that wasn't enough, on the moon, Neb—one of the Younger Gods, duh—plants a flag and takes control of the Last Home Temple for his own nefarious purposes. 

Yeah, we have no idea what all that is about, but it sounds exciting, doesn’t it? Kirkus Reviews says the series has been “Exciting, dizzying, heartbreaking,” and we don’t see Scholes dropping that ball with Hymn. And now that the series is done, there’s nothing to keep you from blowing through all six million pages by Christmas morning so you can make excited bat noises when you unwrap Hymn

And speaking of readers going all goofy over books coming out, we’ve also got book seven in The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey. In Persepolis Rising, an ambitious colony gets its hands on some sweet alien tech and starts banging around the jump gates that are the vital connective tissue between the disparate human colonies in the solar system. Naturally, our ragtag band of heroes is sent to shut these jerks down before they wreck everything. Naturally, other parties who have some history with these heroes (read the previous six books) are less than enthused, and all manner of delicately negotiated agreements are threatened. Publishers Weekly says “Corey's tense, tightly plotted story is stuffed to the brim with intrigue, action, awesome alien tech, multidimensional characters, and provocative ideas.” 

And if you need a cheat sheet, there’s a couple seasons of The Expanse on Syfy already. 

And speaking of big ideas splashed out over an exciting landscape where sh*t blows up on a regular basis, James Rollins’s Sigma Force is back this week in Demon Crown. This time around, Rollins has got some things about bugs that he wants to tell us—in the most terrifying way possible. [And no, it’s not that the spiders of the world could all gang up and eat the entire human race in one weekend. That’s last week’s biological horror story.] In Demon Crown, Sigma Force must race to stop an evil cabal from unleashing a plague of deadly insects upon the world. Why? Because they’re evil and they have—we dunno, either pathological issues with racial purity or they just want less people in line at the market. Who knows. And it’s not like they can really control what they’ve unleashed anyway, right? These things never end well. 

Meanwhile, Bryant & May, the irascible and incorrigible inspectors of Londons’ Peculiar Crimes Unit are back in Wild Chamber, Christopher Fowler’s fourteenth novel starring this odd couple. This time around, the gentlemen are tasked with solving a locked room murder while fighting off the efforts of their nemesis—Budget Overseer Leslie Faraday—who wants to privatize all of London’s green spaces. Bryant, meanwhile, is distracted by Samuel Pepys, who is invading his lucid dreams. Yes, the 17th-century diarist Pepys. That’s right. It’s the PECULIAR Crimes Unit we’re talking about, after all. 

And speaking of droll British characterizations, Charles Stross has another entry in his Merchant Princes series. Empire Games (now in paperback) is the first of a new sequence in a series that esteemed economist Paul Krugman calls “economic science fiction worth reading.” Which is terribly dry for Krugman and suggests that there was a longer quote, but which got reduced down to those five words. Sort of how Lee Child saying “I’d read it. No, wait—I did read it. That’s why I’m blurbing it” gets truncated to “Read it” as a cover blurb. 

Seriously. It’s all about keywords. Like’s quote, stripped of all the boring words: “Intelligent, entertaining, a little scary.” That’s all you need to know, right? 

Okay, fine. Let’s not get get all tricky with our editing. Here’s the full summary for volume 19 of Assassination Classroom, a manga that your kids are probably reading. “Koro Sensei's lessons in verbal defense are put to the test when Karma must use his brains instead of his brawn to rescue a classmate. Then things finally begin to go smoothly for the students of 3-E. Everyone receives some good news about their futures, and Nagisa settles on a career goal. But the peace is broken when the world's nations miraculously manage to coordinate their efforts long enough to launch a plan to assassinate Koro Sensei--with the aid of the strongest mercenary in the world and an ultimate weapon! Will anyone break ranks to protect everyone's favorite tentacled teacher…?”

Just think. There’s eighteen volumes that come before this one. Clearly, they’ve burned through all the usual tropes and cliches when it comes to schoolyard hijinks/save the world scenarios. 

And we’re going to flip the tables on you and close with Ursula Le Guin’s latest book, No Time to Spare, a collection of essays she wrote over the last five years. These essays, which range from debating how to answer awkward questionnaire questions to the demise of one's global community to the utterly nutty behavior of her cat show how fortunate we are to have someone like Ursula le Guin. She’s a vibrant, witty, insightful, and provocative writer who has been challenging norms for more than fifty years. We’re lucky to have her. 

And, on the subject of time and its fleeting nature, don’t forget to slow down and breathe this holiday season. The only gift anyone really needs is a touch of kindness, really, and don’t neglect to share some of that with yourself. 

Meanwhile, Out in the Woods »»

BOB: And then I said: That’s because you don’t know the difference between the chestnut-collared

[SFX: Loud knocking]

BOB —Oh, what? Who is knocking on the door at this time of day? Excuse me a minute. 

GINGER: Sure. 

BOB: Yes? Hello? 

HODGE/PODGE: ’Deck the halls with boughs of holly. Fa-la-—

[SFX: Door slamming]

GINGER: Who was that? 

BOB: Just some kids—

[SFX: Loud knocking]

BOB: Oh, for crying out loud. 

GINGER: Bob. Just answer the door. 

BOB: It’s—fine. 

[SFX: Door opening]

HODGE/PODGE: —la-la-la, la-la-la-lah. ’Tis the season—

GINGER: Bob! Don’t shut the door on them. Oh, they’re so cute with those little hats. And look, the moose is wearing a sweater!

BOB: Oh, yes. Totally adorable. 

HODGE: We are here to share tidings—

PODGE: And yule!

HODGE: No, of Yule. Not and yule. It’s not something you give to people.

PODGE: I thought it was one of the spices. Like frankenstein. 

HODGE: Frankenstein is not a spice. 

PODGE: It’s not?

HODGE: No. Frankenstein was a very confused Romantic scientist who muddled where man should not muddle. 

PODGE: What does that have to do with Christmas? 

COLBY: It’s a resurrection story, isn’t it? 

PODGE: It is, isn't it!

HODGE: You, sir, are not helping!

COLBY: Well, pardon me for being late to the party. Glom-Glom here dumped me at the bottom of the hill. 


COLBY: I was trying to pour. And what was the rush anyway? There are only, what? three houses along this entire road. 

BOB: What are you miscreants up to this evening? 

GLOM-GLOM: Glom-glom glomglom. 

BOB: Caroling? 

COLBY: Apparently. 

PODGE: Wait? Christmas is a science fiction horror story? 

HODGE: What are you talking about? 

PODGE: Well, it’s a non-demoninable celebration of festivus and unguents, with singing and dancing—like they do in that history show that all the kids were talking about. Oh, and there are herbs. And people come back from the dead. That sounds like science fiction to me. Even though, it’s terribly maligned as a genre, you know. People don’t believe anything they read in SF. They think it’s all hooey, but we’re living in it, aren’t we? And since it has zombies in it—like this Frankenstein guy and the other guy—that means—



PODGE: That’s right. That myrrh fellow. See? I knew I wasn’t the only one who saw him. Back there. By the side of the road. Just before the marmot fell off. 

COLBY: I was pouring bourbon into a thimble!

PODGE: Well, I hope you left some as an offering. Otherwise, who knows what terror might overwhelm us . . . 

BOB: So . . . caroling, huh? 

HODGE: ’Tis the season!


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