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Seven fantasy and sci-fi recommendations from a diehard reader

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Jude Feldman of Borderlands Books couldn't recommend just one book.
Jude Feldman of Borderlands Books couldn't recommend just one book.
Courtesy of publishers

 Every week, The Thread checks in with booksellers around the country about their favorite books of the moment. This week, we spoke with Jude Feldman, at Borderlands Books in San Francisco.

Borderlands Books is your place for strange. The bookstore is the city's home for all things science fiction, fantasy, mystery and horror.

Jude Feldman, the store's general manager, doesn't just have one recommendation. She has seven.

"Passing Strange" by Ellen Klages

The novella takes place both in 1940s San Francisco and in contemporary times, Feldman notes, and it dives into queer life in the 40s. 

The story has a "fairy tale quality ... I like it because it's barely genre, it's barely magical. It's our world, just tweaked a little bit."

Passing Strange Passing Strange

"Spoonbenders" by Daryl Gregory

Get lost in the family saga of the "amazing Telemachus family."  "Most of them have a psychic power — but one of them's just pretending," Feldman explained. "They were discredited on live television in the 1970s, and have fallen on harder times since then."

"This is the story of the family patriarch who is still around, and his grandson Matty, who is just starting to discover that he might have some powers. ... It's a compelling family saga with magic at its heart, and it's very sweet."

Spoonbenders Spoonbenders  

"A Crown for Cold Silver" by Alex Marshall

Tired of waiting for that new George R. R. Martin? (Hang in there, folks.)

For now, this entry in the world of grim dark fantasy may tide you over, according to Feldman.

"It has a lot of black humor," she said. "The first line is: 'It was all going so well right up until the massacre.'"

The novel explores many different characters' plights in the fantasy world — "one is a middle-aged woman who used to be a very fierce warrior. Now she's in hiding — she's the title character. And her well-ordered life in obscurity is about to come to an end."

A Crown for Cold Silver A Crown for Cold Silver

"Every Heart a Doorway" by Seanan McGuire

This book took home not only a Hugo Award but a Nebula too, making it fantasy royalty.

It centers on a special school for children who have returned from portal fantasies. Think, for example, of the children who made it through to Narnia or of poor Alice down the rabbit hole. 

"This is a book about what happens to those kids when they get back to our world, and are now no longer kings and queens or great warriors, but just kids again," Feldman said. "Many of them have a version of P.T.S.D, and are really not ok."

"Every Heart a Doorway" explores what happens next for them. "The characters are beautiful, and there's a murder mystery at the heart of it," Feldman said.

If you fall in love with it, there's also "Down Among the Sticks and Bones," a spinoff that explores the portal trip for two of the characters in the first book. 

"It's well worth reading — and also stands on its own," Feldman said. 

Every Heart a Doorway  Every Heart a Doorway

"The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet" by Becky Chambers

Call these books "domestic space operas," Feldman said. "What I mean by that is not that things don't blow up — they definitely do — but that's not necessarily the point of the stories."

"Long Way" is the story of "a young woman who has paid a lot of money for a new identity. She's signed on as a clerk on this spaceship that tunnels wormholes. It's a dangerous job, and she's adjusting to her new life and her new 'family' on this ship, many of whom are aliens and have utterly different points of view from her."

"It's got a little 'Firefly' quality to it," she said, referencing the cult favorite sci-fi television show.

Again, if you fall in love, there's more: "A Closed and Common Orbit" is the sequel, and Feldman said she liked it even more than the first.

Long Way to Small, Angry Planet Long Way to Small, Angry Planet

"Summerlong" by Peter Beagle

In order to keep spoilers to a minimum, Feldman had to keep this review super short.

"This is a brand new, yet very classic fairy tale set in our world," she said. "It has a magical character in it, and it's about the dissolution of a relationship. ... It's beautiful and nostalgic and bittersweet."

Summerlong Summerlong

"Midnight Riot" by Ben Aaronovitch

Series alert: There's six of these so far.

"This is about a police constable who stumbles into a kind of magical Underground in London, and becomes part of the three-person task force that handles all of the things that the regular public in London are not supposed to know about," Feldman explained.

The books have "a marvelous sense of humor."

Midnight Riot Midnight Riot