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In short, Shizuka Satomi has sold her soul to the devil in order to regain her ability to play the violin. Although she becomes an accomplished violinist, all recordings of hers are vanquished and her life becomes that of a violin teacher in order for her to reap souls. Because, in order to escape damnation, she must provide seven worthy souls, within a 49-year time window, to take her place. She has harvested six and Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, looks like a good candidate to free her from her hellish contract. But then things get complicated.

First, Shizuka is in a relationship with Lan Tran, a woman who owns a donut shop in San Gabriel Valley. Oh, and Lan is an alien who has escaped the Endplague in her own galaxy, a former starship captain and mother of four -- and one is a computer program. Lan is in love with Shizuka but Shizuka is a little too busy trying to escape eternal damnation to commit to a relationship.

Yeah, too weird to be of any interest, right?

In fact, this is one of my favorite books of the year. As the novel unfolds, the three women's lives become entangled in their efforts to help and heal one another... along with those around them.

Several light motifs run through the novel: music, obviously, Asian food, historical misogyny. And donuts.

Obviously, this is an 'outsider' story -- Katrina is emotionally abused by her father (and to a lesser extent by her mother), ridiculed and bullied by classmates, and draws snickers and sneers from total strangers. When she begins to generate some fame through online performance videos, the majority of comments are transgender attacks rather than comments on her musical skills. Shizuka and Lan are outsiders as well, of course.

Light From Uncommon Stars, by Ryka Aoki, is a speculative novel about families and friendships, immigration, parenting, identity, queerness, hopefulness and fate -- a story that artfully weaves together elements of contemporary life, magic, and science fiction -- starring trans and queer women of color. And there are some obvious triggers here... though I don't much care for trigger warnings.

On a side note I've been thinking about the best/myfavorite books of the year and have these working but not final lists (books in no particular order):


The Sentence
The Night Watchman
The Bluest Eye
Cloud Cuckoo Land
The Murderbot Diaries
Firekeeper’s Daughter
Bury Your Dead
Light from Uncommon Stars


Firekeeper’s Daughter
The Murderbot Diaries
Light from Uncommon Stars
The Sentence
The Night Watchman
The Girl Who Drank the Moon
The Nightingale
Too Bright to See
The Echo Wife

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
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I'm adding some to my TBR list. My wife and I were driving to my brother's house yesterday and trying to put tougher lists of our best books read in 2021. A few of yours were on our lists too. I'll put my list up in a few days. I have a couple going now that may make the list.

Have a safe and happy 2022.
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I looked over my 2021 books this morning and put together my "best of" list.

Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor is set in contemporary Ghana. The main character is the adopted daughter of death.

The Moorchild by Eloise Jarvis McGraw was published in 1996 but reads like it was written much earlier. Moql is a halfling who sets out on a quest to return a human child to its family. To do this she must visit the fae who rejected her.

Firekeeper's Daughter by Angeline Boulley is a book with drugs at its core. Prejudice, drugs, and rape are not just tearing a family apart, they are destroying a community.

Phoenix and Ashes is book 3 of Lackey's Elemental Masters series. The books are only related in setting and the theme of elemental magic; they can be read in any order. This one loosely uses Cinderella as a leaping off point but sets it in London during WW1. Women's sufferage, shell shock, and workers' rights are all themes that she uses in this story. I've probably read 20-30 of her books and this is my favorite.

Elatsoe by Darcy Little Badger is about the magical world that exists along side our normal world. Elatsoe can raise the ghosts of dead animals. This is a Hugo nominee this year in YA SFF. If I voted, it would have been my #1 choice.

Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson is a book that if I was still teaching I would read it book every year before starting the school year. It goes straight to the heart of teaching.

You'd Be Home Now by Kathleen Glassgow is the story of a family being torn apart by drug addiction and more.

I read four books by P. Djèlí Clark this year and they are amazing. He uses magical realism in early 20th century America and Egypt. Ring Shout is a fantasy alternate history centered around the 1915 movie The Birth of a Nation and the rise of the KKK. The Black God's Drums is a story of a steampunk New Orleans where magic of all kinds is real. A Dead Djinn in Cairo is the story of Special Investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi case to routinely investigate a suicide that turns out not to be either routine or a suicide. And The Master of Djinn adds more to the world of Fatma el-Sha’arawi.

Perestroika in Paris by Jane Smiley is probably the sweetest book on this list. It is as if the writer of the film Amilé decided to write an offbeat version of the Incredible Journey with a horse, a dog, a rat, a raven, and a pair of mallards as the cast of animal characters touching the lives of several humans on their odyssey.

The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers is the final book in the Wayfarers series. I am going to miss reading more about the characters and civilizations in this series.

To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chanbers is a novella that is tightly written and thought provoking. It reminded me a book doesn’t need to be a 700 page tome to be totally engrossing, build a world full of fascinating characters, and deal with problems both personal and galactic in scale.
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I've either read or have most of these on my 'to read' list but your suggestion of Perestroika made me think of an author you might find enjoyable: Bernard Malamud. Malamud got me interested in writing and the creative process. His collection of short stories, The Magic Barrel, was revelatory. His writing is often magical and Smiley's novel reminds me of Malamud's short story, "Talking Horse". Malamud often writes about human freedom -- which, one would think, is especially relevant today -- and in the story, the main character, Abramowitz, asks himself in the first sentence: “Am I a man in a horse or a horse that talks like a man?"

Alas, no one reads Malamud anymore. His 1966 novel The Fixer was awarded both the Pulitzer and the National Book Award. He was also awarded the 1959 National Book Award for The Magic Barrel. Since 1988, the PEN/Malamud Award recognizes excellence in the art of the short story.

If anyone recognizes him today, it's likely from the credits in the movie The Natural, based on his book of the same name (although his ending was completely different).

Here's The Stories of Bernard Malamud, published in 1986, with a whopping six reviews on Amazon, Best Sellers ranked #125,768 in Literary Fiction:


An interview of the author is The Paris Review:
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I finished Light from Uncommon Stars today. It is a great book. Thanks for rec'ing it.
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I found a recording of the piece that Katrina plays at the competition, Bartok's Sonata for Solo Violin performed by Yehudi Menunin. This one is synched with the music as he is playing it. Wowza!
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