★ Dead Silence
A small, underequipped crew discovering a long-lost ship sounds like an interesting enough premise for a novel. But what if that long-lost ship holds a gruesome and unexplainable secret? Now you’ve got my attention. S.A. Barnes’ Dead Silence mixes horror, mystery and sci-fi into a thrill ride sure to shock you out of your reading rut. The crew of a small repair ship at the edge of space picks up an unexpected signal. It leads them to the hulking, dark shape of the Aurora, a luxury space cruiser lost 20 years ago. Team leader Claire Kovalik decides they should salvage the wreck and bring in the lost ship. Once aboard, however, the crew discovers that something went very, very wrong on the Aurora. What follows is a claustrophobic race against time as the ship’s horrors begin to affect the crew one by one. Dread slowly builds as small, frightening moments inside the Aurora multiply, showcasing Barnes’ patient plotting and steady pacing. This is one of those time-warp books—the ones where you look away from the clock, then look back and it’s suddenly way past your bedtime.
★ Redwood and Wildfire
Sometimes reading a book is like paddling a rushing river: You just have to jump in and see where it takes you. Such is the case with Andrea Hairston’s richly layered Redwood and Wildfire. In early 1900s America, magic is as old as the swamps, the woods and the bayous. Some people, descended from those who have lived for generations under canopies of cypress trees and Spanish moss, can harness that magic. In Peach Grove, Georgia, Redwood, a Black woman, and Aidan, a Seminole Irish man, both have this talent. The two kindred spirits set out on a grand adventure in search of a place of their own, with Chicago, the City of Lights, as their final destination. Hairston describes a country at the tipping point between an ancient past and an electrified, dazzling future. The reader will feel this tension within the prose, as well as these two misfits’ yearning to create a life in which they can be their fullest selves. It’s immediate, it’s unflinching and it’s wonderful.
Hunt the Stars
Jessie Mihalik’s thrilling first entry in her Starlight’s Shadow series, Hunt the Stars, is a perfect example of why bounty hunters are such classic sci-fi characters. It’s hard to find a more compelling conflict between getting paid and doing the right thing. War veteran-turned-ship’s captain Octavia “Tavi” Zarola gets a job offer that could make her and her crew rich for years. The problem is that the one paying is Torran Fletcher, a ruthless alien general that Tavi once fought against. Despite her misgivings, Tavi brings Torran and his crew of fellow telepathic Valoffs on board. During the job, Tavi and her crew discover a plot that threatens peace in the galaxy, forcing her to choose a side even as she grows closer to Torran. Amid all the action and adventure, Mihalik also shows how a group of people in close quarters can become a family. Those developing relationships form the emotional center of the story, especially the connection between Tavi and Torran, which evolves and deepens in unexpected ways. Fans of “The Mandalorian” or “Firefly” will love this sci-fi romance.