Ten Quick Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books To Read When Time Is Short

February 6, 2024 Top Ten Tuesday 14

Top Ten Tuesday graphic

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature/meme now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. The meme was originally the brainchild of The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is Ten Quick Books to Read When Time Is Short.

Ten Quick Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books To Read When Time Is Short

All of these are either novellas, or else relatively short YA or middle-grade novels that would still appeal to adults. Any one of them would be great for reading when you don’t have a lot of time but want something really good.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built, by Becky Chambers. A thoroughly delightful cozy environmental sci-fi story about a tea monk and the sentient robot they encounter in the wilderness. I loved it on first listen, and it instantly became one of my comfort books for its warmth and gentle optimism. The audiobook is read by Emmet Grosland, who voices both Sibling Dex and Mosscap (the robot) to perfection. Oh, and you’re going to want to follow it with the sequel, A Prayer for the Crown-Shy.

Audiobook Cover: Smith of Wooton Manor, by J. R. R. Tolkien, read by Derek Jacobi

Smith of Wooten Major, by J. R. R. Tolkien. This is really the only fairy story Tolkien ever wrote, and it is beautiful and slightly melancholy at the same time. It’s quite short; as a physical book, it’s often bundled with Farmer Giles of Ham. If you can find the audiobook narrated by Derek Jacobi, I highly recommend listening to it, but if you prefer a physical copy, try to find one with the charming illustrations by Pauline Baynes (who also illustrated the Narnia books.)

Audiobook cover: Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire

Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire. What happens to the children who find their way through a portal into another world, when they are forced to return to our world? Especially the ones who, for whatever reason, don’t fit in here anymore? That’s the underlying question that ties together McGuire’s Wayward Children series, which begins with Every Heart a Doorway. These aren’t always easy books to read (and I’ll be honest, I have only listened to the first one so far), but they are well worth it. EHAD is amazing, in that way that both draws you in and and stays with you for years afterward.

Book Cover: A Spindle Splintered, by Alix E. Harrow

A Spindle Splintered, by Alix E. Harrow. “Sleeping Beauty” re-envisioned rather than retold, A Spindle Splintered took my breath away. It is both beautifully told and full of rage—at mortality, at limits, at a culture that simultaneously puts women on a pedestal and makes them powerless objects of desire. The illustrations are perfect for the tale, so I do advise finding a physical copy if you can. (It’s labeled YA, but I promise you, this book has plenty to say to adults as well.)

Dragonsong, by Anne McCaffrey. Menolly lives and breathes music, but in her world, girls can’t become Harpers. After her teacher and mentor passes away, Menolly flees her strict, overbearing Father’s seahold to live—and perhaps make music—on her own. Dragonsong and its sequel, Dragonsinger, are classic young YA fantasy novels set in McCaffrey’s world of Pern. And yes, there are dragons, big and small. I have loved these books since I was in my teens… and now I feel another reread coming on, thanks to this TTT prompt.

Snowspelled, by Stephanie Burgis. As I described it in my review, Snowspelled is “a delightful blend of fantasy and romance” with a determined heroine and a marvelous setting. In Burgis’s alt-Regency-Britain, women wield both political and social power, while magic is the male domain. Cassandra Harwood defied convention to become a magician; now, as a result of pushing her magic too far, she has lost both the magic and the fiancé she loved. But even without magic, Cassandra’s spirit and intelligence remain indomitable. (my review)

The Slow Regard of Silent Things, by Patrick Rothfuss. Honestly, this is more of a character study than a novella, but it is beautifully written, as one would expect from Rothfuss. It’s probably best if you have read his (very long) Kingkiller Chronicles first, though. (Of which only the first two have been published.) Rothfuss is one of the best writers I have read, in terms of craft. (I just wish he was, you know, faster. But then he probably wouldn’t be quite as amazing.)

Taran Wanderer, by Lloyd Alexander. Arguably the best of Alexander’s classic children’s fantasy series, the Chronicles of Prydain… and that’s saying something, because all five books are wonderful. Taran Wanderer is a coming-of-age novel within a coming-of-age series. Taran, an orphan with an unknown heritage, goes in search of his past. Through the people he meets and the skills he learns along the way, he comes to understand that who he truly is depends upon his choices, not his parentage. Don’t let the book’s middle-grade rating put you off; this book (and this series) are worth reading at any age. (See also my series review of the Chronicles of Prydain.)

If you count two of the sequels I mentioned (A Prayer for the Crown-Shy and Dragonsinger), that brings it up to ten. Which is good, because that’s about all the suggestions I have without heading even deeper into children’s book territory.

I do have several more SFF novellas on my TBR list, though—mostly books that have gotten excellent reviews. I’m looking forward to reading them!

  • Murderbot (Martha Wells)
  • Thornhedge (T. Kingfisher) (and also A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking)
  • The Tea Master and the Detective (Aliette de Bodard) (and also Fireheart Tiger)
  • The Haunting of Tram Car 015 (P. Djèlí Clark)
  • The Spirit of the Wood (Kristen Britain)

14 Responses to “Ten Quick Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books To Read When Time Is Short”

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      I would have guessed you were a fan of the Tolkien, Alexander, and McCaffrey books I picked! I hope you enjoy the Wayward Children series and Harrow’s Fractured Fables (of which there are two; I don’t know if she plans a third or not.)

  1. Nicole @ BookWyrm Knits

    Oh, there are so many books on your list that I love! I’m sure you already know which ones. 😉 But I had forgotten about Smith of Wooten Manor. It is a quick read for sure! And I suppose I should have included the Harper Hall books on my list, too… though I don’t usually consider them novellas (not sure if they officially are or not) and I was trying to stick to actual novellas this week.

    I need to re-read the Lloyd Alexander books. Assuming I can bring myself to get over my worry that I won’t like them as much when returning to them as an adult…
    Nicole @ BookWyrm Knits recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday ~ Favorite NovellasMy Profile

    • Lark_Bookwyrm

      I love both books in the Monk & Robot series… enough so that last summer I bought A Psalm for the Wild-Built in hardcover, for my physical shelves, even though mostly I am trying to pare down my physical books. I’ll probably get the sequel in hardcover this year.

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