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Saturdays in Books

Reviews of speculative fiction, middle grade, and graphic novels, along with stray thoughts, links, and pictures.

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The SFWA European Hall of Fame: Sixteen Contemporary Masterpieces of Science Fiction from the Continent
Kathryn Morrow, James K. Morrow

Review: Roses and Rot

Roses and Rot - Kat Howard

I picked this up on sale because someone was talking it up on twitter. I did not read the back of the book then, or before I started it. So I knew this was a book about sisters sharing a house after years apart.


In my head I had filed this as maybe gothic horror or something?


Which is a long walk to say that I didn't know I was following up reading a fairy filled UF with with an aspiring artist narrator by reading a fairy filled contemporary fantasy with an aspiring artist narrator.


And yet these books could not be more different.



This could easily have been a much longer book. Howard has plenty of strange and beautiful imagery to work with and quite the flair for lovely writing. Instead this is sparse. Just the scenes the reader needs to get from A to B. No wasted space, each paragraph both beautiful and sufficient. 


It's a long, slow burn of a book with a not complex plot and foreshadowing galore. Where little seems to be happening and yet I had a hard time putting it down. What might be next filling my thoughts during the morning commute and distracting me from conversations.


This is a very interesting as an examination of relationships between women. The narrator could easily be in competition with her sister, but instead is completely supportive. They have a housemate who is beyond rude, and respond by making sure to include her in house activities. There are two different horrible mothers. Not stepmothers, no. Mothers.


So, yeah, lovely read. Beautiful and sad and magic and true.


Don't miss this one.

Review: Proven Guilty

Proven Guilty - Jim Butcher

Let me guess, after this one, this series starts to get really good? Because that's the lie y'all been telling me for three books now, and this was definitely not better than the previous one. 


But it did manage to be twice as long as it needed to be.


I like magic that requires prep work. 


I do not like spending an hour listening to descriptions of people putting on armor and weapons before a fight.


I do not like endings that just keep going. Where we have to stop and have a similar conversation with every important person in Harry's life (two of whom make the same joke even) when the plot, it's been done for a while.


And this one actually started off with some super interesting stuff.



Review: Borderline

Borderline (The Arcadia Project) - Mishell Baker

I'm not a big fan of fairies. Yeah, yeah, they can't lie but are super good at not being honest. They're oh so pretty. They have courts. They don't like iron. There are rules.


What the fuck ever. 


This book isn't so much an exception as that it doesn't matter. Because this book is all about the protagonist and her ongoing attempts to keep her shit together while navigating vague rules nobody seems to follow. And I love how dark her sense of humor is.


The first quarter feels a bit wonky. There are too many instances of her finding out about a rule because she broke it, or after the fact exposition where someone explains what she's seen. And at some point, I'm just like - isn't this supposed to be her job?


This book starts with an interview and moves into a probation period, but never bothers to put her through any sort of orientation. Or provides her with any sort of structure. In a home filled with people who all have mental illnesses? There's no structure? No support mechanisms? The after the fact explanation when things finally turn to shit is that the case she's working is so important that they skipped that stuff. Um, maybe don't put the most important case ever into the hands of the new employee who hasn't had any training? Maybe? And it's not like there is actually all that much for her to do the first few days, when they only have a few leads.


Whatever, soon she knows enough that I don't have to keep getting fairy info dumps. 


The thing that works much better is when she stops to explain borderline personality disorder. I expected that to be as tedious as the worldbuilding, but it actually feels in character for her to stop and mentally review what she's experiencing and how she's reacting to it. Like her rational mind has this as a coping mechanism - to stop and assess. And it's pretty great.


Very interested in reading the next one of these.

Millions of Peaches

The Great Ordeal: Book Three (The Aspect-Emperor Trilogy) - R. Scott Bakker

Had a chat with a friend about this one a few days after it came out. Five years ago, we read the previous book in this series. This is the third book in the second trilogy in a post apocalyptic brutal fantasy series. We read the first book about 12 years ago. 


He said he knows his reading tastes have changed and that he wonders if this will seem more misogynistic than he recalls the series being, not because it is, but because he knows he has a different perspective. 


I told him I could still remember the feeling of relief when reading the previous one, that the soldiers started calling the women's camp "the grainery" because, at last, 5 books in, there was finally a term for women other than peaches - a derogatory term that crossed all class and culture boundaries in the original trilogy. 


I'm not sure how far my friend has gotten, but I'm only a little into this door stopper. There's a summary at the front of each one to remind the reader of the various plot threads from previous giant door stoppers. Well, that and to make sure we know some woman's clothes were ripped off - a detail I can't seem to be convinced is plot relevant, but is apparently something super important for us to recall 5 years later. 



Review: Ghost Talkers

Ghost Talkers - Mary Robinette Kowal

Alternate history fantasy murder mystery. Go get a copy right now.


This is fun, and interesting, and a fast read, and did I already mention fun? I've been waiting for this novel for years. Kowal briefly talked about the premise a few years back at a book signing and I might have frightened her with my enthusiasm. 


What if the Spiritualism movement had been real?


What if during WWI, the British military employed mediums so that soldiers could report one last time before going beyond the vale? And all of the debunking of seances was a cover for this strategic operation?


And that's just the setting. 


The plot is tied to a soldier reporting his own murder and a medium trying to solve it with the help of his ghost because she doesn't know who she can trust.


It's great. Will read again. Just a wonderfully fun book.

Review: The Duchess War

The Duchess War - Courtney Milan

I'm still not sure Romance is my genre, but I am sure I love Milan's work. This is a wonderful novel with great characters. And as I read the third one first, there's some setup work for it in here that I really appreciated and enjoyed. 

Review: The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season - N.K. Jemisin



This is so good. I am both glad I already have the sequel and trying to not read it because the third one isn't out. 


This book starts with the end of the world, and then goes back and forward to give you context. I am a big fan of nonlinear narrative, and this so works for me. I'm also a big fan of how this book examines how the narratives we consume affects our ability to define ourselves.


This is a book about oppression, ya'll, and it's not subtle. And lots of death. And sometimes explosions and stabbing. What's not to love.


Cannot recommend highly enough.




Perhaps not for readers who are sensitive to murders of small children. But the rest of you should read this.

Review: Timebangers, Vol. 1

One Does Not Simply Walk into Tudor (TimeBangers) (Volume 1) - Ivery Kirk, Luna Teague, Bryan Ward

"Are you saying-" She took a steadying breath. "Are you saying you invented time travel so you could go into the past and fuck famous people?"

"Well... they don't have to be famous."

Do you really need a review about this? If you're in based on that quote, you are in for a fun ride. If you aren't, well, you aren't.



Two former sorority sisters who haven't spoken in years fall back into an easy friendship neither quite trusts themselves in. One is a struggling single mother, and the other a wealthy recluse mad scientist. A mad scientist who is bad at people, and who's idea of historical research is to watch TV dramas and buy Halloween costumes.


I'm not going to claim this is a great book.


Except that it's kind of a great book. 


I'm so happy to live in a world that has this kind of book. Character driven erotica with time travel. Yes. How have you not already gotten a copy?

Review: The Kraken Sea

The Kraken Sea - E. Catherine Tobler

Lovely, but perhaps a bit slow paced for my tastes. I probably should have saved this for a rainy fall day instead of reading it in short bursts at bedtime.


I'll be interested in trying more of Tobler's circus fiction. Or even not circus fiction. She's obviously very sharp and understands strange.

Review: Midnight Taxi Tango

Midnight Taxi Tango: A Bone Street Rumba Novel - Daniel José Older

This is the second Older book I've read, and damn can that man write. This is a different set of kinds of supernatural than Shadowshaper, but just as compelling, well paced, and excellent. 


If you want to give it a try, there's a "short story" on Tor.com that is actually the first few chapters from one POV character in this. I didn't realize that until I hit that section, as it works pretty well as a stand alone piece. 


Dapper as fuck aging lesbian with a lot of guns? Yes, please. And the rest of the cast is also great. Thrown together in an interesting world, following tangents that wrap them together. Really an excellent read. Or listen.


I guess I should go back and read the first one. I don't feel like I missed a lot plotwise, but there is definitely some character stuff that would have been better with the background of the previous book.

Review: Zeroboxer

Zeroboxer - Fonda Lee

Solid action, and great pacing, but sadly few female characters.


Even more so than the male gazey first 30%, the near absences of women in this universe is disappointing. Yes, yes, this is a book where men get paid to punch men for cheering crowds. But come on. There is a women's league, which we know because we meet exactly one member, who has a nice if only briefly on screen arc of her own. Only one reporter we meet is a woman. Only two marketing people we meet are women, and one of those is the love interest (and the only prominent character in the book who is a woman). The universe has one female cop. And if I mention two moms and two fans, I've mentioned every woman who appears in the book....


It's been a while since I've read something where the protagonist was actually a hero. Not any sort of antihero or reluctant hero, but a decent guy who wants to be the best at what he does, and what he does is hit people. Have I ever read that kind of book where that guy was both the main character and not white?



And this protagonists journey is an excellent filter to examine the very real xenophobia of today. 


So, fun, and refreshing in some ways.


But more of the same in others.


I liked a lot about this. I'd love to try another book by this author that is less of a sausagefest.

Review: Skinwalker

Skinwalker - Faith Hunter

Refreshing. Violent. Fun.


I've had this sitting on my Kindle forever. I'm pretty sure it was one of the free books I picked up the first 3 months I owned a Kindle. Most of those books were, uh, not good? I still have a few I haven't tried opening based on how not good some of the ones I tried were. But recently a friend was talking this up in a way that made it sound like my kind of thing.


Turns out this is my kind of thing.


Does she have a job? An actual, for tax purposes, job? Yes. Yes she does. Bounty hunter, with a website, contracts, and everything.


Does she have meaningful interactions with any other women? Knocking this one the fuck out of the park, yes she does and they've known each other for a while. 


Does her origin story not include a rape? For fuck's sake, why do I even need this criteria? Yes, rape free access to supernatural powers. 


Does she like to eat? Oh, yes. Yes she does. 


It could use maybe just slightly less "all men think she's irresistible," but as on the supernatural side, that's cause for her to be on guard, I guess it works alright.


I don't want to get to heavy into spoiler territory, but the specific ways in which a skinwalker is not a were push so many of the right buttons for me. I love that they don't have the same goals. I love the uneasy alliance, the mix of support and power struggle. This is fucking great.


Will read more in this series.



The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet - Becky Chambers
"We’re grown-ups, we can have ice cream for lunch if we want."

Review: The Egypt Game

The Egypt Game - Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Great characters, solid writing. Why on Earth does the back cover reveal 75% of the plot?


A little sad it took me so long to get to this, as my niece may have aged out of it, but maybe I can convince her to read it to her little sister.

Not Review: Too Like the Lightning

Too Like the Lightning (Terra Ignota) - Ada Palmer

This is a book with a gorgeous cover and the kind of fourth wall breaking I normally like that is utterly failing to keep my interest. I'm not that far in, but given the amount of other books I keep picking up rather than continuing it, I think it's safe to put this one on the "abandoned" shelf.


Additional note: maybe this would change if I read further, but the author seems to be having a conversation about gender that doesn't actually have a point. Like, she's playing games with pronouns because it's stylish rather than because she has anything to say. Again, not that far in, so maybe it turns out brilliantly. But not for me.

Sorry I've been so silent

One Does Not Simply Walk into Tudor (TimeBangers) (Volume 1) - Ivery Kirk, Luna Teague, Bryan Ward

Went to Worldcon last week after a visit with a friend. Which basically means I haven't had time to post or read - so I have nothing new to review. 


I haven't decided if I'm up for typing up any sort of detailed con report, but here's a book my roommate discovered at the con, which I went ahead and purchased.


Because. Yeah. This sounds awesome.