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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: The Countess Conspiracy

The Countess Conspiracy - Courtney Milan

I finally did it. At last, I found a romance novel that I loved. Not that I like, but found the romance aspects chaffing. Not that was fun, but the romantic interest sucked. Not that was an okay way to spend the time. That I LOVED.


Because adorable scientists are adorable. 


And nothing is sexier than consent.


The first half was a bit slow, but the second half more than made up for it. OMG all the things. All the things. That happen. In the second half!


I think the only way this could have been better would be magic. Or knife fights? Whatever.


This is book 3 in a series of 4 novels and 3 shorter works. Looks like book 1 is free on Kindle (US) right now, so sold. 

Review: Magic Bites

Magic Bites - Ilona Andrews

I'll try to keep this short since I didn't actually finish this book. Just need to leave myself some notes so two years from now I can attempt to recall why I stopped.


Also, self, always make sure you have a stack of unread books on your kindle before you go on a trip. Otherwise, you're just going to end up in this position again.


I'm thinking "drop any UF that at the 25% mark has no substantive female character besides the narrator" may be a good rule to add. There are more amazing books that I'll connect with out there than I can possibly read. There's really no reason I should have gotten even half way through this one other than my sadly empty kindle.


I put this down mid paragraph and am not going to pick it back up. The idea behind the world is pretty interesting . . . but. So many buts. I don't love the prose. I'm not interested in the protagonists. 


By this point, we've met 3 women other than Kate. A meek secretary who cannot be trusted, a blond bombshell who is actually a male shapeshifter, and a redheaded bombshell who is actually a snake.


So many buts, and I left at a butt.


Everything is terrible and I need a drink.



Review: Who Killed Sherlock Holmes

Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? - Paul Cornell

This series keeps getting better. Great pacing, great character arcs. If you like procedurals and urban fantasy and dislike optimism and joy, these books are pure gold. The characters slowly make progress on the larger series arc while solving the specific crime of each book, but always at a cost.


These are so good.


My small black heart beats for this kind of thing.

Review: The Winged Histories

The Winged Histories: a novel - Sofia Samatar

This book is a balm to sooth all wounds inflicted by other fictions. This is beautiful, rich, full storytelling with wonderful, complex characters and delightful writing. Reading it is falling into a warm embrace and being fed stuffed dates and wine.


I wish it had taken me longer to finish reading.

Review: The Final Formula Collection (Books 1, 1.5, 2)

The Final Formula - Becca Andre

Rather than just pick up the first one, I grabbed this collection of the first two books in the series plus a short story that happens between them. This series definitely falls under "not for me, but probably good for a different reader." An increasingly large category the more I read. 


The setting is interesting, but the world building is either very loose or being revealed far too slowly for this particular reader. Magic came back, but there's new and old magic. After 2.5 books, I still don't feel like I have a firm grasp of what that means. Certain types of magic get assigned to these two categories, but there's a wide range of magic that isn't explicitly classified and I don't have a good enough sense of what either new or old means to even guess. This has zero effect on the story; it just bugs me.


The romance is solid, for the most part. Though, and this connects to my biggest issue with the book, it does make sure to explain to us that our heroine is a virgin during the first sex scene, regardless of if she's had sex before. Basically, at some point the narrator reveals that she, in addition to memory loss, has amazing regenerative powers. And during the (thank the lord, completely consensual!) sex scene, her hymen breaks. There then follows a conversation between the lovers about how this is conclusive proof that someone who said they'd been lovers before her amnesia was lying. Never mind that a day after being shot, her regenerative powers have reduced that injury to a little muscle ache. The hymen is a magical virgin detector that could not possibly ever regenerate. Just look, she has a scar, so obviously the regeneration is not complete, no penis has ever been here.


I know I just spent a really long paragraph on hymens, but I assure you that was less text than the scene. More annoyingly, the conversation has zero effect on the story. Whether she had been fucking or not fucking another person before she lost her memories is completely irrelevant to the plot and to the character arcs. All it does is firm up the horrible bullshit concept of purity pervasive to the series. The next bit I will spoiler tag for plot relevance even though most of you will probably have figured out this particular twist within the first quarter of the book and for spoilers from the second book.


Oh my god, the fat shaming. A big, but super obvious, plot twist is that she had taken the final formula, which magically restores the body to peak condition and instills immortality. Meaning her forty-something overweight self magically transforms into a thin, beautiful woman who can pass for teens or early twenties. And is a virgin. At some point in the books, she starts having flashbacks to her former, evil self. She can always tell it's evil her because she always notices how fat she was before she was magically transformed into her ideal physical condition - skinny virgin. 


With the first book, I thought this was just an unfortunate bit of happenstance - that the author wanted to make sure she was harder to recognize without disfiguration. I won't say that means it didn't bother me, but at least I could convince myself that it was unintentional. Then, in the second part, they end up in a strange cabin in the woods and she has no clothes and has to dress in whatever they can find. There is no doubt of the deliberate fat shaming in the jokes traded between the main characters about the size of the owner intuited from his clothes. It is wretched and again adds nothing. She's been described as petite throughout, and while oversized clothing plays into a future scene, the absent owner could have just been tall, or a little broad. And it's not that the author made him fat that's the issue - it's that she decided to include the jokes about him - which add nothing but scorn for the overweight. The author elected to make him fat and then make fun of him.


So, yeah, this series has an extremely specific concept of what the ideal woman is shaped like, and in case you don't get it, the narrator will be sure to explain that fat people are evil, sad, and lonely, and probably never had sex, but if they did, it doesn't count, because real love is for skinny virgins you fat fucking whore.

(show spoiler)


God dammit if this series didn't hurt my feelings just a lot. Are you happy, book? You made this fat girl cry.


And its so unnecessary.  Seriously, how hard is it to not be terrible to fat people WHO AREN'T EVEN IN THE BOOK. 


But, whatever.


Jessica Jones series one has the same problem. Awesomely complex heroine dealing with far more shit than anyone should have to still takes time to fatshame.


So, if you've made it this far, now for the good.


This is first person narrated by a highly analytical heroine who is actually in touch with her emotional side. I love high int, low wisdom characters, but so often, intelligence in women is portrayed with a heavy helping of inability to feel. Not here. In the second book, especially, it is wonderful to watch her observe, analyze and draw conclusions. It's also wonderful to watch her rationalize poor decisions that later blow up in her face. There is so much here character-wise that is well done.


In terms of plot, there's a major issue I have with a character re-introduced at the beginning of book two, but it doesn't change anything - I just feel like it's a big thing for the reader to not know something that so clearly contradicts the end of the previous book. That aside, this is fun adventure and crime scene investigation stuff. The fight scenes are really well written and the pacing is solid. 


So, I guess the conclusion here is: highly recommended to all you skinny virgins who will roll right over the shaky bits and all you fat whores who can look past the author shitting in your mouth a few times for an otherwise fun, fast paced adventure with a wonderfully complex heroine.


Thumbs up?

Rat Queens News - Not Good

— feeling sad

Review: A Natural History of Dragons

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent - Marie Brennan

I kind of loved this. I didn't really expect to. I started it on a road trip where I expected my attention to be divided. Nope.


This is the first in a series of fictional memoirs about a scientist who's field work has earned her the reputation of leading scholar in her field in spite of her gender. This volume covers her childhood obsession with dragons, her teenage attempts to hide this interest in order to better fit into society, and her first expedition. 


Not the most action packed dragon adventure out there, but there's such a lovely attention to detail. She talks not just about the excitement of seeing dragons, but about the methods of observation used and the importance of specific discoveries. And, also, the local politics, superstitions, and her own failings with regard to interacting with the inhabitants of the small village serving as their base.


And then there are the dragons. Wild beasts of immense size and power. Difficult to study as live ones are dangerous and dead ones decay quite quickly. 


There are places where this veers heavily towards "not like other girls," but in the memoir format, the narrator has the distance to acknowledge when she's been wrong. She clearly doesn't think herself superior so much as odd. The voice of this protagonist is great. A feisty older woman describing her youthful indiscretions. The voice of the narrator is a great addition in the audiobook.



I'm glad I knew this was a series going in, though. It doesn't end on a cliff hanger, but it does end in a somewhat unsatisfying place. 


I've already downloaded the next audiobook in this series.

Review: Ultra Violets

The Ultra Violets - Sophie Bell

I've been putting off reviewing this one so I could take some time to decide what I thought. That has utterly failed to work out. New plan, maybe writing this review will help me figure it out.


This is fun, and does a great job of including a wide range of female characters, not just the titular quartet, but everywhere. Every named scientist in this book is a woman, for example, good or mad. And technology and sparkle go hand in hand, but not to the exclusion of technology and tomboy.


At times, it's a little too twee for my tastes. Particularly where it breaks the fourth wall. I also wonder if some of the memes it references will age it fast. Is icanhascheezburger still a thing? I know the website still exists, but is it still a thing?


From the cover, and in the illustrations throughout, Cheri is black. But at no point does the text ever reference this. "Colorblind" writing or artistic license? The only time any character's skin is describes is in reference to Scarlet's freckles and Opaline's blushing. There are places where the illustrations are out of step with the text. For example, the text describes a character wearing a lab coat, but she isn't in the accompanying illustration. Another time, a character's hair is in a bun, but she's drawn with a ponytail. So I just don't know.


The way the girl's powers are at odds with their characters is very interesting. Artist Iris's power manifests first as purple hair, forcing her first to adapt to life looking more rebellious than she is. Her actual power aligns with her interests, but there are times when the making part of art is as important to her as the finished piece. Cheri is all about fashion and loves animals, so suddenly being a mathematical genius wasn't really in her plans. And while tomboy Scarlet has always been the more athletic of the girls, dancing was never something she'd have taken up by choice. Watching each one adapt to this change is by far the best part of the book.


Yeah, I still don't know. I already own all three of these, though, so I guess I'll have two books to decide if I like this or not.

Review: Justice Calling

Justice Calling (The Twenty-Sided Sorceress Book 1) - Annie Bellet

A fun romp with a lot of lovely nerdy references, it's nice to read a UF with a heroine who really embraces geek culture. This is fairly straightforward in terms of plot, and very short as a novel (estimated at 119 pages). I may eventually pick up the next one because this was fun, but I'm not running out to buy the whole series as it was also not quite enough book to be satisfying.

Review: Rocket Girl Volume 1

Rocket Girl Volume 1: Times Squared by Montclare, Brandon (2014) Paperback - Brandon Montclare; Amy Reeder;

The first issue starts with a blue panel with some text balloons intended to be a conversation between the creators:



There needs to be an idea behind it. We can't just decide to do a comic without any premise. We can't just come up with a cool name...something like...I don't know...Rocket Girl...without there being a story to back it up.


Wait. What's Rocket Girl?


And that's where I should have stopped, I think. The art in this is great. And it's fairly fast paced adventure, but the storytelling feels a lot like the result of that conversation. Like "sounds cool" was prioritized over anything else.


So, thanks for the warning, I guess?


I probably should not have read this right after Paper Girls. It's completely not fair of me.

Review: Paper Girls, Volume 1

Paper Girls Volume 1 - Cliff Chiang, Brian K. Vaughan

Heard about this comic via another reviewer at BL, and discovered that the local B&N was doing a 3 for 2 sale on Image comics.


What is the opposite of disappointed?


This was grand. Everything I wanted. Look forward to the next volume. 


I dig the writing in Rat Queens, but I think I like this even more. Dark, rich, witty, and full of life, this ensemble cast is a delight. And it presses all my SF buttons. Hard.


I guess what I'm saying here is: highly recommend.

Review: The Clone Codes (Clone Codes #1)

The Clone Codes #1 - Patricia C. Mckissack;Fredrick McKissack;John McKissack

A very ambitious project that works better than I'd expected for a short book attempting to tackle so much.


The ending is a bit of a cliffhanger, though.


All the depth here is thematic. The characters feel a bit shallow, but it's also middle grade tackling the horrors of slavery and discrimination by both literalizing the past in VR and introducing analogous situations to Jim Crow and slavery backed by actual court decisions. 


Like I said, ambitions. And MG. Impressive, and easy to read in a day.

Review: The Escapement of Blackledge

The Escapement of Blackledge: a novella - Mary Robinette Kowal

This title was originally published in late March, under the name Melody Ellsworth, with a description that made it quite clear this was set in MRK's Glamourist Histories world and had EXPLICIT CONTENT. I found out about it on April 1st via MRK's twitter account:


And started reading it as soon as it was clear she was okay with it:


It reads very much like MRK, but dirtier. You may notice now that the author listed is MRK. Because she does love a good prank


The only thing I can say is that I think I liked this better than the original book, Shade of Milk and Honey. Basically because it's full of action and the heroine is a kick-ass lady acrobat.


She also inverts the more standard blushing virgin through gender swap. That works but was also a bit unsatisfying as the explicit part focuses far more on his responses to her actions than on her. I'm not typically a Romance reader. One of the few things I like about explicit romance is the centrality of the female orgasm. Basically, I'd have preferred more sex on the page.



When she athletically climbs up on him? Kind of wish she'd kept going until she was sitting on his face.

(show spoiler)


And that's a really small nit to pick. So, yeah. Definitely a Romance. A pretty fun romp. And if you want to check it out, Ellsworth's LJ has draft chapters. The ebook version is also only $0.99.


Review: The Smoking Mirror

The Smoking Mirror - David  Bowles

David is a friend. I don't think that's coloring my reaction to this one, but I also don't think I would ever have heard of this book if he hadn't been the author. Which is really too bad since I liked it quite a bit and look forward to the sequel.


Twins learn they are shapeshifters and go on a mythical quest to save their mom. Fun, fast, and in a setting I don't see often enough. The two protagonists are just brimming with personality. This is also firmly middle grade and going to my niece for her next birthday.


If I have to find a complaint, it feels like the end goes a bit too fast.


A note on format, there are translations of all of the Spanish words and phrases appended to the end. They're organized by chapter rather than alphabetically. If you think you'll need them, go ahead and grab a second bookmark to follow along.

Review: The House of Shattered Wings

The House of Shattered Wings - Aliette de Bodard

I did this as an audiobook and strongly suspect I would not have finished it if I'd tried to read the paper version. There are some terribly interesting and terribly beautiful things in this book, but court politics and passive characters are really not my thing. I'm sure this is a solid novel for a different reader.


Everything that happens in this book is fallout from something that happened in the past. Characters seem to split their time between lamenting the parts of the past they can't change and refusing to think about the parts they actually could still do something about. 


And supposed allies fail to share information at nearly every opportunity prior to the fourth act. 


For a book that starts with two urchins attempting to butcher a fallen angel, there sure wasn't a lot of action.


There is an amazing section where a group enters the Seine - in addition to the interesting setting, this is also one of the few places that details how magic is used. That section is perfect, and the last act is interesting, but I'm not sure it's worth the laborious setup.


So much talking. So little said. 


Please let the next book I read have stabbing in it.

Stars Are Legion Publication Pushed Back

Short version, the new release date is January 2017. Long version from the author via the link.