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DMS

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: Lightless

Lightless - C.A. Higgins

I like the idea of this book far better than the actual book. And when I say that, I don't mean the set of lies and spoilers that is the back cover text (seriously, spoilers in your book description, publishers? seriously?!), but the inverted YA dystopia that is this book. Our narrator for most of the book is a woman with a PhD working on a ship she designed and built the computer for. She's one cog in the giant machine that is the System (really, it's called the System) who isn't struggling against the oppressive regime so much as working amiably inside it while concentrating on her own stuff.

 

There's very little action, and most of the book is either her making endless repairs, or another woman interrogating (read: talking to) a suspected terrorist. Based on the POV characters, this is a book about women with vastly different roles in an oppressive society.

 

Except that it isn't.

 

This is a story about a young man trying to survive outside of the system (see, that time I'm speaking thematically) getting caught and having his strength tested. As examined through the eyes of the women around him. 

 

Will he succeed?

 

Will they figure out what they need to?

 

I find it conceptually very interesting, but in practice . . . .

 

The narrator who I'm supposed to find sympathetic annoyed the shit out of me. She's really not a big picture thinking. She makes a series of judgement errors involving not reporting critical information, not because she's against the system, but because she doesn't like the way the interrogator looks? I don't even know. She seriously goes down this train of thought around the 10% mark where she decides she hates this woman because based on what she's wearing, she's clearly the kind of woman who will laugh at a woman her behind her back.

 

Seriously, the entire last act of this book could have been avoided if the mechanic hadn't been so determined to avoid any interaction with the interrogator. BASED ON HOW SHE DRESSES.

 

She's inadvertently a giant walking lesson in why you should follow orders. 

 

The second narrator, the interrogator, has her shit together, but is also rather flat. She serves more as a means for the prisoner to tell stories to the reader through than as a character. 

 

The third narrator, now she's pretty awesome. I kind of want to pick up the sequel because, damn, that's a great character. 

 

And I might. The writing is decent. The pacing is solid. There's some interesting content. All the non-POV women in the book were also excellent.

 

And I might not. Because, wow, do I not want to hear anything else from the mind of that first narrator.

Review: Spider Gwen Most Wanted

Spider-Gwen Vol. 1: Most Wanted? - Marvel Comics

I like the art, and there's some clever writing, but this may actually be a bit heavier than what I'm looking for right now.

Discord's Apple

Discord's Apple - Carrie Vaughn

This book starts with Kitty Steals the Show, the Kitty Norville book published in 2012. Stay with me. Vaughn was doing a signing in a small town in Alabama a few hours drive from here. A friend, who is also a huge fan, had just returned home from her father's funeral and needed . . . something. So we hit the road after work trusting the GPS. 

 

While I hadn't read it, this was the only of her books I had a physical copy of, so of course I took it along. And when I got back, I shelved it somewhere so safe that I forgot I owned it.

 

I asked twitter recently to pick a number, and a friend picked the number that corresponded to to this on my unread shelf at goodreads. 

 

Enter this wonderful reading experience. I don't like doing plot or world building summaries in reviews, and I won't. But I will say this covers an impressive amount of ground for so few pages. Largely by trusting the reader. 

 

Gosh, there's so much to like here. Starting from the heroine having a job - a thing I love seeing in UF. To the layers of types of storytelling happening. To the "wait, what, that's where this ends?" 

 

I'd love to read something else in this setting.

Review: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet - Becky Chambers

My favorite part of Game of Thrones (tv version) is Sam and Gilly wandering about Westeros being kind to each other. This book is the wandering misfit spaceship crew version of that. Just people from different cultures approaching being in each others' company for the long hall with respect and when possible affection.

 

Don't go into this one looking for a twisty, turny plot. The title is the plot. And while there is some action, it's usually the thing getting in the way of the wonderful character development bits. What is this book where I want less stabbing and more talking?

 

Golly. This book is a long hug at the end of a longer day. A warm shower after a bone chilling rain. I'm sad it wasn't longer. I'm devastated about the one unfixably bad thing that happened. I'm looking forward to more from this author. 

Face meets Palm in This Exciting Blog Post

I am reading a book that the back cover describes as Gravity meets Alien. Take a moment to imagine what that would be.

 

Go ahead.

 

I'll wait.

 

The things the book has in common with either movie:

  • a female protagonist
  • is on a spaceship
  • and things go wrong
  • in space

 

Granted, that's an awesome genre, but, seriously? Seriously?! While I'm enjoying the book, Gravity meets Alien it is not. Did this description come from using IMDB's random movie title link?

 

Oh, shit, I think I just figured out how to market books, ya'll. I'm going to use that link to pull some random titles and try to figure out what book they are!

 

Hello, My Name is Doris meets Jaws in The Queen of the Damned.

 

Hemlock Grove meets 11.22.63 in The Shining Girls.* 

 

Swiss Army Man** meets Full Metal Jacket in Archivist Wasp.

 

Game of Thrones meets - no, whatever it is, it's already been used.

 

Who else wants to take a turn?

 

* if I weren't using a random page generator, I'd have gone with Doctor Who here.

**I have never head of Swiss Army Man, but I kind of want to watch it now.

 

Review: Grimspace

Grimspace - Ann Aguirre

While this is book 1 in a 6 book series, it functions quite well as a stand alone. Fast paced with lots of action, I'm interested in picking up the next installment. First person present tense worked really well with the particular unreliability of this narrator. 

 

A quibbles: Why is Grimspace called Grimspace? All her descriptions of experiencing it make it sound beautiful and alluring.

 

A series of gun fights and chase scenes interspersed with Jax slowly unpacking the trauma of being the only survivor of a terrible crash. In another book, I might complain about how little of the plot is driven by the protagonist, but here it totally works. The resolution is a little too quick, and perhaps overestimates the power of social media too much, but emotionally works quite well.

Review: Choice of the Deathless

Choice of the Deathless - Max Gladstone, Choice of Games

Choice your own adventure book in the form of an app, with hit points and income, sign me up. This was a lot of fun, and I wound up playing through 4 times just to try out some different options. I see Gladstone has another, newer one of these interactive books that I'll definitely have to check out.

This post is definitely book related because this is a book blog.

Last week was our 15 year wedding anniversary, and I think  we nailed it.

 

We celebrated by having Indian food delivered to the house and watching Manos: The Hands of Fate, Rifftrax Edition. Back when we started dating, the MST3K version of Manos was the first gift I gave my now spouse, and our form of dating revolved heavily around staying in for dinner and a bad movie.  

 

A few moths ago, my calendar popped up the reminder, "15 years is big metal chicken." A message that may seem strange to those of you not familiar with Jenny Lawson's blog. Many years back I had read "And that's why you should learn to pick your battles," and laughed, and shared it with my spouse, and added a reminder to my calendar. Go ahead, go read it. I'll wait. If you like it, perhaps you would also like her book, Let's Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir - Jenny Lawson. I greatly enjoyed the audibook version, even if it did try to kill me a couple of times*.

 

I spent some time looking for just the right giant chicken, but none of them were speaking to me. So instead, I thought maybe I'd try looking at other metal birds - maybe that's it, maybe 15 years is metal bird art? 

 

Rewind 10 years, we've just recently purchased a house and a car. I've only been out of school for a short while. We're doing alright financially, but this is the largest amount of debt we've ever been in. For some reason, we're at a charity dinner with a silent auction. One of the items in the auction is a bronze statue by local sculptor Frank Fleming. A penguin. With hands! 

 

Frank Fleming's most famous work is probably the Storyteller Fountain in Birmingham, AL. He has a distinctive style of anthropomorphic animals. His work is wonderful and even the minimum bid on this sculpture is outside of the range of possible for us. Within a couple of years, he'd moved away from Birmingham and vanished from the art scene.

 

To this day my spouse laments not having gotten the penguin with hands.

 

So I took to the internet to see if maybe I could find a used penguin with hands, or at the very least a good portrait of a penguin with hands. Only to find that Fleming recently started sculpting again. His new collection includes a preacher penguin. With hands! 

 

I emailed to discuss prices and delivery, and a few weeks later found myself standing in the Birmingham studio/home of Frank Fleming, picking up my very own penguin with hands. But that was still well ahead of last week. I took** the penguin to friend's house, where I hear he got to live as a guest of honor at the fire place mantel. A couple of weeks later, I drive back into town with a friend who has offered to store the sculpture much closer to my house. 

 

Now, while a penguin with hands is kind of awesome, the more observant among you may have noticed that it is not a chicken. Worry not. I soon ordered a toddler sized chicken costume for Little Frankie*** and spent an evening cutting it and sewing him into it. Then, the night of our anniversary, I brought him to the front door, rang the bell and hid. When my husband answered it, I jumped out and yelled "15 years is giant metal chicken, motherfucker!"

 

He was delighted. I think he still kind of is. He took about 100 pictures and texted or emailed a bunch of friends about it.

 

Also, there is now a penguin with hands sitting behind me right now.

 

This is the best.

 

*Like I said, totally a book related post.

**If you want ot know how to transport a toddler sized penguin sculpture, turns out, exactly how you do not transport a toddler.

***I am told we will NOT be calling him that - name still pending

Review: The Many Faces of Josaphine Baker

The Many Faces of Josephine Baker: Dancer, Singer, Activist, Spy (Women of Action) - Peggy Caravantes

What an interesting life, what an amazing woman. 

 

This book starts with a not from the author discussing the difficulty in researching certain aspects of Baker's life in part because of Baker's many contradictory versions of her early years. For a short book, this covers a lot of ground, occasionally cutting in a historical info drop for context. Written for the younger end of YA, the prose isn't anything to write home about, but with a subject as interesting as Josephine Baker, so what?

 

The book examines her larger than life stage presence, the manic ups and downs of her home life, and her efforts to promote integration. It neither shy's away from nor fetishizes her bisexuality.

 

My favorite anecdote in here is from when she was first living in France, taking Paris by storm. She heard Snake was fashionable, but being an animal lover, didn't realize the trend was snakeskin. She got a pet snake, and wore it as a necklace that would just sleep most of the time, but would wake up and stick its tongue out if she started dancing. 

 

I don't know that I'm entirely comfortable rating a biography, but I'll give that a try.

Review: Shifter

Shifter - Jennifer Reynolds

A woman, well on her way towards crazy cat lady, adopts a beautiful cat from a shelter not realizing he's a shapeshifter. The first half of this book is pretty great. Half paranormal romance starring a cat, half chick lit dating adventure. The last quarter is fairly standard paranormal romance stuff, but still fairly interesting. 

 

There's some things I really like, and some things I really dislike. Like: all the sex is consensual. Dislike: the hero uses rape as a threat against the villain (not from him, but still..); the heroine is also threatened with rape. Like: the heroine is super into fun genre television shows. Dislike: she refers to women as females. Like: the source of why she's so effed up emotionally is laid out in her first chapter rather than left as a reveal long after I've lost interest. Dislike: even with that said, at some point it's kind of exhausting to hear her yet again think about how fat of unattractive she is when literally all single men she meets ask her out.

 

So, kind of a mixed bag. And set in the state where I live, which is still novel.

Review: A Terrible Plan (Lumberjanes, Vol 3)

Lumberjanes Vol. 3 - Shannon Watters

Great title, and some great character moments, but overall not as much fun as the previous volumes. There's a decent story arc that plays across these issues, but following the previous story arc, it's just a bit underwhelming. 

Review: Princeless Vol 1.

Princeless, Vol. 1: Save Yourself by Whitley, Jeremy (2014) Paperback - Jeremy Whitley

I am so in love with this. The art, the character, the complete lack of subtlety in theme. The protagonist spends the first few frames railing against fairy tale logic and the rest of the volume kicking ass.

 

Also got to add something to my MG SFF starring WOC list, which I haven't gotten to do in a while.

 

So tempted to order every volume right now. All of the Princeless!

Review: Time Shifters

Time Shifters - Shanna Lauffey

This is a neat story with an interesting protagonist, but the prose didn't work for me. I think if the entire thing had been first person, I'd have liked it a lot more. The sentence level writing in the third person sections just grated on me.

 

That's a pretty specific complaint - and I can be very picky about prose. I'm going to suggest you read a different review before deciding on this one.

Review: Mars Evacuees

Mars Evacuees - Sophia McDougall

This is great! A fantastic read for any age, this is like Ender's Game if you replaced all the pretentiousness and angst with adventure and hope. And had more than one girl.

 

Teenagers on Mars! Invisible aliens! Science! 

 

It also has all the wonderful little details that I love about book production for middle grade (and wish books marketed to adults would do). Take of the dust jacket so you can enjoy the embossed cover design on the hardcover. Check out the chapter headings and just enjoy the scant but lovely details of the design of this physical object. 

 

Recently, I was in a bookstore with a friend, and she declared hard cover children's books to be a waste of money. I found this utterly shocking and will spend the next few years pointing out details in middle grade books to her. Kids get all the great bookbinding, typesetting, and layout details!

 

This is part of a series, but functions as a stand alone. I kind of thought I'd just stop here, but when I read the cover copy for the sequel, I realized I was so up for a sequel.

 

 

Locus Award Winners Announced

I am both very pleased with these selections, and yet still giving the stink eye to the YA shortlist.

Happy Birthday To Me

Tomorrow I turn 37, and I'm spending the day at a Doctor Who convention. Followed by steak.

 

Today, I am celebrating at the house with my spouse and another couple, soon to arrive. Barbecue chicken, cocktails and Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective (the best board game ever). Followed by cupcakes.

 

Yesterday, I got myself the gift of professional house cleaners for a day.

 

All in all, this seems to be a good weekend.