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Saturdays in Books

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

Currently reading

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

Books I Cannot Get Out of My Head

Something More Than Night - Ian Tregillis Archivist Wasp - Nicole Kornher-Stace Lord of Light - Roger Zelazny Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein The Fifth Head of Cerberus: Three Novellas - Gene Wolfe Shadowshaper - Daniel José Older Love Is the Drug - Alaya Dawn Johnson

I haven't managed to finish a book in a while. Yeah, just keep starting new ones instead of finishing anything. Ha. So instead of a review this week, here's a bunch of books that drilled into my brain in the best possible way.

#1000BlackGirlBooks drive ending soon!

They're close to the deadline and close to the goal. I've donated a dozen titles to this drive. If you have the means to, the mailing address in in the link.

Review: Planetfall

Planetfall - Emma Newman

[reposted in hopefully bug free form]


A book that marries two mysteries as told by a narrator not interested in thinking about one and too preoccupied by the fallout of that one to make much progress on the other.

I read the audiobook, which is wonderfully narrated by the author. She starts from the typical plot where a stranger coming to a small town and unsettling the existing order, but the small town in this case is a colony living outside of a mysterious structure. The opening scenes are about 3D printing. Recycling and sustainable systems are woven though the narrative. But for all the colony's zero impact living on this alien planet, this stranger is the only one who's really lived on the planet.

A little more than half way through, all the small things about the narrator that are just a little off come into sharp focus. I found it terribly interesting, but about an hour from the end I was sure we'd only get resolution on one of the mysteries. Wow was I wrong. The last act of this book is action packed mayhem and puzzle solving.

I'm sure the text version is also a blast, but I recommend the audiobook for those who do audio. Newman has a great voice and her voice acting in this is a wonderful addition to an already excellent story.

Review: The Door in the Mountain

The Door in the Mountain - Caitlin Sweet

A disappointing read, with flat characters, little action, and no resolution. I loved the last Sweet book so much, but this has none of the depth or beauty of the writing in The Pattern Scars.


There are interesting aspects to this re-imagining of Greek mythology, but the story here hardly touches those. I like that the two narrators are normal people in this world full of god market wonders, but it would have been nice if they hadn't also been boring people. Or if the first 80% of the book hadn't been filler text and the last 20% set up for a sequel. 


The majority of the narrative follows Ariadne, an obnoxious brat always trying to manipulate every situation. Well, that may be giving her too much credit. Most of her scenes play out:


Ariadne: I will say or do something mean!

Other Person: I will effectively counter!

Ariadne: Well, that was unsatisfying. 


I want to read more unlikable women, but I don't think Araidne qualifies as she's so flat she's hardly a character. I can see versions of this book where I hate her, or pity, or possibly even root for her, but she's basically as effective and interesting as a bad smelling tea towel.


The other narrator is Chara, a slave girl. She might be interesting if her sole motivation for every word and action weren't a boy. Like, seriously, all of them. All about a boy.



Review: Nimona

Nimona -  Noelle Stevenson

This was the first book I started in 2016 - way to start out with a bang! 


This is adorable, warm, dark, intelligent, and funny. I adore everything about this book and am sad there isn't more.


But there is more Lumberjanes! 


It seems very likely I will read everything Noelle Stevenson is associated with.



Review: Meddling Kids

Meddling Kids - Allyson Brooks, Brett Brooks, Brian Laframboise, Peter Delgado, Marcio Fiorito

This looks like a fairly straight forward, simplified pen and paper rule set. On my first pass through, my thoughts were:

 - I wish they had included a blank character sheet for the kids to fill out, and maybe there is one on the website,

 - Leveling up seems pretty expensive,

 - I like that this seems to value problem solving over violence,

 - I like that most of the rolling involves 3 or more dice - rolling lots of dice at once is fun, and

 - Some of these powers don't exactly seem kid-appropriate - age range listed as 7+.


I flipped through a second time to try to pinpoint my discomfort on the last one. Early on, there is a little pull out text block about how you are welcome to play as a character that isn't the same gender as you because it's all just fun and games. But gendering powers institute heteronormativity into the game in a way this is totally unnecessary and at odds with this sense of fun playtime. The block says "it can be really cool to see what the other gender goes through in every day life," but the only gender differences are in player abilities and sometime overtly sexualized, and the example section shows a female character using one of these powers.


Which is to say, seeing what the other gender goes through (ha, there's just two genders in the make believe land that is exactly like our world, apparently), is portrayed as learning that girls can flirt to get what they want. Just see how Roshandra uses her Flirt ability to distract this boy! Which she can use because he's the opposite gender! Experience how boys are disadvantaged by us manipulative girls! Be sure you learn this lesson, kids.


Obviously, there are no gendered abilities like Mansplainer, White Knight, or Gaslight - wouldn't want kids to gain experience with identifying the forms of manipulation commonly wielded against women.


Flirt is a pre-requisite to Ultra Cute, which are both prerequisites to Total Hottie. Those aren't names I'm making up for the abilities, those are the ability names in the book for 7+. Flirt all you want, children, as long as it's only with the opposite sex. I'm honestly not sure which half of that sentence bothers me more. The part where a seven year old can use their sex appeal to make an NPC "forget whatever they were doing" (the effect of a successful Total Hottie roll), or the part where queer characters are explicitly against the rules. I guess I'm saying fish or cut bait, book.


So, yeah, this game looks like 95% fun and 5% toxic bullshit. 



Review: Shadowshaper

Shadowshaper - Daniel José Older

Lovely. Just lovely. 


I've read a lot of positive reviews about this, and all the good things are true. So many things to like about this one.


My favorite thing is probably how the form of magic is so ill suited to weaponization. So while our heroine does go through a combat training section and has to fight her way through some stuff, it isn't by increasing the level of violence she finds herself capable of. I can't say more without massive spoilers.


And man, I just love this Sierra girl to death. The scene where she flips off a mirror is epic in all the small, angry ways that are more true than non-fiction could ever be.



Review: From the Notebook of a Middle School Princess

From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess - Meg Cabot

Charming narrator in an all too short book. I'll probably pick up others in this series, but I hope there will eventually be a bit more plot than this - with less of it happening off-screen.

Review: Captain Marvel Vol. 3

Captain Marvel Vol. 3: Alis Volat Propriis - Kelly Sue DeConnick, David López

I would have enjoyed this a lot more if I'd only read the last issue. This includes a multi-issue arc that seems to only exist to mention Tony Stark over and over, followed by an issue that is part of a different comic's arc, and finishing with what would have been a big emotional hit if it hadn't spent most of the volume erasing my interest in this character.




This volume is a near perfect encapsulation of why I'm hesitant to pick up any Marvel book. 

Review: The Rising

The Rising (The Alchemy Wars) - Ian Tregillis

Basically, everything I liked about the first one, but faster, bigger, and more.

Review: Ancillary Mercy

Ancillary Mercy - Ann Leckie

This is the year of finishing serieses for me. Some of which (like this one!) are even books published this year. 


Very satisfying as a concluding volume. It didn't have that amazing emotional release that the second one provided, but instead followed through on the fallout of the story so far. Just a wonderful series from beginning to end.


I am so happy, happy, happy that Subterranean Press is doing a hardcover version. The covers are different, and awesome. I love both. I'll own both. 

Review: Empire Ascendant

Empire Ascendant: Worldbreaker Saga #2 (The Worldbreaker Saga) - Kameron Hurley

Don't you just love the cover art on this one? Gorgeous. Will probably make it into the rotation for iPad wallpaper.


I posted a short review on twitter. So you don't have to click through:


I finished Empire Ascendant. Short review: jazzed about book 3, but moar Taigan, please. All Taigan all the time. Taigans across all worlds.


I'm not sure how much longer a review I can write that won't be all spoilers for this and Mirror Empire. 


There was a point in this where things had been so bleak for so long that I just started laughing. I'm not at all sure I was laughing at things intended to be jokes. But as Valentine pointed out to 14 year old me, we laugh because it hurts so much. Laughing is the only way to make it stop hurting.


And also because that scene where we know the difference between what Nasaka thinks and what is true is fucking hilarious - or is it? Shit, I'm not even sure.


Empire Ascendant: for people who liked Mirror Empire, but wished it hadn't been so optimistic.

Review: Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook - Eleanor Davis

I thought from the title that this would be a series, but five years after it's publication, there isn't another installment.


There are some individual panels and pages that are fantastic, but overall, this felt a little weak. I would have liked to have spent a bit more time with the other major characters. In other words, if there were sequels that revolved primarily around those characters, this would have been a better read. 


I don't even know if that makes sense - that I liked this less because of books that don't exist? Whatever. This would have been a great intro volume, but as a stand alone graphic novel, it's just good.

Review: Stolen Magic

Stolen Magic - Stephanie Burgis

A lot of fun, and yet much weaker than the second book. At some point, the inability of these characters to talk to each other or believe anything Kat says just broke my suspension of disbelief. 

Review: Lumberjanes Vol 1

Lumberjanes, Vol. 1 -  Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen

I am so far behind the curve. Adorable, fun, fast. I've already picked up volume 2. 

The Expanse Pilot

Full pilot episode up on youtube. Very pretty, but I'm looking forward to rewatching this when the CC is actually working.