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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

Hello?

I have actually been reading. Finishing books, even. But every time I come here, the site is so slow that I run out of patience before I can write a review. My backlog of unreviewed books is now 7, and it took so long for this page to load that I'm not going to even try to post a review.

 

Anyway, hopefully next year will be better. Either this site will start to load, or I'll figure out somewhere else to post.

 

I'm sure I'm not the only one in this boat. I've seen lots of you posting links to blogs or becoming active on goodreads.

 

Alas.

Review: Black Wolves

Black Wolves - Kate Elliott

Yeah, not gonna rate this one because my reaction is too all over the place. 

 

I don't read a lot of epic fantasy, but every so often I give it a try. The first part of this book is really not for me. From the glorious king who united the land to his haven't-we-seen-this-too-many-times headstrong daughter who doesn't want to do girl things. Yes, yes, duty is such a hardship for the privileged or whatever.

 

I was on a lengthy drive, and had basically decided that I was done with this as soon as I was stopped for long enough to download something else when suddenly it skipped ahead a few decades and 2 generations of rulers. And suddenly it was a lot more interesting, with POV characters I didn't roll my eyes at. The clever young woman who figures out how to leverage her lack of position into an escape from her stagnant life behind walls. The reckless boy who's first thought upon finding a dead body is to sell it for drinking money. That same girl from the first part, but now at the tail end of a long career. 

 

Then it bounced back and forth between sections I was super into, and sections of tedium. And just when it felt like it was really getting going, it ended. 

 

I think this is likely a very good book for people who aren't me. It wasn't that there wasn't a plot, but that the court politics that form the plot weren't my thing. Though the larger plot of the series, and several of the characters very much are my kind of thing. 

 

I honestly have no idea if I'm going to pick up the second volume in this trilogy when it's published. I'm pretty sure I'd have preferred reading the notes taken building this than the actual book. But, whatever. I remain not an epic fantasy reader, I suppose.

Review: A Closed and Common Orbit

A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers) - Becky Chambers

While this sequel to The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet doesn't continue the adventures of the crew on the Wayfarer, this follows couple of characters through as warm and wonderful a story. I loved the first book, and I love this sequel. Don't make me pick a favorite!

The narrative swaps between Sidra's present day timeline, living and working with Pepper while struggling to figure out how to adapt, and Pepper's past. While they have entirely different struggles, the physical ordeals of Pepper's youth and existential crises of Sidra's present are both treated with legitimacy and validity. I don't know if this is meant as a counter commentary to the all to common "millennials doing everything wrong" think pieces of the day, but it certainly works on that level.

These two people thrown together in a shuttle at the beginning are in entirely different places in their lives, but trying hard to get along. As the title implies, they have things in common - more as the story goes on, but I don't want to get into to many spoilers. The examples I'll list: each has a great love of trying new flavors, each has selected their own name, and each befriends an artist. These are the trivial things. Read this awesome book for the non trivial things. And for the wonderfully wild differences as well.

This is such a lovely book. A balm I needed. A warm hug.

Review: A Pocket Full of Murder

A Pocket Full of Murder - R.J. Anderson

A good opening scene, followed by a somewhat muddy first third. There's a lot of world building to take in, and while I appreciate that the story doesn't pause to explain it, I can't help but think maybe a little more exposition up front would have enhanced my enjoyment.

 

That said, the second half is great. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel.

 

My favorite part is watching the protagonist try on different theories, and use evidence to sustain or reject them. She keeps finding new information and trying to construct a cohesive picture. And while she isn't without blind spots, it's wonderful to see her make both wrong turns and brilliant connections as she investigates.

 

I also enjoy the magic system. I don't think it's an accident that most of the appearances of someone doing "common magic" are women, while most of the wealthy, affluent form of magic is practiced by men. It's not actually divided by gender, more by class, but it mirrors some other historical allocations of things. Midwives vs doctors, for example.

 

And I like that common magic is basically baking. Baking rarely gets acknowledged as practical chemistry.

 

Really, quite interesting. 

Review: Emperor's Shadow

Emperor's Shadow - Yi Zhu

If you are looking for a good story in in an interesting non-steampunk industrial age setting, and don't really care about craft, give this a try. There's some great characters mixed with cool concepts - alchemists derive power from a pollutant! - but the prose lacks sophistication. Not just at the sentence level, but the way scenes are executed and the construction of the plot and how information is revealed all come across as underdeveloped work. This stuff matters to me, but I won't pretend it's important to every reader.

 

This is interesting enough that I'll likely read the sequel when it's out. I hope he continues to develop his writing skills. He's got good ideas, clearly.  

I am in the middle of 6 books right now

— feeling what?!?

. . . and I might start a seventh.

 

No word on finishing any of them any time soon!

 

Maybe I should start reviewing video games or movies?

Review: Vicious Circle

Vicious Circle - Elle E Ire

Bear with me here, this is a tricky book for me to review. Well written, excellent pacing, and a great protagonist. This action packed space adventure starts with a knife fight and the heroin is an assassin. Basically, this is the kind of book I'm likely to give all of the stars to, but in this case I can't.

 

Sadly, the plot revolves around a false rape accusation. I knew that going in, because it's spelled out in the cover text, the girl "claims" she's been raped. I appreciate the warning, as if I hadn't been expecting it, this book would have just been deleted when I got to that reveal. 

 

I even think Ire handles this well in terms of how all the characters interact with this knowledge. But I am so done with "bitch made it up" as a narrative element. Rape is lazy as a plot device and this is even lazier - all the tension of a revenge story without having to even deal with trauma. Plus, here in the real world, where false accusations are rare, accusations of rape get women treated with suspicion and derision by society, and men can still be president.

 

Uh, aside from that. Pretty much an excellent book. The first few chapters are really insightful about addiction. The story is driven by a series of mishaps that allow for the introduction of interesting characters and world building.

 

The end feels pretty rushed, sadly. After the climactic scene, there's a lot of detail that gets crammed into exposition, which is kind of a let down after so much action. There's one large unresolved plot element, but I think this in intended to be a series. If it is, I'll probably read the next one. There's enough here that I liked, and surely the next book won't have this same issue.

By the way, after 10 years and 130,000+ miles in a Prius, I got a new car.

 

And sunscreen. 

slice and dice
slice and dice

Gods I cannot wait for it to be Wednesday.

Review: Three Parts Dead

Three Parts Dead - Max Gladstone

Been a while since I finished a book, yeah?

 

This one was off to a rough start, and I can't even pinpoint what rubbed me wrong about the first 20% of this. Whatever, once they actually start working the case, it's all pretty great. Both the ambitious young recent graduate, and the disillusioned mentor are interesting and complex and very different. The villain sufficiently monstrous behind his human mask. The flashbacks well placed and the whole thing well paced. And while I'd figured out part of the mystery, most of it was hard to put together, but still satisfying.

 

The lit cigarette was featured so often, and shown multiple times being used to light new cigarettes that the God's resurrection seemed inevitable.

(show spoiler)

 

So, kind of a nice bit of foreshadowing for the reader, but done in a way that doesn't make it seem absurd that certain POV characters hadn't figured it out.

 

Glad I stuck it out past the first few chapters. Looking forward to the rest of the series.

 

sunlight on the creek
sunlight on the creek

On the downside, I haven't actually finished a book in a while. On the plus side, I have managed to go outside a few times.

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.

 

*sigh*

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.