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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

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.

Most Anticipated 2016 Titles

Presented Alphabetically by author because it's my blog and I get to make the rules.



The Rose and the Dagger - Renée Ahdieh  The Rose and the Dagger - Renée Ahdieh. A May release is a sequel to last year's The Wrath and the Dawn, which I sort of loved. This is kind of big deal as I usually bounce hard off of romance heavy plots with alpha males. Doesn't hurt that the writing is gorgeous. Sentence level art.


Company Town - Madeline Ashby  Company Town - Madeline Ashby. Out next month, this book has been a long time coming. Originally, this was an Angry Robot title, available for pre-order ages ago. Then her editor left and she ended up moving it to Tor, which I found out about through googling after Amazon cancelled my Kindle pre-order. So I've pre-ordered again, but this time for the Hard Cover via my favorite semi-local bookshop.


The Great Ordeal: Book Three (The Aspect-Emperor Trilogy) - R. Scott Bakker  The Great Ordeal: Book Three (The Aspect-Emperor Trilogy) - R. Scott Bakker. The publisher claims this will be out this July. It's been so many years since book two came out, I'm not sure I believe this is real. 


Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? - Paul Cornell  Who Killed Sherlock Holmes? - Paul Cornell. The third Shadow Police novel. This May the UK edition will be published with completely new cover designs for the series. Making this the THIRD cover for London Falling. The first edition of the new installment is also paperback, while the previous two have been hard cover releases. Changing up packaging while downgrading print editions does not bode well for the longevity of this series. I've ordered it from Book Depository because I can't even find a US release date.


The Geek Feminist Revolution - Kameron Hurley  The Geek Feminist Revolution - Kameron Hurley. Hurley has two books out this year. First, a collection of essays that I've surely read most of before. Out in May with Llama cover art!


 The Stars Are Legion - Kameron Hurley  The Stars Are Legion - Kameron Hurley. Her second book for the year comes out in October, from her 4th (?) publisher, Saga Press. While I'm eager to read the final Worldbreaker Saga, I'm also thrilled to have a new space opera to pass the time while waiting. 


Ghost Talkers - Mary Robinette Kowal  Ghost Talkers - Mary Robinette Kowal. Kowal crowd sourced early readers via her blog for this August release. She had mentioned the concept at a book signing the previous year, and I was quite smitten with it. The early version we read was a lot of fun, and given the stuff she was planning to add, I look forward to reading the final version.


The Winged Histories: a novel - Sofia Samatar  The Winged Histories: a novel - Sofia Samatar.  I'm late making this post, and The Winged Histories is already out. My copy is sitting at the previously bookshop 2 hours away. Maybe I should pick up the e-book in the meantime? 


What am I missing?

An Incomplete List of the Works of Sofia Samatar


 So you've just finished the award winning Stranger in Olondria or the recently released Winged Histories and are staring at the last page in sheer awe of the brilliance of this author. 


A Stranger in Olondria - Sofia Samatar  The Winged Histories: a novel - Sofia Samatar   


What do you do now that you have finally managed to pick up your jaw? Where do you get your next hit?


You are in luck! While Samatar's novel count is only two, her body of work also includes short fiction, poetry and essays. 


Here is a partial list of shorter pieces you can read right now:



Don't worry, that is far from all. Her website has a complete list of her works. There are no wrong answers to what to read next.

Review: Owl and the City of Angels (Owl #2)

Owl and the City of Angels - Kristi Charish

I'm not even sure what I'm writing here is a review so much as a collection of ramblings about this book. So let's start of with a few useful sentences before diving into whatever the hell I'm on about here:


This is stronger than the first installment, but is also very true to the characters, setting, strengths, and weaknesses of that book as well. If you weren't sold on the protagonist after the first one, this will feel like more of the same. If you liked the first one, congratulations, more Owl for you. 


For me, someone who dug a lot about Owl and the Japanese Circus, but also had a list of very specific complaints, reading this was a weird experience. I know in terms of book production timelines that there is basically no way Charish could possibly have read my review and written an entire book in response to it, but Owl and the City of Angels feels like she was doing just that. And with a reasonable degree of success.


It starts off with her finally thinking to use the damn game as an asset in her reconnaissance. But being Owl, she does it in a convoluted, backwards way that makes everything worse for her. Perfect. No sarcasm there - this is exactly how Owl would do it. Complaint addressed, but without retconning anything.


I'm still not wild about Rynn. While book one cataloged many of Owl's issues, in book two she has identified one she wants to change. Sadly, she elects to improve her interpersonal relationship skills by ignoring her instincts with Rynn and basically ceding defining their relationship to him. And this feels true. In no small part because it's very Owl, but also because at some point Nadia says something about it - a nice gesture to the reader that the author knows Owl is fucking up yet again. There's also a really great scene late in the book where Owl finally manages to use that big, beautiful brain of hers to think through their interactions and draw a valid conclusion. 


Let's take a moment to appreciate this: By the end of this book, their relationship is improving. Not because she buried her misgivings or acted against her instincts, but because she used critical thinking and communication. Mother. Fucker. Best book ever.


Also, we get enough new pieces in the grad school disaster puzzle to actually form a coherent picture. 


It's by no means perfect. I still find the way she interacts with the game to be baffling, but I suspect the third book will recontextualize that as successfully as this one does her grad school experience and the unbroken masquerade. Her comments about how the IAA stepped up security don't really paper over the giant continuity hole that is this seemingly entirely different organization. And while I'm not wild about Rynn, he's competent in a way that makes one of the later plot detours seem rather absurd from a logistics standpoint. And why is this world like 95% dudes? Is it because almost everyone she knows is an engineer? And the cover - makes sense having read the book, but boy is it poor marketing. Readers of the first book will find it baffling to see her holding a knife and new readers are being set up for disappointment.


I should probably stop now as the rest of the list is really small stuff. Just so you understand how ridiculously nit picky I am being right now, here are a couple of copy editing errors:


I glanced down; there was a cork mouse floating in my coffee, the one I’d balanced in my lap before nodding off. I held the mouse up. “Did you seriously just throw a mouse in my coffee?” Captain chirped again in response. I pulled the mouse out and launched it across the room. Captain took off, his hind legs skidding out as he tried to make a turn.


The second sentence should start, "I held the mug up."


Looking at the wall, I could have sworn I needed to go left, not right, like Carpe said.

Followed shortly by:

“Alix, Carpe’s right, I can see it on the map—left tunnel,” Nadya added.

Yeah . . stopping now.


Action packed and with a good lead in for the third book, Owl and the City of Angels is a lot of fun. This series is a great ride, and I'm looking forward to the next one.

"Besides, it wasn’t the work she minded. It was everything else. Next to that, the work was downright soothing."

- Archivist Wasp (currently re-reading) 

Review (sort of?): White Trash Zombie Gone Wild (WTZ #5)

White Trash Zombie Gone Wild: A White Trash Zombie Novel by Rowland, Diana(October 6, 2015) Mass Market Paperback - Diana Rowland

I just finished this a couple of days ago and am struggling to sit down and write out my complex reaction to it. In short, it's the best book in an already quite good series. I mean, just look at the freaking covers - this series is killing it.


It's also exactly what I needed from a series right now in terms of just how personal the stakes are. One of the things I struggle with in UF is the rapid escalation from personal stories to world engulfing intrigues. And the previous installment in this series, while fun, was also a textbook example of this "problem". In quotes because I realize this is a special quirk of mine. The action quickly moves to New York and the global scope is on the horizon. And while all of that is still happening in book 5, it's happening higher up in the zombie organization. 


Angel has her own struggle to cope with, complicated by other, local incidents she's the only one in a position to handle. And this works so well. So fucking well. Plenty of action and plenty of tension without a plot that requires going bigger in terms of world building.


Now I'm going to utterly fail in my responsibilities as a review, and suggest you instead read this somewhat spoilery, detailed review from Fangs For The Fantasy because yes to all of it, the good and the bad. 


I want another hundred books in this series.