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Saturdays in Books

Reviews of speculative fiction, YA, 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

2016 Year in Review

A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers) - Becky Chambers The Obelisk Gate - N.K. Jemisin The Countess Conspiracy - Courtney Milan Midnight Taxi Tango - Daniel José Older White Trash Zombie Gone Wild: A White Trash Zombie Novel by Rowland, Diana(October 6, 2015) Mass Market Paperback - Diana Rowland The Liberation (The Alchemy Wars) - Ian Tregillis Babylon's Ashes - James S.A. Corey The Core of the Sun - Johanna Sinisalo The Fifth Season - N.K. Jemisin The Winged Histories: a novel - Sofia Samatar

Last year, I failed to do any summary posts about what I had read in 2015. I think I just kept putting it off until it was so late in the year that it seemed not worth the bother. Of course, I see so many "best books of the year" posts in November of the year in discussion that sometimes January seems like it is too late. So March isn't even that late, really.

 

My breakdown of the 76 "books" I finished in 2016:

anthologies: 1
collections: 0
Adult novels: 41
YA novels: 5
MG novels: 13
graphic novels: 1
art book: 0
comic omnibus: 11
magazine issues: 0
children's books: 2
nonfiction: 2

Of those 76, only 20 were published in 2016. I abandoned 3 titles without finishing. I also counted Final Formula as 1 book even though it was 2 novels and a short, and decided to consider the serial box stories an anthology instead of individual books. 
 
I did read some other miscellaneous short fiction in various magazines, but I don't shelve magazines unless I'm reviewing the issue. And I don't shelve individual stories because I am lazy.
 
Across all categories:
  Written by Women: 55 (72%, up from 2014)
  Written by POC's: 13 (17%, down from 2014)
  Written by Transgender authors: 1 (1%)
  Written by Non-binary authors: 1 (1%)
 
I'm a bit unhappy with how little of my reading was by POC's, both because it was a decrease from last time I checked, and because if I counted unique authors, I'd have even fewer. Apparently 2016 was the year I read lots of white ladies. I added 2 new demographic categories, which I know I'll need for the 2017 counts as well. I included the 1 transgender author in both that category and in the category she self identifies as. 
 
My favorite book from 2016 was A Closed and Common Orbit (Wayfarers) - Becky Chambers, just barely edging out The Obelisk Gate - N.K. Jemisin and The Core of the Sun - Johanna Sinisalo because I needed comfort more than truth. All the novels I rated 5 stars are included in the ribbon. My favorite new-to-me writers were Noelle Stevenson and Daniel José Older, who both write awesome women.
 
I reviewed 72 titles read in 2016. That has to be a new high for me, even with the website issues here at BL.
 

2016 Year in Review: Rape

One year, I did a super thorough overview of every book that included rape or references to rape. This year, I'm being a hell of a lot less rigorous and just including the three that spring to mind. I don't know, okay, this is just where I am.

 

Vicious Circle by Ellie E. Ire has a plot largely motivated by a false rape accusation. 

 

Shifter by Jennifer Lynn Reynolds is a romance where the heroine is threatened with rape and the hero hopes the female villain will be rapes.

 

Expendable by James Alan Garner features a protagonist who's motivation includes seeking justice for the rape of a woman she meets on an alien planet.

 

I'll try to take better notes for 2017 as this isn't terribly thorough.

 

Still working on gender stats for 2016 as well.

Review: Hunger Makes the Wolf

Hunger Makes the Wolf - Alex Wells

Is Dapperpunk a thing? Can it be a thing? I feel like this dapper AF badass fireball of a heroine could define the genre if it isn't already one.

 

If I have to stick to actual genres, this is a blend of space opera and western. Motorcycles instead of horses. And, as expected, the future is not evenly distributed. And the people under the boots of the intergalactic corporation are tired of taking shit. Deserts or mines, why not both.

 

Great adventure. Great characters. Great pacing, meshing never-to-long snappy dialog with action. This is the director's cut of the summer blockbuster movie I've always wanted.

 

Stand alone, but with hooks for direct sequels and other stories in the same universe. I'm not sure if reading it is the one thing keeping me sane with this endless cold, or the reason I'm not better yet as I read it instead of sleeping.

 

If you're looking for a fun adventure where you can root for the underdog, check this out.

Sick of being sick

Y'all, I'm on round three of antibiotics and almost completely out of sick leave. At least we were mostly moved out of the house before this crud came back. Note: not mostly moved in, mind. Still living out of boxes.

 

Most of my books are in piles on shelves as I didn't label the boxes well enough to know which to open first. I appear to be missing a box as well, so shelving is going slow.

 

How can one person make this much mucus in so short a period of time. 

 

Also, got a new cat. A 3 year old tuxedo named Agent Niles "Noodle" Clawhammer. 

 

So, that's things. Haven't finished a book in a bit. In the middle of at least 4, of course. Spend my last 30 minutes of consciousness each night rereading the same page of Hunger Makes The Wolf because my brain apparently stops working before my eyes do.

 

I am so tired of being tired and sick of being sick.

Review: Dreadnought

Dreadnought - April Daniels

First in a series that I've only not pre-ordered the next volume of because I don't see a Kindle option yet. Will read, for sure.

 

I don't typically love origin stories. Probably because I've overdosed on Spiderman and Batman re-introductions over the years. With great power comes great repetition, Martha. This feels quite fresh, though. Not just a subtle variation on something I've read a dozen times before.

 

Part of that, of course, is that the protagonist is trans, and that just adds layers of bullshit for her to face. And why pick just one kind of gross asshole when you can have both the toxic masculinity mascot parents failing to accept you and the genetics-is-destiny feminist who considers you an invader?

 

Part of it is also the relationships she builds with supers in different socioeconomic brackets. It's quite interesting to see someone flit back and forth between a wealthy, corporate officially sanctioned setting and a street wise, morally gray setting and struggle to grok both individually and in relation to each other. I know I've read other stories that try to approach this, but not as successfully as Dreadnought.

 

The pacing is a bid slow to start, but ramps up in the last act. Sadly, while much of this feels novel, the villain's plan, when finally revealed, is disappointingly familiar when first introduced, and still well worn territory for scifi fans even after the twist is revealed. That's kind of okay, though, since this book is much more about the journey than the destination. And while the plan is meh, the motivation behind it has a lot of potential to lead the protagonist into new, interesting territory.

 

I am so looking forward to the next installment.

Review: A Study in Scarlet Women

A Study In Scarlet Women: The Lady Sherlock Series - Sherry Thomas

I am quite optimistic about this series. The writing is compelling, and so are this particular Holmes and Watson. There are some pacing issues in the first half, but overall, it's very satisfying in terms of plot, character, and craft. And it sets up a series that looks to be a great deal of fun without leaving the reader on cliff hanger.

 

I also really want to throw out a content warning, but that particular content is a major plot spoiler, so I'll hide it behind this tag. 

 

This book includes both child prostitution& includes the suicide of one of the victims of pedophilia. There are no graphic depictions of pedophilia or suicide, but both happening are central to the plot.

(show spoiler)

 

I love Charlotte Holmes. I love both how good she is at solving puzzles and how bad she is at thinking outside the box. Which I know sounds contradictory, but isn't. If the pieces exist, she can put them together. However, a novel solution to her own problems evades her until another character suggests it, even though she's half way there. Her thinking is constrained to what is possible in society, even when she knows her own capacities aren't aligned. 

I've already pre-ordered the next book in the series.

2016 Black SFF Writer Survey Report

Note the individual sections are linked on the left.

Review: Talk Sweetly To Me

Talk Sweetly to Me (The Brothers Sinister) (Volume 5) - Courtney Milan

This is the last installment in the Brothers Sinister series, and like the other shorter works, suffers from being too short. Great characters and great dialog, but I wanted so much more.

 

Also, if you love a bad math joke, this is the romance short story for you. 

Review: I Shall Wear Midnight

I Shall Wear Midnight - Terry Pratchett

This is the kind of book that Fantasy fans who don't read YA will claim is YA, because the protagonist is the right age and it doesn't stretch their comfort zones. It is not YA. It is Fantasy. This isn't a bad thing by any means, but maybe don't recommend it to someone who is looking for a good YA read as it will just make them suspicious of your future recommendations. 

 

YA tends to have fewer giant dick jokes in the first chapter, for starters. 

 

And now that I've gotten those two points out, let's talk about what a great book this is. This is the 4th Tiffany Aching book, and the i-have-no-clueth Discworld book. All of them are good.

 

I Shall Wear Midnight starts strong (well, once Pratchett gets enough dick jokes out of his system in the first chapter), showing Tiffany working to fulfill the role she's trained for. Wearing a pointy hat may be a visual metaphor for being a woman with a career, and this work, like other Witches novels in Discworld, continues to examine issues women still face by daring to have opinions and authority and jobs. The approach to the casual sexism of society makes it as much a spiritual successor to Equal Rites as it is a plot continuity sequel to Wintersmith. Unlike Equal Rites, Tiffany is a Witch, clearly a woman's role, but what kind of woman, exactly? That's the question on the tip of the tongue of everyone she interacts with.

 

Sadly, while it does show some religious based discrimination, compared to other Discworld novels, it feels like it's pulling it's punches in this regard. And I found the antagonist rather unsatisfactory on a metaphorical sense. Like the bad behavior of too many people gets easily swept under the carpet by literalizing mob behavior as a distinct entity.

 

But, whatever, I'm still waiting for a Netflix Original treatment of this series. How great would that be?

Review: Martians Abroad

Martians Abroad: A novel - Carrie Vaughn

A fun and interesting main character in a to-short fish out of water tale. This is standalone, but I'd devour another book about Polly if she does write a sequel.

 

I'm not 100% sold on the ending, either in terms of how the plot is resolved or where we leave the protagonist, but whatever. If my big complaint is that I wanted more pages, I don't really have any complaints.

Review: A Kiss for Midwinter

A Kiss for Midwinter - Courtney Milan

The second shorter work in the Brothers Sinister series. I definitely prefer the novels to the shorts. This one definitely has some interesting scenes, but I found the hero difficult to swallow. Which is too bad, as I love the heroine to pieces. 

Review: The Governess Affair

The Governess Affair - Courtney Milan

Same great prose, characters, and sex as the novel length Brothers Sinister works, but a bit short on plot for my tastes.

 

This story takes place decades before the first novel, but is really best read after the second novel. 

Review: The Edge of the Blade

The Edge of the Blade (The Uncharted Realms) - Jeffe Kennedy

A fantasy Romance with a knife dual wielding heroine. Look at the freaking cover!

 

It's also the second in a series, and the umpteenth in another series, which I did not realize when I picked it up. I think this is the first one from the POV of this heroine, but clearly a lot has happened before this book gets started.

 

This book is not subtle about it's criticism of patriarchy, and while the heroine stays true to her badass self throughout, I do kind of wish she had had more opportunities to use those blades. Fun but not amazing. I may go back and read the first one. That will give me a chance to fill in some obvious blanks, and maybe see some more knife fights.

 

Did I mention that there are knives?

Review: Hawkeye Vol. 5 All-New

Hawkeye Vol. 5: All-New Hawkeye - Jeff Lemire, Ramon Perez

Fun, but not amazing. I think I'll keep reading these. I definitely prefer the writing in this one, but it needs more Kate. Always include more Kate. Always.

Review: Gwenpool, the Unbelievable, Vol 1

Gwenpool, the Unbelievable Vol. 1: Believe It - Christopher Hastings, Gurihiru Gurihiru

What an enormous amount of fun. Gwen Poole, real girl, has fallen into comics, a medium she both loves and has myriad issues with. And hopefully myriad issues to explore them in. Join her as she aggressively avoids having an origin story and blows shit up. There's a reason I said "real" and not "normal." This is so much fun! Bullets, explosions, and fourth wall quips.

 

And isn't self awareness and violent women all anyone wants out of fiction?

Review: The Liberation

The Liberation (The Alchemy Wars) - Ian Tregillis

Buckets of blood and competent women. Regardless of whatever the back of the book says, that's what this book is, and what the whole series has been building to. Right, and a clockwork Jesus examining the implications of free will, as if gore and ladies aren't enough.

 

I'm not sure how much more I can say about this book without massive spoilers for the series. A wide variety of women involved in all sides of the conflict. There are some great scenes where different women figure out what the end game of their enemy is (and how they've contributed to making it possible) that are just glorious. 

 

This is the last book in a trilogy that I absolutely recommend.