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Saturdays in Books

Reviews of speculative fiction, YA, 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

Review(?): The Bride

The Bride - Julie Garwood

So I had a few drinks at a fundraiser masquerade and got into a conversation about romance novels with a friend. I asked her to recommend some titles that featured smart women and consent, and for some absurd reason, this was one of the two titles she dropped.


I . . . feel we have different definitions of consent. And possibly smart? But I DNFed this at the second non-consensual sex scene so maybe she does turn out to be smart?


I mean, I had my doubts when it was a forced marriage plot with an alpha male, but surely, with only two criteria in the selection process . . . no. Just no. My definition of consent doesn't include "he wanted to be able to control himself, but couldn't." It doesn't include no's that don't mean no. It sure as fuck does not include a woman waking up to find a man having sex with her. That was about the time I remembered that this friend was so pumped for me to read Twilight that she put a copy in my hand.


I don't know if I'm going to even try the other title she suggested. 

Review: The Liminal People

The Liminal People - Ayize Jama-Everett

An interesting concept with some great characters and a weird world glimpsed at the edges. Superpowers but no capes and tights and so underground no government agency ever appears aware of them. Refreshing after a bit of overload on that kind of conspiracy world the last few years.


First person present tense is not my favorite, and it's effectiveness for this narrator was somewhat uneven. In fight scenes, the perspective worked quite well, but sometimes lead to spending a little too much time inside the protagonist's head. A few too many, too long monologues.


Overall, delighted to see there is a sequel.

Review: Pride and Prometheus

Pride and Prometheus - John Kessel

The first half of this is a lot of fun. Mary really gets a poor treatment in P&P, so I enjoyed getting to see her in a story all her own. But the last half was lacking, and overall, this felt like a pointless excursion with nothing to say trading solely on a cute concept executed in unremarkable prose. Every time it seemed like this might be going somewhere, it snapped back into the familiar shapes of it's source material with no added wit, depth, or delight not lifted directly from them.


And then, while I was still thinking about what was so unsatisfactory about this book, I read the male glance and now I can't disconnect the two. I cannot help but wonder how reviewers would respond to this same book written by a woman. I cannot help but wish I'd read the version of this written by a woman, because it would have had to be so much smarter than this to make it through the publishing world. 


Meanwhile, this is adequate for a jaunt down familiar streets, I suppose. But for that, it's less time and money to read the short story that this novel originated from.

Review: Hate to Want You

Hate to Want You: Forbidden Hearts - Alisha Rai

Sex positive and a great heroine, the first half was hard to put down. The second half was really more a matter of personal taste than anything wrong. I'm just not into this kind of hero, and there were no dragons or robots to distract me from that.


Good, but my favorite part was the preview for the next book in the series.

Review: Blood Binds the Pack

Blood Binds the Pack - Alex Wells

An excellent follow up to last year's Blood Binds the Pack, this is more of the same biker mayhem and worker plight on Dune with great characters and plenty of action. 


I'm going to qualify the Dune comparison with "desert planet" and "genetically modified navigators" as opposed to being another story about a rich, well educated, cultured boy being the chosen one for an indigenous population. Unions and company towns are more in line with this setting. And a clear line is drawn between oppressor and oppressed.


Two great books so far. This ends with what feels like a conclusion, but I could easily read a sequel. Or another book set elsewhere in this universe.

Review(?): Provenance

Provenance - Ann Leckie

I only made it 3 chapters. At that point, I asked a couple of friends some pointed questions because it seemed like this might not be my kind of things. Based on their answers, yeah, not going to be my kind of thing. "If you liked Goblin Emperor, you'll like this" being one of the deciding factors. "There are maybe 2 characters you won't hate" being another.


In part, that's an issue of expectations. The jacket copy promises an ambitious woman scheming, and that isn't at all the hesitant, ill-informed woman just hoping to do well enough to not be cast aside introduced. The first three chapters set the stage for manners fantasy (is manners scifi a genre?) with bureaucratic shenanigans. It has a decent sense of humor and the prose is solid, but manners fantasy is not my thing, and throwing in a heist isn't going to make it my thing.


2018 has so far been a hell of a year for me picking up the wrong damn book.

Review: Certain Dark Things

Certain Dark Things: A Novel - Silvia Moreno-Garcia

My first DNF of the year.  There's really nothing wrong with this book, it just isn't for me.


I got about half way through, but had failed to be interested by enough of this novel's characters or anything in the plot. I thought the chapters from the cop's POV were fairly interesting, but not enough to keep reading. Conceptually, I like the vampires, but as ideas more than as characters.


I'll have to try one of Moreno-Garcia's other books at some point. 

Fighting in the Shadows: Untold Stories of Deaf People in the Civil War

Fighting in the Shadows: Untold Stories of Deaf People in the Civil War - Harry G. Lang

I picked this up for a research project in my Intro to ASL class and it's great. 


The writing is quite engaging and the research is excellent. I was reading up on Laura Catherine Redden, a deaf poet and war correspondent who frequently met with Grant and got her first published book of poetry a pretty sweet pull quote from Lincoln. Every other resource I'd read about her was either very dry or gushing but not not well referenced. I read a few additional chapters and was impressed in general with the writing as well as the topic. 


I've only read bits and pieces as a reference rather than a straight up reading, but I wanted to make not of it here since I'm sure there are some history buffs at BL who might be interesting.

Review: Two Serpents Rise

Two Serpents Rise - Max Gladstone

There's a lengthy article on the pro's and con's of reading the Craft Sequence in chronological vs published order that I should probably care about. I've got an omnibus edition that put them in publication order, though, so that's what I'm doing.


A rather underwhelming follow up to the excellent Three Parts Dead. In terms of events, this is a prequel, but it was published second. There are some quite good scenes and excellent sentences, but overall, the plot is just some stuff that . . . happens? This isn't a mystery so much as a series of bad things being triaged without any real attempt to identify the underlying disease. 


I don't know. Maybe if the last few books I've read hadn't been so outstanding, this would have been a better read.


The main character isn't so much a protagonist as an unwitting minion who can't get a clue short of skywriting, and, once the villian is revealed, even then has some questions before he'll deign to understand. After watching him fail to read people spectacularly and argue inflexibly in the face of contrary evidence, I could never believe he was either good at poker or an effective risk manager. He lacks verisimilitude. 



(show spoiler)


But excellent setting. I'll read the next one in the hope it is a better fit for my tastes. 

Review: After Atlas

After Atlas (Planetfall Novel, A) - Emma Newman

Set in the same universe as Planetfall, but not a sequel, this police procedural follows the son of the previous book's narrator as he navigates a capitalist dystopian Earth as an indentured servant trained in investigation. While some of the aspects of the prophet known as the Pathefinder may be vague without having read Planetfall, the details included are sufficient and After Atlas can be read as a standalone novel.


This is a very different kind of story in a very different setting. The shape of the last act has something in common with Planetfall, which is interesting if you read both, but not necessary to enjoy either. 


As a murder mystery set in a high surveillance society, it's excellent. The start felt a little slow as the reader is introduced to life as a corporate asset (read: slave) and the protagonist's quirks, but once he'd assigned a case, everything was interesting. He knew the victim, the leader of a cult he left as a teen, but finds little recognizable in the man and the organization he remembers.


And the last act went totally off the rails in completely the right direction.


I did this as an audiobook and my house is much cleaner as a result of wanting to spend time listening.

Review: Passing Strange

Passing Strange - Ellen Klages

I may be more in love with the parts this is constructed from than with the whole. All the characters are great, and I'd love to see more stories about them.

Review: A Right Honorable Gentleman

A Right Honorable Gentleman - Courtney Milan

A short, fun romance that wasn't quite as satisfying as I'd have liked. The hero says he's changed, but with such a short story, there's no room to see that he actually has versus if he's just trying, but soon to fall back into old habits.

Review: Charlotte Holmes and the Locked Box (Lady Sherlock 1.5)

Only a few pages long, this stand alone case could easily have been a chapter in either of the novels. I love this series and this may be a nice preview for anyone trying to decide if they're interested.

Review: The Only Harmless Great Things

The Only Harmless Great Thing - Brooke Bolander

Excellent title, yeah?


This is my first Anticipated Book for the year. Well, novella, but  whatever. Great prose, great visuals, ideas that I'll be turning over in my head for a while. Weird does not begin to cover it. My only complaint is that I'd like for it to have lasted a little longer.


Bolander's Big Idea post about writing this is also a terribly interesting read, but I'm glad it didn't hit my RSS feed until after I'd finished the story.

Review: The Refrigerator Monologues

The Refrigerator Monologues - Annie Wu, Catherynne M. Valente

An interesting set of interconnected backstories for several dead ladies modeled on DC and Marvel characters, but set in a unique superhero universe.


I was familiar with most, but not all of the source material. The section reinterpreting Jean Grey was by far the best. Even teenage me thought Dark Phoenix Saga was some serious bullshit, and it's nice to see a smart, articulate writer tackle this particular criticism. There's a reason I went Excalibur instead of X-Men back in the day. The Harley Quinn section felt far less successful as feminist critique, but can't be faulted for not being true to the character. Mera's section is so well done that I both wish I were familiar with the referenced backstory and never, ever want to read that shit.


This is a strange, sharp collection. An angry gem. A beautiful diamond made from compressing garbage so tight it has to shine.


Not a title for everyone, but definitely for me.

2018 Anticipated Titles

As I mentioned earlier this month, I'm moving away from massive beginning of year pre-orders in favor of a monthly calendar reminder to determine what books I buy, and in what format. An additional upshot, I only need to do one list of anticipated titles, rather than one for ebooks and another for physical copies. 


Apparently, I had already ordered a few things before I made this decision, but, whatever, those are noted so I don't buy a second copy. Also, so few of these have covers that I decided not to include images.


Here's what I'm looking forward to in 2018:



The Only Harmless Great Thing - Brooke Bolander: a dark alt history out later this month (today?) featuring both the Radium Girls and Topsy the Elephant. (ebook)



Monster Portraits - Sofia Samatar & Del Samatar: I've already ordered a physical copy from Rose Metal Press. No idea how widely available this will be. (paperback pre-order)



Obsidio (The Illuminae Files) - Amie Kaufman,Jay Kristoff: book 3 in a series of epistolary YA space operas.

Impostor Syndrome (The Arcadia Project) - Mishell Baker: book 3 in a UF series with an unreliable narrator with BPD and fairies. 

Stone Mad - Elizabeth Bear: a new book in the same world as Bear's excellent Karen Memory. 



Space Opera - Catherynne M. Valente: described as HHGTTG meets Eurovision, how could I not get this? (ebook pre-order)

Dread Nation - Justina Ireland: alt-history with zombies.  



Artificial Condition - Martha Wells: a follow up to the excellent All Systems Red.  

Vengeful (Villains) - V. E. Schwab: sequel to Vicious, so superheroesque.

Owl and the Tiger Thieves (The Owl Series) - Kristi Charish: the next Owl book I am definitely looking forward to. She is is such trouble!



Revenant Gun - Yoon Ha Lee: 3rd installment in a trilogy that has been dynamite so far.  

Apocalypse Nyx - Kameron Hurley: a collection of short fiction from the Bel Dame Apocrypha universe.



The Freeze-Frame Revolution - Peter Watts: based on the description, I have no idea what to expect. Space thriller?  

Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers) - Becky Chambers: a new Wayfarers book! Yes!  

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club) - Theodora Goss: Sequel to last year's excellent The Strange Case of the Alchemist's Daughter, this looks like another fun fantasy.

The Calculating Stars - Mary Robinette Kowal: I won a manuscript for this at an auction last year, and it's amazing. Looking forward to reading the final form of this great alt history.  



Rogue Protocol: The Murderbot Diaries - Martha Wells: a third Murderbot book! 

Exile's Throne - Rhonda Mason: third in a trilogy of fun space opera adventure tales.

The Fated Sky: A Lady Astronaut Novel - Mary Robinette Kowal: sequel to Calculating Stars. 



The Echo Room - Parker Peevyhouse: YA time travel.  



Untitled Expanse Novel - James S.A. Corey: book 8? Have I stuck with a series for 8 books? Plus the short fiction that gets released between each novel? Wild.


This list is a preponderance of sequels.


What exciting things have I missed?