Sunday, June 23, 2024

Haunt Sweet Home by Sarah Pinsker

 




Sarah Pinsker became one of my new favorite authors when I read her multiversal murder mystery And Then There Was N-1. It just blew me away. I loved her debut novel, A Song For A New Day, whose near future world of social distancing following a plague and terrorist attacks seemed far fetched when it first came out and now makes me afraid to reread it for how prescient it was. Her two short story collections entranced me - she is always a must buy author for me. I was overjoyed when I got an eARC of her new book, Haunt Sweet Home, from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 


This book was so excellent! I couldn’t put it down! The protagonist is a young woman who has dropped out of multiple colleges and has been working crappy retail/service jobs for years when she gets an offer from her successful cousin to do grunt work on his reality show, which is half ghost hunting, half home makeover. The author captures the protagonist’s voice perfectly and seemingly effortlessly - within a few pages, you know her so well. This story surprised me several times - I thought I knew where it was going more than once and I was wrong each time, and happier for being so. 


Are the ghosts on the show real or manufactured? I’m not going to spoil you, you’ll just have to read it yourself. Go out and get this book ASAP!



Tuesday, June 18, 2024

The Far Reaches: Stories to take you out of this world by James S. A. Corey, Veronica Roth, Rebecca Roanhorse, Ann Leckie, Nnedi Okorafor, & John Scalzi

 


As I have said many times before, I am not the type of person who usually seeks out anthologies- I much prefer single author short story collections. But if all anthologies were like The Far Reaches, I would have to change my tune. This collection of six short stories bundled together by Amazon by a bunch of heavy hitters did not disappoint. Ann Leckie, a favorite of mine, wrote another delightfully alien tale from the aliens’ point of view, reminiscent of her story Lake of Souls. John Scalzi was in introspective mode, rather than snarky mode, and I wish more of his recent output had been as amazing as this. I was most pleasantly surprised by the Veronica Roth story, which was a fun mystery set aboard an interstellar cruise ship. I haven’t read much by her before but I look forward to reading more of her work in the future. 


Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Friday, June 14, 2024

The Knife and the Serpent by Tim Pratt

 


A few years ago, I read the Axiom trilogy by Tim Pratt based upon a recommendation from Seanan McGuire’s twitter feed. It was fun space opera, but not earth shattering or momentous. Sometimes, that’s all I’m looking for in a book. As the series went on, it got a little worse, a little more contrived, but I still enjoyed it. 


So when I saw that he had The Knife and the Serpent, a new space opera, coming out, I requested (and was granted) an eARC in exchange for an honest review. 


Honestly? It was fine. I enjoyed it. It was diverting. A little less space opera and a little more multiversal action story than I would have preferred. But it was no great tale. 


The book alternates narrators between a man who slowly comes to learn that his girlfriend is a super spy from an alternate reality and a woman (who happens to be his ex-girlfriend), who is secretly the heir to an evil fortune in a different alternate reality. 


The author described this book as a kitchen sink type book in which he threw in a ton of ideas, and it shows. They don’t all work together but it’s not bad. I could’ve used less discussion of the male lead’s submissive sexual kinks, which didn’t really feel plot relevant and kind of felt awkward in a middle school kind of way. 


In addition, the second narrator is just a terrible, terrible person. She apparently has no moral compass, is happy to ally herself with her grandmother’s murderer, and late in the book commits mass murder herself with zero remorse. She was utterly unlikeable. I think the book would’ve been stronger if it had established that she didn’t care what happened in an alternate reality because she couldn’t wrap her mind about it and didn’t believe those people to be real. That is a possible interpretation for her actions but it is not explicit and the book is poorer for that. 


I don’t mean to complain. This book would make a fine beach book or airport book. It is just not doing anything new or particularly interesting. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2024

The Book of Ile-Rien by Martha Wells


I think maybe I just only love Murderbot and not Martha Wells’s fantasy books?


After all, we all love Murderbot, right? Murderbot is one of the absolute best characters to come out of SF in years. I remember when I read the description of Martha Wells’s All Systems Red and thought to myself “I’ve got to put that on hold at the library!”  And I was right - it was excellent. I have eagerly awaited each new Murderbot book. So I was very excited when NetGalley and tordotcom gave me an eARC of The Book of Ile-Rien, a republishing of The Element of Fire and The Death of the Necromancer, two of Martha Wells’s earlier novels set in the same world, in exchange for an honest review. 


This was not my first foray into Ms. Wells’s fantasy novels - I had previously read The Cloud Roads and The Witch King, both of which were fine, neither of which blew me away. But I was surprised at how bored I felt reading these novels. I didn’t connect with any of the characters and I didn’t enjoy the setting, either. I prefer my fantasy worlds to not have guns in them, and that may have been a part of my dislike, but I also felt that the chapters were too long and the characters were not likeable. I didn’t want to spend time with them, or in this world. I’m sure there is an audience out there for these novels, but it isn’t me. 

Monday, June 3, 2024

A Sorceress Comes to Call by T. Kingfisher

 


This was the best new release I have read in 2024 so far and it will be on my Hugo ballot for sure. 


But I’m getting ahead of myself. 


In the past 3-4 years, I have become a HUGE fan of T. Kingfisher aka Ursula Vernon. 


Ms. Vernon is the author of the Hamster Princess books, which both of my daughters have enjoyed (as have I!). Those books were my introduction to her, along with her social media presence, which I found through Seanan McGuire. 


Ordinarily, I don’t like horror. I never wanted to watch scary movies as a kid. I got nightmares from E.T.  But based on recommendations I read the Twisted Ones and The Holllow Places and I realized that I loved Ms. Vernon’s writing and I could make it through the scary parts unscathed with her as my guide. 


I started devouring her back catalog and putting all new releases on hold at the library.  I have subscribed to her Patreon and I convinced my wife to read Nettle and Bone, which she loved (as did I). 


I loved Thornhedge last year and was delighted when it was nominated for the Hugo, and I was very excited when I heard she had a new book out in 2024, A Sorceress Comes to Call. I was even more excited when I got an audiobook eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 


This new book, I believe, is based on the Goose Girl fairy tale, but I don’t know that one, so I can’t tell how much relates directly to the source material. Our main character, Cordelia, slowly comes to realize that her mother is an evil sorceress. Well, she always knew she was kind of evil but the extent of it (and the sorcery) are more of a reveal. When her mother is in need of a new man to control, they end up at the house of the Squire and his sister Hester, the other main character, who feels a sense of Doom from Cordelia’s mother but is surprised when she learns the extent of the danger. 


This book was wonderful. Ursula Vernon perfectly captured the scared naïveté of a sheltered teenager equally well with the savvy canniness of a middle-aged woman who knows she is smart and overlooked. Every minor character, from the friends to the servants, are well rounded and fleshed out. This was a story I could have lived in forever. 


There were two narrators in the book, but I didn’t feel like it needed both. I understand that they were there to switch off from Hester’s and Cordelia’s perspectives, but it didn’t really work for me here. Much thanks to NetGalley and the publisher!

Saturday, May 11, 2024

The Wings Upon Her Back by Samantha Mills

 


I first encountered Samantha Mills when her story, Rabbit Test, was nominated for a Hugo Award. I loved that story so much - it was incredibly well written and was number one on my ballot. (Regardless of what we later learned about how the 2023 Hugo nomination was hijacked, that story was amazing and it will always be a Hugo winner in my mind.)


After reading that story, I was excited when I found out that Ms. Mills had a first novel coming out, and I was even more excited when NetGalley and the publisher gave me an eARC in exchange for an honest review. 


The book starts when the protagonist, a member of a fascist warrior caste, goes easy on someone in possession of forbidden material, after which she is caught,  her bio mechanical wings are stripped from her, and she is cast down. She then ends up connected with a bunch of young dissidents committed to bringing about positive change through violence. 


The book alternates between this present time frame and the past, explaining how the protagonist left her scholar household to join the warrior caste. 


The entire story is set in a city state organized by a caste system in which each of the five groups worships one of five gods that may or may not be alien visitors in suspended animation. 


The world building is intriguing and tell you just enough to leave you wanting more. 


The split narrative didn’t work for me exactly as intended - I loved the past timeframe so much that the present time frame felt boring and shallow by comparison. But maybe that’s just me. 


In any event, I really enjoyed this book and I cannot wait to read more from Samantha Mills in the future!

Thursday, May 9, 2024

We Speak Through The Mountain by Premee Mohamed


Four years ago, I wrote in a review of Premee Mohamed’s first book: “After reading this book, I will definitely pick up the next book by Premee Mohamed.  This author has a great deal of potential and I look forward to seeing what else she writes.” I am so glad I stuck with this author because she has improved immensely and now she is a must-read when I see she has something new out.


When NetGalley listed this new novella by Ms. Mohamed, I was happy to check it out, and I was even happier when I realized it was a sequel to The Annual Migration of Clouds, a post-apocalyptic novella that was set at a repurposed university where survivors were ekeing out an existence and many people were infected with a parasite of some sort that changes their behavior to push self-preservation.  In that book, Reid was offered acceptance into a college far away that some people thought did not actually exist.  (Frankly, I as a reader had my doubts.)


This sequel picks up where the last one ended, and Reid makes it to the college! There is the inevitable cultural shock between her and her classmates and professors who grew up in safety and seclusion without the parasite and the poverty Reid came from. Once again, the story went in some directions I wasn’t expecting. 


My worldbuilding concerns from the first book are alleviated here to a large extent, as Reid starts to uncover some of the secrets of how her world is working. Once again the character work and evocative descriptions are standouts.  


If this is the end of the series, I could be satisfied, but I would love to see where else this story goes. Here’s hoping for more! 


Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an eARC in exchange for an honest review.