Monday, October 19, 2020

Take a Look at the Five and Ten by Connie Willis

I love Connie Willis. She is my favorite living author. She may be my favorite of all time. I still remember the first book of hers that I read - I got a copy of Doomsday Book from the science fiction book club when it came out on the 90s. It took my breath away. Her books make me laugh and make me cry and I wish I hadn’t read them all already because reading one off her books. for the first time is a singular treat. 

I have had the pleasure of meeting her twice at conventions and I treasure those moments. 

So I was thrilled when Subterranean Press and NetGalley approved me for an eARC of Take a Look at the Five and Ten, her new holiday novella. I had already preordered a hard copy from Subterranean, but I was happy to read it early! 

I didn’t just read it - I devoured it! It was so good! It had all the hallmarks of a great Connie Willis story - scientist just trying to get some data, two people falling for each other who don’t realize it, irritating relatives, and people who genuinely love Christmas. 

As a Non-Christian married to a Christian person, I have a very nuanced and off view of Christmas. But I love how Connie Willis loves Christmas unashamedly and how she infused her love and joy into all of her works. 

I cannot recommend this enough. 

Monday, October 12, 2020

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

 I first discovered Rebecca Roanhorse when her short story "Welcome to Your Authentic Indian Experience™”, was nominated for a Hugo Award.  I loved it and her! Her writing style is crisp and It pulls you in right away.  When Trail of Lightning, her first novel, was nominated for awards the next year, I read it and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I felt like it had some “first novel” roughness but was altogether enjoyable.  The sequel, Storm of Locusts, was even better! So I was thrilled when NetGalley and Saga Press gave me an eARC of her new secondary world fantasy novel, Black Sun. It was fantastic! Roanhorse has really come into her full powers as a novelist and storyteller. The characters are well drawn with understandable flaws based on their backgrounds and upbringings. There are four point of view characters in this book, who don’t all get equal attention. One of my only complaints about the book is that one of the point of view characters, the son of the crow tribe, is not introduced until it felt like halfway through the book. He seemed to get short shrift compared to the others. The only other complaints that I had are incredibly minor. I would have preferred that the book had come with a content warning for some body horror and parent-on-child violence in the first chapter. I understand why that occurred from a narrative standpoint, but it made me feel all squick and I could see a lot of people getting a really negative emotional reaction to it. I also had forgotten until about 7/8 of the way through the book that it was the first part of a trilogy so I was upset with the ending was such a cliffhanger! I can’t wait until the next volume comes out. 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

 I discovered Yoon Ha Lee, as many people did, with Ninefox Gambit.  That book hit me like a freight train - there was so much happening, and I didn’t know if I understood half of it,  it what I did get, I loved.  I devoured the Machineries of Empire series and have been saving the short stories, reading them slowly, because I don’t want them to end.  Last year, I read his YA novel, Dragon Pearl, which I frankly did not love.  I’m not sure if I just found the plot too haphazard, or if the YA tone didn’t work for me, or if I didn’t enjoy the Space Fantasy aspects, but when I read it, I kept thinking two things: this protagonist is making all of the wrong choices, and the writing style is too simplistic and is turning me off.  

When I found out Yoon Ha Lee had another book coming out, I was excited, but a tad hesitant after Dragon Pearl.  Phoenix Extravagant was billed as a straight fantasy (which it certainly is!) and I usually prefer science fiction, but I was happy to read it when I got an eARC from NetGalley.  I enjoyed it much more than Dragon Pearl, but still not nearly as much as the Machineries of Empire series.

In Phoenix Extravagant, the protagonist is an out of work artist who goes to work for the occupying government without realizing what they are getting into.  Like thr protagonist in dragon pearl, I was irritated at the naïveté of the protagonist in this volume. I just felt like they were far stupider than I thought they should be and that made the book less enjoyable for me to read. I understand that the protagonist needed to learn valuable lessons about the world in which they lived, but that didn’t make it fun for me to have to go on the journey with them. Furthermore, I didn’t feel that the romance in this book was earned. The love interest seems so awful early in the book that I could not get over the initial characterization and therefore could not except the relationship. I might’ve enjoyed it more if I could have gotten the point of you of the love interest, but the book kept the perspective strictly on the protagonist, which I felt was to its detriment. 

On the other hand, there is a fascinating artificial intelligence in this novel. I won’t spoil what it is or how it comes about, but it was far and away my favorite character in the entire book. I realized, while reading this volume, that my favorite part of the author’s previous trilogy was the robot characters. I would love to read more books by Yoon Ha Lee from a robotic character’s perspective. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy this novel; I did like it and would recommend it. I just think it suffers in comparison to the author’s earlier work.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

The Girl of Hawthorn and Glass by ADAN JERREAT-POOLE


This is a beautifully written fantasy book that was not for me. I believe that I requested an e ARC of this book (thanks, NetGalley!) because I saw that Seanan McGuire mentioned liking it on Twitter. I’m usually in synch with her taste but not always. Adam Jerreat-Poole has written a lyrical fantasy about a witch’s assassin whose job it is to travel from the witch’s realm to the human world to kill ghosts. They  have an amazing skill and artistry in word choice and lovingly descriptive sentences. The first chapter was amazing, but once the protagonist Eli left the human world for the witchy one, I had a hard time keeping up and maintaining interest. I couldn’t muster the energy to break down the poetry of the author’s language to really get into the story. I loved the human characters Tav and Cam. The story ends with them all having breakfast in an apartment together, and that’s the book I want to read - the non fantasy where those three interesting people wake up late, have brunch, go to a coffeeshop, and live their lives. I will definitely look for other books by Jerreat-Poole in the future, but maybe not in this series. 

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Slaughterhouse-Five: The Graphic Novel by Ryan North; Kurt Vonnegut

I will read anything Ryan North writes.  He is a brilliant, funny, insightful author.  I first came to know his work through The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, which is the best comic book series ever.  Period.  Full stop.  Subsequently, I sought out his other works, like his brilliant Romeo and/or Juliet and his self published book based off of his tumblr B to the F, where he recaps the bizarre novelization of Back to the Future page by page.  So when I saw that NetGalley had an eARC of his to request I jumped at it before I even realized what it was.  It turned out to be a hauntingly evocative graphic novelization of Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I have never read any Vonnegut before - I think I had bounced off of his writing style back in high school.  But this graphic novel perfectly distilled the essence of the original book with perfect visuals. A comic is one of the best ways to tell a story about someone unstuck in time, because each panel is a frozen moment that still manages to convey movement.  Ryan North did a fantastic job here.  You should totally check this out!

Friday, August 28, 2020

Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

This is the best superhero novel that I’ve read in years!!! I follow Seanan McGuire’s twitter feed, and I pay special attention to her book reviews, because I know she reads a lot of ARCs and I know she only writes about things she loved. So I knew that when Hench showed up on NetGalley I needed to request it. Thankfully, I got an eARC because it meant I got to read it early!!! Hench is a book told from the point of view of Anna, a woman with a talent for spreadsheets and data analysis who works as hired help for supervillains. This is a world where villains can be Evil when they try to extort the mayor and equally evil when they fail to provide medical benefits. Anna has a fascinating journey exposing all of the flaws of the Good vs Evil tropes that make up this subgenre. This book compares quite favorably to The Velveteen Vs. series by Seanan McGuire and to Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman, and I can’t wait to read the next book by Natalie Zina Walschots. This is a must buy!!

Saturday, August 22, 2020

The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

I don’t like horror. I never wanted to watch scary movies as a kid. I got nightmares from E.T. I never saw anything with Freddy or Jason. So I would never ordinarily have been on the lookout for a book like The Holllow Places by T. Kingfisher, except for the fact that T. Kingfisher is also Ursula Vernon. Ms. Vernon is the author of the Hamster Princess books, which my daughter enjoys, and is a delight on Twitter (I highly recommend her thread explaining what happens when she tried the Ancient Greek method of using pottery shards in place of toilet paper). Furthermore, I recall Seanan McGuire effusively praising last year’s Kingfisher horror novel, The Twisted Ones so much that I just had to buy it ( but have not read yet). In addition, her novella Minor Mage was absolutely delightful and I cannot recommend it enough. So I decided to be brave and request an eARC of The Hollow Places. And I am SO glad that I did. The Hollow Places was fantastic. The protagonist is a recent divorcée who moves in with her uncle into a room in his tiny small town museum of taxidermy and oddities. There she and the barista next door find a portal to another world, a terrifying place of willows that are not quite willows. The characters are amazingly detailed and feel so real and the fantastical elements impinge on the story so gradually that you never lose your suspension of misbelief. The mysteries are meaty and satisfying, though the final reveal felt a little out of left field. Only a little though - the wackiness of the museum of oddities setting did help sell it. It worked in the context mostly, but it was the only  weak point in an otherwise excellent novel. I’m so glad I read this book! Much thanks to NetGalley and the publisher!