Thursday, February 2, 2023

Squirrel Girl: Universe by Tristan Palmgren

I adore Squirrel Girl. Ryan North’s run on the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl is the epitome of what comics should be, and I am still so sad that it ended. I have read it through multiple times and read it with my oldest daughter. We also loved Shannon and Dean Hale’s Squirrel Girl novels. So I was very excited to get an eARC from NetGalley and the publisher of this new Squirrel Girl novel in exchange for an honest review. 

I was so very disappointed by this book. It’s not bad, it’s just so, so boring. The author only briefly captures the joy and delight of the title character. Most of the story is a paint by numbers slog of a cosmic comic story where most of the characters are cyphers. With the possible exception of Brain Drain, none of Squirrel Girl’s supporting cast sounds like themselves at all, and they add nothing to the narrative. Maybe my expectations were too high?  Perhaps, but that doesn’t make this book any less dull. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Observer by Nancy Kress and Robert Lanza

I can’t stop thinking about this book since I finished it. I really can’t. 

I first (re)discovered Nancy Kress a few years ago when I was in an reading dry spell. I was listlessly perusing the library shelves feeling like I had nothing to read when I came across a copy of her then-just published novella After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall. I recognized her name from having read Beggars in Spain years before so I picked it up. 

It blew me away. The book was a masterpiece. The author created a fully realized world, She didn’t need a thousand pages to do it. Up until that point I had been disdainful of shorter works; Nancy Kress made me realize just how much hard work and talent was needed to excecise economy when world building. 

When I saw a new title by Nancy Kress on NetGalley, I mashed the request button ASAP. It was only later that I realized that she co-wrote it with someone else. 

Nancy Kress writes hard sf. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Just because the hard science she’s basing her work on is usually biology instead of physics doesn’t make it any less hard. Which made her an excellent fit for partnering up with Robert Lanza, a scientist who wanted to get his ideas into a novel. 

There is alot of awkwardness in the novel. I almost stopped reading halfway through the prologue- it was boring and dull and every character’s name started with a W and I couldn’t tell them apart and I didn’t care about any of them. 

Am I glad I pushed through that! Even though some parts of the book read like a dry, poorly written physics textbook (during which I kept muttering to myself that Lanza should’ve let Kress write this alone) those dull clunky sections were massively overpowered by the well drawn characters and the very real emotions that jumped off the page down my throat and lodged in my sternum. 

I wish the book had had content warnings for child disability and child death. 

I understand from some cursory internetting that Lanza may believe in the observer-created reality that the characters believe in in the novel. I can’t say that I’m convinced myself. It sounds a lot like wish fulfillment to me. But it sure has given me a lot to think about . . . 

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Backpacking Through Bedlam by Seanan McGuire

Now this is the book I have been waiting for since the end of book 5!!! This is a “shut up and take my money!” novel. 

I am a HUGE fan of Seanan McGuire’s books - she is one of my favorite authors, hands down, and for good reason -she consistently writes numerous excellent, honest, and fun books every year.  I was thrilled when DAW and NetGalley gave me an eARC of her newest Incryptid novel, Backpacking Through Bedlam which is the 12th novel in the series.  Finally Alice and Thomas make it home and have to deal with Verity’s declaration of war from the end of book 5. 

(To recap, the Incryptid series involves a family of cryptozoologists that work to protect the natural diversity of the hidden world. Every few books, the point of view narrator shifts to another member of the same family, which has the added benefit of keeping the series fresh and invigorated.)

The beginning of the book felt a bit slow to me - mainly because I was tired of dimension hopping and just wanted to get back to Earth to move that plot along. And move along it did! Things resolved, almost too quickly for my tastes - I wish the book had spent more time, or even a whole other book, on the dealings with the Covenant in New York and everything with the dragons. I also wish that we had gotten to spend more time with more family members. I particularly want to see how Artie is doing. 

The bonus novella was also fantastic - it gave me more of what I wanted in terms of family drama. More importantly, it gave me much more insight than ever before in the internal workings of Aeslin society and I would adore an entire book from their POV. 

My only complaint is I have to wait a whole other year to find out what happens next!!! This book is a must buy. Thanks to DAW and NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Saturday, December 31, 2022

Rose/House by Arkady Martine

A new Arkady Martine book? Yes! Yes! Yes!

I loved loved loved A Memory Called Empire when it came out.  It was stunning and wonderful and I didn’t want it to end.  It was everything I wanted in a space opera - politics and romance and space stations and aliens beyond the edge of known space.  It brought back all of those good Babylon 5 feels.  And A Desolation Called Peace was a fantastic follow up that I also loved to pieces. So I was beyond overjoyed when I got an eARC from Subterranean Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  

Rose/House did not disappoint. Unlike her earlier work, this book was not space opera. Instead it is a near future sf world with a smart house’s AI haunting a deceased architect’s masterpiece. The characters were perfectly drawn in just a few pages, yet they continued to reveal more depth and nuance as the story progressed. I could not put this down. One of the best things I read all year. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Pulling the Wings of Angels by KJ Parker

A while back, I became a big fan of K. J. Parker. It started when I read an eARC of A Practical Guide to Conquering the World by K.J. Parker and loved it! It was grabby (in a “can’t put this book down” kind of way) and it was thoroughly enjoyable. I said I’d be looking out for more books by K. J. Parker and I later really enjoyed an eARC of the Long Game, which was a delightful book! After that, I went back and read Sixteen Ways to Defend A Walled City, which was also wonderful. Parker’s books that I have read have been first person tales whose protagonists are usually clever bastards (in a thoroughly enjoyable manner). The protagonist of Pulling the Wings of Angels is no different - a lackluster seminary student who starts off the book in debt to his loan shark, who wants to exploit the protagonist’s family legend of a captured Angel. I don’t want to spoil the plot, which was full of delightful surprises. This book, like some of Parker’s that I have read, does not seem to have heard of the existence of women. Otherwise, I have no complaints. This novella was a treat from beginning to end! Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Even Though I Knew The End by C. L. Polk

I’ve been hearing good things about C. L. Polk for a while, but I just wasn’t able to read the Kingston Cycle when it was nominated for the best series Hugo this past year. I was curious when I saw a new (presumably) stand-alone coming out from them on NetGalley, and I got an audio eARC in exchange for an honest review. And I’m so glad I did!

Even Though I Knew the End is sort of a historical noir urban fantasy. It’s set in 1940s Chicago in a world where magic is real and devils will make you a bargain if you ask them. The protagonist, Helen, used to be an official magic user from a hierarchical organization, but she got kicked out and is now a warlock/private eye. The worldbuilding is excellent, the use of language is amazing, and the characters feel real immediately. I kept being surprised by where the book was going in the best of ways. The audiobook narrator was a bit slow for my taste, but did s good job differentiating the characters. I listened to it at 1.75 speed. 

I highly recommend this book. It was exciting, sweet, moving, and both lovely and loving. 

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Into the West by Mercedes Lackey

I have loved Mercedes Lackey’s books for thirty years. As I said in my review of her last book, I still have the SFBC omnibus of the Last Herald Mage trilogy on my shelf and I can’t tell you how many times I read it. 

Until recently, I haven’t read many of her Valdemar books in the last few years. I listened to the audiobooks of the Collegium Chronicles series, which was fun, but I felt it dragged on too long, with too many kidnappings, and Mags’s accent drove me bananas. I lost touch with the series when my library stopped buying the ebooks of the Herald Spy series after Closer to Home, and I was disappointed in Spy, Spy Again, the third volume in the series focusing on Mags’s kids. 

Last year, I really enjoyed Beyond, her new novel about the origins of the kingdom of Valdemar. So I was very happy to get an eARC of the sequel, Into the West, from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

This book continues on directly from the last one.  It is a weird book.  The pacing is so strange, and the book never seems to give much focus to the interesting characters, instead sticking mostly with Duke Valdemar, who is somewhat dull, and his sister in law, who takes way too much time to get over her schoolgirl crush on her brother in law, which was always kind of creepy.  The book spends a long time on logistics of the journey of barges down a river, and after some loooooooong slogs it just seems to give up on that with a deus ex machina that takes most of the suspense away from the journey.  Then there is a big battle at the end that feels tacked on and unnecessary.  There were a few fun infrastructure tidbits of how the castle is built that I smiled at, but the ending felt abrupt.  Is there going to be another book? It felt like a definitive ending.  But We would need another one to explain how the vrondi end up where we know them to be, as well as to establish Companions.  It’s not Valdemar without magical white horses!

This was a fun, if odd, book.  I’m glad I read it.