I love Cat Valente's books - my daughter and I read all of the Fairyland books together and I ADORED Space Opera. So I was excited when Tor announced what I thought was a sequel to The Future Is Blue, my favorite story in Ms. Valente's short story collection of the same name. So I was initially confused and disappointed when I started listening to the audiobook eARC I got from NetGalley and it turns out that The Past is Red is an expansion, not a sequel. The story was enjoyable, but so incredibly grim that it really detracted from my enjoyment of the book - until the end, when a glimmer of hope sparkled, and I could climb out of the funk that the book had put me in. The narrator, while good at her job, had a very thick accent and I don’t personally think she was a good fit for the content. This wasn’t my favorite Valente, but even weak Valente is still pretty darn good.
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
Tuesday, September 7, 2021
Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune
I loved the Extraordinaries and Flash Fire by TJ Klune, so I was so excited when NetGalley and Tor gave me an eARC of his new book Under the Whispering Door in exchange for an honest review. Sadly, this one missed the mark for me. The book is a about Wallace, who starts out as an asshole who is a horrific caricature of a greedy lawyer. Seriously, it’s like the author’s only experience of what a lawyer is is from the “Single Female Lawyer” show on Futurama. Anyway, Wallace dies, and meets a Reaper and a Ferryman who are supposed to help him move on to the next plain of existence. Then, in an utterly unconvincing manner, Wallace changes his entire character and becomes a good person and also falls in love with the Ferryman. Finally, in a completely unearned development that upends the core premise of the book, Wallace is resurrected to live happily ever after. Of all of the ghosts we encounter or hear of in this book, Wallace is the least deserving of resurrection - what about young Lea?
If this had been a novella, maybe I could’ve been convinced to like it, but this book was incredibly long and drawn out and just draaaaaaged. It was well written, and I like the author a lot, and will totally read his next book, but this one did not work for me. Your mileage may vary.
Tuesday, August 31, 2021
Star Trek is my fandom. I remember when I became a Trekkie (spring of 1989) and I have loved it ever since. If you re curious, my current ranking of best Trek series as of today is:
But this could change tomorrow. I have been a Next Gen fan since season 2, and have been to more than my fair share of Trek conventions. So when I read an article on SYFY Wire about Brent Spinner’s not-quite-a-memoir noirish novel using the TNG actors as character, I was intrigued enough to request an eARC from NetGalley. My opinion - better than TekWar, but not great. As a memoir, it leaves much to be desired. It doesn’t cover a whole lot of detail about Brent Spiner‘s life. Most of what it does cover, about his terrible stepfather who was physically abusive, was interesting and I would’ve liked more of a traditional memoir or even biography. The mystery of a obsessive fan stalking Brent Spiner started out good, but there were so many red herrings that the final solution to the mystery was quite unsatisfying and somewhat inscrutable. The FBI agent and bodyguard who were beautiful identical twins who were both attracted to Mr. Spiner just seemed like the most blatant wish fulfillment fantasy that added nothing to the plot. Many of the jokes fell flat. I did enjoy it, because it was light and breezy and a fine beach read for the end of summer. But it’s hard to recommend.
Sunday, August 1, 2021
I don’t usually read a lot of non-fiction, but I was intrigued when I heard about this book. The author is a nominee this year for the Best Fan Writer Hugo Award. I was reading her website and some of her essays in the Hugo voter packet and her website noted that she had this book coming out this year, so I requested a copy from NetGalley. The book is very well written and I really like her writing style. I felt like I really got to know her as a person and I loved her use of footnotes. I don’t know any deaf blind people and I know very few disabled people so a lot in this memoir was - well, I was going to say “eye-opening”, but I’m going to try to use less ableist language in my own writing, so instead I’ll say it was edifying. I learned a lot and I really enjoyed reading this book. My only complaint is that it was a memoir and autobiography, and therefore jumped around a lot in the authors life and left several gaps making me wish that I knew more. Still, that’s a small quibble. I very much enjoyed it.
Saturday, July 31, 2021
Campaigns & Companions
The Complete Role-Playing Guide for Pets
I saw this book on NetGalley and I thought to myself, I love D&D, and I like pets, and I always chuckle at those “imagine if your pets were playing D&D” threads on Twitter, so I thought I’d like this book. I enjoyed the first few pages. After that, well, hmmm. Have you ever eaten an entire carton of ice cream? It seems like a good idea at the start - ice cream! It’s delicious! But when you eat too much it starts to taste bad and you start to feel bad and then you’re like why did I do this to myself? That’s what reading this book is like. It’d be fine as a gift to someone you don’t know well. It’s the type of book to leave in a bathroom for guests to read if you’re the type of person who buys books specifically for the bathroom.
Thursday, July 8, 2021
I heard some good pre release buzz about this first novel, and I’ve been really looking forward to some meaty space opera since the Machineries of Empire series ended. So I was happy when the publisher and NetGalley gave me an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
While this book was fine, it didn’t scratch that great space opera itch for me. It had a bunch of “first novel” issues with pacing and characterization. The book took too long to get going, then lagged and dragged a ton, then the finale felt rushed and a bit unearned. The two main characters, Adequin and Cavalon, seem half baked at best. Not quite likeable, not quite unlikeable, we keep being told of their flaws but then they keep heroically surpassing them every time in a way that made the flaws seem flat and the danger nonexistent. Sadly, the book might’ve been more fun as a novella - it felt very bloated. I might check out the sequel, but I don’t really care too much about what happens next.
Saturday, July 3, 2021
What fun! This is the second book in this YA series set in a world of superheroes. The author has perfectly captured his protagonist’s voice, a gay teenage boy with ADHD, a love of fanfic, and a burgeoning sense of his own power and place in the world. The politics and corporate villiany seem a little two-dimensional, and the book’s view of policing did a complete 180 from the previous book, which was itself almost one-dimensional. I’d rather the author just acknowledge life is more complicated than either “thin blue line” or “ACAB” because it detracts from this otherwise excellent and fun novel. Be warned! It ends on a Cliffhanger!
Wednesday, June 16, 2021
I really like John Scalzi’s books, and I enjoy the Dispatcher series, but if you asked me what my one problem with them are , I’d have to answer “core concept”. His worldbuilding is virtually nonexistent- he wanted to write mystery stories, gave them a fantastical bent, and never bothered to explain the how or why of resurrection (but only from murder). It allows him to tell the stories he wants to tell (I assume) but it leaves me unsatisfied, like eating only candy for dinner. That being said, his newest Dispatcher novella, Murder By Other Means, is fun, fast, and entertaining. The mystery is fun, although it might be deemed to be more of a noir thriller, since the reader doesn’t have the necessary clues to solve it, but just goes along for the ride. And it would be nice if Mr. Scalzi’s legal education came from anything other than fiction. In spite of all that, I enjoyed it, and will happily read the next volume when it comes out. Thanks to Subterranean Press and NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Monday, June 14, 2021
This is the book that I didn’t know I was waiting for.
Like many people, I first encountered Katherine Addison when I found the Goblin Emperor on a bunch of awards ballots. I was immediately enchanted. Within six months of reading it, I doubled back and listened to the audiobook. Goblin Emperor is charming and delightful and wonderful and even deeper than I realized the first time though. I also adored her book last year, the Angel of the Crows. It was delightful and I hope everyone goes out and reads it.
So I was thrilled beyond all imagining when Tor and NetGalley gave me an eARC for her new book, The Witness For the Dead.
Like her last novel, the overarching plot isn’t the heart of this novel, but instead it is the characters and relationships. The protagonist, the titular Witness for the Dead, had a minor role to play in the Goblin Emperor, but here we get to see him living his life in a smaller municipality, getting involved in various cases and investigations. The character’s headspace is so perfectly realized that I could not put this book down. It was the most enjoyable reading experience I have had in months.
I cannot enthuse enough about this book. Go buy it right now!
Sunday, June 13, 2021
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 Ican’t tell you how many times I read it.
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, when I reviewed that book, I said that I hoped that Mercedes Lackey kept on writing Valdemar books. Well, my hopes were answered! I just finished reading her newest novel, Beyond, the first part in a trilogy? series? about the founding of Valdemar. It was so much fun! (BTW, Thanks again to NetGalley and DAW for an eARC in exchange for an honest review.)
This book goes way back to before the founding of Valdemar the country, when the Duke of Valdemar the region of an evil soul crushing empire dreams of escaping with his people to a new land. In this book, the characters pop, the story flies, and the FUN is back. I loved seeing little tidbits that help connect the dots to the books we know and have loved for years. And this book is a lot less rapey than the last one. All I can say without spoiling things too much is Vrondi!!!!!
If you like the Valdemar books of old, you’ll enjoy this. Can’t wait for the next one!
Friday, May 21, 2021
When I finished reviewing the Salvation Sequence by Peter F. Hamilton, I said that I looking forward to trying his next series. And I was so right! I got an audio advanced reader copy of A Hole in the Sky and it was fantastic! I love Hamilton’s space opera, and I love a good generation ship story, and this was so much fun!
I didn’t realize that this book was a YA book when I began listening to it, so in some ways it came across as a breath of fresh air. Some of the sex and violence in some of Hamilton‘s other books gets a little grim, and it was a pleasure to have a teenaged female protagonist in this book that I wasn’t going to have to worry about.
The mysteries of how the people on the generation ship lost their access to technology war well plotted and well revealed. I didn’t wanna stop listening to this book because I kept wanting to find out what was going to happen next. I am very much looking forward to the sequel and everything else Mr. Hamilton chooses to write.
Tuesday, May 11, 2021
Short version: one of the best books of 2021 for sure!
Long version: I came to Seanan McGuire late - I didn’t realize that she and her pen name, Mira Grant, were the same person for a long while. I found Mira Grant when Parasite was nominated for the Hugo award and my librarian bought all of that year’s best novel Hugo nominees for the library’s ebook collection. I loved Parasite, devoured the Newsflesh trilogy, and then went looking for more. I was too intimidated to start one of her long running urban fantasy series, so I picked Sparrow Hill Road, which I believed at the time to be stand alone. I loved it so much! It was lyrical, haunting, utterly amazing. I was hooked.
So I was thrilled when DAW and NetGalley gave me an eARC for Angel of the Overpass, the third (but I hope not concluding) book of the series. This one picks up on where we left off with Rose Marshal, the hitchhiking ghost, in the last volume, The Girl in the Green Silk Gown. This novel also follows up on some world-shattering events from the Inncrpytid books (specifically the final Antimony book) that have massive repercussions for the ghost roads. I wondered, reading this book, if Seanan McGuire had sold it to her publisher as a chance to resolve dangling plot threads and provide closure to some storylines, because the book manages to do that incredibly well. The first novel was a fix-up, as the material had originally been published as connected short stories. That format seemed to result in some inconsistencies and didn’t always have enough room to allow some of the ideas to breathe, especially related to Rose’s high school sweetheart. This book satisfied tremendously on all fronts.
Two things I must point out that made me sqee, which I will try to keep as spoiler free as possible. 1) dinosaur! 2) there was a moment in the book that didn’t mean much to Rose, but meant the world to me as a fan of Sarah from Incrpytid.
What are you waiting for? Go buy this right now!!!
Wednesday, May 5, 2021
This was a strange book that was well written that was not for me.
I first discovered Rivers Solomon with Rivers’s first novel, The Unkindness of Ghosts, set on a generation ship that has instituted a version of 19th century southern slavery (for undisclosed reasons). It was excellent - raw and interesting and beautiful. So I eagerly bought and dove into the Deep, Rivers’s novella based on a song about mermaids who evolved from enslaved pregnant people tossed overboard during the Atlantic crossing. I did not love it - the plot was too non linear for me, the language too poetic for my tastes. I couldn’t follow it.
So I went into Sorrowland with lowered expectations. It was a good book - an albino black woman escapes her black power cult after being experimented on, after which she has twins and lives off the land while on the run. And she sees ghosts. The story was interesting, the writing excellent, but I couldn’t find a way to like the protagonist. I know she was supposed to be a flawed character, and I can appreciate her, but fairly early in the book she leaves her twin infants asleep alone in the woods in the middle of the night while she seeks out a sexual encounter. I was never able to move past that act of child endangerment and I could never like her or trust her again after that. I know she didn’t always make the best choices and that she was only 15 years old at the time, but I just could not get over that and it made it impossible for me to ever like her. This book is good. It is just not for me.
Andy Weir’s new novel has been highly anticipated since it was announced. I was very much looking forward to it. I really enjoyed the Martian, as did most people - it was a real crossover hit. Artemis, his second novel, less so. I enjoyed it, but his lunar heist novel showed some real deficiencies in plot and characterization. So I was excited when the publisher and NetGalley gave me an eARC, but a little trepidatious.
While clunky in parts and overly long, Hail Mary delivers. Mostly, it is enjoyable because it replicates the enjoyable parts of the Martin. Like the Martian, this book consists mainly of first person narration, science puzzles and too much exposition, ratcheting tension cause by solving one problem only for another to arise.
Weir also creates a realistic, believable first contact scenario. I don’t want to spoil anything but the alien/human interaction is one of the best parts of this book.
If you liked the Martian, you’ll probably enjoy the heck out of this book.
Thursday, April 22, 2021
I have the utmost respect for JMS. I loved Babylon 5 since I was first introduced to it in college. I loved everything about it, and am still amazed by the fact that JMS wrote every episode of seasons 3 and 4, and all but one of 5. I don’t think anyone else has ever surpassed that stunning accomplishment.
I later came to realize that JMS was the reason why I had enjoyed so many of the cartoons of my youth. His work on the Masters of the Universe, the Real Ghostbusters, and Captain Power were all ahead of their times. I read a number of his comics and enjoyed many of them. And when his autobiography came out a while back, I devoured it with delight. (The fact that Peter Jurasik narrated it didn’t hurt.). I read one of his few fiction novels in the past and really enjoyed it, even though I’m not a big horror fan.
So I was thrilled when I found out he was writing a new novel and even more thrilled when I got an eARC from NetGalley and the publisher.
I wish I hadn’t.
Together We Will Go is a terrible idea executed poorly. The premise of the novel is a bunch of suicidal people get together to ride a bus across country in order to drive off a cliff in the Pacific Ocean. The book seems like it is trying to respectfully deal with all the many different reasons why someone might want to end their life. It fails this miserably. For example, a character with chronic debilitating pain suddenly seems to lose all of the pain once she falls in love. Various characters mental illnesses are treated as either comic relief or just treated poorly. What characters are unlikable, the plot is full of holes, and what could have been an insightful story ends up feeling incredibly facile.
This book is terribly disappointing. I will definitely seek out JMS’s next book or project, but until then, I’m going to go back and rewatch Babylon 5. At least there, the subject of Commander Ivonova’s mother’s suicide was treated with dignity and respect.
Saturday, April 17, 2021
I love everything Richard Russo has written. I first learned about him when looking for a birthday present for a friend. I saw Empire Falls in paperback in a Boston Barnes and Noble and it looked so good, I bought two copies - one for him and one for me. I believe it had recently won the Pulitzer Prize. I found it unputdownable. I went back and started reading his entire back catalog and love it all. I got this biographical essay an an eARC from NetGalley and very much enjoyed it. It retread a lot of the same ground as in Elsewhere, the author’s memoir, but that doesn’t mean it was not enjoyable. My wife says that all of his books are basically the same, and I guess that might be true from a certain point of view, but I could read his stuff forever.
Cheer Up is delightful. My comic tastes usually run to the super heroic, but I had been hearing a bunch about this teen/YA cheerleader comic, so I wanted to check it out. Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley, I was able to read an eARC and I loved it! The characters are well drawn and three dimensional, and i can’t wait to read more from this author in the future!
Tuesday, April 13, 2021
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. I was thrilled when it won the Hugo (in a very tough, competitive year) and I was dying to read the sequel. I was thrilled when Tor and NetGalley gave me an eARC in exchange for an honest review. But I was afraid. Could it possibly live up to my personal expectations?
Yes it did.
It was AMAZING.
The author really opened up the universe by adding in other point of view characters, so it’s not just Ambassador Dzmare, but also Three Seagrass, the 90% imperial clone Eight Antidote, and a new character. Those mysterious alien threats from beyond known space? It’s all about them! It’s a marvelous First Contact story, it’s a love story, it’s a political story, it’s a military story, it’s ALL I want from space opera, basically all I want from science fiction. It’s a practically perfect book and the worst part about it was that it ended and I don’t know when/if there will be a followup. This book will be on my Hugo ballot for sure.
Saturday, February 20, 2021
Sunday, February 7, 2021
I love 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, Calculated Risks, which is the tenth novel in the series. In order to get ready for it, I binge read books 7, 8, and 9 immediately beforehand. Calculated Risks was fantastic, but there were a few things about it that gave me pause. Spoilers to follow.
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. Books 9 and 10 are told from Cousin Sarah’s POV. Sarah is from a species of selfish telepathic wasps, more or less, and book 9 ended with her saving the earth while simultaneously transporting an entire college campus to another dimension, during which she also erased herself from the memories of the family members that she was with. The logical result of that was that the first half of the book consisted of family members angry and yelling at each other while confined in a small space, which was not exactly what I was looking for in escapist reading during the pandemic. Once the characters rebuilt some trust with each other, the story became more fun and enjoyable to me. The adventure in the other dimension was interesting, but some things felt a little too convenient, and I would’ve preferred to spent more time exploring the other dimension and less time with the early chapters’ squabbling. Finally, at the end of the novel, Artie, one of my favorite characters, allows his mind to be wholly erased in order to save everyone and get them all home to Earth, leaving his body a shell. Sarah is then able to “restore” his mind from his parents’ memories, his sister’s memories, and Sarah’s own memories, and whatever amount of Artie’s psyche was shared with Sarah through her telepathic bond. However, based on everything explained in an earlier chapter about how Sarah reconstructed a memory of one of Artie’s childhood birthdays, this restoration could not have fully worked - the Artie that was “restored” could not possibly be the Artie that existed before, and it felt like that was ignored in favor of a happy ending. It reminded me a bit of the Illyria plot in Angel when Fred was killed and replaced. I assume that this will be dealt with in a future novel or short story, but it left me feeling unsatisfied. I don’t want anyone, however, to take this critique as meaning that I didn’t like this book. I loved it! But I was bothered by these things.
Thursday, February 4, 2021
I cannot tell you how much I loved this book. I have never used the following word before, but I believe it is appropriate here: squee!
I first learned of Becky Chambers when someone from my science fiction book club picked The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet for their selection. It bowled me over with how much I loved it. That book was everything I want from Cozy science fiction. I love the characters, setting, just everything about it. I eagerly anticipated and immediately devoured the next two Wayfarers books when they came out and I was thrilled when she won the Hugo for best series. So I was both delighted and dismayed when I saw that this book was announced as the last book she planned for this universe.
This book was like a warm hug. This book was like being wrapped in a heated blanket on a cold winter day with a mug of hot cocoa with just the right amount of marshmallows in it.
The plot of this book is not the point of this book. If I were to describe the plot, I would say that a bunch of different aliens end up stuck at a space truckstop and end up getting to know each other. As they get to know each other, we get to know them, their worlds, their cultures. And it is a pure joy. I cannot thank NetGalley and the publisher enough for an advanced reader copy of this book. It was my most anticipated release for 2021 and I am so thrilled that I got to read it early.
If you’ve never read a book in the series before, you could easily start here if you wanted to. The author doesn’t repeat some of the world building nuggets that you learned in earlier books, but they’re not necessary to enjoy this novel. For fans of the first three, you will be happy to see a minor character from the first book get a larger role here. I don’t want to spoil who it is because of the pleasure I had in realizing it myself.
This book was practically perfect in every way and everyone should get themselves a copy as soon as it’s available. Again, I say: Squee!
Friday, January 29, 2021
Who doesn’t love Judd Winick? My wife remembers him from the Real World, and I remember him from when he brought Jason Todd back to life. But he’s now a superstar in our house because of Hilo. Our 8 year old daughter was introduced to Hilo by the Story Pirates podcast, and after she devoured the first book, we had to rush to the library for the next 5! It involves a kid from outer space who lands on Earth and his two human friends having adventures. Book 7 focuses on one of his human friends, Gina.
My 8 year old read it and this is her review: “The book was great! I loved it so much that I couldn’t stop reading it. I was so sad when I finished the book because it meant I would have to wait another year to read the next one.” Thanks to NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for an honest review!
Wednesday, January 13, 2021
I love a good superhero story. I grew up on the Superfriends (Wondertwins rule!) and I enjoy comics, but I especially love a great prose superhero story. A good one just hits me square in my reading happy spot. My favorites are the Velveteen Vs. series by Seanan McGuire and Soon I Will Be Invincible, by Austin Grossman. Hench, by Natalie Zina Walschots, is another new favorite. So when I read the description of We Could Be Heroes, about a superhero and a supervillain who don’t remember their backstories, I thought, cool, sign me up. When I got the book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review, I tried to get into it, I really did. It’s not bad, but I just kind of bounced off it. The book seemed like it didn’t know what it wanted to be. It kept switching from an intimate character piece on memory loss to a superhero mystery to a heist novel to an action story, and it didn’t do any of it very well. The two main characters had no depth and felt like cyphers all the way through, even as they learned more about themselves and their lost memories. The villain’s plan was rather nonsensical and the entire final third of the book was a long slog. In the acknowledgments, the author explained that the novel started out as a short story idea. I think that’s where it should’ve stayed. There just isn’t enough meat on these bones.
Sunday, January 3, 2021
Dana Simpson is the author of the fantastic Phoebe and Her Unicorn series, which my daughter and I love. But Phoebe and her Unicorn is not her first comic strip - prior to that, she wrote Ozy and Millie, about a pair of foxes. My daughter wanted to read this, and she wanted to review it. Here is her review:
It was a great book and I enjoyed it very much! The book was exceptional and I wanted to keep reading until if finished it! The fact that Ozy’s father is a dragon is funny! I think that the person who wrote this book is a very good author and I can’t wait for the next book to come out!