Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Someone in Time edited by Jonathan Strahan

As I have said before on more than one occasion, I am wary of anthologies - I worry about changes in quality and tonal whiplash between stories in themed multi-author collections. But when I saw the lineup for this time travel romance themed anthology I had to try it! (Thanks again to NetGalley and the publisher for an eARC in exchange for an honest review.) Some of my favs are in here, including Seanan McGuire, Catherynne Valente, Theodora Goss, Sarah Gailey, and Alix Harrow. I really enjoyed the McGuire story especially.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Seasonal Fears by Seanan McGuire

 


I feel like I have been waiting for this book for years! I really, really enjoyed it, but I might have built it up in my head a little too much. 


I love Seanan McGuire. (Note: I review a bunch of her books so I am copying part of some of my other reviews here to save time.). She has quickly become my favorite living writer and I feel very lucky that she is so prolific. I was first introduced to her work when her book Parasite, written as Mira Grant, was nominated for a Hugo Award. I loved it and quickly devoured the Newsflesh series before I realized that Mira Grant and Seanan McGuire were the same person. 


I started reading her works under her own name, starting with Sparrow Hill Road, which is amazing, but I picked it because I was intimidated by her long running October Daye series. I had read some Urban Fantasy before, and I fondly remember Mercedes Lackey’s Diana Tregarde books, but my tastes run more to science fiction and then secondary world fantasy, so I was hesitant to dive into such a long series. I picked up the first book, Rosemary and Rue, when it was on sale as a kindle daily deal, and I found it somewhat disappointing compared to her other work. I reminded myself that it was her first published novel, so I cut it some slack. Then Incryptid was nominated for the Best Series Hugo in 2018 and I dove into that instead. I loved it! So I vowed to give Toby another chance. And I was so glad that I did! It is no one of my favorite series. 


I really enjoyed Middlegame when it came out and voted for it as best novel on the Hugo Awards at the time. The writing there was lyrical and a little dreamlike in a way that was a little different from most everything else of hers (but reminded me of the Parisitology books a little). 


I remember going to a comic book store in October 2019 when I got her to sign some Ghost Spider and Nightcrawler comics (she was amazing, BTW, and was so kind to my then 7-year-old daughter, who was wearing a ghost spider hooded sweatshirt) and asking her if there would be a follow up to Middlegame. She couldn’t tell me that there would be, so I was extra excited when Seasonal Fears was finally announced. I was even more thrilled when I realized that it was a book she had been talking about for years on her livejournal blog. 


So I was overjoyed when The publisher and NetGalley awarded me an audio eARC of Seasonal Fears (I had already preordered a kindle copy beforehand).  This was a fantastic book in so many ways. I loved the writing style, so very reminiscent of Middlegame. I loved Harry and Melanie, and how real they felt as little kids in the earlier parts of the narrative. I loved the entire Seasonal control structure we learn about in this book. I wish we had spent more time with Harry and Mel as teenagers before their world changed, so I could’ve appreciated their loss more. And I feel like there was a place about 1/3 of the way through where the story dragged a bit, when Harry kept asking Jack the same things over and over again. I also felt the conclusion was a bit rushed. That being said, I really enjoyed this book a ton, and as a bonus, it was nice to see Roger and Dodger again!


I was less pleased with the audiobook narrator. I loved Amber Benson on Buffy, but she just left me feeling flat on this audiobook. She didn’t engage me and I kept feeling myself drifting. I don’t think she did anything wrong, but her style just didn’t work for me. 

Friday, June 3, 2022

Batman: The Detective by Tom Taylor

 



I have enjoyed every comic book by Tom Taylor that I have read. He’s great! I especially loved his run on All New Wolverine (Gabby is the best!) and X-men Red. I also really enjoyed his time on Nightwing. I know there’s a lot of great stuff he’s written that I haven’t gotten to yet, which is why I was so pleased when NetGalley and DC gave me an eARC of Batman:The Detective. 


This was a very satisfying Batman story. It hooks you right away at the beginning and I always appreciate a Batman story that leans into “Worlds Greatest Detective“ rather than just “Caped Crusader.”  And it had Knight and Squire! One of the things I most appreciated about the Batman Incorporated run is that it introduced me to these previously-unknown-to-me characters. And now Squire is all grown up and is Knight and has her own Squire! I love seeing this kind of growth and change in comics. The mystery was fun, the action was great, and I would recommend this to anyone who likes Batman. 

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Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Boys, Beasts & Men by Sam J. Miller



I love a single-author short story collection. I find it a fantastic way to get to know a new-to-me author. I enjoy sampling their writing in bite-sized chunks and experiencing the breadth of their styles and depth of their skill. And Boys, Beasts & Men by Sam J. Miller is the quintessential example of why I feel this way. 


I had heard of Sam J. Miller when his Blackfish City was nominated for a Nebula but I hadn’t gotten around to reading it, so I was very happy that NetGalley and his publisher were able to grant me an eARC of his new short story collection (which I hope is the first of many) in exchange for an honest review. 


The stories in this collection run the gamut from scary to angry to sad to kind but they all have a raw humanity that I loved. I recommend this book highly and hope to read more from Mr. Miller in the future. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Teen Titans Academy Vol. 1: X Marks The Spot By Tim Sheridan

It has been a while since I read a Teen Titans comic. I fondly remember the year I borrowed the entire Geoff Johns run from the library. Wow, where does the time go? I also loved the original Teen Titans cartoon on Cartoon Network (before the “Go”) so I was intrigued by this new volume that appeared to introduce Red X into continuity. 


This was a fun book. I liked the introduction of lost of new kids with weird or possibly no powers. It really felt like it was trying to go for a Generation X feel. The older classic Titans characters didn’t get quite enough focus, but that’s hard with such a big cast. I particularly liked the kids from Gotham. 


This was a fun read! Thanks to DC and NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Monday, May 9, 2022

The Grief of Stones by Katherine Addison





Yay! Unexpected sequel to amazing book that was as good as the previous volume!


Like many people, I first encountered Katherine Addison when I found the Goblin Emperor on a bunch of awards ballots and was immediately enchanted. Within six months of reading it, I doubled back and listened to the audiobook  - that novel was charming and delightful and wonderful.  (I also adored her unrelated book, the Angel of the Crows, and I think more people need to read that.) I was thrilled beyond belief when Tor and NetGalley gave me an eARC for The Witness For the Dead, a related book in the same universe as The Goblin Emperor.  That book was a book of my heart -  It was the most enjoyable reading experience I had in months when I read it the first time.  


So I felt triply lucky when Tor and NetGalley gave me an eARC for The Grief of Stones, the direct sequel to the Witness for the Dead.  And it was perfection itself! We resume with Thara Celehar, the Witness for the Dead, continuing to hear petitions and talking to the recently deceased.  He solves some mysteries, has some adventures, and continues to visit the gentleman who runs the opera company that he became friendly with in the last book.  


This book filled me with joy. I almost missed my stop on Metro North because I was so close to the end and I didn’t want to stop! Content warnings for several suicides, several murders, and a stillborn child.  


If you liked The Witness For the Dead or The Goblin Emperor you will adore this book.  I can only hope there is a follow up soon!

Friday, April 29, 2022

January Fifteenth by Rachel Swirsky

 


I first heard of Rachel Swirsky when reading Camestros Felapton’s Hugosauriad (which was, as he explained, “a dinography of the Hugo Awards — tracing the history of the awards via the medium of dinosaur stories”).  That is where I learned of Ms. Swirsky’s short story If You We’re a Dinosaur, My Love, a lyrically beautiful story that touched me deeply. I have always kept my eyes open for more work by her, so I was very excited to see a new novella by her on NetGalley. 


January Fifteenth is set in a near- future USA that has enacted a Universal Basic Income. The story examines a slice of life of four women on the titular day when they get their UBI check. We see each of the protagonists throughout the day from morning til night - a woman on the run from her abusive ex wife, a reporter raising her orphaned younger sister, a spoiled rich college kid, and a pregnant fifteen year old FLDS kid. We see many of the good and the bad changes wrought on society by a UBI. This book gave me a lot of food for thought, but the best part is the characters - they all feel very real and well rounded. This book was excellent and I wouldn’t be surprised if it is nominated for a Hugo and/or Nebula next year. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The Star Trek Cookbook by Chelsea Monroe-Cassel

 So disappointing! I was really hoping for a modern update to the original Trek cookbook, which included both in-universe recipes and recipes solicited from the actors of various Trek shows, interspersed with notes on how prop foods were made on the various shows. This book doesn’t even have cellular peptide cake (with mint frosting)!

Monday, April 25, 2022

The Long Game by K. J. Parker

 



A few months ago 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 was thrilled when Subterranean Press granted me an eARC of the Long Game in exchange for an honest review. This was a delightful book! The unnamed protagonist was a scoundrel and not unlike the protagonist of A Practical Guide to Conquering the World. The magic system involving demonic possession was pleasantly reminiscent of Bujold’s Penric books. This novella was a treat from beginning to end!

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

The Assassins of Thasalon by Lois McMaster Bujold



I was late to the Lois McMaster Bujold party and only discovered her when she was nominated for Best Series for the Vorkosigan saga. I think it was the Baen book covers that turned me off. But I’m on board now! When I was getting close to the end of that series I began to despair, so I decided to give the Penric novellas a try. I was hooked instantly and binged my way through the series. Thankfully, Ms. Bujold is still writing more Penric stories. 



I was thrilled to get a copy of this new Penric book - and it is the first novel in this previously novella-only series! Thank you, Subterranean Press, for the eARC. There is a bit of a tune jump in this one, and you see Penric’s delightful home life before a sorcerer/assassin goes after his brother-in-law! This new character adds some fascinating dimensions to the world, and it brings Penric finally to the capital city of Thasalon of which we have heard so much. We get to see some fan-favorite character recur and the party sequence was just wonderful. I hope we keep getting more Penric books! I’ll keep reading them!

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Tiger Honor by Yoon Ha Lee


As I have mentioned before, 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.  I read his YA novel, Dragon Pearl, when it came out, 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.  


I decided to give Tiger Honor, another book in the same universe as Dragon Pearl, a try (thanks, NetGalley, for the eARC in exchange for this honest review!).  I didn’t love this either,  it I enjoyed it more than I did Dragon Pearl.  I think my main problem is that I am not the target audience - this is more middle grade than YA, and so the conventions are different.  I felt the pacing was off, and several of the secondary characters felt like cyphers, and the protagonist felt both too competent t and incompetent at the same time.  I may just wait for the author’s next adult novel.  But I will recommend it to my kid.  

Sunday, March 20, 2022

The Jade Setter of Janloon by Fonda Lee




I can’t believe I waited this long to jump on the Fonda Lee bandwagon! I’ve been hearing about Fonda Lee and the Green Bone Saga for years - her books keep showing up on recommended lists and best of the year lists, but somehow I never got around to finding the time to read them.  But when I saw a book by her from Subterranean Press on NetGalley, I thought I should request it to try it out.  It was wonderful! Her characters are so well drawn, and her world building is wonderful! Even though this was a short book, I felt like it was a real place and well defined.  The only note that clanged to me was when a character who was not a warrior ended up killing someone in a fight, and his emotional response to this did not seem to fit with what I had thought of who the character was up to that point. But maybe that’s just me.  In any event, I loved this book and an putting all three Green Bone Saga books high up on my TBR pile. Thanks for the eARC in exchange for this honest review.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Classic Monsters Unleashed edited by Kim Newman


As I have said before on more than one occasion, I am wary of anthologies - I worry about changes in quality and tonal whiplash between stories in themed multi-author collections. But this is one of the better ones I have sampled lately. A new-to-me story by Seanan McGuire is always a treat. Give this one a try! Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

The Kaiju preservation society by John Scalzi

 I was excited when I got the new John Scalzi book from NetGalley and Tor in exchange for an honest review - I’m a big fan of his work. But his last few novels have been weaker than some of his earlier work, and I think it was due to his habit of rushing through writing them to make his deadlines (as he has eloquently described on his blog). I also had some concerns about this new book, since on his blog he described it as also being written very quickly after a different novel idea fell apart. 


The first two chapters are a REAL turnoff. Scalzi’s protagonist is a glib millennial in New York City in March 2020 at the very beginning of the pandemic, and as someone who lives in New York and works in Manhattan, I can tell you that Scalzi has failed utterly to capture the mood and attitude of the people living through that specific time and place. Instead his characters feel flat and unreal in a way that totally destroys any ability or desire to want to read any further. 


It feels like a failure of worldbuilding, except the world he fails to build realistically is OUR real earth, before it even gets to the parallel earth filled with giant monsters. He envisions a global conspiracy that thousands of people know about but no one talks about that is supported by every government on the planet. Throw into it a secret effective one-dose covid vaccine early in the pandemic that gets kept solely for the benefit of this global conspiracy, and it’s not just a world that’s unbelievable, but one I wouldn’t want to exist. 


Once the plot gets going, the writing doesn’t get better. The characters are all ciphers. At 1/3 of the way in, none of the characters have any individual personality. They all exhibit that trademark Scalzi-character wit, but in an undifferentiated way. This is especially frustrating in dialogue exchanges without tags, because it is very easy to lose track of who is talking. I know from his blog that Scalzi has done this to make it sound better in audiobook format, but it really shortchanges the clarity of the words on the page. By the end of the book, i still could not differentiate the characters, breaking them down only into Narrator, Villain, and Everyone Else (and they all sound just like Narrator). 


The writing also feels noticeably weaker than in prior books. For example, here is a paragraph from chapter ten: “We all screamed and Satie did a thing and our helicopter did another thing and somehow we got past Edward, but not before I saw an image I would take to my grave.”  This really feels like phoning it in to me. There are SO many instances in this book of the narrator telling the audience that they can’t describe something,  or they can’t explain something, or it makes no sense, but it just happens. If the author cannot explain something, maybe that’s a sign that there is a problem? 


I will keep rereading my older Scalzi novels and I will look forward to whatever new novels he comes up with and I will keep enjoying his blog like I have for years. But I can’t give this one a pass. 

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Batman: The Imposter by Mattson Tomlin



This was a weird out-of-continuity elseworlds-style Batman story. Batman is more clearly neurodivergent in this comic, Dr. Leslie Thompkins is much younger and a tries to provide Batman with therapy, and there is a noticeable lack of costume villains. The story and the art are clearly aiming for a more high brow experience, but it just felt rather tired and dull, like the author didn’t really want to write a Batman story unless he could put his stamp on it. And the “innovative “ art style was much better executed in the original run of Batwoman for example. This is skippable. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Crazy in Poughkeepsie by Daniel Pinkwater

 


After enjoying the eARC of Adventures of a Dwergish Girl I got from NetGalley in the past, I was excited to get an eARC for Daniel Pinkwater’s new book in exchange for an honest review. Sadly, this new book doesn’t hold up to Pinkwater classics like Alan Mendelssohn. 


The book got off on the wrong foot with me with the “guru” character, who might have seemed funny in the 70s, but now oozes with some unpleasant cultural appropriation vibes. The plot also made even less sense than some other Pinkwater books and, overall, this one seems skippable. 

Monday, February 14, 2022

Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham

 Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham


I’m getting old. At this point in my life I think of all of the books I have not yet read and all of the books I wish to reread, and I have decided I am not going to finish books I don’t like. Sadly, I am giving up on finishing Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham at the 48% mark. 


I was initially very excited by this book. I really enjoyed the Expanse novels (except for the last one, it didn’t end particularly well) and I know that Abraham had written well-received fantasy novels before his foray into science fiction, so I was excited when Orbit gave me an eARC of a new book in a new trilogy in exchange for an honest review. 


I tried. I really did! This book is long, and I have read a lot of it, but it doesn’t have that sense of grabbiness that I want from a book - this book is easy to put down and hard to pick up again. The pacing is slow and all the characters (save one) are either boring ciphers or bad people. I don’t like any of them. Except Sammi. She is the only reason I kept reading as long as I did, and I still want to know what happens to her, but not enough to slog through the rest of this tome. 


I’m not saying the book is bad. But it’s not for me. If you want a fantasy doorstop on a slow build, it might just be for you. 

Monday, January 31, 2022

Spelunking Through Hell: A Visitor's Guide to the Underworld by Seanan McGuire



This is the book I have been waiting for and it did not disappoint!!!!


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, Spelunking Through Hell, which is the 11th novel in the series.  This is it! This is Alice’s book! We finally get to travel with her as she roams the multiverse looking for Thomas, her missing husband!


(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.)


In order to get ready for it, I binge read all of the Alice and Thomas short stories on Seanan McGuire’s Patreon page. Are they necessary to enjoy this book? No. Do they make this a much richer and more rewarding novel? Yes, immensely!!


The beginning of the book felt a bit slow to me - which is odd, because it spends a lot of time on action as Alice dimension hops and gets into some big action set pieces, but I can’t really explain it. All of this in the beginning was necessary to set up what follows, so it’s not that big of a deal. 


Should I spoil the best parts of the book for you? No? Well, suffice it to say that if you care about these characters and this series then you will love this book. It was satisfying in all of the right ways. 


One tiny quibble - at one point Alice makes some Star Trek references, but according to the timeline, she left on her dimension hopping journey in the early 1960s before Star Trek premiered. I’m sure she could have caught an episode here or there when she was visiting earth in the past 50 years, but I don’t recall her ever being a big pop culture or sci-fi fan in her earlier appearances. 


My only real 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.