Wednesday, September 6, 2023

The Death I Gave Him by Em X. Liu


I’ve been hearing about this book everywhere, it seems like. It was on’s and several other websites’ lists of books to watch out for in 2023 so I kept my eyes peeled and requested it when I saw it on NetGalley. The back cover blurb made it seem like a science fictional retelling of Hamlet, which sounded fascinating. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. 

Man, this book was weird! In a good way! The style was as interesting as it was unexpected. Chapters would shift - some were close in from the Hamlet- analog’s perspective, some were “excerpts” from books or articles from the Ophelia-analog’s perspective, some were text messages, it was a wild structural ride! The setting - a locked down scientific research facility with an AI that was the Horatio-analog added a weird creepiness to the story that fit right in. This was a very interesting, enjoyable book. I recommend you check it out! 

Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Under the Smoke Strewn Sky by A. Deborah Baker

This 4th (and presumably final) book in the Up and Under series by A. Deborah Baker, Seanan McGuire’s second pseudonym, was a worthy conclusion to this series. 

Once again, I will say that 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). 

One thing about Middlegame that especially reminded me of the Parasitology books was the excerpts from a children’s book included in the novel. In the world of Middlegame, A. Deborah Baker was an author who wrote the Up and Under Books. And Seanan McGuire, being the incredibly talented and prolific author she is, wrote out the entire book of Over the Woodward Wall as part of the process of writing Middlegame. 

That was quickly followed by book 2, Under the Saltwise Sea, and book 3, Into the Windwracked Wilds. 

In this final volume, some secrets are revealed that I truly did not see coming until about a page beforehand, but in retrospect made perfect sense. This is just another example of how excellent Ms. McGuire is at storycrafting and why I keep coming back. A wonderful conclusion to an unexpected companion series. Now, to just get more followups to Middlegame!

I listened to an eARC of the audiobook, thanks to NetGalley and the publisher, who gave me the eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Heath Miller was a perfect fit for this tale.  I listened to the book at 2x speed. 

Sunday, September 3, 2023

Starling House by Alix Harrow

I first heard of Alix Harrow when her short story “A Witch's Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies” was nominated for a Hugo Award. I read it, and I loved it. When her first novel came out, The Ten Thousand Door of January, I read it right away, and was a little disappointed. The book felt disjointed, and I didn’t care for the protagonist or her struggles very much. I felt like the author didn’t successfully make the leap from short story to novel.  I read Ms. harrows, two fractured fairytale Novelas when they were nominated for the Hugos and I enjoyed them, although they felt a bit glib.I think I’m part because I’m getting a little tired of the hard-drinking, Devil-May-care protagonist trope. But they were entertaining, if not exactly treading new ground, and I enjoyed them more than her first novel, so I was intrigued when I read the blurb for her newest book, Starling House. I was excited when the publisher and NetGalley granted me an eARC and wow. Just wow.  Was this book ever a leveling up!

I’m not a huge horror fan, but after reading some T. Kingfisher novels over the last couple of years, I find myself enjoying it more.  And this book was an excellent book of the “creepy house” variety.  

The protagonist, Opal, felt very real and three dimensional.  Her life and her struggles were rooted in reality and didn’t seem either overly glamorized or exaggerated. I loved the slow build and unfolding of the mystery and all of the secondary and tertiary characters. And it was creepy in just the right way. And I love the house! The titular Starling House is practically a character itself and I love it so. 

This world felt real and lived in and shone a light on a part of the world (rural Kentucky) that I don’t often see in SFF books. The resolution of the novel was satisfying on several levels - in this type of book, it is essential to stick the landing, and this one does so in a very satisfying way. 

I highly recommend this to anyone who likes horror, likes Alice Harrow, likes thoughtful, well written books that are a tad creepy. 

I listened to this on audiobook. The narrator was good, if a tad slow of speech. I started this on 1.5 speed and was up to 2x before I was halfway through.