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. 

Monday, August 14, 2023

City of Bones by Martha Wells

As I have said before, Murderbot is one of the absolute best characters to come out of SF in years. I remember when I read the description of Martha Wells’s All Systems Red and thought to myself “I’ve got to put that on hold at the library!”  And I was right - it was excellent. I have eagerly awaited each new Murderbot book and also read some of the Rakusa series when it was nominated for the Best Series Hugo,  it I have not made the time to dive into Ms. Wells's back catalog.  So I was excited when NetGalley and the publisher gave me an eARC of the reprint of City of Bones, one of Martha Wells’s earlier works, in exchange for an honest review. 

I enjoyed this novel.  We follow an unscrupulous relic dealer and a more naive trainee wizard as they work together to track down some ancient secrets.  The world building was very interesting in the novel - the striated society made sense and felt real.  Khat was an interesting protagonist - selfish but not unlikable.  The book was a little long,  it nonetheless enjoyable.  A satisfying early work by this author.  

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Gryphon in Light by Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon

I have loved Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books for thirty years. As I said in my review of her last Valdemar 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. 

Two years ago, I really enjoyed Beyond, her new novel about the origins of the kingdom of Valdemar. I also enjoyed the sequel, Into the West, although it was a weird book and the pacing felt off.

But what I have been wanted for decades now is a continuation of the main timeline. We see Elsepth grow from the brat in the Arrows trilogy into a strong, powerful young woman during the Mage Storms.  But what happens next? Well, here is the beginning of a new trilogy by Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon to tell you.  

Larry Dixon is Mercedes Lackey's husband and sometimes co-writer on Valdemar books, specifically the Owlknight trilogy and the Mage Wars etiology focusing on the gryphons.  As I kid, I really dreaded reading the books co-written by Mr. Dixon.  I felt that they were not as well written as Ms. Lackey's solo Valdemar novels.  So I had some trepidation going in to this book, an eARC of which I got from DAW and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  

My fear was not completely unfounded here, but neither was my eager anticipation.  This book did continue the story! Finally!! We see Elspeth again, if briefly! We are told what is going on in Valdemar, politically speaking, and it seems like some “Make Valdemar Great Again” types are causing all sorts of troubles.  Writing style-wise, this book did not seem markedly worse than the last few solo Valdemar books I have read.

But oh is this book a sloooooooooow slog! It takes forever for anything to happen! We get a lot of internal navel gazing of the main human and gryphon protagonists with a lot of telling, not showing, of their characters.  The human is a little too perfect, which is saying something in a series about white clad heroes on white horses, and the gryphon is a little too stupid and selfish for me to deal with at times.  But my main gripe is that we get like 50 pages worth of plot spread out over the whole book, and all of it seems to be prologue for the sequel when the real story begins.  A book needs to stand on its own, not just be setup for the next book, and this book falls down there.  

But I did enjoy it, and I am excited to see where the story goes from here.  Totally recommended for completists,  not a great place to start the series. 

Friday, August 11, 2023

Wolfsong by TJ Klune

I was very curious about this book. I really enjoyed the Extraordinaries trilogy by TJ Klune (although his strong pro- and anti- police stands in different oils gave me whiplash), but I didn’t really vibe with Under the Whispering Door. I enjoyed the sentiments of House on a Cerulean Sea but felt the world building was weak in a way that took me out of the book.  I was full of anticipation when NetGalley and Tor gave me an eARC of Wolfsong, a reprint (revision?) of the first book of Klune’s Green Creek series. 

Going in, I thought it was going to be more urban fantasy than paranormal romance. I was wrong. It was totally a paranormal romance, which was interesting because I don’t usually read in that sub genre. The world building was ok, if vague. But it kept such a tight focus on this small town and small cast of characters that it was alright that the world building was fuzzy around the edges. 

I really enjoyed the voice and character of Ox, the protagonist. He felt very real and his emotions rang true. Most of the other characters felt flat, and I have fundamental qualms about the romance since the couple met when one was a teenager an the other was ten. Even though nothing physical occurred until the younger one was 17, this still felt emotionally icky to me. 

And it was soooooo loooooong! There’s like a novella’s worth of story here and the book is like 500+ pages. It’s too much. I enjoyed it but there were times when it felt like a slog. 

But I’m just curious enough to try the next one.