Saturday, May 11, 2024

The Wings Upon Her Back by Samantha Mills


I first encountered Samantha Mills when her story, Rabbit Test, was nominated for a Hugo Award. I loved that story so much - it was incredibly well written and was number one on my ballot. (Regardless of what we later learned about how the 2023 Hugo nomination was hijacked, that story was amazing and it will always be a Hugo winner in my mind.)

After reading that story, I was excited when I found out that Ms. Mills had a first novel coming out, and I was even more excited when NetGalley and the publisher gave me an eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

The book starts when the protagonist, a member of a fascist warrior caste, goes easy on someone in possession of forbidden material, after which she is caught,  her bio mechanical wings are stripped from her, and she is cast down. She then ends up connected with a bunch of young dissidents committed to bringing about positive change through violence. 

The book alternates between this present time frame and the past, explaining how the protagonist left her scholar household to join the warrior caste. 

The entire story is set in a city state organized by a caste system in which each of the five groups worships one of five gods that may or may not be alien visitors in suspended animation. 

The world building is intriguing and tell you just enough to leave you wanting more. 

The split narrative didn’t work for me exactly as intended - I loved the past timeframe so much that the present time frame felt boring and shallow by comparison. But maybe that’s just me. 

In any event, I really enjoyed this book and I cannot wait to read more from Samantha Mills in the future!

Thursday, May 9, 2024

We Speak Through The Mountain by Premee Mohamed

Four years ago, I wrote in a review of Premee Mohamed’s first book: “After reading this book, I will definitely pick up the next book by Premee Mohamed.  This author has a great deal of potential and I look forward to seeing what else she writes.” I am so glad I stuck with this author because she has improved immensely and now she is a must-read when I see she has something new out.

When NetGalley listed this new novella by Ms. Mohamed, I was happy to check it out, and I was even happier when I realized it was a sequel to The Annual Migration of Clouds, a post-apocalyptic novella that was set at a repurposed university where survivors were ekeing out an existence and many people were infected with a parasite of some sort that changes their behavior to push self-preservation.  In that book, Reid was offered acceptance into a college far away that some people thought did not actually exist.  (Frankly, I as a reader had my doubts.)

This sequel picks up where the last one ended, and Reid makes it to the college! There is the inevitable cultural shock between her and her classmates and professors who grew up in safety and seclusion without the parasite and the poverty Reid came from. Once again, the story went in some directions I wasn’t expecting. 

My worldbuilding concerns from the first book are alleviated here to a large extent, as Reid starts to uncover some of the secrets of how her world is working. Once again the character work and evocative descriptions are standouts.  

If this is the end of the series, I could be satisfied, but I would love to see where else this story goes. Here’s hoping for more! 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Someone You Can Build a Nest In by John Wiswell

Like many people, I am sure, I fell in love with John Wiswell’s writing when I read his story “Open House on Haunted Hill”, which blew me away. So I was thrilled when I found out he had a debut novel coming out, and even more excited when DAW gave me an eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

I adored this book. It is the story of a monster who falls in love, but it is so much more than that. Shesheshen, the monster, doesn’t have a human idea of love or relationships, yet she comes across as eminently relatable. Her romance of Homily is truly wonderful, and her pet bear Blueberry is a delight. Shesheshen’s worldview, while somewhat bloodthirsty, is refreshing and feels very true. 

This book kept surprising me. I honestly did not see the plot twists coming and every single time I was like “no way!” when, in hindsight, I should have seen the foreshadowing. 

Everyone who loves love or monsters should go buy this book. It was that good. 

Monday, March 11, 2024

Lake of Souls by Ann Leckie

I love single-author short story collections. I really enjoyed getting to see an author I like and admire flex their muscles in different ways. So I was very excited to get an eARC of Ann Leckie’s short story collection, Lake of Souls, from Orbit and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

I have loved Ann Leckie’s writing from the first time I read Ancillary Justice (which I have reread and listened to the audiobook of several times). I so enjoyed the Imperial Radch universe and adored each book in that trilogy. Provenance surprised me by being so different while still being in that universe and being so wonderful and I thought Translation State was hands down the best 2023 novel I read last year. I also very much enjoyed The Raven Tower and thought Ms. Leckie was classy and generous when she demurred and turned down a Hugo nomination for it. 

I was not disappointed by this collection. Every story is a gem. Some of them didn’t click perfectly with me, but i thoroughly enjoyed each and every one. The titular story, Lake of Souls, was the epitome of what good, intelligent SF can be and it has stuck with me ever since I read it.

I cannot recommend this collection highly enough. 

Monday, March 4, 2024

Aftermarket Afterlife by Seanan McGuire


This book moved me in several ways. I got very mad, and very sad. It’s just that good!

I love Seanan McGuire’s body of work.  (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. When Incryptid was nominated for the Best Series Hugo in 2018, I dove into that and I loved it! It is probably my second favorite series by McGuire (Velveteen Vs. holds a special place in my heart). 

I was overjoyed when DAW and NetGalley awarded me an eARC of the latest Incryptid book, Aftermarket Afterlife, in exchange for an honest review. Finally the fight with the Covenant, long promised since the ending of Chaos Choreography when Verity outed the family on national TV, was here! This has been building for so long, and I was happy to get an earthbound narrative after several reality-hopping adventures in previous books. 

The problem with long-promised fights is that they come with casualties. I’m not going to spoil things but this is where the mad and the sad will come from. There are some characters for whom I repeatedly thought “how will they go on?” at different points in the book. 

We also have a new narrator this time around - Mary the ghost babysitter has a star turn! With her ghostly traveling abilities, Mary is a logical choice for this role in a globetrotting story, and, thanks to being a Patreon supporter, I have already had a chance to read alot of Mary’s backstory, which made this novel even richer. 

This is a wonderful, wonderful book. A culmination of much that has come before, it lays several avenues open for the future. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Friday, February 9, 2024

The Butcher of the Forest by Premee Mohamed

Four years ago, I wrote in a review of Premee Mohamed’s first book: “After reading this book, I will definitely pick up the next book by Premee Mohamed.  This author has a great deal of potential and I look forward to seeing what else she writes.” I am so glad I stuck with this author because The Butcher of the Forest is beautiful, lyrical, hear-wrenching, and wonderful. 

This is not the first book by Ms. Mohamed that I enjoyed - I liked The Annual Migration of Clouds a great deal and I am looking forward to the sequel coming out soon. But this book spoke to my heart. 

This novella has a dark fairy tale vibe - a woman is called upon by an evil tyrant to venture into a haunted fey forest to retrieve his lost children. But that plot description doesn’t do this book justice. In a few paragraphs the author can capture a mood and paint a picture that entrances and ensnares the reader. The language in this book a gorgeous and brutal. The sense of dread is palpable. I am unable to put into words how enjoyable the act of reading this book was. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Sunday, February 4, 2024

What Feasts At Night by T. Kingfisher

In the past 3-4 years, I have become a HUGE fan of T. Kingfisher aka Ursula Vernon. 

Ms. Vernon is the author of the Hamster Princess books, which both of my daughters have enjoyed (as have I!). Those books were my introduction to her, along with her social media presence, which I found through Seanan McGuire. 

Ordinarily, I don’t like horror. I never wanted to watch scary movies as a kid. I got nightmares from E.T.  But based on recommendations I read the Twisted Ones and The Holllow Places and I realized that I loved Ms. Vernon’s writing and I could make it through the scary parts unscathed with her as my guide. 

I started devouring her back catalog and putting all new releases on hold at the library.  I have subscribed to her Patreon and I convinced my wife to read Nettle and Bone, which she loved (as did I). 

I really enjoyed What Moves the Dead when it came out - I adored Angus and Ms. Potter and I thought Alex Easton was one of the most interesting, enjoyable protagonists in a Kingfisher book I had ever seen. (Toadling is still my favorite, I think). I didn’t remember the original Poe story that influenced it, but my only complaint about that book was that it was too short. 

So I was thrilled when I found out that a sequel was coming and even more thrilled when I got an audiobook eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

This new book, I believe, is not based on a Poe story but is an original creation. And it is wonderful! I was so happy to see Ms. Potter and Angus again, the Widow was my new favorite character, and the story was creepy in all the best ways. The descriptions of Alex’s PTSD feel very real. Once again, my only complaint is that it was too short! 

I really liked the narrator as well. Much thanks to NetGalley and the publisher!