Monday, November 20, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Sparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire

  Like a few other books I've reviewed, Sparrow Hill Road is a book that did not start its life as a Novel.  Rather, it was originally a set of short stories released over a year in a publication by Seanan McGuire, supposedly based upon several ghost/urban legend stories of the road.  The novel essentially takes an edited versions of 11 of the 12 short stories and puts them together into one complete story.  That said, the book's origin is quite evident as each of the 11 chapters is quite clearly a single story, even if the stories eventually build upon one another to a final ending.

  Sparrow Hill Road is set in the same universe as McGuire's inCryptid stories, although there are only minor references toward the inCryptid universe in the book, so one doesn't need to have any knowledge before reading it.  That said, if you've read any of McGuire's inCryptid short stories or some of her October Daye books, you'll be very familiar with what you're getting here - a fun breezy book with an entertaining heroine in an urban fantasy world.  Unfortunately, while parts of the book are as entertaining as any of McGuire's other works, some parts (really, some of the short stories) don't really land as well and the book kind of lacks an ending.

More after the Jump:

Saturday, November 18, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon

  The SF/Fantasy Genre is very often (if not mostly) used by writers to tell stories about real world issues in different frames in order for the writer to address those issues.  For example, the amount of Fantasy or SF Books that feature elements of racism (or similarly, class-ism) as key elements of the plot has got to be extremely high - 5 of the 10 last books I've read have had such plots.  That said, few SF/F books really deal with the brutality of racism in its most primal form -racism/prejudice/oppression may be central elements of those books, but the true horrors of these issues is often kept at a remove from the reader.  Perhaps the authors of these books wish not to make their books too brutal to read or in many cases simply finds that to do so would detract from the story they wish to tell. 

   Then there are books like An Unkindness of Ghosts, which not only feature the horrors of racism/sexism/oppression at the forefront, but makes absolutely no effort to lighten the topic for the reader.  This is a brutal book, which opens with the main character having to amputate a little girl's leg due to the living conditions imposed upon the Black underclass by the ruling White powers, and only gets more brutal from there.  An Unkindness of Ghosts is in no way a read that can be characterized as "fun."

  However, it is absolutely a WORTHWHILE read, maybe even an ESSENTIAL one.  It's a book that essentially translates the horrors of slavery/plantation life/racism to a scifi world - well, Generation Ship - to form a truly terrifying but impactful story.  If you're looking for a fun story, this isn't your book, but if you're looking for a book that is simply powerful....this might be the most worthwhile read of the year.

(If you couldn't guess from this type of description, trigger warnings certainly apply to this book - rape, abuse, and beatings are all parts of this story, but they're essential to the tale.)  

More after the Jump, where I'll try to not babble - sorry, a review of this type of book is difficult.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Terminal Alliance by Jim C Hines

As I've said before, sometimes one wants to read a book that is not interested in really deep questions as the core element of the plot, but one that is just plain fun.  Even one involving Toilet Humor.  Well, Terminal Alliance, if you couldn't tell by its series title: "Janitors of the Post-Apocalypse," is such a book.  That said, while the book is definitely on the "very silly" side of the scale, it manages to do so in a way that actually works really naturally, and never feels off as a result.  This is a humorous scifi book done extremely well, and it's easy to appreciate that once in a while.

One note before the jump: I listened to this as an e-audiobook from the library.  Despite my enjoyment of the book itself, the audiobook reader is NOT good - while her voices are solid for each of the characters, when she is reading general narration it tends to sound like the computer generated voices an old apple would speak on request and it was extremely jarring.  This book is worth a read, but the audiobook format is not really one I'd recommend as a result.

More after the Jump:

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Anthology Review: The Legends of Luke Skywalker by Ken Liu

The Legends of Luke Skywalker is the 4th book in the new Star Wars Canon that I've read since the old EU was blown up.  As a big fan of the old EU, I haven't been exactly impressed by the prior 3 works (Aftermath, Aftermath Life Debt, & Thrawn), but Ken Liu is one of my favorite authors and he's particularly notable for his short fiction work.  And what do you know, The Legends of Luke Skywalker is an anthology of short stories set in the Star Wars universe written by Liu, so I was extremely excited to hear of this book's existence - even if the stories were marketed toward children and a lower age group (Amazon lists the recommended age group for reading as 8-12).

My excitement appears to have been justified - several of the stories in The Legends of Luke Skywalker are simply great, even though I'm well over the recommended age group.  The basis of the book is that a crew of teens on a space ship traveling to the city of Canto Bight (which will be part of Episode 8) and are telling the stories they've heard about Luke Skywalker.  Remember how Han in TFA told Rey and Finn that all of the stories they might've heard about Luke are true?  Well.....if Han heard these stories, he might have to amend that statement somewhat.  But even though these stories are presented as tall tales (and thus might not be trusted), they're still incredibly fun and well worth your time.

More after the Jump:

Monday, November 13, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Orbital Cloud by Taiyo Fujii (Translated by Timothy Silver)

Orbital Cloud is the second novel by Taiyo Fujii, a Japanese Science Fiction writer, after his first novel "Gene Mapper," which I reviewed earlier this year on this blog HERE.  Reading foreign/translated Science Fiction is always an interesting experience (which I heartily recommend), as you often find different ideas and biases in work that doesn't come from a familiar viewpoint.  Orbital Cloud is no exception to this, although the book's biases are maybe a bit too blatant to my taste.

Fujii's first book, Gene Mapper, contained some really interesting hard scifi ideas but some rather weak character development.  It was also a significantly shorter book than Orbital Cloud, so I speculated the book could've been improved with another 50 pages for character development.  Orbital Cloud is such a bigger book.....but suffers still from weak character development.  And unlike Gene Mapper, which had a number of really interesting ideas, Orbital Cloud's ideas aren't quite as interesting or as diverse, which makes this not nearly as successful a book.

More after the Jump:

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

Winter Tide is a novel of a genre that seems to be expanding these days: the Lovecraft subversion genre.  I've never actually read any of Lovecraft's actual work and really don't have an interest in doing so - the racist ideas behind the guy and behind his writing are fairly well known, and nothing about the ideas of his I've heard about has drawn me in enough to really try to read his work despite that.  That said, Winter Tide marks the 5th story in the past year that I've read or started reading that attempts to put a spin on the Lovecraft mythos, in a way that Lovecraft would hate as it subverts the very hatred that inspired his work.

That said, Winter Tide is a pretty good work even for someone like me, who has basically no knowledge of the Lovecraft work it is subverting.  The story inverts the Lovecraft work in that our main protagonist is one of the monsters themselves, a premature Deep One who still has a human-like form, and well...the only evil actions in this book are taken by humans, not the monsters.  That may sound simple, but the overall product is a nicely complicated tale that features protagonists dealing with issues of racism and nationalism.  If you enjoy Lovecraftian works, I suspect you'll REALLY enjoy Winter Tide, but even if you aren't a clear fan, this book works pretty well.

More after the Jump:

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Audio Show/Podcast - Steal the Stars

Steal the Stars is a 14 part audio drama/podcast that's been being released every week for the past 4 months.   A novelization is also being released this month, but as I listened to the audio drama in its original form, this review is going to concern that format and not the novelization.  For the time being, the audio drama/podcast is still available as a free podcast download - I'm not sure when that will end.  As it tells a full SF story, I do think it's worth a review, so here we go.

Steal the Stars tells the story that is essentially a love story......except in a future US where a Corporation basically controls the Country and involving an Alien and his crashed spaceship.  The story is really well acted - while we're solely in the head of main protagonist Dakota "Dak Prentiss," - each of the various voice actors are extremely good in their roles. And until the very very end, the story's twists and turns kept me on the edge of my seat - it's only the last twist that kind of doesn't work.  In short, Steal the Stars is a pretty fun audio drama/podcast and well worth listening to.

More after the Jump

Monday, November 6, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Quantum Night by Robert J Sawyer

Quantum Night interesting book.  The book is definitely written in the form of a SciFi Thriller - like a novel by Michael Crichton for example - but while the book adheres in large part to that format - infodumps as to science developments and theories, a mystery involving the science that drives a good portion of the plot, etc. - the book turns out to want to be something else entirely: A book that has a couple of ideas and wants to explore the intersections of these ideas.   This is not a character driven novel in any way shape or form and well the book isn't trying to be.

It's also - and I'm not sure I can stress this enough - INCREDIBLY silly.  The book's ideas in the abstract aren't silly - mainly the book is concerned with what makes someone a psychopath and what makes someone have a conscience, as well as the ethics of utilitarianism as a guiding philosophy in the face of these ideas - but the execution of these ideas is often extremely laughable.  I did not buy at all the scientific ideas that form a foundation for this book but maybe others might buy those more credibly, but well - the book sets up a global political crisis that is INCREDIBLY laughable and with little justification other than "we need something to drive the characters to make choices in the end!"

In short, I'm not sure this book can be considered good...but it certainly can't be considered boring in any way.

More after the jump:

Friday, November 3, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan

One of the authors I try to keep track of on twitter recommended The Bloodprint a couple of months ago, and as such, I quickly reserved the book when I saw it show up as available from one of my online libraries.  The Bloodprint is the start of a four-book Epic Fantasy series that's influenced by Middle-Eastern/Arabic culture (as opposed to the Western-Europe focus of a lot of "classic" Epic Fantasy) and the modern day world in those areas (one of the several major evil forces in the book is clearly influenced by the Taliban).  And it certainly is a lot different from much of the standard fare in the genre that I've read.

Unfortunately, while The Bloodprint shows some great potential and some fantastic worldbuilding, it fails to fulfill on that promise, even to the limited extent required of a book that is only telling 25% of the whole series.  The characters frequently show limited agency and get repeatedly into very similar situations, and questions posed by the storyline are never satisfyingly answered or even confronted a large portion of the time.  This novel is seemingly another example of a first in a series that spends too much time in setup and not enough time actually getting things done, and it leaves the reader disappointed that he spent such time on this novel.

More detail after the Jump:

Thursday, November 2, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Arabella of Mars by David D Levine

Arabella of Mars is a young adult steampunk (well, clockpunk) fantasy novel that won last year's Norton Award (the Nebula's YA award) for best SFF young adult novel.  Set in an alternate early 1800s in which it has been discovered that the space between the planets is filled with air and in which the major colonial powers have thus discovered it is possible to Sail to Mars (and Venus), the story follows a tomboyish young woman, the titular Arabella, who was born on Mars and has an aptitude and understanding automata and has to take a dangerous journey disguised as a male airmen on a ship traveling from Earth to Mars in order to save her family.

In large part, the book feels very much like a book written in an earlier time, before some sensibilities had changed.  If you're expecting a subversion of some classic book tropes, you're looking in the wrong place - this is a pretty straight forward version of this tale.  Unfortunately, even as a new version of a tale filled with classical genre tropes, it's....just sort of fine.  Whereas some YA books are ones I'd recommend to readers of any ages (see my last review of In Other Lands), this one really won't interest readers above middle school age - and I'm not sure it'd be a must read of any type for even the target audience.

Final note before the jump: I listened to this as an audiobook, and the reader is pretty solid. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Novella Review: The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson

The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson

The Murders of Molly Southbourne has a pretty intriguing premise:  Since she was young, Molly Southbourne has been told she must desperately avoid bleeding.  If she bleeds, her parents inform her she must cleanse the blood with bleach and then burn it.  For if she doesn't, a clone of Molly, a "molly" (all lowercase) will be born from her blood and these mollys all tend to eventually try to kill Molly, or so it would seem.  If a molly is born, Molly has to kill her duplicate before it does something dangerous.

The story follows Molly from early childhood to young adulthood as she attempts to figure out who and what she is and what she can really be as a person with her "condition."  What kind of person can one be when one can't even bleed, and when one has killed hundreds of....herself before she's even 18? 

In essence, the story is kind of an example of psychological horror/weird SciFi that also typified to a lesser extent in Thompson's Rosewater (one of my favorite books from last year) or Jeff Vandermeer's work.  The story is certainly interesting and different, but I don't know, I never really found myself that interested in Molly as a character, and as this is HER story, it didn't overall work for me as there's really nothing else here.  The framing device used to start and end the story is pretty predictable and doesn't really add anything.  Again, it's not a bad story, and the premise is interesting....but it relies entirely on being interested in Molly as a character, and there just wasn't enough substance in her for me. 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

What does the fate of Griffin Reinhart teach us? An understanding that projection requires us to think in terms of Probability

Griffin Reinhart was waived today by the Vegas Golden Knights.  This signals probably the end of Griffin's NHL chances - maybe not for good (as Vegas should cool down real fast as their underlying numbers are bad and they're bound to regress at some point, leading them to possibly recall Griff in desperation), but it is at the very least near the end of the line for Griffin Reinhart.  Reinhart was of course drafted by the Isles with the number four pick.  He then was traded to the Oilers for the picks that eventually became Matt Barzal and Mitchell Stephens.  Reinhart then bounced between the Oilers and their farm club for a while before becoming a member of Vegas in the expansion draft this year.

I want to use Reinhart's seeming end as an opportunity to look back quickly at a debate regarding him and how we should talk about prospects in general:

Saturday, October 28, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

  In Other Lands is one of the best books I've read this year.  It's a Young Adult/Portal Fantasy/Coming of Age/Romance novel and it is totally and utterly amazing.  If you read my reviews, you know I place a strong emphasis on books having good, strong or interesting characters.  This goes double for books where romance or even just relationships are major plot elements - if a book can't make you care about what happens to the characters, you're certainly not going to care about a romance plot.  But when you do have strong characters who a reader can actually grow to care about, romance and relationship plots can be incredibly powerful.

  In Other Lands has three amazing main characters, who I found it impossible not to fall in love with.  It's a book with humans/elves/mermaids/trolls etc., but the central part of this book is the relationships and romances of these characters.  And with romance being a central part of this book, it became the type of book that made me incredibly conflicted in a good way - on one hand, I found it hard to keep reading because I didn't want to see anything bad happen to our characters' hearts, but on the other hand I couldn't stop reading because I wanted to find out what would happen next to them and I hoped so much for the best of them.

More after the jump and I promise I'll try to be more coherent about exactly why this book grabbed me so well.

Friday, October 27, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Pride's Spell (Sin Du Jour #3) by Matt Wallace

Pride's Spell is the third short novel/novella (I'm treating these like Novels, but they're on the borderline) in Matt Wallace's Sin Du Jour series.  Sin Du Jour is a series following a catering company - the titular Sin Du Jour - that caters on behalf of a secret governmental agency for supernatural beings that live amongst us.  In Book 1 (Envy of Angels), they were tasked with serving an Angel for a banquet of demons; In Book 2 (Lustlocked), they were tasked with serving a wedding between a Goblin Prince and his human bride.  In Pride's Spell, their job is to serve something more horrifying:  a Hollywood Movie Release Party.

But well, it wouldn't be this series if things go according to plan, and as usual this is a book of crazy hijinks and utter absurdities, resulting in some pretty fun moments.  That said, the ending of this book really fell flat - the middle part of this book is an absolute delight, but the ending and resolution of the main plot didn't really work either plotwise or fun-wise.

One note before the jump: You cannot start the series with this book.  A commenter on my review of Lustlocked (Book 2) suggested that jumping in with book 2 didn't work for him, but that is definitely true of this book, which references heavily the events of the prior events int he series, and will fall even further flat if you don't have that backstory.  Start the series with Envy of Angels, don't jump in here.

More detailed review after the jump:

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Victory of Eagles (Temeraire #5) by Naomi Novik

As I've stated before, I have a hard time explaining my likes and dislikes of the Temeraire series.  No other series I've been this committed to has had me spend large segments of multiple books glossing over parts to get through it, yet had me invested in the plots and characters overall enough that I always felt I wanted to read the next book.  It's a strange combination - I loved the first book and have been ambivalent enough about books 2-4 to wonder if I should stop reading forward, but still I've felt myself saying "Just one more book" to see if I should give the series another chance.

Victory of Eagles seems to justify my faith in the series - it's EASILY the best book in the series since the first book (and maybe the best book in the series).  A large part of that is that it spends a lot of time dealing with dragon-dragon communications, with us dealing with a larger variety of dragon characters since the very first book - Novik's writing of the personalities and behaviors of dragons in this series is IMO the best part of the series, and this book easily has the most such interactions since His Majesty's Dragon.  Still, the actual plot of this book is more tight than in the last three books, dealing with a single major threat (the invasion of England) and the shifts in character/plotlines work extremely well.

More after the jump:

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Noumenon by Marina J. Lostetter

Noumenon is a story built around a classic SciFi trope - that of a Generation Ship.  For those unfamiliar with the trope, a Generation Ship is a spaceship that solves the problem of the incredibly far distances between objects in space by being entirely self sustaining, such that a colony of individuals crewing said ship could survive indefinitely, with the original crew's distant descendants being the ones to finally reach their destination.  Noumenon follows a fleet of such ships - although in this case, the book is staffed by clones, not by naturally-born descendants - over a large number of generations as they journey to a mysterious star and back.

Fair warning for those reading this review- I have not had a great experiences reading Generation Ship and similar concepts in books, and Noumenon also didn't quite work for me, for reasons I'll point out after the Jump.  Unlike some of those other books (Aurora, Seveneves (sort-of)), I didn't think Noumenon was bad - it definitely had some moments, and the first half was certainly interesting.  But the whole concept of following generations on a ship results in the ideas in the plot becoming even more important than usual, as plot weaknesses can't be covered up by great characters - and there are points where the plot just didn't work for me on this one.

Noumenon is trying in large part to examine how a society would handle the conditions on this voyage, and the psychologies of the people and their descendants under such stress.  But as I've said, and I'll explain further below, it becomes a bit hit or miss, especially near the end.

More after the Jump:

Saturday, October 21, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Novella Reviews: The Tensorate Novellas: The Black Tides of Heaven and The Red Threads of Fortune by JY Yang

The Tensorate Series is a new series of Novellas by JY Yang featuring a silkpunk (think Asian inspired steampunk) fantasy world.  The first two novellas, "The Black Tides of Heaven" and "The Red Threads of Fortune," feature a pair of twins, who were given away by their Tyrant mother to the monastic order, only to take them back when one of the twins shows the gift of prophecy.  The two novellas are each meant to serve as stand-alones, with each Novella following a different twin:  The Black Tides follows Akeha as she struggles to find his place as the seemingly spare twin and The Red Threads follows Mokoya, the prophet, as she struggles to find a reason for living. 

Again, these are meant to be stand alone novellas, but the two kind of complement each other and The Red Threads takes place after The Black Tides; as such, while Red Threads isn't dependent upon you reading Black Tides, it will spoil some plot points of the other novella if you read it first and I do think Red Threads works better after having read Black Tides first.  In Sum however, both novellas are well worth reading - individual thoughts on each after the jump - though I do think Red Threads is the significantly better of the two.

Individual Novella reviews after the Jump:

Friday, October 20, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Discount Armageddon (InCryptid) by Seanan McGuire

Discount Armageddon is the first novel in Seanan McGuire's second Urban Fantasy series, InCryptid.  I have a mixed track record with McGuire's work - I greatly enjoy (if not love) her October Daye Urban Fantasy series, but have not been a fan of her two Wayward Children novellas.  That said, I've actually read some of the InCryptid series before - earlier this month I read through most of the prequel short stories that are on McGuire's website, and I enjoyed them a lot.  So I had good expectations going in.

For the most part, those expectations were met.  The InCryptid universe is similar to the October Daye universe in that it very much has an "all myths are true" attitude, except in this case it's with mythological creatures, not faeries and magic.  It also features some fun unique characters and a decent first person narrator.  That said, the book isn't quite as solid as the typical October Daye novel, but well, it's the first in the series, so that's kind of unsurprising.

More after the jump:

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

Autonomous is the debut novel from io9 co-founder Annalee Newitz, coming just a year after fellow co-founder Charlie Jane Anders published her SFF debut novel, which won the Nebula Award last year.  So there were big expectations for this book from the start, which is truly unfair because this is a very different book than Anders' All the Birds in the Sky.  Unlike that book, which was a light and charming story of two friends, Autonomous is a serious thriller dealing with issues of patent abuse/piracy and well, the autonomy of both human beings and robots.

It should be noted, as I'll go into further detail below, that despite using a corrupt future involving the evils of Big Pharma and Patents as a basis for the plot, the book really isn't that interested in dealing seriously with questions about big pharma and patents and where things should go - the book has an obvious answer to this question from the start, and it shows no interest in grappling further.  What this book IS really interested in however, is questions about Autonomy, and what it means for individuals (whether biological or not) to have it.  Hence the title, really.

More after the Jump:

Saturday, October 14, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Novel Review: Brothers in Arms (Vorkosigan Saga) by Lois McMaster Bujold

Brothers in Arms is the 7th (chronologically, not counting the distant prequel Falling Free) book in Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, and the fourth book to feature Miles Vorkosigan as its central character.  It should be noted this is one of the early published Vorkosigan Novels (#5) and is thus from a period before my two favorite in the series so far (Barrayar & The Vor Game).  That said, while it doesn't live up to those two novels, the book is yet again another fun story with Bujold's great internal and external dialogue, so it's definitely a worthwhile read.

A note: while this is not a direct sequel to one of the prior books in the series (although it is kind of a sequel to the novella "Borders of Infinity"), this is not a book you will probably enjoy as a starting point in the series - you will want to have read The Warrior's Apprentice and The Vor Game prior to this book to get full enjoyment (I'd also recommend reading Ethan of Athos beforehand, as that really reintroduces Elli Quinn.)

And as with the rest of this series (with the exception of Gentleman Jole), I read this book as an audiobook from the library.  The audiobook reader for the whole series remains excellent

More after the Jump:

Friday, October 13, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Novella Review: The Strange Bird by Jeff Vandermeer

The Strange Bird by Jeff Vandermeer

The Strange Bird is a novella from Jeff Vandermeer, set in the same universe as his most recent Weird (as in the genre) Science Fiction Novel, Borne.  The story takes place largely at the same time as Borne, beginning probably prior to Borne and ending a little afterwards, so in theory you could read this without having read Borne, but I would not advise it - you'll probably be a bit lost (and Borne is pretty good, so go read that). 

The Strange Bird follows the eponymous Bird, really a created being (made of bird, other animal, and human parts) of a laboratory similar to that of the Company's seen in Borne.   The Bird doesn't know its purpose but is haunted both by strange dreams of a woman from the lab and an internal compass pressing her to go to a certain place for some strange unknown reason.  Unfortunately, the Bird will run into complications on her journey - namely, humans, who do not have her best intentions at heart. 

The story naturally winds up with the Bird spending a good amount of time in the territory we saw in Borne, with four of that book's main characters showing up (everyone except for Borne himself).  As usual, Vandermeer writes excellent descriptions and excels at describing the weird being that the Bird truly is.  However, the Bird is a very inactive protagonist - most of the events in the middle of the book are of things happening to HER, not of her doing things in and of herself, and there's a decent segment where she's literally just being there during the plot of Borne.  Vandermeer's writing is excellent enough to avoid this dragging, but it does mean that if you have no investment in this world (not having read Borne, mainly), you might not really enjoy this one. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is a Young Adult Urban Fantasy book, where the "Fantasy" elements come from classic Chinese folk stories (Journey to the West being the source for most, if not all of it, but I'm not knowledgeable enough about the background material to know if bits and parts are pulled from elsewhere).  It also features an Asian-American high school girl as its protagonist, trying to live high school life in a competitive largely Asian High School.

Oh and it's also very very fun.  I don't dip into books that are blatantly young adult very often (you'll notice a lot of the time I describe books as "young adult" on this blog or on twitter, I often am not sure about whether the tag should apply), but this one is excellent.  Sometimes you just want books that are just about a heroine trying to balance high school life with duties of having discovered special powers, and not anything totally serious or dark.  If so, this is definitely a good place to look..

More after the Jump:

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Provenance by Ann Leckie

Provenance is the newest book by Ann Leckie, author of the Imperial Radch (Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, and Ancillary Mercy) trilogy, which won the Hugo for best novel and was nominated two other times.  The book is stand alone, featuring none of the characters from that trilogy, but takes place in the same universe.

In this universe, the story takes place in a world where humanity has spread to varying worlds with various cultures.  Humanity has encountered various alien cultures, the most scary of which are the Presger, whose technology is leaps and bounds beyond humanity's.  However, the Presger have created a treaty between humanity and the various alien races, whereby each race agrees not to harm the other.  Violations of the treaty are scary to contemplate, because no one can stand up to Presger technology.

Despite sharing the space opera setup with the Radch trilogy, Provenance is a more intimate book, almost fitting more in the heist genre than space opera (except there' heist).  That said, Provenance also differs from the trilogy in that it lacks anywhere near as strong a central character, and as a result I found it rather hard to care about large parts of the plot.

More after the jump:

Sunday, October 8, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Clockwork Dynasty by Daniel H Wilson

Daniel H Wilson's The Clockwork Dynasty is a very entertaining novel.  It is not a SF/F work with a major focus on a message or issue (although, like EVERY book in existence, you can find a message in the book if you want), but is instead a pretty entertaining book focused upon a single idea:  What if our ancestors way way back built robots before forgetting how, and those robots have existed alongside humanity for millennia and are only now dying out from losing power?

Note: I read this as an audiobook, and the two audiobook readers are excellent.  So if you like to listen to the audiobook format, this is a solid choice.

More after the Jump

Thursday, October 5, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard

An Unkindness of Magicians is Kat Howard's second novel, after last year's Roses and Rot.  I loved Roses and Rot (an Urban Fantasy Fae tale involving two sisters striving to reconnect with each other at a school for art) and was really excited for this novel as a result when it was announced.  That said, aside from both books falling within the large category of Urban Fantasy, the two books are very different.  That said, this book is still excellent, with a great world of magic and excellent characters who inhabit that world.

This is a book of magicians (think Wizards, despite them not using the name) engaging in magical (and political, yes) contests for the fate of the magical world.  It's also the story that involves lawyers working to keep the magical world in order, voluntary and involuntary sacrifices of human life and pain, a woman seeking to solve a magical murder, and a man of color trying to make a name for himself in the magical world while keeping his own good conscience.  And yet all of these very different things and people come together nicely to form a pretty excellent and recommended book.

Monday, October 2, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Novella Review: Binti: Home (Binti #2) by Nnedi Okorafor

Nnedi Okorafor's Binti was one of the standout pieces of short fiction two years ago and a pretty well deserving Nebula/Hugo Winner for Best Novella (even if its best Hugo win was influenced by backlash to the actions of the Rabid Puppies).  If you have a chance, and you haven't already, I still strongly recommend you read it - even the stuff I've liked least from Okorafor is certainly thought provoking, or at least different (I suppose this might be less true if you read a lot of African inspired SF/F, but I suspect that's not true of most of the readers of this blog).  But Binti was not only different, it was a terrific story.

Gonna admit I didn't reread Binti before starting Binti: Home, its sequel, and the second story in an anticipated trilogy (the finale comes out next year), so it took me a bit to re-remember what happened in the original.  That said, it didn't take too long to get caught up.  Binti:Home is nearly twice as long as the original story, and comes closer to being a short novel.  It also doesn't quite work as well as the original alas - the story is still solid, but a bit less memorable, and definitely feels like the 2nd story in a trilogy.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Lustlocked (Sin Du Jour #2) by Matt Wallace

Lustlocked is the second book in the Sin Du Jour Novella/Short Novel series by Matt Wallace.  For those new to the series, Sin Du Jour follows a catering company employed by the government to cook food/cater events for the Supernatural.  The first book (Reviewed Here) featured new chefs Darren and Lena being hired by the company as temps just in time to see the crew be requested to cook an Angel for a party of Demons.  It was a pretty fun romp with a lot of humor and some fun if silly characters.

Lustlocked unsurprisingly follows in its predecessor's footsteps, featuring another adventure of the Sin Du Jour crew - this time tasked with catering the wedding of a Goblin Prince and his human fiance - partially through the eyes of newcomers Darren and Lena (although we spend less time seeing through their eyes this time, as we don't need their introductions).  Again, it's a pretty enjoyable fun romp, if short, and well worth your time if you want a lighthearted series that doesn't require too much investment.  You can in theory start the series with this book as it's a stand alone, but really, there's little point to starting here instead of with the first book as both books are equally solid and the first book will provide background for this one.

More after the jump:

Thursday, September 28, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Empire of Ivory (Temeraire #4) by Naomi Novik

Naomi Novik's Temeraire series is probably the series I am the most confused about as compared to any other book series I've read in a long time.  It's a series where for multiple books I've found myself sort of skimming through parts - parts that aren't meant to be busywork but major parts of the book - in sort of a lack of interest.  On the other hand, it's a series where I've ended every book really wanting to know more and I find myself immediately reserving the next book from the library.

Empire of Ivory is no different.  This is the fourth Temeraire book, and in theory you could start with this book, but I really wouldn't recommend it, as it follows up pretty straight on from the end of Black Powder War (just like Black Powder War followed straight on from Throne of Jade).  If you liked Books 1-3 of this series, you'll enjoy this one as well.  If not, well, obviously you won't find much difference here.  I will say this one does for the first time since Book 1 really involve inter-dragon relations, which is a nice change.

More after the Jump:

Sunday, September 24, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Caledonian Gambit by Dan Moren

The Caledonian Gambit is a SciFi spy thriller - a combination of genres that I've really enjoyed in my life.  This is Dan Moren's debut novel and shows.  It seems from reading this like this is possibly the start of an intended new series (although I don't see a sequel novel scheduled on Amazon) but well, the book failed to really get me to care enough to carry on with any sequel.  There's nothing offensive or ACTIVELY irritating about this book, but there's just not a lot to like here - in better hands/editing, it's possible this story could have worked a lot better for sure.  But alas, that's not the book we have here, so this is not really a book I can much recommend.

Quick disclaimer before the jump: I "read" this book as an audiobook and the audiobook reader is in my opinion terrible - he sounds bored while reading non-dialogue, and then decides to portray accents in the dialogue in the most obnoxious ways possible - the accent of multiple characters is done as if its an extreme Irish accent and its really painful to listen to.  It's possible the book reads better on paper - if you're interested in the book, I would recommend not reading it via audiobook.

Friday, September 22, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Call of Fire (Blood of Earth #2) by Beth Cato

Call of Fire is the sequel to Breath of Earth and thus second in Cato's Blood of Earth series (which is listed on the author's website as a trilogy, but I wouldn't be surprised if it goes longer for reasons discussed below).  It's not a stand alone book in any shape or form, as it continues the story directly from Breath of Earth and ends on several major cliffhangers.  If you enjoyed Blood of Earth a lot, you'll like this book, as it's a lot of the same.  If, like me, you enjoyed Blood of Earth a bit but found it short of breaking into being truly great, you might be a little underwhelmed by Call of Fire.

Call of Fire continues the story of Ingrid Carmichael as she attempts to discover more about who and what she is and how she and her friends can save the World before a seemingly power-mad Japanese Kitsune finishes her genocide against the Chinese and destroys America for her own nebulous purposes.  Again, this is an alternate history in which the magic and magical creatures exist, where (steampunk-esque) technology is largely driven by earth-magic contained in magical stones, and where a Japanese-American alliance ended the Civil War and resulted in a major influence of Japan on American life.

More after the Jump (Spoilers for Breath of Earth in the Plot Summary)

Saturday, September 16, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Breath of Earth by Beth Cato

Breath of Earth is the start of a new series (Trilogy?) by Beth Cato.  Set in an alternate history in 1906 San Francisco, this is a world in which The US has joined forces with Japan in an attempt to dominate the world with magical power.  In addition to the magical fantastic beasts which exist in this world, a well known magical power is Geomancy, which enables particular men to feel and contain power from earthquakes.  This power can then be absorbed into a special magical stone, which can contain the power for use in technology such as airships.

That said, the combination of Japan and early 20th century America results in horrible things happening to other cultures, particularly those of Chinese origin.  And Women aren't exactly expected to be able to wield such power either.  The result of this background is a story where people who in the real world wielded power in dangerous ways toward minority groups have even more power, and our protagonists discover this the hard way.

That said, while this is not a book where the main characters are having fun, it's definitely the start of what is shaping up to be an interesting tale of discovery and adventure by an excellent cast of characters who realize they need to take action to try stop such evils...or at least to prevent greater harm.  This story is definitely not stand-alone - it ends on a cliffhanger - but it's a very solid beginning.

More after the Jump:

Thursday, September 14, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Novella Review: Mira's Last Dance (Penric & Desdemona #4) by Lois McMaster Bujold

Mira's Last Dance (4th Published story in the Penric & Desdemona series) by Lois McMaster Bujold

Mira's Last Dance is the fourth (in publication, fifth chronologically as Bujold published a midquel last month) in the Penric and Desdemona series of Novellas.  It's also a direct sequel to "Penric's Mission," concluding the story of Penric's journey with Arisaydia and Nikys.  It's also the shortest Penric story, which is especially notable after Penric's Mission which is by far the longest.

The story in sum:  As Penric attempts to lead Nikys and her brother to Orbas, the trio take refuge in a brothel, where Penric gets the idea to pose as a courtesan - with the help of his demon's past life as the Courtesan Mira of Adria - in order to aid their journey to safety.  But the demon remnant of Mira has her own ideas of how this strategy can work, and it could risk them everything....and perhaps ruin his relationship with Nikys, with whom he has become more and more smitten.

As usual, Bujold's story has some excellent and witty dialogue, particularly between Penric and Desdemona and her multiple personalities.  The story is surprisingly unpredictable, with an ending that rings true.  That said, the shortness of this story is definitely notable especially compared with its predecessor and Bujold time-skips over the most notable event in the story.  I'm not sure if I'd want to read what exactly happens during that time jump (not spoiling, sorry), but it's a weird situation to set up a major cliffhanger and then just jump to "Yeah it worked out perfectly okay!"  Still, I've enjoyed this as I've enjoyed this whole series so far - Bujold stories remain light and fun, even if occasionally heartbreaking, and I look forward to reading the next Penric story once my library has it in audiobook.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Novella Review: River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

Novella Review:  River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey: 

River of Teeth is a novella by Sarah Gailey with what seems like a fun premise - it's an alternate history where the US has actually followed through on a plan to import Hippos for transport in the marshlands of the Mississippi River. In this world, Hippos in the area are used like horses, and wild "feral" hippos in the water can be immensely dangerous.

The story follows former hippo rancher and current hippo wrangler Winslow Houndstooth as he gathers a gang of fellow Hippo-riders, including a non-binary planner named Hero, the Con Woman Archie, assassin Amelia, and sharpshooter Cal, in order to enact a crazy plan to drive the rabid feral hippos out of the Mississippi and out of the US.  Oh and he's also seeking revenge on the ones who destroyed his revenge.  And in the meantime, Houndstooth may also be falling in love with Hero, which could complicate things.

As you could guess from the names I just listed above, this novella is the very opposite of subtle.  Maybe a Hippo Western would be hard to write as subtle, but the characters in this Novella are so exaggerated it gets really really silly.  The story is fun, but it's hard to not break into laughing at points even where you're really not supposed to.  Worth a read, though not a must read.

Monday, September 11, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Ruin of Angels (Craft Sequence) by Max Gladstone

The Ruin of Angels is the sixth published (and sixth chronolically) book in Max Gladstone's Craft Sequence series, which is probably my favorite ongoing series at this point of time.  The Craft Sequence series tells stories in a world where magic (or "Craft") follows rules of Law and Economics and where Gods are essentially corporations and uses this setting to tell stories with themes centered around real world issues (The First Five books deal essentially with fantasy versions of Gentrification, Water Rights, Bankruptcy and Fiduciary Duties, and Offshore Banking).

The first four published books (Chronologically books 3, 2, 1, and 5) were easily stand alone novels that could be read in any order.  The fifth published book, Four Roads Cross (4th Chronologically) could sort of be read stand-alone, but was very clearly a sequel to the First Published Book, Three Parts Dead (3rd Chronologically).

This book, The Ruin of Angels, is similar to Four Roads Cross, in that it's a stand alone story, but at the same time is very much a sequel to the book that proceeds it chronologically, Full Fathom Five (published 3rd).  You could start the series with this book using a quick summary like the one on the Tor website here - but Full Fathom Five might be the best in the series so I'd strongly recommend you start there first (and then you can go right to this book without reading the others if you want).

More after the Jump:

Saturday, September 9, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Brightest Fell (October Daye Book # 11) by Seanan McGuire

The Brightest Fell is the eleventh book in the October Daye series, an urban fantasy series set in San Francisco (and the Fae equivalents).  For those unfamiliar with the series, this is a Fae Fantasy series, following the actions of October "Toby" Daye, private investigator, knight, hero of the realm, and oh yeah, half-human changeling, as she attempts to solve mysteries, missing-persons cases, and other situations that come up that threaten the Fae world.

Like every book in the series, the book starts with Toby narrating events in a way to sneak in a summary of what's happened so far (and this book also comes with a quick intro to the series before the story begins).  So in theory you COULD start with this book....but I would NOT recommend it, as this book's main plot deals with one of the bigger mysteries in the series, and will lose a lot of its impact if you haven't read the prior books.

In addition, this book is almost certainly the darkest book in the series (MAYBE Book 5 comes close, but I don't think it does), and several of the major characters are sidelined by the plot.  So it's not as fun as much of the series.  If you've enjoyed the series previously, you'll really enjoy this book.  But it might be tricky if you start here.

One more thing before the Jump: This book also contains a bonus Novella "Of Things Unknown" which takes place from the perspective of April O'Leary and deals with the events of Book 2.  Since it's included in every version of this book, I'll be including the novella as part of my review.

More after the Jump:

Thursday, September 7, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Black Powder War (Temeraire #3) by Naomi Novik

Black Powder War is the third in Naomi Novik's Temeraire series.  This is a book that continues pretty much right where book two - Throne of Jade - left off, starting with Temeraire in China and following his journey back home into two theatres - Turkey and Prussia - where Laurence and Temeraire and the crew attempt to further the British Cause.  Again, the story largely expands the world, and really introduces the disgraced dragon Lien as a new major antagonist for the series. Again, like Throne of Jade, it's an enjoyable story, and some of the new characters are nice additions, but it's really nothing special.

More after the Jump.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Space Between the Stars by Anne Corlett

The Space Between the Stars is a pretty good example of a book where the individual pieces are much much worse than the whole.  I'm very happy I'm not a professional reviewer, as explaining how I feel about this book is really difficult.  I listened to this book as an audiobook and the book frequently features some stilted writing, one main character who gets practically no development and one who is just plain annoying by design.  And yet this book, which features a postapocalypse universe (ala Station Eleven, as a total package DOES seem to work and I did like it in the end, even as I know I was often exasperated when I was in the middle.

More after the jump:

Sunday, September 3, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Blackthorne by Stina Leicht (The Malorum Gates #2)

Blackthorne is the sequel to Cold Iron, a "Flintlock" epic fantasy book written in 2015 that I liked a bit (My review on twitter can be found here).  By "Flintlock" Fantasy (the author's description, not moine), the author simply means that while this is clearly an epic fantasy story, and some characters do carry swords, combat is more often done with flintlock rifles and muskets - we're dealing with a 17th-18th century-esque fantasy world, not middle ages.

In Cold Iron, our main characters were Kainen, magical beings (think: Elves) facing, among other things, the threat of an invading empire of non-magical human beings.  All of our main characters had some magical abilities - Suvi had the magical ability to command others into doing what she wants, Ilta is a magical healer with scrying/future-seeing abilities, and Nels, while he mysteriously doesn't seem to have command magic, at the very least has the ability to see the lives of those who he kills with his sword (not exactly the most useful or desirable ability).

Blackthorne on the other hand introduces several new main point of view characters who are in fact Human, and lack magical abilities, and deals with several of the humans of the invading Empire. We learn more about that human empire and the demons - the Malorum of the series title - that are infesting it.  It's an expansion of the world of Cold Iron and for the most part it works - the new characters and world are interesting (even if none of it is original).  Unfortunately, the book too often feels like it's telling two different stories that aren't really connected to one another and the book doesn't succeed in wrapping everything up into a satisfying ending.

More after the jump, with minor plot spoilers for Cold Iron:

Thursday, August 31, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Amatka by Karin Tidbeck

Amatka is a book originally published in Sweden in 2012, finally making it over to America in 2017 (Translated by the author herself).  It's a short novel and definitely falls in the sub-genre of "Weird" science fiction typified to some extent by Jeff VanderMeer (who's a known fan of Tidbeck). But more importantly, this Dystopian tale is incredibly strong and thought-provoking and original (at least to me), and is easily amongst the best things I've read all year - Maybe the best thing I've read all year.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

At a certain point in The Sudden Appearance of Hope, I was fully riveting in the story and could not help keep reading (despite it being past 1 in the morning).  The story had a strong central character, a strong set of ideas, and was far from predictable.  And....well, like many books, it didn't really pull through all of its threads into a satisfactory ending.  In a way, the book tries to pull off a bit more than it can chew, and loses itself in the process.

More after the Jump:

Sunday, August 27, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Novella Review: Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw

(Novella can be found here:

Hammers on Bone is the first in a novella series in which Cthulhu-esque monsters are livingamong and in humans, with at least this first book told in a stereotypical noir style.  Seriously - it is REALLY channeling noir conventions - our hero, John Persons, is a private investigator, hired by a child to kill his stepdad.  There's just two twists: one, the Stepdad is a literal monster wearing human skin, and two: well, so is Persons to a lesser extent.  And like any classical noir story, there's also a "Dame" whose good nature may be less than it seems on first glance.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: Envy of Angels (Sin Du Jour #1) by Matt Wallace

Sin Du Jour is a series of novellas/short-novels (the 220 page count of each book is kind of at the borderline) by Matt Wallace, centering on a catering company (the aforementioned Sin Du Jour) which caters to the supernatural (Demons and other things) at least partly on behalf of the government. This is the first book in the series.

As you might imagine from such a premise, this is a lighthearted series filled fun moments and wacky hijinks - this book alone contains a knife fight between chefs to second blood, an infiltration of a McDonalds-like company to steal a recipe, a server trying to weave his way between two rival demon families to pick up a dish, and more.

Long Review continues after the jump:

Thursday, August 24, 2017

SciFi/Fantasy Book Review: The House of Binding Thorns (Dominion of the Fallen #2) by Aliette de Bodard

The House of Binding Thorns is ostensibly a sequel to Aliette de Bodard's House of Shattered Wings.  It follows up on threads from that book and obviously takes place in the same universe, but it CAN be read Stand-Alone.  You'll benefit from reading the first book - the background of the setting is arguably established better in that book and one of the main characters' plotlines follows directly from that book, but the main plot of this book is wholly distinct from HoSW.

I read the House of Shattered Wings last year and I had mixed feelings about that book.  I LOVED the Worldbuilding - Fallen Angels!  A Vietnamese Immortal cast out from the Court of the Jade Emperor!  Dragon Spirits!  Alchemists and Magicians!  Oh and LGBTQ characters treated as the norm.  The World was one of the most unique I've read about in the past few years. But the storyline kind of petered out at the end, with the several character threads not all coming together to form a combined resolution but instead for one of these threads to provide the conclusion and the rest to all just peter out.

That's not the case with The House of Binding Thorns - here the four main story threads all wind in and out of the main plotline, with each remaining interesting throughout and none seeming wasted in the finale.  Despite the story focusing in large part on what was presented in book 1 as the "Evil" House Hawthorn, the story is not ultradark and bad characters show new dimensions that make sense and make them more interesting.  This book really makes great use of that great worldbuilding, which makes it a very strong read.

Long Review continues after the Jump (Minor Spoilers for House of Shattered Wings):