My current knitting project is complicated and requires a lot of
referring to the pattern, so reading at the same time is
contraindicated. :) So lots of audiobooks! Unfortunately, it's
harder to highlight passages to quote or come back to, to talk about
them in reviews. Also, I think I stopped reading a couple of books early enough that I didn't feel right giving them reviews, so this set may skew a little high. Or maybe not. I'm not sure I give many under-three-stars, so look at me grade inflating just like everyone else.
- Nightwise* (by R. S. Belcher)
- I listened to this as an audiobook, and dear God, was Bronson
Pinchot showing off with the accents. Latham is a solidly antiheroic
antihero, and I spent much of the book about thirty seconds short of
deciding he was just too unlikeable (and also that, after a first
sensible pass at "you are too likely to throw us under the bus to
survive, get the hell out of my house", his friends are way too
supportive of him). Honestly, he doesn't ever get very likeable, but
he gets in one small redemption for a plot point that was making me
seriously annoyed, and one large redemption that oddly had less of
an effect on me than the small one. The world is complicated and the
weird shit is creepy (and "Bronson Pinchot showing off" also kicked
in for some long Latin and Japanese incantations, not that I would
really be able to tell if it was accurately pronounced).
The ending is very odd, now that I look back at it.
The plot is basically: Latham is asked by his dying best friend to go and kill the guy who raped and murdered his wife many years ago. He spends the book tracking the guy down and eventually succeeds in doing so, and also, at the very end, cures his friend from dying and brings his wife back from the dead so they can have a happy ending, with the last of the leftover power he paid a terrible price to get to accomplish the vengeance. So... that's good of him, and the happy ending is actually probably better than the vengeance as a long-term goal, but do you think maybe the friend would have liked that more in the first place than the vengeance, if he knew it was on the table? Or maybe before he was dying? And most of the cost was for the vengeance, so it could have been handled with less of a terrible price... Three stars.
- Rip-Off (by various)
- The conceit here is that different SF authors take famous first
lines and write a short story based on that. As is usually the case
with short story collections, it's a mixed bag. Robert Charles
Wilson's Fireborn is nice; Mike Resnick's The Evening
Line is dreadful (the genre is one in which there are Guys
(bartenders, mages, bookies, drunks) and Dames (shrieking harridans or
shrieking floozies)). It's tongue-in-cheek, but more in the
spirit of 'look at me writing in an old-fashioned style, hah!' and less
poking fun at it. I had already read Muse of Fire, but it's a
good disturbing story. "Call me Ishmael" is in fact the perfect first
line for a hard-boiled noir detective. I seem to have lost steam for
name-checking the rest of them.
- Throne of the Crescent Moon* (by Saladin Ahmed)
- A swords-and-sorcery-and-zombies tale, sourced in Islamic culture
instead of European; another nice difference from the default is that
a lot of the characters are old and ready to retire; it's one last
save-the-world for them. I... sympathize more with the old characters
than the young ones than I used to. There is good and evil and
shades of grey in between; the shades of grey are swashbuckly and
stylized, as if encountering an actual fat man standing on a railroad
track in the plot. That's not a complaint - it fit with the tone of
the story, but it was different enough that I noticed it. (I listened to this one on
audiobook, and it went along at quite a clip - the actor did a nicely
frightening job with some of the villainous voices and the voice for
the man-jackal was seriously jackally annoying. :) ) Four stars.
- The Suicide Motor Club (by Christopher Buehlman)
- Vampires (non-sparkly) in sports cars! And a nun! And a secret conspiracy
dedicated to fighting the vampires,
that does not know what they are doing nearly as well as they assert that
they do - that last was a bit of a surprise. A fast action horror
story more in the thriller/bloody camp than the creepy scary camp. I
enjoyed it quite a lot as a summer popcorn book. Three and a half
- Too Like the Lightning (by Ada Palmer)
- This book is written by a history professor, in deliberate homage
to writings of the Enlightenment both in style and in topic. (Here
is the author talking about the book on John Scalzi's blog...). It's
very thinky. Very very thinky. Also full of action and politics and
religion and anti-religion and flying cars and inexplicable miracles
and horrific Hannibal-Lecter-esque bits and erotica written by someone
who knows that the Marquis de Sade was writing political philosophy
and cyber and nations grouped by philosophy rather than geography and
some bits that felt like pretentious conceits, and
and and. This is an "and and and" book, with about two to three times
the idea density of most things I read.
About halfway through I had to send a description of it to dpolicar - one of the bits I quoted is after a scene in which (simplifying) the speaker has outed someone else as a Catholic (personal religion is for legal reasons completely private because of the dangers of religion as an organized force), after they are guilty of well-intentioned betrayal, but the outer knows that the outee will be happier if they confess their guilt as well as just being found guilty. Another character objects - you can't do that!
"But I misunderstand. By 'can't' you did not question the possibility of my words, you meant that I should not say such things, under local human law. You are correct. I erred. I thought only to diminish present pain. But I concede and recognize that the laws and master of this house are not wrong to rank duty over pity." His eyes drifted to Ockham. "I apologize, Member Saneer, for this mismatch in the radii of our consequentialism."(No, they don't all talk like that. Just that character.) I don't understand yet how it all fits together - and it ends on something of a cliffhanger - but I can't wait to see the next book. Four and three quarters stars.
- The Edge of Worlds (by Martha Wells)
- The next Raksura book. Hey! This one ends on a cliffhanger too!
:-< I still adore them, though.
- This inspired me to read Death of the Necromancer (also by Martha Wells),
- one of the few books I reread because I really really like them,
as opposed to because book N of the series has come out and I have
forgotten what happened in Book 3.
- Fellside* (by M. R. Carey)
- Did I forget to review The Girl With All the Gifts? I
listened to it on audiobook, and as soon as Fellside came out,
I got it as well. They aren't related, except inasmuch as they are
slow and thoughtful and very unusual examples of their genre,
powerfully character-based and somewhat unpredictable in plot. It
is considered a spoiler to say what genre The Girl With All The
Gifts is, so I won't. Fellside is a little more of a
mishmosh - it's a little bit ghost story and a little bit Perry Mason
and a whole lot of prison drama. I guessed a few of the plot twists,
but was completely surprised by others; it took until about halfway
through to really hook me (a combination of slowness and not very
sympathetic characters), but by the end I didn't want to put it
down. (Also, I really liked the narrator). Five stars for
GWATG, four and a half for Fellside
- Menagerie* (by Rachel Vincent)
- Another audiobook. This was interesting but flawed - set in
an America after "the Reaping", when non-humans (werewolves, mermaids,
minotaurs, etc) all get cracked down
on as a reaction to the horrific tragedy (nicely done horror, but
inexplicable as an actual intentional policy carried out by (some)
non-humans...). The book
focuses on the non-humans in the cages of a traveling
menagerie/exhibition. I... can't entirely disbelieve a violent
disenfranchisement and enslavement, though I was less sure about
whether going to the circus to view them afterwards would be
considered fun. I did successfully predict the type of the two
mystery paranormals, though I am really unclear on both the extra
tweak and the backstory of the main character. In the end, though, the plot falls into the trap of
having the good guys outnumber and outpower the bad guys in the
immediate vicinity (if not in the overall society, which is a
constraining issue). Three and a half stars.
- Roses and Rot (by Kat Howard)
- Partly a fairy story, and partly a story about having a life
after a badly abusive childhood. Impossible choices and lovely writing
and sadness and love. Four stars.
Once upon a time.
Once upon a time, there was a girl who was given a wish. One wish, just one, but it would grant her anything she wanted, the truest desire of her heart, the one she kept closest, locked away, barely taking it out to whisper its name.
"But," she was told, "you must be very, very careful what you wish for. Be certain you ask for precisely what you want, else you will be disappointed. Or worse."
The girl was the sort of girl who read books, and so she knew well the perils of wishing. Wish for the return of a beloved pet, now dead, and a rotting corpse walks into the yard to play fetch. Wish for everything you touch to turn to gold, and with a hug you've made your best friend a statue, and murdered her besides. Wish casually, and you waste whatever the possibility might have been.
So the girl was careful. She did not speak a wish, but waited and thought. Every time a desire formed itself in her head, she thought of how she might wish for it. Even then, she could imagine the wish turning in on itself, growing teeth. And so each time, she remained silent, and worked for what she wanted. Sometimes, what she would have wished for happened anyway, and she was glad, and clutched her wish close, like a secret, like a shield.
But one day she spoke. She spoke in haste, and without thinking, and she spoke in passion. She said, "I wish you could love me."
There is a cruelty in a wish that comes true. It is weighed, it is measured, it is absolute. No less than the words that invoked it, but no more, neither.
This is the first thing she learned: Just because someone can love you doesn't mean they will. This is the second: It is worse to know that someone can love you, and that they have chosen not to.
I wish, I wish, I wish.
- Windswept and Like a Boss (by Adam Rakunas)
- The main character is a union organizer, on a planet full of
people that have escaped from megacorp indentitures. That in itself
was somewhat interesting. I've read a lot of modern fiction
with social justice hallmarks - diverse characters, understanding of
consent, etc. But I think unions are something that have lost
a lot of their political weight - they've become recast in the
political narrative as
institutions that protect bad teachers and bully money out of hapless
local governments and plucky small businesses, and the idea that
they're protecting people from things like being locked in a
fire-prone sweatshop for twelve hours a day with no safety features on
the heavy machinery, has receded into ancient history. So anyway,
just the part where the union is a (flawed, human-riddled) force for
power and justice, was an interesting premise, like old-fashioned
liberal chivalry. The plots are fast-moving; occasionally a little
confusing and possibly not always the most logical, but deinitely a
fun ride. (And I want to try some of the Old Windswept rum that
features so prominently.) Four stars.
- Six of Crows* (by Leigh Bardugo)
- I nearly stopped listening to this audibook in annoyance due to a
dearth of sympathetic characters. Point one, admitting that you're an
asshole does not excuse you from the sin of being an asshole,
and point two, I felt that the "meet cute" between the guy from the
genocidal Nazi-esque culture taking a cage full of captured prisoners
back to his homeland to be "given a fair trial" (aka executed for
their race), and the woman who escaped from the cage, was putting them
on way too equal a moral footing when the woman kind of screwed over
the guy in her final escape. So that was irritating me. But before
I gave up entirely, I looked on the internet for clues as to whether
it got better, and I discovered that there are really a lot of
enthusiastic fans drawing cute romantic pictures of all the characters, and
maybe a Jerusalem-born author is probably not actually as sympathetic to the
Nazis as all that. So I kept listening, and things started to turn
around, and I realized I had in fact badly misinterpreted the genre. It
isn't a grim gritty story of asshole antiheroes, it's a romance of
asshole antiheroes finally overcoming their antihero tendencies and
hidden backstories. The leader of the team just spends a long
time in establishing his antihero nature before starting to make steps
in the overcoming direction. The story switches POV between the
different members of the crew; the plot is a complicated heist, and
the party splits up enough that telling the story from one side and
then switching to an overlapping "what really happened there from the other
point of view" works interestingly well. (The audiobook is recorded
by a different voice actor for each POV, which always seems like a
better idea in theory than I find in practice, because people's voices
jump around so much as they are voiced by different people.) Finally,
it ends on a SERIOUS cliffhanger; the sequel is out in September and I
think it's just two books, so it might work better to wait. Hmm. I
guess another four stars - it might have been four and a half without
- The Queen's Poisoner (by Jeff Wheeler)
- This is basically set in the Wars of the Roses with fantasy
paint - the maybe-evil king has possibly disposed of his young nephews
in order to take the throne, and there's a bunch of backstory with
other claimaints to the throne that I kind of lost track of the same
way I confuse all the Richards together. A lot of what the book plays with is the
concept of trust, both interestingly and somewhat dubiously. Do we
trust the king when he says the deaths of his nephews weren't his
fault? I think so, because we overhear him talking in secret about
it, and he sounds too betrayed over it. He takes the main character Owen,
a kid of eight, as a hostage for his parents' behavior, and he doesn't
treat his hostages all that well, but the parents were
treacherous, as well as picking the wrong side. There's a lot about
spies and who to trust and who to tell what and telling different
people different things to see what leaks. That part is
interesting. But some of the fixation on trust doesn't work quite
right. You do not test whether you can trust someone by telling them
a lie and seeing if they correct you, not unless you're one, sure they know
the truth, and two, it's in their best interests to let you believe
the lie. Also, if they know you know it's a lie, that kind of shoots
their trust of you in the foot. Another bit - one of the other kids
makes a full-bore persuasion attempt to get Owen to jump into the
secret cistern with her. Is there a way out? She doesn't know, but
she assumes so. They can probably get out the way the water gets
out. THIS IS NOT A SENSIBLE PLAN. I mean, okay, cisterns are not
quite the same as wells, but do they know that? Could a gate be
locked? Or the ladder kept out of the water and lowered from above?
But she convinces him, because he Trusts her. Not to be guessing
right or know about cisterns or anything, but to be worthy of trust.
There are more loyalty tests that are equally... orthagonal to the
point. Three stars.
- Border Line (by Mishell Baker)
- The main character has Borderline Personality Disorder; most of
the other motley crew of characters also have some form of mental
illness. (Brief summary of the plot: the motley crew has to deal with
a missing Fey as part of a Faerie-Earth swap program to inspire
Hollywood directors and actors, muse-like. This is the second book
in a short while I've read where Faerie is the source of human
creativity. Weird.) A lot of people write about depression and
personality disorder is popular in fiction. But I hadn't read about
this before, certainly not in a protagonist, and that was novel. It
sounds difficult, and the author did a good job of letting the
character be both sympathetic and frustrating. There was a bit in the
middle where she seemed to be less 'borderline', possibly in order to
let her power through the plot, but possibly also for in-world
reasons. I was never sure. There were a lot of other bits that I was
never really sure about either, or plot points that vanished. One
thing done really well, though, was luring the reader into going along
with the wrong conclusions to be surprised when the conclusions were
proved wrong. There were some nice surprises that way. Overall, as
an urban fantasy mystery, it was better than many, and as an example
of writing about people who aren't like me, it did a really good
job. Three and three quarters stars.
- Crooked (by Austin Grossman)
- This is a mashup of Nixon with Cold War Spy Fiction with
Lovecraft. On the positive side,
it was written with the same fondness for only the tendency to only
get a glimpse of the weirdness as it passes by, a shark fin above the
water concealing who knows what icebergs below. And there's an
understatedness to it that reminds me a bit of some creepypasta.
Not all military elements will be vulnerable to nuclear weaponry or associated effects such as radioactivity, kinetic shock, and firestorms. Potentially nuclear-resistant entities, domestic and foreign, should be accounted for in any postconflict planning scenarios. These include: (a) Corn Men (b) Entity code Raven Mother and attendant fragments/hybrids (c) Exofauna of Baikonur region (d) GRU command elements above the rank of colonel, who are reputed to be experimentally radiation-hardened by hybridization, grafting, and injection with tissue samples from various archaic and exoplanar fauna (e) Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (f) Unidentified Dyatlov Pass survivor (g) The British royal family (h) Little Hare, a Native American trickster god of the Southwestern United States.This led to the digression of looking up Dyatlov Pass, which... more creepy. I think I would have liked it more if I had felt more solidly in on the plot; I was kind of confused by the ending, but not hooked enough to go back and get it straight.
- The Necromancer's House (by Christopher Buehlman)
- I'm quite liking this author, who appears earlier in this entry
for the Suicide Motor Club. What both have in common is that
they're somewhere in the vicinity of horror - the first book is more
of a blood-spattered action thriller with vampires, and the latter is
more of... a creepyish tension urban magic story with complicated
magic? Both of them also have a nice knack of building a nice
well-rounded character in a couple of paragraphs before having
something dreadful happen to the character. It's something I think of
Stephen King being good at - you get a sense of a distinct and
interesting personality in the half a page before they get eaten by a
monster. I really liked the complicated magic - it's not a magic
system, the way you would find in a Sanderson book, it's a
bunch of individual spells with character. The titular necromancer
specializes in (among other things) selling the ability to communicate
with the dead, by putting a "doorway" in a VHS tape recording of that
person. Send him a home movie of your loved one (or a movie with a star you
always wanted to talk to), and he'll let you
talk to them - or maybe a simulation - for a few minutes. I also
highlighted this paragraph, which kind of punched me in the feels.
But also for Anneke, who'll have to learn for herself how hard it is when the second parent goes. How real it gets when you're sweating down into the cardboard boxes bound for Goodwill and the Salvation Army. When the other parent isn't there to tell you stories from before you were born. When you go in the attic and the plastic tchotchkes crumble in your hand, and you sob like a bitch when you realize your mom saved a little bundle of report cards from third and fourth grade because they said something nice about her kid. About you. And that those cards waited in that peeling old folder for your adult hand to fish them out and throw them away because there's just nobody else in this world who'll ever give a damn about them again.Five stars.