Got the new COVID-19 bivalent booster yesterday, so I’m taking today and tomorrow off in case I have any side effects. So far so good, I’m fine, which means I have the opportunity to dig into my email backlog! So here, have another ebook report!
Acquired for free from Tor.com:
The Empress of Salt and Fortune, by Nghi Vo. Book 1 of the author’s Singing Hills Cycle. Offered for free by Tor.com via their occasional freebies program, so I nabbed it.
Acquired from Kobo:
The Steal, The Bait, and The Heist, by M.J. Rose and C.W. Gortner. Romantic suspense/heist/caper series, set in the 50’s. Nabbed these because I think I saw them mentioned on Dear Author? Regardless, the concept sounded kind of delightful, and all three entries in the series are available for a low price, so I got ’em.
The Four Profound Weaves and The Unbalancing, by R.B. Lemberg. Grabbed these because they are set in the Birdverse, a setting that appears to be explicitly pro-queer and pro-trans, and I feel like I need more of that in my fiction right now.
Star Wars: The Princess and the Scoundrel, by Beth Revis. I’d say I got this on the strength of this Smart Bitches guest review, but let’s get real here: it’s a story about Leia Organa and Han Solo, and how the hell could I not pick this up? :D
Found a draft of an ebook roundup post marooned in my Drafts folder, oops. So I’m merging a couple of earlier acquired titles with more recently acquired titles in this post now!
Acquired from Kobo:
Devolution, by Max Brooks. Horror. I nabbed this on the strength of the name Max Brooks, since I totally adored World War Z. I can also report that I’ve actually gone ahead and read this since I originally bought it. I did not like this one as much as I liked World War Z, but I’m not sorry I read it. I still found it an enjoyable read, even though I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t nearly as brilliant as his first book.
Prince of Shadows, by Rachel Caine. Fantasy, alternate telling of Romeo and Juliet. Nabbed this in no small part because Caine is dealing with serious cancer treatments right now and I wanted to try to buy more of her titles in support.
Honor Among Thieves, Honor Bound, and Honor Lost, by Rachel Caine and Ann Aguirre. SF YA. Nabbed this entire trilogy partly because see previous commentary re: Caine, but also because I also like Ann Aguirre’s work and the two of them together promise to be entertaining.
Pre-ordered from Kobo:
Soulstar and The Midnight Bargain, by C.L. Polk. Fantasy. Grabbed both of these because I quite liked Witchmark, and Soulstar is the closing book of that trilogy.
Acquired from Amazon:
Bitter Falls, by Rachel Caine. Book 4 of her Stillhouse Lake series of thrillers. Acquired from Amazon because the series is available in ebook only for Kindle.
Pre-ordered from Amazon:
Heartbreak Bay, by Rachel Caine. Book 5 of her Stillhouse Lake series of thrillers.
Previous pre-orders that showed up but which I’ve counted on the yearly tally already:
It’s tough for me to review this novel properly. My French isn’t good enough yet to have truly understood the majority of what I read here–and it didn’t help either that certain aspects of Mme. Rochon’s style here made it difficult for me to follow the action.
One, I did at least figure out that the book’s divided into a section involving protagonist Laura Fraser as a young girl, and a section involving her as an older woman (post-menopausal? Again, my French isn’t that solid yet, so I wasn’t able to nail that down for sure). It baffled me that the book changed tenses between these two sections, from first person in the earlier part to third in the latter. That was a baffling decision, one beyond my meager French to properly understand; it may well have made much more sense to Quebecois SF/F readers, I don’t know.
Two, in both sections, there was a certain distinct detachment to the action. In the first part, Laura tells the reader a lot of her history, along the lines of “this happened to me” and “I felt such-and-such a way”, with very little of what was going on actually played out directly. The same held true in the second part, although at least there, there were a few more scenes of direct interaction between Laura and other characters, notably Valtar and Sirwala. This made it a lot harder for me to feel engaged by any of the characters.
Three, instead of getting much in the way of action and character dialogue played out directly, we get a lot of lengthy paragraphs of Laura being introspective about assorted things that trouble her as a girl (mostly “the French speakers think I’m weird because I have an English name, and the English speakers think I’m weird because I speak with a French accent, and I HATE ALL OF THEM and I’m going to go dream about being a spider now”), and later, assorted things that trouble her as an adult. Later, when she does actually have direct interaction with other characters (mostly Valtar), each paragraph of dialogue is likewise very long. On the one hand, I regret that my French was not up to the task of following much of this, because I’m certain I’d have engaged with Laura as a character much more if I could actually understand most of what the text was saying. On the other hand, even as an Anglophone reader who’s barely able to dip her toes into Quebecois SF/F so far, I kept feeling like the lengthy, expository nature of the dialogue was forced. I’d be really curious to know if it reads that way to Quebecois readers as well, or if this is just a matter of my being a beginner at French.
So far, the one other Quebecois SF/F novel I’ve successfully read was significantly different stylistically, and targeted for younger readers as well–so it was much easier for me to follow. This one, I’ll straight-up admit, was a hard slog. So for now I’m going to have to give it two stars. But I’ll want to try it again later, as my French improves, and see whether my reading experience is different.
Ancillary Sword, book 2 of the Imperial Radch series, is not quite as awesome as Ancillary Justice–but that’s not actually a bad thing, since “not quite as awesome as its Hugo-winning predecessor” is still pretty freggin’ awesome.
In book 2, we’re picking up pretty much right where book 1 left off. Our protagonist Breq has been handed a Mercy and its crew, and has been tasked to protect the Athoek system. While doing that, she has to juggle dealing with a new lieutenant who’s not the baby-faced young officer she appears to be, the potentially hostile officers and crew of the larger ship Sword of Atagaris, making peace with the sister of one of her slain officers from when she’d been Justice of Toren, class conflict on the space station and planetside–and the risk of angering the alien Presger when one of their diplomats is killed. And all of this is happening under the shadow of the threat of civil war across the Radch–by which we mean, war between the factions of the Lord of the Radch herself.
There’s certainly no shortage of action, to be sure. At no point in this story was I ever bored. However, by comparison to book 1, I found Breq’s jumping around from event to event in this plot less focused. There’s no one particular big problem she has to solve in this story, and this gives everything a definite “middle book of a trilogy” feel. Given how book 1 ended, I came out of this one with an overall impression of the Lord of the Radch having just shunted Breq off out of the way, and a hope that the real action would pick up again in book 3.
So is this one Hugo-worthy? Unfortunately, I’m not convinced. It’s really good, but that’s not quite the same thing. It doesn’t really break any new ground that Ancillary Justice hadn’t already covered, and the lack of specific focus to the overall plot detracts from this book’s ability to stand shoulder to shoulder with its predecessor. Still, though, I enjoyed this immensely and will be eager to snap up Ancillary Mercy once it comes out later this year. Four stars.
Before I continued my sweep of reviews of the Hugo nominees for Best Novel–and in particular, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword, I had to go back and get caught up on Ancillary Justice. And wow, am I glad I did. I’m very late to the game on this book, but I can see why it won ALL THE THINGS last year. Much has been said already about what Leckie pulls off with this novel, not only with the gender-agnostic society occupied by the main characters, but also with the dual plotline involving our protagonist, Breq. But I do have some thoughts on both.
Re: the gender-agnosticism of the Radch, this didn’t strike me as quite the Revelation(TM) as it might have done if I hadn’t read Samuel Delany’s Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand. But I have, and so the notion of people referring to one another as “she” no matter what their actual physical gender wasn’t particularly startling to me. I did appreciate how the worldbuilding allowed that even if the Radchaai’s language was gender-agnostic, the people themselves still had physical gender; the author has herself described that the Radchaai are after all humans, so yes, they do still have actual physical gender. This is supported in the text, when non-Radchaai react to gender cues that Breq has to work to actually parse.
That said, I’m of two minds about it. Half of me certainly delighted in being able to read a story wherein, if I so chose, I could imagine every single character as female. The other half of me wishes that Leckie would have gone further and used truly neutral pronouns–while at the same time, with my writer hat on, I can understand how that might have made her book harder to digest for the vast majority of readers. We do, after all, live in a still predominantly two-gender society, and furthermore, one which still considers “male” the dominant gender. There are factions of SF readers who have trouble admitting that women can star in SF novels–never mind write them. Heads already explode at trying to handle that. Asking them to handle people who don’t fit so easily into a gender binary is probably asking too much. (Though yeah, I’d like to see it happen anyway.)
And, re: the dual nature of the plotline in this book: yes, we’ve got a non-linear plot here, but one which has a coherent structure nonetheless, jumping back and forth between “present” time and a point twenty years prior. Once you get into the rhythm of it, you can follow along pretty clearly, even without obvious markers in chapter headers or anything of that nature. I appreciated that the book expected me to be clever enough to keep up.
But all of the above pertains to worldbuilding and plot structure. What about our protagonist? I loved Breq/One Esk Nineteen/Justice of Toren, and the entire notion of her being one segment of an entire ship’s consciousness. The book does a wonderful job at portraying what that multiplicity is like, even as it throws strong implications at you about the horrifying practices that make ancillaries for Swords and Mercies and Justices in the first place. But Breq in general is an awesome character, both as a ship and as the now-sole ex-ancillary bent on killing the Lord of the Radch. Breq’s body may be human (and there are hints that that body’s original personality might be recoverable), but her consciousness is not. Yet there are little quirks and nuances throughout Justice of Toren’s portrayal that tell you that the Ship has had literal centuries of time to absorb personality traits from all of its ancillaries. And to be sure, I’m particularly partial to how Justice of Toren liked to sing. Often with multiple mouths at once.
I do have to admit that despite the gender-agnosticism of Radchaai society, I kept looking for cues as to the genders of characters–notably, Seivarden, but others as well. I caught myself doing it, and in fact tried to force myself not to once I realized what I was doing, because I think that was part of the book’s overall point. Though in Seivarden’s case, gender cues are in fact explicitly called out early on, and it’s obvious that Seivarden is in fact male. (And now, writing about that character, I find myself actively torn between saying ‘her’ and saying ‘him’ because HA YES I see you what did there, Leckie.)
Plot-wise, I found the whole thing very focused, honed to crystalline clarity, with the dual plots ultimately leading to an intriguing and explosive resolution. Breq’s grudging caring for Seivarden is an excellent counterpoint to the drama that unfolds on Shis’urna, and Justice of Toren’s eventual destruction, with One Esk Nineteen as the only survivor. Overall, it was a distinct pleasure to read, particularly as preparation for going straight into Ancillary Sword. Five stars.
(Editing to add: and OH YES, I totally forgot to mention: in the Ancillary Justice Movie In My Brain, Breq is totally played by Summer Glau.)
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers got recommended on the Facebook group for the Northwest Independent Writer’s Association, of which I am a member. So I decided to check it out. By and large, I’m glad I did. I’ve now written and released five novels, and I’ve worked with a couple of different editors. And a lot of what I see in this book lines up pretty well with what my best editorial experiences have taught me about my own writing.
Because yes–whether you’re planning on querying to traditional publishers or going indie, your work will require an edit pass. Probably multiple edit passes. And if you can’t afford to hire your own editor, and/or you don’t have handy immediate friends with editing skills in your social circle, you will have to do that editing yourself. This text could do you well as a how-to guide for tackling the job.
Here are some of the things the book discusses that I’ve learned about in my own editorial experiences: minimizing dialogue tags, and when you actually do need one, it’s okay to use ‘said’, really; minimizing use of dialect for effect, and techniques to capture the cadence of a character’s accent without making him or her unreadable; using action beats instead of dialogue tags to convey who’s speaking, and how; and all the various ways to think about handling point of view.
There are a lot of exercises in the various chapters as well, on which you can practice. I skipped those, just because I’ve actually gotten in a fair amount of editing practice at this point, working with my own stuff. But if you haven’t edited yourself or someone else’s work before, you might try those and see how valuable they are for you. Me, I’ll be buying myself a copy of this for reference, now that I’ve read the library checkout copy. Four stars.
Sweet Enemy was a recommendation I picked up from my regular visits to SmartBitchesTrashyBooks.com, a book that falls into the general category of historical romances with bluestocking heroines. This book’s heroine, Liliana Claremont, is a brilliant chemist who chafes at the restrictions that society places upon her, keeping her from pursuing achievements in that science. But when she discovers that her father may well have been murdered, she’s determined to look for evidence at the house of Geoffrey Wentworth, the Earl of Stratford.
Geoffrey’s our obligatory broody hero, whose family is throwing the obligatory mess of young misses at him in an attempt to get him to marry. Liliana’s own family pressures her to go to his estate in the hopes of catching the Earl’s eye–but all Liliana’s interested in is finding out whether this man was responsible for her father’s murder.
Now, this is a setup guaranteed to catch my attention, and it did a decent job of it. Ms. Snow’s writing was solid, and I did very much like the shooting contest scene, in which Liliana actually gets to use her chemistry knowledge. Set off against this, though, were tropes that usually weary me in a romance novel and this time was no exception: i.e., the failure of characters to just talk to each other, insta-lust, and how the Big Misunderstanding that almost always causes the characters to fight almost always comes after they’ve finally had sex.
But that said? I did actually enjoy this book for the most part and I’d like to see how Ms. Snow’s writing in this series progresses. Three stars.
The second to last Weather Warden novel was one that it took me a bit to get to, on a couple of grounds. One, that one of the plot threads in it sounded like something we’d already seen happen earlier in the series. And two, that I’d started reaching a point of apocalypse fatigue with these books–we’d already had so many instances of the Wardens and the Djinn facing the Imminent! Destruction! Of! The! World! that reading another round of it just seemed like, well, work.
This is not to say that Caine’s writing has suffered, since as always, her pacing is crisp and tight. And once I got into this story, I did actually find it quite readable. But that said, the issue of this story covering several themes that have already appeared earlier in the series did remain–the antagonism between the Wardens and the Djinn, the rage of Mother Earth against humanity, the angst surrounding Jo marrying David, the angst surrounding the unresolved feelings Lewis has for Jo. And to top it off, we also have angst about Oh No! Jo has a Demon Mark and it might turn her EVIL!
All of these things were certainly engagingly and compellingly handled, but the sheer fact that we’ve seen them before takes a bit of the urgency away. Which is a shame, because if you’ve stuck with the series this far, it is still definitely worth continuing so you make it to the final book and get that resolution. But it would have been cooler to not retread ground we’ve been over before. Three stars.
Oh, I do love me some Greywalker. I DO. And I happily devoured Downpour, the sixth in the ongoing Kat Richardson series.
Given that this is an urban fantasy series, by now we’re well and thoroughly into the character progression–and into the inevitable levelling up of Harper’s Greywalker powers. At least a few other series I’ve stuck with this far have almost exhausted me, between a never-ending sense of “shit, does nothing good ever happen to these people?!” and the aforementioned levelling-up often not feeling like it’s justified at all. Happily, Kat Richardson never has this problem for me. Harper’s gaining power, sure. But so far it’s felt real, and logical, for her to do so. It’s changing her as a person, and she knows it, and she’s reacting to this in real and logical ways as well.
It’s awesome as well to see her continue to try to actually solve cases, and continue to try to operate at a level that isn’t necessarily ZOMG THE WORLD IS GOING TO EXPLODE. Such as in this installment, how she’s gone out on the Olympic Peninsula to do some investigating–and oh look! Ghostly car wreck victim! That investigation pulls her off on a side quest, only, of course Investigation A and Investigation B eventually tie together. Like ya do, in any urban fantasy novel.
And oh, I did like this story. Since I’ve been out on the Olympic Peninsula a time or two, it was great to see that area of the state getting some on-camera love. And I liked a LOT that we got elements of the fantastic that were rooted more in the Native American myths of the region than in more heavily used staples of urban fantasy–and I say that as somebody who loves her some elves.
And Quinn! Quinn! I love, love, love that there is an ongoing relationship here, and that we’re continuing to get more bits from his point of view as he’s trying to keep up in his own non-powered way with Harper’s changing status. Just because he loves her and because he’s that damned awesome.
Really, over all, this was great fun and I didn’t have a single quibble with it in the slightest. But for the love of all gods, don’t start here if you want to dive into the Greywalker books. Do know, though, that if you get through the first couple, you’ll have this one to look forward to. Five stars!
Follow My Lead didn’t grab me quite as much as previous Kate Noble outings–but that isn’t to say I disliked this book. Because I didn’t! I still found this one an enjoyable read even though it didn’t click with me quite as much as the previous installments of the Blue Raven series.
This time around our principals are Jason Cummings, the Duke of Rayne, and the scholar Winnifred Crane. I’m always a sucker for stories in which the heroine’s a scholar of any kind, and given that this whole plot revolves around her wanting to go to Europe to do actual on-camera research, that’s bonus. But the circumstances that push Jason into being Winn’s escort made it a bit hard for me to suspend my disbelief; there were quite a few convolutions that had to happen before he could be thrown into her company.
On the other hand, though, I’m sure that’s rather par for the course for this kind of a plot, so I was willing to hand-wave that and get on with the main story. Which is to say, Jason and Winnifred having to scamper across Europe without access to much in the way of money–especially vexing for Jason, accustomed as he is to wealth–and with a rival determined to marry Winn hot on their trail. It is amusing to see the two brainstorm their way through getting money, and since Winnifred does actually get to exhibit some scholarly train of thought on camera, it’s fun to see Jason trying to keep up with her.
And of course there’s the obligatory Pretending to Have to Be Married scenario, otherwise they’d scandalize everybody they meet. And of course, since they’re having to pretend to be married, they naturally have to figure out how to react to one another in private as well. Seeing them work their way up through that is charming, and it’s in those stretches of the story that Ms. Noble’s fun touch with character chemistry comes through. All in all, three stars.