Category Archives: reviews

What I read: week 7

My mom was visiting last week, which was lovely! And I’m starting grad school on Monday (all registered for my first classes in a MLIS program). So all in all, I’m in a bit of a transition phase. We’ll see how much non-academic reading I get done in the near future; I will be sure to keep you all apprised. Anyway, if I disappear for long stretches, that’s why. On to the books!

Stephanie Burgis mentioned Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver as a good Golden-Age-style mystery. Since that’s basically catnip to me, I decided to check it out. It was a pretty solid mystery, though maybe not to the level of Christie. If you’ve liked, say, the Dandy Gilver books or Jacqueline Winspear, I suspect this would be up your alley. I do have the second book checked out on Overdrive as we speak! [read for the first time 8/12]

When I asked for graphic novel recommendations recently, Jenny instantly told me in no uncertain terms to read Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. She was very correct; I loved Valero-O’Connell’s art, and Tamaki’s story was a lovely, slightly melancholy look at teenage love and friendships and identity. Realizing that someone can be charismatic and beautiful and also not at all the right person for you is such an important, fraught moment. (I also kept reading the title as Laura Dern instead of Laura Dean.) [read for the first time 8/13]

Still rereading the Vorkosigan books! While I wasn’t over the moon about the first few, Brothers in Arms marks the place in the series where L.M.B. really hits her stride in terms of characterization, etc. I find that the introduction of Mark brings a whole new energy to the plot and series. It’s the next book that’s called Mirror Dance, but Brothers in Arms contains a ton of mirroring in both literal and figurative ways. (Interestingly, my Reading Notes post for this one isn’t nearly as on board with it. This is why I like to reread books–I have a different reaction almost every time!) [reread 8/14]

I wanted a good middle grade fantasy and Caroline Carlson’s newest, The Door at the End of the World, was pretty satisfying. It’s a bit Diana Wynne Jones in that there are lots of worlds and travel between them, but the tone is a bit more sedate and tense than I typically associate with DWJ. I liked the characters quite a bit, and would certainly recommend it for young readers who want a bit of thoughtful action-based fantasy. [read for the first time 8/17]

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#stackingthestories round up

Forestofglory, who I follow on Twitter and generally enjoy a lot, created a short fiction reading challenge for July. I’ve been meaning to get back into SFF short fiction for ages now, and jumped on the challenge as a way of making that leap. I’m very glad I did! I didn’t reach my maybe-lofty goal of 31 short fiction pieces read in July, but it was still very worthwhile and I have a renewed commitment to making sure I read short fiction in the future. Since Twitter is an ephemeral medium, I wanted to collect the short reviews I posted there. The titles with an asterisk before them were personal favorites.

“it me, ur smol” by A. Merc Rustad: I am a bit so-so on this one. It’s a cute idea, and the internet speak read as accurate. As a piece of flash fiction it’s fine, but the gesture towards activism felt hollow in such a short story.

“Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight” by Aliette de Bodard: Packs a lot into a setup that initially looks simple (it isn’t). I liked the way the narratives were woven together, but never quite connected with the emotion the way I wanted to. (This is true beyond this piece: stories about grief are tough because how can the reader care about the loss of someone who we only meet in absence?)

* “The Dragon that Flew Out of the Sun” by Aliette de Bodard: Stories, memory, and the complexity of truth. Loved this one. (Also curious to reread “Three Cups of Grief” having now read a story that centered me more in the universe)

“A Witch’s Guide to Escape” by Alix E. Harrow: I like it; it makes me uneasy. Liking – Harrow clearly knows libraries well enough to give it a real flavor. I loved the details of the displays in particular. Uneasy – my instant twitchiness about fictional librarians; I don’t quite believe that stories save us anymore; the kid in the story never felt like a real person in his own right. (Maybe I should say stories in & of themselves? I don’t know. At other points in my life, I would have vehemently disagreed with my current feeling) Added all together, this is a good example of a story that I like individually but which fits into a pattern I find troubling.

“Give the Family My Love” by A.T. Greenblatt: Feels very of-this-moment in a number of ways; it’s…fine, but overall a little on the nose for my personal taste.

* “She Commands Me & I Obey” (parts 1 &2) by Ann Leckie: Look, I can’t be objective here, because I love Leckie’s writing and I love Breq and it’s so interesting to see Breq from an outsider’s pov–what seems familiar & what doesn’t. This story is pretty gruesome in a lot of ways, but it also feels real? And I appreciate that we see no system is without flaws/imbalances/etc. It’s also neat to get a sense of Breq’s weird charisma in another setting. (My notes for this one just say, “BREQ”)

* “The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat” by Brooke Bolander: I love everything about this, from the fairy tale structure to the descriptions.

“Owl vs the Neighborhood Watch” by Darcie Little Badger: I’m struggling with how to evaluate this story because I bounced off of it pretty hard. But I don’t know if I have the cultural tools to evaluate it. I don’t have any big critical arguments against it, it just wasn’t for me at this moment and I’m not sure why.

“Anyway: Angie” by DJ Older: Very horrifying, tense, and atmospheric. I love the way Older uses language to evoke mood and Reza’s emotions in this one. CW: violence & mentions of sexual assault

* “Abandonware” by Genevieve Valentine:  I would say I’m a genuine Genevieve Valentine fangirl, but I hadn’t read this story before. I’m still not quite sure of my reaction but I’ve been thinking about it ever since I read it yesterday. There are some REALLY CREEPY elements/moments.

“Werewolf Loves Mermaid” by Heather Lindsley: This is light and funny and sweet, and sometimes that’s what you need.

“The Boy and the Bell” by Heidi Heilig: Ahhhh, another creepy one. It’s short but atmospheric, and quite effective.

* “Tomorrow Is Waiting” by Holli Mintzer: Awww, I really liked this one! I like stories about AI, generally speaking, and this was a sweet/interesting take. Does it ever explain anything? nope! am I okay with that? Yep!

* “The Light Brigade” by Kameron Hurley: Confession: this is the first Hurley story I’ve ever actually read and wow! It’s brutal, but also beautiful and more hopeful than I expected?

“The Counsellor Crow” by Karen Lord: I like the way the world unfolds in this story, in a way that is kind of breathtaking, but the ending felt abrupt to me!

“There are Two Pools You May Drink From” by Kerry-Lee Powell: I didn’t particularly like this one, which may be a personal reaction to the way abuse is treated here. Also a repeated use of “Oriental” as a descriptive term? I don’t know, there was just nothing that felt engaging to me or convinced me the characters were real.

“A Dozen Frogs, A Bakery, and a Thing that Didn’t Happen” by Laura Pearlman: AHHHHH this is pretty fun. To be clear, I don’t endorse the solution here. But I don’t *not* endorse either.

“Blue Morphos in the Garden” by Lis Mitchell: Eerie and thoughtful; I loved the sense of claustrophobic in-turning of the family. (I mean, loved from a technical pov. It creeped me out a lot as a reader.)

* “Solder and Seam” by Maria Dahvana Headley:  A story that rewards rereading; I wasn’t sure what was happening at first and liked it a lot more once I figured it out. I also appreciate the Patrick O’Brian reference.

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What I read: week 6

Phew! I did manage to read a lot more last week than the week before.

Last year, I really loved the first Aru Shah book by Roshani Chokshi. While I found Aru Shah and the Song of Death to be very delightful, it also felt overly long–my major complaint with the Rick Riordan Presents books so far. The story adds in a few new characters and shades in the world of the Pandevas a bit. This aspect was my favorite, maybe unsurprisingly as I generally love how a second book in a series can really deepen the world that was set up in the first one. I’m definitely here for the next book, though I hope there’s a little more Boo and a little less questing. [read for the first time 8/3]

I found The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling engaging; in particular, the combination of a very, very character-driven story and a real respect for the limits of technology made for a slightly different slant on a scifi story. Though I suppose Suzanne Palmer’s Finder might also fit in that category. Anyway, you know how that division between “soft” scifi and “hard” scifi is largely rubbish and used to devalue books written by women? Yeah. This story is all about Gyre and Em, but it also takes the mechanics of the situation very seriously. If you’re a reader who likes a bunch of action and plot, this isn’t necessarily one I’d recommend. If you’re a reader who likes an atmospheric and tense story that’s largely about trust and grit, read on.

At the same time, the relationship between the two women was–look, I don’t think anyone in this story is getting a lot of points for emotional healthiness. The shifting landscape of Gyre and Em’s time together is by turns gripping and troubling. I found the end hopeful, and yet I don’t know if I exactly what that hope to be fulfilled. If anyone has read this and wants to talk spoilers with me, please do. [read for the first time 8/5]

The latest book in the great E.L. Konigsburg reread, A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, proved to be slightly less exciting than I had remembered. I’m not sure whether I’m just over books about monarchs, or if this just hit me at a bad moment. I don’t think it’s Konigsburg at her strongest, though. From the B’Nai Bagels to Claudia, she’s at her best when she shows this marvelous insight into childhood, and here that’s totally absent. [reread, 8/5]

Bone Black by bell hooks has been on my TBR list for quite some time, but I finally got around to reading it. I’m so glad I did; it’s now on the list of my favorite memoirs. I love the way hooks uses memory as a shifting perspective and a way to return to images and moments again and again. Of course much of the book is centered around Black girlhood, and it’s framed within a tradition of Black women writers. There are other moments that felt more universal to the experience of growing up as a girl, and I appreciated those as well. I shared a few quotes on Twitter just after reading; this is one I can definitely see returning to in the future. [read for the first time 8/6]

I read Restart by Gordon Korman for a work book club, and I have to admit that I doubt I would have finished it just under my own steam. The themes and ideas here are interesting: what do you do when you have a chance at a fresh start? Can someone ever really change? But the treatment of those themes didn’t take into account any big systemic things like racism, sexism, and so on. And the sentence level writing was often clunky and repetitive. Restart is a 2019-2020 Young Hoosier Book Award nominee so clearly other readers have valued it more than I did. [read for the first time 8/8]

I don’t remember exactly why I decided to read Sincerely, Harriet by Sarah W. Searle. I’m glad I did, as it’s a thoughtful graphic novel with an intimate look at invisible disabilities. I appreciated the way the story draws connections with older generations and experiences. It is a sad story though, in many ways, and I wasn’t quite expecting that tone going in. While it wraps up nicely in the end and I’m glad I read it, I wish I had known that going in. [read for the first time 8/8]

 

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What I read: weeks 3 & 4

I love a good middle grade graphic novel and that’s exactly why I picked up Kayla Miller’s Camp. The focus here is squarely on friendship and the strains camp can put on two best friends who rely on each other. It’s fine; I liked the way Miller tests the limits of friendship without letting it break, and the way one person in a relationship may need more space than the other. But I was a little disappointed that it was so white and straight, and in general I just wanted a little bit more. [read for the first time 7/15]

At this point I don’t quite know how many times I’ve read Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie. It’s still a book I turn to when I want something that I know will be both healing and challenging. I loved the finale of Breq’s story, and especially the ending. There’s one line a little over halfway through the book that always makes me cry and the last chapter is one of my favorites, even if it’s also an emotional whallop. [reread 7/17]

I also reread a childhood favorite, Pepper & Salt by Howard Pyle. It’s a slightly unusual set of fairytales and in fact Pyle wrote them himself rather than collecting them. While there are some images and attitudes that aren’t okay with me, I did enjoy revisiting these stories. There’s an underlying pattern to a lot of fairy tales that I realized has really stuck with me over the years. [reread 7/18]

My friend Sophie recommended Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe and I’m glad that I read it. While it’s not quite comprehensive, focusing fairly narrowly on a few people who were majorly involved in the political landscape of the Troubles, I appreciated the look at a time of history that I didn’t previously understand very well. Keefe is a good non-fiction writer and does not indulge in my pet peeve (constant speculating about what people might have seen). His sympathies are fairly clear and he’s making a case for the guilt of a particular person, but he also treats the people he writes about with sympathy. [read for the first time 7/19]

I decided to reread all of the Vorkosigan books, and Cetaganda was next up. It’s not my favorite; there’s an awkwardness to the underlying gender themes that doesn’t quite escape Bujold’s attempts to give the Cetagandan women some power. But there’s some nice Miles & Ivan stuff here, and I always enjoy that. [reread 7/22]

Jerry Craft’s New Kid has been recommended a lot recently, and I understand why. It’s a thoughtful look at one kid’s experience as a young Black boy in a private school. The micro- and macro-aggressions that Jordan and the other Black students and teachers experience are counterbalanced by the bonds he forms with a few other students. The art wasn’t my favorite style ever, but it’s in service to the story and I appreciated the touches of humor it added. [read for the first time 7/24]

I wanted to read something light on a Friday and Sarah Zettel’s A Taste of the Nightlife seemed like it would fit that bill. Urban fantasy about a chef who cooks for vampires, what’s not to like? It was fine for that mood, although I don’t know that I’ll read any more of the series. [read for the first time 7/25]

I liked Holly Black’s The Cruel Prince last year but just now got around to reading The Wicked King. Like the first book, I’d say this is a frothy, sharp story. It’s not doing anything particularly original plot-wise, but I enjoy Black’s fairyland here. [read for the first time 7/28]

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What I read: week 2

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Anissa Gray is the kind of contemporary story I don’t necessarily gravitate towards instinctively. But I’m glad I read this one. It’s a look at the echoes and cycles of family history and wounds. And that sounds bleak, but ultimately I liked the way the characters are trying to change in very different ways. [read for the first time 7/7/19]

The Konigsburg Summer proceeds with About the B’Nai Bagels. This one is mostly light and funny, admittedly with some not great stuff about Playboy/Playgirl and weight. But the ending!!! I’ve noticed that Kongisburg’s books tend to hit a point where everything just comes together and this one is A Lot emotionally. I just reread it and teared up a little bit. Konigsburg portrays the world and inner life of preteens in a way that’s so immediately recognizable and wry and lovely. [read for the first time 7/9/19]

I liked quite a bit of Sal & Gabi Break the Universe by Carlos Hernandez, one of the recent books from the Rick Riordan imprint. It’s funny, and sad, and Hernandez does some interesting things with the idea of family. It also features a spunky girl reporter, a trope which will always be catnip for me.  I remain unconvinced about a couple aspects of the ending, though! If you’ve read this one, please tell me all your thoughts. [read for the first time 7/9/19]

[redacted] by [redacted] Careless talk costs lives. [reread, 7/10/19]

I’ve loved Franny Billingsley’s Chime whole-heartedly ever since I first read it (and continue to be very sad about the cover art situation–I know exactly how I’d design a cover if only I were a graphic artist!). Recently my friend Ally told me that there’s an audiobook version available and I am here to highly recommend it. The narration is perfect, the accents are great without being overdone, and it added a whole new level to a story I already love. This is one of my heart-books, for sure. Briony Larkin, treading new brain paths. [audiobook, reread, 7/10/19]

I’ve read a few of K.J. Charles’ books before and liked them — I’m always a sucker for a British mystery which should come as no surprise to any of you. And her books are generally atmospheric and character-driven (even if I do have significant reservations about women writing m/m romance). I’d heard good things about Any Old Diamonds and decided to check it out. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work for me–the beginning did, but there’s a twist partway through that changed the whole landscape of the book and I never quite felt like it was adequately dealt with. [read for the first time 7/11/19]

I’ve been in a scifi mood lately, and Suzanne Palmer’s Finder looked like a neat take on interplanetary scifi. I found the beginning a bit slow, but that changed as the story picked up. It’s one that starts off with a simple character and premise and then shades in the world and conflict around them. I appreciated a lot of the storytelling choices that Palmer made and am curious to see what happens in subsequent books. [read for the first time 7/13/19]

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What I read: week 1

I don’t know that I’m back, exactly, but I miss talking about books in longer form than Twitter really allows. So, for now I’m going to aim for a once-a-week rundown of what I’ve been reading recently, and we’ll go from there. 

Goblin Mirror by C.J. Cherryh is not exactly my favorite Cherryh, but it does demonstrate her ability to deliver a claustrophobic atmosphere that’s really, really effective. I did like some of the twists and turns in the storyline, but I still haven’t read any Cherryh that tops the Foreigner series for me. (Speaking of which, maybe I just need to reread all of them!) [read for the first time, 6/30]

Tiffany Jackson has been quietly delivering some knock-out gut-punch books for the past few years–I am still upset about Monday’s Not Coming. But Let Me Hear a Rhyme, while intricately plotted and full of secrets is a little less reliant on a surprise twist. It’s a love letter to 1990s Brooklyn and rap, but it’s also about finding hope and connection in the midst of grief. Great book, and I can’t wait to see what Jackson writes next. [read for the first time, 7/1]

My book club decided to read some E.L. Konigsburg together and it’s been super great. First: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler which is a practically perfect gem of a middle grade book and one which holds up really quite well. I had read it several times in the past, but not in the last few years and I loved revisiting it. Claudia in particular is just a (relatable) delight. [reread, 7/5] Then, I gulped down Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, which I think I had only read once in 5th grade. It’s an extremely slim book, but it’s full of accurately fifth grade observations about the world. Elizabeth is such a pill, and I loved her for it. Not quite the heights of Mixed-Up Files, but still pretty delightful. [reread, 7/6]

At this point in time, quite a few people know about the Soviet airwomen known as the Night Witches. But did you know they were only one of three regiments formed by famed pilot Marina Raskova? Elizabeth Wein’s A Thousand Sisters lays out the history of the Raskova regiments and their joys/challenges/fates. It’s a thick book, but a relatively quick read–however, be warned that it’s a bit like the Last Jedi, with loss after loss after loss. The bravery and camaraderie of these (mostly) long-gone women shines off the page, and I downright cried after one death in particular. I wasn’t quite sure what the intended age of the audience was at times, but overall I’d recommend it for mature middle school readers through adults. [read for the first time, 7/6]

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Recent Reading: Thomas, Shannon, Shaw, Hoose

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas

Does my Nice White Lady opinion about this book matter at all? Probably not. But sometimes you read something so good that even though it isn’t meant for you, it is worth talking about. And for whatever it’s worth, I loved Bri’s story.

It’s about the pressure of family history and making your own choices, about ambition and achieving your dreams. There were moments when as an adult I was concerned about the choices Bri was making, but I also understood why she was making them and they felt very realistic for a teenager under pressure. Personally, I found the conclusion very satisfying, and I appreciated where Thomas chose to end the story.

Although I’m not someone who tends to listen to rap, I really admired how well Bri’s skill is shown. Having that first person narrative during her rap battles showed her talent and quick wits, and kept it engaging.

Some authors have one great book in them–and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that–but I think On the Come Up proves that Angie Thomas is here to stay.

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

I wanted to like this one a lot! But it didn’t quite fulfill my expectations, despite being full of things that I should have, in theory, loved. Dragons! Historical fantasy! Spies! Ladies being friends and/or falling in love. Somehow the characters never quite felt fully inhabited and, in a common failing for epic fantasy, it felt weirdly conservative in its undertones even when it seemed to be about remaking the world. I don’t know! I read the whole doorstopper book, so I wouldn’t say it’s bad, but I would also say it never quite reached its full potential. On the other hand, lots of other people loved this one, so it’s entirely possible that this was a me issue.

Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw

This is a great example of a book that I liked and just don’t have much to say about. It’s a supernatural mystery featuring Greta Helsing, doctor to mythical creatures (vampires, gremlins, etc). Meanwhile something bad is happening in London–a murderous cult who worship a mysterious object underground. It’s perfectly fine and competent and I liked the inclusion of some classic vampires who were, the book argues, very misunderstood by Bram Stoker, etc. I will probably read the next one. 

Attucks! by Phillip Hoose

While I kind of wish that this book had not been written by a white guy, I did really appreciate the look at sports and Indianapolis history. Obviously, I have a connection to the location, and I thought Hoose did a good job of laying out the history of the city and state’s racial tensions, as well as the resilience and community of the Black residents during the 1920-1950s.

The text was based heavily on interviews with the surviving players and I felt that overall their voices and memories were showcased. I’ve driven by Crispus Attucks High School many times and been vaguely aware of its history, but now the history of both the high school and area have been really brought to life–in a bittersweet way, since so much of it has now been lost. I’d recommend this for basketball fans, but also for almost anyone from Indianapolis who wants to learn a little more about our history.

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