#balisebooks – January 2021

The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connections and Courage – Brené Brown

A series of lectures by Brené Brown where she talks about shame, vulnerability, emotions in general, and wholeheartedness.

Brené Brown is one of these people who has been in my field of awareness for a long time, but whose work I hadn’t looked into much yet. I think it may be a good thing, because I think I was more receptive to what she had to say than I would have been a year or two ago. She’s an academic who studies shame (which is, apparently, a great way to have people react weirdly when you tell them what you do), and Power of Vulnerability is a recording of a series of lectures (I listened to it as an audiobook) on the topic and on what her research says about shame, vulnerability, and a quality she calls “wholeheartedness”. I found myself nodding furiously at numerous time, going “fuuuuuuuuuuuuuck” at numerous others, and it was the kind of text for which I kind of want to get a copy where I can highlight stuff manically.

Oddball, Sarah Andersen

The fourth collection of “Sarah’s Scribbles”.

I really like Sarah Andersen, she’s hilarious and very relatable, so I got her first three books of Sarah’s Scribbles a while ago, and completed the collection this month. It’s still very funny, and it has a sticker set 😉 I’m considering putting a couple on my laptop 😛

Rapture In Death, J.D. Robb

In the fourth book of the … in Death series, Eve Dallas investigates a series of unlikely suicides.

In Rapture in Death, three people vaguely connected to Eve Dallas die from suicide – but something doesn’t quite add up in Eve’s opinion, so she investigates. I continue enjoying this series, although this one had a pretty disturbing scene (apart from all the dead people, I mean) which kind of spoilt my enjoyment. But we got to see a bit more of Roarke, who’s shown as actually competent (on top of, you know, hot, rich as fuck, nice, and pretty snarky), which was nice; it’s also nice to have an established relationship that is a source of stability and not drama. It’s nice to know that I have a long (long) series in which I can pick the next book and find familiar ground, and still have all the books independent enough (so far) to not feel the need to read the whole series at once. I appreciate that very much.

The Echo Wife, Sarah Gailey

Book cover for The Echo Wife. It represents a mirrored diamond ring; the title is written in the middle as if it were split by the mirror too; the name of the author (Sarah Gailey) is mirrored on top and bottom of the cover.

What happens when your husband replaces you with a clone of yourself?

In The Echo Wife, Evelyn is the lead scientist in a company that makes clones. Clones are, for Evelyn, nothing more than specimens: they’re grown as adults for a specific use, prepared and primed, and discarded as biological waste when they have had said use. The book starts shortly after Evelyn divorced her husband, after having discovered that he had made a clone of her – a more “compliant” version of her. Said clone calls Evelyn one day: the husband is dead…

This was for sure a gripping read. Gailey holds the suspense until the end (which I actually found satisfying), and the ethical questions and ramifications around human cloning are a fascinating theme. I’m somewhat skeptical about the apparent absence of anyone questioning the ethics of what Evelyn does (completely in the open), but I’ll let that slip for the purposes of a good story – and it actually makes the book and the questioning just on the right side of creepy (I thought.) Note that this book definitely needs to come with a content warning about domestic abuse.

Murder by Other Means, John Scalzi

In the second book of The Dispatcher series, Tony Valdez has a few people around him dying in ways that make him more than suspicious.

Another Audiobook – and actually the sequel of the very first audiobook I listened to 🙂 In The Dispatcher’s world, people who get murdered have a 99.9% chance of, instead of dying, waking up naked back in their own home. That creates business: Tony Valdez is a dispatcher, someone paid to actively kill people just before they die with a high probability – so that, instead, they have a very high chance of surviving. Of course, there are also other, shadier reasons to call for a dispatcher – and Valdez just had a contract of this type. Following that, he runs into a bank robbery where one of the robbers is part of the 0.1% who… don’t wake up. And that’s just the beginning of things going to shit for Valdez.

This was an entertaining listen: the story was perfectly adequate, and Zachary Quinto’s narration was fantastic. A nice way to spend a few hours while walking around.

Some #balisebooks

Spoiler Alert / All the Feels – Olivia Dade

Contemporary romances set in the world of a successful TV series… and the fanfiction around it.

Spoiler Alert and All the Feels are both set around the same fictional TV series called Gods of the Gates, in which the male protagonists of each book are both actors and best friends. In Spoiler Alert, Marcus is also a closeted fanfiction writer – and he meets April, who’s a cosplayer in that universe. In All The Feels, Alex has some PR issues after picking a fight in a bar; he’s assigned a minder, Lauren, to make sure that he doesn’t hurt the reputation of the production any further.

I loved both books, and I enjoyed seeing these two romances bloom at roughly the same time and seeing references to the other book in both books. I laughed out loud many times, and the handling of the fanfiction element was absolutely great. I also got a lot of warm fuzzy feelings when it came to the main characters starting to accept themselves and making real progress along the book – especially since I could identify pretty strongly with one of them.

Leviathan Falls – James S.A Corey

The last book of The Expanse series yields a very satisfying ending.

There’s always a bit of anxiety involved with starting the last book of a series that one loves – will the series end in a satisfying way that gives closure and a proper goodbye for characters that have existed in one’s mind for a few years at least? I’m happy to report that Leviathan Falls is absolutely in this category. The world presented in the first book evolved a lot during the few decades spanned by the books, and yet still feels very consistent. We started with some people, met new ones, lost some along the way, got emotionally involved with a lot of them… The Expanse, to me, is much more of a “character” series than a “plot” series – not that the plot is lacking (far from it), but I’m far more involved in the characters than in the plot. And in that regard, the ending was very satisfying to me. I still have a few novellas to read in that universe – this will probably happen this year; and I also still have a few episodes of the series to watch (I love the TV series as well!); in any case, I’m happy and grateful for the hours I got to spend with these books.

Across The Green Grass Fields – Seanan McGuire

Another book of the Wayward Children series – it has HORSES! Or, well, close enough.

Many of the Wayward Children stories follow the same narrative device: a child finds a door to another world and spends a few years there. In Across the Green Grass Fields, Regan loves horses, and “her” door leads to a world full of centaurs, unicorns, kelpies and other equine species. I very much appreciated the exploration of the world and of the social conventions of Regan’s world and, as usual with this series, the whimsy of the world and the delight of the language make it a pleasure to read. I was a bit disappointed by the ending, which felt a bit rushed to me, but I was still happy to have read this installment of the series.

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals – Oliver Burkeman

Life is short, task lists WILL take all the time you give them – what to do with that?

In Four Thousand Weeks, Burkeman develops the sobering idea that time management is an illusion and that there is absolutely no way of “getting everything done” – partly because the “things that need to be done” will fill up the void anyway. He finds that liberating – since there’s no way to make it so that you will DO ALL THE THINGS anyway, give up, prioritize, and do what you can – if there is not enough time for you to do all the things that you must absolutely do, then your perception of what you must absolutely do is wrong, not the other way around.

I liked the book a lot and it feels like it has a lot of interesting/challenging things to say, but that I’m not necessarily ready to hear them yet because my brain goes into an anxious loop of “I… do agree with everything you’re saying, but I REALLY DON’T WANT TO, and I really don’t know what to make of that, and ‘now what'”. That said, it was for sure interesting food for thought and it did give me ideas and insights about how I could try to make my days work better – not because it gives plans for that in any way, but because it allowed me to take a step back and see the problem differently (… we’ll see how that goes 🙂 ). I would definitely have enjoyed it more if not for my own anxious relationship with time which made that book pretty challenging for me – but this may well be a re-read later down the road.

#balisebooks – Let’s talk about books again

So. Books. I like books. I like blogging about books. I haven’t blogged about books this year at all, for reasons. I’ve had a few paragraphs ready for a couple of books, so I may as well publish these, even though they’re not representative of what I liked best this year. But, at least y’all get a bit of content, and I feel like I’ve caught up with my Balisebooks duties before restarting with a fresh start 😉

Midnight Blue-Light Special / Half-Off Ragnarok / Pocket Apocalypse – Seanan McGuire

In the second, third, and fourth book of the InCryptid series, the cryptozoologist Price family continues protecting the cryptids that need it, and getting rid of the dangerous ones.

In Midnight Blue-Light Special, Verity learns about an impeding purge of the cryptids in New York by the Covenant of St. George, Price family’s old archnemeses… who believe the Price family to be extinct. Verity, as a cryptozoologist, would really like to avoid that, and starts warning and making plans with the local cryptid population. Oh, and her boyfriend is part of said Covenant of St. George, which makes things somewhat more challenging.

In Half-Off Ragnarok, we leave verity and New York and join her brother Alex in Ohio. Alex works as a zoo-keeper / basilisk breeder, which goes smoothly until the first death of someone who has seemingly been turned to stone. Alex investigates, with the help of his grandparents, while trying to keep the details of what’s happening from her non-cryptid-aware girlfriend.

In Pocket Apocalypse, we stay with Alex who, this time, has to go to Australia, because Australia has a werewolf problem, and werewolves are not native to Australia – hence, problem. I found this book maybe somewhat less enjoyable than the previous books: the setting and cryptid universe felt less original. I still chuckled a few times, and the Aeslin mice were still there, so we’re good.

This is still a very enjoyable series: I love the characters and the universe, and I’m looking forward to the next adventures in the Price family and their families of hyper-religious talking mice.

Random / Wolf – Alma Alexander

Alma Alexander takes a scientific take on weres and shifters.

I heard about Random in a Big Idea feature on Scalzi’s blog; the idea of a werewolf story where “The science is as good as it gets” enticed me enough to put the trilogy on my to-read list.

Random is the first book, in which we follow Jazz, who’s a random were. Random weres don’t have a fixed form, and instead take the form of the closest animal when they first change. Jazz also lost an older sister when she was very young.

In Wolf, the second book, we follow the story of Jazz’s brother, Mal. Mal becomes a wolf and, as such, gets claimed by the local wolf pack. We follow his story as he continues exploring his family’s mystery and studies the science and genetics of what it means to be were.

All in all, an original were take – which ends up being almost irrelevant to the family history and secrets – I’ll probably read the third book at some point.

Harrow the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir

The story from Gideon the Ninth continues in a very confusing but impossible-to-put-down sequel.

Well, this was a mindfuck and a half. This is the second book of The Locked Tomb, taking place shortly after the events of Gideon the Ninth. The story is told from the point of view of Harrow the Ninth, who learns the skills her Emperor needs of her… in less than optimal circumstances. This was honestly one of the most confusing books I ever read, while being absolutely excellent and enjoyable. I’m very confused, but in a good way 🙂

The Locked Tomb feels pretty demanding to read, which I know will make me hesitant to start the next book; at the same time, I know it will be worth the read!

The Last Graduate – Naomi Novik

As El’s last year of Scholomance proceeds and graduation approaches, the school seems more and more intent on… something.

A Deadly Education was one of my favorite books of 2020 and its sequel was one of the books I was most looking forward to this year. The Last Graduate picks up exactly after A Deadly Education, and it’s El’s last year at the Scholomance. And, in that last year, you essentially prepare for the graduation slaughterfest. Which… happens, with a number of twists and turns that keep you on your toes for the whole book, while also enjoying El’s snarkiness and grumpiness. I loved The Last Graduate at least as much as A Deadly Education, and I really can’t wait for the third book.

#balisebooks – Hugo 2021 Short Stories

I haven’t talked about books much (… if at all…) this year. Part of the reason is that I do not commute at all anymore, and my book-reading time got slashed in the process. Part of the reason is that I’m still struggling with committing to write longer pieces and, while my #balisebooks posts don’t go into much detail, they still take a significant amount of time that I’m having a hard time making, now that I’m back to working full-time.

And that’s how I end up on the day before the closing of the Hugo ballots going “argh, I haven’t read the short stories yet!” and doing that in a single evening, despite having had significantly more time than last year between the opening and the closing of the vote (In all fairness, this year I did rank all the Best Novel candidates!). And, since I thoroughly enjoyed all of them, I felt it would be a nice small, contained thing to blog about. So here we go! And you get my ballot order at the same time… and since they’re also available on their respective publisher’s websites, you also get some short reads if you feel so inclined 🙂

6. Metal Like Blood in the Dark, T. Kingfisher

“What if Hansel and Gretel were robots, and in space?” It was quite a lot of adventures for Sister-the-mining-robot and Brother-the-flying-robot, and I particularly enjoyed the existential discussion about lying and its consequences.

5. Open House on Haunted Hill, John Wiswell

“What if the only goal of the haunted house was to find new inhabitants?” This is a story told from the perspective of such a haunted house, and it’s quite heartwarming.

4. Little Free Library, Naomi Kritzer

“What if there was a mysterious but friendly borrower in a Little Free Library?” (you know these book boxes that spawn in various places? 🙂 ). This was quite cute, a bit sad, and it was a story about a library and the people that put and borrows books in it – what’s not to like?

3. Badass Moms in the Zombie Apocalypse, Rae Carson

“What if zombies were attracted to birth giving?” I was prepared to not like this one at all, due to not liking zombie stories in general. It turns out that the take, the relationships between the characters, and the general action and feminist badassery was enough to make me give my first enthusiastic 5* on GoodReads for this Hugo ballot of short stories (with the comment “I don’t even like zombie stories!”). Quite a feat.

2. The Mermaid Astronaut, Yoon Ha Lee

“What if the Little Mermaid wanted to go to space instead of marrying a prince?” That’s it, that’s the story. It has a strong “Becky Chambers” feeling, and I was pretty convinced until the last minute that it would be the top of my ballot.

1. A Guide for Working Breeds, Vina Jie-Min Prasad

“What if indentured robots had a fondness for dogs?”, I guess. I also do have a strong fondness for epistolary or epistolary-like narrative styles, so that helps. The voices of the robots are very distinct and I laughed out loud for the whole time I read this short story. This was absolutely fantastic, and the top of my ballot this year, even if the ballot itself is very, very strong.

All in all, I think the short story ballot has been my favorite this year. I couldn’t help but notice that all the stories were essentially happy or hopeful or both, with possibly less conflict and shock than one would typically expect from the genre. And, to me, this was very enjoyable: I finished the evening of “reading all the things and ranking them” happier than I started it, and that’s worth a lot in my book.

A Desolation Called Peace – Arkady Martine

I absolutely loved the first book of Teixcalaan, so I was very excited to a/ be able to ask for the second book on NetGalley b/ actually get an eARC for it 🙂

The story of A Desolation Called Peace starts a few months after the end of A Memory Called Empire. It is divided into several points of view: Mahit, Three Seagrass, Captain Nine Hibiscus, the Emperor, and the Emperor’s heir, as they navigate a tricky first contact situation with an alien species whose intentions seem more than belligerent. Nine Hibiscus is the captain of the fleet handling that first contact; Three Seagrass and Mahit are there to handle the diplomacy.

As in the first book of the series, the world building is delightful, and I really enjoyed the whole cultural and political aspects of all the civilizations involved. However, while poetry and its use in the empire was a strong component of the first book (which I enjoyed immensely), it’s definitely less present in this one, and I missed that a bit. I also had a bit of an issue with pacing: the middle 60% of the book are perfectly paced for my taste, but the first 20% feel a bit lagging and the last 20% feel a bit rushed. I’ll admit that it may have a lot to do with wanting certain things to happen in the first 20% of the book and not wanting the book to end in the last 20% of the book – which may actually be a good thing 😉

That said, I really enjoyed this second installment. I really liked the different points of view, and I got new characters to like. The story and its resolution were very satisfying, and I found myself highlighting a few quotes on my reader – which I hadn’t done that recently. A solid read, and definitely recommended to people who enjoyed the first book.

Last #balisebooks of 2020

The Duke Who Didn’t – Courtney Milan

A very cute and completely wholesome romance that takes place in victorian Wedgeford, a village whose population is primarily composed of people of Asian descent. Chloe Fong is one of these people; she makes lists and helps her dad perfect the large-scale production of his “unnamed sauce”. Jeremy Wentworth came to the village a few years before and, unbeknownst to the people of the village, he’s the duke that… owns the entire village. Beware: this book will make you hungry for bao buns. You’ve been warned.

A Deadly Education – Naomi Novik

A Deadly Education plays with the idea of “what if Hogwarts, instead of being a reasonably safe place for kid wizards to learn their craft, was incredibly dangerous – but still the best and safest place for young wizards to learn their craft, even though they have a significant chance of not surviving the monsters living in the school? This was a fantastic book, and I enjoyed every minute of it. The setting is tense and scary without being nightmare-inducing, the characters end up being liked despite not being a priori likeable, and that world building is :chef-kiss:. Loved it, and really looking forward to the second book.

L’Anomalie – Hervé Le Tellier

(no English translation yet)

I don’t often read in French, and for once that I do, that book ended up getting the Prix Goncourt (one of the most prestigious French literary awards). In L’Anomalie, something very weird happens to the passengers of a Paris-New York flight (and saying anything more would spoil a lot, so I’m not doing that). We follow the story through the eyes of multiple people that are on that flight as we get hypotheses about what exactly happened. This was very entertaining, thrilling, and the writing is superb.

Discount Armageddon – Seanan McGuire

I discovered Seanan McGuire earlier this year when I read ALL THE THINGS for the Hugo Awards, and she’s absolutely my favorite discovery this year. Discount Armageddon is the first book of the InCryptid urban fantasy series, which follows Verity Price, cryptozoologist (and ballroom dancer). Cryptozoologists tend to want to protect all the cryptids/monsters that are not particularly dangerous to humans, whereas the Covenant is more of the opinion that a good cryptid is a dead cryptid. And when these worlds collide in New York, well, we get urban fantasy. And this was some great UF, completely hilarious at times, and I absolutely want more of that series.

The Testaments – Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale is a literary masterpiece. The TV series adaptation is fantastic – it does add a fair amount of “fluff” around the book (and it’s esthetically superb). The Testaments is a “fifteen-years-later” sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale book that ties in very neatly to the TV adaptation. We read a story told by an Aunt and two teenagers in two different situations (one is in Gilead, one is in Canada), and it beautifully echoes the mood of the show. A very good read.

A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking – T. Kingfisher

Consider a universe where a minority of people have some magic. Some of these people have “useful” talents (like being able to control fire). One of these people is Mona, a 14-year-old girl whose talent is around bread. She can make muffins not burn, and she can make gingerbread men dance, and she’s not entirely sure whether the sourdough in the basement is sentient or not. And when a dead body is found on the floor of the bakery she’s working in, Mona gets in trouble – obviously, who else than the home wizard would be responsible? I really, really liked this book – especially how seemingly unimpressive powers can get very useful in the face of adversity 🙂

Every Heart a Doorway – Seanan McGuire

As mentioned above, Seanan McGuire is my strongest entrance of the year on the list of my favorite authors. Every Heart a Doorway is the first book of the Wayward Children, and introduces Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children. All the children in the Home have, at some point, found a door to another world; they’re back, and they need a way to cope. Nancy is the newest addition to the home and, shortly after her arrival, another boarder gets killed. I loved the atmosphere and the characters. I actually already read the fourth novella of this series (it was nominated for the Hugo Awards this year), and I absolutely want to read the other ones.

Other reads

  • 99 Erics: a Kat Cataclysm faux novel – Julia Serano – this was some hilarious meta-fiction about a writer who decides to date 99 people named Eric “for science” (and to learn about conflicts in writing). I really enjoyed it, but I may have enjoyed it more at smaller doses 🙂
  • Glory in Death; Immortal in Death – J.D. Robb – second and third book of the “In Death” series, a VERY large series of “detective stories / romance / sci-fi”. Somewhat formulaic. but very enjoyable; I could definitely see this series becoming my new go-to “I need something comforting to read”. And that was a perfect read for the few hours I spent in the hospital after surgery 🙂
  • A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor – Hank Green – the second book after An Absolutely Remarkable Thing. It was good, and a good conclusion to the story, but I found it pretty hard to “reconnect” to the story (which I had read two years ago), and that kind of colored my enjoyment of this one.
  • Spoiler Alert – Olivia Dade – a very cute romance between a fanfiction writer and the main actor of the series of the topic of the fanfiction writing (who is… also a fanfiction writer). This was also pretty funny… and made me want to read and write fanfiction.

And if I had to choose one…

A Deadly Education. But Every Heart a Doorway is a very close second.

#balisebooks – Wine Dark Deep: Book One – R. Peter Keith

I got intrigued by the pitch of Wine Dark Deep: “Equal parts The Martian, Star Trek, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and The Expanse”. Of these four, I love 3, and I’m neutral about the fourth (I probably read it at some point, but I don’t remember anything about it). That, plus an intriguing title, made me ask for a review copy on NetGalley, and be happy when I got it.

In Wine Dark Deep, some parts of the solar system are somewhat settled; Ceres is used as a refueling base for ships that go for a longer journey. The Ulysses is such a ship – destination Jupiter, for a scientific mission, and gets quite annoyed when the Ceres base refuses their refueling, for reasons that are initially unclear. A tug of war ensues between the two factions and we follow in particular Cal Scott, the captain of the Ulysses, and Helen Donovan, who’s part of the Ceres colony.

I usually see myself as someone who loves all the “space details” that make me feel like a book is believable and well-researched – that go beyond the handwavy “yeah, we have cool engines and we can go to space today”. I will admit that the level of these details in Wine Dark Deep was too much for me, especially since it seemed to come at the detriment of character development. I had a very hard time caring for any of these characters and what they were doing, and no amount of nerdy details could compensate for that.

Wine Deep Dark is the first part of a three-part story, and it’s possible that the following parts alleviate the issues that I have with the first part, but I also regret to say that I will not try to find out by reading them.

#balisebooks – Broken Genius – Drew Murray

A few months ago, there was a Big Idea feature about Broken Genius, by Drew Murray, on John Scalzi’s blog. I liked that the whole article was described as a series of “now how do I solve this plot problem”, it tickled my interest, I asked for it on NetGalley, and I did get it, yay 🙂

Special Agent Will Parker used to be a known Silicon Valley CEO; he’s now part of the FBI Cyber division. He gets called to investigate a murder at a Comic Con event – a murder that is linked to the possible reappearance of a portable quantum computer that was considered lost during the Fukushima nuclear plant accident.

Broken Genius is a very competent techno-thriller. The tech and the Comic Con are believable, and the story itself has enough plot at the right pace to make the reading very enjoyable. The characters are likeable – maybe a bit on the cliché side, but eh, still pretty cool. I was somewhat annoyed that I guessed one of the major plot points way earlier than the protagonists did – I’m normally VERY BAD AT THIS, so maybe there was one or two clues too much there 😉

But anyway. I have a pretty high suspension of disbelief in general, but it’s rare that I find fiction where modern-day technology plays a significant role, and that doesn’t make me roll my eyes loudly (yes, it’s absolutely a thing.) Broken Genius does that and is very enjoyable – it’s not the book of the year (or even the month) but is very much worth considering if you’re in the mood for a techno-thriller 🙂

Autumnal #balisebooks

GoodReads tells me I did achieve my 60 books goal for 2020 – and we still have a quarter in this year, so I may need to get a larger goal for next year 😉 Granted, there’s been quite a few shorter books so far in the year: there’s been more graphic novels/comics, as well as more novellas/novelettes/short stories than in the previous years (because I read most of the selection for the Hugos). Still, it’s been a while since I did a #balisebooks post, so let’s fix that.

The Wicked + The Divine – volumes 1 to 9 – Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, and Matt Wilson

The Wicked + The Divine is a graphic novel for which the premise is that every 90 years, 12 gods incarnate as humans. These humans are essentially celebrities – with everything that goes with that – and they’re dying within two years.

I absolutely loved the first volume, but I was somewhat let down by the following volumes: I don’t know exactly what I was expecting for a story, but I felt disappointed, somehow. (I also got very confused towards the end). At least the story is complete and the ends are tied and the ending is actually satisfying.

It was still very good, and I fell absolutely in love with the art, which is GORGEOUS from start to end.

Before Mars – Emma Newman

This is the third book of the Planetfall series, which is a loosely connected series of books that happen in the same universe where a group of colonists left for a distant planet a few decades before. In Before Mars, we follow Anna, who’s the new artist in residence on the Mars colony. Anna quickly starts to observe things that make her question what’s really happening… and her own sanity.

This was fantastic, buuuut. I absolutely loved the idea of “psychological thriller on Mars”, and it’s very well executed. Generally speaking I loved the book, but up until the end I was scared it would go to a disappointing ending. It didn’t (actually, far from it), but I was scared of that. Now I’m not sure whether the issue is with my lack of trust or with the fact that what I was seeing as a possibility was not clearly eliminated as a possibility, but that made my reading slightly more uncomfortable because I was “I like this thing A LOT, but I’m afraid it’s going to go to a conclusion I don’t like and that it will make the whole thing significantly worse”.

It didn’t, and I’m happy with that; it’s also not a feeling I’m much used to, which kind of bothers me. All in all, a very solid addition to the series.

LaGuardia – Nnedi Okorafor and Tana Ford

LaGuardia is a graphic novel in which there exists sentient alien plants that are trying to integrate as they can on Earth. The main protagonist, Future, is very pregnant, and just left Nigeria while smuggling such an alien (called Letme Live) and arrives at the eponymous airport (and spaceport) to go live with her grandmother.

I loved everything about LaGuardia – it’s smart, it’s sometimes funny, it’s just the right amount of “in-your-face-political”, the art is great and the colors are superb. It won the Hugo 2020 for Best Graphic Novel, and I actually had voted for it in the first place, so that makes me happy 🙂

Atlas Alone – Emma Newman

In Atlas Alone (fourth book of the Planetfall series, see above) we get to follow previous characters of After Atlas. The book centers on Dee, the friend of Carl’s, the detective from After Atlas.

They are currently flying in a spaceship, where the major source of entertainment is mersives – and a significant part of Atlas Alone happens in such environments. This is the story of Dee learning more and more about her environment and how she reacts to it, within the context of her previous trauma.

I must admit that, for me, this was the weakest book of the series. All in all, this felt very, very dark, and I kept hoping for some glimmer of hope that I didn’t feel I got. Also as a nitpick: the turn of sentence “my face was a mask in front of a mask” made me cringe the first time; and it also made me cringe the second and third time I encountered it in the book 😛

However, I did like the environment and what Newman did with the mersives and in particular the whole idea of “leet” gaming. I also enjoyed seeing Carl again, and the role he had in this book. The plot was also very tight and kept me interested all along (and may or may not have led to a few “okay, one more chapter” at too-late-hours of the night).

Mooncakes – Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu

Another graphic novel, you say? You bet. Nova is a teenager working part-time in her grandmothers’ bookshop. Said bookshop has a large “occult” section, and, oh, Nova’s grandmothers are witches. And, unexpectedly, Nova’s childhood friend Tam reappears, and they are a werewolf.

This was sweet and cute and, again, I loved the art. That’s actually one thing that reading a larger-than-usual amount of graphic novels in a short time taught me: I DO have opinions about their art, and it’s very important in my enjoyment of the form.

Middlegame – Seanan McGuire

Seanan McGuire’s In an Absent Dream was my favorite for the Hugo award for Best Novella, so that put Middlegame firmly in the top of the pile of the things I wanted to try to read before the Hugo voting deadline, since it was nominated for Best Novel.

In Middlegame, we get to meet Roger and Dodger. Roger has words for everything; Dodger has numbers for everything. They are twins, but they never met. And one day, they make contact – in their minds. Nothing is a coincidence: Roger and Dodger are part of a large alchemical experiment. As they grow up, they learn more about themselves, about their powers, and how the world may end up depending on them.

I did really like Middlegame, and I think it had a lot of things I like – intriguing setting, memorable characters, good writing. I did find it a bit long, but I have no idea if it’s because I’m in a bit of a hurry (I really wanted to read another Hugo nominee before I voted) or whether it would have been my opinion as well in other circumstances.

Gideon the Ninth – Tamsyn Muir

Gideon the Ninth was the book I had heard the most about before the Hugos (for which it was also nominated for Best Novel). The Emperor has called upon the heirs of all the necromancer houses for a trial of valor. The winner of the trial will ascend to a higher, immortal state of being; the losers may not survive. Harrowhark is the heir for the Ninth House; Gideon is her reluctant protector.

This was super good – loved the setting and the use of necromancy; loved the characters. But it took me a looong while to stop being confused about who’s who – the cast is quite large, and a given character will be called at least three different ways, which doesn’t help. There was also possibly more twists and turns in the last 20% than in the first 80%, and that was a bit exhausting. Also, I’m starting to realize I actually do not like long, epic scenes endings… and this definitely went into that category. So, let’s say that I loved 80% of it 😉

Deal with the Devil – Kit Rocha

I got excited about Deal with the Devil the minute I heard the title of the series (it’s a new series by the authors of the Beyond series): MERCENARY LIBRARIANS, HOW AMAZING IS THAT IDEA.

The global context is the same as in Beyond – post-apocalyptic US, where everything is more or less derelict, and people are scraping by the best they can. Nina and her team collect data from remaining data vaults, mostly redistribute it to whoever needs them, sometimes manage to score an interesting cache of sensitive data that they try to sell to interesting parties.

Knox and his team are ex-super-soldiers in dire need of a way to fix their brain implants before they go completely awry. The hacker that could handle that has been kidnapped; the price for Knox to get them back is to manage to deliver Nina to the kidnappers.

Both teams start working seemingly together; this is a Kit Rocha book, so there’s significant romance elements (I honestly don’t know if it’s a post-apo book with strong elements of romance or a romance book with strong elements of post-apo 😀 ) – not much surprise there.

It had less “librarian” content than I hoped but it was so so good! The fighting scenes read as choreographed (and I actually enjoyed them, although it’s not my usual cup of tea), I loved the characters and the setting, and I cannot wait for #2 🙂

A Memory Called Empire – Arkady Martine

A Memory Called Empire is the first book of a new series, Teixcalaan. Mahit, who comes from Lsel, a small mining station, is named ambassador to the Teixcalaan Empire, which is basically… most of the known universe. She gets summoned to her post, and quickly questions the demise of her predecessor, whose death is somewhat suspicious.

Lsel has an interesting technology, called imagos, where the memories of a person get transferred as a chip to another person. Mahit gets the imago of her predecessor, but since they’re bad with backups, or something, she gets an outdated version… which starts malfunctioning quite quickly. Thankfully, her liaison, Three Seagrass, is here to help her navigate court intrigue, poetry as a mean of communication, and what it means to be Teixcalaan (and to possibly be called Six Helicopter or One Lightning.)

A Memory Called Empire won the Hugo award for Best Novel; I hadn’t read it before voting, but this was very well-deserved. The world building is fantastic, the characters are endearing, the plot and intrigue were delightful, and I loved everything about this book. Another one for which I cannot wait for #2!

Other reads

  • Die, Volume 1 – Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans – A graphic novel where a group of role players gets catapulted in the world they’re playing into. I think it was good, but it was completely not my thing 🙂
  • Attachments – Rainbow Rowell – I had my reservations for a long while about the premise of the book (a “security” person monitors employee emails, shenanigans ensue) and, while this was better than I feared, it wasn’t very memorable.
  • Kiss my Cupcake – Helena Hunting – a cute romance about a cupcake-and-cocktail shop owner and her craft-beer-ax-throwing bar owner neighbor.
  • The Bride Test – Helen Hoang – Khai is autistic, and his mother tries to find him the perfect bride. She finds Esme, and offers her a deal: a summer in the US, no strings attached, under the condition that she tries to make things work with her son. This was pretty good, but I had a hard time connecting with Esme – Khai is often flabbergasted by her… but I must admit, so was I at times!
  • The Phlebotomist – Chris Panatier – in a world where people are supposed to give blood every couple of months and where the society’s class system depends on the people blood’s group, Willa learns disturbing truths that put her life and the one of her grandson at risk. A decent post-apocalyptic novel and a nice take on a common trope.

#balisebooks – 2020 Hugo Award for Best Novella

After making choices for the Short Story award for the Hugo, I started reading the novellas, and ranking as I went as well. So let’s talk about all the Hugo nominated novellas 🙂 As for the short stories, any one of these is absolutely worth reading; I ended up having preferences… not necessarily where I was expecting (I was honestly thinking my #2 would finish #1, and I was expecting #5 to arrive much higher… and yet.), and all the works are very different, which I enjoyed.

6. The Haunting of Tram Car 015, by P. Djèlí Clark

This is a story set in an alternative Cairo at the very beginning of the 20th century. Alternative, because djinns, magic and alchemy have been a thing enough that there exists a Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities. We follow Hamed and Onsi, who have been tasked with understanding the why and the how of The Haunting of Tram Car 015 – as the title helpfully hints 😉 The atmosphere (including some great background about women’s voting rights) and world-building were fascinating, and I liked the character dynamic between Hamed, a fairly senior agent, and Onsi, a wonderfully enthusiastic newbie. For me specifically, it lacked something (I don’t know what!) to make it entirely memorable, which I regret.

5. This Is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

I really, really wanted to love this one. Time travelling Romeo&Juliet? Yes please. Epistolary novel where the protagonists explain in detail their medium of writing, and every single one is more wonderful than the next? YES PLEASE. Absolutely gorgeous writing, to the point of real poetry? Doesn’t hurt, and check. Buuuuuuuuuuut I wasn’t able to connect with that book to the point I feel I should have to enjoy it fully. I think it’s a matter of “it’s not the book, it’s me” – and I think it’ll be high on the list of “things I need to re-read when I think I’ll be able to connect with it more”. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this one gets the Best Novella award, and I’d be happy with it; it was just not my thing this time around (and I’m sad about it.)

4. The Deep, by Rivers Solomon, with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson & Jonathan Snipes

The Deep talks about the wajinru, a folk that lives in the depth of the ocean. The wajinru have a historian, who’s chosen in every generation to hold the (traumatic) memory of their people. We follow the story of Yetu, the current historian – who has a very hard time holding that history in herself. The history of the wajinru is haunting, and its description in The Deep is fantastically well-rendered. The story of Yetu is heartbreaking and yet very relatable. And there’s a whole lot of philosophical questions around sacrifice, and around the idea of identity versus history, that I found very interesting too. This was not a fast-paced book, but it was very impactful.

3. Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom, by Ted Chiang

The premise of this is very cool – consider a device, called a prism, that allows SOME communication between two parallel universes that differ from the point of a quantum event shown recorded by the device in question. Now, consider the use that quantum event as a “coin flip” – and boom, you have something that allows you to answer the question of “what if I had made that other choice?”. And since that quantum event has some chaotic consequences, you can find prisms in which things diverge in larger or smaller measures. On top of that setting, add some people who are trying to make profit from these communications with parallel universes, and boom, you get Anxiety Is the Dizziness of Freedom (love that title, by the way). I really liked the exploration of what worked and what didn’t in the setting, and the questions about “what is actually ‘core me'” was fascinating too. All in all, this was a very enthusing read 🙂

2. To Be Taught, If Fortunate, by Becky Chambers

This was the only novella I read before the Hugo nominations were out – because Becky Chambers, if you think I’m going to wait months before reading anything Becky Chambers writes… well. (Yes, I’m fangirling hard. Deal with it.) At the time I read it last year, I was writing: “A chronicle about a long-term space mission – 4 people on a starship, exploring 4 very different planets. It has a solid, competent crew, and science, and feels, and it feels so much longer (in a good way!!) than the small amount of pages, and it’s lovely, and am I fangirling a little bit too hard here? naaaahhh…”. I’ll keep it at that; and since it was the first I read and I loved it so much, that was a very high bar.

1. In an Absent Dream, by Seanan McGuire

My vote for Best Novella will go to In an Absent Dream. It’s about the tale of Katherine Lundy, who finds a door to the Goblin Market, where rules are important and fair value is an absolute rule (what “fair value” means is also discussed and a whole part of the book). I loved the main character, I loved the concept of the Goblin Market, and I profoundly enjoyed the fact that the more “epic” parts of the story were actually not shown but barely mentioned as “events that happened” (and that actually had important consequences!). This was a magical read – and definitely not all rainbows and unicorns, it also had a fair amount of sadness and of bittersweetness – and I loved this novella so much. Seanan McGuire (and the series of which In an Absent Dream is a part of) is definitely on the list of people from whom I want to read more stuff (… as soon as I’m done with reading all I can for the Hugo voting, I mean!)

“Hugo Award”, “Worldcon” and The Hugo Award Logo are service marks of the World Science Fiction Society, an unincorporated literary society.