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 ๐Ÿ˜‰ 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ˜›

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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

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 ๐Ÿ˜€ ) – 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 ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚
  • 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 – The Relentless Moon – Mary Robinette Kowal

The Relentless Moon, by Mary Robinette Kowal, is the third book of the Lady Astronaut series, describing an alternate reality in which a meteor struck the Earth in the early 1950s, accelerating and changing the constraints of the space race. While the first two books focused on the story of Elma York, The Relentless Moon follows Nicole Wargin, also an astronaut, and wife of the governor of Kansas. Nicole gets sent to the Moon base, but things do not go as expected: there’s multiple suspicions of sabotage, and a lot of ways thing can go awry in a small base in a very dangerous external environment.

I was very happy to be selected for the NetGalley of this book, because I had loved the previous ones, and I was absolutely looking forward to the third installment. I really like the setting and how the alternate history is fleshed out, and I love how believable is the whole space program.

I was a bit disappointed to not get the story from the point of view of Elma (the main character of the first two books), but the social group is still very similar, and I came to love Nicole as well. Nicole, like Elma, has her own set of personal struggles, and she’s very likable, competent and has a unique set of skills that is delightful to read about.

The plot felt maybe too eventful (are these people, that I start liking, going to catch a break at any point, PRETTY PLEASE?), but my perception of this may have more to do with my own state of mind than with the plot itself.

All in all, this was a thrilling and engrossing read – and Lady Astronaut #4 is currently planned for 2022, it’s going to be a long wait!

Solving Sophronia – Jennifer Moore

Look at that, it’s time for another NetGalley. I asked for this one solely on the fact that the cover was pretty and the title intriguing, and I’m very happy I did!

Solving Sophronia introduces the Blue Orchid Society – a group of high society ambitious women in end-of-19th-century London, who decide one fateful ball night to take their destinies into their own hands.

Lady Sophronia “Sophie” Bremerton, subject of this first book in the series, is a society columnist, but her ambition is to become an investigative reporter.

And it so happens that she runs into the scene of a crime, and that her deep knowledge of woman fashion leads to some very astute remarks. Jonathan Graham, the detective in charge of the investigation, doesn’t believe that civilians should be involved in police investigations, but he quickly sees the values of Sophie’s insights and connections.

I knew I had made the right call on that book from the dedication line, which was “For Margot, the Crabtree to my Higgins” – as a Murdoch Mysteries fan myself, this was a very good sign indeed. And Solving Sophronia definitely has a Murdoch mood to it – part of it is the era and context, obviously, but it runs deeper – to my delight.

The mystery and its investigation were interesting; the characters were lovable. The rhythm of the ending felt a bit off – and possibly a bit rushed. It didn’t impact much my enjoyment of the book. I particularly liked that Sophie’s strengths handled as “look what I can bring that is different” more than “look how I can do the same things as you”. But most of all, I loved the idea and the introduction of the Blue Orchid Society. I’m looking forward to the adventures of its other members!

The City We Became – N.K. Jemisin

I loved this book enough that it absolutely deserves its own blog post, so there we go.

The City We Became starts with the premises that when a city becomes old enough and large enough and… “enough”, it becomes somehow alive, and embodied by a human avatar.

And right now, it’s New York’s time to shine. But things don’t go exactly as planned. First, something or someone is apparently fighting hard for New York not to be born. Second, New York is not represented by one, but by several avatars.

For the rest, I’ll let you get to know New York’s avatars and their fight to save their city against the what threatens to destroy them all – with the help of a couple of other cities, thankfully.

I’ve been to New York twice, and I wouldn’t say I know the city well. It’s large and loud and great and overwhelming, that’s for sure. But I did enjoy seeing it through Jemisin’s fantastic prose, recognizing a few bits here and there, and it definitely made me want to go back there. Some book settings are described as “the city acts like a character in itself” – Jemisin took that one literally, and her city is plain brilliant (and quite snarky).

Some readers on The Internets criticized the amount of “on the nose wokeness” and/or “SJW agenda”. I say bring it on. Yes, it was a tad on the nose sometimes. And it was SOย GOOD. I did, however, have a large issue with this book. My brain couldn’t stop interrupting my reading every 5 to 10 pages fangirling about HOW GREAT IS THIS BOOK AAAAAAAAH I LOVE IT.

And you know the best thing? It’s planned to be a series. And I already look forward to re-reading this one before I read the next one. And if you want a taste of it, the prologue is available on Tor.com’s website under the title The City Born Great. It’s… almost identical to the prologue, that is ๐Ÿ˜‰

Authors, beware: The City We Became is my current yardstick for “best book I read in 2020”. You have been warned ๐Ÿ™‚

Quiche of Death – Mary Lee Ashford

Third NetGalley in a row? Third NetGalley in a row. I couldn’t resist the pun of the title, and I did like the cover, so I applied for it… and got it a few days ago.

I had missed that it was the third book of a series, but it wasn’t that problematic: even if events of previous books were referred to, the book itself is fairly self-contained.

Sugar and Dixie have a business of publishing “community” or “vanity” cookbooks; for this one, they are talking to the Arbor Family, who made their fortune with quiche and eventually frozen dishes.

Sugar and Dixie are invited to a family gathering – a good occasion to try and talk to everybody and get content for the cookbook. But before anything starts, really, the girlfriend of one of the family’s sons dies with an arrow stuck in her chest…

I was expecting a cozy mystery type of book – with FOOD – and in that sense, the Quiche of Death delivered. We get to know the Arbor family and the B&B that a part of the family is running, and it definitely hits the boxes of a whodunnit in a small-town setting, and there’s also a number of places where I went “well, I could do with the recipe of THAT”, and the recipe was indeed at the end of the book.

I was, however, a bit more skeptical about the rhythm of the book. The first half just felt… off in a way that I can’t really describe, but I had a hard time getting into the first 40-50% of the book. It went better afterwards, but the ending almost felt rushed. I’m not saying it was bad, but it was not really compatible with me, probably. I also hard a hard time making sense of who was who in the secondary characters (the Arbor family and associates). The characters from the established universe felt more substantial, even though I felt that I missed the previous book (but I can’t blame this one for that, can I).

All in all, I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy Quiche of Death – it was a competent, if not great, mystery. It had some endearing points that actually make me consider reading the first two books. In particular, I do find the idea using the associates of a cookbook publishing company as main protagonists of a series interesting and my own kind of quirk ๐Ÿ™‚ If you’re looking for a light and cozy mystery, Quiche of Death may just hit the right spot for you.

Could Be Something Good – Fiona West

Look at that, another Netgalley. The cover of Could be Something Good grabbed my attention, and the blurb made me go “why not”, even though I had never heard of the book or of its author ๐Ÿ™‚

Protagonist A, Winifred “Winnie” Baker, nurse and midwife freshly arrived in the small town of Timber Falls, Oregon, and daughter of a very intimidating doctor at the local hospital.

Protagonist B, Daniel Durand, resident of said hospital under the direction of Doctor Baker, dealing with a very nice but somewhat intrusive family, and with dyslexia.

Boy meets girl, cute shenanigans ensue. I very much enjoyed my reading of this book: it was fairly low-key conflict-wise, very cute, funny, and the characters were very endearing. I particularly liked Winnie’s relationship with her chosen career path and with her mother. In some ways, the mood of this book made me think of Bluebell, the town from the Hart of Dixie TV series – and kind of made me want to re-watch that ๐Ÿ˜‰

I was a tiny bit disappointed by the ending, which I found somewhat rushed, but this was still very nice, and very much spot on for what I was in the mood to read right now.

Otaku – Chris Kluwe

A few weeks ago, I opened a NetGalley account just to have an idea and a look and maybe possibly get a few books – you never know. I looked for books that I had heard about and was interested in reading, with a “soon-ish” publication date, and I found out that Otaku, by Chris Kluwe, was available, so I signed up for it. I had initially heard about that book via The Big Idea: Chrisย Kluwe on John Scalzi’s blog; I wouldn’t necessarily have seen or heard of that one otherwise, because the title wouldn’t have necessarily attracted my attention in the first place.

Anyway, I eventually got an e-mail telling me that I could indeed get the book – and it was good timing too, since I had just finished another book the night before. And since it’s feels fair to do a “proper” review in that case, this is what you get (yay, a full blog post!).

In Otaku, we get to meet Ash and her friends and family in a post-climate-change world where everything kind of broke down to several levels. Ash is one of the world’s best player of the Game – think all-you-can-think-of MMORPG with haptic suits as a controller. She deals with more than her share of abuse for it, and essentially tries to scrape by – until she accidentally stumbles on something much larger than her.

I thoroughly enjoyed Otaku. The world-building is great, the action scenes are spectacularly written, and special kudos to the Game action scenes in particular – those felt real, as in “yes, this is something I could definitely imagine gaming going to”. The pacing also really worked for me – rapid, but not hectic, with some breathing time allowed between tougher scenes. It also needs to be said that there’s a fair amount of graphical violence depicted in this book – weirdly enough, it didn’t bother me, but I could see it being a problem for other readers.

As for the things I wasn’t so enthusiastic about… The characters, especially the secondary ones, could have done with a bit more fleshing out – I don’t think it lacked MUCH, but a tiny bit more would have been a good thing. What bothered me most was that the stakes of the late plot felt way too high for the context – I think a smaller scale could have been used for the same dramatic effect while feeling less exaggerated.

Still – this was a very enjoyable read, I had a very hard time putting it down when it was time to sleep. And, as mentioned, I don’t think I would have picked it up if not for the Big Idea post – but I’m very happy I did ๐Ÿ™‚

#balisebooks – January 2020

Version franรงaise ici : https://blog.pasithee.fr/2020/02/02/#balisebooks—janvier-2020/

Permafrost – Alastair Reynolds

The base story of Permafrost is about a group of people who travel in time from the future, trying to fix a past catastrophe so that they have a chance to survive – because in their time, humanity is literally starving to death. They travel through time in a somewhat “Quantum Leap-y” way: “hosts” are identified in the past, and get to be controlled by the time travelers for some amount of time.

It is, generally speaking, a good story. But it did get pretty messy at time, and I think I would have liked a little more hand-holding. The amount of twists and turns in such a short story was, however, absolutely delightful. At less than 200 pages, it apparently counts more as a “novella” than as a novel – I think I may have preferred a slightly longer form; but as it is, it was a pretty neat way of spending a few hours still – very hard to put down, that’s for sure ๐Ÿ™‚

Spinning Silver – Naomi Novik

It’s fairly rare that I finish reading a book more than two months after starting it… because usually, it means that I gave up on it rather than taking more time to read it. For Spinning Silver, I knew I wanted to finish it; I also knew I didn’t necessarily have the right mindset to finish it fast (I’m starting to get better at knowing whether a book is “not for me” or “not for me this week” ๐Ÿ™‚ )

Spinning Silver revolves around three young women. Miryem comes from a family of moneylenders; she decides to take things in her own hands when understanding her father’s inability to collect debts (which, for a moneylender, would be problematic, I suppose). She gets helped by Wanda, who repays her father debts by working for Miryem’s family. Miryem attracts the attention of the Staryk king – local ice realm boogeyman – who challenges her to change his silver to gold. And said Staryk silver ends up in Irina’s possession – a small duke’s daughter, who’ll end up marrying the tsar, who may have a secret of his own.

The pacing of the novel is pretty slow, but the telling is very vivid (my “brain imagery” is quite detailed), the language is beautiful, and I just don’t see anything I didn’t like in this book. Very highly recommended.

Trade Me – Courtney Milan

My Twitter got a high amount of content about the Romance Writers of America association leadership recently, and a side effect of that was that it made me aware of Courtney Milan. Courtney Milan writes romance, and she’s also the initial author of the Jurassic Emoji proposal (thanks to which we eventually got the ๐Ÿฆ• and ๐Ÿฆ– emoji :D) Long story short, since Twitter is apparently my way of discovering romance authors, I started reading Trade Me.

The premise of the story is not suuuuper-believable – Tina and Blake go to the same university; Blake is the billionaire son (and heir) of the head of a large tech company; Tina is juggling with her studies, her work, and trying to make ends meet for both her and her family. And they end up making a bet, where they’d exchange their lives for a few months, to see how it goes, and maybe revisit their prejudices. We learn more about Tina, Blake, and his father, as the relationship between Tina and Blake blossoms.

And, while I don’t 100% buy the premise, the setting is quite credible and well-documented. I also liked the interactions between the characters, including their baggage and the way they handle it – and all in all I really, really liked that book – there’s a few other in the series and I’ll probably read them soon ๐Ÿ™‚

Planetfall – Emma Newman

Renata is one of the founders and 3D printer engineer of a small colony on a distant planet. The life there seems pretty well organized, the colony has a real community sense, tech and biotech make things work in a believable way. Until one day, a stranger arrives, which a/ shouldn’t really happen b/ is all the more confusing that he bears a strong resemblance to one of the other colony founders. And quite quickly, questions begin to arise, and secrets start to be revealed.

This is one of these books where you just have to let go of understanding everything at once – and just wait for the pieces of the puzzle to be added one by one. You may have some idea about said pieces of the puzzle, but it’s incredibly satisfying to see them added little by little. I will definitely read the other books set in the same world ๐Ÿ™‚

#balisebooks – End of 2019

Version franรงaise ici : #balisebooks – Fin 2019

All right. It seems pretty obvious that even trying to get one #balisebooks a month actually doesn’t work, since I haven’t written one for all of the last trimester of 2019. Giving some more thought about it, I’m thinking that maybe it isn’t the frequency that’s a problem, but the fact that I try to be exhaustive here – and hence ending up procrastinating because there are books that I just don’t have much to say about. So let’s try the “non-exhaustive” approach, where I’m only going to talk about the books I really want to talk about, possibly keep a few books for a stand-alone post if I feel like it (because so far I’ve been avoiding that since I’ve grouped my book reviews in larger posts, and that’s not what I want to do anymore), and if you’re reaaaally interested about everything that I put in my hands, you can have a look at my GoodReads profile. Okay?

How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems – Randall Munroe

The books of Randall Munroe (of xkcd fame) are pretty much an auto-buy for me, and actually usually a paper buy – because there’s enough graphical content that it’s awkward on Kindle. Which puts me in the awkward position of having a book, wanting to read a book, and then not necessarily read it fast because it’s in a format in which I don’t read much. First world problems, I tell you.

The subtitle of the book is a pretty good description of the book – the chapters are named “how to move”, “how to take a selfie”, “how to make friends”, but also “how to build a lava moat” and “how to make an emergency landing” which, admittedly, may be less “common” problems than others. And for each of these chapters, Munroe goes into his version of a “stand-up sketch With Science!”, going into tangents, weird corner cases, and ways to look at the problem that are… pretty uniquely his. To see what I mean, you can read How to Send a File, and have a few giggles. And all in all, it was a brilliantly entertaining holiday read ๐Ÿ™‚

Recommended to: fans of xkcd who like Munroe’s absurd approach to things; people who like their pop science with a (large) dash of fun.

The Ten Thousand Doors of January – Alix E. Harrow

I love an intriguing and poetic title, and this one definitely did it for me – definitely an instance of “see title, put book on ‘to read’ list”. The title loses a bit of its mystery when you realize that the main character is called January, and we’re not talking about the month; but the “ten thousand doors” keep their appeal. This novel is the interleaved stories of a girl who finds a Door to another world, and of a scholar of said Doors. The prose is beautiful, I liked the story – which was fairly memorable too. The rhythm feels somewhat slow, especially at the beginning; and for me to say so may mean a lot, because I usually enjoy slow rhythms more than fast-paced plots that explode everywhere ๐Ÿ™‚ I almost gave up after the first third, but in the end I’m happy I didn’t, because I did enjoy the story of January.

Recommended to: people who enjoy a beautiful story set in a well-described environment, a slow rhythm and multi-voice narration.

A Ticket for Life – Marzia Mura

This one is maybe a bit of an outlier, because it may not be the most memorable book per se, but it IS a very pleasant read, and since it’s self-published, there’s a fair chance it’s not necessarily on many people’s radar.

It’s the story of Theresa and Andrew – they have a perfect life in a perfectly balanced utopia, part of a closed community that’s shut down from the rest of the world, and who have a very large probability of being able to live forever. But to keep the utopia sustainable, choices had to be made – and the hardest one for Theresa is the strict population control that’s applied to all the community inhabitants. The only way for her to have a child is to win a lottery, which does not happen often in the first place – and Theresa is very decided to skew the odds in her favor.

All in all, it’s a good thriller, and the dystopian world-building is interesting and well done – if you’re in the mood for that kind of story, there’s worse choices out there ๐Ÿ™‚

Recommended to: people who enjoy thrillers and dystopian settings.

The City Born Great – N.K. Jemisin

A short story, available here: The City Born Great. The premise is that when a city gets big enough, old enough – it gets a conscience and life of its own. And this time, it’s New York City’s time, and we follow the story of its reluctant midwife.

It’s frankly quite weird. Aaaaand super good. Which is pretty much what I can say about everything I read from Jemisin so far – it’s DEFINITELY more original and more demanding than a lot of things I read, and it’s ALWAYS worth it. There’s a book, due in March, called The City We Became, and that starts where this short story ends – I’m very much looking forward to it.

Recommended to: people who enjoy beautiful prose, engaged writing, and who like their fantasy reading to be challenging and original. Also, everyone, because it’s so short you may as well read it anyway.

Open Borders – The Science and Ethics of Immigration – Brian Caplan and Zach Weinersmith

Like Munroe’s, I tend to pick up most of the things that Zach Weinersmith (of SMBC fame) does. For this one, he’s been very clear that it’s somewhat removed from his usual body of works – Open Borders IS a comic book, but it is a comic book about immigration policy, which may not be the easiest topic (and definitely not the most consensual topic either ๐Ÿ™‚ ). In it, Caplan argues in favor of just opening the borders and let anyone who wants to immigrate in any country (well, specifically the US) do so. He goes through the commonly-heard (and less commonly-heard) arguments against it, and proposes solutions/measures to assuage most fears, without being dismissive of them. I learnt some stuff, and it gave me a lot of food for thought on some specific points. I wouldn’t expect that people who are absolutely opposed to the whole concept would change their minds about it, but it does present (at least seemingly) solid and pragmatic arguments.

Recommended to: people interested in political and social questions, who feel they could do with a bit more context and arguments about the immigration topic, and who are not afraid to get their opinions challenged.

Polaris Rising / Aurora Blazing – Jessie Mihalik

A lighter read: if you get a mix of space opera and romance where the space opera is entertaining and the romance is more than decent (hrm. Bad choice of words there. Decency called and is not happy.), I call that a win. Polaris Rising and Aurora Blazing are two novels set in the same universe, where the respective main characters of the novels are two sisters from one of the three High Houses that essentially rule the universe. There is quite a lot of action – , to be honest, sometimes a bit too fast-paced for my taste, likable characters, very good world-building on top of a neat universe. Plus, you know, kick-ass princesses, essentially. All in all, super-enjoyable fluff – and I’m all about super-enjoyable fluff.

Recommended to: lovers of fluff, space opera, and kick-ass princesses.

Comme un roman – Daniel Pennac

(translated to English as Reads like a Novel, Better than Life and The Rights of the Reader) I saw Comme un roman in my husband’s mother’s bookshelf, went “ooh, a Pennac I haven’t read”, and read it over Christmas. It’s a collection of four essays – or a single long one – about reading and readers. It starts with kids learning how to read, continue with teenagers learning about literature, teachers teaching and transmitting their love of reading, and ends with a general reader manifesto.

I absolutely loved everything about it – Pennac is one of my favorite French authors, his writing is consistently hitting just the right spot and the right turn of phrase, and his Comme un roman reads like reader candy.

Recommended to: everyone who likes the “meta” aspect of reading.

Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng

I started the year with one of the most depressing reads in the past few months, possibly years. Everything I Never Told You starts with the death of Lydia, 16 – and moves around in everything that happened before and the aftermath of that tragic event in her family: her dad, her mom, her brother, her sister… and herself. As we learn more about the family dynamic, we also get some explanation about that night where everything changed. Tragic probably applies to the whole set of circumstances – which is probably what makes that novel so tough. There would be enough flaws in the characters to make them hard to understand, but I found myself empathizing with every single one of them, which makes Everything I Never Told You a fast emotional roller coaster. It’s consequently pretty hard for me to say if I even liked that book. It’s objectively superb, but I don’t see myself ever be able to re-read ever again. I think I want to read more of what Celeste Ng has written, though, so that’s probably a sign I did like it ๐Ÿ™‚

Recommended to: emotion-seekers, people who like tragedies and/or family stories.

Catching up on #balisebooks

Well look at that, summer went and came and it’s been a while since I wrote a #balisebooks post… let’s fix that, shall we? The good thing is that I didn’t read that much during these past three months, so it’s still a reasonable-sized #balisebooks ๐Ÿ™‚ I do have, like, four longer/more time consuming books still in progress in parallel, so the next one may also either be short or delayed ๐Ÿ™‚

The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding – Jennifer Robson

A historical novel that follows the story of embroiderers working for Norman Hartnell, designer of the wedding gown of (future) Queen Elizabeth II. I reaaaaally wanted to love everything about that book, and I almost did, except for a particularly unpleasant plot point that felt… avoidable. And it is a pity, really, because if not for that plot point, that book would probably have ended up in the (tiny) list of “to re-read when I need something comforting” books. I still really liked a lot of things about that book, and in particular all the details about the embroidery work!

Persepolis Rising / Tiamat’s Wrath – James S.A. Corey

Those are the books #7 and #8 of The Expanse, and they happen after a 30-ish-year leap after the end of #6. And there is not much more than I can say without the context of the first six books, soooo… I was a bit afraid at the “ah. 30 years later. Okayyyyy” bit, because I was afraid of “losing” something, in a way. But this was still very enjoyable, very emotional at times, and I cannot wait for book #9, planned for next year. And in the meantime, I have a few short stories/novellas from the universe that I haven’t read yet, which I’m looking forward to.

Beyond Addiction – Kit Rocha

Book #5 of the Beyond post-apo romance series. Finn and Trix knew each other when they both lived in Sector Five and were both addicts; Trix got out (and ended up with the O’Kanes in Sector Four), Finn thinks she’s dead… until she get kidnapped back to Sector Five. The backstory is still great, I liked the couple of this book, the steamy scenes are, well, exactly that (although I have some reservations about a specific one, but eh), what more do you want? ๐Ÿ™‚

Radicalized – Cory Doctorow

These are four novellas set in societies that are juuuust different enough from ours to call them dystopias, and definitely close enough that they’re scary. In Unauthorized Bread, Salima, who’s a refugee, finds ends up needing to hack her toaster oven, because the company that makes it gets bankrupt. Trouble ensue. Model Minority is a re-take on Superman (vs police racism and brutality) – I must say I don’t remember much of that story, actually. In Radicalized, the lack of universal health care leads to people organizing and planning terrorist attacks. And The Masque of the Red Death is a story about a post-apocalyptic bunker community. All in all, four very solid stories – with enough humor that they are not thoroughly depressing. The politics are Not Subtle, but then you don’t read Doctorow if you have something against Not Subtle Politics ๐Ÿ˜‰

The Headspace Guide to Meditation & Mindfulness – Andy Puddicombe

Headspace is one of the meditation apps I use (less often than I want to these days, but oh well), and Andy Puddicombe is the face (and voice) of that app. That book explains the approach and sprinkles it with a number of anecdotes, making it very approachable and funny. I probably would have benefited from this book more if not after hours of Headspace-the-app. Still – good reminders, pleasantry written, some funny anecdotes ๐Ÿ™‚

To Be Taught, If Fortunate – Becky Chambers

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…

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

That one is a (re-)re-read; Becky Chambers got a Hugo for the Wayfarers series, so I re-read that one for celebration. This is the third time I read it in less than three years (which is very rare in these days of book abundance), and I still love it a little bit more every time. I expect I’ll re-read the two others of the series before the end of the year.

And since apparently I haven’t talked about this book here yet, and it’s one of my favorite books of all times, let’s fix that! This is the story of the crew of the Wayfarer, a tunneling ship: they punch holes in space-time to make space travel shorter. And they get hired to go punch in a place that doesn’t have a tunnel yet, for a trip that’s roughly a year long. The whole thing reads like a VERY wholesome Firefly, and is my personal own equivalent of a cup of thick, hot chocolate in a pillow fort.

Lake Silence – Anne Bishop

I discovered Anne Bishop with her Others series – a urban fantasy series with shapeshifters and vampires and the like, but where the “usual” dynamics is flipped: the Others own the lands, the humans are barely tolerated, and they’d better not misbehave, unless they really want to end up Deceased, Location Unknown.

Lake Silence’s world is the same as the one from The Others, which I quite liked, but in a different community and with a different set of characters. And… I was not convinced. I still like the idea of the world, but I didn’t manage to get enthusiastic about that installment – I was actually quite bored (it felt repetitive), considered several times to not finish it, and all in all that was a disappointment.

Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language – Gretchen McCulloch

A very neat book about the internet, as viewed by a linguist. It has chapters about the tone of writing, punctuation, emojis, memes, conversations… and it’s generally delightful, I learnt a ton of things, it made me giggle more than a few times, and it was all in all a great, informative read.