Moar #balisebooks

Where The Drowned Girls Go – Seanan McGuire

What happens in… the other school?

This is the book 7 of the Wayward Children series, and I still love that universe to infinity and beyond. Besides Miss Eleonor’s Home for Wayward Children, there exists another school for the kids who crossed a door, came back, and are trying to re-adjust to Earth life. Contrarily to the Home, the Whitethorn Institute is trying to re-adjust kids by trying to make them forget their adventures, and making them believe they never happened. And Cora, who we met in the previous books, just transferred there – because she believes life will be more bearable there. But then, obviously, it’s complicated. And the headmaster is kind of shady. A good addition to the series, although I kind of regretted not spending more time in beyond-the-doors universes.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue – V.E. Schwab

What if living forever came with the curse of being forgotten by everyone?

At the beginning of the 18th century, Addie makes a deal for her freedom from a marriage she doesn’t want. The terms of the deal und up being an… interesting curse – she gets to live for as long a time as she can bear… and in exchange, she gets forgotten by anyone as soon as they leave the room. We follow Addie’s life until the 21st century, a time where she finally meets someone who recognizes her. The novel is written in the perspective of all the events and lives that Addie has lived, in different times, and crossing the paths of many people, and some people many times. I really enjoyed the journey of this book and the reflection it triggered for me about life, time, creativity, relationships and personal impact on the world.

Hunt the Stars – Jessie Mihalik

What can POSSIBLY go wrong when you’re a bounty hunter hired by your sworn enemy?

Yay, a new series by Jessie Mihalik! (I still need to read Rogue Queen, but Consortium Rebellion was very cool ๐Ÿ™‚ ). The narrator of the series, Octavia “Tavi” Zarola, is a bounty hunter and captain of a small crew, who was her team when she was fighting in the war. Torran Fletcher was a general on The Other Side Of The War That Just Ended – with the telepathic race of that corner of the universe. He’s also very good looking, apparently, and he has enough credits to hire Tavi’s crew and ship for a mission behind ex-enemy lines to recover unknown precious cargo. All in all, a pretty cool story, a nice slow-burn romance, and interesting considerations around telepathy and consent.

This book also made me realize that I really, really enjoyed what I’d call “descriptions of domesticity in a group of adults living together” – this is also a strong background for many of Becky Chambers’ books, and possibly why I appreciate some post-apocalyptic settings where the protagonists kind of have to stick together to survive.

Again, Rachel – Marian Keyes

Twenty years after Rachel’s Holidays, Rachel has it mostly figured out, until…

Marian Keyes is one of my “auto-buy” authors. I like her blend of light and tough topics, and the fact that I can chuckle one page and wipe a tear on the next chapter. The Walsh family is pretty familiar by now (it’s the 7th book in that setting), and we’re going back to Rachel’s story. Twenty years ago, Rachel was entering rehab, “not because she has a problem, see, but…”. At the start of this book, she’s clean, in love, working as a counselor in her ex-rehab center and gardening on her free time. Until one day she gets a phone call that pulls her down memory lane.

It was a tough book at times – there are stories about addiction, and about what can drive people to that, and without spoiling things too much, you may want to have a look at content warnings if some themes are hard for you. But as it was, it was exactly what I expected from Keyes, and I immensely enjoyed reconnecting with Rachel.

For the Love of April French – Penny Aimes

A kinky romance between a Black millionaire and a trans woman; it’s actually sweeter than it is kinky, and it’s significantly kinky. Not going to say much about this one, because I’m self-conscious, but I really enjoyed it (both characters are fantastic), so it felt wrong to not even mention it ๐Ÿ™‚

For We Are Many – Dennis E. Taylor

More Bobs, more adventures, oh my!

In the first book of the Bobiverse, we met Bob, who by a series of accidents ends up becoming the brain of a Von Neumann probe fighting against a theocracy and exploring the galaxy where no one has gone before (well, unless the apparent gazillion of other extraterrestrial lives that seem to exist in the galaxy). In For We Are Many, we follow the continued adventures of all the Bobs who, in the meantime, have solved multiple problems such as FTL communication (useful) but sometimes struggle with their different self-imposed missions. This stays a very enjoyable story, with a special mention to the audiobook narrator, Ray Porter, who gives a pretty recognizable tone and cadence to all the Bobs and all the other characters – very impressive. I am, however, not convinced by his rendition of women voices – of which there are, however, not that many (not that it’s a good thing in general, but in that case… mixed blessing, I guess ๐Ÿ™‚ ). It made me laugh out loud more than a few times, and I’m looking forward to the third book.

#balisebooks – January 2021

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

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

Brenรฉ 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 ๐Ÿ˜‰ I’m considering putting a couple on my laptop ๐Ÿ˜›

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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.

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: Chris 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™‚