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™‚

52Frames – 2020-12 – Books

The 52Frames theme this week was Books. I got rid of most of my book collection a few years ago – but I still have a few bookshelves here and there. A large part of what I have left are cookbooks (the whole left bookshelf, andspilling a bit on the second one); and then there’s a number of things that I prefer reading on paper (comics… and yeah, cookbooks), a few “hard-to-find”, and some that I kept for sentimental value. There’s still a few bookshelves around the apartment – tech and math books are not here, RPG books are next to the board games shelf ๐Ÿ™‚

The picture itself is quite unremarkable. I wanted to get a reasonably clean, geometric shot – which I tried to get as much as I could in camera, but which got mostly achieved by postprocessing to fix lense deformation and perspective issues. I kept the framing a bit larger than I initially thought I would – the framing felt better with the line of the couch and the line of the ceiling.

Plus, the couch and the shelf of chocolate give a bit of story-telling, which I like ๐Ÿ™‚

What I’d read – and avoid – right now

Spending more time at home + avoiding social media because of its incompatibility with my anxiety levels = I’m pretty sure my goal of 70 books for 2020 is going to be done way before December ๐Ÿ˜› (That, or I’ll have all classes and all races at max level in World of Warcraft before the end of the summer. Can go both ways).

And since I seem to function better if my reads are aligned with my state of mind, here are a few thoughts on how I intend to achieve that ๐Ÿ™‚

General considerations

  • I’ll be avoiding certain themes:
    • epidemics and contagions, because I really don’t need these
    • apocalypse and post-apocalypse: same, I think it’ll tend to fuel things that I don’t need right now
    • anything where people are overly social, because that just feels WEIRD right now, at least in a contemporary setting. In the book I just finished yesterday, there’s a few “restaurants-and-bars” scenes, and it really felt… disconnected and weird and “this would not happen this way right now”.
  • I’m strongly considering re-reads of “feel-good” books, because that’s never a bad move when comfort is needed. Re-reads also have the advantage of knowing where I’m standing with regards of the themes I want to avoid.
  • As far as new books are concerned, my current train of thoughts is along these lines:
    • Escapism is good, give me all the escapism. For me, this probably means a mix of “romance with guaranteed happily ever after” book and non-grimdark science-fiction. Probably avoid settings around war or happening before the discovery of antibiotics.
    • Paradoxically (considering I just talked about escapism ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) I’m feeling drawn to close-quarter stories, assuming said situation is a “plot device” and not the main reason everything goes to shit ๐Ÿ˜› Think “cosy mysteries” mood, but probably avoiding “extreme isolation” books.
    • It’s probably easier to find “safe bets” with non-fiction right now – well-chosen biographies, books centered about inner life (creativity, meditation…), technical books.

Some suggestions

Given my own set of constraints, here are a few things, in no particular order, that I’d recommend and deem as “hopefully safe” (my memory being what it is….. mistakes may happen).

  • Almost all of Becky Chambers (I’d avoid To Be Taught, If Fortunate): my own literary hot chocolate, the books I’ve re-read most in these past few years. I don’t think I’m due for a re-read just yet, buuut we’ll see.
  • Gretchen McCulloch’s Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language – this is actually a perfect time to brush on your internet communication ๐Ÿ˜€
  • Agatha Christie looks like a safe bet – I’d personally avoid And Then There Were None but I think that’s the only one coming to mind in that case.
  • I think most of Isaac Asimov’s Robots would work, with a caveat for The Naked Sun (see “open for consideration” section) – small caveat because there’s a part of the population that’s pretty germaphobe.
  • Tobias Klausmann’s Slingshot series – definitely safe, absolutely good.
  • My existing meditation practice has helped me tremendously – but I think more by the fact that I’m “used” to doing it than I would if I was just starting. Still, if you’re interested in the question, Andy Puddicombe’s The Headspace Guide to Meditation & Mindfulness and Dan Harris’ Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics are IMO good introductions. They’re kind of linked to the corresponding guided meditation apps – which are both very useful in my opinion.
  • Jessie Mihalik’s Polaris Rising/Aurora Blazing – pure scifi romance escapism. I’ll probably give a try to her other series.
  • I enjoyed the few Tessa Dare romances I’ve read so far; I believe them to be safe (within my own constraints) despite the historical setting, and I’ll probably dig more into her books soon, because they’re good and funny and give me the right happy feelz.
  • I’m also probably going to dig more into Courtney Milan’s books – her Cyclone series would definitely be a “recommend” on this list (contemporary setting, but characters are not overly social).

Some books I’d avoid right now

There’s a few things I read more or less recently that I would avoid right now. I’m just going to put a couple of “trigger warnings”, hoping that I’m not spoiling too much there. Some of them are completely obvious, some of them possibly less so. And the things I’m avoiding may actually be the things some other people are craving for! ๐Ÿ™‚

  • James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series, especially books 1-4 (later books are probably okay) – TW contagion/epidemic.
  • Becky Chambers’ To Be Taught, If Fortunate – TW cabin fever.
  • Connie Willis’ The Doomsday Book – TW epidemic
  • Cory Doctorow’s Radicalized – especially the Radicalized story (TW bad healthcare) and The Mask of the Red Death story (TW contagion, cabin fever)
  • Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend – TW epidemic, post-apo
  • Stephen King’s The Stand – TW epidemic

Some “open for consideration” books

And then there are a few where I’m on the fence ๐Ÿ˜‰ As in: “I think they would actually work pretty well for me, but I don’t feel comfortable suggesting/recommending them to other people” ๐Ÿ™‚

  • John Scalzi’s Lock In and Head on. The premise IS about an epidemic, but the books happen years after said epidemic, in a world that’s recovered and rose to the challenge in a good way. I’d absolutely avoid Unlocked, though (which tells the story of said epidemic).
  • Isaac Asimov’s The Naked Sun – the setting is a world where “social distancing” has been cranked to 11; I’m actually strongly in the mood to re-read this one, but it may feel weird to consider that society right now.
  • Andy Weir’s The Martian – I do believe that it’s funny enough that it works, but I’d be wary about a story of extreme isolation.

Now, my dear readers: do you have suggestions? I’m also interested in your criteria of inclusion/exclusion, if such exist!