Last #balisebooks of 2020

The Duke Who Didn’t – Courtney Milan

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

A Deadly Education – Naomi Novik

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

L’Anomalie – Hervé Le Tellier

(no English translation yet)

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

Discount Armageddon – Seanan McGuire

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

The Testaments – Margaret Atwood

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

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

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

Every Heart a Doorway – Seanan McGuire

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

Other reads

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

And if I had to choose one…

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

#balisebooks backlog

I published a few stand-alone reviews recently (Otaku, Could be Something Good, Quiche of Death, The City We Became, Solving Sophronia), but I read much more than that in the past few months, so let’s get rid of the backlog with a couple of notes 😉

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen – I had never read Pride and Prejudice, but it had been on my list for a while – it IS considered a classic, but it’s a classic with a “popular” reputation, as opposed to classics of the kind “I remember reading that during high school, Worst Book Ever” 😉 And I thoroughly enjoyed the story of the Bennet sisters, of their family, friends and acquaintances.

Hold Me and The Year of the Crocodile – Courtney Milan – still in the Cyclone series started with Trade me. I enjoyed both of these thoroughly, they’re cute as hell, funny, and nothing to not love there.

After Atlas – Emma Newman – second book of Planetfall, which happens on Earth with a few plot links to Planetfall itself. This is the story of Carlos, an indentured detective, who investigates a very gory murder. This was vastly different from Planetfall, still good, but far less memorable for me.

Naked in Death – J.D. Robb – first book of a Very Long Series (this thing has roughly 50 book, ongoing) – and J.D. Robb is also better known as Nora Roberts. It’s a pretty formulaic but very decent detective story in a close-ish futuristic/vaguely cyber world, starring Eve dallas as homicide detective, and overall it’s a good start for a “background series” I could see myself read for a long time.

Red, White & Royal Blue – Casey McQuiston – a very cute romance involving the son of the President of the United States and the Prince of Wales. Think West Wing meets super cute and funny gay romcom. Loved it.

Maybe You Should Talk To Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed – Lori Gottlieb – I listened that one as an audiobook while wandering the streets of Zürich, and it seems plausible that audiobooks work quite well for me when it comes to autobiographies/memoirs. Gottlieb, as a therapist, goes through a pretty bad breakup (and finds a therapist to help her go through it), while at the same time works with various patients, more or less sympathetic, more or less broken, more or less tragic. I enjoyed that memoir thoroughly, although it could feel somewhat voyeuristic at times.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body – Roxane Gay – I honestly do not know how to talk about this. It feels weird and somewhat “wrong” to appreciate that much a book that tells about someone’s story and struggles in such a “raw” way. Definitely a powerful telling; a lot of trigger warnings (rape and food disorders, both with a fair amount of details), and a weird mix of heartbreak and power. I don’t see how I could recommend that book to anyone, but I’m very glad I read it.

Almost Everything: Notes on HopeAnne Lamott – a collection of autobiographical essays/short chapters. Listened to that on Audible; definitely a mixed bag: about half of it I found funny or moving, and about half of it made me roll my eyes very loudly.

Valour and Vanity – Mary Robinette Kowal – fourth book of Glamourist histories. I didn’t enjoy that one as much as the previous ones – the heist theme didn’t do it for me.

Grown Ups – Marian Keyes – I will absolutely read everything Marian Keyes writes, and I read that in the weeks following its publication. A deftly woven dysfunctional family story, which I really really liked, but part of the ending was a tad too bittersweet for me (although it made perfect sense).

The Caves of Steel – Isaac Asimov – that one’s a re-read (of multiple re-reads). It’s the first “grown-up” science-fiction books I ever read, and it will always have a special place in my heart. It’s set in a distant future where Earth has the properly unsustainable population of 8 billion (heh 🙂 ), and where a number of colonies have been spawned. The colonies have a kind of “embassy”, called Spacetown, where the access is very restricted – and yet, a murder occured. Earth Detective Elijah Baley gets pulled on the investigation, with the help of Daneel Olivaw – a positronic robot. For a book written in 1954, it obviously didn’t age perfectly, but it aged surprisingly well 🙂 Definitely a classic.

The Naked Sun – Isaac Asimov – I actually re-read Caves of Steel because I wanted to re-read Naked Sun (which is the second book in that series). In Naked Sun, Elijah and Daneel are sent to Solaria, a planet that has births very much under control, and on which only 10000 people live. The interesting thing is that the society evolved in a way that people never see each other physically, only “view” themselves via holographic projections. That kind of thing sounded very on point a few weeks ago (and still does, in some places and in some circumstances) – and I really liked the distinction between “see” and “view” in Solaria’s vocabulary. Also: I really like this book anyway 😀

All Systems Red and Artifical Condition – Martha Wells – I gave a new chance to the Murderbot series. I hadn’t been convinced by my first read of All Systems Red, and as I re-read it, I’m not sure why, because it’s great. We follow a Security Unit who dubs itself Murderbot, but who has essentially one goal in life: be left alone to watch the equivalent of Netflix 🙂 Unfortunately, things don’t always go its way. It’s funny, it’s surprisingly wholesome, and I’ll definitely continue reading the others.

The Collapsing Empire / The Consuming Fire / The Last Emperox – John Scalzi – the third and last book of The Interdependency got published this month, so I re-read the first two to have them fresh in my mind. The Interdependency series sees a collision of two major events: there’s a new emperox, Grayland II, who was not exactly supposed to become emperox in the first place (she only did because her older brother died in a stupid accident); and the Flow, which constitutes the only way of traveling between all the star systems of the Empire, starts collapsing for unclear reasons, and it’s apparently unavoidable. The Interdependency series, with that premise, uses a cast of colorful characters and snarky writing to deliver a very satisfying story, which feels more like a very large book than like three distincts books.

The Flatshare, Beth O’Leary – Leon and Tiffy enter a flatshare/bedshare agreement: Leon works nights as a palliative nurse, Tiffy works days as craft book editor, and they actually never meet… but end up having a full-blown correspondance on post-its. A great romcom, with some more sobering aspects (Tiffy’s ex-boyfriend is a Real Problem), but I enjoyed that book a lot – very cute and very funny, with great characters.

#balisebooks – January 2020

Version française 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 🙂

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” 🙂 )

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 🦕 and 🦖 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 🙂

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 🙂