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

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

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

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

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

#balisebooks – Broken Genius – Drew Murray

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

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

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

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

#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!

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 🙂 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 🙂

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 😉

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 🙂