Categories
Review

“Catfish Lullaby”

AC Wise

About 2/3 of the way through this book, I wound up texting a friend, “I didn’t want t get invested in this book, because it’s creepy, but here I am, queueing up the nightmares.”

And, really, that’s a great summary of the book. It’s definitely creepy, but it’s also enrapturing. Think of… a swamp. It’s a place of decay, and death – but also, full of so much life. Beautiful, and terrible; ancient, but always changing. That’s how the story feels, all the way through.

In short, it’s excellent. Not too long a read, so not too long a review, but I quite liked it. Check it out.

Categories
Review

“Wayward Son”

Rainbow Rowell

I enjoyed “Carry On” so much that I immediately picked up the sequel and read through it. “Wayward Son” is also a fun read, but not nearly as strong as “Carry On” was; “Carry On” is a conclusion and a beginning, while “Wayward Son” is… the middle book.1 It feels like it’s trying to progress the arc of the story, while still leaving enough un-finished for there to be a properly conclusive sequel — to the degree that the “ending on a cliffhanger” doesn’t actually add much more “well, guess I need to read the next one to see how this ends” than the book already had.

Still, there’s a lot of fun worldbuilding going on — an actual proper treatment of what the United States is like in this magical world, unlike Rowling’s utter disregard for… our entire culture, really.2 It honestly leaves me wanting to see other countries in this world, as well. Anglocentrism fits something that started as a Harry Potter parody, but now that we’ve established that Magical Britain is Britain and Magical America is “America, but more libertarian”, I’d love to see, like, Magical Brazil. Magical China. Fill out the world a bit more — what sort of international laws are there governing magic? How does the rest of the world deal with the fact that the Magical United States has no government, and the only thing keeping magic from going viral is that all the magic-users are secretive by nature? Lord knows that won’t last.

I’ll wrap up my rambling here, though. It’s an alright book; I think my main issue with it is timing. If I’d been able to go through all three in the series in a row, I suspect I would’ve enjoyed it a bit more — there’s a lot of set-up for the next book, but now, instead of getting to carry right on to the pay-off, I’m just stuck waiting. So, y’know, maybe wait until next year, but then read it.

  1. Literally so: there’s a third book in the series, scheduled to be released next year, which is explicitly billed as “the third and final book in the Simon Snow series.”
  2. The Fantastic Beasts film actually did an alright job of portraying my country, it feels like, but every aspect of the magical school she tried to describe as our equivalent to Hogwarts is extremely “I don’t get America.” We don’t do school houses, and you really think we’d have a single school? (I must admit, I really love watching Europeans be utterly unable to grasp just how big the US is.)
Categories
Review

“Carry On”

Rainbow Rowell

I keep going back and forth on whether or not I think this book is a parody of the Harry Potter series. On the one hand, it really obviously is – magic school in Britain, Chosen One, mysterious villain, rival from Old Money.1 But it’s doing so much more than just poking fun at these things that have become tropes; it has its own story to tell, and a system of magic that honestly makes more sense than anything Rowling ever accomplished.2

But a good part of my enjoyment of the book is also in the contrast with Harry Potter. What if Harry and Draco had been roommates? (And yes, it’s magic, so we do get to say “they can’t just strangle each other, the school has magically-enforced rules about that.”) What was Draco thinking when Harry was doing the “I have to keep an eye on him at all times” thing in their whichever-th year?3

The opening couple chapters are a delight to read. It’s the start of the school year, which makes for a very clear narrative beginning point… except it’s the start of Simon’s final school year, and he’s been a Protagonist all along, so we’re coming in very much in medias res. The amount of “as you know, Bob” is kept very low, which makes it a fun puzzle of “what all Insane Bullshit has he survived so far?”, and I’ve always enjoyed a game of “what’s the setting.”

Suffice it to say, I heartily recommend this – I’ve been trying to reduce the number of books in my to-read pile, but the moment I finished the book I immediately ordered the sequel, so here we are. If you at all like Harry Potter, and want something without the… tainted association of Rowling, please do read this delightful book.

  1. For reference, the titular character, and all the adventures that he went through prior to “Carry On,” made their original appearance in a novel centered around someone’s enjoyment of We Can’t Call It Harry Potter Because Rowling Has Lawyers For That, so it’s no surprise that there’s a lot of clear similarities.
  2. There’s rules! Actual rules, explicitly stated, about how spells are created! And they aren’t “yeah there’s an insane AI somewhere running things, it thinks making us make those noises are funny and rewards us with making stuff happen.” It’s all I ever wanted.
  3. For reference, here’s how I summarized that to my friend, while I was reading: “Harry is over there like ‘he’s gotta be up to something!’ Draco, meanwhile, is like ‘please, I am a fifteen year old boy, I need five minutes of Alone Time to deal with a… personal matter.’”
Categories
Review

“The Hollow History of Professor Perfectus”

Ginn Hale

I remain a complete sucker for good worldbuilding, and this is a very fun world that Hale has built. Gilded Age America, but with magic around, things went a bit differently – not least of which being that a magical war cracked the continent in half, leaving California an ocean away. In the meantime, magic has been severely regulated, and oh, don’t forget the automatons everywhere. It’s an interesting place.

And that’s without touching on the protagonists, who have an astonishing amount of backstory for such a short book.

It’s a short read – took me less than an hour, once I’d gotten invested – and I heartily recommend it. Give it a read.

Categories
Review

“Relic Guardians Collection”

Victoria DeLuis, Meg Cowley

If you’re a fan of Warehouse 13, you’ll enjoy this book, I suspect. While it’s not as visibly rooted in actual historical fact as Warehouse 13 always was,1 it’s got that same “Indiana Jones, but about saving the world instead of just finding cool stuff for the museum” vibe.

That’s, really, most of the tl;dr of the book, although I’ve left out the magic. It’s a somewhat loosely-defined magic system, which normally I’d be annoyed by, being the “I want to understand the laws of magic” person that I am, but in this case it fits the cinematic feel of the series. The only really solid rule is that magic doesn’t come from people, but is a natural thing — ley lines! — that they channel through a focus of some sort. There’s also a lot of dangerous ancient artifacts around, which is where we get the Warehouse 13 aspect.

Zoe makes for a reasonable protagonist in Ancient Magic and Cursed Magic, but I think Hayley, the protagonist of Hidden Magic, is the one who really makes this collection. Zoe is the seasoned veteran, someone who was raised with magic and made a career out… well, being a badass. Hayley, meanwhile, is a junior museum curator, and spends the first quarter of her story in the perfectly reasonable belief that magic isn’t real. Discovering it with her is a lot more fun, and that “what is happening” mindset makes her a lot more relatable to the reader. Frankly, I’d argue that Hidden Magic should’ve been the first book in the collection, but Ancient Magic dovetails into it so well with the little crossover that it’s hard to be mad.

End result, I quite liked this little collection. It was a pretty quick read, and a fun one; give it a go.2

  1. Well, right up until it wasn’t, but you’ve gotta let the show have its core concept, after all.
  2. Normally, this would be a Bookshop link, but I’m unable to find the collection — or any of the component novellas — on Bookshop, so here’s an Amazon link instead. Strangely, despite being published under the same title, the thing I’m linking to is a 6-novella set, while the one I read only contains the first 3. I, frankly, have no idea where I got this ebook.
Categories
Review

“How to Marry A Werewolf”

Gail Carriger

People say not to judge a book by its cover, but looking at the cover of this book having just read it, I think it does a remarkably good job of explaining the book. The title really covers a lot of it, and the porthole hints at the little bit of steampunk that drifted in around the edges of the ‘werewolf’ bit.

In short, the book is utterly ridiculous. It’s not quite as “empty fluff”-y as you might think, and has some interesting things going on with some of the backstory, but it’s still entirely ridiculous.

But you know what? It’s 2020. The world sucks. Let people enjoy things! Read a ridiculous werewolf-regency-romance novel!

You can judge this book by its cover, but think about what context you’re using to judge it. Does “ridiculous and fluffy” mean bad? Or is it that it’s feminine-coded, and our sociocultural background has spent our entire lives teaching us that we should frown upon that sort of thing?

Thank you for coming to my TED Talk, everybody. Go read this ridiculous, fluffy, delightful book.

Categories
Review

“Knaves”

I was going to start with “it’s been a while since the last anthology I read and reviewed,” but, as it turns out, it hasn’t. I wonder if it’s the variety of stories that makes an anthology feel further away in my memory? No single story has as long to get lodged in my memory, or something. Hmm.

Still, I do like the anthologies – they’re fun in the same way that a 22-minute-long TV show is, a great way to fill a bit of time without getting yourself too invested in something.

Knaves is, admittedly, less fun than some of the other ones, because the focus is on villains. So, by the nature of their stories, it’s a bit of a gloomy topic.

Which isn’t to say the stories aren’t interesting, because they absolutely are. “All Mine” is heartbreaking, as is “Hunger in the Bones”; “The Bloodletter’s Prayer” is a fascinating piece of dark fantasy; “Cat Secret Weapon #1” is a delightful spin on the Bond archetype; “The Hand of Virtue” is sweet and a touch melancholy; and “Old Sol Rises Up” is… well, honestly, mostly confusing. But I suspect that was the intent, so I won’t fault it.

And, of course, there’s an introduction – every anthology has to have one. What caught my eye and, frankly, got me to actually read the introduction was who wrote it – Howard Tayler, the man behind Schlock Mercenary, another delightful piece of media that I’m happy to recommend. Read the intro – it’s weird, and silly, and fun.

In fact, read the whole book. It’s a good use of time.

Categories
Review

“Scourge of the Seas of Time (and Space)”

I do love a good anthology. It’s all the fun of starting a new book, several times over, and with much less of a time commitment each time.
This did have some of the downside, though – about halfway through, I found myself getting rather bored of the concept of pirates. It’s a bit too coherent a theme, I feel; the book had a lot of the variance that makes anthologies fun, but keeping everything tied to ‘pirates’ limited it a bit more than is really healthy for an anthology.
After that midway nadir, though, it recovered nicely, going off into some interesting science fiction bits, and ending on a delightfully weird fantasy (or, possibly, extremely-distant-future?) piece.
So hey, have some fun with a variety of pirate stories.

Categories
Review

“Ghost Garages”

Erin M. Hartshorn
“This feels like an indie novel,” I told one of my friends as I was reading it. “The content is really interesting, but the title says ‘there wasn’t an editor.’” Looking at the cover now, I’m doubling down on that statement. It looks, honestly, ridiculous. But it was also one of the most fun books I’ve read recently.
It also feels like it’s setting up for a series, both in the subtitle and in the amount of world-building it contains, which I’m pretty okay with. That world building was quite interesting, and I’d like to see what Pepper does next. It’s a fascinating blend of little and big stakes — competing for promotion from ‘assistant manager’ to ‘manager’ at work, a bit of relationship drama, and, oh, a serial killer.
Which leads me to the other thing I said to someone about this book as I was just starting to read it. “It feels like the plot is going to be a Scooby Doo episode, just a real estate developer using ghost stories to drop property values… except they’re murdering people so that they’re Actual Ghosts.”
And hey, if that doesn’t sound like a fun book to you, then… you’re reading the wrong blog for book reviews. Give it a read.

Categories
Review

“A Traitor in the Shadows”

Joseph Lallo
Oh, this book got me. I’ve got a Diana Wynne Jones feeling about it — it took a while to grip me, and then suddenly I caught myself thinking “well, how long will it really take me to finish reading this?” and staying up way later than I should’ve to see where it was going. It’s absolutely a slow start, and (given that I had no memory of buying the book/what it was about) I had no idea where it was going.1
And, as always, what really got me was the worldbuilding. It’s distinctly uncooperative at the start — the character who has the most interesting secrets, who knows the most about what’s going on, starts of being super cagey about it all. So even though Alan, the protagonist, is just as inquisitive as you’d want a protagonist to be, there’s no exposition-dump at any point. What you learn happens in a slow trickle, bits and pieces coming up as the story needs them. It’s a dangerous way to do it — done badly, it feels like the author is making it up as they go along — but, in this case, it worked well. I’m interested to see where the series goes: the main plot wraps up in a surprisingly neat bow at the end, but there’s a couple threads by the wayside that very clearly show this was meant to be a series.
So, hey, I liked the book. Check it out.


  1. And, really, that’s the most fun part of this whole “read all the books I have on my Kindle that I don’t remember buying” project — everything’s a surprise! Everything on here was chosen by someone who’s got a reasonable idea of what I like (by which I mean ‘Past Grey’), but they didn’t tell me anything about any of them, I can just see the title and author. 
Categories
Review

“Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets”

I’ve actually read several of the stories in this anthology before, in other anthologies. Which, I suppose, is a statement about my taste in books.
Of the ones that were new, however, a couple of them were sufficient to make a partial repeat purchase worth it.
So, which stood out to me?
Far and away the best was The Lantern Men, which was a mildly interesting take on the Sherlock story (he’s an architect this time around!), but was one of the creepiest things I’ve ever read. It followed The Rich Man’s Hand, which was creepy enough that I thought “oh, I can’t go to bed on that, I’ll read one more,” and that turned out to be a mistake.
A Woman’s Place is a delightful little cyberpunk kind of thing, and my favorite take on Mrs. Hudson that I’ve seen… quite possibly ever. The opening scene, of her delivering tea and sandwiches while Sherlock and Watson interview a client? Oh, I won’t spoil a thing, but within the first page I was enraptured, and by the end, utterly delighted.
The Small World of 221b turned into a different genre than I thought it was, which was a fun twist, and I like the story that it told.
The Final Conjuration, too, was a genre-blending version of the story, and one I quite liked.
Finally, The Innocent Icarus was a great piece of world-building, and I’d quite like to read more in that setting at some point.
And that’s more than half the stories in the anthology; there’s also, as I mentioned, a few that I’d read before and quite liked, so it’s well worth the price. Check it out.

Categories
Review

“A Furnace Sealed”

Keith R.A. DeCandido
This is a delightful little bit of urban fantasy, following a man who hunts supernatural creatures for a living. Or rather, deals with supernatural problems — there’s a bit of the ‘hunting’ aspect, but in general he’s got more of a ‘fixer’ vibe, trying to avoid violence where possible. The first chapter sees him fighting a unicorn, along with the delightful revelation that unicorns don’t have any special affinity for virgin maidens, it’s just that they’re infuriated by the scent of men.1 This leads to a slight relationship dispute when it takes offense to one member of a lesbian couple, and Bram, the protagonist, makes a quick escape.
And from there, it’s a fun little journey. Like I said, it’s a delightful bit of urban fantasy: the mental image of someone driving a semi through the streets of the Bronx, hoping nobody notices the unicorn in the back, is a pretty good one. And the actual world being set up strikes a nice balance of depth without feeling overwhelming — there’s a bit of a Buffy vibe at times, some of that “well, there could be a Monster of the Week, but we’ve also established some actual lore” vibe.2
It’s a good book, and I’m lookin forward to the sequel(s) implied by the subtitle. Give it a read.


  1. Having occasionally had to clean the men’s locker room when I was working at the pool, I can relate. 
  2. If I’m going to make Buffy references, I should probably watch the show at some point. Or at least read the Wikipedia summary. 
Categories
Review

“Ra”

Sam Hughes
This is one of the most interesting pieces of fantasy/science-fiction I’ve read recently. I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, in these book reviews, that I like world-building and systems of magic, and this delivers in spades. Magic, in Ra, is a type of engineering, and involves a great deal of math and rules and planning ahead. It’s a system to be uncovered, and scientists around the world are doing science at it, figuring out the rules. Why isn’t natural mana usable? What’s up with the weird dreams that all mages share? What happens to waste energy — magical friction — and why hasn’t anyone managed to detect it yet?
Basically, this is a book that takes solid aim at the mindset of someone like me, who will sit down and read through a veritable textbook on the workings of a magic system. And then, instead of just being a textbook, it comes with a whole story, that answers some of those questions in a way that makes for a solid story. (It helps that there’s a good amount of in-jokes for computer nerds — I mean, Wheel? That’s a neat touch.)
So, if you’re at all this sort of nerd, go give it a read. (You can also read it for free on the author’s website, but, y’know, pay people for their work.)

Categories
Review

“Redemption’s Blade”

Adrian Tchaikovsky 
This fledgling series, I found out by trawling through Wikipedia a bit, is called “After the War,” and that’s a fitting title if ever I heard one.
The book has extreme Dungeons and Dragons energy. You could use the setting for a game with absolutely no issue, and even the pattern of events in the book feels episodic in the way that a long-running campaign does. What’s really interesting, though, is that the book opens in the aftermath of that long-running campaign. The Big Bad is dead; the gang broke up, and our protagonist already has the endgame-level weapon, an infinitely sharp sword. (Her first side quest, for reference, is trying to find a scabbard that will last for more than a couple hours, so she can walk around without worrying about accidentally cutting off someone’s leg by bumping into them.)
What I really liked about the book is that it’s all about the forgotten bits of world building. Sure, the Big Bad is dead, but that doesn’t change the fact that he’d assembled a massive army, half of which were unnatural abominations created via dark magic. The lands he conquered are still devastated. The nations he crushed don’t magically spring back into being; their scattered (and, largely, dismembered) peoples can’t just reappear back in their homelands, none the worse for the wear. And the grand coalition, all the free nations of the world banding together to fight against the army of darkness? Well, politics kicked back into gear pretty quickly.
“Redemption’s Blade” is one of the best books I’ve read recently, and I can absolutely recommend it to. Give it a read.

Categories
Review

“What Dreams Shadows Cast”, or, “the cave isn’t haunted, but it does hate you”

Barbara J. Webb
So, a year and a half ago, I read the first book in what I assume is an ongoing series. At the time, I was quite clear on the fact that I loved the setting of the book. If you want all the explanation, hit up that link; for now I’ll just say it’s a new take on post-apocalyptic, where the apocalypse was being abandoned by the gods who’d previously been quite happy to intervene on people’s behalf.
That gap between reading the first and the second wasn’t the greatest thing for my enjoyment of the second — I spent a bit too long trying to remember where we’d left off, and some of the references back to the first I gave up on trying to remember. Things are in a slightly better place than they were in the first, though in order to avoid spoilers I’m not going to explain how, but you still get the sense that the world is deeply broken. Which, true, it sorta is; they’d based their entire economy and governmental system around an external force, which one day decided to up and leave. Maybe not the best way to have done things.
Honestly, I’m a bit annoyed with the handling of business in Miroc, the city where the first book took place; in the aftermath of that one, it’s set up to begin recovering from the Abandonment. In this book, we’ve skipped forward six months, and aside from a couple references to tentative recovery, nothing much seems to have changed. Sure, it’s only six months, but it’s also a metropolis that just finished making itself entirely self-sufficient, there should be more happening.
Which is rather the crux of my opinion on the book: “there should be more happening.” There’s background details — mentions of an influx of immigrants, as well as an increase in emigration — that aren’t explored very well.1 Instead, there’s a digression, ignoring the leftover villains from the first book to go have an Indiana Jones adventure in the desert.
This book feels like it was supposed to be either the second of two books, or possibly the second of a trilogy, but halfway through someone decided they wanted it to be an ongoing series. And to match the expansion in scale, they tried to expand the setting — the already compelling villains from the first book are almost entirely ignored, despite having been clearly set up to be the main antagonist throughout the series, and what was set up as the background for the whole setting got awkwardly retconned.
It just didn’t work as well as the first book. Which is a shame, because that first one was amazing, and this, while still captivating, left me disappointed at the end. Nonetheless, here’s the link; that said, if you haven’t yet read the first one, go do that instead.


  1. That specific example is actually a huge plot thread that’s just… entirely dropped partway through. Everyone is all secretive about where they’re emigrating to, and then something new comes up and the characters decide to leave that Chekhov’s Gun just sitting on the table, ignored.