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Things I’ve read lately

As I’ve said a few times before, I don’t get anywhere near as much time to read fiction as I’d like. But I do read when I can!

As I’ve also said before, I’m not much of a critic. Reviews aren’t a thing I do well. But I do like to mention it when I’ve read something I really liked, even if I have trouble explaining why I liked it.

At any rate, here are a few things I’ve read in the recent past:

What Lot’s Wife Saw, by Ioanna Bourazopoulou, translated from Greek by Yiannis Panas

This was…strange. But really, really good. How to describe it? A designer of odd crossword puzzles of his own idiosyncratic invention is asked to read a collection of letters from eyewitnesses to …a crime? A conspiracy? a mysterious series of events at any rate, in the hope that he will be able to use his puzzle-solving skills to determine what actually happened. This takes place in a world where much of Europe has been flooded by the Mediterranean, and a mysterious Salt has begun pouring into the world from one particular place. Yes, it’s where you think it would be, and the references to the story of Sodom in the Book of Genesis are quite explicit. The narrative is full of people doing strange and inexplicable things, sometimes grimly funny, often emotionally overwrought. I enjoyed it quite a bit, but I began to tire near the end, and hoped that it would indeed stick its landing and not just trail off. It did, indeed, stick its landing. If you’re looking for something really strange and really really good, give this a shot.

The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley

Yeah, okay, see. Here’s part of what I assume is the cover copy:

Somewhere on the outer rim of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ships known as the Legion is traveling in the seams between the stars. For generations, a war for control of the Legion has been waged, with no clear resolution. As worlds continue to die, a desperate plan is put into motion.

Zan wakes with no memory, prisoner of a people who say they are her family. She is told she is their salvation – the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, a world-ship with the power to leave the Legion. But Zan’s new family is not the only one desperate to gain control of the prized ship. Zan finds that she must choose sides in a genocidal campaign that will take her from the edges of the Legion’s gravity well to the very belly of the world.

So, this is chock full of action and fights and battles and betrayals and political intrigue. And those world-ships? They are all biological. Nothing in this fleet is built, it’s all birthed, and there are tentacles and blood and mucous and body fluids everywhere. It’s kind of awesome fun. You should totally read it when it comes out. In, um, February of next year. I kind of got an ARC and for once had a chance to read it before the actual release. Which doesn’t happen very often.

Daughter of Mystery by Heather Rose Jones

This is a Ruritanian fantasy. It’s also a pretty straight-ahead romance, which isn’t generally my thing, but I enjoyed it quite a lot. It takes place in the fictional tiny European country of Alpennia, and involves inheritances and wills and political intrigue. There’s also magic, very Christianity-based, a matter of petitioning saints in the right way at the right times. It’s the sort of thing that could easily turn me off, but I thought was handled very very well. Basically an eccentric wealthy baron leaves nearly everything he owns–except his title and the estate attached to it–to his god-daughter, a young woman nearly at her legal majority but being pressured to find a husband who can support her, since she has no means of her own. “Everything the baron owns” includes his bodyguard/duellist, another young woman. The bodyguard can’t be freed yet, because of the terms of the baron’s will, and besides the new young baron really resents being done out of the money he expected to inherit and will stop at nothing to get it, as well as his revenge. This is lots of fun, and Goodreads calls it “Alpennia #1” which implies there are more, so those are going on my long long TBR list for whenever I can get to them.

Some Books I’ve Read Lately

I don’t actually have much time for reading non-work related fiction these days. But I got into the whole writing thing because I loved to read, and so I do try to make time to read at least every now and then!

In the past several months, I’ve read:

An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows

When I first started reading An Accident of Stars I was a bit frustrated–I hadn’t realized just how tired I’d gotten of your garden variety portal fantasy. Or maybe it was that I’d read quite a lot of portal fantasies at a particular time in my life, when I was perhaps a less demanding reader. I suppose they’ve been out of fashion for a while, and I never really noticed that, but on beginning this book I found myself sighing a bit. “Really? Not-terribly-popular white teenager visits other world, turns out to be The Chosen One who will Heal the Land or whatever (extra points if it’s allegorical for problems they face in the “real” world), saves universe, returns home having Learned a Valuable Lesson and maybe even Grown Up a Little.” But I kept reading, because I figured Foz was planning to go somewhere interesting with it.

As it happens, there are two protagonists in this book. (Or maybe there are four. I’d entertain that argument.) One is the aforementioned teenager, but the other is a middle-aged woman who’s lived her life between two worlds. To a certain extent she serves as a guide and teacher for the younger protagonist, but she’s a major character in her own right and shares the narrative with Saffron. There are also plenty of other women in the story–young and old, mothers (or not) and daughters, so that there’s no question of either Smurfettes or Singular Girls, and no suggestion that becoming older, or a mother, or disabled for that matter, removes you from eligibility for having adventures of sufficient import or interest. Saffron is not The Chosen One, either, and the cultures and languages she encounters aren’t just cardboard versions of Medieval Europe with their serial numbers halfheartedly scuffed up. Quite the contrary.

So this was basically all the things I’d enjoyed about portal fantasies as a younger reader, with the dubious gifts the suck fairy might have bestowed either questioned or removed. I ended up enjoying An Accident of Stars quite a lot.

Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

This is actually the third book in a…series? Sequence? Sequence I guess. I gather the numbers in the titles tell you which comes first, second, etc in “in story” order, but not in actual publication order. I would complain about this, but I’m the author of a trilogy all titled Ancillary [X] and readers often get confused about which book comes where in the trilogy, so, glass houses. Anyway, I actually recommend you start out with Three Parts Dead, the first in the sequence.

As so often in fantasies, gods are real in the world of these books. I feel like sometimes writers don’t stop to really think about what that means, if gods are real, let alone if gods of many different cultures and religious traditions are real. Max has thought about it, and has built a world where actually a lot of the gods have died, but their power is still a real force in the world, though it’s wielded by banks and lawyers and basically is the world’s economy–money as magic. These books are smart and fun, and they wear their reliance on the real world as source material on their sleeve, which sometimes annoys me but here I enjoy, I suspect because it’s done very deliberately and not out of thoughtlessness. As a bonus, these books offer a lot of engaging women characters, particularly Full Fathom Five, which once I closed it I realized was basically all the major characters and quite a few non-major but important ones.

Anyway, I’ve really enjoyed reading these so far, and at some point (hopefully in the not too distant future) I have every intention of picking up Four Roads Cross.

A couple things I’ve read

When I was a child, I had several Dream Jobs. I wanted to be an astronaut, of course, and I also considered careers in paleontology and archaeology. But high, very high on my list was “any job where people will pay me to read, or failing that, give me lots of free books.”

Reader, it turns out that I now have such a job. And in some ways it is exactly as awesome as I had dreamed. More awesome! And yet. Now that I get books sent to me for free on a regular basis (nothing like Scalzi gets, but still, it’s a couple a week in my email or in my PO box), I do not have time to read them all.

I do try to read them! Because, I mean. It’s just, it takes me a while, because I have so much other job-related reading to do.

Anyway. I get books. And I read them, if slowly. And sometimes I enjoy them quite a bit! Like for instance.

Borderline, by Mishell Baker. This is I think what the kids call urban fantasy. Which mostly isn’t my sort of thing–I’ve got nothing against it, but it usually doesn’t do a lot for me. I’m pretty sure I’m not its target audience. But I enjoyed Borderline quite a lot. And this is the part where I should say why I enjoyed it, but I am remarkably bad at doing that. I can talk about things that caught my eye–the protagonist has Borderline Personality Disorder, which is treated pretty matter-of-factly, without romanticizing or demonizing the character or her illness. The other characters were nicely drawn as well, I thought, and I enjoyed the Hollywood setting (though to be honest, Hollywood might as well be Faery itself as far as I’m concerned). If you enjoy urban fantasy, you should check this out. If you aren’t a UF reader, well, maybe check it out anyway, because it’s a lot of fun.

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee. If you’ve read any of Yoon’s short fiction, you know he’s fabulous. I confess myself partial to “The Winged City,” which I bought for GigaNotoSaurus several years ago. Now he’s got a novel coming out, and it’s (unsurprisingly) excellent. It’s out June 14, but I got an ARC and boy am I glad I did. Here’s a blurb I found at the Amazon listing:

“I love Yoon’s work! Ninefox Gambit is solidly and satisfyingly full of battles and political intrigue, in a beautifully built far-future that manages to be human and alien at the same time. It should be a treat for readers already familiar with Yoon’s excellent short fiction, and an extra treat for readers finding Yoon’s work for the first time.”

Every word of that is true. I know because I wrote that blurb myself.  Honestly, you should read this as soon as you can. And you should check out Yoon’s short fiction as well.