December Reading Round-up

The last month of 2018 is nearly at an end! I feel like I should do some sort of an end of year review, but I don’t recommend holding your breath waiting for it – between a nasty cold and Christmas, I’m pretty wiped out. But stress and coughing means that I did plenty of reading this month, so onwards to the reviews!

Sin du Jour: The First Course, by Matt Wallace

I started listening to this audio book – a compilation of the first three novellas in the Sin du Jour series – back in September. When I got to the end of the first novella, I was not impressed, and moved on to other things. There wasn’t anything wrong with it, the story just didn’t hook me. But a couple months later I decided to circle back around to it, and I’m glad that I did! I don’t know if the series got better, or if I just wasn’t in the right mood for a bit of light fun in September, but I raced through the last two books. Sin du Jour is about a catering company that cooks for demons, goblins, centaurs, and other beings generally considered supernatural. The main characters are new line chefs brought in for a one-time event, but the point-of-view wanders to almost everyone in the kitchen, to the crew of brawlers who procure the rare ingredients the chefs need, to the various magic workers kept on staff for emergencies. It’s possible that the first book was not long enough for me to get invested in so many characters, which might be why the second and third felt stronger to me. Once I got into the story, I found it to be light, frothy fun.

Trail of Lightning, by Rebecca Roanhorse

I was so excited when this book came out over the summer! Native American legends pop up in a lot of fantasy, and I always worry about appropriation. Finally, a Native American author has arrived to tackle those themes (or at least, has achieved enough public awareness that I know about it – I’m sure Roanhorse is not the first to try), and I can enjoy the story knowing that the culture will be presented accurately. I was originally familiar with Roanhorse from her short story, “Welcome to Your Authentic Native American Experience,” but this novel has a very different tone. It’s less serious, more pulpy, but still eminently enjoyable. The story follows the adventures of a Navajo monster slayer in a world where most of North America is suffering from a terrible drought brought on by climate change, while the Navajo nation has been spared, and even experienced a resurgence in magic. Maggie is in many ways a typical urban fantasy lead – violent, isolated, distrustful, but ultimately a good person – but that’s okay. I suspect she will gain depth as the series goes on, and I really came for the world-building, which did not disappoint.

The Girl in the Green Silk Gown, by Seanan McGuire

Another audio book, because I had a terrible cold and a lot of crafting to do for Christmas. This is the sequel to Sparrow Hill Road, which introduced us to the ghost Rose Marshall. She died on her way to the prom in the 1950’s, and has been roaming the ghost roads ever since. Rose is resourceful, impetuous, and a bit whiny, and I love her unconditionally. This sequel did not go in the direction that I expected. A major plot point isolates her from the truly delightful extended cast that we met in the first book. However, the ground it did tread was fascinating and well-done, and will have profound implications for whatever comes next, so it’s really my own fault if it wasn’t exactly what I wanted. I shall await the third installment (I assume there will be a third installment?) with baited breath.

A Conspiracy of Truths, by Alexandra Rowland

This is a story about the power of stories, which gives it an unfair advantage in winning my heart. The main character and delightfully unreliable narrator is Chant, a traveling storyteller who has been accused of a variety of crimes that he is pretty sure he never committed. He’s kind of an asshole, yet thanks to Rowland’s writing, he’s just likable enough to be an enjoyable companion. Chant is an unusual narrator, in that he is in jail for the entire book, so a lot of the bigger world events are told second and even third hand, as he summarizes thing that he learns things from his visitors and even his jailers. Despite that, he manages to have an active impact on the larger plot, through the stories he tells, and his ability to improvise. Highly recommended for anyone who believes in the power of stories, or who enjoys a rascally first person point-of-view.

The Descent of Monsters, by J.Y. Yang

The third novella in the Tensorate series is a bit of a departure from the previous two (which you definitely need to read before this one). Most of the characters we’ve met before are only tangentially involved, and the story is told mostly through correspondence and journal entries. That’s a story telling device that I generally love, but I guess it did not fulfill my expectations, based on the prior stories. Still, it’s an interesting story that reveals more information about the world, and that’s not nothing. This is the only fantasy series that has ever made me long for more background information then it gives me. The world is amazing, but details are only made explicit when they are in service to the plot (a necessary bit of restraint when writing novellas!), which means that I have lots of unanswered questions. While this installment might not have given me the characters I wanted, it did give me new information about the world, and for that I am deeply grateful.

I hope you are all taking a moment to rest up in preparation for the new year. Take care of yourselves, and I’ll see you in 2019!

November Reading Round-up

The holidays are upon us, and I am still not reading as much I usually do. My progress through Women Who Run with the Wolves was slowed by an inconvenient library due date, but I liked what I read enough to order a used copy online, so I should be picking that up again soon. In the meantime, I did read two novels and a collection of short stories.

Dietland, by Sarai Walker

Three different people recommended this book to me, so I finally gave it a try. I’m very glad that I did! This mainstream novel answers the question, “What if women started fighting back against the violence and oppression directed at them by Western culture?” There’s a lot of violence, but also a lot of humor. The narrative is particularly focused on the violence of diet culture, and the associated pressure to achieve what one character calls “fuckability.” The main character, Plum, has a habit of silently reciting the caloric content of any food she eats, or even sees, which is a bit painful to read, but more painful to realize that most of us do it, on some level or another, whether we are on a diet or not. The feminism in this book is not particularly intersectional – as I recall, all of the main characters are white and of middle to upper class backgrounds, though one notable background character is Latina.

The Calculating Stars, by Mary Robinette Kowal

I listened to this as an audio book, narrated by the author. Normally, that can be a bit of a gamble, but Kowal is also a professional audio book narrator, so in this case, it’s a fantastic choice. This is the first in a series, and at this point, it’s more alt history than science fiction, per se, though I expect that to change in the following installments. In this reality, a meteorite strikes Washington DC in the early 1950’s. In addition to obliterating the city and causing massive tidal waves, it also kicks of the Greenhouse Effect and will eventually render the earth uninhabitable. Thus, building space stations and colonies becomes of the utmost importance. The narrative follows one Alma York, a math genius and professional computer for the newly formed international space effort, in her quest to become a lady astronaut. The story hews pretty closely to the culture of the 1950’s, which is to say that we see a lot of sexism and racism, as well as some antisemitism. Fortunately, most of the actual characters are basically good people, which keeps it tolerable, at least for me (for comparison and so you can make good choices for yourself, I couldn’t tolerate the TV show Mad Men, but this is fine)

Mrs. Claus: Not the Fairy Tale They Say, edited by Rhonda Parrish

Yes, this seems more like an appropriate choice for December than November, but I recently saw a call for submissions for one of Parrish’s upcoming anthologies, and I was curious about her tastes. This a surprisingly varied anthology, with much of the adventuresome light fantasy fare I expected, but she includes a handful of horror and science fiction, as well. More than one story showed Mrs. Claus as some sort of warrior, a conceit which I appreciated. Not all the stories focus on Mrs. Claus directly, but most are in her point-of-view. I can’t say that I loved every story in the anthology (does anybody ever, for any anthology?), but I thoroughly enjoyed the collection on the whole.

Now that it is December, I imagine I will have less time for reading, but who knows? Maybe I’ll be so stressed out by the holidays that I need to take tons of time to read for recovery purposes. Wishing everyone the best, whatever holidays you celebrate this winter! I hope you are able to find some time to turn inwards as we slide into the cold, dark time of the year in Northern Hemisphere.