Spirits Abroad

Zen Cho’s collection of short stories is absolutely delightful. Quirky, humorous, and filled with the practical philosophy that even if you don’t believe in the spirits it’s only good manners to be polite to them.

The stories are all contemporary and located in Asia or the UK, but the protagonists are either Malaysian or Malaysian spirits, so unless you’re Malaysian, it’s probably best to read the ebook so you can translate the Malaysian scattered throughout the dialog when necessary. Most of the dialog is Manglish and most of it is understandable in context, but there are occasional times when you’ll want to know what that particular word means that caused people to react, or when the protagonist is one of the Malaysian spirits and you want to know what it is.

Intisar Khanani

Sunbolt CoverJust realized I haven’t mentioned any of Intisar Khanani’s books yet. She has two series (is two books a series yet?), one that’s a reimagining of the german fairytale of the “goose girl.” There are a number of these out by various authors (Shannon Hale’s is a more exact retelling), but Thorn is a good version and The Theft of Sunlight answers the question “what happened next?” by pulling in some of the threads that weren’t wrapped up in the first book.

Sunbolt is much more of an original story and Khanani’s first real stab at world building. Hitomi has been raised as a hidden magical talent until the death of her father and disappearance of her mother landed her in the streets. This is the story of Hitomi coming into her power and is continued in Memories of Ash, a title that will make much more sense after you read Sunbolt, and which sets the foundation for a great series.

I’ve enjoyed them all and I’m looking forward to the continuation of Hitomi’s story.

Aztec Science Fiction!

Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire is the book I came here to review today, before I got distracted by the Western Fantasy entry below. Mahit Dzmare is sent to the Teixcalaanli Empire as an ambassador for her mining station, with the primary purpose of convincing the Teixcalaanli to leave them alone, and the secondary purpose of finding out what happened to the last ambassador. She has the memories/personality of the late ambassador implanted in her brain to help her out, but the memories are years out of date, and shortly after she arrives they fritz out.

Mahit has to navigate the complex politics of the imperial court with defective memories, a fascinating assistant, attempts on her life, and the growing awareness that not all that she was told before she left can be trusted. Plus, she’s fascinated by the Teixcalaanli culture she’s supposed to be resisting.

This is a bit of a space opera, and takes some persistence to keep all the characters straight, but worth it.

Westerns with a Twist

I just noticed that I have completely forgotten to mention some of the great Western Fantasies that have been published in the last few years. Time to correct that!

The Frontier Magic trilogy, by Patricia Wrede, starts with Thirteenth Child. Eff is the 13th child of a seventh son and learns at an early age that this means that she is destined to be evil. (Her twin brother, on the other hand is the seventh son of a seventh son and therefore destined to be a remarkable magician.) After her uncle tries to have her arrested for being evil her parents decide to move the family out to the western frontier, where her father has accepted a position at a new college, and where she can make a new start without anyone knowing that she’s a 13th child. Eff volunteers at the college’s wildlife area and becomes fascinated with the western wilderness across the river. The story is told from Eff’s perspective and is a delightful combination of western and fantasy.

Laura Ann Gilman’s Silver on the Road has some surface similarities, but an entirely different feel. Isobel has been indentured to the Devil as a small child by her parents in return for helping them leave the Territory. She works in his saloon in the town of Flood until her sixteenth birthday when she completes her service and agrees to work for him as his left hand, “the strength of the Territory, the quick knife in the darkness, the cold eye and the final word.” The Devil protects the Territory and its residents, but he needs someone to travel its Roads and enforce the rules.

Somewhat reminiscent is Charlaine Harris’ Gunny Rose series starting with An Easy Death. Lisbeth “Gunny” Rose and her crew safeguard travelers in the wild west. After bandits kill all of her crew in a raid she is hired by a couple of grigoris (russian magicians) from the Holy Russian Empire (California) to protect them as they track down a descendent of Rasputin, whose blood is needed to keep the czar-in-exile alive. Gunny is remarkably even-keeled and practical, but there are some twists you won’t expect.

All of these are excellent and highly recommended.

The Lady Astronaut series

The Calculating Stars is one of those “what if ‘X’ happened” novels. It’s the memoir of a Southern Jewish woman, a former WASP pilot in WW2, a brilliant mathematician and a “calculator” for the U.S. space program in the 1950’s, when a meteorite wipes out D.C and most of the east coast, resulting in predictions of an extinction event within 50 years. It’s the first of three novels, two from Elma’s perspective and a third from the perspective of one of her fellow pilots.

This is not post-apocalyptic fiction, although you might think so from the description. This is a depiction of life as a minority in the ’50’s. Elma is a woman, jewish, and part of a team of asian and black women who support astronauts and engineers with critical calculations; the people behind the scenes who made space exploration possible.

Really enjoyable, as well as thought provoking.

The Murderbot Diaries

All Systems Red is the first of the Murderbot series. I highly recommend it.

Murderbot is a guardbot with a serious case of human-induced PTSD. It has hacked its governor module so it doesn’t have to do what they say anymore, and spends its time watching serials, rather than interacting with the stupid humans, when it can. Unfortunately they never listen to its recommendations (despite the fact that they rented it specifically to provide security!) and they’re always wandering blindly into danger with no thought to whether the current serial is at a good stopping place. Complete lack of consideration – and they never show the proper appreciation after being rescued either.

Murderbot has a serious attitude problem.

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry

7bb5c7d32a-3f1e-4e22-9328-dc4798da61cd7dimg100I just listened to the audiobook, read by Joan Walker, and was blown away. This is a wonderful tale about a girl named Elsa, 7 going on 8, who lives in a big house in a big city. She spends most of her time, when she’s not in school, with her granny, who used to be a doctor before she became a grandmother. Granny used to travel the world saving other people, which is ironic because Elsa lives across the hall with her mother, who’s a hospital administrator and doesn’t spend much time at home because she’s very busy. George also lives with them. He wears jogging shorts and everyone likes him, so Elsa tries not to, because that’s only fair. Granny can be a bit of a shit, so when she dies she leaves Elsa a treasure hunt of letters to deliver, to let people know she’s sorry.

Joan Walker makes you feel like she’s reading a fairy tale just to you. It’s an absolute delight. I can not recommend it enough.

Free Books and Good Books

I haven’t posted in forever. Mostly that was because I found I was more picky when I had reviewing in the back of my head, but also because I ran into a long line of crap books. What can I say, I just got tired of saying “this one sucks, and this one sucks, and this one sucks” (two points if you can identify the routine).

Recently I signed up for “The Fussy Librarian” and “BookBub” mailing lists. They both promote (mostly) new books and there are usually a couple of free books listed. I’m always willing to expand my horizons if it’s free! The downside is that my e-reader is in serious need of purging. Unfortunately most of these books are worth exactly what you pay for them, but here are a couple of exceptions:

A Feral Darkness – Boranna Durgin. A paranormal book for dog people, but actually a little harder than that to classify. I’m not a dog person, but this was a little bit different and good enough to make it all the way through.

alectoThe Alecto Initiative – Jordan Leah Hunter  and Owen R. O’Neill. Good enough that I actually bought the next two in the trilogy. This is military sci-fi with a strong female lead character, but instead of your usual put-upon cadet trying to uphold (or redeem) the family military tradition, Kris starts off as a slave who so brutally murders her master during her rescue that we don’t even find out the details until the third book.

A few other new authors I’ve been enjoying in the paper world:

51etdgpulgl-sx316Ann Leckie has a military sci-fi series that I enjoyed. What makes this series unique is that the protagonist is the last surviving component of The Justice of Toren, a starship AI that has been destroyed under mysterious circumstances. As a result, Breq has to get used to having only one body, as well as seeking vengeance. Ancillary Justice is the first of the trilogy.


51kguqx8lil-sx316The Golden City – J. Kathleen Cheney. This is the first book in a trilogy about various magical beings living in secret in the Golden City. Not because they’re secret, but because they’ve been banned by a paranoid prince whose death has been prophesied to be at the hands of one of them. I started reading this with some doubts about whether I’d finish, but it kept me interested and I ended up reading the entire trilogy.


51cpf2bz1u2bl-_sx336_bo1204203200_Serafina and the Black Cloak – Beatty, Robert. Serafina lives in the basement of a large estate with her father, the handyman, but no one knows that. This is a fun and spooky book – who is Serafina and why does her father keep her hidden away? What will happen if she reveals herself to help the children who have gone missing? There’s as much of a mystery about the characters as there is in the plot.

Did Not Finish

I hate to give up on books, but sometimes it’s just too painful to continue. You know how they say about dieting that you should love every calorie? You should love every word too.

So here’s my Did Not Finish list for this month:

The Kill Artist, by Daniel Silva. Basically, this book reinforces the point that the Middle-East is just a giant Hatsfields & McCoys feud and the only way it’s all going to end is when they all kill each other off. Best proof that there is no god: if there were he/she/it would have scrubbed the region clean and started over long ago. I read about half while waiting for Windows 10 to download and couldn’t care less what happened next, but I’d bet money the only slightly worthwhile character in the story will become collateral damage in the last few pages. It’s that kind of book.

The Burning Sky, Sherry Thomas. Poorly done Harry Potter knock-off. I read 50 pages or so and couldn’t go on. Poorly written, unbelievable characters and hugely, hugely derivative. Hugely.

The Drafter, Kim Harrison. I feel kind of bad about this one because I’ve generally liked Kim Harrison’s novels, but the hook on this one is so tired and worn out I couldn’t really engage. Main character is fighting bad guys, but loses her memory and relies on best buddy to tell her what happened. Best buddy turns out to be a liar. Now who are the real bad guys? Who can she trust? Yada yada yada. Slightly cool that she loses her memory every time she re-writes the past, but not enough to overcome the basic problem that this theme has been done to death.

Make Me

makemeJack Reacher has been wandering the U.S. for years now, stumbling into one mess after another and out-thinking and out-punching the bad guys every time. In Make Me he steps off the train in the prairie town of Mother’s Rest because he’s curious as to how the town got its name. He has two working theories, either a mother died or a mother gave birth during the long wagon-train ride West, but he figures there’ll be a small plaque somewhere that will solve the mystery. “He had no place to go, and all the time in the world to get there…”

Reacher is ex-Military Police, honorably discharged by mutual agreement, and, after spending his life in bases around the world, spending some time getting to know the U.S. This is how Reacher novels begin, with Reacher just minding his own business and ending up in the wrong place at the right time.

Generally Reacher novels are pretty straight-forward. Reacher does something that someone paranoid interprets as a threat, they try to take him out, Reacher cleans up and moves on. There are occasional references to the past, but basically each novel could stand alone. This one is a bit more convoluted than usual – he partners up with a private detective, flies around the country tracking leads, gets injured, and doesn’t just walk away at the end. The next novel will have to continue some threads.

Good old-fashioned, hard-core action/mystery.