Housekeeping 2022

The end of the year is nigh. I am having a look at my want-to-read shelf, aka books that I want to reads, but do not own yet. Every now and then I kick some books off that shelf, because I am not that interested anymore. I am very, very stingy with adding titles to that list, because I do not want to be overwhelmed and I want to stand a chance to actually read those books at some point in time. So I only have 170 titles on that shelf. I own another 240 unread books, so I am not running out of reading material anytime soon. Anyway, I am currently filling my virtual shopping basket at a secondhand bookstore at the moment and going through that want-to-read, looking for some low-priced bargains… Here it goes…

Lone Wolf and Cub, Vol. 1: The Assassin’s Road (Lone Wolf and Cub, #1)

Lone Wolf and Cub (Kozure Okami in Japan) is acknowledged worldwide for the brilliant writing of series creator Kazuo Koike and the groundbreaking cinematic visuals of the late Goseki Kojima. Creating unforgettable imagery of stark beauty, kinetic fury, and visceral thematic power, the epic samurai adventure has influenced a generation of visual storytellers both in Japan and in the West.

I‘ve had this on my shelf for a while. I do not read a lot of Manga, I am not a huge fan of the black-and-white medium. But reviews for this are consistently good, so… bought!

Raising Stony Mayhall
by Daryl Gregory

In 1968, after the first zombie outbreak, Wanda Mayhall and her three young daughters discover the body of a teenage mother during a snowstorm. Wrapped in the woman’s arms is a baby, stone-cold, not breathing, and without a pulse. But then his eyes open and look up at Wanda — and he begins to move.

This sounded really good at the time I added it. Plus I really liked Afterparty and the short story NIne Last Days on Planet Earth by the author. But I am a little oversaturated with zombies… Deleted!

Marriage of Inconvenience (Knitting in the City, #7)
by Penny Reid

Marriage of Convenience is one of my favourite romance tropes, which is why I added this to my shelf. However, I recently read the first book of that series and was utterly underwhelmed. It was ok, but generally not interesting enough to continue with the series. Deleted!

Made to Order: Robots and Revolution
by Jonathan Strahan and others

They are often among the least privileged, most unfairly used of us, and the more robots are like humans, the more interesting they become. This collection of stories is where robots stand in for us, where both we and they are disadvantaged, and where hope and optimism shines through.

I have too many short story anthologies on my shelves and robots are another topic where I reached saturation… deleted!

The Loch
by Steve Alten

Marine biologist Zachary Wallace once suffered a near-drowning experience in legendary Loch Ness, and now, long-forgotten memories of that experience have begun haunting him. The truth surrounding these memories lies with Zachary’s estranged father, Angus Wallace, a wily Highlander on trial for murder. Together the two plunge into a world where the legend of Loch Ness shows its true face.

Ugh, I think I am done with Steve Alten. Delete! And if I should find any more Meg novels on my shelf, I will boot those off as well…

Terms of Enlistment (Frontlines, #1)
by Marko Kloos

With the colony lottery a pipe dream, Andrew chooses to enlist in the armed forces for a shot at real food, a retirement bonus, and maybe a ticket off Earth. But as he starts a career of supposed privilege, he soon learns that the good food and decent health care come at a steep price…and that the settled galaxy holds far greater dangers than military bureaucrats or the gangs that rule the slums.

I guess I added this because I saw some good reviews and it‘s on Kindle Unlimited. But to be honest, it sounds depressing and I am not a massive MilSF fan anyway. Deleted.

The Survival of Molly Southbourne (Molly Southbourne, #2)
by Tade Thompson

I did like the first Molly Southbourne book quite a bit, but it also made me very uncomfortable. So, delete…

Ok then, besides those 7 books above (of which I only bought one and deleted 6), I also deleted a ton on KU additions and other stuff that I remembered nothing about. I am now down to only 130 books left on that shelf. Quite a nice clean-up.

Space exploration

To Be Taught, If Fortunate
by Becky Chambers

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“My name is Ariadne O’Neill, and I’m the flight engineer aboard the OCA spacecraft Merian. My crewmates are mission specialists Elena Quesada-Cruz, Jack Vo, and Chikondi Daka. We’re part of the Lawki program, a broad ecological survey of exoplanets – that is, planets that do not orbit our sun – known or suspected to harbour life. Our mission (Lawki 6) is focused on the four habitable worlds in orbit around the red dwarf star Zhenyi (BA-921): the icy moon Aecor, and the terrestrial planets Mirabilis, Opera, and Votum.“

And exploring those planets is made possible by somaforming, aka transforming the human body by adapting it to each new world during transit to that location. The transformations were not as extreme as I had hoped for, but probably have a higher degree of probability.

This is not space opera with massive conflict, it‘s more about a group of nerdy scientist exploring new planets. It‘s about love of exploration and about finding signs of life. And it‘s about how the four scientist cope with their experiences. All four of them are relatable and likable, although they do each represent a cliché and very specific personality trait.

The imagined worlds are diverse and were fun. The ending felt too abrupt and overly philosophical. I would have wished for the story to keep going a little further. Especially the contact with Earth could have done with more plot. It was set up to be an important part, but the conclusion left me wanting.

The story is pretty calm and introspective, but not slow or boring. I enjoyed and it‘s yet again another reminder that I really need to get through my Becky Chambers backlog.

We step out of our solar system into the universe seeking only peace and friendship – to teach, if we are called upon; to be taught, if we are fortunate

Dying Earth…

Dying Earths: Sixteen Stories from the Ends of Times
by Sue Burke and others…

Ongoing. I will update as I go along…

THE TYRANNY OF BEAUTY by P.J. Richards ★★★☆☆ Fantasy
“When the Ways first appeared they felt like our salvation, an escape from the desolation we had created. They were the dream that had tempted humans for generations.“
The Ways to Fairyland or the Otherworld open and release the Host. The view into the Ways might be paradisal, but is a really scary place. Not what I expected in an anthology of a dying Earth, but interesting.

Interview with the author about another short story with a similar theme:…

THE CULT OF MOTHER-SUN by James Maxstadt ★★★☆☆ SF
A movie director from the future travels back to Earth to make a documentary about the birthplace of humanity. A little light and silly.

IN THE WEEDS by Sue Burke ★★★★☆ Climate fic / SF
Climate change has destroyed Earth as we know it. Weeds grow well, plants adapt. Great extrapolation of potential evolutionary steps of our plantlife. I wish this one had been longer.

Recommended reading by Sue Burke: Semiosis (my review)
Interview with the author about Semiosis:…

GOOD MOTHER by Lena Ng ★★½☆☆ Allegory
Gaia, the Mother of Earth, gives and gives and we take and take and in our entitlement give nothing back. The author wacks us over the head with what we are doing to Earth. A bit pointless.

TWILIGHT AT THE BASEBALL GROUND by George Alan Bradley ★★★★½  Alternate history
The US after a nuclear attack. Set after Star Wars (1977) and before the collapse of the Soviet Union. One boy and his parents in a bunker. Depressing, but well written. Not quite sure what to make of the ending.

Dyeing Earth, next part of reviews is here.

Sapient or not, that is the question…

Little Fuzzy
by H. Beam Piper

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Jack is a prospector on a colony planet. One day a little bipedal fuzzy guy shows up in his camp. They become friends and Jack starts to wonder if the little guy is more than a very smart animal. Which would throw a very large wrench into the plans of The Big Bad Company with a majority interest in exploiting the natural resources of the presumably uninhabited planet.

The Fuzzies are very cute, the story is well plotted and has some shocking elements. Characters are well developed—even the lone female character, which this time around is an actual person with dialogue. Other than that we are still very much in the 1960s with classic gender stereotypes. The cast of characters is diverse. Bizarrely everybody seems to be smoking nonstop and people drink a lot of highballs. I honestly don‘t see why this is categorized as Young Adult.

Besides those idiosyncrasies I had a lot of fun and really liked the story. The prevailing theme of this novella (novel?) is the definition of sentience/sapience and to a smaller extent the rights of indigenous people. I can see why this was nominated for a Hugo in 1963. 

I might continue with the sequels. John Scalzi wrote a reboot of this story, Fuzzy Nation. I might have a look at it to see what he made of this 50 years later. His version received an Audie Award in 2012, so the audiobook might be the way to go…

“Well, maybe they’re just slightly sapient,” Jimenez suggested. Ruth Ortheris hooted at that. “That’s like talking about being just slightly dead or just slightly pregnant,” she said. “You either are or you aren’t.”

Medical SF from the early 60s

Hospital Station (Sector General, #1)
by James White

Medical science fiction. A massive hospital in space, catering to a multitude of aliens with different needs.

“Each section has a different atmosphere and habitat to cater for the many different species… how to design a spacesuit for a surgeon with eight legs?“

A bit very dated and conservative in terms of gender roles. Human characters are male, all aliens are „it“. Eventually a female nurse is mentioned and pursued by the MC in the off. Bizarrely she is not really considered a person nor a member of the staff. Very odd. It made me wonder about the personal life of the author, it feels very immature. Or just very, very old-fashioned, even for the early sixties. If you can get past that, this is an entertaining enough read.

Conway, the MC of all but the first story, is a doctor on the station. He generally does not show a lot of respect or trust for his fellow humans and alien colleagues, does not communicate well with others and is pretty worried about his own career and sense of importance. Not a very likable fellow. 

The lack of communication and withholding of information feels like a gadget to increase suspense. Something seen a lot in contemporary romcoms, where I also don‘t like it. There is also quite a bit of information sharing happening in the off, leaving the reader in the dark. Not very satisfying.

I read somewhere that the author was a pretty influential figure in SF in his time, although he did not win any major awards, as far as I can tell. There is definitely a Hard SF vibe going on. It shows in the different habitats he describes in his hospital. The whole thing is a little dry though. I had hoped for more emotions and drama, more ER and House, M.D. in Space… there is plenty of action with all kinds of odd aliens, but it all remains a little one-dimensional.

Read as part of the omnibus Beginning Operations. The individual parts seem to be collections of novellas and shorter works, that were bundled into books eventually. I am pretty sure that I will continue with the omnibus, as I am interested to see how the author and his style will develop.

Still to read: Star Surgeon, copyright © 1963, and Major Operation, copyright © 1971.

Further reading: Murray Leinster’s Med Ship series was mentioned somewhere.

Anarchists meet demons

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion (Danielle Cain #1)
by Margaret Killjoy

So, the title has a lamb and a lion and the cover has a deer. What‘s up with that, you ask? I had no idea, but the cover reminded me of The Only Good Indians (my review).

Highlights of the book blurb: “… a queer punk rock traveller, … best friend’s mysterious and sudden suicide, … utopian town of Freedom, Iowa. … town’s residents summoned a protector spirit to serve as their judge and executioner. … a blood-red, three-antlered deer—turn on its summoners. … save the town—or get out alive.“

Ok, then… I liked the story, although the supernatural element was not explored much. There is the summoned deer, the zombie animals and mentioning of some magic, but not much introspection into any of them. The creepiness was there, but it was pretty bloodless. Some poetry.

In terms of world building I got more out of the representation of the squatters and anarchists. I am not sure if this story truly knew what it wanted to be about. However, I would probably pick up the sequel, if it came my way.

3.5 heartless birds, rounded down for now. 

Locus Award Nominee for Best Novella (2018), Shirley Jackson Award Nominee for Best Novella (2018)

Unlocked potential

Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden’s Syndrome (Lock In, #0.5)
by John Scalzi 

I have a bad track record with Scalzi. The Collapsing Empire was ok-ish (my review), although I considered a DNF at the time. And I only finished Redshirts (my review) with a lot of skimming. So Scalzi is not on my list of wanted authors. Unlocked came as part of a free collection, otherwise I would not have picked it up.

A 63-page novella that tells the story of a pandemic, about a virus that locks people‘s minds in their bodies. I am not quite sure if it‘s really a prequel to Lock In or more of a companion piece that should be read after the novel. I have not read the novel yet and the story worked well for me.

I am a fan of stories building up to the apocalypse (and set during it), so this was right down my alley. Despite not usually liking the epistolary form. Here it worked well. Ok, it‘s not really an apocalyptic story, but it seems to be at first. Society and the world as we know them do not really end. But there is massive change and a high death toll.

I liked this. Not a lot of character development, which would be hard in the shortness of this novella and the amount of interviewees telling their stories in short paragraphs. The voices are interchangeable and I only managed to keep track of two or three of them. The world building was fine though. It was clear what was going on and the societal implications were portrayed in a captivating way. Heck, I wanted to be a Haden at the end.

I will check out the novel. Scalzi finally struck a nerve. I would have read this in one sitting, if I hadn‘t been so tired.

PS: Apparently I just read a novella through the viewpoint of a lenticular lens. You learn something new every day…

And here is the story for free on

Queer Crime Noir with demons and magic

Even Though I Knew the End
by C.L. Polk (Author), January LaVoy (Narrator)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A magical detective dives into the affairs of Chicago’s divine monsters to secure a future with the love of her life. This sapphic period piece will dazzle anyone looking for mystery, intrigue, romance, magic, or all of the above.

Think Crime Noir à la Dashiell Hammett and add some demons, angels and a sapphic romance. Throw in a murder in a dark alley and a disgraced private eye with shady connections. Stir and voilà! One queer Gumshoe with a dash of magic coming right up.

I picked this up, because I read Witchmark (my review here) by Polk and liked it. Not enough to continue with the sequel—the setting didn‘t interest me—but enough to pick up this short Crime Noir offering.

Took me a while to unterstand the meaning of the title. Pretty obvious, once the coin drops. Potential for a sequel and a spin-off! I would read them…

Good audiobook narration by January LaVoy.

I received an advanced audiobook copy of this book from the publisher or author through NetGalley. All opinions are my own and I was not required to give a positive review. Thank you!

Let’s give ’em something to talk about…

Something to Talk About
by Meryl Wilsner

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Hollywood powerhouse Jo is photographed making her assistant Emma laugh on the red carpet, and just like that, the tabloids declare them a couple. The so-called scandal couldn’t come at a worse time – threatening Emma’s promotion and Jo’s new movie.

I picked up this book a year ago, probably triggered by the Bonnie Raitt title. I love that song! And then there is the accidental relationship and a pretty cover. Sold. Pity it took me so long to read this, because it means I missed the Netgalley of Wilsner‘s next book as well. 

Believable story and characters, well developed side characters, fun story. A little extra with a me-too subplot in the middle. Blessed absence of unnecessary silliness. I would have liked to see more of Emma‘s family and would have loved a „meet the parents“ scene.

The drama between Jo and Emma in the second half took the fun out of it all just a little bit, hence only 4 stars instead of 5. I am getting a little tired of romance drama due to people not talking to each other like adults.

Bottomline, solid contemporary LGBTQ+ romance novel with a nice amount of humor. I would definitely pick up something else by the author. Recommended.

I really want potato pancakes now.

People are talking, talking ’bout people
I hear them whisper, you won’t believe it
They think we’re lovers kept under cover
I’ll just ignore it, but they keep saying
We laugh just a little too loud
Stand just a little too close
We stare just a little too long
Maybe they’re seeing something we don’t, darlin’

Lyrics of Bonnie Raitt‘s song

Roadtrip on chicken legs into the past…

by GennaRose Nethercott 

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Here is the rare event of the cover drawing me to a book. Over the years I have met Baba Yaga in various mutations. Probably first through Kate Daniels or another UF series and lastly through the Witcher. The chicken-legged hut sealed the deal. A roadtrip in a walking hut? Sounds bonkers. I had fun looking at various images of chicken-legged huts online…

It started more sweet than horrible, until the bad guy showed up for the first time. Creepy. 

“In the tradition of modern fairytales like American Gods and Spinning Silver comes a sweeping epic rich in Eastern European folklore–a debut novel about the ancestral hauntings that stalk us, and the uncanny power of story.“

Anybody interested in Eastern European folklore has probably come across Baba Yaga and her chicken-legged hut before. So colour me intrigued, when I read about the Yaga siblings, their inheritance of a house with chicken legs and a road trip. I had to go along.

The siblings come across as amicable characters, when they are introduced—a wood-working sister and her trickster-like brother. The Longshadow Man though is frightening right off the bat.

Sometimes the plot moved along nicely, sometimes dragged a bit, getting caught up in descriptive prose and inner musings. A bit more plot progression would have been my preference, although the lyrical bits had something, too.

I expected something tenser, with a stronger horror element. After the Longshadow Man showed up for the first time, I thought there would be a growing sense of dread and urgency and of being chased. But the pace remained mostly pretty sedate, with the odd more active interlude. The mystery unravelled slowly, with frequent glimpses into the past of the main characters.

Unusual, different. Not as much horror as I thought. This is not a re-telling of a haunted fairytale. It‘s more a re-telling of horrible, past events. Or a remembering. Some events need to be retold, to battle all those people out there prone to repeat history. Let‘s call it magical realism with a strong dose of folklore and a dash of history.

The defining moment of Baba Yaga is one that has been told many times over for horrific events in history, where the many take it upon themselves to murder and exterminate the few. But I guess these stories need to be told again and again, when I look at the news and experience how stupid people still are, despite everything.

Bottomline, I liked this story. I struggled a bit with the pacing. The active parts were great and well written. The lyrical parts were just that, but they dragged and sometimes they dragged so much that I put the book down and didn‘t touch it for a day. I liked Bellatine and Isaac. What a twat he was. Thistlefoot came alive beautifully. I laughed at it‘s different origin stories. Baba Yaga‘s story was mostly dreadful and the ending is a bittersweet one. Please don‘t think that this novel is only about the past, Bellatine and Isaac live in the now and so do their friends. It‘s a very magical now though.

I would pick up something else by the author, if I liked the blurb.

Author‘s website:

And her Traveling Poetry Emporium — What a fun idea! I enjoyed reading about it and wish that I lived on a different continent, so I could visit.

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher or author through NetGalley. All opinions are my own and I was not required to give a positive review.