Dystopia with overloaded prose

And What Can We Offer You Tonight
by Premee Mohamed

A vaguely dystopian setting in a flooded city. The poor bury their dead by sinking them in the canals surrounding their dwellings. Our MC Jewel is an enslaved courtesan, living a relatively comfortable, if restricted and not entirely safe life in a luxury brothel. One of the other women in her house is beaten to death by a client. But she doesn‘t stay dead. She comes back to life, looking for revenge and taking Jewel along for the ride.

80 pages, pretty odd, with a rambling and overloaded prose. The actual plot could have fit into a much shorter story. The rest didn‘t really work for me. It was just a lot of fluff, with the odd shocking bit in between. I skimmed through the last part. The ending was quite nice, at least for Jewel. But the mystery of the dead girl coming back to life was never explored and the world could have done with a little more background. I didn‘t really like this, sorry.

The cover looks nice, but is as overloaded as the prose.

Nebula Award Winner, Best Novella in 2021
Author‘s website at http://premeemohamed.com

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.

Top Ten Tuesday — most anticipated books releasing in 2023

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This week‘s topic: top ten most anticipated books releasing in the first half of 2023

Another meme that I haven‘t done in a really long time. And I doubt that I will get together ten books. I don‘t check and plan ahead a lot for my reading. It‘s more of an accidental affair. So, anyway, let‘s see what I have planned already in terms of new books for this year…

I do not actually have anything newly published on my list until late April. So the title of this Top Ten Tuesday is right out of the window. Anyway, April!

In the Lives of Puppets
by T.J. Klune

This one is a maybe, I have plenty of other books on my T.J. Klune backlog.

In a strange little home built into the branches of a grove of trees, live three robots–fatherly inventor android Giovanni Lawson, a pleasantly sadistic nurse machine, and a small vacuum desperate for love and attention. Victor Lawson, a human, lives there too. They’re a family, hidden and safe. 

Inspired by Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio, and like Swiss Family Robinson meets Wall-EIn the Lives of Puppets is a masterful stand-alone fantasy adventure from the beloved author who brought you The House in the Cerulean Sea and Under the Whispering Door.

Next one. I am not even sure this here will be published in May, as I can‘t find any dates about it anywhere besides its Goodreads bookpage:

Moon of the Turning Leaves (Moon of the … #2)
by Waubgeshig Rice

Twelve years have passed since a widespread blackout triggered the rapid collapse of society, when the constants of the old world—cell service, landlines, satellite and internet—disappeared. Twelve long years since the steady supply of food and fuel from the south became a thing of the past.

The sudden end of the world as everybody knew it, and the horrors of that first winter since everything became dark, only steeled the resolve of Evan Whitesky and the other members of the Anishinaabe community to survive on their own terms. Because the world wasn’t ending, as the community elders reminded them. It had already ended with the original displacement of their people to the far north by colonial authorities. They have seen this “apocalypse” before. They’ve seen it—lived it—over and over. But they had always survived. And they will survive this too.

http://www.bukowskiagency.com/Rice/Moon-of-the-Turning-Leaves.htm

The book was supposed to come out last year. Maybe Corona threw a wrench into the works? On Rice‘s Twitter he posts about a Fall 2022 draft, so work is still going on, fingers crossed. Sequel to MOON OF THE CRUSTED SNOW. My review of that book wasn‘t too favourable, when I read it in 2019. But the story has lingered, so it can‘t have been that average.

And another one for May:

Lords of Uncreation (The Final Architecture, #3)
by Adrian Tchaikovsky

The Arthur C. Clarke award-winning author of Children of Time brings us the third and final novel in an extraordinary space opera trilogy about humanity on the brink of extinction, and how one man’s discovery will save or destroy us all.

Loved the first one, struggled with the second one, have to read the third one to get closure.

The final book to come out in May, not sure yet if I will get it. Barring another Murderbot, I can settle:

Witch King
by Martha Wells

“I didn’t know you were a… demon.”
“You idiot. I’m the demon.”
Kai’s having a long day in Martha Wells’ WITCH KING….

After being murdered, his consciousness dormant and unaware of the passing of time while confined in an elaborate water trap, Kai wakes to find a lesser mage attempting to harness Kai’s magic to his own advantage. That was never going to go well.

Doesn‘t sounds all that different to dear old Murderbot, right?

And we finally move into June. ANOTHER IMPERIAL RADCH!!! Boy, did I wait long for this one! I got so fed up with waiting, I re-read the first Imperial Radch trilogy in 2021. Tea did not help with the waiting, dear!

Translation State (Imperial Radch)
by Ann Leckie

The mystery of a missing translator sets three lives on a collision course that will have a ripple effect across the stars in this powerful new novel by award-winning author Ann Leckie. 

Qven was created to be a Presger translator. The pride of their Clade, they always had a clear path before them: learn human ways, and eventually, make a match and serve as an intermediary between the dangerous alien Presger and the human worlds. The realization that they might want something else isn’t “optimal behavior”. It‘s the type of behavior that results in elimination. 

Squeee! Presger translator! So looking forward to this one!

At some point in 2023 there should be Mercy Thompson #14 by Patricia Briggs. That‘s all I know. No title or cover art yet. But I will definitely read it, when it comes out.

That was only six books, sorry! We‘ll see what other books will sneak up on me in the next few months! And then back to my owned pile of TBRs….

Canadian chick-lit with a little extra

The Stand-In
by Lily Chu, Phillipa Soo (Narrator)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

“Gracie Reed is doing just fine. Sure, she was fired by her overly “friendly” boss, and yes she still hasn’t gotten her mother into the nursing home of their dreams, but she’s healthy, she’s (somewhat) happy, and she’s (mostly) holding it all together.

But when a mysterious SUV pulls up beside her, revealing Chinese cinema’s golden couple Wei Fangli and Sam Yao, Gracie’s world is turned on its head. The famous actress has a proposition: due to their uncanny resemblance, Fangli wants Gracie to be her stand-in. The catch? Gracie will have to be escorted by Sam, the most attractive—and infuriating—man Gracie’s ever met.“

It was ok. The story is fairly predictable. The chemistry between Gracie and Sam Yao is not exactly sizzling. It‘s a mellow enemies-to-lovers. Not exactly enemies and an eventually very vanilla kind of lovers.

I liked the perspective of a mixed-race character and how she is perceived and treated by others. And how hard it can be for celebrities to be objectified by their fans and having to live with a complete loss of privacy. This and some other themes added a little extra to the usual romance plot.

There is the required misunderstanding towards the end, etc etc. The characters are not too silly about it. If you are looking for an unchallenging romance without big surprises, this does the trick. Enough other topics are touched briefly to keep it interesting.

Would I pick up something else by the author? Maybe, if I came across it cheaply. Yes, this was an audible freebie (for subscribers).

Riding the bus through London

The 392
by Ashley Hickson-Lovence

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Set entirely on a London bus travelling from Hoxton to Highbury and taking place over just 36 minutes, the events of The 392 unfold through a cast of charismatic characters coming from very different worlds. On the 392 are all the familar faces you might expect to see on any bus ride through inner-city London in the grip of gentrification; delinquent school kids, the high-flyers, the weird, the wonderful and the homeless. These Londoners share two things: a bus journey and a threat. A threat which is ready to blow apart everything they know.

From the book blurb

Not my usual type of reading. The premise sounded interesting and it is included in my Audible subscriptions. So here we are. Narrated by a British cast, we are riding on a bus through London, listening to the bus passengers narrating their life, their past, their wishes for their future, their prejudices, fears and wants… Hipsters, racism, soccer, gentrification, low brow, high brow, drugs, a pregnant girl, a barrister, a blind man, an elderly lady, unknown buildings, weird smells, school children, a camera man, a politician…. A bomb?

Great narrators, great characters talking about their own experiences and perceptions. Very well written and the narration by different voice actors makes it very lively.

Barney makes me think of Boris Johnson. Is he supposed to be? 

Slightly gross at times, for a mature audience.

Bottom line, not bad, getting a glimpse at Londoners from various backgrounds. Ultimately not really my thing.

The author reading from his debut novel:

Politics, mystery and a coming of age drama aboard a miles-long generation ship.

I stole that title sentence from the author, it‘s a perfect description.

Braking Day
by Adam OyebanjiAriyan Kassam (Narrator)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Ravi trains to become an engineer and officer on a generation ship that is ruled by an officer elite looking down on the likes of him. One day he sees a girl without space suit floating outside of the ship, impossibly alive… pursuing this mystery might mean that he looses his chance of climbing the social ladder of the ship and could have even more dire consequences.

Believable characters, mostly light reading for a YA audience, but with some darker notes about society, prejudices and how badly people can treat others, when they think they are entitled. There might be dragons. And chocolate.

Meet the author: Adam Oyebanji on debut novel Braking Day  “Ravi has friends and a team. There are times in the book he is at a bit of a loss and other people step up. In many ways, it is all of them together moving through the conflict. Ravi is not a towering figure of physical prowess and mental genius who can move galaxies, he’s just a guy, but he has a moral compass.”

And a fun interview with the author on GrimdarkMagazine (light spoilers)

Scheherazade meets Rashomon

When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain (The Singing Hills Cycle, #2)
by Nghi Vo

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Loved the mammoths immediately! And I was oddly happy to meet Chih again, despite complaining about a lack of an emotional connection to the characters in the first book of this series, The Empress of Salt and Fortune.

We meet demons/shapeshifters in the form of tigers. And they want to eat Chih and their travel companions. Chih has to tell a story to hopefully save them, but doesn‘t get it quite right. It felt a bit like Scheherazade of One Thousand and One Nights meets Rashomon by Akira Kurosawa. In my head I pictured an animated movie, perhaps inspired by the pretty book cover.

I am finally hooked and already requested The Singing Hills #3, Into the Riverlands, on Netgalley. Fingers crossed.

PS: These novellas are standalone, you do not need to read them in order.

Nanotec, bots, genetics and bacteria…

The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume Six 

I will update this anthology as I go along…

– SEEDING THE MOUNTAIN by M. L. Clark 

“In another century, the great Gabo would have summed up the miracle in a sentence running pages long, interwoven with tales of floating virgins, moldering fallen angels, and dictators who died and maybe rose again.“

I am definitely not a fan of sentences running pages long, stuffed full of superfluous adverbs and adjectives. Hard pass. ★☆☆☆☆

– RED_BATI by Dilman Dila — a conscious pet robot fighting for its life and meaning on a mining ship. Read this before in Dominion: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora and found it a bit blander this time around. I really liked it the first time, but in all honesty it lacks real conflict. The bot stories by Suzanne Palmer for example are a lot more fun to read. ★★★☆☆

My summarized review of the Dominion anthology is here.

– INVISIBLE PEOPLE by Nancy Kress — parents find out that their adopted daughter has been genetically altered as an embryo. Besides the ethical questions this throws up, it‘s a well-written thriller. Great character development for a short story, I was with them every step of the way. ★★★★★

I should probably have a deeper look at Nancy Kress, I seem to like her…

– TEXTBOOKS IN THE ATTIC by S. B. Divya — climate change has flooded towns, antibiotics are rare for those less privileged. A mother searches for a way to save her son. ★★★★★

More from the author, including two free stories, here on tor.com. Very readable and a nice palate cleaners after finishing my recent doorstopper!

Fierce enough to fight wolves 

The Empress of Salt and Fortune (The Singing Hills Cycle, #1)
by Nghi Vo 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

A servant tells the story of her empress to a non-binary cleric. Two linear timelines, novella. Much is hinted at, little is spelled out. Fantasy novella with hints of China and further north. 

“The abbey at Singing Hills would say that if a record cannot be perfect, it should at least be present. Better for it to exist than for it to be perfect and only in your mind.”

It‘s well written, but I never connected to any of the characters. Lyrical writing and good worldbuilding are important—I am a very plot-driven person. However, I need relatable characters. We never got much insight into their thoughts. On an emotional level I did not care what happened to any of them.

There was a lot of telling and very little showing, it was a pretty dry affair. By the end of the story I just shrugged and moved on. Pretty cover though.

I am the odd one out here in my usual reading circle, they all seem to have loved it.

Not harvesting my soul…

Jova’s Harvest #1 Comic Book by Steve Uy

Rating: 3 out of 5.

2nd time reading this, as it popped up again in my comiXology app after the shop merger with Amazon in February 2022 (thanks for doing a really bad job of that, Amazon!). During my first round I made it to page 34 of 44 before abandoning this.

Artwork: Interesting, almost natural looking textures. Main characters look like children. Is this maybe emulating Manga?

Story: Very stilted dialogue in a weird, Shakespeare-like style.

Probably not bad, if you‘re in the mood for it, but not doing it for me. DNF on page 16, around 30% into it.

https://www.steveuy.com/jova

You see, the hate they give is senseless…

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark (Author), Channie Waites (Narrator)

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Let‘s call it alternate history with a strong horror element. Three African-American women hunt Klu Kluxes, aka monsters disguised as Klu Klux Klan members. The story is set in Georgia in 1922. 

I liked the beginning quite a bit. Nice set-up, speedy beginning, interesting monsters. However, when the more supernatural elements entered and the focus shifted towards the characters, I started to drift off. The plot seemed to disappear into almost nothing and I lost interest in what went on. I never really connected with the main characters or the story.

The audio was ok at first. I struggle a bit with the Gullah accent of one of the characters. The narrator was too over the top with her vocalisations and her high tones eventually really grated on me.

I finished, but it was a close call and I barely paid attention at the end. Yes, the social commentary is very, very relevant, but if you‘re not telling me a gripping story, I find it hard to care.

I did like the aunties. Could they have been a version of the Three Fates? I looked up the Night Doctors, the Klu Klux Klan, Stone Mountain, D.W. Griffith and his movie, what a ring shout is and I wondered about Rhode Island. H.P. Lovecraft, maybe? So, this novella was not a complete loss for me.