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.

February 2022 Wrap-up

Here is my February 2022. My page count is a bit lower this month, due to some distracting family issues. I couldn‘t concentrate on new stories and reverted to comfort re-reading quite a lot of older fanfiction early in the month, which I don‘t really track.

Empire of Wild ★★★★☆, ebook, TBR, slow burning horror, indigenous folklore about a Rogarou.
– Iterum ★★★★☆, Stargate Atlantis fanfic, McShep, re-read / comfort reading — and a ton of other Spirk and McShep fanfiction!
– Bots of The Lost Ark in Clarkesworld Magazine #177, June 2021 ★★★★☆, online novelette, bots run amok, aliens threaten, ship and humans need to be saved, little bot to the rescue.
Interview with the Vampire ★★★★☆, ebook, re-read after 30 years or so. Slow start, but re-discovered so many details that I had forgotten. Ultimately rewarding.
– Shadecraft #1 ★★★★★, eComic, online for free at Image Comics, YA, Zadie is being chased by shadows… good artwork.
Fire and Ice: The Volcanoes of the Solar System ★★★★☆, audio, non-fiction, entertaining tour through our solar system and a fascinating look at volcanoes.
– Saga #56 ★★★★★, eComic
– Wikihistory ★★★★☆, short story, online, amusing piss-take on time travel and Wikipedia.
– The Legacy by R.A. Salvatore ★★★¾☆ ebook, TBR / StoryGraphReading Randomizer February #1, dark elves and dwarves battling it out in a lot of deep tunnels.
– An Easy Job ★★★★☆, short story, online, prequel to Sinew and Steel and What They Told

The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume Six (ongoing):
– SCAR TISSUE by Tobias S. Buckell – human MC fosters a robot. Is the mind just bolted into its carriage or the sum of a whole? And what does it mean to be raised and to learn from experience? Sweet story, I got pretty emotional. ★★★★★
– EYES OF THE FOREST by Ray Nayler – scouts in an alien and dangerous forest, very cool concepts. ★★★★½
– SINEW AND STEEL AND WHAT THEY TOLD by Carrie Vaughn – Graff faked his medical records and something really awkward is going to come out. ★★★★¾

StoryGraph Reading Randomizer / backlog:
– The Solitaire Mystery, paper, TBR / February StoryGraph #2, have to see when I can fit this in…

Specfic Movies & TV watched:
– For All Mankind, S1, Eps. 1-5 ★★★★☆

Planned for March:
Ring Shout, audio, started…
Mickey7, ebook, Netgalley owned and running late
Ogres, ebook, pub date 15.03., Netgalley owned
The Complete Angel Catbird, Angel Catbird #1-3, Margaret Atwood, comic, owned
– Saga #57, pub date 23.03., pre-ordered
– StoryGraph #1 Even The Wingless
– StoryGraph #2 The Walking Dead, Vol. 17: Something to Fear

It‘s Valentine‘s Day, so guess what…

Goodreads posted a ton of recommended reading lists today for Valentine‘s Day. I occasionally read romances, mostly as a kind of palate cleanser between SF novels or other a bit heavier offerings. I took a peek at those lists and this is what I found.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert has been on my want-to-read for a while.

Chloe Brown is a chronically ill computer geek with a goal, a plan, and a list. Chloe Brown is a chronically ill computer geek with a goal, a plan, and a list. After almost—but not quite—dying, she’s come up with six directives to help her “Get a Life”…

So, adult romance with a bucket list…

Boyfriend Material (Boyfriend Material, #1) by Alexis Hall is a more recent addition to my want-to-read.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

We know how that goes, right?

If I Never Met You (Kindle Edition) by Mhairi McFarlane is another newbie on my want-to-read.

Jamie Carter doesn’t believe in love, but he needs a respectable, steady girlfriend to impress their bosses. Laurie wants a hot new man to give the rumor mill something else to talk about. It’s the perfect proposition: a fauxmance played out on social media, with strategically staged photographs and a specific end date in mind.

Yep, another fake relationship, I like those!

Do you read romances? Any preferences, aka tropes you like? Recommendations?

Six Degrees of Separation — Talking, Shouting, Whispering…

Welcome to #6degrees. I haven’t done one of these in a while. On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book. I mostly use this meme to work on my backlog, aka reviews that I haven‘t yet posted to my blog here. Or to give myself a reminder of the books on my TBR pile or want-to-read-shelf.

So, as usual, this month starts the chain link with a book I haven‘t read or ever heard about.

No One Is Talking About This by Patricia Lockwood

„As this urgent, genre-defying book opens, a woman who has recently been elevated to prominence for her social media posts travels around the world to meet her adoring fans. […] Suddenly, two texts from her mother pierce the fray: “Something has gone wrong,” and “How soon can you get here?” […] Fragmentary and omniscient, incisive and sincere, No One Is Talking About This is at once a love letter to the endless scroll and a profound, modern meditation on love, language, and human connection from a singular voice in American literature.“ (from the book blurb)

Really not my kind of thing. I read the blurb three times and nothing came to mind. However, as we are on the subject of talking…

Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner

„A show runner and her assistant give the world something to talk about when they accidentally fuel a ridiculous rumour.“

Sounds like an entertaining romance. Just the kind of light escapism I enjoy at the moment. Just moved it to from my want-to-read to my TBR pile. So much for me not wanting to add to that pile. What can I say, could be fun and came relatively cheap.

And talking takes me to shouting…

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí ClarkChannie Waites (Narrator)

“Nebula, Locus, and Alex Award-winner P. Djèlí Clark returns with Ring Shout, a dark fantasy historical novella that gives a supernatural twist to the Ku Klux Klan’s reign of terror.“

I really like his Djinn stories and this keeps popping up on a lot of my kind of lists. On my want-to-read. I am leaning towards the audio, the narrator sounds good.

Not everybody who shouts can also whisper….

Under the Whispering Door by  T.J. Klune

“When a reaper comes to collect Wallace Price from his own funeral, Wallace suspects he really might be dead.“

Yes, alright, it is STILL on my want-to-read. I will read it at some point, I promise!

People that whisper often don‘t speak at all…

The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood

„What if you knew how and when you will die? Csorwe does. She will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice. On the day of her foretold death, however, a powerful mage offers her a new fate.“

On my TBR pile. Not sure why this landed there. Traditional fantasy with a queer touch. Another one I will get to eventually.

Continuing with silence…

Circles Of Silence by Preeti Singh

Rating: 3 out of 5.

“A birth mark on the right shoulder! And one as big and as dark as that! Arre baap re! This is of some terrible significance…’ Despite his grandmother’s gloomy prophecy, Rattan grows up leading a charmed life – first in Delhi, then at Boston University. When he returns to Delhi, and the family business, Rattan is happy to fall in with his parents’ plans for an arranged marriage.“

I read this in 2007. It did not sweep me off my feet, but the characters were likeable. The story was sweet and interesting enough, although there were no great surprises.

And when you are done with silence, how about some wailing to break the tension?

The Wailing Wind (Navajo Mysteries, #15) by Tony Hillerman

Rating: 2 out of 5.

“Tony Hillerman’s novels are like no others. His insightful portrayal of the vast Navajo Reservation, the spirit-haunted people who inhabit it and the clash between ancient traditions and modern civilization that has shaped its present and will determine its future has produced a body of work unique in mystery fiction.”

I read this in 2008. Fairly run-of-the-mill murder mystery with a slightly unusual setting. Pretty forgettable.

Into the wood and out of the woods…

Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A husband disappeared — or did he?

This is not a typical werewolf story. If you are looking for Urban Fantasy, this is definitely not it. It is a story by an indigenous Canadian writer, based on traditional folkore about the Rogarou (from the French word for werewolf, loup-garou) and then some. And a very real topic concerning indigenous people in Canada today.

I was a little lukewarm about this throughout, but the last third of the novel made up for it. That part was excellent and I couldn‘t put it down anymore. The changing points of view made for an exciting read and the ending and epilogue gave it a great and suspenseful finish.

Things I looked up during my read — from here on there are spoilers:

Here is an somewhat spoilerish interview with Dimaline where she describes how she came to write a novel about a Rogarou: A Native Woman Battles Neocolonialism and Werewolves in “Empire of Wild”

The novel might be adapted for the small screen: Kai Yu Wu & Cherie Dimaline Adapting Horror Novel ‘Empire Of Wild’ As Series With Fabel Entertainment

Towards the end of the novel there is a quote from a poem:

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
               So how should I presume?

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. ELIOT 

Some thoughts on Joan:

Joan‘s last name, Beausoliel: is that a anglicized version of „beau soleil“, aka beautiful sun?

Joan of Arcand = Joan of Arc… as in: she is supposed to deliver her region and people from the invading mining companies, etc.?

Joan‘s red coat — a hint at Litte Red Riding Hood? Considering some events in this book, it feels like a re-telling of that fairytale, at least in parts. Intermingled with that Rogarou folkore.

“What big teeth you have,” said Little Red Riding Hood her voice quivering slightly.
“The better to eat you with, my dear,” roared the wolf…“

From the fairytale

Bottomline: Lukewarm start for me. Some good characters. Some light skipping of paragraphs. Picking up of steam and suspense with a great last part and finale.

My January 2022

And the first month of the year is over already! Here is what read, listened to and watched…

Activation Degradation ★★★★☆, audio, SF, not Murderbot, just ignore that. Different take on robots/cyborgs/AI.
Cursed ★★★★½, Alex Verus #2, ebook, UF, wizards in London battle it out, good fun.
Black Powder War ★★★☆☆, Temeraire #3, ebook, Fantasy, the way back from China to Europe over land, with stopovers in Istanbul and Prussia, set in 1806.
– Fruiting Bodies ★★★★★, short story, SF Horror, a little creepy.
– Life on Earth ★★★★☆, audio, TBR pile, David Attenborough narrates his book, natural history.
– The Sweet Rowan ★★★★¼, ebook, TBR, sweet Regency romance, set in Scotland, with a wee bit of magic.
– Saga #55 ★★★★☆, eComic, SF, finally back after three years of waiting.
– The Marrow Thieves ★★★☆☆, ebook, TBR, dystopian YA set in Canada. People have lost the power to dream, except for indigenous people, who are hunted for a cure.
– Tietjen auf Tour: Warum Camping mich glücklich macht, paper, DNF after 84 pages reading and skimming to 150 pages / 55%. Travel anecdotes, nice enough, but very repetitive.

Still reading, carry over into February:
Fire and Ice: The Volcanoes of the Solar System, audio. Fascinating!

Specfic Movies & TV watched:
– The Expanse, S6, Ep. 3-6 ★★★★☆ Season finished. They went off script quite a bit. Not sure yet how much I liked this.
– Foundation, S1, Ep. 4-10 ★★★★★ Season finished. Excellent!
– Venom ★★★¾☆ Entertaining and a little too silly.
– Kingdom, S1, Ep. 1-3 ★★★☆☆ Korean zombie series in a historical setting. Unintentionally funny at times. Different. The people in this have the survival instincts of gnats.

Some StoryGraph statistics:

(yes, the last and first page counts are different, I updates something in between screen shooting the stats… 😝)