Review: Lent by Jo Walton

For the first (almost) half of the book, this is a slightly fantastical biography of the Dominican monk Girolamo Savonarola from 1492 to 1498, including the Bonfire of Vanities. The first thing to address in discussing this book is Savonarola himself. Knowing about the man only from superficial study of the Italian Renaissance, and fictional portrayals of him as an antagonist in The Palace by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro and The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason, I had a very negative image of the man. In making him her main character, Walton makes him both much more sympathetic and more complex: arrogant but not narcissistic, devout but not rigid. I found myself surprised to be rooting for him to create his City of God, and to fall forward at his death.

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SPOILERS

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WARNING: From here on, there will be spoilers. I know no other way of discussing this wonderful, complicated book, and the best part starts in Part Two, about halfway through. However, please read the book before the spoilers, because it’s delightful and what Walton is doing is wonderful and you should experience it properly the first time through.

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SPOILERS

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Through Part One, this book reads like a fictional biography with fantastical elements. Savonarola performs multiple exorcisms throughout the book and we see the demons that he casts out, and he and other characters are able to prophesy about the future. In both cases, talent and training make a difference in the outcomes, but that they exist and are real are unquestioned. As Part Two begins, we discover that Savonarola, a demonstrably good man, at least as depicted by Walton, is actually a demon, one of God’s fallen angels, who now is in Hell. This, needless to say, was quite a shock, but Walton did a good job of explaining any apparent contradictions. At first, it seemed that the rest of the book would be set in Hell, with a quest toward God for Savonarola to undergo.

And then, Part Three begins, and Walton surprises the reader yet again. We discover that Savonarola is caught in a time loop. It’s alluded to in Part Two, but this is the real setting of the book: a time loop that runs from April 3, 1492 to May 23, 1498, over and over again. There is a green stone that Savonarola and his companions believe is the Holy Grail; after the first go-round, as soon as he touches it, he remembers everything. At this point, Savonarola understands that he’s stuck in a loop, he wants to break the loop, and he hopes to wind up in Purgatory or Heaven, but he has no idea how to break it. So, just as Phil Connors does in Groundhog Day, he tries different things on every loop. Unlike Connors, he rejects any option that is clearly evil or even overindulgent, but the second half of the book describes his attempts to break free, from living as a simple man, with a print shop and a wife and children, to becoming Pope. In some lives he travels, in others he stays in Florence, but after every death, he is slammed back into Hell.

He has friends who do their best to help him, but it is spiritually tiring for Girolamo to explain what happened every time to them. There is a mercenary captain, Crookback (probably Richard III of England), who Savonarola meets in the second loop and recognizes as another demon. Crookback also recognizes the stone and demands that Savonarola give it to him. Although Crookback takes it in one life, in most Savonarola resists giving it to him. At the end of the book, realizing that cooperating with each other is so impossible in Hell that it can’t even be discussed, he decides to take a chance and gives the stone to Crookback. That understanding, that we need others to harrow Hell and truly seek Heaven, appears to work. The book ends with Savonarola finally dying falling forward like a good person, not on his back like an evil one.

I decided to reread this book, and write this review, in Lent this year, largely because of the title, but also because of its themes of sin, reconciliation, and redemption, its insistence that we can’t succeed in being good people alone, but only in community. It speaks to me especially now, as I am beginning a journey of confirmation into a new church, and living in the current political environment. Truly, a wonderful book!

Walton, Jo. Lent. New York, New York: Tor Books, 2019 (May 28). 369 pages. 5 stars.

Review: The Ultimate Quest: A Geek’s Guide to (The Episcopal) Church by Jordan Haynie Ware

I am currently going through the process of becoming confirmed in the Episcopal Church, so I’m reading a lot about it. This won’t be the only “Introduction to the Episcopal Church” I’ll be reading over the next year and a half, but it may be the funniest, the most entertaining, and, quite frankly, the easiest to read and find things in. Part of that, of course, is because I identify as both a geek and a nerd, so I got most of the author’s jokes and asides.

I’m about forty years older than the core audience for this book, but I’ll be keeping it just for the vocabulary. What’s the white thing that goes over the robes? What do they call the censor thingie? When am I supposed to cross myself? (That’s the one I probably have the most trouble with; since I’m not a cradle Episcopalian, I have no idea.) I enjoyed thinking of the vestments as cosplay and the General Convention as ComicCon. I went to the Diocesan Annual Convention for the first time this year. I think it’s easier to find your way around there than I’ve ever had any luck with at a sci-fi convention, and I went with old-timers who could show me around. Yay!!

From what I can tell, and I’ll be mentioning it to my priest at our next confirmation class, the doctrine it teaches is sound. Overall, this is a gentle introduction and welcome to a church that is ready to welcome you.

Ware, Jordan Haynie. The Ultimate Quest: A Geek’s Guide to (The Episcopal) Church. New York, New York: Church Publishing, 2017 (February 1). 176 pages. 5 stars.

Review: Sooner or Later Everything Falls Down to the Sea by Sarah Pinsker

Reviewing a collection of short stories has been a hard thing to wrap my head around. Do I review each individual story? Do I just review the collection as a whole? Or do I do something in between? To those who know me, it won’t be surprising that my answer falls in the last group: something in between.

To begin with, this is a lovely collection to read through. I needed to take a bit of a break in the middle of it, but I enjoyed reading all of the stories. There are thirteen of them, including one that is published here for the first time, and there’s not a bad one in the bunch. There are several themes that she comes back to again and again, but I suspect from her biography that they are also the themes of her life. Music, both the writing and performing of it and traveling are two of the main ones, but the most important theme through her stories is that of the choices we make, the roads we have, and haven’t taken, and how to reconcile ourselves with all of those roads.

As for the stories themselves, I discovered that the two I enjoyed most were ones I’d already read: “Wind Will Rove,” and “And Then There Were (N-One).” This wasn’t a disappointment, since they were placed toward the end of the collection, so I read through the others first. In addition, both of her award-winning stories are present as well.

And so, the stories that made the most impression on me.

I enjoyed “Talking with Dead People,” mostly because I want to hear the What You Missed in History Class podcast about the concept, or about specific houses, or what have you. I was fascinated by the Nutshell Studies houses, which Pinsker references. In both cases, what stands out to me is the craft involved in making the houses, rather than the unsolved events.

Pinsker won the Theodore Sturgeon Award in 2014 for “In Joy, Knowing the Abyss Behind.” It’s my third favorite in the book, and a lovely story of a long-time marriage. Here again, the story of an architect with his buildings and the magnificent treehouse he built with and for his children appeals to my crafty side. Also the way the craft and the art fit together with their marriage is a lovely image that I can see in my own.

I read “Wind Will Rove” when I was reading all of the nominees for the 2018 Hugo and Nebula Awards. This is my favorite of her stories, that I’ve read to date, and I was delighted to read it again. This one is about the choices artists make when they create art in all of its forms, the choices we make when we experience art, and the choices we make when we curate art. The conjunction of folk music, especially fiddle music, with a generation space ship, is one that speaks to my heart, and I can hear the wind calling me.

“Our Lady of the Open Road” won the Nebula Award for the Best Novelette in 2016. It’s gritty and grungy and true, even if the main character did leave me frustrated. But I’m not punk.

“The Narwhal” is published first in this collection and it was the main supporting character that I was frustrated with in this one. (For Heaven’s sake, Dahlia, everyone will be better off if you take time to stop, smell the roses, and let Lynette collect a couple of souvenirs.) The odd stop along the way, and what you learn about history, evokes a chill or two along the spine.

“And Then There Were (N-One)” is a story of a woman who has been invited to a convention all about her. Another her, from another universe (or timeline) has discovered how to travel between them and, as a proof of concept, set up this convention, this exploration into different choices, not necessarily her choices, and what happens later. The narrator is an insurance investigator, but there are scientists, musicians, writers, horse trainers, men, women, and other choices available. All to set up a lovely murder mystery with a Heinleinian feel.

All in all, I enjoyed this collection and I will be keeping an eye out for Pinsker’s subsequent works. Pick up this collection and enjoy.

Pinsker, Sarah. Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea. Easthampton, Massachusetts: Small Beer Press, 2019 (March 19). 288 pages. 4 stars. Buy here.

Review: Fragment by Craig Russell

This is the first, and so far only, book that I’ve been given to review. It is both the best and the worst book I could have been given to review.

It is the best, or the best type, of book for me to review because I genuinely enjoyed reading it. It’s an engaging story, with realistic characters, and a theme I thoroughly agree with. I’d go to 4.5 stars, but none of the rating systems I use allow me to use half stars. And I give very few 5 stars; 4 stars is for a book I enjoy, would reread, and would recommend.

It is the worst, or the worst type, of book for me to review because I have no idea how to describe it. To say that it heralds environmental disaster, brought about by climate change, no matter how that climate change came about, is to shortchange it. But how else to do so.

I would say that this book has three major themes. The first is the obvious one, that comes from reading the back cover. It is, as I said above, a book about environmental disaster, about what might happen if several Antarctic glaciers avalanched and pushed off a piece of the ice shelf that was much larger and more massive than any group of icebergs in recorded history. Russell succeeds at this story well. I don’t have the scientific background to discuss the scientific accuracy of what happens in the book, but from what I do know, it seems possible, even likely. I also find myself paying close attention whenever the news talks about a major ice breakoff from either of the poles. My tag for these news stories is “Fragment”.

The second theme is the human side of the story. If something like this were to happen, how would we react? Unfortunately, I believe that Russell hits the nail on the head again. Few people believe that anything will happen in the magnitude that it will and does, and politicians use the bits and pieces that they allow the public to hear about against their political rivals. The characters’ motives range from idealistic to self-serving and hit everywhere in between, much like our own. The scientists who have the most thorough, clear-eyed understanding of the dangers have the least power to affect anything; the people in power mostly aren’t listening. The news media follow the story because it will advance their careers and their egos. It isn’t that no one tries to do the right thing, or even that they don’t sacrifice their own personal good for their society. Just like in real life, doing the right thing isn’t only costly; it can be difficult to do.

The characters are sharply drawn, but there are a lot of them, and this is a comparatively short book at 214 pages. I’d say there are too many characters for the length of the book, but it’s hard to know who to remove without hurting the story. This is a plot-driven book, rather than a character-driven book, but the characters aren’t cardboard. We just don’t get time to get to know them very well.

Which brings us to the third theme and, if you hate spoilers, skip this paragraph. This theme isn’t hinted at in the advertising. The final theme has to do with the other creatures with which we share our world, and what they think about what’s happening. The one character that stands out, that we really do get to know, is the one that is the most alien to us: the blue whale Ring. He and his pod are there when the Fragment breaks off; he stays to warn other ocean life about the disaster that is coming their way. It is by discovering how to talk with him (in perhaps the weakest scientific point in the novel) that the novel truly comes alive. In the end, the book is about how we interact with the world around us: whether it is intelligent or not.

I’ve enjoyed both reading and rereading this book. The plot carried me on and I turned the pages to see what happens next. Although I wouldn’t call it a literary masterpiece, it is a book with a lot to say about humanity and how we treat the world around us. Go, read it, and have a good long think after.

Russell, Craig.  Fragment.  Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: Thistlepress, Ltd., 2016 (October 1).  214 pages.  4 stars.

Bibliography for 2018

Everything I read, or started to read, in 2018.

  1. Aaronovitch, Ben. Midnight Riot. New York, NY: Del Rey, 2011 (January 10). 310 pages. 4 stars.
  2. Alexander, J. Neil. Celebrating Liturgical Time: Days, Weeks, and Seasons. New York, NY: Church Publishing, 2014 (January 10). 116 pages. 4 stars.
  3. Anders, Charlie Jane. “Don’t Press Charges and I Won’t Sue.” Boston, MA: Boston Review, 2017 (October 30). 30 pages. 4 stars.
  4. Avery, Simon. The Teardrop Method. Cambs, UK: TTA Press, 2018 (May 17). 160 pages. 3 stars.
  5. Beard, Mary. How Do We Look: The Body, the Divine, and the Question of Civilization. New York, NY: Liveright Publishing, 2018 (September 2). 240 pages. 3 stars.
  6. Beard, Mary. Women & Power: A Manifesto. New York, NY: Liveright Publishing, 2017 (November 2). 126 pages. 4 stars.
  7. Benjamin, Chloe. The Immortalists. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018 (January 9). 352 pages. 3 stars. Review.
  8. Berry, T.J. Space Unicorn Blues. Nottingham, UK: Angry Robot Books, 2018 (July 3). 400 pages. 4 stars.
  9. Bodard, Aliette de. In the Vanisher’s Palace. New York, NY: JABberwocky Literary Agency, Inc, 2018 (October 16). 145 pages. 3 stars.
  10. Brown, Eric S. The Monster Society. East Chicago, IN: Ring of Fire Press, 2018 (April 16). 201 pages 3 stars.
  11. Brust, Steven. Good Guys. New York, NY: Tor Books, 2018 (March 6). 307 pages. 4 stars. Review.
  12. Bujold, Lois McMaster. The Curse of Chalion. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2000. 512 pages. 5 stars.
  13. Bujold, Lois McMaster. The Flowers of Vashnoi. Amazon, 2018 (May 16). 98 pages. 4 stars.
  14. Craig, Will. Living the Hero’s Journey: Exploring Your Role in the Action-Adventure of a Lifetime. Boulder, CO: Live and Learn Publishing, 2017 (September 7). 227 pages. Unfinished.
  15. Dalcher, Christina. Vox. New York, NY: Berkley, 2018 (August 21). 336 pages. 3 stars.
  16. Dale, Helen. Kingdom of the Wicked Book One: Rules. Balmain NSW: Ligature Pty Limited, 2017 (October 1). 352 pages. 4 stars. Review.
  17. Dale, Helen. Kingdom of the Wicked Book Two: Order. Balmain NSW: Ligature Pty Limited, 2018 (May 27). 434 pages. 4 stars Review.
  18. Dawson, Delilah S. and Hearne, Kevin. Kill the Farm Boy. New York, NY: Del Rey, 2018 (July 17). 367 pages. Unfinished.
  19. Diamant, Anita. The Red Tent. New York, NY: Picador, 1997. 336 pages. 4 stars. Review.
  20. Donnelly, Lara Elena. Amberlough. New York, NY: Tor Books, 2017 (February 7). 368 pages. 4 stars. Review.
  21. Dunstall, S.K. Stars Uncharted. New York, NY: Ace, 2018 (August 14). 416 pages. 4 stars. Review.
  22. Ehrman, Bart D. The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2018 (February 13). 353 pages. 4 stars.
  23. Evanovich, Janet. Look Alive Twenty-Five. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018 (November 13). 320 pages. 4 stars.
  24. Fraser, Caroline. Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Co, 2017 (November 17). 640 pages. 5 stars.
  25. Gailey, Sarah. American Hippo. New York, NY: Tor.com, 2018 (May 22). 256 pages. 4 stars. Review.
  26. Gardner, James Alan. All Those Explosions Were Someone Else’s Fault. New York, NY: Tor Books, 2017 (November 7). 377 pages. 4 stars.
  27. Gardner, James Alan. They Promised Me the Gun Wasn’t Loaded. New York, NY: Tor Books, 2018 (November 6). 352 pages. 4 stars.
  28. Goss, Theodora. European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2018 (July 10). 720 pages. 3 stars. Review.
  29. Goss, Theodora. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2017 (June 20). 417 pages. 4 stars. Review.
  30. Grann, David. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI. New York, NY: Doubleday, 2017 (April 18). 354 pages. 2 stars.
  31. Gregory, Daryl. Spoonbenders. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2017 (June 27). 416 pages. 4 stars. Review.
  32. Haller, Tobias Stanislas. The Episcopal Handbook. New York, NY: Morehouse Publishing, 2015 (January 1). 231 pages. 5 stars.
  33. Harkaway, Nick. Gnomon. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2017 (October 19). 560 pages. Unfinished.
  34. Ireland, Justina. Dread Nation. New York, NY: Balzer + Bray, 2018 (April 3). 418 pages. 4 stars.
  35. Jemisin, N.K. The Fifth Season. New York, NY: Orbit Books, 2015 (August 15). 496 pages. 4 stars.
  36. Jemisin, N.K. The Obelisk Gate. New York, NY: Hachette Book Group, 2016 (August 16). 448 pages. 4 stars.
  37. Jemisin, N.K. The Stone Sky. New York, NY: Orbit Books, 2017 (August 15). 464 pages. 4 stars. Review.
  38. Jones, Stephen Graham. Mapping the Interior. New York, NY: Tor.com, 2017 (June 20). 112 pages. 3 stars.
  39. Kellerman, Jonathan. Night Moves. New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 2018 (February 13). 416 pages. 4 stars.
  40. Klages, Ellen. Passing Strange. New York, NY: Tor.com, 2017 (January 24). 224 pages. 4 stars.
  41. Klaushofer, Alex. “In Search of Glastonbury.” Hermes Books, 2015 (June 20). 35 pages. 4 stars.
  42. Kleon, Austin. Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative. New York, NY: Workman Publishing Company, 2012 (February 28). 160 pages. 4 stars.
  43. Korb, Alex. The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2015 (March 1). 241 pages. 4 stars. Review.
  44. Kowal, Mary Robinette. The Calculating Stars. New York, NY: Tor Books, 2018 (July 3). 384 pages. 5 stars. Review.
  45. Kowal, Mary Robinette. The Fated Sky. New York, NY: Tor Books, 2018 (August 21). 320 pages. 5 stars. Review.
  46. Kowal, Mary Robinette. The Lady Astronaut of Mars. New York, NY. Tor.com, 2012 (December). 31 pages. 4 stars.
  47. Lackey, Mercedes. The Bartered Brides. New York, NY: DAW Books, 2018 (October 18). 320 pages. 4 stars.
  48. Lackey, Mercedes. The Hills Have Spies. New York, NY: DAW Books, 2018 (June 5). 336 pages. 4 stars.
  49. Lafferty, Mur. Six Wakes. New York, NY: Orbit Books, 2017 (January 31). 400 pages. 3 stars. Review.
  50. Lambert, Timothy James. The Gnostic Notebook. Amazon, 2015 (February 9). 518 pages. Unfinished.
  51. Leckie, Ann. Provenance. New York, NY: Orbit Books, 2017 (September 26). 448 pages. 5 stars. Review.
  52. Lee, Fonda. Jade City. New York, NY: Orbit Books, 2017 (November 7). 512 pages. 3 stars. Review.
  53. Lee, Yoon Ha. Extracurricular Activities. New York, NY: Tor.com, 2017 (February 15). 55 pages. Hugo Award nominee. 4 stars.
  54. Lee, Yoon Ha. Ninefox Gambit. Oxford, UK: Solaris Books, 2016 (June 14). 384 pages. 3 stars.
  55. Lee, Yoon Ha. Raven Stratagem. Oxford, UK: Solaris Books, 2017 (June 13). 400 pages. 3 stars. Review.
  56. Mackey, Kim. Essen Defiant. East Chicago, IN: Ring of Fire Press, 2018 (March 5). 203 pages. 3 stars.
  57. McGovern, Bridget. Rocket Fuel: Some of the Best from Tor.com Non-Fiction. New York, NY: Tor.com, 2018 (July 17). 291 pages. 4 stars. Review.
  58. McGuire, Seanan. Down Among the Sticks and Bones. New York, NY: Tor.com, 2017 (June 13). 176 pages. 3 stars.
  59. McGuire, Seanan. Rosemary and Rue. New York, NY: Daw Books, 2009 (September 1). 368 pages. 3.5 stars. Review.
  60. Miller, Rachel Wilkerson. Dot Journaling: A Practical Guide. New York, NY: The Experiment Publishing, 2017 (July 31). 241 pages. 4 stars.
  61. Milton, Giles. Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat. New York, NY: Picador, 2017 (February 7). 368 pages. 4 stars.
  62. Newitz, Annalee. Autonomous. New York, NY: Tor Books, 2017 (September 19). 298 pages. 4 stars. Review.
  63. North, Ryan. How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler. New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2018 (September 18). 462 pages. 4 stars.
  64. Novik, Naomi. Spinning Silver. New York, NY: Del Rey, 2018 (July 10). 480 pages. 5 stars. Review.
  65. Okorafor, Nnedi. Binti. New York, NY: Tor.com Book, 2015 (September 22). 96 pages. 3 stars.
  66. Okorafor, Nnedi. Binti: Home. New York, NY: Tor.com Book, 2017 (January 31). 176 pages. 3 stars.
  67. Orlean, Susan. The Library Book. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2018 (October 16). 336 pages. 4 stars.
  68. Pavlovitz, John. A Bigger Table: Building Messy, Authentic, and Hopeful Spiritual Community. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017 (September 1). 210 pages. 4 stars.
  69. Peynado, Brenda. “The Kite Maker.” New York, NY: Tor.com, 2018 (August 29). 2 stars.
  70. Pink, Daniel H. When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2018 (January 9). 268 pages. 4 stars.
  71. Pinsker, Sarah. “And Then There Were [N-One]”. Uncanny Magazine March/April 2017. 40 pages. 4 stars.
  72. Porath, Jason. Tough Mothers: Amazing Stories of History’s Mightiest Matriarchs. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2018 (April 3). 256 pages. 4 stars. Review.
  73. Puchner, Martin. The Written World: The Power of Stories to Shape People, History, Civilization. New York, NY: Random House, 2017 (November 24). 448 pages. 3 stars.
  74. Reed, MacKenzie. Smart Journaling: How to Form Life-Changing Journal Writing Habits that Actually Work for Reaching Any Goal and Getting Your Life Back on Track. Amazon Digital Services, 2018 (March 26). 124 pages. 3 stars.
  75. Robinson, Kim Stanley. New York 2140. New York, NY: Orbit Books, 2017 (March 14). 624 pages. 4 stars. Review.
  76. Rowling, J. K. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald – The Original Screenplay. New York, NY: Pottermore Limited, 2018 (November 16). 304 pages. 4 stars.
  77. Rowling, J. K. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: The Original Screenplay. New York, NY: Pottermore Limited, 2016 (November 18). 304 pages. 4 stars.
  78. Russell, Craig. Fragment. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: Thistledown Press, 2016 (October 1). 214 pages. 4 stars.
  79. Sakalaucks, Herb. The Danish Scheme. East Chicago, IN: Ring of Fire Press, 2013 (June 18). 238 pages. 3 stars.
  80. Sakalaucks, Herb. 1632: The Battle for Newfoundland. East Chicago, IN: Ring of Fire Press, 2018 (January 20). 297 pages. 3 stars.
  81. Scalzi, John. The Collapsing Empire. Review.
  82. Scalzi, John. Head On. New York, NY: Tor Books, 2018 (April 17). 336 pages. 4 stars.
  83. Schaefer, F.C. All the Way with JFK: An Alternate History of 1964. Amazon, 2017 (February 16). 160 pages. Unfinished.
  84. Schoen, Lawrence M. Barry’s Deal. NobleFusion Press, 2017 (November 9). 84 pages. 4 stars.
  85. Schroeder, Karl. The Million. New York, NY: Tor.com Books, 2018 (September 1). 160 pages. 3 stars. Review.
  86. Shah, Bina. Before She Sleeps. Harrison, NY: Delphinium Books, 2018 (August 7). 280 pages. 3 stars.
  87. Sinor, Bradley H. The Hunt for the Red Cardinal. East Chicago, IN: Ring of Fire Press, 2018 (June 15). 299 pages. 3 stars.
  88. Traister, Rebecca. Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2018 (October 2). 320 pages. 3 stars.
  89. Turtledove, Harry. Shtetl Days. New York, NY: Tor.com Books, 2011 (April 14). 32 pages. 5 stars. Review.
  90. Valente, Catherynne M. Space Opera. New York, NY: Saga Press, 2018 (April 10). 304 pages. 3 stars. Review.
  91. Walsh, Alison. A Literary Tea Party: Blends and Treats for Alice, Bilbo, Dorothy, Jo and Book Lovers Everywhere. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing, 2018 (June 5). 160 pages. 4 stars.
  92. Walton, Jo. An Informal History of the Hugos: A Personal Look Back at the Hugo Awards, 1953-2000. New York, NY: Tor Books, 2018 (August 7). 352 pages. 3 stars. Review.
  93. Warwick, Howard of. The Heretics of De’Ath. London, England: Funny Book Company, 2010 (November 5). 252 pages. 2 stars.
  94. Webber, Christopher L. The Vestry Handbook: Revised Edition. Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 1988 (March). 136 pages. 4 stars.
  95. Wells, Martha. All Systems Red. New York, NY: Tor.com Books, 2017 (May 2). 156 pages. 5 stars.
  96. Wells, Martha. Artificial Condition. New York, NY: Tor.com Books, 2018 (May 8). 160 pages. 5 stars.
  97. Wells, Martha. Exit Strategy. New York, NY: Tor.com Books, 2018 (October 2). 176 pages. 5 stars.
  98. Wells, Martha. Rogue Protocol. New York, NY: Tor.com Books, 2018 (August 7). 160 pages. 5 stars.
  99. Westover, Tara. Educated. New York, NY: Random House, 2018 (February 20). 336 pages. 4 stars.
  100. White, Sam. A Cold Welcome: The Little Ice Age and Europe’s Encounter with North America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017 (October 16). 365 pages. 3 stars.
  101. Whitta, Gary; Yant, Christie; and Howey, Hugh. Resist: Tales from a Future Worth Fighting Against. Green Cove Springs, FL: Broad Reach Publishing, 2018 (October 19). 388 pages. 3 stars.
  102. Williams, Drew. The Stars Now Unclaimed. New York, NY: Tor Books, 2018 (August 23). 400 pages. 3 stars.
  103. Willis, Connie. D.A. Burton, MI: Subterranean Press, 2007 (September 1). 76 pages. 5 stars. Review.
  104. Willis, Connie. I Met a Traveller in an Antique Land. Burton, MI: Subterranean Press, 2018 (April 30). 88 pages. 4 stars. Review.
  105. Yang, J.Y. The Black Tides of Heaven. New York, NY: Tor.com Books, 2017 (September 26). 240 pages. 2 stars.
  106. Zabel, Bryce. Once There Was a Way: What If the Beatles Stayed Together? New York, NY: Diversion Books, 2017 (December 5). 308 pages. 4 stars. Review.
  107. Zumas, Leni. Red Clocks. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2018 (January 16). 368 pages. 3 stars.

Review – Vox by Christina Dalcher

I was looking forward to reading this book. The idea of a book actually showing how frequently women’s voices are silenced or unheard was one I was looking forward to reading. Unfortunately, the book I was looking forward to isn’t the one that Dalcher wrote, so that will color my review. You may disagree.

Vox is set in the near future, in a world in which a Pure Movement has gained control of the U.S. government through their relationship with the U.S. President. Their agenda is that of complete separation between men and women, and men will have complete control over the women in their lives. In addition to all women being fired from their jobs, each woman is given a counter to wear around their wrist. Each day, at midnight, that counter is reset to 100. That is the number of words a woman, or girl, is allowed to use throughout the day.

The main character of the story, Jean McClellan, is a cognitive linguist. She has been working with a team working on a treatment for Wernicke’s aphasia. Her husband, Patrick, is a physician, and she has four children, three sons and Sonia, her six-year-old daughter. Dalcher tells the story of how the Pure Movement, and the counters, have come to be. Jean’s oldest son, Steven, is indoctrinated into the philosophy in school and has become a believer in the Pure Movement. Her husband advises her to go along with what’s happening, that something will be worked out.

The beginning is interesting, but the remainder of the book doesn’t really live up to its promise. Instead, it becomes a “fix the problem” book. Due to a skiing accident, the President’s brother has suffered from brain damage that is causing aphasia. It is the same type of aphasia for which Jean had been working on a treatment, so his people have come to her for assistance. And, from there, Jean’s efforts to find the treatment, and then find a way to quiet those who have put this movement in place, continues.

We see some of the effects of the policy throughout the rest of the novel, but I would have preferred a more in-depth look, rather than the “thriller” Dalcher has written. It’s a great idea, but the execution doesn’t do it justice.

Dalcher, Christina. Vox. New York, NY: Berkley, 2018 (August 21). 336 pages. 3 stars.

Review – Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire

As the first book in the Hugo-nominated series October Daye, I wanted to enjoy this book. Unfortunately, I think I will be putting Ms. McGuire on my “Do Not Bother” list.

This should not, however, stop anyone else. I suspect my issues with McGuire have more to do with my personal tastes than with her ability to write and tell stories. My best guess may be the same reason that I don’t enjoy Jemisin’s works even though I can identify that she’s a good writer and deserves every last Hugo that she has won.

There is very little happiness in Rosemary and Rue. In the very beginning of the book, Toby (October) Daye loses her beloved partner and child, and there’s likely no way for her to get them back. Then, an ally dies, leaving her with the mystery of her killer, and a curse that will kill Toby unless she figures it out.

I enjoy fantasies with Faerie Courts as a supporting character, which this definitely falls into. I enjoy mysteries, especially if I don’t have to figure out “whodunit” before the end. I’m lousy at it; as with this book, I generally figure it out at about the point that the detective should be collecting the final pieces of confirming evidence. (Not my kind of puzzle.)

I don’t require that the books I read be overwhelming cheerful; I don’t even require a happy ending (all of the time). I don’t read for beautiful writing; I enjoy it when I find it, but it isn’t a requirement. I don’t read for intricate plots; again, I enjoy them when found. I read to engage my brain, to visit other “worlds”, and to escape my world for a few hours.

Rosemary and Rue is well-plotted and well-written. The characters are fairly well-drawn, although I’m sure that will become more true as the series progresses. The mystery is a decent one; I figured it out just before Toby did (so I felt smart). But, just as with everything else of McGuire’s that I’ve read, it’s a dreary world with very little to be happy about, at least for Toby.

McGuire, Seanan. Rosemary and Rue. New York, NY: Daw Books, 2009 (September 1). 368 pages. 3 stars.

Review – The Million by Karl Schroeder

As long as science fiction novels have been written, there have been explorations of different ways of protecting the Earth from humanity. The Million is a somewhat different take on this trope than I’ve seen before. Limiting the population to a specific population, the “million” from the title, is hardly a unique idea, but cryogenically storing the rest of Earth’s population, about ten billion people, who are waiting to

Every thirty years, there is a Jubilee. The ten billion are unfrozen and set loose on Earth and the Million mostly hide for that month. At the same time, it is the time when the reports are given and the grand political trends are set until the next Jubilee. It is also when visitors, people from the ten billion, hide outside for their own purposes. The auditors are those who police the Earth, ensuring that all the agreements are kept to; they are also the ones who do the reporting.

Gavin Penn-of-Chaffee is a member of a family of the Million, but he’s actually a visitor. After an incident at a party that his father and brother give, Gavin finds himself stepping into the shoes of a young man who was trying to become an auditor. Through his training, he slowly becomes aware of the undercurrents in his society that indicate that things aren’t quite what they seem.

It’s an interesting enough book and a quick read, but I found it a slight, forgettable book.

Schroeder, Karl. The Million. New York, NY: Tor.com Books, 2018 (September 1). 160 pages. 3 stars.

 

Review – The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal

The Fated Sky is the sequel to The Calculating Stars and is set four years later, so this review will have spoilers for that book. If you haven’t already, go and read it; it’s excellent and I’ve babbled quite happily about it.

Not only has Elma York made it to the moon, she now travels there regularly. She is content with this, she sees her husband, Nathaniel, on a regular basis, and they’re even beginning to talk about starting a family. Then, terrorists strike, budget cuts are threatened, and Elma is asked to, once again, put her publicity behind the Mars expedition. The story continues on from there.

One thing I enjoyed about both of the books is that Kowal puts marriage, not romance, front-and-center. Elma and Nathaniel are married before The Calculating Stars begins and they’re still married at the end of The Fated Sky. Their marriage is strong, good for both of them, sometimes romantic, sometimes sexy, but always committed. Kowal gives us a look at a marriage through not just the good times, not just the epically bad times, but through the gritty “eh” times that affect us all. Not only does Elma support Nathaniel when he’s doing important work while she’s consigned to volunteering, not only does Nathaniel support Elma’s drive to join the astronaut corps, when she forgets to pay the electric bill, he accepts that it was a mistake and supports her. It’s not that they never get angry, it’s not that they have a “perfect” marriage, but it’s that they have a good, solid marriage that can handle whatever life throws at them.

Another thing I liked about these books is that there no one is all good or all bad. There are heroes, and people we root for, and there are good and evil actions, but people are a mix of both, and Kowal shows this in her characters. Elma spends a lot of time reminding herself of Parker’s good qualities in The Calculating Stars, because he does such a good job of showing her mostly his bad ones. He despises her because she had the audacity to report him for harassing other female pilots, and getting him into trouble. (Because his actions were, of course, completely acceptable.) On the other hand, she has a tendency to pick at those things that she knows irritate him, without real cause.

Elma really demonstrates that she is far from perfect when she is initially accepted to the Mars mission. Because she has decided she wants to do it, she ignores what it will mean to the others who have already been training together for months. She also steps forward to support, and speak for, the people of color in the group–without talking it over with them first. Racial discrimination is a real issue throughout both of these books, and Elma hates it and wants to stop it, but she’s not always considerate of the feelings of those who have to live with the ways she tries to help.

And, then, of course, there’s the trip to Mars. Which is wonderful, with all the terrific hard science details that make this series such a delight. I recommend this book highly to anyone who likes a good story. This is one.

Kowal, Mary Robinette. The Fated Sky. New York, NY: Tor Books, 2018 (August 21). 320 pages. 5 stars.

Review – The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

The fact that The Calculating Stars is an alternate history has very little to do with why I love it, even though I enjoy alternate histories. It’s hard science fiction, the kind that I first fell in love with decades ago and the kind that doesn’t seem nearly as common these days. It’s not a dystopia, although the world could be ending, but it’s not a utopia either. And, since I’ve read Rise of the Rocket Girls and The Glass Universe in the last couple of years, and need to read Hidden Figures, the women computers at the center of the novel seems very timely.

What I loved about this book, and the other stories in this universe, is Elma York. She has a Ph.D. in mathematics and physics, was a WASP pilot during World War Two, is married to a rocket scientist, Nathaniel York, and works for NACA (her universe’s NASA) as a computer. She’s Southern, she’s Jewish, and she’s someone I wish I’d met when I was a girl, because I would have followed her.

The event that sets the novel in motion is a meteorite that strikes Earth in the Chesapeake Bay in 1952. The effects it has destroys Washington, DC and causes destruction all along the eastern coast of the United States. Later calculations, largely done by Elma, indicate that the meteorite may be an extinction-level event. The result of this is an international drive to get mankind into space and start colonizing there.

Although Elma suffers from extreme anxiety when forced to speak before a group of people, she is otherwise a confident driven woman. Since she is a pilot, and was the first person to calculate the size of the meteorite and its long-term effects, she wants to be one of the first astronauts, and she’s willing to do the work to get there.

The book tells Elma’s story as she battles to become an astronaut and go to the moon. In addition to crippling anxiety, she has to battle discrimination because she’s a woman. While she’s fighting that, she has her nose rubbed in the fact that non-white people suffer from much greater discrimination than she does. When she realizes this, she does work to eliminate that as much as possible.

A traditional hard-science plot and a number of strong competent, intelligent women make this a book to enjoy. I talked it up so much that my spouse, who hasn’t had the time or energy to do much reading, even picked it up to read.

Kowal, Mary Robinette. The Calculating Stars. New York, NY: Tor Books, 2018 (July 3). 384 pages. 5 stars.