Bloodlines: The True Story of a Drug Cartel, the FBI, and the Battle for a Horse-Racing Dynasty by Melissa del Bosque is about a FBI money-laundering case involving a Mexican drug cartel and quarter horses.
River of Teeth: An uneven alternate history of hippo-riding cowboys (A Spoiler-Free Review)
The Nebula Awards will be announced May 19, 2018. The awards are given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. This post is the second in a series of reviews of the nominees for this year’s Nebula award for best novella. The Nebula defines a work as a novella if it is between 17,500 and 40,000 words. These are short books.
It’s not a caper. It’s an operation.
River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey should be one of my favorite books of all time. It’s an alternative-history western heist story involving a gathering of diverse, eclectic, violent individuals to accomplish a risky task. With hippos. It is as if the book had been custom designed to check off All the Stuff Byron Likes.
And yet, I don’t love it.
History has failed us, but no matter.
[I am battling a cold/sinus thing, so apologies if this review makes even less sense than usual].
Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is a family saga about a four generations of a Korean family that is set in Korea and Japan. It’s a National Book Award finalist, and, in what may be an even greater honor than that, it made my Favorite Books list.
I have found that it is easier to explain why I don’t like a particular book or to point out a book’s flaws than it is to explain why I absolutely loved one. It’s like explaining why a rainbow is beautiful. I can talk about how the colors are pretty or how it made me feel, but there is something about rainbows, sunsets, and the best works of art that transcends easy explanation. You just have to experience them. Read Pachinko.
What have you learned about your reading habits this year? Were there any surprises?
Byron: I learned how moody I am. There were many times that I wanted to read a particular book — it had just come out, a friend had just read it, etc. — and I could not get into it at all. A few weeks later, I’d pick it up, knock it out in three days, and give it 5 stars. Clearly the problem was not with the book but with me. Therefore, I am very careful before I label something DNR; I might just not be in the mood for it yet. The year also confirmed how necessary reading different genres and styles is for me. I get bored or burned out if I read too much of one kind of thing.
Ardis: More than anything else this year, I learned that my instinct to write in the margins of my books is justified! Really, what I mean is that my memory is not sufficient such that I can write a book review unless I take copious notes while reading, and embed those notes within the context of the book. The subtle note-taking strategies I tried throughout 2017 were all lacking one way or another, and I am officially throwing in the towel on subtlety. Addressing this more fully will drive my personal book goals for 2018.
Are you happy with the way that you selected books to read? Would you do anything differently?
Byron: I’m generally happy with my methods. I probably spent too much money on new books rather than trying to get through my huge, huge TBR stack. I didn’t read as much nonfiction as I usually do, so I might look to balance that out some next year. Maybe not.
Ardis: Though I wish I could say “yes”, I have to admit that I stayed firmly in my science fiction comfort zone (with a few tender forays into fantasy). When we peruse the “new books” lists every month, my eyes go directly to the SFF page. I wish I had paid more attention to the non-SFF lists, and I know I was too ready to bump books down my TBR list to make room for new scifi. More generally, the “new books” lists on the first of every month bring a great joy to my life, and I intend to continue that forever.
Did you find the Goodreads challenge to be beneficial to your reading efforts this year?
Byron: Yes, absolutely. I get distracted by shiny things, so having the Goodreads challenge and this blog helps me stay on target.
Ardis: My life was full of turmoil this year, and I’ll be squeaking that last book in under the wire. I know that without the formal challenge, I would not have made as much time for reading as I managed to do. It was inspiring and motivating, and certainly proved to be, well, a challenge.
What book did you read this year that surprised you the most?
Byron: Lonesome Dove, probably. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I didn’t expect it to be one of my favorite books that I’ve ever read. I can usually anticipate plot twists and where a story is generally going, but that book consistently zigged where I thought it would zag.
Ardis: I was openly blown away by Too Like the Lightning and I can say with no reservations that I was not prepared for that book beforehand. Reading it was an emotional and philosophical journey, and it really revitalized my relationship with the intentional act of reading. It was the jolt I needed.
Did any book you read this year have any profound emotional or intellectual impact on you?
Byron: I had an emotional or intellectual reaction to all of the books that I rated 5 stars. But the ones that stayed with me long after I finished reading them were The Sparrow, Homegoing, Hyperion, Exit West, The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, Wicked Wonders, Killers of the Flower Moon, Lonesome Dove, The Unwomanly Face of War, Eliza and Her Monsters, Noumenon, Tenth of December, and Kings of the Wyld.
Ardis: If I’m being honest, the book that had the most emotional impact on me was The Three Body Problem, a book I firmly DNFed. My relationship with that book was so negative, so deflating, so discouraging, that I spent the months after I finally put it down for good searching for understanding – and I found it. But a part of me will always be a little raw from that journey. If you’d prefer a positive impact, Becky Chambers’ A Closed and Common Orbit spoke to my view of humanity and personhood more than any book has since The Sparrow. Reading it felt like discovering a part of myself.
What was the most fun book that you read this year?
Byron: Kings of the Wyld, Clockwork Boys, and The Rise and Fall of DODO were all really fun.
Ardis: The Collapsing Empire, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, and All Systems Red were all wonderfully fun reads.
Did you discover any new-to-you authors that you plan on following in the future?
Byron: For sure. George Saunders, Ursula Vernon, Seanan McGuire, Nicholas Eames, Laini Taylor, Francesca Zappia, and Katherine Arden, to name a few.
Ardis: Most of the authors I read this year were intentionally new to me. In fact (and I went back to check that this was true), other than Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves every book I read this year was by an author I had not read before. (The Tamora Pierce books I reread while I was sick with the flu do not count toward this in my mind, but I feel honor-bound to confess them to you anyway.)
Do you think anything that you read was underrated?
Byron: The Wanderers and Chemistry seem underrated.
Ardis: I don’t know that I do. For every book I loved this year, I found an internet’s worth of fellow readers who also loved it. What more can you ask than that? If you pressed me, perhaps I’d say Ada Palmer and Becky Chambers both deserve medals, in my mind, for their contributions.
Do you have any specific reading goals for 2018?
Byron: I’d like to read more classics. I’d also like to keep grinding on NetGalley ARCs while also working on my backlog of TBR books. I could probably spend 2018 just reading all the 2017 books I haven’t gotten to yet.
Ardis: I’d like to read enough non-SFF fiction to develop a better sense of what I will and won’t like. And I’d really like to read more regularly, instead of the frenetic binges I indulged in throughout 2017.
Did writing reviews for the blog add anything to your reading experiences?
Byron: Yes. Instead of more passively consuming books for their entertainment value, I engaged with them more. I read things more deeply.
Ardis: Yes and no. Reading with reviews in mind helped me direct my active engagement with the text, but having to stop and record each observation worth remembering interrupted my reading process in a way I have resolved to address this coming year.
Do you plan to change anything about the way you write reviews?
Byron: I’m not totally happy with my rating system. I’ve looked back at some of my grades and disagree with my scores. I am particularly inconsistent with the 2 and 3 stars and what they mean. I need to firm that up. I also am still figuring out how to review anthologies and collections of short stories more consistently.
Ardis: I plan to write more of them, for one thing. I failed this year to write consistently – to reliably turn my private observations into reviews worth printing. This year I’d like to establish a schedule and keep to it.
What post are you most proud of?
Byron: Stylistically, I liked my Ninefox Gambit review the most. As far as expressing the essence of reading a particular book, I think I came closest with I’m Thinking of Ending Things. I’m also very proud of our write-ups for some of the major book awards: the Hugo, World Fantasy, and Man Booker. I really enjoyed my partnership with Ardis on that front, and I believe that we tackled the books in a totally fair way. I’m optimistic that our future award posts will be even better. We got kind of a late start on the Hugo awards, but I have a better understanding now of the timing of the award season.
Ardis: I think my Too Like the Lightning review is my best work so far for this blog, but that’s through no particular extra effort on my part. I had the remarkable advantage of simply caring more about that book than anything else I’d encountered. I wanted to know more about it, so I read more about the author’s process, inspiration, and intent. It was a joy to write that review, and I think it shows. But I think the work I’m most proud of is the direct partnership with Byron, and the posts we worked on together. If we’d asked instead “What are you most proud of”, my answer would simply be: “My partner.”
What did you learn by writing for the blog?
Byron: I originally envisioned having spoiler-free Reviews to serve as a kind of “buyers guide” along with longer Critiques that discussed books in-depth for those that had already read them. I could never find the time or energy for a Critique, though. I need to take better notes as I read so that I can refer back to the writing more easily.
Ardis: I learned that I cannot rely on my memory when taking notes for a review. I must develop a thorough note-taking system that doesn’t unbearably interrupt my reading, or I will not grow as a reviewer. I also learned that I’m too safe in my SFF world, and that I’m more of a cryer than I expected I’d be.
Do you have any plans for different kinds of blog posts in 2018?
Byron: I’d like to blog about different book-related events and finally get the Critique thing off of the ground. I’d also like more collaborative posts with Ardis.
Ardis: Collaboration posts! I’d also like to take the time to write more lists, and to respond more to the content out there in the world. While I’d love to write Critiques, I have a lot of note-related work to do before I can really plan on that. Until I can get there, I’d most like to bring more variety to the content I’m publishing here.
“But there are none so frightened, or so strange in their fear, as conquerors. They conjure phantoms endlessly, terrified that their victims will someday do back what was done to them — even if, in truth, their victims couldn’t care less about such pettiness and have moved on. Conquerors live in dread of the day they are shown to be, not superior, but simply lucky.”
The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin is the third and final book of the Broken Earth Trilogy. The previous books in the series — The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate — both won Hugo Awards for Best Novel.
For those that have read The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate and liked them: this book is the next part in the story and you might as well just finish the thing. It is not a letdown. The story concludes with no nagging loose ends that remain unaddressed. The writing style is the same as the previous two entries. Like the other two books of the series, it’s most likely going to be nominated for a Hugo Award.
For those that have read The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate and did not like them: you are probably not going to like this book very much either.
For those that have not read any of The Broken Earth Trilogy, The Stone Sky is the third part of one long story. You absolutely must read The Fifth Season and The Obelisk Gate before you read this book. The question then becomes: should you read this trilogy? What IS it all about?
In the time in which I write this, 1851, magic is waning. The research that DODO paid me to perform indicates that magic will cease to exist at the end of this month (July 28). When that happens, I will be trapped here in a post-magic world for the rest of my days. The only way anyone will ever know what became of me is through this deposition. While I have managed to land myself in comfortable (by 1851 standards) quarters with access to pen, ink, leisure time, and privacy, it has been at the expense of my freedom; my hosts would not consider allowing me out of the house for an evening constitutional, let alone to seek out witches who might help me.
The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland is about a U.S. government agency that uses witches to time travel.
“He wouldn’t let me stay over. He looked so sorry and miserable as he pushed me out the door. It stung. It always stings when there’s this whole story going on and you’re really just a B-plot walk-on who only got a look at three pages of the script.”
The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente takes place in a superhero universe, but it is not a comic book nor does it primarily focus on superheroes. Rather, the main characters of The Refrigerator Monologues are analogues of female Marvel and DC characters that are famous for dying or having their power taken away. This book is a reaction to a trope in superhero comics known as “Women in Refrigerators,” a plot device in which female characters die or suffer in order to inspire, motivate, or provide gravitas to the main male hero. The Refrigerator Monologues aims to give those female characters a voice and make them the center of their own story.
“‘A bad fairy tale has some simple goddamn moral. A great fairy tale tells the truth.'”
The Changeling by Victor LaValle is a self-described (dark) fairy tale set in present-day New York City. I have always loved fairy tales — Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm, Mother Goose, Neil Gaiman, the comic book Fables — so I snatched this book up when it was released.