Friday, July 19, 2019

Review: Sweep of the Blade

Sweep of the Blade Sweep of the Blade by Ilona Andrews
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fourth installment in Ilona Andrews serialized Innkeeper Chronicles focuses on Maud, innkeeper Dina Demille's older half-sibling. The sisters had a close relationship prior to Maud's marriage and during the events of One Fell Sweep, Dina rushes to the aid of her sister and niece, five year old Helen, with the help of her man Sean and sort-of-friend Arland. Arland, who hangs around after the rescue, is clearly smitten with Maud, who is suffering PTSD after surviving several years of exile on a dry husk of a planet where her she and her daughter saw her husband brutally murdered. Sweep of the Blade follows Maud as she travels to Arland's planet to see if she could live among his people for the sake of her daughter Helen, but also because a small corner of her heart still hopes for love and a warm, safe, and productive life. Arland has incautiously stunned his family by announcing he's arriving with a bride but then that she refused him but to still roll out the read carpet. His family is not thrilled by a long shot because they're in the midst of a high pressure event and because Maud is, horrors, human. (I might add, well... maybe human. Maud has some surprising magic sort of related to the innkeepers)

In Ilona Andrews Innkeeper world, an offshoot of their The Edge series, vampires are a Viking-like people, werewolves are aliens from a lost planet, and a variety of other intelligent alien species like the adorable but cunning furry lees, the chameleon-colored insectoid tatchis, co-exist.

Sweep of the Blade is classic Ilona Andrews, with their trademark action and humor. It's a fun summer vacay read. I could quibble over how troubled but utterly perfect Maud is, how over the top adorable Helen is, how Arland upends his entire life for a human woman he's known for just a few weeks, how the ending just felt a bit rushed, but... naaaah. I love these authors and they can't ever write a bad book. If you're looking for a fin read for your weekend, this. is. it.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Review: The Philosopher's War

The Philosopher's War The Philosopher's War by Tom Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tom Miller's The Philosopher's Flight was one of the most refreshing books I read in 2018. He has followed that debut with a triumphant second novel that continues the bildungsroman account of Robert Canderelli Weekes, a nineteen-year-old sigilrist and rare male practitioner of the magical art called philosophy. Robert's Radcliffe dreams have come to fruition and he's become the first male member of the US Sigilry Rescue and Evacuation Corps. Let me assure you, it is his worst possible nightmare. 

Thrust into an environment in which he must deal with the prejudice against a male practitioner of sigilry (sexism) and the prejudice against practitioners of sigilry period (a sort of racism, but also sexism, in this alt-history of WWI, where Black Jack Pershing is not a sigilry fan), Robert finds himself in the midst of a great ethical crisis. It puts him at odds with his flame, Danielle, with half the corps, and facing a huge dilemma as the first man to be allowed in the corps. You will recall that in the Great War, warfare was waged with terrible weapons. And so it is with Miller's war, where not only chemical weapons but biological weapons are readied by both the Americans and Germans. The American plan to use a smoke laden with plague on the city of Berlin has Weekes' commander, General Blandings, planning mutiny at best and treason at worst. What side will Robert stand on? And how much will that stand cost him? And let's not forget that while all this is playing out, he is flying rescue missions against sometimes crazy odds. War, in all its heartbreaking dreadfulness, is on full display here.

Introducing a number of delightful new characters, The Philosopher's War offers a rousing sequel to readers who loved the first book. I was also glad of the illustrations, which provide a better understanding of a philosopher's equipment and their fearful weaponry. I'm hoping, (not a spoiler, since we see this early on from the prologue) that we will enjoy a third and possibly fourth novel about the man who will eventually become a Brigadier General and, as of May 1941, be living in exile? Give us more, Dr. Miller, give us more!

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Review: Pan's Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun

Pan's Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun Pan's Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun by Guillermo del Toro
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Equal parts darkness and poignant beauty, The Labyrinth of the Faun tells the story of Ofelia, a child who mourns the loss of her father and the seeming absence of her recently remarried and now pregnant mother, Carmen. Ofelia, kind, brave, and terribly lonely, escapes into a world of dark fantasy to escape the reality of her cruel stepfather, the Wolf, Vidal, who is terrorizing his men and the community in which they live. Her story, as the secret Princess Moanna, alternates with ten fairy tales. Set in 1944 Spain, against the backdrop of the post-civil war, this is a rich retelling of the del Toro's lauded 2006 film, Pan's Labyrinth. This magnificently illustrated novel is intended for young adults and some aspects of the story may be too intense for young children.

The audiobook is beautifully narrated, with authentic Castilian pronunciation of names and places,

CW: child death, maternal death, multiple murders

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Monday, July 15, 2019

Review: Recursion

Recursion Recursion by Blake Crouch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”
― Marcel Proust

As anyone who has known someone with Alzheimer's Disease knows, the person we are is defined largely by our memories. Our brains, sponges soaked in neurotransmitters, operate miraculously, making new memories, retrieving old ones, until... until they don't. Loss of one's memory, whether due to a catastrophic event like a traumatic brain injury or to a slow erosion of functioning, like dementia, is one of the most devastating things that can happen to a person, or to those who love them. The role of memory in making a person who they are provides the inception of Recursion, a book about both memory and time travel. Elegantly written, with the feel of literary science fiction, Recursion follows two protagonists, Helena Smith, a neuroscience researcher, and Barry Sutton, a NYC police detective. Helena is pursuing creation of a device that would allow her to record memories, hoping to use the machine to preserve her dementia-suffering mother's memories. Barry is haunted by the case of a woman who commits suicide due to a newly described mental illness, False Memory Syndrome. For the first third of the book, Barry and Helena's chapters alternate until they fatefully cross paths and unite in the effort to prevent the ultimate disaster that is the outcome of her invention. For simply preserving memory is a less ambitious goal than some who know about Helena's "chair" have in mind. From an unscrupulous billionaire to the military, the potential uses of her research can be exploited in deleterious ways. There would be no way to describe these potential uses without spoilers, so I won't even try.

There are aspects of the book that are fascinating yet I was frustrated with several issues in the book. The complete lack of overtly discussed bioethics bothered me early on and even the validity of a researcher testing their methodology on themselves troubled me. (Having a background in research science always makes it a challenge to convince me fictional science is any good.) But beyond that issue, I was puzzled by the relationship between Barry and Helena. I never understood the relationship between them. Whereas a considerable amount of time was spent on Barry's relationship with his daughter Megan and his wife Julia, other than a common cause and a trauma bond, I wasn't really sure what Barry and Helena were doing together. They were from two such different worlds and I didn't feel the bridge they built across their worlds. I also felt that the assured mutual destruction issue near the end was overdone and lacked believability, as it didn't really solve the problems there were to solve.

Overall this was a well-written and sometimes poignant novel. It made me feel just how fragile and temporary we are.

The audiobook, narrated by Jon Lindstrom and Abby Craden, was a pleasure.

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Sunday, July 14, 2019

Review: This Is How You Lose the Time War

This Is How You Lose the Time War This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Readers of the blog know how much I love Max Gladstone's works (The Craft Sequece and Empress of Forever) and will no doubt recall my strong praise for Amal El-Mohtar's Hugo, Nebula, Locus, Sturgeon-winning short story Seasons of Iron and Glass, in my Hugo nominations post from 2017. Thus, it's hardly a surprise that one of my most anticipated reads for 2019 has been this novella. But it might seem like a stretch since I'm not usually a fan of co-written works, spy novels, or epistolary novels. The unique structure of this novella (more on that account on the actual blog review post) takes every advantage of the writers differing styles. Anyone who has followed these authors' writing, social media, or games (yes, games- Max Gladstone has written some pretty cool games) will know which character is written by which author.

Time War tells the story of Blue and Red, two agents who are on opposite sides of the titular time war, a temporal battle that finds them traveling on the strands of time through history and place. From the myriad Atlantises that Red despises to the perfect London that Blue loves and to which other Londons can only aspire, we travel with these two agents and read letters that begin as taunts but which evolve into the deepest of bonds- love and respect. Red, in all her earnest lethality, is enriched (infiltrated? flipped?) by Blue's appreciation of the niceties of tea, honey, fine writing paper, scented ink, and her philosophical approach to a war that rapidly becomes secondary to their obsessive relationship with one another. Red and Blue are in some ways trapped in the battle between the technotopia known as the Agency, and the vast organic consciousness known as the Garden, having to cover their tracks to obscure their growing bond and their growing questions about what winning the time war would really mean. What if winning a war could cost you everything you care about most? Where do their loyalties lie? Can they find a way to game the system they are entangled in, and change the paradigm of their leaders' respective wars? Is there a way to win?

Full of deft writing, terrible puns, love, heartbreak, and hope, This is How You Lose the Time War is a beautiful novella, unlike anything I've ever read. It's going to receive great acclaim and a slew of award nominations, as it deserves.

I received a Digital Review Copy and a paper review copy from Saga Press in exchange for an honest review.

The audiobook narrated by Cynthia Farrell and the awesome Emily Woo Zeller is just marvelous.


I was fortunate to have the chance to attend Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone's effervescent Readercon30 panel in which they discussed how this book came to be. They had long wanted to write something together and the idea for the novella initially took shape over a dinner in 2017. Describing the situation in which Red and Blue meet as a sort of temporal Cold War, the authors sought a framework that would build on their differing styles and strengths for their respective characters. The authors wrote their sections (El-Mohtar as Blue, Gladstone as Red) in tandem, while spending time together on a writing retreat and on two other occasions. (They actually found they struggled to write when not together.) Since each wrote their character and their character's letters, polishing the novella with recommendations from their agent, DongWon Song, and their editor at Saga Press, Navah Wolfe, was easily accomplished, as neither had to touch the other's passages.

The novella has been optioned for TV, though the authors are unable to discuss any details, as yet. It did sound as if some structural changes might take place, though.

I'm taking bets on award nominations. A trifecta of Hugo, Nebula and Locus noms, anyone?

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