Ancillary Justice

Monday, February 23, 2015


Ancillary Justice (Imperial Radch Book 1)
Ann Leckie, 2013

Hugo Winner - 2014

Premise: A narrator on a mysterious mission finds a body in the snow, makes a spur-of-the-moment decision. Flashbacks to another life eventually illuminate all. Questions of perception, consciousness, humanity and morality on an interstellar scale. Gender-as-performance.

I loved this book, and I especially loved what it did to my mind as I read. The narrator, who goes by Breq, comes from a society that doesn’t use gender the same way other human cultures do. So she refers to every person she interacts with, as ‘she’. By the middle of the book, almost all the characters were occupying this androgynous place in my mind, where their relationships to the plot and to each other were almost uncolored by their physical gender.

It’s amazingly cool, and deserved the Hugo win for that alone.

Happily, there’s more! The plotting is clever and tense, all the characters are interesting even when we’re only seeing the narrator’s point-of-view. The tech and history is explained just enough for you to follow, not dwelt on, but I got the feeling that everything is thought out in the background.

I loved the world, the moral grey all the societies and characters dealt in. Breq is a compelling protagonist, all the more for her unconventional perceptions and emotions. She (small, chapter-two spoiler) had been part of the vast linked consciousness of a starship, and still isn’t human in a lot of meaningful ways. (end small spoiler)

I fully endorse this book for all science fiction fans and gender studies students.

5 stars - An Awesome Book

Dreaming Spies (Mary Russell, Book 13)

Monday, February 9, 2015


Dreaming Spies (Mary Russell, Book 13)
Laurie R. King, 2015

New Release! I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Follows Garment of Shadows. Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes meet acrobats, aristocrats and blackmailers while on route to Japan, and more mysteries await on that island.

I had seriously mixed feelings about this book. I’ve had sadly mixed feelings about the series since The God of the Hive, but I enjoyed the two books after it quite a bit. This one… I liked aspects of.

I had to read it twice, actually, because it really rubbed me wrong the first time. It’s not badly written, the story is fine, but the connection, the spark… for me it was just missing.

There are a bunch of new characters, friends and foes, although the main character is Haruki. When I say that, I’m not being poetic. This is her story, her plot, her character arc, even though it’s told completely from the perspective of Mary Russell. I think this is the disconnect I felt. I liked Haruki’s story, but felt distant from it, as Mary herself did, and Mary’s story isn’t particularly intense or meaningful.

There are quite a few good scenes for Holmes and Russell, primarily around maintaining various cover identities while travelling. I was seriously thrown at one point by how little time has passed over the entire series, though. I’ve gotten older, and Russell hasn’t.

It’s still an enjoyable read, and it’s still pleasant, funny, charming in places, but it wasn’t compelling the way Garment of Shadows and some of the earlier books were.

3 Stars - A Good Book.

Hawkeye: Little Hits (Volume 2), Hawkeye: L.A. Woman (Volume 3)

Monday, February 2, 2015


Hawkeye: Little Hits (Volume 2), Hawkeye: L.A. Woman (Volume 3)
Matt Fraction, David Aja, Annie Wu, Javier Pulido, et. al.

Premise: Follows My Life as a Weapon. Clint and Kate continue to kick ass separately and together in between getting their asses kicked. Collects Hawkeye #6-11 and Hawkeye #14, 16, 18, 20 and Annual #1.


I know I’m bundling these reviews, but I need to talk about them both separately and together. Little Hits is a collection of single concept issues that are connected to what came before and what came after. Meanwhile L.A. Woman is one story, a story that is happening concurrently with a story that will be collected in the next volume (The missing Issues 12, 13, 15, etc.)

I like both, although I liked them quite differently.

The first two issues in Little Hits were both issues I bought when they came out. Issue 7 was rushed to print for a very good reason: it was written in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, about the hurricane, and all author’s royalties went to relief efforts. It follows two small, heartfelt stories about Clint and Kate during the storm itself, and it works great. Issue 6 (chronologically second in-world) is a Christmas issue. It jumps back and forth in time to paint a picture of what it’s like when Clint tries to take some time ‘off’ and actually have Christmas. The gang that Clint kept bumping into last volume are back with a new agenda.

Then Issues 8, 9 and 10 all interlock and overlap in interesting ways. The plot advances, retreats to provide a different angle, jumps to a new perspective. I really dig the style. Also, Issue 9 features awesome moments for all the ladies, but I particularly loved Black Widow. She was just perfect. Issue 11 is entirely from the dog’s perspective.

The story of the whole volume is fractured in this interesting way, but the style could turn some readers off, because you do have to pay attention, and it ends with a few cliffhangers.

At the end of Little Hits, it’s clear that Clint and Kate are going their separate ways for a while. L.A. Woman is Kate’s story. And it’s fantastic. The humor is snarky and wonderful, the plot ties back to previous events without being bogged down; I’m not sure it all made sense but it was a hell of a ride. Kate drives out to LA to make it on her own and promptly all the worst things that could happen, happen. But she pulls herself together and moves forward, and I just like her attempt at the hero-for-hire biz so darn much! The balancing act between her take-charge sass and attitude and how hard she’s actually trying to keep herself together becomes much clearer. In the last issue the plot circles around, finally coming to a head in a satisfying climax that leads straight into…. the volume that isn’t out yet. Nuts!

This whole series is highly recommended for anyone interested in stories that straddle the line between superheroics, indie-small-story-angst, and intriguing construction that asks to be read over and over.

Both 4 Stars - Very Good Books.

Mother Ocean, Daughter Sea

Monday, January 26, 2015


Mother Ocean, Daughter Sea
Diana Marcellas, 2001

Recent eBook release - I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Brierley is a healer by birth, in a land where the people who had magic in the blood were thought to have been all killed long ago. Her calling brings her into politics and danger, and she’s not sure where her destiny will lie, or what she wants it to be.

There are things I really liked about this book. I like the way Brierley’s magic works. I love her connections with previous generations of witches, knowing them mostly through secret diaries. I really like her philosophical musings about the place of those with magic, the choices they make to hide themselves. I like the hints about what could have gone so wrong between two peoples long ago. I love love LOVE her relationship with a late-introduced character, Megan.

But then there’s a romance and everything is terrible.

Some spoilers follow.

Sure, it was relatively well-handled, it could have been much worse, but it just seemed so out-of-tone, and there were so much more interesting ways to take the relationship. I spent a good portion of the book praying these two characters were never going to sleep together. They very nearly don’t! And then, spoiler, they do. Grrr.

Now, if I keep reading this series, there’s a chance that this will be brushed off as a fling by both of them, (one character is very young, and the other is married) and we can all move on.

It just disappointed me that this annoying thing was stuck in the middle of what was otherwise a book I was really connecting to, a book about one woman, thinking about her place in the world, how she can forgive her mother, seek her kin, learn from the women who went before.

And it frankly broke quite a bit of the respect I had for both characters. Primarily because Brierley, because she’s a telepath/empath, knows things about the guy and his wife that make me really want them (guy and wife, not guy and Brierley) to be happy together. Now, this might be the point, to break them both down a little, make them human and give them flaws to struggle with.

But from skimming the promo copy for the next book, it doesn’t seem like it.

Ugh, there was so much I liked about it, but that just kinda broke the thread of my emotional involvement with the story. There was still enough I liked to give it a medium score though.

3 Stars - A Good Book

Important Note: Open Road Media, who printed this e-edition, is still not so great on their quality control. At least in the galley version, OCR typos abound: mat for that being one of the most repeated.


Death at Victoria Dock (Phryne Fisher, Book 4)

Monday, January 19, 2015


Death at Victoria Dock (Phryne Fisher, Book 4)
Kerry Greenwood, 1992

Premise: Miss Phryne Fisher has been a magnet for trouble before, but it’s still startling to be shot at while driving down the street. After witnessing a killing at the docks, Phryne is determined to see the killers pay, no matter if it leads her and her household into further danger.

No, you’re not seeing things, I didn’t review books two or three. I did read them. I’ve really been enjoying Kerry Greenwood’s work for the past year. It’s great light bus reading.

I wanted to mention this one in more depth because while I liked books two and three, this one really brought the things I liked in the first book back to the forefront. In the intervening time since book one, Phryne has settled her new household, and even added to it, taking in two orphaned girls.

The double plot of this novel follows both the investigation of the murder of a young anarchist and the disappearance of a well-off young woman. Both mysteries require Phryne and her companions to infiltrate settings as diverse as a convent, a seance and a morgue to collect information.

I felt that Phryne was more dynamic in this book in some senses. I felt her passions - her anger and fear and lust - more consistently than in some of the other volumes.

I’ll definitely keep picking these up. I need more positive, not-too-brain-taxing reads on my Kindle for my commute through the dark winter.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Catwoman: Volume 3: Under Pressure

Monday, January 12, 2015


Catwoman: Volume 3: Under Pressure
Ed Brubaker, Paul Gulacy, Sean Phillips, Diego Olmos, 2014

Premise: Sequel to No Easy Way Down. Selina returns from her road trip to find that the East End of Gotham needs her help more than ever. But she’s standing alone against a tide… Collects Catwoman #25-37.

And so Ed Brubaker's run on Catwoman comes to an end, not quite with a bang. The writing is still pretty decent, although the larger plotting feels disjointed and awkward. The art however, is just bad. Paul Gulacy more or less ruined this book for me.

It isn't so much that the characters are ugly, although they are. It's that they change drastically depending on the angle and are unrecognizable. If you didn't tell me that was supposed to be Holly and Karon, I would never have known. All of the women are frightening face on, with weirdly grotesque shading. It made it really difficult for me to enjoy the story, especially when the prior volumes had such good art.

And unfortunately the story was just fine, not good enough to transcend the art problems. Each mini section, of which there were several, had its moments, but they didn't add up to anything. Selina crosses some mafia who are moving into her turf and gets a minor supervillain set on her heels. The ‘people in masks chasing her’ plot from the last volume is resolved in possibly the silliest excuse for some extra cheesecake that I’ve seen in a while. Selina disappears, then returns to Gotham in time for two good issues before the comic had to move into a crossover with the other Bat books.

A few bright spots: the War Games crossover issues, though sort of an awkward side jaunt from the standpoint of the Catwoman narrative, had some actually moving scenes between Selina and Stephanie. And right before that are two semi stand alone issues. The first has a great artist (Sean Phillips), and is mostly about Bruce and Selina's relationship, and I really enjoyed that one. The second features pretty decent art by Diego Olmos and has a neat structure.

Selina's personal narrative is a bit messy in-world as well, she's not quite sure of her place or her role, or whether what she's doing is worth it. Brubaker tries to tie it up in a empowering bow for the last issue, but the attempt at a coherent theme was just too-little-too-late.

Overall I was much less impressed by this volume.

2 Stars - An Okay Book (Mostly Because of the Art)

Tales from High Hallack, Volume 3

Monday, January 5, 2015


Tales from High Hallack, Volume 3
Andre Norton, collection published 2014

Recent Release. I received a digital copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: A collection of Andre Norton’s short stories. No real uniting theme.

I read this book some time ago, but put off writing about it. Partially, honestly, under that old rule: “if you can’t say something nice…”

Was it a bad book? No. Not terrible, but neither was it great. Maybe these are the leftovers and volumes one and two are stronger? This is just a set of middling stories. Andre Norton was extremely prolific, so some of her work is bound to be just 'fine'. A few of them were quite good, but nothing that really stayed with me. At this point, I don’t even remember which stories I liked or what they were about.

I ate up her short novels as a teenager and have read and enjoyed a few in the past few years, but I guess her short stories don’t really work for me.

2 Stars - An Okay Book.