Friday, August 29, 2014

Renee's Reading: 2014-08-16 through 2014-08-22

I've noticed I usually have a kind of theme to my reading each week. I'll be tearing through a newly-discovered series or I'll be flooded with a bunch of new releases or something. This week my head couldn't seem to settle in any particular direction, I guess because I've got a lot going on and I didn't really have time for more than bits and snatches of reading time. So the collection of reviews this week is a little. . . eclectic.

Fireside Magazine, Spring 2012, Issue One, edited by Brian J. White
The debut issue of Fireside, a multigenre fiction and comics magazine.

This issue includes stories by Tobias Buckell ("Press Enter to Execute"), Ken Liu ("To The Moon"), Chuck Wendig ("Emerald Lakes"), and Christie Yant ("Temperance"), and a comic written by Adam P. Knave and D.J. Kirkbride, illustared by Michael Lee Harris, and lettered by Frank Cvetkovic ("Snow Ninjas of the Himalayas").

I backed Fireside's kickstarter campaign a few months ago and one of my rewards was access to all the back issues. I downloaded them a while ago but never got around to doing anything with them. Then this week I was looking for something short and interesting without really knowing what I wanted--kind of like standing in front of the fridge looking for a snack when you aren't really in the mood for anything in particular--and I decided to give one of the magazines a go.

I started with Issue One because beginning at the beginning always seems like a good idea to me. I was very impressed. I liked every story in here, even the ones in genres and styles that don't typically interest me. There was a good mix of ideas and styles here, which made it perfect for that random munchies mood I was in.

I'll do a quick breakdown of each with a few thoughts, just to give you an idea:

"To the Moon" by Ken Liu: This was an interesting short story about a Chinese immigrant seeking asylum in the US and his lawyer, mixed together with a "story" about a father climbing a tree all the way to the moon. I really liked the way Liu twisted the two around each other, contrasting the fantastical elements of the moon story against the sharper edges of the reality and using them to give us a look at the truth underneath both.

"Emerald Lakes" by Chuck Wendig: I've been a follower of Chuck Wendig online for a while now, though I've never actually read any of his fiction. (I have them. They're on my TBR along with about 800 other things, but I haven't gotten to them yet. I don't actually know why.) Having not read the novels associated with the "Atlanta Burns" world, I can't really comment on how this short story fits in, but on its own it was very good. There's a very strong voice in this story and Wendig did a good job painting the feeling of Emerald Lakes in a very small space.

"Snow Ninjas of the Himalayas" by Adam P. Knave, D.J. Kirkbride, Michael Lee Harris, and Frank Cvetkovic: Graphic novels and comics and such are not really my thing. I have no problem with them, but it's not a medium I'm personally drawn to. I felt like this story was a little choppy and I didn't feel much attachment to the characters. I'm not sure if that's because of the story or my lack of familiarity with this kind of storytelling though.

"Temperance" by Christie Yant: It wasn't the worst bender of Anthony Cardno's life, but it was the first that he had ended in a cemetery, vomiting into an open grave. Best. Opening line. Ever. I really liked this story. A few hints of fantasy, a mysterious disappearing woman, and a little bit of time travel. It was intriguing but also very satisfying and I can't decide if I'm tempted to find out if Yant has written more in this world or if I want to let it rest in my brain as is.

"Press Enter to Execute" by Tobias S. Buckell: Creepy. Creepy. Creepy. I'm one of those people who finds stories about computers taking over the world way scarier than anything with a bloodsucking monster beast. I can tell myself the bloodsucking monster beast isn't real, or is at least just misunderstood. I'm never going to be able to look at my email the same way again.

A little bit of this, a little bit of that, all of it entertaining. Even the stuff that wasn't my particular cup of tea was still very high quality. This is a pretty good collection for the first issue and I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the issues I've got stored away.

The Ripper Affair, by Lilith Saintcrow
Sorcery. Treason. Madness. And, of course, murder most foul. . .

Archibald Clare, mentath in the service of Britannia, is about his usual business--solving crimes and restoring public order--until a shattering accident places him in the care of Emma Bannon, sorceress Prime, who once served. . . and now simply remains at home, tending her solarium in reasonably quiet contentment. What Clare needs is time to recover, and not so incidentally, a measure of calm to repair his faculties of Logic and Reason. Without them, he is not his best. One could even say that without them, he is not even properly a mentath at all.

Unfortunately, calm and rest are not to be found. There is a killer hiding in the sorcerous steam-hells of Londinium, stalking the Eastron End and unseaming poor women of a certain reputation. A handful of frails murdered on cold autumn nights would make no difference. . . but the killings echo in the highest circles, and threaten to bring the entire edifice of Empire down in smoking ruins.

Once more Emma Bannon is pressed into service; once more Archibald Clare is determined to aid her. Yet secrets between these two old friends may give an ambitious sorcerer the means to bring down the Crown. And there is still no way to reliably find a hansom when one needs it most.
Britannia is threatened. Londinium quakes. Sorcery births an unholy monster.

The game is afoot. . . 

I love Lilith Saintcrow. You all know this. Or at least you do if you've paid even the slightest bit of attention to this blog. So it should come as no shock to learn that I've had the release date of this book marked on my calendar for months. (Amazon had a little bit of a hiccup delivering it, which they could not explain but I suspect has to do with the Amazon/Hachette dispute even though that's not supposed to have impacted ebook delivery, but I got my hands on it eventually.)

As expected, I really enjoyed this book. I love the way Saintcrow uses words. She weaves this language she's built to go along with her alternate reality into the narrative in such a way that it--not the characters or the action (though those are strong as well) but the language--pulls you right into the world. She practically makes the words themselves a character in their own right, which is lovely.

In addition to an absolutely dazzling command of the words, Emma and Clare are brilliant characters. This book was more focused on Emma (who I just cannot refer to in my head as "Bannon" no matter what the series is called), which balances nicely with The Red Plague Affair having fallen mostly in Clare's sphere. There's a lot in her personal past that becomes relevant here and I really enjoyed watching her work through that.

That's not to say that Clare was absent from the book by any means. In fact, the relationship between them was also front and center. There's a lot of grief and feelings and things they Don't Talk About between them and I think Saintcrow tuned the screws there beautifully. And the little glimpses into Clare as he's forced to face his own assumptions were fantastic.

I love that Emma and Clare are not romantically involved, by the way. It really allows the focus to be on their friendship and partnership without getting bogged down in a bunch of obligatory sexual tension.

This was a really dark story, with some truly terrifying and gruesome moments. Jack the Ripper didn't get his name for being neat and tidy with his victims, after all, and Saintcrow doesn't shy away from that. And as if a magically amped up brutal alternate reality serial killer wasn't enough, she also adds in some nice creepy monsters to paint scary pictures behind your eyelids at night.

Seriously, Thin Meg and her starvelings. . . ::shudder::

This was a fantastic novel and I'm sad to hear that there are no immediate plans for more Bannon and Clare novels. It finishes off the trilogy at a good closing point, so there's no worry about being left with an awful cliffhanger, but I would really love to follow these characters a little longer. If Saintcrow ever does have the opportunity to publish her Bannon and Clare go traveling books, I'll be first in line to tour the world with them.

Talk Sweetly to Me, by Courtney Milan
Nobody knows who Miss Rose Sweetly is, and she prefers it that way. She's a shy, mathematically-minded shopkeeper's daughter who dreams of the stars. Women like her only ever come to attention through scandal. She'll take obscurity, thank you very much.

All of England knows who Stephen Shaughnessy is. He's an infamous advice columnist and a known rake. When he moves into the house next door to Rose, she discovers that he's also wickedly funny, devilishly flirtatious, and heart-stoppingly handsome. But when he takes an interest in her mathematical work, she realizes that Mr. Shaughnessy isn't just a scandal waiting to happen. He's waiting to happen to her. . . and if she's not careful, she'll give in to certain ruination.

This was a short little story related to the Brothers Sinister series and it was a very charming read. Courtney Milan is one of my favorite historical romance novelists. Her books are always so entertaining, her characters are great, and her regency world is very well-researched. She's always got a clear idea of how she wants the series to flow and what themes she wants to use to tie things together, that comes through to the reader in the form of a very smooth reading experience.

That said, this story is a very loosely connected epilogue to the Brothers Sinister series. The male lead, Stephen Shaughnessy appears in the last book, The Suffragette Scandal, which was itself an extra book that popped up and tacked itself onto the end of the originally planned trilogy. This novella just didn't feel like an organic part of the story to me, particularly since we didn't get to know Stephen very well in his previous appearance anyway. Instead, I think of this story and The Suffragette Scandal more as a pair of connected spinoffs than as part of a series.

All of which doesn't really matter in terms of the story itself. That's just me being picky, I suppose. The story itself was lovely. Stephen was very charming and sweet and Rose was a great match for him with all her hidden strength. I liked watching her learn to trust him and watching him figure out what he needed. I would have liked to see a little more depth and character development for both of them and would not have minded if the story was a little longer to accommodate that. But that's the trouble with novellas, I suppose.

I felt Milan handled the potential interracial complications in their relationship well enough, though I would have liked maybe seeing them face one or two of those complications as a couple instead of just acknowledging what might happen. The one active scene confronting racism in the story felt more about developing Rose's personal strength than their strength together. By the end of the story, I was sure Rose and Stephen were very much in love with each other, but I'm not convinced they're really ready for what they'll have to deal with.

(Speaking of, I've often heard Courtney Milan's books described as "issue books", which I don't agree with. There are certainly big issues explored in them and Milan doesn't shy away from that. But describing something as an "issue book" gives me the impression that it's going to be more about the author using the characters to preach an agenda or something, and I don't get that feel from Milan's writing. Maybe that's naïve of me, but I don't pick up on that kind of heavy-handedness here.)

All in all, this was a nice little read with good characters and a pleasant romance which made for a fun way to relax while my kids were napping. Plus there were math jokes. As far as I'm concerned, romance is always better with a few math jokes.

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

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