Adult · Book review · Fantasy

Review: Over the Woodward Wall by A. Deborah Baker

woodward

Over the Woodward Wall is on one side a very straightforward children’s books, on the other a very meta experiment in mirroring.
This is A. Deborah Baker’s first book, which in our world means “the first novella Seanan McGuire wrote under this pseudonym”, but if you’ve read Middlegame, it means something completely different. And that’s where my main doubt comes in: would someone who hasn’t read Middlegame get much out of this at all? Because I’m not sure.

This is the story of Avery and Zib, two children who couldn’t be more different but have tied fates, as they stumble in a different world on their way to school. If you’ve read Middlegame, you also know that twins Roger and Dodger were as different as twins can possibly be while still being close in a way no one else can ever be, therefore encompassing the rest of reality between them – like two letters at opposite ends of the alphabet. This similarity has plot relevance in Middlegame, as Over the Woodward Wall sits inside it, but not here; here noticing the parallels is something that enriches the reading experience, but even if you can’t, you’ll be perfectly fine.
Because, if it weren’t for the existence of Middlegame, this wouldn’t be anything but perfectly fine in the most forgettable way possible.

This isn’t a children’s book, the same way Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children isn’t YA but an adult response to the YA portal fantasy genre – one that imitates its structure and some of its characteristics. By which I mean, Over the Woodward Wall is a cuckoo and doesn’t even really make for a good children’s book; I know that if I had read it in middle school, I would have found it bland, boring, and way too interested in its own cleverness. I would have found the Crow Girl bits very compelling, as I found them interesting and cool to read now, especially the tiny spin on gender and being fragmented it took – I wanted more of that, and less of the rest.

And is it preachy. Every single character in the Up-and-Under is interested in giving the main ones life lessons, only disguised in a quirky way – that is, when the narration isn’t already trying to do that to the reader. While this is clearly a stylistic choice more than a flaw, it’s one I don’t really get along with: it’s tedious, and I would have felt talked down to had I been a kid. Now I know that books written like this are soothing to listen to while doing chores, but don’t work for me on ebook at all. And that’s a shame, I feel like this book is (even more) full of easter eggs and meta commentary that I could find while I constantly felt like skimming all of it.
I hope there’s going to be an audiobook of Over the Woodward Wall, because it’s the format I would recommend it in, and even then, almost only to Middlegame fans.

Book review · Fantasy · Short fiction

Reviews: Completing the Wayward Children Reread

I finally finished listening to all the Wayward Children novellas on audiobook! My current ranking and ratings are:

  • In an Absent Dream ★★★★★ (review)
  • Every Heart a Doorway★★★★¾
  • Come Tumbling Down★★★★ (review)
  • Beneath the Sugar Sky★★★★
  • Down Among the Sticks and Bones★★★½ (review)

At this point, this is probably my favorite novella series? It would have been the Tensorate, if it weren’t for how dreadfully boring The Descent of Monsters was (I tried to reread it; I couldn’t).

And today I’m posting the two missing reviews, Every Heart a Doorway and Beneath the Sugar Sky.


EveryHeartaDoorwayEvery Heart a Doorway‘s subversive take on portal fantasy is nothing short of one of the most interesting premises I’ve found in SFF in the last few years.

It’s a novella that reads at the same time like a boarding school mystery and a love letter to fantasy fans. It’s the kind of book that understands why we find solace in fictional worlds, sometimes even worlds more explicitly terrible than our own, and spins those feelings into a wonderful reverse portal fantasy. It’s the kind of book that understands the place gender and marginalizations have in who feels the need to escape reality the most, and applies this reality to a diverse cast. And it is, more than anything, a really compelling, charming read.

Between this and In an Absent Dream, I’m not sure which is my favorite of the series. In that one, I loved the message, the world, and how much it made me think; here, apart from my appreciation for the school as a setting, I loved every single character: their interactions, their quirks, even the ones I didn’t love the first time around (how could I think Jack was boring back then, I don’t know).
And Nancy remains my favorite. Her story is about the inherent power of stillness, which is something I haven’t seen often, because we tend to understate just how much potential is hidden in the ability to fade into the background.

For a story about murder, it’s really quiet, because that’s who Nancy is – quiet, understated Nancy from the underworld, who could live only on pomegranate juice if she were allowed to do so. At times, she was so quiet she almost felt like a side character in her own story, but that’s kind of her nature. Her development is really subtle as well, which is why this novella is one of my favorites in the series: unlike some of the sequels, it understands the use of subtlety; it takes after portal fantasy and fairytales in its atmosphere and symbolism but not in the way it is told. It doesn’t beat us over the head with a message, and Nancy doesn’t undergo a drastic change either.

A central theme in this whole series is the idea of “being sure”, of having to make a choice and live with it. Nancy has been temporarily exiled from the underworld because its lord thinks Nancy should be able to choose where she lives – and in the beginning, she feels like she is sure, of course she’s sure she wants to live in the Halls of the Dead. In this story, she makes friends, she understands how she could fit into the “real” world, and then, only then, she’s able to actually make her choiche – hers, not her parent’s or her lord’s, because she truly understands her options. In that, the underworld has been fairer to her than most world are to the children of this series.
The final scene of this novella didn’t fail to make me tear up this time around either, because of what it says about agency and belonging, in just a few lines.


27366528I love when books manage to surprise me on reread! For some reason, I remembered Beneath the Sugar Sky as significantly more boring than it actually was. It’s not my favorite in the series, and of all the worlds we have visited so far, Confection is probably the one that interested me the least (the whole “everything is candy” gets old fairly quickly), but I still loved it. Mostly because of how it builds over Every Heart a Doorway, deepening the reader’s understanding of this universe – I really liked that the concept of “worlds from” and “worlds to” was introduced, I had forgotten that, but it clears up some things – and of the characters.

The characters were really what made this book worth it for me. I loved reading about Cora, Kade (especially Kade) and Christopher so much. Their banter is amazing, and I would read a novella about them just walking around even in a very ordinary world, as they are anything but and would make it interesting anyway.

Beneath the Sugar Sky is, in its own (at times very odd) ways, about assumptions. About how Cora has to deal with the horrible assumptions people (and our whole culture, really) make about her because she’s fat; about how making the assumption that undoing death in a nonsense world is impossible might have been the very thing that could have stopped the main characters. The delivery of the message is heavy handed and at times repetitive, but for how much I might not like that, it’s on par with most of the series; and in this instance, some of the repetitive nature also feels justified – Cora has been sent to what’s basically candy-land, of course she’s thinking a lot about how people would assume that’s all she’s ever wanted. It doesn’t feel like the narration is intruding to preach at you as it did in Down Among the Sticks and Bones.

My favorite scenes were the ones set in the Halls of the Dead, as they were the first time around. I’m so happy for Nancy (and Nadia), and I loved this portrayal of the underworld. It’s so quiet, peaceful and beautiful, and I get why Nancy was drawn to it.
And now I want to know more about the baker! I’m not saying more because of spoilers, but I hope that someone will appear again in future books.

CWs: apart from the discussion on fatphobia, there’s mention of the main character having attempted suicide in the past.


What Next?

  • Across the Green Grass Fields has been announced! And it’s about a world of magical horses? Nine-year-old me would have given so much for a book like that.
  • As I have no intention to stop cooking (the same things over and over more or less, because I’m lazy), I have to find a new audiobook to listen to! I’m not sure what it will be yet.

Tell me all your Wayward Children opinions, if you have any!

Adult · Book review · Fantasy

Review: Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire

44804083In Come Tumbling Down, the fifth novella in the series, we return to the Moors.

While most of the stories so far could more or less stand alone, this one doesn’t, and I really recommend reading/rereading Down Among the Sticks and Bones first, or none of this would make any sense. I’m glad I listened to the audiobook of it just a few days ago – I would have missed so many little details that made this story worth reading.
And, compared to Down Among the Sticks and Bones, this is both an improvement and a step back: it feels messier than all of the novellas so far apart from Beneath the Sugar Sky, because group casts are difficult to handle and this doesn’t always get it right, but it’s at the same time a necessary conclusion to Jack’s story and a far less pedantic sequel than I expected.

If the previous novella was a story about the consequences of bad parenting most of all, and with not much nuance to give, this is about what makes a hero (or a monster), but it’s more than anything about a quest. Which means it’s a little subtler, and I really appreciated that, though it – as always for this series – has the tendency of letting its characters have OOC moments for the purpose of making them say something off and then having another character lecture them about why what they said was wrong. It’s still very didactic, but at least the narration doesn’t spend paragraphs preaching to the reader.
It was also more difficult to follow as an audiobook, as there are five main characters read by only one person, and sometimes I struggled a little to follow who was speaking.

One of the highlights for me was being able to see Sumi outside of confection or the school; nonsense shines brighter and is just plain funnier in a stark world that runs on logic as the Moors. I really liked seeing all the others as well, and I hope this won’t be the last time.
I also really appreciated how this explained more about the rules and inner workings of the Moors – I would read a whole book involving the Drowned Gods, which I would never have expected from the previous novels. Salt-rotten gothic is my favorite aesthetic.

I was also glad of how this book mentioned mental health awareness in a fantasy world, and what it means for Jack to have OCD – it’s something I don’t see enough of.

I might like some installment in this series more than others (In An Absent Dream remains my favorite, I think) but overall I think this format really works for me; short companion novellas is a format that really never gets old.

My rating: ★★★★

Adult · Book review · Fantasy

Reread Review: Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

Opinions change. There are times I don’t like a book and yet I know that, if I were to reread it, I wouldn’t feel the same way. It has happened to me with The Star Touched Queen and Jade City; now here we are again.

I knew, before listening to this audiobook, that I probably would have liked it more this time around. That’s also because of how much I loved In An Absent Dream this year, and because I see this series differently as a whole; I think I have a better grasp on what it wants to be.

DownAmongtheSticksThe first time I read this book, I was 17, and I rated it two stars. Now I’m 20, and with this reread, I see it in a completely different way, and yet not. I went back and reread my review on my old Italian blog, and I still agree with almost every single thing I said then. This book is the same as it was; I didn’t read it wrong, whatever that might mean, or miss anything particularly important.
It’s just that context can do so much.

Let’s start with the thing I hated the most about Down Among the Sticks and Bones in 2017: it’s one of the most repetitive and unsubtle things I’ve ever read, and relies almost only on telling. There’s little in the book world I hate as much as a story that doesn’t trust its reader to understand and therefore beats them over the head with its message. Usually.
Here’s the thing: I didn’t realize, back then, just how much these books are meant to be read as a fairytale. The whole series plays with fairytale and portal fantasy tropes, and both genres tend to thrive on the familiar, on repetition.
Because of how it relied on telling more than Every Heart a Doorway did, this novella was an irritating read. If you listen to it on audiobook, as I did the second time around, it’s delightful. Not only you don’t have to worry if you miss something – oh, will the story remind you, as anyone speaking to you who wants to get their point across would – but the telling bothers you a lot less if the story is actually being told to you.
It’s not that it can’t work in written form, it’s just that most of what I saw as a flaw then I now see as just a difference in format and goal.

I still don’t like how much this story lacks in nuance.
This is true for most of Seanan McGuire’s books, especially the less recent ones I’ve read. This story won’t let you draw your own conclusions about the characters and the themes it explores, it has the tendency to tell you what to think. Which is irritating even though – because? – I would have drawn those conclusions anyway and agree with the message.
Lack of nuance also tends to come with the territory. Neither fairytales nor portal fantasy are known for it (is anyone going to pretend Narnia ever bothered with something as heretical as nuance and subtlety? Ha. Yes, lack of subtlety is probably more irritating when you disagree with the message, but then you don’t feel bad about it!)

That still doesn’t mean I have to like it. It’s kind of dissonant to read about how adults often don’t allow their children to form their own preferences and opinions because they don’t really see children as people in a book that fervently demands you don’t form your own about the theme either.
One thing I liked the most about In An Absent Dream is that I felt it gave the reader more space to think on their own. This really doesn’t, and it’s the reason I can’t give it a higher rating despite how much more I appreciated this story this time around.

This time, I understood the charm the world of the Moors has, and grew attached to Jack in a way I hadn’t at all the first time. She’s a queer mad scientist in training who has to deal with mental health issues (OCD)! Of course I love her. And the author really made this world come alive with the descriptions. So creepy, so terrible, and yet I get why the twins want to stay. It’s not like our world can’t be that to a lot of people.

Another thing that has changed for me is that I’m no longer angry at the ending. I don’t fault 17-year-old me for feeling that way about an ambiguous ending that might or might not have implied a homophobic trope, and I didn’t know Come Tumbling Down would exist then. Now, of course, things have changed.

My rating: ★★★½


Have you read this? What is your favorite novella in this series?

Adult · Book review · Fantasy

Review: Middlegame by Seanan McGuire

35965482This book did the impossible, which, in this case, is making me wish I had paid attention during my mandatory philosophy class.

Sadly, the Acqua who would be fine with paying attention to high school philosophy classes instead of sneakily reading fantasy books during them isn’t the kind of person who would have ended up reading Middlegame, and as this book rightly says, you can’t have everything, even with infinite alternate timelines and even if you’re the living embodiment of logos, which I’m not.

So, this book is about evil alchemists trying to harness the Doctrine, which, as far as I understand, is basically the English name for what the ancient Greek philosophers called the logos, the rule that drives the universe. There is a fascinating history in this, written in this story like a book within a book, thin slivers of the past woven in and out of the present timeline, omens scattered in the form of excerpts of a children’s book. In the present, the immortal alchemist Reed is trying to embody different concepts into people who aren’t quite human, who look human but might one day be infinitely powerful, if they end up manifesting, if they end up being the Doctrine themselves. If this time he gets them right.
And this is where our main characters, Roger and Dodger, come in.
(Confusing? I’m not as good at explaining as this book, and this is weird.)

Roger is language, Dodger is math, and they are a harmony of opposites. We see them as children who are trying to navigate the world while being “gifted” while also discovering that they have a telepathic connection, and they might be magical, but the way the world fails them isn’t any different from the way it fails children with too many expectations on their shoulders. (The parts about Dodger never being able to understand how people work and the quote about you got a girlfriend, I got a therapist: painfully relatable.)
And then we see them during many different times of their lives, finding and losing each other and slowly learning about the puppeteers beneath reality, and it should be boring, but it’s not, and the time jumps should make it easy to get disconnected from the characters, but they don’t, because this book delights in doing the impossible. (Improbable, it whispers, as if it were a reincarnation of Nikolai Lantsov.)

Middlegame is, after all, deceptively simple: it’s really easy to follow, for something so complex – a narrative that plays at being linear just to make itself accessible when it’s actually a tapestry of timelines, with writing that gets its point across with an elegance that doesn’t call attention to itself. It has the beauty of efficiency and fits this book just right.
And it’s so clever. I want to look at all the facets and can’t and this is exactly what I want from a book, as much work as it is fun. Time is a joke to this book and it just occurred to me that as inside this book language is a trigger to math and consequently words are a trigger to time, this book in itself is words that command time in their own little universe and I, well, I should probably shut up now.

It’s not only the way it’s written, so readable even when it doesn’t seem to make sense (but it always does, sideways), that makes it not boring for something that almost feels like a slice-of-life story for a significant portion of the 500+ pages. It’s also the fact that there are books that have unpredictable twists, and then there are books that are unpredictable in essence, which you don’t even vaguely know which direction they will take until you’re near the ending, because they’re so different from everything you’ve seen before that you don’t even have something to build your expectations on.
And it’s also about stakes, of course. You know a book is taking things seriously when someone just caused mass death and you aren’t even near the climax.

Apart from that, and from what Middlegame has to say about society and the way stories shape consciousness which then shapes reality (which are all things I love to read about), I am predictable and was into this right from the moment I understood it involved evil, ruthless magical scientists. There’s no story about merging science and magic involving people being horrible that won’t interest me.
And yes, there are a few things I didn’t love about this, the main one being just how centered on America this book is despite the consequences befalling the whole world, because of course America is both the whole world and the only part of it in which interesting things actually happen.

In any case, I was trembling even while reading some of the calmest parts of this book, and maybe I can’t yet (ever?) explain fully why it affected me so much when it doesn’t make sense to me completely either, but I hope I got at least part of it, and if not, this is probably the reason I shouldn’t write reviews after midnight.

My rating: ★★★★★

Adult · Book review · Short fiction

Reviews: 2019 Novellas From Tor.com

Today, I’m reviewing three Tor.com novellas that came out this year, In an Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire, Silver in the Wood by Emily Tesh and Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water by Vylar Kaftan.


38244358In an Absent Dream is a cautionary tale about the dangers and consequences of indecision. You go into it knowing – or at least strongly suspecting – what’s going to happen, and that doesn’t make it any less heartbreaking or impactful, because its tragic nature doesn’t live in a twist or in a revelation, but in how easily avoidable on a superficial level and completely inevitable deep down its ending felt.

This is a story about being caught between two worlds, about the inherent unfairness of having to choose paired with how it would be unfair to the people around you not to – because you can’t live in two worlds at the same time.

I think every reader can relate to Lundy’s struggle on some level. I think most of us have dreamed, at some point or another, to be able to escape to a magical world. After all, it’s what this series is about. It’s easy, and this book acknowledges that, to think that choosing one world over another would be painless when one isn’t actually confronted with that choice.
Lundy, unlike most people, is given that choice – and in a modern culture that values individual choices as the pillar of freedom, it’s really interesting and chilling to see how having to choose tears her apart.
I feel like we often overlook the role and power of communities even when we talk about agency and how a character’s choices should be the ones to drive the story, so this book is, if anything, a necessary reminder.

This novella also made me think about fairness, about whether something like that can ever really exist. The world of the Goblin Market is fair, supposedly – but is it really? It certainly highlighted a lot of flaws in our own, but it’s still not a place I would ever want to be in. I think most humans need some unfairness to exist and not be stifled by rules, but unfairness is a bad thing (now I’m thinking about the intermediate disturbance hypothesis in ecology and maybe humanity needs something like that to thrive too? But still, where would be the balance in that).
I don’t know. I’m not sure the way this book would want me to be. But it made me think about many things in a really short time, and I appreciate that a lot.

On a different level, I loved this book for the way it made the Goblin Market come to life. I felt like I could taste the pies and climb the trees along with Moon and Lundy, and I could see the archivist’s shack. This is even more remarkable considering that I usually struggle with this aspect while listening to audiobooks, but not this time. Cynthia Hopkins’ narration was amazing, and I might even say that Seanan McGuire’s writing works better when narrated, as it relies heavily on telling instead of showing. It slows down the story when you’re reading, but it’s actually a strength when the story is being read to you, and that was really interesting to experience.

My rating: ★★★★


43459657Silver in the Wood reads like a forest fairytale. It could be seen like a loose m/m retelling of the Green Man myths, so it’s fitting that this is a story about rebirth and reawakening, not only of nature after spring but of people after toxic relationships.

It’s a quiet, slow story, and if at first I thought that the pacing was odd – things happen too quickly, but the book is still slow? – I realized that in a way it was a reflection of how the main character, who is part of the wood, experienced time himself.

This is also one of the best plant magic stories I’ve ever read. Not only it’s about a vaguely creepy wood, it actually talks about which trees there are in detail – elms, oaks, and even a mention of gorse (I love gorse) – and there are scenes in which roots and vines are weapons.

What didn’t work for me as much was the romance, as this is barely longer than 100 pages and the characters interact for only half of them; I thought it was cute, but I didn’t feel it.

At times it reminded me of Witchmark for the sweet romance between a human and a paranormal creature, at times it reminded me of Strange Grace for the isolated town in the wood and the terrible things that lurk in it, and I’d definitely recommend it to everyone who liked those books.

My rating: ★★★★


40939044Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water is a mind-bending and very gay futuristic sci-fi novella whose main character is a queer latinx woman.

At first, I thought this was going to be a cave horror story about an f/f/f love triangle, which I loved as a concept, but this book turned out to be something entirely different, which was… both the story’s main strength and weakness.

I love being surprised by things that are properly foreshadowed, but when the foreshadowing makes you feel like the main character could say “and it was all just a dream!” at any moment, it’s not really an enjoyable experience. (That’s not what happened, by the way.)
Because Her Silhouette, Drawn in Water is dreamlike in an ephemeral way: it’s not whimsical, it just feels like it could fall apart at any moment and become something else – because that’s what dreams do.

Also, this book reminded me why I dislike amnesia as a trope: I don’t know the main character when I start the book, and when she doesn’t know herself either, how am I really going to ever get to know her? (Especially in so little space.)

However, I liked this book’s message and the way it talked about trauma and inner strength. (I wish I could say more, because I thought that aspect was really well-written, but it would be full of spoilers.) Also, reading something that is really short but manages to surprise me twice anyway is always pleasant.

My rating: ★★★¼


What are your favorite Tor.com novellas? Have you read any of these?

Adult · Book review · Fantasy

Review: Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant

34523174I usually don’t give five stars to a book if it took me ten days to read it. However, I like to take horror in small doses; I also read most of this outside – at the beach, because there’s no better beach read than marine horror – and I often put it down because I wanted to spend my time there doing underwater photography, not reading.
I may have spent half of my goodreads updates complaining, but this book deserves five stars, and now I’ll try to explain why.

Into the Drowning Deep is a story about a scientific expedition trying to find mermaids after the mysterious deaths of the passengers of the AtagartisI decided to read this because I love everything that has to do with marine biology, and for once I found a book that talked about it without constantly breaking my suspension of disbelief. Not because it was realistic, it didn’t need to: it showed what I would expect scientists to do if they ever found mermaids.
I mean, this book features:

🦀 mermaid necropsy! With details! And people trying to classify them. Are they mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians or what
🦀 biologists getting very excited about studying mermaid lice
🦀 biologists having very strong opinions about cetaceans (100% true to real life as far as my experience goes). Never ask a marine biologist about dolphins and whales (and never ask them about tuna, even if that’s a fish) unless you want an infodump
🦀 people making very… unwise decisions to discover things
🦀 scientists talking about funds and publications and all that stuff you never see in books when there’s science involved
🦀 try to find another book that mentions carcinisation
🦀 for once, a books that gets how terrifying the sea is. Even real-life sea without mermaids. Really, it’s terrifying and yet I get all the unwise decisions of the scientists. During one of these underwater photography days, I had to move aside to avoid a stingray; I did not chase it to photograph it because I’m not that suicidal, but I get the temptation – I never saw one before! Especially not here! – and that’s why I get this book

The sea is beautiful, the sea is scary, and humans are fascinated by scary, beautiful things. This book gets it. I love it. Enough not to care too much about the things I hated.
Sometimes I thought the environmentalism aspect was exaggerated – not because global warming and poaching don’t have real consequences (they do.) but don’t say a species is extinct in the wild when you’re talking about one subspecies of it! On the other hand, I liked how this book explored people’s relationships with the environment from many points of view. In a way, this is a story about humans being too proud, too fearless because they don’t know how danger looks anymore.

Sometimes the characters annoyed me, even some that weren’t meant to. I’m talking mostly about Dr. Toth. I didn’t hate her most of the time, but the writing didn’t help – it doesn’t let you have your own opinion about the characters. If the writer thinks a character is a bad person you get almost told they’re the worst people ever, and if the writer thinks a person is awesome (…Dr. Toth), you have to endure the narration telling how awesome and great that person is. Which is very annoying, but I understand why telling and not showing can be useful in a book with such a large cast.

My problem with Dr. Toth was:

🦀 “the scientists were wrong and the misunderstood pseudoscientist was right all along” is one of my least favorite tropes ever. Pseudoscientists are dangerous, they’re the reasons we have anti-vaxxers. And someone who was convinced of the mermaids’ existence since before the Atagartis incident is definitely a pseudoscientist.
🦀 she broke my suspension of disbelief more than the mermaids. When Dr. Toth and some other scientists are talking about whether mermaids could be mammals, she mentions that an animal doesn’t have to be viviparous to be considered a mammal (true! see Monotremes). Then she starts a long infodump about the fact that there’s no viviparous/oviparous binary, because there are animals who “lay their eggs internally”. Yes, it’s true, it’s called ovoviviparity and it’s not a revolutionary concept, and I don’t think there’s a biologist who thinks that binary even exists. I knew about ovoviviparity since I was six from book about animals for children, and we learned about it in third grade. The fact that she explained ovoviviparity to scientists and no one told her to stop being condescending is very unrealistic.
🦀 If you’d rather humans got hurt instead of animals, there’s something very wrong with you.
Hence the not-full five stars, but I did want to give this book a full five.

But let’s go back to the positive things. This book is about scientists, and it’s diverse. This alone is something that means a lot to me. Some relevant characters are:

🦀 Victoria “Tory” Stewart, a bisexual marine biologists whose sister died because of the mermaids; she falls in love with another woman during this story. She was my favorite character in the book and the main reason I read it in the first place. Not only a queer woman in science, a queer woman who is a marine biologist. I thought I would never see that.
🦀 Olivia Sanderson, an autistic lesbian who became a camera operator to overcome anxiety. I loved her a lot, and I’m glad I found another book with a f/f romance I actually loved!
The part in which she talked about how non-disabled parents abuse their disabled children in subtle ways like telling them they will never be sexual/infantilizing them was something I never saw in a book, but it’s true.
🦀 Not-really-divorced Jillian Toth and her disabled (chronic pain due to an accident) husband Theo Blackwell. Jillian is Hawaiian; I’ve already said what I thought about her, but I can say that I appreciated her slight moral grayness. Same thing for her husband, except he’s more morally gray and I didn’t always understand him. Anyway, I never saw a similar relationship dynamic before.
🦀 three red-headed sisters, Hallie, Heather and Holly Wilson, of which the last two are deaf scientists (and twins) and the first is an interpreter. I loved the discussion about accessibility and really liked all of them. Heather’s descent in the Mariana Trench with the submersible “Minnow” is probably the best scene in the book. It perfectly got the “the ocean is terrifying but I can’t look away” theme.

And there are many others! These are the most relevant ones, but we get at least ten, if not fifteen PoVs. Some of them last only a chapter, but no character was ever so underdeveloped I didn’t care about them in some way (even if my caring was “I hope they get eaten by a mermaid”)

My rating: ★★★★¾

Adult · Book review · Short fiction

Mini Reviews: Tor.com Novellas

Today, two reviews for two Tor.com novellas. I read both of them for Marvel-A-Thon: Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day for “read a book you know nothing about” and River of Teeth for “read a book involving a heist”.


31183180Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day is a paranormal standalone novella.

I read this novella just because of the title. I had no idea what this was about, but I trust Tor.com novellas to be, if not always great, at least always interesting.
And it was, but I have to say that I thought this was going to be a horror book, and it’s not creepy at all. It’s a ghost story about grief, growing old and letting go.

The main character of this book is the ghost of a girl who died by suicide in 1972, and she’s now a grown ghost who works at a suicide hotline. She also keeps old cats left behind in her home so that they have a comfortable place to live in during their last months.
I really liked her, but the story was too short for me to get attached to the main character and too long for its actual plot. There are many good ideas here, but not much happens, and I wanted more creepy things happening in a world where there are rat witches, corn witches and ghosts.
It’s a solid story, but I feel like it could have done more with its premise, or that it could have been shorter.

Also, I like Seanan McGuire’s writing most of the time, but she has a problem with subtlety. She writes messages I agree with in her books, but the way she brings them up is usually preachy and forced. During the first scene, the main character is talking with Vicky, who has just called the suicide hotline. At some point during the conversation, Vicky says:

Statistically, women are more likely to go for poisons than men are. We don’t like to leave a mess. We spend our whole lives learning how to be… how to be as neat and tidy and unobtrusive as possible, and then we go out the same way.

True! Also extremely forced, given the context.
It’s not a one-time thing, it’s something I noticed also in Down Among the Sticks and Bones and Beneath the Sugar Sky, in which the unsubtle, forced writing was even worse.

My rating: ★★★½


35066651Taste of Marrow is the second novella in the River of Teeth series.

I don’t have much to say about this one.
I didn’t even dislike it – it’s just that I will forget everything about it in a few days, if not hours. It’s that forgettable. And the main reason this didn’t work for me was the pacing, which was terrible.

Novellas often have pacing problems, that’s nothing new; some of them feel like rushed novels and others like watered-down short stories. But Taste of Marrow – or, I have to say, the whole River of Teeth series – takes “bad novella pacing” to a whole new level.
This series doesn’t work in this format. There are too many PoVs, too many characters, too many people we’re supposed to care about when we barely know them. Every character is flat as a result of this, and everything feels rushed.
The conflict, the passage of time, the interaction between the characters, the romance – all of them, rushed.

The only thing that saves this series is the premise. I mean, it’s ucronic fiction about feral hippos in Baton Rouge (yes, it almost happened. Some Americans thought it could be a good idea to import hippos in Louisiana.)
But the premise isn’t the book, and while diverse crew deals with the aftermath of a heist in hippo-infested marshlands may sound like the best idea ever, I don’t think this is actually worth reading. I liked the hippos, I liked that all main characters are queer and one of them is also non-binary, but I didn’t actually like anything about the story. Book one was worth reading out of curiosity. Book two was not.

My rating: ★★½