Mini Reviews: Archivist Wasp, Madame de Pompadour, A Deadly Education, A Spindle Splintered

Once again, I accumulated enough mini reviews for a post. This time, it’s sadly rather negative, with two rather low ratings and one DNF, but one can’t stumble upon just good books all the time. On the upside, it’s rare that I get to use the tableflip tag.

Onto the books!

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Review: Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

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No one wants to be a real hero; it’s too hard. My husband didn’t give a damn whether the work I was doing was noble as long as it appeared to be. When I killed someone then—something I did a lot more than I do now—it was for the greater good. It was such bullshit.

I’ve never much liked or cared about superheroes – what’s some asshole in a cape? Despite my friends’ gushing, I didn’t put Hench on my radar until there was a sale, and….wait. Mundane job? Spreadsheets? Fuck me, I’m in. I’ve always had enough of a hard-on for bureaucracy and other usually boring shit in books to override subgenre preferences and sure enough, it was exactly my thing. The characters’ low opinion of superheroes was the final cherry on top.

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Review: Amatka by Karin Tidbeck

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This was, I confess, a complete impulse read. I was idly browsing cheap ebooks and – hey, I’ve heard of this before. And it looks to be barely longer than a novella, too! Checking the preview, the strangeness of it all was incredibly compelling. I had to go back to it at the earliest possible opportunity.

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Review: After the Dragons by Cynthia Zhang

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ARC received from the publisher (Stelliform Press) in exchange for an honest review.

Now this was a breath of fresh air. Barely over novella length and set in near future Beijing plagued by pollution where water is strictly rationed, it’s at the same time deeply melancholic, sweet, and kind. I loved it. I requested this more or less on a whim after Christine @ Black Forest Basilisks recommended it to me and I have no regrets.

(Also, if you need any more convincing, there are dragons and it’s gay.)

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Mini Novella Reviews: The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water, Upright Women Wanted, The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday

Time for another novella round-up post! Lately, thanks to all the slumps, I’ve been going more and more for shorter books. This time around, all three novellas reviewed are SFF and all are books I’d highly recommend.

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Review: The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

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ARC received from the publisher (Tor) in exchange for an honest review.

Life before had been mundane and ordinary. He knew his place in the world, though every now and then, the dark clouds parted with a ray of sunshine in the form of a question he barely allowed himself to ponder.

Don’t you wish you were here?

The House in the Cerulean Sea first popped up on my radar because it seemed like a lighter, queerer version of The Gray House. Even though I have long since given up on finding anything even remotely similar to my all-time favourite book, it seemed worth a try.

And I definitely didn’t expect I’d love it quite as much. It’s so sweet, kind, and compassionate I couldn’t help but adore it. I didn’t know how much I needed something so fluffy, it was just…pure joy to read. From the characters, to the atmosphere, to the message, it felt like a warm blanket, not to mention it felt so wonderfully fresh.

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Mini Reviews: An Unkindness of Ghosts, Half Lost (DNF), The Trials of Morrigan Crow, Seraphina

Through August and September, I plowed through so many books I accumulated a bit of a review debt. Not reviewing them would, of course, not do, so this is my attempt to catch up and clean out the drafts.

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Review: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

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Station Eleven is the best book I regret ever picking up. It’s absolutely brilliant…and there lies the problem. The vision of the apocalypse, the characters, people’s reactions – it all felt too real. Visceral, human, and deeply, deeply sad. It got under my skin to the point I wondered whether I should stop reading. I’m unused to books hitting me as hard as this. I think the last one was The Unwomanly Face of War, but that was nonfiction, and well over a year ago.

Some of them took turns trying to sleep in the moving caravans, others walking and walking until their thoughts burned out one by one like dying stars and they fell into a fugue state wherein all that mattered or had ever existed were these trees, this road, the counterpoint rhythms of human footsteps and horses’ hooves, moonlight turning to darkness and then the summer morning, caravans rippling like apparitions in the heat, and now the Symphony was scattered here and there by the roadside in a state of semi-collapse while they waited for dinner to be ready.

But at the point it was already too late; if it’s going to stick in my mind like a painful splinter no matter what, I might as well finish. So I did. I went into the book largely blind, knowing only it was postapocalyptic, literary, and slice of life, and I think it may have been for the better, so if this was enough to convince you, stop reading here.

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Review: One of Us by Craig DiLouie

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Wow. I don’t even know how to approach reviewing this. It’s an exploration of “us vs. them” mentality through a SFF lens and, while well-written, in no way a pleasant read. I could only read it a few pages at a time before I had to put it down again. The petty, everyday evil, the worst aspects of humanity laid bare. It was almost too much. But. It felt powerful and important and viscerally realistic in its own brutally unflinching way. Necessary.

He learned what he was, what they were, and that monsters and men were not meant to exist in the same world. If your own mother hates you and drives you away, why should total strangers love you? From the beginning, the masters understood this fundamental truth. They created separate worlds, one for themselves, another for monsters. The system would not end when the mutagenic reached adulthood. The children would grow up to become free folk living in an invisible cage, with no rights or opportunities. Which meant no real freedom at all.

The basic premise is that a sexually-transmitted disease caused a generation of children to be born with pretty significant mutations. Abortion, safe sex education, discussions on rape, medical testing have become a necessity. The plague children have mostly been taken away at birth and shut into Homes, institutions where the employees are mostly ex-cons and other sorts of desperate people that shouldn’t be let near children. They are used for slave labour on farms. As the children become teenagers, they start developing superpowers and tensions are rising.

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Review: Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron (Heartstrikers #1)

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Nice Dragons Finish Last has been recommended to me a lot. Urban fantasy usually doesn’t appeal to me, but the amount of enthusiasm from people with similar tastes was enough to convince me to give it a try. And, well…it’s fun and charming and quite well-written, I would recommend it to many people, but ultimately still not really for me.

“You’re not ambitious, you don’t make plans, you don’t try to take things over. It’s like you were born with no draconic instinct whatsoever. All you’ve done since I let you out of training is hide in your room, avoiding the rest of us like the plague.”

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