Early August Reviews (2021)

Welcome to the Books That Burn Fortnightly Roundup! Releasing every two weeks (one week early for Patrons). Remember to head to Transcripts That Burn for all available transcripts of the podcast.

Upcoming events: The monthly livestream is on the last Saturday of every month, which means this month it’s on August 28th at 6PM Pacific / 8PM Central / 9PM Eastern. You can watch it on Twitch or Youtube. We’ll play games with friends and guests, and answer your questions.

I’m still mostly paused in my read of THE WITCH KING by H.E. Edgmon. I like it, but it also makes me very dysphoric (due to accuracy) so I’m taking it slow.

I had a few DNFs, I had to put down STAR EATER (2021) by Kerstin Hall pretty early on because while I was ready to read about cannibal nuns in a fantasy setting, dread of pregnancy as a major plot element is a no-go for me, so I stopped.

The sci-fi novel PERSEPHONE STATION by Stina Leicht was just not a good fit for me and I stopped a little over a hundred pages in. I’m fine with infodumping, but this managed to pack in a lot of infodumping while still leaving me confused. There was a scene that either needed to be greatly expanded or shrunk down to a two-sentence “here’s how we met”, it hit a middle ground that went through the emotional arc so fast that it felt pointless, all while the other character in question was literally still asleep in the next room. The show/tell balance was off, like every scene was actually a description of some other better scene that happened elsewhere already.

I read a few stories in the newly released sci-fi anthology DISTANT GARDENS, I should have that full review next time. I’m also partway through MAZES OF POWER by Juliette Wade, but it’s a sci-fi/fantasy story which features an epidemic as a central part of the plot so far, and it’s a bit much right now (it came out in 2020 so it had to have been written much earlier and any resemblances are coincidences and/or just how people may behave during epidemics).

When I want something I won’t need to review afterwards I read manga (sometimes graphic novels), so I recently finished DEATH NOTE VOL. 5 by Tsugumi Ohba (illustrated by Takeshi Obata). I like Death Note, and I liked this one, it’s kind of a lull as things move into place for later.

Last fortnight I read THE ALL-CONSUMING WORLD (2021) by Cassandra Khaw, but it was an advanced copy so I had to hold the review until within thirty days of release. It comes out on September 7th, so I can finally talk about it! It’s an adult sci-fi novel which is generally sapphic but, above all else, extremely queer. The prose is fantastic, densely syllabic, unafraid to pack in adjectives, to verb nouns and noun verbs. It makes language feel like a game, like the quickest way to the essence of a thought was to make the words scream and twist. It’s also a story of psychological manipulation, of a very toxic relationship which has lingered even longer due to a pretty brutal method of life-extension. I loved reading this, and I intend to read more by Khaw.

I absolutely love SHE WHO BECAME THE SUN (2021) by Shelley Parker-Chan. It is a queer reimagining of the rise of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty, featuring a female monk (disguised) whose fate is intertwined with an eunuch who commands an army. It explores destiny, longing, and the weight of expectations which are often inextricable from gender, but also the adaptability of those who side-step that binary by choice, inclination, birth, or trauma. It’s subtle, nuanced, and occasionally blunt in just the right places to make sure the theme is unmistakable.

THE TWISTED ONES (2019) by T. Kingfisher is my second book by Kingfisher in as many fortnights, it’s compelling horror which derives tension from the simple tale of clearing out a deceased hoarder’s home, and ramps it up to dread when strange stones inspire stranger contortions, and dead deer appear where they ought not.

This year I’m going to vote in the 2021 Hugo Awards, so I’m trying to read as much as I can of the finalists. I read a bunch of short stories from the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire, since I’ve already read the novels. I’m reading the numbered short stories first, let me just say there’s a lot of Tybalt and the stories are excellent. They didn’t get their own reviews because most of them are under 50 pages. In case anyone else is voting (or just wants to join in), here’s a reading challenge for Best Novel (it has some of the other awards as bonus prompts), and here’s the reading challenge I made for Best Series (it has the novels in each series as required, and any short stories as bonus prompts).

Also for the 2021 Hugo Awards I read a bunch of the entries in the Murderbot Diaries series by Martha Wells. So far I’ve gotten through ALL SYSTEMS RED (2017)ARTIFICIAL CONDITION (2018), and ROGUE PROTOCOL (2018). I’m currently partway through the fourth book, EXIT STRATEGY. If you want a sci-fi book that gives backstory and context exactly when you need it and not a minute earlier, give this series a try. I love Murderbot and I’m having a great time with these. The first several are novellas and I’m coming up soon on the only novel so far, the fifth book.

I just reworked our Bookshop page (if you use our links to purchase books we get a small commission), we now have some lists like RetellingsCloning and Multiverses, and Thrills and Chills. Let us know if there’s a category you’d like to see curated and we’ll see if we can get some titles together.

As for the podcast, hopefully you’re enjoying our most recent episode, THE MERMAID, THE WITCH, AND THE SEA by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, as well as the first half of our interview with author Sara Codair, released back in June. If you’d like to receive the second (spoiler-filled) half of the interview, please consider supporting us on Patreon. Patrons receive this newsletter one week early, as well as a list of upcoming podcast episodes for the next three months.

Thanks for reading, the next roundup will be in two weeks!


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