Mid October 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.

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I tried reading THE CALCULATING STARS (2018) by Mary Robinette Kowal, but it's alternate history sci-fi which starts in the 1950's and I wasn't into the amount of sexism they had to wade through. The setting and struggles were too close, I prefer soft sci-fi that's a bit further from home. Try this if you want an alternate history portrayal of women fighting sexist inertia to be in flight after a catastrophe turns the world’s attention to escaping off-planet.

Recent Reviews

NOTHING BUT BLACKENED TEETH (2021) by Cassandra Khaw is an excellently creepy horror novella where some friends spend the night in an old mansion to perform a wedding. But the friends aren't as good friends as they once were, and things go wrong when a ghost bride interrupts the festivities. I love this one and highly recommend it if you like horror.

YOU'VE REACHED SAM (2021) by Dustin Thao is a contemporary YA novel where a girl, grieving her boyfriend's recent death, calls him one last time... but he picks up. It's a story of grief that doesn't try to answer how the connection is possible, just asks her to accept that it is and try to use the connection with him to reach out to those who are still around to love her.

WYRD SISTERS (1988) by Terry Pratchett is part of my Discworld read-through and I didn't like this one much. If you're very into Shakespeare you might like it better than I did, I prefer the books where the references are more spread out. By the time I figured out that most of the jokes were about the Bard's plays I was already uninterested and it wasn't enough to win me back. Hopefully I'll like the next one better.

Now for the most stressful (but ultimately great) read this fortnight: THREE DARK CROWNS (2016) by Kendare Blake. This is a fantasy story about three sisters (triplets) where only one of them can have the throne, but unlike most sibling-against-sibling throne stories it has interesting and well-organized factions backing each one of them for reasons that make sense in-universe. I like the book and love the ending, just be warned that there's a high body count, particularly for animals.

I read several short stories that had been on my to-read pile for a while and were available for free through Tor's website. Other than the Hugo nominees I'll list in the next section, I also read: EXTRACIRRICULAR ACTIVITIES by Yoon Ha Lee (part of The Machineries of Empire); CIRCUS GIRL, THE HUNTER, AND MIRROR BOY by Neon Yang; WAITING ON A BRIGHT MOON by Neon Yang; JUICE LIKE WOUNDS by Seanan McGuire (part of the Wayward Children series), A CUP OF SALT TEARS by Isabel Yap; THE DRAGON THAT FLEW OUT OF THE SUN by Aliette de Bodard; and THESE DEATHLESS BONES by Cassandra Khaw. Generally speaking, Tor's website is a great way to read novellas and short stories for free, and even some full novels.

2021 Hugo Update

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. 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).

PIRANESI (2020) by Susanna Clarke feels like listening to a good friend talk at length about something they love deeply and know a lot about. It's mostly set in the House, a place repeatedly drenched in seawater with a floor plan best measured in miles or kilometers, told by Piranesi, a man who is very sure that's not actually his name. It was a weirdly calming read for me, I highly recommend it for anyone who wants a fantasy angle on a meandering exploration.

Because I didn't finish THE CALCULATING STARS (book one of the Lady Astronaut series), I won't be reading THE RELENTLESS MOON even though it's a finalist for Best Novel. That means I've now read (or at least attempted) everything for that category. I've also attempted (and often finished) all the Best Novella finalists, and Best Series finalists (but I do intend to read more of The Poppy War since I've only read the first one.

I read the novelette only finalist available on TheStoryGraph, specifically TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE by Sarah Pinsker. I have previously read and reviewed HELICOPTER SOTRY by Isabel Fall. I also read all of the Best Short Story finalists which are on TheStoryGraph; LITTLE FREE LIBRARY by Naomi Kritzer, OPEN HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL by John Wiswell, and A GUIDE FOR WORKING BREEDS by Vina Jie-Min Prasad. What made this possible is that most of them are available on Tor's website.

Current Reads

THE JASMINE THRONE came back from the library so I've resumed reading it.

I just finished THE UNINTENTIONAL TIME TRAVELER (2014) by Everett Maroon but I don't have the review ready yet, you'll have to catch that next time.

My current nonfiction read is A COLONY IN A NATION by Chris Hayes.

I'm trying to read PARABLE OF THE SOWER since it's a nominee for Best Graphic Story, but it's going slowly.

In Case You Missed It

Last year around this time I read THE YEAR OF THE WITCHING by Alexis Henderson, which ties together sexism, racism, and patriarchal religion into a dark and bloody horror story of a girl fighting to escape the constraints encircling her world since her birth.

Pluggables and Podcast News

If you're looking for a place to buy any of the books I've reviewed, please consider our Bookshop page (if you use our links to purchase books we get a small commission). 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, UNWIND by Neal Shusterman, as well as the first half of our interview with author Kevin Klehr, released this month. 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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