Flight & Anchor by Nicole Kornher-Stace

Read May 2023
Recommended for fans of dystopia
★    ★   ★   1/2

Back in the day, I was a fan of the James Cameron’s sci-fi tv series Dark Angel, to the point where I ended up buying it and rewatching. Flight & Anchor felt like Dark Angel fan fiction, right down to the bar codes, anonymous Director, and police drones. Understand, I’m not complaining, because I loved Dark Angel. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I’m not sure if my reaction is bleed-over. The writing is above average, however, so I think it isn’t just emotional resonance.

The story hinges on two super-soldier, genetically modified twelve-year-olds who have made an escape from their corporate compound. They are tracked, but for reasons, they are allowed to continue this unauthorized leave. As such, much of the plotting surrounds the adolescents exploring their space, re-familiarizing themselves with the outside world and stretching some mental limits. There was only one plot element that was a surprise to me. On the whole, the work felt like a 0.5 series story; a set piece and character card for fans of another book than an actual independent novella.

Kornher-Stace elaborates on this in the afterword, saying that it’s a side story to two of the favorite characters in Firebreak. She writes that she likes to include elements from her other stories as “Easter eggs,” although considers all of them able to stand alone. While technically, that may be true, I think in this case it’s something a little more, as one of the ‘eggs’ plays a major role in moving the plot forward. It’s eminently distracting when Kornher-Stace inserts lines like “The thought that will return to the Director unbidden, eight years down the line, standing in an elevator with minutes to live” and know that it won’t be part of this story.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed the writing a great deal, with the exception of when it devolved into list-making of found objects. Although I understand that sharing that information can fill out the world, it was a very mundane way to present the material. The exposition with the barista was a lovely introduction to the setting, although perhaps lasting until 15% was a bit excessive, because I fully expected them to play a role later in the story. An an aside, it was a distracting choice to use the word ‘barista’ with the gender pronoun ‘them.’ Just saying.

“There’s another pause, like they’re conferring. It’s less weird under the lights, at least, looks less like telepathy and more like they’re chatting over their implants like anyone else.”

All in all, as an introductory piece to the world, it made me immediately want to go pick up Firebreak. Imagine, then, my disappointment when the sample was narrated by someone who sounded like an escapee from Ready Player One. Whoops. Won’t be purchasing that one. I wonder if Korner-Stace is a literary chameleon? Love the subject choice, but I’ll be checking out her works carefully before purchasing.


many thanks to Netgalley and Tachyon for an advance reader copy

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The Legend of Charlie Fish by Josh Rountree

Read May 2023
Recommended for fans of Americana
★    ★   ★   ★    1/2

inhaled this book. Is it about Charlie Fish? Sort of. It’s also very much about Nellie and Hank, a little bit about Floyd, and quite a bit about Galveston, Texas.

You know what it isn’t about? 90% of the Goodreads blurb, so don’t read it. How do you get it right while getting it so wrong? It’s like the Great British Baking Show event where you are given the recipe without proportions, heat and time. Please don’t let it sway you one way or another. This is a fast novella that feels a lot like Vo’s What the Dead Know and Clark’s The Black God’s Drums. Maybe even a little of Winter Tide.

“Everyone has dark thoughts, selfish notions they’re ashamed of. But the only thing that really matters is how they handle themselves in the living world.”

The characters really came to life, even the ones we love to hate. I felt like I was watching the scenes in person. The plotting, perhaps, was the least strong aspect, as it was largely predictable until the ending. The emotional content and build was spot-on. There are a couple of fun moments that flavor that tension perfectly.

“‘Have I ever given you the impression that I’m a soft flower in need of your care?’ she asked.”

I do have some notes, as they like to say in the performing business. The title is–and this is shocking, I know–misleading. I’d argue it is not about Charlie or the legend that absolutely won’t be created. Nellie is the thread that holds it together. The prose can be a bit colorful in spots, which is great for building an atmosphere, but doesn’t do the characters any favors when it’s used similarly for each narrator.

Quibbles aside, this was fast and fun, if fun is the right word for creepy, dead-end towns, men with evil in their hearts, and the uncanny.

Thanks to Netgalley and Tachyon Publications for an advance reader copy. As always, all opinions my own, all quotes subject to change in final pubs, etc., etc.*


*You know, someday I’m going to have to sit down with the people that believe opinions are grown in a void and have a little philosophical discussion.

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Better Living Through Birding by Christian Cooper

Read April 2023
Recommended for fans of geek culture, biographies
★    ★   ★   ★    1/2


Some people should not write autobiographies, but Christian Cooper is not one of them.

However, marketing is, as always, everything, and your enjoyment of the book will be directly impacted by what you expect. I walked into this knowing nothing except that Cooper is a birder and the Black man who was threatened by a White woman and her off-leash dog in Central Park. But I am often down for learning more about lives that are wildly different than mine, and as an amateur birder and a fan of NYC, it seemed like it could work.

Spoiler alert: It did, probably because I quickly realized that it’s an autobiography.

Contents: An Incident in Central Park; Blackbird; The Book of Ramus; Halcyon Days; In a Happy Place; Knocking Down Doors in the House of Ideas; Life Turned Upside Down; Elegy; On Top of the World; Family Matters; The Tragedy of Francis; Another Incident in Central Park; Out of Alabama.

It opens with ‘An Incident in Central Park,’ a teaser if I ever saw one. Beginning en media res, Cooper is racing disheveled through the park… toward a bird: “The rarest songbird in North America, Kirtland’s Warbler is a creature even more unlikely to be spotted in Central Park than the gay Black nerd with binoculars looking up at it.” It’s a cute chapter and shares both his love of birding and why so many people are attracted to birds. ‘Blackbird’ opens with the misidentification by settlers of a species, then relates his own exposure to birding as a child, as well as identifying his uniqueness: “Like everyone else, I had to sort through aspects of my identity and where I fit in the social taxonomy, which labels fit and which chafed, and how the world might have misidentified me and pegged my kind all wrong.” I loved this chapter for it’s back and forth, it’s demonstration that programs that help bring children of all backgrounds into interacting with nature can foster a life-long passion, and Cooper’s acknowledgement of the complicated relationship with his dad, and the far less complicated and healthy one with a birding mentor.

‘The Book of Ramus’ is where I learned about the disturbing Eleonora’s Falcon which had the reputation of stashing live prey for later feeding. The chapter itself is more focused on adolescence and college at Harvard, navigating being gay and how sci-fi books, movies and comics provided escape. The college transition was fascinating, and when Cooper says “The random combination of young men who formed our rooming group freshman year was something of a …. United Colors of Benetton ad,” I laughed, realizing Cooper must be a cohort. I would have loved more detail on the Harvard years.

‘Halycon Days’ explores life outside of college, opening up with a first international trip to Buenos Aires and realizing black skin color meant something different in another country. This trip largely becomes about exploring being both Black and gay, and for bird-focused people, might be the most confusing. I found it insightful and sweet.

‘In a Happy Place’ continues in NYC, focusing on Central Park birding, both the skill of doing it and the birding culture, and if you didn’t know there was one, well, join the club of the clueless. He also does us the courtesy of explaining the difference between Red-bellied (common) and Red-headed (rare) woodpeckers: “The Red-Bellied also sports red on the head…its ridiculous name stemming from the fact that if the bird were stunned unconscious and fell on its back at your feet, you might be able to spy in all that creaminess a couple of reddish feathers in a small patch near the base of its legs.” I giggled when I read this, and the next time the red-bellied was at my feeder, I was lucky enough to see the three red feathers on its belly as it awkwardly tried to eat from the sunflower feeder.

‘Knocking Down’ talks quite a bit about one of Cooper’s other loves, comics. His first job was followed by a long stint at Marvel in various roles, eventually leading the way with the first character to come out of the closet. I have yet to see a Marvel movie since 2012 or so, but Cooper general keeps the nerd detail to general levels, or contextualizes it for the newbies. There’s some name-dropping in this section that’s a little less interesting, particularly when Cooper gets to head his own spin-off. But I had to laugh when he describes what he did when he was assigned to edit the ‘Swimsuit Edition.’

Life Turned Upside Down‘ is a memorable trip to Australia after being laid off from Marvel: “Birds and boys: It seemed the perfect combination to distract me from the fact that my dream job was done and I was professionally adrift.” Luckily, another opportunity soon opens with Marvel. ‘Elegy‘ is the 9-1-1 chapter, his occurring (of course!) while he was birding in Central Park. ‘On Top of the World‘ was a travel trip with his boyfriend to the Himalayas. He expounds a bit on his paganist beliefs here. ‘Family Matters‘ talks about birding, generational trauma, and reconciling with his father. ‘The Tragedy of Francis‘ brings in his peaceful protesting (along with much of NYC) at One Police Plaza during Giuliani’s reign. It is also the time period when his parents faced life-threatening illnesses and he planned a bucket-list trip to the Galapagos with his father.

Another Incident in Central Park‘ is, of course, the one that brought Christian Cooper to my–and the world’s–attention. While it is awful and regrettable–I remember how watching his video made me feel sick to my stomach–I’m grateful that it catapulted him into a platform to share even more of his creative work. ‘Alabama’ happens when he was invited to be a speaker at an Audubon birding festival and gives him a chance to explore southern birds as well as his family history.

His writing is very enjoyable to me; a combination of candor, wry humor, and intelligence that I found interesting and entertaining. He’s urbane, literate and socially conscious–definitely the one I’d want to talk with a little longer, wherever we happened to meet. Glad I got the chance to meet him through his book.


Many thanks to both Netgalley and Penguin Random House for an ARC of this book. As always, all opinions my own.

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How Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Ten Sea Creatures by Sabrina Imbler

Read January to February 2023
Recommended for fans of intersections
★    ★   1/2 

A beautiful lure that caught me; the lush colors of the cover, the temptation of sea creatures, explorations of identity. Overall, it was an interesting collection of pieces that interested and occasionally challenged me. I can be honest enough to say that Sy Montgomery and her attempts to do something similar drives me bonkers, perhaps because I’ve had my fill of straight, white, middle-class women. Intersectionality and grey areas are everything.

If You Flush a Goldfish: I had no idea how devastating goldfish were in the environment, which makes the fact that they are so common a little bit horrifying. I would have wanted to learn a little more about this. I understand that this is a childhood fascination, but given where the essay ended, with a story of mutually discovered transformation, I would have chosen a different water creature. Perhaps a coral, which utilize a variety of reproductive techniques and go through some cool physical transformations.
“We both had been expected to be daughters but turned out to be something else.”

My Mother and the Starving Octopus: Comparing their adolescence, their mother’s journey from Taiwan to Michigan, their mutual preoccupation with the size of their bodies, and the story of the purple octopus who nurtured her egg clutch for four and a half years. This one was heart-breaking.
“What I mean to say is: I wanted to know if she ever regretted it.”

My Grandmother and the Sturgeon: Weaving together the endangered Chinese sturgeon and its home in the Yangtze river, her grandmother and her family’s escape from the Japanese in Shanghai. This one was quite close to perfect, much like a double-strand DNA. Each story parallels the other.

How to Draw a Sperm Whale: I liked this one, although the formatting it vaguely like a report was a challenge. This one tries to parallel their college thesis on sperm whales, information on necropsies, and their first girlfriend, M. (they abbreviate it ‘M,’ which I found distracting, like we were reading an impression of a medical report, except medical reports would no longer use abbreviations). Given how much I abhor whaling, even the historical accounts of it, it was hard to warm to this section. However, I thought it awkwardly done and felt, well, like a college writing project.
“Conclusion: The proximate cause of death may be falling in love with the idea of a person, or the idea of a relationship.”

Pure Life: hydrothermal vents and the deep sea yeti crab, Kiwaidae, and Imbler’s time in Seattle, where they moved for an internship. They explore the parallels of space and movement between the crab and them; inhospitable space transformed by a monthly queer POC party, and dancing, the crab farming the bacteria attached to their bristles. “It is exactly suited to the life it leads.”

Beware the Sand Striker: a triggering piece on many levels. Sandstrikers are ambush predators. They note their first time giving a blow job to a man, segue into Lorena Bobbit’s story and then awkwardly segue into Imbler’s drinking blackouts. At no point do they mention alcohol abuse, except to say “I knew vaguely that this happened to me more frequently than the others, but I brushed this off as a quirk, something that made me fun.” There’s an interesting digression on predation in animal shows, and they segue into the woman who was assaulted by the Stanford swimmer. Tying these both together is an exploration of responsibility: “Almost every system we exist in is cruel, and it is our job to hold ourselves accountable to a moral center separate from the arbitrary ganglion of laws that, so often get things wrong.” Breams are a sort of fish that responds to the sand striker by jetting air around the hidden worm until its uncovered. Despite the somewhat awkward transitions and the frank ignorance that alcohol is a clear problem, it is still potent.

Hybrids: wow, they just tackle all the hard stuff. The Question so many people face, “‘What are you?’ is an act of taxonomy, even if the asker does not realize it.” The child of a Chinese mother and a white father, they have been asked this much of their lives. They become fascinated by hybrid butterflyfish. This is an essay that felt very much like my friends wrestling with such issue in college, way back in 1989, and I wonder how old Imbler is.

We Swarm: Riis Beach, New York: famous for queer culture, there was a time they were there during an inundation of blobby creatures, perhaps salps. Salps periodically swarm for food, unlike Pride in NYC, which is for a variety of reasons. This is a fun piece, a delightful break from the emotional challenge of ‘Striker,’ or the intellectual challenge of ‘Hybrid.’

Morphing Like a Cuttlefish: kingpin cuttlefish are accused of going in drag: males will adopt female patterns to get close to the female for mating. It’s a very personal piece that describes in pieces how their sexual evolution morphs.

Us Everlasting: immortal jellyfish actually revert to polyp stage (‘ontogeny reversal’). This piece attempts some more poetic license, using second person narrative at times, as well as talking about different lives. “Its immortality is active. It is constantly aging in both directions, always reinventing itself.”

The writing is lovely; the science is usually–but not always–cleverly integrated, the perspective interesting, though occasionally so very developmentally young. I’d love to read more about what Imbler does with their life in twenty years.

Many thanks for an advance copy from Netgalley and Little, Brown. Opinions are my own, as is the massive delay in reviewing.
Posted in Autobiography, Book reviews, genre-bender, Non-fiction | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Amazon’s Into Shadow collection, vol. 3 and 4

Read February 2023
Recommended for 
★    ★    ★   1/2

The Six Deaths of the Saint by Alix E. Harrow

Heartbreaking. Think The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August condensed into a perfect short story about a ragged girl visited by the Saint of War.

“When you die, little Devil, a kingdom will fall to its knees and crawl to your bier. In a thousand years and a thousand after that, they will still sing of the Prince and his Devil.”

Trigger warning: written in second person.

“You couldn’t name the emotion you felt, in that last second before you fell into your squire’s arms, but I can: relief.”

Apparently, this is part of an Amazon series of shorts known as the ‘Into Shadow’ collection. Shadow indeed.


Read February 2023
Recommended for 
★    ★    ★   1/2

What the Dead Know by Nghi Vo

Another solid entry into the Amazon collection. Very different from the Riverlands series, the only other works I’ve read from Vo. Set in 1899, it’s a short story about a couple of spiritualists who get a job for a séance up at at the Fogg River Seminary for Young Ladies.

“It [the school] lifted up to the sky with two low wings fanning out to either side, its diamond-paned windows picking up what little light they could and gleaming like coyote eyeshine in the dimming day.”

Very evocative, more traditional ghost-mystery story, with intriguing hints that some of the couples’ skills are legitimate.  I appreciate the feminist and multicultural elements updating contextualizing the story more fully without feeling like they were forced in. I’d absolutely read more in this world.

Number four in the Into Shadow collection from Amazon.

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Racing the Light by Robert Crais

Read February 2023
Recommended for fans of thrillers
★    ★    ★   1/2

Satisfying. It feels like a long time since I read a decent thriller. There’s a couple narrative interruptions from other players, but on the whole, this is an Elvis-focused book. For those who wonder if they can start here, sure, why not? It does include the return of Lucy and Ben, who are from earlier in the series, but there’s enough backstory given that it won’t be confusing. For those looking for Joe, he’s a guest more than partner in this story, but it is nice to have his taciturn counterpoint to Elvis’ banter.

The last couple of books saw a steady increase in stakes and violence (hello, Hollywood!), so it was nice to feel like this backed off and returned to a more ‘normal’ sort of detective thriller (although the players could be called anything but normal). I do miss Crais’ evocative language–this was competent, but by no means stunning–so maybe next time I’m in the mood, I’ll restart the series.

Four stars on the mystery-thriller scale because it was a challenge putting it down.

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The Essential Peter S. Beagle volume II

Read February 2023
Recommended for fans of short stories
★    ★    ★   ★    ★   

Delightful. If  Volume One was truly the essential collection, the works he has been known for and that people might bring up when you say, ‘oh, yes; Peter S. Beagle’s short stories, I remember that one,’ this volume is emblematic of the skill, emotional complexity, and sheer fun he is capable of bringing to his writing. There were only a couple that were familiar to me, despite owning most of his published collections (of course, we probably have to allow for my memory, but still). Perhaps the ‘essential’ refers to the essence of a person; most of these works have some autobiographical element, whether it is childhood relationships or the explorations of a dear friend.

The introduction by Meg Elison is brilliant and appropriate; so much better than the prior collection.

Sleight of Hand: classic Beagle about a woman in the initial stages of profound loss. The main character is a little too single-noted to obtain the emotional resonance in his other stories.

Oakland Dragon Blues was just this side of corny, but I love the choice of policeman as narrator. I forgive Beagle writing himself in, because it was fun and has really great bits:

“A creature out of fairy tales, whose red eyes, streaked with pale yellow, like the eyes of very old men, were watching him almost sleepily, totally uninterested in whatever he chose to do. But watching, all the same.”

Just tell me you haven’t walked past an old man like that on his porch.

The Rock in the Park: The fall entry in the childhood series from The Green Man Review. “There are whole countries that aren’t as territorial as adolescent boys.” I adore the idea of the map, and love the nod to the visual arts.

The Rabbi’s Hobby: an unexpected standout that might stay in my favorites. It has the feel of time period fiction, centered a young man experiencing larger-than-life anxiety facing his bar mitzvah. Both he and his rabbi become distracted by series of magazine photographs: “When we were at last done for the day–approximately a hundred and twenty years later–Rabbi Tuvim went on as though I had just asked the question.” A mixture of low-stakes comedy and high-stakes memories.

The Way It Works Out and All: Beagle’s friend Avram sends him a series of unlikely postcards When he runs into him in NYC, he takes the narrator on a tour of the Overneath: “He had been born in Yonkers, but felt more at home almost anyplace else, and I couldn’t recall ever being east of the Mississippi with him, if you don’t count a lost weekend in Minneapolis.”

The Best Worst Monster is a fun little children’s type story of a monster who decides not to monster. A little less heavy-handed than most of the type.

La Lune T’Attend is a modern werewolf tale, more or less, a Creole counterpoint to Lila the werewolf and ultimately, far more satisfying. I loved the dynamic of the two old men.

The Story of Kao Yu is the story of a traveling Chinese judge, his retainers and the unicorn who occasionally visited his court: “China is one of the few countries where sadness has always been medically recognized.” Now this is how to modernize a Judge Dee tale.

Trinity County, CA: You’ll Want to Come Again and We’ll Be Glad to See You! is a modern urban fantasy setting. What if the county needed animal control for all the illegal dragons? Nice interplay of older, experienced worker and ‘new blood’ coming into the job.

Marty and the Messenger is a strange little story loosely based on Beagle and his childhood friends, but with a silly twist. “But I was great on aptitude tests, where you didn’t actually have to know anything.” Definitely captures the feel of potential at that age.

The Mantichora was written especially for this collection. Avram is a researcher who goes to talk with the last mantichora, but pushes his luck: “It went on all night, and by pale morning, A.D. was an older man.”

Mr. McCaslin: another one of the ‘back when we were kids’ stories, Mr. McCaslin was the Irish neighbor suffering from a lung ailment: “We were kids: we had all known people who had died, but never anyone actually in the process, sentence spoken, date of execution set.” When he asks him for a favor, they agree.

The Fifth Season: The last story about Peter and his three friends–he’s almost sure–about a farewell moment in the neighborhood park. Reminded me very much of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes in every way but plot.  “He made a soft sound that I can still summon up, even after so much time, and never will.”

Tarzan Swings by Barsoom: of them all, this is my least favorite. Having not been party to Tarzan nor John Carter, it isn’t particularly entertaining, turnabout or no.

The Bridge Partner: a surprising story from Beagle, who I often associate with a more fantastical, dreamy mysticism; this delves into the cat and mouse between a killer and her intended prey. Initially alarming, it was a very good read. One of the ones I recalled, which says something for staying power.

Vanishing: Beagle writes that this was a challenging, ‘kidney stone’ of a story that went through eleven drafts, about a grandfather about-to-be who finds himself revisiting his memories guarding The Berlin Wall. It’s a curious choice to include in this collection, full as it is of childhood and transitional moments.

The final section contains ‘Abouts’ for each of the contributors: Peter S. Beagle, Meg Elison and Stephanie Law. These were short and sweet. I enjoyed reading more of what Elison is up to since Book of the Unnamed Midwife, but as an admirer of the other two, didn’t contain any new details.

My only complaint, truly, is that my Paperwhite Kindle can’t do justice to Stephanie Law’s illustrations. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a more suitable author-artist pairing, and I would love to see these in color. I guess I’ll content myself with her Instagram. Highly recommended for fans of the fantastic and short stories.

Four and a half stars, rounding up. Lovely writing, evocative moods; if each story wasn’t amazing, the collection as a whole is.

Many, many thanks to NetGalley and to Kasey Lansdale at Tachyon Publications for an advance reader copy. As always, my opinions my own. As always, quotes subject to change, but I think they give a lovely flavor of the writing.
Posted in Book reviews, fantasy, Urban fantasy | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Bonds by Susan Copperfield

Read February 2023
Recommended for ACE romantics
★    ★   1/2

An utterly perplexing book. This is the most competently written unromantic romance I have ever read, and I just don’t know where to go or what to do with that sentiment. Did I miss the point? Is there such a thing as an ace romance? Because I am down with that as a genre, although maybe now that I think about it, is there a genre for discovering your bestie? Because I am also down for reading more of discovering besties. Why isn’t there more of that in adult literature?


Bonds is about a magical, modern world with political power consolidated in the hands of powerful magic users. Heritable magic traits mean the power structure is an aristocracy, and the U.S. is known as the Royal States. Our hero, Jack, has left the Royal States because he hates the aristocracy–and because he’s been hiding his own aristocratic-level talent from them (classic trope: I’m the Thing I Hate). His dramatic role in preventing an oil tanker from spilling oil onto France’s coast brings him to the attention of the Princess of Maine, namely, as her patient. In her brilliance, she realizes his world-class talent and sweeps him off to become part of Maine’s Kingdom. He discovers as they travel together that someone is out to kill her, and that’s just not acceptable.

The dialogue is decent. Some of it feels background-level. Some brings in humor:

“Kevin, please add a note to Mr. Alder’s file that he is a manly man and classifies as a danger to himself due to ego, pride, and an unfortunate knowledge of medical treatments.”

“I’ll mark into his file that he is skilled with first-aid treatments and should undergo additional training to make sure he’s on par with Maine’s first responders.”

One of the most fascinating aspects of this book is the remarkable detail it gets into with Jack’s magical skills. He works with water/liquids, and when we meet him at the oil tanker, there’s a lot of interplay about whether he’s dealing with crude oil, a mix, or something else and how he’ll apply his skills. It might be more than a lot of people wanted to know, but I appreciated the depth.

Classic romance tropes, great set-up, interesting plot to provide structure for the relationship and the magical world all make it intriguing. (Note: the magical aristocracy feels very much like Ilona Andrews’ Nevada series). The problem? Zero feels. Literally, this reminds me reading when I was nine or ten. All head-based. In the first few pages of meeting her, here’s how Jack responds: “According to her expression, someone was about to die, and I hoped that someone wasn’t me. Then again, if she wanted to kill me, there were worse ways to go.” (spoiler for space)

Continue reading

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Overboard by Sara Paretsky


Read February 2023
Recommended for fans of  PI mysteries
★    ★   ★   ★  f

V.I. Warshawski and I have been together for a long time. How long? I’d say that I finally discovered her in the 1990s, when I realized there was such a thing as a female private investigator mystery (until then, most of my mysteries had been centered around the elderly British detectives). The series has its ups and downs, with some of the books a delight and some full of mind-numbingly complex plots, but all very much trademark V.I.: full of Southside Chicago grit, feminist takes, and incorporating current issues. For me, Overboard was one of the series highlights, tempering the V.I. attitude and combining it with an intriguing plot.

Plotting is, as always, multifaceted. Paretsky rarely wastes time on a straightforward murder investigation; her books are never so facile. Trademark Paretsky writing is how seemingly unconnected incidents end up related by the final chapters. Overboard begins with V.I. providing security at a vandalized synagogue, and discovers a battered and burned teen on the way home one night from the synagogue. Not long after, she is approached by the child of a childhood friend of her brother’s on a family issue. As a reader, sometime it is hard to know which crime I should be paying the most attention to, particularly at Paretsky seems to give them all equal page time. Never fear; she’ll be performing her usual tricks.

Paretsky wrote in the afterword that it was a hard book for her to write, created during Covid quarantine. I think she was working some of that out in the book with Vic, as it takes place just after vaccine release. Your own reaction to that time may impact your read; I found I had moments of discomfort. It appears I’d rather not re-visit much of that time period.

The was perhaps a little hand-waving at the end, but I appreciated the resolution. Definitely a solid and engrossing break from the non-fiction I’ve been reading lately. Highly recommended if you are a fan of the series. If you haven’t tried it yet, it’s probably not a bad place to start.

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Dead Country by Max Gladstone

Read February 2023
Recommended for fans of The Craft sequence, fantasy
★    ★   ★   ★   1/2

Leave it to Gladstone to make a liar out of me. I’ve been saying for a few years now that “I don’t really read fantasy anymore,” and honestly, it’s pretty true, but then I went and finished Dead Country in two sittings. Maybe Gladstone shouldn’t count either, because I’m a fan of his Craft series, although I feel he should, because still being totally honest here, I not get into anything he’s done since then. In other words, there’s some reviewer bias here, but it might be a wash. This, though; this was lovely, just absolutely satisfying.

Dead Country doesn’t have the frenetic pace or sarcastic banter of many urban fantasies; it’s more like a book you cozy up with on a rainy day. Full of reflection, it feels a little like an old person‘s book (thinking of both readers and authors), although apparently, it’s the first in a new trilogy in the Craft universe, so I’m not entirely sure where this contemplative tone comes from. Well, I have my suspicions: the pandemic, of course; Gladstone becoming a new father; his return to writing with pen and paper; and no doubt,  being in his thirties, all absolutely have something to do with it.

“There, on the sidewalk, in her small apartment, in boardrooms and at cocktail bars, the memories felt safe, like a story that was over.”

If there was one theme this book has, its that you can’t go home again, even when you do. Since Tara, the protagonist, literally left as a teen with a mob and pitchforks behind her, it is actually a good thing that she’s not going home to the same overt hostility. It is hard for her or anyone else to see it in that light, however, as she is home for a funeral.

“Her memories of Edgemont were memories of distance, difference of being what she, a kid without much experience of hate, thought was hated. They sensed her as a thing apart, and they’d had two options, as any body has for a splinter lodged so deep: to consume the outsider, or reject it.”

I loved the plotting, the inversion of the hero’s quest. The action is slow in building, and I think for those who are looking for action-adventure, this will be a disappointment. This is deeply introspective narration, and every conflict, every encounter, every person brings back echoes of feelings and memories.

“Emotions formed like rocks, by layers, under pressure. On top of the first giddy flash of purpose she had felt when she took up the Craft, as a girl, she’d pressed years of work, sweat, mastery, joy, exhaustion, heartbreak and defeat, subversion, success, despair, self0hatred, all lithified into something she’d call love.”

But she doesn’t have the luxury of time. On the way to her hometown, she rescues a woman from an attack, and then discovers her village home is fortifying itself against the same raiders. Will she aid the people that cast her out?

The tone is fascinatingly philosophical, and when I say that its an ‘old man’s book,’ I say it with a nod to the old man within me as well. I feel like Gladstone’s been peeking at my reading list, looking at my readings on mindfulness, theories of the mind and existentialism.

“You can see which ball they’re going to grab before they know they’ve decided. We think we know our mind. But we’re just riding on a raft in an ocean in a storm, arguing which way the waves should take us.”

For those new to the Craft series, I thought that more than all the other books, this lays out the theory of Craft, gods and the ordering of soul-stuff, so I don’t think this is a bad place to begin at all. In fact, it may be the most comprehensible place to begin.

It’s a sneaky, thoughtful, deeply satisfying book. I can absolutely see where it won’t work for people. Read if you want some emotionally complex, person-centered fantasy (as opposed to a cluster of narratives, such a distressing phenomenon) with a really intriguing world view. I read it in two days. Honestly, I would have tried for one day, but I have this job situation…

Well. Now I’m all excited about fantasy again. Or at least re-reading The Craft sequence.


Many thanks to Netgalley and to Tor/Forge for the advance reader copy. My own opinions, naturally. You think these are the opinions of someone who is paid? And you know, advance copy, quotes may change and all that. But now you get the flavor of the writing.


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