Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

Very well written, without fantasic elements. It’s a good look at whiteness and passing and how powerful and subtle its effects are.

Boy, the first POV character, is a runaway from New York in the early 1950s. Her problems are an abusive dad and trying to relocate with pluck as the main skill in your quiver. She develops interesting relationships with her fellow boarders, who are similarly vibrant characters. The double dating market was interesting, as were some of the part time jobs and other employment that Boy navigates.

Near the middle, we start getting a bit more from Snow, Atrutro’s daughter. It moved the fastest. skimming over the differences in life after she moves in with Clara and restarting mostly when Bird is old enough to write.

Bird’s birth is the big shock that reorganizes the family. The book follows bird pretty closely and does a good job with its young protagonist. We see Boy as a mom and can understand what’s going on in the background, even though Bird’s understanding is much more limited.

The tangle of relations all comes to a head at the book’s end. We even get the return of ratcatcher and navigate a strange new normal. The end raises hope of resolution and reconciliation… but leaves its form to our imagination.

I must have heard about it on NPR some time ago. It was very well written and a grounded introduction to race at the boundaries.

Honor Harrington #5 and 6 by David Weber

Flag in Exile (book 5) and Honor Among Enemies (book 6).

Still solid entries in the universe. Honor’s role is smaller in each of these books; more scenes are from eleswhere in the universe. The “elsewhere” elements in both books are heaviest up front, making it draggier to finally reach Honor’s part of the book.

Flag in Exile follows Honor’s forced retirement after her duel with Pavel. She’s not retired for long; this book is (partially) about her time running Greyson’s navy. But it’s even more about Greyson politics… it’s well handled, with a big fight, but much of the drama is political and scheming.

Honor Among Enemies returns Honor to Manticore’s navy and a much more intimate command. Several other ships from other forces are developed, including “good men undone by good deeds”–which was great applied to an enemy.

The Fold by Peter Clines

A great book, very hard to put down. I whomped through this, barely able to put it down the first night–and way too late.

It starts off as a mystery, kind of, and very focused on science and analysis. There are brief bits of action every so often, but it’s mostly about people putting their heads down and working together (though with specific restraints) to solve a problem and separately, to solve the little mysteries that have accumulated.

The book remained interesting, even through one of the big reveals at the middle of the book was anticipated–because I remembered an excellent book that was intriguingly parallel on the technology front.

[Spoilers await, so I’ll put what follows below the more tag.] Continue reading The Fold by Peter Clines

Now That You’re Here (Duplexity, Part I) by Amy Nichols

This is a book about normal teens in a glitzy but almost normal version of Palo Alto. It felt like a privileged high school world, a little exceptional (very skilled scientists teach at high school, because), but without telepathy or magic.

It’s actually about teens in two parallel universes; one as I mentioned above (a slightly glitzier near future cutting edge Arizona of our reality off 10 degrees) and a second, totalitarian America, also Arizona, much further askew. The book alternates chapters between Danny and Eevee; Danny from totalitarian America, and Eevee from almost our universe. Very early, something happens that switches Danny’s consciousness; so now totalitarian world Danny’s mind is in almost normal world.

From there, it’s a very interesting mashup. Part of it is a little sigh inducing–it’s a romance between our main characters. Very surprising to the characters, unfortunately not surprising as a reader.

The investigation into the “jump” between worlds is interesting; since it’s carried on by teens, it’s stripped down and long on hypotheses, but they can’t investigate a lot of lines of research, even on a Palo Brea teen’s budget. Speaking of which; I really enjoyed Eevee and Warren’s background–it felt fraught and authentic, with the unspoken assumptions that come from complete familiarity.

All in all, I liked it and am interested in the flipside book, While You Were Gone. Now That You’re Here is very much a YA book, including the limited perception of the world of adults–so it might feel a bit “simple” in some ways if that’s a peeve of yours.

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

A great YA book set in a late victorian clockwork and magic world that borrows a lot from real history… then throws in bold changes, making it unique. The borrowing from the real world, in the end, is mostly the names of countries and empires–but not even that, straight.

It’s a boarding school book, where our hero attends a large, exclusive school that trains people for their careers… including the career of Rithmatist. There’s a lot of interesting history about this weird magical practice that comes out over the book. The first thing we learn is that Rithmatic lines are drawn in chalk, often circles and lines. There’s art interspersed between chapters with drawings of the various circles and their points of intersection. That’s a fascinating read, and lends quite a bit to the feel of a complex, discovered magic system.

Joel is an interesting hero; near obsessed with Rithmatists, but unable to wield their powers. As you’d expect from YA, his focus and dedication, despite the evident incongruity, pays off in the end–but not much before that!

Much like Harry Potter, he’s poor in a society of wealthy aristocrats. While his father is also dead, his mother is present, if mostly in the background. Much of the book is about Joel coming to navigate relationships of his choosing, both with Professor Fitch and Melody.

Melody, in contrast to Joel, is a Rithmatist… but not a very good one. She doesn’t draw great circles, she drifts off in class, and “doodles” unicorns. She’s what Joel wishes to be, squandered… but we find that there’s more to her (and her chalklings) too.

In the end, it was well done. The book comes to a satisfying conclusion, but with a large thread left dangling. I’ll keep an eye out for its promised sequel, but writing hasn’t been begun on it yet.

Radiant by Karina Sumner-Smith

The author builds an interesting, grungy future. It’s even more extreme on the haves–there’s something even more necessary to future work than skills or machinery operation: magic. The magic is hinted at as maybe advanced science, and the ruins of the old world definitely reflect modern skyscrapers, subway lines, etc.

The society is strange and strained; it turns out that Xhea (our heroine) is the one who is going to push society off the cliff. Though much of that appears to be the result of cross-cutting manipulation from various players…

It’s an interesting world, and the exploration rarely feels like a travelogue. Xhea has a history and is known throughout the city for old deeds, which makes it feel authentic.

The heart of the story is about friendship. It’s nice to see how strongly friendship affects Xhea (and her friend Shai), how committed they both are to doing right… to each other, and the others with a claim on them. The tower intrigues are largely off stage, but there are strong hints that they make sense if you’re in the right circles…

Long story short, the story and friendships worked. The world is altered now, and it looks like Xhea is a player. I’m interested in seeing what the next book brings…

Sweet potato chard casserole

Cook up 4 slices of bacon. While it cooks, wash and slice a large sweet potato on the mandolin. Cut the chard stems out of the chard (about 2 bunches) and cut crosswise to produce 1/4″ thick slices.

Remove the bacon when browned and put the sweet potato slices and chard stems in the hot fat, cook on medium for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, cut the chard leaves into ribbons.

Mix up the white sauce in a bowl. The white sauce is 1 can of cream of mushroom soup, 1 cup of sour cream, and 1 cup of shredded jack cheese.

Butter the bottom and sides of a 13×9 casserole dish. Transfer the sweet potato & stems into the bottom on the 13×9; it creates a sparse layer. Add butter or bacon fat (maybe 3 tbsp.) to the stovetop pan. When it melts, add the chard leaves, stir for about 2 minutes, remove. Layer about 1/2 of the wilted leaves over the sweet potatoes. Add the white sauce, top with the remaining chard and bacon, and cover with one more cup of jack cheese.

Bake @ 350 for 30 minutes; remove and serve.

The Honor of the Queen and The Short Victorious War by David Weber

Books two and three of the Honorverse.

The Honor of the Queen was very good; a manageable number of POV in a tightly focused situation. Honor does well in adapting to a difficult situation, though finding her balance is rough. I enjoyed her development and the demonstration of her bond with the admiral that she escorts.

The difficultly in interacting with the backwards worlds is done well, though not very subtly. Honor’s decision to bail on a bad situation and her concern about self-justification makes the pivot to the second part of the book very strong. The sharp confrontations and bloody battle are very well handled, including appropriately tragic aftermaths on storming the station, and tangling with an under-performing but more powerful ship.

[An aside about the missile warfare: it almost makes me think of the slow plotted wargame, Harpoon.]

The Short Victorious War is an interesting book, but it’s much less a Honor Harrington book. She has her challenges, and we have the most time in her POV… but “everyone else” gets greater screen time than she gets. The universe fleshes out, including the Republic–beyond ship’s captains, we see the political calculations from both sides of the war. It felt a little like the Safehold books, at times veering towards a “book of meetings”. So far, at least, it’s still somewhat balanced between action and scheming.

I’ve asked Jennifer to loan me book 4. I don’t know that I want to delve into all 12 (before you branch off into other series), but these were still quick, rewarding reads.

Honor’s Knight and Heaven’s Queen by Rachel Bach

These two books completed the Paradox trilogy, begun in Fortune’s Pawn. Unfortunately, while Devi’s first book was great and I had trouble setting it down, Honor’s Knight was much less compelling.

Why? I loved Devi’s competence, and it was stripped from her at the end of Book 1. She didn’t lose her personality, but she lost a lot of knowledge and the corresponding sense of forward motion in resolving the mysteries of the universe. Fortunately, the memory blockage doesn’t last even half the novel, but it was a disappointing start.

From there, Devi has to make a few bad deals. We get to meet some more aliens, and the mysterious opposition to Captain Caldswell’s organization. The opposition makes sense, and Devi’s able to understand both sides from an outsider’s perspective. In the final quarter of the book, she demands agency and makes things happen.

The third book, Heaven’s Queen, starts off idyllic, but action comes in before you can get bored with homey life. The rebalancing of her relationship with Rupert is interesting–no, high melodrama–but it works. Together, they bump into some of the mysteries of the universe, get captured, imprisoned, there’s a jailbreak, and a dangerous confrontation with the Legilis.

This book has Devi back to competence, and her moral courage and refusal to back down are great. The last couple of chapters are a nice wind down; the universe is changed and we get to experience the first taste of the new era.