Sunday Short: Foz Meadow's Ten Days' Grace

Sunday, August 31, 2014 0
This week's Sunday Short comes from Apex's August 2014 issue, Foz Meadow's Ten Days' Grace.

This story is set in a dystopian not-so-distant future, where a National Family Party has taken power and created laws that require all children to have a mother and a father. When the protagonist becomes pregnant out of wedlock and with a married man, the Bureau of Family Affairs requires she marry a man she doesn't love to keep her child. 

Ten Days' Grace in some ways reminded me of Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. You have a society that has, in an effort to promote family old fashioned values, taken away basic freedoms that women today enjoy. And both stories left me, the reader, with an icky feeling.

Overall, this story felt a little incomplete or unfinished to me -- maybe less a short story and more the first chapter in a novel. I wanted to hear more about the main character's father (who mourned the loss of his daughter's freedom) and more about her own daughter. There are whispers of rebellion, but I would have appreciated hearing more about why there wasn't much of a fight in the older women who had lived during the 'roaring twenties and shining tens'. 

Favorite line: " wasn’t until Julia heard her daughter’s door slam shut that she let herself drop, spraddle–kneed on the carpet, and cry with the silent experience of a mother who cannot — must not — be overheard."

Rating: 3/5

Next week, I'll read and review 21 Steps to Enlightenment (Minus One) by LaShawn M. Wanak, available at Strange Horizons. If you can't tell already, I am trying to make up for my heavy reviews. If you have any suggestions for other places to find awesome short stories available online, leave them in the comments below! 

September's preview!

Friday, August 29, 2014 0
I can't believe it is almost September! Where did the summer (and all the opportunities to read on the beach, sand in my toes) go? I love the fall and am definitely welcoming the excuse to curl up and read a few of the books on my to-read list.

Since this blog is still relatively new, I'm still experimenting a little to see what works best. Let me know if there is something you'd love to see! For my part, I am hoping to bring the following to you in the upcoming month:

- a review of Robin Hobb's new novel Fool's Assassin
- continuation of the Sunday Shorts series, where I highlight great short speculative fiction available online.
- a new monthly feature called Battle of the Books -- where I delve into two books with a similar theme. This month's will be Wizard of Oz retellings with Dorothy Must Die and Wicked 
- my review of Book 5 and Book 6 of my current obsession, Stephen King's Dark Tower series 

So much awesome! I may be a little optimistic, but I am also hoping to get a chance to read the Sword and Laser bookclub pick for the month (Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang) in there somewhere. I am enamored with short stories right now, so a collection seems right up my alley.

What awesome reads are you planning on delving into in September? Any suggestions for features for this blog? Leave a comment below!

Dark Tower, Book 4 and other works in Roland's world

Thursday, August 28, 2014 0
Dark Tower update: I am currently reading the last in the Dark Tower series. And both cursing and praising Stephen King for ever writing it. When you've had 6 books (+ related works) to get to know a group of characters, every triumph is so sweet and every loss is so so sad. I think my husband was almost ready to stage an intervention the evening he came in to the room and I was sobbing into my Kindle.

My previous Dark Tower posts can be found here (intro and book 1) and here (books 2 and 3).

First things first: it might seem weird to combine a review of a book in the series with a related novel and novella, but these stories all share a common element in that they all are primarily flash backs in Roland's life. If you are a big fan of the ka-tet -- Roland, Susannah, Eddie, Jake, and Oy -- then you might be upset to learn that their story isn't really the focus in these stories. But trust me, I think the Dark Tower series truly shines in these flashbacks to Roland's world.

Book Four: Wizard and Glass

Rating ★ / Goodreads

'Bird and bear and hare and fish...' 

Book Three of this series was left in a wicked wicked cliffhanger. I can't imagine how those reading the series at that time felt, as Three was published in 1991 and Four in 1997, because I basically finished one book and immediately bought the next to start. (OK -- I can imagine it, as I am going through the same with GRRM and the  Song of Ice and Fire series, gah!) We get a resolution in the conflict between Blaine the crazy train and the ka-tet and a little more of their journey  (with a nod to The Stand, one of my favorite King novels)  before entering the wonderful retelling of a story from Roland's youth. 

And such a wonderful, engrossing story it is. I think in some ways, Wizard and Glass is my absolute favorite of this series so far. I love the wild Western blending with magic and sci-fi. I love the characters Alain and Cuthbert. I love the relationship between Susan Delgado and Roland, and the way King was able to capture young love. 

I even love the dark sense of foreboding (because if I didn't, there would be no way I could read this epic). I, like Eddie, didn't want Roland to tell his story but needed to read it. I spent most of the time reading not wanting to know what terrible things were going to happen but simultaneously needing to know. 

It was a big risk in someways to diverge so completely from the main epic, but I think this book succeeds. And the tears you'll shed here are only the beginning.

The Wind Through the Keyhole

Rating ★ / Goodreads

This novel was published in 2012 after the original series was finished, but it takes place in the time between Books 4 and 5, so many call it 4.5. It is again mostly a flash-back to Roland's youth, which is essential a frame story for another story (Inception much?) that had been told to Roland in his own youth.

I really loved the further mixing of Arthurian mythology and weird Western. It is a pretty quick read (all things King considered), and I am pretty sure I will revisit it again after finishing the series.

The Little Sisters of Eluria

Rating ★ / Goodreads (within Everything Eventual)

This novella is another flashback of Roland's life -- sometime between the events of Wizard and Glass and The Gunslinger. It has vampire nuns. Do you really need to know anything more?

I'd recommend reading it between Books 4 and 5, as you are already in Roland flashback mode. The story itself is engaging, but as a reader, you also get a chance to explore more of the mythology of Roland's world, which I think is helpful going into the last books of this series.

I found this novella in King's short story collection Everything's Eventual.

Sunday Short: Jo Walton's Sleeper

Sunday, August 24, 2014 0
This Sunday's short is Jo Walton's Sleeper published on this month.

Previously, I read and really enjoyed Walton's Hugo and Nebula award winning mind-twisty Among Others, so when I saw the recent short published by her, I knew I wanted to read it. 

The story is set in a near future dystopia that doesn't seem all too improbable (corporations in control, class system reigns again). In it, computer science has progressed to the point where we can simulate dead individuals. I thought Walton did a great job of making this tech believable in it's limitations (the simulation needs some sort of video to see the subject moving to be entirely accurate) and applications ( the simulations are used as sort of an add on to get people to buy books).

Overall, I really enjoyed this story and the ideas it brought forth to chew on. We read about historical figures and bring them to life in our minds -- how accurate can we be? How much of our history is subjective? The final few paragraphs were delightful in the way they brought you back to the central theme of history being a thing we make - fact and fiction. 

Favorite line: We make our own history, both past and future.

Rating: 4.5/5

Next week's featured short will be Foz Meadow's Ten Days' Grace, published in Apex Magazine this month. As always, if you have any suggestions of great sci-fi/fantasy short stories to read, leave them in the comments below! 

Sunday Short: John Scalzi's Unlocked

Sunday, August 17, 2014 0
This Sunday's short is a novella introduction to John Scalzi's upcoming book Locked In called Unlocked: An Oral History of Haden's Syndrome.

I've read and enjoyed Scalzi's Old Man's War and Redshirts; I love that his satirical humor also makes you think. I am looking forward to the upcoming Locked In, so I thought it would be great to get a few into the world with this novella. 

From Tor. com, the intro for Unlocked
A new near-future science fiction novella by John Scalzi, one of the most popular authors in modern SF. “Unlocked” traces the medical history behind a virus that will sweep the globe and affect the majority of the world’s population, setting the stage for Lock In, the next major novel by John Scalzi.

Unlocked is told in an interview format, and I have to admit that it seemed to me that the format hindered Scalzi's usual humor. But, I don't think that is a bad thing in itself -- it would have been difficult to write something humorous in a story about a crippling epidemic. And there were still tidbits of humor that made me smile ('I look like C3PO!'). It reminded me of the format used in World War Z, in a good way.

I work in clinical research, so I appreciated the story's touching on the ethics of testing the neural networks at first and on who.  I also appreciated the discussion of government funding -- something that this total moderate thinks we all should think about occasionally. 

Favorite line:  
"This simply wasn’t the way things had ever been done before, and so I had to deal with CEOs and chairpeople calling me up and yelling at me that they were leaving money and profits on the table. I would remind them of just how much HRIA funding they were shoveling into their companies and that they knew what the conditions were on that money. They would respond with baffled silence. Occasionally one would threaten to go over my head and talk to the Secretary, or, God forbid, the President himself. 

I was secretly delighted when they would say that, because I had a standing order when that happened to refer them immediately to the White House, at which time the Chief of Staff would read them the riot act. A couple of times I understand the President himself got on the line to do the honors."
Overall, this novella on it's own wasn't one of my most favorite reads of the year -- but I am still looking forward to Scalzi's Locked In, which is set in a world of Integrators and threeps.  If you, like me, also are looking forward to the novel's release at the end of the month but getting impatient, has also released the first few chapters for our reading pleasure. 
Rating: 3.5/5.
Next Sunday's short will be Jo Walton's short Sleeper, available at I'd love suggestions for other short stories to read and review -- feel free to leave them in the comments below! 

The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

Monday, August 4, 2014 0
Disclaimer: I received this book as an eARC from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

This book had me hooked and obsessed all weekend long. From the very beginning on Friday evening through both of my daughter's nap times Saturday and Sunday and late late late Sunday night (and maybe a little early early early Monday morning) to finish. It is the story of one girl, two women, and two men and their attempt at survival in a scary post-apocalyptic world, and it is engrossing to say the least!

It starts from the perspective of a young, smart, and inquisitive girl named Melanie obsessed with Greek mythology who truly loves one of her teachers. Normal enough, right? Oh, yeah -- and she is also living in a cell in an underground bunker on a military base where she needs to be strapped into a wheelchair at gunpoint by soldiers before she can leave the cell. 

In this book, Carey weaves a story that gives the reader an incomplete picture of the world that slowly gets larger and larger in scope. I found that the story at times is so well paced and visually striking that it reads like a movie, so it was really no surprise to me to find out that there is a film adaptation in the works

I appreciated how well Carey was able to get in the head of a little girl (and each of the women and men). Each perspective is complete and different, almost every crisis was not foreseen by the reader, and I delighted in each surprise (although there was a scene that had me hugging and apologizing to my cat Sam, who had curled up beside me on the couch). By the end I couldn't have fallen asleep without finishing this book -- even if I had wanted to.

I would recommend this book to anyone who appreciates an intimate look at human survival after great disaster. There are scary and graphic bits, but overall I thought this book's success was in the depiction of ordinary people who don't know enough -- which made it all the scarier! 

If you read Cronin's The Passage and are looking for something in the same vein to read before he comes out with the third installment -- this book fits the bill! 

Favorite lines: 

Pandora [...] was a really amazing woman. All the gods had blessed her and given her gifts. That’s what her name means—’the girl with all the gifts’. So she was clever, brave, and beautiful, and funny, and everything else you’d want to be. But she just had the one tiny fault, which was that she was very—and I mean very—curious.
Growing up and growing old. Playing. Exploring. Like Pooh and Piglet. And then like the Famous Five. And then like Heidi and Anne of Green Gables. And then like Pandora, opening the great big box of the world and not being afraid, not even caring whether hwat's inside is good or bad. Because it's both. Everything is always both. [...] But you have to open it to find that out.

Sunday Short: Mary Robinette Kowal's The Lady Astronaut of Mars

Sunday, August 3, 2014 0
This week's short is Kowal's Hugo nominated novelette The Lady Astronaut of Mars, available via

Illustration from
While technically longer than a short story (which is <7500 words), I loved this story too much to not include it in these reviews. It is from the perspective of a female astronaut in an alternate history where we colonized Mars early after an asteroid hits Washington, DC. Kowal does a fabulous job of painting the setting with details just enough to let your imagination fill in the rest.

The central struggled of the story is what happens if your dreams and professional aspirations are no longer compatible with your older spouse's well being / health. Marriage is for better or worse, in sickness and in health. Elma, the lady astronaut who helped to colonize Mars, is getting older and is no longer called for missions. Her husband is sick and likely to die within a year. When Elma gets called for a mission to a planet light years away -- what does she do? When her husband insists she go, and everything she is wants her to go, yet she doesn't want to leave the love of her life... what does she do? It is just a beautiful read!

I loved that the protagonist of this story is older (almost 60) -- there isn't enough speculative fiction of that age range. I loved that she was honest about the struggle between her dreams and her commitment to her husband. I loved how honest and uncomfortable the story was in it's portrayal of illness and deterioration. By the end, I needed to hug my husband almost immediately.

Rating: 5/5.

Favorite non-spoiler lines*: "I wanted to get off the planet and back into space and not have to watch him die. Not have to watch him lose control of his body piece by piece.... And I wanted to stay here and be with him and steal every moment left that he had breath in his body."

*Honestly, the last part of the story is probably my favorite, but they would spoil you... so just go read it!

I am taking a break next Sunday -- but check back the week after that for another novelette, John Scalzi's Unlocked
Have a suggestion for another short to feature on the blog? Leave it in the comments below.

A Reader's Comic Con wrap up!

Friday, August 1, 2014 0
Comic Con was a blast -- a fast and ferocious blast! I had a wonderful time, as always, and it seemed too short, as always. :) It seems like I've spent the whole week recovering. My face was pretty much exactly like my daughter's (picture to the right) the whole convention.

In terms of reader-related updates:

On Saturday, I ended up attending two great book panels: Sci-Fi, Robots, and AI, Oh My! and Rulers of the Realm. Both panels ended up being great -- kudos to the moderators for each as they both managed to ask some questions that sparked a lot of discussion. 

For the sci-fi panel, I had only read something by one of the authors -- Andy Weir (the Martian) -- but I left the panel pretty certain I would want to read all the other authors. Specifically, I am planning to read something of Daniel H Wilson soon -- he had this hilarious tangent about how he has been thinking about what would happen if a robot/AI went feral (to which Andy Weir offered to give him a cat). Maybe I've been reading too much weird sci-fi lately, but I am really looking forward to reading something by an author who spends time thinking about things like wild robots! 

At the fantasy panel, I was again really impressed by all five panelists. I have read a novel by every author there except Diana Gabaldon (although I did read her short in the Dangerous Women anthology), but now I am certain I have to read more of each -- and start reading Gabaldon's Outlander series. They discussed their writing processes, and Gabaldon took a minute to outline her process which was funny and insightful (it starts with staring at items in a catalogue and involves a lot of writing and then deleting and writing again).

That panel also had a great discussion about maps -- George RR Martin pointed out that many authors take the time honored tradition of creating a map of a known place and turn it upside down (Westeros is upside down Ireland, Hobb's Six Duchies is upside down Alaska). Lev Grossman made a great point when answering a question from the audience that ultimately fantasy has to have honest real emotion or it fails. (He admitted that writing the Magician's series has been uncomfortable at times.) For new writers, the authors all had some great tips -- write what you geek out about (Tolkien was a language geek, Rothfuss admitted to being an economics geek, GRRM a geek on heraldry), and write for yourself first. Overall, I was really impressed by how down to earth and hilarious the authors all were. 

Books! So many books!
All giveaways from the convention floor
Over the course of the con, I also got lucky in a big way -- while exploring the convention floor, I happened to walk by when the big publishers had giveaways / author signings, multiple times. This has never happened to me before! I met and got books signed by Joe Abercrombie, Pierce Brown, and John Jackson Miller.

As a result of the great panels and giveaways, my to-read list has just exploded past any hope of being tamed in the near future. Maybe I can reign it in before next year's Comic Con? :)

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