Friday, 21 September 2018

#ReadShortStories from an upcoming collection (156 to 160)


My short story reading slowed down a bit recently and has now picked up because I've started reading a new collection. The corollary to that is the only short stories I've read since the last set of mini reviews were from that collection. Hence, you, dear readers, are getting a preview of the first five stories of 80,000 Totally Secure Passwords That No Hacker Would Ever Guess by Simon Petrie. Some of them were flash, though, which means they don't get a proper review (because how one practically review something less than two pages long?).

Perhaps there'll be a bit more variety next time. I am part way through an issue of Uncanny (and even part way through a story I wasn't especially enjoying)... We'll see.


Product Warning by Simon Petrie — A very amusing introduction/warning about an explosive anti-piracy measure. Source: 80,000 Totally Secure Passwords That No Hacker Would Ever Guess by Simon Petrie

Introduction by Über-Professor Arrrrarrrgghl Schlurmpftxpftpfl by Simon Petrie — Mildly amusing, but a bit wordy. Source: 80,000 Totally Secure Passwords That No Hacker Would Ever Guess by Simon Petrie

Jack Makes a Sale by Simon Petrie — Flash, which I may have read before... Source: 80,000 Totally Secure Passwords That No Hacker Would Ever Guess by Simon Petrie

All the Colours of the Tomato by Simon Petrie — An interesting premise and a long story to explore it. I had to read it over a few sittings but then, once some questions were answered in interesting ways, it felt like it ended a little abruptly. Still an interesting read, though. Source: 80,000 Totally Secure Passwords That No Hacker Would Ever Guess by Simon Petrie

Working Girl by Simon Petrie — Flash Source: 80,000 Totally Secure Passwords That No Hacker Would Ever Guess by Simon Petrie


Sunday, 16 September 2018

A Curse of Ash and Embers by Jo Spurrier

A Curse of Ash and Embers by Jo Spurrier is a novel in a new fantasy series by the author of the grimdark Children of the Black Sun trilogy (which started with Winter Be My Shield). That said, A Curse of Ash and Embers is being marketed as YA so at least you know it won't be quite as full of torture as the earlier series. Whether or not you consider the book to be YA is a matter of personal opinion; to me it's just a fantasy book, but I also wouldn't hesitate to give it to an interested teen.

A dead witch. A bitter curse. A battle of magic.

Some people knit socks by the fire at night. Gyssha Blackbone made monsters.

But the old witch is dead now, and somehow it's Elodie's job to clean up the mess.

When she was hired at Black Oak Cottage, Elodie had no idea she'd find herself working for a witch; and her acid-tongued new mistress, Aleida, was not expecting a housemaid to turn up on her doorstep.

Gyssha's final curse left Aleida practically dead on her feet, and now, with huge monsters roaming the woods, a demonic tree lurking in the orchard and an angry warlock demanding repayment of a debt, Aleida needs Elodie's help, whether she likes it or not.

And no matter what the old witch throws at her, to Elodie it's still better than going back home.

I really enjoyed A Curse of Ash and Embers and I can't wait to read the next book in the series. Elodie was a very believable and grounded character, who generally leaned towards doing the sensible thing. The world she lives in is a fairly standard pre-industrial European-ish fantasy world, but at the same time magic is an uncommon phenomenon and Elodie didn't really believe in it until she left home. I enjoyed watching Elodie finding her place in her new world. It was a satisfying mix of "well, someone has to cook and clean" and her trying to reconcile her own experiences of her new mistress with the stories told by the villagers she meets.

I haven't generally been very much in the mood for fantasy books recently, but once I started reading this one (which I thought was a novella for some reason — it is not) I was instantly hooked on the story. Spurrier's writing style continues to be gripping even in this narratively more straight-forward book (first person, single narrator) and I certainly would not hesitate to pick up any other books of hers.

The story put me slightly in mind of Pratchett's Witches books, but more because Elodie seemed like she would fit in as an apprentice witch in that world than any more obvious similarities in satire or style. That said, I also really liked one particular worldbuilding aspect in A Curse of Ash and Embers: that the witches wants are basically clubs studded with crystals. Unlike a traditional style (eg Harry Potter) wand, they were as well suited to bashing people as wielding magic...

As I said, A Curse of Ash and Embers was a great read and I highly recommend it to pretty much all fantasy fans. The next book is out in 2019 and I'm hoping that means it will be a relatively short wait (fingers crossed for less than a year) before we find out what happens next. I should note that A Curse of Ash and Embers does not end on a cliffhanger or anything — the story arc is fairly self-contained — but I still want to read more. Hopefully soon.

5 / 5 stars

First published: September 2018, HarperVoyager
Series: Yes. Tales of the Blackbone Witches book 1 of 3 (I think)
Format read: ePub ARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

The Black God's Drums by P Djèlí Clark

The Black God's Drums by P Djèlí Clark is a novella set in a steampunk alternate history New Orleans in 1884. The alternate history aspect involves a quicker end to the American Civil War after Britain and France sent reinforcements by airship, starkly altering the sociological landscape of the world.

Creeper, a scrappy young teen, is done living on the streets of New Orleans. Instead, she wants to soar, and her sights are set on securing passage aboard the smuggler airship Midnight Robber. Her ticket: earning Captain Ann-Marie’s trust using a secret about a kidnapped Haitian scientist and a mysterious weapon he calls The Black God’s Drums.

But Creeper keeps another secret close to heart--Oya, the African orisha of the wind and storms, who speaks inside her head and grants her divine powers. And Oya has her own priorities concerning Creeper and Ann-Marie…

The most interesting thing about this novella was the setting and the worldbuilding. Clearly a lot of thought has gone into it and I would be interested in seeing the setting explored further. Since this is a novella and hence relatively short, I felt like it only scratched the surface of some aspects and that there are more stories that could be told in this setting.

I liked Creeper, the thirteen year old street girl who was quite capable of looking after herself and who also lived with the presence of a god. The other main character was also fun to read about, though we didn't see quite as much of her and mostly saw her from the perspective of Creeper. The story is written as first person narration by Creeper, which strongly overlays her interpretation of the world over the story. The dialogue is written in the accent or dialect matching the character speaking, which sometimes took me an extra second to parse, but did a lot to distinguish different characters and, to some degree, their origins.

My main disappointment with this story was that, even though it's a novella it felt very short. More like a long short story than a novella. It's not that nothing happened, but the plot was fairly limited and contained and when I neared the end it felt like it was over too quickly. I think I would have preferred a slightly meatier story that was a bit less linear. Not that the plot was bad, I have just gotten used to longer novellas, I suppose.

Overall, I recommend The Black God's Drums to readers who are intrigued by the premise of a steam punk New Orleans. It's a short read and an enjoyable one, especially if you go in with accurate expectations.

4 / 5 stars

First published: August 2018, Tor.com
Series: Not as far as I know
Format read: ePub
Source: ARC from publisher via NetGalley

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Mother of Invention edited by Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts

Mother of Invention edited by Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts is an anthology exploring robots and artificial intelligences created by women and non-binary people, rather than the male inventors many older stories have focussed on. It contains stories covering a wide variety of ideas and settings within this theme and is a must-read if you are interested in exploring diverse robot/AI stories.

An ambitious anthology from award-winning Australian publishing house Twelfth Planet Press, Mother of Invention will feature diverse, challenging stories about gender as it relates to the creation of artificial intelligence and robotics.

From Pygmalion and Galatea to Frankenstein, Ex Machina and Person of Interest, the fictional landscape so often frames cisgender men as the creators of artificial life, leading to the same kinds of stories being told over and over. We want to bring some genuine revolution to the way that artificial intelligence stories are told, and how they intersect with gender identity, parenthood, sexuality, war, and the future of our species. How can we interrogate the gendered assumptions around the making of robots compared with the making of babies? Can computers learn to speak in a code beyond the (gender) binary?

If necessity is the mother of invention, what exciting AI might come to exist in the hands of a more diverse range of innovators?

This was a very interesting read and I was pleased with the breadth of stories and ideas presented in Mother of Invention. I have found some themed anthologies need to be broken up because of too much similarity in their stories, but that was not the case here. I admit I didn't quite read it straight through, but that was for other, mostly external reasons, not because I found it repetitive.

Overall, this was an excellent read. While not every story necessarily worked for me, I certainly enjoyed the majority of them. My three favourite stories were "Sexy Robot Heroes" by Sandra McDonald, "Quantifying Trust" by John Chu and "S’elfie" by Justina Robson. All three took very different approaches to the theme and, really, the only similarity between them is that they contain artificial intelligences. You can read more of my thoughts on these stories and all the others below, where I have included my mini reviews of the stories that I wrote as I read them.

I would highly recommend Mother of Invention to readers interested in exploring different ideas of robots and artificial intelligences, including as a vehicle for exploration of other themes such as gender, religion and creation. This is not I, Robot, filled with logic-puzzle stories, but rather is filled with stories of humanity and inhumanity, and a spectrum on both sides of that divide.

~

Mother, Mother, Will You Play With Me? by Seanan McGuire — A story about an AI child learning through games and growing up. I enjoyed it, although it wasn’t what I expected (from the title and author I expected something creepier). I liked how many different ideas it explored, and also the ending.

Junkyard Kraken by DK Mok — A roboticist builds an ocean-exploration robot after failing to get funding for it. A fun story, especially thanks to the inclusion of other AI robots, such that it can be forgiving for being a bit unrealistic.

An Errant Holy Spark by Bogi Takács — A Jewish AI growing up, learning, and trying to talk to aliens. Written in the unique style I’ve come to expect from this author, the inner voice of the AI was very different to conventional (robot/AI) tropes. An interesting story and premise, with baffling aliens.

The Goose Hair of One Thousand Miles by Stephanie Lai — A story written in the form of an annotated translation of a wuxia story. The story itself is particularly bizarre, to my eye, because of the way the robots are included and thanks to the aspects the commentary focuses on. Even so, it engages with ideas of colonialism well.

The Art of Broken Things by Joanne Anderton — An eerie story based on the really interesting premise/theme of kintsugi. I liked the idea and the way different aspects of the story meshed together, but at the same time it creeped me out a bit (mostly in a good way).

Sexy Robot Heroes by Sandra McDonald — I really liked this story. It featured a trans girl mechanic, a whole barge of girl mechanics, and androids bound to serve them. It was the right mix of sentimental and sensible.

A Robot Like Me by Lee Cope — An agender AI programmer makes an AI in their image. A lovely and slightly bittersweet story about gender. I liked it.

New Berth by Elizabeth Fitzgerald — A futuristic take on regency romance that put me in mind if Austen in tone. However, I found it a bit confusing to keep track of characters and motivations and it didn’t really work for me for that reason. I expect some readers will enjoy it more than I did.

Fata Morgana by Cat Sparks — Post-apocalyptic/war-torn Australia with fighting mechs wandering around, at least one of which is intelligent. In rough conditions the mech protects the old lady that was its creator and helps a poor settlement. I enjoyed it.

Bright Shores by Rosaleen Love — A fantastical story about robots (and one woman) living in a nuclear exclusion zone. Clearly taking cues from the Fukushima tsunami disaster, I liked the premise of the robots left behind (because they are too contaminated from dealing with radioactive material), but it lost me a bit with some of the less scientific ideas.

Quantifying Trust by John Chu — A robot engineering grad student works on her design and ponders the question of trust for AI. And meets a postdoc who may or may not be an advanced AI sent from the future. I really liked this story.

Sugar Ricochets to Other Forms by Octavia Cade — A pretty weird story. On the one hand, we have a couple of women running a brothel staffed with magic automaton boys made out of sugar and cake (who often come back with parts missing in the morning). On the other hand, there is a clockwork witch made of brass I love with baby crabs lured by sugar. A compelling read, but also a strange one.

Kill Screen by EC Myers — A teenage girl makes an AI program of her recently deceased best friend. It was a bit morbid, mostly because it dealt with the question of why the friend had killed herself, but also for other reasons (spoilers). I mostly enjoyed it, but it also made me feel uncomfortable (intentionally, I assume), especially near the end.

Living Proof by Nisi Shawl — A story about an AI reproducing. The setting was quite different — a prison — and to some degree aspects of the story put me in mind of Bitch Planet. Not the overall thrust of the narrative, however, which is more about purpose from the AI perspective. Not my favourite story, but I didn’t hate it.

S’elfie by Justina Robson — A very interesting story about a world in which everyone has an AI personal assistant and what happens when they move far beyond what we currently have with Siri etc. Told from the point of view of one of these AIs, while her human is working on something in secret, I really enjoyed the incomplete knowledge of the narration.

Knitting Day by Jen White — A lovely story about knitted robots, poor working conditions and the subversion of capitalism. I enjoyed it, despite its grim setting and whimsical approach to assembly.
The Revivalist Kaaron Warren A creepy story (of course, look at the author) about a process that imbues discarded robots with the last words of the dead. Mostly murder victims. I liked it. And note it wasn’t heavy on the horror, more creepy/eerie.

Arguing with People on the Internet by EH Mann — An interesting story about an AI set loose arguing with people on the internet to unexpected consequences. Also features an asexual protagonist and engages with the concept of motherhood from a different angle. I quite liked it.

Rini’s God by Soumya Sundar Mukherjee — This story took an unusual approach. Not only was the protagonist AI interested in theological ideas but she has a hidden purpose. Which, in the context of the story was odd since it’s hard to program someone to do something when they have free will, so I found the creator’s motivation confusing from that point of view. Also, running an orphanage of AI humanoids was either sneaky or very strange, I haven’t decided which.

Tidefall by Meryl Stenhouse — Ow, my astronomy hurts. This was absolutely not a story to read at at astronomy conference, in between talks about merging stars oh em gee. So that coloured my reading of it considerably. Questionable astronomy aside, the plot and ideas didn’t really do it for me either. What seemed like it would be a really interesting idea ended up feeling a bit bland.

The Ghost Helmet by Lev Mirov — The AIs in this story are basically ghosts of soldiers whose memories became imprinted on their helmets. Our protagonist is a coder who accidentally caused the situation and now always wears her brother’s helmet so he can talk to and help her. I would have liked the story to spend some more time on the ethics of creating the helmet ghosts (is it really a good form of immortality?) but otherwise it wasn’t a bad read.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: Kickstarter backers got it in July, general release September 2018
Series: No
Format read: ePub
Source: Kickstarter backer
Disclaimer: Although the editors, Rivqa and Tansy, are friends, I have endeavoured to write an impartial review

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas

The Psychology of Time Travel by Kate Mascarenhas is the author's debut novel. I grabbed it because the blurb and cover grabbed me but I went in with a bit of trepidation, not knowing what to expect. As it turned out, I needed have worried. This was an excellent read and I highly recommend it to just about everyone.

1967: Four young female scientists invent a time travel machine in their remote lab in Cumbria. They become known as the pioneers: the women who led the world to a future where no knowledge is unattainable.

2016: Ruby Rebello knows that her beloved grandmother was one of the pioneers, but she refuses to talk about her past. Ruby's curiosity soon turns to fear however, when a newspaper clipping from four months in the future arrives in the post. The clipping reports the brutal murder of an unnamed elderly lady.

Could the woman be her Granny Bee?

This book is set in a world where time travel was invented in 1967 and is now, in the early twenty-first century, a normal part of life. It's a more common and established part of society than, say, space travel is, with a large British organisation overseeing the system and policing time travellers across the timeline. The story follows the inventors of time travel and some of the younger generation that come into contact with it one way or another.

A central plot element is a locked-room murder, which is discovered by one of the characters and for which both victim and perpetrator and initially mysterious. Mental illness and psychology are also central to the plot. The book examines the psychological effects of time travel and what underlying conditions they may exacerbate, as well as sensitively dealing with a traumatised character. There's also the psychology of time traveller culture, which is very interesting and disturbing and also central to the plot.

As might be expected from a book about time travel, The Psychology of Time Travel is told out of chronological order, with relatively short chapters that are only a scene or two long. While the purpose of each chapter wasn't necessarily obvious while reading it, they quickly slotted together to form a larger picture. The book is also well-written enough so as to be interesting even when I wasn't sure how a particular scene was linked to the whole. This intricate mosaic of story is what impressed me most about this book and made for an unexpectedly excellent read.

One last thing I want to mention is what the author has done with the gender distribution of characters. Basically, she's written a gender swapped reality so that all the key characters — all four time travel pioneers and all the other point of view characters — are female. I can only think of one male character that wasn't there as someone's father or husband, including most of the background characters (though there were a couple of male secretaries). I didn't realise this immediately, but it was a fun change of pace to play "spot the male character" rather than the reverse.

Overall, I really enjoyed The Psychology of Time Travel and found it to be an excellent read. I recommend it to anyone who doesn't hate time travel or women and enjoys some psychological exploration in their reads. It's particularly impressive for a debut novel and I am very interested to see what Mascarenhas brings us in the future.

5 / 5 stars

First published: August 2018, Head of Zeus
Series: No
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Sunday, 2 September 2018

#ReadShortStories about AIs and magic oh my (151 to 155)

This batch of short stories finishes off Mother of Invention — stay tuned for my full review of that anthology coming soon — and adds a few miscellaneous stories into the mix. I think I will mainly focus on finishing Uncanny Issue 22 next, but I'm not yet sure which direction I'll go in after that. There's more Uncanny waiting for me, including the Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction Issue, which I am keen to read. But I also have a lot of anthologies and collections waiting to be read, so we'll see.


Rini’s God by Soumya Sundar Mukherjee — This story took an unusual approach. Not only was the protagonist AI interested in theological ideas but she has a hidden purpose. Which, in the context of the story was odd since it’s hard to program someone to do something when they have free will, so I found the creator’s motivation confusing from that point of view. Also, running an orphanage of AI humanoids was either sneaky or very strange, I haven’t decided which. Source: Mother of Invention edited by Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts

The Alchemy of Fine by Tansy Rayner Roberts — The narrative structure of this story is a bit unusual: it is told in reverse chronological order. As a result, it took me a few short chapters to get into, but I was very much enjoying it by the end. The author suggests that it would work read in reverse (so proper chronological order), and if I ever reread it I think I will do just that to see how it feels. Requires having read Fake Geek Girl at least, otherwise I don’t think it stands alone too well (since it’s basically an exploration of the characters’ back stories). Source: Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Patreon

Tidefall by Meryl Stenhouse — Ow, my astronomy hurts. This was absolutely not a story to read at at astronomy conference, in between talks about merging stars oh em gee. So that coloured my reading of it considerably. Questionable astronomy aside, the plot and ideas didn’t really do it for me either. What seemed like it would be a really interesting idea ended up feeling a bit bland.  Source: Mother of Invention edited by Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts

The Ghost Helmet by Lev Mirov — The AIs in this story are basically ghosts of soldiers whose memories became imprinted on their helmets. Our protagonist is a coder who accidentally caused the situation and now always wears her brother’s helmet so he can talk to and help her. I would have liked the story to spend some more time on the ethics of creating the helmet ghosts (is it really a good form of immortality?) but otherwise it wasn’t a bad read. Source: Mother of Invention edited by Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts

What Gentle Women Dare by Kelly Robson — In a very detailed setting — Liverpool 1763 — this story follows a poor prostitute as she does her job, tries to look after her child, and incidentally encounters a corpse wearing an unusual garment. This story is mostly about how crappy life is for women in her time but the speculative element makes for a very interesting ending. Source: https://uncannymagazine.com/article/what-gentle-women-dare/

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

How to Marry a Werewolf by Gail Carriger

How to Marry a Werewolf by Gail Carriger is a stand-alone novella set in her much loved parasol historical urban fantasy world. It’s set some time during the Custard Protocol series, but can be read independently of all the other stories, providing only minor spoilers due to being set in the future relative to Parasol Protectorate series.

Guilty of an indiscretion? Time to marry a werewolf.

WEREWOLVES

The monsters left Faith ruined in the eyes of society, so now they’re her only option. Rejected by her family, Faith crosses the Atlantic, looking for a marriage of convenience and revenge.

But things are done differently in London. Werewolves are civilized. At least they pretend to be.

AMERICANS

Backward heathens with no culture, Major Channing has never had time for any of them. But there’s something special about Faith. Channing finds himself fighting to prove himself and defend his species. But this werewolf has good reason not to trust human women.

Even if they learn to love, can either of them forgive?

I picked up this novella to read, after buying it a few months ago when it first came out, because I was in the mood for something relaxing and fun after finishing my previous book and not being in the mood to start the one I’d planned to read next. This was an excellent choice. As I have come to expect from this author, How To Marry a Werewolf was a delightful read that mixed humour and more serious moments.

The two main characters are Channing Channing of the Chesterfield Channings — the gamma of the London werewolf pack — and Faith, an American cast out by her family and sent to London. While Channing has appeared in many other books, we never learnt much of his back story at all, and that’s something which comes out in this book. Faith, as a completely new character, brings in some American culture (they are less accepting of immortals across the pond and her parents very much for that mould) as well as her own baggage. The suspense between the characters’ backgrounds and their slightly unconventional courtship (and the frequent appearances of Biffy and Lyall) made for a very entertaining read.

I highly recommend this book to fans of Gail Carriger’s other books. For readers unfamiliar with the series, this is a good book to get a taste of her style without any vital spoilers for any other books.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: May 2018, self-published
Series: Yes, same world as her other books, but stands alone
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Kobo (I think)

Sunday, 26 August 2018

#ReadShortStories to milestone quantities (146 to 150)

Wow, I've hit 150 stories in my attempt to read more short fiction and I think it's safe to say that I'll probably reach 200 by the end of the year. I've even not been neglecting novels etc as much as I did closer to the start of the year. Huzzah!

This batch is exclusively Mother of Invention stories, because I was on a bit of a roll and because it was easy to just keep reading the next story on my phone while I was commuting or waiting for things over the past week. I'm almost done with that anthology though, so there will probably be fewer AI stories once it's done.


Living Proof by Nisi Shawl — A story about an AI reproducing. The setting was quite different — a prison — and to some degree aspects of the story put me in mind of Bitch Planet. Not the overall thrust of the narrative, however, which is more about purpose from the AI perspective. Not my favourite story, but I didn’t hate it. Source: Mother of Invention edited by Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts

S’elfie by Justina Robson — A very interesting story about a world in which everyone has an AI personal assistant and what happens when they move far beyond what we currently have with Siri etc. Told from the point of view of one of these AIs, while her human is working on something in secret, I really enjoyed the incomplete knowledge of the narration.  Source: Mother of Invention edited by Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts

Knitting Day by Jen White — A lovely story about knitted robots, poor working conditions and the subversion of capitalism. I enjoyed it, despite its grim setting and whimsical approach to assembly. Source: Mother of Invention edited by Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts

The Revivalist by Kaaron Warren — A creepy story (of course, look at the author) about a process that imbues discarded robots with the last words of the dead. Mostly murder victims. I liked it. And note it wasn’t heavy on the horror, more creepy/eerie. Source: Mother of Invention edited by Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts

Arguing with People on the Internet by E H Mann — An interesting story about an AI set loose arguing with people on the internet to unexpected consequences. Also features an asexual protagonist and engages with the concept of motherhood from a different angle. I quite liked it. Source: Mother of Invention edited by Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts

Monday, 20 August 2018

The Girl With the Dragon Heart by Stephanie Burgis

The Girl With the Dragon Heart by Stephanie Burgis is a sequel to The Dragon With a Chocolate Heart, but the books are both quite self contained and could be read out of order, if one didn’t mind a few spoilers for the first book being contained in the second. As with the prequel, this is a book for younger readers (or middle grade) with the main character being only around 13 years old. However, it’s written in a sufficiently captivating way that I expect many older readers will also enjoy it, as I did.

Once upon a time, in a beautiful city famous for chocolate and protected by dragons, there was a girl so fearless that she dared to try to tell the greatest story of all: the truth.

Silke has always been good at spinning the truth and storytelling. So good that just years after arriving as a penniless orphan, she has found her way up to working for the most splendid chocolate makers in the city (oh, and becoming best friends with a dragon). Now her gift for weaving words has caught the eye of the royal family, who want to use her as a spy when the mysterious and dangerous fairy royal family announce they will visit the city. But Silke has her own dark, secret reasons for not trusting fairies ...

Can Silke find out the truth about the fairies while keeping her own secrets hidden?

This book follows Silke, who we met in the first book as the friend of Aventurine, the dragon who had been turned into a girl. In the first book we mainly saw her venture into the world of advertising to promote the chocolate shop with hand bills and slightly tall tails. In this book she gets her own story, which does involve the handbills but also a lot of family history and a new adventure/problem. We also see more of the crown princess who runs Drachenburg and get to know her younger sister.

The Girl With a Dragon Heart was a very enjoyable read and I highly recommend to people who enjoyed the first book or readers that enjoy cosy fantasy stories. This one had maybe a little bit more darkness than the first book (and also a bit less chocolate) but was still overall a very fun read.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: August 2018, Bloomsbury
Series: Yes. Book 2 of 2 of the Tales From the Chocolate Heart
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

Friday, 17 August 2018

#ReadShortStories of various provenances (141 to 145)


A varied batch this time, breaking up my anthology reading again. Mostly based on whim. And I'm afraid I'm too tired for much of a preamble today, so here are some story mini-reviews!


Loss of Signal by S.B. Divya — A near future space programmed powered by human minds who have been extracted from their non-functional bodies. This story raised a lot of ethical points, not all of them explicitly, and made me feel a little uneasy. The premise is interesting but I’m ultimately not sure how I feel about the story (though I definitely liked it more than I disliked it). Source: https://www.tor.com/2018/08/01/loss-of-signal-sb-divya/

Sugar Ricochets to Other Forms by Octavia Cade — A pretty weird story. On the one hand, we have a couple of women running a brothel staffed with magic automaton boys made out of sugar and cake (who often come back with parts missing in the morning). On the other hand, there is a clockwork witch made of brass I love with baby crabs lured by sugar. A compelling read, but also a strange one. Source: Mother of Invention edited by Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts

The Flower of Arizona  by Seanan McGuire — A story set in the 1920s about a cryptozoologist and a circus performer. And a spate of murders. I enjoyed it and, since it seems to be the set up for more stories about these two characters, I looking forward to reading more about them. (I picked this story to try because the blurb on the author’s website had the greatest promise of Aeslin mice, and I was not disappointed.) Source: Hugo voter packet

Frozen Voice by An Owomoyela — Children living in a post-alien invasion world. Aliens who force their language on humans and technically prevent starvation etc by having killed most of the population. Also, they’re afraid of books. The writing style was quite visceral and I enjoyed being drawn into the story. Source: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/owomoyela_07_11/

Kill Screen by EC Myers — A teenage girl makes an AI program of her recently deceased best friend. It was a bit morbid, mostly because it dealt with the question of why the friend had killed herself, but also for other reasons (spoilers). I mostly enjoyed it, but it also made me feel uncomfortable (intentionally, I assume), especially near the end. Source: Mother of Invention edited by Rivqa Rafael and Tansy Rayner Roberts