Saturday, 29 December 2018

Penric’s Fox by Lois McMaster Bujold

Penric’s Fox by Lois McMaster Bujold is chronologically the third novella in the Penric and Desdemona series, but the fourth that I’ve read. It immediately follows Penric and the Shaman. These novellas are set in the World of the Five Gods, but you don’t have to have read the novels to read the novella series, and indeed I haven’t.

Some eight months after the events of Penric and the Shaman, Learned Penric, sorcerer and scholar, travels to Easthome, the capital of the Weald. There he again meets his friends Shaman Inglis and Locator Oswyl. When the body of a sorceress is found in the woods, Oswyl draws him into another investigation; they must all work together to uncover a mystery mixing magic, murder and the strange realities of Temple demons.

This book follows on fairly directly after Penric and the Shaman (well, apparently, it's eight months later), which was slightly confusing since the last Penric book I read was Penric's Mission set ten years or so later. That said, it more or less stands alone, except that it helps to have read the very first book of the series, Penric and Desdemona, to understand Penric and the world and sticking to chronological order (even if the author doesn't) generally helps.

Anyway, this was an interesting and entertaining read. Penric and his friend Shaman Inglis end up investigating a murder which involves a missing demon and no clear motive. I very much enjoyed following Penric and friends as they stepped through the crime, discussed possibility and eventually (rather dramatically) landed on the final answer. As expected from Bujold, the story was also fairly amusing (although I hold that this series is less amusing than the Vorkosigan books).

Highly recommended for fans of the Penric and Desdemona series and not inaccessible to new readers (though it's not my recommended starting point). I have two more novellas left to read in the series so far, and this book has made me consider buying them immediately (and the only reason I haven't is because I'm waiting for an imminent ebook gift card).

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2017, self-published
Series: Penric and Desdemona book 3 of 6, both publicationly and chronologically speaking
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Apple Books

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

The Dinosaur Hunters by Patrick Samphire

The Dinosaur Hunters by Patrick Samphire is the first novella in The Casebook of Harriet George. Although it’s the first in the series, I actually read the second novella first, because it was included in The Underwater Ballroom Society anthology. While the two novellas do stand alone, I suspect reading them in order adds to the context for the second story.

Mars in 1815 is a world of wonders, from the hanging ballrooms of Tharsis City to the air forests of Patagonian Mars, and from the ice caves of Noachis Terra to the Great Wall of Cyclopia, beyond which dinosaurs still roam.

Sixteen-year-old Harriet George has never had the chance for an adventure. Now her older sister is determined to marry her off. Harriet can’t think of anything worse.

Meanwhile, her brother-in-law, Bertrand, has a problem. He’s never been much of a police inspector. As far as Harriet knows, Bertrand has never caught a criminal in his life. But now the famous jewel thief, the Glass Phantom, has come to Mars, and Bertrand has been given the job of tracking him down. If he fails, Bertrand will lose his job and the whole family will be ruined.

Harriet will not let that happen.

So she comes up with a plan: she will capture the Glass Phantom herself. Even if that mean that she and Bertrand have to follow the thief’s intended victim, the Countess von Krakendorff, on a dinosaur hunt in the perilous Martian wilderness. But there is far more going on in this expedition than mere robbery, and the dinosaurs are not the greatest danger.

If Harriet cannot solve the mystery, her family won't just be ruined. She and Bertrand may not make it out of the wilderness alive.

In this novella we are introduced to Harriet who, at the age of sixteen, is living with her older sister and brother in law, after the death of her parents. Her brother in law is a police investigator but, alas, not very good at his job. Because Harriet can see that her future depends on his ability to bring in a paycheque, she decides to help him solve an impossible jewel thief case (which has been handed to him to give his superiors an excuse to fire him when he fails). And so, Harriet dresses up as a boy and accompanies her brother in law on a dinosaur hunting expedition in the hopes of catching the thief.

This was a fun and entertaining read. Harriet is pretty cool and I was amused at how she successfully manipulated Bertrand and his employers to keep herself safe. The world building is super weird and almost not at all scientific. There are dinosaurs on Mars, and airships and a breathable atmosphere. And a lot of their technology runs on springs and compressed air, which is actually pretty cool. It’s also probably sort of period appropriate, alternate history aspects notwithstanding.

I definitely recommend this novella for readers of speculative fiction after a cosy and fun read. It was relaxing (despite a bit of dinosaur-related peril) and I would definitely go and get the next story in the series if I hadn’t already read it.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: 2016, self-published
Series: The Casebook of Harriet George volume 1 or 2 so far
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Kobo

Monday, 24 December 2018

#ReadShortStories that are mostly poems (206 to 210)

A transitional batch here. And a poetry heavy one. I finished off Uncanny Issue 22 (at last) and started reading Meet Me at the Intersection, an Australian anthology edited by Rebecca Lim and Ambelin Kwaymullina and featuring stories about a variety of minority identities.

Lorelei by Ali Trotta — A lovely poem about love and other things. Source:

What Grew by Sarah Gailey — I really liked this poem. It’s part body horror surrounding regular pregnancy and part fantastical. Source:

Okuri Inu, or the sending-off dog demon by Betsy Aoki — I am not sure exactly what this poem is about. My first thought was depression, but perhaps not. Source:

Night Feet by Ellen van Neerven — A story about a teenaged girl playing soccer. And a bit how poverty and family circumstances are hurdles to that end. I expect the story would be more exciting for people who are into soccer, which I am not. Source: Meet Me at the Intersection edited by Rebecca Lim and Ambelin Kwaymullina

Dream by Graham Akhurst — A poem with formatting that didn’t work on my phone screen and was much more powerful when I was able to read it on the iPad. It’s also the kind of poem that becomes clearer with subsequent readings. Source: Meet Me at the Intersection edited by Rebecca Lim and Ambelin Kwaymullina

Saturday, 22 December 2018

#ReadShortStories (up to 205)

A bit of a different configuration in this batch, since I read through most of Resist Fascism before getting a chance to post incremental updates about the stories. To be less repetitive, I'm skipping those stories and jumping straight to the next ones I read, rounding them off to a multiple of five to keep things neat.

As you will soon see, I fell into a bit of a hole reading some stories published in Wired, after being linked to a Murderbot prequel. Wired's paywall only lets you read 4 stories a month, which is exactly why I stopped reading after four of their stories by authors that caught my eye. 🤷‍♀️

Then I went back to reading the issue of Uncanny I had put down a while ago. I originally put that one down because I was partway through a story that just wasn't doing it for me. Once I realised that no one was forcing me to read anything, I skipped the rest of that story and carried on with the issue. Huzzah.


Compulsory by Martha Wells — A short story about our beloved Murderbot, set before the main series. Contains no spoilers, so it’s also a good place for prospective readers to get a taste of the series. Source:

Trustless by Ken Liu — An interesting take on legal contracts: in the future they are coded (like computer code that needs to be compiled) and fully binding with regards to payment. As expected, a good read. Source:

Farm by Charlie Jane Anders — A super depressing take on the future state of journalism that I hope never comes to pass. Source:

Real Girls by Laurie Penny — A nice little story about fake AI girlfriends and feelings. I quite liked it. It got the tone exactly right for what it was. Source:

The Cook by C.L. Clark — A flash story about the romance between a soldier and a cook, both female. Source:

In Blue Lily’s Wake by Aliette de Bodard — A story set in the Mindship/Dai Viet universe. It’s about a plague that killed a lot of humans and one Mindship. The nature of the disease, involving strange hallucinations, made this a slightly surreal read and a little difficult to follow in my jetlagged state. But I mostly enjoyed it. Source:

Persephone in Hades by Theodora Goss — A fairly narrative poem on the subject matter, examine motives. Source:

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Resist Fascism edited by Bart R. Leib and Kay T. Holt

Resist Fascism edited by Bart R. Leib and Kay T. Holt is a mini-anthology of stories about exactly what the title advertises. I backed it on Kickstarter because a friend who's in it (Rivqa Rafael) drew my attention to it. It made for an interesting read.


The world is in turmoil. The world is always in turmoil, but in recent years, people have seen violence and hatred become proud instead of ashamed. What meager rights we've fought for are being deliberately eroded. And the vulnerable have any help stripped away. All of this is happening openly and without fear of reprisal. And the worst perpetrators are some of the largest governments of the world.

Resisting the spread of fascism is as important now as it was 75 years ago. And there are many effective ways to resist.

RESIST FASCISM is a micro-anthology of science fiction and fantasy tales that explore the many and varied ways people can fight back. From helping promote low-income housing, to fighting fascists hand-to-hand, to burning it all down. Best of all, RESIST FASCISM shows that you don't have to be a hero to advance change.

These stories were all good reads and, as usual, I've written some notes about each one at the end of this review. Taken as a whole, this anthology definitely delivered on what it promised. I enjoyed most of the stories individually, but I did find that overall there was a very strong US-ian vibe and maybe more small rebellions than I would have preferred. My favourite stories were "Ask Me About My Book Club" by M. Michelle Bardon, which was fun to read as well as being powerful and "Meg's Last Bout of Genetic Smuggling" by Santiago Belluco which wasn't without its flaws, but backed a powerful punch. Also, I can't not mention "Pelecanimimus and the Battle for Mosquito Ridge" by Izzy Wasserstein for being so different from the rest, and also containing dinosaurs.

Overall, I recommend this short anthology to anyone that finds the theme appealing. Aside from the Americanism mentioned above, I didn't find the stories repetitive and, unexpectedly, read the whole anthology through, without reading other stories in between.


To Rain Upon One City by Rivqa Rafael — A story set in a future on another world, where the poor aren’t even allowed fresh water that rains outside, but must drink recycled water as they barely scrape by. The main character, despite her youth, spends most of her time looking after her mother. I liked this story and I thought the martial arts aspect was a nice distinguishing touch.

3.4 oz by R.K. Kalaw — A story set in a dystopian world where airport security scanners check for emotions as well as liquids etc. To seem as compliant and unthreatening as possible, put protagonist must use magic to hide emotions. It’s also a story about family, love, and risk.

In the Background by Barbara Krasnoff — A story of small resistance in a world where rights have been eroded away. I liked it, although it leaves a lot unsaid.

The Seventh Street Matriarchy by Marie Vibbert — This story is about a housing estate and the new case worker who notices something odd when she’s assigned there. The story is about resisting corruption as much as actual fascism, but, either way, I liked it.

We Speak in Tongues of Flame by J L George — This story was rather more fantastical than lose of those that went before it. It has clear fantasy elements and a less obvious context. It’s definitely about resisting, though.

Meet Me at State Sponsored Movie Night by Tiffany E. Wilson — Young women briefly hijack the state-sponsored movie night to show some old cartoons instead of propaganda. It was a very minor form of resistance do while the story was clearly building up to something more off the page, I didn’t enjoy this story as much as some of the others. It felt like a very American take on the problem. (Also, if they have frequent blackouts, why not go back to cheap analogue watches instead of wasting precious smartphone battery just to check the time?)

Ask Me About My Book Club by M. Michelle Bardon — This is probably my favourite story in this anthology so far. After literal dragons take over the US government, a book club of witches form a resistance, posting coded photos of their brunch online while discussing books. I kind of guessed part of the ending, but it was still a very solid story. Recommended for fans of Tansy Rayner Roberts.

Pelecanimimus and the Battle for Mosquito Ridge by Izzy Wasserstein — Quite a different tone for this one. An epistolary story set during World War II in which a solder writing to his sweetheart back home talks about fighting fascists and also discovering and befriending some dinosaurs in Spain (they sounded like velociraptor to me). A welcome change of pace in this collection.

Meg's Last Bout of Genetic Smuggling by Santiago Belluco — This was a really solid story and a good way to end the anthology. It’s about a girl from Mars smuggling culture and information to Texas/Earth, where such things are banned. It took an interesting angle, sociologically as well as scientifically, and the ending packed a powerful punch. My only quibble was with the small issues that arose from the male author writing the female protagonist and getting a few details off. Disappointing but it wasn’t enough to ruin the story for me.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: November 2018, Crossed Genres Publications
Series: No
Format read: ePub
Source: From backing on Kickstarter

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Tea and Sympathetic Magic by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Tea and Sympathetic Magic by Tansy Rayner Roberts is a short novella set in a new fantasy world that I believe the author is planning to come back to. I actually started reading this in the middle of the night after finishing my previous book and having a bout of insomnia. It's so short I finished it the same night and even managed to get some sleep afterwards. (Not enough, but still.)

Meet Miss Mnemosyne Seabourne, the one lady in the Teacup Isles who doesn't want to marry the Duke. Meet Mr Thornbury, a spellcracker whose job is protecting the Duke from the love charms of eligible ladies. Together, they fight elopements!

Featuring croquet, libraries, enchantresses, teacups, portals and cake.

We have a protagonist who has no interest in marrying her ducal cousin but who is unfortunately in possession of a mother who is very keen on the idea. We also have a magic steeped world, with croquet reminiscent of the Disney Alice in Wonderland cartoon (but without the Red Queen), and portals for men to travel through (but not women). And of course there's the non-landed spellcracker who Mneme finds far more interesting than the cousin her mother wants her to marry.

All in all, a very fun read. The climax was dramatic, to say the least, and the plot was exciting when it needed to be and amusing most of the time. I am certainly interested in reading more stories in this world.

I highly recommend Tea and Sympathetic Magic to fans of Roberts' other light-hearted fantasy stories. It's a new setting, but I don't think anyone will be disappointed, except, perhaps, by the fact there isn't more.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: December 2018, via Patreon
Series: Yes? I think so.
Format read: ePub
Source: Tansy Rayner Roberts' Patreon
Disclaimer: Although the author is a friend, I have endeavoured to write an unbiased review

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Marry Me Mischa McPhee by Kate Gordon

Marry Me Mischa McPhee by Kate Gordon is a contemporary Christmas romance novella. It's not my usual genre (seeing as I'm not a fan of Christmas nor Romance) but I was drawn in by the promise of a queer romance and not too much Christmas. Also, I enjoyed Girl Running, Boy Falling, so why not.

When Maddy discovers a love note scrawled on the toilet cubicle wall at work, she decides to go on a quest to find out who wrote it and to see if, just maybe, it was intended for her.

This sweet Christmas holiday romance set in Hobart, Tasmania, is just the thing you need to ease into the festive season this year. BYO cup of hot chocolate and slice of cake!

This was a quirky fun read with a diverse cast and a bisexual protagonist. I admit that part of my amusement when reading this book was at some of the silly things Maddy did or didn't notice other people doing. In some books this sort of thing annoys me, but it worked well in this one since it was very clear when and with what Maddy was being distracted.

Although we only see Maddy over a short period, we get enough background context to see how much she's grown as a person over the past few years. Her mix of confidence and insecurity underscores this, also, her general character traits mesh well with the story and its development. And I was amused with how she kept going back and forth on the gender of the mystery person she was trying to track down.

This was a fun read and I recommend it to anyone who likes light and fluffy romance stories with a bit of a Christmas theme. I'm not about to immerse myself in the genre, but I enjoyed reading Marry Me Mischa McPhee and it made me laugh a few times. I will certainly be keeping an eye on Gordon's future output.

4 / 5 stars

First published: December 2018, Twelfth Planet Press
Series: No.
Format read: ePub
Source: ARC from Publisher
Disclaimer: Note that the author and publisher are friends of mine. Nevertheless, I have endeavoured to write an unbiased review.

Monday, 3 December 2018

#ReadShortStories in another direction (186 to 190)

As I write the story count in the title of this blog post, I realise how close I am to hitting 200 stories read in 2018. Looks like I won't have much trouble reaching that goal and will probably end up going a bit over. While not finishing on a round number is a little disappointing, it would be weirder to stop so inorganically. Overall, it looks like this short story reading and blogging experiment has worked well and I will probably continue with it next year.

In other news, it was after the first two stories in this batch that I decided to give up on How to Fracture a Fairytale by Jane Yolen, so don't expect to see more of those stories here. You can read about why in this blog post.

Sleeping Ugly by Jane Yolen — A children’s story but an amusing remix of Sleeping Beauty. The tone worked well for this one, I thought. Source: How To Fracture A Fairy Tale by Jane Yolen

The Undine by Jane Yolen — A more depressing version of The Little Mermaid? I’m not really sure what we were meant to take from this very short story. Source: How To Fracture A Fairy Tale by Jane Yolen

Next Station, Shibuya by Iori Kusano — A lovely and faintly creepy story told in second person from the point of view of a city, abut a grad student studying historic geography through poetry. I enjoyed the calm tempo of the story and the gorgeous imagery of Tokyo. Source:

We Interrupt This Broadcast by Mary Robinette Kowal — A prequel short story to The Calculating Stars that had me exclaiming in disbelief. Is this cannon? I’m not sure, but it’s an interesting and quick read for people who have read the novels or the novelette (I don’t know that it stands alone nearly as well). Source:

To Rain Upon One City by Rivqa Rafael — A story set in a future on another world, where the poor aren’t even allowed fresh water that rains outside, but must drink recycled water as they barely scrape by. The main character, despite her youth, spends most of her time looking after her mother. I liked this story and I thought the martial arts aspect was a nice distinguishing touch. Source: Resist Fascism edited by Bart R. Leib and Kay T. Holt

Saturday, 1 December 2018

How To Fracture a Fairytale by Jane Yolen — DNF

How To Fracture a Fairytale by Jane Yolen is a collection of short stories from across the author's long career. I hadn't read anything of hers before I picked up this book, but I'd heard good things, so I was looking forward to it. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy reading this book. I got a bit over half way before I decided to give up. This was not an easy decision, but I seem to keep promising that I'll let myself DNF books and in the end I figured it was time that I just put the book down, even though it's a review copy. Since it's short stories, I will still include my individual story reviews below and a bit about why this book didn't work for me.

Fantasy legend Jane Yolen presents a wide-ranging offering of fractured fairy tales. Yolen fractures the classics to reveal their crystalline secrets, holding them to the light and presenting them entirely transformed; where a spinner of straw into gold becomes a money-changer and the big bad wolf retires to a nursing home. Rediscover the tales you once knew, rewritten and refined for the world we now live in―or a much better version of it.

On the surface, these should be the kind of stories that I enjoy. For example, I am a bit fan of Angela Slatter's short stories, and a lot of those could easily be described as "fractured fairytales" (or shattered and twisted horribly...). Most of the stories in this book didn't stand up to those at all. I found most of the stories I read to be shallow and fairly bland. Some of this could be due to not standing the test of time well, but I don't think that applies to all the stories.

From the stories I did read, the best were definitely the ones drawing on Yolen's Jewish background. My favourite was "Granny Rumple", which was told in the style of a family story passed down a few generations. It had depth and feeling and more interesting characterisation than a lot of the other stories. To be fair, it was also a more lengthy story, but "Slipping Sideways Through Eternity" was short, involved the holocaust, and was also better than most of the other stories. The story I found most amusing was "The Bridge's Complaint", which was told from the point of view of the bridge and was an interesting take. The story that jarred me the most was "One Ox, Two Ox, Three Ox, and the Dragon King" which was long and just boring. I would guess that it was based on a Chinese story (and the author's afterword confirms this) but I don't see what this retelling added in terms of making an interesting story.

There were "about the story" bits at the end of the book, which I didn't read (except the one I just mentioned above, and that was only for this review) and poems which I couldn't be bothered trying, given my general exhaustion with this book. Honestly, I am going to be glad to stop seeing it in my currently reading section.

I obviously don't recommend this book. There are much better "fractured fairytales" in the world. I would recommend starting with Angela Slatter's, but she's hardly the only choice.


Snow in Summer — A short Snow White retelling with a more satisfying end for the stepmother.

The Bridge's Complaint — An amusing story about goats, a bridge and a troll, told from the perspective of the bridge. I rather enjoyed it.

The Moon Ribbon — A girl acquires an unpleasant step mother and step sisters (much like Cinderella) and a magic ribbon from her late mother. There is no ball but the abusive relations get what’s coming to them. A more interesting read for how far it deviates from the original.

Godmother Death — A story about Death and her godson. An enjoyable tale.

Happy Dens or A Day in the Wold Wolves' Home — A story containing three shorter stories. When Nurse Lamb goes to work at Happy Dens, where older wolves are looked after, she is at first afraid of being among all the wolves but then hears some famous fairytales from the wolves points of view and feels better about it all. It’s a story about spin — positive and negative — and how people tend to make themselves the heroes of the stories they tell. I couldn’t help but feel a bit uneasy about it. The stories told by the wolves were a bit too positive to be entirely believable (in the context of the story world)... or maybe it just hasn’t held up well in our current fake-news world.

Granny Rumple — I particularly liked this story. It’s told from Yolen’s own perspective and recounts a family story that has been passed down a few generations. The story itself is about a Jewish family, including a moneylender, living in a Ukrainian ghetto and some of their interactions with goyim. It is told as an alternate-perspective basis for the story of Rumpelstiltskin with bonus racism and a small pogrom thrown in. I feel like this story, trying to explore a similar theme of different perspectives to “Happy Dens”, does so in a much more compelling manner and I found it a much more engaging and confronting read.

One Ox, Two Ox, Three Ox, and the Dragon King — Three brothers set out to save their dying mother by retrieving a magical ring from a dragon. It wasn’t a terrible story, but it was on the long side and, ultimately, kind of unremarkable.

Brother Hart — A sad story about a pair of siblings, one of whom turns into a deer each day. I couldn’t work out which side I should be on while reading and it didn’t end happily.

Sun/Flight — I suppose this was inspired by Icarus, possibly with something else thrown in that I didn’t recognise. It didn’t really work for me. Fine, but meh.

Slipping Sideways Through Eternity — I liked this story. It’s about a modern fifteen year old who is briefly transported to 1943 by Elijah, who I gather from the story is a mythical Jewish figure.

The Foxwife — About a man and his kitsune wife, whom he treats badly once he learns of her nature. It was OK. Didn’t feel that “fractured” though.

The Faery Flag — A young laird is led into faeryland by his dog, falls in love with a faery and... it doesn’t end badly. I guess that’s subversive but it’s not sufficiently emotive to be interesting either.

One Old Man, with Seals — The story of an old lady living alone in a lighthouse and coming across an old man surrounded by seals. I wonder whether this story packs a more significant punch of the reader is familiar with the source material? I am not and what seemed like the punchline wasn’t very punchy.

Sleeping Ugly — A children’s story but an amusing remix of Sleeping Beauty. The tone worked well for this one, I thought.

The Undine — A more depressing version of The Little Mermaid? I’m not really sure what we were meant to take from this very short story.

And that was all I read. I started the next story, but just gave up in psychological exhaustion. I list the rest of the stories below for some semblance of completion.

Great-Grandfather Dragon's Tale
Green Plague
The Unicorn and the Pool
The Golden Balls
Sister Death
Sule Skerry
Once a Good Man
The Gwynhfar
Cinder Elephant
Mama Gone
The Woman Who Loved a Bear
Wrestling with Angels

No star rating.

First published: November 2018, Tachyon Publications
Series: No
Format read: eARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley