My May Reading Log

The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y. Yang is Asian-flavored science fantasy with a familiar plot, following the twin children of a dictator as they grow into their paranormal abilities and oppose their mother’s reign. Only one of the twins is a point of view character in this volume, which leads me to believe the companion volume/sequel features the other twin, the one with the more rare and powerful psychic gift. Neat stuff: gender is chosen when the child decides on it, and is then surgically/medically expressed; before that, you’re a child. One character does not choose to have gender expressed, which appears to be somewhat unusual in this society. Trigger: late in the book, there is a child death which I found upsetting. Overall, this is quality speculative fiction.

Rainbow Islands by Devin Harnois is a YA LGBTQA pirate novel, set in what seems to be a post-apocalyptic future. The first-person narrator is exiled from the Christian Republic to the Rainbow Islands of Sappho and Alexandros and discovers the wonders of free gender expression and found family. Fluffy escapism ensues, and also there are kraken, and giant flying eagles who bond with asexual humans exclusively. There is a war but it is remarkably non-traumatic. I was not opposed to any of this.

Song of the Navigator by Astrid Amara is a male/male space opera romance about Tover, a (he thinks) privileged improvisational space navigator taken captive by his mysterious lover Cruz and subsequently, accidentally, trapped with Evil Pirates and tortured. The torture was pretty visceral, even though he is rescued and nursed lovingly back to health by Cruz’s doctor mom and fed lovely food by Cruz’s sister. Eventually Tover forgives Cruz (whom I kept picturing as looking like Oscar Isaac because his planet is like a CO2-atmosphere version of Guatemala), because he is attempting to save his planet from the evil colonialist company that Tover works for. Triggers/Spoilers: torture, and the awesome doctor mom is killed, for which I am not sure I forgive this author. Otherwise, everything works out happily. The setting is imaginative and rich and complex, and there’s a lovely variety of characters in all shades of gray, whether they work for Evil Colonialist Company or fight against it.

Artificial Condition: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells was fun! The first-person narrator again swept me along, and some questions from the first story were answered, and the worldbuilding was deepened, and some new characters were introduced. My only sadness is that it felt too short.

Amberlough by Lara Elena Donnelly is a noir cabaret political novel that is entirely too close to what’s happening in the real world right now. It’s beautifully written, complex, and tragic. I probably should not have read it at this time. Recommended if you don’t mind bad things happening to people who are just trying to live their lives freely.

Radiance by Grace Draven is about a political marriage between a human and a human-shaped magical nonhuman who display amazing decency and practicality to cope with their situation, and develop a rich and lovely relationship. If you like “marriage of convenience” stories, you will very likely enjoy this quite a lot. I devoured it rather quickly. There are additional books that I will check out at some point.

Secrets in Death (Book 45) by J.D. Robb was, like other recent books in the series, a good thing to be reading in small chunks while very busy doing other things throughout the day. I think it was a bit better than the last one, but not terrific. I was mostly invested in wondering if anything exciting would happen to the secondary couple while they were on vacation, after the book ended.

Lone Wolf by Sara Driscoll is about an FBI agent and her scent tracking dog who get caught up in a serial bombing case. I learned about the many uses of forensic scent tracking in both apprehension of criminals and in search and rescue, but wasn’t hugely attached to any of the characters, or invested in the case, except when the tracking dog was potentially in danger. It featured good people with good intentions, with the exception of the bomber. It was a good airplane read.

The Unstoppable Wasp Vol. 1: Unstoppable! by Jeremy Whitley and Elsa Charretier features one of the newer heroes in the Marvel Universe, Earth-616, Nadia Pym, Hank Pym’s daughter from his first marriage. Nadia was raised in the Red Room, so has combat skills as well as Science! skills. She’s recently come to the States and is finding her place as a hero and a scientist, with the help of Janet Van Dyne (original Wasp) and Jarvis. She’s begun contacting a bunch of young female scientists to start her own lab, which looks like it will be the focus of Volume 2, which I’ve already purchased. …so I guess this is yet another Getting the Band Together iteration of my reading… Because of the optimistic outlook of the protagonist and the female focus, this comic reminded me of the recent Hellcat series by Kate Leth, minus the manga-style art. Recommended if you just want to read some damned enjoyable comics.

Invincible Iron Man: Ironheart Vol. 1: Riri Williams (Invincible Iron Man (2016-)) by Brian Michael Bendis got better as it went on, because Riri meets Pepper Potts. Otherwise, I’m still a bit annoyed that the superhero angst of a black teenager is gun violence; it just seems too on point, and in addition removed Riri’s single female friend, which no. Hook her up with the Unstoppable Wasp crew, stat; they are scientists and have things in common.

Monstress Volume 2: The Blood by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda continues being super-excellent with complex characters enacting mythic drama in a deliciously dense Asian-inflected fantasy world, where human witches devour the life energy of magical animal people, and dangerous gods are supposedly locked away but maybe not. Also, the gorgeous inkwashy art is so awesomely rich and detailed that I spend a really long time on each page; I can’t imagine this story looking any other way. Volume two has pirate mafia tigerpeople and a supremely creepy island of the dead that you can’t remember after you leave, at least if you are in the comic itself. I remember, and it was supremely creepy, parts of it like a twisted mirror of the forest in Princess Mononoke, except the little forest spirits are saying things in tiny speech bubbles like “help me,” and you see what looks like humans partially turned into trees. Maika, the protagonist, gets more information about her origins and the monstrous tentacle god she’s hosting, but it’s unclear if she remembers all of it. I am still wondering about the child fox Arcanic, Kippa, and if she will ever play a more complex role in the story than, essentially, The Doctor’s Companion.

Pretty Deadly Volume 2: The Bear by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios is also a perfect example of story and art being perfectly integrated, elongated figures adding to the supernatural feel. For a comic about death, I was actually a bit uplifted by this volume, though melancholy as well. The story has moved forward in time to World War One; an elderly woman from volume one is on her deathbed, and though her family has gathered to say goodbye, one son is in the trenches in France. (He’s black and American, which historically means he was most likely in the support services arm of the military, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be in a trench some of the time; he and another black guy are set to taking care of horses at one point, reinforcing the idea that they were initially there as support.) The Reapers are fighting War and Fear, and soldiers are fighting despair. I know this doesn’t sound uplifting, but it kind of was, because at the end, the dead tell their stories to feed the garden (an in-between place), and the garden feeds the world, and that vision of Story and legacy makes me tear up, because it says we’re not just destined to be compost, noble as compost might be.

Travelogue by neveralarch is a delightful story in which both Black Widow and Hawkeye have the hots for Bruce Banner, and keep “accidentally” running into him all over the world. Spoiler: they get it on.

watch them rolling back by napricot is an emotionally satisfying sequel to Avengers: Infinity War.

I re-read Ghosts by torch, a classic Krycek/Mulder X-Files story from the 1990s, in which it rains a lot, and there is sleeping in the same bed and wearing each other’s clothes. It’s still redolent of the 1990s and that period of fandom for me, and still a classic so far as I’m concerned.

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen [she, her] currently writes cozy space opera for Kalikoi. The novella series A Place of Refuge begins with Finding Refuge: Telepathic warrior Talia Avi, genius engineer Miki Boudreaux, and augmented soldier Faigin Balfour fought the fascist Federated Colonies for ten years, following the charismatic dissenter Jon Churchill. Then Jon disappeared, Talia was thought dead, and Miki and Faigin struggled to take Jon’s place and stay alive. When the FC is unexpectedly upended, Talia is reunited with her friends and they are given sanctuary on the enigmatic planet Refuge. The trio of former guerillas strive to recover from lifetimes of trauma, build new lives on a planet with endless horizons, and forge tender new connections with each other.
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