Review: Untethered Sky

Title: Untethered Sky (April 11, 2023)
Author: Fonda Lee
Pages: 160


I’m a sucker for books about birds – so when a favorite author of mine pens a novella about giant hunting birds – I jump on board. In Untethered Sky, Fonda Lee’s words bring life to the majesty and power of the rocs, legendary birds of prey who keep the countryside clear of the monstrous manticores. 

Because of its short length, the story doesn’t have room to be overly complex, but Lee has managed to make a simple story poignant and affecting. She made me care deeply for these beautiful winged beasts and the bond they share with their keepers. I’d absolutely sign up for more stories set in this world.

★★★★

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Camp Zero

Title: Camp Zero (April 4, 2023)
Author: Michelle Min Sterling
Pages: 304


This was a pleasant surprise. Camp Zero is swiftly paced, has solid twists, and features multiple compelling interwoven storylines. Michelle Min Sterling’s vision of the future is intriguing, alarming, yet totally plausible.

The separate POVs are well-differentiated, as each character brings a unique perspective to the story and they intersect in surprising ways. Each narrative thread has mysteries to unspool and Sterling doles those out in a consistent and continuous manner so you’re never waiting too long for the next reveal. Sterling’s utilitarian prose is effective at moving the story forward, as well.

I had hoped for a tidier ending, but the conclusion sticks to the book’s themes of societal disarray and desperation that all the characters confront throughout, so I can’t complain too much.

★★★★

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Walking Practice

Title: Walking Practice: A Novel (March 14, 2023)
Author: Dolki Min
Translated by: Victoria Caudle
Pages: 176


Being a human is awkward. Dating is awkward. Pretending to be a human, whilst dating, whilst satisfying your insatiable alien urge to consume human flesh? Yep, also awkward. Walking Practice takes us inside the mind of such an alien, who cobbles themselves into some simulacrum of a human before seeking out its prey. 

I spent an amusing afternoon zipping through this story, as it’s written in a breezy, conversational way. It’s titillating, graphic, and occasionally grotesque. And while there are some interesting observations about gender politics at play here, I’d imagine this novella would be more effective as a short story, as the alien’s constant inner monologuing started to lose its luster and focus after the first section of the book.

I’ll be sure to check out the print version of this book when it comes out, though, as the black and white line illustrations are really fantastic looking.

★★★¼

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Saint of Bright Doors

Title: The Saint of Bright Doors (July 11, 2023)
Author: Vajra Chandrasekera
Pages: 368


I’ve never read anything like The Saint of Bright Doors – wildly inventive, totally mesmerizing, and it upended my expectations at every turn. It reads like an established author’s career-defining masterpiece, rather than a debut novel. 

Vajra Chandrasekera paints a vivid picture of a city on the brink – told through the eyes of a man born and raised to be a master assassin, a catalyst of change in the world, bound for one singular purpose – but his skills dull from disuse and he strays from his destined path. The synopsis may not sound unique, but the tale and its telling are wholly original.

I was so impressed with Chandrasekera’s ability to craft a complex, political, and also surreal story in such an intelligible way. I was spellbound the entire time I spent with this book and I can’t wait to read it again, just to recapture some of the awe I felt the first time around.

★★★★★

My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Review: The Legend of Charlie Fish

Title: The Legend of Charlie Fish (July 25, 2023)
Author: Josh Rountree
Pages: 192


A found-family, a foreboding forecast, formidable foes, and a…fish man? 

The Legend of Charlie Fish is a cracking Western yarn that hooked me from the start. Whether or not it actually needs its eponymous gill-man to be a compelling tale was a question I asked throughout my time with this book – but that’s more of an aftereffect of how invested I became in the other characters that were the main focus of the story.

By recounting their past tales of loss and longing, Rountree effectively crafts deep characterizations for each of his cast members and makes you care for their plight, especially during the breathless final act as a colossal hurricane bears down on their Galveston locale. 

I was thoroughly taken with this story, Rountree’s writing, and the unique island setting. Definitely add this to your TBRs.

★★★★½

My thanks to Edelweiss and the publisher for an advanced reader copy in exchange for an honest review.

Top 10 Books of 2022

10. Empire of Exiles

Books of the Usurper #1
by Erin M. Evans

You can tell that Evans poured all of her nerdery into this book and it’s impressive to behold...The world feels ripe for exploration and it’s setting up for a great trilogy.

FULL REVIEW


9. The Bone Orchard

by Sara Mueller

The Bone Orchard is an ambitious and inventive novel about the lengths someone will go for self-preservation amidst extreme trauma. 

FULL REVIEW


8. How High We Go in the Dark

by Sequoia Nagamatsu

There is no shortage of dark humor to be found among the increasingly macabre story beats of How High We Go in the Dark. Even so, some sections are just incredibly devastating to read and that’s a credit to Nagamatsu’s excellent writing.

FULL REVIEW


7. Lark Ascending

by Silas House

House’s no-frills, plainly-told story is a refreshing change of pace from similar novels that might get bogged down with worldbuilding about the fall of our civilization. It’s visceral, heart-rending, but filled with hope and promise about the resiliency of a boy growing up under unspeakable conditions. 

FULL REVIEW


6. Fevered Star

Between Earthy & Sky #2
by Rebecca Roanhorse

Fevered Star is a worthy follow-up to Black Sun, one of my favorite books of the last few years. This is epic fantasy of the highest order and Roanhorse’s writing is a joy to read. 

FULL REVIEW


5. A Prayer for the Crown-Shy

Monk & Robot #2
by Becky Chambers

A heartwarming continuation of the adventures of our beloved robot and human companions, Mosscap and Dex. Much like the first novella, I so enjoyed the time spent in this world and with its inhabitants. 

FULL REVIEW

4. The Jade Setter of Janloon

The Green Bone Saga #0.5
by Fonda Lee

Fonda Lee was still able to craft an exciting, tightly-plotted, and complete story featuring many of the hallmarks that made the Green Bone Saga so compelling…if you loved the Green Bone Saga and aren’t ready to leave Janloon behind just yet, this is a supremely satisfying read.

FULL REVIEW


3. Neom

A Central Station Novel
by Lavie Tidhar

This was superb and I’m in awe of Tidhar’s vision. He’s conjured up a futuristic city that feels simultaneously ultramodern and also run down. The rich histories of the region and its cultures are seamlessly interwoven into the fabric of this fully-realized world.

FULL REVIEW

2. Venemous Lumpsucker

by Ned Beauman

This is the most delightful book about mass species extinction that you’ll ever read. Ned Beauman employs pitch-perfect gallows humor to engage with human-caused environmental destruction in a fresh and exciting way…very, very funny…fast paced, an engaging story, smart humor, and interesting characters. This book is a winner.

FULL REVIEW


1. The Spear Cuts Through Water

by Simon Jimenez

What. A. Novel. Simon Jimenez is operating on another level with The Spear Cuts Through Water. This is an evocative tale that beautifully blends fantasy, reality, and fable into a perfect package. To summarize the plot here would deprive you of the wonderful journey that awaits you once you crack open the first page. 

Jimenez simultaneously (and effectively) tells multiple nested stories, while exploring the nature of identity, love, and intergenerational trauma. The book is unwavering in its commitment to its characters, its story, and its structure. And it’s told with such fierce confidence and love that I was totally mesmerized from start to finish.

If The Vanished Birds (also excellent) didn’t put Jimenez on the map, The Spear Cuts Through Water definitely will. This is a special book.

FULL REVIEW


Review: Lark Ascending

I’d open my eyes and look out at the aching blue of the ocean–a color I had never seen in nature and that most likely only exists in the middle of the Atlantic, a gray blue like a storm cloud full of unspent lightning and unfallen rain.

Title: Lark Ascending (2022)
Author: Silas House
Pages: 288


I wasn’t just seasick; I was undone in sorrow.

Lark Ascending opens with our protagonist’s harrowing journey across the Atlantic Ocean as he flees fire-ravaged America. It’s a brutal voyage, rendered with mesmerizing imagery and soaked with angst. 

This is post-apocalyptic fiction, but House’s no-frills, plainly-told story is a refreshing change of pace from similar novels that might get bogged down with worldbuilding about the fall of our civilization. It’s visceral, heart-rending, but filled with hope and promise about the resiliency of a boy growing up under unspeakable conditions. 

★★★★

Review: Empire of Exiles

Title: Empire of Exiles (2022)
Author: Erin M. Evans
Pages: 432
Series: Books of the Usurper #1


A ruined civilization. A sequestered city. And a story told through the eyes of archivists who study the collected works of those cultures lost to time and war. 

You can tell that Evans poured all of her nerdery into this book and it’s impressive to behold. She throws everything under the sun into the worldbuilding and while that sometimes overshadows the murder mystery and character work, it all gels nonetheless.

The world Evans has built up feels ripe for exploration and it’s setting up for a great trilogy. With the murder mystery solved and a larger conspiracy laid bare, I’m intrigued to see what shape the next book will take.

The book is worth it for the incredible maps by Francesca Baerald alone.

★★★¾

Top Television of 2022

Aside from reading, I spent the remainder of my media consumption time on television. Although a departure for this blog, I wanted to put this list together to shout out my favorite TV from 2022, most of which has a speculative bent.

  1. Station Eleven (Limited Series – HBOMAX) – premiering in 2021, but finishing in 2022, this was the first AND single best thing I watched all year (Primacy bias be damned). I wish it had received a more rapturous reception. This adaptation improves on the source material in a way I did not think possible.
  2. Severance (Season 1 – Apple TV+) – odd, melancholic, and totally engrossing. A gem of a show. I’m not sure it needs to continue beyond Season 1, but I’ll be watching.
  3. The Bear (Season 1 – Hulu) – As good as everyone says it is. Fully immersive (and stressful) viewing.
  4. Little Women 🇰🇷 (Season 1 – Netflix) – absolutely insane on a week to week basis. Twist after twist. Totally bonkers, but so enjoyable. I’ve jumped headfirst into the K-Drama waters this year, and this was the best of the bunch I watched. More entries to come in 2023, I’m sure.
  5. What We Do in the Shadows (Season 4 – FX) – my favorite comedy of the last several years. Not as consistently funny as previous seasons (Baby Colin storyline was not for me), but the highs were very high. I rewatched Episode 5, “Night School” more times than I can count.
  6. Andor (Season 1 – Disney+) – The most interesting Star Wars show in ages. The production design, the art direction, the acting, the writing, the mini story-arcs. Everything is top-notch.
  7. Stranger Things (Season 4 – Netflix) – The first season to come close to recapturing the magic of Season 1. Everything here is so polished and makes for a wondrous experience.
  8. Young Royals 🇸🇪 (Season 2 – Netflix) – The music is outstanding. The leads are believable and have great chemistry. The whole ensemble is strong. I’m glad we’re getting a third and final season to wrap it all up.
  9. The White Lotus (Season 2 – HBO) – I’ve watched more of Mike White on-screen (Survivor, The Amazing Race, School of Rock) than I have of him behind the camera, but it’s all gold. Opening title sequence is a bop.
  10. For All Mankind (Season 3 – Apple TV+) – A series not afraid to make bold, head-scratching choices. But also one that you can’t wait to see what they think of next. It’s a bit of a come down from the heights of Season 2, but it’s still an incredibly compelling alternate history saga.
  11. Yellowjackets (Season 1 – Showtime)
  12. House of the Dragon (Season 1 – HBO)
  13. Players (Season 1 – Paramount+)
  14. Under the Queen’s Umbrella 🇰🇷 (Season 1 – Netflix)
  15. Reborn Rich 🇰🇷 (Season 1 – Viki)
  16. Hacks (Season 2 – HBO)
  17. The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (Season 1 – Prime Video)
  18. Big Mouth (Season 6 – Netflix)
  19. Bridgerton (Season 2 – Netflix)
  20. Better Call Saul (Season 6 – AMC)
  21. Derry Girls (Season 3 – Netflix)
  22. Barry (Season 3 – HBO)
  23. Ozark (Season 4 – Netflix)
  24. Light & Magic (Docuseries – Disney+)
  25. The Boys (Season 3 – Prime Video)
  26. Raised By Wolves (Season 2 – HBOMAX)
  27. Better Things (Season 5 – FX)
  28. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Season 1 – Disney+)
  29. Welcome to Wrexham (Docuseries – Season 1 – FX)
  30. Documentary Now! (Season 4 – IFC)
  31. Once Upon a Small Town 🇰🇷 (Season 1 – Netflix)
  32. Heartstopper (Season 1 – Netflix)
  33. The Book of Boba Fett (Season 1 – Disney+)
  34. The Afterparty (Season 1 – Apple TV+)
  35. Narco-Saints 🇰🇷 (Limited Series – Netflix)
  36. Ms. Marvel (Season 1 – Disney+)
  37. Behind Every Star 🇰🇷 (Season 1 – Netflix)
  38. Westworld (Season 4 – HBO)
  39. The Umbrella Academy (Season 3 – Netflix)