Tag Archives: Sin du Jour

The SF Bluestocking Winter 2017 Reading List Wrap-Up

Spring has already sprung here in Ohio, both technically and actually, judging from the amount of allergy trouble I’ve been having the last couple of weeks, and I’m working on getting together my reading list for the next three months (look for it this week!), but I thought first I’d take a look at what I’ve read in the first three months of 2017. Last year was such a terrible year for me that I ended up struggling a lot to write much about what I read, though I read quite a bit. The good news is that this year I’ve been off to a pretty strong start, getting through most of my Winter Reading List and even reading a couple of things that weren’t on there. I’ve even written about almost everything I’ve read, even if it was just a short blurb and a star rating on Goodreads, although I am still finishing up my last few reviews of titles from my winter list.

This post, however, is about celebrating the best and most exciting of what I’ve read in the last three months.

29939303Best Fantasy Novel – Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer

Crossroads of Canopy is a gorgeously imagined book about a young woman’s political awakening when she’s forced to question everything she knows about her society and herself. It’s set in a marvelously unique fantasy world in which people live in cities built in the tops of trees in an enormous rain forest, and it’s worth reading for the inventive worldbuilding alone, but it’s also got a wonderfully difficult and complex protagonist in Unar. Crossroads is a story about the roots of a revolution, and I cannot wait to see what happens next in Thoraiya Dyer’s Titan’s Forest series. While it’s not as thrillingly groundbreaking as, say, N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth SeasonCrossroads of Canopy is, for me, similar in the the sense that it’s exactly the sort of thing I think of when looking towards the future of the genre, especially as it broadens to include epic fantasy that isn’t set in some analogue or other of medieval Europe.

29939160Best Science Fiction Novel – The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi

This book was a complete surprise to me in every way. I’ve always rather intended to pick up something by John Scalzi, but I’ve never quite gotten around to it as I seldom read work by white men and have been mostly interested in new books, standalone titles, and debut authors in the last couple of years. Tons of people I know love Scalzi’s work, though, and since The Collapsing Empire is his newest book and the first in a series, it seemed like as good a time as any to check him out, especially when I got a surprise early copy in the mail from the publisher. It’s really good and hands down the most enjoyable thing I’ve read so far this year, smartly plotted and fast-paced, with lots of snappy dialogue and a great sense of humor. I couldn’t put it down.

33775885Best Magazine – FIYAH Literary Magazine, Issue 1, Rebirth

The first issue of FIYAH is excellent from its beautiful cover art to its collection of perfectly curated short fiction. With evidence mounting up that black readers and writers aren’t being served and included the way they should be in genre publishing, FIYAH is a uniquely valuable space for stories by, for and about black people. My favorite story in this issue was “Chesirah” by L.D. Lewis, but “The Shade Caller” by DaVaun Sanders and “Long Time Lurker, First Time Bomber” by Malon Edwards were also standouts. If I have any complaint about the magazine, it’s that I’d love to see more nonfiction content in it, but that’s purely a personal preference. Issue 2 will be out on April 1.

marapr17_issue15covermed-340x510Best Novella – “And Then There Were (N-One)” by Sarah Pinsker

I at least try to read all of Tor.com’s novellas as a matter of course, and they’re pretty prolific, so I would have expected one of those to be my favorite so far. However, the fine folks at Uncanny just published their first ever (short) novella in #15, and it’s wonderful. Sarah Pinsker’s story of a convention–SarahCon–for Sarah’s from thousands of alternate reality might be my favorite novella of the last several years, to be honest. It’s smart and funny and thoughtful in perfect proportions. It was enchanting from page one, and it’s a story and concept that has been often on my mind ever since I read it. “And Then There Were (N-One)” will be available to read for free online on April 4.

33964649Best Comic Book – Ladycastle #1 by Delilah S. Dawson and Ashley A. Woods

I only read one comic in the last three months, but it was a good one. Since the sad/infuriating circumstances that led to the indefinite hiatus of Rat Queens, I’ve had a definitively medieval-fantasy-comic-shaped hole in my life, and Ladycastle is the perfect thing to fill it with. The art is slightly more cartoonish than I usually prefer, but it grew on me as I fell in love with the story and characters. The only problem with it is that there isn’t more of it, and they seem to be working on a slow production schedule with a couple months between issues. I want it all now.

31216072Best Sin du Jour Novella – Idle Ingredients by Matt Wallace

Okay, so it’s the only Sin du Jour book published so far this year, but it’s awesome. And look at that cover! I always buy these as ebooks to save space, but the covers just keep getting better and better and I know I’m going to have to have them for my shelf. And this is why my dreams of getting rid of all my stuff and living some kind of minimalist backpacker lifestyle will always stay just dreams. Seriously, though you should be reading this series. They’re sharply written, laugh-out-loud funny, and have some of the best action scenes you’re going to find in print. This volume went a little heavier on character development, but in the last one a dude fought an evil Easter Bunny demon thing and it was rad.

31707853Best Non-SFF Thing I Read – Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

I’ll just quote from my own review of this title to explain why I loved it so much: “The stories in this volume are, from start to finish, thoughtful, clever, funny, tragic and hopeful in turn. These stories are a rage-filled paean to the strength and resilience and weakness and fragility and everything in between of women. This is an ugly, heart-wrenching, beautiful book, and if Roxane Gay wrote three hundred forty-four more stories like this I would treat them like a devotional and reread them every year for the rest of my life.” There are a couple of stories in this collection that are slightly SFF, but for the most part this collection is deeply rooted in the real world and real women’s experiences.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Borderline and Phantom Pains by Mishell Baker – I skipped the first book in this series last year, but I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it now.
  • Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty – A riveting locked-door mystery in space, with clones.
  • Brother’s Ruin by Emma Newman – I loved this first book in a new gaslamp fantasy series by the author of Planetfall. Probably my favorite thing I’ve read yet by Emma Newman.
  • Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer – This makes me feel about sci-fi the way that Crossroads of Canopy and The Fifth Season make me feel about fantasy.
  • Tor.com’s “Nevertheless, She Persisted” Short Fiction Event – This is well worth reading, but it just didn’t fit into any of my other categories here.

Biggest Disappointments:

  • Windwitch by Susan Dennard – I liked Truthwitch quite a lot last year, but this book only magnified all the problems of worldbuilding and character that were only minor plagues on the first one.
  • Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey – I was hyped to finally read something by this author, but this book felt unnecessary and self-indulgent, without much to say for itself or about Shakespeare or The Tempest.
  • The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – I wanted to like this much-buzzed-about book more than I did, but I had a hard time getting past the casual normalization of marital rape, the villainization of the rape victim, and the trivialization of her eventual sad fate.

Book Review: Pride’s Spell by Matt Wallace

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this lately, but I love Matt Wallace’s Sin du Jour series so very, very much. Sure, I might have started off feeling a little tepid towards it, but it’s new entries have quickly become some of my most anticipated new releases. They’re only getting better over time, and Pride’s Spell is the best one yet. It’s a smart, action-packed, hilariously absurdist romp and probably the most fun thing you can read this summer.

This installment takes half of the team to Hollywood, where they’re doing the catering for an important movie premiere that takes a sinister turn. That doesn’t mean the folks who stay behind in New York are off the hook, though. There’s not a lot to be said about the plot without giving the whole thing away, but if nothing else about this book appeals to you, it’s worth reading just to read the truly superb action scene where a dude fights an evil Easter Bunny.

That said, there’s a lot to love about Pride’s Spell, and it’s good to see the world Matt Wallace is creating start to feel a bit more lived in. There’s a definite monster-of-the-week feel to it that keeps each installment fresh and interesting, but three books in there’s also an internal logic emerging that is finally making the Sin Du Jour world feel fully realized. It also helps that the overarching plot of the series is starting to take shape and make a bit more sense out of the sometimes random-seeming events. The copious pop culture references will likely date the books in the future, but right now they work well to keep these stories grounded enough in reality that the reader can accept some of their more surreal qualities.

Distinct character arcs are starting to come together as well, particularly Lena’s, which was the biggest surprise of this book for me. When I read Envy of Angels, I rather thought that Lena’s roommate, Darren, would end up being the main character, but instead it’s Lena and her experiences that have been increasingly foregrounded. I’m glad because, while Darren’s rocky adjustment to the new job isn’t completely boring, I’d much rather read about Lena’s burgeoning friendships with other women, her professional accomplishments, and even her messy relationships with men. She’s a delightfully complex character who does everything with an admirable if occasionally ill-advised fierceness that makes her both admirable and relatable.

The only major issue I see with Pride’s Spell is that I don’t know if anyone will be able to make heads or tails of it without having read the previous installments of the series. While each novella is a self-contained adventure, there’s a lot going on, and enough references here to the previous books that I could definitely see an uninitiated reader feeling a bit adrift. The good news is that the series is really excellent and improving over time, and it’s not too late to start from the beginning. Sin Du Jour is a fast, fun read perfect for breaking reading slumps or relaxing between more challenging books. You could start with Pride’s Spell, and a clever reader will catch up quickly, but you really owe it to yourself to go back and read the first couple installments.

This review is based on an advance copy of the title received from the publisher through NetGalley.

Book Review: Lustlocked by Matt Wallace

I received a free advance copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley.

Lustlocked is the second in Matt Wallace’s Sin du Jour series, which began with the riotously funny Envy of Angels late last year. When I read the earlier volume, it was as part of my ongoing project of reading all of Tor.com’s new novellas, but I didn’t expect to like it much. Instead I found it quite enjoyable—smart and fast and a thoroughly fun read. I couldn’t wait for Lustlocked, and I was not disappointed.

It picks up more or less right where Envy of Angels ended, with Lena and Darren still kind of reeling from their experiences during their first days on the job at Sin du Jour and now faced with the decision of whether or not to sign on to the company on a more permanent basis. Of course they do, or there’d be very little story left to tell, and they (and we) quickly learn that there’s never a boring day at this catering outfit. The first job after Lena and Darren sign their contracts is a huge formal wedding for goblin royalty, which quickly gets out of hand when the bride complains that her in-laws aren’t always as nice to her as they could be and resident witch Boosha decides to do something about it.

Where Envy felt a little disjointed and too busy, with the fish-out-of-water story of Lena and Darren seeming almost incidental to the various other, more interesting storylines happening around it, Lustlocked finds a much better balance. There’s still an awful lot going on, including a sort of prologue that still seems somewhat out of place and disconnected from the main plot, which concerns a goblin wedding, but Lustlocked never feels overstuffed the way its predecessor sometimes did. Aside from the prologue, things flow along at a respectable and pleasantly methodical pace.

Where this second installment of the (hopefully open-ended and long-running) series really shines, though, is in continuing to bring to life its world and characters. Every new revelation about the mythology Matt Wallace is creating for this series is a new delight, and between Lustlocked itself and the bonus short story at the end (which was an excellent surprise) there was a ton of character background and development. I loved the sequence where Lena and Darren are being given a tour of the building, where I was glad to meet a couple of new characters. Wallace’s descriptions of food are delectably creative and full of vivid sensory descriptions, while his knowledge of the restaurant/catering/food business is definitely up to the task of making Sin du Jour feel like a real and lived-in place.

My only real criticism of the series so far is that I’m not quite sure what exactly Darren is there for. He didn’t make much of an impression on me in Envy, and he wasn’t much more present in Lustlocked. While Lena is really coming into her own as a character, Darren just kind of… exists. In a series as jam-packed with characters as this one, especially when being told in novella-length pieces, I kind of feel like every character really needs to exist for a specific reason. Lena is his roommate, and even she doesn’t seem to like or think about Darren very much at all, so he sadly ends up feeling superfluous.

In a bittersweet-in-hindsight turn of events, I read Lustlocked the day that David Bowie died, which feels a little like destiny, as it’s heavily implied in the book that David Bowie is/was an actual goblin king. I think this book might always be a little special to me because of that, as it’s a lovely tribute to the man, and one that I especially like because it is such pure, unadulterated fun. Of course David Bowie could be actual goblin royalty—IRL headcanon accepted.

Book Review: Envy of Angels by Matt Wallace

Probably my favorite thing about this first round of Tor.com novellas has been the wide variety of different stories they have included, and this one is definitely the one that is most different from all the rest. I didn’t have any particular expectations for Envy of Angels, not having read anything else by Matt Wallace, and I increasingly find that I rather enjoy reading like this. It turns out that Envy of Angels is a smart and very funny urban fantasy.

I love any book that makes me laugh out loud, and Envy of Angels did so more than once. It is a seriously hilarious story involving a couple of down-on-their-luck chefs, a catering company whose only clients are demons, and an angel that tastes just like chicken nuggets. Basically, Darren and Lena are looking for work, they get hired on at Sin du Jour, and this story deals with basically their first day of work.

It’s been a good while since I’ve used the phrase “hijinks ensue” unironically, but it’s definitely appropriate here.

I can’t write too much about the plot without spoiling half the jokes, so I will just say that this is an excellent little story to read if you need a break from reading all of this year’s fantastic more-serious novels. I finished Envy of Angels in a single afternoon because I didn’t want to put it down, so I’d also suggest being sure to just go ahead and make sure you’ve got a couple of hours free when you sit down to it.

I won’t say that Envy of Angels is a masterpiece, because it’s not. Some of the characters are a little too one-dimensional, the tone of the story can be uneven at times, the prose is workmanlike at best, and I occasionally felt as if the author wasn’t quite as clever as he thinks he is. Still, this is a super fun read, and sometimes that’s enough.

I don’t see myself searching out Matt Wallace’s other work anytime soon, but I’m definitely looking forward to the next Sin du Jour novella. Goodness knows, by the end of January I’m sure I’ll be ready for another light, fast, humorous read to chase away the winter doldrums.