A Good Heretic (CBR13 #40)

A Good Heretic (Wayfarers, #0.5)

There are a handful of authors that I am simply delighted Cannonball Read has put on my reading radar. Becky Chambers is absolutely one of those. Her The Wayfarers series helped to cement for me my enjoyment of space based science fiction, while simultaneously reaffirming that one doesn’t need to rely on the hero’s journey in order to write excellent genre fiction. My favorite genre books are all character driven, and that is just the kind of exploration and survival stories to which Chambers excels.

A Good Heretic finds its existence in the sidelines of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet and one (including me) can be forgiven for not necessarily remembering the plot specifics this many years out from publication as that book spends over 400 pages bouncing from one small adventure to another. But that book doesn’t really need much else, and neither does this short story. For both their strengths lie in the small things. In the Galactic Commons, an interstellar, interspecies union established for ease of trade and travel, Faster than Light travel is illegal, so transportation between systems is facilitated through a vast network of constructed wormholes. The construction of wormholes is impossible without the mathematical contributions of the Sianat, a reclusive race who intentionally infect themselves with a virus that enhances specific cognitive abilities (at the cost of shortening their lifespan). Infected Sianat are properly called “Pairs,” and think of themselves as plural entities. In The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, we’re introduced to mainstream Sianat culture through Ohan, a Navigator aboard a tunneling ship. However, we receive a glimpse of an alternate Sianat way of life through the character Mas, who we meet briefly late in the book. A Good Heretic is her story, a story of what happens when they life we are destined for is not actually the life that we have grown to anticipate.

Chambers has the gift of writing these stories of people living on spaceships who act like people you interact with every day. Chambers captures what informs our humanity and she uses the small details that tell us so much about who we are to craft vivid writing with exceptional world-building. What Chambers can do in a matter of sentences to build her locations is superb.

While this story is my least favorite of all the Chambers I’ve read (I am still holding onto the final Wayfarers book, The Galaxy, and the Ground Within) it is still a good small bite to get an idea if her writing is for you, with the addition of giving a bit of extra insight into one of the corners of her universe that didn’t get as much exploration as it might have in the larger series. But, while you do not have to have read The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet to read this one, it might make more sense if you have.

A Good Heretic is available in the Infinite Stars: Dark Frontiers anthology and also at this link for free.

The Sense and Sensibility Screenplay & Diaries (CBR13 #39)


The 1995 movie adaptation of Sense and Sensibility is maybe my favorite movie adaptation ever and is certainly in my top five movies of all time. I will watch it when I’m happy, when I’m sad, when I’m wistful, when I’m tired. It makes my heart happy and is one of my go to tools in the self-care toolbox.

While I have read many Austen related books I had never poked around into books about the movie adaptations. Then in May of this year the existence of this book (and its availability in my library system) came to my notice and it went onto my request list immediately. Which, the timing was excellent because July and early August have just been brutal in my world and an evening with Emma Thompson, her diaries, the shooting script, and the movie itself seemed just a thing I deserved to give myself.

Which is exactly what I did. The book has a lovely introduction from the movie’s producer Lindsay Doran who shepherded the movie’s creation from thought to final product. I then flipped to the rear section of the book and read Thompson’s diary entries from the filming and enjoyed her wit and a peek behind the scenes. Then I pulled up the movie itself and read along with the shooting script sections (and the behind the scenes photos) while the movie played. What I noticed was the few places where obvious cuts had been made, and the places where it was much more scalpel like cutting, in some of what are now my favorite scenes. But what I was really struck with was how some of the best scenes on film come directly from the scene set-ups before dialog begins (I’m thinking specifically of Thompson’s Elinor watching Edward and Margaret out the window). A fine way to spend an evening, especially while home sick from work.

Battle Royal (CBR13 #38)

Battle Royal (Palace Insiders #1)

I absolutely adored Lucy Parker’s London Celebrities series and was excited to get my hands on the first book in her next series, Battle Royal. How could I not be excited for a book where the introduction to our protagonists involves a confectionary unicorn hoof hitting one of them on the forehead mid-judging of a televised baking competition?

After that first meeting four years ago Sylvie Fairchild has gone on to open her own bakery, Sugar Fair, across the street from Dominic De Vere’s eponymous shop. She (and her business) is all things fantastical while De Vere’s is much more classic in its aesthetic (Sylvie describes his color palette as ranging from white to cream). The television show where Dominic is a judge and Sylvie is a former contestant is in need of a new third judge, and Sylvie is tapped for the job as one of their most popular former contestants with a successful baking business. Dominic and Sylvie are thrown together during filming, and they are both in the process of trying to land the contract to create the wedding cake for the King’s eldest granddaughter whose aesthetic is much more in line with Sylvie’s, but Dominic’s family bakery has been the go-to for decades.

What I love about this book is that while a good synopsis I’ve just written, it covers almost nothing of the core of the story. Sure, it gives you the beats of the plot (mostly, this book has a lot of plot) but it doesn’t really give you the heart of the story. For the life of me, I’m struggling to review the heart of the book forty-eight hours out from having finished it. While Sylvie and Dominic are presented as opposites and rivals, they are much more kindred spirited than is initially evident. Parker does what she does best, she slowly but surely layers in depth to her characters and provides them with deep inner lives. Watching how Dominic is surprised, but not all that surprised, at how natural it feels to let Sophie in was one of my happiest reading moments of the year because it rang so honest.

One of the things I’ve been grousing about in other reviews is the un-needed third act break up. It is my contention that while there often needs to be a tension point to be released, it doesn’t always need to come in the form of a break-up or large, boisterous fight. Battle Royal does a great job of proving my point for me. Something happens in Sylvie’s life that makes her nervous about how fast and how deep her feelings for Dominic have developed and with that added to her personal scars surrounding death and loss makes her step back emotionally. Dominic gives her the space she needs to work through whatever it is, and once he’s called back to action by Sylvie’s friend and coworker, he waits for Sylvie to explain what’s happening, giving her the space to do so even while it makes him scared that she might be pulling away full stop. This is the tension point of the story: she has to be open to what truly feeling might cost, he has to be open to the vulnerability of truly letting someone in and the events of the 80% mark do that without making it a fight between them. That was the moment I decided I was rounding this one up to 5 stars.

Content warnings for: discussion of grief (death of family members, including a memory of a death scene in a hospital), parental neglect of child (memory), attempted knife attack.

I was granted an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Searcher (CBR #37)

The Searcher

I waited to pick up a Tana French novel even though she is highly regarded. Late last year I commented on narfna’s review that I was hesitant to pick up another author who writes an ongoing series (I’ve got the Inspector Gamache books to contend with) and that’s true enough. But I think another component was that I knew French wrote gritty, hard-boiled crime novels and I just wasn’t in the mood for those, no matter the quality of the writing (the Gamache books are much more on the cozy end of the spectrum most of the time). But I’m damn glad that I put that aside to pick up French’s latest, the standalone The Searcher because good god can this woman write.

Even knowing that this book is slower paced and less twisting than her other books I can see the places where she would do that, if she wasn’t meditating on the Western format here and embracing its slower ways. The Searcher gives us a classic stoic loner in retired Chicago detective Cal Hooper living in the rather remote village of Artnakelty, Ireland. While still on the relatively young side for retirement (Cal put his papers in when he hit his 25 years so is in his late 40s) Cal’s plans are to fix up the decaying cottage he’s bought, to walk the mountains, learn the rhythms of the village, and to put some space between who he was on the job and who he is now. Cal is doing okay with that plan until a local kid comes to him for help, Trey’s older brother Brendan is missing, and Trey can’t find anyone that cares enough to help find out what happened, and thinks the retired American Cop is their best bet. Cal finds himself pulled in, if only for wanting to keep Trey out of trouble, but as he starts to poke around the edges of Brendan’s disappearance it quickly becomes clear that something is wrong in the community, and he must find out what, even if it brings trouble to his door.

In lesser hands Cal would be a cypher. But French is not lesser hands. We receive the narration from Cal and for the first 30 or so pages I was worried about being in his head, wondering if there would be enough depth. I should never have worried; Cal is an incredibly nuanced creation. Cal (and the other main cast) is a fully realized character in that French layers him with habits, characteristics, and an inner dialogue that flesh out the core of the man, even if he is no longer sure he can trust his own instincts. Cal is a quiet man who has abandoned the city for the rural in an effort to get away from himself and the world. But he is also a man with a code and does his best to live by it.

What I loved about French’s characterization is that she uses the physical surroundings of each character to inform them, almost as much – if not more – than what they do or say. This is maybe the most evident in Lena. She is sparingly in the novel, but Cal’s visit to her home solidifies instantly who she is, where her motivations lie, and what her personal code is. French writes such lived in spaces and peppers in small details that tell a larger truth, and in turn speak truth about the characters. The book is a whole mood, and the spaces add to it.

French is poking at a lot of different things in The Searcher, a not too small one is how community grows to include newcomers, but also turns its back on those it deems unworthy. Trey is ignored more for the sins of their father than for their own actions, Brendan’s disappearance (seemingly) carries little weight as young people take off all the time not to mention his and Trey’s father’s up and leaving. Cal finds himself in cyclical ins and outs with his neighbors and the men down at the pub, all for asking questions that should have straightforward answers, but don’t.

There is a ton I’m not talking about here, I’m sure someone is going to write an absolute stunning thesis on what French accomplishes in this book. The Searcher is full of morally ambiguous characters and their actions that leave you ruminating, but that’s a good thing. I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent reading, and thinking about what I read and how it felt. It is now time to go put In the Woods on my to read list, French has another reader.

This Is How You Lose the Time War (CBR13 #36)

This Is How You Lose the Time War

I was intimidated by this book, which feels like a strange thing to say about a book that measures no more than 7 inches tall and less than 200 pages. But I was. A book that inspires so many positive, nay gushing, reviews that also seems to leave the reviewer at a loss for how to describe the book (see please reviews by Aquillia, andtheIToldYouSos, carriejay, and emmalita as a place to start) had me putting it on and taking it off my to read list several times. Then Joanna Robinson did an interview with one half of the author team, Amal El-Mohtar, on the Still Watching: Loki podcast to talk about time travel stories and constructing multiverses and I could no longer pretend that I wasn’t very, very interested in what this little book contained.

It contains, as one might say, multitudes.

It’s a time travel story, it’s a love story, it’s a spy thriller, it’s a work of suspense, it’s a post-apocalyptic story, and its an epistolary novel. This is How You Lose the Time War is the story of an unlikely correspondence between two rivals, known as Red and Blue, intent on securing the future for their warring factions. What begins as a show of respect and one upmanship grows into something romantic which if discovered could be the end of both. Something that could change the past and the future. And after all, someone has to win the war.

While Red and Blue hop through strands of history doing their work and undoing each other’s we the reader are treated to the beauty of the language they use in their communications (and oh how varied and special their methods of delivery) and the emotions that language represents. There’s a savagery to their imagery, a hunger, and it pulls you right in. Details aren’t wasted in the prose, which honestly almost kept this a four-star book, not five, because the things that aren’t explained and instead only hinted at often left me scratching my head initially. But then I learned to love that confused feeling in my brain, the feeling that the book was smarter than me, but not in a way designed to make me feel poorly.

This book has landed a lot of awards (Hugo Award for Best Novella 2020, Nebula Award for Best Novella 2019, Locus Award for Best Novella 2020, and the British Science Fiction Association Award for Best Shorter Fiction 2019), and I can easily see why. I’ve already informed Ale that this book is being passed off to her next since I have time left on my library renewal, its just that kind of book. You want to find it its next reader.