the Little Red Reviewer

Not sure I’m ready to “come back” to blogging, but I have a lot in my head about this book, and I wanna get all the words outta my head, ok?

I also need Netflix or HBO to make a TV show of The Grace of Sorcerers. Because reasons.

Non-spoilery stuff:

the Hua’s are purveyors of the impossible. No other family of warlocks and sorcerers are willing to take the risks the Hua’s are willing to take. How else to touch the impossible, but by doing that which no one else has every tried? From mother to daughter the arcane knowledge of sorcery is passed down. The Hua children need no outside tutors, who could possibly know more than their mother?

As purveyors of the impossible, it makes sense that the Hua women will be drawn towards that which can destroy them. This event is so common that there is a prophecy that promises it. Children laugh at prophecies, saying “that’s silly. That will never happen to me, I’m smarter than that”. Their mother’s too, once believed the same thing.

The Grace of Sorcerers by Maria Ying is a story about what we do for love. It’s a story about secrets, and promises, and that we can change without dying. Also? Hot as fuck.

Obligatory BLUNT and I AM NOT KIDDING adult content warning: if you don’t enjoy intensely hot lesbian sex scenes that were written by women, for women, thank you for playing please exit stage left, this is not the story for you. For those of you still here, this book gonna spoil you. You a can thank me later. If even one person asks me if this would be a good book for their 14 year old who is an advanced reader, you know what? Yes, I do in fact recommend this book for your teenager.

The secret to making me love your story is to tell me just less than I want to know. As the writer, you of course are welcome to know all that stuff. But don’t tell me all those details, keep me wanting, keep me looking for everything. Make me want it so bad I start making up my own stories. Maria Ying pulls that stunt not with world building, or magic systems, but with characters. These are people I want to follow around, I want to sneak into their houses and see what books they’re reading. I hate people, and I want to actually be social with these people. I want to be Dallas when I grow up.

I was not expecting the back-to-back-to-back kicks in the feels at the end of this book. I can’t wait to read it again and rip my heart into a million pieces all over again. The entire book pushed all my buttons, so I should have seen some of the kicks in the feels coming? You know, I did see one bit of it coming, but I was in denial because I didn’t want that to happen.

Spoilery stuff:

In the spirit of Choose Your Own Adventure and No One Needs a 3500 Word Blog Post, you are invited to read the following word soups in any order you please. This is how my brain works. There are spoilers. Have fun.

Click here to read about my obsession with Dallas.

Click here for a whole buncha obsessive word soup about Yves, true names, secrets, and the nature of time.

Click here to read about me fawning over with Elizaveta and Fahriye. I love them so much!

Click here for all the spoilers about Olesya

Click here to read all about how I got kicked in the feels by Dallas and Viveca, and the power of myth, grief-madness, and our inability to let go.

Who the heck is Maria Ying? Not only is she a character in The Grace of Sorcerers, she is the joint pseudonym of Benjanun Sriduangkaew and Devi Lacroix. This is my first time reading something from Devi. This is not the first time I’ve described Benjanun’s work as decadent, or been spoiled by the sex scenes she writes.

It would be a crime not to mention that last scene. You know the one I mean. How any other sex scene in any other book is supposed to live up to this, I have no idea.

I have high expectations of the fanfics that will be born out of that scene.

11 months into my sabbatical and . . .

I started grad school and it is kicking my ass.

Andy and I have published TWELVE episodes of Retro Rockets, with two more coming!

and . . . I finished reading the book that may very well get me back into blogging. There will be spoilers, me squeeing over fictional characters, lots of happy swear words, and metaphors that make no sense. #Sorrynotsorry

stay tuned.

p.s. All with my doc’s okay, I’ve been tweaking meds to better control my asthma. Fyi, August allergy season + Asthma is srsly the absolute worst!! also tweaked mood disorder meds. Huh. neat. among other good side effects, my compulsion to write, to get stuff out of my brain, to word vomit. it’s back. and that’s a good thing.

ugh, i still fucking hate wordpress block editor.

well, that happened. Now everyone gonna watch the Oscars next year, to see who gets slapped! If you are a comedian and an audience member doesn’t smack you, are you even?

oh, and this happened.

You know, 10 years on a blog is a pretty damn good run. My friend Andy wanted to start a podcast, so we did.

RetroRockets features interviews and discussions about the heritage of science fiction and fantasy. How did we get from “the classics” to today? what happened before “the classics”? it’s sorta like VintageSciFi Month on a podcast, with familiar friends! we’re still getting all the “listen on itunes/stitcher/etc figured out. you can follow RetroRockets on twitter, at @RetroRocketsPod.

Instead of reading me, you get to listen to me. Show notes go up a few days/week later, because I’m lazy.

listen + subscribe thingy here:

WordPress + shownotes + comments here:

and I was a guest on Guy Hasson’s Geekdom Empowers podcast, it was super fun.

and I’m soooo done with winter. the daffodils in the backyard are trying so hard to bloom.

WordPress block editor still sucks.

I didn’t disappear, I just changed form. I was getting super burned out on blogging. needed to come at things from an entirely different direction.

I’m on Sabbatical. I’ll see you around.

Take good care of yourself, ok?

I love you!


Seems like SFF is on a trend of super high stakes for the last . . . while now.

Hyped novels are about saving the world, changing society (hopefully for the better) really good vs really bad, sympathy for baddies and morally grey characters, getting reading to change our thought processes and world views, etc. success or death!

eh, could just be me, and how I when I read a book I really get into it. Could be because authors are freakin’ amazing, could be because my brain has no boundaries, likely a combination of the two.

Sometimes high stakes in books is exhilarating! Exciting! Thrilling! The best possible escapism!

but you know what? I’m at a point (oh hello, real life!) where high stakes in what I’m reading has gotten exhausting. Real life has enough stakes right now, you know?

I am ready for some low stakes. I am gifting myself with a sabbatical from reading books with high stakes.

That said, you’ll likely be surprised by what I read during this sabbatical. I know I’m already pleasantly surprised.

Recent reads:

Welcome to Temptation by Jennifer Cruzie – what a fun and sexy contemporary romance! Lots of adorable flirting, lots of very hot sex. I’m going to be going through the library’s collection of Cruzie book, that is for sure! It was nice to read a book that has a happy ending – two people who like each other get to have happy hot sex with each other and end up together. The highest stakes in the book were are they gonna have sex at her place or his place. About half way through the novel, the author throws in a murder mystery – the local asshole ends up dead – shot in the shoulder, drowned, run over by a car, and had a heart attack. This guy was a jerk to everyone and was trying to blackmail half the town. Trying to figure out who killed the guy isn’t high stakes, it’s a plot twist. This book was 100% fun to read.

Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge, translated by Jeremy Tiang – some books are fun to read, this one was fun and beautiful to read. Each chapter talks about a different kind of “strange beast”, mythological creatures who live alongside humans and can often pass for human. The Narrator had been going for a degree in biology and ended up dropped out to become an author. She is still close with her old biology professor, they have a very weird but close relationship, and she also befriends one of his current students. As she learns more about the different mythological beasts, she learns some of her closest friends aren’t 100% human. Not a high stakes story, just very beautiful and poetic. If you’re looking for translated fantasy that is unusual and easy to read, I highly recommend Strange Beasts of China.

Land of the Lustrous (vol 1) by Haruko Ichikawa – a fun, bizarre far future slice of life manga. The characters are gems and minerals (sorta, a little like Steven Universe), and their chemical make up and hardness allows them to defend the earth from the Lunarians who are trying to kill them. The first volume introduces the characters and gives some background as to why the earth is populated by anthropomorphic minerals instead of humans. I had seen some random episodes of the Land of the Lustrious anime, and the music and animation for the Lunarians was so incredible! It’s a fun story, the character shit-talk each other, form cliques, and then are secretly helpful and nice to each other when push comes to shove.

TV I’m watching – my latest obsession is Money Heist on Netflix. It’s a soap opera that thinks it is a crime drama. Such a fun, over the top, ridiculous show. I just started season 2, and one of the main characters, Tokyo, has totally invested in imitating Milla Jovovich, romance is in the air, and oh the melodrama! A super binge-able show. Great writing and it looks like the actors had a fun time filming the show. Is there high stakes? Oh sure. But I’m ignoring them. And come on, this is TV so like, who cares about stakes?

I recently finished a book that I really enjoyed. I whipped through it, thought the idea and approach was great, was pleasantly surprised by a few plot twists.

But something about the main character annoyed the hell out of me.

I’m not going to say the name of the book or the name of the author, because this blog post is not a hit piece on either the author or the book. Let me say that again for those in the back row: this blog post is NOT A HIT PEICE on a specific author or a specific book.

This blog post is about a personality trait of a fictional character that annoyed me, and I’m sure this type of character shows up in plenty of books, and maybe other people are annoyed by this as well. What’s really frustrating for me, is that the character’s annoying personality trait made the rest of the plot work. Her annoying personality trait was overused as a plot device, and her annoying personality trait is something that is usually prized in people.

What was her annoying personality trait, you ask?

She was polite and selfless, and overly kind to overly needy and lonely people.

Allow me explain.

In the novel I won’t be naming, the protagonist politely listens to other people, all the time. When a lonely person says “can I just tell you one more thing?” she nods and listens. When another side character simply will not shut up even though the protagonist is late for another obligation, she patiently listens while they ramble on for another hour, and is willing to miss her other obligation entirely. It’s a great plot device, she misses many important phone calls because she refuses to tell anyone to shut up (the novel takes place in the land before cellphones). The protagonist is also so, so, so terrible at planning. No restaurants near her workplace? Does she bring lunch? Of course she doesn’t, so she ends up working through lunch and dinner and then nearly passing out from hunger. What, because packing a sandwich, or having a box of granola bars in your desk drawer is so terrible or impossible? does this town not have a grocery store? Another plot device, that a side character is smart enough to have snacks handy. The protagonist is a researcher, someone at the top of her field, but she can’t figure out how pack a lunch?

It started to grind on me, If you can’t tell, that this woman was so polite, and so selfless, that she simply could not, or would not do anything to show value to her own self. She wouldn’t tell people no, she allowed herself to be surrounded by needy people, she wouldn’t leave work at a decent time so she could go to the grocery store after work, she wouldn’t pack a lunch to sustain herself. It really started to piss me off!

And we value politeness, don’t we? We value selflessness, don’t we? It’s considered the height of rudeness to tell someone “hey, I know this thing you want to tell me super important to you, and I know you are lonely, but now isn’t a good time for me”. We show we care about people by listening to them. And this protagonist, she was the epitome of that.

It pissed me off that she showed so little caring for herself. No one else in the story seemed to care much about her either, if they had they would have bought her an insulated lunch bag and made her leave work early one day (no one was going to die if she took an afternoon off, I promise) to go to the fucking grocery store and buy lunch stuff and learn how to make a damn peanut butter and jelly sandwich. (surprising no one, lunch is really, REALLY important to me)

Was it her choice to live her life however she pleased? Sure is. Did her personality traits make for perfect plot devices? Yup. If it wasn’t for her personality trains of being overly-polite and never saying no to needy people, the novel would have been 150 pages long instead of 500-ish pages.

She can be whatever kind of protagonist she wants, and I can be annoyed by her.

And yet, it was a damn good book by a brilliant author. Likely a book I’ll read again one day. She did actually get a chance to rest at the end, so I guess that’s good, even though having a chance to take it easy wasn’t a lifestyle she was used to.

Your turn – what character personality traits annoy you? Ever read a freakin’ fantastic book, but been hella annoyed by the main character? I’m not looking to shit on anyone’s parade or harsh anyone’s squee, so feel free to omit book titles or author names in the comments.

It’s been so hot and humid lately, almost hard to believe it is nearly autumn! the sun is coming up later in the morning, and the acorns are plink-plinking off the trees and on to the driveway, the purple cone flowers are dying, and the hostas are starting to look done. Yep, summer is over. The house is surrounded by oaks, hickories, maples, cherry trees, and is that a beech tree? I can’t wait to see all the beautiful fall foliage colors! and good god, the raking. So. Much. Raking. Even if we get a leaf blower, it’ll be hours of leaf blowing. I’ve been reading, some. watching a TON of tv. I can’t help it, there is a ton of great TV on Netflix and HBO right now! I’m also buying way too many cookbooks, buying weird squashes I’ve never heard of at the farmer’s market, watching the birds, making this recipe on repeat, and following around the toads in the front yard. We have toads! they are so cute! AND? Today I got a library card, and walked around one of the downtown parks. This city has so many nice parks. and the ladies at the library were so nice!

ok, so this picture does NOT do this park justice. ok, so it’s a teeny tiny park, with a path and a bridge over the river, and a little island you can get to from another bridge. i loved the sound of the water gurgling over rocks. and I’m pretty sure I saw a heron! DEFINATELY going to this park again!

that picture doesn’t do it justice, at all.

anyway, BOOKS! been reading slower than usual, been struggling to concentrate lately. here’s what I’ve read recently and #amreading:

I finished reading Tower of Swallows by Andrej Sapkowski, it was good, not great. Yes, I know I’m reading these out of order, I still can’t find half of them after the move. I don’t know if they are double stacked on the back of a bookshelf or still in a box that we haven’t unpacked yet. I found this one, so I read it. The Siri parts were great! and the Geralt parts were great! all the other parts were just meh. I do want to dig out the rest of our Witcher books and read them, but this likely is one I won’t read again.

#amreading Passage by Connie Willis. ok, so first I thought this would be similar to Crosstalk? lol, it is not like that book AT ALL. Good thing this book takes place before we all had cellphones in our pockets, so much of the Willis style running around and not being able to talk to the person you’re looking for because every damn person just needs to talk to you for just a minute! and the main character is too polite to tell any of these distractions to jump in a lake, so it’s hours and HOURS until she can finally get to the person she’s trying to find. if this story took place in the age of cellphones, she’d just go to the bathroom, hide in a stall, and chat via text message to the person she’s trying to reach. I’m frustrated by the main character’s passivity, but enjoying the story as a whole. And come on, this is Willis, of course I can’t put the book down!

#amreading Sharing a House with the Never-Ending Man, by Steve Alpert. Yes, this is a non-fiction book about Studio Ghibli! Steve Alpert had worked for Disney and had also lived in Japan, so he was hired to be the Disney liaison to Studio Ghibli. Much of the book is about when Princess Mononoke was released in the US, and the Disney had no idea what to do with that movie, they kept asking who was the bad guy, wanting romance to be added to it, and assuming it was a kids movie since it was animated. Alpert gives an incredible behind the scenes look of what it was like working at Studio Ghibli and trying to translate Japanese culture to Hollywood. I’m purposely reading this book as slow as I can, because I don’t want it to end! if you are interested in Studio Ghibli, this is the book for you!

I need these guys in our backyard

oh, and I also went to the library in our new city and got a library card! here’s what caught my eye:

Read the rest of this entry »


Happy August!

Up here in the Great Lakes we’ve had brutal thunderstorms, tornado touch, higher than normal humidity, and wildfire smoke in the air. These aren’t the dog days of summer, these are the Cerberus days of summer, and I hope they are over soon. I’m ready for cooler days, lower humidity, and the crinkle of leaves. This will be our first autumn in our house, I want to know what color all these leaves turn!

As you can see, I’ve not been blogging much lately (or at all), but I have been reading! With some other stressful things and time commitments going on, enjoying books without the weight of “now I have to write a review” has been exactly what I needed this summer. (also don’t get me started on how frustrating I still find WordPress block editor. Writing a blog post is no longer fun. thanks WordPress. ) I got a lot going on right now, and I had to let go of some things, so I could say ‘yes’ to other things. One of the obligations I let go of was feeling obligated to write a long review of every book I read.

This post has some very very short reviews of some enjoyable books I’ve recently read, or am currently reading.

But first, something pretty! My friend has been hand painting bookmarks. This photo doesn’t do this bookmark justice! The yellow is pure sunshine and until now I didn’t know how beautiful coral could be!

In need of some comfort reads lately I grabbed one of my favorites, China Mountain Zhang by Maureen McHugh, written in 1992. Hard to verbalize how much I love this book. It’s just about this guy Rafael, who is trying to figure out his life. He’s trying to pass for straight, he’s trying to pass for Chinese. This is a quiet book. No action, no intense cliffhangers, no one is out to change the world. Just ten years or so of Rafael’s life (making it feel like a fix-up novel), some humorous misunderstanings blended with truly tragic moments. And it is a damn pleasure to read. McHugh’s prose is perfection. McHugh wrote a number of short stories, this was her debut novel and it won the Locus award for best first novel, the James Tiptree Jr Award, a Lambda Literary Award, and was nominated for the Hugo and the Nebula. So it isn’t just me who thinks this is a great book!

I think I’ve unpacked all my Banks novels? I went on a Banks binge a few years ago, and I remembered Use of Weapons being a stand out favorite. All I remembered was that there was something about [spoiler], but I couldn’t remember the details. Use of Weapons was even more engaging this time around. The main character, Zakalwe, is a war strategist for hire, so much of the book is designed around his memories of different wars he was involved in. In this interstellar future, what could one small war on one continent on a planet no one has ever heard of matter? We never find out if anything he does matters or not, which is sort of the point. And that thing that happens at the end, that I fuzzily remembered? Absolutely 100% knocked me flat. If you’ve never read a Culture book, Use of Weapons is a great place to start.

Read the rest of this entry »

If you’ve known me for a while, you know I’m involved with Apex Magazine. I mostly do two things – Author Interviews, and as many shenanigans as the Editors will let me get involved with. Most recent super fun shenanigan was hosting Snap Judgment, a cross between The X Factor, The Gong Show, and speed dating. Check it out on YouTube!

Oh wait, maybe you haven’t known me for a while? Or you have, and we just haven’t talked about Apex Magazine?

Apex Magazine has is known for short fiction that is weird, surreal, and dark – sometimes this is straight up fantasy, sometimes it’s straight up horror, usually it’s somewhere in between. Oftentimes when I get to the end of an Apex story I’m either crying, exclaiming “holy shit!” or reading the story from the beginning to catch all the hints I missed and also just because I want to enjoy the story again. And no joke, the editor in chief, Jason Sizemore, has a titanium jaw.


I was going to give a short list of my favorite Apex Stories for you to sample, but this twitter hashtag of   #BackApexMag for reader favorites is better. and now I’m gonna spend all morning in that thread talking to other readers about how much I also loved their favorites!

Oh, audio more your thing?  We got your podcasts right here! Wanna just read the award winners? Here you go!

There are so many Apex stories that I can’t stop thinking about. Stories about siblings who love each other but also are slowly killing each other, stories about people who are looking for a human connection in a cold world, far future stories that play with language and what’s real and how to move forward, southern gothic horror stories, stories about freedom and family and escape and looking others and yourself in the eye.

And don’t even get me started on the non-fiction essays that are must-reads! 


Earlier this year in a blog post, I said something about how I love science fiction because it’s about how science works. But that I loved reading certain science fiction books because they were about how people work.

Apex stories are about how people work. I think that’s why they give me #allthefeels all the time.

Apex Magazine was completely funded through Kickstarter for our 2021 issues. And we’re Kickstarting all of 2022 too. What does the money go to? Paying authors, artists, paying for non-fiction essays, paying for hosting the podcast and website, and tossing a coin to the podcast producer, narrators, and staff.

Click here to Visit the Kickstarter Page

Thanks to the first 150 backers or so, the base funding is already secured – we’ll be doing at least 3 issues next year.

But I’d really love to do 6.

I’d really love to see the bonus Asian and Pacific Islanders Authors and Artists issue.

I want to keep reading fiction that makes me shout and cry, I want more authors to get discovered out the slush pile, I want to see more gorgeous artwork, I want the Apex family to grow. I want to keep emailing Jason with messages like “holy shit, that story!”, and get to interview more authors for the magazine, because I’m selfish.

What kind of backer rewards and extra stuff can you get through the kickstarter? Subscriptions, back issues, anthologies, MYSTERY BOXES (I want one of those!), mugs, stickers, bookmarks, Print magazine editions, holy crap there is a ton of cool stuff here!

You got questions about the kickstarter, the magazine, or questions for the editors? Throw ’em in the comments below, and I’ll nag/bribe* Jason and Lesley and the rest of the editorial staff to come on over and answer your question.

And holy shit, did you see this list of all the authors Apex Magazine has ever published? This is basically a list of all my favorite SFF authors who have published in the last 10 years, btw.

And here’s some recent Cover art, because it’s just damn perty.

This Sunday at 2pm Eastern/11am Pacific, LIVE on YouTube, I’ll be hosting SNAP JUDGEMENT!

Organized by Apex Magazine, SNAP JUDGEMENT is a rapid fire critique show.  Think The X Factor, but for slush short stories.  As I read short story excerpts, the judges decide if they’d keep reading, or stop and not accept the story. Followed by a short critique period, of why they’d want to read more, or not.  I’ll have seen the excerpts before, but the judges won’t!   Here’s a link to the Apex Magazine website with more info!

it’s live television*   who knows what might happen!

*it’ll  be live streamed on YouTube. is that TV now?

Been reading lately too! 

Finished all three Machineries of Empire books by Yoon Ha Lee, and the series was even better this time. Since I wasn’t so focused on the main story, I was able to pay attention to the little details. and oh, so many little details! This trilogy is sharp, smart, and so many plans with plans. The subtlety! the long game!  Not to mention that Lee’s writing is unbelievably good  and I love ALL the characters so much! Except Kujen, I still think he’s an absolute bag of dicks. The first time I read this trilogy, I am pretty sure I didn’t pick up on anything that was actually happening in the last book.  sometimes, eh, sometimes I’m just not that bright. and I am always, always distracted by fashionable men. 

so yeah, if you haven’t read the Machineries of Empire trilogy, the books are Ninefox Gambit, Raven Stratagem, and Revenant Gun, I highly, highly recommend them.  some pretty rough scenes at the end of Revenant Gun, just saying. 

On a lark, I picked up Mostly Void, Partially Stars: Welcome to Night Vale Episodes 1.  This book is transcripts of the first season of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast, before authors Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor knew Night Vale was going to become a thing.  Night Vale is a small town in the desert where all conspiracy theories are true, and all the weird shit that happens is completely normal. this is 100% my brand of absurd. 

I know someone has already done so, and is famous for doing so, but I want to read these episodes out loud. The wonderful thing about prose that was designed from day one to be read out loud is the sentences are short. Easy to read without running out of breath. Not too much to stumble over. This book is so fun, that I’ve gotten to the point where I’m avoiding reading it, because I don’t want to run out of episodes. I really enjoy reading these scripts! and there is illustrations! and notes from the authors! it’s so fun!

I think next I’m going to reread either The Narrator by Michael Cisco, Finch by Jeff Vandermeer, or China Mountain Zhang by Maureen McHugh. I’m in a reread mood, what can I say?



And speaking of absurd, hubs and I are watching Rick and Morty. it’s delightfully absurd and offensive. If you’ve never seen Rick and Morty, imagine if South Park was actually funny, and then make the main character a jaded mad scientist and the other main character his nervous grandson, and you’re sorta getting close. My favorite part of the show is when something happens and my husband laughs.  If you think you might have a sense of humor similar to mine, give Rick and Morty a chance.  totally OK to skip the first couple episodes of season 1. 

We’re only in season 2, so don’t be putting any spoilers in the comments! 


in other news, the hostas are nearly done blooming, the viburnum (I think that’s what it is at least) is trying to bloom but isn’t getting enough sunlight, the purple coneflowers are still beautiful, and the yard has an amazing variety of mushrooms because nature is the coolest.  I hacked down that stupid thorn bush in the backyard.  the back screen door needs to have a new screen put it, so after watching a dozen youtube videos I feel confident we can fix it ourselves!

what have you been reading lately? 

seen any cool movies or cool tv shows lately? 

does Snap Judgement sound neat?

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FTC Stuff

some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.