the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for September 2010


Are you a YA fan who is looking for something a little grittier, a little meatier, a little SF-ier?

Are you an adult SF/F fan looking for something a little lighter, but still with the grit and humor you’ve come to enjoy from your favorite writers?

If you answered “why yes! Yes I am!” to either of those questions, allow me to introduce you to some great SF/F YA reads by authors who are known for writing for adults.  

For the Win, by Cory Doctorow – American kids enjoy online games for fun. Asian and Indian kids play online games for money, more than just what gold farming can give them. When the undertrod, underpaid, undervalued child workers are taught the word union, only good can come of it. right?

Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow – big brother might be watching, but what happens when little brother watches back? Of every book on this list, this was the hardest book for me to read, and I don’t mean hard intellectually. I believe  Little Brother should be required reading in every high school government class, but I’m sure once it got some attention it would be banned.

Un Lun Dun by China Mieville – Part Wizard of Oz, part Alice in Wonderland, and very punny.  You just can’t not like this book!

The WWW series by Robert Sawyer – the first book in the series didn’t do much for me, but as far as YA reads go, this is a contemporary SF winner.  Blind teenager Caitlin can “see” the world wide web, and there is something there that can see her.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman – what can I say about this that hasn’t been said before? if you haven’t read it, you owe it to yourself to enjoy this book!

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – Ender’s Game as YA? really? hey, it’s what all the cool kids were reading when I was a teenager. It’s a SF classic.

Which of these have you read? Which of these look most promising?

New to Manga? Check out Manga 101: Let’s talk about Manga and Manga 102.

Fullmetal Alchemist is one of my favorite manga series, definitely my favorite shonen series. Fullmetal Alchemist wa redhead san no ichiban shonen!

Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist is contemporary shonen, with plenty of action and comedy, and just a teensy bit of romance. The science the steampunk-lite country of Amestris is alchemy. A trained alchemist takes the materials at hand, draws a transmutation circle and can create something else of similar mass and volume. Alchemy has one, and only one rule, a rule that can not be broken – the law of equal exchange: to obtain something, something of equal value must be given. The idea that everything costs something, that you can’t take without giving, that everything must be in balance, these are concepts that have resonated with me for a long time. A lot of what I read in Fullmetal Alchemist, a lot of the philosophy, I took to heart. I have been reading this series for nearly 10 years, and yes, I’ve got the t-shirt to prove it. Two, in fact.

Fullmetal Alchemist is the story of Edward and Alphonse Elric, two talented brothers who got in over their heads and have been paying the price ever since. Forbidden in the practice of alchemy, the grief stricken young brothers had attempted to resurrect their dead mother. Even human transmutation must follow the law of equal exchange. But what is equal to a life? To a soul? What did it cost them?

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Dying Inside is the intimate memoir of David Selig, who had the power to read people’s minds.

As a young child, David realized he could do something other people couldn’t. A bored child, he used his powers to see what girls were thinking, to spy on his parents, and to confuse the school psychologist. We’re so used to stories where a protagonist with special powers is drawn to use their powers for good, it was refreshing to read about a mutant who doesn’t use his powers for good, or bad, or anything except occasional mostly harmless fun. David eased his way through school (he could find the exam answers in the teacher’s mind), through dating (he really knew what women wanted), through many jobs, trials of life, etc. And it’s made him lazy. Why work when you can freelance a little here and there for money? Why stay in a relationship when you know your partner is no longer interested, but you don’t know how to tell her you know? How can you ever have a normal conversation or a normal life when you always know exactly what the person is thinking? He hasn’t been surprised by anything in a long time. He can count on one hand the people he has shared his secret with.

Soon David will be forced to have a “real” relationship with someone, to have a “real” conversation with someone, to enjoy the surprises in life, because his mental powers are waning. Some days he gets static, some days he gets nothing, and he has never been so scared in his entire life.
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Jon always works alone. Correction, Jon and his uberintelligent ship Lobo always come as a team, but after the contract is up, they are gone. Because Jon has a secret. And it’s not that Lobo is far more intelligent than he has any right to be. That’s an entirely different secret.

Jon and Lobo are asked by an old friend Alissa Lim to help infiltrate and liberate a rebel camp on the planet Tumani, currently in the throws of civil war. Tumani might be a backwater now, but it’s location puts it on the border of two colonizing coalitions, and a very wealthy investor has decided this planet needs to be ready when the coalitions realize how important it is. The rebel forces have been ravaging the jungles – burning villages, killing adults and girl children, and taking the boys hostage, addicting them to drugs and turning them into children soldiers. The mission Jon and the team agree to is to liberate a camp of nearly 500 children soldiers, and help rehab the kids until they can be reunited with their families. Or adopted into new families, since their parents are probably dead.

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I am slowly working my way up to Finch, really I am! If you’re new to Vandermeer, start with Shriek, An Afterword, then read City of Saints and Madmen, then you’ll be good and ready for Finch.

* * * * *

At least in the version I got a hold of, the oddness began right from the start. The two covers of the book were a story unto themselves, describing a visitor to Vandermeer’s port city of Ambergris. This visitor falls out of the ferry, and is clutching a copy of Vandermeer’s City of Saints and Madmen to his chest. Stranger yet, the inside cover speaks of Mr. Vandermeer’s untimely disappearance, and the strange notes he left in his wake. Turn a few pages, and under the “Also written by” list, many non existent tomes appear. This isn’t false advertising, it’s foreplay.

Vandermeer’s City of Saints and Madmen, a.k.a. The Book of Ambergris is exactly that: a collection of short stories in and about the port city of Ambergris (and yes, you find out how the city managed to get such a beautiful name that means something so disgusting. Look it up), her history, her religions, her politics, with minor cameos by Janice and Duncan Shriek, of Vandermeer’s Shriek: An Afterword.

Reading this book is like being in a haunted house, populated by the friendly ghosts of all the relatives you wish you could have met, but you can’t understand what they are saying. It’s like being in the Sistine chapel, and although it’s emtpy and abandonded, but you can still the chanting if you don’t try to listen to hard. No matter how much time I spend with this book, I don’t know if I’ll ever learn all the secrets of Ambergris.

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Thinking about the books and TV shows and and literary characters that top my list of favorites, I quickly realized an unsettling pattern. I have a major weakness for antiheroes. You know, the folks who do the right thing when they happen to feel like it? Be them tragic, scarred, bitter, jaded, orphaned and left to their own devices, or led by questionable morals, that is what gets my attention and that is what I gravitate towards.You hurt them, they’ll hurt ya back, you hurt someone they care about, they’ll kill you slowly. Broken noses are good, broken hearts and souls are better. I’m talking the likes of Elric of Melnibone, Vlad Taltos, Mal Reynolds, Locke Lamora, Hellboy, Han Solo, Donnie Darko, most Noir protagonists, and just about any character Joe Abercrombie or Neal Stephenson saw fit to put to paper along with just about any character Bruce Willis has ever played.

Yikes, what does that say about me?

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Book Blogger Hop

Here from the Hop? Welcome! This blog is primarily scifi and fantasy, with some magic realism, graphic novels, and other fun stuff thrown in. Have a look around, check out the review index, it’s all good.

TGIFriday! the end of a workweek means it’s time to sit back, relax, and blog hop friday! Today’s question is When you write reviews, do you write them as you are reading or wait until you have read the entire book?

hmmmm. . . a little bit of both. I’ll usually take notes while I’m writing, about foreshadowing, prose style, characters or events that really catch my eye, the story under the story, etc. My family knows when a book is getting the full treatment when I’m got a few peices of paper covered in notes folded up and tucked into the back of the book. Once I’ve finished the book, I’ll let everything percolate in my brain for a day or two, then pull out my notes, and get cracking!

A problem does come up when a book is so engrossing that I don’t take a single note.

how about you? What is your method of attack?

On one of my recent library trips, I picked up the first book of a finished trilogy by an author I’ve been hearing nothing but good, nay, fantastic things about.

The blurb on the cover of the book had a few of my favorite words to see on a novel – corruption. betrayal. revenge. The blurb on the back of the book grabbed me right away. I was thrilled to have found the book, and that the library owned the entire trilogy. Even the title was alluring. Nearly 700 pages? Bah! I eat 700 page books for breakfast! OK, maybe not for breakfast, but I can typically get through that many pages in a week.

A week later and Read the rest of this entry »


I’ve been hearing wonderful things about Joe Abercrombie for a while now. And when I finally got a copy of the first book of his First Law series, The Blade Itself, I’ll admit, the blurb on the back did nothing for me. It looked like an ordinary fantasy flick, the warrior, the wizard, the torturer, the swordsman, the quest. Ehhh. . . really? Hasn’t that kind of story been done before? Like a hundred times?

Three days of rabid reading later, if there is one word that should unequivocally never, ever be used to describe The Blade Itself, that word would be ordinary. This is the type of book that spoils you, the kind of book that makes nearly everything else on your bookshelf look mediocre, the kind of thing that could forever wreck “ordinary” fantasy for you. This is the kind of fantasy that I LIKE. Characters? I typed (and then edited out) pages upon pages of their awesomeness. Worldbuilding? even better than the characters. Mythology? Oh how I loves me some mythology, and the mythology that Abercrombie gives us just a taste of is better than the characters and the worldbuilding put together.  I would never in a million years describe The Blade Itself as a comedy, but it’s really got some laugh out loud moments as well.  Put blunty, this is some epic shit.

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thanks to TJ at Dreams and Speculation and her article on graphic novels at Dirty Sexy Books for getting me to write an article on Phil and Kaja Foglio’s Girl Genius.

I’ve been working on this article for like three days, and I’m finding it very hard to talk about Girl Genius. Why? Well, I read a lot of dark and tragic stuff. plenty of magic, plenty of violence, plenty of really bad guys, a bare handful of good guys and lots and lots of melancholy. So that’s what I’m used to writing about.

And Girl Genius by Phil and Kaja Foglio is the opposite of all that. It’s a sex comedy with mad scientists and shy students and sentient castles and blimp cities and monster soldiers who have crushes on  monster construct nannies. It’s a riot of science and smarts and silliness and romance and adventure. It’s got it’s own mythology and it’s own cult following. It makes me giggle uncontrollably and want to sign up for Steampunk conventions. Yes, that Phil Foglio of What’s New with Phil and Dixie and Mythadventures.  umm, and SPANC.

and you should be reading it.

AND, I’m even going to tell you what it’s about! Or at least the first three volumes, which I have in a super awesome omnibus edition. Read the rest of this entry »

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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.