the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for December 2015

Is it just me, or did 2015 fly by in like two weeks? How did that even happen? It certainly was a crazy year – I started a new job, we moved into a bigger apartment, i learned a whole new definition of the work “workaholic”, I didn’t read nearly as much as I wanted.

Anyway, here is my annual “Best of the year” list, presented in no particular order, with links if you’d like to read my reviews.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson, easily my favorite novel of 2015.

The Bone Swans of Amandale – by C.S.E Cooney, in her short story collection Bone Swans

The Fifth Season, by N. K. Jemisin

Binti, by Nnedo Okorafor

Flex, by Ferrett Steinmetz

The Apex Book of World SF Vol 4 edited by Mahvesh Murad

Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh

Babel-17 by Samuel Delany

The Life of the World to Come, by Kage Baker


Honorable mentions for the year go to:

City of Blades by Robert Jackson Bennett. I read it in 2015, but can’t actually talk about how freaking amazing it was until 2016. So I guess it’ll have to make my best of 2016 list.

and this stuff, which is omg, what I always wished ginger ale would taste like. Also? it’s alcoholic.

ginger ale

2015 was a crazy year, and I don’t mind that it’s over.  I’ll see everyone on January 1st for Vintage Science Fiction month!

dark forest

I finally got around to reading Cixin Liu’s The Dark Forest earlier this month. My better half read it a few months ago, and I nagged him into writing a joint review with me. Well, more a conversation than a joint review. Epic spoilers ahead! Or, as Better Half says “If you’re on the no spoilers ship, better watch out, there’s rocks ahead”. He thinks he’s forgotten most of this book. He’s wrong.  Here’s what we thought of Cixin Liu’s The Dark Forest.

Andrea: You and I are both drawn towards character driven narratives. The Dark Forest is even less character driven than The Three Body Problem. I had a tough time getting into the story, because it was hard for me to grab onto any of these characters. Did you have a tough time too?

Mike: Somewhat of a tough time, it was easier for me as I chose to read this as an historian viewing the book as ‘future history’. Then, I could just follow the ebb and tide of historical forces as the story unfolded.

I liked the hope given to the Wallfacers, the unreality of the projects, and that one of them actually does save the Earth.

Andrea: What’s that phrase? Necessity is the mother of invention? Humanity is desperate, so we’re willing to put our faith in crazy things. All the other Wallfacers had these ridiculously complex ideas, and the one that saves the Earth seems so simple. Talk about playing the long game! Being given limitless money and told “Save the World”, it was interesting to see what these people did with their funds and resources. Reminded me a little of the Selacao (how the hell do spell that?) from the anime Eden of the East. But the Wallfacers take advantage of their situation, they can spend money on silly stuff, and say “it’s part of the plan”. Many of the Wallfacers had a similar “ultimate plan”. Were you surprised?

Mike: I also saw the Eden of the East connection, one of my favorite animes! The Wallfacers, with one exception, chose brute force methods to win a war, which is exactly what a war winner does not choose. Subtlety was only chosen by one facer, people scoffed, and he won.

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life of the world to comeThe Life of the World to Come, by Kage Baker (Company #5)

published in 2004

where i got it: purchased used






As this is the fifth book in Baker’s Company series, spoilers are unavoidable. You’ve been warned, and I am not at all sorry.  If this is the first you’ve heard of Kage Baker, or of her Company series, stop reading right now and type “Kage Baker” into that search box thingy on the upper right.


I can never decide if I want to wait in-between Baker books, or binge read the whole thing. Because I want to know what happens . . . but I’m enjoying the anticipation.  And like my Banks books of which I have become so fond, I must ration Baker. Because there will never be any more.


In the year 2350, a group of hobbyist re-enactors use their nearly limitless resources to change history. Or at least, sort of.  One of the so-called rules of time travel is that history can not be changed. So how are these naive idiots doing it?  Frankie Chatterjie and Foxen Ellsworth-Howard meet at their friends Rutherford’s home, which also serves as a museum.  Wealthy, bored, (and thus supremely dangerous) and connected with Dr. Zeus, Inc, the three friends use anachronistic slang, sip fake brandy, and fuss about with genetics. You see,  they’ve been tasked with coming up with a better, smarter, more contemporary version of the Company’s Enforcers. An upgrade, of sorts. This perfect person that they are genetically creating will be bright, irresistible, and willing to die for a noble cause. Each iteration of their fellow will tell our genetic dabblers what changes they need to make to build the perfect enforcer.  He will be tall, not exactly handsome, determined, and irresistable. Sound familiar?

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A_Fantasy_Medley_3_edited_by_Yanni_KuzniaA Fantasy Medley 3, edited by Yanni Kuznia

Available Dec 31 2015

where I got it: received review copy from Subterranean Press (Thanks!)






Out of the four stories in this slim volume of goodness, three of them are connected to the author’s other works. Jaqueline Carey’s powerful peice, “One Hundred Ablutions” is a true standalone, although it could easily be expanded into a full novel or series.   Editor Yanni Kuznia (read my interview with her, here) chose her stories well – each of these features empowered characters, consequences, excellent world building and even a touch of humor at times.  Short fiction is my favorite way to try out authors who are new to me – instead of a 500 page commitment, I’m making a 20 minute commitment. And anyone can do that, right?


Kevin Hearne’s “Goddess at the Crossroads” is fun, funny and irreverent. Atticus gets a shiver up his spine when his apprentice quotes a particular Shakespeare play, and so he tells her about his run in with a few witches and the goddess they summoned. Fans of the Iron Druid series will get a kick out of this story, and for folks new to that series (hello!) there is just enough background and information that you won’t feel lost. Although this story takes place later in the series, it was a great introduction to Atticus and his abilities. Am I a terrible person that my favorite part of this story is Atticus’s hilarious dog Oberon?  Of all the great things I’ve heard about Hearne over the last few years (and I’ve heard a lot) the thing that made me say “holy crap! I gotta read this guy!” was the dog.


My favorite story in the collection was Jaqueline Carey’s “One Hundred Ablutions”. It was a smart move making this the final story in the volume, otherwise I would have been spoiled, and then disappointed that the other stories weren’t as powerful as this one. Dala is a Keren girl, and as such, is offered an opportunity to become an honored handmaiden for a Shaladan family of the ruling class. By “offered an opportunity” I mean she’s never given a choice, and by “honored handmaiden”, I mean slave. But it’s the ruling Shaladan who run this society, and therefore their words are used for things that have different meanings to different people. This story was absolutely gorgeously told, Carey’s prose is transportive. There was no need for me to reread this story to write this review, because Dala’s story was seared into my mind.  In a city on the brink of revolution, is “an eye for an eye” the answer? When violence is answered with violence, who will be left to mourn the innocent dead? Dala was a slave, locked into a ritual she didn’t understand, and the violence she witnesses brings the ritual full circle.   There are no words for the final scene of this story.

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Booktuber The Space Possum made a fantastic YouTube video about about Vintage Month.  Click here to check it out!  She was kind enough to mention Vintage Month, so leave her some comments about the first Vintage book you read, your favorite Vintage book, what do you plan to read for Vintage Month, and where do you even get these books?   I also need to thank Red Star Reviews for  promoting Vintage Month on Instagram. Thanks Space Possum and Red Star Reviews!




This year Instagram and YouTube. . . . next year the world!

fable heroes hinesFable: Blood of Heroes, by Jim C. Hines

published August 2015

where I got it: purchased new





My introduction to the Fable videogame series was playing Fable II until I nearly broke the disc. Kicking chickens, shooting gargoyles, solving riddles, completing quests, honing my skills, being friendly or mean to people, getting different clothes, getting rid of pesky highwayman,  increasing my character’s abilities, seeing how different decisions affected the game . . . I spent many a happy hour in Albion.  Fable II spoiled me: I expected all video games to be this fun.


If you’ve never played the videogame, there is still plenty for you to enjoy in Jim C. Hines’ new novel Fable: Blood of Heroes. You’ll get a well drawn story with a good balance of action and characterization,  heroes to cheer on and bad guys to hate on. This is not a heavy deep story, it is just pure fun, just like the video game I have fond memories of.  Having recently tackled Cixin Liu’s The Dark Forest,  I needed something that was going to take me for a great ride without frying my brain, and Fable: Blood of Heroes fit the bill.  For those of you have played any or all of the Fable games, you’ll get the in-jokes, recognize videogameisms such as getting information by talking to as many villagers as you can, see the level ups and HP count increases, recognize Will users and Strength users and Skill users, laugh when NPCs tap the fourth wall, and best of all you’ll recognize a fellow Fable fan in Jim Hines.


The story starts in the town of Brightlodge, where the young king has summoned four heroes to protect the town’s inhabitants from impending doom. Tipple is the tank of the group, Inga the warrior with an enchanted shield, Rook is the assassin, and Leech the life-force using healer who is a little too interested in how your insides work. A classic D&D adventure team, the heroes’ first quest is to rid the town of a smuggler who harbors more than a few secrets (and a secret identity!), and a boat of attacking redcaps.  The redcaps are foul little bloodthirsty creatures with bloody caps nailed to their heads. They thrive on havoc and on setting things on fire. The plot thickens when the heroes learn of concerns that are far bigger than one pirate and a ship full of redcaps.  In a style that George R R Martin made famous, Hines gives each hero their own point of view chapters, which helps flesh out certain characters and develop their backstories.  With a main cast that soon grows to eight, giving characters their own chapters was a smart move.

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It is just me, or has Epic Fantasy gotten really bloody lately?  More battles depicted, more violence, more people getting run through with varied weapons, more plots that revolve around action, battle scenes, and killing people. Maybe that’s just what is being advertised right now, maybe it’s the sign of the times, maybe publishers see how well Game of Thrones is doing and want to publish more stuff like that.

Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed a lot of grimdark, and I certainly don’t mind some violence. I don’t mean to knock battlefield fantasy, but like a brand new sword that’s seen recent use, the shiny has worn off for me.  Ultraviolence was a novelty for me, and now that I’m past it (or maybe I’m just getting old), I find that I prefer fantasy titles that are more in the vein of Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice, Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind , Jemisin’s Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Lynch’s Lies of Locke Lamora, etc. Fantasy that focuses on plot, characters, consequences, adventure, magic, relationships, changes in perspective and such.


That said, I recently put the following question to the Twittersphere:

looking for epic fantasy

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leena krohn coverLeena Krohn: Collected Fiction, by Leena Krohn

published by Cheeky Frawg, December 8th 2015

Where I got it: Received eArc from the publisher (thanks!)

this is part one of a multiple part review.







Covering over 30 years and including over 800 pages of surreal speculative fiction and critical essays, I wouldn’t want to boil all my thoughts down into one review. To encourage myself to linger in these pages, to enjoy what I’m reading instead of rushing through it so I can write one review that covers a woman’s entire career, I will be writing multiple reviews to cover the works included in Leena Krohn: Collected Fiction.  Originally published in her native Finnish, the works have been translated by Hildi Hawkins, Bethany Fox, Anna Volmari, and J. Robert Tupasela, among others.  In this first review, I’ll  be discussing Tainaron: Mail from another City, and The Pelican’s New Clothes. What’s so wonderful about everything I’ve read so far in Leena Krohn: Collected Fiction is that any one of these short novels, or excerpts, or short stories, has so much meat to chew on. There’s so much here to think about and play with and attempt to understand, and fall into.  This collection as seen as a whole is like a meta fractal.  The further I fall in, the more I see, the more patterns I see, and the more patterns I want to see.  That will make more sense to you if you take this journey with me.


Tainaron: Mail from another City, written in 1985 is a fascinating short novel that consists of over two dozen letters, sent from a  woman who is visiting the island city of Tainaron. She never gets a response to the letters she writes, and in occasional fits of frustration she asks the person she is writing to why they never respond. Even so, the letters become a sort of diary for her, a place to privately write down all her strange and amazing experiences in Tainaron. Experiences like meeting a neglected prince, an upstairs neighbor so strange that she ended up moving to a new apartment, and public displays of chemical pleasure.  Tainaron isn’t like any other city, it’s not even a human citizen. This is an island populated by insects, in all their myriad beauty. There are beetles and bees and Queens who continually give birth, and insects that mimic other insects. It’s hard to know exactly what everything is, because the letter writer refers to everyone she meets simply as “people”, which I loved.


The primary themes of Tainaron include that of metamorphosis and inevitability. All the insect residents know winter  means hibernation, and hibernation means metamorphosis, and changing into a new form is just something everyone does, and why get anxious about any of this, since it is inevitable? Sometimes people remember who they were before, sometimes not.    I was reminded a bit of a scene in China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station, where the chemistry of chrysalises and metamorphosis is discussed. That the creature who goes into the chrysalis is genetically and chemically different than the creature who emerges. That the first must cease to exist for the second to be born, and that this change is inescapable.

tainaron cover 2

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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.