the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for February 2016

the coldest war tregillis

This is a not review, because I’m not really going to be talking about what happened in the plot of The Coldest War.   To be honest, I was sorta ho-hum about most of the plot. But the characters, oh my god, with just a glance in my direction Marsh and Gretel bored holes right through  me.  And in a way, since this is an alternate history, as in something that could have happened but didn’t, the plot doesn’t actually, in the grand scheme of the universe, matter, does it?


The Coldest  War takes place during the early 1960s, so twenty some years after Bitter Seeds.  Klaus and Gretel have spent twenty years as prisoners of war in the USSR; and over in London Raybould Marsh and William Beauclerk have spent twenty some years trying to convince themselves they did the right things, that it was worth it.


So let’s talk about the characters, who you’ve already met if you’ve read the first book in the series, Bitter Seeds.


I feel like comparing characters in this book to gambling addicts.  Addicts because Marsh and Beauclerk keep saying they can stop anytime they want…. but they can’t. They keep thinking the next bargain will even things out, that they’ll “win” next time, for various values of “winning”.   It’s like the guy I saw buying scratch off lottery tickets the other day. He was joking with the clerk that last week he won $3 on a scratch off ticket… but that he’d spent $19 on the tickets.  There was an edge of addiction in his nervous laughter, an underscore of him saying he could stop anytime he wanted.

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here’s  look at some books that have recently (and some not so recently) made their way into my to be read eventually pile. What looks good to you?




Goblin Emperor

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison, this is one that everyone has been talking about, so I’m sure i’ll  be reading it sooner rather than later. I dig the cover art, too.

the Chimes Read the rest of this entry »

How was your weekend?

death house

My Saturday was great.    I didn’t leave the house.  Read a ton,  made yummy dinner, watched a few episodes of Parks and Recreation.  My friend Kristin sent me a copy of The Death House by Sarah Pinborough, which I devoured. I read a little further in Ian Tregillis’s The Coldest War and realized I’ve mostly been reading this late at  night while half asleep and I really haven’t absorbed anything, so I need to just start the book from scratch.  We had fantastic Spanish Meatballs and Twice Baked Potatoes for dinner.

the coldest war tregillis

Sunday morning I woke up to my cell phone ringing off the hook, it was my parents calling to make sure I was OK because this happened in my city (we’re fine), and then there was this.


I need something happy/silly as some kind of counterbalance. I needed  something that doesn’t involve me eating an entire box of thin mints. (which would actually be the happiest worse food decision ever). humor to the rescue.  and a few thin mints never hurt anyone.


I like me some Game of Thrones

I like the show Chopped on Food Network


Combine the two? Sure! why not!


the contestants would be Jon Snow, Daenerys, and Tywin, and the judges would be Hodor, Ygritte and Tyrion.  Littlefinger could EmCee and introduce everyone.


Jon Snow doesn’t know how to cook worth shit, and Ygritte’s response to everything he presents is “You know nothing, Jon Snow”.  Tyrion takes every opportunity to snark on his dad, with Tywin getting increasingly frustrated that the name of the show has nothing to do with chopping people’s heads off. Daenerys presents a dish that is basically coddled horse blood served in a hollowed out horse heart, and Tyrion suddenly stops trying to pick her up. Hodor loves every dish he tastes, and turns out he is a rather educated and loquacious foodie, often responding with “Hodor, hodor hodor hodor.  Hodor hodor hodor, hodor hodor. Hodor hodor hodor . . . .  hodor hodor hodor, hodor hodor . . . .  hodor hodor ”.


How is this not already a meme?

Also? I finished Hounded by Kevin Hearne, and it was flippin’ fantastic. Why didn’t you guys let me read this book, like, years ago?

hounded kevin hearne

One of my favorite things about being involved with SFSignal is I get to coordinate Mind Melds. I come up with a fun question, and then ask a bunch of people who I hope will have an interesting response.   Most recently, I asked about Alternate   History.  Why we like it, what we like about it, and how to do it right.  Click on the words to visit the post, there is some great stuff there! (Actually, don’t click the links. they will explode your list of books you want to read!)


I’ve always enjoyed Tim Powers, but his books are technically more Secret History than anything else.  Right now I’m about half way through Ian Tregillis’s The Coldest War which is a sort of if World War II was won not by the military, but by secret sorcerers working with Deep Ones vs X-Men type people. In the 2nd book in the series, we’re up to the 1960s, and it’s the Cold War. But this is worse, because there is a psychic, and someone who can be invisible, and we know they didn’t just wake up one day with superpowers, they had to be, erm, is “convinced” the right word? Now that’s some alternate history!   So far, The Coldest War isn’t quite as good as the first book in the series, Bitter Seeds, but I’m still enjoying it. I have some sneaky suspicions as to what the third book might bring, and I want to know if I guessed right!


So, what are some of your favorite alternate history books?



ship of magic hobbShip of Magic (Liveship Traders #1),  by Robin Hobb

published in 1998

where I got it: purchased new



It’s been a while since I read a Robin Hobb. Like many Hobb fans, I devoured the Farseer trilogy, and then wasn’t sure where to go from there. Most of her trilogies  take place in the same universe, and each trilogy follows different characters. Some need to be read in order (read the Farseer trilogy before reading Fitz the Fool, for example), but the Liveship Traders trilogy I think can be read as a complete stand alone.

After Farseer trilogy, I jumped over to the Soldier Son trilogy, which is set in a different universe, but one that feels very much like her primary universe. Hobb has this thing about completely deconstructing her characters – forcing them to a precipice built of self loathing, doubt, and full scale rejection. It forces the character to do something they never would have done otherwise. The horrible things that happen to them give them strength towards what is coming next. Or Something. It’s like tough love to the n’th degree. I couldn’t get past what happens in the second Soldier Son book, Forest Mage. It hit too close to home. It’s been four years since Forest Mage, and I’m finally ready to pick up another Hobb.

Ship of Magic takes place in Bingtown, which is a merchant city. Originally a city of refugees, some families settled in the harbor town of Bingtown, while others settled up the Rain Wilds river, and over the generations a trading empire was born. For the most part, the story follows the Vestrit family, a prominent trading family. On his deathbed, Ephron Vestrit decides his eldest daughter Keffria and her husband Kyle will inherit the family’s Liveship and trading business, leaving his younger daughter, Althea with nearly nothing. It’s a decision that nearly tears the family apart – Althea has sailed with her father, she knows every inch of the family liveship Vivacia, she’s already built relationships with the other ship captains and merchants in other cities, she assumed the ship captaincy would go to her on her father’s death. Kyle on the other hand, knows little of the Bingtown traditions, and he certainly has no understanding of the life cycle of a Liveship or the contracts made to obtain such a ship.

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It’s Monday, what are you reading?


Monday’s are a great time for me to talk about what I’ve been reading, as work has slowed down a little bit lately, so I actually have time to read and relax over the weekend.   It’s also way too cold to go outside unless I absolutely have to, so staying inside and cuddling under blankets with a book sounds like a great way to pass a Sunday afternoon.

hounded kevin hearne

Over the weekend, I zipped through Hounded, by Kevin Hearne. It was a fun, fast read, i’m hoping to find time later this week (or next weekend!) to write a review.  The book  is funny, snarky, has awesome dialog, and is so full of DGAF, and I loved it.

the coldest war tregillis

Wanting something “grabs you doesn’t let go”, I started The Coldest War, by Ian Tregillis last night.  The Coldest War is the sequel to Bitter Seeds, which I read a few years ago. These alt-history books are a combination of “grab you by the shirt and won’t let go” and “really hard to read”.  it’s like, am I a psychopath for enjoying these?  Arrgghh, Gretel!  what would have she been like if she’d never been experimented on? Would she just be a schoolyard bully? because now she’s something so much more screwed up.

By the way, have you see my give away for The Best Of Apex?

best of Apex Mag Antho

Isn’t that just some gorgeous cover art?


Want your favorite Apex Magazine stories bound in a dead-tree (or virtual dead-tree) volume?  Want one-stop-shopping for surreal, strange and shocking fiction?  Gotcha covered!


Best of Apex Magazine, Vol 1


Whether wandering down endless stairwells, searching for answers in the desert, or reaching out to the stars, for more than six years Apex Magazine has entertained readers with stories that are strange, beautiful, shocking, and surreal. Now, for the first time, editors Jason Sizemore and Lesley Conner are collecting the award winning and nominated stories, those chosen by readers as Story of the Year, and their own personal favorites into one anthology.


A Veil that wipes the experiences of war from soldiers’ memories. A witch who faces down both God and the devil to save a soul. A swaying dance that crosses the galaxy to transmit a message. A vampire caught in a web of politics and law by his responsibility to his family. Within this collection, you will find 21 stories that explore what it means to love, to regret, to be human.


With stories by Ursula Vernon, Ken Liu, Rachel Swirsky, Sarah Pinsker, Rich Larson, and more, Best of Apex Magazine: Volume 1 brings readers some of the best stories Apex Magazine has published so far.


Some of my favorite stories made it into this very special anthology, including “Remembery Day”, by Sarah Pinsker (seriously, my husband and I still talk about this story!), “Going Endo” by Rich Larson, and “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky.


And you can win a copy!  I’ve got one print copy to be given away to someone in the US, and a digital copy for anyone who lives on planet Earth (or at least has an e-mail address here).  This giveaway closes on midnight, Eastern Time, on Saturday Feb 20th.  All you need to do to enter the giveaway is, should I make you do something funny?  Leave a comment telling me something delicious you like to eat.  Make sure you leave me some way to get a hold of you (e-mail, twitter, etc), and let me know if you are the US or in a country that has a better tax system and better schools and probably better healthcare, so that I know to set you up with the print copy or the e-book copy of Best of Apex Magazine Vol 1.


the title of this post is a lie.

Letter writing is not a lost art. It happens all the time.

I hated writing letters as a child. I hated writing Thank You notes for birthday gifts, I hated writing out holiday cards.  I didn’t like addressing envelopes, I didn’t like pretty stationary.

Luckily, I grew out of that.  Way out.  These days I voluntarily write letters,  purchase fun cards and stationary,  go to Postcard expos, and I even enjoy addressing envelopes!  Did any of you hear on the radio the other day that the Post Office had good profits last year?  well, me and my letter writing friends go through a lot of postage.

It probably shouldn’t surprise me that I’ve come to really enjoy epilostery, epistoler, stories told through letter writing.  Characters writing letters back and forth? that sounds so cheesy! so old fashioned!!  but somehow,  I find this method of telling a story so much more effective than a bunch of characters wandering around doing things together. It’s strange, how the limits of letter writing flip themselves inside out to something infinite when used to tell a story.   Think about it – when you write a letter you only have so much space on the page.  It limits your space, so it limits what you can say (unless you want to send a 10 page letter, which is totally OK), so you have to prioritize what you want to say, and details may get left out. Letters also contain far less internal monologue, more inside jokes, the opportunity to add a doodle, misspelled words that may be crossed out, and handwriting that changes sizes or may be difficult to read.  Handwriting is a personal and non-verbal communication method all by itself.


So, anyway, I like those kinds of stories, and was lucky enough to run into three fantastic ones recently. Unfortunately, some of these aren’t available for public consumption yet, but they will be soon!

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A few summers ago,  my husband and I went to an Anime Con in Chicago. It was a blast.  And holy cow, the cosplay!  The costume contest was the highlight of the weekend for a lot of attendees, and people waited inline for hours to get into the contest.  I had a great time enjoying a Chicago summer afternoon and photographing people who were in line.  The costumes were beautiful and very elaborate. There was everything from Disney princesses to Anime characters to steampunk interpretations of characters to mechas to Star Wars, to Gothic Lolita and American Superhero outfits, there was everything.   The wigs, the props, the dresses, the spandex,  just WOW. it was glorious, and it was intimidating.  Nothing I could make with my skill set would ever come close to any of these outfits.   The generic anime schoolgirl cosplay I was wearing was a button up shirt and a necklace (it’s the middle of the tie) I owned, and about $20 worth of stuff from Goodwill. Maybe there was a reason no one was complimenting my outfit.   Who the hell did I think I was, I wasn’t even wearing a styled wig!  Maybe successful cosplay just isn’t for me.

well, I FELT cute.

well, I FELT cute.

More than once, I’ve described myself as a “bad cosplayer”, because I am intimidated by the very elaborate costumes. I don’t have the sewing skills to make a beautiful dress, I don’t know how to style a wig, i don’t know how to shape boiled leather or make something approximating armor.  I don’t have the patience for any of that stuff. All those “easy” projects that require something to be done outdoors because of poisonous fumes are a challenge for us apartment dwellers who don’t have a garage or back porch.  Could I learn how to sew? Certainly.  But I am also very impatient and not all that interested in developing a lot of costuming skill sets (did you not see my blog post earlier this month about having zero free time?).   First and foremost, cosplay should be FUN.  And to me, FUN means easy.  FUN means as little stress as possible.  FUN means using the skills I have, such as papercraft and glue, iron-on interfacing, and hand sewing.  FUN means fun, not stress.

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So,  here’s the first of my “reading diary” blog posts.


I’m nearly half way through Ship of Magic, by Robin Hobb.  If you’ve never read her, she’s awesome.  This trilogy is probably a good starting point for someone new to her work, as it’s sort of a stand alone series. A number of years ago I remember maybe Hobb talking about her own work, or someone else talking about her work, and they said she imagines the worse possible thing that could happen to her main character, and then she does it. and then does it over and over to that person.  And yep, that’s about what usually happens in Hobb books.   She’s a damn genius writer, so she gets you all emotionally invested in this character (even if you don’t like the character, you will still be invested. Because Robin Hobb), and then all those horrible things that happen to the character? because of your emotional investment, it feels like it’s happening to you. or, erm, maybe that’s just me.


So, in Ship of Magic, Althea is cheated out of her inheritance. Her douchebag brother-in-law, Kyle, persuades the rest of the family that only he can look after the family’s legacy.  He’s such a jackass whiny twat that I want to call him Kylo.  see all the horrible words I’ve already used to describe him?  Althea isn’t an angel either, she’s kinda whiny too . . .


Oh, but what could this inheritance possibly be that they are fighting over? A liveship. Like, the ship is made of a special kind of wood, and after a while, the ship wakes up.  It’s alive, and liveships are a totally normal thing in this area. And the ships talk. And they are awesome. There is one liveship that supposedly went mad, and it’s been beached. Althea talks to it sometimes. I bet it would be super therapeutic if that beached ship could swim again.  I totally want to pet that poor ship and bring it cookies.  and Kyle needs to die in a fire.  But, this is a Hobb, so he won’t.

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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.