the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for May 2016

caline conspiracyThe Caline Conspiracy, by M.H. Mead

published in 2012

where I got it: received review copy from the author (thanks!)





Do you like mystery thrillers?  Do you like smartly written characters involved with right around the corner technology? Do you find yourself having to balance day time stuff chaos with family chaos?


I just heard a lot of Yeses.   The Caline Conspiracy, part of the Detroit Next series by M.H. Mead, is a book for you! (Check out my interview with Alex Kourvo, who is half of the M.H. Mead writing team)


In the near future, messing around with human genetics is frowned upon, but messing with animal genetics is big business. Realizing how much we spend on our pets, the newest and most lucrative trend are genetically modified pets.  Calines, which look like a small dog, but include canine and feline genetics, offer the loyalty of a dog, the intelligence of a young child, the cuddle factor of a cat, and are completely hypoallergenic.  Calines are expensive as heck, but they truly are the perfect pet.


Private investigator Aidra Scott’s newest client is the very recently widowed Gloria Frithke. Mrs. Frithke’s husband was found dead in their home, his throat torn out and the family caline standing nearby.  The pet did it, of course. But Gloria is convinced there is something bigger going on. Can Aidra get to the bottom of the mystery before the evidence is destroyed, and Mr. Frithke’s research is lost forever?


At first blush, looks like a standard mystery novel with a few speculative fiction elements, right? Well…… Almost.   Along with the expected trappings of your standard mystery thriller, things like great pacing, chapters that end on smartly written cliffhangers, spying on people, and sneaky PI stuff, The Caline Conspiracy has well-presented scifi tech that blends seamlessly into the plot, excellent worldbuilding, and one of my new favorite protagonists: Aidra Scott.

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Alex KourvoA few years ago at ConFusion, I met author Alex Kourvo.  We were on a Book Reviewing panel together, and while the other panelists were fiction reviewers, Alex runs a book review site called Writing Slices, where she reviews “the books that teach you to write”.   She’s reviewed books that focus on writing dialog, books that focus on writing exercises, books for young writers, books that focus on characterization, you name it. If you’re a new writer, a writer who wants to up their game, or just someone interested in craft of writing, Writing Slices can point you in helpful directions.


An author and editor, her short fiction has appeared in Fantastical Visions IV and Reflection’s Edge.  Along with her writing partner Harry R. Campion, she is the co-writer of the Detroit Next series of novels and novellas.  The newest book in the Detroit Next series is Living All Day, and if “series” make you nervous, the novels and novellas in this series can be read in any order.   I recent read the first book in the Detroit Next series, The Caline Conspiracy, and it was fantastic. Fast paced, great characters, and a thrilling story that pulled me right in.  Review coming soon!


Alex was kind enough to let me pick her brain about just about everything – writing with a partner, the Detroit Next series, the Writing Slices blog, teaching writing workshops, and a lot more.

living all day

LRR: I recently finished the first book in your Detroit Next series, The Caline Conspiracy (it was awesome by the way!), a near future thriller. You co-write this series with author Harry R. Campion. How is writing novels with a partner different than writing on your own? What are the advantages and disadvantages of writing as a team?

AK: Harry and I write short stories separately and I’m working on a solo novel, but our favorite thing is writing together. I couldn’t do this with everyone, but Harry and I share a brain. Often, after the book is published, we can’t remember who wrote which part! When you’re writing with a partner, the first draft goes more quickly, but the editing takes longer. You have to edit for consistency of voice as well as consistency of story. I think we do a good job of blending our voices. That’s why we chose to share the single pen name, “M.H. Mead.”

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There was a neat panel at this year’s PenguiCon about author self promotion. I didn’t make it to the panel, but I wanted to, and I bet a lot of what I bring up in this blog post was mentioned there. Or at least I hope it was.


As a blogger, I’m on the receiving end of all that author self promotion. What authors put out there tends to end up in my inbox and in my twitter feed, and allows me to make a snap decision on if I’m going to give them 5 seconds, or a week of my life to read and then write an in depth review of their novel.


I’ve been blogging since mid 2010, and on twitter for about five years. I’ve seen plenty of author promotion – some of it effective, and some of it terrible.   Us blogger types can be harsher than slush readers and professional editors and publishers. At least those folks are obligated to read your first few hundred or few thousand words before deciding to read on.  I’ll be making a decision to interact with you (or not) based on the first few sentences of your first interaction with me.


(tl;dr:  do: be authentic and friendly . Don’t: be pushy)

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I’ve been on a short stuff kick lately. Short stories, short novels, novellas.  There’s just something about knowing I can get through an entire story with a beginning, middle, and end in a weekend.  It’s not that I’m not reading fatty mcfat doorstopper novels, but these days they don’t hold as much allure  (except this one, of course).


Anyhoo, I recently zipped through these new novellas from Tim Powers and K.J. Parker. They were so quick to read in fact, that I was able to read them twice!  Downfall of the Gods by Parker came out from Subterranean Press in late March, and Down and Out in Purgatory will be available in late June from Subterranean Press.  If you’re a fan of either of these authors, watch for these titles!



Let’s start with the Parker, because of the two, it was my favorite.  Imagine a parallel ancient Rome or Greece, where a pantheon of gods keeps the sun crossing the sky, keeps the crops growing, and occasionally visits Earth in human form for entertainment.  What I most enjoyed about this story is that it’s from a Goddess’s point of view, and how the myths and what the humans believe the immortals do isn’t exactly the truth. The Greek mythology I grew up learning humanizes, but still idealizes Gods and Goddesses.  The Goddess at the center of Downfall of the Gods has her own family issues, the aunts and uncles who hate her, the stupid things she says to her parents. She gets in trouble for forgetting things, she gets “grounded”, she’s bored out of her mind.  I loved her as a character, even if she was a bit of an emo teenager.

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armada clineArmada, by Ernest Cline

published 2015

where I got it: purchased new





I liked Ernest Cline’s debut novel, Ready Player One. I don’t remember if I really *really* liked it, but I recall enjoying it. I was excited to hear he had a new book coming out, and even more excited when Armada showed up in paperback. Armada was going to be just as good as Ready Player One, right? It was going to be better, right?


Well, it was certainly an Ernest Cline book, that’s for sure. And Ernie Cline fan or not, you’re either going to really love this book, or really hate it.


In his free time, high school senior Zach Lightman plays his favorite MMO, Armada, with his buddies. Even at his part time job at the local gaming and comics shop, Zach gets to play Armada with his boss when the shop is slow, which is usually is. And because this is an Ernest Cline book, not a paragraph goes by without a reference to the video games, music, and scifi movies and tv shows from the past 30 years. Zach even digs through his late father’s VHS tapes and cassette tapes, in an effort to know the father he barely met.


(Ok, something neat was happening here: Zach and his generation are the children of today’s gaming teenagers. Zach grew up playing video games with his Mom, and most of his friends grew up playing video games with their parents. That’s actually pretty cool.)

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Books are wonderful little things, and it’s a true bond between two bookish people when one says to the other “I picked out some books I think you might like”.   It’s a special part of your brain that clicks on when you think about “would my friend like this book?”.

My friend Richard, of Tip the Wink, e-mailed me one day and said “I’m sending you a box of books”.  Little did he know the look of glee that appeared on my face when I saw that e-mail.  Someone was sending me books they think I might like? and even better, these were used, pre-loved books.  I’d  be able to say “my friend gave me these”. And I love getting to say that. I’m one of those weirdos who gives additional brownie points to friends who gift me their used books.

A week later, Richard’s box arrived.  It was like Christmas. In May.

that evening, I so very carefully opened it:

(be warned, this is a booknerd unboxing post, full of photos, squeeing, happy, and questions about stuff I’ve heard of but never read. Photos may be slow in loading)

the box_

The squeeing begun right away.  Arthur C. Clarke? Ben Bova? Neal Asher!   So far so good! Let’s see what else is in here…..

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Kristin Centorcelli, famously of My Bookish Ways and SFSignal, recently had the chance to talk with author Martin Seay about his debut novel, The Mirror Thief.  The novel weaves a tale of three Venices, following Venetian glass makers in Italy and those who would control their inventions, and newer secrets and schemes in Venice Beach CA and a casino in Las Vegas.  Publisher’s Weekly called The Mirror Thief “A true delight, a big, beautiful cabinet of wonders that is by turns an ominous modern thriller, a supernatural mystery, and an enchanting historical adventure story…A splendid masterpiece”.  Wow!  Please join me in giving Martin and Kristin a warm welcome. Let’s see what they got to chatting about.

mirror thief


Kristin Centorcelli: Will you tell us a bit about The Mirror Thief and what inspired you to write it?

Martin Seay: Sure! The Mirror Thief is a novel about Venice, although it doesn’t all happen in Venice. A third of it happens in Las Vegas in 2003, where a recently-retired U.S. Marine is searching for a famous gambler who’s gone missing; a third of it happens in Southern California in 1958, where a Brooklyn-born juvenile delinquent has come to seek out an obscure poet with whom he’s become obsessed; a third of it happens in the city-state of Venice in 1592, where a physician and alchemist is secretly trying to steal the technology for making flat glass mirrors on behalf of a certain foreign power. These three stories echo and intersect one another in a bunch of ways, some of which are clear, some of which are subtle.

When I started working on The Mirror Thief, I had aspired for a while to write something about Venice, but that impulse was too broad to act on: I needed something to give me focus, and I found it when I learned that Venice maintained a monopoly on the manufacture of flat glass mirrors for about 200 years. That gave me the industrial-espionage plot for the 1592 sections, and the idea of the mirror led me (naturally) to motifs of doubling and iteration . . . which in turn led me to play with the odd fact that people keep trying to recreate Venice elsewhere. That was pretty much all I needed to get me going. Read the rest of this entry »


I’m sure by now, most of you have heard about this.

And this.

I’ve made a few public comments, I’ve sent a number of private e-mails. My brain processes this kind of stuff very slowly. And these announcements especially have been a challenge for me to process, because I’m not sure how to categorize them. Retirement? Loss? Like a friend moving away? Like a party ending? Graduation and everyone scattering? All of the above?  So much feels.

But the overwhelming emotions I am feeling right now are gratitude and responsibility.

I have so much gratitude for John, JP, Kristin, and everyone else at SFSignal who took a chance on me. They gave me a place and welcomed my sometimes weird voice. Thanks to SFSignal, I’ve gained other opportunities I otherwise would never have had. Opportunities became stepping stones, which became introductions, which became other opportunities. SFSignal is where I *became*, if that makes any sense. It’s where I blossomed. We all throw around the word community, and the phrase the SFF Community. I didn’t know what that word meant, until SFSignal.

So, gratitude. I wouldn’t be the person I am without SFSignal.

The biggest, best, and least talked about opportunity I had through SFSignal was being able to pay it forward. New author I’m excited about? New short fiction magazine that’s doing some cool stuff? Someone is editing an anthology I wish more people knew about? I could give those people a voice at SFSignal, through interviews, book reviews, columns, and Mind Melds. I could make sure projects I believed in got a little more attention. Talented blogger? Let’s get them a column or a gig as a Mind Meld coordinator. A responsibility grew in me, a responsibility to pay it forward.  And maybe that’s how you know you’re part of the right community, part of the right online family – because everyone’s passions and positivity rub off on you. I wanted to be my best self for the people whose support and guidance helped me become who I am.  Also? it’s awesome to pay it forward.

When John and JP decided it was time to shut down SFSignal, what a lot of people heard was “goodbye”.

Underneath the sads, and the feels, and my exploding twitter feed, what I heard wasn’t “goodbye”, but “you’ve graduated”. Now I, and all the other SFSignal irregulars, get to take what we’ve learned to our other communities and online families. I blossomed at SFSignal. And now I’m full of seeds that can be planted anywhere.

Schools over.  It’s time to see what we’ve all learned.

And in case you’re wondering, I have no plans to go anywhere.  I’ve been a bit slow lately here at LRR, but I’m still here, quietly and happily doing my thing.

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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.