the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for March 2017

Will 2017 be the year of the reread? only time will tell. In the meantime, I’ve been enjoying Sheri S Tepper’s Arbai trilogy. Again.


Raising the Stones by Sheri S. Tepper

published in 1990

where I got it: who knows. I’ve had it forever.



If you’d asked me five years ago for a list of my top five favorite novels, Sheri S. Tepper’s Raising the Stones would have been on that list.  Is it still in my top five? Sadly, no.  Is it a hella good book? Absolutely. I wrote a review of Raising the Stones back in 2011, which gives a great overview of the plot if you’re interested in the plot end of things.


I’ve been itching for some comfort reads lately, escapist novels that I know I will enjoy no matter what is happening in the world around me.  Tepper’s Arbai trilogy fits that bill a hundred percent.  I have no idea how many times I’ve read Raising the Stones, I know exactly what happens in it, I know who dies at the end, who the jerks are, who should have known better, who was blinded by their own narrow-mindedness. It’s neat to read a book that you know so well, to set aside everything that you know you know about it, and find everything else that was hiding there in plain sight all along.


Something that did catch my attention this read through was how the novel is paced, and that the pacing matches exactly something else that is going on in the background. Lemme ‘splain.  The first half of the novel is painfully slow. I’d forgotten how slow it was. Slow isn’t bad per se, there is buckets of fascinating worldbuilding and learning about the various cultures in this star system and their beliefs; characterization of Maire, Sam, China, Jep, and Saturday; the slightest beginnings of what’s happening behind the scenes on the planet of Hobbs Land. There is tons of good *stuff* in the first half of the novel, it just doesn’t feel like anything is happening. Maybe I was just antsy for the good stuff? I dunno, but it felt sooooo sloooooooow.   The last third of the novel is solid anxiety. Everything comes to a head, rebellions and coups are put into action, what’s been happening behind the scenes on Hobbs Land is suddenly very much the center of attention.  It’s like something finally reached a critical mass.


And that’s exactly what the pacing of the plot mirrors – the pace of the growths on Hobbs Land reaching their critical mass.  Very slow, barely detectable at first, and then slowly increasing, and then reaching a point where it has no choice but to asymptotically reach for infinity.  Pretty brilliant trick for an author to pull off, when you think about it!

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I’ve been involved with Apex Magazine since sometime in 2014. I met Jason Sizemore and Lesley Conner at a convention, we hit it off, I did some slush reading, and before I knew it I doing author interviews in the magazine every month.

Getting to read someone’s forthcoming story months ahead of time, researching the author, putting together engaging interview questions, writing an intro that hopefully gets your attention . . .  if you’re a nerd like me this is the best gig ever!  And it really is the best gig. I’ve gotten to interview authors such as Nisi Shawl, John Hornor Jacobs,  E. Catherine Tobler, A. Merc Rustad, Benjanun Sriduangkaew, Ursula Vernon, Chikodili Emelumadu, Brian Keene, Damien Angelica Walters, and Seth Dicksinson, just to name a few (and I realize I’ve just named a bunch of my favorite authors, as well. bonus!).

I know from the outside, it looks like Apex Magazine magically comes together every month, but it isn’t magic. It’s a lot of time, passion, and hard work from the people involved. And I’m just the smallest, tiniest part of how the sausage gets made.

Apex Magazine is currently in their 2017 subscription drive. What’s a subscription drive?  It’s where you can buy subscriptions (now only $17! Less than a $1.50 an issue! like, you can’t get a cup of decent coffee that cheap), you can buy stuff (artwork! signed books! handmade blankets and hats! critiques!), Lesley Conner will send you an awesome postcard! And there are stretch goals for more stuff.  Reaching $10K means the magazine can pay their authors more, buy more stories, hire another editor, and do all sorts of amazing things.

What’s in it for you, you ask?  When stretch goals are reached, EVERYONE gets to enjoy the rewards! including:

  • more awesome fiction from Tade Thompson! You know, that guy who wrote Rosewater, one of the most unique alien invasion stories I’ve ever read?
  • Jason and Lesley torturing and teasing each other about It Follows.
  • Me having the opportunity to ask Jason all sorts of goofy and embarrassing questions over Skype.
  • Apex donating convention memberships and badges to Con or Bust
  • more fiction from Delilah Dawson, Cherie Priest, and Jacqueline Carey!

There’s about a bazillion more stretch goals, but those are the ones that will benefit YOU, as a magazine reader, the most.  Oh wait, you’re not a reader, you’re an author or an artist? Stretch goals for you include paying you more money.

the first stretch goal, has already been unlocked, so you better go vote in who is more adorable – Oz the dog or Pumpkin the cat.  I think I’m gonna have to snuggle with both of them for at least 3 days before I can come to a decision.


Some of you already read Apex Magazine, or other online magazines such as Lightspeed, Uncanny, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, or others.


But some of you aren’t onboard with electronic magazines, and that’s totally OK. You’re more the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Asimov’s type.  Trust me, I get it. I’m all about teh dead trees.  And I have something just for you!

Apex SFFH: Issue Vol 0 – this is a gorgeous print issue, a sampler of 2016. It includes essays, short stories, novel excerpts and interviews, and can be yours for only $8! And oh yeah, I’m in it!   As a HUGE fan of dead tree magazines,  I am a cheerleader for the Print Issue. I don’t know how many Jason needs to sell for it to be worth it for him to print more volumes, but I want to get there. Getting Apex (hi Jason!) to do a dead-tree full length sampler once a year is a personal goal of mine.

Apex prints dead-tree versions of anthologies and novels too!   Imma make this super easy. Here are my top pics of Apex print copy goodies:    the just mentioned Apex SFFH: Issue Vol 0Rosewater by Tade Thompson,  Shine Your Light on Me by Lee Thompson, Stay Crazy by Erica Satifka, The Best of Apex Magazine, The Apex Book of World SF series, and For Exposure by Jason Sizemore.

tl;dr –

a year’s subscription for less than a cup of coffee per issue (and an interview by yours truly in every issue!)

kick-ass print full-length print sampler available for $8 (also, I’m in it)

there’s a stretch goal where I get to ask Jason a bunch of goofy and embarrassing questions

better pay for writers and artists in the magazine

if you don’t care about any of that stuff, go check out some sweet anthologies and novels printed by Apex.


ok, so what are you waiting for?  go forth and Apex!


Lee Thompson’s newest novella, Shine Your Light On Me, is now available through Apex Publications. Thompson writes thrillers, mysteries, and horror, often focusing on how to regain our humanity when we feel that all has been lost. His previous novels include A Beautiful Madness, It’s Only Death, With Fury in Hand, and When We Join Jesus in Hell. (Click here for info on purchasing Shine Your Light On Me)

In Shine Your Light on Me, Aiden faces a family tragedy only to months later be given the gift of healing. He doesn’t understand how his gift works, but his neighbors and acquaintances demand that he use it for them. When he could have the power to heal an entire town, does Aiden really have a choice? Desperate measures, indeed. Lee Thompson was kind enough to chat with me over e-mail about this thrilling new novella and other projects he has in the works. You can learn more about Lee at his website, Lee Thompson Fiction.

Let’s get to the interview!

Andrea: The plot of Shine Your Light On Me sounds absolutely fascinating. Miraculous healings, hopefulness that turns into dark desperation, and a teenager thrown into the middle of it all. Where did the idea for this story come from? Even more incredible is that this is a novella! How did you cram all of that into less than 200 pages?

Lee: Thanks for the interview, Andrea.

Well, Ken Wood from Shock Totem would tell you I was inspired by the cover for issue 4. And he’s partly right. Mostly it was asking myself, what things haven’t I written about that I want to now, right now? And I thought about it for weeks, finally realizing that to go from being a no one to everyone wanting a piece of you, would be terrifying to me. Especially if I was still a teenager. It’s kind of the opposite of Stephen King’s Carrie.

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Binti:Home by Nnedi Okorafor

published January 2017

where I got it: purchased new





In my review for Okorafor’s first Binti novella, I was hopeful that she’d write more fiction starring this character, and that the first novella was just Binti’s initial adventure into the galaxy. My hopes for Binti were that she’d continue to meet new people and expand her worldview. In Binti:Home, Okorafor has chosen a much scarier adventure for the now more worldly Binti.  After a year at University, she’s headed home for a traditional pilgrimage.


A young woman who ran away from home in the middle  of the night to chase her dreams, a young woman who has been physically and mentally changed by surviving a Meduse attack on her ship, and is who is now friendly enough with a Meduse to bring him home with her. What does her family think of her now?


It’s like she’s coming home and saying “hi Mom and Dad, University is great thanks for asking. oh, I’ve permanently changed my biology, and befriended someone from a violent culture who tried to kill me and everyone on my ship! What’s for dinner?”

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The Skill of Our Hands by Steven Brust and Skyler White

published January 2017

where I got it: purchased new







I went into this book thinking “Yes! More Ren and Phil!!”. Alas, that was not to be the case, as on page one, Phil gets shot and is down for the count for a little while. No adorableness between Ren and Phil? What was I going to do?


Enjoy the hell out of everyone else getting the spotlight, that’s what.


Ren, Phil, you two know I love you, right? Because I totally do.   But I am pleased as punch that Oskar and Irina (and Kate!!) get to be the stars of the show for once.


Wait, wait wait a minute. If you have not read The Incrementalists, full stop, go and read it RIGHT NOW.  firstly, because that novel is gorgeously awesome, and secondly because this review will make no sense at all and also will spoil tons of good stuff.


Me telling you that Phil, who is now Chuck, gets shot at the beginning of this new novel doesn’t spoil anything for you, and if you’ve read The Incrementalists you’ll know it doesn’t really spoil too much for Phil either.  Ren knows she’ll find him again,  but in the meantime she’s inconsolable yet still attempting to meddle.  As Incrementalists do when they are facing a crisis (because death, although annoying and impermanent for them, is still a crisis!), everyone comes together. There will be arguing, shouting, meddling, gardening, incredible meals,  probably some flirting, and does anyone but Irina ever remember to go to the grocery store?


One of the many things I loved about The Skill of our Hands was how the story is presented. That sounds so simple, I know, but hear me out.  This is Oskar’s novel, and as he observes Ren, Irina, and everyone else involved with planning what to do now, Oskar interrupts the narrative whenever he damn pleases to make sure you’re aware of his opinion, or aware that he agrees with someone, or aware that he is so deeply sorry that he didn’t trust someone or didn’t believe them. There’s a much bigger picture here that he needs you to see, even if he can’t point to it directly. You’d think his comments might be interruptive, but they totally aren’t. It works perfectly, and it gives the reader this really intimate relationship with Oskar. If  I ever have a crisis, I want to have an Oskar on speed dial. Alongside everything that’s going on, Phil’s memories are being explored, specifically his memories of being in Kansas in the mid 1850’s. This book has an earworm you’re going to love.

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Speaker for the Dead, by Orson Scott Card

published in 1986, Revised Edition published 1991

where I got it: purchased used






Hard to believe I’ve never reviewed Ender’s Game.  How many times have I read that book? Four times? Five? Maybe more??  It’s one of those novels that I’ve returned to over and over during the last 15 years, when I need to read something that I know I’ll enjoy.  If you’ve never read Ender’s Game

  1. You totally should, because it’s an awesome book
  2. Don’t waste your time on the movie that came out a few years ago, because it sucked
  3. Me talking about Speaker for the Dead will probably spoil some Ender’s Game stuff for you. #sorrynotsorry


I’m going to review this book backwards.  All the good stuff is right here at the beginning, and maybe I’ll get to the nitty gritty stuff later.


The good stuff:  I fucking loved this novel.  The last 50 pages? I cried through every single one of them. I have a thing about trees, and I suck at dealing with death. What I got out of Speaker for the Dead is that trees are way awesomer than I ever thought, and that’s ok to be shitty at mourning and to not have any idea how to process it when someone dies.


More good stuff: really cool aliens!  Really cool Artificial intelligence!


Only a few xenobiologists on the Lusitania colony are allowed to have contact with the indigenous sentient animals, who have been nicknamed “Piggies”, due to their physical resemblance to Terran pigs.  The xenobiologists are keen to understand everything they scientifically can about the Piggies (their reproductive cycle, their genetic code, you name it!), and it’s a two way street as the Piggies are pretty curious about us too. If the Piggies words and phrases don’t always make sense, maybe their actions and “gifts” will.  We view them as cute little animals, they can’t possibly be intelligent, and they certainly don’t fit our view of civilized mammals.


Ender has an assistant, of sorts, Jane.  She talks to him through a bluetooth-esque speaker in his ear, but she’s not a person.  She’s an AI born within humanity’s interstellar communications system. No one but Ender knows she exists, because she knows if humanity knew she existed, she’d be destroyed. Because of what Ender has been through, she trusts him. And she helps him, most of the time. In a way, Jane loves him.  If nothing I’ve said so far has gotten your attention, read this book just for the banter between Ender and Jane.

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It’s the best,  to read  a book and love it, and seek out more by the same author, and love those books too.


It’s the best, to meet an author at a convention or a book signing, or some other event, and find out they are just the nicest person in the world.


Thanks to the internet, us fans can find out everything about the authors we read – what their early non-writing jobs were, if they did any special writing workshops, if they teach at a university anywhere, what bookstores they might be doing book signings at, what their pets look like, if they have a cool new hairstyle,  their favorite sports teams,  if they like to play videogames, if they like to garden, their family cheesecake recipe.  You get the idea. Yay internet!


Thanks to the internet, us fans can find out everything about the authors we read – their political views, if they really really like something or really really dislike it, their lifestyle, how they raise their kids, and many very personal details about their private life.   Yay internet?


Here’s where I’m going with all of this.


you read a book.  You love the book. you seek out titles by that same author that you also enjoy.


You then find out the author’s political views are the complete opposite of yours. Or they live a type of lifestyle that you don’t agree with. Or they do something regrettable at a public event and they aren’t embarrassed by what happened (or maybe are quite embarrassed, but can’t turn back the clock), or they were involved with a project that ended up being controversial, or even worse, that they don’t like cheesecake.


So, what do you do?   Do you continue to enjoy their fiction (because you liked it just find before you found out they didn’t like cheesecake, right?)?  Do you stop reading their stuff?  I guess the same could be said for artists of any kind – musicians, composers, painters, fashion designers, architects, etc.


I am not going to name names, and if you comment to this post, I do not want you to name names either.  This isn’t about any particular author, or any particular anything.   I’m just curious to know if us as readers, fans, reviewers, and critics, give a shit about the personal lives of the authors whose works we enjoy.  Or to be more specific, how much of shit do we give. Should we give a shit?   If yes, how much?



by they way? Cheesecake is awesome, and if you like cheesecake you should totally go eat some. If you don’t like cheesecake, you should go eat something that you do like.  Maybe, apple pie? or cherry pie? or pumpkin pie? or lemon meringue pie? or key lime pie? If you don’t like any of those things, umm…..  i guess that means more for me!

arkwrightArkwright by Allen Steele

published March 2016

where I got it: purchased new










Reviewers seem to really love this book or really be frustrated by it, there doesn’t seem to be much in between.  Here’s my issue:  I can’t figure out if my frustration with the book is because it was crafted poorly, or if I’m just whining that an author didn’t write the exact book that I wanted to read.  As the process of me writing these reviews and such is more often than not just me having a conversation with myself about a reading experience I had,  let’s let the review write itself and see what happens.


Warning – spoilers ahead.


The concept of Arkwright is a very fun one.  A fictitious science fiction writer, Nathan Arkwright, puts his life savings towards a foundation whose goal is to get humanity to the stars. Doesn’t hurt that he is incredibly successful, movies and TV shows are made from his stories and novels, he knows how to invest, he has a fantastic agent, etc. He kinda reminds me of a romanticized Gene Roddenberry combined with the kind of success every science fiction author dreams of.  The novel opens with Nathan’s death, and his granddaughter Kate learning the truth about her family, and about why every cent in his will went to some Foundation she’s never heard of. Once she learns the truth, she decides to get involved with the Arkwright Foundation.  And their methods of ensuring humanity gets to a colony planet and can survive the trip is a pretty innovative idea. There is some good hard science in Arkwright, that’s for sure!


This is not a long book.   If the plot is going to zip forward a bunch of generations, Steele doesn’t have much time to introduce characters and their motivations, and develop any interesting side plots.  So he doesn’t.  The characters barely get developed,which makes  much of the writing feel rushed and clunky. To add insult to injury I found Nathan’s flashbacks of meeting new friends at the 1939 WorldCon to be so overly schmaltzy sweet, I nearly DNF’d this book right then and there to avoid getting cavities in my teeth. What so many reviewers saw as a love letter to the genre, I saw as characters flatly written to be at exactly the right place at the exactly the right time to quite literally Forward the Foundation.  As we meet new generations of Arkwrights, unfortunately even their stories became predictable: handsome and brilliant Arkwright of marriageable age meets brilliant scientist of the opposite gender, awkwardly written romance ensues, the next generation is born,  bam, on to the next chapter and generation we go. Do these characters exist for any other reason except to ensure that the next generation of Arkwrights is born?

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I’ve been getting plenty of reading done lately, now I just need to actually write the reviews!


I find I write best in the morning.  My husband thinks I’m crazy, but I love the time of day between 4am and 8am.   I get to hear the city wake up around me – the early city buses, delivery trucks, first shifters scraping ice and snow off their cars in the neighborhood, the apartment building creaking as the air temperature changes.  My apartment is up on a hill, so this time of year when the trees haven’t budded out yet I can see pretty far. I can watch the sun rise over the city and change the colors of the clouds. I can  watch the businesses across the street get ready to open for the day. I can watch the college kids run across the street to catch the city bus for their 8am classes at the campus.  I can watch the traffic on the hill go from a trickle to what passes for rush hour around here. It’s a nice time of morning.  Any those of you lucky enough to have received e-mails from me time stamped at 5am know I do some crazy stuff before the sun comes up.


But anyways, we were talking about books I need to review!


Kelley Armstrong’s Lost Souls is a forthcoming novella that takes place in her Cainsville series. I’ve not ready any of the books in that series, but this was a quite fun little mystery story.  I wish more authors would write short stories and/or novellas within their series, they are often very nice entry points. review is coming soon!


Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor.  When I bought this novella about a month ago, I told myself i was going to read the first novella, Binti, again, so I could read them back to back. Did that happen? Of course it didn’t.  I zipped through Binti: Home without digging out my copy of the precursor. So before I review this book, I’m going to reread the two novellas back to back, because that will mean I get to spend more time with Binti and her family.



I’m nearly done with Arkwright, by Allen Steele,  which means very soon I’ll have another book I need to write a review of. While I really like the overarching plot of this book, as a whole it’s not really working for me.  There is a lot to enjoy in this book, but a lot that frustrated me too. This is the March book for my local book club, so it’ll be interesting to see what everyone else things.


Because no week is complete without a stop at my local bookstore,  these beauties came home with me:


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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.