the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for February 2020

This was the book I didn’t want to review.

 

I didn’t even want to read it.

 

I don’t know why, but I felt the need to save this book for some time when I really needed it.  Like it was the last bottle of whisky from a famous yet shuttered distillery. And once I opened it, it would evaporate and soon barely the scent would remain.

 

When I did crack the book open,  of course the first story I read was The Battle of Candle Arc.  And then I read that story again. And then I read Iseul’s Lexicon, which I then, read again.

I consumed this collection in such a strange way,  I consumed it the same way I use a cookbook. Once I identified a story I enjoyed,  I’d reread it three, or four times, getting into into my rotation. When I felt ready, I’d try another story/meal.

 

Strange, I know.  But you already know that I’m strange.

 

The time came for me to start thinking about the review.

 

I didn’t want to write it.  I didn’t want to put Conservation of Shadows back on the shelf along with all the other books that “I’m done thinking about”.   I’m not ready for these characters to not be in my life anymore. Can I reread these stories any time I want? For sure. But there’s something different about a book that is floating around the house because you are still thinking about it, and a book that you’ve put back on the shelf and categorized in your mind as “I’m done thinking about that book”.

 

This is what Yoon Ha Lee does:  writes fiction you don’t want to stop thinking about. You might be done reading the book, but the book isn’t done with you.

 

To write this review, I’ve made a bargain with myself:  I purchased Hexarchate Stores, so I can dive right into that,  and Conservation of Shadows is going to live on the coffee table for a while longer.  This review is not an agreement that I’m done with this book. In fact, it’ll be really fun to reread these stories in 6 months or a year, and see if they have changed, or if I’ve changed.

 

Thank you for letting me get all of that out of my system and put words to my feelings. You’ve been very patient.  I guess it’s time I talk about this collection, yeah?

 

Most of the stories touch on language (which of course, I have zero interest in), colonialism and occupation, assimilation, destruction of cultures through destruction of their language, how sometimes things just don’t translate, and how war makes us strangers to ourselves.

 

One last thing before I actually talk about the stories!  Fun new words!

 

sumptuary           morphophonemics      escritoire

logographs              entelechy

 

Isn’t “escritoire” just the most beautiful word you’ve ever seen?

 

Ok, I am getting to the stories now, I SWEAR.   In no particular order:

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My friends at Apex Publications are at it again!    On the heels of their wildly successful Do Not Go Quietly comes their newest Kickstarter project,  Invisible Threads: Cutting the Binds that Hold us Back.

 

You guys, the authors are already in this anthology, this list is unbelievable!  I am too lazy to type everyone’s names, so I’m copy/pasting the image from the Kickstarter site.

 

We each face barriers in our life, some more easily overcome than others. Some seemingly impossible to overcome.   What if society’s response is “there’s nothing to be done, you might as well learn to live with it”?  What if society’s response is “What are you talking about? I don’t see any barrier. It must be in your head”. ?    At least that’s what I think of when I hear the term “Invisible Threads”.

And all these amazing authors, who have totally different life experiences than mine? I want to know what they came up with.

Now that I’ve got a little more of your attention,  here is a link to the Kickstarter site.

 

Backer rewards include print copies of Invisible Threads,  other Apex Titles such as Do Not Go Quietly, Irredeemable, Upside Down,  and War Stories,   stickers, tuckerizations, professional critique services, free stuff from the Apex store,  Apex surprise boxes, and more!  Seriously tho, there are some hella cool backer rewards.

 

Jason and Lesley let me pick their brains about the new anthology,  the joys (and terrors) of Kickstarter, 4am emails, the secret stuff that editors do, their pet peeves, and more.  They’ve done so many Kickstarters by now, it’s gotta be easy by this point. . .  right?

 

Jason Sizemore

About Jason Sizemore and Lesley Conner:

Raised in the  Appalachian hills of southeast Kentucky, Jason Sizemore is a three-time  Hugo Award-nominated editor, writer, and publisher who operates the  genre press Apex Publications. He is the author of a collection of dark  science fiction and horror shorts titled Irredeemable, and the tell-all creative nonfiction For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher. Jason co-edited the successful Do Not Go Quietly anthology with Lesley Conner. He currently lives in Lexington, KY. For more information visit www.jason-sizemore.com or you can find him on Twitter @apexjason.

 

Lesley Conner is a writer/editor, managing editor of Apex Book Company,  and a Girl Scout leader. When she isn’t handling her editorial or Girl  Scout leader responsibilities, she’s researching fascinating historical  figures, rare demons, and new ways to dispose of bodies, interweaving  the three into strange and horrifying tales. Her short fiction can be  found in Mountain Dead, Dark Tales of Terror, A Hacked-Up Holiday Massacre, as well as other places. Her first novel, The Weight of Chains, was published by Sinister Grin Press in September, 2015. She is the co-editor of two anthologies: Best of Apex Magazine: Volume 1 and Do Not Go Quietly,  both of which she edited with Jason Sizemore. She lives in Maryland  with her husband and two daughters, and is currently working on a new  novel. To find out all her secrets, you can follow her on Twitter at @LesleyConner.

Lesley Conner

 

And here’s our conversation!

 

Andrea: When I first heard the title,  I thought “oh, this must be about threads that tie us together, and we don’t even realize it!”,  and that’s not the theme of the anthology, at all. The theme is more along the lines of “these are the things that are holding us back”, things like societal expectations,  stereotypes, and preconceived notions. Why did you decide to do an anthology on this theme?

 

Jason:  Lesley and I are both from poor coal mine communities in Appalachia (she’s West Virginia, I’m Kentucky). We share a common bond in that we escaped the poverty trap and all that entails to work and thrive in publishing. Because we know our story of pulling free of societal threads is not unique, we wanted to hear the stories of how others overcame.

 

While Invisible Threads is not intended to be a political book (unlike our last anthology, Do Not Go Quietly), I do think our political environment influenced our decision to run with the theme. Classism is running rampant across the world. Hate-filled people are pushing back against social gains. The ruling classes are becoming more draconian. Now, more than ever, we need a reminder that it is important to break free of these threads because we need smart, sensible people fighting back who remember what it is like to be in the trenches.

 

Andrea: You’ve already invited authors to bring their stories to your table of contents. When you approached these authors, what guidance did you give them (if any) about what you were looking for?

 

Lesley: To be honest, we didn’t give them a whole lot of guidance. The theme and deadlines when we’d need things back to us, and that was about it. But I think with this kind of anthology, that’s what was needed. The societal pressures that each person deals with are highly individualized based on your own background and experiences. The entire point of the book is that without those experiences, you may not see the struggles your neighbors are going through because they are invisible. We tried to invite a diverse group of authors who will hopefully be able to give us a wide range of stories of people struggling against the invisible threads in their lives.

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You wouldn’t know it by how much is crammed into it, but  Mirrorstrike is a very skinny novella, around 130 pages. I could have read it in an afternoon.  So why did it take me nearly a week to read this little book? Reading Mirrorstrike was like eating the richest creme brulee,  or the lushest lemon tart. That is to say, this was an intense book for me to read, and I wanted to draw the intensity out, I wanted to read this book one delicious, decadent bite at a time.   For a week now, I’ve been trying to find the word that describes Mirrorstrike, and I finally found it – decadent.

 

Sriduangkaew strikes that perfect balance between writing lush, long sentences that transport the reader both physically and emotionally,  and short sharp sentences that tell you exactly what you need to know in one staccato beat.  I said it in an earlier blog post, and I’ll say it again: in my wildest dreams I’m able write prose this beautiful.

 

It’s a common conversation between readers, bloggers, and assorted book lovers – what kind of book do you enjoy reading?  Well friends, my answer is this, right here. This is the kind of book I love reading.

 

The first book in the series, Winterglass, introduced Nuawa and took place in her home city of Sirapirat.  For Mirrorstrike, the point of view switches to General Lussadh, and the location switches to the metropolis of Kemiraj, where Lussadh had been the crown prince until the Winter Queen came and changed everything.   Lussadh has returned to her home, to rule as the Winter Queen’s representative.

 

(Not familiar with Winterglass?  You’ll want to read that one first.  These are novellas, you can easily binge them both in one weekend)

You know,  I half expected this review to just be a list of all the reasons I love Lussadh, because she is my favorite character, and I love everything about her.  She’s a fucking badass, she’s aggressive when the moment calls for it, she’s got decades of history and choices and consequences, she’s the “strong female character” I’ve been waiting for.   I need more Lussadh in my life. And don’t even get me started on Major Guryin, who is hilarious. The melodrama between Lussadh and Nuawa? I bet this is the best entertainment Guryin has had in years!

 

Everyone in this story is playing a very long game, and everyone has secrets that are buried deeper than the glass shard in their hearts.  Yes, these two novellas take place in a much larger world, and I appreciated that Sriduangkaew doesn’t bury the reader in information. She let’s you explore the world at your own pace.

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Shhh!!!    don’t tell anyone,  but *whispers* there are other websites on the internet besides Little Red Reviewer */whispers*

 

I know,  crazy, right?    But?  here’s the good news,  sometimes I have stuff on those other websites too!

 

I had a ton of fun doing The Questioning with Timy at RockStarlit Book Asylum,  come on over  to find out why I was put into an asylum, what book I’d take with me, and what fictional world I’d like to visit!

 

Over at Nerds of a Feather,  I got to interview Jess Nevins, author of 20th Century Horror, and A.K. Larkwood, author of The Unspoken Name.   Woah, did you know Nerds of a Feather has a newsletter?  They’ll tell you when I have a new interview up there!  check it out!

 

if you don’t get enough of me here at Little Red Reviewer, go check out some of those posts!

 

Confession!   I did not read any Witcher books until after I watched the Netflix show, and the major reason I got into the TV show was, um,  Henry Cavill is super hot. Yes, I am super shallow, and my response to my shallowness becoming public knowledge is: IDGAF.

 

The video games and the first two books has been floating around the house for a while,  my husband would play the game and my commentary was 100% about Geralt’s hairstyle.

 

So we watch the Netflix show, and I become obsessed with it.  If this has happened to you as well, I highly recommend @incwitcher on twitter, for the kindest most welcoming fandom on the interwebs.

 

We had the first two Witcher books on our bookshelves, and I decided to give them a try.

 

Spoilers:

Were they different from the TV show?  Yes, very much so.

Were they good?  Oh my sweet summer child,  these two books are the most fun I’ve had in ages! Snark, dry humor, adventure, good conversations, people who think they can escape the consequences of their terrible decisions (surprise! You can’t!), all my favorite things!  Apparently I really, really love world building through dialog? Who knew. Reading them made me want to watch the TV show again, so I did.

 

Why have I only read the first two books,   why haven’t I continued on in the series? Simply put, binge reading a series is totally not my thing.  Also, we haven’t picked up the others yet.

 

The first book,  The Last Wish,  is all episodic short stories, many of which have a “monster of the week” feel to them. There is a framing device which worked well for me, but other readers have been turned off by it.    I am wondering if these short stories originally appeared in magazines or other anthologies, and they were “fixed up” into a novel by way of a framing device. There’s no table of contents or anything, this isn’t presented as a collection – it is designed to be read as a novel.

 

The gist of a lot of the stories is that yes, yes, we know Geralt’s job is to literally kill monsters. But who is actually the monster here?   I recently read the original Frankenstein, so my brain was thrilled to get more of these kinds of conversations! I’m a sucker for the “monster” who is a person who was broken by their own community, sometimes their own family.

 

It certainly helped that the first couple short stories involve mythology and fairy tale retellings, which I am also a sucker for.

 

Someone on twitter, I wish I could remember who, said something about how whatever they were reading wasn’t grimdark, it was grimm – dark,  grimm as in, in these fairy tales the kids die at the end, the witch wins, there isn’t a happy ending, it is dirty and dangerous and dark AF.  That describes The Last Wish pretty well, and I just really liked that description of liking dark fiction, but fiction that isn’t “grimdark”.

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I love cover songs.   I love them because they are familiar and I can sing along, but they’ve (hopefully) got new flavors, new riffs, something new.   They are just damn fun.

 

I love Weezer’s Africa as much as I love Alien Ant Farm’s Smooth Criminal. I love it when a musician takes a song in a different style, and does it in their style.  I love Johnny Cash’s cover of Hurt, I love Tori Amos’s cover of Smells Like Spirit, I love Through Fire’s cover of Listen to Your Heart. Disturbed’s cover of The Sound of Silence is disturbingly effective.  I was today years old when I learned the tragic story behind Bad Wolves’ cover of Zombie.

 

I love it the most when a musician takes a song they love and does it in their own style.  Do a folk song as metal. Do an alt rock song as acoustic. Slow it down, speed it up, give it an EDM backdrop.  Take something you love, something that’s beautiful to you, and put enough of yourself into it so that it is both the original and the new, at the same time.  Lol, Schrodinger’s cover song?

 

(Also, I could talk forever about Peter Hollens and Pentatonix. Don’t get me started, because I srsly will not shut up)

 

Anyway.

 

It dawned on me the other day that I love fairy tale retellings for the same reason that I love cover songs.   Fairy tales are fun, and familiar. The author has made some tweaks, changed up some stuff, colored outside the lines, added some new riffs.   In some cases, they’ve gutted the thing down to the bones, and completely rebuilt it. You recognize the foundation, but everything else is new and fascinating.

 

This blog post was inspired by two recent fairy tale retellings I am enjoying the hell out of:

 

I recently zipped through the first Witcher book,  The Last Wish, and among the hella fun episodic adventures is the best remix of Beauty and the Beast that I’ve ever come across. And I love this retelling because it is srsly fucking brutal.  Me spoiling this chapter doesn’t spoil anything about the book, by the way. It starts the same as the Disney version – guy gets cursed because he’s an asshole, and now his exterior matches his beastly and awful soul.   That, thankfully, is the end of the similarities.

 

His mansion is on a popular trade route. Traders who stop on the property for the night are threatened with death, unless they bring their daughters to the beast.  The first time this happened,  the “beast” felt so guilty about scaring the shit out of some random trader,  that he gave the guy a bag of money.

 

Word gets out about the beast in the castle, and before you know it fathers are showing up with their daughters on a regular basis. The daughters love the idea of living richly in a castle with a sexy bad boy for a year, and the families get a bag of gold out of the deal. And the beast is having so much fun in his new life as a rich playboy that he kinda doesn’t want the curse lifted.  Too bad his newest girlfriend really, really loves him. Your mileage will vary, but I laughed my head off the entire time I was reading this!

 

In an entirely different writing style,  is Benajanun’s Sriduangkaew’s Snow Queen retelling. Her 2017 novella Winterglass is all character introduction and prologue,  gorgeous conversations and observations about how colonialism changes more than just language and terminology, it can change the climate and geography of our lives.  Nuawa somehow survived the kilns as a child, and now finds herself chosen by the Winter Queen. She meets General Lussadh, another one of the Queen’s chosen. Like most Sriduangkaew stories, the language is lush and the worldbuilding is unparalleled.

 

I’m sixty pages into the sequel, Mirrorstrike.  At sixty pages, I know two things for certain: the moment I finish reading this novella I’ll be starting it again from page one,  and I love that Sriduangkaew plays the long game. I just came across “that scene” that calls back to the first chapter of Winterglass, pulling everything together as I believe every good fairy tale should, because even stories take place in a world larger than themselves.   Is it possible for the Queen’s chosen to escape their fates? There is a much bigger conversation in here, that I’ll save for the actual review, about the traitor’s qualm, and about chemistry between characters that has exceeded hot, and hit plasma levels. In my wildest dreams I write prose this beautiful.

 

(hopefully more indepth reviews of both coming soon.)

 

Dear authors and musicians:  I love it when you take something familiar,  and remix it to show me a piece of you I’ve never seen before.

 

Ration, by Cody T. Luff

published August 2019

where I got it: purchased new

 

 

I bought Cody Luff’s debut novel Ration on a lark.  It had been advertised as a horror novel, and I don’t really do horror.

 

I am however,  that person who loves  negative space, I look for what’s between the lines, what isn’t said.   I like weird, sharp things with edges. I like characters that have no fucks left to give. When you’ve got nothing left to lose, you are at your most dangerous.

 

Ration is 100% negative space.  And it is weird, and it is sharp.  And I couldn’t put it down. Everywhere I looked in this book, I wanted to know more about it. The kinds of questions I had, when I finished this book, where the kind of questions all authors want to hear.

 

I better say this up front:  If you are the kind of reader who wants everything explained to you, who wants a lot of exposition and a lot of worldbuilding and backstory, this probably isn’t the book for you. When I say “negative space”, I don’t mean it as a bad thing.  This book is packed with atmosphere, and it reads like I’m the person who cornered a starving animal.

 

Because you should know what you’re getting yourself into.

 

Ration is post-post-post apocalyptic, As dystopian as it gets. Generations after the calorie companies of The Wind-up Girl, this is generations after The Children of Men.   You read a post-apocalyptic book, and you’re like “the world has ended, neat!”, but if there is still an ocean, if there is still grass, if there are still plants and animals to eat, the world still has some life left in it. It is not “over”.  Ration takes place after all of that – the ocean is poison, what few plants exist are grown in labs, the population is, well, not. And don’t even get started on animals for food.

 

There is literally nothing left to lose, what’s left of civilization is at the end of it’s rope.  The world of Ration isn’t plan A, or plan B. Plan Z failed decades ago. So here we are, we’ve lost count of how many things we tried, and that all of them have failed so far.    Grim? Yes. but this doesn’t read like a grim book, it reads like someone screaming and clawing their way to freedom.

 

The book opens with a bunch of tween-ish girls living in an old apartment building? An orphanage?  An old hotel? Hard to know, and the girls sure don’t know. They just know they’ve been here as long as they can remember.  A few mean old ladies run the place. When you’re hungry, you ask the machine in your room for a Ration. Whatever you ask for, it will give it to you.  There are only so many calories to go around, so rations will cost you in other ways.

 

Calories are life.  Will you spend them to feed yourself, or to feed someone else?  (did you eat meat or eggs today? That cow ate calories. So did that chicken).  Will you let someone else die, so you can eat?

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I  dropped 3 bags of books off as donations for the Friends of the Library bookstore, I therefore feel ZERO guild about buying a short stack of boks.   I ordered some of these in January, but by the time I was able to make it to the bookstore to pick them up, it was February.

 

help, I don’t know where to start!!

(actually, I do)

 

I’ve been slowly and repeatedly making my way through Yoon Ha Lee’s short story collection Conservation of Shadows,  and Hexarcate Stories has been on my list for a while.  I thought this was only going to be maybe eight or so stories? the TOC is hella long, I am in heaven just having this baby in my hands!  This collections feels like a bottomless bag of candy. or maybe more like a coral reef that is too big to ever fully explore, even though I visit it every day.

 

 

The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury – I really enjoyed Heather’s review of this,  so when I saw a nice paperback copy of it, I decided to buy it.

 

Some short novels by Richard Brautigan.  This hideous book wins every possible award for worst ever cover art.  there is technicolor cover art of In Watermelon Sugar on Amazon, what is this stupid cover art??   ANYWAY,  one of my favorite memories of this year’s ConFusion, was a bunch of us were hanging out in the lobby, we are (or at least I am) incredibly drunk. Someone asks the group what books we read that completely blew our minds.  This guy starts talking about this book called In Watermelon Sugar, I’m watching him talk and loving the words that are coming out of his mouth to the point where I want to collect them in a lightning bottle, and I’m watching as his conversation partner’s mouth falls open, and a look of pure rapture settles in on his face.  This Watermelon book sounds like if Jeff Vandermeer dropped the world’s best acid. I simply HAVE to read it.   and now I can. and some other stuff by the same author

 

A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World is the next book for my local book club. Have you read it? is it good?  It wasn’t on my radar until now.

 

Where to start?   I’m starting with the Brautigan.

 

 

This is a post about making sandwiches. (not this sandwich!)

 

This is a post about how 2019 was the year I figured what kind of sandwiches are my favorite to make.   I like sandwiches that are filled with unexpected stuff.  all the condiments, pickles, green olives, honey, apples, whatever.  Not all those foods at once, because this actually isn’t a sandwich.

 

2019 was a weird year for me.  No deaths, no health emergencies, nothing dramatic or life altering, nothing like that.  It was a quiet, weird year –  I took on some amazing projects and new responsibilities at my day job.  I was lucky, I was fortunate, I was in the right place at the right time. I realized the power of having space and time at work to think and be creative. Some of those projects melted my brain, and I loved every second of it, and would do it again in a heartbeat.   I learned my brain needs large chunks of uninterrupted quiet time for magical creative things to happen.

 

I had MAJOR blogger burn out in 2019.  Like, retire from blogging kind of burn out.  I didn’t want to write reviews, I could barely finish books.  My hobby is blogging about books,  and I could barely finish a book in 2019. People would ask me what I was reading,  and I’d shrug and say “nothing”.

 

I knew what I needed to do, I knew to listen to my friends and stop listening to influencers/strangers/idiots, I knew I needed to get the hell off social media, I just couldn’t seem to bring myself to do it.  I tried a bunch of stuff to get out of my funk, and the only thing that seemed to work was watching buckets of TV, and I am not normally a TV watcher. Good TV is great, and it was exactly what my brain needed! But means I’m not reading books or writing book reviews. And when it comes down to it, I am not a TV person.  I was practicing avoidance.

 

I got some good news in late December.   I got some better news in January. It doesn’t matter what the news was, what matters was that these two things were the things that got me over the hump and out of the funk.  The January news was a huge weight off my shoulders.

 

Anyway.

 

Forever ago,  Robert Jackson Bennett wrote a blog post about making sandwiches. That post has been stuck in my head forever.  My interpretation is that he’s using sandwiches as a metaphor for how weird and personal the writing process is, and the futility of pushing yourself to “write what someone else will enjoy” or to “write the same way someone else writes, with the assumption you’ll get the same result” (or who knows. I am the queen of not interpreting things right). My brain uses sandwiches as a metaphor for writing content for this blog. Also, if you haven’t read Robert Jackson Bennett, you really should. The dude makes a fucking excellent sandwich.

 

Everyone should make the sandwich they want to eat.    You do you. You like mustard on your sandwich? put mustard on your sandwich.  You don’t want lettuce? don’t put on lettuce. It’s your sandwich, make it how you please.   If for years, you’ve liked mayo on your sandwich, and then one day you decide you’re just not feeling the mayo anymore? that’s OK too.

 

Thing was, I was getting bored with having eaten what tasted like the same goddamn sandwich for like 8 years.

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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.