the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for May 2020

 

Oh this book!

What started out as a cute little adventure story, turned into the most wonderful hero(ine)’s journey!!

yes, I admit, when I first started reading Gods of Jade and Shadow, I was like “this is super cool, 1920s Mexico, we’ve got a fun adventure starting, looks like there could be some cute romance happening here”.  and for the first half of the book, that sorta is, what is happening.  AND THEN.

Lemme tell you ALL about it!

Because reasons, Casiopea Tun has a bit of Cinderella situation going on.  She and her Mom live with their extended family, but Casiopea is treated like a servant.  She cooks, cleans, goes to the market, runs errands for her awful cousin (is he that awful? really?  actually YES), and takes care of her angry, bitter grandfather.    She dreams of a way out of this life, but can’t see one.   this is starting out very fairy tale-ish, yes?

one day,  when the family is on an outing, having left Caseopea at home, as a punishment,  she takes special notice of an old trunk in her grandfather’s bedroom.  And she opens the trunk.

What’s in the trunk?   oh, only the bones and soul of Hun-Kame,  Lord of Xibalba, and one of his bone shards gets lodged in Casiopea’s hand.  no biggie, right?  He can just, remove the shard, and then he can go back to Xibalba to dethrone his brother, and then Casiopea can pretend none of this ever happened, right?

hahahaha, NO.

Hun-Kame immediately starts his plan to return to Xibalba and dethrone his brother Vucub-Kame.  But first,  he must locate his missing left ear,  left index finger, and left eye, so that he can be whole again.  But what about that bone shard?

The bone shard is part of Hun-Kame, and so long as it remains lodged in Casiopea’s hand, she has a glint of the supernatural about her, the protection of a god.  On the literal other hand,  the longer it stays in her hand,  the more human Hun-Kame becomes.   If the shard isn’t removed in time, he will forget who he is,  and she will die.

Casiopea and Hun-Kame thus leave on an adventure across Mexico, visiting demi-gods,  demons, and other friends of Xibalba, so he can regain his missing body parts before time runs out.

Sounds serious, isn’t it?

Ok, so I’m sure this book wasn’t planned to be cute and adorable and funny and flirty and heartwarming, but it was all of those things.  I’ll bet this book was planned to have an amazing ending that was an absolutely joy to read, and it was that too.

See, here’s the thing:

Casiopea is a good Catholic girl. She shouldn’t be alone with a man in a train compartment, especially a man she isn’t related to. She doesn’t even know this guy!  But. . . Hun-Kame is not a man, he is a Lord of Xibalba.  So it’s ok, right?

and Hun-Kame has no idea how to talk to mortals. he has no idea how to talk to women. He also has no idea how a train schedule works.  For goodness sake, he doesn’t know what coffee is!  To me,  he was adorably clueless.

Watching the two of them travel across Mexico was the most adorable and heartwarming thing I’ve seen in ages. in AGES.

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I talked briefly about this graphic novel the other day,  and now I’m gonna talk about it some more!  20th Century Boys, by Naoki Urasawa was serialized between 1999 and 2006.  This is worth buying the omnibus editions, each one is around $18 and includes three-ish volumes.

 

 

think back to your childhood.  Did you and your friends have a secret hide out? maybe a treehouse, or behind a garden shed?  Did you come up with play acting adventures with your friends? Maybe one of you (or all of you!) were superheroes?

 

I’ll come back to that in a minute, but first I want to talk about the art style of 20th Century Boys.    Urasawa’s art style is fairly realistic,  and there is a ton of detail.  Much of the first volume takes place out doors,  there is just the right amount of detail (in my opinion) of the landscape – backyards, trees,  walking through a shopping district, etc.   There are tons of references to 60s and 70s rock music, and to world events that happened during that time.   I don’t know all the correct art terms, I just know that I like this style a lot!  With all the detail, you can reread over and over,  and you’ll always find something that you didn’t notice the last time.

here is a nice piece of full color art at the beginning of the first volume:

 

 

ok, back to what I started with:

sounds like you had a similar childhood to Kenji and his friends. In the late 1960s, their “hang out” was a spot in an empty field.   They made up stories, listened to rock music on a portable radio, dreamt of joining a rock band, and did all the normal silly things that 12 year olds do.  They even came up with a secret symbol:

 

I think readers of any age will enjoy 20th Century Boys, but I think readers of a certain age,  say, 40 years and older, will especially appreciate it.  Our childhood memories are fuzzy,  we know we hid in tree houses, or in alleyways, we know we made up stories with our friends, but it’s been enough years that we don’t remember the specifics.

 

In the first volume, most of the story line takes place in the late 90s.  Kenji is grown up and is managing his family’s convenience store. He’s still friends with Keroyon and few of his other childhood friends, but he’s completely lost touch with Donkey and Yukiji.  When Kenji learns that Donkey has committed suicide, he goes to the funeral in shock.  Why would happily married Donkey jump off a building to his death? And why did Donkey sent Kenji a letter right before he died?

 

A bunch of friends who are drawn back together after one of them kills themself, and they have to remember what they did as children?   This sounds like it could be a Stephen King novel, doesn’t it?

 

But the world doesn’t stop because some rando jumped off a building.  Thanks to the newspapers sold in Kenji’s store, we get a view of strange happenings in the world – religious cults,  unsolved disapearances, terrorism, mysterious diseases,  and even stranger,  more and more people are using the symbol that Kenji thought was their childhood secret.

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What am I going to be doing this three day, holiday weekend?

READING!

and watching the French version of The Circle

and playing Stardew Valley.

but lots of reading, I promise!

I recently finished the amazing and enjoyable Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, review hopefully coming soon!

On the tails of that book, I read the first volume of 20th Century Boys, a Japanese graphic novel by Naoki Urasawa. The story follows a group of friends, they are in their late 20s now and have drifted apart, but current events force them to reunite and remember what they did when they were kids. The art is fantastic, the characters have depth,  my husband and I enjoyed this story so much we bought the next few volumes!

 

I’m slowly making my way through an eArc that I am very excited for, and very passionate about! The book doesn’t come out till August, so maybe I could put that aside for a week or two to read one of these babies?

 

I’ve got an eArc of Benjanun’s Sriduangkaew’s Machine’s Last Testament as well,  it is set in the same world as And Shall Machines Surrender.  NICE!

 

and because I don’t have enough reading that I’m dreaming of, my copy of I Am Legend leapt of the shelf,  put itself on the coffee table, and is practically insisting on being read. What are you gonna do, you know?

 

So that’s it for me this week,  what have you been up to?  What have you been reading lately?

This weekend, I attended my first fully virtual SFF convention, Flights of Foundry.  In fact, at the moment that I started drafting this blog post,  panels were still happening!

 

 

Fresh from the experience, I can say without a doubt- if you have the opportunity to attend and online convention, DO IT.   Flights of Foundry had a suggested donation, but you could register for free.  I did a donation for my registration, and for how much enjoyment I got out of my experience (and no travel expenses!), I plan to send them another donation to show my gratitude.

 

Are there some negatives to a virtual convention? yes, but in my opinion the positives far outweigh the negatives.    Keep in mind I have no idea what technological things were happening behind the scenes,  what I do know is that the volunteers kept the Go To Meeting feeds and Zoom feeds running smoothly,  and there were Discord channels for chats and asking questions in panels (I didn’t register for discord, so I can’t really speak to that).

 

The panels and presentations were done through Go To Meeting, and audience members could hop in an out as they chose,  and the readings, workshops, and other smaller events were done through Zoom. (If you’ve not used those platforms before:  GoToMeeting means the audience can see the speakers but the speakers can’t usually see the audience, and in Zoom everyone has the opportunity to see everyone else, if you have 9 people it looks like The Brady Bunch grid.)

 

The vast majority of panels had sound and video,  but that didn’t mean I was shackled to my desk while I was listening to a panel.  The experience felt like watching a live twitch stream,  or listening to a live radio show.  I was listening on a wireless headset,  so I could wear my headset and walk away from my desk.

 

Here are some  more positives, and this list is long!

– Didn’t have to pay for a hotel room,  didn’t have to put shoes on, didn’t have to wait for a table at a restaurant at dinnertime, didn’t have to drive anywhere or worry about flights or worry about traveling/bad weather. all the stresses and costs of travel were gone.  I literally attended in my pajamas. (and at this point, haven’t we all forgotten how to wear shoes?)

– Registering and getting into the live feeds was super easy.  This convention must have had some tech wizards working behind the scenes!

– Panelists seemed more relaxed, since they also didn’t have to rush around a hotel looking for their next panel room.

– if I’d thought to use two devices, i technically could have listened to two panels at the same time!

– I could fidget to my hearts content because no one could see me.  Those chairs in the panel rooms at hotels? my legs are short, those things are hell for me, I’d rather stand or sit on the floor (and have, on occasion). I was listening to the panels on a wireless headset, so I could walk around the living room, go to the kitchen for snacks, do some light excersize. I could even *whisper* leave a panel that wasn’t what I expected, without being disruptive,  or hop into a currently going panel, without being disruptive.

– not only could I hop in and out and fidget without distracting others, I didn’t have the distractions of an in-person convention. No loud panel rooms next door, no squeaky panel room doors opening and closing constantly, no disruptive audience members.

– I saw that many panels were recorded so people can watch them later. I didn’t register for this service, but I saw that some panels had closed captioning for the hearing impaired!

 

the few negatives were:

– no people watching.  I just had to be OK with the fact that I wasn’t going to be able to people watch or compliment people on their outfits.  I do love me some people watching.

– no socializing, no parties, no “omg how are you!”‘s in the hallways, no random encounters, no thanking people after a panel for doing such a great panel or a wonderful reading, no autograph session. Had I registered for the discord chat rooms, i could have had a more social experience. But also? no awkward social encounters either!

– there was something about a Dealers Room, but I didn’t explore this.

 

I “registered” for a ton of panels ahead of time, which meant those showed up as super convenient links in my email that morning.  But like every con I’ve ever attended, I made last minute decisions about what panels I would go to, and ended up skipping some that I expected to attend.  I did love getting those links on Saturday and Sunday,  they were really convenient!

For those of you who enjoy After Con Reports,  here’s some very brief comments on some of the panels I attended.

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I still have a few unread Kage Baker short stories, and I’m going to leave them unread for the time being.  I want there to still be some uncovered gems for me to find, in the future.

so I’m reading some other stuff!

it’s strange, I’m reading two fiction books at the same time right now, and they are SO drastically different. they’re both fantastic, but wow, I couldn’t have picked two books that were more different if I tried!

I’m reading Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and this book is so cute! Like, I know it wasn’t supposed to be a meet-cute book, it’s supposed to be a heroine’s journey through Mayan mythology book, but It. Is. Adorable. and I kinda need adorable right now?  The premise is that Casiopea starts in a sort of Cinderella situation. She’s living with family who treats her like garbage because the family didn’t approve of her father. They treat her like a servant, a male cousin treats her really, really poorly.  While the family is out one day, Casiopea opens the strange trunk in her father’s bedroom. And who is imprisoned inside the trunk? Hun-Kame, the Lord of Xibalba.  He was imprisoned by his brother, Vucub-Kame, who wanted to rule Xibalba.

 

is it terrible, that my only knowledge thus far, of Xibalba, comes from the movie The Road to El Dorado?  Yes, that is terrible.

I’m about half way through Gods of Jade and Shadow, and like I said, this book is so adorable.  It’s easy to read,  fun, perfectly paced, and the Mayan Gods are powerful, otherworldly, and yet constrained by the limitations built into their personas. Y’all know I love a story where a god is limited by their own myth, that because they are trapped in a specific myth, they have no free will. Also? Hun-Kame has no idea, whatsoever, how to talk to girls, and his conversations with Casiopea are adorable and often hilarious.  If you are looking for a fantasy adventure set in 1920’s Mexico, something easy on the eyes, and super fun to read, this is a book for you.

 

On the other hand, if you’re looking for something that takes a lot of energy to read, is #AllTheFeels #AllTheIntruigue , #AllTheHolyShitWHAT , bucket of political theory and a smidge of gruesome,  allow me to introduce you to Seth Dickson’s Masquerade trilogy (at least, I think it will only be 3 books, but who knows).  This is that book, where the young accountant Baru Cormorant crashes the economy because she can,  draws traitors and revolutionaries out because she can,  and executes the woman she loves because reasons.  These books read like the cruelest game of world politics ever played.  they are relentlessly brutal, and I can’t stop reading them!!

 

I was lucky enough to get an eArc of the third book in the series, The Tyrant Baru Cormorant (comes out in August, I think?), and my eyeballs don’t do well with e-books (oh hai, tension headache!), so I’m only reading it for short bursts, but holy shit is this book good.  it is heavy, and it is beautiful, the prose is gorgeous, and the characterization is even better, and I want to save everyone.  and omfg, the C!  I really like how this series made me look at colonialism and imperialism.  These aren’t message books, there is no preachiness, these books are just people trying to live their lives and minimize the compromises they have to make to survive after the colonizers show up. This series isn’t for everyone, but I really, really, fucking love it.  it isn’t grim, but it is brutal.  Did you read Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire trilogy?  remember the brutal brainwashing (but it’s for the good of our survival!), think that, but times infinity.

 

one of the ways I’m getting through all this current stuff that we are all going through together, is by watching what feels like eight billion hours of Netflix.  seriously, Netflix could double their price and I’d still be ripping them off.

 

A co-worker recommended the Netflix reality show The Circle, so I gave it a try.

I’m not usually a reality TV watcher, but and I am addicted to The Circle!

Yes, this show sounds totally stupid, and it is totally stupid, but stupid TV is a balm. don’t judge me.

And? the episodes are about 55 minutes, which means I can get an excellent work out in on our exercise bike while I’m watching an episode.

ok, so the premise:

8 people move into their own apartments in what I’m calling “the circle apartment building”. They are quite nice, fully furnished one bedroom apartments.  The players each set up a profile, with 1-2 photos of themselves, and a short bio.

 

Some people are here to make friends,  some people are here to flirt with everyone. Everyone is here to win.

 

the players can ONLY communicate through chat rooms and private chats with each other.  This is their only way to get to know each other.  It’s like very limited facebook feed, I guess?   They secretly rate the other players,  and the top two rated people become the Influencers,  and it is the two Influencers who decide who gets voted off the island.

 

In chats, if you focus your attention two much on just a few people,  and none of those people become the Influencers, you risk that the Influencers haven’t had a chance to bond with you, and you’ll get Blocked (sent home).

 

If you are an influencer, and you get rid of someone everyone else really liked, you risk that you will get blocked next time.

 

The winner gets a ton of money

 

twists:

everytime someone gets voted off the island, a new player joins The Circle. New players usually get to spy on what’s going on before everyone else gets to meet them over chat.

 

Nearly everyone is totally trying to manipulate everyone else.

 

the fact that everyone is stuck in their apartments, with occasional solo trips to the rooftop garden, feels like something I can totally relate to right now!

 

a whole buncha these peeps are catfishing everyone else.  and it is WILD to watch them totally out of their league.   they all keep guessing, so far, incorrectly who the catfish is.  I’m wondering if we’ll get to the end, and all the remaining players will be catfishes?

 

I’m on episode 6, and having a blast.  We recently found out about Sammie’s family,  I nearly cried along with Joey when he saw that video prize, I died laughing with Seaburn didn’t know how to respond in GirlChat with Sean,  and I am #TeamShooby all the way.

 

The first episode of The Circle went out of the way to make every player look like a self centered asshole,  I appreciated that as the show went on,  people got to be more of themselves.  I don’t feel like anyone is an asshole now.

 

I like how real some of these people are being, with complete strangers.  Even the catfishes, in private they are genuine.  I don’t think anyone wants to deliberately hurt anyone else’s feelings. And most people are saying really honest things in the chat, things that make them vulnerable.

 

It’s like having that wall,  knowing the only things other people will ever know about you is the specific things you choose to tell them,  that you can be chatty in a chatroom or not . . .  it almost become armor. Almost becomes protection against pain or embarrassment.    (and I get it. there are things I say on this blog and other public places on the internet that I would never say to the people who are closest to me. it’s weird, right?)

 

and since people feel safer, they feel like they have a buffer/some armor, they are more likely to show their vulnerable side?  Even when they planned to come on this show to be a manipulator.

 

but it’s also like – what would you do win all that money? What wouldn’t you do?

 

I’m really enjoying this stupid show.   I feel like a shit,  because back in the day when reality shows were super new, and the only ones going were Survivor and The Bachelorette, I made fun of people who watched those, because i thought the shows were stupid, and if you watched them, you must be stupid too.

 

hey peeps who I was an asshole to about reality TV when I was 25 years old, I know this apology is 15 years too late, but I’m sorry I was judgy to you about TV shows you enjoyed.  Because I get it now.

 

 

 

Friends, I have the best possible #firstworldproblem.

 

I got to read TWO Kage Baker collections, at the same time!    In the Company of Thieves, is all (you guessed it) Company stories,  and The Best of Kage Baker is a mish mash of all sorts of wonderfulness.  In fact, I am still working my way through The Best of Kage Baker,  savoring it bit by bit.  The Best of, so far seems to be about half Company stories, and half other stuff.

And eeeee!!!  The Best of Kage Baker has illustrations!!!

 

Here’s some thoughts on what I’ve read so far:

 

The Carpet Beds of Sutro Park – I have such a soft spot for this story.  It’s a very quiet story, it’s a slow burn.  Ezra doesn’t have lofty goals, and neither do it.  His reason, tho, is pretty tragic.  He does right by Kristy Ann, and it’s probably a good thing that he never tells anyone,  as I don’t think they’d understand his loving intentions.

 

Hollywood Ikons – Religious paintings that can fry your brain because they were painted using secret mathematical formulas possessed by Imhotep? And Joseph was Imhotep?  If Tim Powers wrote Raiders of the Lost Ark and made it a buddy comedy involving manuscript preservation, cro-magnons, and Hollywood landmarks, you might get something close to Hollywood Ikons.  This story pushed all my buttons in the best possible way!   Also, note to self: if doing a google search on what the heck Joseph is talking about, search “Byzantine ikonography”, instead of “ikon”.  “Ikon” brings up pages upon pages of a K-pop boy band.

 

The Women of Nell Gwynne’s –  I know I’m supposed to like stories like this.  Steampunk!  Gadgets!  Women who have fallen on hard times and now make the best of things by becoming paramours who are also spies and potential blackmailers!  Flouncy dresses!  And I know this story won about a million awards for being steampunk! Gadgets! Company! Funny sexy stuff!   But the funny sexy scenes didn’t do much for me,  and tbh I have always struggled with steampunk.  If it’s your thing, you will love this story.  But I’m sorry, I’m meh on Nell Gwynne’s.  Can’t a woman be of service to the Gentlemen’s Speculative Society without, well, servicing the gentlemen? We can provide people with miniature cameras, buttons that dissolve into sleeping pills, and internal combustion engines, but we can’t devise a way for a “fallen woman” to make a living without selling her body?  I’ll shut up now.

 

Noble Mold –  Joseph pretending he’s a priest and Mendoza doing a bad job pretending that she doesn’t want to kill him? Of course I loved this story!!  Joseph has this long game point of view that I appreciate. (ugh, i guess that’s called wisdom? or something?)  Mendoza is on the hunt for a particular plant, and the family who owns the property is very, very reluctant to let her dig it up.  There’s a 60 year old secret here.   Joseph has to protect his own secret,  the family’s secret, and yet somehow still get that plant dug up!  Luckily,  he’s really good at creating miracles.  After all, he’s the guy who played Imhotep!  Noble Mold is freakin’ fantastic.

 

Old Flat Top – wait, is this Budu, who I love?  Nope, but it is someone who worked with Budu!  And his job to sit at the top of the mountain, and keep the early humans who live in the valley below from killing each other.  He’ll pretent he’s a god, if that’s what it takes to make sure these idiots don’t kill each other.  And every so often, a brave youth climbs the mountain, in search of the god of the mountain.  Man, I could read a million stories of the Enforcers.  These guys!  Life is pretty simple for them, their values are very black and white, their job is to protect and make sure early humans survive.  I like how the Enforcers make everyone else think more about everything.  Especially since the Enforcers don’t really care about making people think,  which makes watching their interactions even more fascinating for me!

 

Hanuman – I was laughing my head off reading this story.  Why, you ask?   Because this guy, Hanuman, is hitting on Mendoza, and he thinks he has a chance with her!  She gives him the time of day, because she’s recovering from an injury and she doesn’t have anything else to do, and she’s polite and he’s inoffensive.  Could it be?  Could Mendoza be making a new friend?  I was so happy that she was having a nice time, and maybe making a new friend!!! Is she going to let someone in?   And then.  Well, that sure made me stop laughing, and I feel a bit of an ass for laughing at the beginning and wondering if this was the start of a beautiful friendship between Hanuman and Mendoza.   After all that, if I was Mendoza I’d stomp off into the forest and not talk to anyone for another 200 years.  And people wonder why she has trust issues!

 

Maelstrom – another one where I laughed and laughed and laughed! And finally, a funny story that actually has a happy ending!  On Mars, Mr. Morton has built the Edgar Allan Poe Center for the Performing Arts.  What follows is a laugh out loud, raucous, joyous,  Muppet Show-esque comedy of errors, complete with nervous directors,  terrible actors, even worse understudies, and Martians with hearts of gold.  I adore Alf so much!  And I love Baker’s Mars – a family of misfits, eccentrics, dreamers, and adventurers.  Maelstrom was exactly what I needed. I hope as I get further into The Best of Kage Baker,  that I get to hangout some more with these characters.

 

Stay tuned, for more Kage Baker!

 

or whatever book I pick up next!


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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.