the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for June 2020

 

Anyone else “save books for special occasions”?  Like, you’re going on vacation, or a long train ride, or you know you’ll be home recovering from a surgery, or something?

I bought Hexarchate Stories when it came out last summer, because I absolutely had to have it. When the order arrived, I gently put the book away, unopened, knowing I was saving it for a rainy day.

There was no specific rainy day in mind,  but I knew a day would come, when damnit, I just wanted to hang out with Cheris and Jedao and everyone else again. Yes, Sure, there was a good chance horrible things would happen to them (holy shit, did you read Revenant Gun??), but I wanted to see them again.

 

I’ve had plenty of favorite scifi/fantasy characters over the years, people who I can’t get enough of.  Locke Lamora. Vlad Taltos.  Mendoza (and Joseph, and Lewis).  and now Jedao firmly joins that list.

(yes, yes I do have a thing for orphans. i also have a thing for loyalty, heartbreak, long simmering anger that can happen in the same moment as the unexpected joy of a wonderful meal,  and that the journey is more important that the destination. )

 

So anyway, there is no rainy day, so specific occasion, all I have is all of this *waves handles wildly, implying everything *.    I needed some escapism, I needed some snark, and damnit I needed some Jedao.   And boy did Hexarchate Stories deliver in the best possibly way.   I meant to slowly read this, teasing it out? Yeah nope, read the whole thing in like 3 days,  then reread a few favorite stories. Will probably be rereading most of the book, because I can, and because it’s that good.

 

Hexarchate Stories is tons and tons of short stories, flash fiction, and a few longer stories from Jedao and Cheris’s youth.   Which means,  if you haven’t read Machineries of Empire trilogy, go read that first, otherwise most of these short stories aren’t going to make any sense to you.   About half of these stories were previously published online, and about half of them are original to this  collection. If you’d like a taste of what to expect, there’s links to some of these on Yoon Ha Lee’s website.

 

Remember how anguish-yand emotionally wrenching  Machineries of Empire was?  Good News,  the majority of the stories in Hexarchate Stories don’t have any of that!  Many of these are super short,  they are just moments in people’s lives, there is humor and snark and people just living their lives.  The stories are presented in mostly chronological order and there is a timeline at the beginning of the book. Lee gives Author’s Notes at the end of each story, just a few sentences maybe about something funny that inspired the story, or that it game from a flash fiction story prompt, or that it had plot holes that needed be fixed, etc.  By the way “chronological order” means we get plenty of stories of Jedao’s youth and him as a teenager, and some stories of Cheris’s youth.   Them as kids? omg YES PLEASE.

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what’s this, a book review?   I know, right?

 

Shorefall, by Robert Jackson Bennett

Published April 2020

where I got it: Received ARC from the publisher (Thanks Jo Fletcher books!)

 

 

I meant to reread Foundryside before reading Shorefall. But then i was like do I really have time to reread Foundryside? And I liked that book, but did I like it enough to want to reread it?

 

So I dived into Shorefall, with very, very fuzzy memories of Foundryside.   I remember really digging the magic system, really liking Clef and his whole deal, being kinda meh on Sancia even though she has a tragic backstory and a metal plate in her head, and really digging the magic system.  Yep, that’s about all I remember from the first book.  I don’t remember all the details about Valeria from the first book, but she must have been really important.  That said, I do NOT recommend jumping into Shorefall if you haven’t read Foundryside. (Altho I am SUPER curious about people who did read Shorefall first. Could they get into it? is this a series that can maybe be read in any order?)

 

Shorefall opens with Sancia, Berenice, Gregor, and Orso putting the final touches on some new invention they’ve created in their workshop.   What exactly is this thing?   First I thought it was some kind of printing press,  then it seemed more like a magical photo copier, and finally I settled on that it was some kind of magical quantum button thing, that whatever one button does, the other button does it.

 

Even they have a tough time describing their invention,  and that makes a specific merchant house even more interested in getting their hands on it.

 

Of course,  getting their invention inside that particular merchant house is just the first step in their grand plan . . .

 

Something I’ve loved from the start of this series is the magic system.  It functions sort of like computer programming – you etch a set of sigils, and lines of sigils become commands,  and the commands that are etched into something, such as a metal plate, make that something want to break the laws of physics. Now, imagine if all the commands and how to combine them weren’t yet known, but scrivers messed around with things (a la mad scientists) to figure out new combinations that would make something work without it exploding. Larger discoveries effectively creating programming shortcuts, and new knowledge akin to a more advanced computer programming language.  Oh, and there are no computers, and hardly any advanced technology.  It’s all very Girl Genius, but with way less humor.

 

I was worried this book would suffer from “middle book syndrome”, and the book ended up being quite the opposite!  In fact, in my opinion, Shorefall is all around a better book than Foundryside.

 

I *think* I was supposed to connect with Sancia, and really follow her plotline and be super interested in the politics of what was going on in Tevanne.

 

What ended up happening was that Sancia had a scene or two  that tugged at me,  and then I lost track of all the fancy merchant families, and then I got super invested in Gregor and Crasedes and Valeria.  And then buckets and buckets of hella cool shit happened at the end of the novel.  And I mean really, really hella cool shit!

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the familiar blogger refrain:

I’m not in the mood to write this book review. I know,  I’ll read another book . . . falling even further behind on reviews I had planned to write.

I haven’t written a review in a while, but I’ve been reading a ton, and I’ve got plenty of review notes written down in my head.

Some books I’ve read recently:

sorry for the crap blurry photo!

 

Star Trek: Collateral Damage, by David Mack.   I’ve read some TOS Trek novels, but never read a TNG novel. I had no idea what to expect.  I certainly didn’t expect to love this book so much. Great characters, Worf rolling his eyes,  Laforge saving the day, Picard being Picard,  excellent banter and even more excellent side characters.  I worry that I’ve now been spoiled, that no other TNG novel will entertain me as much as this book entertained me.

 

Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett – 2nd book in his new trilogy. Certainly doesn’t suffer from “middle book syndrome”.  NONSTOP action.  I love the magic system in this world, but I’m struggling to care about the main characters. My fave characters were a side character who is super close to his trauma, and the bad guy, because he’s pretty cray-cray.  Buckets more on this later, but i think the reasons I’m struggling to connect with the main character is because SO MUCH ACTION is getting in the way for me, and she’s like 19 years old, so she relates to the world in a different way than 40 year old me relates to the world.

 

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson – while stuck at home during a pandemic, why not read a book about a pandemic that ravages earth? Loved how the story opens, super loved the end, the middle was a little draggy for me. I feel like The Girl With All The Gifts is sort of a modern take on I Am Legend?  I haven’t seen the movie of this, by the way.  Also, didn’t realize I Am Legend is a novella?  the paperback is jam packed with a ton of Matheson short stories, mostly quick sharp horror stories, lots of which take place in funeral homes. they are deliciously creepy.

 

 

If you love gorgeous artwork and Central Asia,  Bride’s Story is for you.  I basically shop for dresses out of the pages of this manga.  So much gorgeous embroidery! the dresses! the shoes! the head dresses!  the jewelry!!!   the plot jumps around between a bunch of different families, and in volume 11 we are with Mr. Smith and Talas.  Their story is super heartbreaking, and I want them to find happiness, and I don’t know if they will.  Smith is such an adorable doofus.  There’s a great side story in this volume about what happened to his pocket watch, and the “legends” that sprang up around the watch.   I feel like that lady who wanted to buy Talas’s embroidered clothing – I suck at embroidery, but i love it and I’m happy to pay a pretty penny for it.

 

Memories of Emanon by Shinji Kajio and Kenji Tsurata – totally different art style than Bride’s Story, but I love, LOVE the art style of Memories of Emanon!  The story takes place in the late 1960s, a young man is traveling home on a ferry in Japan.  The ferry is going up the coast, it’s going to take him 17 hours to get home (sorta like a really, REALLY long train ride in the US).  He meets a young woman on the ferry, and she tells him the wildest story.  What she’s saying can’t possibly be true, can it?  Great story, fantastic artwork.

 

I haven’t finished reading Hexarchate Stories by Yoon Ha Lee yet,  but I’m near the end.  I bought this collection last year, and was “saving it for a special occasion”. If you read my last blog post and the comments,  being on the upswing from whatever-that-was seemed to be a special occassion, so I picked up Hexarchate Stories.  Young Jedao! and his siblings! and his mom!  and calendars and birthdays and servitors and omg I love this book so much! there is a ton of flash fiction in here, and it’s been fun to analyze the flash fiction, see how to tell a story in just a few pages. truly,  reading this book has been heavenly.  as soon as I finish it I’m going to read it again (I feel like I did that with one of the Machineries of Empire books too?).   Confession – some of my super fave stores have been the sexy/smutty ones.

 

some e-books i’ve read/am reading:

The Tyrant Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson – holy shit damn. this book is everything!  I have handwritten notes for a review and still there is just SO MUCH.   (also, for reasons that  i’ll tell you later, finishing this book and then immediately picking up the Star Trek book had me laughing my head off).  This book doesn’t come out till later this summer, so I need to figure out when i can post a review and how much I can talk about, because I don’t want to spoil anything.

 

 

I just started reading Machine’s Last Testament by Benjanun Sriduangkaew this morning, and I’m loving it. An AI controlled sanctuary city, where if you can get in, you’ll be happy and safe (for AI definitions of happy and safe).  It’s a sort of prequel to And Machines Shall Surrender, which I loved.  Basically, if you’re trying to figure out what kind of stories and prose styles I love,  read anything by Sriduangkaew, and you’ll know.

 

What have you been reading lately?

 

and if you like short fiction, and want your TBR to explode, check out this series of interviews I’m doing at Nerds of a Feather,  with staff members at Hugo nominated semiprozines!  When this series ends, I’ll be doing an interview series with the nominees for best fan artist.  Huh, i guess that explains why i haven’t been writing a ton of reviews lately. . .

my faves are problematic.

they are my faves, and they are problematic. even after I write and read and reread this post, they will still be my faves, and they will still be problematic, and I have to be ok with that, because this is  not a fave I’m willing to give up.

I love time travel.  it is my super fave, i don’t plan to ever love it less than a bazillion hearts!!  time travel is super problematic!

Like, it is my favorite trope in the whole world.  travel to the past, travel to the future,  take modern items to the past and bury them to be found later, omg, I can’t get enough time travel!  Cheesy writing can be fixed, just add time travel!  have no plot? add time travel, and I’ll forgive anything!

“what could possibly go wrong?” is the best way to write a story, and with time travel, every possible thing goes wrong, every single time!  the person gets stuck in the past! they accidentally create a paradox! they realize their ancestor was an asshole! they go to the wrong time! the gizmo to get them back to the present gets broken! they are dressed wrong and someone thinks they are a witch!  they hit their head and get rescured by a well meaning local and they have to escape the person’s horrible medical ideas!  EVERYTHING goes wrong in time travel and it is THE BEST.   and then 50 pages before the end of the book,  they are able to come home safely and everyone (including me) cries.

 

I love the Back to the Future movies.  I grew up with them, I was the perfect age when they came out. Michael J Fox is so puppy dog adorable.

 

I don’t remember which Connie Willis book this was in (To Say Nothing of the Dog, maybe?), but a bunch of historians at Oxford are going back in time to all different temporal locations, and it’s suggested that a particular historian go back to a particular time, and the immediate response is “No. he’s black. that era is a 10 for him, it wouldn’t be safe.”.

I’ve thought about that sentence a lot.  Time travel isn’t safe for black people.  That historian couldn’t do his literal job, he wasn’t allowed to do the job he had studied for, because it wasn’t safe for him to go places, so they didn’t let him for his own safety.  Um, that super sucks.

A lot of the first time travel books and time travel movies I saw were white guys doing time travel. it was the 80s, i was limited to the movies my parents took me to, what was on TV, and what is in the youth section at the library.

the first time I read a time travel book where it was a woman who went back in time by herself,  there is an invasion and she and one of her female neighbors are raped.  the next time I read a time travel  book where a woman went back in time by herself, for a while I was wondering “how is she going to protect herself against being raped? is time travel safe for her?”

i love time travel (no shit), so I wonder, would time travel be safe for me?  I am a short woman.   Pretend time travel was real. If i went back in time to the  1700s, would i be safe?  would I be able to defend myself if someone tried to rape me?   A lot of fantasy and historical fiction and time travel novels have taught me that women who are alone are simply put, not safe and shouldn’t expect to be safe. Sure, I guess I could go all protein shake and go to the gym 2 hours a day and turn into a five foot tall forty year old body builder, and then, sure, I could probably, maybe physically defend myself? if the guy was less than 250 lbs?

just like the black guy in that Connie Willis book, what eras and/or decades would be safe for me to go to?    White guys can go back in time with no worries,  but it’s dangerous for women and black people.

that’s problematic.

(and yes, I know plenty of you are saying “Andrea. this isn’t a big deal, why are you worried about it? this is just fiction, why are you making a big deal about it?”  Because when you say “why are you making a big deal?”, what I hear is “why are you wasting my time with something that is unimportant to me”. because my experience in my life is different than yours, that’s why.  because books affect me differently than they affect you, that’s why.  And because sometimes it’s a good thing to ask someone “hey, what do you think about this”, and actually, fucking listen to what they have to say without shutting them down as soon as they say something that is outside your experience)

time travel is still my fave.  Will I read the shit out of time travel books and acknowledge that they are problematic? YEP!

are there books where non-white-men travel in time? There sure are!  will i still watch Back to the Future? sorrynotsorry YES i love those movies!

am i having a shitty couple of weeks right now?  well actually, yes.

 

 

Because I haven’t posted in, holy crap, like a week, you get a MASSIVE review today.  You’re welcome.

 

A Sinister Quartet (pre-order through Indiebound!) was originally planned to be a chapbook of two novellas by Mike Allen and C.S.E. Cooney.  Thanks to scope creep, and Allen and Cooney both having other stories that they loved, the project grew into a quartet of creepy dark fantasy and horror.   Something I’m only realizing right now, as I write this review, is that all of these stories deal with familial love.   Sisters saving brothers,  daughters saving parents,  a foster daughter being loved and supported by her foster mom, a woman coming to terms with the death of her beloved sister. If it wasn’t for family love, none of these stories would have the emotional impact that they did. (huh, maybe that’s why horror affects us so much? it is loss of those we love and watching that loss happen?)

 

Part of me wants to tell you to read this collection in the order the stories are presented, so that you can move from least dark and scary to most dark and scary: Start with Cooney’s beautifully rendered fantasy “The Twice Drowned Saint”;  then go to Jessia P. Wick’s “An Unkindness”, a dark fantasy of a sister trying to save her brother from the fae;  from there go to Amanda J. McGee’s “Viridian”, a contemporary gothic horror of isolation and obsession;  and from there go to Mike Allen’s absolutely horrifying and terrifying “The Comforter”.  If you go that path, you’ll slowly ramp up from “fun, sorta creepy” to “not sure I should be reading this before bed”.

 

But, on the other hand, maybe you should save Cooney’s story for last.  Because you see, the problem with reading her story first, is that you’ll be expecting everything else in this collection to be as good or better, and I’m sorry to tell you, but you’ll be disappointed. Let me put this another way:  on a scale of zero to ten, the Wick, McGee, and Allen are all easily a score of 7 or above.  On a scale of zero to ten, the Cooney is a twenty, easily one of the best things I’ve read this year.

 

As a compromise, I’ll save my thoughts on Cooney’s story for last.  Scroll to the end if you want to read that part first.

In Jessica P. Wick’s “An Unkindness”, the story opens with Ravenna concerned about the personality changes in her other brother, Aliver.  The two of them were besties when they were kids, why is he avoiding spending time her and sneaking out in the middle of the night all of a sudden?  She watches his bedroom door, only to see dark shadows doing impossible things. She follows him, only to lose sight of him.  He pushes her away,  he nearly begs her not to follow him, and being a bored, adventure-craving, lonely younger sister, she completely ignores his requests to be left alone.  Not only does Ravenna miss him, but she feels left out.   She follows him into their estate’s formal gardens, and when he dives into the fountain and doesn’t resurface, she follows.  What comes next is a wonderfully dark and creepy intrusion into a fae (?) world.  While reading this, I kept wanting to yell at Ravenna “don’t eat anything there!!!  You’ll be stuck there forever if you do!”.

 

The story is told in short chapters that have cute/funny/entertaining names, and I really enjoyed Ravenna’s voice. I won’t tell you much more, for fear of spoilers, but Ravenna’s experiences in the Fae lands (not sure if it is specifically Fae? I don’t remember if the author specifies it?) where a bucket of fun to read,  she’s not entirely sure what’s going on,  she doesn’t know if conversions will trap her, or why certain people do or don’t want to talk to her.   If you’re a fan of stories of “don’t make bargains with fairies!!”, you’ll get a kick out of “An Unkindness”.  And I do  love stories like this,  where people go to a Fae/Sidhe type world and have to manage to get out safely.  And it was cool to read a story about a sister wanting to save her brother!

 

It took me a little while to get my claws into Amanda J. McGee’s “Viridian”, but once I got into the groove of what was going on, hooo  boy was this a killer story!  Lori has moved to a small town in New England to start over after her sister Annie’s death.  She’s able to get settled into a small apartment, and she gets a job at the local cafe. A few locals are happy to befriend the newest member of their small, isolated town.  Maybe one day, Lori will finally feel grounded enough to come to terms with Annie’s death, and be able to grieve.  And then Lori meets Ethan, who sweeps her off her feet. A wealthy widower,  Ethan yearns for a woman he can take care of, someone who will bring warmth into his home, someone who will be there to welcome him home when he returns from business in the big city.

 

With gothic echoes of Jane Eyre (but a very, VERY different ending!),  I quickly found myself whipping through the pages of “Viridian”.  Lori twigs to the fact that something is very wrong, but she’s already in too deep, can she escape on her own?  Ethan’s house is so far out in the woods there’s no cell service, and she never did put snow tires on her call.  As he isolates her further and gaslights her, she feels her self confidence unravelling.  Personally, I didn’t like Lori. I thought she was too trusting, I wish she’d just get a therapist to help her with her grieving and guilt. But? It didn’t matter that I didn’t like her as a person, I wanted her to win!  I wanted her to escape Ethan and the other awful members of his household and his terrible plans for her!!  According to the “about the authors” in the end of the collection,  “Viridian” was inspired by “Bluebeard”.  But still. . .  reading this makes me want to read Jane Eyre.

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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.