the Little Red Reviewer

Author Archive

We’re in the middle of a heat wave, the novelty of getting to work from home has worn off, and I’m in a reading rut.  Buckets of books to read and review, a ton of amazing stuff on my kindle app, and i’m just not in the mood for it right now.

 

on the plus side, I’ve got some fun crafts I want to work on,  my little balcony garden is going crazy with tomatoes and herbs and green onions and flowers,  and I’ll never run out of cool recipes that that I want to try to make.

 

So, I’m going to make fun foods,  read more cookbooks, harvest my basil and mint and parsley, coax my peppers and tomatoes to fruit,  and binge watch the Netflix show Dark.

 

Just a few recent reads –

I enjoyed the hell out of Your Rover is Here, by LP Kindred, in FIYAH Issue #14. This is the urban fantasy / keep the family magic a secret I’ve been looking for for years.  The voice in this story is fantastic. The narrator, he’s just going about his business. He drives for a rideshare app.  And when a fare brings violent magic into the car, he has to fight back to stop even more violence.  So what happens when you use secret magic to stop a dangerous explosion, and you lose your car (and your source of income) in the process?  Seriously a great story.  I kept meaning to read the rest of the issue, but just kept coming back to this story.

I bought the print copy of Clarkesworld Year 11, volume 1. It’s a bucket of fiction that was published in Clarkesworld.  I usually really like what gets published in that magazine, but my eyeballs struggle with walls of text.  I’ve only read a few stories, and haven’t connected with many of them yet.

 

Been binge re-watching the Netflix show Dark. The 3rd season just dropped, so hubby and I are rewatching the first two seasons as fast as we can.   this IS the show of the summer!  umm, how to explain?  Think Twin Peaks meets Stranger Things,  plus a metric ton of time travel.  And the soundtrack!  omg, so good!!

DO:  watch the show and take your own notes for a family tree.  Different story lines follow different generations, so you’ll want to keep track of who is married to who,  who is the parent and child of who, etc.

DON’T: use google to learn about this show.   the less you know about the show and the plot going in, the better.  the internet is solid spoilers.

not a spoiler: the first time I saw season one,  I though Jonas was a cool but annoying character. Why is he so quiet? Why doesn’t he seem to react to things? why does he seem so passive?  Yeah, he’s might be quiet, but he is NOT passive. the poor kid is a bundle of nerves and a total mess inside.

I’m not a super crafty person,  but I have two crafts I want to work on this summer.  I’d like to create a Braille sampler (remember samplers?).  My mom let me borrow one of her embroidery hoops, and I bought some tiny beads to be the Braille “dots”.

 

I’m getting bored with the fabric masks I have.  I bought some fat quarters to experiment with the bandana “bank robber” style face covering, where it’s a square folded into a triangle, and you tie it across your face and knot it at behind your head.   OK, so that was working pretty good. . .   then I saw these kinds of “face veils” online:

and i thought to myself “Self, that looks COOL.  and it covers your nose and mouth, and it isn’t BORING”.

so, next iteration,  was I took my triangle folded fat quarter, and instead of knotting it behind my head,  I  bobby pinned it.  where the two ends overlap, I put three downward facing bobby pins, and to “tighten” the mask, I pulled on the ends, pulling them through the bobby pins.  It was super comfy, and not boring. . .  but I still wanted to mess with it some more . . . .

The  craft store was OPEN!  This is the first time I have been to a retail store that wasn’t a grocery store!  I got to BROWSE! and walk through aisles of random crap I didn’t need!  I bought a few plastic hair combs, some seam binding,  some cotton bandanas, and a bundle of fat quarters.   A few things I want to experiment with – sewing the corners of the bandana directly to the top of the comb, and then put the comb tines down into a messy bun or ponytail, and attaching bobby pins to the comb, so they can “tighten” the mask while the comb holds everything place.

Ideally, I’m going for something where it’s the comb that holds the mask in place, and the fabric lies gently over my nose and mouth, with no pressure on the bridge of my nose or my ears.  And in the picture above, there is stuff on the bottom of the mask, weighing it down.  I can do something like that too!

Regardless,  this will keep me out of trouble for a few hours, and I’ll get some cool belly dancer style face veils out of it.  Doesn’t seem like the new normal is gonna go away anytime soon, so I might as well have some crafty fun with it, right?

 

Cooking adventures – I couldn’t find any one to one gluten free flour at the store, but they did have brown rice flour and teff.  Whadya do with teff? You make Injera!   First batch was tasty but undercooked because I didn’t have my pan hot enough. will one million percent be making injera again!

The link in the paragraph above is to Mark Bittman’s injera recipe. this recipe is great for midwesterners like me – measurements in cups and teaspoons, it doesn’t make a ton,  the batter only ferments for a day or so. Injera is a traditional Ethiopian bread,  here are some more traditional injera recipes, from Ethiopian sources:

Marcus Samuelsson’s Injera recipe

from How to Cook Great Ethiopian Food

Adane’s Ethiopian Food Youtube video for 24 hour Injera

Mama’s Majet youtube video for Injera

 

 

 

 

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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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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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.