the Little Red Reviewer

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It’s been a weird year.

 

It’s been a year of comfort reads, more so than in years past. I reread some favorites, and they were still amazing.

 

It’s been a year of ignoring hype, a year of  #selfcare, a year of finding stability.  I probably DNF’d more books this year than I actually finished.  DNF’ing is a form of selfcare that I highly recommend.

 

I lost a job that I hated, and three months later  I landed in a dream job that I love.

 

I read Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun and discovered the Alzabo Soup podcast. It has made my commute to work much more enjoyable!

 

It was a year of ignoring other people’s expectations, and selfishly focusing on my own wants. I learned what the word “sanctuary” really means.

 

I am happily addicted to the computer game Stardew Valley. It is therapeutic.

 

It’s been a good year.

 

In no particular order, here are my favorite books I read this year, with a link to the reviews I wrote.

 

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

 

Winterglass by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

 

Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

 

Cold Iron by Stina Leicht

 

City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett

 

The Skill of Our Hands by Steven Brust and Skyler White

 

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

 

 

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I’ve barely been getting any reading done. Ok, that’s not exactly true, as I finished the fourth book in Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun,  I’m about halfway through a new anthology from Subterranean Press, and I’m about 50 pages into a new space opera novel from Tim Pratt.   But that hour every evening that I’d usually be reading?  I’ve been spending it playing Stardew Valley.

 

the simplest description of Stardew Valley is that it is a farming simulation game.  You can roll your eyes, it’s OK.   In the short introduction, you are a burned out corporate employee, and then you inherit your grandfather’s farm.  You move to the farm, which includes some cleared property, some woods, and a small cabin. A few people who live in the town come by to say hi, you’re given some basic tools, you are given a “quest” to introduce yourself to as many people in the town as possible,  and then the game starts.

 

Stardew Valley is a sandbox, and every decision is the right decision.

 

Want to grow a ton of corn?  go for it.

Want to chop down some trees as use the wood to build a bigger house? go for it.

Want to grow mushrooms and make your living off of foraging? go for it.

Want to befriend the dwarf who lives in the mountain and mine for minerals?  go for it.

Want to raise animals and make artisan cheese? You can do that too.

Not my farm. this is a random image from online.

All of those are correct answers, because every way to play Stardew Valley is the right way.  The designer of the game built in seasons, and seasonal changes to the landscape. Certain crops only grow in summer or fall, there is different fish in the river and ocean at different times of year, acorns and hazelnuts are plentiful in the fall, but maple seeds are more plentiful in spring. You can make things, upgrade things, buy and sell things, befriend people if you want to, tap for maple syrup, raise farm animals, stay in the woods if you feel like doing that.  In the fall, you can just watch the trees sway in the wind and the leaves blow across the screen, and watch the squirrels and birds if you feel like it.  Every so often there is a community event that you can participate in.

there is no wrong way to play Stardew Valley.

And right now, I need something in my life that is un-screw-up-able.  I need something where whatever decision I make is a good decision.  I need something where if I just stand around and enjoy nature, that the game will tell me that was an OK use of my time.   I’m sure there are players who play Stardew Valley with the goals of having the most lucrative farm, the biggest house, the most animals, the most friends, etc, and that is also the right way to play the game!  because every and any way you want to play this game is the right way.

I did fix this bridge.

the hours i play Stardew Valley are judgement free hours.   It’s the perfect remedy to the real world, to the news, to politicians bickering, to everything.

 

so, if you’ve been wondering why I’ve been quieter than usual, less social than usual, it’s a combination of me telling the world to fuck off, and the therapy that is Stardew Valley.

 

and in case anyone is wondering:

  • I have a very small farm, mostly vegetables.  I make pickles and jam out of most of them.
  • I decided early on that I wanted to live off the land. I do a lot of foraging. I have a mushroom cave, I’m slowly getting better at fishing, and I forage a lot of nuts, acorns, berries, mushrooms, plums, and other wild foods.
  • I love having a pet cat.
  • One of my favorite activities is doing a loop of the town, foraging whatever I find, and saying hi to people

I love how immersive this game is. Summer feels like summer. Autumn feels like autumn.  the kids in the town aren’t interested in talking with me unless I give them ice cream.  The ocean is peaceful.  People are at peace with each other.

 

it’s winter!

 

This weekend past, I dug out all four volumes of Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun. Yes, i know physically I only have 3 books, but Shadow and Claw is TWO volumes of the series.  This series has been called a modern masterpiece, a “must read” for anyone who calls themself a science fiction reader.  I read Shadow and Claw a handful of years ago (three years? eight years? i have no idea) and enjoyed it. I remember it being heavy, beautiful, mythic, unforgettable, groundbreaking, strange, sci-fantasy dying Earth. I barely understood it. It was like reading a dream.

I do most of my reading on weekends when I have large chunks of uninterrupted time. By Sunday night I was 100 pages into Shadow and Claw. The (unreliable? kinda crazy?) narrator Severian is talking about his youth as an apprentice in the Torturer’s Guild. In a more modern epic fantasy, this guild would be the Justisters, I suppose – people who mete out punishment without thought for if the person is guilty or if the punishment fits the crime.   In Severian’s world, there is an all powerful Autarch who holds concubines as hostages and does who knows what else, strange machines that speak when they feel like it, a rebellion, the dangers of waiting,  a library that holds books older than history, The Citadel, and an entire civilization outside the Citadel who thought the Guild of Torturers died out generations ago.  The story is presented episodically, with a much older Severian telling you what he thinks you need to know and sometimes apologizing for spending time on needless details.   This is a world in which so much has been forgotten.

 

Anyway, forget all of that.  You don’t need any of it. At least not yet.

 

Because it’s the words that Wolfe uses to tell this story, and therein lies the magic.  I found so many words in this book that I don’t know the meanings of, giving them the shimmer of magical spells. Are these real words? Where they once words in a language that was forgotten hundreds of years ago? Are they satirical? Simply nonsense? I have no idea.   They are like stones in a riverbed – smooth on one side, rough on the other. Here are a few:

vitiated

inutile

saffian

pursuivant

agathodaemon

thurible

peccary

pardine

caique

bartizan

See what I mean, that they are like stones that have smooth spots and rough spots? Say them out loud and you’ll see what I mean.  Say them out loud and you can tell me how they should be pronounced.  If these words were stones we could build a road by which to travel to the answer. If they were stones we could build a tower, and from the top of the tower we could see the answer.  Every new and strange word is another stone, another step in the right direction.

Which of those are real words, or were at one time?  Maybe they aren’t river stones with which to build a road or a tower, but memories and myths. A last attempt to bring back lost knowledge of a dying world.

Who knows what the next 100 pages of this book will bring.

 

 

 

I’ve been bouncing around a lot of books lately. I’ll pick something up, read a hundred pages, put it down. In one case, I got 200 pages through a book, got annoyed by it, got so annoyed that I didn’t care that i was only a hundred pages from the end, and put it down.

Oh October, month of my DNF’ing.

Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe I’m picking up books that I’m just not in the mood for. Maybe i’m picking up books that aren’t as awesome as they could be. Who knows.

I did finish two books recently. Both are book 3’s in ongoing series, both were let downs. They weren’t terrible, they just weren’t as good as the first or second books in those series, and the first two books were so good that my expectations were pretty high for book 3.  I was disappointed in both books, but I did finish both of them, so that must mean something.

When I fall into this funk of DNF’ing, of nothing meeting my expectations, of getting frustrated, I lean on some old classics.  Something that will either be a popcorn adventure, something that will transport me to another world,  maybe something with language that borders on the poetic.  You can’t go wrong with Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun.

I’ve read a handful of Gene Wolfe, some of it amazing, some of it annoying.  I’ve only read the first two books (bound together in the volume Shadow and Claw) of The Book of the New Sun, so this is my chance to read all four books and actually complete the series.  Or, I’ll get through Shadow and Claw and that book alone will cure my funk of DNF’ing.   Or, I’ll get through Shadow and Claw,  realize how many clues I missed, and read the entire thing all over again.  Any one of these results will make me a happy person.

 

In the category of books I can’t remember if I own or not, I bought these the other day:

please, please, ignore the huge “Blade Runner” words on the cover of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep!  This is NOT a novelization of the movie, or at least it better not be.  I read DADoES years ago, and quite enjoyed it.  I grew up watching Bladerunner, and very much enjoyed the new Bladerunner2049.   I thought I had a crumbly paperback somewhere of DADoES? But maybe not?  And there’s a chance I already have a copy of the Wasp Factory, but maybe not?  and if i remember correctly, The Wasp Factory predates The Culture?  Banks peeps, help me out! this “maybe not” problem was easily solved for less than $20.

 

Have you read any Gene Wolfe?

Have you read any Philip K. Dick?

Have you read any Iain Banks / Iain M. Banks?

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Welcome to the Danica Davidson Minecrafters Blog Tour!  Over the next few weeks, bloggers across the internet and across the planet will be talking about Danica Davidson’s Minecrafter books for middle grade readers, interviewing her, hosting guest posts, and more!   If you’re on social media, follow #Minecrafters and #MinecraftersBlogTour.  To learn more about Danica, visit her website and follow her on twitter, where she is @DanicaDavidson.

Danica is the author of the completed 6 book Overworld Adventure Series with starts with Escape from the Overworld, the brand new Overworld Heroes series which starts with Adventure Against the Endermen, and many other books for young readers.  Her books have been called “EXCITING” by Forbes, “RECOMMENDED READING” by School Library Journal, and have been spotlighted by NPR, Sci Fi Magazine, Barnes & Noble Kids Blog, MTV and other publications. Escape from the Overworld and Attack on the Overworld were also both selected by the prestigeous Scholastic Book Fair for second through sixth graders.  Her non-fiction articles have appeared at Publishers Weekly, Ms. Magazine, MTV,  CNN, Anime Insider, Booklist, Graphic Novel Reporter, iF Magazine, and many more.

Click here to read my interview with Danica, and click here to listen to her interview at the radio show Between The Lines.

 

Here’s a list of bloggers, reviewers, and authors who are participating in the blog tour. There are even some soooper seekrit posts I can’t even talk about until they go up!   As blog posts go up, I’ll be editing this post to include links to everyone’s posts, so check back often!

 

Dab of Darkness reviews the audiobook of Attack on the Overworld    and hosts Danica’s guest post on Fiction Creatures: Who to Meet and Who to Avoid

I Heart Reading hosts Danica’s Guest Post on Writing in the Minecrafter World

The Sentimental Mom has a review of Adventure Against the Endermen and interview with Danica Davidson

The Library Ladies features a guest post from Danica on the joy of libraries

Yolanda Sfetsos hosts Danica’s Guest Post on Putting the Real World into Minecraft

Stacey Filak’s son reviews Escape from the Overworld (and then we all died of cute)

The Hermit Librarian features Danica’s guest post on Adventures in Publishing

Books Without Any Pictures has a fantastic guest post on how Danica’s love for Manga helped her get into the Publishing World

Loud Library Lady’s son reviews Escape from the Overworld and gives it 5 stars!

Red Star Reviews had a great time reading Escape from the Overworld

The Write Path has a thoughtful review of Adventure Against the Endermen

That’s What She’s Reading has a review of Escape from the Overworld from the point of view of a reader who isn’t familiar with Minecraft, and a guest post from Danica about her writing process.

Mr. Ripley’s Enchanted Books features a fantastic guest post from Danica on  Minecraft and Humour

Literary Hoots has a guest post from Danica on How to Turn Your Favorite Video Game into a Book

Today We Did features a guest post from Danica on the Joys of Writing in the Minecraft World

 

 

Woah, that’s a ton of fantastic sites!  book review blogs, parenting blogs, parent-child reviews, and everything in between. Hope you can make time to visit everyone!

 

 

raven stratagemRaven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee

published June 2017

Where I got it: Purchased New

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Looking back at my review of the first book in this series, Ninefox Gambit, I wrote a pretty crappy review.  I remember when I finished that book, my mind was absolutely blown, and I had absolutely no idea how the heck to talk about what I’d just read.  So I wrote a passable review and then ordered the 2nd book in the series, Raven Stratagem.

 

I had a similar experience with Raven Stratagem.  My mind was utterly blown, and I knew I had no idea how to discuss what I just read.

 

So I read Raven Stratagem again, paid closer attention, and took more notes. You guys.  I don’t even like military scifi. And I loved the living shit out of this book. I never thought I’d say that some military science fiction books had become my comfort reads, but 2017 is a weird place.

 

Ninefox Gambit was on a comparatively small scale. It mostly took place on one ship, with Jedao manipulating the shit out of Cheris, and then showing her how powerful a skilled manipulator can be and how easy their society is to manipulate. All Kel cadets learn about the madman General Jedao who slaughtered his own troops, but they have no idea who he was as a person. Cheris gets to learn who he is as a person. It changes her mind.

 

Raven Stratagem is manipulation on a much, much larger scale.Yes, Jedeo is running around in Cheris’s body (is there anything of her left in there? Who knows), but in this novel we also get a look at the Hexarchates and how they run their factions.  Running a faction mostly means manipulating your fellow leaders so that you can get what you want, and right now, they all want immortality.  All this political manipulation would be sick if it wasn’t so darn entertaining!

 

If the first book was algebra, then this second book is trigonometry – with a focus on the study of angles.

Read the rest of this entry »

Instead of a review, I have a thought experiment for you.  Like glitter slime, this was a fun idea to play with, and one I didn’t want to let go of until I’d tortured some people with it.  I have no idea if this is a funny idea, a dumb idea, or a cruel idea. For all I know, it has already been attempted.

 

 

 

A forthcoming book is getting a ton of hype. It is the author’s debut novel, the author’s website doesn’t have a ton of information because this person hasn’t written very much. A short and vague bio, a photo of the author, maybe a picture of their dog taken at the beach, or their cat sleeping in a sun spot. Lots of excitement about their debut novel!

Publicity e-mails start going out, showcasing stunning cover art, intriguing back cover copy, promises of a book that will blow your mind with unexpected twists and turns. The publicity e-mail requests that if you are lucky enough to receive an ARC, that you do not talk about the book until the release day, and that under no circumstances do you spoil any of the plot twists.

Book reviewers patiently wait for ARCs to arrive. The publisher has chosen not put the book on Netgalley, citing lack of control of when reviews are published as their reasoning. High profile book reviewers assume they will be the first to receive the ARCs.

There is more and more hype on social media. A book trailer that looks like the best scifi movie preview you’ve ever seen. Posts that are guessing about the plot, discussing images and pictures that are in the cover art – what could these possibly have to do with the characters and the plot that is mentioned on the back cover copy?

The release date gets closer.

Bloggers and reviewers begin to grumble on twitter that they haven’t rec’d an ARC yet. Hundreds of people mark the book as “want to read” on Goodreads. The book is available for pre-order on Amazon. NPR even mentions the elusiveness of the author, whose debut novel is has the book reviewing community all a flutter due to so few ARCs being available.

Read the rest of this entry »


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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.