the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘fantasy

Never in a million years did I ever think I was going to say I was proud of Kim Kardashian.  Scroll to the bottom for that bombshell!

 

What have I been reading?

Finished Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s  novella And Shall Machines Surrender, and freakin’ loved it.   My brain still doesn’t want to write long reviews, so I put a short review on Amazon.  If you like some, any, or all of these things, this novella is for you:  Beautiful writing, tight plotting, show don’t tell, cyberpunk, when AIs don’t need humans anymore, AI run cities, AI and human melds, and super hot sex scenes.

Finally finished Death’s End by Cixin Liu.  Those last few chapters, HOLY SHIT!  but man it was a lot of boring to get there .  Had a great conversation with my dad about the series.  I love how this series has become our family reading club book!

 

Also finished The Black Tides of Heaven by JY Yang.  It was. . . meh?  I’m really happy it was a novella.  I will say that the further I got into it, the more I liked it, but I won’t be continuing with this series.

 

Started reading The Phoenix Guards by Steven Brust.  What a blast!   It’s Brust’s take on The Three Musketeers, except more banter, more humor, and everyone is offended by literally everything, so there are duels like every 3 pages.  There is also this parody thing going on with the narrator.  And, um, Sethra Lavode is . . .  young-ish?  It is super fun. Luckily, there is like 5 books in this series, so that should keep me busy for a little while.

 

Went on a little bookstore adventure today, picked up:

Hild by Nicola Griffith – this has come highly recommended!  I was surprised to find it in general fiction, i thought this was a spec fic book?

Ismail Merchant’s Indian Cuisine – lots of easy recipes, nothing intimidating.

How Language Began by Daniel Everett – I’ve been hooked on the Lexicon Valley podcast, so I’m all about the history of languages right now!

This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper – I have no idea if this is good or not, but I liked the cover art. And it looks super different than everything I’ve been reading lately, that alone is a big plus.

Speaking of podcasts, I discovered “This Podcast will Kill You”, I think they talk about poisons?  I’ve only listened to the episode about Aspirin and holy shit it was fascinating!   Now i kinda wish my commute was longer, so i could listen to more of this? no, really, NO I do not want a longer commute!  Goal in life is a shorter commute!

 

oh, what did we cook this weekend?  Made the world’s most delicious shrimp and noodle stirfry, it was one of those stirfry’s where you throw a bunch of deliciousness into a wok, and then throw noodles and some sweet chili sauce in, and surprising no one you end up with a delicious stirfry.  Made a quinoa sorghum salad with mint lemon dressing for something healthy to snack on at work, Tonight we are making Curry Rice, which is one of my fave autumn dishes.  I’ve blogged about this dish before, but imagine a beef stew, but it’s made with curry gravy. Buckets of spices,  buckets of ginger and garlic and hot peppers and onions, and you serve it with rice and yogurt.  my mouth is watering!!!

 

Apropos of nothing, I am annoying that one of my fave kitchen / small home decorating sites, thekitchn, is now  like 80% advertising posts for Costco, Trader Joe, and Aldi.  Like, i like those stores? but I also prefer content that is cooking,  kitchen techniques, and small home decorating. I actually do not give a shit about how the different pumpkin spice things at Aldi compare to those at Trader Joe.

 

Same as The Kitchn is being taken over by thinly veiled advertising for Costco, Aldi, and Trader Joe, Buzzfeed is being taken over by less thinly veiled advertising for everything Kardashian.  three cheers for click bait?

I never in a million years thought I’d say I’m proud of Kim,  but I’m proud of her.  Ten years ago, if anyone had told her what her child could or could not, or should, or should not do, she’d have stretched it out over a season of her stupid TV show, and then divorced the guy.  She must have learned how to #adult, since now she’s willing to have a conversation about it, willing to hear the other person out, willing to not turn it into huge drama.

 

Yes, it is super sad that I’m proud of her for the teeny tiny act of hearing her husband out,  not making money off the drama, and making her relationship more important than them disagreeing over something.   But still, I’m proud of her.  She’s solving problems through discussing things, and trying to understand the why behind why people feel the way they do.   Kim, you’re all grown up!

 

You saw this article on BoingBoing about Steven Brust and Roger Zelazny, yeah?

I’m going to talk about these books in the order I read them. Even though in hindsight, I should have read them in the opposite order. Oh well.

 

Minor spoilers and major teases ahead.

 

So, I haven’t read every single book in this series,  and the ones that I have read, I haven’t exactly read them in order.  But it’s okay, because the books in this series are sorta kinda meant to be read in whatever order you please, and then reread in whatever order you please.  I kinda don’t want to get to the point where I’ve read every book in this series? Like, I always want there to be some surprises left. Lol I’ll be 90 years old and blind, and that’s when I’ll decide to read the one I haven’t read, and then I’ll be shouting in the middle of the night at the nursing home “That’s how Teldra and Morrolan met? You are fucking shitting me!”

 

These books are my comfort reads.  When I need something I know I’m going to love from page one,  I pick up a Vlad Taltos book, and I’m a happy camper for a few days.

 

Also, I’ve got a little bit of history with this series.

 

 

Phoenix was written in 1990, and is chronologically the approximate 9th book in Brust’s Vlad Taltos series.  (yeah, this isn’t that kind of fantasy and these aren’t those dragons. Just so we’re clear)

 

This is the book where Vlad realizes his marriage is over.  Some readers will gloss right over those scenes, I had a really tough time.  I’m a softy, ok? And he still loves her. And I think she still loves him. And I get why they split, and I respect it, but I can still cry about it, ok?

 

Anyway, the book opens with Vlad getting killed.  And he thinks about the Demon Goddess Verra, and how he

 

“had once traveled several thousand miles through supernatural horrors and the realm of the dead men just to bid her good-day”

 

And I thought that sounded hella cool, so I pulled Taltos off my bookshelf to read next.   Not only does Verra answer when Vlad calls out to her with his dying breath, she gives him a job.  All Vlad’s gotta do is kill a guy. He’s pretty good at that, so no problem. Except, his target is the king of a tiny island country that the Empire doesn’t have anything to do with, because sorcery doesn’t work there.  Sorcery is what allows the Empire to function, so if you could go somewhere where it doesn’t work . . . .

 

There’s also a drummer who might be a spy.

 

And there’s a revolution brewing at home.  This book has buckets of societal questions about the rights of the lower classes and the rights of minority ethnic groups, and the right to protest and the right to be heard. But this isn’t a book about how to start a revolution, it’s not a youth anthem, it’s not a book about toppling the system, this ain’t Hunger Games, you know.  In truth, Vlad would very much like for things to quiet down and go back to the way they were. He just wants to live a quiet life where he gets paid to kill people, and runs illegal gambling dens, you know?

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While Five for Friday has run its course,  today I have a special treat for you, a literal special edition Six for Friday.

Mailing books to friends must be some kinda addicting, like yawns.  As I was emailing a friend that I was going to be mailing her a box of books (Sorry K! I haven’t gotten to the post office yet!), another friend was emailing me that he was mailing me a box of books!

And boy was this box a humdinger!

Take a few minutes to feast your eyes,  and then I’ll tell you what you’re looking at.

if that blew your mind, here’s the cover art of each volume!  You’ll have to forgive my garbage photography.


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instead of a some long drawn out reviews, howsabout a few words on some books I enjoyed recently?   You’d like that?  yeah, me too.

 

 

They made a movie out of The Prestige by Christopher Priest, and all I remember was i think Hugh Jackman was in it? And there was some scene at the end where there are like 30 top hats just blowing away?   I’m pretty sure another Illusionist/Magician movie came out around the same time, and I might be getting them mixed up.   Anyone remember the details of this, or even what year these movies came out?

From seeing the movie, I pretty much already knew the “big reveal” in the book. But friends had told me that the reveal is treated totally different in the book,  and boy were they right!!!   if you like slow-ish moving historical dramas, this is the story for you!  The beginning was a bit slow, and then it ramps up and the drama ramps up, and at the end I couldn’t put the book down.  If you’ve not ever read any Christopher Priest because everyone says his book are weird AF (they are!), this is a great book to start with because it’s completely readable and keeps you turning the pages, even when weird shit happens.  The further you get into the book, the more weird shit happens.  Also? Nikola Tesla has a cameo!

Both main characters, the guys who are feuding, neither of them are sympathetic characters.  They are both shit heads, they both feel bad for the shitty stuff they did, and at the end of the book I wasn’t sure who I felt more bad for. I pity them both.

 

The Prestige is a great place to start with Christopher Priest  and Vallista isn’t a good place to start with Steven Brust.  Vallista is the 15th book in Brust’s Dragaeran series (but like, the 13th book, chronologically?  i’m really not sure).   I love this series.   When I am feeling stressed out,  these are the comfort books I turn to.  This series is basically about a guy, Vlad. I’m not going to get into it more than that, because if I did I’d be blathering on forever.  If you are that interested, start here, and from there there is about a million directions you can go.

 

I lovethis series so much because, well, the writing and the story and the characters, they are all fantastic.  I love first person POV, i love dialog banter, I love snark, I love long running jokes, I love slow world building. This series has all of that.  I love that this series is just about people trying to live their lives, and people who care  about their families.  Knowing I have a stack of Steven Brust books (many of which are Vlad books) that I can read whenever I want is therapeutic for me.  Just knowing they are there,  like, it works for me, ok?  Being alive at the same time that Vlad’s life is being created, like, it’s a good time to be alive. and yes, I know Loiosh is giving me side-eye right now for not making him out to be the main character.  I earned that side-eye!

 

ok, anyway, Vallista.  What a fun book!   Devera shows up and asks for Vlad’s help (she doesn’t tell him with what, exactly), and of course he’s going to help her!  She runs into a house on a hill (YES, the house from the end of Hawk! eeeeee!!!!), he follows her,  and the door locks behind him.   This  house doesn’t follow any rules of physics or architecture, and when Vlad meets the ghost of the architect, her explanation doesn’t help any.   The book gave me Doctor Who vibes, in the best way.  The people who Vlad meets in this weird house,  he’s got to figure out  how to get them to keep talking, because the more he learns about what the hell is going on,  the more likely he is to figure out how to get out of this weird screwy house!

if you’re not caught up in the series,  so long as you have met Devera, you’re good to read Vallista.  I know she shows up in Tiassa,  I don’t remember if she shows up prior to that.

I dig this series,  because the world building happens slowly.   Like, you remember when you were young, and you started collecting books, or comic books, or whatever?  You had a little bookshelf in your room, and it slowly filled up.  When it filled up, you were really excited – your bookshelf was full!  then you got a fullsize bookshelf.  and that filled up.   fast forward ten years, and you’ve rooms full of books. and you are happy, because they are full, and you are happy because you keep buying more books.   that’s what the worldbuilding in this series feels like – just the right amount at a time, at just the right speed.  I didn’t explain it well.  #sorrynotsorry

 

A question to my fellow Dragaeran readers: Who is your favorite character in the series?

 

Stay tuned,  one of these days I’ll post about two books I read recently that didn’t wow me!

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I recently picked up a copy of Steven Brust’s Vallista,  a book that came out a few years ago in his  Vlad Taltos series. If you like dry humor, witty banter,  the long game, a series you can dip into and out of, and long running in-jokes, this is the series for you.  If you don’t like any of those things, this is probably not the series for you.

 

There’s like 15 books in this series so far. . .  i’ve read the first handful, the most recent handful, and I’m still catching up on the middle handful.  When I go to a used bookstore, I always check the B’s for a Steven Brust book that I don’t already have. If I see one of his books and I’m not sure if I have it. . .  i usually buy it anyways. I had three copies of  Dragon at one time.

Because I’m smart,  I decided to reread Hawk, which is the book that came out prior to Vallista, so that I could have recent plot points fresh in my mind.    Hawk is a super fun book – it reads very fast, there is tons of plotting and dialog, lots of contingency plans that end up not being needed and somehow end up sounding kind of funny. The entire book is a massive smirk. My favorite bit of banter was

 

“ . .  I’m working on something and he’s liable to get in the way.”

“What are you working on?”

“I’m trying to set up a store to sell baskets of none-of your-fucking-business at wholesale prices”.

 

Something I love about this series is how big the world is.  No author can cram an entire world’s worth of worldbuilding into one novel (and when they try to, the book ends up being 900 pages and miserable to read).   But you can do nearly unlimited worldbuilding when you’ve got 15 novels to play in. Brust will have his characters mention a place, or another person, or some event that they know about (but the reader doesn’t), and the place, person, or event isn’t important to that particular plot line and isn’t mentioned again in that novel. But. . .  it leaves the door open to explore it in further detail later, and that’s exactly what Brust does a lot of the time. And I don’t know why, but I fucking love it.

 

So anyway,  Hawk was a ton of fun. I finished it a couple of days ago,  and picked up Vallista.

 

Because I’m smart,  that’s the moment I remembered that one of the other things that makes this series so fun is that Brust doesn’t write the novels in chronological order.  Chronologically, Vallista takes place before Hawk (maybe right after Tiassa?). In Hawk, Vlad mentions a particular psuedo-abandoned house on a hill. He  holds a particular negotiation in that mansion, for some specific reasons. He mentions something about how the house is weird.  Also, i’m not all that concerned about the specifics of the chronology.  I find I prefer stores that aren’t told in chronological order.

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The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

published May 2018

where I got it: purchased new

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I don’t know what I was expecting when I bought this book.  I’d heard good things about it, it got some buzz when it came out, and then it fell off my radar. I knew it was about a kid who attends an elite military academy, gets embroiled in a war, and has to risk everything.

 

when I read the back cover copy, my first thought was “is this a fantasy version of Ender’s Game?”   Hahahahah!!!!  yeah . . . . nope. More like Name of the Wind if written by Robin Hobb and then half way through Ian Tregillis took over in the vein of the Bitter Seeds books.

 

I meant to keep this review light and happy and talk about the plot and Rin’s adventures at school and how cute it is that she has no idea how to talk to boys she likes, and that she’s great at memorizing facts but shitty at martial arts.  I meant to write a super happy funtime book review.

 

That didn’t happen.

 

Good news first!  The Dragon Republic (book 2) is already out!  You can read books 1 and 2 back to back!

 

The Poppy War  does start out fairly light and happy – a war orphan, Rin, needs to escape her opium smuggling foster family before they marry her off, so she studies for the imperial exam and hopes for a scholarship.  Not only does she do well on the imperial exam, she has the highest score in her prefecture and gains a full scholarship to Nikan’s elite military academy Sinegard. Rin doesn’t care what she studies, she doesn’t care about dorm life, she just knows that school means she won’t have to marry a stranger and that she’ll get three meals a day, and that after graduation she won’t have to go home.

 

She’s by far the poorest most provincial kid at the school, and is relentlessly bullied by wealthier upper class students and a few teachers as well. But, like I said, none of them are forcing her to get married or get involved with opium smuggling, so she shrugs it off.  I thought it was so cute that Rin has no idea how to talk to boys she likes – she thinks they are cute, she ends up staring at them, but has zero idea how to talk to them. It was funny and adorable. And as dark as the end of this book gets, I was thankful for these cute light scenes at the beginning.

 

This is not one of those long, drawn out school chronicles, where each book is one year at school.  The Poppy War is ultra fast paced. Kuang deftly uses a few school scenes for worldbuilding, where the students are discussing world history, with the professor telling them what really happened.   Oh, and a whole shit-ton of other awesome stuff happens that I won’t spoil for you.

 

Before you know it, Rin’s first year of school is over and she’s pledged to study Lore under the school’s weirdest professor, Jiang. Doesn’t hurt that she easily recognized the hallucinogens in his garden.   He is saddened that her goal is to become a good soldier.

 

So, Jiang and Lore.  why would a military school offer classes on lore, mythology, and shamanism?  Why indeed.

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Ivory Apples by Lisa Goldstein

publishes on Sept 17th 2019

where I got it: Received ARC, Thanks Tachyon!

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So, this book is going to get a lot, and I mean a LOT of hype in the next few months. Hype makes me nervous. It makes me worried that some slick salesperson is trying to separate me from my money. Here’s everything you need to know about Ivory Apples, and hype:

  1. the hype is well deserved. This book was everything I want storytelling to be
  2. Ignore the hype, go get the book
  3. My literature hot take is that Neil Gaiman hasn’t written anything half as good as Ivory Apples.

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This book is mythology given new life, it’s folklore happening in your backyard. Remember a few weekends ago, when I disappeared off the face of the earth, when I wasn’t online, when I wasn’t answering texts, tweets, or e-mails? It’s because I was immersed in this book and I didn’t want to come up for air until I’d finished it. To be honest, I wanted to stay immersed, I didn’t want to come up for air, ever. On page one I fell in love with the narrative voice, by page three I decided I wanted to be Maeve when I grew up, and by that afternoon I was halfway through the book.
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I’m gonna talk to you about mythology and folklore and storytelling and art for a minute, ok? We use mythology and folklore to explain things that we have no explanation for. Our favorite stories are the ones that give us hope that one day we too, can steal fire from the gods. That one day we too, might do something legendary, might go on our own hero’s journey. Storytelling is powerful, it enables us to do things we didn’t think possible. And the storytellers and the artists! They create magic out of thin air, and somehow make it look easy! Imagine if you could have just a piece of their gift. What wouldn’t you give to be as talented as your favorite writer, your favorite poet, your favorite musician, or your favorite artist?
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Anyway, Ivory Apples opens in the late 90s. The eldest of four sisters, Ivy is eleven years old when the story starts. All four girls are old enough to understand that they must always call their great-aunt by her not-real name, Maeve. They must never tell anyone her real name, what her phone number is, or where she lives. Their reclusive great-aunt Maeve is really Adela Madden, the author of the runaway hit novel Ivory Apples. She wrote the novel decades ago, and never wrote anything else. Maeve could care less about the royalty checks, she’s not interested in fan-mail or conventions held in her name, she’s not interested in talking about the book that made her famous. She’s mostly interested in staying hidden from the world, and lets a relative deal with the fan-mail and the banking.
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Ivy was such a wonderful character to follow! When we meet her she’s a care-free preteen, who bickers with her sisters and often forgets what adults have asked her to do. She’s too young to understand what she’s stumbled on, but knows she can’t tell anyone but Maeve, because no one else could possible understand. I won’t go into details, but I loved watching her learn about what was going on, and learn to live with what happens to her. Once you get to know her, maybe she’ll remind of someone in your life, maybe you’ll say to yourself “maybe what happened to Ivy happened to them”, and you’ll smile.

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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.