the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘fantasy

A couple of weeks ago, i needed yet another comfort read. I didn’t want to read anything new, I didn’t want to read something that reminded me of now.  It was the week of the election, and all i wanted to do was escape anything and everything that had anything to do with the year 2020.

So I picked up N.K. Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.  I’d read this book for the first time back in 2013, as part of a read along hosted by Dab of Darkness, and I remembered liking it, and enjoying the whole trilogy, and there was something about enslaved gods, and the middle book in the trilogy was really funny?

Woah. I forgot how sexy The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is!  There isn’t like, a ton of sex, but damn is this book sexy and hot! And those handful of sex scenes? WOAH.  like, DAMN.

And this was Jemisin’s debut novel, are you freakin’ kidding me?  I’m not surprised at all that The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was nominated for a Hugo and a Nebula, and won the Locus award for best first novel, cuz, you know, Jemisin.

Ok, so anyway, if you’ve not read Jemisin’s The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, it’s fantastic. And if you read Jemisin’s three years in a row Hugo award winning Broken Earth Trilogy and it freakin’ destroyed you and you are still picking those little pieces up off the floor . . .  The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (and the rest of it’s trilogy, The Inheritance Trilogy) is much, much gentler.

What’s the premise of the book, you ask?  Once upon a time, there was a war among the gods. And after the war the humans enslaved the gods.

Yep, you read that right – the gods are the servants of the humans.

And because humans shouldn’t do terrible, amoral, depraved things, we make the enslaved gods do those things for us.  And the gods have their own set of morals that don’t quite mesh with ours, so it’s all ok, right?

Yeah, um, no it isn’t.

I’m a sucker for mythology. And I’m a double-sucker for gods to have the same weaknesses and failings that people have, and for gods to talk to each other and to people, and for gods to have really, really long memories.  I am a triple sucker for gods who are trapped in their own mythologies.

The mythology in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms? Oh, it is so exactly the kind of thing that I love!  I kinda want to reread the novel AGAIN (even though I read it two weeks ago?) just for the mythology!  A god of chaos, a god of order, a god of twilight/dawn/birth/death/change,  a godling who is the embodiment of childhood? And they all (ok, some of them) talk to each other, and to us?  Yes please! And all that mythology I love so much? In this book, it’s happening right now, in the present tense! eeee!!!!

Oh, the plot, you want to know about that too, I suppose.

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A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher is one of the cutest, most fun books I’ve read in a long time! Apparently it’s been a while since I read some Ursula Vernon/T. Kingfisher.

 

Ok, so the book isn’t all cutesy – people die, assassins go after teenagers, kids are homeless, adults act like idiots, there is some shit to be said about why we need heroes in the first place. . . ok, crap, this book is actually pretty dark, now that I’m thinking about it.

 

(the book doesn’t have any swear words, because Mona is a good girl. but #sorrynotsorry, this review has a lot of swear words.)

 

But I felt cute while I was reading it?  I laughed a lot while I was reading it. I loved all the characters, i loved loved LOVED Mona’s internal voice, i kept snarking “not my gumdrop buttons!” outloud, and reading this book really made me want to bake and hold my loved ones close.  Reading it made me feel hopeful.

 

So, after Mona’s parents died, she went to live with her aunt and uncle and work in their bakery. Well, she works there, but she lives in her own little room down the street. At fourteen years old, she leaves her apartment at 4am, goes to the bakery, and starts the ovens.  What were you doing at 14?   Mona is also an amateur wizard – she can make bread dough do cute things. The bakery customers (ok, some of them) love it when she makes the gingerbread men get up and dance (some of the customers think she’s a creepy witch).  There’s also this semi-sentient bucket of sourdough starter in the basement named Bob.  Bob eats the rats.  #teamBob.

 

One sleepy morning, Mona arrives at work, to find a strange girl in the bakery. The girl is also dead. Aunts are woken up, police are called.  And not too many days after that, when Mona gets to work in the wee hours of the morning, the assassin is waiting for her too.

 

Fourteen year olds shouldn’t have to escape from assassins at four oclock in the morning.

 

And I haven’t even had a chance yet to tell you about Knackering Molly and her dead horse Nag! I wonder what Bob and Nag would think of each other? Molly freakin’ rocks, by the way.

 

The assassin is obviously another wizard.  Why the heck would a wizard be hunting other wizards, especially someone like Mona, a teenager who has limited magical abilities?

 

Things happen, and then dear reader, you will read the funniest scene you have ever read in your life. It involves Mona and her new friend Spindle climbing up a, um, sort of drain pipe?  The, um, drain pipe that leads directly to the Duchess’s, um, garderobe.  Ain’t the Duchess in for a shock when she walks into her bathroom to find two shit covered teenagers. My friends, I was laughing so hard I fell out of my chair!

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The Tyrant Baru Cormorant, by Seth Dickinson (Empire of Masks #3)

published Aug 11, 2020

Where I got it: got an eARC

 

 

Trigger warnings:  Cancer. Body horror.  Asymptomatic, highly infectious, and deadly diseases.

 

I’ve never put a trigger warning on a review before. But then again, I’ve never read a book like this before.  Also? This review rambles all over the place and is way, way too long. #sorrynotsorry.

 

I’m always wary of books that are described as “ambitious”.  It’s an unfair bias of mine, I know, but I see “ambitious”, and I think “that author bit off more than they could chew”.  Takes one to know one, my favorite hobby is biting off more than I can chew, so I get the allure, trust me.

 

The Tyrant Baru Cormorant?  Oh yeah, this whole series is the definition of “ambitious”, and thankfully not my definition.   So often, the tag of “ambitious” leads to me being disappointed. Not this time!  This series covers imperialism, colonialism,  extortion and blackmail, nature vs nurture,  multiple solutions to the same problem,  advanced medical procedures (and, um, weaponized diseases), so much manipulation, and the kind of enforced cultural norms that makes 1984 or Brave New World look like a saturday morning kids cartoon.  Yes, it’s ambitious to the teeth, and yes Dickinson succeeds.

 

I’ve not been able to shut up about Baru Cormorant for the last few years. I love what this story says about societies and cultures, how to destroy them and how to keep them safe.  I love that while the story is about Baru, she’s not the center of the story (even though she thinks she is). I love that this series is bigger than just her, it’s bigger than what she knows.  To steal from Dark, what she knows is a drop, what she doesn’t know is an ocean.

 

It would take me a year to explain everything that’s going on in this book, and as it’s the third in a series, this is literally a volume in which everything comes together,  alliances are redefined to expose empire-destroying secrets, entire continents are brought into world-spanning negotiations, diseases and cures are bargained for, and a truly glorious long game comes to fruition.    There is seriously about five series worth of characters, ideas, and material crammed into three books, and it works.

 

Sorry, I’m gonna be spoiling books one and two.  But the spoilers? Believe it or not, they don’t matter.  It’s the pure gorgeousness of the prose, the characters, the depth of all the shit that is going on, that is what’s gonna knock your socks off of this series.  Doesn’t matter if i tell you the plot spoilers, because that isn’t going to spoil the best stuff, trust me.

 

Alright, so a super fast sum-up, because there is too much to explain.  When the Empire of Masks came to Baru’s blissful village, they brought coin, trade, schools, vaccines, and their definition of cleanliness. A savant of sorts, Baru was chosen to attend their schools and take their exams.  When the Empire destroys her family, she vows to destroy them, from the inside out.     First step to destroying the Empire to pass their stupid test, and work her way up the ladder in their bureaucracy. Passing the test was easy.  Crashing the currency of Aurdwynn was easy.  Earning the trust of her allies? Understanding the family entanglements and regional relationships in Aurdwynn? Knowing who she can trust? Not so much.

 

(reading reviews, as opposed to my half-assed summaries more your thing? No problem. link to:  Review of book #1, The Traitor Baru Cormorant and review of book #2 The Monster Baru Cormorant)

 

Also? It’s really easy to be both naive and drunk on power when you’re like nineteen years old and have a  handler who constantly tells you how smart and how wonderful and how special you are.

 

In the ensuing invasion, Baru suffers a traumatic brain injury, permanently affecting her vision and perception.  There’s way more trauma to come, by the way, which we won’t talk about because spoilers.

 

In the second book, after “passing a test”, Baru is “gifted” with being taken back to the Imperial capital, Falcrest. As the only hostage-less cryptarch, no one quite knows what to do with her.  Yes, people had issues with the middle book, The Monster Baru Cormorant, and I understand those complaints. It’s very much a “middle book”, Baru doesn’t seem to know who she is,  she seems be pushed around more than usual,  etc.   I chose to view what she was doing as she was learning how the empire works, learning how the game of the larger world works,  trying to avoid the murderous gaze of Xate Yawa,  maybe starting to understand “the Farrier process”, and oh yeah, trying to recover from a brain injury, all at the same time.   I had a lot of sympathy for her, ok? And stop paying attention to what isn’t happening and start paying attention to what is happening. All that stuff with the Mbo Federal Princes? Pay attention, because that’s the important stuff.

 

Ok, all caught up?

 

Getting into the third book, what struck me as funny, was how small the Empire of Masks is on an actual map of the known world.   Like, they see themselves as the best, biggest, baddest,  bestest thing in the world, and the rest of the world is like “who are you again? Should I know you?”

 

This final book in the series has a ton of flashbacks. Not flashbacks of Baru’s youth, but flashbacks of Tau Indi’s youth, when Tau was just learning how to be a Federal Prince, alongside their best friends Kindala and Abdumasi, and what exactly happened that year that Cosgrad and Cardine spent with them. It was a year of jealousy and unspoken feelings, and Tau felt left behind when Abdu and Kindala decided what they needed to do, and didn’t discuss their decisions with Tau, who is convinced all can be solved through through the Mbo concept of trim.  Kindala and Abdu come up with their own solutions, solutions they don’t feel they can share with Tau.   (all the flashbacks make books 2 and 3 feel like one long book. I highly suggest binge reading this series so you can experience is as one long story, instead of three novels)

 

Meanwhile, in the now, Baru still has grand plans to destroy the empire from the inside. Her private polestar is “What would Tain Hu do?”,  and thinking about Tain Hu’s moral code keeps Baru in check, and helps her make better decisions.     Oh, and she found the Cancrioth, and the biological weapon that keeps the secret safe.

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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. . .

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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You wouldn’t know it by how much is crammed into it, but  Mirrorstrike is a very skinny novella, around 130 pages. I could have read it in an afternoon.  So why did it take me nearly a week to read this little book? Reading Mirrorstrike was like eating the richest creme brulee,  or the lushest lemon tart. That is to say, this was an intense book for me to read, and I wanted to draw the intensity out, I wanted to read this book one delicious, decadent bite at a time.   For a week now, I’ve been trying to find the word that describes Mirrorstrike, and I finally found it – decadent.

 

Sriduangkaew strikes that perfect balance between writing lush, long sentences that transport the reader both physically and emotionally,  and short sharp sentences that tell you exactly what you need to know in one staccato beat.  I said it in an earlier blog post, and I’ll say it again: in my wildest dreams I’m able write prose this beautiful.

 

It’s a common conversation between readers, bloggers, and assorted book lovers – what kind of book do you enjoy reading?  Well friends, my answer is this, right here. This is the kind of book I love reading.

 

The first book in the series, Winterglass, introduced Nuawa and took place in her home city of Sirapirat.  For Mirrorstrike, the point of view switches to General Lussadh, and the location switches to the metropolis of Kemiraj, where Lussadh had been the crown prince until the Winter Queen came and changed everything.   Lussadh has returned to her home, to rule as the Winter Queen’s representative.

 

(Not familiar with Winterglass?  You’ll want to read that one first.  These are novellas, you can easily binge them both in one weekend)

You know,  I half expected this review to just be a list of all the reasons I love Lussadh, because she is my favorite character, and I love everything about her.  She’s a fucking badass, she’s aggressive when the moment calls for it, she’s got decades of history and choices and consequences, she’s the “strong female character” I’ve been waiting for.   I need more Lussadh in my life. And don’t even get me started on Major Guryin, who is hilarious. The melodrama between Lussadh and Nuawa? I bet this is the best entertainment Guryin has had in years!

 

Everyone in this story is playing a very long game, and everyone has secrets that are buried deeper than the glass shard in their hearts.  Yes, these two novellas take place in a much larger world, and I appreciated that Sriduangkaew doesn’t bury the reader in information. She let’s you explore the world at your own pace.

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Confession!   I did not read any Witcher books until after I watched the Netflix show, and the major reason I got into the TV show was, um,  Henry Cavill is super hot. Yes, I am super shallow, and my response to my shallowness becoming public knowledge is: IDGAF.

 

The video games and the first two books has been floating around the house for a while,  my husband would play the game and my commentary was 100% about Geralt’s hairstyle.

 

So we watch the Netflix show, and I become obsessed with it.  If this has happened to you as well, I highly recommend @incwitcher on twitter, for the kindest most welcoming fandom on the interwebs.

 

We had the first two Witcher books on our bookshelves, and I decided to give them a try.

 

Spoilers:

Were they different from the TV show?  Yes, very much so.

Were they good?  Oh my sweet summer child,  these two books are the most fun I’ve had in ages! Snark, dry humor, adventure, good conversations, people who think they can escape the consequences of their terrible decisions (surprise! You can’t!), all my favorite things!  Apparently I really, really love world building through dialog? Who knew. Reading them made me want to watch the TV show again, so I did.

 

Why have I only read the first two books,   why haven’t I continued on in the series? Simply put, binge reading a series is totally not my thing.  Also, we haven’t picked up the others yet.

 

The first book,  The Last Wish,  is all episodic short stories, many of which have a “monster of the week” feel to them. There is a framing device which worked well for me, but other readers have been turned off by it.    I am wondering if these short stories originally appeared in magazines or other anthologies, and they were “fixed up” into a novel by way of a framing device. There’s no table of contents or anything, this isn’t presented as a collection – it is designed to be read as a novel.

 

The gist of a lot of the stories is that yes, yes, we know Geralt’s job is to literally kill monsters. But who is actually the monster here?   I recently read the original Frankenstein, so my brain was thrilled to get more of these kinds of conversations! I’m a sucker for the “monster” who is a person who was broken by their own community, sometimes their own family.

 

It certainly helped that the first couple short stories involve mythology and fairy tale retellings, which I am also a sucker for.

 

Someone on twitter, I wish I could remember who, said something about how whatever they were reading wasn’t grimdark, it was grimm – dark,  grimm as in, in these fairy tales the kids die at the end, the witch wins, there isn’t a happy ending, it is dirty and dangerous and dark AF.  That describes The Last Wish pretty well, and I just really liked that description of liking dark fiction, but fiction that isn’t “grimdark”.

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Behold! my favorite things of the year!  I didn’t formally review most of these items,  my brain just hasn’t been wanting to write reviews for a while.   But I read (or watched) them!  And loved them!  and maybe you’ll enjoy some of them too.

 

The Quantum Magician (2018) and The Quantum Garden (2019), by Derek Künsken.  Space opera, con artists, human asshole-ness and hubris write large, genetically modified sub-species, and really old anger, what’s not to love?  The Quantum Magician got such an emotional reaction out of me (the kind of reaction that makes me want to hug the author because they are brilliant!) that beyond the review I had some shit I needed to unpack. After that first volume, I wasn’t sure the author could top it, so I went into the sequel, The Quantum Garden with worries it would just be more of the same.  Spoiler: the second book is even better than the first! it is super different than the first,  it’ll blow up your brain in the best way possible. I don’t know how many books are planned for this series, but these first two remind me a little of Scott Lynch’s Gentlemen Bastard books. the first book focuses on the con and the crew and their mission, and has you cheering on every page. The second book has a tighter focus, and that “I thought winning would taste better” moment, and it hits you smack in the feels the whole way. And then holy shit that twist!!!!     Anyway, if you like books that are smart AF, this is your series.

 

 

And Shall Machines Surrender (2019) by Benjanun Sriduangkaew – Apparently I like quiet stories.  I don’t know if this novella is meant to be a quiet story, but it was lovely and quiet for me.  AIs don’t have to raise their voices to show you how powerful they are, you know? An ex-lover doesn’t have to raise her voice to tell you she’s sorry, or that maybe she isn’t, right?  I like the idea of a city that is run by and designed for AIs, and they let humans live there because, I dunno, they think we are entertaining? Oh yeah, and they like to become hybrids with us, sometimes.  It’s the highest honor to become a haruspex – a person who is a physical host for an AI mind.  So why are haruspices committing suicide?  Orfea came to the AI city to start her life fresh. All she wants to do is get a job, pay her rent, and live a quiet life. And how is she supposed to do that, when the two people who know all her secrets waltz back into her life?  If you like quiet romance / mysteries that are beautifully written, this is the novella for you.  Yes! this is a romance! and a very hot one at that.

All Clear (2010) by Connie Willis – If you remember the entire scifi community screaming their heads off in spring of 2010, it’s because Connie Willis published Black Out in February of that year.   It ended on a cliff hanger.  There was no way of knowing if anyone was going to survive the next few chapters, and people were apparently, super pissed.  In October of 2010, the 2nd part of the duology, All Clear, was published.  I like to imagine that the world was quiet for a week or two, as scifi fans devoured All Clear, and laughed at their friends who were fans of the show “Lost” (oh, you think that’s a cliffhanger?).  After that week, after everyone read it,  everyone wept.   All Clear had me so pissed off. not because i had to wait to read it, but because of that never-ending chase around the church / drive to the hospital / what other stupid things can get in our way because this is starting to feel like a farce scene.  it couldn’t have been more than 50 pages but it felt like forever.  And then at the very end, at the museum.  I cried buckets, it was like I was gripping this stuff so inside me, and then it all came rushing out and I couldn’t control it.  I was also really mad at myself for getting all worked up over that scene that had annoyed me so much, I felt like by complaining about it, I was shitting on someone’s memory.  Anyway, if you love perfectly researched history, beautiful writing, characters you will care about so much that you get pissed off when things get in their way, if you crave stories that show you how wonderful humanity can be, Blackout / All Clear is for you.  Did you read Willis’s The Doomsday Book? Did you cry at the end? You’ll cry more at the end of All Clear.   Oh, you read all of those books and didn’t shed a tear? um, ok.

 

The Poppy War (2018) by R. F. Kuang –  Little orphan girl qualifies to attend an elite school where a)she won’t have to see her awful adoptive parents ever again if she doesn’t want to and b) she gets to learn magic and how to fight her country’s enemies.  What is this, Harry Potter? or maybe Name of the Wind? hahahahahahahahahahahahaha!!!!  oh, that was a good joke!   Poppy War was my Baru Cormorant, my Machineries of Empire of this year.  That it to say, this is the book that broke me.   I appreciated the super fast pace of the book,  that every scene, every sentence moves the story forward in a meaningful way. Doesn’t hurt that I loved the characters and loved the world. This book is brutal, in every sense of the word.  The beginning got plenty of chuckles out of me, the end made me want to puke and crawl into a cave and never come out.  If you’re a Rin who wants to grow up to be a Jiang, this is the book for you.  if that made no sense at all, go read my review.  If you’re interested in knowing what my reviewing style is, that review will show you.  There is a sequel!  One day I’ll  be ready to read it.

Ivory Apples (2019) by Lisa Goldstein – This was one of my feel-good books of the year.  well, it isn’t a “feel good” book, but I felt really good while I was reading it.   Eldest sister Ivy is barely a teenager when her father dies,  and she and her sisters are given into the care of her father’s friend Kate. Ivy and her sisters know their family harbors a secret, they were just so young when they learned about it that they don’t really understand what the secret is. Kate will do anything to learn the family’s secret.  I’m purposely being super vague, can you tell?  If you like mythology, and stories about sisters, and magic that can be beautiful ,and gorgeous storytelling, if you want a story that leaves you feeling better about the world instead of worse, Ivory Apples is for you. I had fun with hot takes in my review, too.  I must have been feeling very snarky that day!

 

Monteverde: Memoirs of an Interstellar Linguist (2005, translated to English in 2016) by Lola Robles – I love language.  I love how we shape how we communicate, and how our languages shape us.   This short novella is basically a plot that has been written around a thought experiment.  Rachel Monteverde, a terran linguist, is sent to visit a colony planet that was separated from the rest of human civilization for generations.  There are two human cultures on the planet,  one of whom revels in the bright colors of foliage and nature patterns and have the verbal mannerisms to match, and another culture where everyone is blind due to a genetic defect.  The groups just do not understand each other at all!  Rachel doesn’t care about their trade squabbles, what she does care about is getting recordings of their languages, and thinking about how and why the two groups have such different languages and experience the world in such different ways.    If you are a language and communication nerd like me, this is the book for you. I even reviewed it for you!

 

 

Vigilance (2019) by Robert Jackson Bennett – Gah, this is a hard book for me to talk about, even though I reviewed it.  It’s everything I hate about violence stories,  turned on it’s head (which is a good thing), and talking about this book gets me too close to the knife’s edge of getting pulled into political conversations. (but it’s just a book! Andrea, why are you getting so worked up about this?? Can’t you just enjoy things for once?)  Vigilance is what happens when businesses realize they can monetize fear and mob mentalities.  Where Capitalism and “you too could be the star of a reality show!” meet, you have Vigilance.  This novella is vicious, you should read it.  I really hope that reality tv producers and tv network head honchos never get their hands on this book.  Because then they’d make a movie out it.  And then someone else would be like “this is a damn brilliant idea! Let’s make this a real TV show!”, and that would, um, not be good.

Death’s End gets an honorable mention for the last hundred pages or so. It was SUCH a slog to get there, but the end really was so, so, SO, amazing.

 

Another last minute honorable mention is Yoon Ha Lee’s short story collection  Conservation of Shadows.  I’m only about half way through the collection, but damn, every page is perfection and I’ve already come across stories I can’t wait to read again.  Also, the word escritoire needs to come back into fashion.

 

And here is my Favorite non-book stuff of this year. Also, I watched  a lot of Netflix this year.

 

The Politician (tv show) – ah, this show is so ridiculous and so over the top!  it makes fun of soap opera tropes, it makes fun of how in tv shows high school students never seem to have homework or classes, it makes fun of rich California kids, and the best part?  Ben Platt singing.   Also? the art direction (i don’t know if that is the right word) was pure perfection.   If you’ve got Netflix, watch this show.  After the first episode you’ll be like “what the hell did I just watch?”.  keep watching.

 

The Good Place – Season 3 hit Netflix this summer, and you bet I binged it.  Janet and Jason forever! thanks to this show, I’m now more than a little obsessed with The Trolley Problem.  This is my fave show because when I saw the first season, I badgered my parents to get the discs on Netflix, and they did.  and then because they have cable, they got to see the 3rd season on tv before I did, and we badgered each other about it and teased each other about episodes we hadn’t seen yet.  My parents have drastically different tastes in what kind of TV shows they like to watch,  so I loved that this show let me bond with both of them.

 

Dark – if you want a time travel thriller that might also give you nightmares, or if you want to scare your kids into never going into dark caves by themselves, this is the TV show for you. An import from Germany, the dubbing is just so-so, but I was able to get used to it pretty quickly.  Now that I’ve seen both seasons and am reminiscing on the first few episodes of season 1,  the only spoiler I’ll give you is the people who are quietest, those are the people you should be listening to.   The characters who seem to be in love with the sound of their own voice?  don’t listen to them.

 

Into The Spider-Verse – So far I’ve only gotten to see this movie once, it’s gonna be one of those movies that I just keep adding back to my Netflix DVD queue. I should remind everyone that I’m not into Superhero stories or Marvel or DC stuff,  that stuff just isn’t my thing.  That said, I loved every single thing about Into The Spider-Verse.  Every scene,  every line,  every detail, even the references that I didn’t get, even the famous people whose voices I didn’t recognize, I loved every second that I got to spend watching this movie.   Also?  OMG the visuals and the music and how perfectly it worked together.   That scene at the end?  It was a supernova ballet, and I loved it and I can’t wait to watch this movie again!  I don’t even care about Spiderman, and I loved this movie!!

There you have it!  That’s my favorite stuff that I consumed this year.

Can’t wait to see what 2020  brings!

 

 

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!


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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.