the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘fantasy




library at mount char

Sometime in the late 70s, the American military tried to kill a god. 

 

They failed. 

 

Thirty years later, the god’s children are all grown up. And one of them has a murderous intent to kill her Father. 

 

I came across Scott Hawkins’ 2015 debut novel The Library at Mount Char in some book listicle about “books that don’t make any sense until you’re half way through”, and yep, this book is exactly that.  If you’re the kind of reader who wants a prologue, wants a ton of history before the main plot gets going, if you want to know the character’s histories  . . .  yeah this is not the book for you. 

 

This book is absolutely and gloriously bat shit insane.  

 

I spent the first hundred pages thinking things like:

 

Ok, that’s weird. 

 

Huh. that was even weirder. And gross. 

 

Damn that was a well placed joke!

 

Well, that’s creepy as fuck.

 

Wait, what? 

 

Good kitty. Stay calm kitty. You’re a really big kitty, sweetie, aren’t you.

 

Here’s a taste of the prose:

 

“On the morning after she murdered Detective Miner for the second time, Carolyn came awake on the floor of Mrs. McGillicutty’s living room.”

 

The prose, the dark humor, the characters who struggle to relate to each other but must work together, the forbidden knowledge, people with god-like powers, the long game, the author forcing the reader to be patient, the way everything (yep, that too!) is explained at the end. .  . you know what The Library at Mount Char reminded me of?  It reminded me of Gideon the Ninth, but with a lot fewer swords and a lot more guns.

 

If I even attempted to explain the plot of this book, I’d sound like I’m just grabbing random words in no order, but I’ll try.

 

Carolyn is one of twelve orphans adopted by Father. He set each child to study a different section of his vast library, such as languages or medicine, and the children were forbidden to share what they had learned with their siblings.  Break the rules, and punishment was swift, often including death. But that was okay, Father would just resurrect the dead child. He might then kill the child again, just to make a point.   This is how these children grew up, they forgot their lives before they were adopted. They adapted. They developed some truly epic coping mechanisms.  One of them figured out how to be invisible.

 

Now adults, and forced out of their home, the adoptees must figure out how to live like Americans. Which usually involves wearing shoes. And something called cell phones. Robbing banks is frowned upon.  Give Father’s children a break, they really are doing the best they can, even Margaret. It’s not entirely her fault she smells like death warmed over. 

 

And one impossibly painful piece at a time, Carolyn’s dangerous, crazy, and inevitable plan is coming together. The only person she can trust is that klutzy American Steve. He’s such a dork. But he has a pick up truck, and he knows how to break into houses. . . .  And oh yeah, what did eventually happen to Erwin? 

 

This books sounds super dark, and it is super dark and very, very fucked up, but it’s also super hilarious. Part of the humor is that there’s a chapter at the end entitled “So, What Ended Up Happening with Erwin?”

 

And OH THE LONG GAME!  Kage Baker would be proud!   the last few chapters of this book was a masterclass in invisible guns on tables.  it’s as if the entire thing was backwards origami, and then it unfolds, again.

 

The Library at Mount Char was written in 2015, and as far as I can tell, Scott Hawkins never published another book.   

 

If you’re looking for something weird AF and  brilliantly written, The Library at Mount Char is the book for you. 

Much thanks to Annorlunda Books for providing an ARC of Lagoonfire by Francesca Forrest, out March 3, 2021.  You can read my interview with Francesca Forrest here

 

On the surface, Lagoonfire is a mystery starring an investigator whose best friends are retired gods. 

 

And underneath that first mystery was a garden that unfurled into verdant blossoms, as an entire world unfolded in front of me.  One of the many things I loved about Lagoonfire is how it felt like opening my eyes.  You know how you feel when you walk into a bookstore, or a library, or a museum you’ve never been in before and your face just lights up? Yeah, Lagoonfire feels like that.

 

Hmmm . . .  now that I really think about it, Lagoonfire isn’t a mystery. 

 

It’s about how the stories we tell shape us and our world and our beliefs. It’s about how the people we love will lie to us, to protect us. It’s about how love makes us selfish.  It’s about how easily the present can erase the past, if we let it. And we always let it.  It’s about how if we tell ourselves a story enough times, it becomes our truth, and a fact, and how facts are not always the truth, just the version of history we were convinced of, so we live as if the story was real, because that’s easier/safer than the alternative.  I really love stories like this, and I love how Forrest tells this story.

 

The sequel to Forrest’s 2018 novella The Inconvenient God, Lagoonfire works perfectly well as a stand alone. That said, The Inconvenient God (read my review) is an absolute treat, and absolutely worth reading, and worth reading first, because Lagoonfire has so many big reveals.

Lagoonfire was so good, it took me a few hours to come back to myself after I’d finished reading it. It took me a few hours to remember how to form words into sentences.  (Books literally floor me, ok?)

 

Decommissioner Thirty-Seven prefers that people call her by her formal title, not her real name. Her friends know her name of course, but she cringes when they use it.  If she has to, she’ll allow people to call her by her childhood nickname, Sweeting. 

 

She’s worked at The Polity’s Ministry of Divinities most of her adult life, and I should be very clear about what her profession entails. As a decommissioner, her job is is literally decommission, or “retire”, deities.  They become mortal, to then live out a regular mortal lifespan, and then die.  Gods no longer worshipped become truly forgotten. In the name of unity and progress,  the Polity has the ability to give mere mortals power over any god who roams the earth, as prayers to a multitude of local harvest gods and goddesses now become shiny modern devotions to the Abstraction of the Harvest.  The Polity views this as bringing harmony and equality to all. And should you forget that harmony and prioritizing the common good are virtues, the Polity’s job is to ensure that you remember.

 

The story opens with a freak flood at a new shoreline construction project. Decommissioner Thirty-Seven is asked to check in on her friend Laloran-Morna and make sure he wasn’t responsible.  He’s not just a retired guy that she’s friends with, Laloran-Morna was an ocean god that she decommissioned, she botched the job, and they became friends afterwards (long story).  And how could he be responsible?  Laloran-Morna lives in a 4th floor apartment, requires nearly 24 hour home care, and is practically on his death bed.  There’s no possible way he can make it to the seashore, so he asks Sweeting to go to the shore to pray in his place, to his lost lover.

 

Why does Sweeting seem okay working for The Polity? They seem authoritarian and kinda horrible!

 

Why do these retired gods seem okay with being mortal, and no longer having worshippers?

 

Why doesn’t Sweeting want anyone to know her real name?

 

If you’ve ever read a Francesca Forrest, you’ll know that what the story is “about” isn’t what the story is about. 

 

What if you were the god of a particular place, and that place no longer existed?

 

Calling Lagoonfire a mystery is like calling Buckinham Palace a building. Like, yes, it is a building, but it’s so much more than a building! 

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I love absurdity.  A flying angry bear,  talking animals, weird creatures, intelligent fungi, guns that shoot bears (the bullets are bears. Live bears come out of the gun when you pull the trigger!). Absurdity, I say bring it!

 

I’d been hearing about Vandermeer’s A Peculiar Peril for a while now, and I knew nearly nothing about it. I knew that it had something to do with Thackery T Lambshead, I knew it had Vandermeer’s brand of weirdness, and reading the back cover copy made me laugh out loud, so we were off to a good start!  If you mashed up Mieville’s Perdido Street Station with a Neil Gaiman,  you might end up with something on the same plane as A Peculiar Peril.  

The book has an wryly funny, if tragic beginning.  Young Jonathan Lambshead is officially now an orphan. His mother disappeared in the Alps and is presumed dead, and his grandfather Dr. Lambshead has passed away. The novel opens with Jonathan arriving at his grandfather’s mansion and no one is there to greet him.  Through letters and a phone call (delivered through a phone that isn’t plugged in), Jonathan learns that if he can only organize and catalog his grandfather’s collectables, he will inherit all!  Well, It’s a good thing Jonathan invited his best friends Rack and Danny to help him. (Rack and Danny are brother and sister, “Danny” is short for Danielle, “Rack” is short for something much longer)

 

If you thought this was to be another adventure through Dr Thackery T Lambshead’s Cabinet of Curiosities. . . you’d be wrong. But that’s ok!   By way of a strange map, an even stranger marmot, and yet stranger doors that go elsewhere, Jonathan, Rack, and Danny find themselves in an alternate Earth called Aurora, where Napoleon is a literal talking head,  Aleister Crowley hasn’t realized he’s not in control, monsters abound, animals talk, shadows do as they please, and thanks to one particular bridge, you’ll be scared of puffins for the rest of your life. 

 

All Jonathan wants is to understand what the hell is going on.  Why does he need to find the Golden Sphere? What is he supposed to do when he finds it? Why do people seem to talk in code whenever he’s around? Is Danny hiding something from him? What the heck is the Chateau Peppermint Blonkers (I LOVE that absurd name, don’t you?), and who can he trust? 

 

This book truly is absurdity piled on top of absurdity, and mostly in a good way. Let’s start with Aleister Crowley, because this poor guy is just so apeshit cray cray.  Vandermeer’s Crowley rules Aurora with an iron fist, a creeptastic familiar named Wretch, and increasingly nonsensical pronouncements involving household trash and rabid animals. Or well, Crowley thinks he runs the show, but as the story progresses we learn more about how Wretch is, well, keeping Crowley under control. One of Crowley’s advisors is Napoleon’s head. Just his head. And when Napoleon gets to chatty, Crowley puts him up on a tall pedestal where no one can see or hear him. There’s also a mechanical elephant with an escape hatch under its tail, involving a conversation that screams to be read out loud in your best Monty Python voice. 

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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.

Read the rest of this entry »

 

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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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.