read it: gideon the ninth

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I can’t believe I haven’t yelled at you yet about Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. It is about a skeleton cult disaster lesbian swordswoman who gets caught up in a murder mystery romp in a gorgeously gothic palace. There are skeletons and swordfights and creepy necromancers and skeletons and weird doors and also more skeletons. (Seriously. There are a lot of skeletons.) The contrast between the beautifully rendered prose and lush language and Gideon’s trash (hilarious trash, but trash nonetheless) sense of humor is surprising and fun.

I highly recommend this book. It is delightful and also creepy, action-packed with a strong emotional core in the characters. I was sold on the premise and the cover (it’s such a perfect cover), but I didn’t expect to love it as much as I do. Go grab a copy, read it, and then impatiently wait with me for the sequel about Harrow which comes out next year.

read it: red, white & royal blue

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Guys, Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston is so. freaking. good. I started it and then couldn’t put it down until I had completely devoured the entire thing.

Alex is the son of the US president, Henry is a prince of England–SHENANIGANS ENSUE. Enemies to lovers, a ruse, forbidden love, and so much delicious, delicious ANGST. I just CANNOT.

This book is sweet, charming, adorable, and hilarious. I laughed out loud and startled my cat multiple times.

It hit me right in the Texas feels. It made me hopeful again. And it unbroke a little piece of my heart. I didn’t know I needed this book, but I NEEDED it. (Stories have power, and don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.)

Also, it has one the best lines ever: “Stop trying to Jane Austen my life!”

Also, Zahra is a goddamned treasure.

Drop whatever you are doing and go read it RIGHT NOW. It will brighten your entire life.

PS. Someone make this into a movie immediately.

read it: this is how you lose the time war

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I read This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone in slow bites and didn’t want it to end. This book broke my heart in the best way possible, and then put the pieces back together again.

It is a story about two assassins, Red and Blue, from different factions waging war across worlds and through time. Red and Blue communicate through letters that they leave each other in moments in time. Rivalry and enmity turn into fascination and eventually an impossible love.

What a beautiful, beautiful book. I feel exactly the way the best books should make you feel: delicate, raw, full.

read it: steering the craft

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I thought I already had a “read it” post on Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin because I think about this book quite a lot. But apparently I hadn’t written one yet, even though I’ve certainly quoted (and will continue quoting) from this book frequently.

It’s one of those books that I’m never quite done reading. After I finished it cover to cover, I have found myself coming back to it here and there, discovering something new each time. Le Guin encourages you to think about how your writing is put together, the granular qualities of your prose and how those grains come together to form something bigger than their sum. Each chapter is accompanied by excerpted text illustrating the concept and ends with exercises to practice that particular element of the craft.

If you already write, I think you’ll find something in this book useful. It is not a book that will teach you exactly how to tell a story (check out Damn Fine Story if that’s what you’re looking for–post on that here), but it is a book that will help you think about how the clockwork bits of story, the actual words, fit together and work.

 

read it: the only harmless great thing

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The Only Harmless Great Thing by Brooke Bolander is a hauntingly beautiful alternate history novella. It’s partially set in the era of the Radium Girls, partially set in an AU modern day, and partially set in timelessness and memory. The prose is lyrical and the POVs are distinct. It’s a story about injustice and cruelty. It’s a story about history and narrative and truth.

You should go read it. It will give you the feels.

read it: not that bad

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Not That Bad is an anthology of essays about rape culture edited by Roxane Gay. It is heavy and heartbreaking and critical. It touches on so many different aspects of rape culture, the parts that get overshadowed or justified or excused because they are (eponymously) not that bad. It’s hard to read, and it should be, because it’s hard to face up to the truth of how our society views and values women (which is to say, not as people, and not as much as men).

Because sidelining women’s stories/voices/visages, and also glorifying—thus neutralizing—their suffering, are not only prerequisites to sexual violence against women, but also ensure that sexual violence isn’t seen as sexual violence but as totally normal, sanctioned behavior.

– from “Why I Didn’t Say No” by Elissa Bassist

Shelve under required reading. Take your time with it. Think about the different experiences and how they are all unique and all the same. Take breaks and take care of yourself when you need to.

2018 year in books

I read a lot of books this year.

I set an initial goal of 50 and woefully underestimated how much I was going to read. Especially since one-third to one-half of my work day is reading now.

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Here’s a review breakdown on the books from this year (pulled from Goodreads).

2018 book stats

This was honestly kind of all over the place because I couldn’t quite figure out what I wanted a rating to mean. What makes something three-star vs four-star? Solely story and plotting and characters? Does prose factor in? I just made it all overly complicated for myself. This year, I’m going back to the scale that Goodreads uses basically: 1 = didn’t like it, 2 = it was okay, 3 = liked it, 4 = really liked it, and 5 = loved it.

And for fun, the first 12 and last 15 (because of how the page ended up being formatted) books I read in 2018.

2018 first 12

first 12, read bottom to top and right to left (for some reason)

2018 last 15

last 15, read bottom to top and right to left (because formatting)

Because, as you already know, I have an AirTable and also a spreadsheet for tracking reading data, here are some of my stats from 2018:

  • Total read: 123
  • Author gender (M/F/NB): 15/49/1 = 65 different authors (roughly a 24%/75%/1% breakdown)
  • Authors of color: 19
  • Nonfiction/fiction: 18/105
  • Owned/Bought/Borrowed: 76/13/32 (2 read online for free)
  • Re-reads: 9

I still ended up buying more books than I should have, but it was a vast improvement to my behavior in previous years. But now I have ALL THE LIBRARY CARDS, so this year should be even better.

I had more re-reads than usual because I went back to read all of T. Kingfisher’s stuff since her tone very much inspires the project I’m currently working on.

Also, I ended up reading mostly on my Kindle this year. I still love all my analog books, but I have to admit that the built-in backlight of the Kindle (note to self: consider upgrading Paperwhite at some point) makes reading under the covers so convenient. Plus, I always just have another book ready and waiting. Mostly, this just means I’m a bit more choosy about which analog books I’ll buy or borrow.

Next year, I want to read more authors of color and nonbinary authors. I also want to push my genre boundaries a bit. I’ll read just about any genre, but my go-to one tends to be fantasy. But since my writing dabbles all over the place, I’m planning to make a deliberate effort to read more horror and sci-fi. And more non-fiction, I think.

My book goal for next year is 100.

read it: dread nation

It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed a book quite as much as I enjoyed this one.

Dread Nation is an alternate history novel set in the Civil War era, but the War Between the States has been interrupted by the rise of zombies. It has a combat school, an ass-kicking heroine who isn’t afraid of kicking ass (and isn’t apologetic about it), and a running joke about corsets. And on top of all that, it delves into power systems, racism, and exploitation.

Things I totally love:

  • The characters are so well done. Jane, our heroine, is compelling and flawed. Her voice is strong and unique. She is unapologetic about what she thinks needs to be done, and she has strong loyalties to those she cares about (even if she doesn’t always want to admit she cares about them).
  • Throughout the story, Jane’s relationships to the (really excellent) side characters changes and strengthens. There’s no artificial conflict or breaking apart of allies for the sake of drama.
  • The chapter titles are a hilarious bit of subtext, and each chapter begins with excerpts from letters written by Jane or her mother.

The plot is very much tied to and driven by the characters, and it propels you forward. I read around a third of it before bed a couple nights ago and then finished it yesterday morning. Just couldn’t stop reading.

Right now, it seems like everything being published is some kind of trilogy or series, so this is the first of one of those. Some really interesting questions were raised (Gideon? Jane’s mother? Ida? Miss Duncan?), so I’m going to be on the look out for book two.

 

algorithms are weird

I log my reading pretty excessively. Originally, I started with the spreadsheet and the bullet journal. But then I was also trying out Airtable for it, and I couldn’t decide if I like Airtable better for it or the spreadsheet so I started using both. So now the logging goes into my bullet journal (in the form of a list and also small notes I make to myself), an Airtable, a Google Sheet, and Goodreads.

…I’m not obsessive, you are.

Anyway, the point of this aside is not to tell you about my excessive book logging habits. It’s to tell you about the weirdest Goodreads book recommendation I’ve gotten so far.

I actually laughed (well, chortled) out loud at this:

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Nothing about Nine Goblins says that I should read Game of Thrones in German. (I can only assume Die Herren von Winterfell translates to something like The Men? of Winterfell — I don’t speak German, but from context and a lifelong interest in languages, I can guess with some confidence that Das Lied von Eis und Feuer means The Song of Ice and Fire.)

I logged Nine Goblins by T. Kingfisher not too long ago. It’s an excellent little fantasy novella about a goblin squadron, an elf veterinarian, a war, and creepy magic. It has a high degree of both slapstick personality and appropriately horrific depictions of war/death. It is very T. Kingfisher slash Ursula Vernon (who is a favorite).

It is nothing like Game of Thrones. Like not even really a little bit. The two are not related. I would not go up to someone who really enjoyed Game of Thrones and was looking for book recommendations and say “Hey, you like epic fantasy that reads vaguely historical, have you tried this little novella? A unicorn gives birth in it and there’s a funny and graphic description of that process.” And  I wouldn’t do it vice versa either (although in my experience, it works a little better in the latter direction).

The reason I wouldn’t cross-recommend these things is because, well, it doesn’t make any sense. Unless your recommendations are purely just, you like this one super broad category so here’s another book that fits in that category even though it doesn’t have anything else in common with the first. It’s like if you told me you liked Dune, and I told you to go read a book about deserts. They are both interesting and good and have a lot of sand, but liking one doesn’t mean you have any interest in the other.

I probably wouldn’t even find this recommendation so funny knowing the fallibility of algorithms save for the “View all books similar to Nine Goblins” at the bottom. Hm. I should click that link and see what else it thinks…