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.

tor ebook club: black tides of heaven

If you don’t already know about it, Tor’s eBook club is well worth checking out and joining. Each month, you get a SFF book download (for the price of your email address, which we all know you just throw around willy-nilly all over the internet anyway) courtesy of Tor.com. This month, it’s The Black Tides of Heaven by Jy Yang, a book that has been burning a hole on my to-read list — I’ve heard basically nothing but good things.

Here’s the description from Tor:

Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery as infants. While Mokoya developed her strange prophetic gift, Akeha was always the one who could see the strings that moved adults to action. While Mokoya received visions of what would be, Akeha realized what could be. What’s more, they saw the sickness at the heart of their mother’s Protectorate.

A rebellion is growing. The Machinists discover new levers to move the world every day, while the Tensors fight to put them down and preserve the power of the state. Unwilling to continue as a pawn in their mother’s twisted schemes, Akeha leaves the Tensorate behind and falls in with the rebels. But every step Akeha takes towards the Machinists is a step away from Mokoya. Can Akeha find peace without shattering the bond they share with their twin?

The book is available now through Nov 16th, if you’re interested. And you should be. Because basically-free excellent SFF books.

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…

read it: damn fine story

I’ve read a bunch of writing books. And if I’m going to be honest, I’m going to read a bunch more writing books. In part, it’s because there’s still a part of me that’s looking for the secret even though I know there isn’t one. (Except, write.) (But also, maybe it’s in this other book over here…) But mostly, it’s because I like to read writing books.

I like the memoir-y tomes that talk about the struggling novice writer and the eventual triumph. The ones that meditate on the inner life of writers. The ones that make me think, maybe these are my people.

I like the books that present yet another way to look at structure and plot and character and narrative. Anything to try to help me figure out my own thoughts on those things.

So. I read books on writing, and as I do, the magpie part of me likes to pull out the shiny bits from each of those books and collect them.

When I found myself furiously scribbling notes and collecting quotes for reading during the dark times, I figured it was time to just endorse this whole book: Damn Fine Story by Chuck Wendig.

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This pic ended up a little more holiday than intended.

If you’ve never read any Chuck Wendig, well, you should give him a try. He has a lot of books and a prolific blog and a hilarious Twitter feed — lots of different ways in which you can familiarize yourself with his writing. (Seriously, check out some of his Twitter exchanges with author Sam Sykes. One of them even became a horror movie.)

He has a very particular style, especially when he is talking about writing (or politics), that is equal parts hilarious, profane, and profound.

In Damn Fine Story, he breaks down the elements of a good story and tries to verbalize how to be a good storyteller. He goes through structure and character and theme, and uses a lot of Die Hard and Star Wars references to get his points across. The book is irreverent and joyful and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It is, in short, very much Chuck Wendig.

In lieu of just quoting the whole thing to you, you should go grab a copy and read it for yourself. And if you know any writerly friends, it would make for a good holiday present.

read it: the mere wife

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Wow.

Beautiful, lyrical, poetry in prose. I don’t think I’ve ever read quite a voice like this before. It’s gorgeously lush.

The Mere Wife is a modern retelling of Beowulf set in suburbia. I’m not quite sure how to categorize it — fantasy, contemporary fiction, magic realism? I’ve mostly settled on fantastical because that seems most apt. It focuses on women and the power women wield, the price of protection and love, and different kinds of monsters. It reads like two stories happening at once — the literal text read as is, and the story that the decadent prose is concealing. It’s hard to tell which one feels more true.

If you’ve read Beowulf previously, the parallels to and deviations from the text are fascinating. (I like the Seamus Heaney version though it’s been years since I’ve revisited it. It turns out Headley has a new translation forthcoming from MCD x FSG also — I might wait to revisit Beowulf until that’s out.) If you haven’t read Beowulf, that’s okay. You don’t need to in order to enjoy this book.

Some people will be turned off by the writing style — if you only like windowpane writing, this might not be for you; this text makes you work for it a little — but I urge you to give it a shot.

a universal truth

A Universal Truth

We all have storms and stories
inside our starmade bodies
that even the night sky cannot hold.

This is why we are on this earth;
to learn how to love each other,
to learn how to love and hold ourselves.

– Nikita Gill, Fierce Fairytales

library quest

Yesterday, my sister-in-law D and I went on a library quest.

I finally, after waiting far too long, got my St. Louis Public Library card. And after I did, I had one of those moments where you just think “why the hell did I wait so long to do this?” I mean, books. BOOKS, you guys.

When I was looking into the libraries of St. Louis, I came across something curious — there are, as far as I can tell, three library divisions here. This seems to be related to the fact that St. Louis County and St. Louis City are split.

There are something like a billion municipalities in St. Louis County. (Okay, ninety-something.)

Think about that for a moment, a billion. (91, I think.)

So there’s quite a bit of duplication of various governmental services, including library systems. Since D and I both enjoy reading and having access to all the books, we decided to make a circuit of the all the libraries and collect the three different cards we were eligible for – city, county, and municipal library consortium. We made an afternoon of it, and then went to Hopcat for happy hour burgers in celebration.

Because ALL. THE. BOOKS. Now, excuse me, I’m off to go read.

P.S. Support your library! All of your libraries, if you’re lucky enough to have more than one! The easiest way to support your library? Go borrow books!

read it: the lady astronaut series

I first came across Mary Robinette Kowal about ten months ago when I started listening to Writing Excuses. I guess technically, I had a couple of her books from before that — I had already bought her book Ghost Talkers a couple months before, and her book Shades of Milk and Honey (the first in the Glamourist Histories, which she describes as Jane Austen with magic) a year before that — but I hadn’t read either of them yet, so it kind of doesn’t count.

On Writing Excuses, MRK quickly became my favorite speaker (sorry, Dan, Howard, and Brandon). She’s so analytical and relateable when she talks about constructing a story. She gives concrete tips and frameworks for developing plot. Her way of thinking about things just really clicked for me.

But still, I dragged my feet on reading her novels. Sometimes I do that when it comes to books or authors that I know will resonate. I don’t know if it’s because I’m savoring the anticipation or if I’m just wary of being sucked in. And I knew I was going to be sucked in – by that point, I had read several of her short stories and taken many of her writing/plotting/characterization insights to heart.

And I wasn’t wrong about that bit. Ghost Talkers was at least a standalone. After I read Shades of Milk and Honey, I immediately went and bought the rest of the series, breaking my 2018 book buying rule. Then I proceeded to forgo reasonable amounts of sleep for the next three days as I finished all the books.

All that to say: Mary Robinette Kowal is now one of my favorite authors. And I’m going to tell you to read her Lady Astronaut series.

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resistance is infallible

We can use this. We can use it as a compass. We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or action that we must follow before all others.

Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

– Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

read it: so you want to talk about race

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Go. Buy. Read. Now.

I finished So You Want to Talk About RaceSo You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo this weekend, and it was great. But even more than that, it was (is) necessary. Essential. It is honest and clear and direct and kind. This book should be required reading for everyone everywhere.

If I had the means, I would buy a copy for everyone I know. But I don’t, so instead, I’m telling you to go buy it, borrow it, read it, and then tell everyone that you know. Then start having some of the hard conversations, with yourself, with others, with government officials coming up for re-election…