More Reading!

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Hello again, fellow readers! Welcome back to Rebecca Reads a Thing and Tells You To Read It, Too! It’s been a fun adventure the last few months and I haven’t been able to read quite as much as I might otherwise have liked, but here’s a selection of books I think you should add to your list.

First off, there is Oil and Dust: The Elemental Artist by Jami Fairleigh. I want to call this one out especially, as Jami is a good friend of mine and I had the chance to read the ARC of Oil and Dust before it hit the market. I have since purchased a copy, but want to lay my prejudice out right up front. I’ve known Jami for almost a year now, we met last NaNoWriMo when she attended the write-ins I was hosting on behalf of the Neverending Bookshop, and we just keep doing events together! Not only is she an incredibly pleasant human being, she is also a great writer, and it shows in this debut novel. Oil and Dust is a post-apocalypse story wherein the world (well, the American continent at least) has somewhat recovered into a society of loosely interconnected small towns. Our main character, Matthew Sugiyama, is an Artist, which, in this reality, means he can bend physics to his will with the stroke of his paintbrush. Freshly graduated from the Abbey where he was trained, he sets off into the world to figure out who his family is and find answers to the questions that have plagued him his whole life.

Fairleigh does a fantastic job in this novel with worldbuilding and description. She definitely has an artist’s eye and sensibility when it comes to scene-setting, and she makes the act of painting exciting and intriguing. The artistic bent of the magic system is unique, and very well executed. I get testy if magic systems aren’t fully fleshed out and internally consistent, but Fairleigh does a masterful job of creating and utilizing the art=magic equation. Matthew is a sympathetic character, and though he at times is as self-centered as any 19 year old young man would be, it only adds to the realistic portrait she paints. My only qualm with the protagonist is that he at times seems too aware of his own emotions and analyzes his mental state and motivations better than most therapists. I personally like a bit more of that left up to the reader. Regardless, the struggle and adventure Matthew and his compatriots embark upon is delightful, a true page-turner that left me asking what on alternaEarth was going to happen next. Definitely worth the read!

Now, on to the other books I’ve read recently…

  • Domesticating Dragons by Dan Koboldt was a hilarious novel where Jurassic Park meets West World. Definitely a popcorn read, but very enjoyable.
  • The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark was a fantastic novella in an alternate history New Orleans with a steampunk flair. Read this. Right now.
  • Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir was a different read for me. Felt like Dune meets Hold Me Closer, Necromancer. Super far flung post-apocalyptic sci-fi with a predominant necromantic society.  It was weird, but awesome. At one point I told my husband it mostly just had the fun bits of Necromancy in it and his response was, “What the **** are the fun bits?!”
  • The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune was the best darn middle-aged gay romance story I’ve ever read. I know there is a lot of discussion out there around how the author handled commenting on their inspiration for the story, but, regardless, it’s a gosh darn good book. I have no right to comment on the trauma of the folks who have the problem with book, but I will say that the situations which are fictionalized in the story were happening all over the world at various times, and not just in one place and time. Yes, Klune’s imagination was sparked off of a particularly horrid example of these institutions, but he was also informed by many, many more situations.
  • I picked up Banned by the BBC! by Arnold M.D. Levine as research for the new direction my radio play is taking, and was pleasantly surprised by how delightful this book is. I’m usually not one for memoirs, but Levine has a hilarious way with words that had me laughing out loud multiple times. This book takes a look at Levine’s experiences as a land-based pirate radio operator in 1970s London, and how Radio Concord was formed, functioned, and finally, dissipated, through the eyes of the people that loved and nurtured its illegal endeavors. It is clever, and witty, and eye-opening into a sub-culture of London that I was only peripherally aware of prior to reading. Definitely worth the time!
  • Blackwing War by K.B. Spangler is a sequel to Stoneskin the only two books Spangler has published that are outside their “Girl and her Fed” storyverse. And not gonna lie, I would read anything by Spangler, it’s always delightful, and I loved Blackwing War as much as all the rest of her writing!
  • Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvie Moreno-Garcia is a supernatural romp with Mayan Gods through 1920s Mexico. The lens into Mayan mythology was fantastic, but I did find it a little slow. Could have used more agency on the part of the protagonist, but I still think it’s worth it.
  • Remote Control by Nnedi Okorafor was great, I always love Okorafor’s work, but this was not her strongest story. Good, enjoyable, but she’s also done better. Start with Binti if you haven’t read her work yet.
  • The Ruthless Ladies Guide to Wizardry and Unnatural Magic by C.M. Waggoner are Waggoner’s first two books. They are hilarious, and are in the same vein as Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. A fantastically tongue-in-cheek fantasy world that pokes at our culture’s beliefs and actions through the lens of trolls and magic. I can’t wait for the next!
  • Chilling Effect by Valerie Valdes came to me by way of Ada Technical Books’ Feminist Science Fiction Book Subscription, which has been sending me amazing books all year. So worth the cost. But back to Chilling Effect. This is an absolutely hilarious romp in space, put me in mind a lot of Firefly/Serenity, if the captain was a Latinx woman who accidentally ends up with a ship full of psychic cats. Yeah. That. It’s a beaut.

But that’s all for now! Go get these books, give them a read, and let me know what you think!

More Stay-at-home reading suggestions!

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So, if you haven’t found bookshop.org yet, you absolutely should. You get to support your favorite local bookstores (mine is the Neverending Bookstore) while still shopping online. Yeah, it’s not as cheap as Amazon sometimes, but I feel a whole lot better about using it! You can either shop by stores’ curated lists, or you can just buy individual books and attribute the sale to the bookstore. I’m working on curating some lists of my own on it to share with y’all so when you’re in the mood for something new to read, you’ll have my suggestions front and center! (full disclosure, if you buy off one of my lists, I get a small percentage of the sale)

But on to the books I have recently found awesome!

On the Nonfiction side:

Plays, since I’m studying up on that form:

Speculative Fiction:

  • I’m in love. I have a new absolute favorite author, and her name is Rebecca Roanhorse. Rebecca, if you read this, I totes want to take you out for drinks anytime you’re in Seattle! A native creative, she has two different series up and running, one based in a post-apocalyptic, mad-maxish Navajo nation (Trail of Lightning), and another that uses native mythologies to write far-reaching fantasy epics the same way Tolkein used British (Black Sun). SO FRIGGIN GOOD! I need the next ones, pretty please!
  • A Dream So Dark – second in the series, just as good as the first!
  • Fledgling – Finally getting around to reading all that Octavia Butler goodness, all thanks to Ada’s Feminist Science Fiction Book Subscription.
  • Time Pieces – a collection of poetry by Michael Bishop, currently out of print, but most of them will be appearing in his upcoming collection from Fairwood Press!
  • The Relic – a blast from the past that surprisingly is still a really good read.
  • Nevermoor and The Wundersmith – A trippy YA alternate world that is just a hoot to read.
  • White is for Witching – my first Helen Oyeyemi, so wonderful

Otherwise, I’ve been working on several projects, the Seattle Prohibition project has take a sharp left and split into two very different beasts, so I’m working on both of those, I applied for a grant for one of them. I’ve got an anthology idea I’m shopping around (watch for a call!) and the illustrations for the last two Oz novellas are almost done, woo!! On top of all that, I’m getting a certificate in non-profit management so I can actually start making the differences I want to see in this world. TTFN!

Happy Indie Bookstore Day!

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You have to admit, there’s something wonderful about walking into a small local bookstore with a hand curated selection that is simply delightful. And that’s why I love Indie Bookstore Day, it gives you a reason to go out of your way and visit some new stores you maybe weren’t familiar with before. That’s also why I love the comic book passport for Emerald City ComiCon. Well…anything where I can gather stamps and there are prizes, I’m absolutely in, especially when we budget to buy books!

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Of course, what would this whole *gestures outside* be without a hitch in the giddyap? Last year, we restricted our visiting to just one new shop: Annie Carl’s Neverending Bookshop. Annie and I hit it off like gas and a match and we’ve not stopped talking since. She’s my go-to for amazeballs books and we’ve recently started talking about a super-secret hush-hush project we’re going in on together. This year, at least for the Seattle challenge, it’s gone virtual! Yeah, I love the actual going to the store, but with the advent of Bookshop.org booksellers can create those wonderfully curated lists and still reap the benefit of sales even while you’re buying your books online. Which means: the challenge is back on!

Seattle’s franchise of Indie Bookstore Day laid out the gauntlet to see who could complete a 10-10-10 challenge. Buy 10 books, from 10 different local bookstores, over the course of 10 days, turn in your receipts, and get a free tote bag! Being ever the over-achiever with a LONG list of books I want to buy, I dove right in and wrapped it up in one long 3 hour internet dive. Because, of course, I’m not going to all these stores’ websites WITHOUT checking out their curated lists. Which is where I pulled seven of my ten titles from, I might add. Well, from Annie’s lists for the Neverending Bookshop and from Ada’s Technical Books sci-fi and fantasy section mostly.

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So who were my 10-10 in 1 picks you ask? I thought you’d never get there!

I tried to focus on books I wanted to learn from or women creators or creators of color, but added a few others on just because they looked like too much fun not to. And now I need to finish the three books I’m in the middle of at the moment before these start arriving! BTWs, one of those is Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse, who is my new favorite, so check her out!

More Pandemic Reading

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Alright, here we are, back for more reading recommendations from the long months between last May and now. I may or may not have been reading a LOT. And writing a lot. NaNoWriMo was in there somewhere, along with a move, starting a new career as a full time writer and educator, and so so so much more. Who knew staying home during a pandemic could be this busy?!

If you can’t find these in a library and want to buy a copy, I highly recommend ordering through Bookshop.org to help support independent booksellers during this time. It’s where I’m getting most of my physical copies of books now, though I’m reading more and more virtually (easier to read laying down for bed).

All of these books I found riveting, inspiring, and/or nerve-wracking. I’ve grouped them into categories roughly around where you’d find them in a library, but don’t let that stop you from picking any of these up. I enjoyed all of them immensely. Presented in no particular order:

About Writing

  • Pocket Workshop from Clarion West edited by Tod McCoy and M. Huw Evans – a series of essays from Clarion West instructors past
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont – About the writing life, and exactly what I needed in the moment
  • The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass – Talking about emotion in writing, beautifully done
  • Monster She Wrote by Lisa Kroger – the history of female horror/speculative fiction authors

Nonfiction

  • The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery – about working with octopuses and a lot of their biology; I may be on an octopus kick
  • Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty – about the cremation and funeral industry, absolutely fascinating

YA Speculative Fiction

  • Updraft by Fran Wilde – truly unique fantasy
  • Wilder Girls by Rory Power – fair warning, this is terrifying, at least for me
  • A Song Below Water by Bethany C. Morrow – about Black sirens, super fun
  • A Dream So Dark by L.L. McKinney – a modern Black Alice in Wonderland gone punk
  • The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud and Andrew Donkin – If Robert Aspirin had written his MYTH series for kids

Other Speculative Fiction

  • Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi – high fantasy, without the elves and Tolkien influence
  • Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb – and sequels, high fantasy
  • All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders – Almost surreal modern high fantasy (?) Hard to describe other than excellent
  • Shadowrun Novellas by Jennifer Brozek – set in the TTRPG setting of Shadowrun and very fun
  • Ordinary Magic series by Devon Monk – Lovely, light hearted urban fantasy
  • Putting the Fun in Funeral by Diana Pharaoh Francis – slightly darker urban fantasy

Series I always return to

  • Smoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs – I always pre-order these urban fantasy shifter books
  • The Thief Knot and Bluecrowne by Kate Milford (of Greenglass House series) – I just adore these books set in the same magically-real smugglers town
  • Come Tumbling Down and Imaginary Numbers by Seanan McGuire – I never get tired of McGuire’s breadth and depth of skill; something for everyone in her various series
  • Most recent in the Lizzie Grace series by Keri Arthur – fluffy popcorn urban fantasy, the best kind!
  • Most recent in the Blood Trails series by Jennifer Blackstream – I am so invested in this witch urban fantasy series; I always preorder them
  • The most recent in the Miss Fortune Mysteries series by Jana DeLeon – Okay, so, EVERYONE I recommend these to adores the crap out of them. 18 strong and counting. If you don’t pick up any other books from this list, go get Louisiana Longshot. I cry laughing reading them, and they are universally excellent. My husband was super skeptical. It took him a grand total of two weeks to read the first 17. Fluffy, funny, exciting, sexy, all of it, with a main character I can really connect with and two old ladies who I wish were my neighbors. Well, maybe a street over so when Gertie burns down her shed, again, I can enjoy the amusement, but not worry about property damage.

That’s it for now folks! I’ll come back with a roundup again sometime when I have the wherewithal to catalog my reading again. TTFN!

My Stay-Safe-Stay-Home Reading List

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Luckily or not, I was sick for the first part of the Seattle social distancing. Probably the unmentionable, but not enough tests. So it goes. But once I’m almost upright again, I ask myself how I am going to entertain myself through the copious hours cooped up with husband and dogs. Catching up on art projects, sewing projects, writing (HAH, like i have the emotional energy for THAT right now), reading…and, oh yeah, my gathered list of things to read just passed 200 on the Amazon wishlist I keep specifically for that. So off to the Libby app to see what I can borrow from my library virtually. Turns out, most of the list. The expensive text books and out of print antiques I’ll save for another day. For now, I’m keeping my holds list maxed out and burning through as many of the list as possible.

Where does this list come from? I know you want to know. Mostly it comes from folks I teach writing to. I have several exercises that asks students–child, teen, and adult–what their favorite books are. And I write them down, or keep the post-its, or however I need to save them from class and then they get added to the list. Also topics I have a passing interest in, I’ll add a handful of “best representations.” Or authors I needed to catch up on Which meant my list to read had grown to absolutely absurd lengths and it was time to do something about it.

Thankfully, I already have a very specific process in place for allowing myself to stop reading a book when I am not enjoying it. I can stop reading at any point, BUT I must be able to explicitly state what it is about the book that just isn’t working for me. Reasons I have stopped reading books from this list so far:

  • Choking on the toxic-masculine male gaze
  • Very poor copy-editing
  • Very poor writing ability
  • Was trying to give a genre I don’t normally like a go, but find that it still puts me to sleep as its pacing and content is just not engaging for me
  • Unintentional and unaddressed problematic content due to the author’s point of view
  • And one notable book that gave me severe anxiety due to the way I identified with it, too much to handle right now

But for every three or four (or ten) books I return to the library started, but not finished, I find there’s one that draws me in and delights me. Those have been, in the reverse order to which I’ve encountered them as I scroll backwards through Libby:

  • Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson
  • Autonomous by Annalee Newitz
  • Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine (good book about writing for younger writers)
  • Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
  • The New Moon’s Arms by Nalo Hopikinson
  • Greenglass House by Kate Milford
  • The Jewel and Her Lapidary by Fran Wilde
  • Camp So-and-So by Mary McCoy
  • A Sudden Light by Garth Stein
  • In An Absent Dream and That Ain’t Witchcraft by Seanan McGuire
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  • Tomorrow’s Kin by Nancy Kress

Okay, that was more than I had realized. Some of them, Like Greenglass House and The New Moon’s Arms I immediately went and placed a hold on more of their work, I enjoyed it that much. I currently have a maxed out holds list for ebooks ranging from “Available Soon” to “Available after 9 weeks,” 15 more on my “put on hold when I can” list, and 35 that aren’t available through ebook lending and I’ll either need to wait for the library to open, and yet more that I will have to purchase since the library doesn’t have them in physical form either. I’d say one day I’ll reach the end of this list but I just added 15 from the students I’m working with this week so…probably not!

Oh…wait…I forgot to count the 20+ physical books waiting for me on my to-read shelf out in the living room, too…

When you know you won’t make it

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I have participated in NaNoWriMo six years now, and of those six, I’ve only “won” three times. 50% sure isn’t a bad finish rate, better than the average participant by a long shot, but there comes a time in November when you either know you’re going to make it, or you are not.

Today, I’m here to tell you that I’m not going to win NaNoWriMo, and that’s totally okay. The other years I’ve failed to hit the 50,000 word goal have been because I’ve had to move in the middle of November (never again!) but this year was a whole other string of unforeseen hurdles. Gremlins might be a more appropriate word.

Work went wahoonie shaped in a big way, requiring much more time and effort and stress than it normally does. I am headed to GeekGirl Con this weekend, and as a one-woman publishing house tabling AND moderating a panel requiring data crunching and a PowerPoint, and included a lot of interpersonal stress around people supposed to be around at the booth. And to top it all off, I am now hunting and pecking this post out on my keyboard because someone didn’t clean up after their dog and guess who fell in it. *Raises my sprained left wrist with wry defeat* Doesn’t help that this is the second time this has happened at my apartment complex…

So there’s no way on earth I’m able to type fast enough, think fast enough, breath well enough to power a story this November. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped writing though, far from it. It just means that this NaNoWriMo instead of coming out with 50k words of story, I’ll come out with maybe 25k words and some good coping mechanisms and a better idea of how to allocate my time…and how to delegate better. And just how much pressure I can handle in one autumn before I want to curl up into the fetal position. For now, I’ll sit here with my left arm in my sling and try to finish getting ready for the Con (thankfully I’m almost there!) and be glad my wonderful husband-creature will be available to lift the heavy boxes during set-up tomorrow.

If you happen to be around Seattle, you should stop by GeekGirl Con! It’s an amazing and wonderfully inclusive con for geeks of all kinds from science to science fiction and the maths of crafts to fantasy cosplay. We’ll be running the Mneme Press booth at booth number 620, and we’ll have lots of games, books for sale, and space for you to write if you’re doing NaNoWriMo.

Happy Writing! (or not!)

On Becoming an Authority

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National Novel Writing Month is in full swing, and, as usual, I’m not going the traditional route. I find this crazy hectic month of writing much more conducive to finishing up languishing projects, or focusing on a bunch of small ones. As such, I’m working on finishing up the first draft of Spirit of the Law, the full length play about Elsie Olmstead, wife of notorious rumrunner Roy Olmstead here in Seattle.

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In the process of my year of research, I have reached out to and made friends with several different researchers and prohibition experts and authors, including people like Brad Holden, author of Seattle Prohibition: Bootleggers, Rumrunners & Graft in the Queen City. And now, when someone reaches out to them looking for information on the elusive 2nd Mrs. Olmstead, they punt the querent to me. And it’s…weird. Gratifying, but weird. I’m so used to working on speculative fiction that questions about good literature, diverse literature, writing tips, etc., are an everyday occurance and I delight in sharing the knowledge and tips I’ve gleaned over the years. But it’s different when you’re starting to be considered an authority on something more concrete. Something that happened in history and you’re the only person people can think of who has done the deep dive necessary to find out the small things. Things like she was so foul-mouthed she was teaching law-enforcement officers new cuss words.

It helps that Elsie is a vivacious and compelling character with even the little we know about her, and the tidbits that made it into writings about her husband Roy and his groundbreaking trial. If you don’t know, Roy was one of the very first people to be convicted based on wire-tapping evidence, and they took the fight all the way to the Supreme Court. But that very lack of knowledge seemed to be deliberate on her part, one way to set up a smokescreen to her real involvement, which is one of the reasons people are desperate to know more.

Once the play draft is complete, I plan to write up a scholarly article about her, with all the attendant source citing. Hopefully by sharing all the odd bits and pieces I’ve pulled out of dusty old court records buried in the bowels of federal archives will help inspire other people to go digging as well and maybe even find some interesting things I missed. And in the meantime, I’ll keep getting that happy little thrill when I get the message that someone else has fallen in love with this woman and wants to know more, just like I did a year ago.

New Novellas Just in Time for GeekGirl Con!

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It’s that time of year again! GeekGirl Con is just around the corner (Nov. 16th and 17th this year) and I’ve got two new novellas for your enjoyment. The first, Pit Stop, was previously only available in the Night Lights Anthology, and Wavefall which is a brand new adventure in the same universe. Literally the opposite side of the universe from Pit Stop, but same none-the-less.

Pitstop Front Cover

Pit Stop is the story of Maevis, in self-imposed exile on a distant refueling station for Corporate. She finds herself helping out an injured juvenile hijacker and rethinking some of her choices.

Wavefall Front Cover

In Wavefall, we meet Andrea and Brad on a mining asteroid hoping to survive a quantum event that is traveling through the universe and leaving a wake of missing and dead people.

Also don’t forget that the third in the Oz novellas series is out for consumption as well! Jason Morgado is working on the illustrations for the last two right now, and I hope to have the fourth and fifth out in the next year, so keep your eyes peeled.

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All three stories are available in print through Amazon or your other favorite book vendor, as well as digitally through whichever form you prefer downloading books. And as a teaser, this NaNoWriMo, I’ll be editing another two books in this series, as well as finishing up writing the first draft for two others, including a followup to Wavefall. Follow me on Instagram if you want to keep up to date on my writing progress!

Thanks for coming to and/or watching my Ignite talk!

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And if you missed it, I’ll post the youtube link when it goes up! If you’re looking for some of the resources I talk about, there are links below. Hope you found it igniting!

When the research is fun!

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So I was recently mugged by inspiration while touring Smith Tower here in Seattle (thanks for the tickets, Tiff!). For those of you who have no idea what Smith Tower is, it was once the tallest sky scraper west of the Mississippi (when it was build back in the 19-teens) and it has a lovely and eventful history, including housing an assortment of people associated with rumrunning and bootlegging back during prohibition. If you know much about prohibition in the west OR constitutional law, you probably know the name Roy Olmstead. He was a rumrunner up here in Seattle who was known for being anti-violence and being one of the area’s largest employers during that time period as well as being the first person to challenge wire tapping as a legal source of evidence at the supreme court. However, I am much more interested in his wife, Elise aka Elsie Caroline Parché aka Campbell who was a British WWI intelligence officer before marrying Roy. But when one goes to find information about the ladies of the time period, the research is thin on the ground.

As I was flailing around for resources, I ran across a book that is actually coming out next month: Seattle Prohibition: Bootleggers, Rumrunners, and Graft in the Queen City by Brad Holden. I promptly pre-ordered it, but didn’t want to wait a month to read it (oh the urgency of the muse /s) and instead reached out to Brad on his Instagram account where he posts Seattle relics. He happily agreed to send me over a PDF of his book which I promised to review in return for sending me the advance copy, so here we go! He did specify a completely HONEST review of the book, so I guess I’ll start with what I didn’t like.

I wish there was more on Elise, but considering he was covering all of prohibition in a concise and easy to read book, I can’t be too hard on him for that. I could have also wished for more precise dates on some events as I laid out the timeline my work will cover, but again, not sure those are even available. And that’s the end of what I can complain about.

Holden has put together a beautifully researched and written book about the nature of Prohibition and its criminal element with copious photographs to bring the laundry list of names and events to life. His writing is lively and engaging, which I personally have had difficulty finding in non-fiction works. If you look through my list of reviews here, you’ll see I tend to stick heavily to speculative fiction, so actually enjoying a non-fiction book is something of a departure for me. Most of the other works I’ve found about this era are deadly boring and I find myself skimming and just looking for mentions of the names I am concerned with. Not so with H0lden’s work. It’s a masterfully woven tale that explores all the major players and events in Seattle during the 1920’s and early 30’s and how Prohibition entered and exited the scene.

The book has provided me with a wealth of knowledge about the time period my story will be set in, and the events and people that will serve as a backdrop to the play. It was charming, eloquent, and had a rakish sense of humor, much like the people it featured. If you have a passing interest in Seattle, history, Prohibition, gentleman criminals, or a mix of the above, definitely pick this up for your to-read shelf. And this isn’t just me taking sugar from another local author, I whole-heartedly recommend this intriguing book.