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:
- 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
- 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!
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!
- For worksheets to help spur your writing, visit my website.
- For information about volunteering with or bringing your kids to the Bureau of Fearless Ideas writing center in Greenwood, visit their website.
- Feeling motivated? Join millions of people as they try to write a novel in November! (The Seattle chapter mascot is the rubber duck!)
- Want writing classes for adults? Check your local community colleges, adult continuing education, and if you are local to Seattle, Hugo House has an excellent roster of classes.
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.
- During my first period at 12 I passed out from the pain.
- During high school, my 7 day periods regularly soaked through six pads a day.
- During college I had to go on birth control because my cramps prevented me from going to class and my cycles would swing wildly between 15 and 45 days long.
- During grad school, I collapsed in a crosswalk in the middle of Boston from the pain and had to make the decision between taking Lupron for six months or having surgery. Surgery wasn’t an option because of work and class, so Lupron it was. It helped with the pain, but it was also six months of hormonal agony and has left a really nasty imprint on my biological systems. Never again.
- After going off Lupron we learned that estrogen was giving me heart arrhythmias, so I could no longer take birth control with any estrogen in.
- Progesterone only treatments didn’t seem to be effective, so I went onto the Skyla IUD (designed for women who haven’t had children, and lasts for three years).
- Two years into the Skyla, my cramps were so bad I was missing work and they were constant. No letup. I tried to keep it a few more months but ended up having it pulled six months early.
- Went back to progesterone only treatments. The low dose normal birth control pills did nothing.
- 5 mgs was hormonal agony.
- 2.5 is barely tolerable. My last period I bled for a month and a half. And I’ve had cramps daily for the last two months.
My husband picked up a book from the library, Amber Dawn’s Sub Rosa, and on the way home I read the back out of curiosity. The title, given what I know of the phrase, intrigued me, and the synopsis even more so. I mean, who doesn’t want to read about magical prostitutes?
Little is the newest girl to become a Glory on Sub Rosa, a street that doesn’t exist, full of houses and businesses that cater to live ones (us normie city folks) who need a respite and an experience full of joy to relieve the humdrum life they lead. It’s a novel that explores a lot of interesting topics from love to the importance of memory, and how people experience life and sex. It was riveting, and though there were a lot of racy scenes, none of them felt gratuitous, which is definitely rare. They were all an important part of the plot, and were written with tact and finesse, leaving your experience of them much like what I would expect from a Sub Rosa Glory herself.
The part that stuck most in my mind, though, was the theme of names through the novel. This was the second novel that I’ve read, in a row, where we do not know the protagonist’s given name until nearly the end of the story. Names and naming things plays a huge role in both Alif the Unseen and Sub Rosa and it got me thinking about my own reticence around names. I find myself avoiding using people’s names almost always, unless there is no other way to get their attention in a crowd or something similar, and I wonder why that is. Something to ponder; thanks for the push, Dawn!
Anyway, I highly recommend picking this up to read. It’s a beautiful and glorious word romp through some difficult topics and leaves you different at the end, just like any good trip to Sub Rosa.
I’m awake way too early on New Years Eve, so I decided to spend the time contemplating the end of this year and the beginning of the next. Because that’s what people do, right? Shortly to be followed by angst-ridden resolutions and the fear of failure in living up to our own meager expectations of willpower. So, let’s not.
2017 was a dumpster fire of a year politically, climatologically, culturally, and yet, not everything was horrible. While 45 was setting the United States back fifty, nay, one hundred years in advancement in some areas, other humans were working their butts off for their fellow humans. There are the wonderful compilation videos of 2017’s best news bloopers (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bD3DjN7i1Fg), but that’s not what I’m talking about (though those ARE funny). I’m talking scientific breakthroughs in water production or how we managed to make the first edit on a human embryo’s genome which will allow us to edit out disease before implantation. Or, going the other direction, scientists are one step closer to being able to effectively treat some forms of paralysis which brings hope to so many people who struggle in their daily lives in a world not suited to those differently-abled.
But for all the stunning new discoveries in science, the one thing they haven’t figured out is why humans are so terrible to each other so consistently. Every time I opened an internet browser this year, I was besieged by stories of another mass shooting, of another racially/gender/sexuality-based crime; of another march against the injustice of living while POC/female/immigrant/poor/sick. God forbid you are any combination of the afore-mentioned as it is nearly impossible for you to pull yourself up by your second-hand bootstraps. If you even have boots. And all the cis-het-white-males of the world get their panties in a bunch at the phrase white privilege, so maybe we should restyle it as white advantage and rebrand it as just that, an advantage on the game of life that allows us to have the luxury of making a difference. Our advantage is in being heard, in having weight and influence, and it should be used to help lift up our fellow human. Our worth as humans lies not in what we manage to acquire for ourselves but in how we treat and help our brethren with the losing tickets in life.
In response to this madness, I choose to take advice from Mr. Rogers: Look for the helpers. The heirs to fortunes who speak out against tax policy that would be greatly beneficial for them, but ruin the rest of the country. People turning out in record-breaking numbers to show their dissatisfaction of the government. And the few politicians standing up for the well-being of the entire American population, despite being verbally attacked and forced out of hearings whenever possible. (I’m pretty sure Senator Warren is fueled by the insensate screams of her opponents.)
With all of this weighing on our hearts as we head into the new year, it can be daunting to try and feel hope and optimism that things will be better. I’m not going to make false promises to you about the direction of politics or how the only direction is up. There are too many competing factors to even begin to make those sorts of observations. The only thing that is true is that at this time tomorrow the number on the calendar will have changed and its up to us to find our place in the dystopic America we are now mired in. Here’s what I can say, though:
It’s time to stop looking for the helper and instead become a helper yourself. You don’t need to become a national politician or an award-winning writer with death-threats from the conservative elite to make a difference. That’s where most people come up short, terrified of failing, certain there is no difference they can make in the world because they aren’t big enough. So start small.
First, you have to decide which issue you want to focus on. You can’t focus on them all, it’s too much pain, too much suffering, and you’ll become overwhelmed by it all and paralyzed into submission. So do you care about women’s issues? Or the struggles of POC in our country? Or the homeless epidemic? Or the opioid crisis? Pick one thing that you can connect with on a personal level and latch on. Now, pick a small way to make a difference. Maybe it’s a five dollar donation. If you can’t afford the money (let’s be honest, a lot of us in this country have empty pockets right now) what about an hour of your time? Can you help the local homeless shelter by volunteering one hour to clean the bunk room? Can you spend one afternoon tutoring kids at a local free educational center? Can you take ten short minutes to email your political representatives to express your concern for a particular subject in your area? Pick just one, do it tomorrow, while the sun comes up on a new number because nothing in this world will have magically changed for the better. We have to be the change we want to see, even if it’s one tiny step at a time, so small we think it’s insignificant. You never know where that one step will take you, or how grateful people will be when you take a step towards them and hold out your hand. So start the new year right, not with hope, but determination and resolve.
For the first time ever, I had the opportunity to attend Geek Girl Con and it was everything I hoped it would be. I’ve never seen such a joyous celebration of geek-dom with a broad range of cosplay, gender expression, and family attendance. All of the little kids dressed up as their favorite characters just about made my ovaries explode with cuteness. And the artists! Oh my gosh, I have so many new favorite vendors, and I’ve included a list of my favorites below.
There were a couple of other standout events I wanted to give a shoutout to. First of all, I was privileged to be chosen as a model for the fashion show on Saturday night and it was wonderful seeing the broad range of sizes, ages, and skin colors that were represented between the five designers. If you want to see the designer I modeled for, check out the Geek Girl Fashion Show – Haute Geek Catwalk Video!
Second was a panel on inclusivity in table top role playing games. The panelists were Jaden Emme, Lauren Karp, Jessica Lanzillo, Kristine Hassell, and Nicole Jekich. We stopped by one of the panelist’s booths after the fact to chat and she was awesome (Nicole Jekich for Daily Magic) and we traded some tips and gossip. The main gist of the panel for those of you who couldn’t attend: Tabletop gaming comes from a very male-centric genesis and has a lot of problematic features. The best way to combat this and create a welcoming space is to be conscious of your choices as a game master/dungeon master/story teller, and to make sure the way in which you are running the games is conducive to accommodating any quirks and limitations your players may have as well as making sure the game is a safe space where everyone is having fun. Some specific tips I walked away with:
- Create math cheat sheets/short cuts for anyone who struggles with the math heavy portions of RPGs
- Use an X-card that is available for players to utilize whenever they become uncomfortable with something that is happening at the table in order for the DM to address it and rewind. Turns out we’d been doing this already with shop bells, though those are normally used at our table when we just want someone to stop describing something gross.
- Banning phones/tablets at the table if people aren’t paying attention to each other, also limiting people’s talking time during rounds if someone is an over-talker.
- Confront your usage of traditionally problematic characters/races such as the Drow. In safe spaces, work on subverting their traditionally colonial presentation.
- To assist people with possible physical impediments do things like call out all dice rolls rather than depending on the table to be able to see them. Also color-coding dice for new players or players who have trouble distinguishing shapes.
- Make sure to have a large range of representation in your miniatures and reference images. Use resources like Medieval POC, Deviantart, and Writing with Color tumblr to help expand your references.
Also, with impeccable timing, this article appeared on Tor’s blog today: “Where are all the women?” which explores the absences of women in speculative fiction roles.
And the shopping list you’ve all been waiting for: Favorite Vendor List!
- Haute Geek is run by two fabulous sisters who create the art and make the skirts. I modeled the Heroes skirt and purchased These Are Our Voyages for myself!
- The other vendors in the fashion show that I desperately want to purchase from: Little Petal, Jordandene, Elhoffer, and Booty and the Geek
- We bought five pieces of art from Monkey Minion Press, including this one:
- GeekStar Costuming has the best flashy acrylic jewelry and I bought a set of earrings and a necklace of shiny silver bat’leths! If you need me to tell you what those are, we can’t be friends…
- Boutique Academia has gorgeous and affordably priced science and math jewelry. Definitely need to order some…
- Women Write About Comics is a fantastic blog about…well…it’s pretty self explanatory, though it’s expanded beyond its initial mission and also has an awesome goat-themed journal called Bleating Heart Press. I can’t get over that pun!
- Razorgirl Press is local and awesome and had some quite excellent books up for sale.
As my quest for non cis-het-white-male spec fic authors continues (now and forever abbreviated as Non-CHWM) I delve into the worold of Malka Older in Infomocracy. In this novel, we follow several characters as they navigate a world where the internet is run by a single entity called Information and the world government has been broken down into micro-democracies with hundreds of political options to be voted on to run your small corner of the world, and a super-majority government that sees to the inter-governmental interactions. What follows is a fast-paced and rousing political intrigue including, but not limited to, election tampering and natural disasters.
I have to say, the plot, the characters, and the writing are all phenomenal. Older does a fantastic job making sure you don’t get lost between jumps of characters, helped along by the fact that they span a world’s worth of ethnicities and so have vastly different names and identities that help the reader keep them separate. No, where I struggled with this novel was in the world building.
It took me a long time in the novel to pin point where my feelings of disjointed-ness were coming from and an even longer rambling rant to my husband to figure out what exactly it was that wasn’t working. The problem was two-fold: there were too many small unnecessary details thrown in each time we changed global locations, with a lot of new food and clothing and vocabulary that was hard to keep track of and instead was a distraction from the plot. That’s not to say that ethnically appropriate details should be omitted, just that in this instance there were just too many and the changes between locations was too fast and too abrupt for me to be able to even begin to grok the local cuisine, let alone figure out why the knowledge of it was relevant to the story.
The second problem was that I just did not believe the technological aspects of the novel, or that the micro-democracy as it stood would ever be functional. On the political side of things, it felt like a thought-exercise for a political philosophy class was put into action, but had no real basis in reality for surviving. I would have expected it to have dissolved into anarchy and infighting between the microcosms long before the twenty years it had survived thus far in the novel. It’s the same problem I have with books like Divergent; I just do not believe humans would suffer that political system without rebellion and pitchforks. It reminded me a lot of Snow Crash in its attempted feel, but without the elegance or feeling organic like Snow Crash. But on to the technological problems…
The world supposedly revolves around a version of the internet referred to as Information: an unbiased, and ungoverned, controlling bureaucracy which handles all world-wide communication, dissemination of knowledge, and voting. Everything, and I mean EVERYthing is routed through Information, including social media, payment, etc. **SPOILERS** At one point in the novel, Information is compromised and everything goes down except for Information’s intranet and a few other intranets that have been set up, but they can still access data from before 3 weeks ago, or essentially, cached data. But that’s just not how the internet works. It’s as if the entire thing suffers a giant DDOS attack, but Older doesn’t really explain how it’s attacked, why it fails, or even really how they get things working again, and as someone who works in a technological field, the entire concept and proposed reality of Information drove me NUTS. When it was a passive background part of the world I was like, okay, fine, sort of 1984 Big Brother, but whatevs, and then it gets compromised and I was like, “NO…WAIT…STOP. THAT’S NOT…NO…STAHP PLZ.” **//SPOILERS**
All that being said, I enjoyed the interpersonal stories, and the political intrigue and the writing itself was amazingly fun and it kept me turning pages regardless of its flaws, so that should show you how strong the other elements in the book actually are. If you don’t mind technological hiccups, or wouldn’t know a cloud computational solution if it bit you in the butt, then you would really enjoy this novel and not have any trouble with it like I did. However, if computers or poli-sci are your life, I would probably steer clear unless you like yelling at books…
Reviews keep coming in for Less Than Charming and it is gaining more and more traction in all sorts of arenas, huzzah! I’m hard at work on the second one, and we may be able to do a paperback version of the book in the near future.
Most recent is a review by Book Princess Reviews, and I’m glad to say it continues the trend of loving the book. And I promise, those of you who thought the plot started a little slow in LTC will be rewarded for your patience with the plot of the second one. There was just a lot of set up that needed to happen in the first book,but since the world is solidly in place, I can just jump right in now!
A while back, I had a marvelous sci-fi short story titled “Pit Stop” accepted for publication by Geminid Press for their space opera anthology. Today, it was released! Check out the Night Lights Anthology on Amazon and get it for free for your Kindle, but only for a limited time!