Reading the End Bookcast, Ep. 89: Fall Book Preview and Ashley Shelby’s South Pole Station

It’s Wednesday once more, friends, and this week has been a Week. I hope you are filling your houses with books and your mouths with chocolate, because that’s what we’ll all need to get by. After an accidental mini-hiatus, Whiskey Jenny and me are back to talk about the books we’re anticipating this fall, the new Serial Box serial Geek Actually, and Ashley Shelby’s book South Pole Station. You can listen using the embedded player below or download the file directly here to take with you on the go.

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Here are the time signatures if you want to skip around!

1:34 – What We’re Reading
4:00 – A literary happening!
5:32 – Serial Box Book Club: Pilot episode of Geek Actually
13:22 – Update on our summer books
17:18 – Fall book preview
30:38 – South Pole Station, Ashley Shelby
43:44 – What We’re Reading for Next Time!

Get at me on Twitter, email the podcast, and friend me (Gin Jenny) and Whiskey Jenny on Goodreads. Or if you wish, you can find us on iTunes (and if you enjoy the podcast, give us a good rating! We appreciate it very very much).

Credits
Producer: Captain Hammer
Photo credit: The Illustrious Annalee
Theme song by: Jessie Barbour

Review: Playing Dead, Elizabeth Greenwood

Can a book about not really being dead count for RIP? Yes, right? I can count Playing Dead in my RIP list, right? Because when push came to shove, I discovered that I just didn’t want to read the posthumously completed The Painted Queen, or at least I do not want to read it yet. So I am subbing in Playing Dead. I think it’s fine. Death is spooky!

Playing Dead

Elizabeth Greenwood first became interested in faking her own death as she faced the inevitable facts of her six-figure student loans, on which she continues to pay mostly interest payments month after month. Five years later, Playing Dead is the fruit of her labors, after she has traveled all over the place talking to death-fakers, death-faker survivors, and death-faker finders, even going so far as to have her own death faked in the Philippines — a country famously easy to fake your own death in.

(Oh, Brits, fact-check! Elizabeth Greenwood says all British people are very aware of Canoe Man. Are you? This guy who faked his death in a canoeing incident? If you are British, is this a thing with which you are familiar? Please leave me a note in the comments. National cultural awareness is interesting to me.)

The main thing that I learned is that faking your death by drowning is the stupidest way to do it. If you fake your death by drowning you will definitely get caught. Seems easy and intuitive, right? No body is a reasonable expectation if drowning? False! Most bodies eventually wash up if drowned, and every amateur death-faker on earth thinks that fake drowning is the way to go, so you’ll make your insurance company’s investigators suspicious.

Greenwood also found that it was massively difficult to find women to discuss death-faking with — although she does have a wonderful chapter of chitchatting with a woman called Pearl who spearheads efforts to prove that Michael Jackson’s death was faked and that he’s still alive. Either more men than women fake their own deaths, or more men than women get caught. Certainly the stakes tend to be higher with women:

Men came to [death-faking expert Frank Ahern] with money problems; they had come into money or had lost it all, and his female clients had violence problems: stalkers or abusive husbands.

So it makes sense that fewer women get caught, or are willing to speak with a journalist about the experience. What a fucked-up world we live in.

See, that was quite dark, wasn’t it? This totally counts for RIP.

Too Busy Reading about Pirates: A Links Round-Up

Okay, full disclosure, in a bid to make my watch of Black Sails last longer, I have been reading a lot of pirate books in the evenings. I checked out I think fifteen of them from my library, and that’s not counting the ones I own from the last time I got interested in pirates. So I haven’t had as much time to compile links for you. I’ve made up for it by including the very very best links.

First up, the Book Smugglers are running a Kickstarter so that they can continue to do what they do and pay more dollars to diverse SFF creators. They’re an incredible publisher and resource, and you should support them. Do it do it do it!

Once you’ve done that, if you have dollars left over, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is raising money for a feature film! You can donate there as well if you want to see Phryne’s fabulous wardrobe and Jack’s strangely seductive inability to stand up straight on your screens again.

Boys in college predictably were always trying to get me to watch Boondock Saints, a movie I was confident I would loathe. So this brutal Nathan Rabin piece about its director brought tears of joy to my eyes. (I have still never seen Boondock Saints.)

Taylor Swift and medieval studies have the same problem: Nazis love them. Both of them need to do something about it.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, the queen of school resegregation reporting, has a new piece up at the New York Times about how southern school districts are resegregating through secession. Basically southern schools are beginning to follow the northern blueprint of separating school systems at the metropolitan, rather than the parish (county) level.

God actually blessed us with a new Nikole Hannah-Jones piece and a new Ta-Nehisi Coates piece in the same week. Here’s Coates on Trump and white supremacy.

Why Louie CK needs to address ongoing allegations of harassment. Most notably:

One of the most persistent and damaging cultural myths about sexual assault is that the people who commit it are uniquely evil—that they are not the same as the people you are friends with, or related to, or dating, or a fan of, the people that you trust or that you like.

Rembert Browne is typically brilliant on the subject of Colin Kaepernick and what white America expects of black folks it loves.

Sorry this was short, and I wish you a very happy weekend! My Saints will be playing the Partytots, so I anticipate a grim ending to mine. May your teams all win.

Review: A Taste of Honey, Rose Lerner

Note: I received a review copy of A Taste of Honey from the author. This did not influence the contents of my review.

If you’ve ever asked me for feminist romance novel recommendations, I’ve probably enthusiastically pushed Rose Lerner on you. Consider this me doing so again. A Taste of Honey is the latest installment in her Lively St. Lemeston series, which focuses on middle and lower-class folks in a small British town in Regency England. As with most romance series, you don’t need to have read the others to enjoy this one. Be prepared now for me to overuse the words delightful and charming, and if you notice a sentence in which I use neither one, just assume they were implied.

A Taste of Honey

Our protagonists are Robert Moon, the proprietor of a Lively St. Lemeston confectionery perpetually on the edge of financial ruin, and his shop-girl, Betsy Piper. She has pined after him for years, but he won’t make a move; he is waiting to achieve financial security before asking her to marry him, because he doesn’t want to drag a wife into bankruptcy with him. When the confectionery receives a massive order — twenty-five pounds — it could be the chance they’ve both been waiting for. A week-long frenzy of baking and banging ensues.

I mean: WHAT A DELIGHT. Protagonists managing a shared project is one of my favorite things, and Rose Lerner brings her customary acuity to Robert and Betsy, both of whom manage well enough when they’re negotiating sex with each other, but who also both need to learn a few things about recognizing and asking for what they want emotionally. Their shared project is the exactly-correct level of stressful, as Mrs. Lovejoy is rude to Betsy, flirtatious with Robert, and constantly swinging by unexpectedly to make expensive last-minute changes to her order.

Also featured: Extravagant, mouth-watering descriptions of yummy Regency-era desserts, which given Rose Lerner’s attention to detail I feel confident are period-accurate.

Also also featured: Butt stuff. Which is CRAZY because the day before I read A Taste of Honey, I was talking to my friend Ira about how M/F romance novels almost never have butt stuff.

And I cannot emphasize enough how sweet and dear this book is. Viz:

“It’s only that you’ll have to show me what to do.” His ears were hot. “You, erm–you might not be a virgin, but I be.” He’d been busy. And shy.

“Oh.”

Was it a disappointed ‘oh’? “But I learn quick,” he added hastily. “It can’t be much trickier than a good pie crust.”

I MEAN COME ON.

A Taste of Honey is a delectable treat that will please the palates of the romance expert and the romance newbie alike. You should rush right out and gobble it up as soon as possible. (Full disclosure, I was going to say the romance gourmet but I couldn’t think of a parallel word that meant newbie but with food. I regret nothing.)

RIP Read: Food of the Gods, Cassandra Khaw

By coincidence (OR WAS IT?)1 I read Food of the Gods directly after The Prey of Gods, which has led me to make numerous errors about which book title has the word the in which place. But both are weird, and both left me feeling decidedly unsettled after I turned over the last page. Food of the Gods is a combination of two novellas about Rupert Wong, who works part-time for the lord of hell and part-time as a chef for a particularly powerful ghoul mob boss with a taste for flawlessly prepared human flesh. Ordinarily this is fine for Rupert (I mean. Fine-ish.), until one day a god comes to him to demand that Rupert find out who killed his, the god’s, daughter. Next thing Rupert knows, he’s tangled up in a brutal war of gods that’s way way above his pay grade.

(Pray grade? Get it? Cause gods? No?)

Food of the Gods

Do not read if you don’t have a strong stomach. I have never read a book with so many viscera, including Gabriel Squailia’s book entitled Viscera. Not only is Rupert mixing with a wide range of violent people and gods, any of whom is likely at a moment’s notice to start wreaking bloody havoc, but his job also involves a pretty high number of sloshing intestines and globby detached organs.

If you can power through that, though, Khaw is a weird and wonderful voice in dark fantasy. She writes with equal facility about the gods of China and Greece, about the chill unfriendliness of London and the hot, noisy hubbub of Kuala Lumpur. I’ve now read two of her fantasy horror stories, and am eager to read more — as well as her queer alleged-romcom-though-having-read-her-other-work-I-have-my-doubts-about-that novella published with the Book Smugglers, Bearly a Lady.

(PS if you want to support the Book Smugglers in publishing cool, strange, diverse fiction, you can toss a few dollars at their Kickstarter, which is still going on!)

Food of the Gods was an excellent start to my RIP season! What spooky books have you been reading this fall?

  1. Yes it was.

Review: The Prey of Gods, Nicky Drayden

“Whatcha reading?” said someone to me as I was waiting in line at the post office the other day. I flipped up the cover of The Prey of Gods (which is a p. cool cover, as you will see below.) “What’s it about?” they said. And I was like, “My friend, that is a GOOD FUCKIN QUESTION.”

The Prey of Gods was described to me by two separate people as being the craziest SF book they’d read in a while, and they were not mistaken. What’s it about? Gods and robots, sometimes working together, sometimes really not at all. Viruses. The power of music to bring people together. Little girls with wings and more power than they know what to do with.

Prey of Gods

The Prey of Gods has five central characters: a demigoddess called Sydney who is seeking to regain the power she’s deeply bitter over having lost; a Zulu girl, Nomvula, who is only just beginning to understand the power she holds; a Xhosa boy called Muzi whose first sexual experience is marred by a sudden discovery that he can control his boyfriend’s mind; a pop singer called Riya who is balancing her celebrity with her chronic pain; and a trans politician sorting out where she wants to channel her undeniable skill for making people follow her.

What to say about this book? It is bonkers. When I first heard about it, I googled it to determine its plot, but all the descriptions and reviews just seemed to be listing things it contained: South Africa! Dik-diks! Robots becoming sentient! At the time it was frustrating, but I understand now where those posts are coming from. The Prey of Gods is in a perpetual controlled skid from wild idea to wild idea, such that exclamatory lists of ideas do seem to give a better sense of the book than any description could. There are gods and pop songs and genetically engineered creatures yearning to live free.

As Sarah pointed out in her review, the pacing feels off at times, which may be a natural consequence of establishing four complete backstories, with enough depth that we’ll understand why, when push comes to shove, these characters make these choices. But as a trade-off, it worked pretty well for me: I felt like I knew who all these people were, what their lives had made of them, and how their newfound powers were affecting them. I’m in for the sequel, definitely, because I want to see what all of them do with their lives now that [REDACTED FOR SPOILERS].

There you go. You may still have no idea what The Prey of Gods is about (I don’t), but hopefully I have said enough words that you can make a guess as to whether or not this book is for you. As for me, I’m in the tank for whatever Nicky Drayden and her wild-idea-generator of a mind are going to do next.

A podcast misfortune

When we first started the podcast, our producer told us that we would someday lose an entire podcast. There would be a problem with the audio, or our computers would crash at an inopportune moment, and the podcast would be lost to us.

Friends, today is that day. We tried to use an online tool to make it easier to welcome our special guest star, and it didn’t make it easier, and the audio is unlistenable. Whiskey Jenny’s audio is the worst because it fades in and out in a weird way, but all three of us sound like terrible crackly chipmunks.

So you’ll never know what we thought of Salt Houses, by Hala Alyan (we liked it but we had some notes). You’ll never know what we feel makes a perfect book club (systems of checks and balances), and you’ll never hear Whiskey Jenny’s literary cheese-themed game. I’m sorry. It had to happen sometime, and today was that sometime.

A Reader Imbibes Peril

Guess what time it is! IT IS RIP TIME! The twelfth annual Readers Imbibing Peril began on 1 September (as always) and will be running through the end of October. Join us, comrades, as we read perilously spooooooky books under the auspices of the marvelous Heather and Andi.

RIP

PS have you noticed that next year it will be R.I.P THIRTEEN? I hope that you have noticed. It is never far from my mind. I am doing a ghost noise about it as we speak.

My planned reads for R.I.P. 12 include:

The Painted Queen, by Elizabeth Peters and Some Interloper Who Even Cares

Weirdly, Elizabeth Peters once wrote a mystery novel about a writer who was asked to finish the book of a recently-deceased author. Life reflects art. Anyway, I am not sure how to feel about this book, which was completed after Elizabeth Peters’s death by her pal Joan Hess. I’ve been semi-pretending the Amelia Peabody series ended after Children of the Storm. On the other hand, The Painted Queen takes place in the darkest part of the Amelia Peabody timeline; i.e., between Falcon at the Portal and He Shall Thunder in the Sky. So who knows.

Passing Strange, by Ellen Klages

My TBR spreadsheet says MAGIC LESBIANS IN THE 1940S!!!!! and I stand by every one of those exclamation points. I am not, in fact, certain of how dark this fantasy is, but the blurb says noir so I say it counts.

Food of the Gods, Cassandra Khaw

Speaking of noir, I am beginning to be afraid that Cassandra Khaw is too noir for me to love her work. Sob sob. But we’ll find out for sure when I read the quite noiry-sounding Food of the Gods, which is about a gentleman who fixes up human flesh to feed to ghouls I think?, and anyway he gets mixed up in the quarrels of the gods.

The Shadowed Sun, NK Jemisin

Now that NK Jemisin’s latest trilogy is complete, I can finally read it! But for this installment of RIP I’ll stick to finishing her previous series. I liked The Killing Moon a lot and I’m eager to find out where the story goes from here. Then onward to her multiple-Hugo-award-winning trilogy.

The Bloodprint, Ausma Zehanat Khan

Ausma Zehanat Khan is the author of these excellent murder mystery novels that deal with major geopolitical conflicts, and now she is turning her hand to what I assume will be darkish geopolitical fantasy. The Bloodprint is about women saving the world by going on a road trip to find a MacGuffin. Your girl is IN.

What are y’all reading for R.I.P.? Are you excited for next year when it will be R.I.P. XIII? Is it ever a good idea for someone else to finish your favorite dead author’s unfinished manuscript?

A slightly glum update (and a links round-up)

Hi everyone. Hi hello. I know I have not been answering your lovely comments or visiting your lovely blogs in the manner to which you have become accustomed. I’m sorry. I have been undergoing some life changes this summer, and although they are good ones, I have now been in flux for the greater part of four months, and I am reaching the end of my ability to cope with change. Or new information. Or new books. Or hobbies I enjoy, such as blogging. I am anxious like my head is full of bees. I am worried about the storm, and the Nazis, and whether the revised version of my life that I have taken some trouble to construct this summer will shortly come crashing down around my stupid, change-courting ears.

Anyway, not that anyone was sitting at home like “huh where is Jenny,” but that is where I have been. Undergoing changes and fretting about them. Not reading very much. I am not at my best, but also (ofc) feeling extremely guilty for not being at my best. Like who am I that I deserve to have days — entire weeks actually! — when I am not at my best? NOBODY, THAT’S WHO.

Oh, you know what’s a book I did read? I read a picture book about a girl who never makes mistakes. I loved it at once and it was #lifegoals but then, can you believe, as the book goes on, the girl makes an enormous, a genuinely mortifying mistake that would scar a real child for life; or if not that, then it would surely create in her a renewed desire to, from there on out, achieve perfection in all things. But in this NONSENSE PICTURE BOOK, do you know what happens? She resigns herself to making mistakes sometimes. HAH. The little girl in the picture book is WEAK and took the COMPLETELY WRONG LESSON away from her awful, humiliating error. What a terrible book.

Whatever. Here are some links.

On the whiteness of craft culture.

Extremist hate groups understood online platforms in a fundamental way long before the New York Times cottoned on, reports New York Times writer who doesn’t listen to black women on Twitter. (I’m being snarky, but this article makes some interesting points about how online platforms function, which is why I’m sharing it.)

Why judging the poor isn’t helping anybody.

Michael Twitty, author of a new book about black heritage and black food in the South, speaks to Hannah Giorgis of The Ringer about his family and his research.

Daniel Heath Justice on the students he teaches and the question of whether they are special snowflakes who don’t live in the real world. And a pairing: Kiese Laymon on people he knew at Vassar and their power and privilege.

MUMSY DO NOT CLICK THIS NEXT LINK. I WANT TO TELL YOU THIS STORY MYSELF. Everyone else, definitely click this next link. Okay Mumsy it is all right, I have now told you this story. Click away.

Watching the YA community doggedly figure out why Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give got bumped down to number two on the NYT Bestseller List by a book nobody had ever heard of was frankly magical. Here’s a YA literary agent breaking down why this story was so bonkers.

Speaking of scams, here’s an author who has lied about pretty much everything, including I SWEAR TO GOD making up an agent, building that fictional agent a website, and using a picture of Ian Somerhalder for that agent’s face. What is this world.

Wesley Morris on white supremacy in the pop culture of this summer.

“Jenny when will you stop linking to everything Ijeoma Iluo writes?” IDK friends but today is not that day. Here she is making me cry on the subject of talking to your kids about race early and often.

Have an amazing weekend! I will be inside my apartment all weekend trying to reconstruct my fractured ego.

Reading the End Bookcast, Ep.88: A Conversation with Mort(e) and D’Arc author Robert Repino

Happy Wednesday! We have a very special podcast for you today that’s been a long time coming. After a few false starts, we’ve managed to get our pal Robert Repino on the podcast to talk about his wonderful, weird, dystopian War with No Name series, of which the latest installment is D’Arc.

D'Arc

You can listen using the embedded player below or download the file directly here to take with you on the go.

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You can find Robert Repino at his website or on Twitter; you can also experience the joy of his Tor.com articles. If you want to read his fantasy casting of Mort(e), you can check it out here; and you can also check out his D’Arc playlist at Largehearted Boy.

Get at me on Twitter, email the podcast, and friend me (Gin Jenny) and Whiskey Jenny on Goodreads. Or if you wish, you can find us on iTunes (and if you enjoy the podcast, give us a good rating! We appreciate it very very much).

Credits
Producer: Captain Hammer
Photo credit: The Illustrious Annalee
Theme song by: Jessie Barbour