Something on Sunday (a Tiny Plan)

I have been seeing a lot of sadness and anxiety in the blogosphere lately; lots of people posting that they’re struggling to find motivation and time to read or post or go blog-hopping. And on one hand, I’ve been doing this for A DECADE and that just seems to be part of the natural cycle of blogging, to have times where you want to prioritize it more and times when you want to prioritize it less or maybe even step away.

On the other hand, I suspect that the same is true for other bloggers as is true for me, which is that this administration is sapping our strength. I live in a state of constant anxiety, whether it’s over the current terrible thing that’s happening or the next thing that I know will be coming down the pike but can’t even begin to predict. I am experiencing dread regularly now, in a way that I maybe never have before, and that’s exhausting, physically and emotionally. I feel guilty that I’m not doing more in every single area of my life: not reaching out to friends as much as I want to, not managing to be a flawless professional success in the way that I want to, not doing enough politically, not reading enough or blogging enough or keeping my house clean enough–

YES YES. The list goes on.

But what I think about the internet, about blogging in particular, is that it helps me to see that y’all are still there. Humans are contagious as hell with our emotions, and it helps me to see other people out there who haven’t given up. I don’t just mean people who haven’t given up hashtag-resisting. I mean people who haven’t given up frantically, vocally loving the things they love. Doing sportsy shit with their kids. Advocating for books and TV shows that are flying under the radar. Seeking out and publishing authors from marginalized groups because they deeply believe we need those voices (hi Book Smugglers!). It helps me to see people continuing to care about stuff, at a time when the world seems like it’s trying to bash us all into apathy.

(When I was contemplating this post on Monday, I said to Alice, “Is this just going to be some sunshiny Pollyanna bullshit?” It uh it is less sunshiney in execution than it maybe was in conception ha ha thanks Trump.)

I also told Alice, fairly insistently, that it’s better to do something than nothing. Even if the something doesn’t live up to our best hopes for ourselves, it’s still something, it’s still not nothing, it’s still us trying. I have the kind of brain that wants to insist I have to be perfect or be nothing — which is a total mug’s game because you can’t be perfect, and that only leaves nothing as an option. And nothing’s like, a really bad option. So I am always having to make a conscious effort to choose something.

I’m founding a thing I shall call Something on Sundays, which will commence THIS VERY SUNDAY and will have a link-up. The only guidelines are that you write about something that kept you on your feet that week, whether that’s a person that inspired you, an action you took that you’re proud of, a book or movie or TV show that nourished your heart, a self-care strategy that worked for you, a goofy event or moment that brought you joy. Whatever it is, every Sunday, I want you to tell me something that matters to you. If you don’t have enough energy for a post, tweet it at me (you can use the hashtag #SomethingonSunday).

Cool? Cool.

Nine Questions for the Book Smugglers

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen me screaming about the Book Smugglers Kickstarter. The Book Smugglers, Ana and Thea, are seeking some funds to help them publish the wonderful, diverse SFF they’re famous for. As of now, they’ve got nine days left, so we’re asking Ana nine questions!

1. What are you going to do with all this money?

A: Lots of things! The idea is to fund our next season of short stories at a higher pay rate to writers and with freelance professionals working on the ebooks to help us out. We will open a submission call for regular, paid contributors to The Book Smugglers – we will be looking for essays on SFF, Fandom, YA, Comics and popgeekery from all over the world. We also want to get a new look for the website! All with the view to prop up and give more room and visibility to diverse voices. Our mission as Book Smugglers is to discover, share, and amplify stories from diverse authors and perspectives–to make SFF fandom a more inclusive place, reflective of the world we live in (and the speculative other universes beyond).

2. What makes Book Smugglers special?

A: I truly think it’s our eclecticism, openness and true passion for good stories. From the very start we covered Romance, Urban Fantasy, Comics, SFF, YA and Children’s books on equal ground. We like to read vast and wide, and we are firm believers that a good book is a good book is a good book. We are trying to do the same in our publishing arm too – we have had YA stories and adult stories. Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Noir and a lot of different things. We like to experiment!

3. What’s your favorite thing about being a Book Smuggler?

A: THERE ARE SO MANY THINGS. The reading and the getting excited when a great book comes my way, then being able to share the love with tons of people – both has a reviewer and as a publisher. In a more micro-way, one of the things I absolutely adore is to work with artists on commissioning cover art for our stories. That moment when an artist GETS IT, and you see a story you have been working on come to life in front of your eyes, is amazing.

There is another thing that I am incredibly proud of: that we are two women – a Hapa Filipina who grew up in Hawaii, Indonesia, and Japan (Thea), and a Latina and native Brazilian (Ana) who lives in the UK – who have been working incredibly hard in what is effectively a ten-year old business.

4. What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced since becoming a publisher of fiction?

A: Realizing that there is an actual limit to what the two of us can physically do. For the past ten years it’s been mostly the two of us doing absolutely everything. And the more we do, the more we want to do – it’s a spiral! This is part of the reason why we are doing the Kickstarter – so that we get help to do even more.

5. How do you choose the themes for your short story programs each year?

A: Thea and I are pretty much on the same wave length most of the time and it’s just super easy to come up with themes. We have two in-person meetings every year and that’s when we decide. One of us usually goes “how about… X”. The other screams: “THAT’S AN EXCELLENT IDEA”. And that’s it.

6. I have to assume you’re spending most of your time these days anxiously gazing at your Kickstarter; but when you’re not doing that, what have you been reading?

A: Right now, I am finishing Provenance, the new standalone novel by Ann Leckie, which is phenomenally fun. I just finished reading a new book by my TOP ONE WRITER EVER: A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge and it was amazing too.

7. Jane Eyre or Lizzie Bennet?

A: WHAT. WHY…. OK, fine, Lizzie. Because of her sisters too.

8. Star Wars or Star Trek?

A: NOPE I AM NOT DOING THIS ONE.

9. If you get fully funded ANA WILL YOU READ THE NEW MEGAN WHALEN TURNER BOOK ALREADY?

A: Jenny, I VOW TO YOU RIGHT NOW. If we get funded, I will read the new Megan Whalen Turner IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE CAMPAIGN ENDS.

Y’all, I have been trying to get Ana to read Thick as Thieves since it came out. She is afraid it won’t live up to her hopes but it will. So please donate to their Kickstarter because you want to support diverse SFF, but also because goddammit Ana’s going to love Thick as Thieves and we all want that for her.

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.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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?