Wednesday, October 25, 2017

This brief memoir of the internet, art, and harassment broke my heart. I didn't expect that.

First line: I recently experienced the perfect summary of my career at a Build-A-Bear store inside a suburban mall in Lancaster, California.

I only know Felicia Day from The Guild but I find her so funny, charming, and sweet, so when I needed a short audiobook to listen to while doing chores around the house, I settled on hers. I don't know what I was expecting -- Hollywood gossip, I think? some gossip about kissing Nathan Fillion?!?! -- but this memoir instead felt like a plea for some to understand her humanity.

Which isn't a bad thing, but is certainly heartbreaking.

In these post-Weinstein days, it was impossible for me not to hear it as that. Being an actress introduced harassment into her life (she shares more than one icky story of casting harassment), but her connection with gaming and the "geek" world meant an increase in horrible harassment and threats. When she weighed in on #gamergate, it just got worse.

I'm just a nosy fan who wants to know more about her and her baby (and if she's co-parenting with anyone!) but after hearing about how one fan broke into her house and her address was published online, I can appreciate why she's so secretive.

The opening on her memoir focuses on her childhood, and her "weirdness". I put that in quotes because I honestly don't think she's all that weird; she's got a slightly unusual childhood, but as an Air Force brat, it wasn't unlike that of others I knew growing up. When introduced to the internet, she dove into online games, and found a community there. (Full disclosure: when I was introduced to the internet, at about the same time, I found a community of horse-loving tweens, and spent years writing what I now realize was thoroughbred racing fanfic. Seriously. We imagined we owned the great famous thoroughbreds of history -- occasionally other famous horses -- and wrote stories about our adventures with them. Anyway...) All this to say: her title is accurate.

While she doesn't dish on Hollywood, Day does share a wealth of detail about the making of The Guild and her creative process. (As I'm struggling with my novel, I found these portions so helpful/moving.) She also writes openly about her mental health, too, and the impact illness and depression had on her life. (I just want to smish her.) There was a dearth of tawdry details, which I can appreciate, and yet, I really wanted at least one tidbit about her dating Nathan Fillion. (In the Book Tour section, she addresses this specifically -- she felt weird about sharing stories about famous people she's worked with, which is classy. Sorry I'm vulture, Felicia!!)

Day is the reader of her own book, which is wonderful, because I love her voice. The audiobook comes with a PDF of the illustrations/photos so you can snerk along.

Day and I have the literal same birthday (year and everything), and I couldn't help -- despite her frequent requests to refrain from doing such a thing -- from side-by-side comparisons. Her grit (overused trendy word right now, I know, but it really is one of the things Day has in spades), dedication, and talent are breathtaking.

Title: You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)
Author: Felicia Day
Genre: Non-Fiction (Memoir / Contemporary / Internet / Acting / Coming-of-Age / Sexual Harassment/ Mental Health)
Publisher/Publication Date: Simon & Schuster Audio (8/11/2015)
Source: My public library

Monday, October 23, 2017

Brisk Book Reviews: 2016 Reads I Never Reviewed, Part One

Okay, since it's really clear I'm not going to power through and write the fifteen plus reviews for my unreviewed 2016 reads, I'm going to attempt some mini-reviews because honestly, these books shouldn't linger here un-reviewed. They're all so great! I might try longer reviews once I get past this block, but in the meantime, quick thoughts about some of the books I read last year.

Genevieve Cogman, The Invisible Library

Literally an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink kind of fantasy book: an otherworldly Library where librarians try to collect one copy of every book from every universe/world.

Amazing premise, but between the overloaded plot and annoying lead characters, I was pretty ambivalent the entire time I was reading (also I'm not into men so pale you see veins; why is this a thing??). It was okay-to-good upon finishing, but despite having books two and three on hand, I've not bee interested enough to pick 'em up, so I guess that says everything.

Julie Eshbaugh, Ivory and Bone

I picked this up solely because of the A prehistoric fantasy—with allusions to Pride and Prejudice. tagline, and it is pretty accurate. This quick and fun YA novel is set in some ambigu-prehistoric era/place, with a P&P-esque plot and slightly more serious ends. I read it over a weekend while camping, and it was the perfect thing to settle in with in front of a campfire.

Our hero, Kol, was a cutie, and refreshingly, not an alpha male or messiah figure or anything like that. His mother wasn't Mrs. Bennett, altho she had five sons she was frantic to marry. Cute, fun touches like that made this story a fun escapist read.

My only complaint is that the buildup to the conflict was so long that the gasp! moment and everything following it just tumbled along too quickly. I wanted a little more lingering.

Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

Un-cynical, relentlessly cheery, brisk and bouncy. Following the Pulse shooting, I found her voice and this book a relief, to my surprise. A pep talk about my value as a creative person. That she slogged so much herself before her success with Eat Pray Love is one of main reasons I found her advice, cheerleading, and you're-a-child-of-the-universe affirmations tolerable. She's done the work, a lot of it, without success, and if she can still feel chirpy about the creative process, then I'm going to listen.

Kent Haruf, Our Souls at Night

I started a book club at work and this ended up being the first pick. It's a book I'd never have picked up on my own, so I already love my book club. A brief, powerful read, mild in many ways and surprisingly intense in others, this story of two people who decide to share a bed for platonic comfort and the way this simple decision rattles everyone around them was a surprising, moving story. I don't have enough swear words and insults for Addie's son Gene; otherwise, I adored all the characters.

Mary Robinette Kowal, Valour and Vanity

Enjoyed this one the most of the four previous Jane and Vincent novels I've read. I feel like Kowal has done the things I'd been yearning for: gone deeper with the characters, settled longer with descriptions of things, lingered on moments.

I appreciated, too, the way she really addressed one of the major events from the second book (which I thought was ignored too much in the third). I also appreciate her clear desire to include POC characters as much as possible -- in both this one and the 3rd book, she included a POC character. Tertiary, true, but it was nice to see her name that POC existed in the Regency world.

Robin Coste Lewis, Voyage of the Sable Venus and Other Poems

A haunting, intense, moving collection of poetry, both personal and political. The title piece is composed solely from titles and descriptions used in Western museums to describe art/art objects depicting women of color. When I heard about it, I thought it would be hokey, but it was a staggeringly good/depressing/painful/shocking/illuminating piece.

In this political climate, when an elected official huffily asks what other "subgroups" contributed to civilization more than whites, and in this era of the #blacklivesmatter and #sayhername movements, this collection feels especially prescient.

Richard McGuire, Here

Embarrassingly, I had no idea the groundbreaking background of this graphic novel (or at least, the panel that started it all). I picked it up on the recommendation of a fellow blogger, and I was dubious that a graphic novel about a room could be all that interesting. Well, perhaps interesting, but not moving. But I was wrong. There's humor and tenderness, a few narrative threads, and an incredible sense of place and time (you know, a billion years or something). I inhaled it in about an hour, then reread it twice. A fascinating, magical, pragmatic, depressing, inspiring read.

Rena Olsen, The Girl Before

Read this is one evening -- started it when I came home from work, and finished it around midnight-ish. Easy, quick, compelling -- horrifying -- read of human trafficking. Alternating timelines -- then and now, essentially -- the tension comes from seeing the horror our "heroine" has experienced and worse, the horror she's inflicting on other girls. The author is a therapist, and that, sadly, is where the book suffers -- the scenes involving any sort of therapy are too earnestly accurate. They read like an after school special and pulled me from the story.

Patricia Park, Re Jane

Pitched as a kind of retelling of Jane Eyre from the viewpoint of a young Korean-American orphan in Queens, New York, I found this book unsatisfying in that sense but brilliant and delicious as a kind of coming-of-age story. Jane's journey in finding herself -- as a Korean-American, woman, lover, professional -- was captivating. A top 10 read of 2016.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Weekend reads and it's cold and sunny like my mood...

It's been a week. On Wednesday, we euthanized my 19-year-old cat Olivia. It was sudden, but necessary, and I'm grateful we were able to do it at home where no one was stressed. We're now a cat-less house, and both Unabridged Toddler and I are planning visits to local shelters because we're not ready to be without animal vibes around.

The weather is decidedly fall here in Boston: blazingly sunny but crystal cold. The house is chilly because we haven't pulled out the AC units, so I'm having to bundle up which is not my favorite way to stay warm. (In this sense, hygge isn't really my jam. Candles and cocoa and roaring fires, yes; wool sweaters and socks, no ma'am.)

I'm in that weird place where I've got, like, seven books started, and I'm probably not more than fifty pages into any of them (other than Middlemarch). I blame work, and stress over the cat, but I'm looking forward to biblio-comfort. 

I'm really digging A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bront├ź, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney, about the vibrant friendships these famous women had. As a big fan of friendships between lady-identified ladies, I'm all over this.

What are you reading this weekend?

Thursday, October 19, 2017

What's the unbelievable horror?: secret society of power-hungry magicians or relentless, unabashed racism?

First line: Atticus was almost home when the state trooper pulled him over.

This ended up being my book club's October read, and I'm glad, because it's been on my TBR since it was released last year.

And I'm wicked conflicted about it.

On one hand, this was a really, really entertaining read, a mix of family history and supernatural drama. On the other hand, I struggled (and am struggling) with the author's identity as a white guy, and his depiction of characters of color.

The novel was originally pitched as a tv show, which shows, as it is a series of interconnected vignettes that feels like a tv episode. Which isn't to say it's not good, but it only goes so deep.

The detail Ruff explores most is the repressive violence the main characters face as people of African descent. Which is good, and, brings to mind Kara Brown's piece "I'm So Damn Tired of Slave Movies":

"I’m tired of watching black people go through some of the worst pain in human history for entertainment, and I’m tired of white audiences falling over themselves to praise a film that has the courage and honesty to tell such a brutal story. When movies about slavery or, more broadly, other types of violence against black people are the only types of films regularly deemed “important” and “good” by white people, you wonder if white audiences are only capable of lauding a story where black people are subservient."

Ruff hits all the Jim Crow notes, usually one per episode: arbitrary police violence? Check. Sundown towns? Check. Redlining? Check. Reparations? Check. Which again, hooray, I'm glad Ruff didn't ignore this reality and/but his lingering on it also felt a little too ... look-how-woke-I-am-ish. It felt performative. (At one point, our POC hero refers to himself as a "magical negro" after the villain basically implies it. It was the first thing I was thinking and also felt really really too on the nose having it come from the character, not the least because I'm not sure that phrase was in use in the 1950s among other things.)

Woven within this portrait of life for people of African descent in Jim Crow America is the supernatural, Lovecraft element: a malevolent secret society that needs this family for their nefarious gain. The Lovecraftian influence was pretty minimal, I thought, so those who don't go for "weird" fiction will still enjoy this one. It's atmospheric and creepy, and plays well with the real life tension, leaving the reader to stress whether it's the monster that's going to get our heroes or the local police.

There's always a lot of disagreement about what writers can write about and I can't say I know the answer. But to paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart, I know when it feels right, and this didn't quite hit me right. (In spirit of balance, Alex Brown, who identifies as a person of color, liked this book and dismisses apprehensions of Ruff's identity, so don't take my opinion too seriously!)

Title: Lovecraft Country
Author: Matt Ruff
Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1950s / Lovecraft / Supernatural / Secret Society / Racism / Family / Interconnected)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper (2/16/2016)
Source: Personal copy
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

"Someone's come in and killed Father!": An interview with Erika Mailman

I'm thrilled to share my interview with novelist Erika Mailman. Erika wrote Woman of Ill Fame, which I read in 2013 and uh-dored. (I actually can't believe I read it four years ago - it's so vibrant in my mind I would have sworn I read it last year!)

Now Erika is looking at the infamous Borden family murders with her book, The Murderer's Maid. I'll be reviewing this one soon (could there be a more perfect October read?!).

While you wait for my inevitable squees, here's an interview with Erika about her writing of this book (question three shows she is far, far more brave than I could ever be!).

What scene or character surprised you while you were writing?

I had to track down the story that Lizzie Borden had fainted during her trial at the sight of her father and stepmother's skulls. I knew the person showing the skulls was Dr. Draper, but the court transcript during his testimony didn't show her fainting. I started to think the story was apocrypha, but a Lizzie expert confirmed it (while not remembering the details) so I kept checking and reading through the transcripts. It turns out Lizzie got a "sneak peek" at the skulls when the tissue paper covering them inside a valise was accidentally swept away during someone else's testimony...and yes, she did in fact faint at the grisly and sad spectacle. That was a particularly difficult incident of trying to fact-check something.

Erika Mailman
Is there a food/drink/smell/music/other you associate with the writing of this book?

Maybe (I hope this isn't too gross) the smell of blood. There are some pretty visceral scenes where, if you have imagination, you're smelling it. History has made much of the fact that the poor Bordens ate off the same mutton roast for a week, even having mutton stew for breakfast the morning of the murders. Yech. I actually don't know what mutton tastes like (the lamb in my gyro is as far as I've gotten), but I can only imagine that a stew made of elderly meat is pretty unattractive on a hot August day. I would've gone with Dunkin Donuts instead.

Speaking of the Bordens, is it true their house is now a murder themed B&B?

Yes. It is. My editor made me stay there. My account can be read at The Millions.

With an old college friend, I slept in the attic bedroom of Bridget Sullivan, the fresh-from-Ireland maid who was responsible for that mutton stew. She was washing windows when the stepmother was killed, and upstairs in that very room napping while Mr. Borden was murdered. She woke to Lizzie at the bottom of the stairs calling up three flights, "Come down! Someone's come in and killed Father!"

Read anything good recently?

Seven Stones to Stand or Fall by Diana Gabaldon, which is sitting on my Kindle waiting for me; Dear Friend: Letters of Encouragement, Humor, and Love for Women with Breast Cancer by Gina Mulligan (incorporates full-color scans of people's handwritten letters to loved ones); and can't wait to start Sparks of Light on my bedstand by Janet Butler Taylor

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Embed Code: The Murderer's Maid

Friday, October 13, 2017

Weekend reads and fall is here...

After being a weird, steamy 80 for a few days earlier this week, it's not Uber Autumn out: sunny but brisk, clear and fragrant. I love this weather, which is a bummer, because I'm juggling two good reads and on deck for a few more!

I forget how Marissa A. Ross's Wine. All the Time.: The Casual Guide to Confident Drinking crossed my radar, but I immediately requested it from the library and it is so good we're going to buy a copy to keep. Ross is funny and approachable and her whole attitude about wine is so normal and refreshing. It's like having your cool but not snobby friend teach you about wine.

I'm also reading Matt Ruff's Lovecraft Country, which is this month's pick for my book club. It's a great read and one that I'm so conflicted about. Set in the 1950s, it's a series of interconnected stories of an African-American family who gets embroiled with a white family obsessed with secret societies and arcane secrets. Ruff is unabashed in detailing the real horror of daily life for people of African descent in the 50s, which I appreciate, but at times it verges on being ... I don't know, too on the nose? Too woke? I'm looking forward to book club discussion, needless to say, and hopefully that'll help me wrestle with my feelings.

What are you reading this weekend? Any exciting weekend plans?

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen is a guide I wish were real...

I love romance novels for the fluff escapism: tame drama, happy-ever-after, armchair time travel, appealing sexytimes.

This first book in a new series did that for me, and if you like tame, slow-burn romances, this one is for you. Our heroine, spinster India Prendergast, is convinced the Lady Travelers Society is a scam. Her beloved aunt has disappeared, and the women running the society are unable to locate her. Worse, Derek Saunders, famed bad boy, is related to one of the women who run the society, and he has taken it upon himself to "help" "find" India's aunt.

Obviously, their instant dislike for each other means they're going to fall madly in love (and that was fine by me).

Normally I wolf down romances in a matter of days, but I actually took a break from this one because it's pretty slow moving. The mystery was a little tiresome because there was an intentional can't-tell-the-truth-for-this-rather-flimsy-reason plotline and it did stretch on a leeeeeeeeetle too long. But I found India charming -- a working woman who enjoys order and control -- and Derek -- to-be reformed raconteur who helps India loosen up -- and the secondary characters were fun.

The reveal was fun, and an interesting set up for the Lady Travelers Society. In terms of sex, there was none (or virtually none, I really can't recall), so if you're not feeling the hot-and-heavy, this is a good romance to read. I've had my eye out for the second book -- something to keep in my back pocket for cranky days and depressing weekends.

First line: It certainly did not look like the type of place where genteel, older ladies were bilked out of their life savings.

Title: The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen
Author: Victoria Alexander
Genre: Fiction (Historical / Romance / 19th Century / Paris / Missing Person / Mystery)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harlequin Books (5/23/2017)
Source: NetGalley
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction

Monday, October 9, 2017

Book Arrivals, October 9

A quick video for a Monday: another batch of library holds came in this past week, and I got two books in the mail, so hooray for new reads! Have you read any of these? Got any good new books?

Friday, October 6, 2017

Weekend Reads, and it's all toddler all the time

I meant to do a weekend reads video for my stuff, but Unabridged Toddler had other ideas!

Thursday, October 5, 2017

A speculative novel about cloning, Jamaica, an alternative United States, and secret agents was remarkably boring...

I really ought to have loved this speculative short novel but I didn't, and it bums me out!

Set in an alternative now, where the US is broken into smaller countries -- Five Civilized Tribes, which is a conglomeration of US Indian/Native American tribes (I believe), the industrialized Tejas and puppet state of Albion, among others -- the story follows a Jamaican secret agent, Desmond Coke, who has smuggled a young boy from Jamaica in hopes of keeping him safe from a variety of nefarious forces.

It takes most of the novel to learn why they're being pursued and it's an intriguing premise. Desmond's work is hampered by geopolitical drama and some good old-fashioned double crossing, and with the 'Old West' ambiance and technology, it has the feel of Firefly or other weird West style stories.

And yet...I wanted more. I think were this a full length novel, it would have worked; the novella format didn't serve the setting or characters. (Full disclosure: I've been working my way through Tor's novella series, and I'm actually not enjoying most of them, so it really maybe be me and not this book!). There's a sequel coming, and I intend to read it because I want more of the world Broaddus imagines.

First line: Desmond Coke pinched a clump of chiba leaves from his pouch and rolled it into the fine pressed paper.

Title: Buffalo Soldier
Author: Maurice Broaddus
Genre: Fiction (Novella / Steampunk / Weird / Western / Political Intrigue / Alternative History / Jamaica)
Publisher/Publication Date: Tor (4/25/17)
Source: Library
Reading Challenges: Read Diverse

Monday, October 2, 2017

Mood Ring Recommendations: Feeling... Changeable

My current mood is influenced by the changing seasons and the slide into October (possibly my favorite month), so, for this week's Mood Ring Recommendations, my mood is ...

~ Changeable ~

First, the mood I've picked isn't precise, because I'm not exactly sure what mood I'm trying to express. Something that's more than what's on the surface; something duplicitous (but not always bad); one thing and then another. What's one word for all that?

Whatever the word is, these reads all came to mind when I started thinking about stories with a character who wears a mask, is different than we think, or changes midway once we thought we knew them.

Eleanor Hallowell Abbott, Molly Make-Believe: This sweet novel is from 1911, and it's the only positive novel featuring misdirection and misapprehension. It reads like The Shop Around the Corner and other sweet rom-coms, and it's a really lovely, light romance.

Louisa May Alcott, A Long Fatal Love Chase: Pretty much the title sums up the plot. One of Alcott's pot boilers that she was shamed for writing, this delightful Gothic features a heroine fleeing from a nefarious lover, and all the drama that entails.  (Alcott's Behind a Mask is really a better fit for this theme, but isn't my favorite, but if you want the original twisted-caretaker-edges-out-the-wife, this is your book.)

Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany's: Forget the beloved film (which I actually dislike) because Capote's Holly Golightly is nothing like Audrey Hepburn's version. This Holly is worthy of a close look: she's a little dangerous, very sexy, and a survivor.

Jane Harris, Gillespie and I: This chunky book is so good, with a wonderfully appealing unreliable narrator that I just adored. It doesn't hurt there's a midway oh-my-gosh-what?! twist that makes everything upside down. (I'm tempting myself to consider a reread now...!)

Rashad Harrison, Our Man in the Dark: This was one of the earliest books I reviewed on this blog and I still think about it. I loved every page of it. Our narrator is a thieving bookkeeper with MLK's Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the FBI manipulate him into getting dirt on King.

Sheila Kohler, The Bay of Foxes: This is a haunting novel of an Ethiopian immigrant in France who meets a famed French novelist; the older woman wants to relive an affair with the young man, and what should be a Cinderella story is much, much darker. I was reminded of Jane Bowles, Marguerite Duras, and Daphne du Maurier.

Alex Myers, Revolutionary: Another novel where "changeable" is less negative; in this case, a young woman disguises herself as a man to fight with the Continental Army. Myers, who is trans-identified himself, explores identity and love in a quick-reading hist fic that was surprising and romantic.

What books make you think of "changeable"?

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Book Arrivals, October 1

A quick booktube video of some of the books that have arrived over the last few weeks, both review copies and some free-range reading library arrivals. (Including a classic better known as a film than a book!) Have you read any of these?