Comfort Reads

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Frankly, things are on fire, the world as I know it is in a seemingly-constant state of upheaval,* and things are just…difficult. Even though I have three new books on my TBR pile that I’ve been looking forward to for months and months (one even for a year) I just can’t seem to motivate myself to crack ’em open. My creative-well is, also, running dry and I haven’t written much since… *low whistle* May. Egads. May. Wow. That’s, um, unusual to say the least.

I have, however, played 236 hours of ESO. I’ve been informed by a friend that’s nearly ten 24 hour periods, no breaks, and, when put like that, it oddly feels small? 236 sounds massive. 10 days is less than a fortnight. *shrug*

I have also been rereading a lot, primarily T. Kingfisher and Lois McMaster Bujold and Carol Berg. There’s comfort in rereading. Partly, it’s the knowledge that it can’t, really, surprise me. Nothing unexpected will occur, and there’s safety in that. A sort of grounding. Partly, it’s to be around the familiar, to enjoy the things I’ve enjoyed before. Often, I have snapshots of memory as I reread; I remember where I was when I first read this part, what the texture of that moment felt like, what I was experiencing. The Curse of Chalion always feels like mid- to late-summer, sitting on the back porch with a languid breeze, watching the morning glories devour the neighbor’s fence and sawed-off trees, listening to the screeching cry of cicadas. I have tasks to do, but those can wait till tomorrow. Swordheart is a quiet day at work, where my snickering goes unremarked since there’s no one around to comment on it. Song of the Beast is sitting in the front hall of a high school, the smell of waxed linoleum and the sound of perpetual conversation blending together into a constant humming buzz. And so on.

For me, books and memories are often intrinsically tied, and reading a familiar passage of prose can spark smells and tastes and sounds and textures completely unrelated to the story that’s unfolding and, sometimes, concurrently. I experience what the words evoke but simultaneously experience what I subconsciously observed the first time I experienced what those words evoked.

It brings a sort of pause, a moment where not everything is awful and maybe, maybe, there’s hope.

Which is a long way of saying there will be no Month of Books for July since it feels a bit weird to talk about things I already talked about, some quite recently. Instead, I’ll keep rereading, and those new books will be waiting for me when I’m ready to experience the unfamiliar and the uncertain again.


* I’m sure it’s peaceful(ish) somewhere in the world.

Many Months of Books: April, May & June

I’ve lumped April, May, and June together in one post, partly because each month’s offerings were a little slim due to beta-reading, partly because I haven’t been able to dredge the motivation to write anything more complex than a daily To Do list in weeks.

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone: Another recommendation from a friend who’s reading tastes often fall in line with my own after I’d asked for the names of some speculative fiction with F/F romantic pairings that didn’t end in tragedy or break-ups (I wanted a HEA people!). Anyway, this novella’s prose is, frankly, gorgeous. The words, the sound of them, the sounds of them strung together, the richness of the metaphors, the similes, the poetry of the prose, all of it had me reading and re-reading lines to enjoy their impact more than once. The romance’s build-up is slow and the approach of two individuals falling in love through letters alone was both brilliant and ambitious and it worked so, so well. The characters themselves are fascinating, and both are products of their individual futures, most times relatably human but other times, almost alien in their perception of the world(s). I did lose track of potential timelines and upthread/downthread a bit, and by nature of the execution, the mental “image” as it were tends to be vague, but that had little impact whatsoever on my enjoyment and appreciation. The texture of it is more short story than novel (a bit like my experience with The Tea Master and the Detective), so the world-building tends to be more snippets and snatches to create atmosphere and immersion as opposed to explaining things (an approach which I enjoy, but I know that not everyone does). The story, the structure, the prose-style, the world-building, all ask for this to be a book read slowly and savored, and I managed that—until the last 40 pages, which I consumed like a vacuum hose.

Half a King by Joe Abercrombie: I’ll admit, I wasn’t planning on reading this. It had been on my shelf for years, but I hadn’t gelled well with The Blade Itself when I read it years ago, and expected Half a King to be much the same. I was wrong. Half a King has echoes of the brutality of The Blade Itself but with characters I actively rooted for, and I enjoyed the central theme of the danger of oaths sworn. I enjoyed it so much, I read the book in a day, something I haven’t done since…er, undergrad (part of this might be due to me being furloughed). I caught two out of the three major twists: one from the start seeing that it was strikingly similar to a plot twist from a Disney movie, one on page 188 because of a seemingly small throw-away line, but the third took me by surprise, yet, I appreciated the subtle layering of hints. I also enjoyed that twist’s structure, the echo-/full-circle nature it lent to the narrative. It was intriguing to me to draw parallels between the myth and legend the characters have for the world, the little snippets that made me fairly convinced that it was a far flung post-apocalyptic earth (some of the elf architecture sounded a heck of a lot like concrete with steel rebar supports, there’s a reference that sounds a lot like radiation sickness, and there’s a bit about a green chip with gold lines made into a necklace that seemed…hmm), and the cyclical nature of Ragnarok, since much of this has a Vikings-esque texture to it.

The Physicians of Vilnoc by Lois McMaster Bujold: More Pen and Des! Yee! I’ve been looking forward to this one since I read a teaser sample of the first third-ish, and then somehow managed to completely miss the release date until I happened to listen to an interview with Bujold conducted by Baen Books, where the release was mentioned. The novella is rather prescient, given that this was released during a real-world pandemic, and is dealing with a fictional one. In that aforementioned interview, Bujold explained that it wasn’t based on Covid 19, but on other historical pandemics (there’s a reference that looks a lot like the Bubonic Plague, plus a few others). Which makes sense, since in order for this to be released in May, the actual drafting would’ve had to occur before the beginning of Covid. Which just means the release of this story coincides with real-world events, which adds another layer to an already excellent tale. As always, highly recommended. Please read these because, truly, they are fantastic and, even when dealing with material as dark as a spreading pandemic, nevertheless uplifting, and I tend to devour them within a day. Also, the idea of a demon gaining its first personality impression from a dog, and how easily that demon is then to 1. train, 2. entertain with the same activity repeated over and over, and 3. communicate with made a great deal of sense. Also appreciated seeing what a more usual method of transferring a demon from one rider to the next, since Pen and Des’ was a bit unorthodox, and most of the demon-ridden sorcerers in The Paladin of Souls are not all that willing to have a demon in the first place.

A Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite: This was an utterly delightful read. I’m a secret fan of regency romance, though incredibly picky since the time period and adherence to prescribed gender roles can be a bit “er, no thanks” for me, but this is the first regency F/F romance I’ve come across (though not by chance; it was recommended during a panel at the online Nebula Conference). Lucy and Catherine’s relationship, as Catherine learns she can embrace her attraction to women and Lucy heals from the heartbreak of her longtime lover marrying someone else, was sweet, passionate, and well-paced (though I quibble a little on what drives them apart for the traditional “lovers are driven apart” stage of a romance—the reunion and climax of the external plot was more engaging for me, though I recognize that without that step, the end wouldn’t have had the cohesion it did). I also loved the budding science field aspect, the combination of hopefulness and sense of discovery with the infuriating dark flip-side of the suppression of women scientists. It does end rather neatly and positively on that point, but this is a romance novel, and the expectation of an HEA precludes defeat. So while real-world history was often far grimmer, this parallel version fits the story it’s telling. And I see the author has another in this series coming out toward the end of July, so guess what one of my August reads will be?


May all of you stay safe and healthy and please, for the love of the all, wear a mask if you go out.

Well, This Has Languished…

I admit, I’ve slacked on updating this blog. While I’d like to place the whole of the blame on Covid-19 and quarantine it’s…not entirely the culprit. Yes, quarantine has thrown my usual schedule off-balance, but my lack of blogging has less to do with a world-wide pandemic, and more to do with having little to say.

So, because I have little to say, and most of it is fairly inane, I’ll arrange it all in bullet-point style.

  • Since quarantine, I’ve started to beta-read more (and beta-read outside my usual network of writer-friends). Which is also why there hasn’t been a “Month of Books” since…oh, wow. March? Two months ago? Wow. Anyway, beta-reading, by its nature, tends to require me to read slower and devote far more attention to, well, everything. Meaning, I can’t just sit back and read purely for the enjoyment of it, and because it requires so much more mental energy, I haven’t been reading much else. BUT! I have read some excellent yet-to-be-published fiction, and that has been a joy. 
  • It has also gotten me ruminating on writing and writing craft, something I haven’t actively done since finishing that degree.
  • This might result in more blogging. We shall see.
  • Still waiting on beta-reads for my own novel, but they’re starting to (slowly) trickle in. Most of my readers are, understandably, distracted by a world-spanning pandemic, so it might take awhile longer.
  • imagesInstead, I’ve started preliminary brainstorming for book 2. Should I? Probably not. If I was wise about this, I’d instead be writing something entirely unrelated, because the likelihood that the first book not only being picked up by an agent, but also by an editor, and the publisher gambling that it’d do all right enough to warrant a book 2 is…beyond astronomical. And yet…I still find this story, these characters, this world compelling, and the ideas for book 2 are starting to spark. Will it go beyond brainstorming? Maybe. Maybe it’ll go to the outline stage. Will I write it? Now? Eeeeeeeh. I don’t know. But it’s lovely to have a large project percolating in my brain again. I’d hit a bit of a slump immediately after finishing “Dead God’s Bones” (heretofore referred to as DGB). By extension, or perhaps, as a result, book 3 is also starting to take on more substance than the vague “it’s book 3!” it’s been since I started writing DGB.
  • I’m currently playing with the idea of expanding a short story into something longer (novelette or novella, not sure yet). The story came close to being published in an anthology I’d submitted it to, and hilariously, I’m going counter to the expectation and instead of turning around and submitting it somewhere else, I’m thinking of ripping it apart and stitching it back together as something new. I realized, after receiving the rejection, that I have no idea how to write a romance story. And this was supposed to be a fantasy romance. I also realized that the thing that was missing (other than the romantic spark) was the other half of the romance’s viewpoint…and why most slow-burn romances have dual PoVs. It’s hard to convey that both characters have feelings for each other when we’re in only one head and that head is not only in denial, but convinced the other doesn’t care. So I’m going to have some fun with this, I’m going to make a whole slew of mistakes, and I’m going to write a romance, goddamnit!
  • Speaking of short fiction, I’ve been writing a little of it here and there. I sold two pieces, which will be coming out at some point in the future, and I’ll update this with links and such when they are.
  • 407798-the-elder-scrolls-online-morrowind-playstation-4-front-coverThe other reason I haven’t been reading much has been because I buckled and bought the Elder Scrolls Online, and have been happily traipsing down memory lane on Vvardenfell. It’s not exactly the same, of course, but I’m enjoying the way the developers interpreted and reinterpreted the lore…and it filled that void for a stable Skyrim I’ve so desperately dreamed of (my Skyrim—and Oblivion for that matter—are notoriously glitchy, partly because I mod, partly because the game engine is unstable). So I’ve become an ESO player.
  • I also caved and bought a subscription. Because crafting materials take up so much space. I wanted that crafting bag. I’m not even actively crafting and I wanted that bag. There’s just not enough inventory slots available for materials and still be able to pick up that fancy pair of boots. Was this wise? Not sure but, hey, haven’t regretted it yet.
  • Eventually, I’ll roll up another character. Namely, my beefy high elf sneaky-fighter who’s been my main in Skyrim for the past long while. Why high elf, you ask?
    Osrin
    Osrindil, soon, you shall return to Tamriel, though I think high elves start in Summerset? Need a pirate hat though…
     Because I find it bizarrely amusing to play a masked, swashbuckling high elf wearing a giant feathered pirate hat gallivanting across Skyrim. Also, if you play high elf, when you infiltrate the Thalmor embassy, you can steal a set of Thalmor robes and waltz right through, and since I have mods for immersive sneak-centric characters, there’s just something very satisfying about waylaying a Thalmor inquisitor, putting him in a choke-hold, rendering him unconscious, and stealing his clothes, to go sneering off past all the Thalmor guards unmolested. It just…completes it, y’know? 
  • On the topic of ESO, their music is gorgeous. I purchased the soundtrack and it’s become my new ambient music for when I’m working/writing. Worth it.
  • I did have my first piece of nonfiction published, “Viewpoint Intimacy Through a Third Person Lens,” which, I hope, will not be the last article/essay of mine that appears somewhere that isn’t my blog.
  • Also, I made a website for my artist alter-ego (about damn time).
  • Since I’m home due to Covid-19, I’ve had more of an opportunity to take photos of the wildlife in my yard:

And that’s it for my bullet-point updates. 

I don’t know about the new WordPress blog editor interface. I’ll get used to it, eventually, but it’s going to take a little while. It likes doing odd things to my image formatting, though having the new slideshow option is nice. I’m not using it, but it’s nice.

A Month of Books: March

Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie: This is my second attempt on Ancillary Justice. The first one, I hadn’t been in the right mood to enjoy it, and the shifting between timelines frustrated me more than it enticed me. Second attempt, and I devoured it in a few days. The world-building in this is spectacular, though there is a bit of a learning curve. You’re dropped in the middle of things and the story just goes, filling in the world-building as it becomes necessary and, even then, not all of it. Some things remain vague, some things go unexplained, and I personally delighted in having a world (well, worlds) that I could puzzle over. However, that “drop you in the middle” is honestly why my first attempt at this book didn’t go much beyond the first flashback. Which brings up the other potential hurdle: it’s told in a split-timeline structure with the past and the present trading off chapters between them. In some ways, it helped make the past (and betrayals of the past) more immediate; in others, I’m fairly certain that structure is the reason it took me almost a week to read to the point that the past timeline falls off and the narrative remains entirely in the present. Once it narrowed down to one timeline, the rest of the book zipped by (true, there’s also the investment element in there; by that point, I needed to know what happened next). Now, I’m not sure if I truly called the betrayal, or if I’d somehow absorbed knowledge of it when it’d been nominated, but I didn’t find the past storyline as compelling since I knew where it was going, though I didn’t see the why behind the betrayal. The eventual payoff is worth the wait, though.

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie: The scope narrows here, going from a massive quest for revenge across an empire to a single space station in orbit around a single planet, though with a much larger cast of characters than the first book. I will be entirely honest, this review isn’t much of a review because I read this one weeks ago and failed to write a review immediately upon finishing, and then COVID-19 happened and my perception of time has turned into dripping molasses, while simultaneously making everything that happened prior to two weeks ago feel like it happened last year. The thing I remember most clearly in this was how so many of the secondary characters on the ship go by title/rank rather than by name and yet, I could tell them apart so easily, the characterization of them was so strong. More and more, however, I do wonder if, perhaps, the guessing of the characters’ gender/sex might be the wrong approach; the more I read, the more I started to feel that the singular pronoun freed characters to act in stereotypical gendered ways without it being a reflection (or subversion) of gender, and the more I read, the more my mental image of the characters flowed. It was an intriguing experience, and though it took me two books to get used to it, I appreciate the approach.

Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie: Ah, and the conclusion. One highlight was definitely Seivarden’s outrage over the suppurating cuticles oath. That, and how brilliant Station is and its way of leveraging Anaander in order to keep its citizens safe. Spoilers perhaps, but the end is a bit more open-ended than I’d prefer for a trilogy. The main conflict set up in Ancillary Justice doesn’t, precisely, get resolved. The civil war is still waging. Hypothetically, it might become more difficult for said civil war to continue quite the same way as it did before a certain event at the end of Ancillary Mercy, but it isn’t resolved. I was also a bit surprised that the concept of cloning ancillaries didn’t come up before the very end and it was…not so much dealt with as tabled for later discussion…except, this is the final book, so I suppose it’s up to us, the readers, to decide how that turns out?

A Conjuring of Assassins by Cate Glass: Oooooh, I’ve been waiting for this one for months! And then, when it arrived, I was in the middle of reading a trilogy, so set it aside to finish the Ancillary series first, ’cause I’m not blessed with one of those minds that does well with multiple immersive speculative novels being read at once. Much like the first book, A Conjuring of Assassins takes a little bit to get going, and there is some recap sections that if you’re reading the two back-to-back, might tempt one to skim, but once the mystery of Cinque is answered, the pace picks up and it’s spies and magic and grand con games in order to get closer to the Chimera’s target (the Assassins List). There is also more of a hint of the epic in this one. In the first book, there’s an unanswered mystery that could lend itself to epic fantasy, but here, it’s more overt, and the introduction of Teo (and Teo’s mystery) feels very much reminiscent (and pleasantly so) of the writer’s other epic fantasy series under the name Carol Berg (that hint of the epic, of the almost divine, of magic being otherworldly and beyond human understanding, of parallel worlds, of mind-speech). I look forward to seeing where things go in the next book, and what exactly is magic, and how does it tie in with the long-vanished gods? As a side note, it was both weird and unnerving to read a book so heavily based on Renaissance Italy while simultaneously watching news of the epidemic in Italy as it unfolded.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig: Confession: one trope that I absolutely adore is the one of the old and possibly world-weary immortal/near immortal with centuries of memory interacting with the modern (or near modern) world*–bonus points if there’s a love story (not necessarily romantic love; found family love or platonic love are under-explored with this trope, in my opinion). How to Stop Time somehow managed to slip by under my radar until now, and it’s an exemplar of the trope. I did find the major twist somewhat predictable, but didn’t mind it so much. The romance angle is a great deal more downplayed than what the back cover blurb promised (which was fine). It’s more a story of Tim engaging with the world, realizing that his pattern of isolation and being a recluse isn’t working for him anymore, and that his will to live is slowly, but surely, becoming walled in by fear (of discovery, of death, of change), stoked by Henrich, another alba (or very long lived individual). Much like Ancillary Justice, How to Stop Time uses a dual-timeline structure, though this one is aided by the time period being firmly set in Earth historical past. There is, as a note, far more “past” flashback chapters than “present,” and much of the present is quieter, more introspective. The final resolution of the book’s external conflict is a little ho-hum, but then, it wasn’t really about the external conflict, but the internal one. A small warning, but much of the book has a low-key hum of depression throughout, even though it ends on a rather hopeful note. I, personally, found this resonated with me, but others might find it triggering.


* As much as I claim to be a vampire-junky, it’s not the vampire that engages me, necessarily, but rather this trope of immortal/near immortal, and it just so happens that the most common subgenre containing it is the vampire one, which is why I don’t like all vampire stories, but a very particular subset.