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Recently, I've started reading through the Dark Tower books. Right now I'm on The Waste Lands, and I really wish people knew King more for stuff like this than his horror stuff. 

Also, I recently read one of the Miriam Black books by Chuck Wendig, Thunderbirds. Really solid work right there. 

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Crash Override: How Gamergate (Nearly) Destroyed My Life, and How We Can Win The Fight Against Online Hate: by Zoe Quinn

My familiarity with Gamergate was primarily through the harassment against Anita Sarkeesian, and while names like Brianna Wu and Zoe Quinn came into my atmoshpere,  I wasn't terribly familiar with them. This book is a perfect lens into the heinous, bottomlessly cruel appetite that men online (gamers or just dudes on the internet) have for gate-keeping and marking what they perceive to be their shit. During my reading I looked up Quinn, only to be deluged by dozens and dozens of hate videos, bios on various sites like "Quinnspiracy" and was really awakened to the Scarlet letter carved onto her person. Much of this reminded me of reading about the FBI going after James Baldwin after he chided Robert Kennedy for being woefully ignorant on the needs of Black America and labeling MLK as the "Most Dangerous Negro in the Country". Not to equate Quinn with that caliber of Civil Rights leaders exactly, but it's all the same, isn't it? The opposition will try to murder anyone for any perceived slight if the slight brings attention to the twisted normalcy of their communities. It's all the damn same. Quinn's voice as a writer is pretty young, and the book could honestly have withstood some editing. But this is clearly a woman with PTSD and who's life will never be the same because of one dude. I think this is required reading for everyone who goes online, which is everyone, as the second half is a solid instruction guide on how to guard oneself from the sinister actions of anyone who could dox or SWAT you for whatever reason.

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22 hours ago, teenalphabro said:

Recently, I've started reading through the Dark Tower books. Right now I'm on The Waste Lands, and I really wish people knew King more for stuff like this than his horror stuff. 

Long days and pleasant nights, I am currently on Wizard and Glass.

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House of Small Shadows by Adam Nevill: I got 10 chapters in before putting it away. In those quick-to-read pages, there's a lot of setup. Dare I say too much, as the character spends several chapters getting from her car to the house in question. And once she's inside, it's no better; the dilly-dallying continues. It's an okay read, but I need things to move along.

Hard Road by JB Turner: Prime Reading had this for free, so I gave it a chance. It's exactly what you'd expect from a book about a contract killer: job goes wrong, everyone is after him, his loved ones are in danger, and he has nowhere to turn. I've stopped for now, but I'll come back.

Department of Temporal Investigations: Watching the Clock by  Christopher L. Bennett: Despite having read dozens of Star Wars books and stories, I've never read a Star Trek novel from start-to-finish. This being about the DTI (as seen in "Trials and Tribble-ations"), which is the Federation's official time-travel investigative division, it has my attention. So far I'm ~60 pages in and this is a lot of fun. Not quite sure where it's going just yet, but that's okay. These are fresh characters that need a lot of pages to introduce them. It's also clear Bennett is a Doctor Who fan. Not only does he use a Doctor Who quote to open the book, a Vulcan gives the "wibbly wobbly, timey wimey" speech but only as a Vulcan can.

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67. In the Distance, Hernan Diaz: I understand why this was nominated and was a finalist for the Pulitzer this year. It’s a Spanish author using the story of a Swedish immigrant and the weird ass situations he gets himself into as a naive kid and later as an adult to critique the standard American western/frontier myths. It’s beautifully written. That said, the cycle of loneliness -> oh now connection with another human whether by choice or not! -> a bad thing happens to this other human! -> and now loneliness again gets real old after about the third or fourth repeat. It especially gets old when I can predict that a character is going to die within two pages of getting close to our main character. I like that we don’t really get a proper resolution to this either; he just kind of fades into the distance, if you will, at the end.

68. Spinning Silver, Naomi Novik: I read the short story this was based on (Russian Jewish moneylender version of Rumpelstiltskin) when it was in The Starlit Wood, and I was interested to see how Novik would expand it out. The way she added the multiple POVs into the spinning of the story was a clever way of doing things, but there got to be a few too many POVs that actually cut off the development of some of the POVs, which was mildly frustrating. Also, after about the sixth POV, just fucking switch to third person limited rather than first person POV. The weaving of Russian Jewish history, vaguely Russian mythos, and Fae lore, and the three main female POVs were incredibly well done. But though the convenient het ending is probably a fairy tale reference thing, it feels like lazy development especially when we know more about the demon than we do the man he possesses. Still a great read. (Supposedly she gave her editor a fake outline for this, which, bless your editor for putting up with you.)

69 (niiiiiiice): Sorry to Disrupt the Peace, Patti Yumi Cottrell: A girl’s adopted brother commits suicide in her childhood home, and she goes back to Milwaukee to try and piece together the why of his last days, and also deal with family/childhood trauma. This has been in my purse a few weeks, but I finally started it today, and I finished it today. Seeing how things come together, and learning more about our main character and her and her brother’s shared childhood, is exquisite. I know the grief haze that is depicted here very well, and Cottrell does an amazing job depicting the aftermath of grief. Definitely read this if you find it while you’re out and about.

70. Preparing the Ghost, Matthew Gavin Frank: A slightly indulgent pocket-size essay about the guy who took the first known photograph of the giant squid, death, mythology, and one dude’s obsession with the first guy. It gets slightly self indulgent in places, but has some genuinely good passages. I found it remaindered, and for that price, totally worth it.

71: Night and Silences, Seanan McGuire: The twelfth book in the Toby Daye series, and shit still manages to get even more serious/game changing, which I continue to be impressed at. The reminders of shit that happened in past books are the least awkward they can be given the nature of the beast. I’m interested in seeing how the new status quo effects the upcoming books, and continue to be surprised at how Seanan works Tam Lin into this. Additionally, the fact that she now gets to add a novella onto the end of the book expanding on things that happen either just outside of the novel's focus, or off screen, is a real value add. Comes out in September, if you’ve been following the series, definitely pick it up.

72. Finding Baba Yaga, Jane Yolen: ARC, comes out at the end of October. A young girl runs away, is found by Baba Yaga, and has some low key queer themes in a novelette that’s entirely in verse. It’s a quick, breezy read, under 100 pages, could easily fit in your bag

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73. No Flight Without the Shatter, Brooke Bolander: A short novelette about the last human, and the lessons she learns from the ghosts of the animals that humans drove to extinction. Short, but haunting as Bolander always does, and reels between anger and grief equally. Hoping to see this on the awards list next year.

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The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. Audiobook read by Jesse L. Martin.

Baldwin's words I find easier to take in when listened to. His writing is terrific, but is so soulful that they near incomprehension through simple prose. To have the truly dulcet tones of Martin express the heart, anger and love in every sentence really translates (I feel) the proper emotion and meaning.

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Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero. 

If Edgar Cantero turns out to be Alex Hirsch, in disguise, I would not be surprised. getimage.aspx?regionKey=8M8agBAkQEaGinsNet8kk2mjxeg1f6jau0of.jpg 

Meddling Kids is not a book, it is a nostalgia gateway drug. However unlike Ernest Cline, I didn't feel like I had the nostalgia waved in front of me. You can enjoy it without knowing the references and homages. Researching the book has made me realize that I missed most of the references in the story. I was just happy that I realized the Arkham Asylum jailbreak "Werewolf" was a reference to Lovecraft rather than Batman. I was going to call this "what the Scooby Doo movie should have been" because watching those films always made me feel like the creative team behind the movie hated the series. Meddling Kids celebrates the books and shows it is based off of. Having a group of four misfit kids using elements from their childhood to battle an eldritch abomination. 

       At the same time the characters are not the starry eyed dreamers they once were. One is a crestfallen drunk, one is a fugitive, one is committed, and the other committed suicide. The only "normal" character is the dog, who is the great grandson of the original detective team. There are unanswered questions and parts open to interpretation. Like is the crazy one really seeing the ghost of his dead friend or is he hallucinating? That only makes it fun. I really enjoyed it. 

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74. The Poppy War, R.F. Kuang: The super simple way to sum this up is Chinese history meets the X-Men (and also the Phoenix). I read through this book in about three days tops, and got through half of it in one few hour session in the bath alone. It’s incredibly well written, weaves together both history (this is based on both the Opium Wars, the Rape of Nanjing, and Unit 731 in particular) with fantasy (shamans, accessing the gods, etc), and straight up historical rage. The shamans are pretty reminiscent of the X-Men, in terms of how their powers are explained and used. Oh, and drugs. It very clearly seems to be leaning towards a sequel, and apparently the deal included sequels, so I hope her sales do well enough that she gets it.

75. An Unkindness of Ghosts, Rivers Solomon: I’ve been meaning to pick this one up for a while, and now that they got a deal to make Clipping’s “The Deep” into a book, I figured I should check this out. This is brutal like the Poppy War, but in different ways, because it transplants the plantation way of life onto a generation ship. The opening chapter is our ambiguously gendered, neuroatypical main character amputating a child’s frostbitten foot. It doesn’t let up from there. You can tell that this is Solomon’s first novel, and there’s random bits of first person POV that I’m not entirely sure need to be there, and flashbacks added in at deeply awkward times. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the attempt at a romance triangle added in. The verb of noun naming structure is mildly frustrating, but does effectively refer to the effects on the living of those who’ve died, both before and during the novel. With regards to the ending... it feels very mid season four of Battlestar Galactica, without spoilers? I’m not sure if there’s a sequel to this coming, but it just kind of feels like it skids to a stop. Definitely worth a read through though.

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See All The Stars by Kit Frick, her debut novel.

I read a review copy of this sent to my store, primarily because I'm online friends with the author's husband. As such, I'm not really comfortable talking about my thoughts on this book publicly, aside from here.

This is a YA novel about a high school kid in her final year before graduation, on severe outs with her friends and broken up from her boyfriend. Each chapter switches between the events of her junior year and her senior year. Throughout the book we're shown her thoughts on her friends, her boyfriend, how she sees herself in her friend group and ambitions for the future.

I found this to be a very basic, average story. It's not badly written, but it's melodramatic to the point of being pretentious. The main character has a poetic voice that flows between metaphors and similes, but it feels too overwritten to sound like a natural voice of a seventeen year old who's into welding. Most of the characters speak in dramatic, almost meta-speak, almost as though they're trying to act out a teen drama, which they're written to be in. It's a strong lack of awareness that really holds this story back and made it surprisingly annoying to get through at times.

There are two big twists that you're reading to get to in order to justify the story at the end. One of them is visible from a mile away, at least halfway through. The other is a genuine surprise, but the book ends so soon after it's revealed that you wonder if there was a bit of fast-writing or cheating in the lead-up to it.

I feel the YA genre has better representatives that this, as all this story came down to was a breakup between friends and teenage love drama. There's really nothing going on any deeper than that. And in itself, that's fine. But it presumes the weight of world-ending importance and wants the reader to fear and fret as much as it does. I just wasn't feeling it the whole time I was reading it.

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1 hour ago, Rjoyadet said:

Hey @Dread did you write a review about Ryan Holidays Conspiracy? I remember you getting upset by it, and for that I wanted to thank you. I was curious about reading it but your warning helped me realize that I had to put my mind on guard because it will throw jabs at me.

Nope. Wasn't me. This is the first time I've heard of that book or author.

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76. The Tea Master and the Detective, Aliette de Bodard: Sherlock, except set in de Bodard’s Vietnamese sci-fi. mindship universe, where Sherlock is a female scholar, Watson is a female mindship with a good dose of PTSD, and a faint sapphic undertone running through the novella. It’s a great quick read, and a nice twist on the formula.

77. Not Here, Hieu Minh Nguyen: A friend posted a poem from this book on Twitter, and on the strength of just that poem, I picked this up at our local bookstore. And good Christ that was a good decision. This is up there for the best poetry I’ve read so far this year. Nguyen writes about being gay and Vietnamese and loss and strained parental relationships and grief and sexual assault and depression and hits fucking home with just about every poem he writes. A collection that can drive me to almost sobbing on the bus ride to work should tell you how good of a poet you’re reading here. Pick this up. You won’t regret it.

78. Valerie Solanas: The Defiant Life of the Woman Who Wrote SCUM (And Shot Andy Warhol), Breanne Fahs: Another remaindered nonfiction book about a subject I hadn't heard a lot about (mainly, the woman who shot Andy Warhol, and her own radical feminist leanings). I read this over a period of a few nights in the bath, usually as a prelude to either a nap or bed. That's not a knock against the quality of Fahs' writing, it just seemed a bit odd to me that her recounting of what was by all accounts an incredibly tumultuous life would usually put me in a state to fall asleep easier. Would say it's a bit dry. However, it's a very thorough accounting using fairly limited sources (as her mother destroyed her documents), and an interesting, if depressing story (yay for the mental health system and associated abuses of the 60s and 70s)! Also focuses on her as a person rather than as the crazy lady who shot Warhol, as well as the SCUM Manifesto.

I also just found out that Lena Dunham played her in an episode of AHS. Ugh.

79. The Black God’s Drums, P. Djeli Clark: Ehhhh? This has a bunch of genuinely interesting ideas, but the story never really fleshes them out or handwaves on fairly important details, relies a bit too heavily on cliche (the plucky orphan!), and accidentally has its protagonists low key commit a war crime in what is either the author reaching for an easy solution or just genuinely not thinking too much about the situation. Alt history steampunk is also just genuinely not my thing except in very few cases, and as interesting as the idea here is, Clark doesn’t make the case for it. I also feel like this got extracted from a longer story, cause it feels like there’s explanations for things just beyond the hundred or so pages we get with this. Maybe it’s a hook for future material? Idk. That and the emphasis on You Need To Do A School feels like the author is covering his butt for the message he’s sending to a possible teenage audience. There’s some genuinely interesting ideas here, it’s just not executed well.

80. Night Moves, Jessica Hopper: Hopper collects her personal journal entries from her early years in Chicago, with crazy anecdotes and her falling in love with the city. A nice, relatively light, and quick read.

81. In the Vanisher’s Palace, Aliette de Bodard: It’s a lesbian reimagining of Beauty and the Beast, only the Beast is a female dragon, it’s set in a post alien invasion world (also an a+ postcolonial landscape commentary), and has a touch of biopunk mixed in with traditional Vietnamese lore. She manages to build out a hell of a world in the space of a novella, and still resolve all her plot threads well. This comes out October 16th - pick it up when it does!

82. Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture, edited by Roxane Gay: You’re going to know in the first paragraph of this anthology’s introduction whether or not you’re in the space to be able to read it. The essays range from academic to personal experiences, and all of them are amazingly written and heart breakingly hard to read. But once you start reading it, you’re likely going to go through it in several large chunks, because the collected essays are by and large deeply compelling. There’s only a few that fall a little flat. It’s by no means an easy read, but it is a necessary one.

83. Rock Manning Goes for Broke, Charlie Jane Anders: A short novella where a boy who loves slapstick comedy uses it to navigate his world, which is slowly falling to fascism, and what happens when the government wants to fund his work. Accurately captures of what it feels like to be in a nation that’s slowly but surely and irrevocably changing. There’s a few things that feel a bit hand wavy towards the end, but in a way that I’m willing to let go. I finished this over about an hour or so on the bus ride home here. The version I had had some formatting wonkiness, but I’m pretty sure that will be fixed on the released eBook edition.

84. My Own Devices: True Stories from the Road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love, Dessa: A collection of essays from the rapper Dessa, some previously published, but the vast majority new. She always has had an amazing way with her lyrics, so it’s interesting to see how those writing skills get applied to creative nonfiction - some science writing, some general thought experiments, some descriptions of her life growing up, switching between all these varied modes with ease. There are some common themes between essays, but for the most part, each is its own experience. I’ve read this both in the bath and before bed the last few nights, at the same time devouring it and trying to savor it. I saved the last two essays for tonight, and it was an A+ life choice. Definitely a thing you want to read through if you find a copy.

85. The Bloody Chamber, Angela Carter: A collection of short stories that are primarily feminist fairytale retelling, that is apparently 75 years old, and that I had never heard of until reading it. I got this as a part of a contest that MCD and Electric Literature, who collected a bunch of Maria Dahvana Headley’s favorite books by female authors, and ran a giveaway. I somehow won, and now I have a bunch of books by female authors who I’ve never read before. Carter writes beautifully, savagely, and inverts the fairy tales we know so well - the beauty becomes a beast too, Bluebeard’s wife is rescued by her rifle wielding tiger slaying mother, and so many other twists that I’m genuinely surprised I haven’t heard of her before this. Definitely pick this up if you get the chance.

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86. Stealing Life, Antony Johnston: A novel that Johnston published earlier in his career (about 11 years ago) that’s being rereleased, and hoo boy, let’s just say that it shows. About two thirds of this is mediocre fantasy with a slap dash of scifi to be unique. And then in the final third, it gets to a genuinely interesting twist that, if it had been introduced sooner, would have given this a leg up. That said, it’s clearly a very early writing attempt with Johnston still getting his sea legs under him. This apparently was part of a shared universe in the original edition, and underwent edits to remove references to the shared universe in this edition. Apparently no further edits were done, which is surprising to me. (The fact that all three of your female characters are whores and one of them is protagonist’s mother and the other is his love interest is not a point in this book’s favor.)

Got an ARC (though I don’t know that it could be called that because of the previous release) of this, it’s out November 1st. If you really like Johnston’s work, and want to see what his early work looked like, go for it! As a revised novel.... not the best thing I’ve read this year but certainly not the worst.

87. Kingdom of Needle and Bone, Mira Grant: Clearly something this author has been itching to write for a while. A novella that uses a theoretical pandemic to go deep into immunology and herd immunity and is a very angry cautionary tale about the antivax movement, while also giving us a hell of a protagonist in Izzy. The side effects of the disease were a great unexpected twist, as were the people that the vaccination movement ended up getting in bed with politically, as was the lengths that Izzy was willing to go to. Short, haunting, and definitely one that’s going to stay with me a while. Side note: Subterranean really needs to work on formatting their digital ARCs, it’s mildly frustrating.

88. Homesick for Another World, Ottessa Moshfegh: A collection of Moshfegh’s short stories, most of which I believe were published in the Paris Review. They can best be described as creepy, mildly surreal, bleak, and will leave you feeling mildly uncomfortable throughout most, even if some are relatively happier. She’s nailed the art of the abrupt ending here, and there are some stories that will make you want to peel off your skin with how they leave you feeling about their characters. They don’t all hit home for me, but I still read through this relatively quickly. Definitely worth a read.

89. The Raven Tower, Ann Leckie: Was lucky enough to have a friend pick me up an ARC copy of this at NYCC this year, it comes out in February. Pre-order it now. I am incredibly interested to see how people react to the POV (combination of first and second, and a reveal of who exactly the "you" in the second person pov is is a real fun moment, as is the revelation of who the first person pov is). The two separate threads come together slowly, but the moment they converge the story starts galloping to the end, but still gives it a great resolution. On top of it, it doesn't feel like it's trying to be a stealth trilogy, it feels like it's happy being a one and done. All I can tell you is don't believe the Hamlet adjacent marketing hype on the back - it's not solely about the power struggle, it's also about the power of language and how it's used (and I would not be surprised to hear that this was inspired by the 2016 election in some way). One of my favorites of the year so far.

90. The Calculating Stars, Mary Robinette Kowal: A really fun alternate history that doesn’t hesitate to lean into the hard science and the sexism and racism of the period. Basic premise is that a meteorite hits the eastern seaboard of the US and results in a slowly occurring climate change/extinction event that requires an accelerated and international space program, and an environment in which the human calculators could have gone into space. The pov doesn’t just call out period sexism but also racism (and even admits the pov character’s own shortcomings but keeps her open to learn and advocate due to her Jewish background). It goes out if its way to explain the physics and calculations that go into space flight, too, but still keeps a fast pace. The meteorite is a great way to get your attention in the opening, but the way the rest of the book ensures that your attention is kept. This was an arc when we got it originally, but by the time I started reading it the sequel was out, and I picked it up just on the strength of what I was reading. I can’t wait to read it.

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Lolita by Valdimir Nabokov

Impossible to enjoy in a modern context, this was actually much worse than I anticipated in the creepy perverted aspect. I went into it thinking the book would be a flowery, almost poetic expression of sexual frustration and romantic desire. "Humbert Humbert" is every single bit as demented and detestable as the situation warrants, and both the narrative and the book play into that. Nabokov's prose is eloquent if florid, but the subject matter is so repulsive there's zero getting around it.

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Codename VILLAINELLE: By Luke Jennings

A four-part novella series which served as the basis for the Killing Eve television series, this was a frustrating read, being almost entirely more interested in touring the wealth, glitz and seedy scenes of Russia than it was for the characters. Villanelle is an interesting character, but more centered focus on her throughout would make her memorable. The contrast between her and Eve is well rendered, but grows repetitious as the two never really grow within reach of each other save for near the end of the Shanghai chapter, and yet by the end of the book it is only fleeting. Lots of Russian, Millitary and Espionage technobabble soak up the reading experience that the word of mouth from the show promised, or at least implied, would be about character. Even without any media-based expectations, this story read like it was missing the forest for the trees. Spy stuff is cool and all, but the characters have to be focused in degrees of crystallization. Not as though they're drudging requirements.

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91. Swing Time, Zadie Smith: Ehhh? I got it remaindered, read half of it in line to vote bc there wasn’t much else to do. The story follows two biracial girls in London throughout their lives, but really only one and the other through her eyes. If you squint there’s some stuff about how people form identities and appropriation and privilege and the interference of well meaning superrich individuals in international communities causing more problems than they solve, it it flits away before actually commits to commentary. It feels like it can’t decide if it wants to be a chick lit novel about these girls’ friendship or a Novel About Things, and it suffers for the indecision. It’s a solid book, but could be better if it actually committed to what it wants to be about.

92. Middlegame, Seanan McGuire: ARC, comes out next May. A hell of a novel, and something I actually would be interested to see Seanan expand on world wise. A story of two kids and the alchemical powers they end up embodying, them growing to adulthood and figuring out what’s going on with them, time travel, fiction used as a way to frame the way the world thinks of things and as a framing device for the story itself, and all kinds of things in between. The opening is also a very clever chess reference that if you know it frames the book very well. Definitely one you should read when it comes out. I also wouldn’t mind more about characters like Reed and Baker and Leigh, honestly.

93. Vicious, VE Schwab: Man, do I have some feelings about this. One the one hand: quickly paced solidly written prose, and once it starts to get fully going plot wise (first half of the book is basically setting up the FoeYay), it takes the hell off. And they don’t try to portray either of the two main male leads as heroes, either. On the other: two of three female characters in this end up dead, which is deeeeeeply fucking irritating, especially when the second female character was seemingly positioned to become the big bad, and the first just felt like a straight up fridging. I also had to check that Schwab didn’t have a past in fanfic, because man, this felt like a scrubbed serial killer Charles/Erik AU. It got to the point where I was reading parts out loud to the boyfriend when I found the various expies (Emma Frost and Nightcrawler stand out in particular). There’s a sequel, but I’m not sure that I want to give it the shot, and given that it’s only out in hardback currently, ehhhh. It was a fun read but it was also irritating the hell out of me by the end of it.

94. The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden: Got this for free at C2E2 in recent years I want to say. Russian based fantasy novel that takes a bit to find its footing, and once it does, it feels like it takes off at a gallop, but stumbles a bit when it gets towards the end. The juxtaposition of the Russian Orthodox Church against the folk tales and how the darker side of Russian folklore uses a priest to play into his hands makes for a deeply compelling conflict in the middle of the book. However, the set up to get there and the sudden turn it seems to take at the end towards not being self contained are deeply frustrating. It’s a first novel, and I’ve essentially gotten this and the soon to be released third part for free, so I’m willing to gamble and see how the rest turns out.

95.The Bird King, G. Willow Wilson: ARC, comes out in February I believe. I mainly knew G. Willow through her work on Ms Marvel and Vertigo, but this is the first of her novels I’ve read. And I love it.

It’s the story of a concubine and a gay mapmaker with mysterious powers that are caught up in the fall of Granada, and the reach of the Inquisition, and their attempts to make a life for themselves.

This is a fascinating and well paced novel that gets its hooks in you early and doesn’t let go. The characters are wonderful, the setting is one that is not normally explored in historical fiction, much less historical fantasy, and the fantasy is just a very practical and useful aspect of the story - being able to draw maps of places you’ve never seen before, being able to be unseen by being what those around you expect to see, things like that, with a touch of otherworldliness from the jinn. Most fascinating to me though is the use of stories in the novel, and how the stories we tell to each other shape us and our experiences, especially those that are passed on from others. There’s a line I can’t find at the moment but will try to find in the morning that talks about how all they have are stories from the people trying to conquer them, that really stuck with me.

Of particular note for me though is the big bad of the story, who is a white woman who is an Inquisitor, and while there is a story trope that is reminiscent of the Snow Queen/the Bible (the mote in the eye), but the novel makes it clear that while she is influenced by evil, the actions she undertakes and her beliefs are very much her own, and are absolutely terrifying. She looms over the story even when not there, and I have to wonder how having her in her headspace went for G Willow.

Get this when it comes out.

96. The Girl in the Tower, Katherine Arden: Second book in the trilogy, and the only one I paid money for. Kind of regretting that I did, currently. A pretty aggressively mediocre girl masquerading as a guy story with a side of “but oh the frost demon fell in LOVE with her” and a sudden right turn into hey larger treachery going on and oh btw Koschei the Deathless. There’s also some pretty significant padding in the beginning, which is frustrating. I’m going to read the ARC of book 3, because maybe it somehow gets better, but I’m not holding my breath. How the hell did this get a fucking trilogy?

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97. The Winter of the Witch, Katherine Arden: So. I applied for ARC access for this book on a whim, on the basis that I had the first book in my library and not thinking I’d get it. And then I did. So I decided that to be fair to it, I’d read that first book, along with finding a copy of the second book, before I got to this ARC. I found some of the ideas in the first book interesting, but found they got thrown aside for elements I wasn’t that interested in. The second book was frustrating attempts to set groundwork for the third book and things bought up to be thrown aside suddenly in favor of oh hey third book!

And then we get to this.

I have a thing where I will read an entire book, even if it makes me want to throw it against a goddamn wall, because I want to be fair to it. And then I tear it a new one.

This is me doing that, because I read through this book, all 384 pages, in the last twenty four hours or so, and Jesus fucking Christ this book.

I should’ve fucking quit when the author decided to explicitly code the supposed big bad with queer villain tropes. I thought maybe someone would tell her maybe this wasn’t a good idea. They didn’t. I came this close to throwing the book when the priest he seduced was described as having “lips and hands as delicate as a woman’s”.

Did you know our main character is both Russian folk spirit AND witch AND Russian royalty descended? And beloved of the winter king? And also Baba Yaga’s heir? AND the sister of a mythical monk character from history that Arden wanted to have as her final battle in the book, but didn’t realize that she made it seem like the book was over two thirds of the way through? Oh and the big bad sides with her because she’s just that awesome.

Throw in a bunch of rape threats, clumsy wrapping up of loose plot threads, sex that the author can’t commit to describing, and pretty mediocre writing, and I am actually somewhat angry that I committed the time I did to this trilogy. It’s her first book series, and I guess the editor didn’t really want to criticize her?? Or they wanted to get on the “fantasy set in not European cultures” wave but didn’t actually want to put effort in.

Mediocrity is something I can usually let well enough alone. But shit like this actually makes me angry, especially when it’s a white woman getting a chance to publish this shit while NK Jemisin takes 20 years to get a career under her.

98. Silence, Shusaku Endo: To know why this is so affecting, you need to know that Endo is a Japanese Catholic who wrestled continually with the role of his faith versus the culture he was raised in, and the history of what that culture had done to that faith. The story focuses on a Portuguese priest who goes looking for a mentor of his who may have apostatized, and is eventually captured and the crisis of faith that he experiences as the Japanese believers and fellow priest are martyred for his refusal to apostatize, but he himself is never tortured. The priest ends up taking on the role of Judas, and the examination of faith and the ensuing novel is a hell of a read, even almost fifty years removed from publication. It’s a classic for a reason - read it if you can.

99. The Fated Sky, Mary Robinette Kowal: Sequel to The Calculating Stars. Technically “hard” sci-if in how much it relies on science to explain space flight, but written well enough that it was something I could easily put down for a few weeks and still be able to pick up with ease when I did so again. I’m impressed at the depth to which Kowal built out the social aspects of the world, and in particular in this book, how racism and sexism would be exacerbated, especially in contained quarters in space. Our POV character isn’t perfect and does make mistakes, but she tries to learn at least. There's stuff we don’t see by way of being limited by our protagonist’s POV (especially since half the book is spent in space), but I do hope we get a bit of that corrected in the sequel. There’s one particular aspect (a particularly racist astronaut who is on the flight to Mars) that I do feel like was slightly not dealt with entirely, but I imagine that’s for the sequel. Not anywhere near my top twenty, but still a good solid read.

100. How Long Till Black Future Month?, NK Jemisin: I am genuinely surprised by this collection. Unsurprisingly, Jemisin is insanely good at writing short stories, and there are several ones in here that I actually wish were published elsewhere or at least online, because I want to share them with people. (The most notable of these is the story that opens the collection, “The Ones Who Stay and Fight”, which is a direct response to Ursula LeGuin’s famous short story.) There are almost no stories in here that I would consider passes, and I would gladly read any of these again. There are several proof of concept stories in here for novels she’s already written, too, so it’s fun to see where some novels originated. Basically, one of my top ten, and definitely worth another read.

101. Red Doc>, Anne Carson: This is a sequel to Autobiography of Red, definitely an experimental verse novel and moves into being more of its own thing. The first two thirds or so are very surreal but also a touch meta in that it feels like it’s Carson settling into what she wants to do with this narrative as Geryon figures out what he wants to do with himself. This didn’t hit for me until the last third or so, where he goes to be with his mother as she’s dying. Definitely worth reading through if you find it in a sales section, not sure if I’d read it at full price though.

102. The Light Between the Worlds, Laura Weymouth: Its very rare for me to go through a book in the space of a few hours (in this case, spent in the bath). That alone should tell you’re in for an amazing read. This is very much a response to CS Lewis and the Narnia books, and focuses on the sibling relationship, particularly between the sisters, and what their return to England after having lived several years in another world back in the bodies they were in when they left would actually look like. The two sisters have small markers that indicate that they’re responses to Susan and Lucy Pevensie, but they are their own characters, and watching their relationship be shaped by their time in the other world and their responses to it afterward is a gorgeous read. The only thing I’m mildly uncomfortable with is that a suicide attempt is posed as the fix to depression that results from one of the characters’ return to England, which is a bit iffy with the YA audience it’s aimed at. But otherwise, the frank look at depression and grief and trauma are a refreshing response to portal fantasy. Definitely worth a read.

103. A Paradise Built In Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster, Rebecca Solnit: This is a pretty dense read, but this is a pretty extraordinary look at disasters and the reality of the aftermath and support that tends to pop up in their aftermath. There’s some historical coverage - the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, 9/11, the idea of the Mandate of Heaven, the London Blitz, the Halifax explosion, and other historical disaster scholars and media portrayals of disaster aftermath. But most interesting to me, and where the book likely began in earnest, was the narratives of the Katrina aftermath versus the reality of the racism of the government and National Guard and what happened to the citizens of New Orleans because of it, versus the community taking care of their own. It’s a pretty thorough rebuke of the post apocalyptic “every man for himself and everything will go to hell” narrative using actual historical examples. Definitely worth a read if you find it.

104. Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag: An essay about the role of photography in war, and how the exposure to the horror of war through war photography plays into or against the anti war sentiment. It’s a fantastically written essay that uses critical art theory and war history to interrogate the argument that media involvement in war actually numbs us to it, and it’s a pocket size hundred fifty page book that you can get through in an hourish read on the bus, for example.

105. Swordheart, T Kingfisher: God bless that she’s continuing this series - this is the same universe as Clockwork Boys, but a completely new setting and characters. This is basically her response to the character of Blackwall in DAI. The main plot is a romance between a middle aged widow trying to get her rightful inheritance, and the man in the magic sword she’s inherited. There’s priests who are lawyers, slime parasites, a great middle aged character, and more strokes that fill out the universe. Plus, it turns out there’s two more swords, and this is the start of a trilogy. YES. Great final read for the year.

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Paperbacks from Hell, Grady Hendrix: This was very similar to his blog Freaky Fridays where he would talk about strange paperbacks. I enjoyed the new things he brought, like the story about the book that won him over (which sounded a lot like the movie that was covered in Tranquil Tirades: 63). I especially like how the book is regularly segmented with sections showcasing artists and the wonderful artwork, that was often the best part of the paperback. I found his conclusion to what caused the bubble to burst to be believable.

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  • 4 weeks later...

1. Woman’s Consciousness, Man’s World, Sheila Rowbotham: Originally published in England in the 70s, this focuses on the roles of women in capitalism and how women’s lib has connections to socialism, and how women are treated even in revolutionary movements. It also ties the author’s personal experience into the general writing she does connecting socialism and feminism, which makes it way less dry than a treatise like this could’ve been. Boyfriend got me this for my birthday, and it’s a relatively quick read, and a good way to start out the year.

2. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, Stuart Turton: This is a hell of a first book. It’s a cross between a locked room mystery and a time travel narrative - one person reliving the same day from different points of view to solve a murder, in order to be freed from the time loop he finds himself in. It’s an incredibly well written mystery, except for a few small points. What exactly Blackheath is and who the main character is and why he’s there is left to too late in the book for you to fully get a sense of that part of the mystery, and I feel like it could’ve been revealed sooner on to give it more room to breathe. That aspect also has a hell of a thing to say about rehabilitation and forgiveness, and I feel like there’s a whole other novel there. There’s also some ableism and fat phobia in random parts that leaves a sour taste in your mouth. The core mystery comes together wonderfully though, and was a fun, winding read. Take a look when it comes out in paperback!

3. In An Absent Dream, Seanan McGuire: First off: the cover colors on this are goddamn gorgeous. I was looking forward to this, because Seanan’s take on the Goblin Market is something I’ve wanted to see for a while. But it’s not just about the idea of fair value here (though she makes it very clear that there’s also a very deep seated rage against capitalism in her take on fair value). It’s a story of two girls, and their relationship, and how that plays against Lundy’s relationship and obligations to her family, and how she interacts with the Market. You already know that it won’t end well, if you’ve read the other books, but watching it get there is heartbreaking and beautiful.

4. The Xenofeminist Manifesto, Laboria Cuboniks: Ill be blunt here: you’re absolutely paying for the production values on this, but damn are they some hella sweet production values. It’s a fairly straight forward manifesto: gender and capitalism blow, and we think technology can liberate and fix everything that’s wrong with them. They emphasize evolving past gender, but I feel like this could be repurposed too easily by the MRA/terf lot. This was written back in ‘15, so I would be particularly interested to see what their take on the internet as it’s become today would be. There does appear to be a theory reader out there, so I’m interested in reading more.

5. The Ends of the World: Volcanic Apocalypses, Lethal Oceans, and Our Quest to Understand Earth’s Past Mass Extinctions, Peter Brannen: Found this in the remaindered section at our bookstore with a rec from our friend, so I picked it up. This is a neat combination of an explainer of the former mass extinction events that Earth has undergone, interviews with specialists on these time periods and the events, descriptions of trips to field sites, and lyric descriptions of the events themselves. I took this about two chapters a night, and it was a pretty even pace - very readable, great way of relating information without making it too overwhelming. It also is very clear that it’s also a book about climate change, and how past events compare to what we’re doing now, and even speculation into the future. Definitely read this if you find it.

6. A Peoples’ Future of the United States, edited by Victor LaValle and John Joseph Adams: A fantastic speculative fiction anthology that is both a response to Trump’s election and the hellscape we are all living in these days, and a fantastic collection of speculative fiction ranging from hard sci-fi to decolonized futures to very deliberate fuck yous to the current political landscape. One of the hardest things to do in an anthology is balance known quantities (authors who will be able to turn in a good short story on time) with the name draws (NK Jemisin, Charlie Jane Anders, G Willow Wilson), and bringing in new discoveries. This is due out February 5th, and you are in for a treat when it comes out.

7. Miranda in Milan, Katharine Duckett: And tonight in “well shit, I didn’t expect to mainline this in a few hours, but here we are”: this exquisite ARC from Tor.com Publishing. This comes out at the end of March, and man, you will want to read this when it does. It’s a continuation of the Tempest, and focuses both on Miranda’s brave new world, and some of the darker implications of what Prospero was up to. Also: queer as hell, and women righting the wrongs that have been done to them by dickhead men. This is a bit simplistic description, yes, but I don’t want to give away the twists. There’s a bit of structuring that could have been done better, I feel, but man, that’s really the only thing I can say against it, and for an author’s first published work, I’m not going to count it as a major strike against it. It’s 131 pages, so you can go through it in, say, an hour and a half like I did here, and it’s the perfect size for a commute.

8. Forest of Memory, Mary Robinette Kowal: Quick 80 page story that I’m reasonably sure was posted on Tor.com originally, but makes a quick engrossing read. It’s a quick spin on the idea of the antiquities dealer, but set in the future, and what if the person’s experience is what’s valuable to a collector? There’s some really neat riffs in the story itself where spelling mistakes and strike throughs are preserved in the story because it’s written on a typewriter, but it adds a neat touch. Worth a read, especially with a Victo Ngai cover.

9. China in Ten Words, Yu Hua, translated by Allan H Barr: A collection of ten essays by a native Chinese author about both growing up during the Cultural Revolution and Chinese society with the introduction of capitalism. I mainly knew Yu Hua from To Live (we read excerpts and watched the movie in a class in college), so it was fascinating to see his perspective and background on “the Chinese miracle”. Solid choice on the ten words he used to theme his essays, too.

10. Archivist Wasp, Nicole Kornher-Stace: I got this in physical form recently as well as on sale digitally a bit before that, and I finally took that as a sign to get off my ass and read it. And then I ended up reading something like 80% of it in the space of tonight. The world building and rules of the ghost world are done exquisitely, and the journey that the girl and the ghost take, and the history that is revealed all combine to encourage you to just keep turning the page and don’t fucking stop until you get answers, or as close as they come here, or at least see what the hell is going to happen next. I’ve heard very good things about this from people whose taste I trust, and every one of them was right. There’s another book, and I’m interested to see where it goes, because this book seemed like a straightforward one and done. Quick, compelling, and darkly gorgeous.

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  • 3 weeks later...

The Road to Jonestown Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple 

The Road to Jonestown

by Jeff Guinn. I first got interested in this book from seeing another book, Cult City By Daniel J. Flynn. Since the book had Jim Jones and Harvey Milk I wanted to look into the life of Jim Jones before any homophobes saw the cover and jumped to conclusions. I have not gotten to Cult City yet but learned a lot more about Jones and that some of my perceptions about him were wrong. 

I learned he was a ardent socialist and many of his sermons had an atheistic message which included throwing bibles to the ground and calling it  a "paper idol." 

One of his side jobs involved selling spider monkeys. 

He wore his shades to hide the fact his eyes were bloodshot from his drug addiction.

He would preach that the president of the United States was racist and that the government was setting up a concentration camp for blacks. 

His congregation would get into competition on how little sleep they got. 

He tried to hijack another religion, the International Peace Mission Movement, by claiming that the soul of their preacher, Father Divine, had gone into his body. 

There were at least two times where there were attempted assassinations on his life and both of those appear to have been staged. 

His healing sessions were also staged, his unique one was having plants who claimed to have cancer hold the fake tumor which were actually rancid chicken giblets. 

He claimed to be the only true heterosexual in the world but would have sex with the men as well as the women in the congregation. Apparently one of the women he slept with wouldn't give in to his pressures to have an abortion. 

Towards the end, he would trick his congregation into thinking they would make a last stand and simulate suicide in exercises called "white nights." 

Despite being socialist, Jones had a small fortune stashed away. Guinn even suggests he had a stash of gold buried somewhere that has never been found. 

Aside from his views on homosexuality, I find it unnerving how he could easily exploit people in today's society. Beware, there are dangerous people  out there. 

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11. Pachinko, Min Jin Lee: This was nominated for the National Book Award, is apparently getting a drama series based on it on a streaming service, and is probably the first work of fiction aimed at the English reading audience that I’ve seen that focuses on Koreans in Japan. The way that Koreans are treated in Japan is probably one of the most blatant examples of racism in a non Western society. The novel focuses on four generations of a Korean family who immigrated to Japan, starting in the late 1800s, with a wide, her husband, and their daughter, and ending around 1990, with the daughter’s full grown grandchildren. The themes that repeat themselves through the generations are the discrimination that the family experiences, how they manage to get through, ideas of power, family loyalty, ideas of integrity, and how things keep coming back to the game of Pachinko (and how you keep playing even though it may be rigged against you). The story mostly focuses on Sunja, though it may shuffle between her sister and brother in law, her parents, her children, and grandchildren (usually right about when you might start to lose interest in her thread), but always comes back to her in the end. It’s fascinating to watch their story unfold over the years but how certain experiences always seem to repeat over the generations. This is in the upper middle of what I’ve read so far this year, and will probably stay solidly in the middle of what I read overall.

12. Black Leopard Red Wolf, Marlon James: This is... I probably am not going to know how I feel about this book until the next book in the trilogy comes out. James has point blank said that Rashomon is a core influence here, and that the next book in the series is going to open with “Everything you read before is not true.” So part of me is reading this with the framing idea of the narrator being unreliable. I’m sincerely hoping that the next book is going to have the point of view of one of the few women in the party who doesn’t get dead or raped over the course of this book. The book is gorgeously written, in the style of oral storytelling, and the POV of a black gay man is not one you typically see in fantasy. That said, this book’s POV character is kind of the epitome of toxic masculinity, and there are points where it is deeply uncomfortable to read this book. Tons of rape of men women and children, and mutilation and violation of the same. If there is a woman, she is either a whore, a witch, a schemer, or some combination of the three, and there’s a few points where the author seems to be calling him out in the book, but it doesn’t get through to him. Marlon James has never been one for this kind of POV, so it strikes me as an oddity. Lots of violence. There’s an entire section where we get to see a gay man with a husband and children happy and alive, but they end up violently dead. There’s certain threads in this that make me understand the comparisons to Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, but lord whichever marketing person chose that comparison missed the damn mark. Either way it’s a hell of a read, but one that will take a lot out of you.

13. The True Queen, Zen Cho: This is a straight up fun romp of a sequel to Sorcerer to the Crown. It’s the kind of sequel where main characters from the last book show up in minor roles, new characters are centered, and the world is expanded, which is the kind of sequel I love. We get more of Mak Genggang here, and Malaysian systems of magic, and their spirits’ response to the western system of magic (a particularly notable line has a character saying that someone is asking for favors like the Dutch ask for land), and more of a post colonial response to definite colonial goings on. We also get a lesbian couple (and they spend most of the book being clueless around each other which is one of my favorite trope of all time) front and center in the book. It’s just a fun, good read, and some days, that’s what you need above all else. You can read this even if you didn’t read the original (though I will recommend doing so, because it’s also pretty fantastic.) Fun, funny, and an overall great read.

Pick this up when it comes out in March, you won’t regret it.

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