rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2014-11-22 12:28 pm

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler

Rosemary once was a child in a family with a sister, Fern, and a brother, Lowell. Now she's in college, palling around with a manic pixie dream girl named Harlow and trying not to think about the mysterious event that caused Fern to vanish and Lowell's life to go off the rails. The novel switches between Rosemary's childhood and adulthood as she comes to grips with whatever happened.

This novel has a possibly surprising plot twist about a fifth of the way in; I say possibly because I learned of it in a review, and there are other elements of the novel itself which may make it immediately evident. However, I will keep it a surprise for the benefit of those who don't want to be spoiled. I'll put it behind a cut.

Fowler is a highly skilled author whose books, unfortunately, never appeal to me anywhere near as much as they appeal to others. She always has intriguing premises and her novels always get rave reviews, so I keep checking them out. To date, I have never much liked any of them. Something about her prose style, characterization, and tone always strikes me as distant and chilly. This book was no exception. It involves a lot of potentially interesting and moving elements, but I found it dry and unsatisfying. However, I am in the minority in this, so you may well love this or any other of her books.

That being said, if you are at all sensitive to animal harm, avoid this book. It is centrally concerned with cruelty to animals, and contains multiple graphic depictions of it. (I didn't know this when I started, or I would not have read it.)

Great title, though.

Read more... )

By Karen Joy Fowler We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (Pen/Faulkner Award - Fiction)
rachelmanija: (Naruto: Super-energized!)
2014-11-13 08:06 am

Stranger is out!

The post-apocalyptic novel Sherwood Smith and I wrote, Stranger, is finally out! It's the "Yes Gay YA" book. But you could just as easily call it "The one with the telekinetic squirrels," or "The X-Men in the post-apocalyptic Wild West," or "The one where the sheriff is super-strong, the doctor can speed up time, and the plant life is out to get you."

Kirkus gave it a starred review, calling it " afirst-rate page turner that leaves its own compelling afterimage."

Other points of possible interest: Psychic powers. Luscious food descriptions. Detailed world-building. Hurt-comfort- lots of hurt-comfort. Thrilling battle sequences. Cute animals. Killer crystal trees. Romance in every configuration: gay, straight, lesbian, and poly. Illusion-casting rabbits. Flying cats. And, of course, telekinetic squirrels.

It had a publicity budget of literally $0, so anything you feel like doing to spread the word would be great.

On Kindle: Stranger

Barnes and Noble.

Kobo.

Apple.

Goodreads.
rachelmanija: (Default)
2014-11-06 08:46 am

Not a fun post to write

Note: I have edited this post to include the text of the account I posted to Laura Mixon's report.

In 2011 I had a run-in online with someone called Winterfox, aka Requires Hate, aka Benjanun Sriduangkaew. She proceeded to harass me online for the next three years. Specifically, she attempted to intimidate me out of doing activism regarding or even publicly mentioning LGBTQ issues.

That turned out to be barely the tip of a Titanic-sized iceberg. A report on her activities is here.

Requires Hate harassed me for about three years, in 2011-2013.

I first encountered her (under the name of Winterfox) on 50 Books POC, a community for reviewing books by people of color. The community, founded in 2007, had thrived until Winterfox joined it in 2011. Every time someone reviewed a book by certain authors of color, she verbally abused not only the reviewer, but everyone who commented to the post. Her intent seemed to be to intimidate readers out of reviewing books by those authors: in particular, African-American author N. K. Jemisin and Chinese-American author Cindy Pon.

Posting to the community dropped off noticeably. Several people privately told me that they had left the community due to Winterfox’s abuse. After Winterfox posted a book review in which she called Cindy Pon a “stupid fuck,” I asked Winterfox to stop using personal insults. The ensuing blow-up resulted in the destruction of the community.

I only exchanged about five or six comments with Winterfox, all during the span of a few days. That was the last direct contact I had with her, and I never posted about her. But she commented on me, on blogs and on Twitter, for the next three years.

She said the same sort of things about me that she said about a lot of people – that I was racist, homophobic, sexist, misogynistic, a rape apologist, stupid, despicable, and worthless. All this was expressed with intense rage and vicious profanity. She didn’t say that she wished I could be shot in the head or have acid thrown on me, or make any other threat of violence. But I saw her say those things about other people whom she also accused of being homophobic, sexist, racist, and so forth. I was clearly categorized in her mind as the sort of person who ought to be mutilated and killed.

This is why people found her so frightening, and why so many of the stories about her are only told anonymously. It’s not because she told everyone that they should be raped by dogs or have their hands broken with a hammer. It’s because she made those kinds of threats frequently enough, and was so vicious in general, that they became the subtext of everything she said. Another thing that frightened people was her tendency to harass people for months or years after a single encounter, pursuing them from platform to platform, long after ordinary trolls would have gotten bored and moved on. Her sheer relentlessness was creepy, disturbing, and obsessive.

Her harassment of me followed a pattern. Every time I posted on LGBTQ issues and sometimes when I reviewed a book with queer content, she would launch a wave of harassment. Sometimes she’d quote from my post and abuse or mock me, and sometimes her abuse would be on an unrelated topic. But whenever I mentioned queer issues, the harassment would start. Her intent was clear: to intimidate me out of speaking on queer-related topics and rights. That is an issue of great importance to me. I do fundraising for LGBTQ causes. Once I and two other women ran an online auction that raised $50,000 for marriage equality. That is the sort of activism that Requires Hate spent three years trying to suppress.

There were times when I didn’t post on LGBTQ issues, or posted only under lock, because I didn’t feel up to facing yet another onslaught of verbal abuse. So Requires Hate succeeded, to some small extent: she got me to shut up about queer rights a couple times. This is the person whose bullying is defended as being in the service of the greater good. Whose greater good did that serve?

I am not going to post my personal credentials of oppression to argue that my disability, religion, or sexual orientation made it wrong for her to harass me. (Though I will mention that Requires Hate knew exactly how I was a minority, because she obviously read my blog carefully and consistently for three years.) Harassment is wrong. Period. Using intimidation to suppress civil rights activism is wrong. Period. If I was a straight white able-bodied Christian man, it would still be wrong.

I can’t prove any of this. Requires Hate deleted everything she wrote about me, and I didn’t take screenshots of the abuse she directed at me. At the time it was happening, I wasn’t thinking of getting revenge on her or proving her misdeeds in the future, and I didn’t want copies of her abuse on my computer. So you can believe me, or not. You can think her harassment was justified, or not. That part is up to you. All I can do is tell you what happened.

Requires Hate/Benjanun Sriduangkaew recently put up a pair of apologies, one for each persona. She has never apologized to me, though she has had four years to do so. However, I don’t need or want an apology. We have all seen how words can be faked. But actions, whatever their motivation, are real.

Requires Hate, if you are genuinely remorseful and honestly intend to change, here’s what I want from you: I want to have no contact with you ever again, and I want you to have nothing whatsoever to do with me. That means that you never contact me in any way, online or offline. It means that you never discuss me or even mention me online, in any persona and for any reason, whether directly or in veiled references. It means you never link to anything I post. It means you don’t harass me, and you don’t send your friends to abuse or harass me.

If you are willing to agree to this, please copy the paragraph above and post it on both of your blogs, attributing it to me under my full name and promising to abide by its conditions. And then never say anything else to me or about me again.

I was hesitant to make this post, as Requires Hate has a long history of retaliating against those who speak up about her. This statement is far more likely to prompt her to start harassing me again, as herself or in some new persona or via friends, than it is to make her leave me alone. I am also concerned that signing my name to this statement will spark attempts to damage my career, the spreading of malicious lies about me, or other forms of retaliation. And I can only hope that I don’t need to be concerned about physical violence.

But I don’t want to leave all the rest of the people she targeted standing alone. So here’s my story, in solidarity. To those of you who named yourselves, and to those who remain anonymous: I believe you, and I stand with you. What was done to you was unjustified and wrong. And I really hope that none of us will have to go through this again.

As of November 10, Requires Hate has not agreed to my request that she leave me alone. She may instead retaliate, possibly by spreading false rumors about me. Given that, if you hear that I have stalked someone, have outed or doxxed someone, have sent someone racist messages, etc, please contact me privately and ask me about it before assuming that it's true.

People often think it's easy to make a claim that you were harassed. It is not easy, and it is not done lightly. For everyone who believes them, there will be one or many who don't, or who think it wasn't that bad, or they're being over-sensitive, or that the harassment was justified.

Posting this will be proof to some people that I am exactly what Requires Hate says I am. The argument, which I have seen many times over the last four years, is that she only harasses people who are racist, sexist, misogynist, homophobic, colonialist, rape apologists, and otherwise bad people. Therefore, anyone she harasses must be those things. And also, it was not harassment, but truth-telling.

I have nothing to say to those people, except to request that they defriend me (if we're friended on LJ/DW) so I can know to do so in turn. I would prefer not have people reading my locked posts if they think so poorly of me.

(To be clear, none of us, myself included, exist in a vacuum, untouched and uncontaminated by social prejudices. But there's a difference between, say, "subconsciously affected by social rape myths while consciously working against them," and "rape apologist.")

I believe Rochita Loenen-Ruiz. I believe Athena Andreadis. I believe Video Games Anon. And I believe all the others. If you read those links and still think it doesn't take courage to stand up and say what they said, then you are a very lucky person who has never been targeted themselves. And also lacking in empathy. We are real people who have been hurt, and are taking a risk to warn others in the hope that if we do, the bullying will stop with us. Have some compassion.

Comments are closed on this post. I will not read posts or tweets in support of Winterfox, so please do not link me to such things. If you want to talk more about this with me, please email me.
rachelmanija: (Default)
2014-11-03 09:07 am

You must throw yourself in. There is no other way.

I put a quote on Kate Elliot's LJ in response to her post on NaNo. It's from George MacDonald's story "The Golden Key." The heroine is on a quest to find the Old Man of Fire, and she has just met someone who knows where he is:

Then the Old Man of the Earth stooped over the floor of the cave, raised a huge stone from it, and left it leaning. It disclosed a great hole that went plumb-down.

"That is the way," he said.

"But there are no stairs."

"You must throw yourself in. There is no other way."

She turned and looked him full in the face-- stood so for a whole minute, as she thought: it was a whole year-- then threw herself headlong into the hole.


I have thought of this quote at a number of important turning points in my life, when I had to either give up and walk away, or throw myself in. There were no other ways.

Every time I've thought of it, I've thrown myself in.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2014-11-02 02:10 pm

The Goblin Emperor, by Katherine Addison

This unusual and lovely fantasy makes use of some genre concepts, like elves and goblins and a young man who unexpectedly ascends the throne, to tell a completely different story than the one you might expect.

Maia is the half-goblin son of the Emperor of the Elves and a wife he never wanted. Since he was never expected to rule, he was relegated to the middle of nowhere and raised by an emotionally and physically abusive courtier who didn’t want to be there. Then an airship carrying the emperor and all his immediate heirs blows up. Maia is whisked off to the capital to ascend the throne.

This is a slow-paced book, meditative and thoughtful. Almost the entire story is about Maia adjusting to rule and to culture shock, learning how to relate to people, and trying to use his power wisely and well. Maia is a genuinely good person who wants to do right; reading the novel, I realized how rare that is as a central motivation for a protagonist of fantasy. I found it extremely refreshing.

Though not a secret garden book, it has many of the traits of that genre: the focus on place, the meticulous attention to detail, and the inner blossoming of the protagonist as they negotiate that new thing, friendship. I should mention that this is one of my very favorite genres. Not all stories have to have things exploding every few pages. Sometimes the planting of a seed, or the selecting of a signet ring, is more compelling than any amount of sword fights.

It’s not a flawless novel, but its flaws are not the sort that spoil the book. The food seemed somewhat random; I kept trying and failing to piece together a coherent cuisine from eel casserole, egg-drop soup, chamomile tea, and curry. That’s not remotely a major issue, but I would have enjoyed a more inventive look at elven food.

Slightly more seriously, the villains are sometimes hilariously inept, making the heroes’ victories over them seem less triumphant than they should. There’s one exchange that goes more-or-less like this:

Good guy: “You’re conspiring to murder the emperor! Admit it!”

Captured villain: “I don’t know anything about any conspiracy!”

Good guy: “Okay, maybe you’re not involved, but your buddy John definitely is!”

Captured villain: “Huh, what? John’s not the conspirator, Peter is. …oops”

Maia is also awfully lucky in that the majority of the people who he either gets assigned or semi-randomly selects to be in his inner circle are absolutely exceptional people, intelligent, kind, ethical, likable, compassionate, and bent on doing their best for the young emperor.

But those flaws show what sort of book it is: it’s one in which sorrow and injustice exist, but good people also exist, and appreciate goodness in others. Kindness is not the domain of chumps, nor does it get characters squashed under the bootheel of the author. Doing the right thing tends to be appreciated and bring about good results. For a book whose hero is frequently tormented by loneliness and grief and social anxiety, it's strangely comforting.

If you’re looking for fast-paced excitement, look elsewhere. If you’re looking for a well-written, engrossing novel that will make you feel good, you’ve come to the right place.

This novel was written by Sarah Monette under a pen name, but it’s not much like her books about Felix and Mildmay, and only a little more like her short stories; liking or not liking those won’t indicate how you’ll like this novel. But if you’re a fan of Pamela Dean or Jo Walton or Ursula LeGuin, you are very likely to also enjoy The Goblin Emperor.

The Goblin Emperor
rachelmanija: (Default)
2014-10-31 10:24 am

Yuletide!

Yuletide assignments have gone out! Without revealing your fandom, how do you feel about yours?

I am very excited about writing for my fandom! But if you are participating in Yuletide and have not yet written a "Dear Yuletide Writer" letter, please write a letter and link it in the link post below. You don't have to get into tons of detail, but a little about what you like about the fandom and maybe a few areas you'd be interested in seeing explored in a story would be nice. Also, if you requested two characters who have an ambiguous relationship in canon, it would be great to know whether you see them as lovers, friends, friends with unresolved sexual tension, etc.

Here's a link to my Dear Yuletide writer letter. Here's a link to the page where you can link to your letters.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2014-10-28 01:40 pm

The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo, by Zen Cho

The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo is a charming novella about Geok Huay (Jade Yeo), a young writer living in London in the 20s. When she writes a scathing review of a prominent novelist's latest book, he responds by inviting her to a party and flirting. A writer needs life experience, so how can she decline the opportunity for the learning experience of an affair?

The book has elements of romance, but it's more of a coming-of-age story; the affair is not particularly romantic, and includes a hilarious, deliberately non-erotic sex scene in which Geok Huay earnestly tries to mentally describe a penis for future use in her writing. The actual romance is plausible but sketchily developed.

There's not much real conflict and it seems implausible that Read more... ), but the book isn't really about the plot. It's about Geok Huay's voice. And her voice is a complete delight. I really, really enjoyed reading this book. It's the sort of book where you keep wanting to read funny bits aloud to any companion you might have on hand while you're reading it. The humor and meta-commentary on story and writing reminded me a bit of Cold Comfort Farm.

I reproduce an excerpt below, so you can get a sense of the writing style. If you like the excerpt, you will almost certainly like the book. (If you don't, you probably won't.) It's only $2.99 - well worth the price.

Saturday, 7th August 1920

I had tea with the intolerable aunt today. Aunt Iris, the one who is so rich she has a new fur every year, and so mean she has installed a tip box by the door of every WC in her house, so you have to pay a charge every time you need to go. And so sinfully vainglorious I remember she came to visit us at home once and wore a wonderful glossy black mink fur. She sat on the sofa with a fixed grin on her face, sweating gallons in the heat. Ma had to send Koko out to get the doctor. It was just before New Year and Ma was terrified Aunt Iris would go into an apoplexy in our drawing room–which would have been such bad luck.

I had my angle of attack all planned out today, though. On Wednesday I’d found out how much a piece of chocolate cake cost at the restaurant, and I went in with the exact change in my purse. When the waiter asked me what I wanted, I said: “Chocolate cake, please”, and I counted out my coins and paid him right then and there.

“I haven’t got any more money than that,” I explained.

Aunt Iris was furious: she looked like an aunt and she was wearing her furs, of course. Even the English must have thought it peculiar. But even so she didn’t offer to pay. She ordered two different kinds of cake and a pot of their most expensive tea, just to show me. But I profited in the end because she couldn’t finish even half of one of her slices of cake. I whipped out my notebook and tore out a page and wrapped the other slice in that.

“I’ll save you the hassle of eating it, auntie,” I said. “You must be so full now! I don’t know how you stay so slim at your age.”

I hadn’t meant the reference to her age as a jibe. My mother is a very modern woman in most ways, but she would still be offended to be accounted any younger than she is. Her opinion is that she did not struggle her way to the august age of forty-three only to have the dignity accorded to her years snatched away from her.

But Aunt Iris has become quite Western from living here so long. She has a passionate hunger for youth. It is especially hard on her to be thwarted in it because the British can never tell an Oriental’s age, so she’s been accustomed to being told she looks ten years younger than she is.

“My dear Jade,” she said in her plushest voice–her voice gets the more velvety the crosser she is–“I know you don’t mean to be impolite. Not that I’m saying anything against your dear mother at all–your grandmother wouldn’t have known to teach her these things, of course, considering her circumstances. But as an aunt I do feel I have the right to give you–oh, not a scolding, dearest, but advice, meant in the most affectionate way, you know–given for your sake.”

The swipe at my grandmother’s “circumstances” made me unwise. Aunt Iris is not really an aunt, but a cousin of Ma’s. Her mother was rich and Ma’s mother was poor. But my grandmother was as sharp as a tack even if she couldn’t read and Aunt Iris’s mother never had two thoughts to rub together, even though she had three servants just to look after her house.

“You should call me Geok Huay, Auntie, please,” I said. “With family, there’s no need for all this ‘Jade’.”

I spoke in an especially Chinese accent just to annoy her. Aunt Iris’s face went prune-like.

“Oh, but Jade is such a pretty name,” she said. “And ‘Geok Huay’, you know!” She looked as if my name were a toad that had dropped into her cup of tea. “‘Geok Huay’ in the most glamorous city in the world, in the twentieth century! It has rather an absurd sound to it, doesn’t it?”

“No more absurd than Bee Hoon,” I said. “I’ve always wished I could name a daughter of mine Bee Hoon.”

A vein in Aunt Iris’s temples twitched.

“It means ‘beautiful cloud’,” I said dreamily. “Why doesn’t Uncle Gerald ever call you Bee Hoon, Auntie?”

Aunt Iris said hastily:

“Well, never mind–you’d best take the cake, my dear. Are you sure you don’t want sandwiches as well?”

I was not at all sure I did not want sandwiches. I said I would order some just in case, and ordered a whole stack of them: ham and salmon and cheese and cucumber. Aunt Iris watched me deplete the stack in smiling discontent.

“Greedy little creature!” she tittered. “I would rap your knuckles for stuffing yourself, but you rather need feeding. You are a starveling little slip of a thing, aren’t you? Rose and Clarissa, now, have lovely figures. They are just what real women should look like, don’t you think?”

“You mean they have bosoms and I don’t,” I thought, but did not say. It didn’t seem worth trying to enunciate through a mouthful of sandwich.

The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo
rachelmanija: (Naruto: Super-energized!)
2014-10-07 11:10 am

I have two new novels out!

Last year I wrote two full-length novels under a pseudonym. If you haven’t come across them already, you can read them now. You can read them in either order.

Laura's Wolf (Werewolf Marines). Werewolf Marine Roy Farrell meets reformed con artist Laura Kaplan in Yosemite. Features a snowed-in cabin in the woods, banter, domesticity, PTSD, gun fights, werewolf fights, “let’s get you out of those wet clothes,” light femdom, trauma and healing, out-of-control superpowers, the heroine rescuing the hero, and a pack of traumatized psychic werewolves held hostage by a criminal mastermind.

Prisoner (Werewolf Marines). Werewolf Marine DJ Torres meets genetically engineered assassin Echo in a secret underground laboratory. Features banter, romantic comedy, desperate treks through the desert, martial arts fights, gun fights, werewolf fights, psychic powers, clones, dyslexia, bonding in a bar on the Las Vegas Strip, a dysfunctional werewolf pack, and discussions of Norwegian death metal and Filipino hip hop. (DJ is, in fact, also a DJ.)

Laura’s Wolf is complete on its own, but I will eventually write sequels. Prisoner is the first of a three-book series. It doesn’t end on a cliffhanger, but they are not eaten by the shrieking eels at this time don't get out from under the thumb of the evil lab in this book.

Laura’s Wolf has more genre romance conventions (with substantial twists); the hero and heroine are sexually attracted on their first meeting and bond quickly. It has somewhat unconventional gender roles. Prisoner has fewer romance conventions and subverts the ones that it does have more, and features a friends-to-lovers romance. It has very unconventional gender roles. Laura’s Wolf sold better, but Prisoner attracted more attention in the romance blogosphere.

In case you’re wondering, I have been paying my rent with these books. Which is to say, I didn't make tons of money, but I did make as much or more than if I'd traditionally published. Both of them are way too unconventional, structurally and in terms of content, to sell to any but a small press, so it made sense to self-publish. And the series got two Yuletide nominations, so that makes it all worthwhile.

I wrote them under a pen name because I wanted to write without baggage, emotional and otherwise. Consequently, they are written completely from the heart. Complete with earnest afterwords about PTSD and dyslexia. (They’re self-published, I can put in earnest afterwords if I want to.) Also, I did not want precocious ten-year-old readers of Stranger (or their parents) to type my real name into Amazon and find books with explicit sex.

I wasn’t sure until somewhat recently whether I would ever publicly reveal my real identity. This was unexpectedly freeing. I normally am not capable of writing two full-length novels in a year, while I’m working and in grad school! But I decided to go ahead and reveal so any of you who might enjoy them can find them, given that you otherwise might never read that sort of thing.

Laura’s Wolf is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple, Kobo, ARE, and in print. Prisoner is currently only available on Amazon and in print. If you’d like a copy in any other format, you can purchase it directly from me by either emailing me at Rphoenix2 at gmail or by commenting here with your email address and your preferred format.
rachelmanija: (Engaged!)
2014-09-29 04:51 pm

Yes Gay YA strikes back!

Due to the upcoming release of Stranger, I am doing some interviews in which I will be asked how or if things have changed in terms of LGBT characters in YA novels. I am armed, of course, with the most recent statistics. (Summary: representation has increased from 0.6% of all YA novels to 2%. However, most of those books are put out by LGBTQ-specialty small presses, and the percentage of LGBTQ characters in YA novels from American large presses has actually gone down.)

However, I spent the intervening years mostly focused on grad school, and so am not caught up on recent books. Are there any YA novels that have come out since 2010 with LGBTQ characters that I should check out or at least be aware of? What about self-published books? Any prominent LGBTQ teenage characters in non-book media (comics, movies, etc?)

Any changes in your own personal experience? For example, I have noticed that just in my circle of friends/acquaintances, kids seem to be coming out younger (13-15, as opposed to 18-20) and with less or no negative reactions from others. Obviously, these are kids from liberal families in LA. But I always knew liberals in LA, and I did not encounter any kids coming out at age 13 until about five years ago. Ditto straight teenage boys wearing gay rights buttons.
rachelmanija: (Book Fix)
2014-09-26 12:45 pm

Strange and interesting sf now available for e-readers!

Six of Doris Piserchia's sf novels are now on Kindle for $3.99. (You'd think Hachette could afford to give them covers.) Piserchia is one of those writers who would probably be more famous if she had been male, or written under a male pseudonym. Then she might have been considered ground-breaking and innovative, rather than merely weird. Her books are wild space adventures with a distinctly hallucinatory atmosphere, often starring young women who go for what they want, whether it's sex or adventure, with no regard whatsoever for the proper place of women or what others might think of them. Sadly, that attitude is still rare.

Typical summary (minus female protagonist): It all began when someone tried to push Creed into the flesh pool to be ingested. The assassination failed, but Creed was never the same again. Because it launched the new cliff-dwellers of Creed's colony onto a new course of life - which could lead to humanity's re-emergence as Earth's masters.

In those far future days, Earth's masters were two trees. Not trees as we know them, but two Everest-high growths, whose sentient roots and fast-growing branches dominated every living thing on the world. Men lived between their arboreal combat.


A few quotes from Goodreads:

Levi: Pretty much as bizarre as I remember. I think another reviewer called Piserchia's work dreamlike, and I'm going to second that description. The kind of dream where everything is extraordinarily complex but it all makes perfect sense at the time and it's only when you try to describe it later that you realize you don't quite know where to start.

Vroom: Still delightful, decades later. I remain convinced Piserchia was either heavily medicated or using recreational pharmaceuticals when writing this. My favorite of her writing.

I remember enjoying Spaceling and Star Rider.

My next mention is not a rec per se given that I have not yet had a chance to read it, and it is less easy to obtain than one might expect from an e-book. But this is the sort of thing that I bet a small but select few of you might really, really like.

Graydon Saunders was one of the most interesting posters on rec.arts.sf.written and .composition back in the Usenet Cretaceous Period. Every now and then, he would post excerpts of his fiction. It was completely obvious to me that he was a very good writer, and also that he was way too strange of a writer to ever be published by a major publishing house. His excerpts, which were always quite evocative and beautiful, tended to read as if they were written from an alternate dimension in which fantasy had taken a completely different direction than it did in our world, and the ur-influences were not Tolkien and Lewis, but Beowulf, Njal's Saga, and "Uncleftish Beholding."

He finally self-published his book. Here it is! The March North, by Graydon Saunders Read the comments to this review for an explanation of how to obtain it. I'm sure Graydon would send a copy if you ask.

ETA: Explanation of how to purchase it is now in the comments of the LJ entry.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2014-09-25 02:39 pm

Border Crossing, by Pat Barker

I read this because I loved Barker’s harrowing, gorgeously written, revelatory Regeneration trilogy, about shell-shocked soldiers in WWI. Having read Border Crossing… I highly recommend Regeneration.

Tom Seymour, a psychologist, is walking along the river with his soon-to-be-ex-wife when a young man leaps into the river. Tom jumps in and saves his life. And then discovers that the young man, Danny, was once a ten-year-old boy who had gone to prison for murder after Tom had examined him and testified that he was capable of understanding the consequences of his actions. Now both Danny and Tom undertake a quest to understand what really happened on the night of the murder.

Border Crossing, unfortunately, had a lot of elements that many genre readers dislike in mainstream fiction— the middle-aged white man with a failing marriage, the under-characterized wife who wants a baby, the anti-climactic and inconclusive ending in which the point appears to be that real life has no point, a general air of gloom— but without much to compensate. (Regeneration has none of those elements, with the possible exception of gloom. I would argue, however, that it is tragic rather than merely glum.)

The characters are under-characterized. We don’t learn much about Tom other than that he’s a sad sack with a failing marriage (and dubious professional ethics, but those seem to be there to make the plot work.) The wife just wants a baby. The social worker is dedicated. Danny appears to be a creepy, sociopathic, possibly psychotic manipulator who murdered because he was fucked up by an abusive childhood… but is that really all there is to it?

Given the tone of the rest of the book, I started expecting to never find out whether or not Danny is actually a murderer. So I was pleased to find that we do get an answer to that. However, it’s not an interesting answer. SPOILER. Read more... )

I was left with an overwhelming sense of underwhelm.

Border Crossing: A Novel


Regeneration (Regeneration Trilogy)
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2014-09-19 09:06 am

Coffee Shop Romances: Jennifer Montgomery

The Caramel Macchiato Kiss, by Jennifer Montgomery.

A cute romance novella about Callie, who’s starting college and also starting as a barista, and her romance with Justin, the sweet but ever-so-slightly-mysterious boy she meets after hours. They bond over their mutual love of hot caramel and dislike of actual coffee. This is pure comfort reading, high on likability and low on conflict; needless to say, Justin’s secret is the opposite of dark. Sweet and fluffy as a caramel macchiato.

The Caramel Macchiato Kiss (The Coffee Shop Romances Book 1)

The Italian Soda Summer, by Jennifer Montgomery

The second in the Coffee Shop Romances series, but you could read it first. Maddie, a college student, falls for Alessandro, a grad student who will only be in town for the summer. Though still sweet, this one has more of a melancholy tinge; the characters not only feel like real people, they feel like real college students, sometimes pretentious, sometimes moody, sometimes idealistic. The romance progresses largely through earnest yet entertaining conversations about art and life and so forth. It still has a comforting feel, but it’s got more meat to it than the first novella. Very enjoyable.

The Italian Soda Summer (The Coffee Shop Romances Book 2)
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2014-09-18 09:17 am

Two mysteries: Lanyon, Francis

A Dangerous Thing, by Josh Lanyon.

Los Angeles mystery writer Adrien English goes to a lonely cabin in the woods to relax and get over his frustrating non-relationship with hot but closeted cop Jake Riordan. (This is the second book in a series, and I didn’t read the first, but presumably that’s the one where they met.) Since this is a mystery, Adrien immediately finds a body, which proceeds to mysteriously vanish. The locals suspect him, so it’s Jake to the rescue! A playful mystery-romance, with lots of banter, sexual tension, and hurt-comfort.

A Dangerous Thing (The Adrien English Mysteries Book 2)

Knockdown, by Dick Francis.

Jonah, a bloodstock agent (horse dealer, basically) discovers unethical practices in the trade; despite increasing levels of menace and violence, he refuses to go along with it, putting himself at higher and higher risk. Meanwhile, his alcoholic brother still refuses to go to AA. But on the bright side, Jonah meets a beautiful air-traffic controller…

This typical Francis set-up goes in some unexpected directions. It’s the darkest of his books that I’ve read. They can deal with some very serious subjects, like grief and depression, but are not grim. The protagonists are put through the wringer, and good people and horses may die. But villains don’t prosper and heroes come through battered but wiser, with a better grip on their own issues and often with a budding romance with some interesting, independent woman.

This is the only Francis book I recall which does not have a happy or at least hopeful ending.

Read more... )

Knockdown
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2014-09-17 08:35 am

Reading Wednesday: Two Free Portal Fantasies I Couldn’t Get Through

1632, by Eric Flint.

A chunk of a modern American town, including the entire local chapter of Mine Workers of America, is mysteriously transported into 1632 Germany. What those people need are red-blooded Americans with lots of guns!

This is kind of hilariously what it is. Apart from Flint being pro-union, it is exactly like every sweaty right-wing fantasy ever, complete with the lovingly described slaughter with lovingly described guns of nameless evil people whom we know are evil because we see them randomly torturing and raping the hapless, helpless villagers. The rape and torture is lovingly described, too. There are also loving descriptions of various engineering projects.

Typical excerpt:

Mike spoke through tight jaws. "I'm not actually a cop, when you get right down to it. And we haven't got time anyway to rummage around in Dan's Cherokee looking for handcuffs." He glared at the scene of rape and torture. "So to hell with reading these guys their rights. We're just going to kill them."

"Sounds good to me," snarled Darryl. "I got no problem with capital punishment. Never did."

"Me neither," growled one of the other miners. Tony Adducci, that was, a beefy man in his early forties. Like many of the miners in the area, Tony was of Italian ancestry, as his complexion and features indicated. "None whatsoever."

Gave up on this. It’s not that I never enjoy this sort of thing. But I have to really be in the mood for it. (Appropriate mood: Snark locked and loaded.)

Free on Baen. Yes. Of course this is a Baen book. There are the obvious exceptions, like Bujold, but Baen has more of a house style than Harlequin.

Stray, by Andrea Host.

An Australian teenager steps through a portal to a strange world, where she survives on her own for a while before being rescued by and taken to another world, where she becomes a lab rat for a bunch of psychic ninjas who fight alien monsters!

This sounds completely up my alley. However, this is my third try at reading it, and I have never gotten farther than 30% in, and I had to force myself to get even that far. It’s written in the form of a diary, which means there’s no dialogue and it’s entirely tell-not-show. I’ve read books like that which I’ve really enjoyed (Jo Walton is extremely good at that type of narrative), but this one never caught my interest. It’s certainly very ambitious— for instance, Cassandra does not speak the alien language, nor does she instantly learn it— but I found it dry and uninvolving.

Sorry to all who recced it so enthusiastically! I will try something else by Host, but I’m giving up on this one. That being said, everyone but me seems to love it, and it’s free on Amazon, so give it a shot.

Stray (Touchstone Book 1)
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2014-09-15 11:31 am

Sold Down the River, by Barbara Hambly

Slavery shaped Benjamin January’s life; he and his sister Olympe were born slaves, before his mother was purchased as a mistress. It’s been a prominent part of the background of previous books. But it takes center stage here, when the man Ben least wants to meet again— Fourchet, his cruel previous owner— offers to hire him to go undercover as a slave on his plantation, to investigate a murder and possible brewing slave rebellion.

It’s the last thing Ben wants to do. But he needs the money. More importantly, if he doesn’t do it, the slaves may well end up suffering even more. (A major theme of the book is that even people who are living in horrible conditions often still have a lot left to lose, and desperately cling to what little they have.) And so Ben ends up back on the plantation, thirty years after he left. Though his act of (largely) altruism is intended to make sure the status quo doesn’t get even worse rather than to literally rescue anyone, it reminded me of Harriet Tubman returning to the scene of her worst nightmares to take others to freedom.

Hambly doesn’t stint on the physical horror of slavery, but focuses more on the psychological aspects— families ripped apart, human beings treated as non-human, and the pervasive terror coming from the knowledge that one’s master can do absolutely anything to you or your loved ones at any time. It’s also one of the best depictions I’ve come across of how people work to keep their humanity, maintain loving relationships, and find moments of happiness and humor in the absolute worst imaginable circumstances.

While I hesitated to recommend Fever Season, I would definitely recommend this if you can cope with the setting. The overall mood is way less depressing, because the story is more action-based, Ben has more inner strength and hope, and there’s more emphasis on relationships. Not to mention a way more uplifting ending. And a fair amount of secret banter between Ben and Hannibal, who is impersonating his owner. The action climax is a bit incongruous given the relentless realism of the plantation life that makes up most of the book, but as an action climax, it’s spectacular. Abishag Shaw has a smallish but absolutely wonderful part in this; sadly, Rose is barely in it. Hopefully she’ll be more prominent in the next book.

This is a very dark book (due to inherent qualities of the subject matter, not due to cement truck plot twists), but also one where the bright spots shine very brightly by contrast. It has the most moving and happiest ending of any of the books so far. Where many novels are fantasies of empowerment, in some ways this is a fantasy of justice. It’s explicitly stated to be limited to the characters we meet (and not all of them), not to mention being fictional. But it’s satisfying nonetheless. In real life, some slaves did escape, and some masters did meet well-deserved bitter ends. That was the exception rather than the rule, of course. But sometimes it’s nice to read about the exceptions. When you’re dealing with devastating injustice, both now and then, you need hope as well as rage.

Sold Down the River (Benjamin January, Book 4)
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2014-09-12 10:40 am

My lesbian spy story in an anthology!

I wrote a lesbian erotic romance novelette for an anthology to benefit international LGBTQ human rights under a pen name, Rebecca Tregaron. Please consider buying it - it's only 99 cents for now, and we're hoping to bounce it on to the bestseller list before raising the price.

Her Private Passion: More Tales of Pleasure and Domination

Five smoldering tales of women’s passion for women. Five best-selling authors bring you their hottest lesbian historical stories of desires that cannot be denied.

From elegant aristocrats, cross-dressing soldiers, and sultry sirens, to naughty nuns, seductive spies, and innocent young ladies, some women must dominate... and some women must submit.

“Bound in Silk and Steel,” by Rebecca Tregaron. The lovely courtesan-spy Perrine travels to Serenissima to seduce and ensnare the noblewoman Fiorenza. But in the sensual abandon of Carnival, power can shift in the blink of an eye, the turn of a mask, the flick of a rope…

"Convent Discipline," by Honey Dover. Alessandra isn't looking forward to becoming a nun, but in strict medieval Italy, her family has given her no other option. When her training as a novice is taken over by the lovely Julia, Alessandra learns that submission can mean much more than prayer.

"Found," by Victoria Janssen. In the midst of the American Civil War, Clodia flees slavery and certain death. Found by her escaped friend Diana, who is serving as a man in the Union army, Clodia fears she can't be forgiven for the past.

"Spanked On The Prairie," by Isla Sinclair. When Emily Welland misbehaves on the Canadian prairie, she is due for a spanking from firm but beautiful Miss Grant. But little does she know the sensual lesbian delights in store for her.

“The Ocean's Maid,” by Mona Midnight. All Sarah wanted was to find her sister, lost to the mermaids more than a year ago. But in the world of the sirens, she finds welcoming arms... and the promise of the forbidden pleasures she has denied herself for so many years. Will she return to the surface? Or will she succumb to the temptations of life under the sea?

The companion volume of gay historical stories, His Prize Possession: Tales of Pleasure and Domination, is also available.
rachelmanija: (Books: old)
2014-09-12 10:14 am

The Magicians, by Lev Grossman

Quentin Coldwater is an unhappy, self-absorbed, self-conscious teenager obsessed with a children’s fantasy series set in a magical world called Fillory, which is very clearly meant to evoke Narnia. Then he learns that he has a talent for magic, and is whisked away to a fancy prep school for magicians, Brakebills. At first he thinks his dream has come true. But soon enough, he realizes that he’s still an unhappy, self-absorbed, self-conscious teenager, only now he’s obsessed with real magic.

I read this in preparation for being on a panel on portal fantasy. I had avoided it until then because all I had heard about it was that it was published as a mainstream literary novel rather than as genre fantasy (you can tell because it’s subtitled “a novel,”) was about how fantasy sucks and had the most unlikable protagonist since Thomas Covenant.

All that turned out to be correct. Sort of. But I liked it way more than I expected to, primarily because the “fantasy sucks” and “protagonist is unbearable” elements don’t come in, or at least aren’t major themes, until about the last third of the book. The first two-thirds, which is set in Brakebills, is terrific – distinctly on the cynical side and weighed down by Quentin’s depression and solipsism, but written in absolutely wonderful prose and full of vivid images, funny lines, and a genuine sense of magic.

As I read that part, I couldn’t understand why the book had such a bad reputation among fantasy readers. Sure, it emphasizes that magic is difficult, that magicians are not the most fun people in the world, and that Quentin is using magic to run away from essentially everything else, but it’s also hugely enjoyable to read as fantasy.

I loved the Brakebills section. The prose is to die for. It’s extremely well-structured, with a great use of foreshadowing to create surprising yet beautifully set-up plot twists.

On the con side, the characterization has problems and it isn’t just a lack of likability. Other than Quentin, who is more distinct as he’s seen from the inside, many of the characters are so similar that they blend together. Virtually all of the characters are obsessive, unhappy, self-absorbed, driven, and jaded. The main characters have maybe one or two traits in addition to that set, such as “punk,” “brave,” or “pretentious.”

However, lots of teenagers are unhappy and self-absorbed, so I read the Brakebills part thinking that Quentin and his buddies weren’t that bad and the readers who loathed him probably didn’t remember being a teenager that well.

Then he graduates from Brakebills. Almost immediately, I realized why readers hated him. And soon after, I realized why fantasy readers frequently hate the book. Spoilers ahoy! Read more... )

I looked on Goodreads and saw that there are two more books. I attempted to get a sense of what they were like while avoiding spoilers, and was interested to see that the second is partly narrated by the most interesting character in the first book, and that readers seemed to think the third was actually uplifting. It’s not that I require uplift in everything. But I’m not going to read more of the series if it’s all soul-sucking joylessness like the real world and Fillory sections. However, I would definitely read more if it’s more like the Brakebills sections. Also, the moments of uplift in The Magicians were beautiful, so I know Grossman can do that well.

If you can comment without major spoilers, I’d be interested to hear what those of you who’ve read further books thought of them.

The Magicians: A Novel
rachelmanija: (Naruto: Super-energized!)
2014-09-08 10:07 am

Interview with me and Sherwood

Up here!

Includes an explanation of how our collaboration works, teasers for the next three books in the series, and musings on Hogwarts Houses.