Sunday Something

I’m still trying to decide exactly what I want to do with this space on Sundays. I’ve done link roundups, I’ve done short updates on life, I’ve even moved a review to Sunday on the rare occasion I didn’t have anything else planned by Saturday night, but nothing has really felt, I don’t know, right.

I’m mulling over the idea of doing opinion pieces on Sunday, or possibly snippets of fiction. (I’ve written a little bit of very short fiction, and would kind of like to practice more.) I’m just not really sure what I want to do here on Sundays.

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In other news, I’ll be roaming around the Baltimore Book Festival today! We went Friday, and attended several panels. I’ve now listened to several authors from my To-Be-Read list, and I think my favorite so far is Na’amen Gobert Tilahun, author of The Root and The Tree. He was on two panels we watched Friday, and it turns out he’s on a few more today. (I’m not stalking him, I swear!) He’s really fun to listen to. Zoraida Cordova, author of The Brooklyn Brujas, was also really fun to watch.

One of my first panels today is about Author/Blogger relationships, so I’m hoping to get a lot out of that. I’m also planning to go to panels about how Cities can be their own characters; Politics, Resistance, and Spec Fic; Magic Systems; Literary Sci-Fi/Fantasy; and maybe a panel about the Marginalized Majority – how marginalized voices together actually become a majority.

On Friday I went to a panel about creating characters, one about worldbuilding, one about heroes and villains, and my last panel was about genres that people think have been overdone revived by marginalized authors. (Do we really need MORE vampire novels? Yes, if they’re not white, cis, and hetero!)

I’ve also been thinking about something Na’amen Tilihun said about dystopias – he likes them for the revolution part. He could do without the first third in which they’re setting up how terrible things are. Thinking about which dystopias I have and haven’t liked – Future Home of the Living God featured a failed, quickly squashed revolution. Hated it. Station Eleven had no revolution. Hated it. But The Power, American War, The Book of M – all featured revolutions. Loved them. Even The Bannerless Saga features people going against the status quo, and a main character who’s starting to realize maybe the status quo isn’t exactly fair. So it’s really the revolutions that I love, not the dystopias. There was a lot to think about from that panel, and I’m very glad I stayed long enough to go to it.

I came home Friday with five books and a mug – two of the books are even signed! (Na’amen Tilihun’s first, The Root, is one of those two, with The Shadow of The Rock being the other.) We’ll see what I bring home today. You can follow my Twitter for updates throughout the day!

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Series Review: The Bannerless Saga

bannerlessBannerless/The Wild Dead
by Carrie Vaughn
Dystopia/Murder Mystery
274/264 pages
Published 2017/2018

I first fell in love with Carrie Vaughn’s work with the Kitty Norville series – a werewolf named Kitty who ran a late-night radio show. Kitty and the Midnight Hour. (Both the name of her show and the first book.) So when I discovered she’d starting writing a dystopia that revolved heavily around reproductive rights, I was SO ON BOARD. Bannerless and The Wild Dead are the first two books of the Bannerless saga. And they’re GREAT. They’re technically murder mysteries set in a dystopian society; Enid, our main character, is an investigator, the closest thing this society has to police.

The dystopia part of the society involves epidemics and natural disasters nearly eradicating humanity; with so few people left and less of the earth habitable, they’ve regressed to a mostly agrarian society. Farmers, weavers, hunters. To keep the population from exploding past the land’s ability to feed it, birth rates are strictly controlled. As civilization was falling, people realized birth rates were going to be massively important, and the birth control implant, and the technology to make it, was one thing they managed to save. They also have solar-powered cars, lights, and flashlights, though they’re uncommon enough to be notable.

the wild deadI find it a little improbable that they still have the tech to make the implants; they say that before the supplies from “before the Fall” ran out, the medics figured out how to make the hormone from “what they had on hand” – but – I feel like a more interesting plot point would be that they’re running out of implants, and how the society would have to deal with that changing. But that is not the case, at least not in the first two books.

Regardless of how improbable the birth control issue is, the rest of the plot is pretty good. There’s a good mix of salvaged goods and subsistence farming; of new houses built in low-tech ways and the occasional ruins from Before the Fall. They have some books and records of what it was like, and Enid often wishes she had the tools that forensic investigators had, Before. Fingerprints, and DNA, though she doesn’t call it DNA. They don’t have cameras, she has to sketch crime scenes and take notes.

I really enjoyed both books; Carrie Vaughn’s writing style is wonderful to read. The first book rambles a little bit, but while some of it doesn’t seem necessary for the first book, it’s important for the second. I’ll definitely be following this series.

From the cover of Bannerless:

Decades after economic and environmental collapse destroyed much of civilization in the United States, the Coast Road region isn’t just surviving, but thriving – built on a culture of population control where people are organized into households that must earn the right to bear and raise children by proving they can care for them. Those who are deemed worthy proudly display the symbolic banners that demonstrate this privilege, while those who are not are outcast, living alone and branded as “bannerless.”

Enid of Haven is an investigator, called on to mediate disputes and examine transgressions against the community. She’s young for the job and hasn’t yet handled a serious case. But now she’s summoned to investigate the suspicious death of a man rumored to be bannerless. Was it murder or an accident? Was he truly bannerless or simply a loner? As Enid races to answer these questions while confronting unhelpful townsfolk and her own past, the secrets she reveals could expose the cracks in the entire foundation of the Coast Road society.

From the cover of The Wild Dead:

A century after environmental and economic collapse, the people of the Coast Road have rebuilt their own sort of civilization, striving not to make the mistakes their ancestors did. They strictly ration and manage resources, including the ability to have children. Enid of Haven is an investigator who, with her new partner, Teeg, is called on to mediate a dispute over an old building in a far-flung settlement at the edge of Coast Road territory. 

The investigators’ decision seems straightforward – and then the body of a young woman turns up in the nearby marshland. Almost more shocking than that, she’s not from the Coast Road, but from one of the outsider camps belonging to the nomads and wild folk who live outside the Coast Road communities. Now one of them is dead, and Enid wants to find out who killed her, even as Teeg argues that the murder isn’t their problem. In a dystopian future of isolated communities, can our moral sense survive the worst hard times?

Friday 56 – Look Me In The Eye

look me in the eye aspergersThe Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The rules are simple – turn to page 56 in your current read (or 56% in your e-reader) and post a few non-spoilery sentences.

Today’s quote is from Look Me In The Eye, a memoir of growing up with Asperger’s before the diagnosis existed. (Varmint is his little brother.)

My parents often left me to watch the Varmint while they were out. But this time I was going, too. So I spoke to him before we left.

“Varmint, we’re all going out to talk about you with a shrink. I can’t stay with you because they want to ask me what to do. Come down here. We’ll chain you to the heating oil tank so you’ll be safe til we get back.”

“John Elder! Don’t you scare Chris like that. We have a babysitter for him.”

Book Review: The Poppy War

poppy warThe Poppy War
by R. F. Kuang
Asian Military Fantasy
530 pages
Published May 2018

Have you ever read a book that is so good you don’t know what to say about it? It’s taken me almost two weeks to even attempt this review because I just don’t know what to write. The Poppy War is your typical story of downtrodden, disadvantaged girl testing into the highest school in the land and gaining the opportunities and privileges that come with that, but then the book takes a sharp twist into war. Rin doesn’t exactly get the most typical of educations, even before war breaks out. And when war breaks out, the school is disbanded, the students getting flung all over the land to where the government thinks they will help the most. For Rin, that’s joining The Cike. The Bizarre Children. The division of people who can do….things. Things the rest of the military isn’t comfortable with. The Cike can call on the powers of gods, and doing so makes them not-quite-untouchables. Rin, who was never short on resentment before this, grows ever more resentful.

Rin is an interesting character; she’s been hard done by, yes, but she makes decisions that only make things harder on herself. So I feel for her a little, but at the same time, girl. Check yourself. What’s been done to you doesn’t justify what you plan to do to others. I am hoping she comes to see that in the next book, because her rage and need for vengeance definitely gets the best of her in this one.

The Poppy War is an excellently written blend of military fantasy, epic fantasy, and coming-of-age novel. Unlike some books, where the military aspect far overshadows the characters, leaving them flat, Poppy War doesn’t ignore the characters to focus on the bigger picture. It’s a very good mix of both close-up focus on characters, fights, battles, and zoomed-out strategy and war. It’s probably the best military fantasy I’ve read, and the Asian aspect of it makes it even better. So much military fantasy is western European, or Steampunk, or both. I’ve been finding more and more Asian and African fantasy, and I am SO HERE FOR IT. I need to try to find more South American fantasy. I know it’s out there.

I will definitely be watching for the next book in this series, because it’s awesome.

From the cover of The Poppy War:

She is a peasant.
She is a student.
She is a soldier.
She is a goddess.

When Rin aced the Keju – the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to study at the academies – it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who always thought they’d be able to marry Rin off to further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was now finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard – the most elite military school in the Nikara Empire – was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Rin is targeted from the outset by rival classmates because of her color, poverty, and gender. Driven to desperation, she discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power – an aptitude for the nearly mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive – and that mastering control over her powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For even though the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied the Nikara Empire for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people in the Empire would rather forget their painful history, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away.

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god who has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her her humanity.

And it may already be too late.

Library Loot Wednesday

I picked up seven books this week, in two visits. On my first visit I got All I Want For Halloween, Confessions of the Fox, and Ten Years in the Tub: a decade soaking in great books. (A smutty romance, historical fiction about a transgender thief, and a book about books.)

Ten Years in the Tub wasn’t the only book about books I got this week; on recommendation from Doing Dewey, I requested Dear Fahrenheit 451, which looks fantastic. That was part of my second trip, along with The Loneliest Girl in the Universe, City of Lies, and Like Water.

Between having people over to start a D&D game, the Baltimore Book Festival this weekend, and the Ren Faire bookending everything, I don’t know how much time I’ll have to read, but I need to find some!

TTT – Books by My Favorite Authors that I Still Haven’t Read

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, and this week’s topic is “Books by My Favorite Authors that I Still Haven’t Read.” This is actually a little difficult for me; I’ve either read absolutely everything from authors I like, or I’ve stopped being interested in that author, or I’ve read one or two and want to read their entire back catalog. Finding authors I love that I’ve read everything but one or two things? Harder than it sounds.

I came up with a few.

I’ve read Circe by Madeline Miller but not yet Song of Achilles, so I think that probably counts. I adore Neil Gaiman, but have yet to read his newest, Norse Mythology. And I’ve read several of Brandon Sanderson’s books (though I never read The Wheel of Time – Ain’t nobody got time for that!) but I haven’t read the Stormlight Archive yet.

shadow and boneIn that same vein, I’ve read the Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom duology, and her Wonder Woman: Warbringer book, but I haven’t read the rest of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse. I’ve been shying away from the epic fantasy giant trilogies/series lately. They’re amazing, don’t get me wrong, but they take so long to digest!

cocaine bluesI read Kerry Greenwood’s Delphic Women novels, and then realized sometime later that she’d written Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, after I’d watched the AMAZING show based on them. I’d kind of like to go back and read those sometime.

I love Seanan McGuire writing as Mira Grant, and after falling in love with her Twitter, I REALLY need to read more of her back catalog, because she is an absolutely fabulous person. The same is true of Bill Bryson – I adored A Short History of Nearly Everything, and should really read more of his books.

the fairy godmotherMercedes Lackey’s The Five Hundred Kingdoms series has been on my To-Read list for a long time, but somehow I still haven’t read it, despite having read almost everything else she’s written.

That’s only eight authors, but considerably more books, so I’m going to stop there! (Like I need MORE BOOKS on my To-Read list…)