Monday Miscellany 070819

Sometimes I swear my life can be summed up in books, pets, baking, and mindless entertainment.  I think I need some more hobbies.

Finished the first season of Black Spot which was very satisfying.  So many times these “weird” mysteries lose track of the actual whodunit in favor of atmosphere and mood.  But there’s a missing girl, a murder, and hey, a murderer who is uncovered. And yes, there’s a lot of atmosphere and mood.  I think that readers of Tana French’s books would feel pretty much at home in Villefranche. I’ve been listening to the dub, reading subtitles, and ignoring that they rarely match.  I feel like between the two, I might get the right story.

I finished reading Teeth in the Mist and what a peculiar book it turned out to be.  I picked it up on a whim at the library, and had a fun surprise when I sat down to read it.  There’s all sorts of artwork and photographs and strange formatting and the like. Lovely to read. That said, I didn’t love the story overmuch.  There are two main timelines (three if you count Hermione, but she’s barely a blip on the pages), and I think that they ended up making each other look less interesting.  Roan, the 19th century girl, has a story that’s full of ominous big magic and enormous emotions–wild lost loves and witch-hunters and trauma and the devil walking the mountain–and it feels really rushed.  In comparison, Zoey, the modern girl, has a really lightweight story that sort of drifts along until it goes crazy at the end. I think I would really rather have seen two books: Roan’s story followed by Zoey’s story.

Off to see the allergist soon.  Here’s hoping they can wave a magic wand and fix the fact that my body has declared war on the ENTIRE DAMNED OUTSIDE WORLD.  I woke myself up sneezing last night, who does that? Just UGH!

The endless re-revision continues.  I keep overthinking the issues, making myself spin in place trying to think of all the variables needed, then underthinking them, reminding myself that really, I’m only altering one POV, which then leads to me falling flat on my face, because even one POV can undergo some big changes.  Still, progress is happening.

I’m also outlining the second book of monster-hunters in love. And contemplating a short story about a retired superhero.  And fighting the urge to work on the super complex urban fantasy. Basically, my brain wants to write ALL THE THINGS but it wants them all done NOW. Which is to say, writer brain status: normal.

No new music this week.  I’ve been listening to more of the podcast Unwell instead.  I’m enjoying it, though it’s definitely a slow burn.  Right now, it’s all about the people: Lily coming back to small town Ohio to help her estranged mom run a boarding house, and the people she meets.  In some ways, it reminds me a little bit of Cold Comfort Farm where Flora Post swans into the countryside home of her relatives and starts trying to “fix” them all.  Flora Post was in the right of it, but I’m not sure where Lily lands yet. It’s been engaging so far, and we’ve just tippytoed into the “weird” segment of the tale… a creepy voice on a recording.  I’m looking forward to where it goes from here.

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Monday Miscellany 070819

Recently read, plus library book haul

Of late, my library hauls have been far more aspirational than actually readable, and that gets depressing, returning books without actually having had time to read them.  So for the last haul, I allowed myself only three books, and determined to read them all.  No matter what.*

(*Of course if I’d hated a book or just found it subpar for some reason, I wasn’t going to force myself, because better things to do!)

In the end, I read all three and enjoyed each of them in their own way.

I read Deanna Raybourn’s A Dangerous Collaboration, book 4 in the Veronica Speedwell mysteries.  The previous three have been fun, but every single time I kept thinking, this reminds me so much of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series.  Book 4 of the Veronica Speedwell books broke that curse and I enjoyed it without once thinking wistfully of Elizabeth Peters.  Veronica is a nearly impossible iconoclast in the Victorian Era, but Raybourn gets away with it because a) Veronica is so appealing and b) because she’s careful to show that other Victorian women have their own vibrant internal lives.  Veronica is just overt about hers.  And (small spoiler!) finally Veronica and Stoker get their relationship figured out.

I read Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching, which has been recommended to me for years.  And for years, I’ve side-eyed those who recommended it, thinking “really?  I read it and it was AWFUL.”  Oops.  My bad.  I had never read it.  I read a book with a similar title (which was in fact awful).  Once I realized my mistake, I sought out the actual book people were recommending.  Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching is really enjoyable. In broad strokes, it’s sort of a haunted house story?  But really, it’s a beautifully written and fascinating character study with a quiet, horror setting.  TW: for eating disorders for anyone who wants to check it out.  I will recommend it to readers in turn.

The final book I read was Jennifer Hillier’s The Butcher, a crime thriller with a gloss of horror.  It’s not the best thing I’ve read in this genre by a long shot, but it was interesting enough that I’ll check out some of her other books. The characters are good though.  The villain is suitably villainous and brazen.  The heroine is suitably heroic.  The greyscale boyfriend is… interesting.  I liked that he wasn’t all good or bad.  It’s definitely not a whodunit, because half the characters know who the villain is in the first chapter or so.  (And the reader knows from the blurb!) So most of the tension is spent in wondering if the heroine will figure it out before she gets killed.  Readable, at any rate.

Since that was successful, I decided to keep the next library haul small as well.

I picked up The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling which I want to read and am also kind of afraid to read.  Caving.  Not my thing.  But space caving with horror? Maybe?  The joy of the library.  I can find out.

Liar’s Paradox by Taylor Stevens.  Picked up on a whim.  No clue whether I’ll like it or not. Again, yay for the library which lets me take these gambles.

Teeth in the Mist by Dawn Kurtagich. A YA horror novel in three time periods.  I read Kurtagich’s Dead House and found it interesting enough that her name stuck with me, so I picked this up.

The final book is a cheat.  I OWN this book, yet I checked it out from the library anyway. Because I haven’t finished it yet, and sometimes ebooks are just not satisfying.  I don’t know.  Some books want to be read on paper.  Melissa Caruso’s The Tethered Mage is one of them.  I actually checked this out once before, got five chapters in, went online and bought an e-copy.  Then failed to keep reading it.  IDEK.  And now it’s buried under the pile of other ebooks.  So, I figured maybe getting the actual book back in my hands will get me to finish it.  I really loved what I read of it.

Recently read, plus library book haul

Monday Miscellany 070119

Took a staycation starting Saturday for this week, so that’s fun. Though so far, all I’ve done is sleep and putter and read. And groom the tiny schnauzer so that he is more “dog” and less “dust mop”.  Today I need to Get Shit Done.

On the agenda: to deal with the slow motion immolation of my phone battery. I replaced the phone with a usable one, but now I have the old phone to deal with. I wasn’t thinking clearly, or I would have cleared and reset the old one to blankness, then all I’d be looking at is throwing it away safely. But nope. So now I have to get the battery out and take it somewhere that will dispose of it properly. Weirdly, no one seems excited about being given a slowly expanding battery. Go figure. Also on the Agenda of Boring Shit That Still Has To Happen: take clothes to donation center, do grocery shopping, go to the post office. Bleh.

Errands. My least favorite chore.

Listening to: Miley Cyrus’s “Mother’s Daughter”. I like her voice a lot, and this song is super appealing. Plus fun to sing along with.

Dipping my toes back into podcasts. I’m catching up with “The Magnus Archives” after a run of episodes that hit my every “Eek! No!” button. But I finally just decided to skip those and keep going. So far, no problem. Also started listening to “Unwell” but I’m only the first episode in.  I think I’m going to like it.

 

 

Finished reading NK Jemisin’s How Long ’til Black Future Month and, in no surprise to anyone who’s read any of her books, it’s an excellent collection. Only two stories failed to land with me. Out of 22 stories that’s a really good satisfaction rate for a single author collection. I highly recommend it! My standouts: “City Born Great” which you can find on tor.com to read. “Valedictorian”, “L’Alchimista”, “The Narcomancer”, which is set in the same world as the Dreamblood books, and the New Orleans after Katrina story “Sinners, Saints, Dragons and Haints in the City beneath Still Waters”.

Monday Miscellany 070119

Monday Miscellany June 24

The chaos continues. I just have to accept that this is the new normal, trying to fit too many things into too few hours.

On the bright side, one of the “too many things” is having the painters in to finally paint over the appalling, flat brown surface that is the entirety of my living room. It’s one of those awkwardly tall rooms (with no real reason) that means while I generally love painting, I can not do it myself. It requires a 25 foot ladder. So it’s been years and years and years of gloom and doom and light-suck–just the thing for someone with SAD. But now it’s a nice, clear white and I spent a few minutes last night trying to figure out which light I’d left on before realizing, no, this is just the way it is now. I can see! Awesome.

Also the sinus infection is on its way out, so there’s that!

We’ve had weird amounts of rain and storms here, so while the sodden ground is getting to me—so much mud on the dogs’ paws!—the city itself is absolutely reaching gorgeous. Everything is green and growing and blooming! There are places where all the dark-boled trees are suddenly crawling with pale green mosses, and it’s all just very fairy-tale pretty. Still, I could do without having to retrieve the potted tomato plant from the bottom of the yard where it keeps washing up, or the random flash floods that make part of the city impassible.

Read a few books that were kind of unsatisfactory for one reason or another, so that’s been a bust this week. Nothing to recommend: though I did sample the new Max Gladstone and found it really fun. I look forward to actually getting the time to read that.

No TV this week; no new music. Just been too busy to sit down without immediately falling asleep.

I’m re-re-revising (god damn it) the fantasy novel. It gets better with each pass, but sometimes you just want it to be done. And I’ve been working the outline for the second urban fantasy book about monster-hunters. Have a tiny introductory snippet!

Dillon Jack hadn’t led a life that made him respectful of rules, laws, or social mores. Mostly those seemed designed to pin you in place, which made you easy prey for the hungry world.
But rules of survival… those were different. Those kind of rules were useful. Following those meant he’d made the Decaders’ Club when so many other hunters hadn’t.
Don’t hunt alone.
The kinds of things he hunted could hunt back.
Don’t hunt angry.
Angry made you quick to act, which wasn’t a bad thing, unless quick to act was mixed with slow to think.
Always have a back-up plan.
Tonight, he was 0 for 3.

 

Monday Miscellany June 24

Monday Miscellany June 17

What am I up to?  Some day I’ll get to answer that question with a wicked chortle and a carefully choreographed hand-rubbing, but… mostly it’s the same old same old.

I did finish the quick & dirty revision of my novel about monster-hunters marauding through America (you can say Supernatural-inspired, I make no bones about it; just don’t expect me to use any of those characters, or really much of the world-building) and sent that off to my long-suffering agent.

I’m taking a week away from writing for Reasons—mostly just chaos and a full workload. Not to mention the Sinuses of DOOOM, Jesus this summer has barely started and I’d like to breathe again, please.

I read a couple books this week, DNF’d a few others. I don’t have anything awesome to recommend to you, but maybe next week! There are all sorts of (potentially) delicious book goodies coming out this month including Alexis Hall’s The Affair of the Mysterious Letter (I’m a sucker for Sherlockiana), Max Gladstone’s Empress of Forever, and Danielle Vega’s The Haunted (because who doesn’t like a good ghost story?) Plus I have my eye on a weird sounding novel called Bunny by Mona Awad.

I’ve been listening to a lot of reggaeton-inspired pop. I like it! J Balvin and Maluma and all the collaborations. Really like “Con Altura” and “Familiar”. “Familiar” sounds a lot like a Ricky Martin song and yeah, I liked his songs too, back in the day.

And weirdly delightful: the batshit crazy cover/remake of “Head like a Hole” as “On a Roll“.

I’m mostly through the fourth season of Lucifer and I’m see-sawing on whether or not I think Eve is an interesting character. I love that she left heaven for excitement and thrills, less enamored of the fact that her entire existence on earth seems to hinge on Lucifer. While I like that this drives her to make violent choices, I’m still bored by it. You can only watch someone making bad choices for so long.

I tried to watch Ralph Wrecks the Internet, but found it weirdly cringe-inducing and gave up. Ralph is a big man baby and I don’t feel sorry for him. Plus, a lot of the stuff I think that I was supposed to find funny just didn’t land with me.

 

So now I’m watching Black Spot, which is hitting the same “ooooh” spot that Happy Town did. I’m hoping this one has more of an ending. As per usual, I spend a lot of my time staring at a dark screen wondering what I was supposed to see there. What shadow? Where? ARGH.  I also have deep doubts about the translations, but since I don’t speak French, what else can I do?

Monday Miscellany June 17

Monday Miscellany

Things have been chaotic here: day job, writing job, regular life and a family member in and out of the hospital  (let’s all promise not to get old, yeah?), so I’ve been finding my entertainment where I can.

I’ve been listening a lot to Billie Eilish’s When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go.  I like the way she’s cribbing from older songs and making new things out of them.  She’s definitely a singer with a personality that’s larger than life.  I am officially a wuss though: I find the videos to her songs deeply disturbing.

Oh well, it’s the music that counts!

I’m particularly fond of “you should see me in a crown”, which resonates really well with my character Silene.

Note: should you go check Billie Eilish out on youtube, be aware all of her videos are triggery in one way or another: strobing lights and scary doctors, spiders crawling on people, and so forth.

I watched season 4 of Legends of Tomorrow.  This season didn’t quite rise to Beebo heights, but was often fun.  Which is all I want from Legends. I was concerned at first, because as much as I enjoy Matt Ryan’s Constantine, the idea of sidelining Nate upset me.  I love Nate! I like that he’s a good guy with a good heart who wants to be friendly and isn’t chock full of toxic alpha maleness. I love his friendship with Ray.  And splitting them up so Constantine could be snarky and all damaged…  been there, seen that.  A lot.

I wasn’t sure if it would work. In the end, though most of the season was actually about Nate.  I didn’t love that we lost Zari, but that’s the plus of having a lot of women in important roles: I don’t get all bristly about the fact that one vanishes.

Things I’ve been failing hard at: cooking and baking!  Oh my god, I tried to make cookies and first I forgot where I was when counting out cups of sugar, then I forgot the baking soda completely.  (The cookies came out all right, but I didn’t enjoy them much, knowing I’d made them ‘wrong’: Butterscotch oatmeal for those of you who want to imagine my failure.)

And cooking–apparently you can screw up spaghetti with meat sauce.  It wasn’t even an interesting failure. Once upon a time, while deep in writer brain, I absent-mindedly threw a whole slug of dried oregano into my spaghetti sauce, only to realize after I’d stirred it in that the herb was actually catnip.  Still edible, even if weirdly floral. But this spaghetti was both bland and over salty. Fail!

Cooking and baking is always a good barometer of my brain power.  When I start screwing the basics up, it’s time to stop, relax, and really focus on what is going on in the moment.  Never my strong suit. So it’s kind of nice to have that harmless reminder of too-salty spaghetti and fail cookies.

Next week, I hope to get caught up on my podcasts, and maybe start Lucifer season 4.

Monday Miscellany

Book Review: The Apple-Tree Throne by Premee Mohamed

Short take: I loved this novella.

Longer take with some small spoilery bits: Despite a rough, muddled blurb and a weird self-deprecating note from the author where she calls her story “drivel*” I bought this ebook.  You have to love samples for that!  The novella was mentioned as a good one on twitter by an author I like and follow, so I figured it was worth sampling.  By the description of the funeral, I was sold.

This is a quiet, heartfelt story about a soldier returning from a war to an alternate Great Britain.  He’s shell-shocked, full of survivor’s guilt, and stymied rage.  As well as haunted by the ghost of his young, disgraced commanding officer who nearly got them all killed.

I do a lot of critiquing, and there are some things I’ve learned that are super hard to do well.  Or at all.  One of them is having a protagonist who is depressed to the point of numbness and apathy.  After all, I tell people over and over, if your character can’t manage to cope, how can we?  It’s hard to just watch a character endure personal suffering without the agency to end it.

Mohamed does this so well.  So amazingly well.  There’s never a doubt in my head that he’s shut down and not coping, just going with the flow because it’s so much easier than trying to express any of the jumble that is his head.  But at the same time, he is utterly compelling.  Why?  Because although his body and brain seem nearly separate from each other, we can see behind the heavy, smothering curtain of his grief and fear and rage to the incisive, observant brain beneath.  Because he has flickers when he’s nearly the man his friends remember him being.  And because Mohamed piles the small obstacles up and up until Braddock finds a scrap of his agency and uses it.

I love the characterization here.  Everyone rings true for this society.  We get such a wonderful look at Braddock, and an equally good one at his friends–a delightful married couple who are supportive and no-nonsense–and Wickersley’s ghost.  We see a lot of society characters, and they’re almost imaginary people–not because Mohamed doesn’t draw them well and distinctly, but because Braddock’s life and experiences are so far from theirs that they might as well be aliens.

There aren’t a lot of significant surprises here.  It’s fairly evident early on what Braddock’s relationship with Wickersley was, but that doesn’t mean watching the secrets unfold on the page isn’t satisfying.

One of the other things that I’m constantly telling people is “use the right details”.  The awesome Kij Johnson gave us (at the CSSF novel writer’s workshop) a speech about setting that changed the way I looked at writing.  Setting is about the character as much as it is about the world around them.  Different characters see different things, have a different perspective.  And that’s all in the details.  You can describe a room from top to bottom but if your character doesn’t care about wallpaper and furnishings, it’s not going to ring true.  Here, all the details that Braddock notices and conveys to the reader feel exactly like the type of thing he would notice.  It’s elegant.

The ending felt ambiguous to me, because this is one of those fantasy novellas that is light on the actual fantasy.  It’s an alternate England.  And there’s a single ghost that only Braddock sees.  And his friends, when hesitantly questioned on the matter of ghosts, are non-believers.  So it’s a fantasy world without magic.  Which then makes me wonder how real is the ghost and how much of it is Braddock’s mind turning against him.  But it’s a pleasant ambiguity, the kind you can argue over with your friends: is the top spinning still, or falling? Is Dom dreaming still, or waking?

All in all, a really enjoyable novella.

*(Jesus, people, don’t do that, it makes me SO ANGRY.  Seriously, the world is full of enough people who will LEAP to tell you that you suck at anything you do.  Why preemptively do it for them?  If you wrote something that you love, and you publish it, don’t undercut it!  More sputtered swearing follows.)

 

 

Book Review: The Apple-Tree Throne by Premee Mohamed