A miscellany post

AKA things that I have been up to.

Preparing for the holiday cookie siege.  I made chocolate chips, and gingersnaps, and following Sally’s Baking Addiction recommendation, froze most of them in little raw balls of dough ready to be baked.  I always forget how much I love doing that.  You can freeze cookies for later (as long as the fat content is high and you wrap them well), but nothing really beats yanking out a half dozen cookies and having them bake up fresh whenever you want a treat.  I really always mean to do this year ’round and forget.

Someday I will treat puff pastry with the respect it deserves.  But this was not that week.  My roommate cooked up a bunch of local apples with cinnamon and butter and cloves and I bunged a bunch of them into the world’s most haphazard puff pastry wrapping.  They kind of looked like softballs caught mid-explosion, but tasted delicious.  And while I was at it, I used up the nutella to make puff pastry pockets.  I would have used lemon curd, but tragically, it had gone bad.

And reading.  I read a lot but every so often I lose it and go on reading binges.  Usually when I find a new-to-me author who has not only an enjoyable book, but an entire backlisk.  So Clara Coulson.  Yeah.  Her books are urban fantasy fun, and I devoured pretty much all of them between the 9th and the 15th.

CoulsonFatePortendsThat’s three of the Frost Arcana, five of the City of Crows, and one stand-alone Lark Nation novel.  Just a heck of a lot of fun, though I’d say the Frost Arcana are probably the best entry points.  Cal Kinsey in the City of Crows takes a little getting used to.  If he were a heroine, they’d be lining up to call him a Mary Sue.  Mostly Clara Coulson scratches the same itch that Mercedes Lackey used to.  I can’t wait for more of her books!  If you like adventure based urban fantasy with a surprising amount of super-violent action and great fantasy elements, this series might be for you!  Seriously.  After a celtic fantasy binge that lasted through most of high school, I was kind of burned out on the seelie/unseelie/sidhe/tuatha de danaan mythos.  These books make it all feel fresh again.

Things that I have not been up to:

Writing.  Ffs.  I’m about six thousand words into Book 2 of the fantasy series and sort of stopped working on it.  There are reasons (decent ones), but primarily it comes down to lack of organization.  Life gets busier and busier in the fall and I need to take steps to make it easy to sneak a few hundred words here and there.  It’s easy to get hooked into the crutch of the perfectly set up desk with all your note files and scrivener and the white boards full of maps and the walls full of setting pictures and character images, but when you do, you find yourself thinking oh, wish I could work, but so-sad, I’m out of the office, and not near my desk.  So, I’m trying something sensible and slightly new.  Setting up the next scene and tossing those few paragraphs into google docs so I can access it while at the day job, or out and about.  I can read the plan on the phone and write on paper, or I can read it on a desktop and write directly into g docs.  Failing everything else, at least I can keep thinking about where I want to go in the scene!

And a snippet of what I was last working on.

Genee’s feet turned her toward the side stairs and the guest quarters, not to seek her own rest, no. She might not know where Cavenner and her boys had bedded down, or even where Calyx Favager had slunk off to. But the girl…
Genee had made sure she knew exactly where to find her.
Sianan Maccuin jerked to attention when Genee melted out of the stairwell’s shadows and Genee made another mental note: More light. GreenStone Hall was as dark as a tomb.
“Commander,” she said, but quietly. “Do you need…?”
“She hasn’t come out?”
“Been quiet as a mouse,” Sianan said, “Did she really….?”
Genee waited. Sianan had a sneaky habit of talking in questions, letting people fill in the gaps. She learned more than she should that way. But she wasn’t supposed to apply that to her commander.
Sianan shrugged, “Sorry, Commander. Just… it’s such big magic, and it shook all the walls…. Hard to believe such a small girl could do so much damage.”
“She’s a Favager,” Genee said. “They’re nothing but damage waiting to be unleashed”

 

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A miscellany post

Book Review: All But a Bloody Mouth

So I’ve been reading and reading all summer long, but not finding things that really satisfy.  It’s the downside of being voracious and pretty indiscriminate about your reading: you get jaded pretty quickly–been there, seen that, seen it done BETTER, and now you’re bored.  Every now and then, I just hit a run of meh books.

And every now and then, I stumble over something strange and wonderful.

In this case, the online novel All But a Bloody Mouth by Becca De La Rosa

The details:

All But a Bloody Mouth  published on tumblr in 2016 and later assembled into a free download—technically self-pubbed, but not available for sale in stores.  If you find it, it feels … serendipitous.
Written by: Becca De La Rosa
Genre: um…. I’m thinking of it as feminist noir horror? Which is a genre I didn’t know I wanted, but apparently was starving for.
Pages: 259 per pdf
Publisher: self-published, nicely formatted, not available in stores.

Why I chose it: During my podcast resolution over on Spec Chic, I listened to podcast Mabel (not reviewed yet–look for my review in Oct or Nov), and wandered over to the website and found the writer for Mabel had also written this novel. Since I was enjoying Mabel so much, and the premise of this book appealed to me, it seemed only natural to dive right in.

The Premise:
All But the Bloody Mouth. First published on Tumblr in 2016; a novel about murder, mystery cults, and apotheosis.

Eleven days ago Loan Santos came home to discover her boyfriend Jack violently attacking a young woman on the kitchen floor. Following the revelation, Jack admitted to committing the five murders attributed to the Red Deer Valley Slasher; he claimed he killed those five girls, however, for a very particular reason. Now, Loan must piece together the facts of the matter (a girl with a scar on her throat who knows more than she lets on, a monster in the wetlands) to find herself some kind of – meaning, or understanding, or transcendence.

​All But the Bloody Mouth is free to download, read, and share.

Spoilers ahead, but I’m going to try to keep them small, because watching this book unfold is a delight.

Discussion:

I read a lot of serial killer stories. It’s almost inevitable. I love fantasy, but as a child, I cut my teeth on mystery. Nancy Drew, Kay Tracey, Meg, Trixie freaking Belden. And oh, here’s a fantasy twist: The Girl with the Silver Eyes, which was a childhood form of an urban fantasy—young girl with a magical gift learns that there are others like her and enemies out there who want to control them, and she assembles a team to fight back…. Tell me that doesn’t sound urban fantasy-ish.

The point being, after a while, mystery divides itself into cozies and murders. (Not that no one dies in cozies, it’s just that no one seems to care much.) So yeah, serial killers. And I enjoy the genre but it is definitely a genre of dead tortured women, usually with graphic scenes, where the saving grace is that many, many of the serial killer stories are written by women, with women as their active protagonists.

That said, there is a certain sameness to the formula. So, I really enjoy the books that turn the story on its end—the killer caught on the first page!? The story about the recovery of the people affected—yeah, show me that!

And All But a Bloody Mouth begins with Jack, the Red Deer Valley killer caught and jailed before the first page. Because he’s not the focus here. It’s about the two women he left behind—the woman who nearly died, and the woman who loved him, unknowing. But it’s also about pulling back the veil on the lives that women lead.

I said feminist noir and I meant it. Mandy Jane Donovan, the would-be victim is the blonde femme fatale, swanning through the story and helping to open Loan’s eyes to the world she’s always moved through, but always repressed. That Loan surpasses Mandy’s understanding in the end is also noir—Mandy is ephemeral, her importance is to lead Loan in the direction of the truth. Mandy is a vector of sorts, a proselytizer. But unlike classic noir, Mandy has her own successful agenda. She doesn’t come to ruin. She starts there and grows past it.

These truths are about men and women, more than anything else. And they’re not necessarily pleasant truths. Here, each gender is pretty much posed always in opposition to each other.

I also said horror, and I meant it. The horror here is both occasionally gory—though elegantly presented—and social; there’s a scene with Loan and her lawyer that’s just fundamentally upsetting in oh so many ways. Loan starts off quiet and repressed, but it’s definitely the quiet of a banked fire.

There’s real fantasy here also. But it’s a fantasy that is more about mythology than casting spells or having magical abilities doled out. It’s about change. I thought the ending was both surprising and well-led up to, if a little short on the mechanics.

There were small things that bugged me:

I wasn’t sure about Loan’s name. It’s unusual enough to strike the reader as continually odd. It felt more like a symbol than a name. Loan? Like lone? Or Loan, like her life had been on loan…. I don’t know. But it was distracting.*

I adored the ending, but thought it felt a little bit abrupt. A lot of the big moments in this book are a little rushed.

De La Rosa’s writing is full of literary goodness, but occasionally one of her metaphors falls a little flat.

In conclusion:

I’d actually recommend All But the Bloody Mouth to anyone who enjoys Gemma Files—the introspection, the dissection of relationships, the precision in language, and yes, the mythic horror. Elizabeth Hand as well. Try the first few pages; if you like those, you’ll probably enjoy the rest. If you don’t get a tiny little shiver at the end of the first scene, you might not.

 

*ETA and today, Kelly Marie Tran explains that her given name is Loan, and suddenly I have more context for the name.  So, less odd, then.  I have learned something!

Book Review: All But a Bloody Mouth

Hard Work Cookies

So every so often, usually coinciding with intensive revision, I start telling myself terrible lies.  Things like… you don’t need that much sleep; five hours is totally enough.  You can do the laundry tomorrow.  You can absolutely live on grilled cheese sandwiches for at least a week….

And that Wakefield Cookies are a valid breakfast food.

This is a recipe I got from my grandmother who got it from the popular cookie maker Ruth Wakefield. I don’t believe my grandmother ever met her; it was just a recipe published with her name attached.  It’s one of the three recipes I have that calls for shortening instead of butter, where I actually leave it shortening.  (The other two are torticas de moron, and the Pennsylvania dutch strawberry shortcake biscuit recipe.)  Wakefield cookies are tasty!  They’re crisp and tend to dissolve in your mouth and they’re full of giant oat flakes.  Yum!

But… I get bored.  I have started adding peanut butter, sometimes chunky PB, and mini semi-sweet chips.  Sometimes actual peanuts.  And you know, once you add peanut butter, it’s obviously a health food, right?  We’ll ignore the chocolate.

So whenever I get into the crazy stage of writing–drafting or revising–I tend to make a batch of adulterated Wakefield cookies, because hey!  This saves time for breakfast!  I can eat two cookies and get right to work!  Oatmeal is breakfast food!  Everyone knows that!  And peanut butter is good for you (unless you’re allergic, I’m sorry).

They sure don’t look like much, but they are tasty!  And whether it’s the peanut butter oatmeal combo, or just the ramped up on sugar combo, I do seem to get a lot of work done when they’re around.

Currently reading: nothing too much.  Too much fighting with my own revision!  But books I sampled this week are Over Raging Tides by Jennifer Ellision (fun! will probably buy it later), The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert (put on hold at the library), Cusp of Night by Mae Clair (a maybe.)  I did read (and enjoy enough to recommend) Daryl Gregory’s We Are All Completely Fine.

 

Hard Work Cookies

Review of The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter

Goss

The full review is over at Spec Chic, again.  Basically, that’s where I’m playing these days.

Short summation:  I really liked it, but I can see why some people wouldn’t.  Goss makes an interesting style choice that I thought paid off really well in terms of characterization.

Review of The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter

Books read in June

ACCEPTANCE by Jeff Vandermeer. The last book of the Southern Reach Trilogy. I really enjoyed this weird fantasy trilogy, and recommend it to the few people who haven’t read it yet. So many times, these grand idea stories fall apart at the end for me, when the answer to the huge array of questions either doesn’t satisfy or doesn’t seem to connect. This one really felt solid. I would suggest reading them all at once and not spaced out over a year like I did, though.

 

THE GAMEBOARD OF THE GODS/THE IMMORTAL CROWN by Richelle Mead. I’ve never read Mead’s vampire books, though many people have told me they’re compulsively readable. I’m just burned out on vampires.

 

So when I saw these books at the library, and they didn’t involve vampires and did involve high tech super soldiers, I picked them up, and man, are they chewy in the best way.

 

The heroes belong to a high-tech society that’s disavowed all religions and has people investigate any small cult that springs up. They’ve weathered genetic disease and enforced breeding mandates. The gap between first world and third world is enormous, though not always in the way the characters think they are. The characters are very much embedded in their own cultures and mindsets, and wander around happily unaware of their own contradictions. “Pure breed people are diseased and worthy of scorn. Pure breed people are beautiful and rich and are powerful.” It makes for interesting setting.

 

And in this world where religion has been cut out, the gods are coming back. With real power and real effects on the world. Magic simmers beneath the high-tech. Classism and racism are everywhere. And that’s just background for a complicated romantic thriller between an exiled religious investigator and his super soldier bodyguard. This world is really screwy and really fascinating. There are moments where I bobbled uncomfortably, trying to figure out if the ‘isms’ on display were the authors or the characters, but it always tipped back to the flaws in characters. I’m sad that there doesn’t seem to be a book 3 in the works.

 

If anyone else has read these, tell me what you think!

 

THE SECRET CASEBOOK OF SIMON FEXIMAL – KJ Charles. I admit. I’m a fan. I’ll read anything this lady writes. This one is a collection of short stories about a strange, suffering ghost-hunter and his journalist lover set turn of the century. It would have been so easy for her to make this a fun romp of stories, but instead she infuses it with a melancholy, and leaves you off, inevitably, at the first world war. Charles is wonderful about respecting history. She rarely gives you just a window in time; she shows you the wider world and the way times are changing. And of course, the romance is wonderful.

 

THE SHADOW THRONE – Django Wexler. I adored the first book in this series, and liked this one. I was excited to leave Khandar and come back to Vordan, but in the end I wasn’t as wild about this entry. Mostly because the magic, while present, felt somehow like an afterthought. It seemed to seep through the first book more. I also felt like the story threads were tighter in the first book, but to be fair, the first book had a more straightforward plot: retake the city, and find a mysterious magical force. This ones involves a lot more political infighting and so it feels more scattered by default as Wexler has to show all the factions. I’m still very much looking forward to the next.

 

SERIOUSLY WICKED – Tina Connolly. This YA was a romp! It’s fun, fast, and eminently quotable. I kept reading snippets of dialogue aloud to people near me.

Books read in June