The Uncrossing by Melissa Eastlake

Hey, friends! It’s been a while since I’ve done a Sunday Review, but here I am with this lovely ARC and a whole lot of feelings so strap in! Considering a few of my recent posts have been less than light-hearted, this should be a welcome reprieve.

So first, let me preface this by registering my biases. Melissa is a fellow Hollins graduate and has guested on my blog. I reached out to her for the ARC in advance of her upcoming October 2nd release. It is a YA M/M Romance. You can preorder this lovely little book for $3.99 at Amazon last time I looked. This is a spoiler-free review.

On to the review!

I don’t read a lot of romances, but I always really enjoy the good ones. My favorite anime genre is definitely shoujo, though I’m picky, and I am a huge fan of urban fantasy and very aware that the line between “urban fantasy” and “paranormal romance” is often a gray one. I would, however, classify this book solidly in the paranormal romance category if it were being marketed to adults – the romance is the main plot motivator in this book, despite the magical elements. The book is also firmly young adult, with the two main love interests, Luke and Jeremy, both being in their late teens. There’s a lot to love here if you like romantic anime like Princess Jellyfish (with its awkward love comedy between a shining, magical rich boy and the traumatized but brilliant girl who is oblivious to his interest) or Yuri! on Ice (with two male protagonists and the added professional element). Jeremy is a beautiful, somewhat awkward, very anxious little princeling, and Luke is a grounded, charismatic character who can’t leave well enough alone more often than not and happens to be somewhat bound to Jeremy’s family. They both are clear, at times unpredictable, and lots of fun. The story benefits from the fact that, though Jeremy and Luke’s relationship is primary, other relationships are well-developed. These include Jeremy’s relationship with his brothers Sergei and Alexei, the heads of a magical mafia family, the Kovrovs, and Luke’s relationships with his family, who had previously served the Kovrovs and continue to be affiliated with them. There’s a strong supernatural element throughout, and a mystery that potentially threatens the lives of both Jeremy and Luke, as well as their families.

My two critiques of the book were simple. I would have liked to see more of Luke’s relationship with his sister, who he was closest to, and more of his family in general and their past. I really wanted to learn more about them, though I don’t think the book suffered. It’s more of a personal desire. The way their magic worked, for example, and the stresses of growing up in a biracial, bicultural family, were super interesting to me. I’d be interested in knowing more.

On a less selfish note, I do wish that the cover had not been white-washed – the character that I assume to be Luke on the cover does not look like the Luke I had in my head. The author often has limited input on covers, so given the specificity of the text I can’t imagine this was intentional on her part. It is otherwise beautiful, and I’m glad they didn’t flinch from showing m/m affection.

All in all, The Uncrossing was a fun, mostly light-hearted read, with high enough stakes to keep me engaged and characters I wanted to shelter from the world like the precious cinnamon rolls they are. I recommend this book if you are looking for positive LGBT representation and a cute romance wrapped up in magic.

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Good news

Hey friends, some updates from the world of writing!

I’ve been working on getting some appearances scheduled for next year – I believe that I will be at Roanoke Author Invasion and MystiCon again in 2018, though I’m still waiting to firm some of that up, and will be looking at other local convention options that would require less investment on my part. MystiCon is super awesome in that they cover your convention expense, but RAI is a paid event and many other book events are paid as well. This inhibits me a bit, but I’m looking to get in front of some new audiences. So be looking for those announcements as they come about.

I also just recently finished a short story prompted by seeing a very beautiful pendant circulating on the internet. I did not buy it, because I have self-control and I need to make my house payment. I did, however, make a new Pinterest board (I know, my Pinterest is getting out of hand) for short story inspiration. This short story was largely motivated by aesthetics and the desire to write the backstory for another short story that I had written a year or so ago. It was one of those stories that pretty much wrote itself, which is always a nice feeling.

Now that I’ve bought a house and stuff, things are settling down a little bit. That’s allowed me to start pulling together some query packets. Very exciting stuff. Being on submission is always a little heart-pounding, but lately I’ve developed a bit of a laissez-faire attitude about it all, which is helping.

Some of my new zen is because I took a chance recently and applied to be on the program of World Fantasy Convention 2017 and guess what? Despite the fact that I almost didn’t do it because of general impostor syndrome and self-deprecation, I got on the program!! This is such a huge deal for me, honestly. I still haven’t wrapped my head around it, and it’s going to take a lot of work from me to do it right. I’m totally ready, though.

Anyway, I will be updating my events page and this website soon with more details!

The fate of pirates

How many stories do you know where a woman ends up alone?

I don’t mean happily fulfilled, with a garden and a dog but no man. I mean truly alone. Outcast, and heartbroken, and without peer. What story have you known that looks like staring into the abyss?

That story for me is Pirates of the Caribbean.

I hear you all laughing, but bear with me here.

We all know the jaunty tunes and slapstick humor of Captain Jack Sparrow, the nervous comedy of Will Turner, and the fiery deviousness of Elizabeth Swann. When the first movie, Legend of the Black Pearl, came out, I was in love. Head over heels. It was everything I wanted from a nautical tale. Undead pirates, thrilling escapes, canon-fire. I was a kid and it took me hook, line, and sinker.

And then I got to the end of the original trilogy, and I witnessed the fate of Elizabeth Swann.

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I think it’s fair to say that one of the reasons I loved Pirates so much is because Elizabeth went from being a pampered, settled princess to following her heart with the flip of a coin. Now, admittedly, it was a magical coin, and there was some kidnap involved, but she was not interested in the life of what was essentially royalty, out there in the New World. She was in love with Will Turner, and then she was in love with being a pirate, and a little bit with Jack – though Will always came first. Elizabeth Swann gave up her corsets and took up a sword and never looked back. It should have been enough.

Somehow, it wasn’t. Somehow, Elizabeth was left on dry land.

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I think it’s notable the kinds of tales we tell about women. Elizabeth is shown to clearly be capable of surviving on her own. Yet, when she and Will make love at last on the shore and he gives in to his curse, Elizabeth, to all appearances, gives up her dreams. She is pregnant with his child, and that’s the end of her story. It is consolation, that she has a miniature Will Turner to raise and keep. Some piece of him. That’s what we are told.

That’s bullshit.

What was it like, for Elizabeth Turner to return, pregnant and still an outlaw, to her father’s house? To endure the scandal as her belly grew great with the spawn of her undead lover? To give up on her dreams forever – the dream of love, yes, because one visit every eight years is not a substitute for a true relationship. Her husband is not dead. She can take no other lover, can find no other love with his face staring up at her from the crib she rocks day by day. He does not age either. He cannot help her raise their child, he cannot grow old with her. He cannot hold her at night when she cries. But also the dream of adventure. She was a pirate, and it lit her up from the inside. She was a pirate.

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Never once does Will offer her the choice of a berth on The Flying Dutchman, to reign eternal as his queen. No, she must keep his heart safe in its chest. She must ensure his eternal absence. She must birth his child, alone, raise that child, alone, bring the boy to see him, for whom time has stopped, and spend their one day together giving this absent father a chance to know his progeny. Surely, she loves the boy. But love can break us.

Never once does the narrative offer her a different life.

Elizabeth Swann was a pirate, and a respected one. In my dreams, Elizabeth takes her child with her and strikes out to sea, hunting The Flying Dutchman. Hunting Will Turner, who cannot step foot on land – but who has no such restrictions on water. She doesn’t mortgage all of her dreams and hopes in the world for a child gotten cruelly on her, wages of one night and one day spent in the arms of the love of her life.

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Better, their single coupling doesn’t result in a child at all. She says goodbye to Will, though she loves him, and he to her because, if he will not have her with him in undeath, she deserves to live her life.

Instead, this half-life, this heartbreak, this ending that cannot end with aught but Elizabeth Swann, old and used up and dying alone, while Will Turner sails the seas forever.

I don’t think I’ll ever forgive those movies that ending for her.

 

Weird Western tales

The Weird West as a fantasy subgenre is one that I’ve really been enjoying lately, and has cultivated a vibrant readership over the past few years. I’d say my first introduction to it was R.S. Belcher’s Golgotha books, but I have read a lot of other books in the same vein since then. This post collects some of those titles with a brief overview of the salient positives and negatives for each, spoiler-free.

I grew up for a good chunk of my childhood out west, in Arizona to be precise. I also grew up reading the Sackett books by Louis L’Amour. So reading these weird western titles is super nostalgic for me, but also constantly amazing. Somehow, it seems like this genre is the one providing some of the most innovative takes on sexuality, gender roles, and race – which honestly shouldn’t surprise me, given how rich the history of the territories was in the US both pre- and post-Civil War. So without further ado, in no particular order, I give you some of my favorites.

Silver on the Road, by Laura Anne Gilman

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NPR described this book as “pure American myth” and I can think of no better description, honestly. This is my favorite of all these novels, starring the Left Hand of the Devil, Isobel, in a dreamy coming of age that sucks you down into a world that’s larger than life. Though Isobel is young and at times naive, this is not a young adult book – the themes are too large and too dark. Magic lives in the Devil’s West, and it sinks its claws in whether you like it or not. This is the true American frontier, the archetype of a time in our history that formed so much of our cultural identity. If you read no other book on this list, read this one.

The Six-Gun Tarot, by R.S. Belcher

Perhaps the best way for you to get hooked on this book is to read this handy excerpt from Tor.com. The first book in the Golgotha Series, this book draws on Mormon, Chinese, Native American, and esoteric Christian mythologies in a world tinged with steampunk. Maude Stapleton is my favorite character, and she has her own spinoff book later in the series that just came out this year which I haven’t had a chance to read yet. I’m very excited about it.

Dreadnought, by Cherie Priest

Dreadnought is a lovely little tale written by Cherie Priest, one of the big names in steampunk. This is in fact a steampunk book, one hundred percent. While I prefer her book Maplecroft, this book still is high on my list of her works. Maplecroft is set in New England, so it unfortunately doesn’t fit the theme here. Dreadnought, on the other hand, tells the story of a Civil War nurse traveling across the country, so it’s not solidly set in the West as it were. The frontier feeling of adventure remains, however, and it’s aided by trains and chemically induced zombification, so if you’re into those things I recommend this book highly.

Wake of Vultures, by Lila Bowen

This book is a lovely, introspective affair that spoke deeply to the little girl in me who wanted to be a boy. Basically, if you ever read the Song of the Lioness books and felt immeasurable kinship with Alanna, this book is for you. Unlike those books, however, Wake of Vultures also tackles race and sexuality, and takes the next step on the gender identity conversation that the Song of the Lioness either couldn’t or wouldn’t take. All of that is wrapped up in a wonderful odyssey to battle a terrifying monster or two.

Vermilion, by Molly Tanzer

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Speaking of gender identity and race, don’t miss this lovely installation. Featuring Chinese heritage, talking bears, and a badass genderqueer female character, not to mention vampires, this book is a galloping romp. It sets itself up for a sequel as well, which I hope it follows up on.

Jackalope Wives and The Tomato Thief, by T. Kingfisher

This is an example of saving the best for last. Also I’ve cheated a bit by including both of these titles – there are technically two novelettes here, one of which won the Hugo this year! It’s worth it to read both in order, since they are so short. You can get these two stories along with several other lovely tales in the collection Jackalope Wives and Other Stories. Ursula Vernon, aka T. Kingfisher, is one of my all-time favorite authors at this point and a  source of inspiration. And the main character of these two tales is a lovely old woman. I love reading about old women doing badass things.

Moving times!

Guess what? We are moving!

As of Thursday we have closed on a house and we will be working towards repairs and then moving all next week. It has been a wild month trying to make this happen, and I am so ready for it to be somewhat like over. So ready.

Honestly the prospect of moving into a house is kind of intimidating. Not because of the mortgage or the upkeep, though those are their own issues. It’s the idea of all the space. This house is not that big, a little 1500 square foot Craftsman, but it has a half basement and a yard and a porch – two porches, actually – and 1500 square feet is a lot of footage when you’ve been living in an apartment for a long time. We’ve been at our current place for five years, in fact, and we’ve quite settled in. So 90% of my time this week has been packing.

Ugh, packing. Packing is the worst.

Of course, my writer brain keeps telling me about all of the possibilities for BAD THINGS to happen. I worry about my cats, mostly, who have only ever lived at their birth home and this apartment. We need to make appointments to get them outdoor vaccinations in case they get out (not that I think that will be an issue for a couple of weeks while they get settled and explore) since we don’t have a stairwell for them to get trapped in when they make their weekly dastardly escapes. And I can’t find their cat carrier, which is a huge pain – I have no clue where it could have gone, either, since it’s pretty damn large, but I guess I’m going to have to buy a new one like tomorrow.

Also we don’t have a lot of the furniture we’ll need in this new space – stools for the bar, a spare bed, a couch, that sort of thing – so that will be a weird transition into half-furnished space. We’ll get there eventually, of course.

Anyway, given all of this I’m taking a brief writing hiatus, which is to say I’m not requiring myself to write, just doing it if I feel like it. I’m planning on reading and/or re-reading some high fantasy and epic fantasy books to get a better handle on my roadblock in DoM, which is a thing that I am acknowledging, and likely has to do with being totally slammed at work and stressed from packing and trying to move more than anything. Also possibly with being annoyed with the corner I’ve written myself into, but that’s just a matter of being inventive and doing the work. I don’t think it would be so much a problem if it weren’t for everything else going on.

When I get the house to where it’s a good photo opportunity I will share some pictures. Until then, see you next week!

 

This post is a series of tweets

You may have noticed that I am providing regular updates in a thread on Twitter regarding my editing process for Daughter of Madness. I’ve linked them all together, so you can click below and look at my progress so far. I figured that might help you figure out what I’ve been dealing with.

I’ve mentioned that this is the first time I have written a sequel to a book, and that it is kicking my ass. I did mention that, right? Well, it’s kicking my ass. On the plus side, you’ll be happy to note the below:

Specifically I have 11,000 words and counting of the next book already, which consists entirely of cuts from this one to make the endings fall where they needed to for maximum tension. Sigh. All that and DoM is still at 91,000 words, so currently weighing in at a little longer than the first book. I’m not sure if it will get longer or shorter before publication. Your guess is as good as mine, honestly.

In the interim….I may have mentioned a finished a novelette and sent it out to folks to read, set in the world of The Zombie Book. It was mostly for fun, but I am in love with it, as tends to happen with things set in that world. I also mentioned a structural breakthrough I had for said Zombie Book that I think makes it a lot more fun and sets it up better for a sequel. I really need to work on that. There are only so many hours in a day, and I have a lot of stuff to write. So much.

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Speaking of, I also started working on a story that dug in to my brain and set up camp. It’s something totally new, but you may hear me refer to it as APM – an acronym for Appalachian Practical Magic, which you’ll hear once and never again. Feel blessed. I don’t have a working title yet, but I already have a spinoff concept so no doubt it will come to me. I hear some of you groaning internally. There’s really nothing I can do about it at this point, though. This book is determined to be born. The next book in the Creation Saga will no doubt start knocking once I have fixed DoM enough to actually like it, so I’ll let you know when that happens.

Alright, updates over! I’m out! You’ll hear from me soon!

 

Atomic Blonde

So PSA, I loved this movie.

I’ve seen some discussion of the problematic aspects of this film, and we’ll get to those because I want to unpack them. But I want to start by focusing on the positives. I had been waiting to see this movie for two weeks when I finally made it into the theater high on chocolate cake and the newest influx of birthday books. From the opening scenes, it did not disappoint. I was able to completely lose myself in this film, and that hasn’t happened to me in a long time.

For the most part, spoilers are going to come in the critique section. I’ll put a warning, so read away for the spoiler-free bits of glory.

From the opening scene of Atomic Blonde, I was hooked. No, I’m not talking about the part where the guy gets chased down and shot in the head, though the framing of that shot was unfairly beautiful. Actually, all of the movie was unfairly beautiful, a contrast to the gritty, high stakes plot and grungy setting. Shots alternate between glittering 1980s excess and austere Soviet spaces which reek of industrialism – bare concrete, geometric designs, poor lighting. There is so much neon in this movie – and spraypaint, and boom boxes, and cassette tapes. Do you also have nostalgic memories of growing up in the late 80s and early 90s? Do you want those memories to be turned into a spy novel where no one is ever good – basically replicating the 80s aesthetic? This movie is for you.*

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One of the things that was the most inspiring for me about this movie was not the dedicated femme fatale performance of Charlize Theron, though that was amazing. Nor was it the bitingly lovely and hardcore choreography of the fight scenes, though I was totally down with that. Nor was it, even, the way that the characters actually got hurt and had to live with those hurts and compensate for them. That was all awesome, but that was not the best thing. No, the best thing was how this movie brought the dramas of the Cold War into my timeline.

“What do you mean?” I hear you asking. Well, friends, I’m going to date myself here and admit that I was born the year before the Wall came down. Yet, as a child, I was always taught that the Cold War was something so far away. I think we have a habits of amnesia in this country, of distancing ourselves from very real upsets that we probably, even if unknowingly, lived through. It’s something I’ve seen a lot of people my age struggle with. We think of the Cold War as an artifact of the 50s, maybe the 60s. It certainly doesn’t affect us.

The events of Atomic Blonde may be fictional (I hope they are fictional) but nonetheless the story sheds light in a very immediate way on a relationship and time period that often feels like ancient history. I am totally here for more near-historical dramas, action movies, and political thrillers constructed with such attention to detail.

And now, on to the spoilers.

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There were two major issues with Atomic Blonde that bear discussing. Three, really. First, the movie was pretty white. I’m not savvy on a lot of the migration patterns of the late 80s in Berlin, so I can’t say that I can critique it fairly, but it’s worth noting. I hope that we can see something as original, fast-paced, and interesting as Atomic Blonde that also manages to incorporate POC in the future.

Second, this movie was pretty back and forth on the male gaze issue. There were scenes that were framed well in this regard – I particularly like how Lorraine beat that one guy up with her shoe, this amused me incredibly. Obviously she also spent a lot of the movie bruised, bleeding, and generally doing gross stuff with little regard for what others thought of that except as to how it affected her ability to get what she wanted. But there were numerous scenes of lingerie, and of sex, which were beautifully shot and often relevant to the plot, but which were maybe not so relevant as to be required. With the exception of two, these did not bother me. Which leads me to the biggest issue with the movie, and the one with the spoilers. Really, bail out now if you want to form your own opinions.

Continue reading “Atomic Blonde”