Fall is come! Sort of.

We’ve had some lovely pre-fall days recently and I am feeling it. My heart keeps fantasizing about apple picking. There is nothing like the smell of cooked apples on a brisk day with the windows open. Luckily the apples are beginning to come into season, so I imagine I’ll get my wish once this latest heat wave dissipates.

In honor of the upcoming smorgasbord, I wanted to share my favorite apple recipes and couple of delicious fall stories, visual and legible. Fall for me is about creepy, atmospheric thrills and dying leaves, sweaters and spicy honeyed chai. So my fall stories hold a similarly special place in my heart.

Practical MagicSpiced Apple Cider

You can’t have fall without this most traditional of drinks, and in my house you can’t have fall without the movie Practical Magic. It is my favorite witch movie, which is saying something, and my favorite fall watch despite the fact most of it takes place in the summer. I hope you get to snuggle on the couch with sweater and a warm drink and enjoy your favorite movie soon. I know I’m looking forward to trying this lovely recipe from bon appétit.

 

Dusk or Dark or Dawn or DayStuffed Pumpkins

This novella is, for me, a comforting Thanksgiving ghost tale. It’s about family, found and otherwise, and mirrors and dastardly deeds. I think it goes great with a stuffed pumpkin. Apples are a key to this dish, which is appropriate because the root of the jack-o-lantern tradition lies in apple carvings, pumpkin being a thing that wasn’t really around in Europe until recently. I’m a vegetarian, so my modifier to this recipe from Local Milk is to sub out the gruyere and bacon and replace them with smoked gouda. It goes over swimmingly as my Thanksgiving centerpiece every year.

The Graveyard BookApple Pie

You can’t talk about apples without talking about apple pie, and you can’t talk about fall without talking about graveyards and spirits. Happily, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman takes place almost entirely in a graveyard. This book contains a lot of endings, so I think it’s a good place to talk about dessert. Accordingly, I provide this basic apple pie recipe from Smitten Kitchen. I myself usually end up making Rosemary Apple Pie, which might be more appropriate, but unfortunately that recipe is not available online to share. Also not everyone likes rosemary as much as I do.

It’s the holiday season! Ghosts and crunchy leaves and loveliness await!


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Three stories about dogs

I recently read “Mother, Watch Over Me,” over on Mythic Delirium’s website and I enjoyed it immensely. It made me realize that I have a special spot in my heart for dog stories, so here are three free stories sourced on the internet with main characters who are dogs. They are heartbreaking, as might be imagined, so enjoy!

Mothers, Watch Over Me – Maria Haskins

“Even in the dream, Maya knows her pup is dying.”

A dog who weaves baskets and a race against time across a post-apocalyptic landscape. This story is hopeful and tragic all at once.

Sun Dogs – Brooke Bolander

Witness the final moments of Laika, the first dog in space. Be prepared to weep. This story is a bitter indictment of the cruelty of mankind and a loving epitaph for a brave soul.

“In the real world, the catch-men had taken everything. In dreams, they are fooled as easily as rabbits.”

This Chance Planet – Elizabeth Bear

I was early for my train. As I waited, my friend the ovcharka trotted up and sat down beside me. Her black-tipped, amber coat was shedding out in huge wooly chunks, leaving her sleek guard hairs lying close side by side. She looked up at me and dog-laughed, tongue lolling.

If you need something uplifting after that read, consider this lovely tale about a woman and an unlikely alliance. This, my friends, is how women become witches.

I hope you enjoy these three stories, because they’re some of my favorites! If you’re looking for more dog stories, I would recommend Kij Johnson’s “At the Mouth of the River of Bees” and the rest of that eponymous collection. It’s not free, but it’s worth the download.

Until next week!


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The Lady Astronaut and an expert class in writing

Friends, I have just finished The Calculating Stars, and it blew me away. I would compare this book most closely in voice and style to A Natural History of Dragons, but with a depth of urgency that, for all my love of Brennan’s work, exceeds that series. Buckle up, my friends. This is going to be a long ride.

[Spoilers for The Lady Astronaut of Mars and for The Calculating Stars]

Continue reading “The Lady Astronaut and an expert class in writing”

Labor Unions in space and hunting for mermaids

I loved Dune, surprising no one. I grew up on it, after all. But one thing that always bothered me about the story of the sandy Arrakis was the “divine right of kings” subtext throughout. If this also bothered you, you’re in luck. I’ve got a book with none of that going on.

Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells is the book, the first in a duology that concludes with Blood Binds the Pack. This is Dune if Dune were written by a pissed off feminist steeped in socialism, and let me tell you that I am here for that. Much like that book, the world-building in this short series walks the line between fantasy and science fiction. There is mining of special minerals that let people cross galaxies in a blink, and people tweaked and blended with those minerals that are used to pilot the ships across these vast interstellar distances. There is also native contamination by the same minerals, and otherworldly symptoms that come out of it.

That, though, is where the similarities end. No sandworms here. Instead, you’ll get biker gangs and labor disputes,  vision quests and corporate espionage. Also, found families and badass women abound. If this sounds like your jam, I encourage you to check out these books.

OtherLands

Changing pace a bit, let’s talk about a book that has made me laugh out loud more than any other both this year or last. In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan is a clever book with a lot of tongue-in-cheek humor perpetrated by a very sardonic protagonist. The only complaint I have about this book is that my ship is not canon. I won’t spoil what that ship was, but check this out if you like awkward teen romance done well, elves, mermaids, sword swinging, wonderfully bisexual and otherwise characters, and holier-than-thou brats of a scholastic bent. Also, lots of laughs. So many laughs.

Speaking of bisexual characters, allow me to recommend one last book. Into the Drowning Deep is by Mira Grant, and it is every horror movie you didn’t know you wanted to watch. This is a book with killer mermaids, naive scientists, and a trip out to sea. The main character is again bisexual, and a scientist, and perhaps too driven for her own good. I would certainly not have remained so composed with the mermaids who killed my sister coming for me as well. Expect to feel unsettled and a little iffy around water for a while with this one.


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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

silver-art
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

vermilion_cover_web
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.

The last Book of the Raksura

It is a bittersweet season, because into this season has come the last of the Books of the Raksura.*

I discovered these books several years ago, and they remain one of my favorites of all time. Shapeshifting? Check. Sweet aerial lizard-people battles? Check. Awesome emotional tension? Check. Gender-bending? Hells yes. Basically it’s everything I’d expect from a Martha Wells story and more.

jpraksura

I first read a story by Martha Wells when I was a preteen/teen (not sure exactly) exploring the local library.** Our little library actually had a pretty eclectic collection of books, including such obscure and slightly disturbing texts as Richard Adam’s Maia as well as classics like Mercedes Lackey’s Heralds of Valdemar series. In the corner, near the end of the adult fantasy section (I had already consumed the vast majority of the YA and children’s books that would catch my fancy) was a narrow, hardcover book. It was called The Wheel of the Infinite, and I recognized the mandala on the cover from my father’s own nonfiction treatises on the subject. I brought it home.

And then I consumed it, ravenously. Even at the time, I recognized that I was reading something groundbreaking, something I could love forever.

The library had a few more books from Martha Wells’ long career, and I flew through them quickly. Then, being a girl and unaware of my ability to order more books that they may or may not have had, I moved on to other sections. As the years passed, I mostly forgot about Wells and her work, buried under other books – Kushiel’s Legacy series was a great favorite, as were the Dresden Files and A Song of Ice and Fire. I scribbled more and more stories, hoping to emulate those I admired, but nothing that ever amounted to anything until 2009, when the death of my grandmother gave me determination. In 2010, I took that determination with me to the World Fantasy Convention in Columbus, Ohio.

At a panel, on what I no longer remember, I saw a thin, dark-haired woman with a name that sounded vaguely familiar. Wells talked about her books, as authors do on panels, and something lit up inside my head. I remembered the books I had loved years ago, and walked up to thank her for writing them. I think she was vaguely nonplussed that it had been so long since I had read any of them and I was still trying to talk to her, but I’m not sure I would have known what to do in that situation either. It can’t be easy to have an aspiring writer walk up and pounce on you post-panel.

In any case, I promptly went home and downloaded all of her books. And that is how I found the Tales of the Raksura, and Moon and Stone and Jade. Malachite, one of my favorites, came much later. I have been reading these books for seven years, and re-reading them when I need a pick-me-up and the world seems heavy. They feel like a hug and a warm blanket. They feel like a happily ever after, every time. Now, I have finished the last novel, at least foreseeably, that will be set in this world. Moon is home with Jade, and hopefully they will have many little baby Moons to fill up their mountain tree. I couldn’t be happier for them.

moonjade

And honestly, I can’t wait to see what she does next.

This year, I am going back to World Fantasy Convention, this time in San Antonio. I’m going because I have projects to pitch. I’m going because it’s in the city where my brother lives and I’ll get to visit him. But mostly I’m going because Martha Wells is Toastmaster, and I hope that I will get to see her and say thank you with a little more specificity this time.

 

*That is, unless you follow Martha Wells’ Patreon, where tiny snippets may be birthed in perpetuity. I hold out for a novella about Moon’s little babies and the Sky Copper clutch as they hit adolescence.

**I’m happy to say that my book Mother of Creation now sits on the shelves alongside the many happy tomes that I read as a child.

A few recent reads

I’ve been reading a lot lately, because I’ve been super stressed, which means that I read every spare minute. Don’t ask me why this is. I can’t tell you. You would think that, being stressed, I would engage directly with my stressors and then take my time to enjoy books, but not. I’ve just been spamming everything and screaming internally.

The upside of this is that I have read a lot of good stuff recently. Most of my recent reads have been novellas, but I’ve also devoured some novel-length pieces (always more satisfying for me). So what have I been reading? So glad you asked.

Final Girls – I actually went on a binge of Seanan McGuire (aka Mira Grant) around the first of the month and read a bunch of stuff, including some of her free and Patreon-supported short stories in the Toby universe. That was after I read this novella, which was good in the way all ghost stories and haunted houses are good. I highly recommend.

Binti – I’m not sure what I was expecting from this novella, but it wasn’t exactly what I got. That’s not a bad thing. I can definitely see why it won so many awards, and I’m excited for the next one, though it’s not on my immediate to-read list. That said, I think that I will need to read the actual book next time, instead of listening to the audiobook. I love Robin Miles, but audiobook of a novella is a little too brief for me, I think. It was perfect for my drive back from a conference, though!

She Wolf and Cub – I’ve read a lot of Lilith Saintcrow, and I enjoy her stuff. Her worldbuilding is solid, as always, and her system of magic (or in this case, science) is inventive. Sandworms, dystopias, nanobots, and one really made lady – sign me up! I enjoyed this book, though it’s one of the more pulpy ones on this list.

One Fell Sweep – Speaking of pulpy, this is a new book by Ilona Andrews, who always fits that bill. Space vampires and lots of explosions lie within. Check it out if you need something light, but beware – it’s the third in a series.

A Closed and Common Orbit – Reading A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet is not a prerequisite for this book in my opinion. That said, it does spoil a small part of the ending of the Hugo-nominee, so if you were planning to read that to see what the fuss was about you might want to get on it before you read this book. I liked this one loads better than Small, Angry Planet, which I honestly wasn’t a huge fan of, mostly because the pacing didn’t quite work for me. A solid book, with two powerfully complex and interesting characters narrating.

All Systems Red – This is a novella, and it is by Martha Wells, and if you know anything about my reading habits, you know I love Martha Wells. Admittedly, you may not realize because she puts out new stuff a little less frequently than, say, McGuire. Anyway, read her stuff, all of it is phenomenal and this novella is no exception. Hands down, Wells remains one of my favorite writers.

On my to read list for my honeymoon and the strenuous two weeks leading up to it, I have:

Your infrequent inspiration update 

It’s November and the holidays are rolling down the chute, coming whether we like it or not. I haven’t planned my entire Thanksgiving dinner yet but you’ll probably hear all about it after the fact. For now, I wanted to bring you up to speed on some of the fun things I’ve read  and watched recently.

First off, Luke Cage. Holy mess Luke Cage. There were so many things done right with this show. The research and care that went into this production blew me away. The attention to detail in the selection of the soundtrack was especially phenomenal. At first, I was a little skeptical that Luke’s vendetta with Cottonmouth was feeding into the narrative of black on black crime, but the treatment of both characters as well as the role of Misty and Scarfe and the exploration of their motivations and identities quickly quelled that fear. All of the characters in Luke Cage are wonderfully complex and well-crafted. I definitely recommend it.  I could write a book about this show, but I’ll let you watch it and see for yourself.


As for other things  I’ve been into, there have been a lot of short stories I’ve really enjoyed recently. “Fiber,” a comedy with reborn zombies and cheerleaders by Seanan McGuire, was particularly amusing. You can find that over at Tor.com. On the eery, cerebral side of the spectrum there was “What Becomes of the Third Hearted,” published by Shimmer Magazine. That one was like a punch to the gut, in a good way. I’ve also been enjoying being a Patron of Fireside Fiction and Martha Wells. Martha Wells in particular gives me a bunch of fun Raksura tidbits to chew on, which I love. I’m very excited for Harbors of the Sun to hit shelves next summer.

Speaking of novels and novellas, some recent reads have included Vermilion, which I have been wanting to read forever, and Silver on the Road. I guess I’ve been on a Western kick. Vermilion is set in San Francisco and other areas on the far west coast, during the 1800s unless I miss my guess. It is a steampunk adventure which skillfully tackles issues of Chinese immigration and labor in the rail industry, as well as gender fluidity and diverse sexualities. Silver on the Road is also an alternate West story, but set in the area between the Spanish territories and the Mississippi River following the successful bid by the American colonies for independence. The main character is a Latina woman who works for the devil, who runs a saloon in the town of Flood.

In addition to these I’ve been reading Letters from Burma as a bit of a nonfiction break and also for research purposes. It’s a very easy read, and really fascinating. I also finished Obelisk Gate on Audible, which was a wonderful performance by Robin Miles, as always. I have mixed feelings about the second book in this series, mostly because I loved the first book so much. It honestly almost stood alone for me. But it was a great story and, once I reached the end, I was definitely back on board with wherever Jemisin wants to take me. I’m currently looking for my next audiobook, so let me know if you have any recommendations!

Whew. What a list. Anyway, chime in and let me know what you have been reading below. ‘Til next time.

Writing as activism: The Ballad of Black Tom

I thought long and hard before writing this post.

This is for a couple of reasons, the principal of these being that I am white. Because of this, I want to take a moment to acknowledge that my reflections on the novella The Ballad of Black Tom are my own, and come from my whiteness, at least in part. We cannot extricate the parts of our identities, after all. That said, I am also a writer and a writer keenly interested in diverse representation and stories which get to the heart of oppression. The Ballad of Black Tom did both of these things baldly and without pulling any punches. I want to unpack that. And I want to lend my platform to this book, because it is a valuable read, perhaps most especially for white people.

black-tom

All of that said, there will be spoilers. Stop here if you don’t want those, and scroll to the end for further reading recommendations if you must. You are warned.

If you want to read this book first and come back, I encourage it. It’s a novella, so it took me about three or four hours to chomp through at most. I read fast, but it’s not a terribly serious time commitment if you want to bookmark this page for later.

No, the time commitment is in how much you’ll find yourself thinking about it afterwards.

With no further ado… Continue reading “Writing as activism: The Ballad of Black Tom”

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