Preorders, sales, promotional graphics, oh my!

You may wonder what in the world I have been up to lately, and let me say – a lot. April is a rollercoaster and I’m not strapped in. Please expect me to be absolutely mad over here.

Currently, I’m preparing to leave for Salt Lake City (or rather, its environs) where I am attending a writing workshop called Futurescapes. It’s looks to be an amazing experience, and I’m so excited to tell you about it later if I survive the next few weeks.

That said, I have some lovely things to share with you if you haven’t already seen them on my Twitter, Tumblr, etc.

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First, Daughter of Madness is up for preorder! I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago but I was not perhaps exuberant enough. Specifically, the ebook is what is up for preorder. The print book will be releasing at the same time, but you will have to wait until June 2nd to get your copy.

Speaking of June 2nd, you can get an ebook of Mother of Creation anytime before that date! I’m hoping to have it for $1.99 soon but there has been a technical glitch at Amazon so I will do a special post to update you on when that is resolved. I made a cool graphic to share to folks….someday…..

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I’ll also be doing some blog tours coming up. I will crosspost those here and mostly put a hold on original content for The Bramble until those are finalized. But we still have a couple of weeks until then, as the beginning of the tour is May 7th.

Phew.

Send me kind thoughts, readers, and let’s power through!


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The Shape of Water: women and sex

I’ve had some time to think about The Shape of Water, which I saw a few weeks ago, and I have decided the thing that most impressed me about the film was not the beautiful composition, nor the aesthetic, nor, even, the commentary on how society attempts to break the outsiders among us into something palatable and how wrong that is. It was the way del Toro treated sex. Specifically, a woman’s sex.

Mild spoilers to follow for The Shape of Water.

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The movie, for those who haven’t seen it, opens with a sequence of the main character, Elisa, getting ready for her day at the super secret oceanic labs which are going to house the much-advertised fish-man. A very important part of Elisa’s evening is one that is most certainly not shown in film. Each evening, Elisa makes her lunch, runs a bath, climbs in, and masturbates. She does this one screen twice during the film, and each time the shot is framed in such a way as to do two things: to make it clear what she is doing, and to make it clear that you are not the target of it. This scene is not designed to titillate you, not exactly. It’s designed to make you acknowledge the complexity of being in a female body, a female who likes sex.

That last part is a very interesting aspect of Guillermo del Toro’s last two films, Shape of Water and Crimson Peak. In both of these films, the protagonist has been an adult woman. In both of the films, the protagonist has been in sexual situations – a romance arc being integral to the plots of both.

In neither film is the main character sexualized in the way that we, the audience, expect.

Crimson Peak is a good example of this. As the Bustle points out, at no point is Edith Cushing portrayed in any of the ways we expect women to be portrayed during sex. For one thing, she remains mostly out of view, her nakedness taking second fiddle to Thomas Sharpe’s. For another, she is clearly consenting, and her pleasure is accounted for. Del Toro manages to strike a careful, tender balance in this film. Edith is not the wide-eyed virgin, nor is she the ravenous whore. She is a woman, and Thomas is a man, and they are learning and experiencing together.

While the Bustle article crows that this is a new age for Hollywood, I for one have not noticed a sudden dearth of movies featuring the male gaze. I still find, far too often, moments in film that leave me lost and frustrated as I watch a rounded, interesting character become heavily objectified by the camera lens, or worse, a single woman installed as sexual window dressing to men’s struggles. (Kingsman is a terrible example of this, but I digress. We’re not here to talk about people who do this wrong. We’re here to talk about how del Toro does it right.)

Elisa’s role in this film could have easily been one of being unnecessarily sexualized. There were several moments that played off of the viewer’s expectations by skirting close to this but refusing to give into it. Aside from the initial masturbation scenes, one of the most notable ones is the scene where Richard Strickland traps Elisa in his office and makes advances towards her which are decidedly unwanted. This situation could have easily devolved into physical sexual violence. It does not.

In another notable scene, Elisa and her fish-man, unnamed for the duration of the film, have sex and are interrupted by her neighbor, Giles. While in many monster movies, the virginal female lead is the unwilling victim of the monster, in this case Elisa intentionally seeks out, befriends, and then seduces her monster. She is always the one in relative control – the fish-man cannot survive without her help. When Giles walks in on them, he sees a vision – Elisa embracing the fish-man, making clear, unashamed eye contact. Her naked body is not shown, and her position is not obviously erotic outside of that nakedness. The fish-man’s own form hides her, just as Thomas’ form hid Edith. It is not that we haven’t seen her skin before. It is that we see her, in all of her erotic glory, without any attempt at shame or degradation. Elisa is here because she wants to be. You will get no blushes, no guilt, from her.

There were several other things to love about this film. The decision to have a mute protagonist was something I worried about initially, but found myself very much enjoying. I love watching ASL, though I don’t really speak it. And my absolute favorite scene of the movie was also one that was heartbreaking – Giles being rejected at the pie shop was a well-functioning piece that drew clear parallels between the struggles of LGBTQ+ folks and racial minorities within society, with Giles finally speaking up in the face of racial injustice when he realized that it came from the same hegemony that had made his own life so miserable. There’s a lot that can be said about that, and I’m not the person to write it. And of course, as with every movie, there were flaws. I won’t list them here, but I recognize there were things that might have been done better.

All that said, I enjoyed the film, and I look forward to Guillermo del Toro’s next work, and his portrayal of the women in it.

 

 

Best of 2017

At last, the moment you’ve all been waiting for! Here’s my holiday gift to you, and I hope you enjoy! This post is going live for those still looking for last-minute gifts (like me), and there will be no post this Friday in honor of the holiday. Sorry for shaking things up on you folks, but I thought you’d prefer getting this sooner than later.

I read a lot of books in 2017, though perhaps not as many as I would have preferred. My TBR continues to grow much faster than I can strike things off. But nevertheless, I persist in climbing this mountain! Happily, it’s quite enjoyable.

2017 saw a lot of amazing fiction, honestly, no doubt spurred in part by everyone being pissed off and defiant. I loved some of those pieces, but I also got the chance to discover some preciously clever examples of characters subverting hegemony through self-care and care of others, and those stories were honestly some of the most raw and wonderful. So, as always, we’ll do these grouped by form. I’ll pick five of my favorite short stories, a handful of novellas, and five novels (if I can narrow it down that much).

Without further ado:

Short Stories

With Cardamom I’ll Bind Their Lips by Beth Cato

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Beth Cato is an author I’m just now coming around to following, and I look forward to seeing more of her work. I really enjoyed this story, which is on the slightly darker end set in post-war Britain or something very like it.img_3988

Three May Keep a Secret by Carlie St. George

This story has major content warnings, so please be advised. That said, it’s a powerful story about bringing darkness into the light and how our secrets can be deadly, cemented by a lovely, mostly platonic relationship between the two main characters.

The Earth and Everything Under by K.M. Ferebee

This story was a haunting tale about grief and healing and the nature of death. It also spoke to me about how an entire community can turn on you, but you are forced to live with them. I have complicated feelings about this story, which are the best kind.

Sun, Moon, Dust by Ursula Vernon

Sliding in here at the end of the year is this precious gem of a story that makes me believe in humankind. Honestly everything Ursula Vernon writes makes me feel better. She’s been a huge balm for my soul this year, and inspired me thoroughly as a writer. She also writes as T. Kingfisher, who you’ll see later on this list, and if you want more of her writing I recommend the entirety of Jackalope Wives and Other Stories without reservation.

A Recipe for Magic by Kat Howard and Fran Wilde

This story is another balm to my heart. I am super into kitchen witches and gardeners and anything else bringing magic and power to things domestic and full of love. Please check it out and try not to tear up (happy tears, I promise). It’s up on B&N’s website as part of their new push to publish original fiction.img_3990

 

Honorable mentions to Loneliness Is in Your Blood, The Oiran’s Song, and If We Live to Be Giants. They were all hella good.

Novellas

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion by Margaret Killjoy

I loved this novella mostly because it felt so real to me. I knew the people that Killjoy described in a way that a lot of characters don’t exactly strike me as real. It’s an urban fantasy, or more appropriately a contemporary fantasy, and it’s an unexpected and delicious story.

Dusk or Dawn or Dark or Day by Seanan McGuire

McGuire had several novellas come out this year, and a few books, too. She is super prolific. I picked this one for the list because it was one of my favorites, and also because it’s a great place to start with her work, encapsulating a lot of her reoccurring themes in a standalone text.

Also I have to point out that I read this novella around the same time that I read “You’ll Surely Drown Here if You Stay” by Alyssa Wong, and if you put those two titles together they make a refrain to what could be a bitterly beautiful poem.

All Systems Red by Martha Wells

You all know I love Martha Wells, or at least you do if you’ve been reading this blog any length of time. This novella has taken the sff world by storm for its inventive approach to an alien consciousness that nonetheless remains lovable. It was actually a little short for me – I felt like I would have become more emotionally invested given more time in Murderbot’s head – but good news! There are two more planned installments in The Murderbot Diaries to look forward to next year.

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Novels

Full Fathom Five by Max Gladstone

I read the entire Craft Sequence this year, and I cannot recommend it enough. Technically, the book that was published in 2017 is The Ruin of Angels, which is my second favorite book in this series, bumping off Three Parts Dead to take that honor (barely). My favorite, though, is Full Fathom Five. All of Gladstone’s books explore earth-shaking themes with inventive, masterful language and world-building. (What if magic was real and also managed by a bunch of capitalists, for example. Also: what if the stories we told ourselves became sentient?) I recommend these books to everyone I come across. You can read them in order of publication or chronologically (I did order of publication) but just go read them.

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The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

Wrapping up The Broken Earth Trilogy is The Stone Sky, a book that lived up to the promise of the series. I can’t say it was uplifting, but it was satisfying.

Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen

I wrote about this book a few weeks ago, and it remains one of my favorites I’ve read this year. I’m very much into American West reimaginings that feature women and people of color. I even did a whole blogpost about this subgenre, which you can check out here. Anyway, check out this book, it’s worth it, and can be read as a standalone or as the first in what I believe is a trilogy.

Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston

This book is the only non-speculative fiction title on this list. It’s also the only YA title, I think. It explores similar themes to “Three May Keep a Secret,” mentioned above, so content warnings are necessary. However, this book, too, is about healing, and it was a powerful read for me during this long year when it has seemed like so much darkness has been in the world.

Bryony and Roses by T. Kingfisher

Surprising no one, another one of T. Kingfisher’s fairytale reimaginings has made my list this year. You will recall “Sun, Moon, Dust” by Ursula Vernon, above. They happen to be the same person, and all of her stories are amazing. This one tackles Beauty and the Beast, and it’s one of my favorite retellings of that particular tale yet.

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Serials

This isn’t exactly its own category, as I have only one work to mention here. Serial productions seem to be on the up and up at the moment, and I wanted to note one that I think will go a long way towards revolutionizing the genre. Steal the Stars has been a remarkable listen, and it has taught me a lot about what can be done with a serial story. You should check it out.

Essay

The Shape of Darkness as it Overtakes Us by Dimas Ilaw

Essay is not a category I usually include and probably won’t make it in future best-of lists, but I felt like 2017 has been an exceptional year and so we had to make an exception. If you have felt at all hopeless and overwhelmed, I can’t say that this essay will make you feel better. But it will definitely help you to process, I think, just as the author is processing their own grief. And it will help you to step forward, too.


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Getting ready for my panel

Hey friends! This weekend I am in San Antonio for World Fantasy Convention 2017. The theme is “Secret Histories” and I am moderating a panel all about cities as palimpsests! The panel is called “The Role of Cities in Fantasy Settings” and it will be tomorrow morning at 10 am if anyone is in town.

I got to be panel moderator because of my day job, so I thought I might use this post to make recommendation of some of my favorite books about cities for those of you who may not be able to join tomorrow. I’ll also try to do a recap of what the other members of the panel discuss for next week, though we’ll see how on the ball I am tomorrow morning with note-taking.

Imaginary Cities

First, I spent several weeks leading up to this panel reading the book Imaginary Cities by Darran Anderson. It was a super interesting read, and I recommend it if you are a writer daylighting as an urban planner, like myself. Anderson does a broad survey of the city in literature and architecture, including such famous minds in the urban planning field as Le Corbusier alongside philosophers like Plato and fiction writers like Italo Calvino. It’s a dreamy, memorable survey with a delightful way of looking at things. One of my favorite early lines in the book talks about Le Corbusier’s vision for the city: “It is a city rethought as planetary space, but what can live in a vacuum?” There’s enough fodder in here for all of your storytelling and visioning needs.

The Dervish House

On the semi-fictional spectrum, one of my favorite cities is Istanbul as depicted in Ian McDonald’s The Dervish House, a tense and smart techno-thriller meets near-future dystopia meets historical fiction. Yes, there is a lot going on in this book, and it is done so well. The layers of Istanbul sit on top of one another, bleed into one another, and each character carries their own city with them. It’s a book of intensely vivid prose and gorgeous vistas, all contained around a tight knot of action.

The Water Knife

Paolo Bacigalupi has made a name for his near-future dystopias focusing on climate change. Most memorable of these is the Wind Up Girl, which won several awards, but I think the author really comes into his own with The Water Knife. This book takes place in Phoenix, AZ, conveniently enough the city I was born in, and I had a hard time reading it because it was so incredibly believable. As might be expected, climate change means that the setting is absolutely integral to the plot of this work, and that setting is a grim, waterless future indeed.

The Wheel of the Infinite

Really you could pick up any Martha Wells book and get a delightful lesson on building worlds, but why not start with this one? This city hangs parallel in time or space to another, and the big crisis of the book is trying to keep it from being erased by that other place. Wells draws on canal cities from around the world to design Duvalpore.

The Craft Sequence

I left the Craft Sequence for last because there aren’t enough words to explain Max Gladstones adroit use of the city in these works. The first of the books in order of publication, Three Parts Dead, is set in the city of Alt Coloumb, a magnificent place whose infrastructure is literally the body of a god. Every book in this sequence is set in a different city, each more fascinating than the last, with the most recent book focusing on how cities are narratives, communal decisions in how we want to experience our world. If you have any interest in cities historically, urban planning, fantastical zoning law or anything of that nature, you should probably read these books.

Go forth and read, and I’ll see you next week!


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The inevitability of sexual assault

After a rather fluffy and upbeat couple of posts last week, we’re going down into the dark today. Trigger warning for sexual assault and spoilers for James Treadwell’s Advent and Anarchy. Also I’m going to slightly spoil my own book, Mother of Creation, because I can and because I feel like I can’t have this conversation without thinking about how it applies to my own work. Please read my book anyway if you can, because I’d like my writing habit to someday become more lucrative.

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Sexual assault is something that every woman experiences as an echo in her psyche, I think. It is so pervasive in our media and culture it is hard not to have that echo whispering at you from time to time, catching the edge of your attention. Many of my friends have experienced some type of sexual assault, sometimes violent. I carry their stories. I myself have been blessed enough to experience minor forms – the unwanted touches of older men, the catcalls and implicit threats, the pressure to say yes to intimacy and the uncomfortable knowledge that saying “no” was something being granted when it should have been something that was merely understood.

I remember vividly as a young woman being told by someone I loved and trusted very much that sometimes a man can’t stop, it wasn’t like it was for girls, so it was my obligation not to take it to that point. I carried this misinformation with me for years. It’s an insidious narrative, the idea that men have no choice in rape anymore than women do. That they are gripped by their overwhelming base urges. A rape is like a tree falling in a storm. It is like gravity.

Rape is the nature of man, this narrative says. You can’t blame him.

I encountered this idea very recently in the work of James Treadwell. I will hurry to say that the writing style of Treadwell is beautiful, the narrative pacing solid, the thematic content interesting. Yet I am not sure that I will finish the trilogy that this particular narrative occurred in, despite enjoying many other elements of the story, despite being solidly invested. The narrative arc in question, after all, occurred in the second book of this series, Anarchy. It had been some time since I read Advent, several years in fact, so any warning that this was the direction of the character, Marina’s, plot development had been forgotten. I remember enjoying Advent a great deal. It is, if you want to read it, probably a little bit like The Magicians, a grim approach to magic in the modern world.

Marina is the child of a siren and/or river nymph (the two mythological creatures appear to be confused in the text somewhat, not that they don’t have overlaps) and a human man. She is raised by that man, her father, in isolation. Her understanding of the world is hampered by the way that she is raised and by the fact that she is not entirely human and does not seem to think of things the way humans do. Most importantly, though, Marina is a child. She is fourteen, but seems to think more like a ten-year-old.

Early on in the book Anarchy, Marina is left alone by the men in her life, hidden for her own good, they say. It is established through reflections by other, male characters that she has inherited some supreme charisma or sexual attractiveness from her mother. Despite the fact that she is clearly an adolescent, and despite the fact that she clearly does not understand attraction or present herself in any way sexually, they are overwhelmingly attracted to her. She must therefore be kept shut away.

If you’re already getting skeeved out here, then you can join the club.

Most of the book, however, is not told from these other males’ perspectives. It is told from Marina’s, or from the perspectives of other women. Unsurprisingly, women do not seem to feel this same attraction – though the woman who appoints herself Marina’s guardian, Iseult, obviously senses that it is a possibility. The question of why this would be the case, or why, if Iseult does feel attraction towards Marina, she is able to resist it but men cannot, is never brought up. The most unfortunate part of Iseult and Marina’s interactions, however, is that it makes you feel that Marina might escape the fate the author has clearly planned for her.

She doesn’t, of course.

Why Treadwell felt the need to include the sexual assault of a child in his narrative, whether it contributed to the story, is not something I am interested in analyzing here. What does strike me so violently about Marina’s story, however, is not the rape itself, though that was traumatic enough. It is the way that it is described as natural and inevitable within the narrative. From the start, it is clear that men cannot be trusted with Marina. It takes a heroic effort for them not to assault her, in fact. This narrative so thoroughly parallels the worst and most entrenched ideas of rape culture that it is deeply destabilizing to read. It is even more destabilizing to question why a writer would include a rape in his narrative that was presented in such a way, especially of a child.

I myself have used sexual assault in my stories. I am not innocent of that. Liana’s rape was constructed as an inevitability in some ways as well. I would argue the inevitability was not, however, dependent on her nature, on human nature. Jei has a choice that is very clearly set in front of him. Yes, he is pressured and manipulated by his own power and position, among other things, but the choice always lies with him. It was important for me to explore the ways that power allows grievous crimes to become normalized. I sought to do that while making it clear that what had happened should not be normal. I can’t say whether or not I succeeded in this – I don’t have that distance from my own work.

That was not, to my reading of Marina’s tale, the way her rape was written. That is not the way that rape is often presented in narratives in our culture. It bothers me fundamentally that this is the case – that even in trying to represent sexual assault in story, to understand it, we replicate narratives that normalize it.

I call out Treadwell because his work allowed me to see clearly what bothers me most about depictions of sexual assault. He’s not alone in this, and perhaps I should be critiqued equally. It’s been a long time since I first conceived of Mother of Creation, and I can’t say there aren’t things I would have done differently. But I do know that in the future, I hope to read and create stories where sexual assault is not normalized as an inevitability, where men are decent and where women are not blamed for the happenstance of their bodies. If we don’t start telling that kind of story, we can never hope to live in that kind of world.

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.