What I Read (and loved) So Far In 2016, Second Quarter

Sweet crap, the year is flying by. So here’s the second installment of this year’s thrilling (thrilling) list of the books that really blew my mind.


  1. Truthwitch by Susan Dennard

In a continent on the edge of war, two witches hold its fate in their hands.

Young witches Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble. After clashing with a powerful Guildmaster and his ruthless Bloodwitch bodyguard, the friends are forced to flee their home.

TruthwitchSafi must avoid capture at all costs as she’s a rare Truthwitch, able to discern truth from lies. Many would kill for her magic, so Safi must keep it hidden – lest she be used in the struggle between empires. And Iseult’s true powers are hidden even from herself.

In a chance encounter at Court, Safi meets Prince Merik and makes him a reluctant ally. However, his help may not slow down the Bloodwitch now hot on the girls’ heels. All Safi and Iseult want is their freedom, but danger lies ahead. With war coming, treaties breaking and a magical contagion sweeping the land, the friends will have to fight emperors and mercenaries alike. For some will stop at nothing to get their hands on a Truthwitch.

 


So Kate Elliott was talking this up on Twitter a while back, and as the old saying goes, As goes Kate Elliott, so goes my heart. Also, never doubt Kate Elliott, because this book was delightful. Fundamentally, this is a book about a friendship between two young women. And they’re having adventures and there’s the possibility of a fulfillment of prophesy, plus some solid flirting with handsome young beefcakes, and don’t forget imperial politics, but mostly it’s about their friendship. Which is lovely.

Also in its favor? Probably the most body-positive “young woman puts on amazing ballgown and admires herself” scene that I have ever had the privilege to read, plus a really great surprise with how Dennard handles a character who could’ve easily been the evil Terminator character of the series, but is clearly brewing to be something much more complex and fascinating. I definitely can’t wait for the sequel, though judging from Goodreads I’ll at least have to wait a year. Sigh.


2. The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore

 New York Times bestselling author Christopher Moore channels William Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe in this satiric Venetian gothic that brings back the Pocket of Dog Snogging, the eponymous hero of Fool, along with his sidekick, Drool, and pet monkey, JeffThe Serpent of Venice

Venice, a long time ago. Three prominent Venetians await their most loathsome and foul dinner guest, the erstwhile envoy of Britain and France, and widower of the murdered Queen Cordelia: the rascal-Fool Pocket.

This trio of cunning plotters-the merchant, Antonio; the senator, Montressor Brabantio; and the naval officer, Iago-have lured Pocket to a dark dungeon, promising an evening of sprits and debauchery with a rare Amontillado sherry and Brabantio’s beautiful daughter, Portia.

But their invitation is, of course, bogus. The wine is drugged. The girl isn’t even in the city limits. Desperate to rid themselves once and for all of the man who has consistently foiled their grand quest for power and wealth, they have lured him to his death. (How can such a small man, be such a huge obstacle?). But this Fool is no fool . . . and he’s got more than a few tricks (and hand gestures) up his sleeve.


So many foul jokes, so many Shakespeare in-jokes, really, what’s not to like? An excellent sequel to Fool.


3. Fortune’s Pawn by Rachel Bach

œF$¿Æ‘$8Òò¤»däå¸R8BIDevi Morris isn’t your average mercenary. She has plans. Big ones. And a ton of ambition. It’s a combination that’s going to get her killed one day – but not just yet.
That is, until she just gets a job on a tiny trade ship with a nasty reputation for surprises. The Glorious Fool isn’t misnamed: it likes to get into trouble, so much so that one year of security work under its captain is equal to five years everywhere else. With odds like that, Devi knows she’s found the perfect way to get the jump on the next part of her Plan. But the Fool doesn’t give up its secrets without a fight, and one year on this ship might be more than even Devi can handle.


Oh my god, Devi kicks all the ass in the world. I love that she’s take-no-shit, I love that she has ambition and she’s not afraid to show it, I love that she is completely unashamed of her sexuality, I love that she has power armor with two guns and a sword AND SHE HAS NAMED ALL OF THEM, and I basically love everything about this book. I really only meant to read a few chapters, but instead I read the whole thing. I also read the sequel (Honor’s Knight), which I’m not including on this list only because it would read like an almost identical fan letter to Bach. But it was also fabulous, and I’m looking forward to the third in the series, which now sits upon my to-read shelf.


4. The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

Quentin Coldwater has been cast out of Fillory, the secret magical land of his childhood dreams. With nothing left to lose, he returns to where his story began, the Brakebills The Magician's LandPreparatory College of Magic, but he can’t hide from his past, and it’s not long before it comes looking for him.

Along with Plum, a brilliant young undergraduate with a dark secret of her own, Quentin sets out on a crooked path through a magical demimonde of gray magic and desperate characters. But all roads lead back to Fillory, and his new life takes him to old haunts, like Antarctica, and to buried secrets and old friends he thought were lost forever. He uncovers the key to a sorcery masterwork, a spell that could create magical utopia, and a new Fillory–but casting it will set in motion a chain of events that will bring Earth and Fillory crashing together. To save them he will have to risk sacrificing everything.


What a lovely, lovely conclusion to the trilogy. It has all the gorgeous imagery and writing, plus sly humor and characterization, that I loved about the first two, but it’s a different book. This is a book about Quentin finally becoming an adult, and as a result the book itself is much more tightly plotted. A lot of subtle stuff, plus some amazing and grand moments. Also, bacon. Perfection.


5. Ethan of Athos by Lois McMaster Bujold

The familiar old SF “planet of women” chestnut is reversed in the planet of Athos — an Ethan of Athosall-male planet made possible by the invention of the uterine replicator. Ethan, drawn out of his beloved Athos by a quest, finds himself an alien in more mainstream human society, and cannot help but find women disturbing aliens as well, especially the ultra-competent, ultra-beautiful Elli.

Ethan of Athos is Lois McMaster Bujold’s third novel. It departs from the concerns of the Vorkosigan family to explore the ramifications of advanced biotechnology, turning many a cliché on its head along the way.


This was a hugely fun book to read, because in so many ways it is so classic SF, but in other ways it is strikingly modern. Ethan is an obstetrician from a planet made up entirely of men, but when the planet’s supply of ovarian tissue (critical to their ability to grow their sons in uterine replicators) begins dying (it is still the original tissue from 200 years ago, the planet’s founding), Ethan has to go on a mission to get more for his planet. In doing so, he is suddenly exposed to women, as well as an entirely different society. Along the way he gets sucked into what is essentially a noir murder mystery, teamed up with a beautiful, mysterious, and wholly dangerous female mercenary.

So here’s what I really loved about this book – the whole time, I’m just waiting, WAITING, for the moment that Ethan was going to discover that he really liked women, and the power of the male-female missionary position was going to make him swear off his planet, or swear to expose his planet to women or some such thing. But that doesn’t happen. Ethan learns that women are people, that they aren’t inherently sinful, and he becomes real friends with Elli (the mercenary), but he is still who he is – a man who is sexually attracted only to men. A nice man who just wants to go home to his planet and his family and start having sons of his own. I was so pleasantly surprised by Bujold allowing Ethan to stay Ethan, and it actually comes out as a fairly subversive book. Loved it.


6. Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer

Missoula, Montana is a typical college town, home to a highly regarded state university whose beloved football team inspires a passionately loyal fan base. Between January 2008 and May Missoula2012, hundreds of students reported sexual assaults to the local police. Few of the cases were properly handled by either the university or local authorities. In this, Missoula is also typical.

In these pages, acclaimed journalist Jon Krakauer investigates a spate of campus rapes that occurred in Missoula over a four-year period. Taking the town as a case study for a crime that is sadly prevalent throughout the nation, Krakauer documents the experiences of five victims: their fear and self-doubt in the aftermath; the skepticism directed at them by police, prosecutors, and the public; their bravery in pushing forward and what it cost them. These stories cut through abstract ideological debate about acquaintance rape to demonstrate that it does not happen because women are sending mixed signals or seeking attention. They are victims of a terrible crime, deserving of fairness from our justice system. Rigorously researched, rendered in incisive prose, Missoula stands as an essential call to action.  


This book was emotionally hard to read because of its subject matter, but I feel that it is profoundly important for the way that it focuses on acquaintance rape and the profound way that our current handling of rape in the justice system is failing so many women in our country.


7. The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed

In the mid-1700s the English captain of a trading ship that made runs between England and the Virginia colony fathered a child by an enslaved woman living near Williamsburg. The woman, whose name is unknown and who is believed to have been born in Africa, was owned by the Eppeses, a prominent Virginia family. The captain, whose surname was Hemings, and the woman had a daughter. They named her Elizabeth.

The Hemmingses of MonticelloSo begins this epic work—named a best book of the year by the Washington Post, Time, the Los Angeles Times, Amazon.com, the San Francisco Chronicle, and a notable book by the New York Times—Annette Gordon-Reed’s “riveting history” of the Hemings family, whose story comes to vivid life in this brilliantly researched and deeply moving work. Gordon-Reed, author of the highly acclaimed historiography Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy, unearths startling new information about the Hemingses, Jefferson, and his white family. Although the book presents the most detailed and richly drawn portrait ever written of Sarah Hemings, better known by her nickname Sally, who bore seven children by Jefferson over the course of their thirty-eight-year liaison, The Hemingses of Monticello tells more than the story of her life with Jefferson and their children. The Hemingses as a whole take their rightful place in the narrative of the family’s extraordinary engagement with one of history’s most important figures.

Not only do we meet Elizabeth Hemings—the family matriarch and mother to twelve children, six by John Wayles, a poor English immigrant who rose to great wealth in the Virginia colony—but we follow the Hemings family as they become the property of Jefferson through his marriage to Martha Wayles. The Hemings-Wayles children, siblings to Martha, played pivotal roles in the life at Jefferson’s estate.

We follow the Hemingses to Paris, where James Hemings trained as a chef in one of the most prestigious kitchens in France and where Sally arrived as a fourteen-year-old chaperone for Jefferson’s daughter Polly; to Philadelphia, where James Hemings acted as the major domo to the newly appointed secretary of state; to Charlottesville, where Mary Hemings lived with her partner, a prosperous white merchant who left her and their children a home and property; to Richmond, where Robert Hemings engineered a plan for his freedom; and finally to Monticello, that iconic home on the mountain, from where most of Jefferson’s slaves, many of them Hemings family members, were sold at auction six months after his death in 1826.

As The Hemingses of Monticello makes vividly clear, Monticello can no longer be known only as the home of a remarkable American leader, the author of the Declaration of Independence; nor can the story of the Hemingses, whose close blood ties to our third president have been expunged from history until very recently, be left out of the telling of America’s story. With its empathetic and insightful consideration of human beings acting in almost unimaginably difficult and complicated family circumstances, The Hemingses of Monticello is history as great literature. It is a remarkable achievement.


Incredibly nuanced and detailed. Gordon-Reed is unafraid of looking at all the interpretations and permutations of the incredibly complex and fundamentally challenging relationships that arose between the Hemingses and the family members who owned them. The research here and the care taken to analyze it also allows the modern reader to look behind the veil of what was commonly said in public in society, and how lives were lived in private. An amazing work of history.


 

May The 4th

MechHappy May the 4th! I know what I’ll be watching this evening. (hint: lightsabers lightsabers lightsabers)

Other fun news for the day — I’m over at the SF Signal Mind Meld with a whole host of some of my favorite people, and we’re talking about our favorite magical weapons. Hop over and see everyone’s choices — it turned out to be a fantastic range.

In even better news, the MECH: Age of Steel Kickstarter funded last night! YAY! So around December, there will be an anthology in print with one of my short stories in it. If you want to make sure that you get a copy, you can still run over and throw some money at the Kickstarter — $10 gets you a digital copy, and $25 gets you a print copy. And if you happen to have $150 to spare, you can even make sure that one of the characters is named after you (and will even survive the story — promise!).

Please keep spreading the word about the Kickstarter — there are 9 days left until it closes, and there are some really cool stretch goals that we haven’t reached yet. In one of them, every story will get an illustration to go with it, and in another, all the authors get a pay bump.

Of course, I’m really focused on those illustrations.

Really. Truly.

(pay bump pay bump pay bump pay bump pay bump)

MECH: Age of Steel

Mech

Great news on the writing front, guys!

I got the opportunity to contribute a short story to a mech anthology being put out by Ragnarok Press. The anthology is currently being funded on Kickstarter, and is now only $1,000 away from its goal! The Kickstarter ends on May 13, 2016, and I’m extremely excited about this project, as my story will be featured alongside such great writers as Jason Hough, Martha Wells, Gini Koch, Kevin J. Anderson, and Anton Strout!

This isn’t a Generation V short, but is set in an original world that has spent decades fighting against a hostile population of giant predatory kaiju in a wholescale war to try to preserve humanity. Over half of the world’s cities have been lost to kaiju incursions, and whole populations were displaced.

My story, “After The Victory,” picks up after the impossible has finally been achieved — the kaiju have been destroyed, and their nesting grounds wiped out. There are no more kaiju, and now humanity can start the process of rebuilding their lives. For Captain Sutiya Puedpong, who has spent her entire adult life in the military, it should be the start of a whole new world as the demobilization begins in earnest.

But she’s just been reassigned as lead handler for the pilot program, and the problem is — the demobilization isn’t happening. With kaiju gone, why aren’t the mechs going as well? Why are the world’s governments suddenly recalling their mech teams? And what can one officer do when faced with the start of a whole new Cold War?

If you think this sounds fun, then show up tonight for the MECH launch party on Facebook! I’ll be talking about my story and answering questions at 9:15EST, and there are a lot of other great authors scheduled to talk.

Don’t forget to check out the MECH Kickstarter! There are still some incredible backer rewards available, including the opportunity to have a character in my story named after you!

 

And Then The Hugos Happened. Again.

The Hugo nominations were announced this week, at which point everyone got confirmation for what we pretty much all knew — that the Rabid Puppies were going to double-down on being assholes, and that the slate voting and ballot stuffing is pretty much here to stay until there can be an official rules change. Good news — the rule change was approved last year at Worldcon, and just needs to pass at this year’s Worldcon for the adjustments to go into effect. So let’s all hope that this is the last year that pretty much all of SFF has to look at the steaming pile of defecation left on our collective front stoop by the neighborhood doucheweasel (there’s always one, people).

For a good summary of the current mishegas, or if you haven’t been following the Hugo controversy (but if that’s you, maybe you should just preserve that state of blissful ignorance), John Scalzi wrote a piece for the LA Times that covers things. The Rabid Puppy agenda seemed to have a two-prong approach (hold on, I’m avoiding a dildo joke here) this year:

  • We will nominate the things you love, thereby tainting them by our association and forcing you to vote against them! Mwa ha ha ha!

Which….. is probably not going to work? I mean, The Things We Love are pretty worthy of Hugos, and probably were going to get a lot of nominations anyway, so I don’t think that’s really going to stall up many people. Stephen King and Neil Gaiman aren’t on the ballot just because the Rabid Puppies had them on the slate. Neither is a tiny little indie flick known as Star Wars. And if Andy Weir is up for a Campbell again, then that probably has more to do with how good of a book The Martian was, and given a nice assist from a certain Matt Damon-centric film.

So, let’s just call that first approach, in the immortal words of Antonin Scalia, “pure applesauce” and move on the the second approach, which was a bit more problematic.

  • We will find the most offensive, asinine, or ridiculous things possible and, through slate voting, force them onto the ballot.

That worked pretty well in the categories that are always going to get fewer nominations from the community in general, and therefore are the most vulnerable to slate voting. (File 770 included a very useful list that’s color-coded for convenience.) It also resulted in some fairly weird reading when you scan down the list of nominees. The Best Related Work category in particular includes Vox Day’s “SJWs Always Lie: Taking Down The Thought Police” and Daniel Eness’s “Safe Space As Rape Room.” A large part of me wonders if one of the goals this year was just to physically punish those particularly diligent souls who make a point of reading all the nominated works before voting.

But the Best Short Story category is getting some particular attention. Here’s how it was when it appeared:

  • “Asymmetrical Warfare” by S. R. Algernon (Nature, Mar 2015)
  • The Commuter by Thomas A. Mays (Stealth)
  • “If You Were an Award, My Love” by Juan Tabo and S. Harris (voxday.blogspot.com, Jun 2015)
  • “Seven Kill Tiger” by Charles Shao (There Will Be War Volume X, Castalia House)
  • Space Raptor Butt Invasion by Chuck Tingle (Amazon Digital Services)

This was another category that was completely dominated by the Rabid Puppy slate. Which one sticks out to the eye?

Here’s a hint:

Space Raptor

No, I’m not adding a link. Befoul your own Amazon recommendations, like I had to.

Okay, is this absolutely hilarious on some level?

Yes. Without a doubt. That this exists at all kind of makes me delighted about our species in general. I’ve seen these dino-porn covers before, and had many a merry exchange on Twitter about them. The writer (Chuck Tingle is a pseudonym) has carved out a very solid niche for themselves, and the photoshopping is fairly awesome.

But…. yeah.

As is fairly usual, N. K. Jemisin hit this one out of the park, so I’m just going to pop in her tweets (read from the bottom):

NK Jemisin

This ended up on Facebook, and someone basically responded by asking why we were all making such a fuss over a set of awards.

Listen, if the Hugos were something that a group of boozy authors organized in a con-suite, with names thrown into a hat passed around the room, then the winners announced with much fanfare and rewarded with an extra cookie and a large whiskey, then the whole thing basically forgotten, I’d be in agreement.

But that’s not what the Hugos are. A large chunk of being nominated and being a winner is the no-doubt wonderfully affirming knowledge that your work is recognized for its quality by both readers and your peers, but that’s not the end of it. Getting nominated can give an author incredible exposure and result in increased sales. There’s a reason that publishers reissue books after Hugo noms and wins so that the cover reflects the attention — it can result in many more people picking it up in a bookstore or buying it online.

Awards are not just recognition. They are also a potential means to an increased ability to earn a livelihood and have the opportunity to publish more books.

By using slate voting to give nominations to ridiculous and unqualified choices, the Rabid Puppies are keeping authors who otherwise would’ve received a nomination off of the lists. This hurts the potential exposure of these authors and also has a negative impact on their careers. This behavior is HURTING authors.

As Jemisin pointed out, the writer working under the Chuck Tingle pseudonym is well aware that they were nominated as a result of purely trolling behavior. It’s pretty safe to say that Chuck Tingle did not start writing dino-porn out of a desire to win awards and the adulation of the SFF community for the value of their plots and prose. Chuck Tingle has had enough time to absorb this news, conduct several interviews on the topic, and also release a moderately topical work on the subject.

slammed in the butt

As seen here.

What Chuck Tingle has not done is withdraw from the nomination list. Which is what’s getting a number of authors, including Jemisin, fairly annoyed. Because if Tingle withdrew, someone else would get to go on the list and be considered for an award — someone who had written a serious story and had received nominations for it — and

rainbow

Admit it. It makes a lot of sense.

would’ve been on that list had a group of inveterate crybabies not decided that deliberately screwing up the Hugo nominations was even more fun than their usual plans of masturbating furiously to old Rainbow Brite episodes.

Thomas A. Mays, who wrote “The Commuter,” has already withdrawn because of the circumstances of his nomination. And I give him an endless amount of credit and admiration for that decision, which must have been extraordinarily painful, given that he had not been involved in the Rabid Puppy slate or organization in any way, and in his own words:

I did not ask to be part of any list, but I hoped at the very least that it might bring other eyes to “The Commuter”, readers that might appreciate it for what it was and perhaps honor me with an uncontroversial nomination (or at least a few Kindle purchases).  But, now that all hopes for a clean nomination are dashed, it is my turn to speak:

Rather than eat a shit sandwich, I choose to get up from the table.  

Thank you to all the people who actually read my story, enjoyed it, and nominated it for the Hugo.  I will forever be in your debt.

Mays made a very hard decision, and one that we should all give him a lot of credit for.

Tingle’s story remains nominated.

And here’s the thing —

I get where Tingle is coming from.

The Hugo nomination, for any struggling or mid-list writer, is an unbelievable gift of visibility and exposure. How many clicks has Tingle gotten as a result of this nomination? How many sales? For Tingle to refuse the nomination would be like handing him or her a golden-egg-laying goose, then demanding that he or she break the goose’s neck because ownership of the goose only came to them because of the actions of a particularly incestuous and nasty clan of kobolds three kingdoms over, who Tingle never even knew existed until this moment.

That’s a hard ask.

During last year’s Hugo shitstorm, I was in the position of explaining to my spouse exactly what was going on, and why a number of perfectly nice authors were being put in the utterly unfair position of having to refuse the Hugo nominations on their work because those nominations had come about through slate voting. At which point my spouse noted that, if I’d been put in that situation, he’d tell me that I should probably keep the nomination.

And that’s what is really at the bottom of this post for me — because if I’d been put in Mays’s position, I can’t say that I would’ve had the guts to do the right thing.

Now, firstly, that never happened. And given the rule change that is almost certainly going to be put into effect, it never would. Plus, my only eligible work would’ve been Dark Ascension, and let’s all be honest here — for a group that really hates Social Justice Warriors, Fortitude Scott might actually be the apogee of all of their hatred. Sure, Fort is white, male, and straight, so he’s got that going for him, but I deliberately constructed a vampire who I could say with a straight face was a bleeding-heart liberal (and then giggle, because that’s how I roll). Fort could actually be the Rabid Puppies poster-child for the emasculated man. (side note — I’m visualizing for just a second what it would’ve been like if I’d constructed a character that fit the apparent male ideal of the Rabid Puppies. I think my book would’ve ended in Chapter Three, when he was stabbed in the throat by Suzume. Anyway.)

But if that HAD happened?

Boundless publicity for a series that was struggling. Attention lavished on me by my publisher. New covers commissioned to advertise to all that this series had gotten a Hugo nom (maybe even a chance for a full cover redesign!). A complete rethinking by my publisher on whether to commission more books in the series, which means possibly more money for me. Perked sales, because more people would see the title and consider checking out the series, which means not just more money but, again, possibly more books. And if the rigged voting carried me through to a win? Well, anyone who followed the Hugos closely would know that my win carried an asterisk. But everyone else…. well, they’d just see “Hugo-Winning” on my bio and books.

And at the end of the day, with the publicity and sales? There would also have been an ego element. Because I DID put a lot of work into those books, and I AM proud of them. Recognition is a wonderful thing, and I would’ve undoubtedly spent a lot of time trying to argue that, no matter how it ended up on the ballet, that the book WAS of value.

I don’t think I’ll ever be put in the position of Thomas A. Mays or Chuck Tingle, but here’s what I know for sure: I can’t just say that I’d refuse the nomination, because that’s not true. I know that in that situation, I should. But I just don’t know if I could bring myself to do it.

Do I think that Chuck Tingle should refuse the nomination? Yes. Without a doubt.

Do I understand why Chuck Tingle might very well keep the nomination? Oh, yes. Without a doubt.

UPDATE: Chuck Tingle has apparently responded to the situation by publishing Space Raptor Butt Redemption. Here’s a link to a review that provides quotes and boils down the argument that Tingle makes. Personally, I think that Tingle is throwing up quite a lot of sand to obscure what is basically at the heart of why he or she is keeping this nomination and riding it all the way to the end — this is a publicity unicorn, wearing a garland of money flowers, that has just been placed on the doorstep, and it doesn’t matter that it was stolen from deserving owners by shit-gnawing kobolds three kingdoms over. That unicorn ain’t goin’ nowhere.

ALSO UPDATE: Comments are also going to have to be moderated for a while. This post has apparently garnered a bit of puppy attention, and I do not spend nearly enough time on this blog to deal with all of that.

FURTHER UPDATE: And, now the comments are turned off entirely for this post. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but I see no reason why my inbox should essentially be showered in raw sewage.

What I Read (and loved) So Far In 2016, First Quarter

Back by reader demand…. wait, no, that’s just a lie. Sorry, guys. I hope that people are enjoying my quarterly updates on the books that I’ve loved reading throughout the year, but I haven’t seen anyone expressing more than a tepid appreciation for these posts. Mostly I’m doing this again this year for two important reasons:

  1. It provides bloggable content.
  2. I find it enjoyable.

Writing-wise, I’m working on a lot of things on my end, but unfortunately there’s nothing that I can really talk about yet, since I don’t like discussing projects publicly until there’s a contract involved and some assurance that people will eventually see the end product. I’m pretty optimistic that I’m going to have a good announcement soon about an anthology that I was asked to contribute to, but until that gets a little further, I can’t announce anything.

Bummer, I know. Anyway, fingers crossed!

On to the main topic — what have I been reading so far in 2016? Well, I’ve read 20 books as of March 30th, and here are the ones that blew my mind. You’ll probably notice two trends — I read a lot of non-fiction, and I read a lot of Django Wexler:


 

  1. The Price of Valor (The Shadow Campaigns, #3) by Django Wexler

In the latest Shadow Campaigns novel, Django Wexler continues his “epic fantasy of military might and magical conflict”* following The Shadow Throne and The Thousand Names, as the realm of Vordan faces imminent threats from without and within.

In the wake of the King’s death, war has come to Vordan.

The Deputies-General has precarious control of the city, but it is led by a zealot who sees traitors in every shadow. Executions have become a grim public spectacle. The new queen, The Price of ValorRaesinia Orboan, finds herself nearly powerless as the government tightens its grip and assassins threaten her life. But she did not help free the country from one sort of tyranny to see it fall into another. Placing her trust with the steadfast soldier Marcus D’Ivoire, she sets out to turn the tide of history.

As the hidden hand of the Sworn Church brings all the powers of the continent to war against Vordan, the enigmatic and brilliant general Janus bet Vhalnich offers a path to victory. Winter Ihernglass, newly promoted to command a regiment, has reunited with her lover and her friends, only to face the prospect of leading them into bloody battle.

And the enemy is not just armed with muskets and cannon. Dark priests of an ancient order, wielding forbidden magic, have infiltrated Vordan to stop Janus by whatever means necessary…


You know what I love about this series? I mean, other than the cannons, the battles, the characters, the ever-increasing cast of amazing and diverse female characters, the attention to detail, the brewing stew of magic and religion, and the political undercurrents?

That each book in this series as a distinct tone. Different enough to keep things interesting and exciting, but without losing internal continuity.

Also, did I mention cannons?


 

2. Duel With The Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up To Take on America’s First Sensational Murder Mystery by Paul Collins

Duel With The DevilDuel with the Devil is acclaimed historian Paul Collins’ remarkable true account of a  stunning turn-of-the-19th century murder and the trial that ensued – a showdown in which iconic political rivals Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr joined forces to make sure justice was done. Still our nation’s longest running “cold case,” the mystery of Elma Sands finally comes to a close with this book, which delivers the first substantial break in the case in over 200 years.
            In the closing days of 1799, the United States was still a young republic.  Waging a fierce battle for its uncertain future were two political parties: the well-moneyed Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, and the populist Republicans, led by Aaron Burr. The two finest lawyers in New York, Burr and Hamilton were bitter rivals both in and out of the courtroom, and as the next election approached—with Manhattan likely to be the swing district on which the presidency would hinge—their  animosity reached a crescendo. Central to their dispute was the Manhattan water supply, which Burr saw not just as an opportunity to help a city devastated by epidemics but as a chance to heal his battered finances.
             But everything changed when Elma Sands, a beautiful young Quaker woman, was found dead in Burr’s newly constructed Manhattan Well. The horrific crime quickly gripped the nation, and before long accusations settled on one of Elma’s suitors, handsome young carpenter Levi Weeks. As the enraged city demanded a noose be draped around the accused murderer’s neck, the only question seemed to be whether Levi would make it to trial or be lynched first.
             The young man’s only hope was to hire a legal dream team.  And thus it was that New York’s most bitter political rivals and greatest attorneys did the unthinkable—they teamed up.
            At once an absorbing legal thriller and an expertly crafted portrait of the United States in the time of the Founding Fathers, Duel with the Devil is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction.


 

3. Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wallstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon

Romantic OutlawsRomantic Outlaws is the first book to tell the story of the passionate and pioneering lives of Mary Wollstonecraft – English feminist and author of the landmark book, The Vindication of the Rights of Women – and her novelist daughter Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.

Although mother and daughter, these two brilliant women never knew one another – Wollstonecraft died of an infection in 1797 at the age of thirty-eight, a week after giving birth. Nevertheless their lives were so closely intertwined, their choices, dreams and tragedies so eerily similar, it seems impossible to consider one without the other.

Both women became famous writers; fell in love with brilliant but impossible men; and were single mothers who had children out of wedlock; both lived in exile; fought for their position in society; and thought deeply about how we should live. And both women broke almost every rigid convention there was to break: Wollstonecraft chased pirates in Scandinavia. Shelley faced down bandits in Naples. Wollstonecraft sailed to Paris to witness the Revolution. Shelley eloped in a fishing boat with a married man. Wollstonecraft proclaimed that women’s liberty should matter to everyone.

Not only did Wollstonecraft declare the rights of women, her work ignited Romanticism. She inspired Coleridge, Wordsworth and a whole new generation of writers, including her own daughter, who – with her young lover Percy Shelley – read Wollstonecraft’s work aloud by her graveside. At just nineteen years old and a new mother herself, Mary Shelley composed Frankenstein whilst travelling around Italy with Percy and roguish Lord Byron (who promptly fathered a child by Mary’s stepsister). It is a seminal novel, exploring the limitations of human nature and the power of invention at a time of great religious and scientific upheaval. Moreover, Mary Shelley would become the editor of her husband’s poetry after his early death – a feat of scholarship that did nothing less than establish his literary reputation.

Romantic Outlaws brings together a pair of visionary women who should have shared a life, but who instead shared a powerful literary and feminist legacy. This is inventive, illuminating, involving biography at its best.


 

4. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters In The End by Atul Gawande

Being MortalIn Being Mortal, bestselling author Atul Gawande tackles the hardest challenge of his profession: how medicine can not only improve life but also the process of its ending.

Medicine has triumphed in modern times, transforming birth, injury, and infectious disease from harrowing to manageable. But in the inevitable condition of aging and death, the goals of medicine seem too frequently to run counter to the interest of the human spirit. Nursing homes, preoccupied with safety, pin patients into railed beds and wheelchairs. Hospitals isolate the dying, checking for vital signs long after the goals of cure have become moot. Doctors, committed to extending life, continue to carry out devastating procedures that in the end extend suffering.

Gawande, a practicing surgeon, addresses his profession’s ultimate limitation, arguing that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. Gawande offers examples of freer, more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly, and he explores the varieties of hospice care to demonstrate that a person’s last weeks or months may be rich and dignified.

Full of eye-opening research and riveting storytelling, Being Mortal asserts that medicine can comfort and enhance our experience even to the end, providing not only a good life but also a good end.


 

5. The Guns of Empire (The Shadow Campaigns, #4) by Django Wexler

Guns Of EmpireAs the “audacious and subversive”* Shadow Campaigns novels continue, the weather is growing warmer, but the frosty threat of Vordan’s enemies is only growing worse…

As the roar of the guns subsides and the smoke of battle clears, the country of Vordan is offered a fragile peace…

After their shattering defeats at the hands of brilliant General Janus bet Vhalnich, the opposing powers have called all sides to the negotiating table in hopes of securing an end to the war. Queen Raesinia of Vordan is anxious to see the return of peace, but Janus insists that any peace with the implacable Sworn Church of Elysium is doomed to fail. For their Priests of the Black, there can be no truce with heretics and demons they seek to destroy, and the war is to the death.

Soldiers Marcus d’Ivoire and Winter Ihernglass find themselves caught between their general and their queen. Now, each must decide which leader truly commands their loyalty—and what price they might pay for final victory.

And in the depths of Elysium, a malign force is rising—and defeating it might mean making sacrifices beyond anything they have ever imagined.


 

Ha, ha! I got to read this months before the rest of the unwashed masses! Nyeh-nyeh!

Anyway, the release date is August 2016, so put in your pre-orders now, because you’re going to want to read this as soon as it hits bookstores. Motherfucker is gamechanging, ya’ll.


 

6. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of CrowsKetterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.

A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.

A runaway with a privileged past.

A spy known as the Wraith.

A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.

A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Kaz’s crew are the only ones who might stand between the world and destruction—if they don’t kill each other first.


 

In terms of construction, and the intricacies of the heist, this actually reminds me a lot of Scott Lynch’s Locke Lamora series, but of course very Bardugo-ized. I’m always a fan of the way that Bardugo constructs characters and relationships, and this book was no exception. Loved it.


 

7. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After LifeOn a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual.

For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Clearly history (and Kate Atkinson) have plans for her: In Ursula rests nothing less than the fate of civilization.

Wildly inventive, darkly comic, startlingly poignant — this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best, playing with time and history, telling a story that is breathtaking for both its audacity and its endless satisfactions.

 


 

What a delightful historical fiction mindfuck! Imagine Groundhog Day, but if instead of a day, it was the character’s entire LIFE. Really, really good.


 

8. Nightingales: The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale by Gillian Gill

NightingalesFlorence Nightingale was for a time the most famous woman in Britain–if not the world. We know her today primarily as a saintly character, perhaps as a heroic reformer of Britain’s health-care system. The reality is more involved and far more fascinating. In an utterly beguiling narrative that reads like the best Victorian fiction, acclaimed author Gillian Gill tells the story of this richly complex woman and her extraordinary family.

Born to an adoring wealthy, cultivated father and a mother whose conventional facade concealed a surprisingly unfettered intelligence, Florence was connected by kinship or friendship to the cream of Victorian England’s intellectual aristocracy. Though moving in a world of ease and privilege, the Nightingales came from solidly middle-class stock with deep traditions of hard work, natural curiosity, and moral clarity. So it should have come as no surprise to William Edward and Fanny Nightingale when their younger daughter, Florence, showed an early passion for helping others combined with a precocious bent for power.

Far more problematic was Florence’s inexplicable refusal to marry the well-connected Richard Monckton Milnes. As Gill so brilliantly shows, this matrimonial refusal was at once an act of religious dedication and a cry for her freedom–as a woman and as a leader. Florence’s later insistence on traveling to the Crimea at the height of war to tend to wounded soldiers was all but incendiary–especially for her older sister, Parthenope, whose frustration at being in the shade of her more charismatic sibling often led to illness.

Florence succeeded beyond her wildest dreams. But at the height of her celebrity, at the age of thirty-seven, she retired to her bedroom and remained there for most of the rest of her life, allowing visitors only by appointment.

Combining biography, politics, social history, and consummate storytelling, Nightingales is a dazzling portrait of an amazing woman, her difficult but loving family, and the high Victorian era they so perfectly epitomized. Beautifully written, witty, and irresistible, Nightingales is truly a tour de force.


 

And that was what blew my mind in the year’s first quarter.

Now your turn — what has blown YOUR mind between January and March, in terms of books?

 

Generation V earned out — and what that means

Okay, so last night I got the extremely exciting news that Generation V had earned out. I prompted posted it all over the place and rolled around in my good fortune and the congratulations of peers, friends, and fans like a kitten in a sunbeam.

And before we move any further down that subject — THIS IS STILL INCREDIBLE NEWS, AND EVERYONE MUST DANCE!

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Right, that’s taken care of.

Wait, no, still more dancing required.

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All right, I’m all set for at least five minutes now. So, when I made that post last night, basically there were two camps of people — those who knew what I was talking about, and those who had no idea what I mean and couldn’t really understand why everyone else was going batshit insane with joy.

If you were in the secondary camp, there’s nothing to be ashamed of — “earning out” is an industry term. Here’s how it works:

I sold the original manuscript of Generation V (then-titled “Virtue’s Path,” previously titled “Blood Son”, original working title “Cooking With Garlic”) to Roc in May of 2012. Part of that original sales agreement was that I would receive an advance — this was an agreed-upon chunk of money that was essentially an up-front payment of the money that everyone hoped that the book would earn. Now, this is one of the advantages of going with a traditional publishing company over doing it self-published — firstly, that Roc took on all the costs and risks of producing the book, which meant that wasn’t assuming those costs and risks (as a self-publisher has to — if you self-publish, you’re financially in the hole at the point that you have your pile of books ready to sell — and you have no guarantee that you’ll ever sell a single one), and secondly, that Roc paid me money even before the first sale was ever made, meaning that I had an assurance at the point that I was putting all the final work into Generation V (and the other books in the series) that I would actually earn real money out of the project. Believe me, that’s pretty great stuff for a writer.

My advance for Generation V was $7,500. This was split into three equal chunks of $2500 — I received my first check upon the signing of the contract, the second check when the primary editing was done on Generation V and my editor agreed that we had a book that was of the quality that Roc was willing to put on bookshelves (Generation V was the only manuscript that was completed when I signed my original three-book contract — Iron Night and Tainted Blood consisted of two-page book proposals that outlined major plot points — and the editing process added about 20,000 words and several significant plot adjustments (all improvements, I feel) from the manuscript I originally sold), and the third check when Generation V was published in May 2013. All told, it took me a full year to receive all of my advance money for Generation V — minus the 15% that went to my agent (and, since I wouldn’t have had that contract at all without my agent, and the 15% of my earnings was the only money that my agent ever received at all, I have no regrets whatsoever about that portion).

(note: Iron Night and Tainted Blood also had advances on the same schedule, and of the same amount. This meant that my initial payment of money when I signed the contract was actually $7500, because it was the first 1/3 payment for all three books. And, believe me, that $7500 made a rather significant difference in my bottom-line that year. Dark Ascension had its own contract that was negotiated later, and I took a pay cut on my advance in order to be able to write it.)

The advance is, essentially, a bet that the publisher makes that your book will earn money. If Generation V had never sold a single copy, then the publisher wouldn’t have been able to tell me to give back the money — that $7500 was entirely mine.

Now, that $7500 doesn’t have to be given back, but it also isn’t a gift, either. It is an advance on hoped-for earnings. A mass-market paperback copy of Generation V sold in the USA earns me 64 cents (on e-books my cut is higher, because the profit is also higher for the publisher, which is why Roc was horrified at how sluggish my e-sales were initially (though, like the poet who was once turned into a newt can be paraphrased into saying, “It got better.”)). Once Generation V went on sale, every book sale went toward that $7500 – essentially paying down that initial advance.

“Earning out” is what every author is eagerly awaiting as soon as that book goes on sale — because until that day happens, the publisher has essentially lost money on the book. Also, until the book earns out, the author cannot receive royalties, because the royalties are still occupied with paying off the advance. I’ve never seen any solid numbers on the subject, but the statistic I’ve heard most often is that only about 20% of books actually ever earn out — which is, when you think about it, kind of horrifying. We all hear about the huge blockbuster sellers that leave publishers swimming in piles of cash, but those are the exceptions. Most of the books that come out in any given year will never earn back their advance.

Generation V has now beaten the odds — and, in another exciting development, is now passively earning me money. Every time someone buys the first adventure of Fortitude Scott and Suzume Hollis at a bookstore, or on e-book, I actually earn money! (to the assholes who pirate — yes, what you do actually hurts authors. I don’t have statistics on the extent to which illegal downloads hurt this series, but for every copy that was stolen, that made it slower for the book to earn out, it made the publisher see lower sales numbers and lose faith in the series, and it contributed to the early death of the series and to less money for me, which hurt my ability to write more books. and, before anyone who illegally downloads tries to say this, NO, YOUR ILLEGAL DIGITAL DOWNLOADS OF MY BOOK ARE NOT THE SAME AS CHECKING IT OUT OF THE LIBRARY, OR EVEN BUYING A COPY FROM A SECOND-HAND BOOKSTORE, YOU DICKS.)

Yay! So Roc will be cutting me a check for $115.78, which is pretty exciting when you consider that the last time I received money for Generation V was back in 2013! Kick-ass start to 2016, if I say so myself!

One thing to bear in mind, because it’s easy to lose sight of it when you look at that last paragraph — if I hadn’t received an advance, I wouldn’t have made more money on this book. I would still have earned $7615.78 on the series — except earning that first $7500 would have taken me two years, rather than being entirely in my pocket on the day that Generation V hit the bookstores. And that $7500 paid my mortgage, my electric bill, and other bills, which made it substantially easier for me to write. Without that advance, it would’ve taken me longer to write Iron Night, Tainted Blood, and even Dark Ascension, because I would’ve been having to hustle other work elsewhere and spend less time writing.

I’ve seen the numbers on my series — Generation V had absolutely terrible e-sales when it first came out. Like, single-digit terrible. In the beginning, people picked it up in bookstores. They bought it because it was on the shelf in front of them and they could pick it up, flip through it, read that first chapter or skim around, and something in that tactile experience led them to take a chance on a book that so many people initially assumed was YA, or Paranormal Romance, or just “Oh for fuck’s sake I am not going to sit through another goddamn vampire book where all that happens is everyone swoons at the sight of a sparkling undead prick.” That’s where this series started — fighting uphill. And it was the backing of my publisher that kept it on bookshelves for people to see, or sent copies to bloggers who read it on the strength of Roc’s backing, or who my editor was. They didn’t read it because of me, and, I’m sad to say, they generally didn’t read it because of the cover or the book description. Frankly, talk to the people who have become the greatest supporters, champions, and all-around fucking HEROES of this series getting as far as it did, and 90% of them will say that it was word-of-mouth that got them to, very reluctantly, pick up Generation V and give my slacker vampire a shot.

I have zero regrets about choosing traditional publishing. I am not in any way disparaging self-publishing — there are plenty of instances when self-publishing makes more sense to an individual writer than pursuing traditional, but this was not one of those times.

Finally, a few people have asked me whether this means that Roc will be publishing the fifth Fortitude Scott book. While I certainly remain hopeful that interest in the series continues to grow, and that more people find their way to picking up Generation V, at this time the position of publisher has not altered. I am currently working on another writing project, but please don’t despair — I have all the layout and plans for Books 5 & 6, and if the publisher sees an increased demand for these books at some point down the road, they might give the last two a chance. I’m continuing to consider my options for this series, and if I get an opportunity that would put Books 5 & 6 on bookshelves, I would definitely take it.

If you’re interested in more information about advances and earning out, from someone who has done it quite a bit more successfully than I have, check out Kameron Hurley’s essay “The Cold Publishing Equations: Books Sold + Marketability + Love.”

And, with all that discussed….. and everyone feeling fully informed…..

GENERATION V HAS JUST EARNED OUT! EVERYONE DANCE!

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Generation V Earns Out!!

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Generation V has just earned out!

THIS IS THE MOMENT WHEN WE ALL DANCE!

Everything I Read In 2015

What did I read in 2015?The Magician King

A lot.

Basically, I read where my interest led me. Some I got from trips to the bookstore just because they looked neat. Some I enjoyed, some sucked. That’s the fun of a bookstore trip. I got The Creation of Anne Boleyn, Princesses Behaving Badly, The Empathy Exams, Maplecroft, and Uprooted like this.

vision in silverSome books I read because everyone on Twitter was talking about them – such as The Martian, The Traitor Baru Cormorant, or The Grace of Kings. Some books I read because people I knew had written them – like Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, The Lives of Tao, Last First Snow, and Against A Brightening Sky. I read a few books because I’d been waiting impatiently for them to come out and devoured them as soon as they hit print, like Visions of Silver. A few others were recommended by people whose taste I trusted, like when Max Gladstone announced to the world at large that everyone needed to read Seraphina.

There were also some books that I saw on a library shelf, and read The Traitor Baru Cormorantbecause, hell, why the fuck not? A library is free and wonderful and we all need to support our libraries. That’s how I read Village of Secrets and Elizabeth Warren’s A Fighting Chance. I also read a few books because I hadn’t read them in school, and I like to try to keep pushing my reading on the classics – that’s why I read The Awakening, A Passage To India, The Age of Innocence, and White Fang.

UprootedI read some books because I bought them at cons or at airports. Never underestimate these as sources of reading material. That’s how I got Karen Memory, Concussion, The Tropic of Serpents, and The Art of Asking. I also read a few books because I met their authors at cons – that was Owl and the Japanese Circus and Half-Resurrection Blues.

I read other books because I’d gotten them and they’d sat on my The Palace JobTo-Read shelf (yes, it’s no longer a pile – it’s a small bookshelf in my dining room – YES I FEEL SHAME) for upwards of several years. Some of them were worth the wait – some weren’t. This included Tyrannosaurus Sue, The Lucifer Effect, Salvation City, and Blood Matters.

I read a big pile of books because I was doing research for a book that The Mirror EmpireI’m currently writing. I’m not going to divulge the super-secret details of my current book project, but these books included Snow Country, Women of the Pleasure Quarters, Geisha: A Life, Hiroshima Nagasaki, Black Rain, Autobiography of a Geisha, Samurai!, Grass For My Pillow, and Geisha. Fear not, gentle readers – someday this mysterious and seemingly unconnected list of books will make sense.

I read some other books that had been out for a while, and which I really thought that I should read. Just like reading classics of literary fiction to keep expanding my comfort with that field, I read some The Hundred Thousand Kingdomsfantasy and sci-fi simply because they were generally acknowledged to be important books in the genre. Again, some were awesome. Some left me scratching my head a little. Just like the classic books. Some of these were The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, The Mirror Empire, The Lies of Locke Lamora, The Magicians, The Curse of Chalion, The Broken Crown, Daughter of the Empire, and Daggerspell.

And then there were the books that I heard about somehow (on NPR, The Birth of the Pillon someone’s blog, in conversation, seeing in passing, and so on) and immediately felt that I had to read IMMEDIATELY. These included The Birth of The Pill, All Joy and No Fun, Digging For Richard III, As You Wish, Mating In Captivity, and Voices In The Ocean.

Plus, the books I read because I saw something based on it or related to it on TV or at the movies. This includes The Forsyte Saga, The the awakeningBuccaneers, and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

And then there was everything else.

Here’s the full list.

1. Masks by E. C. Blake
2. The Creation of Anne Boleyn by Susan BordoAll Joy and No Fun
3. The Best American Short Stories 2014 edited by Jennifer Egan
4. Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories From History Without The Fairy-Tale Endings by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
5. The Forsyte Saga by John GalsworthyAgainst a Brightening Sky
6. The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller
7. Control Point by Myke Cole
8. The Fashion File: Advice, Tips, and Inspiration from the Costume Designer of Mad Men by Janie Bryant
9. The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
10. The Birth of The Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution by Jonathan EigBlood Matters
11. The Martian by Andy Weir
12. Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear
13. Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride
14. Blood Red by Mercedes Lackey
15. White Fang by Jack London
16. Call of the Wild by Jack London
17. Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop
18. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
19. Beggars Ride by Nancy KressConcussion
20. The Tropic of Serpents by Marie Brennan
21. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
22. The Magicians by Lev Grossman
23. The Binding Chair by Kathryn Harrison
24. It Started With A Scandal by Julie Anne Long
25. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
26. Undercity by Catherine Asaro
27. The Broken Crown by Michelle West
28. The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
29. Up In The Air by Walter Kirn
30. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisincreation of anne boleyn
31. The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip G. Zimbardo
32. The Shattered Court by M. J. Scott
33. Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel Jose Older
34. The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
35. All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior
36. The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes
37. The Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan
38. Geisha, A Life by Mineko IwasakiHold Me Closer
39. Women of the Pleasure Quarters: The Secret History of the Geisha by Lesley Downer
40. The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu
41. Samurai! by Saburo Sakai & Martin Caidin & Fred Saito
42. Hiroshima Nagasaki: The Real Story of the Atomic Bombings and Their Aftermath by Paul Ham
43. Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
44. Nightless City: Geisha and Courtesan Life in Old Tokyo by J. E. de Beckerkaren memory
45. The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama
46. Plum Wine by Angela Davis-Gardner
47. Black Rain by Masuji Ibuse
48. Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata
49. Autobiography of a Geisha by Sayo Masuda
50. The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold
51. Steel’s Edge by Ilona Andrews
52. Uprooted by Naomi Noviklies of locke lamora
53. Grass for My Pillow by Saiichi Maruya
54. A Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab
55. Geisha: A Unique World of Tradition, Elegance, and Art by John Gallagher
56. The Teahouse Fire by Ellis Avery
57. Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
58. The Sharing Knife by Lois McMaster Bujold
59. Empress by Shan SaMaplecroft
60. Last First Snow by Max Gladstone
61. The Hallowed Hunt by Lois McMaster Bujold
62. Shards of Hope by Nalini Singh
63. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
64. A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren
65. Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
66. Village of Secrets: Defying The Nazis In Vichy France by Caroline Moorehead
67. Daughter of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts
68. Mating In Captivity: Reconciling The Erotic & the Domestic by Esther PerelPaladin of Souls
69. Blood Matters: A Journey Along the Genetic Frontier by Masha Gessen
70. Probability Moon by Nancy Kress
71. Salvation City by Sigrid Nunez
72. The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
73. Against A Brightening Sky by Jaime Lee Moyer
74. The Anglo Files by Sarah Lyall
75. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary ElwesRed Seas Under Red Skies
76. His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
77. Dearest Rogue by Elizabeth Hoyt
78. Googled: The End of the World as We Know It by Ken Auletta
79. The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton
80. Archangel’s Legion by Nalini Singh
81. The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank by David PlotzSeraphina
82. The Magician King by Lev Grossman
83. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
84. The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley
85. Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not To Have Kids edited by Meghan Daum
86. The Brave Escape of Edith Wharton by Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge
87. Voices In The Ocean by Susan CaseySoYou'veBeenPubliclyShamed
88. Owl and the Japanese Circus by Kristi Charish
89. Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik
90. A Passage To India by E. M. Forster
91. Daggerspell by Katharine Kerr
92. Empire of Dust by Jacey Bedford
93. Maplecroft by Cherie Priest
94. Tyrannosaurus Sue: The Extraordinary Saga of the Largest, Most Fought Over T-Rex Ever Found by Steve Fiffer
95. Concussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas
96. The Art of Asking by Amanda PalmerThe Art of Asking
97. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach
98. Digging For Richard III by Mike Pitts
99. War and XPs by Rich Burlew

What I Read (and loved) So Far In 2015, Fourth Quarter

Whoa, end of the year. That came FAST.

2015 ends in about 12 hours, so I’m going to call my year in reading officially finished. I don’t think I’m going to be finishing anything else, particularly since I’ve just cracked open Django Wexler’s The Price of Valor. This year I read 99 books — definitely a solid year in reading. If you’re curious, you can check out my previous literary high-points in First Quarter, Second Quarter, and Third Quarter. And I might do a full reading round-up later in the week, depending on whether I think anyone might be interested or not.

Anyway, of the books that I read between October and December, six left a major impact on me. Here they are, in the order that I read them:

1. The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton

The BuccaneersNan and Jinny St George have both wealth and beauty in generous supply. In the New York society of the 1870s, however, only those with old money can achieve the status of the elite, and it is here that the sisters seem doomed to failure.

Nan’s new governess, Laura Testvalley, herself an outsider, takes pity on their plight and launches them instead on the unsuspecting British aristocracy. Lords, dukes, marquesses and MPs, it seems, not only appreciate beauty, but also the money that New York’s nouveaux riches can supply.

A love story of love and marriage among the old and new moneyed classes, The Buccaneers is a delicately perceptive portrayal of a world on the brink of change.


For a long time, the only thing I’d read by Edith Wharton was Ethan Frome, which I read in high school. That…. did not leave me with the desire to read more Wharton. But over the last year, I taught a college short story class, and the anthology had several Wharton stories – the delicious comedy of manners ones. This was a different side to Wharton – though, in fairness, I’m pretty sure that a lot of that style of writing might also have gone over my head as a sixteen-year-old. However, I’m really not interested in re-reading Ethan Frome to find out – that book was motherfucking depressing. I can say, however, that I absolutely adored The Buccaneers, and would highly recommend it to others. Others being, obviously, everyone who reads this blog. So consider yourself recommended!


 

2. The Magician King by Lev Grossman

The Magician KingThe Magicians was praised as a triumph by readers and critics of both mainstream and fantasy literature. Now Grossman takes us back to Fillory, where the Brakebills graduates have fled the sorrows of the mundane world, only to face terrifying new challenges.

Quentin and his friends are now the kings and queens of Fillory, but the days and nights of royal luxury are starting to pall. After a morning hunt takes a sinister turn, Quentin and his old friend Julia charter a magical sailing ship and set out on an errand to the wild outer reaches of their kingdom. Their pleasure cruise becomes an adventure when the two are unceremoniously dumped back into the last place Quentin ever wants to see: his parent’s house in Chesterton, Massachusetts. And only the black, twisted magic that Julia learned on the streets can save them.

The Magician King is a grand voyage into the dark, glittering heart of magic, an epic quest for the Harry Potter generation. It also introduces a powerful new voice, that of Julia, whose angry genius is thrilling. Once again Grossman proves that he is the cutting edge of literary fantasy.


 

I think it’s honestly hard to beat Grossman for prose quality. For me, he’s right up there with Gaiman and Morgenstern (Erin, not the made-up Princess Bride author) for sheer beauty of language. I love his sentences, his wryness, his delicious embrace and commentary on the absurd, the cliché, and the beautiful. It’s entirely possible that I could read just about anything by Grossman and be very well pleased. The Magician King had the same issue as the first book – namely, there’s a point where as a reader I think to myself, “This is all quite lovely, and I’m having a nice time, but is there going to be a plot at any point?” – and, full credit to Grossman, the plot does emerge soon after. But the writing itself is so fantastic that I still enthusiastically gave it five stars when it came time to rank it. I also really enjoy the way that Grossman cuts the fairy-tale sweetness and safety with some extremely nasty and scarring elements – kudos, and I’m looking forward to picking up the third.


 

3. The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

The Mirror EmpireOn the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past… while a world goes to war with itself.

In the frozen kingdom of Saiduan, invaders from another realm are decimating whole cities, leaving behind nothing but ash and ruin.

As the dark star of the cataclysm rises, an illegitimate ruler is tasked with holding together a country fractured by civil war, a precocious young fighter is asked to betray his family and a half-Dhai general must choose between the eradication of her father’s people or loyalty to her alien Empress.

Through tense alliances and devastating betrayal, the Dhai and their allies attempt to hold against a seemingly unstoppable force as enemy nations prepare for a coming together of worlds as old as the universe itself.

In the end, one world will rise – and many will perish.


 

I have a great respect for Kameron Hurley as an essayist (plus, I follow her on Twitter – so, yeah, there’s that), but I hadn’t read any of her epic fantasy, though I think I would have had to be dead to have missed the buzz. This was my first – and all I’d heard was “gender-bending” – listen, who in their right mind views THAT as the takeaway here? I see multiple intricate societies with very different social and power structures, carnivorous fucking plants, PEOPLE RIDING BEARS, and the incredible mind-fuck of the mirror universe except without distinguishing beards. The fact that one society has three genders, another has five, and another one just seems to have two (but also what appeared to be a giant praying mantis as an Empress – at least I think that’s what it was) is so far down the list of interesting things that it wouldn’t even make my final cut. Anyway, I liked this a lot – but while I sort-of enjoyed it for the first half, the second half is when shit got real. Very interesting, very mind-fucking, an interesting mix of grim and hopeful, definitely not like anything I’d ever read before.


 

4. Maplecroft by Cherie Priest

MaplecroftLizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks; and when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one….

The people of Fall River, Massachusetts, fear me. Perhaps rightfully so. I remain a suspect in the brutal deaths of my father and his second wife despite the verdict of innocence at my trial. With our inheritance, my sister, Emma, and I have taken up residence in Maplecroft, a mansion near the sea and far from gossip and scrutiny.

But it is not far enough from the affliction that possessed my parents. Their characters, their very souls, were consumed from within by something that left malevolent entities in their place. It originates from the ocean’s depths, plaguing the populace with tides of nightmares and madness.

This evil cannot hide from me. No matter what guise it assumes, I will be waiting for it. With an axe.


 

Dear lord, was this Lovecraftian. In fact, I think Cherie Priest just out-Lovecrafted Lovecraft. I know we just (finally) retired the Lovecraft statue, but maybe we could’ve found a compromise and created a bust of Cherie to hand out as an award.

I’m not really one for contagious madness as a story device (in fact, it skeeves me out good and proper), but this was incredibly done. Priest uses a lot of different characters to tell the story, and is incredibly good at depicting the slide into madness. Plus, a lot of good creepiness fact, and the historical fiction element. She’s got a lot of balls in the air here, but never drops a single one. Utterly impressive.


 

5. Concussion by Jeanne Marie Laskas

ConcussionJeanne Marie Laskas first met the young forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu in 2009, while reporting a story for GQ that would go on to inspire the movie Concussion. Omalu told her about a day in September 2002, when, in a dingy morgue in downtown Pittsburgh, he picked up a scalpel and made a discovery that would rattle America in ways he’d never intended. Omalu was new to America, chasing the dream, a deeply spiritual man escaping the wounds of civil war in Nigeria. The body on the slab in front of him belonged to a fifty-year-old named Mike Webster, aka “Iron Mike,” a Hall of Fame center for the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the greatest ever to play the game. After retiring in 1990, Webster had suffered a dizzyingly steep decline. Toward the end of his life, he was living out of his van, tasering himself to relieve his chronic pain, and fixing his rotting teeth with Super Glue. How did this happen?, Omalu asked himself. How did a young man like Mike Webster end up like this? The search for answers would change Omalu’s life forever and put him in the crosshairs of one of the most powerful corporations in America: the National Football League. What Omalu discovered in Webster’s brain—proof that Iron Mike’s mental deterioration was no accident but a disease caused by blows to the head that could affect everyone playing the game—was the one truth the NFL wanted to ignore.


 

I picked this up at an airport kiosk and read it during my flight. Now, I picked it up for one simple reason – Jeanne Marie Laskas was one of my professors during grad school. See, my graduate MFA program had this whole idea about making sure that its graduates were at least somewhat well-rounded as artists – there were three tracks that you could study – fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. We all had to take one course in a track other than our primary field of study – which meant that whenever you took one of the big overview courses (of which there were three, one for each) about 2/3rds of the people in that course were some very grumpy people who were having to study outside of their field of interest.

It was character building.

Now, since I am not even close to being a poet, and in fact have not studied poetry academically since high school (which, incidentally, did not stop me from acting like I knew what I was doing when I had to TEACH poetry in a basic college literature course two semesters ago – but, very importantly, that was about paying my mortgage, so I made it work. With, it must be said, some assistance from NPR.), so I took the non-fiction overview with Laskas. It was, I must say, fantastic. I gained a whole new appreciation for memoir, a deep and virulent hatred for the misleading narrative transgressions of Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil, and overall had a lovely semester. I also always have an interest in Laskas’s work, as she is a really excellent writer. Concussion was born out of a GQ article that Laskas wrote on the same subject, and honestly the material is slightly thinner than you’d like to see for a full-length book project, but it’s a fast and extremely illuminating work.


 

6. The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

The Art of AskingRock star, crowdfunding pioneer, and TED speaker Amanda Palmer knows all about asking. Performing as a living statue in a wedding dress, she wordlessly asked thousands of passersby for their dollars. When she became a singer, songwriter, and musician, she was not afraid to ask her audience to support her as she surfed the crowd (and slept on their couches while touring). And when she left her record label to strike out on her own, she asked her fans to support her in making an album, leading to the world’s most successful music Kickstarter.

Even while Amanda is both celebrated and attacked for her fearlessness in asking for help, she finds that there are important things she cannot ask for-as a musician, as a friend, and as a wife. She learns that she isn’t alone in this, that so many people are afraid to ask for help, and it paralyzes their lives and relationships. In this groundbreaking book, she explores these barriers in her own life and in the lives of those around her, and discovers the emotional, philosophical, and practical aspects of THE ART OF ASKING.

Part manifesto, part revelation, this is the story of an artist struggling with the new rules of exchange in the twenty-first century, both on and off the Internet. THE ART OF ASKING will inspire readers to rethink their own ideas about asking, giving, art, and love.


 

I enjoyed this book quite a lot – it functions well as a memoir, but also as an overall statement of belief and purpose in shared communities and in voluntary acts of support and gift-giving. It’s a lovely book to read around the holidays (I read this on Christmas), since so much of it is Palmer showing the massive extent to which she is willing to trust complete strangers, and also the large extent to which that trust is honored. And, for those interested in these sorts of things, the book also offers some extremely interesting and on-point insight into how Palmer was able to use Kickstarter to fund her album, in the most successful Kickstarter at the time (obviously, she has now been blown out of the water by the Oatmeal cat card-game). Hint: the answer isn’t something that would appear on any Market Yourself And Your Book In Ten Easy Steps! blog-post or self-published pamphlet.


 

Did you read any of these this year? If so, what do you think? Did you read others that were awesome? If so, throw them in the comments section! And most importantly — have a fantastic 2016!

 

New York Comic Con 2015!

BIG appearance this week! I’m going to be attending NYCC from Thursday to Saturday, and here’s my schedule:

Thursday, Oct. 8

Panel: Our World Gone Weird, 11am – 12pm

What’s lurking down that alleyway? A thug? A shuggoth? A ghost? A demon? Merfolk? Vampires? Authors Austin Grossman (Crooked), Paul Tremblay (A Head Full of Ghosts), Michael Buckley (Undertow), M.L. Brennan (Dark Ascension), Kristi Charish (Owl and the City of Angels), and Peter Clines (The Fold) discuss how to overlay the otherworldly onto our world.

Autographing: Our World Gone Weird Signing, 12:15 – 1:15pm

Friday, Oct. 9

Panel: Geek Geek Revolution, 4:15pm – 5:15pm

GEEK GEEK REVOLUTION is a no-holds-barred geek culture game show featuring science fiction/fantasy Authors competing for the chance to be TOP GEEK. Featuring: John Flanagan (The Rangers Apprentice series), Christopher Golden (Tin Men), Max Brallier (The Last Kids on Earth), M.L. Brennan (The Generation V series) and Judd Winick (HILO). Moderated by Heath Corson (Nerdist).

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