For Tolkien Week

tolkien-300x300As literally a card-carrying member of The Tolkien Society, I felt it was my duty to write some kind of  post for Tolkien Week/ Hobbit Day. Usually I celebrateTolkien on Tolkien Reading Day (AKA the Gondorian New Year, AKA March 25). But in the US, Tolkien Week is observed on the calendar week containing Hobbit Day, which is September 22, because that is Bilbo and Frodo’s mutual birthday. If you didn’t know that already, mark it down, because you DO know those hobbits know how to party! You wouldn’t want to miss out on that. But what exactly should I do for this post? I’ve been agonizing about this for weeks now. I mean, honestly. It’s Tolkien! How do I condense a life-long love into a single post? This is way stressful, little hobbitses!

j-r-r-tolkien-biography-humphrey-carpenter-192x300Do I tell people things they already know about Tolkien? You probably already know that he was born in South Africa, where he has a vivid memory about a terrifying encounter with a large, hairy spider. I’m sure he worked that issue out through his writing somehow. We know that his dad died when he was only four and his mom moved him and his siblings back to England. Then his mom died of diabetes when he was 12. He demonstrated his linguistic genius and started inventing languages. Eventually, he went to Exeter College at Oxford University, fell in love, went to war, survived, got his foot in the door back at Oxford working as a lexicographer on a new little project called the Oxford English Dictionary. It worked out well for him, since that allowed him to apply for, and land, the position of Reader in English Language (like an associate professor) at the University of Leeds. Later, he applied for and snagged the Professorship of Anglo-Saxon back at Oxford, because he rocked it hard. In his spare time, he liked to write stuff, which I started reading when I was eight and which still occupies a significant amount of my thought processes. I learned all about him fromJ.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography and The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, both of which are wonderful and are must-haves for any fan’s library.

Do I talk about the film adaptations of his writing? I mean, there are a few people, maybe, who haven’t seen The Lord of the Ringsmovies. I actually know one of them. We aren’t friends. But in general, The Lord of the Rings films are basically the only films that I think are about as good as the books, and if you know me at all, you know how incredibly rare that is. But OMG, friends! These films make me cry every fucking time I watch them, and I do NOT cry at movies. They show the best parts of the books that I so love, and have loved since childhood. I fell in love with Middle Earth from line one. “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” What a wonderful first line! I wish this line had been worked into the films. Alas. BUT! There are So. Many. Other parts that just hit me right in the feels. I get choked up when Boromir dies. At the Battle of Helm’s Deep when Gimli is blowing the horn and Eomer and Gandalf come and save the day. FORTH EORLINGAS! And I’m a blubbering mess in The Return of the King when Aragorn says, “My friends! You bow to no one” and he kneels to the hobbits. *wibble* These wonderful scenes are all in the films (though often in a revised form). If you haven’t seen the films, go watch them, and then get busy reading. The films are beautiful; the books are more so.

yorkshire-pudding-300x300Do I dare tell you about the time my best friend and I decided to make hobbit food for our first Gondorian New Year celebration and fucked it up but good? At the time, we were only 14, had never been out of the country, had never really ventured out much in any kind of food other than boring American food, and didn’t really know how to cook anything other than basics like pasta or baked chicken. We somehow missed the fact that Yorkshire pudding was a savory thing, so when we made that, we were confused as hell the whole time because where was the sugar in the recipe? Surely pudding needed sugar? Also, we missed that it was a bread thing. Derp. I really don’t know how we completely missed the entire point of Yorkshire pudding, but we did. Which is a shame, because in retrospect, the one we made that day was a beautiful, perfect example of Yorkshire pudding, but because we were stupid, we were like, “What the fuck is this?” and ended up not eating it because we thought we messed it up. Samwise would have been horrified. I have since made many other Yorkshire puddings and they were a success. I used the “Shire Pudding” recipe from A Tolkien Treasury.

tolkien-tattooDo I tell you why I think everyone should have a Tolkien tattoo? Because I do. At least one. Get your name in Elvish, or the map of Middle Earth, or the Doors of Durin, or the Argonath, or your favorite line, or your favorite character, or your favorite drawing from the book. Or all of them. Something. Anything. You are all creative people, I’m sure you can come up with something awesome. If you do have a Tolkien-inspired tattoo, a) that’s rad and b) I hope you’ll share it in the comments!

I could go off on a big, long, academic analysis of Tolkien’s use of language or poetry or world-building. But why should I when I can just send you to Tolkien’s own work on the subject? If you love his work as much as I do, you have read it all already anyway. If you want MOAR!, then go read Beowulf (or this edition), The Wanderer, The Seafarer, The Dream of the Rood (most of these are in The Anglo-Saxon World: An Anthology). Read everything Bede wrote, especially Caedmon’s Hymn and the Parable of the Sparrow. Both of these are in his The Ecclesiastical History of the English People. If you can, get yourself into a class and learn to read them in Anglo-Saxon, because that would be even cooler and Tolkien would be proud of you. I had to read every single thing I just listed in Anglo-Saxon. If I did it, you have to do it, too. It didn’t hurt too bad, I promise. Getting your tattoo will hurt worse.

Are there any specials things you do for Tolkien Week? I’d love to hear about them!

(Originally posted on Book Riot)

The Best Trek Books…

(Originally posted on Book Riot)

I have a confession to make. I am a hard core, died in the wool, unapologetic Trekkie. I can’t remember a time when Star Trek wasn’t a part of my life. This year is the 50th anniversary of the series, which aired for the first time on September 8, 1966, so there are a LOT of people who can probably say they also grew up with it. I grew up watching episodes of The Original Series in syndication. I was nine when The Next Generation began, and I never missed a single episode. To this day, I can tell you what season an episode is from based just on the style of the uniform Captain Picard is wearing. I even have a sizable amount of memory devoted to being able to tell which episode is playing, complete with episode title and full plot synopsis, based on a five second clip. I can do the same with Voyager. Try not to be jealous. I have seen every episode of Deep Space Nine as well, although I came to its fandom later, so I didn’t devote as much time to my rabid fanaticism and, alas, can’t tell you quite as much about it. I’ve since decided that further study is required! The Dominion War was crazy, y’all!Read More »

Month of Star Trek

star-trek-gameHappy Star Trek Month, people! This month marks the 50th anniversary of my favorite thing in geekdom. Without Star Trek, I really would be a very different person. Maybe that sounds hyperbolic, but it’s true. I owe a lot to Star Trek in the way I think of the world, my political views, and my personal relationships. Read More »

This is a guest post from my dear friend Becky. She makes awesome wax tarts and candles at her online shop, Two Timing Tart. I cannot recommend her stuff highly enough. You should definitely go buy some things from her!

***

I am a mildly creative person. I write, though whether or not my ramblings make any sense is up for debate. I make candles, wax melts, and such, dabbling in the cerebral creativity that scents evoke. I used to make graphics and websites, and I painted and…Read More »

A Pocket Full of Lies

25814288Huh. OK, I have some Thoughts about this one. *There are spoilers,* so consider yourself warned.

First, there were a lot of things that I really liked about this book. Honestly. It had rather a lot of action and adventure and meeting new aliens and all the things we love about Star Trek. I continue to really like seeing the development of people like Seven and Icheb, and I think Liam O’Donnell is just quirky and cool and a very believable character.

I also am enjoying the continuation of the exploration of the Delta Quadrant. It is like coming home in many ways, but bittersweet, too, since you can’t go home again.

This novel was…not my favorite, though, because for starters, it was just too busy. Some of the various plots felt rushed. I kind of want more time with O’Donnell and the Nihydron, for example, perhaps fleshed out better in a separate novel, rather than trying to cram it all into one.

Also, I’m kind of tired of multiverse problems. Like, cool? I know it’s a thing? But maybe let’s not have another Kathryn Janeway who was horrifically tortured and now has essentially Stockholm syndrome because she loves her captor. Ok, to be fair, she didn’t know he was her captor but still. It seems contrived.

And of COURSE they had a child together. What IS it with Trek characters having babies now? First Picard and Beverly in the TNG relaunch books and now Janeway? I know she’s the Janeway from the “Shattered” episode, but still. DEAR STAR TREK AUTHORS: WOMEN DO NOT NEED TO HAVE BABIES TO BE COMPLETE. Please read Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids by Meghan Daum. Honestly, what the fuck? At this point, it’s just getting out of character. People can like, or even love, babies without getting all achy in the ovaries and needing to reproduce one of their own.

Which leads me to my other major peeve with this novel. Nancy Conlon, Harry Kim’s girlfriend, gets pregnant accidentally. Really? REALLY? Are you really saying that these people can travel in spaceships that go faster than light, but they can’t manage to figure out how a rubber works? Or, like, turn their ovaries off until they actually want to make a baby? Come ON. I can’t even. I have a kid. I love her more than anything. But enough with the babies in Star Trek. People don’t have to have babies if they don’t want to, there is nothing wrong with just wanting to have a career you love and friends you love without children, nor are they missing out on anything as Tom and B’Elanna suggested at one point in this book. Frankly, that is offensive. There are many other ways to live a fulfilling life than by getting married and having kids. I really hope the authors – all of them – get over the baby thing soon.

September Blogathon

pink typewriter

Some friends from Book Riot and I have banded together to try to resurrect our sadly neglected respective blogs during the month of September. I discovered that regularly contributing to an outside source is awesome, while simultaneously killing my own personal blogging. Apparently I’m not the only one that happened to! Yay.

So my goal during September is to try to write two original posts a week for my own blog, unrelated to anything else I do for Book Riot or HNS. Since I have several other writing projects I need to get cracking on, I think this is a good way to get the creative juices going again.

My fellow bloggers the mutual blogathon of doom are:

The Lesbrary: https://lesbrary.com/

YA Interrobang: http://www.yainterrobang.com/

Rah Carter: http://www.triceratopswrites.org/

Knee Sock Chronicles: https://kneesockchronicles.com/

Jess: https://booksandbeethoven.wordpress.com/

Ashlie: http://www.beyourownlady.com/

Sarah: http://brokebybooks.com/

Let’s do this, friends!

A Maiden Weeping

a-maiden-weeping-jeri-westerson-133x200
Cover of A Maiden Weeping

 

In this ninth installment of Westerson’s Crispin Guest medieval noir series, we find Crispin himself playing a supporting role as his apprentice, Jack Tucker, takes the lead. A mysterious man hires a very drunk Crispin to kill a woman. Crispin, his chivalrous nature horrified at the very idea, instead goes to warn her. Beguiled by her beauty, he ends up in bed with her, eventually passing out from the alcohol. When he comes to, he is shocked to discover that the woman had been murdered while he was unconscious. Before he can get far in his investigation, he is himself arrested for the murder, leaving Jack to solve the crime on his own. With the help of some new characters – the plucky lawyer, Nigellus Cobmartin; and the lovely Isabel Langton, niece of Gilbert and Eleanor of the Boar’s Tusk Tavern – and our old friend John Rykener, Jack takes on the mantle of The Tracker alone for the first time.

I have read and loved every other book in the Crispin series, which is set in late 14th-century London, and this one was no different. It is somewhat bittersweet to see Jack growing up, becoming a man, and meeting a girl he can seriously consider marrying. I still think of him as the little boy he was in the first book. At the same time, it is wonderful to see him grow and use the skills he’s learned at Crispin’s knee to save his mentor from the gallows. Westerson crafted a terrific story once again, full of twists and intrigue, and frankly a lot of frustration! Those sheriffs need a good swift kick. If it is infuriating to read about their petty tyrannies, how much worse must it be for poor Crispin to have to live and work with them. Another masterful job from Westerson. Highly recommended!

First published on the Historical Novel Society website: https://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/a-maiden-weeping/

Muggles Love Wands, Too!

Dear Mystical Moments,

Let’s have a chat, friends. I was happily scrolling through my newsfeed this morning and came across this article about you. While I am quite happy to read about something other than the unimaginable horror show of the US election season and Trump’s latest brain damaged utterances, I am very disappointed to see this take its place. If I can say so, you’re taking yourselves way too seriously. Sell the wands to the Muggles, already!

Look, I’m not saying that your wands aren’t awesome. You have a product you’re proud of. You SHOULD be proud of what you sell! I’m also not really saying that you can’t believe only some people are worthy to have them. I’m just pointing out why you are super wrong in not sharing it with the Muggles. You could probably make a metric fuckton more money if you would change your opinion on that, but whatever. Someone else will probably open shop across the street and sell wands to anyone who wants them. Next time I go to England, I’ll be sure to visit that shop. But honestly, how did you decide to deny selling your wands to Potterheads? Is it JUST the Potterheads that are refused service? Or do you similarly refuse to sell your Very Special Wands to fans of, say, Alice Hoffman, or Marion Zimmer Bradley, or Sarah Addison Allen, or Neil Gaiman, or Paula Brackston, or any other authors who write witch-themed novels who might decide they want a wand because of something they read in a book? There are many, many to choose from.

Or is it just YA you are opposed to? Do you turn your nose up at Cate Tiernan’s fans as well? How about Kami Garcia, Diane Duane, Sarah J. Maas, or Diana Wynn Jones? Because, honestly. If you discriminate against one, you should at least be consistent and discriminate against them all. One rabid fan is much like another and equally deserving of your disdain, amirite? Also, it smacks of genre snobbery. A friend of mine is dealing with that right now with her MFA mentor, of all people, who is convinced that nothing other than Proper Literary Fiction(™) can possibly be good writing; certainly not fantasy, which everyone knows is garbage! Genre snobbery isn’t cool.

Also, um, so what if Harry Potter is for children? (Side note: just because it is YA doesn’t mean it is childish. It deals with some hard core concepts like bravery, tolerance, acceptance, death, and discovering oneself as a unique person. It’s not just kids waving wands around. Maybe you missed those parts.) Even if it was just a silly kid’s book, if it prompted a child to be interested in your religion, would you not welcome that and use it as an opportunity to teach them about it? If you are concerned about real witches not being able “to reveal themselves without people thinking they are mental,” then a good way to combat that is by educating people. How do you expect to do that when you are turning away people who might be somewhat ignorant about the details of your faith but might at least have some earnest interest in learning about it? You’re effectively preaching to the choir by only serving people who already think the same way as you do.

I’ll share a secret with you. When I was 11, I read The Mists of Avalon for the first time. It blew my mind in so many ways. I’d always loved Arthurian legends, but beyond that, it was the first time I’d considered that there could be a goddess-based religion. By that time in my life, I knew I wasn’t Christian like my dad’s family, and I hadn’t learned yet that my mom was atheist (which is what I ultimately ended up), but I didn’t really know what else there was. That book opened my eyes to at least one new-to-me possibility. As a result, I spent several years afterward learning about and practicing Wicca. I even had my own wand! That never would have happened if I hadn’t first read and loved The Mists of Avalon. My experience was many years before Harry Potter was a scribble on Rowling’s cocktail napkin, but if I had been younger, I might easily have had the same experience with that series instead. How do you know there aren’t several other young people with similar experiences and questions who might wander into your shop, looking for a wand and some answers to some questions, only to get turned away because you have a preconceived idea about them? You assume they are just children wanting a wand to play with, just like some others might assume real witches are “mental,” as you put it.

How about, instead of disdaining someone who wanders into your store because you decide they aren’t the right sort of person, you strike up a conversation with them instead of reading their aura and deciding they are minions of the Dark Lord who are only up to no good and see what’s going on? Maybe you’ll learn they have some questions you can help them with. Maybe they came to those questions by way of Harry Potter, but that doesn’t invalidate the question, or the questioner. And yes, maybe some will only want a wand because they want to display it on their bookcase next to their beloved set of Harry Potter books. If you know anything about Potterheads, you should be flattered they’d want to buy your wands to display next to their books. I, for one, am ridiculously picky about items that get displayed on my already too-crowded bookcases and so have to be very selective. Besides, what harm does it do to provide some joy to someone? Remember the Threefold Law. If you give joy to a Potterhead, you’re going to get a major karmic kickback. Fangirls and fanboys tend to get really excited about things. Just sayin’.

Books have real power to change the way people think about real issues in the world. How a reader comes to understand – whether it is through fantasy or graphic novels or literary fiction – is irrelevant. It is the journey that matters. Don’t dismiss someone because they took a different path than you did. At the end of the day, you may end up in the same place.

Love,

Me

(This post originally ran on Book Riot).

Indigenous Authors

In the spirit of International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, which was August 9, I wanted to learn more about indigenous and ethnic peoples. The theme for the 2016 International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is the right to education, specifically the right of indigenous peoples “to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.” I think that’s absolutely rad, and in an effort to educate myself and anyone who might read this, I made the following reading list of indigenous authors, based on broad geographic regions. I tried to include a little bio wherever possible for each entry, though for some it was all I could do simply to find authors for the region at all. Hopefully one day it won’t be so hard to find diverse and indigenous authors like this.Read More »

Geoffrey Chaucer: Poet, Spy…Character

(This post originally ran on Book Riot).

220px-chaucer_ellesmere
Chaucer: Ellesmere Manuscript

This year, I missed my personal Chaucer Day celebration. Woe. It was on April 17, 1397, that Geoffrey Chaucer first told The Canterbury Tales at the court of Richard II. For medieval scholars, there are many things to love about Chaucer – his language, of course; his rich cast of characters; the glimpse he gives us into the lives of regular medieval people. I even had a shirt from the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (ACMRS), which is run through my alma mater, that said, “The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne.” Yay, Parliament of Foules! I wore that thing until it was in tatters and thoroughly indecent.Read More »