Bigass Catch-Up Round

I have been extremely lazy about blogging and book reviews lately. I am not sure why, but I am going to try to be better. My goal has always been to do a review for every book I read even if not one person reads my blog, so I’ve clearly failed at that recently. But I am also way too lazy to do a full review for… let me count… 19 different books. So I’mma rush through! Yay, slipshod blogging!

Dreamsnake by Vonda McIntyre

Genre: fantasy

Length: 9:41:00

Her Grace’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A fantasy set on a ruined Earth, Snake is a healer who, through the ignorance of others, loses one of her most effective and rare instruments of healing. This is the story of her quest to find another. The narrator was a little meh for me but despite that, this ended up on my “top books of 2022” list. 

The Cybernetic Tea Shop by Meredith Katz

Genre: sci-fi

Length: 112 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Restless wanderer meets outdated but sentient robot and the two strike up an unlikely friendship. Lots of themes to unpack, including LGBT/ace relationships, hate crimes, and what it means to be human.

Children of Men by PD James

Genre: sci-fi

Length: 241 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 2 out of 5 stars

The youngest person on the planet is now in their 20s because no one can have babies anymore. Aside from the idea that not having so many freaking babies would be a good idea right now, this was one of the most boring books I ever actually completed. 
Read More »

Star Trek Coda: Moments Asunder, The Ashes of Tomorrow, and Oblivion’s Gate

Moments Asunder (MA) by Dayton Ward; The Ashes of Tomorrow (AoT) by James Swallow; Oblivion’s Gate (OG) by David Mack

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: spaaaaaaaaaaaaace!

I read it as a(n): paperbacks

Source: my own collection 

Length: 368 (MA), 368 (AoT), and 448 (OG)

Her Grace’s rating:  out of 5 stars

**There are spoilers below. You have been warned.**

Before beginning my own review, I think it would be helpful to share this exceptional, self-described “high speed crash course” summary of all the relevant Lit-verse post-series relaunch novels that lead up to the events depicted in the Coda trilogy. 

Have you finished reading that now? I hope so, because there is no way I can summarise all of the relaunch novels, and certainly not as nicely as Alvaro Zinoas-Amaro did up there. 

Given that there was not any new TV or film material to build on, it made sense that the post-series books would attain a life of their own. What followed was a vastly complex, intertwined mingling of stories, series, and characters that developed further the massive fanwank litverse of Star Trek. But then Star Trek: Picard began and it became clear that the relaunch books no longer bore any resemblance to the official canon of Trek. This Coda trilogy was designed to wrap up all the various relaunch storylines that sprang into existence in the 20 or so years since the end of all the Trek series. 

Fucking finally.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Star Trek in just about any form I can get it. That held true – and still holds true – for the rich litverse as well. But OMG, you guys, I’m so sick of the massive, overarching, crossover, mingled serial plots. I actually started feeling a little resentful that I had to read nearly every Trek novel after a certain point just to keep up with the story, even if it wasn’t a series that I really wanted to read about. 

With the conclusion of the relaunch books, I devoutly hope that it signals a return to the single story format. One book equals one story. I miss the old numbered paperbacks. I could read those when I wanted, in whatever order I wanted, could skip books from my less-beloved series if I wanted, and never missed out on any part of the actual necessary plot. There have been a couple episodic novels fairly recently, and they were awesome. Dear Star Trek authors – please, PLEASE return to episodic novels, even if the various TV series don’t. 

That said, I am very much looking forward to new Trek books, ESPECIALLY Discovery and Strange New Worlds. I’m digging Disco right now and am pumped for SNW. Anson Mount’s Capt. Pike is fucking awesome. 

So. The books. First thing to note, for anyone who hasn’t yet read these, nothing is sacred and not one single character is safe. 

Moments Asunder by Dayton Ward started the trilogy off, setting the stage for a cataclysmic disaster involving the very existence of time itself. The Devideans – remember the weird glowy dudes from the “Time’s Arrow” episodes in 1800s San Francisco? They’re back – have figured out how to feed not only on specific periods of time where there were a lot of people suffering. They figured out how to destroy entire universes and timelines to feed on an infinite number of people. 

Wesley is central to alerting Picard about the Devideans. His powers as a Traveler are the main reason the rest of Starfleet learns about the threat to their existence. Of course, it wouldn’t be normal if everyone believed Wesley or Picard immediately, so they have some work to do. Ezri Dax and her crew, along with all of Deep Space Nine, witness firsthand the Devideans and the creatures they’ve created, the phased serpent-like Nagas, and how a mere touch from a Naga can instantly age anything to death, from ships and metal to sentient beings. Naturally, Picard et al. are going to want to fight that.

Moving into The Ashes of Tomorrow by James Swallow, readers get the rising action and honestly, I blew through this book in about 3 days. It was fast paced and exciting. Picard and Wesley head to Starfleet HQ to convince Admiral Akaar and President Kellessar zh’Tarash but are floored when everyone wants to take a wait-and-see approach. Like, they are literally running out of time period, let alone time to do anything, so wait-and-see is a really stupid idea. Naturally, Picard takes matters into his own hands, aided along the way by the likes of Benjamin Sisko, Tom Paris, B’Elanna Torres, Odo, Quark, Miles O’Brien, and many others we’ve seen over the years. 

Their plan? They figure out that the Devideans are using the Bajoran wormhole as a staging ground for their temporal incursions into this timeline. So naturally, the plan is to close the wormhole. Permanently. At both ends. Beyond that, they actually need to totally destroy it. You can imagine what that means to the Bajorans who view the wormhole as their Celestial Temple and the home of their gods. 

Throughout AoT and Oblivion’s Gate, Rear Admiral William Riker goes completely off his nut. At first, readers assume it’s just because he’s righteously pissed that Picard not only went rogue but that he talked a shitload of other people into going along with his plan. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Riker is suffering some kind of bad effects of the weird temporal shifts caused by the Devideans, resulting in what is termed Temporal Multiple Personality Disorder. Worf is also affected, but he is cured through a mind meld with none other than Ambassador Spock. 

In the final book of the trilogy, Oblivion’s Gate, the mission becomes desperate. Multiple timelines are at play and the mission now is to shut down a splinter timeline that never should have happened. Doing so will prevent the Devideans not only from feasting on the neural energy of billions of sentient beings, but also from annihilating time itself. To accomplish their mission, Picard and friends have to find the core of the Devideans’ temporal base, sync it with the timeline that shouldn’t exist, and obliterate the core. Oh, also, Kira Nerys has to take the Orb of Time into the Bajoran wormhole, which is always a good time. And K’Ehleyr is there, too! When they go to the Mirror Universe for help. Because that happens, too. K’Ehleyr is fucking awesome. One of my favourite lines in the trilogy was about her: “This is what it means to be Klingon. To savor the cries of my enemies and feel their blood on my faceMy Klingon ancestors would be proud. … She let go of her life, aglow with pride. Prepare a feast, heroes of Sto-Vo-Kor – a family of warriors is coming (Mack 379-380). 

Overall, I think Ward, Swallow, and Mack did a great job wrapping up the relaunch books with this trilogy. Of the three, my least favourite was the first, Moments Asunder. I love Star Trek and normally I don’t mind Dayton Ward’s writing, but the first probably 75% of MA was just a total slog for me to get through. It was just so boring. I almost didn’t bother to pick up the rest of the trilogy. It only picked up the pace in the last quarter or so, and mainly because he killed off Ezri Dax. I’m glad I DID finish reading the trilogy, though, because as I mentioned earlier, Swallow’s contribution was action-packed and fun, and Mack’s was similarly fast-paced and also really touching. 

In the end, I think the only thing I would have done differently would have been to find a way not to have to collapse the splinter timeline. It is Star Trek, after all. Amazing, 11th-hour rescues full of technobabble and marvels of engineering should always happen in Star Trek. 

But ultimately, it doesn’t matter when, how, or whether it’s expected. It hurts every time.

Read Harder 2022!

Here it is! The new Read Harder 2022 reading challenge! I confess that I fully blew off the 2021 RH challenge. I’ll post that in a few days, but I barely made a dent in that list. But here is the new list and, as always, I really like trying to figure out what books I will read for each task. I try to make it more feminist and find a book written by a woman for each task as well. Maybe I’ll do what I can to complete it with as many SFF books as possible this time. That would be fun! So would using books I already own to complete the challenge. Wouldn’t that be something? Seeing what I plan to read versus what I actually end up reading is always interesting to me. 

Hidden below the cut since my list is fucking long. One day, I will be found buried under my giant pile of books.

book pile

Read More »

The Witch’s Daughter

the witch's daughterThe Witch’s Daughter by Paula Brackston (Website | Twitter)

Genre: magical realism

Setting: Batchcombe, Wessex

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection 

Length: 403 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Bess Hawksmith is a young woman when the Great Plague of 1666 swept through her small village of Batchcombe. Naturally, the bereaved townsfolk need a scapegoat to blame for the losses they suffered. Bess’s mother, Anne, is a healer, so bingo! She must be a witch! The townsfolk round her up, along with another old woman who is a midwife, and hang them. The thing is, Anne really was a witch, and so is Bess. Bess flees and spends the next several centuries (she’s effectively immortal) running both from the memory of the horrific persecution as well as from the warlock who made a deal with the devil to give Bess her supernatural powers. Living a solitary life, Bess eventually finds a kindred spirit in young Tegan, a lonely teen who is drawn to Bess and her energy. But in taking Tegan under her wing, Bess inadvertently puts her in danger from Gideon, the man who has been hunting her throughout the years.

This one was, for me, SUPER slow to start. I almost quit. But then it picked up around chapter 4 or 5 and it was a very fast read from there out. I enjoyed this story a lot, though I don’t think it really had anything too unique about it. It was fairly predictable at the end, but the journey getting to the end was worth the read. I have a particular fondness for the Victorian Era, so I enjoyed that section the most. The bit from World War I was awful (an awful experience, not an awful read or awful writing). I don’t know much about that war, nor about the Battle of Passchendaele specifically, but it was an interesting, if sad and gory, part of the book. 

Overall, I think the characters were fairly well developed, but I’m not sure how much growth they really showed. Bess did mature and became a wise woman, but once she reached her maturity, she kind of stalled out. Gideon was consistently wicked but he was not a Bad Boy kind of character to me. I usually like those. Gideon was more like a cancerous presence to be cut out of a life rather than one who held any real attraction. Tegan was just a regular teen and didn’t really show anything other than that. Which is fine. They all worked for the story.

I think readers who enjoy Sarah Addison Allen or Alice Hoffman will enjoy this book. SAA and AH have more complex characters and richer storytelling, but I do think PB will get there eventually as well.

Mexican Gothic

mexican gothicMexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Website, Twitter, IG)

Genre: Gothic fantasy

Setting: 1950s Mexico

I read it as a(n): hardback

Source: my own collection

Length: 301 pp

Her Grace’s rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Noemi Taboada is a young socialite in 1950s Mexico City. Her father is a wealthy merchant and the head of the family. As such, he is concerned about image and avoiding scandal. So, when his niece Catalina sends a letter to him that sounds completely unhinged, he wants to get to the bottom of that and fix whatever needs fixing before it hits the society pages in the newspaper. He sends Noemi to visit Catalina in her husband’s home manor of High Place in the remote Mexican countryside. Things go downhill from there. 

I really loved the first part of this novel. It was everything a proper Gothic novel should be – eerie, mysterious, dark, neglected, and so on. Very much felt like a Mexican Jane Eyre. I kind of lost the Gothic feel around 2/3 of the way through, when I think it felt more like a straight horror novel than Gothic. That said, I still really loved all of it, it just felt like it switched genre a little bit in the middle there. I wouldn’t even care that much except I’m not a huge fan of horror. 

I thought Noemi was a very believable character. She was sort of shallow and vain at first, but then we learn she wants to go to university to get a master’s degree in anthropology. She is something of a flirt and prefers the chase or courtship to being caught in her relationships, but she is self-aware enough to know it. She had hidden depths that reveal themselves nicely throughout the novel. She was a really well-developed character.

I didn’t think that so much about Catalina. I know that her flat personality was actually a part of the plot, but the glimpses we got from Noemi’s perspective about her were not really enough to give her much depth or make her into a fully-fleshed person in the story for me. She felt more like a prop than a person. 

The rest of the characters – Virgil, Francis, Florence, and Howard – were suitably developed for the roles they played in the novel. I don’t think they were super deep but they all did have certain nuances to their personalities and were fine for the purposes they served.

I especially loved how the house, High Place, was described. It was in the tradition of the best Gothic manor homes, like a cross between Thornfield Hall and the Haunted Mansion. Old, dusty, neglected, falling apart, mouldy, and of course it had a cemetery! Minus the mould, I would love to have a house like that. I’d put just enough money into it that it had proper amenities but keep the abandoned Gothic feel. 🙂 

Overall, I thought this was a fun read. Didn’t blow me away, but it was fun. Would certainly recommend.

Armchair Traveler, pt 2

still-life-379858_1920As I had mentioned in my earlier post on this topic, literature is a fantastic way to get to know a new culture and get to travel a bit without leaving the comfort of your own home. If you can’t travel for whatever reason – health, safety concerns, finances, etc. – literature can provide a means of escape without actually going anywhere. Through literature, we can learn about new cultures through food and cuisine and then make an adventure for ourselves by trying to track down those cuisines in our own locations. Because of my own armchair tourism, I have discovered restaurants (ranging in definition from actual sit-down establishments to hole-in-the-wall joints that barely have room for a folding table and a couple plastic chairs to sit at while waiting for our food to be prepared in a mysterious and highly suspicious back room) which serve traditional Hawaiian, Ethiopian, Vietnamese, Szechuan, and Middle Eastern dishes. I had to do a bit of research and driving to get to some of them, but the experience was worth it, and helped bring to life some of the books I’ve read which referenced specific dishes.

Continuing with my armchair tourism for physical locations is, I find, easier even than with food. Living in Arizona, there are only so many places I can go physically that are nearby that even remotely resemble the locations I read about in books. We don’t have jungles in Arizona. It doesn’t look like England (woe!) or Africa, and certainly not anywhere Arctic. The culture, such as it is, is entirely different from any of those places. Giving up on physically taking myself to experience some of the places I read about, rather than stymying me, frees me to read liberally from around the world. I know it is unlikely I will ever get to go to Beirut, Jerusalem, Dubai, Tehran, Istanbul (maybe I’ll get to go there one day), Petra, Morocco, Egypt, the Congo, the Amazon, so I take it as a challenge to read as much as I can about the places and cultures there now. Oh, the places I’ve gone…

I’ve traveled to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and witnessed how one person learns to handle being simultaneously young, female, and live in a place where there are religious police. Such is the story of Zarin Wadia in A Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena. Zarin moves from her home in Mumbai to Jeddah after the death of her parents. She deals with bullying at school, an abusive aunt at home, and an uncle who won’t defend her. Until I read this book, I had never known where Jeddah was exactly, though I knew it was a major stop on the route to Mecca for devout Muslims making their hajj. I had never heard of the languages of Gujarati or Avestan. I had never known about the minority of Zoroastrians living in Saudi. This book helped me see those places, feel the coastal breeze coming off the Red Sea, and feel the hot, spice-laden air. Not that I ever need an excuse to eat Middle Eastern food, but while I was reading this book, I’m pretty sure I ate my weight in take-away dolmas, manakeesh, and shawarma from my favorite local hummus spot. Also, I cried my eyes out because of this book as well. It was an utterly, beautifully devastating book.

All This I Will Give to You by Dolores Redondo took me to Spain. In this book, author Manuel Ortigosa’s husband Alvaro dies in a car crash, and Manuel learns that Alvaro has kept secret the fact that he is Spanish aristocracy. This novel, set in the Galicia region of Spain, is redolent with the scent of gardenias, vineyards, and lush greenery. The rolling hills tumbling down to the sea, the air carrying the sound of the bells from the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela, all mingle into a miasma of history and intrigue throughout this novel, carefully crafted by Redondo and faithfully translated by Michael Meigs. The cathedral at Compostela has long been a destination for pilgrimages and remains a source of interest for medieval scholars for its importance during the Crusades in particular. When reading this book, I sampled a few local Spanish restaurants, discovering in the process that I love tomato jam but, surprisingly, do not love paella, even though it looks an awful lot like risotto.

Small Country by Gaël Faye took me to 1992, Burundi, and showed me the genocide from the perspective of a child. Gabriel, living with his friends in a wealthy neighborhood for ex-pats, is sheltered by his French father from politics and is entirely ignorant of the instability and poverty the rest of the country is subject to. He never understood that he was more protected than many others around him, including their own household staff, some of whom disappeared and were never seen again. Throughout this novel, amid the bougainvillea and plantain, the damp air hangs heavy with blood, sharp with gunpowder. The traditional foods of red kidney beans, onion, chili powder, and plantains cooked in palm oil waft across the page, ubiquitous and soothing amidst the turmoil of a lost childhood. I tried this recipe for kidney beans and plantains from Global Table Adventure and it was delicious.

I’ve also been to Saigon and Hanoi, Vietnam, with Mai, a girl of Vietnamese heritage from California in the middle grade novel Listen, Slowly. Her Vietnamese grandmother is going back to her home village after receiving word that her husband, long thought to have been killed when they had escaped the country during the Vietnam War, may still be alive. Mai does not want to go, doesn’t care about her heritage, and doesn’t want to play caretaker to her grandmother for the summer, and yet she gradually falls in love with the culture, people, and location. As with many other kinds of cuisine, I really don’t need an excuse to eat Vietnamese food, yet while I was reading this charming little book, I am certain I ate my weight in pho, which is just about as perfect a comfort food as I can imagine.

Pairing food with literature is certainly nothing new. As mentioned earlier, food and travel writing remain popular genres in publishing. My love for these kinds of literature stems entirely from their ability to teach me about new kinds of food to try, because it is through food and shared meals that so many people learn to become friends, sometimes even against their own desires. We learn about new places, values, and cultures and, through them, we learn greater empathy. After all, “The shared meal elevates eating from a mechanical process of fueling the body to a ritual of family and community, from the mere animal biology to an act of culture” (Pollan 192). Whether the meal is shared literally, with people at the same table as you, or metaphorically in the pages of a book while you eat the same food the characters are eating, food is a unifying force the world over.

Have you been inspired to try new foods based on books you have read? Please share the experiences (and the recipes, if you have them!)!

Pollan, Michael. In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. Penguin, New York, 2008.

Interdependency

The Collapsing Empire, The Consuming Fire, The Last Emperox (The Interdependency) by John Scalzi (Website, Twitter)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: spaaaaaaaaaaace! And various habitats, space stations, and occasional planets

I read it as a(n): audiobook

Narrator: Wil Wheaton

Source: my own collection 

Length: 9:24:00, 8:19:00, and 8:07:00, respectively

Published by: Audible Studios

Her Grace’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars, both for each book and for the series as a whole

In Scalzi’s Interdependency trilogy, humans have managed to colonize a lot of the galaxy. They do not do this, however, through the use of any sort of FTL or warp drive. The laws of physics prevent that. They do, however, have something called the Flow, which sounds a little like wormholes through which a ship can travel and arrive at a location in a matter of days, weeks, or months, depending on distance. Ships can only enter or exit at Flow shoals, and the Flow streams only go one direction. So if a Flow stream goes from Hub, the Capital of the Interdependency, to End, the one planet that supports human life and which is at the farthest reach of the Flow streams, then they need to use a different stream from End to get back to Hub. 

Oh, and the streams are beginning to collapse.

This is a problem because, as the title implies, every human habitat is interdependent upon each other for survival. The places where humans settled are all, with the exception of End, not compatible with human life. They’re either on tidally locked moons and planets, too hot or too cold to survive, or on space habitats in orbit somewhere. The Interdependency is organized around Guild Houses, each of which have a monopoly on a certain aspect of manufacturing things needed to sustain life. Once the Flow streams collapse, everyone will be well and truly fucked. 

Enter an inexperienced Emperox, Cardenia Wu Patrick (Imperial name Greyland II), a young woman who was never supposed to be Emperox and only became so when her half brother the Imperial heir died in an “accident.” The various noble Houses think this will be a good thing because they expect to be able to manipulate her. The main houses of Wu (the hereditary Imperial house as well), Lagos, and Nohamapetan, are the political powerhouses and are out for blood and profit. Also, I listened to these, so I may be WAY off on how the names are spelled. Just saying.

The Houses of Lagos and Nohamapetan are particular enemies. On one run between Hub and End, Kiva, the Lagos representative to the Guilds, learns that her House’s entire crop on End had been sabotaged and she naturally suspects the Nohamapetans. Having just spent 9 months in the Flow traveling to End, Kiva is righteously pissed because now she will have spent the best part of 2 years on a trip that is profitless. Kiva soon learns, however, that there is something wrong with the Flow and she ferries a young noble and Flow physicist, Marce Claremont, back to End to meet with the Emperox and come up with a plan to save the billions of people dependent on the Flow for survival. She also comes up with a way to make money on an otherwise failed venture, as one does. 

There’s a lot of politics in this story, but Scalzi makes it fun! Kiva is definitely my favorite character. She’s so thoroughly outspoken and rude and it’s just delightful. She’s also crazy skilled at strategy and politics and is the best person the Emperox could possibly have in her corner. Cardenia is sweet – on the outside. Then she manages to deflate the machinations of everyone conspiring against her, which is especially fun when she hamstrings the Nohamapetans. Really, the characters in this series are the best thing about it. Yes, the overarching story is bomb, and is very Scalzi-ish. But, as Renay Williams wrote, the central characters are all women, and they’re all truly awesome in their own ways. 

Also, the trilogy covers a lot of ground that lovers of sci-fi space operas will appreciate seeing, happily updated with a lot of modern thought, because actual colonialism is gross. There’s far-flung human colonization, empire, the ways in which all these things are connected and, like, interdependent on each other. It is really a good commentary on a lot of our actual current events and politics. I have screamed for years that sci-fi is the ideal medium in which to discuss and analyse current events; Scalzi’s trilogy is further proof. 

As I mentioned above, I listened to The Interdependency trilogy on audiobook. Wil Wheaton did a phenomenal job narrating. I honestly think it is one of his best performances. His timing and tone were spot on and turned elements of the book that were already amusing into laugh out loud hilarity. I loved listening to these books so much that when the third one ended, I wanted to start the series all over again. I didn’t, only because I have so very many audiobooks to listen to that I haven’t even touched yet. But I did go and buy the trilogy in paperback, even though I swore I wouldn’t buy any more books until I get through more of my TBR and cull ones I know I’m not going to read ever again. 

I can’t wait to read these again, and I can’t wait to see what Scalzi publishes in the future. If you haven’t read, or even better, listened to, this series yet, you are really missing out!

2020 Read Harder results and year-end wrap-up

2020 is finally coming to an end. This was one of the most miserable fucking years ever and it can piss right off. While my life wasn’t really impacted all that much by any kind of quarantine – I’m practically a shut-in in my daily life anyway – I did miss traveling. I am incredibly lucky and grateful that I have a job that allows me to work from home and that my daughter and I have remained healthy. So has my mom, though the rest of my family didn’t come through the pandemic unscathed. Everyone is doing ok so far, though, and I am happy for that. I feel terrible for the many millions of people who have lost their jobs, for the over 300,000 Americans who have lost their lives to COVID-19 (and the more than 1.6 million worldwide), and everyone who is struggling in ways large and small during this very strange and awful time. My grandmother would have said, “This, too, shall pass,” and I know she is right. Sometimes it is hard to see that, though, in the middle of events.

Of course, even the worst times have some bright points. Or, as Emperor Georgiou quoted in “Terra Firma part 2,” “Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.” The BEST thing has to be Biden kicking Idiot Hitler’s fat ass. A related bright point to Biden’s election is that we also get Kamala Harris as our first Madam Vice President. I can’t wait! Having a compassionate, intelligent, engaged, literate President and Vice President in office will surely be a sea change after the past obscene four years of the sub-literate, cruel, anti-science, racist, misogynist, corrupt excrescence currently squatting in the Oval Office. Can’t wait for that creature to become irrelevant again, and likely imprisoned. 

For me, books and reading are always a refuge and solace. I can travel by way of books, even if I am physically stuck in Arizona. I can go to other parts of the world or to new worlds entirely. I can encounter people who are facing the same struggles I face, or I can learn more about others who face completely different challenges in their life. I always aim to read 100 books a year. According to my Goodreads Year in Books, I didn’t get to 100 this year, though if I were to add up all the articles I read for research, I would probably get to 100 books total easily. But I didn’t count articles. I’m done researching now, though, and my manuscript is in to the publisher and I hopefully never have to think much on it again! Never thought I would be sick of medieval Europe, but here we are.

RH 2020 complete

Also, as anyone who spends any time with me at all knows, I love reading challenges because they stretch my comfort zone. I love learning about authors and cultures I’ve never been exposed to before. I am passionate about supporting and amplifying the voices of women and authors of color. So to try to do all of these things, I always participate in Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge. I don’t always get through the whole list, depending on what all is happening, but I did this year! I even reviewed almost all of them. I try hard to write a review for every book I read, but sometimes I don’t get around to doing it. But at least I finished it, even WITH all the research and work I was doing to write my own book. I’m pretty proud of me. How did you do on your various reading goals this year? Mine are below the cut.books

Read More »

Read Harder 2021 is here!

For the past several years, I have eagerly awaited the posting of the new Read Harder Challenge by Book Riot. I think it was posted earlier than usual this year, which is awesome, or maybe my sense of time is just thoroughly fucked up. Either way, it’s here! And also as usual, I am going to try to complete the tasks by reading books by women and/or authors of color. Half the fun for me is to see what books are out there that can cover one or more of the tasks and make my list. Then I like to see, at the end of the year, what I actually read. 

Here is what I’ve come up with for my 2021 RH list. What books do you have on your list?

  • Read a book you’ve been intimidated to read: OK, so I don’t quite understand this. I don’t think there are any books that intimidate me. So I will read a book I have put off because it is very long and I didn’t want to take the time to read it before. I’ll go with Anathem by Neal Stephenson. Or 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. Or I could actually start AND finish Possession by AS Byatt. I’ve lost count of the times I have started and then DNF’ed that book!
  • Read a nonfiction book about anti-racism: The New Jim Crow by Michele Alexander; When They Call You a Terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele; White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo; or How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.
  • Read a non-European novel in translation: Untold By Night and Day by Bae Suah; or The Wandering by Intan Paramaditha (this one looks super interesting: an Indonesian sci-fi choose your own adventure!).
  • Read an LGBTQ+ history book: I’ve wanted to read Real Queer America: LGBT Stories from Red States by Samantha Allen for a long time, so I’ll probably go with that one. 
  • Read a genre novel by an Indigenous, First Nations, or Native American author: This task was made for Stephen Graham Jones’s novels! I’ll probably read The Only Good Indians. Or the Indigenous SFF anthology I have will also cover this.
  • Read a fanfic: hello, fanfiction.net, my old friend. 
  • Read a fat-positive romance: There are more books that check this box off now than there were even just a couple years ago, which is great. I will probably do either Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade (heroine who is into fanfic and cosplay, yassss!) or There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon. Or Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert.
  • Read a romance by a trans or nonbinary author: This one is kind of hard to track down a book that is even remotely appealing to me – I really don’t like romance. There are plenty of books by trans or nonbinary authors, and TONS of LGBT romance books, but I don’t see as many written by trans or nonbinary authors. Maybe I’m not using the right search terms. In any case, I will pick up Red, White, and Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston for this task. At least it’s sort of British.
  • Read a middle grade mystery: I mean, I could read Bunnicula for the millionth time. I read the fuck out of that book when I was little. And maybe I will still go ahead and read it since it has been about 30 years since I last read it. Or I could read Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty. Or Dr Who: The Secret in Vault 13 by David Solomons. Or Top Secret by John Reynolds Gardiner, another childhood favorite.
  • Read an SFF anthology edited by a person of color: Walking the Clouds: An Anthology of Indigenous Science Fiction edited by Grace Dillon (Anishinaabe tribe). This will also work for the genre novel by an Indigenous etc task.
  • Read a food memoir by an author of color: Yes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson, or The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty.
  • Read a work of investigative nonfiction by an author of color: I’ll probably do Adnan’s Story: The Search for Truth and Justice After Serial by Rabia Chaudry or How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America by Moustafa Bayoumi
  • Read a book with a cover you don’t like: WTF? I think this is a repeat from a previous year. I still think it’s a weird task. I’m sure there will be one cover from the other books on my tentative list here that I’ll hate.
  • Read a realistic YA book not set in the U.S., UK, or Canada: If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan (Iran). Or Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey (New Zealand)
  • Read a memoir by a Latinx author: In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado
  • Read an own voices book about disability: On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis (autism) or Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz (eating disorder)
  • Read an own voices YA book with a Black main character that isn’t about Black pain: The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow. Not sure how Own Voices that can possibly be since it’s SFF. Maybe American Street by Ibi Zoboi would be better. The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett, though I don’t think that’s YA.
  • Read a book by/about a non-Western world leader: The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney. Or Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela, Madame President by Helene Cooper, Nefertiti by Michelle Moran, or The Accidental President of Brazil by Fernando Henrique Cardoso.
  • Read a historical fiction with a POC or LGBTQ+ protagonist: I’ve never read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Or Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley.
  • Read a book of nature poems: I mean, lots of things by Mary Oliver. Also intrigued by Dear Midnight by Zack Grey, so I’ll probably go with that since poetry really isn’t my jam. At least that one is about the night and darkness, my favorite.
  • Read a children’s book that centers a disabled character but not their disability: So here’s the thing. I don’t know that you can write a book about a disabled person without their disability being part of it. It’s part of their identity, like a person’s race is. I feel that ignoring a disability or race – saying you’re blind to color, for example – totally invalidates a person’s experiences and identity surrounding that part of themselves. No, of course I don’t think a disability is the only way to define a person. But I think it’s also rude to ignore it, so I’m not going to. There are plenty of books that have disabled characters who are strong and amazing characters who are not defined by their disability. I think Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin will work. So will Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling. This site has some excellent suggestions, though, as a note to myself in case I change my mind.
  • Read a book set in the Midwest: The Round House by Louise Erdrich, which I’ve had forever and haven’t read yet. I suppose I could also read Gilead by Marilynne Robinson and see what all the fuss was about, but multigenerational sagas tend to bore the hell out of me. Yeah, I think I’ll stick with Erdrich for this one. I love her writing.
  • Read a book that demystifies a common mental illness: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. Apparently, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman is also about mental illness. I own that one, so I’ll use this as the excuse to finally read it.
  • Read a book featuring a beloved pet where the pet doesn’t die: Let’s see. Maybe The Friend by Sigrid Nunez, The Lady by Anne McCaffrey, Dirt by Denise Orenstein, or a million other horse books for adults, please. 

Star Trek Discovery: Dead Endless

ST Disco Dead EndlessDead Endless by Dave Galanter (Twitter)

Genre: sci-fi

Setting: the mycelial network, mostly

I read it as a(n): paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 342 pp

Published by: Gallery Books (17 Dec 2019)

Her Grace’s rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

**Spoilers abound!**

Discovery receives a distress call, which is not anything out of the ordinary for a Starfleet vessel. What is unusual is that it originates from within the mycelial network, the subspace domain Discovery can navigate briefly, but not endure for long, thanks to Lt. Paul Stamets and the spore drive he created. The crew responds to the distress signal and gets stuck in the mycelial network as a result. While there, the ship’s store of spores and the forest from which the crew harvests them disappears. Without the spores, there is no way for Discovery to return to normal space, and staying in the mycelial network will kill them sooner rather than later. The crew has to decide whether or not to trust someone who seems to be a human even though he was living in the network, or figure out if he’s an alien who intends to use Discovery’s spores to escape from the mycelial network at any cost.

This was a really unique story. At first, I was totally lost because the earliest references to “the captain” were vague. Is it Gabriel Lorca? Christopher Pike? It is only quite a bit later that we learn the captain refers to Michael Burnham. Of course, that sets off a whole other host of confusions because Burnham was never a captain, of Discovery or any other ship. Eventually, we learn that it IS Burnham but the setting is an alternate universe from either the Prime timeline or the Mirror Universe which we have seen in the show itself. I thought this was a great way to tell this story since it places the narrative within familiar territory – the ship itself with all the same characters – but in such a way that it doesn’t interfere with potential future canon. 

I enjoyed the mystery of how the spores were disappearing. Often, I don’t care one way or another for new aliens we meet in the books, but I really liked the Maligonq folks in this story. It was fun to see the Starfleeters knocked down a peg or two by being considered the far less advanced society of the two! 

Yes, a fun plot (once you figure out what the hell is happening) and fun aliens, but what really shines about this novel is the relationship between Stamets and Culber, and the interplay of those two characters with the rest of the crew. Galanter nailed their voices, especially Stamets’s. The whole idea of their relationship is beautifully written and shows a side of these men we can infer but do not always see in the show. It is a love story like any other, which is partly the point. In the future which Star Trek envisions, straight, gay, nonbinary, whatever is all fine, it just is love between people and that is all that matters. 

There is also an underlying theme about missed opportunities and the roads not taken. I thought it was so bittersweet that the Stamets we see in this story is NOT our Stamets in the Prime timeline. It IS Prime Culber who was trapped in the network, and who is eventually rescued in the show. But here, he encounters Stamets as he was early in their marriage, not a man who became bitter from watching his life’s work get conscripted into wartime use. The other Stamets is a kind and funny person, if somewhat irritable, partly because in his universe, there was never a Battle of the Binaries, no Klingon War. Burnham didn’t mutiny but instead became Discovery’s captain after Lorca moved on. Culber is trapped, he thinks, in this new alternate timeline and is torn because this new Stamets is more like the man he originally married and he wants to stay with him. But there is already a Hugh Culber in this timeline serving on another ship, and he feels too that staying with this Stamets would be the same as cheating on his spouse. Of course, Stamets recalls his universe’s Culber because their initial encounter with Hugh humming Casseelian opera ended with them calling each other an asshole and never meeting again. Stamets learns what he was missing out on for all those years he and Hugh could have been together. By the time he realizes it, it’s too late and Culber is drawn back into the network and is beyond reach. Like I said, missed chances. It ends on a very hopeful note, though, not as melancholy as it could have been.

I definitely recommend this one. It’s funny, too, that it is the first Discovery novel that’s actually set primarily on the titular ship. All the other ones before it were prequels and had nothing, if anything, to do with the ship itself. Those focused all on the characters, which is also just fine with me. The ship doesn’t have to be the setting to make a Disco novel, though I get why some readers were a little put off by that. ANYWAY. Read this book. Some of my favorite lines are below. It will be interesting to hear what some of your favorite lines are.

Favorite part/ lines:

    • On a scale of zero to Vulcan, it’s a Tilly, so…draw your own conclusions (10).
    • “Is sarcasm terminal?” “Yours is chronic” (36).
    • “You know,” Burnham said as they walked through, “my mother had a solution for tense situations. … She told me that there was nothing wrong with being nervous. Nerves remind us we’re alive. Nerves tell us we’re in pain, or when we’re experiencing pleasure, or when we’re in danger. It’s an important part of who we are” (78).
  • “I never want to hurt anyone. Like any living entity, I have instincts and I reacted.” “Do you know what those instincts are?” Chittering thoughtfully, Ephraim seemed uncertain. “I suppose only once they come into use.” “I guess that true of us all.” Ephraim’s mouth puckered and he radiated happiness again. “Then I am a people?” Smiling slightly, Culber nodded. “You certainly are to me.” 
  • “Is he pink?” Breytik asked Burnham. “He’s very pink.” He turned back to Stamets. “You’re very pink.” “Thank…you?” “I hope you feel better soon,” the Maligonq told him, just above a whisper.

***N.B.: As I was Googling to find the URL for Galanter’s various sites, I stumbled across an announcement from earlier this month. Galanter posted a long, beautiful, and sad note on his social media sites telling us that he was diagnosed a year ago with late-stage cancer of the bile ducts. His doctors now predict he has 3-6 months left to live, with the note that it is probably closer to three. This is supremely sad news and I wish Galanter and his family and friends a gentle time. For the full post, please view Galanter’s Twitter.