Wednesday, May 25th, 2016
3:38 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. Yes, yes, I know: somehow I made it to adulthood having never actually read this before (I did see the Studio Ghibli movie? But they're different enough that I don't think that counts), or any other book by Jones. Feel free to rec one if you think there's any I should particularly read!

I hardly think I need to summarize this, but just in case: Sophie is the eldest of three children and therefore according to the rules of fairy tales, which she knows very well, nothing interesting or successful will ever happen to her. And so it seems at first: Sophie works in her family hat store, while her younger sisters are given interesting apprenticeships, one to a witch and the other to a baker. And then one day Sophie encounters the Witch of the Waste, who – for no reason Sophie can tell – puts a curse on her that turns her into an old woman and prevents her from telling anyone what happened.

Sophie takes this as an excuse to leave home, and ends up at the residence of the Wizard Howl, the titular moving castle. She has been always told that Howl is heartless and eats young women's souls, but that turns out to be an exaggeration. Sophie makes herself at home as a sort of maid/cleaning lady, and makes friends with the castle's other occupants, Calcifer the fire demon and Howl's apprentice Michael. They travel about, having assorted adventures, until Sophie realizes that Howl is also under a spell cast by the Witch of the Waste, which leads to a magical showdown and, of course, a happy ending for everyone.

(Well, not the Witch, I suppose. But everyone else!)

The real charm of the book is less the plot and more the characters and their interactions. I saw it called "fantasy slice of life" somewhere, and it is very much that; there's a great many pages spent on bacon sandwiches and cleaning supplies and tantrums over hair dying gone wrong, and yet it's all very nice to read and endlessly comfortable. I had been about to say that it was more "middle grade" than I usually read, but on thinking that over, it actually contains some fairly complex ideas. I think it's just that the writing style itself has a childlike quality. I did not see the ending romance coming until it was suddenly there, happening, but it's too sweet to dislike, so I'm on board.

Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. A novel of three women from three generations of the same family. In 1950s rural Bengal, Sabitri is a poor but intelligent student, who lucks into a scholarship for college in Kolkata. In 1970s Kolkata, Sabitri's daughter Bela falls in love with a student leader of the Communist Party, and elopes with him to America when his life is threatened. In the late 1990s/early 2000s Texas, Bela's daughter Tara drops out of college after her parents' divorce and goes through a string of years taken up with shitty boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and drugs.

The three timelines are interwoven, with events happening to one woman often reverberating down to have consequences in her daughter's life. In addition to the women themselves, secondary characters appear to occasionally take over the point of view: friends, husbands, employers, and so on. The ending, when revelations from all three generations crash together into one moment, felt a little too easy, but emotional nonetheless – like a Hallmark commercial that makes you cry even while you know it's cheesy.

I've read several other books by Divakaruni before, and I'm generally a fan of her writing, but this one seemed slighter than usual. It was pleasant enough while I was reading it, but now that it's done, I can't think of much to say about it. Ah, well. I suppose it's one of those books that has nothing exactly wrong, but doesn't do much good of note either.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett. The 14th book of the Discworld series, and we're back to the witches! This time, in the tiny rural kingdom of Lancre, Magrat Garlick is engaged to the king but not quite sure if the life of queen is really for her; Granny Weatherwax is distracted by signs that she's going to die soon (witches know these things, you see); and Nanny Ogg is just generally Nanny. However, the royal wedding plans are interrupted by arrival of elves – not grand Tolkien elves, not tiny flower fairies, but the elves of changelings and Tam Lin and fairy gold: nasty and brutal and utterly untrustworthy.

What particularly stood out to me this time (though it's hardly unique to this book) is the sheer number of themes and ideas Pratchett can weave into a single narrative. Here we have: a parody of Midsummer Night's Dream, thoughts about folklore and elves (of course), beekeeping, parallel universes, crop circles, stone circles, magnetism, the problems and power of romanticism, why humans like cats, the cost of being the very best at something, and probably two or three more that I've forgotten.

I keep having to fight my first impression of Pratchett as an easy read – and he is very readable! But it's like Picasso reverting to line-drawings. You really have to know what you're doing before you can get back to basics. And on that note, words I had to look up in a book I must have already read a dozen times:
Castors: each of a set of small wheels, free to swivel in any direction, fixed to the legs or base of a heavy piece of furniture so that it can be moved easily. (So that's what those things are called!)
Chicane: an artificial narrowing or turn on a road or auto-racing course.
Ablation: the loss of surface material from a spacecraft or meteorite through evaporation or melting caused by friction with the atmosphere.

I love this book, from I ATE'NT DEAD and Only one queen in a hive! Slash! Stab! and The price for being the best is always…having to be the best and Nanny waving a bag of sweets to interrupt Granny and Diamanda's 'who's the best witch' competition, and the utterly horrifying nature of Pratchett's elves. He's the best at conveying terror through indirectness: It was still alive. Elves were skilled at leaving things alive, often for weeks.

And just so you know, I am STRONGLY RESISTING quoting the entire final confrontation with the elf Queen. But it's tempting!

Anyway, yes, amazing, if you have somehow not read it yet, do so immediately.

What are you currently reading?
Theoretically, I am reading This Divided Island: Stories from the Sri Lankan War by Samanth Subramanian, another NetGalley book.

Practically, I am reading World Ain't Ready, a Les Mis High School AU with fake-dating. It is 185k long. You guys, that is longer than The Fellowship of the Ring. It also holds the record for being the first fic I've bothered to load onto my ereader (I usually keep the fic on my computer and the books offline, but now I've broken the barrier). It seems nice so far! But I'm only on chapter 3.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

(10 comments | comment on this)

Wednesday, May 18th, 2016
5:49 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. This book's focus is Cora, a tough, determined young woman who starts out as a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Caesar, a newly bought field-hand, tells her that he has a connection to the Underground Railroad and wants her to run away with him. Cora thinks this is because her mother (who ran away years ago, abandoning Cora as a child, who still resents her for it) is the only slave from this particular plantation to never be caught, and Cora therefore might be good luck. Scorning such superstition, she tells him no, only to change her mind when the plantation comes into the hands of new, unusually sadistic owner.

However, this book is more magic realism than history, and it turns out that the Underground Railroad is literally an underground railroad: stations buried beneath houses or barns, tracks in tunnels running beneath mountains, steam engines manned by conductors. And it takes its passengers to places that never existed. At one point, Cora reads Gulliver's Travels, and that's the clear inspiration for this book: it's a travelogue of fantasy lands that are not nearly as fantastic as one might wish. The Underground Railroad alludes to real moments in American history: the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, eugenic sterilization laws, lynching, Harriet Ann Jacobs's time hidden in an attic, Harriet Tubman's head injury, the Back to Africa movement (the 18th and 19th century idea concerned with expelling all blacks, not the more recent one about discovering your roots), and probably a lot more that I don't know enough to recognize. Ultimately Cora is caught up in the debate of how to make progress, the same in her America as it is now: respectable, incremental progress, focusing on 'the talented tenth'? Or aggressive, risky radicalism? Whitehead provides no clear answer (how could he?), but manages to make the problem feel fresh and new.

This is a brutal, brutal book – violent and terrifying without the least speck of hope. CCora survives her travels, but many others don't, and even for her it's an arduous, grinding endurance, not a joyous victory. One might say all books about slavery, by their very nature, are brutal, but let me tell you: I have read a lot of books on this topic, and very few managed to hit murder, child rape, and attempted suicide by page two, only to proceed downward from there.

Which is not to say that I didn't like it! I did, very much; I just want people to know what they're getting into if they chose to read this. But if that doesn't put you off, it's an amazing book: beautifully written, with wonderful, engaging characters, fascinating worldbuilding, and a compelling quality that makes it hard to put down. Absolutely recommended.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth Hoyt. Okay, you guys, there is one reason and one reason only why I needed to read this book: Regency Batman. (Okay, technically it's Georgian, not Regency, but the only effect that seems to have on the plot is it gives the author more interesting fashion to describe.)

Maximus Batten, Duke of Wakefield, witnessed the brutal murder of his parents as a young child. After years of training in secret, he now spends every night hunting the streets of London's slums in disguise, fighting against the gin trade that he blames for his parents' deaths and hunting for the specific highwayman that killed them. He has a butler who's in on his secret and helps him train and do research. He has a Commissioner Gordon, in the form of the guy officially in charge of cleaning up the illegal gin trade. He even has a Batcave! (It's an old wine cellar that he uses to keep up on his exercising and to sneak in and out of his house, but come on, it's a Batcave.)

So clearly this is amazing. But is the book actually worth reading? Yes! It's not the best historical romance I've ever read – Maximus is way too close to an alphahole for my personal taste – but I very much enjoyed myself.

The heroine is Artemis, the poor cousin and current lady's companion to Penelope, a beautiful heiress who is determined to marry Maximus herself. Artemis, though forced by her position to maintain a demure facade, is a snarky tomboy who is mostly concerned with her twin brother Apollo (I KNOW ARTEMIS AND APOLLO WTF), who was accused of murder years ago and has been forcibly imprisoned in Bedlam ever since. When Artemis accidentally figures out that Maximus is the Ghost of St Giles Batman, she blackmails him into helping Apollo.

I did not approve of their first kiss including Maximus calling her a "little bitch", but once you get past that, the sex scenes were very hot and well-written. I particularly enjoyed that they carried out an affair for quite a while despite believing that they would never be able to marry, since Maximus was still officially courting Penelope. Characters sleeping together while trying to hide their true love? A+++ I LOVE THIS TROPE. I also really liked that a major part of the plot involved the triangle between Penelope, Maximus, and Artemis, but "the other woman" wasn't demonized or blamed. In fact, the book had a nice diversity of female friendships. On the other hand, the ending is a bit too clearly part of a series, as it just drops several plot lines without resolution: what happens to Penelope and the Duke of Scarborough? Who did murder Apollo's friends? How will he stay out of Bedlam? I need to know.

Overall, I had a few problems and it's a bit cheesy, but it was fun, entertaining book. Definitely a nice way to spend a rainy afternoon.

What are you currently reading?
Well, I started Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, a novel off of NetGalley, but then I decided that I needed something cheerier to read and have temporarily detoured into Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, which I've somehow never read before. They're both great so far!

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

(6 comments | comment on this)

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016
4:37 pm - Television I've Been Watching
For the last few months, I've actually had a crowded schedule of TV watching! This is remarkable for me, since I almost never watch shows as they air, much less watch multiple ones with conflicting schedules. They've now dropped off one by one, as their seasons ended, and so now I am late to the party with recommendations (well, mostly).

Sleepy Hollow
See, the tragic thing is that I was mostly enjoying Season 3. There were multiple new characters of color introduced, many of whom I liked a lot! Daniel Reynolds: yes, Abbie totally SHOULD have a sexy sexy boss with whom she has past sexual tension! Sophie Foster: yes, more kick-ass fighter women, I am into this! I ship Jenny/Joe, and the way they handled Jenny's commitment issues was mostly well-done and I was excited to see where they would go with it! Ichabod's tragic grieving while separated from Abbie for a few episodes was fantastic angst – as long as I presumed it would have an eventual happy ending. The new villains were boring, but eh, they were perfectly adequate at setting up Monster of the Week type plots, and I don't need my villains to do anything more than that.

And then there was that season finale which, in addition to all the other REALLY OBVIOUS ISSUES, didn't even make sense on a story-telling level. It was exact repeat of what had happened in the season break! Except now Ichabod was just cool with Abbie dying?

Anyway, I'm sure you've all seen the millions of meta posts on this topic so I don't feel like hashing it out all over again, but it is absolutely one of the most inexplicable and dumb (and, you know, racist) choices I've seen a TV show make.

But on a happier note, I continue to adore this show. It needs more of a fandom! It's not at all full of graphic violence or grimdark like you might expect from a show about zombies; it's an adorable procedural with a very cute premise (Liv, the main zombie, solves murders by eating the brains of the victims – this also causes her to take on some of their personality traits) and wonderful characters. My particular favorite is Ravi, Liv's boss/friend, who is a funny, nerdy doctor who handles Liv's personality-of-the-week with admirable nonchalance.

Anyway, this season was great, I'm so glad Clive finally knows about zombies, and I'm very excited at how they've set up a Blackwater-esque military contractor to be next season's Big Bad.

Hap & Leonard
A six episode miniseries based on a book series that I've read a few of. Hap is an ex-hippie, straight white liberal; Hap is a black, gay Republican; together they fight crime get into trouble, call one another "brother", and are generally adorable.

I haven't read the particular book this miniseries was based on, but it did have a different feel than the ones I've read: less humor and irony, more taking the guys seriously as action stars. Possibly that's just the difference from the first book in a series to the later ones, though.

I feel like I should issue a warning for the fifth episode, which has a torture and gunbattle sequence that is absolutely some of the most brutal stuff I've ever seen. And I watch a lot of horror movies, including during the 00's awful tortureporn phase! I've seen some brutal stuff. I was still shocked by this.

They haven't confirmed a second season yet, but I do hope it gets one. It might not have been everything I hoped for, but I'd definitely watch more.

Okay, now we're to my favorite, absolutely the best thing I've seen this year! Underground is set in Georgia in 1857, and is about the Underground Railroad, but it is very much not eat-your-vegetables TV. It's shot like a heist movie. There are action sequences, huge twists in practically every episode, modern music used in the score, and no clear lines between "good" characters and "bad" characters. There are fandom-favorite actors involved, particularly Aldis Hodge (Hardison from Leverage) and Marc Blucas (Riley from BtVS). Over on tumblr, I am co-running "dailyunderground", so follow for gifsets and such.

Also yes, I am shipping Noah/Rosalee/Cato, someone write me a fanfic.

Game of Thrones
Eh, apparently I am still watching this show. I'm kind of grumpy because I haven't liked the first five episodes, but they seem to have been popular in fandom, so I have no one to share my snark with. It... could be worse, I guess? I just want to read the books, to be honest.

And now I have to decide what to start watching next. I've been meaning to watch Black Sails for ages (Pirates! :D ) but it doesn't seem to be easily accessible anywhere – it's not on either Hulu or Netflix, and I don't have Starz. I've also heard good things about Wynonna Earp, which just started this season and thus should be easy to catch up with: a big plus! And I guess I should watch the second season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, since I enjoyed the first so much. Also everyone keeps telling me to watch Jessica Jones? So, uh, I guess I should do that too. Anyway! Tell me which one I should watch first, if you have opinions.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

(14 comments | comment on this)

Wednesday, May 11th, 2016
3:46 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
Secret of a Thousand Beauties by Mingmei Yip. This is marketed as a romance novel set in 1930s China, but I'd argue that it's actually just straight historical fiction. What "counts" as a romance is a bit of a fraught topic, but I'd say that the plot has to focus on a single romantic relationship; in this case, the main character gets married to four different people and spends more time thinking about her friends and rivals than any of her husbands. So, yeah. Historical fiction.

Spring Swallow is a seventeen-year-old orphan in rural China who is engaged to a dead man. There's a tradition that even ghosts need wives, lest they come back to haunt their families from loneliness. Such a woman will actually go through a wedding ceremony and afterward live with her in-laws; she may even adopt children who bear her husband's name. It's not such a bad deal, particularly if your new in-laws are the richest family in the village, but Spring Swallow resents her lack of choices and runs away on her wedding day to the nearby city of Soochow. There she luckily falls in with a household of other young women, all training to become embroiderers under the guidance of an older woman named Aunt Peony. From the style of embroidery she teaches and other hints about her past, Peony clearly had some connection to the now-gone Imperial Court of the Qing dynasty, but she refuses to answer questions about her background.

This relatively happy arrangement is short-lived. Spring Swallow meets a young man involved in the revolutionary movement and falls in love, despite her vow to remain celibate while in Peony's household. Meanwhile, the rest of the household is also falling apart due to theft, disease, broken promises, and spies from a group dedicated to restoring the Qing dynasty. After everyone else has literally abandoned the house, leaving her all alone, Spring Swallow ends up as a servant in a nearby store. And then there's a lot more plot twists and adventures before the eventual happy ending, but I won't spoil them all.

The setting was interesting, but the writing is exteremly simplistic, almost childish. For example:
"The white bird symbolizes the purity of your and Wang Xing's union. The red symbolizes the virginal blood on your marital bed."
Right now my virginal blood was boiling inside all my arteries. What I'd like to do now was slit that bird's neck so he'd bleed to death and end my bloody nightmare. But unfortunately my nightmare was just about to begin!

Seriously? That's not the quality I expect from an adult novel with mostly strong reviews. And so many exclamation points! There's also quite a few unlikely coincidences whenever Spring Swallow needs help or information, while on the other hand she repeatedly forgets things she's already learned just so there can be another dramatic reveal.

However, I did genuinely enjoy the descriptions of the work and art of embroidery. Yip clearly did a ton of research for that part of the book, and I only wish it had lasted longer. Ultimately you have about one-fourth of a really interesting story, and three-fourths of a poorly written standard "woman survives numerous difficulties" book. Alas.

What are you currently reading?
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. I'm almost done with this, and really enjoying it, but godDAMN it is brutal. And I feel that I have a high tolerance for fictional pain.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

(3 comments | comment on this)

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016
4:09 pm - Seeing Color
So, as you may or may not be aware, fandom is in the midst of an enormous wank about fanfiction starring characters of color, if there is too little of it, and why that is. (I will spare you my own thoughts on the topic, mainly because I am annoyed with the whole debate.)

But! Much more productive than endless circles of wank is actually producing new fanworks! And so I present to you Seeing Color, a brand-new exchange focused on characters of color. It is operating, basically, on the Yuletide format: sign-up, get matched to someone, turn in a 1000 word fic to receive the same. Except in this case there is art, too! :D

Currently nominations are going on (until May 20th), so get your favorites in there, even if you're not sure you're going to sign up. I of course have totally already nominated Ben January and Underground, but I'm sure the tagset could use more characters in those fandoms. Plus, you know, other fandoms. That's good too.

Useful links!
The main DW comm through which Seeing Color is being run
The exchange FAQ
The tagset
The nomination form

And even if you're not interested in participating, I'd really appreciate it if you could signal boost this information, either on LJ or tumblr or wherever else. It's hard to get out the word about a new exchange, and I really want to see this one get enough participants to take off.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

(11 comments | comment on this)

Sunday, May 8th, 2016
5:27 pm - Smut Swap Recs, Part 2
A few more stories that I didn't manage to finish before reveals, but which are still very excellent and worth reading:

Split-tongued, Venom-survived (4646 words) by Ias
Fandom: Original Work
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Female Vampire/Female Vampire Hunter
Additional Tags: Blood Drinking, Enemies to Lovers, Tribadism, Banter
Summary: The time comes when Aida makes the journey again, to the house in the woods where hunger lives.
This is quite dark, but really lovely. I adore all the worldbuilding and complex relationships that have gone into this piece; it really feels more like a section from a novel than a short story. But in a good way!

In Dreams (4646 words) by thedevilchicken
Fandom: Labyrinth
Rating: Explicit
Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Relationships: Jareth/Sarah Williams
Additional Tags: Explicit Sexual Content, Power Dynamics, Post-Canon, Aged-Up Character(s), Age Difference, Bondage, Masturbation, Frottage, Femdom, Riding, Woman on Top, Semi-Public Sex, Identity Issues, Porn With Plot
Summary: Sarah thinks she's moved on with her life. Jareth wants to prove she hasn't.
This is the Labyrinth sequel that I never knew I needed, but I really REALLY DID. Seriously, you guys, this fic is AMAZING. Jareth comes back to Sarah's dreams years later, when she's an adult, and this time she has all the power. (I guess she did the first time too, but now even MORE so.) It's incredibly well-written, exteremly hot, and even if you have never seen Labyrinth, you should totally read this. Fantastic story.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

(comment on this)

Wednesday, May 4th, 2016
2:49 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
Small Gods by Terry Pratchett. The 13th book of the Discworld series, and I can't imagine how to review this. It is my very favorite book by Pratchett (okay, maybe tied for first with Hogfather) and the temptation is to just quote the whole thing.

Okay. Plot summary: Brutha is a young, mostly ignored, fairly dumb (at least in the book-smarts sense) novice, the very bottom of a pyramid that stretches all the way up through the grand edifice of Omnism, a religion with an army, an empire, and millions of followers. But fearing the outer organization of a religion and actually believing in its god are two very different things, and Brutha is the only one out of all these people who has any real faith in Om. Since a god's power is entirely dependant on the number of its followers, Om is therefore currently stuck in the shape of a tortoise, and summoning a shock of static electricity is the biggest miracle he (He?) can manage.

Om's goal is to acquire new followers, or at least make sure that Brutha doesn't die and leave him entirely bereft. Vorbis – an important power in the Church – wants to conquer their neighbors and give the practice of Omnism a new purity and stringency. And Brutha just wants to do the right thing, even if first he has to figure out what that is. Omnism itself bears more than a little resemblance to medieval Catholicism, with a heavy emphasis on the Spanish Inquisition, though really it could be any authoritarian religion.

It's a funny book! But it's also a desperately serious one, and one that has a whole new resonance when read after Pratchett's death. This is a book where God, not the human characters, is terrified of his own mortality and the endless dark outside the brief bright span of life.
I know, said the small god. It knew speech, real god speech, although it talked as though every word had been winched from the pit of memory.
Who are you? said Om.
The small god stirred.
There was a city once, said the small god. Not just a city. An empire of cities. I, I, I remember there were canals, and gardens. There was a lake. They had floating gardens on the lake, I recall. I, I. And there were temples. Such temples as you may dream of. Great pyramid temples that reached to the sky. Thousands were sacrificed. To the greater glory.
Om felt sick. This wasn’t just a small god. This was a small god who hadn’t always been small…
Who were you?
And there were temples. I, I, me. Such temples as you may dream of. Great pyramid temples that reached to the sky. The glory of. Thousands were sacrificed. Me. To the greater glory.
And there were temples. Me, me, me. Greater glory. Such glory temples as you may dream of. Great pyramid dream temples that reached to the sky. Me, me. Sacrificed. Dream. Thousands were sacrificed. To me the greater sky glory.
You were their God? Om managed.
Thousands were sacrificed. To the greater glory.
Can you hear me?
Thousands sacrificed greater glory. Me, me, me.
What was your name? shouted Om.
A hot wind blew over the desert, shifting a few grains of sand. The echo of a lost god blew away, tumbling over and over, until it vanished among the rocks.
Who were you?
There was no answer.

It's a book that sets up a rebellion against the obvious villains – and then, rather than having the reader cheer for them, heavily emphasizes how easy it is for the overthrowers to become the same thing they'd overthrown.
“You know,” he said, turning to Simony. “Now I know Vorbis is evil. He burned my city. Well, the Tsorteans do it sometimes, and we burn theirs. It’s just war. It’s all part of history. And he lies and cheats and claws power for himself, and lots of people do that, too. But do you know what’s special? Do you know what it is?”
“Of course,” said Simony. “It’s what he’s doing to—”
“It’s what he’s done to you.”
“He turns other people into copies of himself.”
Simony’s grip was like a vice. “You’re saying I’m like him?”
“Once you said you’d cut him down,” said Urn. “Now you’re thinking like him…”

It's a book that can boil all of Paradise Lost down to a mere clause, half of a sentence, and then stick it in a humorous scene like a needle in blanket, all the sharper for being unsuspected:
But there were things to suggest to a thinking man that the Creator of mankind had a very oblique sense of fun indeed, and to breed in his heart a rage to storm the gates of heaven.

That description right there, that’s Pratchett, his personal beliefs slipping out from between the jokes. As Neil Gaiman titled an early obituary of Pratchett, with whom he was friends: “He isn’t jolly. He’s angry”.

It is not, however, a book against religion or belief, for all that it might be superficially easy to read it that way. Against the excesses of religions, or some of their worst moments, sure, but that would be like saying that a historian who points out that we've had bad presidents wants to get rid of democracy. It's a book that is probably the purest encapsulation of Pratchett's own personal belief in humanism. His is a humanism that is fully aware of the worst sides of humanity – that sees them being stupid and hateful and short-sighted and bigoted and everything else – and still loves them, fiercely, still wants to do the endless petty work of changing the world for the better, still simply believes in them:
"That’s why gods die. They never believe in people. But you have a chance. All you need to do is…believe.”
XIII. What? Listen To Stupid Prayers? Watch Over Small Children? Make It Rain?
“Sometimes. Not always. It could be a bargain.”
XIV. BARGAIN! I Don’t Bargain! Not With Humans!
“Bargain now,” said Brutha. “While you have the chance. Or one day you’ll have to bargain with Simony, or someone like him. Or Urn, or someone like him.”
XV. I Could Destroy You Utterly.
“Yes. I am entirely in your power.”
XVI. I Could Crush You Like An Egg!
Om paused.
Then he said: XVII. You Can’t Use Weakness As A Weapon.
“It’s the only one I’ve got.”
XVIII. Why Should I Yield, Then?
“Not yield. Bargain. Deal with me in weakness. Or one day you’ll have to bargain with someone in a position of strength. The world changes.”
XIX. Hah! You Want A Constitutional Religion?
“Why not? The other sort didn’t work.”

I first read this book when I was 13 or 14, and I literally don't know who I would be if I hadn't. How can I comment objectively on it? All I can do is point at it and go, "this! this!"

Anyway. If you haven't read it, do! And if you have, tell me all about it!

On Loving a Saudi Girl by Carina Yun. A short book of poetry that I picked up at a GLBT book-sale recently. Much of the writing and turns of phrase are quite lovely, but ultimately I had hoped for more. You can write poetry that's meant to be universal, or you can write poetry that's quite specific to your individual life, but you do need to pick a focus. In trying to do both simultaneously this book came off as muddled. I felt like I needed to have read a biography of the author to understand what was happening and why.

I posted some of my favorites here and here, if you're interested in reading a sample.

Sugarland by Martha Conway. Eve is a black woman, a jazz pianist of the 1920s, who witnesses a murder. This results in her quickly being caught up in an escalating tangle of bootlegging, gun running, gang violence, stolen money, and lies, when all poor Eve wants to do is survive. As if that isn't enough, she then discovers that her beloved younger sister, a nightclub singer, is pregnant and the father is nowhere to be found. Meanwhile Lena, a white nurse, is faced with the realization that her fragile younger brother is not as innocent as she'd assumed.

I was really impressed by the depth of research that went into this book. It's easy enough for an author to become an expert on her main subject (in this case, jazz and musicians), but Conway constantly drops in background details and allusions to other topics and events that give her depiction of 1921 Chicago a depth and complexity that is often lacking in historical fiction. I also really liked her descriptions of music: playing it, hearing it, writing it. She gives it a power and an attraction that felt very true to me. And, of course, to be able to do so is pretty important when all your main characters are musicians of one sort or another! We have people here who are working musicians, others who have given up on their dreams, and still others who are just now learning how to play. I liked that diversity of experience.

My favorite part of the book was the slowly growing friendship between Eva and Lena. Though at first they have nothing in common, they're thrown together by circumstances and gradually learn to trust and care for one another. (YES OF COURSE I AM SHIPPING IT SOMEONE WRITE ME THIS FIC PLEASE) The racial disparity between them is handled very well, in my opinion; it's a constant tension and problem, but they also manage to come together despite social and legal barriers.

On the other hand, the mystery aspect could have been better written; it was a bit confusing and seemed to include some jumps in logic. But you know what? I don't read mysteries for the mystery. I know that sounds odd, but I've discovered that the genre is a great place to find fantastic settings and characters, and as far as I'm concerned, the plots are just window dressing. Sugarland definitely succeeds at the former. I'll be checking out other books by the author.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

What are you currently reading?
Secret of a Thousand Beauties by Mingmei Yip. Attempting to clear out some of the stacks of books I have bought but not read!

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

(8 comments | comment on this)

Monday, May 2nd, 2016
5:04 pm - Fic: Flesh of My Flesh (Strange Empire, NC-17)
Title: Flesh of My Flesh
Ratings/Warnings: NC-17 for explicit f/f sex
Fandom: Strange Empire
Pairings: Kat Loving/Isabelle Slotter
Notes: This is the story I wrote for the Smut Swap exchange! Sanguinity asked for this pairing with "Accidental Soul Bonds", and I had a lot of fun writing it, though I've never written the fandoms or the trope before. I'd enjoyed watching the show so much that it was really nice to write for it, and the trope was a lot of fun to play with. Also many thank yous to within_a_dream and thewalrus_said for being excellent betas! This is an AU that takes off immediately from the point in canon of the marriage between Isabelle and Kat.

Summary: In a world with soulbonds, a marriage of convenience carries extra risks....

6413 words. Also available on AO3.

Collapse )

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

(comment on this)

Sunday, May 1st, 2016
10:58 pm - National Poetry Month (okay, one day late)
Swan Girls by Theodora Goss

They are so lovely, the wild swan girls:

white wings and absence . . .

1.       How to recognize a swan girl.

She will have delicate wrists.

You will be able to circle her wrists

with your hands. No, don't try it:

you don't hold swan girls, not like that.

Any suggestion of captivity sends them flying

off on white swan wings, or on high heels

across a street or continent.

They can't bear to be caught.

No, look at her wrists: skin over bone, with faint

pinpricks where the pinions go.

2.       How to catch a swan girl.

Feign lack of interest.

Stare off into the distance, at a tree perhaps

or a beach, or the New York skyline.

Turn to her. Be polite, almost too polite.

Ask a question to which she doesn't know the answer.

(Will it snow tomorrow? What are clouds made of?

How do you say eternity in Norwegian?)

Interest her, and keep her interested,

or she will fly off.

3.       How to keep a swan girl.

You can't, not in a house or an apartment,

not in a city, sometimes not even a country.

When she telephones, you will ask, where are you?

When she laughs, it will sound

so far away, and in the background

you will hear waves, or a language you don't understand.

4.       How to marry a swan girl.

Steal her coat of feathers.

This part always goes badly.

5.       How to lose a swan girl.

Wait. Eventually, she will go somewhere else.

If you hide her coat of feathers, she will leave without it.

Wait, you say, but I thought . . . Oh, those old stories?

You didn't believe those, did you?

She knows where to get another, and anyway

she doesn't need wings to fly.

6.       How to mourn a swan girl.

Make a shrine, perhaps on a dresser or small table.

Three swan feathers, a candle, a stone smoothed

by ocean waves. That should do it.

Sit on the sofa. Hold one of the feathers. Cry.

Realize it was inevitable.

Swan girls fly. It's just what they do.

It wasn't you.

7.       How to be a swan girl.

There are no rules the sky is infinite

the world is yours laid out in rivers and mountains

like a great quilt pieced by your grandmother.

She is older than they are.

Her hair is white as snow and covers them

her eyes are bright as stars and when she laughs


You take after her.

Swan girl where will you go?

Everywhere you say and then

everywhere else.

(aaaaand that's 30 poems! Hooray for April, and see you all next year.)

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

(4 comments | comment on this)

1:34 pm - National Poetry Month (okay, one day late)
On Loving a Saudi Girl by Carina Yun

After your beloved leaves, you will take
a ten-hour red-eye flight back to America.
At baggage claim, you will wait for your bag
to drop onto the conveyer belt, then drag
the weight of Sultan Ahmed across the terminal–
the soumak rug, candlesticks, and pashmina scarves.
In Istanbul, muezzin will call out five
times a day from the minaret. It's heard
on loudspeaker in every house, and every storefront.
You will wake to morning adhan, not knowing
whether to repent for those moments spent with her.
What is it called when you are wrong to love?
In front of the airport, your mother will find you
soaked with rain. "What happened?" she will ask.
You won't speak. She will spring open your
father's green umbrella and hover.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

(comment on this)

Saturday, April 30th, 2016
8:12 pm - National Poetry Month
Seeds by M Sereno

They hide the truth in seeds, you see.

In the black jeweled eyes of the atis. In the slippery throngs of pakwan,

in bitter lanzones watered by my tears when my mother told me

of the tree growing in my belly, nourished on my death.

Swallow a seed and it will sprout within you,

becoming your veins, invading your bones.

Those poets and conquerors knew this. Knew the mouth is an altar.

Centuries later their stories sink into our skin, coiling and uncoiling

as we swallow fables, fleshy pulp of perfect red apples,

a rosy roundness we are taught to dream: ruddy lips,

fairest face, beauty enough to kill for. I did not eat fruit as a child.

I ate summer, storm, the star-strung perfume of night,

spitting out the seeds because I wanted to live.

Then I grew. These days it's difficult to remember

the crack of wood between my teeth: their stories say

all fruits are poisoned, and forests are lies. We repose

in dark of skin and shadow. Oh, I have swallowed

so much fruit my cheeks bulge with the fullness of it, oh

my speech has gorged on this glut of strange language

so I can say, snow, apple, pear with glassy clarity

while my tongue twists on kamias, manggang hilaw, durian.

I am afraid of forests. I do not know why

the pineapple has a thousand eyes. I do not eat,

except when it is safe. They hide the truth in seeds,

and princesses asleep in glass and sea and thorn

cannot eat—only wait, while dark around them

the night comes alive with aswang. The ones who eat.

My mother warned me, see, see: eat too much truth

to spite your hunger, and that is what you become—

this snake-haired woman shorn in half

grinning as she stretches her long sucking tongue,

lips red with blood of infants and innocent maidens.

But oh mother, oh fruit: to awaken into the pulse-point of night

and glory in all the sharpnesses of taste, to swallow

all fruit and flesh and seed, to nourish forests in limbs

deep as earth, to feast on storm salty-sweet and star-bursting

with stories unpeeled and still dripping with death and womb:

to starve no longer— Oh storytellers, oh fairest princesses.

Let me take this fruit that has killed you.

It was never truly yours. Let me crack it open

bare-handed and sink my teeth into it, drink deep.

They hide the truth in seeds. Look:

how it runs down my fingers, sweet and clear as death,

bitter as history.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

(comment on this)

1:48 pm - National Poetry Month
Apotropaic Magic by Margaret Wack

I am the king's daughter slaughtered.

I am a thrall, enthralled, I charm the ocean

into calmness and surcease. I am

a witchwood, hazel woman

smooth as flesh, woven and crafted

and cast from the cliff.

I am a carven queen, a saint,

a pretty thing to bless the ship

with good luck and swift passage.

What do you hope to turn away?

You know that blood must bless the sea,

you people of the shores and crags

and salt-strewn settlements forget slowly:

the ceremony stands: I go before you as a sacrifice

and sink through brine and black water

and plant my feet upon a field

of blue-faced girls who bloom and snarl:

we are your legacy, your lineage, your litany,

the faces that will eat you when you drown.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

(6 comments | comment on this)

Friday, April 29th, 2016
5:02 pm - Smut Swap Recs
I participated in the Smut Swap exchange, which opened last week. And there are tons of great fic to read – you should all check it out!

Here are my favorites – so far! I haven't finished reading through the collection yet, but I wanted to put up some recs before the authors were revealed.

First off, here is the fic written for me:
Other Romantic Verbs (5051 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Leverage
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Alec Hardison/Parker/Eliot Spencer
Additional Tags: Established Relationship, Banter, Porn with Feelings, Dom/sub, Femdom, Begging, Handcuffs, Pegging, Obedience, Lipstick on Men, Trying to Stay Quiet, Roleplay, Praise Kink, Romance, 5+1 Things
Summary: “Love, kisses, snuggles, other romantic verbs.” Five unusual ways Parker, Hardison, and Eliot expressed their love for each other, and one way that was almost normal.
THIS FIC IS SO GOOD. It's incredibly hot, full of all my favorite kinks, and also is really well-written and has lots of nice characterization details. If you have ever seen Leverage, you should totally give this a chance.

[art] something useful (1 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Original Work
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Relationships: Original Female Character/Original Female Character
Additional Tags: Pirates, Sex With Prisoner, light bondage with heavy chains, Extremely Dubious Consent, Art
Summary: Female Pirate/Female Stowaway - The Captain makes her earn her passage.
Very hot, very NSFW art. Pirate f/f is the best thing!

Not Found in the Official Record (2344 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: The Martian - All Media Types
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Chris Beck/Mark Watney
Summary: Beck is a slob. Watney is grateful.
A very funny, hot (I feel dumb describing all these recs as "hot", but it's smut swap, of course they are!) first-person story. This does a great job of capturing Watney's voice, and is completely plausible.

Genuflection (4442 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Jesus Christ Superstar - All Media Types
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Relationships: Jesus Christ/Judas Iscariot
Summary: Judas worships on his knees.
Incredibly hot Jesus/Judas modern AU porn. This is very sexy, but also has interesting things to say about religion and belief and the difference between man and god. I really liked how Judas was characterized, and the ending was heartbreaking – but, of course, exactly what had to happen. Note: archive-locked.

A House Of Nettles (6430 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: The Lord of the Rings - All Media Types, The Silmarillion and other histories of Middle-Earth - J. R. R. Tolkien
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Relationships: Tar-Míriel/Éowyn
Additional Tags: Cunnilingus, Vaginal Fingering, Slap Slap Kiss, Power Dynamics, Psychological Horror
Summary: Éowyn is not healed. Inside of her, something hungry lives on.
This one is more sad and scary than hot, but it's incredibly well-written and absolutely worth reading. I found this to be an excellent twist on the canon ending. It's just a fantastic slow-build of creepiness and plausibility.

Running on empty (4078 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Mad Max Series (Movies)
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Relationships: Nux/Max Rockatansky
Additional Tags: Necrophilia, Magical Healing Cock, Dream Sex
Summary: Max likes the kind of company Nux provides; such a light presence on the mind.
Necrophilia is not a kink that I'm particularly into, but I just adored how this fic used it to give the movie a happy ending. I mean, I guess the ending is already kind of happy, but this one is much happier! Really nice writing, and both Max and Nux are excellently characterized.

Prenuptials (4530 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: The Goblin Emperor - Katherine Addison
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Cala Athmaza/Deret Beshelar/Maia Drazhar
Additional Tags: First Time, First Kiss, Intercrural Sex, Threesome - M/M/M, Threesome, Blow Jobs, Hand Jobs
Summary: Rumors are forever swirling in the Untheileneise Court. On this night, Maia's nohecharei intervene to dispel a particularly vicious one.
HOT. Hot! That's all I have to say about this, really. It's a premise that I've read before, but this author does a particularly good job with it, with lovely, detailed descriptions and a good handle on the action.

The Art of Apologies (6797 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Hamilton - Miranda
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Relationships: Alexander Hamilton/Thomas Jefferson
Additional Tags: Hate Sex, Asshole Spanking, Dirty Talk, Power Play, Size Kink, Spanking, Face Slapping, Riding Crops
Summary: The truth about their meetings, Hamilton thought, wasn't that he was desperate for the votes Jefferson had provided.
It was the fact that Jefferson was so desperate for him that made Hamilton seek this out again and again. After all, why demand such a personal payment for what had been a simple political transaction?
OH MY GOD. If you enjoy hate-sex at all, you have to read this fic. It is so well-written, funny and hot and perfectly in-character and just yes. YES. Don't miss this one.

New Normal (1830 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Phryne Fisher/Dorothy "Dot" Williams/Jack Robinson/Hugh Collins, Phryne Fisher/Jack Robinson, Hugh Collins/Dorothy "Dot" Williams
Additional Tags: Pegging, Praise Kink, Begging
Summary: Jack tries not to think too hard about why he can't sit down at work. Surely it's because he's been knocked down repeatedly by bank robbers.
This story is, once again, hot, but what I really like about it is how perfectly characterized everyone is. Phryne and Dot particularly are perfectly captured, and it made me laugh out loud to read.

Recommended by Galen and Avicenna (7345 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Elizabeth MacMillan/Original Female Character
Additional Tags: Orgasm Delay/Denial, Praise Kink, Overstimulation, Vibrators
This one is pretty much pure PWP, but hey: sometimes that's what you want! :D It's very readable even if you don't know the canon (and in fact half of the pairing is an OC), so if you have any interest in historical f/f porn, this is a great story. I loved how it encorporated some of the awkward details of real-world sex while still being incredibly hot.

With every waking breath (3480 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Les Misérables - All Media Types
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Relationships: Javert/Jean Valjean
Additional Tags: Somnophilia
Summary: Javert has always been good at resisting temptation. Until he started sharing a bed with Valjean.
A very sweet story. I really loved the build of emotions here, and how the sex reflected the depth of the relationship.

Shake it off (2273 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Star Wars Original Trilogy
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Lando Calrissian/Han Solo
Additional Tags: Deepthroating, Semi-Public Sex, Hand Jobs, Male Homosociality, treat
Summary: Han is very predictable, something Lando's already come to depend on.
This story is hilarious, and had spot-on characterization. I loved the Lando voice, and the sudden sharp break into deeper emotions at the end.

i'll cut your little heart out (1667 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Original Work
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Relationships: Female Private Eye/Femme Fatale
Summary: She doesn’t want to feel loved, and you don’t want to love her.
The nice thing about the original fic is that you can just focus on the porn! :D This story has a great noir detective voice, very hot sex, and really made me want more of the characters and the world.

Beneath Three Moons (2933 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Original Work
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: Rape/Non-Con
Relationships: Male Hero/Male Villain
Additional Tags: Sex With Prisoner, Interracial Relationship, Science Fiction
Summary: Abandoned for dead on a desolate moon by his people, Jevai 316 discovers an unexpected attraction to his captor, a notorious mercenary and assassin.
Another story that I would happily read a whole novel of! The writing here is fantastic, and I really enjoyed the world-building and interaction of the characters. It's more mild dub-con than rape (Jevai is definitely attracted), if you're worried.

A Question of Time (2402 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: Original Work
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: Graphic Depictions Of Violence, Major Character Death
Relationships: Female Sacrifice/Goddess
Additional Tags: Death Fetish, Knifeplay, Blood Kink, Religious Icons, Explicit Sexual Content, Blood and Violence, Horror
Summary: Tai lives and dies to serve her goddess.
I'd describe this as less porn and more simply a horror story, but it's really good. The writing is beautiful and creepy and awful, and it gave me shivers. I loved the resolution.

Misery Acquaints (10660 words) by Anonymous
Fandom: The Hateful Eight (2015)
Rating: Explicit
Warnings: Creator Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Relationships: Chris Mannix/Marquis Warren
Additional Tags: Post-Canon, Explicit Sexual Content, Racist Language, Period-Typical Racism, Homophobic Language, Internalized Homophobia, Explicit Language, Canon-Typical Violence, Blood, Blow Jobs, Dubiously Consensual Blow Jobs, Intercrural Sex, Gunplay, Anal Sex, Spit As Lube, First Time, Scars, Sharing a Bed, Consent Play, Humiliation, Verbal Humiliation, Enemies to Lovers, Intentionally Bad Spelling & Grammar
Summary: It wasn't the start of a beautiful friendship.
This fic is SO GOOD. SO GOOD. It's probably my favorite of the collection – other than my own gift, of course! :D – which is surprising because I never, never would have seen myself shipping this pairing. But this story makes their coming together so completely believable: the voices and the description and the kinks are all perfectly well-suited to the canon, the writing is amazingly good, it's a nice long slow-build, and just I love it love it love it. It's a fantastically well-done story.

Did anybody else participate in this exchange? What stories are you guys enjoying?

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

(7 comments | comment on this)

4:57 pm - National Poetry Month
Black Ships Burning by Jennifer Crow

No way home--you know this
when flames stain the wine-dark sea.
You watch the past blaze
against Ilium's sands;
the glow illuminates
the stunned faces of your comrades.
This is how kings roll the dice:
not with bones, but lives
of men. Sea spray or tears,
salt touches your mouth,
and the gulls laugh overhead
like the distant gods.
Tomorrow blood will run
down your blade
and the hot, rank scent of death
will cling to you in the night
while the captains count their spoils.
You knew glory once, when
Aeolus's winds snarled your hair
and waves creaked beneath the bow
of your ship. Athena's eye watched you--
but no more. Her painted wards
warp and bubble in the heat,
and you stand godless on the beach
watching fires paint the clouded night.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

(2 comments | comment on this)

Thursday, April 28th, 2016
3:43 pm - National Poetry Month
Church Going by Philip Larkin

Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.

Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new -
Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don't.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches will fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

A shape less recognisable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation - marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these - for which was built
This special shell? For, though I've no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

(5 comments | comment on this)

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016
3:09 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
Arab Jazz by Karim Miské. God, this book is terrible. It's partly a mystery novel – it opens with the murder of a young woman, and most of the plot centers around figuring out who killed her and why, complete with police detectives and the dead woman's innocent neighbor who only now realizes that they could have been lovers – but it has much grander pretensions than that, wanting to comment on the nature of religion and mental health and love and good and evil.

If only the author had any thoughts on said topics worth sharing.

The religious issue is the worst, in my opinion. Miské clearly wants to make some grand statement about how fundamentalists of all religions are the same, and how cynical opportunists take advantage of the faithful, but he doesn't seem to know anything about the religions he depicts. The setting of the novel is the 19th arrondissement of Paris, a neighborhood buzzing with Hasidic Jews and Salafist Muslims, and it eventually turns out that the murdered woman was raised as a Jehovah's Witness, which turns out to be central to the murder. (As a side note, I continually found the depiction of the Jehovah's Witnesses as a sinister global cult to be unintentionally hilarious. I mean, I get that Miské wanted some Christian fundamentalists to round out his religious parallel, but there are so many worse Christian cults than the Jehovah's Witnesses. They're practically affable in comparison to the Westboro Baptists or, hell, any random Quiverfull or hard-core Born Again church.) Miské continually makes mistakes in his depictions of these religions; the worst was probably when he described a Jewish woman who wanted to learn more about her religion turning to the Bible. And okay, let's give him the benefit of the doubt that that might just be a bad translation from the original French. He still doesn't really seem to have any understanding of what would drive a person to become so religious, and at the resolution of the book (spoilers, I guess, but who cares) all of his fundamentalist characters easily accept that their superiors were just using them as part of a drug ring. There's no crises of faith here, whether accepting it or losing it. And ultimately none of it matters, because all of the religions turn out to be nothing more than a red herring.

The writing itself is a mix of stream of consciousness and postmodern literary nonsense, such that it's often not quite clear what's really happening and what's a fantasy. This is exacerbated by the fact that multiple male characters have violent misogynistic fantasies, which the narration seems to treat as hey, just one of those guy things, no big deal:
“It’s like there’s this knot tying together my father’s death, my mother’s madness and the murder of that girl at the warehouse . . . Everything’s lumped together in my throat . . . It’s like this thing that won’t go away. Like all the images that have filled my mind for so long. It was my father who died, for fuck’s sake, so why do I always picture myself killing women?”
“I see. What did they do wrong, these women?”
“Oh fucking hell!”

This plot detail is never resolved, by the way, it just seems to magically disappear once this character falls in love.

Or here's an entirely different character:
A young woman in a dark skirt emerges from the storeroom, her flip-flops clacking on the black and white concrete floor. She looks at him for a moment before speaking.
“Yes, sir, what would you like?”
To take you from behind back there in the storeroom – you pushed up against the beer crates and me fucking you up the arse. Not dry, oh no. I want to work it in with your saliva on my fingers.
“A Chinese beer, please. A large one. And some prawn crackers.”
“Take a seat, sir.”
Laura’s murder seems to have opened a very deep fault line, bringing him closer to the magma within, the lava of inner confusion. The elaborate crime scene, the potency of the imagery created by the killer . . . It was all speaking directly to his unconscious mind.
With a sigh Jean leans back in his chair and takes a long gulp, his eyes half-closed. Violence. His boyhood cruelty comes back to him. Toasting ants. The time he beat the hell out of a cat he had trapped in a cemetery with his friend Jérémie simply to let off steam. [...] SMASH IT BATTER IT

Which reminds me! Arab Jazz also chooses random words and passages to suddenly shift into an all-caps, oversized, centered font. Because there's nothing like dumb orthographic tricks to emphasize how ~deep~ your writing is.

The writing is awful, the plot is stupid, the attempted insights fail miserably: in short, don't bother. This book has fantastic reviews, which completly baffles me. But I guess if the very existence of Muslims rapping in French is a shocking new concept to you, reading this probably would seem exciting.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

Baumgartner’s Bombay by Anita Desai. Baumgartner is a German Jew growing up in Berlin in the 1920s and 30s. But wait: this is not – not exactly, not quite – a novel about the Holocaust. Instead Baumgartner leaves Germany before things get too bad, and takes a job in Calcutta. Eventually 1947 approaches, and in the riots and violence that led up to Partition, he leaves Calcutta too, ending up in Bombay.

This is not a novel about either of those tragedies. Instead it's a novel about a man who is forever isolated, forever an outsider, cut off from the community that even tragedy, at least, would engender. In Berlin he is not a German because he's a Jew. In Calcutta during WWII (still a British colony then, remember) he is considered an foreign national due to his German citizenship – but of course, he's not really that either. Afterwards he's a foreigner but not a Britisher, unable to take either the Hindu or the Muslim side during the Independence movement and Partition. Finally he is caught up in a small, random act of violence, killed by a petty thief and quickly forgotten by his neighbors and acquaintances (not really a spoiler since this happens on page one, and then the rest of the novel is told in flashback).

I've been meaning to read this book for literally years, since it's often recommended as one of the classics of Indian fiction, but despite searching I only managed to find a copy recently. After waiting so long to read it, it's not at all what I expected. It's a small short book, a quiet book, about a small, passionless life defined more by what it lacks than what it holds. The writing is lovely and the arc is a deep sort of sadness; it's got a mono no aware feel (wrong culture, I know), the beauty of loss and the wistfulness of impermanence. But I'd expected something grander, something more about The Meaning of India. And that's just not this book. It is worth reading though, at least if you want to feel sad for an afternoon.

What are you currently reading?
Small Gods by Terry Pratchett, #13 in the Discworld series. I'd considered skipping this book on my reread – not because I don't like it, but because I love it too much. And therefore have reread it so many times that I was worried I'd worn out the appeal, and needed to let it rest for a few more years before I went back to it.

Obviously I decided to go ahead and read it regardless of the risk, and you guys. I'm so glad I did. I love this book just as much as I always have, and it's still the best thing ever.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

(6 comments | comment on this)

1:09 pm - National Poetry Month
On Reading Edna St. Vincent Millay by Carina Yun

I think about the morning's muezzin
waking me at four-thirty, his song
solemn, I'd stumble out of bed

and bend my knees on the soumak
rug not knowing whether to repent
for those mornings spent under

the fragrance of her umber hair,
the Turkish paper sprawled over us
as she read, or the mornings waking

to the smell of thick coffee,
poured into a ceramic mug painted
with her celadon eyes; it seems

her eyes follow me on deserted walks
over the Galata Bridge, the fisherman's
line pulling beside the fence, a trapped fish,

I wouldn't ever know why she threw
her pearls into the sea, I should have
forgotten her already, but her eyes,

I miss them, her breath I miss,
how to think of those days, as now,
when Millay describes the knots

that bound her beneath the earth's
soil, and the sounds of renewed rainfall
beating on the thatched roof.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

(comment on this)

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016
11:28 am - National Poetry Month
Not With Flowers by Deepthi Gopal

The honeysuckle that you did not love

will twine its tourniquet around your grave, engrave

its own story in the space where yours belongs, seep

through every crack and crevice till even the stone

forgets your name; the hummingbirds will visit

but they will not care for you. I write this to you

because when I'm done I will be carried out to sea,

poured into the river’s mouth in a torrent of benedictions,

and you, buried weed-choked, will never hold me.

I write this to you in defence of the green growing things.

I write this to you to fill the spaces you left in your wake

where the honeysuckle once grew.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

(comment on this)

Monday, April 25th, 2016
11:51 pm - National Poetry Month
Inland by Edna St Vincent Millay

People that build their houses inland,
   People that buy a plot of ground
Shaped like a house, and build a house there,
   Far from the sea-board, far from the sound

Of water sucking the hollow ledges,
   Tons of water striking the shore,—
What do they long for, as I long for
   One salt smell of the sea once more?

People the waves have not awakened,
   Spanking the boats at the harbour’s head,
What do they long for, as I long for,—
   Starting up in my inland bed,

Beating the narrow walls, and finding
   Neither a window nor a door,
Screaming to God for death by drowning,—
   One salt taste of the sea once more?

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

(3 comments | comment on this)

3:43 pm
The Liar's Charm by Gillian Daniels

Cleave logic in two with your tongue.

Sharpen lies into fancy letter openers with scrolled brass handles.

Your head can think of a way to make a thing not what it seems.

It’s so good at fooling you, why not use it to carve reality into your

own liking.

Start small.

Tell him he is beautiful.

Tell her she is brave.

Repeat these things until they are not observations

but truth.

Turn her into a warring, fierce thing.

Make him blush.

Shape them with the sound of your breath between your teeth.

When you have remade them into what you want them to be,

push your powers further.

Explain to friends of friends you won the lottery once but it was all stolen.

Tell the police officer you have never sped before in your life,

this is your first time being pulled over for anything

except when you were small and shoplifted a can of Crisco without your

mother's notice.

Make sure to describe your mother's chill anger in detail.

Learn how to cut.

Tell the woman at the airport your flight hasn’t been canceled, what's

wrong with her?

Say, "The next round of drinks is on me," and leave right after.

Tell him he's ugly.

Tell her you always knew she was a coward.


Spells, once cast, break easily

no matter the silver sheen in your mouth.

Carve the illusion with care because the lie that breaks

slices the liar with her own tongue,

opens her up like a false love letter with a real heart inside it.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

(comment on this)

Sunday, April 24th, 2016
2:26 pm - National Poetry Month
Storm by Ellen Bryant Voigt

one minute a slender pine indistinguishable from the others

the next its trunk horizontal still green the jagged stump

a nest for the flickers

one minute high wind and rain the skies

lit up the next a few bright winking stars the lashing of the brook

one minute an exaltation in the apple trees the shadblow trees

the next white trash on the ground new birds

or the same birds crowding the feeder

one minute the children were sleeping in their beds

you got sick you got well you got sick

the lilac bush we planted is a tree the cat creeps past

with something in her mouth she’s hurrying down to where

the culvert overflowed one minute bright yellow

marsh marigolds springing up the next

the farmer sweeps them into his bales of hay

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

(2 comments | comment on this)

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016
8:38 pm - National Poetry Month
After the Changeling Incantation by John Philip Johnson

To become a goose 

had seemed important, earlier,

when he made the change. 

A gray goose for some reason, fat, 

with the ability to lift above

the archers' arrows,

fly past the leafless autumn trees, 

and cross the bowl of the mountain valley, 

beyond those far peaks. 

There was a mission—

to get something,

or to return with someone— 

some reason to be a goose

other than just gooseness, 

other than filling your wings with sky—

Hands drop the wand; 

feathers cannot pick it up.

We forget when we change

we become something else. 

Things mean differently.

He circled the great alpine woods, 

forgetting. There, below, 

knotted in the trees,

were the plottings of men, 

creatures like little gods, 

with their endless violence upon things.

They make such noise. They wail and bleed.

It is no place for a goose.

It is no place for one who can find

north and south within his body

and know which one to choose.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

(6 comments | comment on this)

Friday, April 22nd, 2016
2:13 pm - National Poetry Month
Winter by Kahlil Gibran

Come close to me, oh companion of my full life;
Come close to me and let not Winter’s touch
Enter between us. Sit by me before the hearth,
For fire is the only fruit of Winter.

Speak to me of the glory of your heart, for
That is greater than the shrieking elements
Beyond our door.
Bind the door and seal the transoms, for the
Angry countenance of the heaven depresses my
Spirit, and the face of our snow-laden fields
Makes my soul cry.

Feed the lamp with oil and let it not dim, and
Place it by you, so I can read with tears what
Your life with me has written upon your face.

Bring Autumn’s wine. Let us drink and sing the
Song of remembrance to Spring’s carefree sowing,
And Summer’s watchful tending, and Autumn’s
Reward in harvest.

Come close to me, oh beloved of my soul; the
Fire is cooling and fleeing under the ashes.
Embrace me, for I fear loneliness; the lamp is
Dim, and the wine which we pressed is closing
Our eyes. Let us look upon each other before
They are shut.
Find me with your arms and embrace me; let
Slumber then embrace our souls as one.
Kiss me, my beloved, for Winter has stolen
All but our moving lips.

You are close by me, My Forever.
How deep and wide will be the ocean of Slumber,
And how recent was the dawn!

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

(comment on this)

Thursday, April 21st, 2016
7:44 pm - National Poetry Month
October 18, 1990 by Michael Broder

God loves an expiration date. —Jason Schneiderman

Best when used

before date stamped on top,

sell-by date,

freshness date,

date of my diagnosis,

my spoilage.

I was better used before, safer.

But 10 years post-expiration,

you found me on a shelf,

intriguing, older

dating someone else.

You deemed me a safe emotional bet:

hypochondria would protect you,

you could never love a disease vector,

sustain such high risk.

But the heart doesn’t work that way,

and we were each other’s bashert,

the Jewish version of Zeus’s scales,

tossed dice.

Loving me, you had no choice

but to make good use of my infection.

You took it like a height to be defended,

built walls around it,

turrets, aimed your guns.

I knew you thought love would declaw you,

tenderness soften your edge,

or that you were Eurydice,

always disappearing

when a man looked at you over his shoulder.

But this time it was you who risked looking back,

took the chance you’d be the one

to emerge from love’s underworld alone.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

(comment on this)

Wednesday, April 20th, 2016
4:25 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
Song Yet Sung by James McBride. A novel set in the 1850s in eastern Maryland, an area of swamps and uncharted rivers and rough living. Liz Spocott is the main character, a runaway slave who has visions of the future. Because of this, she is regarded as incredibly important by most of the other characters, who include Amber, a slave who falls in love with Liz; Patty Cannon, a vicious slave stealer who wants revenge on Liz for escaping from her hold; Denwood, another slave hunter – though one with a bit of a code of honor – who has been hired by Liz's master to track her down; the Blacksmith, the local leader of the Underground Railroad; and the Woolman, a feral black man who has been living isolated in the nearby woods for so long that he's forgotten how to speak English; plus an entire crowd of secondary characters. The book starts off with a bang but loses pace in the middle, wandering around aimlessly for a while until the dozens of plot threads come together for an energetic ending. I have to admit that I did get bored in the middle, but the ending was good enough to make up for it.

There's a strong thread of magic realism here, most obviously in Liz's visions (which are recognizable to the reader, though Liz and the other characters mostly don't understand what she's seeing). The functioning of the Underground Railroad is depicted as so intricate that it comes off as magical as well – complete with complex passwords, secret signals, morse code, spies, costumes, and more. My understanding is that most historians think it tended to be much simpler, but of course a secret code – and especially one that was illegal and/or likely to get you lynched – is exactly the sort of thing that doesn't get written down, so who knows. And, as McBride points out in his afterword, it's a great opportunity to indulge in a little fantasy. But there's real history here as well; Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Martin Luther King Jr don't actually appear on page, but Liz's story reflects each of them in significant ways.

The writing is beautiful, particularly the descriptions of the landscape, and the questions of good and evil, freedom and bondage, are very well done. The characterizations could be deeper, but overall I enjoyed the book.

What are you currently reading?
Arab Jazz by Karim Miské. You guys, this book is terrible. Weird post-modern writing style where I'm not even sure what is happening half the time, plus violent misogynistic fantasies from most of the male characters, plus apparently the bad guy is going to turn out to be the Jehovah's Witnesses, which keeps making me laugh. Also – this is petty – but the author does not seem to understand the geography of Brooklyn. If I wasn't reading this for NetGalley and thus need to come up with a review, I would have put it back by page two.

This entry was originally posted at Please comment there using OpenID.

(2 comments | comment on this)

turning a shade of an angel

recent entries
go back 25

born in a bramble ditch

Boxjam's Doodles
Camp fuckudie
Fandom Wank
Friendly Hostility
Ghastly's Ghastly Comic
Giga Quotes
The Onion
Overheard in New York
Penny Arcade
Post Secret
Ready Rock Moe Rex
Said the Gramaphone
Swordspoint Fanfiction
Television Without Pity Tomato Nation

when the doors of heaven closed

Quote from An Angry Blade, by Iron & Wine. Image from Sayuki Gaiden, copyright Kazuya Minekura, Zero Sum and other corporations. Image edited by Brigdh with Photoshop. Layout designed by Brigdh.
Email brigdh.

> previous 25 entries
top of page