Thursday, June 30th, 2016
4:13 pm - Writing Prompt #3
For this week's prompt, we wrote down various emotions on slips of paper, then drew them out of a hat. I got "happy" and "envious".

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Wednesday, June 29th, 2016
5:39 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks. The land of Shaftal has been invaded by a foreign people, who have killed Shaftal's king, scattered its leaders, taxed its farmers, and subdued most of the country. Zanja, a young woman when the invasion first occurred, has been working as a spy and trader to protect her small tribe of border people. When that fails, she joins the remnants of Shaftal's army, who have been harrying the invaders and engaging in guerilla warfare for the last fifteen years. This brings her into contact with Karis, an extremely strong Earth witch, and Emil, a fireblood like herself (the magic system is not very well-explained, but firebloods seem to have the ability to vaguely see the future, while Earth witches can heal, make things grow, and work metal).

All of this is pretty much standard High Fantasy – Good vs Evil, a hero emerging from humble origins, the lost heir to the throne, underdogs valiantly struggling against vast odds – but it turns out that's not at all the story Marks is interested in telling. Though it takes a significant percentage of the book to get there, Marks eventually overturns the trope conventions. It becomes about making peace rather than winning a war, about acceptance rather than vengeance, about healing and melding instead of holding strong. All of which is great!

Unfortunately, the tone overall is much more intellectual than emotional, which made it hard for me to engage with the characters; the book sometimes felt more like a philosophical exercise than a story. The beginning also has an exteremly high bar to getting into the story. I realize that info-dumping is bad writing, but leaving the reader with no explanation of what's happening doesn't work much better!

On another note, there are multiple important gay and lesbian relationships, and gender seems to not be an important discriminating factor in any of the cultures here: we have women soldiers, generals, scholars, smiths, and in every other role.

This is the first book in a trilogy, and though I had some problems with it, it's a great idea and I'm really looking forward to reading the other books.

What are you currently reading?
Jazz Moon by Joe Okonkwo. A novel about a gay black man – or rather, a man struggling not to be gay – in Harlem Renaissance NYC. I'm not very far into this yet, but I am LOVING IT.

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Thursday, June 23rd, 2016
2:53 pm - Writing Prompt #2
Another one of these writing prompts from my weekly writing group. In brief: one person picks a prompt, then we all have only 15 minutes to write something – anything.

This week's prompt was from >a NYT article about the 36 questions that, supposedly, can make any two people fall in love – by forcing them to feel intimate and close. Specifically, "If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know?"

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(Yes, it is totally cheating to cut off right before I actually had to decide what question he would ask. But hey – only 15 minutes!)

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Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016
9:34 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
Chasing the North Star by Robert Morgan. In 1850, Jonah is a young man, just turned 18, and a slave at a tavern in South Carolina. His owner is comparatively kind to him – teaching him to read, letting him work in the house, buying him Christmas presents – but after being whipped for the first time, Jonah runs away. This is a spur of the moment decision, and he takes off without supplies or much knowledge of where he's headed. It doesn't take long before he meets up with Angel, another slave, who decides that if Jonah can run away she can too, and promptly follows him despite Jonah's attempts to shake her off.

That's pretty much it for a plot; the book quickly settles into an episodic travelogue which is mostly entertaining, though near the end it gets a bit predictable. The same set-back repeats several times in a row – "Oh no! Someone's captured Jonah! Will he be sent back South? Thank goodness, he's escaped just in time!" – which I suppose is realistic, but felt circular. The relationship between Jonah and Angel also doesn't make much progress; she continually tries to convince him that he needs her, while he takes any opportunity to leave her behind – a trait which honestly made me lose a lot of sympathy for Jonah. I get that you didn't ask her to come along, but Jesus, don't keep abandoning her in terrible situations!

The writing style is simplistic in a way that gives it the feel of dialogue without being entirely stream-of-consciousness; it bothered me for the first few pages, but once I settled into it I liked it. Both Jonah and Angel had distinct, charming voices.

I feel like this is coming off as a mostly negative review, but I did actually enjoy the book. It's just that it's not doing anything new, nor is it a particularly stellar example of the genre. It's a pleasant read, but honestly it'll probably fade from my memory quite quickly. And yet there's nothing really wrong with it either! Sometimes books that are perfectly adequate leave me with the least to say.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett. The 15th book in the Discworld series, and the first one I ever read. (Probably? It might possibly have been Feet of Clay instead; I know I read those two close enough to one another, and so long ago, that I'm no longer quite sure which was first.) We head back to the Ankh-Morpork City Watch, which is reluctantly dealing with a brand-new affirmative action program put in place to better reflect the city. Meanwhile, the Discworld's one gun has been discovered, and is in the hands of a man determined to reinstate the monarchy.

There are so many details here that I consider to be just part of Discworld basics that it's shocking it took fifteen books for them to appear: Angua! Bloody Stupid Johnson! Leonard da Quirm! Detritus in the Watch! It's so lovely to see them here, filling out the background of the world even more.

I have to admit that I didn't like this one quite as much as I had in my memory, though I'm not sure why. I mean, it's still fantastic, with lots of humor and some exteremly sad moments; a lesser Discworld book is still better than most things I read. I also remembered the King Arthur parody taking up a much larger part of the book than it actually does; I suppose it's just that the whole "forget pulling a sword out of a stone! Who put it in the stone?" is exteremly memorable.

One thing that I found fascinating is that this is the book that really makes the transition between traditional fantasy settings – timeless, unchanging, and mostly based on medieval Europe – and something more modern. There's been little hints at such a change in earlier books: Small Gods permanently altered the nature of Omnism, and Lords and Ladies insisted that humans had changed enough to no longer need elves, but this is a whole different level. I mean: gun control! Minority outreach programs! That's not part of Ye Olde Phantasie.

This is especially noticeable because right before I read Men at Arms I read Troll Bridge, a short story published the year before. Troll Bridge is about Cohen the Barbarian and takes place far from Ankh-Morpork, but it is quite explicitly about the world changing, leaving behind Old School Fantasy (in this case Swords & Sorcery) and becoming a more direct parody of the contemporary world. I never would have noticed these parallels if I hadn't decided to do my reread of this series in publication order, and I'm really glad I did! I'm picking up on so many things that I never had before.

What are you currently reading?
Fire Logic by Laurie J. Marks. This book has been on my to-read list for ages – literally years! – but since I didn't actually own a copy, I'd been putting it off. Today I forgot my current book at home and ended up in the city with time to pass and nothing to read, which is obviously a valid reason for visiting a bookstore and buying three books. One of which happened to be this, hooray! I'm not very far into it, but apparently it's been long enough since I read a fantasy book to be annoyed at made-up words (what the hell is a "G'deon" and how are you supposed to pronounce that? Call it a King!), but I am still enjoying the promise of lesbian poly H/C.

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Saturday, June 18th, 2016
5:12 pm - Fic Recs
Some things I've read recently that I enjoyed and want to pass on:

Small Kindnesses by ophelia_interrupted. Benjamin January, Hannibal/OFC, E, 1.6k. YES THERE IS A NEW BENJAMIN JANUARY FIC AND IT IS REALLY GOOD. :D Why has no one else read this? It's fantastic! EVERYONE CHECK THIS OUT AND SQUEE WITH ME BECAUSE I LOVE IT.

Singing the Lord's song in a strange land by Nary. Based on a song, but you can easily read it as original fic. M, 1.4k. An absolutely beautiful story about slavery and mermaids (or something darker!) and motherhood and just, this is so great. You should absolutely give it a chance.

Red Sky at Morning by thewalrus_said. A sequel to Shakespeare's 12th Night, written in script format. T, 14.5k. This is just excellent! I love the plot, I Iove the characterizations, and I love the romance. Really worth reading if you have any fondness for the original play at all.

Double Negative (Eliza/Jefferson, 4k) and its sequel, An Unconventional Relationship (Eliza/Jefferson/Hamilton, 10.7k), by holograms. Hamilton: a musical, E. This is not a pairing that would ever have occurred to me, but by God, this fic has converted me. It's so hot and well-characterized and sympathetic and funny and sad and did I mention hot? Because it is. Yes. Highly recommended.

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Thursday, June 16th, 2016
4:56 pm - Writing Prompt #1
I recently started going to a nearby writers' group – more in the interest of making new local friends than because I really wanted feedback on my writing, honestly. And none of the other MeetUp groups looked that appealing, so my choices were limited. But despite my original disinterest in the actual topic, it has been a lot of fun. We recently decided to add a new game to our meetings: someone picks a prompt, everyone has 15 minutes to write, and then we share whatever we managed to come up with.

Fifteen minutes isn't a very long time, so they're not spectacular pieces of writing, but it is neat to see what you can come up with without preparation. I don't know if anyone has an interest in reading these, but since I don't have anything else to do with the pieces and don't really intend to continue them, I figured I'd go ahead and post them here. For posterity, if nothing else.

This is the first one we did. The prompt was "A detective who is running out of money".

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Wednesday, June 15th, 2016
4:03 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
On A Desert Shore by S.K. Rizzolo. The fourth in a mystery series set in Regency-era London, starring John Chase, a Bow Street Runner; Mrs. Penelope Wolfe, a writer abandoned by her artist husband; and Edward Buckler, a clinically depressed melancholic lawyer. I haven't read the previous three books in the series, but a) most mystery series are designed to be dipped into without necessarily reading them in order, so I figured I'd be fine, and b) a particular element of this one's summary caught by attention.

A diversion: In Vanity Fair Becky Sharpe goes to school with "Miss Swartz", a wealthy heiress who is the mixed race child of a Caribbean planter and a slave woman. Miss Swartz isn't much of a character, one-dimensional and vaguely racist in a way unsurprising for a book written in 1847, but I've always been fascinated by the idea of her. Here we have a black woman attending elite finishing schools, going to house parties, and ultimately marrying into the nobility! Given how much we love to set stories in the Regency today, why aren't there a hundred Miss Swartzs written with modern sympathies? Especially in the romance genre! Romance loves the "she's rich but not suitable, he's noble but poor, together they have an arranged marriage and ultimately fall in love" trope, and yet I can't name a single instance in which the rich heiress is black. When books from 150 years ago are doing better than you in terms of racial representation, there's a problem. So I was very excited to see On a Desert Shore, because it finally seemed to be the new Miss Swartz I'd been waiting for.

Marina Garrod is the mixed race only child of Hugo Garrod, wealthy British merchant and owner of a Jamaican plantation. However, strange things have been happening around her, and it's unclear if Marina is having a mental breakdown or if someone is trying to put a (voodoo) curse on her or otherwise harass her. Hugo hires John Chase to be her bodyguard, but before Chase can figure out what's going on, someone poisons Hugo and the race is on to figure out who the murderer is before the will is read and all of Hugo's money is claimed.

This is a promising premise! Unfortunately, the book fails to live up to its potential in any way. One of the things I was most irritated by was the author's failure to describe what race any of her characters were. You can't write a book about racism and make your readers guess at who is white and who is black! That is necessary information! I'm aware that some readers dislike excessive, exoticizing description of minority characters' appearances, and I suspect Rizzolo may have been influenced by advice to avoid that. That's fine! But "She was a black woman" is not excessive or exoticizing! If I can only figure out a character is black twenty pages after her introduction by putting together context clues, you have failed. Even after finishing the book, I'm unclear if Marina was supposed to be able to pass for white (because sometimes strangers seemed unaware of her heritage) or not (because sometimes strangers seemed to know immediately), which is a basic piece of information I would have liked to better understand the plot. I mean, it's one thing to leave characters' races vague if the book is not focused on race, but when it's the central motivating factor of your plot, you need to be clear.

In addition, every one of the "good" characters is not only totally a forward-thinking abolitionist (which, again, fine! I don't want to spend two hundred pages sympathizing with racists anyway, even if it would be realistic for the period), but completely modern and "colorblind" in their attitudes. These people supposedly live in 1813 London, and yet are surprised and shocked at the existence of racism around them. ...Despite the plot centering around the prevalence of racism. I don't know, it doesn't really make any more sense while reading it. Rizzolo's lengthy afterward describes all the research she did, but it simply doesn't come through in the text itself. Including what she describes as the motivation of the villain, which wow, I apparently did not pick up on at all.

I was also disappointed by the depiction of depression. I was pretty excited once I realized this was a historical series with major character who suffered from depression – again, not a thing I think I've read before but which I totally want to – and yet it bore no resemblance to reality. Buckler is energized and happy when his romantic relationship is going well, and sad and lethargic when it takes a downturn. That's not clinic depression, that's normal moodiness. Social contact can be a treatment for depression, but love does not actually cure bad brain chemistry.

The writing and the mystery itself were adequate, I suppose (though Rizzolo's afterward, where she describes her research, suggest that she intended several things which I did not pick up in the actual text at all), but ultimately I was very disappointed with the book, because there were so many aspects I should have loved that were done poorly. Even the promise of "woman writer in a shippable OT3 in Regency London!" is not enough to get me to read the rest of the series.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

Turbulence by Samit Basu. On a flight between London and Delhi, every passenger mysteriously gains superpowers based on their deepest wish or what they happened to be dreaming about at the time. This does not always lead to useful powers – there's a few "Superman" types, but there's also a teenager who can control the weather based on how his stomach feels, an actress who can make anyone fall in love with her, and an architect who can grow houses directly from the ground.

Aman, the main character, gains the ability to surf the internet with his mind, becoming a super-hacker who can bypass any security system, read anyone's email, or steal anyone's bank account. He decides that these new powers should be used to benefit the whole of humanity, and so sets out to gather a team of superheroes. He's opposed in this by Jai, who also plans to create a team of superheroes, but his goal is for India to conquer the world. Cue lots of fight scenes, double crossing agents, spying, and short-lived allies.

The real pleasure of the book isn't so much the plot (which is pretty similar to most superhero stories), but the writing style. It's full of jokes, pop-culture references, and absurd descriptions, a bit like if Douglas Adams decided to write about modern-day Mumbai. What I most enjoyed, really, was just seeing what weird powers everyone had and why – though unfortunately my very favorite one is a spoiler, since it wasn't revealed until a twist near the end. I really enjoyed reading this, even if I don't think it'll stick in my memory for long.

What are you currently reading?
Chasing the North Star by Robert Morgan, another novel from NetGalley.

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Wednesday, June 8th, 2016
11:25 am - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
Finding Charity's Folk: Enslaved and Free Black Women in Maryland by Jessica Millward. Charity Folks was born into slavery around 1759. In 1811, she was set free. She spent the rest of her life working to have her children and grandchildren set free as well, and the family eventually became one of the richest and most influential black families on the East Coast. This is a nonfiction study of how exactly the complicated process of manumission worked.

One of the problems with writing history about the "subaltern" is that, by definition, they have been silenced in mainstream discourse. Trying to fill out someone's entire life when you only have three sentences to work with is going to leave a lot of empty space. Often this leaves such books feeling thin and patched over with unanswered – unanswerable – questions. Millward deals with this problem by including the stories of multiple people in similar positions, which is actually a really smart approach.

Most of the book is focused on the various approaches of enslaved women negotiating for manumission papers for themselves or relatives. I was particularly fascinated on the various stories of slaves who sued their masters, arguing that they were legally free (usually based on claims of an ancestor – sometimes as far back as 150 years previously – having been a white woman and/or free), which does not seem like a suit you can imagine succeeding, but which apparently did, if rarely.

There were a few problems with the writing style of the book, mainly that I really could have done with a family tree or list of the personages featured to help me keep track of who was who. Millward also had a tendency to introduce new people without any explanation of why they were important to the overall story, which added to my confusion.

Overall, I found it a fascinating and well-done account of this particular aspect of slavery.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

Savage Season by Joe Lansdale. The first in the Hap & Leonard series. I've come around to this book in a very odd manner: first I read the two most recent books in the series (#12 and #13), then I watched the TV series based on Savage Season, and then finally made it to this book itself. So I had some preconceived notions going in, you see.

Here's the summary: It's the late 1980s, and Hap is an ex-hippie. Once upon a time he was a college student who went to jail for draft dodging, but now he's just a poor, white, sometimes-drunk East Texas guy. Leonard is his best friend and his total opposite in most ways: black, gay, a Vietnam vet and staunch conservative. But they work the rose fields together and enjoy arguing, and so have come to be the closest relationship in each other's lives.

Then Trudy, Hap's ex-wife (who encouraged him to go to jail as a statement, and then left him when she got bored of waiting for him to be released), shows up with a plan to make a million dollars by finding cash stolen and lost during a long-ago bank robbery. She has a gang of fellow "idealists" with her, who want Hap to join them in their plan to use the money to change the world. But things, as always, don't go as planned.

Hap and Leonard here are a bit more serious and less self-aware than in later books in the series (though they're still quite funny, and the book often veers closer to a parody of noir thrillers than a straight example of the genre), but less so than in the TV series (which seemed pretty determined to make the tone much grittier and harsher). It was a fast, compelling read, and I've already purchased a copy of the next book to look forward to.

What are you currently reading?
I'm hopping back and forth between two books: On A Desert Shore by S.K. Rizzolo, a mystery from NetGalley that I am having quite a few issues with, and Turbulence by Samit Basu, which [personal profile] rachelmanija recommended ages ago and that I'm really enjoying.

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Wednesday, June 1st, 2016
11:13 pm - Reading Wednesday
What did you just finish?
This Divided Island: Stories from the Sri Lankan War by Samanth Subramanian. This is an absolutely amazing journalistic account of the aftermath of Sri Lanka's Civil War. In exteremly brief summary: the majority of Sri Lanka's population speaks Sinhalese and practices Buddhism, but a significant minority speaks Tamil and practices Hinduism. In the 1950s, in response to (real? perceived?) prejudice, the Tamils began to protest, and eventually formed the Tamil Tigers, a militant/guerilla/terrorist group that agitated for a separate Tamil country. The Sri Lankan government disagreed violently with this, finally defeating the Tigers in 2009. Significant human rights violations and absolute atrocities were committed by both sides.

Because during the last, worst months of the fighting the Sri Lankan government refused to allow journalists or UN observers into disputed territory, rumors that can never be verified or entirely denied continue to circulate: did the government deliberately bomb an occupied hospital? did they extrajudicially execute the Tiger leaders and their families, including children? how many civilians died? Sri Lanka says 9,000; the UN estimates at least 40,000. And on and on. The entire history of the war is littered with mysteries like these, through Subramanian steers a middle course of raising the questions but not pretending to offer answers.

Subramanian is not himself Sri Lankan (though he is Tamil, from India), which allows him to speak to both sides. He's not particularly interested in figuring out who was right or who was wrong, or even in describing the names and dates as you might expect from a history. Instead he simply writes about what it was like for ordinary people to live through such an extended, horrifying war. He focuses on the stories of individuals: missing children, abducted by the Tigers and forced to serve on the front lines of battle; missing children, who fought with the Tigers until they surrendered to the government and disappeared into internment camps. Even now, years later, there are no answers about where thousands of people are or if they're even still alive. Car mechanics who haven't seen new parts or petrol engines in years, but simply made do with what was allowed through blockades. Bullet holes in mosques, from the Tiger's sudden turn against Tamil-speaking Muslims. Journalists kidnapped for questioning the government one too many times. Buddhist monks turned politicians, preaching a new, hard-line nationalist version of Buddhism; Buddhist monks who left the monastery and took up arms to fight. Exiles in India, Canada, and the U.K., unable or unwilling to ever return home. And more.

It's a hard book to read, obviously, but it's very much worth it. The writing is beautiful and emphatic, and Subramanian doesn't waste time trying to offer explanations for violations that can't be explained. But he bears witness to these stories, and sometimes that's all you can do. Highly recommended.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

What are you currently reading?
Finding Charity's Folk Enslaved and Free Black Women in Maryland by Jessica Millward. Another NetGalley book! But I did not order any new books from them this week; I swear to god I am going to catch up so that I can start reading other things.

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Saturday, May 28th, 2016
11:39 am - Seeing Color letter
(Everybody sign up with me! :D Go here for more details.)

Hi! Thank you so much for matching me! I'm looking forward to whatever I receive.
If you would like more information than what's below, check out some of my previous exchange letters. Anything I've asked for before is still welcome. On the other hand, I'm a big believer in "Optional Details Are Optional", so feel free to ignore all of this and do whatever you want.
My AO3 name is Brigdh.

In general, I'm a big fan of H/C, porn, casefic, missing scenes, loyalty kink and chosen families, both established relationship and first times, humor, dark fic, epistolary fic, pining, road trips, AUs, and curtainfic/slice of life. I don't have any strong DNWs.

My requests:
Benjamin January Mysteries - Barbara Hambly
Benjamin January, Rose Vitrac January, group: Benjamin January & Rose Vitrac January & Hannibal Sefton
In this fandom, I ship: Ben/Rose, Ben/Ayasha, Ben/Hannibal, Rose/Cora, Rose/Hannibal, and Ben/Rose/Hannibal. However, I'm also really into fic about any of these people as friends, or character study fic!

– Really, I'd love to read anything at all about my OT3. Domestic fluff with them cooking and playing music and making dumb Latin jokes and critiquing opera or whatever. I'm sure Hannibal would be very willing to help either of them expand their sexual repertoire. Give them a new case to solve, or an adventure that doesn't start with Ben playing detective! Are there backstories to the nicknames Hannibal uses for them, Athene and amicus meus? I would LOVE a first time fic set post-'Crimson Angel', where the events of that book leads to a change in their relationship.
– For a focus on Rose/Hannibal, how did their first meeting go? How about Hannibal teaching Rose to pick locks (and/or the two of them attempting to teach Ben)? I'd love to hear more about what Rose was thinking during 'Dead and Buried', and what she thinks about Hannibal's backstory. I also LOVE their fake-relationship in 'Crimson Angel', so more about that, please.
– For Ben/Hannibal, the world NEEDS furtive make-outs in the backroom of some opera/ball/private party. Or tell me about Ben's feelings when Hannibal moves away to Mexico. These trips to Mexico and DC are also excellent opportunities for epistolary fic.
– I'd also love something about Rose and Cora, either as children or after Cora comes to New Orleans, or about Rose and Chloe being academic women friends.
– Ben/Ayasha: I want to know everything about their relationship, from beginning to end. An AU where Ayasha gets to meet either Rose or Hannibal would also be wonderful.
– This fandom does not yet have a single modern AU! You should write one. :D
– If you want to write gen, Rose-backstory about her time at school in New York would be AMAZING. I would also LOVE fic about Ben and his family – either during his childhood or as an adult. His relationships with Livia, Dominique, and Olympe are all complex and wonderful. I'm also curious to know more about his feelings regarding St-Denis Janvier.

Fanart requests: Feel free to use anything above, if you see something inspiring! But I suspect a lot of my fic requests don't translate well to art, so here's some art-specific ideas.
– I would love, love, love a daemon AU. I don't like these as much in fic, since they don't seem to lend themselves to plot, but I adore them in art. I really want to see what animals you think the different characters would have as daemons! (I have my own ideas, but I don't want to stifle your creativity. But if you're curious, feel free to ask through the mods/leave an anonymous comment/whatever.)
– Being able to see a moment from canon would be wonderful. You can look back through my Benjamin January tag for some of my favorite quotes and the scenes I talk about the most, but also feel free to chose your own favorite.
– Hair kink! Both Rose and Hannibal have long hair, so I'd love to see art about other characters generally doing things with it: combing, braiding, washing, putting it up, taking it down, etc.
– Mardi Gras party! I'd love to see what costumes the characters chose.

Underground (TV)
Cato, Noah, Rosalee
In this fandom, I ship Cato/Noah/Rosalee, as well as any two out of the three. However, I'm also really into fic about any of these people as friends (or, well, tense companions), or character study fic!

– Shippy fic YES. First times, established relationships – whatever you like. I just want to see them snarking and testing one another (and possibly outright punching between Noah and Cato) and rescuing each other and slowly learning to trust. And also kiss.
– I'd really love a fic about them reuniting after the events of the finale. Unfortunately, I realize that would probably involve tens of thousands of words, and I'm not going to require that of you. Though I wouldn't say no if you want to write it! :D Feel free to timeskip ahead and/or use an AU if that works for you.
– I loved the episode where Cato and Rosalee dressed up and pretended to be married. A missing scene from there (or what if they had had to spend the night like that?) examining their feelings would be wonderful.
– Backstory about any of them would be great. We've only gotten little hints about their lives before this season, and I'd love to see more of that filled out. Noah and Rosalee seem to have never spoken before episode one, but what about Noah and Cato? Or Cato and Rosalee? Or feel free to focus on just one character, if you prefer. I'd also really love to read more about Noah's friendship with Henry.
– I'm really interested in the question of if Rosalee knows how to read. It seems like she might? A story about her teaching one or both of the others would be lovely. Or about all three of them learning!
– An AU with them in some less-awful life would make me happy. Perhaps they're still running a heist! Or perhaps they have some more straightforward problems.
– I would also be really into Rosalee/Elizabeth fic set during the finale. C'mon, there was totally sexual tension there! :D

Titus Andronicus - Shakespeare
Many of Shakespeare's villains (Iago, Lady Macbeth, Richard III) get lots of attention – meta, fic, art, actors describing what great roles they are to play – but Aaron is my very favorite, and almost no one ever talks about him. :( He is, in many ways, a stereotype, and yet he's also exteremly aware of how he is perceived by the society around him. There's several lines that suggest he's deliberately turning himself into what's expected of him. He's such a complex character! I love how dramatically, straightforwardly, wonderfully evil he is. I love his anger, I love his arrogance (that swagger! ♥ He basically drops a 'yo mamma' joke, how amazing is that?), I love his relationship with Tamora, and I love how he sacrifices everything he has to try and save his son and yet still refuses to admit wrongdoing: "If one good deed in all my life I did, / I do repent it from my very soul." AH LOVE. He is a complicated, stubborn, self-centered villain, and I adore him.

– How did he get this way? What was Aaron's childhood, his parents? How does a Moor end up among the goths anyway?
– The Tamora/Aaron relationship is pretty fascinating to me, and I'd love the backstory on how they met and their early days together. He seems pretty good at playing the game of politics – what was his role in Tamora's Queendom? He seems to not care at all when she marries Saturninus – regard it as a good thing, in fact! How exactly did such an open relationship come to be, and how does it work?
– I LOVE his relationship with his son, how he instantly gives up everything his life has been to try and rescue a baby. An AU where he actually gets away and gets to raise his son would be awesome. What would Aaron be like as a father? Does he "want his soul black", or would the act of raising a child change his perspective somewhat? What would he tell the kid about his past? Where would they go to live?
– One of the huge themes of Titus Andronicus is revenge, and yet Aaron seems to be the only character not primarily motivated by revenge. Or is he? Does he have some secret backstory we don't see in the play? Or, if not, what does he think of all this going on around him? What is his motivation?
– Apparently during the Victorian period, a rewritten version starring Aaron as the virtuous hero, friends with chaste Tamora, became popular. I feel a meta fic, where the "original" Aaron becomes aware of this, could be HILARIOUS. Or sad! Depending on how you want to write it.
– AUs: always a plus. Modern day? Elizabethan era? Crossovers with other Shakespeare plays would also be great!

Fanart requests: Feel free to use anything above, if you see something inspiring! But I suspect a lot of my fic requests don't translate well to art, so here's some art-specific ideas.
– Daemon AU, yes, always.
– Poster art advertising the play (and Aaron specifically, of course)
– Aaron and his baby: YES PLEASE. Cute, creepy, however you like, I just would love to see them together.
– A piece inspired by this line would be GREAT:
I will be bright, and shine in pearl and gold,
To wait upon this new-made empress.
To wait, said I? to wanton with this queen,
This goddess, this Semiramis, this nymph,
This siren, that will charm Rome's Saturnine,
And see his shipwreck and his commonweal's.

Or any of the other scenes in canon.

Thanks again! I can't wait to see what you make.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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