Magic for Liars – Sarah Gailey

Magic for LiarsMagic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3.5 stars. I adore Sarah Gailey, and loved American Hippo. While I enjoyed reading Magic for Liars, it didn’t surprise me very much. I think the magic-school setting overtook the L.A. noir elements, so it didn’t feel like the true genre mash-up I was looking for. I will say, the ending is depressing af, and that nailed the noir mood.

I recommend Magic for Liars to those who like character-driven detective stories, magic school settings, sibling relationships, and adult-coming-of-age stories.

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Readercon 30

I spent the weekend soaking in books, writing talk, and friends at Readercon 30 in Quincy, MA. Check out this beautiful souvenir book, with Charles Vess cover art:

souv book

Both guests of honor—Stephen Graham Jones and Tananarive Due—are horror writers, so the programming was heavy on horror. I attended panels on ambiguity and vagueness in horror, haunted houses, cultural hauntings and African American history, and horrors of being female.

I went to readings by Sonya Taaffe and Stephen Graham Jones, and I attended Stephen’s Guest of Honor interview. He’s a treasure, deploying a cunning sense of wit while saying outrageous and true things.

Other panels I attended (and enjoyed!) include “Old Punks Read New Punks,” “Outgroup Reviews of #ownvoices Work,” “Lloyd Alexander, Existentialist,” and the delightful, “I Don’t Know Why I’m on This Panel,” where the Readercon 30 programming committee put five panelist together and didn’t tell them why, and they spent the hour hilariously searching for commonalities and connections. I attended because I liked all the panelists as people, liked their work, or both. At one point, they trash-talked the “greats” (like Heinlein and Lovecraft) they thought were worthless, and that three minutes made the panel. Jeffrey Ford is sassy and sarcastic; he said about Lovecraft, “I can’t even get to the moral outrage because I fall asleep before I get there!” I’m excited for next year already, because he is Guest of Honor alongside Ursula Vernon.

I bought 8 books

books I bought

and I’m 15 pages from the end of Helen Oyeyemi’s White is for Witching already. But the book I was most excited to find is this pristine hardcover of Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose:

Briar Rose hardcover

I read this book twice when I was young, first when I was about 10 or 11, and again two or three years later, because it haunted me. I didn’t remember anything about it except how it made me feel. In the intervening 20 years, I’ve again forgotten nearly everything about the story except those sad and haunted feelings. When I spotted this hardcover with a flawless dust jacket, I wanted it immediately. The dealer had already told me the price was reduced because it was the last day of con, so I flipped it open to see how much this would cost me:

cost of book

Not bad, I thought, especially with a discount. And its signed! I flipped forward to look at the signature on the title page. When I saw the inscription, I knew I wasn’t leaving the convention without this book:

inscription

I don’t recall exactly when I read this book for the first time, but it was likely 1994 or 1995. Jane Yolen signed this to another Elisabeth in another time, but the book came to me yesterday with a message I need, at a time when the country I call home is setting up concentration camps for a different people but with the same outcome.

This time—I promise you, Jane—I’ll remember.

A Natural History of Hell – Jeffrey Ford

A Natural History of HellA Natural History of Hell by Jeffrey Ford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I can’t believe I let A Natural History of Hell sit on my shelf for two and a half years before I read it! I’d enjoyed a story or two by Ford, but I can’t recall what made me want to buy this collection. It was probably a blurb describing the stories in a way that piqued my interest, followed by a review gushing about how good Ford is. That usually does it. I’ve purchased many a short-story collection this way.

I loved it. His stories have such interesting premises delivered on by great characters.

My journey through the book was a little trippy. There was a story I’d read years ago in an anthology that I had no memory of reading, and I thought it was great. I don’t know how it got so completely erased from my brain, but I’m okay with a little bit of weirdness to keep my life interesting. When I closed the book, I felt that I-need-to-read-more-by-this-person feeling. Lucky me, Ford has quite the body of work for me to add to my tbr bookcase. I hope I don’t take two and a half years next time.

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Deathless – Catherynne M. Valente

Deathless (Leningrad Diptych, #1)Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I started this book in the middle of winter, read 40 pages, then left it on my nightstand for months. Once I returned to it, I very much enjoyed the read. I can always count on Valente for beautiful, stylized language and sharply-rendered characters. She also has a way of leading me on with little surprises waiting around the corners, layering in gorgeously horrible details about Leningrad during the war. I appreciated the structural motifs (the triplicate repetitions, the Russian folktale textual cues, etc), however, I couldn’t connect the thematic motifs in a way that felt satisfying. I have no doubt the threads are there, but they never coalesced as I was reading, and I ended the book feeling like I didn’t understand the point she was trying to make. Not sure if I read it at the wrong time or if I’d always feel that way about it. Rather than read this one again, or even read any eventual sequels, I’d rather read Valente’s other novels I haven’t gotten to yet.

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The Girl in the Green Silk Gown – Seanan McGuire

The Girl in the Green Silk Gown (Ghost Roads #2)The Girl in the Green Silk Gown by Seanan McGuire

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved Sparrow Hill Road so much I walked into a bookshop minutes after finishing it to purchase the sequel, The Girl in the Green Silk Gown, which I tore through with gusto. A more traditional novel, The Girl in the Green Silk Gown did not begin life as a series of short stories later “fixed-up” into a longer work, like its predecessor. Instead, McGuire set out to tell more of road-ghost Rose’s story in long form. I relished the twists and turns of the tale, as the cat-and-mouse pursuit from book one again stands as the narrative through-line, only darker and more dangerous. Rose’s journey took her many places (a hitcher has to keep moving), echoing the episodic structure of the previous book, and delved deep into themes of trust, identity, coming of age, the burdens of power, and choices. Familiar characters populate the highways and byways of Rose’s quest, and I was on the edge of my seat wondering if she’d defeat Bobby Cross or be destroyed in the attempt, wondering who might betray her and for what price. It’s rare that I genuinely wonder if a main character will make it to the end (it’s almost always obvious they will, no matter how harrowing the writer thinks they’re making the story), but McGuire kept me on tenterhooks and I love her for it.

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Sparrow Hill Road – Seanan McGuire

Sparrow Hill RoadSparrow Hill Road by Seanan McGuire

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I orbited Sparrow Hill Road for years before finally reading it when I got a free copy in my swag bag at the 2018 World Fantasy Convention. It was worth the wait, and I loved it as much as I hoped I would. I love linked short stories, and this book introduced me to the term “fix-up,” coined by sci-fi writer A.E. van Vogt in the 1950s to describe the trick of linking up previously-written short pieces into a novel with some tweaks and/or the addition of new material to create transitions. I had not read any of the short pieces that comprised Sparrow Hill Road on their own, and I thought it worked really well as an episodic novel. The main character – a hitchhiking road ghost named Rose – and her through-line story – a cat-and-mouse game with the man who killed her – lent themselves well to the format. Also, McGuire has a way of making things work, seemingly through sheer charisma but really because she has a deep understanding of what makes stories approachable and structurally sturdy. I don’t read her for fancy language or post-modern stylistics. She delivers strong character voice and good plain fun every time.

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Lingering SAD-ness and Stress, or Where I’ve Been for the Past Six Weeks

You’ll notice I haven’t posted any book reviews since mid-May. It’s not because I haven’t been reading, but I haven’t felt like writing reviews for anything I’ve finished. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and I had a bad year. On top of the usual loss-of-interest depression I experience every winter, I overextended myself at work and burned out. My writing ground to a halt (like it does every winter), and my volunteer position on a fan-run convention committee became so stressful I nearly quit. I only saw my commitment through because I don’t like dropping the ball and there was no one to hand the work over to.

In April, I started writing again on a mini-retreat with some members of my amazing writing group, and just as I was starting to pick back up – the days got longer and sunnier, if not warmer (thanks, New England), and I was feeling good and fantasizing about an easy summer – I got surprise slammed with a large, months-long, highly stressful project at work that derailed me completely for the past six weeks. I’ve been in a stress shutdown almost as bad as the middle of winter.

The project is opening some career development doors for me, and I’m whipping it into shape, but I just couldn’t muster up the energy to write reviews for any of the books I’ve read since mid-May. However, it’s summer now. I’m up with the sun every day and this is the time of year I feel my best and most energetic. If you are one of the few people that follow this blog, you are about to get bombarded with reviews! I’m writing them up today and scheduling them to post this week and next.

I will always say fall is my favorite season because of the colors and the crispness and leaves and apples and snuggly sweaters and hand warmers, but fall also heralds the dark season. November is the cruelest month. Summer is when I feel good. Here’s what I’ve done for myself in the past six weeks:

  • Read a shit ton of fan fiction
  • Cut off my shoulder-length hair into an asymmetrical pixie
  • Drank milkshakes and ate ice cream
  • Took an impromptu long weekend to visit my husband’s family in sunny Florida
  • Bought books (even though I already have an entire to-read bookcase) and actually read them right away!
  • Built a LEGO Parisian Restaurant
  • Started a short story AND a novel

Self-care and self-kindness are important, and I’m always learning new ways of taking care of, motivating, and forgiving myself. I wish I was confident that I can maintain my energy through the next winter, but I can’t hope too hard for that only to be disappointed. I will enjoy the now, the sunshine, the long days, the heat and the energy. My creative juices are flowing. I’m writing again. I’ve already well exceeded my goal for today. I’ll ride this train ‘till I run out of fuel.