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Wrap-Up: October

  • The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorani (★★★★☆)
  • Now I Rise by Kiersten White (★★★★☆)
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (★★★★☆)
  • The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin (★★★★☆)
  • Roar by Cora Carmack (★★☆☆☆)

MONTHLY TOTAL: 5
YEARLY SO FAR: 65

A solid reading month. Nothing really got me in the gut, but I loved most of these books! Roar was the only one I really detested.  Look at that cover, though! I really love how it looks in this graphic. If I ever get published I would kill to have a cover like that.  Alas.  I’m also not quite sure how I read only five books this month when last month I read four including War and Peace.  Maybe it’s because I had been reading one of those books from last month forever…

Anyway! I’m still reading the same non-fiction book from last month, which is Before They Were Belly Dancers: European Accounts of Female Entertainers in Egypt, 1760–1870 by Kathleen W. Fraser.  Again, I’m only reading from this like an hour a week, so it’s slow going. Plus I’m savoring it.  It’s literally giving me thrills as I read it (yes, I am a nerd).  I just started Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie Dao yesterday! I can’t believe I managed to get it out of the library so quickly.

This month I’m also buddy reading Wuthering Heights with Rachel.  And I just bought Jane Eyre, so I hope to read that as well.  I hope I continue to enjoy my foray into the ~classics.  Finally, I also recently acquired The Bloodprint by Ausma Zehanat Khan, which I’m really excited to read.

Happy Halloween!

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Sirens 2017: Women Who Work Magic

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You may have noticed I’ve been MIA for a while, and that’s because I was attending this year’s Sirens Conference! What is Sirens, you ask? Sirens is a conference dedicated to women in fantasy literature. From their website:

In fantasy literature, women are revolutionary.

They wield swords, courageous. They battle monsters and are, themselves, monsters. They conjure love and hate and glory. Their intrigues are legion; their military campaigns tactically brilliant; their rule incomparably powerful. These women inhabit worlds different from our own because women authors have given them extraordinary opportunities: to grow, to love, to fight, to fail, and, sometimes, to save the world.

Sirens is a conference dedicated to the diverse, remarkable women of fantasy literature: readers and authors, certainly, but just as importantly, scholars, librarians, educators, publishing professionals, and even characters. Sirens is a place where a woman can, without shame or irony, declare herself a queen, a dragonmaster, a general. A place where women aren’t constrained by what our real-world society demands. A light in a world that frequently expects too much and offers too little.

The 2017 theme of the conference was women who work magic, with guests of honor N.K. Jemisin, Victoria/V.E. Schwab, and Zoraida Cordova, who each gave a keynote speech. In addition to that were multiple author-attended panels and presentations given by members of the Sirens community.  As a brief snapshot of the types of presentations given: I attended a paper presentation on the history of fantasy literature, a presentation on the witch trials in 15th century England, a re-writing workshop, and a roundtable discussion of f/f works in fantasy.  In one short weekend I learned so much!

The Sirens experience is unique for a fantasy conference because it is a woman-majority space. I think there were maybe like ten dudes there? And they were either gay or attached to their wives, which made for a very welcoming and low-stress environment. I never had to worry about being “on” or being hyper aware. For the entire weekend I was the most relaxed I’ve ever been; I felt like myself. The women there were progressive, open-minded, friendly readers, writers, librarians, and introverts. I felt like I was with my tribe.  And my book haul? SPECTACULAR.

The one downside, in my opinion, was the location.  The conference was held in Beaver Creek, Colorado, a resort town with a staggering altitude of 8100 feet! Coming from sea-level NYC, this was a difficult adjustment for me. For the whole weekend I was either physically ill or physically exhausted.  I was constantly out of breath, I had trouble sleeping, and I just felt very out of it the whole time. Plus the town itself, as a resort town, felt artificial. Though pretty, it was enclosed and somewhat claustrophobic.

But that’s only a tiny downside! Being among so many kind and accomplished women was so inspiring. Victoria Schwab’s keynote speech nearly made the audience burst into sobs.  N.K. Jemisin’s presentation on world-building was so useful I can’t wait for her to open up her own school of writing.  I had such an excellent time! (As soon as they hold it in a location that isn’t at a death-defying altitude, I’ll go again, LOL.)

Has anyone here ever been to Sirens?

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Top 5 Tuesday: Top 5 Quotes

Autumn Backgrounds with Watercolor Orange, Yellow and Green Leav

Top 5 Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the lovely Bionic Bookworm.

This prompt was a struggle for me! I can never remember quotes even if I thought them super profound at the time.  So, basically, I went through some of my favorite books looking for quotes…which is to say that these are not especially comprehensive. They don’t cover the range of every single quote I’ve appreciated because I simply cannot remember and I certainly did not go through all my books on Goodreads. Alas.

Unsurprisingly, N.K. Jemisin features quite a bit.  Also, there’s actually 6-8 quotes here because that’s just how I roll (it was really hard to pick okay).  Oddly enough, a lot of these seem to tie in with the current political situation in some way or another. That was not planned.

 

22817331“Do not lose that hunger. You will always have to fight for everything. Even when you already have it, you will have to keep fighting to maintain it. You will have to be more ruthless, more brutal, more everything. Any weakness will undo everything you have accomplished. They will see any crack as evidence that they were right that a woman cannot do what you do.”

— Kiersten White, Now I Rise


11774295“There was no peace in continuing to do what had already proven unworkable. Sometimes tradition itself disrupted peace, and only newness could smooth the way.”

— N.K. Jemisin, The Shadowed Sun

 


26228034“But if you stay, no part of this comm[unity] gets to decide that any part of this comm[unity] is expendable. No voting on who gets to be people.”

“Everyone shouldn’t have a say in whose life is worth fighting for.”

— N.K. Jemisin, The Obelisk Gate


6437061“In a child’s eyes, a mother is a goddess. She can be glorious or terrible, benevolent or filled with wrath, but she commands love either way. I am convinced that this is the greatest power in the universe.”

— N.K. Jemisin, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms


Traitor-Baru1

“Freedom granted by your rulers is just a chain with a little slack.”

— Seth Dickinson, The Traitor Baru Cormorant

 

 


17645“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.”

— Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad


harper-perennial-edition“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

— Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

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Stage Corner: Ghost Quartet

a2408801532_10When I was watching Ghost Quartet, the one thing going through my mind was, “This is so fucking weird.” Ghost Quartet is one hell of an avante-garde production, capitalizing on eclectic musical styles and unusual performance.

What is it about? I’m not entirely sure. It’s certainly not the easiest show to follow.  It consists of four intertwined stories, layered upon one another like matryoshka dolls, and told out of order.  The main story is that of two sisters named Pearl and Rose who become enemies.  I’m just gonna copy and paste from the original press notes: “A camera breaks and four friends drink in four interwoven narratives spanning seven centuries: a warped fairy tale about two sisters, a treehouse astronomer and a lazy evil bear; a retelling of Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’; a purgatorial intermezzo about Scheherazade and the ghost of Thelonious Monk; and a contemporary fable about a subway murder. Throughout these four stories two women cross paths, sometimes as strangers, sometimes as sisters, sometimes as lovers, sometimes as mother and daughter.”

It’s an odd duck of a show.  The entire production takes place in a tiny carpeted room, with some of the audience sitting on cushions on the floor.  Stage decorations are sparse; some lanterns hanging from the ceilings, old-fashioned carpets, and bottles of alcohol. You wouldn’t think that sitting in a small room watching four people sing would be so entertaining, but it is!

For me, what was truly spectacular to me about this show as the performances of the two leading ladies, Brittain Ashford and Gelsey Bell.  I had previously seen both of them in Natasha, Pierre, and The Great Comet of 1812, but in Ghost Quartet they truly have a chance to explore their vocal range.  I had already liked Brittain’s voice, but here she does so many more interesting things with it.  Gelsey Bell left me speechless.  There were moments when Gelsey was singing where I was literally sitting in my seat open-mouthed.

Not only are they both spectacular singers, but they are performers.  Gelsey flitted between various characters, from Pearl to the ancient storyteller Scheherazade to the ill Lady Usher, playing wise and droll and creepy with equal fortitude.  Brittain was equally capable in both her wide-eyed innocence and in her fury.  Together, Brittain and Gelsey make a formidable pair.

The other two performers, Brent Arnold and Dave Malloy, were only “fine” in comparison.  Brent barely featured, but I did enjoy his voice when he sang.  I am still unimpressed by Dave’s voice, but I was very happy to be sitting barely two feet from him as he played piano.

As the show runs through stories spanning seven centuries or more, switching from modern to ancient in a single song, it evokes a feeling of timelessness, like it exists cut out of the normal space-time continuum.  It naturally follows that it feels epic, like the stories of old, and as a creator it inspired me so much I wished I could bottle my feelings from that night and return to them whenever I need creative boost.

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Stage Corner: Sweeney Todd

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Last week, I attended a performance of Sweeney Todd at the Barrow Street Theater.  Small and intimate and shedding the matter of the proscenium, the entire show takes place in a recreation of Harrington’s Pie & Mash, which is a London pie shop that has been in operation for 109 years! The set looks exactly like Harrington’s, with cafeteria style tables and dilapidated tiles.  This makes for an immersive, almost claustrophobic atmosphere that intensifies the performances.

And what performances they were! Pretty much the entire cast was stellar, with standouts for me being Michael James Leslie as Judge Turpin and Eryn Lecroy as Johanna.  Leslie has a deep bass voice that practically made the room quake.  Lecroy has a sweet, high soprano, probably typical of this role, but what made her stand out for me was her acting! She played Johanna with a kind of resigned snark and hidden simmering fury that made the character way more intriguing than she could have been.

Carolee Carmello as Mrs. Lovett was utterly hilarious, and rightfully received most of the laughs.  John-Michael Lyles was a very endearing and flamboyant Tobias.  And Jake Boyd played Anthony with a kind of wild exuberance and barely controlled panic (and his voice was fab!).  Hugh Panero was fine – I didn’t dislike him, and his voice is certainly good, but his acting left much to be desired. Perhaps it’s the direction, perhaps it’s the role, but I found him to be wooden and somewhat removed from the performance, as though he were a dimension away from all the other actors.

The show itself was so, so creepy! It made great use of the small room to play around with various lighting effects that enhanced the creep factor.  The actors totally gave in to camp, joining together in intense chorus that sounded nearly hymnal, a brilliant contrast given the show’s subject matter.  There was black humor in droves, including a song consisting almost entirely of puns about baking people into pies.

It was such a fun experience! I really felt like I had been transported to Victorian London, that I was a customer in a dingy pie shop.  I even had the pre-show meat pie and mash, which, sadly, were not to my taste.  Spices, people! Have you heard of spices? And why are you putting cheese in mashed potatoes, come on!

My first and only experience with Sweeney Todd was that Johnny Depp movie like ten years ago.  Needless to say, this was definitely an improvement on that, and a perfect show to see during Halloween month!

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Short Story Friday

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In my attempt to become a writer, I’ve taken to writing short stories.  One of them was recently published.  In an effort to improve my craft, I try to read as many short stories as I can.  I’m…rather picky when it comes to short stories, much pickier than when it comes to novels (which is rather contrary, but what can I say), so it’s not often that I find a short story that truly speaks to me.  I’ve realized that I would like to keep track of those stories that touch me or teach me something, and so that birthed a new idea: Short Story Friday.

On certain Fridays, I will share with you three short stories I have read that engaged me in some way.  This will also be a great way for me to encourage myself to read more short stories! I definitely don’t read enough.  And so, without further ado, I present my choices for this Friday:

TheDarkJuly2016-220x340Postcards from Natalie by Carrie Laban (The Dark, July 2016): I’m not too sure I entirely “got” this story (I mean, I think I did, but I’m not sure) because it’s one of  those that ends with a twisty bang, but a very subtle twisty bang. It doesn’t tell you outright what’s going on, but if what I think happened happened, then it’s a pretty cool story! Plus, it got me hooked from the start and built up the suspense so well I couldn’t stop reading, which for me is a difficult thing with short stories.


35712604Queen Aster Who Dances by Tina Connolly (Fireside Fiction, July 2017): Can you tell just from the title how cool this short little piece is? It’s a high fantasy and it’s written kind of like a soliloquy.  It’s about royalty and power and sacrifice and sisterly bonds.  It gives you delicious hints of a much broader, richer world that I would love to read more about.  I’m definitely going to check out this author’s novels!


51moM5lrNdLDon’t Turn On The Lights by Cassandra Khaw (Nightmare Magazine, October 2017): This is a delightfully creepy little tale – or is it several tales? Khaw begins by informing you that stories are mongrels, that many different versions of tales will always exists, and then proceeds to tell the same story several different ways.  Each version is creepier than the last.  The line “the air was the stink of piss and flayed meat” will haunt my nightmares for a very long time.

 

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Top 5 Tuesday: Most Read Authors

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Top 5 Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by Bionic Bookworm.  This week’s is most read authors! If I do this by sheer number of books, it’s gonna be kind of embarrassing, but perhaps that’s the point.  This ended up being a stroll down memory lane for me, a look into the authors who were quite formative for me as a young adult.

 

Honorable Mention: N.K. Jemisin (8) 

11774295I discovered Jemisin almost by chance when stumbling through fantasy recommendations one day. I read the first book in the Inheritance Trilogy but did not continue for some reason. Then Jemisin started blowing up (this was even before The Fifth Season was published) so I went back and decided to keep reading. I liked the second book a bit less and hated the third (the only one of Jemisin’s books I adamantly do not like). Then I read the Dreamblood Duology, a spectacular work of Egyptian-inspired fantasy which is actually my favorite writing of hers. And of course, her magnum opus to date, the twice-Hugo Award winning Fifth Season.


5. Anne Rice (8-10) 

43763This is where things may start to get a little embarrassing. As you will soon realize, I was absolutely obsessed with vampires and all things supernatural when I was a teen.  I started reading Anne Rice at eleven years old, which is what happens when no one supervises your reading choices. I definitely would not give these books to an eleven year old, or even a young teen, to be honest. Part of the reason I’m not sure how many books I read is that at some point they all blurred together, a hazy vision of blood and sex and strangeness that made very little sense to me as a youngster.  I barely understood most of what I was reading, but there were vampires, so I kept reading anyway.


4. Amelia Atwater-Rhodes (9) 

30334I worshiped Amelia when I was a teen.  Incredibly, she published her first novel at fourteen freaking years old! And it’s actually a decent, mature read about vampires! But Amelia doesn’t only write vampires; for me, her claim to fame is her Kiesha’ra series, about shapeshifting humanoids who have been at war for decades. Not only was this series rich in worldbuilding and characterization, it also introduced me to the concept of same-sex attraction and featured the first f/f romance I had ever seen.  Needless to say, she was very formative for me (Amelia herself is a lesbian and I remember being fascinated with that as a kid, which makes sense to me now). I’ve been meaning to pick up some of her newer works!


3. Cate Tiernan (17) 

775981I wasn’t even sure if I should include Tiernan; the only reason I’ve read so much of her is because the Sweep series is made up of fourteen teeny tiny novels coming in at less than 200 pages each! However, if we’re talking formative authors (which…I’m not sure that we are but I guess this is what this turned into) then I have to mention her. The Sweep series changed me as a person. It’s about a young girl coming into her powers of witchcraft.  Tiernan seamlessly blends real-world religion Wicca with her own fantasy version. I remember being fifteen and so damn disappointed when I realized that Wicca as an organized faith only stretched back into the ’60s! I still have the Sweep series on my shelf and every now and then I re-read it. It brings me so much joy.


2. Darren Shan (22) 

864804Clocking in at #2 is Darren Shan, of all people, famous for his Cirque du Freak series about vampires (are you seeing the pattern?).  But the more formative for me was his second series, the Demonata, about a world adjacent to ours that holds bloodthirsty demons who are fighting to come into our world and kill us all.  I read these books during my emo phase, when I was really into things being as gory and bloody as possible.  And let me tell you, these books are hella gory.

 

 


1. V.C. Andrews (28-??) 

2950291Oh, boy. This one is really embarrassing, but talk about formative! I started Andrews’ work with her Flowers in the Attic series, infamous for its many incestuous relationships, including the central one between brother and sister. This is probably where my obsession incest ships began, to tell you the truth. Known for combining Gothic horror and family saga, V.C. Andrews is an interesting case because the actual Cleo Virginia Andrews died in 1986, in the midst of writing her second major series. However, her books were so successful and drew in so much cash that her estate hired a ghost writer by the name of Andrew Niederman to continue writing in her name. There is a noticeable change in quality between Anrews and Niederman.  All the books are addictive trash, but I actually highly recommend the Dollanganger/Flowers in the Attic series just for how utterly disturbing it is.  Andrews is another one I started reading very young, so I don’t remember how much of her work I read, but I definitely had a lengthy Andrews phase and I remember committing to reading everything under her name.