October Reads – Oct 1

I looooove the fall!

Specifically, I love October. I love the cool air, the leaves changing, the pumpkin spice, and getting to break out my scarves and sweaters. The sights and smells and mood are all just one of my favourite times of year! Moreover, the third Faraday Files book, which I’m working at a breakneck pace to finish this month, takes place deep in the Harvest season! So the autumn mood is really inspiring me!

The centrepiece of October is Halloween, which I love best of all. I thought for this month, I’d share a bunch of spooky, moody SFF-ish books that you may or may not have checked out!

To start…

The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Keirnan

What’s it about?

5356476After the suicide of her longtime girlfriend, author Sarah Crowe falls into a depression she can’t shake. Finding it impossible to write, Sarah impuslively spends a summer holed up in Rhode Island. She rents a little cottage whose grounds contain a gigantic, ancient red oak that has always been associated with mysterious, often gruesome circumstances.

This book plays havoc with your sense of what is and isn’t real. Sarah kills herself after the events of this summer. It sounds like a spoiler, but it’s more or less the first thing you find out when you start the book, because of the in-universe foreword by her editor. This is a publication of Sarah’s journals from that summer. And the real power of the book is that foreword, which holds just enough hints and glimpses into the real world, beyond the filter of Sarah’s madness, to confuse every attempt to decode what really happened.

How SFF is it?

Not very. This book is much closer to pure horror than anything else I plan to include on this list at this point. It has a contemporary setting and the characters feel like they live in the real world. At the same time, there’s very little communication with the outside world beyond the cottage and the red tree. It also feels very SFF to me, specifically in some of the weirder elements that I really don’t want to spoil! It’s also worth noting that the main character, Sarah, is actually an SFF author! Which is pretty cool.

Why is it spooky?

The kind of spookiness this book is going for is the idea of unknowable forces, of things that existed long before our civilizations, continue to exit in the shadowed corners of them, and will go on long after we’re gone. It taps into anxieties about the wildness of nature, the way that the natural world is in so many ways anathema to humanity and how we live, and the idea of vast powers and terrifying little glitches in the matrix that exist just below our feet.  It also plays with madness a lot, and the fear of the thing in the corner of your eye, and how you can convince yourself it was real… or was it actually real all along?

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Oh, Hey, Long Time No See

Wow, this is embarrassing, isn’t it? After all that talk about making an effort to blog more and get myself out there and make sure I’m staying in close touch with you guys, I seem to have gotten worse than ever at this. Huh.

After about two years of doing this, I’m coming to the conclusion that I am just bad at blogging. Or, no. Let’s scratch that. I think I’m actually pretty good at blogging. People keep telling me that they really love my blog and they think my posts are really compelling and interesting and they love reading them. The truth is probably closer to this:

I hate blogging.

I have got this idea in my head about what a blog post needs to be, and one of those things is that it needs to have effort put into it. Which may or may not be true, but god dammit, it’s stuck in my head like a song that won’t leave. When I just have some hot take I want to throw out there, I go to my twitter.  Blogging feels like an obligation that’s going to absorb my valuable writing energy. Which it kinda does.

Anyway. I feel like I’ve made this damn spiel so many times, everyone must be bored of it! This isn’t a blog post about my issues with blogging. Rather, this is a blog post I’m putting the absolute minimum amount of energy into to see if it can be done, instead of getting myself all worked up about things!

UPDATES:

The Deathsniffer’s Assistant has been out for almost a year! It’s birthday is only two days away, and I’m really excited to hit that milestone. I’m intending to write a big postmortem on the book and do something to celebrate the birthday. We’ll see if it actually gets done! For now, let me just say that I’m really, really happy with how this year has gone and I’m so, so grateful to all of you for buying a copy and telling your friends and supporting me. I write for you guys.

The Timeseer’s Gambit is out in only twenty-five days! Holy crap! The time has flown, and also, has dragged so slow I could cry. I am really proud of this one and so frigging excited to get it into your hands. Early reviews are starting to go up, and the consensus so far is that it’s as good or better than the first one. (Yay!) I am really just so pumped to start talking about the book with you. My cover reveal is next week (pushing it close to pub, I know!) and I hope you guys love it!

The Heartreader’s Secret is looking a hell of a lot better than it was the last time I updated this blog, when I posted talking about how I’d spent five months writing a single chapter. The good news is there is now a lot more than one chapter hammered out on this manuscript! The going is still slow-ish compared to how fast TTG came out, but it’s a much more complicated book. I think it’s going to turn out considerably longer than the first two (which have almost the exact same word/page count!), which could be great or terrible depending. I’m still at a stage with this book where I’m worried it’s not very good, so I can’t say that I’m excited to get it out there in front of you all. But it’s coming, and it’s turning out mostly the way I want it to, so that’s good.

As for me, personally, it’s been a long summer so far. What do you mean, summer has just started? Dammit! It isn’t over yet?? I hate summer, I really do. I’m one of those weird people who would rather sit curled up by the fire with blankets while a blizzard rages outside than go to the beach. I hate the beach, actually. And the heat. And bugs. And eighteen hours of daylight. And I’m pale as a ghost and sunburn like I’m being roasted. Summer is not my time. I’ve been a little down, a little unfocused, and really, really excited for autumn to get here. Okay, is summer over, yet? What’s that? It’s only been a minute since I started writing this paragraph? HOW IS IT STILL HERE?

I’ve also read some books that are totally worth checking out. In the sci-fi side of things, I’m still digging the absolute pants off of  The Expanse series by James S A Corey. As for fantasy, Voyage of the Basilisk by Marie Brennan just recently came out in paperback and I tore through it in a day or less. So good. And on the romance front, I’ve been absolutely thrilled over how good Sarah Maclean’s Rules of Scoundrels series is, especially the second one!

So that’s it. This took very little effort and was fun to write, so hey, that’s something.

The Best Books I Read in 2015

It’s been an amazing year for me in reading. Normally, there are only a couple books in a year I discover that I want to share with everyone I know. In 2015, not so much! There were long stretches where I found I had a hard time reading at all because I’d burned through three winners in a row and doubted I could find anything that could measure up! It’s honestly hard to narrow my best reads of 2015 down to just five, but I’m going to try. In no particular order…

1. The Fifth Season – NK Jemisin

I’ve loved every book that Nora Jemisin has written. She’s an immensely talented writer and her stories are incredibly unique. Her work is always so utterly unlike anything I’ve seen before, and that’s part of what makes it so engaging. But only part. Just as much credit has to be given to the pure strength of her prose. Jemisin’s writing can carry you away as she bends the rules of language and uses words as paints.

The Fifth Season blows everything else she’s written out of the water. It’s dark, it’s beautiful, it’s unforgiving, it will make you wince and sob and wish and think. It tells a unique, fantasy story about marginalized groups without ever descending to the platitude of allegory. It’s grand, epic, and apocalyptic, filled with some of the most fascinating and complex world-building I’ve seen in fantasy, but it’s also intimate and personal.

2. The Girl With All The Gifts – Mike Carey

The thing about The Girl With All The Gifts is that as soon as you know anything at all about it, it’s already half ruined. I could say that it inhabits a genre I usually have no use for, but then I’d have to assign it a genre, and that would ruin it. I could say that it’s the best take on one specific theme I’ve ever seen, but if I name the theme, that would also ruin it. I could talk about how it lets female characters do things that female characters rarely get to do, but I don’t want to talk about those things, because that would spoil that they happen!

I’ll recommend The Girl With All The Gifts in the same way the back of the book does: this is a story about a little girl named Melanie. She wants to marry a prince and loves going to class and learning. Every morning, she’s unchained from her bed, strapped into a chair, and wheeled into the schoolroom by military personelle. She jokes that she won’t bite, but they never laugh.

It’s a book where you discover… everything. You start with only that knowledge – a little girl named Melanie locked in a room in a military base – and bit by bit you unearth her story. And it’s absolutely brilliant. If you’re the type who can go into a book with blind trust that it’ll be good, check it out and please don’t find out anything else before you do!

3. Leviathan Wakes, Caliban’s War, and Abaddon’s Gate – James S. A. Corey

I’m cheating and counting these three as one book due to being the first three in a series that I really can’t pick a favourite from.

A friend recommended me Leviathan Wakes years ago, promising diverse and memorable sci-fi. I bought it and it’s been sitting on my shelf for a long time. I love sci-fi, really, but it always takes me just that little bit more gumption to dig into than my other genres of choice, and the book looked a little intimidating. I finally got around to reading it this year in preparation for The Expanse TV adaptation on Sy-Fy and oh my god, I can’t believe I put something this amazing off.

The Expanse are amazing, wonderful books. I’ve always had a taste for the Lovecraftian, and The Expanse is something entirely unique in that the space horrors leave us alone until we actually go into space to find them. They’re also as strangely beautiful as they are deeply horrific.

It’s appropriate that the books are being made into TV, because I find they have the same appeal as my favourite television series do. They’re filled with well drawn, likeable characters, and a damned compelling central conflict that’s framed in new and exciting ways in each separate book. They’re also amazingly diverse and have some of the best minority characters (and certainly the highest volume of minority characters) that I’ve seen in books this year. Leviathan Wakes strays a little too close to typical white-guy sci-fi, but the authors make up for it in spades in the rest of the series. I’m devastated that after Cibola Burn and Nemesis Games, I’m going to have to wait for the next one like a peasant, biting my nails down the whole time.

4. A Natural History of Dragons – Marie Brennan

I enjoyed Brennan’s Onyx Court series. Especially the brilliant third book, A Star Shall Fall, which is one of my favourite novels of all time. So I was prepared to like her newest Lady Trent Memoirs series. I was not prepared for just how much.

As you may have guessed, I love mannered fantasy. I also, coincidentally, love ladylike fantasy protagonists who are nevertheless tough and empowered. And on top of that, I love anything that mixes science with magic. So I shouldn’t have been surprised by how much I adored this book. But I still didn’t expect just how much it captured me. As much as I loved the plot, a travelogue romp about curses, religious sects, smuggling rings, and conspiracies, what I loved a thousand times more was the natural history itself. Every time Isabella did a dissection, or wrote down her observations about how a dragon moved or nested or its hunting behaviours, I was just utterly captured.

The conceit of the book – framed around being a fictional memoir written by Lady Trent herself – just adds another layer of enjoyment. Isabella’s passion for learning comes across through “her” writing, and I held my breath when she was close to breakthroughs and cheered whenever she finally teased out some bit of new knowledge about the creatures she loved so much.

5. Words of Radiance – Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson is undoubtably one of the most talented fantasy writers of this age, and I feel comfortable stating that his work is going to be remembered for generations to come. The fantasy he writes today is going to be a bar set for the future of the genre. No one writes world-building as complex and layered as he does, and no one is so perfectly in control of every aspect of the story they want to tell.

Despite all this, he’s never been one of my personal favourites. His writing focuses very much on combat, on tests of strength, and on becoming more powerful. He does it better than anyone, but it’s not my usual cup of tea. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read of his, but never with total abandon before.

Words of Radiance changed that.

I did just mention that I love ladylike protagonists who are very strong and tough and complex and empowered! I’ve always been very girly in a lot of ways, and I’ve always found it hard to find female characters who are overtly feminine without being damsels or background characters. Words of Radiance is very much about Shallan Davar, a quirky, determined, and complicated artist who is everything I love in ladylike protags. She also happens to be, amusingly enough, another natural historian, eager to unlock the secrets of the strange world these books are set in. Shallan has the kind of backstory that could make a stone weep, but her determination to see a good world and live there is deeply affecting and touching.

Shallan, combined with the unbelievably detailed world Sanderson has created in this series, made this book something that captured me from its first page to its eventual thousandth. I’ve thought about it constantly since I put it down and I really can’t wait for the next one.

There you have it! Each of these books are absolutely brilliant and you should seek them out! I can’t wait to discover all the great books I’ll find this year and I can’t wait to share them with you.

In Defense of the “Weak” Male Lead

There are certain traits that we, as a society, tend to value in a male lead. Stoicism. Wordliness. Confidence. Physicality. Adventurousness. Fortitude. Courage. There’s a certain image that is conjured to mind when you think of a “hero,” and he’s probably every single one of those. His flaws usually involve overconfidence, insensitivity, or inflexibility — when they’re even portrayed as flaws. He’s James T. Kirk, Indiana Jones, Nathan Drake, Commander Shepard, and Owen Grady. And he is absolutely everywhere.

He isn’t, as those who have read my first novel will know by now, in The Deathsniffer’s Assistant.

Christopher Buckley is an altogether different sort of male lead. He’s proper, stuffy, prudish, insecure, physically unimpressive, squeamish, and meticulously groomed. He cares about fashion, societal expectation, and his own personal comfort. He doesn’t like situations that put him into any kind of discomfort, and he’d really rather be discussing society gossip with a cup of tea than kicking any ass or taking any names.

While more masculine women are mostly accepted as characters, more feminine men absolutely are not. And the answer why is fairly obvious. Masculine is good, feminine is bad. A woman who can fight alongside the men is respected. A man who’d prefer to talk fashion with the women is not.

And yet, I’ve always loved this type of character. He’s rare and unique and that makes him special to me. I’m bored with tough, snarky white guys whose value is measured in their ability to grizzle their way through any situation. Chris is in rare company. Already, some of my reviews have negatively pointed out how much he cares about the opinions of others and his strict compliance to the rules of courtesy. Which is about what I expected. Chris isn’t the sort of character who gets showered with love from the masses. He’s always going to appeal only to a niche. I’m proud of him.

I’d like to draw attention to some of his compatriots. Male leads — and they have to be leads! — from fantasy novels who are defined primarily by uncertainty, insecurity, fragility, or propriety. Men who have strong character arcs that aren’t about overcoming their softer attributes, but about becoming more flexible, more empathetic, or more open-minded, while still embracing their “weak” personality traits. I love this characters and I have so much respect for them and the authors who choose to write about them.

1. Eldyn Garritt (The Wyrdwood Trilogy by Galen Beckett)
Eldyn is a the impoverished son of a once wealthy family, money that was drunk away by his abusive father after the loss of his mother. He works as a clerk and dreams of investing in a major venture to reclaim his family fortune and enter polite society once again. Eldyn falls in love with the theatre and the actors who perform there, but he’s torn between the impropriety and immortality of that life and his faith in God. Eldyn is sensitive, kind, soft-spoken, and extremely concerned about the appearance of respectability. His arc has him fall in love with a fellow actor, be forced to confront the ugly truths about the church, and learn to fight for a cause he believes in. But he ends the trilogy as sweet and kind and yielding as ever. Eldyn shares main character status with two others and his plot is intertwined with the other two.

2. Portier de Savin-Duplais (The Spirit Lens by Carol Berg)
From birth, Portier dreamed of becoming a great mage. But after years studying at the Collegia Magica, he was finally forced to admit that he had no talent for the art. His father, ashamed of his son’s failure, attempted to kill him, and Portier was turned patricide in self-defense. It’s hard to say which of these events contributed to Portier’s desperate self-loathing, insecurity, and skittishness, but it’s probably a combination. Portier badly wants people to like him and he still dreams of magic, which makes him a very internal character, constantly battling his own self-hate and lack of confidence as he acts as an undercover agent to solve the mystery of who is trying to assassinate the King. He grows to accept himself, at least in part, but he continues to be as proper and as careful and as studious as ever. Portier is the solo protagonist of The Spirit Lens and is a supporting character in the subsequent novels in the series.

3. Travis Wilder (The Last Rune by Mark Anthony)
Saloon keeper Travis Wilder is a skinny, shy, sweet, withdrawn lad with big, ill-fitting glasses, floppy hair, and a kind smile. He works his nine to five and tries to bury the trauma of his youth until he’s pulled into the fantasy word of Eldh, and something entirely shocking happens. He doesn’t learn to wield a sword. He doesn’t lead any armies. He doesn’t become brave and tough. Instead, he learns that he has a talent for runecasting — which is a challenge for him due to his severe dyslexia — and falls in love with handsome knight. Travis spends seven books becoming a hero, but he’s a hero who always has a soft smile, who’s shy and kind, who’s terrified of hurting people, who struggles with his own self-worth. Travis shares his main character status in all seven books with the emotionally distant and expertly confident doctor Grace Beckett, which provides a great gender reversal.

4. Sedric Meldar (The Rain Wilds Chronicles by Robin Hobb)
Sedric Meldar fell in love with the wrong person when he went head over heels for the confident, intelligent, sly Hest Finbok. It was easy to ignore all the ways Hest could be cruel when the good times were so good. So good, in fact, that Sedric convinced Hest to marry his friend Alise so that they could continue on in secret. When Sedric ends up on the wild and dangerous Rain Wilds River, with Alise and without Hest, he’s forced to realize and confront truths that he’s spent his entire life avoiding. Sedric is the jackpot for the “weak” male character. He’s delicate, sensitive, proper, fancy, and buckles under adversity. While he excels in the civilized world due to his extremely organized mind and his social aplomb, he’s a disaster in a typical fantasy plot. Sedric’s arc is brutal and epic. He struggles with depression and suicide, has to come to terms with his status both as a victim of Hest and an accomplice in helping Hest victimize others, and reaches the absolute lowest point of self-worth I’ve ever seen from a fantasy hero. But he rises again and rebuilds himself… and is just as proper and sensitive as ever, and would still vastly prefer an afternoon tea to a river adventure. Sedric shares his main character status with three other characters, including Alise herself.

5. Vanyel Ashkevron (The Last Herald-Mage by Mercedes Lackey)
And, of course, the original flavour. Like many other women my age and younger who are passionate about fantasy, Valdemar was a huge cornerstone of my growth, Vanyel especially. Vanyel’s books span thirty years of his life, and he starts as the quiet, soft, musically inclined nobleman and ends his life as the most famous hero of his nation. Vanyel is defined by his longing for love and his fear of loss and how hard those two traits are to coexist. He’s also shy and sweet, and is known for his love of fine things, his vanity for his looks, and his passion for music. Vanyel is the sole main character of his trilogy and the defining character of the entire 20+ book Valdemar series.

There’s something worth mentioning about this list, of course. All these characters except one are queer. I love seeing queer characters in fantasy, and there are a lot of them who are masculine and tough and some who even fit into that fellow we outlined up top. But insofar as I can tell, there’s only one heterosexual male in all fantasy with this archetype! In addition, these were the only five I could think of in the whole catalogue I’ve read that were protagonists and not secondary characters!

I want to see more characters like this in all media. Especially as protagonists! Not only does it buck gender stereotypes, it says that we do not fine stereotypically “feminine” qualities as being inherently inferior to stereotypically “masculine” ones! And the more characters we see like this, the more normal they’ll become.

And I just… like them! All of these characters instantly appealed to me and stood out to me. They’re different. They struggle with things I can identify with. They flout the concept of toxic masculinity hard. They grow and learn and becoming better people, but they don’t move out of their archetypes and into a more acceptable one. That’s something that should be valued.

My Paper Baby Learns to Crawl (by Samantha Bryant)

change1There are so many other talented authors at my publisher, Curiosity Quills! One of them is the clever and funny Samantha Bryant, whose debut novel GOING THROUGH THE CHANGE about menopausal superheroines is unique, witty, brilliant, and even important. I can’t remember the last genre book I’ve read where women over fifty get the spotlight! I loved the book and you all should definitely get a copy to see it for yourself. The following is a guest post from Samatha herself as she talks about the process I’m currently going through: the first few months of your book’s life. Enjoy!

My Paper Baby Learns to Crawl

Whew, motherhood! They grow up so fast! My baby is already three months old as I  write this. Not my literal baby—those are 8 and 15 (!)—but my paper baby. My debut  novel: Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel.  Paper babies grow up faster than the flesh and blood sort. She’s only a few months old  and she’s out there in the world, making her way with or without me.  It’s an exciting and  terrifying time. What if she falls down? What if she becomes huge?

Like any mother, I want the best for my brain-child. I want her to be successful and well- treated. After all, I worked hard to bring her into this world and make her the best book I  could.

Like any first time mother, I’ve been a little overwhelmed and unsure what the best  things to do might be to help make that happen. I’ve done and continue to do what I can  to clear the path for her, to help her have a good shelf life. I seek reviews and  promotional opportunities so people will know about her and read her. I reach out (and that’s no easy thing for a dorky introvert like me).

But, the truth is, she’ll stand or fall on her own now. I’ve done my part, and now it’s up to her.  I just hope I raised her right, and that she’ll be a good book.

It’s been quite a start. I’m proud of her. She’s stood up to criticism (we’re up to twenty-three reviews now), and found new friends. In a reversal of the usual pattern of child rearing, it’s she who is opening doors for me now.

Because of her, I was able to participate in the Read Local Book Fair in Durham, NC and will be a guest at Atomacon this fall. She’s the reason I was interviewed for a local radio show (Carolina Book Beat). She got me an invitation to write a novella for a superhero anthology, too. I guess we’re already to that “mother of an adult child” stage, where we are friends and can help each other.

Oh, and did I tell you the exciting news? I’m pregnant again. I’ve just finished the sequel and sent her to the publisher. With a little luck, she’ll join her sister in a bookstore near you in early 2016!

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change2Going Through the Change is going through a change in price for a couple of days in early August. On August 5th and 6th you can get the Kindle edition for free on Amazon. Check it out at: http://bitly.com/face-the-change

Samantha Bryant is a middle school Spanish teacher by day and a mom and novelist by night. That makes her a superhero all the time. Her debut novel, Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel is now for sale by Curiosity Quills. find her online on her blogTwitter, on Facebook, on Amazon, on Goodreads, on the Curiosity Quills page, or on Google+.

Audio Adaptation

I recently got home from a long trip in the states! My friends and I took a lot of great long road trips while I was there, and since we were spending so much time behind the wheel, we decided to grab an audiobook from Audible. I suggested that we listen to a book I’d been trying to get them to read: Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger. Between hours of wonderfully charming fantasy of manners, we talked a bit about audiobooks.

I love them. A good audiobook is something totally magical. But despite my affection for them, I generally avoid listening to something that I haven’t already read. And I really put my finger on why when we were chatting about it. To me, audiobooks are a form of adaptation.

Writing and reading are so amazing! It’s one of the forms of media out there where the creator has the least amount of influence over what the audience actually “sees.” While a director can control everything in a frame, we writers are more evoking than anything else. Good writing leaves a lot of blank spaces for the reader’s imagination to flow in and fill. Badgering a reader with too much information makes reading exhausting. You can’t micromanage your audience.

Audiobooks are so fun because they remove a layer of that. A reader gets to bring a level of personality and life to the text that isn’t there in its raw form. I’ve adored some characters in audiobooks who I never paid much attention to in the print version, while at the same time being underwhelmed by characters who were my favourites. A great voice and line delivery can totally bring something to life!

Adaptations often make changes to the source, which can be bad or good, horrible or fantastic. But there’s something pure about an audiobook. An adaptation that’s 100% faithful to the version you love, because it has to be. It’s advertising the full experience of reading the book. And it always delivers! But full doesn’t mean identical.

That’s part of the charm of an audiobook, what makes them just so much fun to listen to. It’s also why I, personally, never read a book for the first time that way.

I can’t wait to hear what my own audiobook sounds like, someday! Will I love it? Will I hate it? Will all the voices be perfect or will I be driven mad by how much they got them wrong? All I can say is that I’m actually bouncing up and down thinking about it.

Oh, and for the record — the Etiquette & Espionage audiobook is fantastic.

Q: Queens of Fantasy, or, random female characters in fantasy who I think are ballers.

I established earlier this month that I’m a feminist. I’m proud of that. Having been interested in SFF since I was just a little girl, I’ve always loved female characters I can identify with and admire in the genre. It’s a sad fact that a lot of books I’ve read — and even books I’ve loved — just don’t have good roles for women. But it’s also a good fact that more and more every year I find a lady who makes my toes curl with joy between the pages of a fantasy novel. I’d like to hope that, with my own book coming out this summer, I’ll be contributing just a little bit to all the great fictional women out there. But for now, I want to take some time to write a love letter to some of the ones already kicking around.

To make this list a little more fun, I’m going to try to name five different female characters I adore who are all different kinds of awesome.  Because I think even more than strong female characters, we need varied female characters. So here we go!

1. Malta Vestrit (Realm of the Elderlings Series // Robin Hobb)
Malta is my favourite iteration of the spoiled, willful princess type.  She’s materialistic, petty, and self-absorbed. And while she has an amazing arc, slowly becoming more and more strong and independent and fierce, she keeps being all those things. Malta’s love for beautiful things, her unfair judgements of people, her penchant for primping in the mirror… They’re a part of her. Whether they’re good or bad doesn’t matter. Having those traits doesn’t keep her from having adventures, becoming a queen of an ancient race, and fighting tooth and nail for her family. Why can misanthropic assassins be heroes, but overindulged girly girls can’t? While she kicks ass left and right, Malta gives us the answer: there’s no reason at all.

2. Sabetha Belacoros (Gentleman Bastard series // Scott Lynch)
A con woman and spy, Sabetha gives us our roguish ne’er-do-well. Sabetha is a feminist dream. She’s politically savvy, brilliantly clever, frighteningly competent. She dresses down men who sexualize her, but is in charge and exercises agency with her own sexuality. A brilliant actress and con woman, she can play any role required of her with aplomb and loves every minute of it. Sabetha is so amazing that she almost feels like cheating to list, except for one thing — a lot of readers hate her! How did Locke Lamora ever lose his heart so completely to such a “shrill harpy?” She’s a “bitch!” And somehow, that makes me love Sabetha more, because I imagine how she’d treat the complaints: with a witty retort that left haters with their pants down while she rode away with all their money.

3. Irrith (Onyx Court series // Marie Brennan)
Irrith is my queen for the rough and tumble boyish type of character. She’s a sprite fae from northern England and is always seen with twigs in her hair, wearing tunic and leggings, making trouble. Irrith is completely unfeminine, and even prefers to glamour herself as a gentleman while walking among humans. While her arc is about understanding love and why we fragile human lives value it so much, femininity is never forced on her. She’s wild, fey, and strange, and she revels in it. The impish tomboy character isn’t uncommon in fantasy, but Irrith is one of my favourite iterations because she never resents either her own femininity, or the femininity in others. She respects the hell out of all other women and avoids that “not like those OTHER girls” trope I hate so much!

4. Phedre de Montreve (Kushiel series // Jacqueline Carey)
Ah, yes, the a curiously common erotic priestess of a strange god archetype. How can there be such an amazing version of it? Phedre is defined by her sexual appetites and preferences, her status as a prostitute, and her relationship with the god of pain and pleasure, Kushiel. And yet she’s the true mover and shaker for the most important historical events of her time and the sole narrator of her amazing story. One thing I love about Phedre is that she never learns to fight and has essentially zero action scenes. Her power all comes from her command over her sexuality and her boundless cleverness. It’s refreshing seeing a woman empowered by her story without needing to muscle her way through it.

5. Eshonai (The Stormlight Archive series // Brandon Sanderson)
And what would a list of amazing fantasy women be without a lady who wears armour and wields a magic sword? Of course, Eshonai isn’t in a chainmail bikini. Her armour is full bodied and half of it is built right onto her body. She’s not human, but she is human. She’s a conservative traditionalist in her society, but can be a bit of a maverick. She cares so much about her family and is defined in large part by her relationships with her sister and her mother, strong female connections. Eshonai is a warrior through and through, fighting and willing to die for her people. She’s the traditional fantasy knightly ideal type, only for once, that role has gone to a woman. There’s a lot of terrible things that could end up happening to this fierce bruiser lady, so join me in hoping she gets to keep her agency as the story moves forward!

I encourage everyone to check out these books! They’re all wonderful and amazing, and the women within them are incredible too. Five completely different types of women, all strong and fierce and empowered.

K: Kate’s Favourite Authors

Hi, I’m Kate, and there are a whole lot of authors that I love!

But that’s kind of a loaded statement. Because to me, loving an author is about more than loving a few books they wrote. Some of my favourite books haven’t been written by a favourite author. And some of my favourite authors don’t have any books that would crack the top ten. It’s about more than just a couple entries into their bibliography. It’s about their body of work as a whole, the patterns that emerge when looking at everything they’ve ever written. These are the authors for whom I’ll line up for each new book they put out, regardless of the setting, summary, or genre, because their name on the cover has become a seal of quality. I’ve picked out five of those authors to talk about here today.

1. Robin Hobb/Megan Lindholm [site]
I love how her stories are such slow burns. I love how her characters are so flawed. I love how realistic her writing is. I love how bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad. Though her books have often left me sobbing and angry at the world, I’ve never read one I didn’t like, even the ones that are widely considered to be boring or slow moving. There’s just such a wonderful lyrical quality to her prose, and there’s something to love about the way she completely immerses readers in her characters — their flaws and their strengths, their victories and their tragedies, the scale of their entire lives. Slow isn’t always bad when we get that sort of thing in return.
Favourite Book: Fool’s Errand

2. Scott Lynch [site]
What I love so much about Lynch is how his books can be so many things at once. They’re funny, they’re sad, they’re horrifying, they’re dramatic, they’re violent, they’re digusting, they’re shocking. And did I mention they’re funny? Never have I laughed out loud so often while reading novels that also made me cringe away from the page. And that’s something I love and admire, because real life doesn’t have a “tone.” In real life, you sometimes laugh at funerals and cry at weddings. There are too few books out there that let themselves really embrace the full range of emotion! Aside from their great tone and emotional range, Lynch’s books are just engaging, enjoyable, well-plotted adventures that are all kinds of fun without being dumb fun.
Favourite Book: Red Seas Under Red Skies

3. Jacqueline Carey [site]
I was in my early twenties when I first read Kushiel’s Dart by Ms. Carey. It was the first fantasy novel I’d ever read that had zero interest in attracting a male audience and was written entirely with women in mind. It amazed me. I didn’t even know fantasy was allowed to be uninterested in the interests of men! I’ve lined up for every book she’s written since. I think Carey’s success was a paradigm shifting moment for fantasy. It was for me, at least. A book written specifically for adult women that was romantic but not romance, erotic but not erotica, filled to the brim with politics, conspiracy, adventure, and war? It was everything I’d ever wanted to exist and never thought could.
Favourite Book: Kushiel’s Chosen

4. Mark Anthony/Galen Beckett [site]
Oh my god, this guy again?? I  know, I know! But I can’t help it. I love his books! I adored his work as Galen Beckett on the Mrs. Quent books so much that I actually checked out his other series — portal fantasy, my least favourite subgenre! But I’m glad I did, because I love The Last Rune, too. Anthony/Beckett’s writing melds science and magic with amazing skill. He’s a scientist and a paleontologist and it shows! It’s so fun to see, for instance, the concept of shadowy void magic tied to black holes or to entropy. His books are also wonderfully diverse, and both of his serieses quietly but prominently feature an LGBT romance. I can’t wait to see what he writes next!
Favourite Book: The House on Durrow Street

5. Gail Carriger [site]
Some authors and their books are just so much fun! Carriger is one of those. Her books and her online persona reflect her witty, dry sense of humour and I always have a blast reading everything she writes. As someone who doesn’t usually enjoy reading YA (don’t kill me! it’s just not for me!), I was shocked at how much I adored her Finishing School series when I checked them out. That’s what makes a great author — you can love their books just as much when they’re writing in a genre that isn’t your usual bag! One of the many, many things I love about her books is how they’re full of women who are allowed to be traditionally “girly” without getting penalized badass points for it. That’s something we’re really lacking in this genre.
Favourite Book: Curtsies & Conspiracies

I advise everyone to check out these authors and their catalogues! They’re all big favourites of mine and I’m staking my reputation on their good-ness! I hope that someday, someone feels the same affection and loyalty towards my body of work as I do to these five.

G: Great Books (That You May Not Have Read)

(Short personal note! I’ll be trying to make a couple of posts today! I’m on a trip and not even 15 hours in, I fell down a flight of stairs and wrecked my ankle! As I’m in a foreign country, I don’t have any medical coverage, so I’ve been resting my ankle, icing it, and being extremely careful so I don’t get any complications! It hasn’t exactly been the right atmosphere around here to get work done. But I’m finally hobbling around and have so many exciting things to talk to you guys about, so it’s back to the A-Z Challenge!)

Sunday is technically a day off… but I’m so far behind, it’s going to be crunch day for me!

Without further ado, here is my article for G: Great Books (That You May Not Have Read.)

I love to read!

I’ve always loved to read. And my whole life, I’ve always wanted the books that I love to get the appreciation they deserve. Sometimes you read a book that you just want to share with the world. But people don’t really read these days, and even readers sometimes have such a backlog it’s hard to get something on their radars! So I thought I’d take some time to talk about some books that I feel are woefully underground for how good they are.

7114825The Spiritwalker Trilogy by Kate Elliot, starting with Cold Magic, has a trait I feel sadly lacking in a lot of fantasy: it’s fantastic. Not in that it’s good (though it is), but in that it’s full of strange and wonderful and weird things, creatures and places and magics that will thrill and alarm you. The world of the trilogy is also beautifully diverse and international, taking place in fantasy alternatives of the Caribbean, Africa, France, and England with most of the cast being either black or mixed race. It mixes Celtic and Mali lore beautifully to create one of the most imaginative fantasy worlds I’ve seen… and it’s still at least half our own!

13489919I love romance novels. Especially historicals. And it’s a joy when I find a romance novel that isn’t just a thrilling, entertaining love story, but is actually consent-positive and has a strong female lead. The Brothers Sinister by Courtney Milan, manages it four times in a row. Despite the series name referencing the men, the theme is the heroines: four brilliant women who have been forced by Victorian society to become lesser than they are. Minnie, the chess prodigy, Jane, the clever thinker, Violet, the natural scientist, and Free, the investigative reporter… all of them are pushed down by their worlds and all of them learn to live big. It’s a beautiful series that people who avoid romance novels are missing out on!

2582799I’ve talked a bit about the Mrs. Quent series before, but oh my gosh. They have got to be the most underappreciated rough-cut gems out there. A melding of the aesthetics and writing styles of Jane Austen and H.P. Lovecraft is a match made in heaven, and the three main characters are so different and so endearing. Ivoleyn Lockwell, the bookish gentlewoman looking to cure her father’s madness. Dashton Rafferdy, the playboy nobleman who has to learn to be an adult. Eldyn Garrit, the poor clerk taking care of his younger sister. I adore these books. They’re rough around the edges, so how can they be so perfect? It’s hard to say. Maybe it’s just that they’re perfect for me.

5356476Speaking of the Lovecraft, while the man himself has aged poorly, those inspired by him are such a joy of mine. One of my favourite horror novels is The Red Tree by Caitlin R. Kiernan. This book is a trip. It’s a dark and confusing and sensual maze through the mind of a woman who may be going mad with grief, or may be haunted by the dark and sinister history of a certain tree, or may be both. I don’t want to say too much about it because a lot of the fun is just how little you know going in! I’ll just say this: if you’re looking for answers, you’ll be frustrated by The Red Tree. But if you want something that you can mull over for weeks, weighing the possibilities, you’ll adore this.

These are just a few of the less known books I love! Check them all out!