My (Six Month) Absence and Creative Fatigue

Hey readers, however many of you there may be!

I wanted to write and explain why I’ve been completely off the radar for the last six months. Despite having read a great many books and holding a great many opinions about all of them, I’ve found it increasingly difficult to find the time and spoons to write reviews. There are many factors involved: I moved across the country (again) in December, I lost a close family member to illness just after Christmas, I started a new full-time job with a long commute, and my days off usually aren’t back-to-back anymore. Plus, the world kind of sucks right now, and I’m not the sort of person who can soldier through it without feeling weighed down.

Because of this/in addition to it, I’ve been plagued with a bout of creative fatigue. I’ve struggled with this off and on for many years, but it’s been especially rough these last few months, and my physical exhaustion and stress have been no small factor. When I do have the right combination of time, energy, and clearheadedness to put words to screen, I try to prioritize my fiction writing first and foremost, and my book reviews keep sinking further and further down the to-do list because of it.

What does that mean for the blog? Well, obviously I’ve only published one review in the last long while, and I don’t have any more on the table right now. I am trying to figure out a strategy for writing and publishing them consistently that works better for me and my schedule going forward — we’ll see how that goes. In the meantime, my Twitter feed is the best place to find my latest opinions on books, movies, and everything else. I have also recently started offering some of my art for sale through Society6 and Redbubble if you are looking for cute, queer unicorn-themed merchandise to celebrate the last few days of Pride 2017.

In any case, thank you for reading, and may we all have a great summer of fun books and fun times!

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“But what about our sons?”

The morning after the election, I took the bus to work. It was a surreal morning. California was, as always, sunny and pleasant. Students were out on Stanford campus with “free hugs” signs. A gaggle of doctors, nurses, and construction workers were playing a pick-up game of soccer on the hospital lawn. There was tension under the brave faces, though. I heard strangers talking election results in hushed voices.

That tension escalated to real fear when I slipped into the bookstore where I work. The radio show we host every week was in the middle of a fearful discussion of the election results. People wanted to know how this happened, why it happened, and what we might expect in the future. The talk turned to the children. What do we tell them? How do we protect them? And how should we let our girls know that they can still be anything when the most appallingly lewd, woman-hating candidate in American history just snagged the win?

Someone in the crowd got up then and asked, “What about our sons? How do we raise young men who are better than this? How do we teach them to respect women?”

Well, as a children’s bookseller, I’ve got an answer for you:

Make your boys read about heroes who are not like them.

I can’t tell you how many well-meaning parents walk into the store and want books about girls for their daughters, but won’t even consider them for their sons. Self-proclaimed progressives wrinkle their noses and tell me their kid wouldn’t read that in a tone that says, “Well, what do you want me to do about it?”

I want you to be a parent.

You need to step up your game. When it comes to books you consider “trashy” or “immature,” I can’t get you to shut up about how you want to force your child to read “more suitable” literature. Why are you silent when your son refuses to pick up a book about anyone who is not exactly like himself? Do you think your daughter isn’t going to be reading about white boys and their dogs for most of her education? You want your child to learn empathy without ever asking them to empathize. That isn’t going to work.

Make you son read a book with a girl hero. Make them read a book with a black hero. Make them read a book with a gay hero. Make them read even if they don’t want to.

If you don’t know where to start, why not stop in at your local bookstore or library and ask? I promise you, we’ve got hundreds of adventure-packed titles that don’t feature straight white boys as the lead characters. Here’s a sample:

  • Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger
  • Hunters of Chaos by Crystal Velasquez
  • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
  • The Hero and the Crown or The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
  • Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce
  • Princeless by Jeremy Whitley
  • Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older
  • The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
  • Huntress by Malinda Lo
  • Willful Machines by Tim Florian
  • Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace

Now go put your money where your mouth is and raise kids who care.

This Day in YA

Hello, readers! I return with some fun summer reads from the New YA table. Pick your poison:

This Savage Song, Victoria Schwab

Vicious, violent sci-fi for the vampire romantic in us all. A ruthless girl with nerves like tungsten returns to her home city and her sort-of mafia, sort-of king father, ready to claim her place at his side in a world where crime breeds monsters. On the other side of the wall, a wistful boy who isn’t quite human fights for his family and the survival of the people, only to be thrown into a dangerous situation even something with claws might not get out of alive. This is a thrill ride for all of you hoping for a new twist on a genre that I didn’t think had any twists left in it. It helps that it’s be the author of A Darker Shade of Magic.

If I Was Your Girl, Meredith Russo

I’m a little late to this party — the release date was May 3rd — but I loved this, and I needed to share. Amanda Hardy is the almost-too-perfect all-American dream girl you’d expect a prom queen to be, except for one secret she’s moved to a new town to hide: she’s transgender. She thinks she can ride out high school without a fuss so long as no one knows who she used to be, but that’s until she meets handsome, clean-cut Grant and starts to wonder if she can date and keep her past to herself. There is a hate crime toward the end of the book, which is starting to feel depressingly requisite for books about queer kids, but it catches itself before it falls. A summer romance with a core of real-world social issues. A+.

And I Darken, Kiersten White

I will shut up about this book someday. Today is not that day. While you’re recovering from your Game of Thrones hangover, grab this luxuriously wicked historical thriller off the nearest independent bookshelf and lose yourself in the intrigues of the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. It’s much gayer than expected. When I was done, I hauled ass to Wikipedia to see how much of it White made up for flavor, and she actually toned it down. She also reminded me why I minored in Medieval Studies as an undergrad: I never thought I’d have heart palpitations from reading about minor Eastern European nobility, but I did. You should, too.

The Leaving, Tara Altebrando

Eleven years ago, six kids vanished. Now, five have come back. They remember nothing. They’re not even sure their families are really their families. And what happened to child number six? The author spoke at our store a few weeks ago, and within a day my manager had added the book to her staff favorites, a bunch of us have borrowed copies, and I’m eyeing my “no new book purchases” rule with some contempt. If you like mysteries that are dancing on the near side of horror, give this one a shot.

The First Time She DrownedKerry Kletter

Cassie O’Malley hasn’t broken the surface of her life in years. Dumped in a psychiatric ward by an abusive mother, she claws her way to freedom and the promise of a new start at college when she turns 18, but life has a way of bringing all your demons back to shore. The reason I didn’t review this when it came out in March was because I couldn’t finish the advanced copy I’d been given. Not because it wasn’t good — it was very, very good — but because it was a jaw-cracking psychological punch. I don’t put many books down because they are too real and too brutal, but I put this one down. You should read it anyway.

The Star-Touched Queen, Roshani Chokshi

Pitched to me as, “a Persephone retelling set in a mythical version of India,” I’d say the description holds true. A young princess has a bad destiny, according to the stars: she is going to marry Death. And my, is that more literal than she expected. If you like Beauty and the Beast and The Wrath and the Dawn, this is a good next read. My only complaint is that Chokshi’s lyrical style isn’t as sustainable over a novel as it is in her short fiction, but it remains excellent — it’s just missing a little something.

 

It’s Queer, It’s Here, It Should Be on Your Bookshelf

I return from a brief hiatus! On my tumblr, someone asked for book recommendations for science-fiction/fantasy/adventure books featuring PoC and LGBT+ characters. Here’s what I came up with. All links are to Amazon, but please consider shopping at your local indie bookstore or checking them out at your library instead. It’s the best way to feed your community and your favorite author!

The Abyss Surrounds Us — A snarky Asian sea monster trainer is kidnapped by pirates, lesbians ensue, and somebody remembered that the world is mostly not white. Pacific Rim meets Water World meets Pirates of the Caribbean.

Archivist Wasp — A teenage girl hunts ghosts to glean secrets from the mythic sci-fi past, but then one of them starts talking back and suddenly it’s all gut-wrenching trips to the underworld to find long-lost war buddies.

Huntress — A prophecy sends two teenage girls from a dying world on a quest to the city of the Fairy Queen. Prophecies have a way of fucking with young love, though, and cute biracial lesbian couples are no exception.

The Raven Boys — Southern Gothic, Arthurian romances, and The Fast and the Furious had a really weird baby. Kind of gay, mostly white, humor and character-driven drama up to its eyeballs. One of my faves.

The Fifth Season — N.K. Jemisin is the best writer currently living and I will fight you. This is the start of her newest trilogy. I won’t lie, it’s a brutal read. It’s like Between the World & Me written as an apocalyptic revenge saga. Bonus points for trans characters, basically no white people, and polyamorous triads.

The Inheritance Trilogy — Same author as above. Three books for the price of one! Captive gods, political scheming, assassination, exiled princesses and blind artists collide in a decadent empire about to collapse under its own weight and hubris. Come for the plot, stay for the genderfluid god of darkness and sexiness. Sexy darkness. Mmmmm.

Sorcerer to the Crown — A Regency fantasy-drama of manners about the first black Sorcerer Royal, a biracial (Indian/white) girl who wants to establish magical education for women, a devious fairy court, dragon family drama, and a Malaysian witch who has no time for your colonialism. Delightful, decadent, humorous.

Wake of Vultures — A biracial, bisexual, genderqueer teenager accidentally kills a vampire and finds out the Wild West is a lot more wild than she expected. CW for anything you might expect a dfab black/Native kid at the edge of civilization to face.

Ancillary Justice — An artificial intelligence that once commanded a starship and legions of vessels wakes up trapped inside a human body, and she is PISSED. Notable for its exploration of race and gender, especially when it comes to pronouns.

The Last Unicorn — It’s not really gay or non-white, but not many people know it was a book before it was a cartoon, and the book is always better. Read this if you were a child of 80s fantasy flicks like Labyrinth and Lady Hawk.  If you look up “poignant” in the dictionary, you’ll find a photo of the cover.

The Darkest Part of the Forest — On the surface it’s about a girl and her brother and the elf boy they’re both in love with who’s asleep in a glass coffin in the woods, but I think it’s really about the shackles of other people’s expectations and what you have to do to break free.

Carry On — It’s the gay Harry Potter fanfic you didn’t know you wanted. A chosen one returns for his last year at a magical school, but his obsessions with his missing arch-rival starts to turn to worry, and then maybe to something more. The author isn’t great about race in her other books, but this one came out ok.

Uprooted — Not gay, though surprisingly non-white for something set in fantasy Poland. A peasant girl is unexpectedly plucked from her village by her liege lord, the sorcerer known as the Dragon, just as a corrupt forest begins to devour the kingdom and its inhabitants alive. It’s like a much more grown-up Howl’s Moving Castle or Dealing with Dragons.

Every Heart a Doorway –This one doesn’t come out until April 5th, but I highly recommend you pre-order it. It’s about a boarding school for children who came back from fantasy worlds and cannot go back. It has a plethora of LGBT characters (openly asexual heroine! trans boys! lesbians!) but the part that really hooked me was the unpacking of their emotions and trauma. If you want deep characters, but with snark and humor, this is your book.

Introductions

Hello, world! Welcome to my corner of the Internet.

After a decade on the web, I’ve had a lot of social media platforms to shout from: Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, various teenage blogs with bad early-2000s aesthetics, etc. Now, after a year as a bookseller and with a lot of book reviews, opinion pieces, and anxious mumbling about my own projects cresting on the horizon, I’d like to strike out in a more professional direction.

This is now my Real Adult With Career hub. I intend to post book reviews and reading round-ups on a semi-regular basis. I’ll be reviewing both published works and upcoming titles (all spoiler-free), with a special focus on LGBT+ and diverse fiction for children and young adults — and, of course, fantasy and science-fiction for all ages, because I am a woman of simple tastes.

You can find out a bit more about me on my About page, if you’re curious about who I am and why on earth you should trust my opinions on anything.

Thank you for visiting and happy reading!