Backlist of a Hoarded Author

In a full disclosure moment, I’m still eating down the Easter candy that I bought too much of.  Not as much as last year, but my son doesn’t care about jellybeans in enough proportion to the amount that I buy.

I’m going to justify this with the amount of darkness that I seem to have read since finishing my sweet two little cozies. Yeah, people died and disappeared, etc but it wasn’t like, carnage.

I decided to read some of Ania Ahlborn’s backlist for that.

I thought she was self-published.  I swear that Seed, her first book, was self published before Amazon picked her up.  I didn’t realize the remainder of her books were Amazon’s presses, that dance low priced delicious books before our eyes.

Self-published can be difficult to determine, especially with all the author services nowadays that you can pay for yourself rather than a publishing house.  I’ve had some bad experiences with some self published stuff, but that’s not the norm for me anymore.  I discovered her through Amazon’s marketing and I’ve loved her since.

I’m currently reading the actual self-published books that qualify for the BookRiot category.  Also not disappointing so far, but decidedly lighter than my decision to spend a week reading/listening to two of her horror stories back to back, as well as sneaking in a line jumper that hurtled itself into my arms at the library which is also depressing.

See?  I need all the jellybeans.  All of them.

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The Shuddering, Ania Ahlborn

A bunch of friends get together for a last hurrah weekend in a family chateau before the chateau officially changes hands.  Before the brother of a twin pair is taking off on a new adventure that will pull him away from his sweet, do the right thing second grade teacher sister in the throes of a divorce.  Before his best friend and her ex boyfriend moves forward into a new life, sealing their long ago but still raw breakup against a reunion.  And the forest is full of intelligent, never before seen, people eating nightmare monsters.

I don’t know how I forgot that she never has happy endings.  I won’t spoil it more than that, but it’s not that much of a spoiler when it’s a hallmark of her books.  This is gory and gruesome, grosser I think than the other four of her books I have read (although I read The Bird Eater and Seed quite a time ago), I can’t be sure.  I liked the rhythm.  It moved right along between horror and the story, the characters making close calls against the monsters before actually coming in contact with them, but she already described other people’s encounters with them so you knew what they did before the characters you truly came to care about came in contact with them.  I found myself sitting in the parking lot at work, listening when I should have been going in, bingeing because I wanted to know how it was going to turn out.

I just took an online course in looking at horror in more depth, (I’ve been learning about all genres in internet course I have been buying lately, but that can’t be a bad thing) and I was looking at how the motives of the characters intertwined with the monsters.  And how the monsters devastated the characters.  Her horror (good horror) sets up achingly vulnerable people against scary and impossible odds and yet you root for them the whole time.  I definitely enjoyed this.  Even though it wrecked me.  Because I have not read a single book of hers that resolves the horror.  Not a one.

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The Neighbors, Ania Ahlborn

A man moves in with a roommate to escape the oppressive and dead end life he was living with his alcoholic, agoraphobic mother, and finds a much scarier secret in the neighbors next door, who fix to entrap him in their nefarious ends.

This is the only one of hers I have read without a supernatural element.  Through the beginning I was waiting to see what these neighbors truly were.  Nefarious neighbors scheming under the veil of perfection made me think they were probably the devil, as he tends to show up dressed as everything you could ever wish for, and these people were certainly that. But they are human.  They became dark from the disappointments/hurts/traumas in their own lives.

This is not the entire reason why I felt this one missed the mark.  Not as spot on as her others. I thought the character’s motivations could be a little stronger, but I know that’s a hard element to hammer out. It’s not as gory, not as visceral (meant both ways there haha) as her other books.  It even resolved more, to me at least, than her other books tended to, and that didn’t even make up for it. It didn’t grab me and hang on the same way.  Maybe a more supernatural element would have helped up the ante.  I don’t know.

I am also starting to notice she’s a real music lover.  That part of her personality is seeping into her books.  She writes intelligently about music and what it means to her characters.  Very cool.

I still need to read Brother, The Pretty Ones, The Devil Crept In, I Call Upon Thee, and Apart in the Dark.  And the one she has coming out in the fall.  She’s talented and she knows how to sink her story talons into my brain.

I’ll make sure I have an abundance of some kind of comfort food if I do this to myself again.

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BookRiot: Cozies!

I almost kind of cheated with this category.

I rang in the New Year bingeing on Her Royal Spyness books and feeling at the time that I could just count those as my cozies, and I could, technically, but it wouldn’t be getting around to something new that I had been meaning to read.  Of course I meant to read all the Royal Spyness goodness, but maybe something new to me that also deserved a chance.

I have also read something like 37 Nero Wolfe novels.  Some of them are already due for a re-read.

So I did read two new cozies.  Two I already owned, because reading down the backlist is also important, especially since I want to do better with newer novels (and write all the things, and have a full time job and a son etc).  Stuff.  And both of them are set in mostly arid climates, hence this week’s picture not being some saccharine springtime one (but those are my favorite, sorry not sorry).

A Cozy Mystery:

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The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith

Precious Ramotswe, burned by marriage at a young age and finding herself free and with a bit of means from an inheritance, decides to start her own detective agency, the only one run by a woman in her home of Botswana.  This is not one mystery in this book but a series of small ones, one probably larger and more serious than the rest.  It’s a light-hearted book, even though the topics can be difficult:  adultery, pregnancy/child loss, and the disadvantaged status of women, crime, etc.  Of course you have to have those things if you are solving mysteries, and they are still cozy, not all of them involving death or murders.  It is one of those where the solutions are usually fairly simple and the detective herself goes out on a limb to test out her own theories.

I can see why people might pick up more in this lighthearted series with a smart woman at it’s helm.  Old world charm, likeable characters, diverting mysteries.  It was a fun read, and I blew right through it.

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The Bride Wore Dead, EM Kaplan

Josie Tucker, a struggling food writer, sets out to solve the mystery of what happened to a distant friend who died on her honeymoon at a health spa.

It says directly on the cover that this is an un-cozy, un-culinary mystery.  It’s cozy enough for my purposes, even though it is decidedly edgier than some of the cozies I have consumed and will continue to consume (let’s be honest with ourselves here). The protagonist, Josie Tucker, can be edgy, cynical and hard to read.  As cozies are usually centered around a hobby, she was a food writer but having gastrointestinal issues and needing to add other things to focus on.  She does get seriously hurt in this one, which makes it a little less cozy than some of them can be, although it’s common for the sleuth in these novels to come under attack themselves as they get closer to the truth.

I liked this book, but it was slow in places. At the beginning, when she is a stand in bridesmaid, we do get to know her major cast of friends, but there is a lot of talk at the wedding table and her learning that the wedding is largely attended by exes of the bride and talking about them.  I don’t know if these were intended to be red herrings, but she dies on the honeymoon, not at the actual wedding.  And when her friend comes over to take care of her when she is hungover, and a doctor visit about stomach issues that cannot be figured out, I feel these could have been pared down a little. I wanted to keep going, I was curious about all the plot threads, and I liked that the protagonist’s life gets a little more back on track at the end, instead of being the loose jumble that it is in the beginning.   Things change for the grumbly, sick and overheated woman we meet in the first few pages.

I’d recommend it, and maybe in her following books the movement is a little faster, as there isn’t as much setup involved.  I’d be willing to read further in.  I have book two, Dim Some, Dead Some.  I’m interested in how Josie will continue to move forward with her illness, and I like that she isn’t as sweet as other cozies can be. Also, this is a self pub but I am reading other self pubs rather than counting this one twice.

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BookRiot: Diversity Award Winning Children’s Books

And, it’s officially May!

The buds are out.  There are few things I love more than spring flowers, peepers, and buds on the trees.  Birds. Right now there’s a Canadian goose eyeing me from my yard as I catch up on blog posts.

Today we planted spring flowers.  I put one next to the she shed in a burst of optimism.  Our soil is sandy and it’s a little shady tucked back in the trees, but I made it a nice hole of potting soil.  Maybe there should be a picture for future posts.

BookRiot wanted me to read children’s/MG books that have won diversity awards. I took in two that have won Coretta Scott King awards, although there are other types of diversity awards out there too.  They reward books depicting nonviolent social change.

Interestingly,  both of these books have mothers who are breaking out of the mold for more social change. Not staying with partners, joining the revolution in their own ways. And they both feature girls in their own coming of age tales and how they fit in with a changing world.  And life changing summers, as they often are for kids.

A children’s or middle grade book (not YA) that has won a diversity award since 2009

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One Crazy Summer, Rita Williams-Garcia

Three African American sisters are flown out to California to spend a month with their estranged mother, who left the family when the littlest one was still an infant.  The narrator, Delphine, has cared for her sisters ever since, and this trip across the country, away from their father and grandmother for the first time, is no different.  They find their mother with little maternal inclination and themselves at a day camp run by the Black Panthers while she is doing her thing for the revolution.  Mother and daughters come to a middle ground of respect during the few weeks that look doomed at the outset, helped by the common ground of being involved in the revolution.

Delphine, for her own coming of age, learns to loosen up some and grows up a little too, getting to know a mother who she barely remembers, who is trying to piece together memories.  More of Mom’s past also comes to light which helps us better understand choices that at the outset seemed difficult to empathize with.

This is a good one on so many levels:  kids in the MG group can relate to the characters while also learning about what that time in history was like for those it affected.  I mean, there is a reason that books earn these distinctions, and why they exist.  Empathy building.  I always say it and I don’t mind saying it some more.

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Brown Girl Dreaming, Jaqueline Woodson

Stories from a little girl’s years growing up African American in both the South and the North are told in verse.  Don’t let the verse put you off this one, like it did to me for a long time. It’s more like snippets, vignettes, than it felt like verse to me.  It wasn’t like, Canterbury Tales or Beowulf or something.  It was accessible.

I liked how she got to show the contrast between the worlds of New York versus Alabama, her mother forging ahead as a single mom with them in the North while they lived with for a short time and then were able to visit grandparents in the South. The different kids and the attitudes.  And for the narrator’s personal story, how she came into herself as a writer, even if she was very different from her bookish older sister, more similar to her active older brother. How she talked about the African American experience changing in front of her young eyes.  Nope, it was beautiful, and I loved the audiobook, narrated by the author, so the poems were communicated in the intended tone.

Bonus book not mentioned in the opening!

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The Season of Styx Malone, Kekla Magoon

A pair of brothers from an intact family have their usual life upended when they meet Styx, a sixteen year old foster kid who engages them in a scheme to get a moped.  They are a few years younger and the narrating brother is dazzled by his smooth manner and his indisputable coolness, but learns the truth under Styx’s shiny veneer.

All right, so I wasn’t sure if this was an actual awardee or the author had gotten the award before.  And then downloading the picture for the post I’m seeing that this one was an honor book for the CSK award this year, so it does count, but I stopped reading this one to read Brown Girl Dreaming, and then went back to it to finish the story (all of these were offered on audio/ebook at my library, when often nonwhite books are not offered in electronic format from my library.  Interesting. Maybe because they are children’s books?)

But what I initially planned on was discussing the differences between the coming of age for boys and girls, like I have in the past with turn of the century novels (Cold Sassy Tree and Calpurnia Tate), and thankfully the boys and girls lives were not as different in modern times.  Of course, the themes were different, with Delphine wanting to be a caregiver and a parent figure to her sisters, whereas Caleb wants to stand out, see the world, and try new things, but the freedoms afforded them were much less disparate.  I would expect them to want somewhat different things.  Delphine’s younger sister Vonetta didn’t want to be ordinary, just like Caleb didn’t.

Also, this was less about social context, in my opinion, than the other two talked about here.  There is mention of how being black comes with more concerns about being safe in ways that white parents don’t need to thinks about to the same degree.  Caleb’s father makes sure that white people know who he is for safety reasons.  He doesn’t venture into places with his family where people are less likely to know them, and this strains his relationship with Caleb, the narrator, who wants to see the world.

Editing is coming at a decent clip on the novel.  I have one session with my writing teacher to decide how to manage a questionable plot element.  Then it could be time for *gulp* querying.  I haven’t even looked seriously at publishers, as I am afraid that will kill my confidence to get it out there and see what happens.

In another first world problem, Audible renews this month and I have two credits left, and I am so tempted to just get two audiobooks instead of waiting for sales, waiting for when they are needed for a reading theme, or waiting for one that’s at the library instead.  Getting crazy up in here.

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Next week:  Cozies!!

 

BookRiot: Books by Journalists

It’s been Spring to me for two weeks now.  Finally.  It can be a little cold, no more fresh snow that lasts for more than a few hours, and my summer dresses are coming out of the bin and getting hangers again in the closet.  And my son had his first soccer practice last week, the surest sign that the warm season in here.

The momming changes with the seasons.  In so many ways.

I haven’t been focusing on longer books like I have other years because any reader of mine knows that I am trying to put in the time writing, but when I took my obligatory Spring staycation, I felt that I wanted to knock out a bigger book that I have been meaning to read as part of my BookRiot journey.  (We also know that I accidentally read a good part of In Cold Blood before I realized that Truman Capote was not in fact a journalist.  Even though the book was very journalistic.)

I found that I missed being consumed in a longer book, even though I can’t do it on a regular basis at this point. And even though I was consumed by it I was still able to write and send out some writing.  Ahh, staycation.

Glorious as it was, I missed my day job.  And I’m such a lucky person to love so many things about my life.  The luckiest I know probably.  How could I not be with the she shed post?  As I am writing this I am drinking wine in it for the first time.

But onto the books:

A Book Written by a Journalist or About Journalism:

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson

I don’t know how much I need to recap the plot here, really, (being what, eleven years late to the game?) but a disgraced financial journalist, Mikhail Blomquist, accepts an offer to solve a fifty year old mystery of a disappearance of a young woman who was very loved by her uncle who is close to death and wants to know what happened to her.  As with any nearly 500 page tome, this book accumulates layers quickly, increasing complications for all involved.  Call in a hacker, Lisbeth Salander, with high functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder, make her kick some ass against the system and mix her in with the charismatic ladies man protagonist, and they are a formidable force, solving the mystery and restoring Mikhail to his former standing in his magazine, redeemed in all ways.

I admit when The New Yorker didn’t like this I was a little scared off it. If I remember correctly the writer didn’t think Salander was likeable.  I very much rooted for her, which would make sense based on my work as a Psychologist with children.  Lisbeth, with her strengths obvious to anyone willing to take a few moments with her, was someone whose corner I rushed into.  And her story pulled me in much faster than the fifty or so opening pages discussing the financial world and setting up the libel suit that Blomquist loses to set him up for his tasks in the remainder of the novel.

Winter was on its last leg on the week of my staycation but it was still standing on it, and having a story so intensely wintry helped me appreciate the weather I was having.  I loved the atmosphere of Sweden, the family compound, the family drama. I found it transporting, even when I had to keep it together to keep characters straight.  I could get through the slower political parts because I liked the town, and I liked watching Blomquist cast his spell over multiple women, including (spoiler alert) the traumatized and standoffish Salander.  I liked seeing his magic on the ladies.  I love seeing people do what they do best, and these characters were strong and clear enough to allow for that.

And I didn’t expect the outcome of the disappearance plotline.  I liked the pleasant surprise of this.  I liked how the plots interwove to keep me guessing and worried that Blomquist was painted into a corner or there was some other nefarious aspect that was not accounted for. Can you tell I don’t even get around to movies most of the time?  Unless they are kids movies.  I love to snuggle with my kid while watching one of those.

There are a few other reasons I didn’t get to this right away: I knew it started slowly, in the novel gossip that floats ones way when a big book has been out for eleven years and you just have not gotten to it.  And when it becomes a movie and you still have not prioritized it on the TBR.  Ha.  Also I was just coming out of school and focusing on either classics or the more addictive modern novels to get myself back into hobbies when this book hit shelves.

I got this out of the library as a book and also borrowed the audio, and I loved reading a crinkly covered library hardback. I loved making progress on audio and flipping pages and holding a book open with my son during his reading time.  I am a big ebook girl, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t get started on reading with the pleasures of a physical book with a presence.

I guess I assumed that since this was a trilogy the plots would be interlaced, but this seemed like a standalone, and I was interested enough to google what the caper would be in the next novel.  Which is a ringing endorsement coming from me.

It was a delicious experience to involve myself in a longer book.

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And When She Was Good, Laura Lippman

I feel as though more fiction and nonfiction is more available in my library than other genres.  If this is true and not a personal bias, I wonder if these titles just tend to get checked out more than literary fiction.  There were plenty of Laura Lippman books available on the shelves and electronically.

This particular Lippman tale is about a suburban madam, and the narrative weaves between how she got to be one in the first place, and then moving forward out of this complex corner into which she has painted herself.   I spent the time interested in how she got there and then how she was going to get out. At first I thought there was too much time spent in the narrative on the fact that she was a madam, but then I realized that that was the story.  And it was so well done, the details on how this was feasible in the modern world of taxes and accountability with business.

I would absolutely read another Lippman novel with her well researched ideas and this one had an intriguing crime plot.  Like, when the protagonist finally gets herself free it adds on another threat to her life that she has to resolve.  Such good stuff.

It makes sense that journalism can be complementary to fiction because the research needed for plots is already done in the journalism work.  It’s like psychology where every day I study and watch how people change and how they get better when they get what they need, rather than what they think that they want.  I have had to work on developing my motivations in my own writing, which isn’t as much of a stretch sometimes because of what I do.  Sometimes.  Other times I feel like I have to push to make my motivations come together.  Like I have been toying with the idea of at least outlining a mystery novel and I can’t come up with a motive for murder that I can hide behind other red herrings.  Not that I need another outlined novel.  Ha.

Novel edits are moving.  More will be written to send out to other presses to work on gathering some publishing cred.  And the dreaded months won’t be back for awhile.

Life is good.

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BookRiot: Trans and Non-Binary Authors

My world is a mass of muddy defrosting, dirty snow, and the excitement of the birds returning.  I love it when the birds come back out.  When the snow melts enough I will go back to putting cracked corn in the yard so I can have my duck friends visit.

I have to admit that vitamin D got me through the winter, taken on the recommendation of any local healthcare provider I speak with.  That’s my justification for complaining about winter is that even the healthcare providers tell everyone to keep up on their sunshine vitamins during the grueling months.

I like to use BookRiot’s recommendations for categories that have to do with someone’s ethnic background or gender preference/sexual proclivities.  Sometimes a google search leads me wrong and I feel voyeuristic combing author profiles for who they are and what they prefer.  Their perspectives are important and absolutely worth reading. Because their gender identity is something that has been salient due to their not aligning with their gender assignment, gender is considered in ways that someone like me, who is cis, never really thought about.  But that’s why we read harder, because those other perspectives deserve awareness and consideration.

But I’d prefer that BookRiot find them for me.  And even after they do, I don’t look into it further, like, are they non binary, or what were they born as, or whatever.

I also found that today’s choices could count for neurodiverse characters, and some other lists I have looked at have wanted to include authors from Africa.  These books push reading parameters in a number of ways.  And they were not easy reads, either one of them.

A Novel by a Trans or Non Binary Author:

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Freshwater, Akwaeke Emezi

A young woman is a host to a myriad of spirits in this book, and story is told in the points of view of the spirits who inhabit her.  And before she learns that she is in control of them (sorry, spoiler alert), they control her extensively.  She gives herself up to them through most of the book, although, looking back now that I am finished with it I can see where she gains control of them along the way more clearly.  And the reason I am sharing what the end is because through the book, I was wondering where this was heading, where the plot was.  It is an interesting story but it was a tale of a difficult life and I wondered where it was going and how it would end up.  It does end up in something.  I wanted to keep reading, even though I wasn’t sure if it had a plot.

This book got a decent amount of attention as a debut novel, but some people who reviewed it on Amazon struggled with it.  I enjoyed this book, but it pushes a lot of boundaries and topics I have not typically come across in novels, so I can see where some people truly felt they did not ‘get’ it.  And I might only ‘get’ it because of the amount of my life I have spent studying psychology and thinking about spirituality/mysticism.  I think the writing is obviously beautiful, but the content at times can be difficult, with self harm and rape, a woman struggling with literally her demons, losing a marriage to someone who always stood out and was special to her, as much as she didn’t want them to be.  We all have that person who despite the turmoil they can bring are incomparable to anyone else at that time in their lives.  I have had those people.  I would have hated to lose them in the times they were still so special to me.

This is worth picking up, but I know it isn’t for everyone.  Most books that get a lot of attention really aren’t for everyone.  They have intense psychological themes that are just too much or unrelateable for some people, enough to where the beautiful writing would not be enough to get them through. Like, my educated and well read father couldn’t understand my love for All the Light We Cannot See.

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An Unkindness of Ghosts, Rivers Solomon

I guess in writing my reviews and looking up other people’s opinions on the internet I am really seeing how these two books today are about trauma.  (And honestly it worries me about if my own book ever comes to fruition all the well thought out and articulate ways some people will not like it.)  A lower class woman with autism, Aster,  is living in a spaceship with clearly delineated social strata.  Her mother allegedly committed suicide but Aster realizes that she left messages behind and all might not be as it seems.  As in usual dystopian books, she bucks the system.  I won’t say how it ends, but if you have not read it, you might be able to guess enough even from there.  Rape and injustice are commonplace, and everyone notes when discussing this book that the upper classes have genders while the lower deck people are less gender conforming, less constrained by the strict heteronormative rules of above.

Criticism I read of this book indicated that people did not like the ending or that they felt it was too lucky or Aster didn’t display enough agency in the ending.  I don’t know if I missed something because I don’t know how she could have done more in what ended up happening, or how a book set up like this could have ended otherwise?  I had more of an issue getting into it in the beginning.  There seemed to be a lot of information to wade through before my brain could make sense of all of it to move forward.  It’s a lot of world building, and that’s important. One reviewer said it’s a mix between Battlestar Galactica, A Handmaiden’s Tale, and Roots. Listening to it helped because the narrator changed up voices, but even then sometimes I needed to slow it down.  It took me time to get into it.  About 20% through was when I caught on enough to move forward.

And I was driving to work during the last like 55 minutes of it, trying to stop and get my Wednesday Speedway coffee during one of the most dramatic moments.  Kinda interrupts the flow when you’re deciding which pot of house roast looks best and being convinced you left your friend’s borrowed Prius “key” on the counter because you were talking with the sales associate.  I frantically emptied my whole purse on her passenger seat which is probably a breach of friendship unless I get my butt over to vacuum it before I return it, which I will. And then after all that I return to the book where it’s all going to pot.

I also really liked the characters.  Some people said they didn’t feel fleshed out but I felt they were.  I saw in the blurb that Aster was autistic and I set out to 1. see if it was consistent with someone truly not neurotypical and 2. if this tidbit added to the plot.  I wouldn’t have picked up right away that she was, which I actually think is a good thing, because sometimes autism is more subtle, especially in females, and I didn’t want her to be a caricature.  And it added to the plot because she worked through some of her deficits, like her social struggles. So I liked it when initially I was skeptical.  I also very much like the the surgeon, who even though he was higher class was not afraid to be himself and not a mindless part of the brutality more endemic to his class.  I mean, I love healers, and healers who can see through the external trappings to the inner good in someone.

I am getting lots of writing done, which is awesome.  I wrote my first sonnet. I can’t say it’s a great sonnet but it felt overwhelming when it was assigned and I took a few weeks to get through it, and I did, and it won’t be a total embarrassment to post.  And my first wattpad piece is up!  I am writing under Teigan_Blake if anyone wants to check out my re-telling of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, renamed Those Twinkling Spirit Lights.

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Reading Harder: Space Books by Authors of Color

The last day of March! April’s promise of Spring is a lot more reliable than March.  Plus, it’s Easter, which is usually the first holiday of the year that I spend with my sister and her family.  My son is complaining that it has been too long since we saw them in October, and I agree.  He doesn’t yet understand how hard his cousin is going to beat the pants off him in Nintendo when we all play together.

Have I made the Northeast look appealing yet?

I’m pleased with how much reading I got done in the dead of winter.  Because of my overzealous reading I am not as far into the challenge as I could be, but the point is to read harder, not blow through the list like the gifted kid whose parents refuse to move him up a grade because he needs social skills.

Also, books about space. Not usually my favorite.  I read them in the interest of sci fi and understanding the classics and the genres, but it holds little appeal to me.  I get why we do space exploration, but I have no interest in going out past my atmosphere in a little tube.  Naw.  At least on an airplane we can make a landing without bursting into flame, right?  I like the ground.   I am much more excited to read historical romances by authors of color.  Those have been downloaded onto my Kindle since before this challenge came out.

A Book by an Author of Color Set In/About Space

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Binti, Nnedi Okorafor

(Winner of a Hugo and a Nebula, of course)

I know, I know, this is part of a trilogy.  Honestly the bits are so short I don’t know why it isn’t all one volume.  I love Dr. Okorafor after Who Fears Death and I chose to listen to one of her shorts as read on the podcast,  LeVar Burton Reads.  I was a Reading Rainbow kid back in the day and that’s something that never changes.  So, I guess I should say, I am a Reading Rainbow kid.  I think LeVar could even romance my six year old somewhat reluctant reader to watch.  (I say somewhat because dude is showing a solid interest in comic books.  Just because it isn’t my dreams of Roald Dahl doesn’t mean it’s not important.  In the books department, he’s not like his mother, but he’s not me in sports either and that’s a good thing).

My favorite in this short book is the narrator. She is a powerful female going after her dreams of going far away to study math and science, at Oomza University, despite her family’s pressure to stay home.  And even on the spaceship over she doesn’t fit in:  She is the only human from her tribe on the ship, but also then is the only one who survives the takeover of the ship by the Meduse, a race with a vendetta against Oomza University, save for the captain so they can get there.  She bridges the communication gap and works out of her comfort zone to heal their vendetta, and not only because it is to her benefit.

I love strong females with powers that they use for the ultimate good. Dr. Okorafor’s heroines are special women who beat the odds, and even when you put them in a less familiar settings, I can always get emotionally involved with them.  Also, Dr. Okorafor has Binti solve the issue relationally instead of just kicking anyone’s ass until they are too scared of her to bother her.  It’s a solution I can get behind.  She uses her brain and relationships.  She uses something special and unique to her culture that also helps a completely different race.  Very cool.

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Babel-17, Samuel R. Delany

This epic pulpy cover is way more interesting than the boring one on my Kindle/Audible app.  And it would have changed my expectations of the novel more than the geometric cover:

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Like two entirely different books, right?  I thought this book was way more literary/artistic than something pulpy.  It was one of those science fiction books with heavy philosophical underpinnings.  This one specifically was about how language shapes thought and vice versa.  I have been reading more pulp lately while I am learning to write it, and this was definitely not the content of the scanned in pulp mags I was reading. And is that supposed to be the heroine Rydra Wong on the cover?

This book is beautifully written, with poignant metaphors and description I don’t expect to encounter in sci-fi.  I don’t know enough about the time in which it was written to really talk about how it compares to the sci fi books of the time in this aspect, I just enjoyed the striking images as I read.

However, reading it was like dreaming: some parts were really lucid and were cool and made sense, and other times I was lost as to what was going on, or what was supposed to be going on.  I just kept reading or listening until I was back to a part that made sense.  The concepts I caught were very cool and a second read through would probably help.  Just because a solid half of the book escaped me doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good book.  I don’t have a sci fi brain. Some reviews I read on Amazon suggested there are sci fi brains out there that caught it more than mine did.  I’d think that something truly pulpy would have concepts easier to access than these.

Also, another female protagonist, brilliant, fearless and still loved by her crew and equals, which is nice that a woman written in the sixties is powerful without being unappealing to men, but I didn’t connect with her like I did to Binti.   Rydra uses relationships too to outsmart the enemy instead of brute force, but I liked Binti as a heroine much better.   Maybe I was just jealous that Rydra could probably bust out the sonnet I am puzzling over for my monthly poetry group.

I keep telling myself I’m going to slow down on the novels and read writing books, material being published in magazines I’d like to be in someday, or my numerous collections of short fiction.  Or listen to a few of the Great Courses I bought for the sake of helping move my writing along.  They are difficult to slow down on, even when I am ahead on my posts, which I currently am. I still downloaded a novel on audio for a new category instead of my one on how sci fi works, which is more relevant to some current projects.  I still want to read more of last year’s prizewinners.  And this year’s when they come.  And there’s a new Han Kang short that looks a bit experimental but also well done.

I can’t.

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BookRiot 2019: Humor Books

I have to justify the exceptions I have made in this post to the I hate celebrity memoirs complaint that I have been blogging about for years.

I hate them, and I have talked about why likely on multiple occasions.  So then why, when I have to read a humor book, would I choose to read these?  There are plenty of funny books out there that aren’t autobiographies. But, there are plenty that are.  And not all of them are exercises in white privilege.

One of them I talk about in this post is, and one is most certainly not.

They were both mostly consumed via audio, as is always best with a humor memoir read by the author.

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Born a Crime, Trevor Noah

This audiobook was the highest-rated new book of 2016 and the best male narrator that year.  Very highly recommended by a friend of mine who, while very bright, doesn’t always go in for heavy books.  She has done her share of them, certainly, and when she tells me I need to read a heavier topic book I take heed.  I had to finally listen to this long time TBR surfer.

And it’s so not about white privilege and at times so very not funny that partway through the book I looked up the genre to be sure that I didn’t once again read something that I thought fit the BookRiot category but in fact did not once I had committed myself (The Friend, In Cold Blood, hopefully not etc). It’s the story of a man growing up colored (mixed race) in South Africa and apartheid.   Of course his brilliance is in finding a way to laugh at years of being a child who doesn’t fit in anywhere.   And the hardship afforded him by living in his place and time.  The lack of options. The struggle with not fitting in with the white or the black kids.

Essentially, his spicy mother, with her own rough personal history, steals this show.  This wouldn’t have been as brilliant, or as heartbreaking at times, without her.  She’s tough but she’s 110% heart, so even in her most desperate power struggles with her son and her most extreme parenting choices you can see her good intentions shining through.  Her constant efforts are always to get her kid into the kind of shape that wouldn’t participate in trouble and therefore go unnoticed for the darker forces in the world.  And even though she is tough, she is desperately loved and her son feels like a team with her against the world.  I love her devotion to God and her ability to survive and thrive despite all the misfortunes dealt her.  I even googled her face after reading this because I just had to see it.

So it is a credit to the other book I read that I could still get through it and care about the narrator despite the next universe level of privilege:

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Yes, Please, Amy Poehler

Also, a long time TBR lister, if that fact is surprising to you. It probably is.  The other memoirs I have read for past challenges were mostly not books I had been wanting and meaning to read.

But I had been meaning to read this because I read Bossypants by Tina Fey, and I wanted to read the other side of the comedy duo. I like Amy’s work with Tina.  And I liked this more than Bossypants, even though I feel that I have seen more of Tina’s work than Amy’s.

It was better because Amy’s brand of humor is not constantly self deprecating, like Tina’s is. Tina’s self deprecating humor is rampant in her show 30 Rock and her book is similar.  I had always thought that she was lovely and she talked about how fat and hairy she is in real life.  It can be funny, certainly, but it was in the teeth gritting amount of it. Amy made comments that she is short and has difficult eyebrows and her personality quirks, but they did not feel as central to the narrative.

The other reason I could stomach this after Born a Crime is the fact that Poehler emphasizes her luck throughout.  She openly acknowledges a life of unconditional love and support from her family and how she saw things a differently than people who didn’t have that experience.  And she has a whole chapter on mindfulness, which she states is time travel, which is an interesting way to put it.  Mindfulness is about taking more control of your feelings and thoughts, but she makes it even more evident by framing it as a way to control time.

Poehler is funny and poignant, of course, and she put in a lot of time to be where she is, which is a good reminder to anyone who really wants to make it in the creative world (and academic world, for that matter.  It took me over ten years to go from HS grad to licensed Psychologist) but she also takes the time to be grateful.  She talks about motherhood and those young years with no money but all the time in the world in ways I can relate to.  Because yes I’m privileged too.  I love how she talks about motherhood and her silly boys and the active decision not to answer questions in a way that could scar them for life.

One of the only things she wrote about that I couldn’t really relate to was doing drugs.  It’s never been super appealing to me and I mostly just drank during my youth, in amounts in college that were not healthy but a certain level of drunk was way more optimal then than it is in my sweet mom, full time job, chasing the writing/running thing life.  I like to sleep and too much alcohol ruins a good 9-10 hour go on the weekend.

I don’t expect the privileged to grovel for forgiveness in their privilege.  I certainly don’t have that kind of time.  But when you take a moment to breathe in the sweetness you have been dealt, and use your privilege for the improvement of the lives of others, that’s better than drinking yourself into ruin and lamenting your lost looks.  I mean, often washed up stars that end up like that have their own trauma and demons.

So I have my excuses, but I did enjoy both of these.  And I have been pleased with my TBR getting hacked into this year.  I’m probably reading too much long and should be burying my face in shorts because I have been writing those for submission.

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BookRiot: Nonhuman Narrators

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

I met my husband at a St. Patrick’s Day party nine years ago, and no,  it’s not a sordid tale of debauchery.  Nine years ago it was in the middle of the week so there was nothing crazy going on, I was coming home from work when I stopped in and was going to work again the next day, so, nothing too interesting.  The first thing my oh so lucky husband said to me was “Do you want to try some of the wine I made?'”  I was like, sure, all the time thinking there was no way this guy is just hanging out single waiting to be snapped up.   But he was! And there were (obvs) no serious deal breakers involved.  Luck o the Irish, indeed.

We got married in an Irish pub and had an Irish band and I’m half Irish, but he isn’t any Irish at all, try as he may to emulate my fine people.

I also had some fun years in college making my own Shamrock Shakes with some festive mix-ins.  I never went to the parade when I lived in Scranton, although my friends came down one year and we went out when it was over and we got to see some guy’s bare rear end in the pub we went to.  Not the guy I married, I didn’t meet him for 4-5 more years.  He was past his ‘show your butt to strangers’ phase by then.  And no, the featured image is not the engagement photo that came a year after that fateful night.

Anyway.  The books I talk about in this post have nothing to do with the holiday, because I just didn’t plan it that well.   And this is a family blog!  Rated PG!  Maybe PG 13 sometimes, when I am talking about romance novels.

Somehow it turned out that both of the books I read for this category have not only to do with non human narrators, but also totalitarian governments.  They both felt surreal at times too, in their own ways.  And neither were cutesy in the least, despite some appealing protagonists.

A Book In Which an Animal or Inanimate Object is the Point of View Character:

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The Bees, Laline Paul

This has been waiting on my kindle since late 2015.  I’m really pleased with how the reading challenge has been helping with the backlist.

I love social insects. I took an Animal Behavior course in college and I spent the semester fascinated.  I did my project for that class on ants.  I love a novel that can combine science or history with story, use real research to create a plot and a character arc.  I loved how Flora 717, the lowly Sanitation worker, used smells and transmission of information via antennae and to receive the Queen’s Love.  Because Flora 717 can transcend her station, Paul also talks about what it is like to forage and collect pollen, dance out the coordinates for the other foragers, see the ultraviolet in the flowers that human eyes cannot detect, how to keep the hive clean, and what it was like to (traitorously) lay an egg.  She found a way to talk about most aspects of being a bee that could not normally be described with a typical single bee, one that operates within the typical restricted role.  The drones were believable pains in the butt. Then she frosts on the anthropomorphism to make their structure make sense to us.  Describing their emotional lives, the high of Love that binds them into a whole.  And sometimes, it was brutal and bloodthirsty, but I won’t give the details of those parts because they are well imagined and I am not a spoiler.

And the other bugs…the nasty wasps, the sneaky spiders, the bluebottle flies all add interest to the structure and lives of the bees.  Somewhat of a bee dystopia.  Or utopia?  Not sure.

This book felt surreal in parts.  Sometimes I needed to give it time to figure out what was going on, when she was exploring prophecies and given other roles within the hive by a priestess.  I missed it that she was a mutant, which allowed her to move into other niches.  Initially I was like, how is she being allowed to move between classes and roles?  This book was beautiful and well done, but sometimes it didn’t hold my attention well.  That could be my problem.  But it’s worth reading.   And anyone can comment if its a bee dystopia or utopia.

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Memoirs of  Polar Bear, Yoko Tawanda

I broke my rule that I struggle to stick to for this challenge and bought this book specifically for this challenge. It was intriguing, with its magical realist underpinnings, to read three generations of polar bears who are also, inexplicably, writers.  The grandmother and mother were stage performers, where the grandson was merely an exhibit in a zoo.  They all end up talking about their experiences as bears in different places and times with different roles.  it was interesting and beautiful in parts.  Bears loving their human masters.

But it could also be surreal and felt inconsistent, and Goodreads didn’t disagree. At times, when I feel like I might not ‘get’ a book, I look into what others had to say about it to see what I may have missed, and this time, people generally agreed that this book could be difficult to understand.

Some parts were interesting, like the sea lion who steals the grandmother’s writing and publishes it behind her back while telling her it’s nothing, and then other times, it felt inaccessible, like when the daughter was talking about her animal trainer, and I didn’t always know who was narrating.  Perspectives changed sometimes.  Sometimes they were too hot, being in the wrong part of the world, and they ate a lot more than humans, and they lived lives that could be sad.  People who liked weird books weren’t necessarily into this one, it seemed to resonate with people who liked a certain brand of weird.  I couldn’t decide if there was a plot or not, and what about the meaning of the celebrity cameo at the end of the last section.

But some felt it was hypnotic, moving, and metaphorical.  To each his own.

I’m absolutely open to what others thought of these books.  They were less accessible in places to me than some of the ones I have read lately, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth the time to read.  And it seems weird that they are both in the context of rigid governmental structure.

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2018 Prize Winners warning me not to quit my day job

It still resonates with me that when the Goodreads Choice Awards came up last year, I hadn’t read that came out that year to vote on.  It was an awesome reason why I hadn’t read anything that was in the running, but I missed reading the new stuff.  I usually try to hit the prizewinners of the year as well as some of the releases that look good.  I am going to try to read some 2019 releases, but before I did that, I caught up on two major prize winners for 2018.

I have been catching up too on other books that have been on the TBR too long, too, which will be discussed as the year goes on.

(Also, happy fourth Blog-A-Versary to me!  It’s kept me writing and thinking about my reading, which is awesome.)

Interesting about both of the prize winners I talk about have to do with the life of the writer, among other things. And the writerly talk is depressing, which makes me feel that I am brave as I am submitting and writing for immediate submission more than ever before in my adult life.  But I’m not sure how real my bravery is because I have a day job that, although it burns out my brain to the point where it can be hard to write on the side, I feel good about, fulfilled, and proud of, and how my writing career does or does not pan out will not detract from a sense of satisfaction as it already is.  So it frees me up a little emotionally, without all my eggs in one basket, so to speak.

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The Friend, Sigrid Nunez

National Book Award Winner 2018

This haunting story is a warning:  don’t spend your life on writing if you can possibly make a life out of anything else.  Even the writer successes in this one come with crippling disappointment and anti-climactic teaching careers. There’s a lot of suicide.  The person that the main character is addressing through the novel is a victim of suicide.  A brilliant person who couldn’t be alone and was relegated to dealing with students, and then after his death gives the narrator a dog of his that is completely impractical for her to take care of, on top of heartbreaking.  Because I love having pets but they always break your heart when they die.  And this is a big dog that barely fits in her apartment and won’t live long  besides.  I spent part of the book praying this wouldn’t be a redo of The Art of Racing in the Rain where I just sobbed like an idiot for an hour at the end.

Despite the depressing story, it was still beautifully written and astute.  It wouldn’t be as depressing if it wasn’t as astute.  The artistry, to me, was that the narrator could wander into different parts of the story and it flowed beautifully from one aspect to the other:  the wives of the friend who gave her the dog, why they weren’t lovers and why his wives were jealous of this, how she gets the dog, how writing/teaching writing sucks, then more about how she gets to keep the dog, and then some on her therapy sessions to manage her grief and reflect on her not getting married or having a family herself, and what this means about her particular grief.  And then more about the relationship with the dog, and then more about her relationship to the dead person that she addresses throughout in second person.  Then some ex wife backstory. It was beautifully done.  Sometimes I was like, how did I get over here to this aspect of the story?  I could use more practice making things flow like that.

Also, this was another one that I mistakenly thought fit into a BookRiot category.  I thought the dog might narrate this business.  The weird cover with the dog suggests that.  The dog isn’t what makes the cover weird, it’s the blocks of color .  I’m like really, because a lot of people die in this at their own hand after years of emptiness. The dog is cool but the primary school colors gives the wrong vibe here.  Thank goodness this beautiful depression was short.

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Less, Andrew Sean Greer

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, 2018

This one looked completely unappealing to me for like, ever.   I wasn’t sure I’d care about the protagonist and his issues.  It’s a little first world problem-y in an Eat Pray Love kind of way.  Like, yeah, a major relationship ending is hard, but it’s a little easier when you can shake it off traveling the world, and, oh yeah, maybe live some writer dreams.

Except that these are only dubious writer dreams. He wrote maybe one notable book of a few of them, and some people have read them, but not to the point he would be recognized on a plane or anything. He’s up for an award, but his publisher rejects his most recent attempt at a novel and he’s trying to fix it, despite some follies that get in the way, and the whole reason he’s even on this trip with it’s weird bouts of illness, faulty German, bizarre clothes and random lovers is to avoid an ex boyfriend’s wedding.   His honors are dubious and the author is very funny, and it had an appreciable twist at the end.  I didn’t know how it would end, and nearer the end I suspected I was getting a surprise, but I liked how it ended.  Compulsively readable, almost as much so as Where’d You Go, Bernadette.  Heavy warnings that if you can do anything other than write with your life, you probably should.

So, good for me I have done that. Getting traction with submitting writing has proven to be slow.  I become intimidated when researching a publication by what they have accepted, so sometimes it’s easier for me to just look at a call for submissions, see if I can think up anything fast enough, and go.  All these, MFA, previously published in, I don’t know, Harpers, Tin House, The New Yorker, places I don’t know if I would ever have the stones to send anything to.  My first rejection of the year was very kindly done, even if it was a form email.  It told me to keep up the hope. These stories tell me to focus my energies elsewhere.

I’m trying to do a better job looking at new releases this year.

I hope Spring is starting to take decent hold, wherever you are.  D vitamins have helped, but every winter gets long.

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For the Love of Epistolary Novels

I forgot to mention that January went okay.  It went better emotionally than it can sometimes.  I’m not really sure why. I have been making more of an effort to look at calls for submissions and actually writing something and crossing my fingers.  I figure even if the writing is rejected I can find other homes for it. As long as the writing is happening right now, that’s what I need.  And I need to focus on showing up when all the crippling doubt sets in.  Especially because I have committed myself to writing poetry again which is a total mind-f.  But you’re here for my scintillating perspectives on my reading problem.

Reading Problem #1000: It seems that epistolary novels especially are some sort of drug to me because I binged on them even harder than usual.  I think I have determined their especial binge-tastic appeal.

  1. They have short chapters, which really keep me going into the night. Just two minutes?  Kindle underestimates my reading speed so that’s only like 30 seconds and I definitely could put off sleep for 30 more seconds.  ooh this chapter is a picture.  Only like a page of IM conversation?
  2. Also, conversations are probably my favorite part of books.  Interactions between people over descriptions and long inner monologues.  And when you are doing letters and IMs, which were the main way I held my far away friends and a long distance boyfriend close in college, I think they bring back for me the joy I have had in my own interactions like that in my life.  I had those IMs while falling in love as a young adult.  And while those fallings in love didn’t pan out, they were the stuff of joy when they were happening. Flooded my brain with the happy chemicals. I have stopped liking phone conversations and it’s rare to get one out of me, unless you’re my client.  Or my parents.
  3. Both of these books I review on this post have the slow reveal that I have been hammering out in my own novel and I was reading to see how these authors did it.

I might not have binged as much if I read the novels I had originally intended, but then BookRiot listed out these great modern ones that had been on the TBR forever and that was it.

An Epistolary Novel:

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Love Letters to the Dead,  Ava Dellaira

This book is really relevant. It’s about broken families and childhood dreams, trauma and healing as universal experiences.  First loves and relationships moving from childlike idealizing to knowing our most loved people as they really were, flaws and pain and all.

The protagonist is picking up the shards of her life following a family tragedy in the form of letters to tragically deceased famous people.  People who lived their versions of her pain and trauma.  People to whom she never met but could relate.  The answers to the mysteries come at a good pace, the blanks filled in in a satisfying way, and everyone heals.  Slowly and sometimes subtly, but they do.  Not just the broken family but other characters dealing with teenage relationship themes and issues.  She talks about the details of the star’s life that she can relate to and emphasize with.

I thought the incorporating of the celebrities was well done.  It could have been either too loosely connected/relevant or too many details of the celebrities to whom she was writing, but it was neither.    And she gets a chance to heal while many, if not all of the dead celebrities, never got or took that chance.  She gets to grow.  And I love the pure magic of healing wherever I find it.

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Everything, Everything, Nicola Yoon

I was almost embarrassed that I am trying to write YA without having read this, especially since it became a movie. A-mazing.

One of my kids accidentally spoiled this on me, but she didn’t really spoil it, because once I knew how the main situation was going to change I focused on how it was revealed.  How did the big twist come about. How did she change as a result?  How did her change make others change?  The whole time I wanted to know how Yoon was going to pull it off.

Other that the writerly part, this is just like YA classic good stuff. A first love.  How people learn to be together and share their vulnerabilities.  All that stuff you cut your serious relationship teeth on.  I don’t want to say too much because any reader of mine knows my attempts at avoiding spoilers.  If there’s like, any other YA aficionado out there who hasn’t read this.  Which there really might not be, especially since it became a movie in 2017.  And I forget it’s not 2018 anymore, other than when I realize I didn’t read any 2018 but I’m getting there.

Next week is two other epistolaries. And they aren’t Pamela and Possession, which is what I originally wanted to do for this post, Possession because I have tried to read it twice and finally got the audio to best the thing (many people whose opinions I respect like this book so I need to win) and I shamefully don’t feel like investing in an old novel right now with Pamela.  I mean, it’s about her trying to avoid getting raped at work.  I just want something less depressing than that right now.  It’s been on the TBR forever because I want to someday read the authors that influenced Jane Austen with Austen in mind.  But there are young adults falling in love in ways I fell in love as a young adult and all that dopamine gets coursing around when I read these.   And I read four books from one BookRiot category before I know it and lose sleep because of it’s appeal.  TBR tackling at its finest.

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