BookRiot: Award winning authors

My son can’t decide if he thinks my laptop wallpaper is cute or stressful.

Its a kitten either trying not to fall off something or trying to climb on something.  I like the picture because I liked that the cat had gotten itself into something or was about to get itself into something.  I can be like that.  I can’t always be happy just chillin, I have to be making my own entertainment.

Two on a theme again this week:

A book by a female or author of color that won a literary award in 2018

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Hello, Universe, Erin Entrada Kelly

2018 winner of the Newbery Medal for outstanding contribution to children’s literature

Good middle grade novels, especially involving middle schoolers like this one does, always involve a whole heap of uncomfortable awkwardness poured into a relatively unique situation, which is exactly what this book is.  It’s about kids who don’t fit into molds coming together through an almost emergency situation and friendships in common.  And, even better, which is what the market is looking for right now, one of the perspective characters is a deaf girl.  More engendering empathy.    Another child, Virgil, is Latin American, and he isn’t as effusive as the rest of his family.  Another one who talks about how he doesn’t fit in.  And, slight spoiler alert, he has a crush on the deaf girl, which is also excellent. It’s a great kids book and was a quick read for me.  I hope it doesn’t count as like a cheat read because I have some Coretta Scott King award winners on tap for this year.  Although that category specifies children’s or middle grade.  This category doesn’t.  Newbery Medal winners are always worth reading, though, and this could possibly go on the list of what I might share with my son.

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How Long til Black Future Month, NK Jemisin

Winner of the 2018 Hugo Award for The Stone Sky

Now, possibly Hello Universe could have been a cheat read if I also hadn’t tackled this one.  I have been wanting to read NK Jemisin but I haven’t wanted to commit myself to her science fiction novels.  Even though they have been recommended to me as sci fi/fantasy that isn’t based on white European medieval social structure or heteronormative narratives.  I wanted to taste her work and I am working on my own short stories, so it’s always a good idea to read what the masters are putting out.

I actually read the introduction, which gave me hope as a writer for two reasons:  one, she didn’t come into her writing prime until she was older than I am now, which is good because I am just starting out and I get into this idea that other people got into their glory faster than I would ever hope to.  If there’s even a glory for me to be had in this.  I can’t assume that.  And second, that she used the word sharted, and it wasn’t edited out and it was allowed to stay there as a sign to me that this book was worth reading.  On top of, you know, all her accolades from people who are allowed to give meaningful ones.  She was talking about sharting out science fiction that was more the stuff that white guys churn out to get noticed in a market that wasn’t ready for diverse voices.  In case your shart curiosity was piqued, which mine would have been.

Some of these I really loved, like Red Dirt Witch (one that many others on the reviews enjoyed) Valedictorian, Cuisine des Memoirs, L’Alchimista, and Sinners, Saints, Dragons and Haints, in the City Beneath Still Waters.  Some of them got away from me, like science fiction can for me, and I get a little lost.  Maybe because the stuff that is more out there to me isn’t as interesting so my brain stops participating.   It happened with the PKD book.  I wondered if other reviewers had a similar experience and they really didn’t seem to.  The stories that I enjoyed I noticed had more of a human element to them.   They were good, though, fantastical, creative, sharp in its portrayal of race and class.    I think Red Dirt Witch is popular because its about black people seeing the future of the human rights movement and becoming hopeful that the world can change for them.  And not just, you know, a black  person in the white house, but the realities of the riots and protests.

I had this on audio to work through it, but it had more to do with the genre than her writing.  When she really has the page space to spin out her world building I might have to pay harder attention because I imagine it is extensive and cool.

Clearly both of these women are award winning authors in their premises and stories.

I really read too much for the next two posts, so stay tuned.  Still binge reading.

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Mythological Figures Who Get Personalities

All right, so I had to admit at the end of last year that I hadn’t read any 2018 books and 2019, with a different stage of noveling, would afford me the chance to pick up on what I left off.  All the book covers that I ignored, even though they were in my face.

Did I mention I finished the third draft of my novel and it will be sent out?  And now I need to work on getting my other stuff out there?  So I shouldn’t be binge reading, but here we are.

A Book of Mythology or Folklore:

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Circe, Madeline Miller

Characters in mythology and fairytales are one dimensional creatures.  They are only meant to be vehicles in stories, creating explanations for the natural world.  This leaves them ripe for re-tellings where their stories, personalities, and vulnerabilities can be fleshed out.  They can have reasons other than jealousy and control.  They can be people.  Circe is made to stand out with empathy, something she is mocked for among the other immortals with whom she struggles to belong, but make her endlessly appealing to the reader.

I had to peek at Wikipedia to polish up on the Circe from Greek mythology.  I did some humanities in college, reading bits of the Aeneid, and I can recognize elements of the Odyssey and the Iliad.  I like that her story is filled in, about how she went from being born of immortals to a witch on an island, how she was scapegoated and rejected, and how some of the animals on her island were her friends, not just men transformed into pigs.  And Wikipedia says ‘displeased her’ and in the book they were men intending to rape her, and maybe this is in the original stories, but if it is not, I commend this change. I love humanizing a historical/mythological/fairy tale character.  To show how they may have possibly been misunderstood.  Women in that time and place, even immortal ones, needed to wrestle and cage any freedom that wandered into their path.  I can see how this is timely with women gaining more power in this age.  We will root for our sisters working on the same thing across the ages.  Fortunately now we don’t have to have potions and incantations to do it.

Other than enjoying the story, because I love me a witch with a decent character arc, I liked the pacing changes of this one.  Circe is immortal and will have huge inconsequential stretches of time and then other focused periods of interest. I liked how she could speed it up and then slow it down, although sometimes she would be slowing down something I really wanted her to speed up, but that was my own discomfort, not her lack of artistry.  Circe was still finding herself in the longer stretches of time and her solitude.  She was still figuring out her place in the world where she seemed to be born into all the gray areas.  But when time needed to slow down, Miller did it in a way that wasn’t obvious, but that I noticed when I started to worm with the intensity and wished I could just find out what was going to happen in the scene.

The good thing about my reading multiple books for each category, other than it being an excuse to binge read when I should be writing, is that often I have books I have owned forever that fit these categories, so two birds with one stone.  This one I have had almost two years now, waiting for its chance:

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Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller

Again, Miller turns one dimensional historical figures human under her astute pen.   This is about Achilles but through the viewpoint of his long time companion, Patroclus.  Achilles is much more than a warrior in this book.  I forget these boys are supposed to be raised in Sparta, which my education has told me was mostly about churning out warriors.  Which seems to be the opposite of empathic creatures.  But although Achilles is aware that his main function is to be a warrior, he is many other things, the warrior piece only being apparent when he goes to fight in the Trojan War.  And even then he struggles with the trauma of war and doesn’t want to kill unless he has to.   Even then he sees others as whole people rather than shadows only to be categorized based on if they gratify or frustrate his needs, which often happens when men are raised only to be weapons.   He is loyal to his one lover, does not take others, and assures that Patroclus is treated as an equal to him, even though he is not.  And Patroclus is empathic to Achilles as well, respecting him and loving him apart from, and before he came into, his glory.

These qualities made the men appealing and I rooted for them all the way and I didn’t read Wikipedia to know exactly how it would end.  The prophesy of Achilles’ dying after he kills Hector is discussed way before the end, but I wanted to see him win up to that point.  However, I thought on multiple occasions how there was no template in these men’s lives to be so kind and loving, to know how to treat each other and be in a healthy, monogamous relationship since they were teens.  Keeping a healthy monogamous relationship alive through the greater part of your life isn’t only work but insight and skill, and I don’t know where these guys would have gained the skills they show in how they treat each other.  Neither one’s parents had a healthy marriage based on equal power footing; neither of them were made via a consensual encounter.  But they don’t know how to be angry with each other in a world that runs on anger and power.  Maybe it is only in the fact they know themselves to be pawns, despite the power that Achilles has, and some ways they betrayed one another were inevitable and not personal, and they both understood that.  Maybe Achilles’ mother,  as formidable and controlling as she seems to Patroclus, helped him to become the human, multidimensional man that he is. These are famous warriors, and in the book they are empathic toward slave women and loyal to one another above all else.

I may think these men’s personalities are a bit implausible based on their contexts, but I don’t know if any other book could have hooked me through a retelling of the Trojan War.  I knew some of it but I don’t so much care about stories of war, as any reader of mine can probably tell.  But I was hooked on this all the way through because of the strong character/human element.  Kudos to Madeline Miller.  I can see why she’s one of the big writers out there.

I realized near the end of filling this category that I also desperately need to read American Gods, which was put on my radar more than ten years ago and is a popular show, and I have wondered multiple times when it would be my time to read it.  I even recommended it to a friend who read it and is now telling me to read it.  The time must be coming.

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Reading Harder: Alternate Histories

The New Year inspired me to do some TBR tackling, like it always does.

Since the BookRiot list came out a few weeks ago I have been planning my 2019 reading.  I am always delighted when something on my TBR also qualifies for a BookRiot category as well, and I had two old backlist hangers on that qualified for the alternate history requirement.

I’m finding that I love stories set at different points of history.  Phillippa Gregory’s Lady of the Rivers series got me through new motherhood.  Nero Wolfe novels sustained me through late high school, college, and grad school when I only read fiction on breaks.

Futuristic dystopian/cli-fi books make me nervous, because of course anything can happen.  Given my lack of trust in the current Administration to protect the globe or anything that isn’t profitable nearly within this moment, scary futuristic books seem all too likely.  I’m game for historical dystopia, though.  Bring it.

But alternate history…it already happened a certain way so we can just play with ideas about if a moment was different, how would we be living now?  Both of the books in this post (I’m supposed to be working on my novel, not reading two books in a week, I need rehab) are set in times when assassinations of wartime US presidents (FDR and Lincoln) happened before they could leave their mark and each discusses the points that diverge from the facts that we learn today.  With each war having a different outcome, it also, in both books, means different things for racism in our country.

An Alternate History Book

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The Man In the High Castle, Philip K. Dick

This was on the TBR long before Netflix decided to make it into something.  I don’t even remember how it originally crept into my awareness.  I think at one point I thought that having read a PKD novel would have made me cool.

The Axis powers, Germany, Japan, and Italy won the Second World War, rather than the Allied powers, owing largely to an early assassination of FDR.  Essentially, this assassination is to blame for why America wasn’t strong enough to defeat Hitler and his allied countries and why in the novel the country is divided between German and Japanese territory, with Italy kind of the forgotten stepchild of the thing.

Nazi Germany is still the bully in the setting and in the plot, Imperial Japan is strong enough with their culture consuming their part of the US, which is under totalitarian rule.  Racism is rampant, there are definite classes based on skin color and ancestry, even with a brief mention of ethnic cleansing/experimentation still happening in Africa by the hands of the Germans, and it is still a dangerous thing to be Jewish.  I would say that even if Germany won the war I doubt the ethnic cleansing would continue today, but then I have to remember that the book was written and set in the early 60’s.  It’s nearly 60 years old as it is.  But when would it have stopped?

There are some parts of this story that are interesting, like the focus on the Japanese buying relics of Americana from the days before they took over.  Authentic Mickey Mouse watches are a valuable collectors item, as well as guns.  The Japanese I Ching features heavily as the closest thing I can determine as a religion and the characters rely on it to make decisions.  And as in any totalitarian rule there is a subversive book circulating  that speculates on if the Allied powers had won the war.  The book within the book, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, then predicts the fall of the Soviet Union, something that happens in real life decades later.

However, this book spins out a little nutty near the end, makes some reaches, goes off on character revelations and plot turns that I had to check up with on Wikipedia (whom I donate to every Christmas btw because of my reading needs) and I missed what the point of some of them were.  I don’t know how Netflix is planning to handle these.  Wiki notes that Dick also used the I-Ching to make plot decisions…interesting.   This book was both fascinating and intense.  Tiring.  Exhausting.  It needed my full attention. It has way more to do with setting and the plot of political intrigue than it does about characters.  It’s weird in some ways,but that’s sci-fi.  It’s pardoned as a part of the genre.

And the TV series looks like even more of a ride.  Likely not knitting TV.

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Underground Airlines, Ben Winters

I was hesitant to jump into another alternate history book over the weekend, but it was on my TBR, and it went with the theme, and I was knitting a sock more than I was working on my novel, so I went for it.

In this one, Lincoln is assassinated early, like FDR’s early assassination in PKD.  The Civil War never happened, and instead the states compromise on slavery, with four states, the Hard Four, slavery is still legal (and of course regulated, but legal nonetheless) and white people continue to get rich on the backs of those left with no choice, Persons Bound by Labor.  Racism is more obvious in the other states than it would be if these Hard Four weren’t holding out on profiting by slave labor, even though other nations have not allowed the US to play with them anymore because slavery persists.

An escaped slave is obligated to work as a bounty hunter for the government.  Although racism persists, often freed people and policemen don’t want to help in returning escaped slaves, so the main character enters another bondage of sorts (he even has a tracker in his neck) to find those who have escaped from bondage.  He doesn’t have to return them himself, but he’s complicated Of course his story is interwoven with his own trauma, his story fleshing out the world of slavery.  It’s fascinating, his past intersecting with the hard truths of rooting out those who made it out like he did.  The plot twists are sweet, and he discovers the assignment that he is working on is of course more than it seems, and he ends up having to infiltrate the Hard Four.

I think I liked this one more than The Man in the High Castle because it has more of a human element to it.  The Man in The High Castle is so strongly plot driven,  hard core philosophical Sci-Fi.  Living in a totalitarian society and having your nation completely transformed by war in your lifetime would have repercussions and change who you are, but the plot doesn’t deal with that. Underground Airlines had me from the beginning and I rode it through in a short amount of time.

Both of these books are about racism and class.  And how when the true leaders can’t lead, we descend into dystopia.  BookRiot posted some of their own suggestions on this topic and they stated that Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell was also an alternate history, in that magic somehow returns to Britain.  I have read and reviewed it here but I never thought of it as an alternate history.  Magic doesn’t change Britain into a dystopia. Still loved it.  What a great read.  Even though it was too intense to revisit on Netflix.

I have started editing my novel in preparation to have it professionally critiqued, just easing myself back into it.  I need to ease off the reading now. It’s kind of happening.  But it’s so much easier on the emotions to blissfully knit and immerse myself in a book.

The cold weather has swooped into my part of the world.  My dog and car and I aren’t exactly thrilled, but we can go play on the lake if it’s cold long enough.

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