January 2020 in Retrospect

What can I say about this past month? I mean, I decided to get back into doing book reviews here, so that’s a thing. Still in the process of rewriting and posting some of the shorter reviews I posted elsewhere while I was going, but I’m catching up, and it’s helping me remember why I loved doing this blog in the first place.

So, what did I accomplish here over January? Let’s take a look.

Book reviews
The Rage of Dragons, by Evan Winter
The Walled City, by Ryan Graudin
The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, by Mackenzi Lee
The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy, by Mackenzi Lee
The Lady Rogue, by Jenn Bennett
Children of Blood and Bone, by Tomi Adeyemi
Rosemary and Rue, by Seanan McGuire
The Night Tiger, by Yangsze Choo
Hunter, by Mercedes Lackey

I posted a list of all the books I’d read in 2019, which looks impressive-ish if you ignore that there are a few children’s titles on there that I read for nostalgia’s sake. I also reviewed the terrible J-horror movie, Sadako vs Kayako.

Upcoming in February

I’ve decided that February is going to be the Month of Manga, so expect pretty much exclusively manga reviews. I know that won’t interest everyone, but I’m honestly using it as an excuse to go through a lot of my manga backlog, which is extensive and daunting. Even if I only review 2 volumes a week, that will cut down the backlog by 8 titles, and that’s nothing to sneeze at.

I know there’s at least one more movie I’d like to review, so stay tuned for commentary on a truly weird and obscure piece of J-horror I came across not too long ago. (Ectoplasmic worms, anyone?)

How did your 2020 start? Well, I hope. I hope it was a good and productive month, full of enjoyable things and progress in your life. And I hope that trend continues as the year moves on.

The Lady Rogue, by Jenn Bennett

Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – September 3, 2019

Summary: Traveling with her treasure-hunting father has always been a dream for Theodora. She’s read every book in his library, has an impressive knowledge of the world’s most sought-after relics, and has all the ambition in the world. What she doesn’t have is her father’s permission. That honor goes to her father’s nineteen-year-old protégé—and once-upon-a-time love of Theodora’s life—Huck Gallagher, while Theodora is left to sit alone in her hotel in Istanbul.

Until Huck arrives from an expedition without her father and enlists Theodora’s help in rescuing him. Armed with her father’s travel journal, the reluctant duo learns that her father had been digging up information on a legendary and magical ring that once belonged to Vlad the Impaler — more widely known as Dracula — and that it just might be the key to finding him.

Journeying into Romania, Theodora and Huck embark on a captivating adventure through Gothic villages and dark castles in the misty Carpathian Mountains to recover the notorious ring. But they aren’t the only ones who are searching for it. A secretive and dangerous occult society with a powerful link to Vlad the Impaler himself is hunting for it, too. And they will go to any lengths—including murder—to possess it.

Thoughts: When I first heard this book described as something that fans of A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue would enjoy, my attention was caught. Despite me having problems with it’s sequel, I really enjoyed Gentleman’s Guide, and the idea of a book in that vein but with the legend because Vlad the Impaler thrown in, The Lady Rogue sounded like something I would similarly enjoy.

And it wasn’t bad, really. It just wasn’t something I was able to get into as much as I had hoped.

The Lady Rogue is primarily told from the perspective of Theodora, daughter of a wealthy adventurer who is frequently left behind in the care of tutors and caretakers while her father travels the world on grand adventures, seeking lost artifacts and mysteries. Suddenly reunited with her previous boyfriend, who was supposed to be traveling with Theodora’s father, she finds herself caught up in an adventure of her own as she not only attempts to track down her missing father, but also a lost ring connected to Dracula’s legacy and the dark power that runs through her veins.

In between many of the chapters are short interludes from her father’s journal, where we see the entries dated in the late 1930s. I will be completely honest here — I spent a good amount of the novel thinking that the reason Theodora’s father was missing was because he had somehow traveled back in time. I came to this erroneous conclusion because none of Theodora and Huck’s sections were dated, and they both talked as though they were far closer to today than to almost 80 years ago. Almost nothing was given to indicate the time they existed in, and I based my cues on their behaviour and speech, and it wasn’t until I noticed that I wasn’t seeing any indication that time travel was actually going to be a plot element that I had to look up when the entire book took place.

Now yes, there are some things that do indeed indicate the time period, but I think many of them, to a reader less inclined to look things up, might just assume that they could be explained away by east Europe being, well, not North America. Of course rural European settings would use small mail delivery planes. Of course people would take trains and buses rather than going by car. That’s just how it’s done over there.

It didn’t help that I found two instances (at least, two that stand out in my mind) of characters using slang that is entirely inappropriate for the time period. At one point, Theodora is telling her father off, and comments that, “FYI, [thing].” Now, FYI as an abbreviation for “for your information” did certainly exist in the 1930s, but primarily in a journalistic sense, from what my research has led me to conclude. You would see it in marginalia and in newspaper corrections, that sort of thing. It’s hardly something you would have heard many people say aloud as though they were 90s teens.

The second instance that comes to mind is Huck saying toward the end that he was getting “hangry,” and no, I’m sorry, but that portmanteau gained popularity in the 90s, even if it was used as far back as the 50s, and neither of those decades are the 30s.

Now, I admit that I read an ARC of this book, and those issues might not be in the final release, so I admit that those particular problems might not even be problems in the version that most people will read. However, that doesn’t eliminate any of my commentary on why I was confused about the time period of the book. Neither Theo nor Huck talked or behaved as though they came from any time period but “timeless modern,” and considering this book is meant to be historical fiction with a touch of the supernatural to it, so much felt so out of place for so long.

I did, admittedly, enjoy the story of The Lady Rogue, when I was getting distracted by how anachronistic many of the characters acted. The mystery of Theodora’s father’s disappearance powered most of the book, though along the way, as they made their way from Istanbul to various Romanian cities and towns, the subplot of the ring slowly overtook all else. Theodora’s father was initially searching for the ring, on the premise that 3 identical rings were made but only 1 was real, and supposedly connected to dark magics that gave the wearer great power but also brought death and ruin down around them. In this, I can see how the comparison to The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue were made; both are historical fiction, and both feature a possibly-magical item as a motivation for the characters to progress through the story. Whether that item is actually magical or not is irrelevant; what matters is that people believe it to be, and act accordingly.

The ring was magical (the rest of the legend surrounding it wasn’t quite accurate, though I’ll refrain from giving too many details so that at least something in this book isn’t spoiled for future readers), though it really only proved itself to be at the very end. There were signs building up to it, signs which certainly convinced Theodora even if they didn’t quite convince Huck, but similar to Gentleman’s Guide, the magic itself wasn’t what compelled people. It was the belief in the magic, the legends themselves that made people seek it out, committing sometimes terrible acts in the name of legends and folklore, and I find that sort of thing fascinating. It interests me, to see what people will do in the pursuit of perceived power, what they might be motivated to do to get closer to something they only believe is the truth but don’t have definitive proof of. It’s a testament to the power of myth and belief, and I’m glad to have seen this appear in multiple novels over the past few years.

Unlike Gentleman’s Guide, however, there was no queer element to this story at all. It shares the same element of historical adventure with a supernatural element, but that’s where the similarities end, and I know many people enjoyed Gentleman’s Guide because it was all that and more, a good piece of queer representation. Readers looking for something similar in The Lady Rogue are only going to find superficial resemblance, I think.

The Lady Rogue is certainly an adventure, with a few interesting mysteries that the characters must solve along the way, usually employing a bit of cryptography and sleuthing. The characters are decently developed, though I admit that if you asked me to describe them outside of the context of the story within this book, I’m not sure they’d be that recognizable. Theodora is hot-tempered, intelligent, and in many ways spoiled. Huck is… Irish, and Theodora’s ex-boyfriend-but-it’s-complicated. Theodora’s father is… I don’t know here. An adventurer. Selfish and thoughtless. That’s about it. But within the context of the novel itself, they are distinct from each other when it comes to tone, dialogue, behaviour, and so it wasn’t difficult to tell who was doing or say what if you picked a random line in the middle of a random page.

But on the whole, I didn’t close out The Lady Rogue with many positive feelings toward it. Not many negative, either, for what it’s worth. I had an awkward start with it due to the anachronistic issues I mentioned earlier, but I enjoyed the mystery of the ring well enough, and I think the two sort of cancel each other out, leaving me with a rather neutral impression overall. I don’t think this is one I will ever get the urge to reread, and I think I can feel confident in recommending it to those who enjoy YA historical fiction with a bit of a twist, but that’s likely a fairly niche group, and I’m not sure it has much appeal beyond that. It wasn’t bad, but it’s not one I’d recommend going out of your way to read.

(Book received in exchange for an honest review.)

Looking Back and Forward (2018-2019)

2018 was… a year. It had a number of ups and downs, and honestly, the downs were large enough to leave a very bitter taste in my mouth about the year as a whole. (For a general summary of the massive upheaval I had to deal with this summer, read this post.) I did start reviewing again, which is something, and I have my health, such as it is, but honestly, as far as I’m concerned, I want to put 2018 behind me and try to move forward. I lost a lot this past year, and I’d like to spend 2019 improving rather than trying to barely keep my head above water.

I mean come on, for the first time in years, I couldn’t even manage to achieve my reading goals. And I set fairly reasonable ones. A book a week. 52 books. I just barely made it to 49.

But that was still 49 books, which is better than no books at all, so I thought I’d take a minute to do a quick accounting books (along with links to any reviews I’ve written for them, even if I didn’t write them in 2018).

Read in 2018

Marked in Flesh, by Anne Bishop
Etched in Bone, by Anne Bishop
Daughter of the Blood, by Anne Bishop
Heir to the Shadows, by Anne Bishop
Queen of the Darkness, by Anne Bishop
The Invisible Ring, by Anne Bishop
Dreams Made Flesh, by Anne Bishop
Tangled Webs, by Anne Bishop
The Shadow Queen, by Anne Bishop
Shalador’s Lady, by Anne Bishop
Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell
Autoboyography, by Christina Lauren
Owlknight, by Mercedes Lackey
Exile’s Honor, by Mercedes Lackey
Exile’s Valor, by Mercedes Lackey
Vampire’s Kiss, by Sonny Barker
Among Others, by Jo Walton
Starlings, by Jo Walton
A Darker Shade of Magic, by V E Schwab
A Gathering of Shadows, by V E Schwab
United States of Japan, by Peter Tieryas
The Whitefire Crossing, by Courtney Schafer
First Nations in the Twenty-First Century, by James S Frideres
Lady Henterman’s Wardrobe, by Marshall Ryan Maresca
I Hear the Sunspot, volume 1, by Fumino Yuki
The Girl With Ghost Eyes, by M H Boroson
Japanland, by Karin Muller
Wake of Vultures, by Lila Bowen
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
My Brother’s Husband, by Tagame Gengoroh
Shards and Ashes, by various authors
My Real Name is Hanna, by Tara Lynn Masih
Roses and Rot, by Kat Howard
Head On, by John Scalzi
Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden
Invitation to the Game, by Monica Hughes
The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman
The Subtle Knife, by Philip Pullman
The Amber Spyglass, by Philip Pullman
The Story of Buddha: A Graphic Biography, by Ota Hisashi
Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin
Son of Rosemary, by Ira Levin
The Gathering Storm, by Robin Bridges
In the Vanishers’ Palace, by Aliette de Bodard
City of Brass, by S  A Chakraborty
The Radium Girls, by Kate Moore
The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson
The Copper Promise, by Jen Williams
Jade City, by Fonda Lee

Yeah, I read a lot of Anne Bishop last year. And a lot of comfort rereads. Like I said, 2018 was a year. Some of the books that haven’t been reviewed yet will be reviewed in the future, too, so keep an eye out for them.

So what about this coming year? What do I want to do for Bibliotropic in 2019?

I’ve set my reading goals at another 52 books, 1 per week, and with luck I’ll actually be able to manage that this time. Fingers crossed, anyway.

I plan to continue the deep dive posts for Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels novels, the in-depth chapter-by-chapter look at a series that has become more comforting to me than I ever would have expected, and that I think is a sorely underappreciated dark fantasy series. Especially once you get past the sheer trauma of the first novel, anyway.

There are some books that I’d like to re-review, too. Opinions and tastes change over time, as do critique skills, and honestly, some of my early reviews are sheer crap. Some I don’t link to on my Reviews page, and others I removed from the blog entirely. There are some books, though, that I think could stand a fresh look, and a new review written for them, and I’m looking forward to taking that step back in order to look at some old things with more experienced eyes.

Really, that’s about it. 3 projects, and 1 of those projects is just continuing to run this blog and write reviews for it. Given that I’ve still been dealing with mental and physical health problems, I think that’s enough to be dealing with right now. Maybe things will improve in the future and I’ll take on more projects, maybe not. But at the moment, those are my plans for the upcoming year, and I’m looking forward to making blogging and review a more active part of my life once again.

Thank you for your patience while I sort out the muddled mess that is my life, and for your continued support. It means a lot. I’ll stand by all of you, too, in the days ahead.

Holiday Hiatus

This time of year is busy, stressful, and full of emotions. So, I need to remove at least one thing from my plate. Sorry.

I’ll be back in 2019 with new posts and whatnot. Just need a little time with a little less stress. Thanks for being understanding.

The Groundwork of Captain Planet

Does anyone else remember watching Captain Planet and the Planeteers as a kid?

Lots of you? Okay, great!

Now does anyone else remember the time Captain Planet taught us not to be afraid of people with HIV?

CaptainPlanetAIDS1If  you didn’t actually see the episode when it aired on TV in the 90s, chances are you’ve probably at least heard about the rather famous episode, A Formula for Hate,  somewhere on the Internet. The episode centres around a teenage basketball player who has HIV, and one of the show’s recurring bad guys spreads rumours about him and about HIV, driving up fear and aggression in the community so that the basketball player and his family are persecuted, abused, discriminated against with open hostility. But along comes Captain Planet to tell us that hey, HIV isn’t something that deserves this treatment, you don’t have to be afraid of getting it just because you bump into an HIV-positive person on the street, so maybe simmer the hell down and stop being such asswaffles about it, okay?

…I may have spiced that last bit up a little bit, but the message is the same. The villain of this piece wasn’t so much the recurring character, but the attitude of the community, “led astray by lies” and causing harm to someone who was a victim of circumstance and had done nothing to deserve ostracization and fear.

When I first watched this episode, the message was clear. Don’t be afraid of people with HIV or AIDS. Don’t be a jerk to them either. It seemed pretty obvious, but hey, I was also a kid, and watching a TV show that often had similarly obvious messages, like, “Don’t litter,” and, “Don’t take pills from that guy in the alley.” The whole point of the show was to drive home messages like this. It seemed a little odd to have an episode about HIV when most of the show was about pollution, but even then I knew I was living in the era of Very Special Episodes, so A Formula for Hate was just another one of those.

Why have I spent all this time talking about an episode of Captain Planet? Because it occurred to me recently that I missed some context when I was young. It was context I missed by design, I think, and I doubt it ever would have occurred to me at all had I not been so involved with people dedicated to increasing diversity and positive representation in media.

You see, when I watched this episode, I took the message at face value, and in the same manner that I took every episode’s message. The message here was just another message that kids everywhere had to hear, one more lesson we had to learn in order to navigate life. Everyone had to learn it at some point.

Only recently did it occur to me that no, this was not a typical life lesson that every kid learned. It was not a message akin to, “Don’t litter.” The message in this episode was not something my parents had heard. It wasn’t something my grandparents had heard. This was a message targeted to my generation, an emerging generation. The message was relatively new.

The message was being aimed at kids my age so that we would grow up to be the kind of adults who wouldn’t do the things that people in the show did. It was aimed at us so that we would better understand things. It was a message designed to tell us how to not make the same mistakes as those who came before us.

Because those mistakes were made. And real people suffered due to fear and ignorance.

But as a child, I never even thought that I would be getting a life lesson that my parents hadn’t gotten. That’s not to say that my parents would have bullied someone with HIV, mind you. But it is to say that when they were so young, there was no helpful TV show to sit them in front of that would tell them a story about what happens when fear gets out of hand like that. Not where HIV was concerned, anyway.

That episode was memorable for how out of place it was in the show’s lineup. I, and lots of other people my age, remember it pretty clearly. We remember it. Not everyone took the message to heart, mind you, but I sure did.

Where am I going with this? Right back around to every other diversity and inclusivity measure I’ve seen, especially in youth media.

When adults complain that too big a deal is being made over having more people of colour in media, more people with disabilities, more people who aren’t cisgender or heterosexual, they’re complaining because to them, the message seems like it’s everywhere. Everywhere wants to hop on the diversity bandwagon, it’s a cool thing to do, blah blah blah.

I wonder how many adults in the 90s thought that having an episode of Captain Planet talk to kids about HIV was over the top, out of place, a conversation that didn’t need to be had because ugh, we know not to be jerks to people with HIV, okay, we’re all adults here, we know better!

(Okay, yes, some of them are ranting about it because they just plain don’t like any media that doesn’t feature straight white able-bodied people. I have to be fair and admit that some people are just bigots.)

But the message isn’t for those adults. The message is for the kids who might not have had the chance to encounter anything, positive or negative, about other people before. It’s a chance to teach them that other people are okay, before anyone else has the chance to teach them otherwise.

When I first watched that Captain Planet episode, I was vaguely aware that HIV was a thing, that you can get it through blood or needles or sex, and that it made you sick. And to be honest, I might even be giving myself a little too much credit at that point. I was a nerdy kid when it came to medical stuff (when I was 9, I told people I wanted to be a pediatric oncologist when I grew up, and I knew exactly what I meant when I said that), but there was still plenty I didn’t know. But even assuming I was aware that much, I know for a fact that I knew nothing at all about the AIDS crisis of the 80s. I knew nothing about the fear that grew out of ignorance over HIV, a little knowledge being a dangerous thing, and the social hell that people went through at the time. Not a single bit of that was in my mind. The first exposure I got to how people can be cruel to those who are sick was through Captain Planet.

And that exposure laid some of the foundation that taught me not to be the same way. Not to make the mistakes that people before me made.

TwoMommiesWhen a kid reads a book that has a character with two mothers, they’re not going to come home and demand a detailed explanation of low lesbian sex works. Chances are they’re not going to say a thing about it… unless they’ve already been taught that such things are wrong. Otherwise, they’re likely going to accept the message that having two mothers is fine, that two women can be in love and be married and have a kid together, and move on with their lives with that message subtly laying the groundwork for the day when they meet a girl who likes another girl.

When they watch a TV show where somebody comments that a character named Derrick used to be called Natalie, they’re not going to go to their parents and suddenly declare that they’re transgender (unless they are) or start demanding random hormone injections. They’re just going to have a little more experience to draw on if their friend John tells people that he wants to be called Kelly and be referred to be female pronouns.

The more we have positive representation and positive messages about inclusivity, the fewer mistakes the next generation will make, compared to the mistakes that we made. The point of making a point over inclusion isn’t to beat the message into the heads of adults (though that would be nice), but the help prepare the next generation for the world around them. And to prepare them better than we were prepared.

A friend of mine, who is a generation older than me, once told a story from his childhood about seeing the neighbour’s kid for the first time. The kid had epilepsy, and was essentially confined to the house or made to wear a helmet when in the backyard. He wasn’t allowed to talk to strangers. Even talking to my friend through a fence was discouraged, because then other people might know his awful shameful secret.

My generation got the message that kids with epilepsy don’t need to be hidden from the world. My generation got Teddy Bear Fairs at the hospital, where we could take in a stuffed animal and have them diagnosed and treated, and where we could learn about things like epilepsy, diabetes, asthma, and other things that might come up in playground conversation.

(We also got YA novels where characters with serious illnesses or disabilities overcame  obstacles or else died beautiful tragic deaths. I’m looking at you, Lurlene McDaniel…)

Generations after mine? They’re getting characters with epilepsy in books, where the whole story isn’t about them coping with epilepsy or being scared their classmates will find out and torment them for it.

And yes, these are absolutely messages that we can still stand to learn as adults. I freely admit that when I was young, my awareness and sensitivity to issues involving race were… cringe-worthy. And that’s putting it kindly. I was an ignorant piece of crap about a lot of things. Funny enough, shows having a Token Black Character didn’t actually do much to help educate me. I had to unlearn a lot of bad habits as an adult, and am still learning better habits now. Childhood isn’t the only time to learn these things.

But learning those lessons as a kid makes it so much easier as an adult. Conveying those messages now, normalizing these issues now, is essential to creating a future filled with better adults than we were. Better adults than our parents and grandparents.

People crying out that having transgender characters in video games or black women in wheelchairs on TV shows is just pushing some political agenda have missed the point utterly. The point isn’t to tick off boxes on a diversity checklist. The point isn’t to shove minorities in your face until straight white people are crowded out. The point is that these people exist in the real world, and deserve as much positive representation as the straight white guy, the able-bodied white woman. And the next generation deserves to be prepared for the variety of people they will meet when they go out into the real world, and more importantly, deserves to be told that these people are as valid as themselves, deserve as much respect, and are not to be hated or feared.

Everybody deserve to know that the next generation will not repeat the mistakes of the past. Especially those in that generation.

The messages being pushed aren’t always for now. They’re for later. They’re so that the bad parts of now stop happening, and don’t happen again. They’re so we don’t need to revert to after school specials to tell kids that Indian people don’t smell bad.

(Yes, I actually watched an educational video as a kid, where that was the message. Mostly what it taught me is that there are a lot of people who think people from India smell bad.)

These messages aren’t new. I pretty much proved that when I pointed out that Captain Planet was doing it in the early 90s. The only difference is the topic, but the messages are generally the same. Tolerance. Acceptance. Normalization. Respect.

So maybe simmer the hell down and stop being such asswaffles about it, okay?

 

Starlings, by Jo Walton

Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – January 23, 2018

Summary: In this intimate first collection from award-winning novelist Jo Walton ( Among Others , The King’s Peace , Necessity ) are captivating glimpses of her subtle myths and wholly reinvented realities. An ancient Eritrean coin uncovers the secrets of lovers and thieves. The magic mirror sees all but can do almost nothing. A search engine logically proceeds down the path of an existential crisis. Three Irish siblings thieve treasures with ingenuity, bad poetry, and the aid of the Queen of Cats. Through eclectic stories, intriguing vignettes, inspired poetry, and more, Walton soars with humans, machines, and more than a hint of magic.

Review: It’s no secret at this point that I’m a huge fan of Jo Walton’s work, and I pretty much devour any of her writing that I can get my hands on. Starlings is her first collection of short fiction (and a few poems), and while she says she’s no good at that form of story-telling, I’d have to disagree. I wouldn’t say that the stories in Starlings is as good as some of her longer works, mind you, but that’s a far cry from not being good at all.

Like with any collection of short fiction, be it from multiple authors or just one, some pieces I like more than others. That’s to be expected, any as I say in just about any review of anthologies or collections, a lot of it comes down to personal taste rather than an indication of quality. I think the best example of this for me was the story, The Panda Coin, which is largely a collection of snippets from a multitude of different perspectives, detailing the happenings of people who have a particular coin in their possession at the time. Though not a hugely original idea, it was still well-written and interesting to see the diverse cast of characters that the coin passes to and from over time, but in the end it really didn’t stick with me as being one of the more memorable pieces. Just wasn’t to my taste, I suppose.

Others, though, absolutely were to my taste, and three in particular really made a lasting impression on me. A Burden Shared, for instance, features a mother who uses technology to take her daughter’s pain so that her daughter can better navigate through life without being beaten down by disability. It’s an exploration of the lengths that a parent will go to, and that they feel they ought to go to, in order to give their child the best chance at a successful life. But in doing so, the mother overlooks pain of her own that signals deadly illness in her own body, thinking it to be a sign of something wrong with her daughter rather than her own body’s way of communicating that there’s a problem. To me, it was a story not just of parental sacrifice, but a subtle warning about giving too much of ourselves and overlooking our own issues in the process of trying to make things better for someone else.

Turnover was the story of a generation ship, filled with people on their way to another planet. Being a generation ship, though, some people there had never experienced life outside the ship, and as such, a culture had developed that was rather specific to ship life, with art and expression and lifestyles that simply wouldn’t be possible once the ship arrived at their destination. It was a piece that really got me thinking about culture and intent, and how what we seek now isn’t necessarily going to be what the next generation seeks, even if our intent is to give them what we think they will want. Cultures and subcultures spring up around us all the time, with goals that are just as valid and worthwhile as the goals of the people who came before. Turnover questions the value of multi-generational intent and asks us whether it’s better to let some people go their own way even if that goes against the original plan, if those people don’t want to be part of a plan they had no say in.

But I think my favourite story in the whole collection was Relentlessly Mundane, which is about three people who once went to another world and saved it from certain doom. With their task complete, they returned to this world, and now have to live the rest of their lives as mundanely as the rest of us. Only it’s harder for them, because they know they were saviours in another world, special and lauded and with abilities that just don’t exist here, and so there’s a sense of trying and failing to recapture one’s glory days, making pale reflections of something to remind you that you were once great, once a hero, and now you’re just another face in the crowd. The story ends with them possibly being given the chance to become somebody here, too, or to help other people become somebodies elsewhere, which is an uplifting note to be sure, but what stuck with me the most was the sense of faded potential. Most of the time people express that at the end of life, but the characters in Relentlessly Mundane were adults in their prime, and already feeling like the best parts of their lives were over because they had a taste of glory and now that taste is just a memory. It really resonated with me, as did the pervasive feeling that where the characters are isn’t where they want to be, where they feel they should be.

Walton certainly does have skill at evoking and capturing emotions that I don’t always quite realize are within me until I see them laid bare on paper. I’ve only encountered a few authors who have done that, and she is most definitely one of them.

While there were some phenomenal stories within this collection, it’s not one that I feel I can really recommend to general SFF fans. This one’s more for people who are already fans of Walton’s work and want to see more of what she can do with a different medium. If you do like her writing, then absolutely pick up a copy of Starlings and dive into her collection of thought experiments with glee, the way I did. If you haven’t encountered her work before, though, this isn’t the best way to do it, and I’d recommend passing on it until you know if you like what she does, first.

(Received in exchange for review.)

In the Vanishers’ Palace, by Aliette de Bodard

Buy from Amazon.com or B&N

Author’s website | Publisher’s website
Publication date – October 16, 2018

Summary: In a ruined, devastated world, where the earth is poisoned and beings of nightmares roam the land…

A woman, betrayed, terrified, sold into indenture to pay her village’s debts and struggling to survive in a spirit world.

A dragon, among the last of her kind, cold and aloof but desperately trying to make a difference.

When failed scholar Yên is sold to Vu Côn, one of the last dragons walking the earth, she expects to be tortured or killed for Vu Côn’s amusement.

But Vu Côn, it turns out, has a use for Yên: she needs a scholar to tutor her two unruly children. She takes Yên back to her home, a vast, vertiginous palace-prison where every door can lead to death. Vu Côn seems stern and unbending, but as the days pass Yên comes to see her kinder and caring side. She finds herself dangerously attracted to the dragon who is her master and jailer. In the end, Yên will have to decide where her own happiness lies—and whether it will survive the revelation of Vu Côn’s dark, unspeakable secrets…

Review: When I first heard this novella described as a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, only with two women, and also with a heaping spoonful of Vietnamese mythology, I was sold. Over the past while, I’ve learned that I really enjoy fairy tale retellings, and long-time friends likely already know that I love positive LGBTQA+ representation in media, so I was on board with what de Bodard had to offer here.

In the Vanishers’ Palace tells the story of Yên, who is given by her village to the dragon Vu Côn, as payment for Vu Côn’s healing magics. She expects to be killed, but instead of given the task of educating Vu Côn’s children, Thông and Liên. Which doesn’t seem like such a terrible thing, and definitely a lot worse than her expected demise, but living gives Yên time and opportunity to reflect on her feelings for Vu Côn. Feeling which the dragon reciprocates. But disaster looms, and everything threatens to fall apart when secrets are dragged into the light and things are revealed to not be all they seem.

I love the world in this story, inasmuch as anyone can love a ruined post-apocalyptic world. The reader is plopped down in the middle of it and expected to pick up things along the way, which honestly, is the best way of doing things. No, “Long ago, the Vanishers broke the world,” here. It makes for a bit of confusion in the early pages, but it’s a quick adjustment. Yên’s world is one of rot and destruction, of fear and ruin and scarcity, where gene-twisting diseases run rampant and danger lurks beyond the city limits. And the characters are all very much products of their world, shaped by the way life and society had to adapt and move and survive once the old ways were gone.

I’ll say here that one of the things that appealed to me about the world in which In the Vanishers’ Palace takes place is the way it doesn’t just feel like a world of thin metaphor for current problems in North America. I’ve read about enough post-apocalyptic worlds over the years to become familiar with common tropes, the general feel of how many writers envision the world after a cataclysm. And this is nothing like most of those worlds. Perhaps it’s because of the Vietnamese cast and cultural influences, which, rather than feeling superficially exotic, come across as breath of fresh air when compared to so many stale cookie-cutter post-apocalyptic worlds encountered elsewhere.

So much of this novella centres on healing and choice. Paraphrasing one of the characters, there’s always a choice. The choices might not be great ones, but there’s always a choice. And with choice comes the need to accept consequences, regardless of intent. Thông and Liên attempt to heal a very sick man without Vu Côn’s knowledge, believing they’ll have success and will have brought a bit of life back to someone and maybe found a new way to heal others… and it goes very badly. Their intentions were good, but the result was bad, and they had to live with and atone for the consequences of their choices. Vu Côn was forced to confront the consequences of her choice to make use of Yên’s scholarship to tutor her children, and her inaction in noting Yên’s illness and attempting to heal her. Yên made mistakes, and learned from them, and let that learning change her, and sometimes things worked out and sometimes they didn’t, but she always had her ideas of what should happen and tried her best to make those ideas a reality.

I loved that about Yên, really: she was determined and headstrong and wanted what she wanted, and she wasn’t about to let circumstance stop her from trying. In that was she was a great counterpart to the more reserved Vu Côn. Interestingly, it was headstrong Yên who was more concerned with traditional duty, and cool Vu Côn who was more of a transgressor, doing things because she felt they needed to be done rather than “the way things were done,” so to speak.

I mentioned healing being a central theme, and in this, I don’t just mean the obvious illnesses that Vu Côn heals (or attempts to heal), though that is part of it. Primarily I think of Thông and Yên. Thông must come to grips with a side of themself that they fear and hate, a side which is also feared and hated by others. There’s good reason for that fear, and a loss of self-control could prove deadly. In reading Thông, I felt they were a character with a deep soul wound, one caused by their nature warring with what they wanted to be. In Yên’s case, she was living with her heart in two different worlds, a self-divided, and in the end that proved to be a very literal thing indeed. They both had deep conflicts that needed to be resolved in order to fully heal.

And this healing doesn’t come about by the end of the novella. It’s not some neat pat ending where every single problems is nicely resolved. Trauma doesn’t go away so easily, and I like that the ending wasn’t some saccharine “happily ever after.” It was about as happy as it could be, all things considered, but it was made very clear that the journey isn’t over for these characters, that they still have work to do and healing to accomplish, but that they’ve started on that path.

There’s so much to enjoy about In the Vanishers’ Palace. Marginalized representation across multiple areas, brilliant writing, characters I loved reading about and sitting on the shoulders of. If you haven’t read any of Aliette de Bodard’s writing before, I consider this a wonderful introduction to her work, an excellent taste of the creativity and skill she brings to the table.

(Received in exchange for review.)

The Past Year in a Nutshell

It occurs to me that some people who are happy to see this blog return and/or who might be interested in reading it don’t necessarily follow me on Twitter or Facebook. And if they only follow me on Twitter, well, I’ve been pretty absent from there, too. Unless you’ve kept up with me on Facebook, you may have absolutely no clue what’s happening in my life.

So, to catch people up!

I attended the University of Prince Edward Island from September 2017 to May 2018, and I freaking loved it! I was doing damn well, too! My lowest grade in any class was 73%, my highest was 92%, and I finished the year with an average across all classes of 83.67%. I was looking forward to going back this fall…

But that wasn’t to be.

You see, the “fun” part about renting your home is that you’re subject to the whims of your landlords. Yes, there are laws in place to prevent them from doing whatever they want to you, but… This summer, the landlords decided they wanted to sell the house we were renting. This doesn’t automatically mean we had to move out, but it did mean people would be traipsing through our home sometimes, which we weren’t happy about.

We also weren’t happy about the fact that our landlords issued us a termination of lease based on the fact that a realtor told another realtor that our place smelled like cat pee.

Nor were we happy that the landlords didn’t even actually use the correct way of terminating our lease. Or that they didn’t investigate before issuing it to us.

We have a strong suspicion that the truth of the matter is that nobody wanted to buy a home with tenants already in place. For us to be evicted because the house was being sold, we would have to be given 2 months’ notice, and the house would have to be sold to family of the landlords who intended to live in this house and sign an affidavit attesting to that. They can’t just kick us out because they want to sell the house.

They can, however, say that we didn’t keep the place clean enough, which is what they did. Even though multiple people said it didn’t smell like cat pee.

So we started looking for a new place to live in the area. Unfortunately, despite Summerside, PEI, being a city with almost nothing in it, people there wanted ridiculously high rent for their properties. We couldn’t afford anything. At least, we couldn’t afford anything that was actually large enough for 2 people plus cats.

A difficult decision had to be made.

Ultimately, what we decided was that Rachel would stay in Summerside, because that was where she worked. That made sense. But for the safety and health of myself and the cats, I would move back to the city we came from in the first place.

Rachel lives rent-free in a friend’s spare room, something we are endlessly grateful for. I and the cats live in an apartment that Rachel pays for, because Rachel’s the one with an actual job. It’s 5 minutes walk from the city centre, and costs $795 a month with heat, lights, and water included. My comparison, the house we rented in Summerside cost $800 a month with nothing included. It was bigger, yes, but it cost so much more. We pay $135 a month for a storage room here to keep all out extra stuff, and we’re still saving money compared to what we paid before.

This is why I’m not going back to university this year. Between the panic of the house selling and being told we had to leave and trying to find a new place and then actually having to move to another province, there was no time or energy left to apply at the local university and transfer my credits and apply for student loans… It was just too much.

Did I mention that all of this mess started less than 24 hours after Rachel and I announced we were in a romantic relationship? Oh. Because that happened too!

So now we’re in a long-distance romantic relationship after barely having a moment to figure out just what this new relationship dynamic even means.

Rachel’s looking for work in this city so that we can be together, or at the very least much closer to this city than things stand right now. As it is, we can afford to see each other one weekend every few weeks, because we have no car and bus tickets aren’t exactly cheap. I plan to go back to university once life calms the heck down somewhat and I get my ducks in a row regarding funding and applications and the like.

In the meantime, I’m here with my cats, missing my partner, and trying to put anger at what was done to us behind me so that I can move on. My mental health is still on the same shaky ground it always is. my physical health is… wonky (I still can’t absorb B12, I’m nearly always in some kind of pain, I have a fungal skin problem that doesn’t seem to want to entirely go away, and an unpleasant infected wound on my foot, so… yeah). Life isn’t exactly great, and it got this way in only a few short months.

But. But I still have my books, and my video games, and my cats, and I have a romantic relationship with somebody awesome, so it’s not like all is hopeless. I learned that I do well in the academic setting. I actually made some new friends, which surprised the heck out of me! Being back in Saint John, I actually feel like I have some creative motivation for the first time in 3 years (I seriously think PEI wanted us gone; by the end, we could barely coax flowers to grow in the back garden, and the lilies didn’t even bloom until we’d moved out). Things will get better. I have to hope for that.

So, now you’re caught up. People who follow me on Facebook already know all of this, but for those who don’t, I hope you’ve, um, enjoyed this snapshot glimpse into my life while I was away.

So…

Today, while browsing my local bookstore, I saw this:

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This is the book I chose as my finalist for 2016-2017 Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. No longer quite so self-published at this point, as it was picked up by a traditional publisher between then and now.

Inside, I saw this in the acknowledgments.

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Seeing my name in the acknowledgments section of a book was just… It was an incredibly humbling feeling, and yet also a proud one, to know that something I did helped someone achieve their goals. I made a difference. Whatever else I did in my life, I did that one little thing that helped. I passed along a book to other people, and said, “Hey, read this. It’s good”

Which, in many ways, is what the SPFBO is about.

It made me think about the reasons I got into reviewing books in the first place, and why I kept doing it for so many years. I took breaks along the way, but I kept coming back to it, over and over, because I loved doing it.

Last year, I stopped reviewing. I closed down the blog. I was done. Too much stress, too many things, and shortly after I made that announcement, I got accepted to university. Maybe it really was just the right time to close one chapter, maybe even close the book, and move on with my life. That’s certainly what I thought.

Now? Things have changed again. I’ve moved; I’m back in the city where I first started blogging all those years ago. I’m in a relationship now. I had to drop university (though I do plan on continuing, but after the hell that was this past summer — that is, getting evicted and fighting that eviction and having to move to another province and being separated from my partner while simultaneously trying to figure out our newfound relationships — now just isn’t the time). And what do I find myself thinking of?

Reviewing. It always comes back to reviewing.

I’ve still been reviewing. I still review things on Amazon, and I’ve been intermittently reviewing video games on my Quadnines blog, so it seems that reviewing is just a thing that I do now. I can’t help it. I enjoy it. I’m drawn to telling strangers my opinion on the Internet.

So maybe Bibliotropic’s end was only the closing of a chapter, and not the whole book. Maybe there’s more of the story to tell.

Well, of course there is. That’s why this post is here.

I still enjoy books. I still read books. I still have opinions on books. And I feel, for the first time in years, that there’s properly room in my life to do this again.

Get ready, folks, because I’m back, and I’m comin’ atcha!

Roll Credits

I’ve agonized over this for way too long. It’s time to finish it.

It’s over. Done.

No more Bibliotropic.

I know, I did this before. And I came back. And to be honest, I came back for the wrong reasons. I started reviewing again because I was tired of people making “funny” little comments about oh, you said you weren’t going to review anymore, I guess you just couldn’t stay away, hahaha. Only I’d said even then that I’d probably still write full reviews now and again, when a particular book struck me as something I really wanted to talk about. It would just be very uncommon, maybe once a month, and that’s exactly what it was. Until I tired of the comments and just figured fine, I’ll just start writing more reviews again so people can stop saying those things.

It was the wrong reason to do a thing.

I started this blog over 7 years ago, the idea stemming from the wacky notion that I read books and had thoughts about them, so hey, why not put those thoughts on the Internet? Over time I improved, narrowed my focus, learned better ways to critique. I gained a lot of skill in writing and analysis by just reviewing books. My roommate and fellow writer noticed a big jump in my writing skill after I started reviewing, even though I so rarely have the time or energy to write anymore. What I do write has been improved and refined by seeing what others do, and figuring out what works for me and what doesn’t, and why.

But over the past year or so, I really haven’t been feeling it. I’ve had my health struggles, both physical and mental, and the hardest part of this blog isn’t continuing to read books, but in sitting down and sorting through my thoughts and actually writing the review. Knowing that task is ahead of me makes me enjoy reading less. I think I’d rather just read. And it makes the reviews themselves that much harder to write; even when I’ve finished saying all I can think of to say in a review, I still feel that I haven’t done a good job, that I’m being unclear or repetitive or just giving less than my best, even when I’m doing as well as I can. It’s not the level it used to be, and I know it, and thanks to struggles with mental illness, seeing the lackluster reviews I’ve been putting out these days is just… It makes it harder, knowing that I used to do better. Each accomplishment is still a reminder that I’m still not as good as I once was.

Add to that the feeling that I’ve become increasingly irrelevant… I was never particularly relevant, if I’m being completely honest. I wasn’t some breakaway hit, some blogging star. I was just one in a crowd. And that was fine. I didn’t necessarily want to be the centre of attention. But I always felt that slight bite of envy when I’d see bloggers who started after I did get further in the field, growing their blogs so much more quickly, going from reviewing to getting proper paid work within the publishing industry. That isn’t to say none of them deserved it or worked for it; every person I know who did that had and has skill, and they’ve earned what they’ve gained. I don’t wish that any of them didn’t have that, and I wish them the best with turning what they’ve learned into excellent and enjoyable ways to pay the bills. But some of it is also the luck of placement; just about every one of them is in the US or the UK, where major book-related stuff happens, and with me not being in either of those places… Let’s just say that plenty of people want a Britpicker or a set of US eyes proofreading their books, but there’s not much call for someone to check for accuracy in Canadian English. Most people writing books set in Canada are already in Canada themselves and so know how we speak and spell, and we either get British or US editions of books anyway and just deal with the spelling and dialect differences as we go.

I feel like I peaked a while ago, and that any work I put into the blog from here on out isn’t actually going to yield anything. Not in building skills or contacts or employment or anything like that.

I used to hate this mentality so much. My father, when I first started doing this, asked me a few times what doing the blog was going to get me. Would it get me a job in publishing? Would it get me paid work? What was my goal for it? What was it worth to others to have me writing reviews? And I told him that wasn’t the point, that I was doing reviews as a hobby, because I enjoyed doing them, and really, I still stand by that. I didn’t start this with the intent of climbing up some publishing-industry ladder. That, like other stuff I mentioned, isn’t always a good reason to do a thing.

But where I stand, I have to admit, it’s not going anywhere else. Not even in a self-contained way. I’m not going to build a bigger audience, I’m not going to get paid work, and the reviews I write are a drop in the bucket compared to bigger bloggers. I don’t say this to be self-pitying, but really, if I stop reviewing, it’s not actually going to make that much difference to anyone. Reviews will keep pouring in from bigger sources with greater readership that will help people more than I can.

Plus, I have the oft-mentioned reviewer problem of having too many books and too little time in which to read them. On one hand, this is awesome and I kind of love it. A lot. Okay, a whole lot. On the other hand, it long ago created a sense of responsibility whereby I feel like I have to read Book X before Book Y, and Book B’s publication date has long passed so the hype’s gone so the review won’t have as big an impact… A lot of the time now I read a book not because I really want to read it, but because I’m interested in it and it’s due out soon. I took a chance on making 2017 the Year of the Backlog, focusing on books that came out before this year so that I had an excuse to read books I’d missed, and it helped a little, but because of the SPFBO I still had that schedule to maintain, and argh, in the end, reading what I had to instead of what I wanted to resulted in one more stress in my life that I feel increasingly incapable of handling.

I feel guilty wanting to take walks to the local library, because I have too many books at home that I should read that I can’t afford the time to borrow something from elsewhere. Seriously, this feeling of responsibility (which I know is entirely something I placed upon myself) has prevented me from taking enjoyable walks on nice days, because I feel too guilty to go where I want to go and do a thing I want to do.

(I never claimed I wasn’t a great big mess…)

And if all that wasn’t enough, that stress is contributing to a great big creativity-vacuum, in which I have ideas for things I’d probably enjoy, but I can’t even summon the energy to give enough of a damn to do them. It’s like… You have 5 heavy things in front of you, and you know you can manage to carry 4, but just knowing you somehow have to carry 5 anyway makes you sit down and stare at the pile, doing nothing, because you’re too preoccupied trying to figure out how you’re supposed to do everything-plus-one.

So all of this combines into a giant mess that really makes me think I’d be better off closing down the blog and stopping doing reviews. I don’t relish it. I wish I had the fortitude to keep going, along with everything else I want to do. And if it wasn’t for the mental health issues, I’d probably be fine to keep going; those 5 things weigh even more than usual when you’re struggling with depression. Take 1 thing off my plate, and the rest of the load becomes something I can handle. And the thing I remove may as well be the one that’s been bringing me the least joy lately.

It’s been a good ride. I regret only that it had to end. I regret none of the experience itself, because I learned so much and met so many wonderful people during this journey.

So with that in mind, I want to take this moment to mention a few people in particular who I feel contributed to me getting this far. Whether they did so intentionally or not.

Jo Walton, for consenting to let an utter newbie do their first author interview with you, and for tolerating how ridiculously awkward those questions were.

Kersten Hamilton, for directing me to NetGalley all those years ago.

Paul Weimer and Sarah Chorn, for rekindling my interest in photography. (And an extra shout-out to Sarah for inspiring me to improve my cooking so that I could make as many delicious things as she does.)

Courtney Schafer, for showing me extra stuff you wrote, even when you didn’t have to, just because you knew I’d like it.

Teresa Frohock, for inadvertently pandering to my love of nephilim in same-sex relationships. (No, seriously, this is absolutely a concept I’ve loved for years and have toyed with writing and RPing multiple times!)

KV Johansen, for all our talk about the similar weather we must endure.

Mark Lawrence, for starting the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off and letting me be a judge in it. (Maybe some year I’ll be brave enough to submit my own work to it.)

Amanda Rutter, for remembering a far-off Canadian on a World Book Night that isn’t actually worldwide, and for the surprise book to celebrate it.

Foz Meadows, for the Supernatural fanfics that I just could not stop reading!

And so many of you for just generally being awesome friends.

If you want to keep in contact, I’ll still be around of Facebook and Twitter. Feel free to add me on either of them. I’ll still be more than happy to talk books and tea and other geekish stuff, and to rant and rave about the stuff I’m reading, and to recommend books to all and sundry. That I won’t be writing reviews here anymore doesn’t mean I’ll be leaving the community entirely. It just means that you’ll probably see me talk more about art projects and my own writing, because now I feel like I have time for them both again.

This feels bittersweet, the closing of a book, and it hurts a little bit to do it. But I really do think it’s best for me right now.

Happy reading,
~ Ria