Have Book, Will Read #27

We’re moving into my favorite season, and I am here for embracing those autumn clichés like long walks on blue sky days to see the changing leaf colors or cozying up with a blanket and a giant mug of tea. And you know what goes well with blankets and tea? Books. Well, warm puppy cuddles, too, but mostly I was going for books. I’ve read some great stuff over the past few months, and it was actually hard to pick which ones I wanted to share. But there’s only so much space in a blog post, so here are my latest book recommendations.

Recent Reads: The supernatural and all the super feels…

First on my list is Elatsoe by Darcie Little Badger. This YA book had been on my to-read list since before it was published; I’m embarrassed it took this long to get around to it! Little Badger’s debut novel has won a long list of awards and accolades, and it deserves them. A tale of family love, teenage friendship, and the pain of cultural and historical erasure, Elatsoe is sweet-natured and deals with some pretty difficult themes in a gentle and thoughtful manner. Plus, ghost dog!

Ellie can summon the ghosts of animals, a skill passed down through her Lipan Apache bloodline. Her family are caretakers of the stories shared from generation to generation, and when Ellie’s cousin is murdered, she draws upon this heritage to solve the case, uncovering a tangled web of greed and dark magic. Ellie —named for her six-great grandmother Elatsoe — is a wonderful protagonist, as is her best friend Jay, and I am always happy to see great boy/girl friendships that don’t need to be pushed over the line into romance.

Stepping away from speculative fiction for a bit, another YA book that had been on my to-read list for a while is Aristotle and Dante Solve the Secrets of the Universe, by Benjamin Alire Sáenz. Sáenz has won recognition both as a novelist and as a poet, and his poetic touch shines through in this book about a Mexican American teen navigating high school, family relationships, identity, and sexuality. Set in 1987, the story starts the summer that fifteen-year-old Aristotle Mendoza meets Dante Quintana at the local pool, sparking a friendship that changes the world for both boys.

This was one I savored rather than devoured, reading a few pages at a time and enjoying the beautiful prose and quiet storytelling. This isn’t a Big Action story; instead, it’s about the small ripples of emotion that feel so huge when we’re young. It’s dialogue and internal thought, it’s rainy days and introspection. It’s about the shared moments that color our lives. This book made me cry in the best sort of way! 

On the non-YA front, I finally read Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, and it’s every bit as delightful as I expected. I loved the TV show and had already heard great things about the novel before the show was made, so I figured it was time to invest in a copy of my own. I’m just sorry it took me so long to get to it — I would have liked to have read it before the show came out, because even though it was a wonderful adaptation, it definitely colored my perception of the story.

For those who haven’t seen the show OR read the book, well, first of all, you should probably fix that. If you’re a fan of cheeky fiction with a side order of the absurd, this story about an angel and a demon who team up to try and prevent the apocalypse from happening because they enjoy life among humanity too much is an absolute treat. Add in a witch who partners with a witch-hunter, a centuries-old book of prophecies, and the young Antichrist and his gang of human friends, and the scene is set for a romp of Biblical proportions. Two thumbs most definitely up.

I’ve read some really great graphic novels lately, and I wanted to give a shout out to Power Up, a deliciously fun work by Kate Leth and Matt Cummings. Diverse in every sort of way imaginable, Power Up brings together three recently-superpowered humans (and one fish) as humanity’s newest and most clueless protectors.

The universe was expecting four champions to emerge, fulfilling an ancient prophecy. Instead, there’s a pet shop employee, a busy mother, a construction worker… and a goldfish. Power Up is lighthearted and honestly adorable, and has some really good supporting characters, too. The edition I read had all six issues of this series in one book.

Now Reading: Fight the good fight!

I saw Fonda Lee talk about her book Zeroboxer at a Worldcon panel, and it’s been on my list ever since. I’m a few chapters into it and really enjoying the punchy (ha!), well-written action and great characters. If you need a great example of how to write about a fictional sport, this is it! The novel follows Carr Luka, a rising star in the weightless combat sport of zeroboxing, as he grows in fame but uncovers a terrible secret that could risk everything that he’s worked so hard to win.

I’m alternating fiction with Never Say You Can’t Survive by Charlie Jane Anders, a book which is part writing craft talk, part inspiration, and part memoir. The tagline on the cover is how to get through hard times by making up stories, and it’s just what I was needing to read right now. I’m just over halfway through, and would definitely recommend it to writers who prefer broader insights over more formal step-by-step advice.

To Read: Who’s the villain here?

Light From Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki was released this week, and I have a copy I preordered that I need to go and pick up from my local indie. I’m really looking forward to this one! It’s pitched by the publisher as “a defiantly joyful adventure set in California’s San Gabriel Valley, with cursed violins, Faustian bargains, and queer alien courtship over fresh-made donuts,” and honestly? It sounds fantastic.

Talking about new books, there’s an upcoming November 2021 release that I’m excited to read. All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman is a sort of villainous Hunger Games, blurbed as “a blood-soaked modern fairytale” where seven families compete for control over a wellspring of magic.

A reminder to readers! I shouldn’t have to say this, but please don’t pirate books. The many, MANY moral considerations aside, it’s simple math: when sales numbers drop, publishers don’t renew contracts, so you end up without being able to read the next great thing by your favorite author. Libraries are a great free resource, or keep an eye out for e-book sales — there’s always a promo, eventually. And if you do have the money to invest in books, please consider ordering from your nearest indie store!

Wishing you all a lovely autumn (or spring, depending on where you are!), and lots of good stories to keep you going in the last stretch of 2021.

Puppy cuddles for everyone!

Have Book, Will Read #25

It’s prime reading time, with snow piled up outside my window and the lure of warm blankets and an equally warm dog to cuddle. After the past year, where my book habits trended more to comfort than new material, it’s been nice getting back to digging away at my to-read list. Hopefully I’ll manage to keep up the momentum!

Recent Reads: Romance, magic, and all that jazz

The Game of Love and Death by Martha Brockenbrough has been sitting on my shelf for a really long time. I’m actually embarrassed by how long it took me to get around to reading it. I’m so glad I finally did! This is a gem of a book, at the same time heart-warming and heart-wrenching. I’m not usually one for crying when I read, but this one managed to make me both smile and shed a few tears.

Brockenbrough’s beautifully written tale is set in 1937, where the immortals Love and Death have gathered for one more round of their eternal game. Their chosen players? Flora, an African American teenager who sings in her family jazz club for a living but dreams of setting world records as an airplane pilot, and seventeen-year-old Henry, a white boy whose path in life has been set in stone by the foster family he lives with, regardless of his love for music. The story switches between four points of view — the unwitting players and the two immortals —plunging us right into the heart of post-Prohibition Seattle.

I can’t talk about Game without mentioning another recent read, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, by V.E. Schwab. Superficially, both books have a lot in common. They both feature immortal beings who play with the humans who fascinate them. They both have ties to the past, though while Game is anchored in the 1930s, Addie skips and jumps through recent centuries, pausing at key moments of history. They both feature love stories, and boys named Henry. But they are also very different books.

While the first one remains, for the most part, tight and focused, Schwab’s book is a sprawling, meandering beauty, dipping in and out of the past as an embroidery needle dives into a vast tapestry. It tells the tale of Addie LaRue, a young French countrywoman from the early 1700s who strikes a bargain with an unnamed power and becomes immortal, yet cursed to always be forgotten. Until she meets, in modern times, a young man who remembers her. Schwab’s prose is, as always, that perfect mixture of lush and sparse, and this was a delight to read.

Forged, the latest title in Benedict Jacka’s urban fantasy series, continues leading Alex Verus down the difficult path he’s been walking for a while now. Hunted by both light and dark mages, and with his girlfriend Anne losing herself to the dangerous entity she’s bonded to, Alex is running out of allies and options if he wants to save himself, his friends, and — most of all — Anne.

I’ve really enjoyed this series, which has only one more book yet to come. It’s been an interesting ride, starting out in Book 1 (Fated) with the near-powerless (in comparison to other mages) diviner Alex and watching him over time carve that power out for himself, while making some rather questionable choices in order to do so. Alex has become very much a grey character, which I honestly kind of love. We are all the heroes of our own stories, but Alex has come to a point in his saga where he’s being forced to take a good hard look and decide if he’s actually a hero, or if he’s becoming what he most feared: a dark mage like his former Master, Richard Drakh.

Now Reading: Teen hero shenanigans

I’ve been watching the Young Justice animated series and, after reading up on the characters, I grew curious about the original comic book run that inspired the TV reboot. I’d read that, despite using some of the same storylines, the TV show has very little else in common with the comics, and now that I’ve been dipping into the Young Justice world, I absolutely agree.

I devoured Young Justice Books 1-4 in a few breathless days and am now finishing up Book 5. While the TV show centers on the first Robin, Dick Grayson, the comics focus on Robin number 3, Tim Drake. The original core three — Robin, Impulse, and Superboy — soon find their team expanding with the addition of Wonder Girl, Arrowette, Secret and, later on, Empress (with Lil’ Lobo as an unofficial member). Their adventures lead us on one wild ride after another, and the books are full of absolute laugh-out-loud moments. I can honestly say I’ve never used the word ‘zany’ in a review before, but that description fits Young Justice perfectly. Delightful.

(And yes, unfortunately I had to read YJ on my phone, as my library’s reading app doesn’t work on my laptop or iPad. Thank goodness for smartphone zoom features!)

To Read: Darkness rising

I’ve been on a library rampage lately and that means I’ve got two more books waiting to be read before their due dates roll around. The first is Paul Cornell’s London Falling, the opening title of his Shadow Police series. I love a good supernatural investigation book, and have heard good things about Cornell’s work, so I’m looking forward to it!

The other one is Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, which I picked up after a post on Tor.com sparked my interest in this award-winning science fantasy novel about necromancy and cut-throat politics. This is the first book in the Locked Tomb trilogy, and I’ve seen it mentioned so many times I figured it was about time I checked it out.

Here’s to hoping you all have some good books set aside to get you through winter (or summer, for those below the equator!). With the current sub-freezing temps in Connecticut, and more snow than anyone except ski resorts could possibly want, I personally need ALL THE BOOKS. Happy reading to all!

Have Book, Will Read #21

It’s 2019! Well, it’s actually been 2019 for a while now, but I haven’t done a book round-up since 2018 so does that mean I get to celebrate New Year’s all over again? No? Ah, well, it was worth a try. *discreetly shoves champagne glass and party streamers under the table*

I actually followed my New Year’s resolution and made a good dent in my to-read list. Okay, who are we kidding, that thing is huge! But I have upped my reading game this year, and it feels good to be back! Here are a few of my favorites from the last couple of months.

Recent Reads: A world tour of mythology.

I’d heard good things about City of Brass, so when I spotted it in my local library, I immediately picked it up. S.A. Chakraborty’s lush fantasy tale starts in the streets of 18th century Cairo and travels to Daevabad, the legendary city of brass, home to the djinn. Beautifully written, and with plenty of twists and turns to keep readers on their feet, I swept through this in a day and a half, absolutely enchanted. 

Another 2018 release that plays with different world mythologies is Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse. Set after a future climate apocalypse has ravaged the USA and the Navajo people have created the magically protected land of Dinétah, the story follows monster hunter Maggie Hoskie on the trail of dark witchcraft and ancient legends reborn. Roanhorse’s prose is swift and fierce, and Maggie is a wonderful character — at the same time flawed and fragile, yet strong as stone.

This next one is a relative oldie compared to the other books in this post, but I’d been wanting to read The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater for a while. I love Stiefvater’s writing style in the Raven Cycle series, and this one has a similar atmospheric allure. However, instead of dusty Virginia roads and rolling hills, we have bracing winds and sea-salt spray, tough island grass and even tougher island people. It plays loosely with the Celtic myth of the water horse, using it to tell a tale of resilience and determination. Very nice.

The Cruel Prince by Holly Black may well end up being one of my favorite books of the year. This dark fairytale has underlying themes of abuse and isn’t afraid to get its hands dirty. The story of a mortal girl, brought up in the land of Faerie among the members of the Royal Court and caught up in the violence and political intrigue that accompanies the fight for the throne, it’s a breathtaking read and I absolutely raced through the pages.

Now Reading: The end of the Shattered Realms.

I’ve only just started Deathcaster by Cinda Williams Chima, last book in the Shattered Realms quartet, but I’m already mourning the end of this series. I was thrilled when, back in 2016, Chima gave readers the chance to dive back into her Seven Realms world with a new quartet of novels, set a generation after The Crimson Crown concluded. It’s been wonderful meeting a whole new cast of characters while enjoying the setting she so beautifully delivered in the previous series.

To Read: It’s all about those sequels…

I have two sequels on my reading list, and I’d like to get to them soon while the previous books are fresh in my mind. Both are the second-in-series of books mentioned above: The Wicked King by Holly Black, and Kingdom of Copper by S.A. Chakraborty. I’m looking forward to jumping back into Black and Chakraborty’s worlds!

How has your reading been so far this year? Any good sci fi or fantasy suggestions? Let me know in the comments!

Happy New Year!

Misty says, “Have a great year!” She also says, “Keep reading! Bring treats!!”

You should…probably do what she says.

The Empyreus Proof: an interview with Bryan Wigmore

TEP cover

If you like your fantasy novels to be gorgeously lyrical and lavishly unique, look no further than the Fire Stealers Sequence by Bryan Wigmore. The first in the series, The Goddess Project, was released in 2017 to great reviews. Snowbooks has just released the sequel, The Empyreus Proof.

Bryan’s complex storytelling takes us on a journey through a fascinating world of magic masquerading as science, where civilizations are poised on the brink of war, and the characters race to find the truth behind the lies they have been living before it is too late. The Empyreus Proof begins shortly after the end of the first novel and introduces new depths to the Fire Stealers mythology, besides broadening the reach of the saga. Bryan joins me on the blog to talk about writing, inspiration, and pesky opinionated otters.

Juliana: Hi Bryan, and welcome! How does it feel to have two books out of the nest and into the wild?

Bryan: Thanks, Juliana. It certainly gives me a bit of a glow to go to visit my Goodreads or Amazon page and see more than one cover there, like a real writer! Coming up to publication, I was a bit nervous about ‘second-book syndrome’, but from early reactions I seem to have avoided that, which is a relief.

Juliana: Talk to me about your stunning cover art. Did you have any say in the process?

Bryan: Yes, I worked quite closely with Emma Barnes of Snowbooks on the cover. I was originally trying to come up with something that suggested a journey, and a city (both the 1900-style one of Bismark, and the other world of the Shining Ones), but that proved way too ambitious. Almost in desperation, I thought of a lion-head door knocker, which both features in the book and links symbolically to other elements (a lion is one of the two Empyreal animals, for example). And when Emma found the brilliant photo and worked the design around it, I was absolutely thrilled with it. I still am.

Juliana: Which of your characters gives you the most trouble? And why? And who is the easiest to write?

Bryan: Probably the two I have to think most about are Orc and Geist. Geist is older and more experienced and impressive than I am, so I have to consciously embiggen my psyche when I write him. And Orc is sometimes difficult because he can be a bit nebulous, especially in this second book when his identity crisis deepens. Easiest without a doubt is Tashi. I just seem to fall into his character, and his viewpoint voice changes without my having to think about it. Surprisingly for someone brought up to suppress emotion, he seems to speak everything with so much feeling.

Juliana: I think one of the biggest themes in your work is identity, with characters struggling to find out who they are (quite literally in some cases) and what is their place in the world. Why the fascination with this issue?

Bryan: It probably comes from two sources. One is that (it seems to me) I didn’t develop a strong sense of identity as a teenager, the classic time for doing so. It’s still not as fully formed as I imagine other people’s to be. I suppose ever since I’ve been wondering if that is a good or bad thing, and what it might feel like to have a well-developed sense of self, or even whether other people have as much of one as I think. Plus, for a long time I was fascinated by questions of large-scale identity: where we come from, what our existence means (if anything) and so on. That explains why many of my characters have both things going on, to some extent: the personal identity issues and the existentialist ones. I am amazed more of them don’t go insane.

Juliana: Although I loved the novel, I was sorry that in The Empyreus Proof we didn’t get the amazing diving scenes from The Goddess Project. Do you aim to get Orc back into the sea eventually?

Bryan: Cass certainly gets back in the sea in the third book, and discovers things there that she really would rather not know. I do aim to get Orc back in the water, too, but the water might be fresh rather than salt. I’m happy there was a break, though – I loved writing the diving scenes, but the dramatic possibilities of freediving aren’t infinite, and I felt I’d come close to overdoing it in the first book. (Though readers have told me otherwise!)

Juliana: Your character Otter, an animath and one of the ‘Fire Stealers’, is easily a fan favorite. (He even has his own Twitter account (@fire_stealer) and can usually be lured online with generous offers of salmon.) The Fire Stealers have clear shamanic ties, but where did the inspiration for Otter in particular come from? Or did he spring ready-formed from your world’s ‘psychosphere’?

Bryan: No, he sprang ready-formed from my own shamanic exercises, though ‘my’ Otter doesn’t speak. Actually his voice came about when I was instant-messaging a friend over ten years ago. I started chatting as Otter, and his irreverent voice came naturally. I carried it over into the books.

Juliana: Where do Orc, Cass, and Co. go from here? Are there any spoiler free details you can give us for the next book in the series?

Bryan: The next book, The Mandala Praxis, largely takes place in a land that hasn’t been visited in either of the first two books, and the crew get involved in the resolutions of a decades-long plan to change the world. All six Fire Stealers will make an appearance, as well as two other, much larger animaths that are more powerful, and more dangerous to their humans, than any before.

Juliana: Are you working on anything else right now?

Bryan: Yes, in tandem with The Mandala Praxis, I’m writing Earthwyrms (which is probably the series name), a young adult novel about a group of teenage environmental activists battling a cabal of black magic users trying to poison the land’s energy matrix.

Juliana: Wow! That sounds amazing! So, what are some of the things that inspire your novels? Movies, music, books, art, places… anything goes!

Bryan: It seems to be split between Japanese games and anime, for example Final Fantasy VII and Fullmetal Alchemist, and non-fiction books. Three of the latter that have influenced the Fire Stealers series have been Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae, Karl Theweleit’s Male Fantasies, and Ken Wilber’s Up From Eden. But I don’t think my books are as highbrow as theirs!

Juliana: One for fun — if you could spend a week in any of the locations in your Fire Stealers novels, what would you choose? And who or what would you bring along for company?

Bryan: From the two books so far, I think it must be the island in The Goddess Project. Ancient sites to explore, underwater ruins to freedive in, forests of maritime pines to wander in — it sounds ideal! I’d take Otter, of course, a couple of friends, and a robot butler to keep the picnic tables loaded.

Juliana: That sounds like a good choice. Of course, any place with Otter in it is bound to be entertaining… Bryan, thanks for sharing your answers, and congratulations on the new book!

 

Add The Empyreus Proof to Goodreads and find buying options here.

Follow Bryan on Twitter @Bryan_Wigmore.