Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones

I read this book for Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon, and I’m very glad I did. I first heard about the book on Twitter (I think), and after reading the summary I immediately added it to my Goodreads TBR list. It’s a YA fantasy about a young Bavarian woman who goes underground and gets into a deal with the Goblin King.

I absolutely loved this book, even if I did find the wink-wink nudge-nudge references to the movie Labyrinth a little too on the nose. There was also this great sentence where not one, but two Evanescence songs are referenced:

My Immortal and Bring Me To Life. Yegads.

Music plays a large part in this book, as both Liesl and her brother are musicians. Liesl is also a composer in her own right, even if it takes her most of the book to figure out. Music is what ties her and the Goblin King together. There are references to actual pieces of music, music that I can only imagine since it doesn’t exist in the real world (though I was hoping the author had commissioned a work from a modern composer to go with the book!), and then the Goblin King was also referred to as the Erlkonig, which is an earworm by Schubert. The book demanded I make a playlist of it, though I didn’t, since I had other books to read before the 24 hours were up.

My heart was aching by the time the book comes to a close. There’s something I love about a doomed romance that the parties try to stoke from ember to a small flame, but it ends up sputtering out regardless. I loved the atmosphere of the Underground, I loved the twins (I’m sorry, I’m completely blanking on the names of everyone right now), who reminded me of the white-faced women in Netflix’s version of A Series of Unfortunate Events. I loved the references to Rossetti’s “The Goblin Market.”

Overall I just loved it. Even if “Der Erlkonig” will not get out of my head.

 

 

I also found this post on the author’s blog about the origins of the story. I haven’t read it yet, but I really should.

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Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon #2 Masterpost

It’s that time again! Tomorrow I’ll be participating in Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon, and I couldn’t be more excited…well, I’m about as excited as I’d be for anything else, but given my default state of ennui, that’s pretty impressive. Back in April, during the last readathon, I was able to make progress on an audiobook and finish one physical book. I’m hoping maybe I can stay up the entire 24 hours and finish two books, even. This time, I won’t have a Pathfinder game to GM in the morning, nor will I have housemates to distract me (apart from Cecil), so I’m ready to go straight into this.

My plans are to read Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones and My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix, with interludes of Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older on audiobook. This is the post where I’ll be updating with pictures and thoughts, but I’ll also be updating on Twitter @maisondedemence

Watch this space! This is where I’ll be posting my challenge entries as well as general thoughts.

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Hour 0 Opening Survey

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? Washington D.C.
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? My Best Friend’s Exorcism since I don’t read enough horror (even though it’s my favorite)
3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? Like last time, I have so much Goldfish. And tea.
4) Tell us a little something about yourself! I’m settling in to my first apartment by myself and having the best time decorating.
5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to? I’m going to try and read for the full 24 hours. And finish more than one book.

Book and Beverage Challenge for The Book Monsters!

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Reading Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones and finishing up my first cup of coffee!

Hour 8. 

Well, I finally finished reading Wintersong. I loved that book and I’m so glad I was able to read it all in one go. I’ll write a longer review tomorrow, hopefully (and it’s been a while since I’ve written a review, isn’t it?). Onto the next one. In the meantime, here’s some more photos from other challenges!

The Reading Women’s #ReadMoreWomen challenge: I posted a picture of books I enjoyed by women of color.

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My rendition of Mister B. Gone by Clive Barker for Outlandish Lit’s #CoverFromMemory Halloween Edition challenge

Hour 12  Mid-Event Survey:
1. What are you reading right now?
My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix
2. How many books have you read so far?
One
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?
It’s gonna be a surprise since I didn’t plan this far.
4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?
Not too many interruptions. Just to get food and check Twitter. Or making sure Cecil’s not eating anything he shouldn’t be.
5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?
I feel like I have the hang of it now. It’s so much easier now that I’m living by myself with fewer distractions. TweetDeck has been helping me keep track of everything, as well.

Just One More Thing’s  Decades of Reading Mini-Challenge I decided to list three books (for my three decades I’ve been around) that have essentially changed my life. Well, except the 90s because the literal act of learning to read changed my life.

1990s My First Little House Picture Book series (Not going to lie, I had to call my mother to remember that…) http://www.kidsbookseries.com/my-first-little-house-picture-books/?more=1

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2000s Tithe by Holly Black

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2010s Lost Souls by Poppy Z. Brite

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Hour 21

Oh man, I think I might actually make it the whole 24 hours! I’m finishing up I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone by Stephanie Kuehnert, hopefully in the next half hour, and then I’ll be doing something easy. I want to mix it up a little, since two of the books I’ve read for this event have been music-related. Or drugs-related. When 8am comes around, I’m going to have the nicest sleep ever.

Hour 24 Closing Survey!
1. Which hour was most daunting for you? Honestly, Hour 23 was pretty rough. I kept realizing my eyes were closed.
2. Tell us ALLLLL the books you read! Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones; My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix; I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone by Stephanie Kuehnert; Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (not done yet)
3. Which books would you recommend to other Read-a-thoners? All of them! I enjoyed them each in their own way.
4. What’s a really rad thing we could do during the next Read-a-thon that would make you smile? Video checkins maybe?
5. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? Would you be interested in volunteering to help organize and prep? I’m definitely going to do this again. I don’t know if I can volunteer yet, but maybe one day.

Leigh Bardugo Signing @ Politics & Prose

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I went to Politics & Prose tonight for Leigh Bardugo’s The Language of Thorns signing. This book is a collection of fairy and folk tales from her fictional world, from Ravka and beyond. It’s illustrated by Sara Kipin, and from the glimpses I’ve gotten from the inside–I want the illustrations to be a surprise–they’re very beautiful. Have I mentioned on this blog how special Ms Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone trilogy is to me? Well, it is, and she’s one of my two favorite YA authors.

I got there around 45min before the event started to get some of the Grisha-themed food they had at The Den, which is Politics & Prose’s cafe. I had the Through the Woods sangria and the Karina’s Orange Blossom Cake. Both were delicious. While I loved that there were themed alcoholic drinks, the biggest audience was underage, and they only had one non-alcoholic themed drink. They ran out.

There were so many people there, which was actually kind of fun, if not sweaty. Even getting there with plenty of time to spare, the seating was already taken up, and I was kind of toward the back. That was okay though, since I’ve been to a signing with Ms. Bardugo before, and I could hear just fine with the microphones. I think there were some bitter feelings though from others, which I totally get.

I was really happy to see so many teenagers there, since most of the time I only see adult YA fans. Of course, my cynical heart had to eyeroll at a couple of people, but I’ll keep the reasons why to myself. I chatted a little bit with some women around me, and felt good to talk about the characters in the books. Like asking, “Wait, isn’t that where Jesper’s dad is from?” and people knowing who I was talking about was a fairly unique experience. I rarely get to talk books with people because all my reader friends and I read different things.

The talk was really good, and so were a lot of the audience questions. I don’t remember a lot of what was talked about, though. I enjoyed it a lot, though. Although I think I just narrowly missed some spoilers for Crooked Kingdom, which I’m in the middle of reading right now.

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Afterwards was the signing. Pre-orders of the book came with tickets for getting the book signed, and I was in the second group.

So I had a really great time. Really enjoyed myself, and now I’m going to see how mad my cat is at me for not being home to feed him AT SIX.

Baltimore Book Festival

20170923_134626So on Saturday, I went up to Baltimore to check out the Baltimore Book Festival. I hadn’t planned on going until Friday night, I saw that Lara Elena Donnelly was going to be there. She wrote Amberlough, which I bought the day it was published but haven’t touched it since, even though it checks all my boxes. I scribbled out a quick plan that night and went today!

The weather was hotter than usual, and the sun made an unwelcome appearance, but I guess that’s my fault for expecting the weather to cooperate with the seasons. It was in the Inner Harbor this year. I don’t know when it moved there since the last time I went was in 2010, and it was at…someplace a bit more north of that.

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The first place I hit up was the Radical Bookfair Pavilion where there was a panel about transgender issues. I actually caught the very tail end of the presentation, so I don’t know what was discussed. I picked up the presenter’s book though, You’re In the Wrong Bathroom: And 20 Other Myths and Misconceptions about Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming People by Laura Erickson-Schroth and Laura A. Jacobs. Ms Erickson-Schroth and I had a nice conversation as well while she was signing the book for me. That tent had a bunch of really cool-sounding panels about social justice and race and things like that. Probably because it was hosted by Red Emma’s, Baltimore’s anarchy/communist bookstore.

I got some crepes for sustenance (ha!) and they were delicious. Then, I stopped by the Maryland Romance Writers tent because there were some interesting sounding “craft of writing” panels, but when I got there, the discussion wasn’t really holding my attention.

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Then, I went to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America tent. I sat in on a panel about creating “secondary worlds,” which I learned is the term for worlds that aren’t our own that we make up. Pretty entertaining. I asked a question about discerning just how much of your world-building legwork you should share with the readers before it gets distracting. The general consensus was that any fact about the world should perform double duty. Not only should it say something about the world, but also about either the character or the plot. I thought that was pretty good advice, actually. Oh, and there was this really annoying man who kept interrupting the panel by walking past the tent with his big speaking screaming about Jesus.

After that, I got Amberlough signed, and Ms Donnelly and I chatted a little bit. It was really nice. At both signings, I got complements on my green velvet blazer, which was a pain to wear, but at least I looked really good.

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Not pictured, the beer I knocked over with my foot while taking this picture. 

I didn’t stay too long because of the heat, and I really wasn’t in the mood for browsing around. I even only bought one book. There were also a lot of Jehovah’s Witness tents set up, which was a little off-putting. There was also a good number of tents set up by people with self-published books, which always depress me for probably classist reasons, but also compassionate ones. I feel for them.

I’m glad I went though. There was mead for sale.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Oh look, another Katherine author! I think I heard about this book watching one of Simon Savidge’s YouTube videos, and he was talking about how it was based on Russian fairy tales. While I don’t really care much for fairy tales at the moment (for the same reason I don’t care much for Harry Potter at the moment), I am absolutely in a Russia phase. I love reading stuff about old Imperial Russia and even modern Soviet Russia. As I’ve mentioned, I ran a Pathfinder campaign in a St. Petersburg-esque city-state called Aleksony.

This book does nothing terribly unique in terms of plot, but I found it incredibly engaging. I liked how Arden handled the passage of time, and the fact that I haven’t read too many Russian-based fantasy stories, aside from Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse. I liked Vasya, the main character, even though she doesn’t seem to be much different from any other plucky headstrong young woman. But that didn’t really bother me. I liked how even though there is a kiss, there’s not much of a romance. There’s a bit of Frollo-Esmeralda-ness going on with Father Konstantin, but I loved how that was done. He wasn’t rewarded, and I’m still not convinced he’s a villain. I really appreciated Vasya’s relationship with her brother Alyosha and her half-sister Irina. Arden also makes Anna, who is described on the blurb as a kind of wicked stepmother, sympathetic. She’s not evil–she has the sight and is frightened.

The only thing I was really annoyed by in this book was 1) the usage of the word “wet” as a noun. Mostly because I never use wet as a noun. It’s either wetness or dampness or even damp if pressed. And 2) there was a little editing mistake where the narrator mentions a character by name even though Vasya hasn’t learned his name yet. Oops!

Really excellent, enjoyable read.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while. Three of my friends from my undergrad book club had read it, and it was just sitting on my shelf mocking me, and I didn’t want to be left out of any more discussions. FOMO is a great motivator to read, isn’t it?

This book is kind of labeled as steampunk, but that’s not really the focus of it. The steampunk comes in minor details like the airships or the bridge technology. What this book is really about is Maia, a young half-goblin half-elf, who becomes emperor of [LAND] after his father and all of his half-brothers die in a tragic airship accident. What follows is a delicious story of court intrigue and…not much else.

Alright, so I really loved this book, but there is a lot that’s not “good” by any stretch of the imagination. There’s very little conflict aside from Maia’s naivete, having been raised on the outskirts of [LAND] by a distant cousin after his mother, the ex-empress passes away. And what conflict there is, is episodic and easily resolved. You’ll also notice my use of [LAND] because for the life of me, I can’t keep all these four-syllable words and names straight. I mean, I got the names eventually, but I had a hard time figuring out what each jurisdiction (for lack of a better word) was and who related to what. There’s a much-needed glossary in the back. My poor friend listened to the book on audio and didn’t have the appendix, so she had to borrow another friend’s hard copy. Now, even though it’s a bit discombobulating–you really get dunked into the middle of everything, and you know even less about the culture than Maia does–you eventually get the gist of things.

One aspect I really wish Addison had touched upon was the race relations between goblins and elves. You get a vague sense of things, such as people calling Maia a hobgoblin derisively, so you suspect that elves think they’re better than goblins, but that’s about it. The Great Avar, the leader of the goblins, comes to visit Maia in the palace, and there’s no sniggering about the “barbarians” or incredulousness at goblin customs. Heck, the goblins are a black-skinned people, while the elves are pure white! Which is tired and uncreative, but should at least be a touchstone for expecting racism. I dunno, maybe Addison felt like she wasn’t equipped to handle writing a mixed-race person’s experience of race, but maybe she should have made some different choices in her story then. Because, like it or not, she’s suggested that racism and prejudice are a part of elven culture, and she just skims over it. Weird.

So it’s not too deep of a read, but it’s incredibly imaginative, and I really enjoyed it. I love intrigue, and I don’t read it as much as I’d like to. And believe me, after GMing my first Pathfinder campaign–quasi-St. Petersburg intrigue–I know just how much effort needs to go into these things.

The Ritual by Adam Neville

I was originally at the library looking for House of Small Shadows by Adam Neville, but I found this one instead. It looked like it was going to be that kind of pagan horror that I love, and it was. Spoilers ahead, obviously, but I’ll try to be vague about them.

Ancient forests are something I really like. It’s what attracted me to reading The Trees by Ali Shaw. It’s how I experience divinity. This book is full of amazing imagery, from the weird corpse hanging in the tree in the opening of the book to the abandoned church and standing stones to the stuffed goat in the weird house to the masks the members of Blood Frenzy wear. Just made my heart sing with delight.

I really liked the main character, Luke. I liked his anger, which I always identify with. I sympathized with his station in life, especially compared to his travel companion. I took Luke’s side during that great old fight they all had. I though Luke was justified in being mad at Dom and Phil and I thought he gave up that anger and walked back on his indignation too quickly. He forgave them too quickly for saying all that shit about him. I really don’t care whether Dom and Phil are having a rough time–that’s no excuse to look down on someone who’s living their life in a different way.

The horror aspect was really good. The suspense. I could feel the tension rising when Hutch disappeared, leaving Luke with no one to back him up. I could feel the exhaustion of the characters as they went deeper and deeper into the forest. I found myself wondering what I would do in their position. Toward the end, I found myself burning through the pages trying to see if Luke was going to make it.

I have thoughts about Blood Frenzy, because on the one hand, there are definitely a bunch of bad people in the black metal scene (the fact that they listen to Burzum should clue you in immediately), but they almost seemed like a stereotype–like what pops into your head when you hear the phrase black metal–Satanic, racist, violent. They wore corpse paint all the time, too, which I thought was kind of silly. But I don’t know, maybe I’m just a weeny black metal fan.

The book is divided up into two parts: the forest and the old house with the black metal band. I don’t know how well I thought these two sections went together. The forest took more of a back seat for most of the second half than I would have liked, but I suspected there would be something like that when I was only halfway through the book and all but Luke were dead. The cast of characters was also completely different in either part of the book, except for Luke, which further distanced the two parts from one another. I think that’s probably my greatest critique of it.

I really really liked this book, and would recommend it.