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.

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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.

“Would You Rather Book” Tag!

I snatched these questions from Sincerely, a Book Nerd because I thought doing a tag post might be fun.

1. Rather read only a series or stand-alone books?
Before I started reading those Anita Blake novels, I hadn’t started a series in a long time, which probably says something about my reading habits. I think I would rather read stand-alone books simply for the variety. I tend to focus on stories rather than characters or worlds, though I do appreciate them.

 2. Rather read a book whose main character is male or female?
Female. Because.

 3. Rather shop only at Barnes & Noble (or other actual bookstore) or Amazon?
Brick and mortar, full stop. Instant gratification, and all that. And serendipity.

 4. Rather all books become movies or tv shows?
TV, I guess. I don’t know that I want all books to become film in the first place, though. Speaking for “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” I do think the TV series accomplishes a lot more than the movie (though I’d kill for that movie’s overall aesthetic).

 5. Rather read 5 pages per day or read 5 books per week?
Of course, I’d rather read five books per week, but I wonder if I would be able to remember anything I read. As it stands, I actually do tend to read only five pages a day.

 6. Rather be a professional book reviewer or an author?
An author. I’ve been writing for years and like it a lot. As you can tell from the nature of my review posts, I don’t actually think too hard about writing reviews. At least, not reviews that anyone would find useful.

 7.  Rather only read the same 20 books over and over or get to read a new book every 6 months?
Same 20 books over and over. Really good books, you can find something new in them every time. Or you can look at them through a different lens every time.

 8. Rather be a librarian or own a book store?
Well, I only got my masters for one of those things, so I’m gonna have to say librarian. But that’s because I like information and the organization of it. Owning a book store could be really fun, though.

9. Rather only read your favorite genre or your favorite author?
Favorite genre. Again, I love variety.

 10. Rather only read physical books or eBooks?
Physical books. Although I did just finish reading my second ebook ever. It was Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and I absolutely loved reading it. I might even do a post on it later.