August 16, 2017

In Tandem Reads: THE NEW VOICES OF FANTASY edited by PETER S. BEAGLE & JACOB WEISMAN

SFF is ...changing. Long the bastion of men, especially white men, the genre's stories and boundaries are at last making room for a greater variety of voices and points of view. 2017 has been a particular great year for that in our corner of the woods with FIYAH Lit Magazine, showcasing African American SFF; Comic Con this summer celebrated more diverse characters in comic books and films, including a superb Muslim crimefighter; the Star Trek TV series franchise is being resurrected with black and Asian female crew members, as well as the usual undefined aliens; and of course, everyone is still vibrating over the Star Wars beloved General Leia and the new strong female leads in that world. All of this means that when we had the opportunity to read the New Voices in Fantasy Anthology, we both jumped at the chance.

New Voices is not a YA anthology, although there are contributors who write for YA and MG lit included, but we wanted to look it over anyway, because we strongly support diverse voices in science fiction and fantasy. So, without further ado:

Welcome to another edition of In Tandem, the read-and-review blog series where both A.F. and I give on-the-spot commentary as we read and blog a book together. (Feel free to guess which of us is the yellow owl and which of us is purple ...who's driving this bike??)
We are...
Two writers,
     & Two readers,
            Exploring one book...

In Tandem.




What would you do if a tornado wanted you to be its Valentine? Or if a haunted spacesuit banged on your door? When is the ideal time to turn into a tiger? Would you post a supernatural portal on Craigslist? In these nineteen stories, the enfants terribles of fantasy have entered the building—in this case, a love-starved, ambulatory skyscraper. The New Voices of Fantasy tethers some of the fastest-rising talents of the last five years, including Sofia Samatar, Maria Dahvana Headley, Max Gladstone, Alyssa Wong, Usman T. Malik, Brooke Bolander, E. Lily Yu, Ben Loory, Ursula Vernon, and more. Their tales were hand-picked by the legendary Peter S. Beagle (The Last Unicorn) and genre expert Jacob Weisman (The Treasury of the Fantastic). So go ahead, join the Communist revolution of the honeybees. The new kids got your back.

“This anthology represents some of the most exciting and interesting work in the fantasy field today, and anyone interested in the genre should read it immediately.” —Booklist ♦ “...a valuable snapshot of SF/F’s newest generation of writers.” —Publishers Weekly ♦ “A stellar anthology that proves not only that fantasy is alive and well, but that it will be for years to come.” —Kirkus
We received copies of this book courtesy of the publishing company, via NetGalley. You can find THE NEW VOICES OF FANTASY edited by Peter S. Beagle & Jacob Weisman at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!
 



tanita: I don't know why, but I love, love, love anthologies. Maybe it's the little snippets of someone's work, which gives me a jumping-off point to getting to know them as a writer. Maybe it's the reality that sometimes, I don't have mental bandwidth for a long novel, but there's always time for a story. Maybe it's just that I have attention deficits. I enjoy how some stories turn out to be favorites, and others, not so much, which is always my experience - which makes even reading something I'm not sure I like A Good Thing. You were remarking the other day how hard it is to read them sometimes, though. I agree... this was both fun, and really hard!

sarah: I guess any "new voices" type of thing is going to be highly varied. It's hard for me to do more than a few stories a day... Is it weird that I find short stories require more stamina in a way than novels?
tanita: No, no - not at all. I had to put this down and come back to it repeatedly. For me, the issue with anthologies, where there are rich, fully realized stories is that I can't change lanes that fast. The finned Chevy of my imagination is hurtling down the dark freeway, weird sights blurring as I fly by... and then the story ...ends. I have to find where the car went and turn it around before I can start something new.

The stories featured in this collection were were fully realized, fully populated little worlds we spent time in. Which one was your favorite? Or, which two, probably, that you're having a hard time picking between?
sarah: I have to admit, I'm kind of a sucker for selkie stories--for anything based on myth, really--and so I think my favorite of the bunch is Sofia Samatar's "Selkie Stories Are for Losers." It also is a YA-friendly story, and was nominated for several awards. It does such an amazing job of doing what myths do best--they teach us something about ourselves, show us what already exists in our all-too-human hearts that has existed through history and across time. In the same way, the selkie has both a literal and a metaphorical role in Samatar's story.
tanita: Funny - for the selfsame reason, I kind of hate selkie stories; I find them tragically sad, which is why I loved the Samatar's story -- because her character, too, came from a place of where the story of selkies and sentient sea creatures IS traditionally tragic, and so she decided to reject those stories, in a show of bravado, despite that story being HER story. Similar in themes of loss of wildness and freedom was the story of the anarchist bees - and well done to that person for being able to portray a hivemind in a story - and of course, the Jackalope Wives... I am SO here for any Vernon story, anytime. While I had read this particular story before (which kind of detracts from the "new" voices in the title), I'm glad to see her non-kid work find a larger audience.
sarah: I also liked Ursula Vernon's "Jackalope Wives"--not surprisingly. I'm already a fan of her work for young readers (e.g. the Dragonbreath graphic novels). 

Other stories I enjoyed were "Tornado's Siren" by Brooke Bolander for sheer uniqueness of concept; "Left the Century to Sit Unmoved" by Sarah Pinsker for being YA-friendly, very literary, and leaving the reader with intriguing questions; and "Here Be Dragons" by Chris Tarry for having an interesting new take on dragons and dragonslayers.
tanita: There were echoes, in "The One They Took Before," by Kelly Sandoval, of Seanan McGuire's EVERY HEART A DOORWAY trilogy that was really haunting, in combination with the weirdness of Craigslist. But, my favorite of the new-to-me pieces was Max Gladstone's "A Kiss With Teeth," which started off with me feeling pretty unsure of things... In a novel filled with pieces which will appeal to adults and teens alike, this is definitely an adult story. Parents looking back at their lives before becoming part of the Upright Citizens Brigade and remembering when once they were vampire and vampire hunter, when the night was filled with menace and promise and dangerous, obsessive romance... I adored it. I love that story because it's about maturing - and maturity is something you just don't read a whole lot about in speculative fiction, despite the thousand-year-lived vampires and the like that you get in urban fantasy. More often, you get the angst and drama of what happens when people live nearly forever and don't mature, but just... roll into later adulthood, still acting a fool. It was partly side-eyeing those types of stories, and partially celebrating settled, selfless, mature relationships. Which is super rare. Having read that, I'm very much open to finding Gladstone's other work for adults, in a way I wasn't prior to now (although, not going to lie - I have been struck by the wonderful representation on the covers of his books. I mean, look at this!).


sarah: Yes, I enjoyed the "but what happens AFTER?" approach of Gladstone's story--that was something I liked about "Here Be Dragons," too. There are so many tropes in fantasy, and that's not inherently bad, but fantastical creatures like dragons and vampires and werebeasts and whatnot have been done in the same way so many times (hence the trope, I suppose). Bringing a new approach to existing tropes is something that was well done in this anthology as a whole.

tanita: What else stood out to you about this collection in terms of theme or stylistic choices, or anything, really?
sarah: I wanted to just mention how much I enjoyed the variety and risk-taking in terms of form and storytelling approach--there were surprises at every turn, from unusual characters like bees, buildings, and ducks, to unique conceits of form like the how-to guide, Craigslist ad, and anthropological study. I really enjoyed "The Pauper Prince and the Eucalyptus Jinn" by Usman T. Malik for its sweeping, epic, multigenerational look at jinn mythology--great to see something that's not from the well-used Western mold. I'm already a fan of Rushdie, who similarly draws on the history and myth of the Indian Subcontinent, and I'm glad to see more writing in that vein.
tanita: Oh, yes! My main interest in choosing this anthology is that it is aimed at "new voices;" the overarching meaning, in this particular, is not solely stories I haven't yet read from "new" to the field authors, but additionally, nonwhite voices in fantasy, which brings that new vibe to the entire genre. Usman T. Malik allowed us to glimpse both old Lahore, new, busy Lahore, and the mental and physical and spiritual space in between, bridged by the character's life in the West. It was enchanting, in part because the story was about family stories, and how they stretch the truth and what we understand of truth through time. Wouldn't it be lovely, if an aging relative could remember themselves in another time, in their dementia -- and it would all be real? That... in a way would redeem old age and remakes it into something beautiful.

And, in a way, that's what the whole anthology does. Familiar bits of ephemera from our imaginations, from our urban myths and legends, from our cultures and our worlds have been transmuted into something both less familiar and more knowable, both more off-puttingly gross and horrible (and there are some prime bits of horror in this collection - eek), and more charmingly disturbing. This collection runs a good gamut. It's meaty stuff, and could easily be taken along to ease the pain of airports and train rides. It's absorbing and invites the reader to a feast of a thousand different senses. It's not our usual fare here at the Treehouse, but I'm glad we read it.


sarah: Me, too! It definitely fulfills our goal to read widely and diversely, something that we both try to do as much as possible--just not usually at the same time...  In this case, though, a tandem review seemed like a good way to survey the gamut of stories in the anthology--we each responded to different ones, and as a result, hopefully, we were able to do it justice as a collection...and tempt you into picking it up, perhaps.

Thanks for joining us on our latest tandem review journey!

August 14, 2017

Welcome to the 2017 Cybils Awards!

A new Cybils year is already ramping up and getting ready to launch! And with a new year comes a new (well, refreshed) logo with nifty new color scheme. This year I decided to go with a sort of dark-magenta-and-orange, fall-ish look. I'll be helping out again as co-blogger with Melissa Fox of Book Nut, and both Tanita and I will most likely be applying to be judges again as well. It's a lot of work, but it's fun to be able to read a wide variety of worthy titles and try to bring some attention to them via our little corner of the blogiverse.

Stay tuned for the call for judges, and if you want to download the new logo, check this Cybils blog post for various shapes and sizes!

August 10, 2017

Toon Thursday Blast from the Past! Social Media Edition

Social media continues to find new ways of invading our time and brain space and making our lives more complicated and annoying, so I thought I'd bring this old chestnut out of the archives. This really IS never gonna happen!

Have a happy and hopefully productive writing week, everyone!

August 09, 2017

Turning Pages Reads: YOU BRING THE DISTANT NEAR by MITALI PERKINS

Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

It is the best of times... it is the worst of times. It is the time of unremitting nonsense. It is the time of sobering reality. It is a time of despair, it is a time for hope. Which means it's a perfect time for this gorgeous, gorgeous book.

Synopsis: Bengali sisters Tara and Sonia Das both want different things - Tara, to finally fit in to her place, Sonia, to have a moment -- a moment -- to herself to breathe, and write and think. With the help of their indulgent father and traditional mother, Tara fulfills her need to blend, first in London, then in the U.S. by calling on her vivid acting skills to inhabit and embody someone else. Sonia escapes to the fire escape with her notebook. Each girl's way of coping and acclimating to being an immigrant means stepping away from what they knew in London, and becoming someone new, even as they defend, in each other, what makes them who they are. Tara relies on her acting skills, as Sonia loses herself in her gifted classes. Family, even one as closely knit as the immigrant Das family has to be, is a sometimes fragile boat, and the expectations and stresses of the desire for a "good life" begin to feel like they're going to swamp it -- but finally as things work out, life in America seems sweeter. They finally live out their nicknames of "Sunny and Star" and have learned from living in Flatbush, have gained experiences and lost prejudices and gone where their parents cannot follow. Meanwhile, after tough times, their parents experience a renewal of their love - and Dad receives the promotion of which he spoke. The family ship remains upright and watertight -- and then, capsizes.

As Sonia and Tara leave home, each trying to rediscover her equilibrium, college brings more challenges and changes. There, they still grapple with who they are, and how they present themselves as both South Asians and Americans, as young woman and feminists. Each girls takes a a different track, which leads them into vastly different directions - one to small stages, then larger ones, then finally, to Mumbai; one straight back to Flatbush. Generations follow, each looking at their culture, language, and traditions with different eyes. When we are old, and when we are young, we are still challenged by how the world sees us, and must grapple with the questions of who we are, and who we want to be. What do we keep, that our families give us? What do we let fade away? What do we change to better suit ourselves? These are the heartfelt, crucial questions and observations the reader is confronted with, through three generations of shared sisterhood, culture, faith, and friendships.

Observations: With a shiny four starred reviews so far, we're very, very pleased to have had a chance to read and review our friend Mitali Perkins' latest book. (Also, Tanita is SUPER STOKED to have won it in a Goodreads giveaway - because THAT NEVER HAPPENS.) The beauty of having a hard copy of this book is the ability to pass it on. It could be given to a young adult -- but also to an older reader; the generational saga is beautifully inclusive. The jacket copy of this book uses the word "timeless," and though the eras and continents are distinctly laid out on the page, there is an element of "everyone"-ness that could make this story about any time, any lineage of women in any culture. It's a gifted rendering of what could be a very personal story - because there seem to be hints of autobiographical storytelling included - into something deeply universal.

I got choked up, laughed aloud, and became vexed with and for various characters at various times. Many teens will relate, both biracial and not -- to feeling pressure from family matriarchs who want their grand babies to be juuuust like them, despite the passage of time and eras. Questions of what beauty is, what womanhood means in feminist contexts and who best embodies these roles are things which the young and old women in this book encounter repeatedly. When Chantal's grandmothers join forces, they become TRULY their best selves. When the American cousin and the Mumbai cousins stop trying to change each other into being more or less immigrant or American, and truly see each other as they are - both, - the Das family remains unstoppable - strong, beautiful, and full of love that radiates to the world. Nosy aunties, scolding mothers, tsking uncles; Catholics, Hindus, atheists and all -- you'll want three generations of Das women to be your family, too.

Conclusion: This, more than anything, is a love story. How we love our sisters. How we love our families. How we love our cultures. How we hold each - and ourselves - lovingly, to a standard that says, 'we must improve. We must expand. We must be better than we were.' This is a love story about how we love those who are like us, and can come to loves those who are unlike us. It is a love story to hope, and the belief that, though we came from some distant then, now that we are here, we can choose to bring the old into the new, and love will ground and equal out the equation. We each of us inherits prejudices and circumstances; through our generations, we each can choose to leave those behind, and walk into a new world.

And I cannot articulate to you just how much I needed to have this book in my hand today.

It is lyrical, poetically beautiful writing, with realistic teen voices. It is a feminist book, about equal rights and inclusiveness without feeling like you're being schooled. Full stop: this is just a really great book, and I hope you have a chance to pick it up. It's worth it.



I received my copy of this book courtesy of the Goodreads Giveaway. You can find YOU BRING THE DISTANT NEAR by Mitali Perkins at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

August 03, 2017

Thursday Review: THE SPECIAL ONES by Em Bailey

Synopsis: A few years ago I read Em Bailey's earlier novel, Shift (reviewed here), and found it to be a suspenseful page-turning thriller, so I was interested to check out her newest novel: The Special Ones. This one's also a psychological thriller, with a lot of intriguing surprises and plot twists as well as a scary, unhinged villain.

When the story starts, we are immediately plunged into the rather unusual life of narrator Esther. Esther lives in a farmhouse with a younger girl, Felicity, and a slightly older boy, Harry, where their self-sufficient lifestyle has earned them the admiration and, dare I say, worship, of countless internet followers. They are the Special Ones. The only problem is, they can't leave. They can't even do anything outside of their prescribed roles, because he will punish them if they stray. I won't say much more, in order to avoid spoiling the suspense, but as the story unfolds, we find out the answers to critical questions like why are they there? How did they arrive? And, of course, who is he?

Observations: The Special Ones provides an interesting twist on the stuck-in-a-cult type of story; in fact, it is so much more than simply a cult, but I can't give you any more information than that. The suspense is well crafted here: As the author slowly reveals more and more details about the situation Esther is in, the ominous feeling continues to grow until we find out the true danger that she and her companions are in, and it is just as horrible as our imaginations feared it would be. AND THEN IT GETS WORSE! Of course it does.

There was a disorienting narrator switch well into the book that momentarily had me think, no! I don't want to leave Esther's POV now! But rather than being a book of two halves/two narrators, the switch was to introduce alternating viewpoints between Esther and another character, so ultimately the change of perspective wasn't too much of a jolt.

Conclusion: Overall, this book is a very gripping thriller with lots of psychological tension in the first half that translates into action toward the end of the story. It's also got well-rounded, interesting characters who are developed enough to make us care about what happens to them—a trait that is sometimes missing in more plot-driven suspense stories. The characters add a lot of dimension to this one, which is important in a story that asks WHY people make certain choices, and why they do the inexplicable and sometimes terrifying things that they do.


I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library's ebook collection. You can find THE SPECIAL ONES by Em Bailey at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

July 31, 2017

Monday Review: ONCE AND FOR ALL by Sarah Dessen

Synopsis: Sarah Dessen writes books that make wonderful summer reads, and by that, I don't mean they're "beach books" or chick lit. Rather, they have a dreamlike and immersive quality, delving deeply into relationships and emotions that might otherwise remain fleeting and obscure. They bring us, the readers, out of ourselves, and into someone else's life—into some perhaps relatively brief but still critical defining moment. They are in some ways "quiet" stories, but thought about another way, a moment that defines us is never really quiet. It takes up psychic space and causes internal noise.

In Dessen's latest novel, Once and for All, narrator Louna is in her last summer before starting college, and she's trying to stay busy enough to keep her internal noise at bay. She works for her mother's wedding planner business, along with her mother's best friend William. William serves as a father figure for Louna, since Louna's own father died when she was too young to remember him. Being exposed to the nitty-gritty behind-the-scenes chaos of weddings week after week has given Louna a cynical outlook on love and romance. What's more, her own first love the preceding fall came to a shocking and devastating end, and she's not ready to try again.

Still, life sometimes presents us with opportunities when we least expect them—and in ways we might not immediately recognize. When handsome but incredibly cheeky and annoying Ambrose begins working for her mother over the summer, she sees him as a disruption to her routine. But his laid-back, seemingly careless outlook on life is intriguing, and she realizes that taking a few chances might be just what she needs to move on from her past.

Observations: I always end up reading Sarah Dessen books with no small amount of wistfulness. Her characters seem to have a lot more freedom than I had as a teenager, even an older teenager—an adult sort of freedom that allows them to roam with few consequences, to take part in the working world, to have experiences that I didn't have until I was in college and living on my own.

And yet, what seems like freedom from my perspective is often just a different type of entrapment to her characters. We might envy Louna's ability to party until all hours with her best friend and date with impunity (and certainly, she seems to be 18 and technically an adult, so it isn't out of the realm of believability), but at the same time, sometimes freedom just leads to us making our own traps for ourselves. Like Louna, we can voluntarily put on blinders, making it hard to realize that what we think we are searching for is not what we really need.

Conclusion: Fans of Sarah Dessen will eat up this latest novel, and anyone who is a fan of realistic romance fiction and/or family and coming-of-age stories will want to check this one out, too. It would also make a good crossover or new adult book, due to the age of the protagonist.


I received my copy of this book courtesy of my library's ebook collection. You can find Once and for All by Sarah Dessen at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

July 25, 2017

Turning Pages Reads: THE GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE by MACKENZI LEE

Welcome to another session of Turning Pages!

If you ever wanted to read Jane Austen's books with a male lead... you might have to pick up this book. Austen's books are quiet routs of Victorian era manners; this is a rather noisier affair poking holes in the idea of the staid or wholesome English boy, making his way in the big world via The Grand Tour...

Synopsis: Henry Montague is a hot mess, really. He's privileged and the son of the Lord of Standards and Manners practically - frequently lectured, with fierce physical punishments to back up the cutting words - but this only spreads out the veneer of rakishness further and thicker. Henry is a good time boy, always laughing, drinking, smirking, and hitting on anyone with a pulse. It's his last hurrah, however; his bestie, Percy is off to law school after this Grand Tour they're embarking on. Felicity, Henry's sister, will be "finished" and ladyfied at her school, and Henry himself will be working side-by-side with his father, running the estate... all of which sounds like a living death, frankly. So, it's time to have fun, fun, fun 'til Papa takes his freedom away.

Henry is reckless - and sometimes stupid - with drink, with terror, with pain. He makes the worst choices, about people about money, and about his various vices. With some deliberate nudging, soon their Grand Tour goes grandly off the rails. They lose the minder Papa Montague sends along with them... and then the trip really begins. Unfortunately, this is still Henry we're talking about, so it's not all fun and games - highwaymen, robbery, dodgy conveyances and dodgier people mean their trip careens from bad to worse. As a manhunt gets underway across the continent for them, Henry has one more awful, heart-stopping surprise. Percy, Henry's darling best friend, reveals a truth and Henry realizes he doesn't know him that well after all.

Broken-heartd, terrified, and determined to wrest something good from this journey before his life ends, Henry pushes onward. Persistence - and a whole lot of pigheaded stubbornness has this gamer gambling at last to find the best answers to the biggest questions in his life, to help a friend, and to find his happy ending.

Observations: I delighted in my first introduction to The Grand Tour years ago in Sorcery and Cecelia by Caroline Stevemer and Patricia Wrede, followed by The sequel, The Grand Tour: Or, The Purloined Coronation Regalia. It was a story of two closely sheltered young ladies discovering the large grand world, and it was a lot of Regency with pixie dust.

This is not that book.

... rather than a sheltered Englishman seeing the world for the first time, Henry is a jaded... jade. The boy is a tightly wrapped bundle of neuroses and emotions pinging all over the place, a boiling stew of hormones and appetites. He's likely rather a more realistic illustration of young manhood (READ: rakishness), but I found his privilege and ignorance somewhat exhausting. If you love Regency novels and adore the reformed rake trope, this will work out well for you. Henry's vices sometimes overwhelm his virtues, but there is truly a tender love story going on, true diamonds amongst the glitter and the paste... which is a good thing, or many readers would have drop-kicked him.

Henry is queer as well as being young, so his confusion is multiplied. Percy is half Barbadian, and I found it interesting that he's described as having skin the color of sandalwood and ungovernable hair, but that's it - he seems to face no prejudice or scrutiny on the continent - at least not for being browner than is fashionable. As there were quite a few persons of African ancestry wandering the British Isles and the Continent all the way from Medieval times, this is wholly accurate, but I did wonder what Henry thought of his being different, since he had an opinion on EVERYTHING. Even Percy seemed rather quiet about himself; I found myself wondering if he ever wondered about the family his father took him away from when he brought him to England then up and died...

With his self-centered, narcissistic, shallow hedonism covering his wounds and poor self-esteem, Henry's a lot of work, and you've got to dig before you get to anything worthwhile with him. Which is true of us all, I guess. But, his sister and his friend don't give up on him, even though he takes them straight into trouble. With combined ingenuity, they take themselves back again - so there's an 'ever after' to look forward to - maybe a hard one, but the right one.

Conclusion:Henry is like a male Emma in Jane Austen's world - frivolous, silly, privileged, very attractive and charismatic, and sometimes dangerously ignorant of the true harm he can cause. But, like Emma, Henry is redeemed through the love - tough and merciful love - of a good friend.



I received my copy of this book courtesy of the public library. You can find all 528 pages of THE GENTLEMAN'S GUIDE TO VICE AND VIRTUE by Mackenzi Lee at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!