Get ready, everyone, because Life, the Universe, and Everything is about to fall into your lap.
Right, so page back in your memories to 2021. A lot of events still cancelled because of Ye Olde Plague, everyone getting a lot of reading done, and even some dedicated introverts starting to miss their fellow nerds, pressing noses to the glass as steampunk plague doctor masks came back into fashion and Death stalked the streets.
Good times, right?
What you might not remember is that the cancellations included the Life, The Universe, and Everything Symposium 2021.
Instead of giving up, the panels were shuffled online and it was on with the show (plus technical difficulties which were just funny most of the time).
Tickets were frankly dirt cheap, the Discord channels were lively, and great fun and edification was had by all.
I talked to Jessica Day George. Yes, the middle-grade fantasy author. Yes, I was slightly terrified.
And it was in the middle of February! So what else did we have to do on a dreary winter weekend?
I spent almost the entire runtime of the symposium curled up in the garrett listening to panels, soaking up brilliance, working on Morale Fiber’s Elf Coat to wear to the next Dragonfest Renaissance festival, and only tearing myself away to stuff food in my face and dash back.
I have no memory of what I ate that weekend. I don’t know why I say that like I normally would.
(I could go on waxing poetic, but you could also just read my LTUE post if you missed it)
So you know after having a time like that, I was more than ready for the next year. It was too much fun.
Important note here. LTUE is normally in Utah.
Bookmarkedone does not live in Utah.
And in 2022…LTUE was fully in-person. No online component.
(cue sounds of bookmarkedone being utterly crushed, contemplating a ridiculously long trip and plodding back to uni)
Why am I telling you this admittedly sad story?
Because, darlings, it turns out the disappointment of last February was only the second act of this adventure.
The LTUE Edge of the Universe Mini-Conference on August 20th!
Guys, it’s here.
Allow me to clarify:
It’s fully online so you can join in remotely from your own writing garrett/Hobbit Hole/tree house/exploding nebula. As long as you’ve got an internet connection.
It’s completely, utterly, and totally free. Have you been won over yet? Yes, yes, you have.
It’s recommended by your favorite snobbish book curmudgeon. Yes, me. LTUE is fabulous. I wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t true. You’ve read my book reviews, you know.
Panel topics include books around the world, board games, writing dialogue, book marketing, self editing–anything a writer, gamer, roleplayer, or general bookworm could ask for. Really, the hardest part about LTUE is picking which panels to attend and which ones to miss because ooh what if that’s a good one too!
So it’s basically cake. Or leprechaun gold, I guess. I know, it seems too good to be true and you’re probably checking the fine print for signs of a Faerie contract, but hey, I made it into last year’s and out again, so…
…that’s probably not as comforting a reassurance as it should be.
Anyway, since I’ve now so obviously convinced you, (drumroll please)
Come join me on the Edge of the Universe!
You can register here to get access to the Discord server and panels once they go live (word of the wise, check and triple-check your time zone). I’ll be there too (@bookmarkedone! Okay, technically already am there since I logged in like a week ago to poke around), so feel free to @ me in Discord and make a big show to all the other writers there about how cool a blogger I am…or don’t and play Where’s Waldo Bookmarkedone edition until I inevitably pop up in the chat.
If you do want to hang out…it would quite literally make my day if I find out someone came because of my posts.
Also as I’m writing this post, I’m discovering someone in Paris tried to log into my Discord. Like, as of today.
Um. Okay. You can’t have it, but thanks.
(sounds of bookmarkedone crafting a more devious password)
And…yeah, that’s it. Come to the Edge of the Universe this Saturday and get your mind blown.
And if you come out still craving for more?
Oh, I’m so pleased you asked.
Science Fiction Writer’s Week presented by ProWriting Aid (August 29)
I’ll be honest. I’ve not actually been to a ProWritingAid conference before. I signed up for Fantasy Writers’ Week last spring, but life was absolutely mad (something about getting a diploma? what nonsense) and I ended up missing it.
Not so this time! I fully intend to go and see what’s what.
That’s not to say I can’t add to the hype. Pros of this one? Besides hanging out with me, of course.
Instead of a few hours on a Saturday, this conference is a week long. A week of glorious nerdery! Miss one day because of scheduling conflicts? Come back tomorrow! Coming for every session? Even better.
Like the Edge of the Universe mini-conference, Sci-Fi Writers’ Week is totally free. Sign up and get access to goodies. That’s it.
And it’s also totally online. Because why leave the overstuffed armchair in the library if you don’t have to?
Panel topics include worldbuilding, networking, marketing, revising, protagonist/antagonist dynamics, and a literal pile of big-name SF authors on the panel list.
Convinced yet? Thought so. You can register here and see the full list of guests and panelists for yourself. Should be a good time!
If after my brilliant description you still aren’t tagging along on the adventure…or you just can’t make time stretch and pull enough to fit something else in–
Never fear. I’ll be hitting the highlights on the blog after both events. I imagine I’ll have at least a few good stories to share.
So…yeah! I’m off to the Edge of the Universe.
See you soon!
As usual, I do not get any bribery money, merch, chocolate, books, head pats or other reimbursement from plugging these events. I just think they’re cool and want to share.
I put off reviewing this a lot longer than I should have.
I’d like to say “This was a great book!” or “This was an okay book,” or even just go wild and shred it in another of my more venomous book rants. You know, the ones that are majority of the reason I blog under an alias.
I…can’t do any of these.
I’m so delighted you asked. Brace yourselves, friends, for–
A Realm at Stake by K.C. Julius, narrated by Chris Walker-Thomson
The Drinnglennin Chronicles, No. 2
Genre: YA/New Adult High Fantasy & Adventure
Content: mild and occasional strong language, heterosexual and homosexual lovers, rape (twice), slavery, beatings, prostitution, “lessons in seduction,” touching a minor without consent, incest, murder murder murder (depicted and somewhat graphic including the murder of an infant and a young child), “conquests” of females, nudity, underage drinking, suicide, drunkenness, innuendo, obscene hand gestures (not described), kidnapping, drug use, xenophobia–did I catch it all?
Rating: 2 out of 5.
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this audiobook in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own, because few are they who may tell me what to write and live to tell the tale.
A word of warning–this isn’t technically a review so much as it’s me hitting the highlights. The “good parts” version, plus warning you what you’re in for, (i.e., good characters, but get ready for some trauma). You can read the plot synopsis on Goodreads.
That’s not what I’m here for.
If you read the content warnings, I probably don’t need to repeat again that this is most certainly not a book for kids.
I’m going to say it again anyway.
It’s easy to get confused, with the protagonists being so young, dragons being the stuff of so many MG fantasies–look, if I got it mixed up, it’s clear it can happen. Julius was kind enough to rush in and correct me after reading my review of Portents–this was never intended for a young audience.
It’s worth repeating because I can just see some tenderhearted, crestfallen tween crying over this book, confused and absolutely crushed by a world where everything doesn’t turn out alright in the end, where rape, slavery, and war are the regular order of the day. I don’t want to see that happen.
So once an for all: adult book.
The good news is that the second book is much more obvious about what kind of story you’re getting right out of the gate. While we started Portents with chapters and chapters of what could easily be middle-grade Chosen One fluff, there’s a scene with lovers and councils of dark wizards smack in the opening prologue.
Now that we know what we’re about?
…I kind of devoured this thing. I listened to a fourth of it in one evening without my attention flagging. If anything, I had to take little breaks to let it settle in my head and breathe because did you really have to switch POVs there after that happened?
That’s just something I do, I think. If something especially important happens in a novel, I have to get away from it for a while, mull it over, take a walk, listen to the music of characters’ lives, hopes, and dreams shattering like the most delicate glass.
(Ending scenes of The Two Towers, I’m looking at you. Tolkien knew what he did.)
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.
The story of A Realm at Stake is almost exactly what you’d expect after reading Portents of Chaos:
Dragonriders ride dragons,
King still needs to choose an heir from the four contenders presented in book 1,
Wizard rides pony over entire continent and leaves kids unattended to get into their own trouble because he has bigger problems at the moment even if they do set the house on fire.
There’s also a sniper assassin (but that isn’t really resolved in this book, so…I probably should not talk about it. Cue bookmarkedone refraining from cheering “yay sniper assassin for the drama!”)
ominous ominous ominous in preparation for Book 3.
You thought you could get comfortable with six POV characters? No, no, no, no, no! You’re not starting the book with Maura or Leif or even Borne–Julius is presenting a brand-new character in a completely different country!
To be fair, this was one of my favorite choices that Julius made in A Realm at Stake. Why?
Because for an entire novel, we’ve heard nothing but demonizing propaganda about the Helgrin warriors, and Julius opens the sequel with a fluffy wholesome scene as a boy (Helgrin) waits breathlessly for his father (more Helgrin) to return from sea.
Not only does the affection they show one another this throw everything you thought you knew about the Helgrins out the window, it’s deeply humanizing. Monsters? No, not here. Just ordinary people trying to live their lives and protect their families…and occasionally raiding seacoast towns to keep the economy running.
Bold move, Julius. Bold move.
Helgrinia itself? Oh, to be sure, it has its deep and horrific social flaws as much as Drinnglennin. But with names like Ragnar and Snorri, with longships and mead and braided blond hair? With maypole dances and occasional rape?
…It’s just Viking culture.
Like I mentioned in my review of book 1, there’s pros and cons when it comes to worldbuilding like that, deriving locations from real-world places. It’s a choice, and it’s a clear choice.
And besides. Male characters with long blond braids remind me of happy days in Rohan. It’s nice to have some variety of hairstyle.
What I do love?
The relationship between Fynn and his brother.
They have every reason to hate each other, the older to ignore the younger, the younger to envy the elder, to fight jealously for their father’s attention. But they don’t. There’s a sweet brotherly affection between the two of them, wholesome, playful and sweet. Fynn has only awe for Jared, and Jared–I think he loves his little brother, as impossible as the plot makes that out to be.
They’re forever looking out for each other, throwing their arms around one another’s shoulders, stealing one another’s mead or ale, admiring one another’s strengths (You’ve grown taller! You’re a mighty man of war!).
All hail the fluff, basically. And, as it turns out, I am very much here for sibling relationship dynamic fluff.
I almost find it more wondrous and remarkable than the dragons.
More of this, Julius, if you please!
And while we’re on the topic of the good stuff…
If I’m being honest with myself, between the Maypole dance, the spirit of good fun, food and fire, song and dance–and yes, a few too many pirates itching to get drunk–the Helgrin festival (while the sun was still up and everyone was happy, mind you) felt just a little a bit like faires I’ve been to. Felt a bit like home.
And while Fynn isn’t a sweet kid in the same sense Leif is, he still loves everyone he knows. He loves his mother, his half-brother, his father, his friends, even his brother’s friends–well, okay, he doesn’t like the lord’s wife, but she’s mean, so nobody’s going to blame him for that one–he’s just a good, wholesome kid.
So even though they’re Viking types and have ridiculous moral problems in their society–I still liked them.
Julius, I liked them. I hope you’re happy.
This is also the point in reading the book that I look into the middle distance and think “You’re going to stab this poor kid’s heart out like a ripe fruit.” When a day is too perfect in the world of some writers, we readers cower under the cliffs and trees because we know, we know better.
There’s a lot that goes on in A Realm at Stake. After being introduced into Helgrin culture, Julius drops back into Morgan the Wizard’s POV…which is when I realized that there is no recap of book 1. It’s just off to the races with Fynn in fantasy Viking land, getting ready for Midsummer, learning the intrigue of another court, listening to an old man talk about that time he had a wild dream after doing mushrooms…erm…great times, right?
I think it’s great, but if you aren’t reading one book on the heels of the other the way I am, or even worse, reading the second book without the knowledge of the first–yeah, you’re not going to have a clue who any of these people are.
And then it’s back to Whit’s POV, the most irritating and arrogant focalized character…who starts reminding us how charming he is by snapping at Morgan for not serving him to his satisfaction and finding a dryad girl hot.
Don’t love Whit.
The stakes seem higher this time. Or maybe I’m just sinking deeper, falling into the story, needing to know what happens to the characters as the stakes climb higher and higher and–
New POV chapter.
Okay, I know it was structured this way in book 1, but Julius.
Julius. You’re giving me whiplash here.
I just wanted to know what happens with the magic tree.
I say this, but it’s really half a compliment at least. It means she’s improved her writing because I want to know what happens. It matters now.
So I take a deep breath, pay the compliment, say okay, let’s read about Maura. This is fine.
And then Leif is back.
(muffled sounds of bookmarkedone screaming my boy is here! as Leif bumbles around poking and fidgeting and being a literal ray of sunshine, bouncing on the cushions, eating all the food, and talking with his mouth full–thank you for that convincing munching voice, Walker-Thomson, it was perfect)
You may continue.
And of course we get both a joust and Mob-Ball this time. Really, Julius, you spoil us.
And yes, I am required to be a Renaissance faire kid here for just a minute because, well, I’ve been to jousts.
We don’t…actually care that much about the score.
It happens in a blink, and if you aren’t watching, you could miss a near-unhorsing. If it’s a five-point hit or a three-point hit–that’s for the herald to remember, not the casual fan.
But she got the rules right, and the way the crowd reacts, the shouting and the breathless silence. So I can’t complain too much.
It’s a little reminiscent of Ivanhoe. And the voices for the vendors hawking their wares, that’s perfect.
But where there’s jousting, there’s also Borne, one of my un-favorite characters from the first book, appearing just when Leif isn’t around to smack him for getting too close to Maura. Or at least distract him! Noo, Maura, don’t get lost in his eyes, he’s a total creep, please, you deserve so much better–
If you’ve already read the book, you may have noticed that I left out a lot of stuff that happened in the second half.
I’m not going to talk about the slavery and prostitution. I’m not going to talk about the lessons in seduction or how annoyed I am by the trope of guards not stopping to wonder what a Hot Girl is doing inside the jail. The concept of a woman’s sexuality as a weapon. The rape(s).
It’s all there. It’s not my type. It’s rough enough that I probably wouldn’t have finished the book if I hadn’t promised to review it. But here we are.
There’s good and bad. I’m trying to chin up and look for the good.
If you read the book, good luck to you. All I can say is that now you know what you’re in for.
That’s not the truth, not really. It’s not my tree. Never has been. It grew in a park, where it could have belonged to anyone, or no one at all. I don’t know who cut it down. Maybe nobody did and it died in a storm and fell when no one was looking.
The tree isn’t there. And I missed it.
They cut down my tree.
I went for a long walk on Saturday. Going home from somewhere, sun beating down on me, trying to let go of everything. I’ve walked that route to the park a lot. I know the trees along the way like good friends. There’s the funny evergreen by the edge of the campus parking lot where someone left a little ceramic donkey that looked like it belonged in a Nativity set, the wise trees with holes in the trunk by the university garden, the tunnel of spindlier trees along the walk by the house with more cats than even I know, the huge oaks in the park itself.
And then there is my tree.
I think it’s a cypress. That’s probably why it’s gone. Cypress don’t do well here. They grow for a while, tall and strong and slightly wonky, trunk with rounded bumps where branches once grew that make it look as if the bark is boiling, and then they stop. They’re so tall they could crush everything if they fell, so they get cut down.
I met this particular tree when I was ten or twelve. It was perfect in every way, with branches extending right at the height of my small shoulders, begging to be climbed. I did once, because someone said I couldn’t. Just as high as the first branch. I was dressed up that day, didn’t want to go to class covered in sap and needles, so that was as far as I went.
I vowed I’d climb it all the way to the top someday.
Somehow, something always seemed to stand in my way. One day I tried and I was wearing shoes worn too smooth on the bottom and couldn’t scrabble up the trunk. I had people with me that day and I was sweating a little because they were watching me and laughing as I failed. So I didn’t climb. Even if I made it up, it wouldn’t have felt right. I’d have carried that bad laughter up with me, and that’s not how I wanted to see the top of the tree.
Other times I came and walked a circle around it, following the way up with my eyes, heart beating a little faster, knowing just what it would feel like when I found my way up, when the ground was so far away.
Some days, I don’t know why I put it off. Why I didn’t climb the tree. Maybe it was because I was still scared I couldn’t do it. Maybe it was because I knew I’d only get to do it once. You only ever get to do anything the first time once.
I greeted that tree every time I went around that corner in the path. It’s funny, I guess. Greeting trees. I was thinking about it Saturday, when I was greeting the others, looking for mine.
Sometimes I run my fingertips across the bark, feeling the coolness, the silence. The way they feel like home. Just as often, I don’t.
You know when you walk through a crowd and your path changes, gets more weaving, not because you don’t want to bump into somebody, but because you can feel their gravity, the space around them that you don’t want to enter, the pull of their orbit, pushing you away like the poles of a magnet.
It’s like that, the trees.
One time a friend took me to the art museum and there was a guest exhibit on modern sculpture. They’d torn out the usual carpet and put in some fluffy dark green stuff that didn’t make you feel like you were outside, but reminded you of it, like you were in a children’s play area and you knew you stood in The Yard. They were funny statues, blobby and ceramic and smoothly uneven, white with tiny bits of colored pottery that ranged in color like a sunset from orange to pink, blue to green to purple. Some of them were as tall as my shoulder, others were short as a low stool.
It made me feel like I was in a Studio Ghibli movie.
When I thought no one was around, I walked up to the tallest one and gave it a little bow, so I was almost the same height it was, a little greeting that sent my scarf end swinging cheerfully, no need for a breeze.
It’s like that too, greeting the trees. It makes sense because it doesn’t.
I couldn’t find my tree. Sometimes I look for it at the wrong point in the path, miss it and feel my heart kick up a beat until I relax, because there it is, waiting, like always.
That day it wasn’t. Wasn’t there to greet me.
I left the path and went to sit on a bench, thinking I’d just missed it. Thinking it had to be there somewhere. It’s become a habit of mine, at that park. Finding an empty bench and watching the world go by. Families taking their kids to the swings, Ye Healthy Ones jogging (what even is jogging?), people walking their dogs, old couples leaning close together, strolling arm in arm. Usually I sit near the entrance to the park, by the tree that blooms and buzzes with honeybees in spring, but Saturday is a busy day for the park and my hideaway was already taken. I kept walking until I found a bench the rest of the park seemed to have forgotten.
It must have been an uneven patch of ground, the space that drinks up all the water. The only grass was tiny little two-leafed sprouts poking up out of the soft earth. The dirt was still shaped into scalloped waves from some recent torrent of rain, soft enough to hold the print from my light step. It was so dark under those trees, even at three o’clock in the afternoon, that I couldn’t be quite sure there really was a bench until I was there. I wondered if that was how it looked everywhere in the park, if I was half hidden from the world when I sat there, watching all from the heavy shade like something you can only glimpse from the corner of your eye.
I sat there for a while, trying to think about nothing, ending up thinking about everything instead. There was a party going under the pavilion at the other end of the park, I think, with loud music and a good beat. I listened, half listened. Studied the graffiti on the bench proclaiming some young Romeo and Juliet’s affections in a silver-purple ink.
I went looking for my tree, to see if it really wasn’t there.
I think I found the spot where it once grew. A place where the grass was different, a little dip and a little hill. There was no stump. I stood looking for it, alone in that corner of the park, but it wasn’t there to be found. Nothing, nothing to whisper about the tree’s memory.
I read the other day about a possible scientific link between fairy rings and dead trees. How the mushrooms spring up where the rotted roots once were, even long after any human memory of the tree has been lost.
I like thinking about that. Thinking that even when the tree is gone, some ghost, some memory, some magic remains.
I’m kicking myself for never climbing that tree. I don’t really have a point to this, I just–don’t like living with regrets. Not one.
I remember reading Tolkien’s “Leaf by Niggle” and “On Fairy-Stories,” how he said it was all because of a tree that grew outside his window that one day wasn’t there. If I were as eloquent as he was, maybe I’d make something out of this, something more than a rambling CNF piece, something that captures the beauty of a tree when it’s alive, instead of the hollowness when not a single branch is left.
I hope a fairy ring grows there. I hope that patch of sweet earth remembers the lost tree.
If you doubt me, I would like to point you in the direction of my dual musician/writer career that has thus far gotten me into much trouble I’ve (so far) managed to wriggle out of.
Metaphorically, I don’t “sit still.”
I want to see what I can do. I want a challenge. I want to see what I’m up against and then knock it flat.
I want to tell stories.
And not just to The Void. I do that enough already. Half the fun of telling a story is having an audience, knowing that someone else is feeling happy or scared or elated or devastated right along with you, seeing another world appear like magic before their eyes.
If you were around to celebrate Blogiversary #3, you’ve probably caught on to what I’m getting at here.
I want a new challenge for bookmarkedone.
And you get to help me choose what it is!
Get on YouTube/other online platform, drag out my microphone and rant to you about writing, books, poetry, literary theory, etymology (note: this means you actually get to hear my voice instead of guessing what I sound like from syntax and theory).
Get on YouTube/other online platform, drag out my microphone and record some original music tracks for you to jam to (medieval bard or genre-less violin style) during your own writing adventures.
Change nothing! Because you love the blog exactly the way it is and can’t imagine it being more perfect…or you just don’t care/don’t have time to add anything else to your listening library (and I’ll be shouting to The Void again…very sad).
I’m also leaving a blank question for Your Brilliant Ideas because you’re dazzling readers (blows a kiss) and you can probably come up with things that would never cross my mind but yes now I must do it Jekyll, bring the light and coffee grinder we’re going no stops we’re going these people are almost as mad as I am. And if you shamelessly want to plug your own content because you want a guest blog, book review, music collab., etc., that’s what I’m here for. Please. Be shameless. Plug your stuff.
And if you’re especially thrilled with the idea, I’m also running a poll on Twitter with essentially the same questions. I’ll count all the votes, so if you want to vote twice,
I’m not kidding. It’ll make my day.
Um…yes. That’s it. That’s the rules. Time to send you off to go break them.
So drumroll please, for the illustrious and brilliant readers of bookmarkedone.home.blog as they hold council and determine their writer’s fate.
(flings confetti in the air for Future Me to deal with later)
Slice the cake and polish your tiaras! It’s the annual celebration of another year of bookmarkedone!
First order of business, the thank-yous and the stats:
Thank you to each and every one of my 220 followers for reading and following the blog, from @ailishsinclair7, three years ago, to @saiira, joining us last week.
Sometimes I have days where I just don’t want to get up the nerve to blog, and it means a lot that I have people out there who want to read the stories from my kooky little bookshelf in this mad corner of the universe.
And while I’m singing my own praises (which I don’t like to do all that much), may I please draw your attention to the coolest moments for the blog in the last year?
“Blunt the Knives” opening drumroll on the table please, for:
Getting Retweeted by James Riley
(muffled bookmarkedone screaming into a pillow because I’m still not sure what happened)
Story goes like this: I finally get my grubby claws on a copy of James Riley’s The Revenge of Magic, first in his new MG book series. I read. I enjoy. I judge. I rant. I write a review. I publish on the blog (ja, go read it, please). And then I tag James Riley on social media, as one does…
…and he saw it, read the review,and liked it.
In case you do not believe me, I have proof.
Okay, so at this point, I’m a blushing puddle of confused elation hovering over my keyboard because a real writer has acknowledged my existence and enjoyed my work. Hold it together, bookmarkeone. You just insulted a NYT bestselling author. No biggie.
Right. Suave. I’m good. I’m good.
I was grinning to myself all week. It’s not every day you get to call someone you admire an idiot and get away with it.
And fun fact–I didn’t tell some loved ones this story until…a few weeks ago? And they know of James Riley from me ranting and shoving books in their faces since Story Thieves was a thing, so…
Their reactions were kind of…
(flips table) “You what now? No, sit down. I need to hear this.”
Not an exact quote. You get the idea.
So…yeah. Thank you, James Riley. My dad now thinks I’m cool.
So next up, we have:
Bookmarkedone on Social Media!
So technically this belongs to last year’s blogiversary, but I’d only been on Twitter for a few days at that point, so…yeah. I’m @bookmarkedone, same as here on WordPress. And I have a lot of fun over there. I post most days, just random little observations too short for a blog post.
Well, since you insist:
Some of those tweets are from during university finals.
I’d like to say I’m not such an unhinged force of chaos the rest of the time, but you follow my blog.
I’d like to say Wildman just found the blog and was dazzled by my wit…but I’m pretty sure I was so excited after reading “How to Steal the Plot Armor” that he got a message from some random snob yelling about the quality of his writing on social media.
No introduction. No explanation Just YOU WRITE GOOD MORE PLEASE.
…I can’t find the message now to be sure.
Right, well, maybe I wasn’t as awkward as I’m remembering, because this still happened:
Like, getting a compliment like that pretty much knocks me over on any day, but hearing that from someone who can seriously actually write wow dude–that’s kind of a different story.
Sometimes I write posts and everybody’s busy (hey! I am too! I know how it feels!) and they slip through the cracks into The Hungry Void. So on the rare occasions something like this happens…I hold on to them.
It’s like “Hey! I’ve convinced them into thinking I’m a real blogger, mwahaha!”
…and then I remember I am a real blogger. It’s the human being part that’s tripping me up occasionally.
So…yeah. Long story short, Luke Wildman follows my blog and it’s been half a year, but I’m still pretty stoked about that.
Moving on to more recent events…
Bookmarkedone is now on Ko-fi!
You may have noticed the characteristic coffee cup make its appearance at the very bottom of the bookmarkedone homepage yesterday.
Just to clarify–the blog is free, always has been, and will continue to be.
But, you know, any mysterious rich benefactors out there who want to visit my tip jar at Ko-fi.com/bookmarkedone, knock yourself out. Tips are great. I’m a musician. Believe me, I think tips are great.
And that brings us to–
I know there’s probably a lot more in the last year that I could have talked about (and if I skipped anything important, please feel free to remind me of your favorite bookmarkedone moments!), but I don’t want this post to get too long and there’s something important I want to make sure to talk about.
The future of bookmarkedone.
Don’t worry. The blog’s not going anywhere.
On the other hand, I’m always refining just what I want BookmarkedOne to be. Let’s be honest–I don’t review books quite as often as I used to. And the truth is–I’m not the ideal indie book reviewer. Everyone says you should be gentler to books from a small press, and–I’m not good at that. I want brilliant quality no matter where the story comes from. Part of the reason that I established bookmarkedone under an alias is so that I can say whatever I want. Not to be cruel, but to say what I think needs to be said. To be honest, in a way you often can’t when you’re looking someone in the eye.
And so I can meet authors like James Riley and Patrick Rothfuss at conventions or book signings one day and not fear for my life because of my own bardic mockery.
That means I’m not a book blogger quite the same way that everyone else is…and I have to chart my own course from here.
So where should we go? What should we do next?
I confess I’m not entirely without ideas. I mean, it’s pretty weird that I blog so much about music and most of you have never heard a single note. I’d post more about Renaissance festivals and cosplay, but it’s harder to publicize something so niche and I can’t tell if bookish adventures are more popular. Should I post more nonfiction like the mango story? Stick to reviewing what others have written?
Not a clue.
So I’m doing something I really don’t like to often do:
I’m asking for help.
I’ve been thinking pretty hard about starting a bookmarkedone YouTube channel/podcast for all things bookish. But the thing is, I don’t want to do it if it’s going to get buried and totally ignored. I’m a musician too, remember, and tiny audiences (or no audience!) can make me really sad. Writers, for all that we hide and type and avoid seeing people, are still storytellers. We’re still performers playing to the crowd, after all.
So here’s my deal. If I can get enough comments, enough positive attention regarding bookmarkedone in video or streaming format to satisfy me that I won’t be telling fairytales to the Void, I’ll sharpen my mental swords and do battle with that which is daunting me.
And if all is calm and still waters, well, you’ll still have bookmarkedone as you know it.
Can’t get rid of me yet.
The future’s up to you, darlings! Let’s raise our glasses to another year, and I’ll hold my breath to see what adventure you send me on next.
Hi gang! I’m busy working on a few projects right now, so please enjoy a little CNF post I wrote a while ago but never had the chance to publish. Most of this one was written while sitting on the floor backstage under the blue lights, dressed in concert black and heels, typing into WordPress on my phone between warm-ups and call time.
You know, standard time-wasting techniques when you’re waiting for the show to start and the adrenaline to kick in.
The rest of it is from an overstuffed blue beanbag pillow, sitting in it cross-legged with my laptop the day after the air conditioning broke this summer and it was too hot to sit in the garrett even for me.
I think I’ve set the scene enough, so that’s all the introduction I’ll do.
Read up, me hearties!
The last time I ate a mango, it was high summer, green leaves and sticky hot. Exactly the time of year one wants sweet fruit. I was sitting in a car, parked under one of the two trees that shaded the library. It had been so long, I had quite forgotten how to eat a mango, or that they have a thick skin that you really ought to peel. But seeing as I was there without cutlery, having an impromptu picnic, I bit and peeled it and had a glorious orange sticky mess there outside of the library.
My friends laughed at me, of course. I was a sight, so I don’t blame them. But I don’t mind it much, either, because they don’t know how good it tasted, how good it felt.
There is something about eating a mango that way, like a little hungry monster, that is somehow right. You never notice, I think, how sweetly orange the inside of a mango is. Maybe more perfectly orange than an orange itself. If you took a photograph of that moment, perhaps you could capture some of the beauty. But I think you’d miss the feeling of it, the softness, the laughter, the summer, the library.
Summer meant as many books as I could read back then. It meant the white plastic card with my age-old scribbled signature, making off with as many books as I could carry. And even back then, I could carry a surprising lot.
I cannot describe the anticipation, the breathless thrill of that moment, the buzzing goodness of that place, just before stepping into the icy-cool air conditioning that always smelled of lightly musty books, to anyone who does not know what it is to love to read.
I have endless stories about that library. The one with the short flowers and bushy shrubs and bronze statue out front and inside, the shelf of dollar books that were too old and tired to stay “on tour” and wanted to retire to someone’s private collection.
I got Anna and the King of Siam that way. And others, I’m sure. You always looked, even if it was just a glance on your way to the new books, the cozily short middle grade stacks, the glass-walled YA section, or the adult book stacks where the shadows seemed to pool in the farthest corner almost like a living thing.
I couldn’t be scared of the dark there. Not really. What could there be in that place that did not welcome me? I daydreamed about being locked inside the library for a night, the way so many MG protagonists were. Sometimes the characters in the books came out to play. Sometimes I had to hide in the dark from some mysterious figure chasing me. Or maybe, more likely, I was so quiet that the librarians locked up without noticing me and I spent half the night reading before even I realized what had happened.
It was home.
I knew exactly where it was. Even if we weren’t going there, when we were just passing by, I would look out the window, crane my neck for a glimpse of it, like I was greeting a friend. I know the road through the curving hills, the metal return box by the front door still much bigger than I am, every shelf and song of that place.
Even after I moved away.
I forgot about the mango. We laughed about it that night, when I came home with my stack of bookish plunder, but then, like so many memories, it tarnished and faded into the background, dusted with cobwebs, not quite forgotten, but not brightly there.
Time passed. I read on. I started to like the color orange, pale for spring, the color of spiced pumpkin in the fall. I ate apples in September, read the entire volume of Grimm’s, moved into the garrett, used a different, green library card.
I think it was Victoria and Abdul that did it. It’s a movie, if you haven’t seen it. Judi Dench and Ali Fazal. I sat on the couch, squished between two loved ones, giving my homework the slip, watching Judi play Victoria.
And she asks for a mango.
I think that’s what made me remember, her saying that she’d never tasted a mango, after Abdul waxed so poetic about it. I remembered that day at the library, laughing at myself. I remembered the smooth peel, orange and red and green, and the sweet orange fruit, the stickiness and wild goodness of it all.
I hope you know what it’s like, to taste a mango. Not delicately, with a fork and bowl and knife and spoon and a napkin to dab away the bright, staining juice, but out in the sticky-hot air, biting into it with your teeth.
I hope you know what it’s like, to be that breathless at the prospect of reading. I hope you know the hot, sweaty summers, the dappled shade of trees. I hope, just once, that you eat a mango like that, sticky, orange and sweet. I hope you make a mess, and I hope you relish it.
Dragons and teakettles, we’re off on another book review! Fluff your pillows and settle into the shade, because today we’re in for a story where dragons are rare but real, magic abounds, the old world order teeters on the edge of the knife, and it’s up to four kids and a wizard to save all that’s good.
Do I have your attention yet?
Portents of Chaos by K.C. Julius (narrated by Chris Walker-Thomson)
The Drinnglennin Chronicles, No. 1
Genre: YA High Fantasy/Adventure
Content/Trigger Warnings: infrequent mild language, archaic strong language, 1 violent death by burning, 1 named character death, some mild fantasy suspense/violence, affairs (including minors), drug use/addiction, implied domestic violence, innuendo, xenophobia (to the point of unjust internment and murder), alcohol and tobacco use, teenage marriages (including cousins), some mytho-religious content.
Rating: 3 out of 5.
First off, a titanic thank-you to K.C. Julius for the review copy of her novel! I had a great time listening to this one, curled up, happily untangling yarn by the garrett window as I listened. If you’re interested in seeing more of her work, you can check out her website here. And as is required:
Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own, because few are they who may tell me what to write and live to tell the tale.
Okay! On with the review!
Where to start with Portents of Chaos?
At first, I thought it was a sweet, charming middle-grade read. A soft dragon book with just the right amount of danger and all the nostalgia of long summers spent reading adventure stories like this back when I was the age of the protagonists.
My first impulse was to call it Percy Jackson meets Eragon. We’ve got our dragons and dragon riders, our wise old wizard mentor figure, our sweet, good-natured protagonist who can’t seem to find his place in the world (or do well in school), and the hint of adventure on the breeze. And the “Sorry kid, your parents didn’t like each other for very long, get married or live happily ever after, but now you’re magic, so deal with it.” That’s very Percy Jackson.
But those aren’t the only influences. There’s a rich backstory to rival Terry Brooks’ Shannara, a definitely not-Elrond Elf King in a golden wood that’s strikingly like Lindolothlorien, the horse-loving Halla who would get along famously with Lady Eowyn of Rohan, the difficulty in picking a single target age range like Crown of Three, and the high number of changing POV chapters and political intrigue of Game of Thrones.
Still with me so far? Hang in there, we’re just getting started.
Just so you can keep track going forward, here’s a short rundown of each narrator that appears in Portents:
Leif, a very good boy who just wants to be the best he can be,
Leif’s grandmother (to provide more insight into Leif’s character and let you know that she’s going to be okay after the Grand Adventure starts),
Maura, a pretty country girl with a good heart who knows how to tame wild animals and stab you in the gut if need be,
Borne, Maura’s friend, the stereotypical young knight-errant from humble means,
Halla, a young lady who really should inherit her father’s estate because she’s the best one suited to rule it and can ride and fight better than her brothers,
Whit, Halla’s cousin, also nobility, a bookworm who desperately wants to be a wizard and judges everyone else as a hobby,
and finally, Morgan, the great (albeit dishonored) wizard and orchestrator of the entire adventure.
I do love a good ensemble cast. If you really ask yourself who the protagonist is, you’d be hard pressed to choose among Leif, Whit, Maura, and Halla. And it’s terrific, because if you relate to one character but not another, someone else might connect differently. It’s a great way to widen your audience and vary perspectives.
So like I said, my first thought was that this was a middle-grade read. Leif, the original POV character, has his thirteenth birthday in the early chapters of the book, which is pretty much the sweet spot for MG leads. But Maura is fourteen, if my memory doesn’t fail me, with Halla and Whit around the same age. And more importantly, there’s a lot of more mature content that had me asking “You did what in a middle-grade book?”
We’ll get to that later.
I should clarify that while I said Shannara backstory-levels, that’s not quite fair. Leif is so curious, every time when Morgan is deep in the monologue and you expect it to become a bone-dry history lesson, Leif interrupts with yet another question, making the whole thing livelier and a lot more amusing.
I could have read an entire novel just from Leif’s POV. Frankly, I feel cheated that we didn’t get to spend more time with him arriving in Mithralyn, watching him face such deeply personal struggles that Julius set up in his opening chapters. I wanted to see him meet the Elven king. I wanted to see this little man decide if he was going to feel his lack of worth or chin up and believe in himself the way he believes in everyone else.
But no. As soon as the mist on the forest clears, we’re in Maura’s POV, which is equally interesting, but, well, she hasn’t got Leif’s innocent good-heartedness.
And I’ll admit, I have a soft spot for wizards who are literally keeping the world together and get zilch respect. Oh yeah, that’s the disgraced old guy. He travels around the country. Used to be something great, but whatever. Don’t pay him any attention.
(Wizard keeps the country from falling into civil war, has a network of loyal spies, knows almost everyone personally, knows the roads of the empire like the lines and veins on the back of his aging hand, is the only one to use good logic)
It’s a trope. It’s a trope I’m here for.
What I’m not here for is the “enchantment of charm.” Or what I usually call the “Hot Elf Queen Trope.”
Turns out I’m not a fan when the shoe is on the other foot. It doesn’t make a difference to me if it’s an Elf king instead of a queen or a mortal who does the “enchanting.” I don’t like the idea that “they were so charming I couldn’t help myself.” That the allure of someone’s physical appearance robs you of your reason and self-control so it isn’t a matter of choice–
I usually don’t get this grumpy, but if you can’t figure out why this trope is outdated bogus that breeds creeps, if you’re just cool with that idea, go read someone else’s blog. This is not okay.
It starts out subtly enough. I’ll leave out names to avoid spoiling, but it’s essentially one character trying to convince another that his parents did have feelings for each other, were happy in each other’s company…before they split up and never saw each other again.
But then it pops up later, in Mithralyn, it gets repeated by Leif, worrying that a friend has no defenses before the natural charm of the Elves and will be completely taken advantage of. Right, so even our main character is buying into this idea that someone can be so magically hot that it’s game over and the other character has no control over what happens next.
I’m so infuriated I actually can’t think of anything else to say about this. No. Just no. Don’t do this. Don’t write this. Don’t read this. And certainly don’t believe this.
Then there’s Borne.
I hate Borne.
Not at first, of course, when he sweeps in heroically and flirts with Maura the way any number of pretty boys in MG and YA books do. But what do you call the opposite of someone growing on you?
I was a little surprised when he began describing all the other girls he’d flirted with.
And then when it became abundantly clear that he was doing a lot more than flirting. And was trying to shake a girl who was interested in being more than a passing fancy.
Yeah, he’s a womanizing jerk. Someone called him a man of integrity later in the book and I was just like “NO no nope no no he’s not. There are names for boys like him where I come from. Maura needs to run before Borne takes and tires of her too, because as poetic as he is, we’ve got no proof he won’t discard her like all his other ‘conquests.’”
And how about the fact that Borne, who I don’t believe is older than sixteen, has learned most of his tricks from an association with a widowed woman…some time before the novel even starts.
Even if we try to hope for the best and say maybe it was a really young widow (two other characters were getting betrothed in their early teens) and maybe it was only a year before the novel takes place, that’s still probably an awkward relationship between an older woman and a minor.
…yeah, going to just back slowly away from that one.
Frankly, I’m a little surprised (and disappointed) the “alluring Fay” trope and Borne’s character type popped up
In a book not intended for adults
In a book written in the last twenty years
In a book written by a woman (sorry, but “men writing women badly” especially in sci-fi has had its repercussions on my opinions)
This is the modern era. We shouldn’t be repeating such archaic nonsense. We have power over what we choose to do, and boys who romance and then dump unassuming girls aren’t good people. We shouldn’t pretend otherwise.
End of story.
So…yeah. By this point, I was starting to suspect this was really intended for YA. You don’t see this sort of thing for middle-grade audiences very often.
Borne isn’t the only…problematic figure in the novel. There’s also Halla’s best friend of the å Livåri…who married at thirteen and has no problem boldly hinting about her experiences.
I get it, it’s a medievalesque fantasy, and in some cultures (particularly the nobility of Europe), marrying that young was the norm. It doesn’t bother me as much as other things. But I mention it because I’ve had at least one friend who doesn’t read as many old historical-style novels as I do and was utterly scandalized by the idea. So if that type of thing bothers you, be prepared.
And the fact that two first cousins got engaged who might have actually been genetic half-siblings…
Me, I’m wondering if I should be more concerned that the å Livåri, so clearly based on the Romani, are remarked on for loose living and flirtatious dances. It’s something probably no one else would notice, paying more attention to the way Julius condemns the xenophobia in her characters and slowly reveals the humanity in every group of people, even the drug-addicted Lurkers–but it doesn’t sit well with me.
There’s a special place in my heart for all wandering peoples. Factual or fictional. Sometimes when I’m working at Renaissance festivals as my minstrel-y self, I feel a kinship to them, something between fellowship and envy.
And after this many years of performing and reading, I’ve learned that there are–certain associations people make.
It’s been hundreds of years, but some people still look down on wanderers, on performers, on people who are different. And part of that is depicting them as exotic and sensual.
A base creature or an object. Entertainment, beggars, not unique people. It’s the curse of the “us-versus-them” psychology, of having someone outside the social group, but that’s no excuse for it. Maybe I’m reading into it because I’m more sensitive to this type of slight, but it makes me uncomfortable, Julius’ depiction of the å Livåri. I hope she doesn’t unthinkingly repeat others’ mistakes. I’d so much rather if she’d left that part about the sensuality out so there’s no chance it can be misread. Maybe she’s setting it up cleverly, the way she did with the Lurkers, and I’ve only got half the puzzle in front of me.
I say that, but the å Livåri were also among my favorites. If I’d been Halla, the first moment things started going south, Julius would have been forced to write “And she ran away with the å Livåri and lived happily ever after performing wicked good theatre and dancing with knives and now I have to go find a new fourth protagonist because that’s the end of that.”
While I’m on a roll, I might as well tackle the last sticking point for me in terms of content. Drumroll please, for the polytheistic mythology that is still obviously derived from Catholicism!
(cue maniacal bookmarkedone laughter and oh, why not, throw in a crash of thunder)
Clearest example? The Sin Eater.
I did a quick Google to make sure I was right about this, and while it’s not exclusively associated with church rituals, I’m not wrong in remembering it as a folklore item linked to religious practices, particularly Welsh Christianity.
In case you’re not familiar with it, this is an archaic ritual in which an outcast of the community would come and eat a meal at the funeral of a deceased person, symbolically “eating their sins” and ensuring them peace in the afterlife. Sort of like a human scapegoat.
You don’t read about that a lot in fantasy fiction. Why? Because it’s not prescribed anywhere in the Bible, not part of modern church practices, and it’s one of those things we just don’t talk about anymore because frankly, it’s a little bizarre.
But if you want more examples of borrowing in Julius’ mythology, there’s the fact that they still have what in a historical castle would be a chapel, complete with icons of gods and goddesses where the Catholic saints would be. And Whit’s mother spends most of her time in repentant prayer while his father is recalled as eating only plain food and wearing a coarse shirt close to his skin–two frequently quoted features of some types of medieval monastic life.
It’s just obscure traditions from Catholicism repainted with a veneer of polytheism.
One has to eventually ask the painful question: would it be uncomfortable for Catholic readers to discover a book with their faith mashed into a hybrid religion?
Or how about the fact that just when the full scope of the iconic gods and goddesses are explained, Whit proclaims himself an atheist, only interested in knowledge? As if religion always has to be restraining, something that belongs to one’s stuffy, misunderstanding parents and never to one’s self?
Guys, why do magical adventures and any type of religious faith have to be opposed? And I’m not talking about the cult-y stuff. Where are my D&D Paladin types at?
I say all this picky stuff, but the truth is that I couldn’t do that if Julius hadn’t so meticulously researched her setting. She didn’t just say here’s a dragon, here’s a castle, plop them into the page and away have fun. She found out how they really lived, the order of nobility in small earldoms and kingdoms, the social structures, the culture, the food, the language, the customs–and then she added her own magic system and unique cultural flair, not without its own share of careful thought.
“It wasn’t a practice for men of Dorf to embrace, unless they scored a point during Mob-Ball.”
I think this is from the early Maura chapters…I just scribbled it down because I was busy listening…
This says so much in just a single quote.
Men aren’t touchy-feely in Dorf
There’s probably somewhere in this world where it is the common practice for men to embrace as a friendly greeting
What is Mob-Ball? Haven’t got a clue! But it’s a game that belongs to the unique culture.
See what I mean? She’s done some good writing in here. Even creating the unique characteristics and voice required to effectively pull off a book with seven different POVs takes a lot of effort and skill.
Her writing style is nice, too. She has moments of description, as all writers do, but they didn’t seem to drag on too long. If anything, I would have liked a little more description of the characters early on. I’m still not sure what Maura’s pets look like, so I’m imagining some cross of a long-haired rabbit and a fox–but that’s probably my error, tearing through it too fast to catch all the details.
It’s really hard to dislike a book with the phrase “With the prospect of pudding to come.”
And can we take a minute to appreciate the narration?
Not only does Chris Walker-Thomson have a steady voice with a very pleasant British accent, he goes all in for his reading. I’m not just talking about changing the pitch of his voice so the different characters are easier to tell apart. He changes his accent, giving some of the characters a little lilt and Maura’s Lurker a Scottish accent so thick it was almost hard to understand him.
Not that I would have changed it for anything, of course.
It’s the type of narration where it sounds like the reader really enjoys the book, like he believes in the story and wants to share it with others. It’s in the little details, the way he recorded himself twice so when two characters speak at the same time, they really do, or singing when one of the characters is performing a song.
And of course, his voice for Morgan the wizard.
As soon as I heard it I perked up. It’s Gandalf, Ian McKellen’s Gandalf, slightly gruff, with the same sonority and gentle, incredibly patient care in the tone for all he comes in contact with. It’s so similar that I can’t quite believe it isn’t intentional.
I might gripe here and there about the book, but I have no complaints about the narration. Not one.
What do I think of Portents of Chaos?
Hard to say. I don’t really think it’s one novel.
Let me explain.
I settled into the Leif sections expecting him to be the only protagonist. But if you think of it that way, look at each section carefully, there’s a lot of foreshadowing in each main character section that’s never answered. What is the deal with the “meat pie” that Leif’s granny hides in the fireplace ashes? Why does Maura’s Lurker keep popping up? What’s the deal with the crows hanging around Whit? Surely after introducing Halla’s å Livåri friends they’re going to have a larger role, right? And why do we need to know about Borne Braxton at all (really now)?
It’s more like five different novels stitched together, but then cut down to the length of the novel. It’s the sort of story where you have to read the next book if you want to get any sort of satisfaction about what happens in “the end.”
For that reason, the actual ending floored me. Epilogue? That couldn’t be right! I still had more book left, didn’t I? I felt like I’d only read the beginning and maybe the middle of something, like there was so much more left to come.
So if you like that sort of thing, Portents of Chaos is waiting! Like I said, it’s got a good flow and style that set it apart from a lot of other dragon books. And if it’s not your thing…well, thank you for getting this far and reading the entirety of this ginormous review. I may have gotten carried away.
Anybody in the Writers of the Future circle knows what today is. It’s the last day of the third quarter–and the last day to send in entries to one of the best science-fiction and fantasy contests for new writers in the world.
I don’t actually know how many entries I’ve written by now? I’ve slowly risen in the ranks from “please no” to “honorable mention” to “silver honorable mention,” always vying to be in the top round of finalists–and yes, I confess, fantasizing about the Golden Pen Award.
But award or no award–I’ve gotten a lot better thanks to WOTF. Seriously, would I have ever written my Twizzler-eating, rooftopping, good-hearted science fantasy protagonist without the deadline? Or figured out what it is that I really want to write?
I owe them more than even I realize. Even without making it to finalist.
But on the other hand, it’s about seven years since I started this. Who knows? Maybe this will be my lucky number.
(cue sounds of Fate laughing incredulously in the background and bookmarkedone continuing to type and studiously ignoring it)
So! You want to know about the story, right? Or at least how it is that I’ve submitted my story ten hours before the actual deadline? Who even am I? Not smacking the keys at the very last moment? Letting go of it in the middle of the afternoon instead of seconds before midnight? Who is this, and what has the vile impostor done with your beloved bookmarkedone?
Okay, to be fair, this story has been written since the middle of May. I wrote four all-new short stories for my senior creative writing portfolio-something-something class so I could graduate uni, so all it needed was a last proofread and erasing my name from any cover pages.
I also feel like pointing out this was four roughly 5-6,000 word stories in sixteen weeks, drafted and revised, or one story a month. If you ignore the fact that my WOTF stories are usually 2-3x longer (whether or not they should be)…I did the work of a year in four months.
Which is great, because now I have my WOTF entries ready to go and can focus on other projects–but it’s also why I’ve been kind of zonked and have written Little of Any Great Significance for the last month.
As for the story itself…I can’t tell you.
But WOTF is supposed to be judged blind, and since some former contestants follow the blog (and I’ve reviewed the anthology three years running, so administration is Very Aware of me as well)…I can’t really tell you about my favorite parts of the plot without risking being busted for it.
So–now you get to wait for the results with me, after which I can tell you all the little backstage details.
…in about three months.
I said I’m sorry!
But if turning it in with ten hours to spare is any indication…I do feel pretty good about this one. Hopeful, I guess. I could use a good break.
BookmarkedOne has gotten a redesign!
Don’t tell me you didn’t notice.
It’s actually the second redesign for the site, so by now I’m pretty used to the Dread Rearranging of All Content. Resizing, redoing the menus, deleting things that suddenly are in way the wrong place, wondering where the follow button went–
It’s a pain. I know very little about design and even less about coding, so this was…not something I was looking forward to. But I gritted my teeth and did it yesterday, and yes, stayed up until 4:00 a.m. tweaking until everything was to my satisfaction, but now it’s done.
And gang, I’m so happy about it. It’s sleeker, it’s still Dark Mode, I finally figured out how to get the blog feed to show just an excerpt instead of the entire monster post you’re scrolling forever, please, I got rid of the grainy photos that were all different sizes–it looks like I’m running a real blog here. No more teenage reader in the kitchen vibes! Only ageless Fey in the garrett style here!
Also serif fonts have no right to make me as satisfied as they do. It feels like I’m inside a book again and I am very, very happy about that.
And shoutout to the visitor from Greece who decided to pop in while I was in the middle of site construction? First off, I’m terribly sorry that you probably debated your sanity as photos disappeared and I moved That One Block slightly to the right five times and added a “that” to a paragraph but made no other alterations and wasn’t something there before that isn’t there now?
But seriously. How do you guys know? How do you pinpoint the exact moment I’m making changes? What primal instinct strikes between midnight and four o’clock in the morning of must read bookmarkedone? What sort of readers have I created?
And I know you’re there because I clicked over to my stats for something and saw thirty hits?
In retrospect, I’m wondering if WordPress is counting the times I check my own pages to make sure they’re working properly…but I know I wasn’t the only one there because I saw the link referrals from The Beauty of a Story.
I’m glad to have the visitors…but it’s also the mood of me stuffing pillows over messy piles of junk and saying “Oh, wow, hi, so great to see you, come in, have a seat, I just wasn’t expecting company.”
It’s fabulous now, so chill here at gremlin hours anytime you like.
Until next time,
The very best luck to all the Writers and Illustrators of the Future entrants out there, and a wry thank-you to my lovely readers. Here’s to what comes.
Whilst bookmarkedone was on hiatus, I was tagged by the lovely Elizabeth Hyde at The Temperamental Writer! So thank you, my temperamental friend, for the wonderful surprise. I’m sure you thought I’d forgotten. I haven’t. I was looking forward to doing this while slogging through the last of my finals, and now it’s finally time.
Excluding Lewis and Tolkien, what is a book you think of as a truly solid book?
First of all, how dare you exclude the kings? You know me too well, too well indeed.
Okay, but this isn’t actually that hard. I positively adore Patrick Rothfuss’ novel, The Name of the Wind, but please don’t get me started on the sequel because I haven’t finished it and…stuff happens I’m not happy about. That being said, The Name of the Wind is divine. I’ve never seen anybody write about music as eloquently as Rothfuss does, and that’s me included. He says so many things about performance that are exactly accurate and so poetic that I feel as if I’ve been searching for the words my entire life and finally found them. And the magic system is out of this world good. And there’s also a very soft, sweet romance. And did I mention the dragon?
But there are so many others that should be on your to-read list too, like Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart, The Fog Diver by Joel Ross, and if you haven’t read Ursula LeGuin’s A Wizard of Earthsea by now, what are you even doing with your life?
I think I cheated on that answer. I gave you four solid books. Should I be sorry?
Who is a character who deserves a better book to inhabit?
Hmm. I don’t know if I have someone in a world I don’t like because fantasy worlds are so gorgeous even if they are deadly…I guess that’s just my type.
But if the question is “Who is a character who deserves a better story?”
Maglor. It’s Maglor.
And while I’m at it, I’ll take Maedhros, Maglor, Beleg Cúthalion, and Turin Turambar from The Silmarillion, please.
It’s been years, and I still can’t even, guys. Every time, I find this gorgeous Silm fanart, and it’s one of them, and I’m just quietly crying my eyes out.
Maglor is the hardest because it’s so easy to fanfiction what just might have happened please you should be happy Tolkien doesn’t say it didn’t happen that way…exactly.
Feels. I have the feels.
If you know, you know. If you don’t–
What’s the best book you’ve read so far this year?
(sounds of bookmarkedone consulting Goodreads)
Hmm…well, bearing in mind that it’s only June and I do most of my reading over the lazy days of summer…
I’m going to cheat again and pick two.
The best novel so far was probably The Ickabog by J.K. Rowling. It’s a charming children’s book in just the way I wanted it to be. It’s scary if you’re reading it to a young audience, as JKR tends to be, but it has such a good heart and sweet fairytale feel. I have a thing for cuddly monsters. Even if I often consider them cuddly when everyone else firmly assures me they are not…If I keep talking, I’m going to start spoiling, so go read The Ickabog and enjoy a nice long fairytale.
But I’d be remiss if I left out Writers of the Future Volume 38. What’s that, you say? You haven’t read my review of WOTF 38? So you’re about to brew a cup of tea and find out why it’s awesome, aren’t you?
What’s something that happens in books that you wish would happen in real life?
Oh, darling. I need an interdimensional portal. I need to open the cupboard/fall out of a tree/unlock the secrets of a magic carpet like yesterday.
Imagine if magic is out there, and you just need to figure out how to unlock the door. Imagine if you could have all the adventures your heart could desire, all the unicorns and dragons and monsters and heroes, all of them, and you haven’t yet just because you haven’t opened the right door.
If you could step into another world, what else could you possibly ask for?
What book do you wish you could read again for the first time, knowing absolutely nothing about it?
Hmm. Probably Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart. I picked it up the other day to get a quote for an essay I was working on and it was like being smacked down in the middle of the forehead. I read the trilogy, what, my junior year in high school? Dude, that was the same semester I wrote my first WOTF entry…wow. Anyway, it was one of those things where you’re flipping past the pages and you realize just how much you have forgotten, even though you promised you’d remember the story forever. I don’t think I’m ever going to forget Inkheart completely, but it would be something to fall in love with it again.
And have my heart ripped out by the sequel, of course.
It’s a journey that’s quite worth it.
But that’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure I’d love to read The Lord of the Rings for the first time again, and there are so many, so many others…
Has the library ever grievously failed you? How so?
“The Library” itself? No. But I can think of at least one library I’ve been to that…I don’t consider a library. I’m sorry, but when I know as much as the part-timer behind the circulation desk, when the primary function is “a quiet place” or “computer access,” when I don’t feel welcome…that isn’t a library. It’s a tomb, a sepulcher, a monument to an ideal, a universe of beauty which it failed to attain. A temple to a ghost.
Funny story. At the library I’m thinking of, the nice young lady working there once brought me a totally different title from the selection my professor had reserved for the class. Actually, I’m not even sure if that book was for our class. She held it up like “I know this isn’t even kind of what you said, want this instead because I can’t find the other one?”
Normally, perhaps. But that doesn’t get the homework reading done.
I don’t blame her a bit. I had to break in–what, three part-time librarians over the duration of that course? Nobody had a clue how “books on reserve” worked. One poor guy looked like he started sweating when he saw me heading for the desk the second or third time he helped me. I almost felt sorry for him, but hey, he figured it out. It’s the shelf in the back. Yup, under the course number. Whole shelf just for the three students. Got it on the first try this time, buddy. Gold star! See, I’m going away now. No more scary lady.
Were there any books that traumatized you as a young child?
Yeah, probably. I remember this weird Faerie cult book that I can’t remember the name of now…it was probably okay, I was just young when I read it and we did the whole “monster-kidnapped-your-mom” trope–not at the beginning, but after she’d been developed as a character and we’d gotten attached to her as readers.
She was a painter. And a good mom.
It’s a shame, because that book had a lot going for it. Time travel, fairy magic, scary monsters, cult murder–actually, I don’t think that last one’s true. Cultish society and attempted murder. That’s it. I can see its shelf in the library, black and silver cover spine and everything, but nope, cannot recall the title.
And after all that, I still kind of wanted to finish the book.
I’m sure there are others, but I tend to–block out things that scared me as a kid? Like there have been multiple times I’m rewatching movies and it’s the weirdest déjà vu because I know I’ve been here before but I cannot tell you how, when, or why until I see the thing that scared me and realize oh, it’s you…and promptly feel embarrassed because I was scared of a cartoon dude in a hood who was supposed to be playing Death.
It’s a little like reading the book for the first time again without quite knowing it.
Are there any tropes that are likely to make you like a book even if it falls short in other aspects?
HA HA HA I would like to say no, but yes.
I will fall for a book that has a thief. I will follow that little thief and hang on to his every move (usually judging the writer if the technique isn’t completely described or if that’s not even kind of how you pick locks are we serious right now). I love, love, love, the sneaky characters. There’s just something about them being like “I’ma steal that whole ham” (Sage, The False Prince) or “I’ma rob a wizard” (Conn, The Magic Thief) or just being like “Please I am just minding my own business don’t stab me also your wallet is missing how did this happen.”
Bonus points if the thief is snarky. Even if it’s a façade and we know they’re just as terrified as the rest of the characters.
I think it’s because they know what the rest of the world is like. They know nobody cares about them–they’re disreputable and scruffy and usually ill-mannered–but that means they see people for what they really are, rather than who they pretend to be. They know who they are, in good times and bad. And when nobody expects anything of you, you’re free to do whatever you want.
I mean, you’re already supposed to be in jail, so…
Short answer: snarky thieves. If there’s a book blurb that says “This protagonist is a snarky thief,” it’s going home with me. No further questions asked. I know my weakness.
When is the last time you can remember laughing out loud while reading?
Hmm, probably the Lauren Holbrook novels by Erynn Magnum. It was a long time ago, but there are some pretty funny moments in Miss Match.
Before that? I read Nanny Piggins and laughed until I cried.
What’s a historical era or event you would like more books about (be they novels of historical fiction, historical fantasy, alternate history, etc.)?
Probably steampunk. I know it’s out there, but I can never find one that’s magical enough for me. It’s like writers think, “Okay, I just made Queen Victoria a vampire, I should stop now. That’s enough.”
Me, I want the monsters and mayhem. I don’t read steampunk and want alternative history for it to read like another history. I want to see the magic happen. I want goth elephants on the battlefield and dragons in the skies and warlocks throwing gloves in one another’s faces and a potions mistress hiding all the little vials and bottles under the bell-shape of her hoopskirt and thieves running amok and making trouble.
But that’s just me.
Last step! Now to tag someone else and keep the fun going.
At first I assumed everyone cool had already been tagged, but lo and behold! Some of the lovely bloggers I follow have been overlooked and shall not escape being poked by me.
Spoilers–I’m not a big Frank Herbert fan. So I sort of grumbled a little, settling into this one.
And the story of a boy living in an abusive household? That’s–delicate.
“The Daddy Box” is the story of an ordinary kid discovering an alien box, but what’s inside is far more complex than most people would dream.
And after reading the story, I’m still not 100% clear on why it’s called a Daddy Box in the first place?
To understand what happened to Henry Alexander when his son, Billy, came home with the ferosslk, you’re going to be asked to make several mind-stretching mental adjustments. These mental gymnastics are certain to leave your mind permanently changed.
You’ve been warned.
I can’t lie. It’s a pretty great opening.
Galaxy Press, Publisher. Writers of the Future Vol 38 Advance Reading Copy (Kindle Locations 5439-5442). Galaxy Press, Inc.
Why do we call it a “Daddy Box” when “ferosslk” is so much cooler and more fitting?
To be fair, it has its brilliant moments. It has its way of drawing you in, wondering what this thing is, this box that looks like it could be made of jade. The protagonist has the Harry Potter/Percy Jackson vibe of a boy who just needs a good break for a change, so you start rooting for him and hating the villain without much difficulty. And it (sort of) has a happy ending, so–?
It feels like part of something bigger, some bigger world, bigger story, but at the same time, belongs only to itself. That’s all there is. But inside your mind, the story of that box is going to keep unfolding.
Not half bad. Not quite my personal cup of tea, but not bad.
Interlude: “Teamwork: Getting the Best out of Two Writers” by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson
It’s a nonfiction essay with some sound advice on writing with others. Cool? Cool. I learned my lesson in Part I. Back to the brand-new stories before I make another ridiculously long post.
Like skipping this will really stop me.
“The Island on the Lake” by John Coming
TW: 1 instance strong language, themes of suicide, the cost of knowing the future
Rating: 3 out of 5.
I came away from this one feeling like I missed some greater meaning that despite my closest reading, swept straight over my head and went whistling through the branches of the pine trees.
Or maybe it’s just what it is and I’m overly suspicious. Hard to say.
“The Island on the Lake” reads like a fairytale, fitting the old story structure that’s so familiar it’s like a comfortable worn sweater with a hole in the left elbow–go three times to your health, but a fourth to your peril, beware all types of magic for there’s always a cost, behold the forces of the world personified, ageless and knowing but lacking the innocent happy freedoms of mortal man–but it kept nagging me, why? What’s really going on here? What am I missing?
There’s some beautiful description in this one. So much that sometimes I was thinking how did you get away with this someone would have yelled at me to stop talking about the trees hours ago?
But I think it’s the little notes, the colors, that make this story beautiful.
…the days stretched on like taffy.
Galaxy Press, Publisher. Writers of the Future Vol 38 Advance Reading Copy (Kindle Location 5907). Galaxy Press, Inc.
Oranges like fading fire, and reds like dark apples.
Galaxy Press, Publisher. Writers of the Future Vol 38 Advance Reading Copy (Kindle Location 6203). Galaxy Press, Inc.
See what I mean? Gorgeous.
But it probably also didn’t help my opinion of the piece that I don’t like stories that end where you can’t feel satisfied, where you keep wondering for days with a tight feeling in your gut, hoping everyone is going to be okay.
Yeah…this is one of those.
The illustration is beautiful. I’ve–known a lot of forests in my life, and that one, that one felt…right. I’ve never been to one quite like that, but in a strange way it reminds me of the ones I know. The vines, the electric splashes of purple, the huge elephant ear leaves, the trees so much taller than the minuscule people, the lake that doesn’t throw back any clear reflection–it’s just beautiful. I probably missed the mark on this story, because I know given the chance, I’d most likely row out to that island just to meet those trees.
“The Phantom Carnival” by M. Elizabeth Ticknor
TW: some scary imagery, violent/thematic content, kidnapping, forced memory loss.
Rating: 5 out of 5.
“What makes you so sure you could?”
“Because I’m me.” Danny’s face splits in an ear-to-ear grin…
Galaxy Press, Publisher. Writers of the Future Vol 38 Advance Reading Copy (Kindle Locations 6524-6526). Galaxy Press, Inc.
So I wasn’t “in love” with the stories immediately prior. It happens. I settled in to this one on a rainy afternoon, tired, not really paying attention–
And promptly was grabbed, snatched, dragged, and otherwise forcefully brought into this world of story until my eyes were bugging out a little and I was flipping pages, thinking am I really reading this oh this is gorgeous what on earth oh oh YES and other (clears throat) incoherent little fangirl thoughts.
I mean…just taking a glance at my notebook scribblings…
No lie. This was amazing.
I was so excited I got on Twitter and yelled at everyone about it, spoiling my review a little…anyway.
Brace yourself for a Depression-era, rail-riding, trouser-wearing, monster-stabbing protagonist named Alice in the historical fiction/fantasy/horror/carnival short story you had no idea you needed.
You need this. You do.
It reminds me so much of stories I devoured during endless summers as a kid, watching other girls take on the world, no matter how impossible the challenge seemed. It’s spunky and voicey and unique and so well-researched on both fantastic and historical levels (screams)–I never considered a Depression-era fantasy, but now it makes so much sense I’m envious of Ticknor’s brilliance. Of course there was a secret magic world in the ’30s. Of course there was a creepy carnival and Fay kids riding the rails. Oh, naturally.
I want to go to that carnival. I know, I know, I know. But just to visit. It’s so weird and wonderful there. Just sneak in. Nobody would notice a thing.
And can we talk about the platonic friendships? I am always here for platonic friendships.
I only trusted him with my secret because he trusted me with his.
Galaxy Press, Publisher. Writers of the Future Vol 38 Advance Reading Copy (Kindle Locations 6689-6690). Galaxy Press, Inc.
This isn’t even a review anymore. It’s just me gushing over this thing.
It’s good. Read it. Now.
“The Last Dying Season” by Brittany Rainsdon
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
TW: xenaphobia, genocide, something like possession/mind control, suspense and danger, forced memory loss
So the first thing I thought about this one was “Fuzzy socks and Narnia…this bio seems familiar…Brittany, Brittany–didn’t we read something by her before? Wasn’t she the one,” (cue frantic rustling through my ARC copy of Vol. 37 until I find “Half-Breed,” the gorgeous Dryad story from last year and much internal screaming that Rainsdon is back yes yes yes yes yes!).
Yeah. I was excited. But also–there was some trepidation. What if she couldn’t live up to her last story? What if this wasn’t as good?
No sense in holding my breath. I turned the page.
Flowers and vines were their technological hardware, storing entire libraries of data in a single seed, leaf, or flower’s DNA.
Galaxy Press, Publisher. Writers of the Future Vol 38 Advance Reading Copy (Kindle Locations 6965-6966). Galaxy Press, Inc.
Guys. She did it. It’s good.
If her first story was urban fantasy, then this one is standard colonialist sci-fi. You know the stuff. Earth died, so humanity moved to another planet and trashed it in 20 seconds flat. You’ve read that plot before, if you’ve read any of the old stuff.
But here’s the thing. It’s Rainsdon.
…without conscience, courage becomes cruelty.
Galaxy Press, Publisher. Writers of the Future Vol 38 Advance Reading Copy (Kindle Location 7385). Galaxy Press, Inc.
(muffled sounds of bookmarkedone screaming it’s Rainsdon! from the rooftop and my neighbors mowing their lawns in fear)
So please. Allow me to be the first to introduce you to Edrei Muller, skilled geneticist and botanist on the planet Kalefe, and more importantly, a mother, in a world on the brink of collapse.
Like, you know I’ll fight for my found family dynamics, my platonic friendships, but a mother/daughter relationship? It changes the entire story. Rainsdon writes it with such tenderness, such free admission of flaws, of struggles, of love–
Read. Now. Go.
Interlude: “The Third Artist” by Diane Dillon
Okay, I know I said I’d skip the essays this time, but you should know that this one is a good read. I’m not a member of the visual arts community, and yet I found myself carried away by the way Dillon writes. For one reason because not only is it advice,
…it’s also a love story.
It’s the story of two artists who fell in love with each other and each other’s work and somehow figured out a way to embrace their creative passions together without scratching each other’s eyes out.
Leo and I were born in 1933, eleven days apart, 3,000 miles apart on opposite coasts, and from different worlds.
Galaxy Press, Publisher. Writers of the Future Vol 38 Advance Reading Copy (Kindle Locations 7541-7542). Galaxy Press, Inc.
Frankly, it’s riveting. Nothing stops them. Their successful career. How many other creatives can say they managed that?
“A Word of Power” by David Farland
Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
So this is a special one because it’s Farland’s last contribution to WOTF before passing away.
I think it would satisfy him to know that he managed to finish editing the last anthology with his name associated with it, that he had the honor of writing the story to go with the cover illustration.
It’s not every day you get a story with mammoths and robots. I mean, have you looked at the cover art?
An it’s flash fiction! Which if you don’t write SF/F is really, really hard. This genre takes a lot of explaining, so if you just throw someone in the deep end for a few thousand words, usually the best you get is gibberish and a headache.
For what it’s worth, Farland pulls it off. And he makes his characters leap off the page from the start.
But…it’s flash. You don’t get a complete ending tied up with a bow in flash. You get the opening, the beginning, something being brought to life, the first time a bird springs from the nest and beats its wings against the sky, and then–
The end. That’s all there is.
There’s just too much we don’t know. It’s scary.
But maybe that’s the point. Anytime we do anything, take any risk, it can feel like standing on the edge of the cliff. Maybe Farland’s story is there to remind us what it feels like to hope, to take the leap, to believe that there’s something good out there if we just reach for it.
And maybe he just left it open at the end so we could draw our own conclusions and fill in the blanks more eloquently and personally than he could.
Some good writing techniques really include “just be lazy.” It’s ridiculous that it works.
“The Greater Good” by Em Dupre
Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
TW: affairs, abusive relationships, murder, flippant remarks about sexuality, some violently graphic imagery, suspense, forced memory loss
Presenting an intergalactic murder mystery with a sci-fi confessional and an ageless man who really just wants to have a nice dinner in peace–
I feel like I did that wrong.
I’m not wrong, though.
How do you keep peace between a team of colonists alone in space for years when they’re going to feel cooped up and start stepping on each other’s toes, ruining their marriages, and killing each other since they have all the maturity of middle-aged teenagers?
Memory erasure. Only logical option. Clearly.
And so we get Counselor Adrian Parrish, who remembers everything and has the energy of an exhausted teacher on a school trip.
It’s a little difficult to stomach some points, since Adrian knows all the gruesome gossip about literally every character in the story, and in such a close POV, we the readers get to hear every last morsel of it–
Right. Anybody else feeling sympathy for Adrian’s grey hairs?
But aside from that…it’s really quite fascinating. It’s all so delicate when you look at it, so close to falling apart socially, and then there’s the murder mystery…
Just know what you’re in for. And good luck.
“For the Federation” by J. A. Becker
Rating: 4 out of 5.
TW: mild language, body horror, concubinage, genetic breeding, sterilization, violence (high body count), xenophobia, interplanetary colonization
YES IT’S TIME FOR THIS ONE!
All caps. Not professional. Right. Sorry.
Okay, so it’s pretty much a smack-in-the-face opening. And then with Craig and Beth start fighting–I wasn’t sure this was going to really suit me.
I was so happily wrong.
Beth, the genetically-modified assassin thug who could probably have an anvil dropped on her leg and wouldn’t bat an eye,
Craig, her misguided but caring spouse and the politician she’s charged with protecting,
and Sam, the son Beth would do anything for.
I am a gun, and he’s just pointed and pulled the trigger.
Galaxy Press, Publisher. Writers of the Future Vol 38 Advance Reading Copy (Kindle Locations 8595-8596). Galaxy Press, Inc..
In the action scenes, Beth is a machine. She’s incredible. I–yes. We salute the lady tank. And in the more tender, emotional moments? She’s there.
It’s not smooth sailing. It’s messy and chaotic and painful, and they’ve got their own share of hurt and betrayal and back stabbing and I love it.
It is so hard to see an enemy an inch from my face and I can’t kill it. It breaks me.
Galaxy Press, Publisher. Writers of the Future Vol 38 Advance Reading Copy (Kindle Locations 8535-8536). Galaxy Press, Inc.
(muffled bookmarkedone screaming)
If last year was the Year of the Granny, I’m voting this one as Good Moms. And this is another trend that I am more than ready to see become a trope because it’s going to be a long time before I get tired of complex, conflicted, beautiful characters like this.
I really would like just a little hint more. I just–need to know after all that, after everything they went through, that everybody is going to be okay.
I always do complain about the endings, don’t I?
“Psychic Poker” by Lazarus Black
Rating: 2.5 out of 5.
TW: strong language, some unfavorable/callous comments toward religious faith
So time for something a lot less serious than the legal standing of time travel or watching an assassin try her hardest to be a good mom.
Let’s see what happens when clairvoyants try to play cards against each other!
Yeah, there’s no more serious message here. It gets scary for the characters, but that’s it, that’s the plot.
To be fair, it’s pretty voicey, and it’s interesting to see how Black’s particular version of psychic powers work–what do you see? What do you miss?
And the protagonist, while being the Hawaiian-shirt wearing callous and selfish type, isn’t without his own merit.
Can’t hurt my kiddo if I’m just stupid lazy. I hope.
Galaxy Press, Publisher. Writers of the Future Vol 38 Advance Reading Copy (Kindle Location 8966). Galaxy Press, Inc.
The psychics are all different too, all with their own stories and backgrounds–which, of course, since the protagonist is psychic, the reader gets to know in rich detail.
Really, I should probably appreciate the clever bits of writing more than I do.
So why don’t I?
Well, besides Mr. Young getting under my skin a little, there’s a twist.
Frankly, I think I’m irritated by the twist because it feels like cheating and I really should have seen it coming.
You can be too clever, sometimes.
And that’s the end!
What did I think? Well, there were a lot of stories I loved this time. A few I didn’t, but that’s how anthologies go. I’m still delighted I got to be part of the advanced reader team and I hope I have the chance again next year.
Rating: 4 out of 5.
Thanks for reading, and again a huge thank-you to GalaxyPress for making this possible and for all the lovely writers who put so much effort into these stories. It’s quite easy for me to read a story and snub my nose at it, but it takes much more time to make something good.