The A To Z Bookish Survey

I wasn’t technically tagged by anyone but I saw Chelsea from RomWeasley doing this and she does the good old-fashioned “if you wanna do this I tag you” thing. So… she tagged me. This book tag was created by the Perpetual Page-Turner. So let’s do it.

A to Z

Author you’ve read the most books from:

J.K. Rowling, easily. All the Harry Potter books, plus the related “textbooks” QUIDDITCH THROUGH THE AGES and FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM. I also started reading THE CASUAL VACANCY but wasn’t into it at all. I also have the Italian edition of that and the first three Harry Potter books, back when I actually spoke Italian.

I don’t read many long series, but hopefully I’ll change that eventually because so many of my own story ideas involve multiple books.

Best Sequel Ever:

I haven’t read many sequels lately. I’ve been reading so many standalones. I’m going to pick something I read this year because my memory sucks.

The only thing I’ve read this year so far that counts as a sequel is THE SUMMER PALACE by C.S. Pacat, which is a short story linked to the CAPTIVE PRINCE trilogy (massive TW for this series on so many fronts as it’s one of those messy problematic faves: slavery, rape, pedophilia… just to name what’s off the top of my head).

Currently Reading:

I’m currently reading three books. Well, I haven’t touched them in a bit but I started them all. Damn reading slumps.

THE TIGER’S WATCH by Julia Ember. I’ve fallen so behind on my Netgalley ARC of this. Oops.

REDEFINING REALNESS by Janet Mock. I’m seeing Janet speak at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival soon so I better get back into this.

THE DEFECTIVES by Burgandi Rakoska. I don’t like this one at all, but I hate DNF-ing so I’ll finish it eventually. Finding books with wheelchair-using protagonists is a nightmare as it is.

Drink of Choice While Reading:

Water. I sometimes drink tea for my throat or have juice with food but not usually while reading.

E-reader or Physical Book?

I prefer physical books since I typically end up reading ebooks on my phone, which can be frustrating. I do read ebooks when necessary, though.

Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Actually Dated In High School:

No one. Most fictional characters don’t make for good real-life partners. Plus I didn’t date much in high school anyway and thought I was straight.

I also rarely get fictional crushes anymore. Combination of grey-aceness and being markedly older than the characters in the YA books I read, I guess. I also think the concept of book boyfriends is kinda weird and often skews heteronormative. That’s just me, though.

I have a great deal of affection for Grace and Eva from HOW TO MAKE A WISH, and Ari and Dante from… ARI & DANTE, but it’s more maternal than anything. The only time I’m ever really maternal is over fictional characters.

Glad You Gave This Book A Chance:

THE TRAITOR’S TUNNEL by C.M. Spivey. I typically read trad-pubbed YA, and this is neither of those things, but I happened to be on Twitter when Cal was offering free review copies. I ended up really liking it. It can be slightly confusing if you haven’t read other books in the series (which I haven’t) but I really enjoyed it anyway.

Queers everywhere, including an asexual MC who I’ve seen people say is pan-romantic but I don’t recall that being said in the text. Either way, lotsa queers.

Hidden Gem Book:

HOW TO MAKE A WISH by Ashley Herring Blake is the best thing ever and more people need to read it because it’s absolutely criminal that it has fewer than 1000 ratings on Goodreads. I want to get my hands on a hard copy of this at some point since I read it as an e-ARC. So basically, Chelsea, whose post I linked above, and I share a brain on this.

Important Moment in your Reading Life:

Becoming active on Twitter again inspired me to read more diversely and also gave me tools to find diverse books to read. It’s also made me far more aware of various issues of representation and helped me revive my blog.

Going back further to my childhood, reading Harry Potter inspired me to start reading and writing on a regular basis in the first place. One of the characters from the first novel I tried to write started off as an OC in a Harry Potter fanfic that I never finished.

Just Finished:

ASCENSION by Jacqueline Koyanagi is the last book I read. A while ago. Oops.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a black, disabled (chronic pain), lesbian, polyamorous MC who’s also an engineer and wears her hair in locs, go grab that. The ebook was more expensive than I would normally go for, but I couldn’t get my hands on a physical copy at the time.

Kinds of Books You Won’t Read:

I generally don’t touch non-diverse books anymore. I have trouble reading books with straight characters even if they are diverse in other ways.

I also don’t tend to read the classics, though I’ve enjoyed some of the Ancient Greek tragedies here and there as part of my (aborted) studies.

I also rarely read outside of YA, but I have expanded of late. I read some NA and the occasional adult novel, but generally these are ones that came highly recommended or I’m reading them for a specific reason.

Longest Book You’ve Read:

 

HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX, probably. I don’t read many massive books these days.

Major book hangover because of:

I think SIX OF CROWS has spoiled me for books. I have so many other books to read that I don’t really have the time or money to spend on the sequel yet, but it’s on my mind a lot.

Number of Bookcases You Own:

Two. They share space with old school stuff so I can’t actually fit all my books on them. I have piles throughout my room, including a TBR pile on my bedside table, which has become almost an honorary bookshelf in itself.

One Book You Have Read Multiple Times:

I haven’t done a lot of repeat reads in the last couple years. I want to reread ARI & DANTE and FAR FROM YOU at some point.

The last book I actually reread was probably a Harry Potter book, years ago.

Preferred Place To Read:

Bed. It’s shoved up against a wall so I can prop myself up on my pillow and read fairly comfortably. It does have the side-effect of me reading late at night when I’m supposed to be sleeping, though.

Quote that inspires you/gives you all the feels from a book you’ve read:

I rarely remember book quotes because what is memory, but ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE is full of amazing quotes. I just went scrolling through the quotes posted on Goodreads and I found one that I’d forgotten:

To be careful with people and with words was a rare and beautiful thing.

Something to that effect has been on my mind lately, what with all the conversations about toxicity on YA twitter (mostly coming from people who are angry marginalised folk aren’t just accepting the verbal punches those people lash out anymore) and also in my own life. With the marriage equality debate raging in Australia and a lot of friends on Facebook changing their profile pics or posting about how they’re totally going to vote for marriage equality, it had me thinking about how some of those people have said insensitive things about bisexuality to my face. Those same people then shut me down when I complained about what they said to me. Like, I’m glad they’re gonna vote for my rights but it’s so very jarring given the way they’ve behaved towards me, sometimes quite recently.

We could all benefit from being more careful with our words and with the people around us.

Reading Regret:

Whenever I waste money on a book that turns out to be bigoted as all hell.

Oh, and when I straight-up forget to read for weeks on end.

Series You Started And Need To Finish (all books are out in series):

THE RAVEN BOYS by Maggie Stiefvater. I own all the books so I’ll get around to them eventually. Maggie has been pissing me off for a while with the way she acts on social media, but, hey, I own the books anyway. May as well read them when I have time.

Three of your All-Time Favorite Books:

ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

FAR FROM YOU by Tess Sharpe

HOW TO MAKE A WISH by Ashley Herring Blake

Unapologetic Fangirl For:

*gestures at ARI & DANTE*

Also, I’m slowly getting turned into a SIX OF CROWS fangirl but have to be careful with that since I haven’t read CROOKED KINGDOM.

Very Excited For This Release More Than All The Others:

WILD BEAUTY by Anna-Marie McLemore. I have been assured that it is very queer and very well-written. I will sell my soul for a copy.

Worst Bookish Habit:

I get book slumps all the time and can leave books unfinished for weeks, if not months. At the same time, though, I’m stubborn and hate DNF-ing.

X Marks The Spot: Start at the top left of your shelf and pick the 27th book:

BETRAYAL by Lili St. Crow. Book 2 in her STRANGE ANGELS series. I haven’t read that thing in ages. It probably hasn’t aged well regarding how one of the love interests is treated regarding his race, actually.

The one thing I remember from that series was the main character had a really strong voice. It’s probably seeped into my own writing, to be honest.

Your latest book purchase:

As seen in my July Book Haul post:

Bought three books from the Book Depository: THE WORLD IN HALF by Cristina Henríquez, WRITTEN IN THE STARS by Aisha Saeed, and SHADOWSHAPER by Daniel José Older.

ZZZ-snatcher book (last book that kept you up WAY late):

COFFEE BOY by Austin Chant. I kept reading it on my phone even after I’d turned the lights out and was trying to sleep. It’s a really good book. Go read it.


Okay, so that’s it. I’m not gonna tag anyone because I hate doing that, but if you’re reading this and wanna do it, consider yourself tagged.

July Book Haul

I don’t often do book hauls because I don’t read, like, a million books a month. Or even get my hands on that many. Because money is a thing, I’m fussy about ARCs and my local library has fuck-all books I actually want to read.

So it’s actually a miracle that I got my hands on seven books in July. Normally I’d paste in the book blurbs in full, but some of them are as long as shit so I’m using shorter sections when possible.

7144ovnwdplThe One Library Book I Actually Want to Read

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock

Janet Mock is coming to Australia as part of the Melbourne Writer’s festival, so that’s pushed her book up in my queue. I’m also reading this for the Diverse Nonfiction square in Diversity Bingo.

In 2011, Marie Claire magazine published a profile of Janet Mock in which she stepped forward for the first time as a trans woman. Those twenty-three hundred words were life-altering for the People.com editor, turning her into an influential and outspoken public figure and a desperately needed voice for an often voiceless community. In these pages, she offers a bold and inspiring perspective on being young, multicultural, economically challenged, and transgender in America.

35527728My One e-ARC This Month

The Tiger’s Watch by Julia Ember

Sixteen-year-old Tashi has spent their life training as a inhabitor, a soldier who spies and kills using a bonded animal. When the capital falls after a brutal siege, Tashi flees to a remote monastery to hide. But the invading army turns the monastery into a hospital, and Tashi catches the eye of Xian, the regiment’s fearless young commander.

Tashi spies on Xian’s every move. In front of his men, Xian seems dangerous, even sadistic, but Tashi discovers a more vulnerable side of the enemy commander—a side that draws them to Xian.

When their spying unveils that everything they’ve been taught is a lie, Tashi faces an impossible choice: save their country or the boy they’re growing to love. Though Tashi grapples with their decision, their volatile bonded tiger doesn’t question her allegiances. Katala slaughters Xian’s soldiers, leading the enemy to hunt her. But an inhabitor’s bond to their animal is for life—if Katala dies, so will Tashi.

Book Depository Haul

4680339The World in Half by Cristina Henríquez

I’m reading this one for the Book Set in Central America square.

Miraflores has never known her father, and until now, she’s never thought that he wanted to know her. She’s long been aware that her mother had an affair with him while she was stationed with her then husband in Panama, and she’s always assumed that her pregnant mother came back to the United States alone with his consent. But when Miraflores returns to the Chicago suburb where she grew up, to care for her mother at a time of illness, she discovers that her mother and father had a greater love than she ever thought possible,

and that her father had wanted her more than she could have ever imagined.

In secret, Miraflores plots a trip to Panama, in search of the man whose love she hopes can heal her mother,and whose presence she believes can help her find the pieces of her own identity that she thought were irretrievably lost. What she finds is unexpected, exhilarating, and holds the power to change the course of her life completely.

Written in the Stars by Aisha Saeed22521951

I’m reading this one for the Contemporary World Arranged Marriage square.

This heart-wrenching novel explores what it is like to be thrust into an unwanted marriage. Has Naila’s fate been written in the stars? Or can she still make her own destiny?

Naila’s conservative immigrant parents have always said the same thing: She may choose what to study, how to wear her hair, and what to be when she grows up—but they will choose her husband. Following their cultural tradition, they will plan an arranged marriage for her. And until then, dating—even friendship with a boy—is forbidden. When Naila breaks their rule by falling in love with Saif, her parents are livid. Convinced she has forgotten who she truly is, they travel to Pakistan to visit relatives and explore their roots. But Naila’s vacation turns into a nightmare when she learns that plans have changed—her parents have found her a husband and they want her to marry him, now! Despite her greatest efforts, Naila is aghast to find herself cut off from everything and everyone she once knew. Her only hope of escape is Saif . . . if he can find her before it’s too late.

22295304Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older

I’m reading this for the POC on the Cover square. I’ve heard a lot of good things about it.

Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra’s near-comatose abuelo begins to say “Lo siento” over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep…. Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on.

Sierra soon discovers a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. Her grandfather once shared the order’s secrets with an anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, who turned the Caribbean magic to his own foul ends. Now Wick wants to become the ultimate Shadowshaper by killing all the others, one by one. With the help of her friends and the hot graffiti artist Robbie, Sierra must dodge Wick’s supernatural creations, harness her own Shadowshaping abilities, and save her family’s past, present, and future.

I Actually Went to a Physical Bookstore OMG WOW

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Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

I’ve been meaning to get my hands on this one since early in the year. I lucked out and found it while browsing a bookstore in the city. It’ll have to be on the backburner a bit while I read books for the Diversity Bingo, but I’m definitely excited to read it when I can.

When BFFs Charlie, Taylor and Jamie go to SupaCon, they know it’s going to be a blast. What they don’t expect is for it to change their lives forever.

Charlie likes to stand out. SupaCon is her chance to show fans she’s over her public breakup with co-star, Reese Ryan. When Alyssa Huntington arrives as a surprise guest, it seems Charlie’s long-time crush on her isn’t as one-sided as she thought.

While Charlie dodges questions about her personal life, Taylor starts asking questions about her own.

Taylor likes to blend in. Her brain is wired differently, making her fear change. And there’s one thing in her life she knows will never change: her friendship with Jamie—no matter how much she may secretly want it to. But when she hears about the Queen Firestone SupaFan Contest, she starts to rethink her rules on playing it safe.

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Begin, End, Begin: A #LoveOzYA Anthology (edited by Danielle Binks)

 

I got this one for Will Kostakis’s story tbh

The YA event of the year. Bestsellers. Award-winners. Superstars. This anthology has them all. With brilliantly entertaining short stories from beloved young adult authors Amie Kaufman, Melissa Keil, Will Kostakis, Ellie Marney, Jaclyn Moriarty, Michael Pryor, Alice Pung, Gabrielle Tozer, Lili Wilkinson and Danielle Binks, this all-new collection will show the world exactly how much there is to love about Aussie YA.

So the majority of the books I’m reading for Diversity Bingo are now accounted for, minus two I need to buy, two I’m getting from the library and two that are not released yet. I’m hoping to Netgalley those but I don’t know when (or if) that’s gonna happen.

BE CAREFUL: Self-Promo When Writing Outside Your Lane

I witnessed a conversation on Twitter recently that raised my hackles a little bit. (I AM NOT NAMING NAMES. DO NOT ASK ME TO.) A reader was asking about bi rep in books and a non-bisexual author responded to mention they had written bisexual characters. Seems harmless enough. What’s the problem with that?

The thing is? I’ve read one of the books they mentioned and I had a severe problem with the way bisexuality was treated. Unchallenged bimisia* from the protagonist, and a supporting character who was potentially bi had that potential completely erased even though he hadn’t actually accepted “gay” as a label. Ugh.

*-misia is a suffix meaning hatred or dislike. Because -phobia’s use to describe bigoted hate can hurt people with actual phobias, I prefer to use -misia in its place.

If the author had been bi, we would be having an entirely different conversation because there is more nuance required when critiquing ownvoices narratives. The author is marginalised in other ways so I don’t want to put them on blast over a short tweet, but I do want to talk about the issue in general.

Self-Promo When Writing Outside Your Lane

This post is bouncing off a thread I wrote on Twitter (this tweet is a good jumping-off point for the thread since I’ve already mentioned the context in this post):

I don’t have a problem with authors writing about identities they don’t share if they do it respectfully. I believe all authors should aim to diversify their manuscripts because having all white allocishet people is completely unrealistic, even in historical fiction.

Image result for black people weren t invented yet

If you’re writing outside your lane, you are at a disadvantage. I’ve spoken about this before in my How Not to Be a Dick to Bisexuals series (1, 2, 3) so I’m not going to rehash that. In short, you’re probably going to screw it up somewhere along the line and you need to be cognizant of that.

Part of that awareness should inform how you choose to promote yourself and your work. You cannot simply say you’ve written a character with a marginalisation you don’t share and expect people to fall over in their haste to worship you. Get off that mountain, Zeus-wannabe, and listen up.

I would strongly advise against self-promoting your work to people looking for rep. It comes off as kinda like you’re cashing in on someone’s else’s identity. Uplift ownvoices authors instead. You should be reading their work anyway, otherwise there is no goddamn way what you write is going to be anywhere near decent.

If you really must mention you’ve written the identity, too, then, after preferably sharing some ownvoices recs, you need to make it very clear that 1) you do not share the identity, 2) you’ve made every effort to make sure the rep is good, but 3) you are not the authority on the subject. Don’t half-ass it. I don’t care how many times you’ve talked about your writing; you will have new eyes on your words every single time.

And you better not be lying on that second point. We can tell. Get yourself a sensitivity reader, preferably more than one. I can’t find out whether the author I mentioned had a bi sensitivity reader, but it definitely appeared that they didn’t.

It frustrates me to no end when marginalised folk trample over each other. And, look, I don’t want to hold marginalised authors to higher standards. However, while white allocishet authors are often obnoxious as hell, the pain cuts deeper when it’s someone adjacent to our own community. This goes double when the author is active on social media, where we talk about issues of rep all the time. In this information age, there really is no excuse.

Ownvoices should take priority when you’re offering recs, because we should be permitted to control our own narratives. It’s cool if you want to write outside your lane, but you need to respect writers and readers who share the identity you’re writing. Being adjacent to an identity (e.g. a queer author writing about another queer identity they don’t share) does not make you an expert. You’ve got to do the hard work as much as a white allocishet author does.

So, promo ownvoices. Don’t be so hasty to grab the spotlight for yourself when people are asking for rep about an identity you don’t share. Be humble, or you’re gonna look like a dick if a reader with that identity has an issue with the way you’ve written it. And there’s a very good chance someone will. Keep that in mind.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, but apparently it is.

Do better.

Review: Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator

ddrkmvnuaaa_yfs

I know, I know. I’m a book reviewer, not a video game reviewer. But the fucking narrative in this thing, friends… I’m floored.

I played this thing almost non-stop from start to finish. It took me roughly ten hours, though there were breaks in between where I left it running while I got food or pestered my dogs and so on.

There’s so much cool shit in this game, okay? Starting right with the character creator, where you can make your character a trans dude who wears a binder (Damien, one of the romanceable dads, is trans too!). You can also be fat if you want to be. On top of that, there’s a huge variety of skin tones available.

And man buns, if that’s what you’re into.

The basics of this game are: you’re a single dad who has just moved to a new neighbourhood with your eighteen-year-old daughter, Amanda. The neighbourhood welcomes you with open arms and you are given seven dads to choose from. You can date all of them to a point, but can only go on the third and final date with one. There are multiple endings per dad (not all of which are romantic), and two endings for Amanda.

The biggest marketing draw for me before playing, and for most people, was the promise of a veritable fountain of dad jokes. I live for that shit. I was expecting a light-hearted, silly little game. And you know what? That was definitely there. I laughed A LOT. Screaming laughter that had my parents worried I was being murdered. I probably scared the family pets and possibly even deafened every dog in the neighbourhood. The game is uproariously funny at times. I love my puns, okay?

So, yeah. There’s a lot of silliness in this game, but there’s also something else that is absolutely central to this game…

Feels. The game is full of them. They will smack you in the face.

I am not fucking around here, okay?

YOU. WILL. PROBABLY. CRY.

I almost did, and I rarely cry over fictional characters. Ever. So take it from me: keep some tissues on hand because shit gets EMOTIONAL. The potency of feels will vary depending on the dad, but HOO BOY I PICKED THE CAPTAIN OF THE FEELS STARSHIP. I’ll talk about him in a sec.

There are two huge reasons why I loved this game so much. First of all, your character’s daughter, Amanda. She’s such a witty little shit. And a sweetheart. And occasionally a demon in human form. She is partially responsible for the emotional rollercoaster that is this game:

Amanda 1

Second of all, and also partially responsible for my emotions, is my favourite dad and captain of my feels trip: Mat.

Mat 1

I mean, honestly. He’s perfect. Funny as anything, for starts. But he’s also awkward as fuck and so much of the shit that comes out of his mouth feels like it describes my capabilities when it comes to dealing with people. That is to say, I’m bad at people. He has a great deal of social anxiety, which will be endlessly relatable to so many people, including me.

I came to really, really like the other dads as well (Robert, or as the achievements call him, Knife Dad, is probably my second fave), but Mat was the first one I met and he wormed his way into my heart from the outset. He lives there now. I absolutely adored his story arc. I ended up getting the friend ending for him, so I guess I’ll just have to play with him as my chosen Daddy again. What a hardship that is not. (I played my first playthrough without a guide, but I’m thinking I’ll have to use one the next time around. Apparently there’s an ending with one of the dads where you can die? I don’t know, but I’m not taking chances next time. Update: I used a guide and romanced everyone. I love them all. Except Joseph.)

In short: I came for the dad jokes, stayed for the feels trip. Join me. It’s rad.

DREAM DADDY: A DAD DATING SIMULATOR is available on Steam.

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PS: Check out my livetweet below. I had to limit what I tweeted because I didn’t want to get too spoilerific. There was an image of Mat near the end of his arc that I was dying to share but I could not, in good conscience, take the surprise away from the good folk who read my tweets.

Continue reading

#CampNaNoWriMo Day 20: 54.8k, draft finished and win!

So, a few things happened today. I finally got off my butt and validated my win, which was about as annoying as I expected since I can’t just copy-paste the whole thing from Scrivener in one bite. I also finished the first draft. YEAH! I still hate the epilogue but there are some cool parts that I might try to salvage when I revise. I have the winner’s certificate, which I’m gonna post with the tweets.

Interesting tidbit: Scrivener is about 100 words too generous compared to LibreOffice and the Camp NaNoWriMo wordcount validator. Huh.

The final draft is 23 chapters long, including the epilogue, and comes in at a bit over 87k, so my estimates about how much I had left to write were fairly accurate. Given I’m usually a bad judge of wordcount, that’s not too shabby.

draft finished

Another nice thing about this month: with the exception of day 1 when I was busy performing, I have written every single day. That’s huge for me. I don’t usually write every day even when I’m on top of things. I didn’t always write much, but I got something down every day. That’s not something I can maintain for long, but it was nice to have done it.

camp july wrote every day

Also, it’s a pretty cool day for me on this blog. It’s my eight-year anniversary of this blog being a thing WOO! This blog started out as primarily a writing blog when I was sixteen years old. Please don’t go looking for my old posts *shifty eyes*. I have changed a lot since then.

wordpress anniversary

Time for Twitter!

#WIPjoy day 18:

#WIPjoy day 19:

#WIPjoy day 20:

Edit: Here’s day 21 of #WIPjoy, since it’s the last day anyway.

The winner’s certificate:

I’ve managed to wrangle an excerpt from the epilogue that isn’t too spoilery, but it’s very short in order to manage that. I’m not gonna give context because the context is a big-ass spoiler in itself. So, enjoy what’s probably my favourite part of the epilogue: Eira and Tesana being girlfriends. Also, for anyone who read earlier stuff about Tesana, you might notice that I’ve finally decided on what she looks like:

Tesana and I slip away after a dessert of sweetened fruit yogurt—Huntsman has a pomegranate instead—and climb onto the roof. There are supposed to be fireworks tonight. We just missed them this time last year and neither of us have seen them before.

We cuddle under a blanket, watching the clear night sky. The others are heading out to the town square to watch the festivities close-up, but there’s something to be said for having a quiet night with the girl I love. It’s not often we get the whole neighbourhood to ourselves.

Tesana rests her chin on top of my head; I sometimes forget how tall she is. “I missed you.”

“I missed you.”

Her chest rumbles with a laugh. “Let’s not turn this into a game.”

“I could’ve said I missed you more.”

Do not.”

We wait. The night sky close to the town centre is washed out from the lights, but the stars are visible right above us. Little diamonds sparkling against the velvety black of night.

Then, a light shoots into the sky and shatters into a thousand golden sparkles, the air crackling and popping and hissing. More lights break the sky to pieces, in a rainbow of colours. Blue, red, green, the brightest purple I have ever seen.

My favourite remains the gold, though. The colour catches Tesana’s blonde hair and she glows like magic, her dark eyes glinting with delight. It’s hard to keep my focus on the fireworks when the girl beside me is a beacon of joy, a golden topaz of happiness.

I did have an extra paragraph but then I realised it was… you guessed it: a spoiler. Lucky I caught that.

I’m going to attempt to set this novel aside for a bit and let the objectivity sink in. I already have some revision ideas, so hopefully I can whip this thing into shape. There’s a lot I love about this story and I’d love to have this one published if it all works out.

Review: Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

17751274Alana Quick is the best damned sky surgeon in Heliodor City, but repairing starship engines barely pays the bills. When the desperate crew of a cargo vessel stops by her shipyard looking for her spiritually advanced sister Nova, Alana stows away. Maybe her boldness will land her a long-term gig on the crew. But the Tangled Axon proves to be more than star-watching and plasma coils. The chief engineer thinks he’s a wolf. The pilot fades in and out of existence. The captain is all blond hair, boots, and ego . . . and Alana can’t keep her eyes off her. But there’s little time for romance: Nova’s in danger and someone will do anything–even destroying planets–to get their hands on her.

I was really excited to find this while I was looking for a book that had a protagonist with chronic pain for 2017’s Diversity Bingo. As a YA reader, I’m sometimes wary of reading books aimed at adults because they can often drag or have unnecessary sex scenes. This was not the case here. ASCENSION by Jacqueline Koyanagi is a tightly-paced read that somehow manages to balance lush descriptions, deep character relationships and an exciting plot.

I’m adding a new “details at a glance” component to my reviews. It’s unlikely I will apply this retroactively to preexisting reviews because I am a lazy person.

Details at a glance:

Title: Ascension

Series/Standalone: Seems like it’s supposed to be a series, but there are no other books

Author: Jacqueline Koyanagi

Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera

First published: 2013

Format: ebook

Pairings: F/F, barely-there side M/F

Sexual content: One sex scene, others are implied

Rep: Impoverished, lesbian, disabled, black woman with locs and chronic illness & pain (fictional degenerative disorder); queer polyamorous LI with a prosthetic limb; queer polyamorous LI of LI, possibly Latina but unconfirmed; black supporting character with same chronic illness & pain as MC; supporting characters with science fiction disabilities; supporting black characters. There are also hints of unlabelled PTSD.

Ownvoices: No for black rep (author is Japanese-American), yes for polyamory, yes for PTSD, yes for chronic pain (author has fibromyalgia), possibly for queer rep as the author IDs as queer.

Unrelated to direct character rep, but worth noting: author is on the autism spectrum, in case anyone is looking for that.

Content warnings: Ableist language, suicidal ideation, dangerous weight loss and rhetoric (the word “anorexic” is used once but I don’t believe it’s a correct description), mass murder (deaths not directly witnessed), death of family members, body horror, detailed descriptions of chronic pain, apparent-but-not-real infidelity, trauma reactions that could be akin to PTSD.


Now, a lot of readers have complained that the plot gets shunted to the side in favour of developing character relationships. I didn’t find this to be a problem, personally, as the plot is neatly tied up anyway. It also seems this book may have been intended to be part of a series that hasn’t eventuated.

I really loved the detailed descriptions Koyanagi writes into this book, but I will admit I found some of them tiresome late in the book where the sentence structure started to feel a little same-y. It wasn’t a dealbreaker, but I did find myself skimming a little bit. The descriptions were definitely better-executed earlier in the story.

The protagonist, Alana Quick, is really a compelling character and her complicated relationships with family and starship crew are at the heart of this story. Two of her most important relationships are those with her spirit guide sister, Nova, and her love interest, Tev. Alana is stubborn and at times impatient, but she is a brilliant engineer with a spiritual connection to starships that she has been chasing her entire life. I wanted to shake her sometimes when she made downright terrible decisions, but just as often I admired her tenacity.

She and Nova are often at odds because of the different ways the two of their use their spiritual talents and their different approaches to life itself. Alana evidently feels that she has been set up as the lesser sibling, fed by her belief that her sister looks down on her for making different choices in life. Alana isn’t less talented than her sister because she chose to use her latent abilities for something else, and part of her journey throughout this novel is realising that. Being a sky surgeon is as much of a spiritual experience for Alana and being a spirit guide is for Nova.

TW for dangerous weight loss and what could be eating disorder rhetoric. Also, a little spoilery:

Part of the tension between the sisters comes from Nova’s spirit guide attitude towards her own flesh. I wanted to call it an eating disorder but I don’t think that’s quite the right word for it. Basically, Nova, like most spirit guides, believes in starving away her body so she can ascend to a higher plane of existence, leaving the trappings of her perfectly healthy mortal flesh behind. Obviously, Alana has several issues with this, in part because she doesn’t want to lose her sister and also in part because Alana herself has a degenerative physical illness and is therefore incredibly frustrated her sister is doing this to her own healthy body while Alana wants nothing more than to keep living.

I can’t really comment on how well this is all executed because I don’t have an eating disorder myself.

TW ends here.

I wanted to discuss the above in some detail so people with these triggers can decide whether they want to read this book or not. It’s extremely important to the plot so there’s no avoiding it entirely.

As I mentioned in the content warnings, there is also a smattering of casual ableist language, especially of the sanity-based variety. I’ve read worse, but still. It’s frustrating.

This book, however, is also a prime example of the great work that happens when authors are given a platform to write about themselves. Alana’s chronic pain is woven into the plot and absolutely influences her capacity to deal with problems that arise. She is beholden to medication to remain functional, but it’s not a magic cure that stops her from feeling any pain at all. The cause of Alana’s chronic pain is a fictional disease called Mel’s Disorder, but it’s clearly rooted in real experiences with pain. She is not cured through the process of this story, and the concept of a Magical Fantasy Cure, a trope that pops up in SFF sometimes, is thoroughly deconstructed as much of the plot revolves around taking down the story world’s equivalent of Big Pharma.

There is a lot to like about this book. The writing, the relationships, the unabashed queerness, the chronic pain rep. There are triggering elements, but if you’re okay reading them, this really is a good book.

#CampNaNoWriMo Day 17: 52.5k

Today was dedicated to writing Tesana’s section of the epilogue. I’ll probably have to write several versions, but I think I’m getting a better handle on what’s bothering me about it. I’m writing this original version anyway because there might be some things I can use in the improved versions.

I am dragging my feet a little bit on writing the end for two reasons: I don’t want it to end yet, and also winning doesn’t start for Camp for two more days. I normally update my wordcount the whole way through by validating, but Scrivener makes this impossible unless I copy-paste everything into a single scene or compile the damn thing into a document. If I’d known it was going to be this annoying, I probably would’ve been copy-pasting into a single extra scene from day one. But I didn’t and I can’t be bothered doing that yet. So, dawdling. Well, dawdling for my standards anyway.

My usual Twitter behaviour:

#WIPjoy day 17:

On the epilogue:

On how I’m slowly queering up every single character in this story:

So, again, everything is spoilers so I’m going to post part of Tesana’s first scene in the novel instead of something I wrote today. I think I’ve posted this before in the previous Camp NaNoWriMo in April, but I do what I want. Also, it’s in past tense because Tesana is originally living in a separate time period to Eira before they meet while both under a sleeping curse:

I never focused well on my last lesson of the day, knowing I would soon be holding court with my parents in the throne room. The imperial man trying to teach me his language usually gave up and set me free early on such days. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about learning the language of the people who might one day rule us, but sitting in a classroom conjugating verbs could not compare to speaking with the people who would one day be my subjects. I was the king’s only child, though I could never understand why my parents hadn’t tried for more. A male heir would likely be taken more seriously by the patriarchal empire than I would be.

“Something has angered the king,” a servant whispered to another, soft enough that I was evidently not expected to overhear as I passed them.

“Again?” whispered the other.

Father’s temper was famous throughout the kingdom. It would be easier to list what did not make him angry than what did. Poor harvest? Anger. Another black market uncovered in our trading port? Rage. The empire demanding our precious metals again?Private tirade before rolling over to their demands. They were bigger than us and could destroy us in a war if they so desired. Watching my ill-tempered father bite his tongue in front of their emissaries was both gratifying and worrying. If he was controlling himself, you knew the circumstances had to be dire. I didn’t want to inherit a pile of ashes for a kingdom.

True to form, Father was pacing the floor of the throne room. Our subjects were likely waiting in the receiving chamber just outside, so for now only my parents were present. The door I had used to enter was situated behind our tall thrones, hiding my presence. So I listened, just for a moment. If I had to rely only what people told me, I wouldn’t know anything at all.

“They have the gall to approach us publicly?” Father was ranting. “After what their queen did?”

“These fae tried to stop her,” Mother replied evenly, sitting calmly on her throne. Most of my features came from her—my dark brown curls, warm brown skin, round button nose. She was the daughter of a provincial governor from the empire, one of the first governors to have actually hailed from the province he oversaw.

“And failed. Were they my subjects, I would banish them from the realm.”

“We have learned not to anger the fae,” Mother kept arguing.

“Your father would be spinning in his grave if he heard you speaking like that, Lia.”

“Firstly, my father was cremated. Secondly, the empire has never faced the reality of the fae like we have. Treat them like the empire if it helps. They certainly have the same power to ruin us.”

Father sighed. “Very well. I will let them speak. But if they try anything…” I cleared my throat and he jerked to a stop, cheeks reddening. “Tesana, my child. How much did you overhear?”

#CampNaNoWriMo Day 16: 50.5k

So. That happened. Winning starts in three days so I haven’t bothered validating yet.

The main story is finished now. I just have the epilogue left, which will likely be a beast in length since both protagonists have a section when they typically have entire chapters to themselves. We’ll see what happens. I’m not completely sold on the epilogue I have planned but hopefully writing it out will give me some idea of what to do with it in revisions.

Time for Twitter:

#WIPjoy Day 16:

Another option for music is obviously Disney songs, given this is a retelling, but they don’t actually fit the mood of the story all that much.

I was actually at 50.5k at this point but wanted to finish the chapter before updating my wordcount.

Scrivener’s being an asshole and not letting me copy-paste the whole section I wanted to validate, so I guess I’ll wait until I actually have to validate when winning starts in like three days.

The excerpt situation is still tricky because, again, everything is spoilers this far into the novel. In celebration for hitting 50k, though, I’m going to share the first scene from the first chapter, back when everyone was still relatively happy without any idea what horrors I was about to inflict upon them.

It’s interesting to read over it now, since I still had no idea about certain plot twists I was going to use. It’s almost like reading something written by a younger, more innocent version of me.

This scene is from Eira’s perspective. It’s long so I’m sticking it under a readmore cut:

Continue reading

#CampNaNoWriMo Day 15

Edit: Forgot word count. It’s 47.5k today.
Today was a slow day on account of having a sick dog and yesterday’s tiredness but words happened anyway. I don’t mind too much that I’m slowing down at the moment since I don’t have much left of the story to write. It’s nice to savour it, at least a little, because I put it aside in preparation for the hellbeast that is revision.

I’m going to avoid posting an excerpt today because everything is spoilers and I’m having trouble finding bits from earlier in the story that I like enough to share, given I’ve shared a lot of the good parts already.

I have twittered:

#WIPjoy Day 15

And on some of my numerous plotholes:

I might have a better writing day tomorrow. We’ll see. In any case, I’m so close to winning anyway that as long as I write about 150 words a day for the rest of the month, I’ll make 50k. I generally write more than that even on my worst days. If I’m writing, I’m writing at least 500, generally speaking.

 

 

 

#CampNaNoWriMo Day 14: 45.9k

Today was a slower writing day for a few reasons. I didn’t get as much sleep as I would’ve liked and I had to get up in the morning. So I was pretty darn tired today, which always shoots my focus right into the seventh circle of hell.

But, hey, I got something written. I’ve been a lot better about writing every day for this writing even than I usually am. Burst writing sessions are great but they do wear me out sometimes.

I went overboard on Twitter today and am testing the limits of WordPress’s tolerance for my behaviour:

#WIPjoy day 14: Describe your protagonist’s personality using a gif.

#Fri1st: 1st line of your first chapter

Gem on Twitter started a thread of positive WIP questions so I responded:

1. What do you call your WIP here on the Twitters? How did it get that name? (If you don’t have a name, come up w one now. Or don’t)

2. When did you first get the idea for your WIP? Does it still look how you first imagined it?

3. Tell me about your MC(s). Visual art/aesthetics welcome.

4. Tell me about where your WIP takes place. Visual art/aesthetics welcome here too.

5. Where do you find inspiration for this WIP?

6. If you have any so far, tell me about the themes in this WIP. What issues does the story explore?

7. Has this story been fun? Painful? Both? Or something else?

8. Just for fun, imagine this WIP becoming a bestseller (if you want to publish it) and being adapted (if you want it to be).

9. If you’ve already written some of the actual story, post or describe one or more of your favorite lines

10. Describe your WIP in one tweet.

I’m going to pick an excerpt from earlier in the novel again because I’m near the end of writing it so everything is spoilers. So, this excerpt is set during the time Eira hides out at Argyle and Farlan’s cottage before Queen shows up to curse her:

Spending time in the cottage with these two men is actually quite pleasant. Argyle always has interesting stories to tell and Farlan has warmed to me considerably since our first meeting. Farlan is actually the one teaching me about the quirks of this particular cottage, how the well out back gets finicky in the cold and requires extra force to turn the wheel, which of the steps up to the two-bedroom second storey squeak louder than others, which cups are a moment of rough handling away from shattering to pieces.

Argyle, for his part, tells stories. They have a few days off before they have to return to the mines for their next shift, so he’s filling my head with as many tales as he can tell between bites of stew and fresh bread. Farlan nudges him every time he tries to talk with his mouth full.

“They used to make young children children work in the mines, you know,” Argyle tells me, swiping a chunk of bread through his bowl. “Horrible business. Not sure when it ended. Perhaps it died out when the monarchy did. Or maybe before. Who knows?” He rips off a chunk of bread with his teeth, chewing pointedly as Farlan threatens him with his elbow again. “My father worked the mines in his younger years. My brother didn’t inherit our dwarfism so he has to work in a different, larger set of tunnels. Less stable. Hence his recent injury. But he’s right as rain now.”

Farlan rolls his eyes. “This has ceased to be a story, Argyle.”

Argyle swats his shoulder. “I’m getting there. You see, now that children are no longer allowed in the mines, folk of a smaller stature are much sought-after to fill that void. I met Farlan, on the job, you know. A perfect match. Where else would we find men who work the same hours and understand the demands of the job?”

“I married once before,” Farlan says. “We lived in town on the other side of the mines, across the state border. He was some kind of administrator, you know the kind of work with regular weekly hours and a reasonable bedtime. It did not work out.”

“I imagine it would be like a thief marrying a town guard.” Argyle chuckles. “Though I suppose the fear there would be if they ended up arresting you.”

The thought of marrying a guard definitely doesn’t sound all that appealing. “I’m fond of serving girls myself, and the occasional errand boy who’s close to my age. They laugh at my bad jokes, at least.”

Argyle lifts his cup of strong-smelling liquor above his head. “What more could you need?”

“I don’t laugh at your jokes,” Farlan says.

“Oh, you chuckle a little.”

“Only at the funny ones.”

“Which is most of them.”

Farlan’s lips twitch but he heroically keeps his laughter from escaping.