Behind the Scenes – Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus

No century-old monsters to discuss today, I’m afraid; I’m a little behind in my Universal movie watch. Instead, we’re gonna do a guest blog! Guest blogs are the best because, frankly, I don’t have to do all that much work; also, this one is about NEW DARK FANTASY NOVELS. Victorian goth fantasy, even. Basically, it’s a win for everyone.

The current pandemic has disrupted, well, pretty much everything right now. Rather obviously, Covid-19 takes priority, as it should; unfortunately, that doesn’t make it any easier on debut authors whose books have just come out. Which is one of the reasons I invited my friend, Jonathan Fortin, to come on my blog and talk about what inspired his debut novel: Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus, which just recently came out from Crystal Lake Publishing. If you’re looking to read something new and/or support debut SF/F/H authors, then feast your eyes on this absolutely gorgeous cover art by Ben Baldwin and continue on to learn all about Lilitu.

BEHIND THE SCENES OF “LILITU: THE MEMOIRS OF A SUCCUBUS”

I’ve always felt that succubi and incubi take everything that’s scary and sexy about vampires, and amplify it. They’re beautiful demons that prey on humans, but they have some pretty cool traits that vampires don’t. For one thing, they can enter and manipulate dreams. For another, they often have wings, horns, or tails. But the biggest difference is that, while vampires are often figuratively about sex, succubi and incubi are far more literal–actually drawing sustenance through sexual energy.

Maybe that’s why there haven’t been too many serious books focused on succubi. There are certainly a few, but more often than not, succubi remain side characters–usually femme fatale sex symbols that exist primarily for the male gaze. It’s also pretty rare for books to portray succubi as folklore does. For example, rarely do succubus protagonists enter dreams, or have wings or horns.

With that in mind, there were a few main goals I had in mind while working on LILITU: THE MEMOIRS OF A SUCCUBUS:

  1. To write a succubus-centric novel that wasn’t male-gazey.

  2. To have it take the folklore of succubi and incubi seriously.

3. To use that folklore to explore gender issues in an exciting horror/dark fantasy tale.

I felt that a proper succubus book needed to address gender issues because of society’s double standards about female sexuality. Indeed, sometimes when men feel threatened by a woman, they will call her a succubus, literally demonizing her–particularly if the woman in question is sexually liberated, dominant, or just won’t submit to male authority.

From this idea emerged the character of Maraina Blackwood–a mortal woman, raised to believe that she must submit to the patriarchy, who ends up becoming a heroic succubus fighting to smash it. Maraina’s arc is all about exploring the ideas that are drilled into our heads growing up, and recognizing how toxic they are. She deconstructs the femme fatale archetype by being a noble seductress. Similarly, the villain of the book, the cruel incubus Salem Sotirios, is a condemnation of toxic patriarchy, as well as of “abusive-but-sexy” Byronic love interests like Edward Cullen or Christian Grey.

Once I had this concept, I ended up setting the book in Victorian England. Part of this was because I wanted to give the book a pervasive Gothic Horror aesthetic; this way, my succubi could wear corsets, my incubi could wear top hats, and they all could frolic around in dark, crumbling castles. As an enthusiast of Victorian Gothic Fashion, that sounded just dandy to me.

More importantly, though, the Victorians had infamously rigid gender roles and severe sexual repression. It was a perfectly horrible society for Maraina to grow up in, making her all the more of a sympathetic rebel.

From there, I considered the rules of succubi and incubi, and adjusted them to fit the narrative I wanted to tell. “Succubi and Incubi” was too mouthy to repeat over and over, so I settled on naming the species as a whole “Lilitu.” Different lilitu bloodlines would have different traits–some would have horns while others wouldn’t, some would shift gender, etc.–but in all cases, they would be able to enter and manipulate dreams.

Another factor was the fact that succubi are supposed to be exceptionally beautiful. I didn’t want to support the idea that there’s one valid form of beauty, so I ensured that we meet succubi of all body types throughout the book. I also decided to deconstruct this facet of the mythology by exploring how society demands that we look and act a certain way based on our sex, and the dysmorphia we can feel as a result.

LILITU is dark fantasy, so it’s got plenty of fun, magical bits: flaming swords, sexy demons, and blood rituals, to name a few. But at its core, it’s attempting to explore very real issues, and many of its most unsettling moments are based on the factual truth of Victorian life. Unfortunately, in our modern world, many of these issues remain uncomfortably relevant. The main takeaway from LILITU is this: all demons do is draw attention to the horror that was already there.

ABOUT THE BOOK: England, 1876. Twenty-year-old Maraina Blackwood has always struggled to adhere to the restrictive standards of Victorian society, denying the courage and desire that burn within her soul. But after a terrifying supernatural encounter, Maraina’s instincts compel her to action.

Maraina soon discovers a plot to unleash a new world—one of demonic aristocrats, bloody rituals, and nightmarish monsters. Putting her upbringing aside, Maraina vows to fight the dark forces assuming control of England. But as her world transforms, Maraina finds that she too must transform…and what she becomes will bring out all that she once buried.

Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus is the first chapter in an epic dark fantasy saga, proudly represented by Crystal Lake Publishing—Tales from the Darkest Depths.

PLACES YOU CAN BUY: Amazon

(Or if you want to support small business, check to see if your local bookstore can order the novel and ship it directly to you.)

ABOUT JONATHAN: Jonathan Fortin is the author of “Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus” (Crystal Lake Publishing), “Requiem In Frost” (Horroraddicts.net), and “Nightmarescape” (Mocha Memoirs Press). An unashamed lover of spooky Gothic stories, Jonathan was named the Next Great Horror Writer in 2017 by HorrorAddicts.net. He attended the Clarion Writing Program in 2012, one year after graduating summa cum laude from San Francisco State University’s Creative Writing program. When not writing, Jonathan enjoys voice acting, dressing like a Victorian vampire, and indulging in all things odd and macabre in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can follow him online at www.jonathanfortin.com or on Twitter @Jonathan_Fortin.

Best of 2019: BOOKS

Normally, I enjoy celebrating the books I’ve read with some silly and–inevitably–lengthy superlative lists, including awards like Favorite Villain, Best Booyah Moment, and Super Ability I’d Most Like To Steal. This year, however, that just sounds kind of daunting? And not terribly fun, which is obviously antithetical to the whole point. So instead, I present you with my only sorta-lengthy Best Of list, i.e., a list of my favorite books in various genres and sub-genres. (From any year. I read all of these in 2019, but one of them was written in 1937, so, yeah. I wouldn’t exactly characterize these recommendations as super current. If you’d like the full list of everything I read, go ahead and click on the link.)

No spoilers were produced in the making of this post.

FAVORITE FAIRY TALE STORY

The Seventh Bride – T. Kingfisher

Bluebeard is one of my favorite fairy tales, specifically Mr. Fox–like, I’m the weirdo who actually adds Post-Its with be bold, be bold . . . but not too bold to bedroom doors and the like. So, when I realized that Ursula Vernon (a.k.a. T. Kingfisher), one of my very favorite writers, had published her own Mr. Fox retelling*, well, obviously, I was ecstatic. Like nearly every T. Kingfisher book I’ve ever read, The Seventh Bride features a compelling heroine, a cool animal sidekick, and a lot of humor, weirdness, and heart. Also, some truly creepy shit. Also, a fantastic supporting cast: Maria is my absolute favorite. I really enjoyed the hell out of this–it also wins for FAVORITE NOT-SO-CONTEMPORARY FANTASY–and I’m looking forward to reading T. Kingfisher’s other fairy tale retellings, namely Byrony and Roses and The Raven and the Reindeer.

*In nearly every review I’ve seen, this book is described as a Bluebeard retelling, but personally, it strikes me more as a Mr. Fox/Rumpelstiltskin mashup. I know it doesn’t have some of the bigger earmarks of the latter–no naming game, no “I’m gonna steal your baby” stuff–but Rhea is literally a miller’s daughter, and her parents play an arguably significant role in why she’s in this mess in the first place. Plus, “do this impossible thing, or I’ll do something horrible to you” is a plot structure from Rumpelstiltskin, not Bluebeard/Mr. Fox. Also, let’s be real here: the King in Rumpelstiltskin is totally a villain. Like, make me gold or I’ll kill you; make me more gold and I’ll marry you?” Fuck this guy.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Not-So-Contemporary Fantasy: The Black God’s Drums; Clockwork Boys; The Killing Moon; The House of Shattered Wings

FAVORITE CONTEMPORARY FANTASY

Undead Girl Gang – Lily Anderson

Oh, this was a delightful book. I loved so much about it: the voice, the dialogue, all the humor and Feels. Undead Girl Gang is laugh out loud funny, but it also handles grief in a very real way, and I enjoyed that. The characters are all great; Mila, in particular, is a wonderful protagonist, and I related so hard to how she finds hope and laughter and a certain measure of control in Wicca. (Oh, you don’t even know the middle school flashbacks I was having while reading this one.) The fat positivity in this book was also really refreshing, especially in a year where I managed to stumble across even more fat shaming than normal.

This was easily my FAVORITE YA BOOK I read all year, something I’d happily give my teenage kids if I, you know, had any. As is, I’m just gonna have to keep enjoying Lily Anderson’s writing for myself.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Contemporary Fantasy: A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark; Magic for Liars

FAVORITE HORROR

The Cabin at the End of the World – Paul Tremblay

What’s interesting about this, to me, is that I don’t generally consider myself a big fan of psychological horror, but I absolutely love this novel. It’s occurring to me, finally, that it’s not the entire sub-genre I dislike, just stories where the narrative tension is largely drawn from the majority of characters (plus the reader) questioning the MC’s sanity. That’s just not really my thing; thankfully, it’s also not quite what’s happening here.

And this book, man. It’s a wildly clever and entertaining page-turner (which is why it also wins for FASTEST READ) with a solid conclusion and some absolutely brutal moments. This is my first Paul Tremblay book, and I can absolutely guarantee it will not be my last.

Honorable Mention for Favorite Horror: The Sundial; The Migration; The Twisted Ones

Honorable Mentions for Fastest Read: Undead Girl Gang; Magic for Liars; A Man Lay Dead; The Twisted Ones; From Here to Eternity: Traveling The World To Find The Good Death; The Seventh Bride

FAVORITE SCIENCE FICTION

TIE!

The Calculating Stars – Mary Robinette Kowall
Artificial Condition – Martha Wells

I enjoyed the hell out of The Calculating Stars: it’s an equally fun and fascinating alternate history, and I really like our MC, Elma. I especially appreciated how this novel explored her anxiety, like, that was just phenomenal. I also enjoy Elma’s friendships with other women in the novel, particularly Nicole and Helen. Elma and Nate, too, were a joy to read: it was lovely to find such a healthy, supportive romantic relationship in this story. I’m very eager to continue with the Lady Astronaut series in 2020.

But no way could I choose between The Calculating Stars and Artificial Condition, which was an amazing follow-up to All Systems Red. (In fact, I actually liked it even more than All Systems Red, which is incredibly impressive.) It is the rare novella that feels like it’s exactly the right length–one of many reasons it’s also winning FAVORITE NOVELLA–and I just absolutely adore MurderBot’s somewhat antagonistic friendship with ART. People. I was invested. This series is so damn good.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite SF: Alice Payne Arrives; Rogue Protocol; Record of a Spaceborn Few; To Be Taught, If Fortunate; An Unkindness of Ghosts

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Novella: The Black God’s Drums; In an Absent Dream; Alice Payne Arrives; Rogue Protocol; To Be Taught, If Fortunate

FAVORITE GRAPHIC NOVEL

Die, Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker – Kieron Gillen + Stephanie Hans

I mean, just the whole concept of this: teenagers being sucked into a fantasy RPG, experiencing massive amounts of emotional (and in some cases, physical) trauma, and then having to return to the game years later as adults? It’s like It meets D&D. Or, as Kieron Gillen apparently describes it: “goth Jumanji.” People. You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting to read goth Jumanji.

This one is such a creative and exciting comic, full of fun plot turns and great characters and just awesome magical abilities. Highly recommended.

Honorable Mentions: Young Avengers: Style > Substance, Vol. 1 – Kieron Gillen + Jamie McKelvie; Teen Titans: Raven – Kami Garcia & Gabriel Picolo

FAVORITE NON-FICTION

From Here to Eternity: Traveling The World to Find The Good Death – Caitlin Doughty

This is both an incredibly informative and fascinating look at how different cultures around the world handle death and death rituals, and while it is occasionally hard to read because of, well, death anxiety, it’s also just vastly neat. There were so many things I didn’t know. Learning more about Indonesian death customs or the ñatitas in Bolivia or the fertilization experiments in North Carolina . . . it’s all just so immensely interesting. I might actually have been most surprised by the open pyre ceremonies in Colorado; I honestly didn’t think that was a thing you could do in America.

I also didn’t know that family had the option of viewing cremations (the more standard kind), though I confess reluctance at the possibility of viewing any myself. Doughty brings up excellent points in its favor, especially as she discusses the idea of giving grieving family members meaningful tasks–but when I imagine going back and witnessing my own father’s cremation, my whole brain just balks in horror. I don’t know. It’s an obviously difficult subject. Regardless, this was a pretty great book, and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in cultural anthropology, or books that frankly discuss death without looking down on readers for their own death anxiety. That’s big for me.

Honorable Mentions: The Lady From the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick – Mallory O’Meara

FAVORITE NOVEL

Busman’s Honeymoon – Dorothy Sayers

I’ve been slowly making my way through the Lord Peter Wimsey novels for years, but to my very great surprise, it’s this final book in the series that’s been my absolute favorite–and not just of the series but also of the whole year. (Also, it wins for FAVORITE MYSTERY, in case that wasn’t already glaringly obvious.) Busman’s Honeymoon is regularly characterized as either a “detective story with love interruptions” or a “love story with detective interruptions,” and to my very great joy, I found the balance of murder mystery and established romance utterly delightful. (Many mysteries from this time period include a hasty and thoroughly underwhelming romance, but Busman’s Honeymoon has been building the Peter/Harriet ship for several books and literal years, and I am so thoroughly obsessed with them.)

The mix of witty banter, murder, and newlywed shenanigans are really the best, and I was both extremely surprised to see the novel actually come back to Peter’s PTSD in a surprisingly emotional way. So many Feels with this one. An instant comfort read.

Honorable Mentions for Favorite Mystery: The Nine Tailors; Magic for Liars; The Song Is You; A Rising Man; Gaudy Night

Finally, here is the rest of my Top Ten of 2019, not in any particular order. (With links for the books that I didn’t already link above.)

2. The Cabin at the End of the World – Paul Tremblay
3. An Unkindness of Ghosts – Rivers Solomon
4. The Seventh Bride – T.K. Kingfisher
5. Record of a Spaceborn Few – Becky Chambers
6. Artificial Condition – Martha Wells
7. The Calculating Stars – Mary Robinette Kowall
8. To Be Taught, If Fortunate – Becky Chambers
9. The Twisted Ones – T.K. Kingfisher
10. Undead Girl Gang – Lily Anderson

Happy New Year, everyone! I’d love to hear your favorite books of 2019 in the comments!

2019 Reading List – Novellas, Novels, Graphic Novels, and Non-Fiction

Well, it doesn’t look like I’m going to finish any more books before the New Year, so I’m updating my official list of everything I’ve read in 2019. Scroll down if you’d like to see a few unsurprising conclusions about my own personal reading trends. (Spoilers: this isn’t the year I finally started reading a bunch of travel memoirs.) You’ll also find some favorite quotes (these spoil nothing) because I just can’t help myself. I will be posting my 2019 Book Superlatives later, maybe even tomorrow if I get my shit together, but expect those to be considerably pared down from years past.

Finally, a guide to font colors: novels are in black, novellas are in purple, comics are in green, and non-fiction is in blue.

THE 2019 READING LIST

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe – Alex White
“I thought it was best not to kill anyone, given the political ramifications. I see you’ve taken a different approach.”

A Rising Man – Abir Mukherjee
Death smells worse in the tropics. Most things do.

Sawkill Girls – Claire Legrand
“What I’m saying,” Marion said, now looking right at Zoey, her gray eyes bright, “is that girls hunger. And we’re taught from the moment our brains can take it, that there isn’t enough food for us all.”

The Only Harmless Great Thing – Brooke Bolander
“We’re scientists,” Kat says. She stands. “All we do is teach people how the sausage is made.”

The Book of M – Peng Shepherd
Who are my people, Ory? The ones I’m with or the ones I want to be?

A Key, An Egg, An Unfortunate Remark – Harry Connolly
“If I were forced to guess, I’d say they were professional killers hired to murder everyone in the house. What does that tell you?”
“You’re not as popular as I thought?”

Terminal Alliance – Jim C. Hines
“Kumar, any progress?”
“I’ve gotten through 4.5 percent of the A-ring tutorial without killing everyone.”
Mops swallowed her first three responses. “Technically, that qualifies as progress. Keep at it.”

In An Absent Dream – Seanan McGuire
Following the rules didn’t make you a good person, just like breaking them didn’t make you a bad one, but it could make you an invisible person and invisible people got to do as they liked.

The Mystery of The Yellow Room – Gaston Leroux
A week after the occurrence of the events I have just recounted—on the 2nd of November, to be exact—I received at my home in Paris the following telegraphic message: “Come to the Glandier by the earliest train. Bring revolvers. Friendly greetings. Rouletabille.”

The Cabin at the End of the World – Paul Tremblay
Sabrina’s fingers and hands are pink with memories of blood.

Artificial Condition – Martha Wells
I phrased it as a question, because pretending you were asking for more information was the best way to try to get the humans to realize they were doing something stupid. “So do you think there’s another reason Tlacey wants you to do this exchange in person other than . . . killing you?”

Alice Payne Arrives – Kate Heartfield
Visit 2070: It’s Not an Apocalypse. Yet. This Time.

The Black God’s Drums – P. Djèlí Clark
The night in New Orleans always got something going on, ma maman used to say—like this city don’t know how to sleep.

All the Missing Girls – Megan Miranda
Annaleise didn’t know—I always took the dare.

The Migration – Helen Marshall
Mary’s face is happy, a picture of delight. But the angel? The angel doesn’t look happy. The angel looks bored rigid by the whole mess, the angel has seen it all: the culling of firstborns, the slaughter of the innocents.
The angel doesn’t care. Mortality isn’t his bag.

Swordspoint – Ellen Kushner
“Black,” Alec said in tones of deep disgust. “Black is for grandmothers. Black is for stage villains.”

The Nine Tailors – Dorothy Sayers
“If the law had found him, the law would have hanged him, with loud applause from all good citizens. Why should we hang a perfectly decent chap for anticipating the law and doing our dirty work for us?”

The Family Plot – Cherie Priest
“Ghosts or no ghosts, we’re burning daylight. We can’t salvage ghosts. They don’t sell for shit.”

Rogue Protocol – Martha Wells
I didn’t want to see helpless humans. I’d rather see smart ones rescuing each other.

Clockwork Boys – T. Kingfisher
He had not actually been flipping a knife, because hardly anyone really did that, but he looked like the knife-flipping type.

White is For Witching – Helen Oyeyemi
Lily was a bunch of crumpled pockets and Sylvie is a black dress, perfumed scarves, iron posture and whatever else turns a person into an atmosphere.

Undead Girl Gang – Lily Anderson
“I didn’t need the spells to work. They never worked! Spells are just prayers with more steps and a name that scares people.”

Gaudy Night – Dorothy Sayers
“Are you fond of children, madam?”
“Oh, yes,” said Harriet. Actually, she did not care much about children, but one can scarcely so, bluntly, to those possessed of these blessings.

Space Opera – Catherynne M. Valente
“HEY THERE! I’m Clippy, your computer assistant. It looks like you are trying to survive the night and not get slaughtered in the next five minutes like the miserably finite mortal organics you are. *Would you like some fucking help?*”

Calculating Stars – Mary Robinette Kowal
There is something about having your legs over your head that makes you need to pee. This makes it into none of the press releases, but every single astronaut talks about it.
The men have complicated condoms and catch pouches. I have a diaper.
Two hours into our three-hour wait, I use it, sure that the urine will overflow its confines and spread up the back of my suit. It does not, but I am once again enthralled by the glamour of being an astronaut.

Record of a Spaceborn Few – Becky Chambers
A king tells us a story about who we are and why we’re great, and that story is enough to make us go kill people who tell a different story.

Magic for Liars – Sarah Gailey
A lot of words. I resolved to read them in depth later, when I could focus. When there wasn’t wine in between me and the letters.

The Killing Moon – N.K. Jemisin
“Devout men lie poorly.”

Wicked Saints – Emily A. Duncan
“Nobles are nobles,” she had said, waving a hand. “Regardless of where they come from. The pettiness of court transcends all cultural boundaries.”

The Song Is You – Megan Abbott
“Developed a conscience now, have we?”
“Well, let’s not get hysterical.”

The Thief – Megan Whalen Turner
All I wanted to do was lie in the dry grass with my feet in a ditch forever. I could be a convenient sort of milemarker, I thought. Get to the thief and you know you’re halfway to Methana.

To Be Taught, If Fortunate – Becky Chambers
Viewed in this way, you can never again see a tree as a single entity, despite its visual dominance. It towers. It’s impressive. But in the end, it’s a fragile endeavor that can only stand thanks to the contributions of many. We celebrate the tree that stretches to the sky, but it is the ground we should ultimately thank.

Die, Vol. 1: Fantasy Heartbreaker – Kieron Gillen + Stephanie Hans
This isn’t a conversation. This is the sort of monologue you run in your head with lovers you’ll never speak to again.

The Crimes at Black Dudley – Margery Allingham
“You don’t mind, do you? I really couldn’t bring myself to put on my clothes at the hour I usually take them off.”

The Sundial – Shirley Jackson
Gloria sat alone for a minute or so, thinking that the sun was warm and the sky was blue, and wondering if they sky would be bluer if Aunt Fanny had never been born.

The Psychology of Time Travel – Kate Mascarenhas
Grace’s complaints reminded Ruby of her own feelings about university friends. People you’d once die for take appalling paths. It’s not that they become unrecognizable. They become more like themselves. Personality quirks grow more pronounced, and so do values, until you wonder how you ever ignored the differences between you.

Jane Steele – Lyndsay Faye
Hereby do I avow that I, Jane Steele, in all my days working as a governess, never once heard ethereal cries carried to me upon the brawny shoulders of the north wind; and had I done, I should have kept silent for fear of being labelled eccentric.

Busman’s Honeymoon – Dorothy Sayers
“When I’m investigating a murder, I hate to have too much sympathy with the corpse. Personal feelings cramp the style.”

A Man Lay Dead – Ngaio Marsh
The doctor performed the feat known in Victorian nursery books as “looking grave.”

An Unkindess of Ghosts – Rivers Solomon
She expected a reprimand, but his criticism was far gentler than Giselle’s ever was. She tried not to give him too much credit for it. People were so often mean that when they weren’t there was a tendency to bestow sainthood upon them. Aster did not reward common decency with her affection.

The Invited – Jennifer McMahon
Helen did not believe in ghosts. But she believed in history.

The Twisted Ones – T. Kingfisher
This train of thought would end with me crouched in the bathroom with a shotgun aimed at the door. This would not help Bongo and also, I didn’t know how to use a shotgun.

The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton
“What does a child who has everything want?”
More, just like everybody else.

One Bloody Thing After Another – Joey Comeau
The broken-arm tree is wide above them, but Ann doesn’t know that. She thinks this is a straightforward fight to the death, without symbolism.

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death – Caitlin Doughty
Women’s bodies are so often under the purview of men, whether it’s our reproductive organs, our sexuality, our weight, our manner of dress. There is a freedom found in decomposition, a body rendered messy, chaotic, and wild.

The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick – Mallory O’Meara
The story starts with an alien man from a planet called Metaluna appearing to Earth’s top scientists, inviting them all to come to his cool Earth mansion. He wants them to help him work on a supersecret alien project, which of course, no scientist can turn down. As far as I can tell, the main reason to become a scientist is so you can make yourself available for these types of cinematic situations.

I Remember You: A Ghost Story – Yrsa Sigurdardóttir
Anyway, you couldn’t make demands of the sun this far north in the dead of winter; you simply took what little sunshine you were given and were grateful.

The Red House Mystery – A.A. Milne
Why, you could have knocked her over with a feather. Feathers, indeed, were a perpetual menace to Audrey.

Crossing Places – Elly Griffiths
There is nothing more annoying, thinks Ruth, than someone who thinks they don’t have to introduce themselves on the phone, who assumes that you must recognize their voice because it is so wonderfully individual.

Murder in the Crooked House – Soji Shimada
The smile that had been on the face of these cherished dolls had transmuted, decomposed. There was no better way of putting it.
A deep-seated grudge. They’d been brought into the world by the whimsy of human beings, but then not permitted to die for a thousand years. If the same thing were inflicted on our bodies, the same look of madness would appear on our faces too.

A Necessary Evil – Abir Mukherjee
His parents had named him Surendranath: it meant king of the gods; and while I could make a fair stab at the correct Bengali pronunciation, I never could get it quite right. He’d told me it wasn’t my fault. He’d said the English language just didn’t possess the right consonants—it lacked a soft ‘d,’ apparently. According to him, the English language lacked a great many things.

The Seventh Bride – T. Kingfisher
Still, none of it made any sense. If you were a murderer, would you really guard your home with birds saying, “Hi, I’m a murderer”? It lacked subtlety.

The House of Shattered Wings – Aliette de Bodard
“He’s only here because you imprisoned him. Even if he were guilty—which he’s not—it’s a horrible way to die.”
There were no good ways to die, though.

Nobody’s Sweetheart Now – Maggie Robinson
Addie was just getting used to her widowhood when Rupert inconveniently turned up six months after she had sealed him in the Compton family vault in the village churchyard.

Teen Titans: Raven – Kami Garcia + Gabriel Picolo
“I belong to myself.”

Young Avengers: Style > Substance – Kieron Gillen + Jamie McKelvie
“Come with me if you want to be awesome.”

Going over this list . . . well, it’s definitely been the Year of Mystery. A lot of Golden Age novels, of course, including finishing up Dorothy Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey series, and also checking out books by other Queens of Crime, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh. Also: contemporary mysteries, historical mysteries, speculative mysteries, and speculative noir. Otherwise, I’ve primarily read my usuals: SF, fantasy, and horror. Nothing that’s going to shock anyone, I’m afraid–though much less YA than normal, for some reason or another.

2019 is an all time low for comics. I like them, but I also find I have a hard time keeping up with them. Possibly, I should buy multiple trades at once, or just wait for the inevitable omnibus? This is a problem I also have with novellas. I’m working on it.

2019 also saw a slight dip in non-fiction, dropping from 3 to 2 books a year. Alas. I seek knowledge, and yet I’m so often distracted by MURDER.

Most Read Authors: Dorothy Sayers and T. Kingfisher (3 books each). I’ve mentioned this before on social media, but I definitely have a massive writer crush on T. Kingfisher. I’ve made significant steps this year in my quest to read ALL THE WORDS she’s written. Expect this to continue into 2020.

Favorite New-To-Me Authors: Paul Tremblay, P. Djèlí Clark, and Lily Anderson

And finally . . .

FAVORITE OPENING QUOTE:

After the funeral they came back to the house, now indisputably Mrs. Halloran’s. They stood uneasily, without any certainty, in the large lovely entrance hall, and watched Mrs. Halloran go into the right wing of the house to let Mr. Halloran know that Lionel’s last rites had gone off without melodrama. Young Mrs. Halloran, looking after her mother-in-law, said without hope, “Maybe she will drop dead on the doorstep. Fancy, dear, would you like to see Granny drop dead on the doorstep?”

The Sundial – Shirley Jackson

Because, dear God, Shirley Jackson knew how to begin a story. Every opening paragraph I’ve read by her is the best opening paragraph. Fucking legend.

Honorable Mentions:

“At least he was well dressed. Black tie, tux, the works. If you’re going to get yourself killed, you may as well look your best.” – A Rising Man

When I was younger, I used to play dead. – The Migration

The whistle isn’t jaunty, not Doris Day. It’s low and slow and the actor Bob Cummings would remember its hot zing for some time. – The Song is You

The problem with your best friend dying is that there’s no one to sit with you at funerals. – Undead Girl Gang

Ann’s mother isn’t feeling so good today. – One Bloody Thing After Another

2018 Book Superlatives, Part II

Well, it’s the second week of the new year. How’s everyone feeling? My resolutions aren’t going terribly so far: I’ve made some solid writing progress, begun work on vacation plans, finally braved the hair clippers I bought months ago, and even ate some peas! (Okay, that last one sounds less than momentous, but we’re doing a vegetable challenge this year, and we’re easing our way into it.)

Enough about all that, though. It’s time for the 2018 Book Superlatives, Part II!

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The Great Book Superlatives of 2018, Part I

The time has come for, you guessed it, exactly what it says in the header: BOOK SUPERLATIVES.

This year, however, I’m shortening these rather drastically. Don’t worry; that still means I’ll use about 3,000 words more than necessary; a new year heralds change and all, but not, like, that much change.

In Part I, you’ll find important literary awards such as Best Christmas Story, Book I’d Most Like To See As a Movie, and–of course–my Top Ten of the Year. As always, feel free to leave your own favorites in the comments; I’d love to hear some recommendations, especially if they come with a side of muuurder.

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2018 Reading List – Novellas, Novels, and Graphic Novels

Happy New Years Eve! Doesn’t look like I’m going to finish reading anything else before 2019, so here is the official list of all the novels, novellas, and graphic novels I’ve read this year. (Comics are in italics, novellas are underlined, and non-fiction is in bold.)

  1. Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Vol. 1: BFF – Amy Reeder
  2. The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women – Kate Moore
  3. River of Teeth – Sarah Gailey
  4. The Gentlemen’s Guide to Vice and Virtue – Mackenzi Lee
  5. Meddling Kids – Edgar Cantero
  6. Autonomous – Annalee Newitz
  7. Snowspelled – Stephanie Burgis
  8. One Dark Throne – Kendare Blake
  9. Creatures of Will & Temper – Molly Tanzer
  10. The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas
  11. One of Us Is Lying – Karen M. McManus
  12. The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion – Margaret Killjoy
  13. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda – Becky Albertalli
  14. Akata Warrior – Nnedi Okorafor
  15. The Black Tides of Heaven – JY Yang
  16. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter – Theodora Goss
  17. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? -Maria Semple
  18. Cranioklepty: Grave Robbing and the Search for Genius – Colin Dickey
  19. A Skinful of Shadows – Frances Hardinge
  20. Let’s Talk About Love – Claire Kann
  21. The City of Lost Fortune – Bryan Camp
  22. Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword – Henry Lien
  23. Strong Poison – Dorothy Sayers
  24. Anna Dressed in Blood – Kendare Blake
  25. Jane, Unlimited – Kristin Cashore
  26. Beneath the Sugar Sky – Seanan McGuire
  27. The Good House – Tananarive Due
  28. The Westing Game – Ellen Rankin
  29. When the Moon Was Ours – Anna-Marie McLemore
  30. The Moonstone – Wilkie Collins
  31. Dread Nation – Justina Ireland
  32. Paper Girls, Vol. 1 – Brian K. Vaughn
  33. Thirteen Guests – J. Jefferson Farjeon
  34. Bluebird, Bluebird – Attica Locke
  35. The Collapsing Empire – John Scalzi
  36. In Other Lands – Sarah Rees Brennan
  37. Summer in Orcus – T. Kingfisher
  38. Imposter Syndrome – Mishell Baker
  39. The Five Red Herrings – Dorothy Sayers
  40. The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality – Julie Sondra Decker
  41. The Beautiful Ones – Silvia Moreno Garcia
  42. Hollywood Homicide – Kellye Garrett
  43. A Study in Honor – Claire O’Dell
  44. An Unsuitable Job for a Woman – PD James
  45. Binti – Nnedi Okorafor
  46. Envy of Angels – Matt Wallace
  47. Witchmark – C.L. Polk
  48. Depth – Lev A.C. Rosen
  49. Experimental Film – Gemma Files
  50. Have His Carcase – Dorothy Sayers
  51. Trail of Lightning – Rebecca Roanhorse
  52. Unbury Carol – Josh Malerman
  53. Murder Must Advertise – Dorothy Sayers
  54. The Brief History of the Dead – Kevin Brockmeier
  55. Jade City – Fonda Lee
  56. Mystery in White – J. Jefferson Farjeon
  57. Abbott – Saladin Ahmed
  58. The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy – Mackenzi Lee
  59. Queenpin – Megan Abbott
  60. Jughead, Volume 1 – Chip Zdarsky
  61. The Tea Master and the Detective – Aliette de Bodard

I plan to write a 2018 Book Superlatives post later (though it will likely be considerably abbreviated compared to prior years), but here are a few things I’ve noticed this year:

For no real reason that I can determine, I’ve read far, FAR fewer comic books this year. Seriously, this is even worse than 2017. It’s not that my interest has dipped; on the contrary, my To-Read list is positively bursting with comics, many of them aimed for much younger girls. (As well as comics I desperately need to return to: Velvet, for starters, and also The Wicked + The Divine: Year 3, which just FINALLY released.) I just haven’t gotten there yet.

OTOH, I have continued to up my novella game, though I may need to reconsider my purchasing strategy. In the last two years, I’ve read at least 6 different novellas with the intention of reading their follow-up sequels . . . only to completely fail to do that. I’ve managed to keep up with Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series, but that’s about it. For Christ’s sake, there are four Murder Bot novellas out there now and I’ve still only read All Systems Red. Clearly, this won’t do.

Once again, I’ve managed to read three whole non-fiction books this year! I’m very proud of myself.

Shocking no one, I appear to have read mostly fantasy, mystery, and YA, with a few scatterings of horror and SF and only the briefest of forays into romance, western, and, IDK, slice of life? I’m specifically a bit disappointed in how little SF I actually read. Thankfully, my book club’s next genre-of-choice is SPACE OPERA, so I should get 2019 off on the right foot.

If I gravitated heavily towards noir last year, this year has been all about cozy mysteries and, most especially, the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. I read four books by Dorothy Sayers (I’m reading the Lord Peter Wimsey books in order; next up: The Nine Tailors) and two by J. Jefferson Farjeon, who I just discovered by happy accident this year. If anyone here is a fan of 30’s English mysteries, what are your recommendations? If there’s a murder at a country manner or a dinner party, I’m interested!

To my knowledge:

Books Written By Women Authors: 44
Books Written by Men Authors: 15
Books Written by Non-Binary Authors: 2

(For the purposes of that stat, I’m lumping fiction, non-fiction, and comics together.)

Favorite New-to-Me Authors include Mackenzi Lee, Justina Ireland, Angie Thomas, Sarah Rees Brennan, Fonda Lee, J. Jefferson Farjeon, and Theodora Goss

Some of my absolute favorite books this year were completely off my radar until the 2017 Hugo and Not-a-Hugo finalists were announced. Award Season can be a stressful pain in the ass for writers–I don’t have much eligible this year, so I expect I’ll be more chill about it, maybe–but I’m really looking forward to seeing what people nominate.

Tell me in the comments about the books you’ve read this year. I’d love to hear about them!

The 2017 Book Superlatives, Part I

Well, here’s the sad truth: I’ve pretty much given up on posting any 2017 movie superlatives. I really didn’t watch that many movies last year, and I reviewed even less. (Can you believe I never even managed to write about The Lego Batman Movie? I’m still bummed about that.) More importantly, though, I’m just anxious to move forward with the new year, rather than spend the rest of the month feverishly writing yet another retrospective. 2017 sucked. I’m really done with it.

Except. I did manage to read a fair amount of books last year. Thus what I have for you today: the 2017 Book Superlatives, Numero Uno.

Let’s just get right to it, shall we?

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The Novellas, Novels, and Graphic Novels of 2017

Another year, another reading list. This was actually a pretty good year for me, though as a writer, I still need to up my game. December turned out to be an especially embarrassing month. (I try not to stress about it, though. Giving myself guilt trips usually results in my reading less, not more.)

As usual, non-fiction books are in bold, while comic books are italicized.

  • Three Dark Crowns – Kendare Blake
  • Throne of Glass – Sarah J. Maas
  • Grayson, Volume 1: Agents of Spyral – Tim Seeley & Tom King
  • Hammers On Bone – Cassandra Khaw
  • Sorcerer to the Crown – Zen Cho
  • Batwoman: Elegy – Greg Rucka
  • Final Girls – Mira Grant
  • A Gathering of Shadows – V.E. Schwab
  • Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places – Colin Dickey
  • Six Wakes – Mur Lafferty
  • The Stars Are Legion – Kameron Hurley
  • The Dain Curse – Dashiell Hammett
  • Ash – Malinda Lo
  • Raising Stony Mayhall – Daryl Gregory
  • A Conjuring of Light – V.E. Schwab
  • A Closed And Common Orbit – Becky Chambers
  • Ghost Talkers – Mary Robinette Kowal
  • The Final Empire – Brandon Sanderson
  • The Bone Witch – Rin Chupeco
  • Akata Witch – Nnedi Okorafor
  • A Rage in Harlem – Chester Himes
  • Wake of Vultures – Lila Bowen
  • Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, & Heretics – Jason Porath
  • Mapping the Interior – Stephen Graham Jones
  • All Systems Red – Martha Wells
  • Sorcery & Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot – Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer
  • Zero Sum Game – S.L. Huang
  • Two Serpents Rise – Max Gladstone
  • Bearly A Lady – Cassandra Khaw
  • Down Among the Sticks and Bones – Seanan McGuire
  • The Prey of Gods – Nicky Drayden
  • Phantom Pains – Mishell Baker
  • The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place – Julie Berry
  • The Lie Tree – Frances Hardinge
  • The Fifth Season – N.K. Jemisin
  • Pasadena – Sherri L. Smith
  • Double Down – Gwenda Bond
  • The Shadow Cipher – Laura Ruby
  • Gotham Academy, Vol. 2: Calamity – Becky Cloonan
  • The Winter People – Jennifer McMahon
  • Beauty Queens – Libba Bray
  • The Long Goodbye – Raymond Chandler
  • Certain Dark Things – Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • The Murders of Molly Southborne – Tade Thompson
  • Hex – Thomas Olde Heuvelt
  • Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year Three, Volume 1 – Tom Taylor
  • The Wicked + The Divine, Book 2 – Kieron Gillen
  • Midnight Taxi Tango – Daniel José Older
  • Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood – William J. Mann
  • A Face Like Glass – Frances Hardinge
  • The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club – Dorothy Sayers
  • And Then There Were (N-One) – Sarah Pinsker
  • Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies – Lindsay Ribar
  • The Backstagers, Volume One – James Tynion IV
  • The Night Sister – Jennifer McMahon
  • Such Sweet Sorrow – Jenny Trout
  • Velvet, Vol. 1: Before the Living End – Ed Brubaker
  • Injustice: Gods Among Us – Year 3, Volume 2 – Brian Buccellato
  • The Rise of Renegade X – Chelsea M. Campbell

I’ll post my 2017 Book Superlatives later this week (well, hopefully) but a few things I noticed this year:

My favorite graphic novel of the year has to go to The Wicked + The Divine, Book 2 by Kieron Gillen . . . which honestly isn’t even fair, since it’s an annual collection, not a single trade. I don’t care. I love this series. The artwork is gorgeous. The mythology is fascinating.  The diversity is inclusive. The violence is EVERYWHERE. The only problem I have with this series is that it’s so damn beautiful, I must have the deluxe editions. But since I just can’t make myself buy the whole thing twice, that means I have to wait for the deluxe editions. Which means I’m at least a year behind on everything and probably won’t get an update until, like, October of 2018. The whole world is terrible.

Other comic book honorable mentions: The Backstagers, Volume One (charming), VelvetVol. 1: Before the Living End (badass), and Injustice: Gods Among Us – Year ThreeVolume 1 (Tom Taylor, why did you leeeeeeeeave?)

I didn’t read nearly as many comic books in 2017 as I have in years past. I honestly have no idea why, but I’d definitely like to fix this in 2018.

I did, however, read a lot more novellas this year, most of them courtesy of Tor.com. I am very much enjoying the boom in novellas right now.

I don’t know if this year had a theme exactly, but noir (both classic and speculative) did pop up a lot: Hammers on Bone, The Dain Curse, A Rage in Harlem, The Long Goodbye, Pasadena, and Certain Dark Things. Considering I wrote a noir novel this year, I guess that’s not so surprising.

I read three non-fiction books this year! I realize that’s pretty pathetic for other people, but it’s actually a record for me. Dare I try for four next year? There’s a book about grave robbing and phrenology that I’ve had my eye on. Also, The Radium Girls.

My least favorite book of the year was a horror novel that’s been pretty wildly well-received by basically everyone else, so at least I still have that whole “geek blasphemy” thing going on strong.

Favorite New-to-Me Authors: Nnedi Okorafor, N.K. Jemisin, Kameron Hurley, Lila Bowen, Martha Wells, and Julie Berry.

Books written by women: 38
Books written by men: 13

Comic books written by women: 1
Comic books written by men: 7

Tell me about the books you read this year! I want to hear about them!

The Novels, Graphic Novels, and Novellas of 2017

Another year, another reading list. This was actually a pretty good year for me, though as a writer, I still need to up my game. December turned out to be an especially embarrassing month. (I try not to stress about it, though. Giving myself guilt trips usually results in my reading less, not more.)

As usual, non-fiction books are in bold, while comic books are italicized.

  • Three Dark Crowns – Kendare Blake
  • Throne of Glass – Sarah J. Maas
  • Grayson, Volume 1: Agents of Spyral – Tim Seeley & Tom King
  • Hammers On Bone – Cassandra Khaw
  • Sorcerer to the Crown – Zen Cho
  • Batwoman: Elegy – Greg Rucka
  • Final Girls – Mira Grant
  • A Gathering of Shadows – V.E. Schwab
  • Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places – Colin Dickey
  • Six Wakes – Mur Lafferty
  • The Stars Are Legion – Kameron Hurley
  • The Dain Curse – Dashiell Hammett
  • Ash – Malinda Lo
  • Raising Stony Mayhall – Daryl Gregory
  • A Conjuring of Light – V.E. Schwab
  • A Closed And Common Orbit – Becky Chambers
  • Ghost Talkers – Mary Robinette Kowal
  • The Final Empire – Brandon Sanderson
  • The Bone Witch – Rin Chupeco
  • Akata Witch – Nnedi Okorafor
  • A Rage in Harlem – Chester Himes
  • Wake of Vultures – Lila Bowen
  • Rejected Princesses: Tales of History’s Boldest Heroines, Hellions, & Heretics – Jason Porath
  • Mapping the Interior – Stephen Graham Jones
  • All Systems Red – Martha Wells
  • Sorcery & Cecelia, or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot – Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer
  • Zero Sum Game – S.L. Huang
  • Two Serpents Rise – Max Gladstone
  • Bearly A Lady – Cassandra Khaw
  • Down Among the Sticks and Bones – Seanan McGuire
  • The Prey of Gods – Nicky Drayden
  • Phantom Pains – Mishell Baker
  • The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place – Julie Berry
  • The Lie Tree – Frances Hardinge
  • The Fifth Season – N.K. Jemisin
  • Pasadena – Sherri L. Smith
  • Double Down – Gwenda Bond
  • The Shadow Cipher – Laura Ruby
  • Gotham Academy, Vol. 2: Calamity – Becky Cloonan
  • The Winter People – Jennifer McMahon
  • Beauty Queens – Libba Bray
  • The Long Goodbye – Raymond Chandler
  • Certain Dark Things – Silvia Moreno-Garcia
  • The Murders of Molly Southborne – Tade Thompson
  • Hex – Thomas Olde Heuvelt
  • Injustice: Gods Among Us: Year Three, Volume 1 – Tom Taylor
  • The Wicked + The Divine, Book 2 – Kieron Gillen
  • Midnight Taxi Tango – Daniel José Older
  • Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood – William J. Mann
  • A Face Like Glass – Frances Hardinge
  • The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club – Dorothy Sayers
  • And Then There Were (N-One) – Sarah Pinsker
  • Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies – Lindsay Ribar
  • The Backstagers, Volume One – James Tynion IV
  • The Night Sister – Jennifer McMahon
  • Such Sweet Sorrow – Jenny Trout
  • Velvet, Vol. 1: Before the Living End – Ed Brubaker
  • Injustice: Gods Among Us – Year 3, Volume 2 – Brian Buccellato
  • The Rise of Renegade X – Chelsea M. Campbell

I’ll post my 2017 Book Superlatives later this week (well, hopefully) but a few things I noticed this year:

My favorite graphic novel of the year has to go to The Wicked + The Divine, Book 2 by Kieron Gillen . . . which honestly isn’t even fair, since it’s an annual collection, not a single trade. I don’t care. I love this series. The artwork is gorgeous. The mythology is fascinating.  The diversity is inclusive. The violence is EVERYWHERE. The only problem I have with this series is that it’s so damn beautiful, I must have the deluxe editions. But since I just can’t make myself buy the whole thing twice, that means I have to wait for the deluxe editions. Which means I’m at least a year behind on everything and probably won’t get an update until, like, October of 2018. The whole world is terrible.

Other comic book honorable mentions: The Backstagers, Volume One (charming), Velvet, Vol. 1: Before the Living End (badass), and Injustice: Gods Among Us – Year Three, Volume 1 (Tom Taylor, why did you leeeeeeeeave?)

I didn’t read nearly as many comic books in 2017 as I have in years past. I honestly have no idea why, but I’d definitely like to fix this in 2018.

I did, however, read a lot more novellas this year, most of them courtesy of Tor.com. I am very much enjoying the boom in novellas right now.

I don’t know if this year had a theme exactly, but noir (both classic and speculative) did pop up a lot: Hammers on Bone, The Dain Curse, A Rage in Harlem, The Long Goodbye, and Certain Dark Things. Considering I wrote a noir novel this year, I guess that’s not so surprising.

I read three non-fiction books this year! I realize that’s pretty pathetic for other people, but it’s actually a record for me. Dare I try for four next year? There’s a book about grave robbing and phrenology that I’ve had my eye on. Also, The Radium Girls.

My least favorite book of the year was a horror novel that’s been pretty wildly well-received by basically everyone else, so at least I still have that whole “geek blasphemy” thing going on strong.

Favorite New-to-Me Authors: Nnedi Okorafor, N.K. Jemisin, Kameron Hurley, Lila Bowen, Martha Wells, and Julie Berry.

Books written by women: 38
Books written by men: 13

Comic books written by women: 1
Comic books written by men: 7

Tell me about the books you read this year! I want to hear about them!