Hey Book Lovers!

Anyone out there want a free e-copy of ODD SPIRITS in exchange for an honest review on their blog/social media and Amazon?

It takes a lot of commitment to make a marriage between a modern ceremonial magician and a chaos witch work, but when a malevolent entity takes up residence in Rhys and Moira’s home, their love will be pushed to the limits. Brewing up a solution is easier said than done when your magical styles are polar opposites; throw a psychic ex and a secret society in the mix, and things are bound to get messy.

Think The Haunting of Hill House meets The Raven Cycle with a multicultural married couple and LGBTQ protags. The book is novella length at just under 100 pages, so it’s a perfect weekend read.

odd spirits

Comment below or shoot me a message at sarahtaylorgibson@gmail.com if you’re interested and I’ll hook you up, no strings attached! E-copies will be sent out early next week.

Non-book bloggers, make sure to mark Odd Spirits as to-read on Goodreads,and keep your eyes peeled for a super-steal sale on pre-orders coming in just a few days!

Genre Spotlight: ElfPunk

BookRiot recently put out an article that had my little faery-loving loving heart all a-flutter, an introductory reading list in the fantasy subgenre elfpunk. Hallmarks of elfpunk include a modern urban setting, new spins on old folk beliefs about the fae, fast cars, a dollop of teen angst, and lots and lots of rock and roll. Elfpunk tends to skew towards Western European folklore, and never seems to get tried of staging ballads of lost love in hazy nightclubs or pitting roving gangs of sidhe punks against each other in back alleys. I would call it my guilty pleasure but there’s nothing guilty about it; elfpunk shaped me into the writer I am today, and it’s still my favorite genre to read, full stop.

Emma Bull is among the authors on this list, and should be as one of the originators of the genre, and so is Holly Black, an author who remains almost unflaggingly loyal to stories of fae and humans in the modern day. But one huge piece was missing, the sprawling, enchanting originator of the entire genre: The Borderland Series.

last border

The Borderland series is a collection of short story anthologies and spin-off novels set in the shared universe of Bordertown, a city on the border of Faery and a large American metropolis. Bordertown is a shifting, dangerous place full of buskers and runaway teens and rock bands looking to strike it big in clubs crawling with feuding species. The original anthologies captured the wild dirty color of youth culture in the eighties, and were so successful that a follow-up anthology was published in 2011 featuring writers who had cut their teeth reading  Borderlands books as kids, heavy hitters like Catherynne Valente, Holly Black, Neil Gaiman, Cassandra Clare, and Charles DeLint.

border2
I checked the 2011 reboot out from my library three times in high school. Three.

It’s impossible to overemphasize the ripples Bordertown has made in the fantasy world; some people say it kicked off the urban fantasy genre wholesale. It’s inspired in part by Terri Winding’s experience of being a young artist in the mean streets of New York, which is an excited/terrified/starry eyed bouquet of emotion that so many of us can relate to. Everything Windling touches turns to gold, especially her anthologies, but the Bordertown Series is by far the most iconic.

So if you’re looking to get into some anachronistic, enchanted reads, don’t pass up this series. It’s really true what they say: even after all these years, Bordertown is always there waiting for you.

FICTION REVIEW: The Beloveds

beloveds

Title: The Beloveds by Maureen Lindley
Genre: Suspense/Gothic
Rating:  ★★ (2/5)

Elizabeth Stash has never really loved anything in her life except Pipits, the cherished ancestral home of her childhood in rural England. Even when her mother’s favoritism for Elizabeth’s despised little sister Gloria reared its head, Pipits was there to enfold Elizabeth into a voice that spoke through creaking wood and rustling curtains. Her obsessive love for the house only grows with time, and when Elizabeth’s mother dies she is certain that she, the eldest daughter, will rightfully inherit Pipits. But when the will specifies that Pipits will pass to beautiful, beloved Gloria, Elizabeth begins to hatch an ugly plan that will soon consume her entirely.

The Beloveds is a book that flirts with the supernatural but for the most part stays staunchly psychological, delving deep into the malice which Elizabeth nurtures and cultivates.  Elizabeth is a narcissist who can’t properly empathize with other people, considers herself superior to them, and is constantly convinced she’s been wronged.  As far as unreliable, unsympathetic narrators go, Elizabeth held my attention, though some of her diatribes about being betrayed bordered on repetitive.

The tension in this book ratchets wonderfully as the narrator becomes more and more delusional, and as her actions become progressively more criminal and poorly disguised. However, and to my great disappointment, this suspense ultimately comes to nothing. Elizabeth character’s steadily erodes, but the lives of those around her remain largely unchanged, as as the book reaches what I hoped would be a gloriously cacophonous crescendo, it goes out with a whimper rather than a bang.

The Beloveds is an engaging read that cultivates a Gothic atmosphere without pulling in some of the more scenery-chewing tropes of the genre, but ultimately, it falls flat. It felt like one long character sketch, and Elizabeth’s family remained so unbelievably oblivious to her machinations that I supposed there must be some catch, something hidden from the narrator that would be revealed in the big finish. Sadly, there was not, and without any satisfying cherry on the cake of nastiness, The Beloveds is ultimately an unremarkable summer read.

Note: I received a copy of The Beloveds in exchange for an honest review. The Beloveds is set to drop on April 3, 2018.

Spirituality Review: A Bigger Table

bigger table

Title: A Bigger Table by John Pavlovitz
Genre: Christian Nonfiction/Memroir
Rating:  ★★★ (3/5)

John Pavlovitz is a widely-read Christian blogger known for the generous hospitality of his theology and his commitment to championing honesty within the church. However, this wasn’t always the case. Pavolovitz was raised in a culturally homogeneous, shame-based Christian culture, and it wasn’t until he moved to Philadelphia in college that he began to experience humanity in all its colorful, dynamic diversity. As Pavolovitz came to love his black and latinx and queer and poor and atheist neighbors, all while discerning a call to ministry, he also began to form a vision of the table of God to which everyone was truly welcome and truly accepted.

Like many works of Christian nonfiction, A Bigger Table juxtaposes anecdotes from the author’s life and ministry with more theoretical theology. This, for the most part, works, and I enjoyed the stories about Pavolovitz’s Catholic Italian family and the troubled pastors and gay youth he has counseled throughout his career. Overall, the message of “radical hospitality, true diversity, real authenticity, and agenda-free community” comes across loud and clear, and is well supported by examples from the life of Christ. The chapter on the lies pastors are forced to tell in order to be accepted by their boards and congregations was particularly strong, and I appreciated the way Pavlovitz – though openly left of center – critiques and encourages both sides of the isle in an effort to build true Christian community.

However, the book ultimately suffers from a meandering structure and lack of concrete ways readers can help build the “bigger table”. Very little practical advice was given amidst all the excitement about doing church in a more authentic, healing way. The full inclusion of LBGTQ Christians into the church is a central theme of the book, but the chapters regarding it were separated in a way that felt random, and it seemed as though the author couldn’t decide how much time he wanted to spend on the issue. In addition, despite drawing from the life of Christ to support his model of radical hospitality, Pavlovitz effectively ignores most of the Bible, and I think he could have enriched his position by bringing in Second Testament writings and stories from the First Testament.

Despite its weaknesses, The Bigger Table will be soul-soothing to anyone beaten down by the partisanship and fake warmth of so many Christian congregations. I would recommend it to anyone looking for straight-talk from a pastor who wants to see the lavish love of Jesus spread more liberally through the world.

Note: I received a copy of A Bigger Table in exchange for an honest review.

FICTION REVIEW: Binti

binti

Title: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
Genre: Science Fiction/Afrofuturism
Rating:  ★★★★ (4/5)

Binti is the first member of her small African tribe to be accepted into the universe of the galaxy. She’s a harmonizer, a mathematics genius with a near-spiritual connection to the complex technologies and equations that under-gird the universe, and even though she’s terrified of leaving the red deserts in which she was raised, there’s nothing she wants more than to nurture her skills at the prestigious planet-sized Oomza university. But when her classmates are massacred by an alien species aboard the ship ferrying Binti to her new home, it will take every ounce of courage she has to survive.

This book drew me in right from the start and held my attention the entire time. The space travel elements felt fresh and organic, and the novel by and large avoided the old-school sci-fi tropes that give books that sterile, metallic tang. I’m not sure what else science fiction is better for than exploring what it means to be human in a galactic context, and Binti lovingly leans into themes of adolescent anticipation, cultural alienation, and trans-cultural identity.

I really liked Binti as a protagonist; she’s brave, willing to fight tooth and nail for what she loves, but ultimately, her strength is her compassion and level head for diplomacy. Her Himba heritage plays a huge role in both the plot and her character development. I love a book that teaches me something new about another culture, and one of the most touching moments in the book was Binti wondering if she was going to be able to find the right ingredients on her new planet to make the paste of oil and clay the Himba cover their skin and hair with.

At only 90 pages, Binti clips along at a short-story pace that kept me from ever feeling bored. However, because of novella length, I felt like I was robbed of the sort of worldbuilding and setting details that would have really made me feel enveloped in the narrative. The descriptions I was given were sufficient, but sparse, and character development jerked along at times, prey to the pace. However, Binti is the first in a well-received trilogy that’s setting the standard for the new wave of afro-futurism, and I’m excited to pick up books two and three.

Seven Ways to Break Into the Publishing Industry

Today someone on Tumblr asked me how I had gotten my position as an associate editor of the Princeton Theological Review, and if I had any advice for those seeking a career in publishing. Well, I’m in the trenches right now seeking a career in publishing or book publicity, and I’m happy to share job-hunting tips I’ve collected along the way!

  1. Apply to work for your campus literary magazine or academic journal.  Campus mags are a great first step towards your goals; they tend to be eager to bring on new associates and to teach them the ropes. My first editorial job was as a submissions reader for my campus magazine; it was by no means high-profile, but I learned a lot about working as part of an editorial team. Once you’re brought onto the magazine, ask if you can help with or observe all the different stages of production. Be a sponge. Absorb everything.
  2. Gain editing, marketing, and writing skills at other jobs. While in college I worked as a web content editor for the provost, a writing tutor in academic advancement, and a scientific writer and editor at a national environmental agency.  None of these jobs related directly to publishing, and they required me to learn new skills, like basic graphic design and navigating the back end of drupal, but the experiences I gained are very translatable to a publishing context. Landing a job is all about showing employers that the skills you already have are the ones they need, whether or not you initially seem to check their “requirements” boxes.
  3. Sniff out internships at publishing houses, newspapers, or literary magazines. I worked as a summer intern for a local paper, but I so wish I had taken the time to be mentored by a literary agent or fiction editor!  If there are no job postings that interest you, don’t be afraid to send a company you love a brief, polite email asking if they would like an intern, and be sure to attach your resume. Sometimes you can find paid gigs, other times you have to do due diligence in an unpaid position for a semester.
  4. Know your industry. This is crucial. I’ve heard of interviewees at Penguin or Tor being thrown for a loop by the most important question an interviewer is likely to ask: “‘what have you been reading lately?”. If you’re looking for work in academic publishing, be up on current research; subscribe to journals in your field or read the current editions in your library for free.  If you love fiction, be able to rattle off authors you’re into and cite a couple of game-changers published in the last year. Extra points if they’re associated with the company you’re in talks with.
  5. Publish. There’s no better way to get a sense for the shape of peer review and the academic publishing process than to go through it yourself. So revise and polish some of your best academic work and start sending it out to journals.  If you’re a fiction enthusiast who also pens short stories and poems, it can never hurt to have your name in a couple of magazines where you would like to work. Those with journalistic aspirations might submit their bookish articles to place like BookRiot.
  6. Consider conferences and conventions. Cons are pricey and might not be a reasonable investment for you right now, but the kind of connections you can make there are invaluable. Big publishing events like BookExpo in New York, The Miami Book Fair, and the LA Times Festival of Books can be fertile territory for meeting authors, connecting with publishers, and passing out business cards. If you’re an academic, look into conferences where you can present your research, but also consider going even if you aren’t presenting to learn and connect.
  7. Slay social media. Make your accounts clean and professional, but also be attentive to ways to brand yourself with a unified tone and clear statement of what it is you’re good at. Connect with journals, contributors, and editors on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook, and showcase your projects, articles, and work experiences on those platforms. Networking is absolutely essential in this game.

I hope these tips help you guys get connected to some great opportunities! What advice do you have for someone looking to establish themselves in the publishing world?

The Death of the Book Tour…Or Is It?

Today while sipping on an eggnog latte at Starbucks and putting off writing my finals, I came across this article in the Atlantic on the death of the modern book tour.

In it, the author details the cutbacks publishing houses had to push through after the 2008 recession, including shortening book tours, replacing touring publicists with local “escorts” who show authors around, and nixing the book tour entirely for most first-time authors.  It appears the days of running down Harper Collin’s company credit cards while traveling all over the world, if they ever existed, are coming to an end. While its true that lengthy book tours don’t always translate into booming sales, the author is quick to point out that the sort of intimacy and loyalty fostered between writers and their fans on tour is something that can’t be duplicated anywhere else.

I’m a big fan of the book tour. I’ve fumbled over my words while the amused and handsome Reza Aslan autographed my book, driven myself two hours across Jersey to talk spirituality and The Raven Cycle with Maggie Stiefvater, and have been comforted by Catherynne M. Valente on Twitter when I had to bail last-minute on a signing. I’ve also been introduced to the wonderful writing of Joseph Bathanti and Lauren Winner because someone took me with them to a reading.

Tours may be expensive, and they might not translate well to the number-crunching bottom line, but I’m not ready to give up on them yet. Yes, book tours aren’t always sexy, and every author has read aloud to a conference room with four people in it. But for authors who know how to create hype on social media, events can be much more well-attended and, in turn, well documented on Twitter, Tumblr, and all the other places readers go to find the Next Big Thing.

And on the note of the internet, one critical issue the author didn’t cover is virtual tours, a publicity move that I think is quickly gaining traction and credibility.  In this model, publicists assemble a squad of book bloggers and booktubers who release promo material, reviews, and maybe even author interviews over a series of days or week. It’s an amazing way for bloggers to connect with new authors and boost their own visibility, and for authors to promotw their book on grassroots level to a diverse audience. Still, that’s not quite the same experience as shaking an author’s hand or passing them a letter about how much their work has meant to you.

What are your thoughts on book tours? I’m wild about them, but maybe they are falling out of favor after all. But, as the chyerti of Valente’s Deathless would say, life is like that.