FICTION REVIEW: A Choir of Lies

Welcome to September, goblins! Yesterday was publication day for one of the prettiest books of 2019, Alexandra Rowland’s A CHOIR OF LIES, which I was so happy to get my hands on an arc copy of. To celebrate, I’m bringing you all my review. Trust me, you’re going to want this one on your TBR.

Three years ago, Ylfing watched his master-Chant tear a nation apart with nothing but the words on his tongue. Now Ylfing is all alone in a new realm, brokenhearted and grieving—but a Chant in his own right, employed as a translator to a wealthy merchant of luxury goods, Sterre de Waeyer. But Ylfing has been struggling to come to terms with what his master did, with the audiences he’s been alienated from, and with the stories he can no longer trust himself to tell.

That is, until Ylfing’s employer finds out what he is, what he does, and what he knows. At Sterre’s command, Ylfing begins telling stories once more, fanning the city into a mania for a few shipments of an exotic flower. The prices skyrocket, but when disaster looms, Ylfing must face what he has done and decide who he wants to be: a man who walks away and lets the city shatter, as his master did? Or will he embrace the power of story to save ten thousand lives?

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This is a gem of a book full of grit-teeth, open-eyed hope in humans’ ability to pull themselves up off the ground and do the right thing, even when the chips are down. It’s also full of snarky storytelling rap battles, tulip mania, whirling auction houses, lies that catch fire and almost take the teller down with them, and some grade A flirting. I’m so pleased to have gotten an ARC for review.

I loved so much about this book. I loved the slow unraveling of half-forgotten myths, the stories from faraway places dispersed throughout, the crowded canal city where our sweet, sensitive protagonist Ylfing finds himself living. Tender, introspection male protagonists are in short supply in any genre, but Ylfing is so wonderful and richly drawn. The strong, vibrant, morally complex middle aged women he finds himself surrounded by gave me life, and I fell in love with his problematic, smooth-talking, hedonist beau.

I’m not usually a fan of second world fantasy; one look at a string of fantasy place names and proper nouns and my eyes start to glaze over. But Rowland has pulled off a very clever magic trick here in making a complex, detailed fantasy world feel cozy and folkloric. They do this by feeding the audience world-building in tiny, tasty bites, like they’re guiding us through a cheese plate. A lot of people have already talked about the metatextual elements of this book (we have footnotes from an annotator reading the memoir of our protagonist about events they both experienced! your faves could NEVER!) but even those clever moments of commentary insertion feel naturalistic, effortless. Hell, Rowland can even make economic commentary RIVETING. Want to see how bubble economies are hatched, nurtured, and then grow big enough to threaten the safety of entire merchant city-states? Yes, you do. Trust me.

This is a book that takes you by the hand and spins you a yarn that grows bigger and wilder than you can ever imagine, but you don’t want to pull your hand away, not even for a second, because you trust somehow that you want to end up on the other side of wherever it’s going. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

AMAZON: tinyurl.com/yxpwgemo

BARNES AND NOBLE: tinyurl.com/y2hqzv34

INDIEBOUND: tinyurl.com/y6pxw6jd

GOODREADS: tinyurl.com/yxfjjptq

2018 Wrap-Up: Novella Edition

Ah yes, the drowsy, dark days between the December holidays and New Years, where we all enjoy some well-earned time off work, soak up the love of family, and…panic about how few days there are left hit our reading challenge goals. Not sure how you’re gonna cram all of Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell into these last few twilight days of the year? Never fear, I’ve got a list of all the short works of fiction I read in 2018 so that you can pluck out some gems to affix last-minute to your 2018 reading challenge crown.

Reader, I love the novella. Just long enough to build worlds and characters, just short enough that you’re encouraged to fill in gaps with your imagination, embodying both the sparkling brevity of a short story and the languid embrace of a novel…and, uh, you can read them hella fast. Some of the works listed below are more like long short stories (A Kiss With Teeth clocks in at less than 40 pages) and I would argue that others are pushing the boundaries into novel (The Black Tides of Heaven is 240 pages but worth it). These are all fantasy stories of varying flavors and most of them Tor.com originals, but hopefully there’s a little something here for everyone, and the best part? Half of these are available online for FREE.

SIX GUN SNOW WHITE by Catherynne M. Valente

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I am a consummate Valente devotee, and despite reveling in Space Opera this year, I think I enjoyed this Wild West fairy tale retelling even more. Here, sharpshooting mixed-race Snow White flees her racist step-mother and her poisonous trappings of “proper womanhood”, and adventures through mining towns, refugee camps, and the live-wire wilderness of an America on the brink of industrialization. It has all of Valente’s razor-sharp meditations on gender, race, and destiny, mixed in with her unbeatable prose and divine gift for fable. This one is sure to sink its teeth into your heart and not let go.

THE BLACK TIDES OF HEAVEN by J.Y. Yang

This one has been on my tbr for too long, and Yang’s silkpunk vision of an imperial family torn apart by attempted assassinations, prophetic dreams, and interpersonal conflict is at once epic and searingly personal. This world where mechanical technology clashes with a form of magic known as “slackcraft” is gorgeously realized, along with a society in which all people are born genderless and choose their gender (or lack thereof) when they’re ready. This book with thrill you, break your heart, and leave you hungry for the next installment.

A KISS WITH TEETH by Max Gladstone

This has got to be my favorite Tor.com original story of the year, maybe of all time. This tautly written send-up to the vampire genre imagines what it would be like for an immortal predator to struggle to fit into American suburbia and raise a small boy with his wife. The story is thoroughly fun but never kitchy or cliche, and it explores issues of fidelity, identity, and parenthood with deft insight. The best part? A passionate romance between a married couple. Sign me up.

THE LITANY OF EARTH by Ruthanna Emrys

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Reader, I felt this one in my gut. This is a quiet, misty-edged novelette that perfectly captures the tender, aching start of new life after unspeakable trauma. Our protagonist Aphra, a devotee of Lovecraft’s old gods, has recently been released from the internment camp where she and her family were unjustly held, and is trying to rebuild herself. However, people obsessed with her family’s legacy and religion keep finding her, preventing her from withdrawing from the past forever. This book dives into the intricacies and contradictions of a childhood defined by faith of any kind, and offers a humanizing but still wonderfully weird take on the Lovecraft mythos. I’ll be picking up Winter Tide, the full-length follow-up novel, in the new year.

THE PRINCE AND HER DREAMER by Kayla Bashe

If you need a little sugar-dusted heartwarming holiday cheer, this queer Nutcracker retelling is for you. I’ve been a fan of Bashe’s work for some time, and their prose has only gained more glittering clarity as time has passed. The author’s particular strength for capturing deep romantic friendship between women (and in this case, a nonbinary person) shines through. I adored Bashe’s take on Drosselmeyer and found myself loving and rooting for Prince Mathilde and Clara, despite only having known them a short time.  By and large, the story is easy to follow and thoroughly charming, especially for someone looking for a diverse romance to brighten up their holidays.

THE GIRL WHO RULED FAIRYLAND – FOR A LITTLE WHILE by Catherynne M. Valente

Yes, Valente again. If you’re looking for a shorter introduction to her work, and to her well-loved Fairyland series, this may be a good place to start. Ever-practical village witch Mallow is called into the glittering capitol of Fairyland and, with the help of a flirtatious Jack of the Wood and some wild, gossipy winds, she must uncover the secret behind Fairyland’s inevitable decay before its too late. In the process she will learn the true meaning of sacrifice and responsibility. Like all of Valente’s work, this story is a little bloody, a little quirky, and a whole lot of lovely.

And there you have it folks! Six short titles to kick your reading challenge into gear in these last four days of the year. What were your favorite short fiction works of 2018?

ROBBERGIRL Cover Reveal and Preorder Announcement!

At long last I can unveil the cover for ROBBERGIRL, designed by the phenomenal Lena Yang. This sapphic Snow Queen retelling is possibly even more dear to my heart than my last book, and it’s certainly longer and more jam-packed with mystery, romance, reindeer, and knife fights.

This beauty will be widely available on Valentines Day 2019, so read on for the synopsis and pre-order information!

In a Sweden wracked by war and haunted by folk stories so dark they can only be spoken of in whispers, Helvig has been raised by her brigand father to steal whatever treasure catches her eye. When her men ambush a girl on the road with hair pale as death and a raven perched on her shoulder, Helvig cannot resist bringing home a truly unique prize: a genuine witch.

Drawn irresistibly into the other woman’s web, Helvig soon learns of Gerda’s reason for walking the icy border roads alone: to find the Queen at the top of the world and kill her. Anyone else would be smart enough not to believe a children’s story, but Helvig is plagued by enchantments of her own, and she struggles to guard the sins of her past while growing closer to Gerda.

As Christmastide gives way to the thin-veiled days when ghosts are at their most vengeful, the two women find themselves on a journey through forest and Samiland to a final confrontation that will either redeem them or destroy them entirely.

It’s DEATHLESS meets FINGERSMITH in this coming-of-age fable.

Readers in the US can pre-order their autographed paperback copy directly from me.

I’m happy to announce that shipping speeds and tracking on direct-from-author orders have been improved for this title.Paperbacks and digital editions will become available through worldwide distributors on February 14, 2019.

If you’re not in a position to order a copy right now, sharing this post is a great help to me! If you’d like to donate to my ability to keep writing, considering contributing a dollar or two to my cute bat-themed patreon.

And of course, don’t forget to add this title to your to-read pile on Goodreads!

Witchy Book Giveaway!

GIVEAWAY

Welcome to October, my bats and goblins! To celebrate the witching season, I’m giving away a book bundle of ✨FIVE✨ spellbinding YA books about witches AND a copy of my occult romance novella, Odd Spirits 🔮. Click the link to enter to win! 

This giveaway is open to worldwide readers. A winner will be chosen at random on October 19th and prizes will ship from the Book Depository! Share to spread the autumnal love, and good luck to all who enter!

FIENDS has arrived!

THE FIENDS IN THE FURROWS anthology, featuring my Southern Gothic story “Revival”, is available now in ebook and paperback!

Growing up as a girl in a conservative religious community is challenging, especially when you’re the bastard child of a snake-handling Pentecostal preacher and a Catholic waitress. Considered unclean by the congregation and her grandfather, the fearsome Reverend, because of her affinity for the church’s’ venomous snakes, eight-year-old Callie Ann spends most of her time feeding crickets and mice to her only friends.

 But as the Reverend’s sinister hold on his rapt flock grows, so does Callie’s connection to her dead mother, and a dark prophecy begins to take shape. 

What People Are Saying

“Revival finds that old time religion venomously snaking its way back, to the peril of those who would dare to dance with vipers and tempt Fate itself.”

“Gibson’s Revival was like THE BAD SEED set to a religious hymn (that’s a good thing)”

If you’re craving some grimy gothic goodness with your brave little girls toppling abusive religious hierarchies, add FIENDS to your Goodreads TBR! Also be sure to subscribe to my intermittent author newsletter to stay in the loop about new publications, giveaways, and flash sales!  🕸🐍🌾💀

4 Reasons to Hop on the #ReadWhatYouOwn Bandwagon

I’ve known for some time that my book acquisition habits needed an intervention. What can I say? I’m spoiled and decadent in my bookish ways; I live near one of the coolest used bookstores in the country, I spend my workdays at an audiobook publisher finding new authors (and adding their books to my TBR), and I also get free paperbacks and audiobooks as part of my job. I’m so book-wealthy my house is beginning to look like a Versailles of fantasy ARCs, paperbacks I slipped into my purse on my way home from the office, and buzzed-about debuts delivered straight to my door courtesy of prime shipping.

It’s gotten…a little out of hand.

Take it from someone who spent last night building yet another bookshelf to house her thrift store scores and Barnes and Noble impulse buys; it’s possible to lose some real gems in the book avalanche.

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Don’t mind me I’ll be here…digging myself out with a shovel.

That’s why I’ve decided to institute a no-new-books ban through the rest of 2018. That’s right; I’m going to abstain from buying or renting any new books through the rest of the year! I was inspired partly by the September #readwhatyouown challenge started by instagrammer ANovelFamily.  So without futher ado, here are my top reasons to join me on this book-buying cleanse!

  1. It reassigns your money value. Those books tossed on your bedside table or shoved into your backpack had enough value at one time that you were willing to pay good money for them! Honor you past self by getting your money’s worth out of those pricey little acquisitions.
  2. It helps you de-clutter your home. Could you imagine how much more room you would have in your living space if you got rid of books you read and had no intention of reading again? I know it can be difficult to let go of books, but be judicious about which ones you keep after reading them during the challenge!
  3. It resets your attention span. I know as I’ve gotten older and more absorbed into social media and multitasking culture, its gotten more difficult for me to be still and devote myself to a single story. When I can’t hop from free audiobook to free audiobook with my mood, I’m much more likely to commit to that sweet sweet book monogamy. Lately, I’ve been tucking into Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, a book a bought myself as a payday present last month, and Her Perfect Match by Jess Michaels, a steamy historical romance I snagged from the free shelf at work. I’m further along in them than I ever would have been before #readwhatyouown.
  4. It helps you feel better about what you choose to read. A fatigue of choices can happen when you have unlimited stories at you fingertips through online shopping (multiply this by 100 if you have a E-reader or Audible subscription). It can make whatever you choose feel disappointing, or distract you from enjoying that book you really wanted because there’s a new release to lust after. Picking what to read from what you already own helps with satiety and satisfaction.

A #ReadWhatYouOwn Protip: Know when you need to bend the rules! Really wanting that hot YA debut is not a good enough reason to cheat on your challenge, but if you promised to beta a friend’s novel, or if you have to buy new books for your fall classes, work those into your reading plan ahead of time! I’m currently writing my next novella, a retelling of the Snow Queen story, and I know I’m going to have acquire and re-read the Hans Christen Anderson original as well as snag some library books on Scandanavian folklore and history for research.

Feeling inspired? Who’s going to go on this #ReadWhatYouOwn journey with me?