baby bookapalooza

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Somebody wantee

I went up to my mom’s last weekend and picked up 133 baby and kid books from the family storehouse. Each of us had some books of our own, especially once we were in the elementary reading range (think Babysitter’s Club and Goosebumps level reading), but most of the learning-to-read books were just passed kid to kid. Why rebuy?

Anyway, my kidlet is years away from using most of these, so I’ll probably share around the cousin network for a while, but it was a hoot to go through the storehouse and pick them out. There are some real gems, let me tell you! Let’s go through in categories.

First, of course, there is the “everybody had some of these!” category. Your Clifford the Big Red Dog, your Little Critter, your Richard Scarry. Oh, and of course your BerenSTAIN Bears, which everybody in the universe remembers as being BerenSTEIN but what do I know.

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I’m sorry this is clearly a prank by a time-traveler, it was definitely STEIN when I was a child

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Oh and while we’re here let me say I think somebody needs a swift slap on the ass

Next, of course, there is the “brand tie-in” category which is now generally dominated by Disney/Pixar. I’m not knocking Disney/Pixar, I’m just saying that my nostalgia button is hit much harder by Duck Tales, The Muppets, and Super Mario Brothers! 

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Okay Duck Tales is still Disney but c’mon

That Mario Brothers book is particularly great because they fully incorporated the magic mushroom element but also carefully backpedaled to discourage children from eating random sewer mushrooms.

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“Great gobs of purple pasta!”

Next up we get the “only nostalgic for me” category, which includes the fantastic story of The Little Red Hen. In this story the titular hen is trying to bake a loaf of bread. She goes around to her lazy friends asking for help at every step of the process, and at every step of the process her lazy ass friends make up shitty excuses and refuse to help. When she finally finishes her bread they all come snooping around and want to eat some. And what is the lesson here, kids? Say, “AW HELL NO YOU LAZY SHITS, I MADE IT MYSELF AND I’LL EAT IT MYSELF!”

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THE END

Also in this category we get the Strega Nona books by Tomie de Paola, about you got it, an old Italian witch grandma!

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Yep that is a boy disguised in girl’s clothing in the back. He just wants to learn Strega Nona’s magic!

Finally, there is the true reason for me cackling to myself all morning and writing this blog post. That would be the “wow THIS isn’t in print anymore!” category. I can’t get rid of any of these, because how would I ever find them again? There are a few different factors at work here. Firstly and dominantly there are all of the fairy tales and fables with gruesome plot lines, which have generally been Disneyfied over the years and spat back out in more kid-friendly versions.

But the “NOW YOU CAN READ!” series did not pull its punches. The vocabulary was simplified for first time readers, but those stories remained the same. Witness the horror that is The Little Mermaid.

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Suggested murder and suicide, cool

There is even this amazing page at the back encouraging children to make their own stories with all these new words they’ve learned.

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KNIFE

The Illustrated Classics that I have stacked up at the top of this post were another glorious series simplifying literature for new readers. Again, the vocabulary is brought down but the stories are the same. I remember reading The Hunchback of Notre Dame and then running, sobbing, to my mom because Esmeralda was executed and then the hunchback crawled onto her grave and died of grief.

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So long, Esmeralda

They even did a Tales of Mystery and Terror by Edgar Allan Poe, which resulted in this fabulous children’s illustration of Fortunato being buried alive in The Cask of Amontillado.

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The moral, kids, is don’t insult a Montresor

My final pick for the evening is the other type of “wow THIS isn’t in print anymore!” book. It was content originally written for children, as opposed to the simplified classics, but ummmmm I’ll let you see for yourself.

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Tomie de Paola strikes again

I do love this one. Oliver likes to dance instead of playing sports, so his parents send him to dance school. By the end the other kids stop making fun of him because they realize he is so good at dancing. It’s just a little story about acceptance and that it’s okay not to conform to gendered expectations. But you know. Woof. That title. That is some 1979 right there. I especially like all the Amazon reviews that say the book is unrealistic because bullies will only bully you worse if they watch you perform. But what are you gonna do? Dance on, Oliver.

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Oh Oliver

that f***ing rat!

When reading the same set of board books to my baby over and over (and over), I find myself making up new narration to entertain myself. I mean, hey, it’s not like he is anywhere close to learning to read yet! He doesn’t know what the book really says!

It reminds me of when my dad read to us when we were little. Because he was an ex-Navy man with the salty vocabulary to show for it, he entertained himself (and us!) by inserting curse words throughout. IT WAS THE HEIGHT OF COMEDY, YOU GUYS. Nothing is more thrilling to young children than the use of forbidden words. My particular favorite was some obnoxious little picture book about a bear that was afraid to go to sleep. A ‘sniveling shit,’ as I recall.

And THAT train of thought reminded me of the time I continued the grand tradition by sending my college-dwelling sister a modified children’s book for her twentieth birthday. This week, instead of anything funny or insightful, you get a picture book: the charmingly titled, That Fucking Rat!

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the end of the beginning, the beginning of the end

This is realistically my last post of 2015. Let’s not be cute and pretend I’ll actually do a year-end wrap-up on New Year’s Eve. Your options are two weeks late or right now, so let’s do this.

I’ve posted enough about the highlights of my year (baby! house! MAD MAX FURY ROAD!) that I don’t think I need to rehash them yet again.

I had more physical ailments than at any other time in my life (gallstones! mastitis! Hashimoto’s!), hmm, and every one of them was baby-related. There’s a reason this used to be women’s number one cause of death. (In the U.S. for my age range I believe the crown now goes to murder. Woohoo!)

I wrote a book while on maternity leave and then entered an unproductive vortex following my return to the workforce. A handful of short stories are all I have to show for the last six months. Give me a moment to shed one artful tear… okay, moving on.

I’m going to end up reading exactly 52 books, which would be a much more satisfying number if 33 of them hadn’t been finished by July.

It’s hard to believe I have a 9-month-old trying to walk and talk. (For the record we’ve got four words: mama, dada, cat, and more uncertainly: baby). He’s gone from jaundiced, squish-faced goon to fiendish Joker face in no time at all.

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Disgusting > Acceptable

In defiance of my usual seasonal writing pattern, I have officially begun my spring 2016 book early! I’m 1000 words in. Now I just need to do this about 79 more times and I ought to have something interesting to show for it. What’s that you say? Finish editing my 2015 book first? *COUGH COUGH* WHAT’S THAT OVER THERE??

Once we get past the remaining mess of holiday I’ll be embarking on some lingering home improvement and indulgent purchasing plans, including the highly coveted acquisition of a scanner. And then, OH HO HO, and then I will have some fun items to post from my ever-popular youth. There is always another stupid memory to exploit in the name of entertainment.

Finally, my biggest regret of the year was failing to throw a proper Back to the Future party. There will never be another opportunity like it. Alas, life got in the way.

So there you have it. Happy Christmas Eve and Merry New Year, I’ll catch you on the other side!

half year goals – three quarter year update

Well I brashly outlined some goals not too long ago. And. Well.

Hm.

I’m 4 books away from my minimum annual goal of 52 books per year, but it is noooot looking like I’ll read an additional 29. Every year I get cocky. Every year it falls apart in the Fall and then I read like crazy all my new birthday books in January.

Instead of editing a book I wrote a handful of short stories. But this is perhaps the kick-in-the-ass reminder I need to get back to that for the next couple of months.

I have played with my baby a lot. He is indeed saying mama. Good job baby!! He is also crawling and standing and eating vegetables and wearing 18-month clothes and generally being far too large for a 7-month-old. He is currently hiding beneath my giant hippie skirt while I type, cooing like a little bird.

My only abject failure of the year (so far) was my failure to throw a Back to the Future party around Future Day. *sigh* I made a planning document two years ago for this party, but life got in the way. Life got in the way of a date that will never happen again unless America breaks off from the Common Era and restarts the calendar. Except it wouldn’t really be the movie’s 2015 because that was expressly 30 years after the events of that 1985 and the McFlys were alive and well. And anyway I won’t be around in another 2,015 years probably so it is moot.

Aside from baby we have been *let’s drop to a whisper now* secretly house hunting. Not so secretly that I don’t make the occasional statement of existential despair on Twitter (why aren’t you following me??), but secret from most other acquaintances and social media. This weekend I ought to have some abrupt news to share on that front. Till then, the timing of this new venture has put a lot of other stuff on hold. Including the prompt updating of this blog, clearly.

Hopefully I can rally the rest of the year and deliver my promised blog gold, cosplay, and of course some objective reporting on our themed holidays. Because the countdown begins. We are 23 days away from THANKVENGERS: THE WINTER SOLSTICE. Prepare for ludicrous holiday decorations, irrelevant costumes, and a night of drunkenly competitive Mario Kart. This will be our fourth year hosting siblings’ Thanksgiving, and hoo boy howdy, it is shaping up to be the best one yet.

2015 reading update 2: the return of the academic hero

It’s been too long since my first update, but hey I’m also working again. I’ve got some more highlights to share. Lately there are so many exciting books coming out… I need more money and more free time!

Books Read So Far This Year: 45

Re-Reads:

I’ve accidentally been on a roll at Book Club—folks keep nominating books I’ve already read! It’s given me a couple of fun re-reads, notably The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde and Perfume by Patrick Süskind. Earnest I hope needs no introduction. If you don’t like reading plays then get yourself the Colin Firth/Rupert Everett movie and enjoy.

Perfume got mixed reactions at my Book Club but oh man I have such a fondness for its insanity. So it’s about a serial killer with the most perfect sense of smell in the world! The writing is so evocative of the senses, and the story goes in such a bizarre direction, I can’t help but enjoy it. It sweeps along like a horrific fairy tale and you prooobably won’t predict how it ends. This one also has a movie (with Alan Rickman!!) and bless them, they upped the ante on the crazy ending.

New Books By Authors I Already Read:

A whole lot of Catherynne M. Valente! Just go look at my 2015 Readings tab and assume I recommend every single one. I’ve also been finding short stories of hers in online publications, and I’m the worst at keeping up with short stories. Her style is so vivid, her prose so precise, she can make up every other word and still suck me into a compelling narrative. I don’t understand how she does it. This author goes on my list of books that I want to throw at the wall in jealousy as soon as I finish reading them.

I read some more N.K. Jemisin and Nalo Hopkinson, other authors on my “slowly acquire everything” list. And I found a book of short stories, At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson. I had only read her novel, The Fox Woman (which is FANTASTIC), and like Valente she is now renewing my appreciation of the short format.

Books by New Authors:

Like I said, there is some good shit coming out all the time right now. I can’t keep up!

I read The Martian by Andy Weir and got myself all excited for the movie coming out this winter. Let’s go save Matt Damon in space again, because this story not only had a great voice but a plot composed of a really rollicking series of disasters solved by legit science.

The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison was an enjoyable tale of court intrigue full of elves and goblins and airships. This is a difficult subgenre to master in my opinion because you have to juggle a lot of characters and a lot of really minute worldbuilding or else the court system seems shallow. But you also have to make all of those characters distinguishable and keep the plot moving, and Addison did that well.

Finally, I wanted to highlight City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett. I picked this up solely due to a recommendation on the great fan blog by Aidan Moher, A Dribble of Ink. And it was great! More great worldbuilding (Russian and Indian vibes + spy novel + a backstory about dead gods and colonialism that made me super jealous!), as well as a main character duo that I loved. Shara and Sigrud forever. I had just posted here about my love of academic action heroes, but I only used movie examples, figuring they’d be most accessible. Shara is now on my list of awesome academics in literature, and I ought to make that its own post at some point because she’s in great company.

I can’t help it, I just love seeing nerds thrust into a world full of monsters and explosions, in which their many readings save the day. You can’t possibly read anything into that!

rough draft hollaaaa

I didn’t post last week because I was in a writing flurry. I always go nuts when I’m nearing the end of a draft. If I did things right, then it is like dominoes falling all the way through the end. In this case there were a heck of a lot of dominoes, because it was book two of a two book set. Don’t ask me the details, for I am infuriatingly vague at all times.

And yesterday, it happened! I completed the rough draft! Now, it is definitely the roughest rough draft ever to draft, but it has the words THE END tacked on, so it is totally legit. I have to completely rewrite the first half because I had an epiphany and mentally changed everything, then carried on writing as though I had already implemented those changes. But shhh, shhh, let me have this moment! My goal was to complete a rough draft by the end of my maternity leave, and I did it with 6 days to spare.

Then I got really sad about the end of my maternity leave, and in a combination of self-congratulation and self-pity, I might have ummmm bought a couple more books than I originally intended when I entered my favorite indie bookstore.

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In the words of Homer Simpson: Haha, heehee, hoohoo. Oh my.

My word total for the year is up to 97,000, which I am pretty satisfied with. Plus about 30,000 words of an unfinished rewrite, when I went crazy for two weeks and thought I should turn this two book set into one book. I came to my senses, abandoned that madness, and carried on through the originally intended draft. But anyway, it’s done now!!

I’m going to spend this week outlining up a storm, and then reading the shit out of some books, and hugging the literal crap out of my baby. Tune back in for the next exciting chapter: Sam goes back to work and everything changes again!

reading highlight: silence

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I don’t remember where I heard about this thirteenth century French romance, but I am so glad I finally got around to reading it. It’s an Arthurian tale, though the only classic cast member to appear is Merlin. The thrust of the plot is that the king of England, Evan, decrees that women will no longer be allowed to inherit. A count and countess (whose love story makes up the first third of the work) decide to raise their daughter as a boy so she can inherit their estate.

Hijinks, of course, ensue. The child, named Silence, runs away with minstrels and becomes a famous entertainer. He (and the original French text is very careful to use masculine pronouns for the duration of his life as a man) eventually becomes a valued knight in Evan’s court. Unfortunately, the queen becomes infatuated with Silence, and when Silence rejects her she goes on a vengeful rampage, first accusing him of rape, then sending him off to France to be murdered, then having him sent off on a fool’s quest to capture the wizard Merlin. Hijinks!

What made the story even more entertaining was the narrator’s asides. We get frequent mutterings about how nowadays the nobility is cheap and won’t pay artists what they deserve. There are random digs at the crazy Irish. And Silence’s genderbending story inspires arguments between the allegorical figures of Nature and Nurture, who fight to determine whether the child will be Silentius or Silentia. Oh, and because this is a medieval romance, everybody has the Most Emotional Emotions Ever to Emote! People fainting left and right, unnecessarily elongated lovers’ misunderstandings, it’s all gold.

It’s a quick read and well worth a look. Here are some gems from the translation by Sarah Roche-Mahdi.

After hearing arguments from both Nature and Nurture, Silence decides to continue life as a man:

Then he began to consider
the pastimes of a woman’s chamber–
which he had often heard about–
and weighed in his heart of hearts
all female customs against his current way of life,
and saw, in short, that a man’s life
was much better than that of a woman.
“Indeed,” he said, “it would be too bad
to step down when I’m on top.
If I’m on top, why should I step down?”

The count and countess find out that Silence has disappeared with the minstrels, and are… extremely distraught:

their hearts were filled with such anguish
that no one could possibly describe it;
no, not even one one-hundredth of it.
Their hearts were nearly breaking;
they were very close to death.
They kept on fainting and being revived,
and the nobles who came to their assistance
were scarcely able to keep from fainting themselves.

But these people did not dare mourn openly
for fear of killing the countess,
who was barely breathing,
and the count, who was suffering terribly,
because the slightest bit of noise
might have killed them both.

There’s much more fainting where that came from. Check it out!

the book of books

I took a couple weeks off social media to have a baby. And it was a success! I now have a baby. As a result, I haven’t read or written anything new since his arrival, but I have watched five and a half seasons of Parks and Recreation and will finish it soon. The little victories??

I’m not intending to splash my baby around my public blog too much, and will probably continue referring to him as sputnik or just the baby. Rest assured, he is an adorable monster. He looks like a chipmunk and eats like a shark. Right now he sleeps in 2-4 hour cycles, and one day I won’t be glued to a breast pump for half my waking hours. Until that day I’m getting snatches of time to hop online and answer the occasional email.

I’ll have more thoughts on baby business in the coming weeks. I promise, newborn babies are just as grossly entertaining as the final stages of pregnancy! While that percolates, let’s get back to the book blog basics. It’s time to tell you about the Book of Books!

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It is truly booktastic.

This thing is exactly what it sounds like: a notebook in which I list every book I’ve ever read. I’m pretty sure. Actually, I bet there are some elementary school books I missed, and I purposefully left off everything below a certain reading level. I have no idea what that reading level is numbered, but there are 233 books listed along the lines of Roald Dahl, Bruce Coville, Baby-Sitters Club, and so on.

Let’s start over.

When I was eight or nine years old I was struck by the notion that I might forget which books in the house I had already read, and therefore I should start some kind of record. A reasonable fear!! I was also jealous and fascinated by my mother’s Book-O-Dex, a box of index cards listing books she owned, because she kept accidentally re-buying things at the used bookstore. She could call home and say, “Do I have this book already?” and one of us could run to the Book-O-Dex and pull up the record by author.

I really don’t know why it took me 25 years to realize I should study library science.

Unfortunately (or rather FORTUNATELY) I’m the kind of person who has a really hard time quitting a project once it has begun. And that means I have been keeping this Book of Books for about twenty years, because if I ever stop keeping it, and then change my mind, it would be incredibly difficult to backtrack and fix that gap. Therefore I must keep it till my death. I have a post-it note affixed to the inside cover, on which I also keep a running tally of the number of books recorded within. When I hit one thousand books, I threw a Thousand Books Party complete with book cookies, a castle cake, and friendship.

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I’m not even lying.

I’m now at 1,175 books. As I’ve mentioned before, I try to average one book a week these days. It’s not a crazy goal compared to most readaholics (in my junior high days it was 2-3 books a week), but I’m balancing reading against other things. We’ll see how this year averages out with my January-February readathon versus these early months of baby care.

See you next week. And remember: ~~knowledge is power!~~

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… it’s Reading Rainbooooowww!

the pratchett

I’m adding my voice to the horde of online mourners this week. I’ve been meaning to write about Sir Pterry for the last few days, but kept stalling. A nice obituary at Tor has the details so I’ll just talk about my own relationship with his work– and suffice to say, those dang tweets made me cry. (Not to mention, two weeks after losing Leonard Nimoy? I don’t want to talk about it.)

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Yes the voice of a generation

I’ve read about 40 of his books, almost exclusively Discworld, and they have always been a genius blend of hilarious and thought-provoking. You’re laughing, then you’re thinking, and sometimes you’re crying. Like the dog episode of Futurama, you find yourself weeping, “But I thought this was comedy!!” Because that’s life and one of the most fantastical and entertaining set of fantasy books of our generation has always been rooted in real life.

There are only three Discworld books that I haven’t read, and I sort of want to finish them, but I also sort of don’t want to finish them, because if I don’t finish them there is always more Discworld to read. He has a whole pile of other novels and anthologies but… it’s not the same.

Sir Pterry has a place of honor at the top of my first fantasy bookcase, by the way.

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He is even guarded by The Librarian

The first book I read by Pratchett was actually Good Omens, which he co-wrote with Neil Gaiman. I grabbed it on a whim in seventh or eighth grade, during one of my Christmas book binges. (AKA mom said I had x dollars to spend for the holidays, so I ran around a bookstore and picked out x dollars worth of books. They were then wrapped and waiting for me under the tree. Best Christmas??)

This is probably still the funniest book I’ve ever read, though no doubt reading it in my formative years MADE it my model for written comedy, the same way that kids who grew up watching The Simpsons were molded for television comedy in a different way than kids who grew up watching Seinfeld. I love it so much that I had already put it in my baby delivery overnight bag weeks ago, and now I am double glad to take it with me for a few laughs while I’m laboring.

After devouring Good Omens (and foisting it on all of my friends at school, thus creating additional lifelong fans), I returned to the bookstore the next time I had funds. I needed MOAR. First I checked out the Neil Gaiman shelf, but I was perplexed at the fact that his books did not seem to be comedies. Disgruntled, I moved down the aisle to Pratchett and STRUCK GOLD. The next one I picked up was The Last Continent, which was the 22nd book published in that world, and one of the few that relied on a couple threads of continuity from previous books. I had no idea who these people were, and no idea why they were doing what they were doing, but oh man it was still so funny! An orangutan librarian? CLASSIC.

(And, as an addendum, I tried out Neil Gaiman in college and was suddenly aghast that I had passed him over so many years before, so in the end it was ALL GOLD.)

Anyway, I was hooked, and I’ve been picking them up ever since.

So I want to say thank you to Sir Pterry for the many years of entertainment behind us, and the very many years of entertainment in front of us, because there are so many readers who haven’t encountered him yet and will be just as thrilled as 13-year-old Sam when they do. Their eyes will light up when they find a stuffed orangutan in the toy store, and when the holidays roll around they’ll pretend it’s Hogfather coming, because kids our age know there’s no Santa… but maybe we can still have Hogfather?

2015 reading update – 1

I’ve been keeping track of all the books I have read since elementary school (I will tell you allllll about the Book of Books in another post), but only in the last few years have I also kept lists by year. If you’re curious, you can check out the annual lists on this site by selecting a year from the “Readings” category in the menu.

I figure every few months I’ll pop in and highlight some of my recent reads, in case anyone else is looking for a recommendation. (Note that not highlighting a book here doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it– this is just the nature of highlights).

This semi-annual blog topic will serve a secondary purpose as well: publicly shaming me into keeping up with my annual reading goal. It’s a modest goal: a minimum of 52 books per year. One new story/plot/world absorbed per week. I know folks who fly through several books a week, and I envy them, but I juggle this against several other life goals, so there you go.

Without further ado!

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Books Read So Far This Year: 15 (well on track!!)

Re-Reads:

I started off the year by completing a Harry Potter re-read, which I’ve already blogged about. It was my second time reading through the series, not having read them since they came out, and it was a very satisfying experience! I won’t repeat the same observations, so you can check out my notes here.

New Books by Authors I Already Read:

Clementine by Cherie Priest – I love the Clockwork Century novels, and this was the only one I was missing due to its limited original print run. It did not disappoint! Ex-Confederate spy Maria Boyd is embarking on her first assignment for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, while ex-slave and felonious airship captain Croggon Hainey is trying to hunt down the thieves who took his ship. What else should I say?

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente – I’m planning to devour everything written by this woman, so be prepared for more mentions in this year’s reading updates. The Fairyland series is supposedly for children, but don’t let that stop you. They are just as full of beautiful prose and touching observations as the rest of her work. Read it all!!

Books by New Authors:

God’s War by Kameron Hurley – Hurley had been on my wishlist for a while. I had vaguely heard of her books while drumming up recommendations for less traditional, less Euro-centric SF/F. Then I started reading her blog. Finally I grabbed book 1 of her first trilogy. Bug magic and bounty hunters in an Islamic scifi world ravaged by an endless holy war. I’ll definitely be picking up the other two (Infidel and Rapture) to see how things turn out.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson – I read this for my book club and oh my gosh it was hilarious. It is the (mostly true) memoir of blogger Jenny Lawson, and now I’ll have to start following her blog. The book contains a series of anecdotes about her ridiculous taxidermy-infused childhood in rural Texas through an equally strange adulthood grappling with anxiety and OCD. I think this might be the first book (out of the 35 that we have read so far) that everyone in my club enjoyed. It was so funny that I immediately forced it on one of my sisters to read, and when she is done I’ll force it on another one.