Book Review of BLACKFISH CITY and THE LESSON

Here’s my third and final book review of CHARM CITY SPEC authors and hopefully a helpful guide for your favorite book lovers during the 2019 holiday season. Did I choose these books because of the beautiful colors on the covers? If so, it was unconscious. I CONSCIOUSLY chose these two books because they have fantastic ideas, lyrical prose, and are so immersive that you will have a book hangover when you’re finished.

Such beautiful covers!

BLACKFISH CITY by Sam J. Miller

Genre: Speculative fiction, YA, dystopia

Premise: (back cover) When a strange new visitor arrives in a floating city in the Arctic – humanity’s last hope after the ravages of climate change – the city is entranced. She’s riding an orca and has a polar bear at her beck and call. She’s called “the orcamancer,” and she very subtly unites four desperate people to stage unprecedented acts of resistance. By banding together, they will learn shocking truths about themselves – and save their city before it crumples under the weight of its own decay.

Who would love it: Well, according to Miller’s Twitter account (@sentencebender), anyone who is “a fan of polar bears…or killer whales…or bad-ass lesbian grandmothers.”  Me. I’m a fan of all three. But, that doesn’t touch on Qaanaaq, the actual floating city he’s built, or the story of both refugees and elite within that city, or mysterious broadcasts or nanobonding. People who are fans of those things will also love this book.

Favorite character: Too difficult! I’ll go with a favorite moment instead.

The polar bear opened his eyes and looked at Kaev.

In the instant of that eye contact, Kaev felt like he had broken free of his body. A happiness surged through him, warm as the sun, blissful as a thousand orgasms. The peace he’d felt while sitting there had been ten times greater than the joy of fighting, but this new sensation was ten times greater than that peace had been.

“Hello, Kaev,” Dao said. He and his soldiers had their backs to the grid edge; they could not see the polar bear. “You’ve been sitting here for a long time. I’ve got to presume that means you wanted us to find you.”

But Kaev could not hear him.

We are one, he thought, eyes locked with the animal’s.

Final Thought:

Miller’s debut THE ART OF STARVING won the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction. His newest book DESTROY ALL MONSTERS dropped on 7/2/19.

 

 

THE LESSON by Cadwell Turnbull

Genre: Science Fiction

Premise: An alien ship rests over Water Island. For five years the people of the US Virgin Islands have lived with the Ynaa, a race of superadvanced aliens on a research mission they will not fully disclose. They are benevolent in many ways but meet any act of aggression with disproportional wrath. This has led to a strained relationship between the Ynaa and the local Virgin Islanders and a peace that cannot last.

A year after the death of a young boy at the hands of an Ynaa, three families find themselves at the center of the inevitable conflict, witness and victim to events that will touch everyone and teach a terrible lesson.

Who would love it: Wilton Barnhardt says, “I came for the aliens and a war of the worlds. I stayed for the deadpan St. Thomas humor, the complicated, charming, sexy island folk, and Turnbull’s delicious prose.”

Favorite character: Most people know that I have a soft spot for the familial, for the moments that ground fantasy in a web of relationships. Here’s our intro to Derrick (who is much more respectful that MY teenaged son).

Fifteen days before

“Aren’t you going to close the door?” Patrice asked.

“Grams said I can’t close the door if I have a girl in my room.”

“We grew up together.”

“That’s the problem. You grown now. Can’t have you up in my room with the door shut.”

Patrice glared at him, communicating all she could.

“Her words,” Derrick said.

“Boy, don’t you close that door!” Grandma Reed yelled from the living room.

“I know, Grams.”

“Come here for a second!”

“Be right back,” Derrick said. He grabbed some home clothes as he left to change out of his school uniform.

Patrice sat on Derrick’s bed.

Final Thought: Now I have to look up Turnbull’s Asimov’s short story “When the Rains Come Back” (made the Barnes and Noble’s Sci-Fi & Fantasy’s short fiction roundup in 2018) and Nightmare story “Loneliness is in Your Blood” (selected for The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2018.

Book Review of SOONER OR LATER EVERYTHING FALLS INTO THE SEA and UNCOMMON MIRACLES

Here’s my second of three book reviews of CHARM CITY SPEC authors AND hopefully a helpful guide for buying gifts for the readers in your life during the holiday season.

For something a little different, I selected two short story collections: SOONER OR LATER EVERYTHING FALLS INTO THE SEA and UNCOMMON MIRACLES. Short stories are nice for those who like to experience many different “worlds” and casts of characters, who want to answer one question or examine one moment in time rather than commit to a three-act structure, and for those who, practically, have less time to read. Convinced? If so, here are two collections that would make a wonderful gift this holiday season.

Storm sunning herself between books.

SOONER OR LATER EVERYTHING FALLS INTO THE SEA by Sarah Pinsker

Cover art by Matt Muirhead

Genre: Speculative fiction, literary

Premise: There are thirteen different stories, so there are thirteen different premises. However, Publisher’s Weekly gave this collection a starred review. Here’s what they said:

*This beautiful, complex debut collection assembles some of Nebula winner Pinsker’s best stories into a twisting journey that is by turns wild, melancholic, and unsettling…The stories are enhanced by a diverse cast of LGBTQ and nonwhite characters. Pinsker’s captivating compendium reveals stories that are as delightful and surprising to pore through as they are introspective and elegiac.”

If that’s too oblique, here’s some specifics: In this debut collection, you will meet runaways, fiddle-playing astronauts, a touring band, under-employed Americans, retired time travelers, and dopplegangers.

Who would love it: Readers who like WINNERS… BECAUSE Sarah Pinkser’s stories have won the Nebula and Sturgeon awards, and have been finalists for the Hugo, the Locus, and the Eugie Foster Memorial Award.

 

Favorite character: Grandmother Windy (from Wind Will Rove)

“My grandmother was an engineer, part of our original crew. According to the tale, she stepped outside to do a visual inspection of an external panel that was giving anomalous readings. Along with her tools, she clipped her fiddle and bow to her suit’s belt. When she completed her task, she paused for a moment, tethered to our ship the size of a city, put her fiddle to the place where her helmet met her suit, and played ‘Wind Will Rove’ into the void. Not to be heard, of course; just to feel the song in her fingers.”

Final Thought: Pinsker’s first novel, Song for a New Day, also released recently so you should buy a copy of that too.

 

One orea bunny, two white with caramel markings, one striped with a Harlequinn face, one striped with solid face, and two fawn colored with gray bellies.

UNCOMMON MIRACLES

Genre: Speculative, Weird

Premise: “Julie C. Day makes a bold debut with this genre-bending collection of stories. At times whimsical, at times heart-breaking, but always clear-eyed and honest, Uncommon Miracles proves that Day has joined the front ranks of the writers carrying American fantasy into a new golden age.”

Specifics: (18 stories) A grieving man travels through time via a car crash. A family of matriarchs collects recipes for the dead. A woman gains an unexpected child in the midst of a bunny apocalypse. An outcast finds work in a magical slaughterhouse. Whether set in a uniquely altered version of Florida’s Space Coast or a haunted island off the coast of Maine, each story in this collection carries its own brand of meticulous and captivating weirdness.

Who would love it: Readers who like stories that are more Alice in Wonderland than Hallmark movie.

Favorite character: Cole (from “Everyone Gets a Happy Ending”)

“Steph and I are stretched out on plastic recliners, our laps full of her offspring: six desert cottontails, and for some unknown reason, one of the English Spot variety. After all my careful care – changing the bedding in their crate, cradling them when Steph disappears from their sight – the English Spot is still the only bunny who greets me when I come near. I’ve named him Cole. A fact I don’t share with Steph, though I whisper it to him like a lullaby when she isn’t near.”

Final Thought: Day recently released a novella titled The Rampant, an apocalyptic tale by way of Sumerian mythology.  Also, I love the cover art (by Tiffany Bozic).

Book Review SONG OF BLOOD & STONE and SUPREMACY’S BOUNTY

Dear Friends,

All I want for Christmas (or Hanukkah or Winter Solstice) is more reviews of Walking Through Fire BECAUSE there is an urban legend among authors that if you have 50 reviews on Amazon then it jiggers the algorithm to show ads for your book. If I hit 50 then I’ll let you know.

I mean, also world peace and a solid Democratic party candidate and a plan for endangered species.

In the meantime, I’m going to post book reviews to hopefully help people with their holiday shopping. I’m not the most voracious reader because of the whole having kids and animals and a day job thing, but when I cast my mind back over the past year I thought of CHARM CITY SPEC in Baltimore and realized that’s been my reading list.

Gabe displays SONG OF BLOOD & STONE and SUPREMACY’S BOUNTY

First up is SONG OF BLOOD & STONE by L. Penelope. 

Genre: Fantasy, epic and romantic

Premise (back jacket copy): The kingdoms of Elsira and Lagrimar have been separated for centuries by the Mantle, a magical veil that has enforced a tremulous peace between the two lands. But now the Mantle is cracking and the True Father, ruler of Lagrimar and the most powerful Earthsinger in the world, finally sees a way into Elsira to seize power.

Jasminda has been branded an outcast by the color of her skin and her gift of Earthsong, but when a group of soldiers wander into her valley she learns from Jack, a spy, that their only hope to restore the Mantle lies in uncovering the secrets of the Queen Who Sleeps.

Who would love it? Me! I would love this book. Also, readers who enjoy world-building. Besides the kingdoms of Elsira and Lagrimar, the world has a religious order of the Sisterhood and an anti-religious order of Dominionists, secret societies (Keepers of the Promise), academics from Fremia, etc.

Who else? Readers who love the blurring of traditional genre lines. Against a backdrop of what is 1920’s technology, the characters are worried about war, worried about duty to family, worried about loyalty. But the big questions of life are really the small, daily decisions and Penelope really explores what it means to love. That is, perhaps, my favorite part of this book. Jasminda and Jack, Benn and Ella, even Oola and Eero are wrestling with how to love another person, how to have boundaries, how to sacrifice and when not to…this is so real against the beautifully fantastic world sung into a novel.

Finally, this book would appeal to people who enjoy the “feel” of the Pern series or the Broken Earth series in terms of ancient secrets, advanced societies that made mistakes and then generations pass…and our characters have to figure out how the sins of the parents have created the current conflict.

Favorite character: Zaura nyl Herrsen

Would you like to meet her?

The radio hissed. “Lt. Ravel, this is Private Teraseen. The old woman got away.”

“Got away?”

“Yes, sir. She was here one minute and then she told me she needed the privy. I turned my back while she set off behind a tree, and the next thing I know, she’s stolen my vehicle and driven off. High tailed it out of here like a woman half her age. I’m sorry, sir.”

Final Thought: Book 1.5 is titled BREATH OF DUST & DAWN; Book 2 is titled WHISPERS OF SHADOW & FLAME

Next Book for review is: SUPREMACY’S BOUNTY by T. Eric Bakutis

Genre: science fiction, grimsnark and military

Premise (back jacket copy): “I just saved your life, cowboy. You owe me.”

As a feared and respected bounty hunter, Mackenzie Flores enjoys the finer things in life: a dependable rifle, a clean glass of dirty whisky, and a reputation that leaves her flush with contracts and the freedom to pick and choose her jobs. At least until the Supremacy blows up everything she owns and takes her girlfriend away.

To rescue the woman she loves, all Mackenzie has to do is take down three crime lords, one planet of super soldiers, and a human trafficking base on the moon. Fortunately, she has powerful armor and smart bullets. Unfortunately, they’ve all gone missing.

Who would love it? Me! Okay. Maybe you predicted that, but I got to read an advance copy and I emailed the author in the middle because I couldn’t STAND it. I had to talk about what was happening. This story is that jerky roller coaster at Hershey park. The one that puts a crick in your neck even before you take the first hill. It’s nail-biting exciting and I finished it in two days because there is no place to stop. Seriously. Every scene is rushing your forward to a new, bigger disaster, but you can’t stop rooting for Mack.

Techies. Look, I’m a luddite, but the introduction of new weapons and technology did not slow down the story in any way. Nor was it incomprehensible. Somehow the author manages that fine balance of having the tech add to the story in a way that makes the reader complicit. I’m biting back a spoiler right now so PLEASE read this so we can discuss.

Readers who like to be messed with. Look, the author does that thing where he jerks you back and forth in time. (The Mousetrap, remember?) and IT WORKS as a device because you think maybe things will turn out differently if you don’t look away.

Those who like heist narratives. Who like not knowing who to trust. Who like hidden motivations and double crosses and simple contracts that turn out to be verrrrry complicated.

Favorite character: Jinx

Jinx was her support, communications, and tech expert, and she was sitting in a warm shuttle a half klick into the forest. “Alarms disabled, camera feeds cloned, comms monitored. Is there a problem?”

(spoiler: there IS a problem) (Second spoiler: this is the first page.)

Final Thought: This is a stand-alone book, but is in the DUELING PLANETS universe along with Supremacy’s Shadow)

Upcoming Appearances

Hello Friends,

I hope you’re enjoying Fall. It’s my absolute favorite time of year. Don’t come at me with your beach pictures or your bright white snow or even those cute little flower buds. AUTUMN IS THE BEST SEASON.

I have a couple of exciting upcoming events:

I’m being interviewed by Bob Mumby and Leslie Greenly Smith. The radio show will air live on Friday, 9/20 from 9-10 AM and then again on Saturday, 9/21 from 9-10 AM. It will repeat on 9/27 and 9/28 from 9-10 AM. The radio station is WAMN 970 AM.J  You can listen on the radio or online at http://khztv.com/WAMD/.

On Saturday, September 28th the Bel Air Public Library is hosting a Comic Con with a ton of free activities for the entire family including costume contests, video and board games, and a fandom scavenger hunt. I’ll be giving a talk from 11am – noon and then selling/signing copies of WALKING THROUGH FIRE.  Comic Con

October 18-20 I’ll be at Capclave, a literary convention in Rockville, MD that focuses on the short fiction form. I don’t have my programming event schedule yet, but will share when I do.

Nov 1st and November 3rd I’ll be at the Baltimore Book Festival 2019. I’ll be at both the SFWA area and the inspire stage. I’ll also be fangirling because the lineup of authors is INCREDIBLE. They’ve combined with the annual Light City Festival this year so will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Saturday Nov 2nd I’ll be in Bel Air at the Authors and Artists Event to sell/sign books.

Hope to see you at some of these events….and that you get a chance to curl up with a favorite book and your favorite warm beverage to enjoy this time of year.

Here’s the pup enjoying his (chew toy) version of a pumpkin spiced latte.

Love,

Sherri

Get Back on the Horse, Woosley

I’ve been quiet for a while and wanted to update. I was thrown from my horse on June 3rd. I don’t remember exactly what happened, but I’ve pieced together a narrative from my twins, who were there, and from another rider, who called the ambulance. Noche, our off-the-track-Thoroughbred, startled soon after I mounted her. I fell, or was thrown, hitting my head and shoulder on the ground. Noche bolted for the stable where Ann saw her and rushed down to the ring. I was unconscious for about ten minutes. Thank God for my helmet. I don’t remember much of the ambulance ride or the ER, only bits and pieces. So, my recovery from the concussion and some devastating events previous were all mixed together into a real-life metaphor.

I’m not the only one who has been passed over for a promotion or didn’t win the game. I’m not the only one who lost a loved one, broke up with a romantic partner, or was stopped by an obstacle. But maybe something here will strike a chord and be helpful to you.

 

  • Feel the hurt. You are allowed to mourn for your dream. You wanted it so badly you could taste it. You put in the work and you didn’t get the pay-off. Your heart is broken.

It doesn’t only hurt for one day, for one cry. My headache lasted 9 ½ days. The doctor said to come back if it lasted ten…I guess my brain has a sense of humor. I cried, often suddenly, for the next four weeks. Thinking about parts of my broken dream or even remembering the thud as my shoulder hit the dirt in the ring.

  • The sun came up the next day. Maybe you are surprised? I was surprised.

The worst had happened. Everything I’d imagined had come true. I was devastated…but the world was still going on. My husband and children still loved me. They still wanted to eat breakfast. The dog still wanted to be walked. At the stable, Noche was still given grain and turned out into the field.

  • Get away. A change of scenery is surprisingly refreshing. If your dream was winning a hot dog competition, maybe don’t hang out at the Farm Fair right now. Stick with hamburgers. You don’t have to torture yourself. Say “congratulations” to the person who got the promotion instead of you and gracefully drift away from the party to be with your people.

I was in the bizarrely fortunate state to be headed to Costa Rica for a family vacation that had already been booked for this time period. Some experts think you shouldn’t fly if you have a concussion, but our flight tickets were non-refundable so I went with the experts who said it was okay.

  • Allow help. You don’t know who is going to call the ambulance for you. You don’t know who will actually show up at the hospital or write you a note or call you on the phone. I mean, you might have a reasonable expectation, but there’s a strong chance that someone you didn’t expect to will help you. Maybe they’ve been in your position, maybe they were in the right place at the right time. God moves in mysterious ways.

 

  • Give yourself time. The obstacle changed your five-year plan. It changed the way you saw yourself. You need time for your dream to shift and change. You need time to remember why you wanted it in the first place. You can journal, you can talk, you can sketch, but you can’t force this step.

 

To me, this is the spiritual part. In the middle of pain there is truth. You have to sit through the pain to get there. Here’s the lesson I was supposed to learn: I was equating my self-worth with what I produced and how it was judged. I didn’t believe that I had worth because I was a child of God. Instead, I was a people-pleaser and when a specific piece of art, or pieces of art, failed, that meant I was a failure.

Riders often tell each other, “You aren’t a real rider until you’ve fallen off.” That’s the test! What you do after. Which brings us to the next step.

 

  • Get back on the horse. Even if you’ve realized that you no longer want to be a cowgirl or a dressage rider, you need to go back one more time and face your fear to take away the power from the original negative experience. Have a trainer put your mare on a lunge line, if you want, but get back on, put the memory in the rearview mirror, and get on with your life. Do not give the past power over you. You live in the moment because that is the only place where we can make decisions.

This is me back on Noche. My legs are sore and my heart is happy.

And if you do still want to a cowgirl or dressage rider? Keep going. Set new goals, make a new strategy. Dream a new dream.

Look, the test was hard, but you are stronger now. You’ve leveled up and have the battle scars to prove it. You are ready to take on the next challenge, the next project, the next relationship. I believe in you!

Much love,

Sherri

 

 

 

Story in Pantheon Magazine

Hi Friends!

I’m happy to announce that my story, “A Quick Getaway,” is included in the new anthology by Pantheon Magazine. Isn’t the cover beautiful and haunting?

It’s available for sale from Amazon. Here’s the description: Be changed.GORGON: STORIES OF EMERGENCE contains 42 transformative stories spanning all genres from both emerging and new voices alike, with all new stories by Gwendolyn Kiste, Richard Thomas, Annie Neugebauer, Eden Royce, Beth Cato, D.A. Xiaolin Spires, Maria Haskins, Carina Bissett, Julie C. Day, A.T. Greenblatt, and more, and featuring 10 illustrations by Carrion House.

Love,

Sherri