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More books of interest!

Two more interesting reads while I listen to Adele's "Hello" album:

Catherynne Valente's SIX-GUN SNOW WHITE is short, but every sentence is packed with delightful idiom and phrasing, splendid images, and stories of fairytale characters turned on their ears. Cat is always a lyrical writer, but this book is a surprise, couched as it is in authentic Wild-American-West slang and rhythms, so brilliantly so that I am collapsed with envy and love. Snow White tells most of her own story as the badly neglected half-Crow daughter of a robber baron with a gift for striking it rich. The stepmother is no queen, but she is an abused and abusing practitioner of dark magics, in possession of a mirror, able to hire a huntsman, and willing to do anything to get a son. Snow finally runs, and it is her journey through the American West--or a version of it--that pulls the reader irresistibly along, eager to see who she will meet next. This book is a treat you should give yourself, right away!

And now, for something completely different. Django Wexler's first book, THE THOUSAND NAMES, reminded me of very gritty tales of British campaigns in India and Africa, when small numbers of troops faced off with armies of thousands under the Mahdi or a caliph, if both sides had access to magic. Wexler chose three people at different levels of the invading army, the new commander Janus bet Vahlnich, captain Marcus d'Ivoire, and (at various grades of rank) Winter Ihrenglass. These three and their friends deal with varying degrees of secret and the struggles of command, doing their best (and not always succeeding) to keep their troops alive.

In the second book, the three allies have gone home, to find the king on the verge of death, the princess in danger, rebellion brewing in the street, and foreign enemies plotting to control the realm's money and thus its people. Weller admits he was inspired by the French Revolution, and readers expecting more of a magical wars-in-the-time-of-the-Raj may find the plotting, counter-plotting, manipulating, and tracking-down-of-mysteries a bit daunting. Stick with it. Winter is plunged among the city's poor to spy on student radicals; Marcus is put in charge of the city's police, to restrain rebellion and (secretly) to foil the minister who plans to put a puppet princess on the throne, and Janus is made a minister, trying to unravel secret and not-so-secret threads of financial and military treason. I don't think you need to have read the first book to enjoy the second, and you may have an easier time to get into it than I did, since I expected the Raj when I should have been enjoying the building Revolution. Once I started to hear the people sing, though, I got with the program and thoroughly enjoyed this book as much as I did the first one!

And in case you're worried about the female presence in either of Wexler's books, fear not! He has quite a few strong female characters in both!

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More good books

Well, it's been considerably longer since my earlier post promising more good book recommendations in the same week, but still I come bearing gifts. I've been having a great time of late when it comes to books!

Nancy Holzner's DEADTOWN wasn't the kind of book I'd pick up out of idle fancy, or if I did, I'd've put it down the moment I read the word "zombie." I don't do zombies. And I would have missed a thumping good read thereby. Luckily for me, I met Nancy at Robercon in Binghamton NY in September, the same time that I met the magical Deborah Blake. After sitting on a couple of panels with Nancy and sharing a meal with her, I thought I should try DEADTOWN anyway. I am so glad that I did! Victory Vaughn is a shapeshifter who hunts the demons who infest people's dreams. Victory is the scion of a long and proud line of demonhunters whose father was cut down by a really nasty one. Now Deadtown MA is where she and most other Boston paranormals (particularly those who can't pass for human, like zombies) live. They are for the most part happy to have a home in Boston--other states are not so kind to their paranormals, and a company that does medicinal research is piling lots of money into Massachusetts and New Hampshire politics so they can have paranormals declared legally "nonpersons," with no rights--up for grabs to researchers who can catch them. And Victory has a beloved young niece who is just now coming into her powers, with a mother who smothered hers. The election is heating up. Victory has been hired by a mobster to protect his dreams, against the, um, dictates? of her hot DA sometimes boyfriend. And demons are assembling outside Boston, led by a monster who seems to have a particular hate for Victory--a very, very powerful demon that's hard to detect. It's a major roller coaster ride of a read, and now I need to lay hands on the other books in the series!

If you like your fantasy a little tamer and younger, I recommend Holly Webb's middle grade quartet: ROSE, ROSE AND THE LOST PRINCESS, ROSE AND THE MAGICIAN'S MASK, and ROSE AND THE SILVER GHOST. Rose was found in a fish basket and has spent her first twelve years in an orphanage straight out of DAVID COPPERFIELD. She works hard, yearns for the day when she can be placed in a real job to earn money of her own, and has recently discovered she has the ability to project images of the stories she tells her friends onto walls and buckets. The moment Miss Bridge shows up to hire a maid for the Fountain household, she hides her strange new ability, gleeful at the chance to do the job she has always dreamed of. She finds jealousy from the maid placed above her, friendship from the boy-of-all-work, and a role model in Miss Bridge. She also discovers that she is in the house of the magician who is the king's advisor, his budding magician (and amazingly bratty) little daughter, and his magician apprentice, not to mention a very magical cat with one blue eye and one orange eye. The servants fear the magicians, and when they and Rose discover her own magical talents, things get very difficult. Mr. Fountain takes her up as a student, while magical events, and truly frightening villains, assail the household and the kingdom. The series is sweet, great fun, and just the thing for pre-teen kids and adults who love writers like Edward Eager and Diana Wynne Jones.

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good new reads

Lately I've had read some very agreeable books, and I just had to share. Two tonight, two more later in the week.

Deborah Blake
Don't get me wrong; I've been a fan of Deborah's for years, but of her nonfiction witch's guides, published by Llewellyn Books (my favorites being EVERYDAY WITCHCRAFT and WITCHCRAFT ON A SHOESTRING--you can see why they appeal!). I only discovered her fiction this year when she mentioned it on Facebook, and I thought I'd give it a try, once I got over my aversion to the whole Baba Yaga thing.

Yes, she draws on the old Russian story cycle of Baba Yaga. She began as a goddess, according to Deborah, but when I encountered her in my endless quest for new myths and legends in grade school, she was the terrible old witch who lived in a house on chicken legs that walked through the forest. (It was the idea of that house that gave me the horrors the worst. I can't explain it.) She flew in a giant mortar and steered it with her pestle. (I keep a sharp eye on mine, just in case.) She had iron teeth and ate children. (That didn't bother me nearly so much as the walking house on chicken legs.)

Deborah's Baba Yaga has evolved with the times. For one thing, there are many of them. The United States has three. I've read about two.

Barbara Yager of WICKEDLY DANGEROUS travels the country with an enchanted Airstream trailer, doing good works for those who still remember enough of the old country to call upon the Baba for help. She has a giant white pit bull named Chudo-Yudo, who is a disguised-for-our-mortal-world dragon. And when she's called upon to rescue a vanished child, she meets a hot sheriff and sparks are struck. Something is going very wrong in his town, and although he doesn't believe it, she's just the one to help. She doesn't believe he can possibly be useful, but she can also be wrong. It's great. The romance doesn't overwhelm the action; the horror is genuinely creepy, and the fantasy is great. Any book with a pit bull, a dragon, an Airstream, and boss motorcycles is fine by me! (And I didn't even mention the Three Riders!)

In WICKEDLY WONDERFUL, we find Becka Yancy, a seaside diving and surfing Baba Yaga, who is still kinda green. The previous Baba, over 200 years old, was forcibly retired to the Underworld, after planting in her student the firm belief that she still wasn't quite good enough. (This Baba Yaga lives in a classic hippie-painted school bus, by the way, and her Chudo-Yudo is a huge black Newfoundland.) While she's surfing Becka has occasion to rescue a mermaid's child trapped in fishing net, only to incur the wrath of one of the fishermen, a war-toughened, 12-year veteran Marine. He thinks she's dippy; she thinks he's a pain. Still, she needs him--and his dad's fishing boat--when the mermaid's king and queen call upon her to find out why all of the plant and animal life in their very deep trench of the ocean has died off (which also has killed off the local fishing industry). Somehow they're going to have to work together--ideally, without him finding out what she really is. Or is that so ideal?

This is a bit more fantastical, as Becka must deal with the monarch of the Underworld, where so many of the magical people have fled to avoid, well, us. The Three Riders make a return appearance. Becka is very different from Barbara, younger and more unsure of herself, still trying to decide if she's going to remain a Baba Yaga. Blake keeps us wondering right up till the last minute on that one!

I hope you check these out! Deborah has a new, non-Baba Yaga book coming out in November, and a third Baba Yaga book in February. It's not that long for a devoted reader to wait!

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Bubonicon--fun in the sun!

I have just returned from a very good time in New Mexico. My assistant Julie Holderman and I went out for Bubonicon, but before we plunged into con madness, artist Ruth Sanderson, my friend Jane Lindskold, and her archaeologist husband Jim showed us around a bit. We visited Albuquerque's Old Town (native arts jewelry!) and the Rattlesnake Museum. The snakes are gorgeous--a nation-wide collection of rattlers and other snakes, with tortoises, a few spiders, and a scorpion thrown in. The animals looked to be very well cared for, and when they are milked for venom, the venom goes to the creation of antivenin and research. A wonderful place to see!

Afterwards we went to see petroglyphs. I saw some, but tanked out early due to heat sickness. 8-P Still, I also saw a squirrel (in the desert, the brave fellow), a ground chuck, and a small chipmunk. And a roadrunner! He even came by and posed for Julie and Jim to get photos! I was also able to talk to Jim about local geology, among other things.

After lunch, return to the hotel, shower, and brief collapse (it is hot there, though Jane and Jim told us they'd been getting lots of rain, which meant that everything that could flower around us was doing so immediately), it was on to the con. I'd like to say I disgraced myself at opening ceremonies, but Toastmistress Mary Robinette Kowal beat me hands down with a phone sex reading of the names of the others in attendance.

Julie and I had such a *wonderful* time! The hotel staff was delightful (not always the case). I sat on panels with Mary Robinette Kowal and Ruth Sanderson, as well as Catherine Catherynne Valente (the theme was Women of Valor, which was why the four of us where there). I said hello to George R.R. Martin (if he remembered that I'd once asked when the next book was due, was gentleman enough not to mention it!), was too shy to tell Daniel Abraham how much I love the way he writes heroic women in his current series, and greeted Doranna Durgin (present while training a rescue Beagle) and S.M. and Jan Stirling, all three of whom had contributed to the YOUNG WARRIORS anthology (which is still in print).

And I met and talked with fans, two of whom gave me works of art, one of whom had made a box of DELICIOUS Tortall doughnuts with darkings, Stormwings, Kitten, and shield devices in icing. I also met a group of fans who had dressed up as different characters (Nawat offered me a gummy word, which I ate, of course!). I was so thrilled and overwhelmed! They were in the costume show later, and I stood up and clapped wildly for them all. They were wonderful--all the fans, and all of my fellow pros, were absolutely wonderful. So was Julie, who snarked at me at vital moments, made certain I was fed and watered, sent in the most recent installment on her master's thesis, and had a good time of her own.

This is a great small (but growing) con, folks. If you're ever around New Mexico at the end of August, check out Bubonicon. It's a blast!

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Open Road and David Bradley Jr.

If you're interested in an infamous episode of Pennsylvania history in fiction, Amazon's Open Media (e-book) section has been e-mail advertising/low price my mentor, David Bradley Jr.'s, PEN Faulkner award-winning Chaneysville incident. The story of a Black historian's return to his Pennsylvania hometown, it's vivid and heartbreaking.

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The things about America that scare me

This article, by Henry A. Giroux of Truthout, sums up what is going wrong in America far better than I can: police violence against Black people, the militarization of our police, the escape of financiers and the wealthy from a tax burden carried by the rest of us, the passiveness of the white American to police brutality, the devaluing of Black lives in general. It's a disturbing article, but well worth reading.

Why is there no mass outcry against police murder of Black citizens? Is white America ashamed of our people of color, or just lazy? This isn't the country of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights. Law has become corrupt, and we are plunging into a future of constant warfare. When will people wake up?

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Sudanese young women to get 40 lashes

Police in Sudan have arrested ten young female college students for indecency--they were wearing pants or skirts. Their sentence is 40 lashes each. The link is to an Amnesty International petition--will you sign and/or boost the signal? People have died from this kind of whipping, and these women will be scarred for life if they survive.

Let Sudan know they don't operate in the shadows--the world is paying attention!

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I know, I know, I haven't been around much. Mostly I've been working on GIFT OF POWER, now into 21 chapters (I hope my editor gives me places I can cut!). I'm also reeling a bit from two weeks of interrupted sleep. Our cat Scooter had a hematoma in his ear which had to be patched (with staples!), which means he's been in one of those ghastly plastic collars for two weeks. He was so miserable hanging out in my office (where he yowled and dug at the door all night, waking me repeatedly) that we installed him in our bedroom, to the dismay of the other cats, who use it as a quiet, shady place to sleep during the day. The problem? Scooter talks to me whenever I wake up, and when he isn't talking, he's trying to scratch--except he scratches the collar. This wakes me up, when he can talk to me again. So I'm a bit slap happy.

The 4th was quiet at our house. Sunday we went to watch Bollywood movies with the Covilles, this week's movie being "Jal (Water)." It wasn't a Bollywood song and dance fest, but a powerful movie about desert people in Gujurat, India trying to survive with wells, and a water finder who tries to find water. There are some white naturalists who come to try to save flamingos that nest near their lands, prompting the question, "What about the people?" It poses questions about water not only in India, but worldwide, and the water finder's story is beautiful. The desert people are amazing, and their women have a fair amount of power in their daily lives.

Oh, and I plowed through Robin Hobb's Soldier's Son trilogy that starts with SHAMAN'S CROSSING. Nevare is raised to be a soldier from the day he was born, but an encounter in his teens with the magic of the Speck people, who are resisting his nation's eastward expansion, tangles him and all around him in Speck magic, deployed by the ancestor he encountered against the nation of his birth. The magic ruins his career, his relationship with his family, and even his exile as he lives with half of his spirit in the Speck world, where the people are trying to drive his people out of their lands forever.

Hobb is never kind to her characters, and she doesn't make her heroes inherently likable, but Nevare's journey through the class upheaval in his world, the business of arranged marriages, attitudes toward weight in both peoples, and relationships with women, are all fascinating. Hobb shows human beings at their absolute worst without putting me off, and she is deft at moral quandaries. I recommend this trilogy for anyone who likes complex world and character building, class struggles, and a somewhat more even form of battle between Euro-type invaders and native people who want to keep their homes.

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Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church

edited to add: If anyone has word of vigils or community gatherings, feel free to post them here.

As I type this, they've caught the young man who shot and killed nine people who had gathered in this church for a prayer meeting. He sat there with them for an hour, and heard them speak, and then he got up and began to shoot.

The gun rights dance has already begun, as has the gun control outcry. Fox is already casting this as a war against Christianity, not yet another chapter in the long and ugly history of race in this country. They even have a pastor who urges his fellow pastors and their male parishioners to arm themselves to protect women and children against future assassins.

Things to come: the mental health of the suspect, a 21-year-old white man. The arraignment, the trial. The late-night-tv standup routines making light of something as unspeakable as the death of four Black girls in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, AL in 1963.

Our country has grown monstrous in my lifetime. The military-industrial complex the students on college campuses protested has become our biggest import-export, with the gun being its shining badge and camouflage its hipster wear. Our filmmakers spend billions pouring more and more action, more explosions, more violence, more death onto the movie and tv screens every year.

We have become the Great Satan, so busy making money off of killing throughout the world or supplying those who want to do their own killing that we can ignore the slaughters worked upon us internally. No group matters enough to make the killing machine take responsibility for its weapons: not women killed in a gym, not children in a school, not parishioners in a church.

Am I cynical? Am I jumping the gun, thinking the outrage spawned by this latest mass murder will die down to a collection of grumbles, apart from the meetings of the true believers? Maybe I am. I was a liberal for a long, long time, a liberal and early on, a protester. I have seen so many ventures for change, big and little, sink to the ground because beyond a certain point, our infrastructure only cares about money, not blood. Not life. Not people. Not change. From where I stand, they ought to have the Koch brothers on the twenty-dollar bill. They're the symbol of the level at which things really matter.

Oh, and Fox? This was a RACE murder. Don't call it anything else. How many churches do you think that kid passed, in Charleston SC, to get to Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church? How many Christian churches did he pass, and pass up, to get to a historic Black church?

I add this excerpt from an article by Jelani Cobb, Church Shooting in Charleston, in The New Yorker Online, because I think it explains which this shooting at this church is so vile, and Fox's attempt to hijack it out-and-out obscene:

"The African Methodist Episcopal Church, founded in 1793, is the oldest denomination established by black people in the United States. It owes its origins to white discrimination against black Christians in the eighteenth century, and an incident in which black churchgoers were interrupted while worshipping and directed to the segregated section of an Episcopal church in Philadelphia. For black Christians, the word “sanctuary” had a second set of implications. The spiritual aims of worship were paired with the distinctly secular necessity of a place in which not just common faith but common humanity could be taken for granted."


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The passing of the great Christopher Lee

When I told my husband, he said, "He can't die, he's Dracula."

I've known his work all my life. Long before others discovered him as Saruman in "The Lord of the Rings" I knew him as Dracula, and Scaramanda in the James Bond movies, and Sherlock Holmes. He had one of those voices that made me swoon, and I could recognize it anywhere.

Here is his obituary. I would love to see the movie on Pakistan in which he played Jinna.

He was 93, which is a good age, but I will still miss him. May you thrive and see old friends and make new movies in the Summerlands, Sir Christopher Lee.

The man with his knighthood.

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