Julie’s Book Club: Summer Reads

I’ll be attending the Clarion West Writers Workshop this summer. It’s an intense, six-week workshop with six different instructors, and I am reading or plan to read works by all of them. (I’m starting mostly with short story collections since they will be teaching short story writing.)

Here are the books I’ve got on my reading list (summaries from Goodreads):

Week 1: Paul Park

If Lions Could Speak and Other Stories (Wildside Press, 2002)

“If Lions Could Speak is the first collection from Paul Park, acclaimed author of The Starbridge Chronicles, Coelestis, and The Gospel of Corax. Subtle, stylish, at once forthrightly simple and ingeniously complex, the pieces gathered here are compelling and penetrating explorations of cultural difference and psychological crisis, regret and reconciliation. It is a marvelous literary labyrinth, a realm of memory palaces, eerie doppelgangers, terrifying theocracies, implosive revelations. Here time travels, sordid and ludicrous, becomes emblematic of how all lives are led; here, disease is an index to how the past is rewritten; here, the Other, extravagantly alien or simply alienated, can collapse into the Self with the suddenness of a lethal gunshot. Sometimes sardonically hilarious, sometimes gravely humane, always fiercely shocking, these stories constitute one of the finest bodies of short fiction by any contemporary SF writer.”

Week 2: Kij Johnson

At the Mouth of the River of Bees: Stories (Small Beer Press, 2012)

A sparkling debut collection from one of the hottest writers in science fiction: her stories have received the Nebula Award the last two years running. These stories feature cats, bees, wolves, dogs, and even that most capricious of animals, humans, and have been reprinted in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror, Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, and The Secret History of Fantasy. Kij Johnson’s stories have won the Sturgeon and World Fantasy awards. She has taught writing; worked at Tor, Dark Horse, and Microsoft; worked as a radio announcer; run bookstores; and waitressed in a strip bar.

Week 3: Ian McDonald

Assorted stories here: http://www.freesfonline.de/authors/Ian_McDonald.html.

From a Strange Horizons review:

“…a British writer whose novels are about, but not of, India. McDonald is writing largely Western-style SF for a largely Western audience, and does not pause to explain. As Christopher Priest wrote in The Guardian at the time of its release, if River of Gods had a fault (and surely it did not) it was that, “it is not a page-turner book; it is a turn-page-back book.” McDonald is unforgiving to the lazy reader: keep up or keep out. This is a demanding but hugely rewarding style, and Cyberabad Days retains its chaotic, uncompromising approach. If Vandana Singh seeks to reimagine the Indian past into a fresh literary mode, Ian McDonald’s work in these stories, published over a similar period to Singh’s, uses the established cyberpunk form to imagine a new Indian future.”

Week 4: Hiromi Goto

Hopeful Monsters: Stories (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2004)

Hopeful monsters” are genetically abnormal organisms that, nonetheless, adapt and survive in their environments. In these devastating stories, the hopeful monsters in question are those who will not be tethered by familial duty nor bound by the ghosts of their past.

Home becomes fraught, reality a nightmare as Hiromi Goto weaves her characters through tales of domestic crises and cultural dissonance. They are the walking wounded—a mother who is terrified by a newborn daughter who bears a tail; a “stinky girl” who studies the human condition in a shopping mall; a family on holiday wih a visiting grandfather who cannot abide their “foreign” nature. But wills are a force unto themselves, and Goto’s characters are imbued with the light of myth and magic-realism. With humor and keen insight, Goto makes the familiar seem strange, and deciphers those moments when the idyllic skews into the absurd and the sublime.”

Week 5: Charlie Jane Anders

Choir Boy (Soft Skull Press, 2005)

“Twelve-year-old choirboy Berry wants nothing more than to remain a choirboy. Choral music and the prospect of divinity thrill him. Desperate to keep his voice from changing, he tries unsuccessfully to castrate himself, and then convinces a clinic to treat him as a transsexual. Berry begins a series of hormone pills, which keep his voice from deepening but also cause him to grow breasts. When his parents and friends discover the truth about him, Berry faces a world of unexpected gender issues that push him into a universe far more complex than anything he has experienced.

Abounding with bewitching religious symbolism, self-mutilation, bizarre suburban torture, drugs, class-based violence, and hidden meanings, Choir Boy is a wildly inventive and charming story about an outcast who refuses to grow up gracefully.”

 

Week 6: John Crowley

Novelties & Souvenirs: Collected Short Fiction (Harper Perennial, 2004)

A master literary stylist, John Crowley has carried readers to diverse and remarkable places in his award-winning, critically acclaimed novels — from his classic fable, Little, Big, to his New York Times Notable Book, The Translator. Now, for the first time, all of his short fiction has been collected in one volume, demonstrating the scope, the vision, and the wonder of one of America’s greatest storytellers. Courage and achievement are celebrated and questioned, paradoxes examined, and human frailty appreciated in fifteen tales, at once lyrical and provocative, ranging fromthe fantastic to the achingly real. Be it a tale of an expulsion from Eden, a journey through time, the dreams of a failed writer, ora dead woman’s ambiguous legacy, each story in Novelties & Souvenirs is a glorious reading experience, offering delights to be savored … and remembered.

***

What are you reading this summer? Do you have any other recommendations by these authors? Please share!

Julie’s No Rules Friday: Taughannock Falls

Taughannock Falls © Copyright, Julie Steinbacher 2013. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Taughannock Falls © Copyright, Julie Steinbacher 2013. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

I’m in Canada this weekend at TCAF (Toronto Comic Arts Festival). Here’s a photo I took last fall in Ithaca, NY, at Taughannock falls, which is three stories higher than Niagara falls, another site I’m hoping to visit on my trip. I love photography, especially in the fall, of landscapes bursting with colors.

Julie’s Book Club: Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity

Code Name Verity was on the shelf of recommended reads at my most-frequented library, so I picked it up thinking that I don’t read enough YA. The novel tells the story of two girls and their unlikely bond forged in wartime England during World War II. Maddie is a woman pilot. “Queenie,” as her best friend is called, has a much more mysterious job.

The book begins in diary-like entries penned by Queenie, describing their friendship up to the night Maddie delivered her to occupied France and her plane went down. Queenie, the reader learns, is being held and tortured in France and these are in fact passages she’s writing for the head interrogator as a way to avoid further torture. She’s “selling her soul,” she writes, by giving the Nazis bits of wireless code and information on airfields. She’s also buying herself time.

Author Elizabeth Wein does great things with perspective and information here. What Queenie, a non-pilot, knows about planes, for example, is limited. But she is imaginative in her descriptions, and her tandem flights with Maddie are some of the loveliest sequences in the book. The further Queenie gets into her tale of friendship and survival, the higher the stakes, as it becomes apparent that she soon will be shipped to a camp for experimentation and execution.

I read the last 200 or so pages of this book in a rush, because I had to find out how it ended. It unfolds brilliantly, with carefully plotted reveals (especially as Queenie doles out information to her captors bit by bit), and the friendship shared by Queenie and Maddie is sweet enough to make you weep. (There may have been a few tears shed by the time I closed the book.) I don’t pick up a lot of historical fiction, but in this case the setting of wartime England, with high suspicions, rationed food, and women’s work often seen as secondary, was multifaceted and vibrant. Wein really makes history come alive in this book (despite making up several town names, locations, and details of the characters’ work), and the illusion of reality was strong all along. I suspected nothing. A pilot herself, all of the flying sequences Wein described were written dreamily–coming out of the pages, one can tell the author is passionate about being in the sky.

I highly recommend Code Name Verity, and I think the reading experience will make me eager to try other historical fiction novels.

“Love Song to California” by Jen Hickman Inspires Julie

LoveSongtoCalifornia_JenHickman

Wer

Drop your human skin in the crease of the lightning-struck tree, and come with me. We’ll return for it at dawn. Let the fur course over your limbs like water, the rigid nails spring from your digits and the nose on your face sprout to house strong teeth and fine whiskers. You are wild now, and you’re mine.

Come, we’ll dance in the last rays of sun while the moon hangs high overhead. We’ll pump our legs and throw our shoulders forward as we gallop through the undergrowth. The tang of foliage is between our toes. You tear through a bed of ferns, and their juices streak your fur.

Push your nose into the dirt, against my side. Fold your tongue over rough bark, the trees that are our fortress. Leave bits of your coat and scent along the border.

We run the perimeter, noting where the deer raise their young, where the eagles nest after the long winter. Your tail swishes against mine, your ears swivel, tuned to forest sound. A half-smile hangs on your lips, your pink tongue falling to the right.

When the circuit’s done, press your nose behind my skull and take the flesh there, shake it gently, then release. I shoot off like a songbird from a hawk, dappling into the shadows of early night.

Follow me. Open your jaw and pant for pleasure, turn the earth beneath your nails and eat up the ground. I’ll be always a step ahead, a flash of fur, a glint of tooth. On the downslope you’ll charge against me so we roll and kick, grunting and yelping like pups. The streaming moonlight reminds us we only have so long.

When I break free, follow me up the slope. Slow your steps in reverence when I reach the top of the embankment where the trees are thin. Long for my throat as I toss my head back and pour my voice out into the night.

The blood purls in your veins and you step up beside me, your jaw opening in release. We are forest keepers, you and I, and our song is the heat of the earth, the cool of the sky, the clamoring life that pervades all.

When the last note has been swallowed by the hills, whine and pace. Nip my ear, and this time show me your throat. Raise your underbelly to the moon and me so you light up white. Graze my face with your paws and thump your tail.

If I go in for the kill, buck me off and fight me. Become the predator of legend, snarl and eyeshine at midnight. If I turn my head away and gaze into the night, kill a hare and lay it at my feet.

If I run, run with me. Follow me. Match me and push me. Shadow me until my breath steams and my muscles tremble. Then make me yours, as you are mine.

***

When the moon abates, put on your human skin.

~*~*~*~*~

A/N: This 500-word fiction is dedicated to the Blood Moon.

For more great art by Jen Hickman, please visit her website (http://umicorms.com/). Illustration © Copyright, Jen Hickman 2012. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Stay tuned for extra content this week from Jen. Return next Monday for Audrey’s answer to this prompt.

Julie’s No Rules Friday: Curses Part III

Curses Part III

(Part I is here. Part II is here.)

“Halt, demon!” a man yells from behind.

Someone grasps the hood of my robe. It catches my neck, and I’m flung back, hands out, losing the staff. I touch the hard metal of a breastplate, and I channel my curse.

The corridor flares with light. My hair stands upright. The man slumps to the floor, smelling singed. I run.

Ahead is an open door in the wall. I don’t want to go, but this feeling that’s been pulling me along, her, tugs me. The other demon.

More shouts. I dive for the opening, fall for an instant, and catch myself on a rough rail along the wall. Steps go down.

It’s suddenly cold, chilling my skin after the blast. From the door, yells echo, steps resound. But they don’t follow me.

There is a platform at the bottom of the stairs lined in the soft light of candle flames burning low. A sweet, nauseating smell rushes up my nostrils so fast it’s like I’ve been hit between the eyes. My feet crumple under me, just for a second, and I tumble down the remaining stairs.

continue reading …

Julie’s Book Club: Julie of the Wolves

http://mail.colonial.net/~lregis/julie.jpg

Julie of the Wolves

It had to happen at some point: This week I’m reviewing Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George, a very formative book for me. I was a chapter-book reader in elementary school, so that’s probably when I picked up this series.

Craighead George’s Julie series follows a Yupik girl named Miyax/Julie, living in Alaska, who leaves an abusive relationship to try to get to a penpal in San Francisco. She doesn’t make it out of Alaska, but she does find herself in the wilderness developing bonds with a wolf pack. Julie is a survivalist with a knack for communicating with the wolves through body language. They accept her as one of their own, and ultimately she vouches for their safety and survival.

I think this book series helped me decide that I could do anything I set out to do. I would recommend it to any reader, young or old. Craighead George’s writing is nuanced, and she respects the ability of young readers to pick up on subtleties and societal criticism. In the wolf pack and in Julie’s life among humans, she faces obstacles that threaten her life, and the choices she makes effect real change on her path.

When I started reading Julie, I was already a nature appreciator with an interest in animals. These books fully converted me to a wolf lover (I still have some of the drawings on school papers to attest to it). Additionally, the lush descriptions of the tundra were educational and have made me want to visit Alaska (someday!). Craighead George’s deep understanding of wolves and how they communicate also left an impression on me. I may have employed a few of Julie’s communication techniques with the dogs I grew up with. (And who’s to say whether they did or didn’t work?)

If you’re looking for a glimpse of new terrain, a coming-of-age tale, or a quick but deep read, I highly recommend Julie of the Wolves or the entire trilogy.