Kirkus Reviews on COURT OF FIVES

A rendition of the library at Alexandria (although I have my doubts about the terrain).


A very positive review for COURT OF FIVES (August 2015) at Kirkus Reviews.

If you don’t like spoilers of any kind, don’t read it as most of the review synopsizes the plot. (Why? WHY???)  I hasten to add there is nothing wrong with how the synopsis is written; it just reveals much of the plot, which perhaps is part of the point of a review journal aimed toward people buying books for schools, libraries, and stores who don’t have time to read everything new.

The last two lines are gold, and I’m very chuffed indeed:

This series opener, the auspicious teen debut of a seasoned author of adult fantasy and World Fantasy Award finalist, features a gripping, original plot; vivid, complicated characters; and layered, convincingly detailed worldbuilding.

A compelling look at racial and social identity wrapped in a page-turning adventure.

Eggs, Bees, and Toilets: Jupiter Ascending as WomanSpace


Image result for jupiter ascending



Last year I enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy because of its bold visuals, energetic cast, and good pacing. It was not, I thought, an excellent film but I wasn’t bored while watching it, and these days the big ticket spectacle movies that should be my greatest love often bore me (I’m looking at you, Avengers and co) so a film that doesn’t bore me gets a thumbs up.

GotG features the appealing Chris Pratt in the lead role of lovable rogue, together with the well-worn but always popular story of reluctant comrades who turn into friends/family by the end (I’m not being sarcastic; I love this trope). It also features several memorable women characters, although unfortunately with a jolt of random and unnecessary slut-shaming. As is typical in many of these sorts of stories, the women’s roles revolve around or tie directly back into their relationships with men. Star-Lord left behind a newly-dead mother who never told him who his (mysterious) father really is and who left him a legacy of old pop tunes on cassette tapes. Gamora and her sister Nebula are tied together by their complicated relationship with their adoptive father, Thanos; during the course of the film they each ally with a man on opposite sides of a conflict, and it is their relationship to those men that defines them most (within the film universe; I haven’t read the comic).

This is the kind of setting for women I expect in spectacle film-making, alas. I’m usually just happy if there are more than two female characters walking through the ocean of men.

Standard Disclaimer: I like men! Men are great! I even married one!

Compare the opening scenes of Jupiter Ascending.

[If you are totally averse to spoilers do not read on.]

Jupiter’s father is brutally murdered before she is born (all we know of him is that he loves sky-gazing and her mother, and plays Jarvis wonderfully in Agent Carter) and leaves her a legacy of wanting to buy a telescope. She is born in a container on a cargo ship in the middle of the ocean amid a group of women–all women!–seeking to illegally enter the United States, for whom the birth of a girl child is an act of hope during an uncertain journey whose end (we all know) will in most cases involve them working hard to service other people’s needs. We see her first as an adult with the two central figures of her life, her mother and her aunt, and then later with her extended family who are difficult, argumentative, and selfish in the way families can be but who are later (of course) revealed to be supportive and caring in the way families can be.

We see her cleaning the homes of rich people, with her mother and aunt, doing the unsung work that most stories ignore and without which no society can function. Her basic empathy and likability is revealed when one of the rich women she cleans for, who seems oblivious to the gulf between their lives, asks her advice on “which dress to wear” in a conversation which may seem to not pass the Bechdel Test but which (in my opinion) really does. The conversation between Jupiter and Katherine Dunleavy centers on how Katherine must learn to trust and stand up for herself. The man she is to have dinner with that night is inconsequential, merely a vehicle for the discussion.

The veil between Jupiter’s humble life and the world that is coming after her to kill her is revealed when she goes to a fertility clinic to donate eggs (in order to earn money to buy a telescope). Eggs!

In the course of her escape (ably managed by a capable, handsome, and stoically angsty wolf-man) she discovers she is literally a queen bee in one of the coolest (but in retrospect most throwaway and ridiculously inexplicable) bits in the film.

It’s no wonder some people don’t get this film: eggs, bees, living mothers, trust between women, and cleaning toilets (which besides being receptacles for human waste are, of course, bowl-shaped). Even the spaceships are a complex conglomerations of parts rather than sleek pointy rockets. Where the heck have my phallic symbols gone?

Having said that, I take a brief detour to mention that Jupiter Ascending is kind of a hot mess. The visuals are stunning and the plot (despite criticism I’ve heard) is coherent, but the rescue-in-the-nick-of-time sequences feel like repetitive hiccups, several character threads are highlighted only to be discarded without further notice (WTF Sean Bean’s daughter?), and while the action sequences are well choreographed and dynamically filmed they all went on a few beats too long for my taste.

Here’s the thing, though. I feel OBLIGED to acknowledge the film’s imperfections, as if I will lose all credibility if I don’t list out a ream of reasons why we should all criticize its unworthy elements. Yet let me flip that script. It’s all too easy to find reviews of male-written and especially male-centered work that undercuts a mutedly rote recitation of the work’s flaws with a huge BUT WHAT SHINING BRILLIANCE AND GLORY THIS MAN HATH WROT!

So my point is: While I’m happy to acknowledge JA’s imperfections, I didn’t particularly care about them in the face of SPACE LIZARD-DRAGONS, and Bae Doona and David Ajala as competent bounty hunters who trust each other, and Nikki Amuka-Bird as the most bad-ass ship’s captain maybe ever. Plus an elephant pilot.

I didn’t care about imperfections because of the unusual way JA highlighted a woman at the center of a story in which her existence matters within two different family structures.

Now we move into the more spoilery part of the review.

No really. Spoilers.

When Jupiter leaves the mundane world of Earth behind she discovers she is the “recurrence” of the matriarch of an extremely wealthy ruling dynasty. At her death this matriarch left behind three adult children, fabulously played by Tuppence Middleton (the unambitious one who just wants to keep her perks), Douglas Booth (the charming sociopath), and Eddie Redmayne (who ought to be nominated for an Oscar for his magnificently over-the-top performance as The Sensitive One).

As the cleaning of toilets has alerted us, this is a story about those at the height of power, the few who literally consume the substance of the many in order to live longer and better lives. A constant jockeying for wealth and inheritance goes on between the three siblings, and the unexpected appearance of their “recurred” mother throws their usual interactions into disarray. Each in their own particular way try to rid themselves of the mother whose arrival upsets the equilibrium.

In some ways Jupiter (ably acted by an appealing Mila Kunis) can feel passive once she has left Earth behind but while I was sometimes frustrated by the way she let others guide her, I also found realism in the portrayal. She does not kick ass because she is not trained to do so. She has no idea what is going on and does not magically figure it out instantly. She observes, learns, makes the best decisions she can given what knowledge she has (and makes mistakes doing so), and at the last makes the hardest–and in a way the most selfish–decision of all (although in the end the plot gives a victory that negates that choice).

But as much as Jupiter gets rescued one too many times in exactly the same dramatically-constructed way, in her final encounter with Balem (Redmayne) she alone defeats this most dangerous adversary not because she is rescued or because she physically harms him but because she chooses for herself her identity.

When she emphatically tells him, “I am not your mother” she closes the loop and claims a place that is hers alone. She defines who she is in relationship to her own life, not who she is in relationship to someone else’s life.

Think about the radical essence of that for a moment.

I’ve seen at least one snide review that mocks the story’s choice to have her go back to cleaning toilets at the end but that’s exactly the point. She doesn’t go back to cleaning toilets. She goes back to the work that the least among us do, to get her head together, to ground herself in the face of the (ridiculously) astonishing truth about her new status in the world beyond. In no way does she give up on her “spectacular” future, but she is prudently appalled by the economic status quo of that other life because she already knows what it is like to be one of the people whose lives will be used up by others.

She gets romantic love, yes (although note that, within our bee analogy, she and her man have asymmetric status). What she really takes is something far more important: space to understand who she is and who she can become.

Steerswoman review in Cascadia Subduction Zone

After publishing only a single piece of short fiction in 2014, I have my first piece out already in 2015: A review of Rosemary Kirstein’s The Steerswoman series in the January 2015 issue of Cascadia Subduction Zone.

I do not write reviews. This incident, therefore, was a bit of a fortuitous happening. Nisi Shawl DMd me on Twitter on a Thursday to ask if I could possibly write a review of a “classic” work of SFF by Monday for CSZ’s “Grandmother Magma” series on classic works of SFF by women writers (they had an emergency gap).

As it happens, I had re-read Kirstein’s 4 books (so far) series while traveling last summer so the narrative was fresh in my mind and I had been thinking a lot about what makes her world and characters and plot so appealing.

The review “wrote itself,” as they say.

The January issue opens with an important essay by Shawl on the obstacles inherent in being a PoC trying to break into the sff writing world, and some solutions:

Honesty on the part of working POC speculative fiction authors will give aspiring colleagues a realistic idea of what to expect of their careers.

CSZ’s January issue also includes poems by Rose Lemberg, Mary Alexandra Agner, and Sonya Taaffe, five reviews of current books, and featured artist Tahlia Day.

Publishers’ Weekly reviews COLD STEEL (with a star)

The first review of COLD STEEL (publication date: June 25*) has appeared in the wild, and I’m thrilled to say that it is a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

Here is a link to the actual review (it has mild spoilers).

And here a pair of quotes:

Elliott wraps up her marvelous Spiritwalker trilogy (Cold Magic; Cold Fire) with triple helpings of revolution, romance, and adventure on an alternate Earth where elemental fire and cold mages vie for power, and revolution is in the air.

. . . .

Elliott pulls out all the stops in this final chapter to a swashbuckling series marked by fascinating world-building, lively characters, and a gripping, thoroughly satisfying story.


* It is probable that print copies will show up in bookstores a bit earlier, based on the drop for Cold Fire, but ebooks will drop on 25 June.

Katharine Kerr’s Deverry sequence (Spiritwalker Monday 10)

Starting with Daggerspell (1986), this epic fantasy series of fifteen novels follows events in the land of Deverry over hundreds of years while maintaining a storyline that wraps tightly around itself in the manner of Celtic interlace.

Rather than describe the plot or characters, let me explain why I believe those of you who have not read this series should absolutely pick up the first book.

1) After reading through fifteen volumes with many characters, I can still name and describe ALL of the major characters and many of the minor ones because I became so invested in their stories. Memorable characters with compelling story-lines equals a gripping series.

2) Kerr’s world is not static. Her technique is subtle but assured as she unfolds how a culture changes over time. Villages become towns become cities. Warbands expand into armies. The political structure of the early kingdom shifts from more localized centers of regional power to a more centralized kingship. The spinning wheel is invented. When my spouse, an archaeologist, read Daggerspell, he said, “This is the best depiction of a chieftain-level society I’ve ever read.”

3) In other words, the world feels real and acts real. As with the world in Sherwood Smith’s Inda series, I believe Deverry could exist somewhere. After reading the books, I feel as if I have been there. I still think about events and dramatic moments in this series frequently, rather as I do memories from my actual life. That’s how much the narrative worked its way into my mind and heart.

4) This series offers a master class in how to use third person omniscient narration.

5) Not only has Kerr done her linguistics homework but she has fun with it. Do enjoy the asides in the prefaces that discuss pronunciation and language. Names and pronounciations change over time, and different societies have different languages and thus different names and different ways of speaking. It’s all woven seamlessly into the whole, not at all intrusive or awkward.

6) An extremely well drawn and workable magic system whose practitioners become adepts because of the degree of study and work they put in rather than through “natural talent.” While it is true that some people have an affinity for magic, you can’t become powerful through “chosen-ness.”

7) Dragons.

8) Dwarven women. Not at all what you think.

9) Some of the societies we meet in Deverry are patriarchal and yet Kerr continually gives women important roles and a variety of roles. Her women characters have agency.

10) Not all of the societies we meet in the series are patriarchal. They are varied, and unique, and interesting, with their own histories and languages (see 5, above)

11) The way she creates the institution of the “silver daggers” (disgraced men forced to “hire themselves out for coin”–which is seen as dishonorable in this society) and then threads it through the entire sequence. Brilliant.

12) In the early books especially, all politics are local, and lords’ warbands are fairly small groups of fighting men. Kerr, a football (NFL) fan, used her observations of the dynamics of football teams and games as part of the way in which she created the relationships between the warriors and the way battles — before, during, and after — are fought. It’s not noticeable. I just happen to know she did it, and for me the way she delves into the psychology and tactics and strategy of warfare in this type of society comes across as quite realistic and never cliched or stereotyped.

13) Which Deverry hero is the hottest? A lengthy discussion (may contain spoilers). This post was part of deverry15, an online tribute to the Deverry sequence upon publication of the final volume.

14) You can read through deverry15’s posts and links HERE.

15) The Deverry sequence is probably my favorite post-Tolkien epic fantasy series.



[I would love to do a read-through of the entire series (the kind of thing they’ve been doing for a while not at with other epic fantasy series, mostly by men) but at the moment I do not have time to administer it.]

Tanita S Davis: MARE’S WAR

Two teen sisters who don’t really get along that well are forced by their parents to accompany their eccentric grandmother on a cross country trip, thus ruining their summer vacation plans.

Along the way, their grandmother begins telling them the story of how and why she left home and joined the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) in World War II with the 6888th, the only “all-African-American, all female unit to serve overseas.



I really adored Mare’s War, which is a Young Adult contemporary fantasy (combined with a YA historical) There are two narrators: Younger sister Octavia tells the “Now” story and Mare (the grandmother) tells the “Then” story. This is not a dark, grim novel although it deals with serious subject matter. It’s sometimes funny, always humane, and the ending packs an emotional punch. (It brought good tears to my eyes.)

The dynamic between the sisters felt real to me and never became tedious or overwhelming. Their relationship with their grandmother, whom they do not quite understand or appreciate, is believably developed. Mare’s “then” story is engaging and vivid, and meanwhile Davis pulls off the difficult trick of educating the reader about a much overlooked piece of history without ever once making it feel didactic or educational.

I’m not particularly comfortable “reviewing” books. All I can say is that I highly recommend this novel. It’s an “easy read” without being simplistic (harder to pull off than it may seem), and a lovely story.


Rivers of London: Ben Aaronovitch’s 21st century London (Peter Grant series)

There are books I can’t write. This is a good thing.

What a limited world it would be if the only novels available were ones I could think up. I’m not dissing myself or my writing; I’m just saying I have certain stories to tell and I get the greatest pleasure imaginable out of experiencing the stories other people have to tell.

What’s odd is when I find a book that feels tailor made for me because it has oodles of my favorite fictional things presented in ways that most please and entertain me–and it is a book I definitely could not have written. How do these authors know to make the book just for me in that particular way?

Late last year I picked up Ben Aaronovitch’s MIDNIGHT RIOT (original/UK title: Rivers of London) because I had seen it mentioned enough times that I thought it was time for me to try it, and because I was looking for a modern fantasy fiction read.

It turns out that the series hits so many of my favorite things that I read the extant three novels (#1 MIDNIGHT RIOT/RIVERS OF LONDON, #2 MOON OVER SOHO, and #3 WHISPERS UNDERGROUND) in three days, one a day. It was like I fell into the world and couldn’t (and didn’t want to) climb out.

What did I love? (this list will be as spoiler free as I can make it, but the comments will not be)

1) London!
I love London. These books are set in London and written by a Londoner. The sense of place is so grounded that I am 99.99% certain that Aaronovitch has been to every place he writes about. It feels utterly real because it is real. As an added bonus, there are a number of architectural asides relating to the history of the city that I love unreservedly because I love architecture. The details make the setting, and they all ring true and are exactly right to bring this London to life like I could go there next week and meet some of these people and see these secret places if only I knew how to get into them. Also, the magic is tied in to London and to the land itself. SO AWESOME.

2) Furthermore, the London of the series is the truly multicultural 21st century London that exists today rather than an antiquated London with a primarily white cast and a few random people of color thrown in. When people object to inserting people of color into narratives just to “make quota,” this is an example of a series I would point them to in order to show how to write a story about the real world and seeing what is in front of our eyes every day.

3) The narrator, Peter Grant, is a young constable just off probation.
Okay, he just works for me as a narrator. If I was 24, I would totally have a crush on this guy AND I would know that he was exactly the kind of guy I should not have a crush on, because he is bad boyfriend material but good friend material. Yes, in case you’re asking, I identify in that sense with Lesley. Don’t judge me.

3) The well-crafted first person narration.
He has a charming, funny, humane, and observant voice that is a pleasure to read and follow along with.
But there’s more to it than that. The narration does double duty.
We sometimes see things Peter does not.
We occasionally get things about him he misses.
We can in some cases understand people differently than he does.
He is often very observant and sometimes entirely clueless.
We are told, through the mouths of others (mostly Lesley and Nightingale), things about Peter that are often critical and which he repeats faithfully even if he disagrees with them (I will quote two of my absolute favorites in the comments section), and at the same time the narrative itself reveals through action how true those things are (for instance, Peter’s “short attention span”).
Meanwhile, some of his weaknesses can also at times be strengths (e.g. his way of focusing which is sometimes a lack of focus allows him to see things and to experiment with magic in ways that other people do not).
He makes mistakes. At the same time, he is good at a lot of the things he does without being way too good.
Asides are paid off later. Nothing is wasted.
The next book is set up, and the seeds of further books down the line are being laid in place as well. I can’t know how much BA plots out the larger narrative arc in advance but it feels to me like there are several unfolding plots here that could run to many more books in the way that a really well done tv series has season arcs and an overall series arc. And I will be there for every one.

4) Magic! Magic! Magic!
Magic that makes sense, with rules and limitations, and which is about the hard repetitive learning curve not about special inborn talent that manifests to miraculously make the Chosen One the bestest of all around. It’s difficult to come up with a way to integrate magic into the modern world that doesn’t feel cliched, dull, shallow, done a million times, or tainted with an underlying message of aristocratic chosen-ness. This magically infused world really worked for me. Besides magic, there are also people and creatures with inborn natural magic, and that is categorized and fitted into the entire schema as well.

5) Human Positive
This first person narrative is told from the point of view of a young man in his 20s with a healthy (hetero)sexual appreciation for women, a male gaze, a not inconsequential good opinion of himself (leavened by a grain of salt in his sense of humor), and yet which is COMPLETELY RESPECTFUL OF WOMEN. Furthermore, the female characters feel like real human beings and appear in a variety of roles all of which he pays attention as human beings.
This should not be as unusual as it is, but it is, so let me repeat that again:
RESPECTFUL OF WOMEN. Treats women as human beings and portrays women in a wide variety of roles which are not limited to sexual object or male caretaker.

5a) Over on my Book Smugglers Smugglivus guest post which you can find here, I discussed the idea of writing a healthy male heterosexuality as opposed to an obsession with unhealthy sexuality . It is completely possible to write about male heterosexuality in a way that is positive and real without it becoming puerile, juvenile, tittering, demeaning, filled with abuse and rape and an objectifying male gaze. It’s one of my favorite things about the book because I never felt that, as a woman and a human being, I had to cringe.

6) Secondary characters.
Loads of them, with distinct personalities, the sense that they have their own lives and plot arcs, and a feeling that we may re-meet these people at any time because they are not automatons in service of the plot. Also: his mum. Trust me on this.

7) FINALLY: Wit.
Not every sense of humor works for everyone but this one absolutely nailed a blend of serious and witty that totally works for me.

In short, I love this series because it works for me on every level. Will you love it? I don’t know, but I encourage anyone who hasn’t read it to at least try it if my description sounds at all appealing.
Those who have read it, feel free to join with me here to discuss it, spoilers, predictions, scars, and all.

Reviews: a few general comments (Spiritwalker Monday 27)

I always feel a little embarrassed or even a trifle ashamed that I read reviews of my work. Some manner of antiquated Lecturing Voice in my head keeps telling me that after I write the book, I ought not to seek opportunities for unseemly self aggrandizement even if it is only in private in the comfort of my own office. That Voice walks hand in hand (to mix metaphors) with those ideas that anything that might make you feel good about yourself for something you did should be viewed with suspicion and probably avoided, and the related idea that I think really hit a lot of women who came to adulthood in certain cultures in the 20th century that girls and women ought not to seek praise or notice because it displays an unacceptable self-interest and self-absorption or self-praise.

Yet artists of all stripes need an ego in order to create. As artists, most of us (I think) create as a form of interaction. We offer an experience that others can partake of, if they want.

I know for a fact that different writers have different tolerances for reading reviews of their work. Some read everything; some read nothing; others fall in between or along some other vector, and many change their minds depending on what compulsive combination of masochism, narcissism, insecurity, ego, and curiosity drives them in any given month or year.

I do read reviews of my work. Sometimes reviews boost me or enlighten me; other times they make me feel like I’m never going to get this novel writing thing right, ever. Sometimes I’m just looking for a pat on the head, while other times I’m hoping for a more critical engagement with the text; which of those usually depends on my psychological and emotional state at any given time. Some reviews I read strike me as a little mean or even dishonest, while others–not necessarily positive ones–really hit me as heartfelt and sincere and, at times, useful to me in terms of what they’re saying.Then there are the ones that just hit the sweet spot. That’s always gratifying.

Reviews, discussion, and word of mouth all amount to visibility for an author, and visibility matters a great deal to writers who are trying to build and sustain careers. If people haven’t heard of your book, they can’t read it. The book scene reminds me a bit of that line about tourism in London: 90% of the tourists go to 10% of the sites, the most famous ones. That’s visibility. The more people “talk” about a book, the more likely that talk translates to sales, and good sales allow a writer to sell more books in their existing series and to sell new projects.

However, worrying about reviews or about whether the work is getting notice can also get in the way of writing if it takes energy away from writing.

The most important thing is to be writing the next book.

When I write a book, I absolutely write and revise and rewrite to create the best book I can at the time. Often, although not always, by the time I finish reading through the page proofs, I’m satisfied that it came out well. Then I have to wait for reviews to see how it is actually received, and as we know, these two things may not be in line. One really never knows. The weirdest things can pop up in reviews–sometimes in a positive light, sometimes in a negative one–things that never occurred to you would strike a nerve or that you yourself may not have noticed at all in the text. Complaints or praise that you expected may sadden or please you. Things you wished people would talk about may never get mentioned at all.

But in my opinion reviews aren’t for the author, not really. They’re part of a different conversation to which the author is related but not necessarily directly involved beyond having written the book under discussion. My feeling is that once the book is out of my hands, it’s out of my hands. It’s still mine, but it’s also not mine. I don’t get to mediate or demand a certain reader response. I did my thing by writing it; readers do their thing by reading it. Or by not reading it, for that matter: No one is required to read a book (except in school). Furthermore, if you’re not a bestseller, the vast majority of people have never read you, much less heard of you. Even if you are a bestseller and your novel gets made into a movie, more people will see the film than read the book.

Additionally (and I think importantly) while the old reviewing venues, the gatekeepers of yesteryear, are still around, they are no longer the only game in town (many of these critical venues served, I think, a different purpose, but I’m not going to analyze that here). The old top-down authority has shifted as more voices get heard.

The explosion of social media has really altered the landscape in this regard, although I feel obliged to note that I don’t think creators/artists/writers have to be on social media. I suspect they should not be unless they are getting something positive out of it.

Readers can connect with many more like-minded readers than ever before. Readers can talk directly to others readers about books; of course they could before, but the nature of the internet makes the reach much more extensive.

Book discussions have exploded all over everywhere, raising acrimony at times but also in my opinion creating a vast and enthusiastic network for readers and reading. Frankly, I really like the respectful way so many readers talk to each other (even while disagreeing!) on many of the reader-driven review sites.

I do sometimes thank a reviewer for their review, and I do try to highlight ones that I think were particularly interesting (to me, at any rate), but otherwise I try to stay out of the discussion because nothing kills a discussion between readers more than a writer showing up even if only to politely say “thank you.”

(Needless to say, writers really ought never to argue with a review. Short factual corrections are okay but I mean that in the most concrete and specific way: “The story does not take place in England,” for instance, would be a factual correction if a review stated that the story took place in England and it actually took place in Hawaii.)

As for me, these days I am much more in touch with readers and with other writers as well. It’s hard to predict how this interaction will continue to develop over time.

I can safely say, though, that when I was growing up and a young adult, I read far more in isolation than I do today. It is so much easier for me to talk about books and reading (and media in general) now than it was then.

What do you guys think? Did you come of age in the age of social media? If you’ve been around since before Twitter, Facebook, tumblr, and Goodreads, what sort of changes do you perceive in reviewing, in reader interaction, and in the reader/writer interface? Do you find this to be a good thing, a bad thing, or simply a thing?

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

This week is A More Diverse Universe Blog Tour, which I’m not actually formally participating in (as in, by signing up to their list) but which I want to honor by recommending some books.


I start today with Middle Grade novel WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON, by Grace Lin.

I picked this novel up because it is on the reading list for the Sirens Conference (a conference on women in fantasy literature) which I am attending in October. I don’t read a lot of Middle Grade as it doesn’t usually hit my sweet spot. The MG novels I enjoy most tend to rely heavily on an interesting world (e.g. Stephanie Burgis’s A TANGLE OF MAGICKS). Lin’s novel meets the challenge easily. It’s a marvelous story.

Minli lives in poverty with her parents, and goes on a quest to find the Old Man on the Moon to try and solve her family’s problems. The setting is based on Chinese folklore without the setting ever being identified as a “fantasy China.” It doesn’t need to be because it is the place Minli lives.

First of all, WTMMTM has spare, effective, and lovely writing. It is written in the manner of a folk tale expanded with more tales being told inside it by other people and creatures. All the tales eventually curl around to become part of the main tale and the solution, and from a deceptively simple start Lin uses the tales to build and enhance the whole. It is a pleasure to read, and it has that folkloric thing where there is a moral or lesson and yet without it being at all heavy-handed or stilted; what Minli (and we) learn flows naturally from the course of the tale, and it speaks to all hearts.

Guest Post: The Stress of their Regard: Book Reviews and the Reactions to them, by Paul Weimer

A conversation on Twitter a few weeks ago about the challenges of reviewing books in the new social media got me to thinking about what it must be like to be a book-blogger and/or online reviewer who ends up interacting not just with other readers but with writers and other people in the publishing industry in a way that could not really have happened quite so extensively before.

So I asked reviewer Paul Weimer to write a guest post about his experiences and thoughts. Here it is!  (KE)




The Stress of their Regard: Book Reviews and the Reactions to them.

by Paul Weimer


Like Thomas Jefferson, I cannot live without books. Reading books, be it fiction or nonfiction, an epic fantasy or the life of Cicero, makes up a substantial amount of my recreational time. And like anyone, I form opinions about the book, as I am reading (electronic books are wonderful for this), and after I have read the book.

I am a writer, and so my opinions, observations and perspectives about a book inevitably find themselves committed to words. As an active member of the genre community, these thoughts on books and authors inevitably find publication in a number of online venues.

However, publishing book reviews, especially in a hothouse environment that the world of genre fiction can be, comes with a set of challenges and stresses that threaten to corrode my will and desire to share my opinions. It is those challenges and stresses that I would like to elucidate for you.

It is a tightrope act, for me as a reviewer, to write a book review, whether a book exceeded my expectations, or fell vastly short of them. On the one hand, my personal ethics as a reviewer, and the role I play, mandate honesty in my reviews for books. The currency of respect I earn is only valid if my reviews are an honest assessment of the book I have read, presented in a clear and concise manner. If I am dishonest in my reviews, it will quickly come across the page, and my reviews will be at best unread, and worst, denigrated and shunned.

On the other hand, my place in the genre community means that I am often extremely chatty, virtually and otherwise, with the writers I am reading. Some of them I consider friends. When a book of theirs doesn’t meet all of my expectations, or even worse, falls flat for me, there is a real problem for me as a reviewer and as a person. I don’t have illusions that I move the meter on sales for a writer, much. However, slagging their novel baby or being perceived as having done so, makes me a bad social actor, and a bad friend.

I recently quailed over writing a review of a book that simply fell far short of expectations for me. I like the author. The author likes me. With reservations, I liked the author’s debut effort, but this second effort did not meet my expectations and hopes. Writing a review that is honest and fair, and yet does not cause unintended mental anguish in the friend has been extremely difficult.

On the other hand, when I am confronted with a book I absolutely adore and want to tell the world about, the reverse problem applies. Did I really like the book that much, or am I being too much of a promoter for the author and her work? Am I allowing the friendship and respect I have for the writer and her work to cloud my judgement of flaws and problems with a book? How much of a glowing review is me wishing the author well? How do I convey to the reader genuine enthusiasm and elucidate the real quality of the author’s work? How do I avoid looking like I am fawning over a writer’s work? How do I avoid unknowingly fawning over a book?

These tensions form a conundrum that I continually am confronted with. Keep reviews fair and honest, and remain a responsible social actor with the friends and acquaintances I have made, in readers, fellow reviewers, and authors.  Every book I read, every review I write is a re-assessment of this fundamental problem. Every review is a new change to grapple with these issues. It causes me stress every time I start on a review. It even starts as I am reading a book, wondering what I am going to write about it, how I am going to handle these issues this time out.

So why do I persist? Why do I put myself through this wringer? Why don’t I simply trunk my reviews?  There are two main reasons.

First, any writer, and I am no exception, wants their work to be seen by others. A trunked review is little better than just composing it in my own mind, save for the chance to work on my craft. A writer wants their work to be seen, to be read, to have life beyond their computer screen. I am no exception to this rule. Until my reviews started being published in higher visibility online locales, they languished for lack of attention and feedback. Now, I have people who look forward to my next review, and the reviews have given me offers and opportunities to write other things, in a variety of venues.

Second, I feel like I am providing a useful service. If I can walk that tightrope, and provide fair, balanced, ethical and honest reviews of books, I am providing useful information and feedback out there about books, for readers and authors alike. There are a swath of book review sites which are nothing but glowing reviews of the books they receive, read and review. the reviews at aggregate sites like Amazon are often worse than useless in trying to determine if a book is worth reading, given the propensity for people to use reviews as a way to grind their ax, be it complaints about the cost, jihads against an author, or even stranger obsessions. I like to think my review is far more valuable than that white noise.

So what have I learned? I’ve been reviewing for years, but only in the last year and a half have my reviews had any large amount of visibility due to the venues they have been published in. I have noticed an evolution in my style, improvement in my writing, and an increased readership. I firmly believe that readers and writers reading my work, commenting and talking about my reviews, and in general the greater visibility of my work makes me a better reviewer. I’ve learned from reading my fellow reviewers, as well, studying what they do, what they eschew, and how people react to their work. I have flourished under the pressure.

And so I persist in staying in the stress of their regard as I read and review books.



Not really a Prince of Amber, but rather an ex-pat New Yorker that has
found himself living in Minnesota for the last 10 years, Paul
“PrinceJvstin” Weimer has been reading SF and Fantasy long before
there was a World Wide Web. He and his book reviews, columns and other
contributions to genre can be found at his own blog, Blog Jvstin
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