Tag Archives: Fiction

New to the Stacks: 2021

The Art Of Dale Chihuly by Burgard, Tim
How to Change Your Mind by Pollan, Michael
Out front the following sea by Angstman, Leah
Asimov’s Guide To The Bible by Asimov, Isaac
The Alien Stars by Pratt, Tim – reading
Villains by Necessity by Woods, Sara
In Your Eyes by Derus, Richard M.
The Girl Wakes by Lau, Carmen
Remapping Wonderland by Various
Footnote 1 by Various – read
Footnote 2 by Various
Binti: The Complete Trilogy by Okorafor, Nnedi
Women in Purple: Rulers of Medieval Byzantium by Herrin, Judith
The Four Agreements by Ruiz, Don Miguel – read
God in the Qur’an by Miles, Jack
The book of delights by Ross, Gay
Coyote Songs by Iglesias, Gabino
Devil in a Blue Dress by Mosley, Walter
A Rage in Harlem by Himes, Chester
Zero Saints by Iglesias, Gabino
Forging the Franchise: The Political Origins of the Women’s Vote by Teele, Dawn Langan
Book Of Revelation by Beal, Timothy – read
The Miraculous Flying House of Loreto by Velez, Karin

New to the Stacks: 2020

Love in the Time of Cholera by Marquez, Garcia Gabriel
The Shore of Women by Sargent, Pamela – read
When Will There Be Good News? by Atkinson, Kate – read
The Book of Joan by Yuknavitch, Lidia
Out of mesopotamia by Salar, Abdoh
In Search Of The Lost Chord: 1967 And The Hippie Idea by Goldberg, Danny
To Hold Up the Sky by Liu, Cixin
A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by O’Connor, Flannery- read
The Wives of Henry Oades by Moran, Johanna- read
Spirits and Thieves by Rhodes, Morgan – read
The Rush’s Edge by Smith, Ginger – read
The women’s revolution, Russia 1905-1917 by Cox, Judy – read
George Orwell Illustrated by Smith, David
Marx’s Capital by Smith, David -read
The Fire Next Time by Baldwin, James
Sex in the world of myth by Leeming, David Adams
The goddess by Leeming, David Adams
The conspiracy trial of the Chicago Seven by Schultz, John
A People’s History of the United States by Zinn, Howard – reading
The Weight of Ink by Kadish, Rachel – read
Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Clarke, Susanna
Thinking in Pictures by Grandin, Temple
My Beloved World by Sotomayor, Sonia
The Sirens of Titan by Vonnegut, Kurt
Super Heroes: A Modern Mythology by Reynolds, Richard – read
The Relentless Moon by Kowal, Mary Robinette
The Language Of The Night by Le Guin, Ursula K.
Trapped in the Mirror: Adult Children of Narcissists in Their Struggle for Self by Golomb, Elan
Watchmen as literature by Van Ness, Sara J.- read
Parable of the Sower by Butler, Octavia E.
Junk City by Boilard, Jon -read
The Music Book by Osborn, Karen – read
Back to the wine jug by Taylor, Joe
Watchmen by Moore, Alan – read
The Nickel Boys by Whitehead, Colson – read
The Water Dancer by Coates, Ta-Nehisi
Dark mirror by Gellman, Barton – read
Playing in the Dark by Morrison, Toni
Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene by Ehrman, Bart D.
Berkeley at War: The 1960s by Rorabaugh, W.J.
Things that can and cannot be said by Roy, Arundhati – read
Cinderella Liberator by Solnit, Rebecca – read
Berkeley: The Student Revolt by Draper, Hal – read
The Books of Earthsea by Le Guin, Ursula K.
Robert Duncan in San Francisco by Rumaker, Michael -read
History as mystery by Parenti, Michael – read
Feminisms redux by Edited by Warhol-Down, Robyn and Herndl, Diane Price
American Audacity: In Defense of Literary Daring by Giraldi, William
A Book of Book Lists by Johnson, Alex – read
Becoming Superman by Straczynski, J. Michael
Howl on Trial by Morgan, Bill and Peters, Nancy Joyce – read
Future Perfect: American Science Fiction of the Nineteenth Century by Franklin, H. Bruce
Legends edited by Silverberg, Robert – read
Six Memos for the Next Millennium by Calvino, Italo
Why I Read by Lesser, Wendy
Side Life by Toutonghi, Steve – read
This is how You Lose the Time War by El-Mohtar, Amal and Gladstone, Max
The Future of Another Timeline by Newitz, Annalee – read
Gideon the Ninth by Muir, Tamsyn – read
Sixteenth Watch by Cole, Myke – read
The City In The Middle Of The Night by Anders, Charlie Jane – read
The Lost War by Anderson, Justin – read
Small days and nights by Tishani, Doshi – read
The Shadow King by Mengiste, Maaza – read
Mickey Mouse: From Walt to the World by Deja, Andreas

To Do List: The Nickel Boys

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Title: The Nickel Boys
Author: Colson Whitehead
Twitter: @ColsonWhtiehead
Published: 2020
ISBN-13: 9780345804341
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Twitter: @penguinrandom

Publisher’s Blurb: In this Pulitzer Prize-winning, New York Times bestselling follow-up to The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys unjustly sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.

When Elwood Curtis, a black boy growing up in 1960s Tallahassee, is unfairly sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called the Nickel Academy, he finds himself trapped in a grotesque chamber of horrors. Elwood’s only salvation is his friendship with fellow “delinquent” Turner, which deepens despite Turner’s conviction that Elwood is hopelessly naive, that the world is crooked, and that the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble. As life at the Academy becomes ever more perilous, the tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades.

Based on the real story of a reform school that operated for 111 years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative.

Oh lordy, this book is searing, devastating and enthralling at all once.  Whitehead’s powerful writing tells the story of two boys in a hell hole of a juvenile detention home in Florida.  No one could possibly believe in a “post-racist” society while events like this happen.

Full review to come.

Cover Reveal: Out Front the Following Sea by Leah Angstman

Leah Angstman and I met on Twitter after finding her small press Alternating Currents (@altcurrent) which publishes the absolutely fabulous *Footnote; A Literary Journal of History.  I cannot wait to get my hands on this book!

Now, I’m thrilled to be participating in the cover reveal for Leah Angstman’s debut novel, OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA, coming January 2022 from Regal House Publishing.


OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA:
A Novel of King William’s War in 17th-Century New England
BY LEAH ANGSTMAN
Publication Date: January 11, 2022
Regal House Publishing
Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook; 334 pages
Genre: Historical / Literary / Epic
**Shortlisted for the Chaucer Book Award**


OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a historical epic of one woman’s survival in a time when the wilderness is still wild, heresy is publicly punishable, and being independent is worse than scorned—it is a death sentence.At the onset of King William’s War between French and English settlers in 1689 New England, Ruth Miner is accused of witchcraft for the murder of her parents and must flee the brutality of her town. She stows away on the ship of the only other person who knows her innocence: an audacious sailor — Owen — bound to her by years of attraction, friendship, and shared secrets. But when Owen’s French ancestry finds him at odds with a violent English commander, the turmoil becomes life-or-death for the sailor, the headstrong Ruth, and the cast of Quakers, Pequot Indians, soldiers, highwaymen, and townsfolk dragged into the fray. Now Ruth must choose between sending Owen to the gallows or keeping her own neck from the noose. Steeped in historical events and culminating in a little-known war on pre-American soil, OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a story of early feminism, misogyny, arbitrary rulings, persecution, and the treatment of outcasts, with parallels still mirrored and echoed in today’s society. The debut novel will appeal to readers of Paulette Jiles, Alexander Chee, Hilary Mantel, James Clavell, Bernard Cornwell, TaraShea Nesbit, Geraldine Brooks, Stephanie Dray, Patrick O’Brian, and E. L. Doctorow.

AVAILABLE FOR PREORDER

REGAL HOUSE PRINT | AMAZON KINDLE

AVAILABLE FOR ARC REQUEST
TNBBC PUBLICITY

Out Front the Following Sea hi-res cover reveal

Praise

“With OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA, Leah Angstman reveals herself as a brave new voice in historical fiction. With staggering authenticity, Angstman gives us a story of America before it was America — an era rife with witch hunts and colonial intrigue and New World battles all but forgotten in our history books and popular culture. This is historical fiction that speaks to the present, recalling the bold spirits and cultural upheavals of a nation yet to be born.”—Taylor Brown, author of PRIDE OF EDEN, GODS OF HOWL MOUNTAIN, and THE RIVER OF KINGS

“Steeped in lush prose, authentic period detail, and edge-of-your-seat action, OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a rollicking good read. Leah Angstman keeps the story moving at a breathtaking pace, and she knows more 17th-century seafaring language and items of everyday use than you can shake a stick at. The result is a compelling work of romance, adventure, and historical illumination that pulls the reader straight in.”—Rilla Askew, author of FIRE IN BEULAH, THE MERCY SEAT, and KIND OF KIN<

“Lapidary in its research and lively in its voice, OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA by Leah Angstman is a rollicking story, racing along with wind in its sails. Though her tale unfolds hundreds of years in America’s past, Ruth Miner is the kind of high-spirited heroine whose high adventures haul you in and hold you fast.”—Kathleen Rooney, author of LILLIAN BOXFISH TAKES A WALK and CHER AMI AND MAJOR WHITTLESEY

“Leah Angstman has written the historical novel that I didn’t know I needed to read. OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is set in an oft-forgotten time in the brutal wilds of pre-America that is so vividly and authentically drawn, with characters that are so alive and relevant, and a narrative so masterfully paced and plotted, that Angstman has performed the miracle of layering the tumultuous past over our troubled present to gift us a sparkling new reality.”—Kevin Catalano, author of WHERE THE SUN SHINES OUT and DELETED SCENES AND OTHER STORIES<

“OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a fascinating book, the kind of historical novel that evokes its time and place so vividly that the effect is just shy of hallucinogenic. I enjoyed it immensely.” —Scott Phillips, author of THE ICE HARVEST, THE WALKAWAY, COTTONWOOD, and HOP ALLEY

“OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a meticulously researched novel that mixeshistory, love story, and suspense. Watching Angstman’s willful protagonist,Ruth Miner, openly challenge the brutal world of 17th-century New England, with its limiting ideas about gender, race, and science, was a delight.” —Aline Ohanesian, author of ORHAN’S INHERITANCE

“Leah Angstman is a gifted storyteller with a poet’s sense of both beauty and darkness, and her stunning historical novel, OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA, establishes her as one of the most exciting young novelists in the country.  Angstman plunges the reader into a brilliantly realized historical milieu peopled by characters real enough to touch. And in Ruth Miner, we are introduced to one of the most compelling protagonists in contemporary literature, a penetratingly intelligent, headstrong woman who is trying to survive on her wits alone in a Colonial America that you won’t find in the history books. A compulsive, vivid read that will change the way you look at the origins of our country, Leah Angstman’s OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA announces the arrival of a preternatural talent.” —Ashley Shelby, author of MURI and SOUTH POLE STATION<

“Rich, lyrical, and atmospheric, with a poet’s hand and a historian’s attention to detail. In OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA, Leah Angstman creates an immersive world for readers to get lost in and a fascinating story to propel them through it. A thoroughly engaging and compelling tale.”  —Steph Post, author of HOLDING SMOKE, MIRACULUM, and WALK IN THE FIRE

“It’s a rare story that makes you thankful for having read and experienced it. It’s rarer still for a story to evoke so wholly, so powerfully, another place and time as to make you thankful for the gifts that exist around you, which you take for granted. OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA is a book rich with misery, yet its characters are indefatigable; they yearn, despite their troubles, for victories personal and societal. Leah Angstman’s eye is keen, and her ability to transport you into America’s beginnings is powerful. With the raw ingredients of history, she creates a story both dashing and pensive, robust yet believable. From an unforgiving time, Angstman draws out a tale of all things inhuman, but one that reminds us of that which is best in all of us.”  —Eric Shonkwiler, author of ABOVE ALL MEN and 8TH STREET POWER AND LIGHT

About the Author

Leah Angstman author photoLeah Angstman is a historian and transplanted Michigander living in Boulder. OUT FRONT THE FOLLOWING SEA, her debut novel of King William’s War in 17th-century New England, is forthcoming from Regal House in January 2022. Her writing has been a finalist for the Saluda River Prize, Cowles Book Prize, Able Muse Book Award, Bevel Summers Fiction Prize, and Chaucer Book Award, and has appeared in Publishers Weekly, L.A. Review of Books, Nashville Review, Slice, and elsewhere. She serves as editor-in-chief for Alternating Current and The Coil magazine and copyeditor for Underscore News, which has included editing partnerships with ProPublica. She is an appointed vice chair of a Colorado historical commission and liaison to a Colorado historic preservation committee.

Writing: Life Gets in the Way

It’s all a bit much right now.  I know you know.  Everything is in constant flux as though 2020 is the biggest, twistiest roller coaster morphing at every turn into something worse.  Nothing fits any more and all we can do is try to hang on and not fall off.

It’s not easy for me to admit my reading and writing have fallen into an abyss of 2020 proportions.  Rectifying it feels Sisyphean.  But every once in a while, something happens which drives me to the keyboard, ’cause I gotta share it.

From what I’m reading,  ConZealand was an epic cluster of celebrating old white male authors both living and dead.  A gross old white man who fancies himself a bestselling author couldn’t be bothered to learn how to pronounce the names of Hugo award finalists, and turned the ceremony into a “let’s talk about me” nightmare.  SF/F twitter is pretty lit up about this.

It’s heartbreaking, and infuriating, to hear about this year after year after year.  I left fandom once because of the gatekeeping, but I’m back now, and since I don’t give a fuck anymore about what the keepers think they’re doing I’m going to do my thing.   This latest fiasco made me decide to work harder on getting my writing jam on and to lift up the really excellent work I consume.

The pain I see from those given such utter disrespect at the Hugos sent me running to FIYAH Literary Magazine screaming, “Take my money!”

FIYAH Literary Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction

Partway through issue #13 and … FIYAH, I’m glad I met you.

Review: Small Days and Nights

Title:  Small Days and Nights
Author: Tishani Doshi
Published: 2019
ISBN-13:  9781324005230
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Publisher’s Blurb:  A captivating and clear-eyed story of two sisters caught in a moment of transformation, set against the vivid backdrop of modern India.

The protagonist, Grace Marisola, gets dropped into unforeseen circumstances.  Understandably, it’s hard to know what to do when recalled from the US to oversee the cremation of her mother, and finding out the family secret is an older sister with Down’s Syndrome who has been institutionalized Grace’s entire life.

But even under those circumstances, plans arise and actions take place.  The book suffers from not knowing what it wants because Grace  doesn’t know what she wants.  Is it divorcing the husband she left behind in the US?  Remaking family connections?  Taking care of her sister for the rest of her life?

Things happen to Grace, she doesn’t happen to them.  There’s no core to her.  Small Days and Nights suffers from a sort of malaise.  There’s nothing wrong with the book, exactly.  Neither is there something right.

I often overthink my reviews as I try to pin down what I want to write about.  Lots of books offer plenty of opportunities to dig in and do the analysis I love.  Doshi’s book wasn’t one of them.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t write about how her language often captivated me.  For instance,  “Mornings at the beach can arrive like a whore, in a jangly too tight dress at the end of a long and sleepless night.”  Or,  “The heat of summer is behind us but the days still feel bedraggled and worn.

The beauty in that language and those images make promises the book doesn’t live up to.

Review: The Killing Light

The Killing Light by Myke Cole

Title:  The Killing Light
Author: Myke Cole
Published: 2019
ISBN-13: 978-0-76539559-3
Publisher: Tor.com Publishing
Twitter: @MykeCole
Publisher’s Blurb: Heloise and her allies are marching on the Imperial Capital. The villagers, the Kipti, and the Red Lords are united only in their loyalty to Heloise, though dissenting voices are many and they are loud.

The unstable alliance faces internal conflicts and external strife, yet they’re united in their common goal. But when the first of the devils start pouring through a rent in the veil between worlds, Heloise must strike a bargain with an unlikely ally, or doom her people to death and her world to ruin.

This is the final book of The Sacred Throne trilogy
Book 1 –  The Armored Saint | Book 2  – The Queen of Crows

I was provided an Advanced Reader’s Copy by Tor Publishing in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!

“But I am thine Emperor, and the harder the step, the closer it taketh thou unto me. –Writ. Lea. IV.2.”  (p. 167)

In The Art of Fiction, John Gardner writes, “The primary subject of fiction is and always has been human emotion, values, and beliefs.”  (p. 14)  and “The writer must enable us to see and feel vividly what his characters see and feel …” (p. 44)

Any writer who can make the reader feel great anxiety for his characters and drive them to tears in relief has most definitely met the criteria set forth by Gardner.  That Myke Cole’s writing kept me fully engaged and emotionally involved says something about the great talent he has for telling a story.

There’s a thread running through The Killing Light about men and how they must be treated by women.  Repeatedly a female will say something like, “Everything with men is a great care.”  (p. 46)

Heloise was never meant to be and do all the things she does in The Sacred Throne trilogy.  She was meant to be a young woman who marries the man her parents have chosen for her and to settle into the role of home keeper, as women in her village have always done.

But we don’t always get to choose the shape our life takes and who we fall in love with.  The best we can hope is to be gentle with ourselves when we are tested. This is part of the story Myke Cole tells with Heloise, how she must accept and come to terms with herself, and her evolving beliefs and leadership skills.

Her world is one in which only hetero normative standards are accepted.  In Book 1, The Armored Saint, she finds herself in love with her best friend who not only doesn’t reciprocate those feelings, but is horrified by Heloise’s feelings.  Shortly after this reveal, Basina is killed and that death haunts Heloise more than anything else through the series.

Cole portrays her struggle with tenderness, and introduces Xilyka from one of the Traveling People clans who join Heloise’s army.  Xilyka becomes one of Heloise’s bodyguards, never leaving her side. It is in the most tender moments we see Heloise began to overcome her fear of being a lesbian, and of driving Xilyka away.

In one such scene, Heloise’s father, Samson, has arranged a private place with hot water so Heloise can bathe after many weeks on the battlefield, stuck in the war machine.  At this point, the agoraphobic leader  trembles in abject terror at leaving the machine which has protected her and allowed her to become the leader she is.  Samson the loving father tries to coax her out.  Xylika literally rides to the rescue, leading Heloise in her machine behind the screen and bathes her tenderly.  Cole does not ignore the sexual tension such a situation would create, but neither does he dwell on it. His deft writing shows us the normality of two people getting to know each other, carefully exploring the beginnings of a physical relationship.

At the other end of the spectrum, there is Onas, a 16-year-old boy from a different Traveling People clan who also becomes bodyguard, and tries to assert his authority over Heloise as potential husband.  This does not go well. Heloise is exhausted, she doubts her moral imperative to be leading this fight, is grieving for the many deaths caused in this war, and is in despair over having to re-evaluate the values she was taught about the Emperor and the Order.  She literally has no energy to put into this boy’s demands for romance.

Onas keeps pushing.  Heloise side steps, telling him when the war is over, she will think about it.  He sees what’s going on with Xilyka, which infuriates him and makes him push even harder.  Then, the unthinkable happens and Onas’ mother, the leader of his clan, dies in  battle. Onas blames Heloise for his mother’s death.

It becomes too much for him to bear when they stumble upon a band of the Order whose leader has killed so many, and Heloise refuses to let anyone kill Brother Tone.  She recognizes Tone can provide entrance and information into the Emperor’s city and palace that will prove useful.  Onas throws a teenaged temper tantrum and runs off taking other disgruntled fighters with him.

This is not unusual behavior.  Boys have been conditioned to believe that their wants and needs take precedence over a girl’s.  So it is with Onas and Heloise. Despite the many stupid reasons he throws at her as he storms away, the one he cannot voice is he expected her to fall into his arms and she did not.  All logic does not penetrate.

Onas is not the only male in this story who treats her as less than because of her gender.  Sir Steven, leader of the Red Army which falls in with Heloise and her villagers, treats her with great disdain both because she is young and, more to the point, a woman.  During a council at which he has commanded Heloise attend, she questions him. Obliviously he says, “This is my punishment for taking a council of war with a girl.” That word, that attitude, meant to demean her in the presence of other leaders has exactly the opposite effect.  She draws herself up and asserts her authority as the one who has killed a devil and therefore, has more expertise on this subject than Sir Steven.

When they reach the capital city, Steven’s attitude has changed and he treats her as equal.  He has seen her leadership grow, witnessed her wisdom. It is her determination to get through, and her insistence on continuing to fight when too many have died and others have given up, which leads Steven to fight more equitably alongside her.

Even Brother Tone who for two books did everything he could to kill Heloise and her village because of her questions regarding the Emperor’s governance comes to accept, and follow, her leadership.

In one of the pivotal scenes of The Killing Light, the reveal literally drives Tone to his knees, and makes him question everything he has ever believed.  He becomes vacant and only continues the fight at Heloise’s insistence. His knowledge is the key which will lead to stopping the war between Devils and humankind.

Tone goes from murderous devotee to thoughtful follower, all due to Heloise’s mission to settle things once and for all.  Most of the characters, male and female evolve, becoming more self-aware and thoughtful about their actions and the effects those have on the bigger picture.

Teenaged Onas is not completely immune to this, but  his maturity will come only through time.  Myke Cole’s writing shows he’s attentive to what makes the most sense for the entire cast, including keeping Onas true to his male teenaged arrogance.

The Killing Light is the satisfactory and logical ending to this trilogy.  Heloise becomes what she’s destined to become after all the pain and death she’s been witness to.  Heloise remains the hero we need for today.

The Daily Communiqué – 14 April, 2019 – Week 2 Recap

Monday’s announcement of the Hugo nominees led me to write about my experiences with WorldCon and meeting authors.

I’ve been listening to a lot of different music at work, thanks to the global record collection, and shared some of my discoveries on Tuesday.

In the same vein, on Wednesday there were works by artists I found intriguing.

Some reflective writing on writing on Thursday.

A tiny bit of fiction for Friday night.  The monster is real!

And rounding out the week, my reaction to former pope Benedict’s letter about sex abuse in the Catholic Church.

Currently reading:  Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James.  I don’t know what I think about it yet, other than it’s weird.

The Daily Communiqué – 12 April, 2019 – The Coffee Break

Harold whispered through gritted teeth, “Go back to your desk!  Go! Now!” His eyes moved quickly as though watching for danger,  face screwed up in fear.

Uh oh.  It happened again.  Scurrying back to my desk, I put my hands on the computer keyboard and listened.  Who was it this time?

Somewhere on my aisle, a phone rang.  Heads popped out and made shushing motions.  One of the rules was, don’t make noise, she might hear you.  And if she heard you … better to not even consider that.

My hands fell into my lap.  I squeezed my eyes closed and tried to hold my breath.  “Not me, not me, not me,” my mind chittered nervously.

Memories of the last time popped to the surface.  I’d barely escaped, tried to cry quietly in the bathroom, great heaving sobs escaping.  It was horrible, and every day I dreaded a repeat.

I sniffed.  Cigarette smoke?  I didn’t know she … oh, that’s not good and it’s not cigarette smoke.  Crouching down, I wrapped my arms around my head. I knew everyone else was doing the same thing.  Something loud was coming …

My neighbor let out a little squeak.  I crawled across the aisle into her cube and we wrapped our arms around each other, trembling in fear.  “No, no, no, nonononono …” Opal whispered.

Leaning closer to her, I whispered in her ear, “Whose turn was it this morning?”

A tear rolled down her cheek, “Mine.  I got in late, she was here before me …”  Her face fell. We were all terrified.

The last person got fired on the spot.  The floor around them scorched from the flames coming out of the monster’s nostrils.

As the roar died down, quiet clinking came from the break room.  Glass on porcelain. A spoon stirring in liquid. The smell of coffee rose over the smell of sulphur.  Who was stupid enough to be in the break room right now?

Then, porcelain on floor tiles.  The metal of the spoon moving the liquid.  Opal and I put our heads down, our fearful tears mingling as we held our breath.

Quiet.  Slurping.  Really loud slurping.  The sound of heels moving across the floor.  The swish of clothing. A collective sigh as we all went back to work.

Crisis averted.

Review: They

They: A Biblical Tale of Secret Genders by Janet Mason

Title: They:  A Biblical Tale of Secret Genders
Author: Janet Mason
Published: 2018
ISBN: 9780999516430
Publisher: Adelaide Books
Publisher’s Blurb: In this novel we met Tamar from the Hebrew Bible. Tamar lives as a hermit in the desert, is content with her life and is happily barren. She is attached to her pet camel. Her aversion to goat sacrifices becomes so strong that it prompts her to become a vegetarian. Tamar has a twin sister Tabitha who becomes pregnant after seducing a young muscular shepherd. Tamar plots with Tabitha to trick Judah (a patriarch from the Bible) into believing that the baby is his so that she can have status in society rather than being burnt at the stake. Tabitha gives birth to twins. Tamar becomes attached to the children (born intersex), who call her auntie, and follows their line of intersex twins.  

They has a promising premise, a long line of intersex twins come from the fictional twin sister of biblical Tamar.  Tweaking Judeo- Christian mores is one of my favorite topics, and the thought of secret genders in the Bible pleased me.

Janet Mason has a unique spin on many of the familiar Old and New Testament stories.  While fictional Tabitha is the one who has children with Judah by deceiving him, her twin sister Tamar is the character with the most interesting discussions about the “old tales.”

My favorite is Tamar telling her sister’s twins about Adam and Eve and the Snake in the Garden of Eden.  She asks questions I’ve always had.  Why spend centuries blaming Eve when Adam was the one who could have, but didn’t, say, “No.”  Which is the root of a lot of the sexist and misogynistic bullshit we experience today.

Then there’s the interesting, if difficult to take serious, story about Tamar reincarnating in Mary’s belly as Jesus’ twin, both of whom are born intersex.  And both whom have different fathers.

Structurally They has problems.  There’s a lot of telling, not showing.  The showdown between Tabitha and Judah is told to a gathering of women instead of shown.  The same goes for Joseph leaving the house every time David arrives to visit Mary.  Her trying to explain why the twins have different fathers and how she’s not going marry either of them would have been so much more interesting.

Another problem is chapters which end abruptly, the next picking up years later with little or no connective tissues.

For instance, Tamar and Judith  gossip about the news from Egypt where Joseph (Judah’s brother) has saved Pharaoh from starvation with his dream interpretations.  The baby they made and Judith gave birth to cries …. end of chapter.  The next chapter is set 20 years in the future and Tamar is dying.  No explanation for what’s happened in that time or how Tamar is dying.

The very last chapter uses the preferred pronouns for intersex people, ze, hir, zir.  At no time before in this book, have these been used.  The change is jolting and disruptive, drawing attention away from the journey Yeshua and his family take away from Jerusalem.

I wanted to love Tree, I really did.  There are many interesting twists and stories that give a different interpretation to the stories I grew up on.  Some parts of Tree nearly glow.  But the parts that don’t glow bring the entirety to a medium well done novel.

As far as I can tell, this was Mason’s first published book (she has since published another, which I have not read).  It is my hope that with practice and dedication her writing will become more consistent and structurally sound.  There’s a lot of good ideas in They, but the execution just isn’t strong enough to bear the weight.