Judging books by their covers

Summer is by far my favorite season…until right about now, in the middle of July. It’s hot. My local pool is inevitably closed for maintenance. Everything seems to slow down. There’s a long, long slog to Labor Day and my next day off, and I definitely can’t afford a vacation. The air feels like soup when you walk outside. Hot soup. Have I mentioned that it’s hot?

Anyway, my point is that I don’t have much patience or energy at the moment for anything other than superhero movies, TV binges (currently: Star Trek Deep Space Nine and The Handmaid’s Tale, which I will finish) and very, very light reading. So it felt like a really good time for a very light sort of post. Let’s judge some covers!

I don’t know about you, but so far 2017 has seemed pretty excellent on the cover design front (which really means that 2016 was excellent, because these things take a while, but still…) I’ve been seeing a lot of new things that make my jaw drop. If I immediately want a print of a cover to frame and hang on my wall? Well, that is a damn good cover.

So let’s dive in!

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

This cover is just so happy. I haven’t had a chance to read When Dimple Met Rishi yet, but even if I didn’t know a word of the blurb copy, I would want to. It’s so bright, and cheery, and I really love the placement/typography of the title. I really, really, almost instinctively hate the color orange. I don’t know why, I just do. But this cover pulls off the impossible and makes me love orange. I can’t get enough of it.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Compared to the relatively spare cover above, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue has a ton going on. And I love it. You have the formal image of the protagonist contrasting with the loud, busy text and random doodles. It really gives you a good feel for what the tone of the book will be. I looks different than a lot of what’s out there right now (though I have a feeling over the next year or so we’ll be seeing more covers that look a lot like this.)

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

By using blank space so brilliantly, The Hate U Give packs a punch with its central image. I have to admit that I didn’t understand the title until I saw it spelled out on this cover. It’s an image that almost forces you to look, to engage. And the book is brilliant, too.

An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

I want to talk about An Extraordinary Union not because it’s a beautiful cover (although I think it is), but because I can see what the marketing department was trying to do. (At least, I think I can. Indulge me.)

So,  An Extraordinary Union is a romance novel, full stop. It follows a very typical romance novel structure–two characters, POV traded back and forth, Happily Ever After achieved, etc. But while there are all kinds of different romance covers, you tend to have certain expectations. The torrid embrace, the smoldering glances.

This? This looks like a mystery.

I think this was very deliberately chosen to appeal to readers outside the genre. By packaging it this way, it sort of gives permission for people who avoid romance or even denigrate it to pick it up. And maybe it will be a gateway into the genre for some of those people. And for that I kind of love it.

Also, by centering Elle, the image shines a spotlight on a character who has spent her life underestimated, sidelined, and stereotyped. It shows you that she is without a doubt the hero and the center of this story.








The Soldier’s Scoundrel, The Lawrence Browne Affair, and The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian

(I’m going to cheat a bit with a 2016 cover on here, don’t mind me)

While the above was all about wrapping a traditional romance in somewhat nontraditional packaging, the reason I love Cat Sebastian’s covers is that they are very traditional romance covers…with one obvious twist.

I read a fair amount of queer romance. Most of it is being self-published or put out by relatively small presses. And as a result, a lot of covers are hodgepodges of stock imagery. Now, that’s not to knock stock imagery. Some of those covers end up being quite good. But the quality definitely varies and doesn’t always match the book inside.

The reason that these covers immediately jumped out at me is that they are very much traditional romance covers. You have the embrace, the smolder. The painterly quality. This is very much how the popular consciousness “expects” romance novels to look, only the characters on the cover are all men. Which is not something I’ve seen any other publisher do, yet.

I also love that each cover has a very specific pop of mostly-solid background color the ground the image of the characters.

The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

When I first saw this cover, I’m pretty sure I made a happy squeaking noise.

I haven’t read the book yet (it doesn’t come out until the end of August), but everything about this cover just screamed to me. From the thumbnail.

I’m still not entirely sure why. It’s got pretty much the elements you expect of a romance novel that we’ve already discussed. Skinny girl, floofy dress, half-clad hero. Embrace, smolder, yadda yadda. But I think it’s something about the colors, and the lighting that give a very specific feel to this cover. It’s soft and dreamy and, well, romantic. I kind of adore it.

So, that’s a rundown of some of my favorite recent covers. What are some of yours? What elements do you think we’ll start to see on the shelves over the next few months?



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Review: A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant

Title: A Lady Awakened

Author: Cecilia Grant

Rating: Like, all the stars

So, recently I found myself in need of a little fluff. A book that would make me forget myself for a few hours and help me set aside some anxieties. I’ve read a fair amount of romance over the last few years, and I’ve read a whole lot more than usual since the world went to shit. Cecilia Grant is an author I haven’t read a lot of, but I like what I have seen. I figured A Lady Awakened would be enough fluff to lift me out of my mood.

Turns out, it might be my favorite romance novel ever. 

At least, since the last favorite romance novel I read and before the next one.

In any case, I really, really, really loved. it.

Recently widowed Martha Russell is in a predicament. She’s about to be tossed out of her home, with a significantly reduced dowry, in favor of her deceased husband’s brother, unless she turns out to be carrying an heir. More than for herself, though, she worries about her brother-in-law’s bad reputation, and what it means for the community she’s been trying to better since her marriage. She is decidedly not pregnant by her husband, but in desperation she comes up with an audacious scheme that could save or destroy her.

Theo Mirkwood is a dissolute rake who has been banished to the country by his father in the hopes that he will learn land management and grow up a little bit, prospects which completely bore him. When the stern widow next door calls on him he’s intrigued; when she proffers an indecent proposal wherein he will have one month to try to get her pregnant, he is unexpectedly tempted.

These two strangers jump straight into what they think should be a simple business arrangement, only to inevitably become more entangled as the days go by.

I worried a bit at the beginning of A Lady Awakened. The characters are lying straight off the bat, pretty big lies with pretty big consequences, and I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to like them as a result. However, Grant does a superb job of developing these characters, making their motivations real and immediate. They understand the madness of their situation, they face the various consequences of their lies. They are empathetic and compelling where they very easily could have come off as selfish or reckless. So that concern was put to bed pretty early.

One of the reasons I enjoy romance is because of how often it is intensely focused on two characters and their development, separately and together. Oftentimes one character will stick out above the other to me. That’s not the case here. Theo is fantastic. Martha is incredible. Put them together, and I was constantly like now, kiss:

I have a select few romance heroes who are perennial favorites. Winter Makepeace of Elizabeth Hoyt’s Thief of Shadows. Colin Sandhurst of Tessa Dare’s A Week to be Wicked. Basically every character K. J. Charles has ever written. And now, Theo Mirkwood.

Let me tell you about Theo and how beauteous he is.

Theo doesn’t have many high expectations of himself for the sheer fact that no one else ever has. He likes spending his father’s money, enjoying the society of London, and having lots of sex with lots of ladies. He’s ridiculously proud of his…ahem, endowments. When Martha doesn’t immediately come undone due to his ministrations, he takes it as something of a personal affront, and engages on a quest to successfully seduce her as well as knock her up. He devotes himself to finding the key to her pleasure whether she wants him to or not.

Meanwhile, out in the world, he begins to develop relationships with the tenant farmers on his land. He sees problems that have contributed to poverty, and is inspired to think of solutions. He learns, and tries, and fails, and tries again. He isn’t naturally the smartest or most business-minded, but he is good with people, and has a stronger sense of duty and responsibility than he ever would have realized had he not met Martha.

So often in romance, even good, modern ones, you have a hero who starts out sexy and cocky but emotionally distant, who has to learn that love isn’t a dirty word. They often don’t grow very much beyond that. But Theo, though he starts out sexy and cocky, is never emotionally distant. He’s bright and open. And over the course of the book, he grows up. You watch him reorder his priorities, you see him mature. It’s quite lovely.

Then, we have Martha.

Heroines in romance suffer from just as much tropeiness as the heroes. As with any trope, it’s all in how the authors handle it. But a lot of modern heroines fall into one of a few narrow templates–feisty bluestocking, imperiled virgin, and the like–which can get boring.

Martha was unlike any heroine I think I have ever read. At the start of the book she has been married for only ten months, but in those ten months she has worked diligently to open a school and further the education and opportunities for the children of her tenants. Her husband’s sudden death puts that work at risk, but more than that, when she learns that her brother-in-law has a reputation for raping servants, she is determined to keep those servants safe by any means necessary. People see her as cold, because she shoulders the responsibilities of the world without opening up to anyone. But she feels deeply, and has a keen sense of justice. She has a steel backbone. She’s not a snarky bluestocking rattling off one-liners. She’s not flashy. She takes a long time to realize her own worth and value. It’s a deeply relatable character arc, one that I treasured.

Romance works best when characters are interesting on their own, but become better versions of themselves together. A Lady Awakened is one of the best examples of this that I have ever seen. Martha inspires Theo to become more responsible and adult, Theo helps Martha open up emotionally and not shoulder so many burdens on her own. They build a partnership in the truest sense.

Most romances, particularly historical ones, require suspension of disbelief to one degree or another. Dukes didn’t marry kitchen maids, queer people could be imprisoned and killed, and knocked-up widows couldn’t remarry within two months and ever expect to be accepted by society. Yet in fiction, these characters get happily-ever-afters all the time, across a spectrum of believability.

Frankly, the solution to Martha and Theo’s problems, the setup for their happily ever after, is absurd. It never would have worked out in real life. And I know that bothers some readers. But for me, in this case, I was able to accept the fantasy and totally go along with it. The characters were so strong, their development so believable, that I totally bought into any absurdities of their situation.

Add to all this character work some really strong, vibrant prose, a taut and intriguing plot, and supporting characters who don’t at all feel like cardboard props, and A Lady Awakened is an all-around winner. If you haven’t read romance, or have become bored by some of its tropes, this is definitely a great example of the genre to try. And, hey, it got me out of my head for an entire weekend. That’s always a fantastic thing.

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A poll!

I am conducting a class about blogging at my local library (Rocky Mount, NC, if you’re in the area on May 2nd!). While The Bastard Title has lately been woefully ignored due to real-life circumstances and blogging fatigue, I’d like to ask any of you reading this to take part in a brief poll about blogging in general. Thanks in advance, lovelies 🙂






If you have any other advice for aspiring bloggers, feel free to hit me up in the comments!


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Some rambling thoughts on representation

I was kind of looking forward to the new Riverdale show. It looks completely bonkers, but it seemed fun. But the main reason I found it interesting was that there was (at least, I expected) a canonical asexual character.

Yeah, guess not.

I didn’t grow up with the Archie comics, but I’ve caught some of the newer graphic novels and really enjoyed them, and a big part of that is seeing asexuality written in an open and thoughtful way.

It’s just one stupid show, so what’s the big deal? Well, it’s not just one show. It’s everywhere.

I’ve been watching a lot of Star Trek for the first time lately, and, without fail, every character that I think is obviously ace ends up having some sort of heteronormative romantic arc. Voyager’s Doctor chases and makes out with a holographic Viking lady (I quit Voyager soon after that for other reasons, so I don’t know what else they put him through). Odo, a mass of sentient shapeshifting goo, is apparently in love with Kira (I’ve only started season 4, but spoil away.) Data…I’m not even going to talk about Data. Of course, Star Trek is not particularly good at any sort of queer inclusion, or in talking about gender identity (fuck you, “The Outcast”). But it makes me sad that a series so ostensibly about the full range of human experience cannot possibly think of what to do with characters other than “male-coded + female-coded = sexytimes.” And then it makes me angry.

I don’t particularly like labels, nor do I really use them for myself. I find them limiting and pigeonholing. But I also don’t use them because, when I was a teenager and I needed them, we didn’t have the labels, or at least, I didn’t know them. I didn’t have the words. I’d never heard them.

I never saw anyone remotely like me, in any media, anywhere. The only characters who were ever coded asexual were the crazy cat-lady maiden aunts or swishy gay-male best friends who could act ~sassy~ but never actually express sexual desire, or god-forbid have sex. There was never anyone, ever, who just didn’t want to have sex, for whatever reason.

I spent so much time when I was younger worrying about what was wrong with me, trying to figure out how exactly I was so awful and undesirable that no-one ever wanted me, that it took years for me to realize that, maybe, just maybe, it was that I didn’t desire, not that I was completely undesirable. Because I never saw myself reflected anywhere. Not once.

I saw the crazy cat-ladies as my warning from the future (“if you don’t subscribe to these cultural norms, look what you risk becoming!”) I saw characters thinking about sex, and talking about sex, and having sex, all the damn time. I saw characters who were never, ever single for a second, and those that were desperately looking for the next link on the chain. I saw only a reflection of things I wasn’t, and I thought that I was broken. For a really, really long time. Sometimes still.

So I jump at every crumb of representation, every “possible, maybe, are they?”

I remember that I once read a novel where I was certain that a side-character was asexual, and it actually gave me chills. The next book in the series came with the reveal….that she was a closet lesbian. Oh. And I mean, lesbians are great. Queer rep, yay! But there it was again, this feeling that something so obvious to me was apparently completely invisible. Again.

I didn’t expect Riverdale to “solve” representation in any way. I didn’t even expect Jughead’s experiences to be like mine. (People are not all asexual in the same way, just as people are not all sexual in the same way). But it would have been really nice to have a character who doesn’t have romantic or sexual relationships, and doesn’t want or need to, and isn’t broken or desperate or mocked. It would have been really nice to have one character, somewhere, who wasn’t shoved into the heteronormative mold (different rant for a different day, but I actually think most queer relationships on TV are forced to “pass” by fitting into heteronormative standards too).

I’m tired of having to read between the lines to find characters who feel (or don’t feel, as the case may be) like me. I’m tired of jumping at every crumb. I’m tired of sex being the center of every motivation, every character development. I’m tired of being forced to try to see myself in the robots and holograms and alien puddles of goo, and then even those robots and holograms and alien puddles of goo letting me down. I’m tired of it.

And I’m pissed.

And I’m skipping Riverdale.

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2016 in review



It’s become a cliche that 2016 has been a horrible wasteland for basically everyone on planet Earth. When you really get down to it, who can say for sure that 2016 had any more loss or terror or heartbreak than any other year, but things seemed to coalesce towards some sort of breaking point through the vortex of inescapable social media.

In any case, it’s been a hard year for me personally in a lot of respects. I don’t want to dwell on it too heavily, especially with 2017 right around the corner (though 2017 doesn’t look to be shaping up to be much better…), but I will admit to this much. If 2014 and 2015 were years I focused on recovering my health and working hard to stay alive in the face of some pretty bad odds, 2016 often made me wonder why I had bothered.

I got low, but it wasn’t all lows. So, in the interest of faking it til you make it, here are the things that made this year worth it to me.

The Good Bits of 2016

My nephew.

The greatest thing to happen this year was the birth of my first nephew, Jude, the best baby in the history of all babies. (Plus, he’s a great excuse to play the Beatles.)


To be fair, Hamilton happened in 2015. But it’s not at all like I let it go in 2016. I listened to it more than is probably healthy. I bought the vinyl. I watched the documentary and LMM’s Drunk History. I got my mom obsessed. And then the mixtape happened. And then I got the Hamiltome for Christmas. So yeah, it just keeps on going.

My Favorite Murder

I’ve been a true crime addict ever since I was a bitty baby watching Unsolved Mysteries in the 80s (and suffering many subsequent nightmares.) I’ve never been a big fan of podcasts, but when I heard about My Favorite Murder, hosted by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, it seemed right up my alley. And oh, how it is.

One of the best things about MFM is that it opened up a community so that suddenly I realized there are so many people out there just like me. I’ve had a couple of problems with the way Karen and Georgia sometimes express their thoughts (particularly regarding body shaming and mental health in a few episodes), but they are honest about being human and making mistakes and always striving to be better. Plus, they are able to take truly awful things and find humor in them.

My motto throughout 2016 has definitely been Stay sexy, and don’t get murdered.

Yuri!!! on Ice.

Yuri!!! on Ice almost single-handedly saved this year for me. I watched the entire series twice in the space of just a few days, and it makes me so damned happy. An anime about figure skating, anxiety, and true love, YOI is so sweet and funny. And the animation, particularly the skating sequences, is breathtaking. YOI has it all. Puppies. Sexy men lounging around hotsprings. A Canadian jackass. Excellent music (or at least- music that starts out corny but somehow becomes progressively more excellent each time you hear it). Pork cutlet bowls. Drunk pole dancing. A surly Russian teen with impeccable fashion sense. It is, basically, perfection, and I don’t yet know how I’m going to survive the wait for more.

Live music.

Something I really miss about my twenties is all the concerts I used to go to. I only managed to make it to two live shows this year, but they were really amazing ones.

In February, I splurged on myself and drove all the way to Nashville to see the tenth anniversary tour for Jenny Lewis’s Rabbit Fur Coat. It was a really special celebration of one of my favorite albums [And Jimmy Buffett showed up!!!].

In October, I saw Kaleo with Bishop Briggs. I already liked Bishop Briggs’ single, but live she was so much more dynamic and incredible than I was prepared for. And Kaleo just blew me away. (Their album, A/B, was one of my favorites of the year, and one day they’re going to be superstars.) It’s been a really, really long time since I stood in the front row of a tiny club to hear rock and roll. It was a feeling I’d thought I’d forgotten.

Here’s one of Kaleo’s songs that I absolutely adore:

Books with my name in them. 

When I was in first grade, my school published a “book” of stories written by the students, including two of mine. But whoever typed up those books made one crucial mistake….they spelled my name wrong.

I have been trying to correct that injustice for twenty five years. It may seem silly, but that typo in my name has been one of my biggest motivators to seeing my real name in print. I’ve had stories in online journals before, but this year, for the first time ever, I got to see my name. In. A. Real. Book. Look!


It was so fucking cool.

Now I just need to get my name on the cover of a book.

Books without my name in them*. 

This is still a book review blog, if only in name, because I haven’t figured out what to do with it yet. So let’s make some space to call out the books that kept me sane in 2016. I read significantly less than I have in years past (as of this writing, it looks like I will top out the year at 97 books), but as always they were what I turned to whenever the world went pear-shaped.

Most of what I read was pretty good, tbh. But here were my absolute favorites, vaguely in order of when I read them:

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Sarah Vowell- Lafayette in the Somewhat United States , Jhumpa Lahiri- The Lowland, Lily King- Euphoria


Roan Parrish- In the Middle of Somewhere, KJ Charles- Think of England, Marissa Meyer- Winter


Marie Brennan- In the Labyrinth of Drakes , Naomi Novik- Uprooted, N.K. Jemisin- The Fifth Season


Lyndsay Faye- Jane Steele, Tana French- The Trespasser, Cat Sebastian- The Soldier’s Scoundrel, Celeste Ng- Everything I Never Told You

*I give up on trying to format this correctly . WordPress what the fuck are you doing? 

Well my lovely friends, that’s all. Have as happy a New Year as you can. My dearest hope is that all of my crippling fears will turn out to be unfounded. Only time will tell, but in the meantime keep enjoying books and all the other things that make you happy.

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I guess this an eligibility post?

Hi! I am super uncomfortable doing this, but here we go. It’s awards time, and in 2016 I had the good fortune to publish a couple of stories, some of which I even still like. If you are a person who nominates things for stuff (eloquence: I am all about it), here’s the rundown of the short fiction I put out this year, three of which are available in full text online:

You’re Doing The Best You Can” – Daily Science Fiction (February 2016)

“Bone Man and the Sleeping Kings” – The Great Tome of Darkest Horrors and Unspeakable Evils (June 2016)

Ship of Fools” – Unlikely Story- The Journal of Unlikely Observances (June 2016)

Wayfarers“- Luna Station Quarterly (issue 027)

I’m in the process of putting together a list of my favorite fiction of the year, which may end up being a series of Twitter links. What are the best things you’ve read in 2016?


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Writing (or not) when it feels like the world has ended

[This is going to be about post-election feelings. This blog felt like the only place I could really lay them out. You’ve been warned.]

I haven’t written a word of fiction since Tuesday.

No, scratch that. I’ve written about two sentences of revision on a story I sold on Tuesday, news which I was really excited to share with everyone until the world seemed to spiral out of control. But everything else creative has been dried up, covered in a pile of anxiety and sleepless nights and grief.

You’re probably going to say (or, my traitor brain is trying to convince me that you’re going to say): what’s the big deal? So the mediocre writer who can’t sell most of her work anyway and who no one really reads when she is published hasn’t written for all of five days? So fucking what?

Well, it doesn’t really matter to anyone outside of me in the end. It’s just that I’ve always written.

I wrote before I quite knew all of my letters (I would dictate stories to my mom, and have her write them down for me, and then I’d draw the pictures).  When things got confusing, or scary, or I just didn’t want to deal with the world, my imagination was the safe place I went to. The only times I stopped writing for any extended period of time just happen to be the darkest, the hardest, the emptiest.

When it comes down to it, everything I’ve written in my life has been an attempt to understand people, because as a whole they’ve never made all that much sense to me. And I think on Tuesday I came to a realization that I will never understand people, and that really, if they’re all like this, I don’t want to.

I had been writing, pushing through all the anxiety election season was causing me. I was working out notes for a pulp series I was going to attempt, about a ghost hunter/night librarian. I was plucking away through NaNo, happy enough though I was far behind the wordcount goal. I had a couple of short stories I was trying to shape into something salable.

Maybe I’ll get them back.

Maybe I won’t.

Maybe I’ll have to learn to be okay with that.

There’s been sort of a call to arms, or maybe many calls to arms, amongst the writers I orbit on social media, particularly those from marginalized groups. We’re going to need art if we’re going to make it through the next four–or however many–years. We’re going to need stories that protest and stories that bring peace.

Part of the problem is that I don’t know if I have those stories in me. Part of the problem is that, even if I did, I don’t know if I deserve to tell them.

This was something I was grappling with before Tuesday. Even though I write in order to see through other eyes, in the end I can only be who I am, and who I am is a white, cisgender, raised-in-the-suburbs, middle-class female person. And no matter how representational I tried to make my fiction in terms of race, sex, religion, gender, or class, doe any of that matter if I am the messenger? If I get things wrong by mistake, does it make things worse for people? Are my stories worth telling, and are they worth hearing?

These are things I’ve been trying to work through. Now there’s just a much bigger layer of doubt to dig past.

I lost a lot of my youthful political idealism a long time ago. Now, with the election of a man I will not name to the most powerful position on earth, I have lost most of my hope. I don’t want to give him that power. I want to fight back. I want to tell whatever story I have it in me to tell, whether or not its good enough.

But I’m not there yet.

For now, I take sleeping pills. I try to remember to eat, though I haven’t been hungry in five days. I go to work.

I’m trying to give myself space to be. And I hope that soon space to be will mean stories to write after all.


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Review: Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye

25938397Title: Jane Steele

Author: Lyndsay Faye

Rating: 5 stars

Believe it or not, this wretched, never-ending election cycle is giving me the blues. Compounded with shit storms on twitter, base misogyny on full display everywhere you turn, and the slog that is my personal life, and you can color me exhausted by everything 2016 has been. So I’ve found myself recently turning to books I would term revenge fantasies. Books where women take power that is denied them by society, books where women turn society’s expectations on their head and punish the men who do them wrong.

Jane Steele started out as that, for me. Young Jane goes through a tide of almost unbelievable misery in the first quarter of the book, and it  was immensely satisfying when…well, I’ll try not to spoil it too much, but there’s a moment with a letter opener that made me sit up and cheer. I don’t like to think of myself as a violent or vengeful person, but sometimes, with fiction, the catharsis is real.

But Jane Steele is so much more than that. It’s marketed as a murderous retelling of Jane Eyre (the tagline: Reader, I murdered him.), and it is that, sort of. Actually, though, it uses the story of Jane Eyre more as scaffolding for the twisty, pulpy adventures of our titular heroine, Jane Steele. In some ways, it actually reminded me of being an English major undergrad, as Steele approaches her favorite book  from an analytical, critical point of view, referring back to it strengthen points in the narrative of her own life.

So, here’s the basic plot. Orphaned young, Jane is at the mercy of her spiteful aunt and her horrible cousin, Edward. Her escape, of sorts, is to Lowan Bridge* school, a truly horrific place run by an unrepentant sexual predator. (This is where that letter opener comes in.)  Jane escapes to London with her best friend, has a series of highs and lows there, and eventually learns that her terrible aunt is dead and her old home, Highgate House, has been occupied by one Charles Thornfield, who is conveniently in search of an unconventional governess. Determined to get back what’s hers by any means necessary, Jane takes on a new name, never expecting to fall in love with Thornfield, his precocious charge, or his best friend Sardar Singh and a household full of Sikh soldiers.

Part of what I loved about Jane Steele was the representation. It’s queer. It’s intersectional. Most of Thornfield’s household, including he himself, are Sikhs. Charles was born in Punjab and grew up alongside the people who have given up everything to travel to England to help him protect his ward. They take on the guise of silent servants to blend in better with the English countryside, but they are fully realized characters who act and speak and have agency as opposed to mysterious brown devils. (I’m looking at you, The Moonstone.) I can hardly count myself an expert on Sikhism, but a good deal of the novel hinges around it, and treats the religion seriously, and so I actually learned a lot about something I knew nothing of before encountering this book.

That said, plot-wise, there are some patently ridiculous things. Hidden jewels. Dogged police inspectors. Dramatic falls from horseback. The reason these elements work is that they are so obviously intentional, a conversation Faye has with the pulp adventures of the nineteenth century. Plus, there is the romance. I was willing to stomach pretty much any silly plot detail for the sake of Charles Thornfield, who was a truly magnificent hero.

Jane Steele is a modern heroine set in place centuries past, but one that still resembles our world in ways few people probably care to admit. I read her tale at the perfect moment for me, a time when I really needed the catharsis she could provide. I can’t wait to see what other tricks Lyndsay Faye, a new-to-me author, has up her sleeves.

*Lowan Bridge is also based on the very real Cowan Bridge school, where two of the Bronte sisters died.

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Review: Holy Sh*t by Melissa Mohr

16225525Title: Holy Shit: a Brief History of Swearing

Author: Melissa Mohr

Rating: 5 stars

I’ve been trying to read more nonfiction this year. I really love books about language, and I really, really fucking love swearing. [Whenever I publish a story, my mother always has a comment about the bad words.]

Combine these things and you get Holy Shit,  a book that checked all of my boxes and then some.

In Holy Shit Mohr traces the development of the individual words we class obscenities themselves, but she also puts swearing into context throughout history. There was the medieval era, where obscenity very much was an outgrowth of oath swearing, and where the most shocking things you could ever say were religious in nature–the “holy.” There was the Victorian era, where the rise of privacy and civility gave bodily and sexual functions auras of shame–the “shit.” And a variety of degrees beyond and between.

Most interesting to me was the opening section on obscenity in Ancient Rome. I found it fascinating to see how an entirely foreign cultural mindset could be described through what words people did–or did not–find shocking. But really, this book is full of fascinating information, and all kinds of little tidbits that I never knew I needed to know.

If you’re intimidated by the idea of a “language book” (some of them can be really difficult to read and obscure), don’t be in this case. Holy Shit is an easy, fun read–as long as you’re okay seeing a lot of uncensored obscenity. (If anything in this review has offended you, then you definitely don’t want to pick up this book. It deals with many, many words, even some that I won’t commit to print.) It’s a fascinating cultural history, and one I particularly enjoyed.

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I wrote a thing…

…and somebody published that thing!

This month I’m over at Luna Station Quarterly with my story “Wayfarers.” Check out it and the rest of the amazing issue right here.

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