Bookstore and Borderline

These days I do most of my reading on my Kindle. It’s portable and easy to support when I’m lying on my side in bed (which is where I do a lot of my reading). The only downside is that for convenience’s sake, I wind up giving a lot of my book budget to Amazon. So, in the name of supporting local businesses, I do try to buy something whenever I find myself in an actual bookstore.

Even big box stores like Barnes & Noble won’t always have exactly what I’m looking for, so I feel like it’s best to go in without specific goals. Almost anywhere will order a book for me if it’s not on the shelves, of course, but I find joy in aimless browsing.

I love it when stores have displays that highlight the employee’s favorites. Who better to recommend a book that the people who work in the bookstores? A couple weeks ago a placard caught my eye at the Savoy Bookshop. I don’t recall the name of the staff member, but the novel was Borderline by Mishell Baker. The description seemed to be full of things that I like—urban fantasy, adventure, fairies—so I bought it.

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I was and still am immensely pleased with my decision. Borderline isn’t a short book (around 400 pages) but I tore through it in less than two days. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since.

The story centers on Millie, a former film student and double amputee with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) living in Los Angeles. A year after the suicide attempt that cost Millie her legs, she gets offered a job with the mysterious Arcadia Project. Enticed by the prospect of re-entering the world and possibly the film industry, she accepts.

The Arcadia Project is a pseudo-governmental agency that regulates traffic between the human and fairy worlds. A gate hidden in Los Angeles allows fey creatures to travel to the human world, but there are strict rules about what they can do while they’re here. The fairies in Borderline play to a lot of the same tropes that we’ve come to expect. They’re sensitive to iron, they can’t lie, they’re functionally immortal and can change their appearance at will. Still, most of them move effortlessly in the modern world, moonlighting as movie stars or bartenders without humans catching on.

The plot is twisty, fast-paced, and fun. Millie and her new coworkers are assigned to track down a missing member of the fey nobility, which leads them to a deeper conspiracy involving both fairies and humans. Millie’s narrating voice really shines. She’s self-depreciating but smart, capable in many ways but vulnerable in others. Her disabilities aren’t just set dressing, nor are they treated as blessings in disguise. They’re indelible parts of her life, and they create challenges that need to be considered just as seriously as any supernatural threats.

One of my favorite things was the interaction between Millie and the other members of the Arcadia Project—her enigmatic boss Caryl, her cranky idealistic partner Teo, and her delightfully catty rival Gloria, among others. They come this close to being a heartwarming found family, but the book doesn’t give them quite enough time to get past their own emotional baggage. The opportunity to learn more about the whole cast is one of the reasons I’m glad to hear there’s a sequel scheduled for 2017.

That was my discovery this month. What’s been your best bookstore find recently? Let me know in the comments, and have a great week!

Songs That Remind Me of Books, Science Fiction Edition

My post on songs that remind me of fantasy novels is here. Like I said, these book-to-song associations have more to do with the workings of my own brain than with actual plot or lyrical content. I know there are dozens of rock songs that directly quote or name drop 1984, but you’ve probably heard of those already. Here are some tunes that remind me of my favorite dystopias and space operas:

“Pompeii” by Bastille and Biting the Sun by Tanith Lee

Biting the Sun, originally published as the two novellas Don’t Bite the Sun and Drinking Sapphire Wine, is one of my all-time favorite dystopias. In this vision of the future, there are no evil overlords intent on oppressing the human race. Instead, there are just super-helpful robots who are intent on doing everything for us. Bored and disaffected by all the state-sanctioned hedonism, the heroine goes to great lengths to find authenticity in her own life. There is a volcano, actually, but that’s only a warm-up act to the disasters that take place later on, leaving the characters wondering what life after is going to look like.

“Team” by Lorde and the Uglies Series by Scott Westerfield

There’s something a little dystopian about a lot of Lorde’s songs—it seemed really fitting that she has a song on the soundtrack to the Mockingjay movie. “Team” in particular seems to speak to a life lived off the grid, breaking rules and living by your own code. Uglies, like Biting the Sun, imagines a world where humans are provided with every possible luxury and the chance to be inhumanly beautiful. Over the course of the trilogy, the main characters find out that there’s a hidden cost for all of it, and they have to decide if the compromise is worth it.

“The Gambler” by Fun and The Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold

I spent the summer of 2012 working at summer school, drinking at bars, playing in bands, reading every book in the Vorkosigan Saga, and listening to the albums Aim and Ignite and Some Nights on a constant loop. It makes some sense, then, that I relate the music of the band Fun with the works of author Lois McMaster Bujold. “The Gambler” is one of my favorite tracks for a lot of reasons—the lyrical melody, the surprise French horn solo, and the way a 4-minute song manages to tell the whole history of a family. Bujold’s series is like that, too. Each book stands alone, but the saga taken together tells the story of Miles Vorkosigan and the people caught up in his orbit. The most recent entry, Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, is my favorite book of 2016 so far.

“Hands Clean” by Alanis Morissette and Crystal Line by Anne McCaffrey

 

I’ve written before about my love for the audiobook of McCaffrey’s Crystal Singer trilogy. The last book, Crystal Line, is the only one I read in print before listening to. It was the winter of 2002, and Alanis Morissette’s “Hands Clean” was all over VH1, my preferred method for experiencing new music, at the time. The lyrics are about a young woman having a secret affair with an older man, rumored to be based on actual events in Morissette’s past. I was thirteen and I hadn’t had a job or a boyfriend yet, let alone a romance with my boss. But Killashandra Ree has exactly that in Crystal Singer. By the third book, that relationship gets swept under the rug thanks to circumstances that I find more chilling as I get older.

That’s my science fiction playlist. Enjoy your week, everyone!