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.

borderlinecover-220x332

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!

The Others

On Friday I wrote about my long-standing obsession with Anne Bishop’s Black Jewels series. If you follow me on Goodreads you know I’ve recently been tearing through some of her more recent books: Written in Red, Murder of Crows, and Visions in Silver, collectively known as Novels of the Others or the Others series. The fourth installment, Marked in Flesh, comes out on Tuesday, and I will likely be getting at that sooner rather than later.

Covers for this series have been upgrade to "boring but not terrible"
Covers for this series have been upgrade to “boring but not terrible”

These books are like potato chips, or Girl Scout cookies, or something else that I can’t eat just one of. The escapism value is very high.

The Others series is based around this question: what if European settlers came to the Americas and found, instead of other humans, a race of shape-shifting predators? The answer: lots of bloodshed, then some trade agreements and a tenuous peace.

It’s a little more complicated that that, but not much. The point is not carefully plotted alternate history, the point is interesting monsters.

The titular Others, who call themselves terra indigene or Earth Natives, can appear human, but transform into wolves, bears, crows, and other animals, depending on what region their ancestors were from. There are also the Sanguinati, a vampire race, and some Elementals that control the weather. Most of them are not fond of humans, except as a meal.

Every human city in Thasia (alternate North America) has an Others-only settlement at its center known as a courtyard. Meg Corbyn works as a human liaison for the one such courtyard. She accepts shipments of human goods and can act as a go-between in Other-human transactions. Most humans would avoid a job that forced them to live and work among a species that regards them as “clever meat,” but Meg is on the run from some human predators and decides the courtyard is the perfect place to hide.

Simon Wolfgard, the leader of the courtyard, hires Meg when she shows up in the middle of a snowstorm. He’s considered very progressive for a terra indigene leader, since he allows humans some access to the courtyard. Still, he distrusts them as a rule. A group of human hunters shot his sister and left Simon in custody of her traumatized son, Sam.

murder of crows

I mentioned in my Goodreads review of Written in Red that I love how Bishop doesn’t pull her punches when it comes to the Others. There are no vegetarian vampires or werewolves in Thasia. Humans who think they can attack the Others wind up eaten. The Others politely leave the victims’ wallets at a designated spot for the human police, who can inform their next-of-kin.

And yes, Simon and co. are still the good guys.

Meg’s story, which comes out in bits and pieces, is that she’s a cassandra sangue, a blood prophet. A rare genetic mutation causes her to see the future every time her skin is cut. Most prophets have a short life span, since the act of cutting is addictive and they die after the thousandth cut.

The plot sometimes focuses on Meg’s struggle to remain free (and later on her efforts to help other blood prophets) and sometimes on the conflicts between humans and the terra indigene. In the middle of all the fighting and atrocities committed by both sides, though, there’s also a lot of slice-of-life, wish-fulfillment stuff going on. I feel like someone’s having a movie night or baking cookies every other chapter. Meg’s liaison job is pretty cushy. She gets free lunches and scoots around in a little golf cart making deliveries. She gets to feed ponies and snuggle with her new wolf friends. Where do I sign up?

vision in silver

Simon and Meg seem like the obvious endgame couple, but the pace of the romancing is glacially slow. Which makes sense, when you consider the fact that a) Meg’s still adjusting to life in the world and doesn’t have a lot of time to consider dating, and b) they are literally members of different species. That’s not an obstacle in some paranormal romances, but in this universe it’s a big one.

You can probably already see the problems inherent in the set-up. The descriptions of Meg cutting herself, or wanting to cut, have the potential to be very triggering to anyone with a history of self-harm. Then again, there may be others who would feel like the descriptions affirm their own experience. I can’t say; I have no first hand experience here.

The other thing that bothers me is the parallel between the Others/terra indigene and real-life indigenous peoples of North America. It’s cool to imagine a fantasy of cohabitation instead of imperialism. But to accomplish that, Bishop had to replace Native Americans with monsters that eat people. This kind of fantasy racism isn’t uncommon in the genre, but it is offensive.

This comes out tomorrow but my March book budget is already mostly gone. Maybe the library will come through for me.
This comes out tomorrow but my March book budget is already mostly gone. Maybe the library will come through.

None of this was enough to stop me from finishing the books. Nothing’s perfect, and these are really fun. If you’re into urban fantasy, I definitely recommend them.

I hope everyone is having the most wonderful Monday it is possible to have. I’ll see you in a couple of days with a Magicians recap!

Post-Vacation Post

Good morning! Welcome to the last week of February. I was lucky enough to be on vacation last week in sunny Florida. The weather was beautiful and it was very relaxing.

I saw some quality sunsets
I saw some quality sunsets

I am getting close to my kind-of-self-imposed, kind-of-not deadline for finishing the current draft of my novel. I’ll be honest; I’m not as far along as I’d like to be. I thought I’d reached the point of mostly cutting things out rather than writing new stuff, but that’s not entirely true. Even where I am able to cut a whole section, patching up the bits around it so everything still makes sense is important. I’m still learning a lot, which is important.

In order to make this deadline, I’m giving myself permission to be a novelist and nothing else this week. For the next five days, everything takes a backseat to that, including this blog. I’ll still post about Magicians on Wednesday, but it may be shorter than usual. Hopefully by Friday morning I will have some hopeful news to share about my progress.

Thanks for being patient with me, everyone.

Before I go drink my coffee and get underway, I wanted to share some of what I read over the past week. Maybe being on the beach just makes me happier about everything, but I didn’t pick up a book I didn’t like the whole time. Here they are:

Written in Red, by Anne Bishop– I loved this, and I’m almost embarrassed by how long it took me to try this series. I want to write a longer post about this one soon, but for now I’ll say that it’s an urban fantasy that subverts a lot of the tropes about vampires/werewolves/shape-shifters that have been popular in recent years.

Murder of Crows, by Anne Bishop– Sequel to above, also very, very good. I finished this on Friday and found out my library doesn’t have the third one. I’ll be over here counting the minutes until I can start spending March’s book budget (February’s is long gone, natch).

Forbidden, Beverly Jenkins– A new historical romance that takes place in a mining town in Nevada just after the Civil War. The main players are Rhine, a former slave who has become a wealthy and respected member of the white community thanks to his passing looks, and Eddy, the daughter of former slaves who has ambitions to move to California and start her own restaurant.

Wench, by Dolen Perkins-Valdez– The story of four slave women who are mistresses to their white owners in the 1850s. This one is heartbreaking. I had to keep reading because I wanted a happy ending so much, for any of these characters.

That’s all for today. I hope everyone has a wonderful week full of books and other happy things.