I binge-watched HBO’s The Gilded Age (created by Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame) over the past couple weeks, and I have thoughts: I LOVED IT! Since I’m seeing some mixed feelings about this show from other period drama fans, I thought I’d share what I loved–and the one thing I’m a little weird about.
One of my bookish pet peeves is when people proudly declare that they don’t read a particular genre or type of fiction. “I don’t read romance/YA/comic books/memoirs/…” Weird flex, but okay?
I firmly believe people should read–and not read–whatever they want without judgement from others. But taking pride in what we don’t read (and haughtily announcing it as often as possible) just comes across like we’re calling people idiots if they do read it.
Maybe I’m extra sensitive to it because I’m a big fan of YA books, and next to steamy romance, there’s no category that gets more guff. People get so catty about how they don’t read YA… like it makes them better than people who do. Whether these people have ever actually read YA or not, they’re usually completely off the mark about what YA is about.
If you don’t know, Young Adult (aka “YA”) is a marketing category for books that target readers in the 12 to 18 age range. The key word, however, is “targeting” which doesn’t mean “exclusively for.” It just means books in this category have wide appeal in that age range and are age-appropriate. Vegetable cookbooks have wide appeal for vegetarians and are vegetarian-appropriate, but that doesn’t mean meat-eaters won’t enjoy the recipes.
“But why would adults enjoy juvenile stories and simplistic writing?” Why wouldn’t they? But also, that’s not what most YA books are like. In fact, the moral complexity of themes explored in YA rivals that of adult fiction, and the backdrops of these stories are often anything but simplistic. Right now I’m reading a YA contemporary romance called Pride by Ibi Zoboi. It’s a Pride and Prejudice retelling that tackles cultural identity, class, and gentrification in an Afro-Latino neighborhood in Brooklyn–and, yes, it’s YA. I’ve read sweeping YA fantasies set in dark and gritty worlds that ask complicated questions about trauma, vengeance, and finding justice in an unjust world. And YA urban fantasies that take on the power of myth and the complexity of family. One of my favorite YA sci-fi series is set in a terraformed universe with cities reminiscent of Blade Runner and wild frontiers like something out of Firefly, that examines corporate power and corruption along with class struggles, survival, trust, and culpability. So, yeah… YA novels are more complex than they get credit for, but that’s actually beside the point.
What I really wanted to say here is that everything isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. If teenage crime bosses, 17-year-old heart-of-gold hackers, myth-obsessed treasure hunting high schoolers, and young survivalists who aren’t as human as they think they are isn’t your cup of tea, that’s fine, but why wear it like a badge of superiority? Same with any genre or category of fiction whether it’s steamy romances or comic books or celebrity memoirs. It’s okay if you don’t like something, but, don’t be snippy about it. Y’know… let people enjoy things?
When I heard Julia Blake was writing a steampunk retelling of Snow White, I thought two things:
And IT WAS!
Julia Blake is a master at crafting intriguing but believable settings, and filling them with vibrant characters you can’t help but adore. With the Dwarvians of Black Ice, in particular, I fell in love completely and genuinely wanted to be part of their close-knit band. Completely humble-yet-swoonworthy Ronin, sweet old Arden and wise old Grein, lovable young Eli, no-nonsense Kylah, the lovely and talented Fae, brooding and mysterious Nylex, and the wise and cunning Greta… all so unique and well rendered, they came completely to life in my head.
So often with fantasy, it feels like more effort is put into the world building than the actual plot, but that isn’t the case here. Julia Blake excels at balancing plot and setting, giving the reader a strong sense of the story’s world without letting it overwhelm everything else. The Five Kingdoms was a fascinating land with a natural and believable back story, including the rise of the dangerous and power-hungry Contratulum and its surprising counterparts, which made for unusual and intriguing villains.
The twisting and turning plot kept me turning the pages, and I absolutely loved the low-tech meets high-tech sensibility created by the steampunk technology. It was all woven into the plot in a way that felt so natural and believable, it was steampunk in the truest sense.
If you’re a fan of sweeping fantasies, adventure-filled steampunk, ensemble casts, or fairy tale retellings, this is a book you’ll definitely want to pick up!
I hoped to start 2021 with a post about big plans for the year. The stressors of 2020 felt like water under the bridge, and I was sure things would be better. Then January actually happened, and my 2020 stress levels were back in spades. The good news is I had all year to figure out how to make progress even when I’m stressed out of my gourd, so here are some of my favorite tips. I hope they help you, too!
#1 Writing Space Ambience – One thing I learned in 2020 is that having a cozy, welcoming writing space makes all the difference when I’m stressed out but I need to focus. Sometimes just turning on my fairy lights and glitter lamp, putting a candle on the warmer, and turning on some soft music is enough to bring me out from under the storm clouds long enough to get some work done. Wherever you do your writing, anything you can do to cozy it up can help!
#2 Relaxing Music – I’ve always been a fan of putting music on when I work, but I only recently discovered “Cafe Music” or “Coffee Jazz,” which is soft jazz, slow or lightly upbeat, like you’d expect to hear in a chic modern coffee shop. There are many YouTube channels offering a variety of options. Cafe Music BGM and Relax Cafe Music are two of my favorites.
#3 Ambience Rooms & Ambient Music – Sometimes I need to work on a scene and soft jazz isn’t going to cut it. Ambience rooms are YouTube videos with themed music and imagery. Need to write a scene set on a stormy coast, a wizard’s study, or the great hall of a drafty castle? No problem! These videos rose in popularity because of tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons, but they’re great for writers, too. Check out Michael Ghelfi – RPG Ambiences & Music, The Vault of Ambience, and Ambient Worlds. If you’re looking for relaxing music with a touch of ambient sound, channels to try are Cozy Autumn and Fantasy & World Music by the Fiechters.
#4 Writing, Planning, & Bookish Vlogs – There are days when things are too bonkers for me to get words on the page, but I still want to be productive. On these days I’m super thankful for YouTube vloggers who put together helpful, relaxing, and fun to watch videos. Writing tips, publishing advice, planner layouts and “plan with me” videos, book reviews, countdowns and lists… and get this, CLEAN WITH ME! I find these all incredibly motivating. Even if I’m not in a working mood, I can fill my head with all sorts of helpful things or just get a motivation boost. A few current authorly favorites are Heart Breathings, Writing with Jenna Moreci, Hannah Lee Kidder, WriteHollyDavis, and Author Brittany Wang.
#5 My Kanban Board Planner – This is the one I’m the most excited to share! One of the best things I learned on the Heart Breathings vlog (and a big hat tip to my CP Elle for first mentioning it to me) was about “kanban boards,” which in simple terms is a board that helps you keep track of the tasks needed to complete your goals. Sarra at Heart Breathings uses a dry erase board in three sections (to do, in progress, and completed), but I don’t have room for a whole board, so made one in an old Happy Planner!
I used a hard cover and three sets of the laminated covers. The inside of each set equals one board. The end result is super compact but does the job perfectly. I don’t have the post-its/tasks filled out just yet, but even just looking at it makes me feel motivated to get work done.
And that’s my first blog for 2021! Hoping to have a new “5 Things” blog and possibly a book review for February, so keep an eye out and have a great month!
I was intrigued by the blurb of Knight in Paper Armor, which promised a dystopian thriller with unusual characters battling familiar humanitarian issues and a villain that sounds shockingly believable in the modern landscape of corporate greed over human welfare. On that promise, this book delivered in spades. The story and setting were imaginative and compelling, and the two main characters were unique and well rendered. It’s so unusual to read about a Jewish protagonist outside of historical fiction, and even more unusual in speculative fiction, so that added many interesting layers to the story. It was fascinating to learn as the author shared details from his own cultural background, explored the lasting cultural trauma of the Holocaust, and also examined shared themes and parallels between the treatment of Jewish Americans and Latinx immigrants.
While I enjoyed the premise, setting, and characters, some of the prose lacked the oomph I was hoping for and I struggled with the dialogue, which didn’t feel natural to me. There was a lot of “man,” “bro,” “dude,” and “like,” even from small children, which consistently pulled me out of the story. There were some logic disconnects for me as well, but that’s on me, not the author. Overall, I thought this was a really different, fascinating take on one version of a future that could await us if we don’t decide to put humanity before greed.