Naamah’s Curse

I’ve never read a more beautiful, terrifying story.

If you know me, you know that a basically Pagan Celtic protagonist driven by her soul’s passion to form meaningful connections with people is…well, me. Reading characters that so closely mirror ourselves can be an interesting exercise. You learn a lot about yourself.

In reading this book—which is now my #2 favorite book of all time (second only to The Amber Spyglass—I learned so much about myself through the emotions that the story woke in me.

Moirin has an untouched innocence. She can be naive at times, sure, but I’m speaking more of the purity of someone born from Nature, unspoiled by civilization. Her heart has no bounds, and her travels lead her to make meaningful connections again and again and again. It’s lovely.

This volume in the trilogy takes us to the northern fields above Ch’in, and then west to Vralia, where a religion parallel to reality’s Christianity is on the rise. Then we travel all the way south to Bhodistan, which represents India.

The events in Vralia hit home for me. There’s a particular brand of horror out there for everyone—one thing that you are soul-deep afraid of, more than anything else. This portion of the book plucked that chord for me. I won’t give away the exact circumstances, but what Moirin faces there was so terrifying to me that I seriously considered putting down the book despite the gorgeous writing quality and how much I love the characters. I’ll say only that my religion is sacred to me, and I had to question whether I would possess the same strength as Moirin, or whether I would break under those circumstances. It’s a valuable thing, coming up against your true limits and finding out what’s on the other side. I did it with my pregnancy. I hope I would come out whole on the other side of what Moirin goes through in this section.

Then, offered almost as a balm for the terror-filled ache caused by the preceding events, Moirin’s time in Bhodistan is so moving and beautiful that I cried happy tears. She meets wonderful characters, and Carey proves yet again how strong and resilient her characters can be.

Ideally we would live in a world where strong, complex female characters were flooding the market. Since that isn’t quite the case, I’ll say that Carey’s fiction is a welcome respite from the harsh realities of a world where the political landscape makes you feel less than lucky to have been born a woman. Carey’s heroines are everything a young girl would want to aspire to, and her heroes are representations of truly equal men who aren’t threatened by powerful women, but seek to support them. The pairings in these novels are beautiful, and each partner seeks to complement the other. True equality, as it is meant to be lived.

This trilogy touches my heart and soul. Every bit of it resonates with me. I would recommend it most highly to anyone who wants to get to know me better, and aside from that any fans of Carey’s writing will love these. Fans of speculative fiction flavored with mythology and alternate history would enjoy these immensely, and anyone looking for female role models should definitely read them.

Star Ratings (on Goodreads)

I was thinking a lot about the way I rate books on Goodreads. The 5-star system is pretty effective to capture my thoughts.

1-star: I typically don’t rate books that I’ve rage-quit, because what’s the point? Those would probably get a single star, if I did. I just don’t feel right giving an opinion on something that I haven’t fully experienced. So you probably won’t see any books with only one star in my ratings.

2-stars: These are the books I finished but didn’t enjoy. Sometimes I don’t enjoy them because of craft reasons—my MFA has changed my tastes in a lot of ways, though I don’t want to imply that my tastes are objective by any means. Ratings are always subjective. Totally dependent on the person’s tastes. You probably won’t see many written reviews on my 2-star books. I tend to write them up so that I have them for later reference (in case I need a reminder about the book or my opinion on it), then never post them publicly. It’s hard enough being an author without having a bunch of people slam your work. And there’s just no way to tell if I don’t like it for a purely subjective reason that’s totally out of their control, or if I genuinely think that their writing sucks by all conventional standards. *shrug*

3-stars: These are the good books that I enjoy but probably won’t go back to re-read. They’re either not in my main wheelhouse, not executed in ways that catch my love and attention, or have some faults that are glaring enough that I can’t be wholly enthusiastic about them. I will usually post my reviews about these, though I always feel a little bad doing so, because anything but a rave review can be hurtful, depending on the author who’s reading them.

4-stars: Books I really enjoy and would be happy to re-visit/re-read. Awesome execution, compelling characters, interesting worlds—there’s a lot that can catch my eye, and with any 4-star book there’s something I really love about it.

5-stars: The best of the best. Top of all lists. These books touched my heart and changed my life. I don’t give out five star ratings often, because they really have to make an impact. There are books I’ve read ten or more times and they won’t get five stars from me, because that’s how exclusive that club is. (That said, my five-star rating books aren’t for everyone. Usually they hit me in the feels in very specific ways, and other people might consider them 4-star books, rather than 5. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. :D)

Dark Tempest

Okay, real talk: I wanted more of this book as soon as I finished listening to it, so I went back to halfway through and listened to the second half again. I wasn’t ready to move on to the third, because that’s too close to the end of the trilogy, and I never want that to happen. So I just listened to more of Dark Tempest again. 🙂

I’ve already recommended these books to a bunch of people, and I’m not even done reading them. I want more of Emi and Shiro. This story is SO good. The characters are deep and well crafted and intriguing. The mythos is woven in so well.

I think my favorite thing about this second book in the trilogy was the pacing. There’s this amazing balance between despair and hope that Annette Marie handles so beautifully well. It’s truly impressive. The midpoint had me on the absolute edge of my seat, ignoring everything in the real world until I found out what happened next. The thing is, with more time left in the books, you think she couldn’t possibly kill off the major characters. Except you don’t know that she won’t, and you start to get really really scared that she will…

It’s pretty fabulous, the way she keeps you guessing. The suspense is thrilling, the payoff at the end of battles always gives me the feels, even while circumstances are set up for the next big battle, the next potential death. I’ve rarely seen pacing this wonderful in any book.

Now, the next bit that I want to say has some spoiler potential, so do me a favor and go read the book, then come back to read the rest of this review. I just have to comment about it, because it’s refreshing and wonderful. But I don’t want to spoil anything for you—and you don’t want anything to be spoiled, either, so do yourself a solid and don’t read the following until you’ve finished the book!

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

You know in Star Wars, how Han Solo basically corners Leia before he kisses her, and that’s supposed to be sexy because he’s a big strong man she can’t say no to? Or in Indiana Jones, where he literally pulls a woman toward him with a friggin whip and forces her into his arms? Well, those are pretty good examples of societal sexist microaggressions. Somehow we started promoting the narrative that ignoring a woman’s resistance was sexy. That’s shitty and awful and creates all kinds of weird and disturbing conflicts in a girl’s mind. Srsly. SO. It’s no surprise that my favorite fucking line of this entire book is: “Do you want me to move?”

I mean, how amazing is that? How AWESOME is it of Annette Marie to weave in this layer of CONSENT between Emi and Shiro? Seriously the sexiest thing ever. Remember all the feels you got when you read the line in the first book: “Do you promise?” I remember all mine. It was epic and aching and wonderful. But “Do you want me to move?” is better. Different emotions, different subtext. I consider it a fucking victory for all women. So thank you, Annette Marie, for writing that so well. You’re awesome. ❤

Lirael

Please excuse me while I gush about one of my favorite books ever.

SO GOOD.

The world you get in Sabriel is amazing and beautiful and dark and you get EVEN MORE of it in Lirael. Not to mention a protagonist who you might be able to identify with a lot more, if you’re anything like me. I actually love Sabriel, but in a way that absolutely pales in comparison to how much I love Lirael, as soon as I read this book. I didn’t know what I was missing, and then there it was, and it was so satisfying.

Lirael’s journey starts out with less physical journey-ing in the beginning. Sabriel kind of sets off right away in her book, but Lirael doesn’t do that. For good reason. We get to spend some time really getting to know her fears, her motivations, her history, all the feels before we get plunged into more by-the-map journeying.

Mogget is still my favorite, but I know about half the population would like the predominant secondary character in this book more than Mogget. Dog is just—a whole different level. Fans of Ponch from the Young Wizards series will absolutely love her. I absolutely love her, though I still love Mogget just a tiny bit more throughout the books.

I think my favorite thing about Lirael, as a character, is that she’s so awkward. She’s realistic, she’s unsure of herself, but brave when she really needs to be. That rings true, for me. So much of this book hit home with me, right in the gut. There’s so much beauty and darkness warring in this world, and within the characters. Life can be sucky and awful sometimes but everyone is still fighting in the name of Life, metaphorically and literally.

There’s one particular scene where Lirael sort of finds out who she is, and it’s juxtaposed with another character, Sameth, finding out who he’s not, and it’s just beautiful. Perfectly timed, and perfectly at odds, and since you care about the characters you can feel both feelings.

You can probably tell that I enjoy re-reading these books every few years. It’s been awesome to re-read them with actual new content to look forward to, in the form of Goldenhand. New and old fans can be glad that Nix decided to continue this really fabulous series. Keep reading, because you’ll want to get to Goldenhand—spoiler: it’s really good.

Gangsterland

This book is smart, and funny, and it surprised me in good ways. I shouldn’t be surprised, of course. If anyone can write a creative, funny, yet still emotionally evocative gangster novel, it’d be Tod Goldberg.

This novel was inspired by a short story that Tod wrote, included in his collection OTHER RESORT CITIES. Those stories are all fantastic, by the way, and you should go read them, too. I read them in undergrad, on assignment from my creative writing professor Tyler Dilts. Then Tyler had Tod come out to our class to talk to everyone, and I stayed after class and grilled Tod about the MFA program he runs, and he invited me out to come visit it for a day. Changed my life.

Tod is an excellent teacher, an amazing program director, and a freaking good writer. You can see that last one plain and simple in GANGSTERLAND. The Chicago Mafia’s best hit man is shipped off to Las Vegas to be put in hiding. He gets facial reconstruction surgery. He goes undercover as a rabbi. Yep, you read that right. Are you imagining all the potential for humor? It’s prevalent. A rabbi quoting Bruce Springsteen like it’s scripture isn’t something you want to miss.

Beyond the comedy, though, Tod weaves in so much good, heart-wrenching emotion. The protagonist is a “bad” guy. He killed people for a living. I couldn’t help rooting for him every step of the way, though. I want him to succeed. I want him to escape the Feds, and live out his life, and reunite with his wife and kid. There’s a nice parallel narrative, following a Fed on the trail to finding this guy. You feel for the Fed, too. You see how things went wrong in his life, and you want him to have a win, even if you want it to be a small one because you’d rather see the protagonist come out on top.

That’s what I mean when I say this book surprised me. I empathized with the characters, which is hard enough to get readers to do. But I empathized most with the one we would traditionally consider the “bad” guy. And I loved every minute of this. Definitely stayed up too late a couple nights, just to see what happened next. I’m excited for the sequel, GANGSTER NATION.

This book is a must-read for anyone who enjoys a good crime novel. It’s great for everyone who doesn’t enjoy crime novels, too. Really. The writing and the characters are what make this book wonderful, and you’re missing out if you haven’t read it. So go read it, and then you’ll be waiting for the sequel as eagerly as I am.

Will I Ever Be Good Enough?

With the current political climate in America, I think this is a really powerful book to have read. I read it a long time ago, and have been putting off writing the review. Some self-help books are a little too revealing, when you mention that you’ve read them. It can be pretty personal stuff. However, with a President who is likely a narcissist, it all seems a little less personal, and a lot more relevant and scary.

The most important thing this book can give anyone who has had a narcissist in their life at any point, is validation. You are not alone. There’s so much potential for the gaslighting to really convince you that YOU are a bad person. That everyone else LOVES the narcissist and there must be something wrong with you if you don’t like them. Gaslighting, combined with the way the narcissist changes their behavior around other people to give them a different perception, can make you feel so completely and utterly alone. This book will help.

I remember when I first stumbled on a subReddit for people who have had narcissists in their lives. It felt like the most important thing I could possibly discover about my life and my childhood. It was eye-opening and amazing, reading other people’s stories. It brought so much insight and clarity into my particular issues.

The second most important thing this book can give you is an understanding of the other people in your life who have been affected by the same narcissist. Whether you’re the golden child or the scapegoat, understanding how a narcissist can play loved ones against each other is key to healing your relationships with those other people.

The third most important thing this book can give you is the knowledge that the narcissist in your life will likely never acknowledge that they have a problem. It’s well-known, in the world of therapy and psychiatry. Narcissists are some of the hardest people to treat because they just don’t believe they have a problem. There is no “getting better.” There won’t be apologies down the line, or heartfelt realizations and mended fences.

The end of this book pushes for a sort of internal forgiveness, where you come to terms with what has happened to you, learn to set new boundaries, and then let go of your anger. I’m not really able to do that at this point—I can see why it would be useful, but anger is still my best defense right now. However, this book does have a really good direction, with excellent advice. The writing is clear and concise, the stories told are very helpful and illuminating. The author obviously has plenty of experience and knows what she’s talking about, with proven methods that have helped many, many people in these sorts of situations.

I’m so very glad I read this book. It helped me in my personal journey, and hopefully will help others who find themselves in similar situations. My never-ending thanks to the author for creating this and putting it out into the world.

Reckless

I tend to love Cornelia Funke‘s stories, and this one is no different. Having to read all her work in translation is a little disappointing, depending on the skill of the translator and how well her prose survives the transition. The translator of Reckless did a fabulous job, though.

I was expecting Young Adult, like so many of her other books that I enjoy, but instead we get Jacob, probably in his late 20s or early 30s. He is a cynical, tortured soul, and the events and battles are darker and more violent than I was expecting. All in the best possible way. I was continually surprised by the smooth way that Funke folds fairy tale motifs into this new, interesting world.

Fox is my favorite character, and I think we learn more about her in what is NOT said than in what is, which I think denotes excellent writing. The ending, too, is understated compared to what we are used to lately. But it is satisfying in a better way, since you can’t tie up every little complication with a pretty bow in real life.

This is a beautiful book, just strange enough to stand out, and inventive enough to be engaging and exciting. Lovers of fantasy and of fairy tale inspiration would enjoy this one.

Tarzan of the Apes

I love Tarzan. I’m fascinated by the way that some characters can exist beyond their original forms—Tarzan is right up there with Dracula, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland. To say that I’m excited about the coming movie would be a gross understatement. I joke with my friends that going back to work after having the baby is going to be devastating, but I already have the babysitter lined up for when I can leave the kid and go watch this new movie.

I grew up on the Disney version of Tarzan, which in and of itself is pretty great. When I first read the actual book by Edgar Rice Burroughs, though, I realized there was so much more there. There are some minor differences, like Jane actually being American instead of English. Tarzan’s parents built a cabin on the beach instead of an elaborate (and pretty darn cool—way to go, Disney concept artists) treehouse. There’s no close friendship with any of the apes, though in the books Tarzan is said to be friends with Tantor the elephant (though we don’t get to see it in action, at least in the first book).

All these minor differences are great for someone who already loves Tarzan as much as I do. But what about the first-timers, or the people more interested in the style of the writing? Here’s what you get from reading the original Tarzan of the Apes by Burroughs.

The books are classic pulp fiction adventure romances. The narration style is formal, sometimes waxing philosophical, but never straying too far from suspenseful action that keeps you turning the pages. You understand Tarzan on a very basic, primal level, and you admire him, as you would have to admire anyone who can teach themselves to read when they can’t even speak the language they’re reading! The characters and situations are compelling, with enough human error folded in to have you shaking your head at them while still hoping that everything turns out all right.

My first time through, the ending really surprised me. It gave me so much more respect for Tarzan, though. Here is a character who bridges the gap between the most primal instincts and the most proper etiquette and gentlemanly manner. Tarzan is a good person because he hasn’t been corrupted by society, by other men. He operates on his own moral grounds, and is more or less above reproach when we understand why he does what he does.

I’ve talked to my husband about why I like Tarzan so much, and I still can’t fully understand or communicate what it is about him that is so appealing. I’ve always been drawn to more traditional masculine men, just as a matter of personal taste, and Tarzan is pretty much the epitome of that. Temper it with the manners of an English lord, and you’ve got an extremely attractive juxtaposition that I don’t think exists much in reality.

I suppose my attraction to the Tarzan character is rather a moot point, though. For anyone out there who has enjoyed this character on any level, it’s well worth it to read the book. You might be opening a can of worms to some extent, because the following novels are just as good and work to continue the story chronologically, tying up loose ends and offering more elaborate adventures—but they’re quick reads, and essential for the lover of adventure science fiction stories.

Jurassic Park

I’ve had a pretty long love affair with Michael Crichton’s novels. There was a period as a teenager when I picked up everything I could find by him at the used bookstore. Many of my copies are still dog-eared, spine-cracked, disintegrating.

So reading Jurassic Park is like visiting an old friend. Sometimes you uncover some small tidbit about them that you hadn’t known before, but mostly you just bask in an appreciation of the richness of their character, the depth of their experiences. There are probably people out there who dislike Crichton’s writing, dismissing it as too “commercial.” As a speculative fiction writer myself, I obviously don’t suffer from that snobbery. There are novels that are better than others, though, in Crichton’s body of work. I particularly didn’t enjoy Next, and Airframe was thrilling but not very memorable. I remember Prey as being delightfully scary. Jurassic Park, however, carries this beautiful balance between thrill, suspense, and intellectual intrigue.

Crichton has a way of framing the science behind his concepts so that you think it’s entirely plausible. Speaking with a fellow alumni of my graduate program recently, we reached the conclusion that sometimes straight realistic fiction has an edge up by being based solely on what is possible. It requires a lot of research, but there’s a joy to be had from digging deep into an intellectual topic that is different from the joy of creating a fantastical world from the atoms up. Crichton makes you feel like you’re getting all the best parts of his research into a field of science that already exists. I suppose it comes from basing so much of it on methods or practices that do already exist, and that the wider public has heard of. But to stretch gene sequencing and cloning to the point where it is ready to be commercialized and capitalized on… In short, his imagination stretches that final yard and provides the high concept foundations that fascinate us all so much.

Anyone who’s seen the movie Jurassic Park can appreciate that high concept. Dinosaurs, walking the earth alongside humans. How cool! And with such a fantastic movie, it’s hard to imagine that the book could be just as good, or better (which happens so rarely). Part of the beauty of the movie is the richness of the characters. We have a very human connection to these people placed in such an extraordinary circumstance. Crichton’s novel is the birthplace of that. Some authors do concepts really well, some do plot, but Crichton manages to be good at concept AND suspenseful pacing AND rich and relatable characters in this one.

With such a fabulous cinematic translation available, many people might think it unnecessary to also read the novel if they haven’t already. I feel like that would be a mistake along the same lines as thinking you don’t have to read The Princess Bride because you’ve seen the movie. The novel adds a depth that a movie can’t possibly contain. As charismatic and wonderful as Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neill are in their roles, Crichton’s characters rival that on the page. There’s nothing quite like reading one of Malcolm’s diatribes as he’s tripping on morphine. There’s something more in Ellie’s capable nature, an internalized scorn for misogyny that the screenwriters didn’t fully capture when they wrote her part for the movie.

When I hear that one of my writer friends hasn’t read Jurassic Park, I become one of those obnoxious people insisting that they are missing out, that their life can’t possibly be complete until they’ve done so. Missing out on Jurassic Park is different from missing out on something like Harry Potter, or The Hunger Games. Sure, if you enjoy stories, you might be satisfied with just the movie. If you have an appreciation for the intricate balance necessary to write a page-turning human interest thriller with a really cool foothold in scientific possibility, though, you need to read the novel.

The Gifts of Imperfection

This might be the very best nonfiction book I’ve ever read. Aside from writing-craft and various neopagan subject matters, I don’t read a whole lot of nonfiction. Nowhere near as much as my sister, who has all that excellent knowledge and interest in learning theory, child psychology, and various other enriching topics. Still, I would go so far as to say everyone should read this particular book. It’s that good, and that important.

I fell in love with Brene Brown’s TED Talk on the power of vulnerability. Everything she said felt so RIGHT and in line with how I thought everyone should be living their lives. This book takes the meat of that talk and pulls you deeper into it. Expands on everything, makes it really sink in.

Now, just because I think everyone should read this book, I wouldn’t say that we are all ready for it. I happened to pick it up shortly after my transformative HG Dark Night of the Soul, and the timing was perfect. Having a horrible illness, being so sick for a long period of time, opened me up to look at life in different ways. I’ve been re-arranging my priorities in a major way, and really analyzing where I’m at, where I want to be, and why there’s still distance between those two. So a book on how to embrace imperfection to live a more wholehearted life—well, the timing was just right.

One thing I really love about this book is how it presents concepts based on Brown’s research findings, but doesn’t give you that checklist sort of “do this and prioritize this and you’ll be happy” that we so often see nowadays. Brown offers mini guideposts on how to foster more of some of the concepts she says are important for wholehearted living, but she tempers all of it with the admission that it’s a constant process. That we all need to try all the time to cultivate a wholehearted life, and that we aren’t perfect (indeed “perfect” doesn’t exist). I love her personal anecdotes, because the way she is vulnerable in them, and still has the courage to tell them, is truly practicing what she preaches.

There’s a fabulous section on perfectionism that really hit home for me. I think I will have to read it another hundred times, but it gives me so much hope that there is a way to combat the everyday perfectionism that so often negatively impacts my creative output. I’ve tried reading self-help books geared toward overcoming/working through perfectionism (and its accompanying procrastination impulses), but none of them hit me like this one little section did.

One of her stories was so impactful that I had to put down the book for a while. I spent a good hour cuddling with the cat, thinking about what I’d just learned. It brought up a very strong memory that has always stuck with me.

I was at my high school sweetheart’s house, and his young cousin was visiting. They were running all around the house and yard, playing with the dog and with nerf guns. The cousin came up to me (I was sitting on my boyfriend’s bed, reading) and said I was “Superlady” and had to come help him save the world. And I couldn’t do it. I fed him excuses and stayed securely put. Why? Because I didn’t know how to “play” with others. I spent years playing outside with a neighbor when I was younger, but that was safe. It was always just he and I (with occasional visits from our older sisters), and he was a little younger than me. We had wonderful imaginations and would never have ridiculed each other for playing the “wrong” way. The rest of the time? I played alone, with stuffed animals and small dog and cat figurines. So by the time I was in high school, a full six years or so after that neighbor friend had moved away, I had no idea how to “play” with other people. And what if I did something wrong? Or what if I had too much fun and looked goofy in front of my boyfriend? No, it was safer to stay on that bed with a book than risk looking like an idiot.

Reading Brown’s book, I finally realized what I was actually afraid of. I wasn’t scared of letting my boyfriend see me be silly, or act like an idiot. We were teenagers in love, so we were already awkward enough around each other. He kept dating me even after the tenth grade haircut disaster, after all. What I was really scared of was that he would see me being vulnerable. Trying something I might not be good at. Having to admit that I wasn’t already good at something.

I see it with my husband now, too. That slight bit of hesitation before I open up and admit that I don’t know something, or might be subpar at some skill. He knows I’m not perfect. I know I’m not perfect. But there’s still this intrinsic shame that tries to take hold, every time I have to admit that I’m not perfect.

So, I had a nice powerful realization, sparked by one small anecdote in this book. It’s that powerful, the concepts she talks about.

I can imagine a lot of the people in my life reading this book and taking different things from it. To someone who doesn’t value human connections as the be all end all of our existence here, it might not carry the same weight. As a writer and someone who values compassion and empathy and connectedness, though, every bit of it was impactful. It’s the kind of knowledge that you know would just completely fix the whole world, if everyone would just open their hearts enough to let it in.

I’m hoping to read Daring Greatly next, because I suspect it might have some good pointers on how to parent wholeheartedly. Thank the gods for Brene Brown and her research, and that she can share it so effectively in her writing with the rest of us.