Today I Read…The Silenced Tale

theSilencedTale-frontFinal-REUTSToday I read The Silenced Tale by J.M. Frey, book 3 of The Accidental Turn trilogy.

They have survived two adventures, and finally Lucy and Forsyth Turn Piper can settle down in the Overrealm and raise their daughter Alis. Life is peaceful for them, as they get ready to celebrate Alis’ first birthday.

But for Forsyth’s Writer, Elgar Reed, things are slightly less peaceful. His typewriter has been stolen from the Smithsonian, he is trying to help prepare for the upcoming and top-secret TV show based on his The Tales of Kintyre Turn series, he can’t write a word for fear of what might happen to his characters, and he has some kind of a stalker. But he doesn’t want to worry Forsyth. After all, any enemy he has is human, right? The cops can handle it. It’s not like the Viceroy has come back for a third time. Except Lucy keeps muttering something about “Fucking trilogies”…

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I posted the cover reveal a couple of weeks ago as part of the blog tour for the book, and today is the actual launch day for the final part of the Accidental Turn trilogy (Though I am assured by J.M. Frey that there will be a third novella coming at some point to join Ghosts and Arrivals). The Silenced Tale follows The Untold Tale and The Forgotten Tale, and brings the adventure into the Overrealm along with Forsyth, Pip, and Elgar.

This book focuses on Elgar Reed even more than The Forgotten Tale did. We spend a lot of time with him and his problems. He has always been a very specific type of person, and he’s very set in his ways. Frankly, he’s a sexist, selfish jerk, who has been coasting on writing a very popular fantasy series a long time ago. He is someone who is probably pretty familiar to anyone in fandom. Now we see his own problems, and how he is slowly starting to change thanks in large part to meeting Forsyth and having him bring Pip into Elgar’s life. They are family, which he hasn’t had for a very long time, if ever, and he does care about what they say. Even if he needs to be told a few times until he remembers. And occasionally needs Pip to verbally smack his nose with a rolled up newspaper about assuming women are there only to fetch him coffee and be groped. Though even Pip needs to work on her intersectional feminism, as we see in one particular scene.

The most important thing to remember is that this is, as Pip puts it, a “fucking trilogy,” and things must always come in threes. Three trips between Hain and the Overrealm. Three attempts to defeat the villain. Three deaths…

I’ve read an early draft at the start of this year that J.M. sent me, and recently a more finalized draft that I received from her last month. What I take away the most from the end of this book, is my dissatisfaction. I want more! I think the main story is done, but there is so much more to be discovered about this world, about both Hain and the Overrealm. I want to see what happens with the Tales of Kintyre Turn  TV show. I want more information about what has been happening in Hain, and what will happen now that Elgar has stopped writing, and how will the characters’ lives develop even more away from what he had planned. I want to know about Kintyre and Forsyth’s early life together as brothers. It’s getting my fanfic instincts going, and I just don’t have the time to write all of the stories I want. And I know that while J.M. does have one more novella planned, she has other projects in the pipeline that I won’t spoil here. So if anyone finds any fanfic, let me know? There is one particular scene in The Silenced Tale when Forsyth is telling Elgar stories about growing up with Kintyre, and I really want those stories…

Also, J.M., was that first death really necessary? You’re still not forgiven for killing Kalp, you know. What do you have against cute characters?

Also, regarding character X from The Forgotten Tale? I was totally right, and I want that story too.

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“THIS IS ABBY,” Elgar says, about twenty minutes later. He is smiling too widely, and his eyes are too bright – he is in what he calls ‘Convention Mode’: gregarious, energetic, his jokes flat and desperate, his smile false. As a fellow natural introvert, I can see how exhausting the performance is. He is trying too hard and he is too ‘over the top’ as a
result.
He slings his arm around a young woman with large dark eyes, and long dark hair. She is dressed in a great deal of bubblegum pink and misty mint, from her sneakers to her leggings, to her knee-length skirt, which is patterned with ice-cream cones, and the matching scarf over a long-sleeved shirt. She is terrifically pretty, too, very carefully
made up with false lashes and the careful sort of artistically intense makeup that Pip has called ‘contouring’ and ‘a massive pain in the ass’ and ‘a waste of a perfectly good hour of my life.’ Bless my wife, but she does reject the traditionally feminine with a vigor that nearly borders on insulting to those that embrace it.
However, the young lady before me seems to be the exact opposite of a simpering femme, wearing her pastels and makeup with a sort of warrior-like pride which I admire. She is clearly of Indian descent, not African, but I am reminded so intensely of Captain Isobin for a moment that the déjà vu fills my breast with a brief, intense stab of
homesickness. Though, of course, this young woman is neither pirate, nor captain; and unlike Isobin, not filled with the raucous self-confidence required to push my Creator back on his arse for his presumption. She is clearly not comfortable with the way he has not only taken liberties with her personal space without asking, and he has just as
clearly gotten her name wrong. Her badge, which marks her as a guest liaison,
says “Ahbni”.
“Hi,” Pip says, holding her hand out for a shake, and Ahbni uses the excuse to duck out from under Elgar’s arm.
“I’ll be able to tell her apart from the rest of the brown girls because she’s the hot one,” Elgar goes on, sticking his foot further down his throat.
Pip pinches the bridge of her nose and groans. “I honestly can’t tell if it’s the meds talking, or the stress.”
“Actually I–” Ahbni begins, but Elgar talks over her.
“You can get my friend a coffee or something, right, Abby?”
“I’m the assistant guest liaison, Mr. Reed, and I need to talk to you about–“
Elgar laughs. “Cute. No, no, grab your boss and send him my way, okay, sweetie?” And then he gives her a little shove. She steps away, off-balanced, and Elgar’s eyes drop to… oh. They drop with the full intention to watch her walk away.
Beside me, my wife makes a noise like a strangling cat.
“Lucy?” Elgar asks, having heard the sound as well, bushy eyebrows knitted with confusion. “Are you okay? Abby can you –“
“It’s Ahbni,” the liaison corrects.
“Ahbni,” Elgar repeats, not entirely sure where he missteped. “That’s a cute fantasy handle.”
“Nope. It’s my name,” she corrects.
“Oh!” Elgar laughs. “Were your parents fantasy fans, then?”
“They’re Telugu,” Ahbni says and I get the distinct impression that she is considering using her badge lanyard to garrote my creator. I am doing my best to control the urge
to laugh.
“I might use it though, you know. It’s a good name. The beautiful Princess Ahbni, with skin like fresh roasted cafe latte–“
“No,” Pip snaps, smacking Elgar’s good arm like an errant puppy. “Bad Writer. Women of color are not dessert products.”
Elgar jams his hands into his pockets and scowls. “It’s supposed to be a compliment–”
“I swear to fuck, one of these days I’m going to throttle you myself,” Pip says, deadpan and staring straight at Elgar. She’s got her index finger stretched out and tapping him right in the chest, finger-nail clicking against his plastic button. “You know that being terrified out of your mind is no excuse to fall back into bad habits, right?”
Elgar immediately looks ashamed. “I… you’re right. I didn’t think–“
“Try to,” Pip says. Then she blows out an annoyed breath, then forces herself to flex her fist out, runs her fingers through her hair, and pointedly turns away from him. “Ahbni, if you’d like to tell us where the coffee is, I can make sure that my husband fetches it for his
own damn self. And then you and I can review where Mr. Neanderthal over there needs to be, and by when.”
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Today I read…Arrivals

Image result for arrivals j.m. freyToday I read Arrivals, An Accidental Turn novella by J.M Frey. 

The quest is over. The Reader has been returned to her home, the villain is defeated, and the hero has found his One True Love. And now the hero rides off in to the sunset with his sidekick, who is also his true love…wait…is that right? Is this the way it’s supposed to go?

This is not the way things are Supposed To Go.

So…what happens next?

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This is the novella that was published in the spring of 2017 (I’m still behind on my reviews, if you can’t tell), and it takes place immediately following The Untold Tale. Like Ghosts, this story is told from Bevel Dom’s point of view, and about how his life is turned completely upside down. For years, he and Kintyre have saved the day, and then ridden off together towards their next adventure, possibly after sharing whatever damsel they have rescued. They sleep together, but only with a woman in between them. They return to Turn Hall, but only for a visit. They are partners for life, but the aren’t life partners. And maybe neither of them is really happy, but it’s The Way Things Are. And as a storyteller, Bevel always knows the way the story is supposed to go.

But now things really have changed. Forsyth is gone, with his Reader lover Pip, and someone needs to go back to Turn Hall and run things. To take care of the tenants, and the free schools Forsyth established, and be the local Lordling. And of course, to tell everyone back home that Forsyth will not be returning (maybe they’ll leave out the bits about how he’s left for another realm with a legendary creature though, that just gets complicated). There is no longer a Shadow Hand of the king, to run the kingdom’s intelligence service. And thanks to Lucy Piper, Kintyre and Bevel have finally declared themselves to each other–it’s not just sex, it’s love. It’s commitment. It’s hard and scary and confusing and what on earth does it all mean? I mean, they’re together, but they’re not married, and Kintyre needs an heir, and how will their relationship be different, and how should it be different, and should it be different, it’s been working for years, was it really working, but they’re not happy, are they happy, Kintyre just takes Bevel for granted, but now he’s doing things for Bevel and he’s doing them WRONG!

This is a story about how Happily Ever After is actually pretty complicated, and requires a whole lot of work to make sure that you both really are happy.

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As soon as I get close enough, Andvari grabs my hand and pumps it energetically, her grin sharkish behind her fire-red beard. Her hair is down for the night, the braids of rulership now loose, waist-length waves which swing around when she turns to punch Kintyre in the kidneys.

“About time, you clueless granite-skull!” she bawls joyfully.

Kintyre doubles over, not expecting the blow, and Sviur rises from where he and their son Virfur – by the Writer, how he’s grown! – was practice-strumming his father’s lute. Sviur’s lost none of the grace his dancing days instilled in him, and he offers both of us a polite greeting. We shake hands, clasping at the elbows to check for concealed daggers in the Dwarvish way. Sviur’s golden fall of hair is loose too, as it must be because of his common birth, but now it’s threaded with white. The braid at his chin is almost entirely colorless. Much moreso than I was expecting.  Virfur comes to stand beside Sviur, shy in the way young children are. He’s probably just on the brink of ten years old, but that is still young for a Dwarf – closer to our two or three. When we saw him last, though, he was still a babe in arms.

Some small secret part of me pangs with hurt. I was hoping to hold the baby again. How silly of me to have forgotten that the world below the Cinch wouldn’t just freeze like winter ice and wait for us to come back. Ridiculous.

“Sit, sit,” Nyrath admonishes. She bustles us onto cushions on the floor, which is what we prefer in order to be eye-level with the Dwarves when we’re in casual company. Sviur passes us both cut-crystal glasses of the clear root-vegetable liquor that dwarves specialize in. Kintyre downs his immediately, in one gulp. I shoot Sviur a look of apology, but the Dwarf shakes his head. He’s used to Kintyre’s manners by now, and just refills the glass without comment. Kintyre sips this second one, at least.

Virfur, curiosity overcoming his shyness, crawls immediately into Kintyre’s legs and stretches up to stroke his naked chin with wonder. Kintyre clamps down on his grimace and picks the toddler up from under the armpits and deposits him on my lap. I set aside my glass hastily, putting it up on a side table, out of the child’s reach. His parents laugh.

“Not one for children, Kintyre?” Andvari asks in that rumbling contralto of hers.

Nyrath narrows her eyes at Kintyre, but says nothing. Neither does my lover.

“It’s not that Kin dislikes children,” I say, and I’m reminded, sharply, that Pip had once called me Kintyre’s Walking Apology. At the time it hadn’t annoyed me, or registered as an insult, because that was part of my relationship with the man who had been my master, then my friend, and then my brother-in-arms. But now, sitting beside him on the floor of a Queen’s salon, holding the heir presumptive, and as Kin’s Paried elevated in rank and supposedly now equal to Kin, I’m still making excuses for his poor behavior. I am frustrated by the lazy, entitled assumption that I would smooth things over, that I will hold what Kintyre doesn’t want to, that I will fetch and carry and cook and bow my whims to his.

Bloody aggravating.

“Then why?” Nyrath asks, forcing me to continue the lame half-explanation, half-veiled request for forgiveness for the insult of passing off a prince like he was a sack of rotten meat.

“He just… doesn’t really know what to do with them until they’re old enough for him to roughhouse with,” I say lamely. “He likes my gaggle of nieces and nephews to be sure enough, but more so now that they’re all walking and talking on their own.”

The dwarves seem to take this at face value, and attention turns back to conversation. In my lap, Virfur wobbles his way upright. The boy doesn’t seem to mind whose lap he’s in, as long as he can explore this oddity of a smooth face. Kin and I indulged in a shave with hot water and proper lotions before we answered the Queen’s bidding, and it feels fantastic to finally be scruff-less, after so long on the road.  Must be odd to the boy, though.

Oh, that will be one of the advantages of our return to Turn Hall, to be sure. A daily shave, with proper tools. Sublime.

But Pip’s words are circling in my mind, distracting me from what’s being said, taking on a sharper and sharper tone with each repetition. Kintyre’s Walking Apology. Aren’t you sick of it, Bevel? Something querulous and cranky lodges in my guts, something shapeless but quickly solidifying, something unspoken but pushing against the hollow of my throat.

Something… something…

I’m the only one in my immediate family who is unmarried and childless. While Kin and I are officially Paired, we haven’t made is known that we are a Romantic Pair by pledging our Troth. It hadn’t seemed important before, when all I wanted was a visual acknowledgment that Kin was mine. Let others see our shared Colors and assume we were only pledged as Brothers In Arms, if they prefer. What does it matter to me if their assumption is wrong?

But now, with watching Andvari pull her pregnant wife in beside her on the wing-backed chaise, the pleased curl of their mouths and the striking picture of their very different skin tones mixing together as they clasp hands, seeing the way Sviur joins us on the cushions so he can lean back against his wives’ legs, the way they are all so content and unashamed and casually public in their displays of affection… I’m struck, suddenly and hard, with a kind of envy I never thought I would ever experience.

Married.

I want… I want to… I want. But I don’t know what it’s that I want.

It’s not skin, or warmth, or sex. I have those. It’s not even affection, because Kin gives that freely, too. Gifts it like a Lord bestowing bags of grain to the pathetic, needy, starving peasants he has made pathetic, and needy, and starving by his own blind and selfish nobility.

No, it’s something else that I want.

Kintyre is too busy chatting, already sharing news of our latest quest – how we had fled Turn Hall in our individual rages, how we had separated and come back together, how we had confessed and hashed out our relationship, how we had scented Bootknife’s trail when we had stopped in Nevand to commission our Colors, how we had followed him down to the Valley of the Kings – to see the upset on my face.

I feel it growing out of my guts, infecting my expression, my posture, and I’m … I’m angry and I can’t… I can’t…

Virfur catches it, and babbles something sweetly soothing at me in the secret language of the Dwarves, one that I haven’t had the privilege to learn.

If you put on the Shadow’s Mask, you would know it, I think, and the thought jars against my wallowing self-pity so quickly that the room spins. You would understand the boy if you put on the Mask. You would understand everything.

“And what about you, Sir Dom?” Sviur asks me, and I blink hard, trying to wrench my brain around to the question he asked.

“What?”

“I asked you how you felt the morning of your Pairing. I had a stomach filled with bubbling sulfur the whole week before Andvari and I got married.” He flashes a brilliant smile at his first wife and she threads her free hand through his hair, affectionate. “What were you like before your wedding?”

Resentment boils up faster than I can contain it. “Yeah, well, we’re not really married, are we though?” I say, and then click my teeth shut hard enough that the whole room can hear it.

By the Writers’ left nutsack, is that what’s been brewing in the cauldron of my frustration?

“We’re Paired, though, Bev,” Kintyre says affably, like all the hurt in what I just spoke has passed him by completely. “And it’s not like two blokes can get married among the humanfolk anyway. Not married married.”

“And since when have we ever cared about what humanfolk normally do?” I say, and in my arms Virfur plops down on my knees, making me wince. He reaches for the lute and strums the strings, a discordant twang, and looks up at me with the expectation of praise and a grin that matches his father’s. Instead I hand the boy off to his mother. I cannot bare to have a child in my arms right now. A child that’s not… that’s not… but there never will be, never could be a child that’s…

Andvari gathers Virfur up, and he hides under her beard, both of them startled by the abrupt arrival of my foul mood.

I swallow hard, trying to pull this strange, roiling ball of emotion and confession back down into my chest. But I’ve repressed my discontent for so long it seems like now that the cork has been popped from that bottle, I can’t jam it back in.

“I… thank you for the invitation, and the drink,” I say, waving at my untouched glass. “But I’m tired.”

“Bevel—” Andvari and Kintyre say at the same time, but I’m already on my feet.

“Goodnight, your majesty, your highnesses,” I say with a curt bow, and then I retreat with my tail between my legs.

Today I Read..The Forgotten Tale

the-forgotten-taleToday I read The Forgotten Tale by J.M. Frey, book 2 of the Accidental Turn trilogy.

After leaving behind the land of Hain, Forsyth Turn and Lucy Piper have returned to her world to settle down and live more-or-less happily ever after with their daughter Alis. It hasn’t been easy, with Forsyth getting used to a new land and a new culture and a new language, where he is no longer the rich and respected Lordling of Turnshire, no longer the powerful Shadow Hand of the King, no longer a brother or a friend to anyone. And worst of all, Alis will grow up never knowing his contribution to her heritage–she will not know the songs and stories from Hain, she will not have her place in society as the beloved daughter of a Lordling, she will not know his friends and family as her own. But they are together, Forsyth and Pip and Alis, and that is a comfort.

But there is a problem which will not go away–Elgar Reed, the author of The Tales of Kintyre Turn series. He is fascinated that his character has come to life, and will not understand that Forsyth does not want to have anything to do with this careless man who created him with so little thought, who put him through so much heartache and hardship, and who reminds Forsyth so much of his long-dead and unmourned abusive father.

Back in Hain, the famous heroes Kintyre Turn and his loyal friend Bevel Dom have done the unthinkable–they have retired and settled down (mostly) into a comfortable life together ruling Turnshire, as the Lord and his Paired. Until some long-lost family starts turning up unexpectedly. Family…and some enemies.

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J.M. sent me an e-book ARC in return for a review. Well, she sent me two copies–we had an entertaining lesson on converting files with 2 pages per pdf page into epub vs concerting files with 1 page per pdf page into epub. For entertainment, I’ll post a sample at the end.

This is the second book in the trilogy, and comes after The Untold Tale and Ghosts: An Accidental Turn Novella. I would definitely recommend reading The Untold Tale before reading The Forgotten Tale, as it does rely fairly heavily on what has gone before. Ghosts is more of a bonus–you’ll get by without having read it, but you’ll recognize more if you read it first, especially since it is where Bevel Dom really has a chance to shine.

This book is a great example of how “and they all lived happily ever after” is a cop-out, a phrase that glosses over the reality of what it really takes to make it happy day after day. Yes, both of the Turn brothers have married the loves of their lives, and had children, and settled down into a second line of work that they reasonably enjoy. They are also finding out that love is hard work, and that it requires constant work to stay a happy marriage. For all that Forsyth and Kintyre are very different people who married very different spouses, sometimes they can be remarkably similar, and make similar mistakes with their families which they need to recognize and correct to be both happy and healthy as a family. They are not alone at fault–their family members also need to learn to communicate their needs and listen to what Kintyre and Forsyth need. Pip condemns Forsyth’s anger instead of listening why he is frustrated, and Kintyre’s newest family member causes a great deal of trouble when he glorifies Kintyre’s past adventuring over his daily life of running the Chipping.

They also see the dark side of families, when they meet a relative of an old enemy who threatens their world, out of love for the villain. I won’t give away too much here, but just remember that the best bad guys never stay dead for long. As Buffy Summers told Dracula, “You think I don’t watch your movies? You always come back.”

Forsyth’s interactions with Elgar Reed are particularly fascinating to read. For Forsyth’s point of view, he and everyone he knows from Hain are people–flawed, complicated, fully developed people. Reed keeps being surprised as he learns about Forsyth–there are things he never thought about, things that he included as throwaway lines or as convenient plot points, that were never supposed to mean much. He never considers how such things affect people’s lives. Reed comes from the place of ultimate privilege–he is literally the creator of the world of Hain and everything in it. However, he is also a careless creator, who never once considered that his creations might have their own thoughts and feelings and desires, because he thought they were fictional. He is absolutely gobsmacked when he discovers just how far past Forsyth is from what he intended. For example, Forsyth points out that he was written as a scholar and a polyglot, with a knack for learning languages–in Pip and Reed’s world, this means that he picks up very quickly on programming languages for computers and becomes an accomplished hacker for CSIS. How does a fantasy world character react to the modern real world? By using his skills as best he can and relating his new life to his old one, and learning to adapt and survive.

One more thing I realized upon reflection of this book–J.M. once more demonstrated her talent for making me think about fictional conventions and my own reactions. There is a character from The Untold Tale who shows up again with their nonhuman partner, and who seems to be flirting with a new character (I don’t want to give too much away.) Both characters are presented as make, but I asked J.M. if the returning character is going to be revealed as a girl in disguise, because they seem to be a new love interest in the early stages. Specifically I said “Pretty sure [X] is a girl is disguise…Well, [Y] is a hero in training, and you’ve killed his first love interest to prove the situation is serious and torture him a little, so he needs a new love interest that he can forget about by the time the next book begins. And knowing you, she’ll make him work for it and won’t be that forgettable. But there’s something.” J.M.’s reply was “It’s like you study this stuff or something”. Which, yes, I do. But that can also trip me up. Why should [X] be a girl in disguise? That’s actually pretty heteronormative of me to assume. Why can’t they both be male and flirt? Just because [Y]’s first love interest is a girl, doesn’t mean that [Y] can’t be bi, or pan, or whatever they call it in Hain. I confess to accidental bi-erasure, and I apologize J.M. You caught me again. You always do make me think, and I can’t really give a higher compliment.

And one last thing–anyone in the Toronto area, the launch party for The Forgotten Tale is happening tonight on Tuesday, November 15, 2016, at 7:00 PM at  the Hard Rock Cafe Toronto. This will be the very first chance to buy the book, in advance of the release date on December 6, and a great time to get it signed by the author as well. Hope to see you there!

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With words tasting of bitter almonds, I say: “I hack.”

Reed’s sadness dissolves into confusion. “Hack what?”

“Whatever the Canadian Security Information Service tells me to,” I answer with a shrug, being deliberately glib. “I learned of hacking quite early upon my arrival here, and it was easy enough to read the many volumes available regarding coding. I am a polyglot, you recall—you wrote me that way. JavaScript and C++ are just another set of languages to perfect. And it was the easiest way to set myself up with a legal identity.”

“But . . .” Reed blusters. “Computers?”

“Of course. It is not so different from the work I did as the Shadow Hand,” I sneer, raising my hands to indicate the walls covered with wires and screens, and the small bookshelf overflowing with programming books, Alis’s favourite board books, and stuffies. On the wall above my main console, Smoke has been hung on a cherry wood plaque board. “I investigate, I read, I synthesize data, and I return recommendations and command actions. And just as before, I have found a way to ingratiate myself to the governing body of this nation.”

Reed’s jolly fat cheeks drain of color. “But you’re a scholar.”

“And in this world, libraries are digital and computers are books,” I say, stunned by his lack of comprehension. I scowl. “I was no mere book-mouse,” I push. “You know that.”

Reed staggers back a step, reaching out blindly behind him and crashing into the wall, clutching at my desk chair to remain upright. “I don’t . . . I didn’t . . .” He gasps for air, sweat pearling on his forehead.

His reaction startles me. Derision, I expected, but not this shocked horror. Unless . . .

“Reed . . .” I say slowly, horrified in my own right. For how, how can a Writer create a character and not know all of their nuances? How could he have . . . put this in motion and not realized it? “You do recall that I was the Shadow Hand, do you not?”

“I . . . I do,” he mutters. “I just . . . when I set it up, it was a . . . a bit of a throwaway, really. It was such an offhand comment. I didn’t . . . I didn’t expect you to . . .”

A throwaway? The most important aspect of my life, the only part of me that I felt made me worthy, and honorable, and good, the thing of which I was proudest and which redeemed me from being, I felt, a spoilt younger son, and my creator tells me it was a throwaway? Barely remembered, hardly thought about?

Insulting! Beyond the pale!

“What I do here, it is the same!” I insist. I cannot . . . this is untenable! “This is meaningful.”

“But . . . computers,” he repeats. “I just . . . I expected more . . . I don’t know . . . bafflement?”

“I have lived in this world for nigh on two years,” I snarl. “How simple must you think me? I am no Kintyre, to bash around, and bull ahead, and understand nothing.”

“Hey now,” Reed says, rising to defend his greatest literary achievement.

“Spying is the same no matter where it happens. I can learn all I need about a target by following their social media accounts, tracking their IP, watching their online spending habits. It is identical to my old duties, only I need to send out no Shadow’s Men, write no blackmail expense slips, take no in-person meetings with the king. Here, I need not even don the Shadow’s Mask, or Cloak. Here, I need not even change out of my sleeping clothes, if I so desire,” I add with a derisive snort.

My dark amusement rubs Reed the wrong way, and his hackles rise. “But being Shadow Hand wasn’t important! It was such a secondary feature of your character that I . . .” He trails off, eyes falling to his feet, shamed and confused. “I only put the Shadow Hand in one book.”

“Secondary. Secondary?” I hiss. “After Lewko the Elder was tortured by Bootknife, you chose me for Shadow Hand because, what? It was convenient? Because I was nearby? Being the Shadow Hand of Hain was my whole life! It was the only thing that was mine, truly mine!”

“Forsyth, I—” He swallows hard. “You’re just Kintyre’s little brother. You’re not supposed to—”

“Ah!” I snap. “And there is the crux of the problem! I am no hero, and so I cannot have a passion, have a desire to help? I am a citizen of Canada now, am I not? Do I not owe it to my kingdom to serve her best interests?”

“But it’s beneath you!” he shouts, his ire rising to match mine.

His disapproval surprises me. I expected him to understand. I don’t know why I did, because every conversation I’ve ever had with him has given me evidence enough to assume that he would not. Call it blind hope. Maybe, I thought, if I could make him understand, make him see it from my perspective, maybe we could have . . . reconciled our differences. Maybe we could have found the friendship he so clearly wants. Maybe, secretly, deep within the part of my soul that was born of his typewriter, I had wanted. . . . Ah, but it is pointless to wish for that which one cannot have. Reed will never understand how much he doesn’t know about what he has created.

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From the mixed-up files of Wading Through Books (not an actual quote), for your entertainment:

Elgar Reed, unfortunately, is. He sent us a very large nose, and Pip’s Asian facial structure.  But the look in her bouquet of flowers and some celebratory wine, along gaze when she is plotting mischief is all Kintyre Turn. with a startlingly large painting of Turn Hall looking, Right now, Alis is bouncing gleefully in a romper well, exactly as it ought. It was signed in the bottom attached to the lintel of my office doorway, smashing a corner by one of those fellows who worked on the Lord sodden Library against the edge of the harness each time of the Rings film designs, and was Reed’s first, but sadly her chubby little feet leave the carpet, and practicing not his last, foray into breaching the tight-knit tapestry three of the four words she has— book, Da, and no. Ma is of our family.

 

Today I read…The Untold Tale

The Untold TaleToday I read The Untold Tale, the first book in the upcoming Accidental Turn trilogy by J.M. Frey.

Forsyth Turn knew exactly who he wasn’t. He wasn’t the hero. He wasn’t big or brave or strong. He wasn’t bluff and hearty and called friend by men from every land under the sun. He wasn’t handsome and smooth and accounted a skilled lover by women from sea to sea. He wasn’t the man the bards sang of. He wasn’t his brother Kintyre Turn.

Lucy Piper knew exactly who she was. She was a normal woman with a normal life. And just like many other people, she was a fan of the wildly popular The Tales of Kintyre Turn series by author Elgar Reed. In fact, she wrote her thesis on the books. But they were just books.

Two very different people from two very different worlds. And they are about to discover that they are both very, very wrong.

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First, I’m really sorry J.M. that this review is so late, but I’ve been working in a library (yay!) and have less time to write (boo!).

J.M. sent me an ebook ARC to review some time ago, and I did read it, but I haven’t been able to write my review until now. But now the paperback and the ebook are both available for all you lovely readers to go out and buy, so yay! The Toronto launch party was December 10th at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club, with hosting duties by author Adrienne Kress and entertainment provided by Chantal Barette.

Adrienne Kress (at mic) and J.M. Frey (sitting)

Adrienne Kress (at mic) and J.M. Frey (sitting)

Whenever I finish reading a new J.M. Frey book, I send her an initial thought before I sit down to write my full review. (Okay, that’s a lie, first I cry a little and wonder why I keep letting her play with my heart like bubble wrap, but after that I message her.) For Triptych I told her “I hate you a little for killing my favourite character. But thank you for not bringing him back.” For The Untold Tale I told her that it was “A horribly uncomfortable story that everyone needs to read. And yes, that’s a compliment.”

Forsyth is…familiar. He is the voice in your head, telling you that no matter what you do it will never be good enough. That you aren’t pretty enough, smart enough, charming enough, working hard enough, resourceful enough, considerate enough, talented enough. That those whom you care for regard you with pity, not love. That you are tolerated, not respected. That the Other–your sibling, parent, friend, peer–is so much greater than you are, and that all who know you both compare you and find you lacking. That whatever you try, you will fail. Forsyth is depression and fear and insecurity. And then he meets the mysterious Pip, who he loves without feeling worthy of her, and she says such strange, wrong things. That Forsyth is handsome, that he is clever, that he is responsible and loved by his people. That his brother Kintyre is not better than him. Things he would love to believe, but just can’t.

And Pip, who has loved the books for so long, and who is starting to realize that sometimes fantasy worlds are better as fantasies. That they can be incredibly problematic for people who don’t fit the dominant narrative–that people of colour, or who are queer, or who don’t fit nicely into little gender role boxes, or who are anyone other than the brawny hero and those in his direct orbit, don’t really get their stories told. That maybe the brawny hero is pretty darn tired of sleeping with random maidens and getting soaked in blood, and sometimes just wants to curl up with a good book and a cup of tea. That the love interest has a story, and the sidekick, and the villain, and the innkeeper, and the maidservant. That the story that the Author tells about the characters is not necessarily the story that the characters wish to tell about themselves.

There are other things I could talk about–the romance that does more than merely nod towards the concept of consent certainly comes to mind, and the way that Pip and Forsyth navigate their way through both rape and rape culture and how it affects them both, and not in a superficial way. They suffer, and they think, and they (eventually) talk to each other.

And as a fangirl, the thought of a fictional character attending a convention and seeing what fans think of their world is…both delicious and cringeworthy. There is a scene where Forsyth, dressed as Forsyth Turn from the Elgar Reed books, meets a female cosplayer in a genderbent Kintyre Turn costume who proceeds to hit on him, not caring that a) Kintyre and Forsyth are brothers and Forsyth is clearly not into incest,  and b) Forsyth says no. Cosplay is not consent people… Well, read it.

Frey has a knack for writing books that are incredibly hard to describe properly. It’s a fantasy, but a very real and aware one, which examines the tropes and both celebrates and criticizes them, and thus proves it’s love. You can’t really love something if you only love the good parts–you have to look and know the bad, and acknowledge it, and love it anyway without washing the bad away. I recently read A Game of Thrones for the first time (yes, I’m behind, my to-read list is in the triple digits at this point). I posted on social media when I finished that I thought it was compelling yet highly problematic for the female characters. I raced through reading it–it was one of those books that you just can’t put down. But in my opinion there wasn’t a single well-rounded female character.  Frey comes from an academic background, and she’s a fangirl through and through. She’s used to analyzing her beloved fandoms and figuring out why she loves them, but also where the problems are.

The Untold Tale is the first in a new trilogy. The story feels complete as it is, and at first you wonder how there can be more. But then you start thinking about what happens after ‘and they lived happily ever after.’  That too is another untold tale. The second book will be The Forgotten Tale, and the last will be The Silenced Tale, and I’m sure that both of them will make me think about the title and what it really means just as much as The Untold Tale has.

Oh, and J.M.? You’re going to break my heart again, right? Please?

Chantal Barrette

Chantal Barrette performing at the Untold Launch

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When Bevel has imbibed enough liquid courage—I don’t know what his gauge is, but he seems to have met it—he stands and sways over to Pip’s side.

“Sorry he hurt you,” Bevel slurs gently. He’s not quite too drunk to be clear, but his lips are  tumbling over the consonants.

Dismissively, Pip answers, “Kintyre should be apologizing, not you. You’re not his keeper.”

Bevel laughs. “Oh, but I am.”

“And aren’t you sick of it?” Pip challenges.

Bevel shrugs. “That’s just Kintyre. You get used to it. It doesn’t bother me.”

“Well it bothers me,” Pip returns. “Actually, no, you know what bothers me? It’s not that he doesn’t know the social cues and common practices of politeness. What bothers me is that he observes them around him every day and has decided, however unconsciously, that they aren’t anything he needed to bother himself with. That learning to communicate and interact with other human beings was beneath him. That everyone would just recognize his superiority and marvel, and obey. That is what bothers me.”

I am so stunned by the boldness of her words that my tongue seems to be blocking up my throat. My heart is there, beating alongside it, hard and loud and painful. I have never, ever heard anyone challenge Kintyre this way.

Bevel isn’t certain how to respond. “Listen,” he says. “I think we got off on the wrong foot. You’re a pretty little girl–” he doesn’t seem to catch Pip’s incredulous look at the insulting diminutive “– so why don’t we just jump ahead to the end of the evening, hm? We promise we’ll be very gentle with you, won’t hurt your back at all.”

“And what happens at the end of the evening?” Pip asks, wary.

I cover my face with my hands. I cannot watch this. Either Bevel will insult and embarrass himself, or Pip will say yes, which will be worse. Either way, I do not want to see her face when it happens. I couldn’t bear it.

Bevel leans in close and whispers filth into her ear.

“What? Both of you?” Pip yelps, and her face twists in disgust. Bevel leans close and says something else, and Pip physically shoves him back. “No! No, I’m as happy to have a threesome with two hotties as any red-blooded girl, but you guys are complete sleazes. Get off me.”

She shoves him hard enough that Bevel knocks my chair and I have to look. He is stunned. I don’t know if he’s ever been turned down before. And Pip looks like fury incarnate.

On the other side of me, Kintyre raises himself from his indolent slouch and scoffs. “So I suppose it will be to Forsyth’s bed you go tonight, then?”

Pip goggles at him, eyes wide and mouth a scandalized ‘o’. “Hey, how about I go to nobody’s bed because, one, I am in pain because of you, you stupid behemoth, and two, because I’m not a prize that’s meted out at the end of dessert. Here’s a startling and revolutionary idea: maybe I just don’t want a fuck!”

Ah, so that’s what that expletive means.

“Maybe you’re just a frigid bitch,” Kintyre snaps.

Pip rocks back in her seat, stunned. “Oh my god! I cannot even believe I used to look up to you! You’re incredible! You’re nothing like Forsyth!”

“So that’s what this is about,” Kintyre snarls, his bright blue eyes snapping over to me. “Forssy’s already got his scrabbly little fingers and flaccid little prick into you.”

Pip pushes up to her feet and leans over me, her face puce with fury, to get up into Kintyre’s. “Don’t talk about your brother like that! He’s a good man! Better than you’ll ever be!”

“Oh, and now you let your woman talk for you, too, brother?” Kintyre sneers, rising to his own feet. “Perhaps she’s the man between you? Does she stick it to you? Do you think you’re in love, just because she hasn’t run away from you yet?”

I shrink down in my seat, too mortified to even get my tongue to stop fluttering against the roof of my mouth. I could never even make words like this.

“And is there something wrong with taking it up the arse?” Pip challenges. “Does it make you less of a man? Because Bevel seems to like it!”

Bevel and Kintyre both go pale and stagger. Bevel clutches at his chair. “How did you know?” he hisses.

“Silence!” Kintyre booms.

“Oh my god!” Pip says, exasperation written into every feature. “What does it matter what you two do together? Bevel’s disgustingly in love with you, you ridiculous moron! He always has been! It’s barely even subtext! He sets up threesomes for you just so he can touch you! Is that what all this macho manly shit is about? Cause there’s nothing wrong with loving who you love!”

“Nobody loves Forsyth Turn,” Kintyre snarls.

“Qu-qu-quiet!” I snap, standing and pushing Pip and Kintyre away from one another. “E-e-enough!”

“Not here,” Pointe snaps, his voice just loud enough for us to hear, but quiet enough that music keeps his words from reaching my guests. He crosses behind my chair to lay hands on Kintyre’s shoulders. “You’re not doing this here, Sir Kintyre. You’re drunk and shaming yourself. Master Bevel, get him into Forsyth’s study.”

But Kintyre is incensed. He is insulted. He pushes the Sword of Turnshire away and holds a hand out to stay Bevel. “I am shaming myself? Me? You’re the one shaming the Turn name, brother! You are pathetic,” Kintyre sneers. “Deciding that the first woman to show a grain of interest in you is actually infatuated with you? Look at you. What in the world could she find attractive about you? You saved her, that’s all. She’s being nice to you because you saved her, not because she likes you. And everyone here knows it.”

Faces frozen with shock all around us narrow and shut down. Nobody, not one guest, makes a sound in my support. Of course. They are laughing at me, silently, inside. Laughing at foolish Forsyth Turn, who thought he could make this woman fall in love with him.

“Now,” Kintyre says. “You are going to apologize and sit down and act like a proper lady, or I will leave you here to rot and never take you home!”

“I will not!”

“Kintyre…” Bevel starts, plucking at his sleeve, but Kintyre is embarrassed and feeling cruel and pushes him away hard enough that he slams into the table. Bevel turns hurt, dark eyes up at my brother and goes silent, biting so hard on his lower lip that the flesh turns white.

All the breath rushes from my body. Oh, incredible, Pip was right. Bevel Dom is in love with my brother and I never noticed. Poor Bevel. I hate the hedgehoggy little lackey, but to be in love with my brother and Kintyre so in love with women’s bodies… how cruel this Elgar Reed is. Poor, poor Bevel.

“Sit!” Kintyre repeats, pointing to the chair magnanimously, and Pip throws her own finger into the air, the middle one. It is clearly a rude gesture, but its exact meaning is unclear.

“I am not some docile dog you can order around,” Pip screams. “You are an asshole and a bully, Kintyre Turn, and I don’t want your help!”

The whole room falls into a screeching hush.

Kintyre goes very, very still. I can’t help the involuntary step back as his fingers twitch into a fist. It seems the survival instincts of childhood are still deeply ingrained.

“Good,” he grunts, fury in every line of his face. “As you will not be receiving it.”

“Kin!” Bevel squalls. “You can’t just turn down a maiden in distress.”

“I can and I have.”

“I’m not a maiden in distress,” Pip snarls, rounding on Bevel, who is utterly unprepared for his own tongue lashing and stumbles back into my brother’s arm. “I’m a woman and I am damn well capable of rescuing my own damn self, thank you very much.”

“Let us hope so,” Kintyre rumbles. “For your sake.”

And then he pushes past Pointe and storms out of the hall, Bevel quick on his heels.

Me and Untold Tale

Mine, all mine!

Today I Read…The Book With No Pictures

The Book With No PicturesToday I read The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak.

You might think that The Book With No Pictures is a terrible name for a picture book. Well, it is, because this book has no pictures, and how can it be a picture book if it has no pictures? So The Book With No Pictures is a bad picture book.

This book is a trick. A trick by clever children to make grown-ups say silly things. But I’m smarter than that! You can’t trick ME into saying “Boo-Boo Butt!”…what do you mean I just said “Boo-Boo-Butt?” I never said “Boo-Boo Butt.”…why are you laughing?

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I first heard about this book at the OLA Super Conference this year, when a couple of the panels I was attending recommended it. I found it in the OLA Store, and it was so funny I knew I had to buy it for my library. There are some books that you just know as soon as you read them they’ll be hilarious to read out loud at story time.

The Book With No Pictures is just that–it has no pictures, only words, and yet I’m still going to file it under Picture Books in my categories. The idea is that it is filled with nonsense that the clever kid has tricked the adult into reading, and the adult is reluctant to sound so silly. Simple, yet entertaining when read right. Kids always love pulling one over the adult’s head, and the “Boo-Boo Butt” line is always a huge hit with the kindergartener crowd. Seriously, say it to a five-year-old and dare them not to laugh, they just can’t do it. And they laugh harder if you repeat it incredulously. This book ended up being extremely popular after I read it to my story time classes, and afterwards was out just about every week. I started thinking about buying a second copy, and I might have if I wasn’t pinching my budget so hard.

It’s also a good example to use when you’re teaching older kids about narrative voices. There is the story itself, and then there are the interjecting complaints from the narrator about being forced to read silly things.

This book is clever and funny and fun to read. I think it was one of my favourites from story time last year.

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WARNING!

This book looks completely serious, but it is actually COMPLETELY RIDICULOUS!

If a kid is trying to make you read this book, the kid is playing a trick on you. You will end up saying SILLY THINGS and making everybody LAUGH AND LAUGH!

Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

(from the back cover)

Today I Read…Here Come Destructosaurus!

Here Comes DestructosaurusToday I read Here Comes Destructosaurus! by Aaron Reynolds, with illustrations by Jeremy Tankard.

Destructosaurus! What a naughty monster you’re being today! Stop destroying the city and terrifying the people at once, or someone’s going to have a very sore tail!

Why is Destructosaurus rampaging through the city? Find out in this hilarious picture book that will sound very familiar to the parents of any toddler who has monster-sized tantrums.

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I found this one at my local public library, and I knew I wanted to write about it. This clever and colourful reimagining of Godzilla frames the terrible legendary monster as a toddler having a temper tantrum, and is told from the perspective of the frustrated and impatient. but ultimately well-meaning, adult civilian.

I love the satire, and my Tiny Niece is well into her Terrible Twos, so I can definitely sympathize with the Narrator and their efforts to get Destructosaurus to be a good monster. I may call Tiny Niece a Destructosaurus the next time she hears “Time to clean up and go home!” and interprets it as “Let’s empty the toy box all over the floor and run away so Auntie can’t put my shoes on!” Still, I think I’d hold off on reading it to her, despite the wonderful illustrations. She’s a little too young to understand the story. This book would be perfect for a teacher talking about appropriate behaviour and how to deal with frustration, and why parents sometimes get angry with what you’ve done.

I also really like that the Narrator apologizes for yelling and getting frustrated when they find out what Destructosaurus wanted. It shows that both of them were in the wrong–Destructosaurus should have used his words instead of destroying the city, but the Narrator should have asked what  wrong instead of just yelling.

Destructosaurus does have a reason for destroying the city, but I won’t spoil it here–go read the book to find out! The Narrator uses the usual phrases frustrated parents use and weaves them into the tale of destruction, such as “Don’t you take that tone with me, Destructosaurus! Whatever you’re saying must seem awfully important to you, but I could do without the attitude. Besides, everyone here is a little busy at the moment. Screaming. And running away. And stockpiling bottled water.” Or “What do you think you are doing, Destructosaurus? Stop throwing around buildings that don’t belong to you. You’ve been brought up better than that, you naughty monster! Look with your eyes, not with your claws.”

Jeremy Tankard does a wonderful job of making Destructosaurus an adorable ball of fire-breathing tantrum. The illustrations are large and bright, and a wonderfully child-like version of the classic Godzilla movies, complete with helicopters and biplanes trying to corral Destructosaurus.

I’d recommend this book for more like a kindergarten-grade 1 audience. Or for the annoyed parent of a toddler who will definitely recognize themself in the harassed Narrator dealing with a real monster having a bad day.

 

Destructosaurus p1

Today I Read…Every Day is Malala Day

Everday is Malala DayToday I read Every Day is Malala Day by Rosemary McCarney with Plan International. It won the 2015 Golden Oak award from the OLA Forest of Reading.

Malala Yousafzi’s story is well-known, as the young girl who was shot by the Taliban for trying to go to school. She is now the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, and she has become a symbol of the fight for the rights of girls and women and all children to get an education. Every Day is Malala Day is an open letter to Malala from girls around the world, expressing their admiration and their thanks for her continuing advocacy of education and peace. With beautiful photographs of girls from around the world illustrating their message, this book is a wonderful introduction for Western students of the challenges some children face just for trying to go to school.

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Disclaimer first: I was on the selection committee for the 2015 Golden Oak award, and I did recommend it for the list of finalists, which was then read and voted upon by the as a public. The Golden Oak award is for adults who are beginning to learn how to read English, so while I do refer to Every Day is Malala Day as a children’s book in this review, it is suitable for and enjoyed by adults as well.

This is a terrific story and a great introduction for children to some of the barriers that women face in other countries. As a read-aloud, it is more suited to older children. I would probably recommend at least ages 8+, based on the references to Malala being shot and violence against women. However, it’s important to point out that this is something that is actually happening to children, and sometimes there’s a very fine line between protecting children and being honest with them. When I was coaching a children’s literature trivia team, I had to try explain the Holocaust and Nazi propaganda to grade 3s. Not easy, but they asked.

The story itself is based on a short video produced by the young people who took over the UN on the first Malala Day, July 12, 2013. The book also includes a brief description of what happened to Malala and part of Malala’s speech to the UN from that day, advocating for education for all children as a way to help lift them out of poverty and ignorance and warfare. While she isn’t really in the daily news right now, Malala is an important figure for our time and I am certain that we will hear from her again. This book is an excellent introduction to her remarkable work.

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“So let us wage a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty, and terrorism and let us pick up our books and pens. They are out most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen, and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.” -Malala Yousafzai, July 12, 2013

 

Today I Read…Project Superhero

Project SuperheroToday I read Project Superhero by E. Paul Zehr and illustrated by Kris Pearn.

Jessie loves superheroes. Completely, utterly, loves them. So she is THRILLED when her grade 8 social science teacher says that their major project that year will be about…can you guess…SUPERHEROES! How cool is that? They have to each choose a hero and research them, and figure out what makes them a hero, and debate with each other over whose superhero is the best.

There are so many to choose from, at first Jessie has a hard time narrowing it down. But one thing is for certain–it has to be a girl superhero. Dylan in her class keeps being a jerk and saying that girls suck and they can’t be superheroes, so Jessie needs to prove him WRONG! And to help her, she chooses the very best superhero of all, strong, smart, determined, resourceful, and a great team player–BATGIRL.

To help her figure out what makes Batgirl a hero, Jessie starts her own training program to become Batgirl. She takes karate lessons from her aunt and tries to eat healthier food because Batgirl has s strong body, does all her homework and learns about all kinds of different things because Batgirl is super smart, and interviews real-live heroes to figure out how and why they did remarkable things, just like Batgirl.

Jessie’s all ready for the Superhero Slam. But Dylan, her nemesis, has chosen Batman for his superhero. Can Batgirl beat Batman?

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This was one of the books I picked up at the Word on the Street festival last year, just because it looked like a really cool book. I was even happier when I found out that the publisher, ECW Press, has a program where if you provide proof of purchase of one of their print books, they will send you the ebook for free. And another nice thing is that Kris Pearn’s terrific illustrations are in colour in the ebook, though the double-page Superhero Slam Brackets are easier to see in the print edition since the pages are printed side-by-side.

I like the idea of studying what makes a superhero. The categories that the students have to study for the Superhero Slam are Wisdom and experience, Physical strength and agility, Perseverance and determination, Critical thinking, Recovery, Courage, Preparation, and Leadership. These really emphasize that what makes a superhero is not just who can hit the hardest (though who would win in a fight between Superman and the Hulk?). Jessie also begins to think about how each of these qualities can be demonstrated in real life, by her family and friends and people she admires.

What really makes this book special are the interviews that Jessie does. She writes letters to real-life heroes to ask them questions about what they did that made them famous and what drove them, how they trained, and of course who their favourite superhero is. The interviews are all actual interviews that Zehr conducted with actual experts in different fields, including:

  • Mike Bruen, retired NYPD Sergeant on duty at Ground Zero for 9/11
  • Kelly Sue DeConnick, comic book writer for Captain Marvel and Avengers Assemble
  • Clara Hughes, Canadian 6-time Winter & Summer Olympic medalist in speed skating & cycling and mental health spokesperson
  • Bryan Q. Miller, comic book writer for Batgirl and Smallville
  • Christie Nicholson, Contributing Editor, Scientific American & SmartPlanet
  • Yuriko Romer, film maker (“Mrs. Judo—Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful”) who documented the life of Keiko Fukuda—the highest ranking woman in Judo history
  • Nicole Stott, NASA astronaut who spent more than 3 months on the International Space Station and has been in space 6 times
  • Jessica Watson, author of True Spirit: The True Story of a 16-Year-Old Australian Who Sailed Solo, Nonstop, and Unassisted Around the World
  • Hayley Wickenheiser, 4 time Olympic medalist in ice hockey and community advocate

The book is written as Jessie’s diary, as a kind of record both of her life and her research. Her project inspires her to make changes in her own life to emulate the qualities she most admires in Batgirl. It also leads her to examine her life and her interests, and think about her future and what she wants to do. Since she likes writing and finding things out, she thinks about becoming a journalist. Different people have different qualities that she admires, and she learns to take the best of everything to make herself the best she can be, as well as seeing the good qualities her family and friends around her.

Superheroes are hugely popular right now, with Marvel’s terrific MCU and DC’s strong tv shows Arrow and The Flash. Sure, the costumes and the powers and the snappy one-liners while they punch out the villain du jour are fun, but the thing about superheroes is, they’re good. They save the world when it needs to be saved. And maybe if more people tried to save the world, it wouldn’t need to be saved quite so much.

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MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 8

The first day of my diary.

Or first entry. Or whatever.

Grade 8 is already crazier than I imagined it would be. That’s why I started this diary  to keep track of all the craziness. But I think it’s going to be fun. I really like writing: it’s like thinking out loud but in a quiet way. I think maybe I’ll be an author or a journalist when I get older. Or maybe a scientist. Something where I can ask questions and get answers!

But of all the questions I have, my main one is this: why are all the homework assignments and projects coming up already? Didn’t the teachers get the memo that it’s still only the first week of school?

I wish we were kind of “easing into” the year. Maybe gradually introduce some homework as we go along. Like, say, after Halloween or perhaps even later. I’m very flexible on the “later,” just as long as it IS later. It could be as late as March break.

Lots of questions are being asked, and asked too soon, in my humble opinion. (Which I guess isn’t all that humble, since I think I’m right.) But seriously, this early into the year should we really have expected questions like, “Who are you anyway?” and “Who do you want to be?”

Here’s an example from Socials today. Which again, just in case it was unclear, was day 1 of grade 8.

Ms. King, my friendly neighborhood homeroom supervisor and Socials teacher, was giving us some “food for thought” (her words).

“This year we are going to explore what it means to be a hero. What characteristics do heroes have? What does it take to be a hero? Are heroes born, or are they made? What’s the difference between a hero and superhero? And why is our culture so interested in superheroes?”

To which I shot up my hand and answered, “Um . . . obviously because superheroes are way cool!” I didn’t say that actually, and I didn’t shoot up my hand. I just thought about doing it.

I was so busy thinking about what I might have said that I almost missed the big announcement.

The big thing is this:

WE ARE DOING A PROJECT ABOUT SUPERHEROES!

She called it the “Superhero Slam”! And guess who’s into superheroes and superhero comics  me! How awesome is grade 8 going to be? Really awesome . . . except for all the homework.

Ms. King went on for quite some time. She was in that teacher-on-a-roll mode. She’s pretty great so far, and I actually like her. But I had gone off daydreaming about superheroes. I’ve read just about every superhero comic book and seen all the movies. But I’ve never really thought about why I like them in the first place. And why they might be important.

I started to think about superheroes in a new way. Like I always wondered if Spider-Man would have still been a hero without his Spidey sense. And although I think he’s a great character, is Batman really a superhero? He doesn’t actually have any superpowers. I guess I’ll get a chance to look into this in detail because we all have to choose a superhero and then argue that our superhero is the best! Cool!

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I started off this diary in September wondering (or being forced to wonder) what I had inside. What I was capable of. Basically, who was I?

I still don’t know for sure. But I do know I feel pretty good about what I could do. And can do. What the possibilities are. Not sure if I really want to become a superhero like Batgirl. (And not just because of what Hayley Wickenheiser said about the costume! Too funny.)

But I do know a lot more about the work and effort needed to do something big. All the people I wrote to this year told me that.

So for my big diary finale here’s my list of the Top 10 Things I Learned From My Interviews. In random order!

* “I don’t think you have to have superpowers to achieve amazing things; we can all do amazing things if we believe in ourselves!”  Jessica Watson

* “Do you ever defeat fears or do you just get used to them?? Well, I guess a little of both. There is no substitute for training and the ­other side of that is there is really no ­substitute for actually doing.”  Mike Bruen

* “I have a real live superhero and that is my mom. She is superhuman to me!”  Clara Hughes

* “You should never go to a place of ‘a girl wouldn’t say that!’ Anyone, of any race, of any sex, can do or say anything. How they behave is based on their past experiences and their current sense of self.”  Bryan Q. Miller

* “What’s best for us is who we are. Each of our challenges is unique and we are uniquely ­qualified to live our lives our ‘best.’”  Kelly Sue DeConnick

* “I believe that you should always go after your dreams, no matter how high or how hard they seem that just makes you try harder!”  Hayley Wickenheiser

* “Today I look around and I see many real ­women superheroes! I hope we keep adding more and more women to our list of ­super­heroes.”  Yuriko Romer

* “We did so much training so we could respond to things we could control if something did happen” Nicole Stott

* “We have to trust ourselves.”  Christie Nicholson

* “There’s a superhero in you.”  Jessie (That’s me. I needed one more to make 10. And I learned this year that this is true.  )

Today I Read…The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy

Fangirl's Guide to the GalaxyToday I read The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: a Handbook for Girl Geeks by Sam Maggs.

Are you a newcomer to the wide world of fandom? Are you not quite sure what an OTP is, even though you know that Dean and Cas belong together? Do you plan your Halloween costume months in advance and hand make each piece? Do you know why the cake is a lie, and the ultimate answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything? And are you looking for someone just as passionately nerdy as you to talk to about your favourite nerdy things? Then, young fangirl padawan, you might need The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Chock full of interviews with prominent professional fangirls, invaluable tips for attending your first convention, a field guide to the more common geek groups, and much much more, this is a fantastic resource for those new to fandom, and a terrific refresher for the old hands.

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This was the book I wanted most for myself from the OLA Super conference this year, and I was so happy I got a copy. Sam Maggs is a fellow member of the Toronto fandom community, a former associate editor for fabulous nerd news site The Mary Sue, one of the outgoing Cineplex pre-show hosts, and generally, pretty cool. Plus, that title–how could I possibly resist?

Way back in the dim mists of history before the internet was a thing (okay, it was the 80s), I started my fangirl life, and I entered the world of fandom just at the start of web 2.0 and when interactivity was becoming the watchword. I would have LOVED to have a guide like this way back when I was convinced that I was the only person in my city who liked Star Trek, let alone the only person at my elementary school. It wasn’t until university that I met my first real fangirl, who became my best friend. One of the best parts of fandom is sharing what you love.

In a way, I suppose I’m lucky. I don’t think I’ve ever been personally challenged on my level of geek knowledge, just because I’m a girl. My experience of the Toronto fandom community has always had a strong mixture of boy, girl, and other nerds, with women making strong contributions to our community and with fan-run events. Girl geeks are pretty common, at least in the spaces I hang out in. But like all geek girls I’ve desperately searched for myself in the media I love–a heroine who doesn’t get fridged and isn’t there to be the token female, or worse, the one-dimensional love interest (or worst of all, all three). I’ve put up with the absurdly impractical and oversexualised superhero costumes, having to look in the boys’ rows of the toy store for action figures, and every bloody nerd girl shirt being pink. I ask you, when did Supergirl or Batgirl EVER wear a hot pink costume or a hot pink glittery shield? EVER? AND WHERE IS MY BLACK WIDOW MOVIE ALREADY??? Seriously, Marvel, *ten years* from the release of Iron Man it takes you to release a female-led movie, and it’s Captain Marvel instead of Black Widow, a character you’ve already used 4 times? /rant

Back on track, chapter 4 is about Geek Girl Feminism, looking for the best representations in media and pointing out that unlike the stereotyped antisocial teen nerd boy who lives in his parents’ basement and can’t talk to girls (and his awful, AWFUL counterpart the mythical Fake Geek Girl), women make up a large part of fandom and we have the right to love what we love and to know that we are the heroes every bit as much as the guys are. (See Sam’s awesome Geek Girl’s Litany for Feminism below.)

It can be intimidating to insert yourself into a tightly-knit yet wildly diverse community like fandom can be, especially when you get nonsense like GamerGate giving nerdiness and gamers a bad name in the media. (Yes, it was nonsense, if you feel the need to dox and threaten to injure, rape or kill ANYONE in the name of your argument you are an asshole and you lose any modicum of respect for your argument and for you personally). That said, fandom can be an amazing place and you can meet amazing people who not only love what you love, but can share with you other amazing things that you will love. Fandom can enrich your life, give you friends and interests and sometimes even a career. Fandom is filled with smart, creative, hardworking people, and they can be very welcoming to newbies. If you want to jump into the deep end and sally forth to your first convention all on your own, go ahead– it’s how we used to do it (it’s what I did). If you want some great tips, this book is a great guide for how to venture in, both in person at cons and good online spaces to introduce yourself.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Sam made some great recommendations and I think I need to go hunt them down (and rewatch/reread any old favourites she listed). Hey Sam, any time you want to trade kickass-chick book lists, let me know. I have a feeling you would LOVE Esther Friesner’s Chicks in Chainmail anthology series. Two words: Amazon Comedy.

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The Geek Girl’s Litany for Feminism
I am a geek girl and I am a feminist. I embrace the word “fangirl” with open arms. I don’t have to prove my nerd cred to anyone, ever. Whether I’m a comics noob, Or a fic writer typing up her next chapter, Or a hard-core gamer who sometimes forgets to sleep (Not that I ever do that), No one else gets to decide whether I do or do not belong. From SuperWhoLock to Shakarian I accept all fandom and ships As equally meaningful and important In our geek girl lives. Even if your OTP is my NOTP, I will still like you (Even if I have to unfollow your blog). I can wear makeup and R2D2 mini dresses, Or a Chewie T-shirt and ripped jeans, And the world has to deal with it; Because a geek feminist looks however she wants And doesn’t apologize. I will support empowering, lady-created media, And amazing female characters That make me feel like I could be Batgirl, If I just had some yellow Doc Martens And a vigilante complex. I’m the Doctor, not a companion; Buffy, not Bella; Nobody’s sidekick, love interest, or token female. I’m driving this ship. I’M A FANGIRL, A FEMINIST, AND A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH.

Fangirl's Litany

Today I Read…Bi-Curious George

Bi-Curious GeorgeToday I read Bi-Curious George: An Unauthorized Parody by Andrew Simonian.

George was a curious little monkey, and he was especially curious about the sexy man in the sassy purple beret who came to his island and promised to show him all sorts of things.   After a voyage with sexy seamen (seamen, ha!), George comes to the big city, where he meets firemen (who are not sexy like his calendar), prison guards (who are not sexy like porn), and the animals at The Zoo, a big club, who definitely ARE sexy and willing to satisfy all of George’s curiosity!

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I bought this one at last year’s Word on the Street Festival because it looked hilarious, and it is. The jokes run the gamut from blatant innuendo to just plain blatant. It is very much a parody of gay culture, and uses many stereotypes, but it’s still very funny. There are mentions of drug and alcohol use, and the odd swear word, and of course sexual situations on just about every page. This is NOT a children’s book.

Bi-Curious George page 1 picThe illustrations are just as funny as the text. They’re done in the style of the Margaret and H.A. Rey books, but changed to be…more appropriate to the book, meaning not very appropriate. I don’t think he’s eating the banana… They are full of entertaining details, like the ship full of seamen being named the S.S. Cher, or the man dangling from a window in his underwear while another cross-looking man can be seen inside the apartment, or that every able-bodied seaman looking for George seems to need to bend over.

This is a fun, fast read. Though I will note, on my copy the front cover says that this book is an unauthorized parody, while the spine calls it An Authorized Parody. Mistake or just someone…curious?

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This is George.

He lived in the jungle.

He was a straight little monkey but always very…curious.

One day George saw a man.

He had on a sassy purple beret.

And George got excited, despite himself.

The man saw George too.

“I’m always in the mood for some hot monkey love,” he thought.

“I would like to take him home with me.”