Favorite Reads from 2022

I have started a blog over at Medium.com. I’ll repost relevant pieces here, but if you would also like to follow me on Medium, you can find me here: https://medium.com/@erin.m.underwood_72534

The following post was originally published on Medium.com on January 2, 2023.


Favorite Reads from 2022

This year has been filled with spectacular stories. Looking back at my To Be Read List, which is still far too long, there are a baker’s dozen of books that stood out as “loved” and worth recommending to others. Not all of them were published in 2022, again note the To Be Read list that is much too long, which is a great reminder that it’s never too late to pick up a book that came out a few years ago. You don’t always need to focus on new books that just came out.

All of these books are stories that I highly recommend. I just don’t have the heart of the time to write about books that I didn’t love. It’s also important to note that I purchased all of these book and most of them fall within the science fiction or fantasy genres with one notable exception. Also, looking back at this list of favorites, I realize that most of them are books that I listened to on Audible.

Transparency Statement: All links here go to Amazon, linking to my Amazon Associates account. This means that, if you purchase a book using one of these links below a cover image, I will receive some tiny credit from Amazon.

[paperback | ebook | audiobook]

Under the Whispering Door by TJ Klune, read by Kirk Graves

A book about death, acceptance, and love. When Wallace, a rather rotten human being, finds himself suddenly dead he is welcomed to Charon’s Crossing for a hot cup of peppermint tea as he adjusts to what it means to be dead and talking with the ferryman who is supposed to him move on to the next stage. In the process, he learns more about life than he ever learned while he was alive. This book is touching and delightful. It is a positive story wrapped around some difficult topics. I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a great pick-me-up book.

[paperback | ebook | audiobook]

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune, read by Daniel Henning

In a world where magic exists, what does society do with the children they are too afraid to love and raise? They send them to an orphanage for magical children, and that is where Linus Baker comes into the picture. He’s a by-the-book kind of case worker who always puts the interests of the children first. The problem is that he lives a very small and confined life, he doesn’t really have much going for him until he takes a highly classified assignment to evaluate a potentially problematic orphanage that is home to some very dangerous children. This book is absolutely made of magic, and it is wonderful beyond description as it introduces us to some truly fascinating kids. However, it is their connection to each other and the way they change the world around them that makes this a must-read novel for people of any age. The House in the Cerulean Sea is funny, exciting, loving, and full of wonder. I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking for a positive story that will make them laugh, cry, and feel better about the world while twisting their heart just little.

[paperback | ebook | audiobook]

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke, read by Chiwetel Ejiofor

Piranesi has always lived in the house. It is a magnificent house full of rooms of all sizes, corridors of varying lengths, and all manner of marble statues. In all the world, and the house is the world, there are just two living people: Piranesi and The Other…until other human beings begin finding their way into the structure, and that revelation sets off a fantastic unraveling of reality as forgotten memories and histories collide. This unique story is wrapped within layers of meaning, subterfuge, and imagination. There really isn’t anything like it, and it perfectly mashes together the fantastic with the academic in a way that feels absolutely normal. I highly recommend this story to anyone who enjoys fantasy and who is looking for something that they have never experienced before. I promise, this is not the same ol’ same ol’ fantasy novel.

[Book 1: paperback | ebook | audiobook] — [Book 2: paperback | ebook | audiobook]

SERIES: The Cemeteries of Amalo

The Witness for the Dead, Book 1 and The Grief of Stones, Book 2 by Katherine Addison, read by Liam Gerrard

This series takes part in the world of The Goblin Emperor, which was a terrific novel that deserves its own place on a “best of” list. However, I put off reading The Witness for the Dead merely because of the title. Do not let yourself fall into that trap. (Pro Reading Tip: Do not judge a book by its title or by its cover.) Both books are fantastic. The world that they take place in is far removed from our human existence. In fact, there is not a human to be found, but there are a lot of carry over issues that range from job pressures to personal relationships and disruptive social issues. We see the day-to-day life of Celehar, the Witness for the Dead for the city of Amalo and the impact that his calling has on the living. These stories are special. There are a lot of new terms, names, and organizational structures to absorb (so, a bit of a learning curve), but it is worth the effort since these stories cast light in dark places and shake the cobwebs from your mind. They’ll make you smile, too. Celahar is an extraordinary character because he is so ordinary and down to earth as he performs his duties, unwrapping the secrets of the dead, and giving peace and justice to the living. There is an air of mystery and sleuthing that winds its way through these novels, lending a whole new level of exploration to this world of elves and goblins. I highly recommend both books. If you can, start with The Goblin Emperor, but it’s not necessary. These are wonderful books that open the imagination.

[paperback | ebook | audiobook]

The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison, read by Imogen Church

A mystery unlike any other, unless you’re talking about Sherlock Holmes. I really enjoy Katherine Addison’s books, but I wasn’t fully prepared for how much I was going to enjoy this book. While I like mysteries with a Holmesian bent, I never anticipated how delightful a reimagined Sherlock Holmes could be in an alternate 1880s London where angels, demons, and all manner magical beings roam — not to mention several criminals who have no idea what they are up against when the Angel of the Crows and his new friend Dr. Doyle are on the case! It is a thoroughly enjoyable book, especially if you like retellings (or should I say reimagining?) of Sherlock Holmes. That said, I think the book description does a disservice to the book in that it really doesn’t address that fact that the Holmesian connection is strong and that many of the cases within the novel closely follow some of the best stories within Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s repertoire. It truly is an imaginative retelling of Sherlock Holmes that explores a variety of modern social issues through a fantastical lens. This is also a very positive book that elevates the power of friendship and trust. I also want to give a special shout out to Imogen Church’s performance in the audiobook, which was lovely.

[Book 1: paperback | ebook | audiobook] — [Book 2: paperback | ebook | audiobook]

SERIES: The Final Architecture

Shards of Earth, Book 1 and Eyes of the Void, Book 2 by Adrian Tchaikovsky, read by Sophie Aldred

These two books are part of The Final Architecture trilogy, which imagines a future universe in which humanity (along with several other species) have figured out how to travel vast distances in space. The only trouble is that traveling these special paths attracts unwanted attention from these strange beings called The Architects — beings who hunt down intelligent civilizations to reshape them into very beautiful (and very dead) objects, including entire planets, ships, people, etc. They are by far one of the cleverest antagonists in science fiction and the originality of these “villains” is immense. The ideas in this book are different from most of what’s available in the SF field today, which is what sets Adrian Tchaikovsky’s storytelling apart from his peers. This series is fantastic! However, you do need to give the story a little time to develop and to allow yourself to get familiar and comfortable with the ideas and science that drive the story forward. Once you do, it all comes together in an engaging and original story filled with some fascinating characters. I highly recommend this series to anyone who is tired of the same old science fictional fare.

[paperback | ebook | audiobook]

This is How you Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, read by Cynthia Farrell and Emily Woo Zeller

Where did this story come from? This book is unlike anything I have ever read, and it completely gutted me at the end. (Pro Reading Tip: Have a Kleenex ready at the end.) The concept of the story is two warring groups that use time travel to fight their war, and they each have a leading agent on their side who begin looking forward to the contests with their greatest opponent — and as this tit for tat war goes on, a strange friendship builds through a series of letters that they have left for the other to read. This book is fascinating from the first page. All of the pieces of the story come together in a slow build that becomes increasingly poignant, and once you get to the halfway point in the novel, you will relish every new page, every new word, and every new moment. It’s a delightful read. The layers of story and the fine craftsmanship, and the result is nothing short of spectacular. This novel is as different as it is wonderful. I highly recommend it for anyone who is looking for something different, for something that embraces all of the nuance that language can lend to a multi-layered story and a friendship that defies expectation.

[paperback | ebook | audiobook]

Fairy Tale by Stephen King, read by Seth Numrich

Leave it to Stephen King to figure out where stories come from and then to write about it. I was expecting this story to be a bit darker, perhaps with a rough underbelly of horror, which is standard fare for King . While Fairy Tale does tap into some of the darker sides of fairytales, it is possibly one of the best and most original takes on modern fairy tales that has been published in years. When Charlie Reade makes an unexpected friend and then finds himself in a world that is literally straight out of Faire, there is no telling what is going to happen next, and King does a wonderful job of keeping the suspense tight and unpredictable. The characters are fascinating and the troubles they run into are unique. Whether or not you are a horror fan, a Stephen King fan, or a fairy tale fan, this story is sure to carry you away. I highly recommend it to anyone who is looking to escape from our ordinary world or to bring a little magic into their day.

[ebook | audiobook]

The Law: A Dresden Files Novella (Dresden Files 17.5) by Jim Butcher, read by Jim Butcher

Dresden Files fans will love this novella. If you haven’t read it yet, you should. You’ll like it a lot. It’s so very Harry. When a tutor is being shaken down by a non-magical human, Harry Dresden considers sending the woman packing. After all, he’s processing a lot of “stuff” that just went down and he’s not quiet ready to go back to work. However, something about her strikes a chord in him and he takes the case, a prescient decision since the trail Harry must follow reconnects him to some of the most interesting and powerful characters in the Dresdenverse. It’s a fun badass story that oozes with magic and the mysteries of Chicago.

[paperback | ebook | audiobook]

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms: A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, ready by Harry Lloyd

A hundred years before A Game of Thrones the Seven Kingdoms were still full of intrigue, fighting, and Targaryens. They also had hedge knights, including one very special hedge knight named Dunk. (Dunk? What kind of name is Dunk? But I promise that you’ll love him.) While he has a strange name, Dunk is everything you would want in a knight and a hero. What’s special about the three novellas in this book is that they feel like the Westeros that we know and love, they telegraph “story” forward into the characters we’re invested in, and they introduce us to new Westeros stories that feel fresh and relevant. If you are looking for a great epic fantasy novel that feels like hanging out with an old friend, this is it. I really loved these stories and the characters who bring Westeros of yore to life.

[paperback | ebook | audiobook]

Save the Cat! The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder, read by George Newbern

Even if you already know how to craft a screenplay, Save the Cat! is a great roadmap for creating compelling stories. What’s most powerful about this book is how well Blake Snyder captures key storytelling concepts and then rolls them up into easy-to-understand bits that he serves in logical steps. Not only is his writing style light and easy to read, but the audiobook performance by George Newbern is terrific. Anyone who writes anything will get something out of this book.

These are my favorite reads of 2022. I hope you enjoy them too! I’m already onto my first book of 2023 (A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik, and I can already tell that it’s going to be on my favorite reads list for the new year). Remember books are doorways to the future and they are full of fuel to expand your mind in ways you never thought possible.

We are made of stories. So, pick up a book and read.

Posted in Blogging, Books and Literature, Medium | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Sharing Good News! 1st Place is a Good Place to Be

I am excited and honored to hear that my short screenplay THE FUNERAL has won 1st place in the annual screenplay competition hosted by Women in Film and Video New England.

I always get a bit shy sharing my little victories. They are so hard to come by and when they happen, I tend to hold onto them in quiet happiness just in case they somehow get ripped away. However, I think it’s safe to share this little victory since they made an official announcement and everything!

The other winners are both amazing women, and I feel grateful and honored to be in this group. We’re doing a table reading for the winners next week so that we can hear how actors interpret our stories. We’ll also have a director there to answer questions and to help us each take our scripts to the next level.

I really love my short script since it has subtle connections to my own losses and the feelings that come with losing my mother. My secret passion is to get this short script made into a short film. So, I am going to see what it weill take to crowdfund the project, get the people I need, and see this story brought to life.

Thank you WOMEN IN FILM & VIDEO-NEW ENGLAND INC. It was so nice to get this news. Here’s the official announcement and a link to their blog post that has additional details, if you’d like to check it out.

When the Irish music album Tears of Stone came out, I used to listen to it over and over again. I loved it. There was this one song called “The Fiddling Ladies” that is about 10 minutes long, and I enjoyed listening to it while I drove home from work. My mind would clear, replaced by images and emotions that filtered to the top of my thoughts in stark relief – mom, Ireland, death, anger, sadness, joy, dancing, family, music. All of these images fed into the story that turned into my 10 minute short screenplay “The Funeral.”

I held onto the script for a few years. I didn’t know what to do with it, but I knew I had to write it. When my friend JoAnn (which is also my mother’s name) suggested that I enter something into the WIFVNE short screenplay contest, I  decided to take a chance. It was my first short screenplay, this was my first screenplay contest, and I never imagined that I would win. I am still smiling happily, not so much for my little victory but for the thought that this would have made my mother so happy. She had so little in life, but the one thing she had in spades was love. I feel like this script and this win is my way of honoring her and my memory of her.

Here’s the song “The Fiddling Ladies,” if you’d like to listen to it:

Posted in Good News, Screenwriting | 3 Comments

The Overpowering Power of Men at Conventions

In 2010, I started attending science fiction conventions regularly. I’d attended a few conventions here and there before then, but never with any regularity. This was when I really began embracing fandom. I was still a little shy and I was new. I didn’t really understand the fan culture yet regarding how women were often viewed in fandom by other fans.

I really adore Jack McDevitt and his Alex Benedict series. So, when I saw that he was visiting Readercon in 2010, I decided that was going to go because I had a first edition of  The Devil’s Eye and wanted to get it signed. I had waited in line to chat with Jack and to get his signature. I was excited since his signature was one of the first signatures that I had ever collected. I got to the front of the line and Jack greeted me warmly. I told him how much I enjoyed the novel and his series, and he smiled happily and asked if I would like him to sign my book. Of course, I gave him an enthusiastic “Yes!”

While I was pulling out my book and flipping to the title page, the man standing behind me (his name was Sean) stepped forward and began chatting with Jack. I opened my book and smiled politely at Sean wondering why he was cutting in on my moment, and I handed my book to Jack. Sean kept talking and it took a moment for me to cut into the conversation to thank Jack for signing my book. I thought this was a subtle but polite cue for Sean to back off.

Jack responded again that he was happy to sign. Sean began talking again about how much he enjoyed Jack’s work and how he’d been looking forward to meeting Jack. When Jack finished with the signature, he handed me the book. I don’t think it’s polite to read signatures in the moment, especially when there is an inscription. Plus, there was a line and clearly Sean wanted his time (as well as mine!) so I closed my book, thanked Jack for his time, and I left so that others could have their turn.

When I turned away, leaving Sean there with Jack, I remember seeing an odd look cross Jack’s face…maybe surprise?…but then Sean grabbed his attention and I was off to the hallway to read my inscription. Once I was outside of the doors in the madness of people milling around between events, I opened my book and read Jack’s inscription:

Hi Erin,
It’s a pleasure to meet you + Sean.
Best always,
Jack McDevitt

Sean? I read it again. I realized that because Sean pushed forward into my space while I was with Jack McDevitt and because I was new and too polite to ask him to wait his turn, it gave Jack the impression that we were together. I had been waiting to talk with Jack, and I had come to the event to primarily to see him. In that moment, I was equal parts angry and embarrassed and deeply frustrated that this man Sean! had forced his way into an inscription on a first edition book that I had been saving to get signed.

It’s now 10+ years later. I have since gotten to know Jack as a person and have reviewed several of his books. I never told him about this moment because I didn’t want to upset or embarrass him for not realizing that Sean wasn’t with me. Nowadays, I’d easily be able to tell Sean to step back, but I can’t help being sad about the fact that a man, a fellow fan, thought so little of me that he didn’t respect the precious 2 minutes that it took for Jack to sign my book.

I was invisible. I was an obstacle that he pushed aside in order to have his more important conversation with Jack. I think about this now and I know that I am not the only person who has had something like this happen at a convention. Yes, it’s a small thing, but it is an example of how women have been treated in society for far too long, including convention society. The fact that it has taken me 10 years to publicly post about this also speaks to social issues of embarrassment and fear of condemnation by some members of our society.

I know that men are much more aware of women in science fiction now and that there is much more respect paid to women at conventions. These are good things, but we’re still working on making things better for marginalized people in our community and at our events. I hope that Sean, wherever he may be, has found some respect for other fans in science fiction over the last 10+ years. I hope that other people will read this post and think about that fact that when they are excited about something it is really, really easy to disrespect another person, pushing them aside without even a thought, especially if the person they pushed aside is polite and kind about it. In such situations, please remember that marginalized people include women as well as people of color, people with access issues, shy people, children, etc.

As we return to in person events, I encourage event organizers, event speakers, and event attendees to pay a little extra attention to how people are interacting with one another to ensure that those of us who are marginalized in a moment like this don’t get pushed aside by others who are much bolder, who have bigger egos, and who have forgotten how to take turns during the isolation that the pandemic caused.

Every year, when I clean out old books in order to make room for new books, I come across The Devil’s Eye by Jack McDevitt and I think of Sean and all of the other women and marginalized people who might have been pushed aside by him or people like him. I don’t think I will ever get rid of this book because it is a reminder to me of what it is like to be new to fandom and how easy it is to ruin convention experiences for others. This book, Jack McDevitt, Sean, and my response to the situation are why I now work so hard to make sure that people have good experiences at conventions, especially the new people, the shy people, the people with access needs, the people of color, and the women. We are one community and we all deserve respect.


P.S. The Devil’s Eye is a great book, and I highly recommend it. Who doesn’t love a good ol’ antiquarian slueth set in the far-far future?


Posted in Conventions, Uncategorized | 18 Comments

I Won! Thank You

I won the DUFF nomination and am this year’s DUFF delegate to Worldcon, aka ConZealand! Thank you all so much for your votes and support. It’s an odd thing to win with Covid-19 blanketing the globe. While I won’t be traveling to New Zealand this year, I will still be hosting the Fan Fund Auction with my fellow delegate at the virtual Worldcon!

Again thank you for your support.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I’m a 2020 DUFF Candidate. Vote to Send me to ConZealand!

So, what’s all this about the DUFF and ConZealand? And, exactly, what am I a candidate for?

The science fiction and fantasy fan community is a large and strong group of volunteers that spans the globe, pulling together conventions that celebrate the best of what speculative fiction, art, music, and science have to offer. Our largest convention is Worldcon, an annual convention that takes place in a different city around the world every year. Last year, it took place in Dublin, Ireland. This year it is taking place in Auckland, New Zealand.

There are a couple of fan organization that have arisen to help boost connections between regional fan communities, and one of those groups is the Down Under Fan Fund (DUFF), which sends one fan from North America to Australasian based Worldcons (and vice versa for Worldcons based in North America). Founded in 1972, DUFF has not only created but strengthened links between North American and Australasian fandom since its inception. I would love to be a part of the DUFF community, continuing to help bring our communities together.

What is the Down Under Fan Fund?
“The Down Under Fan Fund was created for the purpose of providing funds to bring well-known and active fans familiar to those on both sides of the ocean across the Pacific. It is a daughter/sister fund to TAFF, which has been bringing fans across the Atlantic since 1953! Since 1972, DUFF has regularly brought North American fans across the Pacific to Australian and New Zealand conventions and Australian and New Zealand fans to North American conventions. It exists solely through the support of science fiction fandom; the continued generosity of fans is what makes DUFF possible. Thank you for supporting DUFF!” (From the DUFF ballot)

Vote for Me! … But Wait!, there are  few things you need to know first about eligibility.
While I would love to have everyone who knows me and who knows how hard I work to promote fandom and fannish activities, not all of my amazing friends are eligible to vote. The gist of it is that “A $5 donation entitles you to vote in the 2020 DUFF Race if you are a SFF Fan, anywhere.” Here are the rules on voting, which are included on the downloadable PDF ballot:

Voting in the 2020 race is open to anyone active in fandom before January 2018 who donates at least $5 (USD) to DUFF (larger donations are very gratefully accepted). Voting is by secret ballot: one vote per person, and you must provide your name on the ballot. You may change your vote at any time prior to the deadline. All votes must reach the administrators by 11:59pm (Eastern US time) on Friday, March 27, 2020.

So, who are the other candidates?
There are four candidates in total, and I am sure that they are all lovely and wonderful people who have contributed in important ways to SF/F fandom. However, please do vote for me! 🙂 Here’s the list of the four DUFF 2020 candidates:

  • Richard Auffrey
  • Shaun Duke
  • James Davis Nicoll
  • Erin Underwood — Me!! 🙂

Candidate Statements
Each of the candidates have submitted a statement along with a $20 bond during the nomination process. You can view everyone’s candidate statements on the DUFF 2020 PDF ballot, but here’s mine for easy reading:

Erin Underwood – Boston, MA
I’m a con runner and fan editor/writer from Boston, Massachusetts, USA, whose passion for science, fandom, and SF/F drives me to bring new voices to publications and convention programs. While I’ve worked pre-con for many Worldcons, I could only afford attending a few conventions that I helped to create. I’d love to attend ConZealand, sharing my passion for SF/F with New Zealand and Australian fans, while also learning from those communities. I’m editing a special edition of the fanzine Journey Planet, highlighting New Zealand and ConZealand, and will promote fandom and DUFF through blogging, social media, and a summary report.

Voting is a 2-step process!
If you are eligible to vote, all it takes is a $5 donation to the 2020 DUFF Race and a completed ballot. And, if you’d rather not vote for anyone and you would really just like to make a donation, you can also vote No Preference (any winner is fine) or vote Hold Over Funds (No Candidate for this year).

Here are the details on the 2-step process:

Step 1: To VOTE, you can CLICK HERE. It will take you to a PDF form that you can download, edit, and save. You will then need to send it to Paul Weimer at jvstin@gmail.com

Step 2: To DONATE, you can CLICK HERE. It will take you to a page with a button where you can submit your credit card payment of $5 … or … you can send your payment via Paypal to Paul Weimer at https://paypal.me/princejvstin

Thank you for helping to support and promote
science fiction and fantasy as well as SF/F fandom around the world.

Posted in Conventions, DUFF, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

You Can’t Live in an Inferno

I haven’t added a new post to my blog since my sister passed away almost 6 months ago, but sadness fades and life continues. You either keep moving on or you stop, like a static image with the world continuing to play around you. Maybe I was stopped for a little while. Maybe my voice just went silent for a time. But I am back, and I have things to say about science, climate, and what’s happening in Australia.

Climate change doesn’t happen over night. It’s slow and subtle, only showing little signs here and there along the way to make its presence known to those who are paying attention: scientists.

The people who enjoy their ways of life and who have no wish to sacrifice their comfort (even if it’s only modest comfort in some cases) laugh and call climate change a sham or a joke. They make fun of the people who are trying to show us how the pieces of the puzzle fit together because they refuse to see the whole picture all at once. Seeing that whole image all at once would be devastating to their self worth, their identity, their way of life, and (for some) their bank accounts.

Source: Robert Schlegel, Ocean Frontier Institute
(borrowed from the Washington Post article.)

This is our planet. We only have one. It is a glorious and wonderful place, and to pollute it and treat it like a giant garbage can is repulsive. We need more sustainable energy, we need more recycling, we need more renewable resources, and we need to get off of our asses and act like the sentient, intelligent, and responsible creatures that we are and take care of our planet.

This article “On land, Australia’s rising heat is ‘apocalyptic.’ In the ocean, it’s worse,” by Darryl Fears at the Washington Post, does a good job of sharing some of the oceanic changes that have been taking place well before the Australian fires began and puts into perspective what live in Australia is like rightnow. The land may be on fire, but so is the ocean. For the creatures living in the sea, the 2 degree temperature rise is like living in an inferno, and we all know that’s just not possible.

You can read a certain number of Washington Post articles for free each month. I recommend reading this one: “On land, Australia’s rising heat is ‘apocalyptic.’ In the ocean, it’s worse,” by Darryl Fears.


Posted in Current Issues, Science and Technology | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

A Personal Post in Honor of My Sister … Because I Miss Her

It’s been two weeks since my sister passed away, and everyday is a bit of a struggle, some worse than others. Some of those days have also been beautiful and amazing. In the midst of the beauty and the pain, in the midst of the struggle to focus and find my drive to keep moving forward, have been these little moments when a single word heard within the string of lyrics in a song pairs up in random synchronicity with an image in my field of vision and a slippery emotion that bubbles up into my conscious mind. In that moment, she is there with me, completely present in my mind, and I realize that impossible state of knowing she is with me while knowing she is gone.

It’s an Alice in Wonderland moment to be sure, a moment in which I am holding two completely opposite and opposing thoughts in my head simultaneously that are both equally true and false. She is here and she is gone, and in that juxtaposition, as reality bends and warps and the moment fades, I am struck by one defining certainty. My sister was one of the bravest people who I have ever known.

There is no single person in existence who shared the raw experiences of my young life, experiences that shaped and honed and groomed me into who I am today. She knew me on a level that can never be replaced or achieved again, and she was my first hero. She was the person I wanted to grow up to be like when I was small, and it wasn’t until we were grown that I learned she had always wanted to be like me. The truth is that we have ended up more like each other than either of us ever knew, and now it is only me who understands that singular truth because she is gone…and yet she remains, here with me in my mind and heart, hidden from view until moments collide, bringing her to the surface of my mind and reminding me that I am not alone.

That is the beauty of a sister.

That is the beauty of my sister.



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment

Audiobook Review: Skyward by Brandon Sanderson

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson is a supremely exciting and wonderful book! It’s an example of what young adult science fiction can do at its best. The audiobook was produced by Audible Studios, featuring narration by Suzy Jackson and runs 15 hours and 28 minutes.


In the far future, humanity had lived long among the stars until it was attacked by the Krell and forced to crash land on a planet where they are fighting for their lives. While planetary defenses exist, the Krell are a constant threat that are only kept at bay by the courage and talent of the pilots within the Defiant’s defense force. Spensa, call sign Spin, might be young and small, but she’s a force to be reckoned with and she rivals the iconic characters within the top echelons of YA fiction. As tough and savvy as she is delicate and fragile, Sanderson has created a beautifully rounded character who feels whole and complete in all of the right ways.

Several generations after humanity crash landed on a planet known as Detritus, it continues to struggle for survival even as a superior alien force looms ever present and bent on their utter destruction. Spin and her squadron are part of the newest group of cadets who are going through the training program to become pilots in the war against the Krell. Training is tough and dangerous, but the true battle is with herself and trying to navigate through the legacy of cowardice left to her by her father who had put his own people at risk as he fled a decisive battle against the Krell, which resulted in his being shot down by his own wingman.

Now, a dozen years later, Spin is desperate to discover the truth about her father while also trying to survive flight school in this futuristic coming of age story that shows what mettle and courage truly look like in the face of adversity. This delightful story is packed with adventure and suspense as Spin creates her own path, finding friends in unlikely places, and coming to terms with her own definitions of cowardice and courage.

The Skyward audiobook is especially good, featuring a powerful performance by Suzy Jackson, which is simply riveting. She is on point with every verbal nuance, ratcheting up the tension in her voice as the action intensifies and knowing instinctively exactly when to release that tension for full effect. In addition, she captures the moods, anxiety, and frustrations of the characters with ease creating an even deeper and more intense story experience that is truly engrossing.

One of the best features of this book is that it wholeheartedly embraces science and technology, using it to great effect within the story. The math, physics, and astronomical information feels subtle and natural, and the way Sanderson weaves it into the descriptions and dialog make it easy to comprehend and understand for people who may have little understanding of how g-forces work when flying at Mach 10.

Skyward by Brandon Sanderson and narrated by Suzy Jackson is a wonderful book for teens and adults as it captures the very best of what science fiction has to offer. Readers and listeners will be left wanting more!

Happy listening!

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Title: Skyward
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Amazon: Audiobook Kindle Paperback Hardcover

Audiobook Publisher: Audible Studios
Narrators: Suzy Jackson
Length: 15 Hours, 28 Minutes

Print Publisher: Delacorte Press
Print Date: November 6, 2018

Posted in Audiobook, Reviews, Science Fiction, Uncategorized, Young Adult Literature | Leave a comment

Review: Season 8, Episode 5: Don’t Read if You Don’t Want to be Spoiled

Another quick warning not to continue reading if you don’t want spoilers for Game of Thrones, Season 8, Episode 5.



The theme of this episode is simply: The Day the Music Died.

In one fell swoop, Game of Thrones has created a masterclass example of how to violate one of the biggest rules in writing. You need to earn your ending.

You don’t violate this contract with the reader or the viewer and expect them to stay within the story that you are telling. Everyone expected lots of people to die this season. Everyone expected certain devious deeds to be done. Everyone expected Cersei not to surrender. There were several breadcrumbs over the last 3 episodes that Daenerys was very upset and feeling very betrayed…but this betrayed?

No, none of the things we saw on the screen would lead anyone to believe that something snapped in her brain, destroying her sanity. There were no signs that she was willing to become a mass murderer after she won the battle. When the bells rung, she won. Game over. The Iron Throne was hers. Then, she basically blew up the city, killing millions of people because …. she won? Wasn’t that the point? Why did she do it? It didn’t need to be done and it doesn’t make sense. She wasn’t insane in that moment.

The simple truth is that the show set Daenerys up to win through fear, which is exactly what she achieved when the bells rang. Everyone on the battlefield and in the city recognized that fear ruled the day after Daenerys single handedly destroyed every dragon arrow and opened the gates for her army to enter at will. Nothing in the series or the season set up Daenerys to become a mass murderer, not even the discussions between Varys and Tyrion. It just wasn’t enough to build Daenerys as a savior and protector of the people who were unable to protect themselves over 7.5 seasons, and then to turn on that history in the span of 2 episodes and murder them all. If they wanted that payoff to feel believable, they needed to build more of a sense of time between episodes 4 and 5 that simultaneously showed a decline of sanity for her to truly become the Mad Queen. There were choices that could have been made to generate similar outcomes without murdering millions of people or even have the exact same thing happen but in a way that was earned.

The rule that got violated here is that writers and filmmakers need to earn their endings. This integral moment was not earned and every person watching this show is going to feel some form of that violation. The impact is akin to seeing 1,000,000 fans dying. Just like every other genre, fantasy has to operate by its own set of internal rules in film and literature. However, HBO’s Game of Thrones has sadly shown that they can’t really be trusted with fantasy because they are more willing to force a set of decisions into a season without building onscreen justification than to follow where the story goes.

The story didn’t go here. This wasn’t where we were being led.


The thing is, HBO could have AVOIDED all of this by cutting 15 minutes of burning the city to a crisp and adding 15 minutes of talking scenes. This would have allowed Deanerys’ character to develop, showing her anger, her instability, her madness, her vengeance, etc.  and it would have created the feeling of TIME passing as her helplessness and frustration built. I would have at least liked to see her seethe, cry, or scream that Missandei is dead! Instead, they allowed viewers to trust her based upon the scenes we were given.


That’s what upsets me. They opted for glitzy destruction and mass murder on a scale we have not seen instead of substance because they were blind to their own failings in the creation, production, and presentation process.

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Audiobook Review: Jade City by Fonda Lee

Jade City is the first book of Fonda Lee’s terrific new series the Jade War Saga. The audiobook was produced by Hachette Audio, featuring narration by Andrew Kishino and running 19 hours and 7 minutes.


Jade City is the start of an exciting new epic urban fantasy series that takes place in the equivalent of the mid-20th century on the island of Kekon. The No Peak Clan finds itself facing challenges that could put its leading family as well as the island of Kekon itself at risk as a war unfolds with the Mountain Clan over the island’s most precious resource: Jade. The clans’ jade warriors, otherwise known as green bones, face off against each other in a struggle that sweeps aside kings and pawns like chess pieces in a masterful battle, leaving the listener to wonder who is really pulling the strings. As the battle builds and becomes increasingly desperate, the Kaul family realize that personal preferences and desires take second place to loyalty and survival, which at times seem to test even the strongest of their leaders and warriors and will leave you gasping and wondering how the first story could possibly end there… On the bright side, book two is coming soon!

I chose to read Jade City after seeing it nominated for a World Fantasy Award. It wasn’t on my list of books to listen to since I am not fond of gang violence and tend to pass over those types of stories. However, such a simplistic description of Jade City does it a deep disservice. This is not a story about gang violence. It is a story of an island, its people, its traditions and culture, and its jade—a very special resource that can only be found on Kekon and is coveted by the outside world, even if they can’t use its power. Moreover, it is a story about family, love, loyalty, pain, disappointment, and hope.

Fonda Lee creates a fully realized world full of texture and details that, especially in the audiobook, create a truly immersive experience into the mystical world of the Kekonese and the power of jade. The novel has such a deftly crafted sense of place, society, and history that it swept me along despite my lack of familiarity with Asian culture, and I soon found myself understanding pride, social class, honorifics, and traditions that are very different from my own. That was a side benefit that I truly loved and hadn’t quite expected. Listening to Jade City is like stepping into another world that is hard and tough and wonderful.

The narrator for Jade City is Andrew Kishino who does a wonderful job. There is a tone and grittiness to his voice that matches the texture and tension within the text without being harsh. He has an excellent sense of pace and rhythm and conveys urgency and emotion in such a way that you aren’t even aware of it until you feel your heart clenching in worry or in joy during those little moments of sunshine that keep the story from falling too far into a grimdark modern fantasy. He’s simply an excellent narrator and was the perfect choice for telling the Jade War saga.

There was a bit more violence and some swearing than I normally like to read. However, none of it felt out of line with the story and plot. There was a true balance between violence and need that kept it from being too dark while still conveying the dangerous nature of the people and place that comprise Kekon. The most difficult things about this story, especially as an audiobook, were the names, naming conventions, and honorifics. For someone who is completely unfamiliar with Asian cultures, it may be a little difficult in the beginning to grasp first names and last names, the use of honorifics paired with names, and familiar and affectionate terms of endearment. As a result, the first 20 minutes or so will require you to pay a little more attention to the story in order to track who is a Maik, a Kaul, an Ayt, and just a random character or clan member. However, it all becomes fluid and natural quickly enough, and you soon develop an intuitiveness for these things that actually heighten the sense of culture, community, and family within the story.

What truly works well within Jade City is the jade. Outside of the story world of Jade City, jade is an important part of Asian culture, and Fonda Lee does an incredible job of tapping into the already present sense of specialness that is associated with this lovely green stone. She then takes that innate sense of specialness and bends it to her will, weaving it into an exceedingly rare resource that provides some truly incredible powers that feel natural in a way that many fantasy novels do not achieve.

I highly recommend the Jade City audiobook. Anyone looking for a powerful modern fantasy novel/audiobook that embraces magic, modernity, and humanity, this is the story for you. Fonda Lee wrote a kick-ass book and Andrew Kishino knocked the narration out of the park. Jade City will make you think about the world just a little bit differently, and that is a good thing.

Happy listening!

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Thank you so much for your support.

Audiobook: Jade City by Fonda Lee

Title: Jade City (Book 1, Jade War Saga)
Author: Fonda Lee
Amazon: AudiobookKindlePaperbackHardcover

Audiobook Publisher: Hachette Audio
Narrators: Andrew Kishino
Length: 19 Hours, 7 Minutes

Print Publisher: Orbit
Print Date: November 7, 2017

Posted in Audiobook, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment