Review – Clouds of Witness

2017-Aug-17, Thursday 08:00
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Posted by Nikki

Cover of Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. SayersClouds of Witness, Dorothy L. Sayers

What do I even have to say about these books anymore? This is the second Wimsey book, and it ups the emotional involvement somewhat by bringing in Peter’s family, and therefore higher stakes. I love all the stupid, unreliable, ridiculous characters, and the clever ones too, since they’re often one and the same character. I love the fact that if you pay attention, there are clues throughout — if you know your literature. (I refer to the references to Manon Lescaut.)

Yes, it’s Golden Age detective fiction, with everything that implies. At times, things don’t seem to be moving along much further, things get confused and convoluted, and you just long for people to do some straight talking. It’s Peter and Bunter that carry it, along with some help from the Dowager Duchess — I read these books originally because they’re classics, but I came back again (and again, and again) for the characters and the cleverness of Sayers’ writing.

Rating: 4/5

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Without Chance by Christopher Bailey
Ryan had lost everything. His mother recently died of cancer, and his father had completely shut down after her death. His father even dragged him away from the city he'd grown up in, forcing him to leave all of his friends to move to a tiny, backwater town called Turnbridge, hundreds of miles from anything remotely interesting. Even the school's social scene seemed to revolve around activities and sermons at the local church.

Then he met Chance. Chance was quiet and friendly, and was an extreme social outcast due to his sexual orientation. He was also obsessed with an unsolved murder that had taken place two years previously. Everyone was convinced it was a suicide. Everyone except Chance, who believed the victim had been targeted due to his homosexuality.

Ryan didn't believe him until the accidents started, all seeming to focus around Chance. With the local culture so hostile toward the gay population, there were too many suspects and not nearly enough time as they tried to stop a killer who hunted in the name of God.

Add your review of "Without Chance" in comments!

Review – American Gods

2017-Aug-16, Wednesday 13:00
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Posted by Nikki

Cover of American Gods by Neil GaimanAmerican Gods, Neil Gaiman

I know that there’s probably a ton of “problematic” themes/scenes/descriptions in this book; without paying much attention to the specifics, I’ve still gained the impression that Gaiman isn’t exactly beloved of the social justice crowd, for various reasons. And I can definitely understand the criticisms of some of his actions, statements, aspects of his writing… but American Gods is still a really satisfying, solid read, and I enjoyed it. I found some of the mythology a little too obvious this time round — “Low Key Lyesmith”, really? The hints were just way too obvious for someone with a solid knowledge of Norse mythology.

Still, the other mythologies that are glimpsed are less well-known to me, and I love the way they’re all woven together to make a rich story that’s like a tour of the US and of its people’s history. I’ve no doubt there are gods that should have been included and aren’t, and that other gods have more prominence than they probably should (well, Odin for one). But honestly, I wasn’t thinking that while I was reading. I was just enjoying it.

It’s true that Shadow, the main character, is a bit of a cypher — intentionally. It’s hard to like someone who seems to go through life so numbly. But really, I’m here for the game Gaiman’s playing with the mythology, so it works for me all the same.

Some of the stuff that really doesn’t work for me, though, would include the way the female characters are treated: so much sex and lying, and “bitchiness” (for lack of a better word)… I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel quite right.

It’s a fun read, though not perfect. I think that has to be my conclusion.

Rating: 4/5

WWW Wednesday

2017-Aug-16, Wednesday 08:00
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Posted by Nikki

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.

What are you currently reading?

Cover of The Stars Are Legion by Kameron HurleyI’ve finally returned to Kameron Hurley’s The Stars Are Legion! I’ve been meaning to finish it for ages, but I needed to refresh my memory, so I’ve started over. I’m also reading Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale; I’m not quite sure what I think of it yet. I’m enjoying the style and the Russian background, but on the other hand I keep putting it down for days at a time. Oops.

What have you recently finished reading?Cover of Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb

Yesterday I finished up Assassin’s Apprentice, by Robin Hobb, at last — it’s still really good, though I do find Fitz rather frustrating at times. Still love Verity, too, for his tireless work and his kindness and just — agh, the kind of character I always love. I’ve also just finished reading a history of Vikings, The Hammer and the Cross, by Robert Ferguson. I found it a bit long-winded, though there’s some good stuff.

What will you read next? 

Cover of Pantomime by Laura LamThere’s quite a few options on the table, including starting the second Farseer book, Royal Assassin. I need to start reading Pantomime properly — I stopped so I could include it as one of my Reading Quest books. And I still want to start on my reread of Kushiel’s Dart.

In summary, plenty to keep me busy!

What are you reading?

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Posted by Nikki

Cover of The Real Lives of Roman Britain by Guy de la BedoyereThe Real Lives of Roman Britain, Guy de la Bedoyere

I picked this up mostly because Guy de la Bedoyere worked on Time Team, which I loved as a kid and now watch sometimes with my wife. He was their Roman expert, or one of them, so that’s a pretty good endorsement (and it amused me to notice a blurb from Tony Robinson on the front!). The problem, as ever, is that there isn’t really that much material for the “real people” of Roman Britain, because there’s no rich written record to refer to. There’s scraps — an inscription here, a letter there, an eloquent tomb — but often de la Bedoyere is pressed to make more than a paragraph or two of the material he has. It’s about real people, alright, but there’s so little we know about them, that doesn’t necessarily add to what we know.

Which is not to say it’s a bad book; it’s solidly based on the archaeology and records we have, and there are some fascinating glimpses at life in Roman Britain. But it’s less a full picture than a glance through a door that’s open just a crack.

Mind you, I’m sure de la Bedoyere feels closer to the people he writes about than we do, reading about it — he’s examined the evidence first hand, perhaps worked on the excavations. This might be more satisfying if you’re in that position, too!

Rating: 3/5

Top Ten Tuesday

2017-Aug-15, Tuesday 08:00
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Posted by Nikki

Hey everyone! This is possibly my final regular Top Ten Tuesday post because, great as some of the themes from The Broke and the Bookish have been, it’s starting to feel like work to participate. The themes are quite often repetitive or just not applicable to me. I’ve done 164 previous Top Ten Tuesday posts; perhaps it’s no surprise that my inventiveness is running out. I still plan to check back and participate when I’m interested in the theme, but I’m not going to schedule posts ahead anymore.

That said, here’s a look at my Top Ten Top Ten Tuesdays!

  1. Book blogging confessions.
  2. Underrated Arthurian novels.
  3. Desert island reads.
  4. If you like epic fantasy…
  5. Heroines.
  6. If I’m found with amnesia, give me these books to read.
  7. My weird bookish habits.
  8. Books that scared me.
  9. Books for my mother.
  10. Bookish things I want to know about friends.

I’ll still be swinging by other people’s posts too, so I’ll see you all soon!

2017 Election Results

2017-Aug-14, Monday 20:50
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OTW contested election banner

The Elections Committee would like to thank all of our candidates for their hard work in this year's election. With that, we are pleased to present the results of the 2017 Election.

The following candidates (in alphabetical order) have been officially elected to the Board of Directors.

  • Claire P. Baker
  • Danielle Strong
  • Jessie Camboulives

The new members of the Board will formally begin their term overlap on October 1, 2017. We wish them well with their terms. With that, the election season comes to a close. Thank you to everyone who got involved by spreading the word, asking the candidates questions, and, of course, voting! We look forward to seeing all of you again next year.


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Fandom Haven Story Archive header

The Fandom Haven Story Archive, a multifandom fanfiction archive, is being imported to the Archive of Our Own (AO3).

In this post:

Background explanation

The Fandom Haven Story Archive (FHSA) was created in 2003 by DrkCherry and Ursula4x and hosts gen, slash and het fanfiction about various books, movies, and television shows.

It is being imported to the AO3 to preserve the story collection, as the server where it has been historically hosted will be shut down.

Open Doors will be working with Haven, the current moderator, to import the FHSA into a separate, searchable collection on the Archive of Our Own.

We will begin importing works from the Fandom Haven Story Archive to the AO3 after August 2017.

What does this mean for creators who have work(s) on the Fandom Haven Story Archive?

We will send an import notification to the email address we have for each creator. We'll do our best to check for an existing copy of any works before importing. If we find a copy already on the AO3, we will invite it to the collection instead of importing it. All works archived on behalf of a creator will include their name in the byline or the summary of the work.

All imported works will be set to be viewable only by logged-in AO3 users. Once you claim your works, you can make them publicly-viewable if you choose. After 30 days, all unclaimed imported works will be made visible to all visitors. Open Doors will then set up the URL redirects, and we will permanently close down the site.

Please contact Open Doors with your FHSA pseud(s) and email address(es), if:

  1. You'd like us to import your works, but you need the notification sent to a different email address than you used on the original archive
  2. You already have an AO3 account and have imported your works already yourself.
  3. You’d like to import your works yourself (including if you don’t have an AO3 account yet).
  4. You would NOT like your works moved to the AO3.
  5. You are happy for us to preserve your works on the AO3, but would like us to remove your name.
  6. you have any other questions we can help you with.

Please include the name of the archive in the subject heading of your email. If you no longer have access to the email account associated with your Fandom Haven Story Archive account, please contact Open Doors and we'll help you out. (If you've posted the works elsewhere, or have an easy way to verify that they're yours, that's great; if not, we will work with the Fandom Haven Story Archive mod to confirm your claims.)

Please see the Open Doors Website for instructions on

If you still have questions...

If you have further questions, visit the Open Doors FAQ, contact the Open Doors committee.

We'd also love it if fans could help us preserve the story of the Fandom Haven Story Archive on Fanlore. If you're new to wiki editing, no worries! Check out the new visitor portal, or ask the Fanlore Gardeners for tips.

We're excited to be able to help preserve the Fandom Haven Story Archive!

- The Open Doors team and Haven

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Posted by JenniferP

Dear Captain,

I am a man and I have a problem: I’m a creep.

I’m 30 years old, and I haven’t had a whole lot of romantic experience. I’ve been shy my whole life and dealing with anxiety and depression since my teen years, so I haven’t put myself out there as much as I could have, and haven’t had the self-confidence to be a good prospect in the past.  My social skills have been getting better, and I’m getting treatment for my mental health issues.  I think I’m capable of dating now, and I’ve met a few interesting women to connect with in the last year or so.  These days, I even manage to gather up my courage and ask them out/confess my feelings.  However, I never to seem to get a straight “yes” or a “no”, and I end up responding in a bad way.  Some examples:

I met a friend-of-a-friend a few times before, and we had flirted with each other, so I was feeling confident about our connection.  Our group went to a party a while back, and I ended up asking to kiss her when we alone at one point.  She said “I don’t know” and it looked like she was nervous and didn’t know what to do.  I backed off physically, but I pressed the point: mostly questions in the “why not?” vein.  We parted without incident, but met back up at the end of the party (the group was riding back together).   For some reason, I tried to flirt some more, and I just ended up creeping her out.  I’ve had enough self-awareness to keep my distance ever since, though the damage has already been done.

Another scenario: I saw a woman on a regular basis at an activity.  I liked her, and told her so one day.  Confronted with the news, she became very awkward and didn’t give a clear verbal response (“oh…uh…”).  We ended up having a good conversation (about
everything else), but my declaration was left hanging.  Before I saw her again, I e-mailed her to ask to talk again—I had been flogging myself for not knowing what to say.  Her response was a clear “no”, and it was obvious that my e-mail had been unwelcome.  I was glad to get the straight-up answer, but I had to push her boundaries to get it.

There have also been a couple of recent instances where I’ve asked a woman out and didn’t take her “I can’t make it” as an “I don’t want to”, and have ended up pestering them again.

It’s clear that I’m establishing a disturbing pattern: I get interested in a woman; I make a move; she gives a non-committal response; I don’t take it as the brush-off it is and end up making unwelcome contact (i.e. asking for a date again, “but why?”, continuing to flirt beyond its welcome).  I know intellectually that getting a non-answer in these situations means “no”.  It’s also clear in retrospect that I should’ve just backed off in these cases, but I seem to panic in the moment and not act on that knowledge.  Through some combination of wishful thinking, inexperience and brain weasels, I’m pushing women’s boundaries and acting like a creep.

Any thoughts, Cap’n?  I feel so guilty about these instances, and I’ve reaped the personal consequences—burnt bridges and cold shoulders—but I’m still not getting it right.  How do I remember to bow out gracefully in such a moment?

– Don’t Wanna Be A Creep

giphy (24)

Image description: A giant panda sits in a pink rocking chair. It covers its face and slumps down in a convincing imitations of human shame.

Hey Friend, I see you and I used to be you. No, really. Lest we forget, I once left a multi-page letter on someone’s pillow in the bedroom where they sleep.

Media portrayals of romantic pursuit reward persistence. This is doing you (and many, many, many other people) a grave disservice.

You’re not doing anything wrong by asking people on dates, asking them to kiss them, or telling them you like them. There are exceptions – I think teachers hitting on their students is always pretty creepy, for instance, and your cute barista smiles that way at everyone because she is trapped at work and capitalism demands her emotional labor – but feeling attracted to someone and asking them about it isn’t creepy. Also, you are asking, not doing that “making a move” thing in movies where men grab women and mash their faces together that is romantic in fantasy and consensually in established “grabbing” relationships but not actually in real life. So, you haven’t crossed all the way over into creepy. It’s not too late!

So let’s work on your follow-up. Next time you feel that spark of interest in somebody, keep doing what you’re doing and ask. You’re not naturally smooth, so don’t try to become smooth at this. Just be yourself and be direct.

You:I’d really love to kiss you/take you on a date/get to know you better.”

Nice lady:Hrm…I don’t know about that.”  

You:Ok! I hope you don’t mind me asking. If you ever change your mind, let me know.

Your “creep” self-label is probably 99% you being really hard on yourself, but I sense a little resentment or confusion on your part about not getting “clearer” answers. This is actually pretty simple to handle going forward. Treat anything that is not “Yes!!!!!” like “No.” Can’t make it = no. Let me think about it = no. I don’t know = no. Not now = no. You don’t need to push for a clearer answer or settle the question or codify the rejection. Did she say “Yes, I’d love to!?” No? Then drop it. Stop auditing her answers for the yes.

Rejection doesn’t mean you have to hide your face in shame forever or get all weird and Firthy about it, though! Go back to being polite and friendly and never mention it again until or unless she does. You can show that you are safe and trustworthy by being safe and trustworthy. If she flirts with you, it’s okay to flirt back, but don’t renew the request for a date or a kiss. Let her come to you with that. If she doesn’t, that’s your answer.

If it gets too uncomfortable for you to be in limbo with someone, it’s okay for you to pull back on the interaction. Just because you were comfortable with it once upon a time doesn’t mean you have to be comfortable with it when your feelings are hurt.

Women don’t forget when dudes ask them out. We don’t need reminders. If a lady really is on the fence about the whole thing and her “hrmmm…interesting” reaction was a genuine “I don’t know,” she is perfectly capable of coming and finding you later and asking “Is that offer still good?”  I once suddenly needed to check my mail in another part of campus at two in the morning so I could keep walking in tandem with the gentleman I was walking home from a party with so we could mutually and consensually maneuver ourselves onto the Couch of Let’s Put On Some Portishead Now That I Have My Very Important Postal Material That Could Not Wait For Daylight. A woman who genuinely wants to look at your etchings will find a way to ask you about them.

You say you are shy and you don’t have a lot of confidence. This is how you build/practice/get confidence: You say your piece, you let the other person make a decision, and you trust that once in a while someone will decide you are worth risking an awkward conversation for. Until that happens, you trust in yourself, in your own worth and good and valiant heart, and pour your love and your time into your friendships, your family, your work, your education, your hobbies, and your community. Live to date again another day.

Another suggestion? Make your date requests more specific. You say you aren’t getting clear yes or no answers, so, make your requests for dates or whatever easier to say a clear yes or no to. “Would you like to be my date to this comedy show on Thursday?” vs. “Can I take you out sometime?”

If the person says “No thanks” that’s your answer!

If someone says no to Thursday, specifically, but yes to the idea, you are cleared to ask again, one time. If it gets super-hard to make plans and it feels like there is never the right time, 1) Stop:I’d still really love to get together, why don’t you call me when your schedule opens up and we’ll figure something out?2) Drop (the subject) and 3) Roll your attention somewhere else.

Maybe someday I’ll stop gushing about Mr. Awkward but today is not that day. He asked me out on Ok Cupid. I said “Yes, but I am sick and busy, can we try this in a couple of weeks?” He said “Sure” and (this is key) then he left me alone. He assumed he was never going to hear from me again and moved on with his life. In a couple of weeks, I got in touch with him and asked him on a date. What if I had never written to him? We might never have met. What if he had written to me repeatedly to get me to go out with him? We also might never have met. Read on for a cautionary tale.

Pickup Artists and other dregs at the bottom of the dating pool talk about something called the “shit test” – where women say no to an early request to test to see if the guy will persist, and they encourage you to push back on this early no. One of my early dating tests that I didn’t realize was a test at the time is the “Hey will this stranger take no for an answer because I kind a need to know” test. I once mentioned to a dude from an online dating site that I would call him over the weekend to confirm plans for a date. Some actual big deal life stuff came up and I forgot to call him. At precisely 9:00 am Monday morning I got a text that said “You didn’t call. 😦” and I had a strangely visceral “Nope!!!!” reaction to reading it, like, ugh, this is already too much work. I was like “Oops, I had some family stuff, sorry” and He was like “My time is very valuable, I don’t like reserving time in my schedule for flakes” and I was like “I hear that, okay, sorry again, let’s skip getting ice cream after all, good luck out there” and then












I get from the interactions that he’d been really looking forward to the date and that I hurt his feelings by being less interested. It was probably never gonna happen after that initial 😦 but it was definitely not gonna happen after “Why did you say you’d go out with me if you didn’t intend to follow through?” He was cute and smart and we liked the same geeky stuff but he put my shoulders up around my ears and once they went up they weren’t coming down.

Don’t be Sad Emoji Guy. Persistence is overrated. Pushy people get my back up and if you’re a shy guy who is not very experienced at dating your best dating pool is going to be your fellow shy people who are not so experienced at dating and they are not necessarily going to enjoy feeling hunted by you.


  • Stop asking for women’s phone numbers or emails when you meet them in bars or group settings. “I’d love to chat with you more, can I give you my info?” Hand them a card (or literally a scrap of paper with your name and a way to contact you on it, please do not overthink this)Remove the anxiety of “when do I call/should I call/how do I call/what do I say when I call” from your life completely right now. Change up the idea of pursuit in romance. Whenever I give this advice some dude points out “But he won’t get any calls that way” and it’s like “Maybe not! But if someone does call you’ll know she really wanted to, and in the meantime you made the world suck less by not pressuring women for contact info.” If she loses it, so what. If she doesn’t like your font, so what. The whole point is to stop worrying about it once you give her your info instead of pressuring her for hers. If she met you and she really liked you, chances are she’ll tuck it in a safe place.
  • Don’t be Social Media Hover Guy. Let’s be clear, I would always, always Google potential dates and get an idea of their general online vibe and how well it matched up with what they’d told me, and I think everyone should do this (It’s one way to figure out early on if someone is a Nazi, for instance!) And we’re only human, and photos of our crushes are fascinating. However, when you are trying to connect with someone, don’t monitor their feeds and mention everything they’ve ever done back to them, don’t become the person that “likes” every single thing they say (Really you “like” when I wished my Mom a happy birthday 2 months ago?), DON’T click “like” on all their old pictures. It’s about as subtle as skywriting, and it just feels, as you said, creepy to know someone is monitoring you to that extent.
  • Watch for reciprocity. If you are sending 5 emails or texts for every 1 of hers, and yours are like Tolstoy wrote them where she is more Dorothy Parker, ease off a bit.
  • Read more books by women and take in art by women. If you already read books by women, great? Keep doing that. Ashley C. Ford just had a great Twitter thread on books by black women people are reading & excited to read if you need to refresh your list. Watch movies by women. Listen to music made by women. You want to love women and be with women? Recognize the ways that the world is out of balance for us and look for stories and creative works that address that.
  • Be politically active about things that are important to women. In the spring it was reported that women are making 86% of the phone calls to resist the current administration’s policies. Do you want to be with women, sleep with women, love women? Have you noticed we’re kinda busy right now? Love us by doing your part so that we can survive and thrive and have some free time to think about dating a nice fellow like you. I will stop adding this advice to dating threads when I see that number move to 50%.

You can’t logick someone into loving you. There is no series of perfectly executed steps that get you there. You’ve reached this moment of self-awareness about what you’re doing and it doesn’t feel good but growth never does.

This is all very fixable and I wish you luck in fixing it.

Captain Awkward


Comments closed as of 10:17 pm.

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Sparkle Boy by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Maria Mola

It's 32 pages, but it's so full of important moments.

Like Casey loving his sister Jessie's shimmery skirt, and wanting one of his own. And their mother bringing her son a shimmery skirt that his sister had outgrown.

"If Casey wants to wear a skirt, Casey can wear a skirt," she said. "I don't have a problem with that."

Casey and Jessie's father is equally awesome about Casey wanting to wear glittery nail polish, painting it on his son's nails himself.

And then their grandmother is equally - maybe especially - awesome about Casey wanting one of her sparkly bracelets, just like his sister.

There's the growing plot element of Jessie not liking his little brother Casey's doing all these things that boys "shouldn't do," but in the climactic moment, when some other boys lecture Casey about that very thing - that boys shouldn't sparkle, Jessie has her big moment - and as a big sister, she rises to the occasion!

I love this book.

And I want everyone to read it.

Including you.

Thank you, Lesléa, and thank you Maria.

For Sparkle Boy.

It's the love surrounding Casey that really sparkles.

And the example of how a family can nurture difference and see the beauty in it - in all its shimmery, glittery, sparkly splendor - is beautiful.

Review – Wicked Plants

2017-Aug-14, Monday 08:00
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Posted by Nikki

Cover of Wicked Plants by Amy StewartWicked Plants, Amy Stewart

Wicked Plants is one of those books which seems, to me, more like the sort of thing you dip into, flip through, and ultimately probably leave on the bookshop shelf. The illustrations are quite pretty, and some of the facts are entertaining, but all in all it becomes a list of facts, grouped into categories of varying usefulness/interest.

If you’re fascinated by all the ways the natural world can kill us, this might well be your thing — and if you love plants in general, and spend a lot of time gardening, it might be a good idea to know the baddies hiding in the hedgerows, too. But for me it was more of a curiosity, and I only finished it because it happened to be what I had on hand when I couldn’t sleep.

Rating: 3/5

Review – Spellslinger

2017-Aug-13, Sunday 08:00
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Posted by Nikki

Cover of Spellslinger by Sebastien de CastellSpellslinger, Sebastien de Castell

Received to review via Netgalley; published 4th May 2017

I’ve read one other book by Sebastien de Castell, Traitor’s Blade, and it was a lot of fun, much like this — although aimed at a different audience, somewhat, given that this is essentially a coming-of-age story, and deals with the various trials and tribulations of proving yourself to your society, living up to your parents’ expectations, and discovering you’re just not like everyone else. It surprised me in that it doesn’t take the easy way out, emotionally. Kellen has to get through the whole book with more or less the same advantages he started with.

The family dynamics are just… painful. They’re plainly abusive, even when they express affection/pride in any way, and it’s just not at all fun to read for me. The way Kellen’s friends turn their backs on him, too. I don’t want it to be a true depiction of people, of family and friendship, but I’m afraid it really can be, and that’s kind of awful.

Spellslinger doesn’t go easy on the protagonist or the reader, it has a pretty cool magic system and world-building, and plenty of space for more adventures. Oh, and a talking animal sidekick which is not a dog, but a squirrel cat. I’m here for this.

There’s plenty more room for world-building, and I feel like things might really kick off in later books — this did feel like an origin story, though there are one or two themes that I imagine will be explored further.

Rating: 4/5

So, about those pesky Nazis again.

2017-Aug-13, Sunday 00:18
[syndicated profile] captainawkward_feed

Posted by JenniferP

This is an amalgamation of actual letters in my actual inbox:

Dear Captain Awkward, I’m dating someone wonderful who really loves me, he (IT’S ALWAYS HE, DON’T @ME) but he has terrible political views, like, he thinks immigrants and black people and women and gay people and trans people aren’t really people something something about biological inferiority and it’s okay to violence them but only when they deserve it? I know it’s just how he grew up, he has a good heart and doesn’t really mean it, Confederate flags/”traditional” views are just part of his heritage. I’ve tried discussing this with him but he always talks over me. Can you help me explain my views better? I’m sure I can convince him if I just try hard enough? Can this relationship work?

Go look at some photos from Charlottesville right now.

BTW there’s one with the Confederate flag right next to Nazi flags that really rung some bells after last month’s discussion.

(Nazi flags and Confederate flags are best buds they like to go drinking together and talk about wars they got their asses kicked in and remember the good old days of being giant fucking racist losers.)

The heart wants what it wants but I gotta ask what would it take for you to break up with a dude who talks about “many sides” and “yeah but free speech is important” and “we can’t waste time with identity politics” right about now? I guarantee some of those tiki torch Connors and Trents and Wyatts are going home to cuddles and pie tonight. Maybe with you.

I know how you got here even if you don’t. They know how to hide this stuff in “polite” company and save the nastiness for anonymous forums. They use dog whistles. They make jokes that aren’t jokes. They play the Devil’s advocate. They say ridiculous things on purpose so that you can think to yourself “He can’t really believe that, can he?” They trick you with occasional actual orgasms and doing their fair share of the dishes and decent hygiene and god, you were alone for so long, and you finally found someone who is not repulsive in the shallow dating pool where you live, do you really have to dump this living, breathing human being who likes the same geeky stuff you like and who holds doors open for your mom and who probably is just doing his best, all to prove some abstract point? How can these people know better if no one will teach them how to be better? Can’t that be you, and in return you get to keep this nice boyfriend who smells good and who has a decent job and who and checks all of your other “don’t be a giant racist turd” boxes? There’s good in him, you’ve felt it, surely this can be fixed?

They wait until they’ve charmed you, until they’ve met your parents, until things are all comfortable between you, to show their true colors, betting on the fact that you’d be too far in to leave.

I know you’re embarrassed and it’s embarrassing as fuck but it’s not too late to get out of there. I know it’s not fair. Cut. Your. Losses.

I’m not making fun. I am deadly serious. It is only getting worse. At least one person died today behind this. We can’t lose you, too. Make a safety plan. Go quietly, but go.

It’s half-past Lysistrata time.


Captain Awkward



Review – The Martian

2017-Aug-12, Saturday 13:00
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Posted by Nikki

Cover of The Martian by Andy WeirThe Martian, Andy Weir

Reread, because I just felt like it. It’s a great adventure story which uses a lot of reasonable, modern science to imagine how we’d get people to Mars to explore — and what we’d do if someone was stranded there. The main character, Mark, is funny, which both builds sympathy for him and ameliorates some of the frustrations of the way things just keep going wrong. I love the bit in the afterword by the author where he explains that he found that each solution to the last problem naturally presented a new problem for the characters; now that’s a good way to put a story together.

Most of the characters aren’t that well rounded, because so much of it relies on reporting Mark’s diary entries as he struggles to survive on Mars. It mostly still works, though, and there’s some excellent snark I just love, e.g. the whole “Elrond” meeting.

It’s not a perfect book, but I enjoy it a lot. If you’re a fan of the Apollo 13 movie, or of space stuff in general, then I think this should appeal — as well as if you’re into survival adventure stories.

Rating: 4/5

Stacking the Shelves

2017-Aug-12, Saturday 08:00
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Posted by Nikki

Good morning! I’m in the UK again, visiting my parents for my birthday, so I’d better go with the tradition — here’s a pic of one of the buns which my wife sent me! Here Breakfast is somewhere he shouldn’t be, looking very curious…

He’s going to get himself in trouble any minute now.

So, right, the haul. Here goes…

Received to review:

Cover of Harkworth Hall Cover of Swearing Off Stars Cover of Fowl Language by Brian Gordon Cover of Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey

I asked for Harkworth Hall after reading Bob @ Beauty in Ruins’ review, and it was worth it! Swearing Off Stars was a random grab, while I got Fowl Language because I’ve loved the cartoons from Brian Gordon’s series that I’ve seen around.

Fiction books bought:

Cover of Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older Cover of The Shards of Heaven by Michael Livingston Cover of The Red by Linda Nagata Cover of The Queen of Blood by Sarah Beth Durst

Cover of Arena by Holly Jennings Cover of In the Shadow of the Gods by Rachel Dunne Cover of After the Crown by K.B. Wagers Cover of Rosewater by Tade Thompson

Cover of The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin Cover of Europe at Midnight by Dave Hutchinson Cover of Europe in Winter by Dave Hutchinson

 Cover of Hunger Makes the Wolf by Alex Wells Cover of Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn

I know, I know, it’s an amazing haul. Woohoo for the American Book Centre in Amsterdam — definitely recommended: great deals on books, a good selection, and friendly staff. 10% off for students, too! A bunch of these were just €6.99, which is amazingly cheap for imported books in Europe.

Non-fiction books bought:


 Cover of The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukharjee Cover of A Very British Murder by Lucy Worsley Cover of The Button Box by Lynn Knight

I was initially going to complain that I wanted more non-fiction books, but I let myself buy a few more as I passed through London, and now I have quite the satisfactory haul!

Books read this week: 

Cover of Hengeworld by Mike Pitts Cover of Catching Breath by Kathryn Lougheed Cover of Fowl Language by Brian Gordon Cover of The Secret History of the World by Jonathan Black Cover of Harkworth Hall

Four stars to: Hengeworld, Catching Breath, Harkworth Hall.
Three stars to: Fowl Language.
One star to: The Secret History of the World.

Reviews posted this week:

Star-shot, by Mary Ann Constantin. This wasn’t quite my thing, but I was still impressed by the way it was written and some of the fascinating images. 3/5 stars
Machine, by Jennifer Pelland. This left me with pretty mixed feelings. It’s a powerful story, but also disturbing. 3/5 stars
Ancillary Mercy, by Ann Leckie. I want more, but this is still a great book. 5/5 stars
The Refrigerator Monologues, by Catherynne Valente. Very fun, although also depressing. 4/5 stars
Life Unfolding, by Jamie T. Davies. A really fascinating exploration of how the human body develops. 4/5 stars
The Paper Magician, by Charlie N. Holmberg. This is a bag of cotton candy as far as my brain is concerned. Sweet and some fascinating magic. 3/5 stars
Incognito, by David Eagleman. Very readable, but it won’t contain any surprises if you’ve read other pop-sci about the brain and its weird ways before. 3/5 stars

Other posts:

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Was Forced To Read (And Loved).
WWW Wednesday. The weekly update!
The Reading Quest. My sign-up for a new readathon.

[syndicated profile] queer_ya_feed

Stranger by Rachel Manija Brown and Sherwood Smith
Many generations ago, a mysterious cataclysm struck the world. Governments collapsed and people scattered, to rebuild where they could. A mutation, "the Change,” arose, granting some people unique powers. Though the area once called Los Angeles retains its cultural diversity, its technological marvels have faded into legend. "Las Anclas" now resembles a Wild West frontier town… where the Sheriff possesses superhuman strength, the doctor can warp time to heal his patients, and the distant ruins of an ancient city bristle with deadly crystalline trees that take their jewel-like colors from the clothes of the people they killed.

Teenage prospector Ross Juarez’s best find ever – an ancient book he doesn’t know how to read – nearly costs him his life when a bounty hunter is set on him to kill him and steal the book. Ross barely makes it to Las Anclas, bringing with him a precious artifact, a power no one has ever had before, and a whole lot of trouble.

A team sent by King Voske captures Ross and takes him to Gold Point. There he meets Kerry, Voske’s teenage daughter, who has been trained to be as ruthless as her father. While his friends in Las Anclas desperately try to rescue him, Ross is forced to engage in a battle of wills with the king himself.


In this perilous landscape, a schoolboy can create earthquakes, poisonous cloud vipers flock in the desert skies, and the beaches are stalked by giant mind-controlling lobsters.

The tyrant king Voske has been defeated, but all is not peaceful in Las Anclas. Ross’s past comes back to haunt him, Jennie struggles with her new career, Mia faces her fears, Felicite resorts to desperate measures to keep her secrets, Kerry wonders if Las Anclas has really seen the last of her father, and shy Becky Callahan may hold the key to a dangerous mystery.

In Rebel, long-held secrets of past and present are revealed, family ties can strangle as well as sustain, and the greatest peril threatening Las Anclas comes from inside its walls.

A note about this series: When the authors were shopping "Stranger' around, they had interest from an agent who said they would be happy to represent it -- but only if the authors made the one Gay protagonist straight. To their credit, Rachel and Sherwood said no and took the project elsewhere. I'm happy these books found their way to being published in this LGBTQ-content intact way!

Add your review of "Stranger," "Hostage," and/or "Rebel" in comments!

The Reading Quest

2017-Aug-11, Friday 11:28
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Posted by Nikki

Sign up card for the Reading Quest readathon

I’m a sucker for a good readathon, and this version sounds awesome; there’s so much attention to detail! I shall be embarking on the Knight’s Quest first. Provisional reading choices:

  • The first book of a series: Pantomime, by Laura Lam.
  • A book with a verb in its title: Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple.
  • A book with a weapon on its cover: Magic Binds, by Ilona Andrews.
  • A book with a red cover: Chameleon Moon, by RoAnna Sylver.
  • A book that has a TV/movie adaptation: Caliban’s War, by James S.A. Corey.

I plan to go on and try and do all the squares, but that’s where I’ll start… You can read up on all the rules here, and credit for the art goes to CW of Read, Think, Ponder.

Are we there yet!?

Review – Incognito

2017-Aug-11, Friday 08:00
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Posted by Nikki

Cover of Incognito by David EaglemanIncognito, David Eagleman

This book is mostly a very readable account of some of the standard weird things your brain does, but it does contain a very valuable discussion of a serious nature, too. David Eagleman shows through examples how often our behaviour is ruled by factors we don’t control — things in our brain that we may not even know about, but which nonetheless change us. And of course that poses a big question when it comes to criminal behaviour: can we be blamed for “choosing” to do something when we only “choose” to do so because we have a brain tumour?

He gives a decent amount of space to a discussion of how the criminal justice system should work given that we know this, and while other reviewers think that what he suggests impinges on civil liberties, I’m not so sure. By my reading, he’s suggested that people can either just sit in prison for as long as necessary, to remove them from society, or they can voluntarily choose to undergo therapies to help them change their behaviour. If that doesn’t work, then they may have to remain incarcerated because otherwise they would reoffend. As long as it is a choice, I don’t see why such an intervention would be inethical — at least no more inethical than letting someone rot in prison for the rest of their life. There are some people for whom that’d be worse than death, after all.

At any rate, this book might make you feel a little bit uncomfortable as regards how much free will you have and what your brain is doing behind your back. Still worth a read! I’d probably rate it higher if it had more info that’s new to me.

Rating: 3/5

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Posted by JenniferP

Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a friend, who is a wonderful person and who I love hanging out with, but she stresses me the hell out. My issue with her is she constantly changes her mind and changes plans, which drives me crazy – which I realize is partly a personal issue, and I’m working on being more flexible, but she goes above and beyond what I think I’ll ever be able to deal with. Right now there are two main issues with her I’m grappling with:

1. I’m a planner by nature, and am the type of person who, when I make plans with someone, put them in my calendar and schedules other things around those plans. This friend CONSTANTLY changes plans, which irks me because then I’ve planned my day /week around our plans that then get changed or cancelled. I know this about her, and have basically told her twice now, “It stresses me out when you change our plans. Please don’t.” Each time she apologizes and says she’s going to be less flaky, but it never sticks. I’m to the point now where I avoid making plans with her unless it’s something I intended to do anyway – i.e., I’ll invite her to an event I’m planning to go to solo anyway, or invite her to group things where I know other people are going, so if she bails it’s not a big deal. But I feel like it’s affected our relationship, as I’m turning down invites from her to go do stuff because it may or may not actually happen, and thus don’t see her as often.

2. In a more recent development, this friend got engaged. I was asked to be a bridesmaid. Reluctantly, I said yes, after deciding saying no and probably damaging our relationship wouldn’t be an outcome I am okay with. But with wedding planning comes, well, planning, and again she is constantly going back on decisions that I think are set decisions, and it drives me nuts. For instance, when I said I would be a bridesmaid, she said she was buying our dresses. Then she said her dad said she couldn’t buy our dresses, and we had to buy our own. Fine, whatever. Then she texted all the bridesmaids that she had decided on an outfit and told us to order it, and to coordinate with each other if we wanted to go a group order (they do discounts on group orders so it would be financially advantageous for us to do so.) But she didn’t help coordinate a group order other than suggesting it. Then the next day she said she was still looking at other dress options. Then a few days later she sent us a text saying she made up her mind, order the first outfit she sent, do it in the next week, and if need be she’d pay for the group order and we could pay her back. THAT SAME DAY, like literally three hours later, she said no rush on ordering dresses, she was still looking. This entire exchange and the fact that I can’t take her at her word stresses me out to no end, and I know this is just the start – there are still many wedding logistics to work out that I will be involved in, such as the bachelorette, and the rehearsal dinner, and the day of the ceremony itself, and I don’t know if I can handle a year of this. Also she’s told us she’d pay for other things, like our hair and makeup, but I don’t know if I can take her at her word or if she’ll change her mind and I’ll be responsible for paying for those things too.

So my questions are this: What are some scripts I can use to reiterate, once again, that changing plans stresses me out? And how can I explain to her that I feel like I can’t take her at her word with the wedding decisions, and she needs to put a stop to that too if she wants me to be a part of her big day?

Please Help!
Reluctant Bridesmaid

Dear Reluctant Bridesmaid,

You are handling your question #1 perfectly. You have figured out that she is who she is, you have made the inviting easy on yourself, and the result is sometimes you spend less time together, which, okay? There is a deep incompatibility between you, and yet your love for her moves you to cross that chasm the best you can and enjoy the time with her that you have.

Let’s talk about question #2: Bridesmaidery

What if you got a beautiful card and wrote this note in it and sent it?

Dear Friend, I’m so happy for you and so excited to celebrate at your wedding, and so honored that you asked me to stand up with you, but I’m realizing that I can’t serve as your bridesmaid. I want you to have exactly the wedding you want, and I’m so sorry that I can’t be there for you for the ups and downs of planning it, but I wanted to let you know now so you can make other plans. Congratulations and love to you.

Will peace-ing out hurt her feelings and damage your friendship? Yes. Probably.

Is she hurting your feelings and damaging your relationship by constantly changing her mind? YES.

Will there be a friendship left if you have to read the words “rush order your dress/no wait, don’t” one more fucking time this month?


If she asks you why you quit her wedding, can you tell her the truth? “Well, it’s not a secret that we have very different planning styles, and this whole thing over the dress already has me so stressed out that I know this is the right decision for me. I’d love to be at your wedding as a guest and a friend if you’ll have me, but I can’t be a bridesmaid, I’m sorry.

Will it be easy? No. She’ll try to reassure you that it won’t happen again but you 100% know it will happen again with literally every decision. You asked for how you can make it clear that she can’t keep changing plans if she wants you to be a part of her big day, but even if you make an agreement like that you’ll still end up where you are (stressed out, broke) down the road. She can’t make or keep commitments to you! You already have all the evidence you’ll ever need for how this will go.

Be nice to yourself. Get out of this wedding party.

And, for everyone reading this, one possible answer to “Will you be in my wedding?” is “Oh, I’m so happy for you, but I can’t commit to that.” Or, “Let me think about it – I’m so happy for you and I’d love to be a part of it, but I want to be sure I really can do it before I say yes.” Some people will take that very badly and it might affect the friendship, but the Venn diagram of “people who take ‘No, I’m sorry’ as ‘I hate you forever!'” and “people who will make the wedding planning process a death by 1,000 cuts” has some overlap.

#1007: “Holiday Chore Free Riders”

2017-Aug-10, Thursday 13:28
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Posted by JenniferP

Dear Captain,

Every year I go on holiday in a cottage somewhere with the same group of 10 people. It’s lovely and a really important chance to catch up with old friends I don’t see enough. But every year I end up resenting the half of them who don’t pull their weight with the chores.

Not all of us are decent cooks, and it seems perfectly reasonable that only the people who are good at it cook dinners. And we have a “you cooked, so you don’t have to clear away after dinner” rule. But that’s only a tiny fraction of the cleaning that goes on during the week. We also need to load the dishwasher at several other points in the day, do the shopping, plan what we’re going to do, keep tidying things away, organise the holiday itself… All of this emotional and logistical labour and the majority of the cleaning/ cooking is done by the same small group of people.

As you might have guessed, there’s a strong correlation between gender and whether or not people do their share, although it’s not clear cut. My (male) other half is one of the cleaners, and one of the worst shirkers recently came out as non binary, so I don’t want to make a thing of the gender issue as it isn’t as simple as just the women doing the work and the men avoiding it.

I have in the past said something like “it feels like the same people do the majority of the chores, partly because a lot of it isn’t noticeable unless it doesn’t get done, so please be aware of whether you’re doing enough”. This has increased the amount of chores the shirkers do slightly, but not to their fair share, and it hasn’t changed the balance of emotional/ logistical labour. It also resulted in one of the shirkers hiding in a corner not talking to anyone for a couple of hours. (They’re in bad mental health and will do this occasionally throughout the week).

Policing other people’s chore is a) annoying and b) yet more emotional labour I don’t want to do. I’ve tried just not doing the chores, but this results in them not getting done until one of the people who already does too much work does them.

Lots of my thinks this is just one week a year and I should just deal with it and not make a scene or sit there stewing when half the group aren’t contributing. But I’m really pissed off by the injustice of it, especially given the gender divide. And as a friend, I also think my heterosexual male friends are much more likely to have happy romantic relationships if they learn how to divide labour more equitably.

Any advice?

I Am Not Your Mother
(She/ her pronouns)

Dear I Am Not Your Mother:

You can’t fix the balance of labor inside your friend’s relationships or make your vacation a way to model a different balance. I get where you’re coming from, but please let that go for now.

You probably can more evenly distribute holiday chores among your friends if you plan and spell it all out in advance. This is somewhat counter-intuitive advice because it means that you will do more emotional labor up front but it might be worth it so you can enjoy your vacation at the time. General messages like “We all need to be aware of x…” never work, they are the equivalent of post-it notes on the office fridge. The people who need to be told never actually think it applies to them, and the people who don’t need to be told resent being told.

I go away with a group of friends at least once a year. They are planners and it is great. (SO GREAT ❤ ❤ <3) We are very explicit about money (two of us are accountants and at least one is an office manager, I am like, the least organized/planner person in the group), which meals will be eaten at the house, who is making them, who is bringing what, which stuff will be grocery shopped for, and what’s involved in getting the rental in shape before we check out, etc. Being so clear and specific about everything means the actual trip is fun because we can relax knowing that we’re doing our part and everyone else is too and there doesn’t have to be a lot of negotiation at the time.

My suggestion for you is to divide up the days of the vacation and make a list of the days and the stuff that needs to be done each day, like:

  • activities – planning, transportation, logistics
  • meals – planning & shopping
  • meals – preparation & cooking
  • meals – cleanup and what that means (dishwasher run, counters & cooktop wiped down, table cleaned, etc)
  • daily tasks – garbage out, dishwasher run nightly & unloaded each morning

You could try dividing up the tasks day by day or you could try dividing up the days between teams of people. Maybe three people take on activity planning, meals, and cleanup for each day, so you can get a team of a good cook, a sous-chef/cleaner, an activity planner doing what they are best suited to. When it’s not your day, make sure your personal dishes go in the dishwasher and your stuff gets back in your room from the common areas and relax the rest of the time – you’re just along for the ride, no need to stew. When it is your day, you & your teammates take the lead on care & feeding of the friend group. However each team of three divides the work up between them is up to them as long as it gets done (even if that means some gender binaries creep in). Depending on how long the holiday is everybody might get two days they are “on duty,” mixed & matched into different teams.

What system you institute isn’t as important as clearly communicating the system to everybody and giving everybody some agency within it. The people who aren’t getting it won’t magically get it without being told. Also, some days the work might not be awesome or done exactly the way you would do it or divided fairly between the three people. It might take a few go-rounds for this to work like clockwork, so, be gentle.

I will also give you my super-secret guide to making groups in film production classes now if it helps. Most of the time I let people make their own groups, but sometimes for specific projects it’s best if I design them.

I used to try to balance the groups regarding abilities, like, spreading the really ambitious students out and also spreading the less ambitious/focused students out. Then I stopped. The ambitious students were used to carrying the load group projects. The less ambitious students were used to hiding behind other people. Now, while this is not a perfect science, I try to split them this way:

Ambitious students = all together! Let them experience the novelty of having fellow organized & assertive people working with them, and people who will challenge their ideas.

Least ambitious students = all together! They can’t hide. The project might falter, but more often, at least one of them will rise and get yon shit together.

Most introverted students = all together! They get to experience not being talked over and also break the cycle of “whatever you want to do is fine.”

I would never, on pain of death, tell you which group is which. (My colleague SK has a little survey where she asks students to self-identify re: “I am here to have fun and learn a little bit” vs. “I am here to make the greatest possible film”)

I leave this here for you if it’s useful, and if you end up creating the chore groups. Maybe it’s worth having a day where nothing much gets done and y’all order in vs. “balancing” the skills.

Review – The Paper Magician

2017-Aug-10, Thursday 08:00
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Posted by Nikki

Cover of The Paper Magician by Charlie N. HolmburgThe Paper Magician, Charlie N. Holmberg

The Paper Magician isn’t epic fantasy, it isn’t some big sweeping narrative; it’s rather short, and to me it feels like cotton candy. In some moods, that’s just perfect, as far as I’m concerned, and I did indeed enjoy this a lot. The magic is fun — in the case of the paper magic, it’s whimsical, and yet in surprising ways it turns out to be useful. I found the main character, Ceony, a little annoying at first, in her preoccupation with the fact that she didn’t get to do exactly the kind of magic she wanted. Emery Thane is pretty awesome from the beginning, and he goes out of his way to be sweet to her — it’s no wonder she becomes interested in the paper magic he teaches.

The relationship forms a little bit quickly, which I kind of expected given these books are romances as much as fantasy, and definitely more so than historical fiction (nearly not at all, despite the semi-Victorian-ish setting). It makes sense, more or less, though Ceony’s a bit of a twit in her rush to go off and confront the Big Bad.

It’s not the most substantial, deeply thought out world ever, is what I’m saying. I still found it fun, and it’s certainly a fast read.

Rating: 3/5

San Francisco Bay Area MeetUp August 19

2017-Aug-09, Wednesday 14:25
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Posted by JenniferP

From your host, Catmom:

San Francisco Bay Area Meetup
Saturday August 19th starting at 1 pm (ending at 3 pm or 4 pm as people wish.)
Location: Whole Foods, 3111 Mowry Ave, Fremont.
This location is .6 miles from Fremont BART (about a 15 minute walk).
I am told it is wheelchair accessible.
There is both indoor and outdoor seating.
To find us: Look for convener Catmom who will be wearing a “Cat in the Hat” hat (classic red and white striped tall top hat).
Feel free to bring knitting, coloring pages, questions about life, etc.

Have fun!

[syndicated profile] captainawkward_feed

Posted by JenniferP

Hi Captain,

About five years ago I discovered that if I didn’t want someone in my life, I had the ability to say “Nope!” and walk away, even if that person was faaaaaaaaaaamily. Since then, I’ve exercised this option four times with family members, never lightly but without regretting the decision either.

Three of the four family members were people I did not have a good relationship already who exhibited patterns of incredibly inappropriate, harmful behaviour (with myself and other) and showed zero insight or awareness into why their behaviour was awful. I feel safer and happier with these people out of my life.

The fourth was…. different. A beloved cousin turned out to espouse absolutely terrifying, hateful beliefs, the kind that conjure up associations with white supremacist groups. I don’t know what the hell happened there (it came up on Facebook one day, it’s definitely not something my cousin talked about when we still lived in the same city several years ago), but living three timezones away and having no regular means of contact with this person, I didn’t feel able to intervene. After trying to challenge these beliefs and getting a response that *I* was the one who wasn’t seeing clearly and if I just would read these various resources I too would see the light and understand [insert horrifying white supremacist conspiracy theory garbage], I bailed. I cannot countenance having any more contact with this person. According to my mother, my cousin is sad and confused by my reaction and subsequent blocking on Facebook. I am agog.

Anyway, none of these estrangements is likely to resolve, ever. I’m okay with that (sad about the beloved cousin, but I can deal). The challenge is what next? My grandmother is having a milestone birthday in a few months, and I’m already planning to avoid the group celebration (which will have 3 of the 4 in attendance) and do something special with her one-on-one (mercifully living out of town makes this possible with minimal awkwardness–I’m just not “available” that day!). Which will disappoint her, but hopefully not too much. My mother is supporting me completely, but she also wonders what the hell I’m going to do about things like funerals, which is something that will very likely come up within the next few years at my grandmother’s age.

Also, what do I tell people? When I was first contemplating just making a brief appearance at the birthday party and then bailing, my mother agreed but also asked me for scripts for how to handle the resulting awkwardness, and I honestly blanked on anything but, “[Child] loves their Granny but doesn’t want to be around Aunt/Uncle/Cousin”, which seems… undiplomatic, to say the least. And not helpful at dispelling awkwardness when the rest of the family are unlikely to be sympathetic to my reasons (very “but faaaaaaaaaamily”).

At least with my dad (estranged family member #4), I feel much freer to say “He’s a shitty person and I’m glad he’s out of my life forever”. But with the extended family members, it feels like I’m not allowed to judge them or be open about why I don’t want to see them. I feel good about my boundaries, but weird about the on-going awkwardness of having them. Help?

-Stranger in an Estranged Land

Dear Stranger,

First, if any of these people you’ve stopped hanging with asked you why you cut off contact, what would you say?

Would it be some version of:

You did a lot of stuff that made me feel disrespected and unsafe, and when I asked you to stop you kept going. I don’t wish you any harm, but I don’t think I can have a good relationship with you, so I’ve stopped trying. Let’s keep our distance!


“I watched you advocate for some repulsive and hateful political views and I tried to talk to you about it you doubled down. I’m sorry to lose you, but I can’t be in your life if you think those terrible and violent things.

Or (with your Dad):

You’re a shitty dad and a shitty person and I’m glad you’re out of my life forever.

Remind yourself of the truth. These people know why they were cut off from your life, it’s not actually a mystery! And their shitty behavior is not a secret that you have to keep. If someone in the extended family were to ask about you + cousin, “Why aren’t you talking to cousin anymore? He’s so hurt and confused” you could say “Welp, did you notice when he became a Nazi? It’s not actually confusing, Aunt Jean.” See also the catch-all “We just don’t get along anymore, and I’ve stopped trying to make it work for now. Howabout that subject change?”

Dropping contact with family members really freaks people out. It goes against the Blood is Thicker Than Water/Your Family Will Always Love & Accept You ideals they were raised with. It also raises the possibility for them that if they behaved very badly you might cut contact with them, which…yes? You might? Family bonds are important but you have a right not to subject yourself to abuse in the name of those bonds.

Anyway, the first principle, for you or your mom might be “Don’t start none, won’t be none” aka “If I go to a family event I will not start conflict or trouble, I will just try to quietly avoid the people, but if someone asks me directly about what’s going on between us, I will tell the truth.

To build on that, what if you thought of funerals and other “the whole family will be there” events as neutral ground? What if you treated the estranged relatives less like enemies and more like strangers?

If you ran into a stranger or an arms-length acquaintance you didn’t like much at a funeral you’d say the minimum polite “hello” and then go talk to the people you came to see. You wouldn’t start a duel or try to rehash relationship troubles, you’d just ignore them. If they approached you trying to have a big conversation about whatever it is you’d say “This is hardly the place or the time to get into this. I’m here to support [grieving relative], let’s drop it for now.

As for “whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy” scripts, especially for your mom to tell other relatives, why not the truth? And why not give her a way to not be in the middle of it?

  • “[Stranger] and [Relative] aren’t in touch.”
  • “You’ll have to ask [Stranger] about that, I couldn’t possibly tell you.”
  • “[Stranger] & [Relative] had a falling out. You’ll have to ask them about it.”
  • “[Stranger] & [Relative] don’t get on. It’s not my business why.”

Your mom doesn’t have to fix this or explain it or convince anyone in the family that it was the right thing for you to do. I mean, I think we should respect the fact that family members have expectations that she will and that she has been brought up with expectations that she will and even you sort of have expectations that she will do the explaining – her anxiety about this isn’t coming from nowhere! So, don’t put her in the position of being your diplomat and do give her permission to let you be “the bad guy” in these interactions. “Mom, I know this is super-uncomfortable but you didn’t cause this and you can’t fix this.” She’s passing on information that the cousin is super sad and confused about your estrangement, so, address that head on. “I’m sad too, but his beliefs are vile and dangerous and my attempts to talk to him about it were met with a stone wall. I can’t fix his sadness and he can’t fix mine as long as he believes those terrible things.” If she says “What about funerals? What do I say when people ask?” and you can say “I’ll go to funerals, etc. as I can and if people ask you uncomfortable questions you can tell them to ask me about it directly. There’s nothing for you to fix here!

You can also take pressure of your mom by forming your own, adult relationships with extended family members you want to be close to that aren’t mediated through her. Write them, call them, remember their birthdays, send holiday cards (or whatever the rituals of your family are) to the extent you want to. Create bilateral relationships instead of letting Mom be the clearinghouse. Then they can talk directly to you if they have a problem or a question.

The first time or two you go to a family event or avoid a family event will be the most awkward and then a new normal will emerge. It will never be comfortable, probably, but it doesn’t have to be fixed. You can’t fix a person’s bigotry. You can’t fix it when someone treats you badly. You don’t have to convince the whole family of the rightness of your actions.  They can think you made the wrong call if they want to. You also don’t have to give up your whole family if you don’t want to. Work to preserve the relationships you value (and that value you) and let the rest go.


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Pieces by G Benson
Orphaned Carmen is sixteen, newly homeless and will do almost anything to survive and keep her and her kid brother safe, together, and out of foster care. Ollie, also a sixteen-year old girl, has a life that’s all about parents, school pressure, friends and dreams of summer. The two fall into each other’s orbit, and one kiss changes everything. Ollie is captivated … but then Carmen vanishes. When they cross paths months later, everything is different.

Add your review of "Pieces" in comments!

Review – Life Unfolding

2017-Aug-09, Wednesday 13:00
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Posted by Nikki

Cover of Life Unfolding by Jamie A. DaviesLife Unfolding, Jamie T. Davies

Well, now I feel silly that I didn’t read this before my human biology exam! It describes, in very careful detail, how the human body builds itself, beginning at the point an egg is fertilised. It explains processes like cell division and gastrulation, and generally manages to make the whole complex process comprehensible. Davies doesn’t get hung up on quantum biology or how consciousness is generated, but instead focuses on the physical processes by which the human body grows.

You may not find this entirely satisfying, because Davies very much relies on the fact that small events — a chemical gradient, a lack of symmetry in a cell — seem to prompt massive changes. If you feel (like this reviewer) that it’s quite impossible for all this to happen just by a number of useful proteins happening to bump into each other in a sea of proteins which won’t interact at all, you’ll find this unsatisfying. There seems to be no room for a guiding ghost in the machine. But that is the best understanding we have, I’m afraid — and as a biologist, it makes sense to me. Which is not to say that it’s all perfectly understood: it isn’t. Sometimes, we can’t do the experiments in a human context for ethical reasons. Sometimes, the data is just too difficult to obtain. But the fact remains that we do have a reasonable understanding of embryology, and that is described in this book.

I found it an easy and fascinating read, and would definitely recommend it if you have an interest. It doesn’t get too technical as far as I’m concerned (but take that with a pinch of salt, since I have admittedly studied human biology). At a couple of points I found it useful to look up relevant Khan Academy videos to get a differently-worded explanation of the same events, taken step by step, but that’s as much down to individual learning and teaching styles as anything.

Rating: 4/5

WWW Wednesday

2017-Aug-09, Wednesday 08:00
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Posted by Nikki

The three ‘W’s are what are you reading now, what have you recently finished reading, and what are you going to read next, and you can find this week’s post at the host’s blog here if you want to check out other posts.

What are you currently reading?

Cover of The Carpet Makers by Andreas EschbachI’m rereading Andreas Eschbach’s The Carpet Makers, because I’ve been meaning to and it was there when I couldn’t sleep and didn’t feel like starting something new. I’m also reading Pantomime, by Laura Lam, though I’m not very far into it, and The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden. I’m about halfway through the latter and not entirely sure what I think. I’m finding it somewhat predictable so far. I’m still reading Assassin’s Apprentice, too.

Cover of Hengeworld by Mike PittsWhat have you recently finished reading?

Hengeworld, by Mike Pitts. It’s an examination of the whole ritual landscape in palaeolithic times, mostly in Wessex — Stonehenge, Avebury, Silbury Hill and other associated monuments. It’s pretty fascinating, and it digs deep into all the different digs which have gone on at those sites.

What will you read next?Cover of Kushiel's Dart by Jacqueline Carey

I think I’m going to embark on my reread of Jacqueline Carey’s work, starting with Kushiel’s Dart. It’s been ages since I read it, and I conveniently have copies of this trilogy available both at my wife’s and at my parents’ place, so I don’t have to drag them around while travelling.

What are you reading?

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Posted by JenniferP

Hello Captain & Community!

The short version of my problem is: I am never going to have children. My mother refuses to accept this.

The long version is as such: Since the age of eleven, I’ve had a mystery medical condition. My mother has never accepted its existence. While I’ve never been explicitly told “You CANNOT have children” because of the condition, multiple doctors have told me many variations of “It will be VERY DIFFICULT for you to SAFELY have children.” Even if I wanted kids, which I do not, I would be looking at adoption, considering the circumstances.

I am now 26. I have recently finished grad school and am just starting out; I am currently living with my parents. I have one sibling; she is 31. My nephew was born a little over a year ago. My mother has since gone grandbaby-crazy.

My mother has a habit of offering unsolicited advice on all subjects and getting angry and retaliating if it is not followed. At every available opportunity, she lectures me to make career decisions centered around giving birth to and raising children. She also criticizes my long-term boyfriend (behind his back) about his salary and social standing (“he doesn’t make enough for you to not work!”) while simultaneously pressuring me to settle down and procreate because “the clock is ticking.”

When in front of my (huge, nosy, omnipresent) extended family, I let these comments slide because I value my privacy and displaying anything but familial respect gets the whole family involved. (Spoiler alert: they’ll agree with her). In private, I try to address it with her. Whenever I explain my medical reasons for not having children, it’s like she’s never heard them before. She refuses to acknowledge any problems exist and accuses me of lying when I cite to her specifically which doctors have said what and when. On the rare occasion when she “humors me,” she tells me that I “should be doing everything possible, no matter the expense” to correct the problem immediately, which just isn’t possible. I’ve let the “even-if-I-could-I-wouldn’t” component alone so far since I suspect that would start a never-ending argument. I am afraid that if I keep standing my ground like I have been, she will retaliate. I am exhausted. What should I do?


Enough Already

Hi Enough Already!

You are already in a never-ending argument.

Here’s the plan:

A) Move out of your parents’ place as soon as humanly possible. Adults should respect other adults’ bodily autonomy, but in the hands of a domineering parent no script I suggest and no amount of “should” is gonna magically counteract their “my roof, my opinions, my rules” attitude. Put 95% of your energy into getting out of that house. The job market sucks? You might have to live with roommates? You might be poor for a while? I don’t know what to tell you, I wish it were different. I do know that things will not change between you as long as you are in that house and she has constant access to you.

B) Keep having only the children you want to, i.e., zero. Her opinions about what you should do don’t equal commands or rules and she has no actual power to override your decision. She can say whatever the fuck she wants to. It will change nothing.

C) One time, tell her exactly how you feel:  “I’m most likely never having kids. I don’t think it’s biologically possible, and even if it were, it’s not a priority for me. If I change my mind you’ll be among the first to know. I need you to stop bringing it up. You are making me feel like I am not enough for you as a human being, that I have no value unless I reproduce. It hurts my feelings. It is also exhausting and makes me not want to spend time with you. I want to have a good relationship with you. In order for that to happen, you need to stop this constant advice-giving!” 

If you don’t think you can safely have this talk, hold off until you’re out of the house.

D) After* that one time, be boring. Try out a script of “Okay, whatever Mom” when she orders you to have children. Make it boring for her to talk about. Let her think she’s winning if it will get her to calm down now. You can’t control her, but you can control making yourself less exhausted and refusing her the argument she is looking for. You want an honest relationship but she is making that impossible.

See also: “I’m not looking for advice right now but thanks, I’ll think about it.” (You will think about it and not do it).

*If you don’t feel safe having a direct talk with her, skip directly to this strategy.

E) “That’s a mean thing to say.” When she says critical stuff about your current partner, say what she would say to you when you were a little kid and you said something out of turn. “That’s rude.” “That’s a terrible thing to say.” “That’s not appropriate.” “Wow.” “Yikes.” Don’t argue with her about the merits of her criticisms of your partner, it just feeds the fire. Express disapproval of her words, but stay boring.

F) Lose your temper, selectively.

Say you’ve moved out. You’ve had the talk. She won’t let it go.

Try: “Shut the fuck up about grandbabies, mom. Go enjoy the one you have and leave me alone.” Does that seem rude? She is being SUPER RUDE. I personally wouldn’t lead with this but if she’s haranguing you and you lose your temper, um, fine? Lose it. Tell her how she’s making you feel. Don’t be diplomatic or reasonable or try to convince her. One time, make it super uncomfortable and unproductive and YELLING and BAD LANGUAGE for her to bring this up with you.

We’re always so focused on being well-behaved and taking the high ground and not making a scene. The thing is, scenes are super-memorable especially when you’re not generally a scene-maker. Maybe they don’t change minds, but a controlled detonation of anger can sometimes be cathartic and good for you. It can remind the people around you that you’re choosing to be nice and that you can make another choice any ol’ time.

G) Enforce the boundary. When she pressures you to have kids in the future, end the conversation. “Okay, welp, I’m not having this discussion again, time to go.” Leave. Go home to your home that is not also her home. Hang up the phone. Peace out of that conversation. Try again another day. Over time she’ll get the message that if she wants a relationship with you, this subject is not up for discussion.

She’ll tell you you’re ungrateful, you’re selfish, she’s your mother, she knows best, she raised you, she gets to tell you her opinions, she just wants what’s best for you, she knows you better than you know yourself, and all kinds of words. She’ll tell you you’re the one ruining your relationship, you’re the one creating this conflict. She’ll tell you that you’ll change your mind and that you’ll be sorry someday that you ever have kids.

Agree with her. “Yes, I’m selfish, and I also don’t want to talk about having kids with you. It’s not your decision or your business. Stop it.” “Maybe I will be sorry someday, but I’m mostly sorry now that another perfectly good day is being eaten by this pointless argument.” “Yes, I am the meanest daughter who was ever mean, also, I don’t want kids, so, can we eat or do I need to storm off again to prove a point?


Review – The Refrigerator Monologues

2017-Aug-08, Tuesday 13:00
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Posted by Nikki

Cover of The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. ValenteThe Refrigerator Monologues, Catherynne M. Valente, Annie Wu

If you’re not into comics, you might not know about the trope of “women in refrigerators”, recognised by Gail Simone. Basically, it involves female characters who are killed off to further a male hero’s story — like Alexandra DeWitt, who is literally shoved in a refrigerator to die for the manpain of Green Lantern. Catherynne Valente takes a bunch of those stories and lets the women speak for themselves. If you like working it out, don’t worry; I won’t spoil which women are included in the line-up.

It’s a fun bunch of stories; they don’t end well for the women involved, because that’s the set-up here, and there’s a certain amount of rage at how this shit keeps on happening in Superhero Land (not to mention everywhere else as well). So if you’re looking for a transformative work that changes these stories, that’s not what this is. For now, it just gives the women voices; lets them tell their half of the story.

I enjoyed it a lot, and I’ll be looking out for a copy just to have — I borrowed the copy I read. The art included is pretty cool too (though this is a prose work, not a comic).

Rating: 4/5

Top Ten Tuesday

2017-Aug-08, Tuesday 08:00
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Posted by Nikki

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is gleaned from the old prompts on the page. Here’s ten books I was forced to read — which I loved! I’ve a vague feeling I’ve done this before, but I can’t find it by searching back, so why not?

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. It’s a classic, of course.
  2. War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy. I even had to read it in a week, thanks to a dare with my dad.
  3. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. I didn’t get far with this when I tried to read this as a kid, but when I finally had to read it for school, I fell in love.
  4. Troilus and Criseyde, by Geoffrey Chaucer. I didn’t have high hopes for this because I wasn’t a fan of The Canterbury Tales, in general. But I really got into dissecting it, in the end.
  5. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Is this cheating? I read a translation, of course, but I had to read it in the Middle English for my BA, and that was revelatory. The playing with language is gorgeous.
  6. The French Lieutenant’s Woman, by John Fowles. In style and content it’s not at all what you’d expect me to enjoy, but I really did.
  7. Postcolonialism Revisited, by Kirsti Bohata. I was never much of a fan of actually reading theory, in my lit degrees, preferring to closely analyse the texts. But this was pretty revelatory, discussing Welsh fiction as postcolonial fiction — because in many ways, the Welsh experience was like that of colonialism.
  8. Richard III, by William Shakespeare. I was never a fan of Shakespeare, but I ended up having to take a class on his history plays for lack of other modules that interested me. And I loved this one.
  9. Country Dance, by Margiad Evans. Or indeed, all the other Welsh fiction I read for that particular class. I’d never even been fully aware there was Welsh fiction like this out there.
  10. The Annotated Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien et al. I love The Hobbit, of course, but I’m not really a fan of annotated texts. Still, the annotated version of The Hobbit was fascinating for its insights on Tolkien’s process.

There’s probably dozens of others I should think of — at one point, my mother bought me a whole bunch of classics she said I had to read before I went to university, for example! (She wasn’t wrong in suggesting they were important to know. Should’ve included more Oscar Wilde, though, Mum, and insisted I read more Shakespeare. Now you know!)

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Posted by JenniferP

Video: Snappy dance music, Polish soccer, what’s not to love?

It’s that time again, when we answer the things people typed into search engines like they are questions.

1. “Dating a Midwestern man”

High probability of at least one of these things going on: beer, cheese, beards, & warm, burly hugs. What’s not to like?


2. “My crush doesn’t make a move even though I feel we have chemistry. Why?”

There is literally one person on earth who can answer this question for you. (Hint: It’s your crush) If you like this person and feel like you have good chemistry, why aren’t you making a move?


3. “friendsporn???” 

??? If this is porn based on the 1990s TV show “Friends,” HARD PASS.

If this is you trying to make porn with your friends, make sure you have clear consent –  like “signed release-forms!” clear.

4. “How to sabotage someone’s teeth.”

Teeth are useful and important. Please don’t do this.

5. “Girlfriend is over emotional and oversensitive.” 

Better break up with her and find someone with your exact level of cool, logical detachment!

6. “I impregnated a girl whose parents and mine are not in good terms please am confused what do I do?”

Be kind to the ‘girl’ in this situation and ask her what she wants to do about it all. She’s the one carrying the heaviest load here.

7. “How to knock your fucken dad out because he is a fucken asshole.”

You know I’m gonna suggest “no violence” but the phrasing of this made me laugh and reminded me of the fan-generated ad campaign for this brand of liquor that’s popular among my Chicago dirtbag friends:


Image = ad for Jeppson’s Malört with a photo of the bottle and the text: “Tonight’s the night you fight your dad.”

(Don’t drink this, it’s repulsive)

8. “He blocked me and I have no way to contact him.”

Yes, that is the general idea.

9. “My weight loss captain.”

Is piloting another ship, far from here.

10. “How to get rid of my son’s girlfriend before he goes to college.”

You don’t.

Look, I get it on some level. At my teaching job I see a lot of college students who spend more time Skyping and texting with their sweethearts back home than making friends and engaging fully in their classes or campus life. We, who are older, want to say “You have your whole life to be in love and only a limited time to be in college, so seize this opportunity with both hands!” But your son gets to decide who he loves, and any move you make to separate them will probably only drive him away from you. Let them be. If it’s true love, it will shine through no matter what you think or do about it. If it isn’t, The Turkey Drop will take care of it on its own without any help from you.

11. “Very dangerous when girls chews dicks of boys for serious.”

Much dangerous, many serious.

Reminds me of this video I saw once. Video description: Comedienne Ellie Kemper plans to give the worst head ever.


12. “I love my boyfriend but my mother doesn’t like him because he is abusive, what do I do?”

As reasons not to like someone go, that’s a super good one. What’s the worst that could happen if you listened to your mother?

13. “Estranged friend’s mother died should I reach out.”

Think about whether a grieving person who doesn’t talk to you anymore would find a card or email or text comforting or intrusive right now. Is your desire to reach out right now about them or about you?


14. “If someone texts a message when drunk is this the truth?”

“In vino veritas” the saying goes, but there are so many caveats here! If you’re looking at drunk texts for proof of something that’s important to know, why don’t you try asking the person about it when they are sober?

15a. “How to defend yourself when caught with the wife of a married man you dating.” & 15b. “I fell in love with a married guy and I’m not really into apologizing.”

Sometimes these things just go together like magnetic poetry.

#15a: If you mean how do you defend yourself physically, leaving the situation as soon as possible seems like a good idea?

If you mean how to defend yourself verbally, maybe…don’t? What could you even say? “I’m dating your husband! I have really good reasons that I think you’ll want to hear about right now!”

#15b Is this the new “I’m not here to make friends?”

16. “When she won’t watch the shows you like.”

Watch them by yourself or with friends who do like them?

People can have good love without overlapping pop culture tastes, as long as everyone is respectful.

17. “Is there any point visiting someone in mental hospital?”

If the person is allowed to have visitors and wants them, and you can make the time, visiting can be a great thing. It can be so isolating in the hospital and seeing a familiar face of someone who loves you can be such a lifeline. Keep it light, let the patient guide the conversation.

18. “Neighbor won’t answer doorbell.”

If I’m not expecting someone and I don’t smell smoke or hear screaming, I don’t answer the door. Your neighbors might feel the same. Try calling, texting, emailing, or slipping a note under the door with whatever you wanted to tell them.





#1004: “The Escalator.”

2017-Aug-07, Monday 14:39
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Posted by JenniferP

Hello! Los Angeles trip was great. The Chris Killip exhibit at the Getty floored me. I am home now, under a cat. Let’s awkward.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I have a friend who instantly escalates every interaction we have. Not in a confrontational way, but just that she always wants MORE MORE MORE.

Imagine a scale of interactions, where 1 is equivalent to a nod in the street and 100 is equivalent to a multi-night stay in someone’s home. I might suggest a 30: “Hey! Let’s go and see that new film together!” (Some chit-chat before and after, but most of it is spent sitting silently in the dark next to each other.) She will immediately try to escalate towards 100: “And we could get coffee beforehand! And have dinner afterwards! And then you could come back to my place for drinks! And then we could play this new game I bought!” While initially I was looking forward to 30, I now see that the choice is: stick to 30 and spend the entire time making reasons that I can’t escalate further, submit and escalate to 100 and see WAY more of her than I wanted, or just cancel and return to 0.

She’s part of my wider friend group and in my mind we’re not exactly besties (and she does this to everyone, so it’s not that she thinks we are), but when I haven’t seen her for a while I do genuinely think, “Hey, I wonder how The Escalator is doing? It would so be nice to catch up!” So I enter play with a 25 and then she starts escalating towards 100 and I immediately regret ever having made the effort and frantically try to bail.

The other problem is that she also escalates casual conversation as well as actual plans. You mention a film that’s coming out? She’s planning a trip to the cinema (“with dinner afterwards! And I heard they filmed part of it nearby so we could go there too!”). You mention a new restaurant? She’s whipping out the diary to see when you’re free (“ooh, and it’s near the bowling alley so we could go there first! And it’s next to the rose garden so we could have an evening walk afterwards!).So you find yourself trying to censor conversation in case you ever show the slightest interest in anything or make even a cursory remark about maybe one day in the future just perhaps entertaining the possibility of going to XYZ or doing thing ABC.

I’ve tried to keep things light and enforce boundaries. I really have. I’ve tried not to give actual excuses but just say, “Sorry, I have plans!” But then she just keeps going and going and going to find a date and time when you can make it…and then tries to escalate whatever you’ve committed to. And the constant stress of HAVING to enforce boundaries even when I do it successfully makes it feel like a war zone, not a fun time. And the true answer is not “I have plans”. It’s “I don’t like you enough to want to spend any more time with you.” (Including currently: “I don’t think I can afford to go on a two week holiday with you”, which really means “I don’t like you enough to go on holiday with you, and continuing to push this conversation makes it sound ever more like a living hell…but I do want to go on holiday with my other friends which you will then find out about and be upset about because I booked it after I told you I couldn’t afford to go on holiday with you.”)

I would be delighted to see her every few weeks for a low-level interaction (coffee OR a film OR brunch – not everything!), or every few months for a more intense one (a morning at the museum followed by lunch, or an afternoon the ice rink with hot chocolate afterwards). If we could just do that, I would genuinely enjoy seeing her. But I don’t want to spend every moment parrying yet another attempt at escalation.

By not accepting any intervening levels, SHE is making the choice into 0 vs 100, and I am getting ever-closer to choosing 0 (literally never ever seeing her and blocking her from everything, even not going to wider-friend-group things she is attending, which would suck). Can I make mid-range plans with her in a way that makes it impossible for her to escalate (either on that day or by pushing to make plans for too-soon future days) such that I don’t even need to worry about her trying? Or if I have to choose 0, how can I do so in a way that minimises the effect on my future interactions with our wider friendship group?


More of a ‘Let’s stay on this step of the staircase’ person

Dear Staircase:

You’re already doing the right stuff! There’s probably no comfortable solution with someone who is this incompatible with you but I think you might be able to weather her relentless enthusiasm and still hang out occasionally if you tweak your invitations and responses a little bit and level with her about how her behaviors make you feel.

First, give yourself permission to go a long time without initiating plans with her. If she’s kind of bugging you right now, give yourself a break where you run into her only at wider social events.

Second, here’s an all-purpose script:

  • “When I say ‘I have plans’ or ‘that won’t work’ it means ‘no.’ It’s not something that needs solved, so, please put the diary away and let’s enjoy hanging out now.”

Third, here are some scripts specific to arranging vacations/holidays:

  • My vacation budget & time are already allocated for seeing family and plans with other friends, especially people I don’t get to see all the time.”
  • “That sounds like a great trip, but you should ask someone else. It’s not for me.”
  • “Please stop. You keep bringing this up, and I keep telling you ‘no’ – it’s making me very uncomfortable to have to keep repeating myself.”

Don’t lie about time or money. She will not like hearing any of this, but she is pushing you to the point where you have to say it. That’s not your fault.

Fourth, when you make social invitations, make them very specific and propose the maximum amount of stuff you want to do from the very start. For example:

You: “Hey friend, you want to see [specific movie] at [specific place] at [specific showtime] on Saturday? Let me know and I’ll grab tickets. We can grab a coffee at [specific place] by the theater before the show if you like.”

This is now the ONLY PLAN. You will either do YOUR PLAN, or there will be NO PLAN. With other friends, a “That show doesn’t work for me, but could we do x instead?” or “No to coffee, but dinner afterwards?” could be a pleasant prospect, but you already have enough information that it won’t work with this person. You need to remind yourself and teach her that invitations to hang out with you are yes/no questions.

If the Escalator says that time or place doesn’t work for whatever reason, abort the mission and try another time. You:Hey, sorry to hear you can’t make it Saturday, but we’ll do something else another time. Have a good week!” Then hang up the phone/walk away/put your texts on silent. Do not try to plan something else right now. End the conversation and all planning. You invited. She can’t go. “Sorry, that’s the only time window I have this week, but I’ll let you know when I’m free again and if it matches up with your schedule, great! I gotta go now.

If the Escalator says yes? And then escalates? Keep referring back to the initial invitation and also level with her.

Escalator: “Sure and we can….[+ a list of suggestions for the rest of the day].”

You: “Well, my plan is to go see the movie. Do you want to join me for that or not?”

Escalator: [continued negotiations & escalations]

You: “Okay, but the invitation was to see the movie and catch up with you for a little bit on Saturday. I don’t want to do those other things that day, and it bugs me that a simple invitation now feels like a negotiation.”

Escalator: “Why, do you have plans, why don’t we go another day when you can do x, y, and z? I’m just so excited to see you! Let’s get out our calendars and figure something out!”

You: “I am excited to see you, too, which is why I invited you to the movies in the first place. But, are you hearing me right now? I don’t like it when I ask you to do one thing, and instead of saying yes or no you try to add a bunch more things onto it.

Be honest about how she is making you feel!

If we get past this point in the conversation, like, there is still more talking from her that is not “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do that. I’ll see/not see you Saturday,” my prediction is that this is now going to become a conversation about What Kind of Person She Is and How You’re Rejecting Her vs. a conversation about a specific set of actions and how they are bugging you. She will be like “I am just enthusiastic! I just want to see people! I love making plans! I just try so hard! Why are you rejecting me?” and you will have to be like “I’m not rejecting you, did you miss the part where I invited you to do stuff? Not wanting to hang out 17 hours in a row is not a rejection. That is unfair.”

The resulting conversation will either clear the air, where she will understand that you have a different budget of social units than she does and you’re doing your best to connect, or it will lead to her avoiding you for a while. Keep this script in your back pocket: “Listen, I like you a lot, but this seems to be an area where we are really incompatible. I know you want to do ALL THE THINGS, but you are stressing me out! I want to keep being able to see you, but I do not enjoy the way we’ve been making plans and I need you to understand that “no thanks” is the end of a conversation, not an opening to negotiate. Respect that and we’ll be fine!” If she doesn’t get it, if she does avoid you for a bit, you tried your best.

Your subsequent script for her and the wider friend group can be the same (true) script: “I invited you to do something, you added a bunch of other events onto it, I told you I didn’t like that, here we are.” (Shrug).

She does this to other people in your group, too, so, this part is very important: Do not invoke the group. It’s tempting to spread responsibility around – “you do this to everyone, you always do this, we all talked and decided that someone should tell you” – but it will backfire 100% of the time. Own it for yourself – “I like hanging out with you, but this behavior bugs me, please stop when you make plans with me.”

I hope things get better.







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My Fairy Godmother Is A Drag Queen by David Clawson

"Chris Bellows is just trying to get through high school and survive being the only stepchild in the social-climbing Fontaine family, whose recently diminished fortune hasn’t dimmed their desire to mingle with Upper East Side society. Chris sometimes feels more like a maid than part of the family. But when Chris’s stepsister Kimberly begins dating golden boy J. J. Kennerly, heir to a political dynasty, everything changes. Because Chris and J. J. fall in love . . . with each other.

With the help of a new friend, Coco Chanel Jones, Chris learns to be comfortable in his own skin, let himself fall in love and be loved, and discovers that maybe he was wrong about his step-family all along. All it takes is one fairy godmother dressed as Diana Ross to change the course of his life."

Add your review of "My Fairy Godmother Is A Drag Queen" in comments!

Review – Ancillary Mercy

2017-Aug-07, Monday 08:00
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Posted by Nikki

Cover of Ancillary Mercy by Ann LeckieAncillary Mercy, Ann Leckie

If there’s a place that this trilogy disappoints me a little, it is with this book. There’s plenty of action and character development, and if it were the middle book I’d probably be perfectly happy. But it isn’t; this is the end, and it’s unsatisfying in the sense that we have no idea how things will turn out. It makes sense as a decision, when you see it in the context of the second book in particular — this is really about Breq and her relationships with those around her, and less about the Radch. Breq’s story, and especially that of the Radch, go on before and beyond the books.

But still. I want to know what happens next. Do the Presger rule in favour of Breq’s little republic? What happens to Tisarwat? Does Anaander Mianaii try to take control back — or rather, being Anaander Mianaii, what does she try to get control again?

There are many things I love about this book, but it’s still a little bit in danger of getting only four stars because I just want more. On the other hand, there’s all the delicious dry snark from Breq and Sphene, there’s continued exploration of AIs and personhood, there’s the Translator and her fish sauce and her improbable digestive system… There’s all the heroics and the goodness of Breq, and the desperate moves Station makes to protect its inhabitants —

So in summary, there’s a lot to love, and I want more of it.

Rating: 5/5

July 2017 Newsletter, Volume 115

2017-Aug-06, Sunday 16:20
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Banner by caitie of a newspaper with the name and logos of the OTW and its projects on the pages

I. The Election is Coming

The moment we've all been waiting for is almost here! The Board of Directors Election will take place August 11-14. By now, all members should have received voting instructions by email. If you are a paid member and didn't receive an email with instructions, please contact the Elections Committee.

Elections has spent the past month preparing for the election and providing the public with plenty of information about our six candidates' platforms and goals. Elections worked closely with Communications to advertise three candidate chats on July 26, 29, and 30 and the publication of candidates' Q&A responses on five topics, including OTW Changes, Volunteer Management, Volunteer Positions, Personal Interview, and Communication and Outreach. Check out those OTW Elections site, AO3, Twitter, and Tumblr for more Elections news!

II. At the AO3

After two long months of testing, Accessibility, Design and Technology deployed Rails 4.2 on July 17 and tested and released bug fixes and enhancements to complete the the Rails 4.2 update.

Open Doors was excited to complete the imports of ScullySlash and The Basement! They also formally announced the upcoming imports of Unknowable Room and The Brian/Justin Fanfiction Archive, two large archives that will each include several thousand fanworks, with help from Translation and Comms.

Abuse received and responded to over 530 tickets in July. As a reminder, submitting multiple reports for the same issue only makes the process slower, so please be sure that staff are working hard to resolve them.

III. Legal Advocacy Work

Legal had a fun and busy July, including a visit to San Diego Comic Con! Legal Chair Betsy and Legal Staffer Heidi participated in panels about law and fandom, and hosted a well-attended “Meetup of Our Own” with friends and allies celebrating 10 years of the OTW! The panels and meetup all went very well, and it was a joy to meet so many wonderful fans from all over. Also, Legal Chair Betsy discussed the OTW, law, and fandom on the latest installment of the Copy This Podcast, entitled “Cosplay, Copyright, and Comic-Con."

IV. Governance

Strategic Planning had excellent results in reaching the OTW 2017-2020 Strategic Plan 6-month goals for creating board purview and roles documentation, improving Board-committee communication, documenting OTW-wide chair/lead position and expectations, and developing preliminary purview statements! They are happy to report this level of success at this first milestone due to the hard work of all OTW personnel and are excited to work toward their 9-month goal of documenting team-specific chair/lead position descriptions.

V. It's All About the Peeps

As of the 27 July 2017, the OTW has 658 volunteers. Recent personnel movements are listed below.

    New Committee Chairs: Alison Watson (Open Doors)
    New Committee Staff: Nikki Bird, 2 other Finance Staffers, Breanna, Lex deLeon, Anna Gassen, Mangalite and 3 other Support Staffers, and Mangalite, Ben Bach, Di Theis and 1 other Development & Membership Staffer, JessicaLovesSocks2658 (AO3 Docs)
    New Communications Volunteers: Alix Ayoub, Deven Wilson, Olivia Riley, vertexcat, Katek, and 1 other Communications Graphics Volunteers
    New Translator Volunteers: Tari, Maartje van Sandwijk, Ringa Hohti, Heleen Cauwels, Llyrianna, and 8 other Translation News Volunteers
    Departing Committee Staff: Nocokenojoke (Support), 1 AO3 Documentation Staffer, 1 VolCom Staffer
    Departing Tag Wrangler Volunteers: Cerch, and 1 other Tag Wrangling Volunteer
    Departing Translation Volunteers: 2 Translation Volunteers

Review – Machine

2017-Aug-06, Sunday 08:00
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Posted by Nikki

Cover of Machine by Jennifer PellandMachine, Jennifer Pelland

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I’m still not quite sure what to say. Machine is a powerful exploration of body dysphoria, set in a world where your consciousness can be downloaded into a medical android body replacement, while your human body is cryo-frozen to prevent the progression of disease. It reflects on body dysphoria in general, of course, and it’s pretty inconclusive about the answer — should you modify, should you learn to live with it, how will people around you react…

There are parts of this which are frankly disturbing — the erotica parts didn’t interest me, obviously, but I actually found them actively discomforting even to skim past. That’s 100% intentional, and that’s obvious, so that’s not meant as a criticism. It’s just something you might want to bear in mind if you find the book interesting.

I found it difficult to believe in the central couple, whose separation sparks the whole plot. Rivka doesn’t seem like a great person, if she couldn’t even tell her wife that she wasn’t happy with the medical replacement body before she went through the whole procedure. Character-wise, no one really shines — even the main character’s closest friend and people who are sympathetic to her do stupid things which out her to the world (which is fairly anti-robot), things which I wouldn’t tolerate in a friend even in the less fraught environment nowadays for queer people.

It was interesting and powerful, but not something I was willingly emotionally involved in, or emotionally involved in for the reasons I’d usually enjoy. The ending… it was what I wanted, in a sense, but it felt like a cop-out as well. Consequences-be-gone.

Rating: 3/5

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The Archive is now running on Rails 4.2! \o/ This took a lot of effort, and we want to thank everyone involved for their work (and our donors for allowing us to pay a contractor for part of it). We also fixed a handful of bugs, got closer to full https support, and continued improving our automated tests. Next up: Rails 5 and 5.1!

Please note: Starting with this release, you won't be able to submit a support request without supplying an email address. This doesn't have to be the address associated with your account, but our Support personnel does need a way to contact you if you have a question. Please help us help you!


  • Coders: astirya, Cesy, cosette, cresenne, David Stump (Littlelines), Elz, james_, Mary Alice Wuerz, Meepu, potatoesque, redsummernight, Sarken, Scott, Vas, Wendy Randquist (Littlelines)
  • Code reviewers: bingeling, Elz, james_, redsummernight, Sarken
  • Testers: Alison Watson, bingeling, Claire, dizmo, james_, Lady Oscar, Matty, mumble, Qem, redsummernight, Sammie, Sarken

Special thanks to Mary Alice, who has contributed her first pull request as an AD&T volunteer and completed her training! \o/


Rails & Infrastructure

  • [AO3-4736], [AO3-5022], [AO3-5023] - After many, many months, we've upgraded the Archive to Rails 4.0, Rails 4.1, and finally Rails 4.2. (Now it's onward to Rails 5!)
  • [AO3-5032] - We changed a lot of our files from hash rocket syntax (thing => other_thing) to JSON-style syntax (thing: other_thing).
  • [AO3-5038] - We were getting a lot of deprecation warnings when we ran our automated tests, so we've upgraded our Cucumber gem, updated how we configure some settings, and changed the syntax for one particular method.
  • [AO3-5027] - One of our servers was redeployed as an app server, so we've updated our deploy script to reflect that.
  • [AO3-5029] - We changed some permissions on static files to make life easier for developers.


  • [AO3-4953] - Our Support team sometimes receives requests for assistance with no email address attached. To make sure they can get back to those users, we've made the email address a mandatory field in our Support form.
  • [AO3-4995] - In our efforts to enable full https browsing on the Archive, we've updated some redirect code (i.e. the thing that sends you back to a page after deleting an item on it, for example). We've still got a ways to go, but we're slowly getting there!
  • [AO3-5043] - Does it count as an enhancement if you take away a feature nobody had been using for years? Let's say yes! Anyway, there was an option for site admins to send emails to all... 1.2 million users, which would have broken the server if ever successfully put into action. So that's gone now. It also took its user-facing friend with it, so you won't see the "Turn off admin emails" option in your Preferences anymore.

Bug Fixes

  • [AO3-4552] - As a side effect of the Rails upgrade, an issue where summaries of searches that used both < and > didn't display properly on the search results page got fixed.
  • [AO3-3223] - When adding a co-creator to a multi-chaptered work, they'd only get added to the first chapter and weren't able to edit any other chapters. They are now made co-owner of all existing chapters, as expected.
  • [AO3-3536] - Posting a remix/podfic/translation and trying to link the inspiring work would sometimes lead to a confusing error message if the external URL couldn't be reached. The new error message subtly suggests to make sure the URL is correct and advises to try again later if the external site is temporarily down.
  • [AO3-4272] - There was some HTML showing in the "Works inspired by this one:" section if the inspired work was in an anonymous collection. /o\ We've covered it up with the proper code now.
  • [AO3-4948] - Similarly, the chapter index page for an anonymous work had some exposed HTML when the logged-in creator was looking at it. Took care of that too!
  • [AO3-5008] - We discovered a number of bogus subscriptions to things you can't actually subscribe to (e.g. pseuds), which shouldn't be able to be created (and which weren't doing anything except potentially causing errors). We've now put in a validation step before confirming a subscription, so this shouldn't happen anymore.
  • [AO3-4609] - In our Terms of Service, we fixed a couple of broken links to related FAQ items and made all the links relative (which also helps with our https efforts!).
  • [AO3-5026] - We also fixed a typo in the ToS that nobody had noticed for... mumble mumble years. Whoops.
  • [AO3-5020] - When editing a work search with a sorting direction set (e.g. by word count in ascending order), the sorting order would get lost and you'd have to select it all over again. Now it sticks!
  • [AO3-4870] - Admins trying to navigate to a non-existent account (e.g. by typing an incorrect name into the address bar) would be greeted with an ugly error 500. They are now being redirected to the user administration page with a much more helpful error message.
  • [AO3-5066] - We fixed a potential security issue regarding access to chapter preview pages.
  • [AO3-5069] - Trying to post a new work as part of a series while running into a validation error (e.g. forgetting to check a warning or enter a title) would result in a 500 error. /o\ Now you get the "you're missing some stuff" message, as proper.
  • [AO3-5072] - The lookup tool for imported works had stopped working. We gave it a good kick, so now you can use it again to search for works from other archives which have found a new home at the AO3.

Automated Tests

  • [AO3-4924], [AO3-4946], [AO3-4947], [AO3-4973], [AO3-5005], [AO3-5017], [AO3-5030] - We've expanded our tests for chapters, challenge assignments, collection items, spam reports, invitation emails, work searches, and work imports.
  • [AO3-5021] - We've told one of our continuous integration (CI) platforms to use a newer version of MySQL so we could deploy Rails 4.0.
  • [AO3-5031] - We were telling our automated testing environments to ignore some security issues with gems, but the Rails upgrade meant we were able to update those gems, so there's no longer anything to ignore.
  • [AO3-5045] - We've updated our RSpec tests so data always gets cleared between unit tests.
  • [AO3-5074] - We had some remaining TO DO items in our autocomplete tests, specifically relating to works and gift challenges. They are now all DONE! \o/
  • [AO3-5070], [AO3-5071], [AO3-5075], [AO3-5080], [AO3-5081] - We've also taken care of some weird test failures (for changing a username, orphaning a work or series, deleting an account, and adding a co-creator to a work) that would happen sometimes without code really being broken. Now there's less noise in our test results!

Known Issues

See our Known Issues page for current issues.

Review – Star-shot

2017-Aug-05, Saturday 13:00
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Posted by Nikki

Cover of Star-Shot by Mary-Ann ConstantineStar-shot, Mary-Ann Constantin

Star-shot is… weird. Fascinating, though. The first section, for example, features a woman in love with a building. And right across Cardiff, in the places I know so well, a strange silence is descending — you can lean into it, and the world goes silent and cold; lean back out, and you’re back to reality.

The novel follows various characters whose lives intertwine, as they eventually come together to solve the problem as best they can, and help each other along the way. Connection and communication is a big theme, obviously.

It’s hard to describe exactly what goes on; each storyline blurs into the next, and you can’t always tell which character a section is following at first. That’s very intentional, though; same as the way the speech blurs into the narration, because there’s no speech marks. (Worry not, though, there’s other punctuation.)

There’s some really gorgeous bits here, crisp writing, etc. Not quite my thing, in the end, but still a worthwhile read.

Rating: 3/5

Stacking the Shelves

2017-Aug-05, Saturday 08:00
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Posted by Nikki

Good morning, folks! Today I’m off to Amsterdam with my wife to celebrate our paper wedding anniversary in bookshops. Hurrah! To celebrate the one-year anniversary of our wedding (and the 12th anniversary of being together), here are a couple of our wedding pics! Click to embiggen, if you’re so inclined.

And now, back to books.


Cover of Caliban's War by James S.A. Corey Cover of A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford

I needed Caliban’s War for a book club read, and A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived was on sale on the Kindle store for 99p!

Received to review:

Cover of Acadie by Dave Hutchinson Cover of Ruin of Angels by Max Gladstone Cover of Why Dinosaurs Matter by Kenneth Lacovara

Cover of Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeannette Ng Cover of The Man in the Tree by Sage Walker Cover of The Fifth Doll by Charlie Holmberg

A lucky week, though I’m still sad I didn’t get approved for Provenance or Into the Drowning Deep on Edelweiss!

Books read this week:

Cover of Leviathan Wakes by James S.A. Corey Cover of Babylon by Paul Kriwaczek Cover of The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley Cover of The Real Lives of Roman Britain by Guy de la Bedoyere

Cover of Starborn by Lucy Hounsom Cover of Why Dinosaurs Matter by Kenneth Lacovara Cover of Acadie by Dave Hutchinson

Reviews posted this week:

Unnatural, by Philip Ball. This is billed as popular science, but honestly it’s as much lit-crit as it is science. Interesting topic, of course, but… 3/5 stars
Nova, by Samuel R. Delany. I wasn’t as big a fan as I hoped I was going to be. I feel like a bad SF fan. 3/5 stars
Personality, by Daniel Nettle. Landmark science this is not, but it is interesting enough. 3/5 stars
Reality 36, Guy Haley. Not characters I want to hang out with. 1/5 stars
Caesar’s Last Breath, by Sam Kean. Not as entertaining as his book on neurology, but still interesting. 3/5 stars
Killing is My Business, by Adam Christopher. Another entertaining entry in this series — and I want to know where it’s going next! 4/5 stars
Genomes and What To Make of Them, by Barry Barnes and John Dupré. Somewhat out of date now, and probably not worth picking up. 2/5 stars

Other posts:

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookshops I Have Loved. More or less as you’d expect, though you might not expect that bookshops in Dublin, Ireland and Calgary, Canada are on the same list…
WWW Wednesday. This week’s update on what I’m reading.

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Waiting For Walker by Robin Reardon

Micah Jaeger's life is a mess. His folks have split, and his mother is seeing a medium to communicate with Micah's older brother, killed in Afghanistan. He had to change schools for his junior year, and he retreats further into himself, hiding behind his camera—and hiding that he's gay.

One sunny day in June, as he's shooting a dead seagull on the shore of Long Island Sound, a mysterious guy appears in a beautiful sailboat. At first, the guy's boat shoes are the image that stays with Micah. But soon it's the person himself, Walker Donnell, who haunts Micah's dreams.

Walker's life looks perfect to Micah. His wealthy parents adore him. He has everything he could want. He's gorgeous and generous. And he falls hard for Micah. But he has a secret: Walker is intersex.

The closer Walker and Micah grow, the more Walker feels the need to be sure of himself in ways he hasn't fully faced before, and now it's his turn to retreat. Micah knows Walker is worth waiting for, so he waits. And waits.

Add your review of "Waiting for Walker" in comments!
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Posted by Nikki

Cover of Genomes and What To Make of Them by Barry BarnesGenomes and What To Make of Them, Barry Barnes, John Dupré

This book is from 2008, so in terms of the science and its impact on the world, it’s a bit behind the times. It’s still a good primer on how the world was changing from a fairly monolithic view on genes to an understanding of the whole genome, “junk” DNA included, and it covers some worthwhile discussions. I found it a bit dry and pedantic at times, though it doesn’t help that the science was well below the level I understand now.

It’s most worth it when it focuses on the implications of the new genomics and the technologies involved. But I might be inclined to say skip it and look for something more modern if you’re not super interested.

Rating: 2/5

Review – Killing Is My Business

2017-Aug-04, Friday 08:00
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Posted by Nikki

Cover of Killing Is My Business by Adam ChristopherKilling Is My Business, Adam Christopher

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 25th July 2017

I’ve enjoyed the other books and stories in this series a lot, and this is no exception. Take a Raymond Chandler-esque world, and apply one robot trained as a PI who has been somewhat repurposed as an assassin. Add the complication that he runs on limited tapes of memory — 24 hours at a time, no more storage than that. Add his AI handler, Ada, who very clearly has her own agenda — one which doesn’t always align with what their creators envisioned for them.

And, in this book, add the mafia.

I started it when I couldn’t sleep, and finished it an hour and a half later, without stopping once. Adam Christopher writes crisply, precisely; there’s no dead patches where you feel like you can put the book down, because if you did, well; something interesting might happen while you aren’t looking. I love the way Christopher uses Ray’s limitations to create parts of the mystery. This isn’t just a book with a detective/assassin who happens to be a robot; the fact that Ray’s a robot is vital to the whole thing.

Raymond Chandler’s probably rolling in his grave at the comparison, given he had no great opinion of sci-fi, but I’m not going to worry too much about giving him an unquiet rest.

Rating: 4/5


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