Book Review: Big Bad Wolf by Suleikha Snyder

Big Bad Wolf by Suleikha Snyder

For my first review for 2021, I have the honor of introducing you to Suleikha Snyder’s version of a genre mash-up with her latest book, Big Bad Wolf. It’s scheduled for release on January 26, so you have fewer than three weeks to build your appetite for the start to a bold, new series. I gained early access to it via my NetGalley account and am happy to say it has earned my gushing review.

The action kicks off in police procedural style with lawyers visiting an inmate who has admitted his guilt in the killing of six people. Members of a Russian drug ring, as it turns out, which is one reason why these lawyers have agreed to take the case–after all these were bad guys who deserved to die, even if vigilantism is frowned upon. The other reason is that the male protagonist has altered DNA. The female protagonist is the junior associate of the three, and one of the POV characters. And you get a clear sense of her perspective and insight right at the end of the first paragraph:

Joe Peluso was the monster in the closet, the creature you were warned about in fairy tales…and still, somehow, not the scariest white man Neha had encountered while doing her job. What passed for humanity these days terrified her far more than the things that went bump in the night.

“Big Bad Wolf,” by Suleikha Snyder

With all that information packed in just the first paragraph, Snyder sets the scene efficiently and lets you know you, as the reader, are in for a non-stop ride. I loved every minute of it and stayed up deep into the night to finish it in one sitting.

The police procedural vibe develops into a shoot-em-up situation, so the two protagonists end up on the run together. Naturally, there’s an “only one bed” situation in their safe house, so the illicit romance that has been building over the early chapters deepens.

As the reader is introduced to more of the behind-the-scenes team working to fight the Russian mobsters and capitalize on the supernatural DNA they’ve either been born with or given, the scope of the story takes on overtones of a psychological thriller and secret superhero story.

Snyder’s writing packs a punch, and her commentary on a closely parallel world that has shifters seeking some kind of acceptance in a deeply polarized society easily reads as allegorical.

In fact, it wasn’t until I got to the end of the book that I realized this is the first book in a planned series–which only increased my excitement. I loved how only minor tweaks (authority-controlled drones police the streets) added a semi-futuristic/scifi sensibility to the story (I mean… there’s sophisticated gene editing happening in secret military installations to create these shifters, and they can be “chipped and snipped” at the end of their tour of duty so they neither shift nor procreate, so as far as I know, this really is scifi…), but the everyday person’s experience in the books would be easily recognizable to members of today’s society. And the incorporation of small cultural details–about Desi aunties who have a better network of connections than the CIA, and about the distinctions between Sikh and Hindu practices–both honor the author’s lived experiences, and educate the non-Desi reader … while enriching the overall story.

I would highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good shifter romance, but is tired of the same white girl perspective. Or just really wants to expand their understanding of what a kick-ass heroine (who doesn’t know what to do with a gun other than point it when she’s given one) can look like. This book is smart in all the best ways and I’m very much looking forward to the follow-on installments that are already in the works.

Surprise Release of Red Slaves omnibus edition – Happy New Year

The Red Slaves Collection - omnibus edition of books 1 through 4

Starting with good news: I was able to work with Kelley to come up with a “collected works” cover strategy for my Red Slaves series, so I could release all four eBooks in the series at a price point that rewards readers for continuing through the whole story–essentially, buy books 2 and 3, and get books 1 and 4 for free. (I’ll keep updating that page as new buy locations roll in.) What surprised me was that these four books together represent almost 200K words. I never would have anticipated that I could write that much. Especially given that my earliest creative efforts were poems.

Which brings me to my not-great news: I was gung-ho to at least manage 25K words in November to finally finish book 2 of my Planet Seekers series. Then I got the kind of interesting news from the day job that boils down to longer hours and more responsibilities, and that energy got re-allocated. If you’re following my blog’s side-bar tracker, you can see I’m still 9K words away from finishing writing. Which was a lot of what drove my decision to release the omnibus.

I’m hopeful book 2 will come out in the first quarter of 2021. I’ll keep you posted either way. By way of background research, I read an interesting article about how an evolutionary biologist is coming to terms with the Gaia theory, which makes for a different take on my sentient planet characters.

Other science news I’ve been digesting relates to the relationship between eigenvectors and eigenvalues. More important in our current, COVID-restricted environment was an opinion piece in Scientific American talking about how current scientific debate is being shut down. As a writer in the SFF spectrum, the ability to question everything is a key skill–and, ironically, generally considered the hallmark of good science. Listening to absolutists who regularly bloviate in the public sphere, combined with the concerns outlined in that article have both been key drivers to push me toward tuning out what is commonly reported. In fact, I closed out 2020 having read 121 books, and was intrigued by an article that emphasized how important fiction reading is to developing “mentalizing” skills. Maybe if more people read more fiction, it would be easier to cross the barriers that have become so evident in society.

🙂

In the meantime I read about the effort to protect “one square inch of silence” and was intrigued by the concept of being in a space where no human-generated sounds would intrude within the span of 15 minutes. Given the wild number of distractions available, this sounds like the pursuit of paradise to me.

And then there are the articles that talk about making peace with not having a legacy; how overexposure to cortisol as a child has life-long impacts on the ability to remember, organize, and pay attention; and the importance of peripersonal space. An intriguing recollection of the early friendship between Sartre and Camus led to an analysis of their disagreement over the nature of freedom that drove them apart. Finally, the balm of these days, friendship, was beautifully described by Kahlil Gibran.

I will be returning to my monthly blog habit, as well as posting select reviews (watch for one later this week about the upcoming release from Suleikha Snyder, which does all the kinds of genre-bending mash-up things that make me happy) this year. And I will try to stay on the 1K words per week path that seems to be my minimum regular output in the face of … waves handslife. Be well until next time.

NaNoWriMo or Bust

Don't be afraid to start over. This time you're not starting from scratch, you're starting from experience.

I started writing Team TaoRuti a year ago tomorrow, hoping to borrow from the NaNoWriMo energy that has propelled me to finish several of my novels. I’d just started a new position on a new project at the day job, so it probably wasn’t realistic to expect to complete the story then. But I would have thought I could’ve finished by now.

And then… 2020.

I’ve said plenty about what we’ve collectively faced this year. And I’ve heard from almost every creative person I know that the overwhelming news cycles have drained them of almost every drop of imagination. (Protests! Wild fires! COVID-19! Lock-down! Stock market crash! Murder hornets! Hurricanes! Police brutality! BLM! Riots! Earthquakes! Typhoons!) There are some dark memes out there pointing out that were 2020 being developed in a writer’s room, any competent show runner would fire everyone and start over, because the tangled story lines are nonsensical as fiction.

Thus has fiction become my retreat. Not the writing of it–I produced nothing new on my stories between February and August–but the reading of it. Goodreads shows I’ve read 105 books so far this year.

Keeping up with research results has been interesting, too. Creating metallic hydrogen could change the way we launch rockets. Perovskite could change how we harvest solar energy. Superconductivity could be in reach with a simple twist of a carbon sheet. Each one of these findings could drive its own story.

There have also been research findings published regarding human history. Looking at the sediment core from Lake Chichancanab, scientists are more confident that drought was what brought the Mayan culture to its knees. Other scientists, looking at Viking DNA, showed significantly more intermixing of southern Europeans and Asians than they had expected.

In modern times, research from the Rand Corporation shows such a significant redistribution of wealth to the already wealthy that the Intelligencer headlined its story on the findings as “Study: Inequality Robs $2.5 Trillion from U.S. Workers Each Year.” In Russia, there are worrying demographic trends that point to a different impact of inequality.

And underneath all of this reporting… our brain has automatic suppressive mechanisms that means we have difficulty perceiving things our brains deem “distracting”.

(Tell that to my brain, which has been distracting me all year!)

So I’m going to join the NaNoWriMo masses again this year. I don’t know that I’ll get all the way to 50K words, but if I could write 25K words in November, I could finally close the book (HA!) on book two of my Planet Seekers series. And I have the tantalizing plotbunny that woke me up a couple weeks back, where the character told me “I chose to become a ghost to solve a mystery.” We’ll see where my creative energy ends up, but that could definitely be a candidate for my next book.

Daily Blessings

"Somebody didn't wake up today, but you did. That's enough reason to stop complaining, and that's enough to be thankful for. Never let your troubles blind you to your daily blessings." -Trent Shelton

Days have a way of catching us between their teeth and grinding us down with their unrelenting sameness at the moment. I was deeply upset when the writers’ retreat cruise Gayla and I had planned to attend at the end of this month was cancelled, and any alternate plans made untenable by the persisting state of being almost locked down. We’re in our sixth month of nearly full-time working from home, and while I very much appreciate the extra hour I get to my days from not having to commute to and from the office, the general oppression in the atmosphere–worry about COVID-19, the economy, the fires on the West Coast, the latest political machinations that neglect to take into account needs outside of those expressed by the billionaire owners of certain key industries–has led to most creatives I know hitting the same kind of stagnation I’ve faced. It feels like any time I’ve “won” by working from home, has been eaten up by reading or gaming. Which ends up feeling like a loss to me.

I finally managed to dig myself out of my complete writing standstill in the past few weeks, and have added a few chapters to Team TaoRuti, as well as have come up with a decent candidate for a back-of-book blurb. I’ve updated the site accordingly, and would appreciate feedback. It’s been 15 months since I released book 1 on the series, and I’d love to make the claim that book 2 came out the next calendar year… but… we’ll see.

I can say that all the advertising from last month was a complete bust. Though it’s possible that it wasn’t the vendors’ fault, given general economic conditions, and specific details of how many people lost their jobs and are on the verge of losing their houses, I will be putting a pause on ad buys for the foreseeable future.

The stark contrast of that economic reality, and the one enjoyed by our plutocrats was described in the real life experience of Douglas Rushkoff… two years ago. Reading the article made eerie echoes with exactly the predictions I’ve been weaving into my scifi stories. For that matter, so does recent reporting about a large-scale basic income experiment in South America.

Research on the intelligence of trees and the deepening of quantum paradoxes that point to certain underlying uncertainties about the “supremacy” of human thought/reasoning/existence also play into my stories.

On the other hand, I resort to complete handwavium about the nature of interstellar travel, given reporting on not only how difficult it is to escape the planet in the first place, but also how unimaginably large the cosmos is.

I’m much more interested in how certain kinds of humans react to having their minds boggled beyond the constraints of their expectations. While this naturally pushes my imagination to where we intersect with technology, (hearkening back to Arthur C. Clarke’s third law that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”) it also means… magic has a place in my scifi. And that’s all I’ll say about how I backed myself out of writing a dystopia that was uncomfortably parallel to our current reality.

Which brings me to the quote at the start of today’s post. Regardless of your stance on religion, I have noticed that since hubs and I have become intentional with our daily prayers/meditations, it’s been easier to heave myself up onto the banks of wonder, where I can give voice to my creativity. Escape the humdrum of “just another day in my {home} office”. I wish the same for you and yours.

Book Review: Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade

Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade
Spoiler Alert, by Olivia Dade

Even though I’ve been reading a lot recently, I have backed away from doing many reviews. However, this is one of those times when I’m really glad for having a NetGalley account. I got access to an ARC I’ve been drooling for since Dade first released a preview of the cover on Twitter… some time ago. I’ve read all of her Marysburg and Love Unscripted titles, (and am connected to her on Twitter, where she is nothing but supportive) so I was already sold on the author’s work. Getting the opportunity to be one of the early-adopter cheerleaders for this release is just a bonus for all the hours of reading enjoyment I’ve already gotten from Dade’s writing.

(I’m still side-eyeing whatever marketing “professional” decided to announce this book with “Olivia Dade bursts onto the scene”… As is obvious to anyone with a Goodreads account, Dade has been publishing successfully since at least 2015. She has earned her writing stripes and deserves recognition for how happy she’s made her reading audience over the years.)

This book is a very strong entry into her stable of work. Her protagonists, Marcus and April, have matured enough to begin the process of coming to terms with those characteristics for which they’ve been harassed and put down their entire lives–in his case, dyslexia and shyness, and in hers, being overweight. Both of them have been emotionally abused by their parents for these “shortcomings”, and over the course of the book grow so beautifully together by learning to set appropriate boundaries.

Mix in nerd love about ancient epics, modern TV fandom, and cosplay, and you have a smart story that celebrates intelligence and passion and ambition and individuality in a world that craves simply fitting in. The subtle commentary about how social media fit in our lives, and play an increasingly public role, was also on point:

The account boasted a bright blue bubble with a check inside. An official, verified account, then.

Marcus Caster-Rupp’s account.

The guy playing Aeneas–fucking Aeneas–had tweeted to her. Followed her.

And…he appeared to have–

No, that couldn’t be right. She was hallucinating.

She squinted. Blinked. Read it again. A third time.

For reasons yet unknown, he appeared to have–

Well, he appeared to have asked her out. On a date.

“I read a fic like this once,” she whispered.

Spoiler Alert, by Olivia Dade

The interstitial chapters sharing their past online correspondence are especially fun. They form an emotional core to the current timeline story that ends up reading like a vicarious diary read-through.

A leitmotif across Dade’s work seems to be an appreciation of literature in general (in this case, the Iliad), and the people who fan-flap about a particular genre, specifically. (That detail has changed to be character-appropriate in the various books, but seems to be a reliable indicator of a Dade creation.) So for me, it feels like the books are targeted directly at my interests.

For anyone who enjoys a contemporary romance that has a light, humorous tone, but engages in meaningful work both on self and partnership, this book should be right up your alley. And if you develop a taste for the author’s voice from this book, don’t despair, you have a significant back catalog to look forward to. In fact, Dade has confirmed that one of the side characters from book 1 is getting their own stand-alone/follow-on story next year, so keep your eyes open for more in this series. I certainly will be.

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