Supernatural adventures for girls and women.

[reading] Review of HOLDING SMOKE by Elle Cosimano

I’m a Book Depository affiliate, and will receive a small credit if you order from BD using any of the BD links below. There is no additional cost to you. I’ll mark the source of links.

Book: HOLDING SMOKE by Elle Cosimano (Book Depository)
Genre: YA paranormal murder mystery
USA Release Date: currently available
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 3/5 stars
Summary: John “Smoke” Conlan is serving time for two murders-but he wasn’t the one who murdered his English teacher, and he never intended to kill the only other witness to the crime. A dangerous juvenile rehabilitation center in Denver, Colorado, known as the Y, is Smoke’s new home and the only one he believes he deserves. But, unlike his fellow inmates, Smoke is not in constant imprisonment. After a near death experience leaves him with the ability to shed his physical body at will, Smoke is able to travel freely outside the concrete walls of the Y, gathering information for himself and his fellow inmates while they’re asleep in their beds. Convinced his future is only as bright as the fluorescent lights in his cell, Smoke doesn’t care that the “threads” that bind his soul to his body are wearing thin-that one day he may not make it back in time. That is, until he meets Pink, a tough, resourceful girl who is sees him for who he truly is and wants to help him clear his name. Now Smoke is on a journey to redemption he never thought possible. With Pink’s help, Smoke may be able to reveal the true killer, but the closer they get to the truth, the more deadly their search becomes. The web of lies, deceit, and corruption that put Smoke behind bars is more tangled than they could have ever imagined. With both of their lives on the line, Smoke will have to decide how much he’s willing to risk, and if he can envision a future worth fighting for.

Recommended?: Yes. I thought it was a fast, fun read with some really interesting world building, and a main character I cared about, which is rare for me with straight male main characters.

Things I loved: The murder mystery itself, the details of how Smoke travels outside his body, the layers of corruption and intrigue.

Things I loathed: The ending is weak, and more than a little cheesy. While the pacing is good in the second half of the story, it seemed to take a long time to get started. And again, that ending — cheesy and weak. I’m not sure how much I buy that he wasn’t tried as an adult for the two murders he’s in juvie for committing, and that was really distracting at first, but once I was able to suspend my disbelief, the pacing of the story had picked up, and I was along for the ride.

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[reading] Review of THE GIRL I USED TO BE by April Henry

I’m a Book Depository affiliate, and will receive a small credit if you order from BD using any of the BD links below. There is no additional cost to you. I’ll mark the source of links.

Book: THE GIRL I USED TO BE by April Henry (Book Depository)
Genre: YA murder mystery
USA Release Date: currently available
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 2.5/5 stars
Summary: When Olivia’s mother was killed, everyone suspected her father of murder. But his whereabouts remained a mystery. Fast forward fourteen years. New evidence now proves Olivia’s father was actually murdered on the same fateful day her mother died. That means there’s a killer still at large. It’s up to Olivia to uncover who that may be. But can she do that before the killer tracks her down first?

Recommended?: Sort of. It was entertaining enough, but I had serious issues with the way mental illness was treated, both in how fast and often the accusations of someone being “crazy” flew, but also because in the end, the deaths were blamed on mental illness, because crazy people kill, AMIRITE? And that trope is one of my most hated tropes. So while the story as a whole was a fun look at how the stories we tell about murders can be terribly wrong, I had a hard time pushing through the part.

Things I loved: The use of YouTube to access old video of her family’s appearance on America’s Most Wanted, and how technology drove her research a lot. Some of the side characters were really well drawn. It was a fun murder mystery (I mean, if you can call a “murder mystery” fun, which I can and do, but I can see how that’s a little weird, too), and I really liked the way she kept pushing through everything to find the truth.

Things I loathed: The treatment of mental illness. The weirdness about a failed adoption that not only didn’t make a lot of sense in the details, but also didn’t add anything to the story and was pretty much a terrible representation of adoption that felt like it was just there to give her a more painful backstory and to prey on the fears a lot of adopted kids have that their new family will give them up. (And frustrating treatment of single mothers, to boot.)

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[reading] Review of DRAGON’S LUCK by Lauren Esker

Book: DRAGON’S LUCK by Lauren Esker
Genre: paranormal romantic suspense
Series: Shifter Agents #3
USA Release Date: available now
Source: ARC from author
Rating: 4/5 stars
Recommended?: Yes, so much yes, all the yes! Amazing main character in Jen Cho, fantastic adventure, well-written details, and great worldbuilding mean this is a fast, fun read well worth visiting again and again.

Jen Cho is a gecko shifter and infiltration expert for the Shifter Crimes Bureau. But this time she’s in over her head—out of touch with her handler and head over heels for a sexy gambler who mistakenly thinks she’s as much of a bad girl as he’s a bad boy.

Ambrose “Lucky” Lucado has been playing in high-stakes games of chance since he was big enough to see over the table. But the sexy lizard shifter has a secret: he’s not a lizard at all. He’s a dragon, the rarest of all shifters, thought to be nothing more than a legend. And all dragons have special abilities that other shifters don’t. Lucky can “push” his luck just a tiny bit, enough to ensure that he always wins at the gambling tables.

The problem is, the rest of Lucky’s family have powers of their own. His much more powerful cousin Angel can twist people’s minds, making them do whatever he wants, from forgetting they’ve seen him to shooting themselves in the head. And now he’s set his sights on Jen.

Is “Lucky” Lucado lucky enough to protect both of them?


While I do think you can read this as a standalone novel, one of my favorite parts is the depth it adds to the world already established in the first two Shifter Agents books. What we saw in HANDCUFFED TO THE BEAR and GUARD WOLF was an interesting and nuanced shapeshifter world that even though it had its dangers, they were generally from familiar places (at least familiar to the characters): well-known shapeshifter types or humans obsessed with their healing abilities. DRAGON’S LUCK blows that wide open, because it blows open the idea of what kind of shapeshifters exist, what kind of powers they have — adding dragons to the mix is fun and entertaining, but I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much had I not read the other books first. Part of the fun is feeling settled in the world, and then having my view of it changed right along with the characters.

Jen Cho is by far the strongest part of the book to me. She is amazing; smart and funny and strong and brave. I love how Esker writes details that drive home how different shifters experience the world in different ways. A gecko, for example, moves through the world in a way a wolf never could, and vice versa. And Jen having to explore a ship in gecko form was an excellent way to highlight the strengths and weakness of her form. Jen is independent to a fault, and one of the reasons I had a hard time putting the book down was because I was so caught up in her story, how she navigated needing help with not trusting Lucky, how when she did start to trust him, she was still torn between how much she wanted to tell him and how much she could actually tell him.

I liked the romance between Jen and Lucky well enough, but I think I didn’t like Lucky as much as I could have because I had just read GUARD WOLF before this, and the hero of that book is the disabled werewolf I’ve always wanted in a story. So for very unfair reasons, Lucky fell a little flat, and even more when I saw a couple of the twists in his story coming.

As with the first two books, DRAGON’S LUCK plays with some delightful tropes, from Undercover Agents to Fake Girlfriend, and Esker approaches them with a deft hand. I can’t really get into the details of the other things I loved without going into major spoilers, so I will end by saying that this book was a joy to read. The pacing was fast and fun, and I never wanted to put it down; I pretty much devoured it in one sitting, and wanted more when I hit the last page. Jen Cho is a joy and a delight forever, and I can’t wait to see more of her back with the rest of the agency. There are some plot points revealed during this book that have opened up a great number of future stories, and I am so excited to see what comes next! I’d be counting the days until the next book, but I’m afraid that will make me sad, because unless I can read it in, oh, the next thirty seconds, it is far too long to wait.

However, that means you have time to go read all three books AND the short story “Chasing Bigfoot,” and I strongly recommend you do so immediately.

Note: DRAGON’S LUCK is the first of the series not to include a BBW female main character. Neither of the women in HANDCUFFED TO THE BEAR or GUARD WOLF read as very fat to me, but they at different times do think of themselves as fat and are self-conscious about that. Which is fine, and can be realistic, but is not my favorite part of stories about fat women. It was nice to see Jen be confident about her body, but I do wish we would have seen more of that from the fat characters, too. (And when I double checked at Amazon, only HANDCUFFED TO THE BEAR appears to be labeled as BBW now, though I would have sworn GUARD WOLF was too when I grabbed my copy. Ah well.)

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[reading] Wednesday Reading

I’m a Book Depository affiliate, and will receive a small credit if you order from BD using any of the BD links below. There is no additional cost to you.

Wiscon 40 happened over the weekend, and part of it was great, and part of it was terrible, and part of it was heartbreaking, and part of it was exactly what I needed. So there’s that. I actually only came home with two new physical books, which is shocking, and I’ll talk about them once I read them. I came home with a bunch of art, but I can’t show everything just yet, because I huge chunk of that includes gifts. I was able to buy directly from the artist twice, and tell them how much the pieces meant to me, so that was particularly nice.

(I may have to put together some art myself for next year’s Art Show. We’ll see. And yes, I plan to go back next year. I think we’ve talked JBJ into coming, too. He’ll love most of it.)

What I’ve Read

TRUST ME, I’M TROUBLE (sequel to TRUST ME, I’M LYING) by Mary Elizabeth Summer (Book Depository links): This was so good. SO GOOD. It surprised me with a romantic thing, and then broke my heart, but it was wonderful and exactly what I wanted (minus the heartbreak, but it fits), and I laughed, and I couldn’t put it down. Can’t wait for the next book.

HOLDING SMOKE by Elle Cosimano: Received a copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley. It’s about a boy imprisoned for murder who can leave his body at will and the girl he teams up with to find the true killer. I liked this a lot, mostly, though his voice didn’t always work for me. I really loved the way Cosimano handles descriptions and details.

What I’m Reading

FAT VAMPIRE by Adam Rex: No link, because I pretty much hate this book and do not recommend you try it. Someone recced this to me awhile ago, and then someone else more recently when I mentioned I was doing the fat characters in SFF panel at Wiscon, and both of those people were VERY VERY WRONG. It is terrible, and I want my money back and the time I wasted reading it. There’s racism and homophobia and sexism and serious fat hate when it comes to fat female characters, though the dudes don’t get it as bad, and just fuck off into the sea, book. Fuck off into the sea. (Odds are high I will not finish it, obviously.)

EVERY HEART A DOORWAY by Seanan McGuire (Book Depository link): FINALLY delving into this, and it’s interesting so far, though it’s not holding my attention the way her writing usually does. I have been super distracted, though, between Wiscon over the weekend, and then a grant symposium today that took me out of town for awhile.

What I’ll Read Next

DARK ALCHEMY by Laura Bickle (Dark Alchemy #1) (Book Depository link): I’m trying to avoid buying new books this year, except for a few favorite authors, but someone recommended the second book in the series to me recently, and I bought this book immediately. It sounds like western + magic + kick ass women, and I am here for that so hard. SO HARD.

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[bipolar] XOJane Publishes a Dangerous, Disgusting Mental Illness Essay

I’m not linking to the damn thing right now, because I don’t want to look at it again, I don’t want a link to it here in my space, but XOJane just published an essay in which the author flat out says that a person with a mental illness was better off dying than living, because there was no way for her to have a real life because of her mental illness.

My immediate response was on Twitter: What the fuck were you thinking, @xojanedotcom?! The essay about a mentally ill person being better off dead is harmful, exploitative, wrong. Everyone involved with its publication should be ashamed, @xojanedotcom. I am disgusted and enraged. I am harmed. I ache for others you hurt.

I am angry. I am harmed. I am trying to formulate an actual response, one that I can publish and share. I’m not yet to that point, because I am still so enraged.

Clickbait or not. Flip personal essay or not. Words matter. Words mean things. Words hurt people. Fuck XOJane and fuck the author. I am ashamed that I have a pub credit at XOJane, if they are going to publish shit like this.

Posted in Mental Illness | Tagged

[reading] Wednesday Reading

I’m a Book Depository affiliate, and will receive a small credit if you order from BD using any of the BD links below. There is no additional cost to you.

Not sure how the day got away from me yesterday, but here’s this week’s belated Wednesday Reading.

What I’ve Read

TEN MILES PAST NORMAL by Frances O’Roarke Dowell (Book Depository link): Lovely, quiet contemporary about reluctant farm girls, family dynamics, girls playing bass, and Civil Rights activists. I know I’ve read the first half before, but I did not remember the second half at all, so I’m not entirely sure if this was a first time read for me or not. It was a lot of fun, and I’d love to spend more time with these characters.

SLEEPAWAY GIRLS by Jen Calonita (Book Depository link): A cute contemporary about a girl standing up for herself from her best friend for the first time and going away to camp for the summer. There’s a little bit of BUT THIS COULD BE FIXED IF YOU JUST TALKED TO EACH OTHER that annoys me no matter where it shows up, but it’s cute and fun. I just learned there’s a second book, so that’s exciting.

THE GIRL I USED TO BE by April Henry (Book Depository link): Received a copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley. A (fairly quiet) murder mystery about a girl whose mother was killed when she was just a toddler, and whose father was suspected of being the killer. Now, when she’s nearly an adult, additional evidence reveals that her father was killed at the same time, and the killer is still out there somewhere. It’s a fairly interesting story, but I had a hard time staying engaged with it, even though I liked the grumpy main character a lot. I’m working on a review of this one.

THE MAY QUEEN MURDERS by Sarah Jude (Book Depository link): Creepy horror\suspense that is super atmospheric and wonderful. A few decades ago, one of the townsfolk killed their May Queen and disappeared into the woods; they can still hear his screams. Now once again animals are being brutally slaughtered, and then girls start dying. There’s a sweet little romance, the descriptive writing is fantastic, and I ended up loving this book despite the fact that it falls squarely in the Kill Your Queers trope. (TV Tropes calls it Bury Your Gays, but that leaves out a lot of sexualities.) I really like horror set close to home, and this works for me a lot. If I could read it on its own, divorced from a world where there are so many dead queer girls in particular in fiction, I wouldn’t even have minded that the death drives the straight girl’s motivations and emotions, but I can’t. It doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Still, excellent book.

What I’m Reading

TRUST ME, I’M TROUBLE (sequel to TRUST ME, I’M LYING) by Mary Elizabeth Summer (Book Depository links): I really enjoyed the first book, even though it has some absolutely ridiculous parts, and so far, I’m loving the second one even more. These are fun grifter-gone-good stories with some awesome teen girls, and I am a fan of that combination.

LISEY’S STORY by Stephen King (Book Depository link): Yes, I am still reading this. I really like Lisey, and I love the way her history with her husband unfolds throughout the story, in pieces and present thoughts and scenes set back in what she remembers, but it is really slow paced and easy to put down, so it is taking forever.

TREASURES, DEMONS AND OTHER BLACK MAGIC by Meghan Ciana Doidge (Book Depository link): I think I’m at least going to finish the first trilogy. I don’t know if I’ll continue it after. We’ll see how much annoyance at the main character’s “quirky” traits (and my dislike of first person narrators) balances against the stuff I do enjoy. So far, the stuff I enjoy is losing out, but maybe once I’m done with the cliffhanger ending, I’ll like it more.

What I’ll Read Next

HOLDING SMOKE by Elle Cosimano: Received a copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley. It also came out this week, and I’m so excited to read it. It’s about a boy imprisoned for murder who can leave his body at will and the girl he teams up with to find the true killer.

EVERY HEART A DOORWAY by Seanan McGuire (Book Depository link): Don’t know why I haven’t read this yet, because I normally read McGuire’s work immediately, but I am looking forward to it.

DARK ALCHEMY by Laura Bickle (Dark Alchemy #1) (Book Depository link): I’m trying to avoid buying new books this year, except for a few favorite authors, but someone recommended the second book in the series to me recently, and I bought this book immediately. It sounds like western + magic + kick ass women, and I am here for that so hard. SO HARD.

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[gaming] Sims 3 ISBI Legacy: The Chaos Legacy 2.2

Previously on the Chaos legacy: Abby and Stiles had their first baby, a boy named Brandon, and after a far too long babyhood and toddlerdom, he became a child. Then they had their second (and last) baby, a girl named Babs, and the heir race truly began.

Continue reading »

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[writing] Project List, May 2016

It’s the middle of the month, time for a project update.

Current active projects:

UK Horror Project
(cowritten with Sarah)

1. Talking Dead
Young adult supernatural adventure. Ghosts, monsters, and killers, oh my. Status: Fourth draft in progress. Fourth draft combines Talking Dead and Monsters & Magic into one book. We generally write one chapter a writing session, and try to have at least one session a week though we’ve each had to cancel a few sessions, so while this seems like slow going compared to 2014, it’s actually moving along quite well.

(Monsters & Magic used to be #2. Young adult supernatural adventure. Flirtatious werewolves and incorporeal monsters.)

2. Supernatural Slumber Party
Young adult supernatural adventure. It’s a slumber party of supernaturals, see? Status: First draft complete. Second draft on hold until Talking Dead draft four complete.

3. Wicked Witches
Young adult supernatural adventure. Witches, dude, always with the witches. And the world goes BOOM. Status: First draft complete. Second draft on hold until Talking Dead draft four complete. Second draft combines Wicked Witches and Monster Mash into one book.

(The Monster Mash used to be #5. Young adult supernatural adventure. The world goes BOOM.)

Stand Alone Books

1. Monsters in the Trees
Young adult horror. Friends, makeouts, and monsters in an isolated cabin. Status: Draft one in progress. Slow progress. I need to do some more outlining on paper, I think, before I sit down at the computer again. We’ll see if that helps.

2. Winter Cabin
New adult or adult paranormal romance. Flirtations and sexy times while snowed in interrupted by monsters and mayhem. Status: Draft one nearly complete. Though not as nearly as it should be. I hit the end of the outline around the end of March as planned, and then realized there’s probably another 15k of story to write. Good times. (This will go under the pseud if it is published.) Got stuck partway through April, had to go back and reoutline in May to figure out where I went wrong. Just about to start the last 15k again off the new outline.

3. Monsters and Music
Young adult horror. Ghosts and werewolves, oh my. (witches and dead people and haunted things, too.) Status: Draft two in progress. Had an epiphany about the main romantic relationship, which I think will help structure the story.

4. Frozen World Fantasy
Adult fantasy. Brainstorming and talking to JBJ, another fantasy author, about how to write a fantasy novel. Doing some research on the writing side, working through world building before I start outlining.

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[linking] Sunday Sporadic Link Round-Up

Inuit, Tattoos: ‘This is so powerful:’ Kitikmeot women revive traditional Inuit tattoos by Juanita Taylor, CBC News

Indigenous people are bringing back sacred practices that were forbidden by Christian missionaries a century ago, and it is wonderful. They’re learning and sharing the traditional hand-poke and skin-stitching tattoo methods, too, and sharing with their community. This is so, so important.

Millie Angulalik broke down in sobs after seeing herself in the mirror.

Her niece had practised her new skill flawlessly, creating an exact replica of a traditional Inuit facial tattoo on her aunt’s face.

“I feel so complete,” said Angulalik. “Like really complete. I feel like flying like a bird.”

The lines on her forehead represent her parents, who have died. The lines on her chin represent her niece, parents and two sisters.

“My mom and dad … they’re right there, they’re the centre of me. They’ll be with me forever to guide me through the Inuk way of life. This is so powerful and I’m really blessed my niece did it.

“I’ve always been Inuk but this is real Inuk, you know? I love it, I’m so proud of myself for doing that. I know I’m going to be strong now to walk forward in life.”

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Nostalgia: ‘Pioneer Girl’ Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Real Memoir Overturns Our False Nostalgia by Jennifer Grant at Christianity Today

One of my earliest memories is of my mom reading the Little House books to me. I can remember how she read, her lips shaping the words, precise, careful. I visited Mansfield, Missouri (Where the Little House Books were Written) as a child and as an adult, for different reasons, with different results. A friend of the family bought me LET THE HURRICANE ROAR when I was young and staying with her; we read it together, and then road tripped to Mansfield, and she told me stories about her own childhood. Episodes of the show were on in the background when my great-aunt taught me to cross-stitch.

There is a nostalgia, for me, that supersedes the actual story, and is much more about the experiences surrounding it, when I read it, when it was read to me, where, by whom. But there is a nostalgia to the books themselves, and it sounds like PIONEER GIRL really pushes back against that. I’d like to read it, because false nostalgia is interesting to me; Sarah and I talk a lot about the false nostalgia for the 50s and how to use that in our writing. (Not our current project, but one slated for the future.) I hope that it also pushes back against the way western expansion is idealized and the treatment of the Indians, but we’ll see if it does.

I can’t imagine an editor that takes more pains in her diligence than does Hill in the new volume, published by the South Dakota Historical Society. Her notes detail everything from the differences between kinds of plums and varieties of jackrabbits to detailed minutiae about every person whom Wilder mentions in Pioneer Girl. The book is nearly 500 pages long; many of these are devoted to Hill’s research.

Despite my wistful memories of the Little House books and TV show, Pioneer Girl is not all grassy meadows and hymn sings. As has been noted in many reviews, the book paints an uglier picture of life “on the prairie” than do the children’s stories. The blizzards are colder, the people are generally less respectable, and the food is much, much scarcer.

Not long into reading Pioneer Girl, that sentimental fog that’s risen in me whenever I’ve thought about Laura Ingalls completely burned off. As Hill said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the real Laura Ingalls saw a “much grittier world” than did the fictional one.

YA, Publishing, ARCs, Blogging: On ARCs, Ethics & Speaking Up by Kelly at

This was written back in 2012, but is still applicable; there’s a pretty huge discussion going on right now, after BEA (Book Expo America, a giant book event; 2016’s event just took place in Chicago).

The problem emerges when ARCs show up with a price tag attached. When one person puts a price tag on a book that’s clearly an unfinished copy, that clearly has a note on it saying the item is not meant for sale, they’re practicing something that is unethical.

But the blame isn’t just on the person who sells the ARC. It’s also on the person who buys it, especially if it’s someone who knows better than that. It sort of sounds like a no duh moment, but the fact is, it happens, and it’s not as hidden as people think it is. Buying and selling of ARCs is much more common than we like to believe it is.

When someone purchases an ARC, rather than a finished copy of the book, they rob the book of a sale. The author and the publisher and the agent and the editor and everyone else involved in the production of a book sees nothing. The money spent on the ARC goes to the person unethically selling it, rather than to those who worked hard to put together the best finished version of that story.

Tattoos, Disability, Ableism, Queer: Tattoos and Disability: Surviving An Experience Not Everyone Can Handle by Carrie at

The suggestion that you manicure your disability (like you’re plucking your eyebrows or fixing your hair), the hungry curiosity, the gut reaction to stay “in hiding” while everyone else “walks nude through the house”—I’ve felt all of that, deeply. Sometimes I do it to myself. That’s the ableism I know: benevolent, well-meaning, even familial. The kind that everyone understands is wrong almost never happens to me. No one yells at me on the street, I’m not being denied social services or lifesaving care, and walking means that I can access most spaces (if not always on the first try). Instead, I get pity dressed as compassion. I get “I forget you’re disabled!”, glares for not giving up my seat on the train, and congratulations on being “so close to normal” (yes, that’s an actual thing somebody said). Able-bodied strangers ask “what happened?” not as an accusation, but in a way that invites sympathy. As if I’m going to say “yeah, it sucks, doesn’t it?”. They expect common ground. I look and behave and sound and succeed so much like them that I get an honorary spot on the team. That’s what ableism looks like filtered through privilege: an invitation to distance. Vitamin E for erasing parts of the body that bother other people.

Law, AIs, Tech: Artificially Intelligent Lawyer “Ross” Has Been Hired By Its First Official Law Firm

Don’t mind me, I’ll just be over here humming “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”. (Technology progresses, takes jobs, AIs inherit the earth.)

Literary Journals, Diversity, Marginalization: Who really needs another literary journal? by Ron Charles at The Washington Post

Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a friend of mine, recently took over as editor in chief at the Offing, and I was interested to see this interview from last year about the journal and its purpose and goals.

And the fact is that, though necessary and laudable, the recent strides made by the literary community hardly touch its historical reality: The sheer volume of published work by mainstream writers versus historically marginalized writers speaks for itself. The Offing’s reason for being is, at least in part, to move beyond liberality, beyond tolerance, even beyond ‘welcome,’ to seek out and amplify the voices of these writers and artists, to put them at the center, to put them in charge. We are working, alongside many others, toward a more profound transformation of, and a true diversity in, the literary world — and the world beyond.

Vin Diesel, Social Media: A Powerful Collective Rooting for You: On Vin Diesel’s Facebook by Muna Mire at the New York Times Magazine

I remember a time, not all that long ago, when it was difficult to find other people who were fans of Vin Diesel, even online. (This was post-Pitch Black and before The Fast and the Furious really started to take off.) And now look at him.

I also think there’s an interesting look at traditional masculinity versus what he’s creating there, but I haven’t yet put those thoughts into order. If I ever do end up writing about this, I’d want to look at Dwayne Johnson’s social media presence, too, because I think he does something similar in how he presents himself, though it’s not quite the same sort of community building. (In part because it is on a different platform.) Actually, I’d also want to contrast them to Steve Austin and Chris Jericho — crap, I do not have the time to do an in-depth analysis of masculinity tropes and how they are subverted (or not) in certain (former) pro wrestlers (and Vin Diesel, who is what started this whole train of thought in the first place).

It would be saccharine coming from anyone else, but Diesel’s Facebook page stands in stark contrast to the gritty, unbreakable masculinity that has made him famous. VinBook certainly complicates his public image, adding a layer of earnestness that is both unexpected and welcome.

VinBook allows us a rare glimpse at a man who is so secure in his sense of self that he is able to be painfully sincere. Diesel is not self-conscious in the slightest; he posts about his love for Sarah McLachlan’s music and his Dungeons and Dragons birthday cake (he wrote the foreword to the game’s 30th anniversary retrospective book), decidedly unmasculine attributes.

Evolution, Fossils, Science: A Monster Comes out of Hiding: Researchers solve a long-standing phylogenetic mystery by Rachel Nuwer at Scientific American

If I had another life to live (or enough money that even more education wasn’t prohibitively expensive; alas, I am still paying off my last degree), I would go into paleontology in a heartbeat.

In 1955 amateur fossil hunter Francis Tully discovered an exceedingly odd specimen in Mazon Creek, a collecting hotspot near Chicago. Imprinted on Tully’s rock were the remains of a tubular creature with stalk eyeballs and a long mouth apparatus terminating in a feature that resembled an alligator clip. Dubbed the Tully monster, the 300-million-year-old specimen later became Illinois’s official state fossil. Despite its popularity, though, researchers have made neither heads nor tails of it—until now.

Technology, Diversity: The 7 Very Coolest Things I Found At NY Tech Day by Ali at

My favorite of this list is the Bitsbox, because it is CODING FOR KIDS, and it sounds amazing.

I LOVE box subscriptions. Love love love. And this is a box for kids that teaches them how to code—every box comes with dozens of apps, and everyone gets everything. No girls box or boys box. The Rocket Girl project goes out to everyone. The coolest thing, said Anastasia, the Director of Operations, is then watching the kids break the apps and rebuild them into exactly what they want. Kids build with real code, not visual building blocks. The box is $30 per month.

Fat, Feminism: 6 Ways I Was Taught to Be a Good Fatty (And Why I Stopped) by Kitty Stryker at Everday Feminism

(Photos may be NSFW.)

Still, I’m not immune to the messaging on television or on the street, where my body taking up space was always seen as a threat and something to be ashamed of.

So I learned, over time, how to perform the dance of the “Good Fatty” – the fat person who can never be socially acceptable, but at least publicly flogs herself for the sin of excess pounds.

The Good Fatty comes in many guises, though the one I encounter the most often is the performative, apologetic, trying-not-to-be-fat Good Fatty.

The Good Fatty is the one who acknowledges and accepts their Othering, both by the people in their personal lives, and the professionals they interact with. The Good Fatty is influenced by the medical profession, the corporate world, the advertising that seeps into our lives.

The Good Fatty is the fatty that people will tolerate – so it quickly becomes a survival strategy for many fat folks, including myself. But it’s also a strategy we can learn to leave behind – for other forms of self-preservation.

So here are some of the lessons I learned – and how I’m beginning to unlearn them.

Money: The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans: Nearly half of Americans would have trouble finding $400 to pay for an emergency. I’m one of them. by Neal Gabler at The Atlantic

I did not find anything about this surprising, but a ton of people I know from law school did. I think that says a lot about the family wealth situations of people who go to elite law schools, to be honest. (Obviously not all of them.)

I know what it is like to have to juggle creditors to make it through a week. I know what it is like to have to swallow my pride and constantly dun people to pay me so that I can pay others. I know what it is like to have liens slapped on me and to have my bank account levied by creditors. I know what it is like to be down to my last $5—literally—while I wait for a paycheck to arrive, and I know what it is like to subsist for days on a diet of eggs. I know what it is like to dread going to the mailbox, because there will always be new bills to pay but seldom a check with which to pay them. I know what it is like to have to tell my daughter that I didn’t know if I would be able to pay for her wedding; it all depended on whether something good happened. And I know what it is like to have to borrow money from my adult daughters because my wife and I ran out of heating oil.

You wouldn’t know any of that to look at me. I like to think I appear reasonably prosperous. Nor would you know it to look at my résumé. I have had a passably good career as a writer—five books, hundreds of articles published, a number of awards and fellowships, and a small (very small) but respectable reputation. You wouldn’t even know it to look at my tax return. I am nowhere near rich, but I have typically made a solid middle- or even, at times, upper-middle-class income, which is about all a writer can expect, even a writer who also teaches and lectures and writes television scripts, as I do. And you certainly wouldn’t know it to talk to me, because the last thing I would ever do—until now—is admit to financial insecurity or, as I think of it, “financial impotence,” because it has many of the characteristics of sexual impotence, not least of which is the desperate need to mask it and pretend everything is going swimmingly. In truth, it may be more embarrassing than sexual impotence. “You are more likely to hear from your buddy that he is on Viagra than that he has credit-card problems,” says Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist who teaches at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, and ministers to individuals with financial issues. “Much more likely.” America is a country, as Donald Trump has reminded us, of winners and losers, alphas and weaklings. To struggle financially is a source of shame, a daily humiliation—even a form of social suicide. Silence is the only protection.

Racism, Work: The Customer is Not Always Right: Microaggressions in the Service Industry by Saher Naumaan at the Toast

Working in the service industry, I was involuntarily subjected to this uncomfortable and often intrusive examination of my history on a regular basis. It’s as if I had tacitly agreed to become an object of scrutiny — on display — due to my job and my background, and every inch, every aspect of my life was fair game for questioners. In a context in which responding in kind to a rude question is never an option, I felt trapped by the need to maintain a professional demeanor, even if I would prefer to be flippant. You know how “the customer is always right”? That phrase takes on a whole new meaning when you get inappropriate questions about your racial and ethnic background in your place of employment.

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[gaming] Sims 3 ISBI Legacy: The Chaos Legacy 2.1

Previously on the Chaos Legacy: Abby and Stiles got right to work producing potential heirs, and continued to be unbelievably competent, autonomously cleaning and cooking and using the toilet and taking themselves to bed when they are tired. GOOD GRIEF, PEOPLE, THIS IS AN ISBI, RIGHT?! The update ended with baby Brandon’s birth, and that’s where we’ll pick up.

(Note: I have the baby and toddler stages set to the minimum of two days, because I hate babies and toddlers.)

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