Published Poetry & Fiction

Hello readers! Thank you for those who responded to my readers survey. I have reviewed the results and will start planning my content accordingly.

I appreciate your input and the time you took to help make my blog better. While I plan and prepare to make certain changes to content creation, I’d like to announce my most recent publications.

This is the Latino Book Review’s inaugural issue and I am honored to be featured in it as a poet. Both a print and digital edition are available for anyone who wants to support.

I also have a short fantasy piece featured in Z Publishing House’s
America’s Emerging Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers: The Deep South.

Thank you all again for participating in the survey and for any support you can give. If you can’t purchase copies of these publications, please share with your friends and networks.

Happy reading!

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Meagan Reads Fiction: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I picked this book up for black history month and finished it just before February ended.

Image from Goodreads

Americanah tells the story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman growing up in Africa with some of the same concerns as most teenagers, and some not so common.

As she navigates her youth and becomes a college student, the constant protests and walk-outs from the schools’ faculties makes it hard for her and her friends to get an education. She decides to go to America, leaving her high school sweetheart Obinze behind.

This novel is not told in chronological order, but that’s the base storyline from which all the other events and moments that take place are founded on. The book takes on the Herculean task of addressing numerous sociopolitical issues, from race to feminism to sexual assault to class to culture and so much more.

While the material sounds heavy and overwhelming, Adichie’s writing is so precise and focused, that it never feels like it’s all over the place. The story itself doesn’t take on a linear structure, but its commentary and social elements are clear and articulate.

Even when the protagonist is working through the issues herself, Adichie’s development of Ifemelu’s feelings and actions in regards to them feels like real life. Sure, the characterization conveys the sense of a messy human being, but the writing itself is never a mess.

The events throughout the novel are broken up by posts that Ifemelu writes for her blog, each one relating to the particular scene happening at the moment. It was interesting to see the character’s introspective moments take place in this format, as it presented her thoughts, feelings, and opinions in a cohesive manner that couldn’t be conveyed by the narration.

One of the salient points that stood out to me is that Ifemelu is often irked by displays of false identities. She doesn’t care for two-faced people, and yet in participating in her blog that sends her into internet fame, she too wears a mask. This hypocrisy might make for an unlikeable character to some, but for me personally, I found it realistic and just plain human.

Of the many issues touched on in this novel, its handling of mental illness and how it is perceived in other cultures stood out. The basic understanding brought to light by the African characters surrounding Ifemelu is that mental illness and conditions are fake diseases made up by white people.

When Ifemelu experiences anxiety and depression, her best friend Ginika recognizes the symptoms and talks to her about it. Ifemelu’s Aunty Uju though, from an older generation, says it’s just another made-up disease created by the quirky American doctors who think everything is a disease.

The split between generations and cultures creates a striking picture of how “Americanized” those who emigrated have become. However, they are still seen as foreigners and outsiders in America, but when they return to Nigeria, they are now foreigners and outsiders to their homeland.

This idea of belonging to two places and no place all at once resonated with me, as I’ve seen it second-hand with my father, and how he’s been living in this country longer than the country he was born in, and whenever we go back to visit Ecuador, he’s an outsider there now. It’s a feeling I’m sure many readers will find rings true.

Adichie’s novel doesn’t necessarily provide answers or easy fixes to the issues discussed or the problems emigrants/immigrants face. Rather, she brings the discussions to light so that those who read the book may take on the conversation, the same way her characters have.

The Problem With My Problematic Fave

I read a few Michael Connelly mystery books and other similar novels throughout college. I’m currently working through another hard-boiled mystery, Privileged Lives, the first in the Vincent Cardozo novels by Edward Stewart. I love the gritty, dirty mood and feel these novels provide. I like rough around the edges detectives who are kind of jerks, especially to bad guys, but deep down they’re really passionate about their job of protecting people and finding justice, even if they are a bit jaded after decades on the job. I love skeevy settings and shady characters. I love the down in the dirt crimes and seeing the worst of humanity. It’s a weird wheelhouse, but I know I’m not alone.

What I don’t love about most of these books though, is that they also come with a healthy helping of sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and racism. There’s something about the hard-boiled detective that makes writers turn to tropes of womanizing, prejudice, and “just being honest.” I get it. These novels are made for a hypermasculine audience. That’s their appeal.

And yet, the more I read them, the less and less I can stomach dialogue that blatantly uses slurs and stereotypes to convey the image of hardened police officers who are just macho men. That’s just what these detectives do. They rough up criminals, drink straight Scotch, and spend too much introspection time on pondering the length of a broad’s legs and the attractive shape of her waist to hip ratio.

I guess what I’m getting at here is recommendations from fellow readers. For those like me who love the gritty, hard-boiled mystery but without the bigotry, I’d like to invite you all to tell me what some of your favorites are. I’m still all for the gruff detective who won’t let go of the case that haunts his nightmares, and in the end gets the girl. I just want less of that man’s man mentality that leads to toxic masculinity. I’d really like a female detective lead that has those same qualities that a male character is allowed to have, and still be loved by the reader.

You could say I’m looking for Jessica Jones read-alikes. I think that’s what really appealed to me about that character and show. She was a flawed and terrible protagonist who acted like she didn’t care about anyone, but she still did the P.I. job because the truth was she did care. It’s probably the only time I’ve seen a female anti-hero that fans love and want more of her story.

Though I’m a big fan of the character and the show, I don’t just want to read J. Jones comic books. I want other novels and mysteries in that vein that give me the seedy side of humanity without the outright prejudice. I know that sounds contradictory, but it’s clearly possible if the creators of Jessica Jones could make it happen.

So if anyone out there has suggestions to help me get my fix of the hard-boiled detective mystery without bigotry, I’d greatly appreciate it. Let me know your recommendations in the comments!

Meagan Reads YA Fantasy: The Exiled Queen by Cinda Williams Chima

This is the sequel to The Demon King from the Seven Realms series. Possible spoilers ahead, so if you plan on reading these books, proceed with caution.

from Goodreads

In the continuation of this series, Raisa makes it to Oden’s Ford with her childhood friend and complicated love interest Amon Byrne, after having fled the Fells to avoid an arranged marriage to the wizard Micah Bayar, which would have set off a civil war among the clans and the Vale people. Meanwhile, Han Alister and his childhood best friend Dancer make it to Oden’s Ford after fleeing Marisa Pines after the death of Han’s mom and sister.

Though the two stories diverged at the end of the first book and remained as separate lines throughout most of this one, they eventually meet up again. This time though, Raisa, unable to be with Amon, falls for Han after agreeing to tutor him in the ways of the nobility. In their separate lives, Raisa continues to play the part of a noble lady named Rebecca Morley, while Han juggles various extracurricular training sessions in wizardry from the dean of the magic school and a mysterious tutor who only meets with him in a different dimension.

Needless to say, there is a whole mess of complex stories and characters going on in this book. And yet, the reader never loses track of who’s who and what events have occurred or how they relate. It’s actually really impressive how deftly Chima maps out the people, places, and events in a way that’s rich and layered, and yet never confusing. These books feel like Game of Thrones, but written by Tamora Pierce.

I think what helped the most with this though, is that Chima used the first chapter in the book to essentially act as the recap, like TV shows that use “Previously on…” Personally, I think series like these, especially in the fantasy realm, could use more of that structure. After all, they’re written in such an episodic way it just makes sense to give the reader a refresher on what came before (especially readers like me who read books with so much time in between). Maybe we can just create a website for that kind of thing.

The other element I really appreciate about these books, especially The Exiled Queen, is how the plot points mix with the every day issues, and that those issues act as parallels to our own real-world problems. For example, the dynamic between Cat Tyburn and Dancer shows how even those who come from marginalized communities (Cat is a Southern Isle native from the streets, but raised in the Vale) can still display prejudice and bigotry toward other marginalized communities (Dancer is clanborn).

I’d say one of the bigger flaws of the series is the rampant heteronormativity. There’s only one instance of LGBTQ+ representation, but it isn’t fleshed out and comes off as an afterthought. Two of Raisa’s cadet friends, Talia and Pearlie, are girlfriends. It’s mentioned that “women who prefer other women” are known as moonspinners. While I really like that new terminology for lesbians, this particular story point is brought up momentarily and immediately set aside. Presumably it’s because they aren’t main characters, but in the end, I felt like I could have gotten the same ending story without their inclusion, and that doesn’t make for true diversity and inclusion.

Overall, I really liked this sequel and I’m definitely looking forward to reading the continuation of this story. It’s complex enough to be intriguing, but not so much so as to overwhelm. Has anyone else read these books? What are your thoughts on the series? Let me know in the comments!

Meagan Reads YA Fantasy: Queen of Air and Darkness by Cassandra Clare

My last read of 2018 and first review of 2019. This is the third and final installment in Cassandra Clare’s The Dark Artifices series, another story set in the Shadowhunter world. I want to start by saying that Clare is one of my favorite authors. I adore her Shadowhunter world. It wasn’t until just a couple of months ago that I realized that what’s called urban fantasy was my all time favorite genre.

For those who plan on reading the books and haven’t gotten this far, beware! Spoilers for book two, Lord of Shadows, ahead.

qoaad_blogIn Queen of Air and Darkness, the Blackthorns, Emma, and Shadowhunter community as a whole are reeling from the events at the end of the last book, in which Livvy Blackthorn is killed, as well as the Inquisitor Robert Lightwood, Alec’s father (he’s a major character in The Mortal Instruments series, FYI). With the grief of losing his baby sister and the impending doom that is set to happen to him and his parabatai because they’ve fallen in love, it’s too much for Julian to handle. He decides to have his emotions magically muted, which leads him to become a different person that makes cold, calculating decisions, but not in the name of family and love, instead for the sake of militaristic strategy.

Battles in fairy lead to Emma and Julian traveling through a portal to another dimension called Thule, where the Dark War from the Mortal Instruments series went terribly wrong and Sebastian lived and ruled the land. Suffice it to say, this is not the kind of book you can read casually and pick up as a stand alone. You absolutely have to read at least the two previous books, and the other Shadowhunter series’ books. While it gives just enough detail to fill in those gaps to anyone who might be new to the world, it’s definitely written for die hard fans of Clare’s world.

Taking this book into consideration with the rest of the series, I have to say it wasn’t my favorite. It started off really strong and I was hooked and tormented all the way through the adventures in Thule. The events that unfold after that didn’t quite keep my attention in the same way. It’s not to say that I didn’t like how the story unraveled, but I definitely felt much of it could have been condensed.

There were a lot of moments that were meant to be character development, which is absolutely crucial to any story, but when it comes to the stories that Clare writes, that development must also carry the story forward. I didn’t feel like every detail written for the sake of developing characters did that. As a fan of the people and the world, I loved reading these details into each individual’s personality and thoughts, but as a reader of a novel as a whole, I thought many scenes bogged down the story that wanted to keep going. There was a lot that could have been saved as more “behind the scenes” tidbits, which is something the author likes to post on her social media. In short, it felt like much of the content in Queen of Air and Darkness was dedicated too much to fanservice, which hurt the overall story.

That said, I want to reiterate that I loved learning more about the characters. Specifically, I adored seeing the development of certain relationships between different character sets. Clare has a true talent for putting into words the complexity of human emotions and how those are influenced by and affect the ties that bind. The relationship that broke my heart the most was between Ty and Kit.

After the death of his twin Livvy, Ty leans on Kit for support in his insane endeavors to bring her back from the dead. Kit knows it’s a bad idea, but wants so desperately to please and help Ty because of the love that’s grown that he goes along with the bad idea. The way things end between them left me wanting to cry, but I’m hoping that that particular dynamic has more to come, and it seems like there’s room for growth with the way Clare wrote their ending.

I’m looking forward to reading about Kit’s story in future books and seeing how his story fits in with the rest of the Shadowhunter world. Have any of you read the books in this world and/or series? What are your thoughts on the Shadowhunters? Let me know in the comments!

Maddison Stoff: Android Court Transcription — BURNING HOUSE PRESS

What an absolutely incredible piece of fiction! Click the link below to read the full story.

Official – Subject To Final Review P R O C E E D I N G S (9 :45 a.m.) CHIEF JUSTICE GIBSON: We’ll hear argument f this morning in Case 84-2532, Android Rights Coalition verses The People’s Republic of America. TX-38 ORAL ARGUMENT OF TX-38

via Maddison Stoff: Android Court Transcription — BURNING HOUSE PRESS

Meagan Reads Fiction: The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

This is my second to last read for the MadLibs 2018 reading challenge that I was supposed to finish officially back in June, but whatever, there’s still some time left in the year.

The Book of Speculation tells a story across generations of Simon, the protagonist’s, family. His is a family of circus performers, but more than that, one of “dangerous” women who suffer from undiagnosed mental illness.

Image from Goodreads

When a man named Churchwarry, a book collector, sends Simon a mysterious book that is somehow connected to his family, Simon finds himself obsessed with the discovery that all the women in his family have drowned on the same day. Truly, a mystery as all these women were “mermaids.” They were carnival performers who swam in tanks on display because they could hold their breath for an inordinate amount of time, a talent Simon and his sister have inherited.

When his sister Enola, who works the circuit as a Tarot card reader, comes home frazzled and displaying acute anxiety, and the date of July 24th approaches, Simon becomes desperate to break the curse that already took his mother, and in turn, his father.

The entire time I read this book, I couldn’t help but think of the movie Big Fish. Perhaps it was the cast of circus characters that I found a connection to, but I think it was more than that. It was how much like the protagonist in that movie, Simon tried to stay removed from his family’s history but found himself nearly drowned in it until he stopped resisting.

There’s also the element of magical realism that felt like the two stories were connected. In fact, if this book were ever made into a movie or Netflix series, I could see it having much the same directorial qualities as Big Fish. As the story delves back and forth between past and present, slowly unraveling the twisted web created by generations of lies and secrets, I found myself enthralled and engaged in the mystery of this family, spanning across Vissers, Rhyzkovas, Peabodys, and more.

I think what was also so striking, especially toward the end, is how artifacts and history can have such a strong pull that even generations and various degrees of separation later, certain bloodlines and people can still find their way back to each other. It left me wondering if the curse and magic were real, or if it was all just a matter of chance and coincidence. Although the book falls pretty firmly on the magic side of this thought, it still leaves it just vague enough to let the readers decide for themselves.

Who else has read this book? What are your thoughts and feelings on this story? Let me know in the comments!