Posts Tagged With: Book Review

Book Reviews: Neverwhere and A Knot In The Grain

I’m posting a few more book reviews this week even though they’re horribly late.  It’s been a doozy of a weekend, although I’m not 100% sure why I feel that way.  I don’t always get a Thursday entry in, but I ALWAYS get a Monday one and I didn’t this week…

But I will get this Tuesday one done if it kills me (I mean, it won’t kill me…).

I’m charging along on the old 2016 reading challenge.  Out of 32 books, I only have 13 left to read. And we haven’t even hit the middle of the year yet.  Here are two I haven’t blogged: A book of short stories, and a book with a dark and mysterious cover.

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A Knot in the Grain by Robin McKinley (a book of short stories):

As I’ve said on the blog before, I’m not usually a fan of short stories.  I picked this one up, though, because it was Robin McKinley and it was free on Kindle Unlimited (thanks mom!).  It’s comprised of five tales, and honestly I think it’s arranged from worst to best.  The first 4 stories take place in this odd fairy tale world that feels like Grimm but actually contains happy endings, or at least contented ones.  My favorite of the first 4 tales was Buttercups, and I think it was definitely worth the purchase price.  While I didn’t exactly enjoy the other stories, I did find myself thinking about them between times, which I think is a sign of good stuff.

The story the book is named after, though… oh man.  I wish it were a whole novel.  It takes place in a modern setting where a high school girl moves to a new home and finds a strange box in an attic.  I don’t know how McKinley captures real life so well, but she really does mundanity so that you want to live it.  This is the sort of thing that makes McKinley one of my favorites.

I enjoyed the book quite a lot, and would recommend it.  Especially to fans of McKinley’s other stuff.

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Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (a book with a dark and mysterious cover):

I don’t even really know where to start with this one.  It’s a re-read for me and I liked it less the second time around.  Which isn’t to say that I didn’t like it.  I don’t know, it’s hard to pinpoint.

Richard Mayhew, average executive in dubious relationship, stumbles on a bleeding girl while on his way to dinner.  He helps her, and then finds that no one recognizes him anymore.  He now belongs to an alternate city below the London he knows: London Below, and must go on a perilous journey to get back to his home.  If that’s what he really wants, that is.  It’s filled with creepy Rat Speakers, A Huntress, vampiresses, the Lady Door, and evil Angel, a dreadful prehistoric beast, and sadistic Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandermar.

It’s definitely well-written and such a cool idea.  Gaiman comes up with all sorts of interesting things for the defunct names of London past.  Like the Earl in Earl’s Court who has set up a medieval home on the tube.  Or the Shepherds in Shepherd’s Bush that you really don’t want to meet.

It’s great.  It’s cool.  It’s creepy. It’s everything you could want from a Gaiman story.  But is it missing a bit of emotion?

I guess I wished on the second time around that I felt more affection for Door and for Richard than I ended up feeling.  But seriously, go read it.  You won’t be disappointed.

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LeGuin’s Steering The Craft

IMG_20150805_214658I downloaded Ursula K. LeGuin’s Steering The Craft this weekend.  I thought I was getting a little bit of a how-to on writing, some good advice.  You know, something like Steven King’s On Writing, or E. M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel. That wasn’t what I got at all, and it was the best discovery.

Steering The Craft is much more like a workbook than it is like a how-to book.  In fact, LeGuin’s writing is so much like being in class that I feel like I’ve actually decided to take one.  Her clear narrative voice feels like she’s talking straight to you, and the exercises are fun and just challenging enough to make you think, but not daunting to complete.  So great.  Bonus points for her rampant feminism.  I appreciate that SO MUCH.

I mean, “The grammarians started telling us [that using ‘their’ as a singular] was incorrect along in the sixteenth or seventeenth century.  That was when they also declared that the pronoun he includes both sexes, as in ‘if a person needs and abortion, he should be required to tell his parents.'”

How can you not love that? Such a well thought out burn.

Not only that, but I give myself so much grief over my work (agonizing over whether it’s publishable quality, flogging myself to find the right word, giving another pass at the imperfect draft that feels like it will never be perfect); it was amazingly nice to just write and not worry about it.  I found the fun in the words again.

I’m only about 1/3 of the way through, but I thought I’d post some of the exercises as I finish them.  They’re vignettes, so I would imagine they aren’t publishable.  But even if they were, I’m not sure I’d want them to be.

This one is from Exercise 2, in which I was supposed to write a paragraph of 100-350  words entirely without punctuation of any kind, even paragraph breaks.  For those who are counting, this is about 190.

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A sock a shoe a buckle slips over her ankle and a voice on a speaker calls a cue but the zipper broke and she’s gonna miss that cue for sure listening to the other guy fumble around with his lines while the three costume girls fumble with safety pins and come up short like the guy is doing vamping to the audience trying not to say um and trying not to be silent but she’s trying to be silent and so are the costume girls as one stabs her finger with a pin and a bead of blood gets onto the expensive costume they rented and their teacher will be so mad but there isn’t anything any of them can do now except try not to get any more on the dress and get the actress pinned as fast as possible they fumble again and the back of the dress gapes the actress struggles through the black drapes of the wings anyway with her back cheated away and her fingers crossed and the guy breathes a sigh of relief because there’s finally someone else there to do some talking

I think it sorta works.  I’ll be posting more soon, so stay tuned.

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Winter Reading List, 2016

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I’ve felt like it’s been officially spring here for a few weeks now, but it’s now officially official as of the end of last week. The winter quarter is over, finals and all.  Which means… it is time for the Winter reading list.  It’s shorter than normal, partly because I just did this in January.  Partly because when I do a lot of my own writing, I tend to do less reading.  And partly because life has been a little crazy lately as Brian and I spend all our weekends planting out the front beds and  waging a gopher war in the back yard.  All my raised beds are lined in chicken wire now.  So there. (crossing my fingers that holds them.)

The time has come.  Here’s everything I have read since January and what I thought of it:

  • The Color of Magic, by Terry Pratchet – Oh, I don’t know. It wasn’t bad.  It felt more like it was done for funny than actually because it had a good plot arc or compelling story.  It was funny, but I quickly got impatient with Rincewind and his inane tourist.
  • Good Poems: American Places, by Garrison Keillor – Left me melancholy and nostalgic in the best way. I would recommend wholeheartedly, and I don’t like poetry usually.
  • English Fairy Tales, by Joseph Jacobs – Not what I was expecting, and not really new at all (despite author claims). Feels like the French stuff rehashed.  It was well written, but didn’t offer more than other standards in the same genre.
  • Desperate Duchesses, by Eloisa James – I enjoyed it, as I do all of James’ stuff. There’s a reason I’m on a quest to read everything she’s ever written.  The heroine in this one was a bit silly, but not as silly as some I’ve read.  And it all worked in the end to a satisfactory conclusion.
  • Aspects of the Novel, by E. M. Forster – You know, I got just as much out of the beginning of this book as ever, but got super tired of slogging through old novel excerpts in the end of it for not as much analysis as I’d like. Great for the information, but definitely work to read.
  • Pippa’s Cornish Dream, by Debbie Johnson – Meh. It was fine, but it wasn’t anything unusual.  I liked the fact that the heroine was so spunky.  I think the real reason it didn’t work for me is because I didn’t like the guy much.
  • Emily Climbs, by L. M. Montgomery – I LOVE Emily and her cats and her writing. A favorite of mine, that I’ve read more times than I can count.  It makes me feel like the writing struggle is real, and surmountable with enough work.
  • Emily’s Quest by L. M. Montgomery – Every time I read this, I am less of a mess. I mean, Emily really makes a lot of the strife she suffers for herself.  Still, it’s not an easy read, though it’s beautiful.
  • Clarkesworld Year 3 Anthology, by Neil Clarke – I mean, they’re well written with some beautiful and heartbreaking ideas. But I realized that I just am not a fan of short stories.  Oh the irony, right, as I try to write them?  I know.
  • Silver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman – My new favorite thing (!!!). It’s like my Deadlands game came to life and featured a super awesome heroine who sold her soul to the devil and now channels his magic to protect the territory.  Best thing EVER.  I’m sad the other 2 books aren’t out yet, because I’d get them in a heartbeat.  I can’t wait until October.

As always, happy reading!

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Book Review: Emily Climbs, Emily’s Quest

I’ve tried to review the Emily books so many times that it’s just silly.  But the books are so much a part of my existence at this point that it’s hard to be coherent about them.  Emily is the quintessential writer.  Not only are her thoughts, feelings, and work ethic extremely similar to mine, but Montgomery (along with Garrison Keillor) is one of the people I hold up as a paragon of a point I like to make.  Every subject matter is valid, even everyday mundane life.  You don’t have to have experience in darkest Africa or on the fringes of society to write an interesting book.  The proof is in the pudding, and the pudding is rural Prince Edward Island in the early 1900s with plenty of aunts and family traditions to make a girl crazy.

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I have marked Emily Climbs as the book where she is most like me on the 2016 reading challenge.  This is the book in which she’s a struggling, working writer while still trying to balance school duties and family expectation.  Emily is more sensitive than I am.  I’m able to not care about what people think of me in a way she can’t.  But otherwise we are alike.  Right down to the writing habits – spilling out all the chaff of life into a diary before writing into the wee hours of the night.  Sending manuscripts back and getting nothing but rejections for them.  Scribbling sketches of events and trying to capture character in a few paragraphs.  Watching the rejections pile up and pretending you don’t care.  Being so proud of the free subscription or set of contributors copies that come with your first publication instead of pay.  Always hoping for more.

The only thing I don’t find terribly realistic is that Montgomery doesn’t treat Emily’s writing as exactly right.  We never see her editing, only writing more and more things.  It’s such a faithful portrait of a young writer otherwise that I’m sad it’s left out, not because I feel it detracted from the story but because I think it would have helped me earlier to realize that 75% of the writing process isn’t actually writing. It’s editing the stuff you wrote.

I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not.  I cannot see it clearly anymore because I am far too close to it.  But owls in the Land of Uprightness, Egyptian trinkets at the snowshoe dance, Perry’s terrible poetry and Ilse’s bad temper, midnight donuts with Cousin Jimmy, and Aunt Ruth’s terrible snooping all make for something pretty magical.

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I also read Emily’s Quest this time.  I don’t often, because this book is full of heartache.  Emily makes one bad mistake after another, spends all of her time lonely and wanting, and I generally feel morose and horrible at the end of it.  She gets a happy-ish ending, but it is so quick and so slim that it hardly seems worth the pain to get there.  It qualifies quite well as a book that makes me a complete mess for the reading challenge.

This is another one I don’t know if I should recommend.  I love knowing what happens to Emily, but watching her be so proud and so mistaken, to attempt to give things you know she can’t, to watch her succeed professionally and fail so hard personally, is not an easy thing to do.  I love New Moon, but this Emily is not the carefree, hopeful girl of the other books.  This girl has taken it on the chin hard and is struggling to make a life knowing that.  It feels true, but it doesn’t make it better to digest.  The moonlit snows and gray cats in the orchards seem lonely now, and not a comfort.  One by one, all her friends go away.  That, too, I think is a bit like the rest of us.  The promise of college never is quite the same from the other side.

I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to read Emily as a comfort book.  I realized that I’ve memorized large swaths of Emily Climbs this time around, and it didn’t grip me as hard as it usually does because of it.  This read around might be the end of an era.  For quite a while, at least.  We’ll see how I feel in a year or so.

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Book Reviews: Fairy Tale and Fantasy

I usually don’t write book reviews on things I feel wishy-washy about.  There’s an author behind there somewhere, and I can sympathize wholeheartedly with how hard it was to write the thing, even if it was less than perfect.  Which means that I usually admit there were flaws in a sentence or two in the reading list, and then move on to the next book.  But I have vowed to write a review of everything I read in conjunction with the reading challenge.  And I didn’t have to enjoy the book for it to count as part of the challenge.  I just have to have finished it.

Here are two books that I’m counting but didn’t love.  I’ll tell you why, and you can decide whether you want to check them out for yourself, and I’ll also suggest alternatives that I liked much better than these.  I hope the authors aren’t too upset with me (although one is deceased, so…possible haunting?).

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Daughter of Witches by Patricia C. Wrede:                                                                                 (a book filled to the rim with magic)

I love Wrede’s writing.  Her Frontier Magic series is one of the most original and fun things I’ve ever read.  I love the Cecelia works she wrote with Caroline Stevermer, and will happily swoon over Marleon the Magician.

I am, however, not fond of a fantasy book that reads like a Dungeons and Dragons campaign (of any kind).  A D&D campaign is an exercise in shared storytelling, and the disconnected, character-centered thing that results hardly ever feels right when put into novel form.  It feels like the author is trying to share a joke with you that you had to be there to understand: it’s just not that amusing in the retelling.  Usually either the plot is good or the characters are developed, but not both.  It can feel like the characters are being pigeon-holed into a God-driven plot (ala the Dungeon Master) without good reason.  Wrede is pretty forthright about the Lyra novels being based on campaigns she ran, in a universe she created.

Despite my criticism of D&D novels, Wrede does a great job of making the Lyra Collection feel like it should in the later books.  Daughter of Witches is book 2, and Wrede clearly hasn’t hit her stride yet.  It wasn’t quite the confusion of kidnapping and journey with no explanation that Shadow Magic was.  But it was character heavy without much plot, and feels too guided.  The stakes never felt high for the characters, either.  The death is so distant that it doesn’t feel real, and the death that’s in front of them seems unurgent.

The writing was good, I stayed engaged in the world, but ultimately I just didn’t care about what happened to the characters.  I wanted to care, but couldn’t get there.  If you’re looking for something similar to read, I would start with Wrede’s Caught in Crystal and move to The Raven Ring.  Both are excellent, and you don’t need to have read the others in the series to have fun with them.  That way you get Lyra goodness with Wrede’s more developed style to back it up.  Or, you know, just go read Thirteenth Child, first of the Frontier Magic series.

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English Fairy Tales, by Joseph Jacobs:                                                                                         (a book with lots of mystical creatures)

My biggest beef with this book was that it proclaimed originality and didn’t deliver.  It was written in 1890, though, you will say.   So who is to judge whether the stories were perhaps new then?

The Grimms were writing books in the 1860s, and these stories are a repeat of those, almost completely, under the guise of being English instead of German.  Even in his time period, he loses originality points…

The book was in the simple folk-writing that fairy tales are often in, with lots of telling and little showing.  They were easy to read, and I did enjoy them some.  It was also a quick read, which I appreciated.  I was expecting much more than a collection of children’s stories that I had heard before, though.  So perhaps it was my expectation that was flawed and not the book itself.

Looking for something AWESOME to read instead?  Try The Classic Fairy Tales by Maria Tatar.  There are 44 tales in there, and she groups them into common themes and discusses similarities between cultures that you can see in the narratives.  That’s good and so is Clever Maids: The Secret History of the Grimm Family Tales by Valerie Paradiz, where she discusses how the Grimms used their sister to collect the stories, and the importance of the tales in female indoctrination to society.  Both are fairy tale plus, and an excellent read.  They contain more of the originality that I was hoping for when I picked this book up

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Book Review: Good Poems, American Places

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I mean, it’s sort of a review.  And a contemplation on America and life:

I didn’t move that far away from where I grew up and yet it still feels like a different world out here some days.  Most times that’s a good thing.  The views of bouldered green hills, snowcapped mountains, and rows of citrus make me feel like I am living in Ultimate California.  Although with my former job in my home town, I hadn’t really been able to enjoy it.

Now that I’m here, I’ve been exploring Riverside in fits and starts.  Between it and Redlands, I think this corner of the world might have been made for me.  On Tuesdays, the local movie theater screens classics.  The bakery down town has the most divine cinnamon twists.  There is a British Emporium & Tea Shop and an indie bookstore called the Cellar Door just minutes from my office.  Couple that with the civil war reenactors in Redlands, that amazing red library, and the fact that I am walking to the symphony Saturday night and I am in bliss.  I’m ready to take a walk and buy oranges at the fruit stand down the street.

For my reading challenge, I bought Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems, American Places at the bookstore last night.  It’s billed as poems for those who don’t like poetry.  I’m one of those people who scoffs at poetry, and I can support his claim because I’ve been loving it.  “The world is our consolation,” Keillor says of Americans in the introduction.  “When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes, we get into our car and drive.  It’s a big country.”

I was listening to someone last Saturday night tell about adventures in Uganda.  They were strange and wonderful, but I knew that it was no more than a story to me unless I somehow, by some miracle, grow deeper pockets. I am realizing while reading this collection that what I do know is America.

I know boating on a placid, icy lake to a deserted hiking spot.  I know tubing in the summer sunshine while pontoon boats rise above my head.  I know the view of the golden dome of the capital building from the high rise hotel with city lights shining brighter than stars beneath.  I know planting tomatoes in the earth in front of my semi-generic tract home, and long road trips across concrete highways.  I have seen Old Faithful burst from the ground, and I have ridden the boat to Disneyland.

The book is making me contemplative and a little melancholy, I think.  But in a good way.  There’s so much to love in this book, so many moments that I’ve also felt along with the poet.  It feels like mine in a way no other of Keillor’s Good Poems collections have.  I’m very glad I found it.

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Book Reviews: Some American History

I always read quite a lot at the beginning of the year, what with vacation and all.  I have also been thinking quite a lot about the reading challenge, and I think I should put up an in-depth review of everything I read for that.  So, to kick that all off… how about 2 non-fiction favorites of mine?  Here you go:

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Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell (A book by an unfamiliar author)

I had seen the documentaries on The Incredibles and knew that the gal who played the voice of Violet was a strange, history-obsessed woman who was basically my patronus.  Although her delight with gore is a bit more pronounced than mine.  So when a friend on New Year’s said “I’ve been reading Assassination Vacation, and it’s so good,” I said “I have to get that NOW.”  I didn’t know she was a writer.  Vowell’s book is about her various road trips and pilgrimages to sites associated with the first 3 presidential assassinations – Lincoln, McKinley, and Garfield.  And it is glorious.

My favorite thing about Vowell is her enthusiasm for outright weird and macabre.  She’s such a cheerleader for the pieces of Lincoln’s skull, for example.  She loves a good plaque.  Her friends and family humorously tolerate her.  But she makes the weirdest connections, too.  Like Robert Todd Lincoln being the harbinger of presidential death, among other things.  It is delightful and easy to read (which is sometimes hard to achieve when writing history).  I laughed, I commiserated, I will now read everything Vowell has ever written.

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States is next on my list, I think.  Although The Partly Cloudy Patriot or Wordy Shipmates might also be contenders.

I feel so excited to have found Vowell, you have no idea.  I think this is the first time that I’ve sought out books by a certain writer of history and not by subject matter alone.  That’s a strong sign that you’ll probably like her too.  Basically, go read this right now if you have any interest in Lincoln, assassination, history, or hilarity.

The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey by Rinker Buck (A book you never got to read in 2015)

Oh man.  I cannot say enough about this book and the way I just fell in love with it.  Head over heels.  I was a binge player of the Oregon Trail game all through my childhood.  Not just the 8-bit one you remember with the slightly pink oxen on the black screen.  I had the deluxe version where you had maps and things, a helpful guidebook, and could pick your destination: California, Oregon, or Salt Lake City.  I am a font of useless knowledge handy pieces of information like your wagon depth is 2 ½ feet, so don’t try and ford the river if it’s more than that.  Rush your people at first with high rations, and then even things out when they start to get sick and/or the food starts to run low (and both will happen).  Always take the Barlow Toll Road, because otherwise you’ll lose all your points (in belongings) when you inevitably capsize on the Columbia river.  If you go to Salt Lake, you get free ferry rides from the Mormons.

This book was nothing like playing the game, but it was still full of that unfettered feeling of newness.  It left me with a profound desire to buy a Schuyler Wagon, a team of mules, and set out on the trail myself.  Which is what Rinker buck and his brother Nick do, along with Nick’s adorable dog Olive Oyl.  But unlike Rinker and Nick, I have no experience driving a team (horses or mules), no carpentry or wagon repair skills, and would be afraid to drive through hell, high water, and thunderstorm to make the trip. They encounter all of the above, plus angsty ranchers, bad wagon-part suppliers, hills higher than they looked, frantic mules, freight trains barreling beside them, and an injury to Olive Oyl.

Mixed into the narrative of their modern trip are pioneer narratives and history of the trail, and also Rinker’s struggle to come to peace with his family legacy.  Not just his relationship Nick, but with his father who was both odd, sometimes distant, and yet still clearly loved them.

Head over heels, I say.  I didn’t want them to ever get to Oregon so I could keep journeying with them forever.  I’ve been in book hangover since finishing it a couple of days ago, unwilling to leave it behind and dive into something else.  It deserves all the praise it’s garnered and is better than the hype.  I’d even call it magical.  You should really go read it.

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Book Reviews: Learning to Write

Books on Writing

I always make a pretty big push to get writing done in the new year.  (I got my first rejection of the year this morning!) In honor of that, I thought I might post a few book reviews on some nonfiction writing books.  The greatest piece of writing advice, though,  is something I was told verbally by Ryan Gattis in his Writing The Novel class at Chapman: In writing, you are not trying to imitate life.  You are trying to imitate your memory of life – and the stuff that goes on inside a person as they are living.  It’s an internal artform.  I think it helps to think about that when you’re deciding which scenes to leave and what to ditch, and where to put the internal dialogue (and why you have to have internal dialogue).

These four book have also helped me GREATLY toward sharpening my skills.  Not just in actually writing, but also in learning to weather the pitfalls of Self that all creative endeavors uncover.  I am learning more and more, though, that there really is no teacher like experience.  Write a ton, and your writing will get better.

But in the absence of writing, there is reading about writing:

Aspects of the Novel, by EM Forster: I guess this book is fairly cliché these days for writing students.  Or so says the website I was just on.  But having never been exposed to Forster’s essays before, I was floored.  He just outlines the decisions you’re making, and the deliberateness with which you have to see everything when you’re writing a novel, in a way that was totally new to me.  I learned buckets, and still swear that I need to go back and read it again.  It made writing a novel seem like a craft, and not like flailing around in sentences until you hit something that works.  Particularly eye-opening were the passages about windows, and the passages about flat characters vs. round characters.

On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King: the book is ½ memoir, and ½ writing tutorial.  It’s interesting, funny, and it has much good advice tucked between the pages. I felt just a bit better about my own trials knowing that he had a stake on the wall to pin all his many rejection letters to, and to know that he was a starving English professor before Carrie was optioned in paperback.  It was encouraging to hear that even Stephen King, the most prolific of writers, can have a life crisis that would make him stop writing for a while.  And better still to know that writers return to their craft, even if it takes a while.  His thoughts on scene description, adverbs, and editing have stuck with me.  Perhaps my favorite section is the bit of writing he includes before edits, and after edits.  It’s fascinating.  Because of the structure of the book, it’s easy to get through.  Even the instruction part feels like there’s a caring professor coaching you through it.

On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, by William Zinsser: I heard once that you could teach someone the rules of writing in about 2 weeks if you had the time.  It’s the pacing, the punctuation, the finding your voice that takes the longest, the years of writing.  This book is that “rules of writing” crash course, and it gives you tips on how to maximize your use of language at the same time.  It’s also written well, with clarity, and is easy to get through.  It’s not tied to genre or anything, either, so it’s a good all-around guide.  Even if you feel like you already know the rules of writing, I guarantee you will learn something by reading this book, or be told stuff you’ve forgotten.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott: Another part-memoir, although this one is mostly writing advice.  The book is also a writing student cliché, of the worst kind.  But hear it out.  It’s a cliché for a reason (the reason is, it’s good).  I do not know why or how, but for some reason this book was balm for my crazy-writer soul.  She outlines all the neuroticism, the certainty that you’re failing, the daily struggle with yourself you have to navigate, and somehow makes it all seem funny.  Not just funny, but cathartic.  She’s nuts, in every way.  But you’re nuts too, and laughing at her feels like you’re laughing at yourself, and suddenly it all seems manageable.  Not only that, but it contains a billion good tips for fooling yourself into getting things on paper.  And once you’ve learned the rules of writing, that’s your new biggest hurdle: how to get that butt into that chair, and convince your fingers to start typing.

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Those are the ones that have stuck with me the longest.  Want more?  You can’t go wrong with John Gardener’s The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers or Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them (P.S.).  But I don’t find myself constantly thinking of their content as I write as I do with the above 4.

Links are affiliate links.  Happy reading about writing!

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Fall Reading List, 2015

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Well, it is  Finals Week here in college-land.  That means that it’s time for me to post my seasonal reading list.  These are all of the things I have read between July and now, and how I felt about them.  Fair warning: my romance novel habit has become encompassing.  They’re just so fluffy!  When I don’t want to read angsty things, I find those do the trick so nicely.  And I can’t not read.  For as long as I can remember, I have never not been in the middle of something, unless I’ve just finished something.

Yeah, I know.

But the good news is that you get to benefit from my insanity.

I hope you are shaping up to have a Jolly Holiday.  Or have had a Jolly Holiday (since Hanukkah is over…).

The Official Fall Reading List:

  1. Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Pamela Hill Smith: I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who isn’t a fan of her novels or of history.  It’s basically a rough draft surrounded by a WEALTH of cool information.  Needs a bit of determination to get through, but it’s 100% worth it in every way once you do.
  2. A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Nonfiction by Terry Pratchett: A collection of his non-fiction essays and talks. It’s good.  His wry wit shows through clearly, and he has interesting things to say about his Alzheimer’s.  Ultimately, it’s mostly fluff and opinion.  But it’s good, funny fluff, so…
  3. Rising Strong by Brene Brown: Holy crap. I always feel like her stuff is life changing, but I feel like this one brought me a greater understanding of what’s happening with me. I’ve been a bit depressed for a long time, and it feels like I found the key as to why and how to get out.
  4. When Beauty Tamed the Beast (Fairy Tales) by Eloisa James: Not as good the second time around. I mean, I still liked it.  But the first time I read it I felt like Piers was great and the story was so fresh.  This time his demandingness was a bit much, and Linnet is SO naïve.
  5. A Kiss at Midnight by Eloisa James: So much better the second time around I think. I liked it the first time, but the second I fell head-over-heels for the prince.  Add in rats of dogs, horrible wigs, and an awesomely innapropriate Godmother, and it turns into a very fun romp.
  6. Romancing Mister Bridgerton (Bridgertons) by Julia Quinn: Knowing the surprise ending didn’t ruin it for me at all the second time around, which was nice.  I do like the Bridgertons and all the silly they come with.  Colin and his perpetually empty stomach being one of them.
  7. Minx (Avon Historical Romance) by Julia Quinn: You know, I liked the book. I did.  But it fell into that uncomfortable territory for me where the main hero was a bit too forceful for comfort.  Despite that, Henry really is the best sort of girl and it was fun seeing her get the hero into a pigsty, among other things.
  8. Ten Things I Love About You by Julia Quinn: Yeah, it was a cute premise and all but I found it a bit cheesy. I still maintain that the Bridgertons are her best work.
  9. Just Like Heaven by Julia Quinn: Two childhood friends find out they have a bit more in common when he suffers a deadly injury and has no one to nurse him. There’s a lot of horrible woundiness that I skipped through – the hero gets gangrene and it’s rather descriptive about the treatment.  But otherwise great.
  10. Three Weeks With Lady X (Desperate Duchesses) by Eloisa James: A bit less salacious than it sounds. I liked this one a billion times more the second time around.  The hero is such an ass, but he’s such a handsome, principled ass.  Also, the quippy letters he and Xenobia send back and forth are hilarious.  Bonus points for neither of the main characters growing up rich.
  11. The First Frontier: The Forgotten History of Struggle, Savagery, and Endurance in Early America by Scott Weidensaul: Full of really frightening pioneer stories during the colonial eras, but an interesting read nonetheless. I felt like I got a better idea of some of the fiction books I used to read as a child (Calico Captive being one of them).
  12. The Arm of the Starfish by Madeline L’Engle: You know, I like this sort of espionage world she operates in sometimes. She does it fairly well.  I think her strength is family relationships, and there’s very little of that in here; but it’s still a compelling thriller, even if it’s a bit predictable.
  13. What Happens in London by Julia Quinn: Again with the names. And I seem to be in an espionage mood.  But this one was EXCELLENT.  Very fun and unpredictable.  Although maybe her loose ends weren’t wrapped quite as nicely as I’d like them to be. Proposal at the end was perfection.
  14. Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins: a re-read that I’m finding less captivating the second time around. Perhaps because I know what’s coming and I’m not super excited to get to the soul-crushing parts of it.  You have to love Lola, though.
  15. Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale by Holly Black: a super-gritty and dangerous delve into Faerie Land in the middle of modern day. Kaye finds out she’s a changeling when she moves back home to New Jersey when her mom’s boyfriend gets murderey.  She also becomes the target of a sadistic queen when the queen’s knight Roiben falls for her.  There’s weird human neighbors and much intrigue.  Amazing book.
  16. Ironside: A Modern Faery’s Tale (Modern Faerie Tale) by Holly Black: The sequel to Tithe, and just as crazy as the first. Kaye finds herself trapped between faery wars when Roiben gives her an impossible quest, and the Seelie queen tries to use her against him.  Where has this series been all my life?
  17. Dragonhaven by Robin McKinley: In her fabulously frantic yet real-life voice. It gets a little too much sometimes, especially by the end.  But I do love the outcome of the book so much.  Once Lois is older it starts to feel like actual life again, and it’s nice to watch and be in. Keep with it!
  18. Asking Styles: Harness Your Personal Fundraising Power by Andrea Kihlstedt: A little shorter than I wanted, but ultimately it made me feel like I could make this fundraising thing work for me despite my shyness and lack of teeth. Which I think was the purpose.
  19. How to Marry a Marquis (Avon Romantic Treasure) by Julia Quinn: I liked this one a LOT. I know I said I go to romance novels to escape, but this one dealt with poverty well.  A sweet where the heroine fell for the property manager, who was really a Marquis in disguise. I would recommend, and will probably re-read at some point.
  20. A Night Like This by Julia Quinn: It was the usual thing.  And the usual thing when done by Julia Quinn is awfully well done. It’s weird, because there wasn’t anything I can pinpoint exactly that I didn’t like, but it just didn’t stick with me like some of her others.  I liked it, but I would recommend others first.
  21. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown: I don’t know why Brene Brown is so amazing for me, but she really is. I thought that Rising Strong was helpful, but I feel like after reading this one I have a whole new understanding of how to become a better, more resilient person.  I also think I have a better handle on why and how others around me are making the choices that they are.  This one felt so do-able. I feel like EVERYONE should read it.
  22. Dear Mr. Knightley: A Novel by Katherine Reay: Oh, so good and sweet and awful and heartbreaking all at the same time. I love Sam so much.  She feels like a real girl, taking refuge from her bad social skills in books and always on the verge of dropping out.  Every small good thing that happens to her feels like such a triumph.  And the ending – !!! – wow.  That’s all I’ll say.  But this might be a new favorite of mine.
  23. Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson: I basically spent the entire time trying not to break out in a belly-laugh when I was reading during my lunch hour or next to Brian as he slept. I love Jenny SO MUCH.  This book is messier than her first, but it doesn’t seem to matter much for enjoyment.  In fact, it may be funnier than her first, the sometimes (okay always) awkward ramblings serving the subject matter so well.
  24. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell: is it bad that this is fanfiction for a series that never existed, and yet I want ALL THE BOOKS RIGHT NOW? It’s perfect, in a way that satisfied all my Harry Potter longings, with much steaminess included as well.  Baz is such a shit, and I’m head over heels for him. For all of them. “So Good” doesn’t even begin to explain how I feel about it. Maybe asdfjkl;!!!!! will?
  25. To Catch an Heiress by Julia Quinn: Good, although a little ridiculous at times. I mean, she lives in his bathroom for a week or so… I don’t know.  It just didn’t seem likely.  But funny and quippy and full of good romance like most of Quinn’s stuff.
  26. Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy: Oh, quite good. I felt like Will’s journey didn’t quite come as full circle as I’d like, but overall it was a good book and unlike anything I had read before.  It dealt not just with boys and body image, but also what happens when friends grow apart.  Worth it.
  27. Landline: A Novel by Rainbow Rowell: I forget how much this one slays me. She gets that whole “married too young” relationship right, and I see so much of Brian and I between the covers here.  I don’t think I’d ever try and convince past Brian not to marry me, though.
  28. Thornyhold (Rediscovered Classics) by Mary Stewart: I wanted my Nano novel to feel a little like this novel.  It’s one of my favorites of all time, and definitely a comfort book.  You have to love the animals, and the house just for Gilly, and her romance with Christopher.  So great.
  29. Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones: Another story I’d like my Nano novel to feel like. It’s totally different than Thornyhold, but also not.  There’s witchcraft and a magical house that becomes a home.  There’s a little bit more of the fae in this one, though.  Another favorite.
  30. Rose Cottage (Rediscovered Classics) by Mary Stewart: I thought this book was a bit like Thornyhold, which it sort of is, but it’s not really a homecoming book so much as it’s a home-leaving book. At least for most of it.  It didn’t help much with Nano, but I enjoyed it all the same.  Another comfort book of mine, with a very puzzling mystery right until the end.
  31. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel by Susanna Clarke: I picked this up because Neil Gaiman told me to (through an online article – not in person, sadly.) I’m finding it pretty slow going. It starts off as an older novel would, with much telling and exposition.  But I like the characters and it’s an interesting premise.  I even like the fact, a bit, that it feels older than it is.  I’m going to stick with it and see if I don’t love it later.  Because this is the sort that you LOVE or don’t.  Nothing in between.
  32. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: I’ve been wanting to tear apart a couple of books and see if I can’t learn something about the structure of them. This one was a 50-cent wrecked paperback that I bought at the local Thanksgiving rummage sale, so it was perfect.  The tearing-apart stuff is going well, and is SUPER interesting.  Did you know that Jane isn’t even mentioned by name for, like, almost 3 chapters?  I’m trying to figure out why Austin would do that…
  33. The Lady Hellion (Wicked Deceptions) by Joanna Shupe: Pretty darn good, of the regular romance variety. I picked it up because it was named best of the year, and I think it deserves the crown. The PTSD of the main character was a bit of a twist, as was the total spunkiness of the heroine.
  34. Carry On by Rainbow Rowell: Yes, I’m reading it again less than 3 months after I finished it the first time. This just shows you how obsessed I am.  My phone background is now Simon and Baz looking smoldery at each other. ❤  If you haven’t, you need to go read it NOW.
  35. A Wallflower Christmas (Wallflowers, Book 5) by Lisa Kleypas: I almost liked this one. I just have such a hard time with heroes who won’t take no for an answer, even if the heroine is really enjoying it – and this one was FULL of that.  But the arc of the story line was good and the writing was excellent.  I won’t read it again, although I might look up the other “Wallflower” books.
  36. A Christmas to Remember by Jenny Hale: The writing was, well, less than good. Her main character felt wooden, and played into a lot of female stereotypes that I hate (she’s nothing without a family of her own?). But there was something about the story line that wouldn’t let me put the book down, so there’s that.
  37. Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor by Lisa Kleypas: Her writing is so good, with the cinematic description you usually find in literary fiction.  The book went way too fast for my liking, though, and it didn’t feel resolved enough at the end.  Still probably the best of the Christmas novels I’ve read this month.
  38. Stranger in My Arms by Lisa Kleypas: Aside from a bit of disbelief that the main character wouldn’t confront her husband with the main problem but instead run to crappy relatives, I would consider this a pretty perfect romance novel.
  39. Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones: I usually LOVE a Diana Wynne Jones book. Even “bad” ones are typically great when compared to other authors.  But for some reason, I just couldn’t get into this one.  Maybe it was because the zaniness was so fragmented among worlds/characters?

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Books: Sci-Fi and Fantasy for the Winter

Winter Reads

Thanksgiving is officially over (it went very well, thank you!) and I finished putting up my Christmas things on Sunday.  It’s cold here – in the 40s – and I’m hoping it quits soon because I own, like, 2 sweaters that are actually warm and weren’t bought for pretty.  Next weekend is when all the Christmas events start happening in my town.

There’s no way it will snow here, though.  So in the absence of actual snow, I need literary snow.  And for some reason, all my favorite winter books have a fantastical component.  Here are three that you should read, if you like this sort of thing:

Landline: A Novel, by Rainbow Rowell: Georgie McCool has always put her career as a scriptwriter front and center, and her husband Neil has picked up the slack.  When she and best friend Seth have the chance to pitch the script of their lifetime, if they can write it in five days, Georgie knows Neil will be upset.  But he’ll probably roll with Georgie’s assessment that they can’t bring the girls to his family’s house for Christmas like they planned.  Georgie didn’t forsee that Neil would be more than pissed.  He takes the girls to his parent’s house, leaves Georgie in California, and then is strangely unavailable.  Frantic, Georgie calls Neil from an old rotary phone in her bedroom to find that she’s dialed 20 years in the past.  But can she save her marriage from decades away?

Wintersmith (Tiffany Aching), by Terry Pratchett: Tiffany Aching accidentally joins the dark mummer’s dance, and then has to contend with Jack Frost, who thinks she’s his new girlfriend.  Embarrassing snowflakes in Tiffany’s shape, a cornucopia spilling out all sorts of things you just don’t want, the Nac Mac Feegles, and relations with the human boy Tiffany has a thing with are just some of the problems she faces.  But now that Tiffany has dethroned the goddess of spring, will Summer ever come again?

The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin: Genly Ai has agreed to go as an emissary to the planet deemed Winter to see if he can get them to join the ecumenical society of planets.  It is first contact, and Genly is more than aware that he could be killed or imprisoned.  Winter is a world where most humans there are genderless until they mate, and over the course of a lifetime can be both male and female.  The planet is as unforgiving as it’s icy landscape, with a strange code of behavior called shifgrethor, and Genly is getting nowhere with his quest.  He places his trust in Prime Minister Estraven, who is then accused of treason and cast out of the kingdom.  But Genly and Estraven meet again in a work camp on the outskirts of civilization, and together they undertake a perilous journey over icy wastelands so that they can be free.

 

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