Posts Tagged With: Fiction

Blue Gentian

Blue Gentian Cover - Final -

Well, thanks to Camp Nanowrimo, I finally have my act together on something.  It’s only been four days, but so far it’s given me the bit of a push I need to prioritize at least some of the writing.  Some days I don’t get much done, but it all adds up, right?  And at least I’m DOING something now…  We’ll see if that continues.

After much ado, I have some amazing news:

Blue Gentian is all formatted and ready to go.  I tweaked the cover a little bit font-wise, as you can see above, and the book will be available for pre-order on Amazon in a couple of days with a release date of August 1st.  I’m going to try and do a thing where at least one of those weeks is a week you can get the book for free (please consider leaving me an honest review if you do download for free). I decided a long time ago that I’m making writing career decisions based on getting lots of people to read my stuff and not based on monetary concerns.  After all, I have a day job.

To say I’m EXCITED would be an understatement.  I’ve been working on an iteration of this book since high school, and it’s finally here and as perfect as I can make it.  Those who have read it for me have been excited about it too.  I hope you’ll consider picking up the book when it goes live.

And thank you for following me here and paying attention to my writing.  It’s you as much as anyone that gave me the courage to get this book into the world.

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Categories: Fiction, Life, Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Summer Reading List, 2016

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It’s that time again.  Or nearly that time.  We’re terribly late getting back to school in the state system, so there won’t be classes on this campus for another few weeks.  But the university near my house has started up, and so have all the kids I know.  And, of course, Hogwarts starts September 1st, so I’ll post the list a little early and call it appropriate.

The list is rather huge this time.  I’m blaming it on the fact that I go through bad books much faster than good ones.  And I also want to say you’re welcome for reading so much crap romance that you don’t have to wade through it yourself.  Here it is:

  1. Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater – CRAZY good. I’m officially obsessed with the Raven Cycle now, and this book is a big reason why.  The ladies of Fox Way take over a bit, and things start to go even crazier than before.
  2. The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater – Another book that’s crazy good beyond all reason. This is everything I was hoping the end of the series would be, and more.  And that’s saying something.
  3. The Usual Path to Publication by Shannon Page – Spoiler: there is no usual path. But this book is full of cathartic stories of joy, and also made me realize that there are more things I can be trying while pursuing my own path.
  4. Witches of Lichford by Paul Cornell – Also amazingly good, though too short to fully realize all the story lines. But I’m basically obsessed with the concept of big box store mixed with fae and devils, and it was well done. Can’t wait for the sequel.
  5. A Gentleman Never Tells by Eloisa James – I’ve read her back list, so now every time something new comes out it’s cause for celebration. This one was especially good, with plenty of house party fun, croquet, and general quippiness.
  6. The Earl Next Door by Charis Michaels – This was actually fairly good fun, if a little unbelievable. It felt like one of those books people make fun of where there’s a mean brother, and a family secret, and a chase up the moors, and a graveyard, and a haunted house, and… but all in all a solid effort at that type of thing.
  7. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – I think this is one of my favorite books right now. Cath’s crazy makes me feel less crazy myself.  Or that there’s hope for me, at least.  And you have to love Levi.
  8. My Lucky Life in and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke – An interesting read for anyone who’s a fan of Dick Van Dyke’s work. He’s brutally honest and reveals all sorts of fun in addition to the hard.  Written simply, but good.
  9. Cold Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas – Okay, so I guess we should have a talk about Lisa Kleypas. I’m reading Kleypas because I’m out of Eloisa James and Julia Quinn and haven’t found anything else of their same caliber yet.  I’m not 100% on board with Kleypas because there’s a lot of: woman – “No!” man – does it anyway; woman – “ooh, nice.”  Which isn’t my favorite, even in historical romance.  No means no. That being said, the rest of the book is usually so awesome that I’m able to go on.  And romance novels are my escape now, so there’s no not reading them.  This one has nice reformed scoundrel propensities and much making out in corners.
  10. Marrying Winterborne by Lisa Kleypas – Probably one of my favorites of the Kleypas variety. Misunderstandings and class differences keep 2 people apart.  Bonus points for lady doctor who literally kicks ass, and much department store fun.
  11. Suddenly You by Lisa Kleypas – Interesting premise of hired escort that doesn’t really pan out like it should. It was fine, but nothing to write home about.
  12. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater – I feel like this is everything I wished Twilight was; a more feminist version of teens in a small town dealing with the supernatural. But at the end of the day, it’s a book I’ve already read.  The writing is BEAUTIFUL, though.
  13. Linger by Maggie Stiefvater – Things in Linger get a little bit more original, but not much. Still gorgeous writing with a good emotional pay off at the end, but it’s also still something I feel like I’ve seen.
  14. Mine ‘Till Midnight by Lisa Kleypas – I do kinda LOVE the Hathaway sisters. This one has a Romani hero and is super steamy.  The best of historical Kleypas, for sure.
  15. Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare – I mean, it was a cute idea that tried to be a bit My Fair Lady but ultimately didn’t succeed that well.
  16. The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black – HOLY CRAP THIS BOOK WAS GOOD. I always forget that I’ve never read anything by Black that I didn’t like, and she blows me away every time.  This one is sort of a dark but modern take on the Tam Lin fairy tale.
  17. Seduce Me At Sunrise by Lisa Kleypas – The Hathaway sisters book 2. Nice stoic hero and recovering heroine who have to re-connect after long absence.
  18. Tempt Me At Twilight by Lisa Kleypas – Hathaway sisters book 3. This one featured a hero who was a little too forceful for my tastes.  But, you know.  Still okay.
  19. Married By Morning by Lisa Kleypas – The governess in this series is my favorite, and her quippyness with the hero insures that there’s plenty of fun to go around.
  20. The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn – A re-read. The Brigertons are my favorite.
  21. An Offer From A Gentleman by Julia Quinn – I really could say the same about all of the Quinn that’s below…
  22. Romancing Mr. Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
  23. When He Was Wicked by Julia Quinn
  24. Lean Thinking by James P. Womack and Daniel Jones – A read for work. It was fairly dry, but I do hope that it will lead to more streamlining within the university.  The ideas were good, if you can stick with it.
  25. Love In The Afteroon by Lisa Kleypas – Hathaways still. Kleypas left my favorite heroine for last.  Beatrix finally gets her own book, and it’s a good one.  She is a seriously strange lady and I love her for it.
  26. The Coldest Girl In Cold Town by Holly Black – A re-read. I forgot how violent and heartbreaking this book was.  But it’s still as good as ever, if more disturbing than I remembered it.
  27. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling – Oh man. I don’t know.  I didn’t really enjoy it, but I almost did.  It was nice to be back at Hogwarts and in the Wizarding world, but it moved too fast and was ultimately a bad story line, though the fact that it dealt with some real issues redeemed it a bit.
  28. Devil In Winter by Lisa Kleypas – Another book in which the hero is rather too forceful, though I did enjoy a lot of the novel anyway. It deals with gamblers and prostitutes, which isn’t something most romance novels do, so that was a change.
  29. Secrets of a Summer Night by Lisa Kleypas – Yeah, I don’t know. This one is basically a bunch of vultures lying in wait for a girl to go bankrupt so they can schtup her without having to marry her.  Eventually the hero redeems himself, but it’s not my favorite.  The relationship between the 4 girls, though, is a gem.
  30. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell – A re-read, and another one of my favorites. I’ve been recommending this one to everyone I can.  You should go read it.
  31. It Happened One Autumn by Lisa Kleypas – Fairly good. The usual unsuitable manners vs. impeccable reputation thing, which Kleypas does well.
  32. Uprooted by Naomi Novik – Made me fall in love with fantasy novels all over again. It was exactly what I wanted and reminded me of McKinley and LeGuin while still being something totally new.  Go read NOW.
  33. Scandal in Spring by Lisa Kleypas – Again, the wallflowers are good gals, but I didn’t ultimately love the book.
  34. Storyteller by Kate Wilhelm – Basically a memoir of the Clarion Writer’s Workshop that made me yearn to go even more than I already did. A great read.
  35. The Lady Most Likely by Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Connie Brockway – Oh so much fun. It’s basically about 3 couples who fall in love at the same house party with the premise of all of them being on one guy’s “marriageable” list and slowly being whittled away. It reads like they had a blast writing it, and it’s very well done.
  36. No Place for a Dame by Connie Brockway – On the strength of the last book and the fact that this was free via Kindle Unlimited, I decided to Try Connie Brockway. Her books are solid, but nothing at all to write home about.  I would pick up Kleypas before I would pick up Brockway again.
  37. Highlander Undone by Connie Brockway – Again, another free one. Fine, but nothing exciting.
  38. A Ring of Endless Light by Madeline L’Engle – A re-read. I’m in love with this book and have been for a long time. The Austin’s live just as I’d like to, and it says different things to me as I get older, which is the mark of a good book.  I’ve been reading this one regularly since I found it in junior high.
  39. All Through The Night by Connie Brockway – Well, the hero actively locks up the heroine in his bedroom in this book, so there’s that. But there’s some thievery and other fun beforehand.
  40. Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas – Holy Crap this is the book I’ve been waiting for from Kleypas for all the time I’ve been reading her work. It has all her perks –amazing use of language, fantastical richness that still somehow seems likely, strong men, steamy sex – with none of the no/yes stuff that plagues the historical romances.  Read immediately.
  41. Sugar Daddy by Lisa Kleypas – Another of the Travis series, and my favorite of them. Because of the past of the heroine, it reminded me a little bit of Kingsolver’s Bean Trees (as unlikely as that is). Another read now, if you like the romance novel thing.
  42. Blue Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas – Again, a Travis series novel. This one has some pretty egregious domestic violence, so trigger warning.  But it’s a crazy good book, and the heroine gets an amazing redemption.
  43. Brown Eyed Girl by Lisa Kleypas – Who doesn’t love the wedding planner trope? This book is the conclusion of the Travis series.  Good and still a read immediately, though I liked some of the other Travis books just a tad better.
  44. Pitch Perfect by Mickey Rapkin – I’m torn on this one, because it was really interesting and lots of fun. But Rapkin uses some metaphors and phrasing that kinda offended me.  And for the boys groups it’s all about getting some, and for the girl groups it’s all about managing the drama.  Ultimately I’m glad I read it, though I did leave feeling annoyed.  You can definitely see why they made a movie of it.
  45. The Writing and Critique Group Survival Guide by Becky Levine – This book is probably great if you’re new to writing and critiquing, and does have great advice on starting or joining a group. That being said, most of the book is dedicated to teaching you how to crit, which I’m already good with. I didn’t get a lot out of it, but I would expect that others would.
  46. Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean – Holy crap this book is GOOD.  Basically, a spinster decides that her respectability isn’t doing her any good so she decides to do what she’s always wanted to.  And keeps running into the hero while she’s up to the inappropriate tasks.  Steamy and SO fun.  Just ignore the cheesy name, okay?
  47. Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord by Sarah MacLean – Awesomeness confirmed.  This one features a house full of spunky girls who are all struggling to keep their manor house from ruin while offering sanctuary to girls in trouble.  Bonus points for hot statuary.

As always, happy reading!

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In Search Of

I’m feeling super-lazy today.  This weekend was fun, but a lot of work.  I made 2 kinds of jam and some mushroom ketchup, as well as dissected the structure of Madeline L’Engle’s “A Ring of Endless Light.”  Not the exciting stuff that blog posts are made of.  It has dawned on me, though, that I haven’t posted any writing in a while.  And so here you go: this is 1/2 of a story  I’ve been finessing the ending of before I start shopping it again.

A.A. Milne

In Search Of:

“Do you think she wanted to drop it, or do you think it was an accident?” said Jack to Fritz.

“Does it matter?” said Fritz. “We still have to find the bloody thing. And if you thought the proverbial needle in the haystack was bad, try the golden apple in the miles of mud. We’ll never get back to Olympus, you know.”

The green khaki they both wore was stained with dry earth, their leather boots caked, their round helmets just covering their eyes. The helmet was just for looks. Even if someone dropped a grenade or a bomb into the pitted, broken earth of no man’s land, it wasn’t likely to harm either of them. Or not for long, anyway.

“Speak for yourself,” said Jack. “This war can’t last forever. We’ll find it. I have confidence.”

“I had confidence last year,” said Fritz. “But I don’t anymore. You’ve heard of the hundred years’ war, right? Doesn’t have to stop any time soon, brother.”

The land he and Fritz were walking over was nothing but violent pits of loose earth that undulated like waves, barbed wire fencing stuck between.

It had been almost three years since they frog marched him and Fritz down the mountain top and told them not to come back without apple in hand.

The golden apple. It had been so long, but Jack still remembered the way the thing reached into his mind and implanted its own memories, all of them horrifying. The desire that came with it, the wonder, the need to own it, to look into its precious golden surface forever. The urge to cut the eyes from anyone else who wanted to look too.

The size of a fist. Perfectly round, glossy, tantalizing, with a thin silver leaf reaching from the spindly, ideal stem.

“Come on, put your German on,” said Fritz, nudging him. “This is the spot – whole bunch of shelling, no movement either way. Looks promising.”

Jack shrugged and then touched his hand to his helmet and his sleeves, and then to Fritz’s. A faint, sweet smell of ozone rose from his palms and the flags on their uniforms turned to black, white, and red stripes. The holes covered over with green. Their boots gleamed.

“Which story are we trying?” said Jack.

“I dunno,” said Fritz. “Inspecting the troops in the wake of the General’s visit?”

“Sure,” Jack nodded.

Fritz made the vehicle out of the clouds that coalesced in the gray sky. He beckoned them down and encouraged them into the shape of an armored car, German flag on the door and flying from the side mirrors. They both got behind it and walked it up to the trench camp, and they both made sure to step out of it via the illusory door Fritz waved into being. It looked good unless someone tried to touch it, but Fritz parked it far enough back that probably no one would.

They had learned after Fritz took a bayonet to the thigh in the Italian camp almost 2 years ago. Blood everywhere and a whole week lost while his hamstrings knit back together.

The scene before them looked like all the other trenches they had been to. Broken earth, barbed wire, a deeper wound on the pitted earth that was the fissure these men fought from. The round helmets of a few men in the distance peaked over the wound, scanning the bare earth beyond for the siege of men that would come crawling over the top; if they weren’t the men crawling over the top of someone else’s trench instead. Every few hundred feet stood a machine gun tower.

The sentry nearest them raised a hand.

“Guten Tag!” Fritz called.

“Guten Tag,” said the sentry, saluting. “What brings you both today, Majors?”

“You will point us to your Kapitän.” said Fritz, in fluent German.

“Right away, Major,” he said. “Lars will take you.”

They followed behind the Musketier, keeping their shoulders upright, their strides purposeful, their movements sharp. The man led them down a wooden ladder, and then through the muddy trench made of piles of sand bags. Jack could touch the walls on either side if he reached out his hands far enough. Dark stains dotted the top row of bags.

Inset into the back of the wall was a framed doorway, which led into a hole with a desk in it. The walls here were wooden.

“Men from the Home Office to see you, Kapitan,” said the Musketier, saluting.

Jack blinked, closing his lids hard. When he opened them, they had adjusted to the darkness as if it was day. The room had a bare bulb swinging from the ceiling, and had been wallpapered in something floral that might have once been cheery but was now dust like everything else.

The Kapitan rose and saluted to them. Jack and Fritz soluted back.

“Nothing confidential,” said Fritz. He handed the Kapitan a folder. Inside it was the page he had encouraged weeks ago to appear like an official telegram.

He let the man look it over for a moment before he spoke again. “We are to bring you this news, and also to inspect the troops ourselves, as a precursor to the Generalleutnant’s arrival. He will be here in two days. Plenty of time for you to prepare your men.”

“Certainly,” said the Kapitan. “Should I call them now?”

“No rush,” said Jack. “We will spend most of the evening with you. We know there isn’t much room and won’t claim a bed, but part of our orders also include bringing back any requests for equipment you might need, or additions to these accommodations.”

“We are hoping not to be here long,” said the Kapitan. “Within the next month, we will take the next trench ahead from the Americans.”

“Certainly,” said Fritz. “But you will, of course, still hold this trench. We are not speaking of great things. Perhaps reinforcements to walls and frames?”

“Of course. We always need additional sandbags, but could also use whatever wood can be spared.”

“So we have your permission to go where we will and see if there is anything else we think you could benefit from?”

“The Generalleutnant orders it,” the Kapitan shrugged. “I will muster the troops for inspection just before evening mess, and then you must dine with me.”

“We would be honored,” said Fritz.

“With your permission?” said Jack

The Kapitan nodded and stood again. “You are dismissed.”

They traded salutes.

#

Out in the trenches again in the dark earth beneath the drab sky, they were alone except for the men on the top of the wall who looked only to the horizon. Jack took a deep breath and inhaled. Nothing but the faint traces of molasses ozone that came from their uniforms, and the piece of paper that was still inside the office.

He shook his head. “I can’t smell it,” he muttered.

“Of course not, idiot,” said Fritz. “None of them are pretending right now. They’re alone. There isn’t any fake to smell yet. You try this every time.”

“One of these days, we won’t have to stay until dinner to figure it out,” said Jack.

“Smell anything else, though?”

Fritz was talking about the smell of the golden apple, cloying and metallic.

It had been too long since either of them had seen the golden apple sitting under a crystal dome on Olympus. It was so long ago that Jack couldn’t remember the smell. He just knew he would remember it when he caught a whiff, that it was unlike anything else he had ever smelled. It was gunpowder and desire; honey and hunger; sex and blood.

“No,” said Jack. “None of that, either. It isn’t here, but we still have to ask.”

“Bloody unlikely that’ll be any help,” said Fritz. “Thousands seen it, no one’s grasped it. Come on, let’s get this ‘inspection’ going. The sooner we can move on…”

“Yeah, I know,” said Jack.

#

The Kapitan mustered the men just before dusk duty. They stood at attention, backs to the walls of the earthen trench, chests proud and muscles taut. Jack walked behind Fritz and breathed in. They got to the middle of the row before Jack smelled it; the ozone smell gone wrong, sweet rain with undertones of phlegm, the lie.

This one had the sickness.

He was pretending pretty well. The smell was not overwhelming, so maybe he only had obsessive thoughts of home now. But soon the Apple would take him, and he’d be at the mercy of what it chose to show him: cannon fire raining from a ship, pelting the walls of a seaside fort, men falling from the ramparts into the water; A woman plunging a knife into a man’s back, he gasps a sucking sound before falling to the dirt.

It would eat him. It ate anyone who was mortal.

Jack made note of the soldier. Blonde hair too long, escaping from his helmet. Grimy moustache above his lip. He may have been fat once, but now his cheeks hung from his face. His attention pose was looser than the men around him.

“Very good, Kapitan,” said Jack. “You have an impressive force here.”

“Thank you.”

#

Jack snuck out during dinner. He excused himself from the table and then made his way to the barracks. His calculation was right. The rest of the men were at mess, but this one had stayed behind. He was staring at the wall, hand poised over a piece of paper as if he was writing a letter. But the paper was filled with apples, the lines of them frayed and round.

“What is your name?” Jack asked him.

He startled. “Rolf,” he said, covering the paper with his arm.

“And you have seen the Golden Apple?”

“Is that what this is?” he said. He picked up the paper and held it out to Jack, hands quivering.

“I don’t know,” said Jack. “Tell me.”

“I was on patrol with – a friend. Oskar. Oskar Berger. And the Americans started shelling. A wave of dirt flew up and something landed next to my shoe. I thought it was a shell. But it didn’t blow. It was gold, and it brushed against me. But another shell hit, and this time it was a real one. It hit Oskar, and it… the earth and his body, his… it all thrust me aside and knocked me out.”

“Where?” said Jack. He could taste the apple now, the metal and cake. But it was the ghost of a smell, the memory of it.

“Oskar. Oskar Berger. Another faceless man lost to this…”

“Oskar Berger. We both remember him now,” said Jack.

“When I joined this war, I was so…” said Rolf. “All we saw was uniforms and glory, the heady shock that reverberates through your arm when you shoot a rifle, the glee that rises in your throat. We didn’t know what happens when the bullets hit their target, what your throat feels like then.”

A sob caught there, Rolf’s Adams-apple bobbing, keeping it in with a sucking sound.

Rolf swallowed. “I don’t know,” he said. “It was months ago. We weren’t even in this trench back then. I don’t know where I saw it.”

Jack sighed. “No, no. Of course you weren’t.”

“If you find it…?”

Jack shook his head. His answer was always the same. “You’ve touched it, and your mortal brain couldn’t handle the strife it’s been through,” he said. “Once you’ve been touched, it never lets go. That’s it. You will have to learn to manage as best you can.”

“No,” said Rolf. He closed his eyes, and the silence surrounded them. He opened them again. “And when will this damned war be over?”

“When I have found the apple,” said Jack. “Have faith, brother. I’m trying as hard as I can.”

Would it be another hundred years? Two?

Rolf covered his face with his hands and turned away. Jack went back to the bleak Kapitan’s quarters to finish his meal.

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Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Okay, so I know that “keep the secrets” is a thing, and I’m going to try my best to hold to that.  However, this review discusses the plot of the book, so be warned.  I won’t give away anything that is a major secret, but reviewing a book without talking about the book is impossible.  If you want to stay 100% pure, don’t read any further.

HP15_Q4_Square_LS_Pottermore

The Harry Potter books are an interesting thing.  They’ve become such the stuff of legend that it’s hard to separate the myth from the actuality.  I just know that I read them recently and fell in love all over again, so they do stand the test of time.  I was obsessed so quickly with the series when I was younger, attending every midnight release and reading the book in a day.  I’m a huge fan.  I’m quiet about it, but that doesn’t mean the fervor burns any less bright.  I didn’t attend the midnight release for Cursed Child, but some things haven’t changed.  I read this book in a day.

In general, I don’t like plays as reading material.  I think I should say that, too, so you know where I’m coming from.  Without anyone to speak them, the words can sound sappy and trite.  Without the emotion and the inner life of the characters, the narrative feels cold.  That disappears when you have actors to play the parts, but reading the script on the couch doesn’t help.  I was predisposed to love the book; I was predisposed to hate the book.

I ended up falling somewhere in between.

The basic premise of the play is this: Harrry and his youngest son Albus don’t get along.  At all.  Some of the problems seem to stem from the fact that Albus was sorted into Slytherin and makes a best friend in Scorpius Malfoy, but mostly it’s because Albus can’t come to grips with some of the things Harry has had to do to save the world.  Most notably, the death of Cedric Diggory.  Shenanigans ensue.

By the end of the first part, I was angry.  The plot seemed much like Back To The Future: Harry Potter Edition.  I felt like the whole thing was an excuse to trot out everyone’s favorite characters from the series who died or disappeared and had nothing original to offer me.  Was it neat to be back at Hogwarts?  Yes.  But that’s all I can really say for it.  The world felt cold, the scenes passed too fast.  I loathe reality reunion shows when everyone talks dirt about the contestants and rehashes their time in the sun.  I didn’t need the Harry Potter version.  I could go on and on: Inexcusably, Ron is the buffoon he was made out to be in the movies, and not himself at all.  They play with time, and the way they play with it is so anti the rules set out in the book that it’s maddening.  People are outright friendly to Malfoy, who did unspeakable, unforgivable things in the novels. I mean, I’m all for nice.  Nice is what you do when you’re an adult.  But friendly is a little steep for someone who broke your face, tried let Death Eaters into the school, constantly uttered racist slurs, and allowed your best friend to be tortured.  How much time do you have for me to rant?

But by the end of part two, it had redeemed itself.  Not enough to be fully satisfying, but enough that I didn’t feel like my money had been extorted.  The kids end up falling into disaster, the adults band together like old times to try and help, and it’s suddenly a new story with the old relationships I know and love.  It suddenly feels like Harry Potter and it starts to really grapple with its premise that sometimes bad things have to happen to create a good world. It becomes more the book I wanted.

I’m not gonna say don’t read it.  Because you either will or you won’t.  And I will also admit that there may have been no way this book could live up to the huge expectations I had of it.  But if you read it, just know that it probably wasn’t the thing you were expecting to get, though some of the qualities make sticking to the end worthwhile.

 

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Book Review: Fragile Things and The Darkest Part of the Forest

Neil Gaiman - Fragile Thngs2233284_orig

I realized, as I was writing this review, that I have reviewed Black and Gaiman together before now.  Their work is so different,  but it feels like 2 sides of the same coin in many ways.  Gaiman writes mostly for adults, Black for YA.  Gaiman deals in myth, Black in fairy tale.  The books are filled with the weird and the strange.  And those weird, strange things often take place in the modern age.  It was an accident that I’m putting them together this time.  They’re the only 2 non-fiction books that I haven’t reviewed yet.  It seemed right to do them together at the same time. So here we are,  with the books fulfilling the “a book that will be a complete mindfuck” and “a book you bought long ago but still haven’t read” categories for the reading challenge.

Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman:

I should probably couch this review by saying that I mostly don’t enjoy short stories.  Or, rather, that there is a celebrated type of short story that I loathe, full of beautiful words and terrible happenings that brings me more unsettled upset than entertainment.  It’s a staple of the genre. But I love Gaiman, and I have read all his novels already.  Some multiple times.  Also, his work is always a mindfuck.  It’s strange in ways that are completely right yet unexpected.

I enjoyed Fragile Things and I didn’t, in about equal measure.  A Study in Emerald is worth the price of the whole thing, I enjoyed it so much.  I think anyone with a penchant for Doyle would.  But there were others in there that just made me rather horrified.  They were all so hit and miss that it’s impossible to go through and say worth it/skip of each, which I would have to do.  And to be honest, if you can find Emerald not in this book, that’s the route I would go with.  For me, the joy wasn’t worth the pain.  The quality of the work is amazing, the subject matter was not often my cup of tea.

Looking for something Gaiman to read?  American Gods, The Graveyard Book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and Stardust are all good options.  Looking for something new of Gaiman’s to read?  He just came out with a non-fiction book of essays “The View From the Cheap Seats,” which I hear is good (although I haven’t gotten around to it yet).

The Darkest Part of the Forest by Holly Black: 

Every time I read Holly Black, I remind myself that I need to read more Holly Black.  I don’t know why she doesn’t come to mind as an immediate “yes” author to me.  Everything I have read of hers has been joyfully frightening, fascinatingly horrifying.  This one is about a modern town on the edge of faerie.  There is a horned prince in the forest, sleeping in a glass coffin, and then he goes missing. And then people start dying.

It’s all the things I loved about the Tithe world with a more epic heroine to balance out the story.  There are several things in the genre that are always a YES for me (almost irrespective of content).  Fae, love stories, and women with swords are a few of those, which this book has in spades.  I loved it.  It made me want to buy Valliant immediately, and then re-read Coldest Girl in Cold Town.

I bought this book almost a year ago.  I don’t know what made me linger in reading it.  I lingered with Gaiman’s Ocean, though, too.  I think perhaps it’s because I know I’m going to love it so much and I only get to read it for the first time once, that I feel the need to savor it as much as possible.  Or maybe it’s a fear of ultimately not liking something I’m looking forward to so much.  Both Black and Gaiman always deliver, though.  I should remember that more.

The final verdict on Darkest Part of the Forest is go buy it now.

Happy reading!

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Jam, Bread, and RPGs

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I realized I’ve been binge-reading romance novels as comfort books because the news from the Republican Convention has been so depressing.  You know, among other things.

In times of trouble I have to turn to something.  Romance novels and kitchen exploits are my favorite thing to turn to.  The Roger’s Red grape vine has gone crazy on me, and I have a TON of grapes that are dark purple and that right kind of sour.  I’m planning on making grape jam this weekend before the birds can eat all of them, and possibly I’ll try my hand at a loaf or two of wheat bread.  I may even have enough grapes for a REAL, full batch of jam.

I made the tastiest Irish Blaas from scratch last weekend, and my bread-making confidence is all up in the lofty heights of amazingness right now.  It was easy, I just had to wait for rising.  Wheat bread now seems surmountable, even without a stand mixer with a dough attachment.  Kneading for 8-10 minutes?  Good exercise.  We’ll see if I continue to say that after my arms fall off this weekend.  Wheat bread is supposed to be the hard one.  It’s reputably dense if not done right, though I wouldn’t know.

It is 10 days from the end of the month, and I have already spent all of my allotted book budget.  Which means I will have to subsist on rereading like I used to do in the dark ages before there were e-readers.  Can I do it?  I can totally do it.  If nothing else, I have plenty of Kipling on the shelves.  The last time we moved, I was happy for almost a month on a book of his stories.

In other news, we’re starting a new Rippers game on Friday… which means new characters.  Which means new character backgrounds.  I didn’t have the gumption or the time to make it as much of a short story as the last character, but I felt like the one I came up with was fairly clever.  I’m working on all the short stories, but I don’t think anything is good enough to share currently.  So in its stead, you can read a few paragraphs about Meg Hews.

She’s got a signature weapon that I’ve named “Carrie” after Carrie Nation – the gal that used to go into saloons with an axe and break stuff (including people).  She was very anti-liquor and a little bit insane.  Badass women for the win.

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Photo by Caelkriss on Deviant Art – click picture to link.

Meg Hews:

There is an old assumption that men whose wives die in childbed visit their grief on their children, but Margaret Hews never found that to be the case.  Her father was a jolly man with a quick smile, a firm sense of duty, and a black-and-white view of the word.  He was never sad.  When her mother died he just raised her at the Pinkerton office, and when Uncle Charlie complained, Dad said it was Meg or him. Charlie knew Dad was too good an agent to lose.

Dad let her scramble around his desk and crumple up old newspapers, teaching her to shoot a BB gun at the tender age of 5, and leaving her with Uncle Charlie whenever he had to go out on a job.  Uncle Charlie voiced his dismay, but eventually he shrugged it off and taught Meg to play poker with licorice pipes for winnings.

Dad was against her taking the badge, of course.  But she wasn’t fit for anything else when she grew up. She wasn’t demure enough for the boys who wanted a gentlewoman and her housekeeping skills were atrocious.  She refused to learn to type.  The only thing she could do was shoot straight and spy a lie from a mile off.  Pinkerton Agent it was.

It would be easiest to make her way in an office where everyone didn’t call her Meggie or remember that one year where she executed all her dolls for murder and subsequently burned them at the stake in the metal office trash cans.  Embarrassing.

So when a spot opened up at the St. Louis office, Meg made Uncle Charlie pull strings to get her in.

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Short Stories Galore

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I haven’t done a post on how the writing is going for a long time, so I thought I’d do an update.

My attempt in June to write a bunch of stories based on cool photos I found mostly hasn’t panned out, because I’m flighty.  And because everything I’m writing these days has somehow ended up CRAZY, unsaleablely long.  I’ll maybe finish them someday, but right now I’d rather spend energy on other things.  Especially since it’s now the end of July and I’m no closer to making my New Year’s resolution than I was in January.  I mean, I guess I’m 2 dozen rejection letters closer, if we want to get technical…

In lieu of completing anything new, I ended up taking that time for administrative organization: I cataloged all the pieces of short stories that I have lying around, the full stories that were too problematic to print and needed re-writes, and organized the records of where I’ve sent everything I’m currently shopping.  Not fun, but a necessary part of this ‘trying to get published’ stuff.

I did drastic edits of 2 imperfect short stories, and am now doing rewrites on another 2 unfinished works that I’m hoping to get rotating.  Right now, I have 4 things on the market.  That’s at least twice as many as I’ve had at any given time before now.  I’m feeling pretty proud of myself.

I’m on draft 3 of my novel synopsis, too.  Which is just as hard to write as all they say it should be, if you were wondering.  Legitimately awful.  I’ve given myself a tentative finish date of August 1st.  It’s coming up quick!

So, no real news to report.  Just the ongoing tide of stories out and stories in that has become my regular course of things.  I’m feeling good about movement, though.  At least I’m being productive.

Now on to all that editing.

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Book Reviews: A Little Romance

I’m very far ahead on the reading challenge at this point, but VERY far behind on getting reviews of everything done.  Which means I’m going to review two of the romance novels I’ve read so we can get that out of the way.  I feel like love of romance novels is a personal topic, and I usually don’t review them in detail.  But I pledged to review everything on that challenge list, so…

Before I go full-throttle review, I think we should talk about romance novels.  They are full of cheesy moments, sappy dialogue, silly euphemisms for body parts, and unlikely scenarios.  I consider that a feature of the genre, not a deterrent.  So when I discuss the novels, I think you should know that all of them are typical historical romance fare and are therefore to be judged on a different standard than, say, something by Donna Tartt.

That being said, I still look for streamlined language, an interesting and new-ish storyline, and plenty of good description.  I will always maintain that good writing is good writing, regardless of genre.  It’s the stuff that happens in romance novels that I’m not sure everyone would agree on being their thing, not the quality of the writing itself.

Here we go:

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Mine ‘Til Midnight by Lisa Kleypas (a book that’s on fire)

Not only is the book full of fiery, lusty happenings, but their house eventually catches on fire.  It seemed to fit.

I am fairly torn when it comes to Lisa Kleypas.  She does that thing in romance novels where the girl says no way, the guy does it anyway, and then the girl likes it.  I hate to be all “rape culture!” on everyone, but it makes me uncomfortable and is the trope I like LEAST in the genre.  I know that in the Victorian era, women had to be circumspect about their relationships.  But this isn’t a Victorian book.  It’s a modern book, written by modern people, for modern people, that happens to take place in the Victorian era.  I demand that the fiction fit my modern values.  Which means no possible rape scenarios, please, regardless of how much love is between the characters.

It’s all throughout this book, too.  Which made it hard to like wholeheartedly even though I LOVED almost every other aspect of it.  It’s an unusual premise, the family is unlucky and really funny, and the love interest is a hot bad boy.  Bonus points for the fact that he’s Romani, and Kelypas is pretty good (to my untrained eye) at being respectful while still dealing with prejudices at the time.  More bonus points for Beatriz and her pet lizard. Who makes an appearance at the dinner table.  If we are giving kudos for originality, this one has it in spades.

While it was mostly good, it also had a supernatural aspect that I felt was thrown in at the end without enough foreshadowing, and seemed a little silly as a result.

I’m critical, but I read the thing in 1 day and then bought book 2.  So I did enjoy it despite the flaws.  I have now read the entire backlist of Eloisa James and Julia Quinn, so I now have to find a good substitute.  Kelypas is almost in that league for me.  If only she’d cut out this no/yes stuff.

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My American Duchess by Eloisa James (a book no one wants you to read)

This category was the HARDEST for me, because no one has ever cared much what I read.  My parents’ shelves were as open to me as anything on my own shelves, I always got whatever was on my book list for presents at Christmas/Easter/birthdays, and my grandparents used to hand me things that might have been considered too old for me.  Like Damon Runyon at the age of 12. (He’s one of my favorites, but the heavy use of slang isn’t something that’s easy to get into, and it can be violent).  I got my hands on my first romance novels in high school.  No one has ever really cared.

But I needed something forbidden.  Which made me think of the stigma around romance novels.  And here we are…

At this point, I’ve read all of James’ back list.  This one falls somewhere in the middle of the pack for me, although maybe more towards the top than the bottom.  It’s a good, solid romance that has all the things I’m looking for – including an awesome American heroine.  She has a reputation for being flighty after ending a few engagements, and she’s determined to stick her current one through.  Even if he’s the wrong guy, and it’s his twin brother she really wants.  Bonus points for her being from Boston, which is where a huge contingent of my own family is from.

The book features a pineapple debacle, a twist in how the two eventually get married, and much fun along the way.  About ½ of the book takes place after the 2 are already married and attempting to figure things out, so that’s unusual in a romance novel, too.  Although it may not be the best of James, it’s definitely some of the best in the Romance genre.

That’s it for now, although more reviews will follow soon.  Happy reading!

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Spring 2016 Reading List

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Guess what?  It’s a regularly prescribed blog day and I am actually posting a blog.  It’s a small miracle.

The vacations are over, and so is the school year.  All our students graduated last weekend in a blaze of glory.  Which means I should officially share this list so I can start on the summer one, don’t you think?  I do.

And just so you know, I’m usually pretty good about putting things on Goodreads before they get to here.  If you want recs early and not in one giant dump like this, that’s the place to go.

So without further ado, here it is.  All the books I’ve read since the spring semester started:

  1. Winning the Wallflower by Eloisa James: I should just say that I ALWAYS enjoy a James novel. This one was quite solid, with an interesting premise.  Would recommend if you like that sort of thing.
  2. No-Where But Here by Kate McGarry: I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t my favorite either, mostly because it sent some of my feminist “no!” alarms off, although gently.  I cared to finish it, but I’m not sure I’ll pick up the next.  Or maybe I will.  I’m wishy-washy about it, and I did like the main character.
  3. Steering The Craft by Ursula K. LeGuin: Oh, so wonderful.  It made me value the art of writing practice all over again, though it reads more like a work book than it does like advice.
  4. A Knot In The Grain by Robin McKinley: McKinley is another I always love. At first I wasn’t so hooked but the stories kept getting progressively better, and the title story is something I’m obsessed with, except that I want it to be a novel and not a short.
  5. Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn: Thought it would have more to do with the Bridgertons that just having a heroine with the same last name, so I was a bit disappointed. But it was a solid story for all that and I’d recommend it.
  6. Pride and Prejudice and Cheese Grits by Mary Jane Hathaway: Um… no. I don’t know why I even finished this book.  I didn’t enjoy it and I found the conclusion (and most of the novel, to be honest) to be unlikely and unsatisfying.
  7. Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein: I don’t really know what to say about this book except that it’s fascinating and poignant, and important for anyone who has been a girl (I had so many “me too!” moments) or anyone raising a girl.
  8. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman: A re-read.  I still loved it, though it didn’t seem quite the captivating masterpiece it did on my first read.  I guess I just wished I cared a little more for Richard and Door at the end.
  9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Illustrated Edition by J.K. Rowling: I forgot how good this book is. And it’s honestly the prettiest thing I’ve ever read.  It was so fun to come across all the amazing illustrations while going through.  I basically didn’t come out of my room for a day and a half.  I can’t wait to collect them all.
  10. Chalice by Robin McKinley: I’ve read this book at least 4 times now, and it always leaves me wanting to keep bees in a thatched hut with the man I love. One of my favorites, and officially a comfort book by now.
  11. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott: I’m glad to find I can read it again, and that I love it as much as I ever did, which is to say obsessively.
  12. Fool For Love by Eloisa James: As James novels go, this one was on the silly side. I still enjoyed it, though.
  13. Poems by Rudyard Kipling: You know, I don’t always love his poetry. But when I do, I REALLY love it, and it was a joy to go through and pull out gems of couplets.
  14. If You’re So Smart Why Aren’t You Happy by Raj Raghunathan: I learned a lot from this, partially about the importance of practice in writing, and partly about making room for happiness without pursuing it head on. I’m glad I read it, and will be putting some of the suggestions into practice.
  15. Shakespere’s Wife by Germaine Greer: Such a dichotomy of a book. The writing is super dry and academic, but it’s about FASCINATING things.  I’m impatient when reading it and feel like I’m not enjoying myself, but I’m always telling Brian about the neat things I learned with enthusiasm.  I think it’s ultimately worth it.
  16. Duchess By Night by Eloisa James: Nice and satisfying, with a hilarious daughter to top it all off. No outright silly like in some of James’ novels.  Would recommend.
  17. Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman: A strange collection of things, some of which I had read before. I went from “So good, I’ll never be this good, I love this story” to “No.  No, no.  No” about them.  My favorite was the Study in Emerald.  I’m not gonna pick a least favorite.  All in all, I would recommend it to Gaiman fans, though I enjoy his novels more.
  18. Once Upon A Tower by Eloisa James: I liked this one QUITE a bit. May be my favorite since the Essex Sisters.
  19. The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo: The book was really repetitive, and I didn’t care at all about the pages and pages of testimonials that she included, which may be a translation problem? But I did ultimately feel that her ideas were helpful and will put some of them into practice.
  20. Midnight Pleasures by Eloisa James: I generally liked it, but felt like the plot wasn’t tight. I mean, they end up with this mysterious French kid for no real reason and the scepter thing resolves WAY too easily.  It was also sad.  I enjoyed it, but think James has better work out there.
  21. Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott: Strangely, this book speaks differently to me now that I’m a little farther along the path to become a writer. I find that I’m more willing to listen to her advice without saying “yes, but an agent…” and to embrace the actual writing as the thing to fall in love with.  Still balm for my crazy soul.
  22. This Duchess of Mine by Eloisa James: Devolved a bit into farce, but I always enjoy a James novel. I’m slowly working through her backlist until I’ve read them ALL.
  23. A Duke of Her Own by Eloisa James: I mean, Villers is my FAVORITE James heroine. I Loved this one, especially his son Tobias.  It was nice to see him get his own novel finally.
  24. Three Weeks with Lady X by Eloisa James: This was one of the first James books I read, and I realized after a while that it’s partially from the perspective of Villers’ son. Which meant that I had to re-read it, of course. It was good the first time, but even better in context.
  25. A Wild Pursuit by Eloisa James: Another farciful one, with too many people at a house party.  I would say it’s good romance, I just think other things by James are better.
  26. Your Wicked Ways by Eloisa James: While I felt like I wish the heroine had a little more backbone, I LOVED all the music that’s in it. Ultimately, this is one of my favorites of hers.
  27. Enchanting Pleasures by Eloisa James: I think James is at her best when her heroines are smart, and Gabby is very smart. Quill is also super-easy to fall in love with as a character, though I feel as if I wish they had a tighter plot to play in.
  28. Why Diets Make us Fat by Sandra Aamodt: Interesting, if sometimes full of dry scientific studies. It makes me fear dieting, and also gives me hope that I can be healthy and a bit chubby.  Wonderful book full of important info.
  29. Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray: I don’t know what to say about this one because it seems in a lot of ways like the original Diviners book – zippy, jazzy, a bit heartbreaking, scary. But for some reason I just didn’t care much about the characters like I did in book 1.
  30. Excuses Begone by Wayne Dyer: I tend to take advice from millionaires to ignore money when making decisions with a grain of salt, but I do think a lot of his points were valid. Worth a read, and very motivational.
  31. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater: Holy crap this book is good – Tumblr you were totally right, even if you did ruin one of the big secrets for me ahead of time. My new obsession. Bonus points? All books are out – no waiting.
  32. The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater: I usually find sequels to be not as good as the originals, but I’m finding that this one is even better. If that’s possible.  Can’t wait to read the rest of them and will be burning through them the next few days.
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A Busy June

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Hello Again!  I know there’s been radio silence for quite a while over here.  Sorry about that.  But in good news, the novel is finally finished!!!  Which means I’ll be slaving away on the synopsis so I can start shopping it… That’s the worst part. Ugh.

And here’s another warning that posting may not be as regular as I’d like for the next month or so, although I’ll try.  I’m traveling quite a lot in June and will probably forget that it’s Monday and there is a blog due, or Thursday, or whatever.  I shall try my best.

The novel being done means I’ll have to decide what I’m working on next.  I have 3 other novels that are currently in first draft form, and I assume I’ll pick one and start editing that one up.  But I’ve been working on a novel constantly for 5 years now, and I’m a little loathe to just dive right into another one.  Plus, I’ve been reading about the benefits of practice in artistic endeavors.  I’m taking June to have a little fun.  I’ll be using my 20 writing days to do a little practice writing with no outcome expected other than weirdness.  I’ve created sort of a Pinterest board for things I’m thinking about, if you’d like to see what I’m planning for those few stories.  It’s here.  They may or may not appear on the blog, depending.

And that’s all the shop I’ll talk today.  Brian and I went on an epic journey last weekend to see a VW Spider sculpture, visit the bearded cowboy muffler man, eat shakes at the International Banana Museum (it’s not just a banana museum… it’s international), and ended up at Salvation Mountain, which was a little like being in a Seuss book if Seuss had been rampantly Christian.  It was a lovely day, and we couldn’t stop giggling through the whole thing.

We’re off again on a secret birthday adventure this weekend.  Brian won’t tell me where we’re going.  It’s a tradition. Here are the clues I have so far: it’s an outdoorsy thing and I should pack for hiking, but we’re not actually camping.  I don’t really need to worry too much about the 100+ temperatures forcasted for Redlands and the desert areas east of us.  He’s packing breakfast and lunch fixings.   It could be anything, right?

And then we’ll be in Massachusetts next weekend for a wedding and much pilgrim goodness.  Yeah, it’s pretty crazy around here.  But it’s all fun, so I’m not complaining.

See you when I see you.  I’m sure it will be soon.

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