Posts Tagged With: Robin McKinley

Politics of the Supernatural Kind

I can’t even today.  Every time I think that a certain political candidate could not possibly make me angrier, I somehow get more incensed.  It’s at the point now where I know I have to disengage or give myself an aneurism from all the angstyness that people are STILL supporting this – I don’t even feel like there’s a word bad enough to call him – candidate.  My only consolation is that it will all be over in about 4 weeks (for better or worse).

I was thinking about doing a post about all the feminist reasons to abhor this man, but I realized that all that info is out there in spades on the internet.  And this isn’t a political blog, it’s a book/writing blog.

So, escapism it is!

I don’t know about you, but I prefer my politics with a heavy dose of magic and/or the supernatural.  So instead of a rant, I present to you 4 Fantasy books in which the government plays an active character. But don’t worry, it’s not anything like your government today.  Have at them and try and forget that America is such a mess right now.

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Witches of Lychford by Paul Cornell: There’s a new big box store going into the sleepy hamlet of Lychford.  Local crank Judith doesn’t care a bit about jobs or modernization, but she does care about the site plan.  Lychford lies on the boundary of two worlds. If the supermarket is built it will destroy all wards forever, unleashing demonic destruction on the world.  Judith has to convince the town to stop construction, but she’ll need some unlikely allies to make it happen…

The book is spunky and hilarious, with a few serious moments to make it really a good book.  It’s a novella, which means it’s a quick read, and it’s everything you ever wanted in a Walmart fight, with actual demons, witches dancing under the moonlight, fae in the forests, and magic markings on the doors.

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Chalice by Robin McKinley: The last Master and Chalice died in a horrible fire after doing unspeakable things to the land. Now it is up to beekeeper Marisol (the new Chalice) and the old Master’s brother (a priest of fire who may not be quite human anymore) to heal the land and stabilize the country, before the Overlord can launch a coup for power that will certainly damage the land irreparably.

This book is one in which nothing happens and everything happens all at once, like McKinley does best.  It’s so internal, so based on looks and gestures, or subtle power plays.  But you still feel the seriousness of it as you fall in love with the land.  I never put this book down without wanting to move to the middle of nowhere and keep bees with the man I’m in love with.

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The Lives of Christopher Chant by Dianna Wynne Jones: Christopher’s parents are both powerful enchanters who hate each other.  But Christopher himself doesn’t appear to be magical at all, unless you count the marvelous lands he visits in his dreams.  His only friend is his Uncle Ralph, who sends him on missions to bring back things from those strange lands as a game.  But when Christopher is told that he’s supposed to train to become the next Chrestomanci, the president of all magic in the land, his loyalties are thrown out of whack and he isn’t sure who to trust anymore.  Or that he’ll even want to become the next Chrestomanci at all.

I just can’t say enough about this book.  It turns all fantasy tropes on its heels and features one of those perfect Dianna Wynne Jones plots where everything is absolutely nuts, random, and up in the air, but somehow it resolves into a plot that was always perfectly right and organized by the end.  You just didn’t know it. My favorite person in the book is the priestess Asheth.  She always wants Christopher to bring her “exotic” books featuring Millie and her boarding school adventures.  It’s technically a children’s book, but it’s definitely complex and fun for adults, too.

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Voices: Memer is a daughter of the Oracle House, a place the conquerors and occupiers of the town Ansul are sure is filled with demons.  Reading and writing are punishable by death, and Oracle House is the only place that books now exist in the town, locked up in a secret room.  When the famous traveling minstrel, Orrec, arrives with his wife Gry to tell stories to the soldiers, Memer begins to see how important story really is.  Important enough that it could give Ansul back it’s peace and freedom, could give the people enough bravery to rebel against their oppressors.

I don’t know why I’m in love with this book so much, because it’s a serious read that deals with grave topics that surround war.  Memer herself is the daughter of a rape. But Memer is so beloved, and the world so vibrant, that you root for the townsfolk and their freedom wholeheartedly.  It’s got a magic to it that’s hard to define, partly (I think) because it feels so real.  This could be a history of somewhere you’ve never heard of, and it ends with so much hope.

So that’s my recommendation.  As always, happy reading!  And together maybe we can avoid imploding from election drama… Maybe.

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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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Heroes and Villains

Camp Nanowrimo is going well-ish.  My word count has exploded, but the point was to write 4 whole short stories (and not 50,000 words), so I’m feeling a little behind.  The Golden Apple story went like gang-busters for a while but seems to have stalled out.  Brian and I discussed it this weekend, and I think it’s because the About is more in line with WWII than the Great War, and so it doesn’t quite fit.  Also, needs more Greek Gods (which could be said of everything, really).

I swore to myself that I would actually post a book review this week, since it’s been a while.  I am still working on the 2016 reading challenge, and plugging away at it.  This week?  A book that makes me want to be a hero, and a book that makes me want to be a villain.

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The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley:

I have long been a huge fan of McKinley’s The Hero and The Crown, about an outcast of a royal woman, Aerin, who experiments with a non-burning salve used to fight dragons, and ends up being the savior of her people (along with a busted-up war horse).  I hadn’t read The Blue Sword, though I knew it was considered the sequel.  It wasn’t available on kindle until fairly recently, and isn’t available in most stores.

I found it, though, at a little used bookstore by the train station where I pick Brian up some days.  I bought it immediately and read it so fast.  Best find ever.

It’s about an orphan, Harry Crewe, who moves to be near her brother at a military outpost in the desert.  When a mountain king comes to the village to ask for military aid, his second-sight tells him to kidnap Harry and take her with him back to his kingdom.  She comes into her own, becoming one of the kings sacred riders and besting the country at the sword trials.  She communes with Lady Aerin, falls for the king, and saves a country herself.

It’s full of hard tasks and bad choices, but of trust and valor.  It makes me want to learn to ride a horse with nothing but a small leather cushion on the back.  It makes me want to live in a tent with a king and drink waters that make me have visions.  It makes me want to wear a mended scarf around my waist, and to find a home among other people with strange ways.  Even if they do start calling me Harimad Sol.

So, Harry Crewe makes me want to be a hero.

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Silver on the Road, by Laura Anne Gilman:

Kindle has been recommending me this book for a very long time, in the way it recommends things I end up disliking.  I finally read the synopsis of it, and was sort of expecting it to be a worse version of Patricia C. Wrede’s Frontier Magic.  I figured that even if it was bad it would have interesting ideas.  I was VERY wrong.  It wasn’t anything like that at all, really, except in the traveling through the west theme.

And it was great.  My only beef with the book is that I will have to wait another 2 years (!!!) for the series to be finished.  Damn you, Simon and Schuster.  You always do this to me!

In this west, there are three parts.  There is the United States, there is the territory controlled by the devil, and then there is Spain, in that order from East to West.  The devil is undefined.  Is he evil?  Who knows.  But he does protect the territory, and he does make bargains for people’s souls.  He also runs a saloon, where main character Izzy grows up.

Izzy isn’t sure where she wants to go when she reaches her majority.  So she sells herself to the devil and agrees to become his left hand, touring his portion of the territory and doing… well, she doesn’t really know.  She has a guide to teach her the road, and they know there are monsters let loose to murder the populace.  That’s all she has to go on.

It’s a great book, super-exciting, and basically reminds me of a Deadlands game that has gone to print. Being out on the road seems great, if inconvenient sometimes.  Also bonus points for a book that discusses how women deal with periods (as in monthly bleeding) because I’ve never seen that before in fantasy.

I would like to travel the road with Gabriel and see the strange things in the west, although I’m not sure I’d agree to sell my soul to the devil to do it.

Isobel makes me want to be a villain.

So that’s it for the book reviews this week.  As always, happy reading!

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Halloween Reads

Halloween Books

Two blog posts in one week, you say?  I know.  I’m feeling like an overachiever.  Or maybe I’m just feeling like I don’t want to fix horrible rough drafts any longer.  I want to do some fun writing instead…

It’s almost October!  In fancy letters on my calendar for Saturday it says “Put up Halloween Decorations!!” So of course (always a slave to my calendar), I will be getting all the macabre things out of cabinets this weekend and putting them all over the house.  I’m very excited about it. Items are deeply tied to memories for me, so I will be thrilled to see the village go up, and the pumpkins collect on my bookshelves again as if they were old friends.

This has me thinking of Halloween reads, of course.  Even if it is 100 degrees here in California, I can still read creepy literature and eat cinnamon flavored things while lolling about in the air conditioning.  Here are some of my creepiest favorites so you can join me:

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black:

Tana wakes up from a party to realize that her entire high school has been murdered in the living room, and a vampire (who probably wasn’t responsible) is tied up in the back bedroom waiting certain death when the sun rises enough to come in the window.  Rescuing him brings her a world of trouble, especially when she agrees to enter a quarantined “Cold Town” where humans and monsters mingle in a nebulous line between predator and prey.  Getting in is easy, getting out impossible, and the whole thing will be broadcast as reality TV for the world – and Tana’s family – to watch.

Coraline by Neil Gaiman:

Neglected Coraline hates the new apartment her parents moved the family to, complete with creepy neighbors.  Until she discovers the door in the living room that leads to a utopian version of the life she hates, complete with mouse circus and perfect parents.  But then Coraline’s Other Mother asks her to stay.  All she has to do is let them sew buttons into her eyes…

The Diviners by Libba Bray:

Evie finds her small town too hot to handle when her ability to divine the past from touching personal objects means she knows a bit too much.  So her parents pack her off to her uncle in New York who runs the Museum of American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult.  Evie is thrilled to be among the speakeasies, the Ziegfeld girls, and the opulence of the 1920s.  Until something calling himself Naughty John awakes and begins a spree of murdering that maybe only Evie and her pals can stop.

Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Tales and Poems by Edgar Allen Poe:

Seriously, this guy has the creepy thing down.  And he’s been the most consistent October read of mine.  I always sit down to some of his short stories in October.  There are a million collections out there, so pick one that looks good and read away (I pulled the linked one because it’s all of them).  My favorites are The Cask of Amontillado, the Fall of the House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, I could go on forever… In fact, here: http://poestories.com/stories.php

Sunshine by Robin McKinley:

It was probably dangerous for Sunshine, baker extraordinaire at her step-dad’s diner, to drive out to the lake in the world post-war where everyone now knows that vampires and were-beasts are real.  She didn’t expect to be kidnapped and chained in a room with an imprisoned vampire.  She didn’t expect to be able to save them both, linking them inexplicably together.  And now she’s been drawn into the middle of an ancient vampire war that cannot be won, and she has to pretend it’s all fine lest she frighten the humans or attract the attention of the Feds who would certainly kill her allies.

Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale by Holly Black:

A dark Faerie tale in which Kaye, drifter and groupie for her semi-talented mother’s band, discovers she’s actually a changeling Pixie when they move back to her family home in New Jersey.  Kaye falls in love with the most dangerous knight in the evil Unseelie court, and now she must play a game of identities, both human and pixie, as she tries to keep herself from becoming the traditional Samhain sacrifice.

All links are Amazon Affiliate links.  Happy reading!!

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Fall-ish Reading List 2014

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In the holiday shuffle, I missed posting my fall reading list.  So this one contains everything I’ve read up until January 1.  It’s shorter because I’ve been doing less reading of other people’s novels and more reading of my own.  Draft 6 is in full swing.

So, without further ado, here it is:

1.      A Wonderlandiful World, by Shannon Hale – Fun like the others, but I missed Apple and Raven.  Hale does some brilliant stuff that is Against the Rules and Shouldn’t Work with the character of the narrator. And yet it does, perfectly.

2.      Demons, and other magic by Meghan Ciana Doidge – She did not deliver on a (stupid) thing she’s been threatening for three books now, so that made me unhappy.  Otherwise it was what it should have been.  Nice epic finish that felt big enough.

3.      Manon Lescaut by Abbe Provost – I can’t say I liked it, although it got me thinking quite a bit.  It’s one of those novels where I disdain the characters and think they’re all idiots.  But it broadened my horizons.  So I’m not sorry I read it.

4.      The Princess Bride by S. Morgenstern – If it was possible that anything could be funnier than the movie, this book is funnier than the movie.  The Florin jokes, abridgements, and history are the best thing ever, like I’m part of a massive inside joke.

5.      Attachments by Rainbow Rowell – Man hired to read company e-mails secretly falls in love with girl who keeps violating the e-mail policy.  The two gals are beyond hilarious, the main character is such a great guy, and I love this book so much.

6.      The Lake by Analisa Grant – I just… 1st person present tense was difficult for me, and the story was cliché.  But it had profluence and an interesting main character.  I gave up 1/3 of the way through.  Maybe I’ll pick it up again, I don’t know.

7.      A Garden Folly by Candice Hern – The stupid sort of G rated Regency romance I love a lot.  Although it does make me uncomfortable when a girl says no and a guy doesn’t listen, no matter how much she’s really enjoying it.

8.      Paper Towns by John Green – Looking For Alaska was a better “finding someone” novel, and An Abundance of Katherines was a better “road trip” novel.  But it enjoyed it, and would have enjoyed it more had I not read the others first, I think.

9.      The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer – Now this is what I look for in a sappy regency romance.  Sophy is delightfully uncouth, quippy, and still the toast of the town.  It’s such a fun novel!  I’m pretty sure Heyer is my new obsession.

10.  The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer – A confusing start but ultimately fun.  Minus (miniscule) points because the siblings don’t have a great reason for masquerading.  Most of the novel had me in conniptions worried for Prue in White’s club.

11.  A Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer – I feel  like I shouldn’t have liked this one because of the abduction but I did anyway.  I could have done without the swath at the end where silly brothers are silly.  Otherwise impeccable.

12.  The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer – Considered her best by folks on Goodreads. It was cute, but I wasn’t super impressed.  The way she treats gender relationships sometimes bothers me, but not enough to hate the book.  It was a different time.

13.  More Than Somewhat by Damon Runyon – Why is he so wonderful?  I forgot how hilarious he makes the Broadway underworld of the 1930s and 40s.  I wish more of his stuff was available.

14.  The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black – Oh CRAZY good, and perfect for the Halloween mood I was in.  Vampire novel meets quippy YA novel in the best way.  It was violent, but I found I could take it.  Seriously, this one is amazing.

15.  The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer – This one was sort of murder mystery-ish, although I knew who did it way too far in advance.  Once again, some unwanted advances are blamed on the flirtatious girl (sigh).  But I enjoyed it anyway.

16.  Dangerous by Shannon Hale – I love this novel, and the problems I saw in it the first time didn’t bother me at all the second time through.  The best part is still the funny names Maisy gives her false arm, and the bad puns.  They never get old.

17.  A Midwife’s Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich – You don’t often get nonfiction books that focus on the daily lives of women.  And women in the late 1700’s? Sold! It was a fascinating read and taught me A LOT about colonial domestic life. Love.

18.  The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer – It’s weird.  This book feels utterly familiar and yet new at the same time.  I am in love with her, and this book is all the toppings on the sundae of how she’s changed my perspective and my life. So good.

19.  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – Beautifully written. It made me angsty and paranoid, though. The things she has to say about relationships are so heartbreakingly true that it feels like I could get there.  And the end?  No.  Just, no.  Ultimately did not like.

20.  Great Expectations by Charles Dickens – I have never read any Dickens as an adult, and I’m enjoying it a lot more than I did when I was younger.  His character descriptions are delightful, and the story is so much more full.  Poor Pip and his fortune.

21.  Balls and Synthetic Cheese by Amethyst Hethcoat – A classmate of mine.  Such a weird and sometimes funny collection of short stories.  I had forgotten her penchant for unlikely metaphors and similes that make me grin. I was glad for the reminder.

22.  Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley – SO good, with that mundane quality in which nothing and everything happens which McKinley does so well. It’s a different book than Beauty, the ending far more satisfying.  Happily ever after is happy too.

23.  Landline by Rainbow Rowell – CRAZY good.  It made me think of Brian and the way things used to be 15 years ago when we were first dating.  It was sweet, and at this point I’m ready to read everything Rowell has ever written ever.

24.  Sunshine by Robin McKinley – It killed me that I didn’t have 12 hours to just sit down and read this thing all the way through.  Dirtier than most McKinely novels, but I didn’t mind.  This book makes vampire tropes look Hot (capital H).

25.  Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – I love the way Rowell makes me think of my own college days.  It makes me want to love Brian in detail like that again.  Cath is so wonderful in such a messy way.  There isn’t anything I don’t love about this book.

26.  Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones – A re-read.  I forgot how terrible Gwendolyn is, and how funny Chrestomanci’s dressing gowns are.  And Millie! And the adorable but bitey dragon! Some of the best of Diana Wynne Jones.

27.  The Lives of Christopher Chant by Diana Wynne Jones – A re-read.  Because after Cat, you HAVE to have Christopher and his Almost Anywheres.  I might love this book more than the first one, although I nearly always read them in this order.

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Summer Reading List, 2014

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Tomorrow is orientation day.  I will be checking Freshman into dorms and handing parents welcome packets.  That means that summer is officially over, I think.  I don’t know why that should be such a sad thing.  After all, summer doesn’t mean anything different than the rest of the year when there is a full time job to work.  But there is something about knowing that the days will get colder and darker that makes the end of summer seem like the end of something bigger.

Here is the list of all the things I’ve read this season with a brief review.  28 titles for just three months is pretty good, I think!  That’s a few more than last year.  Also, you’re not allowed to judge me for my love of smutty fantasy literature.  That is in the (invisible, hypothetical) contract we have together.  

Summer Reading List:

  1. Bon Courage by Ken McAdams – It really wasn’t written well, but there was something about the idyllic life fixing up a house in the French countryside that made me want to know what happened. Old people sex advisory…
  2. The Dark Lord of Dirkholm by Diana Wynne Jones – Hilarious because I know the D&D genre, but at times a bit slow. Magical creatures and this fabulous world make it worth the read, though. Dragons, griffins, and flying pigs!
  3. The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson – From the Blitz at the Fitz to the Mid Day PDA, to the awesome way these kids run a heist to make sure Gaby wins the school election, I fell in love. Can I have a Jr. High career as cool as these guys do?
  4. Popular by Maya Van Wagenen – Watching her navigate 1950s world in today’s less tolerant (supposedly) version was hilarious, mostly thanks to her great sense of humor. Bonus points for giant girdle pictures and 4-butt diagrams.
  5. Clever Maids, the Secret History of the Grimm Fairy Tales by Valerie Paradiz –I never realized that these stories were never for children, nor did I realize how much women had a part in collecting them. A great, easy to read history.
  6. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott –When I read the bit where Amy cries over her math problems, I remembered why I fell in love and binge-read this book in my early teens. We may be 150 years apart, but I know those feels, Amy. I really do.
  7. Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott – It’s like ointment for the crazy writer in my soul. Plus, it’s funny, and I’m beginning (to my chagrin) realize that it’s all true. All of it. Even the neurotic bits that I don’t want to be real.
  8. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons– A novel published in the 1930s to make fun of the popular country novel style of the time, and oh, so funny in the quirkiest way! I was laughing aloud enough to keep Brian awake. Sorry, dear.
  9. The Philosophy of Composition, by Edgar Allen Poe – It took me a minute to get into the Victorian style again, but it was a VERY interesting look into his process. It’s so methodical, despite the high emotional content of his writings.
  10. Typhoid Mary by Anthony Bordain – Lots of fun, but… He’s goes overboard just to shock and disgust, and judges Mary by modern standards. Both are taboo when analyzing History. I loved it, recommend it, but wouldn’t take it too seriously.  
  11. Train by Tom Zoellner – Beautiful and languid and not at all compelling. I like that I can put it down and pick it up at will. I can revel in beautiful language and scenery, and not think too much. But I liked A Safeway in Arizona better.
  12. Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies by J. B. West– Simple, but interesting to see what it was like to serve everyone from the Roosevelts onward. He concentrates on the families as people, not politics. I couldn’t put it down.
  13. The Raven Ring, by Patricia C. Wrede – I’m a fan of hers. This one had a bunch of tropes that usually annoy the crap out of me but didn’t seem to in this incarnation. It was essentially a D&D campaign, but it didn’t read like that at all.
  14. The Twisted Tower, by Patricia C. Wrede – Okay, I’m totally hooked on the Lyra novels now. I might need to stop soon, so I don’t spend every night up until 1 am because I can’t put the books down. There are a ton more…
  15. Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King – yup, I’m re-reading this one because it’s so helpful. I’m suffering from a lack of ideas right now, which means I bone up on technique until I have some. No rest for the wicked.
  16. Shadow Magic, by Patricia C. Wrede – Not as charming as the others. I actually stopped about 1/3 of the way through because I still couldn’t tell what the plot was and, unlike her others, the writing wasn’t compelling. Unpleasantly surprised.
  17. Chalice, by Robin McKinley – A re-read. I love this book so much it’s unquantifiable, because nothing and everything happens. It’s all internal. There is a half fire demon Master, grieving land, and so many bees. I want to move here.
  18. Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine– I think she sometimes goes a little off the deep end disproving a point or two that laypeople don’t care about, but overall it’s been fascinating to learn how much expectation influences brain performance.
  19. Looking for Alaska, by John Greene – I knew I couldn’t handle TFIOS, but I wanted on the bandwagon. HOLY CRAP. Totally good, but still super sad. I laughed, I cried, I loved those boarding school boys and their antics. I loved Alaska too.
  20. The Hero and The Crown, Robin McKinley – Another re-read about damaged Aerin and her damaged horse, who eventually take on dragons of many kinds. The ending is interesting, too, because she gets her prince and she doesn’t at the same time.
  21. An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green – Oh John Green, you’re books are SO GOOD. This one has a grand theorem of dumping, a pig from hell, the body of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, anagrams, Islam, 19 Katherines, and a dark cave.
  22. The Graveyard Book, Graphic Novel by Neil Gaiman – I love this book, and the graphic novel is a delight. I recommend reading the book first, but the expressions and art in this one! Each chapter is by a different artist. I can’t wait for volume 2.  
  23. The Fault In Our Stars, by John Green – Fun and quippy, even as it’s also the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever read. This is the only book this season that struck me and changed the way I think of things forever. I did not expect that.
  24. The Elements of Style by William Struck Jr. – This is so much more of a reference book and not an outright reading book. I’m glad I have it, but I didn’t finish it. I’ll go back and peruse when I need specific answers on formatting, etc.
  25. Cupcakes, Trinkets, and Other Deadly Magic by Meghan Ciana Doidge– A self-pub and I liked it! Language wasn’t polished and it was definitely a paranormal romance. But the story line was so good that none of it mattered. I bought book 2.
  26. Graveyard Shift by Lana Harvey – Another with language that isn’t super polished, and the end was slow in arriving, but the world this book is set in!! So cool! The main character is quippy, there’s plenty of underworld “celeb sightings.” So fun.
  27. Cobweb Bride by Vera Nazarian– the writing is beautiful, the story concept is interesting. I had to stop reading it, though. Graphic war descriptions where no one dies are not good for lunch hour. And that’s all the time I have to read right now…
  28. Trinkets, Treasures, and other Bloody Magic by Meghan Ciana Doidge– Full of gratuitous sex, but that’s not necessarily a deal breaker. It was exactly what I expected it to be. Lots of fun, lots of adventure, and lots of supernatural twenties angst.
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Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

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One of my favorite things in the world is to read what people who write for a career have to say about the writing process.  If anyone can explain it, they can.  My favorite subject is always the question “where do you get your ideas from?”  Anyone who has ever done any writing knows that this question is impossible to answer.  It doesn’t matter how amateur your actual writing is, your ideas always originate from the same place.  Sure, you can cobble something together about articles and prior influences.  But really, it’s like asking someone why they dreamed of popcorn last night.  Maybe it was the movie you watched before bed, but who really knows?

I hadn’t spent much time on Robin McKinley’s website until this week, and she has a great answer to that question.  You can read the whole thing here: http://www.robinmckinley.com/faq/faq.php?q_id=5 but essentially she says that having ideas is like picking up pebbles in the dark and then picking up a puppy.  You know immediately that the thing in your hands is something else, and something rather more than what you’ve picked up previously.  The puppy is a story.  Like I said, I love this explanation.  It almost expresses how I get my ideas.

The problem is that, for me, it is not nearly as simple as this.  It is like fumbling around in the darkness picking up the pebbles of ideas, and then suddenly you grab a pair of furry legs, and a few velvet ears, a wagging tail then the warm, soft body.  Eventually, among all the other pebbles I’ve picked up at the same time, I realize that I can put this all together and it becomes a puppy.  But it doesn’t start out as a full puppy I pull from the dark.  I know I have something different, but it isn’t always clear what parts belong to what until I sit down and try to piece them all together.  And some things are only rather mossy rocks.  And sometimes I’ve pulled the parts for a puppy and the parts for a squirrel, and have to sort that out as well.  And sometimes there are more than two.  I’d say it’s like juggling, but that would be adding another metaphor into this already cobbled mix.

The last part of this whole problem is that I never know how much the puppy will grow.  I don’t really know what I have until I write it down.  Is it a Pug of a short story?  Is it a Newfoundland of a novel? Is it a viable, healthy dog or does it have kennel cough that will never be cured?  Do I have the skills to care for and feed this dog, or do I need to go and take some writing classes and learn what to feed it before attempting to put it on paper and give it a home?

Writing is such a nebulous thing.  That’s probably why people resort to metaphor and cliché to explain it.  There has to be something more concrete out there, though.  I’ll be searching for it until I find it but my guess is that I never will.  In the mean time, I suppose I offer (rather convoluted) metaphor myself.

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Interterm Reading List

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It is officially the end of Interterm this week. The students are back, regular classes are in session. That probably means that I should post my reading list for this school season. Yes, I’m not in class anymore. Still, I’m working at a college and the year seems to divide itself naturally into these sections. The reading list is smaller than the others, I’ll admit, but Interterm is short. That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.

Anyway, here is my official Interterm reading list with reviews:

1. Consider The Lobster – David Foster Wallace: His writing is excellent, but I can’t get over the conviction that he’s embellishing the truth for a better story. I’ve caught him in a few.

2. Elizabeth The First Wife – Lian Dolan: Super smutty like promised, but a bit contrived. I still loved it because the girl and the guy get together in the end. I’m terrible that way.

3. Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding: So excellent, with an endearing and neurotic main character you just have to love.

4. Lives Like Loaded Guns – Lyndall Gordon: The life of Emily Dickenson and her family. Heartbreaking, makes me glad I’m not a Victorian woman, and impossible to put down.

5. The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published – Arielle Eckstut & David Henry Sterry: Lots of interesting stuff to ponder. Makes me think that a lot of my instincts about just putting my writing out there are right.

6. Power of Three – Diana Wynne Jones: One of her best, I think. You know it’s one thing and then it morphs into another entirely. Clever and fun. I couldn’t put it down.

7. Shadows – Robin McKinley: Written from the 1st person POV of a rather gushy high school girl, but that’s its only flaw. I am otherwise IN LOVE with this book.

8. Nine Coaches Waiting – Mary Stewart: Oh another that I have re-read to death. It’s Raul mostly, I’ll admit, but the setting is beautiful, the suspense heartbreaking, and the end perfect.  So perfect!

9. On Writing Well – William Zinsser: In the absence of teachers, I have books… this confirmed a lot of my already held assumptions and clarified a bunch of questions. Clever read, and helpful.

10. Beauty – Robin McKinley: Loved all but the very end. Happily Ever After doesn’t quite satisfy when the rest is so sophisticated, and when I had such a deep affection for life pre-Happily Ever After.

11. Pegasus – Robin McKinley: It’s ½ a book, and it ends SO traumatically. Otherwise, it’s a beautiful setting and a beautiful concept. I’ll be picking up the next ASAP, please write fast! 🙂

In other news, my book list is stacking up horribly fast, no thanks to Amazon’s Kindle Daily Deals. For the first time in a long time, my to-read list is more than ten books long. I’m in the middle of Inkheart right now, far enough in to know that I love it, but not far enough to have more of an opinion than that. Then there is In Cold Blood, a book about German fighter pilots and how they felt about working for Hitler, seven romance novels (hey, it is February…), Robin McKinley’s Rose Daughter, and Tom Zoellner’s new book about trains. I have a feeling I’ll be adding sequels to that as well. It’s overwhelming. I practically need the smaller commute I’m seeking, just for the extra reading hours. That is also a story I’m sticking with.  We’ll see how it goes when I post Spring’s reading list…

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Fall Reading List

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In the interests of being fair to summer, I’m posting my Fall reading list complete with short review of everything I read.  I know it’s December now and WAY past Fall, but the fall semester just ended here, so I consider myself legit.  Also, books make GREAT Christmas presents and there’s still time to order stuff from Amazon.  Barely.  I should really get on that…

So anyway, here’s everything I’ve read since the semester started in late August:

  1. The Hero and The Crown – Robin McKinley (I’ve read about gals that I want to be, but never that I wanted to watch like I want to watch Aerin.  Fascinating main character, kick ass story.)
  2. Chalice – Robin McKinley (I just want to move into this world and tend bees.  Can I?)
  3. The 4:50 From Paddington – Agatha Christie (Just as I’m certain, CERTAIN, I know who did it, it turns out to be someone I didn’t want to consider.)
  4. The Name of The Wind – Patrick Rothfuss (Although well written, it reads like a D&D campaign.  I prefer to play them, not read about them.  The writing is such that I’ll finish, though.)
  5. Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief – Rick Riorden (This reminded me a lot of Going Bovine, but Going Bovine was much better written.  Not bad, not the best of its kind.)
  6. The Big Drop: Homecoming – Ryan Gattis (Nods to Chandler and Fante, but is totally its own thing.  The best argument for character driven narrative I’ve ever read.)
  7. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened – Jenny Lawson (Reads just like her blog, which I can’t read in public because I can’t stop laughing in inappropriate ways.)
  8. Midnight In Austenland – Shannon Hale (A re-read.  For the third time.  This is likely to become one of those books I can’t read anymore because I’ve memorized too much of it.)
  9. Kneenock Rise – Natalie Babbit (My favorite in fourth grade. It goes too fast now, but reading it out loud helps, and also made me notice her foreshadowing and savor her word choice.)
  10. Story Book High, Book 1 – Shannon Hale (yes, I know… a book produced by Mattel?  But Shannon Hale.  I was torn.  It wasn’t bad.  At times it was even hilarious, if you like puns. I do.)
  11. Aunt Maria – Diana Wynne Jones (You read, and you think ‘what the hell is happening?’ but all parts fall into place by the end.  This is why I love her. Also, because Aunt Maria is creepy.)
  12. Self Reliance – Ralph Waldo Emerson (This “updated” version is really reduced to a quaint quote book by the new stuff interspersed between Emerson’s essays. Doesn’t do him justice.)
  13. The Wave in the Mind – Ursula K. LeGuin (I loved her essays on growing up in 1930’s California and on reading, and then I read her essays on rhythm in writing and fell in love more.)
  14. Fortunately, The Milk – Neil Gaiman (Wumpires and a time-traveling stegosaurus?  Yes please.)
  15. Let’s Get Visible – David Gaughran (Because I’m thinking of self-publishing.  Still undecided…)
  16. Johnny Tremain – Esther Forbes (In the beginning Johnny is an asshat, and in the end he’s a sap, but between is good.  Plot is very coincidental, though.)
  17. The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien (So well written, and just full of the fear of war.)
  18. Persuasion – Jane Austen (A re-read, and a book I love.)
  19. Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur – Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch (This is the book that made me decide NOT to self-publish.  I’m not that cool.  I don’t have the mad skillzorz it would take to do it well.  I suppose it’s good that I found this out early.)
  20. Helen of Pasadena – Lian Dolan (total smut in the best way, and extra fun because I know some of the main locations.)
  21. The Kings and Queens of Roam – Daniel Wallace (Heartbreaking and fable-like.  It’s beautiful, but I’m not sure I’ll finish it.  I’m not sure I can take it.)
  22. Candyfreak – Steve Almond (I think I might be in love with this man… mostly because he’s even more of a sugar freak than I am, but also because he’s hilarious.  Don’t tell Brian – although he probably suspects.  I’ve been reading him snippets of the book for days.)

I also just bought Consider The Lobster and Elizabeth the First Wife, but I’ll finish those after the requisite deadline for reporting what I’ve read.  Those will be the first on the Winter Interterm reading list.  I’m very excited, especially about Elizabeth the First Wife which promises to be extra smutty.

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