Category Archives: As a Reader

July Reading

Mostly short books this month. Here we go.

Fantasy, SF and Related Genres

Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley – By the author of Scott Pilgrim, but shorter, more magical-realism-y, and less referential. I have to appreciate the choice of only-partly-sympathetic, sort-of-antiheroic heroine. You don’t see a whole lot of those.

Nice Dragons Finish Last by Rachel Aaron – What I’d call urban fantasy (more in a moment) crossed with family drama. I really enjoyed this one and will probably read the second sometime. There’s some to-do about what this book is, according to an interview with the author I heard – urban fantasy, young adult, [insert giant string of question marks and shrug emojis]. Whatever it is, it’s fun and sweet.

The Martian by Andy Weir – Thought I should read it before the movie comes out, because why not. I am so rarely part of the zeitgeist; it’s kind of fun to try.  This comic nails it, pretty much.

Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant – Yay, I didn’t know this was getting an ebook release for a while. But it did. As for the book, THAT COVER. You know exactly what you’re getting into with that cover.

Romance

The Hidden Blade by Sherry Thomas – Not actually romance, but the ninja-action-crossed-with-emotionally-strangling-British-countryside prequel to a romance novel. The premise hooked me, but a plot twist before the end made me rather less inclined to read the “real” book. Which isn’t to say that it was badly done, just a move that I didn’t like as a reader.

Writing & Publishing

For Love or Money by Susan Kaye Quinn – As I’ve frothed about  before, this is a “Why are you writing?” sort of book, with the very unusual premise that follow-your-heart types (guilty!) have something to offer the world, too.  It is mostly about money, don’t worry, but it allows a little space for people who are driven by ideas and art. I appreciate that.

Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward – How to begin the process of trying not to be a clueless mainstream know-nothing, trampling all over characters and readers alike.

Bootstrapping for Indies by Simon Whistler – More of a pamphlet / advertisement to drive people to the author’s mailing list, but hey, it’s free. Also an unusual idea – you don’t have to lay out ten or fifteen thousand dollars up front on your first book; you can make incremental improvements to your covers and layouts as you go. I’m not sure about that, because early readers are now stuck with my awful first cover forever and ever amen, thanks, Amazon. But again, free. Why not?

Nonfiction

An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments by Ali Almossawi and Alejandro Giraldo – This was an Amazon Deal of the Day a while back, and I couldn’t resist a book of strange, retro cartoons of animal-people demonstrating faulty logic. I’m not made of stone, people.

One I forgot to note in June:

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown – For extra irony, I had to go and forget the book about dealing with perfectionism. Yaaaay. So I’m going to go and listen to her TED talk, and liiiiive with the mistake.

 

Totals: Start of month 127 / end of month 139. Aaaahaaa, well, I couldn’t resist a StoryBundle themed around “Literary Fantasy.” WTF is literary fantasy? Heck if I know. Click! 9 more books on the TBR pile. I regret nothing!

Elsewise: Books. And more books.

Lately I’ve been finishing the second (and a half?) draft of another project, which will be on another pen name if it’s ever released. I’m a vat of contradictions and waffling when it comes to that project, even more so than usual, so it’s taking forever.

I’ve also gotten some progress on a quilt that I’ve been poking at intermittently for the last, oh, 18 years — lest you think my glacial working speed is limited to writing! Ha. I think it’s technically a quadruple Irish chain. It’s made of a boatload of nine-patches and a smaller boatload of mostly-solid blocks. It’s all nine-patches from here on out, which means lots of strips and tiny squares.

I have also read the first writing-advice book that has made me excited about writing instead of alienated and hopeless! Which means that it’s probably a bad fit for most actual writers, but if you care about stories/writing/art as well as money and have a lot of tug-of-war between the two, try it out. I’m not even a writer — in the indie publishing world, you don’t count as a writer if you have an income stream that is not self-employment or support from a spouse, and I have one of those — but I found it helpful anyway.

I’ll do a proper write-up of this month’s books at the end of the month, as always, but I’m still in a gleeful cloud of “somebody out there thinks it’s OK to care about things!!” and have to gush.

June’s Reading: From Magic to Formatting

Still not making headway: 121 books on the TBR pile at the beginning of June, 127 at the end. Gah. Here’s what I did read, though: a smorgasbord of unconnected things that added up to quite a good month.

Fantasy, SF and Related Genres

Geekomancy by Michael R. Underwood – Regretfully DNFd at about 30%. Ever have that feeling that this has got to be somebody’s catnip, but it’s just not your catnip? That’s how I felt about this book. I “got” all the references except one, I liked the characters fine, the premise is clever, things were happening… and I just didn’t like the style. It’s a very dense style in which every sentence is stuffed with as many geek references as possible and elaborately worded to be as jokey/clever as possible, as though the whole book were written in Whedon Tongue. It was cute and all, but I found it exhausting. Plenty of people love that style, so — catnip, just not my catnip. And that’s OK.

The Dresden Files RPG: The Paranet Papers – Not a novel, but still in the F/SF realm. I’ve been playing in a sporadic but determined DFRPG group since 2011. I’m sure the GM is going to find some new trickery inspired by this expansion. Wheeeee. And there are tweaks and such for magic-using characters (which is to say, nearly everyone) that look helpful.

Because I am contrary, I play a vanilla mortal — which is like playing a kitten in D&D. Not a kitten in armor who can dual-wield cutlasses, just a kitten. In our last session, we were supposed to throw down with the Big Bad, and instead my character semi-accidentally talked him out of his Grand Revenge and convinced him to be a better parent instead. I do not game correctly, is what I’m saying. I game like I write, if that’s any indication. Too many feels, not enough explosions.

But the sourcebook was cool, and my play style is not their fault. 😀

Romance

The Shameless Hour by Sarina Bowen (The Ivy Years book 4) – A previous book in the series popped up on my Kindle carousel, leading to “Oh YAY, there’s another one out, has been for a few months and I didn’t know but whatever, here we goooooooo~”. The series is just an auto-buy situation with me, and it continues to be so. Covers, though: Oh, covers. The cover has 0% of anything to do with the story; it seems to be made just to fit in with the rest of the series. That’s marketing!

Writing & Publishing

The Zen of Ebook Formatting by Guido Henkel – This is about the process of turning a document into an ebook in the most efficient way possible. A second edition just came out, so it seemed like a good time to catch up. I enjoy fiddly typesetting type tasks and already know a bit of HTML, so while the author is usually in “Don’t worry, this isn’t as bad as it sounds” mode, my reaction was more like “Hey, this sounds fun!” I haven’t scoured my first book to the ZoEF standards yet; I plan to do it along with the second book. Should be fun. Not even being sarcastic here.

Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris – As previously blogged, this is a memoir / grammar essay collection by a copy editor for The New Yorker. It’s a random jaunt through word nerd land, like a visit to a pencil sharpener museum. I do not care about Important People From New York Publishing stuff because I am under 60 years of age, and similarly, the author is an antiquated jerk about pronouns — but parts of it were fun.

Nonfiction

The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality by Julie Sondra Decker – Fortuitous sale! I hope it did well. Main takeaway: People put up with a lot of thoughtless crap. This is a 101-level, here’s-what-we-are-and-ESPECIALLY-here’s-what-we’re-not type of book. I intended to go in as research, since I have two asexual characters coming up in future books. While I’ve read about asexuality quite a bit already, more research is pretty much always good. Besides, I want to learn more about people and the world, and be an empathetic and informed sort of person to the best of my ability.

So that was June: a little bit of everything.

Update: Happy Summer Solstice!

Write longhand all week, transcribe all weekend. It’s like rock & roll all nite & party ev-uh-ry day, except the opposite.

I don’t have a song today. I do have about 3,000 words of scene to transcribe, mostly early-morning walking and “I have a secret I’m trying really hard not to tell my friend, and it isn’t working because she is nosy as hell,” plus digressions on goat cheese and architecture because it’s me. Did I promise you non-stop action? I believe I did not.  😀

I’m also reading Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris, a long-time copy editor for The New Yorker. It’s about 25% memoir and 75% essays on punctuation and grammar. Despite her retrograde stance on pronouns (ugh), a lot of it is quite amusing — like figuring out why there’s a dash in Moby-Dick or, in the same chapter, fielding a sniffy Letter to the Editor about the difference between “star-fucker” and “star fucker.” “Pedantic” and “easily amused” are not necessarily mutually exclusive, you know! So that’s fun. Full bookish writeup after I get a few more finished, as before.

Third note, it’s the summer solstice this weekend. So if we were all from Agna’s country from the books, a quarter of us would get a year older, and we’d be lighting bonfires and dancing and drinking wine and finding the excuse to have a week-long party. Lundrala, the holiday observed in Healers’ Road, has not happened yet. Still time to buy presents.

To update the last update, with an update in the update: The sale is still on, but I may hold off on releasing THR to Kobo & co. for a little longer. Amazon just shook things up in the program I was just about to quit, and I’m curious to see how it will pan out. So I may — possibly — keep Healers’ Road in the Kindle Unlimited program until Healertown Passage has at least one cycle in it too, then pack both up and release them elsewhere. We’ll see.

Book Update: So, about that

I am on a year-long quest to attempt to read more than I buy, in order to whittle down the pile of books I own but have not read. It’s been a couple of months since I checked in.

April: started at 117, ended at 122. Read a few, bought more.

May: started at 122, ended at 121. Yay! Still over my April starting point, but yay!

Here’s what I’ve read since then. Let’s say alphabetical order by title within each category.

Fantasy / Science Fiction & Related Genres

Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold – I dole out Vorkosigan Saga books to myself as though they are the last box of very expensive chocolates that I’m going to get for the rest of my life. It’s a fairly long series, but when I get to the end, there will be no more new-to-me ones. So I’m reading it ve-r-r-y slowly because I really like it and want it to last. It’s a little neurotic of me, yes. Anyway, the Vorkosigan Saga is space opera / planet-side science-fiction-with-horses-and-feudalism and I won’t go on at length at how awesome it is because everyone else already has. This is a collection of three novellas, a murder mystery, an escape caper and a jailbreak story.

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan – A pseudo-Victorian Proper Lady (I say “pseudo” only because it takes place in a set of fictionalized Europe-like countries) pursues her lifelong dream of being an amateur naturalists, studying the grandest of wild beasts. Great fun.

The Prophecy Con by Patrick Weekes – Book 2 of the Rogues of the Republic series, the first one being The Palace Job; they are fantasy heist/caper novels. I liked the first and liked the second, but giant cliffhanger ending argh. At least the next book is up for release in October.

Stray by Andrea K. Höst  – Science fiction. Australian teenager suddenly finds herself on an alien planet. Clinging to survival follows, and then an army of hot superpowered alien cyborg ninjas who storm through pocket universes to fight ghost-monsters. Like you do. This was fun except that I have a hard time remembering all of the characters, their teams, their powers and everything else. That’s just my memory shortcoming, and not an issue with the story. It continues in a trilogy + epilogue, so I may continue once I get this monster TBR pile whittled down some more.

The Unwritten volumes 1-2, by Mike Carey and Peter Gross – Graphic novel. I’m only a bit into volume 3, and the plot is already tangled, so I’m not sure I can summarize. It’s about being the semi-estranged son of a reclusive bestselling author, but really it’s about the power of story and how it can be used, warped or wielded. And internet fandom / the media, and a bunch of other things.

Romance

Variables of Love by M.K. Schiller – I was all about the nerdiness of this book, but DNFd it after a couple of chapters. I don’t think it’s a bad book, but my view of the hero doesn’t seem to mesh with what the author wants to portray, so I think it will be uphill sledding for me. (You think a prank is cool and funny, I think it’s weird, misogynist and immature. Hmm.) Not a fault of the book, I’m just not on the same page.

Books About Writing/Publishing

Gotta Read It! by Libbie Hawker – About writing the description of a book, like the back cover copy or the description on a website. That sounds like it would be obvious, but there’s quite an art to it.

Invisible 2: Essays on Representation in SF/F, edited by Jim C. Hines – As I talked about in my last book post, when I read volume 1, this is a subject/cause in which I already believe. The “101-level” effect is not as pronounced in this volume, happily (reiterating ideas that seem obvious to me, although I realize that they aren’t obvious to everyone).

Rock Your Plot by Cathy Yardley – A short book on outlining fiction. If you just read one book on outlining, I’d still recommend Libbie Hawker’s Take Off Your Pants. But I went through the exercises in this book to try something different, and wound up with a (hopefully) cohesive outline for THR2. Hooray!

Other

Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski – Yeah, NSFW. Sorry. I saw this recommended on one of the two webcomics I follow these days (also extremely NSFW, seriously, nudity all over the sidebars, people. All over) and picked it up immediately despite the price. That’s how compelling it looked. And was.

End NSFW.

Uh, and end post. Next up, I’m starting another nonfiction book, about not being a perfectionist. If I gain even a glimmer of insight from this book, it will be time well spent.

Reading List: The Grand Catch-Up

First, it’s still Friday. Have some chipper flute-and-guitar action, from the re-orchestrated soundtrack from a video game from 1998.

For those who have read THR, this was the song in my playlist for the introduction of the Golden Caravan. It’s kind of cheesy, but I still love it. And that title: “Everyday is a Carnival ~ The Even More Glorious, Beautiful Golden City”. Awesome. Tilde and all. (Though the song just ends mid-phrase; it’s not this video. Same on the CD.)

It’s been a while since I’ve caught up with books I’ve read, so this will be an unusually long one. But I have read a lot of Book 1s so far this year.

Side note: I don’t do affiliate links. These are just links.

Fantasy / Science Fiction & Related Genres

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, N.K. Jemisin – Epic-scale in that it largely concerns gods trapped in mortal form and the human dynasty they use/are used by. Gloriously weird climax.

Magic Bites, Ilona Andrews – Urban fantasy/romance-flavored. I don’t read a lot of UF, so I wanted to try more.

Kei’s Gift, Ann Somerville – Fantasy, the type with armies massing and complicated cultural clashes and politics and such. Also crosses over to m/m romance. With angst. So it was a long whiff of catnip for me.

A Call to Arms, Shiriluna Nott – Epic fantasy, YA, m/m romance. Very cute. And the next volume should be out this year!

Pocket Apocalypse, Seanan McGuire – Urban fantasy, book 4 of the InCryptid series. InCryptid is the one urban fantasy series that I follow rabidly of my own accord (not because everyone else I know is reading it, and I need to stay current in order to keep up with everyday conversation). Why? Well, its protagonists are unpowered mortals who train and study their faces off to get the badass skills they wield; and it revolves around cryptids and other mythological/paranormal creatures.

Scrapplings, Amelia Smith – An unusual take on epic fantasy. The characters are quite young, and they don’t seem to realize that they’re in the prologue to an epic fantasy. They act and think as though they’re in a Dickensian street-urchin hardscrabble novel – which they are – but there are also prophecies and secret royal heirs and magic powers breathing down all of their necks, which they either take for granted or ignore. It’s an interesting combination of factors.

Romance

My story with the Romance genre is that I came to it late in life, and I’m now playing catch-up. I don’t have clear favorite subgenres yet, so I’ve been trying different things and mostly navigating by trope (I like stories like this, not so much like that).

While It Was Snowing, Elyssa Patrick – Contemporary novella. I’d seen it recommended as a non-alpha-male m/f romance, and I am always up for one of those. I swear this book existed, but it seems to be gone now. Collector’s item!

The Duchess War and The Heiress Effect, Courtney Milan – Historical (Victorian). I am really under-acquainted with historicals; my Kindle is still stuffed with Regencies that I haven’t read yet. These make up part of the Brothers Sinister series. I quite liked them, but wanted to switch gears for a bit before finishing the series. Especially since the third hero is a Victorian-era scientist; in other words, I’m saving dessert.

The Understatement of the Year, Sarina Bowen – Contemporary new-adult. It’s the third in a series, but each of them works separately too. I may have mentioned this one in my last book post, back on Tumblr. But I reread it. Within a couple months of reading it the first time. I must have been having a bad week. So yes, this is about the first out gay college hockey player and his torturously closeted high school sweetheart. On re-read, I was  more mellow about Graham’s self-sabotaging moves/attitude.

Trade Me, Courtney Milan – Contemporary new-adult.  I’d picked this up when it was new based on the “billionaire story for people who don’t like billionaire stories” verdict out in blogland. I have yet to try a billionaire story in my catching-up phase, because the concept has never appealed to me. But I started reading after hearing an interview with the author about some of the themes/ideas. So all those romance novel billionaires – when do they ever actually do any work, and what do their companies DO, and what about capital gains tax? Plus, she had a self-imposed rule that the hero would not shower the heroine with gifts. If I hadn’t already been sold, I’d be sold. And it did not disappoint.

Trust the Focus, Megan Erickson – Contemporary new-adult. “I’m secretly in love with my best friend and we’re on a road trip” SOLD! And there’s a heartfelt grief subplot SOLD! Also, neither of them is an alpha jerk SOLD TWICE IF I COULD! …that’s what I mean by navigating by trope.

Other Genres

World of Trouble, Ben H. Winters – The conclusion to The Last Policeman trilogy. I don’t normally go for mysteries/police procedurals, and I’m an occasional apocalyptic reader at best, but I happened to glom onto this (pre-)apocalyptic police mystery.

Books About Writing/Publishing

Rise of the Spider Goddess, Jim C. Hines – An amusingly annotated version of an early novel. I admit that I skimmed a lot of the novel itself to get to the commentary.

The Indie Author Power Pack, a box set consisting of:
Write. Publish. Repeat., Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant
Let’s Get Digital, David Gaughran
How to Market a Book, Joanna Penn
I read these right after releasing my first book, and got a brain-blast of information that I don’t think I fully absorbed. I’ll have to reread all of them now that I’ve had some time to digest what I’ve learned since.

2,000 to 10,000 (or 2k to 10k), Rachel Aaron – How to organize and approach a writing session in order to create the conditions amenable to getting a lot done. I love the approach that it should be fun and exciting to work on your story, and if you aren’t feeling it, the problem may be that the scene is wonky – not that you’re a lazy/terrible writer, my usual frustrated assumption. This is not the main point of the book, but it still had a big effect on me.

Invisible: Personal Essays on Representation in SF/F, an essay anthology –  I felt a bit like I am not the target audience for this anthology, since I already think that representation is important. I felt as though I were being convinced of something that I already believe. However, if this is an unfamiliar concept to you, I really recommend it.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Renni Browne & Dave King – I saw this highly recommended around the indiesphere, and I have to pass along the recommendation. I look forward to cracking this open again when I dive into the next round of editing.

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King – A classic. I found some parts of it frustrating, but all of it entertaining.

The Elements of Style, William Strunk – Plugged all over On Writing; I realized I hadn’t gone through it in a decade or two.

Reader Magnets, Nick Stephenson – Also plugged everywhere, and I  grabbed it because it was free. Turns out its major advice is… offering stuff for free. OK, it’s more complex than that, but I was amused.

Take Off Your Pants! Outline Your Books for Better, Faster Writing, Libbie Hawker – People who write without first making an outline are said to “write by the seat of their pants”, or call themselves “pantsers” for short. So there’s the title. As a person who really wants to outline but never quite got the hang of it, I was intrigued. It is a very character-centric approach, which I appreciate.


So that’s my reading list for 2015 so far. Next time: update more often.

Edit to add: Updated my personal Goodreads account for the first time in about 2 years. TBR pile: 117. That’s not as bad as I thought it was. Good news.

I’m not writing this against you: What fantasy means to me

First, the source: Ursula K. LeGuin’s review of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, which I saw linked at The Passive Voice (good comments there, too).

As a reader of both “genre” and “literary” fiction at times, this  discussion makes me embarrassed and uncomfortable. And that’s probably a good thing, because it’s worth considering.

I’m just starting out in the world, so allow me to say this right up front: I don’t think one genre is superior to others. Even if I write one genre more than another. Even if I read more of one genre than another. Quality is judged story by story or line by line, and even then, quality isn’t the objective be-all end-all. It’s something I strive for, but I also see the value in slipshoddily written stories that grab people by the face and don’t let go.

I tend to write a mishmash of fantasy, domestic drama, and what publishing calls “women’s fiction” (like fiction, but about women! I can’t say I’m fully comfortable with the label, but that is what it’s called). I don’t do this because I have an existential grudge against dragons, swords and elves. I don’t do this because I think myself above the fantasy genre. I don’t intend to defend my nerd bona fides, because I dislike the overarching idea of “most nerdy equals right.” But yes, I like the fantasy genre. That’s safe to say.

I admit to a streak of contrariness when it comes to a few dynamics common (though not required) in the fantasy genre, which has led to some of the underpinnings of my series.  I don’t intend to write Chosen One stories; I prefer the ordinary-person-rises-to-the-challenge trope. I don’t intend to write “you’re either born with magic or you aren’t” stories. (Agna and the priests of Tufar practiced very hard to develop their healing art, thank you. And Marliet and Grim practiced very hard to learn earthmoving, as you’ll see when their book comes out.) But that doesn’t make those tropes any more worthy than their alternatives. They are not a mandate or a referendum.

I write this mishmash because that’s a kind of story that I want to tell. I am not the only one who does this; it’s neither unique nor highfalutin. It’s just a kind of story. I leave aside the fantasy fandom’s occasional inferiority complex, and ignore anyone who claims that genre fiction has nothing to say. They’re simply wrong.

If you think my books are fantasy because they don’t take place on Earth and because some of the characters can heal broken bones or cause earthquakes with a touch, then sure, it’s fantasy. If you think my books aren’t fantasy because of their domestic scale, their world-is-not-in-danger low stakes or a fatal lack of monsters, then I disagree, but shelve them however you like. They are what they are.