Posts Tagged ‘books’

Let’s Talk About Books

It has been a Week, squiders. We had to move everything so we could finally replace our probably 20-year-old carpet (ugh, it was so gross) and now I’ve got to put everything back–but of course, we found all sorts of things that got put away years ago and forgotten about that now needs to be dealt with, and our closet organizer literally fell apart the moment we detached it from the wall, so now I’ve no place to put the clothes.

(Of course, I can’t just buy a replacement, because the closet has been dysfunctional the whole time we’ve lived here, so this is the perfect time to fix it, also my first choice to replace it is out of stock and who knows when it will be back in stock, which does nothing to solve the “I have nowhere to put anything” problem I currently have.)

On top of that, my most professional writing forum, the one that runs the critique marathons, unexpectedly shut down over the weekend. One of our moderators recently passed away, and the other one felt like she didn’t have the time or energy to run the forum by herself, but it was still a surprise. The rest of the group is working on finding us a new home, but I do worry. This forum was part of a larger forum (mostly used for critiquing submission materials) that shut down some years back, and the replacement for that forum has never been particularly active.

And it also reminds me that I used to be really on top of the whole submission scene–reading industry news, working on marketing, keeping up with trends and new techniques–and that all has fallen by the wayside over the past few years.

Part of me says I should get back on top of everything, but the rest of me is just tired. I suspect that’s still the pandemic talking.

But, anyway, enough about that. Let’s talk about books.

I finished Fate of the Fallen a few days ago. A friend loaned this book to me probably back in 2020, and I just now got around to it. It’s an interesting take on a chosen one story, where the chosen one is killed almost immediately and his best friend has to take up the slack even as those around him give up hope. I found it a little hard to read–there’s a lot of viewpoints, and the writing wasn’t gelling with me–but it ended on a very interesting note. I’ll probably pick up book 2 in September or whenever it comes out.

I’ve also gotten back into reading A Dweller on Two Planets, which I got in physical form through the interlibrary loan program. (I had been reading it online through Project Gutenberg, I believe, but had a hard time keeping track of where I was.) This is an interesting book, written in 1886 by Frederick Oliver, who claimed the book had been channeled through him. It portrays a couple of lifetimes of Phylos the Thibetan, including one in Atlantis and a more recent one from the California Gold Rush. The book focuses a lot of New Age-y and occult concepts and a lot of movements have come from it over the years.

The author was 20 when the book was finished, and the book itself goes into a lot of more advanced metaphysical concepts, as well as advanced technology and stuff of that ilk. The whole channeling thing seems a little farfetched to me, but it is interesting to think how a kid who grew up on a mining claim would know about these subject matters.

Anyway, that continues. I hope to finish the book this time.

Additionally, I’m about two-thirds of the way through How High We Go in the Dark, where is near future science fiction covering the start and effects of a pandemic. (The book came out in January.) It’s been a bit of a gut punch–too soon, in some ways, and very dark and emotional in some places. About half way through, though, the tone shifted a bit, so I feel less like I have to lie down after each chapter.

Have you read anything interesting lately, squiders? Have you read any of these books? Thoughts?

Library Book Sale Finds: Simone LaFray and the Chocolatiers’ Ball by S. P. O’Farrell

Man, how long has it been? I think since 2020 at least, since I was doing some sort of reading challenge that year that was getting me through my stash of library book sale books.

Back to it!

I picked up this book at a library book sale, where I paid a whooping $6 for it. (As I recall, we ended up only buying a few books because it was less “lots of books for cheap” and more “extremely expensive and not much of a selection.”)

I’m not sure what I was thinking. The genre was not at all what I was expecting, so either I bought the wrong book, or I’d completely forgotten everything about this book by the time I got around to reading it.

Title: Simone LaFray and the Chocolatiers’ Ball
Author: S.P. O’Farrell
Genre: MG Mystery
Publication Year: 2019

Pros: Great villain, good possibility to see him again in later books (that do not currently exist)
Cons: Plot is predictable, main character is supposed to be very observant but misses things when plot appropriate

I found this book really hard to read. Like, I’d pick it up, read a few pages, and then put it down again and not want to touch it. I had to force myself to keep reading. I’m not sure why–it might be the voice (which is first person) or it might be because I could see the way the plot was going and it was making me anxious.

Seriously, though, I don’t remember this being a MG mystery. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with MG mystery. I read it occasionally and it tends to normally be a quick, fun read (you don’t typically have anything too life-shattering going on in MG). I’m sure a lot of the predictability in the plot comes down to that.

Obviously I’m in the minority, too, as this book has only glowing reviews on Goodreads.

Simone LaFray is a precocious 12-year-old who is an operative for a French secret agency. By day she helps her father run his world-famous patisserie. Her mother also works for the agency, and her attention-seeking younger sister and their dog round out the family.

Simone is literally perfect, and none of the family has any real flaws, which is not unheard of for MG. The plot is a bit slow, but follows a known art thief arriving in town, ostensibly to finish a job that was interrupted the year before. The art thief was my favorite character. He has a cool nickname–the Red Fox–he eludes everyone the whole book, including Simone, and he has a flair for drama.

Would I recommend this? I don’t know. I didn’t enjoy it, but maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind.

Read anything good lately, squiders?

Year-end Book Round-up 2021

Happy 2022, squiders! As always, to start the year off, we look at what I read last year. (Been tracking since 2009 or 2010, something, yadda yadda, etc.)

(Also I should be back to my twice a week schedule now. We’ll see.)

(Also also I did finally get my outlining workshop SkillShare class all fixed. It’s here.)

Anyway, on to the stats!

Books Read in 2021: 50
Change from 2020: -9

I did a lot of reading in 2020, mostly because I couldn’t focus on anything else. I’d say we were more at normal reading levels in 2021.

Of those*:
9 were Mystery
7 were Fantasy
7 were Nonfiction
5 were short story collections
4 were Dystopian
4 were General Literature
4 were Romance
3 were Science Fiction
2 were Memoir
1 was Alternative History
1 was a Fairy Tale retelling
1 was Historical fiction
1 was a story sampler
1 was a tie-in

*Some genre consolidation was done here. YA or MG titles went into the general genre. All subgenres of fantasy or romance, for example, also went into the general genre.

No audiobooks this year. Though we did listen to one–I apparently just didn’t write it down.

New genre(s)**: alt history, fairy tale retelling, dystopian, historical fiction, memoir, short story collection, story sampler, tie-in
Genres I read last year that I did not read this year: children’s, adventure, Gothic horror, horror, a play, science fiction noir, spy novel
**This means I didn’t read them last year, not that I’ve never read them.

Genres that went up: general literature
Genres that went down: mystery, fantasy, nonfiction, romance, science fiction

I think I read a broader swath of genres this past year. Plus a bunch of short story collections.

14 were my books
36 were library books

Oof. I must stop getting out so many books from the library and read my own books instead.

53 were physical books
11 were ebooks

Of note, almost every book of my own that I read was an ebook. Only the Uglies trilogy wasn’t. Also a problem.

Average rating: 3.59/5

Top rated:
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstein (fantasy – 4.5)
Totto-chan (memoir – 4.4)
Unfettered (SFF short story anthology – 4)
Solutions and Other Problems (memoir – 4)
Take a Look at the Five and Ten (general literature – 4)
The House in the Cerulean Sea (fantasy – 4)

More in my normal categories this year, though the memoirs are a surprise.

Honorable mentions of 3.9: Twas the Knife Before Christmas (mystery), Operation Moonglow (nonfiction)

Most recent publication year: 2021
Oldest publication year: 1896
Average publication year: 2013
Books older than 1900: 1
Books newer than (and including) 2016: 36

In theory reading newer books helps you see which way the markets are trending.

The first book I read this year was The Best American Mystery Stories 2020, edited by C.J. Box (mystery short story collection) and the last was Deck the Donuts by Ginger Bolton (mystery).

Read anything great last year, squiders? I’ve already read something good this year–This is How You Lose the Time War. Definitely recommend.

Poking Around

I finished my client edit! Woo, that was an undertaking. And now I find myself with time to spend on my own projects!

But I also feel a little burnt out. I mean, that figures , but holy cow, is it frustrating.

Oh, I learned something today! So, I listen to a podcast called Myths and Legends, which tells stories from folklore around the world. I’m about two years behind (in the end of 2018, which is better than the four years I was behind), but, you know, not really time dependent.

Anyway, in the episode I started this morning, the host mentioned that legends are based in history, and myths are based in religion. Google research holds up this assertion.

I thought that was a neat distinction, and, uh, now you know too!

In other news, I’ve been researching mystery short stories. I enjoyed writing the mystery for Nano, and I thought I might try my hand at some other stories in the same genre every now and then. But, while I regularly read scifi and fantasy shorts, I’d never read any mystery shorts, excepting that one time I got that Victorian mystery collection from the library. All the stories in that were at least 70 years old, so I figure they’re not good research.

(Great book, though.)

I thought I’d get some short story magazines from the library, except they don’t have any, so I ended up getting a couple “Best of [year] Mystery Stories” collections. Except even those were hard to find, so I ended up with Best of 2020, Best of 2019, and a suspense collection called Nothing Good Happens After Midnight. I’ve been alternating them with two scifi/fantasy/horror short story collections I also have.

(Too many short story collections, let me tell you what. But, anyway, the idea is that I read a scifi/fantasy story, then a mystery, then a scifi/fantasy, etc., as a palate cleanser so the stories don’t get confused in my head.)

(Oh, I ended up reading the other Shannara short in that one collection even though it wasn’t next chronologically. It was only a few pages long and more of a scene outtake than a story.)

And I have to say…these stories don’t feel like mysteries. Oh, sure, they all have crimes, and some of them are presented in a way where what’s going on isn’t known about til the end, but a lot of them are more straight forward than that.

(Suspense and mystery are different genres, so I’m not too put out about the suspense collection not being mysteries. But the mystery collections, on the other hand…)

I mean, I guess I’m getting a decent idea of what’s current in the land of mystery shorts, but I expected more…actual mystery, if that makes sense.

Also, I’ve yet to come across any cozy-esque shorts in any of these collections. I know, for example, Agatha Christie used to write Miss Marple shorts, so they do exist, but perhaps they’re out of fashion. It only takes a few hours to get through a cozy mystery novel, after all, so many shorts just aren’t needed in the great scheme of things.

What do you know, squiders? Any thoughts on mystery short stories? Or short stories in general? Or thoughts on myths and legends? Or random facts (preferably about octopuses)?

See everyone on Thursday, when hopefully I have gotten my act together!

Yearend Book Round-up 2020

Hi, squiders! It’s that time again! (stats stats stats!)

Books Read in 2020: 59
Change from 2019: +4

This may actually be the most I’ve read, since I started tracking.

Of those*:
13 were Nonfiction
12 were Fantasy
11 were Mystery
6 were Science Fiction
5 were Romance
3 were Children’s
2 were General Literature
1 was Adventure
1 was Contemporary
1 was Gothic horror
1 was Horror
1 was a Play
1 was Science Fiction Noir
1 was a Spy Novel

*Some genre consolidation was done here. YA or MG titles went into the general genre. All subgenres of fantasy or romance, for example, also went into the general genre.

No audiobooks this year. No road trips on which to listen to them.

New genre(s)**: adventure, contemporary, gothic horror, science fiction noir, spy novel
Genres I read last year that I did not read this year: anthology, young adult, science fantasy
**This means I didn’t read them last year, not that I’ve never read them.

Genres that went up: nonfiction, science fiction, romance
Genres that went down: mystery, fantasy, general literature

That’s the monthly nonfic books coming into play.

33 were my books
26 were library books

I guess making sure I read some of TBR list every month paid off!

53 were physical books
6 were ebooks

(Hmmmmm.)

Average rating: 3.58/5

Top rated:
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill (contemporary – 4)
The Falcon Always Wings Twice (mystery – 4)
Differently Wired (nonfiction – 4)
Bet Me (romance – 4)

Interesting that nothing is in my normal categories of fantasy and science fiction.

Honorable mentions of 3.9: Dark Matter (science fiction), Kiki’s Delivery Service (children’s fantasy), The Chinese Orange Mystery (mystery)

Most recent publication year: 2020
Oldest publication year: 1883
Average publication year: 2002
Books older than 1900: 1
Books newer than (and including) 2015: 36

A lot of newer books this year. A full 20 from 2019 and 2020.

The first book I read this year was Reverie by Ryan La Sala (YA fantasy) and the last was A Match Made for Thanksgiving by Jackie Lau (romance).

How’d your year of reading, squiders? Any books you’d recommend?

Letting Myself Give Up

I hate to start a book I don’t finish, squiders. You guys know that, if you’ve been here a while, since I once posted about a book I started in high school and finished quite a bit later.

In fact, normally I pride myself on finishing what I start. Even if it takes me months. Or years.

I’ve done a lot of reading this year. I think I’m ten books up from where I normally am, or maybe 15. And I’ve enjoyed most of them. But every so often, I’ve started one that I just wasn’t feeling.

Normally, I’ll just slog through them anyway, or put them down and come back to them later.

Unfortunately, one of them was a library book, so I didn’t have the liberty of time, especially since it was a new release. It was kind of weird, actually, because this book came in as being a request, but neither I nor my spouse had any memory of requesting it. But it was near-future scifi, which is a genre we both like, so it was likely one of us had anyway.

(Jury’s still out on that one. I’m leaning toward my spouse.)

I started it, got 50 pages in. And I just…wasn’t feeling it. I don’t think it was a bad book, so I’m not going to name it so I don’t dissuade other people, but it was very depressing. Climate change had essentially made Earth unlivable, rights were being stripped away from women and minorities, and in the height of the world burning down around me, I couldn’t stomach reading about the sort of thing that feels all too plausible.

And I said to the smaller, mobile one, that I didn’t want to read it.

And she said, “Then don’t, Mommy.”

And I said, “But I put it as Currently Reading on Goodreads,” and she said she didn’t know what that was and wandered off.

Hey, guess what? You can delete books off your Goodreads. It’s not too hard, once you look for the option.

So I did. Delete it, I mean. And I returned it to the library. And I feel a little guilty about it, but not really.

So, today, I said to myself that that was actually probably a good thing, and why was I forcing myself to read things that weren’t enjoyable that I didn’t have to, and I should clear off another book.

I am going to name that one. It’s called Holly Banks, Full of Angst and I got it through the Kindle First program or whatever it’s called, where they give you a list of free Kindle books the first of every month and you can pick one. It’s contemporary, which isn’t my favorite, but it was sold as being a funny novel about motherhood.

I started it in…February? Earlier in this forever year. And I’m sorry, I really hated it. I got 35, 40 percent into it. And it was just the worst sort of secondhand embarrassment. I was hoping to be able to identify with Holly and that it would resonate with my own mothering experiences, but I hated Holly and what she was doing only made me anxious.

But now…it’s gone! Well, it’s at least out of my Goodreads account. Still need to delete it off my Kindle. Hooray!

I’ve got to remind myself that sometimes, it’s better to not finish something. That sometimes it’s okay to not push myself through something that I really do not want to do. That it’s okay to recognize that something is not working for me and move on to something that’s going to work better. It’s not being lazy or giving up; it’s listening to and trusting myself.

It’s a good thing to be reminded of, sometimes.

I am unlikely to be back later this week, squiders, so I’ll catch you in that weird liminal time between Christmas and New Years.

Well, I’m Going to Do It

We talked a few weeks back about Shannara and the TV show and how it was the series that got me into epic fantasy, and how the series is complete now so I could, if so inclined, go back and read the series in chronological order.

I thought very hard about this.

The first story, chronologically, is a short story called “Imaginary Friends,” originally published in 1991 and re-published in 2013.

So I hunted down the anthology from 2013, and not only is it included, but it’s the first story. Mission accomplished!

(I am, now, however, faced with a decision. This is a very large book. Do I read the whole thing? There’s not really any reason not to, except that I had to go through the library loan program to get it, which means I am limited in the amount of times I can renew it.)

(The other thing is there is another Shannara short story, later in the book, which is 25th in the chronology. Do I read it now and then read it again when I get to it? Do I skip it? I am aware that this is a stupid problem, yet here we are.)

It was a cute little story, more urban fantasy than anything. I don’t quite see how it connects in, and even in the intro Terry Brooks notes that it was written before he’d really solidified the ideas that would become the Word and the Void trilogy, which comes next chronologically. The first book of those is Running with the Demon, which I am 90% sure I own somewhere. Just got to find it now.

Anyway, apparently I’m doing this. I imagine it will not be fast, but I’ll check in with you guys from time to time.

Now, to go find that book.

Back to My Roots

I think I’ve told you guys this before, but the very first adult high fantasy book I ever read was Wishsong of Shannara, by Terry Brooks. I was 12 at the time, and I got the book out of my elementary school library. It seems like kind of a weird choice for an elementary school library–while it’s not Game of Thrones or Wheel of Time-sized fantasy, it’s still sizeable–but, then, I have run into people who think all fantasy is for children, so who knows.

I’ve read a lot of the Shannara books over the years, though not all of them. Terry Brooks has trucked on, through the years, and I have fallen behind. I read all three of the original trilogy (Sword, Elfstones, Wishsong) and the four books that make up the “Heritage” (Scions, Druid, Elf Queen, Talismans). I have and have read the graphic novel Dark Wraith of Shannara, which goes after Wishsong chronologically, and I read First King of Shannara shortly after it came out in 1996. I’ve also read Ilse Witch and Antrax, and someday I hope to read the third book of that particular trilogy.

That all means nothing if you have not read the Shannara books yourself, but basically I’m about 20 years behind on the series.

From what I understand, the last book planned for the world came out in October, so I could, in theory, read all gazillion books now. Perhaps in chronological order instead of publication order, since I’m so far behind.

ANYWAY. Shannara was my gateway into high fantasy, and even while I haven’t read the books over the years, I’ve never forgotten it.

In 2016 MTV started a television series called The Shannara Chronicles, which lasted a sad two seasons. It’s always been on my radar, so when my husband last week said, “We should watch this show I found,” I was totally on board.

We’ve only watched the first two-part episode but, man, everything has rushed back. When people show up on screen, I’m like “I bet that’s X.” I keep up a fairly constant commentary (“Oh, we’re jumping right into the post-apocalyptic setting. It took me a few books to figure that out.”) and talk about plot choices (“I always thought it was weird that they decided to start with Elfstones”). My husband didn’t know what he was getting himself into.

Isn’t that always how it goes, though? I can’t necessarily tell you the plot of a book I read last year, but even though I haven’t read a Shannara book in probably at least ten years, if not fifteen, they definitely left an impression.

Have you ever run into that, squiders? Something you read or watched when you were little (or younger at least) that has lingered even without you revisiting it?

Also, while we’re on the subject, have you watched The Shannara Chronicles? What did you think?

(As kind of a funny story, I went to a book signing by Terry Brooks at some point. Well, I think I’ve seen him a few times, but I think this most recent time had to be in the early 2010s, because the television show had been optioned. And there I learned that I had been pronouncing Shannara wrong for the fifteen-ish years I’d been reading the series. Good times.)

Family Hand-Me-Down Finds: The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley

Here’s my book for October! What do you mean it’s a week and a half into November?

When my grandmother moved out of her house and into an active adult community two years ago, she got rid of almost everything she’d owned. Which was a lot, as you can imagine, after you’d lived in the same house for forty years.

My grandmother is an avid mystery reader, and she had a lot of books to give away. I ended up going through and taking about 15 books home with me, mostly the first few of series and some standalones that looked interesting to me.

(I actually got a lot of pushback from other family members, who apparently thought that it was rude of me to take books without everyone–and they did mean everyone, even if said people did not care about books or mysteries–getting a chance to lay claims. I explained that I read very quickly, and that if I’d taken a book someone else was also interested in, I would be happy to read it and pass it on. I never heard anything from anyone, so I stand by my decision to just take the books instead of turning it into a committee affair.)

Anyway, based on the title, this sounded like a good choice for October.

(This is taking the place of the library book sale review for the month.)

Title: The Haunted Bookshop
Author: Christopher Morley
Genre: Mystery
Publication Year: 1919

Pros: Excellent characters, actually made me tear up a bit, good look at life right after WWI
Cons: No ghosts

I mean, with a title like The Haunted Bookshop, it sounds like there’ll be ghosts, right? Or at least the appearance of ghosts, like a Scooby Doo episode.

But no, the name of the bookstore refers to the ghosts of the authors of the books contained within, their words still echoing after they themselves are gone.

Which is great. Very poetic. I just wanted ghosts.

The story takes place shortly after the end of WWI in a second-hand bookstore in Brooklyn. I don’t think I’ve read many novels contemporary to this time period, so it was interesting to get a look at what existed and what everyday was like to someone who actually lived through it (as opposed to reading about the time period in a historical novel).

The book is sort of a sequel to Morley’s first novel, Parnassus on Wheels (1917), in that it involves the same characters (and some new ones). I did check to see if a third book with these characters was ever written, because I was interested to see how things went afterwards, but it doesn’t look like it. Too bad. I liked the characters and was willing to go further with them.

The actual mystery aspect takes a few chapters to get going; I suspect that Morley did not set out to write a mystery and just ended up with one accidentally.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. I like the slice of life aspects at the beginning, and once the mystery was going, it was quite gripping. I can see why people are still reading this book a century later.

(It’s apparently in the public domain now, so it should be fairly easy to find a copy to read!)

Anyway, I’d recommend this one.

Now to get on to my November book.

(For those of you checking up on Nano, I’m at 14K as of yesterday. The smaller, mobile one’s school went unexpectedly completely virtual as of today, though, which may prove problematic.)

Messing Around with Other Genres

Squiders, I cannot find dumbbells anywhere. I guess it’s yet another victim of the pandemic supply chain issues (are we actually doing anything to fix for those for the future? Or just pretending they’re not happening?), but it’s ridiculous. I just want 8 or 10 pound weights and they are out EVERYWHERE.

Not that that has anything to do with anything.

The changeling story continues to not get anywhere, but admittedly that’s because I haven’t had any time to work on it. Instead, I’ve been working on a challenge for WriYe, where one person writes a log line, which goes to the next person, who writes the outline, and then on to the final person, who writes the story.

We’re calling it Tag! You’re It! I wrote a paranormal log line, the outline for a fantasy story, and got a straight contemporary story to write.

I don’t think I’ve ever written anything straight contemporary in my–no, wait. I did kind of once, a joint young adult story, that we ran with no speculative elements because my friend’s character was from a straight contemp YA story, but that was okay because 1) joint story, hooray, and 2) it took place at a summer camp which is one of my very favorite settings, and I should use it more often (but with speculative elements, woot).

ANYWAY it was a little intimidating. Especially since the outline I got was super detailed, way more so than I ever work off of, and then I had a bit of a crisis because I just did a straight phase outline with, like, ten points on it when I wrote my outline and then I wondered if I had not pulled my weight, but now that people are starting to post their stories (and the log lines/outlines they were given) I see that the outlines really run the gamut.

Anyway, it was an interesting exercise! The story that came out of it wasn’t anything special, but hey.

Otherwise, I’ve read How to Write Mysteries and am in the middle of How to Write a Mystery, both of which are older books (early to mid ’90s) that I inherited from my mother. (My mother wrote when I was younger, which is part of the reason I write. She wrote children’s books, though, so I’m not quite sure why she had writing books for every genre under the sun.) The publishing information in them is definitely dated but I think the mystery parts are fairly solid. And, well, I read enough mysteries to kind of know how they go these days.

The idea is that I’m going to write a cozy mystery here in the near future. (Possibly for Nano. If Nano happens.) A paranormal cozy, but still essentially a cozy. I’ve talked before about how I love mysteries but find them intimidating, and the books are good from that standpoint. The current one has examples of planning documents to help see who’s where at what points and how to dole out information.

(Actually, some of the planning docs seem generally helpful and I’m thinking about applying some of them to the Changeling story to see if that helps it roll along.)

It is still intimidating, though. But, hey, I’ll do the best I can and see where we end up.

Try anything new yourself lately?