Posts Tagged ‘books’

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?

Library Book Sale Finds: The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman

Is it just me or does it feel like September is going super fast?

This is another out of last November or December’s library book sale, all of which were hard cover and within a few years of publication. I’ve been having trouble figuring out why the library would withdraw and sell practically new books (this one came out in April and was being sold about six months later) but I have a theory.

Said theory is that libraries probably buy a bunch of copies of new books that they predict will be popular. This allows them to get through the release rush. Then, when the stream dies off, they keep a smaller amount for long-term use and sell off the extras.

Best I’ve got. Any librarians out there know?

Title: The Devouring Gray
Author: Christine Lynn Herman
Genre: YA Fantasy
Publication Year: 2019

Pros: Intriguing plot, great characters
Cons: Middle is a little boggy

I actually really enjoyed this one (though I can hear my spouse mocking me for reading YA fantasy again). It was one of those books where I’d sit down, intending to read for 15 or 20 minutes, and still find myself going an hour later. The plot really pulls you along, but not in a way that I found anxiety-inducing.

I believe this is the first book in a duology. At least Goodreads leads me to believe the second book, The Deck of Omens, is the conclusion. The story takes place in Four Paths, New York, and follows four teenagers, each a member of the town’s four founding families. But Four Paths is not a normal town, and the founding families are not normal, either–each has a special talent, used to protect the town from the Gray and the Beast within.

Each of the four main characters is different and complex, not quite the protagonists you would expect. Only three of them have viewpoints in this book (I guess the fourth has one in the epilogue) but I enjoyed all of them. And I enjoyed learning more about the secrets of Four Paths and the Gray.

My one complaint, minor really, is that the middle is slightly bogged down by characters going over what feels like the same ground a few times. But it’s minor, and the story picks up again with new information pretty quickly after that.

So, hey, if you missed this one and you like YA contemporary fantasy, I’d give it a look.

(But, seriously, where has September gone?)

Library Book Sale Finds: The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick

Ha! Here’s July’s book done, only a few days late.

This one is from my most recent book sale, back in November or December where I got a whole bag of books for $6. Admittedly there was not much on sale, so I think it ended up being $1 per book, but they were all hardcovers and fairly recent books.

We’ve already done one book from this sale–no, two, the blah mystery and the newer Mary Downing Hahn–so, hey, maybe I’ll actually get through all the books within a year of buying them. That would be the first time ever.

I am a sucker for books with book-related things in the title. Library of this or that, Book of something, etc. I don’t read a lot of contemporary books but I have this year, probably because they’re low stakes and feel-good, and this year sucks.

Title: The Library of Lost and Found
Author: Phaedra Patrick
Genre: Contemporary/general literature
Publication Year: 2019

Pros: Feel good-y
Cons: Predictable, some really awful characters

Also the cover copy made me believe there would be a mystery element to the story, and if there was meant to be, well, I figured it out REALLY EARLY and then that whole thing was lost.

The Library of Lost and Found follows Martha Storm, community do-gooder and library volunteer. Martha is a hard viewpoint character at the beginning of the book, because she’s such a pushover, ready to do anything to help someone out, and everyone else in her small town has figured this out and exploited it.

The book is told mostly in Martha’s point of view, though there are occasional chapters from her mother’s point of view in the past. These chapters always include a story Martha wrote as a child, which are nice and a key point in the book.

One night, after Martha has pushed all her stuff to the library from her house only to find the event she was hosting has been cancelled, she discovers someone has left a package for her on the library steps. (Also, I am not entirely clear on whether or not Martha works at the library in some capacity or just volunteers, and apparently none of the other reviewers on Goodreads are either. I’m pretty sure she just volunteers, because she talks about her parents leaving her some money and she keeps applying for jobs at said library. Which really makes the whole thing worse, with the being taken advantage of.)

The package ends up being a book of her stories from childhood, with a dedication to her from her grandmother, who died three years before said dedication. Or so she’d thought.

There’s not a lot of heavy lifting here. Family secrets are predictable. But it was easy and quick to read, and I mostly enjoyed the experience. And it is fun to watch Martha’s transformation.

If you need something feel-good to read and don’t mind not seeing anything new, I’d recommend this one.

Hope your August has started well, squiders. See you Thursday!

Library Book Sale Finds: The Door into Fire by Diane Duane

Finally! I’ve been reading this book for two months. There’s not even any reason why it’s taken so long except I can’t focus at all right now and so am in the middle of four books (and have six more out from the library like an idiot). Is that one of the stages for dealing with trauma? Inability to focus? It’s driving me mad.

I have high respect for Diane Duane. I found her, I suspect, like a lot of people do: from her Star Trek novels. Two in particular were very influential on me: My Enemy, My Ally; and The Romulan Way. Because of those books, the Romulans are my favorite Trek species to this day, and, when I did Star Trek roleplaying as a teenager, I often played Romulans, either as my main characters, or when side characters were needed.

(You can see me geek out about Star Trek: Picard having them speak Rihannsu–the Romulan language Ms. Duane created–onscreen here.)

That being said, I’d never read any of her original work, just her Star Trek work, so when I came across her very first book at a library book sale, well, it was mine.

Title: The Door into Fire
Author: Diane Duane
Genre: Fantasy
Publication Year: 1979

Pros: Extensive mythology, Sunspark
Cons: Sometimes gets a bit infodumpy

I’m kind of in awe of this book, to be honest. I mean, it reads very much of its time, using conventions that you (unfortunately) can’t get away with in modern fantasy, but the amount of care that went into the worldbuilding, character arcs, and the setting is impressive no matter what.

This is the first book in her Middle Kingdoms series. There are three books and more shorter works; she has a whole website for it. The story takes place in a somewhat standard alternative Europe fantasy setting, and follows Hereweiss, the first man in a thousand years to possess a magic called the Flame, though he cannot access or use said magic.

(I will note that there is a complicated relationship system set up, and that this book features characters of various orientations without calling out any of them as strange or different. I know some people like to look for books that specifically feature non-cishet relationships, so here you are.)

Hereweiss’s quest to access his Flame has consumed him, but no matter what he tries, he seems to be getting no closer to an answer. However, he’s distracted from that because his loved, who is the exiled king of a neighboring country, has gotten into trouble and needs rescuing. (Apparently again.)

The story’s strength is very much in the depths of the world creation. This feels like a fully formed world, with mythology and history and the works. It doesn’t read all too differently in places than some of the other late 70s/early 80s fantasy we’ve discussed here on the blog that tends to be more real-mythology based.

Also, there is Sunspark, who is my favorite in every way. You’ll have to read the book to learn more about it.

So! I enjoyed this and would recommend it. I find first novels to be very interesting, especially from authors who had published a lot of books and have been publishing for a while. And Ms. Duane obviously has a talent for worldbuilding–probably why the Romulans spoke to me so much in those later books.

How are you, squiders? I am still behind on everything, but at least I am catching up.