Posts Tagged ‘reading’

Bogged Down in Books

I worked the Scholastic Book Fair at my older mobile one’s school this morning, which was actually really fun! And I only walked out with one book and it wasn’t even one for me, which is kind of a victory. (I bought my smaller mobile one Kate Beaton’s The Princess and the Pony. I have both of her Hark! A Vagrant collections and the mobile ones really enjoyed King Baby, so I figure it’s a good bet.)

Also! I discovered Mary Downing Hahn is still publishing! She was one of my favorites when I was a kid. I re-read Wait till Helen Comes fairly recently and it held up pretty well even as an adult.

I seriously considered picking up one of her books (for me, my mobile ones aren’t old enough, and the older one is a bit sensitive about scary things anyway), but I didn’t because I’ve reached that state where I’m in the middle of too many books and hence am making no progress on any of them.

I’m in the middle of…six books right now. They are:

  • A Dweller on Two Planets, Frederick S. Oliver (1905) — this is a book the author claimed was written through him, and deals with Atlantis and re-incarnation and whatnot. I’m about halfway done, and it is pretty impressive work for a late nineteenth century homesteader.
  • The Well at the World’s End, William Morris (1896) — early fantasy, a lot of emphasis on chivalry and knighthood and all that jazz. Still working through all the public domain books I downloaded years ago when I first got my Kindle and Amazon was giving them away from free. This book must be really long because I spend half an hour reading it while reading the exercise bike and only move 2% at a time.
  • Thrice Upon a Time, James P. Hogan (1980) — At MileHiCon, there was a man selling old scifi and fantasy paperbacks for $2 each, and I bought four. This is one of them. I bought it because I thought Hogan’s Inherit the Stars was excellent science fiction. This is also scifi and the story takes place now-ish, and is a fairly common mix of overshooting on technological achievements and somehow missing all the societal changes that have happened.
  • Heirs of Power, Kate MacLeod (2017) — Reading this for a review group on Goodreads. Fantasy. So far so good!
  • One Man’s Wilderness, Richard Proenneke (1999) — nonfiction about a man who built a cabin by himself in the wilds of Alaska and lived there for 30 years.
  • First-person Singularities, Robert Silverberg (2017) — I’ve probably had this book since it came out. Whoops. But in my defense, nobody else is requesting it from the library. Science fiction short story collection, all told in first person. I always find short story collections a slow wade, because I like to digest a story before I move on to the next one.

One Man’s Wilderness and Heirs of Power should probably be my top priorities–the first is due back to the library in a few days (and there’s a hold request on it) and my review for the second is due Saturday–but when you’ve bogged yourself down, don’t you find it hard to read at all? Too many stories vying for attention.

And it doesn’t help that I re-read the second half of City of Hope and Ruin yesterday to remind myself of the ending/characterization so I can start working on the sequel.

But yes. Too many books. Must stop picking up more. The first two are slow going and I don’t read them very often, but I should probably just power through them and get them out of the queue. And also read more recent books. But I hate looking at those unread books on my Kindle library…

How many books are you reading right now, Squiders? Any recs (not that I need them)?


Happy Book Birthday to In the Forests of the Night by KD Sarge

Happy Thursday, squiders! Today’s the launch of the second book in KD Sarge’s fantasy series, In the Forests of the Night.

If you guys know me at all, you know I adore fantasy forests, so the title alone is exciting.

(Fun story: I had a short story that was published last year called The Night Forest, but I’d originally titled it Forest of Night. But then KD–who had been referring to this book as “Hiro II”–let me know about the potential for title confusion and I had to change it.)

As a Keeper-Apprentice, Hiro Takai followed his master everywhere. The adept Eshan Kisaragi taught him swordcraft and spellcasting and demon-fighting, but it was only after Hiro’s Kindling that he learned what Eshan couldn’t teach him. Such as what could go wrong in a ritual that tied the soul of a human mage to a creature of elemental power. Or how quickly the Keepers could turn on their own.

Damaged and dangerous, Hiro fled, seeking the one person he knew would help—his teacher and his beloved, Eshan.

Now, though—Hiro found Eshan, in the midst of a battle he could not win and would not lose. Now Eshan’s body lives but lies withering, while his soul clings to the elemental tiger…somewhere. Hiro can feel it to the south, in lands his studies never reached, where demons are unknown but spirits walk the paths of the Forests of the Night—and sometimes wander out.

Hiro has one chance to save his beloved. If he can find the tiger, if he can retrieve Eshan’s soul before his body fades, a way may be found to make his master whole.

With a failed priest and a possessed boy as guides, with a mad phoenix in his soul and a growing understanding of just how little he knows of magic, Hiro will follow wherever the tiger leads.

As Hiro searches for his lover’s soul, Eshan, more than half-mad from the sundering of his being, meets a child fleeing both his family and himself. Together, they stagger across the continent, in need of aid that only Hiro can give…if he can find them in time.

It’s currently only available on Amazon, but it should be available on other platforms shortly. An excerpt is also available over at Turtleduck Press.

The first book in the series, if you’re interested, is Burning Bright.

I’m Sensing a Trend

Happy Tuesday, squiders! I just finished reading The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip, which is the first of a fantasy trilogy and was published in 1976.

Do you know what the book reminded me of?

The Finnbranch trilogy that we did the disastrous readalong of over the summer last year.

I mean, The Riddle-Master of Hed is a much better book, but it involved a lot of the same elements: young man whose destiny has been determined far in the past, a bunch of supernatural people, shape-shifters from the sea, a lot of wandering around, and a bunch of pretty thick mythology.

(Wikipedia tells me that the book features themes from Celtic mythology, which Finnbranch did as well, though McKillip is not quite so obvious about it.)

From this, I can only conclude that this was a fairly active fantasy subgenre in the late ’70s/early ’80s. I mean, what are the odds that the two fantasy novels from essentially the same time period (As I said, this one was published in 1976, and the first Finnbranch novel, Yearwood, is from 1980) I’ve picked up in the last six months would be so similar in tone and themes?

(I suppose it could say more about me than the publishing trends of the time. Obviously something drew me to pick up both trilogies, whatever the heck it was. This is what happens when you hoard books for years. You have no idea what you were thinking.)

Does anyone read more of the period of fantasy/remember this period in fantasy? Was this a trend? If so, what would you say is the quintessential book of the “destined young man who is more than he seems with story drowning in mythology” genre so I can get it out of the way? (Or avoid it entirely. Still not sure.)

I wish I’d done this trilogy first. It’s probably way more enjoyable without the Finnbranch flashbacks. I will probably read the next two books, because now I’m invested, and also the third book was nominated for the Hugo and a bunch of other awards.

Read this series, squiders? Thoughts? (No spoilers yet, please!)


Tragedy and Fiction

So, last week, I went up to visit with my mother/grandmother, and I found my grandmother most of the way through All Clear (which is the second half of Connie Willis’ Blackout/All Clear duology and the most recent volume in her time travel books). I was delighted, and we did get to have the conversation I read The Doomsday Book for, as well as talking about the series as a whole.

We got to talking about which ones were our favorites, and I waxed poetical about the humor and romance in To Say Nothing of the Dog and the fantastic research of Blackout/All Clear. My grandmother said her favorite was The Doomsday Book. I kind of paused–if you remember from my post on The Doomsday Book, I thought it was the weakest of the series–and then asked her why.

And she said, “I don’t really enjoy World War II as a setting, but I suppose that comes from having lived through it.”

And it was like: oh. Oh. Of course WWII isn’t going to be an enjoyable setting. She lost siblings in that war, saw the rationing, the friends and family sent home in boxes (or not). It must have felt like the world was tearing itself apart. Why would you want to live through that again?

And I felt terribly guilty, especially for talking about how “real” the book’s setting had felt to someone who had lived through it.

WWII is so removed for so many of us. My grandmother is 95 and would have been in her late teens/early 20s during the war. But to me, it’s like the Big War in my favorite fantasy series. It’s something that happened, something that shaped the world, but it’s almost reached mythology at this point. Especially here in the States, there’s not a lot of reminders of what the war did. That’s not universal, of course–I’ve been to Berlin. I’ve seen the remains of the Wall and seen bombed buildings that have never been repaired. I’ve walked the rows of sarcophagi at the Jewish memorial. But I bet even my generation in Germany doesn’t quite understand.

And don’t we all have those things, those events, that were so traumatic, so tragic, that we don’t want to have our fiction anywhere near them? I know what mine is. It’s Columbine. I don’t think I’ve talked about Columbine here, and I don’t intend to start now, but let us just say that I can remember that day almost 20 years ago as clearly if it had happened yesterday, even as most of my memories from that time in my life have started to fade.

I know I avoid media related to Columbine or school shootings like the plague. Even songs that can be interpreted as being about school shootings I can’t listen to. And, to be honest, it’s not that hard. In the great scheme of cultural zeitgeist, it wasn’t that major. It didn’t affect that many people. Something like WWII that affected entire generations is a lot harder to avoid. (Wikipedia tells me 3% of the world’s population died over the course of the war.)

It’s certainly been a bit eye-opening. Sometimes these big, horrible historical things are a lot closer than most people realize. I mean, we’re only a few generations past when slavery ended in this country.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. Is it exploitation to use an event that was traumatic to a ton of people for media designed for profit? Is it sad that terrible things happen? Where is the line where something becomes art?

Makes me glad I write science fiction and fantasy, if nothing else.


Readalong: Dream Thief by Stephen R. Lawhead

The title looked really barren for a second, and then I remembered that this was our first standalone readalong, so I normally have the series title as well.

Anyway! It’s the 18th! Let’s get to it.

First, the basics. Dream Thief is an early-’80s science fiction novel about Spencer Reston, a sleep researcher interested in the long-term effects of space travel on people. Stephen R. Lawhead is a name I have heard before–he’s probably most famous for his Pendragon cycle (late ’80s through late ’90s) and his trilogy of Robin Hood retelling (mid-2000s)–but I’ve never gotten around to reading anything of his before.

I suspect I picked this book up at a thrift store somewhere along the line, but I have had it for a long time, so if nothing else, I’m glad to have finally gotten through it.

Spencer Reston has recently arrived on Gotham, a space station in orbit around Earth. It’s quite an honor to have your experiment chosen by the station, but things have not been going well. Every night Spencer (nicknamed Spence, though it’s somewhat inconsistent throughout what other characters call him) goes to sleep in the lab to have his sleep recorded; every morning he wakes up knowing he’s had terrible nightmares that he cannot remember.

There’s multiple viewpoints through, and there’s some headhopping which is a bit annoying at times but not terrible. The antagonists also have viewpoints, starting maybe halfway, so there’s no great mystery in how the story is going (or at least what they’re trying to accomplish).

There are some good things about the novel–for being fairly massive (and a bit slow in places), it reads pretty fast. The dialogue is good. The sequence on Mars, though it does bog down at one particular point, is quite interesting and some good scifi. There are some interesting side characters that I enjoyed very much.

That said, some other characters are almost walking stereotypes. There is a single female character of any note who is handled fairly badly. The theme of the story is heavy-handed almost to the point of ridiculousness in some places. And then there’s Spence.

Are you familiar with what it means when a story is considered “wish fulfillment”? Essentially, it’s when an author writes about what they wish would happen to them. My husband has recently been reading a novel about a man who’s cryogenically frozen, and when he wakes up, there’s a shortage of men and all the lovely, young, nubile women can’t keep their hands off of him. (My husband gave it an honest go, but eventually the book got too ridiculous and he gave up on it.) This feels like that in some places. All the good guys like Spence immediately, he gains intimate friends through no effort on his part (people who are willing to die for him), important people take care of him, etc. Yes, of course, there is the dream issue which is a problem, but there’s no lack of people trying to help him out.

And, of course, the single female character falls madly in love with him.

And Spence is kind of a jerk, especially through the first part of the book (it doesn’t really start to change until after Mars), which makes it a bit more grating.

(Oh, yeah, and there’s no female scientists. We talked about that already.)

So, let’s see. It’s an okay book. It has its good and bad points, but I don’t think I’d recommend it to someone else. There’s better scifi out there, both in terms of story and scifi concepts, and between the character pitfalls and Spence in general, the good points get somewhat overruled.

Did you read this with me, Squiders? Thoughts? Favorite part? What did you think about reading a single book over reading a series? Which would you prefer to do moving forward?


Library Book Sale Finds: The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis

Hey, look, squiders! I actually picked a scifi novel out of the bunch for once!

(Well, in actuality, I was talking to my grandmother about Connie Willis and the Oxford time travel novels because I’d seen Connie at MileHiCon and I’m a bit of a fangirl about her. And the next time I went by, my grandmother was reading The Doomsday Book and I was like, “Hey, I have that book and I should read it and then we can talk.” Except, of course, my grandmother is 95 and has nothing to do except read all day, so she was done in about four days and it took me three weeks, and she’s probably read four other books by now.)

Title: The Doomsday Book
Author: Connie Willis
Genre: Science Fiction
Publication Year: 1992

Pros: Excellent twists mid-book, Colin, Mr. Dunworthy, Kirvin trying to speak Middle English
Cons: Drags a bit for first third of book

Let’s talk for a minute about the Oxford time travel books. There’s four novels and one novella in the series, and now I’ve read them all except for the novella, though Connie has it nicely available on her website, so I can get there shortly. (All five entries won Hugo awards, if you care about that sort of thing.) The premise is that sometime in the mid-2000s or 2100s (the Internet is telling me both and I can’t recall which is correct off the top of my head) time travel was invented. However, you can’t bring things through time, so commercial interest quickly died off and time travel became the realm of academics, “historians” who travel back in time to observe how life worked or important events, etc. There is some amount of “slippage” based on how far you’re traveling and how close you are to milestone events (which tend to be unreachable directly).

The Doomsday Book is the first of the series, published in 1992. (The novella, Fire Watch, is technically first, being published in 1983. Then there’s To Say Nothing of the Dog, 1999, and the duology of Blackout/All Clear from 2010.) I will say that time travel is more of a frame story, and most of the novels tend to be historical in nature. Blackout/All Clear is a brilliant WWII story within the trappings of time travel (which mostly doesn’t work throughout for Drama), for example. (To Say Nothing of the Dog is not as historical as the others. That’s not to say that there’s not historical elements–Ned and Verity spend a lot of time in WWII era–but it’s not the focus. It’s much more of a farcical/romantic comedy.)

The Doomsday Book is a play on the Domesday Book (pronounced the same way), which was produced by William the Conqueror in 1086 to take stock of the land and ownership thereof in England after the invasion. The Medieval department has just gotten access to the “Net” (the process that time travel works through) and are taking advantage of the history department head being MIA to send their first historian back to 1320. The 1300s have a danger rating of 10 (because of things like the Black Plague) so they’re supposed to go through a bunch of tests before sending people, but screw that. Nothing can go wrong, right? 20th century has been sending people forever.

Of course, things go wrong.

Like most of the series, the book switches between “modern day” Oxford and the historian (Kirvin, in this case) in the past. (To Say Nothing of the Dog stays in Ned’s point of view throughout, if I recall correctly, but he’s going back and forth through time so often that he can carry both time periods on his own.) An interesting mechanic of the time travel is that time is equivalent. So if you want to spend a week in 1918, for example, a week has to pass in the current time as well before you can be picked back up. This makes missing your “drop” a big deal as you can’t just go back and try again.

There are some comedic elements, such as when Kirvin realizes basically everything she learned about the time period is incorrect (and her attempts to understand and speak Middle English) and the general snarkiness of Mr. Dunworthy’s thoughts (he’s our viewpoint character in the “present” day) and Colin in general. (I ♥ Colin, and he’ll be back in Blackout/All Clear.) But this book is closer in tone to Blackout/All Clear, more serious, and it doesn’t shy away from the less appealing aspects of the time period.

(Seriously, though, if you haven’t read Blackout/All Clear I highly recommend it. It’s long–1300 pages between the two books, but it’s one of those books you read and are awed by.)

(Not great for re-readability, though.)

Overall, it’s a good book, especially once it gets moving about a third of the way through, though I like the later books in the series better. It’s always nice to see reoccurring characters (Mr. Dunworthy is a constant throughout all the books) again, and the comedy is spot-on when it’s present. I’d recommend it, especially if the series sounds interesting to you.

Back Thursday for more common writing mistakes.

Read any of the Oxford time travel series, Squiders? Thoughts? Which one is your favorite?


Readalong Announcement: Dream Thief by Stephen R. Lawhead

Well, squiders, I’ve gone through my bookshelves and picked a book for us to try for our first stand-alone book readalong.

(Of course, since I was looking for a standalone, I found a ton of duologies and trilogies, because that is, of course, how this goes.)

I’ve picked Dream Thief by Stephen R. Lawhead, which is a science fiction novel from the early ’80s. I think I picked it up from Goodwill at some point some years ago. I was originally looking at Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, but at almost 1200 pages I thought that might be too long for this sort of thing.

(Let me know if you are on board for reading 1000+ page novels over a couple of months. Maybe we could do monthly check-ins and break it down more. It’s an idea.)

Dream Thief is slightly under 500 pages, at least in my copy, which is from the mid-90s, and has fairly large font, so it shouldn’t be too bad. I’m going to give us until January 16 to read this so we have plenty of time to survive the holidays and whatnot.

Just a reminder that we’re playing with the readalong format here. If we don’t like the standalones, we can go back to the series, or we can do a mix of standalones and series moving forward.

This should be interesting, anyway. Older science fiction and fantasy can be so hit or miss, and even if things are good, they still often include aspects that wouldn’t fly today. (A friend once recommended a book called The Voyages of the Space Beagle, which is about a crew of about 1000 scientists of various fields flying about exploring space, but not a single person onboard is a woman.)

So, read along, as usual, if this sounds interesting, and we’ll discuss in mid-January.

Oh, and as a FYI, here’s the book description from Goodreads:

Every morning Dr. Spencer Reston, dream-research scientist on space station Gotham, wakes up exhausted with the nagging feeling that something terrible is about to happen. Spence soon discovers that he has become a vital link in a cosmic coup masterminded by a mysterious creature known as the Dream Thief . . . and all civilization hangs in the balance.

Common writing mistakes on Thursday! See you then!