Posts Tagged ‘reading’

WriYe and Horror

Catching up on my WriYe blog circle prompts, plus it’s an easy blog topic in the midst of convention planning, haha.

(Trying to figure out my last outfit for the con. Do I want something that says “horror writer” to go along with Hallowed Hill? Do I want to look professional? Do I want to look eclectic and artistic? Do I want to just dress like myself? Should I wear unicorn pajamas? Options abound.)

Here’s October’s prompt: Your thoughts on horror/gore/scary stories?

In general I am pro-horror, which comes as no surprise. I love ghosts especially, and am less enamored of other paranormal creatures such as werewolves, vampires, and zombies. I don’t read or watch a lot of those.

I’d say ghosts first–and ghosts are a major draw to a story for me–and eldritch horrors second, or really any story where you’re never really sure what it is that’s out there, if anything. And ghost-adjacent things are also good.

I am also fond of Gothic literature, though I do prefer there to be actual paranormal aspects, or at least a really juicy mystery or family secret. (One that’s not just dead children buried on the premises. God. I am so sick of dead children.)

I love scary stories, where the scares come from the atmosphere, or the unknowing, or the mystery. Which is probably why I like ghost stories so much, especially ones where it’s the little things you really have to look for.

I am not a gore person. If a game or a book or a movie relies mostly on gore and violence, count me out. I don’t need that in my life.

(With books I’m a little more flexible, because I can skim through violence or gore if necessary if the story is worth it otherwise. Though I have found that if the story feels like it needs quite so much gore and/or violence, it doesn’t necessary have the legs to stand up otherwise.)

I mostly read or listen to scary stories (through podcasts or YouTube videos) and don’t really watch a lot of horror movies or television shows. I don’t necessarily scare very easily, but I do have an overactive imagination, and even visuals that weren’t especially scary in the moment tend to pop up at inconvenient times (usually the middle of the night).

(When I saw the Ring in college, I slept with the television on for three nights straight, because if the TV was already on it couldn’t turn itself on. Though I either saw or hallucinated a really disturbing episode of the Flintstones one night, so that’s a thing. And when I saw The Witches when I was six, I thought a witch was living under my bed for about six months, despite that not being an aspect of the movie at all.)

What are your thoughts on horror and scary stories, squiders? What’s your favorite scary movie? (I’m rather partial to The Village, which is not technically horror, I don’t think, and also has a very predictable twist.) Favorite ghost story? Especially share your ghost stories.

Advertisement

Cozy Fantasy

Happy Thursday, squiders. I had a lovely birthday yesterday, but today’s been a mess.

One of the things I did yesterday, though, was sit and finish The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches, which was a lovely book that I enjoyed very much.

(The copy I read had a blurb on the front cover, which says “A warm and witchy hug of a book” – Tasha Suri, which is an accurate description of the story.)

The book reminded me very much of The House by the Cerulean Sea, in that it involved the main character finding their place, love, and a family where they least expected it (in both cases, involving orphaned magical children in a house by the sea). That’s not a bad thing; I very much enjoyed The House by the Cerulean Sea as well.

I’ve taken to calling these types of stories Cozy Fantasy–and I’m not alone. (I checked Goodreads, and 32 people had shelved The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches as cozy fantasy, and another 32 had just shelved it under “cozy.”) These stories are typically contemporary, with some fantasy elements, and the focus is on healing–finding yourself, finding a place to belong, finding people to call your own.

They’re comforting. And I like them.

Back in the depths of lockdown I found a list somewhere on line, and I think it was something like “The Top 10 Non-stressful Manga” or something like that. From that, I found one called Otherworldly Izakaya Nobu. I’d consider this cozy fantasy too. In manga/anime, this is a Isekai story, which roughly translates to “portal fantasy” (a staple of fantasy in general, and a subgenre I’m rather fond of myself).

The basic premise of Otherworldly Izakaya (izakaya is like an inn, or a pub) Nobu is that someone found a portal between Tokyo and a fantasy realm, and decided to open an izakaya right next to the portal in the fantasy realm. So basically it’s just fantasy people wandering into the izakaya and having their problems solved by food.

It’s more interesting than it sounds.

With the world as unstable as it feels–impending wars, climate change, diseases, crime, and the list goes on–sometimes it’s good to read something that isn’t going to cause more anxiety.

Have you read anything in this genre, squiders? What were your favorite? (I’d love to read more of this, so please share!)

Garage Sale Finds: Rumpole a la Carte

Sorry for the radio silence, squiders. Turns out I’m having a hard time keeping on top of everything with the release, and some of the other things in my life are getting neglected. So I’m going to go ahead and say that updates here are going to be spotty for the next two weeks til the book is out, and potentially a few weeks after that depending on how reviews/promotions are going.

(Also, just a reminder that the ebook version is $1.99 during the pre-order time period, and then the price goes up once it’s released. Pre-orders, cover, description, and an excerpt are here.)

Today we’re going to talk about a book I found at a garage sale around the corner from my house, rather than a library book sale book. I picked up this book because I suspect that I spent a lot of my childhood watching British mystery series on Masterpiece Theater on PBS. At least, it feels like I did.

I have many vague memories of different shows, but I remember Rumpole. He was my dad’s favorite. He was a large, loud, unapologetic man married to someone he called She Who Must Be Obeyed. I admittedly don’t remember anything other than that.

But when I saw this book at the garage sale, I remembered how much my dad liked Rumpole, and I picked it up for, like, a quarter.

(Also, I’ve talked to my dad, and he’s going to take this book off my hands next time I see him.)

Title: Rumpole a la Carte
Author: John Mortimer
Genre: Mystery short story collection
Publication Year: 1990

Pros: Rumpole is very much a character, and despite the age of the book it ages fairly well
Cons: I don’t understand how the British court system works and so I found some bits confusing

Each short story is almost exactly 40 pages long, which I like in an OCD sort of way.

So, while I remembered my dad liking Rumpole (Rumpole of the Bailey, I believe the TV show was called) I didn’t actually remember the set up of the show. Rumpole is a defense lawyer (Defence barrister, in the British, I suppose) whose main goal seems to be getting his clients–who are always innocent, at least in these shorts–off in court. He does do some investigation on his own and does tend to figure out what really happened, but he only uses this information to clear his own client. He never does anything beyond that.

Despite being set in the Bailey (which I assume is some sort of…law office? Hold on, searching–it’s a criminal court. My questions are not answered) and often on the floor of a court case, there is a definite element to these stories which is almost cozy mystery-esque. The stories involve the case at hand, but they also spend a lot of time on the antics of Rumpole’s fellow Bailey denizens, or on Hilda’s (that’s She Who Must Be Obeyed’s name, but in the stories she’s more often referred to by her name) relations or friends.

And the stories have aged well. I find sometimes, with older mysteries, that sometimes they come across misogynistic or sexist or racist or whatever, in a way that was acceptable at the time. But Rumpole literally does not care about any of that, so it’s all pretty minor.

Overall, I enjoyed the collection. The stories were a good length, the cases varied, and the characters interesting.

On a side note, before I let you guys go, I apparently had some issues as a child telling the time period of said British mystery shows. Part of that was probably the variety of shows in many different time periods, and part of that is probably the fact that lawyers wear robes and wigs at court in the UK, and so throws childhood perception off. From this book at least, it seems like Rumpole was contemporary to when he was being published.

Anyway! Did you guys watch the Rumpole of the Bailey tv show? Read any of the other books? Have thoughts of other good mystery short story collections?

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?

Shannara Readthrough: Running with the Demon

In late 2020, I started watching the first season of the Shannara Chronicles, and at the time I talked here on the blog about how The Wishsong of Shannara was my gateway book into adult fantasy and how that, now that Terry Brooks is done writing Shannara books, I could, in theory, go back and read them all in chronological (not publication) order.

(We only watched the first season of the Shannara Chronicles. It’s my understanding that the events of season two don’t have anything to do with the books, really.)

According to the Wikipedia page for Shannara, there’s 42 works in the series. I hunted down the first one, a short story called “Imaginary Friends,” originally published in 1991, in an anthology in early 2021.

Next up is Running with the Demon, the first of the Word and the Void trilogy, published in 1997.

I was actively reading the Shannara books in ’97 (which ages me, but shhhhh) but at the time it wasn’t clear that these books were related. After all, Brooks has multiple fantasy series, and it seemed like this was just another one. (Magic Kingdom for Sale: Sold! is a good one. There’s a talking dog person.)

The original Shannara Trilogy (Sword, Elfstones, Wishsong) are pretty much straight fantasy. I think there may have been vague hints that they were post-apocalyptic in there, but if so, they’re very subtle. I don’t know how much of all that Brooks had planned out at the beginning.

Running with the Demon does not feel like a Shannara book to me, though admittedly it’s been a while. It takes place modern-day-ish (no year is mentioned) in Hopewell, Illinois, a midwestern small town. Multiple viewpoints, but mostly following 14-year-old Nest Freemark.

I kind of thought we would ease into the fantasy, but no, we jump right in. Nest has magic, as have at least six generations of women in her family. (The magic is unspecified, but can be used to attack people as long as you make eye contact.) There are Feeders, shadow creatures that only Nest and her grandmother can see, which feed on negative emotions. There are sylvans, which are small, nature protectors that look like stick dolls.

All of this is very confusing to me, because none of this stuff exists in the later (chronological) books.

In addition to all that, there are demons in service of the Void, and, to counteract them, Knights in service to the Word, who are fighting a long-term good vs. evil battle.

To say that this book was not what I was expecting is an understatement. There’s already magic, even before the apocalypse? Where did this magic go, after the world falls apart? What happens to the Word and the Void and all that jazz a thousand years or whatever down the line?

I have a vague understanding of what happened based on the Shannara books I’ve read, where civilization collapsed and people evolved into distinct races–elves and goblins and trolls and so forth. There already being magic before hand was unexpected, for some reason.

I guess that’s part of why we’re doing this. To see the evolution of the world throughout all the books.

The next story in sequence is the second Word and the Void trilogy, A Knight of the Word. I’m going to give it a month or so before I get to it.

WriYe and the New Year

Once again, we’re doing WriYe (short for Writing Year, formerly NaNoWriYe in the ancient past of the aughts). This is…*counts on fingers*…year four since I came back at the beginning of 2019. Every month there is a blog post prompt, and I tend to do them, because it allows me to not have to think too hard about a blog post every so often.

They’re doing a different format this year where, instead of a series of questions, there’s just a single prompt. So, for January, the prompt is:

Tell us about your plans for the year.

Not unexpected. It is that time of the year.

(Also, hey, did I tell you guys that I sold a short story last weekend? 2022 is already going better than either 2020 or 2021.)

I’ve talked about working on overcoming the procrastination habits I’ve fallen into over the last couple of years and my video gaming goals already, so I guess let’s talk about everything else I have planned for the year.

Let’s talk about reading first. Back in, oh, 2009 or something, I set a goal of reading 50 books a year, which I have managed every year since then (sometimes squeaking through, sometimes with easy sailing). That’s about a book a week, though I tend to read several books at a time. It’s inefficient, but whatever.

Occasionally I add modifiers to the challenge. 2020 I believe I had a requirement to read something lying about the house (which apparently cumulated in me reading a lot of things I’d bought at library book sales), and I think it was 2019 where I tried to read a book per book shelf. (Made it through four or five shelves before I got distracted.)

This year I’ve got two: 1) book per month that is lying around and 1) book per month off either my Goodreads Want to Read shelf or my library’s For Later shelf.

The thing I have to look out for is the same thing as 2020, where I focused on the library book sale books, i.e., books that I knew I would read and then get rid of. The spirit of the challenge should be to read books that I really want to read that I haven’t gotten around to yet. Something to think about.

Writing-wise, my main goal for the year is to do a final revision on Book 1 of my trilogy (as identified as my main writing goal in my life when I did my soul searching last fall) and create/revise submission materials for it.

(Also I’m going to finish the first draft of the Gothic horror novella I started during November. Almost done, only have about 8K left to go and have already written 10K on it for the month, so hopefully that’s done relatively quickly here.)

Now, submission is a horrible, confidence-draining process, and I will need to do something else once we reach the submission period. So here’s what I’m thinking, in some vague order:

-Revise my scifi horror novella (got lots of good beta feedback, and it sounds like the book is in pretty good shape in general)
-Create/revise submission material for that so I can be in double submission hell, I guess
-Revise the cozy mystery I wrote for Nano 2020 (some feedback, pretty good, though)
-Create/revise submission material for that? (Misery loves company, ha ha)
-Finish my serial (only Part 4 still needs to be done, and should be out March or April, I believe–I forget the schedule and will have to look)
-Release serial as an ebook

The cozy mystery, if it gets anywhere, will be under a penname. I have one picked out and everything.

I also have a goal of releasing two more SkillShare classes, but SkillShare is making some massive changes to the teaching side of the platform (changing how many minutes people have to watch before you get royalties, changing the platform they’re paying through, etc.) and I will need to look and see if I still want to stay there or try out a different platform.

Anyway, that’s the general plan for the year! I have to do the Book 1 stuff, but the rest of it is kind of fluid. Still, I predict a lot of revision, though what specifically I’m revising may change.

Any big plans yourself, squider?

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?

So Far, So Good

Howdy, squiders. I’ve had an interesting week–had a close contact test positive over the weekend (no worries, they’re doing fine) and so decided that it was best to get tested myself, just in case. (Just got my results back, and I don’t have it.) But, of course, you’re not supposed to interact with anyone while you’re waiting on results, so my week has mostly consisted of checking to see if I had results yet, and then wondering what to do with myself.

Couldn’t really plan, you know? I did the test Monday morning and called my boss mid-day-ish to double check policy and let him know that I probably wouldn’t be in on Tuesday, and I used Tuesday to get a fair amount of writing done.

But then I didn’t get my results Tuesday night, or early this morning. So I had to call my boss again and deal with the fact that I hadn’t known if I was going to go into work or not and so had not planned my day.

In retrospect, I should have planned both ways, and then I could have just executed whichever plan was necessary. Next time.

Anyway, I have my results now, and so we’re back to normal.

I realize we’re not even halfway into January yet, but I’m feeling really good. I’ve made decent progress on the draft of the school horror story I was working on for Nano. I’m up to the second plot point, so we’ve just got to go through the dark moment and the climax (which hopefully will be fun!) and then I’m done with that and can switch over to revising Book 1, which is my main goal for the year.

I’ve already read three books for the year (including one of my TBR) so that’s going pretty well too, and I’ve done some drawing and watched some videos on gouache, which is a new paint type that I got for Christmas and need to try out.

Fingers crossed that this momentum will last. I could really use a good year creatively.

How are things going for you guys? Making good progress?

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.

Snow Day Interlude

We got a foot and a half of snow overnight, squiders, which means that the schools just gave up and everyone was home all day. Which means my focus was completely off, not like I’ve been getting anything done recently anyway.

I’m strongly considering picking up something else for a bit, at least so I have something to do while I wait on beta feedback. I’m starting to think I should have gathered beta commentary while working on something else this whole time, but, of course, hindsight is 20/20. Besides, reading through the story is what me search out betas in the first place.

Got to strongly think about my productivity in general and try out something new to make sure things are getting done–or moving at all.

I’ve been reading The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, which has several stories within stories going. I’ve found myself wondering how she put the story together–did she do the mythology first, and then build the stories around that? Maybe it would be fun to try something like that, writing interlocking stories where it’s not quite clear how they’re collected.

Not like I need a new project. But you know how it goes.

ANYWAY, not much happening in these parts. But I did draw you a landsquid to celebrate the first real snow we’ve had all winter.

Snow Landsquid

In retrospect, I should have added in some shading. Oh well! Next time.

I’ll see you next week–and next month! And hopefully I’ll have found some mojo in the meantime.