blogging, reading

Mini-Reviews: The Taking a Break from NaNo Edition

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It’s NaNo! Who has time to read?! you may be hollering at me. Well, remember when I recently posted the guidelines to surviving NaNo, and remember how it included taking time to do something other than writing? Reading is not writing — ergo, reading during this month is important.

(By the way, some of these selections I completed before November. I am not pushing myself too hard, don’t worry.)

So, after determining that I’ve exhausted the catalog of my local library (and I pretty much have), I’m taking great advantage of inter-library loan to obtain titles by authors I have only now heard of. At the moment, this includes Charles De Lint.

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I finished Tapping the Dream Tree, which is a compilation of short stories based on his Newford series (none of which I had read, so nothing like jumping into the deep end with both feet and no water-wings). But I was able to figure out what was going on in most of the individual tales, and some of them I truly enjoyed. This author has a style that’s now rare for adult fantasy, focusing so much more on telling the story than on shock value or hitting up a current political soapbox. It was so refreshing. He has a long bibliography (he’s been publishing for many years), and I’ve already hunted down some more of his work.

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Last weekend, wanting something light and easy, I picked up Laini Taylor’s Night of Cake and Puppets. It’s pretty short (under 300 pages), and the cover is interesting.

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What was I thinking. I liked the first part of Taylor’s Strange the Dreamer, but had forgotten that NoCaP is set in the same world as her Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, which made me hit the ceiling with its blatant sexual references and dark-and-nefarious-goings-on. I managed to survive intact, though there were several pages in this novella I had to outright skip over (puppets are creepy, folks!!!), and I had to look at a lot of super-cute cat pictures to be able to go to bed that night.

Moving on to one of my major disappointments in October — Turtles All the Way Down by John Green.

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This is officially my last attempt at a Green novel. I didn’t enjoy Paper Towns or The Fault in Our Stars, but repeated gushing reviews of this author’s work kind of guilted/hyped me into trying his new release. ‘Tis much better to go with my gut. I had MASSIVE issues with the depiction of mental illness in this book — not only is it blindingly obvious (I’m a former psychology major) that the narrator does NOT have general anxiety, but OCD — yet the novel calls her condition “an anxiety disorder” throughout — this is also the singular thing the narrator’s entire life is about. She’s made of more cardboard than a cereal box. She has no personality, no interests, no anything other than her OCD. That simply isn’t factual when it comes to living, breathing human beings — which this MC is supposed to be. And her “best friend” is HORRIBLE to her, treating her as a burden, ignoring her serious health problems, and never trying to help her get better.

And there was a significant lack of turtles. I wasn’t the only one peeved about this. Turns out the title is a metaphor, based on some sort of astrophysics thing. I had to look it up to be “enlightened.” Some fans were saying this was great; I don’t agree (nor am I the only dissenter). It feels terribly pretentious and arrogant of an author to make his title wholly symbolic and not explain that anywhere in the text. I’m perfectly intelligent, so there’s no need to insult my intelligence because I didn’t know the reference to a completely theoretical and intangible construct, people.

Okay, onto a different category of whinge…

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Forest of a Thousand Lanterns was, sadly, a letdown, too. If there was an actual plot in amongst allllllll the pages of wandering the land and trying to become the Emperor’s mistress, I missed it.

Neither was Wild Beauty a fun experience…

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This cover is truly astounding, and I still like it even though I didn’t like the book underneath. I guess this author’s style — “magical realism” — just isn’t for me. It’s confusing — is there actual magic, or not? Are the characters’ “ability” to grow flowers out of thin air a metaphor for their incredible gardening skills, or do they really have powers? I couldn’t figure it out, and it bugged me the whole time. McLemore was altogether too vague for my taste — how could there be so many people in the family, and somehow they’re all female…? Supposedly their spouses or lovers always “vanished” — isn’t it much more believable that they simply left them? Or was there really some kind of curse — like, the evil witch gets her revenge on one of their ancestors who seduced the witch’s husband? Again, the un-concrete-ness of the plot induced frustration and loud grumbling noises from me.

All right, now onto brighter, happier topics!

I won a giveaway hosted by The Orangutan Librarian! I used the prize to order these two novels in a MG fantasy series that White Fang read book 1 and wants to finish.

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Please, let’s take a moment to appreciate how unselfish and lovely I was to pick something for him and not myself.

Also, if you wouldn’t mind praying for a speedy and safe delivery, that’d be ace! 🙂

And, my pre-orders of All the Crooked Saints and Warriors: Darkest Night are finally ready to ship!!! Since Darkest Night didn’t come out until yesterday, I had to wait quite a while to receive that notification (I placed the order in late September). I consider this a successful exercise in patience.

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Now get back to your NaNo-ing! Good luck, everyone!

 

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reading, Young Adult fiction

The First Book Club Meeting!

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Good morning! Today is the day! We’re discussing Masters and Beginners (Volume 1 of The Order of the Twelve Tribes). As previously mentioned, all you have to do to participate is have read the book, and be willing to answer the following questions in the comments!

What were your favorite parts of the story?

Which characters were you drawn to the most, and why?

Did you identify any particular themes?

Who would you like to see cast as who in the movie version?

The Order is a secret organization stretching back about 3,000 years. What historical figures do you think could have belonged to the Order?

All right, that’s all from my end for now! Looking forward to seeing what you all share! Have a great day, moths!

blogging, reading

Mini-Reviews: The Pre-NaNo Edition

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Okay, so here I am, for one of the few posts I will be doing in the next few weeks! I am doubling down to finish Volume 2 on the original timetable (time apparently hates me, what have I ever done to it?!), AND somehow start NaNoWriMo on schedule. Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment.

Rather, it means I am venturing forth on continuing my authorly dreams, and spending more of my brain power and calendar on writing fiction than writing stuff like blog posts. We’ll see if I feel the urge to write a review on Goodreads, on a book that I simply must share my thoughts now (before they slip out of my head, and because I do love to share with my friends).

Anyway, here are some summaries of my feelings about some stuff I recently finished…

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by JK Rowling:

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White Fang and I are both reading this textbook/field guide/lovely supplemental material to the world of Harry Potter. The handwritten notes are so cute. And I love getting a little more insight into this utterly amazing realm Rowling created.

A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry:

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I have to say, this was a disappointment. It has a really interesting premise — set in Puerto Rico (sadly relevant right now), it follows the tale of a teenage boy who gets caught up in a possible legend-come-to-life. But I only gave it 1 star, because the plot was all over the place; we’re never given a concrete reason for the affliction Isabel suffers from; nor is that affliction itself ever firmly defined. Too much of the story wandered back and forth, between teenage crushes and the serious business of missing persons, and I didn’t feel that enough of the premise became grounded in the very realistic setting.

And I Darken by Kiersten White:

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I didn’t finish this (with about 75 pages to go), because I had very conflicted emotions on it. The writing style is superbly dark and intriguing, true to the atmosphere and feelings of the time period, and I’ve read all the fictional and historical accounts of Vlad Dracul, and agree with the author that so, so much about this man is simply conjecture and the truth is probably lost to the winds of time. But what really got to me is the quite straightforward fact that her portrayal of homosexuality in the Ottoman Empire/Middle Ages Eastern Europe was just a grab at pushing a modern viewpoint. How both those cultures felt about such a lifestyle in that century would’ve resulted in heads literally rolling (or even worse), full stop. No closet gays would’ve been protected by the palace of the city. And I am not sorry in the slightest that this may offend the sensibilities of modern readers — I don’t concur with that, I don’t sanction it, but I know it is how it was, and I don’t think covering up the outdated and barbaric views of cultures long dead and gone is beneficial.

A Clash of Kings by George RR Martin:

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I didn’t finish this, either, and won’t be continuing with the series. The reason is that I simply am not one for the explicit content. It’s a personal choice. That aside, I honestly am so impressed by Martin’s skills with plotting and character depiction, and I wish him all the best in releasing the long-awaited conclusion to this epic!

Girl Online by Zoe Sugg:

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I just posted a long and gushing review on Goodreads about this little gem. It has the best rep of panic attacks I’ve read in a while, and the family is BEYOND AWESOME, and I am sooooo grateful to the author for developing such a supportive and nice cast. It also covers the very real and very important topics of being careful what you share on the internet, and whether connecting too much to people online versus your close friends in real life is healthy. Since all of us are reading this post online, we can verify that sometimes we come across other screen names/commenters who are just wonderful to interact with — but is it okay to base our self-esteem on our online success, or do we need to first keep in mind how our IRL people think of us? The narrator learns some hard lessons, and never once does the writing feel preachy or like the author is trying to sway our mindsets one way or another. Her narrator has to decide what works best for her, and that is vital for teenagers growing up in a culture of conformity to figure out. I highly recommend this one!

And there we are! I’ll catch up with you all for the book club meeting on the 30th! Take care, moths!

reading, Young Adult fiction

Coming Up On The TBR

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Good morning, all! Today I’ll be waxing a bit nostalgic about what will happen when NaNo is finished and I have more free time to read again. Also, I’ll be complaining a little about how I cannot afford new books very often. Okay, I just did. There, we can comiserate. I feel a bit better.

So, fall has been a big deal for new YA releases. And as usual, this is a time of year when I am not doing so hot on the wallet part of life (you know, back to school expenses and getting ready for the holidays). (So everybody go buy a copy of my short story collection, just released on Barnes & Noble.com. Wait, did I say that out loud?)

An-y-way… I am very lucky in that I live in an area with a really good public library system, and therefore I do not have to wait approximately 7.8 years to acquire titles that I am currently drooling over. Here are some of my major recent anticipated releases:

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater:

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I honestly am game for trying absolutely anything Maggie Stiefvater publishes. While she just misses my list of top favorite authors, I do love the hibiscus out of The Scorpio Races and Shiver, and hence All The Crooked Saints makes this post, without a doubt.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green:

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Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of John Green (maybe I haven’t hit the right one yet?), but White Fang has expressed an interest in trying his books, so I figure this would be a good way to get him started.

Forest of a Thousand Lanterns by Julie Dao:

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See this cover? With the lovely flower being molested by the snake? I *hate* snakes. I want to defend the flower. I will just manage to read this (despite needing to turn it facedown every time I’m not actively tackling the content), because I want to know if the flower makes it. (Hush, I know Forest of a Thousand Lanterns is about Asian-mythology-inspired fantasy, and this is a subject I am very interested in. So I *do* want to read it, although I will genuinely hope and pray for a cover change, quite soon.)

Warriors: A Vision of Shadows: Darkest Night by Erin Hunter

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The latest installment in the Warriors: A Vision of Shadows series we’ll absolutely be buying. White Fang already owns most of these books, so we’re trying to complete his collection. Pre-orders are so easy for this series, and I am very grateful for that.

Wild Beauty by Anna Marie McLemore:

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I was extremely on the fence about this author’s previous works (I did try them both and was not a fan). But the premise of this one sounds very much up my alley, and I totally cover judge, and THIS COVER alone is worth swooning over and grabbing ASAP.

Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popovic:

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I haven’t a single clue what this book is about. Yup, you read that right. Do I want to? Eh, kind of? I am 100% cover judging, and sincerely crossing my fingers that my impulse pays off with a great story.

So, what new releases are you looking forward to, moths? Any of these on your TBR this season? Can we all survive until they arrive in our libraries/bookstores/on our Christmas lists?

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reading

The New 5-Star Rating System

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How many of us have been frustrated by the fact that Goodreads and other book review sites do not include the option of half stars in their rating systems? Yup, I see those hands, and I’m raising my own. It’s a constant source of grating on my nerves, because I very rarely have a straightforward, solid number-star view of a book. There are so many factors at play when we review! In the interest of bookdragons everywhere, I have decided to create my own system, which takes half-stars into complete account.

(By the way, if you don’t agree with my new system, Toby will stare at you in his ultimate cuteness until you collapse from the overload of adorbs.)

Half-star: Yes, I actually think less than one star is important to include. Sometimes a book just wrangles you in such a wrong way, and you’d like to express that in your opinion. For example, how many of us had to read a textbook for school/college that was so one-sided, or under-researched, or condescending, and you felt it was necessary to inform the professors of what a bad choice they made? (Not that they’d listen, but that’s a topic for another time.) The half-star can represent the fact you appreciate the proofreaders/editors/printers had to make a living somehow, and you support their struggle.

One star: This would be pretty much what it says on the tin — you thought the book was just so poorly written (either for typos or content, bad characters or lack of plot, or lack of research, or a combination of all these elements) that you just can’t give it a good rating. But, again, you want to recognize the sacrifice made by those who stay employed by publishing.

One-and-a-half stars: It’s not so horrific that you just totally abandon it. Maybe there was a particular character that you actually liked, or the premise was really promising, and you’re hoping the author can learn to grow their creative skills.

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Two stars: It’s pretty bad. You’re not even sure you’d recommend it to others. But there was some redeeming feature. For example, when I tried to read Allegiant (I got through part of it, skipping major chunks until the end), there was so much about the “science” behind the factions that really didn’t make sense and didn’t sit well with me. But the ability of Veronica Roth to imagine intricate worlds and a conspiracy theory that didn’t simply boil down to “the aliens did it” or something so trite made me hopeful that her later novels would/will be more enjoyable and cohesive.

Two-and-a-half stars: It’s definitely not your cup of tea, but you may recommend it to other readers who like the genre/style. (I automatically think of authors like Stephen King and HP Lovecraft, who I cannot touch with a ten-foot pole — even a 10-mile pole — but I have been encouraged to try something by an author whose typical genre, in this case, literally scares the hisbiscus out of me, in order to appreciate the writing style and insights. I did complete “The Eyes of the Dragon” by King, because it’s not his usual fare. While I enjoyed it more than I expected, I still am avoiding pretty much everything else on the man’s bibliography.)

Three stars: It’s fun, there are some minor niggles, you’d suggest it to friends, you might not re-read it, but you don’t feel like, “Good grief, what did I just waste my evening doing?” I think of the first Jackaby novel by William Ritter, which had an easygoing style and fun characters and lots of humor. The historical content was inaccurate in so many ways, but I could put that (mostly) aside for the duration of the (blessedly not too long) novel.

Three-and-a-half stars: It was definitely fun, you really liked most of the characters, the plot generally made sense, and you enjoyed yourself while reading. Maybe there were some flaws in the research, the setting, or the dialogue (like a little too much swearing or flirting, for your taste). (By the way, in this blog, it usually means my taste.) You’d certainly tell fans of the genre, “Try this one!” Maybe you’ll even purchase your own copy. (Remember, I get almost everything from the library.)

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Four stars: It’s just about perfect. You fell in love with the characters. You didn’t think the action was too violent. The setting made you want to be there. You proceed to log onto Barnes & Noble.com and order your copy, because you know you’ll be re-visiting it in the future. The next time somebody puts on Twitter, “What do I read next?”, you type in this title in all caps. (My prime examples are the first Warriors series, the Beaumont and Beasley fantasies by Kyle Shultz, several of the Discworld books, and a few of Neil Gaiman’s short stories and children’s tales.)

Four-and-a-half stars: You believe the only flaw in these selections is that they may not appeal to everybody, yet you shamelessly push them on anybody you encounter. (Some of mine are The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and Mort, Thud!, and Only You Can Save Mankind by Terry Pratchett.)

Five stars: Pretty much you feel the world will end if not every living soul on the planet read these immediately. You know you’ll not only re-read them several times before you die, but your own copies are like priceless, sacred artifacts. (There are very few titles I reserve this designation for, because I am picky. By the way, for those of you who gave Masters and Beginners 4.5-5 stars, you have my everlasting gratitude.)

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Fantasy fiction, reading, Young Adult fiction

The Masters and Beginners Book Club!

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So, my apologies for not making the official announcement a little sooner — sickness swarmed in, as some of you may know, and my whole house was down for a week and a half. It was a miracle the cat got fed and the dishes got done, never mind editing and self-marketing.

Anyway, now we are more or less better, and I’m trying to get back to normal in my writerling ventures. One of these is the book club I’ll be hosting for each of my own books here on the blog!

We’re starting with (makes sense) Volume 1 of The Order of the Twelve Tribes. To join, all you need to do is have read or be currently reading the first novel, Masters and Beginners. Either cover/edition works (it’s the same story), and both are available for purchase. The most recent edition (new cover seen below) can be obtained through Barnes & Noble.com (the link is working on my Goodreads author page, or you can email me, per the sidebar/top menu, for details). Or I have copies of the original Toby cover as well (again, contact me by email).

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Okay, the awkward please-buy-my-stuff moment is moving on to what the actual discussion will consist of.

On October 30th (see, plenty of time to join in!), I’ll be posting an open conversation on the following questions:

  1. What were your favorite parts of the story?
  2. Which characters were you drawn to the most, and why?
  3. Did you identify any particular themes?
  4. Who would you like to see cast as who in the movie version?
  5. The Order is a secret organization stretching back about 3,000 years. What historical figures do you think could have belonged to the Order?

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See, easy! Just post your comments on October 30th, engage with your fellow commenters, and get ready for Volume 2!

Happy reading, all!

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entertainment, reading, writing

Old School Sources of Inspiration

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In the current publishing market, there seems to be a big push towards the newest, the latest, the trending. As a writer who honestly can barely keep track of the most recent software available to those in my occupation, trying to develop story ideas that are born of a magazine article from last week or a new hobby invented 72 hours ago feels overwhelming.

Sometimes I go to a restaurant and can’t even figure out what half the menu is, since I don’t get out very often, and apparently they invent new foods every few months now. Trying to make sure my characters — set in a contemporary novel, after all — keep up with all this can be intimidating, too.

Do I live in a reasonably modern environment? Yeah, obviously — here I am, blogging on a computer with interact access, and I fully comprehend all the terminology I just used. But when you’re someone who likes to immerse herself only in what she knows she likes, this means drawing on a diverse, updated wealth of source material to build my characters (and make sure they don’t all seem just like me) is pretty necessary.

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Of course, one of the major ways I get around this is to set part of my story in the world of faeries — where technology is, naturally, centered on magic and not electricity or satelites. Also, I confine my employment of slang and post-2010 pop culture references to stuff White Fang brings home, so I have a reliable expert to double check with.

This may make me sound old, but I simply don’t like a lot of the stuff “the kids” are into nowadays.

Place me in front of a fall 2017 TV guide, and I can guarantee I won’t even have heard of 75% of the shows listed. Bring up the new release page on Netflix, and I won’t even have seen trailers for 90% of those films and/or original programming. Whatever was the top of the mainstream music charts last month will have pretty much escaped my notice. Lately Jeopardy! questions about celebrities who are younger than 30 will make me stare blankly at Alex Trebek.

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The same goes for books. While some newer authors (Maggie Stiefvater, Marie Lu, Veronica Roth, William Ritter, Robert Beatty, Holly Black, Cassandra Clare) have definitely caught my attention for at least a few of their selections, I’d still much rather devote my money and most of my reading time to concrete favorites (Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, Neil Gaiman, JK Rowling), or try indie authors that write in a style now associated with “years gone by.”

Sorry-not-sorry, I don’t see a real reason to change this about myself.

While I do think it’s important to be aware of what’s going on around you (ignorance is not bliss), and I’m not closed down to trying new things, I also feel there shouldn’t be any shame in admitting that I enjoy many things produced before the 21st century.

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There are some parts of my youth I have no desire to return to (long-winded, formulaic mystery novels, or ruffled sleeves, for example). But am I better for having a variety of experiences under my belt? Absolutely.

Am I glad I went — and still go — after what interests me, rather than just what’s hot right now? Oh, yes. Do I ever feel like I missed out because of deciding to skip a trend? Not really — but I also got there over time, and by doing some deep soul searching (which is not as immediately hopeful or positive as some may believe).

So I’ll be keeping to my “outdated” writing style, homages, and narrow library selections. I won’t have buyers’ remorse for running to the cinema for yet another mediocre movie, or for wasting time in front of TV shows that only set my nerves on edge.

And I’ll be just fine with that.

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