Wednesday, December 28, 2011

RTW #111 - Top Five Favorites of 2011

This Week's Topic
We're combining today's RTW with Highwayer Sarah Enni's End-of-the-Year blog carnival, and asking:
What were your top five favorite books of 2011?

Man, these questions are always really difficult, because my years are still school-years, and the actual year-end comes smack in the middle of things.  It's really hard to remember back and try to figure out when I read what.  I was hoping Goodreads would help with this, but apparently I'm not good at remembering to mark down when I read a book.  I will do my best.

Thrones, Dominations

First year of grad school, I was desperately stressed.  I hated a large portion of my classes, I was bored, annoyed, too busy to do anything interesting, feeling like I wasn't going anywhere at all.  And that was when I discovered Dorothy Sayers.  I don't even quite remember how, except that I was so bored of podfics, and I needed an audiobook to listen to while I was cooking, and I needed it right then.  And lo, and behold, Whose Body? was up on LibriVox.
I read them all.  By the time I got on the bus to head back home for break, Clouds of Witness was loaded up on my iPod, and I listened to it for eight hours straight.  When I was completely a mess because one of my fellow grad-students was being crazy and terrifying and stalky, I was reading Gaudy Night (also about crazy stalky academics, but these ones at Oxford).  And after Christmas, when I read Busman's Honeymoon, I was so sad, because that was all there was.
I always approach postmortem books with trepidation, and it was a while before I dared to read Jill Patton Walsh's execution of Dorothy Sayers' notes, but when I did I was so glad I had.  She pulls it off, with all the charm and the horror required. 

To Say Nothing of the Dog
I had just started reading the Book View Cafe when this book started popping up on my radar, over and over again, with people praising its humor, its smarts.  I can't really count it, since I read it in October, but I can count Blackout, by the same author, which was just as excellent, though much darker.  I'm leaving this cover up though, because this is where you should start.
If you're looking for a funny, tongue-in-cheek, time-travel tale, full of cats and dogs and Victorian furniture (with plenty of intertextuality, especially to Dorothy Sayers) read it!

Finally!  One that was solidly in 2011!  But, of course, I already talked a bit about this earlier on the blog, so I won't repeat myself.  But it's so incredibly awesome.  Read it!

The Warrior's Apprentice
Another borderline book.  What can I say, I read a ton of books last Christmas that were awesome.  I have distinct memories of reading it while I was home, so I might not have finished it until after New Years, maybe.  But again, this is a series of awesome!  And I think this book is a great place to start.  In fact, for your YA readers who are bored of romance and high school and really want to have an adventure, with space ships and mercenaries and strange planets with incredible cultures, give them this!  Fast and funny, with one of the best main characters ever, there's nothing better, except the sequels!

And for something a little different - wait, just because it's a memoir doesn't mean it's any different.  This is just as fast and funny, a crazy tale of improbably true occurrences.  It's a quick, laugh out loud read.  If you're lonely and longing for just a little more James Herriot or Bill Bryson, this book is in that hilarious vein.

I recommend all of these books unreservedly!  Happy Reading!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

RTW #110: Where Do You Buy Books?

This Week's Topic:
Where do you buy most of your books? No one is judging!

Well, actually, I'm judging, judging myself, that is.  After hearing about Amazon's new App (Ursula K. Le Guin has a cutting comment on the topic.)  I've boycotted Amazon for the Christmas Season.  And I've bought 10 books in the last two weeks.

3 from the Local Bookseller (A co-op, that's charming, and can order anything super fast)[ Medicus, The Name of the Wind, Beta Test]

2 from the campus bookstore, [The Dangerous Book for Boys (Audio), Small Memories (Jose Saramago)]

3 from my favorite used bookstore [The Measure of her Powers: MFK Fisher, The Lives of Christopher Chant, Inda]

1 from the newsstand next door to where my critique group meets (all the new mass markets) [The Spirit Thief]

1 from the amazing toy store on the commons that has a perfect selection of all the best kids books. [The Clockwork Three]

Honestly, I'm blessed to live in a town with so many booksellers.  I didn't even have to trek out to Barnes & Nobel!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How LJ Smith Ruined me for Paranormal Romance

I spent yesterday traveling, getting up at 6 to drag three heavy bags all the way across town and get on a bus to Manhattan (5hrs), where I dragged those three bags eight blocks to the train station and then spent another hour there, and then two more hours on the train.  Luckily, I was prepared.  My iPod was filled with books and podcasts and music, and I had my embroidery, and my laptop, and I was set.
Unfortunately, riding the bus in the mornings makes me ill, and the book I was listening to didn't help.

I won't blame the book, because I was already feeling poorly before turning it on.  Let me just say there were werewolves and there was a lot of *intense feelings* of girl for wolf without any real interaction between them at all.

The problem with audiobooks is that you can't skip ahead to get to the plot, so I was stuck listening to this girl as she whined about her family, and whined about her friends, and whined about how no one understood her, except for her wolf, who, of course, never speaks to her.  And it was all very well written, and the girl was very strongly characterized, and the town and side-characters were well-depicted.  And I wanted to puke.  (Again, moving bus, early morning, holiday party the day before.  Probably not the book's fault.)  So finally, I turned it off.

Once I was off the bus and could actually think again, I was wondering why I really didn't like the book.  When I was eleven I had adored paranormals.  I read all the Night World books, I even wrote fanfic for them.  But then I considered further.  I had adored LJ Smith.  I thought her books were great.  (And when I reread one during college, I realized, yeah, the writing is pretty workmanlike, but the plot is fast and funny, and the romance is charming.  What's not to like?)  But I had tried and tried to read other teen paranormal romances and had never been able to get past the first few pages.

Why not?  What was so different about LJ Smith?  And then I remembered:

In the Night World Series, soulmates are built into the world.  They're a plot point.  And they're hilarious.  I will never forget the scene where Ash sees Mary Lynette for the first time, and he reacts, like a cat that's had a bucket of water dropped over him.

He doesn't want this.  This is the worst thing ever.  And even Mary Lynette - she wants boys that are thin, brown, and interesting, not men like big blond cats. (Clearly, I have read that book too many times.  I believe those are direct quotes.)  The insta-love isn't even love.  It's just an intense, inextricable bond.  It's an obstacle.  It complicates the situation.  It allows the attraction and real love room to grow.

A romance that starts with an obsessive love bond between two characters is a lot like an epic fantasy that begins with the world already having been saved.  There's nowhere to go, no stakes, no excitement.  Now I'm sure that there are plenty of people who like to bask (*cough*wallow*cough*) in the purity of magical love.  But not me.  And I've been spoiled, by LJ Smith, who writes a love story that manages to be a natural outgrowth of learning to like and to trust.  (And has humor.  Honestly, humor can make things so much better.)

When I decided to read grown-up romance novels, I couldn't make it past the first few pages of even the most highly recommended ones, until I found Shannon Donnelly.  All of the characters, even the antagonists, were likable and interesting.  And the romances evolved out of scenes where the characters connected and grew to understand each other.  And they were also hilarious.  (Hilarious Regency Romance, that's the way to go.)

In the end, I think this all comes down to 'show, don't tell.'  I want to watch people fall in love.  I want to see that process where you look at someone once and can't find anything worthwhile there, and then each time you see them thereafter there's something new that alters the way you perceive them.  Don't tell me they're in love.  Don't beat me over the head with their pure and inexplicable bond.  Show me that they connect.  That moment when one suddenly understands the other, and sees them, with all their flaws, as beautiful and real, now that's what I call swoonworthy.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

What kind of reader are you?

What Kind of Reader Are You?
Your Result: Obsessive-Compulsive Bookworm
You're probably in the final stages of a Ph.D. or otherwise finding a way to make your living out of reading. You are one of the literati. Other people's grammatical mistakes make you insane.
Dedicated Reader
Book Snob
Literate Good Citizen
Fad Reader
What Kind of Reader Are You?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Damn, they got me.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday #109

This Week's Topic:
What would be the ideal holiday present for your main character? 

My poor dear MC, just wants to get home.  Unfortunately, I, as the author, will be heading off anyone going in her direction with any sort of vehicle, teleportation device, seven-league boots, and definitely NO PRINCES OR HORSES ALLOWED, or the story will never happen.

But if you want to give her a gift she'd really appreciate...

A vacuum.

Actually, I think my critique group would really appreciate it too, because then she'd finish the cleaning, and we could finally get on with good stuff!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday #108

This Week's Topic:
How far would you go to get published?

We writers can form quite an attachment to our characters and stories. But we also know publishing is a business, and sometimes to make it in said business--to really build a career from it--we have to bend a bit. How far would you go to break into the publishing world?

1st - Jumping on the trend train
2nd - Switch to a well selling genre
3rd - Minor revisions requested to sign with an agent
Home - Major revisions requested by an editor

So, being wonderfully and purely unpublished, I am free to muddle around as much as I like.  And I'm muddling away.  No one is going to ask me to jump on a trend or switch genres, and I'm not going to.  I'm not planning to ever even try to write YA contemporaries, because honestly, high school was kind of boring, and when I was in high school, the last thing I wanted to do was read about high school.  And yet, I've written things that could totally be classed as YA contemporaries, (if they hadn't been quite so explicit).  I've written paranormals.  I've written fiction about a noir-style mermaid world.

For 1st and 2nd base the important thing is to keep in mind the difference between being given a prompt and being told what to do.  I love getting prompts.  Sometimes they catch my imagination and I end up with a 30,000 word novella before I noticed that I started writing.  But I hate being told what to do.  So if an agent says, hey, I've got this contract for a cool fantasy-mystery about demon-fish and I think you're the girl to write it.  I will say, hey, send me the info, I'll check it out.  They say that constraints are the best way to work your imagination, and I agree.  The smaller the focus the bigger my ideas get.  (And of course, the bigger the field for maneuvering in the fewer ideas I have.)  But if anyone tells me, "hey, if you aren't writing paranormals you'll never get published," I will bridle in annoyance and set out to prove them wrong.
(Notably, the only prompt that consistently leaves me cold is Vampires.  I have nothing to say about Vampires.)

For 3rd and Home, really, they're par for the course.  There will always be revision requests.  If it will actually be better for the book, then I'm down with it.  If it's something that rubs me the wrong way, like de-gaying or whitewashing a character, I might fight that.  If it's just something that will be a lot of work?  Well, writing is a lot of work.  Better get on it.

Right now, I'm totally sure that my book is going to be awesome, and as soon as I finish making it so, everyone else will agree.  :D