Monday, March 10, 2014

Finished Reading 10 March 2014 - Catching Up

It's been a little while since I've updated my reading list, and in that time I've finished 16 more books.

To catch up I'll skip my usual short reviews and just give you links, a few words of description, and my rating.  Micro-reviews, in other words.

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 written and illustrated by David Petersen
Great artwork, a good story.  Like a darker, illustrated Brian Jacques. I enjoyed it, but wanted more story.

Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow
The book that launched Doctorow's career as a novelist. Worth the praise it receives.  Highly enjoyable, quirky, sarcastic, satiric.  Joe Haldeman meets Robert J. Sawyer for the next generation.

Despair by Vladimir Nabokov, revised English edition
Not quite as brilliantly creepy as Lolita, but Nabokov's trademark lush, beautiful English is present.  Not a plot-driven story, but an exploration of character and self-delusion.  Engaging, but not captivating.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio
Smartly written YA book about a disfigured and often reviled boy, August. Just when I thought it was getting too much, Palacio wisely shifted gears and expanded the story with more viewpoints. Think Rudy goes to private school.

Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch
A great follow-up to The Lies of Locke Lamora, if not quite as tightly plotted as the first book. Locke and Jean take a meandering journey that somehow manages to always be fascinating and thrilling. Once again listened to the audio version, brilliantly narrated by the wonderful Michael Page.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Quiet and introspective, like Ishiguro's other novels.  I liked it, but wasn't head over heels like so many others. I suspect much of the buzz in the SFF community is because it's Ishiguro dipping into their backyard, not because the book itself is that great.  I preferred The Remains of the Day.

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett
My second foray into Discworld, after The Colour of Magic (which I previously reviewed here).  I liked this book better.  Reads much less like a Douglas Adams derivative, and Discworld feels more fully realized.  A really funny book.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Loved this book. Go read it now.  Seriously.

The City of Ember: Deluxe Edition by Jeanne DuPrau
A timeless tale.  Great use of archetypal characters and symbols, mixed with a very original idea of a damp, cool city mismanaged by corrupt politicians and surrounded by darkness.  And the lights are going out.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
A novel of poems describing a young girl's experience of fleeing the fall of Saigon and growing up a refugee in the American south.  Deep, moving, and a great use of form.

The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson
The damsel-in-distress tale is flipped in this plot-driven story which nonetheless manages some great characterization.  A cut above the second book, The Crown of Embers (which I previously reviewed here).  The last (and best) book in a very good trilogy.

Dodger by Terry Pratchett
A YA historical fantasy from Pratchett about a "tosher," a boy who makes a living collecting things that wash down into the Dickensian sewers of 19th C London.  Speaking of  Dickens, he makes an appearance, as does Sweeney Todd, Benjamin Disraeli, Robert Peel, and a host of other notable figures.  A very enjoyable, always fun adventure story.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black
A surprisingly good addition to the over-saturated YA vampire market. Black provides a refreshing and interesting twist on vampire stories, though it does still fall into the YA female protagonist cliche of the girl fighting against her feelings for the bad boy.  Still, a very creepy book in the best of ways.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs.
Very imaginative use of found photographs to craft a tense, scary story.  Loved the idea for form, and found the concept of "loops" and "peculiars" very fascinating.  The book got off to a slow start, and it wasn't until halfway through that the protagonist became interesting for me, but around that point the book fell into place and started really working.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
Kingsolver is in my opinion one of the greatest living American novelists, but she's often overlooked because her favorite themes of environmentalism and the quiet desperation of women's lives are themselves often overlooked.  This isn't her best book, but an average showing from Kingsolver is still a very good book by any metric.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
Based on the true story of a gorilla who lived most of his life in an enclosure in the middle of a mall, and told from the gorilla's perspective, this short novel has a lot of heart. Recommended for young readers and adults alike.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Camp NaNoWriMo

Hi all,

I just signed up for Camp NaNoWriMo, starting this April. Just like NaNoWriMo you try to write a new novel in a month, but in keeping with the theme of summer camp you're assigned to a cabin of other participants (who you can select based on age, writing genre, and word count goals).

For example, I selected to be paired with other "campers" of any age who are writing young adult novels with word targets around 75,000.  I want people writing in that genre, and I want people who set ridiculously high goals for themselves, people who like to push themselves hard, and to think deeply about their work.  I also think a broad range of ages could make for more interesting discussion, so I left that parameter open.

i'll be writing a sequel to my first NaNoWriMo novel, Galdurheim (sample chapters here), of which I have since finished first, second, and third drafts, had read by my alpha and beta readers, and submitted for consideration with a number of good literary houses.  Fingers crossed on that one.  This sequel, which I'm perhaps even more excited about, picks up where the first left off.

Here's the blurb:

Set in Iceland in 1898, this is thirteen year old Leif's second year at school. Construction on the new school has been delayed due to sabotage and thefts each night, and when livestock begin being killed in the field people start to murmur about the hidden folk growing restless. With their access to Galdurheim cut off, the hidden folk are angry, and growing bold enough to break a nine century truce with the church. When students start disappearing, Leif and Fjola must find a way to appease them before it's too late. Meanwhile, Jens and Inga, sworn to vengeance over her brother Ragnar's death, continue his research into ways to harness the energy of the natural world. Inga resorts to deceit and tricks to try to get Leif and Fjola expelled, drawing their attention from Jens, who meticulously produces a new weapon capable of changing the world.

I really hope you'll take the opportunity to join me on this one.  I believe very firmly that everyone has a great book tumbling around inside the skulls, waiting for the right opportunity to spill itself onto the page.  All the usual obstacles stand in the way: work, lack of self-confidence, hopelessness, television, kids...  The thing that nobody seems to share is this truth: all of those are excuses, and phantasmagorical ones at that. They're not as real of impediments as we initially think.

Setting daily or weekly word goals, and setting aside time (even if it's just 15 minutes on your break at work, and an hour at night instead of watching that other show which you're not so crazy about--you know the one) makes this writing thing shockingly doable.  And fun.

One last thought: I've written three complete novels.  The first took me five years, and that's not the planning stages.  Five actual years of dickering around with words on the page.  The next two I wrote blitzkrieg style, and they took me 9 and 8 weeks, respectively.  And they were much better books.

I definitely encourage everyone to give NaNoWriMo a try, and the new Camp NaNoWriMo looks like it'll be a great (and fun!) opportunity to unleash your creative monsters.

Hope to see you there.

 - a