Thursday, October 29, 2009


Too much of a good thing can be an awesome thing. All my favorite YA fantasy-type authors have new books out right now, and a bunch of them have been sitting here ticking away with their non-renewable due date countdowns.

I finished Fire, which I liked even better than Graceling. When I read Graceling, I wasn't sure at first, because the beginning read like it should have started earlier, and there was a lot of backstory crammed in. But once it got underway, holy cow did it do a good job. Fire, I thought, did a good job at all the things Graceling did well, without its flaws. Both books are very character-centered, with very different issues.

In Fire, the main character has the power to control people's minds. She can control this power, but what she can't control is their reaction to her appearance, which causes people to become enraptured, sometimes to the point of violence. It's a terrifying power, one which she watched her father wield with great cruelty, and it has caused her to spend her life trying to stay out of everyone's way. When circumstances change, she has to confront the moral questions that her power raises very directly. All these questions and character explorations are beautifully handled, and no easy answers are presented. I was so thrilled with this book.

Sea Glass, on the other hand, I sent away without reading. This was only in part due to the due date. From the second book of hers that I read (Magic Study), I knew that Maria V. Snyder was not a brilliant writer. What is brilliant at, however, is storytelling. Her books are paced so fast, and her stories told so directly (and in the first person) that it's possible to get all the way through multiple books before you realize she's not the greatest writer. This time, however, I didn't get past page five. I think it was the backstory part--the beginning bit where they fill you in on what you might have forgotten about where last we left our hero/ine. That's always a dangerous time for a book, and this one totally lost me there. I'm sad, but I think I'm going to ask for Poison Study for Christmas, because I liked it so much, so I'll just try to live in the past.

I also have Forest Born, Shannon Hale's new Bayern book, in my bag. That one is ticking away, too, but I haven't started it yet, because I got all caught up in A Company of Liars, which I started ages ago and had to return because it was long and I started late. But it's so good, and I'm enjoying it so much that I'm taking my chances with Shannon Hale. I'm sure I'll finish it in time.

Liars is a medieval road trip novel, and if that doesn't sound uncomfortable, let me just add two words: black plague. It's dreary and creepy, but there's such a good sense of mystery, and the narrator is so likable that I just can't put it down.

So this is where I stand. There are other pots on the fire--not even counting the BOOK that I appear to be WRITING (how freaking weird is that to type?)--and I'll try to keep blogging, if I can keep up my word count on my book. I should give it a working title so we can discuss it properly. Somehow, though, I just can't.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Fool

Others have told me how good Christopher Moore is, and I was always skeptical. I've been thinking about why, and I realized that I used to be skeptical about Terry Pratchett, too, before I read one of his books and realized how much meat there was to it.

And I think that's the essence of the problem; I mistrust a comic novel because I assume that comedy will be all there is. I'm not into slapstick, and I get really annoyed when a story doesn't make sense because the author's too busy being funny. I think this is the flip side of my mistrust of so-called "literary fiction." Something good has to happen. It has to fit together and make good sense, both practically and emotionally.

Holy crap, does Christopher Moore pull it off. I am fine with suspension of disbelief, and if this Britain isn't historically accurate, it's some damned fine worldbuilding. I try to keep this blog clean for the kiddies, so I won't tell you about my new favorite swearword, and I won't go on as long as I could about how absolutely FUN Pocket makes the F-word sound. I've been laughing out loud on the T.

I'm tempted to ask why you people didn't tell me about this guy before, but Brenda did suggest Lamb a long time ago, and I'll admit I was suspicious. Now, of course, I'm running right out. And trying really, REALLY hard not to end this post with a swear.

ps. JMLC, any other favorites of his?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Quick Updates

1) The Safe-Keeper's Secret did not follow the iffy track that I was worried it would follow--though it didn't renounce the idea, either. Sorry I can't comment further without spoiling it, but I will say that it's overall a really wonderful book. I'm excited to have discovered Sharon Shinn.

2) The librarian was kind of rude to me today. I bent over when I didn't realize she was behind me and bumped her with my butt. For the record, I was bending over to keep Adam from pulling all the videotapes off the shelves. Anyway, she harrumphed at me, and I quickly and abjectly apologized. She IGNORED the apology and kept walking, so I called another one after her. She ignored that one, too. Not a nod, not a "sure," nothing. This was the children's librarian, for crying out loud.

3) To end on a positive note: I went to the library for half an hour and did not check out ANY books for myself! I got some picture books for the baby, but that only seems fair, since I returned all his other library books--including Karma Wilson's Moose Tracks, which nearly broke my heart. But NO books for me. I'm very proud of this.

So in short: two out of three ain't bad.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

An Up Note

I'm having a fabulous streak right now with the books I'm reading. It's been a long time since I've had this much trouble deciding which book to pick up when I have a minute to read, but what an embarrassment of riches!

Fool, by Christopher Moore. I will admit to never having read King Lear. I guess for a lot of people this wouldn't be something to be ashamed of, but I did take a Shakespeare class in college, and I was assigned to read it, and didn't. Knowing me, I probably read the first scene, but never got any further. So while I know the story pretty well--crazy old king asks his daughters to earn their inheritance with flattery, Cordelia refuses, madness and death ensues--I'm a little foggy on the details. I read A Thousand Acres, by Jane Smiley, which is based around the Lear story, but it ends very differently. I should watch Kurosawa's Ran sometime, too, and I could become the world's foremost expert on Lear who's never read nor seen Lear.

Am I babbling? Anyway, Fool is a novelization of the events of Lear as told by his fool, Pocket, who (if I recall rightly from class discussion) is a major character in the play. It's bawdy and funny and authentic and modern and really ripping good stuff, and I'm having a blast with it. I would not have expected it to be my wavelength, but it totally is.

A Hat Full of Sky, by Terry Pratchett, is the second Tiffany Aching book, the sequel to The Wee Free Men. I would say it's not quite as good as the first one, but by that I mean I LOVED the first one, and merely love this one, so I don't think it's much of an indictment. It's definitely a step scarier than the other, and there's a little less time spent with the Nac Mac Feegle themselves, but I've never been let down by Terry Pratchett yet. It's so nice to have a go-to author who can be relied upon for humor AND story.

The Safe-Keeper's Secret, by Sharon Shinn, was something I picked up after getting a recommendation for another book by the same author, set in the same world, called The Truth-Teller's Tale. Since I began writing this entry, I've neared the end of this book, and I'm worried about the direction it's headed in. But since I'm not sure what's going on exactly, and I don't want to spoil it, I won't say anything except that I have thoroughly enjoyed it. It's the story of a woman who is a Safe-Keeper, someone to whom you can tell your secrets and know they'll never be told out of turn, and her children--one by birth, one adopted, and the mysteries of their parentage. It's a domestic story, about growing up and growing old how people live together, and it's just so interesting and lovely and well-written, and I can't wait to read the rest.

So, high marks all three. I'll let you know if The Safe-Keeper's Secret goes totally off the rails, but I probably won't tell you why. Anyone who's read it, though, is welcome to let me know what they think.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Out of Character

A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick, seems on its surface to be exactly the kind of book I would hate. Thematically, it's about how the human condition is ruled by lusts of the flesh. In language, it uses every possible poetic way you can say "lusts of the flesh," "delights of the body," and "sensual pleasures." Now there's a combo to set my blood boiling, right?

I might not be a good enough writer to make my point with examples like that. I have a hard time with "literary" novels, which we've been over here. But part of my awkwardness with them runs up against the fact that I have trouble telling the good ones from the bad ones. This is largely due to the fact that books that are "good" and ones that I enjoy do not reliably create a large segment in the Venn diagram.

So overall, here are the general facts of the case:

The book was extremely descriptive, and a lot of time was spent on the emotional state of the characters. This is generally a bad sign, but there was so much action going on on that level, and so much history revealed in those parts, that it worked surprisingly well for me.

The prose wobbled between rich and florid. These long and lavish descriptions were mostly successful at capturing what they intended to capture, but they definitely get all worked up and fling themselves overboard at various points. I can say with 80% confidence that an outside source would agree with me on that assessment.

The theme of the book is that physical passion is an irresistible force that will mess you up no matter what you do with it. Sex sex sex, and there's nothing to be done about it, is the nature of the human condition.

Plotwise, we have a man in the early 1900s who advertises for a wife, and gets a woman with a past that she's hiding. He has lived a sterile, hyper-controlled life since his first marriage ended in tragedy, and he has suddenly decided that it's time to start fresh, with a new wife and an attempt to reach out to his estranged son.

He thinks about sex as much as an adolescent boy, which is why he lives in an iron vice of his own willpower. She has spent those same years doing all the things he's been thinking of, and is trying to hide that. They find some solace in each other. The plot is complicated by his long-lost son. We learn how each of them came to this place.

There's drama. There's a weird running theme about how people in Wisconsin tend to go crazy because of the long winters. As I'm writing about this, I think I'm talking myself into liking the book more than I initially did. And it's definitely not bad. It's just strange, very strange, and while I don't regret reading it, I'm not sure what to make of it.

Okay, having thought about it, I'd put my opinion this way: I think the author did an excellent job painting the internal landscapes of these people for me, but they are people who are motivated by things that I really don't quite comprehend. So even though he makes me understand, there's a level on which I can't really empathize deeply enough to love the book. That's what I thought of it.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Project Trackback

Okay, so I'm trying a thing, and I'm really excited. I've made up a bunch of cute bookmarks with the LibraryHungry URL on them, and whenever I return a book to the library, I'm going to put a bookmark in the book. I hope that whoever checks the book out next will come here and leave a comment. I'm curious how often my favorites get checked out, who's reading them, anything people would be willing to tell me.

I love the idea of the very real connection between people in the solitary act of reading. I always love the little signs in library books that someone else has been here--a grocery list, a blank envelope. Sometimes I'll find one of the printed receipts the library gives and get all excited that the last person to read this book checked out two other books I just read! And then I'll realize it was my receipt and I forgot I stuck it in there. And I get embarrassed and tell the story to the internet.

I hope the library doesn't get mad, though. Technically it could be seen as advertising, and I bet the library wouldn't like it if I went through the stacks and stuck a take-out menu in every third book. I hope they'll let this slide, though. It's done with love!

So--for any new readers out there, welcome to LibraryHungry, and to Project Trackback. Please, please leave a comment, even just a short one telling me what book you checked out, and what library. I don't keep track of whether I got something from the BPL or somewhere in the Minuteman system. I'd love to know who's reading what. And welcome! I hope you enjoy the show.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Storefront Library

A couple of exciting things going down; I'm going to be volunteering at the Storefront Library in Chinatown. This is a temporary library that is being put up for three months by Boston Street Lab (with the help of a lot of other local organizations). The idea is to demonstrate both the need for a branch of the BPL (which the Storefront Library is NOT) in Chinatown and an example of the kind of thing that can be done with empty space in a city to activate empty space and improve a neighborhood.

It starts next week and I'm very excited. So far I've just had orientation, and I don't know much except the people involved are great and the space is absolutely lovely. I'm looking forward to working on it. Stop by sometime--it's right next door to the Chinatown RMV.

I'll keep you all posted on how it goes. It's my first Real Library Gig. Go LH!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

No Excuses, No Apologies

Is there anything more boring than a blog post about why you haven't posted to your blog in a while? Thought not. So.

Catching Fire was pretty awesome. There's almost always a point at the beginning of a sequel where you're kind of adrift. You're reading it because you liked the first one, but it's a whole new book, so you're kind of adrift in new-book land. There's the awkward hop-step when entering any book, like trying to get on a moving sidewalk. But with a sequel, you already read the first part of the story--you know the characters and the author. So you aren't expecting the ground to change--like stepping from one moving sidewalk onto another. Not smoother, and in fact, maybe a little rougher. This effect is often intensified by Backstory and Exposition, which can be awkward and painful if you just came off the previous book--like the time a few weeks ago I told Brenda the same anecdote about my clever packing innovation (inflated sandwich bags!) twice in two days.

So there were a few pages at the beginning of Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire (sequel to The Hunger Games) where I didn't quite know what the vibe was, or when we were going to get into the meat of the story, and I was worried for us, the author and me. But then bang, here it comes, and whoosh, we're off on a train tour and starvation mode and survival and PTSD and all kinds of very real, complicated treatments of the fallout of good action adventures. Start with The Hunger Games--this stuff's worth it.

In a painful labor of--well no, not love, determination, maybe? I'm reading Dawn Rochelle, which is a collection of FOUR Lurlene McDaniels books about a character with cancer. All her books are about a character with cancer. I had a strong memory of the first one in this series, Six Months to Live*, and I wanted to reread it, just to see how it held up. Not great, is the answer. If you want to make an 11 year old girl cry, this is the book for you; if you are a lover of the English language or finely expressed emotions, not so much.

But I didn't go the easy route--no, I had to check out the four-in-one volume. And since each book is 120 pages, then dammit, I'm going to finish it. I've already read Too Young to Die and So Much to Live For. I only have the 120 pages of No Time to Cry left to slog through. Maybe this will be inspirational. At the very least, I will be Someone Who Follows Through.

Children of the Dust, by Louise Lawrence, is another post-apocalyptic book that I picked up recently. It was interesting; it told the story of a nuclear holocaust through the lives of three generations in one family--a girl who lives through it (for a little while), a relative who is born in a bunker and meets the outside world, and a future generation, where the bunker people emerge to meet up with the mutants who have adapted to the new world. It wasn't bad--it was interesting in a thoughtful way--but it wasn't compelling at all, and I won't tell anyone they must read it. I also felt that, while the ending was appropriate to the story, some of the developments that happen at the end are a little pat and therefore flawed.

Anyway, that's where I am. I'm going to do something fun next and read A Hat Full of Sky, by Terry Pratchett, and then some of the other piles and piles of books that are stacking up around me. Don't worry about me, team, I'm still out here going through all these books for you.

*Point of order: at no point in this book is the main character or anyone else told that they have six months to live.