Tuesday, May 29, 2007

5 Mini Reviews

I just looked at my notes and realized that though I'd been writing up the mini-book reviews, I hadn't posted any of them. If nothing else, this really makes me aware of just how many books I've been reading. Here are some brief reviews for your enjoyment.

Hammered by Elizabeth Bear

(Acquired: bookstore)

I've been planning to read something by Ebear for quite some time so when I saw her first novel at the store, I picked it up. As a first novel, it shows real talent and I look forward to reading more. I put first novels in three categories: not interested, amazing, and shows potential. This novel fell in the shows potential category because it didn't knock my socks off but at the same time the characters are compelling and the world setup is interesting. My biggest problem isn't the book's fault at all. Somehow I'd missed the memo that this was one third of a story and nothing on the cover warns me.

Edited -- I just asked a question of Elizabeth Bear only to find out that what I'd believed, that Hammered was the first third of a book split by the publisher, is false. She had written it as a trilogy with the first two books complete when her agent sold the first (and the other two as well). Honestly, I don't know how much that changes in my opinion about Hammered. Whether written as one huge book or a closely tied trilogy, I don't feel Hammered had a strong interim conclusion. Would this have bothered me if the cover made it clear? Probably not. So the rest of my note still holds. The incorrect part is now in square brackets.

[In talking to friends, I learned Jenny's story was originally one huge book that Spectra split into three.--a rumor] I question the decision not to indicate that on the cover because this piece doesn't come to a satisfactory close for me as nothing much is resolved. Knowing as I do now that it is only a third of the story and because other elements of the book did satisfy, I plan to snag the next two. Without that knowledge, what would tell me that Ebear could write a satisfying conclusion? And this is the kind of thing out of the author's control that can impact careers. That said, it doesn't seem to have stopped Ebear any :D. And I only expect the stories to get stronger because the characters and the interesting worlds are already there.

An interesting note is that Locus treated them all as one book for a Best First Novel award. Maybe that's where the rumor started.

Speed Dating by Nancy Warren

(Acquired: We Hear You)

I don't know whether this is representative of the Harlequin NASCAR line or not, but this book is a wonderful return to everything I loved about romances when I first started reading. If you read for the raunchy bits, don't bother with this book. No, this one is all about the people and the tension between them. It's about two people discovering what makes them tick and what makes them whole. Even knowing that they have to find a way back to each other, there were points that made me cry. For an emotionally powerful read, look no further :).

Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

(Acquired: family)

Yeah, I know. I'm behind the rest of the world. When we first started reading Harry Potter, I would sit in the living room with my two boys all washed up and ready for bed curled up next to me and my hubby relaxed in a chair as I read as long as I could hold out. But then my boys got tired of how slow it took me to get through the stories and so stole the books to read on their own and after a while they became nothing more than a placeholder on my to-be-read shelf, where they came and went depending on who wanted to reread them next. So I was given an ultimatum. The movie comes out this summer and frankly the movies are often pastiches instead of stand-alone stories as they try to cover even a fraction of the elements in the books. So I started reading. Unlike many people, I don't see that much original in Harry Potter. That's not to say they aren't enjoyable, it's just that I don't get the charge my kids do for example. On the other hand, I'm usually sucked in. This book however took too long to start and I came to understand why I'd started it and put it down before. There were some chapters that sucked me in to the point that I extended my reading time just to absorb them, and others it took two to three reading times (until I established the one chapter minimum rule for myself) before I got through them. My impression of this book is simple. I think it needed, deserved even, a better edit pass to cull some of the draggy bits and make the story flourish. Ultimately the story was a good one, but the read felt too much like a slog. I know there's a lot out there who will disagree, and that's fine. They're welcome to their opinions. I think this is a sad example of good authors who aren't reined in as well once they start raking in the bucks. Rather than pushing for recycled paper, I would have appreciated a closer look at the content for this volume at least and I'm finding some of the same issues with the Half Blood Prince (since I was on a roll, I figured I'd just keep going :)).

The Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

(Acquired: family)

When I finished Order of the Phoenix, I really thought I'd seen the start of J.K. Rowling's decline. I've seen it in famous authors before where it just seems they no longer care about the quality of the story. That book had chapters that captivated me, but they were tucked in amongst a lot off floating. Anyway, I could not have been more surprised by The Half-Blood Prince once I got rolling. My chapter system defeated me with this book, but not because I struggled to finish a chapter at just one sitting. Rather I had to force myself away and go on to other things. I don't spoil, so I can't give any examples, but even with someone spoiling for me the "who dies" question, there were enough other surprises to have me stunned at the end. I'd pegged who owned the potions book before, but that was a minor reveal compared to what else happened in the book. I can't believe how quickly I read through it and am really looking forward to the next one, something I couldn't say with Order of the Phoenix. I guess the bottom line is that I am impressed and no longer think she's started to decline :).

Thunderstruck by Roxanne St. Claire

(Acquired: We Hear You)

I've mentioned this romance novel in several conversations because it demonstrated something successfully that I was trying to work out in my mind: how to withhold information within the POV of the knowledgeable character without the reader feeling cheated. It was a good story with a bit of intrigue, a bit of mystery, a good cross between instinctive chemistry and the determination to fight it for good reasons. I usually enjoy almost every romance novel I read because they tend to be good at meeting specific expectations. So far I've been very impressed by the Harlequin NASCAR line just because the two I've read have managed to give me good emotions while also giving a strong showing compared to other books that aren't constrained by the restrictions of happily ever after. I'm also happy to see the greater focus on both sides of the picture, male and female, because it makes the romance a matter of two lives coming together and working through issues rather than a more limited focus.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Lea Schizas Appreciation Day

When I first heard of a day to recognize the contributions Lea Schizas has made, I signed up immediately because I think the people who contribute their time to helping others deserve the recognition, and at the same time, it helps build awareness of what resources are out there for those trying to find, or improve, their footing.

I learned of Lea through the Muse Online Conference. I saw a post about it last year, made a note to sign up, and figured I could participate in a few interesting chats and carry on with my life. Boy was I wrong :). The conference had the same gloriously overwhelming abundance of information about writing techniques, publishing, preparing submissions, and a ton of other topics offered in both chat and listserv format. I found myself unable to keep up with the loads of assignments I wanted to participate in, but those that I managed were strong and fun.

Since then, when I would have collapsed into a puddle of exhaustion, Lea has kept the listserv running, and continues to both encourage good writing questions and share her own experiences to help answer those questions. She's run a class to help beginners build a writing website and hosted several chat classes for this time between the conferences.

But I think the strongest testament to her influence is watching the people who have taken what they learned and ran with it. Several people have participated in blog tours, both hosting and being hosted; interviews are mentioned; and chats are being hosted.

I haven't had the time yet to implement even a fraction of what I've learned through Lea, but I know that learning will be there when I'm ready.

Me, I like to go to conferences in my pajamas ;) and I hope to see Muse Online continue to grow and attract even more writers, agents, editors, and publishers.

And while I spoke about the conference, that's not the sum total of Lea's contributions. Check out these links to know more about what she has to offer and I hope to see you at the conference next October. Just be prepared, and like any other conference, don't plan to get much other stuff done :).


Thursday, May 10, 2007

Odd Things Meme

I was tagged by several people, and it has been awfully quiet around here. But you all are going to regret making me do this. Coming up with 8 things no one knew was tough! The last is a little creepy :D.

1. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
2. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
3. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
4. Don't forget to leave them a comment telling them they're tagged, and to read your blog.

My odd facts?

1. I've been chased out of a desert minaret by an army. Everyone survived and I didn't spill the coke bottle I was holding closed with my thumb either.

2. In Elementary School, I played a kangaroo in The Nutcracker (and yeah, I know there isn't a kangaroo in the play, but...).

3. I have actually written fan fic, though I had no idea what it was at the time. I wrote a story starring Mr. Happy (http://www.amazon.com/Mr-Happy-Men-Little-Miss/dp/0843178094) when I was 8 or so and even pasted each page on construction paper as a book.

4. I once performed two songs at an open mic night at a coffee house in Dupont Circle (and neither dropped my guitar nor lost my voice, but BOY were my knees knocking ;)).

5. I collect musical instruments...that collect dust :p. My collection (not including the few that belong to my hubby) contains a classical guitar, a beautiful steel string, an electric guitar, a flute, numerous other wind instruments in the recorder/song flute family, harmonicas, even some drum type objects, and an electronic piano we all share.

6. My parents gave me my favorite afghan rug for my wedding...and I keep it rolled up in its cover because though they promised me cats wouldn't harm it because our Siamese never had, our alley cats shredded one corner and I'm not brave enough to try again even though we have different cats now.

7. I have a stuffed alien called Gringa whose eyebrows sink if I don't speak Spanish to her...they're pretty much permanently down and I can barely put together a simple sentence :P.

8. My teakettle has to have a lid for the spout because in my second apartment out of college we had one of the old style "I'm a little teapot" type and one day when I was refilling the water I found a 1.5 inch bloated spider that had clearly been boiled several times in it.

And I don't have anyone else to tag because they've already done it :).