Nov. 2nd, 2009

reileen: (reading - books)
RE: NaNoWriMo 2009

Hear that in the distance? That looming, rumbling noise? That's not a thunderstorm* - that's the sound of countless writers pounding away at their keyboards, trying to vomit out as many words as possible in week one of NaNoWriMo before they black out temporarily in week two.

For once, I'm not going to have this problem - I'm revisiting my script from last year. Which I probably blabbed about at some point earlier in this LJ. Instead of doing 50,000 words in a month, I'm shooting for 50 hours of revision in a month. So far I've logged 3.5 hours, and I'm a little bit dlkjlakfjlakjdfa about having to deal with tangled plot threads and flat characters and paper-thin worldbuilding that makes no sense. But I console myself that at least Daemonsong is in hellah bettah shape than Glass Houses, hoo boy. I'm still excited, though - I think I have something potentially readable here. I don't think it'll become a bestseller, assuming that I manage to snag an agent and get this professionally published, but I think I can be proud of it.

It feels weird not to have a wordcount goal, not to be exulting in cracky-ass plot breakthroughs and bitching about how everything I'm writing is crap ('cause it is, particularly at that point). But I suppose I make up for my deviations by roping a meatspace friend of mine into his very first NaNo novel. I get to be his unofficial NaNo mentor - or NaNo nagger, probably. I also have a final project for my ART260 class in which I may take on the NaNoWriMo experience as my subject matter.


RE: Bibliophilia

Since logging Trick of the Light into my reading journal and writing up a review here, I've blown past a couple of other books. I wish I could do a more in-depth review of them, but since I'm running into my last few weeks of fall quarter, the projects and work are starting to pile on a bit and I can't concentrate as well as I'd like, and I don't want to put this off any longer. So, here's thoughts on some of the stuff I've read lately.

The Devil You Know by Mike Carey
Highly recommended. I picked this up because someone on fandom_lounge described it as a "more mature version of the Dresden Files". It lives up quite well to that particular description, although obviously it's a lot more complex than just SRS BSNS DRESDEN FILES. It's set in London, and centers around Felix Castor, an exorcist who returns to the trade after he quit because he majorly fucked up an exorcism for a friend. The wit and humor that one could expect to find in one of the Dresden Files books is a lot more toned down in The Devil You Know, but both take an irreverent, blackly humorous approach to the dark things in life and I enjoyed it greatly. In contrast to the Dresden Files, we see character change in Felix almost immediately, but I think that's a function of the fact that part of the emotional plotline is why he decides to ultimately return to the trade of exorcism. There's also a slightly out-of-left-field yet completely charming and loltastic twist right at the end, after the main plotline is tied up and done, which makes me want to pick up the rest of the series even more.

The Mermaid's Madness by Jim C. Hines ([ profile] jimhines)
Highly recommended, though you should read the first book first. Takes place about a year after The Stepsister Scheme. In an annual diplomatic ceremony gone wrong, Queen Beatrice's soul is stolen from her when she's stabbed with a magical knife wielded by Lirea, a rather off-kilter mermaid princess who has killed her father, taken the throne, and is now looking for her sister Lannadae, intending on her killing her as well in order to cement her authority as queen of the merfolk (who prefer to be called undine). Danielle (Cinderella), Talia (Sleeping Beauty), and Snow (White) race against time to find the mermaid who created Lirea's knife, in the hopes that they can save Bea's soul before Bea's body dies. Of course, nothing is that simple, and they quickly find that things are a lot more complicated than they thought.

I'd been looking forward to this next installment of the Princess novels for months already, and I wasn't disappointed. As good as The Stepsister Scheme was, the plotting of The Mermaid's Madness is better focused, and it also has the added benefit of expanding POV characters to Talia, Snow, and even poor, battered Lirea. It makes me wonder, however, what The Stepsister Scheme would have been like if we'd seen Talia and Snow as POV characters there. I'm not sure it would have worked that well for me - I can lose patience with multiple viewpoints pretty fast (which is why I stopped reading GRRM's novels after the second one). But since I already knew and loved the characters from the previous novel, it was a lot easier for me to get inside their heads in the second novel. I think the effect of having Danielle as the POV character is similar to the "stranger in a strange land" trope, which in this case is Danielle the peasant girl suddenly having to navigate the world of royalty after marrying Prince Charming (who really is a genuinely nice guy, heroic without having to save Danielle or any of the other princesses). This carries over to the readers, and we're taken along, wide-eyed, with Danielle to explore this fantastical world, which is simultaneously familiar and foreign. It's not until we get acquainted and acclimated to the world and characters of The Stepsister Scheme that we can better appreciate the viewpoint shifts in The Mermaid's Madness.

Though The Mermaid's Madness is better than The Stepsister Scheme in some ways, I do think that much of its charm comes from already knowing the characters from the previous book. In particular, there's a particular subplot involving Talia's romantic aspirations that gets explored a bit further, and which ends sort of in a cliffhanger that leads readers to expect some sort of resolution in the next two books (Red Hood's Revenge and a yet untitled fourth novel). I also enjoyed the hints at the darker side of Snow's normally bubbly, flirty character, a dark side potentially inherited from her mother. And though Danielle can neither fight like Talia can, or do magic like Snow, she's strong in her own right, with an empathic, idealist streak that is prevented from becoming too sweet with moments of sarcasm (probably learned from hanging around Snow and Talia).

(Yeah, I know I said these reviews would be short, but this was taken from a Notepad document I'd had written up for a while.)

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest ([ profile] cmpriest)
Recommended. Set in an alternate-history America where the gold rush was moved up by a couple of decades, resulting in a larger population up in Seattle and the continuation of the Civil War far past where it ended in the real world. Dr. Leviticus Blue built The Incredible Boneshaking Drill as a response to Russia trying to dig up oil in Alaska, but a test run gone awry devastated most of downtown Seattle and released a noxious gas that turns its victims into the living dead. Fifteen years later, most of the survivors now live on the outskirts of a walled-off Seattle, and Blue's widow Briar Wilkes just wants to forget the past and raise her son, Zeke, to be a respectable and outstanding citizen. But Zeke is convinced that his father i innocent, and sets out to prove it by sneaking out of his house and into the city, forcing Briar to chase after him.

If you're into the steampunk genre, you'll want to give this book a try. If you're not much of a steampunk fan, you may still want to give this book a try. Cherie's writing is sharp and clean, and she seamlessly weaves real and imagined history into the fabric of the story, which both is and is not what you think it is. Although I tend towards epic plots of good vs. evil, with lots of explosions and fights and action, I greatly enjoyed this microcosmic story of a mother trying reconnect, both literally and figuratively, with her son. True, there are explosions (and ZOMBIES!) and fights, but what really carries it along is the climax of Briar and Zeke's emotional story thread. The plot of Boneshaker is very family-centric, I think, and there's a nice parallel between Briar and Wilkes and two other characters who I'll refrain from mentioning here for spoiler reasons. Probably her best book yet, although I haven't read Fathom.

Dark Delicacies II ed. by Del Howison and Jeff Gelb
Generally apathetic. Assorted short stories in the horror genre. I picked this up from my library in preparation for revising The Struggle Within, and was surprised to find that the variety of stories contained within this anthology were mostly as unconventional as my own story. Unfortunately, I've already returned the book to the library, so I can't quite make as specific of references as I'd like, but let's see what I can do here.

So, you may ask, was I pleasantly surprised or unpleasantly surprised? I have to admit that I wasn't really impressed with the first crop of stories, though I'm still unsure whether it's just that I don't have a good eye, ear, or heart or any other part body for the genre, or that I don't possess the right disposition to truly enjoy short stories, or if it was something inherent in the particular stories themselves. Well, okay, I am quite sure all three play a part in how much I enjoyed or didn't enjoy this anthology; what I'm less certain on is the proportion of these sentiments to each other. I definitely got a morbid kick out of the last short story, called "The Ammonite Violin" by an author whose name I can't remember, which beautifully unreal and dreamy. There was also an entry from the author of World War Z that was rather interesting (and I want to check out World War Z eventually). Another one, called "Where There's a Will..." or something along those lines, had me doubling back and reading the story again to understand what the hell was going on in the ending. I like the idea of the ending, but am not convinced of its fictional veracity (if you catch what I mean).

There were at least three stories that bored me or didn't interest me at all, and a fourth one which confused the everloving hell out of me. One of them was the first one in the anthology, involving a vampire trapped on the Titanic trying to hide his true nature from the rising sun. I know, I know, what a potentially interesting premise, right? But the author didn't pull it off well at all. Another involved a man in a troubled marriage being inexplicably chased by a literal hellhound - not convincing either. Then there was a story involving the torture of what seems to be a political prisoner or a prisoner of war, a Mobius strip-type story where you seem to be getting somewhere but then you end up right back where you started (and thus I have now somewhat spoiled that short story for you). Using that sort of structure is a pretty gimmicky gamble. I wasn't impressed because I'd seen it before in the fantasy anthology Flights (ed. by Al Sarratonio), and I believe Neil Gaiman also wrote one such short story. Of the three, I'm not sure which one I'd rate as the best. The story that confused me was called "I Live Inside Your Mouth" or something like that, and it felt like this weird mishmash of Japanese horror and American horror. I had high hopes for it, because the author was great at establishing atmosphere, but ultimately I felt the plot wasn't clear enough.

If you're a horror genre fan, you might want to give this a look for at least the last short story.

Books on my current reading list include:

Liar by Justine Larbalestier
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Skinwalker by Faith Hunter
Gothic Charm School by Jillian Venters ([ profile] cupcake_goth)
The Art of Piano Playing by Heinrich Neuhaus

So that's contemporary YA, steampunk YA, urban fantasy, self-help pop culture non-fiction(???), and an academic primer/treatise. Yes, this is quite the bibliophilic salad at the moment.

*Well, maybe in Chicago it is, since it feels like it's been raining for the entire damn fall season.


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Reileen van Kaile

April 2010


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