Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"Outlander" by Diana Gabaldon

One of the women in my band had mentioned she read some of this series, and they are full of sex but a good read nevertheless. I had a feeling the sex made her embarrassed. But then, I suppose she probably reads things that are generally a bit less racy, as she teaches Grade 4.

My mother also mentioned she was in some trading thing where the books were being passed around, and I thought to myself, "Hey, I have the first two of those!" She offered to let me in on the trading thing, but I figure if I never read the first two, which had been on my shelf for years, then maybe that was a bad idea. however, I threw it into my bag when we went camping as a 'backup book', and found that I could read about a hundred pages per day.

I don't read many bodice-rippers, but this one definitely has some of that. It's the romance novel version of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, except set in the Scottish Highlands. I find when I sit down with it, I have no trouble getting through 80-100 pages.

When I was around page 400 or so, Ed picked this up and started reading. I hate it when people do that; it ruins the story for me, because one of the great things about reading is that you can do it any time. And if someone else has the book, then I can't read it any time. There is, for me, a great deal of security in having a paperback that I've started that I can carry around.

So I picked it up occasionally through late July and early August, but I read a couple of other books in the ensuing period. And then I went on vacation again, and I finished the book while I was at the "family" cottage in Maine (not really family, as it belongs to my sister through my dad but whatever). So I would say it was good vacation reading. I left it there, since my dad's ex-girlfriend came up last fall and pretty much cleaned out the mostly mystery paperback collection that was there (our theory was that she was going to sell them for a quarter each in order to finance another month of her retirement).

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Piers Anthony just a comment

So, for my current writing project, I was looking at Wikipedia for stories about evil stepmothers, and I came across this line:

"More subtly, Piers Anthony depicted the Princess Threnody as being cursed by her stepmother..."

I had never thought of Piers Anthony as being subtle.

Friday, September 14, 2007

"Power of Three" by Diana Wynne-Jones

It probably wasn't fair to read this just after that Tamora Pierce book, because poor Tamora can't compare. DWJ's voice is just so strong, and her story structure is so well thought out. She's one of my writing heroes. When I'm trying to put together a story, I often come back to Chrestomanci, and the way there are so many small crises that all build up into one frenzied conclusion.

This book was in the Children's section of the library, and "Sandry's Book" was in the teen section, but I would say "Power of Three" had a much more complex writing style. The sentences are more varied, there are more commas.

The book mainly is about three children--two who have talents and one who thinks he doesn't. They live in a society reminiscent of celts in fantasy literature (not real celts). They are in a constant war with the Dorig, another species who live underwater, and are in constant fear of the Giants. Well, the giants turn out to be us, and the Dorig turn out to be pretty similar to the "people". Well, the three kids wind up meeting two Giants, and then two Dorig, who are about the same age as they are, and have to work together to save the moor. Or at least, the giants and "people" want to save the moor. The Dorig would greatly benefit from the moor being flooded.

It reads like a myth, like something out of the oral tradition. I would love to read this book out loud, there are so many statements that want to be said not just in my head. They often argue about who gets to call themselves "people" and other rather complex questions like that, which was to me kind of reminiscent of that quote I saw so much in the last week from Madeleine L'Engle, about how she wrote children's books that were too difficult for grown-ups to understand.

As an aside, it's interesting that the grownups who grew up reading that stuff are now being accused (i.e. in the media and the like) of not being willing to grow up. It takes us longer to accept that we have to get a real job, and move out of our parents' homes, and have kids, and then when we do we teach them to like The Pixies and buy comic books to leave around the house to encourage them to read. There's probably a rant in there somewhere, but I'm pretty sure I'm not the one to write it.

Anyway, this book seemed out of that tradition. I totally recommend it.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

"Sandry's Book" by Tamora Pierce (Circle of Magic, book 1)

Ah, formula fantasy, my old friend.

Tamora Pierce is a name I've come across a lot, but I had never actually read one of her books. So, yesterday when I was at the library and needed an easy excuse to talk to one of the staff, kind of an opening so I could mention casually that I had lost a book ("Magic for Beginners" by Kelly Link, and I didn't get to finish it, and I am disdraught), I picked a Book 1 up. Clearly it wasn't that bad, as I finished it in less than a day.

It's one of a series of four books, and in formula fantasy way, it has four main characters. Back in my mis-spent teens and 20s, I apparently had a lot more reading time than I do now, and I read a lot of, you know, DragonLance and Forgotten Realms, and that "Master of the Five Magics" and "The Black Company", Shanarra, David Eddings, and things like that. There's nothing wrong with those books, but a steady diet of that type of fantasy, well, it's kind of like eating at the same restaurant all the time. I don't regret reading all that stuff, but I kind of wish I had read a few things that were a little more meaningful. (Well, actually, that Black Company stuff was really good.)

This one is for Young Adults (I found it in the teen section of the library) though the characters are all, I think, 11. This spares them from puberty, I suppose. So this group of four young misfits who can't get along with anybody find themselves in their last-chance house together and amazingly, they manage to get along with one another quite well.

Being book 1 of a series, there's a lot of what I refer to as "quest theme". The characters are each introduced, then about a quarter of the way through they meet up. The next hundred pages or so involve them slowly finding out they have Talents (with a capital T, yet). Then right at the end a crisis appears and they use their talents to mitigate the disaster. There were some horrible moments. Any time there was a paragraph that outlined the four characters, in one sentence each, applying their particular perspective (if it's Briar, then it's to do with plants; Tris is all about weather; Sandry is a fiber artist; and Daja is into metalsmithing), I cringed. It just seemed so un-subtle.

At the same time, the book seemed really well-researched. I know nothing about growing bansai or making wire, but the descriptions seemed believable to me. Maybe someone from the SCA would be appalled, I don't know. But it flew in the face of my tendency to avoid anything technical on topics I know nothing about. I probably need to do some small bit of research about, say, canoe tripping, or making reality television, for my stories. But anyway.

And there were some wonderful moments of interaction between the characters. Briar was sitting on the roof, and Tris came up, and he couldn't figure out why she wasn't doing all those annoying things that girls always do that are the reason that he didn't want her around. It was a really nicely written scene.

But then, one of the good things about a lot of those fantasy novels that I read in my "wasted years" were the interactions between the characters. They're there to provide me with a good read, not to explain why all Americans are to blame for 9/11, and I should feel guilty about that.

A pleasant, harmless read. I might pick up book 2 next week when I'm at the library again. And when the boy looked at the book, he asked if he could read it next. When your child says something like that, it's hard to think there's something wrong.