Thursday, January 22, 2009

Five random thoughts make a post...

So we'll see how I do.
  1. The boy was casting about for a book to read a few evenings ago, so I gave him a pile of things he hadn't read before. He asked which I recommended, so I pulled out Uninvited by Justine Musk. He read it. He liked it. He said he thinks there ought to be a sequel.
  2. Rachael Ray should be paying me a commission. I have raved about my RR meals so much that two of the people who sit in my area at work have bought a RR book in the last month.
  3. Last night I went through my giant filing cabinet. My god, I have a lot of first drafts that have never seen eyeballs again. I had come up with the crazy idea that I should apply to Viable Paradise, so I was looking for something to brush up and send in. My brain had fixated on one particular story, which I never found (however, I did find the stocks I was looking for about three years ago). I guess when you write a page per day for 15 years, that piles up. Ugh.
  4. A lot of the books I read come from the library. Unfortunately, a lot of the books I want to read are only at the Merrill Collection, which is part of the TPL group of libraries. I gather the Merrill Collection is a fabulous and world-famous thing. It has tons of rare and obscure SF titles. Unfortunately, when I look in the catalog online and I see something is in the Merrill Collection, I can't place a hold on a book there. You can't take books out of the Merrill Collection. I guess that's to protect its completeness. Apparently, you can go down to the branch that houses the Merrill Collection, and go in and read the books there, but you can't take them out. I don't know. I've never seen it. One time, a long time ago, I went down to that branch (it's near the UofT campus). It might have been when I lived in the downtown core, or maybe one day when I was trapped downtown. But I didn't actually see the Merrill Collection. I can't remember if it had different hours than the rest of the branch, or if it was open. But in order to access it, you had to go through a different door, and I think I was intimidated. It seems like hoarding to me.
  5. Why is it always apples that are magical in stories? I'm pretty sure these clementines are more magicker. And that's only partly because they're seedless.

Wow, I've got nothing.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

"Book of a Thousand Days" by Shannon Hale

Why I read it: Part of the Cybil awards last year.

I'd requested it from the library on January 2, 2008 (1) and about five days ago the library website started listing it as "in transit". You know how ominous those words are to me, after the Nicola Barker "Darkmans" episode. Anyway, so yesterday was Kagami Baraki in my dojo (I kept calling it Kobiyashi Maruk, but I know that's wrong), which ran from 10am until 6pm. The only time I can ever get to the library is on a Saturday (it's across the street from karate, which is why I request books be sent there, since I go there 2x per week).

So I wasted half of my lunch break getting out of my gi and running across to see if the book was there, because if it was, then the clock starts ticking, and if I don't pick it up within the seven days or whatever (and I'm not totally believing of when those days begin, because I've had some bad experiences in the past) then I go to the back of the line. And I've already waited longer than a year. So I looked on the shelf, and it wasn't there. I checked on the computer, and it said it was "available". I was going to get in line and wait to be helped by a librarian, but then I decided to poke around on the carts first. And it was there.

Bookmark: Library receipt.

Tastes like Chicken: "Skin Hunger" by Katherine Duey.

What I liked: This book totally charmed me. I read it in a day. Interesting to me is that this is the second book in a row that I've read, in which the magical power of song is a big part of the story.

The story is set in a mythical Mongolia-like place, and one of the awesome things about it was that women seemed to have a reasonable place in the society. The story is narrated by a maid, Dashti. She has a wonderful voice, innocent and knowledgeable at the same time. It's written in diary format, and for this story it works, because the diary becomes a greater part of the story when it gets into someone else's hands. That was a nice effect.

Not so much: There's this weird thing with people who don't read YA books, where they are sort of confused and think that all kids' books are like fuzzy bunny or something. And then they read one, and they're all surprised, and they compare that book really favourably against all the books they imagine in their heads. That bugs me. This book was totally horrifying in spots. Maybe that's because all rats give me the willies, but, like true, un-sanitized fairy tales, this one has a lot of darkness in it.

What I learned: Based on a Grimm Brothers fairy tale, Maid Maleen, which was neat to read through just now to see where SH changed the basic storyline.

Next up: This book didn't have any vampires in it, but it did have a werewolf. I don't think that's ruining it for all my readers who haven't read it yet. However, the next book I read will, or the book after, I think.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

"My Swordhand is Singing" by Marcus Sedgwick

Why I read it: I am beginning to evidence a little bit of a theme here. First a vampire book with no vampires in it, then a Very Popular YA vampire book, now a less-well-known YA vampire book. I can stop any time I want. Oh, okay, just one more and then I'll stop.
I bought this for the boy for Christmas 07 not because I thought he would like it, but because I fell in love with the title, and it was an excuse to bring it into the house. I'm not sure he finished reading it. He may have found it disturbing and creepy.

Tastes like chicken: The Black Company, The White Rose, Shadows Linger (actually a series I read because of the fabulous title of that last one... There's only one other book I can think fo that I read because of the title: "Rumors of Spring") And those books go back to that bio of John Hawkwood that I read a couple of years ago and totally recommend to anyone who wants a history of the basis of fantasy literature.

Stylistically, a lot of the Garth Nix stuff I've read.

Bookmark: This book had a string. Every book should have one.

What I liked: I liked the short chapters. I also liked that there was a greater story in the background, and this was like an afterword to that, or an aside. Big things might have happened sometime and somewhere with the Winter King and the Shadow Queen, and whatever Tomas had gotten up to 30 years ago. I liked that the gypsies were the good guys. The ending was good, too.

Not so much: The story began slowly, which might be why the boy didn't get into it. Also,
the local wise woman turned out to be a bad guy, which bugged me. And some of the exposition of that stuff (and other places) seemed stilted, as if the author just wanted the writing over with.

Lessons learned: Probably about how to find a good story at the corner of something else, rather than all those big, silly fantasy novels about kings and queens and the like.

Monday, January 05, 2009

"Twilight" by Stephanie Meyer

Why I read it: The boy read the entire series twice, and then he saw the movie, which he said was bad. I didn't let him know I was reading this, because he'd forbidden it to me. Naturally, that made it all the more intriguing. Also, a lot of people on the internet have opinions about it.

Bookmark: Envelope for a yarn gift card from the boy.

Tastes like chicken: I hate to say this, but it reminded me a lot of my dad's novel. Mostly that's because I felt like they came from the same place -- the ongoing soap opera in our heads that tell ourselves over periods of months or years, to entertain ourselves when we're bored standing in line, or before we fall asleep at night. (Everyone else does that, right?). The same way my dad had many, many references to the tear in Fiona's sweater, Twilight had many, many references to Bella's clumsiness. I get the idea.

What I liked: It was certainly a quick read. The boy read it the first time in the car on the way to Maine last summer. I started it on New Year's Day and finished it last night.

The mythology was sort of interesting, I guess, in a personal-fantasy-in-book-form sort of way. It's just that my personal fantasies, well, I think they should stay personal. People don't need to know that stuff. (This is completely different than the opposite of "keep your plans secret for now", by the way. Fantasies are not plans. It's important to know the difference.)

I may not bother with the sequels, though the boy owns them all. Again, I get the idea.

Not so much: It seemed sort of artless. Compared to, say, Uninvited, where there were charming turns of phrase and interesting metaphors, this seemed so plain. Everything was spelled out. It was tempting to skip over sections because nothing was moving forward. Also, I don't think Bella is a good rolemodel for my game face.

It was recommended to the boy by a girl, and I think it has given him a certain cachet amongst the young women he knows; he's the only boy most of them can talk to about it. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not.

Lesson learned: Edit more. Take out the obvious bits. I felt like I was being hit over the head by Bella's kind of unastute interpretations of others. When I was writing my page this morning, I found myself not writing down some of those bits, and doing it consciously. That felt good.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Keep your plans secret for now

Several years ago, I received what was perhaps the worst piece of fortune cookie advice ever, "keep your plans secret for now." The problems stemming from this advice are myriad.
  • When does "now" end?
  • Which plans?
  • Secret from whom?

Okay, maybe not myriad, but three. Somehow I chose to keep all my plans secret from everyone forever. Which makes it kind of hard to act on them, you know? It's easy to not move forward, not even make plans, if I'm keeping them to myself. There's no commit there, no failure to live up to promise. It's too easy.

So now, for the whole world, I say this:

  • I have a novel (okay, I have about seven, and they're all in rough draft). I plan to edit it, and get it published.
  • Mmmm, black belt. Me want. A little scared of how it might change me, but we'll work through that.

There, not secrets any more. That felt good.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

"Uninvited" by Justine Musk

Why I read it: I read her blog, which is entertaining because of the celebrity stuff I suppose, but also because she is very open about her life. Also, she did Tai Kwon Do. A couple of days ago, she said she writes "vampire books with no vampires in them". Excellent.

I got the book for Christmas from Ed (because I'd provided him with a list of "a book by..." type items).

Bookmark: Envelope from a Customs questionnaire I received back in August, the last time I crossed the border.

Tastes like Chicken: Tough one, this time. (Edited later to add:) I think if Tim Wynne-Jones were to write a different book than the two I read that were exactly the same, it might come out like this. That is a good thing.

What I liked: So very much.
  • The voice was good. It made me laugh.
  • I found Kelly really believable as a teenager, I found her parents believable as parents of teenagers, I found her brother believable as someone who had expectations placed on him that just weren't for him, and who really screwed up.
  • The story totally dragged me along from start to finish. There was just the right amount of feeling that Kelly knew something had gone wrong, that something was really wrong, and she was trying to get along with her life, and it just wasn't working.
  • There's a vehicle named Truck. I don't know why this amused me so much, except that I have a car named BMW. (Ed's car, in contrast, is named Jean-Guy.)
  • The cover design seemed strange when I got the book, but it totally fit the story.
  • This book caused me to have a conversation on the way back from sushi lunch with some coworkers, where we discussed what a bad idea it would be to use work computers to find out if Ecstasy really costs $15 per pill.
  • The mythology was neat.

I'd never heard of MTV Books before (not that I'm exactly a maven of all publishing info, but still). Though all the other books advertised in the back sounded a little less my thing.

What I hated: Hate is such a strong word. There were a couple of places where the transition to exposition seemed jarring, but whatever. I suppose I could say I hated, or feared, Archie and the bikers. They were creepy. And I was supposed to, so that's good.

What I can steal: I keep saying voice, over and over, but I need to have my own voice, not take someone else's. There was an article in Toronto Life Feb 09 about Margaret Atwood, mentioning the voice she's adopted for her non-fiction as distinguished from the voice she uses in her fiction. Two voices? Interesting. I wonder if that's what I need to do for my karate persona, or as JM talked about in this book, "game face"? Soon I will have "more faces than a deck of cards" as Ed says. It would be good if I could have three, I guess.

Did I mention that I sent Watcher to the Sunday Star Short Story contest? Yeah, I did that on Dec 20, 11 days before the deadline. That's so not like me. But it wasn't going to get any better while I was on vacation, so that was probably the thing to do.