Archive for the ‘books’ Category

Deep Revision

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

tea_poptarts_revision

The year continues to challenge me, emotionally and physically and ideologically. I’ve learned a lot about open-mindedness, humility, empathy, strength, and endurance. And this is a writing blog and so I will talk about writing. Or the not writing.

I received feedback on Draft #2! And one of the few constants in the past couple months is the time I’ve spent compiling that feedback into a series of documents.

1) A scribbly hard copy: A compilation of everyone’s notes/typo corrections/stylistic changes onto a single paper manuscript.

2) The Hit List: A running list of Big Edits and changes that need to be made.

3) The Chapter-by-Chapter Revision Spreadsheet of Doom: An excel spreadsheet with chapter summaries and the Big Edits/nitty gritty edits that need to be made to each chapter, along with the new characters and ideas introduced.

I think I’ve spent enough time collating and collaborating and cogitating and I need to actually crack open the Scrivener project file and start implementing. Eep. *bites into another chocolate bar*

Most of the feedback has been both enthusiastic and helpful. Some of it is big questions that can be answered simply – the addition or deletion of a sentence that clarifies something, for example. Some of it is big questions that need big thinking. One of the problems I’ve struggled with from the beginning is my protagonist’s motivation in the opening chapters. One reader narrowed it down to the question: “Why today?” Why does she choose to follow a stranger on a wild adventure? What does that stranger offer that fills some lack in the protagonist’s life?  So I’ve been doing some deep thinking. I’m not sure I’m totally there yet on some of this. In a strange infinite-feebback-loop kind of way, I find I do my best writing while… I’m… writing? Meaning once I am hip deep in the story, I can think more clearly about how to implement the changes that I know need to be made and untangle it on the page rather than just in my head. Because the writing is never as glittery-sparkle-diamond as it is in a writer’s mind.

(Trust me, every writer has written a perfect book. It’s shelved upstairs.)

But life has been throwing up obstacles, as usual, both positive and negative. I haven’t written in months. I’ve thought, I’ve collated, I’ve packed books, I’ve unpacked books, and I’ve read an enormous amount (midnight nursing sessions + smartphone + downloaded library ebooks = more reading time than I’ve had in a year). Soon, now, I’ll need to put fingers to keyboard and write again. REVISE. Bring out the scalpel and the needle and cut and stitch this draft into something new.

But it feels close. Closer. Soon.

 

Ps. I’m teaching another event building workshop in March! Stay tuned for details.

Pps. What books have I been reading you ask?

Old favorites:
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick
Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede (Morwen4Eva)

9780857662163

Enjoyable new finds:
Delicious!
 by Ruth Reichl
Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal

Highly recommend:
Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
The Liminal People by Ayize Jama-Everett
The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books

 

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100 word review:
All The Birds in the Sky

Thursday, May 26th, 2016

This is part of a series of 100 word book reviews

AlltheBirds

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Published by Tor Books, January 2016
checked out of the library
Read in May 2016

Target audience: Young Adult, Adult

Outcasts Patricia and Laurence became unlikely childhood friends despite asking different questions – Is magic real? Can technology save the world? When they reconnect years later after a long estrangement, it looks like they’ve both found what they wanted… but the world has other plans. Quirky, intimate, modern, and compassionate, Birds blends magical realism and futurism to mirror the connections and conflicts between nature and technology. Anders does a remarkable job of making large problems personal and personal problems earth shattering. She never takes her storytelling too seriously but uses a deft hand to reveal character details without overburdening her writing.

Should I read it? Definitely. Highly recommended for fans of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Young Wizards series by Diane Duane, and The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman.

 

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Vacationing with Books

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

I may not like packing for vacations – it always takes me forever and I always forget something critical like sunscreen or socks – but I do like carefully curating my Books To Read on Vacation selections. I have to assess how many free hours I will have to read; determine the proper balance of genres; evaluate which books are too heavy to travel; decide which books hit the right tone for my destination.

The last vacation I went on was to sunny Florida. I spent several wonderful days desperately trying to soak in as much warmth and Vitamin D to make up for the years and years I’ve been snow- and cold-bound this winter. And reading. In the sun. With a glass of iced tea. Slice of heaven.

The books I selected to bring were: The Chance You Won’t Return by Annie Cardi (realistic YA), A Visit from the Goon Squad (literary adult), The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester (classic sci-fi), and Snuff by Terry Pratchett (satirical fantasy). You can see what I did there – a smorgasbord of stories, nothing too dark but works with some meat and interest. Alas, I didn’t get to Snuff this time around but I did get to read the other three.

This is part of a series of 100 Word Book Reviews.

chance you won't returnThe Chance You Won’t Return
by Annie Cardi
Published by Candlewick
received as a galley
Read in March 2015
Target Audience: Young Adult

Full-disclosure: Annie and I were actually suitemates/classmates at Young Writers Workshop at UVA in 2001 and only recently rediscovered each other. We’ve since met for coffee and conversation and she is a lovely (and highly entertaining) person. I assure you none of this has anything to do with my assessment of her book. But frankly, her book is as lovely as she is.

On the surface, Alex’s problems seem typical: drivers ed and a new love interest. Instead, she’s hiding the secret of her mother’s dissolution into an alternate identity: Amelia Earhart. The story is tightly written with carefully, emerging tension: we follow Alex as her fraught relationship with her mother twists into something both distancing and tender. I found it especially refreshing that the romance in the story was an added layer of conflict, but not the focus. Cardi writes with humor and a light touch, even when the topic is serious and destructive for the main character.

Should I read it? Yes. Annie Cardi has a way with characters that will draw you in. They are complex and interesting and most of all, heartfelt. I am looking forward to her next work!

9780307477477A Visit from the Goon Squad
by Jennifer Egan
Published by Knopf (Random House)
passed along from my mother
Read in March 2015
Target Audience: Adult

My mother described this book as “weird” with a wrinkle of her nose but it’s the kind of weird I love. Each chapter closely follows a different character’s story. Sometimes they seem barely connected, but ultimately they spiral and build on one another. The characters revolve around the double helix of music and time, examining the rise and fall of the music industry. Egan’s writing is dark and tongue-in-cheek, as are her characters. She paints them brilliantly in just a few strokes and makes you care, even as she eases you out of one life and into the next.

Should I read it? Definitely. It’s not for everyone, but there’s a reason it won the Pulitzer. I love books that break the novel form open to see what hatches. In this case, something beautiful and wonderous.

starsmydestinationThe Stars My Destination
by Alfred Bester
Published by Vintage (Random House)
purchased – Wellesley Free Library book sale
Read in April 2015
Target Audience: Adult

Alfred Bester is a classic science fiction author and this book had been on my to-read list for a long time. It’s the story of Gully Foyle, a brute of a man wronged by fate and turned viciously vengeful. It had strong tones of Philip K. Dick – psychics, telepathic teleportation, grand conspiracy, and elaborate and fanciful tech. The book explores the darkness of human nature, both physically and psychically. It wasn’t totally my cup of tea – aside from Gully, the characters felt flat and the ending “twist” felt muddy – but it was interesting to see the root of so many SF tropes

Should I read it? Meh. If you enjoy classic SF from the 1950’s or are rounding out your reading in science fiction canon, then reading Bester is a must, though I might go with The Demolished Man.

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How to Host a Book Swap

Monday, September 29th, 2014

Book Swap n. — an event wherein one invites guests to exchange books.book swap books ya

  1. Realize that your bookshelves, nightstand, floor beside your bed, tables, and kitchen counters are covered in books and that many of said books are ones you’ve owned for years but will probably never read.
  2. Realize you may still have a box of books from the last book swap you hosted FIVE YEARS AGO that you haven’t looked at since. Oops.
  3. Pick a date and invite all your book-loving friends. This may include: book club buddies, fellow readers, writers, publishing folks, etc.
  4. Begin the Great Book Purge by sorting all your books into ungainly piles and unruly categories such as Keep And Shelve In Bedroom or Sci-Fi with Realistic Twist or Books For Swapping But Only if [Insert Friend] Is Coming or Who The Hell Would Actually Read This?
  5. Carry books up and downstairs, shelving and re-shelving, reassuring your family that the chaos will make sense eventually.
  6. Refuse to put any cookbooks in the To Swap pile.
  7. Realize you may own as many teacups as you do books.
  8. Decide “There must be food!” and make it an optional potluck. Bake some apple bread. Put together these wraps. Make this pasta salad (but with parsley and tortellini. Or you know, however you like)
  9. Realize that “Book Swap” really means “Please come and take my books. TAKE THEM” because you have five bags of books to “swap.”
  10. Make all kinds of plans for fancy DIY book-themed decorations like these. If you’re actually crafty go ahead and accomplish some. If you’re like me, cut some hydrangeas from the front yard, put them in a mason jar, set them next to some tiny pumpkins and call it a “center piece.”
  11. The day of Book Swap has arrived! Have friends come over bearing books and food! Everyone eats a lot, talks a lot, and leaves with many books (but not enough). Only select a tiny stack to keep for yourself. WP_20140929_13_27_53_Pro
  12. Mostly forget to take pictures. Whoops.
  13. Donate and/or sell remaining books (of which there may be more than when you started).*

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*Many of the books I pulled from my shelves are actually galleys, also known as Advanced Reader Copies. These are pre-printings of books that publishers send out (or give out) to booksellers, book bloggers, book reviewers etc. to generate buzz around new titles before the book is released and have publicity ready for the launch of a book. What it also means is that they are “uncorrected proofs” and are not meant to be re-sold. These galleys/ARCs should be donated to hospitals, schools, detention centers, etc. I plan to donate actual books to my local library and to More Than Words. And I may save a few to sell to the used book room at Wellesley Books.

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100 word review:
This Side of Salvation

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

This is part of a series of 100 word book reviews.
sideofsalvation

This Side of Salvation by Jeri Smith-Ready
Published by Simon Pulse
received as a galley
Read in August 2014

Target Audience: Young Adult

What if you discovered your parents appeared to have been taken up in The Rapture (or in this case, The Rush), leaving you behind? So hinges Smith-Ready’s complex book for teens that tackles hefty themes (faith, love, grief) with a gentle touch. The dialogue is sharp and spot-on, balancing darker moments with wit and humor. The last quarter of the book slumped a bit for me, as if the author wasn’t sure what to do after the pieces of the mystery fall into place. Ultimately this story isn’t about religion, rebellion, or sacrifice; it’s about the resiliency of family.

Should I read it? Yes. I get the sense that Smith-Ready is just going to keep getting better. Don’t let the religion bit turn you off – it’s another dimension to the story, not the only one. I was pleasantly impressed by this book.

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100 word review:
The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland…

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

This is part of a series of 100 word book reviews.

GirlWhoFell

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There
by Catherynne M. Valente

Published by Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan
purchased at World Eye Bookshop in Greenfield, MA
Read in July 2014
Target audience: Middle grade, Young Adult, Young At Heart

Once again, a lush and intricate book for young readers. September is growing up and learning that hearts are fickle things. When she makes her way back to Fairyland, she finds herself drawn to Fairyland Below where her wayward shadow is making merry and wreaking havoc. The shadows embody the parts of people that they keep hidden, the “sometimes wicked and unkind parts, but often brave or wild or colorful parts, cunning or powerful or even marvelous, beautiful parts.” Valente’s language is spell-binding and there seems to be no limit to Fairyland nor her imagination.

Should I read it? Why yes, but this is a sequel so I would definitely go about reading The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making first, as you will get more out of it and then proceed straightaway to read The Girl who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two. This series is perfect for young and old dreamers alike who are always peeking inside wardrobes and broom closets seeking grand adventures.

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A little plug for bookstores, inspired by this purchase: I want to remind readers that bookstores, like World Eye Bookshop, can special order most titles for you, as long as they are in print, just as well as an online retailer. That is, if it’s not something they have on the shelves at the moment (instant gratification!). Many stores also do shipping. Either way, it’s a nice way to support stores in your community (or in the community of someone you are gifting).

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100 word review:
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

This is part of a series of 100 word book reviews

VitalPhenomena

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
Published by Hogarth (Random House)
Read in July 2014
purchased at the Friends of Wellesley Free Library book sale

War-scarred Chechnya becomes a character all it’s own in Marra’s novel as his story weaves through the country’s history and geography. Following several otherwise unremarkable characters, the lyrical story unfolds of an incompetent doctor-cum-portraitist trying to save the life of his neighbor’s young daughter. But it’s more than that. It’s the story of aborted futures; of family, both blood and built; of the grip of history, fear, and loyalty. Marra has a beautiful, delicate touch with language. The book is intense, but the author balances the tone nicely with touches of humor and yes, even small glimmers of hope.

Should I read it? Yes. It is unlike anything I have read recently and harkened back to a period when I read a rush of Booker-prize/nominated books. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena reminded me of those books with it’s character driven narrative, close integration of history, and eloquent language.

Trigger warning: This book contains visceral descriptions of torture and kidnapping (one chapter in particular).

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100 word book reviews: June/July 2014

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

A new feature: Short reviews that are a maximum of 100 words. Here is a selection of books that I’ve had the good fortune to dive into this past month. Have you read any of these books? What did you think? What are you reading right now?

calamity physicsSpecial Topics in Calamity Physics
by Marissa Peshl
Published by Penguin
purchased at Harvard Bookstore
Read in June 2014

An unconventional roller coaster. Blue is the brilliant daughter of a professor and the book (when it’s at it’s best) chronicles her nomadic childhood until it slams up against a more conventional plot of loner-joins-the-in-crowd. Parts reminded me of The Secret History — a group of “cool” misfits hang out with the beautiful, smooth, film teacher. Until the book becomes a murder mystery… or does it? The book’s drastic loop-de-loop three-quarters of the way through left me with no idea who any of the characters were. Stylistically, it is quirky, over-the-top, smart, and generally very interesting. But also long.

Should I read it? Yes, but be prepared for an enigmatic ending. The structure of the book as well as the asides, references, and oddball images make it worth a read for the style alone.

girl who circumnavigatedThe Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her Own Making
by Catherynne M. Valente
Published by Feiwel & Friends (Macmillan)
purchased at Harvard Bookstore

Read in June 2014

Young September is swept away to Fairyland where she embarks on a grand journey while stomping all over the tropes of magical abduction and adventure. It’s about finding yourself and your own heart. The language is luscious, musical, complex, bubbling — this is a strong, sophisticated book for young readers and adults alike. Some may be put off by Valente’s intricate and over-the-top style but there are surely readers like September (and myself) who “…read often, and liked it best when words did not pretend to be simple, but put on their full armor and rode out with colors flying.”

Should I Read It? Yes, definitely. But only if you like big, beautiful words, made-up lands, adventure, and brave young girls. The series just gets better and better.

player of gamesPlayer of Games by Iain M. Banks
Published by Orbit (Hachette)
purchased used at Harvard Bookstore
Read in July 2014

While I’ve enjoyed other works by Banks, this one didn’t hold together for me. It started off very slow; the trigger for the major plot line – a master game-player being blackmailed into clandestine service — didn’t occur until nearly page 100. While the story did become more gripping through the latter half of the book, I found the ending somewhat predictable. It was a good introduction to The Culture and I will likely read others books within this universe because I trust Banks as a writer, but this is not my favorite.

Should I read it? Meh. If you’re trying to read all The Culture novels, I’m told it’s a must. If you’re just looking for some good Iain M. Banks, I might otherwise recommend, The Bridge (under Iain Banks — finally reissued!), The Algebraist or even Inversions (despite it’s infuriating structure/ending).

last policemanThe Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
Published by Quirk Books
received as a galley
Read in July 2014

This book struck the perfect balance of an old story told in a fresh way. It’s a murder mystery wrapped in an existential conceit: does the law matter if the world is ending anyway? I found the world Winters paints to be true, dark, and almost heartbreakingly normal. He manages to sustain the tone throughout the book without it dragging the reader down. The mystery itself is nothing unique, but the characters and the stark near-future setting make it a compelling start to the trilogy.

Should I read it? Yes. Especially if you like your mystery with some existential apocalypse mixed in. Or your apocalypse with some existential mystery. Or both. I’m moving book two, Countdown City, to the top of my pile.

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Wizards Before the Boy Wizard

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

So_you_want_to_be_a_wizardHARRY-POTTER-AND-THE-SORCERERS-STONE_510x777

Tooting my own horn for a moment, I was excited to be interviewed and quoted in this Boston Globe article about J.K. Rowling and her continued dabbling with the Harry Potter storyline.

But I’m going to tell you a secret: even though I’m a “longtime Potter fan”, that time is not as long as it is for most people. Because you see, I didn’t read Harry Potter until 2010. That’s right. I read the Harry Potter series in the weeks between leaving my academic publishing job and starting my bookstore job as a children’s event coordinator and bookseller. There, my shameful secret has been revealed.

(more…)

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Book Review:
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Monday, June 30th, 2014

Yeah, pretty much you should read this.Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Orbit Books, 2013
book purchased at Brookline Booksmith
Read in June 2014

If my last blog post got you down at all, never fear; when one cover closes, another one opens and the cover that opened wide for me was Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice.

I have been reading incredible praise up and down the blogsophere about this book for over a year now; it has won a 2013 Nebula Award, an Arthur C. Clarke Award, a 2014 Locus Award for a First Novel, and has been nominated for a Hugo. Leckie has been writing and publishing short stories for a while now, but this was my first encounter with her writing and I can see why it’s been blowing people away.

The title, Ancillary Justice refers to a starship – The Justice of Toren – and one of her “ancillaries” Breq, a human-drone possessed by the A.I. of the ship. In fact, the protagonist and narrator of this story is the ship itself. The twist is that this vast mind that the ship once had – controlling an immense battleship and seeing through the eyes of hundreds of ancillaries – has been reduced to a single ancillary. A hive mind has been reduced to a single mind; an incredibly powerful artificial intelligence has been restricted to the capabilities of one (slightly enhanced) human body. A mind that appears to have one stone-cold focus: revenge.

One of the things I loved the most about Leckie’s debut novel was the characters. Breq has the mind of a machine, but one that’s been crafted equally for analysis and emotion in order to make meaningful decisions. She is calculating, determined, fierce, but with moments of deep compassion. She is neither male nor female, and yet, also, both. Or something else entirely. She has found music and religion and a mission. And she is faced with one of the biggest questions of the book – is a machine allowed to have a conscience? Is a soldier?

The key to Ancillary Justice is the blurring of identities. Not only does Breq confound the meaning of “human” and “machine,” but her culture, the Radchaai, forces us to examine gradients of gender, class, and citizenship. These broader questions are draped like a jeweled net over a robust, space-operatic narrative that traipses through backwater planets, space battles, political intrigue, and straight into the heart of a fragmenting galactic empire.

If I had one critique, it would be that the Radch civilization, at times, seemed like a flat background. I’m not talking about their religion or class system, or even their fashion sense which Leckie goes into in great detail. But for an Empire that has brutally “annexed” other cultures for a hundred years, I wanted it to feel more three dimensional. I wanted to know about some of the other cultures that had been absorbed; I wanted a better sense of the Empire’s cosmography; how the constant expansion was impacting “citizens” in different parts of the Empire. Fortunately, Ancillary Sword comes out this October.

Is Ancillary Justice worth reading? Absolutely. It’s exciting to see a debut novelist hit it out of the park like Leckie does here, drawing readers into a new world that asks a lot of big questions. It has classic tropes with modern twists and characters that feel both familiar and fresh at the same time.

 

As someone who has been rumbling and ruminating on stories with A.I. protagonists and non-gendered narrators, and who has been desperate for some solid, classic science fiction, this book filled me up.  If The Blind Assassin was the kind of book I wanted to write in 2004, Ancillary Justice is the kind of book I want to write today, right now.

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