Tamora Pierce‘s Beka Cooper series came to a rousing conclusion this year with Mastiff. I have long been a fan of the YA fantasy author and was excited for this year’s fix. Beka Cooper, a City Dog (basically a police officer of the realm), finds herself a mature agent of the law and assigned to the hunt of her life that takes her across the realm with her partner, Tunstall, a new mage, her scent hound Achoo and, of course, the cat née constellation Pounce.
I don’t want to ruin too much of the plot for Mastiff, but I have to make a few veiled comments for my own satisfaction. When they finally unmask the traitor, I cried; the award she wins was incredible; her choice in lovers was at first surprising, but in retrospect makes a lot more sense than any others. There, I’m done being cryptic, but I just had to get that out.
As always, Pierce approaches the adventure with a wit and urgency that draws her readership in, regardless of their age. I remember picking up Wild Magic when I was a prepubescent bookworm and immediately falling in love with her worlds and characters; I have spent every year since gleefully awaiting the next book. And my favorite thing about her work is that it has matured along with her audience. The material has gotten more complex and deals with more significant cultural issues while still maintaining the approachability that has made her a favorite among the YA audiences. As always, Ms. Pierce, a job phenomenally well done.
The novel Clown Girl by Monica Drake caught my eye, with its rubber chicken cover and promises of dark comedy. The story itself is about a young woman in Baloneytown who is attempting to make a living as a clown, a true artist, with silent mime-ish interpretations of Kafka while struggling not to give in to the easy corporate-clown money.
On the surface, it seems fairly straight forward, and–as expected in a novel about clowns–at times absolutely hilarious. But it is so much more than a novel about a clown named Sniffles. It’s a story about a woman named Nita dealing with a miscarriage, the absent elitist clown boyfriend, horrific housemates, missing dogs and chickens, and forbidden feelings. Every time Drake allowed you the release of laughter, two lines later you felt like crying. It was an incredible, beautiful, roller coaster of a novel, from start to finish.
The writing itself is simply pristine. It has been a long time since I have read prose that was as refined and purposeful while evoking a dark hilarity in simple turns of phrases. Drake has a true talent for understatement, which is necessary in a novel with such absurd extremes. It facilitates and eases the reader through each low and high spot, leaving them feeling satiated and content by the end.
Suffice it to say, I recommend Clown Girl for anyone who enjoys a dark literary comedy, or even those who don’t, as you will fall in love with Sniffles as you root for her through street fairs, police stations, and corporate parties.
For those of you who enjoy reading fantasy, particularly fantasy featuring dragons, I am sure that you have read Anne McCaffrey. She was a goddess of the fantasy novel; her world constructions were beyond believable, and she truly lived her work. Her books were some of my firsts–first dragon warfare, first time I wished I would be chosen by a dragon, first sex scene. She is also probably the reason I ended up owning a bearded dragon in high school (I really wanted a dragon small enough to perch on my shoulder).
Alas, Ms. McCaffrey passed this week, and the geek community celebrates her work and life and all of the hours of pleasure she gave to us while we mourn the fact that there will be no new Dragon Riders of Pern. (Well, maybe, there are vague rumors floating about that she had been working on a new one.)
Here’s to hoping she was reborn as a golden dragon, matched with a fearless woman, and is even now soaring through the skies of Pern.
When I find myself on the hunt for a new read–and want something that is thought provoking and beautifully written, rather than quick and mind-numbing–I invariably pull up Hawthorne Book‘s catalog and pick one of their backlist that I haven’t yet had a chance to read. They are an independent publisher out of Oregon that publishes nothing but absolutely incredible work. I have studied under two of their authors (Michael Strelow and Scott Nadelson) and fallen in love with several others (Poe Ballantine of note, and I cannot wait for his new book, set to come out next year!).
Their dedication to superb work extends not only to the work they choose to publish, but to the design and printing of the books themselves. They are sleekly designed with archival quality paper and heavy duty spines to withstand rugged loving, yet provide the reader with a truly pleasant reading experience.
But enough gushing over the paper stock. I will have some reviews up soon on some of their books, including Clown Girl by Monica Drake and Scott Nadelson’s new collection Aftermath. And who knows, I’ll probably keep digging through the backlist and reviewing more of their books; frankly, I always enjoy them so much I can’t stop talking about them anyways, so you all might as well get a taste!
Cleanse Fire, the first book of the Kinir Elite chronicles by Anastasia V. Pergakis, is a fun new take on a classic genre: high fantasy. By this, I mean the tradition of J.R.R and Dragonlance, but with an added dash of military thriller. In Cleanse Fire, the Elves we are introduced to are part of an elite fighting squadron known as the Kinir Elite; they may look like gorgeous elves, but they fight like Marines.
But enough set-up, here’s the meat. The plot is engaging, and calls to mind some of the military thrillers of Dan Brown (no, not Angels and Demons, but the Scarecrow series, much better stuff) as well as the fantasy styling of Dragonlance. The characters themselves have complex backgrounds and are not the simple one dimensional critters you sometimes find in fantasy novels that rely solely on their mythical race to provide depth. These characters are full-fledged characters.
The only negatives come in the mechanics of the writing, and those I think can be chalked up entirely to the fact that this is the first of what is sure to be a fun series. The plot and characters are enough to carry you over the rough spots, that’s for sure; and, as the stories continue, I know the writing is going to mature wonderfully.
Though one of the best aspects of the whole thing? Part of the cover price goes to charity. That’s right, a portion of each sale goes to the Wounded Warrior Project, a charity dedicated to supporting wounded veterans. That in itself is totally worth the $4.99 Kindle price, where it is available now. Hardcopy books are available starting on December 21st.
I own a Kindle, though it may be a twice handed-me-down through my family and attached to my father’s Amazon account where I only pull down free books (and whatever he chooses to buy), but I am intrigued by this new Lending Library concept from Amazon. On the surface, it seem like an excellent idea. With your Amazon Prime membership, you can read books for free on your Kindle. The downside is, you can read 12 a year, max. And at that, only one a month. Admittedly, I love the concept of Prime for two day free shipping (particularly when I had it for free), and the books on top of that are basically icing when you think how much free shipping I’ve gotten out of the deal before.
But here’s what I want, Amazon. I want unlimited lending for a flat fee a year. I’ll take the restriction of only being allowed to have one book out at a time. That makes sense. But I want one fee that allows me to borrow as many books during the year as I can actually read. A rare book may take me a month to read, but the majority of them will only take me a couple days, max a week. I understand Amazon’s market plan of making money not from their devices, but from content, but I still feel that the artificial restraints placed on the lending system are…awkward. So, here’s my suggested alternate plan:
One option is to charge a flat rate for a year-long subscription, with different levels of subscription depending on how much someone expects to read. Someone like me would be willing to pay, oh, $100-$150 a year for a subscription as I would still be paying less than $3 a book. Or, another option, is paying a minute amount of money per rental, say $1. Then you keep it as long as you need to read it, trade it in for the next, and shell out another $1. That model seems to be working well for the day-of movie rental business. And both of these models reduce the uncomfortable restriction of being able to only rent 12 books a year.
That said, I’m glad that Amazon is working on the Lending Library system for the Kindle, it is overdue!
Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams was a thoroughly enjoyable book. Usually, I am not someone who voluntarily picks up non-fiction, but I was drawn to this book as it covers a location that I am most keen in visiting eventually: Machu Picchu.
When I first heard about the book, it was billed as one man’s journey through the ruins of Peru and, eventually, Machu Picchu. What you get, however, is a blending of three stories. You have the history of the conquistadors in Peru and the resulting insurgent war, then you have Hiram Bingham trying to find the lost city of the Incas in 1911 and then you have Mark Adams following in the footsteps of that explorer, retracing the roads and paths that Bingham originally traveled.
Adams does a magnificent job weaving the three story lines together so you are not lost at any step and each informs and enriches the other. There are modern travel tips nestled in next to references from ancient religious tracts written by visiting priests–and neither seem out of place. The only hiccup in reading comes from the liberal use of Qechua names, which is only appropriate, given the context of the story. But I am someone who can’t move on until I’ve figure out how each one could be pronounced, and I would then promptly forget be the time I saw the name next. Thus, it took a bit longer to get through than my usual, but it was still highly enjoyable.
I would definitely recommend giving this book a once through if you enjoy true life adventure texts or are at all interested in the Inca history of Peru. It is well researched and splendidly presented for an overall informative and delightful read.
NaNoWriMo has just begun and here are some helpful hints for those of you attempting this Quixotian enterprise:
1) Write everyday. Don’t take a break for your birthday, or hospital visits, or just because your hamster died. If you have a fever of 104, write! Look how well Tropic of Cancer sells and he wrote that entire thing when he was blasted out of his mind…
2) Don’t fool yourself into thinking you are writing the next best seller. You are not. If you are lucky, you’re going to produce something your mother will tell you is quite nice. Have realistic expectations for output and you will be much happier come December 1st.
3) Don’t write without a plan. Sit down first and figure out who your characters are, what they mean to each other, and kind of where you want the story to go. Otherwise you’re going to get to page 200 and realize that nothing has actually happened yet.
and 4) For the love of all that is holy, please, please, PLEASE go back and edit before you try and share your collection of sleep-deprived words with anyone else. A month to bang out around 80,000 words is enough time to get them out, but not enough time to make them good. If you think on December 1st that you’re going to be sending out your work to agents and publishers, be prepared for a lot of rejection, because that’s all you’re going to get. And if you self-publish? It is not going to sell. Take the next year to edit, then maybe it will be something that can stand up to actual scrutiny.
With that being said, start your engines, pick up your pencils, start the coffee, whatever it is that’ll get you going, and have fun. Don’t get hung up on the word count, the timeline, or anything. Just write because the words won’t stay down and they just have to come out.
The site is now up and running, fully functional, la-de-da! As soon as the rest of my life is in order, I shall attempt to actually start a serious blog about the creative in the everyday life…be it writing, design, or anything in-between!
I’m working on getting this site up and running, but in the mean time, patience is appreciated!
Shortly, I shall have examples of my writing and design work up for perusal including, but not limited to: fiction, non-fiction, book design, interior design, and clothing design.
See you soon!