Musings

[Blog] Update – February ’23

I’m quite certain I’m not the only one feeling a bit astounded that we’ve already chewed our way through the first month of 2023. It’s been fairly productive out here in my corner of the universe, both on the reading/writing side of things and just for life in general, though I’ve a sneaking suspicion that February might take a hit on that front, despite my best intentions. We’ll see!

It’s kinda fudging it to say that I read four books in January– though only just. Because while I finished reading Brandon Sanderson’s new book Tress of the Emerald Sea today, I read most of it last month. So I’m going to say that counts. For those of you who haven’t read it yet, I can say I thoroughly enjoyed it, from the vaguely fairy tale feel to the fantastic worldbuilding to the whimsical snarkiness throughout.

Other completed books were The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (Stuart Turton), Harrow the Ninth, and Nona the Ninth (books two and three of Tamsyn Muir’s Locked Tomb series). I already posted up a blog (rant) regarding my thoughts about The 7 1/2 Deaths, so I won’t rehash that here. As for Harrow and Nona, I’m thoroughly enjoying those and have joined the ranks of those waiting in eager anticipation for the upcoming release of book four. It’s probably the… weirdest series I’ve read in quite a while, and it’s definitely not going to be everyone’s cup of tea (bowl of soup?), but I’m well and truly hooked.

Writing, while going at a slower pace than reading, is still falling back into more of a rhythm than I’ve had in quite a while, which is really nice. So far it’s mostly been on smaller projects as I knock the rust off of the skills needed to actually structure a story, but writing is writing, and it’s happening more often. As evidenced in part by the short story that posted up yesterday! Ha!

Technically, The Path wasn’t the story I planned on posting up last month. But life went a little unexpected this last week, and the story I was diligently chipping away at… didn’t get finished. And was going well enough that it deserved far more than a rushed ending that couldn’t do it any kind of justice. So, the plan is to finish that and post it up for February. The plan is also to keep working at various Tanner and Miranda stories, but those will likely take longer to see on the blog.

Anyway! That’s it for updates from the last month. Check in next week for more rambling nonsense and writing related musings!

Musings

[Blog] A Satisfying Mystery

Or, for an alternate title, Why ‘The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ Annoyed Me.

First off, apologies to anyone who particularly enjoyed the aforementioned book. I don’t at all mean to offend, I’m glad you found it wonderful, and more power to you. I also don’t mean to argue that it’s a bad book, just that I didn’t like it as much as some others and ended up spending a ridiculous amount of time trying to figure out why that was. (And for those of you who have not read it, be warned that there are spoilers to follow.)

Part of it is that I just didn’t like the narrator. Especially not at the beginning. For myself, there are a lot of mild annoyances and frustrations in a story that are easy to overlook if I enjoy the characters and the narrator. The flip side of that, though, is that I will struggle to enjoy a solid and interesting story if the characters annoy me or if I can’t relate to them. Having the narrator not know who he was definitely added to that as well; it is extraordinarily difficult to write a compelling character when they don’t know who they are. More so when who they are keeps changing.

And that, I think, leads into what annoyed me the most: there was nothing that I, as the reader, could latch onto as an accepted fact. The rules would change. I couldn’t trust what the characters saw or said, because the next go ’round would have me believe that the exact opposite was true. I realize this makes me sound petulant. Part of the whole appeal of a mystery story is the fact that everything isn’t what it seems, but this is where I keep getting stuck. Not only was nothing as it seemed, but I also didn’t have the information I needed to make educated guesses about what was going on. All while the Plague Doctor is lurking about here and there making ominous statements and being generally unhelpful.

It’s similar to the difference between the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries and Sherlock Holmes stories. Both are mysteries, certainly, but with Wimsey the clues are all carefully laid out one by one and while there are absolutely false leads and dead ends, the information you as the reader receive is enough to bring you to an educated guess. With Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales, the clues are all there, but they are often such that no one but Holmes himself could suss them out. And it’s probably why, as a whole, I prefer Dorothy Sayers’ gentleman sleuth to the legendary Mr. Holmes.

But back to Evelyn Hardcastle.

By the time I got to the end of the book, I found a story that felt like I should have enjoyed more than I did. The twists were interesting. And the characters’ final choices were the sort of thing that seemed like they should have landed with more of an emotional punch. And here I think the fact that there wasn’t a clear path leading to what was actually going on did the book a disservice. It felt less like the clues had been there but so cleverly disguised that I couldn’t see them except in retrospect, and more like they had been hidden altogether while I was deliberately led in the wrong direction.

So, maybe I’m just mad about getting tricked. I told you I was feeling a little petulant.

But the more I think about it, that’s it: I have no problem getting to the end of a book and admitting that I in no way saw the ending coming. Heck, that’s half the fun. The other half is looking back and seeing all the things that now seem like bright red flags marking what was actually going on and getting to see everything with the benefit of hindsight because it opens up an entirely new dimension that you couldn’t have seen before.

It’s just that that’s not how I felt when I got to the end of Evelyn Hardcastle. It wasn’t that there had been clues all along the way that I just hadn’t noticed, hadn’t picked up on, it was that there was no way I could have come to the correct conclusion with the facts I was given. Or even gotten to the general vicinity of the correct conclusion.

But maybe that’s just me. What about you? If you’ve read it, did you enjoy it? Were there really a whole bunch of hints and clues that I missed because I was too busy being annoyed? Let me know in the comments!

Musings

[Blog] Out Loud

I’m terrified of reading my own stories out loud to an audience. Any audience. Well. Maybe not any audience; I think I could handle putting on a performance for one of the cats. But to a human audience? Even the thought is unnerving.

Which is funny, given that generally speaking I love reading out loud. I mean, I haven’t quite figured out how to do the voices, and sometimes I’ll lose my place in the text (who doesn’t?) but overall it’s a thoroughly enjoyable experience and something I’d honestly like to do more often. But translating that over to reading, specifically, something that I have written? Nope: instant onset of something the feels a whole lot like panic.

And I’m really not sure why.

I’ve got some theories– writing anything, including (especially?) fiction is inherently revealing, and the effect isn’t going to be lessened by the author lending their literal voice to the words. Yet I don’t hesitate when posting them up in public, and in fact I rather hope people read them and enjoy them. It could also have something to do with the fact that it’s more “demanding” on the audience’s attention: if you run across a random story on the internet and don’t find it interesting you can just click away, whereas if I asked you to sit and listen while I read something I’d written out loud, you might feel significantly more pressured to stay and listen regardless of how you felt. And if you didn’t enjoy it, I’d feel terrible for taking your time.

Yet I find that, more and more, I would really like to try and share my work that way. Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment. Or, maybe, actually trying it will come with more benefits than the handful I’ve already thought of. I suppose there’s really only one way to find out.

Musings

[Blog] Reading Retrospective 2022

Well! According to Goodreads, I did it! As of yesterday, my official read count for the year of 2022 is sitting right at seventy five books. (And honestly, there’s every chance I’m going to finish at least one more before the year’s completely out, if only so that I feel less like I’ve cheated by including one that’s technically a short story.)

And now, because I’m a sucker for this sort of thing, a few statistics.

Of those seventy five:

  • 21 were rereads
  • 9 were non-fiction
  • 48 were SF/F (surprise, surprise)
  • 7 were audiobooks/read out loud
  • 51 were ebooks*
  • 9 were library books

Now, for my favorite part. Or rather, my favorite books from the year in several categories because overall favorites are for people who, unlike me, can make that kind of decision. New read just means new to me. No reviews this time, but I’m more than happy to get into discussions about them in the comments. Ha!

Favorite New Reads (Fantasy):
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Favorite New Read (Science Fiction):
Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis

Favorite New Read (Classic)
Persuasion by Jane Austen

Favorite New Read (Bonus!)
A Single Swallow by Zhang Ling

Favorite Re-read:
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

Favorite Non-fiction:
The Puma Years by Laura Coleman

What about the rest of you? Any books you particularly enjoyed reading this past year? Any you’re looking forward to next year? Me, the next book of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series is due out later this year, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. If the last one is any indication, it’s going to absolutely wreck me, but that’s the price we pay, no?

Keep an eye out for another blog post in the next few days– now that my real life schedule is settling down into something fairly stable I’m looking forward to putting a bit more time an attention into writing. Details to come! Until then, I hope you’ve all been having a wonderful holiday season.

* Ebooks are convenient. I have never denied this. And despite the fact that more than two thirds of my reading this year was done in that format, that should in no way be taken to mean that I think they’re “better” than their physical counterparts. And no, moving halfway across the country with more than a dozen boxes of the aforementioned physical books stuffed into my car did nothing to change my mind. Harrumph.

Musings

[Blog] Revisiting Old Reads

A couple of months ago, I listened to Delia Owens’ beautiful novel Where the Crawdads Sing. Aside from thoroughly enjoying it in its own right, it also reminded me of another novel: A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter. This is not particularly surprising. Both stories follow a young girl with a strong attachment to the surrounding swamp/marsh, a knack for collecting remarkable specimens, and a less-than-ideal home life. So, once reminded of Limberlost and how much I’d enjoyed reading it as a kid, it seemed like a good idea to revisit it.

Now, I don’t actually remember how old I was when I read Limberlost. I was young. Possibly very young, but I really couldn’t say. The book was gifted to me by a dear friend who had also enjoyed reading it when she was a kid, and rightly figured that I would as well. I bring this up because upon picking it up again, I was a little surprised to find that it was not quite what I remembered. Blame it on my tastes maturing and me growing up. That’s not to say it’s bad, per se, but it certainly doesn’t carry the same nuance that the books I most appreciate now do.

Another point worth bringing up: I have absolutely nothing against rereading books. In fact, I’m of the opinion that the best books are the ones that you get more out of every time you read them. I’ve read The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit at least three times each, and probably more. I recently returned to the Touchstone trilogy by Andrea K. Höst and have every intention of doing it again. And there’s so many others. Like Frankenstein, which I didn’t particularly enjoy the first time but want to see if I get something more and different out of it now that I’m older. Or Fahrenheit 451 which I did enjoy both times I read it. Or a dozen others that come to mind without my having to think about it all that hard.

But not every book needs to be reread. And not every book needs to be reread by everyone who read it once. Especially not when we’ve all got more books we want to read for the first time than we can reasonably expect to get through in one lifetime. With more written every day.

With this in mind, it’s reasonable to ask why I’m bothering to finish this read-through. With so many things I want to read that I haven’t touched yet, why spend the time to reread something when I’m already not finding the same wonderment between its pages that I did the first time? There’s several reasons, of course. And fortunately, this isn’t one of those questions with a right or wrong answer.

In this case, the easiest answer is that it’s a mix of curiosity and nostalgia. Curiosity because I want to see if reading through to the end again lets me find now what I found then. Nostalgia because while I don’t remember many of the finer details of the story, I very much remember how it made me feel. And, I suppose, I want to spend a little while with the person I was when I was a kid, and maybe to . The slightly more cynical answer is that I want to poke at the story to figure out why I feel differently about it now. Both answers have at least a grain or two of truth.

As of the writing of this post, I’m about halfway through my read of Limberlost. It’s going relatively quickly, and the fact that it isn’t a terrible slog certainly helps. Whatever else it is, it’s not a difficult read. It’s also proving more enjoyable than I was afraid it would, though whether that’s because of my own revised expectations or the story itself gaining its feet I couldn’t say. Possibly, too, finding out when it was written helped shift my view as well; the book is more than a hundred years old, and reading it almost more as a piece of history than with the critical eye I might turn on a piece of contemporary fiction has its merits.

At this point I really have no idea how I’ll feel about it by the time I finish. Certainly right now I don’t regret picking it up again. Just as certainly, though, the experience is entirely different than the one I was expecting. But then, I’m tempted to say that’s one of the best reasons to reread something at all.

Musings

[Blog] Reading!

As of yesterday, I have officially read as many books this year as I did in the entirety of last year. Or in other words, having finished reading thirty five books by the end of May, I am well on my way (and ahead of pace!) for my overly ambitious goal of seventy five by the end of the year. Assuming I don’t get completely derailed when I go through a big move in a month or two. Heh.

On a definitely related note… I’m currently in awe of Connie Willis’s ability to plot out stories. And by “in awe” I mean “feeling marginally inadequate because wow she’s good”. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say that her WWII time travel story Blackout/All Clear is flawless, it’s easily one of the best things I’ve read this year and a display of formidable skill. A very slow burn story, but once it gets going, boy does it. And the way she weaves a thousand different plot threads, themes, and references into a sudden and cohesive whole that appears out of nowhere and goes straight for your emotions…

…let’s just say I’m still recovering.

And trying to figure out how I can get that good. Or. You know. Anywhere close to it.

The answer, as much as there is one, is to keep writing and to keep reading. So I guess I should get on that. This next Tanner and Miranda scene that’s causing me so much trouble isn’t going to write itself, after all!

In the meantime, what about you guys? Read any good books lately?

Musings

[Blog] Checking in ’22

Technically, this post is a little late. Not the most auspicious start to the new year, perhaps, but that’s okay. Now that we’re almost two weeks in to 2022, I can already say that my reading life, at least, is much more robust than it was last year. Also, apparently I’m on a Brandon Sanderson kick; I can’t believe it took me so long to finally get around to reading The Bands of Mourning, and the wait for the fourth Wax and Wayne book is going to be a bear. I guess I’ll just have to distract myself with more books.

As for writing, I’m still puttering along, doing definitely more than nothing and yet never enough. I’m still trying to beat out the general structure for Tanner and Miranda, which is going way slower than I’d like. Mostly because I have some decent ideas but not enough depth to them that they feel full and real.

More or less accidentally, I took several weeks off from planning and structuring both that and last November’s NaNo, which was actually rather needed. I was edging up on burnout. Oops. But I’m feeling refreshed and ready now, and once I kick off the faint accumulation of dust, I’m looking forward to digging in to both with new eyes and a fresh perspective. Which is what I’m off to do right now!

Musings

[Blog] Fluff Reads

A couple weeks back, I was bemoaning the fact that I hadn’t managed to do as much reading this year as I’d liked. That is still technically the case, but it’s certainly gotten better– enough that I at least don’t feel guilty when I tell people I’m an avid reader.

For the most part, that’s meant that I’m reading through the last five books of David Weber’s Honor Harrington series. They’re fun. Horatio Hornblower in space, basically. The space battles are incredibly detailed, and the characters are fun. And it’s undeniably light reading, for the most part. As much as I enjoy them, I can’t argue that they’re high literature in any way.

And that’s just fine.

It can be easy to fall into this idea that there’s less value in “lower” stories. Most people don’t go so far as to say that you shouldn’t ready anything but the best stories, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a general belief that it’s more valuable to spend your time reading them than the alternative. If there’s no way you can read everything worth reading over the span of your life, why waste time on anything but the best?

To some extent, that’s a reasonable point of view. There are so many fantastic and truly well crafted stories out there, and it would be a loss to not read and enjoy them. But at the same time, sometimes you don’t have the focus to appreciate or even follow the complexities you find in those sorts of stories. Or sometimes you just want to read something fun and easy– just like you sometimes just want to eat some popcorn instead of a real meal. And that’s why it’s so nice to have easier reads. Like the Honor Harrington series.

Yet just because a particular story can accurately be described as a fluff read doesn’t mean that it loses all capacity to touch the reader. Sometimes reading something light and easy what it takes for us as readers to let down our guard more than we would with something else. There’s a point of diminished returns, of course. If something is too poorly written it will distract from any good points it might actually have. But outside of that, if a story touches you, it touches you. And sometimes a fluff read can touch you just as much as anything else. Or if not, then it can entertain you and prove enjoyable for a while, and that is valuable too.

Musings

[Blog] Focus/Practice

It’s been one of those weeks (months?) where I’ve been having a really hard time reading. Chalk it up to the fact that I’ve chosen a bunch of really long books (like, more-than-nine-hundred-pages long), or just the fact that my attention span is more or less non-existent (SQUIRREL). Either way, the end result is that I just haven’t gotten through as many books by this point in the year as I’d like.

I’ve also, to beat a dead horse, not been writing half so much as I’d like, though I’ve at least been writing more recently than I have in a while, so there’s that. Given that reading is one of the best ways to immerse oneself in stories in general, and given that that’s one of the best ways to inspire one’s own writing, I can’t help but wonder if the two aren’t related. Then again, if I haven’t been reading much because I’ve had a lack of focus, that exact same lack would make writing just as difficult, if not more so.

There’s nothing particularly profound about any of this. Rather, this post is mostly just me bemoaning the fact that, whether there’s a good reason for it or not, I feel horrifically unproductive. It’s also me scrabbling back to a regular habit of weekly posting, which also happens to have the side effect of keeping those writing muscles more or less functional. On the bright side, it appears to be working, too. At least, the writing is starting to come more easily than it has in quite some time.

TL;DR: I haven’t been reading or writing as much as I’d like, and I’m not sure if the one is the consequence of the other or just both symptoms of the same thing.

Musings

[Blog] Just Add Dragons

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I’ve talked a bit in the past about the stories– books, movie, video games, et al– that have helped develop who I am today, but I haven’t said a lot about the books I’m currently reading. And in the hope that some of you might find it interesting (and also to give some well deserved plugs), I’d like to talk about the ones I’ve been enjoying recently!

Oddly enough, there’s been a bit of a Napoleonic Wars theme, between Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe’s Eagle and the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik. Sharpe’s Eagle is the first (by publication order) of a series of historical novels that follow the adventures of Richard Sharpe, a British soldier in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. With apologies to any history buffs reading this, I don’t know a whole lot about that era and the Napoleonic Wars, but my understanding is that the books are well researched and accurate to actual events. I’m about halfway through Eagle at the moment, and so far it’s been highly entertaining, if not the sort of thing I’ve read a whole lot of in the past. Given the snark and the audacity of the main character, I may well have to fix that in the future.

As for Temeraire, the series bears some similarities to the Sharpe series, in that it’s also well researched, follows the adventures of a soldier in the British military, and takes place during the Napoleonic Wars, with one addition. The fact that the addition is dragons just makes it even more fun. I’ve currently read the first four books of the nine book series, and I’ve enjoyed each new book more than the last and definitely plan to read the rest.

I’ve also been reading Luke R. Mitchell‘s The Harvesters Series. Starting with Red Gambit, these are post-apocalyptic high adventure, complete with monsters, mech suits, and magic, and they’re an absolute hoot. If you’re looking for something that’s full of action and just a whole lot of fun, I’d definitely recommend checking them out.

What about everyone else? Any books you’ve been enjoying lately?