Sunday, April 29, 2012

Here's What I Read in April
When I Was Too Burned Out To Write

I mentally separate my reading into four kinds of books:
  • Pay It Forward
  • Research
  • Enlightenment/Self Edification
  • Pleasure 
    Pay It Forward
    books are those written by authors I've met, either online or in person.  I'm hoping to love their books, be able to write a review that encourages other people to buy their work.  Sometimes I can, sometimes I feel like I can't write an honest review that says, "Buy this book, you'll love it!" which is a little awkward, but I'm always happy to support other authors, at the very least with my dollars.
    Research books are those in a genre I'm writing, or interested in writing.  (Christmas novellas, for example.)  Or which offer a very different take on something I need to learn.
    Enlightenment books are those which help me (in theory, anyway) become a kinder, wiser, gentler person.  Or at least catch me up to being a civilized and educated human being who's read the classics.
    Pleasure - sometimes it's a new pleasure, sometimes it's an old pleasure (Little Women) revisited, but books I think of as "Pleasure" are those I read for the pure joy of them.  Without any thought at all as to whether I will Learn Something I Can Apply To My Own Writing.

    I try to mix them up, although it would be very tempting to read for pleasure, all the time.

    What often happens in RL (Real Life), of course, is that there's all kinds of crossover.  I read Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing for research, but Mignon Fogarty's style is so light and witty that I ended up reading for and with pleasure.  Likewise Eden Bradley's Pleasure's Edge, and Rebekah Weatherspoon's Better Off Red, which I read as a combo of Pay It Forward books (having met both authors - lovely, lovely people) and as Research into erotica.  You know how there's some books you're willing to lend out, and some books you're not willing to let others get their sticky little paws on, ever, because those books don't leave the bedroom?  Yup.

    Born Wicked (The Cahill Witch Chronicles, #1)Born Wicked - Jessica Spotswood

    I received this as an ARC from a contest I entered last year. Am fleshing out ideas for a paranormal I want to write, and this features witches, so I thought, okay, good Research. It's set in the late 1800's America, but not our 1800's America; it's an alternate history where witchcraft was real and welcomed - until it was suppressed by The Brotherhood. A time when teen girls think longingly of the freedom other women have in places like Dubai (I know, right?), and risk being executed for displaying any signs of witchcraft.

    The lead character, Cate, is a 16 year old witch, and so are her two younger sisters. Because her mother is dead, and her father is too often absent (and has no clue, apparently, that his late wife and his daughters are witches), it falls upon Cate to protect herself and her sisters. There's a love triangle, and a pressure in the patriarchal society to commit to a husband by one's 17th birthday, but that's not the main focus.

    It starts a bit slow, but is really, really well written, and although this is Not My Usual Thing, it sucked me in. There's a dynamic of love/competitiveness/overprotection between Cate and her next oldest sister Maura, that rang quite true. I will be eagerly looking to read the others in the Cahill Witch Chronicles.

    Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffenegger
    I loved The Time Traveler's Wife, and so wanted/expected to love this book, too. I didn't.

    Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
    Set primarily in London, there's a double set of twins, a very interesting cemetery, a ghost haunting an apartment, and multiple secrets. But the plot was too convoluted (IMO) to follow clearly, and the characters, meh. The primary twin sisters, Julia and Valentina, are simply 20 year old blobs without anything much going for them, personality-wise than their bond with one another. There's a neighbor with a paralyzingly strong case of OCD, who is a fairly interesting character; the ghost aunt Elspeth is interesting (and, it turns out, despicable), and her lover, Robert, who is also personality-challenged. But there's nobody and no ending I was really rooting for, by the end of the book.  I will probably read another Niffenegger book, eventually, because her writing is so strong, but this one disappointed me.

    Better Off Red: Vampire Sorority Sisters Book 1Better Off Red - Rebekah Weatherspoon

    Vampire are Not My Thing. Lesbians - whatever floats your boat, but they don't "do it" for me. Sorority sisters? Like, no, d'uh!

    So I expected this book to be a sludge, hoping to find some slight thing I could praise, because I know the author (she'll be guesting here, later this year) and I wanted to find something, anything, nice to say about her debut novel.
    Instead, it was cover to cover pleasure. I wouldn't have read this book if I didn't know the author, but I can honestly say that I loved this book despite my normal indifference to its main elements.

    Ginger, the lead character, isn't really "into" the whole sorority thing, either (girl after my own heart), but agrees to accompany her roommate Amy through 'rushing,' with an eye to protecting her. She find herself joining a very different kind of sorority, and being paired with Camila. I don't want to give it away, but I will say that Camila is a fairly young vampire, despite being very powerful. She makes mistakes, which lead to some interesting plot twists, but also allow the relationship between her and Ginger to be more of love between equals, than between one superpowerful being and one naive young person, which I very much liked.

    There were a number of secondary characters and B-plots which I know will turn into interesting stories as the series continues. And the sex scenes were sizzling hot; I did not expect that they would be so, uhm, INTERESTING, to a person who doesn't swing that way. They are. *fans self, gets cold drink*  If you enjoy erotic fiction of any sort, read this book. You will not be disappointed.

    little book of SITCOM - John Vorhaus

    This was a Research book that I not only enjoyed, but can honestly recommend. I don't write Sitcoms, but I do write (or try to write) comedy, and I thought it might be helpful.  It is/will be.

    I don't want to give away the store, but this book offers many practical tips for getting UNstuck when you get that way, ways to present humorous ideas in a different way, and things that will help me with structure (one of my personal weak points) when trying to plan a novel. Basic ideas about how to pull stories out of thin air (so to speak).

    Currently it is only available as a Kindle e-book, but it is definitely worth the price, even if you, like me, have no intention of ever writing a sitcom.

    Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better WritingGrammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing - Mignon Fogerty

    I think for most people, reading a grammar book is right up there on their to-do list with having a colonoscopy - Do I have to?

    Or maybe that's just my own association, since I kept my own book in the bathroom and read it in bits and pieces. (It does lend itself well to that.)

    There are many things about writing I need to learn, which I hope will imprint themselves in my little pea-brain if I read them enough times. Fogarty not only offers the grammar rule, but clear and "sticky" examples that should help anyone but the most boneheaded imprint these rules and guidelines into her brain. Her own writing style in this is light, witty, and thoroughly enjoyable.

    I can (and probably will) spend much more time in the bathroom, perusing this book.

    Skinny: A Novel (P.S.) Skinny by Diana Spechler

    This book was picked by my Chick Lit Readers group. I'm not alone in saying I found it very disappointing. The cover and blurb made it sound very interesting, but in the end... The plot wasn't one, the main character was an unlikeable, self-absorbed bitch who really didn't seem to grow or learn anything throughout the course of the novel.

    Gray signs up to be a fat camp counselor because she wants to get close to a girl she thinks is her half-sister, then pretty much ignores this troubled teen so she can bang the camp phys ed instructor. Despite having a boyfriend at home.

    The closest thing to a likeable character is Bennett, the hot and studly phys ed instructor, but even as Gray is in his bed, he is reinforcing her eating disorders by complimenting her on her own weight loss, which she achieves basically by starving herself. Spechler does an excellent job of portraying the sensual feel of binging, and the high of starving oneself, but she doesn't model any good eating and exercise behaviors of anyone in this book. Most of the characters, from the sleazy, unqualified camp founder (really, would any parent drop $11k to send their kid to fat camp for 8 weeks where NOBODY was credentialed in any way?) to the kids themselves, were portrayed in an unflattering light. There's supposed to be a big mystery about the death of Gray's father, but in the end, the pay-off just felt... weak and rushed.

    I hate to bag on any author - writing a book is hard, hard work. This is not the worst book I have ever read. But, if you have issues centered around body-image, binging, anorexia, or other eating disorders, this book will neither help you learn new ways of dealing with life, nor help you feel better about yourself.

Heir to the Underworld - E.D. Walker
    Heir to the Underworld
    I loved that this book mixed Greek and Celtic mythology in a (fairly) believable way, and brought it to SoCal. (Why not, we got every other freak here, lol.) I also loved our lead heroine's voice - she sounded 16, whereas in a lot of YA the 16 year old sounds more like she's 60.

    What threw me a little in the beginning was the title compared to the plot; I thought the heroine, Freddy, was (or was supposed to be) the Heir to the Underworld. That refers to Polydegmon, the young man she falls in love with, though she is some kind of divine offspring, herself.

    I did love Freddy, and her powerful archery and sword-fighting skillz, though I thought her mother was a bit weak and vapid, until the very end. I also wished I had gotten to see Persephone, my own favorite of the Greek myths, but although the story involved her sons, daughter, and husband, she was MIA.

    The story concluded in a logical and satisfying fashion. Been puzzling over what didn't work for me, and conclude it was the pacing; some sections seemed to move a bit too fast, others seemed to drag a bit. But all in all I can recommend this as a good read and I'm looking forward to see what this author comes up with, next. 
    On Writing - Stephen King
    What can I say? I read it, like everyone recommends. Really liked it, like everyone said I would. I could add my own review, to the 1,080 currently on Amazon, or the 54,000 on Goodreads, but why?

    Tourist TrapTourist Trap - Sue Ann Bowling

    I have always wanted to go on an extensive, physically challenging vacation with a group of close friends. Maybe not while somebody with serious paranormal powers was trying to kill me...

    This book is a sequel, but also works as a stand-alone, to Bowling's Homecoming, which I also read and loved.  Another YA fantasy - the main character, Roi, is about 18 or so, as are his three best friends. It's very much a coming of age story, and for those who enjoy Mercedes Lackey (I'm a big fan) this type of story will feel both familiar and excitingly new.

    Bowling does a great job, IMO, of blending in sensual details: the look, smell, sounds and textures of the different areas as the quad learn to run dogsleds, hang-glide, horseback ride, and more. It felt like taking an entire vacation without leaving my couch - not sure if that was a good thing or a bad thing!

    Loved this book, am really hoping she continues to write more in this universe.

    And now, for something completely different...  Music!

    Electric ForestElectric Forest - Gekko Projekt

    While there's nothing like hard rock to vacuum to, there are times something a little lighter, but still with a driving energy, hits the right spot. Electric Forest is one of those albums.

    It feels to me like Genesis (in the Peter Gabriel era) meets Emerson Lake & Palmer, with a little Rick Wakeman and Alan Parsons sprinkled in. If you like any of those groups, you should like this album.

    Not being a musician, I can't speak to all the points about syncopation and chord changes so dear to a professional musician's heart. I just know that I really am enjoying it; my fav parts being the keyboard and guitar solos that never take me exactly where I was expecting to go, but make me like it anyway. And how can you not fall in love with a song called "Cognitive Dissonance?" 

    Left on my TBR list from December:

    The Birthday of the World - Ursula LeGuin
    Messalina: Devourer of Men - Zetta Brown
    Uncut Diamonds - Karen Jones Gowan
    On Writing - Stephen King
    Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
    Daisy Miller - Henry James
    Bet Me - Jennifer Crusie
    Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffeneger
    Falling Leaves - Adeline Yen Mah
    Picture Perfect - Jodi Picoult
    Giving Up the Dream - J.L. Campbell
    Automagically - Sommer Marsden
    You Can Heal Your Life
    - Louise Hay
    Little Black Dress - Susan McBride
    Tourist Trap - Sue Ann Bowling
    Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
    Confessions of an Improper Bride - Jennifer Haymore

    Added to my TBR list, already on my Kindle or bookshelf:
    Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing - Mignon Fogerty
    Pleasure - Eric Jerome Dickey
    the little book of SITCOM - John Vorhaus
    The Darkest Surrender - Gena Showalter
    Bond Girl - Erin Duffy
    The Last Will of Moira Leahy - Therese Walsh
    Chasing Kate - Kelly Byrne
    Unravel Me - Christie Ridgway
    A Heart to Mend - Myne Whitman
    The Doctor's Lady - Jody Hedlund
    Born Wicked (ARC) - Jessica Spotswood
    Dev Dreams - Ruth Madison
    My Cheeky Angel - Mimi Barbour
    Katie's Hellion - Lizzy Ford
    The Inner Game of Stress - W. Timothy Gallwey
    First Grave on the Right - Darynda Jones
    Romance Novel - PJ Jones
    Living in Gratitude - Angeles Arrien
    Heir to the Underwood - E. D. Walker
    Bossypants - Tina Fey
    Train Your Mind, Change Your Life - Sharon Begley
    Better Off Red - Rebekah Weatherspoon
    Water - Terra Harmony
    The Cowboy's Pride - Charlene Sands
    The Bird Sisters - Rebecca Rasmussen
    Mercury Rising - Daisy Harris
    The Brenda Diaries - Margo Candela
    Hollywood Ending - Lucie Simone
    Are You There, Vodka?  It's Me, Chelsea - Chelsea Handler
    Devil's Kiss - Zoe Archer
    Melt - Natalie Anderson
    Inside Heat - Roz Lee
    The Sleeping Beauty (A Tale of the Five Hundred Kingdoms)  - Mercedes Lackey
    Marriage Made on Paper - Maisey Yates
    Beloved - Toni Morrison
    The Awakening - Kate Chopin
    His Strength - Kiru Taye
    Just The Way You Are - Barbara Freethy
    Bloodchild and Other Stories - Octavia E. Butler
    Hunchback of Notre Dame - Victor Hugo
    Just Like That - Margo Candela
    Twelve Times Blessed - Jacqueline Mitchard
    The Lantern - Deborah Lawrenson
    Danger Zone - Dee J. Adams
    The Possibility of You - Pamela Redmond
    Beauty and the Werewolf (A Tale of the Five Hundred Kingdoms)  - Mercedes Lackey
    Daughter of Fortune - Isabel Allende
    Alpha Wolf - Linda O. Johnston
    Asphodel (The Underworld Trilogy) - Lauren Hammond
    Unbroken - Laura Hillenbrand

    This damn thing's growing faster than my Visa bill.

    The details and sign-up are at Vicky's blog, Books Biscuits and Tea.

    Are there any books you're moved off your TBR pile so far this year?  
    Have you read any of the books I read?  
    Do you classify & separate the type of reading you do?