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Um, I think I know the answer to this already…..

So I got linked to this today

And it just so happens that this is the weekend that my best friend moved, so we had a brief conversation about having to move books. And then I unpacked what I think might be the last box of books in our house (but I can’t guarantee this), cataloguing them as I go, because that’s what I do now, as I’ve got a pretty decent app on my phone that lets you enter or scan ISBNs (or SBNs, even, have had more than a few of those) and checks them on Amazon and Goodreads to get all the information. (You can also enter the details manually for any book that is pre-SBN-days. Got some of those too…..) Anyway, long story long, 1082 is the current count of print books we have in this house. I don’t know exactly how many are on my UK Kindle account, or how many are on my shared US Kindle account (hi, Mom!) or how many I’ve got randomly on my computer from Project Gutenberg or Publishers Weekly or whatever other ebook sources I’ve found over the years. Or how many print books are still back in the US (hi, Mom!).

For the record, my book nerd score is 43.

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New Year’s Resolutions

So last year was kind of a big year for me. My partner and I went to the US to visit my family (first time for him; I hadn’t been back in over three years), we bought a house, I got promoted twice, and we got engaged. That’s in chronological order, by the way. March to early November.

So that didn’t leave a whole lot of time for, you know, other stuff. Like my blogs. Or writing that’s not for Publisher’s Weekly. (And not a lot of reading that’s not for Publisher’s Weekly – I won’t read a new book until I’ve finished a review, for fear of getting things mixed up in my head.) Or anything that wasn’t just collapsing on the couch or staring at a different kind of screen (….we may have also played a lot of Crusader Kings 2 and Final Fantasy).

But this year is going to be different! And one of the ways that it’s going to be different is that we’re now saving for a trip to my sister in California in 2015 and two weddings in 2016 (ah, the joys of a multi-nationality relationship), so I’m going to be buying a lot fewer of the “oh they’re only 99p” Kindle deals, and the Buy-One-Get-One-Half-Off temptations at Smiths and Waterstones. By which I mean none. No spending on books. (Free books are still okay.) Which means a lot more of reading what I already have, what is on my shared-with-my-mom-and-sister Kindle account, and what is public domain.

In other words, reading a lot more of the type of thing that I then want to write about. I have nothing against Mills and Boon, obviously, I want to write for them someday – but I don’t usually feel inspired to analyse, critique, or sing the praises of each individual book in the Desire or Blaze lines. (Mills and Boon in general though….)

I’m also keeping a reading log again, in Google Drive for easy access. Since Christmas Day, I’ve finished six books and started three others, at least one of which I won’t read all of – I skipped to the end, and the other two I’m debating about – they’re not really grabbing me at the moment. I’m also in the middle of several “big” books – a few non-fiction ones on the Kindle – a history of the Mediterranean that I started possibly over a year ago, a biography of Oswald of Northumbria that’s entitled “King of the North” to get the Game of Thrones fans in – Lorna Doone, and Don Quixote. Pretty sure I’ll have things to say about all of those, once I’m done with them.

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Catching up

Non-work things read in the last few weeks:

A bunch of books I can’t talk about because they haven’t actually been published yet.

Loads of Reddit posts and links

Darwin’s Ghosts, by Rebecca Stott

all the Hugo nominees for Best Novella, Novelette, and Short Story, plus skimming the graphic novel and Editor: Short Form category

The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets, by Simon Singh

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

quite a few first bits of books that were free from Amazon or Google Play – enough to get the sense of them and decide that I didn’t actually care about finishing them. A few that were promising, if rough, up until I noticed that they were only 50% finished on the ereader at which point I went, “….meh, pretty sure I know how this ends”.

mortgage papers

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Dogs and Goddesses, by Jennifer Crusie, Anne Stuart, and Lani Diane Rich

I love these women. I’ve never met them, of course (although I do have a signed copy of Faking It that my writer-mom got for me at RWA one year) but I read Argh Ink and ReFabbing It on a daily or more often basis – pretty much as soon as they post anything, I read it. I enjoy – okay, enjoy is not QUITE the right word – their progress through their struggles, and I especially like reading their articles about craft and rewriting. I remember when they first collaborated on Dogs and Goddesses, when they were working through plots and characters and scenes.

I wish I liked it better. It’s not that I didn’t like it – it was fun enough – but it wasn’t as tight as I was expecting or hoping, and certainly not as good as their individual titles. My all-time standard for Jennifer Crusie and similar authors is Bet Me,  which has an excellent mix of friendship, lust, manic madcap slapstick, family tension, etc. This book had a lot of that, even all of that, but it doesn’t work as well.

I’ve been thinking about it since I finished the book, and I actually think that my problem is with the romances – they’re too quick. All three women fall in lust, sparked by the “temple tonic” and their latent powers, and by the end they’re in “love”. But none of the relationships are much more than sex. The closest thing is Shar and Sam, who actually do communicate as she tries to teach him what modern life is like. The other two couples don’t even have that.

Even the female friendships, the strongest part of the book, aren’t exactly organic. They’re friends because Kammani says, “You Will Be Friends” and then, magically, they are all inseparable friends. Even Gen and Bun get pulled into it. I suppose it’s part of the whole past lives/inevitable reliving aspect, but it didn’t work that well for me. I suppose in a book that makes such a big deal out of free will versus required service, having none of the relationships come apart through free will doesn’t sit that well.

It’s not bad though. Certainly better than some others that I’ve read (not by these three). It’s just not as good as their standalone books.

PS Lani Diane Rich is another author that’s a hero like Sara Gruen. She finished NaNo, found a publisher, and is now writing full-time (and teaching writing via StoryWonk and Writewell).

Crusie and Krissie are heroes of mine as well, but for other reasons.

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Isaac’s Storm, by Erik Larson

I have gone back and forth on Erik Larson. I mean, I loved Devil in the White City, found In the Garden of Beasts captivating but not quite as much of a page-turner, and haven’t yet gotten through the Crippen/Marconi book.

But Isaac’s Storm….Isaac’s Storm was a book that I read a third of before I could even think about putting it down. Isaac’s Storm was a book that I read instead of gaming. Isaac’s Storm was a book that I devoured.

One of the things that Erik Larson does very, very well is parallel stories. Devil in the White City paralleled the building of the White City (and the careers/lives of those involved) with the life of H.H. Holmes. Isaac’s Storm parallels the life and career of Isaac Cline – tangled up with the history of the Weather Service – with the hurricane of 1900. All the different variables are there – the belief that a hurricane would never come through the Gulf, the insistence that predicting a hurricane would cause panic, the actual meteorological factors. What’s absolutely fantastic is the way that he uses the storm as a character without ever anthropomorphising it. Every few chapters track the storm on its progress through the Atlantic, past ships and islands – but it’s never treated as a being, it’s never humanised.

It was a devastating storm, the deadliest storm in American history. No one in Galveston knew that it was coming; no one knew to prepare. Petty jealousies and pride, plus lack of knowledge, kept anyone from reading the signs correctly. That was, in retrospect, one of the most frustrating things – the Cubans, for example, knew that it was a strong hurricane, and predicted that it would head to Texas, but the US Weather Service refused to acknowledge their warnings, because why would people who’ve lived in the path of tropical storms for their entire existence know anything about tropical storms?

The only thing that was teased and not carried through was the relationship between Joseph and Isaac Cline. They were, at the time of the hurricane, fairly close and living together. Within a few years, though, they didn’t even acknowledge each other’s existence, or that they’d ever been brothers. What happened between them?  Larson never tells us. He hints at it, he references the estrangement, but he never goes into details. He may not have them – but if he doesn’t, it’s not quite fair that he teases it so much throughout.

But that’s the only fault I have to find with it. It got me interested in meteorology again, at least for the time I was reading. It got me interested in Texas history, in weather history, in disaster history. I was absolutely captivated throughout.

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Mini Operas Script Competition – Waiting Doubts

I imagine two parallel scenes. She is in her living room, He is in a travel waiting room (airport, train station, doesn’t matter). They may explore their respective halves of the stage, coming together for the duets.

SHE

How do I phrase it?

How do I say

That I do want to meet him?

…Just not today.

I need time to get used

To having him here,

To making a space,

To handling my fear.

HE

How can I phrase it?

Everything that I say

Will just come out rubbish.

I’ll wait one more day.

I need time to decide

Just what I should do.

How much I should tell her,

How much of it’s true.

SHE

I’ll see him next week.

HE

I’ll see her in June.

SHE and HE

I’ll see him/her eventually –

But just not too soon

HE

The texts and the phone calls,

They bring her so close.

Our words come together,

But how can we know?

I’ll write down the words

That tell how I feel,

Then send them away

To make them more real.

SHE

The texts and the phone calls

Can complete my day,

But when they are over,

Well, what’s left to say?

I write down the words,

They finish my thoughts

I can feel his eyes reading,

Untangling the knots.

SHE and HE

If only I’d know

Just how it would be.

If only I’d trust

That he/she really loves me.

SHE

He could be everything

That I’m meant to want.

To fill the hole in my life

That other girls flaunt.

HE

She could be everything

That I’m supposed to need.

I know she’s my partner

Through the letters I read.

SHE

But there’s something still stops me

From letting him in

From getting so close

That he’s under my skin.

HE

But there’s something I wonder,

Something I don’t know.

When I finally meet her –

Will my feelings show?

SHE

I’ll be ready soon,

I know that I will.

HE

I’ll just keep on writing

And calling, until…

SHE

I’ll see him next week.

HE

I’ll see her in June.

SHE and HE

I’ll see him/her eventually –

But just not too soon.

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Pulitzer Prize thoughts

The Pulitzer Prizes were announced last week, and the big news on all the book blogs and book news sites is that there was no prize for fiction awarded. This is seen as probably the worst thing to hit publishing since the establishment of the ebook as a viable format. There has been a lot written about how terrible it is  that no winner was chosen, that no book can be celebrated (and its sales increased) by the recognition that a Pulitzer gives.

One problem is the lack of transparency. The selection and voting process is closed, so there’s no way of knowing whether the lack of a winner means that the panel didn’t think any of the finalists were worthy of the prize, or whether it means they all were. The only word from the Committee was that they don’t discuss their voting – and with only winners’ information in the press releases, the implication is that no book was worthy.

Publishers and booksellers are missing out on a real marketing tool if they just stick to that. It’s something that the prizes in the UK have managed to do for years now – promote the finalists as much as they promote the winners.  The Pulitzer – and every book prize – should not be about celebrating only one book, about promoting and marketing only one book, but about promoting and marketing excellence in literature overall. The lack of a winner is troubling, but instead of bewailing the fact that one book wasn’t a winner, celebrate the fact that three books were finalists. Three very different books, I would like to point out, which makes it even better. It’s been a year, as many years are, where book awards have been criticised for not having enough variety or ignoring quality books because they’re too popular, of losing touch with regular readers and increasing the divide between popularity and quality.

If I were in charge of a bookstore right now, I would have a table up near the front, covered with Pulitzer stuff. I’d have the three finalists for Fiction, the winner and finalists for biography, history, poetry, non-fiction, and a selection of past winners if there’s enough room – but there might not be. Have some of the compilation books: Best News Reporting, Best Crime Reporting, etc. Show off ALL the books, not just the winners. Let people know that there’s more than one good book in a category every year. Show people that there’s a book – a high-quality book – out there for everyone, no matter what style, form, or genre they’re interested in.

This is an opportunity for book marketing, not a tragedy; I really wish people would stop treating it like one.

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