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Great technology thriller (think Crichton) with steadily escalating stakes as the main character goes deeper and deeper into the conspiracy. One of my favorite things about this book is the way it introduces us to a huge cast of minor characters and makes each one of them come to life, if only briefly. This is a big fat book, but it reads fast. I haven't read Dean Koontz in ages and ages, and I'm glad I picked the book up.

Story: The Silent Corner by Dean Koontz
Genre: I think it's being sold as a thriller? It's got one significant creepy SF element, too.
Published: June 2017, Bantam
Length: Really long novel.
How I got it: Library
Writer notes: Seriously, self, go back and look at how he wrote minor characters like that. With the PoV and such.
Biases: I'm a fan of the Parasol Universe, and I'm fine with M/M romances.

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Snow White: An Islamic Tale is a beautiful and faithful retelling of the Snow White fairy tale, modified to be set in the Muslim world. The adjustments are made very thoughtfully and in most cases actually strengthen the story. Snow White is portrayed as a faithful Muslim girl who relies on the Qur'an to guide her behavior. This emphasis on religious virtue is very much in line with many of the original fairy tales, by the way. Her religious observances are included in the story, showing her praying, memorizing passages of the Qur'an, breaking her fast during Ramadan, and wearing a headscarf when she might be observed by a male outside her family. The evil stepmother is shown as being a vain creature with a djinn that lives in her mirror. The change I found most interesting was that instead of male dwarfs, Snow White finds a cottage inhabited by seven dwarven sisters-in-faith, who she lives with and learns from happily (instead of becoming their housekeeper!). At the end of the book, there is a daily prayer, Arabic vocabulary words, and an explanation of where in the Qur'an the quotes referenced are found. Highly recommended, both as a children's story and an exploration of how culture affects our touchstone stories.

Content note: the illustrations do include representations of people and animals, and magic is included in the story but clearly haram.

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Romancing the Werewolf by Gail Carriger is a warm-hearted return to characters that series fans love, and it manages to also have a story of its own (which not all tie-in novellas or short novels do, not by a long shot). Contains estranged but still longing lovers, unexpected babies (not theirs), pivotal curtain dilemmas, and werewolves gaining self-assurance. Too slight to be a strong introduction for new readers, but recommended for fans of the series.


Story: Romancing the Werewolf by Gail Carriger

Genre: Historic paranormal romance

Published: November 2017, published independently

Length: Novella or short novel

How I got it: I forked over the cash moneys.

Biases: I'm a fan of the Parasol Universe, and I'm fine with M/M romances.

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Why would a woman no longer be in possession of what should be one of her most cherished possessions? As a point of honor, Jack Reacher must know. The Midnight Line has much of what I love in Jack Reacher books, but with an atypical-for-this-series ensemble of investigators working together. The refusal to give up on a goal no matter what, the hurling of himself into physical danger with the kind of advance knowledge and awareness of his own abilities that makes it not a rash action--the signature of a Reacher story is there. But the mystery in the book takes twists and turns and shows us how people's hopes and fears influence what they find. This one is more mystery than thriller. Recommended.


Note: The Reacher books are highly episodic. This can be read out-of-order with no problems.


Story: The Midnight Line by Lee Child

Genre: Thriller/mystery

Published: November 2017, Delacorte Press

Length: Sure, it's book-sized.

How I got it: Goodreads giveaway.

Biases: I'm a fan of the Reacher books, and I have been for ages.

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I gulped this book down in one sitting. It was delicious.

This story fits nicely into the "FBI procedural mystery with supernatural elements" category, and if that isn't a category, it should be, because I would like more please. It follows the "vampires as humans with additional abilities and drawbacks that can also make them go a bit around the bend and be serial murderers" idea of a vampire. The characters are engaging and well-drawn, especially given the shortness of the story. I want to spend more time with them, and I'm interested in seeing what happens with the relationships and the bigger picture problems.

Story: Nightshades by Melissa F. Olson
Length: Short novel
Published: July 2016
Subgenre: Urban fantasy
Stand-alone: Yes, but has sequels.
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Just finished reading Reliquary by Sarah Fine. Top-notch urban fantasy with a "fiance has a secret life main character is just finding out about that changes everything" plot line. Readers looking for a HEA in this book will probably be disappointed, and there was some unexpected explicit BDSM at the end that was surprising but done well.

But! This cover! It's lovely, but I interpret it as maybe fantasy, maybe romance, but not specifically urban fantasy. Expectation mismatch.

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Daily life: When I can get Theia to sleep for a morning nap, first I put in a half-hour with a library exercise DVD, and then I take Cassius outside to play while she sleeps. Sometimes this is less than half an hour. Sometimes this is an hour and a half. Sometimes he wants back inside (like today). During this time, I try catching up on my emails and working on writing-related-but-not-actual-writing things. Today he stole my bike helmet and insisted on wearing it while he sat on his toy motorcycle and scooted it around the yard and pushed the buttons to make it honk and comment on the weather and turning directions. We've never discussed helmets. Yay, ambient safety knowledge?


Other things: ran errands with 2 kids in tow on public transit; started a new writing schedule; finished the Circus of Brass and Bone rewrite portion; watched Theia cruise around everywhere; wrestled with church chores and not being a joiner and baby nap schedules; and went to Como Zoo en familie.

Help, I've fallen into a book series and I can't get out! Wait. I don't actually want to get out. I'm actually really enjoying Michelle West's House War series. There's a bit of awkwardness in the middle when she tells us readers that this series is built around another series--with different main characters--and that the main character in this series is a minor character in that series, but that series is where the events are happening during a gap in this series. Complicated. She does put a nice synopsis up on her website, though, and so I stuck with the House War series and ignored the other series. Worked for me. Fish out of water / building a new life under new circumstances stories are a huge, major weakness of mine, so I'm pretty delighted by this one. The story goes from a struggle to survive because of poverty to a struggle to survive because of wars for power among gods and men. There are . . . some things that might require content warnings, but they're pretty well signaled in advance so you can decide for yourself.

I successfully went to the grocery store and then to the new Walker library in Uptown (past $15/hour* fast food wage protesters). This involved taking a toddler, a baby, a stroller, a mobi wrap, a backpack full of groceries and books, and an overflow grocery bag of diapers on and off the bus. Hence my sense of accomplishment!

Writing during naptime at home is not being very useful for me. Partly because when I don't know when or if I'll get writing time, I get cross and fretful. Partly because even when the kids are sleeping, part of my attention is on them instead of on my writing. Partly because their sleep schedules do not always align and I may get practically no time to write. So! This week I started trying to get two hours on Wednesday and three hours on the weekend designated as go-to-the-library-and-write time. Or the coffee shop, depending. Phil is somewhat cranky about this, but he is
any time I leave the house alone.<

As a result, the rewrite portion of the new ending of Circus of Brass and Bone is FINISHED!!!!!! Raaaaaa . . . the crowd goes wild. Now I just need to write the all-new stuff. No worries, it's all outlined, and it should go smoothly. A couple more weeks and I think I'll be for-reals done! SO HAPPY.

10 mo., 1 wk. Theia is cruising! She's been pulling herself up to a stand on--well,
everything--for a week or so, and now she's taking little steps between things, while holding on. So cute! I remember being terrified when C did this, because he frequently fell and always hit the floor head-first. So far, Theia does really well at a) landing in a sitting position, or b) catching herself on her arms. So much less terrifying! (knock on wood).


The zoo was full of adorable baby animals, too! (Two of which were mine.)



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I am not a big fan of the heat, as the latest 85+ degree Minnesota "heat wave" shows. Tooo hot.

Cassius' 3-year doctor appointment was this week. He's exactly 1 meter tall and weighs just under 30 lbs. This puts him in the bottom 1% for BMI, which makes us very concerned parents. Not much we can do that we aren't already, though. It's just--I desperately want to fatten him up. The doc also recommended getting him assessed for verbal problems (enunciation, basically--his vocabulary is fine) and for pronation in his feet. No shots this year! Still waiting to hear back about test results. In general, however, it was a cranky-making doctor's visit.

Oh, and I got back the results from the parapertussis test: negative. So no, I no longer have an active infection, but I'm still coughing and dealing with symptoms, and I may continue to do so for another two months. Grr.

Here, have a random water droplet photo. Waterfowl feathers are neat.

I got to game again! It's been so long, I had to hunt around to find my dice. But I found them. Except for my D4s, which Phil had stolen. And I got to go out for a few hours and play a Deadlands one-shot. It was a lot of fun, although my character was a mad scientist with an impulse control problem that made it difficult for me not to "accidentally" kill all the other party members. Le sigh. And I had to leave a bit early, because I'd been there from 1:30 PM to 6:00 PM, and I really couldn't stay away from Theia any longer.

We got important house stuff worked on! My plan was to paint the back hallway, which is lead paint that has chipped slightly and is generally in need of remediation paint before I will feel comfortable with my kids walking on the stairs in that area again. I got as far as cleaning everything for the painting, and then while I was out at a movie with Electra, Phil taped up all the things that needed taping and got 3/4s of the first coat done. So awesome! He also said that painting there was basically hot-boxing yourself.I'm not allowed to do it, because I'm still breast-feeding and so what I get, the baby gets. Progress is great. Progress made by not-me while I was out seeing a movie? Even better!

Good read: The Girl With All the Gifts.
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Um--things happened this week? I'm pretty sure? I'm still heavily lagged from the two family reunions + Phil being gone for a week. And heavily stressed from mortgage problems, general financial problems, and not having a place to work on writing while we transition my study into Theia's bedroom.

Yes, I said general financial problems. We did the math on our budget, and it went directions that budget math isn't supposed to. Not a lot we can do about it, either. As a starting point, though, I am now only allowed to purchase one ebook a month. ::sadface::

The kids got their recommended number of weekly outings! Wednesday at the Midtown Global Market for the Roe Family Singers, Friday at the Minneapolis Library Downtown for storytime and baby playtime, and Sunday for church and nursery Sunday School (Cassius has been asking to go to church again, since we hadn't been since Theia's dedication).

I got to go back to the doctor, since I'm still coughing up phlegm a month after we were treated for parapertussis. The doc says I seem to be in general good lung health and that it can take as long as ten weeks before the coughing stops, even if the infection was already wiped out by antibiotics. To be sure, she took a swab to culture to make sure that yes, this is actually just a lingering symptom, but the cause has been cured. During my doctor's appointment, I noticed that the swabs expired a couple of weeks earlier, so I had to come back a day later once they re-ordered. Harrumph. No fun having a long wire stuck up your nose, by the way. Not recommended!

Let's see, in other entertainment news--finally saw Guardians of the Galaxy, with my friend E. She already saw the movie before she suddenly lost all hearing in one ear, perhaps permanently, so this was by way of a test run to see if she could still enjoy such things. All went swimmingly, huzzah! It was a lot of fun.

As far as my reading goes, I appear to have stumbled on a motherlode of alternate-interpretations-of-angels-and/or-vampires stories. Some were good, some were awful. I am currently enjoying the first book of a new series that I'm reading (recommended for me because I really liked Written in Red, and really, the voice is so close that I'm about to go find out if this is a pseudonym situation). It's great, for what it is! Except for that huge fatal flaw where the first chapter establishes the main character's personality by having a graphic, brutal rape scene. You know, like you do when you have a female main character. Ugh. Just ugh. Why is this such a Thing in paranormal romance / urban fantasy?
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I think I've done a decent job of making up for the extended non-socialization of the last few weeks! On Wednesday, I went on my first solo+2 outing since Theia's birth! We went to the Midtown Global Market's Wee Wednesday and watched a live band doing children's music. This Saturday was the monthly "Writers and Tea" gathering at Patisserie 46 that a friend of mine organizes, and today (Sunday) was a MinnSpec meeting in Uptown, with Emma Bull as the guest speaker.

Of late, I have been discovering wonderful entertainment media that I somehow missed until they were well established and/or finished. This is awesome! Finding something I like, and then learning that there are nineteen more books that I can get *right now*? Best feeling ever!

In related news, I have been mainlining everything that Kerry Greenwood has written so far. Her Phryne Fisher series is a lovely set of historical cozy mysteries that I can apparently devour like a pan of brownies sitting on the kitchen counter. Which is a thing that gets devoured. Fast. They are happy reads with a wonderfully liberated and entertaining main character who collects other interesting characters like stray kittens. They are also occasionally written in ways that are structurally interesting from a writer's point of view. Generally speaking, two mysteries are solved in each book. You don't necessarily know which one is going to be the "main" mystery and which will be the side-line until you're quite a bit in. In one of these books, the big mystery that takes up the first third of the book just . . . drops away, most of the rest of the book is occupied with the second introduced mystery, the plot climax is the end of the second mystery, and the first mystery is solved as a minor postlude. In another one of these books, the first mystery, which opens the book, is NEVER EXPLICITLY SOLVED. The second mystery is, but all the reader is told about the first mystery is that Phryne has solved it and she'll tell her friend about it when she gets back. Which we do not see in this series. And yes, clues to the first mystery are liberally handed to the reader. Still, it's a huge departure from standard genre conventions to not do a reveal in the end. Kerry Greenwood's Corinna Chapman series is also a mystery series with an enjoyable collection of characters, and there is something to think about in how it handles its "fat, size 20" protagonist and her attitude towards her weight and her attitude towards other people's attitudes towards her weight.

I've also started watching Royal Pains on Netflix.

And reading the Jim Butcher Furies series. LOVE.
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For my own future reference, in case I decide to try vegan bean fudge again, this is not good.

It does not set up. It makes a soft, squishy spread that tastes mostly like beans. That said, Cassius still thinks it's a treat, so it's not all bad--he's getting beans! It's just so very far from an adequate chocolate fudge for me.

* I have been reading China Mieville's Railsea, so when I say that fudge is my philosophy, I mean that it is like a leviathan of a mole rat that burrows & flees & took something important from me & that only by pursuing will I discover something important. It pays homage to Moby Dick & Robinson Crusoe & Kidnapped. Good book & very fond of ampersands.
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I love Umberto Eco's fiction. This is not that. This is part encyclopedia, part coffee table art book. It did not entice me into reading it all the way through, though I was entertained by skimming. It catalogs lands and places of legend, lifting out the passages that describe them in myths and older texts, and illustrating them with the paintings they've inspired. It's beautiful and interesting. Not something I need to own, but definitely something that I'll need to read again if I ever write something set in one of those mythic lands. Also, now I know that Columbus believed that the world was shaped like a pear, or like a round ball with a woman's teat on it, with the Terrestrial Paradise being located "at the summit of that place that resembles the nipple of the pear." So there's that.
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Among Others - Enjoyable and well enough written, but not really for me. I imagine fans who discovered SF in the 70s could become quite intoxicated on waves of nostalgia. Also an excellent book to give to a young girl just starting to read fantasy and science fiction. If the only book she had was this one, she could extrapolate a reading list of the very best of classic science fiction and fantasy, along with some idea of how to read it critically. The really clever thing this book does is tell a story by showing its aftermath. Oh, yes, this ordinary British teenage girl was involved in a battle between good and evil, with faerie magic and all. She is still wounded from it. But that was then, and this is now, when she is trying to make her way at a new boarding school, and defend herself, and recover from her losses, and incidentally read quite a lot of fantastic science fiction books.

Dance with Dragons - It feels a bit like cheating to have the umpteenth book in an ongoing high fantasy saga be nominated, and no, it doesn't stand alone, not one little bit. My attempt to read A Game of Thrones already taught me that this series isn't for me, and Dance with Dragons was unable to change my mind in the fifty pages or so that I gave it.

Deadline - I loved this, but that's because I love Mira Grant's Newsflesh series. I am glad that I read it before, though, because the copy in the Hugo voting packet crashed my Nook every time I tried to read it. So my memories of it are not fresh. It hits all the right notes with the societal analysis and the politics and the cover up and the advanced post-apocalyptic civilization. It deals differently than you might expect with the way the previous book ended. The third in the series is also good (just read it while road-tripping!).

Leviathan Wakes - Or, as a friend of mine calls it, The Book With the Vomit Zombies. If that doesn’t immediately make you want to hurl it across the room, this book may be for you! It’s a bit of a misnomer, actually. They aren’t zombies, and vomit as such isn’t featured prominently. I rather wish the term wasn’t used in the book, as it may change how it is read. It’s a novel of the “potentially apocalyptic plaguelike thing affecting a group of humans in space” type. If that description piques your interest and you liked Peter F. Hamilton’s The Reality Dysfunction et al., you will probably enjoy this heartily. I did. I will note that it did not feel like a Daniel Abraham book, and if you go in expecting another Long Price Quartet, you may be unhappy with it.

Embassytown - I’ve had mixed reactions to China Miéville’s writing. I loved Perdido Street Station but then got repeatedly stuck on The Scar and Iron Council and was sufficiently irritated with them that I didn’t care enough to finish. After reading Embassytown, I went and got The City & The City and Railsea. I read Embassytown a while ago, before I knew it was nominated, so my recollections are somewhat fuzzed. I liked it quite a bit. The alien culture was interesting and convincingly alien. The plot thing I thought the author was setting up was not actually the thing he was really setting up, but it was handled in a way that made me say, “Ha!” in a pleased way. (I do not remember what it was; I only remember the “ha!”) So he gets bonus marks for technical proficiency and creativity.
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The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food by Jennifer 8. Lee is a book I'd heard discussed on MPR awhile back. Once I finally got around to it, I was very pleased to discover that I enjoyed it as much as I'd hoped. It's nonfiction about Chinese-American food, and which parts of it are Chinese or Japanese or of other extraction, and how it's created its own culture. It's filled with awesome trivia.

Spoilery, I suppose, but fascinating details! )

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This is the second book in a trilogy. I did not read the first book. In fact, I tried to read the first book and didn't find the first couple of pages compelling and so set it aside. The second book? I love. Now, this is so far from the normal way these things go that it should immediately catch your attention.

This is a story about an emergent web-based AI and its relationship with a brilliant, formerly blind young girl. It's heartwarming and optimistic. Again, far enough from the normal way these relationships are presented that it should catch your attention. This is not a Frankenstein's monster scenario.

Two points form a line. The line? Should point you in the direction of your local bookstore or library to go get this book.
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I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells.

Two of my favorite things are Dexter, the story about a serial killer sociopath finding his own way to be "good," and Criminal Minds, the show about profiling serial killers. Oh, and also Shadow Unit, the online serial about the profilers finding and stopping what might be summed up as paranormal serial killers.

If you like these things, you will probably like I Am Not A Serial Killer, which slots neatly into the "getting into a sociopath's brain" genre. It's also YA about a kid figuring out what he (does not) want to be when he grows up. And it's very good.

[These covers must have been fun for the artists. The title is an interesting one to play off, since they want to try and suggest both "i am" and "i am not." I like the scribbled in "not" effect on the red cover, but the notepad with a couple of drops of blood reflects the mood of the book a lot more. I think I've even seen a third variant cover with the "not" edited in on the notepaper--and I'd like that best, if it actually exists. Keep your eyes peeled for anycover, though--the book itself is absolutely worth picking up.]

Book Unread

Mar. 2nd, 2010 10:18 pm
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Here's the thing. I edit. I edit a lot. I know exactly what many of the problems to look for in my own writing. I fix them when I can see them--and I can't always, even if I know they're there.

But this means that I can't enjoy reading a published book written by somebody with many of the same problems as I have when the problems weren't fixed. 42 pages in, no farther, even if the storyline is moderately amusing.

Restating. That? Should have been fixed.

And bits that were written because that's what you were writing at the time, but it's really not part of the story. Those? Should have been deleted.
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"A Madness of Angels: or, The Resurrection of Matthew Swift" is one of those books that immediately made me look up the author to see if she'd written anything else I could get my hands on. (The answer, sadly, is no.) It's gritty urban fantasy with some literary flourishes, including the most interesting use of pronouns in a first-person POV that I've ever seen. The main character is either Matthew Swift, a neon-lights-old-newspaper-and-pigeon-droppings city magician murdered a few years ago and brought back to life by the blue electric angels that sing through the telephone wires, or the blue electric angels possessing the corpse of a dead man. Your choice. Either way, he really wants to take vengeance on whoever killed Matthew Swift--and whoever brought him back. Oh, and other powerful magicians around the city are being killed in ghastly ways. If you like Jim Butcher or Simon R. Green's Nightside series, read this.
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It's not well-written. It's really not. It's written in a basic style. Things happen because the author decided they would, not because they make any sense. And I am not pleased with what they did to that baby Wookie!

And yet...I read the whole thing. Because it is strangely compelling. Because it is Zombies...In....SPAAAACE! And not just any space, but Star WarsTM space.
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I have a book-reading Policy, wherein, at a certain point, I think to myself, "Do I really want to read the rest of this book?" And if the answer is no, I put it down. Because there are too many good books in this world, and too little time.

Reasons I have put down books in the last couple of weeks:

* You are fascinating and perfectly loaded with details of daily life, but you are a good 300 years earlier than I needed. Perhaps I will get back to you later.

* Vampires vs. Nazis. You are well-written, but the characters are not sufficiently engaging, and
I'm having a lot of trouble getting past that whole "vampires vs. Nazis" thing.

* Your plot, it is--no, really, what is it actually? So far it appears to be "things happen to people sometimes," and your beautiful New Weird flourishes are not enough to make me overlook that lack.

* What is it with the pedantically thematic discussion of vulvas? And the sisters-sexuality vibe? Seriously. I love fairytale retellings, but this is odd and kinda skeevy. Must be a "literary" thing.


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Abra Staffin-Wiebe

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