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Long Time No Lists.

TL;DR: If a post is categorized as Other Things, it will be free of any practical writing/authoring/work-related material, and you can plan your reading or avoidance accordingly.

I had been writing in two blogs, one for personal-me and one for professional author-me, but it turns out I’m less plural than I thought. Starting with this post I’ll lumping all of me onto one big messy blog. So to speak. On with the week’s show & tell.

Six weeks since I tallied up my media consumption. Six weeks! My blogging time went to news of convention travels and authoring accomplishments, gripes about various illnesses,  and a lot of etc. Life has slowed with the turn of the seasons, and thanks to the technological wonders of library due slips & a Netflix activity profile, I can bring the record up to date.

Bookses, my precious!

Most of my recent reading fell under the heading “Fluffy Romantic Fantasies of a British History that Never Was.” All these books are delicious mental cotton candy: pretty to look at, easy on the emotions, quick to finish, and dissolving in memory as quickly as flavored sugar melts on the tongue.

A Gift for Guile / Alissa Johnson
The Knave of Hearts/ Elizabeth Boyle
The Untamed Earl / Valerie Bowman
The Spinster’s Guide to Scandalous Behavior / Jennifer McQuiston
Only Beloved /Mary Balogh
An Invitation to Seduction /Lorraine Heath
Once a Scoundrel /Candace Hern
How to Treat a Lady /Karen Hawkins
The Wicked Duke /Madeline Hunter
Just Wicked Enough/Lorraine Heath
Lord of Wicked Intentions /Lorraine Heath
I Thee Wed /Celeste Bradley
How the Duke Was Won /Lauren Bell
Heir to the Duke /Jane Ashford

The two books that weren’t that kind of treat were salty, urban fantasies:
Fire Touched / Patricia Briggs
The Curse of the Tenth Grave/Darynda Jones

Moving Pictures:

My summer blockbusters tally this year is a quarter of what it usually is. A lot of movies didn’t pass my threshold for “is this worth half a day’s time plus the hassle of the drive plus major money for tickets?” Suicide Squad, Sausage Party, Mechanic:Resurrection, Ben Hur, War Dogs, Pete’s Dragon–I’ll catch them on disc or streaming. Kubo & The Two Strings is the only one I’m sad I missed. Stupid rhinovirus.

First, the feature movies I collected these last few weeks:
The Wave. Wholly forgettable.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. OMG THE STUPID. “Hey, kids! Let’s start up the hydroelectric power plant after 10 years shut down. How hard can it be? Flip the switches! Connect cables! Everything starts right up!” BWAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHA. No.
The Big Short. Funny, informative, moving, clever. Superlative. I didn’t find the information in it to be revelatory, educational mind-blowers the way all its reviews mentioned, but then I learned about the havoc potential of secondary markets and the sociopathic cray-cray culture of Wall Street at my daddy’s knee in the late 70’s. The crash was never a shock or a mystery to me. Greed & corruption burned down a building that was already sliding off a cliff. Plenty of experts were raising alarms about the dangers of deregulated banking & the housing bubble from the late 90’s onward. Anyhow. It made me laugh, even while I got angry all over again.
Allegiant part 1. I see why the finale’s going direct to DVD. Bad. Dull-bad, not fun-bad.
Bridge of Spies. Atmospheric, brilliant, and damnably depressing.
The Giver. Could’ve been great. Wasn’t.
Zootopia. FOX! BUNNIES! OTTER! Progressive social message delivered with a fethery tickler instead of a mallet. Fifteen stars out of five.
Seven Samurai.  This is the first time in four viewings that I realized the villagers are the main characters. I think this is the only version where that’s true.
Magnificent Seven (1960) Watched right after 7 Samurai. Fascinated to see how 45 minutes of story development were condensed to 5 minutes of screen time in this iteration.
And finally a theater-worthy flick:
Magnificent Seven (2016) A few too many Hollywood cliche writing flourishes for my taste, but a fine updating nonetheless.

In serial viewing:
Zoo season 3: last three episodes in one sitting. I may have broken brain cells.
All 7 seasons of West Wing. Details offered in an earlier Other Things post.
Designated Survivor.  I’ll definitely be watching this one.
Miss Fisher Mysteries. Just starting now. Already in love with it.

Six weeks. It adds up to a lot.

Yes, I could get much more media creation done if I didn’t consume so much media. Then again I could also get a lot more writing done if I gave up gardening, cooking, volunteering, exercising, or socializing.  Value judgments. They’re sneaky. If I was independently wealthy and didn’t work at the library and had servants to do all my shopping and cleaning for me, I would get tons more writing and reading and movie-watching done.

I refuse to devalue any of my joyful work for the meager reward of bragging rights. I will not pursue monomania for quantity’s sake. Beyond physical survival & fiscal solvency, I strive for a balanced, healthy, grounded life. Productive? Enh. I’ll define it my own way.

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Review: Revisionary by Jim C. Hines

Let’s start with the blurb again. (from Goodreads)
The fourth installment in the popular Magic Ex Libris series.When Isaac Vainio helped to reveal magic to the world, he dreamed of a new millennium of magical prosperity. One year later, things aren’t going quite as he’d hoped. A newly-formed magical organization wants open war with the mundane world. Isaac’s own government is incarcerating “potential supernatural enemies” in prisons and internment camps.

Surrounded by betrayal and political intrigue, Isaac and a ragtag group of allies must evade pursuit both magical and mundane, expose a conspiracy by some of the most powerful people in the world, and find a path to a better future. But the key to victory may lie with Isaac himself, as he struggles to incorporate everything he’s learned into a new, more powerful form of libriomancy.

It’s book four. I don’t recommend starting here unless you’re comfortable dropping into the deep waters of a richly imagined world. (I do it all the time, but I enjoy a lot of things I don’t recommend, necessarily.)  The series starts with with Libriomancer, so if you want to read everything else first, it won’t take you long to catch up.
Still here? Okay. The good: everything that makes a good magical book set in a contemporary setting good — action, snappy dialogue, interesting systems and descriptions thereof, entertaining people who are easy to picture and even easier to like.  (or hate. as applicable.) The bad? Errrm. All the usual suspects that can make an otherwise good magical book set in a contemporary setting a bit annoying. Mileage will vary with how long I’ve been viewing the same scenery. (And when I read this, I’d been on a contemporary fantasy binge, so I’ll take the hint  it’s time for me to move onward to some scifi or classic fantasy to clear my tolerance settings.)
What are the annoyances? The enemies, basically. Over-reaching government regulation and bureaucratic inefficiency create  individual obstacles. Power-hungry ambitious conspirators use law and prejudice to push their own agenda behind the scenes. And of course greedy, ambitious corporate managers who value profit over persons are involved.
It’s the of course that got me. A powerful minority being treated as a dire threat to be controlled/suppressed/segregated is realistic, yes. Chaos knows that’s the premise for my alternate reality world, but…BUT. Immediate, systemic paranoia and wholesale suppression and discrimination are not the ONLY way forward from that starting point. Big Fearful Majority constantly seeking to destroy what they do not understand isn’t the only way history plays out that scenario.
Yes, a set-up in which Big Everybody maneuvers people into oppressing the chosen minority , countered by heroic individualism, revolutionary passion, and the Power of Personal Relationships is a great way to explore important human themes, but it is far from the ONLY response societies make to new powerful developments.
Except in contemporary fantasy. There, that plot line is the inescapable winner. Le. Sigh.

Yes, I know, I write superpower world, but I include superpower stories in this fantasy category. It’s hand-wavy woo science. And look at all the stoylines that fit: X Men. Civil War. A bunch I can’t think of at the moment.

Review of Trailer Park Fae

3.5 of 5

First, the blurb:
Jeremy Gallow is just another construction worker, and that’s the way he likes it. He’s left his past behind, but some things cannot be erased. Like the tattoos on his arms that transform into a weapon, or that he was once closer to the Queen of Summer than any half-human should be. Now the half-sidhe all in Summer once feared is dragged back into the world of enchantment, danger, and fickle fae—by a woman who looks uncannily like his dead wife. Her name is Robin, and her secrets are more than enough to get them both killed. A plague has come, the fullborn-fae are dying, and the dark answer to Summer’s Court is breaking loose.

Be afraid, for Unwinter is riding… ”

Now, my words:
3.5 of 5 stars. This title is a poster child for how I pick books. Not by cover, not by blurb, not even by first chapter. (Although I do check all those, in that order to form a baseline opinion.) My decider: a random 5-10 page read from somewhere in the middle of the book.

Here’s how this acquisition occurred. Cover picture. grabbed me. (Yum.) Blurb put things back on the cusp of Nope. (It’s catchy,  but I’m getting picky in my old age about which fae adaptations I’ll bother spending time on.) The first chapter/random page check was a solid maybe. Oh, but that random read? Bliss. The dialogue and descriptions in the scene I read utterly drowned me in reader happies.

I loved the language. The story– if you want the plot, read the blurb, it’s all there–doesn’t break new ground in any way. But it does present all the British Isles faerie standards in a wonderfully skewed, carnival-mirror perspective. The way characters speak and thinks  gives the fae the truly creepy, alien unearthliness they very rarely get in contemporary fantasy.

And the plot is so well-crafted and slides from beginning to climactic end as smoothly as water poured from a glass. It’s quite satisfying, but that’s not where the  real strength of the book lies. It lies in the inhumanity of its inhuman characters.

I’ve long enjoyed this author’s blog, and I’d read a couple of her other urban fantsies, but her characters never caught me hard. Until this time. This series is on my do-not-miss list.

Bottom line:  I enjoyed it far more than I expected, and that takes a lot.

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Review: The Raging One by Lexy Wolfe

3.25 of 5 stars.

I’m trying something new:  starting my review with the blurb from Goodreads:


Still reeling from an ancient war, the world has begun showing signs of unraveling. To save their world, a select group of the most gifted elite must form an alliance and find a solution before it is too late.

But, can these historically incompatible members of the remaining nations cooperate despite their ancestral biases and distrust? Or, will shadows consume them before they uncover the secret of The Raging One?”


This book is complete in itself, but it left me with the pleasant sense that I’d explored only one room of a huge mansion full of treasures yet unseen. The epic scale of the tale piqued my interest, but the difficulty of cramming so many big ideas into the limits of a single novel may be the reason some things did not satisfy me.

I’ll start with what I enjoyed in a handy list format:
1. Character interplay: phenomenal dialogue & excellent, realistic tension. Superb.
2. Magic & religion: detailed, intriguing systems, complete and coherently presented.
3. Culture: often the downfall of epic fantasy, the quality of this really stood out for me. The nations and societies are built on familiar foundations without ever falling into stereotype or cliche.
4. Characters: the protagonists are all clearly designed to fulfill epic roles, but they fill their big hero shoes with verve and style. I never felt that minor characters were minor. Everyone had lives and motives and pasts, and as I pointed out in #1, they spoke and reacted to events in ways that made emotional sense.

I really enjoyed the way relationships developed — or didn’t — over the course of the book. Life is complicated, change is hard, and trust takes courage. All those truths were handled with sensitivity and realism.

As for the points that bugged me, I will again default to a simple list:
1. Saidisms: action words like “seethed” or “frowned” used as dialogue tags. I know reader feelings run high about these, pro and con. I only notice when they make no sense to me, but then they set my teeth on edge. I nearly put down the book when I hit a “Stupid beast,” the middle rider seethed, on page 1. I’m immensely glad I continued, but if saidisms are like fingernails on a blackboard for you, it might be a deal-breaker.
2. Terminology & naming conventions: I struggled to stay afloat in the first few chapters. The flood of jargon and job titles, deity names, place names and other proper nouns overwhelmed me. Usually I love immersion reading–diving straight into worlds full of new words is a vocabulary adventure, but this book taxed my ability to assign meaning by context, especially early on.  The glossary at the end of the book became my best friend. (oh, how joyful I was to discover it!)
3. Villain. I love a good bad guy, even a melodramatically mustache-twirling black hat who is clearly Up To No Good from the beginning, but…but.  I had a hard time with one of the antagonists. The elements of the plot that revolved around the most obvious bad guy in the mix disappointed me, especially compared to the larger, sweeping war of greater powers that took shape over the course of the book.

I am thoroughly intrigued by the direction the Bigger Story is taking.  I can recommend this novel to anyone who loves a sweeping story with big ideas, bonds with heroic heroes and heroines, and enjoys juicy, complex interpersonal conflicts.

Final note: the star rating will bump to 4 for Amazon because that’s their version of “I liked it,” and I cannot justify less. This book is good with gems of real brilliance in it.


See all the books I’ve given an in-depth blog review here: My book reviews

 

Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

4.5 of 5 stars

Uprooted is on my Best of 2015 list. It’s astonishing and lovely. I loved it hard.

The cover design and blurb from Gregory Maguire hinted at fairy tale involvement, and the first paragraph sealed the impression. My expectations plummeted. Fairy tale-derived fantasies have been popular for a long time, and I am a sucker for picking them up and being disappointed. I do have my favorites; Jim C. Hines’ Princess series and Robin McKinley’s assorted re-imaginings come to mind, as does Stephen Brust’s Brokedown Palace, which remains my benchmark for judging the effectiveness of a new story built on the bones of older ones.

I loved Uprooted more than all those.

Why? Let me count the reasons: richly descriptive world-building; layers and layers of history and meaning peeled back and presented with loving care; magic that isn’t all about systems and structures and science-y trappings, a narrative voice full of personality; and characters so real I could imagine hanging out with them.

I won’t go into details about the plot. It has one. It has several. They are all delightful. The classic standards are all just a little twisted, the tropes and archetypes just a little subverted, and everyone is very aware of the power of myth and folklore, not to mention the magic of names and blood.

It’s all so very, very good. Events don’t move fast at first, but the tension builds and builds beautifully, the stakes go from personal to political to world-shaking, and the resolution was everything I could have asked…and yet I still wished the story went on.

As an added bonus, the lyrical, intimate style is light years away from the formal, stiff C. S. Forster-esque prose of the Temeraire series. I decided Naomi Novik had stunning talent after reading His Majesty’s Dragon, but now I have tangible proof in hand to wave at people who think she “only writes those dragon books.” She is a versatile word genius. So.