Writer Reading Report: January-March 2020

I’ve read over 20 new books and done a couple dozen re-reads since the first of the year. I’ve also watched plenty of shows & movies, but not as many as I would have done in the same time period last year. One nice thing about the new house is that we cut the cable cord, so turning on the TV is an Intentional Act, not a default activity.

Writing is now the default activity. Go, wording!

Well. To be strictly accurate, Writing is now among my many default activities. Writing & working on table & bling ideas for Gen Con, & hammering away at the intractable Series Title Problem, &planting things, & baking, &…my days are not empty.

Anyway. I’m going to do my usual thing & summarize things more by author than title. No pretty pictures because I am The Laziest Ever. Also they were mostly library books read on ebook, & those don’t get pretty color cover pictures.

First I did a comprehensive chronological re-read of ALL the Liaden Universe books by Sharon Lee & Steve Miller. I then bought all the Constellation short work collections. A new book came out while I was finishing those, so I  read it too. I love these characters, I love the universe, and I love where the plots are headed.

A review of one of my books complimented my writing by comparing it to theirs. That remains one of my all-time favorite reviews.

Next up in reading: Hunter, Elite, & Apex by Mercedes Lackey, a tidy series I somehow entirely missed when published, because I always want to read All the Lackey. Neat spin on the usual post-apocalyptic dystopian  thing, (add magic, plus it’s not a totally horrible All Guvmint Bad kind of place) And the young protagonist is competent all by herself because it’s what she does, not because daddy wanted a boy or to heal trauma or For Boyfriend…I do adore no-excuses competent heroines.

I got Peace Talks by Jim Butcher & Smoke Bitten by Patricia Briggs through NetGalley. Those two are both Advanced Reading Copies of novels due out later this year, and I very much enjoyed them both.

I read a Regency in there somewhere…ah! Project Duchess by Sabrina Jeffries. An unexpected delight. I guess I still love my fantasy romances if they have loads of good dialogue and comedy of manners elements.

And currently I’m on a YA/Middle Grade kick. They’re mostly (all?) books written long after I was an adult, but I decided to tackle them just because. So I’ve finally read a bunch of Gail Carson Levine books. (And obviously I enjoy them or else I wouldn’t keep reading.)  So far, it’s been Ella, Enchanted, Fairest, A Tale of Two Castles, Stolen Magic…I think that’s all so far. I’m on a waitlist for more. I did read a couple in paperback, but it was a painful slog compared to reading onscreen.

I’m 3/4 of the way through Protector of the Small series by Tamora Pierce, loving every sentence.  I need to go put myself on the waitlist for All The Tamora Pierce books through the library’s digital loan program. And I suspect I’ll need to own them all in the end, though.

In summary : I recommend without reservation all the books I’ve mentioned here–except the NetGalley titles. I do recommend the series they come from, but…BUT.  The Harry Dresden & Mercy Thompson series are both clocking in at  10+ books. Despite great efforts by the authors to keep references to past events understandable and relevant, the weight of continuing plot is a tangible force in almost every scene. Someone could jump in, but it won’t be nearly as much fun as starting at the beginning.

That’s all for now. If I keep up with writing and reading the way I aim to do, the next reading report won’t be quite so LOOOOONG.

Until later, world.

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Long Time No Lists.

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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.