This Week, I Read… (2020 #46)

#166 – The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas of Ursula K. Le Guin, by Ursula K. Le Guin

  • Read: 11/25/20 – 11/29/20
  • Mount TBR: 143/150
  • Rating: 4/5 stars

I bought this several years ago as a boxed set with the similar short-story anthology, and since then, I’ve actually read most of these novellas as part of other sources: when I sat down to tackle this monster of a collection, it turned out only three of the thirteen novellas were new to me. Between Tales of Earthsea which I own, and my 2018 reading of the entire primary Hainish Cycle, which includes several anthologies, I had most of this book covered.

So it was the first three stories I read, and of those three, I only really liked the first one, “Vaster Than Empires and More Slow.” “Buffalo Gals” was okay, but a departure in some ways from the usual Le Guin oeuvre, tackling Native American-style folklore. “Hernes” I absolutely did not like, because it felt disjointed and strange with all that time- and character-hopping, I’ll be honest, I didn’t really get the point of it.

As for the rest, well, to get an overall rating I blended together my memories of Tales and how much I liked it, and my more recently read and reviewed works that provided stories for these, balanced against my lackluster reception of the three “new” novellas and the simple weirdness of including two previous anthologies nearly wholesale in this one. (I’m also mystified that “Buffalo Gals” and “The Matter of Seggri” are included in both this novella anthology and the short-story one, when they’re clearly intended to be a matched set. Possibly others as well, I only skimmed the table of contents out of curiosity and didn’t notice others, which doesn’t mean they’re not there.)

#167 – Secrets in the Attic, by V.C. Andrews

  • Read: 11/30/20 – 12/2/20
  • Mount TBR: 144/150
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

I haven’t read any V.C. Andrews since I was a teenager more than twenty years ago, but this is much, much, much worse than I remember her work being. Granted, I’m older and presumably wiser, and I definitely have a much better sense of story than I used to.

What was the point of this book? There’s no resolution to the ending, no emotional catharsis. It’s just over, and then there’s a baby coming, and what meaning am I supposed to get from any of this?

I’m disappointed by the conclusion I’ve drawn, that Karen was an unhinged liar and murderer the whole time. Because she’s shown to have lied substantively to everyone in the rest of the cast at some point or other, her “best friend” included, absolutely nothing she ever said about her home life can be trusted, which means her sob story that could have proven her homicide was justifiable goes out the window. Her treatment of the narrator goes well beyond “unreliable” story status straight into manipulative–I’d like to think I wouldn’t be stupid enough to almost sleep with a boy I knew my best friend had slept with, just because she wanted us to “share everything.” But Zipporah goes right along with the plan until it’s almost too late.

My takeaway from the story is that seems like the author really wanted to write a book about someone hiding in an attic, judging by the frequency of the Anne Frank references, which I found to be in poor taste. Yes, she’s the most famous attic-dweller in our collective consciousness, but she was hiding from Nazi persecution, not from the consequences of killing her stepfather. Do those situations seem equivalent to you? Because they don’t to me.

Early on, the only good thing I could say about the story was that it did feel like it captured what I remember most about being a teenager–the confusion, the balancing of different identities between home and school and friends, the naivete of sometimes trusting the wrong people. But whatever points I can give it for realistic depiction of that stage of life are completely negated by the ultimate pointlessness of the entire plot. Nothing meaningful happens, nobody seems to learn from their mistakes, and the surprise baby doesn’t tie up narrative threads the way the author seems to think it does.

I’m glad the writing style was simplistic to the point of near mindlessness, because at least that meant this terrible story was a quick read and I can move on.

End of the Month Wrap-Up: November 2020!

Obviously, we’re going to talk about NaNo. Of the three obvious personal records I could set, I broke two of them this year: earliest win (the 18th, when a more typical timeline is the 24th-26th) and highest overall word count (71,012, previous record: 65K, I think, but 55-60K is typical.)

The PR I did not break was highest daily word count. My best day this year was 5200, but several years ago (I honestly forget which one) I tried several word crawls from the NaNo forums and did the Five Hour Xtreme Word Marathon, which is exactly what it sounds like, and broke 8K. I may never do that again, mostly because I doubt I’ll even try. But as you can see, I won so early because most of my days in the first half of the month were 3K+, which was a frankly incredible pace for me.

The project is not done, the story is not finished, as usual. Every year I tromp right along as fast as possible post-NaNo to finish (except for 2018 when I paired NaNo with Fictober and started a month early) so that’s the plan now, although that plan is complicated by the fact that I want to release Fifty-Five Days this month as well, plus all the real-life stuff I need to do for the holidays. Every year, I do this. You’d think I’d be better prepared by now! (/sarcasm, yeah, I know, blame the pandemic.)

So that covers my writing goal for November, which I met and exceeded quite handily. How did I do on everything else?

  1. Exercise: I was not consistent about this, and at this point, I don’t even see the point of talking about it until I get my act together. Posting about it has never made me feel accountable for it the same way reading and writing goals do, so I’m not going to bring this up anymore.
  2. Reading: Better than expected, I read more than half of my end-of-the-year list. Continued goal: finish it, then read whatever the heck I want for a while.
  3. Journaling: I did mostly write in my personal journal every day–I actually finished the one I was using and got to start a new one! As for art journaling, I did it when I wanted to (as I said I would) and didn’t feel compelled to do it daily. My new goal for December: pretty much the same, though I’ve picked a specific art journal to try to finish before the end of the year, because I don’t have many pages left.
  4. Publishing Work for Fifty-Five Days: Nope, didn’t do it at all. Between NaNo and our elaborate Thanksgiving feast, I simply put this off. Obviously it’s a high priority now!
  5. Blog Posts: The only ones I missed were “extra” anyway–I didn’t participate in #Sunday-Romance every week as I had been, because of NaNo, which was more important to me. Everything else has been smooth sailing, now that I’ve developed a better organizational system for planning topics and scheduling posts ahead of time.

What else do I have to do in December? Finish crafting the Christmas gifts I’ve had planned for most of the year but failed to work on during the summer heat/doldrums/lockdown. Bake all the Christmas cookies. Mail everything to the appropriate recipients. Plan Christmas dinner, which will be our first one on our own (as Thanksgiving was.) We had a lovely holiday by focusing on what we could do that was fun (trying a bunch of new recipes) rather than what we were missing (being in the same room as family) and honestly it worked. It helped that all the food turned out fantastic!

The plan for December is pretty much “November over again but this time with snow and Christmas,” so I’ve got a lot to do, and I’d better get to it. See you on Friday with more book reviews!

Next Month’s TBR: December 2020

Okay! Checking in on how many books I crossed off the end-of-the-year reading list! What do I have left to read before New Year’s?

Needful Things: The Last Castle Rock Story
Four Past Midnight
The Regulators
Rose Madder
Cloud Atlas
Screw Up
Flight Behavior
Yellowstone Heart Song
The Buckhorn Legacy *
Forever Buckhorn
Dreams of a Dark Warrior
All Riled Up *
Secrets in the Attic
Sell Out
The Unreal and the Real: The Selected Short Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin
The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas of Ursula K. Le Guin
Nemesis Games
His Bride for the Taking
An American Princess: The Many Lives of Allene Tew
Fool’s Assassin
Fool’s Quest
Assassin’s Fate

Note *: purged because after reading the first book on the list by the same author, I no longer felt the need to read the rest.

I got more read than I expected to, what with NaNo this month–but this is the lightest workload I’ve ever had at a “day” job during November, thanks to pandemic restrictions. Most of my days, if I wasn’t cooking a meal or taking a shower, I was either writing, reading, or journaling. I’ve been very focused.

So I have six books left to read before the end of the year! This month saw me finishing both the Around the Year and PopSugar reading challenges I’d set myself, as well as completing my “big” series of the year–the Realms of the Elderlings. Which means in December it’s just a few stragglers, though admittedly, some of those stragglers are weighty books. I should be able to finish, and for the rest of the year, to read whatever I want!

This Week, I Read… (2020 #45)

#164 – Rose Madder, by Stephen King

  • Read: 11/20/20 – 11/23/20
  • Mount TBR: 141/150
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

I’m not sure I’ve had this exact experience before with a King novel–I’m invested in the characters, the plot is unfolding at a reasonable pace, and I’m impressed with the sensitivity he’s (mostly) treating his female main character with. Then, BAM! SUPERNATURAL STUFF! THAT I REALLY DON’T LIKE!

Because I didn’t. I did not one bit care for any of the supernatural trappings of this novel. I’ve read into-a-painting (or sometimes, out-of-a-painting) novels before across several genres, and I don’t feel this did anything interesting with the concept, especially since it was wrapped up in a combination of Dark Tower references and warped Greek mythology. Why is the bull–the “beast,” the antagonist, the evil evil bad man–named Erinyes? Which is the collective name of the Furies, female creatures who take vengeance on wrongdoing men? Because if we’re trying to de-gender the idea of the Furies so it can apply to Norman, who is presumably twisted by the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father (whose face he has not forgotten, by the way), and that’s why Rose has to be so careful in the denouement not to let Norman’s abuse of her create another monster–um, breaking the cycle of abuse is one thing, but he is clearly the object of vengeance in this story, not the purveyor of it. If that’s what King was trying to do, I don’t think it’s successful, and by the end I really just wanted this to be an un-supernatural book that dealt with the purely human horrors of abuse, because that story would stand fine on its own two legs without the painting.

Because I did like the rest of it! Normal was horrible, but he was interesting. Rose was a better female protagonist than I expect from many male authors (especially considering this came out in the mid-’90s) and the “all cops are bastards” tone of Rose’s early fears was incredibly topical, if narrowly focused on her own problems rather than society’s ills, considering what’s happening in the year of our Lord 2020. Yes, there is a “good” cop character who promises to catch the “bad” cop, but a) he doesn’t because of other plot shenanigans, and b) his role in the story is incredibly minor.

Also, circling back to me liking characters, Bill was awkwardly and adorably charming, and I love him, and I was rooting for him and Rose the whole time. I never expect and don’t usually get a romantic subplot from any given King novel, so I was pleased by this one.

But I’m so frustrated by how little I enjoyed the supernatural elements that overall this is just a middlingly good book for me.

#165 – Screw Up, by Alexis Wilder

  • Read: 11/24/20
  • Mount TBR: 142/150
  • Rating: 1/5 stars

DNF @ 28%. I had a long, detailed, angry review written and briefly posted on Goodreads, but I deleted it almost immediately. Last time I posted a review that vitriolic, it got me into a little hot water, which is not stress I need in my life right now, so I’m going to learn from my mistake and not do it again.

So we’re going to keep this one simple. The bisexual character who was introduced just before I dropped the book was three harmful stereotypes in a trench coat, and that made me mad, and I wasn’t really enjoying it anyway for other reasons (poor editing and a lewd narrative voice that didn’t appeal to me, being the main two.) So I’m not finishing the book.

Writing Homework #23: Book Titles

Photo by Stephen Phillips – Hostreviews.co.uk on Unsplash

Earlier this month, I wrote about how I feel when a book title misleads me by including the name of a character I didn’t ultimately think deserved in-title status.

Though annoyance isn’t something I seek out when I’m reading, there’s no reason not to turn those negative feelings into something useful, because writing that post gave me an idea.

Book title practice.

I’ve usually struggled with titling my books, even my works in progress. I often come up with the title late in the process, and usually not on the first try.

So what if I took one or more of the books I felt were improperly titled and applied various advice on how to come up with titles to their stories?

Today I’ll play around with The Hangman’s Daughter, because it’s the fiction book I mentioned that I read most recently, so the story is freshest in my mind.

Hold on while I turn to the Internet for advice on book titles… I’ll reference this article simply because it was the first to turn up in a search and it’s reasonably comprehensive. (Though I’ve found several typos just skimming it…)

A. Use Common Phrases: how would this apply to The Hangman’s Daughter? I could try to come up with a different “common phrase” that would reference the plot, but “X’s Daughter” already is a common phrase, especially in media titles. This advice won’t help in this case unless I had a light-bulb moment hearing a phrase I thought applied.

B. One Word Titles: Hmm. What was the book about? Torture. Witches. Alchemy but not really? Collective hysteria. Assigning blame. Nothing I can boil down to a single word easily. Often these titles are what the book is about thematically, and honestly, I’m not even sure what the thematic arc of The Hangman’s Daughter was.

C. Use Parts of Your Story: Including characters, settings, main events, the season, etc. This already applies–the title is a character–but could we improve on that? Would it be more interesting to name the book for a different character–“The Man with the Skeleton Hand.” Upside, he’s a bigger part of the story, downside, now it sounds like an old-timey serial rather than a work of historical fiction. Could we name it for one of the major story elements? Most of the book is about the mystery of the dead and missing children, so “The Stolen Children” has potential–it’s properly grim to match the tone of the work, and it accurately describes the heart of the main conflict. It’s not flashy, but it’s solid. Maybe not as intriguing in a “huh what does that mean” way, but certainly with a certain air of mystery–what’s happening to these kids?

D. Set Word Phrases & Formatted Templates: This advice is basically saying “use words and phrases from your previous attempts, plug them into the blank spaces in these titles, see what comes out.” I’m skeptical of the usefulness for book titles rather than the attention-grabbing clickbait it’s modeled on, but tools are tools, so let’s give it a try. “The Secret to Torture.” “What Everybody Ought to Know about Witches.” “Who Else Wants Hysteria?” These are just giving me joke titles that don’t match the tone I’m aiming for.

E. Look at Your Genre: ie, don’t stray too far from established styles of titles among your peers. This section of advice gives a link to several title generators based on genre. There is no list for historical fiction, but there is one for crime/thriller, so I checked all of those out. Only one was a true working “generator” that would create titles when I hit a button. (One didn’t work in my browser, one was just a long list of titles somebody else made up, and one was a predetermined list of components, ie, if your first name starts with A, B, C, etc.)

The working generator mostly gave me titles with the general pattern “[noun] of the [adjective] [noun]” and “[past tense verb] for [noun.]” I used to love Mad Libs! So, many of the townspeople believed the conflict was caused by the witch’s curse, which would make that first title something like “Curse of the Angry Witch,” though there are a lot of different adjectives I could try in that spot. Because the dead children all share a mysterious mark on their body when they’re found, the second title could be the oh-so-generic “Marked for Death” or possibly “Marked for Murder.”

Are they more descriptive and accurate? Sure are. But are these better? Because of their incredibly generic nature, I’m going to say no. But this approach certainly has potential, even if I had to do most of the work myself analyzing the patterns the generator gave me rather than it spitting out useful titles unprompted.

F. Hooks in the Title: This concept is fantastic, but it relies on wordplay or another form of cleverness to somehow catch a potential reader’s attention while still being relevant to the book. One example given is basically a spoiler: “John Dies at the End.” (I’ve also read They Both Die at the End, and credit where credit is due, I was intrigued by that title.) Spoilers, I can do. How about “The Witch is Innocent,” no, too obvious. “There Was Never a Curse.” “Those Meddling Kids”–no, wait, that’s a different book. “It’s Actually About Greed,” because of course it is. I’m calling this attempt a failure, though I still like what the advice is trying to do.

As for the rest of the article…well, there’s a few more concrete instructions, but one is aimed specifically at non-fiction, and the rest don’t seem particularly relevant in this exercise, so let’s call it here–I still tried six approaches!

Did I successfully re-title The Hangman’s Daughter? No. Did I really expect that I would? Also no, though it would have been cool if I had to my own satisfaction.

Was that really the end goal of this exercise? Of course not! It was to get me (and hopefully, you) thinking about title creation and how different approaches might apply!

Further thoughts based on my own work: What We Need to Survive got its title during the final drafting phase, and also got its chapter titles that way; each chapter is named for an important physical object in that scene, and collectively, they are the title. (But also not, because the title is also referring to intangible concepts like love, resourcefulness, and hope.) What We Need to Decide and What We Need to Rebuild follow similar patterns, but focusing on other aspects of the journey. My upcoming release, Fifty-Five Days, spent over three years being called #rockstarnovel, until a few months ago when I sat down to rewrite, hammered out an actual tour schedule to work as a structure to hang my timeline on, and then realized the tour length was symbolic of both the difficulty of the situation for the main characters, and how long (or quickly, depending on your outlook on romance) they had to fall in love and decide to make major changes in their lives. The trilogy titles are hooks; 55D is based on setting. And if/when I release future installments in the rock-star series (I am attempting one now) I’ll be locked in to the “[Number] [Noun]” format for my titles, though I don’t know yet if they’ll all be related to time or not. I don’t have a proper title for the NaNo20 novel yet, which is a sequel to 55D–I never worry about titles before the end of the first draft. I’ve got months/years left with this story, that I started less than a month ago. No rush to name it yet.



Need to catch up on your assignments?

From My Art Journal, #17

Because I post these before the end of the month, I still have a few Planttober spreads worth sharing from October, my favorites of what’s left.

That last one with the oak leaves might be my favorite of the whole project!

While NaNoWriMo has been going on, I’ve only been art journaling when I have the extra time and energy, so not daily. But I still have quite a few pages, because NaNo’s been going so well, and also now that I made journaling a habit, I still get the itch to do it frequently.

My reward for “winning” NaNo, I decided, is new art supplies! So next month I’m sure I’ll have a lot of art to pick through while deciding what to share.

Since I’ve started doing this more regularly, I genuinely think I’m feeling better overall (not that I don’t still have bad days, of course I do) but now sometimes when I’m upset, I tell myself, “go make bad art!” And after an hour or so of being messy with no real plan, I have some maybe-not-so-bad art and I feel better, so really, what’s the drawback?

#Sunday-Romance Serial: “I Didn’t Mean Any of It”

Photo by Daniel von Appen on Unsplash
  • Continuing With: Mila and Belken
  • Setting: Gritty fantasy, it’s getting less generic as I world-build but I still don’t have anything like place names
  • Length: 1,470 words
  • Key Tropes: established relationship, reunion, homecoming
  • Content Warnings: for once in this story line, none that I can think of
  • Explicit?: No

It was three days before Mila was allowed to see Belken.When she woke from her long sleep after the rescue, she was starving for good food and company. She went to the mess, with faint hope Belken might be there. He wasn’t, so Mila didn’t linger, but ate quickly before asking a page where she could find him. There were several places a visitor to the compound might be housed, and where he was would tell me something about how Petralla viewed his situation, and how he was being treated.

But the boy looked puzzled. “I’m sorry, I don’t know who you mean.”

Ah. So our triumphant return was public, it had to be, but my lover’s rescue was a secret. She had a good idea where to look.

The Guild had no official jail, but in one building there was a secret. If one was high enough in the ranks, one learned the trick to open a section of paneling near the back exit and go down a hidden staircase to a small cluster of dry, dusty rooms long ago used as a smuggler’s storage, before the Guild had annexed the property during its expansion. Very few knew of it, and it was a convenient enough place to keep anyone whose presence need concealing.

Mila found Nicora there, standing outside one of the doors.

“Guard duty isn’t usually one of your tasks,” Mila observed.

Nicora’s tone was gentler than Mila expected. “I’m sympathetic to your situation, but I have orders not to allow anyone in other than Petralla, Evran, or Simmoon. I’d appreciate it if you accept that and leave.”

Drawing knives on Nicora was more trouble than Mila wanted to get into, no matter how much she wanted to see Belken. “I will, in a moment. May I ask how he is?” Because Simmoon was their best approximation of a doctor, in-Guild. They couldn’t afford the exorbitant fees to keep a properly licensed physician on staff, though they would pay for one to visit when the need was dire. The rest of the time, Simmoon patched everyone up as best she could.

“He’s not in any immediate danger,” Nicora answered. “I don’t know more detail than that, but whenever Simmoon comes to check on him, she seems at ease.”

“Thank you,” Mila said, and meant it.

She tried her best to go back to her old routines, her daily life. For three days, she slept and ate and bathed and went to the practice yard for weapons training. She repaired her armor, cleaned her gear, and replaced the small stock of items she had lost during her abduction. When she had to go into town to accomplish this, she took along an apprentice she hardly knew, someone not already known to be a friend, so that he was both her chaperone and her witness that she only did what she said she was doing.

This was her holding pattern between missions, but it chafed, knowing both that Belken was nearby, and that no missions for her were forthcoming. Not if she was a potential traitor.

On the fourth morning, she was summoned to Petralla’s office. Usually her desk was nearly bare, but the giant Guild ledger, the record of all their dealings, part diary of the commanders and part business account, lay closed in the center. Mila had never read it, not a single page.

“Sit down,” she ordered. “I’ve been over this ledger from back to front, through almost a hundred years of history, and I found two dozen specific pieces of information the Bone Traders could use to their advantage if they wanted to push us off the map,” Petralla stated. “And for the life of me, for the life of this very Guild, I can’t see how you would have known a single one of them, or why you would choose to aid our enemies. If you are a plant, you are the best I’ve ever seen. If you are a convert to their ways, a traitor, I can’t find a whisper of it. You should know that this incident will cloud the thinking of others about you for a long time, possibly to the end of your days. I can’t help that. But here, now, I want to make it unequivocally clear that I trust you. More than that, I am choosing to trust you.”

“Thank you,” Mila responded, her voice shaking.

“So you’ll go back to your regular duties. And we’ve spoken to your lover about living here, on the compound, where we can protect him. We don’t know that the Traders will seek his recapture, now that their plan is foiled, but it would be foolish to risk it. Which means we’ll need to move you out of the barracks. An apartment in Garden Hall would normally come with a promotion you haven’t earned yet, but I am making an exception for your odd circumstances, on one condition.”

Whatever it was, if it kept Belken safe, she would do it. “Which is?”

“They took you from us. They have undermined the trust I have in my people. These assaults upon us cannot go unanswered. You will be the arrow I shoot at the heart of the Bone Traders. I am going to work you harder than I have ever done. You will hunt them down, and you will kill them, until I am satisfied you have earned your new rank and privileges. I had not made you an assassin before, though I know you have killed in self-defense, and borne the cost of it well. So now I must know, can you harden your heart enough to kill in cold blood? Because this quiet war we wage on them will be the Guild’s revenge, but you must not let your own personal anger rule you. This is a hard thing to ask, but I believe it must be done.”

Mila didn’t hesitate. She rose from her seat, set her hand flat on the top of the Guild ledger and swore again the simple vow she had made upon her acceptance, as a girl barely out of childhood, so many years ago. “I pledge myself and all of strength I possess to the Guild. Whatever skills I acquire as I mature, I will offer in service.”

The lamp caught the suspicious gleam of tears in Petralla’s eyes. She nodded once. “The quartermaster will give you the keys to your new lodgings. Fetch your man and take him there.”

It was hard, but Mila managed not to sprint from the room. If there was a certain spring to her step and haste to her stride as she headed for the quartermaster’s office, no one remarked on it. She accepted the ring with two keys on it, and also the wink the older man gave her. She headed for the building above the secret underground chambers, but changed direction when a voice called out to her. She had to pass the gardens, and thus Garden Hall, to get there, but Evran stood outside the main entrance with Belken beside him. But she held her decorum and didn’t race to embrace him, as much as she wanted to. She endured the polite small talk that surrounded their meeting, even though on one level it felt more like the transfer of a prisoner. Would Belken agree to this? Would living here interfere with his business too much, could he accept the change or would he leave the Guild’s protection?

Would he leave her?

She followed him up the stairs and down a hallway as he checked each door for the number Evran had told them. When he found it, she passed him a key. “I didn’t mean any of it,” he said suddenly.

“What?”

“Our last fight, before. We never quite made up from it, did we? I don’t even remember what it was about, now, so I can’t still be angry. I must not have really meant it.” He turned to face her. The bruises on his cheek, around his eye, were fading to a hideous yellow-brown. “I wanted to make sure I said that, that we go forward with a clean slate.”

Then she did embrace him, gently, because she didn’t know the extent of his injuries. “Completely clean,” she agreed, then made it more formal. “I’m choosing to trust you, and to love you.” She pulled back, grinned at him. “Once we walk through that door, no wondering, no suspicion.”

He leaned forward to rest his brow against hers. “Let’s go see what they’ve given us, shall we? I’m only sorry I’m too hurt to make love to you properly in our new bed. That may still have to wait a few days.”

Mila kissed his unmarked cheek. “I look forward to it.” 

This Week, I Read… (2020 #44)

#162 – Fool’s Quest, by Robin Hobb

  • Read: 11/10/20 – 11/15/20
  • Mount TBR: 140/150
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

This gets five stars despite some issues I have with the pacing. After the first book’s intense cliffhanger, I really didn’t want this one to take 200 pages to get to the point where Fitz found out about the tragedy at his home. It felt like killing time, it felt needless, it felt heart-wrenching in a way that came more from a place of frustration than sympathy.

Then things move along more briskly, though there’s still obviously tons of ground to cover. There’s a lot of travel and hopping back and forth and dashing about, interspersed with periods of slowness and inactivity, that I think reflects the strange duality of tension existing alongside of grief. Because Fitz is grieving even before he believes Bee completely lost to him, he’s grieving his failures as a person and a parent.

I cried a bit while reading this, not gonna lie.

But to some degree, the strange pacing issues return at the end, with a trip to Kelsingra that felt somehow momentous but also oddly pedestrian squeezed in at the very end, taking up so little space in the narrative that I was scratching my head when they got there and thinking, “Where the heck are we going with this? What does this mean for the larger story?” And the cliffhanger here, while still intense and obviously dangerous, feels somewhat disconnected from the rest of the story, both because the lead-up to it is so short, and because it takes place in an “exotic” location to Fitz, despite the time we as readers have spent there earlier in the series.

I see how the pieces of the climax fit together, and I see how they were laid out earlier in the book (and throughout the series) so I understand this is a culmination of an awful lot of groundwork; for the most part I think it’s successful. But it’s just so abrupt! There’s very little space for such a big event–the on-page union of what were previously two ENTIRELY SEPARATE narratives in the larger story, both structurally and stylistically–to breathe and unfold properly. Like, I remember that Rapskal was dangerous so I know it’s bad news when he’s the commander of the militia, that can’t be good, but he hardly has any time to remind us why he’s a jerk before he’s trying to seize the Fool…ugh. It’s strange to me that I want this book to be longer, but I guess I really don’t. I just want some of the page space in the beginning, which felt too long, to be reallocated to the end, which felt too short.

Emotionally, still, five stars. I’m beyond invested, I’m more than a little heartbroken. This is by far the longest-running series I’ve ever read and I am so attached to these characters, it’s a little nuts.

#163 – Assassin’s Fate, by Robin Hobb

  • Read: 11/15/20 – 11/19/20
  • Rating: 5/5 stars

It’s been a long time since a book made me cry this much.

When I read Fool’s Fate, when Fitz seemed to get his well-deserved happy ending, I enjoyed it, but I knew something was off. I couldn’t put my finger on what, but because I didn’t read it when it was first published, I was fully aware that there were more books in the series, and some of them were about Fitz.

This is his real ending, and as bittersweet as it is, it’s much more fitting. From an emotional standpoint, I’m pretty well destroyed.

From a technical standpoint, once again my only real complaint is pacing. The buildup in the first half of the book, the arc of them getting to Clerres, felt like it took too long, and yet, once we got there and the action got moving, I felt like we didn’t spend long enough there to justify the journey, and it seemed odd to me to spend so much of the book belaboring details about the island, the Four, the libraries. All that richness seemed to get in the way of what I wanted to know, which was what was going to happen. I know it’s my impatience talking, and that it’s foolish to expect Hobb to suddenly start writing fast-paced books so that I can get my answers faster, but even so, there was enough repetition here that I sometimes felt frustrated. (How many times was the quote about considering your actions used? Twelve times? Fifteen? Twenty? I get that it was important but I got so tired of hearing it.)

Despite those complaints, throughout this final trilogy I have fallen in love with the new characters who stand by Fitz’s and Bee’s side, so I was pleased to see them play their roles with such enthusiasm and be rewarded in the end accordingly. It was also nice to see a few old familiar faces, and meet as adults the children who had not yet been born when we last left their part of the world behind–both Boy-O and Kennitsson, for their minor parts, struck me as exactly as they should be, given their parentage and probable upbringings. And I continue to be impressed with Hobb’s ability to juggle so many plot threads, so many characters, and tie them off relatively neatly in the end to make a satisfying conclusion.

I’m happy it’s over, that I made it this far. I couldn’t have read 16 books set in the same world, following largely the same characters, if I weren’t invested, but that very investment is what is now tearing my heart out, because this ending is fitting, and comprehensive, and sad. And hopeful. But very sad. Ah, dammit, now I’m crying again.

Around the Year in 52 Books Reading Challenge: Complete!

This was a new challenge to me this year, which I decided to do on impulse at the very end of 2019. Originally I intended to stick strictly to the one-book-a-week schedule, but once I realized that I had to read The Picture of Dorian Gray during one calendar week for ATY, but much later in the year (for Banned Books Week) for PopSugar, it stopped mattering and I read some books early. At the start of each month, I put any books for those weeks I hadn’t gotten to yet on my monthly TBR, but no longer worried about reading them during the correct week.

So, what did I read?

  1. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley
  2. Full Dark, No Stars, by Stephen King
  3. Golden Fool, by Robin Hobb
  4. Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
  5. Red Rising, by Pierce Brown
  6. From a Buick 8, by Stephen King
  7. Beauty is a Wound, by Eka Kurniawan
  8. The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton
  9. The Only Harmless Great Thing, by Brooke Bolander
  10. Dreams Underfoot, by Charles de Lint
  11. The Inexplicable Logic of My Life, by Benjamin Alire Saenz
  12. Bayou Moon, by Ilona Andrews
  13. Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States, by Bill Bryson
  14. State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett
  15. The Night Watch, by Sergei Lukyanenko
  16. The Bridges of Madison County, by Robert James Waller
  17. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
  18. Wasted Words, by Staci Hart
  19. The Dragon Keeper, by Robin Hobb
  20. Starlight on Willow Lake, by Susan Wiggs
  21. Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie
  22. Room, by Emma Donoghue
  23. The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
  24. Love on My Mind, by Tracey Livesay
  25. The Art of Peeling an Orange, by Victoria Avilan
  26. The Bride Test, by Helen Hoang
  27. The Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro
  28. Fake Out, by Eden Finley
  29. Wildwood Dancing, by Juliet Marillier
  30. An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones
  31. Rosewater: A Family’s Story of Love, Captivity, and Survival, by Maziar Bahari
  32. Norwegian Wood, by Haruki Murakami
  33. In Other Lands, by Sarah Rees Brennan
  34. Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts
  35. The Great Passage, by Shion Miura
  36. Dirty, by Kylie Scott
  37. Insomnia, by Stephen King
  38. Sleeping Beauty and the Demon, by Marina Myles
  39. Autiobiography of a Corpse, by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky
  40. Needful Things: The Last Castle Rock Story, by Stephen King
  41. Behold, Here’s Poison, by Georgette Heyer
  42. The Other Boleyn Girl, by Philippa Gregory
  43. Dread Nation, by Justina Ireland
  44. The Hangman’s Daughter, by Oliver Potzsch
  45. Nemesis Games, by James S.A. Corey
  46. And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini
  47. War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
  48. This Town Sleeps, by Dennis E. Staples
  49. The thing About December, by Donal Ryan
  50. His Bride for the Taking, by Tessa Dare
  51. The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende
  52. Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell

Would I do this challenge again? Probably. A large part of the reason I liked it when I found it was that I keep wanting to go back to the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, which I did back in 2016, but the prompts every year have become increasingly narrow and specific, to the point where it seems like only one or two books would even qualify. Which is not a good match for me reading down the huge piles of books I had sitting around at the start of this year!

Will I do it again next year? Probably not. I still have a month and a half to change my mind, but so far, my plan is to do Mount TBR only, while prioritizing my 2018 backlog (assuming I’ve finished my 2017 by then, but I’m making good progress.) Also continuing to polish off series I still have hanging. But even with those constraints, I intend to put a lot less pressure on myself in terms of reading next year, because I’ve been going hard for five straight years now.

Halfway Through NaNo20: Checking In

As of yesterday, the 15th, I have written 39,726 words on my new novel project, #rockstarnovel two: electric bugaloo. (Ignore that last dot showing no progress, that’s today, and I haven’t started yet!)

This is the farthest ahead I have ever been. I usually “win” around Thanksgiving Day, though some years it’s been as early as the 23rd. Right now, I’m projected to finish my 50K on the 20th.

Why is this happening? Of the fifteen days so far:

  • Six days, I’ve written more than 3,000 words
  • Six days, I’ve written between 2,000 – 3,000 words
  • Two days, I’ve written between 1,000 – 2,000 words
  • Only one day, I’ve written less than 1,000 words

My daily average? 2,648. I’ve never been this productive for this long before!

In terms of the story, I feel like I’m about 40% through, right on track. I’m only planning ahead a few chapters at a time, based on what I’ve already written (the “headlight” method of planning) and in a day or two I’ll hit the scene I have planned as the midpoint climax. My first drafts usually run around 100K (though Fifty-Five Days was more like 115!) and get bigger in the second draft when I fix story issues, then much smaller again when I start editing rather than rewriting.

I often finish the month with around 60K written in total–I think my record is around 65K–but I’m on track now to end up with as much as 80K, though I’m honestly not sure I can keep that momentum going for another fifteen days. I had my first “bad” day yesterday, it was going to happen eventually, and with lockdown Thanksgiving coming up, we won’t be spending it with my family as usual, but we are having our own feast, and I’ve never cooked a Thanksgiving dinner myself before! So who knows what I’ll get written that day?

I intend to write as much as possible today while still getting my chores done–several years ago, for fun, I put together a writing crawl to help you keep your house clean during NaNo. In fact, as soon as I finish this post, I’ve got to put in a load of laundry!

So, to my fellow Wrimos, I wish you good luck and fast typing speeds, I hope everything is going as well for you as it is for me!