End of the Month Wrap-Up: July 2018!

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My July started out on vacation, hanging out with family–basically watching a lot of World Cup soccer and going out to eat most nights for dinner. I didn’t even make it to the lake for any beach time!

That’s partially because there were a lot of games to watch, and in my downtime, I was rewriting #rockstarnovel. Most of this last year (since the publishing of What We Need to Rebuild last fall, at least) has been me waffling about what project to work on, because none of my first drafts were getting finished, and the one I did have–that’s #rockstarnovel, from NaNo ’16)–seemed to need far too much work to get anything usable out of it.

However, given enough time to reflect on its issues, I came up with a plan, a serious but also hack-and-slash plan, and now, that’s what I’m implementing. With any luck (and a lot of work) it will be my next book release, sometime in early 2019, because there’s no way I see myself having it ready by the end of the year.

That takes care of writing. As for reading, thanks to another readathon mid-month, I read 13 books this month.

Problem is, I acquired 26. While we were visiting, my mother-in-law handed me one of hers she’d read and thought I’d like; everything else came from Thriftbooks (some haven’t even arrived yet!) and sales on Amazon, via my shiny new BookBub membership. It’s both great and terrible to get an email everyday with the latest digital deals.

My ban on physical books is hereby reinstated until Christmas; my digital acquisitions aren’t banned, but I will make an effort to be discerning, and not just pick up every free romance that looks halfway decent. That’s half of how this unwieldy TBR came to be.

The plan for August is to keep chugging away at Mount TBR, focusing on my oldest unread books when possible, and physical books over digital, at least until I clear more shelf space.

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Expand Your Horizons: August TBR

Expand Your Horizons

Seven months done, five to go! If you’ve just joined me recently, I’ve committed to reading one book each, every month in 2018, from Nonfiction, Banned Books, Classics, and #ownvoices.

Here’s my August TBR:

Horizons August TBR

  • Nonfiction: New of a Kidnapping, by Gabriel García Márquez
  • Banned Books: The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman
  • Classics: The Once and Future King, by T.H. White
  • #ownvoices: The Gift of Rain, by Tan Twan Eng

If you’re curious about the challenge, you can find all the details here, and be sure to use the #horizonsreadingchallenge tag on your social media so everyone can see what you’re reading!

This Week, I Read… (2018 #29)

103 - Daughter of Fortune

#103 – Daughter of Fortune, by Isabel Allende

I went into this not really knowing what to expect, aside from beautiful language. My first Allende read, Paula, stunned me with its beauty, vast and peculiar vocabulary, and depth. I was excited to try her fiction.

And I can’t say I’m disappointed, though I see weaknesses in the fiction that I didn’t spot in the memoir. This novel has the expected fluid and vivid language, as well as excellently realized historical settings. Though I’m American, I’m Midwestern, and I knew almost nothing about the Gold Rush except that it happened; the history of California is not something we ever studied in school. So I was fascinated by the depiction of life in the newly-acquired state-to-be. As far as the plot goes, it’s so wildly improbable that it almost has to be true, if someone were telling me this story about one of their ancestors. So much of what characterizes the difference between the American Dream and reality is captured in the numerous minor characters who came to America/California to do one thing and ended up doing something entirely different. Eliza and Tao Ch’ien are no exception.

Where this story really struggles is in the dialogue, a failing that is made even more apparent by how infrequently actual dialogue even happens. Most of the sweeping, multi-year plot is told in summary, glossing through days, weeks, or even months with a few paragraphs; conversations and other scenes where time is stopped long enough to read something happening in the moment are few and far between. Stilted and awkward words between Eliza and Tao, I can forgive, especially at first–they’re bridging a huge cultural gap in a shared second language. But the three British Sommers siblings don’t have that excuse.

Still, it was intriguing and downright refreshing to read historical fiction that was in part about America by an author from another culture, who didn’t have the same impulse to downplay the shameful parts of the country’s history, but in fact to highlight them, especially where it concerned the treatment and fate of Chilean immigrants. It’s not necessarily a comfortable experience, yet it’s something worth confronting.

104 - Good Omens

#104 – Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

All I remember from the first time I read this, roughly twenty years ago when I was in college, was all cassettes become Queen and Crowley and Aziraphale fight like an old married couple. And laughing SO MUCH.

When I spotted a teaser trailer for next year’s television adaptation, I knew it was time to finally reread.

I was not disappointed–I laughed just as much. The ending struck me harder this time around with its sheer anti-climactic-ness, which in other stories would likely be something I’d complain about, but here, it’s the entire point.

Is it perfect? No. Is its style of dry humor going to appeal to everyone? Definitely not. Did I have a blast revisiting it after so long?

HELL YES.

(Also, having read the entire run of Sandman comics since the first time through, I found it amusing to imagine Death-the-ankh-wearing-punk-chick and Death-the-motorcycle-gang-leader were the same thing. Which clearly they’re not, but wouldn’t it be fun if they were?)

105 - City of Illusions

#105 – City of Illusions, by Ursula K. Le Guin

  • Read: 7/24/18 – 7/27/18
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

I started the journey of this story with the audiobook, but stopped 15% in and waited weeks for inter-library loan to get me a physical copy. I disliked the narrator’s voice and the way he read the dialogue of the female characters, which is a complaint against the presentation only; I was also confused by the profusion of characters introduced by name only in the first chapter, and thought I would have trouble keeping track of them without an easy way to page back and remind myself.

Had I known all of these characters were about to disappear from the story completely, I might have just powered through.

When I received the book, I started over, and found myself just as confused by the early story as ever. The world-building is stronger than the characters or plot, but that effectively meant there was little forward motion, and I didn’t truly want to keep reading.

The gold of this story doesn’t start until two-thirds of the way through, when Falk finally reaches the titular City which is the goal of his journey.

While the antagonist, the Shing, are a one-dimensional manipulative alien race whose true motives are vastly unclear (in the introduction Le Guin even mentions they are a clear case of “villain trouble”,) Falk’s reception in the City leads the story into a rich examination of selfhood, perception, and trust, which I found fascinating.

On the other hand, the ending was inconclusive and unsatisfying to me, so structurally the story was a long walk to get to an incredibly short pier. If I weren’t so determined to read the entirety of the Hainish Cycle this year, I likely would have given up on City long before I ever got to the interesting bits. It would have been a shame not to read them, but when only about 50 pages of a 200-page book are interesting, I don’t consider that a success.

The July 2018 Book Haul

July 2018 Book Haul

If you’re a Reading Rewards member at Thriftbooks, as I am, you know they recently overhauled their system. I had a $5 coupon leftover from the old method, and as they were still redeemable, I decided that was a good enough excuse to earn some points under the new system and placed an order.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one.

My major goal with this purchase was to buttress up some incomplete series. Long ago at a library sale I’d bought the third book in Mercedes Lackey’s Elemental Masters series, so the first two finally got purchased. I picked up more of the Kate Daniels paranormal series, and more Realms of the Elderlings–I’ve only read the first book, but I loved it so much that I’ve been steadily acquiring the others a few at a time. Sharon Shinn is one of my all-time favorites, and it’s really quite pathetic of me that I’m two books behind current on the Elemental Blessings series.

So, the full list:

  • The Scribe, by Elizabeth Hunter
  • Magic Rises and Magic Breaks, by Ilona Andrews
  • The Fire Rose and The Serpent’s Shadow, by Mercedes Lackey
  • Golden Fool, Fool’s Fate, and Dragon Keeper, by Robin Hobb
  • Jeweled Fire, by Sharon Shinn

The funny thing is, just two days after my last package arrived (this order came in four shipments due to me picking up a lot of “only” copies from the TB warehouse all over the place,) I got an email about the companies 15th-anniversary sale, worth extra points per dollar, and they had a bunch of stuff from my wishlist…so I bought eight more books. They won’t start getting here for at least another few days, so next month there will be a Part II to this book haul.

After that, I’m strongly considering another ban, at least on physical books. I’ve just joined BookBub, so free ebooks aren’t off the table yet–but my shelves are running out of room. Again.

 

From My Art Journal, #12: Lost and Found Edition

Meet the Journal - Moon Journal

Sometime in early 1997, I bought this small blank journal. Sometime in the early 00s, I thought I lost it–whether during the move into our current residence, or the original post-college move into our first apartment together. Considering that one of us changed countries for a year between the two and a lot of our stuff went into storage while we were apart, I figured it had gotten lost in the shuffle, never to be seen again.

Imagine my surprise when I found it in a box of old art supplies than had gotten shoved, apparently unopened, under our bed. I found it a few months ago during the big spring clean!

I debated what to do with it. Some of the art in it is terrible and cringe-worthy to my adult self–keep in mind that ’97-’98 was my senior year of high school, and while I’d always enjoyed making art, I hadn’t studied it much or gotten all that good at it–and I thought of shelving it with my other journals, unfinished, but a memory of my teenage years.

Then I said screw it and decided to finish using it anyway. So what if there’ll be an 18-year gap in the entries?

What follows is a selection of the pages I’m not completely ashamed to claim credit for.

The very first page (2/17/97) and a current picture of its subject, Mercutio, named because of his resemblance to Harold Perrineau’s wig-bedecked version of the role in 1996’s Romeo + Juliet. He also featured in a whole series of works I did in my Thematic Art class in college, I’m pretty sure I have all those in the back of my closet, I should get them out sometime.

Moon Journal 2-17-97

The very next day, apparently, I brought my charcoal pencils to study hall and did a portrait of my chemistry teacher.

On vacation in August that summer, I bought my art supplies along and for some reason decided to draw card faces? The detail astonishes me all this time later, but if you turn them upside down the faces, which are supposed to be identical, are completely different.

Same trip, a few days later. I don’t remember where we’d gone (I could consult my dad and I’m sure he’d be able to tell me) but I must have been bored at least some of the time, because I did these two.

Moon Journal 2-15-98

I forgot about the journal for a few months, judging by the dates–that hasn’t changed about me at all! This is from February 1998, and while I remember “hand” art being a thing I did a lot freshman year in my school notebooks, apparently I decided to revisit that style for a page three years later.

Moon Journal 3-3-98

I like drawing my stuffed animals. I should do that some more. Meet Caledonia, my happy baby elephant, one of the few animals I’ve bought who kept the name on the tag she came with. I don’t know why an employee of my then-local Hallmark store hand-wrote a bunch of random fancy names on a batch of elephant stuffies, but they did, and so I took her. (Yes, I still have her, too. My menagerie is huge these days.)

Moon Journal 8-20-00

This was the final entry from the original journal, which I had the sense to label with a place, since I was clearly on vacation again. There was a really, really big willow tree outside our hotel that day, and I love trees, so I drew it. Not that well, but as best I can remember, I didn’t have a lot of time before we were heading out to dinner.

So that’s a sampling of the old stuff, and I’m surprised/not surprised by similarities I see to my current “work.” I still like odd (or maybe I should say non-traditional) color combinations, mandalas, and abstraction. When I drew from life, I chose a lot of random subjects: not pictured are a candlestick, a table full of empty glassware, a laughing gargoyle statue that I used to have, one of my bookshelves, and a spectacularly awful attempt at a vase of flowers.

To start off again, I grabbed my gel pens, put on some music, and got doodling.

Song lyrics + Zentangles might be a thing for this new journal, at least for a while.

This Week, I Read… (2018 #28)

100 - Third Daughter

#100 – Third Daughter, by Susan Kaye Quinn

Pros: non-European-based fantasy setting. Steampunk aesthetic. Fast-paced action.

Cons: adjective-heavy prose style. Heroine who could be pictured in the dictionary under both “reckless” and “impulsive.” Hero who is too perfect. Absolutely transparent love triangle. And the Indian-inspired setting is really light on actual Indian terms, items, and history/culture.

Most of that is straightforward, but I want to dig into that last bit. As much as I want to see fantasies take inspiration places and times other than medieval Europe, this was so light on elements of Indian culture that, had I not known from the cover/marketing/book reviews that this was alternate India, I might have missed it entirely and assumed the setting was purely fictional.

Also, for a novel so concerned with spy action centered on world politics, there’s pretty much no history given to account for the current state of them. Thin worldbuilding at best.

I enjoyed this almost entirely based on the steampunkiness and the action. That being said, the cliffhanger leading to the second book wasn’t at all a surprise to me, and doesn’t particularly make me want to go on with the series.

101 - The Kalahari Typing School for Men

#101 – The Kalahari Typing School for Men, by Alexander McCall Smith

A short book that could (should?) have been even shorter if it weren’t filled with endless name repetition and small talk.

I’m sure I didn’t do myself any favors by jumping into this series a few books in, but this is the one I found for pennies at a used book shop, and it sounded interesting.

A few chapters in, I took a break to look up the titles Mma. and Rra., and once I found something that wasn’t about mixed martial arts, got treated to a message board topic filled with commenters writing mini treatises on how incredibly polite Botswanan society is, which was genuinely interesting, as I know almost nothing about it.

That studious politeness is evident in this book, but not necessarily to its enrichment. I can understand the insistence on always using a character’s title and name together, even if it did lead to some stilted sentences. But that made it all the more obvious that the “apprentices” were basically never referred to by name, even when they were speaking, which irked me personally, as I’ve never been fond of the naturalistic school of writing where epithets are preferable to names. (I still hate The Red Badge of Courage for this specific reason.)

What really bothered me, though, was the small talk. No character dialogue could be omitted, assumed, or even summed up with an “After the necessary pleasantries…” Not allowed, every single word spoken was included, no matter how mundane or unnecessary to the plot. And there’s a lot of it.

Add to that the repetitive nature of the inner monologues (eg, “That was a good idea. She should tell So-and-So about it. So-and-So would agree it was a good idea.”) and it became a recipe for boredom. I would hopefully be more attached to these characters if I’d been reading from the beginning, but nothing here was strong enough for me to invest in.

102 - Speak

#102 – Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson

I was afraid when I saw that this was structured around the school year and Melinda’s classes, that this would be another trite “hell is high school” stories.

But for Melinda, it really is true, and it’s not trite at all.

She’s got parents who aren’t fully present in her life, and when they are, they don’t understand her (to them) self-imposed isolation. She’s surrounded at school by enemies and former friends alike, and the only “friend” she acquires as a freshman is a new girl who’s so self-absorbed she doesn’t even notice how disengaged Melinda is.

She has lots of teachers who don’t care about her withdrawal and falling grades, a counselor who does care but can’t seem to reach her, and one teacher who cares a ton–her art teacher.

Art as therapy is so close to being a cliche, but here, it made me want to chose a random subject (as Melinda does) and spend the next few months drawing/painting/sculpting nothing but, say, owls or something. It’s not something any of my art teachers ever did, but one in particular did pretty much let us work on whatever we wanted to with minimal input from him while he worked in one corner of the room on a huge portrait of his kids. So when she was talking about art class, I felt that.

In fact, my strongest point of connection to Melinda is how closely her internal observations of high school reminded me of my own. My situation going into freshman year was far different (and less traumatic) but Melinda has that early cynical edge that, when paired with her exile from the social structure, manages to criticize it while still wanting to be a part of it, which is how I felt a lot of the time.

And her English teacher? Could have been mine, with the sentence-by-sentence over-analysis of an assigned text, trying to mine every word for symbolism. And symbolism here suffers the same fate as high school society itself–the narrative has students openly criticize symbolism, and yet, symbols run rampant through the novel: mirrors, trees, silence. Which is how Anderson manages to raise what could have been another trite “hell is high school” story above the rest.

 

Dialogue Prompts: Song Lyrics Edition

microphone-805256_1280

As a music junkie, I’ve proposed song-based writing homework assignments before, quite a few times in fact. But here, I just want to share a bunch of short, earworm lyrics that I think would make great writing prompts.

  1. “I thought we were past this.”
  2. “I can’t say no to you.”
  3. “If we take this chance…”
  4. “Please don’t drive me home.”
  5. “Don’t know who I’m kidding.”
  6. “I am my own worst enemy.”
  7. “Do you feel the same?”
  8. “There’s nobody here, it’s just you and me.”
  9. “I know you’re not a fool.”
  10. “How did you find me in the first place?”
  11. “I can’t seem to place it.”
  12. “I don’t want to fall in love.”
  13. “You always were two steps ahead.”
  14. “That’s why I’m in love with you.”
  15. “I want you to move on.”

Have fun, write drabbles, and I’ll be back on Friday with another batch of book reviews!