alanajoli: (mini me short hair)
Happy New Year! It's been some time since I posted; it was a busy year at Casa Abbott for non-writing reasons. We've welcomed baby Fish into our family, joining his sister Bug, Three-stripe, cats Jack and Tollers, and I as members of our household. But while I'm behind on many things, I've continued to read a lot! Since I posted last year and the year before about my reading goals, I wanted to post last year's results and this year's goals before 2015 progressed too far!

This year, I did not count all the picture books I read, but I did count all my review picture books individually. For the year, I totalled 163 books, which is up from last year's 129 (probably in part due to counting all the review books individually). There was a method to my madness, however: I wanted to see what percentage of titles were review books as compared to non-review books. Here's some of the interesting breakdown:

  • 89 titles were review books

  • 106 were children's or YA books

  • Only 12 were graphic novels, which is rather low

  • I read 7 romance, 69 SFF, and 2 nonfiction

I did reasonably well on my goals. The 2 nonfiction titles beat my goal to read just 1. I read 13 out of the 15 novels from my TBR pile I'd hoped to read, 4 titles by autobio writers, 6 rereads (out of a goal of 3), and read one non-genre novel.

The most interesting statistic I kept last year was print vs. digital. I surprised myself by reading 91 books in paper and 72 digitally. I thought I skewed toward e-books, so it's interesting to me that I'm not even at 50% digital reading. Some of this is due to reading for the MFAs. I rely heavily on the library to provide me with MFA reading, and though some are available as e-books, most are more readily available in print.

Highlights of the year?
  • Rereading Max Gladstone's Three Parts Dead--and seeing it make the MFA finalists list--was great fun. It's been especially fun to read more of the Craft books, both post-publishing and in mss format, in combination with playing Max's Craftverse game Choice of the Deathless. Without the books being required for the game and vice versa, they work so well in conjunction!

  • Finishing Devon Monk's "Allie Beckstrom" series was bittersweet, but starting the "House Immortal" books makes me confident there's more excellent reading to come.

  • I had the fantastic opportunity to interview Gene Luen Yang for the autobio project, and I read The Shadow Hero and Boxers and Saints in preparation for that. They were both some of my favorite reading for the year, for very different reasons. I'd recommend The Shadow Hero to anyone, but especially readers who have a fondness for Golden Age superheroes. Boxers and Saints is a fabulous moral and ethical investigation of a historical period with a lot of magical realism thrown in, and I found it both enjoyable and tremendously moving.

  • The biggest surprise read was probably Eleven by Tom Rogers. It's a book about 9/11, mostly from the perspective of a boy who's just turned 11, and it's fantastic both as an exploration of the event through fiction for middle graders and as a coming of age story. It was also pretty wild to realize that 9/11 happened before the middle grade age group was born--so it qualifies, on some level, as historical fiction.

  • I'd also recommend without reservation the Super Lexi middle grade books by Emma Lesko. Lexi is neurologically and developmentally different from her peers, which makes her a fascinating POV character, and Lesko's commitment to neuro-diversity in children's books shows in how beautifully she captures Lexi and makes her so easy to empathize with.

  • I loved finally finishing Shanna Swendson's "Enchanted, Inc." series, which for ages looked like it wouldn't get to continue beyond book four. (I'd still read more books in that world!)

  • I'm also really eager to see where the "Kate Daniels" (Ilona Andrews) and "Safehold" (David Weber) books end up next!

There were, of course, a lot of other great books, but listing them all would be fodder for TLDR (if I haven't already hit that point).

I was pretty happy with this year's goals, so I'm planning to keep them the same. Here's to another year of good reading!


May. 5th, 2012 02:00 pm
alanajoli: (Default)
These links have been keeping tabs open in my browser until I wrote about them, so here's me clearing off my desktop:

  • My review of Grave Dance by Kalayna Price is up over at Black Gate. Spoiler: I loved it.

  • Target has decided that selling Amazon's kindle is a conflict of interest, Bryan Bishop reported over at The Verge. So, what's going on between Amazon and Target? I suppose we'll known in a few weeks – or it'll fade from the news and we won't figure it out.

  • Penelope Trunk wrote a really interesting post on Venture Beat on "Why Smart Authors Are Cutting Amazon Out." She's advocating what ends up being even more self-publishing than I usually see: effectively, be your own publisher and bookstore. I'm not sure I'm 100% behind her sentiment, but I do think it's a well-written and well-reasoned argument.

  • Tor/Forge e-books are getting rid of DRM, as announced on and at PW. Thank you, Tor! I'd not actually noticed your DRM before, so at least you made it the kind that wasn't annoying previously. But I appreciate that you're getting rid of it entirely! (Especially as it's in time for me to buy Safehold 5 when it drops to mm price this fall, and, of course, Three Parts Dead, which is not yet listed as a nook book, but I'm assured will be.)

  • The success of Fifty Shades of Grey (the slightly-edited-to-not-be-Twilight-fanfic bestseller) is somewhat baffling to me -- PW reports that it was the top fiction seller in the country the last week of April. Smart Bitch Sarah Wendell posted with other recommendations over at Kirkus, and one of her comments made me suspect something: Fifty Shades of Grey may well be appealing to people who don't usually read or didn't previously read romance. I was reminded how I was relatively unimpressed with The Da Vinci Code when it came out, but it had huge, widespread appeal, perhaps also among people who were not typical readers or book buyers. I've nothing to back that up other than its just being a random thought. I've not read, nor do I intend to read, Fifty Shades of Grey.

  • PW also reported that B&N has just gotten into bed with Microsoft for their digital initiatives. If this means I will eventually be able to play Jade Empire on my nook (rather than my X-box), I am completely doomed.

  • Speaking of B&N, the nook's new advertising campaign (reported on by Lauren Indvik on mashable) is amusing.

  • And last, PW's coverage of the upcoming ruling on Authors Guild v. Google.
alanajoli: (Default)
Since the royal wedding last week (and since finishing David Weber's By Schism Rent Asunder), I've been thinking about the phrase "falling in love." Usually we say the phrase in terms of a romantic relationship, but not always. After all, America can't fall in love with a new American Idol contestant or sports star romantically. (Individual viewers can, but America can't.) That phrase ("America fell in love") gets used frequently enough in the media -- whether it's about pop culture icons, political figures, or a social issue -- that it's come to have its own meaning.

A long while ago, I had a conversation with alpha-reader Arielle Kesweder, who has been a good pop culture reference for me for some time, about the word "heart" as a verb. I don't particularly care for it, but the evolution of language being what it is, no one bothered to ask me. She explained to me that "heart" as a verb means something different from "love" -- you don't really love someone you've never met, for example. But you can be involved with a character in a way that's very emotionally engaging, without any actual risk on your part. It's related to the "squee" factor, I think: say you meet an actor, or a writer, whose work you admire a great deal (or whose character you have a crush on). That encounter allows you proximity to the target of your admiration (and may induce a noisy "squee" when you share the story with friends, as you all shriek your delight). The intensity of the experience of your encounter with the target of your admiration deserves some sort of name -- but you can't really say you love the person you encountered. Instead, you "heart" them. Or, so I came to understand the case that she made.

I can't help but think, however, that "heart" as a verb is very similar to what America does when falling in love. And I myself often use the phrase "falling in love" to describe what happens to me with characters in books (in the most recent case, Cayleb and Sharleyan of the "Safehold" books). I'm not personally romantically involved, but I get warm fuzzies when thinking about the characters. As with a classic high school crush, I might get a big ol' grin on my face when they appear in a scene. My investment in them as characters is high -- but the only risk involved to me should something awful happen to them is a minor bit of heart-break. Because I'm an easy crier when it comes to books, if something awful transpires, I shall probably cry. And if it's appropriately dramatic, the scene may well stick with me for days on end (through what I've before referred to as a book-hangover, when a book continues to preoccupy me days after I've finished it).

That same kind of intensity of emotion, without the romantic inclination, happens with public figures we view as heroes (John F. Kennedy is someone who readily comes to mind as a person people "fell in love with" but didn't necessarily want in their beds). The intensity can happen in the opposite direction with our villains as well. In those cases, I think much of what people are involved with isn't the actual person, but rather what the person stands for in their minds. (Thus, sometimes there is rejoicing in death, not necessarily for the end of a life, but for the strength robbed from the symbol a person represents.)

But I think it can also happen with friendships, and this is where it gets hairy, because there are cultural assumptions about intense relationships -- and that these must involve romance. I remember my mother talking about how, when she was a young single woman, she argued with the older women at her church, saying that men and women could have friendships that didn't involve romance. I think we've come a long way in our cultural perceptions since the 70s as far as male-female friendships go, but that equation of intensity and romance often remains. I've been thinking about this as I'm crafting the characters for New Project; a male and female character, both heterosexual, have a very close relationship that probably leads the other characters (and likely the readers) to think they're romantically involved. But they're not, and they never have been. How can that relationship be depicted in such a way that readers will believe there's no sexual tension there, despite the intensity of emotional connection? It's something I'm puzzling out -- while also wondering how I can get people to fall in love with my characters. I'm already a little bit in love with them, of course, but I hope others will feel the same!

* Eponine to Marius, Victor Hugo's Les Miserables -- she, of course, is fooling no one, because "little bit" doesn't even begin to describe how in love with him she was. But I've always liked the quote.
alanajoli: (Default)
I wanted to post this on Monday, but, well, I had a deadline yesterday and had to finish reading a few series of review books at different grade levels before I could justify posting. So, just pretend this is my Valentine's Day post, ok?

You know that I read a lot of romance novels, and that I love the genre. You may also remember that we're reading the Safehold series as a family, and we're currently in the middle of By Schism Rent Asunder, the second book in the series. As I'm sure you've guessed, the Safehold books are not romance novels. However, like a lot of my favorite SF and F books, there's definitely romance inside the rest of the court intrigue and derring-do. But I think this is one of the first times I've seen compelling romance minus the angst that normally accompanies it.

I don't use angst as a pejorative here. As I posted on one of [ profile] sartorias's recent Book View Cafe entries, I love me some romantic angst. My two top favorite novels of all time are both YA, and both involve the main character loving someone who she can't believe actually loves her back (which causes a heart-wrenching moment or two along the way!). In one case, the heroine doesn't actually know she's in love -- and that he might return her affections -- until she realizes she's put herself in a situation where it looks like she's betraying him utterly, and she might lose him after all. In the other, the girl knows very well that she's in love, but due to the hero's sudden absence, and his return in the company of her sister, she believes that, like in everything else in her life, her sister has proven better than she has. This opens her up to temptation by a faerie queen -- because how else will she win her heart's desire? And, of course, both have happy endings. (I'm not revealing the titles here, because these moments happen right at the end of both books, and they're complete spoilers as such. Some of you, of course, may recognize the moments. Or remember my listings of top books from earlier posts.)

Graceling by Kristin Cashore has some moments like this, also, with the exception that heroine Katsa thinks that, to have the life she wants, she has to reject all romance. Po, the hero who loves her, has to convince her that she can have romance without sacrificing herself. This may seem like a completely different moment, but the reconciling that Katsa goes through to decide what being in love would mean for her selfhood had that same kind of poignancy for me that the other stories did.

As much as I love those moments, there's no denying that they're angsty. They're full on teen torment, questioning of the self and one's relationship with the world. But that kind of angst isn't reserved for teens or YA novels. What would a good romance novel be without that same kind of questioning? If the hero and heroine knew from the very beginning that they were going to reach their happily ever after -- the way we readers do -- romance novels would be a lot shorter. The barriers that get thrown up between the hero and the heroine could be battled together, because hey, that's what teamwork is for! There are rare romance novels where this happens, but most of the fun in the romance novels I read is the will-they, won't-they push and pull, especially when it's driven by concerns that make a lot of sense -- or the world threatening to implode -- rather than miscommunication and stupid decisions.

Of course, in a SF or F epic, the romance isn't the center, and it doesn't need to take up the same amount of space. It can happen in small moments (there's a gorgeous moment in The Lord of the Rings when Aragorn notices that Eowyn is in love with him and he realizes that he has to reject her -- it's slipped in there, very quietly, and amounts to about one line of text; the love story between Eowyn and Faramir is equally quiet and lovely). It can be the hinge around which the final happy ending swings. Relationships can go through various possible incarnations or progress from fresh young love to passion to comfort (the Inda books follow a lot of relationships through various incarnations and succeed at showing love at many stages, for example).

Or romance can be a digression from the major plot that enhances the lives of the characters -- and makes readers like me squee just a little bit. This is the case with the romance currently transpiring in By Schism Rent Asunder. Two characters (unnamed for those who haven't read the series) have decided on a political marriage before meeting. There's already initial mutual respect, or the marriage would not have been the preferred form of alliance. When the characters do meet, there's instant attraction -- and, thus, relief. The marriage is the right thing to do: there's a new hope that they may actually enjoy it, as well. They each brooch the potential for romance a little tentatively -- the hesitation and uncertainty that the other may not feel the same spark -- but it's quickly acknowledged that, yes, the spark is there. And thus they can progress, without all of the will-they, won't-they push and pull, because the relationship has already been committed to. I don't think I've ever seen a romance done quite this way before, and while I'm sure that there may be quarrels and tempests in the future (they've only just begun on the relationship where I am in the story), I think the way their relationship has been presented thus far makes me as a reader fall in love with them just a little bit. And that, to me, is a great mark of success, whether or not the happily ever after is looming at the end.
alanajoli: (Default)
...and we're back. (As Google Chat would say after being randomly disconnected from the Internet.)

I fully intended to write while I was on holiday last week, but the week was just too busy. It was wonderful to celebrate Christmas with family, both in Connecticut and in Michigan. Overall, things were very good -- I had one minor whoops when I realized that some of the material I needed for "The Town with Five Main Streets" was still in Connecticut and out of my reach, but it ended up working out. When we got home, the whole family went out on a photo-hunting expedition for images to accompany the upcoming articles and had a fantastic time.

Twostripe and I also got to go out together twice over the weekend, which hasn't happened in ages. We saw Harry Potter 7: part one and Spamalot, which was playing at the Schubert. (I'd never been to the Schubert, and I'd never seen Spamalot: both parts of the experience were fantastic, and the actress playing the Lady of the Lake, Caroline Bowman, was amazing. The rest of the cast was also great.)

But one thing that tends to happen when traveling and spending time with family and going to events is that I miss reading time. (I used to be able to read while traveling -- Bug makes that a definite challenge, despite being an *excellent* traveler. She just, understandably, needs attention!) We did finish our read-aloud, Off Armageddon Reef, on the flight home, and I both loved and hated that I called some of the plot points at the end. (I was dreading one character's death, because the character offered the fatal, internal "once this is all over, I'll confess X" decision, and characters sadly never survive that. But Weber made it work regardless, and I loved the book.) So today, along with trying to organize my upcoming assignments (which are, sadly, fewer than I normally have in January), I spent time just reading, which was really helpful in getting centered. I never realize just how much my brain depends on reading-breaks until I go without being able to catch more than a few minutes here and there for awhile. Spending a few hours (during Bug's naps) has been really helpful.

I'm reading an excellent first book in a trilogy: The Poison Throne by Celine Kiernan. I will fully acknowledge that the cover grabbed me on this one, and while the first chapter didn't draw me right in, the book did capture me before my give-up mark (I think I gave it fifty pages, based on the blurb on the cover from Roddy Doyle, who is a fantastic Irish writer). I'm very much enjoying it.

I also actually read a book mostly on my computer today (I finished it on my nook). Background: Simon and Schuster is doing an amazing and wonderful promotional e-reading project called Galley Grab. As a regular reader of Publishers Weekly's online newsletters, I saw the advertisement to be able to grab a few YA galleys and was surprised and delighted to be put on the list to receive the opportunity to read all of their e-released galleys. Of course, I don't have time for that, but it looks like I'll be reading at least a few! The e-books, which you get through Adobe Digital Editions, have DRM that allows you to read them only up until their real release date. So I was going through looking at the books that were about to expire, then looking to see if the books I'd downloaded were actually my thing (several of them weren't), and I got to Cryer's Cross by Lisa McMann, a YA horror novel. The cover did nothing for me, amplifying the horror aspects, which tend not to be my thing (despite all the dark fantasy I read -- yes, I know it's incongruous), and I thought, all right, I'll just read the synopsis, which other ARCs had provided, and I'll delete it. I discovered no synopsis, so I thought, all right, I'll just read the first page. It's told in present tense, which is another strike for me -- I prefer novels told in the past tense. But soon, I discovered I wasn't on the first page any more. I was three chapters in. Pages were just flying by as I got into the story. The main character, Kendall, has OCD, and reading from her perspective as she ends up confronting a haunted desk (obvious to the readers fairly early on, but not to the characters) works brilliantly. The characters feel convincing, and the horror aspect works (though it wasn't too scary for me -- I am less bothered by paranormal villains than, say, serial killers).

At any rate, when Cryer's Cross comes out next month, check it out. It's a very quick read (as evidenced by my starting it this afternoon and finishing it this evening) and, clearly, draws in even readers who don't expect to like it very much.
alanajoli: (Default)
Reminder: Tomorrow's guest blog is Alayna Williams, who will have a contest along with her post. Pop back by!


David Weber (who I've mentioned here before) writes the "Safehold" series, a really excellent set of books (if the first is a representative example) that poses all sorts of questions about religion, faith, gender identity, technology, politics, and the nature of men and kings. It's science fiction, but it feels like high fantasy, in no small part due to the Arthuriana that gets wrapped in. There's a lot to talk about in Off Armageddon Reef, the first novel, alone, and I have a feeling if I were still in college, I'd probably try to see how the book could get worked into a paper. But as I'm a blogger, my musings here are pretty off-the-cuff, far less formal, and deal with just one aspect of the book (until something else comes up that sparks my bloggerly interest).

So I've picked just one thing I've been thinking about as we've been reading the novel (as I mentioned, this is our current family read-aloud at Casa Abbott) to discuss in this entry. The main character of the novel is, arguably, Merlin Athrawes. To give a brief explanation (instead of the detailed one), Merlin is effectively a robot in the pass-for-a-human style who contains the personality and memories of a now-deceased biological human. That human was Nimue Alban. Nimue, as the name would imply, is a female, and in order to be able to accomplish her mission on Safehold, Nimue-as-a-robot took on the role of Merlin, a male (whose form the robot's hardware does, in fact, make anatomically accurate). In many ways, Merlin and Nimue are the same – only Merlin can't think of himself as Nimue (despite remembering to be her, and having her sexual preference, for example). In order to believe that he is who he says he is – who he's become – he has to think of himself as Merlin.

And yet, Nimue is still relevant to the story, because it's Nimue's mission that Merlin is enacting. The circle this forms in the narrative is brilliantly done, and the gender work is really interesting. Nimue was a soldier – a tactics officer – and someone who studied military history and kendo. She has a lot of knowledge that might be considered traditionally in the masculine interest range – and those references crop up in the way she thinks, both as herself and as Merlin. Nimue was also a woman of faith, and that aspect of her personality – and her seeking to redeem the truth – provides as much frame of reference as her military background. As Merlin, she's emotionally attached to the people she's become friends with, even as she knows she has to use them to accomplish her own mission – which she believes is to their betterment as well. So, even while she's Merlin, thinking of herself as male and interacting with the world as a male character, her frame of reference is from her former, female personality.

We talk a lot about "men with boobs" as a female archetype in a lot of SF/F, and I think Nimue is a brilliant example of how not to write a man with boobs type character. Even while she's interacting with the world as her male persona – and sometimes it's easy to just think of Merlin as Merlin, without thinking of him as Nimue – that female identity is providing the framework within which the male persona works. But there's also a potentially interesting comment lurking here – one that got covered in real life by Norah Vincent in her research for her book Self Made Man, and is a trope of those great hero journeys I grew up with in Tamora Pierce's "Song of the Lioness" books. Nimue Alban is easily able to pass for male. Granted, she has what are considered a male skill set and knowledge, in the world of the novel, and she has the advantage of being able to actually have a male body, courtesy of the robot's hardware. But there's never any question, from any of the characters (who do question other aspects of her abilities and knowledge) that she's a man. To me, that says something very interesting about assigned gender identity – that it's more a way of interacting with the world, and of the role that other people expect you to take on, than it is about anatomy, or even personality.

I don't know if I think that's true, but I do think it's an interesting way to present the idea, and I'm having fun pondering it.
alanajoli: (lol deadlines)
I got next to nothing done that I'd had on my list to accomplish today.

In the plus column: Awesome substrate meeting! We talked about a new short story by Substrater Vlad -- he originally wrote it in Russian and submitted to us in English in synopsis form, which makes for a really engaging way to talk about a story! -- and discussed "Shotgun Wedding" (which I'll be making some edits to shortly, due to the good conversation) before I had to absent myself from Skype and do real-worldy things. (I missed the discussion on the first two chapters of [ profile] lyster's new novel, which, like its predecessor, has the appearance of being absolutely fantastic.*)

Someone asked me to post about finding a writing group awhile back, and the truth is, I don't actually have really good advice. I fell into this one almost by chance -- Substrater Nat had an inkling about getting a group together when [ profile] lyster got back from China and did most of the inviting of folks who, then, I didn't know well and had never read. I invited [ profile] notadoor, who I'd met briefly at Simon's Rock when I'd gone back on TA prep for one of Mark Vecchio's study abroad courses, and who I'd gotten to know (and admire) via LJ. Most of us write, and are interested in, the same kind of fiction -- F/SF stuff, largely. We write in different areas of the genre, and we bring different opinions as readers to the table. And, this is kind of important -- we all seem to like each other. I don't know if that's critical for a writing group, but I've found it's really important for a gaming group, and I think the two are more similar than might seem obvious at first appearance.

But as far as writing itself goes, I wrote a few new sentences in a review that's due on Monday... Yeah, not exactly an inspiring total. On the other hand, Twostripe and I spent some time reading Off Armageddon Reef by David Weber (it's our family read aloud book right now -- we've done The Hobbit, Unseen Academicals, and, as you may recall, the last two books of "The Dark Is Rising" sequence since Bug was born. Picking grown-up books means that progress is sometimes quite slow. But we kept going ahead in Off Armageddon Reef after Bug fell asleep tonight. I'm hoping she won't notice.) Spending family time together, especially over a good book, was an excellent use of time, despite meaning that I didn't get to check anything off my to-do list.

Tomorrow is a Christmas pageant at church, which I'm excited about, and then perhaps I can be constructive in the afternoon. Here's crossing my fingers!

(Don't forget the Tarot / Greater Trumps contest! And keep getting ready for Alayna Williams on Friday!)


*For the record, I don't just build up the Substraters because they're my crit group. Anything that I mention thinking is awesome is because I think it is awesome. (And really, I know from awesome, so you should take my word for it.)


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Alana Joli Abbott

March 2019

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