Tag Archives: fantasy

I’m Reading: Zombies, Gaming and Legal Shenanigans

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Last year was so busy and so chaotic, I really fell behind on my fiction reading, and when I don’t read, I find I’m not as creative as I can be. The ideas don’t come as quickly, and I don’t write as much. I play a lot less and when it comes to doing artful little things, I never seem to have the time.

This year, I’m changing things around in my life. I’ve come to realize that I need to make the things I want to do a priority. Reading is high on my list, and so it’s one of my four daily intentions (the other three are writing, meditating and creating).

How did I do last week? Not very well, I’m afraid. Not just with the reading, but with each of my other three intentions. But that’s okay. I had the last of the deadlines from my busy work season last week, so it was understandable.

On Monday, I logged onto my library’s ebook lending site, and had a field day. Here’s what I’ve been reading this week:

Z, by Michael Thomas Ford

Z, by Michael Thomas Ford, is a YA zombie book. I haven’t read very many zombie books, despite the recent zombie-book-craze; as far as I’m concerned, Justin Cronin’s The Passage set the zombie-book bar quite high. But I decided to give Z a try, as it looked like an interesting, quick read, especially since I like books about gamers and gaming:

The First Rule of Torching: Cleanse with fire.

Josh is by far the best zombie Torcher around—at least, he is in his virtual-reality zombie-hunting game. Josh has quickly risen through the player ranks, relying on the skill, cunning, and agility of a real Torcher.

The Second Rule of Torching: Save all humans.

But luckily for Josh, zombies exist only in the virtual world. The real zombie war is now more than fifteen years in the past, and the battle to defeat the deadly epidemic that devastated his family—and millions of others—is the stuff of history lessons.

The Third Rule of Torching: You can’t bring them back.

Charlie is the top-ranked player in the game. Since all the players are shrouded in anonymity, Josh never expects Charlie to be a girl—and he never expects the offer she makes him: to join the underground gaming league that takes the virtual-reality game off the screen and into the streets. Josh is thrilled. But the more involved he gets, the more he realizes that not everything is what it seems. Real blood is spilling, members of the team are disappearing, and the zombies in the game are acting strange. And then there’s the matter of a mysterious drug called Z. . . .

I finished Z last night. An interesting book with an interesting premise. I found the action towards the end a little bit too fast-paced, but for a young reader who’s interested in zombies and gaming, there’s enough thrills and chills to keep those pages turning.

The Lincoln Lawyer, by Michael Connelly

The Lincoln Lawyer, by Michael Connelly. Confession: this is my first Michael Connelly book. It’s been on my to-read list since forever, or so it seems, so when it showed up as available at my library’s ebook site, I grabbed it.

How am I liking it so far? Very enjoyable. I’m only at the beginning, but I’m already very intrigued by lawyer Mickey Haller.

For defense attorney Mickey Haller, the clock is always running. With two ex-wives, four Lincoln Town Cars that he uses as offices, and dozens of guilty clients, he can’t afford to miss a trick. When he gets picked by a Beverly Hills rich boy arrested for assault, Mickey sees a franchise case: a nice, long, expensive trial with maximum billable hours–until it hurtles him into the last place he wants to be. Suddenly hustling, cynical Mickey Haller is confronted with pure evil and someone who may be truly innocent. Now, for a lawyer who has always gone for the easy score, getting justice means taking the deadliest risk of all.

Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline, narrated by Wil Wheaton. Yes, just call me a crowd follower – everyone was raving about this book last year, so I decided to spend an Audible credit on it. After all, Wil Wheaton’s the narrator! Plus, it’s a book about gaming. How could I resist? Have I mentioned, I love books about gamers and gaming?

I started chapter one last night, and despite feeling quite sleepy, I was enthralled from the very beginning. I listened for as long as I could before the call of sleep proved to be too much for me. I will definitely have to find some wakeful time for listening to the rest of Ready Player One!

It’s the year 2044, and the real world is an ugly place.

Like most of humanity, Wade Watts escapes his grim surroundings by spending his waking hours jacked into the OASIS, a sprawling virtual utopia that lets you be anything you want to be, a place where you can live and play and fall in love on any of ten thousand planets.

And like most of humanity, Wade dreams of being the one to discover the ultimate lottery ticket that lies concealed within this virtual world. For somewhere inside this giant networked playground, OASIS creator James Halliday has hidden a series of fiendish puzzles that will yield massive fortune—and remarkable power—to whoever can unlock them. 

For years, millions have struggled fruitlessly to attain this prize, knowing only that Halliday’s riddles are based in the pop culture he loved—that of the late twentieth century. And for years, millions have found in this quest another means of escape, retreating into happy, obsessive study of Halliday’s icons. Like many of his contemporaries, Wade is as comfortable debating the finer points of John Hughes’s oeuvre, playing Pac-Man, or reciting Devo lyrics as he is scrounging power to run his OASIS rig.

And then Wade stumbles upon the first puzzle.

Suddenly the whole world is watching, and thousands of competitors join the hunt—among them certain powerful players who are willing to commit very real murder to beat Wade to this prize. Now the only way for Wade to survive and preserve everything he knows is to win. But to do so, he may have to leave behind his oh-so-perfect virtual existence and face up to life—and love—in the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

A world at stake.

A quest for the ultimate prize.

Are you ready?

So this is what I’ve been doing reading-wise so far this year. What about you? What books have you picked up to start the new year off?

You Know You’re a Big Fantasy Reader When …

One of Ward’s students invited him to a guy’s movie night on the weekend. Ward has been to this student’s house quite a few times before, but that night I received a call from him, asking me to look up the student’s address in his records.

So I did. And then I asked, “Did you forget where he lives?”

And he said, “No, I remembered. I’m there right now.”

And I said, “Why, is the house not there anymore?”

The thing is, I said this in all seriousness. It was the first thing that popped into my mind.

Yes, it’s true. My first thought was that the house must have disappeared. Into thin air.

I didn’t even see the weirdness of this. My husband laughed when I said it. I think he thought I was joking.

But I wasn’t.

So there you go. Now you know I’m a big fantasy reader.

The Passage, by Justin Cronin

The PassageI was hesitant about reading The Passage, by Justin Cronin; I loved the premise of the book (a secret government project to create super warriors ends up unleashing a deadly vampiric virus onto an unsuspecting world – I ask you, how could I resist?), but I was uncertain because of the dystopian nature of the book (those of you who know my reading likes and dislikes fairly well probably aren’t surprised; I have several books on my list I’m hesitant about simply because they’re dystopian).

But one day, I was feeling a little bored, and fooling around with my iPhone (which happens to be one of the best little tools for alleviating boredom that I know of), and I ended up downloading the two free preview chapters of the book from one of my favorite ebook sites.

I started reading, and I was hooked. Stephen King had this to say about The Passage:

“Every so often a novel-reader’s novel comes along: an enthralling, entertaining story wedded to simple, supple prose, both informed by tremendous imagination. Summer is the perfect time for such books, and this year readers can enjoy the gift of Justin Cronin’s The Passage. Read fifteen pages and you will find yourself captivated; read thirty and you will find yourself taken prisoner and reading late into the night. It has the vividness that only epic works of fantasy and imagination can achieve. What else can I say? This: read this book and the ordinary world disappears.”

And let me say, he is so right. I literally read those first fifteen pages and I was captivated. After thirty pages, and I could not put the book (or rather, my iPhone) down.

It’s a hefty tome, weighing in at 784 pages, but I read it all on my iPhone, and when I finished the last paragraph, I did so reluctantly, not wanting to leave the world Cronin had weaved.

In a Q&A at Amazon, Cronin was asked, “You are a PEN/Hemingway Award-winning author of literary fiction. Does The Passage represent a departure for you?” His reply:

I think it’d be a little silly of me not to acknowledge that The Passage is, in a number of ways, overtly different from my other books. But rather than calling it a ‘departure,’ I’d prefer to describe it as a progression or evolution. First of all, the themes that engage me as a person and a writer are all still present. Love, sacrifice, friendship, loyalty, courage. The bonds between people, parents and children especially. The pull of history, and the power of place, of landscape, to shape experience. And I don’t think the writing itself is different at all. How could it be? You write how you write.

And I think this is exactly why the The Passage gripped me so tightly. Yes, it was a fabulous thriller of a book, about a vampire virus running rampant, a world pushed into destruction, and the power of the human race to continue living despite it all. The plot was breathtaking in its breadth and excitement, exactly the kind of thing I like in a book.

But at The Passage’s core are those themes that Cronin talks about – love, sacrifice, friendship, loyalty, courage. And this is what makes the book such a beautiful read.

It says a lot that today, about two weeks after I finished the book, I still remember all the main characters. They remain so very vivid to me. If book two begins with these same characters, I know they will come back to me immediately, as full of life as when I read the final pages; and if book two begins with different characters, I have the utmost faith that I will be drawn into the new story immediately.

And the dystopian aspect? I loved it. The dark, bleak hopelessness that I associate with dystopian fiction isn’t what dominates the book; it’s a dystopian world that, despite everything, is filled with so much human hope and potential.

When I first finished reading this book, and began thinking about writing this post, all I could think of saying was, “Wow. Wow. Wow.” And “OMG, you’ve GOT to read this.” I still want to say these things, and so I’ll end my post this way.

The Passage is an incredible, absolute wow of a read. Read it, and you’ll be captivated. If you’re at all uncertain, do what I did – download the free preview chapters from your favorite ebook site, and take the plunge.

And a PS: despite the vampire virus/destruction of the world theme, there is minimal blood and gore. Cronin’s writing is wonderful, and he’s quite able to provoke an emotional response from the reader without the need to be extreme.

Audiobook Appreciation

I’m done with this most recent clump of deadlines! I don’t think I’ve worked at quite a pace like this for a long while – it’s been three to four weeks of fourteen hour days. I am very, very thankful for my audiobooks – I think they kept me sane in the midst of all those deadlines.

Audiobook Treasure Trove

headphones I was lucky enough to come down with a head cold for Christmas and Boxing Day, so I had a grand time those two days: I got to loll around while everyone took care of me, and to top it off, on Christmas Day, I discovered a virtual audiobook treasure chest! I spent most of Christmas Day and Boxing Day lying on the couch, listening to some great audiobooks and snacking on the most delicious foods.

If you live in Ontario, you might be able to take advantage of this audiobook treasure chest yourself. The Ontario Library Service Download Centre is available to all library patrons of participating Ontario libraries, and it is just wonderful. There are loads of audiobooks available for download, much like you would for Audible. The files are deleted at the end of your checkout period, but you can checkout each audiobook for one or two weeks, which is nice.

So far, in the past two weeks, I’ve listened to Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent, Ellen Degeneres’ The Funny Thing Is, The Green Witch and The Grey King from Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising series, and The Bunnicula Collection by James and Deborah Howe.

Other Listens

The Price of Butcher's Meat

Over the past three weeks, I also enjoyed the audio versions of Reginald Hill’s The Price of Butcher’s Meat (I listened to the British version, which is called A Cure for All Diseases) and Exit Lines. I’d already read A Cure for All Diseases earlier last year and loved it (my review is here) – it translated superbly into audio.

I also played several Agatha Christie audios while I was working – I find I can do “rereads” in audio, as well as memoirs and nonfiction, while I’m working; I somehow have the ability to follow along while getting my work done at the same time. Audiobooks don’t work well for work if they’re audios of books I haven’t read yet, though.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Murder on the Links, Poirot Investigates and The Big Four helped me get through a lot of otherwise tedious work, so I’m very thankful for them!

Curtains for ThreeAnd finally, I listened to Rex Stout’s Curtains for Three, a trilogy of three Nero Wolfe novellas. I must admit, the first few times I listened to audiobook renditions of Nero Wolfe novels, I had a hard time getting used to the narrator, Michael Pritchard, because he didn’t sound quite like I always imagined Archie Goodwin would sound. But Pritchard’s voice has grown on me, and now my idea of Archie Goodwin sounds exactly like him! I like the way that worked out.

Coming Up

Thanks to the Ontario Library Service Download Centre, I have some more goodies waiting for my hearing pleasure this coming week:

About Face

About Face, by Donna Leon. I’ve been wanting to read a Commissario Guido Brunetti book for a while, and since this one was available for checkout, I decided to give it a try. I only just started listening to it last night, and it promises to be a good story.

Silver on the Tree

Silver on the Tree, by Susan Cooper. This is the final book in The Dark is Rising series. The version I have is narrated by Alex Jennings, and I started listening to a bit of it yesterday as well. I’m looking forward to finishing my reread of the series in audio.

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So Long as You Both Shall Live, by Ed McBain. This is my first 87th Precinct mystery; it’s a little bit challenging keeping track of all the names in audio, and the story line behind this one isn’t quite to my taste, but I will definitely be looking into reading more of the 87th Precinct series.

Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, by Bill Bryson. I’ve had Bryson’s memoir on my shelf for ages; when I saw it was available at the OLS Download Centre, I decided to check it out, as I really enjoy listening to memoirs in audio.

And from my local library:

The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield. The audio version of The Thirteenth Tale came highly recommended – I seem to recall lots of people recommending it on Google Wave. So I thought I’d take the plunge and give it a first read in audio instead of in print.

I recently bought the following, which are waiting for me to get to them:

The Eye of the World

The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan. This is Book 1 of the Wheel of Time series – I began reading the series ages ago, but stopped at around Book 6 or 7. I recently received a review copy of the final book in the series, The Gathering Storm, which is written by Brandon Sanderson based on Robert Jordan’s extensive notes, so I thought it would be a good thing to reread the series. I’ve had so much luck with rereads in audio, I decided to give the audio version a try.

Dead Until Dark

Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris. I have the first seven books in paperback, but haven’t read the Sookie Stackhouse series at all; a while back, I decided to give the first book a try in audio. I haven’t found myself in the mood for it yet, but I know I will soon – from what everyone’s been telling me, I’ll probably be hooked once I give it a try!

I also have two Audible credits to spend, and I’m thinking I’ll probably splurge on more Rex Stout and Reginald Hill.

So there you have it – audiobooks have managed to keep me on the reading track even while I was submerged up to my neck in deadlines! And yes, I’ve been feeling like a kid in a candy store …

Coming up this week: my giveaway winners! No, I haven’t forgotten about my giveaway. The winners post will be coming soon.

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Comfort Reads (42nd Bookworms Carnival)

imageI’m just tickled to be hosting this 42nd Bookworms Carnival! Thank you to everyone who sent in their links on such short notice.

I chose the topic of Comfort Reads because there are always those times in life when a much-loved, well-read book is exactly what I need, and I’m hoping you all feel the same, too.

The desire for a spot of comfort reading hits me most often during the winter: usually at night, when it’s toasty warm inside and bitterly cold outside. I look at my special reading armchair and thoughts of a good, familiar book and a mug of hot tea come to mind.

I’ve enjoyed seeing the titles my fellow bloggers turn to when they’re up for some comfort reading; there are many old favorites of mine in the group, plus some new titles that of course I’ve now added to my list of books to get my hands on. All I can say is, it’s a good thing Christmas is just around the corner!

Classics

Ah, the classics! I have quite a few classics on my own list – especially Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, A Room with a View, by E. M. Forster, and The Good Soldier, by Ford Madox Ford. Only one person submitted a classic, but it’s a lovely one for reading on a cold night, all warm and cozy in front of the fire.

Heather from Age 30+ … A Lifetime of Books submitted Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë. If you’re like me, whenever you think of Wuthering Heights you think of Heathcliff. I also tend to think of dark and glowering brows, too! Heather has included a great detailed list of the cast of characters that does a wonderful job of refreshing your memory about this classic if it’s been a while since you’ve read it.

Fantasy

There’s something about a good fantasy that gives that old favorite one an edge when it comes to being a comfort read. I think it’s because the world you dip into is so different and all-encompassing (with the best fantasies, anyway), that you literally are swept away for those few hours you’re re-reading.

Heather submitted as another comfort read, Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley, one of my own favorite reads. I’ve always had a fondness for retellings of the King Arthur story, and I read this when I was a teen and just adored it. Heather says, “I guess I’d have to say that if you DO find it challenging, it is VERY worth the effort you put into it. For me, this is a “must read” for just about everyone.” And I agree totally!

Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series is another series I turn to in my own comfort reading, so I was pleased to see it showing up in the submissions. Zee at Notes from the North recommends listening to the Dragonsinger series in audio, which sounds like a great idea. Jemi at Just Jemi has also included the Pern series in her list of comfort reads, and I am in complete agreement with her! I recently bought the first three books in the series in ebook format, so that I’ll always have them to dip into.

Zee also includes in her list a fantasy series by David Eddings, the Belgariad and Mallorean series; I’ve read a few books by Edding, and she’s reminded me it’s time for a revisit.

Jackie at Literary Escapism submitted three urban fantasy books that sound like fantastic reads; I haven’t read any of them, and have added them to my list. There’s Friday Night Bites, by Chloe Neill, a novel about the Chicagoland vampires, and Destined for an Early Grave, by Jeaniene Frost, another novel about vampires. And I’ve had the Riley Jensen series, by Keri Arthur, on my list for a while now; the latest installment, Bound to Shadows, sounds so good.

Sheila, from One Person’s Journey Through a World of Books, picks The Three Sisters Trilogy, by Nora Roberts as her comfort reads; I haven’t read very many books by Nora Roberts, but as soon as I read Sheila’s post, I immediately added these books to my list – I love the concept of three independent women who are all witches. In her email to me, Sheila wrote, “These three books are favorites of mine and are always a “go to” series if I need to just sink into characters that are like old friends to me. Even talking about them now makes me want to go visit them between the pages of these books.”

Mysteries

There’s nothing more perfect than curling up with a good mystery, and with the passage of time, I find that my memory of exactly whodunnit has dimmed enough for old favorites to be just as enjoyable as they were the first time I read them.

For Aarti, at Booklust, Footsteps in the Dark, by Georgette Heyer, is a favorite read. She says, “Footsteps in the Dark is a thriller mystery of the first order, complete with secret passageways, priest holes, skeletons and a cowled monk.” She definitely has me sold on this one! I’ve never read a Georgette Heyer, and one of her mysteries seems like a good place to start.

Candace, at Beth Fish Reads, submitted a book from one of my new personal favorites: the Hamish Macbeth series by M.C. Beaton. In her review of Death of a Travelling Man, she notes that she started this series in audio mainly because of the narrator, Davina Porter. Candace likes to read her series in order, but I tend to grab hold of whatever I can find; I seem to have started the series at the opposite end, and the majority of the ones I’ve listened to have been narrated by Graeme Malcolm. I like Porter’s narration a bit better, but Malcolm does some great accents.

Zee’s picks include J.D. Robb’s In Death series. This is a series I’ve been meaning to read for a while; Zee writes, “This series makes me laugh and the characters feel very real …”

And I’m very glad Jemi included Agatha Christie in her list. She says, “Agatha Christie’s mysteries are kind of like chocolate for me,” and that’s such a perfect description of how the Christie books feel to me, too. My memory isn’t as good as Jemi’s, though – I’ve been rereading Christie in audio, and I find that I’ve forgotten who the culprit is in most of the novels!

Children’s Books

The books I read as a child will always hold a special place in my heart; one of the first things I did as a “real grown-up” holding down a job (ie finally having a bit of money to spend) was to start buying copies of all the old favorites that I’d borrowed time and again from the library when I was little.

I grew up with Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery, so I was so glad to see that Jessica, of The Bluestocking Society, and Jemi both chose Anne Shirley as one of their favorite comfort reads. I have read and reread the whole Anne of Green Gables series so many times, I can quote whole sections from the book. Jemi writes, “As a shy, serious girl, I wanted to be Anne’s friend.” I could have written that! I remember wishing I knew someone like Anne, too; the term “kindred spirits” will always hold a special place in my heart.

Jemi also includes The Hobbit in her list of comfort reads – another one of my favorites! I couldn’t decide whether to put this under Fantasy or children’s books, but since I’ll always associate The Hobbit with childhood, I decided this was the proper place for it. (I read The Hobbit long before any of other The Lord of the Rings books.)

Food Writing

There’s something just so comforting to me about reading about food; I go on occasional food-writing splurges, during which time I’ll read nothing but food writing. I also come out of these splurges with a few extra pounds, I think, because one thing about good food writing – it makes you hungry!

Margot, of Joyfully Retired, has submitted a book that’s one of my personal favorites: Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, by Laurie Colwin. As Margot points out, “Her tone is strictly conversational – just as if you are sitting in her kitchen talking about food.” That’s what makes this book such a charming book for me; I loved Margot’s example of having a conversation with the author as she was reading it!

General Fiction

A lot of the books in my own comfort reading pile fall into a general, non-genre category. When I look at them, I see that a charming, cozy feel is a common element.

I loved Jessica’s review of 84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff. This is a book that has long been on my “I really want to read that” list, and her review is a good reminder that I really do need to get to it.

Amy, from Amy Reads Good Books, submitted Trouble, by Kate Christensen. I’ve never read any novels by Christensen, but Amy’s caught my attention with this: “it was a thoughtful meditation on how we do or do not bounce back from trauma as we age.” Another interesting book!

Jackie at Farm Lane Books has chosen The Nutmeg Tree by Margery Sharp as her comfort read – Sharp’s books are out of print, but she was lucky enough to find three of them! Ever since I read Jackie’s review of The Nutmeg Tree, I’ve been on the lookout for books by Sharp. They sound like the perfect comfort read.

Myrthe, at The Armenian Odar Reads, submitted The Chosen, by Chaim Potok. This is a lovely review; she writes, “It is the one book that still makes me cry all through the last chapter, a book that I immediately want to start again when I finish it.” I haven’t read The Chosen yet; it sounds like such a beautiful coming-of-age story.

I was also thrilled to see that Melanie, at The Indextrous Reader, submitted Alexander McCall Smith: “My version of comfort reading must always include Alexander McCall Smith,” she says in her post. Me too! She has great things to say about both the Mma Ramotswe series and the Scotland Street series. I haven’t yet fallen under the allure of the Mma Ramotswe series yet, but McCall Smith’s Scotland Street and Isabel Dalhousie series are both very near and dear to me.

Melanie also submitted The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, by Eva Rice. The title is so charming. Melanie writes, “Full of eccentric English characters, revealing social conditions, ancient houses, True Love, teatime and Selfridge’s, I greatly enjoyed this lovely and unusual novel.” I think it will be one I’ll enjoy too.

Finally, Meg’s review of The Sugar Queen, by Sarah Addison Allen, at Write Meg is so enticing; this is another book I’m adding to my burgeoning list of books to get my hot little hands on. Meg calls The Sugar Queen a “seriously delightful, magical story”, and reading her review, it sounds absolutely charming and whimsical, with dashes of mystery and magic.

This ends the Comfort Reads edition of the Bookworms Carnival! I hope you’ve rediscovered some old favorites in this list, and perhaps added a few to your list that you haven’t read before.

Play along with us! What are some of your comfort reads?

Reading Temptations

I really hate when this happens.

The LikenessI’ve had Tana French’s The Likeness out from the library for a while now. It’s on its last renewal legs, so to speak, so I’ve got to either finish it up in the next few weeks or it has to go back to the library until I can check it out again.

I really liked French’s In The Woods (my review is here) – despite the ending – and everyone I know who’s read In The Woods tells me that The Likeness is even better. But for some reason, I’ve been having trouble getting into it. It’s not that I’m not enjoying it when I do sit down with it, because I am. But for some reason, the book hasn’t hooked me in quite that way yet.

When I was reading In The Woods, I couldn’t put the book down, and if I had to, I could think of nothing else but picking it back up again. This hasn’t happened for me yet with The Likeness. But with only a couple more weeks left for me to finish it, I will need to buckle down and make sure that it’s the book I pick up to read whenever I’m in the mood for reading.

Which will really be difficult, because I’ve got some very interesting books that are calling to me right now. No, really, they are. They’re all making those funny squeaky noises, the ones that my booklover’s discerning ears can hear all too clearly. And those voices are saying, “Pick me up! I’m the one you should be reading right now. Pick me up! I’m so interesting. You won’t regret it …”

First, there’s French Milk, by Lucy Knisley, which I talked about in my last Incoming! new book arrivals post. Since this one is in graphic novel format, it would be so easy to pick it up, because I know it will be a quick and lovely read.

Wait Until TwilightAnd then there’s Wait Until Twilight, which author Sang Pak sent to me in the summer. I read the first chapter online at Sang’s site before the book arrived, and if the book had only arrived shortly after, I would have finished it by now. The first chapter was really eerie and gothic and had me wanting more. So now I keep looking at the book and thinking, yes, I really should see what happens next.

But wait, there’s more (isn’t there always, though?). I also just picked up a whole slew of books from the library that I’d put in requests for.

Most of these books ended up on my library list because I saw it on a blog somewhere, by the way. So we know who’s to blame, don’t we?

KitchenThere’s Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto; this is the product description from Amazon: “Mikage, the heroine, is an orphan raised by her grandmother, who has passed away. Grieving, Mikage is taken in by her friend Yoichi and his mother (who is really his cross-dressing father) Eriko. As the three of them form an improvised family that soon weathers its own tragic losses, Yoshimoto spins a lovely, evocative tale with the kitchen and the comforts of home at its heart.” Doesn’t it sound so interesting?

We Have Always Lived in the CastleAnd then there’s Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, an eerie little book that looks like a wonderfully creepy read.

This one was a rather embarrassing find – I’d quickly skimmed through a review on a blog I frequent (I can’t remember which blog it was – I really need to start jotting down where I find my reads) and for some reason I thought it was “in the style of Shirley Jackson”.

Well, I loved The Haunting of Hill House, and “The Lottery” is one of my favorite short stories, so I quickly chirped in the comments something about being a Shirley Jackson lover, so if this was in her style, it definitely was my kind of book. Then I hopped over to my library’s website, typed in the title, and discovered that We Have Always Lived in the Castle wasn’t “in the style of Shirley Jackson” – it’s written by Shirley Jackson.

Sigh. Did I ever feel stupid for making that comment. (Do you ever make commenting blunders like this, by the way? Just asking. Would love some company on this one …)

The SummoningAnd after reading so many really good reviews online, I also put in a request for The Summoning a while back; it’s the first book in Kelley Armstrong’s YA paranormal series.

There was a bit of a wait for this one, but at long last, it’s my turn – but it also means this is yet another book I’ll have to read within the next few weeks, because I’m pretty sure there’s still a wait list for this one.

See my growing reading dilemma?

Little BrotherAnd it doesn’t quite stop there. When I dashed into the library to pick up my holds, I saw Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow, and couldn’t resist getting it after I read the synopsis:

Marcus, a.k.a “w1n5t0n,” is only seventeen years old, but he figures he already knows how the system works–and how to work the system. Smart, fast, and wise to the ways of the networked world, he has no trouble outwitting his high school’s intrusive but clumsy surveillance systems.

But his whole world changes when he and his friends find themselves caught in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack on San Francisco. In the wrong place at the wrong time, Marcus and his crew are apprehended by the Department of Homeland Security and whisked away to a secret prison where they’re mercilessly interrogated for days.

When the DHS finally releases them, Marcus discovers that his city has become a police state where every citizen is treated like a potential terrorist. He knows that no one will believe his story, which leaves him only one option: to take down the DHS himself.

I know that I shouldn’t do things like this; I should be disciplined enough to be able to pop into the library to pick up an armload of holds without looking around at the shelves to see if something else will catch my eye.

But I’m not disciplined at all when it comes to books and reading.

So there you go. So many reading temptations. But yes, I’m going to finish The Likeness first. I know it’s going to be good – I’m at page 110 and those hooks are finally starting to sink into me.

At least I know it’s going to be a pretty good reading month this month, right?

What about you? Is there a book you absolutely must finish right now, for whatever reason? Are you oh, so tempted by other books like I am, or do you possess the iron will and discipline that I lack?

Interview: Author Joy Preble Talks About Her Writing Process

Dreaming AnastasiaUpdate: This page wasn’t loading properly, but all is fixed now. Enjoy!

Anastasia Romanov, the daughter of the last Tsar of Russia, is believed to be dead by the world, but she is alive. And when she sleeps, she dreams …

Anne Michaelson doesn’t know much about Russian history; she is more worried about getting into a good college. But then the dreams start …

Dreaming Anastasia is a fun young adult fantasy that takes the reader back and forth from current-day Chicago to the time of the Romanovs, and throws in elements of a Russian folktale for added chills. I am so thrilled to have had the opportunity to interview Joy Preble, author of Dreaming Anastasia, about her writing process! Joy is so smart and funny (something that pops out at you right away if you read her blog); I hope you all enjoy reading her answers to my questions as much as I did.

I’m fascinated by writers’ processes, how each writer has such a personal way of approaching the writing of his or her book. Could you talk a bit about your own writing process?

JP: You mean after the ritual goat sacrifice, right? Just kidding. You know, it’s probably less of a process than a ‘ooh, I’ve got a spare twenty minutes here so let’s use it wisely rather than checking Facebook.’ But in terms of inspiration – each book I’ve written has come from a different place. Dreaming Anastasia came from both my fascination with the Romanovs and my sense that like me, I had this character who was aching for something to change her life.

Another novel that I hope you see fairly soon, developed from two things – the suicide of someone I knew, and my endless fascination for Texas high school football, spurred of course, by the fact that my son was an offensive lineman and his buddies pretty much sprawled on my furniture for a number of years, gossiping like a bunch of girls and eating me out of house and home. (One time at eating group – which rotated houses each week the night before the big game and involved the parents feeding groups of seven players – Jake and his buddies consumed over eight pounds of brisket, three apple pies, untold amounts of potato salad, a couple loaves of bread and at least a gallon of ice cream.)

A third book is a love story set with the back drop of a family bakery – not too different from the one my aunt and uncle ran in Chicago for many years. (Okay the family breakups and the main character’s crazy and disastrous love life is all from my head.)

[MsBookish notes: That is an amazing amount of food!]

Some writers like to outline everything, some like to outline a bit, and some like to just start with the first word and where it takes them. Which type of writer are you? Have you always been this type of writer, or did you try a bit of everything before you found your groove?

JP: I’ve tried and tried to be an outliner. But I’m just not. Mostly I start with either an idea or a character and kind of noodle around from there, writing bits and pieces and seeing what I have. At some point later – maybe thirty pages in – I do stop to create at least a rudimentary bullet point outline. Especially with Dreaming Anastasia, which has a mystery element to it, eventually I needed to know where I was going or I was going to write myself into a corner. Even with the other books that I’ve written now, there is always a point where I do have to know where I’m going to end up – with the caveat that I don’t have to really go there if the muse decides that I need to make a detour.

Do you have an writer’s rituals or writing quirks, things that you absolutely must do or have around you before you start writing?

JP: Nope. I know a lot of people who do, but I think because I began writing seriously while I was still actively parenting a high school aged son and teaching high school at the same time, I was thankful to carve out time to write wherever I could get it. If I stopped to brew up my half-caff latte with soy milk in my special mug first, I’d have used up the spare ten seconds. So I pretty much find that I can write on demand most days.

The original title for Dreaming Anastasia was Spark. Could you talk a bit about the change in the title? What inspired your original title, and what led to the new title?

JP: Well, to be perfectly honest, once money changes hands between you and a publisher, they can pretty much title it ‘Jo Jo the Crazy Boy Goes to Camp’ and you’ll probably say, hmmm, sounds good to me. That being said, the original title did relate to Anne’s magic as well as to the nature of her role in the story – she’s the ‘spark’ to move everything from the stasis that it’s been in while Ethan’s been searching for the girl who can rescue Anastasia. However, my editor ultimately felt that Dreaming Anastasia more clearly branded the story with its historical fiction element. People would know what they were getting. And honestly, it would match the cover art Sourcebooks had been playing with. Once I thought about it for awhile, I realized he was right. Plus, it really is reflective of the dreams Anne and Anastasia both have. So I do think it was easy to embrace the change.

[MsBookish notes: Dreaming Anastasia definitely gives the reader a good idea about the historical aspects of the book. It also has such a beautiful ring to it.]

In Dreaming Anastasia, the narrative voice changes from that of Anne, to Ethan, and then back in time, to Anastasia. What led you to use this narrative structure? Were there any challenges to switching between the three different voices as you wrote?

JP: Interestingly, I wrote the first draft of this novel in third person. But I always alternated between the voices of Anne and Ethan and Anastasia. At one point, I’d even contemplated Viktor having a voice as well, but I discarded that idea early on. Every time I attempted to tell the story any other way, I ended up at a dead end. Each character brings such a specific point of view to the telling that I just wanted the reader to have that. Anne is such a snarky, funny, contemporary voice. Ethan has more of the gravitas of history behind him, and he’s just so serious and earnest much of the time. (okay, plus hot) And Anastasia gets to have this sad, mystical quality to her telling. I loved having all of that collide, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t challenging. Sometimes if I’d been away from the manuscript for awhile – such as the lengthy time between when I finished the final revisions and we finally headed into copy edits, which was a long number of months – I’d have to sort of warm up and just write dialogue between the characters for awhile until I knew I heard them. Anastasia was always the easiest to nail because she is so trapped in the past, more or less. And Anne is funny, although not nearly as funny as Tess. But she’s got that contemporary cadence that I hear every day. Ethan was always a little harder. I always wanted him to have something a little stiff and old-fashioned about him, even as he was trying to blend in. Sometimes that was tricky.

[MsBookish notes: Joy did an excellent job managing the three narrative voices; I can imagine how it could be tricky at times.]

What writers have influenced you the most as a writer?

JP: You know I don’t think there’s any one person who comes to mind but rather everyone. I think we all sort of stand on the shoulders of the greats, so to speak. Plus honestly, every writer I read rubs off in some way. So I guess the better question would be who hasn’t influenced me! I do think having studied the classics helps me get a sense of the roots of story telling. Those horrendously sad Greek tragedies. Shakespeare’s sense of the human condition. But I’m influenced by so much more than that. John Irving and Anne Tyler and what I see as her contemporary YA counterpart, Sarah Dessen. All three of those writers have taught me about what it means to be human as well. About the crazy patchwork of people that sometimes collide and fall in love or suffer or just live life large. JK Rowling taught me how to spin a tale over many, many volumes and make it work! So amazing. Judy Blume taught me that I need to reflect what it’s like to be sixteen even if someone might complain that it’s too edgy. That it’s important to honestly tell the story that needs telling. (Oh! I have such issues at school sometimes when teachers will tell students writing a personal narrative, “Well, if you can’t think of something, just make it up.” And sit there thinking, no! You are telling that student that his experiences, whatever they are, are not of value. That bothers me so much) And just so you don’t get the wrong impression, let me end this answer by adding that I’ve also learned a lot from television writers. I mean seriously – I think I owe a serious debt of gratitude to the Palladinos and their Gilmore Girls. And if Joss Whedon hadn’t combined westerns and sci fi in the late, great Firefly, I might not have had to guts to do a little genre bending myself!

[MsBookish notes: I for one am very glad that Joss Whedon  inspired Joy to do a little genre bending! I agree totally with Joy; television writers really are amazing. I’ve learned a lot about how to tell a riveting story from television, as well as the big screen. I love that Joy has included television writers as one of her influences!]

Thank you so much, Joy, for this wonderful interview!

To find out more about Joy and Dreaming Anastasia, visit Joy Preble. And make sure you stop by her blog, Joy’s Novel Idea – it’s a very fun blog, and she’s been sharing her publication journey there with her readers. You can also follow Joy on Twitter.

Kaleb Nation, Author of Bran Hambric, Talks About His Writing Process

Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse"What if your mother was a criminal? What if her crime was magic? What if magic ran in the family?" This is the intriguing premise of Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse, a middle grade fantasy novel written by Kaleb Nation.

Kaleb initially got the idea for Bran Hambric when he was fourteen years old; he wrote almost five hundred pages of the book in six to nine months, and then over the next four years, he rewrote the book multiple times. The result? A fun and fast-paced read that middle graders who love magic and fantasy will be sure to enjoy.

I had the opportunity to interview Kaleb about his writing process. It was fun and exciting to learn about what went into the writing of the book, and I hope you all enjoy this interview as much as I did!

In an interview with Sourcebooks, you talked a little about how the idea for Bran Hambric came to you. When you began writing, were you writing toward an ending that had already come to you, or were you writing to find out where your idea was leading you? Can you describe how your original idea grew to become Bran Hambric?

KN: When I first wrote the story, I didn’t really plot it out much. All I had was a big idea, and I knew basically where it was going and who it would include, and what happened to some of the characters at the end. So as I wrote the book, many of the characters totally surprised me! I think I wrote about 5-600 pages in the six months following the first big idea. After I had all of that, I rewrote the book many times over the following years, until it was transformed into the book it is today.

You originally wrote 500 pages of the book in six to nine months. Could you describe your writing process during the writing of this first draft? Did you outline, or did you just start writing and let the story tell itself to you? Did you develop your characters first, or did they develop as you were writing? What were some of the things that drove you to write that first draft?

KN: I didn’t outline it much with the first draft: I really just wrote it out for a long time, and kept going with the characters leading the way. I did get stuck somewhere, and at that point I started plotting out bits and pieces of the book, just so I had a road map of where I was going. It was very much character driven for that draft though.

You spent six years working on Bran Hambric. I’d love to learn more about your editing process, the ways you refined your initial draft into the completed book. Did you have an "aha!" moment, when you knew the book was complete?

KN: I had a strange editing process. For the first few years, I just kept rewriting the entire book, and I’d get so far in it, then suddenly go back to the beginning and start over editing there again! I am a perfectionist when it comes to writing, so I wanted the beginning to be really clean. I didn’t really have an "aha!" moment when I realized the book was finished, because I wasn’t even really sure it was: but I was ready to start hunting for an agent, so I sent it off!

[MsBookish: Just wanted to stick my nose in and say that Kaleb definitely accomplished a very clean beginning – the prologue that starts Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse is incredibly exciting, and pulls you right into the story.]

There is a lot of humor woven throughout Bran Hambric. Can you talk a bit about the humor in the book?

KN: I think my humor is derived from a lot of the radio dramas I listened to when I was very young, especially shows like Adventures In Odyssey and Jungle Jam And Friends, and from my dad, who was always making us laugh as kids. I think that having humor in a book makes it a far more enjoyable read!

Other than Bran Hambric, which of your characters did you enjoy writing about the most?

KN: Sewey was my favorite character to write about other than Bran. Sometimes even I find myself laughing as I write about his antics. He’s one of those characters that takes over the scene, so that it’s not like I’m even writing it at all, I’m just trying to keep up with what he’s doing.

[MsBookish: Sticking my nose in again to say that Sewey is very definitely a fun character; Kaleb has caught him so vividly, and I’m not at all surprised that writing the scenes with Sewey in them was more a matter of trying to keep up with what Sewey was doing!]

What are you working on now? Do you find your writing process is different than it was when you initially wrote Bran Hambric?

KN: I’m working on the sequel to The Farfield Curse right now. My writing process is quite different than with the first: far more organized, with a good amount of plotting and notes. That way I don’t have so much trouble with writer’s block… and I don’t take six more years on this one!

[MsBookish: I’m very glad to hear this, because I think once readers have read Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse, they’re going to be looking forward to the sequel.]

What authors have influenced you the most as a writer?

KN: Lemony Snicket! I think his humor has affected mine greatly, because I loved his books growing up.

[MsBookish: I thought one of the most engaging things about Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse was the humor – it added such fun to the excitement.]

Thank you, Kaleb, for taking us for this behind the scenes look at the writing of Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse!

You can read more about the book at Bran Hambric and visit Kaleb Nation at his blog, Kaleb Nation. He is also the Twilight Guy, and if you enjoy videos, be sure to visit his YouTube channel. And that’s not all! Kaleb’s composed a soundtrack for Bran Hambric, and you can listen to some of the tracks here!

Review: Being Nikki, by Meg Cabot

Being Nikki

From the jacket flap:

Things aren’t pretty for Emerson Watts.

Em was sure there couldn’t be anything worse than being a brainiac the body of a teenaged supermodel.

But it turned out she was wrong. Because that supermodel could turn out to have a mother who’s gone mysteriously missing, a brother who’s shown up on her doorstep demanding answers, a former best friend who’s intent on destroying Stark Enterprises to avenge the death of his lost love, and a British heartthrob who’s written a song about her that’s topping the charts.

How can Em balance all that with school, runway shows, and weekend jaunts to St. Johns – especially when she’s got ex-boyfriends crawling out of the woodwork who want more than just a photo op; a sister who is headed to the high school cheerleading championships; a company she represents that seems to be turning to the dark side…

Not to mention trying to convince the love of her life that models aren’t really airheads after all…especially one model in particular.

But then, nobody said it was going to be easy being Nikki.

Being Nikki, by Meg Cabot, is the second novel in the Airhead trilogy, and despite the book’s cliffhanger ending, it was, on the whole, an enjoyable read. Being Nikki takes the original premise outlined in Airhead, and adds in some very interesting twists and plot turns. Now not only do we get to see what it’s like to find yourself in the body of a gorgeous supermodel, there’s also a good dollop of suspense and mystery.

While I enjoyed reading Being Nikki a lot, I must admit the ending disappointed me. Not the fact that the ending is a cliffhanger; cliffhanger endings in a book can work, as long as they’re constructed properly. In Being Nikki, the mystery that occupies the characters throughout the book is resolved before we’re moved toward the cliffhanger at the end, so as cliffhanger endings go, this one works. I still don’t like being left in the air like that, but I’ll accept it enough to be on the edge of my seat for the last book in the trilogy.

What disappointed me, then? It seemed to me that Em made what I call a “damsel in distress” decision in the end, which then leads to the cliffhanger. A “damsel in distress” decision, in my opinion, is a decision that generally results in the protagonist being put into peril unnecessarily. I probably shouldn’t call it a “decision”. It was more of an “I have no choice but to …” sort of thing. I just wasn’t convinced that Em had no other choice. Sure, what she did was noble and self-sacrificing, and guided us smoothly to the cliffhanger ending, but I wasn’t sure such a noble and self-sacrificing act was actually necessary, not for a smart cookie like Em.

Still, I’m looking forward to Runaway, the next installment in the trilogy, to see what happens. Cabot is a masterful storyteller, and in her hands the plot and characters are nothing short of fun. So despite my disappointment with the ending, I still found Being Nikki to be a good, fun read; if you haven’t read Airhead yet, I’d definitely recommend you read the two books back to back. Then settle back to wait for the last book in the trilogy.

Where to buy Being Nikki:

U.S. (Amazon.com) | Indiebound | Canada (Chapters) | UK (Amazon.co.uk)

Review copy details: published by Point, 2009, Hardcover, 336 pages

Review: The City and The City, by China Miéville

The City and the City

In the European city of Beszel, the body of a murdered woman is found. Inspector Tyador Borlú is assigned the case, but further investigation leads him to believe that the murder is not as routine as it looks at first glance: the woman appears to have connections with the city of Ul Qoma.

This complicates matters considerably. Beszel and Ul Qoma uneasily occupy the same physical location, a feat that is accomplished through both the willingness of the denizens of the two worlds to “unsee” each other, and the powerful and mysterious force known as “Breach”. Strict laws enforce the illusive boundaries between the two cities, and penalties for breaking these laws are severe.

I’m going to cut to the chase here: The City & The City was one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. It was a book that carried me deep into its pages and never cut me loose until the very end; it was a book I closed with a sigh, reluctantly detaching myself from immersion into its world and back into my own reality.

In The City & The City, China Miéville has created a world that is both incredible and realistic. He has placed his world of sister cities, nestled together on the same physical terrain but with very different cultures, into our current world. The melding of the things we know – cell phones, the United Nations, television, airplanes, Google, email – with the concept of a place physically occupied by two cities whose citizens accomplish the feat of maintaining the separateness of each by “unseeing” any signs of the other, produces a setting that feels so tangibly real, one is tempted to pull out an atlas and search for signs of Beszel and Ul Qoma.

The language Miéville uses gives credence to this illusion: the words read as if they have been translated into English from a rich and foreign tongue. There is a lushness to the writing that takes you straight into exotic streets:

Laced by the shadows of girdered towers that would loom over it if they were there, Ascension Church is at the end of VulkovStrász, its windows protected by wire grilles, but some of its stained panes broken. A fish market is there every few days. Regularly I would eat my breakfast to the shouts of vendors by their ice buckets and racks of live molluscs. Even the young women who worked there dressed like their grandmothers while behind their stalls, nostalgically photogenic, their hair tied up in dishcloth-coloured scarves, their filleting aprons in patterns of grey and red to minimise the stains of gutting. The men looked, misleadingly or not, straight off their boats, as if they had not put their catches down since they emerged from the sea, until they reached the cobbles below me. The punters in Beszel lingered and smelled and prodded the goods.

The mystery itself is a complex and intricate one, with the tension as we edge towards denouement building relentlessly until we discover the identity of the murderer, the motive, the how, the why.

Finishing the book, I was dazzled by Miéville’s skill in creating such a realistic world, impossible though it may be; it was a world that stayed with me, a world so credible even now it seems to me that perhaps the impossible is not really so improbable. Miéville also stays committed to the mystery, never letting that slide by the wayside, and wrapping it in the layers of the world of Beszel and Ul Qoma so that it merges seamlessly with his worldbuilding.

The City & The City vividly demonstrates that separation and boundaries can, indeed, be fashioned from nothingness. Perhaps even more disturbing, it shows us the role we ourselves play in the maintenance of such illusions.

Whether you enjoy science fiction and fantasy, or are a mystery lover, or simply enjoy a well-written book with language that reaches out and grabs hold of you, I highly recommend The City & The City.

Where to buy The City & The City:

U.S. (Amazon.com) | Indiebound | Canada (Chapters) | UK (Amazon.co.uk)

Review copy details: published by Ballantine Books, 2009, Hardcover, 312 pages