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Recent Reading: The Raksura trilogy

So! Just finished the third one last night. It was wonderful! But (ahem) I don’t want to get ahead of myself, so let me start at the beginning:

THE CLOUD ROADS

THE SERPENT SEA

THE SIREN DEPTHS

Aren’t those great titles? I find titles hard, so I admire good ones. Aren’t the covers beautiful? Martha Wells told me the artist won a prize for the first cover; I think he deserved to. Being asked to do a cover featuring nonhuman protagonists is surely a challenge, and these covers are lush, beautiful, and quite true to the stories. Even the kind of flying ship featured in the backgrounds for the first and third books are perfectly correct (though the details are probably invisible in the tiny pictures I have here). There really are these two different kinds of flying ships in the books and they really are shown on the covers exactly as they are described in the books. And if you look closely you can see the island below the flying Raksura in the second book? you might be able to see that it’s shaped like the Loch Ness Monster – and that’s exactly how it should be shaped. The artist for these books did a great job. I’m going to keep one of these turned face-out on my shelves so I can enjoy the cover.

The world:

I kept catching myself thinking: How DID she come up with THIS idea? Which is funny, since after all people ask me that fairly frequently. But still. This is a beautiful and highly baroque world, where people build cities in, let us say, somewhat odd places. Usually really spectacular odd places. If somebody carved an immense statue into a mountain a thousand years ago, you can bet that somebody else has carved a city into that statue now. And there are at least . . . um . . . three stranger places that that in which we find cities, but I don’t want to give those away, so if you want to enjoy them, you’ll have to read the books.

The description all through is so beautiful. For example, here’s that city built into the statue (from the third book): “As they came closer, [Moon] realized that the lines of the plateau weren’t entirely natural. A great figure had been carved out of the side, into the shape of the body of a groundling seated on a throne. The statue was huge, taking up half the side of the plateau. The proportions were distorted, making the body wider than it was tall, and a large section of the head was missing, but it was still an impressive sight. And so was the city built into it. The statue’s chest and stomach, and the cliff face to either side, had been carved out with balconies, windows, stairways, open galleries. The rock had been shaped into columns, pediments, as if these were the façade of buildings standing along a street instead of hanging out over empty air. The plateau’s broad slopes were riddled with steep gorges, with the gleaming silver bands of streams winding along the bottoms, lined by lush foliage. The streams fed into a large lake covering the statue’s feet. Along its banks, regular rows of greenery and trees revealed planting beds and orchards. . . .”

I’m a sucker for setting, and I love how we get to explore so many wonderful parts of this world, but characterization is even more important. Luckily, I loved the characters. They’re not human – Wells does a great job making them not human – but they’re enough like humans that it’s definitely not a strain to sympathize with them. In fact, they’re quite compelling. Moon is a wonderful protagonist – lost from his people in early childhood, he knows nothing about them when he meets them in the first book. That lets the reader see his people, the Raksura, through his eyes – we meet the Raksura for the first time just as Moon does, and they’re just about as strange to him as they are to us, which I think was really important in drawing the reader into the story. And of course it gives Moon a backstory anybody can sympathize with, a problem anybody can understand, and very believable psychological issues that definitely complicate his life. I mean, he may believe intellectually that Jade isn’t going to abandon him, but he can’t help but feel that she might.

We do meet a LOT of characters, and of course we can’t be given a character sketch of any of them in two words because they’re not human, their society isn’t human, their roles in their society aren’t human – that puts quite a burden on the author, doesn’t it, getting the reader to fall into a story where everything is unfamiliar? Wells does this very skillfully, but I think it’s why many of the minor secondary characters are hard to keep track of. There’s a character list in the back of each book, which I didn’t realize at first. I mostly didn’t need it, though, as it was easy enough to keep the important secondary characters straight. Besides, the third book really deepens the characterization for Moon and the other important secondary characters. And it does this because –

Okay, the plot! I will do this without spoilers, so don’t worry if you haven’t read these books yet.

Book 1 is obviously Moon’s discovery of and by his people and his struggle to fit in (and to believe he might fit in). We also get a very cleanly defined Good vs Evil struggle, because the bad guys who attack Indigo Cloud Court after Moon finds them? Called the Fell? They are very evil. Very creepy. You would not want to encounter one in a dark alley, or anywhere else. So the first book has a very straightforward plot. I don’t know that I would say it’s exactly predictable, though, because the world, the Raksura, and the Fell are all too unfamiliar for many of the details about how things work out to be very predictable.

Book 2 is pretty much a Further Adventures Of Moon type of story – the Indigo Cloud Court moves back west to reclaim ancestral territory, there are problems, which require a quest to recover an object, which becomes complicated. For me, though I enjoyed it, this was decidedly the weakest of the books because the Quest To Recover The Object is so disconnected from the overall plot of the trilogy – the overall storyline involving the struggle between Indigo Cloud Court (and all Raksura) against the Fell. On the other hand, we get to see some pretty spectacular scenery during Book 2. And we do meet other courts of Raksura, which leads in a fairly convoluted way to –

Book 3, where Moon is rediscovered and reclaimed by his birth court. Wow, that is intense. I mean, wow. Here Moon is, having basically succeeded in making a place for himself in Indigo Cloud, and with Jade, and now he’s required to return to his birth court? Where he finds relatives, naturally, as well as his mother, about whom, well, words fail me. I wound up just loving her, but, well, wow. Plus, as you can imagine, the whole situation is extremely fraught, especially for Moon himself, with his abandonment issues. Plus, we’re back to the conflict with the Fell, in a situation that gets rather, um, complex.

I really loved Book 3, which wound up as my favorite book of the trilogy. In fact, I read it too fast and am now going to take some time to re-read some of my favorite parts. This trilogy is DEFINITELY a keeper; I will LOVE re-reading the whole thing in a few years. In the meantime, I’ll be pushing it on everybody who loves great writing, ornate worlds and wonderfully-drawn nonhuman characters. And I am also looking up Martha Wells’ backlist, right now.

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Recent Reading: Shape of Desire

Okay! SHAPE OF DESIRE. Anybody out there who’s read it and didn’t tell me anything about it? Thanks! I really wanted to come to it without a lot of preconceptions. Anybody out there who wants to do the same, look away now, because I’m going to totally provide (variable) responses to this book, below.

Now, this is the Sharon Shinn novel that Publisher’s Weekly loved but to which responses by readers have been highly mixed. Let’s start with the Pub Weekly review, which is here.

Here’s what the Pub Weekly reviewer said about SHAPE OF DISIRE:

“Loving a shape-shifter requires a life full of lies in this touching domestic fantasy . . . Maria has known, and kept, her lover’s secret since they were in college together. Dante is only human a few days a month, and he cannot control when he shifts or what he shifts into. Maria has lied about him to her family and friends for almost half of her life. But when Maria suspects that a shape-shifter is behind recent murders in local parks, she begins to fear that, whether or not Dante is innocent, their lives will irrevocably change. The tale of their relationship meanders like a stream, with strong characterizations and poetic prose polishing the story until it shines. Shinn’s frequent comparisons of humans and animals are subtle, quietly building the question of whether the true monsters are those who change shape or humans with the capacity to hurt those they love.”

I would say that’s a very accurate summary. And please note that Pub Weekly picked this one as a top book for 2012, too.

The book’s average rating on Goodreads is 3.05, with 125 reviews. Here are a couple of interesting responses from random reviewers on Goodreads:

The Good — Louise Marley rated it 5 of 5 stars:

“This is a fabulous novel, dark and erotic and unerring in its character portrayals. Shinn has chosen the shape-shifter device to tell a story of passionate love under difficult circumstances, and something I love about the way she’s handled it reminds me of THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE–no rationalization or apology, just accepting it for what it is. And it works! I’ve read almost all of Sharon Shinn’s lengthy bibliography, and I think this is her strongest work yet. It’s always satisfying to see an artist get better and better with time, so this book is a special pleasure. Highly recommended.”

That was the first 5-star rating I came to. I can see where this reviewer is coming from, and btw, by ‘erotic’, she means Maria and Dante have sex all the time, on stage, as it were, which is a first for a Sharon Shinn novel, so fair warning, right? Compared to the highly explicit, lengthy sex scenes you see all the time in modern paranormals, though, it’s pretty tame.

The bad — Evangelie rated it 2 of 5 stars

“This book was sadly,disappointing. Did Sharon Shinn really write this??? The author of The Twelve Houses created this boring and unimaginative story? I am a big fan of her writing but this book fell flat. I was constantly waiting for something to happen. After reading this book all I learned was that
1. Maria LOVES Dante
2. Dante and his family are shape shifters
the end.
Also, this might have been just me, but until it was mentioned Marie was in her 30’s, I had thought she was a teen, maybe a college student…overall, very disappointing. I hope any other books Sharon Shinn plans to write are like the ones she used to write.”

This was the first two-star review I came to. I think it’s a lot less accurate. Actually, I think this reviewer expected and wanted an adventure story — which the Twelve Houses series provided — and this one is a relationship story. Nobody saves the world in this book; the most they’re aiming for is to save each other.

I do think the reviewer was right to feel cheated on a YA front. This one was marketed as YA, I suspect; the cover certainly implies YA; and it’s not. Just not. At all. In fact, if I had a teenage daughter who wanted to read this, I wouldn’t object, but I’d want to talk about it afterward.

Now, back to those mixed responses. Reviewers love the ordinariness of Maria’s life. Or they hate the triviality of Maria’s life. They love Maria’s obsession with Dante. Or else they totally hate Maria’s obsession with Dante. I’m sure you can imagine how it goes — the characters are well drawn. No, they’re totally flat and one-dimensional.

Okay, I’m not claiming to have a corner on The Truth about this book, but here goes:

My God, is that relationship between Maria and Dante disturbing, or what? In no way is it healthy for any adult human being to be so totally obsessed with her lover. When he’s with her — bliss! When he walks away — the abyss! Emotionally, Maria is a lot like a dog suffering separation anxiety. That’s bad in a dog, and REALLY AWFUL in a person.

But . . . you know what? If I’d stopped reading two chapters in, it would have been a mistake. Because at the ending, we find Maria and Dante still together, but in a MUCH, MUCH healthier relationship.

The whole book is about relationships — healthy relationships, sick relationships. And trust, and the nature of love. This is quite obvious, because one of the other pivotal relationships in the story is between an abused woman and her abusive husband. So I think we can be sure that Maria’s obsession with Dante is not supposed to look normal, either.

We get to see Maria’s interaction with her family and friends — nothing amiss there, if you don’t count Maria concealing this huge secret from them all for years and years . So I think we’re supposed to understand that Maria is capable of healthy relationships. Plus, she’s surprisingly easy to root for — I say ‘surprisingly’ because I would not normally find a woman who obsesses over her lover and just dies emotionally when he leaves her to be very sympathetic. But Maria’s got a really interesting, unique take on the world. Here’s one of my favorite passages:

“If I can hide the fact that half of my waking thoughts are consumed by my passion for a mythological creature, if I never mention his name at all to people who think they know me very well, how big could their own lies be? Are they serial killers, members of the Witness Protection Program? Have they been transgendered, bitten by vampires, kidnapped by aliens? . . . No possibility seems too outlandish. And I would not blame any of them for refusing to spill their secrets.”

Maria really *is* a hopeless romantic who wants everything to work out for everyone — I definitely like that about her, even if her obsession with Dante is disturbing. Which it IS. Until, as I said, the end of the story leaves her — leaves them all — in a better place.

I will be getting the sequel. In fact, I’ve just ordered it, so I expect I will be getting it Wednesday.

I do rather look forward to seeing if anybody else Maria knows actually turns out to have a really outlandish secret. My best guess now is: Caroline? I think she is doing evil mind-control of some kind. That’s just a guess!

Anybody else read this yet? Or planning to?

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What to do with that extra half-can of coconut milk —

Which I know is a frequent problem for everyone, right?

Anyway, I threw together a Thai curry last night (ground turkey and snow peas, mainly; it was very good) and thus wound up with half a can of coconut milk left over. Coconut doesn’t keep well, so I needed to get it used up. I could have made Thai coconut rice, but I wanted to use the coconut milk for breakfast. I could have made coconut-chocolate-chip scones, but actually I have some in the freezer right this minute and making more seemed a little much.

So I made coconut-chocolate-chip pancakes. They were great! Here you go, in case you want a breakfast treat and happen to have half a can of coconut milk sitting around. This makes enough for two people. If you have more people, then obviously there’s no need to wait until you have a leftover half can of coconut milk — just double the recipe and enjoy!

1 C flour — I used 1/2 cup all-purpose and 1/2 white whole wheat
1/4 C sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 C sweetened flaked coconut — about. I just threw some in.
1/4 C mini chocolate chips — again, that’s approximate
3/4 C coconut milk — I used Chaokoh brand\
1/2 C water
1 egg
1/4 tsp coconut extract
1/4 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp vegetable oil — I just poured some in, I think about 2 Tbsp

Whisk together the dry ingredients. Crumble in the flaked coconut and stir in along with the chocolate chips.

Whisk together the coconut milk, water, egg, extracts, and oil. Whisk quickly into dry ingredients.

Dollop into hot electric skillet or griddle or whatever you use for pancakes and cook in the ordinary fashion. This batter is rather thick, which is how I like it, so don’t wait for lots of bubbles to appear before you turn a pancake. Maybe just a couple of bubbles around the edges, or just peek underneath a pancake to see if it’s ready to turn.

With the sugar and coconut, these were sweet enough for my taste to eat plain. I would hesitate to pour syrup on them. I don’t think they even needed butter.

If you try these, I hope you enjoy them!

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The WIP is progressing!

Yay!

I fully expect to finish the continuity-smoothing today and tomorrow, then some extremely tedious polishing over the weekend and I bet I can send it back to my agent on Monday. Yay again! That was surprisingly fast considering that the changes involved completely rewriting chapters five and six and substantially re-writing chapter seven — and that I had any number of dog shows on the weekends for this whole re-write period.

(Kenya has won Winners 4 times this fall, in case you’re interested, and is now up to seven points, including one major, so she’s officially halfway to her championship. Last weekend this glamorous German import beat her on Saturday, but Kenya turned around and won on Sunday, so that was satisfying. Speaking perfectly objectively, the other girl has the more glamorous head and shows better, but Kenya definitely has the better croup and tailset, so it comes down to what the judge cares about and whether Kenya shows halfway decently. One more show weekend this year! It would be FABULOUS if she got her other major!)

Okay, so already making plans for what to take off the top of the TBR pile on Saturday! Or Sunday! Or, hey, Monday at the very latest! I might even take off all of Thanksgiving week before getting back to work; doesn’t that sound perfectly justifiable?

I like to take two days minimum to read a book, because I just enjoy it more if I stretch it out a little, so that limits the number I can expect to get through in one week. Right now I’m planning on:

Shape of Desire by Sharon Shinn — Sharon has told me about the mixed reader responses this one has gotten, and I’m really looking forward to reading it and seeing what *my* response it, so it’s definitely first in line.

The Serpent Sea and The Siren Depths by Martha Wells — I *really* loved The Cloud Roads and was just waiting for the third book to come out before diving back into this beautiful, evocative world.

But then what?

Do I want to read The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun, by Jemisen? They’re supposed to be SO GOOD. Am I in the mood for a complex new world and books that are REALLY GOOD? Maybe I’d rather put those off and read —

The Girl Who Chased the Moon
by Sarah Addison Allen? The first book I read of hers, The Peach Keeper, was a lovely little gem of magical realism, sweet without being saccharine, easy to fall into and impossible not to love. I instantly bought this one, and maybe a contemporary-ish magical realism story is just what I’ll want after Martha Wells’ baroque fantasy world?

If I have time, I wouldn’t mind picking up The Raven Boys by Stiefvater. I haven’t read any summaries or reviews of it, so I have no idea what to expect from it, except quality.

Ah, choices, choices! Anticipating a great week next week! Luckily I already have a good supply of fabulous chocolate.

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Who are the really essential fantasy authors?

I mean, once you get past Patricia McKillip, who else is utterly essential? If you met someone who had just discovered fantasy as a genre, who would you instantly recommend?

I had a neighbor once tell me she’d tried fantasy and didn’t like it. A moment’s questioning revealed that’s she’d only tried a couple fat fantasies that were popular but not actually good — I don’t remember which, but things like The Sword of Shanara, you know?

I handed her THE CHANGELING SEA and she stayed up way late to finish it and was completely converted to fantasy as a worthwhile genre. I still remember her asking the next morning, “Are there more like this?” Lucky for her, yep, plenty!

But who would you recommend after McKillip?

For me the MUST READ list would include:

Peter Beagle — The Last Unicorn and A Fine And Private Place

Lois McMaster Bujold — The Curse of Chalion

Emma Bull — War for the Oaks — she was doing paranormal romance before it was a fad genre! But I don’t know, one could hardly say that Emma Bull is one of THE fantasy authors, right? Because she hasn’t written enough? Or is it legitimatize to include authors who aren’t very prolific if they’re good enough? After dithering a bit, I decided the heck with it, this is a great book and I’d include it.

CJ Cherryh — Fortress in the Eye of Time, maybe The Goblin Mirror

Susan Cooper — The Dark is Rising series

Diana Wynne Jones — The Power of Three, Dogsbody, the Chrestomanci books

Barbara Hambly — Dragonsbane — but I don’t know, the later books in the series aren’t necessarily ones I’d recommend. And Hambly’s written some that aren’t very good, imo, as well as many that are excellent.

Barry Hughart — Bridge of Birds and the other two. Again, he may not have been very prolific, but everyone should read Bridge of Birds!

Guy Gaviel Kay — Maybe The Longest Road trilogy? Or, for me, Under Heaven is one of his best.

RA MacAvoy — Tea With the Black Dragon and Lens of the World

Robin McKinley — The Blue Sword and Sunshine For me, anything new by Robin McKinley is occasion to celebrate.

Juliette Marillier — Daughter of the Forest

Margaret Mahy — The Changeover

Ann McCaffery — The original Dragonriders of Pern trilogy. I know, I know, McCaffery has written some AWFUL books, but I still think her first Dragonrider ones and some of the others are really good.

Elizabeth Moon — The original Paksenarrion trilogy

Tim Powers — On Stranger Tides; if someone doesn’t like that one, don’t you think the probably wouldn’t like Powers? Or would you recommend something different?

Sharon Shinn — The Safe-Keeper’s Secret trilogy; and then maybe The Shape-Changer’s Wife if they loved McKillip, or maybe Mystic and Rider if they leaned more toward adventure and less toward beautiful language.

Maggie Stiefvater — The Scorpio Races, which feels like I’m cheating because Stiefvater is hardly a classic fantasy author, she’s too new, but she’s so good that I can’t leave her out.

Judith Tarr — Lord of the Two Lands

Patricia Wrede — The Talking To Dragons series, Sorcery and Cecilia.

What do you all think? Have I totally missed somebody crucial? I would never recommend something I didn’t like, no matter how influential it was or how many awards it won, so nothing like The Chronicles of Thomas Covenent is on here. So a reader who might like a grimmer sort of story is out of luck with this list, but there you go, all lists of this kind are going to be personal, after all.

And I’ve assumed that YA and adult are both going to appeal to any fantasy reader, which I think is true if the books are really good. And I guess I’m assuming that absolutely everyone’s either read Tolkein or at least seen the movies — though I certainly don’t think the movies substitute for the books. (Though they were REALLY GOOD, weren’t they? I’m looking forward to The Hobbit this December!)

Comments?

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Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance, and other Bujold thoughts —

I agree that it was just about perfect for Ivan; the manic tone of most of Miles’ books wouldn’t have worked well for it. I already expect to reread it soon. I always love rereading Bujold’s books!

Funniest line? I vote for:

“Good heavens,” said Illyan. “I certainly hope no one was injured!”

Or at least it was something close to that. You have to read the book to find out why it was so funny! I’m chuckling again now just thinking about that.

In some ways, I’m surprised Ivan and/or Tej didn’t figure out a way out of their, um, predicament. But in others, not surprised at all; I can see that By needed to be brought back in to the plot.

I loved watching Gregor in action at the end. I always love watching Gregor in action. Especially that time Nikki called him for help, remember that? Wasn’t that fabulous?

I agree that Bujold is probably done with this universe, but I do think that’s a pity. I’d like to see her go back and fill in some gaps. Wouldn’t it be fun to have a book or three set at the time of the Cetagandan invasion? Plus, if she wasn’t bored with it, there would be any number of Miles books that could be dropped into the middle of the chronology somewhere. Alas, I think it’s pretty clear she doesn’t intend to do anything of the kind.

Of the three Chalion books, I have to say, I really did like THE CURSE OF CHALION best, and THE HALLOWED HUNT least. But I did love all three and I too vote for Bujold dropping everything else and writing the other two that are supposed to be in that series, ASAP.

I also wouldn’t mind seeing more books in The Sharing Knife world. I know not everybody liked them, but I find them very comfortable, a real pleasure to re-visit on a quite frequent basis when I don’t have the time to spare to read something new. I particularly like the later ones in the series. If you read the first couple and then quit, really you should pick up the series again and go on with it. I doubt Bujold plans to write any other books in that world, I think she left the characters in a good place, but I’d love to see more.

I wonder what exactly she actually is working on now? I don’t think I’ve seen anything about that lately.

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The best fantasy writer in the world . . .

. . . is clearly Patricia McKillip, right? Right!

I bring this up because of this post by Kristen over at Fantasy Book Cafe.

Can you believe that Kristen had NEVER READ ANYTHING by Patricia McKillip? Me neither! Has everybody read the Invisible World collection by this time? I have, even though, like Kristen, I am not normally interested in short stories and have trouble reading more than one at a time.

It’s very interesting to see which short stories popped out for Kristen.

Just as a reminder, here’s a list of all the short stories in the collection, many of which I hadn’t read before:

Wonders of the Invisible World
Out of the Woods
The Kelpie
Hunter’s Moon
Oak Hill
The Fortune-Teller
Jack O’Lantern
Knight of the Well
Naming Day
Byndley
The Twelve Dancing Princesses
Undine
Xmas Cruise
A Gift To Be Simple
The Old Woman and the Storm
The Doorkeeper of Khaat

Kristen picked out “The Kelpie”, “Naming Day”, and “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.”

I loved all of those, but you know which one was absolutely hands-down my favorite? “Oak Hill”. It instantly made me want to steal the protagonist and some aspects of the setting and write a novel, if McKillip isn’t going to. Which, seriously, I wish she would!

If you’ve read the collection, which is your favorite?

And whether or not you’ve read the Invisible World collection, what’s your favorite McKillip of the novels? I’ll start: Without question, the two greatest Patricia McKillip novels ever written are . . . drumroll . . .

THE BOOK OF ATRIX WOLFE

and

THE CHANGELING SEA

I’ll be interested in seeing which ones the rest of you pick!

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Recent reading, and ‘reading’

Okay!

I couldn’t sleep last night, so I read GUARDS! GUARDS! by Terry Pratchett. This finishes up ALL the Sam Vimes books, which I either read or listened to in the past few months. As it happens, I started with SNUFF, so then I went on and listened to / read the rest of them in reverse order, which in case you’re interested is:

SNUFF
THUD
NIGHT WATCH
THE FIFTH ELEPHANT
JINGO
FEET OF CLAY
MEN AT ARMS
GUARDS GUARDS

I’d read NIGHT WATCH before, several times, but I was saving most of the rest to get as audiobooks because I discovered that Terry Pratchett is fabulous in audio format, easily the best author I’ve ever listened to. (Though it turns out that GUARDS GUARDS is not available in audio format, at least not in this country, so I wound up getting that one in paper.)

And btw, you want the ones narrated by Steven Briggs, who gets everyone’s voice exactly right; I really did not like the narrator for MEN AT ARMS, who gave Vimes a weird nasal voice and Angua a terrible stuffy deep voice that didn’t work for me at all. I didn’t think the narrator would make such a difference, but it did.

These books span quite a time period, right? Actually, a nice even decade. GUARDS GUARDS came out in 2001 and SNUFF came out in 2011. I thought I would very likely like the later books better and I was right. I think the social-satire-disguised-as-fantasy thing, which Pratchett has patented, is indeed better developed in the later books. Though there are signs of it in the early ones, definitely.

What I didn’t expect: who would have guessed, working backwards, that Sam Vimes is actually not the main character for GUARDS GUARDS or MEN AT ARMS? Did everybody know that but me? Maybe if I’d gone in forward order, I would have liked the early books better, rather than being a little disappointed in them?

I mean, I did like both the earliest books. I really did. And I liked Carrot well enough as a main character. But the basically incompetent Sam Vimes of the early books, the man who shows flashes of competence when sober, is NOTHING compared to the competent, dedicated, teetotaler Sam Vimes who takes over as the main character starting in FEET OF CLAY.

Also, I had a particular issue with MEN AT ARMS, which I didn’t expect. Because the idea of guns as evil doesn’t resonate with me at all. I can see how a British author might go that way, but really, this feeling that weapons that depend on your personal strength are fine but weapons that anybody can use are evil? Are you kidding me? I’m much more into the the “God made men, Sam Colt made men equal” idea. Believe me, I’d much rather depend on my gun than my black belt if I ran into an ax murderer while hiking. MUCH.

And I like Vetinari much better in the later books, too. He doesn’t seem quite right to me in the earlier Vimes books. Actually, I think Vetinari reaches perfection in GOING POSTAL and MAKING MONEY, which I would grab in audio format now except I’ve already got them in paper.

So, too bad I’m out of Vimes books! But I also have the Death ones now, all in audio except for REAPER MAN which I’ve had for years and just love; and the Tiffany Aching ones, all of which I have in audio. Those will get me through quite a lot of dog show driving! Though I think I may take a break and listen to something non-Pratchett this coming weekend.

I’ve given some thought to what I appreciate in audiobooks and I think that what matters to me is a) the book must actually be good, but also b) it must be fast-paced, and c) it helps if it has snappy dialogue.

For audio other than Pratchett, I’ve therefore turned to YA. I have two YA downloaded right now: THE PRINCESS ACADEMY and I AM HALF-SICK OF SHADOWS. I’ve burned both to cds so I can use the navigator on my phone and listen to a book at the same time. Each is a mere six cds, which is actually about perfect for the relatively short drive to this weekend’s show. Don’t know which I’ll listen to. Both the reviews linked above make their respective books sound excellent.

In the meantime, though, and taking a break from audio, I’m definitely reading CAPTAIN VORPATRIL’S ALLIANCE, which arrived last night.

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Okay, yeah, slightly distracted this weekend.

I thought I would have SO MUCH TIME to work on my WIP this weekend. Stuck in a hotel! With hours and hours of free time before and after show events! And I didn’t even bring a book with me, so see how committed I was? Only:

a) I was showing Pippa in Rally AE (Advanced/Excellent, you need to double-qualify for it to count), and so I actually did spend a little time Friday evening working with her in the lobby. She doesn’t need much practice, so that didn’t take long. But then it seemed only fair to take the puppy, Folly, down for some one-on-one practice. She was actually pretty good, so I almost wish I’d entered her in Novice. But honesty I haven’t had time to train anybody. Thus Pippa, who doesn’t need training to do fine. (she got scores of 88, 87, 93, and 86, btw. You can assume that she’s the one losing two to four points, and I’m the one losing ten points at a time for handler errors. She’s the only dog I have who can learn a new exercise in 15 minutes before the show and then do it right.)

b) I was showing Kenya in the breed ring, so there’s an hour of prep work right there, what with touching up her feet and ears. All that touching up and fussing with shampoos and blow dryers and special brushes didn’t help, this time, alas. Both days were exactly the same: this nice tri girl won Winners, Deb’s Sophia got Reserve, Shawn’s Reese got Best Puppy, etc.

c) Somebody’s dratted German shepherd barked well into the night. I retaliated by encouraging my girls to bark hysterically at nothing way before dawn. Well, no, actually I just found the white noise generator on my phone, but I suspect this is why I slept almost till seven in the morning. For me that is VERY late. I totally expected to have two extra hours to work on my laptop on Saturday morning, but no.

d) I went to dinner on Saturday with Deb and her husband, thus blowing most of the evening.

e) Sunday morning was the rush to get out of the hotel room on time, plus prepare Kenya for the show ring, so no way to work on anything then.

Despite everything, I did get some work done. Finished the new! improved! Chapter 5. This is the THIRD completely different version of Chapter Five, which is a record for me. Now working on the new, improved Chapter Six, which will carry me straight into the back half of the ms, which is not changing much at all. I’m not losing as much length as I’d hoped, though, the new draft will probably come out at 115,000 words which is a slight improvement.

Big question now: can I finish the new Chapter Six by this coming Friday, Nov 9th??? If not, can I possibly get it finished by Monday, even though it’s another show weekend???

Well, I think I can about guarantee I can have the whole thing sewn up by Thanksgiving, though, which is fine.

In the meantime! I am also moving hundreds of books out of the library into the study (dusting in the process), then shifting hundreds of books around in the library (more dusting). Next trick: finding a place to build a small additional bookshelf. It’s either that or getting rid of about 100 paperbacks, which would be painful and probably leave me constantly reaching for a book I discarded. But! The ENTIRE TBR PILE is now ON SHELVES instead of actually on the floor. There’s an accomplishment!

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Oh, hey, yeah, it’s almost November!

a) I need to find my t-shirt that says: I DON’T DO COSTUMES. Even though that message is a little less true than it used to be, as witness this:

There; I hope you appreciate that this is the first costume I’ve worn in probably twenty years. Maybe thirty. We all dressed up for a “meet the breeds” event. I am actually quite tempted to get this costume out and wear it to work tomorrow — as an excuse to bring a dog to work! I think that would be fun, and not TOO distracting, since Pippa or Adora would pretty well settle down after a little while and just go to sleep. I admit the puppies would be more trouble!

b) Gosh, look, the election’s right around the corner! Actually, I have been a real political junkie for the past month, following all the polls and checking in on political blogs several times a day. I will be very, very happy after the election’s over. Provided my guy wins, of course.

c) Not trying to imply this is equally important, but HEY, LOOK, THE NEW BUJOLD IS ABOUT TO ARRIVE ON DOORSTEPS EVERYWHERE. Can’t wait! This will certainly interrupt my work on my own WIP. One must have priorities! Actually, I am glad to report that the WIP is moving right along. I told my agent I’d probably have it back to her before Christmas, but I am now betting I will turn it around before Dec 1. I worked out the next bit of the new scene this morning while walking dogs! Yay! I think I now know ALL of the rest of the new parts AND how to link them up to the old parts. Double yay! Fortunately, the new Bujold will not arrive until I have had time to make sure I know where my own ms. is going.

d) And . . . NaNoWriMo is upon us! That, I really had forgotten about until I saw this post.

I am actually pretty impressed with anybody who writes 50,000 words in one month. I’ve done it . . . um . . . three times? I think it’s three. As, of course, part of writing a longer work, not as a deliberate NaNoWriMo thing. But I therefore know that it can be done, but it’s not a piece of cake. It’s a little more than 1500 words per day, which is about five pages a day, which doesn’t sound like that much until you try to do it every single day. Apparently nearly 15% of those who start NaNoWriMo succeed, which is awesome.

I enjoyed the NaNoWriMo advice at the post above. For once I agree that writing an outline might would be helpful, because if you don’t know where you’re going, good luck keeping to that kind of output. It’s important not to stall out in a plot hole if you’re going to make it to 50,000 by the end of the month.

The read-before-you-write advice wouldn’t work for me AT ALL, though, because I know from plenty of personal experience that I will DEFINITELY finish any book I pick up, even if that means totally blowing my writing minimum. No fiction while trying to make a deadline: it’s a rule. Luckily, I don’t have a deadline right now, so the Bujold is definitely on my read-it-instantly list as soon as it arrives.

Anybody ever tackle the NaNoWriMo challenge? Anybody tempted to tackle it this time?

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