Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Recent reading: Still Life With Shapeshifter.

Plus, a minor (well, probably no more than medium-intense) rant about photographers who don’t know their subject. Which, I know! Is not the author’s fault. You don’t have to tell ME that, right? Nevertheless.

I like the cover design. I really love the scrollwork down the sides, which you can’t really see in the picture — you have to tilt the book back and forth to see it. It’s really lovely. But the dog! It’s just painful. Look:

Sorry, but I know too much about correct dog structure and about what REAL Siberian huskies look like. This dog has got quite a German shepherd head. Either it’s a very poor example of a Sibe or else it’s a white German shepherd or shepherd mix.

Worse, it’s standing in such a way that its structure looks all wrong. Probably it’s not as poorly put together as it looks, but its stance makes it look as though it is wheelbacked, over at the knee, too straight in the front pastern, and poorly angulated in the rear.

This dog looks like it would have a tough time with endurance and be prone to injuries to the front pastern and knee, especially moving over rough country. If it really is wheelbacked, it will also be prone to injuries of the spine. If it’s hunched up because it wants to stand with its hind legs this far forward, then it probably has a problem with slipping hocks, slipping patellas, or hip dysplasia — some joint issue that is making it try to carry its weight in its back. If it does that for long, again, it’s going to be liable to spine injuries. Moving this dog’s hind legs back by eight inches before snapping the picture would have enormously improved its appearance.

For comparison, here is a much nicer Siberian, posed in a good show stack:

Just in case you happen to want to take a great picture of a dog, let me just add here that the way to pose a dog so that it looks great even in a natural setting, is to make sure its rear legs are set well back and its topline is straight. You may want to set its front feet up on a rock or log to exaggerate the smooth slope of the topline. You may want to get the dog to point its nose down slightly so that its neck is arched. I’ve certainly got my girls to pose standing that way, just so they look as fabulous as possible.

This photo here is a cheat in some ways, because the snow conceals so much of Pippa’s legs. But her stance is clearly four-square and balanced, and her topline is gorgeous. Take a look:

Pippa always takes great pictures because her structure is excellent. The dog on the cover of Still Life — well, who knows? Maybe it was just caught at a really unfortunate instant. What a shame the publisher’s photographer didn’t ask a dog show photographer for advice!

So, okay, onward (at last!) to the actual book!

First, is that a great title or what? Seriously. I LOVE that title! I know I always seem to focus on titles, but seriously, titles are hard and this is one on my favorite titles EVER. Clever AND evocative.

Now, how about the book itself?

I figured, since I started by providing Goodreads reviews for the first book, I’d do that again for this one. Here’s the second review in the lineup. It is a four-star review.

Posted by Lisa on Nov 13

“I was one of the people who really, really disliked the first book in Shinn’s shape-shifting series. I feel that Shinn’s particular brand of romance doesn’t work in a modern/real-world setting the way it does in fantasy or science fiction; reading about women or men who will die if they can’t be together makes me roll my eyes. So I went into this book expecting little to nothing, after the dissatisfying tale of Maria and Dante and a relationship I thought bordered on the emotionally abusive.

I’m delighted to say how wrong I was.

The story of Melanie and Ann, sisters who are equally devoted to each other, was wonderful. Yes, there was romance that went a bit too far for my liking, and a plot point (leftover from the first novel) that made me shake my head and wonder if Shinn had forgotten where she’d taken us the first time around. But the book was touching, and I adored the protagonists. And in this book, I feel like she’s branching out and finally touching the wider world of shifters. The first book didn’t feel like a set-up to a series, but this one does. I almost wish this one had come first.”

I think this review is really accurate. It’s perfectly true that borderline-obsessive devotion is a whole lot less disturbing between sisters than between lovers. Particularly when the older sister has taken a maternal role toward her much younger shapeshifter sister. We expect a mother or older sister to pull out all the stops when defending a child / younger sister, right? I actually like both Melanie and Brody quite a bit.

I do disagree about one thing, though: I definitely didn’t think there was “too much romance” in this book, as the reviewer above said. In fact, I especially loved the fact that Melanie wouldn’t admit to herself that she was actually dating Brody. And if anything, there was too little shown of the romance between William and Ann — but then, Ann was not the point-of-view character.

And I’m not sure what this reviewer had in mind as a possible forgotten plot point. Having thought about it . . . still not sure. I can’t think of anything that struck me that way.

The interaction between all the characters was good, and in particular I loved some of the secondary characters, especially Debbie and her family. My favorite scene was probably the dinner party at Debbie’s house. The discussion about superpowers? That was so funny! (The superpowers are things like “being able to find keys” and “knowing who the phone is going to be for”, and the idea is not just funny, but also completely crucial to the plot.)

I really enjoyed Ann (the shapeshifting sister). I totally believed in her — in how she acted. I could see why Melanie couldn’t accept the risks her sister was taking, but I thought Ann’s decisions were right for her. And Melanie’s were right for her. I love irreconcilable dilemmas, which is exactly what we had here.

In fact, I really appreciated this unique take on shapeshifters, in which being a shifter is actually a pretty terrible thing in lots of ways. It doesn’t give you superstrength and supersenses and supersexiness and a hot temper and a special pack to belong to — it isolates you and messes up your ability to have a normal life and has serious, sometimes very serious, effects on your health. Though in STILL LIFE we start to see a larger shapeshifter community, which I think could be developed into something that would act as a real support system for shapeshifters. Which they could certainly use!

Yet for all that, I honestly preferred the first book. This was a real surprise to me, but it’s true. I preferred Maria to Melanie — or more accurately, I preferred reading about Maria to reading about Melanie. Maybe this was because Maria started off in such a questionable place psychologically and then wound up in such an improved place, so there was a lot of development over the course of the book. Or maybe it was because I liked the more intense, faster-paced plot of the first book. Or maybe it was because . . .

Okay, the subplot in STILL LIFE? The one where Janet is the pov protagonist, in a plotline only tangentially related to Melanie’s plotline? Janet goes into science, see, and studies shifters scientifically. And that is a problem for me.

See, it’s not just that I know a good bit more than average about canine structure and function; I also know quite a bit about genetics. For me — and I know this won’t be a problem for most readers — reading about the “science” in this story was as painful as looking at the dog on the cover. As a public service, let me suggest that the following terms should never be used by anybody who doesn’t know anything about genetics:

“Dominant”. The word already has a specific meaning in genetics, and this wasn’t it. This makes the third completely different wrong way that I’ve seen this word used in the context of genetics — people also often use it to mean “common in the population” and dog breeders use it to mean “homozygous”, and everyone should cut that out and look up the actual real meaning. Or just not use the word.

“Gene”. Genes absolutely do not and cannot work in any way similar to that depicted in the story. Please don’t use a pseudogenetic explanation for anything magical. It’s painful to those of us who do know how genes work.

On the other hand, it is perfectly fine to say that someone has discovered a previously unknown magical factor in a blood sample. It’s fine to say that this magical factor can get transferred to normal blood via a transfusion, and then proliferate through the normal blood so that the shapeshifter character of the blood overwhelms the normal character of the normal blood. That wouldn’t throw me out of the story.

But, with the appalling state of science education in this country, I doubt very many people are going to have trouble with the (pretty tiny) amount of fake science in this story.

Okay! “Science” aside, I do plan to get the third book, whenever it comes out. I am longing to know how things are going to work out for Dante and Maria and their extended family, which now in a certain sense even includes Melanie. And! I STILL think Caroline has evil mind control powers. I hope we eventually find out what is going on between her and Grant!

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Oh, and one more link for today!

Because I just happened to follow this link from Twitter to this article, and DO I EVER AGREE WITH THIS OR WHAT.

This article, by Nicole Lisa at Reading, Writing and the ‘Rhythmatic of Life, is about how passive women can be on television and in movies — how they just cower in corners while the serial killer breaks down the door to get at them.

This is so true! And it drives me NUTS. About the worst offender I EVER saw was the movie “Scream”. Over and over, someone knocked the killer down — and then ran away. I kept yelling, “He’s DOWN! What do you think that chair right there is FOR? Hit him with it, you doofus!” It would have been a much shorter movie, or at least a very different movie, if anybody had had the guts and basic common sense to bash the killer’s head in when he was sprawled at their feet. I actually think male characters also showed this run-away-screaming reaction, not just the female characters, but I’m certainly not going to suffer through the movie again just to check. I do think there’s this weird omnipresent assumption these days that it’s just wrong to defend yourself against violent attack, and WHERE DID THAT RIDICULOUS IDEA EVEN COME FROM?

I would like to try a five year experiment: for five years, have every woman attacked on tv and in a movie fight back! Have them beat the tar out of their attackers at least a third of the time! And see what happens in the real world. Wouldn’t that be interesting?

Incidentally, in Nicola Griffith’s wonderful, intense book ALWAYS, there’s a woman’s self-defense class integrated into the main plotline. I really need to read that book again! Because it’s a great antidote to this awful passivity of women victims on the big screen and on tv.

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A few interesting links —

Ever heard of book reviews in video format?

This whole concept was new to me. I was just doing an (ahem) vanity search, and came across this YouTube review of THE FLOATING ISLANDS.

I wonder if there are many *readers* who find a video book review more interesting or compelling than a written review? Anyway, since the reviewer loved ISLANDS, naturally I approve of the review! Has anybody else ever listened to a YouTube book review, or even known that there were such things?

Elevator pitches: Or how to talk about your book really really briefly. I can’t even describe how horribly difficult I find this. There is totally a market for anybody really gifted at coming up with catchy titles and one-sentence summaries and such.

This post is actually about the paragraph-long summary, but that’s not a huge improvement. Susan Morris says: “Your story is complicated! It has layers! It is inexpressible in a measly paragraph. (Hence: book.)” And, well, yeah. Exactly.

I like the way Morris breaks elevator pitches down into types:

a) The x-meets-y summary. It’s like Highlander meets Black Swan . . . in space!

b) The Sound-Bite Summary, where in 100 words or less you provide “one sentence of premise, one or two sentences of complicating factors, and, if you’re talking to an editor or agent, one sentence about the resolution (you may want to skip that part if talking to a reader!).

c) The accurate descriptive tag. “It’s a YA paranormal western novel with steampunk elements.”

And I think Morris’ last suggestion is really funny:

Seriously? Sometimes? The easiest way to get a good pitch is to hand it to a trusted friend and see what they say it’s about. I mean think about it: you’ve been in the trenches of your book for so long, you hardly know what it’s about any more! You’re too close. Like how picking out gifts for someone close to us is somehow always infinitely harder than picking out a gift for someone about whom we know two things: they like bears and tea (shiny new bear tea cup, here we come!). So give it to a friend who doesn’t know your book—and then ask them to read it and tell you what it’s about. You may just be surprised at the eloquence of the answer.

I get that! I never know what my big themes are until someone points them out to me. Then I’m all like, “Yep, I did that on purpose!”

And last!

Here’s an interesting and (for me) unanswerable survey from Nathan Bransford. I have no idea when I will finally get an e-reader. Maybe when Martha Wells’ Raksura novellas come out only in e-form next year? And even when I have an e-reader, I have no idea when or if I’ll eventually switch to buying mostly e-books.

It’s interesting to see the changing responses to this question, though. Nathan’s been doing this survey since 2007. In e-reader terms, that’s practically forever.

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Recent Reading: Sarah Addison Allen

Just read The Girl Who Chased the Moon. Lovely! I immediately ordered the other two by Allen, Garden Spells and, um . . . oh, right: The Sugar Queen.

I trust Amazon Prime won’t let me down. I still haven’t gotten Still Life With Shapeshifters, you know, the sequel to Shape of Desire. I hate waiting! Especially when I totally expected the book to arrive last week! Sometimes life demonstrates that really, I am not always a patient person.

Anyway — I don’t suppose I loved The Girl Who Chased the Moon quite as much as The Peach Keeper. But since the latter was one of my favorite books for the whole year, well, it was a high bar.

I love the wallpaper that changes depending on your mood. I love the Giant of Mullaby. I love the idea of baking cakes as a wistful summons to those you’ve loved and lost. I really admire Win’s strength of will and I love Julia’s kindness and the way everybody in Julia’s restaurant supports her against her evil stepmother.

Most of all I love the epilogue-like last chapter. Without that, the book would have felt terribly incomplete, no matter how many people got their lives in order during the course of events.

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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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