Martha Wells —

Posts about how she sold her first book.

Also, she mentions Steven Gould’s JUMPER, a book I really enjoyed. Wasn’t there a not very great movie based on it? That then led him to write sequels that weren’t really contiguous with the first book? (I haven’t read them — if anybody has, can you comment on whether they’re worth reading?)

Anyway, I sympathize with this part: My hearing and my sinuses never quite recovered, but it gave me the ability to write under just about any conditions and ignore distractions. Makes me appreciate that the only thing usually distracting me is a zillion dogs suddenly wanting to go out / come in / have supper / have a biscuit / have their bellies rubbed / etc.

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If you like book review vlogs —

Here’s one from Heidi at Bunbury in the Stacks. It makes me happy because, hey, there’s THE FLOATING ISLANDS, as one of her top picks for June. Yay!

Of all the books mentioned in this vlog? I’ve only read two, and one was assigned in school (does that count?). The one I most want to read? THE DREAM THIEVES, by Maggie Steifvater, which is the sequel to THE RAVEN BOYS. For us mere mortals, it isn’t out until September. Those book bloggers: they cheat! I am dying to know about the raven.

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Kickstarter —

BTW, I just backed SINNER, a novel about a supervillian who hangs up his cape and turns himself in, by Greg Stolze.

It sounds like fun, especially considering the kickstarter proposal itself is fun to read! The proposal has two or three days to run, but it’s a sure thing — it just made its minimum overnight. Good for Stolze! I definitely like to see novel proposals succeed on kickstarter.

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Top Ten for 2013 (So Far)

Can you believe the year is half over? Amazing. I think that’s hard to believe partly because we had such a long-drawn-out spring, though I must admit it definitely feels like full summer now as we move toward July.

Anyway! It was amazingly easy to pick this list; what was hard was sorting them out in order. The whole middle of the list, yeah, those titles are all jammed tight together.

I see, btw, that I have so far read an average of nine books per month, with surprisingly little variation (from eight to ten). I had no idea I was being so consistent this year. I’ve read fifty-one books total so far this year, so I doubt I’ll wind up reading as many this year as I did last year. (Last year I read 147 books! Not much chance of that this year, given that I want to finish writing the BLACK DOG sequel (which at the moment I’m calling PURE MAGIC, btw) and also finish another book that I have partly done at the moment.)

Anyway, two of the books I read in January leap right out: NK Jemisin’s THE KILLING MOON / THE SHADOWED SUN duology. For me, though both of these belong on a best-of-2013 list, the second book of the duology was actually the one I preferred. Just curious: anybody else put them in that order?

In February, I read eight books, of which no fewer than three are jostling for room on the best-of list: AND ALL THE STARS by Andrea Höst, THE RAVEN BOYS by Maggie Stiefvater, and A NATURAL HISTORY OF DRAGONS by Marie Brennen.

Moving right along, in March I got a Kindle and immediately my virtual TBR shelves exploded, but it’s not like I suddenly had a lot of virtual days to read ‘em in, so I still wound up reading only nine books. Several of those were disappointing, but The Fall of the Ile-Rien trilogy by Martha Wells was a standout.

April was unusual because I liked every single book I read; in fact, I liked them all quite a lot. I had Cherryh’s latest Foreigner book in there, and a murder mystery by Maron (I immediately picked up three others of that series), and this was the month I discovered The Shadow Unit series by Emma Bull et al. Even in such a solid month, though, it’s easy to distinguish two favorites: THE WHEEL OF THE INFINITE by Martha Wells and THE CHOCOLATE THIEF by Laura Florand. Those two present quite a contrast, in style and setting and genre and really basically everything, but they’re both so good.

May was my Andrea Höst month: the standouts for that month were definitely her Medair duology and her Touchstone Trilogy.

And June? I doubt I’ll read another book this month, so it’s safe to pick. Of the five books I’ve read this month, I have to say, 2312 by KSR really is pretty amazing. But my actual favorite for the month is definitely Florand’s THE CHOCOLATE KISS.

If you count each book separately, that’s seventeen books jostling for position on my top-ten list (and the year only half over!). Of course, if you count series as one each, then, hey, this is in fact a list of ten. Some series are a lot more firmly linked into one story than others, though, with the Medair duology and the Touchstone trilogy both comprising just one story each. It seems right to treat this as a top-ten list of stories, rather than titles. So here goes (drumroll, please):

Rachel’s Top Ten Stories from the First Half of 2013, in descending order:

1. The Touchstone Trilogy by Andrea Höst. I just loved this story and re-read most of it immediately. This is because of the diary format; when Cassandra starts to read her diary out loud to her lover, I just had to go back and start the series over and think about what it would be like to have the person you love read this to you.

2. The Shadowed Sun by NK Jemisin.

3. The Fall of the Ile-Rien trilogy by Martha Wells.

4. The Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells. I actually had a hard time sorting this one out with the Ile-Rien trilogy, but I finally decided that whereas I loved the beginning of Wheel more, I loved the ending of the Ile-Rien story better, so set the Ile-Rien trilogy higher. Endings are hard! And very important.

5. The Medair duology by Andrea Höst. I know I talked about the Touchstone trilogy more, but I don’t want to sell this great duology short. The more I think about endings and beginnings and flow and characterization and everything, the better this story gets. If I particularly loved to have romance as the central subplot, this one would move up the list.

6. The Killing Moon by NK Jemisin.

7. And All the Stars by Andrea Höst.

8. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater.

9. The Chocolate Kiss by Laura Florand. You know, the more I think about it, the more impressed I am by the tightness of the plotting as well as by the sheer quality of the writing. The story does open out a little toward the end, with time-is-passing paragraphs to move things along. Nevertheless, there are all these important tidbits of foreshadowing, almost all of which I missed at the time — very impressive. And I fell so hard for Magalie, such a wonderful protagonist; I think I was almost as traumatized when she got locked out of her apartment as she was. (You’ll have to read the story to find out why that was so traumatic, but it was an extremely effective scene, believe me.)

10. The Chocolate Thief by Laura Florand. Anybody who loves Sarah Addison Allen should try Florand, btw, and of course vice versa. There are some differences; Florand tends to focus more on the erotic awareness of each protagonist for the other, for example. But they are both just such amazing writers.

I know, I might as well have made this a top-five-authors list, right? What can I say? I didn’t think of that until I’d already done it this way.

What about you? Anybody got a handful of titles that (or authors who) are clear standouts for the year?

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Baen’s List of Military SF: Decidedly incomplete

So, over at Worlds Without End, there’s this: Baen’s List of Recommended Military SF.

“Baen polled its readers, on Facebook and on Baen’s Bar, for a list of recommended Military SF. The criteria was simply works of SF (fantasy & science fiction both) that have as their main theme military concerns….”

Some of the entries are, shall we say, a stretch. DOWNBELOW STATION does not strike me as military SF; not at all. Mallory is certainly in a military organization, but the merchanter family of Konstantins? Not part of any military, and way more important as protagonists. And so on and so forth: lots of protagonists and I believe only Mallory would push this novel into the realm of military SF, and she can’t do it by herself.

You know, the mere existence of a military threat? Not sufficient to make a novel military SF. (Isn’t that obvious? Maybe it’s just me.)

Plus, there’s a conflation of space opera (Bujold’s Vorkosigan books) with military SF, which is unfortunate. I think the two forms blend together at the margins, but I don’t think they’re the same.

Plus, is it really necessary to list each of David Drake’s titles separately? That leads to a lot of clutter. Could we list by series instead?

But most importantly . . . where is Tanya Huff’s Valor series? Because that’s clearly military SF plus substantially better than most of the books on this list (that I’ve read, which is a minority). I think Baen’s readers who contributed to this poll are definitely missing out!

I don’t see a way to leave a comment at the WWE post, so hey, this is my comment on that post.

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Longing for macarons, making do with chocolate

I’m just at the point in THE CHOCOLATE KISS when Philippe makes a rose-and-raspberry macaron for Magalie for Valentine’s Day.

I’m dying, here.

I can just see she is going to stomp on his heart (again), because the book is only half over. Poor Philippe!

You know, it’s remarkable how appealingly vulnerable Florand makes her male leads, considering how completely arrogant they are. At least, though Philippe Lyonnais and Sylvain Marquis are actually quite different from each other, that’s one quality they definitely share.

And Florand has made Cade Corey and Magalie Chaudron distinctly different characters, too, even though both are vulnerable and lovable. Vulnerability is not a trait I necessarily find all that attractive in a protagonist, because so often the author layers it on with a heavy hand, but Florand does such a beautiful job with characterization and backstory. I just love Magalie, who after her unsettled upbringing doesn’t quite feel she’ll ever fit in anywhere, and defends herself against the world with her understated makeup and her perfect hair and her five-inch heels. I wish I could go shopping with her. In Paris, you know. Florand has totally convinced me that Magalie has great taste in clothes. I’d definitely let her advise me on what to buy.

So, anyway, do you realize quality macarons are $4 each via Amazon? That means a lovely little gift box of eight is pretty pricy. I guess I’ll stick with chocolate for now. It’s a heavy cross to bear, I’ll tell you. (There is plenty of chocolate in the book, too, btw).

As a public service to you all, let me just mention that Lindt dark chocolate with black currants is surprisingly excellent. I would never have thought of pairing chocolate and black currants, but I think I like it even better than Lindt dark chocolate with orange. I like the Lindt with chili, too, but that’s not at all surprising, because I already knew I liked that combination.

Green and Black organic dark has a faint cinnamon or floral echo behind the chocolate. I like it, but not as much as the Lindt. (UPDATE: I now see that it is Mayan Gold; the cinnamon notes are no longer a surprise.) I was dying to try the Green and Black with crystallized ginger, which was recommended by a commenter, but alas, it is very expensive online and not available locally.

I actually find I prefer Dove dark to Ghirardelli 72%. I didn’t expect that, but the Dove has a considerably smoother mouthfeel, and next to the lighter, smoother Dove, the Ghirardelli seems a bit harsh.

The Brit chocolates I brought home from Costa Rica are little beads of dark chocolate with guava-paste centers. I like them a lot, but there’s no question that the Brit chocolate isn’t as good as Lindt or Dove. The mouthfeel isn’t as smooth and the taste is harsher. The guava paste is a great combo with the chocolate, though. They’re better nibbled separately from the other types of chocolate, so they can be enjoyed without forcing a comparison.

I’m really taking my time with this book, I just nibble my way through a couple of chapters at a time along with three oz or so of chocolate. It makes for a lovely middle-of-the-afternoon break, let me tell you. Mmm.

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Art vs basic competence

I know I said I was cutting back on fiction. And I am! But I had this major craving for chocolate last night, and anyway I’d easily made my daily minimum plus a little, so I did in fact start THE CHOCOLATE KISS by Florand. Oh, it is so smooth and delightful, reading it is almost as sensual an experience as letting great chocolate dissolve on your tongue.


It was a good day for princesses. The rain drove them inside, an amused little rain with long, cool fingers that heralded the winter to come and made people fear the drafts in their castles.

These are not literal princesses, I should add; that’s just how the aunts who own this chocolate shop refer to some of their female customers. Despite the non-literal princesses, this is a fantasy — barely; it’s a magical-realism story, which I love, since I personally find that a touch of magic really enhances a romance. Like this:

If a few more princesses had spines, it would do them a world of good, Magalie thought with a huff of irritation, and back in the kitchen she shook her head at the chocolate as she stirred it: May you love your life and seize it with both hands.

And also this bit:

Aunt Aja took the tray out, and just as she left the kitchen, the silver bell over the front door rang with a chime so sharp and true that it pierced Magalie straight through the heart. She clapped her hands over her ears to try and stop the sound, . . . but the tone kept vibrating inside her body, until she stamped her boots twice and slapped the counter to force it to stop.

The bell over the door rings with a different tone depending on who opens the door, see. Naturally that is Magalie’s ideal guy opening the door in that scene, and naturally neither of them has any idea.

Anyway, I’m finding that these books are not the kind you swallow in a gulp; they’re best savored slowly, a bit at a time. Ideal for nibbling your way through a stash of chocolate over several days, and also ideal for not interfering with your own work.

Now, contrast this with A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP by David Weber, which I’m listening to as I rip the knee-high (and sometimes hip-high, I’m embarrassed to admit) grass out of the vegetable garden and give the melons and okra a fighting chance.

“I mean it, Stephanie!” Richard Harrington said. “I don’t want you wandering off into those woods again without me or your mom along. Is that clear?”

“Oh, Daaaddy –!” Stephanie began, only to close her mouth sharply when her father folded his arms. Then the toe of his right foot started tapping lightly, and her heart sank.

Okay, while basically competent, is anything about this beginning the least bit interesting or special? Does any of it catch the ear like music or poetry? No. No amused little rain here. Plus, wow, folding the arms! Tapping the feet! It makes me laugh because I can’t help thinking of the Nac Mac Feegals in Terry Pratchett’s WEE FREE MEN, and the way they moan in terror if Jeanie shows the folding of the arms, much less the tapping of the feet.

I find Weber’s prose gets the job done, inasmuch as it communicates what’s going on — but I often do find his dialogue stiff and flat-sounding, his metaphors cliched, and his prose in general just uninteresting.

Having produced something of an indictment there, though, let me just add that I am enjoying listening to A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP anyway. I do think Weber can build a story that carries you along. But I also think that if Florand had written this particular space opera, it would be a more beautiful friendship because the prose itself would be beautiful.

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Resolved: media tie-ins are real novels

I laughed when I happened across this post by Vonda McIntyre over at Book View Cafe.

“Back in the 1980s, I wrote a bunch of Star Trek novels,” she begins, “I thoroughly enjoyed writing them. Pretty much the only drawback was that some of my colleagues took exception to my polluting my precious bodily fluids with evil tie-in novels. You’d’ve thought they believed they had to save my soul . . .”

Actually, back in the 80s, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Star Trek novels. The best of them were as good as — wait! Actually much better than — the show itself. Of course some of them were dreadful, but lots were good and some were truly excellent. When I cleared out my shelves a year or so ago, I dumped about half of them — but I kept the other half.

Some of my favorites:

Diane Duane wrote some great Star Trek tie-in novels! MY ENEMY, MY ALLY is a wonderful book, very Romulan-focused.

John M Ford wrote THE FINAL REFLECTION, a fine story which developed Klingons rather than Romulans. He also wrote HOW MUCH FOR JUST THE PLANET, which is actually a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta disguised as a Star Trek novel; it’s one of the funniest books I’ve ever read.

I loved Barbara Hambly’s ISHMAEL and still go back to it from time to time.

Janet Kagan wrote UHURA’S SONG, introducing Dr. Evan Wilson as a fantastic supporting character. Great humor in a fairly serious first-contact storyline. I still laugh when I think of Evan’s command: “Eyebrow on obliterate, Mr. Spock!”

And of course Vonda McIntyre wrote the novelizations of the movies, plus other stories outside the show’s canon, like ENTERPRISE: THE FIRST ADVENTURE.

One problem for me today is that while I’m sure Star Trek tie-in novels are still being written, I’m not that interested in any that are based on the spin-off shows, and anyway I have no idea which ones are really good. Here’s a category where Amazon just cannot come close to browsing in a bookstore; if you don’t see the book on the shelf and pick it up and read three pages, how are you supposed to know it even exists, much less whether it’s any good?

So. First, anybody else enjoy tie-in novels? And second, anybody got a recommendation or two for really good Star Trek tie-ins? Even if they’re from other shows, if they’re extra fabulous I’d be interested.

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Patrick Rothfuss isn’t alone in counting time travelers among his fan base

I’ve seen this odd phenomenon before. Not me personally (as far as I know), but other writers I know.

But Rothfuss may have the best Goodreads post commenting on that situation.

And now I’m following Rothfuss’ reviews on Goodreads, too. Because, y’know, I desperately need to expand my TBR pile.

I may be the only reader of fantasy on the planet who hasn’t yet read THE NAME OF THE WIND, btw. I’m waiting for the third book to come out. God knows there is no shortage of other things to read while I wait.

Incidentally, I do expect my TBR pile to explode over the next couple of months, because I’m now hardly reading fiction, because yes indeed I am writing and no I don’t want to get seriously distracted.

Though I am working at a very easy pace (1300-1500 words per day, more only if I feel like it), so I doubt I’ll have to stop all fiction reading completely. But step it down, oh yes.

However, I did just finish 2312 by KSR and it is really excellent, in case you wondered. I even sort of wound up tolerating, maybe even kinda sorta liking, Swan, even though she is such an emotion-driven histrionic character. Anyway! I am thinking that KSR may be a good choice for reading-while-also-writing, because even though I love them, all the beautiful descriptions about geology and terraforming and stuff are not as distracting as a faster-paced character-driven story would be. I think this may be a good time to re-read the Mars trilogy, finally.

Plus I will be listening to one or two audiobooks while weeding, because hey, no end to the weeding! I can’t even tell you. Look away from the vegetable garden for three or four weeks and WHAM, impenetrable jungle. Crabgrass and this weird vining succulent weed are the hardest to grub out. A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP by David Weber is the first one I’m going to listen to, because (to be frank) I don’t like Weber’s books all that much, so I don’t expect it to be too compelling a story. And if I’m mistaken on this one, great! It’s a win-win.

And thanks to Heidi at Bunbury in the Stacks for the link to that Rothfuss post on Goodreads!

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Here’s a fascinating question —

Should authors post reviews on Goodreads?

Heidi at Bunbury in the Stacks asks, in a post that was a nice surprise for me!

Anyway, Heidi points out that at least some readers disapprove and at least one author has quit posting reviews in response.

Isn’t that interesting? That never occurred to me.

It’s true that I nearly always post positive reviews about books I really enjoyed, because what if I ran into that author at a convention sometime? I would feel so uncomfortable if I had written a very negative review about his or her book!

Of course I’m not very likely at all ever to bump into Tana French, because I don’t think she is probably going to a lot of SFF conventions. But I actually did carefully avoid Myke Cole at last year’s WorldCon. I really did. So you can see why I hesitate to post many negative reviews!

On the other hand, when I post a glowing review, I really do mean it. Luckily so far all my writer-friends are very good writers whose books honestly do appeal to me! But you’ll notice I didn’t write a review of EMILIE AND THE HOLLOW WORLD, whereas I did for all of Martha Wells’ other books, and if you infer from this that I didn’t love EMILIE, well, what can I say? There are lots of books I don’t review, and that’ll be one of ’em.

Oh, and can you BELIEVE that authors post five-star reviews of their OWN books on Goodreads? How tacky is that? Just sayin’.

Okay, I’m off to add Patrick Rothfuss and Phoebe North to my daily list of blogs to tour / reviews to track. Life’s too short!

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