Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Abandoned Earths

At tor.com, James Davis Nicholl has this post: SF stories featuring abandoned Earths.

This is not a plot device I especially enjoy, but I do really like this sentence from the post:

A few authors go that extra 1.6 kilometers and obliterate the Earth entirely. Wil McCarthy’s Queendom of Sol setting imagines a communications system with a failure mode that can and does turn the Earth into a small black hole. Nothing encourages the settlement of other worlds quite like having your old one reduced to the size of a marble.

Yep, that’s what I always say.

I have read exactly one of the books mentioned in this post: John Varley’s Ophiuchi Hotline, where aliens destroyed human technology in order to make the planet safe for whales and dolphins, thus forcing the few remaining human survivors to live on other planets.

Another book I can think of where Earth was abandoned or destroyed was Seveneves, though in that one, of course, humans did not abandon the planet so much as die out (nearly). Plus they did return to Earth in due course.

One more: Octavia E Butler’s Oankali series. Kind of like combining the two above: Earth is rendered uninhabitable first, then aliens … do stuff.

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Recent Reading: Jennilee’s Light by H S Skinner

Okay, this book is enough of a departure for me that it’s going to be hard for me to write a review. I’ll provide the conclusion first: I really, really liked it.  A lot.

Now, let me see, where to actually start.

Okay, first, a mild disclaimer: I don’t know the author personally, but I do know via Facebook that that she likes my books. If you happen to be working on your debut novel yourself, then let me say: I won’t deliberately trade reviews or anything, but I will feel, if you love my books, your literary taste probably matches mine in some important ways, so if your book comes to my attention, I may read it no matter what genre it falls into. I’ll hope to love it. If I do, I’ll say so, while if I don’t, I’ll never mention that.

Now, Jennilee’s Light.

What is this novel? What genre? I sorta kinda skimmed the Amazon description, which for me fell solidly into tl;dr territory. I didn’t care that much about the description; I was trying the book purely based on the author liking mine. I believe a shorter, pithier description is generally better than one as long and involved as this. I probably read about three sentences of the Amazon description, shrugged, and tossed the book on my Kindle.

Now that I’ve read the whole novel, let me try to describe it. I believe the easiest way is to start by telling you what it isn’t.

It starts with a murder in the way lots of murder mysteries do, but it’s not a murder mystery, though the mystery is threaded through the story. It begins in 1968 and stretches out over the next sixteen years or so; that’s not long enough ago to count as a historical, but too long ago to count as exactly contemporary. The heart of the story is an extremely intense relationship that in due course becomes an intense romance, but the book doesn’t follow the customary beats for a romance novel. There is a small fantasy element, but not enough to set the story in the fantasy genre. Only the one fantasy element, which is only noticed by a few characters, so probably not magical realism. It’s not a fairy tale retelling, but Cinderella will probably come forcefully to mind if you read it. Some aspects of the story would almost certainly appeal to readers of Christian literature, but there are almost no specific references to religion, other than people celebrating Christmas from time to time. What is that, seven genres this story sort of but doesn’t quite fit?

I’m going with . . . bright literary. Can I use that term, bright? Does that work? I mean, upbeat literary. Well, I don’t mean upbeat in the sense of perky. Perhaps I should say, optimistic literary. Hmm. Of these types of terms, I believe I do like “bright literary” best. This is a story about, well, a lot of things, but its essence is a single relationship shown in slice-of-life, over a sixteen-year span, in a contemporary-ish setting. That strikes me as pretty literary. But so much literary has such negative, even nihilistic subtext. I’m thinking of The Lacuna by Kingsolver, if you want to know where I’m coming from when I say that. The underlying message of that one struck me as, essentially, “You just can’t win against the forces of human ignorance and bigotry.” The basic underlying subtext of Jennilee’s Light is “You absolutely can.”

Let me see. I said the description on Amazon struck me as much too long. Let me try to give you a short, pithy version.

After her mother is murdered when she is four years old, Jennilee is raised by an aunt who hates her. Her refuge is her relationship with Charlie, also orphaned, and with Charlie’s grandmother. Charlie is Jennilee’s champion and protector. More than that, he is her light and her hope of happiness. Both know they are destined to grow up together, that one day they will marry, that they are meant to live happily ever after . . . unless Jennilee’s aunt can ruin their chance for joy and destroy their lives.

Something like that pretty well evokes the novel, I think. It’s not entirely accurate – Charlie is not literally an orphan – but it’s essentially true.

The soulmate thing is a very, very strong element in the story. Ordinarily I think that would have struck me as too over the top, but there are a lot of over-the-top elements here and somehow they work. Jennilee is way too good to be true; so is Charlie. But the author isn’t making the slightest attempt to pretend they’re ordinary kids or ordinary teens or ordinary young adults. She is deliberately pouring a golden glow over them both, and everyone around them reacts to that glow. I found it remarkably easy to just relax and go with it.

Almost all of the story is slow-paced (slice-of-life, remember). Half the book, roughly, takes place before Jennilee’s eighteenth birthday, when she becomes legally free of her aunt. I want to tell you, the scene when Jennilee turns eighteen and shakes the dust of her aunt’s house off her feet is stellar. After the slow build, watching Jennilee and Charlie walk together into joy while the evil aunt crashes into thoroughly deserved disaster is enormously satisfying. However, though this novel is self-contained, threads do reach forward into the future, suggesting a possible sequel.

Who would like this novel:

I don’t quite know what to tell you, since the novel is so unusual compared to most of the fiction I read. If the above makes you think you might enjoy this book, by all means give it a try; it’s only $2.99 for the Kindle version, so why not? But I do think:

You might love this book if you like slice-of-life stories, but find modern literature too dreary.

You might love this book if you enjoyed Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas series, but would prefer less mayhem and death, or fewer specifically religious underpinnings, or both.

Oh, here’s one I think works: if you love Rumer Godden, sure, try this book. It’s not the same, but you may well love it.

You know what, if you loved Little Women, give this one a try. That just occurred to me, but I think it’s true.

And, specifically, I hope Linda S. tries this one and lets me know what she thinks.

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Your home office envisioned as pelagic zones

This is a delightful extended metaphor from The Passive Guy:

As PG performed a tidiness assessment, he realized there are varying zones of tidiness represented in his office. In that respect, PG’s lair represents a creation akin to the layers of an ocean. …

The entry to PG’s office is equivalent to Epipelagic or Sunlight Zone.

As one continues horizontally into the office, one passes through the Bathypelagic (Twilight) Zone and Abyssopelagic Zone (The Abyss). Finally, when the office diver reaches PG’s desk, he/she is fully-immersed in the Hadalpelagic Zone (The Trenches).

As he considered the potential impact of a tidying-up event on his office, PG realized that it would create an ecological disaster of immense proportions.

Love it!

Also, these comments are in response to a post by Jen Sherman at Book Riot, disagreeing with a notion that one should tidy up one’s house by discarding the TBR pile in its entirety and also, I guess, the entire library.

What is it about books that I disagree with? Kondo suggests that the books that you keep to be read eventually will actually never be read, and that the moment you first encounter a book is the moment to read it. If you don’t read it then, you are not going to, so it can be discarded.

She also argues that you are going to reread very few of the books, and you don’t need to keep the physical object after you’ve read it once; the experience of reading the book will stay with you even if you don’t remember everything in the book. You have experienced reading it, the book is a part of you, the physical object has fulfilled its purpose and therefore can be discarded.

My response to the above is:

a) total agreement with the post from Book Riot;

b) total incredulity at Kondo’s suggestions for tidying up;

c) complete bafflement at how ready some people are to assume that everyone in the entire world is just like them.

I see the author in question is Marie Kondo, her method of decluttering is refered to as the Konmari method, and she’s the one who wrote The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which I have in fact heard of.

Well, I can hardly believe Kondo made it to a sufficient stage of adulthood to write a book without having noticed that lots and lots of people do read lots of books years after they get them; and that lots and lots of people do re-read books. Not just a few of their best-loved books, but heaping oodles of all kinds of books. I can also hardly imagine that her editor didn’t say, at some point, “You know, a whole lot of people etc.” Yet here we are, with this prescriptive advice that is so out of touch with the actual experience of, I will go out on a limb here and say, most readers of genre fiction. Certainly many.

Let’s just see. Comment please: do you or do you not read quite a few books years after you acquire them? Do you or do you not re-read quite a lot of books from time to time?

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Ten novel openings

So, I mentioned that recently I’ve been in a zap-em-all mood, removing books from my Kindle as fast as I can make the decision to do so. There are, of course, lots and lots of books still on my Kindle’s TBR folder – those I know I want to read and those I just haven’t gotten to yet, plenty of each. Out of curiosity, today I opened the ten at the very back, the ones that have been sitting on my Kindle the very longest, and took a look. No decisions; just a  quick look at the very first lines that open each one.

Here they are:

1) Emissary by Melissa McShane

Zerafine had only a moment’s warning before the ghost was upon her. A shout, a flicker of movement, and it enveloped her like a chilly whirlwind.

Definitely catchy. I can hardly imagine a reader not going at least a little farther. Certainly this is a nice example of opening directly into action. Sometimes that winds up working and sometimes it doesn’t, but I do think in general this kind of opening will tempt a prospective reader to go on for at least a couple of pages.

2) The End of Earth and Sky by Tom Simon

Let me tell you why I destroyed the world.

Okay, that is even more catchy, even though it is so very much not an opening that catapults the reader directly into the action. A teaser opening, let’s call this.

3) Girl on a Wire by Gwenda Bond

I planted my feet on the wire that ran parallel to the rafters. My new act involved a series of ballet-inspired moves, building to a trio of slow but tricky pirouettes, and the barn was the best place to practice.

First person is supposed to draw in the reader and make the action feel immediate, but  I find this a rather static opening even though the narrator is on a high wire. The narrator is essentially reporting on the situation to the reader, and I think that prevents the reader from feeling engaged in the action.

Static openings can work perfectly well, but I am mildly disinterested at this point, though obviously I would go on quite a bit past these opening sentences before making an actual decision about reading vs deleting this book.

4) Norse Code by Greg van Eekhout

On the last true day of spring the nine worlds will ever know, my brother and I fly recon through the land of the gods. From this high up, Asgard shimmers. The shields that roof the timber halls glimmer like golden fish scales. It’s all green grass and fluffy white sheep and fresh red blood. A very pretty scene.

Well, now, this is an interesting and engaging opening. Of course it is present tense as well as first person. That’s also supposed to draw in the reader and make the action feel immediate. Normally it doesn’t, for me. It feels artificial and distancing to me, so ordinarily I dislike the first-person-present style. But I can like almost any style if it’s done well.  I might like this. I’m not sure yet. One can guess the voice of the narrator may be crucial to whether the reader connects to this story. So will the development of the setting. Flying recon, a military type of phrase, sits oddly in a paragraph about Asgard and timbered halls and fluffy white sheep. The blood fits right in for both, of course.

5) The Spark by Susan Jane Bigalow

A ghostly gray ship floated high above Valen, its running lights and beacon switched off. Deep inside, a young woman in a cramped cabin watched a video loop endlessly.

Completely uninteresting. Naturally I would go on for a page or two minimum. I will add that ending a sentence with an adverb can work, because almost anything can work under the right circumstances, but it can also seem a little awkward and weak. I do think that is the case here. Stick that adverb in front of the verb and I think the sentence would be smoother.

I see that this is actually the third book in the series. Hmm. I imagine there was a Kindle daily deal or something, since ordinarily I don’t like to start a series in the middle. The first book is called Broken. I might get a sample of that one and see if that’s enough of a guide.

6) Raetian Tales: A Wind from the South by Diane Duane

Her first memory was of the shine of copper in the kitchen – a dim, warm, ruddy light, gleaming from pots hung on the cream-colored, stuccoed wall, catching the firelight in the near-dark.

By chance, this opening makes a fine contrast with the previous one. Both are static openings, but I find this a smoother, more attractive sentence, as well as a dramatically more visual scene. It’s interesting how very much more positive I feel about Duane’s book vs Bigelow’s based on just these first sentences. Huge difference.

7) Magic’s Poison by Gillian Bradshaw

The attack came in the evening, when Marin was making camp.

She’d been late leaving Stonyvale that morning. The horde of last minute details that  always cropped up before a long journey seemed even more numerous than usual, and she’d been flustered and anxious about her errand to begin with.

Ah, this is an interesting example of opening into action, immediately followed by a flashback. A hook, instantly followed by a pause. That can work as a very effective teaser, or it might get frustrating. Depends entirely on the author’s skill. And how long the flashback lasts, but that’s part of the author’s skill. I expect Bradshaw probably pulls it off, she’s written plenty of excellent books. Of course I do intend to give this book a real try. I love many of Gillian Bradshaw’s historicals, so I really hope I love this book of hers too. I would never delete it without reading, at minimum, several chapters.

8) Butterfly Swords by Jeannie Lin

The palanquin dipped sharply and Ai Li had to brace her hands against the sides to stay upright. Amidst the startled cries of her attendants, the enclosure lurched again before crashing to the ground with a splintering crash of wood.

I don’t find this very interesting, despite the crash. It’s interesting to compare this one with the first entry in this list. Both open with sudden, sharp action, but I find the first sentences of Emissary more appealing. I think this is due to the inherent poetry in the phrase A shout, a flicker of movement. Let me try casting the second sentence above in the same mode … “A startled cry, a sharp lurch, and the palanquin crashed …” What do you think? Does that seem at all different to you? It does to me. I’m going to call this a matter of rhythm.

Oh, and I notice “crashing” and “crash” both in the original sentence. Now, I have great sympathy for undesirable repetition, a bane of my existence, but it is not a great sign to see this in the second sentence of the novel. I wonder if perhaps my ear picked that up before I really noticed it.

9) The Devil and Deep Space by Susan R Matthews

“I have your report from Burkhayden, Specialist Ivers,” the First Secretary said, looking out the great clear-wall window over the tops of the fan-leaf trees in the park below. “I apologize for taking so long to get to it. I find it rather strongly worded in places.”

This did not particularly appeal to me until that last sentence, which made me smile. Ah, I see it is the fifth book in a series. Well, hmm. Highish rating, but of course the fifth book would have a high rating, as readers who don’t like the series won’t have gotten this far. The first book is called An Exchange of Hostages. Good heavens, that one seems to feature a doctor being forced to act as a torturer? Not completely certain that would work for me. Ah, here’s a review saying the torture is explicit and appalling, and the doctor struggles with the fact that he is actually a sadist. Well, this is a no. The fifth book apparently does not feature these elements, but I can now say, the first pages are going to have to be pretty darn good for me to read it.

10) The Secret Portrait by Lilian Stewart Carl

Jean Fairbairn sat on the stone windowsill of her office, if hardly in command then at least in admiration of all she surveyed.

An elegant sentence. I like it. I immediately feel that this writer knows what she’s doing.

All right, any of the ten stand out for you, in a positive or negative way?

And have you read any of these? If so, what did you think?

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Characters need to make choices

Here’s a post from Janet Reid: Choices characters make.

Sailing past choices looks like this: 

Stan and Fran Stanley were longtime members of the Roadside Attraction biker gang. Every weekend was spent on the road, hitting dive bars and juke joints. On an otherwise normal Saturday afternoon in May, as they paused at the one stoplight in Bisbee, Arizona, Fran realized she was three sheets to the wind. That everyone in Roadside Attraction, including Stan, was drunk, and they’d been driving drunk like this for years. She got off her her bike, said goodbye to Stan, to Roadside Attraction, and left her custom painted Harley parked in front of the Five and Dime. Stan watched her go. He revved his bike and followed Roadside Attraction out of town.

Sure, that’s a compelling image (well, ok I hope it is) but what will make us care about about what happens it is what I left out. The choice Stan made:

Stan and Fran Stanley were longtime members of the Roadside Attraction biker gang. Every weekend was spent on the road, hitting dive bars and juke joints. On an otherwise normal Saturday afternoon in May, as they paused at the one stoplight in Bisbee, Arizona, Fran realized she was three sheets to the wind. That everyone in Roadside Attraction, including Stan was drunk, and they’d been driving drunk like this for years. She got off her her bike, said goodbye to Stan, to Roadside Attraction, and left her custom painted Harley parked in front of the Five and Dime.  Stan watched her go. If he went after her, the guys would razz him as pussywhipped forever.  He revved his bike and followed Roadside Attraction out of town.

We implicitly understand Fran’s choice. There’s no need to get bogged down in explaining it.

It’s STAN’S choice that you don’t want to bypass. He’s choosing his path for a reason, and knowing the reason tells us a lot about him. … Not every choice needs to be laid out, but this is one thing to watch for if you’re hearing a lot about “no plot”, “no tension”, “loses momentum.” All those say you’re doing events, not choices. 

So, first: this makes sense! I think it’s quite true that the author needs to present the protagonist as making choices. Among other reasons, aside from the boost to the tension this is what causes the protagonist to feel to the reader like he or she has agency even if those choices are highly constrained.

Second: why in the world did Fran suddenly have this epiphany? After years of driving while drunk, suddenly this revelation? So I don’t think it’s true that we implicitly understand Fran’s choice; the choice makes sense, but not the timing.

Nevertheless, good point. Things that happen to the story when the protagonist is forced to make a lot of choices, especially hard choices:

a) tension goes up

b) intensity increases

c) character gains more of a feel of being a real person

d) character appears to gain agency

I had forgotten about this, but a few years ago I stopped reading one trilogy at the end of the second book because I was bored with the protagonist, and later I realized I was turned off by the protagonist’s passivity. I would add now: if the protagonist had made clear choices and decisions, then even if she had been thwarted in her aims, she would not have come across as passive. More unlucky. So, that is probably one big thing I mean when I say the character gains agency through making choices, no matter what comes from those choices.

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Ditching books off the TBR pile

So, I’ve tossed nearly 50 books off my Kindle’s TBR pile in the past few days. I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution to clear out a lot of books from my various TBR piles, but I might as well have. Maybe I should retroactively claim to have made that resolution: look! Success!

As I believe I mentioned in a recent post, I’m opening books, reading a few paragraphs or a few pages or occasionally just a few lines, and taking them off the device. Or else not, but today, a top five list for Features That Are Prompting Book Removal.

These are not in any particular order, but here we go —

1) Book does not grab me; not sure why not. This is one situation where it takes me a couple chapters to go thumbs-up-thumbs-down.

Just as often, my reaction is more like, Book does not grab me, not sure why not, could just be my current kill-em-all mood. When I have that reaction, I keep the book with a mental note to try it again sometime.

2) Major, major infodump at the beginning.

Just ditched one for this this afternoon. Two, in fact, because it was the first book of a duology and I ditched both books after five pages of the first were purely a history textbook. I was like, CANNOT MEASURE THE DO NOT CARE.

Reviews of my own books have suggested to me that some readers actually do like a huge infodump at the beginning. They may not think they want that, but if they don’t get it, they feel uneasy. I’m judging from the comments about how they dislike not knowing the history of the world when they read Black Dog.

Which is fine, takes all kinds, but as you may have guessed, I am absolutely in the school of sprinkling the history gently through the book and leaving lots of stuff unexplained. I really, really do not want a first chapter that reads like a history textbook. If I wanted to read a history textbook, I have heaping gobs of Great Courses books on audio sitting right here. (They had an AMAZING sale right before Christmas, with many courses 90% off.)

3) Clumsy or awkward writing.

I can absolutely be caught up in a story that is not all that well written. I can think of several examples right off the top of my head. But it takes a pretty catchy story to do that for me.

If the plot isn’t that catchy and the characters are kinda flattish AND the writing is not that great, well, there are a lot of books on my TBR pile. I am done reading books I don’t much like. I am trying to persuade my mother that she should take a harder line on this — she is eighty-three and frankly I am appalled that she ever wastes time reading anything she doesn’t much care for.

4) Any reference to modern politics in the first few pages.

In at least one case, this was not really a fair reaction, because the book has been sitting on my Kindle for several years. Nevertheless, if the author says something that feels too much like commentary on the modern political environment, I’m done. These days it just does not take much at all to trigger my SO OVER IT reflexive recoil from current-day political commentary in any SFF (or other genre) novel.

No doubt many readers are (somehow) not yet tired of political commentary in their genre fiction. Me, I want a disclaimer on the cover warning me if there is ANY such commentary in the book at any point. SO OVER IT.

This is one excellent reason to reach for historical novels, I suppose. Political commentary about Napoleon is just fine with me. If the author is sufficiently subtle about inserting political commentary, that’s fine too. But it takes REAL SUBTLETY these days, let me tell you.

5) Characters too unpleasant.

Okay, so, I read several chapters of Hetley’s The Summer Country, which I was hoping very much that I would like. But I just disliked the pov protagonist so much. She completely lacked any redeeming features, and I didn’t like her sister either, and we were getting villain pov chapters, and . . . look, I need at least one likable character. Not necessary nice. But likable. For me that means at least semi-competent and/or somewhat rational, to start with, and it doesn’t hurt if the author layers on a few admirable qualities such as, I don’t know, generosity and thoughtfulness and kindness and so on.

I got to this part where a villain is sweetly explaining to the protagonist how the good guy is really a bad guy, and the protagonist eats that up like the most gullible-ever naif, and I don’t even know for sure how much of that was false, but I don’t care. I just wanted to shake the protagonist and shout, “For heaven’s sake, what is wrong with you?” And then I ditched the book.

No doubt the protagonist was going to improve. But, important tip for any author hoping to appeal to readers like me: a distant, far-future improvement is not enough to make me slog through however many pages of the character being an idiotic jackass.

For the record, yesterday I read and quite liked Making Up, a romance by Lucy Parker. And I have started a contemporary novel called Jennilee’s Light, which I like so far, but I’m reading it on my phone at the chiropractor’s, so it’s slower than if I were reading it at home. (I hear tomorrow’s appointment is supposed to take over an hour, so that may change.) And I opened Shift by Kim Curran and liked the first pages a lot and moved it to the front of the queue to read for real pretty soon. So I’m not disliking everything. Just a highish proportion of things.

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We live in a science fiction universe, and it’s giving me the creeps

Check out this headline:

Brains of 3 People Have Been Successfully Connected, Enabling Them to Share Thoughts

Now, does that not give you the creeps? Surely that’s not just me.

Here’s what the article says:

Neuroscientists have successfully hooked up a three-way brain connection to allow three people to share their thoughts – and in this case, play a Tetris-style game.

The team thinks this wild experiment could be scaled up to connect whole networks of people, and yes, it’s as weird as it sounds. …

Uh huh, it sounds pretty weird all right.

Abstract meditation concept.

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Five Ways to Become a Happier Writer

A post by Mark Alpert at Kill Zone Blog: Five Ways to Become a Happier Writer.

These seem like pretty good suggestions to me, so here they are:

a) Don’t let your happiness depend on things that are beyond your control.

Always good advice in all areas of life.

b) Don’t let your happiness be contingent on your number of readers.

I would say, your number of reviews on Amazon. Who knows how many readers they have? But we can all see how many reviews each book has on Amazon and Goodreads and wherever.

Incidentally, while naturally my personal happiness is not contingent on the number of reviews I have on Amazon, I will just note that Black Dog is up to … 49 review. Come on, now, somebody who hasn’t already written a review, zip on over there and make it a round number, okay?

Okay, let me see —

c) Write about things that make you happy.

I would say, Write books you’re happy to write. I’m not sure that’s quite the same thing, but I suspect it’s what Alpert meant.

d) Decide how important writing is to your happiness, and adjust your life accordingly.

Here I think practical considerations are likely to impinge quite a lot. You know what I suspect will make your writing suddenly seem more important to your happiness? A reasonable expectation that you will get paid for it at some point. But hey, people are different, no doubt there are some writers for whom that is not a consideration. A few. Maybe.

e) When good things happen in your writing life, celebrate like crazy.

Oh yeah, good advice there! Every writer may be different, but not in this. Every single writer in the universe should absolutely celebrate good things that happen in their writing career.

And in their non-writing lives too, ideally. Today I am happy because I took Conner and Kimmie to the cardiologist for their first formal heart certifications — they turned two years old last week, so this is the age at which we generally do that. They both are clear — not a surprise, but always a good thing. I did long ago have a young dog fail her very first two-year-old heart check. It absolutely can happen.

Their mother and father were both clear last spring; here’s hoping they both still will be this spring as well. Should be, I think they will be, but with this breed, you never take it for granted.

Maybe I will breed Kim this year. I have no idea to whom. Not to be immodest, but it’s kinda tough finding a boy good enough for her . . .

Here’s a pic from the past: this was Conner and Kim at their first show. This was the fall of 2017; they were in the puppy classes. I posted it here then, I think, but they are sooooo adorable in this picture, here it is again.

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Recent Reading: Rondo Allegro by Sherwood Smith

I’d had this one on my TBR pile for some time, so (as is typical for me) I had forgotten everything about its description.

Over the past few days, I’ve been opening books on my Kindle, reading a few pages, and discarding them from the device, in a drive to reduce the number of books on the Kindle. This means I’ve mostly been opening up books I thought I might not actually like. Rondo Allegro wasn’t actually one of those — I have liked all but one book I’ve read by Sherwood Smith — but it does mean I’ve been reading with an eye toward discarding books, not finishing them, which has undoubtedly made me more critical about every book I’ve opened in the past week.

I mention all this to say: I’m often baffled by which book catches my attention and draws me in vs which book doesn’t.

Rondo Allegro starts slowly and proceeds at a stately pace, yet it caught me in a way that all the recent discards just didn’t.

It’s not SFF; it’s historical — a very, very, very slow-burn Napoleonic-era romance. Here’s what Goodreads says about it

In Palermo, sixteen-year-old singer-in-training Anna Maria Ludovisi is married by her dying father to Captain Henry Duncannon, the Perennial Bachelor. Mere minutes after the wedding he sets sail.

The threat of French invasion causes Anna to flee to Paris. At the end of the Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte is transforming France; Anna must transform herself into a professional singer in order to survive.

in 1805, Anna’s opera company is traveling through Spain when events bring the long-missing Captain Duncannon and his forgotten wife back together again, as the English, Spanish, and French fleets converge for battle off the Cape of Trafalgar.

For Henry Duncannon as well as Anna, everything changes: the demands of war, the obligation of family, the meaning of love, and the concept of home. Can they find a new life together?

Now, as I said, I did not remember anything about this description when I started the book. I did look up the definition of “Rondo Allegro” — “A work or movement, often the last movement of a sonata, having one principal subject that is stated at least three times in the same key and to which return is made after the introduction of each subordinate theme.”

Okay, well, I suppose. There is one main protagonist and three major sections to the story, so maybe that fits? Anna carries the story, with rather brief bits from Captain Duncannon’s pov. The story is divided into three sections: Anna, married but completely separate from her husband, basically on her own, growing up and surviving as an opera singer; Anna, reunited with her husband, each of them just getting to know the other — this section is brief but important; and Anna in England, playing the role of Captain Duncannon’s wife while waiting for him to return to his home.

During the long first section, I occasionally felt mildly impatient for the two of them to be thrown together again, but not very impatient. I liked Anna, I liked her friend and companion, and I liked her coming-of-age story. She makes mistakes, but not incredibly stupid ones; and she gets into trouble, but not really awful trouble. I liked her as a character, too — nice, but not saccharine; talented, but not over-the-top gifted. However, I must admit that I did find the story more compelling after Anna and Captain Duncannon are thrown together again.

This is not a suspenseful novel, thankfully. I so appreciate a slow-build low-angst romance that does not depend on misunderstandings and hurt feelings. At no point does the reader want to shake the main characters and shout, “MY GOD, JUST TELL HIM/HER THE TRUTH!” There’s a secret, sure, but anybody can see it’s not that deep or that dark. When the truth comes out, it’s a sweet and charming revelation, not earth-shattering.

So, yeah, this one is a keeper. Rather than removing it from the device, I dropped it into the “historical romance” folder of my Kindle, because I expect one of these days I will want to re-read it.

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Classic literature as fortune cookies

Ha ha ha, what a concept! Link via The Passive Voice blog, from the Paris Review, classic literature re-envisioned as fortune cookies.

1. Lord of the Flies

An exotic trip is just around the corner.

7. Frankenstein

A friend is a present you give yourself.

8. Paradise Lost

You will soon receive advice from an unexpected source.

There are ten altogether; click through to read them all.

This is not the kind of thing for which I have a gift, but let me see …

Touchstone Trilogy by Andrea K Host — Change is a path that will lead to something better.

Wheel of the Infinite by Martha Wells — A chance meeting opens new doors to success and friendship.

Child of the Prophecy by Juliet Marillier — A dream you have will come true.

Starfighter Invitation by AKH again — You will travel to many exotic places.

Not too hard to write these, actually! How many SFF novels start with a chance meeting? Practically all of them, to a first approximation.

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