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Nebula nominations and other recent reading

Getting on toward the end of January, and to my surprise I’ve actually read quite a few books — even though I’ve been working on projects of my own, too.  (More about that later.)  There are several things that led me whittling down my immense Get To It Someday pile o’ books:

I wanted to read some YA because I’m tossing around ideas for starting another YA novel.  Books read:

Thirteenth Child (Patricia Wrede) — very nice, if a little predictable.  Wonderful writing and characterization, of course, and I particularly enjoyed the steam dragons, even though we barely saw one.  What a neat idea!

Graceling (Kristin Cashore) — kind of a disappointment.  I think it had been built up too much by everybody talking about it and so my expectations were too high.  I had a hard time believing in the characters or the situations.  Loved the climb through the pass, though.

The Sky is Everywhere (Jandy Nelson) — whoa. I see why THIS one go so much attention.  *These* are characters you can believe in.  Such a strong voice for the main character!  I’d be so jealous, except I’d never have written a book like this anyway.  Amazing treatment of grief, but actually not a downer at all because of the great ending. All that AND a fantastic title, too.

Birth of the Firebringer (Meredith Pierce) — sorry, but though I hoped to like this and expected to like it, I just didn’t.  The impulsive bratty heir to the throne thing?  Doesn’t do it for me.  I finished it, but only because it was short.

And I’m re-reading The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynn Jones, but I don’t know if that counts because I’ve read it before.

Also, just about time to send in Nebula nominations!  First time I’m nominating anything because at this point last year I’d hardly read anything from 2009.  But this year I’ve read quite a few books from 2010, plus I’m reading a few more that I had on my Get To It pile just in case I want to nominate them.

The Warded Man (Peter Brett) — I liked it, but not enough to nominate it for the Nebula.  Nice setting, good writing, good pacing — I really did enjoy it.  But the main character is kind of an obsessive idiot and twice I wanted to pound on the table and shout:  WHAT ARE YOU DOING, YOU IDIOT? and I hate that.  Even when I get that the character is flawed in ways that lead to moments like that, I still hate it and wonder if the author could have handled things a little differently.

The Black Prism (Brent Weeks) — Now, this one I’m nominating.  The author’s Night Angel trilogy was a little dark for me, but though this book isn’t exactly light and fluffy and pink unicorns everywhere, it didn’t go quite as far with the physical and mental torture and worked for me much better.

I loved the magic system, so unusual, and Weeks handles it beautifully. And the characters are excellent.  And the plot twist halfway through?  I so didn’t see it coming.  Wow.  It *was* foreshadowed, the author was playing fair, but I didn’t see it coming anyway.  I love that.  I can’t think of anything I didn’t like about this book.  Really nice job.  I can’t wait for the sequel.

Dragon Keeper / Dragon Haven (Robin Hobb) — I enjoyed these a lot, even though for me the main dragon character was totally unsympathetic. I just hated her.  I really liked the human characters, though, and the author really kept me guessing about how some of the plot threads involving minor characters would work out.  Not the main characters, though, everything there was pretty predictable.  And I absolutely expected that little plot twist right at the end, after the barge gets stuck.  I hope that wasn’t supposed to be a surprise.

The pace of the books was pretty slow, but actually I enjoy that if the worldbuilding is cool and detailed, which it was here.  These were the first books I’ve ever read by by this author, and I think I’ll look up some of the others set in the same world.

Next up —

I really need to read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by Jemisin.  And the second book, too, that’s on my pile also and it also came out in 2010, so I need to get to it right away.  I’ve heard good things about this series and it would be great to have another book to put on the nomination form.  I’ll read that this week.  Or next week at the VERY LATEST.  I really need to finish writing at least one more scene of the book I’m working on myself, though, and preferably right now while it’s flowing well.  In two to four days I should be done with that and ready for these.

In the YA category, by the way, I’m nominating A Conspiracy of Kings (Turner) and I Am Not A Serial Killer (Wells).  The former is just wonderful in every way, the fourth book of an utterly fantastic series; and the latter is really good, really interesting, and has the most unusual protagonist basically ever.

I’m not nominating Mockingjay because I’m sure lots of other people will and I really want to see the other two books land on the ballot.

And that’s it for nominations for me.  I don’t read enough short stories or novelettes or novellas to have anything there.

AND!  In other news:  Keep an eye out at your neighborhood bookstore!  Or go check out Amazon!  Because THE FLOATING ISLANDS is so close to landing on shelves I can hardly stand it!

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An Extract From Law of the Broken Earth

Mienthe did not remember her mother, and she was afraid of her father-a cold, harsh-voiced man with a scathing turn of phrase when his children displeased him. He favored his son, already almost a young man when Mienthe was born, and left Mienthe largely to the care of a succession of nurses-a succession because servants rarely stayed long in that house. If Mienthe had had no one but the nurses,her childhood might have been bleak indeed. But she had Tef.

Tef was the gardener and a man of general work. He had been a soldier for many years and lost a foot in a long-ago dispute with Casmantium. Tef was no longer young and he walked with a crutch, but he was not afraid of Mienthe’s father. It never crossed Mienthe’s mind that he might give notice.

Despite the lack of a foot, Tef carried Mienthe through the gardens on his shoulders. He also let her eat her lunches with him in the kitchen, showed her how to cut flowers so they would stay fresh longer, and gave her a kitten that grew into an enormous slit-eyed gray cat. Tef could speak to cats and so there were always cats about the garden and his cottage, but none of them were as huge or as dignified as the gray cat he gave Mienthe.

When Mienthe was seven, one of her nurses started teaching her her letters. But that nurse had only barely shown her how to form each letter and spell her own name before Mienthe’s father raged at her about Good paper left out in the weather and When are you going to teach that child to keep in mind what she is about? A sight more valuable than teaching a mere girl how to spell, and the nurse gave him notice and Mienthe a tearful farewell. After that, Tef got out a tattered old gardener’s compendium and taught Mienthe her letters himself. Mienthe could spell Tef’s name before her own, and she could spell bittersweet and catbrier and even quaking grass long before she could spell her father’s name. As her father did not notice she had learned to write at all, this did not offend him.

Tef could not teach Mienthe embroidery or deportment, but he taught Mienthe to ride by putting her up on her brother’s outgrown pony and letting her fall off until she learned to stay on, which, fortunately, her brother never discovered, and he taught her to imitate the purring call of a contented gray jay and the rippling coo of a dove and the friendly little chirp of a sparrow so well she could often coax one bird or another to take seeds or crumbs out of her hand.

“It’s good you can keep the cats from eating the birds,” Mienthe told Tef earnestly. “But do you mind?” People who could speak to an animal, she knew, never liked constraining the natural desires of that animal.

“I don’t mind,” said Tef, smiling down at her. He was sitting perfectly still so he wouldn’t frighten the purpleshouldered finch perched on Mienthe’s finger. “The cats can catch voles and rabbits. That’s much more useful than birds. I wonder if you’ll find yourself speaking to some of the little birds one day? That would be pretty and charming.”

Mienthe gazed down at the finch on her finger and smiled. But she said, “It wouldn’t be very useful. Not like speaking to cats is to you.”

Tef shrugged, smiling. “You’re Lord Beraod’s daughter. You don’t need to worry about being useful. Anyway, your father would probably be better pleased with an animal that was pretty and charming than one that’s only useful.”

This was true. Mienthe wished she was pretty and charming herself, like a finch. Maybe her father … But she moved her hand too suddenly then, and the bird flew away with a flash of buff and purple, and she forgot her half-recognized thought.

When Mienthe was nine, a terrible storm came pounding out of the sea into the Delta. The storm uprooted trees, tore the roofs off houses, flooded fields, and drowned dozens of people who happened to be in the path of its greatest fury. Among those who died were Mienthe’s brother and, trying to rescue him from the racing flood, her father.

Mienthe was her father’s sole heir. Tef explained this to her. He explained why three uncles and five cousins – none of whom Mienthe knew, but all with young sons – suddenly appeared and began to quarrel over which of them might best give her a home. Mienthe tried to understand what Tef told her, but everything was suddenly so confusing. The quarrel had something to do with the sons, and with her. “I’m … to go live with one of them? Somewhere else?” she asked anxiously. “Can’t you come, too?”

“No, Mie,” Tef said, stroking her hair with his big hand. “No, I can’t. Not one of your uncles or cousins would permit that. But you’ll do well, do you see? I’m sure you’ll like living with your uncle Talenes.” Tef thought Uncle Talenes was going to win the quarrel. “You’ll have his sons to play with and a nurse who will stay longer than a season and an aunt to be fond of you.”

Tef was right about one thing: In the end, Uncle Talenes vanquished the rest of the uncles and cousins. Uncle Talenes finally resorted to the simple expedient of using his thirty men-at-arms-no one else had brought so many – to appropriate Mienthe and carry her away, leaving the rest to continue their suddenly pointless argument without her.

But Tef was wrong about everything else.

Uncle Talenes lived several days’ journey from Kames, where Mienthe’s father’s house was, in a large highwalled house outside Tiefenauer. Uncle Talenes’s house had mosaic floors and colored glass in the windows and a beautiful fountain in the courtyard. All around the fountain were flower beds, vivid blooms tumbling over their edges. Three great oaks in the courtyard held cages of fluttering, sweet-voiced birds. Mienthe was not allowed to splash in the fountain no matter how hot the weather. She was allowed to sit on the raked gravel under the trees as long as she was careful not to tear her clothing, but she could not listen to the birds without being sorry for the cages.

Nor, aside from the courtyard, were there any gardens. The wild Delta marshes began almost directly outside the gate and ran from the house all the way to the sea. The tough salt grasses would cut your fingers if you swung your hand through them, and mosquitoes whined in the heavy shade.

“Stay out of the marsh,” Aunt Eren warned Mienthe. “There are snakes and poisonous frogs, and quicksand if you put a foot wrong. Snakes, do you hear? Stay close to the house. Close to the house. Do you understand me?” That was how she usually spoke to Mienthe: as though Mienthe were too young and stupid to understand anything unless it was very simple and emphatically repeated.

Aunt Eren was not fond of Mienthe. She was not fond of children generally, but her sons did not much regard their mother’s temper. Mienthe did not know what she could safely disregard and what she must take care for. She wanted to please her aunt, only she was too careless and not clever enough and could not seem to learn how.

Nor did Aunt Eren hire a nurse for Mienthe. She said Mienthe was too old to need a nurse and should have a proper maid instead, but then she did not hire one. Two of Aunt Eren’s own maids took turns looking after Mienthe instead, but she could see they did not like to. Mienthe tried to be quiet and give them no bother.

Mienthe’s half cousins had pursuits and friends of their own. They were not in the least interested in the little girl so suddenly thrust into their family, but they left her alone. Uncle Talenes was worse than either Aunt Eren or the boys. He had a sharp, whining voice that made her think of the mosquitoes, and he was dismayed, dismayed to find her awkward and inarticulate in front of him and in front of the guests to whom he wanted to show her off. Was Mienthe perhaps not very clever? Then it was certainly a shame she was not prettier, wasn’t it? How fortunate for her that her future was safe in his hands …

Mienthe tried to be grateful to her uncle for giving her a home, but she missed Tef.

Then, late in the year after Mienthe turned twelve, her cousin Bertaud came back to the Delta from the royal court. For days no one spoke of anything else. Mienthe knew that Bertaud was another cousin, much older than she was. He had grown up in the Delta, but he had gone away and no one had thought he would come back. Only recently something had happened, some trouble with Casmantium, or with griffins, or somehow with both, and now he seemed to have come back to stay. Mienthe wondered why her cousin had left the Delta, but she wondered even more why he had returned. She thought that if she ever left the Delta, she never would come back.

But her cousin Bertaud even took up his inheritance as Lord of the Delta. This seemed to shock and offend Uncle Talenes, though Mienthe was not sure why, if it was his rightful inheritance. He took over the great house in Tiefenauer, sending Mienthe’s uncle Bodoranes back to his personal estate, and he dismissed all the staff. His dismissal of the staff seemed to shock and offend Aunt Eren as much as his mere return had Uncle Talenes. Both agreed that Bertaud must be high-handed and arrogant and vicious. Yes, it was vicious, uprooting poor Bodoranes like that after all his years and years of service, while Bertaud had lived high in the court and ignored the Delta. And flinging out all those people into the cold! But, well, yes, he was by blood Lord of the Delta, and perhaps there were ways to make the best of it … One might even have to note that Bodoranes had been regrettably obstinate in some respects …

Since the weather in the Delta was warm even this late in the fall, Mienthe wondered what her aunt could mean about flinging people into the cold. And how exactly did Uncle Talenes mean to “make the best” of the new lord’s arrival?

“We need to see him, see what he’s like,” Uncle Talenes explained to his elder son, now seventeen and very interested in girls, as long as they weren’t Mienthe. “He’s Lord of the Delta, for good or ill, and we need to get an idea of him. And we need to be polite. Very, very polite. If he’s clever, he’ll see how much to everyone’s advantage raising the tariffs on Linularinan glass would be” – Uncle Talenes was heavily invested in Delta glass and ceramics – “and if he’s less clever, then maybe he could use someone cleverer to point out these things.”

Karre nodded, puffed up with importance because his father was explaining this to him. Mienthe, tucked forgotten in a chair in the corner, understood finally that her uncle meant to bully or bribe the new Lord of the Delta if he could. She thought he probably could. Uncle Talenes almost always got his own way.

And Uncle Talenes seemed likely to get his own way this time, too. Not many days after he’d returned to the Delta, Lord Bertaud wrote accepting Talenes’s invitation to dine and expressing a hope that two days hence would be convenient, if he were to call.

Aunt Eren stood over the servants while they scrubbed the mosaic floors and put flowers in every room and raked the gravel smooth in the drive. Uncle Talenes made sure his sons and Mienthe were well turned out, and that Aunt Eren was wearing her most expensive jewelry, and he explained several times to the whole household, in ever more vivid terms, how important it was to impress Lord Bertaud.

And precisely at noon on the day arranged, Lord Bertaud arrived.

The family resemblance was clear. He was dark, as all Mienthe’s uncles and cousins were dark; he was tall, as they all were tall; and he had the heavy bones that made him look sturdy rather than handsome. He did not speak quickly and laugh often, as Uncle Talenes did; indeed, his manner was so restrained he seemed severe. Mienthe thought he looked both edgy and stern, and she thought there was an odd kind of depth to his eyes, a depth that somehow seemed familiar, although she could not put a name to it.

Lord Bertaud accepted Uncle Talenes’s effusive congratulations on his return with an abstracted nod, and nodded again as Uncle Talenes introduced his wife and sons. He did not seem to be paying very close attention, but he frowned when Uncle Talenes introduced Mienthe.

“Beraod’s daughter?” he asked. “Why is she here with you?”

Smiling down at Mienthe possessively, Talenes explained about the storm and how he had offered poor Mienthe a home. He brought her forward to greet her lord cousin, but Lord Bertaud’s sternness frightened her, so after she whispered her proper greeting she could not think of anything to say to him.

Manners, Mienthe,” Aunt Eren sighed reproachfully, and Uncle Talenes confided to Lord Bertaud that Mienthe was not, perhaps, very clever. Terre and Karre rolled their eyes and nudged each other. Mienthe longed to flee out to the courtyard. She flushed and looked fixedly at the mosaics underfoot.

Lord Bertaud frowned.

The meal was awful. The food was good, but Aunt Eren snapped at the maids and sent one dish back to the kitchens because it was too spicy and she was sure, as she repeated several times, that Lord Bertaud must have lost his taste for spicy food away in the north. Uncle Talenes worked smooth comments into the conversation about the brilliance with which Bertaud had handled the recent problems with Casmantium. And with the griffins, so there had been something to do with griffins. Mienthe gathered that Feierabiand had been at war with the griffins, or maybe with Casmantium, or maybe with both at the same time, or else one right after the other. And then maybe there had been something about griffins again, and a wall.

It was all very confusing. Mienthe knew nothing about griffins and couldn’t imagine what a wall had to do with anything, but she wondered why her uncle, usually so clever, did not see that Lord Bertaud did not want to talk about the recent problems, whatever they had exactly involved. Lord Bertaud grew more and more remote. Mienthe fixed her eyes on her plate and moved food around so it might seem she had eaten part of it.

Lord Bertaud said little himself. Uncle Talenes gave complicated, assured explanations of why the tariffs between the Delta and Linularinum should be raised. Aunt Eren told him at great length about the shortcomings of the Tiefenauer markets and assured him that the Desamion markets on the other side of the river were no better. When Uncle Talenes and Aunt Eren left pauses in the flow of words, Lord Bertaud asked Terre about hunting in the marshes and Karre about the best places in Tiefenauer to buy bows and horses, and listened to their enthusiastic answers with as much attention as he’d given to their parents’ discourse.

And he told Mienthe he was sorry to hear about her loss and asked whether she liked living in Tiefenauer with Uncle Talenes.

The question froze Mienthe in her seat. She could not answer truthfully, but she had not expected her lord cousin to speak to her at all and was too confused to lie. The silence that stretched out was horribly uncomfortable. Then Uncle Talenes sharply assured Lord Bertaud that of course Mienthe was perfectly happy, didn’t he provide everything she needed? She was great friends with his son Terre; the two would assuredly wed in two years, as soon as Mienthe was old enough. Terre glanced sidelong at his father’s face, swallowed, and tried to sound enthusiastic as he agreed. Karre leaned his elbow on the table and grinned at his brother. Aunt Eren scolded Mienthe for her discourtesy in failing to answer her lord cousin’s question.

“I am happy,” Mienthe whispered dutifully, but something made her add, risking a quick glance up at her lord cousin, “Only sometimes I miss Tef.”

“Who is Tef?” Lord Bertaud asked her gently.

Mienthe flinched under Aunt Eren’s cold glare and opened her mouth, but she did not know how to answer this question and in the end only looked helplessly at Lord Bertaud. Tef was Tef; it seemed impossible to explain him.

“Who is Tef?” Lord Bertaud asked Uncle Talenes.

Uncle Talenes shook his head, baffled. “A childhood friend?” he guessed.

Mienthe stared down at her plate and wished passionately that she was free to run out to the courtyard and hide under the great oaks. Then Uncle Talenes began to talk about tariffs and trade again, and the discomfort was covered over. But to Mienthe the rest of the meal seemed to last for hours and hours, even though in fact her lord cousin departed the house long before dusk.

Once he was gone, Aunt Eren scolded Mienthe again for clumsiness and discourtesy – Any well-bred girl should be able to respond gracefully to a simple question, and why ever had Mienthe thought Lord Bertaud would want to hear about some little friend from years past? Anyone would have thought Mienthe had no sense of gratitude for anything Talenes had done for her, and no one liked an ungrateful child. Look up, Mienthe, and say, “Yes, Aunt Eren,” properly. She was much too old to sulk like a spoiled toddler, and Aunt Eren wouldn’t have it.

Mienthe said Yes, Aunt Eren, and No, Aunt Eren, and looked up when she was bidden to, and down when she could, and at last her aunt allowed her to escape to the courtyard. Mienthe tucked herself up next to the largest of the oaks and wished desperately for Tef. Speaking his name to her cousin had made her remember him too clearly.

It’s 3 degrees out there . . .

It must be January!

School’s started, the students are back in droves, and so I’m busy busy busy.  Or as busy as I ever get, since after all, still part time.

Still,  a dog show’s coming up Jan 29 and 30.  Naturally it’s insane to enter dog shows in January when you have so very excellent a chance of being snowed out.  The shows don’t get canceled if there’s a ice storm:  you just stay home and lose your entry fees.

So naturally I’ve entered two youngsters both in the breed ring — it’ll be a small show, but any points will do for either of them, they’re not looking for majors yet — and in the Rally Novice ring.  If we actually make it to the show, they should both be able to finish their Novice titles!  Eve got her second qualification at six months and two days old, with a score of 97 and a first place ribbon.  That’ll be hard to top, but we’ll try.

Eve at eight weeks old

Now she’s eight months — how time flies.  I think she could qualify tomorrow with no extra training, but probably I should remind her about the fast heel and slow heel and left turns and that she can stay lying down while I walk around her in a circle.  Kenya’s more challenging to show, but she’ll do fine.  I’m pretty sure.

I am writing, too, but sort of casually.  I’ve started a new book — the setting is loosely based on sixteenth-century Istanbul (my city is called Kamehaji) and also on Cappadocia Turkey.   It’s an extraordinarily neat setting, because I’m using the (real) underground cities of Cappadocia as a jumping-off point for my version.

The main character, Sakami, is a young woman who has the gift of tongues and who, as a child, was used by her uncle as a spy.  When the story opens, she’s in Kamehaji, not exactly willingly, and her childhood skills are about to become very useful to her.

Maybe I’ll post an excerpt later.  But, see, before deciding what to work on seriously, I’ll work out the beginnings for a couple of new books, see what I can do in the way of outlines (nothing too firm, generally), and send them to my wonderful agent.  She can pick one and we’ll go from there.  I should have a new project picked out by, say February sometime, and then I’ll post an except of whatever I’ll actually be working on.

Also, yes, I have finished Black Dog, my first venture into Urban.  It was pretty quick and easy to write, it’s a fun world.  Caitlin said she found it “claustrophobically intense” which is a great term and sounds promising!  I think it’s come out pretty well, so now we’ll see if it finds a home immediately.  That’d get the new year off to a fine start!  It’d also influence my plans, ’cause I have a sequel in mind for it and it’d be nice to have to put that first.

In the meantime, since I’m not too involved with big projects, I do have time to read a book or two.

First book of the year:  The Lightning Thief.  It was kind of disappointment.  (Sorry!)  The main character was kind of an idiot (Sorry!  It’s true!).  In fact, all of the main characters were pretty dim, including the daughter of Athena, whom you’d think . . . well, never mind.  I know it’s a Middle Grade book, but I thought too many of the supposed plot twists were way too obvious.  And there was nothing particularly thrilling about the writing or the story or, well, I guess it just wasn’t my cup of tea.

One I liked much better:  The Warded Man, by Peter Brett.  Very nice!  Excellent writing, great story, great characters.  If you like Brent Weeks, you’d probably like this.  If Brent Weeks is a touch too dark for you (I personally just glided lightly over some of the torture scenes), then you’ll probably like Peter Brett better.  His characters don’t have it too easy, but the things that happen to them aren’t as graphic and horrible as the things that happen to Weeks’ characters.  I’ll definitely pick up the sequel.

Next up for me:  The Bards of Bone Plain.  The year’s off to a great start, with a new Patricia McKillip waiting for me . . .

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Winding up 2010

It’s the end of 2010.  And you know what’s new and different this year? Besides the fact that The Griffin Mage trilogy is on bookstore shelves everywhere, which is very nice, of course?

This is the first year I have ever kept track of the books I’ve read.

Here’s some interesting trivia to start with:  On March 1st, when I finished Book 3 of the trilogy and sent it off to Devi Pillai at Orbit (exactly on the deadline), I had 76 books on my “To Be Read” pile.

And now, having read 87 books this year (not counting anything I re-read) . . . NOW I have . . . sigh . . . 89 books on my “To Be Read” pile.

This is what is sometimes known as “backwards progress”, I guess.

Here’s what I read in 2010:

6 Nonfiction [I’m pretty sure I’m not remembering everything]
Europe’s Steppe Frontier (William McNeal)
Sea of Faith (Stephen O’Shea)
The Ottoman Centuries (Lord Kinross)
[You can probably guess I’ve been doing research on the         Ottoman Empire]

Reading Like a Writer (Francine Prose)
From Where You Dream (Robern Butler)
The Writing Life (Annie Dillard)
[I really recommend the one by Prose, btw)

7 Romances
Born in Fire (Nora Roberts)
Born in Ice
Born in Shame
Dance Upon the Air
Heaven and Earth
Face the Fire
[They were okay, but honestly, does every leading man  HAVE to be a brilliant, handsome multimillionaire?]

North and South (Elizabeth Gaskell)
[Never read such a badly copy-edited book in my life]

1 Classic
The Marquise of O- (Heinrich von Kleist)

8 Mysteries
The Cater Street Hangman (Anne Perry)
Callander Square
Paragon Walk
Ninth Daughter (Barbara “Hamilton”, aka Barbara Hambly)
Still Life (Louise Penny)
The Pericles Commission (Gary Corby)
My Name is Red (Orhan Pamuk)
The Janissary Tree (Jason Goodwin)

1 Mainstream Literary novel
The Lacuna (Barbara Kingsolver)

1 Difficult to Classify
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Annie Dillard)

9 Science Fiction
Ender in Exile (Orson Scott Card)
A War of Gifts
Deceiver(CJ Cherryh)
Fledgling (Sharon Lee and Steve Miller)
Saltation
The Breach (Patrick Lee)
Touched By An Alien (Gini Koch)
Cryoburn (Lois McMaster Bujold)
The Unit (Terry Dehart)

5 YA Science Fiction
Life As We Knew It (Susan Pfeffer)
Dead and Gone

The Hunger Games (Suzanne Collins)
Catching Fire
Mockingjay

26 Fantasy
Black Jewels trilogy (Anne Bishop)
Dreams Made Flesh
Tongues of Serpents (Naomi Novik)
Masque (Patricia Briggs)
In Great Waters (Kit Whitfield)
Oath of Fealty (Elizabeth Moon)
Blood of Ambrose (James Enge)
Magic Street (Orson Scott Card)
Enchantment
Mystic and Rider (Sharon Shinn)
The Thirteenth House
Dark Moon Defender
Reader and Raelyx
Fortune and Fate
The City and The City (China Mieville)
Under Heaven (Guy Gavriel Kay)
Celestial Matters (Richard Garfinkle)
Betsy the Vampire Queen (MaryJanice Davidson)
Silver Borne (Patricia Briggs)
Bone Crossed
Once Bitten, Twice Shy (Jennifer Rardin)
Tempest Rising (Nichole Peeler)
Devlin’s Luck (Patricia Bray)
Melusine (Sarah Monette)

23 YA Fantasy
The Thief (Megan Whalen Turner)
The Queen of Attolia
The King of Attolia
A Conspiracy of Kings
Plain Kate (Erin Bow)
Beka Cooper:  Terrier (Tamora Pierce)
Beka Cooper:  Bloodhound
A Certain Slant of Light (Laura Whitcomb)
Alchemy (Margaret Mahy)
The Winter Prince (Elizabeth Wein)
A Coalition of Lions
The Sunbird
The Lion Hunter
The Empty Kingdom
Pegasus (Robin McKinley)
Blood and Chocolate (Annette Curtis Klause)
A Crack in the Line (Michael Lawrence)
The Sherwood Ring (Elizabeth Pope)
Midnight is a Place (Joan Aiken)
The Magic Thief (Sarah Prineas)
The Deathday Letter (Shaun Hutchinson)
I Am Not A Serial Killer (Dan Wells)
Mr Murder

So I thought, given all those, it would be fun to pick a Top Five!  What in this list is an Absolute MUST Read?  Now, most of the time, I favor fantasy over SF and I prefer YA and Adult to Middle Grade, so those preferences color this list.

In no particular order:

A Certain Slant of Light (Whitcomb).  This YA is beautifully written, with wonderful characterization, an unpredictable plot, a lovely ending . . . this book is practically perfect.  I immediately ordered The Fetch, by the same author, and added it to my TBR shelves.  It’ll be perfect to curl up with one day.  Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the anticipation.

The Queen’s Thief (Attolia) series (Turner).  The Series That Has It All. If it’s not flawless, it comes close.  You’ll want to read the series in order, though, or else you’ll encounter serious spoiliers.

The Sunbird series (Wein).  WONDERFUL stories, if you can handle some fairly brutal plot twists.

The Hunger Games trilogy (Collins).  Amazing dystopian trilogy that isn’t a total downer but certainly isn’t a perky, lighthearted romp either.

Under Heaven (Kay).  Amazing worldbuilding, lovely writing.  Truncated ending, really needed to be a duology, but don’t let that stop you.

It also occurs to me that a lot of these books would also serve as a writing course for aspiring writers, so if you’re interested, here’s what they offer:

For studying points-of-view and 1st vs 3rd person, Turner’s Attolia series and Kay’s Under Heaven.

For amazing work with “voice” and a truly extraordinary protagonist, Wells’ I Am Not A serial Killer.  Compare to Tal Diamond in City of Diamond (Jane Emerson).

For YA for boys (people are always complaining that YA is almost always meant for girls, and they’re right) — I Am Not A Serial Killer, Hutchinson’s The Deathday Letter, Alchemy by Mahy, the Sunbird series by Wein (start with The Sunbird).  And, actually, maybe Magic Street by Card, though I wouldn’t actually say that’s YA.

For amazing worldbuilding, The Sunbird series and Pegasus by McKinley and Under Heaven by Kay and the Beka Cooper series by Tamora Pierce.

For historical fantasy, Under Heaven by Kay and In Deep Waters by Whitfield and The Sunbird series by Wein.  And, actually, Midnight Is A Place by Aiken, but that’s for younger readers.

For really remarkable settings, The City and The City by Mieville and Celestial Matters by Garfinkle.

For pushing the envelope in YA, The Hunger Games trilogy by Collins and The Sunbird series by Wein.

Now, the next project is to fit all those books I’ve been reading onto the already-full shelves in my library.  Sorting out what to keep, what to discard, and what to store out of sight may take about as long as reading them in the first place . . .

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First Reviews Are Good Times

Or at least, we sure hope so.

Orbit just sent me Publisher’s Weekly’s review of LAW OF THE BROKEN EARTH — the very first review of the third Griffin Mage book.  What a relief when the first review is a good one!

Pub Weekly says:

“This vivid, satisfying conclusion to Neumeier’s Griffin Mage trilogy introduces Mienthe, a neglected girl raised by a gardener and indifferent relatives until she’s rescued by her cousin Lord Bertaud. . . . Then Bertaud’s griffin mage friend Kairaithin brings bad news:  the Wall between the fiery griffin lands and the human kingdoms is cracking.  The engaging spy Tan is kidnapped . . . Mienthe must discover her own talents and inner strength. . . . most of the conflicting characters are sympathetic.  Most compelling is the world and its magical laws, which invite further related stories.”

See?  Vivid!  Satisfying!  You go, Pub Weekly!

Tan is “engaging”, Mienthe is “well drawn”, and most everybody else is at least “sympathetic.”    Whew!    Glad to hear it.

And it”s nice that the reviewer would like further related stories, but I have to say, I don’t have any more planned.

In other news!

I’ve got my current Work-in-Progress finished!  There’s a fair bit of revision to do, but honestly that won’t take too long.  I really look forward to finishing the revision, settling down, and re-reading the whole thing from the top to see how it flows.  I’m in the stage right now of thinking it’s pretty good!

I’d like to have the ms. ready to go to Caitlin by, say, Nov 1st . . . but I also optimistically entered four dogs in a show Nov 6th and 7th, and three of them are entered in obedience as well as in the breed ring.  Those three are all puppies!  Two of them are still at the stage of learning about “sit” and “down”!

Can I train bouncy puppies in all the novice exercises in three weeks?  We will find out shortly!  Can I train the puppies AND revise a manuscript simultaneously?  I think I can . . . I think I can . . .

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Good news from all sides —

Lots of great writerly stuff has been happening lately!

First, Book 1 of the Griffin Mage trilogy went to an additional printing almost as soon as it hit the shelves, which is very cool!

Second, nearly everybody turned out to like Book 2 even better than Book 1 (which makes me nervous about Book 3:  can I have a smooth upward curve right through the whole series, please?  Can’t wait to read the reviews in January . . .).

Then more cool stuff!  Tantor Media bought rights to do an audio version.  Very nice!  I listen to lots of audio books when I’m driving to dog shows and things.  There’s a serious, serious dearth of good fantasy novels to choose from in audio, people, at least at the library closest to me.  Or else, for a happier scenario, the SF / F novels are always checked out.  That’d suit me.

Also!  Even better!  The Science Fiction Book Club ALSO bought rights to the trilogy, too.  They’re going to bring it out as a three-in-one omnibus edition.  I’m looking forward to the thrill of seeing the Griffin Mage trilogy in an SFBC mailing — and yes, it will be a thrill.  I’ve been a member off-and-on for decades, and now use the SFBC to keep tabs on what’s going on in SF and F.  Plus, yes, I do spend more money buying from them than I usually actually meant to . . .

And one more Very Nice news item —  The Floating Islands, coming out next February, has been chosen by the Junior Library Guild as one of their selections!  This is a really nice feather in my cap, because being selected by the JLG is quite prestigious.  Go, ISLANDS!  I hope everybody agrees with the JLG (and me!) that ISLANDS is a great book!

And thanks to Michelle Frey, my editor at Knopf, who is such a perfectionist and helped ISLANDS be just as good as it could possibly be!

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Important tips

Important tip about summer gardening:  When you get an inch and a half of rain in late August in Missouri, that is God’s way of telling you it is time to weed.  Especially when it is  relatively cool and pleasant.

Besides the nice weather, the other interesting thing about this week is that I’m babysitting my brother’s two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels.  Along with *my* Cavaliers, counting the puppies that are for sale and also counting my ‘old man’ Papillon, that gives me . . . let’s see . . . *eleven* dogs.  That’s a lot even for me, way above my theoretical personal maximum.  Cavaliers are so easy to live with, though, that it’s not actually that much trouble to have a lot.  Especially now that the puppies are basically housetrained.

This also gives me a chance to find out how many Cavaliers can fit on the couch at one time (seven, five if I’m also on the couch — plus two cats).  Actually, mostly the dogs are clever enough to lie on the floor in front of the air conditioner vents, so the couch is seldom that crowded.

Important tip for living with a million dogs:  store the vacuum cleaner someplace handy.  And if you’re going to clip your brother’s dogs, do it outside because, honestly, no vacuum cleaner needs that kind of challenge.

Really important tip for gardening with dogs:  Try not to watch while the puppies dig holes in, wrestle on top of, and chase dragonflies through the flower beds.  When you hear the ominous swish-crash-thud of puppies battering down the butterfly lilies and rudbeckia, remind yourself that no plant without a sense of humor is worth growing.  Except Himalayan blue poppy, and you can’t grow that anyway.

Merlin beating up his Aunt Adora

But thankfully not in the middle of a flower bed.  This time.

Elin with Adora

Adora is usually very tolerant of puppies!  Now that they’re four months old, I’m kinda leaning toward keeping Merlin unless a show home appears . . . he’s looking very nice!  Elin has some cosmetic features (freckles!  on her nose!) which mean she is heading for a pet home, when the right home appears.

Oh, and we’ve had SUCH an advance for puppies!  The youngsters now go to sleep at eight o’clock just like the older dogs.  This is almost as nice as having them housetrained because it gives me some nice peaceful hours to write.  Or read Mockingjay.  Whatever.

I am about half finished with the ‘werewolf’ book — not that they are werewolves exactly.  260 pp, yay!  I hope that is actually significantly more than half done, since I’d like to bring the ms. in at under 100,000 words, definitely under 120,000, and right now it’s a tad over 70,000.  As always, I am going to overshoot and have to cut.  Hopefully I will not wind up writing a hundred extra pages, this time.

I’m in the slooooow annoying middle section, but nevertheless I expect I will probably finish the rough draft sometime in October.  Probably not later than November, anyway.  I know roughly what happens for the rest of the book, though some important questions remain about details (what weapon is this one character going to make?  Why isn’t it going to work?  Exactly what is this other character do to pull victory from the teeth of defeat?).

After my first revision is done, I’ll send the ms. to my brother to read for logic — if any of my characters miss anything obvious when coming up with various plans to deal with the bad guys, I want my brother to spot it!  He’s really good at this.

And I need a friend of mine to read the ms. and check my Spanish, since I personally can’t even count to ten in Spanish.

Then I’ll send the ms. to my agent . . . I told her to expect it before Christmas because it ought to be possible to get it all the way done by then and a deadline helps me get through the slow part.

Good thing my part-time job gives me time to work on writing plus work in the garden plus train dogs for the Fall obedience and rally and conformation shows I’ll be hitting.

Important tip for training dogs:  Go ahead and spend money to enter those shows that are coming up in two weeks!  THAT’LL make you get on with the training!  The dogs will dance for joy when they see the training leads come out and the jumps appear and (most important) the liver brownies come out of the oven.

Oh!  And also!  While more or less on the subject of my actual job!  SUPER IMPORTANT TIP for parents!  Make sure your kid LEARNS THE MULTIPLICATION TABLES IN THE FOURTH GRADE LIKE KIDS ARE SUPPOSED TO.  When a student in college reaches for a calculator to multiply three times six?  NOT A GOOD SIGN.  This problem is way more common this semester than it was even three years ago.  Trust me on this one:  no multiplication tables means you will not make it through college algebra.

Okay!  It’s time for all the dogs to take a nap while I haul myself out of Mockingjay and actually get some work done on my’werewolf’ book!

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What’s your book about?

You know how the most common question a writer is supposed to get is:  Where do you get your ideas?

I actually don’t mind this question because I can usually answer it, more or less.  Pretty often I actually do know what image sparked a book, what secondary plotline in somebody else’s book I borrowed to create a major plot in mine, what minor character in ditto led to a protagonist of mine. I don’t even have to refer to Schenectady, usually. 

But in fact, this question is not at all as common as the one above.  And the question, “So, what’s your book about?” is really much more difficult to answer.  This is because you want a one-sentence answer which might make the questioner want to buy your book, and explaining what you’re book’s about in one sentence is really, really hard.

Now, Nathan Bransford, an agent who has a great blog, is the guy who posted about this in the way that was most helpful to me (http://blog.nathanbransford.com/2010/05/one-sentence-one-paragraph-and-two.html).

What Bransford suggested is that you structure your answer this way:  When OPENING CONFLICT happens to CHARACTER, he OVERCOMES CONFLICT to COMPLETE QUEST.

Turns out it is actually more or less possible to use this structure!  So here are my attempts to do this for my books:

1.  THE CITY IN THE LAKE

“When a curse falls across the Kingdom so that all babies are stillborn, Timou must find the courage to discover and defeat the source of the curse — even when she finds that she herself is intimately tied to the Kingdom’s greatest enemy.”

2a)  LORD OF THE CHANGING WINDS

“When the beautiful but terrible fire-griffins are driven out of their desert, both Kes and Bertaud find themselves torn between the desperate need of the griffins and the safety of their own people and country.”

2b)  LAND OF THE BURNING SANDS

“The conflict with the griffins allowed Gereint to escape from servitude, but now he finds himself a pawn of the last cold mage — and poised either to save the country that enslaved him or allow it to be destroyed.”

2c)  LAW OF THE BROKEN EARTH

“After a stranger arrives in Mienthe’s home, she comes to suspect he may be the key to protecting her country from the griffins — but only if she can harness her own emerging gifts to protect him from his enemies.”

3)  THE FLOATING ISLANDS  — coming in Feb. 2011

“After Trei’s family is destroyed in a natural disaster, he finds his way to the dragon-haunted Floating Islands — but when war threatens to erupt between the country of his birth and his new home, Trei must decide where his final loyalty lies . . . and what he will risk to prevent disaster to both.”

Wow, does that leave a lot out.  This one sentence thing is a killer.  Here’s a two-sentence version I like better:

“After Trei’s family is destroyed in a natural disaster, he finds his way to his mother’s kin in the magical, dragon-haunted Floating Islands.  But although he wins a coveted place amont the elite corps that uses dragon magic to fly, when war threatens to erupt between his father’s people and the Floating Islands, Trei must decide where his final loyalty lies — and what he will be willing to risk to prevent disaster.”

There, is that cheating?

4)  HOUSE OF SHADOWS  — coming in 2011, probably.

“After their father dies unexpectedly, Nemienne and her seven sisters must find some way to survive — but Nemienne never guessed that she wuld apprentice herself to a mage, nor that her new master might prove to be a deadly enemy to everything she loves.”

And that also leaves out a lot.  A LOT.  Also, maybe it gives too much away?  Although the reader finds out that the mage is maybe not a good guy pretty early, so this isn’t too much of a spoiler.

Okay, as first drafts go . . . not terrible?  Now just gotta commit these to memory so they’ll be there when somebody asks . . .

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And . . . changing directions

So . . . last week, I finally sent Caitlin, my fabulous agent, seventy pages each of two new works in progress and basically said: Pick one.

I thought it was about time, since when you’re seventy pages in, it’s about time to fish or cut bait — or in this case, press ahead or set the WIP aside.  I wanted to press ahead with one or the other, but which?

Naturally Caitlin picked the one I was afraid she wouldn’t like. That was fine by me!  I sort of thought she might say, “Okay, yes, I know it’s the fad right now, but werewolves?*  Don’t you know werewolves are a dime a dozen?  Go with the other story, ’cause there’s no way this one will catch an editor’s eye in all the clutter.”

But she didn’t!  She said, “Great, a fresh look at werewolves!  Editors will love this!  Get ‘er done!”

Well!  Nice to know I’m doing something different enough to count as a ‘fresh look.’  It’s harder than you might think to be sure.  Plus, added bonus, I had a couple of good scenes in mind, so it was easy to pick this story back up.  And I know the ending!  The middle’s a little vague at the moment, I admit, but that will work itself out.

Here’s how the story starts, more or less:

*     *    *    *

Alejandro tried to decide whether Natividad was all right.  She smiled at him out of the engulfing fur-lined hood of her coat, but he thought the smile took a deliberate effort.  His little sister’s dark Mexican eyes were still bright, but her round, pretty face looked pinched and . . . not exactly pale, for of them all she most had the look of their Mexican mother.  But there was a subtle ashy tone to her skin that he did not like.

Miguel, hovering protectively at his twin’s elbow, did look fine.  Miguel had spent his whole life trying to keep up with Alejandro.  He was not tall, but he was sturdy and strong for an ordinary human, and though he, too, had his hood pulled up around his face, the cold did not seem to bother him very much.

Alejandro himself, of course, did not really feel the cold, as he did not really feel the effort of breaking a path through the knee-deep snow.  First he broke the path and then Miguel widened it, so Natividad might not get too tired.  But Natividad was thinner and more easily wearied than she had been before – well, before.  Sometimes she tired more quickly than her brothers expected, and they had all discovered over the past days that she suffered from the cold.  And of course the Puro, the Pure, could freeze to death as easily as normal humans.  Alejandro suspected it was cold enough for a normal person to freeze to death right now, no matter how brilliant the afternoon sun.

Natividad gave Alejandro a look that was at once wry and amused and patient.  She said “I’m fine.”  Her breath, like Alejandro’s, hung in the air, a visible echo of her words.

“She’s fine,” Miguel said, falling back a step to put an arm around his twin’s shoulders.

She leaned against him, her smile taking on a quirk of humor.  “See?” she said to Alejandro.

Alejandro said nevertheless, “We could stop, rest.  We could make a fire.  You have those cerillas?  Matches?”  He looked at Miguel.  “We could boil water, have coffee.  Eat something.  Then you would have not so much to carry.”

Miguel grinned, a flash of white teeth in his dark face.  His smile was their father’s.  Just recently, as Miguel had shot up in height and lost the plump softness of childhood, Alejandro had began to see echoes of their American father’s bony features emerging in his younger brother’s face.  “I’m fine, too,” Miguel said.  “But I wouldn’t mind carrying some of this weight on the inside instead of the outside.”

Alejandro nodded without comment.  Miguel, though young and human and much less strong than Alejandro, was the only one of them carrying a real burden. They had not known how long it might take to walk out to the Lanning house in the middle of Dimilioc territory, so they had brought the things the twins might need for several days of cold hiking.  And more than that, they had not wanted to abandon every last trace of their past.  Buried in the middle of Miguel’s pack, Alejandro knew, was also Natividad’s one photo of their mother, and her wooden flute, both wrapped up in Natividad’s favorite dress, the one with all the ruffles.

They had not had to argue out who would carry the heavy pack.  Last year, when the twins had been fourteen, they might have argued.  Natividad would certainly have argued.  Miguel might not have complained out loud, but they would both have thought Alejandro should carry the pack because he was the biggest and had black dog strength.  But they had all gotten much older over this terrible past year.

They all knew Alejandro could not carry any burden because he needed his hands clear.  Alejandro carried only a knife.  If worse came to worse, he would fight.  If he was strong enough, good enough, maybe the twins would be able to get away, back to the car they had left hidden near the highway turnoff, get all the way off Dimilioc territory.

The truth was, if worse came to worse, probably they would all die.  But that had been the truth since the day their father had been killed.  Since before that, in fact, though they had not known that when they were younger.  When they were younger:  last year, so short a time ago, when they had all been children, before the Dimilioc war with the blood kin, and Papa’s death.  Last year, when the world had changed.

“I’m not too tired,” Natividad said.  “I can go on.”  She looked at her watch, a cheap one with a black plastic strap and a pink face, with a white kitten to point out the hours and minutes.  She put back the hood of her coat and looked at the sky, where the sun stood high above the horizon.  She shook her head.  “That’s not the same sun that shines in Mexico,” she said, giving voice to a thought Alejandro had also had, repeatedly, while traveling north.  How could it be the same sun when it put out so little heat?

The coat was the best and warmest they had been able to find for her.  It was a good coat, better than Miguel’s; neither cheap nor pink.  Buying it had taken nearly all the rest of their small store of American money.  Alejandro remembered how rich they had all felt when they had counted that money, before they had left Mexico.  It had seemed like so much, then.  He said, “You are not too cold?  You two should eat something.  Is that not what you said, Natividad?  People need to eat more in the cold.  You told us that.”

“I’m not –”

“You did say that,” said Miguel, so placidly that Natividad could not argue.  It was not a knack Alejandro had ever mastered, but Miguel was very hard to argue with.  Miguel said now, “Of course you should eat something.  Some jerky, maybe.  I’ll take one of those nut bars with the chocolate, if you’ve got any more.  And we should drink some water.”

Natividad shrugged.  “Matón,” she said, but without heat.  Then she remembered her rule about English and corrected herself: “Bully.”  She swept out of her face several wisps of raven-black hair that had worked out of her neat braid and began to search through her light pack for something to eat.  Miguel walked a little aside from the trail they’d been following, kicking knee-high snow out of his way, and swept more snow off a fallen tree so she could sit down. “I really don’t need to rest,” Natividad protested, but then shrugged.  “But I suppose I wouldn’t mind coffee.”  She followed him, peeling the wrapping away from one of her nut bars and handing her twin another.

“Well,” said a new voice, sharp and quick and nasally American.  “Black pups trespassing.  Do you know, when I caught your scent, I walked out in the middle of supper.  If I’d known it was a pack of puppies, I’d not have troubled myself.”

Alejandro swung around and took several quick steps to put himself between the newcomer and his younger brother and sister.  He did not dare turn his head to see what Miguel and Natividad were doing – he had to trust they were doing as they had agreed, that Miguel had shed the pack, that both his younger siblings had got back on the snowy road, ready to run.  He could hear them behind him: the quick rush of their breath, the rapid beating of their hearts, the crunch of snow as they moved – yes, back toward the road.  He did not look back, but stared directly into the newcomer’s face for a breath and then made himself lower his eyes.  Even then he continued to watch the other man covertly through his lashes.  The newcomer was a black dog; Alejandro could scent the bitter ash of his shadow.  But then he had already known that.

The newcomer was a tall man: taller than Alejandro.  Taller even than most Americans.  He had a very American face:  bony and narrow, with a thin, unsmiling mouth and an expression that was desdén – disdainful, as though nothing he looked at pleased him and he didn’t expect it to.  There was no color to him.  His hair was pale as bleached straw.  His light blue eyes seemed to Alejandro to be the color of the winter itself.  The lines around those eyes spoke of impatience and an inflexible temper.  It was a bleak, hard face.  It was not the face of a man who would be easily touched by anger or fear or grief.

But Alejandro had already known that, too, about this man.  He took another step forward and then dropped to one knee in the snow, trying to strike a balance between respectful acknowledgment of the other man’s superior strength and his own pride.  It was harder to find that balance than he had expected.  He did not allow himself to reach for the knife he carried.  That, too, was harder than he’d expected.

“Well,” said the American, looking them over with leisurely derision, “It’s a little late for courtesy – and that’s a rather half-hearted courtesy, isn’t it?  What is this?  One black pup and a human boy and a girl Pure as the white snow – is that right?  One doesn’t expect to find such a mixed pack of strays in the winter woods.  Still less walking straight into Dimilioc territory.  There are quicker, kinder ways to find death, if you seek the fell dark.”

“We ask to speak to Grayson Lanning,” Alejandro said, fighting to keep his tone meek against a dangerous edge of rising temper.  “We ask for that, and is it your place to call the fell dark if we ask for a proper entrevista?  Audience?”

The tall American tilted his head to one side, his thin mouth crooking in ironic condescension.  “Oh, it is.”

Alejandro hesitated.  Behind him, Miguel said unexpectedly, “Of course it is, but, Ezekiel Korte, would the Master of Dimilioc thank you for exercising your prerogative?”

The tall man’s winter eyes went, unamused, to Miguel.  “You know me, do you?”

“Everyone knows you, sir.”

“Black dogs.  Not human youngsters, generally.”  Ezekiel’s pale gaze shifted back to Alejandro.  “Your brother, is he?  And the girl’s your sister, I expect.  She’s pretty.”  His tone was perfectly indifferent.  “You think you can fight me, pup?  Give those children time to run?”

“She’s Pure,” Alejandro said sharply. “Why should she need to run from you?”

*    *    *    *

*  This one is Patricia Briggs’ fault.  She’s the one who made me enthusiastic about werewolves — I love her books.  Fair warning, though:  my werewolves are NOTHING like hers, so don’t expect that!

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Recent reading

So, recently I lost a three-week-old puppy that I thought was going to make it, the only living puppy in his litter and a puppy for whom I had great hopes.  I probably don’t need to explain that this was a depressing and upsetting event.  My response, of course, was to reach for a Really Good Book I’d been looking forward to reading and some Extremely Good Very Dark Chocolate to go with it.

The Chocolate was Callebaut, which I mail order in large quantities, and the book was The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.  Obviously the chocolate was outstanding, but even more important, the book was absolutely perfect for me right then.  This is one time I really agree with the idea of ‘escapism’ and ‘escapist literature.’

I’m not a huge big fan of dystopias generally because who needs to read about unhappy people living miserable, depressing lives?  Please, just spare me.

But the fact is, in The Hunger Games,you can tell that the good guys are going to win eventually.  I mean, in the first book, the happy ending will obviously be restricted and short-term, but still, you know right from the beginning that there *will* be at least a moderately happy ending.

And it was just as good as I’d hoped, too.  I mean, in the YA world recently, it’s seemed like everybody has been talking about this book; that’s why I reached for it when I needed a really good book.  And everybody was right!  It was great!  A very well written book about wonderful characters caught in a horrible situation that was MUCH MUCH WORSE than anything in my life, which was exactly what I needed.

Luckily I had the second book (Catching Fire) on hand.  I’d planned to wait to read any of them until the third book was out, but hey, it’s coming out in August, so close enough.  I’ve got it preordered.  Can’t wait to see the bad guys go down!

I’ve read a couple other books recently, too.  CJ Cherryh’s latest installment in her NEVERending Foreigner series (this one is called Deceiver).  I have to say, you’d think she’d manage to not end on a cliffhanger, yes?  But no.  Heck, we all know the series is not complete.  Just FINISH THIS BOOK before you publish it, is that too much to ask?  This one just ended smack in the middle of unrolling events.

Well, well . . . eventually the next book will be out and we can see Bren Cameron finesse the tense diplomatic situation he’s in and rescue Barb and so on.

Oh!  And I read the latest Beka Cooper book!  By Tamara Pierce.  You know, if you’ve read anything by Tamara Pierce and liked it but it was a little young for you?  The Beka Cooper books are a pretty huge step up in sophistication.  Really, really good characters and fantastic world building, substantially more depth than usual.  Amazing use of slang.  Love ’em.  I think anybody who enjoyed the Paksennarian books by Elizabeth Moon would love these.  Can’t wait for the third book.

What a great pity that not every publisher brings out all three books of a trilogy in the same year! (!!!)  I get that usually the author needs time to write the sequels, but still, having to wait and wait for a sequel makes me REALLY APPRECIATE Orbit’s emphasis on bringing out trilogies fast.

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