Friday, January 13, 2017

read: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (4 stars)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Harry Potter, #6)Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In most ways, this book was much better than either of the previous two, which by comparison were just marking time. The pacing was better. The characters more interesting. The author still doesn't have a clue how to write about teenage (or any other age) love. But this is forgivable, since it isn't the focus of the story.

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

My 2016 In Books

By the skin of my teeth and a few last minute graphic novels, I read 52 books in 2016, which was the goal I set. At times, this felt like a bit more of a chore this year (compared to last year, when I had the same goal), like I was under pressure to perform. I think there are a few reasons for this:
  1. Long books. I decided to attack several longer works this year and that made it more challenging to keep up. I've been avoiding longer books in previous years in order to enhance my bottom line. Forsaking any of these would have added 1 or 2 additional works to my 'done' pile. But then I would have missed:
    1. Game of Thrones (wondrous)
    2. Leviathan Wakes (stupendous - 5 stars)
    3. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and …the Order of the Phoenix (there's a better, shorter book inside each of these)

  2. Fewer graphic novels. These have been a way of keeping up the overall book count without investing large amounts of time. I read 14 in 2015, but only 7 in 2016. My favorites were:
    1. Leaves on the Wind (Serenity #4) - good follow-up to the Serenity film for Firefly fans
    2. Lost in Space - The Curious Galactics - just like a TV episode (because it's based on unproduced scripts)
    3. How to Talk to Girls at Parties - Neil Gaiman (need I say more? I also loved the short story)

  3. Netgalley. I trapped myself into 9 titles on Netgalley in 2016 (vs. only 4 in 2015). On the whole, this was a good thing. I read a couple of titles I would have otherwise missed. But it did mean I felt the pressure to perform (and I'm still behind on posting feedback). I'm not a reviewer. I know what I like. Putting that into words does not come easily. Some surprises:
    1. IQ (a quirky mystery novel that doesn't read like one)
    2. Mug Shot/Whole Latte Murder (#2 & #3 in a chick-lit series that I enjoy more than I should)
    3. Curious Minds (an unexpectedly dull and unfunny book from Janet Evanovich)
Some other treats this year:
  1. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan is quirky and fun and marvelously performed on audio book. 5 stars
  2. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ranson Riggs is also quirky and fun and worked remarkably well on audio, considering it is based on odd photographs. (What's the deal with possessive titles with P's in them?)
  3. In the Clearing and The Trapped Girl by Robert Dugoni, the 2016 and 2017 releases in the Tracey Crosswhite series. The biggest benefit of Netgalley is getting to read stuff before it's generally available. I bought both of these (and his 2016 stand-alone The 7th Canon), anyway.
  4. The Emperor's Revenge by Clive Cussler and Boyd Morrison took me on a completely different trip than I expected.
My 2016 wrap-up is at

I'm going to keep reading in 2017, but will slow the pace a little.
  1. Fewer Netgalley books. That was too much pressure and I have plenty on my TBR list already, including…
  2. Finish off more series. I probably won't get through much more of Game of Thrones (actually A Song of Ice and Fire) or The Expanse. I do plan to finish Harry Potter, Old Man's War, Wool, and Cinder and get back to Mystborn (at least the 'alloy' era) and Reckoners (Steelheart). Just this list could fill up my entire year. Except I also want to…
  3. Read more Young Adult titles. One reason I want to reduce the pressure on my reading is to do more writing and my current project is shaping up as YA. I need to understand the genre.
Keep reading! And share a book with a friend.

Monday, December 26, 2016

read: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (4 stars)

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and LifeBird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a great little book to set on the shelf beside King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft or Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing. It's not so much a book about how to write as about how to be a writer. Why do you write? Why should you write? Who are you writing for (or to)? These are all questions that need to be answered. Anne Lamont doesn't try to answer them for you. But she gives you a little bit of insight into her answers and why the questions may be more important than the answers.

If it's too cold and stormy to get out and have coffee with your writing buddy and you can't get them on the phone, read a chapter or two in Bird by Bird. It may be just what you need to get writing again.

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Thursday, December 22, 2016

read: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (3 stars)

Harry Potter and the Order of the PhoenixHarry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I know I'm in the minority for only giving this three stars. But I don't know how I can give it more. The world-building is still first rate. There is enough story and character development here for a five-star read. The problem is that it's well hidden inside of an overblown, over-sized book where nothing much happens for pages and pages. Yes, it's often fascinating and I did make it to the end. And the end is where it all becomes worth the while. But it was a bit of a slog.

Knock off a half a star just for being so long. Editing, people, editing. Knock off another half star for quite a few clinks and clunks in the writing. Adverbs, he said, disapprovingly. These are the same issues that started creeping in with the previous volume.

Now knock off a full star for story-killing character traits. Harry is just too much of a dunderhead in this. I understand that one of the main themes is his growing teenage angst. It just was not done well. He was argumentative for the sake of being argumentative, often just because that would move the story forward. Not because it fit his character. Umbridge was evil just for the sake of being evil. We never found out what she was truly up to. Again, I felt cheated because it seemed that everything she did to make Harry's life harder was done merely because the story need her to do it. And what the heck is up with Dumbledore? He was just too aloof in this, swooping in at the odd moment to save the day in an odd way. At least he explains it all in the end.

Only two more books to go. I hope they don't feel like five.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

read: Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders (4 stars)

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden WondersAtlas Obscura: An Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders by Joshua Foer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An interesting book that I browsed, rather than read. It seems more like an encyclopedia than an atlas, listing and describing various locations with enough photos included to tantalize the curious traveler. It's organized by continent/country/city with some small maps to keep the reader oriented. The trick is that these are obscure attractions. So by definition, the reader/traveler will need to travel a little afield to get to many of the more interesting places.

I'm a browser by nature, which makes this an ideal book for me to spend days perusing. But I dared not spend days in it, only dipping my toes to get a feel. Perhaps I'll return and drink more deeply. For now, I'll just recommend it to the curious and to my future self.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

NaNoWriMo 2016

I'm doing it again: National Novel Writing Month. 30 days. 50,000 words. This is my twelfth year in a row of trying to write a novel. I've only come up short twice (although calling any of the 'successes' a novel is generous beyond words).

Why do I do it? Why do I get up early and try to stay up late, staring at my computer screen, pounding out my 1,667 words a day? Why do I go into panic mode during last few days, sometimes forcing my self to crank out up to 6,000 words in a day?


Because I love it. Because when I finally push aside the distractions and focus on the page and get into the flow, the characters speak to me. They tell me their story and I try to get it down as fast as I can. Some days they are quiet and I have to coax and cajole the stories out of them and only get a few hundred words. Other days I simply neglect them and feel rotten about it. But that's just too bad because I have a life, too. This isn't just about them.

I told myself that this year I would have an outline.

I don't.

I told myself that I would be ready.

I'm not.

I had to spend part of my writing time getting my tools ready: 
  • a brand new OneNote notebook to capture my words and my research and my notes. I love OneNote because I can access it from anywhere, keep everything in one spot and (most importantly) keep all my work automatically backed up.
  • copy notes from the first novel in this series to the new notebook so that I can keep them as consistent as possible.
  • connect my Surface 3 to the network at work so that it has all that latest stuff and I can work on my new novel just about anywhere.
  • update the NaNoWriMo site, all my social networking sites, and this blog, just in case someone besides my family and close friends is keeping tabs on my progress. I don't want it to look like I'm neglecting any channel.
As a result, I am about 300 words short of my goal. But my eyes are starting to slam shut. Time to get to bed so that I will get a few more minutes of sleep before my stupid author brain wakes me up at 0-dark-it's-way-too-early with ideas on how to change around all the words that I've already committed to bits today.

My plan, as usual, is to shoot for at least 1,000 words a day on work days and 3,500 words on each weekend day. That averages out to the 1,667 per day that gets me to 50,000 words by the end of the month. Of course, as usual, there are complications. I don't just mean Thanksgiving. I mean extra commitments on top of Thanksgiving that will make it nigh impossible to get much writing done for four or five days. So that word count has to get added into the other days of the month. And then there are those unforeseen unproductive days.


Why do I do this to myself?

Because I love it.

Words written today: 1,354
Monthly total: 1,354


Saturday, September 17, 2016

read: A Whole Latte Murder (4 of 5 stars)

A Whole Latte MurderA Whole Latte Murder by Caroline Fardig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm three books into this entertaining series and still not regretting it, even though I'm a guy. The writing is light and airy and smooth. The characters are likable, the situations are mostly believable and the mysteries are intriguing. This time around there is a higher body count and fewer clues and suspects than ever before. There is also more trouble for the first-person narrator, Juliet, and more complications to her love life.

It's not rewarding to overthink the motivations and actions of amateur sleuths in this sort of book. You have to suspend your disbelief and you want them to get involved and push the story along. In retrospect, though, Juliet might go a step too far in a couple of cases, including breaking and entering a crime scene and interrogating suspects. It wasn't enough to knock me out of the story, though. I did struggle a bit with the plethora of characters and names to keep track of. And the extended sequences of searching for a missing person could have had a better payoff in how it explored the City of Nashville.

On the whole, I can recommend this book to fans of cozy mysteries.

Disclosure: Thank you to Netgalley and Alibi/Random House for providing a free copy of this book in return for my honest review.

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