Monday, August 31, 2009

Trip Down Memory Lane

On Friday, Marcus brought this book home from school for weekend reading. I’m pretty sure I remember reading books like this when I was at school and learning to read.

jelly I checked the copyright date and it was 1968. I started school in 1974, so that would be about right.

While I’m not sure that I remember this particular book, I was reading the titles on the back cover and I definitely remember reading The Hungry Lambs and I think The Stars in the Sky. They were big, fat hardcover books with a whole lot of stories in them and I can almost see them in my mind’s eye all these years later. The other titles sound familiar too.

At least they were new when I read them. Not so much now. But the stories were still perfectly fine for reading practise. I did have to explain what “Primers” were (first year at school now has the original title of “Year 1”) and also what a penny was as we don’t even have one cent coins any more (our smallest coin here in NZ is 10 cents), but everything else was fine. Okay, so the pictures were a little dated, but that’s okay.

Does this count as recycling?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Diamond Star by Catherine Asaro

Asaro, Catherine - Diamond Star Wow, I’m actually trying to write a book review. I haven’t done that in months and months, but we’ll see how it goes.

Catherine Asaro is my favourite author and her Skolian series, of which Diamond Star is the latest chapter, is my favourite series. However, I often get incredibly anxious about reading her books, sometimes putting it off for months, and I’m never been completely sure about why. I am coming to the conclusion that it is a combination of the fact that I really connect with these books, meaning I tend to have a very intense reaction to them, and the fact I find her bad guys particularly nasty, so that the more they feature in a book, the more anxious I feel about reading it. But I love the books. The characters speak to me and I really respond to them. I care about them all and want to know what happens to them. If I was a writer (which I’m not, and certainly wouldn’t ever be one of Catherine’s talent) and I was trying to “write what you love and want to read”, these are they books I’d want to write. They just hit all my buttons, even if they terrify me a little bit as well.

Borrowing the blurb from

Del was a rock singer. He was also the renegade son of the Ruby Dynasty, which made his career choice less than respectable, and gave him more to worry about than getting gigs and not getting cheated by recording companies, club owners, or his agent. For one thing, the Ruby Dynasty ruled the Skolian Imperialate, an interstellar Empire, which had recently had a war with another empire, the Eubian Concord. For another, Del was singing on Earth, which was part of a third interstellar civilization, and one which had an uneasy relationship with the Imperialate. Del undeniably had talent, and was rapidly rising from an unknown fringe artist to stardom. But, with his life entangled in the politics of three interstellar civilizations, whether he wanted that or not, talent might not be enough. And that factor might have much more effect than his music on the lives of trillions of people on the thousands of inhabited worlds across the galaxy.

As I read the book, I really wasn’t always sure if I liked Del or not. I certainly didn’t dislike him, but he could be an incredibly frustrating character at times. He could be pretty immature and needs to do some growing up. Most of her other characters have been much more mature and this is something new. It's done well, but I wanted to slap him occasionally. I think this is completely intentional, but he's still sometimes frustrating. Not annoying, because he's totally in character all the time, but frustrating because he has so much potential he isn't living up to yet.

Of course, that’s part of the power of the character. For a lot of complicated reasons I don’t want to spoil, he’s missed out of a childhood really and he’s a grown man who is still finding his way out of adolescence with all of an adult’s weight on his shoulders. I found it particularly poignant that, for him, all that his family has suffered (and we readers have suffered it with them through the earlier books) has happened all in one brief, crushing moment, where in reality it has been spread out over 40 years. For them, there has been time to come to some sort of terms with it all and move on, even if only to the next crisis. For Del, it’s all happened to him at once and I doubt he’s had time to work through any of it. That’s why he takes the action he does at the end of the book, full of anger and also confusion I think, and it works perfectly. It’s probably also the beginning of some healing of all the pain, so it will good to see where his character goes in the aftermath of that.

Apparently, Catherine’s next Skolian book is to be called Carnelians. “It's another stand-lone, like Diamond Star. However, it fits in with Diamond Star and another book called The Ruby Dice, because all three [sic] involve the same characters and universe.” (Catherine Asaro on Paraoddity)

Firstly, I’m not sure what the third book mentioned here is as Catherine has only named two, but I’m not sure that I care. More Del, more Kelric, more Jai. Yay, I’m going to be happy (even if that whole anxiety thing happens again). But my real point is that I can see Del needing another book. His story doesn’t feel finished here. This chapter of it is, but he’s still got growing up and healing to do, probably quite a lot of both, and his character arc has plenty more places to go. But now that I have finished the book, I find that I do like him. I’m well established in his corner and I want to see him do that growing and become the man he can be. He’s made mistakes, but he learns from them and I want to see that keep happening. (Although a bit from Kelric’s point of view, to see his real feelings for Del, not his always stoic reactions as interpreted by Del in his frustration and anger, would be good too.)

One other small comment – it was nice to have an aspect of the family tree that has always been confusing finally explained. Maybe in the next book we could have an update of the family tree and the timeline (with the “location” of the newer books added to it ).

This is a slightly jointed review – I apologise. I started with a bang, then rather ran out of steam. Rather than leaving the draft sitting around for months, I decided to post what I had, so here you are. I hope it was interesting and/or useful.

Diamond Star
Catherine Asaro
Skolian Saga, Book 13 (in publication order)

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge

Skolian Saga (in publication order):

  1. Primary Inversion
  2. Catch the Lightning
  3. The Last Hawk
  4. The Radiant Seas
  5. Ascendant Sun
  6. The Quantum Rose
  7. Spherical Harmonic
  8. The Moon’s Shadow
  9. Skyfall
  10. Schism
  11. The Final Key
  12. The Ruby Dice
  13. Diamond Star
  14. Carnelians (forthcoming from Baen in 2010)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Skolian hints

Not only has Catherine Asaro given a great interview over at Paraoddity (with another to come on Friday apparently), in the comments she’s dropped a whole bunch of hints about her plans for the future of the Skolian series. Do go over and read it all.

Catherine has kindly given me permission to repost those hints here as well.

Great question, too. Yes, I do plan to finish it. The fifty years in the future just happens to coincide with, um ... the events in Catch the Lightning. Althor, the hero in that book, is the son that Dehya and Eldrin have after the events of Spherical Harmonic. The big series finale is the book that follows Catch the Lightning in the chronology.

I also plan to visit what's going on with Soz and everyone on Prism in other books, too. In fact, I may even show some of that in the next book, Carnelians.

And also:

I do hope to do more with Rohka's story. She's one of my favorite characters of the "new" generation of Ruby Dynasty members. But Soz is definitely coming back. Big time. :-)

Jaibriol will find answers, but with so much for him to deal with, it will happen over the course of several books. In each one, he becomes more aware of the history that separates his people from the Skolians.

Don't worry about the ending of The Ruby Dice. It was actually rather triumphant. They finally got a peace treaty. Putting their ideas into action won't be easy, but don't worry, I'm not one for dark endings! Carnelians, the next book, looks at how they do that, and how they deal with the opposition.

Yay, more Soz. She is totally my favourite character in the series. Yay, Jai finding his answers – if slowly; how will I wait patiently? Yay, there will be an ending and it won’t be a dark one. This is series I both want to reach a conclusion and never to end. I can’t wait.

I’m also working on a review of Diamond Star that I hope will show up in a few days. I’m having a Catherine Asaro fangirl good time at the moment.

Edited to add this one:

I've definitely decided that Jai and Tarquine will have kids. Exactly how that is going to work, I'm not sure. I have some ideas, but I don't want to give away too many plot points. Tarquine is one of my favorite characters to write, along with Soz.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Follow up on “Grumble, Grumble”

Just a quick not to say I picked up the library system’s second copy of The Stars Blue Yonder and I was very happy to see that it included the pages the other one was missing.

I finished the book last night and highly recommend the entire series.

Now, I’m aiming to go back and finish Diamond Star by Catherine Asaro.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Musing on YA

Over at The Book Smugglers, Ana and Thea have been holding a YA Appreciation Month (that has stretched out to something over a month I believe). Today is their equivalent of an open mike night on the subject, with anyone with a blog free to join in.

I’ve always seen myself as someone who enjoys YA fiction even if it’s not my primary reading area, so I joined up to J. Kaye’s 2009 YA Challenge back at the end of last year, thinking I would easily read 12 YA books in 2009. So I’ve been rather surprised to find that it’s been more of a struggle than I expected. Here it is, now the middle of August, and I’ve managed to read just 8 books that I felt I could class as YA. In the interests of full disclosure I should add here that I’ve been in a serious reading dry spell since May, due to long, boring, health-related issues, but it has still been a bigger challenge that I originally anticipated.

Some of it has been that books that in my youth would have been classed as YA are probably now considered children’s books. So I reread Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence earlier this year, but felt I couldn’t really include them on the list (all the same, they are fantastic books and still a great read for anyone, be they children, young adults or “official” adults). I also felt I was stretching it a bit to include Jeanne duPrau’s Books of Ember as they read as fairly young to me. I did include them on my list, but I’m still not sure if that was a correct judgement call.

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying Ana and Thea’s YA month, but I have to admit (and I feel kind of embarrassed doing this) that a lot of current YA books intimidate me. Something like Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games, which is getting great reviews all over the place (as is its sequel, Catching Fire) scares me. It sounds like such a powerful, dig-at-your-soul kind of book that this boring old adult isn’t sure if she can face it. (The whole reading dry-spell, depression issues don’t help either, I admit.) I’ve been a wimp of late, and I’m sticking to books I don’t feel anxious about when I contemplate reading them.

YA books, on the whole, I think are more likely to invoke that kind of response – in me, at least. Everything often is intense when you’re a teen. Life is full of new (and old) issues to be faced; it’s a whole adventure waiting for you, ready to be lived with passion and power. This staid, middle aged woman with depression and a 20-year history of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome may have forgotten how to do that.

I am reminded of a quote from Madeleine L’Engle (another author I love; if you haven’t read her books, get thee to a library or bookstore and give them a read) that I’ve seen used often recently in relation to YA books:

"You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children."

I think this is very true. There is a depth and a challenge to be found in YA (and also children’s) books that has been sacrificed in many (but definitely not all) adult books for blood, guts, sex and/or gore, which are actually all pretty simple. So perhaps the conclusion to this bit of stream-of-consciousness reflection is that I should rise above the anxiety and read more YA anyway. I still need four more this year to meet my challenge goal after all.

I can’t finish on as wishy-washy a note as that. So here’s a little rave about my current favourite YA series – Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn Chronicles. I’ve reviewed the first three books in the series, Obernewtyn, The Farseekers and Ashling, and I’ve also read the fourth, The Keeping Place, although I didn’t feel up to reviewing it (even thought I loved it and rated it 9/10). Let me quote the beginning of my Obernewtyn review:

I have a memory of standing in a bookstore in my hometown and seeing Obernewtyn on the shelf. I don't know exactly how long ago it was, but I'm pretty sure it was when this was a standalone book and not the first of six as it is now. I can't imagine why I didn't take it home with me as it was just the sort of book I loved at the time. Now, having read it many years later, I can safely say that it's the sort of book I love now as well.

These are post-apocalyptic books where Carmody set a perfect balance (for me, anyway) between the characters taking charge of the world they now live in and discovering just what the great disaster was, how it happened and how to stop it happening again. I love both aspects of post-apocalyptic tales, so I love how this series neatly blends both. It also has telepathy and other mind-talents (another favourite of mine), talking beasts and well-realised, complicated characters. I really do recommend these books and if you start now, you should just about be ready for the last book when it comes out next year.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Grumble, grumble


I really enjoyed the first two books in Sandra McDonald’s Australian mythology-based SF series (The Outback Stars and The Stars Down Under), so I was pleased to get a copy of the final book in the trilogy, The Stars Blue Yonder from the library last week. I’m still struggling with my reading (although hopefully we’re finally getting a handle on which medications aren’t playing nice with which other medications), but I found this one moving along very nicely.

So imagine my frustration when I was happily reading away, thoroughly enjoying myself, and the book jumped from p.194 to p.225 with nothing in between. It must have been misbound.

I'm so frustrated, as I really want to know what happens next, but not only is it a library book, I'm in New Zealand. So if the library’s second copy is also misbound (I'll be ringing the appropriate branch tomorrow to ask them to check) goodness knows how long it will take for me to get my hands on another copy.

It’s just not right. I finally get reading a book again and this is what happens? The book gods must be annoyed with me or something.