Saturday, January 31, 2009

Up to date with Book of Ink Circles

Yay, while watching yet more tennis last night, I got all caught up with Book of Ink Circles (until the next part comes out next week). I just love how this one came out. I think it is my favourite block of all so far. I’m so close now – only two more parts to go and it will be finished. As everything else I’m working on this year is BAP size, it will be great to have a finish.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Marcus is FIVE today

Wow. I can’t quite believe it, but Marcus is five today. He had a lovely birthday, with presents, a cake at daycare and both his grannies here visiting. His auntie (my sister) arrived this evening and his grandad comes tomorrow for his party on Saturday.

It’s amazing to look back over five years and see how wonderfully far he’s come.  When he was born, his great-grandmother sent him a little teddy bear. It’s a tiny, cute little thing, about 7 inches long from the top of its ears to the end of its paws (and that’s with its legs stretched out). One day, we went into the hospital to find the nurses had him cuddling with it to help him lie in a comfortable shape.  He was barely bigger than the bear. From that day, I started taking photos of Marcus with the little blue bear. I took one at three months, at six, nine and a year. Since then I’ve taken one on his birthday each year. Here’s Marcus today, with the Great Nana Rose’s teddy bear.

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And to compare and contrast, here’s that first photo, taken when he was 18 days old and on CPAP in an incubator.

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Hasn’t be come a long way? We have been so unbelievably lucky and blessed that he has grown so strong and healthy. Many babies born at his gestation (27 weeks) have all sorts of continuing problems, but Marcus seems to have outgrown most, if not all, of the issues he had.

Thank you Lord, for our beautiful, healthy son. Thank you also to everyone who has helped and supported us, from both near and afar, over the years. It was always been greatly appreciated, even if sometimes we forgot to tell you.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Dreaming Place by Charles de Lint

de Lint, Charles - The Dreaming Place

After thoroughly enjoying Dreams Underfoot, Charles de Lint’s first book of Newford short stories, I wanted to keep reading through the series. According to the FAQ on his site, the next two were horror. I don’t do horror, so I jumped those and came to The Dreaming Place. This is a YA title that features sixteen year old cousins and none of the myriad characters I met in Dreams Underfoot, so it was a little different from what I was expecting.

Nina, an everyday, normal teenager is convinced her Goth cousin, Ash, is trying to put a spell on her. Something is making her dream she is trapped inside animals and Ashley is always reading occult books and causing trouble with her attitude. But Ash is simply trying to deal with the death of her mother and subsequent rejection by her father that sent her to live with her aunt, uncle and cousin three years ago. When she learns a winter spirit, or manitou, is hunting Nina, despite their differences, she does her best to help. If she is reluctant at first, she learns her strength and finds some self-worth and healing in the process.

I wasn’t as taken with this book as I was with Dreams Underfoot. It’s a good, solid YA title that is well worth reading, but it didn’t have that extra something the previous book did. I don’t really think it is a YA vs. adult novel thing, as I enjoy both kinds of books and one of my favourite books of all time, The Changeling Sea by Patricia A. McKillip is YA. However, for all that this was a full length novel rather than short stories, Nina and Ash both remained ciphers to a degree, and this meant I was interested in their tale but not mesmerised by it. I was much more enchanted by the adults in Dreams Underfoot.

The chapters alternate between Nina’s POV and Ash’s, yet I felt the book was more about Ash than Nina. It is Nina that is on a search for her totem animal (even if it was instigated by the manitou and not NIna herself), but it is Ash that goes on a voyage of self-discovery through the Otherworld. Nina finds her totem animal, Ash finds herself and the book comes to a satisfactory conclusion.

I feel like I’m damning the book with faint praise here, but I find I really don’t have much to say about it. It certainly isn’t a bad book – I don’t feel the need to go into details about what is wrong with it, because there isn’t really anything wrong with it. I just don’t feel inspired to jump up and down and insist this is an amazing must-read either. It’s simply a book, average or a little above that is worth the time to read, but isn’t something to rave about.

The Dreaming Place
Charles de Lint
Newford Novels, Book 4
7/10

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge, Young Adult Reading Challenge

P.S.

I’ve just had a note from Amazon to say my copy of The Sharing Knife: Horizon by Lois McMaster Bujold has shipped. Yay! (Especially since I ordered three books to be shipped together, the lasts of which isn’t published until March, so I’m delighted they decided to go ahead and ship it singly at the same shipping cost.)

I am mentally clicking the ‘start’ button on an imaginary timer to see how long it takes to arrive. Let’s see if we can do better than the 50 days it took for Acheron to arrive.

And still more Book of Ink Circles

I got the bottom square of swirlies finished while watching tennis last night. I just love the colours in this one. I think it is much prettier than the swirls at the top.

As I am now wearing old glasses (already broken and glued back together as a back-up pair) that don’t quite sit right, it has been a bit of an adventure, but I’m getting there. My main glasses have been taken to the optometrist, who said they could be repaired, so now I just have to wait until it is done. Thank goodness they could be fixed.

On to the pictures…

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boicpt13swirl

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Hanging Gardens of Semiramis

Stitchers, have you seen this?

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It’s the latest offering from Chatelaine’s Martina Weber. I’m trying to be strong and resist. Really and truly, I am. But it is so pretty. And it is just tiny for a Chatelaine, only about 200 x 150stitches. Six months long and small. And isn’t it pretty? I know I already said that, but it bears repeating.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

More Book of Ink Circles

I’ve finished the next part of Book of Ink Circles. Two more to go to be up to date and then two more to be finished.

(For anyone who reads this through Multiply, it seems the last update didn’t migrate over – typical, that I use Multiply to share with my stitching friends and somehow it is always the stitching posts that don’t migrate. So if you want to check that one out, it is here.)

Okay, update over and on to the pictures…

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boicpt12fillers

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Things that make you go hmmm…

  • My glasses broke today. Marcus had a friend over to play and they were both trying them on when the frame holding one of the lenses (already weakened by use) snapped. It is, of course, the Saturday of a long weekend, so I can’t even find out if they can be repaired before Tuesday. In the meantime, I get to look like a total dork with sellotape holding the frames together. (Dave suggested I ask my family to chip in to give me some new glasses for my 40th birthday in March; it may not be a bad idea.)
  • You know you’ve been on medication too long when not having any makes you feel really nervous. Thanks to the same long weekend, when Dave went to pick up my prescription repeat yesterday, the doctors’ had closed early. I take half a sleeping pill each night to help me get to sleep (ridiculous, isn’t it, that I’m exhausted all the time, but can’t get to sleep) and I’ve run out. I’m now terrified I’m going to be awake all night.
  • Every time I sit down or lie down for a while, I stiffen up. When I get up again, I hobble around for a while before things ease up again. I’ve been wondering if there’s something wrong with me. Tonight, I figured out what it is. It’s called age. Sigh.
  • Why, when tennis generally bores me, am I obsessively watching the Australian Open?

Friday, January 23, 2009

An oldie by a cutie

I’ve had this picture in my “too be scrapped” folder for ages and never quite got around to it. But now that we finally have a printer that will let me print my layouts I’m going to slowly build up an album. That means getting my earlier photos scrapped so I can fill an album from the front and not have to reorganise it too many times later.

049999_parents_give_their_children700 

Credits~

Background paper from “Verse” by Tracy Ann Robinson; kite and flower from “The Beautiful Day” by Jofia Devoe; Button from “Doodled Buttons” by Kate Hadfield; red alpha from “Crazy Little Thing” by Dani Mogstad; other alphas from “Hand Stitched Alpha” by Dani Mogstad; font is Eight Fifteen.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Book of Ink Circles Progress

I’m behind with my Book of Ink Circles.  I got so caught up with stitching on Dawn Star I let the releases of the new parts go by without keeping up.  Having finished my Dawn Star page, the plan is to get caught up again with Book of Ink Circles.

While watching the Australian Open (not nearly as convenient for stitching as cricket, but there’s cricket on tomorrow), I just got the bottom left hand corner finished.  However, I notice that somehow I missed posting the previous part,  So here come the pictures.

The whole thing so far
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The lower shieldboicpt10shield2

Bottom left knotboicpt11knot

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sigh, I’m so weak

Those bastards nice people over at Fictionwise.com just sent me an email.  If it had been a conversation, it would have gone something like this.

“We’re having a sale,” they told me happily.

“Oh no,” I cringed, but kept reading

“Buy anything and we’ll give you a 60% rebate”, they promised me.

“Oh no,” I thought again.  “They shouldn’t be doing this when I actually have some money in my PayPal account.”  But, weak-willed individual that I am, I went and looked at my wishlist.

I’m sure you don’t need to ask, but in case you feel you do, yes of course I bought books.  I bought the next ones in some series I’m reading and a couple of others that I’ve wanted by not been able to justify buying.

I ended up spending (gulp) $50.09, but they gave me $32.54 of it back to spend on more books.  I know it’s a con, because they still got my money and I have to spend that $32.54 with them, but I’m going to fall for it every time.

So what did I buy?

  • Childe Morgan by Katherine Kurtz (This is the latest Deryni book and I read it from the library, meaning I’d never got around to buying my own copy.)
  • Memory and Dream by Charles de Lint (The next Newford book; I finished the one before it today, so I was ready to get the next one.)
  • The Ivory and the Horn by Charles de Lint (The Newford book after that one; why get one when you can get two?)
  • Kiss of Crimson by Lara Adrian (I liked the first in the series, so grabbed book 2.)
  • Tanner’s Scheme by Lora Leigh (One of the Breed books I’m missing for my ongoing read through the series.)
  • Dawn’s Awakening by Lora Leigh (Another one of the Breed books I’m missing.)
  • Odd Magic by Patricia A. McKillip (One of the few books of hers that I’m missing; I tried reading it from the library last year and gave up, but after reading another of her books, want to try it again.)

I am so not adding any of these to the TBR list right at the moment.  That would totally stress me out.  Let me get over my crazy shopping first.

I tell myself that I don’t impulse buy – or buy at all if I can avoid it – with clothes or shoes or drugs or alcohol and books are a healthy addiction.  Do you think Dave will believe me when he reads this?

The People of Sparks by Jeanne duPrau

duPrau, Jeanne - The People of Sparks

Okay, so I admit it; I decided to read The City of Ember after seeing a trailer for the movie.  I still haven’t seen the film (I’m not sure if it was even released here in New Zealand, but hopefully the DVD will turn up in due course), but I thoroughly enjoyed the book.  I bought the sequel pretty much as soon as I finished the first book, but it’s only now that I’ve had a moment to read it.

As the book begins, a group of just over 400 hungry, weary and footsore people arrive on the outskirts of the village of Sparks.  These are the survivors of Ember, the ones who made it out of the dying city into the strange and amazing and terrifying world above ground.  They’ve been walking since they emerged into the light, desperately looking for some sign of other human beings.

But Sparks is a small village, finally growing prosperous after generations of struggle since it was settled in the years after the Disaster.  It’s population is smaller than the number of strangers who have arrived needing food and shelter, understanding almost nothing about the kind of life the villagers live.  The leaders of Sparks agree to let the Emberites stay, but only for six months, while they learn what they will need to know to start their own village.

Inevitably, tension builds between the two groups of people.  The villagers are unhappy to have to share their limited stores and frustrated by the apparently simple things the Emberites don’t know or understand, while the people of Ember are gradually coming to realise there is no way they will be ready to found their own settlement in six months, at which time it will almost be winter, a concept that terrifies them once they come to understand what winter actually is.  Both Lina and Doon try to help in their own way.  Lina takes the opportunity to join a couple of roamers who scavenge old-time towns and buildings for useful items, to go and look for the city she has seen in her dreams.  Doon, on the other hand, remains in Sparks, caught between the need to find a way to live peacefully with the villagers and the increasingly strident and potentially violent leadership of a Tick, a charismatic young man from Ember.

It’s interesting that The People of Sparks, built on the conflict between two groups of people who are both right in their own way and yet can’t find a way to co-exist peacefully, reads as a simpler book than The City of Ember which had an apparently much simpler theme.  It’s a good little book, but it doesn’t have the same atmosphere that the previous book did, and that is to its detriment.  Or perhaps, I realise as I type this, it’s that the atmosphere is different.  Everyone is out in the blazing sun of summer here and it shines a pitiless light on everything, clearly showing the lack of an easy solution in a way that makes a complex problem look strangely simple (if possibly one without a solution).

Yes, I think that’s it.  Even for Lina, who gets away from the growing hostility in Sparks, the truth she leans about what she hopes may be a new home for her people is stark and harsh.  The city is totally destroyed, beyond any kind of recovery and seemingly haunted by the ghosts of its many dead.  If there is any truth to her dream of a living city, it must lie elsewhere as this is not it.

And ironically, in the end the solution turns out to be plain and simple as well.  Perhaps not simple to keep living every day, but simple at a turning point moment which is where the book ends.  The newly combined, 700-odd people of the enlarged Sparks will still face troubles as they try to integrate into a single community but now they have a warning of what can go wrong and an example of the right way to go, to help guide them along the journey.

With the introduction of a whole new community of people, this book obviously introduces a variety of new characters.  While all the villagers are decently drawn, for me the new character who shines the most is Maddy.  Not actually from Sparks, she left her failing home village with the nephew of Sparks’ doctor, who is a roamer.  An apparently indifferent character when she is first introduced, she turns out to be wise and daring and a delight to read, and she will be a credit to Sparks now she has decided to settle there.  She is the one who gives Lina the secret of how to stop the building hate between the two groups, the secret Lina passes to Doon and both of them act upon at the book’s climax to bring peace between the people of Sparks and the people of Ember.

The roamers are also a great addition to duPrau’s post-Disaster world.  Apart from Lina’s trip with Caspar and Maddy, the story is focused in a small area, meaning what we see is a place that could be any village struggling to survive in tough conditions, giving us little feeling of a post-Apocalyptic world.  But the roamers go out and hunt through the ruins of civilisation, showing us a glimpse of the world we know now that has fallen.  The transportation of the roamers (and around the village as well) is very cool.  With numerous hulks of dead cars and trucks about, the people have taken trucks mostly, stripped out the weight of their useless engines and hitched them to oxen to pull them.  It’s a great image and one that really appealed to me.  The other way to get around faster than a walk is to use a bicycle, and that is another common mode of transport.  Lina, who loved being a messenger in Ember, quickly comes to love riding a bicycle and I’ll be interested to see if there is more message running (or rather message biking) in her future.

My immediate reaction to this book was that, while I certainly liked it, I liked The City of Ember better.  But as a couple have days have gone past and I’ve further clarified my thoughts by writing this, I realise that I probably liked it just as much – just in a very different way.  Both books were very much defined by their atmosphere – the darkness and sense of ending in Ember and the bright, merciless sun baking the earth in Sparks.  That made for two very different books, but also two very good books and I recommend them both.

Being me, after finishing The People of Sparks, I jumped online and bought the next one, The Prophet of Yonwood.  This one should be interesting as it is set 50 years before the founding of Ember as the world is suffering through the Disaster (which turned out to be protracted, painful and destructive rather than one short bang that destroyed everything.  I’ve heard less positive things about this one, so I’m looking forward to making up my own mind.  Hopefully it won’t be too long before I get to read it.

The People of Sparks
Jeanne duPrau
The Books of Ember, Book 2
7/10

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge, eBook Reading Challenge, Young Adult Reading Challenge

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Larklight by Philip Reeve

Reeve, Philip - Larklight

This book is totally insane.  It’s also absolutely gorgeous and I loved it.

While I think I had heard of Philip Reeve previously, I had never heard of this book before I saw it reviewed on someone’s blog (sorry, I didn’t bookmark the link and I no longer remember where it was – if it might have been you, drop me a note and I’ll add a link to your review).  While a children’s book, it sounded like a lot of fun – and something being a children’s book has never put me off before.

Larklight almost defies description, but if I was forced to come up with one, it would be something like this:

Children’s Victorian Steampunk Boy’s Own Adventure with Space Pirates and Giant Spiders.

Arthur Mumby and his older sister, Myrle, live at Larklight, a house in orbit near the moon.larklight1 They live with their father after their mother disappeared along with the aether-ship she was on.  As the book opens, they hear that they can expect a visitor, a Mr Webster, and when it is a giant spider that appears at the door, Art and Myrtle find their adventures just beginning.  Their father is wrapped in spider web and apparently devoured while the children manage to get away in an escape pod and land on the moon.  There, they are rescued from becoming larvae-food for a space moth by the pirate Jack Havoc and his motley crew of aliens.

There is something of a Jules Verne feel to the book as steam-power runs space ships (like flying ships with an “alchemical wedding” chamber that provides the power), automaton servants and pretty much everything else including Larklight’s gravity machine.  The inner planets of the solar system and their many moons are the homes of a wide variety of native species (many now “protected” by the great British Empire and her fine navy), while any ships that have attempted to explore past Saturn have all disappeared.

larklight4

Art and Myrtle find themselves caught up not just trying to save themselves, or even the Empire, but the whole of the solar system itself.  Art narrates most of the book (with the addition of extracts he’s copied from Myrtle’s diary without her knowledge) and he has a delightful tone that perfectly fits his age and determination to live out what he’s read in his Boy’s Own Adventure magazines.  He’s suitably disparaging about any worthiness his older sister might posses, appropriately plucky, and his narration is wonderful to read.

The book is illustrated with lovely pen and ink drawings throughout by David Wyatt (I’ve included some of them here as they are worth sharing – and for the record Myrtle thinks Queen Victoria is a replacement automaton switched by the spiders as she knocks her over.)  They help set the tone of the book perfectly and as fun as it might be without them, it is even more fun with them.

larklight3Reeve has written a book that is suitable for adults as well as children, and as such may be perfect for reading with one’s own children.  I already want my own copy of this and the next books and when I rang the local children’s bookshop to inquire if they had them, the owner suggested they were probably most suitable for 9 – 12 year olds.  (That was the point at which I had to interrupt and admit they were for myself, so reading age wasn’t really an issue.)  All the same, the other reason I want to buy copies is so that I can share the fun with Marcus when he’s a little older.

There’s a touch of light irony in the text, as if Reeve knows he’s created an absolutely impossible world and he’s determined just to have fun with it.  There are occasional references to things adults are more likely to pick up than children, which is part of the fun.  Mars really does have canals, the great storm on Jupiter is sentient and known as Thunderhead, Venus is covered in rich plant life.  Probably the most blatant example comes from an extract from Myrtle’s diary (where among other things she shows herself to hold true Victorian values).

I suppose few Martians could have imagined, in the first years of the eighteenth century, that intelligences far greater and yet as mortal as their own were observing them from across the gulf of space, and slowly and surely laying plans against them.  It must have been a very great surprise to them when the Duke of Marlborough landed his army, and brought order and civilisation to their dusty, backward planet!

All in all, I found this to be a totally fun book and I’m looking forward to reading more of Art and Myrtle's adventures.  They are weird, they are crazy and they are an absolute delight.

Larklight
Philip Reeve
Larklight, Book 1
9/10

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge, Support Your Local Library Reading Challenge

Weekly Geeks 2009-02

For our second Weekly Geeks of the new year and our second post without our founder Dewey, Joanne of The Book Zombie has these questions:

For those who have been with the group, either from the start or joined within recent months, what does being a member mean to you? What do you enjoy about the group? What are some of your more memorable Weekly Geeks that we might could do again? What could be improved as we continue the legacy that Dewey gave us?

For those just joining us, why did you sign up for Weekly Geeks? What would you like to see here?

I started with Weekly Geeks right at the beginning, although I didn’t participate each week.  Sometimes the challenge felt too hard or I wasn’t feeling particularly well that week, so I let it slide (having since learned how ill Dewey was while she not only participated by came up with WG each week just makes me admire her all the more).

I particularly like the opportunity to explore the book-related activities of all the huge variety of people who participate.  I know I read in a relatively small, genre-related area, and in all honesty, I’m perfectly happy with that and don’t feel the need to change.  All the same, even if I don’t necessarily actually want to read other kinds of books, I love reading about them, which makes community challenges like Weekly Geeks absolutely perfect.  I get to learn about different kinds of people and different kinds of books, all from the comfort of my computer chair.

I think one of my favourite Weekly Geeks was the one where everyone took photos of their books/reading area/etc and shared them with all the other participants.  Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily one that would work as a regular repeat as while the contents of my shelves and TBR might have changed, they still pretty much look the same.

Another one I loved was our favourite childhood books, and that would probably work fine as a repeat.  I know I could come up with some other favourites that I didn’t include last time, especially if I went back and reread everyone else’s posts, as I know I was reminded of other books I’d forgotten.

I’m terribly grateful to everyone who has taken up Dewey’s mantle and all I ask is that you keep WG going, as it is a great community builder and a great way to learn about our fellow reading-addicts out in the blogsphere.

Rosewater and Soda Bread by Marsha Mehran

Mehran, Marsha - Rosewater and Soda Bread

I first saw this book in a bookshop while browsing.  It was a bit expensive for a totally blind try at a new author, so I didn’t buy it, but I did file her name away in the back of my mind.  Not long after, she was mentioned on a mailing list I’m on, and I discovered this is actually the second book of two.  Of course, that meant I had to go and find the first one and read that first.  I tracked it down easily (I used the search engine on the local library’s website!) and borrowed it.  Pomegranate Soup was a lovely novel about the three Iranian Arminpour sisters trying to open a Persian cafe and start a new life in a small Irish village.  Even before I finished it, I’d put a reserve on the sequel.

In Rosewater and Soda Bread (isn’t that a lovely title?), it’s been a year since the end of Pomegranate Soup, and while there are still people in the village who view the sisters with suspicion, they are now well established and starting to feel settled.  Marjan finds herself attracted to an Anglo-Irishman returned to Country Mayo to restore the family estate, Bahar is taking steps towards a new peace and major commitment and Layla and her boyfriend Malachy think they might be ready to take their relationship to the next level.  Meanwhile, their landlady, Estelle, finds a young, pregnant girl washed ashore in the bay and takes her in, despite indications she has broken Irish law.  Marjan becomes involved and eventually her sisters too.  Everything weaves together in the end and Marjan comes to some significant realisations about her relationship with her sisters and her potential relationship with Julian.

I really enjoyed this book, more even than Pomegranate Soup.  The magical element is less in this book, although there is some definite and at least partially mystical mystery about the girl Estelle rescues.  I thought it worked better, as while Mehran tells a lovely story, she doesn’t do the blending in of magical realism as well as some authors (I am reminded noticeably of Sarah Addison Allen, since I read her books Garden Spells and The Sugar Queen recently).  This book is more focused on Marjan than it is on Bahar and Layla, and while the latter still have significant roles in the story, it is largely filtered though how their actions affect Marjan and her understanding of them.

Mehran raises issues about Irish laws on birth control and abortion, but there is no preaching, just an indication of how complicated the situation is (the book is set in 1987 and I don’t know how things have or haven’t changed since then).  I think the actions of the characters may give an indication of Mehran’s own opinions, but I could be totally wrong as their is nary a soapbox in sight and the characters all act true to themselves.  Again, it is primarily Marjan’s reactions that the book explores, both as she tries to come to turns with Layla’s request that Marjan procure condoms for her and Malachy and as she explores the mystery of the stranger’s identity and actions.

Marjan’s tentative romance with Julian is delicately depicted as she tries to let go of her past to make a try for the future, and while I’m not totally convinced Julian is the man for her, I do believe this relationship is something she needs to explore.  She begins to realise important things about herself in the process as she sees how circumstances have perhaps left her over-managing her sister’s lives.

The last paragraph, as she embraces Bahar’s choices even if she doesn’t understand them, was beautiful and a delightful way to end the book.  I really hope Mehran is planning to tell us more about the Arminpour sisters as, while we left them all in a good place, there is clearly much of their story still to tell.

Rosewater and Soda Bread
Marsha Mehran
Arminpour Sisters, Book 2
9/10

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge, Support Your Local Library Reading Challenge

And the Random Number Generator says...

... that my next read will be #11, The People of Sparks by Jeanne duPrau.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Kiss of Midnight by Lara Adrian

Adrian, Lara - Midnight Breed 01 - Kiss of MidnightThe fifth book in Lara Adrian's Midnight Breed series has just recently been published, which means there are a number of reviews floating around the blogsphere.  They have all been very positive, both of the book itself and the series as a whole.  It does seem to be a consistent comment that the first book is the weakest in the series, but that doesn't mean much to me.  If I want to read a series, I have to start at the beginning.  Wanting a bit of a break from slogging through the snow in In the Bleak Midwinter, I decided to give Kiss of Midnight a try.  Hooray for the ease of buying ebooks as I had it shortly after making the decision.

This is the start of another vampire paranormal romance series.  It has a its similarities to other such series, but such is probably inevitable in such a glutted field.  Adrian's vampires are descended from a group of crash-landed aliens who found that the only way they could survive on their new home was to drink human blood (actually, the premise works well and isn't as hokey as it sounds).  Over time, some vampires succumbed to bloodlust (including the original Ancients) and an order was formed to protect the general population from the Rogues.  All vampires born (they are a separate species rather than creatures that are turned by other vampires) are male and they can only breed with certain human females that have the right genetic type to allow reproduction.

Gabrielle Maxwell is a photographer who is gaining recognition in her field.  After a particularly successful exhibition, she and some friends visit a night club.  Gabrielle is uncomfortable there and leaves early; as she steps outside she witnesses six rogue vampires killing a human, although she thinks she has seen some kind of gang murder.  The police refuse to believe her, despite grainy photos on her cell phone, and send her home.  Shortly afterwards, a man shows up at her doorstep, claiming to be a police detective.  He is, in fact, Lucan Thorne, a first generation vampire (ie, his father was one of the original Ancients) and leader of the Order that fights the Rogues.  They are quickly attracted to each other and Lucan is startled to discover that Gabrielle is a Breedmate.  While he has never had any intention of taking a mate himself, he finds himself unhappy with the idea of Gabrielle mating with some other vampire.

The story progresses relatively predictably from there as Gabrielle and Lucan fight their attraction to each other, Gabrielle eventually finds out Lucan is lying to her, and then learns about the Breed and her place in Breed society.  The story also encompasses the start of a new war between Rogues and the Order and introduces the vampire who is leading the Rogues.  For all that, it is nicely written and a good introduction to a new series.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself while reading it.  The romance between Gabrielle and Lucan is nicely written, as is the way they do actually talk to each other about at least some of the important things.  Neither of them was hugely three-dimensional, but they weren't cardboard cut-outs either.  There's a lot of concepts to introduce in the book and Adrian avoids info-dumping and weaves them into the story pretty well.  We also meet the other warriors who will, clearly, have their own books and I am interested enough in all of them to keep following the series.

I finished Kiss of Midnight fairly late last night and when I got to the end I just closed the PDA and went to sleep.  I think if I had rated it then, I would have given it 8/10 as I really did enjoy the reading experience.  However, by the time I got to listing my end date and rating on Library Thing today, I found myself feeling that 7/10 was really a more appropriate grade simply because, while a good read, I didn't find Kiss of Midnight to be a hugely memorable book.  It's already fading now, but I'm left with a good feeling all the same and, remembering what was said about this being the weakest book in the series, I'm rather looking forward to reading the next one.  But it will be when I want a light break between other books (or when the random number generator picks it) rather than because I desperately need to read it right now.

Kiss of Midnight
Lara Adrian
Midnight Breed, Book 1
7/10

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge, eBook Reading Challenge, Romance Reading Challenge

Just because it's free...

I got an email from Dave this afternoon, gleefully telling me that his work had been giving away something for free and he had decided to bring it home.  The word he used was willingly, which made me kind of nervous.  Especially since he refused to tell me what it was.

"It's not a dog, is it?" I asked.  (I'm a cat-person, not a dog-person, but then so is he, so this was fairly unlikely.)

"Not a dog", he assured me, still refusing to say what it actually was.

He arrived home with a large box, and proudly showed me the contents.

Click here to see my darling's prize...

He's nuts.  Totally nuts.  (He does tell me he isn't actually planning to read them, though.)  And yet I still love him.  Maybe I'm nuts too.

Labels

I am totally hopeless at remembering to add labels to my blog posts, even though it is such a useful tool.  So I've just been through and added them to all my 2009 posts.  My new blogging resolution is to try to remember to add them to each new post I make.  We'll see how it goes, but I'm going to try.

I've also added the labels list to the sidebar, down at the bottom above the posts archive, so check there if you want to.

In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming

As a promotion for her latest release last year, Julia Spencer-Fleming offered the first two books in her Clare Ferguson series as a free download. I'm generally up for a good mystery and the people who promoted the links had good things to say about the series, so I downloaded them both and added the first to the TBR list. It came up on the random number generator while I was down at my parents' place over Christmas. I tried converting the PDF to something I could read on my PDA (the PDF reading software on my Palm pretty much sucks) and had trouble doing it. So I moved on to something else (Stephenie Meyer's New Moon) after putting In the Bleak Midwinter on hold at the library. I picked it up last Saturday and started reading it after I finished Soul Deep.

Clare Ferguson is the new Episcopalian priest in Miller's Kill.  She's just beginning to settle in, coming to terms with her conservative parish and its concerns about its first woman priest as well as getting used to the bitterness of winter in this part of the world.  As the book opens, she steps out her door for an evening run and finds an abandoned baby in a box at the door, complete with a note asking that a known childless couple in the parish adopt him.  The police are called in and in the process she meets Miller's Kill's sheriff, Russ Van Alstyne.  Both ex-military people, they find they have a lot in common and quickly become friends.  When Clare convinces Russ to take her with him on a Friday night patrol, the last thing she expects is to be party to finding the body of a young woman.  The dead girl is suspected (and soon found) to be the mother of the baby.  The mystery deepens, another man is killed and Clare finds her own life in danger.  She and Russ work together to solve the murders and at the same time develop a solid friendship.

For starters, let me say that this is a very good, solid read with an excellent mystery (I thought I was very clever and had figured it out, but I turned out to be totally wrong).  The book, and I suspect the whole series too, deserve the praise they have received.  However, I had some issues with it.  They were mostly personal, and may well have come from starting a series when is already up to six books, with all the potential for spoilers than comes with that.

First, I found the book something of a slog at times.  It actually had so much detail that I felt I was forcing my way through the huge snowdrifts frequently mentioned (a strange feeling when it is the height of summer here).  By about half way the pace picked up a bit, but I did find myself skimming all the description in the section where Clare is lost in the snow (to say more would be a spoiler).

But my main issue was in the friendship between Clare and Russ.  Not because it was badly done - indeed, it is beautifully done - but because I know that with time they start feeling more than friendship.  Russ is married, and for that reason both of them fight this, but the feelings persist and even in the first book, the potential for this is there for the reader to pick up on.  I could feel it, and this was not helped by my spoiler-knowledge that things do indeed progress, and this made me very uncomfortable reading what should have been a lovely, growing friendship.

Now, my issue isn't with the characters but with the author.

I was discussing this with a friend, trying to explain something I wasn't totally clear on myself.  I pointed out that I was finding Clare and Russ's friendship uncomfortable to read, knowing that he was married and where things would go from there.  She responded (quoted with her permission) by saying:

I believe you make a commitment to someone, and if you feel you can no longer keep that commitment then you need to explain that to your partner before you move on. The first two books in the series shows Russ and Claire's slowly developing friendship. I think over a year passes between the first and third books. They....click....is the best way I can describe it. It really isn't until the third book that they realise that the feelings they have are a bit more than friendship. And both are horrified about it and attempt to ignore it. I guess their feelings kind of grew on them without them realising it. I think they are both honourable people who suddenly find themselves with feelings they don't want.

However, my issue isn't something as simple as not condoning infidelity (although I don't condone infidelity).  My response in our email conversation:

I totally get what you're saying about Clare and Russ.  And I completely agree as well.  They are very well drawn and developed characters and I know they wouldn't do anything inappropriate.  All the same, I find myself uncomfortable.  Almost like it's the author's fault, to put two decent, trustworthy characters in this situation and leave them to deal with the fallout.  Because I like them both and I trust them both, but don't want to watch them going through this.  It doesn't help that there's an excerpt from a later book in the back of the paperback where Russ acknowledges he's in love with someone other than his wife.  I still trust him, but I don't like that the author did that to him. Does that make sense?  She had the ability to make them both single, or make him in the process of divorcing Linda or something, but instead she chose to leave him married and do this mean thing to him and Clare.  I don't know.  I'm still trying to figure out my issue.  But it isn't with Clare and Russ themselves.

I think that's about the best I can manage to explain my reaction to the book (which is why I cheated and copied our emails instead of trying to write it all out again).  I think In the Bleak Midwinter is a good book and I understand why people like it - and the rest of the series as well.  But I won't personally be reading any more book in this series.  There are too many other good books to read to read ones that make me uncomfortable for no good reason (I'm willing to be made uncomfortable for a good reason, but it has to be a really good one).  Basically, in this case, I just don't need the angst.

In the Bleak Midwinter
Julia Spencer-Fleming
Clare Ferguson, Book 1
7/10

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge; Support Your Local Library Challenge

Monday, January 12, 2009

Soul Deep by Lora Leigh

ePublisher Ellora's Cave coined a new word when it began publishing its particular brand of romance: romantica. It means a romance story with explicit sexual encounters that still focuses more on the romance than the sex and doesn't really fall into the class of erotica. In all honesty, I'm not sure if it's a true division between two genres or a way to make erotica more palatable to the general reading public. I haven't really read anything officially classed as the latter, so I can't compare.

Ellora's Cave certainly isn't the only epublisher (or print publisher for that matter) that publishes these kinds of books, but they have the trademark on the word and they publish Lora Leigh. And Lora Leigh definitely falls into the definition of romance with explicit sex. The romance is lovely and the sex scenes are well written, but don't pick up this book if you don't want details and blunt words and terminology.

A friend introduced me to Leigh's Breeds series a year or two ago and I enjoyed the concept and outer storyline as much as the individual romance. (I suppose that reads kind of like someone claiming to read Playboy for the articles, but I promise, it really is true.) That general concept is that a group of corrupt and highly-placed individuals created a new race of humans by mixing human DNA with that of wolves or big cats. The resulting "specimens" were badly treated and have recently broken free. Their creators were killed, captured or have gone to ground and the Breeds are now trying to find a safe place for themselves in the world, hounded on all sides by curious people, human supremacists and the remainder of the Council who created them.

Each book I've read so far features a couple who find themselves mated, a biological imperative they can't resist (which is what leads to all the sex), and have to figure their way through this difficult way to start a relationship. Leigh does a very good job of exploring the idea of biology versus emotion as each couple tries to figure out what part of their attraction is biological and what part is truly about learning to love the other person. The plotlines are a little repetitive if you pare them down to the basics, I admit, but Leigh manages to create individual characters than make the books different and each one enjoyable.

After Soul Deep in the Breed chronology, she was picked up by New York publisher, Berkley, and that's pretty much where I originally stalled on reading the series, when she suddenly moved to the stories of two characters we had never heard of before and apparently dropped the over-arcing story of the progress of the Breeds in building a community. A little later, still publishing with Berkley, she went back to the initial group of characters. At that point, I was interested again. But being me, I still felt the need to read all the books and in the correct order. So I went back to the beginning and reread my Ellora's Cave books. I now have a short story and one Berkley novel to reread and I'm up to the new books.

Goodness, what a lot of preliminary information before I even get to talking about the book itself!

Soul Deep pairs human Amanda Marion with Coyote Breed Kiowa. Amanda's father has just become President and an important vote is about to occur on a law that will essentially give the Breeds the right to police their own and take the law into their own hands when they are threatened. Worried that if anything happens to Amanda, President Marion may not vote for Breed Law as expected, Kiowa has been asked to keep an eye on Amanda as a backup to her normal security. Unsurprisingly, her security is compromised and she is kidnapped. Kiowa resuces her and suddenly finds himself responsible for the President's daughter and not daring to return her until the hole in her security is found and plugged. Kissing her to keep her quiet, he sets their mating in motion and from there, everything goes to hell.

He and Amanda end up at the Breed compound, trying to figure out how to relate to each other (outside sex; they've got the sex party pretty much all worked out) and find out if they have a relationship outside the bedroom. Amanda desperately wants to know she might have loved Kiowa regardless of the mating process, while he, already sure that he was falling for her long before he kissed her, is determined not to let her go. Soul Deep is a short book (coming in between 45K and 70K words) so there's a lot of story, romance (and sex of course) to fit into a small number of pages. Leigh does it well, and while it requires the frequent romance novel requirement of suspending disbelief to accept that a couple can fall in love forever in a few days (something I accept is possible but don't believe is usual in real life), and this is an enjoyable story with a satisfying conclusion.

I never know where to tell someone interested in the Breed series to start reading. Each book is complete and this one could easily be read by someone who hasn't read any of the others, but there are a number of secondary characters who it helps to have met already in the previous books. If you don't mind explicit sex, I suggest trying Tempting the Beast from Ellora's Cave. If you'd rather have it toned down a little (but still hot), try either the short story in Hot Spell or Megan's Mark from Berkley. Or, if this one sounds interesting, start here. It'll work out fine.

Soul Deep
Lora Leigh
The Breeds, Book 5 (Coyote Breeds, Book 1)
8/10

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge, eBook Reading Challenge, Romance Reading Challenge

One of these things is not like the others

I was flicking through Marcus' daycare portfolio the other day and started reading one of the entries.

They have a sand table at his daycare, filled with black iron sand. So they provide magnets for the kids to play with. If they wave the magnet over the sand, the iron filings in the sand all magically jump up onto the magnet. They also have some shells and stones and other similar stuff in the sand.

I'm happily reading away, enjoy the tale of Marcus' enjoyment of the sand and magnet when I get to the following sentence:

Marcus then finds some small pieces of pumas and two shells and begins to pile the black sand on top of them.

Huh? I think. What do big cats have to do with a sand table?

I remained confused for several moments until finally it clicked. Not the plural of puma but pum-as. In other words (or more accurately, the correct spelling) - pumice.

Okay, it makes sense now. But it took a while.

This?


Or this?

Although I suppose it was a good guess if you didn't know how to spell pumice. It's just that the page is printed out from a computer; where's spellcheck when you need it?

Another page down on Dawn Star


It's taken a while, but hooray, I just finished my next page (or technically half page since that's how I work) on Dawn Star.

I now have some arm and shoulder and I'm really pleased with how it is coming out. I am so very tempted to carry straight on to the next page (her face!) but I'm behind with Book of Ink Circles and I'd like to catch up with that first. When that's done, if I still want to carry on with this, I shall give myself permission to do so.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Character Creations Sale

To celebrate the start of a new year, the entire store is on sale until the end of January.

It is my hope and intention that 2009 will be a better year for Character Creations than 2009 was. My health seems to be a little better than last year and Marcus starts school at the end of January. To celebrate both those things and to start the year with a bang, I am putting the entire store on sale until the end of the month.

All email charts are 50% off and all printed charts are 25% off. The discount will show up once you put a design into your shopping cart. Happy shopping and happy stitching!

I also apologise for my lack of attention to the bulletin board and gallery. I'll be asking my site admin to deal with the spam on the board as soon as he can, and I've cleaned up the gallery and added two new photos. New Zealand stitcher Ian Moody sent me photos of his finished stitching for The Grass Cutter and The Reading Desk and both came out beautifully.

I thought I'd finish off with pictures of few of my own favourite designs, because every blog post looks better with a picture or three.


Eyes Full of Wings - Art by Jessica Palmer


Celtic Moon - Art by Nicole Cadet


Daisy Bay Revisited - Art by Wendy Leach


Kakapo - Art by Richard Moore


Nautch Girls - Art by Edwin Weeks

Cover for Hunting Ground

The cover for Patricia Briggs' next Alpha and Omega novel, Hunting Ground.


Found on Tez Says; she found it on Facebook.

Weekly Geeks 2009-01

andThe Weekly Geeks meme took a break after Dewey's untimely death in December, but it's back now and the first mission, appropriately enough, is to take a look at the blogging community.
In the spirit of the amazing community building that Dewey was so good at, tell us about your favorite blogs, the ones you have bookmarked or subscribe to in your Google Reader, that you visit on a regular basis. Tell us what it is about these blogs that you love, that inspire or educate you or make you laugh. Be sure to link to them so we can find them too.
I have so many blogs and journals in my Google Reader that it just isn't funny. And I keep on asking more. So here are a few of the ones that I enjoy the most. Some are part of the book bloggers community, some are not, but they are all good reads.
  • Dear Author
    This is primarily a romance review blog, but it is equally strong in providing news on the publishing industry, a lot of information on ebooks and ereaders (I like these posts) and book commentary. While I do read romances, they aren't one of my reading staples, but I really enjoy reading about romances and their themes and tropes. Dear Author provides exellent, well-thought out essays that are generally followed up by interesting and detailed discussion in the comments, with both authors and readers joining in.
  • The Book Smugglers
    Ana and Thea run a wonderful book review blog that focuses on genre fiction, mainly romance and fantasy, with some horror and often graphic novels thrown in. Their reviews are excellent, always detailed and thoughtful with clear reasons for their reactions, favourite quotes and general commentary on the book in question. They also have author interviews, themed weeks and some silly stuff thrown in for good measure. They both have a clear sense of fun and the comment threads can be almost as much fun as the posts themselves.
  • Marg's Reading Adventures
    I feel a great sense of kindship with Marg. I'm not exactly sure why, as we don't read the same sort of books (she reads a lot of historical fiction, while I'm more a genre girl myself) but her posts are always interesting and her book reviews fascinating. She's an Australian and I'm a New Zealander who has lived in Australia, so that may have something to do with it. I just kind of feel like we'd get along well.
  • Tor.com
    This site, put together by SF publishing imprint Tor, features all sorts of intersting things including discussions of books (not necessarily published by Tor), a look at SF art and the making of book covers, free fiction and other commentary. Not everything they post appeals to me, but it's always worth checking out what each post is about.
  • And then there's I Can Has Cheezburger
    Who doesn't like some LOLcats in the morning - or the afternoon, or the evening, or any time really?
So let's finish with a LOLcat, doing something any reader with a cat will immediately recognise...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

In the Forests of Serre by Patricia A. McKillip

I fell in love with Patricia McKillip's writing many years ago when, as a teenager, I discovered her Riddle-Master trilogy in the library. From there, I pretty much read all her books as they came out. McKillip's writing is beautiful; it's lyrical, poetical, full of fantastic imagery and amazing ideas. But it also is never simple. Mostly, that simply enhances the story, but sometimes I find it opaque as well and I'm left confused. It's the former far more than the latter, but after failing to finish The Tower at Stony Wood, I left off buying her books for a while. Then last year, I heard a podcast of McKillip reading the beginning of her new book, The Bell at Sealy Head and was entraced all over again. When it was published and I read it, I just loved it and it was one of my 10/10 reads for 2008. At the time, I had some credit with Fictionwise, so in my enthusiasm, I went and splurged on two of the books I had skipped, In the Forests of Serre and Alphabet of Thorn.

When I found that Lenneth was holding a Patricia McKillip Reading Challenge for 2009, I pretty much immediately signed up, planning to read those two books I had on the TBR list and perhaps have another go at reading The Tower at Stony Wood. (I still haven't decided what I'll read for the third book in the challenge as I'm also tempted to reread some of my favourites.) Within the first week of January, the random number generator threw up In the Forests of Serre for me.

McKillip's books do not have simple linear plots, and this one is no exception to that. The reader starts off meeting a wide array of characters - Ronan, Prince of Serre, still grieving the loss of his beloved wife and child while his father demands he wed again; Sidonie, Princess of Dacia who is chosen to be his bride in spite of her own wishes; Euan, a scribe in Dacia who is selected to transcribe the writings of the wizard, Unciel, who went away and fought a terrible monster he cannot bear to mention and nearly died as a result; Gyre, the wizard always desperate for more magic who Unciel chooses to escort Sidonie to Serre. There are others as well, including Ronan's parents, the entrancing firebird that lives in the forests of Serre and the witch, Brume, who sets the events of the story in motion.

In the opening pages, Ronan rides down and kills one of Brume's white hens and she curses him to remain lost in the forest until he finds her again. Sidonie arrives to find her bridegroom missing and Gyre sees a chance to take something he wants. But this is too simple a summation to indicate the depth of the story and the intricate way in which everyone's stories are woven together to make a bright, magical whole. Each of the major characters encounters Brume and each is changed by meeting her. We learn about hearts and one's heart's desire and what is needed to be whole.

It's a beautiful story, but I admit that I found myself struggling a little at first as I tried to keep up with all the characters and threads of the story. About halfway through it all begins to come together and the power of McKillip's story-telling shines through. Once I got to that point, I couldn't stop reading and had to keep going and going, stealing time whenever I could to get to the end. Looking back, I see a glittering tapestry telling a bright tale and I am even more entranced by the story now, with the whole of it in my head and a day gone by to let it all sink in.

I tried reading McKillip's Od Magic last year and gave up because there seemed to be too many characters and too many plot threads. After my experience with In the Forests of Serre, I think I'm going to need to give Od Magic another go. I suspect the same thing is likely to occur and it all weaves together beautifully at the end. Looking back at what I wrote last year, I see that I did try to read Od Magic at a time when I was struggling to read much of anything, so I suspect it wasn't a good time to attempt McKillip.

It's a long time love affair, the one I have with Patricia McKillip, and I feel no need to attempt to escape from her spell. I love her writing, I love her characters and her stories. In the Forests of Serre was no exception and I'm looking forward to reading more of her books as the year progresses. The challenge is to read three, but I rather suspect I may have read more than that by the time the end of the year rolls around.

In the Forests of Serre
Patricia A. McKillip
8/10

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge, eBook Reading Challenge, Patricia A. McKillip Reading Challenge

Friday, January 09, 2009

Greenwitch by Susan Cooper

Greenwitch, the third in Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising sequence, is just a little book. I don't know how many pages the paper version runs to, but as an audiobook it was only four and a half hours long. I actually started it last year, but stalled when Christmas got in the way, so I started it again earlier this week (mostly so I could include it in my 2009 challenges I admit). I finished it in a few days, something that is most unusual for me with an audiobook.

Greenwitch begins with the theft of the grail the Drew children found in Over Sea, Under Stone. Merriman quickly recruits them to try to recover it and they return to Trewissick, soon finding themselves joined by Will Stanton and Captain Toms, the owner of the Grey House where they stayed the summer before. This is really Jane's story, with her brothers and Will as the supporting cast, further supported by Merriman and Captain Toms.

She is invited to witness the making of the Greenwitch, a massive creation of wood and stones that the women of the village make through the night once a year. At daybreak, the Greenwitch is tipped over the cliff into the sea. Jane is told that she is welcome to make a wish on the Greenwitch, like the other women of Trewissick. Impulsively, instead of wishing something for herself, Jane wishes for the Greenwitch to be happy, a wish that will have major consequences.

Meanwhile, Simon and Barney have an encounter with an agent of the Dark, who has the grail and is trying to recover the manuscript that came with it and ended up at the bottom of the sea at the end of Over Sea, Under Stone. But it is the Greenwich who has claimed the cannister holding the manuscript and who recovers it will be a major factor in the current balance between the Light and the Dark.

This is Jane's story and she shines here. She is the quieter, more thoughtful one compared to her brothers, but in this case those are the attributes that are needed to reach the Greenwitch and persuade it to give up its "secret". The end scene, with Will, on the rocks, is lovely and it is only the thoughtful girl and the Old One in the guise of a boy that would think to give the Greenwitch a new treasure to protect. It would never occur to Simon or Barney, and that most likely is why this is not "their" book. They took centre stage in Over Sea, Under Stone and now it is Jane's turn.

Alex Jennings is an excellent narrator and it was a pleasure to listen to him reader Susan Cooper's lyrical prose. She can shift easily between lively interaction between the characters and evocative descriptions of the location or magical events. The Wild Magic is prevalent again in this book and it is beautifully described and beautifully narrated.

I'm thoroughly enjoying my reread of this series and I look forward to The Grey King, although I'm going to be listening to Magician's Gambit next. I figure that alternating between the lyrical and thoughtful Dark is Rising books and the light and fun Belgariad books should be a nice balance.

Greenwitch
Susan Cooper
The Dark is Rising, Book 3
8/10

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge

Thirteen Orphans by Jane Lindskold

The first of Jane Lindskold's books I read was Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls, which, as best as I can recall, a friend loaned to me. I was attracted by the title and entranced by the strange, quirky story within. (One of my goals for this year is to reread the book; I hope I love it as much on a reread many years later.) From then on, I kept an eye out for Lindskold's books. Some I passed on, some I loved (Changer and Legends Walking particularly and I wish she'd write more in that universe) while others were so-so for me. When she started her Firekeeper saga with Through Wolf's Eyes I was right there. I only managed to read two books in the six book series; not because they were bad but because they were dense, detailed epic fantasy with tiny print on the page and I couldn't get my CFS-brain to process them easily.

Lindskold wrapped up the Firekeeper books in 2007 and last November saw the publication of Thirteen Orphans, the first in her new series, Breaking the Wall. This is a contemporary-set fantasy with its inspiration in Mahjong and Chinese culture. Several generations ago, twelve magical advisors and their child emperor (the Thirteen Orphans) were exiled from a world evocatively known as the Lands Born from Smoke and Sacrifice. Now, their descendants live in modern day America, some aware of their heritage and others not. As the story begins, Brenda Morris, nineteen year old heir apparent to her father, the Rat, travels with him to meet the emperor's descendant and, unbeknown to her, learn about her heritage for the first time.

But something goes wrong, and the man they have come to visit is first missing and then strangely changed. Shortly after, the same thing happens to Brenda's father - all his memories of his life and heritage as the Rat are stolen and he no longer remembers any of that part of his life. Brenda finds herself working with Pearl Bright, the Tiger of the Thirteen Orphans, and the three others whose memories have not been stolen. Although not the Rat herself, Brenda finds herself able to access some of the Rat's abilities and the five remaining Orphans work to discover and stop their enemies and return the memories of the rest of the group.

This was a very good story with a fascinating premise. I know what Mahjong is and, years ago, I played it a few times, but it isn't something I know very much about. This didn't particularly matter as so long as I knew roughly what the tiles looked like, Lindskold filled in as much detail as required for the story. The link between the game (which is used as a mnemonic for magic more than for magic itself) and magic and culture was neatly worked out and I enjoyed it very much.

I also like the characters. I think we probably get to know Brenda and Pearl best of all the main characters and I liked them both. Brenda is young and unsure, always aware she is not actually the Rat but only his heir while the others are the full holders of their power. Possibly falling in love with an enemy isn't an addition she needs, but doesn't seem able to help, the painful irony compounded by the fact the man has lost his memory in the same manner as the lost Thirteen Orphans and she is most probably falling for an illusion anyway. But Brenda rises above it all, holds her own with her companions and manages to make the right decisions when it counts.

The reasons why the Orphans are suddenly being hunted after so many years are cleverly put - and equally cleverly turned on their head in the final climax of the book. There is a full story here, but it is clearly the beginning of a larger story and I suspect we may find that what we thought was the point of the tale will prove to be a side-step beside the actual arc of the entire series.

I am looking forward to the sequel, Nine Gates, which will be published in August this year, and Lindskold is currently working on the third book, Five Odd Honors. I have no idea how long the series is expected to be and I am tempted to email the author to ask. It is kind of nice to have a rough idea what I'm getting into.

Thirteen Orphans
Jane Lindskold
Breaking the Wall, Book 1
8/10

Qualifies for: 100+ Reading Challenge, Support Your Local Library Reading Challenge

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Wow!

We're actually doing well at playing cricket today.

I'm happily enjoying sun, stitching and cricket while we actually get wickets. What a perfect combination!

Fascinating post on the publishing industry at Dear Author

Great article (and great comments too) over at Dear Author on the state of the publishing industry and where the future may lie.

Breaking: The Sky Is Falling. Will Publishing Innovate or Deteriorate?

I think I pretty much agree with most of it. Something has to change, but the current model is insupportable.

Also, from the comments of the articles, and interesting post on MoJo's perfect bookstore. I could shop there quite happily.

I won a book!

Author Ann Aguirre (whose Grimspace I loved and Wanderlust I liked very much) has just run a competition over on her blog. After being totally blown away by Pauline Almada's novel, The Eye of Night, she offered to give away 10 copies and run a book club for the book once everyone has received their books (and anyone else who wants to join in has had a chance to snag themselves a copy).

The book sounded excellent (romantic, epic fantasy was how Ann described it, which sounded perfect), so I added my name to the comments.

And I won!

I now have the book sitting on my laptop and just have to transfer it to my PDA. (An ecopy seemed the way to go, both for me and to save Ann the postage to New Zealand.) I'm really looking foward to reading it, but I shall reign in my temptation until I know people getting paper copies have started reading it. I don't want to be finished too soon and not able to remember things once people start discussing the book.

This is a case where I don't mind that the TBR list has just gone up by one again.

Thank you, Ann.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

And the Random Number Generator says...

...that my next read will be In the Forests of Serre by Patricia A. McKillip.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Dreams Underfoot by Charles de Lint

I've been familiar with the name of author Charles de Lint for a number of years, but I've never really got around to reading his books. I read Moonheart many years ago and remember being very impressed with it (to the point I bought the audiobook from Audible last year and hope to get to listen to it this year), but I never read anything else.

de Lint writes urban fantasy. Somehow, in the years between the late 80s/early 90s when people like de Lint and Emma Bull and were writing it and now, the designation of urban fantasy has developed two fairly disparate meanings. "Old school" urban fantasy of the kind de Lint writes tend to involve the instrustion of some form of "faerie" into a modern, often a least slightly decaying, urban setting. Art and music are often important to the characters and the tale. More current urban fantasy is more likely to involve an up-to-date urban setting that includes fantastical creatures such as werewolves and vampires, and novels often crossover with paranormals and paranormal romance to some degree. The lines between the two are blurred, but the tone of each tends to be quite different and I do think they can be counted as separate styles (all in my opinion of course).

While de Lint has written a wide variety of books (I hadn't realised just how many until I went exploring his website), a significant number are set in his imaginary city of Newford, where strange things live in the underground Old City, mystical beings walk the streets and magic is just around the corner, waiting for you to believe in it to see it. Several of the later Newford books have caught my eye in the past, but being kind of anal about reading series in order and never knowing where to start, I stayed away from the books. I can't remember what it was that recently sent me to de Lint's site, but there in the FAQ I found his recommended reading order for the Newford books. That was what I needed to give me a push into reading them.

I was getting around to putting Dreams Underfoot on reserve from the library when I discovered it as an ebook on fictionwise. That bumped it to the top of my reading pile and it was the last book I started in 2008. This is a collection of short stories - most gathered from previous publications and two new to the collection - that introduce the reader to Newford and some of the major characters that people later books and stories.

I generally don't find short stories easy to read, but I read my way steadily through these tales, each time I finished one moving on the to the next, not ready to leave Newford and it's strange and delightful inhabitants behind. These are not light tales, magic has a dark side, and discovering it exists tend to change a person's life forever (in fact, in one of my favourite stories, Ghosts of Wind and Shadow, we see the devastating effect this had on one character who refuses to accept the magic that touches her life). Happy endings are rare, and instead we get ones that feel true to the tales and tend to be bittersweet but satisfying. Indeed, in one story the "prince" totally fails to recognise the "princess" and fails her totally. She is doomed and he remains a loner of a man, unable to interact properly with other people. Not all the tales end this badly, but they aren't bows and bunnies either. All the same, they are wonderful to read.

I highly recommend this book and I'm looking forward to reading my way through the series now that I know what order I'm supposed to read them in. I also find myself looking forward all the more to listening to Moonheart (not a Newford story).

Just one word of caution. If you do read the ebook, I found it to have a number of typographical errors. Small words were often missing (strangely, most often "a") and sometimes I had to read a sentence twice to pick up that something was wrong and work out the intended meaning. I don't know if this problem occurs in the print book, but be aware of the ebook anyway.

Dreams Underfoot
Charles de Lint
Newford Novels, Book 1
9/10

Notes from a sick household

Marcus continues to improve. He still has a cough and is still a bit emotionally fragile, but he's getting better.

As for Dave and me, we now have raging head colds. Blergh.

Dave went back to work today and I don't think the air conditioning did him much good. He's considering working from home tomorrow.

Marcus went back to daycare and seems to have mostly enjoyed himself, although I arrived to find him in tears on one of the teacher's laps as he'd bumped into a cupboard and banged himself on the cheek. He's pretty tired at the end of the day, which is hardly surprising.

Talking of daycare, I settled which day would be Marcus' last day today. He finishes on January 30th, which is a Friday and the day after his 5th birthday. He starts school the following Tuesday on February 3rd. (Whoo-hoo, only two more payments to daycare! School fees are cheap in comparison.)

I can't believe my little baby boy is about to start school. Five years ago we were settling in for another four months of pregnancy and certainly weren't thinking about schools.


Can you believe that the tiny scrap of humanity in this photo is almost ready to start school? I can't.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Backing Up

I've just learned that I can't include Dreams Underfoot in my 2009 challenges because I started it in 2008, so I've taken it off the two lists I added it to yesterday.

Because I keep a continuing reading list, I count books in the year I finish them - otherwise I'd end up with a bunch of orphaned books that never "officially" got read because I started them in one year and finished them in the next.

So I'm going to keep my usual monthly lists the same way I always have, by the date I finish a book (so Dreams Underfoot will go on the January list), and will keep the challenge lists according the the "read the whole book in 2009" rule. It just means that my master list and my 100+ Reading Challenge lists won't match number-wise. It's not really a big deal, but it did take me a little while to figure out how I was going to deal with the issue.

I guess I'd better get one with reading Thirteen Orphans if I want to add something to my challenge lists.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Further on Marcus

Well, my "Marcus is doing better" post was a bit premature. His temperature never really went down and by yesterday he was as white as a ghost, totally lethargic and had a temperature of 38.1C (100.6F). He also hadn't eaten anything for the last three days and he's so skinny that he doesn't exactly have any weight to spare.

Mum and Dad are up for a few days and by the time they arrived about 3pm, he was definitely not improving. Mum immediately started covering him in cold towels (something I'm embarrassed to admit hadn't occurred to me) and even that didn't really help, so we took him to the doctor. Of course, it was New Year's Day, so we had to take him to an emergency doctor rather than our own GP, but it couldn't be helped.

She took one look at him and agreed he was a sick little boy. His temperature was the same and after she had listened to his chest, checked his throat and his ears, she announced that he had an infection in all of them, the worst being the chest infection. We needed to get some paracetamol into him to bring down the temperature and start giving him oral antibiotics. If we couldn't do that he'd have to go to hospital.

I hadn't realised he was that sick, so it was a bit of a shock to realise things were that bad.

The medicine taking didn't go all that well in the afternoon and he threw up the first dose of antibiotics. He fell asleep about 7pm last night, but when I went in to check on him a couple of hours later, he was so hot I took his temperature again. This time is was 38.8C (101.8F). I woke him up, covered him in some more cold cloths and gave him more pamol.

Thankfully, the fever broke overnight and while he's certainly not himself today, he is much, much better. The antibiotics are staying down and when we took him back to the doctor for a follow up visit, she was much happier with him. Now we just have to keep giving him the medicine and he'll come right.

It hasn't helped that it's hot (about 27C or 80F) and humid at the moment. I'm sure that doesn't help when you're all infected and feverish.

That's cool!

I've just finished my first book for the year. That also makes it the first book I can put on my challenge lists for the 100+ Reading Challenge and the eBook Reading Challenge.

Totally cool!

I'll be adding some comments on it (Dreams Underfoot by Charles de Lint) probably tomorrow, but I only just finished it about five minutes ago and I want to let my thoughts mull a bit before I write anything.

I have just come to the conclusion that I am a chain reader. As soon as I finished one book, I went and picked up the next. It's Thirteen Orphans by Jane Lindskold (which qualifies for the 100+ Reading Challenge and the Support Your Local Library Challenge) and I need to get on with it so I can get it back to the library. I'll be starting it once I've finished posting here.