Showing posts with label books I read. Show all posts
Showing posts with label books I read. Show all posts

Books I Read: Dance With Dragons (Basically Spoiler Free)

Title: Dance with Dragons (Book #5 of the Song of Ice and Fire saga)
Author: George R. R. Martin
Genre: (Very) Epic Fantasy
Published: 2011
My Content Rating: (Very) R for sex, language, violence, and whatever else you got

As I do with sequels, I won't summarize this for fear of spoilers. If you've read the first four, you're probably going to read this one. If you haven't, know that Game of Thrones (being book #1) starts a massive fantasy epic that includes a couple of continents, hundreds of knights, a number of kings, some assassins, wights, dragons, a deadly winter that lasts for decades, and direwolves (among other things).

To sum it up in one very, very simple sentence: Song of Ice and Fire is about what happens when kings die and nobody can agree on who's next.

(In two sentences: Nobody can agree on a king and there's some kind of creepy evil threatening to come down on them all while they're fighting about it.)

The only reason I don't immediately recommend these books to everyone I know is the content rating. It's pretty severe. If you can get past that, though, you should read this series. It's epic in every sense, and I'm glad I've read it. Even though the series has yet to be finished and George Martin consistently and sadistically gets me to care about people doomed to die.

Oops, was that a spoiler? Sorry.

Let's talk in the comments. I'll label my spoilers much better in there.

5 Reasons to Read Lord of the Rings

[If you haven't entered to win a copy of Silver Phoenix or Huntress yet, go do so now. Winners chosen next week.]

I still find it astounding that some folks haven't read Lord of the Rings. Then again, the book is huge, and I am sort of a fantasy geek (and don't ask about all the classics I've never read). Still, if you're on the edge, maybe I can help push you over.

1. Nazgûl. The undead servants of Mordor. They never sleep, never die, and never stop coming. They're kinda like Dementors, but they aren't scared of a silly glowing stag. And they ride dragons.

2. Gandalf. Every awesome wizard and mentor character you've ever read about was based on this guy. Dumbledore was killed by a silly curse. It took a fricking balrog to take Gandalf down. (And even then...)

3. Frodo and Sam. Bet you didn't know this was a buddy story. Frodo and Sam are hardcore. Think Naruto's tough? These guys walked into hell with the devil's wedding ring (he really wanted his ring back, too).

4. Maps. Harry Potter doesn't have 'em. Nuff said.

5. Epic fantasy poetry.

5. Middle Earth. Beautiful, even if all you've got are Tolkien's words. I'm pretty sure I'd die there, but I want to visit just the same.

So what's your favorite thing about Lord of the Rings?

INCARNATE Giveaway and Gushing

You guys know Jodi Meadows, right? I don't see how you could not. She's the most awesome person that ever awesomed (even before she became an Air Pirates fan).

And she wrote a book. It's called INCARNATE about a world where everyone is reincarnated and remembers their past lives and builds on their past lives . . . except for one girl. Ana's new, and nobody knows why, and worse, they don't know what happened to the person who was supposed to be reincarnated in her place.

UPDATE: Read an excerpt here.

So yeah, it's a tough life for Ana, but an awesome book for you! And it comes out tomorrow! And I'm giving a copy away to one of you lucky people!

Good day, yeah?

Even more, 45 bloggers are participating in a treasure hunt with clues, activities, and lots of prizes including signed books and handknit fingerless mitts. Simply by participating in MY contest, you automatically gain entries for Jodi's BIG drawing to win some of that stuff. Then you can head to the next activity for more INCARNATE fun! There are 19 INCARNATE activities around (I linked a few below). The more you do, the better your chances of winning the grand prize.

For more information on the INCARNATE Theater Treasure Hunt, check out Jodi's post here.

Now, to win a copy of the book from me, and also get entries to the grand prize drawing, all you have to do is come up with a caption for this (NOTE: the knitted critters are characters from INCARNATE, though your caption does not have to reference the book):


To be eligible for both contests, you MUST fill out this form:

All captions will be entered for Jodi's grand prize drawing. Additionally, I will choose my favorites and post them here on Wednesday. Then you will vote for a winner and that way no one can get mad at me that person will get a copy of INCARNATE from me (unsigned, but I will send it internationally).

UPDATE: The finalists for my contest have already been chosen, BUT any caption entered on this form will still get entries for Jodi's grand prize drawing, until Monday, Feb 6th, 11:59 pm EST.

If you have any questions, post them in the comments.

Improve your chances to win the INCARNATE grand prize giveaway by checking out some of these blogs (who in turn link to more; it's a big wicked circle):

What Are Your Top 5 Books?

So, your favorite books. I know, I know. Choosing favorite books is like choosing favorite children, but I figured I'd give it a shot. For the record, these are my favorite books, which is a different thing than what I would consider the "best" books. For example, the best Nazi movie might be Schindler's List, but my FAVORITE is Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

See the difference?

Ender's Game -- Yeah, the computer game that explores his psyche is a little much, but the kid's a tactical genius with a heart. I will never get tired of that.

The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings -- Do I really need to talk about this? (And yes, series count as one book. IT'S MY GAME SHUT UP!)

Dune -- I talked about this once, but for those who missed it: sandworms, desert ninjas, Sting.

Mistborn Trilogy -- The newest one on the list, so I'm not sure how it will stand the test of time. But at the moment? Original and awesome superpowers, clever heists, immortal tyrants, and subverted fantasy tropes all over the place.

Marvel 1602 -- An interesting look at what Marvel superheroes might be like in the 16th century rather than the 20th. Hey, I had to put one graphic novel on the list, and this one creeps me out less than Watchmen and V for Vendetta (though both of those are good as well). Plus it's written by Neil Gaiman. Double win.

Now that I look at this, it's interesting to note that 4 out of 5 of these revolve around the Chosen One trope. I shouldn't be surprised, I guess.

Of course you all hate my top 5. So what are yours?

Books I Read: Les Miserables

Title: Les Miserables
Author: Victor Hugo
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: 1862
My Content Rating: PG cuz people die

Jean Valjean is an escaped convict, recaptured in a small French village for stealing from a bishop. But when the bishop vouches for him, even gives him more than he stole, Valjean devotes his life to helping others. His sins catch up with him, however, when a relentless police inspector named Javert comes looking for him.

No, I am not going to summarize everything. This is a big, freaking book!

Besides, Jean Valjean's story is the one I really love. But it took me four months to read this book, because of the loooong descriptions of Waterloo, the history of convents and Parisian sewers, the social development of French street urchins, etc, etc (etc).

Not that these descriptions were bad or even boring. It's being forced to study 50 pages of history -- even interesting history -- before being allowed to get back to the plot. If you love France or history or 45-page diversions about criminal argot, then you definitely should read this.

You should probably read it anyway, but enter with patience. If I had to read this in high school (as a lot of my friends did), I would have hated it forever. I'm glad I read it now, though. It was worth it.

Books I Read: Open Minds

Susan Quinn is a regular here at Author's Echo and (I'm proud to say) one of my critique partners. She wrote this book. It comes out tomorrow.

It's pretty cool.

Title: Open Minds
Author: Susan Kaye Quinn
Genre: YA Sci-Fi
Published: 2011
My Content Rating: PG-13 for make-outs, tense situations, and the occasional bullet

In a world where everyone can read minds, Kira is a zero -- a freak who can't read or be read. When she accidentally controls her best friend's mind, nearly killing him, she discovers she's a different kind of freak entirely: a mindjacker. She can't admit the truth, but fitting in means lying and controlling the minds of everyone she loves. It gets worse when she gets in over her head in the mindjacker underworld, and discovers the government knows more than it's letting on.

The best part of this book is the world. A lot of stories have mind-reading as the special power, but here it's the norm. The book does a fantastic job of exploring what that world would be like, and what it would mean to be a zero or a mindjacker.

I also love how there are no easy choices for Kira. Lying is not just about fitting in; admitting she can control minds could get her in serious trouble. But what else can she do? And really, her choices just get worse from there.

If you like sci-fi and/or paranormal (cuz this book is really that, too), check this one out.

Books I Read: White Cat

Title: White Cat
Author: Holly Black
Genre: YA Urban Fantasy
Published: 2010
My Content Rating: PG-13 for violence and sexy situations

Cassel comes from a family of curse workers--people with the power to change your emotions, your memories, your luck, with a mere touch. Curse work is illegal, of course, so they're criminals. Except for Cassel: he hasn't got the touch. He discovers his brothers are keeping secrets from him and suspects he's part of a huge con. He has to unravel his past and his memories to outcon the conmen.

I loved this (and thank you, dear readers, for recommending it). I loved the powers, LOVED the cons, and thought the characters were great. If any of that sounds even remotely interesting to you, read this book.

There were only two things that kept the book from being perfect for me. The first was a possible-but-minor plot hole near the end. (If you've read it: when did Barron have time to read his notebooks?)

The second was the cover. It's a very cool cover, but when I read descriptive hints like this, I had to take a second look:
"Your grandfather told me that someone in your family was descended from a runaway slave," she says.... People are always coming up to me on trains and talking to me in different languages, like it's obvious I'll understand them.
Maybe it's just me, but the guy in this cover doesn't look ambiguous in his racial ancestry at all. He looks white--Italian, maybe--but not like somebody who obviously speaks a foreign language. It didn't ruin the book for me, but it surprised me that someone thought this guy fit the descriptions.

If you've read it, what do you think? About the story, I mean, though we can talk cover in the comments too.

Books I Read: The Count of Monte Cristo

Title: The Count of Monte Cristo
Author: Alexander Dumas
Genre: Historical Adventure
Published: 1844
Content Rating: PG (people die, but barely)

Edmond Dantes has everything: a loving father, a beautiful fiancee, and a promising career. Unfortunately, three men conspire against him and he is unjustly imprisoned on an island prison. But there he meets a man who teaches him everything he knows, including how to escape and how to find a treasure of untold millions. When Dantes escapes and learns how his enemies have prospered, he starts in on the longest and most classic revenge plan of all time.

I'm always iffy on the classics. I blame highschool. But while this book definitely had wordy prose, overwritten dialog, and a host of characters that were either black or white, it still managed to grab me from page one.

At first it was Edmond's generous character. Then it was the tension of escape and revenge. But by the end, what I was most interested in was the subtle and unexpected shades of gray that showed up. Edmond took much of his revenge on his enemies' families, but not all of them were horrible people.

I forgave this book a lot of flaws considering it was written 167 years ago, but even with its flaws it's still a good read, which is not something I say of most classics. Don't learn modern writing craft from this book, but adventure and revenge? Yes.

So You Want to Read Steampunk...

While not pretending this list is comprehensive, these are some of the steampunk novels I've read that I would recommend to someone just strapping on their goggles and starting down the clockwork rabbit hole.

What is steampunk? Very, very simply, steampunk is Industrial Revolution-era fiction with a sci-fi twist. Computers running on gears and steam, floating battleships, bio-mechanical soldiers, stuff like that. Steampunk is much more than that, of course, but that's the archetype.

Jules Verne and HG Wells are considered the precursors to steampunk. Technically they're science fiction, not steampunk, because they were written in the era in which they take place. But if you want to understand the steampunk feel, you can hardly do better than to read The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

One of the first steampunk novels is The Difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. Published in 1990, it takes place in a 19th-century Britain where Charles Babbage has built the first computer out of gears and cranks -- becoming a Lord among a new breed of tech-savvy nobility -- where race cars and tanks run on steam, and where the Japanese build clockwork robot servants.

These are my three favorite steampunk novels. You can read a more in-depth review by following the links.

Boneshaker -- An experiment gone wrong turns 19th-century Seattle into a walled-off zombie town, and a hard-working mother must go in to rescue her son.

Leviathan -- An adventure novel set in World War I, except instead of Central vs. Allies it's the massive machines of the Clankers vs. the genetically-engineered monsters of the Darwinists.

Perdido Street Station -- A dark tale that mixes technology, psuedo-scientific magic, a myriad of sentient species, and bio-engineered monstrosities in a city with the feel of 19th-century London, but way creepier.

That's just a beginning of course. Other books I've heard of, but haven't been able to read yet, include Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series, the Steampunk anthology edited by Jeff and Ann Vandermeer, Jay Lake's Mainspring trilogy, and Kenneth Oppel's Airborn.

And probably lots more I've never heard of. Steampunk readers, got any good recommendations I've missed?

Books I Read: Perdido Street Station

Title: Perdido Street Station
Author: China Miéville
Genre: SF/F/Steampunk/Horror(?)
Published: 2000
Content Rating: R for language, sex, and the sucking of brains

Beneath the ribs of a dead, ancient beast lies New Crobuzon, a squalid city where humans, arcane races, and bio-engineered Re-mades live in perpetual fear of Parliament and its brutal militia. Everyone's got something to hide, including Isaac -- a brilliant scientist who's in over his head. He's been hired to help a de-winged birdman fly again, but that's not the problem. The problem is one of the specimens he collected for his research: a caterpillar that feeds only on a hallucinogenic drug. What finally emerges from the cocoon turns out to be so terrible, not even the Ambassador of Hell will aid in its capture.

The world in this book is AMAZING. It felt like a dark, more-serious version of Terry Pratchett's Discworld. It's got everything: steampunk tech, psuedo-scientific magic, fantastic sentient species, monstrous terrors, mafiosos, oppressive governments, even artificial intelligence.

The writing is really good, if you don't mind the tangents into a description of some new burrough of New Crobuzon (which really aren't tangents, as the city is one of the main characters in the book, but some might not see it that way). The plot, too, was really strong. I admit there were moments I felt were too coincidental (like when Isaac learned what to feed the caterpillar), but it led me along nicely. And especially once the cocoon hatched, I couldn't put the book down.

Assuming the content doesn't freak you out, you should totally read this book.

5 Reasons You Should Read Dune

I noticed some of you haven't read Dune. That's okay. I mean, there's TONS of books I haven't read. But because Dune is one of my favorites, I thought I'd give you a few (more) reasons to read it.

Sandworms. In the desert, these ginormous creatures follow any vibrations that feel like life. One of them will swallow you whole before you realize those are its teeth rising out of the sand all around you.

Fremen. They're like desert ninjas. You know the sandworms? These guys ride them.

Spice. It turns your eyes blue, enables faster-than-light space travel, sometimes gives visions of the future, and tastes like cinnamon. What more could you want? Well, maybe something less addictive, I suppose.

Sting. Okay, so he's not in the book. He was in the movie (that you should never see), but you can imagine him while you're reading.

Arrakis. Imagine a world with almost no water at all, where you need a special suit to reuse as much of your body's fluids as possible, where massive sandstorms rage across the surface, rivaled in their destructive power by only the monstrous sandworms that prowl the desert. It should've been a useless world, except for one thing: the spice. Without it, travel between the worlds is impossible and the Galactic Empire crumbles, and the spice is only found on Arrakis.

He who controls the spice controls the universe.

Have you read Dune? If so, what's your favorite part about it? If not, why the heck not?

Books I Read: The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Like dystopia?* The Alliterati are giving away 4 YA dystopian novels over at the Secret Archives. Check it out!

* See what I did there?

Title: The Forest of Hands and Teeth
Author: Carrie Ryan
Genre: YA zombie dystopian
Published: 2009
Content Rating: R for zombie violence

All her life, Mary has only known the village--the Sisterhood that rules it, the fences that surround it, and the ever-hungry Unconsecrated trying to get in. Life is...okay--restricting, depressing, and the boy she likes is marrying her best friend--but things get worse when Mary learns secrets about the Sisterhood that threaten to destroy them all.

This book hooked me pretty fast. Even the cover and the title make me want to read it (plus I have a thing for zombie apocalypses). The writing--something I rarely care about in favor of a good story--is fantastic. It's beautiful, creepy, and tense.

I did have a problem whenever Mary did something stupid. I know, she's been through a lot and doesn't have much hope, but it was hard for me to excuse her occasionally-risky behavior in a world where the smallest risk can get you zombified. Other than that, I thought this book was great. The zombie scenes were properly scary, and the world was properly interesting.

I've read some folks who were upset that not all secrets were revealed, nor all questions answered, but that didn't bother me at all. They gave the information I cared about, and I can fill in what I like pretty readily. If you like zombie stories, check this one out.

What Stops You From Reading?

It's rare that a book bothers me so much I have to put it down (especially if my to-be-read pile is small, an event which happens all too often out here). In 2.5 years I've read over 70 books (thanks, Goodreads) and only stopped 3. But there are a few things that might stop me from reading a book.

I hate a main character. They're arrogant, stupid, or both, to the point where reading about them makes me feel angry and/or dumb. It has to be pretty bad, though. I mean, I've never stopped reading a James Patterson novel.

It's boring. Usually this will be because there is some promised tension in the beginning, then pages and pages pass before the tension is ever brought up again. I'll put up with slow books, though, if something else is driving me: a fascinating world, witty banter, or sometimes just a friend who said it was worth the whole read.

The writing pisses me off. This is really, really rare. I don't normally care about quality prose one way or the other--even when it's not very good, I can still get through it so long as it makes sense. But there was this one book, with a host of featureless characters and As You Know, Bob dialog oozing out of its spine. I stopped that one on page 62 and never looked back.

So what stops you from reading a book?

Books I Read: Elantris

Title: Elantris
Author: Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2006
Content Rating: R for action violence

It used to be that men and women were transformed, seemingly randomly, into nigh-immortal, magical beings. When this happened, they and their families moved to Elantris, the city of the gods. Ten years ago, the magic died. Elantrians lost their power and beauty, becoming like the living dead--unable to heal, enduring pain and hunger so severe that most succumbed to insanity.

When Raoden, beloved prince of the kingdom, becomes one of the fallen Elantrians, his father covers it up, telling the kingdom he has died. Sarene, his bride from another land, arrives in her new home a widow. Meanwhile Hrathen, high priest of the enemy's religion, intends to convert the entire kingdom, because if he doesn't, his god will annihilate them all.

The book alternates between the viewpoints of the three main characters. I admit, I wasn't always interested in all three points of view (most of the time I found Raoden's the most interesting, though the political and religious tension were usually on Sarene and Hrathen's side). Also the novel felt like it started slow to me, but then it's epic fantasy. I understand Sanderson has a world he needs to reveal (and it wasn't infodump-slow, just slower than I wanted).

But by the end, I loved it. One of my favorite things about Sanderson (having read two of his worlds now) is how he reveals the complexities of his world through the story. Not by hiding things from the reader, but by revealing secrets as the characters figure them out. In both Elantris and Mistborn, the characters initially believe the world works a certain way. As they try to save their world, however, they discover there is much to it than they thought possible.

It's that aspect of Sanderson's fantasy that is starting to make him my new Orson Scott Card (no disrespect to Card--Ender's Game is still my favorite novel of all time). If you like fantasy, and you've already read the Mistborn trilogy, try this one out. You might like it.

Books I Read: Favorites of 2010

I know it's a bit late, but here are some of my favorite books I read last year. A few I've talked about before. Those have just a brief summary and a link to my original post on the topic, but there are a couple here outside my regular genre(s) that I wanted to point out.

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
Mark Haddon, 2003, Mystery/Literary
An autistic teenager investigates the death of the neighbor's dog and ends up learning secrets about his parents he was never meant to know. Read more...

Million Dollar Baby: Stories from the Corner
F.X. Toole, 2000, Short Stories
A collection of stories drawn from the author's experiences in the world of boxing. Now I don't like boxing, and I don't normally like short stories, but I really enjoyed this book. The trainers and fighters in this book are smart, showing that boxing isn't just about hitting the other guy until one of you drops. It's about strategy, timing, knowing where and when to do the most damage. As Toole put it, "Boxing is like chess with pain."

Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins, 2008, YA Science Fiction
Do I really need to talk about this book more? It's awesome. Worth all the hype (the two sequels are pretty good too). Read more...

Mistborn trilogy
Brandon Sanderson, 2006-8, Fantasy
In a world where the nobility exhibit super powers just by ingesting metal, a small band of thieves sets out to do the impossible: start a revolution among the commoners, and overthrow the immortal tyrant known as the Lord Ruler. Read more...

Itchy Brown Girl Seeks Employment
Ella deCastro Baron, 2009, Memoir
A collection of stories, poems, and essays that serve as an ironic resume of experiences one wouldn't normally tell a potential employer. Ella is a first generation Filipina American who writes about her struggles with faith, prejudice, eczema, death, miracles, and more. I'm biased, as Ella is a good friend of mine, but there is a lot here to make you laugh and to make you think. I was most moved by the story of her friend Emilia who died of cancer, and Ella's struggle to trust a God that didn't answer our (because I was there too) repeated prayers for her to be healed.

 So tell me, what were your favorite reads of 2010?

Books I Read: Leviathan

Title: Leviathan
Author: Scott Westerfeld
Genre: YA steampunk
Published: 2009
Content Rating: PG for action and mild violence

It's around the start of World War One, except Archduke Ferdinand (whose murder started the war) has a son, Alek, who could inherit Austria should the emperor die. He goes into exile with only a walking warmachine and a small band of men to help him. On the other side is Deryn, a girl from Britain who wants to join the air corps so badly she disguises herself as a boy.

These two find themselves stuck in the middle of the biggest war the world's ever seen, between Clankers and Darwinists.

Oh, you don't know what those are? Dude, they're the best part of this novel. Clankers (Austria, Germany, and some other Central Powers) have advanced machine technology beyond what we have today, to the point where they sport multi-legged land dreadnoughts and Stormwalkers instead of silly tanks. The Darwinists, on the other hand, (Britain, France, and other Allied Powers) have taken the teachings of Charles Darwin to a whole new level and are fabricating animals to serve them in a variety of ways. Among them: talking message lizards, hydrogen-breathing jellyfish, and an enormous living airship.

If you're not excited yet, maybe this isn't the book for you, but I loved it. It's illustrated too, bringing to life all the best, most interesting aspects of the world. And on top of everything, there's action and adventure every other page. This is a totally fun book. My only complaint is I wanted more closure at the end, but that won't stop me from getting the next book when I get a chance.

Overthinking Dr. Seuss

I read a lot of Dr. Seuss (9 kids will do that to you), to the point where I've caught myself thinking about the story behind the story, wondering if the good doctor ever considered these angles.

What do you mean I'm over-analyzing?

The Zax -- Evolution or Cruel Experiment?
"Never budge! That's my rule. Never budge in the least! Not an inch to the west! Not an inch to the east!
I'll stay here, not budging! I can and I will if it makes you and me and the whole world stand still!" 

A North-going Zax and a South-going Zax bump into each other during their long, seemingly pointless journeys, each stubbornly refusing to step aside for the other.

Are there more of these creatures? And are these the first to ever run into each other on their (presumably, magnetically perfect) paths? This appears to be a potential evolutionary problem.

Or is it intentional. One mentions a South-going school. Is there some genetic scientist who has trained them and set them on colliding paths, just to see what they would do?

The Sneetches -- The Economy of Beach Bums
Then, when every last cent
Of their money was spent,
The Fix-it-Up Chappie packed up
And he went.

And he laughed as he drove
In his car up the beach,
"They never will learn.
No. You can't teach a Sneetch."

Plain-belly Sneetches live oppressed by their star-bearing brethren. Until a con man convinces them to change their stars back and forth, taking all their money and leaving the Sneetches poor and confused.

But where did they get this money? In the entire book, the Sneetches have neither homes nor jobs nor clothes (it's cool, they're birds). Maybe their economy is just never shown, or maybe they are the world's most successful beach bums, spending vast welfare checks only on marshmallows and frankfurters.

The Sleep Book -- A Message from Big Brother
We have a machine in a plexiglass dome
Which listens and looks into everyone's home.
And whenever it sees a new sleeper go flop,
It jiggles and lets a new Biggel-Ball drop. 

From one perspective, the Sleep Book is about the bedtime and sleep behaviors of various creatures as the countryside goes to bed.

From another, it's subtle propoganda composed by a totalitarian regime. The message? "Everything is fine. All are sleeping peacefully, except you. We know."

Books I Read: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Title: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Author: Mark Haddon
Genre: Mystery (sort of...more like literary)
Published: 2003
Content Rating: R for language

Chris Boone is an autistic 15-year-old living with his working class father. When the neighbor's dog is killed, Chris decides to find out who is responsible. In the process, he learns things about his parents he was never supposed to know.

I'm not normally a literary kind of guy (you may recall the literary genre loses points with me),* but I loved this book. I read it in like 5 days which is some kind of record. I loved the mystery, even though the book's not really about who killed the dog. I love the methodical, logical way Chris went about it.

For that matter, I love the methodical, logical way Chris thinks period. He has a near-perfect memory and likes order. If he sees 4 red cars in a row on the way to school, it's a Good Day. He can explain the Monty Hall problem with complex combinatorics and a diagram that's simple to understand. He reasons that if there are aliens, they would be totally different from us and might use something like rainclouds as a spaceship. Almost every other chapter is an exploration into one of these (mostly very interesting) digressions.

And craftwise, this book is genius. It does nothing normal. The chapters are prime numbers. Every few pages has some unimportant diagram (though it's important to Chris).

And not a single description is given of the other characters feelings. Chris doesn't understand tone of voice or body language--he doesn't even look at people's faces. He simply records what people say, word for word. And yet we are given enough context, and the occasional telling gesture, to feel what the other characters are feeling.

As a writer, I'm in awe.

* Then again I loved Life of Pi, so maybe I'm kidding myself?

Sketch: Phoenix Fan Art

If you haven't heard, Cindy Pon got a box of ARCs for Fury of the Phoenix, the sequel to her debut novel. Now she's holding a contest to giveaway at least one of those ARCs. I read Cindy's debut last year and really enjoyed it, so I had to do my best on this one.

So what do I love about Silver Phoenix? The action, yes, but mostly the Asian setting and mythos (I wanted to draw the gods or immortals, but this scene was hard enough as it was).

I don't know why, but rice fields make me happy.

I tried a lot of new things with this (I really want that ARC!), so I screwed up a lot of things too. But watercolor pencils? My new favorite. I found a pack (Disney brand?) with the stuff that came with our four newest kids. They don't know how to use them, so I figured I'd learn.

They're so cool. Like painting, but without the abject fear that I'll get it wrong (because I can pencil everything in first). If I keep fiddling, I'm going to have to get my own high quality pack.

Anyway, there you go, Cindy. Congratulations on getting not one, but two novels published, and thank you for writing them. If any of you guys want to get in on the contest, there's still time. It doesn't close until December 1st (and you don't have to draw to win).

Books I Read: The Graveyard Book

Title: The Graveyard Book
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: YA Horror/Fantasy
Published: 2008
Content Rating: PG for scary situations

An orphan grows up in a graveyard, raised by ghosts, but is the man who killed his family still after him? (This, by the way, is what we call a high concept novel).

I love Neil Gaiman. Love, love, love, love. He's got this gift of turning the mundane into something magical, while simultaneously making the fantastic seem perfectly reasonable. So even when the climax felt slightly predictable -- essentially each element of the boy's life came into play to help him win -- it was so much fun I didn't care. (Besides which, the resolution mattered more to me than the climax. It's not like I ever thought Bod would lose.)

I'd recommend this to pretty much everyone. I'm even going to read it to my kids, but... probably not until they can handle scary better. I'm still having trouble telling the Passover story in a "this is scary but it's okay" kind of way.