Random Thoughts

about reading, writing, and anything else that interests me

A great deal on Brandon Sanderson books!

Humble Bundle just advertised a bundle of Brandon Sanderson ebooks, audiobooks, and even a game! I bought it, of course! For $15 you can get 9 books, both Elantris and Warbreaker in audio format by Graphic Audio, and the Mistborn game with more game resources. It is a wonderful opportunity, and I encourage you to take advantage of it!

Some amazing photos!

Courtesy of The Portalist, I learned of NASA’s searchable database of space photos. The post on The Portalist had enough photos to make it a no-brainer to go there and check it out.

Going to the main page was not as exciting as I had hoped. It had lots of pictures of astronauts standing around. Then I realized those were just the most recent uploads. All I had to do was click on “Most Popular” and I was rewarded with an array of truly amazing photos. I clicked on one that was a picture of a baby owl in a hangar at Kennedy Space Center. That made me decide to search for other bird pictures, but to see if there were others.  And there were. 894 of them!

These pictures offer a wealth of information in addition to some beautiful views. I searched for Pluto and found there were 491 photos. Most of the photos are accompanied by an explanation of what you are looking at.  So I found this photo:

Pluto badlands.jpg

The description called it the “badlands of Pluto” and told me there was a 1.2 mile high cliff and that the canton system runs for hundreds of miles. That information sparked my imagination, and I suddenly began thinking of a western-themed novel set on Pluto. Then I saw another photo that made it look like there were roads or at least paths on Pluto. And what are those things the road is connecting? Maybe one is a homestead and the other is a town. Or maybe…

Pluto roads.jpg

Now maybe that isn’t a winning idea, but I think you get what I am trying to say: These photos and accompanying information are a tremendous resource for writers! I am going to go back and spend more time on the site!

April Tor.com ebook

The free Tor.com ebook can he found here. After last month’s read, I was hoping for something this month that would be easier to read. Not sure that this month’s is going to be any easier. But I will try it.

The book this month is Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente. It is set in 20th Century Russia and is based on Russian folklore. Not exactly my normal reading material (Although I’m not really sure what my normal is!), but I will give it a try.  If you are interested, go to Tor.com’s ebook club page and sign up!

March reading, part 3

Hopefully this is the last installment in the report of my March reading!

I only read one piece of historical fiction last month, and it was another book that I almost put in the “Other Fiction” category. It was Silence by Shusaku Endo, translated by William Johnston. In the end, I decided to call it historical fiction. It was a fascinating book. I had wanted to see the movie but it didn’t play in my small New Mexican town, so I decided to read the book instead. And I am very glad I did. The story, as you probably know, is of Portuguese missionaries to Japan and their struggles with their faith in the face of persecution. I imagine I would like the movie if I saw it, but I question whether or not it could really do the book justice.

I also read six speculative novels:

 

  • Decrypted by Lindsay Buroker was the final book in her Encrypted series. As was the case with the first two, I loved this book. Buroker’s heroines are all so smart, and Tikaya Komitopis is no exception! Even though she is smart, though, everyone around her assumes that she has been brainwashed by Admiral Rias Starcrest. He couldn’t possibly really love her, could he? This was a really fun read!
  • 12.21.12: The Vessel by Killian McRae was a good book. I should have loved it because it is exactly the kind of book I love: Indiana Jones meets Stargate. And I almost loved it. Some parts of it were a little confusing, I have to admit. I think that was intentional in some cases and accidental in others. In spite of some reservations, I have to say that I really enjoyed it and would recommend it if this sounds like your kind of thing at all!
  • Shadow and Claw by Gene Wolfe was, as I have said earlier, last month’s Tor.com ebook club  selection. I devoted two more posts last month to this book, detailing my struggles to read it.  I don’t think I need to repeat all that here. I have tried thinking about the book since then and find that I still have these mixed feelings about it. Actually, they aren’t that mixed; I really didn’t enjoy the book. But somehow I really feel like that is my fault, that I should have enjoyed it and would have enjoyed it if I were a better person or something. I know that’s silly, but it’s how I feel.
  • Her Own Devices,  Magnificent Devices and Brilliant Devices are the second, third and fourth books in the Magnificent Devices series  by Shelly Adina. I thoroughly enjoyed all three books. I read the first book in the series back in 2015. Don’t know why it took me so long to read these next three! In addition to fun stories in each of the three novels, the overall arc of the series shows real growth for the characters. That always makes a series more interesting to me because each book is then really a story within a story. As simple as that sounds, the books in some series don’t seem to build on each other that way; they are more just individual stories about the same people. Anyway, I really enjoyed these books and really recommend them.

So that finishes my March reading.  April is off to a little bit of a slow start, but it will pick up as we go along, I’m sure. I’ll let you know all about it next month!

 

March reading, part 2

OK, on to the mysteries and thrillers!

 

  • All Eyes on Me by Linsey Lanier was a good story. A Las Vegas performer is found dead off the side of the road. Two detectives are called in by a sergeant with the Las Vegas police department to solve the murder. At first that fact bothered me a lot. They were called in before the investigation even got started. The sergeant knew one of the detectives but didn’t seem to like him at all. And he certainly didn’t want a woman working the case. So why were they brought in? It took a while, but once I got past that, I really enjoyed the book. This is the first in Lanier’s Miranda and Parker Mystery series and, apparently, a spin-off if her Miranda’s Rights series. I plan to read more of these.
  • A Zen for Murder by Leighann Dobbs was  a really fun read. This was the first of several books I read this month with older women as the main characters. As I get older, I find I enjoy reading about someone closer to my own age who can still go out and, in one way or another, kick butt.  Claire Watkins definitely falls into that category. She and a retired cop work together to solve a murder. The story was good, as Dobbs’s stories always are. I hope you will give this book a try!
  • Under Fire is the second book in Rachel Amphlett’s Dan Taylor series that I wrote about yesterday. It was a very faced-paced story. Taylor is an interesting guy, and he seems to be willing to do whatever his (British) government asks of him. This time he is trying to stop computer hackers who want to stop the sale of Qatari natural gas to Britain in order to force them to buy it elsewhere. I really enjoyed this story. I have more in the series and will be reading them before long!
  • Still Kicking by Judith Arnold was another really good story. The main character, Laine Lovett, is another of those “older women” I was talking about. She is younger than I am but a lot closer to my age than most female character seem to be. Lanie is a real hoot! She tries to give information in a police investigation into a murder only to become a suspect in the case. Of course, she ends up saving the day and meets a really handsome guy in the process.  It was just fun!
  • Murder at the Mansion by Alison Golden and Jamie Vougeot also has a slightly older protagonist. Reverend Annabelle Dixon is only in her 30s, but, perhaps because of her profession, she seems a little older than that. Regardless of her age, Annabelle is a lot of fun. She herself does not come under suspicion for the murder of a new resident of Upton St. Mary, but she is suspected of another “crime”. Of course, solving one case leads to the solution of the other. I really enjoyed this book and I hope to read more in the series!

I also read Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, which could be classified as a mystery. Since you don’t really learn anything about the actual crime until you know who did it (and even then there is nothing straightforward about it!), I wasn’t sure I wanted to lump it in with the other mysteries. It is so much more than that. It was a very good story told in a way that made the story even better. Too much knowledge as you go along would have made this much less interesting to me.

So that does it for today’s installment of March reading. Tune in tomorrow for the last of it!

 

March reading, part 1

It was a good month for reading, even though it seemed at times it might not be. I read a total of 14 books and 5 shorter pieces of fiction.

The non-fiction book I read, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly was a wonderful read. I did not see the movie, so I can’t compare the two, but I don’t see how the movie could have done the book justice. These women did amazing things in spite of everything in society that worked against them. As a woman, I cannot help but be proud of their accomplishments. As a white woman, I cannot help but be ashamed that I knew nothing about these women and their contributions to World War II and the space program until now.

The shorter fiction I read included:

 

  • Enigma is the second book in Lindsay Buroker’s Encrypted series. I loved it. The characters were wonderful. I might be partial to the female lead, Tikaya Komitopis, because she is a linguist of sorts — a cryptanalyst, actually. I would love to have been a linguist, so I am drawn to this character. Of course, her linguistic abilities have gotten her into quite a fix, so maybe I was better off as a language teacher! I highly recommend this series of 3 books, the other 2 of which I will be reviewing in my next post.
  • 1000 Yards by Mark Dawson was not my usual kind of book. The story of an assassin sent to North Korea, it was a little grittier than most books I read. But I enjoyed it. Of course, not everyone gets out alive, but enough people do that I cold live with it. It was a good story.
  • Astray in Couper by R. Marquez was a good story. Matty Cruz moves to the Pacific Northwest, only to find it isn’t quite as peaceful as she had hoped it would be. She accidentally “inherits” a dog and, with it, a host of problems she could never have imagined. It was fun.
  • Holocaust in the Homeland by Corinda Marsh was another story of something I knew little about. While it is historical fiction, it tells the story of the riots in the greenwood section of Tulsa in 1921. It was a very difficult book to read because of the subject matter. I knew a little about these riots, in which the wealthy African American community was destroyed and many people were killed, but to read all about it was hard. The book is narrated, supposedly, by a white journalist from back East who has gotten to know some of the Greenwood residents before the fateful two days. As I said, it was a difficult book to read but I am glad I read it.
  • Legacy Device  by Rachel Amphlett was billed as a short story, but since it is about 8000 words and has chapters, I decided to include it here. This is the prequel to Amphlett’s  Dan Taylor series. Dan is an Iraq war vet whose post-Iraq life is every bit as dangerous as what he left behind. This story deals with the end of his time in Iraq. It was a good story, but I would have enjoyed it better if it had been a little longer. I just didn’t feel like I had enough time to really get into the story.

Well, that’s all I have the patience to write about this evening. I’ll be back tomorrow with more!

 

Well, I finally finished it!

This morning I finally finished Shadow and Claw. After I wrote about it a few days ago, I made myself pick it up and push ahead. And I found I was enjoying it! That didn’t last real long, though. Wolfe includes a story that the hero reads to a friend and, later, the script of a play that they performed. In the end, though, I slugged through it. And when I got to the end, I didn’t feel like I knew much more than I had at the beginning.

I am sure that all the people who have praised this book know what they are taking about, but it sure didn’t work for me. So don’t let my bad experience keep you from reading this book if you are so inclined. But if it strikes you the same way it did me, you will have to admit that you were warned!

 

Another month gone!

The second month of my writing habit development program has ended, and the results have been mixed. Here goes:

On a positive note, I wrote every single day. That, after all, is the primary goal, so I am happy. I know there were several days when I only wrote because I had made that commitment to myself. It would have been so much easier to read a book or play a game or do nothing at all. But I forced myself to open up the computer and write. And I am glad I did. It has been a long time since I can say I have written every day for what is not two months.

My other goals for the month were:

  • write 2000 words every day
  • finish second draft of the second book
  • get third book up from it’s current 3000 words to 30,000
  • continue to develop the blog for the books

Here I was not so successful. While I wrote every day, I only made 2000 words once. Most days I didn’t even make 1000 words! In part I think that is due to the fact that I am early into the third book, and the story isn’t flowing like I would like it to be yet. I know writing is the way to get the story flowing, but I haven’t been as successful with that as I would have liked. As a result, I am nowhere near 30,000 words on the third book. But I have almost tripled its length. And the story is starting to come together more in my mind, so hopefully this next month will be better.

I finished the second draft of the second book, and I am very pleased with how it is going. For the time being, I have kind of put it aside, but I may get back to it before this next month is over. I added almost 5000 words to it last month.

I have added to the blog for these books, too. There is still more that could be done and I hope to work on it more this next month, too.

So now the question is what will my goals be for this next month. This is what I am thinking:

  • write 1000 words every day
  • get third book up from it’s current 8900 words to 35,000

That sounds pretty lame even to me, but I think these are more realistic goals for me than last month’s were. Let’s see if I am right!

 

 

I’m struggling!

So I downloaded the Tor.com ebook selection, Shadow and Claw. I don’t know when I have struggled so much with a book! I kept wanting to put it down. But I kept going, thinking that he had to get to the story eventually. Finally, I finished the first part of it, The Shadow of the Torturer. And again, I debated whether or not I wanted to continue.

I picked it up to start the second part, The Claw of the Conciliator and was immediately back to wondering why I was trying so hard to read it. It doesn’t seem to be getting any better. At least not for me. I will keep trying, but I am not at all convinced that I will eventually finish it. We’ll have to wait and see, I guess.

I know that I should like the book. It won awards. Amazon is full of praise for the book.

“Arguably the finest piece of literature American science fiction has yet produced [is] the four-volume Book of the New Sun.” – Chicago Sun Times

“The Book of the New Sun contains elements of Spenserian allegory, Swiftian satire, Dickensian social consciousness and Wagnerian mythology. Wolfe creates a truly alien social order that the reader comes to experience from within . . . once into it, there is no stopping.”–The New York Times Book Review

So what is it that doesn’t work for me? I am not sure, even after half the book. When I read the NYT blurb above, I think it must be the Spenserian allegory that doesn’t appeal to me. And maybe I am not catching the satire. I am not sure. I think, mainly, it is that the story is almost lost in all that other stuff.  At least that seems to me to be the problem. If I had to tell you what the book was about, other than saying it is about a torturer who is exiled from the Torturer’s Guild, I wouldn’t have much to tell you. It’s too convoluted for me to say anything coherent.

I think that this is just not my kind of fantasy. I am, as I have mentioned before, a new reader of fantasy. And this is maybe just too hard core for me. But I have a feeling that I will continue to pick it up and pick away at it until I finally finish the book. I wonder if I’ll feel any differently then. I hope so!

More from George Saunders

Another great interview with George Saunders on The Rumpus.net. He says this:

You probably can’t change your innate level of imaginative-ness, but I think it’s the persistence in the activity that burns through your lame answers until you make space for an answer that seems original. That’s consoling because that means you just have to work.

I loved that! My writing is still so full of lame answers that I am embarrassed. But if I am willing to put in the work, maybe there is hope!

I’ve always felt I wasn’t very imaginative. That always made the possibility of writing fiction seem so daunting. But if work can make up for some of that, maybe I can produce good writing anyway.

Saunders’ responses to questions in this interview and the article in The Guardian have both been extremely encouraging. His approach to revision is one I had already begun to embrace, and I think I understand more clearly what it is I am trying to do now. It will be interesting to see what comes of it.

 

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