Reading Roundup, June 2012

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June wasn’t a very good reading month for me, unfortunately. It seems like I abandoned as many books as I finished! Still, there were some gems in among the ho-hum, and here’s a list of everything I managed to get through, and my (brief) thoughts on each:

Code Name VerityElizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity (4 stars). Intense. Deceiving. Touching. Horrifying. Well worth the read. See my full review on Goodreads here.

Janet Evanovich, One for the Money (3 stars) and Two for the Dough (3 stars). So many people love these books that I figured I should see what all the fuss is about. I…don’t see what all the fuss is about. I appreciate the tone, but find the characters grating and unappealing. I’ll be on the lookout for decent readalikes that have characters who are less annoying.

Shadow BoundRachel Vincent, Shadow Bound (4 stars). The second book in a pretty gritty urban fantasy/paranormal romance series. I enjoyed this, but not quite as much as the first book, Blood Bound.

Courtney Milan, The Governess Affair (4 stars). An ebook novella from Milan, who has quickly become one of my favorite romance authors. This one had lots of depth for a novella, and whetted my appetite for the new series this book is a prequel for.

Paladin of SoulsLois McMaster Bujold, Curse of Chalion (5 stars, reread). I remembered loving this book when I first read it years ago. I loved it just as much, if not more, this time around. Traditional high fantasy that plays with some genre tropes and makes old tropes new again. Ista is my favorite. <3

Nicola Cornick, Forbidden (3 stars, ARC). In this Regency romance, the hero is a hunter and the heroine is his prey, speaking metaphorically. Cornick writes pretty well, but as a feminist reader, I find myself troubled by her work. If you like your romances steamy and your heroes of the Alpha variety, you might enjoy this anyway.

The Assassin's CurseCassandra Rose Clarke, The Assassin’s Curse (4 stars, ARC). This book isn’t out until fall, but it’s a fun YA debut from Clarke. Pirates and assassins in a Middle East-inspired world! I had some issues with pacing and an unsatisfying ending, but I’m still excited to see more from this author. See my full review on Goodreads here.

Meg Cabot (as Jenny Carroll), When Lightning Strikes (4 stars), Code Name Cassandra (3 stars), Safe House (3 stars), and Sanctuary (4 stars). These were rereads of an old favorite series. I still enjoyed it, but it’s not quite at the level of a favorite anymore. They felt strangely dated. “Strangely” because the books I read as a teenager aren’t meant to feel dated yet. *cough*

Total books: 12

 

What have you been reading lately? Anything to recommend?

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Summer Reading Recommendations

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I’m a little late with my summer reading picks–it seems like all the major players did theirs ages ago. But the solstice was yesterday, school is finally out for pretty much everyone still in school, and now is a great time to settle in with an engrossing summer vacation read. So here are my picks for awesome books to devour this summer:

Beach Reads

Something to kick back with while sitting on a towel soaking in the sun.

Lola and the Boy Next Door
Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins

A light-hearted YA romance is just the thing for relaxing on the beach. Lola and Cricket’s romantic misadventures might make you tear up a little, but they’ll also make you laugh and say “aww.”

Heart of SteelHeart of Steel by Meljean Brook
Another romance, but on a complete different track. Ignore the hilariously cheesy cover, because this steampunk romp starring famous explorer Archimedes Fox and infamous airship mercenary captain Yasmeen is so diverting you might not even notice if some punk kid drops his cherry sno-cone in your lap.

 

Road Tripping

When the scenery gets to be too much (or you’re driving through a boring stretch), take a break and read these.

ScarletScarlet by A.C. Gaughen
If you’re heading through a forest, definitely grab this Robin Hood tale starring a female Will Scarlet whose sneak-thievery has her leaping through trees and battling the sheriff’s men in Sherwood Forest. See my full review on Goodreads here.

Girl of Fire and ThornsThe Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson
Young princess Elisa finds herself enmeshed in political wrangling, caught between her husband the king and the rebels who fight against his rule. She also embarks on several eventful road trips, most of them reluctantly. No matter how boring your scenery, Elisa’s travels will make you happy to be there instead of in the places she ends up.

 

Rainy Day Reads

Every summer vacation has at least a couple rainy days mucking things up. Stay snug indoors with these cozy rainy day reads.

The DressmakerThe Dressmaker by Kate Alcott
This book about a young dressmaker’s divided loyalties following the sinking of the Titanic provides the perfect balance of gravitas, thoughtfulness, and a dash of romance. A little too heavy for a beach read, but the perfect book for cozying up under a blanket and listening to the rain. Read my short, slapdash Goodreads review here.

I Hunt KillersI Hunt Killers by Barry Lyga
Bad moods happen even in summer, and this dark but morbidly funny book about a serial killer’s son out to prove he’s nothing like his father is the perfect book to get you out of your funk. This book will seem to match your mood when you begin, but by the time you finish, you’ll be rooting for Jazz and will have forgotten all about your bad mood. Check out my full review here.

Vicarious Escape

Can’t get away for a vacation this year? Bummer. At least you can escape for a little while with these exciting page-turners.

FeedThe Newsflesh trilogy (Feed, Deadline, and Blackout) by Mira Grant.
Okay, so maybe traveling across the country in the motorcade of a presidential hopeful while simultaneously fleeing/fighting zombies and a conspiracy that seems to really want you dead isn’t your idea of a great vacation. But these thick, exciting and thought-provoking page-turners will keep you so distracted that you’ll emerge after a few weeks of reading having forgotten you ever even wanted to go on a vacation to begin with.

 

The Graceling Realms trilogy
The Graceling Realm trilogy (Graceling, Fire, and Bitterblue) by Kristin Cashore
These books cross a fantasy continent as three awesome girls fight corrupt kings, their own insecurities, and public opinion to come into their own.

 

If you decide to pick any of these up, please let me know what you think! Also, what are your summer read picks? I’ve read these already, of course, so I need something else to occupy me for the next few months!

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Coming soon…

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Hello, blog readers. I know I have neglected you terribly. (All three of you have been devastated, I’m sure.) And I’m sorry to say that this isn’t even a real post–it’s just a quick update to let you know that I’m planning a blogging comeback. With planned, content-filled posts and everything. The idea is that a new post will go up every Monday, covering library, book, and writing-related topics near and dear to me. I might toss in other updates throughout the week as inspiration and material presents itself, but the every Monday thing should be more or less set in stone. So watch this space on Monday for the first installment of what will hopefully be a better, more structured blog. Whoo!

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Progress

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Well, it only took about another month, but I’m finally working. I had forgotten how much I love public library reference, but last week reminded me. I got to help a woman apply for a job, copy edit a Kenyan gentleman’s description of the community school he runs that is in need of donations, find a store selling orthopedic shoes for children, locate a book on how submarines work for an older man, and hand a copy of Roald Dahl’s Matilda to a couple kids who were very excited to read it. I can’t wait for my next shift, and I especially can’t wait to find a job where I get to do this every day instead of just a few shifts per week.

I’m also making progress on the writing front, as last night I finished what I am hoping is the final draft of a story I’ve been picking away at for over two years. I love this story, but it has given me more trouble than any story I’ve ever written before. It’s gone through about six different endings, and nothing ever seemed quite right…until now. I think I’ve finally got it, and that feeling makes two years of work worth it. I so hope this story finds a good home.

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Can haz (part time) employment?

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Hey, internet. Sorry for the obscenely long time in between updates. I haven’t exactly been busy lately, but searching for a job is sort of soul-crushing, and as those who’ve been forced to interact with me within the past few months know, it’s become rather difficult for me to talk about anything else. I didn’t want to inflict that on you, so I thought silence would be the better option.

Luckily, I’m going to begin work as a substitute librarian soon, so hopefully I’ll bounce back and have lots to share. This will be my first job as a degreed librarian, and it should be an adventure. I’m still looking for full time positions in the meantime, since I’d rather not try to live for very long on a few shifts a week (if I’m lucky), but I’m excited to finally be employed in my field, getting more experience and putting my skills to use.

If I don’t update again within a few weeks, poke me. Seriously, I need to become a better blogger.

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News and miscellany

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Nine days ago, I officially became a master of the art of library and information studies. Yay! Now I am searching for a job (anyone know a public library that’s hiring?) and finding plenty of ways to keep busy in the meantime. One of those ways will hopefully be updating this blog more often, especially with book-related posts. I like books, I read a lot of them, and I really should post about them here and not just on Goodreads.

This is old news but new to this blog: Last month my story “Whisper’s Voice” was named one of the storySouth Million Writers Award’s notable stories of 2010! I was incredibly surprised and honored, first that my editor nominated the story (they can only nominate three) and then that the story was actually chosen (the two other nominees weren’t!). “Whisper’s Voice” didn’t get nearly the amount of attention as my first story, “Erased,” which made the 2008 list, so I was happy to see it get some recognition.

Another thing I never posted here is the web tool I made for my final project in one of my classes this semester: the Urban Fantasy Road Trip reading map. I think it’s a really nifty tool for fans of urban fantasy and/or the supernatural and one or more of the seven U.S. cities featured on the map–a great way to discover the unusual underbelly, fictional or non-, of urban fantasy cities. There are things I think could be improved, and I’m hoping to make some additions to the map this summer. Let me know if there’s something you’d like to see, or something you’d like to see done differently!

I will be attending my second WisCon later this week, and I am so excited! Also a little nervous, because I will be on my own this year. But WisCon folk are friendly, and there will be at least one or two familiar faces. And WisCon is pretty much the best con ever. I’ve been drooling over the schedule and wishing for a time-turner, just like last year. And Seanan McGuire will be there, so I can get my copy of Feed signed! I only wish Deadline were coming out just a day earlier so I could have her sign that one too… Ah well. One signed book will have to be good enough.

So, friends: What have you been up to? How is your summer shaping up? What exciting news do you have to share? What awesome books have you read lately, and what new releases are you most looking forward to?

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A rant about fatherless characters

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There are a lot of people out there in the world who have grown up without one or both parents. Naturally, these people crop up in fiction on a reasonably regular basis. Children’s and young adult literature seems especially fond of the orphan, but people with deadbeat or otherwise absent parents show up every so often too. Today I would like to discuss in particular characters who are fatherless, and the fact that they are almost always depicted abysmally.

I grew up without a father myself. In my case, the reason is that my father didn’t react well to the news of my mother’s accidental pregnancy and fled for the hills before I was even born. I’ve never met the man, and aside from a one-year period where my mom had a boyfriend who lived with us, I never had any sort of adult male presence in my life on a daily basis (I never even had a male classroom teacher in elementary school).

Coming from that standpoint, there is little in this world that infuriates me like the premise of Disney’s third Aladdin movie, Aladdin and the King of Thieves (shut up–I was an Aladdin fanatic as a kid, and no one can tell me it isn’t amazing…sans sequels). In the movie, Aladdin and Jasmine are about to get married, but suddenly Aladdin realizes that he can’t marry and start a family of his own because he won’t be a whole person until he gets to know his dad, whom he has never met, and obtains his blessing for the wedding. His attitude is summed up in this, the first musical number of the film:

Here is what I would like to make perfectly clear to the creators of this film and everyone who has ever written or thinks they might write a character without a dad (and also, just to be thorough, everyone who says “I’m sorry” when I tell them I don’t have a dad): I AM OKAY. I am not emotionally crippled. I do not stay awake at night contemplating the GIANT GAPING HOLE in my sense of self that will only be filled when I track down my father and have a heart-to-heart conversation that results in tears, hugs, and touching character growth on both our parts. Am I curious? Yeah, okay, a little. But mostly I’m just disgusted and honestly kind of thankful that I dodged that bullet. About the only time I regret not having a dad is when a doctor asks about my family medical history and I have to tell her that I can’t rule anything out because I can only account for half my genes.

When I was a toddler, my friends at daycare couldn’t understand the concept of not having a dad, so I told them that the homeless man who walked past the house every day was my dad, and every day we would gather at the screen door and wave at him as he passed by (or so I’m told–I have no actual memories of this). If this were the typical representation of fatherless children in fiction, this would be symptomatic of some deep inner turmoil, an indication that I was desperately searching to fill the fatherless void of my tragic childhood with the nearest male. But, you know, I’m pretty sure I just wanted my friends to shut up about the whole dad thing. Or maybe I wanted to fit in, since they all had dads. I doubt I even really understood the concept of fatherhood, since it’s not something I had ever experienced.

Maybe it would be different if I had started out life with two parents and then lost one, but I have never felt like my home life was lacking. Indeed, the most wretched part of my childhood was the time my mom had a serious boyfriend, because suddenly there was some strange man monopolizing the time and attention that had previously belonged solely to me. I felt that my relationship with my mother suffered, and life for my pre-adolescent self didn’t feel right again until they broke up and I had her to myself again. This brings me to a second point: Families with one parent are not inherently inferior to families with two parents. They are different, yes, but not lesser. Indeed, to this day I can hardly imagine a better home life than the one I had. There is pretty much nothing about the way I was raised that I would change, and that includes the fact that I only had one parent. Our whole family dynamic would have been different if I’d had two parents, and I like my family dynamic the way it is, thanks.

Okay, sure, I was interested in meeting my father when I was younger, mostly so I could ask him why he abandoned my mom when she was pregnant. I found this behavior puzzling, and wanted to get his take on it. Point number three: I never, EVER blamed myself for my father not sticking around. I didn’t once entertain the thought that I was somehow responsible for breaking up some great love affair that would have ended in happily ever after if I hadn’t come along to ruin the party. I never thought that if only I had been a better fetus, he would have hung around to meet me. (This particular part of the rant brought to you by this scene in CW drama Hellcats. Start at 2:10 for the infuriating part.)

So the next time you’re thinking about creating character conflict by having your fatherless character set out to discover her long-lost dad, don’t have her reasoning be just that she just won’t be a whole person until she has a dad. You can do so much better. Examples of good reasons: She needs a kidney or some bone marrow. She thinks she might be the long-lost heir to a vast fortune. She has just discovered that she has the power to move through space and time, and she certainly didn’t inherit it from her mother. You can write totally awesome fatherless characters, and even write about their fatherless state without turning it into some kind of self-worth thing. While I can’t speak for every fatherless child to ever walk the earth, I can tell you that I, for one, have absolutely zero percent of my self-worth tied up in the fact that my father didn’t feel like raising me.

And just for the record, creators of Aladdin and the King of Thieves? If I ever get married, my father totally isn’t invited to the wedding.

(P.S. If you’re doing research, the only really acceptable work of fiction I’ve encountered that deals directly with the issue of absentee fathers is Paul Fleischman’s YA novel Seek. It’s quite an odd novel in other respects, but the representation of the main character’s inner relationship with his absent father rang true for me, and the resolution was also very well done.)

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Alpha SF/F/H Workshop for Young Writers

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I can’t imagine anyone who reads this blog doesn’t already know it, but the Alpha SF/F/H Workshop for Young Writers (ages 14-19) is accepting applications for the 2011 workshop through March 1. The 10-day workshop will be held at the University of Pittsburgh’s Greensburg campus July 13-22, culminating in Confluence, Pittsburgh’s science fiction convention, July 22-24. At the workshop, teens will learn from such genre greats as Tamora Pierce, David Levine, and Ellen Kushner, along with the wonderful full-time staff that consists primarily of even more writers. The workshop costs $995, but some partial need-based scholarships are available.

Most of you know this already, but I attended Alpha in 2005 and 2006, when I was 18 and 19, respectively. Alpha changed my life. A dramatic statement, but true. I applied and was accepted to Alpha in 2005 on the merit of a three-year-old science fiction story. I hadn’t finished anything long enough to serve as an application story in the intervening years. I was operating on the assumption that in order to be a writer, one had to be a novelist, so my computer was filled with pitifully short novel beginnings and not much else. I desperately wanted to go to Alpha because a) Tamora Pierce was my favorite author, b) the only other writers my age I knew were writing angsty teen poetry and prefaced bland and wishy-washy comments on my own writing with the always popular and very frustrating phrase, “I don’t read this sort of thing, but…” and c) did I mention Tamora Pierce?

I flew into Pittsburgh in the afternoon, and after dinner that evening the twenty Alphans of 2005 filed into a classroom for our first lecture. It was on proper manuscript format. I was stunned. I had expected to study works of fiction and hear lectures on craft, and to give and receive critiques, but suddenly I was plunged headfirst into the implicit assumption that I was going to try to publish my writing. I hadn’t even considered it before. I had figured out by this time that I probably would never be a novelist, that writing full time would drive me insane, so I assumed I’d just write the occasional story as a hobby, sharing it with friends and family. Heck, I didn’t know such a thing as short fiction markets existed. By the end of the next morning’s lecture, when guest author Tobias Buckell taught us about some of the administrative aspects of writing–finding markets, creating cover letters, setting submission goals, etc.–my entire writing worldview had been shaken. I actually felt somewhat lost and out of place, a hobbyist among future professionals who obviously took writing Very Seriously. I hadn’t even finished a story longer than 1000 words since I was fifteen.

Some of Alpha’s guest speakers did lecture on craft and literature and the more abstract aspects of writing I had expected, but after the first few lectures, I approached these with a completely different outlook. My fellow writers and I had silly fun times, playing Mafia and reading “The Eye of Argon,” but we also stayed up obscenely late clacking away on our computers, groaning in frustration and asking each other questions that were hilarious out of context and yet dead serious to us as speculative fiction writers (e.g., “What’s a really useful superpower that you wouldn’t think would be useful?”). We amassed enormous quote lists, many of the quotes born of a sort of exhausted hysteria. The atmosphere was intense, to the point that even uncertain writers like me were infected with the idea that writing was vitally important, something worth considerable effort.

After ten days of intense fun and intense stress and critiques from fellow teen writers and published staff that weren’t precisely harsh but definitely didn’t allow one to pat oneself on the back for a job well done (and that never started with the words, “I don’t read this sort of thing, but…”), we went to sci-fi convention Confluence, where we maniacally raced through the hotel’s halls, destressing and probably causing considerable annoyance to some of the convention’s attendees (and definitely not catching up on sleep). At the end of the convention, no one wanted Alpha to end.

And you know what the best part is? For many of us, it didn’t, not really. We all flew/drove back to our respective homes scattered across the country (there are even a few non-American Alpha alumni), but many of us kept in touch via e-mail, instant message, Livejournal, and Facebook. There is an active online community of Alpha alumni, continuing to support each other and each year’s new Alphans. We critique each other’s work, celebrate fiction sales and contest wins, and commiserate about rejections. We recommend books to each other, help raise funds and spread the word about the workshop so that more teenagers can have the same experience we did, and even maintain a blog to share our collective learning with the internet at large. On its surface, Alpha could be seen as a semi-costly week and a half long chunk of summer that yields one short story and some critiques. But for those who attend, it can result in a lifelong support network of fellow writers, which is worth a lot more than $1000, in my opinion. If you know any teen writers of science fiction, fantasy, or horror, please encourage them to apply and, equally importantly, help make sure they’re able to attend.

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The perfect novel?

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Someday, I am going to combine all my favorite literary tropes and write a YA novel about a snarky British Regency-era spy werewolf rogue fighter girl and a pair of resourceful and practical-to-the-point-of-near-ruthlessness human bad boy with a heart of gold pirate fighter brothers who engage in endless witty banter and combat a villain who has relateable motives and is no less terrifying for it. There will also be a precocious child. At some point, there will be a fight wherein one or more of them sustain a somewhat serious injury that they will have to heal frustratingly slowly and naturally. Some people will fall in love. Some people will not fall in love and be okay with that. The ending will be happy.

(I reserve the right to add–but not subtract–things from this description at will as I think of even more things that make me happy when I read books.)

Now it’s your turn. Describe your “perfect” novel!

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Things I have written

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Just a drive-by post (I have an extremely belated post on my favorite reads of 2010 to get up eventually!) to toss out a couple links:

First, my flash fiction piece “Family Photo” is up at the Daily Science Fiction website! (It went out to subscribers by e-mail last week.)

Also, there is a blog post of mine up on the Alpha SF/F/H Workshop blog on “Learning to Love Your Rejection Letters.” I know I’m weird to find joy in rejection, but I’m hoping that reading this article will help it to rub off on other writers.

My final semester of library school is in full swing, and I’m struggling to find time just to keep up with my schoolwork, but I also need to apply for jobs (erk!) and follow through on some other commitments. So I apologize for being absent!

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