Reading List Check-in

It’s 3/4 of the way through the year (HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?!?), so here’s a reading list update!

I’m moving a little slower this year than I was last year, but maybe I can still read nearly 30 books before December 31…right?

Fiction:
Endymion by Dan Simmons
Long Lost by David Morrell
If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino
The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis
Shadows in Bronze by Lindsey Davis
The Course of Honor by Lindsey Davis
Young Men in Spats by P.G. Wodehouse
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

Kushiel’s Avatar by Jacqueline Carey
Kushiel’s Chosen by Jacqueline Carey
Shada by Douglas Adams
The Street Lawyer by John Grisham
The Honor of Spies by W.E.B. Griffin
Foreign Influence by Brad Thor
True Blue by David Baldacci
The Passage by Justin Cronin
Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold
A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Gone by Michael Grant
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
The Ancient by R.A. Salvatore
The Demon Awakens by R.A. Salvatore
The Demon Spirit by R.A. Salvatore
The Demon Apostle by R.A. Salvatore
The Wind Merchant by Ryan Dunlap
Triple Play by Abigail Barnette
Long Relief by Abigail Barnette

Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger
Curtsies & Conspiracies by Gail Carriger

Winterblaze by Kristen Callihan
The Strange Case of Finley Jayne/The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross
Beyond Shame by Kit Rocha
Lamb by Christopher Moore
Exclusively Yours by Shannon Stacey
Yours to Keep by Shannon Stacey

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
Mort by Terry Pratchett
Men-at-Arms by Terry Pratchett
Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett
Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett

Jingo by Terry Pratchett
Queen of Shadows by Dianne Sylvan
The Heiress Effect by Courtney Milan
Against the Tide by Elizabeth Camden
The Marrying Kind by Ken O’Neill
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress
Mine to Possess by Nalini Singh
Hostage to Pleasure by Nalini Singh
His Bride by Design by Teresa Hill

Nonfiction
The Pirate Queen: Queen Elizabeth I, Her Pirate Adventurers, and the Dawn of Empire by Susan Ronald
Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain
Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
Story by Robert McKee
Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin
Creating Characters: How to Build Story People by Dwight V. Swain
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

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Book Review: Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

leviathanAs a steampunk fan, I’ve been looking forward to reading Leviathan for some time. I knew a very little bit about the world, which sounded cool, and I’m always interested to see what different authors come up with for steamupunk worldbuilding.

What I got with this one was a really fun, briskly paced YA novel that kicks off a trilogy I absolutely can’t wait to finish.

Alek is a prince who cannot inherit his father’s throne, but his mere existence upsets a very delicate balance that’s thrown off when his parents are killed. He’s spirited away from his house one night by a small band of loyal men, and now he’s on the run from his own people.

Deryn is a soldier in the British Air Service, serving aboard the massive airbeast Leviathan, with one tiny secret: she’s a girl, not a guy, and she’ll be kicked out if anybody discovers her secret.

With war threatening, the Leviathan is sent on a special urgent mission to the Ottoman Empire. Soon, Deryn and Alek will cross paths, and they’ll both be swept up in an effort to stem the advancing tide of war.

Most steampunk novels I’ve read tend to take place in the mid-to-late 1800s, but Leviathan offers us an alternate take on the beginning of World War I. If you remember history class, you probably remember the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, which kicked off the Great War in 1914. In Leviathan, though, their deaths have a bit more sinister and personal cause, though the ultimate effect—international war—is the same.

I loved the way Westerfeld wove actual history with fantasy and slightly futuristic technology, particularly in regards to the technology on both sides: fabricated beasts for the British, walking war machines for the Germans. The descriptions of both are fascinating, and I especially enjoyed Alek’s and Deryn’s reactions to the other’s chosen technology.

The beasties, in particular, are really cool in how they’re all created for different, specific purposes: the hydrogen sniffers that search the Leviathan for leaks, the flechette bats used in aerial combat, and even the Leviathan itself.

Westerfeld’s technique itself is brilliant, switching viewpoints every two chapters. After the first few, you know exactly whose head you’ll be in when. It’s refreshing, and it gives you a chance to really get the most out of each storyline before jumping to the other one.

Plus, there are subtle differences (and not-so-subtle ones) in the way he writes in Alek’s viewpoint versus Deryn’s. Even though he does a good job of letting the reader know whose head we’re in, you can tell the viewpoint character from the dialogue and internal cadence. Deryn’s voice is spotted with slang and cursing, while Alek sounds very much like the noble he is. It’s glorious.

I adored Deryn. She’s a very quick thinker, courageous and bold, loves to fly and loves being on an airship. She’s very bound to her duty as a soldier, but doesn’t let her pledge to king and country keep her from thinking for herself. I liked Alek as well, but he’s a bit stiffer initially, considering his background. However, he definitely grows on you over the course of the story.

The illustrations littered throughout the book are absolutely gorgeous. I actually paused in reading to soak up the goodness of the art.

If you’re into steampunk already, I think you’ll definitely enjoy Leviathan. If you aren’t, then Leviathan is, honestly, a great introduction to the genre. The characters are great, the worldbuilding is phenomenal, and I really, really can’t wait to read more.

Book Review: Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

fuzzy-nationUntil my friend gave me Fuzzy Nation for Christmas, I had never heard of Little Fuzzy, nor had I heard of an author “rebooting” another’s work. Happens all the time in movies, but I had never heard of it happening with novels.

From the author’s acknowledgement, it seemed like Scalzi was just as interested in paying homage to the original story as he was in making it his own. And after reading it, I have to say not only did he make it his own, but he’s piqued my interest enough that I’d like to find the original and give it a go.

Synopsis courtesy Goodreads:

Jack Holloway works alone, for reasons he doesn’t care to talk about. Hundreds of miles from ZaraCorp’s headquarters on planet, 178 light-years from the corporation’s headquarters on Earth, Jack is content as an independent contractor, prospecting and surveying at his own pace. As for his past, that’s not up for discussion.

Then, in the wake of an accidental cliff collapse, Jack discovers a seam of unimaginably valuable jewels, to which he manages to lay legal claim just as ZaraCorp is cancelling their contract with him for his part in causing the collapse. Briefly in the catbird seat, legally speaking, Jack pressures ZaraCorp into recognizing his claim, and cuts them in as partners to help extract the wealth.

But there’s another wrinkle to ZaraCorp’s relationship with the planet Zarathustra. Their entire legal right to exploit the verdant Earth-like planet, the basis of the wealth they derive from extracting its resources, is based on being able to certify to the authorities on Earth that Zarathustra is home to no sentient species.

Then a small furry biped—trusting, appealing, and ridiculously cute—shows up at Jack’s outback home. Followed by its family. As it dawns on Jack that despite their stature, these are people, he begins to suspect that ZaraCorp’s claim to a planet’s worth of wealth is very flimsy indeed…and that ZaraCorp may stop at nothing to eliminate the “fuzzys” before their existence becomes more widely known.

First off? I loved Jack. He’s a very interesting character in that he’s not exactly a “good” guy—he has a lot of traits that wouldn’t fall under that banner—but you still end up rooting for him. He’s got a great sense of humor, and the back and forth between him and his contact at ZaraCorp at the beginning was a lot of fun to read.

For example, look at this exchange after Holloway accidentally causes the cliff collapse, which he attempts to claim is an earthquake:

“Who are you going to believe,” Holloway said. “I’m here. They’re there.”

“They’re here with roughly twenty-five million credits’ worth of equipment,” Bourne said. “You’ve got an infopanel and a history of bad surveying practices.”

“Alleged bad surveying practices,” Holloway said.

“Jack, you let your dog blow shit up,” Bourne said.

I also loved that all the stuff on the back cover of the book happened within the first three chapters. It meant I had no idea where the story was going to go next (particularly since I’d never read the original), and I adored it, because a lot of the fun of the novel was in the discovery of it. Very little went the way I expected, which was a nice surprise.

Also, the Fuzzy family? Some of the most adorable potentially sentient beings ever put on paper. You just want to squeeze them. Their interactions among themselves, with the humans, and with Carl the dog are just great. You can’t help but fall in love with them, and soon you’re just as invested in their safety as Jack and his friends are.

If there were any failings, it was that sometimes I felt a bit removed from Jack—like I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on in his head or how he felt about some of the events of the story. This might be for a couple of reasons: one, that he’s not an overly emotional guy, or two, that he was making up his big plan and in order to surprise the reader, he couldn’t think about it. It did occasionally make me feel like there was a wall between us, though.

If you haven’t read Scalzi before, I would say either Old Man’s War or Fuzzy Nation is a good place to start. I might edge toward Old Man’s War just because it is his first book, but Fuzzy Nation is just as good (maybe even better in some respects).

It balances being laugh-out-loud hilarious with some absolutely heartbreaking scenes, and it kept me reading for an entire day when I intended to only read it for an hour. If you’re a sci-fi fan, put it on your TBR list.

The Mid-Year Goal Update

Back in January (as you may remember), I posted my goals for this year. Now that June is over and the year is more than halfway gone (holy cow, seriously?), I figure it’s time to take a look, see how things are going, and make some updates.

Physical
Work out at least twice a week for 30 minutes apiece.
Well, I started working out with my roommates, which means I haven’t so much been working out “twice a week for 30 minutes” as I’ve been working out “4-5 times a week for at least an hour.” So yeah, I’m accomplishing this goal in spades.

Drink at least six glasses of water per day.
I’ve done a good job with this as well, especially since I got a 20-oz. water bottle that makes it easier to keep a lot of water at my desk.

Writing
Finish draft 4 of my ’06 NaNo for CPs.
Completed in January.

Finish a first draft for at least two of the three projects I want to complete (my NaNo novels from 2012, 2011, and 2008).
I finished the draft of my NaNo 2012 novel in April, but I haven’t worked on the other two yet. Not sure if I’ll get to them, unless I make finishing one (or both!) my goal for NaNo this year.

Attend the OWFI conference in May and the OCW conference in October.
I had a great time at the OWFI conference, but I’m not sure if I’ll be attending the OCW conference this year.

Pick two of the pictures in my “holy cow I want to write a story about this” folder. Write at least a short story for each one.
Well, the urban fantasy I’ve been working on for the past two months? That is based on one of these pictures. I think if I finish the draft of an entire novel, I can count this one complete.

Set up a Facebook page for my writing.
Haven’t even looked at this one.

Blogging
Review at least one new movie each month. Except for months where the idea of actually giving money to a movie in the theater makes me sick to my stomach.
I…have not been doing quite as good with this one. However, I have actually made an effort to go see the movies I want to. They’ve just all come out in the past 2 months. 🙂

Keep to a posting schedule of twice a week.
Some weeks I do better than others!

Comment more regularly on the blogs I follow.
I’ve been doing all right with this, but I’ve kind of faded a little more on it lately. I’ll try to pick it up once again.

Career
Attend another CSS summit.
I have actually attended three summits so far this year, for responsive web design, user experience, and WordPress. LEARN ALL THE THINGS!

Up my coding game in PHP, MySQL, and JavaScript.
I’ve certainly been doing this…

Intellectual
Read 70 new books in 2013.
I’m a little behind, but I’m getting through a lot of books that have been on my list for awhile (see below!).

Read all the unread books currently on my shelf/Kindle. (Or at least, attempt to.)
Slowly but surely.

Read at least three non-writing-related non-fiction books.
So far I’ve read one, and I’ve got two more on my library list. I’ll put them on hold once I clear out a few more from my shelf.

Take more books off my gigantic TBR list than I add to it. (Borrowed from Marissa Meyer.)
I…yeah. No. I don’t think this is going to happen, but I’m trying!

Fiction:
Endymion by Dan Simmons
Long Lost by David Morrell
If on a winter’s night a traveler by Italo Calvino
The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis
Shadows in Bronze by Lindsey Davis
The Course of Honor by Lindsey Davis
Young Men in Spats by P.G. Wodehouse
I, Robot by Isaac Asimov
Old Man’s War by John Scalzi
Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi

Kushiel’s Avatar by Jacqueline Carey
Kushiel’s Chosen by Jacqueline Carey
Shada by Douglas Adams
The Street Lawyer by John Grisham
The Honor of Spies by W.E.B. Griffin
Foreign Influence by Brad Thor
True Blue by David Baldacci
The Passage by Justin Cronin
Komarr by Lois McMaster Bujold
A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Gone by Michael Grant
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
The Ancient by R.A. Salvatore
The Demon Awakens by R.A. Salvatore
The Demon Spirit by R.A. Salvatore
The Demon Apostle by R.A. Salvatore
The Wind Merchant by Ryan Dunlap
Triple Play by Abigail Barnette
Long Relief by Abigail Barnette

Nonfiction
The Pirate Queen: Queen Elizabeth I, Her Pirate Adventurers, and the Dawn of Empire by Susan Ronald
Techniques of the Selling Writer by Dwight V. Swain
Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card
Story by Robert McKee
Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin
Creating Characters: How to Build Story People by Dwight V. Swain
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Recently Added
Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger
Winterblaze by Kristen Callihan

The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross
Beyond Shame by Kit Rocha
Lamb by Christopher Moore
The Dame by R.A. Salvatore (Actually was a Christmas gift for a friend, but he loaned it to me once he finished)
Exclusively Yours by Shannon Stacey
Yours to Keep by Shannon Stacey

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
Mort by Terry Pratchett

Men-at-Arms by Terry Pratchett
Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett
Jingo by Terry Pratchett
Queen of Shadows by Dianne Sylvan

Book Review – A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold

a-civil-campaignI wanted to read A Civil Campaign as soon as I read this introduction to a review of the omnibus Cordelia’s Honor:

Lois McMaster Bujold wrote what is quite possibly the most famous, beloved, and awesome science fiction romance ever, A Civil Campaign. A Civil Campaign is a Regency Romance set in space, with manners, fantastic clothes, and awkward dinner parties mixed with cloning, recovery from physical and mental trauma, inter-galactic politics, humor, sadness, glowing HEAs, and much more.

Doesn’t that sound fantastic? Really, why wouldn’t you want to read it?

I am here to report that A Civil Campaign lives up to the hype. I absolutely adored it.

This picks up a few months after the events of Komarr, with Miles back on Barrayar and bound and determined to start courting Ekaterin properly. However, he knows that she’s not all that keen on getting married again, so it’s a SECRET courtship. A secret courtship that he tells absolutely everybody about except for her.

(Don’t worry. He gets smacked for this. A few times.)

Then there’s his brother, Mark. Mark returns home from university with a brilliant scientist (that he may have helped escape from prison), a girlfriend, a bunch of bugs, and a business idea that involves all three.

And during all of this, Miles’s foster brother, Gregor (who also happens to be the Emperor of Barrayar), is getting married, which means that wedding preparations are taking up a great deal of everyone’s time.

It. Is. AWESOME.

I loved the way the various plot threads intersect and the culture clash between the staunchly traditional and conservative Barrayar society and the more progressive Beta Colony. I loved the more serious political plots moving under the romances.

I loved getting to meet Miles’s family: Mark, Ivan, Gregor, and his parents, Cordelia and Aral. Even though I hadn’t read the previous books that built the relationships between these characters, I still got the sense of camaraderie between them all. And I loved seeing how Ekaterin and her son, Nicky, slowly became integrated into the Vorkosigan family.

I loved seeing Miles in love and generally stumbling over himself and becoming his own worst enemy as he tries to do what he assumes is the right thing. (Because it’s what he wants, of course it’s the right thing.) And when he screws it up and it’s identified how badly he screws it up, Miles does apologetic like nobody’s business.

Ekaterin really grows in this book as well. After all the events of Komarr, it’s wonderful to see her come into her own, to stand up against people who want to beat her back into the mold she just escaped. And over the course of this novel, she becomes more than a match for Miles.

A Civil Campaign is much longer than most of the romances I’ve read (400 pages in a hardback), but it never feels that long. With everything that’s going on—the wedding plans, romantic plots, political plots, and business plots—it needs the space. The pacing’s brisk, and I was never bored.

There are so many things I want to talk about in this, but half the fun of the book was the discovery, seeing how all the best-laid plans you learn about in the first few chapters of the book just go straight to hell by the middle of it.

If the idea of a Regency-style romance set on another planet intrigues you, and if the elements from the quote at the beginning of this post pique your interest, then you must add A Civil Campaign to your TBR list. It was such a joy to read. I really couldn’t put it down.

I’d recommend reading Komarr first to get to know Miles and Ekaterin before you jump into this one, but as both are really, really good, you won’t be sorry.

A to Z Challenge – Y is for Yours to Keep

yours-to-keepI first picked up one of Shannon Stacey’s Kowalski novels because it was on sale for 99 cents and a reputable source had given it a rave review. I enjoyed the book (Exclusively Yours) with only the most minor reservations, so when the third book was on sale, I snapped it up.

Yours to Keep has a lot of the same things that made Exclusively Yours such a fun read: the family dynamic with the Kowalskis, the fun writing and funnier situations, and some very nice sexual tension.

However, it also has a ridiculous premise, a problem which could have been fixed in five minutes if the heroine had been willing to step up and act like a damn adult. She doesn’t, though, and that marred my enjoyment of the first half of the book, and the rest of it couldn’t quite overcome that initial annoyance.

Sean Kowalski is back from Afghanistan, out of the Army, and ready to enjoy living life on his terms for the first time in over a decade. However, no sooner does he get settled in the apartment over his cousin’s bar than a tall brunette knocks on his door, claiming to be his fiancée. Sean is, understandably, shocked by this turn of events.

Emma, the aforementioned brunette, has told a little fib. Her beloved grandmother, who has been in Florida for the past two years, has been so worried about Emma living by herself that Emma made up a fake live-in boyfriend (specifically, Sean) to give Grandma some peace of mind.

Now her grandmother’s returning to New Hampshire to meet the lucky man. And she’s not just coming back for a few days; she’ll be there an entire month.

Emma wants Sean to play house with her for the month so Grandma will return to Florida satisfied that Emma can take care of herself.

Now, I don’t know about you, but “lying to the cherished grandparent who raised you” does not exactly scream “mature adult,” but hey, what do I know?

As you might be able to tell, having the entire setup for the book predicated on a lie did not sit well with me. Sean’s initial reaction (which was “HAHAHAHAHAHAHA no”) was well-warranted, and even after reading the book I still have no idea why he ultimately changed his mind and went along with it. Because we wouldn’t have a story if he didn’t, I guess?

Regardless, after thinking about it a bit, Sean decides to go along with this heap of crazy because, hey, she’s hot. The problem is, he’s now got to convince his entire family—which includes brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, cousins’ spouses, and cousins’ kids—not to spill the beans to Grandma.

The problem is, I really liked Grandma. We get a chance to spend quite a bit of time in her head and even see her embark on her own little romance, and it’s genuinely sweet. I hated that Emma felt she had to lie about her life to a woman who obviously cares so deeply for her, and it really, really irritated me.

In fact, if a certain plot point hadn’t happened when it did (about 42% of the way through), I may well have put the book down. (In fact, I had told my roommate said plot point had better happen soon—when I was about 30% through—or else I was going to chuck the Kindle.)

The sections with Sean’s family were easily the funniest in the book. As before, the Kowalski clan is a generally loving group, but they’re certainly not above giving Sean hell for this fib.

Plus, the Newlywed-style game all the couples play at a family party about halfway through the book is just gut-bustingly hilarious, as Sean’s cousins come up with questions specifically to trip Sean and Emma up.

Unfortunately, my biggest issue was with Sean and Emma themselves. While I was definitely convinced as to their sexual compatibility, I wasn’t convinced about the rest of their relationship. They spent so much time in their relationship wearing masks for everybody else that it didn’t seem like they’d gotten a chance to really know each other without them.

Not to mention I really, really didn’t like that Emma’s solution to her problem, rather than come clean to her grandmother, was instead to actually LIVE the lie for a month and drag another semi-unsuspecting person into it. Hell, sweetie, if that’s how you solve your problems, no wonder Grandma’s worried about you living alone.

I can tolerate a lot from characters I don’t like if it feels like they’ve sufficiently redeemed themselves by the end of the book. In this particular case, it didn’t happen for me. In fact, it’s a testament to how much I like Stacey’s writing that I was able to continue reading this book even as the main characters were making me facepalm.

This is a difficult book for me to unequivocally recommend. The writing is great, the family is fantastic, there are some very funny scenes, and it really picks up at about the 40% mark. I love that Stacey includes a subplot with another romance, which really gives Emma’s grandmother a chance to shine. But the hero and heroine themselves? Definitely not my cup of tea.