coraa: (bookses)
Yesterday we had fajitas! They were delicious. Thank you to everyone who voted in the poll.

Today's question:

Right now, I have bookshelves that are not organized in any way. This is somewhat unfortunate when I am trying to find books.

I know what organization scheme I want: fiction separated from nonfiction, fiction sorted by author and then by series and then by title, nonfiction separated by subject and then by author. Graphic novels, manga, and RPG sourcebooks in their own section, sorted by type and then by series and then in internal ordering. Anthologies in their own sections, sorted by genre and then editor. Cookbooks are already in their own section, but need to be sorted by genre and then by author. I am undecided on whether artbooks will go in their own section or in the art section of nonfiction.

What I'm trying to figure out is:

- Is there any way to achieve this system of organization without pulling every book I own off the shelves and onto the floor, and then sorting them? I fear for what will happen if I pull every book off the shelves and stack them up on the floor. (I suspect not, but hope springs eternal.)

- Assuming I must pull everything off the shelves to do the sorting: do you have any recommendation for how to do this in the way that is most efficient/least likely to leave me with stacks of books all over my floor for the next six months?

(I also hope to catalog them in Goodreads, but that is going to necessarily happen after, not before, the physical sorting and organization.)

Thank you. :D
coraa: (keep calm and carry on)
Yesterday, Rachel Manina Brown ([ profile] rachelmanija) and Sherwood Smith ([ profile] sartorias) posted Say Yes to Gay YA, about difficulties they've had finding an agent for their YA novel with a gay protagonist; specifically, an agent offered to represent them—if they removed the gay POV character, and/or made him straight instead.

As you might expect, I find that infuriating. While they are my good friends, they are also talented and proven authors—and furthermore, the situation they describe is clear: the book was rejected not for quality, but for having a gay main character. And other comments around the blogosphere make it pretty clear to me that this is a systemic problem, not a one-off bad-apple.

I'm not going to natter on. Instead, I'll suggest you go read the article—all the way to the bottom, where they suggest what we (all of us) can do to help improve the situation. There isn't a lot most of us can do, but there is something.

Say Yes to Gay YA (or, if that site is down—it has been linked by Neil Gaiman and similar, which can be hard on a server—there's a mirror here.)
coraa: (bookworm)
Ever since Diana Wynne Jones passed away, I've been doling out the new-to-me books a few at a time to make them last. This is one of my most recent "new" reads.

It's clear from the beginning that magical things are going on at Melstone House, because Andrew is first informed that his grandfather has died and left him the place by his deceased grandfather's ghost. But Andrew can't figure out exactly what's going on: why everyone keeps referring to his "field-of-care," what document he's supposed to be finding among his grandfather's voluminous papers, or why Aidan Cain has run away and sought him for help. But he'd better figure it out quickly, because something sinister is rapidly encroaching on the property...

This is what I think of as a very typical Diana Wynne Jones book: set in a world almost but not quite ours, with a large cast of highly eccentric characters, a scale that is small but with potentially far-reaching results, and a protagonist (or protagonists) who is always just one step behind the rapidly-unfolding (and rapidly-complicating) plot. That said, "typical Diana Wynne Jones" is in no way a criticism. This book contains many of the things that I like about her as an author, particularly the large, eccentric, mostly-likeable cast of characters and the way all the tangled plot threads tie up at the end in a big, messy climactic ending. DWJ does the "gloriously chaotic ending" better than pretty much anyone I can think of.

Some of the things that I liked about the book are hard to talk about outside the spoiler cut, like the way it plays with a certain set of tropes. Let me just say that it manages to deal with some common tropes in way that are a little uncommon without hanging a big "I am subverting this trope! Look at me subvert!" sign on it.

The book did some other things that I think of as classic Diana Wynne Jones, and again, in a good way. It is very funny, in some places funny enough to make me giggle out loud. The humor is character-based, which is my favorite kind. And that ties in with another thing I appreciated: serious emotional subjects are handled with a sensitivity and a deft touch that makes them feel honest without being sledgehammer-like. There is one scene where a character grieves, and it felt completely real to me, but it wasn't like wading through a quagmire of angst.

I wouldn't say this was one of my very favorite DWJ books. It's very light, and again, it's doing something she has done many times. But good DWJ is great by most other standards, and this is definitely good. I'd recommend it, especially as a book to read if you're having a bad day.

Spoilers have a magic stained glass window. )

Enchanted Glass, by Diana Wynne Jones
coraa: (bookworm)
Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones

After Diana Wynne Jones passed away earlier this year, I started rereading some of my favorites of her books. (Not in any kind or orderly or organized fashion; for that, see [ profile] swan_tower's DWJ project.) It's hard for me to actually decide what my favorite DWJ book is. Archer's Goon is a possibility, Charmed Life is a possibility; Witch Week is a possibility. But Howl's Moving Castle is a strong contender for favorite. It's also one of the earliest DWJ I read: after Archer's Goon but before Charmed Life.

The book is set in a mildly fairy-tale-esque world—fairy-tale-esque enough that its protagonist, Sophie, knows that (being the oldest of three children instead of the youngest) she is not meant for great things, and is only going to get into trouble if she sets off to seek her fortune. So she settles into the boring but sensible work of trimming hats at the hat shop her father owned before he died. But the Witch of the Waste arrives on Sophie's doorstep with a curse, and sets her off to seek her fortune (and cross paths with the wicked magician Howl) whether she planned it or not.

I think the thing I love most about this book, have always loved most about it, is how grounded and sensible it is. For instance, Howl has a pair of seven-league boots that Sophie and Michael (Howl's apprentice) use to visit one of Sophie's sisters. Seven leagues is twenty-ish miles... and of course it's hard to steer or navigate if you go ten miles at a step. And the way Sophie justifies sticking around Howl's castle is by acting as a housekeeper... complete with details of exactly how much work it is to clean up after a layabout wizard and his teenage apprentice if they haven't cleaned in years. (It made me want to go do some spring cleaning of my own, in fact.)

The characters are really what make this book. Well, and the setting (I love the odd combination of fairy-tale and realistic of the world, and of course the castle is marvelous). There's a plot involving the Witch of the Waste and a missing prince, but it's really an excuse for Sophie to be clever and sensible and no-nonsense, and for Howl to be brilliant and lazy, and for Calcifer the fire demon to be... thoroughly Calcifer, and so on. Even the more minor characters, like Sophie's sisters and the dog, are so beautifully-drawn even in just a few lines that I feel like I know them, and would happily have tea with them.

This is part of the genre I think of as "cozy fantasy," and it's one of my ultimate comfort reads. It's funny and warm, tremendously readable, and I highly recommend it.

(The Miyazaki movie tends to split the opinions of fans of the book. While it has the same story, in fairly broad strokes at least, it turns the sensibility of the book upside-down: where the book is pragmatic and grounded even in its more magical details, the movie is dreamlike even in its more mundane details. I think that's why it feels so different—at least to me—even though the characters and plot are largely similar. I like both, but they are very much not the same.)

I have not yet read the sequels, partly because I'm afraid that very few things could live up to this book. Those of you who have read Castle in the Air and House of Many Ways: what do you think of them?

And now for some spoilery commentary:

Spoilers express their feelings with green slime )
coraa: (house mouse)
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O'Brien

When Mrs. Frisby's frailest child, Timothy, comes down with pneumonia, the doctor insists that he cannot be moved—cannot be taken outside—must remain safe and warm indoors. This presents a problem, though, because Mrs. Frisby is a fieldmouse, and the entire family must move house from the garden to the stream banks soon, lest their home be torn apart when the farmer plows the garden. Mrs. Frisby's quest for an answer leads her to a crow, an owl, and finally the mysterious rats who live beneath the rose bush... and who have an unexplained connection to Mrs. Frisby's late husband.

Oh, I adored this book when I was a kid. I read it for the first time when I was eight? nine? and then again every couple of years until I was in high school. This was my first re-read in a long while, though, and I was pleased by how well it stood up.

In a lot of ways, it's really a remarkable little book. If you leave aside the fact that Mrs. Frisby is clearly too intelligent to be a 'normal' fieldmouse, there's no magic in the book at all. Mrs. Frisby achieves everything she does through courage and fortitude, and the rats do their part through wits, intelligence and good planning (as well as a dose of bravery of their own). And, while the book does include unusual, even superhuman (superrodent?) characters, the heroine is a quite ordinary fieldmouse, a mother, sensible and kind and determined, and while there are other remarkable characters she remains central throughout. (Although I confess, I had a confused little cross-species crush on Justin. I still kind of do.)

Another thing about the book: there really aren't any villains. Even the humans who appear as antagonists are more like forces of nature than "bad guys," which makes perfect sense given their roles in the lives of the animals on the farm.

I think those two things are why I never really could love the movie The Secret of NIMH. On its own, it's not at all a bad animated film—and I'm not a stickler for accuracy in conversions of book to movie; I know that what makes a good book doesn't necessarily make a good movie. But The Secret of NIMH added both magic and a villain, and, to me, that took away a lot of what had made the book special.

Anyway. This is quite clearly a middle-grade book, but if you can see past that, I think it holds up quite well. I just reread it in one gulp, one sitting, one long bubble bath, and I'm glad I did. Highly recommended.

There is one way in which the book dates itself: the rats have gender roles, and the males seem to be in charge. I think the strength of Mrs. Frisby's character (in both sense of the word—she's as well-rounded, and as courageous, as anyone in the book) makes up for the implied gender inequity among the rats, but mileage may vary.
coraa: (bookworm)
Uglies / Pretties / Specials / Extras, by Scott Westerfeld

Tally can't wait until she turns sixteen: then she'll get the surgery to become Pretty, move to New Pretty Town and enjoy constant entertainment and parties, and—most importantly—be reunited with her best friend Peris, who, being a few months older than her, is already Pretty and enjoying his new life without her. But while she's waiting, alone, for her sixteenth birthday, Tally meets Shay. Shay is the same age as Tally, and is an exciting daredevil with a fascination with history of the old Rusty civilizations... and she's not as enthused as Tally about getting a shot at being Pretty. But when Shay runs away, Tally finds out that everything's more complicated than she had suspected.

The Uglies series is fairly distant-future science fiction, set in a world that sought to resolve the inequities of human life and the problems of ecological depredation (after "our" society collapsed and burned, literally) in two ways. First, most human needs (both material and emotional) are satisfied by the city; second, the city makes everyone look the same: everyone is Pretty. (You may be thinking, as I was, that that's overly simplistic, but the book does know that. It's just that Tally doesn't know that, not from the start.) But the price of being both beautiful and well-cared-for is relying wholly on the city, and its omnipresent monitoring, and its secretive leaders.

Tally doesn't care about that at the beginning: she's fifteen, almost sixteen, and she misses her friend, and she wants to join the 24-7 party going on in New Pretty Town. This probably makes her sound pretty shallow, but it's a) pretty believable to me, and b) part of her character trajectory in a way I find very satisfying. One of the things I liked about the book is the way Tally matured and grew throughout, not only in terms of learning about the society she lives in but also in that she discovered strengths and a moral core of her own. And she does it gradually, rather than by large Important Epiphanies. To put it another way: she grows up. And a big part of how and why she grows up lies in her tumultuous friendship with Shay.

While reading this, I wound up thinking a great deal of the "Female Friendship in Fantasy" panel at Sirens. Tally and Shay are best friends, and yet they wind up at odds with each other regularly (sometimes in romantic conflicts, but often not). While I might have preferred a bit less in the way of romantic conflict, I did like that that wasn't the only thing they wound up arguing over, and I liked that the relationship between Tally and Shay was the most important one in the books. That's not something you see all that often. And it did remind me of a few of my friendships over the years. (I also liked that neither Tally nor Shay was wholly right, when they argued. Often one was partly right and the other was, too, or one was perhaps more purely morally right while the other was more pragmatic, or both had totally sympathetic reasons for being at odds. And it wasn't all about "girl rivalries:" they really were friends, which made the times they were at odds all the more affecting.)

I also appreciated the way the plot snapped along, lively and compelling. I kept reading on because it was really hard to stop.

The series isn't perfect: the story stumbled a little before it caught its stride (I wasn't totally hooked until the second book, Pretties), and I wasn't always sure of motivations of certain characters, and—while I liked the romances, actually—I wasn't as enamored of the romantic rivalries (although they were thankfully not the focus of the story). But the books do a good job of keeping up tension and interest without becoming repetitive or overly grim, and I read the whole quartet in about two days. The plot just zips along. I like that.

The other thing I noticed was Westerfeld's hand with invented slang. I know that any discussion of invented slang tends to be very personal and hard to quantify beyond "it worked for me" or "it didn't work for me"—and I know that there are certainly people for whom the slang in the Uglies series didn't work—but it did work for me. (With the occasional exception, but overall, it worked.) I found the slang believable as slang, and I didn't have any trouble following it.

It's hard to speak of anything but the first half of the first book in anything but the vaguest terms without spoiling, partly because the end of each book contains a major hairpin turn. (I am, in retrospect, glad I am reading them now that the whole series is complete.) So I'll continue under the cut, with the understanding that there are potentially book-breaking spoilers for all four books there.

Spoilers have spinning flash tattoos )

Recommended, especially if you like science fiction that explores social issues and social programming.

A caveat: as is probably obvious even from the titles, this is a series that deals with what it means to be pretty (or Pretty), what it means to not be pretty, what it means to be unusual, and so on. Especially early in the series, Tally is bluntly critical of her own "ugly" (normal) appearance, and longs to undergo her society's coming-of-age surgery and become beautiful. In addition, the series deals with brain modification and brain damage in an unflinching way. This is, absolutely, not something the series accepts uncritically (quite the opposite, in fact), but if you're likely to find a lot of discussion of physical appearance and/or brain modification triggering, well, then you probably ought to know.
coraa: (bookworm)
If you want to send books to a Kindle wirelessly (vs. by plugging in a USB cord and copying them over manually), you do so by sending the books to a specific-to-your-Kindle e-mail address. This is, in effect, e-mailing the book to your Kindle.

When prompted to give my Kindle a name, I named it Sheska. (My laptop is named Hawkeye, my iPhone is Hughes, my car is Izumi... which reminds me, I need to get an Izumi figure at AX for the dashboard this year... so Sheska seemed like a natural for the Kindle.)

That means that I regularly e-mail books to Sheska.

Which, in turn, makes me very happy.
coraa: (bookworm)
Starting my book-every-couple-days resolution off right...

White Cat (Curse Workers, Book 1), by Holly Black

Cassel Sharpe grew up in a family of workers—people with the inborn (and, in the USA, illegal) ability to perform magic on others by touching their hands to their target's bare skin—but he himself is no worker. His mother is in jail for using her emotion working ability to scam a rich man; his grandfather is a retired death-worker, with half his fingers missing due to blowback from the killings he's done; his brothers work for one of the crime families that both use and protect curse workers. But Cassel's attempt to live a normal life is destroyed when a white cat invades his dreams, literally, leading him to sleepwalk up onto the roof of his boarding school. And worse. It doesn't help that Cassel himself, though not an illegal curse worker, nonetheless has a history that includes a really horrific crime.

It's a noir con artist story, based on a comparatively obscure fairy tale, with alt history and magic and great worldbuilding! What's not to like?

I really enjoyed this book, and a big part of that is because of the setting. There's a lot of urban fantasy that uses the trope 'our world, but magic,' but Black's take (entirely lacking in weres and faeries and vampires) is fresh and interesting—even 'magic is illegal,' not itself a new idea, goes in some directions I hadn't seen before. In this alternate US, not just alcohol but also magic-working was made illegal in the 1920s; unlike alcohol, the criminalization of working was never lifted. Accordingly, by the 'present' of the story, magic is almost entirely in the hands of organized crime families. Everyone wears gloves all the time (except with trusted intimates), because bare hands are as plausible a threat as an unsheathed knife.

The characters were as well-realized as the setting, even though most of them were pretty unlikeable. (I did like Cassel and his friends, and a couple of others, but mostly the cast is a bunch of nasty folk—which I actually appreciated: it undercut the all-too-common fantasy trope of your thieves and assassins who all conveniently have hearts of gold.) They were all solid and believable, and even when they occasionally did stupid things they had plausible motivations.

But mostly I thought the plot was very good, half caper (Cassel's family were all curse workers, but even more fundamentally, they were all con men and women) and half mystery, with a strong dose of magic. If I hadn't known from Holly Black's talk at Sirens, I wouldn't have realized this was a fairy tale retelling, because the feeling of it is more noir, or possibly heist film, or both. It's one of those books where the twists and turns made me think both, "Wow, I didn't see that coming!" and "Oh, but of course!" at the same time, which is quite a trick and also very satisfying to read.

In retrospect, this is a pretty dark book, but it didn't feel dark in the reading, if that makes sense. Nasty things happened, and things happened that made me cringe for Cassel, but in a way that was exciting and compelling, not that made me feel flattened by the Cement Truck of Grim.

This is one of those books that I am glad I wasn't spoiled for, so I'll put my further thoughts under a spoiler cut.

Spoilers pull a fast one on you )

Anyway, highly recommended. Especially if you like stories about con men, or noir, or just urban fantasy with an original and interesting setting. The second book's coming out next year, and I can't wait (but this story ends at a place where I didn't feel like I'd gotten cliffhangered, which I also like).
coraa: (changeling)
Saturday I overslept a bit, and made it a little late to the first session of the day: Female Friendships in Fantasy. After that I went to the Faerie DNA panel, which I didn't take good enough notes on to post as such, but I'll recount what I can remember under the cut ) I then attended a Q/A session with a publisher at Random House, Mallory Loehr, that was fascinating and full of good information (unfortunately I did not get notes on that either).

The lunch keynote for Saturday was by Terri Windling: she called it her "why fairy tales are important" speech, and it was very interesting, especially as someone with an interest in the evolution of folklore. We explored the history of Red Riding Hood, which began as a coming-of-age story in which the girl (with help from older women) defeats the wolf by her own cleverness and skills... and eventually became a cautionary tale about vanity and interest in men, in which the girl must be rescued. She also talked about a very creepy earlier version of Snow White, in which the prince took a while to wake the princess, and, uh, there was some... implications of their relationship while she was comatose—and how that became the much tamer version we known now. She also talked about the way that fairy tales came to be considered children's stories, when they did not begin that way at all.

After lunch, I attended the Golden Age of YA panel, had a relaxing afternoon, went to an early dinner, and then got dressed for the A Star Shall Fall launch party and the Faerie Ball.

For this part, I need pictures, so: under the cut!

The 'A Star Shall Fall' Launch Party )

After the launch party, we made our way to the faerie ball for more chatter and dancing.

At the faerie ball we were given glowsticks to give it that appropriately sparkly demeanor. There was a murder mystery plot (I didn't take part in it, but it sounded like a lot of fun), and lots of chatting, storytelling in the lobby, and dancing, dancing, dancing. I loved the ball from last year, and it was even better this year: a wide variety of people took part in the dancing, from those who could dance with great grace or passion or both to... uh, me, whose idea of dancing is to flail in an uncoordinated yet joyful manner. I am very often too embarrassed by my dancing to do it in public, even though it makes me happy, because of the 'uncoordinated' bit, but Sirens is one of those places where I feel pretty confident that everyone will appreciate the 'joyful' more than they will mind the 'uncoordinated flailing,' so I danced until I was soaked with sweat, and had a great time.

I also took pictures: people wore everything from jeans to elaborate faerie costumes, and the combination was enough to make the ball seem like actually a pretty darn magical place.

Faerie Ball )

The next day, we got up for the farewell auction and breakfast, where I won the handpainted version of the con symbol for the year (a girl reading a book with a faerie rising up behind her). It will be mailed to me. Squee!

They also announced the theme for next year, about which I am very, very excited: Monsters. Literal monsters, the monstrous, monstrous women (literally and figuratively), and the way that women have been imagined as monsters—for good and for ill. I already have several ideas for panels. And the guest lineup is pretty fantastic: Justine Larbalestier, Nnedi Okorafor, and Laini Taylor.

Anyway, after breakfast and many goodbyes, my traveling companions and I packed up and hit the road for Horse Camp, about which more later!
coraa: (sirens)
Last one! (Yes, the spam will end soon, I promise.) This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart—partly because for all my life, but particularly as a teenager, my strongest social bonds were nearly always with other women. So it struck me odd how few strong female friendships we see in fiction (other than women's lit and chicklit).

Moderator: Mette Harrison ([ profile] metteharrison)
Participants: Holly Black ([ profile] blackholly), Rachel Manija Brown ([ profile] rachelmanija), Janni Lee Simner ([ profile] janni), Sherwood Smith ([ profile] sartorias)

For privacy reasons, I'm only including LJs/blogs of people on the panels if their LJs or blogs include their names in some kind of clear fashion, on the principle that the connection is therefore already public. That said, if I have miscalculated and you want me to remove either your real name or your blog link, or if you want me to use a different link, please let me know and I'll do so immediately.

Notes behind the cut. People are attributed by initials; Q/C indicates an audience comment or question. As always, transcribed fast and edited only glancingly, misattributions and errors are my own, assume everything outside of quote marks is a paraphrase. ??? indicates something (usually a name) that I missed.

Panel Notes )
coraa: (flight)
First day of programming!

I woke up bright and early to get some coffee and go to the book discussion room and discuss faerie books. There were tables for War for the Oaks and Tam Lin and Thomas the Rhymer and Wildwood Dancing... and The Bones of Faerie, which is the one I sat at. We had a lively discussion of the fantastic apocalypse and its aftermath, the way that things first appear one way and then are revealed to be another (in this case, oddly enough, the mistaken impression is given not by the faeries but by the most militantly human of the humans), and of pragmatism in the magical world. (Also a brief digression onto the topic of [ profile] janni's Dead Cat Theory: if the book is soul-crushingly depressing, the cat must live to counterbalance it lest your readers all fall into bitter despair; if the book is reasonably hopeful, you can kill the cat, because the counterbalance isn't necessary.) It was a wonderful discussion, and about right for a book discussion with the writer present: Janni was there for the first half, which gave us a chance to ask questions and hear interesting anecdotes, and then she excused herself for the second half, which gave us a chance to speak more freely as readers. (Not that Janni is a scary author type, but you know what I mean.)

From there, into the main panels of the day.

In the morning, I went first to "Faeries Come To Our Town," which was about the origins of urban fantasy and the way it's changed in the past 30 years. Then to Are There Faeries Outside Western Europe?, and then to Go On, Judge A Book By Its Cover.

Lunch gave us the second keynote: Marie Brennan's talk on why faerie is ruled by queens, about the association between women and faerie, the resonances with the mythology surrounding Elizabeth I, the association with the Other, and the continuing fascination with the pairing of faerie woman and mortal man. But you don't have to rely on my kludgy summary, because she's posted her talk: Why Is Faerie Ruled By Queens?

After lunch I attended Holy Barking Spiders!: Biology, Education and Feminism in YA Fantasy. I took a break to do some writing and then went to the Sirens Bootcamp presentation—something I'm definitely planning to do.

A group of us went to a lovely dinner (sushi!) at which we discussed everything from anime to embarrassing family stories, and then back to the hotel for Bedtime Stories, a set of readings by the Guests of Honor. Terri Windling did a wonderful piece on the meaning of home.

Unfortunately, by then I was beginning to be socialed out, so I retired to the hotel lobby bar, where I had a long talk with [ profile] samhenderson, that lead to an idea for a project that we're thinking of working on!

And then to bed.

Tomorrow: the faerie ball, for which I have pictures (omg).
coraa: (matilda reads)
I confess: a big part of why I went to this presentation (which is about book covers, and how they function as advertisement, as hints to the tone and content of the book, and as genre indicators) was that the title was awesome. :D It was listed as a presentation in order that Faye could show slides, but it was held really as more of a roundtable, with lots of discussion.

Since so much audience discussion happened, by people whose names I didn't know or have forgotten, and since it went so fast, I'm just describing the content in prose rather than as a dialogue. Also, I apologize for the lack of images; finding and linking them all would have been so time-consuming that I wouldn't have probably ever gotten around to posting, so you get my descriptions instead.

Moderator: Faye Bi

Notes behind the cut. As always, transcribed fast and edited only glancingly, misattributions and errors are my own, assume everything outside of quote marks is a paraphrase.

Presentation/Discussion Notes )
coraa: (sirens)
This was a fascinating presentation, partly on biology in fantasy literature and partly on pedagogy. As someone who feels that science and fantasy don't have to be mutually exclusive from a literary point of view, I really enjoyed it.

Since it's a presentation rather than a panel, I've written it up in sort of a prose format rather than as a dialogue.

Presenter: Christina Blake

Notes behind the cut. People are attributed by initials; Q/C indicates an audience comment or question. As always, transcribed fast and edited only glancingly, misattributions and errors are my own (particularly, in this case, science errors are almost certainly errors of transcription rather than the presenter's errors), assume everything outside of quote marks is a paraphrase.

Presentation notes )
coraa: (history - very few dates)
So, recapping!

Last Sunday (wow, it's already been over a week), I got on a plane and flew to LA, where [ profile] rachelmanija picked me up at the airport and we got fantastic chicken with garlic sauce from Zankou. (Seriously, super delicious. I really wish I could figure out how they made that garlic sauce!) I also introduced her to the cracktastic addictive joy that is The Sims 3. The next day we picked up [ profile] sartorias and headed for Colorado!

The first day, we headed northeast across Southern California and through Nevada. (I didn't take many landscape pictures, more's the pity, so I'm going to take advantage of other peoples' flickr shots to illustrate.) On the way toward Las Vegas I admired the weirdness that is the Joshua tree, and the general stark bareness of the landscape. We passed through Las Vegas and continued northeast, clipping the corner of Arizona and finally stopping in St. George, Utah. (On the way we drove through a truly impressive thunderstorm. And by 'through' I mean 'straight through;' the lightning was striking on all sides, long jagged branches of light, and clouds so dark that the intermittent flashes could blind, strong winds and thunder enough to make the car shudder, rain that didn't so much fall as slash downward. It was truly impressive.)

The next day we hit the road again, and spent most of the day (well, all day, really) crossing Utah. We saw sage-green plants growing in dirt red as rust, and steep striated hillsides, incredible patterns of light and shadow, fingers of stone and hilltop cliffs that looked like fortress walls.

We stopped at Cove Fort, which was a waystation for those traveling the Mormon Corridor in the mid to late 1800s. It was built as a defensive fort because it was established during the Black Hawk War, but no shots were ever fired at the fort (save one accident in which a little boy shot his brother in the knee) and things sound like they were pretty peaceful. The fort was a stop for a couple of stagecoach lines (including rooms to let), a Pony Express stop, and a telegraph station. It was run by one man and his family.

We stopped and took the tour, given by a nice LDS guide who was very sweet and not pushy and, as Rachel put it, had the ability to make pretty much anything into a parable involving Jesus. (I didn't notice, because he was actually a lot less heavy-handed about it than the people I grew up with, but there you go.) The fort was really interesting from a historical point of view: fully restored, and with many of the original furnishings. (I was particularly interested because material culture is one of my verymost favorite elements of history.) I did get pictures there, so, under the cut!

Cove Fort--image-heavy )

Then we drove a bit farther and decided to call it a night early, so we'd be fresh and awake and have good daylight for the petroglyphs the next morning. We stopped in Green River, at a hotel with an absolutely lovely river view.

Just one more picture )

Aside from the beautiful landscape and the chance to stop and see some really interesting historical things, the trip was a great joy because of the company. We talked about all kinds of things, from sense of place in fantasy literature to sexual orientation among pioneer women, from the difference between a critique and a review to the way historical fiction sets up a dialogue between modern mores and historical ones.

The next day: petroglyphs, and arrival in Vail!
coraa: (sirens)
Another set of panel notes! (These are out of order, because some of these need more editing than others.) This was a fun one: I personally happen to think the golden age of YA, inasmuch as there is one, is right now; there were certainly great YA books when I was a teenager, but frankly most of the new and interesting things I see in fantasy these days is coming out in YA, and I quite cheerfully read mostly YA as an adult myself. (This is not meant as a zinger against my friends who write books for adults, nor is it universally true! It's just a trend I've noticed.)

Moderator: Rachel Manija Brown ([ profile] rachelmanija)
Panel: Janni Lee Simner ([ profile] janni), Malinda Lo (, Sarah Rees Brennan ([ profile] sarahtales)

For privacy reasons, I'm only including LJs/blogs of people on the panels if their LJs or blogs include their names in some kind of clear fashion, on the principle that the connection is therefore already public. That said, if I have miscalculated and you want me to remove either your real name or your blog link, or if you want me to use a different link, please let me know and I'll do so immediately.

Notes behind the cut. People are attributed by initials; Q/C indicates an audience comment or question. As always, transcribed fast and edited only glancingly, misattributions and errors are my own, assume everything outside of quote marks is a paraphrase.

Panel notes )
coraa: (girl with book)
The Dubious Hills, by Pamela Dean

(This is a really hard book to synopsize! That's my way of saying that if the following sounds boring or dumb, that's my fault, not the book's.)

In the Dubious Hills, knowledge is divided up amongst the adults of the community, each of whom have their own purview. Fourteen-year-old Arry has the knowledge of pain, and the soothing thereof, just as her uncle Oonan has the knowledge of broken things and the fixing thereof. The community has thus lived in peace and balance for hundreds of years, relying on one another to fill the gaps in their knowledge. Things begin to shift, though: Arry's parents have disappeared, leaving a hole in Arry's family that she must struggle to fill; pains appear that are not physical and are not easily soothed, and Arry does not know what to do about them. And then there are the wolves who do not act like wolves, black and silent as shadows, who come into the village offering a bargain that will change everything, one way or another.

This was a lovely novel, strange and quiet. It takes a handful of starting premises ("what if knowledge was split up tidily between people in a community, rather than spread out messily among them as in the real world?" "what if magic spells existed and were very effective, but could only be practiced by young children?") and explores them in a way that's very thorough without turning them into engineering. In that way the book is remarkable: we have magic whose nature and origin is pretty thoroughly examined that, to me, still manages to remain mysterious, mystical, even numinous.

Part of the reason for that is that everything is explained slowly, gradually, in pieces; you see the world from the point of view of Arry, for whom all of this is both old hat (she's lived in the community her whole life) and new (knowledge comes to people around puberty, which was fairly recently). The mystery deepens before it's explained, and the whole complex system by which the country runs is revealed bit by bit rather than in infodumps. It's really impressively-done.

The story itself is very domestic: there is magic but no big battles, and much of the book is taken up in conversation. Much of the tension of the book is taken up in Arry's attempt to figure out what is hurting her brother and sister and what (and whether) she can do about it. Most of the magic (which is performed by speaking spells, and the spells are lines from English poets, a touch I appreciated—at one point Con, Arry's sister, creates a glass of intoxicating beverage by reciting, "O for a beaker full of the warm South") is used for little things, like kindling hearthfires and lighting rooms. This makes it sound boring, and it isn't at all: it's just very personal. It's about the fate of home and village, not the fate of the world.

The only other book of Dean's that I've read, and the one I hear talked about far and away the most, is Tam Lin. Tam Lin was a book that I appreciated and admired but couldn't feel attached to, because it gave me the curious feeling of hovering anxiously on the outside of a clique that I was not cool enough for—probably not an unreasonable thing to feel, because, duh, faeries, and certainly more about my own issues than about the book itself, but still uncomfortable enough to put a barrier between me and the book. This had a lot of the things that I admired about Tam Lin, without the parts that I couldn't enjoy.

So: This book is probably not for everyone, but I enjoyed it very much indeed, and recommend it to anyone who thinks it sounds interesting. It's about knowledge and doubt, and family, and community, and the things outside us and within us that challenge what we know. I love domestic fantasy, fantasy where the magic involved is strange and slow to unravel, and stories in general where the stakes are no less real because they're personal.
coraa: (changeling)
And now, a palate-cleanser in the form of a book I plain loved.

Changeling, by Delia Sherman

Neef is a thirteen-year-old mortal changeling, the human half of the human-for-faerie swap that happened when she was too young to remember. Though there are many changelings in New York Between (the parallel New York inhabited by supernaturals from all the cultures that make up New York City), Neef is the only Changeling of Central Park—in part because the Wild Hunt of nasty, brutish, anthropophagic faeries make Central Park their home. Neef is protected from the Wild Hunt by the word of the Green Lady, the Genius (in the sense of "spirit of a place") of Central Park. But when she runs afoul of the specific, complicated, and unforgiving rules of the supernaturals, she must embark on a nigh-impossible quest... with help only from her rather peculiar faerie changeling counterpart.

I enjoyed this book tremendously. It's YA (or perhaps middle-grade? I'm not so clear on the boundary between those) urban fantasy, where by "urban fantasy" I mean the older Charles de Lint/Bordertown/War for the Oaks school, not the newer vampire boyfriend school. Furthermore, it's one that acknowledges the multicultural nature of the USA, which means that there are not only pooka and selkies but also rusalka, tengu, hu hsien, talking animals, moss women, and kraken. And that's not even counting the Fictional Characters who have enough spiritual presence to show up. I love this type of urban fantasy, so that immediately pleased me.

The other thing that immediately pleased me was Neef herself. Neef is smart, determined, cheerful, and likable; it was a pleasure to spend a couple hundred pages with her. She screws up, but in ways that I found sympathetic, not in ways that made me roll my eyes. And when she screws up, she rolls up her sleeves and gets to work fixing it. I liked that she was a girl/young woman protagonist for whom going on a Quest was a perfectly natural option, and I liked that she was perfectly willing to take it on.

Something else I liked, but it's near the end of the book, so, spoiler cut:

Spoilers crash the Midsummer Dance )

Anyway. I have to make one brief caveat: Neef meets the faerie half of her changeling swap, and the faerie-girl-who-lives-among-mortals has behaviors that look like OCD or autism-spectrum to me. This is mythologically supported (many supernatural creatures are described as having compulsions or as socializing in unusual ways, and the changeling's behavior is explicitly tied to those myths), and I think it's handled very sensitively and well (the changeling is portrayed as happy and content with herself, not broken or in need of saving, and indeed she is as much responsible for saving the day as Neef is), but I know some people have issues with "magical disabilities." Still, aside from that, I'd thoroughly recommend this one. It's quick, light without being shallow, genuinely funny in places, and just plain delightful.
coraa: (girl with book)
Mockingjay (The Final Book of The Hunger Games), by Suzanne Collins

This is the third (and final) book in the "Hunger Games" series, and as such it's difficult to talk about without spoilers for Mockingjay, and almost impossible to talk about without spoilers for the prior books. So I'll keep the outside-the-spoiler-cut brief: I still think this trilogy is worth reading, but this final book left me feeling curiously deflated. I won't say it was a bad book, or that I didn't enjoy it, but I really, really wanted to love it and I... didn't. Couldn't. I liked it okay, but after the lead-up, it left me feeling disappointed.

Spoilers leave the arena behind )
coraa: (flonne sigh)
Dear Memoirist:

When the men you work with are all painted in glowing colors—even the chef who deliberately smushed salmon egg pate all over your face for fun, the fellow-student who poked you in the ass with a trussing needle, and the fellow student who sexually harasses you all the time—but all the women are described as catty, grasping, and evil, I begin to suspect that it is you, and not every other woman on earth, who has the problem.

When I notice that all of your insults of the women are gendered in ugly ways ("harpy," "witch," "lewd giggle," "middle-aged biddy," "bitch," "she tried too hard," "bleat"), or are insults of their appearance ("piercing laughter that shook her plump frame and caused her significant backside to sway like a cow having an epileptic seizure," "distinctly less than gorgeous, with her flaccid lips, protuberant eyes, and mud-colored irises, to say nothing of the truly enormous contours of her lower half—her ass was a cautionary tale of what could happen to someone who spent all their time in the kitchen," "Mimi looked pretty good for her age, but it was definitely a case of mutton dressed as lamb, as my mother would have said," "her pug nose almost twitching with anticipation") — when I notice that, my tendency to believe that they are the problem goes down another sizeable notch.

Oh, but it's okay, because you know why all these woman are so hateful. About Chef Cyndee, "I blamed it on Tucker’s super-nerd habit of asking Cyndee endless questions about the food, the recipes, the curriculum, and kitchen lore in general, none of which she knew the answers to, and Tucker blamed me for being blond and for smiling too much. I think we were both right." (Stupidity and jealousy makes women evil.) About Mimi, the Middle Eastern fellow student, "Mimi would definitely need her daddy’s money for this jaunt." (Rich leeches are evil, too.) About Penny, "even Penny, who seemed to have a burgeoning persecution complex and would often complain to me that other students in the class were out to get her. Apparently I could befriend someone with a mental disorder, but not a social climber." (This one's straightforward: women are crazy. With a bonus slam against Mimi: she's not just a rich leech, she's a social climbing rich leech!)

And, see, it doesn't help that you are yourself a woman. Women trying to put one another down to look good to the dudes is not an admirable trait; it's not a good excuse for misogyny. And when you say, "I was lucky to be working with a bunch of guys. There were none of the tense social niceties to be performed with them, which would have been totally lost on them, anyway. We were all out for the same thing—graduating first in the class—but with the guys there was no pretense, no need to cloak ambition behind politely bitchy conversation," I think, "Well, geez, given that you scornfully dismissed each of the women upon first meeting them, no wonder they're not acting sweet and forthright to you! You kinda brought that on your head."

And when you get to the story where Chef Cyndee calls you out (because you were genuinely in the wrong, I might add), I go, "Woohoo! Go Cyndee!" When you get to the story about how Mimi decided not to spend her own money taking you to dinner (because you hate her! duh!), instead of being outraged at the exclusion as you are, I say, "Thank god poor Mimi didn't feel obliged to bring someone who scorned and insulted her."

And when I get to the umpteenth reference to Cyndee's backside, I put the book down, because nobody needs that. I don't care how good the recipes are.

No love,
who can't help but wonder what descriptive terms she would have garnered if she had known you
who didn't even get into the way your rampant Francophilia bordered on xenophobia about other cultures

(The book is Under the Table: Saucy Tales from Culinary School, and I did not finish it. I also do not recommend it. If you're interested in the topic, I'd recommend instead The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry or Julia Child's My Life In France.)

I'm having a fabulous honeymoon, book notwisthstanding. And now I'm switching back to Mercedes Lackey for my reading material of choice.
coraa: (changeling)
Lament: The Faerie Queen's Deception, by Maggie Stiefvater

Sixteen-year-old Deirdre is a gifted harpist who regularly plays in competitions and for events such as weddings. Although she is surrounded by music (her aunt is a diva, her best friend James is one of the best bagpipers in the area), her life is fairly normal until she meets Luke—a gorgeous, mysterious, gifted flautist—at a local arts festival. After they play together, she finds herself drawn to Luke... and frightened by his companions, whose appearances are heralded by carpets of clover and the scent of thyme. And she has reason to be frightened, she discovers, as the strange fair folk threaten Deirdre, James, and her entire family.

My reaction to this book is decidedly mixed. In a lot of ways, for what it is, it's a good book: there's a real sense of mystery around the fair folk, there's a twist on the faerie queen theme that I hadn't run into before, and Deirdre's dilemma in choosing between sweet, reliable, mortal James and dangerous, exciting, not-quite-human Luke is well-portrayed. The problem is that I'm not quite in the target audience, which means that my reactions to the book are sort of irrelevant to what is the target audience. Although they're not irrelevant to my general LJ readership, so I'll post them here anyway, with the caveat that I know perfectly well that I'm not the audience for this book, and the audience might love it to pieces.

First: what Stiefvater does right. The book is well-written, vivid, and lucid, and Stiefvater did a good job portraying the oddness of the fair folk. There was a take on the faerie queen that I hadn't ever seen before, and since I've read a lot of faerie fiction, that's impressive by itself. (More on that under the spoiler cut.) And while I am not in the target audience for the 'longing for a dangerous bad boy' thing, I found it believable, and while I wanted to shake Deirdre and ask her wtf she was thinking sometimes, it never edged over into thinking she was stupid. Just infatuated.

My biggest problem with the book (and a problem that has nothing to do with whether I'm the target audience or not) is the fact that Deirdre does so little to move the plot. For most of the book, things happen to her, and she does as other people say. Even when she turns out to have not insignificant magical powers, she rarely actually uses those powers to do anything. They're mostly there to mark her as special, rather than to serve as tools for her to use. I found that frustrating.

And now, onto the things that are not the fault of the book, but rather the preferences of the reader. I'm getting awfully bored with "he's arrogant and keeps secrets from me and he may be evil, I'm not sure, but he's soooo hot." That isn't to say that I don't understand the appeal (I have had bad-boy fictional crushes in my time, and not just when I was twelve, either), or that I think it's morally wrong to have an ambiguous bad-boy romance. I've just seen enough of it that I'm... well, it takes a lot to make it stand out. (Much the same way that the Farm Boy With Secret Past Goes On Quest Against Evil Overlord narrative has to do something pretty exciting to interest me these days.)

The same is true of the fair folk in general: a book has to either do something really unique, or else do the more standard faerie tropes thing remarkably well, to catch my interest. It's not that faerie books are bad. It's that the more of anything you read, the harder you are to impress. I think this is just plain true in general. (Side note: I also think that's why sometimes when a book with science fiction or fantasy themes hits the mainstream, that's why sff readers are often unimpressed with it. Something that's fresh, new, exciting, mindblowing if you don't know the genre might be old hat if you do. And it goes both ways: writing on interpersonal themes that impresses the hell out of sff readers is often yawnworthy to romance readers, who get a steady diet of interpersonal fiction.)

Spoilers ahoy! )

I'm not quite sure what to say in conclusion. I wouldn't say this was a bad book, and if faeries or love triangles including mysterious men of dubious intent push your buttons, it might even be a great book. I just am picky on those points, so it wasn't quite for me.


coraa: (Default)

April 2013

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