The past couple days have been a little frustrating on the writing front so I've turned to one of my favorite comforts. Reading is such a wonderful escape, palate-cleanser, and inspiration.
Like many bibliophiles, I juggle multiple selections. This is what I've been diving into recently.
Libriomancer by Jim Hines
The blurb (taken from amazon) :
"Isaac Vainio is a Libriomancer, a member of the secret organization founded five centuries ago by Johannes Gutenberg. Libriomancers are gifted with the ability to magically reach into books and draw forth objects. When Isaac is attacked by vampires that leaked from the pages of books into our world, he barely manages to escape. To his horror he discovers that vampires have been attacking other magic-users as well, and Gutenberg has been kidnapped.
With the help of a motorcycle-riding dryad who packs a pair of oak cudgels, Isaac finds himself hunting the unknown dark power that has been manipulating humans and vampires alike. And his search will uncover dangerous secrets about Libriomancy, Gutenberg, and the history of magic. . . ."
The reader reaction:
I'm only about halfway through this one, so I'll reserve final judgment. As of this moment, I have this to say: Libriomancer is great fun.
If you could take a book out for a round of beers, I would choose this one. It is playful, filled with geeky references and a true love of books. It has a setting that is close to my heart. You don't see a lot of fiction with roots in Michigan's UP. The Great Lakes states are a core element in the book and I have loved every little shock of recognition, every familiar spot and twitch.
The pace is lively. I am enjoying the characters--it takes a special book to make me bond with a spider. It is clever without being twee. The prose is clean and has a comfortably wry humor mixed in with some broader comedy.
Sure, it feels like set-up, but I'm on board. I will congratulate myself for my timing because the second book in the series is available now and I won't have to wait. Score!
The writer reaction:
I admire many things about this. I'd like to be able to work with setting like Hines does. He manages to weave in concrete details about real-world settings while he manages to make the fantastic elements a seamless part of them. That takes skill, and it is something I struggle with from time to time. I tend to dodge that by creating nameless settings. I like building up descriptive detail and providing a clear sense of place, but I've not yet tethered it to what is recognizably a particular place.
I also admire the way he brings in so many allusions and references. Too many or too much and it feels like a shallow gimmick. Hit the mark and it is a delight. So far, I'm having fun. I'd like to learn that balance.
Finally, I am taking notes about how he manages to invest so much personality into a creature that has no voice. Smudge, the fire-spider, is a distinct character and I care about him, and I've never been given access to his thoughts. If I'm ever writing a story that has that element, you can bet I'll be pulling up this book.
This Case is Gonna Kill Me... by Phillipa Bornikova
The blurb (taken from amazon):
"What happens when The Firm meets Anita Blake? You get the Halls of Power—our modern world, but twisted. Law, finance, the military, and politics are under the sway of long-lived vampires, werewolves, and the elven Alfar. Humans make the best of rule by “the Spooks,” and contend among themselves to affiliate with the powers-that-be, in order to avoid becoming their prey. Very loyal humans are rewarded with power over other women and men. Very lucky humans are selected to join the vampires, werewolves, and elves—or, on occasion, to live at the Seelie Court.
Linnet Ellery is the offspring of an affluent Connecticut family dating back to Colonial times. Fresh out of law school, she’s beginning her career in a powerful New York “white fang” law firm. She has high hopes of eventually making partner.
But strange things keep happening to her. In a workplace where some humans will eventually achieve immense power and centuries of extra lifespan, office politics can be vicious beyond belief. After some initial missteps, she finds herself sidelined and assigned to unpromising cases. Then, for no reason she can see, she becomes the target of repeated, apparently random violent attacks, escaping injury each time through increasingly improbable circumstances. However, there’s apparently more to Linnet Ellery than a little old-money human privilege. More than even she knows. And as she comes to understand this, she’s going to shake up the system like you wouldn’t believe…."
The reader reaction:
This book was all about the impulses for me. I picked it up at the public library because it caught my eye. (Never underestimate the power of one of those cheesy comparisons to an impulse shopper). I started reading it Saturday because I decided I wanted a physical book to take to the hair salon. I didn't put it down for long and finished it Sunday. I chomped it down like salty sweet caramel corn.
The blurb isn't 100% accurate. She's assigned to the "sidelined" case immediately. The "shake up the system part" is a little overblown, but is there. I suspect that will come into play in more detail in the next book. The book cover depicts a blonde and the heroine is brunette. That kind of thing isn't a deal breaker, but it pisses me off a bit. (Brunette power!). I blame the publisher. The comparison to Grisham works, but the connection to Anita Blake is cursory at best. Finally, Phillipa Bornikova is a pseudonym for Melinda M. Snodgrass. I don't mind, but crowing about debut novels and new voices is a little lame. Again, I point fingers at places other than the writer.
Not a lot of that matters much because I had a blast reading this book. It is a nearly perfect guilty pleasure book for me. Gutsy heroine? Check. Petite, brunette heroine with a sarcastic edge? Oh yes. Legal thrills? Yep. Urban Fantasy with some fresh elements? Good enough for me. Romance? Yay! Descriptions of food? Enough to make this aficionado happy. New things to learn about? Yes--in this case horseback riding and dressage. A balance of girly details and hard hitting action? Uh-huh.
It isn't deep, but I don't think it's too shallow either. This is just the right kind of brain candy for me.
Again, kudos to me for my lucky timing. I picked up the second book in the series at the library and I'm going to leap in very soon.
The writer reaction:
Food tends to sneak into most things I write. I don't necessarily want to get teased (or criticized?) for it like George R.R. Martin (though, really, any comparison to him I could score wouldn't be too bad). I do think it can tell us a lot about character and setting. I think she found a fine balance.
I won't give it away, but her approach to the action, especially that tied to the main character, is awesome. I wouldn't want to steal the device, but I'm going to keep in mind that a creative approach and tweaking of expectations can be a might fine thing. I also would look to it as a nice example of working with action set-pieces.
I struggled with trying to make research interesting in the course of my novel-length manuscript. Bornikova, like John Grisham, manages to incorporate a lot of it and it doesn't weigh down the pace. In fact, I looked forward to those parts. I am probably predisposed to find that kind of thing captivating, but I think this is well done. I'll be combing through that text again to look at when she doles out information and how. Any little bit in that area helps.
Long-Distance Hiking: Lessons from the Appalachian Trail by Roland Mueser
It is as the title suggests. I'm not planning on making the trek myself. This is all about research for my next long writing project.
It's a good mix of trail lore, helpful hints, anecdotes, and practical trail knowledge. I'll give it bonus points for pictures.
That's it for now. Thanks for reading!