Rejection, Romance & Royalties

This collection of essays about making a living as a fiction writer had me laughing out loud and reading extended sections (when I could get them out without cracking up) to my critique group and long-suffering husband.  Besides being a healthy dose of fun, these  essays were practical and encouraging.  I’m currently borrowing my copy from the library, but I may just get one of my own. Yes, it’s that good.  If you’re a writer, or even if you just need a good laugh, you might want to check this book out.

Dragon of Ash and Stars

This was a Bookbub title I picked up for free, but it was worth so much  more than the nonexistent price I paid.  This is one of only a couple of ebook titles I’ve read that I may try to obtain in actual paper (the others are Audacity and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay).

Dragon of Ash and Stars is a beautifully written coming of age story, with a unique voice (the narrator is a dragon).  The world building is rich, the details exquisite, and the story reminiscent of Black Beauty.  The main character is complex, realistically flawed, and extraordinarily sympathetic despite (or perhaps as a result of) feeling distinctly not-human.

If you’re into fantasy, I’d strongly recommend this book.

The Finishing Touches

K. gave me this one for a birthday a couple of years ago. As I understand it, she picked it up off some bargain table to fit it into her budget, so I had some qualms starting it. I was pleasantly surprised to discover a well-written, sweet-yet-modern romance (real world, fairly modern problems, but it’s PG at the most). I love returning to this book when I’m stressed out and want something hopeful and not too straining on the brain, and I keep looking for sequels. Alas, nothing new so far as I can tell.

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

I must have read some Sherlock Holmes stories before–I’m sure I must have.  But I can’t recall doing so.  I’ve seen movies and TV shows, serious takes and spoofs.  But this might be the first time I’ve read the real thing.

The real thing doesn’t disappoint. Sherlock is brilliant and quirky, Watson grounded and real.  The problems are ingenious, and though I still prefer novels to short stories, I enjoyed every one of these. I believe I’m keeping this book.  I may even keep an eye out for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s other collections.

Robert’s Rules of Writing

I picked this book of short essays (tips) on writing in a thrift store because the price was right, but I knew I’d enjoy it when the very first rule was “Burn your Journal.” Though plenty of writers I know find journals helpful, I’ve never been able to keep one, being too busy writing stories I might want to read again later.

Apart from the journal rule, there wasn’t much in Masello’s list of pithy hints that I hadn’t heard already (often multiple times), but there were lots of good reminders–make heroes fallible and  give villains good points; polish writing up, but don’t hang onto it forever . . .. There was also the occasional gem I hadn’t heard before, but thought might be worth a try (don’t be afraid to try a new genre or length–mixing it up can improve writing overall, and may lead to a new strength).

At any rate, as a book on writing, this one struck me as more helpful than most.  Maybe all that means is that my writing process approximates Robert Masello’s more than it approximates Stephen King’s or Annie Dillard’s (or the processes of several other writers whose names I cannot now remember).  Or maybe it means Mr. Masello has better or more accessible advice.  At any rate, I think I’ll hang onto this book for a while.  I find it useful to occasionally remind myself of  writing best practices (or at least, best practices for me).

The Deluxe Transitive Vampire

This, believe it or not, is a book on English grammar.  (It’s subtitled The Ultimate Handbook of Grammar for the Innocent, the Eager, and the Doomed.)  As such, it’s a lucid explanation of parts of speech and basic syntax, with entertaining examples, whimsical illustrations, and a vivid (if somewhat bossy) voice.

Even so, I found my interest flagging  about two-thirds of the way through.  I guess that even for a grammar nerd like me, the topic is more of something I look up when I have questions than something I want to read about.   Still, this book is a valiant effort to make a dry subject live, and I may keep the book around for those times when I get asked grammar questions and can’t think of any examples at all, let alone ones that might shed light on the subject.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

My kids and I have been reading through the Harry Potters together for several months, and have just finished number five.  We started this set because the kids are getting pressure from classmates to read and discuss the books, but I don’t want my two reading them on their own yet.  This is the compromise we came up with.

Reading these aloud, I notice things I didn’t when reading them to myself–unfortunate things like awkward dialogue tags and the overuse of adverbs. But the story is just as brilliant, the world just as rich, the characters just as complex and finely drawn, and the humor just as delightful.  And the experience is more meaningful when I read with my kids.

I love the way we get to the end of a section and they beg for more.  I love the conversations that get started around the dinner table about what good families are like and who to trust and how to make good choices and how the world isn’t divided into good people and Death Eaters–that evil can take many forms and faces, some of which initially appear to be good.  I love the way the kids get inspired to create their own worlds as they emerge from this one.

I’ve always loved these books.  I love them even more now that my family is experiencing them together.

Career of Evil

This is the third Cormoran Strike novel, a deliciously complicated psychological mystery by Robert Galbraith (otherwise known as J.K. Rowling).  I first picked up the Galbraith novels because I love Rowling’s work, but I keep reading them because they’re wonderful.

I love Cormoran Strike, Robin Ellacott, and the way the relationship between them sparks with chemistry and confusion, even more than if they were romantically involved.  I love the complexity of the other characters and the richness of the world.  I love the insight the work gives into the everyday struggles of living in modern London.

I also like the mystery itself.  There’s plenty of suspense and enough red herrings to keep me guessing until fairly late in the story.  Altogether, an excellent book of its type.  Galbraith has become one of my favorite mystery authors, one of the very few whose works I keep around on my shelves for re-reading.