Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Book Report: Recent Reading

I have made it approximately 1/4 of the way through my projected first draft on the book, but I suspect that the first draft will come in longer than projected, as it's not so much of a "draft" because I keep tinkering along the way. My process seems to change with each book. On this one, I have a big-picture outline that the story seems to be sticking to, but everything in between is making it up as I go, and I keep discovering things along the way that subtly change everything. I am trying to plan each scene ahead of time, just before I write it, so that I have a sense of the character's goal and what the conflict is and I don't end up with just a "doing laundry" scene, and sometimes a scene will require me to go back and tinker with what came before. This seems to be more of a subtle, complex and layered book than I've written before, and it's really stretching me as a writer. I'm curious to see how it all comes out.

I haven't done a books post in a while, other than talking about my likes and dislikes, but I have been reading. I just haven't read a lot that has spurred me to talk about it, or else I've been busy talking about other stuff. So, here's a quick round-up of titles I've read recently that I have something to say about.

Stalking the Unicorn by Mike Resnick -- I've been on a few convention panels with Mike (and boy, does he make me feel like a slacker), and I'd read Santiago, but I hadn't read any of his fantasy. This book was published quite a while ago (in the 80s, as I recall) but has recently been reissued, and it's urban fantasy from before urban fantasy was cool. It reads like a hardboiled detective novel from the 30s or 40s, only this private detective has been hired to find a stolen unicorn in an alternate fairyland version of New York on New Year's Eve. This book has a lot of the things I tend to look for in books. Our hero is an Everyman without any particular magical powers. He was hired mostly because he was the only detective still in his office late on New Year's Eve. It's a through-the-portal story, and it's urban fantasy in the sense of a mixing of real-world and fantasy-world elements, with enough darkness to give it heft but still with a sense of whimsy. It looks like there are more books about this character, and I'll have to read Stalking the Vampire in spite of my vampire aversion because I suspect he'll do something different with the trope.

On an entirely different note, I read the new Sophie Kinsella book, Twenties Girl, and I had really mixed feelings. Normally I don't talk about books I don't recommend, but in this case it's not that I don't recommend it. It's more that I recommend it with some cautions. There's a lot to like about the book, but most of that comes in the latter half. In fact, I wouldn't have reached the point where it got good if I hadn't seen an online reviewer whose taste I trust talk about the first part being a slog but then the story picks up. In this book, Kinsella enters the paranormal realm with a ghost story. Our heroine is at the funeral service for a 105-year-old great aunt she's barely met, who's been pretty much uncommunicative from a stroke for ages. Just before the cremation, her aunt's ghost appears to her, begging her to stop it because she has to have her necklace. Our heroine (sorry, can't recall her name) has to come up with a way to stop the cremation, then track down the missing necklace, all while dealing with her aunt's ghost, who's reverted to her youth as a flapper and who wants one more chance to live it up vicariously through her great niece. This whole quest ends up unearthing a lot of family secrets. I loved the ghost story premise and the interaction between the heroine and her great aunt. There were some nice messages in there about the fact that old people really were once young and about the idea of appreciating the life you're living while you can. I ended up loving the back half of the book, but I almost didn't get there because the first half contained a lot of chick lit cliches and comedy tropes I hate. There's a lot of embarrassing situation/humiliation humor, and the heroine spends most of the first part of the book trying to get her ex boyfriend, who dumped her and who has moved on, back in a way that makes her look really pathetic. I'd reached the point where I just wanted to know how it ended without having to slog through it all, so I skipped ahead to near the end and liked the ending enough to go back and read, but I still skipped a chapter in the middle to get to the point where it got good. I guess you sort of have to read the beginning to know what's going on in the latter part of the book, but while I ended up liking the book on a big-picture level, I can't recommend it without warning that there's something seriously wrong with the beginning (otherwise, you'd read the first few chapters and think I'd lost my mind).

Then, on recommendation from readers after my "what I like in books" post, I pulled Castle Perilous by John DeChancie off my to-be-read pile, and that was a lot of fun. I liked the way the characters came together, as well as the mystery of the castle. However, I think I've learned my lesson about waiting nearly twenty years after buying a book to read it because now I seem to be intrigued by a series I will have a hard time finding. My library doesn't have any of these books, and they're all out of print, without even a lot of used copies on Amazon. I have no idea why this book languished on my shelves for so long. I remember buying it when I was in college, but I don't think I ever even started reading it because not even the first chapter seemed remotely familiar, so it's not like I started it and then put it down. Normally, I don't shelve books I haven't read, but I guess this one got moved often enough to be shelved, and so it skipped my notice as a to-be-read book.

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