As I mentioned in my reading round-up, I spent much of the Christmas holiday reading, and my reading material gave me some insights into some of my reading and writing choices.
First, the new-to-me books to discuss:
As recommended by a reader, I read Swept off Her Feet by Hester Browne (though it turns out to be set at February, not Christmas, but still there was snow and atmosphere, which made it perfect for reading on a snowy day after Christmas). This is a sort of chick-litty novel about an antiques appraiser who goes to a Scottish castle to help the new owners evaluate their belongings just as the community is planning their big winter ball -- and soon the self-proclaimed klutz is having to learn Scottish reels. This was such a delight to read, since I'm a fan of both castles and dancing. It struck me as a very romantic book, even though it doesn't follow any of the usual romance genre rules. I wasn't sure if the heroine would end up with a guy, which guy she might end up with, or how it would go, and the romantic happy ending isn't the standard "'til death do us part" kind of thing." And there's zero sex. But still, there were so many wonderful moments and I closed the book with a sigh. I also want to learn that kind of Scottish dancing, though I suspect I will be sorely disappointed by the lack of handsome, single Scotsmen (especially based on the photos posted on the web site for a local group that does this kind of dancing). Still, I may give it a shot, just for the fun/exercise side of things, even if it's not a great place to meet hot men.
I also read Terry Pratchett's latest, Dodger, which is a departure for him, as it's not a fantasy at all, but rather a historical novel. It follows the adventures of a London boy who makes his living scavenging the sewers and how his life changes when he makes the impulsive decision to come to the aid of a girl who seems to be escaping kidnappers. Soon, he's caught up in a web of espionage and intrigue, foiling crimes, and working with Charles Dickens to find a way to save the girl on a more permanent basis. It's a very Horatio Alger-like story of a boy with pluck and a good heart finding a way to move up in the world. It still hits a lot of the points the Discworld series does about the life of the poor, only it's more pointed since it's in our world, and it has the Pratchett humor. It's published as YA, but I think adults may be even more likely to enjoy it, especially if you're familiar enough with Dickens to catch all the inside jokes and references.
And then there was the latest book by Lois McMaster Bujold, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance. Finally, we get a whole book about "that idiot Ivan," as the cousin of our usual hero takes the spotlight, and we learn that Ivan isn't nearly as dumb as he seems. You can tell that Lois is a big fan of Georgette Heyer, as in structure this is essentially a Regency romance set in the distant future, with spaceships and hovercars. It's essentially a marriage-of-convenience plot, with a bit of the "rake who's not as big a rake as he lets people believe" plot in there, as well. Plus a big dose of adventure and intrigue. Ivan ends up getting more than he bargained for when he agrees to help his spy friend check in on a young woman who may be in danger. Actually, she's in huge danger, and there's only one way he can think of to get her away safely. This one was a lot of fun. I've always been fond of Ivan, so it's interesting to get a better look inside his head. He's not clever in the way Miles is, but he has his own ways of getting things to work out without looking like he's doing anything to make them work out, and he does a lot of that by reading people very well. Since we're in a different viewpoint, we also get some different perspectives on a lot of the familiar cast of characters. I hope that this focus on Ivan isn't just a one-off because I'd like to read more about him. I also find myself wanting to go back and re-read some of the other books in the series.
Since this is already getting epic, tomorrow I'll discuss what these books and some others taught me.