Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Still More Nebula Reading

I was in a fog most of yesterday, but I did manage to outline the specifics of the fight scene I need to flesh out, and then I sketched out the basics of the plot for the sequel, so I can make sure all the proper set-up is done. Today I may actually do some writing. I got a late start this morning because I woke up from a dream that I thought would make a good story, then I spent some time trying to remember everything in the dream, only to realize that it didn't hold together once I examined it. The one part that still made sense when I thought about it involved someone going under cover in a Victorian-type beach resort to catch/expose a quack healer/snake oil salesman. There might be something there, though I'd probably have to leave out the Nazis and the very modern city buses.

I finally finished reading as much as possible on the Nebula awards ballot. I like going through this exercise not only to be a more responsible voter but also because it expands my reading horizons to read something selected by other people. While there was some excellent stuff and nothing much that had me scratching my head about the nomination, I'm starting to get the impression that the key to being nominated seems to involve being part of a clique of writers that includes one or two bigger names. All the books I hadn't previously heard of by authors I hadn't previously heard of contained epic acknowledgment/thanks notes listing lots of names of writing group members and mentors. Or I suppose it could also mean that being part of a group of writers makes you a better writer. I should investigate getting myself into a clique.

Now, for some more book discussion (all of these are young adult):

The Diviners by Libba Bray -- a teenage flapper gets sent to stay with her uncle in New York when her "party trick" of reading someone's fortune by touching an item belonging to them gets her in hot water because of what she revealed about one of her town's leading citizens. Her uncle is a scholar who runs a museum devoted to the paranormal and occult, and when the police consult him about a murder involving occult symbolism, the frivolous flapper turns Nancy Drew and becomes determined to solve the mystery. Meanwhile, she's discovering other young people who have gifts similar to hers. This book was a ton of fun (aside from the gory murder parts), really capturing the essence of Jazz Age New York, and the frothy fizz of speakeasies and Ziegfeld girl parties just makes the darker parts that much more shocking and intense. It was a long book that I read in just a day or so, though I will admit that I'm such a weenie that when I got to what would normally be an "I only have eight more pages" scenario, I put the book down because I knew I didn't want to read something as intense and scary as it was likely to be just before I went to sleep. I had to read it in daylight in my office.

I do have to give a content advisory on this one so I don't get any hate mail from parents about recommending this book for teens. The School Library Journal suggests it for grade 10 and up, and that's probably right, depending on the kid. It contains some pretty graphic descriptions of rape, domestic abuse and murder, and the teen characters indulge in some binge drinking (in an era when all drinking was illegal). However, there are negative consequences shown for dabbling in the occult and abusing alcohol, and we do see our heroine grow from being shallow to actually doing something worthwhile. I suspect that the kind of kid who'd want to read this book is probably safe doing so because they'll be more intrigued by the idea of doing research, working in a museum and solving murder mysteries than they are by the partying. However, the book is seriously scary in places.

Fair Coin by E.C. Meyers -- A teenage boy learns that his mother had to go to the hospital to identify what was supposedly his dead body, and in the dead boy's effects that were given to his mother, the one thing that doesn't match something he owns is a coin -- one of those "state" quarters for a state that doesn't exist. Then he finds a note in his locker telling him to toss the coin and make a wish. At first, he doesn't believe it, but then his wishes come true. However, with the wishes coming true there are also other things changed that aren't necessarily good, and he seems to be the only one who realizes that things have changed. But then he finds out that the coin isn't magical, his wishes aren't really coming true, and there's a threat that only he can stop. This book had a really intriguing premise with a mind-blowing twist late in the book that turns it from fantasy to science fiction. Most of it feels kind of like a Sliding Doors situation -- if this one thing changes, how does that change everything else?

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis -- Our heroine's family is the one that all the fairy tales happen to (there is a reason). Finally, it's the youngest daughter's turn when she meets an enchanted frog at the well in the woods. They become friends, and she entertains him with stories about her family. Then she kisses him but because the spell isn't broken instantly, she doesn't realize that he's been turned back into a prince -- a prince who's considered an enemy of her family. In order to be reunited with the girl he loves, the prince orders a ball that all the eligible ladies of the kingdom are ordered to attend, and Cinderella ensues, with a lot of twists (for instance, the prince is the one who's kind of an outcast in the home, living in cinders). This falls into the category of "why didn't I think of that?" The mash-up feels very organic, and one of the more interesting aspects is showing the consequences of turning from frog to human again. It takes him a while to re-learn how to walk and speak and to re-build muscle tone as a human. It also gets into just how challenging it can be to live in the middle of all these fairy tales, where it's dangerous to make wishes because they might come true.

Now I'm back to choosing my own books for a while, though I will have to get to work on the Hugo ballot. There was some crossover with the Nebula, so I won't have to read an entirely new set of books, but there are some new ones.

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