Some things I’ve read recently

I may have been idle as far as writing is concerned lately, but I still had the time (or shall we call it urges of escapism? :p ) to read some good books, so here are some of them:

Richard Morgan – The Steel Remains (and yes, I really need to update my sidebar): As much as I love Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs books, I really enjoyed this first book of what’s supposedly a fantasy trilogy. His characterization of Ringil is great and I can’t wait for the next installment of this series 🙂

Jim Butcher – The Dresden Files: I’ve read books one through seven so far and I’m planning to get through eight to ten as soon as I can. I really liked the series. They are pretty much your standard light urban-fantasy entertainment at first, but I really enjoyed the stuff that happened in book three and on from there when the story gains more depth and becomes less predictable and more complex. It only takes a day or two to get through one book so the series is definitely fast-paced and full of awesome characters (I love Thomas and Bob ^^)

Charlaine Harris – Southern Vampire Mysteries: Yay for more campy vampire books for me! No, seriously these actually aren’t so bad. Sure Harris needs some severe work on her dialogue sometimes (really people, I hate it when you pack tremendous amounts of exposition into dialogue form…don’t do it), but I like this not-so-conventional vampire story, since it isn’t your usual “vampire hunter kicks ass” kind of book. Fun, light reads.

Kim Harrison – Rachel Morgan series: Okay, I’ve read the first book, then started the second and still can’t get into it. I like some of her ideas (yay for Jenks!), but for some reason I just can’t get into her writing. So far I’m thoroughly underwhelmed. Maybe it’ll come to me some day :p

Steffi von Wolff – Die Knebel von Mavelon: This one is probably one of the most hilarious medieval satires I’ve read in a while (well it’s not that I’m reading satires very often, but this one was fun and I just needed something to laugh) In the main roles: Lilian who likes to experiment with herbs and accidentally invents birth control and thus is supposed to be burned as a witch, Betram her best friend and executioner who has a problem, because he really can’t see blood and all that killing business really grosses him out, also Martin Luther, Robin Hood and other hysterical creatures. I don’t think this one is available in English, so it’s one of the few German books that I’ve read this year.

Neil Gaiman – American Gods: Yes, I finally got to read it! Success! Really, this book has been hanging out on the ‘to be read’ shelf for way too long. And what can I say? It was awesome and I really enjoyed it. Loved Wednesday to bits 🙂

Elizabeth Bear – Carnival: So for some reason I always have a little bit of an “I’m not quite sure if I actually get it” problem with SF novels, which usually leads to me taking a while to actually get into a book. This one was no exception here, but it was awesome and I’m glad I finally picked it up. The basic premise is a strictly matriarchal and in itself very sexist society on a planet called New Amazonia and how they treat outsiders, especially male outsiders. Elizabeth Bear is full of awesome and interesting approaches to gender in SFF. I definitely recommend this one 🙂

I had a bit of an urban fantasy/vampire novel bash lately, but hey, sometimes even I just need some light entertainment :p Some are better than others and I’ve made it through 78 books so far this year. We’ll see if I manage to hit my goal of 100 books this year. I’d easily hit it if I cheat and count in all the stuff that I’ve read for university, but hey 😉 We’ll see.

Next on my list are Ginn Hale’s Wicked Gentlemen which was incredibly hard to hunt down btw since it is ONLY available though amazon.com which is probably due to the just really tiny publisher. Anyway, it sounds pretty awesome and I’ll let you know what I think (I’m going to wait with this one till my flight to Germany in a week – always need some good books on a 15 hour flight :p)

Cheers!

~Nym

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Yes, I can. Multi-tasking: the reading edition.

Don’t you have that sometimes, when you can’t just read one book at a time, but read two or more parallel to each other?

Currently on my nightstand/coffeetable/office desk/school bag and wherever else I can fit a book in:

Jim Bucher – Proven Guilty: The Dresden Files rock! Seriously, people, if you are looking for an entertaining read and you haven’t checked those books out it really is time that you do so! Really fast-paced entertaining reads. I’m at book 8 now 🙂

Jamie O’Neill – At swim, two boys: I’ve been meaning to read this one forever and finally started it. An engrossing tale about homosexuality set in Ireland just before the Easter Uprising in 1916. I’m only a little more than 100 pages in and love it already.

John Steinbeck – Of Mice and Men: What can I say? It’s just one of those classics that I love to re-read from time to time. It shares the “my most loved-classics spot” with books like 1984, The Picture of Dorian Grey, Homo Faber and Kafka’s tales. I lost count how often I read this one.

Wow I actually made it through this?

I guess we can book reading through the entire (!) Twilight saga under the same weird, masochistic compulsion that made me read through books like the Bible, the Book of Mormon, Goodkind & Co. – yes by now I do severely doubt my mental health, but hey, at least I know what I’m ranting about 😉

Like uh….a bestseller vampire saga that is mainly built up on ruses (Oh, yeah just kidding, there never ever WAS any actual danger, don’t want to get the tender-hearted reader all worried and worked up, right?). But seriously, I don’t remember when I’ve last read a fantasy series so entirely made up of bad dei ex machinae as Twilight was. Raising the stakes? Oh yes, sure. We’re all angsty and emotional but in the end: oh no worries, we didn’t mean it/it wasn’t like you thought it would be? Er…honestly the ‘are you FUCKING kidding me?’ definition of deus ex machina applies in full color here. Makes me wonder if the author thought her readers really that gullible (er…just a hint, but just because you’re writing a YA novel doesn’t mean it’s gotta be all ‘happily ever after – no harm done’).

Yeah, I know, I know. Apparently I’m a Death Chooser among all my merry little Life-Choosing fellow Mormons uh… Americans who love the books as light, entertaining reads, but honestly people! Girl meets boy, boy is kinda creepy, but absolutely dazzling and bedazzles girl into marrying him, because he’s all her life’s based on and they have a kid and live happily ever after? Don’t you think this is just a little teeeeeny bit outdated?

I mean yeah, at times that whole teenage pregnancy thing had definite streaks of Alien…but really in the end everything’s okay and they get their happily ever after…. Now I’m not a hater of happy endings in general, but the way all of the books have been totally tuned and set up on that makes me cringe. Sure, there are some cool ideas behind it (after all there has to be something that keeps you going through 754 pages of a book that should have been half as long at best), but in the end the poor execution and utter lack of originality paired with utterly wimpy characters is nothing but an ultimate turnoff.

In the end I can only say that I’ve been tremendously entertained updating my mental checklist as to what not to do when writing a novel (like suddenly popping in a second first person character in the epilogue of book three and then for a good part of book four after you base your entire narrative on one first-person PoV – errrr…what was that about consistence?)

*sigh* anway, rant done (for now)

Did I mention that Jen had me pick up L. J. Smith’s The Vampire Diaries to fuel more rants about comparing those to Twilight and find out all the things that have been ‘adapted’ from those books? Yeah, helpless masochist, what can I say?

Need to read something that’s actually worth the time now 😉

P.S.: Man, I can’t believe I forgot to mention that, but I’ll quote Sira on that – Yes, I “survived the bit where the werewolf dude falls in destined love ™ with his love interest’s infant child” – paedophilia? Oh nooooo it’s not LIKE that. Of course. What am I thinking? Tsk tsk!

Yes. I am a masochist. Someone help me!

Seriously. Why the fuck do I own the complete Twilight saga now due to my overzealous mother in law a) fulfilling her bookclub commitment by ordering the entire – yes again, the entire! – set for me and b) she then tells me that she really liked the books, but that my ceaseless rants about the first book just cracked her up? Oh and apparently she – like me – is convinced that I must own a stack of ‘feel good’ books that make me point my authorly finger at and laugh (yeah, don’t ask…)

Anyway, like I said I apparently do have a problem of the masochistic and brain-destructive sort because I spent definitely too much time of this weekend reading the second installment in the saga of Bella of the Dependent  and Angsty Shallowness and Edward of the Godlike Beauty and Sparkliness. Honestly? It ain’t getting any better and by now I seriously doubt to believe that I made it through the book without some good mind-altering drugs… Seriously, this is like the Goodkind-syndrome: at some point you just keep reading and reading to see if it can get any worse.

I mean seriously: of course you’re bound to fall into the Pit of Depression if your oh so protective and good-looking (yeah, never forget to mention his good-looking-ness at least five times per page whenever his name comes up) boyfriend leaves you. Because hey! Teenagers! Angsty and Depressive! Gah!

Anyway if said depression and your main character who still hasn’t developed from her state of utter dependence and girly shallowness trying to find some distraction in her best friend who happens to be a werewolf and also happens to have oh so deep feelings for her, but she’s too emotionally scarred to return them without it feeling like a betrayal….anyway, if that’s the sole purpose of your novel and you then build it around an utter violation of Shakespeare’s perfectly fine Romeo&Juliet…well then you really have a problem.

Ew. Honestly, I’m not quite sure whether to laugh about how bad it was or to cry about all those poor, deluded readers. Yeah, what can I say? I’m a death chooser :p Yay self-destruction by intake of Bad Fiction (TM) Children, do not try this at home!

Elizabeth Bear – The Stratford Man (Ink&Steel and Hell&Earth)

Kit Marley, playwright and spy in the service of Queen Elizabeth, has been murdered. His true gift to Her Majesty was his way with words, crafting plays infused with a su btle magic that maintained her rule. He performed this task on behalf of the Prometheus Club, a secret society of nobles engaged in battle against sorcerers determined to destroy England. Assuming Marley’s role is William Shakespeare— but he is unable to create the magic needed to hold the Queen’s enemies at bay.

Resurrected by enchantment in Faerie, Marley is England’s only hope. But before he can assist Will in the art of magic, he must uncover the traitor among the Prometheans responsible for his death…

After Sarah Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths, Elizabeth Bear’s duology featuring an alternative version of the Shakespeare and Marlowe we know from history definitely the best thing I’ve read this year. Imagine Will Shakespeare and Kit Marlowe in an Elizabethan setting paired with faires and then add to that the appearance of Morgan Le Fey and her son as well as recurring references to both Shakespeare’s and Marlowe’s plays. Honestly this made me do two things: a) want to re-read my favorite Shakespeare works (mostly the tragedies) and b) switch classes for the coming semester from British Modern Literature to Renaissance. That really doesn’t happen all too often, but those books totally motivated me to study the Elizabethan era closer.

In her extended author’s note at the end of Hell and Earth, Elizabeth Bear calls this duology a ‘disservice to history’, but honestly I couldn’t imagine re-vamping Shakespeare and Marlowe in any better way. She works with some popular theories concerning the two poets’ lives and portrays her characters in a way that make them very realistic and complex. She states that the Marlowe-Shakespeare relationship she creates in The Stratford Man is almost entirely fictional, but then again it really does make you wonder “What if?” and I think that’s been the intention of the book.

The other thing that really intrigued me about those books what its realism and how accurately Bear worked with the historical context such as society and political background. Of course the work is fictional in the end, but she manages to have to write about homosexuality, politics and the entire concept of the Prometheus Club very ‘in context’, which makes the story rounder and the fantasy elements fit into the concept without jarring.

These two books are definitely not quick reads for entertainment only. It took me about two to three days to get through each, not because of the size, but because of the content that’s very heavy on history and politics and last but not least on the language. Bear doesn’t use 100% accurate Elizabethan language in her dialogue (no ‘here sitteth’ etc. no worries), but it’s more or less the speech characters would have used at that time.

Ink and Steel and Hell and Earth are chronologically set before the other two Promethean Age books Blood and Iron and Whiskey and Water. I’m just starting Blood and Iron, but had no problems getting into the story and the whole concept of the Prometheus Club, even though the Stratford Man duology came out after the two aforementioned books. It’s definitely a good starting point if you haven’t read any of Bear’s books yet. Definitely go for it 😀

P.S.: This so made Kit Marlowe my favorite hystorical fantasy crossover character of all time 😀 I can’t wait to read more!

Yes, I do have my priorities…

That said, yes, the new bookshelves are all assembled and filled now:

And I still have some room, if I move out the CDs, photoalbums and Stephen’s computer magazines 😉 As of now my 322 books have a new home. Now I only need to get another bookshelf after coming back from Germany with all the books that are still there, but that’s got time ’til Christmas. Yeah. Right.

Anyway. I don’t know about you, but for me I’m nowhere really at home until I get all my books unpacked. That said, I really feel better now even though it took me more than three hours to organize them 😉

Meanwhile, Nazca claimed the lovesac (yes, that’s really what it’s called :p ) as her new residency and the paintings got hung too (after I figured out how to use a studfinder, because man, American houses are made weird that way – no wonder they get blown to bits all the time…)

So that’s how I spent the evening of mine and Stephen’s first anniversary (and yes, holy SHIT it’s already been a year?!?). We had a really nice day out together and finally got to what The Dark Knight, which was an awesome movie and man, did Heath Ledger OWN the role of the Joker or what? 😀

And just for the record: my hubby is amusing, really. I mean can you imagine your best friends and favorite book guy being stalked by him to find out which books I’ve been wanting to get lately? Let’s hear it for Stephen’s talents of stalky stalkiness 😉

Protagonist Preferences

I’m wondering if that’s just me, but I personally end up preferring books featuring male protagonists. I had that discussion with a good friend who also writes a while back and she says she just finds it hard to relate to male authors and male protagonists very often, while I don’t really have a problem with either. Honestly, I don’t really care if the author is male or female, but when I went through my bookshelves recently, I realized that most of my favorite books are mixed authors, but mainly feature male protagonists.

As a writer, I also find it much easier to write from a male PoV – both Damian and Ares are male protagonists and even back when I still role-played, I preferred to write male characters.

Not that I’d think it unusual, but I wonder why it’s that we’re biased like that at time. I mean it’s not that there aren’t a bunch of totally awesome female fantasy characters out there (and writers who convey them in an awesome way), it’s just something that happens unintentionally I guess. On the other hand I also read a bunch of male and female authors who utterly fail at giving you a realistic image of protagonists of the opposite sex. Really, reading about horribly whiny and emo characters like in Lackey’s Last Herald Mage or the absolutely perfect and utterly desirable heroine in the Sword of Truth books by Goodkind just make me want to throw the book across the room.

Then again there are books like Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga that make me wonder what the obviously female author was thinking when she writes about a totally naive and absolutely dependent female protagonist. Oh I can so totally identify with a character who lives for nothing but her vampire boyfriend and would give anything to be with him forever and ever. Yeah, that’s all the reason I need to believe….not.

Then again there are really cool female characters out there in fantasyland; Jacqueline Carey’s Phedre, Martin’s Cersei (gotta love the villains) etc.

I guess in the end it all depends on personal preference. I tend to write characters who I’d like to read about so I guess that goes hand in hand and gender is secondary and sort of comes along with it. I guess I just really lack any kind of rational explanation here 😉