Archive for December, 2021

FF: Slowing Down

December 31, 2021
Jingles in the Magical Forrest

Happy New Year’s Eve, folks…

This past week, holiday cooking and house guests seriously cut into my reading time.

So has spending my work time proofreading, which I started almost as soon as I got home from putting my mom on her plane.  Therefore, I don’t think I have anything new to offer this week.  Therefore, we offer you a picture of one of our Christmas decorations: the Breyer pony “Jingles” and his sleigh load of misfit toys.

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.  And it’s also a great place to tell me what you’re reading.  Two of the series I’m trying right now are due to FF reader mentions.

Completed:

Written in Stone by Christopher Stevens.  Non-fiction on Indo-European root words.  Interesting, but not very scholarly, almost more like stream of consciousness association.  I’d love a recommendation of a book that was similar to P.E. Cleator’s Lost Languages, in that it would be partially about the deciphering process, partially about the people who took on the challenge.

In Progress:

The Liar’s Knot by M.A. Carrick.  Sequel to The Mask of Mirrors.  Very good so far. 

Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch. Audiobook.  Great fun so far.

Also:

Finished the most recent Smithsonian and almost all of the most recent Vogue.  Human culture is certainly varied and complex.

Shy Mei-Ling and the Invader

December 29, 2021
Who’s Coming Down the Hallway?

My mom came for Christmas, our first overnight house guest since 2018.  Mei-Ling came to live with us in August of 2019, as a very shy fourteen-week-old kitten.  She had just begun to entertain the idea that people other than me and Jim in the house might be a good idea when the pandemic shutdown hit and she had the luxury of over a year to renew her opinion that visitors were not to be befriended, but to be waited out.

This was her tactic when Mom arrived on the 22nd.  Mei-Ling dove into the closet in our bedroom and refused to emerge, even for dinner.  When Mom settled down in the guest room, behind a closed door, Mei-Ling emerged, which is probably a good thing, since the litter box is not in our bedroom closet.

Roary, who also had never dealt with an overnight guest, was also uncertain.  At first, he hid in the closet with Mei-Ling, but by later on the 23rd, Roary (probably taking his cue from Persephone, for whom Mom is a longtime friend), began to join the party from a discreet distance.  By the morning of Christmas Eve, he even let Mom take his picture.

Maybe this is why, by mid-day on the 24th, Mei-Ling was at least up on our bed, and then, by evening, when we settled down to play mah-jong, actually came out to the front of the house.  It’s not as much fun to lurk and hide all by oneself as with another cat, and she and Roary are great friends.

Christmas Day, Roary came to look at the boxes and wrapping paper, while Mei-Ling lurked at the edges.  Coming out of the back of the house had advantages, especially since if she skittered fast enough, she could go out on the porch, which she loves, and watch what went on in the kitchen from behind the security of a closed sliding glass door.

By the 26th, both Mei-Ling and Roary were behaving relatively normally.  When we settled in for our evening mah-jong game, Mei-Ling actually started meowing, trying to get either Jim or me to come into the living room and play with her.  She’s really quite out-going when she forgets she’s shy.

And on the 27th, Mom departed for her home.  Now we’re waiting to see how Mei-Ling will behave when we have guests next time.  Will she have learned that “stranger” does not equal “danger” or will she try to wait them out?

We’re going to be playing mah-jong later this week with our friend Michael Wester.  I wonder if the clatter of tiles will encourage Mei-Ling to come out and try to tempt us to play with her instead of with those noisy plastic tiles.

FF: Jumping Around

December 24, 2021
Ruby, Roary, and Argent Under the Tree

This week, because I’ve been going through audiobooks faster than usual, I did some jumping about in series.  This can be a disaster with poor writers, forcing a reader to endure huge amounts of infodump.  Both Bujold and Aaronvitch are skilled enough I have had no issues.

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.  And it’s also a great place to tell me what you’re reading.  Two of the series I’m trying right now are due to FF reader mentions.

Completed:

Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold. Audiobook.

Penric’s Fox by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Audiobook.

Mira’s Last Dance by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Audiobook.  I couldn’t get the audio for novella four, so I jumped.  Good story, but I think I probably did need the prior for best effect.  Still, this worked and I want to listen to the previous more than ever.

In Progress:

Written in Stone by Christopher Stevens.  Non-fiction.  I am now up to “T.” 

The Liar’s Knot by M.A. Carrick.  Sequel to The Mask of Mirrors.  A few chapters in.  Enjoying very much.

Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch. Audiobook.  This series has been mentioned repeatedly, and I really wanted to try it, but since I wanted audio, because I have room in that queue, I am starting with the third book.  The author does a good job of supplying enough background while moving the plot ahead.  Several cheers for doing a tough job well!

Also:

Dipping into Christmas: A Biography, which takes a look at how various things we assume have “always” been part of Christmas evolved.

And Roary Up in the Tree

December 22, 2021
Stealth Roary

The tree has stayed standing to this point, although Roary has been up in it repeatedly.  Putting on ornaments definitely helped, since they were placed to block inviting openings.

Thus far, Persephone has been viewing the tree with the calm insouciance of a nearly ten-year-old cat who has seen it all.  Shy girl Mei-Ling thinks that it’s terrific that we’ve decided to give her a new place to sit under and feel safe.  She carries her treats onto the tree skirt to dine in secure comfort.

Since the tree is artificial, Dandy and Coco, the guinea pigs, have no opinion.  They would prefer we made a tree out of kale with a celery stalk trunk, and ornaments cut from various vegetables.  Carrot strips could serve as garland.

I made a lot of cookies this past week.  I’m shooting for a total of ten: cookie press butter, butter and walnut balls, pecan/maple, sugar, gingerbread, hermits, fudge, meringues, sesame balls, and…  I’m forgetting the last one…. Got it!  Linzer tarts.

The sugar cookies and gingerbread will be decorated in stages.  It’s more fun that way than doing a marathon.  My collection of cookie cutters is wildly varied, so in addition to the more usual trees, wreathes, stars, bells, reindeer and the like, we have buffalo, bears, rhinoceros, stegosaurus, rocket ships, and, of course, wolves and coyotes.  And cats and guinea pigs.  Can’t forget the cats and guinea pigs.

It occurs to me that I make cookies the same way I write: a lot of variety, not one type of cookie, or theme or motif.  Variety definitely fuels my creativity.

Now to go put jam between the layers of the Linzer tarts.  Last year I used cactus pear, the year before, raspberry.  This year will be cherry.  All three red, all three different.

May these crazy days leading up to the Christmas weekend be filled with fun for you, whether you’re travelling or home, being a guest or having guests, or simply enjoying some peace and quiet!

FF: You’ll Notice That

December 17, 2021
Roary Never Lies

You’ll notice that my reading is up this week.  This is because I use audiobooks as background when doing chores, and there have been a lot of chores in the last week.

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.  And it’s also a great place to tell me what you’re reading. 

Completed:

Terciel & Elinor by Garth Nix.  A prequel to Sabriel, featuring her parents.  Good read, although suffering some from in jokes that only a reader of later books in the series would get.

Curtains For Three by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.

Plot It Yourself by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.

Penric’s Demon by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Audiobook. This novella is set in the “World of the Five Gods” featured in The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls.  Very strong, with an engaging protagonist.  First of the “Penric and Desdemona” series.

In Progress:

Written in Stone by Christopher Stevens.  Non-fiction.  I am now up to “N.” 

Penric and the Shaman by Lois McMaster Bujold. Audiobook.

The Liar’s Knot by M.A. Carrick.  Sequel to The Mask of Mirrors.  Just started.

Also:

A scattering of magazine articles.

Wrapping Up

December 15, 2021
Lizard Dressed Up for the Holidays

At the end of last week, I turned in the page proofs for Aurora Borealis Bridge, the sequel to Library of the Sapphire Wind.  They’ll be out early next year, in February and April. 

With that job wrapped up, I took a look at the calendar and launched into all the neglected holiday preparations.  Jim and I don’t live near to any of our families, so getting gift packages in the mail is the first thing.  Next comes the Christmas letter.  That’s my department.  We do the cards together, usually to the accompaniment of appropriate music.

Jim’s been putting up decorations, a few at a time, which is nice, since it gives us a chance to savor them.  We haven’t yet put up the tree, but when we do, it will go up with no decorations other than the lights (it’s a pre-lit sort), so that we can find out what the cats will think of it.

Last year, they pretty much ignored it, but we like to give them a chance to try and knock it over before adding decorations.

My first cat and my first “on my own” Christmas tree happened the same year, so most of our decorations are of the more or less unbreakable type.  I say “more or less” because cats will always surprise you.

Breakable decorations are hung on a garland high up on the walls.  It works.

We’ll also be starting the baking this week.  We make a lot of cookies, some of which are fairly time-consuming, but it’s fun.  Nothing on earth could make me do this if it wasn’t.

This year, my mom’s coming to stay with us for Christmas.  Having a stranger in the house for more than a handful of hours will be a Major Event for Mei-Ling and Roary, neither of whom has ever had to deal with such, and both of whom tend to deal with guests by keeping their distance.  I have no idea how they will cope.  Stay tuned.

I have a few jobs to finish up, but after an incredibly intense year, where I pretty much went from job to job to job, I am trying to convince myself that a little downtime has been earned.  Even so, I’ll be working, because a writer really never stops.  There’s always creative thought going on. 

I hope this finds all of you well…  Now, maybe it’s time to put on some holiday music.

FF: Familiar, Unfamiliar, and Confusing

December 10, 2021
Roary Reads

This week I have quite a mix on my reading list… including one really popular book from this past year that I feel I must have missed something about.

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.  And it’s also a great place to tell me what you’re reading. 

Completed:

And the Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout.  Audiobook. One of my favorite of his endings.  I laugh every time.

Death Times Three by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke.  Not bad, but I must have missed something, because I really can’t see what the fuss was about.  I’ve both read and written more complex surrealist fantasy.  Feel free to tell me what I might have missed.

In Progress:

Written in Stone by Christopher Stevens.  Non-fiction.  Chatting anecdotal look at the origins of modern language.  I wish this provided a little more about linguistic evolution, fewer pop culture references.  I find myself reading it as I would free verse poetry, less like a source of information.  Still, fun.

Terciel & Elinor by Garth Nix.  A prequel to Sabriel, featuring her parents.  I’m a little nervous about this, because it’s already established that they will die relatively young.  However, I really like Garth Nix’s work in general and his “Old Kingdom” setting, in particular, so I want to give this a try.

Curtains For Three by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.

Also:

Almost done reading the page proofs of Aurora Borealis Bridge, due out April 2022.

And read the most recent issue of Vogue.

It Never Gets Old

December 8, 2021
Coco Is Sure That’s a Crashing Spaceship

Just this last weekend, I received a copy of the first review of Library of the Sapphire Wind, my forthcoming February 2022 release.   It’s from Publisher’s Weekly

The review is a little spoilery, so out of respect for those who hate spoilers, I won’t quote it all here but I can’t resist quoting the final line: “This vivid, magical tale is sure to please.”

I’ve been a fulltime writer since mid-1994, with my first novel (Brother to Dragons, Companion to Owls) coming out December of that year.  You’d think that finding out that a perfect stranger is enthusiastic about one of my books would get old, but it never does.

If you’re interested in learning more about the actual novels, Baen Books has eARC’s available.  You can find Library of the Sapphire Wind here, and if you really want a jump on the series, Aurora Borealis Bridge, which won’t be out until April, can be found here.

Remember, ARCs (advanced review copies) are based on uncorrected proofs.  In fact, my other job starting the middle of last week has been reviewing the proofs for Aurora Borealis Bridge.  I’m not making any major changes, so while the prose may differ slightly, the story remains the same.

In promised new news (and explaining the picture accompanying this piece), last week I finally finished getting the last of my backlist series titles up in a new e-book edition.  Artemis Invaded joins Artemis Awakening, both with new covers by Jane Noel, and extra content essays by me.

If you prefer print, I have hard cover copies of both Artemis Awakening and Artemis Invaded in my website bookstore.

Next title up for a new e-book edition will be my stand alone novel, Child of a Rainless Year, but this won’t be until sometime in the new year.

Right now, as I finish projects, I’m letting myself have a little downtime, but I’m not there yet!  Time to go read more of those proofs!

FF: One Great Reason

December 3, 2021
Mei-Ling Catches a Whiff of a Good Story

One great reason for re-reading is to sooth a stressed soul.  With lots going on, I am deliberately choosing audiobooks that I know I can relax to while I do various and sundry holiday preparation jobs. 

For those of you unfamiliar with this column, the Friday Fragments lists what I’ve read over the past week.  Most of the time I don’t include details of either short fiction (unless part of a book-length collection) or magazines.  The Fragments are not meant to be a recommendation list.  If you’re interested in a not-at-all-inclusive recommendation list, you can look on my website under Neat Stuff.

Once again, this is not a book review column.  It’s just a list with, maybe, a bit of description or a few opinions tossed in.  And it’s also a great place to tell me what you’re reading. 

Completed:

Paladin of Soul by Lois McMaster Bujold.  Audiobook.  Not really a sequel to The Curse of Chalion, except in the sense that it takes place three years after the other novel.  Strong enough that I’ll be listening to other books in this setting.

Star Surgeon by James White.  Quite good, and I’ll certainly read others.  However, this is from 1965, and more modern readers may find it anything from unsettling to solidly off-putting that the attitude toward human females is far more denigrating than toward any of the varied and wonderful aliens.

A Spindle Splintered by Alix E. Harrow.  Novella.  An interesting twist on “Sleeping Beauty.” Those unfamiliar with folklore will have some surprises coming their way.  However, even for someone who, like me, knew all the information, this story had a warmth of its own that made it well worth reading.

Over My Dead Body by Rex Stout.  Audiobook.  Old favorite.

In Progress:

Written in Stone by Christopher Stevens.  Non-fiction.  Chatting anecdotal look at the origins of modern language.  Short chapters make for easy reading.

And the Doorbell Rang by Rex Stout. Audiobook.

Also:

I’ve been reading a heck of a lot of Jane Lindskold’s work.  I finished a re-read of Child of a Rainless Year this week in preparation for a new e-book edition in early 2022.  Now I’m reading the page proofs of Aurora Borealis Bridge, due out April 2022.

I Was Asked

December 1, 2021
Persephone Inspects My Recommendations

This last weekend, amid the flurry of holiday shopping, I was asked, “I always buy my sister a Fantasy novel for Christmas.  I like to get a relatively new one, because I can never remember what she already has.  Do you have any suggestions? Oh, she’s already read all of yours.”

Here are some of the titles I mentioned.  Even those that belong to series have a solid story arc of their own.

The Mask of Mirrors by M.A. Carrick.   This imaginary world fantasy focuses on intrigue, rather than raging battles.  It was a hard sell for me, initially, because I am not a fan of books that make heroes out of thieves, assassins, or scammers.  However, one of the authors (who you may know as Marie Brennan) assured me that there was more to it than that.  She was right. I interviewed both authors in my WW a while back.  If you’ve already read The Mask of Mirrors, the sequel, The Liar’s Knot is a new release.

This Broken World by Charles E. Gannon.  An imaginary world novel with a high fantasy feel without being derivative.  Druadaen is an interesting protagonist.  On the surface, he is almost plodding: determined to pursue various career goals with a single-minded obsession.  Underneath, he’s wildly, even dangerously, curious.  The beginning is good, but the book really catches fire once Druadaen starts breaking out of the mold he’s set for himself, gathering a group of peculiar allies, and charging off to ask questions that many feel would be better left unasked.

Juniper Wiles by Charles de Lint.  Long-time fans of de Lint’s Newford stories have been over the moon about his first return to the setting in a long while.  Me?  I’m fond of Newford, sure, but nostalgia doesn’t do it for me.  What made this work was the new material. Juniper played Nora Constantine, the heroine of a popular cult TV show (think Buffy crossed with Veronica Mars).  Juniper is resigned to fans who can’t separate her from her fictional self, but when the latest importuning fan turns up dead, and she realizes that he’d already been dead when they’d had their chat, she finds herself forced to face that her reality may have become even stranger than anything her fictional alter ego has encountered.

The Wind in His Heart by Charles de Lint.  This is a slightly older release, but since lots of people missed it, I’m mentioning it here.  Set in the Southwest, it’s full of the magical realistic touches that de Lint does so well. 

Paladin’s Hope by T. Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon).  The third book in the “Saint of Steel,” bears some structural similarities to its predecessors (Paladin’s Grace and Paladin’s Hope).  There’s sword and sorcery spiced with romance, centered around another of the remaining paladins of the deceased god, the Saint of Steel.  As I’ve come to expect from Kingfisher/Vernon, underneath the apparent lightness, there’s a lot of heart and thought.  And this one has an end that, while satisfying itself, has me panting for the next book in the series.

So, there you are…    Feel free to add your own suggestions in the Comments.  I’ll make sure my friend sees them.  If you’re interested in what I’m reading, old and new, audio and print, you can always check out my Thursday Tangents.  It’s not a review, just a reading list with occasional commentary.   I always enjoy seeing what other people are reading, as well.  Sometimes you’ll see it turn up on my reading list as well!