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I am doing a lot -- a LOT -- of committee reading.

Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a lot of fun for someone who once went to a great deal of trouble to track down all eighteen volumes of a certain angel-and-demon-fall-in-love manga. I didn't mind the cracktastic theology in that one, but I'm glad that Smoke and Bone finds a way to effectively sidestep those questions. I'm pretty disillusioned with Extruded Paranormal Product these days, but Taylor is a genuinely great writer and finds a way to effectively balance the EPICness with witty banter -- in that respect, and the Doomed Angsty Love respect, I think Buffy fans should give it a try.

Martha Brooks is one of my favorite writers, someone who can infuse very quiet situations with a humanity and tenderness that are more compelling than a plot with a lot of shiny moving parts. The Queen of Hearts is her newest one, set at a TB sanatorium in southern Manitoba during World War II, and if any writer could make it interesting to hang out at a TB sanatorium on the Canadian prairies, it's Martha Brooks. It is a very Canadian book. I am pondering the possibilities of vegetarian tourtiere (it's a traditional French-Canadian mincemeat pie. Needless to say it has been a while.) I think this will become one of my favorite books about friendship; the characters are so human, and so flawed, and the book treats their relationship as both hard and genuinely important.
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The cover for Malinda Lo's next book, Huntress, has been revealed!

Do you want this book? Yes. You want this book.
owlectomy: Cover of "A Love Story Starring My Dead Best Friend" shows a teen girl at a motel with a bicycle. (lovestory)
* Just got the word that LOVE STORY will be published in the Netherlands. My first sale of translation rights!

* Had a meeting today where I booktalked Holly Black's WHITE CAT. One of my favorite booktalks I've done because the emotional connection is so up-front and vivid. Not all great books can have their greatness conveyed in 2 minutes, and all too often the high-concept shiny books don't live up to their premise, but White Cat is the exception. By the way, can we have a moratorium on "Read ________ to find out!" in booktalks? You don't care what happens next until you're already invested in the story.

* I'm very very close to finishing up my read-through of SPARKS AND ASHES. Then a pretty light revision, and then it will be out of my hands. It's time for it to be out of my hands.

* Went to Catherynne Valente and Seanan McGuire's reading for the New York Review of Science Fiction Tuesday evening. Valente read from Habitation of the Blessed, a chapter which was utterly enchanting and pulled me into the book right away, and McGuire read from a short story about mad scientists. Thumbs up!

* I am thinking about the next book. This is something that always happens when the current WIP is off -- or almost off -- my desk. Nothing concrete as yet. Just thinking.
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* I am signed up for [community profile] origfic_bingo!
Here is my card.

The comm showed up on my network page a little while ago and I decided that after so many months of working over the same novel, I could use the fun of playing around with some short stories just for me.

First priority is the novel, though. I was working on it tonight but I fell asleep.

*I finished a pair of socks! Wool socks are SO WARM LOVE. I think they are about 85% responsible for the improvement in my condition. My next project is making toe-up socks, which I think are a good alternative to making the legs as short as possible out of fear that my massive feet will use up all the yarn.

*I am almost done with Mockingjay but unfortunately find myself agreeing with [personal profile] rachelmanija's review. I can love a grim book, but have the grimness be in service to something real and important. Have it strike right to the heart. I don't want Katniss to get a happy ending by authorial fiat. In a world where she's being manipulated by everybody, where the only real question is whether her image is being used by good people or bad ones, I want her to somehow strike a blow for authenticity, for a gloriously messy truth, not just to decide between one boy and another boy. And if your point is that there's no such thing as authenticity, okay, I'll buy that, but don't make me believe that a world without authenticity is okay because you picked the right boy.
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I am still in that heady just-finished-a-book place where I'm inclined to say overdramatic things and take them back later.

But: If it weren't for award committees disliking urban fantasy and plot-heavy suspensey books, I'd be inclined to think that Holly Black's White Cat is a serious contender for the Printz. Frankly, I'm inclined to think that despite my prejudices about award committees, because it's just that good, and it doesn't just work as an exciting story, it works as serious literature.

...Like, when I figured out why it was written in present tense? CACKLING OUT LOUD. Holly Black, you're a mad genius.

Cassel remembers the blood in his best friend's hair. He remembers the blood-slick knife in his hands. He remembers that awful grin on his face, the terrible-wonderful feeling that he got away with it. But he can't remember the murder, and he can't remember why.

His family -- curse workers, criminals, con artists -- deal with the consequences. He tries to hide from them. Leaves his family for boarding school. Tries to forget.

And then suddenly he's up on the roof of his dorm room. There was a cat, in his dreams. It bit out his tongue. He followed it up onto the roof -- and now, somnambulism or suicide attempt, he's out of school on medical leave. He's back home with his curse-worker brothers and grandfather, waiting for news about his jailed mother's appeal. And in the detritus of his family's home, he goes looking for answers. About the murder he committed. About people he's no longer sure he can trust.

It's a meditation on identity, memory, betrayal, trust, and -- for my money -- a better criminal-intrigue story than Inception.

There's still a ton of books I have to read, but I would not be surprised to find myself standing up for this one at Mock Printz in January.
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I wish that I were thirteen years old and reading Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia books all in one gulp. There is a kind of singleminded concentration that I had then, lying on my stomach on my bed and just fugue-state reading for hours and hours and hours at a time. I don't think I could have begun teaching myself Japanese if I'd fallen into it any later than I did. Maybe it's a function of youth itself, maybe it's a function of having no internet and only a handful of TV channels until I moved to the US at 11, but it's not something I can do anymore, and without that, every time I dip into The King of Attolia I have to take some time to remember who are all these people? I guess I must have read The Queen of Attolia in 2007, which doesn't help.

Then again there is too much of subtle and mysterious politicking and subtle and mysterious human relations in these books to be clear to even a bright thirteen-year-old... or to me, at any rate. These books are always getting thrown up as, "Is this REALLY a YA book?" and I am beginning to suspect that at least in the case of The King of Attolia the answer is no.

But still! Oh, Eugenides!
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I'm late getting to Nnedi Okorafor's "Who Fears Death," and I must admit to buying it largely to spite Paul Di Filippo (WHY, in such a largely positive review, did he have to go for "Sisterhood of the traveling chastity girdle," to use "teenage girl" as a stick for beating a book that's very much not YA?) --

But he's right about one thing and I wish he would have given more space to this, because I think (only ~70 pages into the book) that perhaps Okorafor's greatest achievement here is in creating an idiom for fantasy that doesn't rely on the kind of writing that is formal and heroic when it's done well, and pretentious and overblown and just plain incorrect with thees and thous when it isn't. If we want to get past the kind of fantasy that is mostly concerned with kings and queens, I think, we have to get past the expectations of high formal prose -- without using language that could just as easily come from Poughkeepsie, to borrow Ursula Le Guin's bad example from The Language of the Night.

Okorafor's writing here is simple and precise and direct, the furthest thing from pretension, but so skilled that it manages to be both an intensely vivid and believable voice for a teenage girl, and something close to poetry.

I've faced a similar challenge in the novel that I'm writing -- to create a voice that is believably colloquial and not necessarily formally educated, but also isn't necessarily a fantasy calque of the style of contemporary chick-lit -- and it's not a little intimidating to see it done so well, but, oh, goodness. It's worth running out and buying it.
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I treasure my Datlow/Windling (and later Datlow/Link/Grant) Year's Best Fantasy and Horror collections, because they tend to pick stories I like very much -- even though I'm not a horror fan (David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer do a Year's Best Fantasy collection, but I don't like their picks nearly as much -- I might look into Jonathan Strahan's Year's Best SF and Fantasy...)

But it's rare that I actually read an anthology all the way through, so I picked up an older one and stumbled on Susanna Clarke's story "Mr. Simonelli, or The Fairy Widower" and found myself smitten. I liked Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but Simonelli charmed me in a way Strange didn't. It is remarkable to see a writer like Clarke in full control of a narrator who is not so much unreliable as self-deluding... and who, despite that, can see through the Fairy Widower; a narrator who I never buy as a good person but who is nevertheless capable of great bravery.

A brief quote, which I am truncating for spoileriness:
"It is you who are not attending to me. You must advise us upon a play. Isabella wishes to be someone very beautiful who is vindicated in the last act, Marianne will not act unless she can say something in Italian, Jane cannot be made to understand anything about it so it will be best if she does not have to speak at all, Henrietta will do whatever I tell her, and, Oh! I long to be a bear! The dearest, wisest old talking bear! Who must dance -- like this! And you may be either a sailor or a coachman -- it does not matter which, as we have the hat for one and the boots for the other. Now tell me, Mr. Simonelli, what plays would suit us?"

I wish that every writer who tried to write historical fiction, whether mainstream or fantasy or steampunk or whatever else, had such a command of language.

The story was reprinted in Clarke's collection "The Ladies of Grace Adieu," which I will try to track down. I would have liked Jonathan Strange better if it was half as long, so I won't be surprised if her short stories suit me better.


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