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Reading and Writing Things

I'm an avid reader and a published author now gone indie.

Currently reading

Ankaret Wells
To What Miserable Wretches Have I Been Born?: Revenge Poetry for Babies and Toddlers
Suzanne Weber
Terry Pratchett
The English Civil War: Papists, Gentlewoman, Soldiers, and Witchfinders in the Birth of Modern Britain
Diane Purkiss
Sharpe's Siege - Bernard Cornwell This wasn't my favourite Sharpe book. It had its moments and I liked the ongoing tension as Sharpe worried about Jane, but I thought the overall plot was on more flimsy footing than most of the other books. If Ducos is supposed to be such a brilliant adversary, he should have been better than he was in this story.

That being said, I still very much love this series and will read the rest.
Sharpe's Christmas: Two Short Stories - Bernard Cornwell I only read the first short story so far - the Christmas one - and will leave the second one until the right time in the story line.

The Christmas story has its moments, but like any short story there's not much to it. The temporary characters felt more two-dimensional than usual, more like caricatures than the usual depth Cornwell brings to this series. Again, it's a short story so there isn't room for depth, but the whole reason I usually love the Sharpe books is that depth.

This one was a bit meh so I'm giving it 2.5 stars. I'd say diehard Sharpe fans can read it for a brief amusement but unless something comes up further down the line, I doubt this will be meaningful in the overall Sharpe saga.
History of a Pleasure Seeker - Richard  Mason I can't remember why someone recommended this to me, but it may have been because I was looking around for books with good smut. This novel has some naughty parts which are very interesting, but not exactly stimulating because all of them are amidst social issues that aren't exactly loving or romantic.

It's a thoroughly interesting story with surprisingly fascinating, well-drawn characters. I definitely wanted to know what would happen enough to get through some of the slower parts.

I would have liked to read more about the sisters. I get that Piet is the main character, but I was never sure if I wanted him to succeed or fail (which did make a more compelling story, I suppose). The sisters and their struggles in a changing world of gender dynamics would have interested me more.
Firebrand - Ankaret Wells Since I began my quest looking for Feminist Romance[1], I've had a lot of recommendations fall flat. Most were just the standard "strong heroine" trope of a kick-butt, sassy lady devoid of any supposedly "feminine" emotion like sadness or despair. Some were allegedly feminist in that they bashed men, which is not part of my value set. Some were just terribly written with boring, go-nowhere plots.

But in Ankaret Wells' "Firebrand"[2] - recommended by folks on my Goodreads Feminist Romance group[3] - I finally found what I was looking for: a romantic story that fits my feminist values without being a polemic, and a thoroughly enjoyable adventure with fully-rounded characters I came to genuinely care about.

The story isn't about feminism, and it doesn't need to be. It's about a woman - told in her first-person voice - who has just lost her mother and not long before was widowed, though her husband's death was clearly no loss. Kadia begins the story in the somewhat-stunned position of trying to figure out her place amidst these deaths when, by virtue of her mother's will, she and her new airship become prizes sought by the most powerful men in Wells' extremely well-developed world of an expanding empire versus last-ditch holdout provinces. Through a mixture of self-empowerment and being tossed about by forces outside of her control, Kadia gets caught up in intrigue upon intrigue and, of course, a romance.

The romance element is very nicely done, with enough questions about how things will turn out to keep it interesting. The sex scenes are lovely for someone like me who likes fairly normal heterosexual love scenes without any of the currently trendy faux-BDSM stuff. If you're looking for exotic, non-het, multiple-appliances-involved sex, "Firebrand" isn't for you. It's for the rest of us who are still happy with the main thrust (heh) coming (heh heh) from the love and passion of the characters instead of slapped-on kink for kink's sake.

Kadia as a character has her moments of impressive resolve and strength, but also entirely human moments of despair and longing. She is three-dimensional, her voice differs from other characters in the story, and even when she screws up she's inherently likable to the reader.

The genre is steampunk romance, and this is the first steampunk book I've read since that's usually not my cup of clockwork tea. But this is a solid story independent of its genre. The genre stuff forms the setting, the background, and the stage but is not a dictator over the characters. The people are just that: people, not puppets made to fit genre requirements, and it was very refreshing to read a book where I genuinely cared about what happened to the humans (and not-entirely humans) inside.

"Firebrand" isn't a world-changing, life-altering book. It's exactly what it should be: a great story that doesn't rely on outdated anti-feminist tropes. I loved it and truly hope there'll be a sequel.

[1] http://www.findinggaia.com/blog/2012/07/24/feminist-romance-part-1-it-cant-be-only-me/
[2] http://ankaretwells.wordpress.com/firebrand/
[3] http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/75260-feminist-romance

The Dragon Tutor

The Dragon Tutor - Mar Mai I don't read a lot of graphic novels despite admiring the medium because I typically find them difficult to follow with tiny text amidst visually noisy scenes. Not so with "The Dragon Tutor", which is a wholly pleasant read with gorgeous images and exactly the right pacing through the speech to carry me through the story.

I read it most of the way through on my own, then got my seven-year-old daughter and read it through with her in one sitting. We both really enjoyed it. The story was intriguing with a good balance of humour and drama. There were enough silly jokes to keep her laughing and enough depth of story to keep me interested.

There were a couple of places where the story seemed to jump between scenes a little abruptly, but these were minor and I was able to follow along well enough. My daughter noticed the same blips and had to go back to the previous page at those points, thinking she'd missed a page, but then it became clear enough and we happily kept reading.

We both agree that we are eager to see the second part come out, although we do both wish we could get it in paper because we don't have a touch-screen device. But we'll happily accept it in any way we can get it!

Mar Mai has woven an enchanting world with an interesting story and promise of more to come. Brava!
Sharpe's Regiment - Bernard Cornwell This was a nice break from the continental battles as Richard Sharpe has to navigate his way through England to find and reclaim the men that should have been sent to his forces in Spain. It's got wonderful hefty amounts of Sharpe angst and fury, and while the bad guys are a little too over-the-top bad, that's mitigated by several lesser baddies who have redeemable qualities.

But if you like Sharpe's character - which I absolutely do - you'll like this book.
The Fionavar Tapestry - Guy Gavriel Kay This is one of my all-time favourite series. I read it as a teen and then again in my 20s. I'm overdue for a third go. Kay is a master storyteller.
Little Bear (An I Can Read Book) - Else Holmelund Minarik My favourite all time young children's book. This book means the world to me. Mother Bear's patience and Little Bear's imagination are perfect.

The Adventures of Baylard Bear

The Adventures of Baylard Bear - Lucinda Sue Crosby I received this ebook for free in exchange for an honest review. Please note that these comments pertain to the Kindle ebook version only and may differ from print versions.

This is a sweet story about adoption as told through the eyes of a bear in the human world. Some aspects of this are uneven, such as an awkward mid-sentence mention of the bear not having shoulders to look over, yet apparently he has hands that can draw pictures. The willing suspension of disbelief in terms of anthropomorphized animals would be stronger if the author didn't selectively highlight differences without bothering to mention why there are similarities. I understand that part of the purpose was to establish the character as different, but it feels clumsy in the handling.

Unfortunately, the otherwise good story reads as unpolished and badly in need of an editor. There were far too many errors, something my seven-year-old daughter noticed as well. Some of the errors we noticed were:

- words that run together
- missing periods and broken paragraphs
- "yady" instead of "lady"
- "wish" instead of "wished" and other tense problems
- strings of "ands" that should have commas instead
- too many elipses
- sentences containing both semi colons and colons
- misplaced capitals

The formatting is also problematic making it difficult for a child to read, particularly the lack of paragraph indentations. My daughter has read through book five of the Harry Potter series so she can handle dense words, but she could not read the wall of text on some pages of this book because there were no tabs to indent. Further, some paragraphs have double spacing and others do not, some are justified, some are full-width, and some are half-width. Headers and captions aren't set in a different style to separate them, making them appear to be part of the body text. The text would also be better if it floated around the graphics.

These may seem like nitpicky things, but they seriously impacted my daughter's ability to read the text and made me want to skip sections myself. In her words, "It was kind of hard to read because the paragraphs were all smushed together. If the paragraphs were spacious, then there doesn't need to be as much pictures." She felt as though she couldn't tell if this was a picture book or a more grown-up book because of the shifting back and forth between formats. I noticed that the prose itself fluctuates between younger-child style and adult style, which also makes parts of the story harder to enjoy.

My daughter also didn't like the part where Baylard was confused about grocery store doors because she could not glean that's what the author meant. She thought the pretty lady and Baylard actually entered the market through a window, even though she's quite familiar with the sliding glass doors the author intended to describe. That confusion detracted from the scene a great deal for her and she insisted that I mention this in the review. She also felt that some descriptions went on too long and "got boring". These are the sorts of thing a good editor can help an author clarify and improve.

Overall, I think this story has potential. The story itself is imaginative and does a good job covering the tumultuous realities of adoption. Addressing the confusion and mixed emotions of what to call his new mother was nicely done, as were other aspects of the emotional difficulties adoptive children face. With some solid editing both for grammar and consistency it could be a great resource for adoptive families.

My daughter and I agreed that it's a 4-star story, but the many errors that make it so hard to read - especially for the target audience - knock it down. If this was for adults I'd take it down to 3, but a children's book must be held to a higher standard of readability so I'm taking it down to 2. If it gets some professional editing and formatting, I'd be happy to change that back to the 4 stars the story deserves.
Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels - Candy Tan, Sarah Wendell I need to write a longer review for this when I have time, but for now I'll just say that it was one of the best things I've ever had the pleasure of reading, with delicious amounts of expletives and snark. This is a must-read for anyone concerned with romance, feminism, gender issues, and literature in general.
The Sword - Jean Johnson This book was recommended to me as part of my quest to find solid, well-written, feminist romance. However, since it's probably unfair to place the expectations of a not-really-existent genre on an author, I'll try to base most of my review on reading it without that last criterion.

Overall, I'd say it was okay, 3.5 stars. The world-building aspect is excellent, and the characters interesting enough to make me consider reading the sequels. There are some clever ways of working in various story elements and while a few came off as contrived, I'll give the author points for making them plot-relevant later.

There were parts of the writing that didn't work well for me, most notably a few instances where poor editing should have caught repetitions. More than once, a sentence starts and ends with the same phrase along the lines of "As the storm settled, [some stuff happened], as the storm settled." Worse were the endless descriptive repetitions. Those are fair enough early on when the reader needs to sort out which brother is which, but when Kelly joins most of the brothers for breakfast and is introduced to them, that should have been the end of redefining and describing them every time they enter a scene. It got to the point that I dreaded Rydan's appearances because he'd once again be mentioned as the night-loving or daylight-shunning brother. We didn't need to read about Kelly's aquamarine eyes and strawberry hair constantly either: I'd have preferred those kept to when they were meaningful, such as the material for her dress. By overusing the word aquamarine, the impact of the silk for that dress was diminished.

And while I can respect the choice to go with fairly modern colloquialisms in the dialogue, such as "gonna", I personally prefer a more formal dialogue style in this sort of setting. But it was at least consistent, so I'll give credit to the author for that.

It's a nice story insofar as it wraps up on its own but still leaves some threads dangling to entice you into the sequels. I'd have liked more hint about who has been sending the monsters, but fair enough to put it off to a sequel.

As for the feminist angle, I could see early on that the author was trying to present a strong heroine who demands respect, and I appreciated that. The first few pages having the hero throw her over his shoulder and spank her rankled, but when he realized that he was being a bully, I gleaned that the author was going somewhere in examining the gender roles so I was willing to put up with it.

Then a whole Snow White trope came in: Kelly apparently loves cleaning and the men are all inept on their own. That made me sigh and roll my eyes. Fair enough that she's into sewing and SCA stuff: that part was very cool. But really, a woman taking over "womanly" duties to get the castle clean? Ugh.

But again, the author adeptly wove that in as a useful plot device, so I grudgingly accepted it.

What really bothered me, though, and what makes me give 3 stars instead of 4 (since I can't do 3.5), is the bit near the end where Kelly goes on a rant which starts out very cool amidst promise of sequels exploring gender roles in interesting ways, only to diminish it all by claiming that women are smarter than men and better able to handle diplomacy. No. That's not okay with me. My feminism isn't at the expense of men, and combined with the stereotype of a bunch of bachelors living in filth, unable to mend their own garments or clean their yard despite having magic spells that do these things for them, the whole thing made me wince. I can accept the baddies as hit-on-the-head-obvious misogynists and even the good guys needing to lose some of their own preconceived notions of gender, but I have a big problem with pseudo-elevating of women by diminishing men.

I'll probably read the sequels at some point, but I feel the need to try some other books first.
Sharpe's Enemy - Bernard Cornwell A classic Sharpe adventure, but with extra helpings of angst for our beloved hero. There were a couple things near the end that were so powerful, I felt compelled to re-read them a few times to fully appreciate the magnitude of the events and emotions within.

I love this series, and this is definitely one of the best so far. Bravo.
To What Miserable Wretches Have I Been Born?: Revenge Poetry for Babies and Toddlers - Suzanne Weber I am loving this book. I'm only partway through because I'm saving it for times when I need a quick bit of stress relief, and because I don't want to use it up too fast.

It really is very clever stuff that all parents will appreciate.

Check out these videos by stars reading some of the poems:

The English Civil War: Papists, Gentlewoman, Soldiers, and Witchfinders in the Birth of Modern Britain

The English Civil War: Papists, Gentlewoman, Soldiers, and Witchfinders in the Birth of Modern Britain - Diane Purkiss Reading as research for a prequel to Finding Gaia.
Sharpe's Skirmish: Richard Sharpe and the Defence of the Tormes, August 1812 - Bernard Cornwell I love this character, but this has been the weakest so far in the series. It feels unfinished and poorly edited. Writing quirks I've noticed in other Cornwell books are more obvious here, suggesting that his editors usually smooth out those quirks but in this case, did not.

It's an amusing enough short read, but not on par with the other Sharpe novels.