Saturday, December 26, 2009

Happy Boxing Day

Friends and family: If you did not receive a holiday card from us, please accept our profuse apologies for the oversight. Our contact list may be out of date. Send us your home mailing address and we'll make sure you're included next year.

Meanwhile, everyone and their dog can read our exciting 2009 family newsletter (below).

SoleChen 2009 News

[Download PDF - 306 KB]

CKL DeeAnn Jasper Bayla

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

SnoutCast #2: Old People

Not only do we talk about old people, DeeAnn and I also talk like old people in this podcast. It's a performance. Like improv! As far as you know.

[ Download mp3 - 53MB ]

00:00 - "Old People" GC prototype (Sean & Crissy)
04:23 - discussion of same
10:55 - the origin of "we're not having fun anymore"
12:13 - getting back to the prototype...
17:39 - inside baseball and
19:10 - following up on the 10,000 hour rule from Outliers
20:55 - asshats and gaywads (as seen on Daily Show & Colbert Report)
23:30 - we are not experts; doing the math
31:09 - DASH 2 and trying new things
44:23 - "Old People" Clue recorded live (Sean & Lisa and coed astronomy)
56:23 - The End

You can also hear Jasper-cat yelling in the background every now and then.

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey," "A Talk with George," "Mandelbrot Set," and "First of May" by Jonathan Coulton

CKL DeeAnn Jasper

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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

SnoutCast #1: ZombiePortLand

After writing one "GC Musings" blog post in September, it occurred to me that any such discussions should include my lovely wife DeeAnn, who's been an integral part of every Snout Game. She handles the budget, most of the logistics, and many other planning aspects.

As the latest of our various experiments, she has grudgingly agreed to join me in an irregular podcast about games (note lowercase "g"--we will definitely talk about puzzle hunts, but we reserve the right to digress).

Here's the first episode. It's pretty rough, but either we'll get better, or we'll stop:

[ Download mp3 ]

Oh, yeah, it's also 53 freakin' minutes long. Show notes below so you can skip all the boring stuff.

00:50 - We start with the profanity right away.
04:42 - Left 4 Dead 2 (buy from Amazon)
15:35 - Curtis' talk at Ignite Portland 7 (video and slides)
26:39 - Recap of Shinteki Field Trip: Disneyland
50:21 - Happy Thanksgiving! The end.

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey," "Baby Got Back," and "Re: Your Brains" by Jonathan Coulton

P.S. If you'd like to join our zombie-killing party sometime, we're sparCKL and SoleChen on Xbox Live.

CKL DeeAnn

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Friday, May 01, 2009

April Readings

So, what did I learn about myself this month? I tend to take breaks from reading when I'm busy (shocking, yeah?) and that the days when I finish more than one book tend to be the days when I've got a migraine that's just bad enough to make me want to lie around with earplugs in, but not so bad that I can't think at all.

Also? If I intersperse my novels with graphics, I get to look like a fast reader.

Here are the books I read in April:
  1. Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link (4/3): This is a YA story anthology. I don't know how Kelly Link manages it. Somehow, her stories manage to be both deeply weird and satisfyingly consistent at the same time. I enjoyed every story in the book, but found The Constable of Abal the most satisfying. I read it, took a deep breath, and flipped back to the beginning to read it all over again.
  2. Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner (4/6): This is a YA fantasy. It is also one of those books with a beginning that has its own undertow. I was sucked right in. After reading the prologue, I HAD to read this book. It was good story. I enjoyed reading it. But after I finished, I was... unsatisfied. So I went back and read the prologue again. The story I got was a good one, but it was not the story that prologue told me I was going to get.
  3. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan (4/6): This is another YA fantasy. It's setting is a world many years after the Zombie apocalypse. The people live their lives in a village, surrounded by a fence, surrounded by a forest full of zombies. It's an absorbing world, and I enjoyed reading about the people trying to live in it. I found it interesting that, given the tense and scary situation, I was never all that afraid. The author did an excellent job of distancing the reader from the true horror of the situation.
  4. The Female Brain by Louanne Brizendine(4/11): This is a nonfiction book by a neurobiologist. It provides a lot of interesting information about how our hormones affect our brains. It felt very one-sided, not so much because the premise was that men and women end up with differently structured brains, but because the relentlessly pushes toward the idea that women's brains are somehow structured better than men's brains. While I was reading, I kept wondering why so few of the facts were backed up with data. When I got to the end, I found the list of references. Each one was matched to a chapter and a portion of a sentence. So I could go back and find out where a fact came from. Without a computerized search function, however, finding a specific references certainly wasn't easy.
  5. Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer (4/13): This is YA urban fantasy, and also Happily Ever After for the Twilight series. It's a big book, broken into three sections, told by Bella, Jake, and then Bella again. The Jake section is the one where Bella suffers a lot of physical torments that ultimately end up with her getting everything she wanted. If the story wrapped here, we wouldn't have perfect happiness for anyone, and the characters's lives would have some uncertainty. But this happiness was earned, and earned well. But then, we get another section--hundreds of pages long--that brings in some fine world-building and politics, as well as a whole lot of wish-fulfillment. There's a big, dramatic showdown, which ends in a stalemate. And that is where the book ends. Bella feels like she's gotten her happily ever after, but I wonder how long it can possibly last. Long-lived bad guys aren't likely to away and stay away.
  6. River of Heaven by Lee Martin (4/16): This is literary fiction. The main character of River of Heaven lives a small, lonely life, full of regret. Something terrible happened when he was a boy. My previous experience with Lee Martin was his novel The Bright Forever. It's an amazing book. I keep giving away my copy. Other people really need to read this book. This month, it finally occurred to me to get something else the author had written. I enjoyed this book, but more than anything else, it made me want to read the Bright Forever again.
  7. House of Mystery by Matthew Sturges & Bill Willingham (4/17): This a graphic novel story anthology. The framing device is that some people come into a house and can't leave it. Others come and tell their stories. Hungry Sally's story is utterly horrifying. I was so creeped out, I had trouble falling asleep after I read it. I even have nightmares about it. Weeks later, it still gives me chills.
  8. Finder: King of Cats by Carla Speed McNeil (4/18): Finder is an indie graphic novel, published by Lightspeed Press. I'm reading the stories all out of order, and I love them. I love the way the world feels so big and inexplicable. I love the page notes at the end of each book. I love the art. Mostly, I love the way the stories feel so much bigger than the little bit I actually get to read in the book. I want them all, but the Lightspeed press website gave me a page load error. Sigh.
  9. Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream by Adam Shepard (4/22): This is a memoir, of sorts. Here's the premise: the author went to a random city with $25 and a sleeping bag. He wanted to see if he could work his way out of homelessness within a year, and have a job, a working vehicle, and $2500 in the bank. Presumably, the idea is that if he could work his way out of dire straights, other people can follow in his footsteps. It's an interesting read. The part that I found most interesting about the book, however, was something that the author very rarely discusses. Wherever he was, he became the people around him. When he was homeless, he became a homeless guy, unwilling to use a washing machine, and unworried about his stink. When he upgraded to mover with a housemate, it became okay to tolerate his housemate stealing his stuff, and, ultimately, battering him into a bloody pulp on the floor of the home they shared. But then, maybe that was his point. He was willing to put up with anything, no matter how crazy or dangerous, if it got him closer to his goal. So, yeah, I think a person could follow in his footsteps. I'm just not sure why someone would want to.
  10. Skim by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki (4/23): This is a graphic novel. I found a list of Eisner nominees, and have been working my way through the interesting-sounding ones. Skim is definitely interesting, engaging, and... ultimately unsatisfying for me. As seems to be my usual, I felt like too much story was crammed into too few pages. But I've finally figured out why so many one-shot graphic novels leave me flat: there's a novel's worth of material crammed into what is, essentially, a few chapters worth of space.
  11. Finder: Mystery Date by Carla Speed McNeil (4/24): This is an indie graphic novel. After I finished this, I wanted the rest of the series, right now. But I'm lazy. is still giving me page load errors. The cache just says "it's working," which is not very helpful. And Amazon doesn't have the books. I guess I may have to give in and create an Ebay account after all. Sigh.
  12. Violent Cases by Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean (4/24): This graphic novel is more than 20 years old. This is one of Neil Gaiman's dreamlike tales where the narrator tells us his story -- which part of other stories--and we have to fill in all the rest for ourselves. Dave McKean's creepy art brings it to life. Good, good stuff.
  13. The Sharing Knife: Horizon by Lois McMaster Bujold (4/25): This is a fantasy novel, the fourth in the series. By book four, the story is less about the main characters romance an more about making a place for their family to call home. We get plenty of drama and conflict, and a good, satisfying, well-earned, happy ending. It's a very satisfying conclusion to the series.
  14. Powers by Ursula K. LeGuin (4/26): This is a YA fantasy, the third in a series of novel that all take place in the same world. Like the other two books, this one stands alone just fine. In this book, a slave boy wanders through life until he finds his place in the world. It was a dreamy sort of narrative, interspersed with contrasting bits of dialogue and action. Huge, momentous, things happened--murder, mercy, betrayal in a variety of permutations--but they all flowed smoothly through the story. Fair warning: the dreamy tone may have come less from the book itself and more from the migraine I had the night I read it. That said, it was a deeply satisfying story with plenty of interesting themes.
  15. Kitty Goes to Washington by Carrie Vaughn (4/26): This is an urban fantasy, which may or may not be shelved with paranormal romance. This second book in the Kitty series was perfect reading for a day with a migraine. In this outing, our werewolf DJ protagonist is summoned to speak at a Congressional hearing in our nation's capitol. She meets others of her kind, stumbles across evil plots by some baddies, and defeats them all, and even hooks up with a tasty Brazilian guy. Reading the story was like taking a tiny vacation: escapist fun.
  16. Sly Mongoose by Tobias Buckell (4/26): This is a science fiction novel, stuffed with amazing, interesting elements. A few of the elements in this book: aliens, cities floating in the sky, a democracy where everyone votes on every governmental action, zombies, the borg (more or less), and a plot to destroy worlds. It's fascinating stuff. And then I just couldn't find my way into the story. The writing is good, the words looked good on the page, but fall into the story and have it come to life for me. I'm afraid Tobias Buckell may be like Kim Stanley Robinson for me: a great writer, with a well-deserved following, but not to my taste. I'm going to have to try another book, however, before I give up. I mean, look at those ideas!
  17. Locke & Key by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez (4/27): This is the first graphic novel I've ever read where I was upset because it was a graphic novel. I got the first four chapters of a deeply creepy horror novel. Too short! Too short! I want more.
  18. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (4/27): This is another piece of literary fiction, which makes two in one month. It may be some kind of record for me. My April theme seems to be finding a place in the world. In this case, we have a young girl named Lily who flees her home at the rocky beginning of desegregation. There's a dusty-sweet, but very well-realized sense of time and place here. The plot is almost too neat, but I really liked the way that each character is her own person, who behaves in ways that make sense for her. I especially liked it that Lily just didn't understand a lot of the things she witnessed. It's another in a long list of books that I'm glad I read.
  19. Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell (4/27): This is a graphic novel. And it took me for a ride. Even after reading most of it twice, I just couldn't figure out what was real and what wasn't. But then, I guess that was the point.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009


I read this article in The Oregonian today. See if you can see my problem with it.

Here's the third paragraph of the article:
In 2008, there were 131 overdose deaths from methadone, and another 39 involving oxycodone. That compares with 119 heroin-related deaths, 106 methamphetamine-related, 51 cocaine-related and 46 deaths resulting from a combination of these drugs.
Since I'm that kind of girl, before I read the article I added up the numbers:
Prescription drug deaths: 131 + 39 = 170
Illicit drug deaths: 119 + 106 +51 + 46 = 322

Of course, more than one drug could be implicated in a single death. Just adding up the numbers might not give the true picture.

Looking a little further, I found this:
The state statistics show 229 people died from the illicit drugs of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine or a combination of them in 2008
There's no mention of the total deaths from prescription drugs, but the above paragraph does match the state statistics. The state press release also confirms something like 170 total deaths from methadone and oxycodone.


Let's imagine that the lady who wrote the article is shopping for an iPod, and she sees two identical units. Would she buy the one for $229 because it's cheaper than the one for $170?

Or is it a joke and I just don't get it?

Today is April Fool's Day, after all....


March Readings

This was a strangely lopsided reading month. All books were finished in the first two-thirds of the month, with an eleven-day break at the end. Interesting, but I guess the middle of February was quite similar

Heh. I never knew that I was the kind of reader who went at it in fits and starts. I'll have to see if April turns my two data points into a trend.

Here are the books I read in March:
  1. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer (3/5): This is YA Urban Fantasy. As is my norm, I had to fight my way through the beginning. I have trouble with Bella's endless sighing and Edward's games of dominance and control. But I was good once Bella remembered that she was the kind of girl who got her way, even if she had to be devious and underhanded with everyone, including herself. That, I enjoy. Also? Best. Comic. Ever. * [Warning: SPOILERS].
  2. Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn (3/7): This is a paranormal but not a romance. I found the werewolf society deeply repugnant and almost quit reading. I mean, why should I choose to hang out with people--now matter how fictional--who just grossed me out? But then it occurred to me that this might just be how werewolves lived where the main character was. After that, I was okay. I can deal with repugnant societies that are limited to a specific time and place. I'm also getting kind of tired of books that assume that one has to be a werewolf to be all about pack dynamics and dominance games. That's all human, pure and simple.
  3. Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris (3/8): This is the paranormal romance that provided the basis for the HBO series True Blood. It's a fun, murderous romp through the life of a mind-reading virgin and her boyfriend, Bob the vampire.
  4. Much Depends on Dinner by Margaret Visser (3/9): This is a nonfiction book on food history, specifically: Corn, butter, salt, lettuce, olive oil, lemons, chicken, rice, and iced cream. It's full of fascinating, interesting trivia. I had no idea that ice was pretty common i throughout history (if you were rich enough). The book is also concrete proof that people were warning us about factory farming 25 years ago.
  5. Suite Scarlet by Maureen Johnson (3/10): This is a YA contemporary. Maybe it's even marketed as teenaged chick lit. I dunno. It was a fun, fluffy read, kind of like cotton candy. Once the sweetness evaporated, I felt like something was missing. It took me a while to figure this out: it doesn't feel like anything that happened in the story matters--not even to the characters. But I was very impressed by the pitch-perfect description of what it's like be the poor kid in your crowd of friends.
  6. Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett (3/11): This is the third in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, first published more than 20 years ago, and my second-ever Terry Pratchett book (unless you count Good Omens, but that's half Neil Gaiman too.) Equal Rites is subversive, interesting, hilarious, and groan-worthy, all at once. I had a great time.
  7. Frost Bite by Richelle Mead (3/15): This is the second book in the Vampire Academy series. I think now I know what the second book slump looks like. The prologue and first 100 pages were so weak I put away the book and decided not to finish. But, you know how it goes: I couldn't sleep; I got bored; I didn't have anything else with me. So I picked the book up again. The final 100 pages took for a nice, solid ride. I'm probably coming back for a third.
  8. Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan (3/18): This is a retelling of Snow White, Rose Red. Despite promising, beautiful character introductions, the story never came together for me. Reading the book felt like my time on galley duty in the Navy: we took beautiful, fresh fruits and vegetables and turned them into mediocre meals.
  9. Three Shadows by Cyril Pedrosa (3/18): This a graphic novel, translated from French by Edward Gauvin. When I finished reading, I thought the story was too compressed. Haunting, tender, and sad, but still too compressed. Then I remembered that fables are supposed to be compressed. We're supposed to unpack them later. There's a lot to unpack here.
  10. Cooking Beyond Measure: How to Eat Well without Formal Recipes by Jean Johnson (3/20): The tagline on this book is, "for people too busy to do the equivalent of a small chemistry experiment when all they want is good food." I say to that, "Bah! Humbug!" This book isn't about principles of easy cooking. The only thing Jean Johnson dispenses with is the amount of each ingredient. The ingredients are all still there--just harder to find--and mixed in with a lot of text. As any technical writer will tell you, that is NOT the way to give instructions. The busy people reading this cookbook had better already know how to cook the things that they plan to throw together. Heaven help them if they don't know what a frittata is, or how to cook the prepared ingredients (quinoa, polenta, etc.)

* Now that I've seen the comic summary, I'm desperate to read Breaking Dawn... and I even have it on good authority the summary takes very little artistic license.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Change of Plans

I meant to write about GameStorm, and some of the things I thought about after spending an entire weekend playing games.

Instead, I came home and caught up on my reading. This article scared me: "The Quiet Coup" by Simon Johnson (The Atlantic, May 2009)

Mostly, I don't think about the financial crisis. It's too big; there's not a whole heckuva lot I can do to fix it. And it's not affecting me personally right now. In a pinch, CKL and I have enough money for a few years (barring hyperinflation or other horrors), so we can just concentrate on spending within our means without changing our lifestyle much.

The only real change I made was to set up a recurring donation to a couple of charities each month. I figured that if I have a recurring deduction each month for fun stuff (Netflix, Xbox Live), I can match that money for charity.

So, that's me. I don't think about the financial crisis. It doesn't bother me. Until I read an article that hits me hard enough to actually write to my elected officials.

It's a long article, with a lot of important points, but this was the one that hit me hardest:

[The banks] don’t want to recognize the full extent of their losses, because that would likely expose them as insolvent. So they talk down the problem, and ask for handouts that aren’t enough to make them healthy (again, they can’t reveal the size of the handouts that would be necessary for that), but are enough to keep them upright a little longer. This behavior is corrosive: unhealthy banks either don’t lend (hoarding money to shore up reserves) or they make desperate gambles on high-risk loans and investments that could pay off big, but probably won’t pay off at all.

I know this problem. We all know this problem.

In my case, it looked like this: my brother asks for a few hundred dollars to tide him over until payday. I give him the money.

Months later, I get another call. Now my brother needs a thousand dollars. Times are tight. We have an uncomfortable talk, and eventually I give him that money too.

Months later, I hear from my sister that my brother is in a desperate situation. He might actually lose his house. His kids could go hungry. And, finally, the whole sorry story comes pouring out: my brother had been using payday loans to finance his lifestyle for the better part of a year.

The money I gave him (that my mother, brother, and sister gave him) was never enough to pay off his debt. But it was always enough money for him to get deeper in debt. Until, finally, he was on the verge of collapse.

The consequences of doing too little can be worse than not doing anything at all.

The banks (and AIG) look an awful lot like my brother. And it looks like our government is acting an awful lot like me. Look at how many times they government has given BofA and AIG bailout money.

It's scary to think that our government might be doing what I did--giving a few dollars and compounding the problem--instead of actually providing a solution. Instead of making sure that those few dollars will actually help.

It's even scarier to think that our government is treating banks like family and not watching out for the rest of us. We're family, too.

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

February Readings

This was a good month's reading. Five of the stories still ambush me while I'm petting the cats, taking a shower, making dinner, or at other, equally unexpected, times.

Here are the books I read in February:

  1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (2/3): This is YA Science Fiction. I got so mad at the injustice depicted in this book that I had to put it down. I guess this means that I connected to Katniss's story on a visceral level. I still find myself thinking about it.
  2. World War Z by Max Brooks (2/6): It was interesting to read zombie fiction presented as nonfiction. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the mockumentary that the book built in my head. But the style is distancing. I found it difficult to get too worked up when the characters are just meandering on about the terrible things that happened to them.
  3. The Grand Tour by Patricia C. Wrede & Carolyn Stevermer (2/6): This is the second book in the historical fantasy series that started with Sorcery and Cecilia. Like its predecessor, this is a Letter Game book. It's an effortless, fun read: a Regency Romance with a little magic thrown in for spice.
  4. The Mislaid Magician, or Ten Years After by Patricia C. Wrede & Carolyn Stevermer (2/7): This is the third book in the historical fantasy series that started with Sorcery and Cecilia. I loved discovering how the characters' lives had changed after ten years of marriage. It's still effortless fun.
  5. Good as Lily by Derek Kim & Jesse Hamm (2/9): This is a standalone graphic novel about something strange that happened to a high school girl. The story was rich in possibilities, beautifully drawn, and interesting. As with so many other graphic novels, however, I wished that I had gotten the whole story, rather than the abridged version.
  6. Rapunzel's Revenge by Shannon Hale, Dean Hale & Nathan Hale (2/12): This is a standalone graphic novel that mashes together the Rapunzel fairytale and an American Western. It was fascinating fun to watch the fairytale and the western play off one another. I didn't feel like I got an abridged version in this story. I knew so much that I was able to bring a lot more into the experience than could be drawn on the page.
  7. The Road of the Dead by Kevin Brooks (2/22): I'm not sure whether this YA is a thriller, urban fantasy, horror, or some sort of combination of all three. Reading it is like watching one of those movies where everything that happens is horrible, but you just can't look away. The ending left me trying to figure out what would happen next.
  8. My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor (2/22): This is mostly a memoir with some brain science thrown in. For me, there was too much memoir and not enough brain science. I agree, however, that we need to celebrate what we have left after an injury--brain, or otherwise. There's no healing to be found when we spend all our time mourning what we've lost.
  9. Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Krause (2/24): This book is a YA Urban Fantasy. I thought the plot was fascinating, the world well-developed, and the characters believable. Nevertheless, I read this book impatiently, wishing that it was more satisfying. The author's storytelling skills and style got in the way of her story.
  10. New Moon by Stephenie Meyer (2/25): This is the second book in the blockbuster Twilight series, is YA urban fantasy, and is starting to grow on me. Bella does continue her twin trends of sighing her words instead of just saying them, and of telling us that something happened only to describe something else. On the positive side, Bella exhibits some semblance of free will this time around, and is treated by almost all the other characters as if she's really a person. Those things definitely helped.
  11. Austenland by Shannon Hale (2/27): This book is in the genre currently known as women's fiction. It's essentially the story of a woman who goes to a vacation LARP based on Jane Austen's work. I often found myself wanting to slap the main character. Then I realized that she just didn't know that playing "let's pretend" often spills over into our real lives. After I made that realization, it was a fun, frothy read.
  12. Madapple by Christina Meldrum (2/28): When I finished reading the book, I couldn't figure out what to call the genre. The library files it as YA fiction, which is fair enough, although I think it cuts off a significant portion of the reading audience. Whatever genre it is, Madapple is the most compelling piece of fiction I've read this year. I thought I was sucked into a nightmare fairy tale, but the true horror of the story is that everything that happened--the isolation,the torture, the brain-washing, the murder trial--could happen right here, right now. I can't decide who to send the book to first.

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Saturday, January 31, 2009

January Readings

I gobble books and stories like candy. Sometimes, I read so fast and so often that I'm already on the next book before I've taken a chance to reflect on the one I just finished. As a result, I forget almost as quickly as I read.

This year, I'm trying to reflect just a little bit more on the books I read. When I finish, I'm writing myself a paragraph of notes on each book. At the end of the month, I plan to list the books I finished that month and write a quick summary*.

Here are the January books:

  1. Chalice by Robin McKinley (Jan 1): is a sweet little fantasy novel. I gobbled it down in a single sitting, and was left with a sweet taste in my mouth and a desire to re-read it in a few months.
  2. The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer (Jan 2): is your classic late-Heyer Regency. I hope some day I can make my prose look so effortless.
  3. The Magic or Madness Trilogy by Justine Larbalestier, which includes Magic of Madness (Jan 4), Magic Lessons (Jan 10), and Magic's Child (Jan 20): is a young adult urban fantasy** series about which I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I'm disappointed. Everything happened in such a hurry that each book was over just as I was starting to enjoy it. On the other hand, I really liked the characters. I wish there had been a chance to get to know them amidst all the craziness that kept flying at them.
  4. Extras by Scott Westerfeld (Jan 8): This is a young adult science fiction roller coaster ride with a deeply satisfying ending. Like a roller coaster, it took a little time to get up the first big hill. Once we built up some momentum, though, it was an amazing ride.
  5. Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr (Jan 12): is an urban fantasy, possibly marketed as young adult. Some of the main characters were young, but some were very old people who just looked young. Whatever. I couldn't shake the feeling that something important was missing from either me or the book. I finished the book, but only because I wanted to see what happened. Overall, the experience was disappointing.
  6. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead (Jan 18): is a young adult urban fantasy. I had to force myself to keep reading but eventually I found my way into this book. I enjoyed it, but I didn't think the story was particular memorable. Until I found myself in the shower, thinking about some of the story's ideas. Mostly, I disagree with them, but they've still got a hold on my brain. I've got the second book in the series queued up for later reading.
  7. Once Bitten, Twice Shy by Jennifer Rardin (Jan 19): is another urban fantasy. I tried to force myself to read this one too, but by page 55, I decided that I didn't deserve such punishment. The constant use of colorful similes kept jerking me out of the story so hard that I was getting whiplash.
  8. What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool (Jan 24): is a fascinating look at some of the differences between our world and 19th century England. I want my own copy on hand for the next time I read a novel set in that milieu.
  9. Prom Nights from Hell (Jan 26): is a paranormal story anthology. The stories are by Meg Cabot, Lauren Myracle, Kim Harrison, Michele Jaffe, and Stephenie Meyer (yes, THAT Stephenie Meyer). Michel Jaffe's was satisfying; Kim Harrison's story was deeply unsatisfying, and the rest fell somewhere in between.
  10. Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica (Jan 27): is a memoir about stressed out, cranky waiter who is also something of an asshole. Just not to the customers, which puts him far ahead of most of the customer-service people in the world. I was also glad to learn that I usually fall into the average 70% of the dining population. With very few exceptions, it's not good to be outside the norm.

* Why not just paste in the original paragraphs? Three reasons. First, I'm long-winded so paragraph just means "a block of text with a more-or-less single topic." Second, I'm not making any attempts to avoid spoilers in my personal summary. We all know that some people find spoilers to be crimes worthy of corporal punishment. Third--and probably most important--my first impression of a book is not necessarily my final opinion. A good opinion needs a little time to grow and develop.

** There's a lot of urban fantasy on my list in the coming months. My second and third novels are urban fantasy. I thought I should get to know the genre before I started revising my first drafts. Nobody likes a dilettante. And people save a special hatred for newcomers who act like they're the first to discover ideas that other people have been exploring for years.

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

First Draft

I'm starting the first draft a new novel today. CKL asked me if it was going to be a Victorian. It's not. So I said, "No!" in a horrified tone of voice. I was really surprised that he should ask me such a question.

Then I remembered that I just finished reading What Jane Austen Ate and What Charles Dickens Knew by Daniel Pool, and that I'm currently reading Daily Life in Victorian England by Sally Mitchell. He's seen me with those books. He was even in the room yesterday when I started building my rural Victorian village in the Sims.

I've been talking about the Victorians a lot lately, too. I find the differences in our lives mind-boggling. For example, A typical laborer might need to spend more than 1% of his weekly income if someone sent him a letter. Food was more than 60% of that same laborer's weekly budget... if his family lived on oatmeal, bread-and-butter, potatoes, and ate meat only on Sunday. Housing was expected to be less than 10% of income.

By comparison, I pay nothing to receive more stuff in the mail than I know what to do with. I eat meat almost every day, but I'm still offended if my food budget (not including restaurants) exceeds 10% of my income. And I feel like I'm getting away with something because our housing is only 20% of our monthly budget.

Those are just the easy differences. I have difficulty imagining what it would be like to live without electricity, plumbing, or communications. And that's nothing when I try to imagine getting married and no longer having ownership rights to anything that used to be mine, including my body.

So I guess it wasn't entirely unreasonable for CKL to ask me if I was writing a Victorian novel. But I'm just playing around with the Victorians. They're interesting and their world is alien to me.

My new novel is much less interesting. It's about a high school girl in a family of werewolves.

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