Tag Archives: books

Reading Recap 2013

A Companion to Wolves coverWelcome back to the blog! I hope you had a lovely holiday season and are getting back to real life with renewed vigour, or at least looking forward to the return of light and warmth. I know I am!

It’s time again to look back on a year of reading. Today I’m sharing the best books I read in 2013, and looking back on my reading and buying habits over the year. Because who says writers can’t also be numbers geeks?

Best Books in 2013

Disclaimer: I’m always playing catch-up in my reading, so these aren’t the best books published in 2013, just the best I read that year. For SF&F “best of” round-ups that are more current, check out Tor.com or io9.com.

And now, in no particular order, my top 7 books of 2013:

1. The Hair Wreath and Other Stories by Halli Villegas. Short story collection. My review is here.

2. A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin. My response from a writerly perspective is here.

3. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I never did blog about it, but this literary fantasy novel was popular enough when it came out that it probably needs no explanation.

4. Cripple Poetics by Petra Kuppers and Neil Marcus. Poetry chapbook co-written by two disabled people as they fall in love.

5. A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear. My review is here.

6. XKCD by Randall Munroe. Yes, I follow the webcomic, so I’d read all the strips before, but it’s still awesome to have and read in book form. And it hits all my geek buttons.

7. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins. My analysis of the book versus the movie is here.

What I loved about these:

  • the numinous in unexpected places
  • sense of wonder in settings or concepts (e.g., a circus full of wonderful things)
  • sophisticated worldbuilding (e.g., fantasy politics in GRRM; wolf psychology in A Companion to Wolves)
  • psychological depth (e.g., the Girl on Fire coping with life after survival; poetry; the boy bonded to a she-wolf and facing the consequences)
  • sense of surprise – whether a really big twist or something that made me laugh

Catching Fire book cover

Reading Habits in 2013

And now, on to the stats…

Genres

I read 31 books over the course of the year — about 10 more than in each of the previous three years, thanks to having a six-month sabbatical from work. I expect that number to drop back down to normal levels in 2014, alas.

  • 9 were adult fantasy (4 last year) and 5 were adult SF (4 last year)
  • 1 was non-genre adult fiction (3 last year)
  • 2 were YA fantasy (0 last year), 2 were YA SF (3 last year), and 1 was non-genre YA fiction (0 last year)
  • 5 were non-fiction (1 last year)
  • 1 was an anthology or collection of short stories (3 last year)
  • 1 was poetry (0 last year)
  • 3 were “other”, in this case graphic novels or webcomics (0 last year)

14 of the books were from my to-read list (8 last year).

13 of the books were part of series (consistent with the numbers from last two year, though not the proportions, since I read so much more this year).

Authors

I read books by 23 different authors (not counting collaborations or travel guides), of whom 12 were new to me this year (6 last year) and 11 were new-to-me books by previously read authors (7 last year).

9 of the authors were male, 14 female. Last year was a 6/9 split – almost identical proportions.

To my knowledge, only 2 authors were persons of colour (both women). I keep resolving to do better in this regard and falling short.

Publishing

Of all 31 books, 14 were published in 2008 or later (last year, 12 were published in 2007 or later).

The only self-published books I read were the two Turtleduck Press novels and a webcomic anthology or two.

Buying

5 of the books were gifts, 2 were secondhand, 2 were borrowed. None of these were ebooks, obviously.

10/31 of the books were ebooks, including 4 travel guides and 2 from TDP. (The other four included one big fat fantasy novel that I didn’t want to lug around, two novels that I bought to bring with me while travelling, and one that I bought in ebook form for no particular reason.) Last year 5/21 were ebooks, so the proportion has gone up from about 25% to 33%, but the travel is skewing the numbers. We’ll see how it goes this year, especially since I now have a smartphone as well as a dedicated Kobo ereader.

Other Reading Recaps

If you’re the curious type and/or need more book recommendations to add to your list (excuse me while I die laughing…), here are some other bloggers’ reflections on their year in books:

And looking ahead:

Your turn! How did your reading go this past year? What were your favourite books in 2013?

A Tradition of Books for Christmas

Christmas with bookIn my family, we have a long tradition of giving each other books as gifts. I can’t remember a single Christmas where no-one has gotten or given a book.

Some years I’ve ended up with a big, delicious stack; other years, one or two volumes, or even none, as I’ve been a giver instead of a receiver of books. They’ve ranged from secondhand paperbacks to quality editions, from literary classics to Star Trek tie-in novels to the latest in whatever SF or fantasy or historical series I was obsessed with that year.

My family first discovered Harry Potter through a holiday catalogue put out by a local bookstore, the dearly departed and sorely missed Greenwoods’ Bookshoppe. That year, I read the description of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone — I’d never heard of it, nobody had back then — and decided to buy it for my brother, who was just the right age. He loved it. I might have loved it even more than he did.

Speaking of Star Trek tie-ins, I discovered Star Trek in 1992, just at the beginning of my teens. At that time Star Trek: The Next Generation was on its first run, so that’s what I watched, and initially what I read, borrowing all the tie-in books from my Trekkie aunt. But she was also an avid fan of the original series (TOS). For Christmas that year she gave me a copy of her favourite TOS novel, Uhura’s Song – getting me hooked on a whole new series.

More recently, my mom started giving my siblings and me books she hoped would serve us well as new adults heading off on our own — books of recipes, books on decorating your first apartment.

My immediate family doesn’t have any young children in it right now, but you can bet that if and when it does, I’ll be buying kids’ books for Christmas, and I’ll do it with glee.

Your turn! Do you buy books as holiday gifts? Have you noticed a theme or themes to your buying over the years?

If you liked this post, you might also like The Best Christmas Stories Ever, featuring my favourite seasonal books, movies, TV specials, and even a radio show.

Christmas Gift Ideas from Turtleduck Press

You knew I was obliged to do one of these, right? *winks* Don’t worry, we’ll be back to our regularly scheduled non-promotional content on Wednesday.

Turtleduck Press has been working hard at putting out good stories for the past three years, and we’ve amassed a variety of books designed to appeal to a range of SF&F and romance readers.

(All but one of them are available in your choice of ebook or print. Click on the covers below for more info!)

If you like…

…season-themed SF&F anthologies: you might like Winter’s Night (a variety of winter-themed stories and a poem) or Seasons Eternal (one longish short story for each season, set in a world where the seasons have stopped changing), edited by me and contributed to by all the members of Turtleduck Press.

Winter's Night anthology cover

…urban fantasy, paranormal romance, banter, or modern takes on mythology: then you might like Shards by Kit Campbell.

Shards by Kit Campbell

…science fiction set in space but with a focus on character, banter, or m/m (gay) romance: then you might like Knight Errant, His Faithful Squire, Queen’s Man, or Captain’s Boy by KD Sarge.

Knight Errant by KD Sarge

…science fantasy, genetic tinkering, or paranormal romance: then you might like Fey Touched by Erin Zarro (and watch for the sequel, Grave Touched, coming in April!).

Cover of Fey Touched by Erin Zarro

…poetry about broken love or about living with disability: then you might like Without Wings or Life as a Moving Target by Erin Zarro.

Without Wings by Erin Zarro

…YA novels about stepping through a portal into a magical universe: then you might like Hidden Worlds by Kit Campbell.

Hidden Worlds by Kit Campbell

We also have lots of SF&F short stories available to sample for free on our website, but if you’d like to support the authors and get your own copy (ebook only), we’ve collected our favourites in The Best of Turtleduck Press, Volume 1.

Best of Turtleduck Press, Vol. 1

And finally, if you’re not inclined or not in a position to buy one of these yourself this Christmas, but would like to support Turtleduck Press, you can still help by:

  • spreading the word — the biggest barrier to success in publishing (after quality, of course!) is getting noticed, and word of mouth is super important
  • leaving reviews – again, reviews on sites like Amazon, Goodreads, or LibraryThing, or your own blog if you have one, help authors get noticed
  • letting us know how we’re doing — if you want to see us do more of something in particular, or just want to send encouragement, we’d love to hear from you in the comments
  • buying or recommending another author’s book – Sure, we’re technically competitors, but really, the more people read, the better it is for all authors and the publishing industry as a whole…so go out and buy someone’s — anyone’s — books this Christmas!

Toddlers and Writing: Like Oil and Water – Guest Post by Kit Campbell

Kit Campbell author photoToday I’m thrilled to introduce a special guest blogger. Kit Campbell is the brains behind the business end of Turtleduck Press, and she’s also the author of our newest novel, Shards.

And? She’s doing all that around a small child. Here she is to explain how.

I think most people who are not parents don’t really think about what it’s like to have children. That’s not a dig or anything like that, but why should they? Children are something in the future or something that you occasionally see at holidays and then can return to their respective parental units.

Even parents don’t really think about what it’ll be like in the future. It’s hard, when you have an infant, to picture what he’ll be like as a toddler, a preschooler, a teenager, an adult. So, while I knew when I had children that I would have less time to work on my stories, I wasn’t quite prepared for what I was getting into.

I should probably preface this by saying that I’m fairly new to this whole parenting thing; my only child will be a year and half just after the new year. I have, in this last year, managed to partially rewrite and completely edit my debut novel Shards, which was just released this past Sunday.

How did I manage this? Very carefully. And by “very carefully,” I mean by careful use of what little free time I have left. I like to imagine that, as the small, mobile one gets older, I’ll get some free time back, either by him learning to concentrate on things or by eventually sending him off to school. I may be deluding myself, however.

Right now, I have to do all my work while he’s sleeping. And I do mean all—not only my fiction work, but also my normal, daytime job, which I do from my home office. I also need to do some things around the house or yard while he’s asleep too, usually things that involve dangerous chemicals or sharp implements.

I’ll tell you one thing. I have learned to focus like nobody’s business.

Sometimes I can get some work done while he’s up, usually things that I can be interrupted during and not lose my train of thought. But he’s at this stage where he wants to know what I’m doing at all times and, if at all possible, also do what I’m doing. Or steal what I’m doing and run off with it. (He also wants to eat all my food. Anything I don’t want to share has to be relegated to nap time.)

He can occasionally be distracted by being turned loose in the backyard, though if he notices the laptop within range, he’ll be back. Sometimes he can be distracted if I give him whatever food item he’s been coveting and stay where he can see me. (But hide the laptop behind a plant. Or a stack of dishes.) He is, however, never distracted when I ask his father to watch him and then hole up in the office. He will stick his face up against the glass door and run his tongue along it until I let him in.

I once wrote 50,000 words in a month while working full-time and taking graduate-level engineering classes. Who would have thought that one toddler would prove more time-consuming than that? But it’s probably good for me to have the structure, and despite the decrease in productivity, I wouldn’t go back to the way it was before. Life’s a little more interesting through all the chaos.

About Shards

Shards by Kit CampbellEva Martinez is just trying to finish her religious studies degree before her mom guilts her into coming home, when Michael saves her life. There’s definitely a spark between them, but Eva needs to focus on her studies and upcoming trip. Turns out Michael knows a lot about her major, but there’s a lot he’s not telling her too. Will Eva discover the truth about herself before it’s too late?

Kit Campbell has never met a mythology she hasn’t liked. This sometimes leads to issues, such as the occasional Norse God of Thunder showing up in the Garden of Eden. She adores weaving in the possibilities forgotten magic can bring to a story, and enjoys making up new creatures, such as large, venomous monsters that hunt in packs.

Kit’s stories have been published in half-a-dozen anthologies, and her YA novella, Hidden Worlds, was released by Turtleduck Press in 2010. Shards is her first full-length novel.

Kit lives in Colorado in a house of ever-increasing chaos. She can be found around the internet at kitcampbellbooks.com, @KitCampbell, and on Goodreads.

More Reading

Kit’s doing a blog tour this week — if you’d like to read more about Shards, all the links can be found at Kit’s website here.

And, in totally unrelated news, I’m blogging at Turtleduck Press about being addicted to stress.

 

NaNoWriMo: The Final Stretch

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, you’re into the last few days, the time of reckoning. You have one weekend day left, and two weekdays.

How are you doing?

If you’ve already hit 50,000 words (or whatever your personal goal may be), congratulations! You can coast for the rest of the month and, if you’re American, enjoy your Thanksgiving / turkey dinner / Black Friday / etc.

If you’re still short of the goal, don’t despair! Great things happen every year in the last few days of NaNoWriMo. People pull off superhuman feats to win. Sit down, glue your pants to your desk chair (or a chair at the coffee shop, if that’s more your style), and try a few of these methods to keep you focused

But what if you know you physically can’t make 50,000 words? Or you’re not willing to write complete and utter crap to get to that magical but arbitrary number?

Take heart. You may have written more this month than you do in other months. You’ve probably written more than you would have if you hadn’t attempted NaNo. You may have been able to jump on that wave of NaNo energy. You’ve almost certainly learned some valuable lessons about yourself as a writer — even if it’s just a realization that NaNo doesn’t fit your writing process, or that you need to find a way to make more room for writing in your life than you did this month. Maybe you’ve even developed some good habits that will serve you well going forward.

(Full disclosure: I’m in that last camp. I’m participating as a NaNo Rebel, editing instead of first-drafting. My initial goal was 50 hours, but I’m sitting at around 25 and I’ll be lucky to hit 30 by the end of the month. But that’s an hour a day, better than most months, and it’s gotten me back into the habit again. And, unlike NaNo, it’s a pace that I think I can sustain.)

So what’s next?

Don’t send out your freshly minted novel into the world yet!

December is unofficially National Novel Finishing Month — since you may not have hit the end of your story even if you hit 50,000 words, and most published adult novels are quite a bit longer than that anyway. (How much longer depends strongly on genre.)

March is unofficially National Novel Editing Month…and if your editing process is anything like mine, a month may be just the beginning. Don’t even think about publishing until you’ve edited — and that means the big stuff like plot, pacing, and characters, not just fixing your grammar and typos.

But don’t think about that yet. For now, celebrate, type like a crazy person, or look back on the month and figure out what you’ve learned.

And know that, no matter what you have or have not accomplished this month, you rock.

*cue Chariots of Fire theme*

Your turn! If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, how’s it going? If not, how has your November been?

Strong Girl Characters: YA and MG Classics

From Anna by Jean LittleA couple of months ago, I wrote about strong female characters in SF and F. Today I’d like to revisit some of the characters who inspired me as a younger reader and writer. If you have a budding reader — of any age — to buy for this season, consider the following recommendations lists…

Middle Grade Novels

Amy from M.M. Kaye’s The Ordinary Princess. Amy is a princess cursed to be “ordinary” – she’s not beautiful or good at embroidery or dancing like her sisters. But while lacking in traditional royal virtues, she has a wide independent streak. When her parents try to marry her off, she runs away into the forest to live on her own terms. No ass-kicking here, but plenty of resourcefulness and gentle humour, and an age-appropriate romance on her own terms.

Anna from Jean Little’s From Anna. Unlike most of the novels here, this one is historical fiction, following a German family who emigrates to Canada ahead of WWII. While the shadow of the Nazis lurks in the background, the plot rests solidly on the difficulty of fitting in to a new place. Anna is hampered by having bad eyes and poor English, but her stubborn streak may prove to be her greatest strength.

Cimorene from Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Like Amy, Cimorene is a princess who doesn’t want to be married off, so she runs away to cook and clean for dragons instead, and her life gets much more interesting from then on. Her employer, Kazul the King of the Dragons, is actually female, and she befriends a pretty awesome witch in the forest of the title. Even when she eventually does get married and have a child in subsequent books, her awesomeness is not diminished. (Fellow Turtleduck Press author Kit Campbell did a series of posts on these books, starting here.)

Nancy Blackett from Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons. In this series set (and written) in 1930s England, two groups of children sail small boats around a large lake and have adventures that include a strong dose of imagination. Nancy Blackett is the captain of the boat named Amazon, and she lives up to the name – she’s the ringleader of all the adventures, and a fearless pirate whose favourite expression is “Shiver me timbers”. Who says girls can’t be pirates? (Though you will notice her strength is fairly masculine in form.)

As a bonus, Nancy isn’t the only strong girl character in the series — Titty Walker from the Amazon‘s rival boat, the Swallow, is a thoughtful dreamer who gets her moments to shine, and a later heroine, Dorothea Callum, is a writer and storyteller to balance her scientific-minded brother Dick.

Ronia the Robber's Daughter by Astrid LindgrenRonia from Astrid Lindgren’s Ronia the Robber’s Daughter. Lindgren is better known for creating Pippi Longstocking, but I have just as much love for the less off-the-wall Ronia. She grows up in a castle in the woods, running wild among a band of robbers and befriending a boy from a rival band. Pure fantasy? Yes…but what’s wrong with that?

(I’m not going to list all the best-known classics about girls here, but I’ve mentioned some of my favourites over here.)

Young Adult Novels

Kim from Patricia C. Wrede’s Mairelon the Magician and Magician’s Ward. In this Regency world with magic, Kim is a street urchin (masquerading as a boy to avoid the inevitable fate of a girl on the London streets) who’s hired to burgle the wagon of a performing illusionist. But his magic turns out to be real – he’s no circus hack, but a true magician who’s gone incognito after being framed. Soon she’s learning how to do magic herself while helping her new friend clear his name. There’s some romance, especially in the second book (which has more about London Society and less running around in a circus wagon), but the real fun in this duology is the madcap capers that ensue.

Dragonsong by Anne McCaffreyMenolly from Anne McCaffrey’s Harper Hall trilogy. Forbidden to pursue the music she loves, Menolly runs away from home (sensing a theme here?), befriends some fire lizards (think tiny dragons – a more YA-friendly and more mellow version of Danaerys from Game of Thrones), and follows her dreams to Harper Hall. This series has been a gateway to adult SF&F for many a young reader, but beware — while the Harper Hall trilogy is safe, some of the other Pern books get pretty mature in their subject matter.

Vesper Holly from Lloyd Alexander’s Vesper Holly series. Think of Vesper Holly as a teenaged version of Amelia Peabody – a nineteenth-century adventuress who travels to exotic locations and solves mysteries. ‘Nuff said? (Lloyd Alexander is one of my all-time favourite MG/YA authors, and he has written a lot, so if you get someone hooked on him, he’ll keep them busy for a while!)

(This part of the list is shorter because when I was growing up, there wasn’t a Young Adult genre the way there is today. I went more or less straight from Anne of Green Gables to Anne McCaffrey, A.C. Crispin, Isaac Asimov, and other YA-friendly SF&F authors — and I think I’m pretty typical. But if you have more YA classics about girls that I’ve missed, please chime in!)

Picture Books

I also had a few favourite picture books about girls, both fairy tale retellings by Robin Muller. Tatterhood features a cursed but fearless princess who scours the world for her beloved sister, while Molly Whuppie and the Giant stars an equally fearless woodcutter’s daughter who rescues her two older siblings from certain death. Both of them got read to pieces in our house; they are utterly wonderful, if you can find them.

Your turn! What classic books about girls can you recommend for younger readers?

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like one of the following:

Turtleduck Press Cover Reveal: Shards

I’m excited to unveil the new novel release from my indie publishing house, Turtleduck Press. Shards, by Kit Campbell, is an urban fantasy/paranormal romance featuring an inquisitive Latina university student and a handsome guy who’s keeping supernatural secrets…secrets that have to do with her, and with a past she doesn’t remember.

Intrigued? Here’s the cover:

Shards by Kit Campbell

Shards comes out on December 1, and Kit will be guest posting here that week. In the meantime, you can read more about Shards over at Kit’s website.

(Apologies for the brevity of this post. I’m deep in the throes of novel editing…)