Tag Archives: books

Reading Recap: 2016

blog-the-virtu-monette-coverHi all! It’s time for my annual reading recap, where I look back on my favourite books and also geek out about my own reading stats. *grin*

Favourite Books of 2016

This year it’s a tie between:

  • The Virtu by Sarah Monette, and
  • An Inheritance of Ashes by Leah Bobet

…and an honourable mention goes to The Fellowship of the Ring (reread) which had a huge influence on me and which I am incapable of judging properly, especially with the movies confusing things in my head. It’s my first time rereading LOTR since seeing the movies. Weird experience, let me tell you. (I ended 2015 / started 2016 with Fellowship and am in the middle of rereading The Two Towers right now – part of a 7-year tradition of starting the new year with an epic fantasy novel. I started my LOTR reread after running out of Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones books. *wink*)

blog-an-inheritance-of-ashes-leah-bobetAll three of these are fantasy novels, two written for adults and one, Bobet’s, for the upper YA market.

What I loved about these:

  • depth in worldbuilding – the world feels real, there are layers and unexpected things and pieces that aren’t about the plot
  • character depth (okay, not so much in Fellowship) – the characters are vivid, they have complicated relationships, they struggle to think their way through the things they want to change about themselves, they fail and try again and fail worse and keep trying, they feel like real people
  • the feeling of epicness – while each story is very much about the struggles and relationships of a few key people, it’s also about enormous danger that affects the broader world, and these two aspects, the intimate and the global, are well balanced throughout
  • beautiful description, which also contributes to the epicness
  • strong narrative voice (or voices, in the case of The Virtu, which has two first-person narrators)

Reading Stats

Cover of Who Fears Death by Nnedi OkoraforI read 20 books last year, same as the previous year. That’s a little lower than I’d like, but then several were very long and took a month or more to read.

Genre

Here’s a genre breakdown:

  • 6 of them were adult fantasy (same as the last 2 years), 4 were adult SF (3 last year), and 2 were hard-to-classify adult speculative fiction (1 last year)
  • 2 were non-SFF adult fiction (same as last year): one was magical realism but I decided to classify it as literary instead of genre, and the other was a contemporary gay romance novella
  • 2 were YA fantasy (same as last year) and 1 was YA SF (same as last year)
  • 1 was middle-grade fantasy (0 last year)
  • 1 was non-fiction
  • 1 was an anthology (an 800-page behemoth that I’ve been working on for several years and finally finished)

blog-parable-of-the-sower-butler-cover11 of the books were parts of series – about three-quarters of my (SF&F) genre reading.

For 2017, I’m aiming to finish some of the many series I’ve got on the go. That also means forgoing new-to-me series in favour of standalones. I’ve got plenty of all of those already stocked on my shelf and ereader. Now to see if I can resist temptation…

Authors and Diversity

12 of 19 books were by women (the last was an anthology), which is on par with my reading in most years.

3 of the authors were people of colour, coincidentally all black women – Octavia Butler (Parable of the Sower), Nnedi Okorafor (Who Fears Death), and fellow Canadian Nalo Hopkinson (Brown Girl in the Ring). I was particularly struck by the writing of Butler, whom I’d never read before even though she’s a major figure in SF&F, and will be reading more of her work in future.

blog-brown-girl-hopkinson-cover6 of the books were by Canadians (5 authors, as I read 2 books by Leah Bobet).

11 of the authors were new to me.

Publishing and Acquisition

Of the 20 books I read, only 5 were published in the last 5 years (11 in the past 15 years). That’s not good for a writer trying to keep up with current publishing trends – must do better this year! The oldest was The Fellowship of the Ring (1954).

Where I got my books: 1 was a reread, 3 were passed on from family or friends, 1 was a loan, and 1 was from when I used to volunteer at a small press (and was allowed to take home free copies). The other 14 I bought.

blog-fellowship-fotr-tolkien-cover9/20 (45%) were ebooks, down slightly from last year but higher than any other year since I started using an ereader in 2012. What I acquired in ebook form:

  • 2 books that are too big to hold comfortably in paper form – that is, they’re only out in trade paperback format, or they’re really thick
  • 2 books that are only out in hardcover, so the ebook is more comfortable to hold and also cheaper
  • 3 books I couldn’t find in the bookstore – either too old, or indie-published
  • 2 books I bought as ebooks for no particular reason

Side note on ereading tech: I use a Kobo Touch primarily, as well as the Kindle app on my iPhone for books that aren’t available from the Kobo store, and sometimes the Kobo app when I’m feeling lazy and/or don’t have my ereader with me. I find my phone slightly too small to read on comfortably, but it’s the right size for my hands, so I’m not terribly motivated to get a bigger phone. Will probably upgrade to a newer Kobo this year, though.

And there you have it! Hope you enjoyed the trip through Siri-reading-land. What were your favourite books last year?

If You Liked City of Hope and Ruin…

Since the time for gift-giving is fast approaching, I wanted to pop back in and share some ideas. (For books, of course–is there any other kind of gift for a reader?) If you liked City of Hope and Ruin, or know someone who would, here are some others to check out.

Cover of Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

If you liked the post-apocalyptic/fantasy blend with strong female protagonists of colour then try…

  • Brown Girl in the Ring by Jamaican-Canadian writer Nalo Hopkinson
  • Parable of the Sower (near-future) by famed American author Octavia Butler
  • Who Fears Death by Nigerian-American writer Nnedi Okorafor

If you liked the dual-author, dual-protagonist structure then try…

  • Sorcery & Cecelia; or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot (YA) by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer (an epistolary fantasy, with the two characters writing back and forth to each other)
  • Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer (okay, this isn’t even fantasy, but you’ll still love it, trust me)

If you liked the mixture of urban fantasy with a tinge of SF and the “chosen family” angle then try…blog-an-inheritance-of-ashes-leah-bobet

  • Above (YA) by Canadian author Leah Bobet
  • Fey Touched by Turtleduck Press author Erin Zarro (first in a series, and book 3 is due out May 2017!)

If you liked the demons from another dimension breaking into a fantasy world and the village/rural/wilderness setting then try…

  • Burning Bright by Turtleduck Press author KD Sarge
  • …okay, I have to put Leah Bobet on here again, because her An Inheritance of Ashes (YA) is exactly this (and was one of my favourite reads this year)

If you liked the Eastern European feel of the world then try…

  • Daughter of Smoke and Bone (YA) by Laini Taylor (set in Prague)
  • The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia
  • The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko (set in Moscow)Shards by Kit Campbell

If you liked the combination of romance, SF/fantasy adventure, and save-the-world stakes then try…

  • the Erin Zarro and KD Sarge novels recommended above
  • Shards by my co-author, Kit Campbell
  • any of our other novels at Turtleduck Press!

Save

CITY OF HOPE AND RUIN One-Day Book Tour

Quick announcement to say that TODAY, Thursday, Kit and I are on tour! Virtually, that is. We’re stopping at 30 different blogs — look for discussions, reviews, and a giveaway.

MediaKit_BB_CityOfHopeAndRuin_Banner copy

Click here to see all the tour stops!

 

Lies I Told Myself About Writing

I’m really good at negative self-talk (thanks, Inner Critic). Here are some things I’ve told myself about my writing, that I now know not to be true because hello, I have a novel out.

Caveats: (1) I had an awesome co-author, so I didn’t do it all on my own; (2) we didn’t go the traditional publishing route, but published it ourselves through Turtleduck Press, with help from professionals and semi-pros. My Inner Critic would like to have a field day with those caveats, but they don’t negate the fact that there is now a novel out there in the world with my name on it, and people are even buying it.

And so, the list of lies:

  1. You don’t have the discipline to be a writer.
  2. Your wrists can’t take that much typing anymore. (They can. I just rack up the words a little slower these days.)
  3. You don’t know how to edit a novel. (I’m talking the big stuff, structural editing — I usually flail around and get tied up in knots. This time, somehow, I knew what needed to be done and I did it.)
  4. You don’t have the temperament to edit a novel.
  5. You’re too afraid of failure to ever put anything out there.
  6. You’re too addicted to the Internet to ever put anything out there.
  7. You’re not a good writer. (I’m still and always learning. That’s different.)
  8. Your writing process is fatally flawed.
  9. You can’t be a writer and have other interests / a life at the same time. (I don’t have kids. But I do work full-time, have a significant other, and have several other hobbies that  can be fairly time-intensive.)
  10. You can’t plan, write, edit, and publish a novel in a reasonable amount of time like real writers do. (It took nine months from the start of planning to when we published it. In retrospect, that wasn’t really enough time, but we did it.)
  11. You’re not a real writer.
  12. You’ll never be a real writer.

WELL ACTUALLY…I did it. And will do it again.

So can you.

City of Hope and Ruin

City of Hope and Ruin ebook coverAaaaand it’s out!

City of Hope and Ruin, a fantasy-with-lesbian-romance novel by Kit Campbell and yours truly, is now out in the world! You can buy it in the following formats:

(Amazon | Paperback | Nook | iBookstore | Kobo)

Continue reading

Reading Recap: 2015

The cover of The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken LiuHi all! I’m sneaking back in after a hiatus, with the aim of posting weekly. To kick things off, here’s my annual reading recap…

Favourite Books of 2015

In no particular order, my favourite books last year were:

  • The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
  • Janus by John Park
  • The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen
  • The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Honorable mention: Small Gods by Terry Pratchett (reread)

What I loved about these:

  • hard-hitting emotion and psychological depth
  • huge questions/twists, either in plot or in worldbuilding, that seem like they could have no possible answer…until they do
  • location, location, location
  • strong narrative voice
  • interpersonal conflicts, not necessarily with a single clear antagonist
  • layered stories – frame stories, tales within tales, etc.

Reading Stats

blog-Janus-coverI have no idea if these statistics fascinate you as much as they do me (if they do, please comment…) but here goes.

In 2015 I read 20 books, 4 fewer than the previous year. Not good! Must correct!

Genre

  • 6 were adult fantasy, 3 were adult SF, and 1 was hard-to-classify adult speculative fiction
  • 2 were non-SFF adult fiction
  • 2 were YA fantasy, 1 was YA SF, and 1 was YA speculative fiction
  • 2 were non-SFF YA fiction
  • 1 was a book of poetry, and 1 was a graphic novel
  • I read no anthologies for the second year in a row. Or rather, I read parts of two but did not finish. Short fiction is just not my gig right now. I also read parts of two non-fiction books but did not finish them either.

12 of the books were parts of series – almost all of my genre reading. The exceptions were Janus by John Park, The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (which almost made my “favourite books” list), and Moonheart by Charles de Lint.

blog-Thirteenth Tale-coverAuthors and Publishing

9 of the authors were male and 11 female – a much more even showing than most years, as I tend to tilt heavily female.

To my knowledge, I read only one book by a person of colour. (That would be The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu.) However, in 2016 the stats will be much better because I’m doing a book-buying challenge – half of all the books I bought in 2015 were by authors of colour. I just haven’t read them yet because my buying is at least a year behind my reading…!

Of the 20 books I read, 14 were published in the last 5 years – a higher ratio than years past, thanks in part to the Turtleduck Press books I read and in part due to a book club I’m part of on Twitter (#20reads — come join!), which tends towards recently published books.

Acquisition

I got 3 books from the library, 2 were e-ARCs (electronic Advance Reader Copies), 2 were rereads, 1 was a gift, and 1 was a loan of a physical book. The other 11 I bought.

11/20 were ebooks – 55%. The ratio of ebooks to physical books I read continues to creep upwards – last year it was 40%, then 33%, then 25% (the first year I had an ereader). I own a smartphone but don’t tend to read books on it; I don’t own a tablet. What I acquire in ebook form breaks down like this:

  • books where the paperback wasn’t out yet and I wanted to buy it right away but didn’t want the hardcover (3)
  • books from my to-read list that go on sale (2)
  • e-ARCs (2)
  • library books (2 of the 3 library books I read were ebooks)
  • big fat fantasy novels that are too heavy to comfortably hold or lug around (1 – I’m looking at you, GRRM)
  • books that I bought as ebooks for no particular reason (2)

…argh, I counted something twice there, but I can’t be bothered to go back and figure it out. Ahem.

Your turn! Did you notice any patterns in your reading last year?

 

Grave Touched: A Labor of Love by Erin Zarro

Erin Zarro author photoHello again! Today we have a guest post by Turtleduck Press author Erin Zarro, who is celebrating the release of her second novel, Grave Touched.

Full disclosure: I am the chief editor at Turtleduck Press, so I saw a version of this book early on and…well, I’ll let Erin tell it:

When I first conceived the idea of writing this book, I was over the moon. I’m a huge fan (and believer) of ghosts, and the idea of ghosts possessing people intrigued me. I started writing it before book 1, Fey Touched, was published. But then I had a problem with my left eye (severe excruciating pain that required taking a break from writing) and things kind of went off the rails.

When I finally got back to writing, I was able to make my next deadline. I’d worried about that, because I’d blown my first deadline because of my eye. The last thing I wanted to do was blow another deadline and create yet another hole in our publishing schedule. They were wonderful and understanding, but I still felt like a failure.

About two weeks after sending it to my editor, Siri, I got an email from her. It was not good news. She felt that the book wasn’t ready to be published. She gave me a extensive list of things that weren’t working. Naturally, I’d felt that I’d nailed it — at first. But then as I thought about her issues, it dawned on me. This was not my best work. She was absolutely right. Somehow, in the midst of my desire to make my deadline and having eye pain, I screwed up badly. And of course I wondered then if I was a crappy writer. Maybe Fey Touched was a fluke, and I suck. Maybe I went back to writing too soon, and was a bit delusional as to my abilities. Maybe the pain was screwing with my head. Maybe the book wasn’t working and it would never work. Maybe it needed to be trunked.

Cover of Fey Touched by Erin ZarroOn and on and on. I suffer from clinical depression, so this just added on to the refrain of “you suck, your writing sucks, you’re never going to sell anything” and so forth. This was a dark time for me. I’ve lost my way before — ironically just before I started writing Fey Touched. I’d rewritten a different novel 4 times in order to make it acceptable to an agent. Well, I was rewriting the love and magic right out of it. I took the advice of several writer friends and set it aside, resolving to write something purely for fun and for myself. That book was Fey Touched.

So I’d accomplished that but I wasn’t sure I had it in me to do it again. I agreed to the rewrite and the tentative deadline, which gave me about a year to work on it, so I felt fairly confident that I’d be able to make it. If I could get my muse on board.

She wasn’t, not at first. She saw this as an unnecessary rewrite and balked at doing anything. It’s funny because I really did want to do the rewrite. But maybe someplace in my subconscious I felt like I was beating a dead horse. It took awhile to get into the flow, but once I got started, I was able to keep progressing.

This entire process took three years. Sometimes I worried about wasting my time. But now, after completing it and publishing it, I’m happy to say that everything I went through with this book was so worth it. I learned that one misstep does not make me a failure as a writer. I learned that I could produce (and produce salable fiction) with excruciating eye pain. I learned to follow my instincts and my muse. But most of all, I learned strength. It would have so easy to give up. To say, hey, it’s just not working, I need to do something else. But I persisted, because the book needed to be written. My idea needed to be expanded upon and explored. My characters needed this growth. And I, too, grew as a writer.

I’m glad that Siri rejected the first incarnation. Sounds weird, but it’s true. Had she not rejected it, I might have published it anyway and that would have been detrimental to my career. It was not ready, and I know that. Because of this, I kept believing in myself and in the book, so much that I couldn’t let it die.

With writing, a lot of people don’t understand the amount of work that goes into a novel, both writing and publishing. Any novel could take months to years to complete. And every writer is different. When you suffer from chronic pain, every day you have to refigure your goals and productivity. I am, by nature, very stubborn and very driven, so I didn’t let it stop me. But it was tough. Some days I didn’t know how I’d come home from work and work on the book. Editing and revising was a study in patience. And it’s harder with a hurting eye. But I didn’t have the option of quitting. I’m a writer, and I write. Nothing else matters.

So, it can be done. Blood, sweat, tears, and persistence will win every time. Hopefully I’ve inspired some of you to try to meet your goals even through adversity. It’s an amazing feeling to have done the very thing you didn’t believe you could do. Try it.

The final incarnation of Grave Touched that’s published is a love song to my muse, a crazy journey, and a story I’ve wanted to tell for three years. I am truly proud of it, and proud that I’d nailed it this time. And thankful that I’m still doing my thing, regardless of anything else.

I am a writer. Nothing more, nothing less.

Grave Touched by Erin ZarroSiri here. I’m so proud of Erin for fighting through all those self-doubts. (Heck, I posted just last month about my own struggles with imposter syndrome.) The new version of Grave Touched is a whole lot better, and I hope you’ll check it out.

Grave Touched is available as a Kindle ebook here, and a print version is coming soon. If you’d rather start with Fey Touched (the first in the series) the ebook version of that is currently on sale for 99 cents.

Happy reading!