March 7th, 2017


Reading Roundup

It looks like this might be a “music” book. I had decent productivity while having music playing. I mostly used the soundtrack to Order of the Phoenix. That’s a good background noise soundtrack because it sounds somewhat magical, is alternately energetic and dreamy, and it’s not quite brilliant enough music that I find myself stopping to listen to it. It works great to shut out the mental distractions and make me focus without being its own distraction. I did try switching to the other Harry Potter soundtracks I own, but I can’t write with John Williams in the background because I’ll stop to listen to the music, especially Prisoner of Azkaban. That soundtrack may be his most interesting collection of music out of all the film scores he’s done because it’s like they just told him to go have fun and write the music he’s always wanted to write. As a result, we get a somewhat baroque classical piece that could have come from a Rossini opera, an atonal modern jazz extravaganza, a Renaissance-style piece that could fit in with the actual early music recordings I have played on period instruments, and a choral piece. But I can’t write with it in the background because I find myself stopping to listen and figure out what he’s doing with each piece.

Another thing I tried doing was a “brain dump” before I started writing. It’s kind of like the morning pages concept, only not in the morning and with no set amount of writing or other rules. I just started writing down all the stuff that was swirling around in my head until I got to the book I’d be working on. That did a lot to help me focus instead of getting sidetracked by random thoughts.

And now, as promised, a book report! I’ve been making a lot more time to read, trying to get less screen time, so I’ve been getting through more books.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill — this was shelved in the children’s section (I’d guess it’s classified as “middle grade”) but I think it’s very adult-friendly. In fact, aside from the girl in the title, the viewpoint characters are mostly adults, and you might even argue that the actual protagonist is an older woman. She’s the one who drives much of the story. It’s fantasy story about a town that must sacrifice a newborn baby each year to appease the witch who lives in the woods — except the witch never asked for that and has no idea why these crazy people keep abandoning infants in the woods. She rescues them and takes them to another town to place them in good homes. But then there’s one infant she can’t bring herself to give away, a girl who has magical powers that she’ll need guidance in learning to use. I found this to be a really lovely fairytale-like story with characters who came to life for me to the point I wanted to see more of them. There’s a tiny dragon who thinks he’s a normal dragon living among giants, a wise swamp monster, a young man and young woman brave enough to question the order of things. I read this in just about one sitting. It’s a good rainy Sunday afternoon sort of book.

Railhead by Philip Reeve — This is a young adult science fiction book about a distant figure in which there are wormhole-like tunnels between worlds, through which sentient trains can run. So, basically, you had me at “space trains.” A young thief who’s a bit of a “railhead” (a train enthusiast who stows away to ride around) gets recruited by a mysterious stranger to infiltrate the Emperor’s train and steal an item. But nothing is really as it seems, and carrying out the theft is just the beginning of things. This one had some truly creative worldbuilding, imagining how a massive shift in technology might affect a culture and imagining what the hip young things might get up to in that sort of world. If you enjoyed Bladerunner, this might be right up your alley.

Borderline by Mishell Baker — Adult urban fantasy. I have very mixed feelings about urban fantasy. I love the idea of it and want to like it, but I haven’t been crazy about how it’s been executed, for the most part. It tends to be way too dreary for my taste. But I really liked this one. It’s still darkish, but in a sun-drenched way. It’s set in Los Angeles, and the premise is that there are gateways that allow the fey to enter our world. Some of them do rather well as actors, with their beautiful glamours. Others turn out to be a kind of muse/other half for creative people. There’s an organization that regulates fey activity in our world, making sure they don’t outstay their welcome or break the rules. Our heroine gets recruited to join them as she recovers from a suicide attempt that seriously messed up her body (and didn’t do wonders for her brain). Getting put on the case of tracking down a missing fey nobleman who was involved in the film industry gives her a new focus in life — until she starts stepping on the wrong toes. This was a real page-turner, reading like an old noir mystery but with some definite twists. The narrator heroine isn’t the kind of character I normally like, but I found myself pulling for her, mostly because she owns her issues and isn’t looking for sympathy. It looks like this is going to be a series, and I imagine I’ll be gobbling them up.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden — this is a fantasy novel based on Russian fairy tales and folklore. It takes some tales I’m familiar with and fleshes them out and puts a spin on them. It’s really hard to describe the plot without going into a lot of detail, which I suppose means it’s not “high concept,” but it’s about a family of a lower-level prince in medieval Russia (before it really was “Russia” as we know it). The widowed father gets stuck with an arranged marriage to a woman who’s a very bad fit for that situation and who doesn’t want to be there, and it nearly brings disaster to their whole village when the stepmother clashes with the youngest daughter. Both of them can see the household spirits that protect and serve them, but where the stepmother sees demons that must be banished, the daughter is kind to them and learns from them. Which view prevails could determine whether or not they survive a harsh winter. This was a bit of a slow build of a story, one that sets the stage and establishes the situation, the characters, and the atmosphere before the plot kicks into high gear, but I still found it to be a quick read. It really immerses you in that world, so that when the plot does kick in, you feel really invested in the outcome. It was a great book for a cool, rainy Sunday afternoon. I burrowed under the electric blanket, drank tea, and read all day.

Yeah, I’m the weirdo who kind of wishes every Sunday afternoon could be cool and rainy.