The Great Book Sort (Part 2)

July 27, 2022 at 10:57 pm (book reviews) (, )

Since one of my three followers is in hospital and needs more book recs, here’s…. some more book recs!


“Clean Sweep” (and “Sweet in Peace”, “One Fell Sweep”, “Sweep of the Blade”, “Sweep with Me” and I haven’t read “Sweep of the Heart” yet) by Ilona Andrews (aka the Innkeeper series). Now here’s the interesting part: they’re not all THAT well written. They read like many many many mid-level paranormal romance authors (and, to be fair, a million billion times better than MANY error-riddled published books, especially self-published books). The plot is only more important than the inevitable love triangle (good), and the writing is fine and fundamentally flawless but not astonishing. I’ve read other books by the author and they went to the “Nah” pile—perfectly good books, which I might re-read if I run out of favourites. So why is this series a favourite? The heroine is an Innkeeper, with considerable powers… but she’s fundamentally an inter-species diplomat, and most of the books’ tensions come from two or more very different magical species coming into contact in or near her inn. So it’s all about making different cultures feel safe and comfortable and respected… and I LOVE THAT TO BITS.

Side note: The “Temeraire” series by Naomi Novik is absolutely brilliant but I can only re-read the first of the series (it’s all excellently written) because there are so many cases of cultural clashes where people are just awful at understanding each other. It’s too painful to ‘watch’ a second time.

“The City in the Middle of the Night” by Charlie Jane Anders is scifi that takes place on a planet where only a narrow band between the permanent day and permanent night is mild enough for human habitation. According to wikipedia it’s climate fiction, but I don’t see it that way. It is, amazingly (since I’m doing these reviews in alphabetical order by author, which is effectively random), another cross-cultural story.

“The Bear and the Nightingale”, “The Girl in the Tower”, and “The Winter of the Witch” by Katherine Arden (aka the Winternight Trilogy). If you want to know what I mean by “astonishing” writing—as opposed to Ilana Andrew’s “fundamentally flawless” writing—this is it. This is really, really it. The trilogy takes place in Northern Rus’/Russia. You will feel the deadly cold as you read. You will feel the corrosive hatred and unmet hope in the heart of the beautiful priest. You will feel the wild heart of our heroine, and the weight of an entire society that falls, always, on the shoulders of women. CONTENT WARNING: Women are constantly at risk of rape, and are also subject to arranged marriages against their will, which definitely includes spousal rape (the men are also married without always getting a choice over their partner, but they are clearly in a position of muuuuch more power than any woman). I am not against arranged marriage on the whole. There are several examples of happy arranged marriages in the book (and in real life). But there is at least one arranged marriage in this series that is incredibly awful, and a better man would have made different choices (yes, even in that historical setting—although there is room for interpretation on that score). The sexual violence is never explicitly described, and it is never used to break the spirit of a female character or to justify someone’s evil with a rape backstory. There are much more creative ways to break a person. . .

This series is magical, and it is unbelievably harsh, and it is exhilarating and tragic and more.

You, too, will weep for a nightingale.

Since I’ve already talked about the brilliant Naomi Novik AND I’ve talked about magical stories set in medieval Russia, I can’t stop there.

“Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novik. This is so good you guys. So so good. It is just as good as the Winternight Trilogy, and when I describe them they sound similar, thanks to the rich and bone-chilling selling of a magical medieval Russia. They even both have a female heroine who attracts the interest of an immortal man (for better or worse—but usually much much worse). But although rape is still threatened in this book, it is only a very slight possibility that is quickly and relatively easily fended off. In this story, the heroine is Jewish. So there is a whole other complicated and historical layer. And almost everyone in the story becomes a better person, which I love. That reminds me: another thing this book has in common with the Winternight trilogy is a protagonist who is incredibly honorable. Even when someone treats them incredibly badly, they do what is right. Even when they absolutely deserve a break they refuse to leave people to their fate. I love that.

“Uprooted” also by Naomi Novik. Completely different world. You’ve got a medieval-ish valley with a nasty wizard who takes a girl from the village every ten years. It’s always someone a bit extraordinary, so the heroine has grown up knowing that her best friend (who is beautiful, and kind, and clever) will be the girl taken. Except the wizard takes her instead. Content warning: there is an attempted rape (that ends rather badly for the attacker, which amuses me more the more times I read it). Again, it’s brilliantly written, including delving into the complicated feelings of the characters. How would you feel if your mother had long since accepted that you would be taken against your will as a teenager? How would you feel if, after all that, you weren’t chosen after all? And how would you feel if you were the friend of that girl that everyone knew was so, so special (unlike you)? And how would you feel, knowing your best friend would be taken and not being able to do anything to stop it? And how would you feel when you were taken instead?

And that’s only the start. I don’t want to say too much, but this book is amazing.

“A Deadly Education” (and “The Final Graduate” which ends on a major cliffhanger, and “The Golden Enclaves” once it comes out later this year) by Naomi Novik. All of the above brilliance, but absolutely hilarious too. This is a “magical school” story, but the survival rate of this particular educational institution is incredibly low. Our heroine is prophesied to become an evil sorceress. People dislike her instinctively, and she is severely hampered in her magical school by the fact that the school is basically pushing her to destroy the world and everyone in it (because it will automatically feed you the magic you’re best at—which in her case is all the most destructive killer spells). Worse, she just had her life saved by everyone’s favourite hero RIGHT when she had a conveniently impressive monster to kill. It is so funny, and strangely sweet, and exciting, and surprising. Naomi Novik was an impressive author when she wrote “Temeraire”, but she just keeps getting better and I hope she lives forever so I can keep reading her books.

“Sing the Four Quarters” by Tanya Huff. The heroine is a princess who gave up the throne to follow the call of her magical gifts. Then she did the one thing that an abdicated princess must never, never do: she got pregnant. What is worse, the man she slept with is currently in a dungeon accused of treason. He’s mostly a pretty face to her (she has a healthy and open long-term relationship with another woman, which is beautifully realised) but he’s no traitor.

Nah (aka good books that I might re-read someday, but just not really my thing)

“Fifth Quarter”, “No Quarter” and “The Quartered Sea” by Tanya Huff. Interestingly, the first book in the series is “Sing the Four Quarters” and I love it, and it’s right above this entry in my favourites pile. But in Book 2 we get a pair of new characters: siblings, and an incestuous love that continues to play a part in the rest of the series. They’re still really good books, but I strongly dislike both of the sibling characters and don’t want to spend time with them.

“Over the Woodward Wall” by A. Deborah Baker (aka Seanan Macguire, who will show up on the “Favourites” pile soon enough). This is well written (Macguire is a master writer) and pretty good, but aimed at a younger audience. I just found the two child protagonists mildly annoying.

“The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig. The midnight library is a place where you can go between life and death, and play out alternate possibilities. Sort of cool, but I want sentient books and mysteriously well-read monsters in my library setting, not a story about regret and life choices.


“The Dragon Lady” by Angelique S. Anderson. Magical steampunk, including dragons. Too many adjectives.

“Red Queen” by Victoria Aveyard. I don’t remember much about the book (apparently a bestseller), but there’s a lot of clumsy exposition in the first two pages.

“The Tangled Lands” by Paolo Bacigalupi (who had a book in the “Nah” section of Part 1) and Tobias S. Buckell. Really well written but too dark for me.

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Writing Daze

October 2, 2009 at 5:41 am (Writing Ranting) (, , , )

Today is Friday, roughly halfway through school holidays. While I usually have at least an hour or so of work even in holiday weeks, this week I’ve had nothing. Nada. No-one.

This is sort of good, because it means there’s a lot less in my life to cause daily panic. On the other hand, an entire week of sitting looking at my carpet isn’t good for me either.

So I decided to double my writing quote this week – bringing it to forty hours. It’s been dreamy. On Monday I spent eight hours working on ONE CHAPTER. Is there anything more wonderful?

I’ve been craving some novel-editing work for a while, but knew I didn’t have the headspace for it. As a general rule, the longer I take to edit a small amount of work, the better my writing is going.

I’m running low on steam today, but right now I’m in my 36th hour, so the fact that I have any steam at all is remarkable. Today I’ll finish the chapter I’m on and do one more, then stop – probably until next Wednesday. That way, I’ll have built up plenty of enthusiasm just in time for the climax and end of the book. I have a bit of work on Monday and Tuesday, so I’ll work on short stories those days.

Today I also launched “Daylight” – my twitter tale mocking “Twilight” (and all emos*). I bet it’s more popular than “Worse Things Happen at Sea”, because it’s pure, unadulterated humour.

Altogether, a good week. And I’ve saved up a week’s worth of writing quota for when my husband and I visit China next year.

*An emo is basically a person who is proud of being depressed. It’s a recently-developed and HIGHLY unpopular subgroup.

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Which person am I?

June 28, 2009 at 11:05 pm (Writing Ranting) (, )

In the year 2000, I wrote my first book for children (before that it was all young adults). I was advised that children’s writing should be in third person, so I did that (despite the fact that I’m much, much better at first person). That book is now a trilogy – in fact the second book was originally written in first person, then I changed it to third person.

The second book has been giving me trouble for a while. It has some brilliant bits, but just doesn’t seem to work overall. I looked at the first chapter over the weekend (after realising I needed to write several more ‘training’ scenes into the fart book) and hated it.

So I’ve decided to rewrite the second book – in first person (which I now know children are perfectly fine with). This will not only end up a better book (because first person is something I’ve always done well), but it’ll make it a lot fresher for me to work with. I don’t think anything big will change – I’ll be looking at the original as I go along – but hopefully this will fix it. Of course this also means I’ll most likely have to change the (perfectly adequate) first and third books too.

Best not to think about that.

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Staplegunning the plot

June 26, 2009 at 7:22 am (Writing Ranting) ()

Ben pointed out that the fart book I wrote contained (a) farting, and (b) romance – which don’t suit the same age group.  After questioning several of my students (between 8 and 14 years of age) it was clear that he was right.

My problem wasn’t that the romance didn’t suit the age group (8-12) that I was going for, but that the farts didn’t suit them (my two eight-year olds laugh uproariously at the word “bum” but my 11-year old thinks the book is dumb). So the romance (second-biggest plot) is gone – the girl in question is entirely deleted. I’m left with a much shorter book (which is necessary for the younger age) and a lot of holes that need to be staplegunned together.

It took me several days to deal with having written a “book” that will be about 7000 words (50,000 is a short book). I’m over that concept now, but struggling to get my head around the “new” book. I sit at my computer with the file open, and my body instinctively twists away so I’m not looking at it (then I go and write a blog entry 🙂  ).

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June 10, 2009 at 12:45 am (Writing Ranting) (, )

As is obvious from the last entry, I’m one of those people who gets high on early drafts, and somewhat carried away (“This is brilliant! I’ll make millions!”)

The crit group has given me a little more on “Farting my ABCs”. There are extra words and phrases, some grammar issues, and “more depth would be good”. The extra words and phrases are what the long breaks are for – so I can actually SEE them. But these aren’t major flaws – or difficult to fix, given my usual editing process.

At the moment I’m also editing “The Monster Apprentice” – the first book in my kids’ trilogy. I’m so impressed with myself over “Farting my ABCs” that “The Monster Apprentice” feels dull. I’m thinking about throwing away the whole  trilogy. But as I type that, I know it’s silly. Not because of the hundreds of hours I’ve spent working on it, but because of the way publishers react to it. Clearly there’s something worth reading in there, I just can’t see it today.

My super-critical friend has read “Farting” and says he’ll probably send me his notes today. How exciting! (I decided I needed to be brought down, and that should work neatly. I also figured two large non-editing gaps should be enough; one after this round and one when it’s at a professional assessor).

Some years ago, I was delighted to find out Douglas Adams was dead. I knew he was brilliant; way more brilliant than me – and it was depressing how much more brilliant he was. But when I discovered he was dead, I realised he couldn’t ever get any better – and I could.

Right now I am reading Cassandra Clare’s “Mortal Intruments” series (the first book is “City of Bones”). She is everything I was to be as a writer – funny, scary, intriguing, intelligent. I love her characters and hate her guts 🙂

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Sweet, sweet vanity

June 7, 2009 at 1:42 pm (Writing Ranting) (, , , )

On Friday I finished my eleventh book. (I’ve thrown five away, and most of the rest are set in the same fantasy world – Rahana.)

This book is different. This book isn’t about love, heroism, or even imagination or wonder. It’s about farts.

It’s short – I didn’t think my mojo was up to much – barely over 10,000 words (which is quite normal for the 8-12 age range). It’s humour – which made me a little nervous (humour is usually hard to write, especially consistently over a whole book/whole readership), but I’ve sold several humour short stories, so it wasn’t too big a leap.

I’ve tested chapter one on two eight-year olds I tutor (one reluctant reader and one dyslexic). They both found it funny, and chose to continue reading my book over reading other books (which have pictures). That bodes VERY well. I left chapters two and three with the first eight-year old, and left chapters 1-3 with an eleven-year old (a perfectly-good reader). I’m curious to see whether they actually read them. If they do, I’ll be seriously. . . surprised.


I’ve also sent the first three chapters to an online critique group. The four or five people who commented were overwhelmingly positive. I just posted the rest of it, and a sixth person described the whole thing as “Brilliant, with a few minor grammar issues”. My conclusion is that either it’s a great leap forward in my writing (particularly regarding marketability, which is the main thing), or the critique group is rubbish. I’m fairly sure it’s the latter.

But what if this is it? What if I sell it to a major publisher first go? What if it actually sells well?

I’m so puffed up with the crit group’s flattery that I feel like sending it off quickly. That’s dumb. What I should do is:

1. get comments from the crit group for a week or two

2. make those changes

3. give it a “final” go-through

4. leave it for one or two months

5. edit again

6. get my real-life friends to critique it (one of whom once told me – incredibly apologetically – that a book of mine had no good points whatsoever. It was then nearly published by a really big publisher, who clearly has lower standards).

7. re-edit

8. send it to a pro crit agency

9. edit again, and if I have to make big changes I should leave it for another month or two before another “final” edit

10. THEN send it to a publisher.

But for now, visions of mass publication are dancing in my head.

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