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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

There are a lot of new books being released today, but of the pile I brought home from my local independent bookstore, this one seems the most fitting to share today since it was inspired by the testimony of Christine Blasey Ford.

I have only read the book summary, but I love the idea of being able to transform and take flight … literally. Dragons have fascinated me for years. Looking around the room where I am typing this post, I can see five dragons. My current favorite is Scribbles.

As you can see, he carries a pencil. Scribbles is one of my writing buddies, and I have been doing a lot of writing lately. He’s not the best conversationalist or beta reader, but he’s a good listener.

Writing is good for me in these crazy times, and I am tackling a big writing project, so for the time being I am going to be a writing dragon.

Find your own dragon.

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On this date in 1926, Nelle Harper Lee was born in Monroeville, Alabama.

A few days after she passed away in 2016, Berkeley Breathed published the above tribute, and it’s my favorite. It still brings tears to my eyes.

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most important books in my reading life. I am not sure how many times I have read it — at least five. (The only book I can think of which I may have read more times is Charlotte’s Web.)

Mockingbird is my touchstone for empathy and self-respect. It is my reminder to treat others with dignity and respect even (and perhaps especially) when they don’t extend to you the same courtesy but not at the expense of your own self-respect and personal convictions. You still need to stand your ground, and you need to be able to live with your actions and their consequences. Just because a point of view or course of action works for most everyone else doesn’t mean that it has to work for you.

It’s a tough balance, but it is one I work towards every day. It may be time for another reading.

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Who knew?

Probably lots of people, but I was not one of them until today.

Slow River was on my shelf for years. I am not sure whether or not it still is, and I am quite sure that I have not yet read it. (I went through a phase where I was trying to make room for an ever-growing yarn stash and knitting far more than I was reading, so I overdid it with culling the library. Plenty of books have not been missed, and it was fine to send them to other homes. Others were a mistake to release. Live and learn.)

Today I read her Big Idea entry and learned that she also writes stories about magic — the old, wild magic of Britain and Wales.

As a result, Hild and Spear are now on my reading list. Spear is new and easily had. Hild is not and will require a bit more effort.

There is more to say, but I am extremely tired, and I must be up much earlier than usual tomorrow morning, so more will have to wait. In the meantime, click the links and amuse yourselves.

Good night.

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Hello and welcome, new followers! (I am so never going to get tired of being able to say that from time to time.)

Also (and I realize that this is a random aside), I just learned that if you start a post one day and don’t finish and post it for a few days, the post shows up dated the day you started it rather than the day you posted it. That behavior irks me somewhat as it makes it looks like I broke my streak, and I didn’t. Harumph. Should you wish to read a few thoughts about Lego blocks being used in curses, just scroll back to April 16th.

With those housekeeping items out of the way, let’s talk about Paris, shall we?

I finished reading Lost and Found in Paris by Lian Dolan, and it was for the most part delightful. It is not as frothy as I think that the cover and title suggest. There are certainly lighthearted moments and nice variety of romantic relationships, but there is serious appreciation of Paris, art, Joan of Arc, the genius and demons of artists, and the complexities of blood and chosen family in this novel. It is worth reading for all of those things.

Once again, I found the third act a little bit disappointing. The plot twist which brought things together wasn’t too far-fetched, convenient, or unbelievable. There were a few surprising revelations, but they were fitting. What did not work so well for me was how and why the theft had been planned. I read the explanation, and I watched the characters go along with it after varying degrees of suspicion, anger, and resistance, but I wasn’t completely sold. And then the story got tied up in a bow pretty quickly as if the author had run out of words or had to meet a deadline. When that happens, stories fall a little flat for me and sometimes feel rushed. Now, I am writing this post less than an hour after finishing the book. I may feel differently after I sit with it for a while.

Maybe it’s me because conclusions and endings are something with which I struggle. Even writing these posts, I tend to get to the end or run out of things to say and click publish. Most of the time I know that I could have done better, that it could be smoother. It is one of the parts of my writing which I hope improves with practice (and revision). I figure that at some point, I will have a post that ends with a real conclusion that is not abrupt. The process will click, and I will have an example that I can reapply and reproduce.

Until then, I will keep reading more third act examples, learning from them, and critiquing them.

If anyone has and recommendations of books with third acts that really do justice to all of the prep work done in acts one and two, I would love to hear them.

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If not, it should be. I need more nerd fiction in my life.

And I don’t necessarily mean science fiction, although I wouldn’t necessarily exclude it. I just don’t want far future, space travel fiction.  I want contemporary fiction which happens to focus on AI.

I started with a search for ‘AI fiction’ and then tried ‘artificial intelligence fiction’ because I have been enjoying having AI show up in some of the contemporary fiction I have been reading. Sourdough had a significant AI component. Does that make it science fiction? It is fiction with science in it. The same is true of Lost and Found in Paris. One of the characters runs a tech company which uses AI, among other things.

The books have other elements I would consider nerdy. In Sourdough, there is some nerdy stuff about yeast and bread and mold and cheese and the history of food and the future of food. In Lost and Found in Paris, there is nerdiness about art history and modern art and architecture and even fashion.

I think I am defining “nerdy” as being enthusiastically knowledgeable about a subject. In Lost and Found in Paris, Joan of Arc plays a significant role, especially the art devoted to her. I know a bit about her history, and I know that she is significant to French political history, religious history, and art history, but I was unaware of just how much art is devoted to her.

Maybe I am looking for fiction that will teach me something, but that feels like much too broad of a category. I learn something from every book I read.

The AI part really has me intrigued at the moment because it’s not science fiction anymore. It is science.

I am a bit of a Luddite at heart. (I love my pens and paper, and I read only paper books.) I believe that computers make us stupid. (How many phone numbers do you know any more? Can you read a map without GPS?) But computers and machines can do absolutely amazing things for communication, for manufacturing, for medicine, for textiles, for agriculture. The list is practically endless.

What I found when I searched for AI fiction: 24 Best Artificial Intelligence Science Fiction Books – The Best Sci Fi Books (best-sci-fi-books.com)

20 Fascinating Artificial Intelligence Books, Fiction & Nonfiction | Book Riot

A number of the books on these lists are the same and sound like good recommendations.  I do still need to read Neuromancer, but some of Gibson’s newer stuff might do the trick, too.  I have plenty.  At the risk of insulting the genius and fans of folks like Ellison, Clarke, and Asimov, I want to read books written closer to the here and now when AI either exists or is getting close.  I want more Sourdough, more Lost and Found in Paris, even more Machinehood.

Any ideas or recommendations?

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It’s Monday, and my brain is kind of full of work-related learning, so this will be a short post which mostly says, “Watch this video if you are interested in hearing about, among other things, Janci Patterson’s thoughts on co-writing.”

Brandon Sanderson has written several books of a series set in the Cytoverse (as opposed to in the Cosmere, which is where the Stormlight and Mistborn series are set). The fourth book is a collection of novellas which he wrote with Janci Patterson. The video is of a conversation they had about the new book. They talk about writing together, and Patterson talks about other co-written projects she has done as well as different aspects of her writing process.

I found it fascinating and entertaining, so I am sharing. You don’t have to know anything about either author or their books to enjoy the writing part of the discussion (which is most of it).

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The last several years have been … well, everyone knows what they have been. And nothing in the news headlines indicates that the situation will improve significantly anytime soon. Sure, there are bright spots here and there, but the shadows still loom large and dark.

There’s a lot of talk about self care — to the point that it has become an industry unto itself. If any of those offerings work for you, great! If not, then just find something small and simple, and don’t underestimate the power of small, simple, and brief.

Last night my bliss was freshly-popped popcorn, a homemade vanilla milkshake, and opening day baseball.

Tonight I am distracting myself with a new book: Lost and Found in Paris by Lian Dolan.

The basic premise is pretty common — a woman finds out that her marriage has fallen apart, and she is the last to know — but this one has a slightly different twist, at least to me.

I have only read the first two chapters, so I don’t really consider these to be spoilers, but if you want to preserve all of the mystery, avert your eyes now.

Joan’s globe-trotting photographer husband cheated on her with his assistant five years ago. Yawn, right? The fun part is that the relationship resulted in the birth of twin boys. Casey (the husband) has come to the conclusion that it is time for him to become a more involved father, although he and the mother have been co-parenting the whole time. He offers that the five of them could become one big blended family, but his priority is the kids. After sharing all of this news with Joan, Casey gets on a plane to Japan for a work trip.

What I love is that Joan opts for, if not a scorched earth policy, swift and complete excision. Casey walks out the door, and the first item on Joan’s to do list is changing the locks. She is devastated, but she doesn’t let it keep her from taking action. She seeks counsel from her friends (and her attorney), and she cuts off the friends who knew about the other family and somehow convinced themselves that it was in her best interest not to tell her … for five years.

Now it is on to chapter three in which Joan has to tell her mother.

Happy weekend, everyone!!

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(Random thought: Am I supposed to capitalize blog post headings like titles? I guess they are like articles, but they don’t feel that formal or official. I suppose I could look it up and at least find a best practice somewhere. Until then, I’ll improvise as the mood strikes me.)

(Also, this choice to just write and post and not worry really takes the pressure off and pretty much obliterates expectations. Cool!)

Note: This post might qualify as containing spoilers for The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley, so if you plan to read the book, proceed with caution. I’m sharing some thoughts I have about one of the characters and a connection I made as a result, but not revealing any major plot points or developments.

In The Paris Apartment, as Jess tries to figure out what is going on with her brother and what might have happened to keep him from being at the apartment when she arrives, she talks to the other people living in the apartment building. There are also chapters told from the point of view of those people, and they reveal their interactions with Ben.

As I was reading, I decided that Ben might not be as sincere or as good a guy as he seemed. Charming? Yes. Charismatic? Yes. But also sharp and observant and not above using his charm and charisma for, shall we say, less than altruistic purposes. I got the feeling that he might have been up to something. A bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, even. You think he’s a caring friend who is showing genuine interest and concern, but is he? Did he come to Paris with a purpose, plan, or agenda?

Eventually it clicked for me that there were hints of Tom Ripley in Ben. Nothing so sinister or violent as the talented Mr. Ripley, but a young man with charm and charisma who could talk his way into and out of situations as the need arose or an opportunity presented itself. Someone who was a bit of a chameleon as it suited his purposes. Ben’s adopted family provided him with a good life and education, but he didn’t have a lot of money. Even if he did always seem to catch a break and come out on top, he wasn’t able to live like Nick, the wealthy friend who got him into the apartment in Paris, and he may have resented it.

Being reminded of Tom Ripley got me to thinking about Patricia Highsmith and that I should read beyond Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley. I knew that she was a prolific writer, and I wondered whether she kept letters or journals and whether they had been collected or published. A quick search turned up Patricia Highsmith: Her Diaries and Notebooks 1941-1995 edited by Anna von Planta and published by W.W. Norton just a few months ago.

When Highsmith passed away, she left behind an extensive personal history in the form of 18 diaries and 38 notebooks. The volumes contain a total of about 8000 pages, documenting not only her life but also her evolution and growth as a writer.

From the editorial note at the beginning of the book: “Pat essentially maintained a double account of her life: whereas she used the diary to detail her intense, at times painful personal experiences, she used the notebook to process these experiences intellectually and muse on her writing. Pat’s notebooks were workbooks, and a playground for her imagination…. Her diaries help us better understand the notebooks…. While the two formats can be read independently of each other, when read in tandem they help to gain a holistic understanding — in Pat’s own words — of an author who concealed the personal sources of her material for her entire life, and whose novels are more likely to distract us from who she was, than lead us to her.” (The digital excerpt I am reading does not have page numbers or I would include them here.)

Two accounts. The raw, personal, intimate events in one and the reactions, ideas, and creativity they spawned in another. All I can think is, “Brilliant!! Absolutely brilliant!”

I often hesitate to read published letters or diaries because they are such private works. Sometimes I shy away from reading memoirs of people who interest me because I don’t necessarily want to know more than I do from experiencing their art or music. For example, I have a copy of Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen sitting on my bookshelf, and I still haven’t decided whether or not I want to read it. He’s an amazing storyteller. He’s thoughtful, insightful, observant, and well aware of his own flaws and imperfections. On the other hand, I have a very personal relationship with his music, and the music and the live performances may be all I need. I might not need or even want to know the stories behind it all because it might change my relationship with the music. It’s a tough call.

In contrast, I very much want to read Unrequited Infatuations: Odyssey of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Consigliere by Stevie Van Zant, one of the original, if not continuous, members of the E Street Band. Except for the solo years, he is always there on stage to Bruce’s left, and he has had many endeavors and adventures away from E Street, so I am fascinated to read what he has to say.

Returning to Highsmith, the introduction to the new book indicates that she clearly meant for her diaries and journals to be collected, preserved, and accessible in some form. The editor notes that certain people have been anonymized to protect them and their families, so while personal and intimate, it’s not an expose. I like and admire Highsmith’s writing style and respect her as an important literary figure of the 20th century, but I wouldn’t call myself a big fan. This “behind the scenes” look into her writing process as much as her life, however, sounds like it is right up my alley.

I shall investigate further and report back.

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I am not sure how else to describe it.

The structure reminds me a bit of Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Morena-Garcia in that an ordinary person — not a detective or private investigator or some private citizen with a penchant for sleuthing — finds herself looking into a disappearance. The atmosphere of The Paris Apartment is darker, but Velvet Was the Night is grittier (70s era Mexico).

Picking up from my previous post, Jess is on edge because she is trying to escape one life and start over with another. She doesn’t really think anyone is after her, but she’s not sure, and she has had enough hard knocks to make her a combination of reckless and cautious. She takes chances because she doesn’t really have anything to lose.

As the story progresses, and the characters and relationships get more complicated, or at least raised more questions — it is definitely a character-driven story — I wondered if it was going to be one of those mysteries which builds up a lot of suspense and secrets that eventually get revealed, but the actual motive and culprit are something else entirely, almost unrelated and conveniently veiled by other more tantalizing options. Or would there be a plot twist thrown in at the end to tie all of the threads together?

As the story progressed further, I became more interested in how things would turn out and less concerned that the rug would be pulled out from under me. There is this interesting juxtaposition of people who are, should be, or even want to be intimately connected but don’t quite manage it for a number of reasons. Siblings, for example. Well, half-siblings. Jess and Ben have always been there for each other. Sort of. They have shared trauma and grief which binds them, and yet they end up on different paths.

The lives of the apartment building residents are intertwined and yet divergent. I don’t know how to say more without giving too much away. There are some twists, but nothing too shocking if you are paying attention. There is a deft sleight of hand by the author as to what the most serious crime is.

One of the complimentary review blurbs is “Exceedingly clever.” I am not sure I would go as far as exceedingly, but clever is a fitting description.

I am not sure that justice is quite served, but all of the pieces do fit together, and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It works.

If you want complete edge-of-your-seat suspense and grand, shocking reveals, this is not your book, but if you want a clever, well-crafted plot driven by varied and interesting characters, each with their own flaws and secrets, then add this book to your reading list.

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The news and headlines are just too much again today — and I don’t think that I even read anything about COVID or the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It was all domestic nonsense. Well, not nonsense because all of it was quite serious, but it might be a little easier to absorb if it were nonsense, if there weren’t real consequences for a lot of real people.

Anyway, on this chilly, rainy, spring evening, I am disappearing into The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley. I am about fifty pages into it and trying to decide if it is a taughtly-written mystery or if it is going to take some horrific turn that gives me nightmares.

Jess is running away from her past and her present, and she runs to her half brother Ben in Paris. Even though he knows that she is coming, he is not waiting for her when she arrives late at night. She finds her way into his apartment and is observed by several other residents and the concierge of the building in the process.

The next day he still has not returned, and she notices things which indicate more than a casual absence. Jess doesn’t want to involve the police for her own reasons, but she starts to worry all the same.

The story is told from multiple points of view — I am up to five so far, including Jess — and I can’t decide whether any of the narrators are reliable. From the dust jacket: “Everyone’s a neighbor. Everyone’s a suspect. And everyone knows something they’re not telling.”

I am both nervous and curious. So far curiosity is winning. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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