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Review: SLAM

SlamSlam by Nick Hornby
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nick Hornby has an incredible talent for writing realistic narrators, so believe me when I tell you this book is well-written even though it made my skin crawl with frustration. It’s charming even though the story caught me by surprise. Give it to your teenager.

That’s because SLAM covers a teen boy with his first real girlfriend and his completely realistic mistake to have sex “sort of” without a condom—and all the consequences that entails. We don’t see many books about the subject, so it is brave, but it made me feel a little squeamish, so maybe that’s why.

But the voice here is incredible. There are two twists that give the book something special: one, the narrator, Sam, has a penchant for talking to the poster of his idol, Tony Hawk. He helpfully supplies advice, in the form of quotes from an autobiography of Tony Hawk, in return. This makes for some rather hilarious and yet possibly deep conversations.

The other twist—possible time-travel. Sam blames this on TH, and maybe it’s all a dream, but Sam is given the opportunity to experience a day in the near-future, not that it is particularly helpful. In this way, Hornby muses on whether, even during particularly rough times, it would be any help at all to know what is going to happen a bit ahead, like that your mom won’t kill you when she finds out. But seeing the future and actually being in it turn out to be two different things. That’s a lesson for us all.

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Review: The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is so astoundingly good that I’m mad i didn’t read it sooner. I read it as a library book and I’m already planning on buying it as well. If you at all enjoy fantasy books, stop what you are reading and pick this up!
The Name of The Wind is a deft tale—or rather, part one of three of a deft tale—about a precociously talented young wizard. Yes, there are some superficial similarities to Harry Potter, and if that entices you, bless you, pick it up. But if that makes you roll your eyes, to you I say, “stop, come back here, it’s better!” It’s a more nuanced and surprising story than HP ever was, harkening to some of the best parts of high fantasy while staying grounded.

The main character here, Kvothe, had a lovely family life as a traveling bard group, and it is remarkably pleasant to spend time with them through a child’s eyes. But this story also has crushing grief, the depths of poverty, and years of struggle. Kvothe is not perfect, but he’s extraordinary in ways that feel attainable and realistic. He seems like a kid you could know, if you lived in a well-thought-out world filled with past empires, real magic, and demons that seem all too real.

Don’t be put off by the massiveness of the tome; yes, it could probably stop a bullet and yes you could probably murder someone by dropping it on them. But I promise you will be so disappointed when you realize you’ve reached the end (and that the library won’t have book 2 available for two months because there’s a waitlist).

The anniversary edition, which I read, includes an author’s note, detailed information—including illustrations—of the many types of currency, and a pronunciation guide, and this you will read and reread just to extend the experience.

It’s a lovely book, and it will lull you into a comforting rapture so deep you will be shocked to find yourself at the end… at least, until you pick up the next one.

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Review: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers, #1)The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If the video game universe of Mass Effect were populated by Fraggles, you’d get this book. It’s a charming, sweet, lovely little soft-sci-fi escape, and you should read it.

Author Becky Chambers most succeeded at creating a ship full of characters who are unique species, each with little foibles but who all generally get along. Reading the book is like you just popped on the ship and they offered you a fizz drink, so you sit a spell with them and just hang out.

But that’s also my frustration here. The plot is haphazard and there isn’t a single thread of narration or a theme that runs all the way through. There are episodes, like you’re tuning in to an alien spaceship version of Big Brother except everyone is trying their damnedest to get alone instead of creating unnecessary trash drama. But it made the ending flat—you’re just turning off the show, no series finale, or, at least, not one that feels like an actual ending.

I’m torn, because this book really was just a charming respite from reality and I did so love the characters, but I feel like it could have had just a touch more plot and been a better overall experience for it.

That said, I will still be looking for the next one.

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3 Reasons to Publish a Book

A few weeks ago I “e-attended” the Book Marketing Summit. By and large, the “summit” (a serious of time-locked webinars) wasn’t great, a rehash of things I’d heard before mixed with tactics considered bad form in the marketing world and overly tipped toward churn-and-burn business writers who pump out short “how to” books.

But one thing one presenter (a “book marketing expert” *cue eyeroll*) said just really fired me up: “There are only three reasons to publish a book: 1) to make money 2) to build prestige and 3) to start a movement.”

Let’s take this one at a time:

1) To make money. Of course every author with a book out is trying to make money on it; otherwise, it just sits there and there is no more grist to allow the author to write more things. But making serious, all-I-do-is-write money is vanishingly rare and very hard to achieve. Writing a book is not a get-rich-quick scheme because it is neither easy nor quick and you won’t be rich. A few years ago, Hugh Howey wrote about how the average indie author is making $500 a year on their books. And The Guardian just wrote about how the author cut is dwindling even while book sales are up.

Authoring is just not a cash cow.

Possible exception: you are writing a nonsense business book to support your main business. Maybe it will help; maybe not.

2) To Build Prestige. Let’s just say, if this is a goal of book-publishing, I am definitely doing it wrong. I’ve so far published adventure gamebooks for adults, about zombies and aliens. Where’s my prestige? Is it under the joke about the evil sentient cow overlords? Maybe in the bit where you have the deep existential decision about whether to try to eat a lion?

3) To Start a Movement. Again, this probably doesn’t apply to fiction. Was E.L. James trying to start a movement when she wrote bad Twilight fanfiction?

Fiction doesn’t need movements to be worthy. It just is.

When I heard that ridiculous list, I basically gave up on the “summit” entirely. It was mostly hogwash.

But what ARE reasons to write and publish a book?

Just a few off the top of my head:

  • To explain something
  • To explain something better than was previously explained before
  • To help you process something in your life
  • To help other people address a problem in their lives
  • For fun
  • To achieve a deeply held personal goal
  • Because the book you would like to read doesn’t exist in the real world yet
  • Because the words won’t stop bubbling up and the only way to deal with that is to put them on a page
  • To pass something on to someone else
  • Look at that: nine other perfectly legitimate reasons to write and publish a book, already three times more than that so-called “expert” claimed existed.

    I wrote my books (including the just-published gamebook Beamed Up: Decide Your Destiny. Buy now!) as a personal challenge, and because I thought they were funny. I published them because I enjoy self-flagellation… well, no, that’s not the reason, but it feels that way sometimes. I published them because I had already spent so much effort writing all those words, it seemed silly not to spend a little (lot) more effort and put them out in the world.

    Be wary, authors, of marketing “experts.” Keep your critical thinking turned on when you hear them out.

    And write for whatever reason you want to write. You deserve that.

    What’s your reason?

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    How-to: Make a Mystical Fairy Cage

    If you’re like me and a trip to the craft store is a dangerous thing, and you’re a little bit of a whimsical-twisted individual, this may be the craft for you!

    The craft store Michael’s happened to have a confluence of two things: whimsical fairies and other dollhouse-sized items, and also decorative bird cages. I, being a well-adjusted person, saw these and decided I really needed a fairy cage.

    I bought entirely too many supplies to create my fairy habitat, and got to work.

    First, I cut up scrap pieces of cork to cover the cage’s open bottom. Cardboard would work just as well. You need decent coverage but don’t have to cover everything. This is just a base for the rest to sit on.

    Add decorations and arrange until you’re happy with the layout. The trees can just poke slightly into the cork to prop it up.

    I didn’t like the scale on some of my trees, so I made them taller by stacking and gluing cork pieces. I’ll hide this stack in a later step.

    Here’s the new arrangement. The stacked cork adds some dimension and makes the trees look more visually interesting. At this point, glue in the trees.

    Take some fake moss, and arrange it around the base. I used a bit of glue to secure the moss around important areas, but mostly left it fairly loose. I had to cut the moss into small pieces to make it look natural, because it comes in one big unworkable sheet. Just make it look like a decent ground cover.

    Next, I threaded LED twinkle lights through the top of the cage. The one I had was wrapped around jute rope and had a alternating effect, but any kind would work. Be cautious as you thread it through that you aren’t stopping yourself from reaching the next part.

    For extra whimsy, I wrapped a few butterflies on the top to create the illusion of flight.

    That’s it! Hang your fairy cage somewhere it’ll make you smile!

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    Review: Guards! Guards!

    Guards! Guards! (Discworld, #8; City Watch #1)Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett
    My rating: 5 of 5 stars

    This is one of the most-recommended Pritchett books, so when I was looking for a light vacation read it was my first choice. And it was perfect!
    Guards! Guards! follows the downtrodden Captain Vimes of the Watch, a role that used to be prestigious but now is just holding on. In this city, it’s wiser to run from trouble than to arrest anyone. Cue a rather mysteriously opportune dwarf-raised human and a weasely bad guy who decides to call in dragons to restore a puppet monarchy, and you’ve got a recipe for a really fun book.
    I hadn’t realized there were dragons in this one, and the dragon discussions were by far and away the best parts of the book. I really think someone ought to go through Pratchett and parse out all the lines; there’s a quip for everything in this series! The Librarian also gets quite a lot of action, and the book as a whole definitely holds up to its reputation.

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    Review: Lost Solace

    Lost SolaceLost Solace by Karl Drinkwater
    My rating: 3 of 5 stars

    In space, you are all alone—unless you have a hacked military AI to keep you company as you explore a strange ship.

    Lost Solace is dominated by just two characters: Opal, a tough escaped space marine with lots of secrets, and her ship, which Opal has named Clarissa. This is a clever plot that shrinks the vastness of the decisions into something individual.

    We don’t know much about the situation as the story opens: there’s a girl, a ship, and a weird, misshapen, alien ship floating near a black hole. And Opal is crazy enough to jump on board. The story chases down dark hallways full of creepy crawlies, dashed away from the space marines in close pursuit, and meanders down to find secrets against a ticking clock.

    The aliens were my favorite: juicy and unique, haunting and definitely run-away-worthy. I struggled a bit with some of the sentence structure and grammar, though that may be because of the author’s Britishness against my American ear. By the end, I liked the plot a lot, but in the middle it sagged a little and some things that seemed obvious to me as the reader took too long for the very clever Opal to piece together. The action in the last act is truly top-notch, though, and I’m glad I stuck with it!

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