Review: Stitches

In celebration of my husband’s birthday, I read one of his favorite graphic novels, Stitches.

If my memory serves me, this is the only graphic novel I’ve ever read, which I’m a little ashamed to admit.  Maybe I’ve read other ones, but I don’t know that I’ve ever finished one.

To try to get the full experience of graphic novels I asked my husband for some pointers.  He said two things that are super obvious but that are also very hard for me:

  • Take it slow.
  • Don’t just read the words; really look at the pictures.

As much as I’d like to like visual art, it usually just doesn’t do much for me.  I mean, I enjoy paintings and sculptures and murals and what not, but honestly, it doesn’t draw me in.  Heck, even movies have a hard time holding my attention.  Words, on the other hand, pull me in and keep me there pretty easily.  But alas, this was for him, not me, so I kept those two bits of advice in mind and dove in eyes first.

Stitches by David Small was a great introduction to graphic novels in my opinion (and in my husband’s – apparently, that’s one reason he recommended it).  It was accessible, simple, beautiful, and it told a good (albeit sad) story.  The illustrations were fairly straightforward but contained enough complexity that I had to really look – just like Chris suggested.

This particular graphic novel was a memoir (another of my husband’s favorite things), with the author recounting his childhood.  For the most part, it made my heart ache, and most of the time, it was the IMAGES that did that, not the words.  Cool, right?  This was so new for me!

Small did a great job pulling me in and keeping me there.  I felt like I knew his parents by how he illustrated them, showed their expressions and movements, and added just the right words to top it all off.  The pacing was great (which I was worried about), and I enjoyed the whimsical moments of seeing into a 6-year-old’s head, though those moments were scary and sad at times.

So if you like graphic novels, if you like memoirs, if you like stories about real families trying or not trying to deal with life – check out Stitches.  Take it slow and really look.

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Happy Birthday to my Husband!

Today is my husband’s 28th birthday.  Happy birthday, Chris!

This is extra fun because this is our first holiday (other than Easter) since we got married.  So what’s a girl to do present-wise?  I love giving people books, but HE WORKS IN A BOOK STORE.  That made this a little bit more difficult.

So, I went with what my mom used to do (which she got from her mom): something to wear, something to play with, something to read, and something to eat.  I found him some really fun things 🙂

Also, I wanted to do 2 other things for him.  Chris really enjoys graphic novels and memoirs.  I’ve spent the past month working on a little graphic novel about our life together – such a challenge because I don’t really draw.  But it’s been fun.

I’ve also decided to read one of his favorite graphic novels, Stitches, as a way of celebrating him.  I haven’t read many graphic novels, so I’ll let you know how it goes!

If you know my husband, show him some love this weekend!

Review: Ender’s Game

I guess this should technically go into the “What I’m Listening To” category, but I don’t have one of those..

The first time I read Ender’s Game was in junior high, and I LOVED it.  I had just discovered science fiction, so I absolutely ate it up.  I didn’t read any of the sequels, but it’s always stuck with me.

Speaker for the Dead (the sequel to Ender’s Game) is on my summer reading list this summer (thanks to my husband for owning it!), so I decided to get a refresher on the story.  I checked out the Ender’s Game audiobook from the library so I could listen to it in the car and not add another book to my “To Read in May” list.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to Ender’s Game!  It was engaging, fascinating, and thought-provoking.  And even though I’d read it before, the twists at the end kind of threw me.  What happens in Ender’s Game is sad, but it’s also scary because I COULD TOTALLY SEE SOMETHING LIKE THIS HAPPENING IN OUR WORLD TODAY.  I sure hope it doesn’t, but it doesn’t feel that far-fetched, which I think makes it great science fiction.  Maybe it seemed farther-fetched in the 80’s when Orson Scott Card wrote it, but I’m not sure.

Technology-wise, we’re closer to what they have in the book, for sure.  But I’d like to think – I HOPE – that we’re farther from being capable of some of the decisions that they make as a group.  I don’t want to go into detail because I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t read it.  But I hope that we are humans are learning to accept those who are “other”, those who aren’t like us, rather than villianizing them.

Anyway, I think Ender Wiggin is a great character, and many of the other characters are incredibly complex.  I love how Orson Scott Card looks at human nature by putting children in different, unusual situations.  Very Lord of the Flies-esque in that regard.

There’s so much more I could say about this book, but I want you to experience it on your own.  So, if you like space, if you like psychology, if you like thought-provoking worlds, if you like thinking about how people interact with those who are “other” – read Ender’s Game.  It’s a good one.

Review: Tooth and Claw

Hey friends.

The sad news is that I’m still waiting on In the Labyrinth of Drakes to get to the library.  It’s on order, and I’m not sure when it will be in.

The good news, though, is that I recently got my dragon fix – in a very, very good way.  A good friend lent me Tooth and Claw a while back, and I decided to give it a read before summer reading kicks in on June 1.  My friend gave me no details about the book, and I hadn’t read the back cover, so when I picked it up I got a pleasant surprise.

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton isn’t just about dragons in the way that other fantasy books are about dragons.  No, all the characters ARE dragons.  Every single one.  It has this total 19th century England feel to it, with parsons, lords, ladies, and hierarchies.  But they’re all dragons.  It’s mentioned that they live in the same world as the Yarge (who seem very human), but we never actually meet any of them.

Dragons worry about who they’ll marry, dragons die in child birth, dragons are cheated out of inheritances then take other dragons to court, dragons have dowries, dragons seek to rise in society.  Not what I was expecting, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Tooth and Claw had a great cast of characters, centered around a 5 siblings, their spouses, children, love interests, and friends.  It brings up great questions about dragon rights, religion, sexism, and the betterment of dragon-kind at the expense of individual dragons.

I was incredibly impressed that Walton could write dragon-only characters, but I didn’t feel like I was reading a children’s book – because I wasn’t.  It was complex, well-written, and the pacing was spot on.

If you like Pride and Prejudice or dragons or something new and fun – read Tooth and Claw.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

A Long List of Short Stories

I don’t read short stories.

I mean.  I have.  A couple.  Maybe at least 8.  But not many more than that.

I’ve written 3 short stories thus far in my life, and I’m really unsure about them.  What is a short story?  How does it work?  How do you tell an intriguing story in less than 50,000 words?  Less than 20,000?  Less than 1000?

I really don’t know.  And part of that has to do with what I confessed at the beginning of this post.  I just don’t read short stories.  I’m not sure why.  Part of it is that I love spending days and days in the same fictional universe, thinking about the same characters, plot, etc.  Short stories don’t really do that for me.  It’s the same reason I tend to prefer TV shows to movies.  I know I’ve missing a lot of great fiction because it doesn’t come in novel form.

Anyway, I have some more stories that I think would be best told in a shorter form.  And being the good student that I am (ha), I’ve decided to do some research.

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All these books and magazines contain science fiction short stories because that’s the genre I enjoy the most, and that’s the genre into which my ideas for stories fall.  I’m eager to see how the authors tell their story in a shorter form – especially character development and world building.  HOW ON EARTH DO YOU DO THAT IN 8,000 WORDS?

Have you read a lot of short stories?  What works well?  What doesn’t?

Review: Eight Skilled Gentlemen

Wowza.  Seriously, that’s the only word that is coming to mind right now.  And that’s not a word I say very often.. or ever.

Eight Skilled Gentlemen by Barry Hughart completely took me by surprise.  This was another one of those books that a friend loaned me for Fantasy Summer, and it took me a year to get to it.  Partially because of how many books were loaned to me.  Partially because I thought it looked old and uninteresting.  Partially because I wasn’t excited after reading the back cover blurb.

I’m trying to get through as many of those borrowed books as I can before June when I start tackling books that I own but haven’t read.  So after finishing Storm Front, I picked up Eight Skilled Gentlemen because I felt like it.  I felt like starting it, realizing it wasn’t my style, then returning it to my friend.

…. that didn’t happen.  I started it and stayed up way later than intended.  I fought for extra reading time every day.  5 minutes early to a meeting?  Read.  Dinner needs to simmer 8 more minutes?  Read.  My husband’s on the phone with his brother?  Read, read, read.

Eight Skilled Gentlemen was published in 1991 but takes place in “the China that never was” in 600 A.D.  It’s enchanting, hilarious, and not too magical – which is quite my taste.  You’re thrown right into the world from the get-go, and it took me a few pages to get hooked, but once I was, I WAS.  I was in 7th century China.  I was running around with Master Li and Number Ten Ox trying to solve a mystery.  I was meeting endearing, real, hilarious characters that all have a story and all have quirks.

The writing is poetic, subtle, and unique.  I was so sad to learn that Barry Hughart only has 3 published works – I plan on seeking out the two others (which apparently came out before Eight Skilled Gentlemen) as soon as possible!

The only downfall for me was that there was a touch more gore than I normally read, so it was a bit jarring a first.  But if you’re looking for something different, something fun, and something with characters that you’ll absolutely love, pick up Eight Skilled Gentlemen.  I’m a unexpected fan.

In Which I Seek to Write a Fan Letter

Okay, okay, okay, OKAY.  You guys.  I’m bubbling over with excitement and caffeine right now.  Seriously – I don’t feel like I can contain myself.  Let me tell you why.

Context: I’m nearing the end of the bag of books that my friend loaned me for Fantasy Summer last year.  After finishing the first Dresden Files book, I picked up Eight Skilled Gentlemen.  I’d considered reading it a few times before but always opted for a different book from the bag.  But this time, for whatever reason, it stuck.

OKAY.  It’s amazing.  It is such a beautifully written, hilarious mystery that takes place in the 7th century in the “China that never was”.  But more on that later – a review is coming soon.

I’ve been super-fanning for the author, Barry Hughart, all week.  After looking up more info about him, I found out that he’s published 3 works, and that Eight Skilled Gentlemen was the third in his Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox.  For lots of different reasons (publishing issues and feeling like if he wrote more he’d just be repeating himself), he hasn’t published anything else.  I’m sad, but I understand.

Enter: a memory of my writer’s group talking about sending letter to your favorite authors.  My two favorite authors are no longer living: Michael Crichton and Ernest Hemingway.  But this guy, Barry Hughart – his voice is so unique, his world so captivating and enchanting, his story so mysterious and funny – I could write to him.  I WANT to write to him.

So I set out to find a way to get a letter to him.  His only existing author site hasn’t been updated since 2001.  There’s no author info on any publisher site that I could find.  So I emailed the publisher that released The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox (his 3 novels in one volume) back in 2008 – 18 years after the third book was first published – to ask if they could help me out.  AND THEY REPLIED SAYING THEY CAN.  They said they’ll pass on my letter to him.

So now, friends, I need to figure out what to say, how to say it, and what not to say.  I want to sound professional yet personal.  I looked up blog posts on how to write fan letters – some were helpful, some weren’t.  I want him to know how much I love Eight Skilled Gentlemen.  I want him to know how much I appreciate the work he did back in the mid- and late-80’s.  I want him to know that his writing stands out to me in ways that others haven’t.  Bahhhhhh.

So I’m working on my very first fan letter.

You guys.  What if he replies?  What if he doesn’t?