Friday, August 29, 2014

Friday Crafternoon! Sticky Fingers: DIY Duct Tape Projects

 photo StickyFingers_9781936976546_shadow_zpsa25d05ab.jpg Title: Sticky Fingers: DIY Duct Tape Projects
Author: Sophie Maletsky
Publisher: Zest Books
Publication Year: 2014
Read: August 2014
Where It Came From: Paper review copy from publisher
Genre: Crafty How-To

The Basics

Sticky Fingers: DIY Duct Tape Projects is pretty much what’d you expect with a title like that—it’s a how-to book that covers the basics of making all sorts of accessories and doodads out of duct tape, and then provides tutorials for over 70 different projects, from simple things like bows and flowers, on up to wallets, purses, desk organizers, and all kinds of other crazy things that might make you think, “You can do that with duct tape??” From information about different brands of duct tape to consider using, to what sort of work surface works best with the material, to hints on ways to use up the last little bits of tape on the roll and then the cardboard center of the roll as well, this book pretty much covers the subject of duct taping crafting from crash course through 400-level class. Both of us decided to take ‘er for a spin before writing up our individual takes on the book, so read on for opinions and project photos!

Alyssa’s Take

I feel like I’m turning into a crochety old person when I say this, but I remember when I was in junior high and high school, and my friends would make stuff out of ye olde silver duct tape (‘twas all there was, doncha know)—mostly wallets and backpack repair patches and decorations on skateboards and stuff like that. It’s so funny to me that it has exploded into this whole new genre of crafting—funny and cool! Though I like to have at least one good craft project going in my life at all times, I had never tried my hand at duct tape artificery until this book arrived in the mail.

I found the book to be comprehensive, easy to understand, and concisely written. I liked that it started out with the basic background info—types of work surfaces to use, ones to avoid so you don’t end up damaging furniture, the different types of tape available, where to buy them, tapes that won’t work, how to set up both basic and advanced portable work stations…all kinds of stuff that it might not even occur to the duct tape noob to think about. Following that is an invaluable chapter about making the basic duct tape components you will need to craft the projects that follow, and then there are seven chapters full of those projects themselves: quick crafts, wallets, purses, wearable accessories, school supplies, room décor…wow. So much!

Feeling inspired by the bow trend, I decided to try my hand at the fan-fold bow—simple enough that I wouldn’t feel overwhelmed and ragequit, but cute enough that I might actually turn it into a hair accessory someday. In an homage to my teenage years (and my laziness about getting to a store to buy the pretty stuff), I used the classic silver duct tape I found living in my garage. Here’s how the process went, and the result:

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My bow turned out a little bigger than I had expected, but I quite like it and think it might look extra nice if I steampunkify it with gears and such, if I feel ambitious. I found the instructions easy to understand for the most part, and the full-color photos accompanying each step were really helpful. I also appreciated that there was a skill level rating for each project and an estimate of the time needed to complete it (although I wasn’t totally clear if the time required to make the initial duct tape “fabric” needed for each project was included in that estimate).

A lot of the projects are things I probably wouldn’t use or wear (the tie and the money keeper are a little too goofy for my tastes, for instance), but some of the things like a sunglasses case or a makeup pouch for inside your purse could be fun. And some of the ideas, like using clear packing tape to make an ID holder window, or stealing the zipper from a Ziploc bag to use in constructing a pouch, are pure genius! Most of all, I like the author’s emphasis on taking the basics and her ideas to use as a jumping off point for bringing your own duct tape ideas to life. For me personally, I’d rate the book 3.5 stars, since many of the project ideas aren’t really my style, but for kids, teens, scout troop leaders looking for project ideas, those who are already into duct tape crafting, or those who are looking to start, I’d bump it up to 4 stars, since the book is comprehensive and has very diverse project offerings. I think some of my younger relatives would probably really get a kick out of this, and I’d have fun trying out some of these projects with them.

Susan’s Take

I am not a crafter. My catalogue of unfinished craft projects is far larger than my collection of completed ones, especially if you look at things produced after say middle school, when the state no longer required me to spend some 6% of my instruction time in a visual art class, the number of finished projects drops precipitously. Yet when Alyssa said she was interested in this book, there were so many exciting color photos, and it seemed like it would be so darn easy (after all, my tiny cousin-once-removed says she gets loads of duct tape for her birthday) that I said of course I'd try it out.

Ha. It's like if your friend says, "Let's run five miles," and you've gotten rides home after walking half a block. Because duct tape crafts are deceptive. They look so bright and cheery that they seem to suggest an eternal essence of good humor, when in reality they are the most irritating things in the world to piece together. To be fair, however, I am basing my assessment of duct tape crafting only on my experience in making a tote bag from the instructions in Sticky Fingers. I could be missing an entire world of angst-free duct taping.

And suuuuuuure, a good portion of my problems in duct taping stemmed from my disinterest in every project in the book except for a tote bag. I love tote bags. Out of the projects in the book, this is one of the hardest: it's 5-stars difficult. Yet, the book claims it's just a simple matter of combining some woven duct tape fabric pieces (a project rated only 3-stars of difficulty), and furthermore tells me that it should take a mere 2 hours.

Thus after finding the tote bag craft, I headed to my nearest craft stores and located their duct tape shelves. All the pretty duct tape is expensive, but some, I found, had price tags that seemed to be made in a different currency to justify the mark-up. My mother and I searched through the book for guidance on how many rolls of duct tape I needed, and decided that based on the advice to start with only three rolls, two patterned rolls and one solid roll would suffice for one project. This turned out to be the case, but it was quite a bit more confusing than I thought it needed to be for me to figure out how much tape to buy. It's relatively easy to pick through books and find things that catch your eye before you realize their size, and I would have found it helpful for author Sophie Maletsky had given some estimates of tape use for her project. This was particularly the case in the tote bag project. To make the tote bag, all you need are two pieces of 10x10 woven duct tape fabric, and three 10x5's. If you turn to the page about basic weaving method, you will find advice about the quantity and length of strips you'll need to make square pieces of woven cloth, but in this case I would have preferred a table for quick reference.

The other problem we had in the craft stores was that we just couldn't figure out which colors and designs to pair with each other. We noticed that the example of the tote bag in the book used three complementary patterns, but partially from budget and partially from an inability to find an appropriate third roll of tape, I only bought two. A few pages about how to choose colors and patterns to contrast with each other would have been very helpful in this respect, though perhaps the target audience is experienced crafters who innately understand this skill.

Once home and crafting, I had even more trouble. The instructions for basic duct tape strips (the material for the woven fabric) would have been better if they had explained that your best way to avoid bubbles and creases is to start folding the tape at the center of your strip. Several of my strips bear the scars of my attempt to start with the ends, as per the first picture in the instructions. It wasn't until later that I realized the instructional picture was showing someone smoothing the tape out to the ends. The pictures showing how to piece together the bag are even more confusing, failing to show at what step you put the tape on the interior of the base of the bag.

But by far, the most frustrating thing to me was seeing the time estimate for the beach bag as 2 hours. Nope. A solid six hours after starting, I had a bulging and kind of tattered looking duct tape bag with no handle.

I imagine that this book would be fine for many a crafter like Alyssa, but next time I'll stick to my five-mile runs. 2 stars for me, but I'll join Alyssa in estimating better enjoyment for people planning projects for scout groups, camps, and the like.

I'm heading to a wedding this weekend, but I'll come back and add photos when I finish the handles on the tote. And fix the fraying top. And support the sagging side. And...and... Oh dear. Let's just hope I finish.

*As ever, much as we are grateful for the copies, our review is uninfluenced by its source.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Review: The Green Teen Cookbook

 photo TheGreenTeenCookbook_ZestBooks_9781936976584_zpsb24ca43e.jpg Title: The Green Teen Cookbook
Editors: Laurane Marchive & Pam McElroy
Publisher: Zest Books
Publication Year: 2014
Read: August 2014
Where It Came From: Paper review copy from publisher
Genre: Cookbook
Rating: 3 Organic Tomatoes

We can’t believe summer is nearly over (right?!), but we thought we’d prolong the sunny days of fun just a little bit longer by joining Zest Books’ Summer Bloggin Blog Tour and reviewing a couple of their books about cooking and crafting. Up today is The Green Teen Cookbook, a tome of cookery full of “recipes for all seasons—written by teens, for teens.” This is a cookbook with a lot of ideas: the primary ones are that teens around the world are experienced cooks with sophisticated tastes, and you, too, can Eat Green. As to what green eating means, there are six essays prefacing the recipes that give you perspectives like Eat Seasonal Vegetables, or Buy Organic Produce. This is basically stuff we agree with. But (and of course there was going to be a but with that setup), our overall impression is that there are too many ideas to fully coalesce into the sort of cookbook we’re going to grab off our shelves every time we get hungry.

As far as we can tell, most of the greenness of this book comes from the first chapter, “A Rough Guide to Healthy, Environmentally Conscious Cooking.” It’s comprised of the abovementioned six essays covering such topics as eating healthfully and seasonally, what “organic” is all about, vegetarianism, the locavore movement, and fairtrade. They are written with varying degrees of skill and helpfulness, but we enjoyed “How to Eat Seasonally” and “What is Fairtrade?” and thought they contained a lot of interesting information. On the other hand, both the vegetarian and the meat eater were a little nonplussed by the tone and lack of focus in “Vegetarianism.”

What disappointed us a little was that the green eating ideas from these essays didn’t carry over into the rest of the cookbook as much as we had hoped. Each recipe has icons indicating what season it is appropriate to prepare the dish in, and the end of each chapter includes seasonal variations on a single classic dish such as pie, sandwiches, or lasagna, but it might have been nice to have some sort of overall seasonal arrangement of the recipes, and to situate them within the other realms of green eating in some way.

We found the cookbook more satisfying when focusing on the “for teens, by teens” aspect of it. It’s organized into meal-themed chapters, with such categories as breakfast and brunch; soups, salads, and sandwiches; snacks and sides; main courses; and desserts. Each recipe has a photo of the teen who submitted it, with a quote from them about the recipe serving as the header text. The recipes range from the simple, like hummus and guacamole, to the more complex or ones that utilize more unusual ingredients (for example, the Oaxacan squash blossom quesadilla with chipotle crema). Teens from all around the world contributed to the book and as a result it has a very international vibe, with recipes for curry, sushi, and sancocho (a soup from the Dominican Republic), among others. It also covers the basics, though—steak, mashed potatoes, oatmeal cookies…things like that. Though the photos of the dishes aren’t at the level of food art you might see in some cookbooks out there, they showcase the food well and give you a good idea of how your cooking should turn out. (But where is that delicious-looking watermelon drink from the cover?? We couldn’t find it anywhere in the book. :c)

One of our favorite chapters was the one dedicated to recipes for making your own kitchen staples (these recipes were written by the editors, not the teen contributors). It’s cool to see how simple it is to make things like vinaigrette, tomato sauce, pesto, mayonnaise, peanut butter, and stock from scratch, so you can enjoy them without preservatives and other additives, and at a lower price than you would get purchasing them ready-made at the grocery store.

Other nice features of the book include a resources section at the back with a list of some of the best farmer’s markets in the U.S., info about locating one near you, directions on where to find info about Community Supported Agriculture, and a list of good cooking-related websites and blogs. The helpful tips sprinkled throughout the book also help the reader boost their cooking skills up to the next level.

Overall, we would emphasize The Green Teen Cookbook’s success as a crowd-sourced teen cookbook more than it being super-green. And while it’s by no means a master class in green eating and cooking, it covers the basics and would serve as a good primer for teens interested in the topic and inspire them to further research. The book may not hold as much interest for those well-versed in the ways of green or for experienced chefs and home cooks, but we think it would make a great gift for kids and teens interested in getting started cooking, or for college students cooking on their own for the first time and looking to make environmentally-conscious decisions in the process.

(Note: We had hoped to include our interview with the book’s editor in this post, but we’ll update it with that as soon we get her responses!)

*As ever, much as we are grateful for the copy, our review is uninfluenced by its source.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Genre-ally Speaking: Lock In, by John Scalzi

Title: Lock In
Author: John Scalzi
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: August 26th, 2014
Read: June 2014
Where It Came From: Paper ARC from BEA*
Genre: Sci-Fi-Mystery-Thriller
Rating: 4 Threeps

It’s been over a month since I read Lock In (tore through it in a matter of days, in fact), so this review probably won’t go into specifics as much as I usually do. And I think that’s a good idea for this book—part of the joy of reading it is trying to puzzle out the threads of the mystery for yourself as the stakes for the characters increase and the tension ratchets up. But first, let’s talk plot!

Chris Shane is a new FBI agent, working a murder case in the D.C. area with his partner Leslie Vann. It sounds like the beginning of your usual crime thriller, but here’s the sci-fi twist: The world Shane and Vann live in is one that has been shaped by a flu-like virus that swept the globe 25 years previously. Most people who catch the disease just experience mild flu-y symptoms, but 1% of the infected—which doesn’t sound like much, but amounts to millions of people in the US alone—end up “locked in.” That means they are in their bodies and fully conscious, but are unable to move, respond, or make use of those bodies beyond just being, well, alive. The world has changed in many ways to deal with the situation and accommodate victims of Haden’s syndrome (they’re called Hadens for short), such as with the development of the Agora, an online space for Hadens, and the creation of robot-like devices their consciousness can inhabit to move around in and interact with the physical world. Another salient point—some non-Hadens have the ability to be an Integrator, or someone able to let a locked in individual inhabit their body for a time and experience the world as the non-locked in do.

So, back to Shane and Vann—they are working on a Haden-related murder case, and it looks like an Integrator is their prime suspect. This complicates the situation in ways I’m sure you can imagine. Was the Integrator himself the perpetrator? What if he was integrated with a Haden at the time? Surely there must be safeguards against that…? Hmmm… As they trace the trails leading out from the murder in many directions, the mystery expands to encompass politics and greed on a much larger scale, while also focusing down on those caught in the crossfire of the hidden players in the game.

I quite enjoyed Lock In. Shane is an engaging narrator, and his first-person voice propels us through the story. In typical Scalzi fashion, it is a very smooth, fast-paced reading experience, with writing that feels effortless and pages that fly by. The world is certainly different from the one we inhabit now, but it’s still similar enough as to be very recognizable—no flying cars and vacation jaunts to outer space here, but rather a vision of a near future that has been altered by something easily conceivable (like, y’know, a huge epidemic we are ill prepared for), but that humans are adapting to. People keep on keeping on, doing normal human things, both good and bad. I also love how the story conveys the far-reaching effects of the murder and the plotting behind it, since it is certainly something with consequences for the entire world, but also narrows in on the effects on a very personal level for the main characters and other people involved.

Some of the things that really stood out to me in Lock In:

  • The pacing. This is probably one of my top awesome things in the book. Scalzi really nailed it, creating a reading experience that is relaxed enough for you to be able to process all the information coming your way, but still be a page-turning thriller that keeps you guessing what lies beyond the next chapter. From reading the jacket copy you know Chris Shane is an FBI agent, but then on page two you find out he is a Haden—boom, first surprise (which may then cause you to consider your pre-conceived notions you didn’t realize you had about characters, as it did for me). Also wonderfully paced was the information about who Chris Shane is—he is the narrator, so it’s difficult for him to hide things from the reader, but since his background is so obvious to himself, he is able to sort of obliquely think around certain details of his life, with the result being that we know he is somehow famous, but we don’t know why. Scalzi teases us with it as we wonder why the heck everyone knows who Chris Shane is, and the suspense and anticipation that build leading to that reveal is pretty damn great.

  • The humor. The trademark Scalzi humor was definitely present in this book, but at the same time it didn’t seem like quite as much of a focus or its own character as it is in some of his other books. And that is in no way a criticism—just an observation. Like in Redshirts, or the funny bits in Old Man’s War--they have a style of writing and kind of witty, punchy humor that I have come to associate with Scalziness, and Lock In feels a little different. Humor is still very much present in it and very recognizably Scalzi, but it comes through the filter of Chris Shane and his situation in this world. For me, it’s a new facet of Scalzi funniness, and I like the versatility it demonstrates.

  • The twisty-turniness. The whole situation with Hadens, Integrators, and threeps (the machines Hadens can use to function in the physical world) quite brilliantly lends itself to all sorts of twists and surprises in the mystery as you try to figure out and predict who precisely is involved, and why, and with what motivations, and where they are, and WHO they are, and what are they doing, and—well, you get it.

  • The smooth-like-buttah reading experience. I already went into this a bit, but the ease and speed with which I tore through Lock In is really a testament to the skill behind the writing. To create an entertaining, suspenseful, and emotion-tugging mystery that’s this much fun and speed-inducing to read is an art.

The only part I had questions about involved some of the details of the climactic scene. Without getting into spoiler territory, there were some scientific-technological aspects that I, with my not super techno-savvy skills, tried to follow through mentally to their ends, and I wasn’t sure I was completely clear on it all by the time the scene wrapped up. But it didn’t have a negative effect on my enjoyment of the book as a whole—it merely gave me ideas of questions I could ask Scalzi if I ever see him at Phoenix Comicon again. :) Overall, I really enjoyed the book—it is both sweeping as a thriller on the grand scale, and also affecting on the micro scale of individual human interactions and emotions. It's a good one for Scalzi fans and sci-fi fans, of course, but I’d also recommend it to general thriller and mystery audiences; I think it’s definitely a book with crossover appeal. (…there may not be any semi-colons in Lock In, but I thought there needed to be at least one in this review!)

*As ever, much as we are grateful for the copy, our review is uninfluenced by its source.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

We are guest posters!!! :D

Not on our own blog, of course, but rather over at Girls in Capes! For July, they have been discussing the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, and invited us to do a guest post about diversity in cookbooks. If you feel so inclined, you can head over there and check out our spotlight on five cookbook authors who we feel demonstrate the diversity to be found in the field of American chefs and cookbooks. Click right here to check out some of our very favorite cookbooks of 2014 and the amazing chefs who created them! Girls in Capes also has some other diversity-related posts up right now concerning the fantasy genre and middle-grade books, so have a look at those, too, if you're interested. We hope you enjoy reading our post as much as we enjoyed writing it! Let us know what you think! :D

Monday, July 14, 2014

Phoenix Comicon 2014: “Writing Rogues” Panel Report

“Writing Rogues” was the final panel I attended at this year’s Phoenix Comicon, and it was definitely a high note to end on. The lineup of author panelists was stellar, with Jim Butcher, Kevin Hearne, Patrick Rothfuss, Pierce Brown, Sam Sykes, and Scott Lynch all present to discuss rogues in literature with each other, the audience, and the moderator. The panel blurb went like this: “Kvothe, Harry, Atticus, Locke, Darrow, and Lenk are their names. Meet the writers who created these rogues.” In case you’re unfamiliar with these authors and their work, the author/protagonist-and-alleged-rogue match up is…Rothfuss/Kvothe (The Kingkiller Chronicle series), Butcher/Harry Dresden (The Dresden Files series), Hearne/Atticus (The Iron Druid Chronicles), Lynch/Locke (The Gentleman Bastard series), Brown/Darrow (the Red Rising trilogy), and Sykes/Lenk (The Aeons’ Gate trilogy). With regards to that “alleged”…there was a little discussion of whether or not some of these characters truly are rogues, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself. This was probably my favorite panel I attended during the whole convention! It felt kind of like those really good classes in college—you know, the ones where the discussion was always lively, you really felt like you were learning things and contributing to the dialogue, and left each session with a little fire in your brain and belly. Did you have classes like that? I had a couple, and felt really lucky to be a part of them. I’m digressing a bit, but that’s kind of what this panel was like—the conversation got into some deep, potentially sensitive territory, and I was impressed by the authors’ attitudes and their handling of the subject matter. Intellectual and geeky and respectful and so awesome!

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Sam Sykes and Scott Lynch were the first to arrive, soon joined by Kevin Hearne.

As I entered the room, found a seat, and read the panel description in my guide, my first thought was, “Huh. There are no women on this panel.” (This comes up again later, which is why I make a point of mentioning it here.) As we waited for the other panelists to get there, Sam Sykes and Scott Lynch talked back and forth a bit, and Scott made a joke about how terrible it was that we’re at a panel about rogues, but were all so punctual. The other authors soon began to file in, and the panel got under way. Even before it had really started, though, Scott Lynch had us laughing some more when he told us about how at the Drinks With Authors event the night before, someone had mistaken him for Jim Butcher and began gushing to him about how much they loved the Dresden Files. Oops! They’ve both got long hair and glasses, so I guess I can see how it might happen… XD

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Authors assemble! Left to right: Pat Rothfuss, Jim Butcher, Pierce Brown, Sam Sykes, Scott Lynch, Kevin Hearne, and our moderator (whose name I did not catch).

The moderator introduced all the authors and their books, and then brought up an interesting point to get the conversation started: “The name of the panel is ‘Writing Rogues’ and I’m not entirely sure why. A lot of your characters are beloved, and I’m not sure I’d qualify them as rogues. But I’m going to go with the theme, because I work in programming and programming tells me what to do. So, across literature, television, and books, everybody seems to like that roguish character. Not truly evil, but for lack of a better phrase, an SOB—but they also have those lovable qualities. Is that easy, or more difficult, to write? To keep them in that grey area, and not true black or white?”

Pat Rothfuss: I think it’s more of a return to basics. At some point, we forgot what the Greeks knew really well—that a good hero had flaws. And then at some point our heroes stopped having flaws, and when that happens, you need an external conflict generator, which is a villain, typically. And who’s really interesting? The villains are the interesting ones. When I was thinking of this character [Kvothe, I assume?], I’m like, ‘He should be a little bit of an arrogant bastard.’ And it’s charming, in a way.

Pierce Brown: Is that easy for you to write? Arrogant bastard? [much laughter from audience] Oh, sorry, Scalzi’s not here. [even more laughter] …I hope he doesn’t hear about that. [or something to that effect]

Rothfuss: I think it’s not so much a different thing…I think in some ways it’s a lot easier. I mean, Superman is fine and good, but who gets tired of Superman? Right? It’s like, goddamn Superman… Who likes Batman? [cheering from audience] Good internal flaw—it’s the classic flaw, it’s hubris. And there’s a reason it’s a great flaw—that really complicates your life, it complicates your story. It can kinda write itself. Except it really doesn’t actually write itself…

Sam Sykes: I think it’s also that it’s harder and harder to relate to the idea of someone not driven at least in a large part by self-interest. And I wouldn’t necessarily describe a rogue as a jerk or an SOB, but comparatively…yeah, they are kind of jerks, but I would classify a rogue as driven in no small part by self-interest. Like Han Solo—not necessarily a dick, but he clearly was not in it for the rebellion or the Force, just looking to get some. [laughter] Trapped on a ship with a wookie for awhile, anything else looks pretty good. I would say that it’s easier for people to identify that self-interest, and I think the appeal of it is not necessarily ‘Oh, you lovable bastard,’ but looking at what that rogue did and saying, ‘Ahh…I might’ve done the same thing, and that’s interesting.’

Pierce Brown: A lot of time I look at heroes from the past and sometimes I feel like they’re shaped more by what’s around them—they’re forced to do things, either good or bad, and they’re forced to do them. But I think the characters with agency are the ones that are interesting to me. Like Han Solo always had his own moral compass. He decided what he wanted to do and he did it. That’s more interesting for me because it creates that air of unpredictability, but also believability, because we do what we want to do. If we want to eat a Snickers bar, we eat the Snickers bar. At least I do. The point is basically that rogues are that unpredictable factor which makes stories so much more interesting than the cookie cutter King Arthur. Although, if you look at the classic King Arthur tale, he’s kind of an asshole as well. And it creates that interesting human layer which makes that story span a thousand years in our consciousness.

Scott Lynch: It’s difficult to get emotionally riled up about somebody for whom being good and decent is a persistent, easy attainment, something that’s always intrinsic to them and never goes away. Because for those of us living in actual reality, being decent human beings is a matter of making decision after decision, situation after situation—it’s something to aspire to. It’s not something you just automatically have, as a parity of virtue. Parities of virtue are very boring. People trying to be virtuous in the face of life itself are interesting. Rogues just bring a little bit more of that to the foreground. They’re just a little bit grayer than your average hero.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Phoenix Comicon 2014: The Haul

Hi all! Just here with a quick post about all the books that came to live with me in wake of this year’s comicon, to pass the time while I’m working away on the final panel report. I exhibited a fair amount of restraint with regards to book-buying, and lucky for me, even with that restraint I came home with lots and lots of reading material thanks to all the publisher giveaways and swag! Have a look:

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These are the books I ponied up some cash and bought. The top four in the pile were acquired at a steep discount at the Angry Robot booth after I attended their panel. What can I say, cheap books are hard to turn down! I also couldn’t say no to the Rogues anthology when I saw that it was on sale early at a booth which shall not be named, especially considering the added opportunity of having three of the featured authors present at PHXCC to sign it! Nor could I pass up the chance to meet the author of a graphic novel I really liked last year, Monster on the Hill, and get him to sign/doodle a copy of it for me. Seriously y’all, you may not be convinced, but this stack was me being the very soul of restraint!

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These are the books I already owned by authors attending the con, and I schlepped them around during the weekend to get them all autographed. (Am I crazy? When I read that typed out, I feel like I sound crazy. Like a book zealot of some sort.) Luckily we had a rolly suitcase to lighten the load. To anyone else in a situation where you need to haul books around for many hours, this is my advice to you: GET A ROLLY SUITCASE. You will not be sorry.

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And THESE, my dears, are the free books I ended up with! Quite a tower, eh? My thanks go out to Del Rey and Tor for so graciously offering them to all book-nerd types in attendance at the con. So far I’ve read three of them (well, technically I read a library e-copy of Locke Lamora before the con, but I say that still counts), and look forward to trying out the rest!

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Here are a couple samplers I got from the Del Rey booth. The big one has short snippets from books by many different Del Rey authors, and the smaller one is a nice-sized chunk of Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, coming in June of next year.

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Lastly, we have all the assorted swag accumulated over the weekend. There’s a Hellboy anniversary window cling from Dark Horse, along with various buttons and posters from them, some bags from Tor, some trading cards from the Monster on the Hill graphic novel, a keychain for John Scalzi’s upcoming novel Lock In, other posters, art from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer graphic novels signed by Amber Benson…all kinds of cool stuff. I think my favorites are the tote and the monster trading cards.

All in all, it was a weekend that ended up contributing to the ever-shrinking state of available real estate in my room for books and other things. I’m excited to read new books by authors I was heretofore unfamiliar with, and to catch up on the series of authors I already know and love.

Any of these books catch your eye? Any recommendations on where to start in my foray into the piles? Let me know down below!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Phoenix Comicon 2014: Panel Salad

And now for a roundup of some of the other bookish-and-author-y things that went down at Phoenix Comicon last month! Jeez, was that really a month ago? I need to get a move on, little doggie, and finish up these reports. Probably only one or two more after this one, so I’ve been making progress! Anyway—rather than my traditional transcription of Q&As and other dialogue from panels, I think these ones are better served by the summary/bulleted list approach, supported by a healthy smattering of photos and other people’s YouTube videos to further enhance your vicarious PHXCC experience. What say you??! I say let’s check out…

Authors Being Silly

The Taco Council

After my enjoyment of the Author Chair Dancing Panel at last year’s comicon, I made a point of fitting into my schedule this year’s apparent analog, The Taco Council Panel. Blurb as follows: “The Taco Council convenes to give its mandates and rulings for 2014. Really, hang out with some awesome authors while they hang out with each other.” I knew not this Taco Council of which they spoke, but it sounded like fun silliness, and I’m always looking for more silliness in my life.

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The Council speaketh

The author-panelists from left to right are Leanna Renee Hieber, Sam Sykes, Delilah Dawson, Chuck Wendig, Kevin Hearne, Brian McClellan, and Jason Hough. The panel did end up being similar to last year’s in that it featured a bunch of authors who are prominent on Twitter/spend a lot of time talking to each other there/are possessed of awesomely goofy senses of humor, and that the focus was not strictly on their books and writing. But whereas last year was kind of a free-for-all with wide-ranging topics and tangents, this year was focused on their latest project, the Holy Taco Church. What is a Holy Taco Church, you ask? Well, handily enough, I have this helpful flyer to show you:

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But no, it’s not just a flyer—they have an actual website, too! Turns out it’s a place for them to talk about food, share recipes, and have some information about their upcoming books. Of course, with this here blog of similar interests (reading and eating really do go hand in hand after all, or more often, hand-in-bag-of-chips-and-then-on-book-leaving-a-greasy-fingerprint), this is something I am totally down with. The panel mostly consisted of them talking about what the Holy Taco Church is and giving silly and hilariously deadpan serious answers to silly questions from the audience. Half the reason the panel was so fun was because the audience was completely willing to go down this rabbit hole of Mexican food madness and bookish fun with them! A smattering of topics that came up:

  • Dr. Pepper carnitas
  • Whether or not a Choco Taco counts as a true taco
  • What the Taco Church’s gesture of benediction should be
  • The dictation of a churro recipe from author Beth Cato (it now appears on the site here)
  • The Taco Church’s conception of the apocalypse
  • Taco vs. Burrito
  • Holy days on the Taco Church calendar

It was fun to hang out with these guys for an hour and join them in the silliness of the Church and the coolness of the website. (I’m going to be making those churro bites for sure!)

The Author Batsu Game Panel

Similar in tone and craziness was the Batsu Game panel, advertised thusly: “Join Sam Sykes and a group of author friends for a rollicking good time. Batsu is a type of Japanese game show where contestants are given a challenge—and punished if they fail to complete it.” I remember my junior high students in Japan always asking me if it was a batsu game when I told them I had a game planned for class, so this was particularly amusing to me. The potential for hilarity here seemed pretty high, especially with John Scalzi and Pat Rothfuss involved. The other authors who unwittingly got themselves into this were Aprilynne Pike, Delilah Dawson, Leanna Renee Hieber, Myke Cole, and Chuck Wendig, with Sam Sykes on board to run the show.

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Left to right: Myke Cole, Chuck Wendig, John Scalzi, Delilah Dawson, Pat Rothfuss, & Leanna Renee Hieber, with Sam Sykes running things in the red jacket.

What it came down to was this: The only rule was not to laugh. If you laughed, you had to eat a spoonful of salsa. Every time you laughed, you had to eat a spoonful of salsa. With Sam Sykes pulling out all sorts of tactics, from reading humorous essays to making someone wear a Gandalf hat, following the One Rule was easier said than done. Predictably, John Scalzi was the first to cave and burst out laughing, and all the other authors fell in turn. The women held out for quite awhile, especially Aprilynne Pike, but everyone laughed eventually and had to pay the price. For the audience, the enjoyment of this was definitely rooted in schadenfreude—cackle at the misfortune of those being forced to consume straight spoonfuls of spicy salsa!!! Seeing how we the audience showed no mercy in condemning those on the panel whose smile may or may not have been an actual laugh to a dose of salsa, it’s easy to see how that whole gladiator thing happened in Rome. Some things that happened:

  • Making authors write the sexiest sentence they could think of, and then Sam reading them out loud
  • Pat Rothfuss eating a paper napkin
  • Myke Cole showing an astonishingly low tolerance for capsaicin
  • Myke Cole possibly, uh, ridding his stomach of salsa into that blue bucket you see in the photo
  • Rothfuss being forced to wear a wizard hat, with the penalty for removing it being a shot of salsa
  • Scalzi texting his wife to bring him a glass of milk
  • Scalzi’s wife actually bringing him a glass of milk

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The hat was eventually transferred from Rothfuss to Scalzi.

This is merely a sampling of the shenanigans perpetrated at this panel. I had hoped someone out there recorded the whole panel to put on YouTube, but I could only find this short clip. Here it is for your enjoyment, to give you a little taste of the madness (and thanks to Rachel Thompson for uploading it!):

Nighttime Revels

The Paul & Storm Concert

On Friday night, after a full-to-the-brim and rather exhausting day, we trekked to the huge North Ballroom to attend the Paul & Storm concert. We knew Scalzi and Rothfuss were going to be part of it, and had heard rumors that Seanan McGuire and possibly others would make appearances, too.

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This astonishingly blurry photo gives a good impression of our state of mind at this point in the day—woozy, a bit out of it, unable to focus , but still able to appreciate pretty bright colors.

To give our poor aching feet a rest, we arrived early, got pretty good seats, and had the pleasure of watching Paul & Storm do the soundcheck and get all the equipment squared away. They were cracking me up even when they weren’t technically performing yet! I can’t quite remember how exactly it came about, but I think Storm joked about it being the Celebrity Cheese Panel, which led to many more cheese-related jokes throughout the pre-show setup. It was asserted, among other things, that George R.R. Martin loves gruyère, and that Seanan McGuire is a fan of cheddar so sharp it can cut you.

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The Celebrity Cheese Panel getting ready. (Paul on the left, Storm on the right with the guitar.)

Scalzi was also wandering around the stage a bit during this time, which made this awesome moment of a mini The Cure singalong possible:

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Scalzi retweeted this photo and posted it on his blog, which very nerdily made my day!

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It was a real bonding moment between the performers and the audience. (That’s Amber Benson, Paul, and Scalzi up there.)

John Scalzi started the shindig off as the opening act, making his first-ever go of public stand up comedy. Pretty much every panel of his I’ve attended or book of his that I’ve read has made me laugh A LOT a lot, and his premiere stand up performance was no different. Maybe not Scalzi at his absolute, punchiest best, but pretty damn good for his first ever foray into stand up, I’d say! Following that, he and Amber Benson (y’know Tara from Buffy, and an author in her own right) performed a script he’d written called “Denise Jones, Super Booker,” in which a man interviews this Denise Jones about her work as the Super Hero Booking Coordinator for the International Society of Super-Beings, wherein she helps cities under attack book superheroes to help them out of whatever nasty situation they find themselves in. You can check out both amusing parts of this opening act in this video posted by Transmatrix:

They were followed by the evening’s second and headliner act, Paul & Storm! This musical comedy duo is great fun to see perform live, and serenaded us with such worthy ballads as the afore-and-oft-mentioned-on-this-blog “Write Like The Wind,” a hilarious song about boxing nuns, an ode to an American hero, and many others. Their banter between songs had us in stitches as much as the songs themselves, with all the great “______ is the name of my ______ cover band” jokes, and other such gems as cockatiels and catheters as the newest hipster affectations and the logic tree for determining if you are Pat Rothfuss. These guys seem like they’re really cool people to hang out with, and it was great to be able to do so for an evening. There’s also a surprise song performance by Seanan McGuire hiding in the middle! Check out the hilarity of this segment of the show in yet another video awesomely posted by Transmatrix:

Paul & Storm were followed by Patrick Rothfuss, who favored us with a reading from his Auri novella (coming in October), as he had promised on the blog. (I seriously think there might have been a riot if that reading didn’t happen.) Before Auri, though, he read us one of his old advice/humor columns from his college years about keeping pets in dorms illegally, and whether a guinea pig can be considered a fish. (I got a bit mixed up while writing these reports and had originally thought this was something he read at his spotlight panel on Saturday, but alas, it was at this event instead—sorry for the confusion!) Following that, despite his worries and anxiety about sharing it with the world (because it’s weird and not like a normal story, he says), he read us a sample of the Auri novella, and I honestly think it sounds great. I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of it in the fall.

And the Roth-fun didn’t end there! Next up was a reading/slideshow of the first of his not-for-children-children’s-books, The Princess and Mr. Whiffle: The Thing Beneath the Bed. I had always been curious about these books, and this ended up being the perfect way to be introduced to them—through story time with the author himself! It was so cool—he read it to us once, and then went back through and broke it down for us a little bit to ensure we got the most out of it that we could. It’s a story that messes with the reader’s expectations, and it was awesome to hear him talk about that a little bit, since that whole messing-with-your-expectations aspect is one of my favorite things about his epic fantasy series, The Kingkiller Chronicle.

So ended the Rothfuss portion of the evening, and by this time the exhaustion of a very busy day had caught up with me and I was seriously fighting to keep my fingertip-hold on consciousness. To finish off the night, everyone came back on stage to perform a, uh, NSFW song called “The Captain’s Wife’s Lament,” that involved lots of pirate argh-ing and puns and audience participation. It took at least 25 minutes to get through the song, and in my head it was a war between being genuinely amused by the hilarious chaos of the performance and my desire to go to sleep and recover for the next day. It really was hilarious (I’m laughing again as I watch the video), and I found myself making chronic arghhh puns for the duration of the weekend. Check it out, and thanks again to Transmatrix for making and sharing these videos! The concert was an awesome experience and I’m glad I stuck it out to the end. If you like laughing and geeky things and have the chance to go to a Paul & Storm show, DO IT. And maybe prepare some pirate puns in advance.

Drinks With Authors

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from this event, besides the titular authors and drinks. Was it a panel? Was it a party? Which authors would be there? Big ballroom? Smaller, more intimate setting? SO MANY QUESTIONS. And, of course, only one way to answer them, so at 8 o’clock on Saturday night it was off to the Renaissance Hotel we frolicked! (“Frolicked” might be a generous term to describe our ambulation in the direction of these festivities—after two crazy, hectic, fun days and very little sleep, “shuffled zombie-like” might be more accurate.)

I was surprised (though in retrospect I don’t know why) to see that there was already a long line snaking through the hallways of the Renaissance when we arrived. I was also surprised (again, I’m not sure why) to see many suspiciously underage-looking comicon-goers eagerly awaiting the opening of the doors. Surely the drinks in “Drinks with Authors” meant adult beverages, and not simply hot cocoa and cola? I was too busy focusing on staying awake and giving the impression of being a pleasant individual to stand near in line to give it too much thought. But sure enough, a con worker soon came walking up and down the line to remind us that it was an 18-and-over event, and that they would be checking IDs at the door. Even through the haze of sleepiness I managed to feel both amusement and sympathy as at least a third of the line dejectedly trudged away.

I chatted with some people near me in line, and once the doors were open the line moved quickly. A few of the meeting spaces (or “salons,” in fancy hotel-speak) had been opened and connected to create a nice-sized mingling space—neither huge like the convention center ballrooms, nor too small to fit a goodly number of authors and fans. There were some tables and chairs around the area, but mostly the tall, bar kind of mini tables with no seating. (I imagine this promotes mixing and mingling with people you don’t know, but after a day of standing and walking I would’ve loved to sit down for a bit.) To the excitement of the attending bookworms and SFF nerds, there were copies of Django Wexler’s The Thousand Names lying about on the tables as swag for the guests. And on top of that, throughout the night there were drawings to give away prize packs of books from various publishers. So cool!

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. After I’d scouted the bar and decided the drinks were a little too dear for my wallet and would probably only send me off to sleepyland anyway, I settled on some nice, cold water and found a comfortable-looking wall to lean on while I struck up a conversation with some nearby strangers. It was also at this point that I noticed that there were various authors sprinkled throughout the crowd, chatting with people and doing a very good job of blending in. It was kind of like Where’s Waldo! I had spotted Jim Butcher, Jason Hough, Pierce Brown, and Delilah Dawson engaged in conversation at various points around the room when Myke Cole and Sam Sykes made their way to the front to make the inaugural address. I did not have the presence of mind to think of taking any photos at this event, but Jason Hough tweeted this excellent picture of the author-totem kicking things off:

Myke Cole (top of the totem), appearing to have made a full recovery from his Batsu experiences, welcomed us and explained the idea behind the event a bit—how it’s fun to see your favorite authors on panels and things, but how it’s also cool to sometimes break down that barrier and get to interact more personally. He continued, saying that since we are the ones buying their books and making their livelihoods possible/worthwhile, they thought a party where we could all mingle, have a good time, and talk to each other as fellow humans sounded like an awesome idea. And with the ribbon cut, so to speak, the shindig commenced in earnest! I didn’t end up staying very long since I was dead on my feet and finding it hard to be an interesting and attentive conversation partner with those around me, let alone to muster up the energy and confidence to go say hi to an author or two, but for the hour-ish that I stayed I had a good time. I think there were two drawings for book prizes during the time I was there, and though I didn’t win I thought it was nice addition to the party. Who doesn’t like door prizes and swag? (I gave my ticket to a random person as we were leaving, so hopefully their increased chances of winning scored them a prize!) And even in my sleep-deprived stupor, I managed to be pleasantly startled/starstruck to see John Scalzi and Pat Rothfuss hanging out together outside the doors to the party as I was leaving.

I think I would’ve enjoyed the evening even more if I’d had a chance to sneak in a nap and some rest for my poor little feet some time during the day, but even so, it was a really cool, unique event and I hope they do something like it again next year! Authors and fans, together at last. :)

It looks like I’ve got only one panel left to recap after this: the awesome “Writing Rogues” panel from Sunday of the con. Until then, what do you think of some of the events covered in this panel salad post? Will you check out the Taco Church? Find some Paul & Storm songs on YouTube? Satisfy a sudden craving for salsa? Let us know what you think in the comments!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Book Review: Landline, by Rainbow Rowell

Title: Landline
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: July 8, 2014
Read: June 2014
Where It Came From: BEA
Genre: General fiction
Rating: 4.5 Metallica T-Shirts

The Quick and Dirty:

Landline is a perfect beach read, a novel that is gripping, affecting, and page-turning. This isn’t a surprise, seeing that it is written by Rainbow Rowell, whose 2013 YA releases proved she has a style that is easy-to-read and content that is equally funny and tender. In Landline Rowell takes her skill at focusing on the little moments of relationships—dialogue that has ellipses from awkwardness, half smiles, hand holding, and where eyes are looking—and seamlessly applies it to a 17-year relationship from its first date to a time when there are children and careers to balance.

The Wordy Version:

When Georgie McCool gets an opportunity to pitch her dream show, she has to cancel her family Christmas plans to get scripts written by their deadline. Her husband, Neal, says he understands her need to work through the holiday, but takes their two young daughters to his mother’s home in Nebraska for the week, and then never picks up his cell phone when Georgie calls. Panicking because she hasn’t spent more than a day without talking to Neal in 15 years, Georgie resorts to dialing her mother-in-law’s landline from her own mother’s house phone, and Neal comes on the line.

It takes only a few conversations for Georgie to realize that she’s not talking to her husband Neal, but to her college boyfriend Neal, a younger, perhaps more affectionate version of himself with dreams for the future that she knows he won’t realize once he marries her. As Georgie becomes useless at work, she talks longer and longer with Neal of her past, trying to figure out if she should encourage him to break up with her before he ruins her life, and simultaneously desperate to heal her relationship with her husband.

I could absolutely see why Georgie is so torn about whether love means encouraging Neal to choose a Georgie-less direction for his life. Neal is amazing: he’s patient, accepting, encouraging, self-sacrificing, creative, funny, honorable. When Georgie realizes that he’s also been miserable for years, she thinks that she has gotten far more from their relationship than she’s given to Neal in return. I love that Georgie, even while listening to her mother claim that the marriage is over, has no regrets for herself in the marriage. I love that she loves Neal the way he deserves based on the scenes we see of him. I love that there was another romantic direction she could have gone as a college student or recent alum, and she doesn’t really pause to believe that that would have been a good idea. But mostly I love Neal.

I’ve already listed adjectives that describe Neal in the most flattering of terms, so it may seem redundant to dwell on how great he is here. But Neal was more swoon-worthy than any hero of a romance novel, and I’m not sure how you’ll believe me if I don’t keep saying it. Young Neal is the guy I wish I had met in college. He goes to a party he knows he won’t like just so he can talk to Georgie. He banters. He’s solid and appreciates Georgie’s dreams. He talks to Georgie on the phone for hours. Furthermore Neal is the husband I dream of having. He’s a stay-at-home dad who lets his preschooler pretend to be a cat to the point that there is a bowl of milk on the floor for her. He cooks kale for dinner. He paints murals on all their west-facing walls. I’m totally in love with him.

And I’m basically in love with Rainbow Rowell too, because it takes skill to make characters seem perfect and yet human (in Neal fairness, Neal does give Georgie the silent treatment, and he sulks at parties), and even more skill to make me willing to relinquish my dream husband to the character he actually married. Plus she manages to make her books almost impossible to put down. Yet another thing to love.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Book Fun: Sinner, by Maggie Stiefvater

Title: Sinner
Author: Maggie Stiefvater
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: July 1, 2014
Read: June 2014
Where It Came From: BEA
Genre: YA / YA Paranormal
Rating: 4 White Pants

The Quick and Dirty:

Cole and Isabel from the Wolves of Mercy Falls (Shiver) trilogy are back, and having adventures in fame, werewolfery and emotions in L.A. Top-notch, as I've come to expect from Maggie Stiefvater, and a good place to start Stiefvater reading if you're not a paranormal/fantasy fan. There is humor, but it's always tempered by real emotions and insecurities.

The Wordier Version:

The werewolf situation in Mercy Falls having been resolved, Cole St. Clair is in Los Angeles to resume his rock star career with a new studio album and a reality web series. At least that’s his public story. He’s actually in L.A. to restart things with Isabel Culpeper, who may be the only person capable of making him feel right in his human skin. Isabel, however, isn’t ready to deal with the addiction, fame and wolf issues Cole presents; she feels disconnected from her medical career plans and her current job in fashion, and she has no patience for people. Cole’s arrival in Isabel’s life threatens to destabilize the only things allowing her to get through each day, but Isabel’s withdrawal from Cole threatens his sobriety.

In all honesty this doesn’t need a review from me. I could note that you might be momentarily confused if you haven't read the trilogy. I could say BUT WHAT HAPPENS TO ISABEL'S COUSIN? Or, GIVE ME MORE SCENES WITH LEON! But I accept that the story of Sinner is not in the supporting characters so much as it's in the relationship between Isabel and Cole, and if you were reading the book to find out what happens to Isabel's cousin, who makes Martha Stewart arrays of food every day in a quest to become more perfect and less anxious, you'd be missing the main part of the book. Just as any criticism of the book seems silly, any praise I can give it is superfluous.

In the last year I have become convinced that Maggie Stiefvater, much like the Disney-Pixar people, can make whatever project she’s working on top-notch. Her writing has gotten better since the Wolves of Mercy Falls Trilogy, her supporting characters are more fleshed out, and the technicalities behind the fantasy elements of her worlds have been glossed over (unlike in the Wolves of Mercy Falls series when explaining how werewolfing worked involved some dodgy use of biology terms). The result of all this improvement is that Stiefvater’s last four books have been adventure-romances featuring mature and confident teen characters, with a fast horse or car thrown in for good measure, and a death-related subplot. How anyone could dislike these books is beyond my comprehension.

And with that in mind, I'm just going to pepper the rest of my thoughts about Sinner with some pictures. To get into the true Sinner mentality, read the rest of this while listening to Stiefvater's curated playlist for her WhitePantsNovel project.

The Picture Book Version:

This is basically how I picture Cole:

But because music isn’t my thing and I only know like ten rock groups, my brain kept confusing confident Cole with sensitive heroin addict rocker (and idol of my elementary school years) Kurt Cobain.

At least Cole has Isabel, who is too cool for drugs.

Even drugs that only turn you into a wolf for a few minutes.

But whereas the werewolf thing in the original trilogy made my thoughts revert in confusion to my biology studies:

This book didn't dwell on any of that. This is the first Stiefvater novel that doesn't need to be on a speculative fiction shelf. Cole’s transformation to wolf is consistently shown as the equivalent to his former drug use. He loses control of his body and his mind for a period after shooting up, and then returns to his friends’ worries about his use. If there were not a trilogy that rests on the werewolves actually being wolves, it would be easy to assume that Cole and Isabel are just processing his drug behavior as animal-like. Like the scene that got me to stop watching Trainspotting.

Stiefvater writes in a forward letter that Sinner is "the truest novel I've written. I hope that those who don't need the truth in it will see only the werewolf, and I hope that those who do need the truth will see only the human." In addition to the heavy themes of substance abuse and grief, the truth of the novel comes through in Cole's public persona. There are moments when Cole sounds exactly like Maggie Stiefvater's twitter account. (AWESOME)

This quote, and the next two, are from an advanced reader's copy of Sinner, and I will update when I get a copy if I see that the quotes have changed.

So Cole sometimes = Stiefvater, and I remember loving Cole in his science-nerd/jaded-rock-star form in Mercy Falls, but I forgot how much I liked Isabel. Isabel is so disconnected from her world that she has begun to wonder if she is a sociopath, when in fact her problems probably stem from feeling too much for others. In that state it might be easy for her to accept Cole with all his problems just because they make her feel something in the midst of the nothing. Isabel, though, knows what she wants from Cole and she isn’t afraid to risk losing him if she cannot have that.

And if that wasn't enough to convince you how much fun the book is...

There are fast cars!


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Phoenix Comicon 2014: John Scalzi Spotlight

As mentioned previously, Scalzi was one of the two author spotlight panels on my schedule that I absolutely did not want to miss. (I had originally planned to have this one and the Rothfuss panel report share a post, but when I realized that together they would end up being a pretty huge chunk of words, I decided to split them.) His was at noon on the final day of the con, and it was kind of the inverse of the Rothfuss panel with regard to structure—he started off the panel by reading some of his work to us, and then followed with Q&A.

I slid in to the panel a few minutes late, but made it there in time to hear the end of a poem Scalzi wrote once upon a time, called “Ode to a Clone.” I missed the context but was nonetheless amused by the poem, especially this phrase: “a Nome clone dome home.” (If that doesn’t hook you, then I don’t know what will.) Later, I wanted to read the beginning of the poem and tracked it down on this website of science jokes (it’s about the 5th one down the page). Check it out if you’re into nerdy rhyming science humor.

Next up in Scalzi storytime, we were given a choice between a piece called “Flaming Babies” and another called simply “Chocolate.” There was some dissent in the audience over which to choose, but the flaming babies won out (and how could they not, really?). So Scalzi read us a piece from when he was a writer at AOL in the ‘90s (I think that’s where the clone poem is from, too), wherein he recounts a tale of calling the Pampers and Huggies hotlines to discuss the chances of diapers catching on fire, as had happened to him when he was a baby. It’s just as funny as it sounds (my favorite bit: “Is there some sort of weird diaper lady cabal?”), and you can read it here on his blog.

After we all vicariously learned to keep diapers away from bonfire pits and intense sunlight, Scalzi decided we had enough time to do “Chocolate” as well, another short piece from his early writer days that addresses the topic of his wife’s passion for the stuff and how though he himself has never been able to appreciate it, he can appreciate her appreciation for it. It was especially funny because his wife was in the panel audience, bearing up well. Later in the Q&A someone asked her if it was strange to hear him read that out loud, and she said, “The moment he said ‘chocolate’ I knew what it was…and I know exactly the dinner he’s referring to.” Again, if you find yourself so inclined, you can read it on his blog here. It’s short. It’s funny. Give it a go. I just re-read it, and now I really want to go hunt down the Hershey’s Kisses I know are in the freezer somewhere.

After finishing off that one, he said, “So that was okay, right? The fifteen-years-ago stuff worked alright.” We agreed that yes, it was definitely alright, and he continued, explaining the worry a little bit. “The thing is,” he said, “I’m being super highly selective, because when I was doing my column for the newspaper way back in the day, I was 24, 25 years old. I was the smuggest twenty-something you ever met, and I thought everything I wrote was pure gold. Then I became an editor for AOL and had to be writing a humor area where every year I had 20 open slots for humor-related material, and I would have 1000 submissions a month, because we did this thing called paying people, which apparently gets a lot of people to actually submit things. After going through all thousand submissions, I would still have ten open slots, because comedy’s actually hard. So I’d actually have to start telling people, ‘Well, here’s what you can do to tweak it and improve it,’ and then give you some examples and all this other stuff, doing what editors do. Then later on I went back to all the stuff that I wrote at the newspaper, which I had thought was gold, and my reaction to most of it was—[choking, horrified noise]—because it was terrible! Whoever thought it was a good idea to let me have a column—they were high.” Everyone laughed at that, and he added, “It wasn’t that they were high, it was just that I made enough noise that they were like, ‘Fine, give him Wednesday.’ I went back to that newspaper to visit at one point and I went to my editor at the time, and I was like, ‘Thank you so much for not stabbing me in the eye during all that time I was writing that column.’ And he was like, ‘I have waited for this day.’ I’m a much better writer now. Thank God. It was only 20 years.”


The reading portion of the panel thus completed, we moved into the question-and-answer session in earnest. After a compliment from an audience member that resulted in a short discussion of Dave Barry and piles of money, the first question he got was if there are any more plans for Scalzorc. “She’s referring to something we did…5 years ago now, which was called Clash of the Geeks, where I commissioned a picture of me as an orc and Wil Wheaton in his clown sweater and hot, hot blue shorts astride a unicorn pegasus kitten, battling each other while there was a volcano behind us. As you do. And we commissioned writers like Patrick Rothfuss, Cat Valente, Stephen Toulouse, and a number of other ones to write very short stories about what the hell was actually going on in that particular painting.”

Feast yer eyes!

“It was actually very impressive. We put that all together, and we put it up as pay-what-you-want with all proceeds going to the Lupus Society of Michigan because Subterranean Press, which was publishing it—the founder’s wife has lupus. We raised about $25,000 with it, which was actually really, really wonderful. Because people were totally down with it—‘I’ll happily pay $5 for this absolutely ridiculous thing.’ It was great, because Patrick Rothfuss did an edda, an actual epic poem, Wil did something, Rachel Swirsky, who has won two Nebulas now…just an amazing amount of talent in that actual, ridiculous thing. We don’t really have any plans to revisit Scalzorc or Hot Pants Wheaton, although Hot Pants Wheaton is the name of my next band. Somebody tweet that now! Done, and done… But certainly I will be doing more charitable stuff because I like doing the charitable stuff. It’s nice to be actually able to sort of spontaneously generate tens of thousands of dollars to worthy causes and not tell them about it until all the money starts rolling in. It’s like, surprise, here’s some money! Cuz we love you! So, yeah, there will be more charitable stuff, maybe not particularly that. Wil and I talk about, like, ‘Let’s get the band back together,’ sort of thinking on that one, but it’s just a matter of time and scheduling and everything else. But definitely I will be doing more charitable things.”

Friday, June 27, 2014

Book Review: Life by Committee, by Corey Ann Haydu

Title: Life by Committee
Author: Corey Ann Haydu
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Read: June 2014
Where It Came From: BEA
Genre: YA-contemporary
Rating: 2.5 Assignments

The Quick and Dirty:

A formerly good girl is obsessed with a hockey player who's been flirting with her online while dating another girl at their high school. When she joins a web community of truth and dares, she gets some action with the hockey player but almost ruins her life and the lives of those around her. The cover is beautiful, the actions of the characters are not.

The Wordy and Spoilery Version:

Tabitha used to be a Rory Gilmore. The now teenage child of teen parents, she lives in a small town in New England, enjoys reading strangers’ marginalia in works of classic literature (with a particular fondness for Frances Hodgson Burnett), and drinks lots of coffee. But Tabitha is not handling puberty well, from anyone’s perspective other than her own. Her book-loving friends felt awkward around her growing breasts and interest in boys, and have left her socially adrift; her parents are expecting a new baby, and have made her feel like a starter-child; and her only interest in the boyfriend department is already going out with a depressed Artiste in their high school. When Tab finds a note at the end of a marked-up Secret Garden, she joins an internet community dedicated to sharing secrets and doing relevant assignments meant to change their lives into something remarkable. The first assignment, to kiss her love-interest, fills her with excitement, but the assignments start to have repercussions Tab isn’t sure are ethical.

Personally I struggled to understand Tabitha, and found myself allied with her former best friends, who wished she’d wash off the mascara and return to literary discussions. So, there, I’m as petty as they are, I guess. But it was really hard to develop sympathy for Tabitha! She’s obsessed with another girl’s boyfriend, she’s moping around her house and coffee shop, and she plays along in a truth-and-dare game that anyone could tell is a bad idea. The only positive thing about Tab is that she’s likely a good portrait of a teenager. I want to shake her, and every adult in the book is on the same page as me.

The actual problem of the book for me is in the resolution. To avoid having her secrets spread as a consequence of refusing a challenge on the website, Tabitha interrupts her school’s morning assembly to tell everyone the secrets she shared on the site. In a scene out of Mean Girls, everyone else takes the opportunity to share his or her own secrets, and the principal lets this go on for an entire school day. I could say that this is a little too close to Mean Girls to feel fresh; I could also say that it’s unrealistic to think that an entire day of instruction would be given up to microphone confessions. But that’s not really what left me wishing for something else.

The ending is dramatic but doesn’t seem to actually resolve much. By the end of the book I was getting the impression that Tabitha’s transformation came from her anxiety about the new baby and the ways that it would change her family. Yet aside from her parents advising her to air her secrets to the school, the family aspect of the plot is gone by the climactic scene. Apparently her father has been able to quit his marijuana habit within a week? And having a family meeting about the online drama means that Tabitha feels parented to the point that she’s okay with a new sibling? And is her mother’s dress more appropriate to wear to school than the clothes that everyone thinks are slutty?

I don’t need my endings to wrap up everything with a ribbon and bow. I like perfectly wrapped up endings, but I also appreciate artfully vague endings (The Spectacular Now stands out in my recent reading for this quality). My problem here is that the dramatic moment of triumph and its aftermath didn’t solve the big issues I saw Tabitha having. Maybe it’s my perspective at a different stage of life than Tabitha, but Rory Gilmore made some crazy stupid life decisions too, and their ultimate resolution (a powerful moment between mother and daughter) seemed to match the conflicts.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Phoenix Comicon 2014: Patrick Rothfuss Spotlight

Plenty of the especially big-name authors attending PHXCC had their very own spotlight panels, in addition to the appearances they made on group panels geared toward various book-nerdy topics (such as “Magic Systems: Urban Fantasy vs. Epic Fantasy” and “Magic and Power in Young Adult Fiction,” two that I wanted to attend but couldn’t make play nice with the rest of my schedule). There were so many spotlights I wanted to attend—Charlaine Harris! Jim Butcher! Laini Taylor! Naomi Novik!—but the two that occupied non-negotiable positions in my schedule were those of Pat Rothfuss and John Scalzi, both very entertaining individuals (and, y’know, not too shabby in the writing department, either). Pat Rothfuss’ was at noon on Saturday, and after a 5 minute walk down the street from the convention center to the Sheraton where the panel was being held (you’d be surprised how long five minutes can feel when it’s 108° F out), we collapsed in the lovely air conditioned ballroom and listened to The Beard share big secrets and the ending for The Doors of Stone. (Don’t freak out. I was kidding about that last bit.)

Patrick Rothfuss Spotlight Panel

Pat’s deep voice and the acoustics of the ballroom did funny things to my recording device (er, iPhone). Additionally, it appears that when you try to take a photo while voice recording on said device, it stops the recording, but makes it look like it’s still doing so, until you end the recording and only however many minutes you got before photographing show up saved in your memos. (Not that that bugged me.) (Or that it took me 3 days to figure out why so few of my recordings were of the entire panel.) So…I don’t have too much of the Rothfuss panel available to transcribe, but that actually turned out okay since he spent about half of it reading to us. Yay story time!

Uproarious applause greeted him when he walked on stage, and after a mike check he greeted us and told us the plan. “I don’t know how these normally go, but I tend to enjoy a little Q&A,” he said, and then added that reading of some things he has written could follow. “I used to write a humor column back in the day. I’ve got some of those that you’ll probably never see anywhere…the dark secrets from my misspent youth. I’ve got an advanced copy of the Rogues anthology. I could read you Neil Gaiman’s story,” he suggested. (Everyone laughed, but he actually did read us the opening paragraphs of Gaiman’s story at his event at a local bookstore the Wednesday before the con!)

Before the Q&A portion began, he had to get the attention of a techie to make a few adjustments to the stage lighting. “I kinda feel like I’m in an interrogation room,” he joked. “‘Where were you on the night of the 27th? Why weren’t you writing book three?!’” (It’s cool that he has a sense of humor about it, since there are some real big jerks online, whining/harassing him about why the third book isn’t done yet.) The first audience question followed neatly on the coattails of that, asking how the progress is on book three. “That’s a good one to deal with right away,” Pat said. “Things are going fairly well. They’re not going as fast as I would like, but it’s going well. I start to get real antsy, like I really wish I had book three to give people, and then I remember what Tim Powers said to me ages ago. When I missed my deadline for book two, I was really sick to my stomach over it, and I called him like, ‘Tim, I’m screwing up my whole career with this…I did 30 interviews and promised to have book two out in a year…but the problem is I was doing 30 interviews and so I didn’t have any time to write.’ And he goes, ‘I’ve never made a deadline in my life. And you know what? So-and-so told me,’ like a person he got advice from back in the day, ‘It’s late once, but it sucks forever.’ And I’m like, ohhh, you’re right—I’d much rather be late once and write a good book than to rush it, get it out on time, and have it be crap. I mean, we really don’t want a Matrix Revolutions.”

He expanded on that idea a bit as he discussed his process of revisions and making the books as excellent as they can be. “The thing people have is really kind of flattering…they’re like, ‘It’s great, we’re sure it’s great!’ I know that you’re sure it’s great, but what happened is you saw the end result of 14 years of revision in book form. You did not see the 400 other versions of that book. All of which were not good enough to get published. Well…some of them were good enough to get published, but they weren’t a book that was really worthy of love. They weren’t as perfect as I could make them. Those early versions…the very first didn’t have a frame story. There was no inn, there was no Chronicler, there was no Bast. Later versions, there was no Devi. No loan sharking. No Auri. A book with no Auri. That’s not a book I would really like to write. So yeah, it’s coming along well, it’s just not coming as quickly as I’d like. There’s a lot of things I need to get absolutely right.”

The next question asked about other things he may write after he’s done with Kvothe’s story. “It’s a little far out in the future, because I kind of have to always keep one eye on book three no matter what, but I had an idea for an urban fantasy for about ten years that I didn’t pursue. I think that’d be fun,” he said. He continued, “There’s another story…a story that happens in Modeg. It’s the story of a different hero—the beginning of that hero, Laniel. I started that, thinking it’d be a novella, about 15,000 words…because I owed somebody a novella, I thought I’d write it, fulfill this obligation…and when it hit about 60,000 words…[bad muzzy audio here, sorry]. It was a really great experience writing that because it wasn’t first person. I was learning a lot about how to do third person, and it’s really interesting for me writing a story that’s what I think of as a short little simple story, which means it’s, like, 120,000 words. [much laughter] It’s not part of this great metafictional framed story narrative like The Kingkiller Chronicle. So you’ll probably see that reasonably soon as well.”

Next up was a question about his writing process. “Boy, what’s my process…” he mused. The girl started to amend her question and he joked, “See, yeah, that’s the better question—‘Do you have a process?’ I don’t think I have a process.” She amended further to ask if he bases his characters off people he knows, and he replied, “That I can answer—I do not model characters after people I know.” He asked for a show of hands of aspiring writers, and then explained why he’d advise against creating characters that way. Following that, he continued, “I would steal pieces of people. And pieces of people, like for example, Kvothe eats an apple, and he eats all the way around it, and eats the core. I had somebody come up to me and say, ‘I know where you got that. That’s the way Sarah eats an apple.’ He was so smug. I was like, ‘You got me. Now you know how I wrote my book.’” He explained further, saying, “It’s like a little true thing. A little true thing that adds a little texture.”

He looked like he was going to leave it at that, but then he continued: “Okay, now, saying that, because I’m kind of a scrupulously honest person…I did kind of base one character in the book off someone. But I don’t know if you want to hear about that. Do you want to hear about that?” The answer was an obvious and unanimous YES, and he began telling the story. “There’s nobody here from Madison, is there? Have you guys heard about Tunnel Bob? There’s somebody in Madison that people know of as Tunnel Bob. Tunnel Bob, he’s one of our local crazy people, not to put too fine a point on it. Every city of a certain size has crazy people. And if they’re sufficiently colorful, they become characters in the city. There’ve been a couple write-ups about Tunnel Bob in the local papers. I came to know Tunnel Bob because my dad had run into him at work. Under Madison there are steam tunnels, and access tunnels to the university, for all the pipes and everything…and my dad worked at one of the major hospitals.” He continued, explaining how Tunnel Bob, though there was no harm in him, would continually get arrested for hanging around in these tunnels. So Pat’s dad set up a volunteer shift for him at the hospital once a week, where it would be okay for him to be down in the tunnels under the hospital. After 3 hours in the tunnels he would come out of them and talk with Pat’s dad for a bit, and then Pat’s dad would share stories with his son about Tunnel Bob. “Apparently once he was in the university’s tunnels and he got arrested, put in jail, and for his phone call, he called my dad because he was going to have to miss his volunteer shift. He’s like, ‘This is the one place that lets me go in their tunnels,’ and he didn’t want to jeopardize that. Dad’s a very clever guy—that’s the secret here: you give him a time where he can be in there, and that’s acceptable. And he’ll do whatever he can to not jeopardize that. He’s not going to be knocking around when he shouldn’t be. So my dad would tell me these stories about Tunnel Bob. He’d say, ‘So, Tunnel Bob, we’ve got Christmas coming up. Are you doing anything for Christmas?’ [deep voice] ‘Nope.’ ‘Get any presents for Christmas?’ [deep voice] ‘…Nope. Just coal.’ Dad’s like, is he…making a joke?”

In another conversation with Tunnel Bob, Pat’s dad tried to find out what was up with the tunnel thing, anyway. “He said, ‘What do you do in the tunnels?’ [deep voice] ‘Well, the first hour I kind of cleans up a bit. And the second hour, I kinda rolls around. And the third hour, well…that’s just for me.’” [so sorry, that’s the closest I could come to deciphering what the first and second hour were from the recording, and I don’t know if it’s right!] Pat went on, “And I hear this story, and all he wants to do is be in these tunnels. Of course, when I’m working on the book, which is kind of always, something happens and I’m like, ‘Ohhh yes, I’ll take this, thank you.’ I learn something in anthropology class and I’m like, ‘Oh, thank you, yes. I will have this for later.’ Oh, so Constantine in the Roman Empire married a prostitute? I’m like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s awesome, I’m going to bring that in.’ Once a week they put her up on a stage, naked, scattered grain over her, and let geese eat it off her. And this was, like, quality entertainment. And Constantine, he saw this and went, ‘That’s the woman who will be my empress.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, thank you. I could not have made that up. I’ll save that for later.’ Tunnel Bob…of course he doesn’t fit [in my story]. He fits in Madison, Wisconsin—even then not very well. He’s like something someone would make up if you were writing a story about Madison. And so what I did was I just put one piece of him, and then a character kind of accreted around that seed crystal. You know who that character has to be, right? It’s Auri. And Auri really has nothing to do with Tunnel Bob, so I did not take Tunnel Bob and put him in the story, but that’s where Auri started. And I think that when you do that, when you build a character around a tiny little kernel of something true, they end up being a different sort of character.”

And on that sweet note about Auri’s emergence from a guy in Madison who likes tunnels and the stories Pat’s dad told about him, I tried to take a photo of Pat up on the stage and cheated myself out of further recording of the panel. It’s not even a good photo! In it, Mr. Rothfuss has somehow morphed into a glowing blue blob…

 photo photo_zpsc4b2b1ca.jpg

After the Q&A finished up, Pat read us one of his humor columns from college (about keeping pets in dorms illegally, and whether a guinea pig can be considered a fish), and it was really very funny. I don’t know if you can track those down on the internet anywhere, but if you can, you should do it. After that, he read us the second in his series of not-for-children children’s books, The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle: The Dark of Deep Below. [EDIT: While Pat did read us some things after the Q&A, apparently my brain had reached saturation point and, lacking a memory or audio recording of what was actually read to us at this panel, filled in the guinea pig story, which had actually been read to us the previous night at the Paul & Storm concert. So while I can’t tell you what reading(s?) came before, I can confirm that he did in fact finish off the panel with a reading of Princess/Mr. Whiffle 2. Sorry for the confusion!]

To our chagrin, the panel ended before we could finish the book, and of course we were left at a very cliffhang-y moment. Such a tease! But it was a good, albeit unplanned (I think?), marketing technique—the next time I found myself in the vicinity of Mysterious Galaxy’s booth in the dealer hall, all the Princess/Mr. Whiffle books were sold out. And now that I know what they’re about, I’ll probably buy them for myself someday. Overall, it was a surprisingly spoiler-free panel (for a panel related to a fantasy series this beloved with two massive books in stores, I figured there would be at least a few minor spoiler-type-things coming up!), and it was a lot of fun. I tried to find a YouTube video of it to link you to for interested parties, but I’m not sure there is one to be found! If you ever hear Pat Rothfuss is in your neck of the woods (or weeds, as I first typed), make a point to get to that event—you’re pretty much guaranteed a good time.

Have you read The Kingkiller Chronicle series yet? How about the Princess/Mr. Whiffle books? Do you know Tunnel Bob? Hit the comments and let us know!

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