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!


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