Sunday, January 26, 2014

Progress: Fast Forward

I honestly didn't expect to make another progress post so soon. I'm still handwriting my stories, and I don't just pull the notebook out when I have a minute. I also scribble in it when I'm home and winding down for bed. Or just because I want to write.

I took a vacation from social media the week before last. For the entire week, I didn't log into Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook. I asked people to email me if it was terribly important, though the people I interact with most often don't even know most of the places I hang out online.

Mostly, I did it to see if I could. I was also trying to break some bad habits I'd developed around my morning ritual. Purging it seemed the appropriate step.

I didn't get a lot of chores done around the apartment, and I didn't reset my sleep schedule, as I'd hoped. Nor did I get much reading done. I did spend a lot of that time writing. I lost track of time writing. I stayed up into the wee hours writing. I'd forgotten that writing was the first thing that I stayed up until dawn for when I was younger.

I estimate my little notebooks fit about 22,000 words apiece. I started out the month with one filled. Here's what I ended my social media vacation with:


I was pretty proud of my little experiment. And now, a week later, I've filled one more notebook, bringing it to about 110,000 words in my rough draft. I have finished the epic fantasy parody I'd failed to write years ago. 

I'm already mentally mapping out book 2, and I have a rough sketch of book 3. It looks like it'll be a trilogy. I could probably pad it out more than that, if I really wanted to. I don't want to. I think these books will work best on a diet of high energy and good humor.

I'm afraid I might burn myself out if I write out the second one at the same rate. On the other hand, I don't want to lose my momentum. One of the great things about being a pantster is that enthusiasm for a story tends to grow as you write and discover. One of the awful things is that, if you don't write it fast enough, you'll forget that cool scene you've already written in your head. It's that second thought that had me writing at the speed I was, and the first that bolstered me for the last month and a half. I had a lot of fun finding ways to throw my character off-balance.

I could type up all my handwritten pages, I suppose. I still have book 2 of my urban fantasy trilogy I haven't typed up, and now all this. I tend to edit as I go, too, so I wind up with a more polished typed first draft. Especially now that I know what the ending is and where all those plot threads and characterizations are going.

What do you think? Keep going on the fantasy trio? Edit the UF? Focus on reading? 

What would you do?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Fantasy Medley 2, edited by Yanni Kuznia

A Fantasy Medley 2A Fantasy Medley 2 by Yanni Kuznia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a short anthology, limited to four stories. All are a continuation of different stories in different worlds. It seems unfair to drop readers into three worlds they're unfamiliar with, but most of the writers managed to turn out something we could follow. I think. I knew the context of the one story I picked this anthology up to read, so I don't know how well it works out of context.

The first story is "Quartered" by Tanya Huff. It's set in a medieval fantasy world where the magic is wielded by bards, and used to control . . . spirits? Ghosts? Semi-incorporeal beings? And thus you see my problem with this story. Many terms are thrown about as if the reader already knows what they mean. By the time I had any grasp on who anyone was or what they were doing, the story was wrapping up. It could've been an excellent story about how a woman lost the use of her legs and how it doesn't slow her down. Instead, it's a near-inscrutable collection of political machinations and personal drama.

"Bone Garden" by Amanda Downum is easier to follow, at least. The perspective character, Gentian, finds his cousin, half-dead and starving, on the doorstep of the theatre where he performs and lives. He's drawn into her family struggles, and stands witness to how the family he turned his back on brings about their own downfall. I felt like the narrative made an about-face when the plot showed up, but otherwise it was an interesting introduction to the world.

"The Sergeant and the General" by Jasper Kent is set in post-Napoleonic France. It's about a lodger in the house of a man literally haunted by his part in the campaign against Russia. The second half of the story gives the context explaining the first half. And it is nicely creepy. It could pass for an ordinary ghost story, if not for its inclusion in a fantasy anthology.

"Rat-Catcher" is the reason I got the book from the library. It tells the story of everyone's favorite Cait Sidhe when he was Rand, a young Prince of Cats living in London in 1666. He watches Shakespeare performances from the rafters of his favorite theatre, and avoids his father as best he can. He's sent to the Divided Courts as an envoy, where he hears a Roane seer tell of a terrible fire coming. Tybalt's life has not been a pleasant, carefree one, and this story does a lot to explain why he's so protective of his subjects, how he learned to fight so viciously, and why he's reluctant to trust. It's a heartbreaking tale, chock full of little worldbuilding details.

Anthologies are tricky things. There are always stories you have to read to get to the one you wanted all along. In this case, there are only three of them, and two of them are rather enjoyable. If there were a way to read "Rat-Catcher" without this anthology, I'd be recommending that method. But, as it's packaged, it could be worse.


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Review: The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy

The Scarlet Pimpernel (Scarlet Pimpernel, #)The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Scarlet Pimpernel occupies a strange place in the literary canon. It's often considered a classic, and its inspirations are derived from Regency literature, with maybe some Cyrano de Bergerac and Robin Hood legend thrown in. What it has inspired, though, includes pulp classics and superhero comics.

The Scarlet Pimpernel takes place during the French Revolution. The title character smuggles French aristocrats and their families to England, where they're safe from the guillotine's blade. It's told in third-person omniscient, with most of the book told through the perspective of Marguerite St. Just, a French former actress who's married a foppish English gentleman, Percy Blakeney. She's lonely, because her husband's courting affection seems to have turned into disdain as soon as he said "I do." The only person in the world she cares about is her older brother, Armand. She, like most women in England, also has a crush on the dashing Scarlet Pimpernel.

If you're familiar with the stories this has inspired, you know who the Scarlet Pimpernel long before Marguerite stumbles across the evidence. He's the one who set the archetype for Zorro and Batman to follow. It's good Marguerite doesn't know that, though, because she's blackmailed to find out who the Scarlet Pimpernel is to save her beloved brother. She fails in that, but she does pass enough information to Chauvelin, a French spy, that he figures it out.

When Marguerite realizes what she's done, she bravely sets out to warn the Scarlet Pimpernel about the trap Chauvelin sets for him. Unfortunately, her role mostly consists of her hiding, fretting, and talking herself out of doing anything. This does add to the tension and allows the reader to experience revelations along with Marguerite, but it also makes for a passive heroine. It also grates; Marguerite spends a lot of time reiterating things she's already stressed out about, and repeats things the reader is already well aware of. It detracts from the action we've already been shown.

The Scarlet Pimpernel strikes this modern reader as a strange sort of hero. His strength isn't in his ability to fight, but in his quick thinking, his ability to disguise himself, and his bravery. He recognizes that fighting the authorities would serve against his interests. If he can slip past them without ever alerting them to his plans, he can keep rescuing people without giving his identity away. It makes for a fascinating literary hero, but not a cinematic one. No nail-biting chases, dashing sword fights, or edge-of-your-seat moments. Just a lot of points where you realize how thoroughly the Scarlet Pimpernel has outsmarted the bad guys.

Despite Marguerite's passivity, the ending is satisfying and romantic, in the classic and modern senses of the word. It's easy to see why the Scarlet Pimpernel has become the blueprint for many modern heroes with a secret identity. He's impressive.

I listened to this book on audio, narrated by Stephen Crossly. He was able to capture a wide range of accents, and his default narration voice was pleasant to listen to. He certainly didn't detract from my enjoyment of this adventure story.


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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Review: Black and White (The Icarus Project #1) by Jackie Kessler and Caitlin Kittredge

Black and White (The Icarus Project, #1)Black and White by Jackie Kessler
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book in my 2014 TBR challenge. The TBR challenge is hosted by Roof Beam Reader, and it's to clear books off your to-read list that have been there longer than a year. I add the "difficulty" that it has to have been taking up space on my shelves longer than that, too.

I actually found a signed copy of Black and White at my local Borders, which should tell you how long I've had it. Jackie Kessler is local to the Capital Region, and must've passed through signing their stock.

I did fret I wouldn't like this book, which is probably why I put off reading it for so long. I've met Jackie Kessler, and she's friends with one of my friends. While I don't consider writing ability a reflection on a person's worth, liking a person more than you like what they can do makes for awkward conversations.

Luckily, I needn't have worried, nor do I have to blame the parts I didn't like on Kessler's co-author. I enjoyed Black and White, and found myself unable to put it down around the 300-page mark. It reads quickly, with short chapters and a back story that matters as much as the present day. I really cared about what happened to Jet and Iridium, and I wanted to know what had driven them apart.

Black and White takes place in a near-future setting, where superhumans are well-known but not necessarily well-liked. The police resent them for showing them up at their jobs, the populace mistrusts them, and the corporation that trains and houses them keeps them on a short leash. One single slip-up with one's powers can get a superhero pronounced "rabid," and sentences them to life in Blackbird Prison. Most go full-on supervillain before they're caught, rebelling against the system that keeps a tight rein.

Jet has shadow powers, but is afraid of what they can do, after seeing her similarly-powered father snap and kill her mother with his power. Iridium has light powers, and her father went the supervillain route before winding up in prison. In a reverse of what one might expect, the shadow-powered one winds up the hero, and the light-powered one the villain. Something happens in their fifth year of training to drive a wedge between them, and, five years later, Jet is determined to bring in Iridium, while Iridium wants to show Jet she chose the wrong side, and get her back for betraying her, in the bargain.

When Jet fails to bring in Iridium, her PR is in trouble, and she embarks on a clandestine mission to fix it. While she does get back in the public's good graces (and almost dies, while she's at it), what she learns has her questioning the things she's always been told about the corporation she works for.

Iridium, meanwhile, works with a vigilante with electric powers to strike at the heart of CorpCo by shutting off the communications that keep the heroes marching to their beat, which will throw the city into chaos. Her plan takes her into Jet's path, where they both uncover something much bigger than their fundamental disagreement. Jet's sense of betrayal runs deep, while Iridium learns that thinking she understands what's going on is what got her where she is.

While it's difficult to capture the spirit of comics in an exclusively written medium, I think Kessler and Kittredge manage it well. The battles feel cinematic without becoming repetitive, and they paint an excellent view of the city of New Chicago and its filthy underbelly, as well as of Jet and Iridium. I expected to be able to tell which character's perspective was written by which writer, but they manage to blend their styles so well that there's no jarring shift from one section to the next.

I greatly enjoyed this collaborative project, and I wish there were more than two books. I'll be reading the second book as soon as I can get my hands on a copy (yes, despite my intimidating to-read pile). That, to me, speaks of a successful book, when the world and characters are so compelling you finish it wanting more.


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Review: Flip This Zombie (Living with the Dead #2) by Jesse Petersen

Flip This Zombie (Living with the Dead, #2)Flip This Zombie by Jesse Petersen
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the second book in a series about a married couple during a zombie apocalypse. In the last one, Sarah and David save their marriage by escaping a zombie-infested Seattle together.

In Flip This Zombie, Sarah and David have the zombie killing down. They're spending the winter in Phoenix, Arizona, and building a brand off their ability to slay zombies for those who are less practiced. Then, there are rumors of a strain of super zombies Sarah dubs "bionics," and they're hired to capture zombies in an attempt to find a cure.

Like Married with Zombies, this is told through Sarah's perspective, framed like a self-help book of starting a business after the zombie apocalypse. Sarah is funny and snarky, though not entirely self-aware. Her perspective works in this book, though, and you may find yourself feeling like you're watching a horror movie: "Look behind you, Sarah! He's right behind you!" It's nothing that cliché, but the reader does figure out a few things before Sarah does.

That's okay. The plot still has plenty of surprises.

The book is funny and fluffy, though there are places where it lacks polish. There's a little too much reliance on dialogue for exposition, and there's one conversation that's repeated almost word-for-word. There are places where it feels like we're back in book one, with the characters' marriage teetering on the brink. While that plot point is there to ramp up the tension, it irritated me for taking away the one constant I thought I could rely on. The book changes so many of the other rules that I hoped that one might stay as it was.

Overall, I enjoyed the second installment in the Living with the Dead series. It preserves the tone of the first book, and, despite how much the characters have learned and grown, still makes us worry they might not make it. The ending is immensely satisfying, and leads quite well into the third installment without feeling like a middle book.

I listened to this book an audio, read by Cassandra Campbell. While some of her pronunciation is odd, she has a good speaking voice, and is easy to understand. She's able to capture Sarah's snark without sounding snotty or irritating, which is a skill in itself. While the characters all have similar accents, she finds subtle inflections that make each character's dialogue easy to distinguish.


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Review: Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

Red Mars (Mars Trilogy, #1)Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read this for a book club, but I ended up missing the book club, and finishing it more than a week after the meeting. It took me forever to slog through, and I nearly nodded off more than once during my reading.

In a near-future setting, 100 scientists are sent to colonize Mars. Once they get there, they find out that they're not all in agreement about how to accomplish that. The story takes place over a long span of time, during which thousands of people from Earth emigrate, a "space elevator" is built, people are murdered, projects are sabotaged, and the planet is forever changed by the arrival of people.

Part of the problem with the narrative is that it's incredibly scattered. I don't know why the scientists aren't sent with an agreed-upon agenda, but it would've saved a couple hundred pages. The bickering over whether to terraform and how to do it soon becomes tedious. If they weren't meant to change the planet, why send them at all? As we all know, remotely controlled rovers can study the planet without changing it or endangering the lives of the finest minds of their generation.

In addition to the above problem, we have a political treaty with the governments on Earth that takes up a good chunk of the narrative, descriptions of the Martian landscape I found hard to follow, a love triangle that never really goes anywhere, different factions undermining one another, an anti-aging treatment being developed and its repercussions touched on, and the science behind their terraforming efforts explained in excruciating detail.

The science is good. Robinson extrapolates a number of theories we've since found to be true, and gets across the alien nature of the landscape and its unique challenges. And yet, I never felt like I was really there. One of the characters, Maya, remarks that it feels like they're in a simulation, and that's how the entire book felt. Like none of this was really happening, and that we were dispassionate observers of things that didn't matter. I waited for the book to reveal that they were really in a virtual reality to test their readiness for colonization. Not that I would've liked that ending, but it would've explained so much.

The book is told through a few different perspectives: the aforementioned Maya Toitovna, Nadia Chernyshevski, Frank Chalmers, John Boone, and Ann Clayborne. Maya is described by all of the other characters in gender-stereotyped and unflattering terms, but she was the only character I connected with at all. A few of the other one hundred scientists are discussed, but not enough of them that I felt there were a hundred. The book could've benefited from trimming that number down to the twenty or so it actually discusses, and leaving the background work to automated machinery.

Other reviewers have said they hated the characters. I would've, too, if I ever cared enough. I never felt like they were real, though. They do terrible things for apparently no reason other than that they can. It's not that they're unsympathetic; it's that they're cartoon cutouts moving through a plot on rails. When characters died, I felt nothing but relief I wouldn't have to try to keep track of them in this scattered narrative anymore.

And the book really failed to impress me when it repeatedly referred to a group of nomadic people as "gypsies."

Overall, reading this book felt like watching an ant farm for hours and hours and hours. The ants are busy at work shaping their world, while you sit outside the glass, completely unaffected by whether they succeed or fail. I think it was supposed to be a metaphor about colonization or how we've hurt the Earth, or something, but it was too scattered to say for sure. It felt like I'd wasted my time reading this book, and I was mad at myself for bothering to finish it.


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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name VerityCode Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm no history buff. A lot of people my age know a lot more than I do about WWII pilots and the politics and battles. Generally, I find books about the time period intimidating. But this seemed a perspective I could wrap my mind around.

Code Name Verity is the story of two women who would never have met, much less become best friends, if not for WWII. They're switchboard operators at a British airfield when one, Maddie Brodatt, hears a German pilot asking for navigational help. A Scottish woman called Queenie (only much later in the narrative do we learn she's Julie Beaufort-Stuart), who speaks German fluently thanks to her Swiss boarding school education, relays Maddie's instructions, leading the pilot to their airfield for capture and questioning. That night, the airfield is bombed. Rather than making fun of Maddie's fear, Julie helps her through it, and the two are soon fast friends.

Maddie has had pilot's training, while Julie is clearly the perfect spy. Thanks to the war, their talents are put to good use, and Maddie is frequently the one flying Julie to her assignments. Their strengths and weaknesses complement one another, so this is an excellent arrangement. Then one night, Julie is to go into German-occupied France, and her pilot is in a car accident. Maddie arranges to become her pilot, but the plane is damaged in the crossing, and she crash lands. Julie parachutes down safely, but is captured when she looks the wrong way crossing a French street. The narrative picks up after she's been tortured into confessing, and is writing out the story of how she came to be in France.

Most of Julie's narrative is about Maddie, though she does eventually get around to confessing her role as a spy. It isn't until the story shifts to Maddie's perspective that we find out how cleverly Julie has played it.

Though this is a fictional work, it does an excellent job of illustrating the role of women in WWII. There are women pilots and spies, though they're often protected to the detriment of the British cause. Female pilots are barred from flying to France or engaging in battles, and are given the slower, more unwieldy aircraft to fly. The Royal Air Force does put some effort into training female pilots, but it lets them go to waste.

The afterword by the author explains the points in which she takes liberties with history. The airfield names are fictionalized, as is the French city where Julie is captured and interrogated. Of course the characters are made up, but the spy who was captured for looking the wrong way on a French street was based on a true event.

I feel like there was a need for this book. There are plenty of stories about male friendship in war, but precious few about female friends. Maddie and Julie love one another (platonically), and they're so attuned to one another, they have the same dream on the same night. Their stories are told in their own voices, but they often match up in eerily similar ways. That Julie is telling her German captors what was going through Maddie's mind at any given moment is easier to believe, once the reader sees how attuned they are.

I enjoyed this book, and I'm glad I didn't let the time period or subject matter intimidate me out of reading it.

I read Code Name Verity on audio, narrated by Morven Christie and Lucy Gaskell. Each narrator took a perspective character apiece. Morven Christie's range of accents was varied, and sounded accurate to my American ear, while Lucy Gaskell often sounded like a younger Emma Thompson. Her accents weren't as good, but, as Maddie's were also lacking, it fit. The afterword in the audio edition is read aloud by the author.


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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Progress: Checking In

I don't even know when I wrote my last progress post on here. Hmm . . . June? Really? Wow. So, I'm way
overdue.

Most of that is because my productivity slowed to a trickle. I was getting some writing done, but in fits and starts, and most of it handwritten. I've actually taken to carrying around a notebook small enough to fit in my purse so I can scribble out some lines whenever I have down time.

Some of that I blame on picking up a new hobby. Turns out, you can't knit and write. I can watch TV, listen to podcasts, or just zone out while I'm knitting, but it uses both my hands. There's very little I can do at the same time as I'm writing, actually. Usually I just listen to music. Knitting is so tempting, though, because it produces an immediate thing that doesn't need fixing up before I can share it with others, and my progress is obvious. Word count just isn't the same as a pair of wrist warmers.

Nonetheless, despite my setbacks, I did manage to finish book two. It snuck up on me, too; one minute I'm happily writing out a narrow escape, the next I'm realizing that was the cue for book three.

I have only the thinnest of ideas about what happens in book three at this time, as is common for those with my writing style. But I need a few more plot hooks to hang the story on, so I've put it on the back burner until after I've done an editing pass at books one and two.

Whew. Is that enough mixed metaphors for you?

What I'm currently working on is a story I've been pondering for years. Once upon a time, I ran a game using Hero System. It was a fantasy setting with a twist. It deliberately played into a lot of clichés, contained logical inconsistencies, and had backgrounds that required mental gymnastics to justify. The players had a lot of fun in it, and I thought it would be a fun setting to reuse for a novel, or perhaps a series of them. My perspective character is a dragon, hiding her true nature.

I tried to write the story several years ago, but it fizzled. The pace was plodding, and the dragon's curiosity only brought her so far into the plot. I made it something like 50 pages without introducing the main plot, and gave up.

This time, though, I've tapped into the character's voice. Cyl is snarky, egotistical, hedonistic, and has no problem rolling her eyes and wandering away from the plot when it seems tedious to her. Just because it's epic fantasy doesn't mean I have to relate every mile trekked in loving detail. The whole point of the story is to subvert some of the tropes, and this version of Cyl is letting me do that quite nicely. It's also great fun coming up with things that'll challenge and change her.

I'm having so much fun writing the story, when I needed to stay awake on a long car trip, I pulled over at a rest stop to write.

Other than that, I also have handwritten pages to type up, and I've given myself the goal of cataloging the books I own on Goodreads so they're all on my to-read list. Thanks to a snow day last week, I'm a good way through that project, and my to-read list is now 701 items long. Yikes.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013: A Year in Reviews

I didn't do a lot of writing posts this year. But I did write up a review of each and every book I read in 2013, and I read a lot. Goodreads tells me it was 117 books, though I did cheat a little. Thirteen of those were The Human Division. The fact that I reviewed each and every installment has to count for something. I also won a reading challenge.

I think reviewing every single book has me reading a little differently, with more of an eye on technique and craft. I know formulating my thoughts about them has been helping me express myself better, though I do recognize they're not all masterpieces. At least you're getting your money's worth, right?

Last year, I recapped my favorites, and I enjoyed doing that. So, without further ado, below are my favorites of 2013. Please note that these are books I read in 2013, and many of them were published in previous years.

Favorite DebutThe Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. It was funny, poignant, and topical. I cared
what happened to the title characters, the world was populated by what felt like real human beings, and it didn't end the way I expected. I wouldn't have guessed this was this author's first novel; she has the craft, level of detail, and research down pat. I look forward to her next book, whatever it may be.

Favorite Series Conclusion: MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood. A lovely, satisfying wrap-up to a series I can see myself rereading happily, despite my ever-looming to-read pile. Atwood has a background in poetry, but the prose is never mired in overly flowery descriptions. She understands what words are for, and uses the right ones.

Favorite Post-ApocalypticSwan Song by Robert R. McCammon. I admit, I was skeptical about all the love it was getting in reviews when I started out. It seemed dated and depressing. But all that atmosphere was building to a lovely and perfect conclusion. I loved all that stalling for leading me to that beautiful ending.

Favorite Reread1984 by George Orwell. I revisited it for a book club, because we were going to discuss it in the context of Brave New World, and I hadn't read it since high school. I didn't expect to like it as much; I thought it was one of those books I'd outgrow. But the politics and notions struck me all the more, now that I'm more of a participant in how the world works. I think it helped, also, to have read Margaret Atwood's perspective on it last year in In Other Worlds.

Favorite Audio Performance: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde barely edges out Macbeth by William Shakespeare, but only because we're talking about the performance, not the quality of the story. Oscar Wilde wins out for style. If it were up against a Shakespeare comedy, it wouldn't have stood a chance. If you check both reviews, though, you'll see the common element that made them both such tough contenders.

Favorite YA: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Funny, revealing, universal yet illuminating. I wouldn't go so far as to make it required reading in schools, because that's how you make kids hate a book. But, I do think a lot of young people, especially misfits, artists, and ethnic minorities, might relate to the main character.

Favorite FantasyThe Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin. It was far better than it needed to be to hook me on the series. Personable, vulnerable gods and the best fantasy heroine I've ever read made this book positively addictive to me. This is one of those books that made me depressed I'd never write this well, then, when I got over it, determined to prove myself wrong.

Favorite NonfictionLet's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris. Thoroughly entertaining, often funny, and expands on what we, as readers, know about Sedaris and his family. It also answers a number of questions I've wondered while reading other stories of his.

Favorite Serial Fiction: Indexing by Seanan McGuire. It'll be released as an entire volume in late January, but, to get the full experience, you'll have to put it down for two weeks after every chapter. (No; read it however you like. I'm curious how it stands up as a whole work, actually, and would appreciate comments letting me know what you think, if you discover it that way.)

Favorite Short BookThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman. It's been getting all kinds of critical acclaim, but, in this case, it's justified. This nostalgic tale about long-forgotten magic is lovely and poetic and a delightful read. And, it's just barely longer than a novella, so it's not like you've wasted a lot of reading time if you're not as enchanted as I was.

Favorite DoorstopperUnder the Dome by Stephen King. It justifies all that narrative space, but, whoo! It's a lot to find yourself faced with when you're already three books behind on your reading goal for the year.The themes resonated with me quite a bit, and it was deeper than I expected from Stephen King.

Favorite ConceptLexicon by Max Barry. Control of the world through a few well-chosen words. Sounds like writing, true, but not the way it's presented here. I wasn't expecting to enjoy this book half as much as I did. And I don't pick up books with the expectation they'll be merely tolerable.

Favorite Kids' BookFortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Skottie Young. A delightful tall tale about time traveling dinosaurs, redecorating aliens, and a scatterbrained dad. Don't wait for an excuse to read it to a kid. Read it for yourself.

Favorite ClassicThe Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. An excellent book for those who like this kind of thing. Dostoyevky can be depressing, and rambling, and rather dark. That's what I like about his books. This one in particular manages to highlight some of the best parts of human nature, while condemning the worst. I didn't always understand character motivations, but I didn't care. The characters knew who they were and where they were going, and I wanted to follow them to see where they ended up.

Favorite Science FictionRedshirts by John Scalzi. A send-up of various science fiction tropes that serves as both homage and satire, which is a neat trick to pull. I still can't believe Scalzi did that*, and I'm a little mad he pulled it off so well.

Favorite Author remains Seanan McGuire. This year, in addition to numerous short stories published on her website, Seanan also published Midnight Blue-Light Special (InCryptid #2), Chimes at Midnight (October Daye #7), Parasite (writing as Mira Grant; first in a two-book series), Indexing (mentioned above), she had a story in The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination as well as several other anthologies, and she contributed to a Hugo-winning podcast. Just by sheer volume of my favorites of 2013, alone, she wins. But it's her consistency, her cheerful online presence, and her occasional posts about weighty, potentially controversial topics, that secures her the spot at the top of my author list for another year. The rest of her potential competition is running around in circles back at the start of the race.

So that's my 2013 in reading. How did yours fare?

I hope 2014 brings you some happy surprises, and many excellent books to read. Have a fun and safe New Year's.

* If you've read it, you know what that is. If you haven't, I'm not going to spoil the fun of finding out for yourself.