Monday, 3 January 2011

The Writing Life and My Book of the Year

One of the ways in which I begin to relax is to cruise around the blog world checking in with whatever moves me.  As I have been away from blogging for the past while, one of the first places I head to is Terri Windling's blog.  Not only does she have art that is inspirational for me, but she takes lovely photos, and somehow her thoughts get me going into my own creativity.  She also lists books she's reading on her sidebar, which every so often I go to see what I need to add to my ongoing, ever-growing list of Books to Watch Out For and Try to Find.  Yesterday I pointed you to the December writer's desk series she had going.  Today, I discovered again through her links Midori Snyder and Delia Sherman's blogs, both of whom are writers that I think are among the best fantasy writers in the world.  Midori is on a writer hiatus write now, but earlier this year she had a link to a most hilarious article on the hurdles writers face in just sitting down to write - 'the voices against our work being of any account' hurdle.  Writers among my Gentle Readers, do you recognize any of these voices?  I did, and now I'm going to print out this article and frame it in my writing room.

I found Delia's blog  through Terri linking to a review about Adrienne Martini's Sweater Quest:  My Year of Knitting Dangerously, which I know some of you have been reading this year.  Well, not only does this book sound interesting - and I can't knit! - but I discovered, even more valuable to me, a post about advice to a young would-be writer, that is perfect, here, on her Nov 27th post..  Down in the comments, Edward Gorey's The Unsung Harp is mentioned, as a perfect gift for writers.  Darn if it isn't out of print, though here is the write-up anyway so we would-be/promising/waiting to be published writers can start haunting online shops and used bookstores in our cities.  I know I will be.  It sounds perfect.  Both the writer advice and the book are classic for us.  And darn if I am not suddenly beginning to feel like I can face reading my first draft of my novel and see what can be saved.  Thank you to these kind, generous writers who take the time to share their thoughts and inspiration with us. 

Honourable Mentions for Book of the Year:

Each of the following were ones that not only seemed to be the best of their genre in the books that I read, but they did something more:  they surpassed their genre and rewrote my general assumptions about what the genre could contain.  I highly recommend all of these books. 

The Speed of Dark - Elizabeth Moon - I first wrote about this book, here. I still feel myself catching my breath at Lou's decision all these months later.  Breathtaking, brilliant, speculative, heart-breaking.
The Speed of Dark, which is brilliant at capturing the structure that a special mind like someone with autism needs to make sense of the world.  Indeed, reading this book, made me wonder how much all of us who are 'normal', need schedules and rules in order to go about our day, too.  And how much a little flexibility in our acceptance of others' differences could go a long way to make everyone feel comfortable in this world.
The Wrong Kind of Blood - Declan Hughes - I did not write about this book when I first read it in September, as it was a library book and I had a pile I was trying to read before returning.  That's my excuse, but it's a sad one, because from the moment I opened this mystery, I felt a frisson of energy that hasn't left me since.  This is noir, gritty mystery noir at it's best.  Ed Loy returns home to bury his mother, and uncovers secrets from his own past in the process.  It's got a lot of plot and the background of Ed is a bit mysterious, but it all works out in the end.  Mostly though it's Ed's reactions to Dublin then and now, and how crime and payouts and politics are the bedrock of life in the Dublin he knows then and now.  Very well done, and unlike anything I've read for quite some time. I am seeking out the rest of the series now. 

The Court of the Air - Stephen Hunt - This is a complex steampunk fantasy mix that I wasn't sure I liked or understood while I read it, until I got to the final chapters and it all comes together stunningly.  The steam men culture, the chilling court of the air, were all fabulous (in the best fantasy sense of the word) but what made the book have feeling were Molly and Oliver, the two orphans at the heart of this Victorian alternate world setting. Fascinating, a bit overwhelming at times, and once done, it has stayed with me and worked on me and now I find I am desperate to read the next one in the series. I understand steampunk better for having read this novel!  and I really have to know what happens next.

Favourite Authors discovered:  tie.  so I've taken my own idea yesterday and an idea from raidergirl3's book review category for 2010, and decided these two authors deserve once again, a special mention from me:
Jo Nesbo
Martin Edwards
I really can't decide between these two - not because they are similar, not at all! But because since discovering them this year, I have devoured the books in their series.
Jo Nesbo:
You all know about my love affair with Harry Hole, which continues unabated, through despair, alcoholism, devious arch-criminals and Harry's own weaknesses.  I have two sitting to be read for this new year, The Redeemer and The Snowman. Really, it's like Christmas the way it should have been, to have these books next to read!

Martin Edwards
The Lake District series: I enjoy the series of Daniel Kind and Hannah Scarlett so much. I think what I like best is the growing relationship between them, even as they try to continue their ongoing relationships with their current partners.  It is fascinating to have a historian's perspective added to the mystery genre, not because it hasn't been done before, but because Daniel explores history as it affects people so of course the cold cases that Hannah opens fascinate him.  Hannah is not an easy female character to like, yet I do.  She is interesting and complex and intelligent, and through her persistence and luck we see cases resolved.  At the heart of these mysteries are two things:  the Lake District and relationships.  The Lake District is beautiful, even as Wordsworth wrote about it almost two centuries ago, with nature ever present then and now as part of the scene of crimes, part of the witness to passions that explode.  Relationships are what all crimes stem from, and one of the many interesting things about this series is that none of the crimes are similar or fall into a pattern.  I'm reading The Serpent Pool right now (the last one published) - oh look!  Oh joy!  A new one is going to be published in April:  The Hanging Woods.  *happy sigh* now I can finish The Serpent Pool, knowing another one is around the corner.  Thank you, Martin!

My Book of the Year: Jack the Giant-Killer by Charles de Lint

Imagine my surprise when I came across a reference to 'placing a sprig of rowan in a pocket' in a recent fantasy novel, and my thrill that I knew exactly what the writer was referencing because I finally read Jack The Giant Killer over 20 years after it was published!  Sometimes books become classics in their field, and Jack the Giant Killer is one of those books for me and for urban fantasy.  This won Canada's science fiction award in 1988, deservedly so.  Even now, reading it so many years later, it brought a flash of magic to our dull city.  I really wished, as I did when I first read Moonheart  when it was published, that Ottawa could be a little more like how Charles imagines it in his urban fantasy novels.  I enjoyed Jacky Rowan, and her best friend Kate Crackernuts, and the Unseelie Court are very frightening, as they ought to be.  If a faerie tale could be called 'realistic', this would be one, and I love the melding of the real with the unreal.  Here is the link to my original review. I like Jacky Rowan too, and I really wish Charles would write more stories featuring her and Kate too. It's my book of the year not just because it's witty, and clever, and wise in the ways of the heart, and full of love and wisdom too, but because it's fun, and magical, and full of bravery.   It brought me back to a sense of myself when I was starting out on my own, and discovering the world of fantasy for the first time.  Charles de Lint was my first love in contemporary fantasy writing (* note: not him, I've met him, lovely man and gorgeous wife Mary Ann) - it's his writing that I love.  Jack the Giant Killer showed me what I love best in fantasy writing: fairy tales and magic and growing up all mixed up together in a bag of adventure and friendship and love.


Rhinoa said...

Really like that you included new to you authors. Am hoping to read Elizabeth Moon and more CDL this year.

Nan said...

I am very interested in the Declan Hughes. It sounds fascinating.
I've read the first in Martin Edwards' series and have The Cipher Garden waiting for me on the Kindle.

Tunks said...

Thanks for the reviews! :)

Kenosha Community Media said...

Hope you're doing better after the nasty fall. The Unstrung Harp is on sale through in the USA. Anything by Gorey (including the marriage of his words to music by the Tiger Lillies and Kronos Quartet) is well worth it. I just obtained a copy of Gorey tarot cards.
Thanks for your blog and keep writing (and reading).

Susan said...

Rhinoa: I thought it was a fun idea, and certainly we read enough to have new to us authors we like!

Nan: I hope you can find it there in the US. It's great that you've started reading Martin Edwards' series! How do you like the Kindle?

Tunks: you're welcome!

Kenosha: I have known about Edward Gorey for years and years, I just didn't know there was a specific book about writers (and writer agonies). I'll see if I can find it, I'm sure it's somewhere. Ooh, the Gorey Tarot cards sound very interesting. Where did you get them? I read tarot cards. I 'm going to see if I can find them on thanks very much for the info! and for writing in. You have to get your own blog so I can come visit you! :-)

Eva said...

Yay for you making another list! The Court of Air is now on my own TBR list (I've yet to read anything steampunk but I loved the Dr. Who Christmas special!), and Jack the Giant-Killer reminds me of my love for de Lint! I've been meaning to read all of his backlist, but I stalled; I think I'll pick back up with this one. :D

Also, I was originally going to include the list of new-to-me-authors I want to read more of, but it came to SIXTY-SIX. lol

Susan said...

Eva: Yaay for trying steampunk too! lol and we loved the Dr Who special here too. Weren't those sharks cool? and the trip through time and Dickens....*sigh* I hope you enjoy Jack the Giant-Killer, let me know!

I know what you mean about 66 new to you authors.....just keeping up with all the mystery series I read is tricky sometimes, and I keep finding new ones - like Peter Diamond series - that already have 10 in the series, or Phryne Fisher and that's up to 17 books now!! So many books to read, so many wonderful books to read.