Monday. I don’t actually dread Mondays. They’re like resetting the switch for the week, getting a fresh start. I like to start Monday with a new book, though this week it’s actually an old book called Ripley Under Water. I found the book The Talented Mr. Ripley in New Orleans and gradually became addicted to the rest of the series. Tom Ripley is not your typical sociopath–he’s a murderer, knows what he’s done is wrong, but resolves not to let those deaths destroy him. And since most of the people he kills are objectionable or even evil, it’s hard not to have sympathy for him. Highsmith’s writing is spare and economical where it needs to be and full of detail where that’s necessary. This is the last book in the series, and I’ll be sad to let it go.
This Monday also marks the beginning of a week of sales for me. The God-Touched Man, sequel to The Smoke-Scented Girl, comes out on Tuesday. It features Piercy Faranter, man about town and secret agent, whose assignment to chaperone a foreign princess turns into a quest to solve a mystery with roots a thousand years deep. Piercy was a fun character to write, and I hope readers will enjoy reading about him.
In celebration of this release, I’m putting The Smoke-Scented Girlon sale for $0.99 all week. It’s not necessary to read it before The God-Touched Man, but if you haven’t, this is a great opportunity to pick it up for cheap. In The Smoke-Scented Girl, Piercy’s friend Evon is a magician tasked to solve the mystery of spontaneously occurring fires hotter than anyone can make. What he finds is a girl named Kerensa, a thousand-year-old curse, and the legend of four semi-mythical heroes, all of which may be the key to stopping a power-hungry warlord bent on conquering the world.
And the fun doesn’t stop there! Thursday and Friday only, Burning Brightgoes on sale for $0.99 on Amazon. You can now also preorder the sequel to Burning Bright, titled Wondering Sight, which is about Sophia, the Extraordinary Seer who discovered how the pirates were tracking the Navy ships. Robbed of her professional reputation by the Viscount Lord Endicott, Sophia sets out to prove his criminal activities and redeem herself–but in her quest to destroy him, she finds herself becoming increasingly like him. Wondering Sight will be released on January 19, 2017.
We got off to a leisurely start, sleeping in until nearly 10. The idea of going out for breakfast yet again made me cringe; I don’t normally eat breakfast because my stomach wakes up sometime around 11. So I had the bright idea of running over to the corner market and getting juice and granola bars, which I thought I could just about bear to face. It turned out to be a really good idea, and we snacked our way across the French Quarter to the first of the bookstores on my list.
The French Quarter’s new and used bookstores are an interesting mix of eclectic and mundane, but they all have such character it’s hard to regret visiting them, even if you don’t buy anything. Unfortunately, we hit a snag almost immediately. Dauphine Street Books was closed–not just closed, but with a little handwritten yellow sign saying it wouldn’t re-open until October 20. We’d passed it just the previous night, and it had been open then (it has the longest hours of any of the shops, I think), and we both felt really stupid at not having stopped in earlier. Me, especially, because there was a chance this was the store that had inspired my new series The Last Oracle, and I wanted to take pictures of it. We trudged away, hoping I was wrong.
And I was. The store I wanted is Arcadian Books & Art Prints, and I assure you that while I might have forgotten the name, there is no way I could have forgotten the place. Books are piled on other books and stacked on shelves in ways that ensure you can’t see more than a fraction of the titles. They stretch high above the reach of the casual shopper (these buildings have extremely high ceilings) and are packed into plastic flats originally intended to hold milk jugs. It is impossible for more than one person to pass along the “aisles” between the bookcases, all of which stand at odd angles to each other. It is a store that makes the inner librarian in all of us scream, and then run for a dolly to start rearranging the poor books.
And yet it’s organized. Once you look past the seeming disorder, you see that books on a particular subject are all grouped together. Books by an author are grouped within the subject categories. I found entire trilogies stacked neatly in one place, waiting to be purchased. If you’re willing to shift books, and have an hour or more handy, Arcadian is a real treasure trove. I found three books, none of which I’d gone in looking for. The theory behind The Last Oracle is that disorder increases the possibility of finding what you want when you’re not looking for it; nobody knows what’s there, therefore anything could be there. I have no idea what the owner of this store has in mind, keeping the store in this condition, but it’s worth noticing that it’s been there for at least the five years since the first time I went to New Orleans. Somehow, it’s staying alive. Maybe it really is magic.
We hit Faulkner House Books next. It’s not a used book store, specializing in the classics and contemporary literary fiction, mostly high-end limited edition stuff. The real draw is it’s where William Faulkner lived and wrote when he was in New Orleans at the beginning of his career. I almost bought Slaughterhouse-Five, mainly because I was thinking about Vonnegut after the WWII museum, but it was one of those fairly expensive hardcover editions and I just wanted something sloppy. Total books purchased there: none. Total in the journey so far: three.
After this, we went to lunch with an old friend and I had a catfish po’boy that made me happy to be a fish-eating mammal. For what’s really a garbage fish, catfish is incredibly delicious. We had a brief tussle over who would pay and I lost.
Returning to the quest, we headed for Librairie Book Shop on Chartres St. This is a more typical bookstore, like one you might see anywhere, but it’s in one of the narrow little buildings off Chartres and that gives it charm. I dithered over several books, but ended up buying only one. Curse you, baggage weight limit! We went on to another store mapped out on my phone, but it turned out to just be a magick shoppe with a row of occult books, and not very interesting ones. That cost us about twenty minutes, but I did get to listen to one of the shopkeepers lecture a ten-year-old girl on why they don’t do readings for minors. Poor kid.
We were starting to come up against our five o’clock closing time (many shops in the French Quarter close at 5) and had to hurry, because Beckham’s Books is all the way at the other end of the French Quarter from the magick shoppe. It was about 3:30 p.m., and the place was starting to fill up with weekend partiers crowding the sidewalks and stepping out in front of traffic. We were on the wrong side of Decatur and it was hot and I was sweaty and tired. But I remembered getting a lot of books from Beckham’s the last time I was here, so I didn’t want to miss it. Beckham’s is probably the largest of the French Quarter stores (Crescent City may be larger, but they’re on the wrong side of Canal St. so we didn’t go there) and is laid out like a proper bookstore, with two floors and maps to each one. It even has a store cat. I find Beckham’s comforting.
Unfortunately, my bookfinding mojo was turned off today, and I only found one book I wanted to take home. There were a lot of old favorites on the shelves, but I already owned all of them. Including Mollie Hunter’s The Third Eye, which I went to a great deal of trouble to find and probably paid too much for, just sitting on the YA shelf. The Plot Whisperer picked up some books by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, a new-to-him author that looked interesting. So it wasn’t a total loss, and yes, I couldn’t have got all the books home if I’d found them, but still. Total purchases for the trip: seven, plus a free book on yoga pressed on us by someone on Bourbon St. hawking hats for a good cause. This is why we don’t go down Bourbon St.
We finished up the day with an early dinner at the House of Blues–probably too early for me, as I was still full of catfish. And the key lime pie wasn’t nearly as perfect as we remembered. But they always do a good meal, and the music is lovely. On the way home I had my second brilliant idea, which was to stop at the market and buy juice and granola bars enough for breakfasts for the rest of our stay. Now we can sleep in as long as we like!
Tomorrow, the streetcar (probably) and the Garden District.
and a draft of a good friend’s new novel, Desert Rains.
Total books read since 9/14: 3
Total pages read: 640
The first two are part of a wonderful YA series about the Vietnam War that, honestly, I’m surprised Scholastic was willing to publish–it’s as gritty and profane as you’d expect a war story for adults to be. I’m loving it.
I admit it—my TBR pile is enormous. I buy a lot of books I fully intend to read sometime, honestly, or at the very least loan out to people, or keep on hand in case someone needs a book for a school assignment. So why do I so often, when I’m in need of something to read, return to old favorites instead of making a dent in the teetering pile?
Some days, when I’m tired or feeling a little low, reading is the perfect activity. But it’s those days when I’m least capable of tackling something new—when I really need an old favorite that’s worn grooves in my brain over the years. Sometimes it’s books I loved as a teen: Heir of Sea and Fire by Patricia McKillip,The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope. Sometimes it’s more recent favorites, like Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde (sequel coming out next year!), Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon, Sylvester by Georgette Heyer. I can slip into those worlds easily, knowing what to expect and matching the book to my mood. Comforting, and restful.
But there’s more to it than that. I may be reaching for these old friends for comfort, but I’m not the same person I was when I read a book the first time, or even the fifth or the twentieth time. Every time, I see something new, and in that sense even an old favorite is a brand new book. Sometimes that backfires: I’ve gone back to a book only to discover I’ve changed enough that I no longer love it, and that’s a horrible feeling. But mostly I find my comfort reads don’t change much over the years, and I’m grateful for it.
So here’s my challenge: what are your comfort reads? What stories do you come back to even though you’ve got fresh, new, potentially wonderful books at your fingertips? Leave your comments below from now until September 23, and one random commenter will receive their choice of one of my books—Emissary, The Smoke-Scented Girl, or Servant of the Crown. I look forward to seeing your titles—and would love it if some of them are the same as mine.
It’s the Fantasy Prism Tour Grand Finale for Spindle By W.R. Gingell Servant of the Crown By Melissa McShane The Frey Saga By Melissa Wright
If you love fantasy, we hope you enjoyed the exclusive content shared on the tour. If you didn’t get a chance to check out each book and their stops now…
Spindle by W.R. Gingell
Paperback & ebook, 300 Pages
August 10th 2015
She’s not a princess . . . but then, he’s no prince.
Polyhymnia is deep in enchanted sleep. High in a tower, behind an impenetrable barrier of magical thorns, she sleeps, dreams, and falls ever deeper into her curse.
Woken by a kiss, Poly finds herself in an alien world where three hundred years have passed and everyone she has ever known is dead. Luck, the enchanter who woke her, seems to think she is the princess. Understandable, since he found her asleep on the princess’ bed, in the royal suite, and dressed in the princess’ clothes.
Who cursed Poly? Why is someone trying to kill her and Luck? Why can’t she stop falling asleep?
And why does her hair keep growing?
Sometimes breaking the curse is just the beginning of the journey.
With Spindle my what if? was what if Sleeping Beauty wasn’t actually the princess? From that first little seedling of what if? I also ended up with what if she slept for more than three hundred years instead of one hundred? I was fascinated with the thought of how much life would have changed for her. Language would have evolved and passed her by, her loved ones and family would almost certainly be dead, and both the political and social aspects of life would have changed completely.
W.R. Gingell is a Tasmanian author who lives in a house with a green door. She spends her time reading, drinking an inordinate amount of tea, and slouching in front of the fire to write. Like Peter Pan, she never really grew up, and is still occasionally to be found climbing trees.
Servant of the Crown (The Crown of Tremontane, #1) by Melissa McShane
Paperback & ebook, 405 Pages
July 15th 2015 by Night Harbor Publishing
Alison Quinn, Countess of Waxwold, is content with her bookish life—until she’s summoned to be a lady-in-waiting to the Queen of Tremontane’s mother for six months. Even the prospect of access to the Royal Library doesn’t seem enough to make up for her sacrifice, but Alison is prepared to do her service to the Crown. What she’s not prepared for is Prince Anthony North, Queen Zara’s playboy brother, who’s accustomed to getting what he wants—including the Countess of Waxwold.
When the fallout from an unfortunate public encounter throws the two of them together, Alison has no interest in becoming the Prince’s next conquest. But as the weeks pass, Alison discovers there’s more to Anthony than she—or he—realized, and their dislike becomes friendship, and then something more—until disaster drives Alison away, swearing never to return.
Then Alison is summoned by the Queen again, this time to serve as Royal Librarian. A threat to Tremontane’s government, with her treasured Library at stake, draws Alison into the conflict…and into contact with Anthony once more. Can they work together to save the Royal Library and Tremontane? And can she open her heart to love again?
“Without thinking, Alison whipped her hand out of his grasp and brought it around hard to slap the Prince’s face. The sound of her bare palm striking his cheek carried unnaturally far in the crowded, overfull ballroom. The dancers nearest them stopped to stare, and their stillness spread outward until half the floor was occupied by unmoving figures. The music went ragged and then stumbled to a halt. The Prince stood with his hand pressed to his cheek, his eyes wide and unblinking in surprise. Alison felt her breath coming in short, quick pants that left her dizzy…”
Melissa McShane grew up a nomad, following her family all over the United States, and ended up living in the shadow of the Wasatch Mountains with her husband, four kids, and three very needy cats. Her love of reading was always a constant during those uncertain years, and her love of writing grew out of that. She wrote reviews and critical essays for many years before turning to fiction, and was surprised at how much she liked it. She loves the fantasy genre and how it stretches the imagination.
The Frey Saga by Melissa Wright
Paperback & ebook, 779 pages
February 1st 2013
This collection includes The Frey Saga Book I: Frey, Book II: Pieces of Eight, the short story Molly, and Book III: Rise of the Seven.
Unaware she’s been bound from using magic, Frey leads a small, miserable life in the village where she’s sent after the death of her mother. But a tiny spark ignites a fury of changes and she’s suddenly being hunted by council and forced to rely on strangers for protection. But the farther she strays from home, the more her magic and forgotten memories return and she starts to suspect the band of strangers are not what they seem. They help her find her rightful place and destroy the bonds, but securing her future might be more than she can do with magic alone.
Exclusive Excerpt of book I, Frey, & Sneak Peek of book IV, Venom and Steel @ Beck Valley Books
“The library was chaos. Books and pages, precious scrolls and ancient casting ledgers strewn over the wood plank floor. I’d never seen this room molested by their madness and the shock of it had me stumbling to a standstill. They had lost all regard for it, broken their own rules. They were a wild people, but they did have at least some barriers.
If there was one thing the fey respected, it was knowledge.”
Melissa Wright is the author of the Frey Saga and Descendants Series. She is currently working on the next book, but when not writing can be found collecting the things she loves at Goodreads and Pinterest.
A few months ago I published my second book, THE SMOKE-SCENTED GIRL, and immediately noticed something interesting: a number of reviewers seemed to think it was a young adult book. It was a little disconcerting. I wrote it as an adult novel, with adults who have adult concerns–I suppose it could be called New Adult, since the characters are all in their early 20s, but I tend to think of New Adult as applying to contemporary fiction.
So I stepped back and looked at the book from what I hoped was an impartial eye, and found some traits I think might make THE SMOKE-SCENTED GIRL look like YA fiction:
There’s no sex or swearing. (I’m pretty sure about the latter. I tend to forget unless I’ve used really strong swears.)
The prose is simple.
The plot isn’t terribly complicated.
Adult readers, based on the response, are comfortable giving it to their teenage children to read.
And this is where it does get complicated. I spent years reviewing and critiquing young adult fiction (a subject for another blog post) and YA fantasy has always been one of my favorite reads. So I’m the last person to be embarrassed about reading, or writing, YA fiction. On the other hand, because I’ve spent so many years in this genre, I also have a good idea of what’s being published in it and what sort of books qualify for the category. My book really, truly doesn’t. YA fiction is not actually defined as “books teens read.” Teens read, and have always read, adult books. They’re assigned adult books in their high school English classes. And I’m not sure anyone’s willing to call A TALE OF TWO CITIES a YA book. I’ll address the difference between “YA books” and “adult books teens happen to read” later.
But it’s that fourth bullet point I want to look at more closely now. One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is that many parents who want their children to read, who want to encourage them to read, are lost when it comes to choosing books for their kids. With good reason. They can’t afford to read everything they give their kids. And a lot of these parents are concerned about the content of their kids’ books. So they go looking for ways to pick from among the hundreds of thousands of choices, and one of those ways is to look for the “young adult” tag, however it appears–books in the YA section of the bookstore or library, frequently. Their belief is that YA titles must be acceptable because they aren’t adult novels, with the swearing and sex and violence they contain.
But many parents don’t realize one important fact: YA does not mean “safe.”
The key distinguishing feature between a young adult novel and an adult novel a teen chooses to read is simply that YA books describe the experience of being a teenager. And that experience is not always pretty. Teens these days live in a world of violence, in which profanity is common (visit your local high school if you don’t believe that) and sexual experiences are becoming the norm. Divorce, abuse, rape, mental illness–all serious subjects that many teens deal with on a personal basis. Kids can’t be spared knowing about these things even if they manage to stay aloof from them. And kids need ways to process these experiences. That’s one of the things books do–give us ways to understand the things life throws at us.
Here are a few of the YA books I’ve had to defend to very surprised parents:
THE MONSTRUMOLOGIST, Rick Yancey: Though this is a horror/fantasy novel, and the protagonist Will Henry’s experiences are in no way realistic, dealing as they do with cannibalistic monsters and rotting corpses, Will Henry’s growth as a character comes from discovering who he is when he’s thrown into an adult world that makes no allowances for childhood or innocence.
SAVING FRANCESCA, Melina Marchetta: Harsh swearing and casual references to sex, a no-no for a lot of parents, but this also deals with the serious issue of mental illness and how it can tear a family apart. Francesca’s problems extend well beyond her mother’s mental illness, but this is also about friendship and what it means to no longer be alone.
FIRE AND HEMLOCK, Diana Wynne Jones: Incredibly complicated plot and a semi-appropriate relationship between a teenage girl and an adult man, this is still one of the great works of YA fantasy almost 30 years after its publication. This one isn’t challenged so much for content as for the idea that it’s too hard for a teenager. I’m pretty sure that should be up to the teenager.
THE HUNGER GAMES, Suzanne Collins: No one argues with me that this is YA fiction; the argument I tend to get is that it shouldn’t be read by teens because of extreme violence and “disturbing” images (not that I know what this means). Again, this is a story about fighting an unfair world, and what teen can’t relate to that?
DEERSKIN, Robin McKinley: The rape and incest are the more disturbing for not being described in detail, but I’ve had parents complain because they were familiar with McKinley’s other books and didn’t expect to find this kind of content in a retelling of a fairy tale. Never mind that most fairy tales, in their original versions, are dark and disturbing and terrifying.
I’m opposed to censorship. I’m not opposed to parents trying to make good decisions about their children’s reading. I’m not at all offended by parents thinking THE SMOKE-SCENTED GIRL is a YA book–I’ve given it to my own kids. But choosing a book solely because it’s marketed as young adult and thinking it’s therefore “safe” isn’t the way to achieve that.
What about you? What YA books would you defend as appropriate for teenaged readers despite their content?
I used to work at the public library. When I told people this, they generally reacted with great enthusiasm, especially the readers, since I think there’s a tiny part of every reader’s soul that’s a librarian—“That would be so great, being surrounded by all those books!” When I explained that my job involved taking carts of books out, putting them back on the shelves, then returning for more carts, they became less enthusiastic. That part of my job was hard and sometimes unpleasant; there’s the problem of making room on the shelves that are already packed full, the problem of never having time to actually read the books you were putting away, the problem of constant sore feet and lower back pain. Having great co-workers was essential, because the job itself was often tedious.
As for the myth of the quiet, peaceful library, come around just before story time and see how quiet forty children are when they’re racing around the shelves while their parents ignore them. This happened ALL THE TIME. I saw moms with their heads bent down over their cell phones while their children were sobbing nearby, unattended. The only thing worse was the parents who told their kids to put books back after they’d yanked them off the shelves. As if three-year-olds remember where they got things or know the alphabet. (Fine. Some kids that age know the alphabet. I did. They still have no idea of shelving conventions.) Every one of the shelvers developed a cringe reaction to those words because the least pleasant job of all was going through the shelves looking for books that were out of place.
The real joy of working in a library is not having access to all those books, though that’s a bonus too. It’s seeing the sheer variety of human beings who come through its doors. No one is turned away. Even the grimy, unwashed man we all knew used the library as a shelter didn’t get worse treatment than being gently told he couldn’t sleep in the chairs. I saw people who came solely to use the Internet and others who bought piles of books from the book sale shelves and people who checked out fifty DVDs at a time as well as those who came for books.
And I got to know them. The young man with mental disabilities who came every Wednesday and checked out exactly five DVDs, then had us circle the date on the library calendar handout that they’d be due. The women who always came for story time on the same day and time with kids we knew were too young to appreciate it, just so they could spend time with other moms. The man in the wheelchair who couldn’t reach the floor outlet, who had the biggest power adapter for his computer I’d ever seen. The three boys who used the computers to play Minecraft together, two of whom tormented the third to tears and made me wish I was there as a mom rather than a library worker. The seventy-year-old man who hit on me as I showed him how to use the computer catalog. (That’s funny in hindsight, but at the time was just seriously awkward.)
But there’s one man I’m never going to forget. This encounter happened when I was putting away books in the middle grade section, which was near one bank of computers. I could clearly hear, but not see, a man having a conversation on his phone. (NOTE: Don’t have loud conversations on your phone in the library! Everyone can hear you! There’s a point at which it’s no longer eavesdropping and more a matter of pretending not to be interested in someone’s prostate problem.) He was talking to a potential employer and sounded enthusiastic and articulate. It became clear over the course of the conversation that this man really needed this job and was willing to put forth whatever effort was necessary to get it. Finally, he thanked the employer and hung up, but remained at the computer chair. I was really curious at this point to see who this guy was, so I hurried to finish my cart and then wheeled it out around the shelves so I’d pass him.
This is where I got a real shock. I’d built up this picture of a young man, not dressed up (the job was some kind of physical labor) but not a slob. And he pretty much matched that description. But he was also covered in tattoos. Both arms, down his neck into his shirt, and up into his scalp and under his hair. Intricate, colorful, beautiful tattoos. He looked like the cover of Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man. And I immediately felt ashamed of myself for being startled and for having that instant’s reaction that someone who looked like him could sound like the stupid picture I’d built up in my head. My second reaction was Is that employer going to think what I did when he sees him? Is he going to forget about the enthusiastic, genuine guy he spoke to? Because I couldn’t imagine I would be the only one who’d have that reaction. And it made me a little sick to think he might lose out on something important because of that.
I’m not sure there’s a moral to that story, except that it taught me to be a little more careful about what I assumed, and because I wished I could have found out what happened with the job. I saw him again about a month later, at the same computer. This time he was there with his wife. We talked for a bit about children, and they both said how nice it was to have some time away from their young kids. They had a babysitter for about an hour and they spent it at the library. For all libraries these days are shifting focus toward their media collections and free Internet access, the public library never stops being a haven, even for non-readers. I think that’s wonderful. (Except for being hit on by the seventy-year-old man. I am never taking my wedding ring off again.)
This has been a good year for reading. I didn’t read as many books as I usually do, but the quality of the ones I read made up for it. I used to do this whole elaborate year-end wrap-up–best books, worst books, new series, etc.–but over the years that’s sort of shrunk into “what did I love this year?” So here are five books I really loved from last year, some of them new releases, others books I missed when they were first released. (I put them in order by author’s last name, not being able to choose a favorite.)
Touchstone, Andrea K. Höst: This is a really simple story–the diary of a girl lost in a strange world, one day at a time–but the characterization and the cleverness of the setup make it shine. I think I read the whole trilogy in seven days. I still think Medair is my favorite of her books, but I’d have trouble setting the two against each other.
Greenglass House, Kate Milford: Beautifully written, beautifully conceived, rooted solidly in concepts of family and belonging, I was captivated by it from the beginning. I loved the characters, who were just quirky enough without being ridiculous, and the family relationship was great. It’s also got the best made-up role-playing game system I have ever seen in fiction.
A Stranger to Command, Sherwood Smith: This has been out for a while, and I have to confess that I didn’t read it when it first came out in print because I didn’t like the cover. I am full of shame. I have an epic love affair going on with Crown Duel, and anything to do with Vidanric is going to be a winner as far as I’m concerned, but this was an amazing story all by itself, full of intrigue and relationships. I would love to see another book about what happens between this one and Crown Duel.
The Golem and the Jinni, Helene Wecker: Again, I am full of shame for not having read this sooner. It’s just beautiful and clever, with interesting characters and a complex plot that reads so smoothly it isn’t until you’re finished and trying to explain it to someone else that you realize the depth of the plotting. I’m not saying I want a sequel–I think a sequel would be a bad idea, in fact–but the ending made me feel as if more was possible for the characters, like they’d go on living and doing things even though the story was done. Very enjoyable.
The Martian, Andy Weir–This one really grabbed me. I love hard science, I love survival stories, and this book had both of those cranked up to eleven. I’m not going to choose favorites, but this was definitely the one that got my blood pumping. I am totally looking forward to what Weir comes up with next.