A Few of My Favorite Things: Books 2015

I think there’s always a part of me that will miss having a book blog. After putting together December’s Culture Consumption, I started wondering… what WERE my favorite books of 2015? To figure that out, I pulled up my Library Thing account and started sorting by date finished, and then I started looking at the ratings. Anything four stars or higher got written down on the appropriate list: a full five stars are listed as favorites, and four and four-and-a-half stars were honorable mentions.

Why Library Thing instead of Goodreads? Because LT allows for half stars, which means when I’m rating on Goodreads, I might round up or down depending on how I want the rating to look on that site. LT is a more accurate reflection of my thoughts.

I also did not include a few of the fun, children’s type books on the list. I’m a sucker for Jeffrey Brown’s Darth Vader series, and Simon Tofield’s Simon’s Cat books are adorable. So they didn’t get counted.

Before I review my favorites and honorable mentions, I did want to make a few points:

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There’s No Heat In This Winter Sun

It’s been a week of winter. Freezing rain, sleet, ice, and snow. I’m fortunate I don’t live in New England, where snow tunnels are the norm. And there’s a certain beauty when the sun comes out and shines through the ice-coated limbs of trees like diamonds. For the first time, I think I really understand why Christmas trees are decorated the way they are. The tinsel, the lights: all of it to re-create the natural, diamond sheen of nature when ice coats the world and the sun shines through. It’s beautiful.

But with that beauty comes a dangerous edge. People have been without power for days on end, and travel conditions, based on where you live, are pretty treacherous. We’re lucky: we’ve lost power only briefly, and we’re close enough to the main roads that driving conditions aren’t really an issue. Though it’s scary to be driving and realize your windshield is icing over and you need your defrost on the highest setting, in hopes that’ll be enough to get you home. My grandmother, while having power, can’t leave the house even if she wanted, because the hill at the end of the driveway is nothing but ice.

I remember worse. Down in my neck of the woods, you’ll often hear about the “Blizzard of ’93,” which hit in March. But this is the longest bout of winter weather I remember in a long time. And it’s been so very, very cold.

Next week is my next week of four 10-hour days, but next Friday is Con Nooga, not a Writing Work Day. I keep eyeing the weather suspiciously, and right now, it looks to be fine, but I don’t trust it, nor do I trust the weathermen who report it.

So I’m crossing my fingers that it won’t be an issue. For me, or for anyone else who’s traveling for it, like my friend in Virginia.

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Today’s headline comes from Tom McRae’s “Please,” from the album The Alphabet of Hurricanes. I know, I’ve already pulled from this album, but I’m kind of in love with it, and I love his lyrics. You can hear the song, which I’ve had on repeat all week, here.

Told My Troubles To The River

It was a hard day.

My first official and intentional 10 hour day.

My cold is on the way out.

A short story was rejected.

I woke up to the news my grandmother was sent to the ER with chest pains.

It was a hard day.

It could’ve been worse. I learned better today that emotional toll can zap you faster than anything physical. That waiting and not knowing is utterly draining no matter how much you have to keep you occupied.

It was a hard day, but my mother had it worse, and I’m glad she was there to keep us posted, to keep my grandmother company through all the infernal and seemingly infinite waiting.

My grandmother, last I heard, is fine. No diagnosis and from what I understand, her CAT scan and MRI came back clean. Next up will be the results of the Lexiscan, and maybe, just maybe we’ll learn why my grandmother had such a bad weekend that they called an ambulance to take her to the ER.

So it’s time to rest up, start over again tomorrow, and pay a visit after work.

And hope and pray that today’s hard day doesn’t turn into a harder week. Or a harder month. Or a harder year.

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Today’s blog post title comes from “Told My Troubles to the River” from Tom McRae’s The Alphabet of Hurricanes. What a fantastic album title. You can hear the song “Told My Troubles to the River” here.

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Edit: And then I heard this: Melanie Tem passed away. Damn it. I feel like I need a good cry now. Steve and Melanie were our Writers in Residence during Week 5 of Odyssey 2005. A lovely couple, wonderful writers, and Melanie was just amazing. I am so terribly sorry to hear this.

Sound Beyond Time

It’s an unusual evening for me. I’m sitting in bed with the laptop, perusing the internets, looking up high school friends and freaking out when I find old-school pictures of myself and my friends on Facebook. All the while listening to classical piano music. Husband beside me with his own laptop. At one point, just to compete with the classical music-ness, he played a song from the heavy metal band, Devildriver.

Why the classical mood? I saw an article on The Mary Sue about this futuristic piano, and the site includes an online CD, so I’ve been enjoying the sound while marveling at the spacepod-ness of the piano. There’s quite a few Debussy selections, and I remember my music theory professor playing these my freshman year of college during a recital.

I guess this evening is meant for nostalgia. There’s a lot my brain is processing as it’s making plans and working out ways to make those plans happen. I’ve got favors to do for friends and a weekend to survive, but for now, nostalgia.

And Debussy.

One of These Days….

I fantasize that one day, someone will pay me to read for a living. I have all these reading projects I want to embark on in addition to all the other stuff I want to read, and there’s simply not enough time in the day.

But if there were enough time in the day, and ESPECIALLY if someone were paying me to read for a living so that I could embark on these projects, this is what I’d like to do.

1) Re-read the Harry Potter series. I re-watched the movies over Christmas, and it was a lot of fun re-watching with the series’ end informing the scenes. I can only imagine how much fun it will be to do the same with the books.

2) Read Charles de Lint’s Newford series using his recommended reading order. I’ve been wanting to do this for ages, and I’ve got quite a few of the titles. I just need to start!

3) Read the Norton Book of Science Fiction edited by Ursula K. Le Guin. It’s a BEAST, and I know I won’t like every story, but I think it’ll be well worth the effort.

4) Blame this one on the Writing Excuses podcast and Cherie Priest: I suddenly have a desire to give H.P. Lovecraft another go. I tried reading At The Mountains of Madness but the writing style did me in. However, listening to Writing Excuses episode 10.3, “Lovecraftian Horror” and learning what Lovecraft did and how he did it and how it was effective really has me wanting to track down a “Lovecraft for Beginners” reading list and make my way through it. Problematic the writer definitely is, but his lessons on horror might be quite fascinating.

5) This is an easy one, one I might actually start putting in my rotation: return to my original passion of reading women who write SF. Not just fantasy, but SF in particular. Because women writing SF need more love, and there’s tons of titles I still need to explore.

6) I’m sure there are other reading projects that have taken root in my subconscious, but they’re not rising to the surface at the moment. But even if I could do these, I’d have more than enough to keep me busy, and that doesn’t include the very necessary need to climb Mount TBR and whip it into submission!

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Today’s headline comes from “These Days” by Foo Fighters, from the album Wasted Light. You can hear the song here, and you can blame both Jaime Lee Moyer for using a lyric from this song for her blog post (which is far more interesting than this one, you should read it) and my husband for watching HBO’s first season of Sonic Highways and getting the Foo stuck in my head.

Give Me Something More….

It’s kind of nice to be tackled first thing in the morning with the following question: “Where was your Calico Writes entry from yesterday?” I’ve actually done a crap job updating over the holiday weekend, as I spending lots of time catching up on LOTS of reading. I finally finished the VanderMeer trilogy, and to that end, I’ll say that I want to read the whole trilogy again. The first read is to experience without spoilage. The second, eventual, read will be with a different, more critical eye, now that I have a sense of how the story fits together. If you ask me what it’s about, I still couldn’t tell you specifically: reading the Southern Reach trilogy is an experience, and the comparisons to the television show Lost aren’t unfounded, if you’re someone who likes conspiracies and mystery and crazy science. Whatever faults Lost had, if it inspires more fiction like this, I’ll be a happy camper. A slow reader, mind you, but still happy.

I’m also working on some administrative things relating to my writing. I intend on making BIG CHANGES soon, and those changes will deserve their own special post. In the meantime, I’m pre-planning. One of the results of that is that I’m in the process of shuffling Codename: Magic Twins to the back-burner. Reasons being that it’s a complex world I’m building and I don’t have my arms wrapped around the rules nor all of the characters. It’s something that, while I’ve said it before, I really to to plan out in great detail before I start writing in earnest. I churned out another 495 words over this weekend, but by and large, I think my time will be better spent focusing that energy into a major brainstorming piece: something that breaks down the characters, the magic as I understand it, and then I’ll have some people critique the shit out of it so that I can move forward with a more solid direction in mind.

Besides, the world that Codename: Telepathic Soulmates is in is calling me, and I’ve got some serious work to do.

So I may not be writing every night. Not new fiction or new words, but I solemnly swear I’m up to no good, and I’ll try to keep the blog posted on my progress on a regular basis.

Let’s see, what else? We finished watching the first season of Penny Dreadful over the weekend, and while I enjoyed the hell out of watching it, I couldn’t help but notice some of its more problematic qualities: notably, while the show attempts to empower its female characters sexually, I can’t help but notice those same characters are also thoroughly punished in the narrative. How direct that correlation is depends on the character in question, but for one particular character, the correlation between having sex and BAD SHIT HAPPENING is disturbing. It’s something I’ll be watching with a close eye on when season two premieres, because of course I’ll watch. I heart the werewolf.

I also finally got around to watching Divergent, which was an enjoyable adaptation and makes me want to re-read the trilogy. I almost caved in and watched Beautiful Creatures, because I heard that was also enjoyable, but I promised a friend I’d help on a project, so help I did.

Today was back to the grind at work, and it was definitely a stressful grind. But that’s what happens when there’s a holiday during the workweek, and with any luck, hopefully today was the worst of it.

This post brought to you by a very bruised but healing ankle, an innate distrust of this unseasonably warm and sunny weather, and the sounds of the latest Marilyn Manson album filtering down the hall. Damn, that does not sound like the Manson I heard back in the nineties. It might be sacrilege, but whatever he’s doing now, the sound’s a huge improvement to my ear.

Today’s headline brought to you from Lacuna Coil’s album, Trip the Darkness. You can hear “Give Me Something More…” here.

I Cannot Brain Today….

….I has the dumb.

Seriously, does this cat not say it much better?

cat-meme-i-cannot-brain-today-dumbI did not write yesterday. I came home from an incredibly stressful afternoon at work, brought home groceries, helped the hubby clean up for company and as soon as we finished cleaning up, company was unable to attend. Which was okay: we had the last two episodes of Penny Dreadful to watch and lemme tell you: I was hooked.

But I along with groceries I came home with a headache, and when the jolt of caffeine from a 5 Hour Energy didn’t knock it out, I had to pull out the Excedrin Migraine. I thought the headache was from caffeine withdrawal, but it must have been stress, because it felt like someone was shoving a screwdriver in my left temple when I stood up. Pleasant, right?

The headache did go away, and stayed away. Today has been a day of errands, and I set the mood by trying to walk to the car while balancing on the curb. I got distracted by a very pretty, deep red car (a Dodge Challenger, maybe?) and as I tried to get the hubby’s attention, I lost my balance and fell in the parking lot.

Yeah, falls: not just the purview for the old or the intoxicated. I should note I’m okay. Nothing twisted or broken, though I had to scrap the knee highs I was wearing and repair a part of my shoe. I’ve got a scrape, slight swelling, and a bruise delightedly forming on my right ankle. I can’t remember how I fell, in terms of where and how I landed, so I worry about pain during the night, but we’ll see.

On one hand, my physical therapist would be very disappointed in my lack of balance. Then again, I’d like to see him balance on curbs in heels. The moral of the story: don’t balance on curbs while wearing heels. Or maybe, just don’t wear heels.

But my brain is all kinds of mush, and Word Press has been playing with it (or I screwed something up: if you saw a post about me talking about writing SF, it’s been deleted — it should have never shown publicly in the first place), so I think I’m going to forgo writing tonight and just get some sleep.

Because tomorrow is a busy day: our toaster oven decided to stop working tonight, and we must hunt for its replacement.

Happy Weekend!

Riding Off Into the Sunset: A Tribute to Uncle Pete

Yesterday, my Uncle Pete died.

He wasn’t technically my uncle. He was the husband of my grandmother’s cousin. But he’s always been Uncle Pete to me, despite his wife NOT being Aunt Mary Carol. When I was growing up, they frequently visited my grandparents (with whom I lived), and their visits were always full of excursions to Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, Cades Cove. Their visits were also full of card games and books.

They always brought a blizzard with them, and we’d end up snowed in for days. One of my favorite memories was waiting for the sun to break, for the snow and ice to melt so we could make it up the hill to get out of our driveway. We’d ride to town so Pete could refill the propane tank for his camper, and then we’d hit the mall. Uncle Pete would always pull out his folded up list of Louis L’amour westerns that Mary Carol had made for him, and he’d browse the Western section with care, making sure the books he wanted to buy weren’t ones he’d already read. And he’d always get me a book. Or two.

I loved how he and Mary Carol had a map of the U.S. on their camper, how over the years they colored in each state they’d visited, and yes, they managed to visit all 50 states in their retired years. I loved hearing stories of their travels. I’m still especially enamored of Uncle Pete getting “snockered” in Germany, but still managing to hold out against a German man who was determined to out-drink an American.

It’s been a long time since I’d seen Uncle Pete. Time, distance, and his health have all contributed to that. I’d known for a while that his health was failing, and had learned over the weekend that all treatment/medications had been stopped. I knew it was a matter of time.

I don’t regret that I didn’t get to see him in the end. I prefer the memories I have, seeing him in his element. I remember his big laughs, big smiles, and big hugs. I remember the smell of his aftershave, the way he’d relax into the recliner, feet propped up, the warmth of the yellow light shining on the pages of his latest paperback.

Wherever you are, Uncle Pete, may there be many books, many beers, and many, many adventures.

New Rules

So I know Bill Maher is a controversial figure. However, my husband likes to watch his show, and if I’m in the vicinity, I’ll perk up for the final segment of “New Rules,” because, by and large, there can be some interesting observations about human behavior and its hypocrisy. Who hasn’t witnessed something and wanted to shout, “You are NOT allowed….” or “You must ALWAYS….” because they’re dealing with something surpassing common sense?

Today, I came up with a few:

1) If I call you and it’s not a good time to talk, don’t answer your phone. If you feel like you MUST answer the phone, even if it’s legitimately a bad time, you have to be as polite and courteous as possible and tell that person you’ll call them back. Don’t be rude and don’t tell THEM to call back later: how do they know it’s not a good time?

2) If you’re returning my call, return the call at YOUR convenience. Don’t call me and tell me it’s a bad time to talk. If I call you and it’s a bad time, there is some leeway for being rude despite New Rule #1. However, if you call me and then tell me it’s not a good time for whatever reason? Rudeness, curtness, and being brusque is not allowed. You called me, remember? Either call me at a good time, or suck it up and be polite despite said bad time.

3) If you happen to be a member of any kind of clergy, if you’re a preacher or pastor or seen as a respected religious figure in your community, you are NOT allowed to be rude EVER. I get it, you’re human, and you have bad days like the rest of us. So if you slip up, we’ll forgive you…. but only if you recognize the error of your ways and apologize to us directly. Jesus forgives and all that, but you’re the face of your church, and if you’re rude to me, that speaks louder than words.

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Currently Writing: Codename: Magic Twins
Last night’s word count: 1404 words
Total word count: 10,027 words
Hey, I broke 10K! The words are crap, mind you. I’m basically brainstorming through narrative. Or it may be more accurate to say I’m brainstorming via info-dumping dialogue. Whatever. I ended up writing more last night than my start time would’ve have foreseen, and I had to stop myself so I could actually get sleep. Go me?

Currently Reading: Jeff VanderMeer’s Acceptance
Ugh… where did my reading time go? I want it back!

Next up: I think tomorrow will be a normal day. I think. I hope. I plan. I’m contemplating some major schedule changes, and I’ve bounced those changes by a few people and so far the response has been positive. The more I talk about it, the more I’m convinced I’ll do it. There’s a few details to be ironed out though, so for now, I shall not blog about it directly. Yet.

Ending an Era

Today, author Carrie Vaughn announced the end of her Kitty Norville Series. I’ve actually known about this for a few weeks: over at All Things Urban Fantasy, they featured the latest cover in the series in their Cover Art Coverage series, and my first reaction was, “Oooh, I love the cover!” and then my second reaction was, “Wait, Carrie said that was going to be the title of the last book in the series. Oh shit!”

kitty-saves-the-world-mmThis was before Low Midnight came out, and I didn’t want to prematurely spoil anything by freaking out online, so I private messaged Carrie on Facebook and she confirmed that yes, it was the last book in the series but that she was going to hold off on the announcement until Low Midnight was released and had a chance to shine. So I held off talking about the series until her announcement, which ended up being today.

Urban fantasy is a genre that’s had quite the boom since I started reading SF/F in 2002. Lots of series have come and go, some never got their start, but the genre is always seeking to improve itself, and it’s a genre I very much enjoy, though if I’m not careful, I can read too much and give myself a metaphorical tummy-ache.

Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty and the Midnight Hour was the very first urban fantasy book I read. And I do mean very first. And for a while, it was my favorite UF series out there, but because the genre is so addictive and so fast paced, and always seeking to better itself, other series have taken the mantle of favorite (I don’t want to name them, for fear I will jinx their awesomeness by naming them). That being said, I’ve followed Kitty Norville since her novel debut, I pick up every book and devour it the moment it’s released. So while it’s no longer my favoritest UF series, it is the longest-running UF series that I’ve stayed on top of, and I’ll be reading the last installment with relish. I love getting the endings to things, I love seeing how stories wrap up. Carrie’s announcement is exciting because she’s done with the series as is, but she’s not done with the world, which means I’ll likely get my wish for more Cormac novels, but I’ll get stories about other characters too.

Some readers are upset when series end. I usually get excited, and in this case, it’s no different, if only because I want to see what else Carrie Vaughn writes, because I want to see her stretch her muscles beyond the urban fantasy world of Kitty Norville. I read somewhere that she’s got a YA space opera she’s working on, and that excites me to no freaking end.

The book, Kitty Saves the World, won’t be out until August this year, so who knows how the series will end. But I’ll be there. I’ve been there through the ups and downs, and I can’t wait to see how it all wraps up.

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Currently Writing: Codename: Magic Twins
Last night’s word count: 392 words
Total word count: 8,622 words
I didn’t churn out a lot last night. My evil-genius idea means that I have to be careful with the narrative before I commit to whatever I’m going to do, and I Skyped with one of my daily readers tonight and talked about the premise and the evil-genius idea and realized, pretty quickly, there are a lot of holes I need to fill in this idea. The main this is to figure out the magic system, get the guidelines and follow the rules, the rest will follow. So we’ll see.

Currently Reading: Jeff VanderMeer’s Acceptance
No time to read today, unless I manage a page or two before bed. Sadness.

Next up: Tuesday looks to be a normal day. Got a few shows to catch up on thanks to tonight’s National Championship, and I’ve got errands to run. Yay, errands?