Book Report: Agatha H. and the Airship City by Phil and Kaja Foglio

IMG_4131I love the Foglios’ Girl Genius series and have avidly followed the comic online for nearly ten years. This novelization is a great companion to the first three volumes. It includes interesting new backstory for some of the characters and the setting!

Unfortunately, I do have to say that the backstory often came at the expense of the novel’s pacing. Stopping the action for two pages to give the personal histories of everyone who just walked into the room is…an inelegant method of exposition. I don’t think it is unfair of me to say that so far the Foglios are better graphic novelists than novelists.

I do recommend this book to fans of Girl Genius. And I recommend Girl Genius to every sci-fi and fantasy reader ages 11 and up. If you have never heard of it, head on over to girlgenius.net for some awesome Adventure! Romance! and Mad Science!

Happy Yarning.

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Family Dynamics in Fiction

family blur

With my in-laws in town this week, I’ve been thinking of fictional families and how to go about writing them. I’m lucky to have grown up in a family where we all got along well the majority of the time, and I have awesome in-laws. With this background, I tend to write very “functional” families. It sometimes bothered me that lots of families in fiction are stuffed full of conflict.

But in recent years, my immediate family has been afflicted with a few falling-outs. I’ve come to see that while I, as a rather easy-going person, never had much conflict with family members, there was sometimes tension between members of my family that I was unaware of until it erupted later.

So even my “ideal” family had tensions and conflicts.

Here are my thoughts:

First of all, give your characters families. It’s easy to make an orphan or estranged character with no ties to family. It simplifies the story. But in reality, there are very few of these loners. Even Harry had the Dursleys, and Pip had Joe and Mrs. Joe.

While family doesn’t need to play a large role in every story, you should know about your characters’ families and how interactions with them have shaped your characters.

Ask questions:

Where is there tension? Where is there not tension?

How severe is the tension, and is the main character aware of it?

Does it affect the plot? How?

My main advice for writing realistic families (and I need to be better at following this myself) is to avoid extremes. Don’t just write a perfectly loving and always understanding and tolerant family, or a completely dysfunctional and always bickering family. Both of these are parodies. Find the balance in between that is suitable for your character’s family, and let them influence him/her.

Just some thoughts.

Happy Yarning!

Book Report: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

IMG_4111Sense of Place 101. This is your textbook.

I enjoyed Tuck Everlasting as a preteen, and I picked it up again because I realized one of my manuscripts has a few similar plot elements.

I’d forgotten how excellently written it was. If you struggle with creating a sense of place (a.k.a. filling in that white void around your characters with sensory details), this is a great book to read. And re-read.

I recommend Tuck Everlasting to all ages. I also recommend reading it out loud.

Happy Yarning!

Book Report: The Islands of Chaldea by Diana Wynne Jones, Completed by Ursula Jones

IMG_4106Entertaining, with her usual quirkiness and strong matriarchal figures, but not my favorite of Diana Wynne Jones’s books.

The plot seemed more simplistic than her other stories, especially toward the end. I felt there were several twists and turns that it could have taken and didn’t. But then, we might not have gotten this story at all, so who’s to complain?

A good read for girls 8 and up.

Book Report: Princess Academy: Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale

IMG_4096As good or better than the first book. I’d recommend it for girls ages 12 to 99–and especially for one girl I know named Keziah, who hasn’t read it yet.

After the first few chapters, I thought I knew where the story would go and how it would get there, and I felt slightly bored. But as the plot progressed and developed, I enjoyed it far too much to care whether I’d guessed the ending correctly.

Hale’s prose is fun and reads effortlessly. She’s the kind of author who makes me want to work harder on my writing.

One other note (to anyone who’s seen The Princess Bride), this is a kissing book.

Book Report: Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

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A very enjoyable read about magic, home, and the empowerment of education. Quick, too–I read it in one sitting.

It was perhaps a tad heavy on the tongue-tied, lovestruck young girl side of things for my taste, but I really liked the magic system.

I would recommend Princess Academy for girls ages 10 and up, and I’m glad to have it on my shelf for the future, since we found out we’re having a girl!

Happy Yarning.

Book Report: The City in the Lake by Rachel Neumeier

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Despite the growing number of books I already own that I still need to read, it’s always fun to pick something random off the library shelf and be delighted by it.

This story explored mirrors and multiple layers of reality, and it kept me intrigued all the way through.

The magic system and its costs were never described in minute detail, but neither did the magic become a deus ex machina when it was used to solve problems. Neumeier struck a balance that I’d like to figure out how to strike myself.

I’d recommend The City in the Lake for preteens and up.

Considering Economics in a Fantasy Setting

griffin carrots

I don’t have to worry too much about getting food. I get it from the store. I cook it. I eat it. Maybe I’m super awesome and grow my own strawberries or tomatoes, or maybe I don’t.

How do your fantasy characters get food? What does the economy and infrastructure have to be like so your party can mosey on into a tavern at a crossroads in the middle of nowhere and get a meal along with all the other patrons there that night? And is your economic system consistent over a whole shire, state, country, or planet? Whatever your setting, it’s important to consider economics. Magic, especially teleportation abilities, will have a big impact.

My husband and I put together a story idea about a society made up of humans and griffins, at about a 1:1 ratio. For a while, we assumed our griffins were carnivores–you know, because they’re half lion and half eagle.

Then we considered the economics of the situation. What, and how much, did the griffins eat? We asked the internet how much meat a lion eats in a day and realized that with the scale we were considering, all the prey in the area would get eaten up pretty fast. And we didn’t want to make our griffins be nomadic while the humans were agrarian. Ok, so maybe the humans raise goats and the griffins eat those. Bam. Solved.

Until we calculated how many goats it would take to keep a family of griffins fed for a year. Something like 200 goats per family. That wasn’t going to work either.

So, obviously, the griffins were omnivores. If a creature can be both a bird and a mammal and have six limbs, it can darn well be an omnivore if we need it to be. Now we have griffins helping out with plowing and harvesting in the fields, hunting game in the woods, and eating the same meals as the humans.

Don’t be afraid to ask hard questions of your setting, or let others ask. In the end, your story will be healthier.

Happy Yarning!

Book Report: Sorcery & Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

IMG_3493This was a fun read.

I enjoyed Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles as a child, and I was glad to find something else by her to sink my sweet tooth into. Sorcery & Cecelia reminded me at different points of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and any number of Diana Wynne Jones’s books. It combines reality/history with fantasy elements in interesting and entertaining ways.

The format is a collection of letters between two cousins, which is a bit jarring at first, but soon becomes smooth and easy to follow. The story was originally just a letter-writing game between the two authors, which gives me all kinds of fun ideas…

I recommend it for teens and adults, especially those who have enjoyed other regency novels (and especially girls as it is a Girl Power book).

Happy Yarning!

Book Report: A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

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I finally got around to reading Megan Whalen Turner’s fourth book set in the world of The Thief. As usual, I loved the characters. They’re intelligent, but sometimes their emotions get the better of them. They have quirks and backgrounds and plans, and it’s fun to see them grow and juggle the calls of leadership and personal goals.

The setting was as magical as ever.

I wish I’d read this right after The King of Attolia, since I’ve forgotten lots of little things that happened in the first three books. This one looks back on The Thief a lot, because those events were a defining time for Sophos.

My only gripe for this book would be the shifting voice and point of view. Large chunks of the text were in first person (Sophos telling his story, bam, no problems there). But there were also periods of third person limited, in which the POV switched between different characters. I found myself reading so fast that I missed these shifts, and it became a blur of third person semi-omniscient.

I definitely recommend this series to teen and adult fantasy readers.

And for anyone who left off the series after The King of Attolia (because Sophos didn’t look as interesting as Gen), read on! There’s plenty of Gen in A Conspiracy of Kings.  (Also, Sophos is awesome too.)