Monday, October 17, 2016

The Historian - Elizabeth Kostova

In recent news, I attended my first writer's conference! My friend Robin and I attended the Women Writers of Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti this past Saturday, and we came away feeling invigorated. If any fellow writers have been toying with the idea of going to a conference, grab a friend and check one out - you never know who you might meet while you're there!

Since I started the month with Unnatural Creatures and because it's October, I'm going to continue with the somewhat spooky theme. I decided I didn't have the time nor the energy to decorate my house for Halloween this year, so I have to celebrate somehow.

This week's (well, last week's belated) feature is The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova's absolutely amazing debut novel from 2009. I've read it three times so far, and I'm starting to feel the itch to read it again. At 676 pages, it's definitely meaty enough for the reader to get something different out of it with every reread.

My first time through, I could barely put the book down to sleep and do actual adult things like go to classes or cook dinner. The story follows a father-daughter duo as they go on the hunt for Vlad the Impaler, who inexplicably is still around (in a sense) to cause trouble. I say this in a light-hearted tone, since this is a blog post and all, but the book itself is downright chilling. I was captivated by Kostova's writing; at times, the plot is unfolding as a story within a story within a story, and yet the reader never gets lost in the timeline. As a writer myself, I am in awe of the skill she wielded in order to pull that off.

The second time through, the whole story started to really sink in for me. I savored it a bit more, since I knew the overall arc but was still pleasantly surprised by some of the twists hadn't remembered. The third time around, the characters felt like old friends welcoming me back into one of my favorite fantasy lands.

Kostova herself has an MFA from the University of Michigan, where she won one of the prestigious Hopwood Awards for The Historian, which at the time was her novel-in-progress. When I was an undergraduate, I applied to the Hopwood Awards and the U of M MFA program, both to no avail - in my head, Kostova has become a symbol for the writer I want to be but am not yet. Even writing this blog post about The Historian gives me the itch to work on my own novel, which I started with a similar historical fantasy perspective in mind.

On a different note, I've noticed that my readership numbers are slowly climbing the past few posts (yay!). To any newcomers who'd like to follow my unpredictable schedule, please sign up for the email list to be notified whenever a new review is posted! Also, if you know anyone who'd appreciate the blog, please share. :) There will be another post later this week, barring any disasters with my project for work, and it too will follow the Halloween theme.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Unnatural Creatures - Edited by Neil Gaiman

Welcome back! I found myself missing my blog, so I stuck baby in her pack 'n play with a bunch of toys and grabbed my laptop. It's not her absolute favorite set-up, but she usually entertains herself for a few minutes, at least.

Needless to say, life has been INSANE. I'm slowly studying the ins and outs of owning one's own business, but that of course has to take a backseat to the technical writing that brings in a more immediate paycheck. Plus, you know, the crawling, babbling baby. Sometimes (very infrequently), I sleep.

I've been reading much more slowly than ever before (see above), but I did take the time to finish the Unnatural Creatures collection edited by none other than my favorite author, Neil Gaiman. It's safe to say that I've never read a more carefully-curated collection of short stories in my life. Every single story seemed like something that could have come from his own pen, which tells me there's a whole new list of authors I should be exploring.

Gaiman did include one of his own, "Sunbird," which is a delightfully odd little tale about the most adventurous foodies you'll meet. It was previously published in one of his own collections, but I always enjoy coming across it.

This is probably going to sound really weird, but even though I really enjoy writing short stories, I often have trouble focusing on anthologies enough to remember the individual stories long-term. So, for this review, I figured it'd be an interesting test to look over the table of contents once I'd finished the entire book in order to see which ones stand out the best in my mind. The list includes: "The Griffin and the Minor Canon," by Frank R. Stockton; "The Cockatoucan; Or, Great-Aunt Willoughby," by E. Nesbit; "The Smile on the Face," by Nalo Hopkinson; and my absolute favorite, "Come Lady Death," by Peter S. Beagle. Overall, save for one story ("The Compleat Werewolf), this was a really enjoyable read.

Better yet, when I did a little digging, I discovered that the proceeds from this collection benefit 826DC, a youth literacy nonprofit/Astounding Magic Supply Company. The 826 network is an amazing community, providing homework help, field trips, and writing inspiration to young explorers across the country. I had the pleasure of volunteering and later interning for 826michigan, the Ann Arbor branch that masquerades as a robot supply company. They even recently expanded to Detroit, so if you live in either area, stop in and say hi to the lovely staff!

So, in conclusion, Neil Gaiman's fingerprint + support for 826DC makes this one of my favorite short story collections ever. I'm excited for babe to be old enough to share it with her and watch her imagination run wild.

The Essex Serpent - Sarah Perry

( Image courtesy of ) Blah. I was actually all set to do a VanDuinen Studio blog post this week, but that's going t...