52 Books 2014: Week 36

I skimmed the first few chapters of Dragonsong (Harper Hall Trilogy, Book #1) before finishing that book and then reading the rest of the Harper Hall trilogy, which is why I am not reviewing Dragonsong. I’d feel guilty including it in my list of 52 Books In 52 Weeks since it’s a short book to begin with and I didn’t read the whole thing.

Dragonsinger (Harper Hall Trilogy, Book #2)
by Anne McCaffrey
(fantasy, YA)

This is the second book of the Harper Hall trilogy, and possibly my favorite of the three. I love the antics the harpers get into, and watching Menolly develop as a character. Now that I know so many theatre people, it’s taken on another level of enjoyment, since I can recognize bits of the theatrical personality types in many of the characters. Very fun.

I also greatly enjoy reading the events of the main Dragonriders of Pern trilogy happen from another point of view. I feel these books are best read all at the same time to get the best enjoyment out of each of them. (This is probably one reason why I have a hard time reading just one of the Pern books. There’s so much more depth to the story when you read them ALL TOGETHER.)

One thing I didn’t notice while reading these books as a teen was how they really are geared toward teens. The main characters are all younger people, and they have many of the concerns that young people have. Fitting in, making a place for yourself, figuring out what you want to do in life… all things that I was dealing with when I initially read these books. They are still enjoyable for adults, though. I used to complain when I saw them put in with YA books, but now I completely agree. It’s not that they have no hard subjects, but that they approach these hard subjects from a teen’s perspective. And they manage to do that without talking down to anyone, which is a mark of McCaffrey’s talent in my book.

Dragondrums (Harper Hall Trilogy, Book #3)
by Anne McCaffrey
(fantasy, YA)

I have very mixed feelings about this final book in the Harper Hall trilogy. On the one hand, I love (as with the prior books) seeing the events in the series as a whole playing out through the eyes of harpers. On the other, I have never connected all that well with Piemur. Maybe because I was a young girl when I read it for the first time, and hadn’t yet learned to connect with characters who were boys. Maybe because I always tried (at least then) to follow the rules, and Piemur blatantly does not. But for whatever reason, it never resonated as well as the prior two books. (Looking back now, having re-read it, I think it may also have something to do with the fact that the other two books in this trilogy spend very little time with someone other than Menolly as the focus character. Dragondrums, on the other hand, spends large chunks of time following one of the other harpers instead of Piemur.)

I think my favorite aspect of this book is that it does nicely tie up the loose ends in the Dragonriders of Pern trilogy, and introduces a few new characters that we meet in The White Dragon. It also nicely closes out the Harper Hall plotlines, and finished Menolly’s growth arc. But it still is not my favorite of the Pern books. (Which one IS my favorite is often up for debate, but The White Dragon and All The Weyrs of Pern are up there.) I do still enjoy reading it, and I’d be curious to see how I reacted to it if I’d read it for the first time when I was older. But if I were to manage to pick up just *one* of the Pern books to read without also finishing the rest of the series, I doubt this would be it.

Side note: I noticed in the author notes that Anne McCaffrey mentioned she could knit an Arran sweater in ten days. While I am jealous of the impressive list of novels she has written, I think I am nearly as jealous that she could knit such an intricate sweater in just ten days. It seems unreal. And yet, I love seeing the peek into her life. It humanizes her to see that she had other hobbies.

Quick Reviews

Here are a few quick book reviews, since I haven’t been doing them lately. I want to give my impressions of these books, even if not full-blown reviews. After all… I am calling myself a bookwyrm. I need to have books in here SOMEWHERE to make that really count.

First is the book I just finished: Bonds of Justice by Nalini Singh. This is part of her Psy-Changeling series, and quite enjoyable. I like the fact that she doesn’t follow a formula with her romances. It’s a nice change that the hero and heroine don’t always end up in the same situations (eek – a bit spoilery, be warned) and a very nice change that it seems not all main character Psy in her books will defect from the PsyNet. However, it does seem that the women are the ones needing to be rescued, if one of the pair gets in trouble. While I roll my eyes at that, it is a standard thing, and definitely fit this particular book.

Another thing I noticed while reading this one is that the steamy scenes didn’t interest me as much as expected. This could be because of the hour (it was late) or the specific characters, but I’m not sure. The hour usually affects my enjoyment of only creepy scenes, and I liked the characters. I’m wondering if it’s because I don’t need the external outlet for romance that I did not too long ago… It will be interesting to see whether I react to other romance novels in a similar fashion now that my own relationship is more steady.

Next up in the mini-review list: Shower of Stars by Nancy Herkness. This one was a contemporary romance, which (for purposes of my reading mini-challenge this year) I am considering outside my usual genre. There was no paranormal or fantasy element to it at all, and I do read more fantastical books than anything.

I wasn’t sure what to make of it when I got it from the library, frankly, but I was curious and decided to give it a try. I’m really glad I did! The hero is a meteorite hunter, and while I’m not sure whether this is an actual profession, it’s a fascinating one whether real or fictional. The characters were nicely fleshed out, though I didn’t quite understand the heroine’s obsession with having kids to the point of getting married on a week’s notice for the sole purpose of having a steady income, once I accepted that there were some quirks I just needed to go with, the read went smoothly. It was highly enjoyable, and I will be looking for other of Nancy’s books in the future.

The last of the mini-reviews is a long-standing comfort read for me: Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong. There’s something magical about dragons. Always has been, for me. And so the fire lizards (aka mini-dragons) which hold such a prominent place in the second half of this book are a good choice for a comfort read. Add to that the music that permeates the whole of the Harper Hall trilogy (this is the first book of that trio) and I love the set.

I’ve not been reading the Harper Hall trilogy lately, though. I’ve been listening to the audiobooks as I commute to and from work. And while I’ve found (in general) that men have an easier time distinguishing male from female voices in a believable enough fashion, Sally Darling (the reader for the whole trilogy in the Recorded Books edition) does a wonderful job of narrating the men’s voices as well as the women’s. I really like listening to her read these books. I may have to look for other things she’s read when I’ve finished this series.

Driven to Distraction

First, if you’re a YA writer don’t forget to check out the contest at Kidlit.com. It might be up your alley, it might not. I’ve already turned in my submission. And apologies in advance for the long post. I got started and found I couldn’t stop.

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It seems to me that there are a few different things that separate readership. That is, reasons why people with similar tastes will be able to find books that they both love – and that one loves and the other hates.

This is something I thought about this Christmas when I was buying books as gifts for my family. Yes, there are some things that are obvious. Genre is a big one. If you’re not a sci-fi/fantasy reader, I am going to have a hard time recommending something you stand a chance of liking. Even the YA and romance books I read almost always have at least a touch of the supernatural in them.

But genre isn’t the only thing. There’s also character voice, narrative style, and what drives the book itself.

I’m not going to go into voice and style here. That’s too subjective. But the driving force… that’s something I can focus on.

Actually, I have been focusing on it for a while. I’ve been trying to figure out what I want to drive my stories. Yeah, there are a lot of important piece that make the whole, but (in my unpublished opinion, at least) there should be ONE THING that gets more focus than the rest. Let me give you some examples:

  • Harry Potter is story-driven.
  • Dragonsong (book one of McCaffrey’s “Harper Hall” trilogy) is character-driven.
  • The Lord of the Rings is world-driven.

(And of course, this is all in my opinion. The authors may have intended something different… but this is how it feels to me.)

There are other driving factors, but I think these are the main three. Character, story (or plot), and world. The way I see it, these are the real reasons the books were written. This is where the author’s head seems to have been during the writing process.

Now, most good authors can write a plot-driven novel without sacrificing character development. And there are very few authors who write a novel of any kind without having done at least a little world-building. But you can’t tell me, for instance, that Tolkien wasn’t focusing on his world more than the rest of it. I mean – he created multiple whole languages from scratch, mapped out EVERYTHING, and developed backstories so complex that it took not only an appendix attached to LOTR but also The Silmarillion and countless histories and lost tales to write it all out.

Harry Potter, on the other hand, has likeable characters and a fun world, but the thing that really makes it work is the story. (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: like Rowling’s style or hate it, you can’t deny she has a good story to tell. And this is not the place to argue whether or not she tells it well.)

Character-driven stories, more so than the others, are the ones that I feel pack an emotional punch. These are the ones where you truly care about the people in the story. They feel real.

Pick five random people and they will probably all disagree with me (and each other) on this, provided they can even understand the distinction I’m trying to make. But for me, what really makes reading enjoyable are the characters. And so that is where I want my focus to be when I’m writing.