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The Book of Three
Lloyd Alexander
The Creative Compass: Writing Your Way from Inspiration to Publication
Sierra Prasada, Dan Millman

The Other Wind (The Earthsea Cycle, Book 6)

The Other Wind - Ursula K. Le Guin I read Le Guin's fifth Earthsea novel when it first came out a decade ago, and loved it. It seemed like the perfect cap to a series that went from classic coming-of-age, hero-journey ([b:A Wizard of Earthsea|13642|A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1)|Ursula K. Le Guin|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1353424536s/13642.jpg|113603]) to the first epic fantasy I ever read in which the heroine was a woman dealing with the challenges of middle age ([b:Tehanu|13661|Tehanu (Earthsea Cycle, #4)|Ursula K. Le Guin|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1349048637s/13661.jpg|2902890]): a fantasy that looks unflinchingly at "the next great adventure" — death.

Reading it again, I loved it even more. The story does center on death — the central crisis springs from the dreams of a village sorcerer who is dreaming that the wall to the land of the dead is breaking down. But what struck me this time through was how that theme of death is set in the middle of life: family problems, children growing, courtship. It's a wonderfully hopeful, positive view of the relationship between life and its opposite.

Oh. And it's a great story. That too!

A Favorite Son

A Favorite Son - Uvi Poznansky,  David Kudler A wonderful, psychologically insightful retelling of a classic tale.

Cold Days: A Novel of the Dresden Files

Cold Days - Jim Butcher
I've been reading fantasy adventure novels for a long, long time. When you read a series of books by the same author, it's hard not to expect the stakes to get raised with each title: new thrills, new surprises, new tie-ins with earlier plots.

If you read enough books by the same author, there comes a point where you find yourself beginning to wonder if perhaps, this time, the writer is bluffing -- that s/he has pushed the stakes so high (yet again) that the hand the writer's holding -- the story s/he's written -- can't possibly support the kind of rash bet s/he's just made. As a reader, you sigh, swearing you won't get suckered in yet again, but hey -- you're reading this book because you want the author to win that bet. So you call the bluff.

Sometimes the author's just holding the narrative equivalent of a pair of twos--a real let-down. We've all had that experience: the great reveal comes, but we've seen it coming all along -- or it comes out of nowhere and doesn't satisfy.

And sometimes the author's played a brilliant hand, and lays down four queens, with an ace kicker. (For those of you who don't play poker... Well, that's a really good hand. It's also a clue....)

As I began reading Jim Butcher's Cold Days, the fourteenth novel in the Dresden Files series (starring that other wizard named Harry), I was filled with a certain mixture of anticipation and dread: Butcher has pushed his protagonist further and further with each book in the series. His challenges have gotten more difficult, his enemies more vicious, and his gambits more desperate. The complications in his circumstances and in his relationships (with his friends, with his families -- even his semi-non-existent love life) have gotten increasingly complex, thorny, and dysfunctional.

In the first half of Cold Days, Harry -- who finished the previous book in the series, Ghost Tale to find that he was a) not quite as dead as he might have supposed and b) he'd pledged himself to the Queen of Air and Darkness, the honest-to-goodness Queen Mab, as the Winter Knight, her vassal and champion -- faces an escalating series of attempts on his own life and the lives of his loved ones. Butcher writes mayhem wonderfully; the action remains taut and exciting, and Harry's smart-aleck, pop-reference-filled narrative voice (which is wild mix of Sam Spade and George Takei) is intact, even as he undergoes some rather consciousness- not to mention life-altering experiences. (By the way, I've always been curious: How does a wizard who inadvertently fries every television he comes near know so much about Star Trek and Star Wars?)

As the book proceeds, the stakes, which had reached the life-or-death stage somewhere around page 1, ratchet up, and up, and up. I will admit to getting something like combat fatigue when Harry was being stitched up yet again after a near-fatal encounter...

And then the real action starts. And it goes. And it goes. And....

The last quarter of the book is taken up with a Battle to Save the World. Again.

You can see why I wondered whether -- to change my metaphor -- Butcher was going to be able to pull the proverbial rabbit out of the proverbial hat.

He did. For me. Switching back to my initial extended metaphor: I called his bluff and was pleased to find his hand held nothing but paint.

Did I see some of what was coming? Sort of; in the first part of the book, he stressed some concepts that had been set up much earlier in the series in such a way that a wary reader was likely to say, "Ah-ha. That's coming back." And some of Harry's relationships (particularly on the romantic front) had hit such an impasse that it was clear that something had to change.

Butcher rolls out the final resolution of the grand Ragnarok battle in such a way that all of those expectations that he'd set up in me were fully satisfied--and yet he managed to satisfy them in ways that left me surprised. Some interesting new characters are introduced; some old favorites reappear, but the cast of characters doesn't sprawl too widely to be able to keep the players straight. Harry manages to reach the end of the book in a manner that I found both fulfilling and unforeseen.

I'm fond of quoting Aristotle's dictum that the proper end to a dramatic story be "inevitable but unexpected." Cold Days manages that... in spades. (Originally posted at Stillpoint Author Blogs: https://stillpointdigital.com/stillpoint-author-blogs/?p=276)
It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to take the worlds novels like Frankenstein, Pride and Prejudice, and The Time Machine and pull them all together around the Battle of Waterloo, but this book does it. Its steampunk sensibility flows cleanly from the plot. I'm looking forward to the next book!

Snuff [Discworld]

Snuff - Terry Pratchett

Pratchett somehow manages to take an allegory about race and prejudice, set it in a corner of his medieval Discworld that's straight out of Jane Austen, and wrap it in a rollicking Sam Vimes adventure. Fabulous.

The Night Circus

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern Lovely, dream-like fantasy with multiple points of view, swirling timelines, an inventive premise (with a nod to Ray Bradbury) and compelling characters.

A Hat full of Sky

A Hat Full of Sky - Terry Pratchett George Lucas is supposed to have said at some point that the storyteller who could get inside the head of an eleven-year-old girl could make a fortune. Well, never having been an eleven-year-old girl (but having a daughter who is that age now), I'd say Terry Pratchett has managed remarkably well here—and the fortune is all the readers'.

This second installment in the Tiffany Aching series follows the protagonist through a wonderful adventure as she looks at what being a witch—haggling as her riotous little friends the Feegles put it—is all about. The story is fun, thought-provoking and (for Pratchett especially) tightly plotted. And Discworld fans will cheer when Tiffany gets to meet Granny Weatherwax—truly two witches worth knowing!

The Wee Free Men (Discworld)

The Wee Free Men - Terry Pratchett Exciting, thought-provoking and riotously funny—in addition to being more tightly plotted than many of Pratchett's books. Just about the perfect YA fantasy!

Tiffany Aching is a wonderful, unique protagonist, and her titular sidekicks are a hoot. Only Terry Pratchett could take a fantasy novel about an old-beyond-her-years nine-year old, add a group of six-inch-tall Scottish hooligans, and turn it into a thought-provoking exploration of the living nature of stories.

This Business of the Gods: In Conversation with Fraser Boa

This Business of the Gods: In Conversation with Fraser Boa - Joseph Campbell Great book - but published without Campbell's permission. :-p

Dramatists Toolkit,The Craft of the Working Playwright

Dramatists Toolkit,The Craft of the Working Playwright - Jeffrey Sweet A thorough, practical exploration of the craft of writing plays -- and also a great tool for actors and directors to help figure out what a playwright is trying to do.