Dec 31 2012

Happy New Year!

We’re just back from a visit with Pappy and Nonna in Carson City—Robin and Thora had so much fun in the snow. (Davy, not so much. He took one step and immediately fell down on a slippery patch, and after that insisted on being carried over the treacherous white stuff. California boy!)

And I saw a tree full of quail, which was thrilling. Quail, with their funny bobbing head-tufts and their plump little bodies, are the most adorable birds ever—especially if you spot a momma with her little ones all trailing after. Sam, native son of the West, is thoroughly blasé about them and can’t understand why I get so excited every time. “They’re just like pigeons,” he says. “All over the place.” (They are not just like pigeons, they are wonderful and I will never get over them.)





I hope all of you have a new year filled with warmth, love, and joy!

Dec 22 2012

Book Reviews: Jade Yeo, Cold Days, The Bible Repairman and Other Stories

The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo

Zen Cho is a Malaysian fantasy writer living in London, a largely “undiscovered” author whose career I’ve been following with avid interest ever since stumbling across her short story “The House of Aunts.” I think she’s an absolutely massive talent, the Ursula K. Le Guin or Neil Gaiman of our generation. She is eventually going to be discovered by the wider world and become a Huge Frickin’ Deal, but so far she’s mostly published short stories in zines and small press anthologies. I’ve bought them all, and they’re all good, but “The House of Aunts” is the best and if you haven’t read it you must, you must. It’s a vampire love story that’s like no other vampire love story ever written, it’s fresh and powerful and real and wrenching, and her writing is so masterful that you almost don’t notice as it reaches in and disembowels you.

Anyway, Zen Cho is running a free promotion for her self-published e-book, The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo, which is a romance set in London of the Roaring Twenties:

Jade Yeo is a very different project from “The House of Aunts.” It’s not really working on multiple levels or anything like that. It’s just a sweet, fun bit of pure escapism, featuring a headstrong literary heroine in an Austenian sort of tradition. If you like stories of smart, artsy heroines who get themselves into trouble with their willful ways but eventually stumble into happy endings (with the help of a smart, artsy hero who is obviously smitten by her charms except she doesn’t quite notice until it’s Almost Too Late)…well, then you will like The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo, and you should grab it while it’s free. Or wait and shell out ninety-nine cents, I mean, either way.

Cold Days

I don’t know how useful it is to review the fourteenth book in a series. I could talk about what I feel the place of this book is in the larger scheme of things and what I think of the directions that the characters have taken, but that’s only going to be of interest to people who are already reading the Harry Dresden books.

So instead, let me talk a little about why I’m reading the Harry Dresden books. I can sum it up in one line. At the climax of the first book (Storm Front), the protagonist (Harry Dresden, wizard P.I.) is found hanging off a balcony in a mansion that’s burning down all around him, while giant scorpions snap at his toes. If you don’t think this is rad, I have nothing further to say to you, sir.

The Bible Repairman and Other Stories

This is the first book that challenged my Goodreads ranking schema. Goodreads reviews are done on a five-star scale, with the rankings summarized thusly: One star, “I didn’t like it.” Two stars, “It was okay.” Three stars, “I liked it.” Four stars, “I really liked it.” Five stars, “It was amazing!” I actually find this a pretty useful sorting system. Ambition, execution, characterization, setting, momentum, freshness of plot and invention of style: all books have strengths and weaknesses along different axes, but I don’t have to juggle them against each other because it all comes down to how excited am I about this book? The base measure is a purely subjective one of personal enthusiasm, which generally makes things easy to rank.

And then I finished The Bible Repairman, and had to rank a book I found quite exciting and consistently disappointing at the same time. I really wanted to give it 3.5 stars. The ideas in this book are wonderful and the writing is ambitious, literary in quality. Yet somehow the stories themselves rarely “gel.” To give one example: there’s a story based on the idea that an overthrown angel rips through the fabric of space and time as he falls. Then it adds a time cop agency, a couple of innocent bystanders, and a Lovecraftian sense of creeping doom. (It could almost be a pun: “the angles are wrong,” and so is the angel…) This is all totally awesome, and Tim Powers is a fine stylist, so the result should be a slam-dunk short story. And yet at the end I was left going, “Huh, so I guess that was…Lucifer? Hunh.”

Basically, these are stories that perform dazzling triple Salchows and then don’t stick the landing. I liked them all. I really liked many of them, at points. And so I was left dithering over the Goodreads ranking for longer than was probably necessary. Eventually I gave it three stars, but I just went back and changed it to four. Ambition ought to be rewarded, I think, even when the execution is imperfect.

Dec 21 2012

Review for The Millennial Sword

The book review blog Fangs for the Fantasy has posted a very thoughtful and well-balanced review of my novel. The reviewer has some criticisms which I think are quite fair (they’d like to see more development of some of the side characters), but overall it’s a positive review:

Viveka has arrived in San Francisco from the Midwest to start a new job. That’s already pretty challenging, a new work place, a new city, finding a place to live (despite a limited budget) and trying to keep her very grumpy cat amused and tolerant during the move.

And then a woman gives her a sword and runs off. A sword that virtually no-one can see—Excalibur. She’s just been recruited as the new Lady of the Lake with a solemn duty to try and protect the people of San Francisco from Morgan Le Fay—queen of the fairies who has a specialty of kidnapping children. And like it or not, she can’t stand by while children are taken—especially with redcaps moving against her. She has a few friends, a complicated love life and a lot to learn.

This book did a very good job in setting up the world, the characters and the concepts of the story. By the end, everything is firmly in place and it’s a lot of fun getting there, from battle the tomte in her home, to swordfighting with the Society for Creative Anachronism to just moving to a brand new city, starting a new job and trying to set up a new life. We get to know Viveka, her life, her duties and the people that are part of it.

Viveka is an interesting character in new situations, both conflicted and determined. Originally I think she adapted to the whole Lady of the Lake gig perhaps a little too easily but she did come back with a lot of doubts and questions, but whatever doubts she had are eclipsed by the simple fact that kids are in danger. I liked that she did sidetrack a lot of the usual “whyyyy meee, it’s soooon unfair!” we see in the genre and instead got on with it—kids were in danger, there’s no time for whining.

In all, it’s a fun read. It has an interesting world, but one that could use development. It has some potentially interesting characters that, again, need to be taken further. I think it’s a series with a lot more to give, on its own it’s still a fun book.

Dec 21 2012

Spirit of the Season


The boys are off to a Christmas party at school—last day of school before the two-week winter break! I am mailing out fruitcakes and other packages today; they might be a little late for Christmas (and are hopelessly late for Hanukkah!) I’m sorry for our disorganization this year. Our far-flung family and friends are all in our thoughts this Solstice day.

Dec 9 2012


Robin’s artwork series, in his own words:


“When you’re happy, you got a heart on you.”


“When you’re sick, you got germs on you.”


“And when you’re covered in snakes, you’re not alive any more.”

Dec 6 2012

Stockings Are Hung


The boys are home sick today, watching a lot of TV and cuddling on the couch. Both of them have fevers, and Robin has a bad cough—this seems to be a secondary infection piggybacking on an earlier stomach virus. Nonetheless, there’s something heart-warming about seeing them curled up together on the couch.

I also get a rush of happiness just looking at our stockings. Each of them was made for us by one of Sam’s sisters, except for Sam’s own stocking, which was made for him thirty-five years ago—probably by his mom? They are such tangible evidence of family and love. They make me really happy.

And Davy’s is my absolute favorite.


Lookit that adorable owl! Wearing a scarf! I can’t get over it.

Dec 5 2012

It’s a Boy

So it looks like we’re going to be adding to our pack of boys—I had an ultrasound today, and the baby is pretty clearly another little boy. I can’t say I wasn’t a little bit disappointed, but there’s advantages too—not least that three boys can share a bedroom indefinitely, if need be. Maybe we don’t have to leave our sweet two-bedroom bungalow after all. We’ll just put them in bunk beds, barracks-style.

We’re not totally committed on a name yet, but the front-runner is John Solomon Phillips, nickname “Sol”. Robin is totally geared up about the new baby and eager to help…Davy, a little less so. “No baby!” he screeched. “Chicken!” I guess he’s hoping to bargain his little brother away for a new hen?