Tags: awesome books

The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

I picked this up expecting a Mistborn gangster story, or possibly Mistborn steampunk. Turns out it’s a western, complete with a train heist, and I enjoyed it a lot more than I would have expected myself to if I’d known what I was getting into. Westerns aren’t particularly my style, but Sanderson plays with the tropes enough, and does enough cool things with bullets and steelpushing, that the book worked for me.

Lots of cool action sequences in this one, which I’ve come to expect from Sanderson, and plenty plenty of interesting worldbuilding. The Hero of Ages from the original Mistborn trilogy, still very much alive although never onscreen, plays a tangential role in the plot, and I like what Sanderson’s done with that. Especially the prayer earring, which is just so obviously appropriate given the worldbuilding from previous trilogy.

I especially appreciated Sanderson’s handling of the romantic thread, which doesn’t play out at all like the tropes would prescribe. The final resolution was a tricky one to pull off, and it worked extremely well for me, although I suppose other readers might have been disappointed.

Overall, a delightful read and money I do not regret spending. I’m still waiting for backstory on why, precisely, Harmony appears to have altered the genetic inheritance of allomancy and feruchemy. Presumably subsequent books will provide the answers.

cross-posted from nancyfulda.com

Hold on to Your Horses by Sandra Tayler

I’ve always had a soft spot for beautifully illustrated children’s books. I adored Mercer Mayer’s Professor Wormbog and the Search for the Zimparumpazoo. I fell in love with David Wiesner’s Tuesday, and from the first moment I saw Dinotopia, I knew I would someday own a copy. The combination of words and pictures to tell a story more powerful than either could tell alone is, in my opinion, one of the greatest accomplishments of storytelling.

Enter Angela Call and Sandra Tayler, who joined forces a few years ago to create a picture book every bit as delightful as the ones I’ve treasured since childhood. Hold on to Your Horses tells the story of Amy, an impatient and innovative child whose great ideas get her into a lot of trouble. I loved Amy’s story. I love the little illustrations with dancing horses and footprints running across the ceiling. I love the tender words and artful rendering of Amy’s late-night cuddles with her mother, and the strength of the metaphor that permeates the final pages. Hold on to Your Horses is a fabulous book.

I am, admittedly, not unbiased in my assessment. Sandra is my sister, and it’s utterly unsurprising that the story she told and the artist she selected are a perfect match for my sensibilities. Fortunately, Jim Hines and Booking Mama have no such predispositions. Neither do my children, who insisted on at least five or six repetitions before I had a chance to mention it was written by their aunt. I’m not sure they’ve really even processed the ‘aunt’ part. But they sure do like the book.

Hold on to Your Horses can be bought at the Schlock Mercenary store or at Amazon.com, and an author-approved free copy is available in PDF format. (Hint: it makes a great holiday gift.)

And, because Sandra is my sister, I’m going to include a MAJOR SHOUT-OUT to the STRENGTH OF WILD HORSES KICKSTARTER. Amy’s story isn’t finished. In the next book, she learns what idea horses are good for, and how to steer them to even more amazing places.

cross-posted from nancyfulda.com

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk

A wise acquaintance once told me that raising a child is not the same as baking a cake. There is no magic recipe. There are no secret strategies that produce consistent results for every child or for every family. There’s just you, and your child, and the thousands of different ways you interact every day.

I’ve found this to be very true. My children react to some situations the way most of their classmates do. They react to other situations in ways that are uniquely their own. At certain stages of their development, they needed clear consequences to help them see the way their actions affected those around them. At other stages of development, they were utterly unable to see the connections between their choices and my subsequent parenting decisions. Strictness, in such situations, was not helpful. Over the past ten years, I have come to view parenting much in the same way that I view writing, or sculpture, or any other art form. Certain general principles apply. The secret lies in discovering which principle to rely on at any given moment.

This week I’m re-reading Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk. My mother gave me this book when I was pregnant with my first child. It’s a practical handbook about how we communicate and, perhaps more importantly, how we can encourage others to do the same. It builds off the assumption that a child’s feelings are just as important as those of an adult, and just as deserving of recognition.

I’m not too thrilled with the commercial descriptions of this book. They make it sound like a brittle list of parenting commandments, inflexible and unsuited to any but an extraordinarily typical family. The reality is much more refreshing. I first read this book when my son was two, and found the ideas intriguing. Many of the more pragmatic suggestions were irrelevant to me then. But the concepts have stayed with me, and have probably influenced my parenting style more than I will ever realize.

Parenting, like any other skill, involves both practice and theory. I find parenting books useful primarily because they offer a unique opportunity to step back and examine the way I interact with my children. They shake up my assumptions about the shoulds and should nots of childraising. They encourage me to change, even if I don’t always change in the way the book’s author intended.

The best parenting books also provide useful tools for dealing with problem situations. Like any other tool, these work best when applied astutely, and are no replacement for authenticity and human empathy.

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk offers a lot of useful tools. I value them enough that it seemed appropriate to dig out the book for a refresher course. So far, I have not been disappointed.

cross-posted from nancyfulda.com

David Walton: Quintessence

I’ve known David since we joined Codex together back in 2004. This was way back in the dark ages, before David published in Talebones and Analog, won the Jim Baen Memorial award, or became a Philip K. Dick Award winner.

He was a good writer back then. He’s even better now, and his second novel was released from TOR today:

Quintessence is a fast-paced thought experiment set in the Age of Exploration. It reminds me in ways of Sherlock Holmes, Robinson Crusoe, and Treasure Island — with magic, of course. And with a literally flat earth where storms rage and water plunges over the edge of the world near a magical island so dangerous that settlers are dying on a daily basis.

Walton’s exploration of Quintessence — what it is, how it works, and especially the biological consequences of its use in an isolated environment — are enthralling. Repeatedly, I found myself realizing that yes, if creatures existed who could manipulate the atomic structure of their own bodies, evolution would almost certainly take the paths described in the book. Walton is not one to waste words: The depictions are precise and powerful, and the action moves at a strong and steady clip.

Alas, the Amazon description for this book has left out some of my favorite parts. There is no mention of Stephen Parris, the king’s physician who is forced to flee to the edge of the world. Nor does it mention his daughter Catherine; a bright intellectual who inadvertently forms a psychic bond with the mysterious creatures called manticores. There is no mention of priest’s son who harnesses magic for practical purposes, nor of the eerie and intriguing connections between Walton’s ironfish and the physical principles of quantum entanglement.

All in all, this is an excellent book. It does things with magic, philosophy, and the Age of Exploration that I’ve never seen done before, and does them in a crisp and engaging style. Highly worth the time spent to read it.

cross-posted from nancyfulda.com