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My current thesis research is somewhat tedious and boring. I have to identify the minerals and rock fragments in a bunch of sandstones and while I DO have to pay attention to what I’m doing, I’ve been doing this so long now that it’s somewhat mechanical. I also have to do this quickly.

So I HAVE to listen to things to keep me occupied. Music doesn’t quite cut it – it’s too easy to let myself get distracted. Podcasts are great, too, though I prefer audio dramas, of which there are very few quality productions – all of which I am now caught up on – and I haven’t been given any recommendations that I’ve liked.

Enter audiobooks – my new favorite thing. But in my new dalliance into audiobook listening, I have also found that there are good books, and there are good audiobook readers. But finding where these two spheres cross is a difficult task.

The first audiobook I listened to was Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files book, Storm Front, read by James Marsters – the platinum-blonde vampire from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He did an excellent job, and I’ll be starting his reading of the second Dresden Files book in a few days.

I was in the middle of the second Sirantha Jax book by Ann Aguirre, and I was so wrapped up in the story I managed to get my hands on the audiobook so I could continue it while I worked. Unfortunately, the reader of that series grated on my nerves. Her attempt at using different voices for different characters went too far to be taken seriously and entered the realm of cheesiness, and she was a bit nasal-y to begin with. Needless to say, it was difficult to listen to, because it went wildly against what I would have imagined on my own.

Another problem with audiobooks is that they’re expensive. I’m limited by whatever my public library has available (Audible costs more than I’m willing to pay every month). So, I’ve taken to Twitter to beg my audiobook-fiend friends for recommendations.

One of my friends recommended Elizabeth Peter’s Amelia Peabody series, which begins with Crocodile on the Sandbank. The library gave me the version read by Susan O’Mally, though the internet tells me there’s another version read by Barbara Rosenblat, which has good reviews. I’ve also checked out the second book, The Curse of the Pharaohs, which is also read by Susan O’Mally. I’ll say right now – I absolutely loved it. So much that I just finished it today, and I’m devoting this week’s blog post to it.

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Amelia Peabody is a Victorian era spinster, but she owns it in a similar manner to Miss Fisher, of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. It also helps that she’s fabulously wealthy, intelligent, and curious about the world, especially ancient Egypt. In this, her first adventure into the mysterious, she travels to Egypt and meets young Evelyn Barton-Forbes. Evelyn is running from a scandal, as well as two potential suitors, and Amelia takes her under her wing. The two women get along splendidly, and Amelia didn’t want to travel on her own.

They spend days wandering down (up?) the Nile in search of ancient Egyptian ruins, and stumble upon their acquaintances, Radcliffe and Walter Emerson, at their own archeological dig. Radcliffe, the elder, has become seriously ill, and the curious Miss Peabody makes herself at home bringing him back to health and helping with his research.

Suddenly, the group finds themselves haunted by what appears to be the new mummy they uncover in a tomb. Not long after, one of Evelyn’s suitors appears, and they all begin to unravel the mystery of the wandering mummy, because it can’t possibly be a real mummy, can it?

There is plenty of mystery, romantic love triangles, witty banter, and snark from all of the characters. Each one has a unique and lively personality, and I love every single one of them. I will admit I found the mystery itself somewhat predictable, but there were enough twists to throw me off plenty of times. Honestly, though, it was the characters and their interactions that kept me interested in the story.

Amelia is a feisty feminist of the Victorian era. She needs no man to make her happy, and appears resigned to die a spinster, though it doesn’t seem to bother her. She wants to explore the world and learn, and she’s starting with Egypt. She has a particular interest in archaeology, and wants to dig in the sand like any man. If I was a rich heiress, I’d probably end up just like her.

Evelyn is a sweetheart, and loyal to a fault to those she loves. She also happens to be a fantastic artist, and demonstrates intelligence that lets her follow in the footsteps of Amelia. She’s not the flimsy damsel in distress of many Victorian era novels (though of course, this was written in the 70s). I could almost see her as a younger, more artistic version of Amelia. Their characters interact much the way that sisters would, and it works well in the story.

Radcliffe Emerson is a more modern man of the Victorian era, though he tries to disguise it with sexist jokes. These soon stop, as he slowly realizes that Amelia is not like most women. He’s witty and snarky, but has an intelligence to match Amelia’s, and an admirable devotion to his archeological work. He’s the best kind of nerd, and sexy to boot.

Evelyen’s various suitors are less interesting. Walter Emerson is adorable and the most likeable. Lucas is a jerk and a character I enjoyed hating for most of the novel. Then there’s the other foreign guy who is just plain annoying, but in a way that is not frustrating to read. They’re good for the story though.

My favorite part of the novel was the way Emerson and Miss Peabody danced around each other. They infuriate one another, but at the same time they both clearly admire each other. Their relationship grows and evolves naturally and it was really fun to listen to.

I cannot wait to see what adventures these characters will run into next. I only hope the snarky, witty banter between Amelia and Radcliffe continues. I normally have to be in the right mood for mystery novels, but these characters are engaging enough that I don’t need to be in the right mood for Amelia Peabody and Radcliffe Emerson.

Happy reading!

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A couple years ago I read the Scarabaeus series by Sara Creasy. It was a mere two books long (Song of Scarabaeus and Children of Scarabaeus), and when it was over I felt bereft. It was the best sci-fi adventure I’d ever read. Full of suspenseful, tightly-written adventurous plot, with just the right amount of romantic subplot to satisfy the hopeless romantic in me. I wanted more of the same, but Goodreads seemed only able to recommend novels where the sci-fi plot/romantic subplot ratio was reversed. I wasn’t feeling it. So I asked Twitter for help, and someone recommended Grimspace by Ann Aguirre.

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For whatever reason, once I got my hands on it, I was afraid to try it. What if it wasn’t as good as Scarabaeus? No, it seemed much safer to revert to my urban fantasy addiction. And so, Grimspace sat untouched on my shelf for a good two years before I picked it up to read again. A couple weeks ago, my roommate mentioned that she was re-reading the series, and I remembered that I actually owned the first book. She and I have an almost identical taste in books, so I figured now was as good a time as any to jump into the Sirantha Jax series.

I haven’t regretted a single moment of it. Granted, I haven’t reached the end of the first book yet, but I didn’t have anything else I really wanted to write about this week, and I can’t stop thinking about this book, so why not write an early review?

Sirantha Jax is a jumper – she has the special gene that allows her to fly a spaceship through “grimspace,” this world’s version of faster-than-light travel. Grimspace is a weird thing. I won’t try to describe it, but when I read the description, it reminded me of the faster-than-light space travel in Farscape. Lots of colors, like we’d imagine a wormhole or something. The weirdest part, I thought, was how every human jumper has a finite number of jumps in them. They tend to “burn out” if they jump too many times (though what exactly this entails remains a mystery), and if they don’t want to burn out they choose to retire instead.

The thing is, there are very few of these people left (that the government knows about, anyway), and Jax was just involved in a crash after her last jump – a crash she has no memory of. The government, and her employers, are holding her prisoner and interrogating her about the crash, and her life is pretty much the most miserable thing ever.

Enter March: a man she’s never met, but breaks into her cell like Luke Skywalker with Han Solo’s attitude. Under the impression that her life with the Corp (the government in the book’s universe) can’t get any worse, she decides to make a run for it with March and his ship’s crew of rag-tag criminals/vigilantes. The ship and crew have a very Firefly-esque vibe going on, but with plans like the Serenity movie.

Forgive all the pop culture references. This book just really reminds me of a bunch of my favorite things.

The plot thickens when Jax and March reach their first destination: a planet on the outskirts. They finally tell Jax their plan: they want to train a new generation of grimspace jumpers who last longer (Jax herself has been jumping far longer than the average human), by somehow incorporating alien DNA into their biology. So the team goes on a mission to recruit alien jumpers, and hijinks ensue.

The universe is a rather dark and twisted place, but our protagonists provide enough heroism, humor, and romance to balance the darker sides of the story. The story itself is tightly written, and the POV is a sort of blend of third and second person. Somehow, it works for Sirantha Jax. The cast is also refreshingly diverse in several different ways, and we need more stories like that.

When I’m at work, I think about Grimspace. When I’m home, I can’t wait to get into bed and get back to reading Grimspace. It’s been a while since I felt this way about a book. Thankfully, I can borrow my roommate’s copies of the rest of the series, but I bet I’ll be buying my own set once I graduate.

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If you read a lot of books, or if you’re a writer, you are probably at least aware of what’s been going on between Amazon and the publishing company Hachette. Possibly, you are also confused by it, or maybe just conflicted. I fall into this latter category, and I’ve spoken with a couple of my author friends about it, so my goal in writing this post is to facilitate some kind of discussion about what’s going on between Amazon and Hachette.

To start us off, here’s an article (clearly biased in the anti-Amazon direction) that lays out the situation pretty well and should answer any immediate questions you may have. Basically, Amazon is making it really difficult for customers to buy Hachette-published books because the two companies can’t come to an agreement about how to sell these books. Amazon finally spoke out a little bit at the end of last month, and this article sums it up without any bias one way or the other.

As a person who has never actually had a problem obtaining books from Amazon, and as an as-yet-unpublished writer (either traditionally or independently), I personally do not have any qualms with Amazon. I am not going to boycott them until I understand this situation more. But based on what I’ve read so far, I understand why some people are choosing to boycott Amazon. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a personal choice. Author Neil Gaiman pointed out recently in an interview that we don’t REALLY know what’s happening, because all the details are under non-disclosure.

These articles I’ve linked to show the perspective from some of the big authors who are affected by these business proceedings. But what about independent authors? What about writers who can’t get the time of day from these enormous publishing companies? How does this affect them?

Author Frank Schaeffer defends Amazon because he believes he would not have been as successful without Amazon’s help, and he’s not the only independent author who feels this way. My writing partner told me she wouldn’t be a writer today it it weren’t for Amazon, and that for every J.K. Rowling and James Patterson, there are 500 authors like her. The jury is out as to how this affects unpublished authors seeking traditional publication.

My conclusion is this: it’s a business war between two major corporations. Many people seem to be forgetting that Hachette is ALSO a big company, and I think that’s important to keep in mind. I will never understand the ins and outs of it because I don’t have any expertise in business, so I’m going to wait to pass judgement until everything is settled. But maybe some of you reading this have a better grasp on the situation. Is Amazon really the big bad that so many people are quick to claim? What do you think about what’s going down between Amazon and Hachette? If you’re boycotting, why, and if you’re not, why not?

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“The book is always better.”

This is a phrase everyone is familiar with when it comes to movies and TV shows based on novels. We’ve all heard it before, and for a while it was “common knowledge.”

In recent years, I have come to realize that this is not actually always true, and it’s a lot more complicated than that opening phrase makes it seem. “The book is always better,” is a myth, and I’m going to crack it my way.

I choose to think of books vs. movies as two different art forms – two different ways to tell the same story. Then you have to consider who is behind the scenes. In the case of a book, it is mostly just one person letting their imagination run free, with some help from editors and beta readers. In the case of a movie, you have the writer, the director, the actors primarily, as well as an entire film crew that can vary in size. It is inevitable that these two groups will have the exact same ideas for how the story should be told. Very rarely does the original author get to write the script and be actively involved in the movie’s creation (whether or not those movies are better than other book adaptations is a debate for another time).

I am a huge fan of The Vampire Diaries. Don’t knock it ’til you try it. But after I finished the first season, the idea of waiting an entire summer for more of these characters sounded like torture. But hey, the series is based on a series of books, so they’re probably good, right?

Wrong. The Vampire Diaries novels were dreadful. I forced myself to read three of them before I had to give up before I tore them to shreds. They were terribly written. And apparently in the books, male vampires can’t get it up, so they just suck each other’s blood instead of have sex. Gross. Also, Damon is about 1,000 times more creepy in the books, and I am totally in love with that character in the show – so that was really unfortunate. I mean sure, he eventually redeems himself for a while, but the storyline goes to hell. Somewhat literally. For a while Elena becomes this weird, childlike, angel-creature, and abruptly loses all of her personality. Not that it was particularly great to begin with – she was more like Caroline was at the beginning of the show. Elena’s character in the show is brilliant – she has agency, right from the start you know that her greatest desire in life is to keep her loved ones safe, and everything she does reflects that (including all of her ill-fated and stupid decisions). In the books she’s a spoiled brat, the most obnoxious kind of stereotypical popular high school girl you could ever find. Julie Plec is a far better storyteller than L.J. Smith could ever hope to be.

Game of Thrones is my other favorite example of a show being better than the book it’s based on (I want to be clear that this is merely my opinion, but I know several people who share it). The benefit of the show is that you get to cut out all of Martin’s useless information that wasn’t edited out of his novels. Seriously, look at those things. They’re huge. The story flows much better on screen than it does in the books. But there are people who still like the books better. That’s fine. I don’t.

Another thing I have learned, related to this, is that if I read the book right before I see the movie, I end up hating the movie. But if I wait to read the book until after, or it’s been years since I read the book, the movie is brilliant and enjoyable. The Hunger Games is a great example of this. I thought it was an excellent film, and it told the story beautifully. Only later did I hear everyone complaining about it because certain things were changed or left out, but I still enjoyed the film. I might even go as far as saying I thought it was better than the book. When I went to see the 7th Harry Potter film right after I re-read the book for the umpteenth time (I think I literally finished it about three days before I went to the theater for a midnight showing), however, I thought it was terrible. Everything was wrong. But the friend I went with hadn’t read the book in ages, and she absolutely loved it.

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Last week I went to see Mortal Instruments: City of Bones with my awesome roommate who likes the same TV shows and books as me. Though Clary seemed a bit passive in my opinion, I really enjoyed this movie. I have since started reading the book, and I’m enjoying that immensely as well. Is one of them better than the other? Sure, Clary is more active in the book (at least until Chapter 7, I haven’t gotten very far yet). But that’s not the only aspect that’s different. Personally, I thought many of the events in this story looked fantastic visually. Magic (though the Shadowhunters would take offense at that word) often does look really cool in movies. I had a similar experience with Beautiful Creatures, though I haven’t read the book yet.

So maybe the question is not whether or not the film is better than the book, but how we perceive the different mediums. I have stopped questioning which is better, and I look at them as separate entities. Both are telling stories, and some methods work better for one than the other. Don’t be so harsh to judge movies by their books. I think we should encourage book adaptation instead, because clearly Hollywood is running out of ideas when they just keep remaking what they’ve already done. There are billions of books to choose from, waiting to be told with a different tool.

This is why I am thrilled that one of Richelle Mead’s novels (Vampire Academy) is finally being adapted into film. Sure, the vast majority of the world’s movie-going population might be tired of vampires, but I never will be, and this is a brilliant story – FAR superior to that dreadful franchise featuring sparkling vampires. Ugh. Give me Rose Hathaway over Bella Swan ANY day!

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