Book Review: How I Killed Pluto

I was recently feeling that there wasn’t enough science in my life (I don’t know, it was a feeling) so I did what I usually do when I want more of a topic–I found a book about it.  Specifically, I went to the library and looked up “astronomy” in the Dewey Decimal system and went over to that shelf to see what I could find.  And so I stumbled onto How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown–and it was excellent.

Mike Brown is the astronomer who found a large object beyond Pluto, igniting the debate (or at least, seriously heating it up) about what exactly a planet is, and whether Pluto qualifies.  His book is a kind of astronomy memoir, about his work looking for large objects beyond Pluto, in the Kuiper Belt.  The one that caused the controversy, nicknamed Xena and eventually named Eris, wasn’t the first one he found, so the story is something of a journey through near-misses, other discoveries, Mike’s own engagement, marriage and birth of his daughter along the way, and finally the great Pluto controversy.  It was very readable throughout and really fascinating. Continue reading “Book Review: How I Killed Pluto”

Friday Face-Off: The Amulet of a Thief

FFO.jpgTime again for the Friday Face-Off meme, created by Books by Proxy, with weekly topics hosted by Lynn’s Book Blog.  The idea is to put up different covers for one book, and select a favorite.

This week’s theme is: A cover featuring an Amulet

The first book to come to mind was The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner.  I read this one as a kid and it’s still a favorite, and a special token features as a major part of the story.  I’m not positive it’s an amulet, but one cover shows it that way, so…we’re going with it.

As an aside, I didn’t realize until some years after I first read it that this was the first book in a series.  I really, really tried to like the second book–I read it twice–and it just didn’t work for me.  The first book, however, I love.

This cover was on the copy I read at the library all those years ago, so I’m sentimentally attached to it…although when I really look at it, it doesn’t fit at all!  If this is the lead character I can’t explain the crown; if it’s the character who might wear a crown, he’s too old!

I like the comparative drama of this one, although it’s a little cartoony for me–and something is weird about the angles.

Here’s the promised amulet!  I like this one a lot, especially the dirt on those hands.  It promises that the person those hands belong to is getting down into the dirt of life, that stealing this amulet is no easy job (and it’s not!)

This foreign cover is my favorite–very similar to the previous one, I like the hint of the secret temple, the amulet looks a bit more how I’d picture it, and it’s just more dramatic and dangerous!

Writing Wednesday: Charles Garnier at the Opera

Charles Garnier by Nadar - Leniaud 2003 p142.jpgCharles Garnier plays a funny role in my Phantom novel–a character who is and isn’t there.  I wanted him in it as a kind of shadow, a part of the Opera he built, almost literally.  Erik reads his book on the construction of the Opera–Meg sees his portrait in two places in the Opera–Erik references him with respect–and of course, the building is called the Opera Garnier throughout my trilogy, an actual choice since it could have been the Opera de Paris (or the Palais Garnier, or the Salle des Capucines) and still been correct usage.  But I wanted that Garnier acknowledgment.

Garnier is nearly the only historical figure in my novel.  The only other one is Degas, and he’s only referenced very slightly by comparison (although the Phantom does have one of his paintings on his wall!)

Somewhere I picked up a kind of fondness for Garnier, maybe from Susan Kay’s novel where he’s a more prominent character, or from visiting the Opera Garnier itself.  Or maybe because of one story I heard about Garnier that I just love.  While the Opera was under construction, Empress Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III, was not wild about Garnier’s design.  She asked him what style the architecture was and, being a clever man, Garnier responded, “The Napoleon III style, of course!”

So he’s in here, a little, for those reasons–but also for what I can say about the Phantom through him.  And that mostly comes out in one very brief flashback.  Garnier may be in the rest of the trilogy just for the sake of this moment, because I love the image of Charles Garnier and the Phantom of the Opera sitting on the edge of the stage the night before the Opera opens, drinking champagne to their masterpiece.  And I will trust that the ghost of Garnier won’t mind me giving a little credit to the fictional Phantom!

Here’s my favorite bit of the flashback, as the Phantom reflects on their relationship and his role.


Finally, looking at the champagne bubbles and not at Garnier’s shadowed face, he had said, “Please don’t tell them about me.”

“Of course not.”

That was all.  No more than that.  It was enough, because unspoken between the words and filling the empty auditorium was the tacit understanding that had always existed between them.  There had never been anyone else who understood their mutual obsession for this building, no one else who loved it as they did.  He had liked to think of it as similar to two men in love with the same woman, each uniquely able to understand the feelings of the other.

Of course, when that situation actually came about, it had been utterly different.  So much for metaphor.

Garnier had a career, a family, a public face, and had gone on to design other buildings, explore other landscapes.  Erik was the shadow he left behind to watch over his masterpiece.

Book Review: Level Up Your Life

I’ve had Level Up Your Life by Steve Kamb on my to-read list for many months.  January is always a good time to read books about goals and intentions, so I finally picked this one up.  And I’m so glad I did, because it was an excellent start to the year!

Level Up Your Life approaches life transformation from a video game, geek perspective.  Kamb tells his own story throughout, about his love of video games when he was young (and still), and how he used the game mechanics of video games, with a little guidance from the Hero’s Journey classic story arc, to transform his life into something far more epic.  Basically, he set audacious goals, assigned experience points for completing tasks and quests, and has set his sights on “leveling-up” to Level 50, which would mean living his best life, as his best self.

I feel like this is a great book for a person with a certain mindset–one shared by probably most people I know.  It would help to have some sci fi interests, as he draws heavily from superheroes, movies and video games for his examples.  I knew the movies, and even for the video games I only knew by name, it was easy to follow the points he was making.  You also have to like the idea of approaching your life and completing your goals as something you can keep score on and continuously improve.  Which I found to be a pretty cool idea, actually! Continue reading “Book Review: Level Up Your Life”

Friday Face-Off: Good Queen Bess

Time for the Friday Face-Off meme, created by Books by Proxy, with weekly topics hosted by Lynn’s Book Blog.  The idea is to put up different covers for one book, and select a favorite.

This week’s theme is: ‘I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king’ – A cover that depicts a novel set in the Tudor period

The first novel that came to mind seemed fitting, since it’s about Elizabeth I, the source for this week’s quote: Legacy by Susan Kay, about the life of Elizabeth I.  This author is better known (I think) for her Phantom novel, referred to always as Susan Kay’s Phantom, and one my absolute favorite books.  I mean, we’re talking top 5 here.  Legacy, though in some ways similar (a sweeping exploration of one person’s life, through the points of view of different people surrounding them) is…well, not an absolute favorite.  Too much politicking!  But still a good read, with a few different covers. Continue reading “Friday Face-Off: Good Queen Bess”

Writing Wednesday: On Faces and Masks

There are many complexities and layers to my particular take on the Phantom—to the story, but also the character.  One of the most important aspects of the Phantom (or rather, Erik) that I can explain most succinctly is: Erik’s biggest problem is not that he’s so ugly no one can love him; it’s that he believes he’s so ugly no one can love him.  That’s not how it is in every version, as some put a lot of emphasis on the horrors of the Phantom’s appearance.

I’m frankly not that interested in the Phantom’s face, and whether it is or isn’t truly terrible.  Past negative reactions to his face and how that has twisted up his ideas about people, the world, and what life is possible for him, however, is fascinating.

So in Book Two of my trilogy, now that Erik and Meg are talking quite a lot, they don’t talk much about his face or even his mask.  But they do at least once, in a scene I was working on this week, when Erik realizes after quite a few months that Meg has known what he looks like all along.  His conclusion is—well, very true to my version of the character, I think!


There didn’t seem to be anything more to say.  So she knew.  She knew what he looked like, knew that he was not like other men, could never be like other men.

And yet—she was still here.  She had known all along.  It had been 192 days, fourteen hours since she had left, so Meg must have known all that time.  And she had still decided to become friends with him.  It was almost like she…didn’t care what he looked like?

Maybe she hadn’t really had a proper view.  Or maybe that moment, when the chandelier fell and he tore his mask off, had been too emotionally-charged for an adequate assessment.

2019 Reading Challenges

Now that I finished my 2018 challenges update, and my reading round-up, I’m finally ready to be thinking about what I want to read in 2019.  I’m going a little gentler on the number goals, and trying to both play to the strengths of where my reading seems to have gone, and get back to a few areas I realized I missed!

Nonfiction Reading Challenge
Host: Doing Dewey
Goal: 12 Nonfiction Books

This one is playing to my strengths, because I’ve been reading a lot of nonfiction in recent months.  (And may I just say as an aside that teenage me, who read nothing but fiction, would be shocked by this?  But she was stuck reading a lot of nonfiction she didn’t like for school, so…)  I expect this to be largely comprised of spiritual books, since that’s still my primary focus in my nonfiction–but I am rather tempted by the suggestion to read a book from each century of the Dewey Decimal system.  We’ll see how the year goes! Continue reading “2019 Reading Challenges”