Thursday, March 29, 2012

Stopping for tea on Pike's Peak

"Well, none of us can do more than our best, and it is very necessary to have Faith. That moves mountains, we are told."

"Then for Heaven’s sake lay in a good stock of it," said Wimsey gloomily, "because as far as I can see, this job is like shifting the Himalayas and the Alps, with a touch of frosty Caucasus and a touch of the Rockies thrown in."

-- Dorothy L Sayers, Strong Poison

A quarter of the way into the Mount TBR Reading Challenge, I'm rather pleased with my progress so far. I signed up for Pike's Peak level which meant reading 12 books from my TBR. Since January, I have read four, including several that have lingered on the TBR shelf for far longer than I care to admit.

The books in question:

Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison
Kage Baker, In the Garden of Iden
Laura Anne Gilman, Staying Dead
Katherine Kurtz & Deborah Turner Harris, Dagger Magic

Of the four, finishing the Sayers book really stunned me. I've tried to read her for years, but have always tripped up on her language and her Latin quotations. Maybe it was rewatching the old PBS Mystery! Adaptation fairly recently, but the book went much faster this time, once I was past the opening court scene. Gaudy Night has keeping Strong Poison company on my bookshelf for nearly as long, so it might be good to give it another go.

That leaves me with eight more books to manage between now and the end of the year, a respectable amount for my reading habits.

See, here's the thing, dear Readers, I know how I read. There will be the shiny and new. There will always be something that just came out that has captured my attention or something my friends keep talking about, so I get curious. That's why I made my Goodreads goal larger than my TBR one. (For the record, I've managed 11 books for the Goodreads reading challenge so far, far more than I anticipated, even without those Kurtz & Harris Adept series re-reads before Dagger Magic.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cov Ops 101: How to Survive Being Surrounded by Teenagers

The Operative attended a book signing on Tuesday evening at the Bethesda Library in Bethesda, Maryland. The authors were Ally Carter, senior agent in charge of chronicling the Gallagher Girls adventures and the Heist Society books, and Rachel Hawkins, Alabama-born author of the Hex Hall series. Both series were quite popular and heavily read in the coveted teenage girls demographic.

The Operative left a full half hour early, assuming extra time on the DC Metro and that her navigational skills would be graded on a severe curve. It was, after all, in Maryland, a strange and foreign land to a Virginia native. (The White Flint incident has not been expunged from the official record just yet.) The Operative arrived to discover that the entire room at the Bethesda Library was packed. She wound up standing in the back, listening to the question and answer session for nearly thirty to forty minutes. Some questions were directed to Carter and some to Hawkins or both.

After the Q&A session was concluded, the two authors signed books for over an hour. Politics and Prose had all their books on sale, including the two newest hardcovers, Spellbound and Out of Sight, Out of Mind. Two teenage girls showed up in full Gallagher Girl uniforms and posed for photos.

The Operative has discovered that writing these Covert Operations reports is not all it’s cracked up to be. Paperwork won’t kill you. Not being able to use proper pronouns will.

Some other pieces of intel I picked up:

There is one more Gallagher Girl book planned. Carter is working on the third Heist Society book now, although it’s currently untitled. She did share the fact that the covers to the Heist Society books always show the reflections of whatever is being stolen, whether art or jewels. The third cover will feature Hale. So is Katarina helping steal some part of Hale’s life back? Is she after some elusive item in Hale’s family collections? Or is she somehow going to find the answer to those dratted W.Ws?

The Hex Hall books are concluded after three books, but there’s a spinoff series planned. The new leading character will be introduced in that third book and Hawkins said if you read the book, you’d have a pretty good guess at that character’s identity. The girls behind me were all Hex Hall fans and had all found the third book that had just been released. They were all enthusiastic readers with clear favorites. One girl was eagerly waiting for the Hunger Games movie, more so than the author event. The girls in front of me were already absorbed in reading “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” while waiting in line.

Cross Your Heart and Hope to Spy was Carter’s hardest book to write, because although she had a general premise about Gallagher Girls meeting the Blackthornes, she didn’t have a plot. Hawkins initially thought a sequel was hardest to write, until she had to follow it up with the third. Her scientific (and presumably geeky) husband pointed out she didn’t have enough big explosions and stuff going bad; she needed “Empire Strikes Back” level of bad things going wrong. The problem was after you’ve burned everything down, what the hell do you do next?

Researching the Gallagher Girls, Carter sings the praises of the local Spy Museum and its helpful website with book suggestions. Did you know we have the largest per capita of spies in the DC area? Yeah, not really news. The Spy Museum loved showing her around and making suggestions, too. The initial inspiration for the series was watching a random episode of “Alias” and thinking for some reason there was a boarding school of female spies. When she realized there wasn’t one, she decided to write it.

Also asked why she picked Virginia and Maine for her locations for the Gallagher Girl books. Carter is from Oklahoma, which is fairly young territory by American standards. She wanted someplace with deep roots in history and could logically have a large house from the Civil War era. With CIA located in Langley, Virginia, the choice seemed logical to Carter to keep it close.

The cover model for the Gallagher Girl is actually not one girl, but several, and the publishers have Photoshopped/cropped accordingly to keep up the image. The original sadly had to give up modeling because she needed to get her grades up.