Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Favorites

At the half-year mark I linked to a file with all the books I'd read so far. Here we are at the end of the year and so I'm back to link to the final list of books read in 2010 and to share a more extensive list of my reading year.

sgwordy's Read in 2010 list (ordered by star rating)

Favorite fiction: The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow

Favorite non-fiction: Comeback America by David Walker

Favorite mystery/thriller: I can't decide between a couple Crais titles so this one will be a mystery. (hee)

Favorite historical fiction: Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Favorite fantasy: A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

Favorite Sci-fi: Tie!
Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin

Favorite Romance: Tie!
Lessons in French by Laura Kinsale
The Spymaster's Lady by Joanna Bourne

Surprise hit: Tie!
The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston
The Lion's Daughter by Loretta Chase

Surprise blunder: Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel

Favorite author discovered in 2010: Tie!
Robert Crais
Georgette Heyer

Most re-read book first read in 2010: Lessons in French by Laura Kinsale

Most recommended and recommendation actually taken: White Cat by Holly Black

Most recommended books I wish people would have read but usually didn't:
Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow
The Blue Orchard by Jackson Taylor
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin




And since I do occasionally do something other than read...

Movies:
Favorite - Black Swan
Surprise hit - Killers
Surprise blunder - Iron Man 2

Video games:
Favorite - Assassin's Creed 2 (b/c Ubisoft still owns me)
Surprise hit - Dante's Inferno
Surprise blunder - Resident Evil: 5

"I find myself unable to be the controller."

The Kinect has become part of the entertainment system in my living room and my feelings are tepid. Some parts of it are awesome (like when it listens to my voice commands (keyword there is when)) and some parts of it are irritating as shit (like when I'm using the voice commands and am suddenly shunted into a menu in which the actual controller has to be used, WTF?). I've got some really specific feedback for Microsoft but their current feedback system is "can we record all your voice commands whenever you are verbally communicating with the Kinect?" Uh, creepy much? Gonna have to pass on that one, Big Brother!

And while we're on the subject Kinectimals is uber lame but our tiger cub, Richard Parker, is uber cute!

Another Roundup

Well I got festive but not wordy this holiday season cuz I've been busy but I'm never too busy to read. So, on that note... more book fun...

Title: Sugar
Author: Bernice L. McFadden
Publisher: Dutton (2000)

I'm a big McFadden fan and, not surprisingly, this is another great novel. Her characterization and writing are so satisfying and her ability to bring a character right into your heart and mind is amazing. I have no trouble connecting with her characters and feeling something for or about them. Like them or hate them, you can never ignore them. And the ending! Holy damn! I felt wrung dry in the way only a satisfying novel can accomplish. There were some details to the ending that were predictable (and one quite annoying) but it doesn't at all detract from the power of the decisions the characters made.

Favorite line:
Pearl watched him disappear into the crowd and wished that it would swallow and digest him, finally discharging him as the shit she knew he was. 

rating: 4 of 5 stars


Title: Black Hole Sun
Author: David Macinnis Gill
Publisher: HarperCollins (2010)

I picked this one up due to an author I adore mentioning in an interview that she liked it. As I was reading I wanted to call her up and say, "Have you read your books? How can you be familiar with your own books and their superiority and still find this book satisfying?" Ouch! I know, I'm so mean. Anyway, this book definitely didn't do it for me. I liked the fun life on Mars world, the dialogue was pretty snappy, and huge kudos to the author for not being one of those that insists on explaining every tiny detail in minutiae (and with repetition) but I didn't care for the characters (two in particular got the old blood boiling but not in the good way) which rendered the story moot because if I don't care about the characters then I don't care what happens to them.

rating: 2 of 5 stars


Title: Make Me Yours
Author: Betina Krahn
Publisher: Harlequin Blaze (2009)

My second attempt at a Harlequin was almost as unsuccessful as my first. I will continue to look elsewhere for my romances.

rating: 2 of 5 stars


Title: Ash
Author: Malinda Lo
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (2009)

This is a creative though slightly bland re-invention of the Cinderella story (I know it probably seems weird to use creative and bland in the same sentence but that's truly how I felt at the end). I really liked the world-building and the political/cultural background for the world  but at no point was I really drawn into the story. Ash is a pretty satisfying character to follow and I like her dedication to seeking her own truth and happiness but there wasn't any point at which I was worried about her getting her ending. Lacking in dramatic tension I would say so a book to read more when you don't want your mind stretched. While she didn't live an easy life, as a journey in literature, it all felt too easy. One thing captured so well by the author is the awkward "getting to know you" as you try to date as a young person. Some of the scenes with Ash and the King's Huntress were totally cracking me up in a nostalgic manner as they tried to work out their feelings. I felt this as an adult thinking back on dating in high school but I'd be interested to hear a teen reader's reaction to them. I don't think I even know any teenagers... I will be sure to accost the next one I see out in the wild...

rating: 3 of 5 stars


Title: Silver Phoenix
Author: Cindy Pon
Publisher: Greenwillow (2009)

This is another one that I liked for the world-building but not as much for the characters and I can't comment on the story because it didn't engage me enough to actually finish the book. I really like historical fiction and so I was quite happy to be reading a book not set in Europe (so so so much historical fiction is in Europe, please bring on new terrain, authors/publishers!) but I just couldn't get into the story or characters. The action wasn't engaging me and the characters were oddly inclined to spill their life stories at the smallest provocation. Example: How are you today? Oh fine, and this is how I have been every previous day of my life... Ok, I exaggerate but that's how it was feeling so I decided to pass on finishing this.

rating: DNF


Title: The Duke's Wager
Author: Edith Layton
Publisher: Signet (1983)

You know, this one really got my brain going and swinging like a ping pong from what I loved to what drove me nuts so I'm gonna save this book for SBD and do an actual review.

rating: stay tuned


On my nightstand:
Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg (joint post coming with lp13)
The Known World by Edward P. Jones
The Sentry by Robert Crais (lp13 - you rock!!!!)
Death to the BCS by Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter, and Jeff Passan


What have you been reading this holiday season?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

sgwordy gets festive at work


I bet you didn't even know you could get plastic horse Christmas lights, didja?

So Much Funny

I love these websites! And don't miss this entry! So fucking funny. Snorted tea through my nose.


(hat tip: THE tot)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Reading Roundup

Ok, I'm willing to admit that maybe I'm busy and 'behind on the internet' and pretty much everything because I read too much. Well, of course, one can never read too much. ;-)


Title: Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?
Author: Beverly Daniel Tatum
Publisher: Basic (1997)


Very interesting book about race relations and racial/ethnic/cultural identity development. Highly recommended!

rating: 4 of 5 stars


Title: Frederica
Author: Georgette Heyer
Publisher: Can't Find It (1965), Sourcebooks has a 2009 reprint


I almost always enjoy Heyer's historical romances and this was no exception. It was no Friday's Child but still a solid romp with lots of laughs.

rating: 3 of 5 stars


Title: Comeback America: Turning the Country Around and Restoring Fiscal Responsibility
Author: David M. Walker
Publisher: Random House (2010)


As a fiscal realist and a person who is more afraid of the country imploding from stupid political decisions than exploding from terrorist attacks this book was like reading the notes of a soul-mate. If you have any interest AT ALL in learning about how we've gotten so far into debt, what we are continuing to do that is crippling to the strength of the nation, and the steps we need to take NOW to fix it then READ THIS BOOK!

rating: 4 of 5 stars


Title: Falling Free
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Publisher: Baen (1988)


This is a very cool set-up featuring a group of individuals engineered for life in free fall. Bujold's imagination and ability to bring life in free fall to, er, life is most enjoyable. That said, I thought several times of not finishing the book. The ending is so self-evident (and the baddie so unoriginal) that you have to be really invested in the process to want to keep turning pages. I was mostly meh but I can see it having more appeal to other sci-fi fans, it just didn't catch me is all.

rating: 3 of 5 stars


Title: Scandal in Spring
Author: Lisa Kleypas
Publisher: Avon (2006)


I'm pretty sure this is the last Kleypas I'm reading.

rating: 2 of 5 stars


Title: Clay's Ark
Author: Octavia E. Butler
Publisher: Aspect (1984)


Another story with a great set-up. Butler's writing, characterization and imagination are a sheer joy to experience. This tends heavily toward slice-of-life and I really like more of a plot in my stories. To anyone familiar with the book that probably sounds ludicrous due to the escape attempts and fight at the ranch but for some reason it just felt more like an eventography to me than a story. Interesting, but lacking in the amount of dramatic tension I prefer. However, Butler's characters are just dynamite which was enough to keep me reading. I was also super intrigued by Eli's idea that he was preserving as much humanity as possible (in the face of alien micro-organism invasion) but at the same time removing free will from others. Very interesting dichotomy that made his character simultaneously intriguing and infuriating. The daughters, too, were incredibly interesting. Even when their actions gave me the heeby jeebies I was able to fully understand what drove them.

rating: 3 of 5 stars



Books that got the DNF:


Title: The Sharing Knife, Volume Four: Horizon
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Publisher: Eos (2009)


I quite enjoyed the first of this series and even stayed interested through the second. The third was a bit of a letdown and I couldn't muster the interest to finish the fourth. I think I was supposed to care more about the scientific nature of ground. I thought this was an angle of the series not THE series and I really wasn't interested in chapters upon chapters detailing our protags' adventures in ground research.

Series bonus: Fantastic cover art!



Title: I'd Know You Anywhere
Author: Laura Lippman
Publisher: William Morrow (2010)


I had heard so much positive buzz surrounding Lippman that I went into this book with very high expectations. I very quickly discovered that this was a book set in the suburbs! Gah! Much hate for settings in suburbs but I continued on in an effort to expand horizons, etc. As I read on I wasn't liking anything about the way the story was unfolding. It was all tell, tell, tell but still nothing happening. I feel most suburb books are like this and it drives me nuts. 


Title: Savages
Author: Don Winslow
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2010)


After my love affair with The Power of the Dog I hate the idea of not liking anything Winslow wrote but this story is definitely not for me. I enjoyed the rhythm and style of the writing (he makes great use of white space if that makes any sense at all:) but the tone was driving me nuts. He wouldn't just let the characters be (cool - hehe) but insisted on relentlessly reminding me who they were and what they were about and repeating passages almost verbatim only a few pages apart and that was wearying. Also, like the Lippman above, lots of tell, tell, tell but still nothing was happening. I don't have a short attention span but if I'm already trying to filter out annoyances while I wait for things to get started I am probably going to lose interest.




What have you been reading lately?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Delicious, Not Quite a Husband by Sherry Thomas

Title: Delicious, Not Quite a Husband
Author: Sherry Thomas
Publisher: Bantam Books (2008, 2009)


Just a warning here, folks, if you're a fan of these this might not be a post you're interested in.

I first picked up Delicious because of all the positive chatty associated with Sherry Thomas and I thought the book was just ok. I certainly did not understand why everyone was raving but I thought maybe it was just that this one didn't quite catch my interest so I decided to try another. Bad decision.

In Delicious Verity Durant is the creme de la creme when it comes to cooking up the good stuff. She could work anywhere but she stays on the estate owned by her ex-lover. She's fairly infamous for being the cook he had a relationship with but she stays on cooking for him and his lovers of the month. When he dies unexpectedly and his brother, Stuart Somerset, inherits, Verity realizes hiding her secret will be impossible and decides to move on. When the sparks start to fly between her and Stuart she finds it harder and harder to leave.

I'm not a foodie but I was charmed with the magical satisfaction diners obtained from Verity's meals just as I was in that 90s movie, Simply Irresistible. I also liked the well-done back stories for all the characters. It was clear how current actions were informed by past experiences and definite priorities. I was really impressed with Michael's character as he was featured so few times yet came across quite vividly. Verity annoyed me a bit in her "I really am leaving in about five minutes but while I'm here I'm going to be deliberately enticing and torture Stuart and myself with what I've decided we can't have." So her thinking was correct in that they didn't make a good match for his life goals but her inability to follow through when, in every other way, she was very staunch in her decision making was irritating. I guess that's the crux of the story, can't stay away and all, but it just didn't wash with me. I also thought the ending was too easy. All this, "no, no, no we can't" and such a big deal made of everything but here we are at the end of our page count so let's get out our bows and tidy everything up. Ugh! just too easy. And wtf was up with Verity getting behind that screen? Can you say privacy violation? She really did not strike me as a person who would eavesdrop. I mean, I know she's got to hear the big speech and all, but really, that was just too easy and too lazy. So, solid potential but a few pitfalls along the way. This is what led me to pick up Not Quite a Husband so as to give Thomas another try.

side note before I move on: The courtship of the side characters (Marsden and Bessler) was just freaking weird. Their interactions, especially in the beginning, gave me the heebie jeebies. Anyone else have a different take on the two of them? In the end, I decided it was worth it for the "symphonic concerts" and "music halls." hehehehehe


In Not Quite a Husband Bryony and Leo were a surprise match. Bryony, an obsessed medical practitioner when it was not the thing for women to work, and Leo, handsome, cavalier, sought-after, would not ever have been paired by society but marry they did. It ended in an annulment and now Bryony is half a world away working. Leo is sent to fetch her back for her family. I was immediately sucked in by this storyline. I luuuuurved the idea of not quite getting it right the first time and trying again a few year later, older and wiser. Yummy! Again, back stories started to develop nicely and I was gearing up for good times. Then, horrors!, really inappropriate sexual scenes reared their ugly heads.

Dubiousness set in when Sickness forced a situation of intimacy but, whatev, what is romance without some tropes? And, not a big surprise, they got into a bit of the humpty hump. We're still ok here, people - nothing particularly innovative but the story is still intriguing me and everyone is acting in character and with free will intact. Bryony asks not to speak of the first "indiscretion" again and even goes so far as to rebuff Leo's advances later. Then when he's almost entirely better and slumbering peacefully she starts taking liberties with his person. I wanted to throw the book across the room. You've already been all "keep your hands to yourself, pardner" and now he's asleep and you're going to take advantage??? ASLEEP!!!!!! Fucking asleep!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Can you say inappropriate????!!!!!!!!!!!????????? Non-consenting sex is ew! One must be awake to consent! And even if you know someone does actually want to do the Deed with you s/he still needs to be awake! Holy damn! This reminds me of when I had to read that piece of trash Water for Elephants years ago and was flabbergasted when the guy was raped and no one ever commented on it and my book club members didn't even notice! Wha?????????????? I very politely asked my fellow members how they would have responded to the scene if the guy had been a gal and the same things had happened. I swear I actually saw the light bulbs appear atop their heads. But anyway, let's not get me started on Water for Elephants. Let's get back to the inappropriate on display here...

These types of dodgy encounters just irritate the shit out of me. I find they are too often glossed over PERIOD but especially when men are on the receiving end. I like romance novels because they are positive depictions of emotional and sexual relationships not because people are so overwhelmed by their burning loins that they can't be bothered to wake a person up! Grrr! Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!

So, anyway, as you can imagine nothing could redeem this story me for after that. It was just too irksome. Again, this book had so much potential and then even bigger pitfalls than Delicious. There was more I didn't like but I'm all irritated again and would rather go focus on something I do like rather than something that makes me angry.


ratings-
Delicious 3 of 5 stars
Not Quite a Husband 1 of 5 stars

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Book Rankings vs. Keeper Shelf (not necessarily a direct relationship)

Last month I was inspired to write about book grading systems and this led to what might be found on the ole Keeper Shelf. My Keeper Shelf includes books that I've rated from 3 - 5 stars and there are many books I've rated above average that I'm not at all interested in keeping. So, how is it that I might want to keep a book but not give it a "good" rating? Well, I have a very healthy appreciation for the fact that what I enjoy and what is an example of an excellent book are not always one and the same.  Let's start with some examples from the Keeper Shelf and then some explanations.

sgwordy's Keeper Shelf, a mostly random sampling

3 of 5 star books-
R is for Ricochet by Sue Grafton
The Actor and the Housewife by Shannon Hale
Atonement by Ian McEwan
The Dream Hunter by Laura Kinsale
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Neffenegger

4 of 5 star books-
Gates of Fire by Stephen Pressfield
White Cat by Holly Black
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin 
Horse Heaven by Jane Smiley
Stalking the Angel by Robert Crais

5 of 5 star books-
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner
Without Remorse by Tom Clancy
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez
The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow
The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale

While I was riffling through the shelf, trying to cover several genres, I realized it takes any one of the following three things to get a book on my Keeper Shelf:
1. It's a book I will read again
2. It's a book I want to remember to recommend to people
3. It's a book I want to "show off" that I've read (tip of the cap to Seinfeld for recognizing this tendency)

If I had to get all scientific (and, really, why not?) I'd say ~87% of the Shelf is stacked with books from number 1, ~10% from number 2, and ~3% from number 3. All books listed above are for reason number 1.

The 4 and 5 star categories probably don't need any explanation (unless we want to quibble over the ratings:) but why do I want to read books again when I've "only" rated them 3 stars? The truth of the matter is, and I'm sure this will come as no surprise, books are read for so many different reasons that they do not always have to be wonderful to attract an audience. I rate a book 3 stars if it will be satisfying to its intended audience, but probably unsatisfying to a wider audience, and it's not offensively bad. (Obviously that's pretty subjective but critiques usually are.)

Let's take The Actor and the Housewife as a very good example of a perfect book to receive 3 stars from me. First off, this is going to appeal to specific groups of people but will be completely uninteresting to a wider audience. It's certainly not offensively bad: it's well-written (though perhaps too long), the characters are depicted well enough but they are not the types to draw in a wide audience, the story/plot is well-defined and easy to follow but it's going to appeal even less to a wider audience than the characters. These are not necessarily bad things but it definitely means the book is a solid 3 stars. I connected with this book on a pretty personal level and truly enjoyed it. However, I was part of one of those specific groups. This is not a wider audience book and I think I've only recommended it to one person. (I've also given 3 stars to books I personally didn't like but that I knew filled my criteria. In those cases I was not the target audience but I was able to see how the book would be satisfying if a reader was - these obviously don't make it on my Keeper Shelf.)

How do I decide if something gets bumped up from 3 to 4? The writing is generally better (in my case I lean quite heavily towards rewarding anyone who says more with fewer words (oh, irony!)); characterization, plot, storyline, dramatic tension, etc have all been kicked up a notch; but most importantly the book will reach out to a wider audience. For this example we'll look at White Cat. The book is intended for young adults interested in speculative fiction. However, the writing, characterization, dramatic tension, and story environment are going to be satisfying to a lot of people who might never have thought to pick up YA books or spec fiction. I've recommended this title to several people and they've been universally satisfied. In fact, I'm looking forward to reading it again myself but it's still out on loan. It keeps getting cycled through many pairs of hands. Hmmm, better re-think that strategy. :)


Being completely cognizant of how utterly subjective this all is I now want to do a post dedicated to my complete bafflement as to how some books get on folks' Keeper Shelves and/or get high ratings. But that's the joy of being a reader, there is so much out there to sample and love or revile. It keeps the bloggers blogging, yeah?


What's on your Keeper Shelf that might not get a high ranking?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

"Thank God and Dr Pepper."

You just can't make this stuff up!



I'm gonna assume she's thanking God for her awesome chest-pass skills and Dr Pepper for the money.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Reading Roundup

Time and/or interest often prevents me from reviewing much of what I read so when the mood strikes I'm going to start listing just a few comments on recently read books. These will include those books I start but then decide are not for me. So here we go...

(cue jazz hands)

Title: The Legend of Colton H. Bryant
Author: Alexandra Fuller
Publisher: Penguin Group (2008)

Non-fiction written very well in a narrative style. Fuller does a great job of highlighting a problem in her adopted state (Wyoming). Colton is at once no one and everyone; learning his story is so many things but a few words I would use are: matter-of-fact, cheering, heart-breaking, educational, necessary. I was especially impressed with how much Fuller could do with so few words. The book is only about 200 pages, and reads very quickly, but it doesn't feel like anything is left out. She conveys the topic well.

Favorite lines:
Jake says, "Happy now?"
"Born happy," says Colton.

It isn't just plain poverty - an ordinary lack of money - that keeps you on the wrong side of despair. It's a whole raft of poverties - a poverty of choice and a poverty of support and a poverty that comes with the certain knowledge that no one's going to take you seriously when you're invisibly decked out in an apron, working the night-shift.

rating: 4 of 5 stars


Title: Parable of the Sower
Author: Octavia E. Butler
Publisher: Warner Books (1993)

This is one of the books I don't plan to finish. The writing is very good and the characters intriguing but the plot is one that I don't enjoy much. It's a bit along the lines of the creation of a new faith/philosophy/religion and that storyline has never appealed to me. I'm going to stick with Butler's other work as she is a lovely writer so there's no reason to hang around in a story that isn't interesting to me.

rating: DNF

Title: The Diamond Age; or, A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer
Author: Neal Stephenson
Publisher: Bantam Books (1995)

Is it just me or is the punctuation in that title odd? Anyway... this book is awesome in so many ways but evokes in me the same feelings I had when finishing Red Mars and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell: I'm just not that interested. The story in this book is awesome, the world-building is fantastic, the details will blow you away (and I can't be the only one that cried a bit for Harv) but when push came to shove I just didn't care what happened. I think I need more of a narrative drive from books. A great big awesome world where stuff happens is just not enough. I need specific things to happen that directly pertain to the plot which will have a definite climax and then resolution. (If these things are not there I'd rather be reading non-fiction which also occurs in a great big awesome world where stuff happens, but in that case at least I'm learning something.) It's even better if I'm turning pages in the story just dying to know what the big climax will be. And even though I did read all the way to the end I feel like I ran out of pages rather than that the story ended.

rating: 3 of 5 stars

Title: Tantalize
Author: Cynthia Leitich Smith
Publisher: Candlewick Press (2007)

This is another that I don't plan to finish. It's YA which isn't a turn-off for me book-wise (I read tons of YA and some of my all-time fave books are found in this section) but this felt on the earlier spectrum of YA than I am interested in. YA can encompass so many types of stories and target audiences that it's truly as varied as the fiction section. The writing felt very explanatory, for lack of a more technical term, and I've always associated that with the younger YA audience and it usually doesn't keep my interest.

rating: DNF




What have you been reading lately?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ruffling Some Feathers (non-turkey)

A couple months ago now I came by this comment: "Yeah, that's how I felt about Outlander. It was alright but I didn't see what the big deal was." I thought: Hey, I like books! I like fantasy! I like romance! Why haven't I heard about this big deal? So out I went to find this "Outlander" book. Within this same time frame I came across another "big deal" that I had heard of before: The Twilight Saga. I have cheerily avoided these books and movies and not so cheerily wondered at why such a story garners such admiration but whatever, people will read what they will read. Then one surprise led to another and I found myself roped into being in the same room with a DVD player playing New Moon. So here I am to report back my experience with these pop culture phenoms.

(Sorry, folks, no summaries. If you have not heard of these things then you'll quickly see that I don't recommend bringing them into your home. If you have heard of them then you need no recaps from me.:)

Outlander:

The Heroine - It was absolutely impossible for me to get on board with an individual who could be so disloyal to a significant other. I'm not saying I minded that she fell for another guy but the idea that she would allow her present-day husband to never get to know what happened to her was too cruel. Can you imagine what you would imagine if your significant other disappeared? So the whole time I was reading, that was all I was thinking about. I could never enjoy her because the whole time I was wondering what kind of selfish, low-life does such a thing?

The Hero - does not exist. Seriously! This is not just a fiction vs. non-fiction issue. This is a does not exist issue. Jamie is not human. There is no human that would be as Jamie is. Not in any time period and probably not from a mix of time periods. Plus, he has red hair. For some reason I just can't handle heroes with red hair. Normally this is not a problem as I am a master of mental editing and I just change it. But when it is reiterated every other damn page one eventually gives up and then begins to imagine Jamie as one giant flaming head of hair with a pre-trained penis. This is, I suppose, not really a problem because, just as cognitive hair - red or otherwise - does not exist, neither does he.

The story - is serviceable if not exactly scintillating. Poss the scintillation factor could have been increased if twice as many words as necessary had not be used to tell the story.

The Baddie is a non-heterosexual* character???? Really??? That's what we're doing? Wouldn't it have been faster to have him kill a puppy in his first scene? I mean, if we're going for cheap and easy ways to establish villains could we not use one that is free of prejudice?

*I settled on non-heterosexual rather than bisexual because I couldn't quite determine his gender preference. He was so often overcome with the urge to express himself via rape that it didn't seem to matter who supplied the orifice.

And, again, I can't help but come back to WHAT KIND OF CRUDDY PERSON DOES NOT FEEL OBLIGATED TO RETURN, AT LEAST BRIEFLY, TO EXPLAIN WHAT HAPPENED??????



This book is the first of a series and Beth has a few posts that are hilarious re the series. Click here for the first and check out her sidebar for the others. Also, she likes Outlander so you can get an alternative perspective on this book.

Also, click here for a more detailed (and more awesome and more funny) review of Outlander. (hat tip: jmc)


New Moon:

The Heroine - is in some kind of contest to be the least interesting person alive. It's never detailed in the movie but it's pretty obvious. Also, she is so successful in this endeavor that she manages to make everyone around her completely uninteresting.

The Hero - sparkles. Like glitter. No, really, this is not a joke. I had heard so many "sparkly vampire" jokes re the series that I thought it was some sort of jokey hater thing and I was so impressed with the movie for having a sense of humor but then it's real. He sparkles. It's like his epidermis has been infested with glitter and the glitter is triggered to exit forcefully by sunlight. And it's real. I'm supposed to take it seriously.
Also, he's ugly.

The Story - It's hard to comment as I don't really even know what it was. Most of the movie was a high school* couple breaks up, one partner goes away and then gets all suicidey due to misinformation so the partner who stayed must fetch the misinformed one before he uses the power of his sunlight-controlled glitter to effect his demise. There were some werewolves** and other vampires but they came and went at the convenience of the plot, motivations lightly explored if at all.

Also, I think the screenwriter hates women. There was only one positively depicted female in the movie. The "heroine" defines herself in relation to the male characters and her girlfriends are protrayed dismissively. Ew.

* one "high schooler" is actually a 100+ yo vampire. What kind of loser can't find anything better to do than go to HS after being alive for over 100 years? Ok, fine, maybe it's a phase, but you honestly can't think it's a good idea!

**The makers of this movie ought to be ashamed and run out of town for unethical behavior. They've got this young actor so muscled up that his shoulders were permanently sloped forward completely ruining his posture. I see this in some adults much later in life as a natural aging effect but holy shitballs, people, this should not be allowed in a developing young person. Ugh!


So The Twilight Saga appears to be a romance centered around the Your Love is SO GREAT That Nothing Else Matters and I Can't Possibly Control Myself variety of love. As a reader of romance this is not my first encounter with the above. This storyline has never appealed to me and I always wonder why it does appeal to some. Is not maintaining control in the face of over-whelming emotions more impressive? Is not maintaining normal function as a human being in the face of great sadness, depression, or challenges more impressive? Well, it is to me, so to Those Who Would Devote Their Existence to Obtaining My Love, it is advised:

Retain your usefulness to society no matter how much your heart is breaking - it is certainly the more heroic thing to do.

Do not become so overwhelmed by emotion that you scream at me, throw things, shove me around or creepily stare through windows (or whatever) as those are certainly non-heroic things to do.

Do not tell me what is good for me or arrange matters in my life for my own good because you love me so much. This undermines my very existence (the existence you say makes yours meaningful), is insulting, and just plain rude. And decidedly non-heroic.

Do not take crazy risks with your life. Either have the courage of your convictions and do yourself in or (more preferably) see item the first.

There are more but since there really isn't a Those Who Would Devote Their Existence to Obtaining My Love group out there and I am ready to return to college football I will sign off.


ratings:
Outlander 2 of 5 stars
New Moon 1 of 5 stars

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin

Title: The Lathe of Heaven
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Publisher: Avon Books (1973)



Michael (of Lazy Thoughts From a Boomer fame) recently brought it to my attention that a movie of The Lathe of Heaven existed. I hadn't a clue this classic sci-fi novel had been adapted for film and was pretty excited to give it a looky. Since I'd read the book just a few months ago (or a year now? hmmm) it seemed like another great addition to our movie/film posts. As usual, Michael will be presenting the movie review and I'll take the book.

You can get to Michael's film review by clicking here.

As I said, it's been a little while since I read this book so I dug out my copy (ok, it was actually lent out and my neighbor kindly gave it back for a couple days:) to help refresh my memory for the review. I like to read the backcopy to help me with my summary and was pretty taken aback. Apparently it's "a truly prescient and startling view of humanity" which is weird because "prescient" is probably the last word I would have used to describe this story. Well, giantflamingturd is probably the LAST word but you get what I mean. One of Le Guin's strengths has always been her views of humanity so that I will certainly agree with. Anywho, over-eager backcopy and generic blurbs aside, I really liked this comment listed on her website:

"When I read The Lathe of Heaven as a young man, my mind was boggled. When I read it, more than 25 years later, it breaks my heart. Only a great work of literature can bridge — so thrillingly — that impossible span."
— Michael Chabon


At this point you must be thinking, get to the book already! So here we go...

George Orr would like to stop dreaming. To that end, he's been finagling ways to get past the limits set on the autodrug dispensary. Getting caught eventually lands him in Voluntary Therapeutic Treatment. He is assigned to Dr. William Haber. George explains that he would like to stop dreaming because his dreams affect reality. Naturally, Haber doesn't believe him but he agrees to treat him. Haber eventually realizes George is telling the truth and begins to imagine how one might go about creating a more perfect world. George, a reluctant participant at best, tries to get around the machinations of his doctor with the help of a lawyer named Heather Lelache.

The real triumph of this novel is its parallel scales. Haber is a passive-aggressive egomaniac trying to Change the World and George is a regular guy trying to get a problem under control. Readers experience the enormity of what Haber is doing but, right alongside, readers are also very much a part of George's everyday life as he tries to deal with this. Le Guin is a master of world-building and it is certainly on display here. And not only does she perfectly present the world as George experiences it, but we are also taken right along when any changes are affected by George's dreams. In a bittersweet sort of way, these changes can be really funny.
There's an aspect of this story that is like getting three wishes from a genie: once you get what you wished for, you realize you should have been more specific. At the same time that Le Guin is able to make a reader truly ache with the challenges faced by George, she's also able to give you an unexpected laugh when you see just how his dreams attempt to meet the requirements of Haber's World View.

The characters here are great. It's really just the three (George, Haber, and Heather) but they are excellently done. This is an aspect that was very much lost in the movie. But more on that when I comment at Michael's blog... Heather is especially well done in that she's given the "outsider" position, mostly having to react to situations rather than have any true agency but, despite this, she's not filler at all. It's another testament to Le Guin's excellence as a writer.

So while I really enjoyed this book there was something about it that didn't allow me to become fully immersed. I can't put my finger on what it was but I was never "lost in the story" or anything like that. I have a feeling it's one of those books that takes a couple reads to really appreciate all the aspects of the story. And, points to Le Guin, it's not a tome so a re-read is easy enough. (I've always liked how Le Guin can tell an excellent story without 2-3 times more words than necessary.)

One part that really annoyed me - and definitely took me out of the story - was this bizarre throwaway line of Heather's when she and George are first discussing the case. She mentions another case that might be similar and gives a bit of info on the other plaintiff. In what seems very odd coming out of a Le Guin book, you've got the over-used, completely unfair, disgustingly prejudice linking of homosexuality with pedophilia. I'm not saying that pedophilia is something that is strictly limited to heterosexuals but this literary device (that seems much too mild a term for such a transgression) really must fucking die! And, again, it's really weird coming from a Le Guin novel, at least in my experience.


My final verdict: Sci-fi fans for sure ought not to miss this one but even those who are a little hesitant to attempt the genre will get a lot out of this title.


And in case you haven't already been, here's the link again for the movie review!




rating: 4 of 5 stars


Coming up after the holidays:
Falling Angel
(and its movie adaptation by a slightly altered name - Angel Heart)



Links to previous joint posts:
The Princess Bride
A Scanner Darkly
The Children of Men
The Minority Report

Monday, November 15, 2010

Book Grading Systems

The ever-inspiring Apprentice Writer recently wrote about book grading systems. Ooh, oooh, I want to play!

Previous visitors to sgwordy probably already know that I use the 5 star system. You can click here for my previous description of what stars mean to me. However, it's no accident that I put my rating at the end of a post. I think rating systems aren't all that informative so it's the wordy words that really mean something. Well, that's sort of a relative term, yeah? :) Now, I will say that I do actually put some thought into the number of stars and so I feel I can always explain why I assigned a number.

Side note: Unless a scale is an amalgamation of many reviews I really don't like the 0-100 or 0-10 using decimal places. It seems lazy. Like I can't really make up my mind so I'll just give a 6.7 and call it good. I feel the more breakdown to be found in a system like that the less informative they become, not more.

Anyway, moving on...

AW says, "Some reviewers are ruthless in sharing their true thoughts about a novel's flaws, and occasionally, it's strengths - which would seem to render the rare praise they do bestow all the more valuable."

Isn't it funny how we all do this? The more critical a person the more we value her praise. But why? Why is it that a person who can poke holes gets all the respect? Seriously, who can't complain and be critical? It's like if you consistently like things and can give kind but fair critiques then you can't be much of a critic, can you? This I have never understood. (I've actually always wanted to be one of those reviewers, I feel I'm more of a "mean but fair" critiquer. Ah well, got to have goals...)

AW was describing the different types of reviewers with that comment above (and several others) by comparing them to the judges from American Idol (I think, I have only seen the show once and that was years and years ago) which I thought was a pretty good metaphor. Just as books fall into categories so do book reviewers, bloggers, and clubbers.

As for me, my category is "say it to my face." If I loved a book, I'll say so. If I hated a book, I'll say so. If I liked some parts and hated others, if I loved a book but didn't think it was very good (come on, we've all got those), if I thought a book was wonderfully crafted but boring, I'll say so. BUT I won't post anything I wouldn't say to an author's face. I chat about books and my thoughts are about the books. I'm not interested in taking shots at authors but how can an author not take a critique of her work personally to some degree? I think it would be hard so, with that in mind, I want to be honest about the work but I want to make sure that I'm not taking advantage of anonymity to be a flaming jizzwad (come on, we've all been subjected to those). It's not like I think authors are parading by sgwordy but it still has value to me to follow such guidelines.

I liked AW's rundown of her 5 star requirements. The last two don't apply for mine - my Keeper Shelf includes 3 - 5 star books and there are some 5 star ones I wouldn't want to read again - but the list is certainly not something I would argue with. I also noticed Life of Pi on her Keeper list which is my favorite book of all so hurrah!



Now I'm passing it along. What type of reviewer are you?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cu(tey)bone

Is the the folded up treadmill a good place to relax?


Guess so!


Monday, November 8, 2010

Last Month's Scandal

Title: Last Night's Scandal
Author: Loretta Chase
Publisher: Avon (2010)

I read Loretta Chase's Last Night's Scandal a couple months ago now so if my comments are a little off it's due to the old faulty memory. Very briefly, we're at the end of the Carsington family historical romances (I think). This book features the kids from Lord Perfect. Theyz all growed up and are up for one last adventure before, I don't know, settling into marriages or somesuch. Doesn't matter. It's the hijinks we're after. So off we go with Olivia and Peregrine. It was Peregrine, right? Seriously, no recall here. Anyway, let me just open up my little Notepad and see what I had jotted down...

ah ha!

I really wanted to like this book. I liked the kids the first time around and I was diggin' a chance to see them as young adults. However, I wasn't enjoying it all that much while reading. The haunted castle was only mildly distracting from my non-involvement with the protags. It took me forever to pinpoint what the problem was but I finally realized that it came down to a matter of perspective. Rather than focusing on the strong point in the protags' chemistry - they are great chums with vastly different problem solving techniques leading to funny and awkward situations - the focus was too much on the sexual attraction which, while believable cuz they're hotties (duh!), was very sterile and matter of fact. Like "we must be attracted to each other cuz we are attractive" but not because of who they were. However, who they were was the true source of their attraction and certainly their chemistry. If their intimate relationship had grown from the history and connection they had, with all the fun of their vastly differing personalities, I would have been totally on board. Instead, it all began to feel very cookie cutter with personalities over-layed. Ugh! Not interesting. Chase is one of my go-to authors for delivering dependable stories but this one did not work for me.

So as consolation I think I'll just go peruse The Lion's Daughter and my old Carsington favorites. :)

rating: 2 of 5 stars

Monday, November 1, 2010

Saturday, October 30, 2010

In Defense of Fire, or I Heart the Interwebs

A while ago I posted about Eating the Dinosaur. I'm back to chat a bit about the last chapter which drove me nuts. It's written in a perfectly serviceable fashion so there's nothing wrong there but the content touches on one of those topics that really gets my goat. Briefly, in Klosterman's own words:

"Like so many modern people, my relationship with technology makes no sense whatsoever: It's the most important aspect of my life that I hate. The more central it becomes to how I live, the worse it seems for the world at large. I believe all technology has a positive short-term effect and a negative long-term impact, and - on balance - the exponential upsurge of technology's social import has been detrimental to the human experience."

In the context in which this is expressed (i.e. not the words of a leader about to, er, lead her group of radicals against the establishment) I 100% believe only someone of privilege in a developed country would say something so nonsensical.

"The only people who think the Internet is a calamity are people whose lives have been hurt by it; the only people who insist the Internet is wonderful are those who need it to give their life meaning."

I have to assume this is an overstatement simply for contentious content. Seriously, this is too broad in scope to even take seriously.

"His [Ted Kascinsky] ideas were too radical, but at least they were his own."

WTF? Like he wasn't socialized? Kascinsky was produced by a society and even interacted with that society before withdrawing to express himself in unacceptable ways. I would agree that he has some authorial right to his ideas but to suggest he invented some kind of new idea about society's relationships with technology is to act like other people hadn't already said this (and, much to their credit, without violent follow-through) and that he was not influenced by the very society he shunned. Puh-lease! I have to imagine the doomsday soap-boxer was invented not long after fire. You know there was that one guy looking at the flames thinking, "This shit could burn the whole valley down! I'll take my meat raw thanks and the rest of you fire-loving crazies can go to hell."

"Technology is bad for civilization. We are living in a manner that is unnatural. We are latently enslaved by our own ingenuity, and we have unknowingly constructed a simulated world. The benefits of technology are easy to point out... , but they do not compensate for the overall loss of humanity that is its inevitable consequence. As a species, we have never been less human than we are right now."

It's not that I mind the anti-tech attitude. If that's how you feel, fine, but when you base it specifically on its so-called dehumanizing aspects I have to call the straight-up bullshit call on you. I have two questions for folks of this school of thought: How far back would you like to go (and then make no subsequent progress) to keep yourself human and Why are you letting a tool run your life? The first question is facetious (Mr. Klosterman meet Fire-Hating Guy, long shall you rant!) but the second is serious.

Technology is a tool. Period. No, exclamation point! It is only a tool. Just as a hammer can help a person construct shelter it can also help one person harm another. Because it has this potential and I have the "ingenuity" to realize it, does that mean I am now enslaved by the hammer and it is only a matter of time before I harm my society by hitting someone over the head with it? This argument is just too silly. You want to hate technology and list all the ways in which it "controls" people and "is bad for civilization," then I'll be annoyed but I'll leave you to it. However, to say that technology and humanity have an inverse relationship is not to recognize some very basic facts about society.

One of our great needs is communication. One of our most precious preservers of freedom is information. Please tell me a greater tool for communication and the dissemination of information than the internet? Yeah, I know there's a lot of crap out there but I'm not an idiot. Just as I don't allow technology to run my life (or, for fuck's sake, give it meaning) I know to take what is offered by anyone in any form with a critical eye. If a bunch of random, irrelevant crap is the price of easy access to information then it is a very small price indeed. 

My gosh, I'm just so freaking irked right now thinking about this! I'm sitting here on my couch after a day of the following: re-reading a favorite book, watching college football, watching the world series, eating delicious food, riding my horse, catching up on my favorite internet sites, making plans to meet friends for dinner (via email, natch!), having interesting conversations with Dr M about ethical shortcomings in the management of college athletes, and playing with my dogs. Why can I have this wonderful day? Because of communication, information exchange, and technology!

I didn't actually have to hand over any cash to do what I did today but all of those things cost money. I have money because I have a job. I can do that job because I have an education. I have an education because many brave women came before me to demand the right to education (not to mention equal pay for equal work). These things are possible because I live in a stable society vs. societies that currently must focus on the most basic medical and nutritional needs of their people. I have all of these things because of communication and information exchange, and these vital aspects of society are enhanced and preserved through technology.

You know there are still women who aren't allowed to go to school and there are still kids who are too sick to go to school and there are dictators that are still successful in their coups all because of limited access to information? The only way to fight this is committing to access for everyone. If a few people out there can't handle the tools of technology then I am sorry but they've made their choices. Personally, I'm going to encourage innovation* and advancement until everyone out there has a way to get to the information they need. If the cell phones and internets are going to get us there then sign me up!


Scoff at technology if you like but take a moment to say a heartfelt thank you that you have the privilege to do this. If not for technology it would not be possible.


*And I will dearly hope that one of those innovations made possible by ingenuity and technology will be how to have all this technology without rampant environmental destruction. That, of course, is another topic for another day.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Truth Hurts

If you thought you knew all the depressing little perfidies that led the US into Iraq you, like me, might be surprised to learn that the truth of their creation is beyond belief. Except, it's not. I mean, it is, but since it happened there is no choice but to believe it. How awful! How very awful!

Anyway, if interested, check out The Way of the World. And keep in mind that the message is ultimately hopeful, but the history is pretty damn depressing.

Item of note: I detest the title. It's a bit over-stated as compared to the book's actual content.


And, finally, I don't think I've ever used a word more precisely than the use of 'perfidy' up there. I'm not going to claim to have just used it more precisely than anyone ever before but I think I at least made the top 5.


perfidy - deliberate breach of faith; calculated violation of trust; treachery

Friday, October 15, 2010

Time to give Moo another try?

I tried to read Moo by Jane Smiley years ago but I wasn't able to get into it (though Horse Heaven is one of my favorite reads). But I'm thinking it's time to give it another try. The reason? My view from the bike path as I head to my building:


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Storybook Love, or The Princess Bride cont.

I can't believe Michael and I had all that chatty chatty about The Princess Bride and neither of us mentioned the song Storybook Love. It's fantastic! In fact, it probably makes the credits for the movie the best darn credits I've ever seen.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Title: The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's classic tale of true love and high adventure: the "good parts" version
Author: William Goldman
Publisher: Ballantine Publishing Group (1998); originally published 1973



Michael (of Lazy Thoughts From a Boomer fame) and I are back with another set of reviews for a book that has been adapted for the screen.

Click here for Michael's review of one of the awesomest movies ever made!

Continue reading below for my review of a book that was published some years back. (Oops! Have I already given away my tepid-at-best feelings toward this book?)


Review: the "good parts" version - The Princess Bride is, basically, a big spoof that works much better as a movie than as a book.


Review: unabridged version - Buttercup has grown up on her parents' farm and has been happily mistreating Farm Boy for many years. (During this time she is also becoming one of the most beautiful women in the world, this is outlined by the narrator as she moves up in the top twenty.) One day she realizes she is in love with Farm Boy. He has loved her for years (no idea why) and wants to provide a nice farm for her so he sets off to "seek his fortune" but he is captured and killed by the Dread Pirate Roberts on his way to America. Devastated, Buttercup swears to never love again. Some time and events pass and Prince Humperdinck decides that Buttercup will be his wife. (Don't worry, she doesn't love him.) In the weeks leading up to the marriage, she is kidnapped by a trio of mercenaries but then re(?)kidnapped by the Dread Pirate Roberts.


A note on the narrator: I've read this book 2 times now and still can't figure what the shit Goldman was thinking with this narrator. The idea is awesome but in reality, well... In brief, Narrator's dad used to read him the awesome Princess Bride story by S. Morgenstern. Narrator wants his son to experience it as well but when they start to read the book on their own it turns out Narrator's dad had edited out all the long/boring stuff (thus, the "good parts" version). So as you read along in The Princess Bride the Narrator often cuts in to explain what he edited out. It's a fun idea, and certainly amusing at times, but the Narrator is such a right, royal jizzwad that he completely ruins the story. Seriously! I'm sitting there trying to enjoy The Princess Bride but all I can think is how I want to poke ice picks into Narrator's eyes. I skipped most of his parts this time around and I suggest that if you are the type of person who can have a story ruined by the proximity of dickish behavior that you skip his parts, too. At the very least, pass up on the introduction.

Ok, on to the book...

I go back and forth between thinking Goldman made a truly fantastic spoof or just a total crap book. "Let me explain. No, it would take too long." (hahahahaha) I'll list a few things I liked and then get on to what it is about the book that grates on my last nerve.

Good stuff -
Inigo and Fezzik
Prince Humperdinck
The word "humperdinck"
The Fire Swamp
The presence of the mysterious "holocaust cloak" is explained and it's something I'd always wondered about in the movie.


Other Stuff -
The writing/plot/characterization are completely wooden if you don't understand fantasy/adventure stories (and a little bit even if you do). I want to think this is part of the spoof. The idea here being that you accept all these ridiculous things because you do understand fantasy/adventure stories and it's part of the spoof. The thing is, I love spoofs but something about this one falls hella flat. I spent most of my time being annoyed rather than amused.

Buttercup is the most useless individual alive in the story's two fictional countries - and possibly the world. She may as well have been a mussel for all she brought to the book. Seriously! Why did Westley (our erstwhile Farm Boy) ever fall in love with her? I mean, yeah, the depth of his character was illustrated by the fact that he reads Books* so there's not much to him either but throughout the story we see that he Reads,* has ambition, is a great swordsman, is very strong, is an excellent strategist, is loyal, is funny and Buttercup is... holy hell she's too boring to even come up with a derogatory term. I'd say she's stupid (this is the girl who spent 6 months in "princess classes" and can't even fracking spell divine) but that seems to be attributing more to her character than was intended. Gah! But again, I'm hoping this is the spoof. You have your typical More Awesome Than Awesome hero and your Too Useless to Live heroine. But again again, it's more annoying than anything else.

Inigo and Fezzik are pulled straight from the canon. They are not unique or developed. They both play into caricature types that are meant to appeal to readers on an immediate emotional level. These two and Prince Humperdinck are what work well within the spoof framework. They embody archetypes we've seen done well and done poorly and done ad naseum but they are still likable in their own right and bring much to the story. That's good spoofing.

I made a few notes on this read through with the intention of being a bit more in depth and including examples of why the book didn't work for me but the idea of flipping through to the relevant sections simply bores me (a bit like the book). For whatever reason this spoof/story just does not work for me in book form. Maybe if I didn't love^ the movie so much the book would have worked better but, alas, it's not to be. I will once again leave my movie thoughts for over at the movie review but trust me when I say that the true genius here was Goldman turning this into a screenplay. I wonder if he, too, realized this story wasn't made for a book and a movie was the way to go.


So be sure to skip this book and go straight to the movie, and the movie review by clicking here!



*Books being a generic description of never-actually-named books that characters read when authors are not interested in properly developing characters (these characters are closely related to those who Quote (hat tip: Jed))

^love as in luuuuuuuuuurrrrrrrrrrrve with big smoochie xxx's and a giant throbbing heart


rating: 2 of 5 stars


Coming up next:
The Lathe of Heaven


Links to previous joint posts:
A Scanner Darkly
The Children of Men
The Minority Report

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Seen On a LiveJournal Icon

English: a language that lurks in dark alleys, beats up other languages and rifles through their pockets for spare vocabulary.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman

Title: Eating the Dinosaur
Author: Chuck Klosterman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2009)

I truly have no idea how to summarize Eating the Dinosaur so I'm going to borrow a line from the jacket copy - "It's amateur anthropology for the present tense, and sometimes it's incredibly funny." I think this does a pretty good job. I'd add that between the laughs you might find yourself saying, "That is so true" or "That's how I feel" or "What is he talking about?" All of which ends up making for a fun little read.

Topics addressed in this "anthropology for the present tense" book include Nirvana, football, ABBA, voyeurism, laugh tracks, Ted Kaczynsky, and a host of other random bits of pop culture and current events. One of my favorite things about the book is the Q&As between each chapter. I guess these are actual Q&As from his journalism career but it's not really explained. Either way, they are hilarious.

The book is well-written and, though tending toward over-statement, Klosterman fills it with very nice turns of phrase. For instance:

Take the wolf, for example: I suspect it's unbelievably stressful to be a wold. The world would bean endlessly confusing place, because a wolf has limited cognitive potential and understands nothing beyond its instinct and is own experience. Yet the world is more engaged with the experience of being alive.

Music that skews inauthentic is almost always more popular in the present tense. Music that skews toward authenticity has more potential to be popular over time, but also has a greater likelihood of being unheard completely.

And this is football's interesting contradiction: It feels like a conservative game. It appeal to a conservative mind-set and a reactionary media and it promotes conservative values. But in tangible practicality, football is the most progressive game we have - it constantly innovates, it immediately embraces every new technology, and almost all the important thinking about the game is liberal.

He also has a healthy sense of the fact that not every topic will appeal to every reader. (Evidenced by a footnote that includes "And if you didn't already know that, I am pretty fucking impressed you're still hanging with this [topic].") And it's true, not every topic kept my interest. That was fine with me as there's no reason why you can't skip to the next chapter. Each is self-contained so if your interest is waning a couple pages into a chapter then flip to the next one, no problem.

I do have a couple nits to pick. First, there was this odd tone of sexism that would crop up from time to time. Examples: he's describing a media/star relationship with what I interpreted as a derogatory tone for the announcers because of their "girlish worship." Why is "girlish" worship bad? Is it different from "boyish" worship? Is worship gender dependent? Would it have been better to say "adolescent?" For me, the answer is yes as it would have conveyed more meaning. "Girlish" has little meaning for me in this context because I don't personally find it to be a derisive term (no matter how many times I see people trying to use it that way). I get that it's supposed to be derisive from his tone but that's bad form in my opinion and, again, bad word choice. In another instance, he's talking about his wife hating football and adds "as wives are wont to do." Hunh? Again, what is the information that you're trying to convey? Wives are such a drag due to their apparently universal football hating ways? I'm a wife and I love football. I know a lot of wives that love football. And, anyway, even if I didn't love football how is that relevant to my husband (as the context of this paragraph is making clear that it is)? If his hobby was football and I didn't share it, what is the big fucking deal? So he watches football and I do something else. Is it such a big deal to pursue separate hobbies?

The second is actually better left to its own post as it's long and addresses a topic near and dear to my heart: the Internet. However, a quick mention that it has to do with the last chapter which is about people's relationship to technology. But I'll leave the details for another day.

All in all, this one is worth picking up for a random trip through someone's mind as he relates to the world around him. You probably won't agree with everything he says, or even find all of it interesting, but you're sure to get some laughs and some moments of "I know exactly what he's talking about!"


rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Blue-Eyed Devil & Blue-Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas, Robert B. Parker

Title: Blue-Eyed Devil
Authors: Lisa Kleypas, Robert B. Parker
Publishers: St. Martin's Press (2008), G.P. Putnam's Sons (2010)

Since I chose these books due to their titles I'll say a few words about the covers:















Kleypas - nice but innacurate. dude is sexy and since the title centers around our sexy hero there ought to be a sexy dude on the cover. however, this book is set almost exclusively in Houston and Dallas. i've spent lots of time in Houston and some in Dallas. this road does not exist. hell, it probably doesn't even exist on the outskirts of Houston. regardless, it certainly does not put one in mind of the book's setting.

Parker - nice cover. i'm immediately put in a western mindframe. excellent use of the sillohoute. i especially like how one dude is clearly facing forward and the other is looking at facing-forward guy. FFG is easy to see as Virgil. The other would be Everett, the reader's window into the story. it's completely appropriate that he's looking at Virgil as he often does in the story. and not just looking at but looking to Virgil.

The most eye-catching portion of the covers is the author's name. Both of these authors have a body of successful work to their names and the covers rely as much (or more) on the author's name to sell the book as on the cover art.


Verdict: Point to Parker


Synopses:

Kleypas - Haven comes from an affluent and controlling family. When she decides to go against their wishes and marry the man of her dreams things don't turn out quite like she anticipated. She's trying to put her life back together and isn't so sure Hardy Cates is the right way to start.

Parker - Cole and Hitch are back in Appaloosa and the new police chief isn't necessarily happy that the former keepers of the law are back. Cole and Hitch are happy to stick to themselves but when the chief of police starts employing some shady tactics they feel compelled to get involved.


Verdict: Push


Place in their respective worlds:

Kleypas is a stand alone but characters from Sugar Daddy featured (and I, for one, am glad as I definitely wanted to know what happened to Hardy after SD)

Parker is the fourth book in the Cole/Hitch series but the first one I've read (and, actually, only the second Parker novel I've read - talked about the other here)


Verdict: Point to Kleypas (but only because I'm going through an anti-series phase)


Similarities:

Title.
They are both told in first person perspective.
They both feature violence; though one is violence used for unethical control and one is violence used for order (albeit, self-determined order).


Differences: Abundant.
(see below)


Writing Style:

The styles featured here could not be more different. Kleypas is told heavily as a "and then this happened" recounting from Haven. There are even segments where the reader is taken step by step through her thinking process as she recovers from the trauma of her first marriage. The motivations and feelings of each character are clear with very little room for interpretation.

Parker's style, on the other hand, makes spare seem like an over-statement. As a reader who enjoys an author who will put the story in my hands, I liked this a lot. I found myself reading passages (especially conversations) over and over with different interpretations. It made me pay attention to even the smallest of details as possible clues as to why characters did what they did. The book is pretty short anyway, but with such stingy writing there was no way my usual skimming would come into play. I had to use each word to paint the pictures and I liked that. I wish I had that experience more often.

Verdict: Point to Parker


Characterization:

From the description above of the writing styles you can probably guess a little about the characterization. It was certainly more thorough in Kleypas (if not exactly subtle) but with Parker you have to go deeper to find the characters. Again, I like that! When I finished Kleypas I didn't need to read any more about Haven and Hardy (oh! I just noticed that! hmmm) but there is still much to learn about Cole and Hitch which might get me to actually seek out other books in the series.

Verdict: Push


Plot/Story:

Both books are straightforward tales of significant events in the characters' lives. Neither story reached me on a level beyond "heh, that's entertaining" so I'd say that each story is mostly targeted to those readers already interested in the set-up.


Verdict: Push


What I Liked:
In Kleypas I liked that the reality of, and recovery after, domestic violence was a part of the story. I feel that it could be helpful to those that find themselves in an abusive situation and can't quite see their way clear.

In Parker I liked the spare writing that left much of the story in the reader's hands. That puts it in the category of books I'm not editing while I read. I wish more books were like this.

What I Didn't Like:
In Kleypas it's not really clear why Hardy is interested in Haven. I mean, I know she's cool because I'm hanging out in her perspective but why did Hardy think she was cool?

In Parker I didn't like the limited view of Allie. I spent a lot of time reviewing interactions with Allie and I just couldn't figure what she was bringing to the table.



Verdict:

At the end of the day each book got me thinking but neither stayed with me after I was done. I enjoyed the novelty of such different books having the same title but that's about all I'm taking away.


ratings:
Kleypas: 3 of 5 stars
Parker: 3 of 5 stars

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Series Snafus

My seemingly non-stop whining about series over the last 6 months and Apprentice Writer's recent post inspired me to turn whining into articulation a blog post and make a list of what it is that drives me bonkers in a series.

Side note: I had been meaning to do this with writing pet peeves in general but turns out a pretty good list already exists. To this I would add: misuse of reflexive pronouns, overuse of "twitch" to indicate humor by lip movement, and overuse of the word "sardonic." In fact, I believe I will never use the word again. Ever. Not once. I don't care how sardonic someone is I will find some other way to express it (ok, clearly that was the actual last use of the word).

And a question: what is the name for this? When not falling prey to the Writing Ticks, I describe writing as deft. In the realm of writing what is the opposite of deft?



Ok, counting down to my top series snafu


6. The Increasing Unlikelyhood that Any of This is Possible

Item 6 rears its ugly head in two ways. Way One: we're 11(000) books in to a series and everything has happened to every recurring character. After a while I just don't buy it. When one character has now had more excitement than any 100 people combined it's time to end it - well, probably past time but whatevs. (This error is especially egregious in PI novels. You know, you can only say that most of your time is spent running records checks so many times before the dead bodies start to make me doubt your statement.)
Way Two: reader loyalty is used as a bouy to suspension of disbelief and we are expected to go along with the impossible because, well, shucks, it's Character A and whacky things just can't help happening whenever Character A happens by. I realize that we're not all queuing up to read boring books but you've got to make me believe that what is happening would happen. If not, I don't care how much I've liked your previous work, I'm checking out and not coming back.

5. Recycled Vocabulary

I appreciate style but it quickly loses substance when a series author begins recycling descriptions verbatum. English has much variety. Please explore it.

4. The Recycled Plot/Romance Impediment/Twist

Now this is interesting because it's not like there are a ton of plots out there and I read the same stories over and over. BUT! I read them with new characters in new places with new perspectives. I'm not interested in watching the same characters in a recycled a plot. If I'm going to read the same story I want to meet new people.

3. The Recycled Character Arc

A character that learns the same lessons book after book after book is Made of Stupid and not interesting.

2. The Character Reversal

It is a major party foul to change character attributes (often essential to a previous book's arc or plot) for reasons of plot only. I am more than happy to experience growth with a character but it must stem naturally from events and not simply move things along in subsequent books.

1. Blowing Your Wad

And here we are at the big one! How I despise the re-cap!!! The re-cap puzzles me for multiple reasons. If I am a loyal reader, I do not need your re-cap. If I am a new reader, the re-cap is a waste. Let's say you (the author) are in book three. That means you have two books of backstory! Two books of world-building background! Two books of character outline! What a wealth of information at your fingertips for book three. Why oh why would you blow all that in the first few chapters? This is information that can (and probably will) inform most of what the characters say and do. It breathes in the background hinting at a full and realistic world. Again, why blow this at the beginning? If you have an established character why would you want to do a two paragraph run-down on that character when, instead, you know this character so well that every word and action will come naturally from all you know? I don't want an explanation, I want to see that character being that character! And if you are re-capping past events, again, I must ask why? So often they are not essential to the current story so you have just constructed a nice little "road work ahead" sign that has slowed me down, taken me out of the current story, and hit me over the head with the fact that I'm reading a series. Yuck!

The question for me becomes, why is the re-cap so ubiquitous? It must be serving a purpose that I am not seeing. But what is that purpose? As a series reader have I suddenly been rendered incapable of following the current story or current character without extensive background? Do authors prefer to not incorporate past information in a natural way? Is the re-cap easier? Is it satisfying some desire in readers that I clearly don't share? Gah! So much confusion for me!

Any ideas on the purpose of the re-cap?


Any series nit picks you'd like to add?

Friday, September 3, 2010

Sympathy for the Devil by Kent Anderson

Title: Sympathy for the Devil
Author: Kent Anderson
Publisher: Bantam (2000), originally published in 1987

Quick aside - the copyright page says: "This edition contains the complete text of the original hardcover edition. NOT ONE WORD HAS BEEN OMITTED." I've never noticed a note like this before. Is this common? Is there some secret, word-omitting publication history for this book?


Sympathy for the Devil is set during the Vietnam War and, in three parts, tells the story of Special Forces Sergeant Hanson. The first part opens towards the end of Hanson's first tour and covers his attempt at life back in the States. The second part starts with Hanson, a college student, at the induction center after being drafted and his first days in-country. The third part focuses mainly on his second tour in Vietnam.

It was an interesting choice to introduce the reader to Hanson as an already hardened soldier and then swing back to who he was before. I certainly felt I had his character well in hand going into Part 2 but it became apparent that Anderson planned on using the entire book in his portrayal of Hanson. I liked that as a story-telling device and on a personal level for how it felt much like the way ya get to know people. Like when you've know someone for years and then you're suddenly surprised by new information.

The narrative had a rather clumsy feel to it so that I never settled into events, which is either just the author's style or a brilliant technique illustrative of the madness of war and such. And there is much madness in this book. This isn't one of those depressing war books punctuated by moments of humanity and hope. It's one of those depressing war books punctuated by moments of crazy and the ineffectiveness of military bureaucracy.

While Hanson's thoughts on what and who are around him are pretty clear there's also an over-arching philosophy and mode of thought portrayed by the book itself. Since Anderson was a Special Forces Sergeant in Vietnam I'm curious as to how reflective of his own experiences the book is. (Night Dogs is his follow-up to this which features Hanson as a police officer, also like Anderson which makes me think maybe this is largely the author's personal story.) Regardless, it certainly gives a peep into a part of people not often seen in everyday life. What I found just as interesting as the human aspect of the novel was the examination of political and administrative inertia. Such inertia is often more dangerous than any enemy.

You spend most of the book with Hanson but he isn't always accessible. Then these small moments come by that give a window into what he is feeling. Anderson's ability to pinpoint and lay bare these moments is extremely satisfying.

Premature crow's-feet set off her startlingly clear green eyes that made Hanson almost dizzy when he met them, embarrassing them both in a moment of unexpected sexual contact.

Anderson also includes moments of the absurd:

He looked at the ticket and began to laugh. He wadded up the little piece of green tissue paper and was about to throw it away, then realized that he'd need it as proof when he told Quinn and Silver that he'd gotten a speeding ticket.

And he's great at expressing threat and the extraordinary in a way that makes real what, for most of us, borders on the unreal:

Sixth sense is only the other five senses fine-tuned to threat. A shift in the rhythm of the silence that opens your eyes. A shudder in the pattern of shadow. The hint of some smell that brings your head up. Separately they would mean nothing, but together they are enough to lift the hair on your neck, to stir little bubbles of dread deep in the back of your brain, all of them forming like a forgotten name, right on the tip of your tongue. A group of men moving through the dark with plans to kill you gives off an energy you can feel if you pay attention to what your senses tell you.


I have a long and complicated relationship with war-centered literature (and movies). I enjoy it for many reasons, including basic education in topics I'm not familiar with and my desire for witnessing history and specialized training, but it also tears me up emotionally. I would read (and watch) more war drama but I don't have the emotional fortitude. I'd be a wreck. I often am a wreck after reading this stuff, whether it be fiction or non-fiction. However, I always enjoy the possibilities for endless discussion of socio-political topics, not to mention the idea of basic humanity. I also find I'm often frustrated by my inability to read it more critically. I'm not a soldier (couldn't be, actually, as I lack even the most basic qualities for what is required in one to be a soldier) or close to anyone who has experienced serious combat so I feel like I can never wholly believe or disbelieve what I am reading. Possibly that is simply an unexpected but perfect mirror for war in general. However, no matter how I feel after an exploration into a war story I continue to wish we weren't quite so eager to pursue wars. They are a devastating and nasty business.

rating: 4 of 5 stars


Two parting questions:
What is your favorite story that involves war?

Anyone want to suggest some war stories that do not revolve around the "boy scout" soldier persona or the soldier that has found a home in war because life has been reduced to its most basic tenet: survival? These seem to be what I encounter most in fiction.

"My Cheevos!"

The price increase for Xbox Live subscriptions will probably go unnoticed in many (ok, most) households but this one takes notice. And Dr M is not alone!

The Ultimatum

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Spymaster's Lady & My Lord and Spymaster by Joanna Bourne

Titles: The Spymaster's Lady
            My Lord and Spymaster
Author: Joanna Bourne
Publisher: Berkley Sensation (2008)


The Spymaster's Lady is one of my top books read this year. I heart this book with the biggest, mushiest, lurviest heart there is and can't say enough good things about it. As one might expect, I then went into My Lord and Spymaster with some pretty high expectations. Why don't I give a little blurb for each and then some details on my thoughts.

In The Spymaster's Lady, Annique Villiers and Robert Grey find themselves imprisoned in the same French jail cell. Annique, a French spy, because it is thought she will betray her country and Robert because he is an English spy. A Very Bad Man threw them in jail and Annique plans to get them out of there as fast as possible. What she does not know is that Robert has come to France specifically to find her and then dabble in a little absconding. There's a lot more to this plot than the little I'm sharing here but it unfolds so beautifully - with some very nice surprises - that I don't want to share more than a brief introduction. I'll help myself to an old stand-by and reassure you that it'll "keep you guessing until the end."

Let me just get the unfortunate flaw out of the way now so I can focus on all the awesome: the villain is pretty sucky. I don't just mean that he sucks because he's bad but that his character is not so very well done. I called him a Very Bad Man because that's about all there is to him. His Badness is even expressed in not very creative ways. Thankfully his bits are separated into short chapters that I skimmed the first time and skip altogether in subsequent reads (and I've probably read this book 4 times in the last few months). Otherwise this book is one shining gem of book greatness. I honestly can't say enough about how awesome this book is. The plot is exciting and nerve-wracking, the characters (both main and secondary - excepting villain, see above) are fantastic and perfectly depicted, the romance is beset with believable impediments (a must in sgwordy's world) but the h and h are also very authentic as a pair, and did I mention the awesome plot? the awesome characterization? and the awesome hero and heroine? Oh, I did? Then don't let me skimp on the writing which is just gorgeous! I mean, just a total joy-to-experience lovely with very impressive depictions of languages and dialect.

Ok, so maybe now you can see with what expectations I went into my second Bourne novel. In My Lord and Spymaster Jess Whitby's father has been accused of treason. To prove his innocence she'll have to employ her considerable intelligence and all her cunning from her old life on the streets. As she attempts to gather steal some information from Captain Sebastian Kennet there is an attack on her life. He helps her to escape and, as a favor to a friend of hers, takes her into his protection (don't worry - it makes sense with the plot even though my brief description sounds weird). What she doesn't know is that he is the one who gathered the evidence against her father.

I'm going to start with what I liked and then make a few comments as to why I didn't enjoy this one as much as the other. First off, AND ALL SERIES WRITERS PLEASE TAKE NOTE, a couple characters from TSL show up in MLaS and I was not subjected to the recap/character outline that just screams (while beating you over the head) that a book is part of a series. And what blissful heaven it was. When the first familiar character showed up, I literally cringed as I waited for the laundry list of what is currently in the cannon, as it were, about the character. And, oh joy, it never happened. In what can only be described as a breath of fresh air, the familiar characters showed up, did their jobs, were as awesome as they were before, and acted just as I would expect from previous time spent with them. Thank you, Ms. Bourne!!!!! Thank you so very much for letting your characters speak for themselves! Thank you, thank you, thank you! (As you can see the "laundry list" technique is a huge pet peeve of mine.) The writing is as lovely as in TSL and the characters are, once again, very well done. Where MLaS lost me (and this should be viewed as a relative term because I still liked the book and it's on my Keeper shelf) was its lack of follow-through with plot. The plot is quite good with lots of what-ifs and various characters that might be "whodunit" but it still fell rather flat for me. I didn't feel like I was following its twists and turns but, instead, I was just hanging out with the characters as they moved from one dangerous situation to another while I waited for the end. Also, it's a romance, we know certain things about the romance formula that make several endings impossible. Since the impediment to our h and h being together relied very heavily on what I thought was one of the impossible endings I didn't believe there was anything really standing in the way of them being together.

So, to get the maximum enjoyment possible from these two novels I suggest starting with MLaS so you don't have the crazy high expectations going into it. I'm sure I would have enjoyed it more had I not read TSL first. However, no matter what, you really must read The Spymaster's Lady. It's just too damn good to miss! 


ratings:
TSL -  4 of 5 stars
MLaS - 3 of 5 stars