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.:)


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.


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.

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

Click here for an index of the joint post series

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


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