Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Favorites

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

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...

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 trash 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.

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.