Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Non-fic Mash-up - This I Accomplish: Death to the BCS

Holy damn, how I wish!

But anyway... besides their beautiful mash-up results, these are a couple of books worth reading.

Title: This I Accomplish: Harriet Powers' Bible Quilt and Other Pieces
Author: Kyra E. Hicks
Publisher: Black Threads Press (2009)

I've already passed this book along to my mother, a quilter (a quilter who lost her copy before she got a chance to read it, I assume its snuggled down under one of her beautiful quilts), so apologies if I mix up my memories. Hicks started this project with the intention of creating a comprehensive bibliography of sources regarding Harriet Powers and ended up finding so many exciting new details regarding the life of this famous quilter that she decided to include everything she found along with her bibliography. She also brings new information to light about who owned Harriet Powers' quilts and when.

Harriet Powers (1837-1910), a former slave and native Georgian, amazes quilters and art admirers to this day with her beautiful quilts. Hicks brings to life the journey of these quilts, from creation to display, in an enthusiastic manner but, even better, she gives readers a more in-depth glimpse of an enduring figure in American history. Her findings make it possible to know more about the woman Harriet Powers was and, I think, illuminate her personality in a way that wasn't possible before Hicks' research.

Hicks does a great job of sharing her sources with readers (including pictures and reproductions of letters) which is a must for me to really enjoy this type of non-fiction. In the midst of all her research, though, it's impossible to lose track of how much she loves what she's doing. This is not a dry listing of her research but a re-telling of Hicks' journey that is teeming with the joy she obviously found in learning more about Harriet Powers. This definitely gets a recommendation from me!

Title: Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series
Author: Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter, Jeff Passan
Publisher: Gotham (2010) 

You know, I don't even care much for basketball but this time of year I salivate over the excitement that is a tournament with a champion decided on the court! And do you know why? Because my greatest sports passion is college football and if a sport exists with a more fucked up way of determining a champion I'll eat my (LSU Tigers) hat! I don't think I'll be gnawing on canvas anytime soon though because nothing, I repeat NOTHING, is more infuriating than post-season college football.

And if you think you know everything there is to know about this messed up system then think again! I thought I had a pretty good handle on the boondoggle that is the Bowls, but holy buckets of stupid it's so much worse than I thought. Still, even after seeing how much money schools lose by going to bowls (yes, you read that right: LOSE!), how badly managed the bowls are, how little they do for local economies, how bad the match-ups are, and how much control TV has over our post-season, none of it was as bad as the institutional support and upholding of a system that is wholly unfair! In the end, all the fiscal arguments are moot when you think about the fact that this is a sport that's not even sporting! Gah! Gah! Spitting mad, here I come!

If you've never given a thought to college football then you probably aren't going to be that interested in this book. But, if you've ever been affected by University budget cuts then you just might be interested in the tax returns for Bowls and the money your University is probably bleeding out to the Bowls. Skip the sports stuff if you want but if the money stuff doesn't open your eyes to a problem that is bigger than the sport then I'd be very surprised.

A couple things that I didn't like about this one is that sources weren't included and the writing was uneven. I know a lot of conversations the authors had were confidential but a lot of the info wasn't and I would have liked a list (at the minimum) of source material by chapter in the back of the book. My theory on the writing was that it had to do with having three authors but maybe it was just my response to the general style. Anyway, this one is worth investing some time in.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

My First Audiobook Continued: L.A. Outlaws

Title: L.A. Outlaws
Author: T. Jefferson Parker
Read by: David Colacci and Susan Ericksen
Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2008)

I've decided to report from the trenches. So...

(Post, the First can be found here.)

Location: Disc 6, Track Very beginning
Chapter: 25??

I've lost track of tracks now that I've moved this to my iPod. However, I like being able to listen as I cycle to work or when I'm cooking, landscaping, etc.

Very short summary: Suzanne Jones, high school teacher and mother by day, thieving Allison Murietta (sp?) by night, has just got herself in a heap of trouble by taking a lot of diamonds from a botched gang pay-off.  Hood is investigating the botched-and-full-of-dead-bodies pay-off and is looking for Jones as he considers her a witness.

I'm doing much better at not getting annoyed at the readers. It's not their fault (mostly) that I don't always like their interpretation. Anywho, I'm learning to let go. It's all very zen and philosophical so this must be good for my mental development or something. With the caveat in place that I really am impressed with all the voices the readers are incorporating, it still irks me when they get one mixed up at first (or just plain lose it) and I feel like Ericksen defaults to combative and petulant for the women and Colacci defaults to earnest and apologetic for the men. That, I very much dislike. They can't, every one of them, have the same attitude methinks.

So what about the actual content? My clumsiness with the audio format definitely affects the level of immersion I can feel in the story. On the other hand, I'm not really loving the story or the characters overmuch so I don't think I'd get very immersed even if I was reading. It's certainly not a book that merits the reading of every word so I am impatient sometimes. The actions and feelings of the characters are really easy to figure out in every scene so I would be doing some major skimming in the set-up portions of the scenes but that's not an option with audio. I'm also beginning to understand what Apprentice Writer meant when she said she's more likely to finish a book in audio than she would be if reading (see comments in Post, the First).

One thing that is keeping me interested in where everything is going is the two main characters. They are doing some really stupid stuff sometimes and it makes me wonder: is there a reason for this? Am I a part of their lives when they are working on getting smarter? Anyone who becomes really good at anything is going to experience some growing pains so is this story part of their growing pains? If not, why does the author think I'm going to want to stick with these guys through the stupid? Craft-wise, this interests me.

Another interesting craft choice is that, as the reader, I know a lot more than Hood. However, I'm still subjected to a lot of his investigation (if I was reading I would have skipped these parts). As in, while he is investigating I already know the answer. Ok, so why make this choice? As a reader, why do I want to be there for that? Heheh, well I guess I don't since I just said I would have skipped those parts if I was reading but I'm still interested in why the author thinks I would want to be there as the reader.

If I'm learning anything at all from this experience it's how much I'm willing to skip while reading. Additional examples: pretty much all of Hood's Anbar (sp?) Province mentions after the first two, almost the entire scene with the guy Jones had originally planned to sell the diamonds to, the repetitive descriptions (both situational and characterizational). The thing with these types of scenes is that I can construct them quickly and easily by reading about two words/line. So why oh why are there so many words used?

Since I also tend to skip dialogue tags I had a friend ask me if I really thought all that stuff could be left out of books. Like, could what I actually read be a good book. The answer is definitely no but if the same material was written more skillfully I would read all the words. I don't skip them out of laziness, I skip them out of boredom, I skip them because they are not providing me with new information or because I can see the next page and a half detailing something I have put together in the first paragraph.

Parting questions:
Have any audiobook listeners out there discovered that maybe they don't read every word?
Any readers of this book feel I'm being too harsh in my assessment of "too many words?"

Next time...
thoughts on the villain 

more thoughts on the experience

Friday, March 25, 2011

Welcome back, Leon S. Kennedy

From: Dr Musacha
To: sgwordy
Subject: OH MY FUCKING GOD!!!!!!!


From: sgwordy
To: Dr Musacha
Subject: Re: OH MY FUCKING GOD!!!!!!!

is that angels singing?

As any previous visitor can imagine (or perhaps you prefer to remain apart from the sgwordy mental madness) we here at sgwordy are all over tingly with excitement!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Jack's Return Home by Ted Lewis

Title: Jack's Return Home
Author: Ted Lewis
Publisher: Doubleday and Company Inc (1970)

Michael and I are continuing our joint posts this month with a selection from the Old World. You'll want to surf on over to It Rains... You Get Wet (NorCal's March theme by coincidence) for the film review of Get Carter which is the movie adaptation of Jack's Return Home.

I'm a little embarrassed to say it, but I had a hard time following this book. On the one hand, that's great - I hate to be spoon-fed by an author; on the other hand there is a limit to the amount of British slang a person wants to google in any one sitting. :) But seriously, this is not a cookie cutter book with every little detail served up in annoyingly obvious fashion. I must also admit that I was never able to let go of my initial perception regarding Jack's feelings for his brother, it made it very hard for me to get into the book from the get-go and I was never able to get over it. I was able to entertain the notion that it was a deliberate choice by the author. But before I go into that, let's summarize:

Jack Carter is a modestly successful member of an organized crime outfit in London. I sort of got an Enforcer type of vibe for his job description but it's never detailed. He returns to his hometown after his brother's death. He and his brother, Frank, were estranged but the circumstances of the death are suspicious and Jack is determined to investigate. His bosses ask him to let it go but he politely refuses. The book opens as Carter is taking the train home. The atmosphere for the entire book is set via Carter's descriptions, his mood, and his thoughts on going back to his childhood home. To describe it as grim is a slightly comical understatement.

It's not immediately clear that Carter is a Grade A Asshole but Lewis doesn't keep that close to the vest for long. In fact, Lewis' deft characterization of Carter was the most impressive part of this book. Jack's mannerisms and actions are perfectly done. Not once did I ever doubt that he would do a thing that he did. Now, I may have been annoyed at his arogance or his deliberately obtuse thinking but it never felt unnatural. The most intriguing aspect of his character was his charm. This guy is a jizzwad of epic proportions but I was seduced by him EVERY TIME he put on his agreeable hat. And holy damn that's an awesome feeling as a reader. Even though I know just what kind of person Carter is and exctly what he's trying to do I'm still glad to be there and almost wishing I was on the receiving end of his con. That is the kind of writing that makes me grin like a fool because I'm just so happy to experience it. I want to read the book again just to study the craft of how Lewis did this.

Carter attempts to discover why his brother might have been killed before trying to find whodunit. He interrogates his niece, his brother's girlfriend and co-workers attempting to discover if anything was wrong. He also has run-ins with the local gangsters and even his London bosses trying to get him to go home. In the course of this, we learn about his relationship with his brother as Carter sifts through his past. Carter didn't think much of his brother and he formed his low opinion pretty early on. It was this that stuck in my mind from the beginning and kept me from really sympathizing with Carter's mission. Carter has the tenacity of a pitbull and he won't stop until he can bring his brother's killer down. This is normally a very easy plot to get behind. And the fact that Carter seems more personally affronted by the audacity of someone killing his brother is fitting to his character rather than off-putting. However, he held his brother adamently and obviously in contempt so why would he think anyone else would do differently? Why does he suppose it's thought that he would even care if something happened to Frank.

Jack recounts a memory of being a young kid with his brother. It's a telling moment between the brothers and possibly the moment Jack was recruited into gang life. This was probably my favorite scene in the book even though it was a flashback. If my interpretation is correct, then Lewis had several layers of information being served up in the billiards scene. Besides learning quite a bit about Frank and Jack, when the memory had played out, my first thought was that Jack had killed his brother with contempt. His life had been a precedent for disregarding his brother, others just followed suit.

"Come on, Yukker [Jack]," he'd said. "Leave the pansy to his knitting circle."
I'd looked down at Frank. He'd made no attempt to get up. He'd been looking at the spots on his handkerchief, and at Albert's words he'd looked up at me but he'd already guessed what I was going to do.

How prophetic was this moment? Did Frank only guess what Jack would do in that moment or had he seen the whole of their futures played out. In other words, had he seen his death at the hand of his brother's choices? It's in this moment that you realize Carter is a natural born asshole. And it's not like he apologized for it. Nor did Lewis, I suppose. It's more of that excellent characterization. Jack was who he was and you could deal with it or fuck yourself but it wasn't changing anything about how he acted. I kept thinking, something is going to endear this man to me but absolutely not. This is not one of those stories. Still, even some of his asshole moments could be charming. (Sort of like, well, yeah, he's an asshole but he's our asshole and, darn it, don't it just give you the shivers?)

Gumboots looked at me for a long time.
"Clever sod, aren't you?" he said.
"Comparatively," I said, giving him his look back.

He's one pesty bugger, too. I was flipping through the book and found a note that I wrote while he was interrogating his niece and the note said: At this point I'm sick of his questions. One thing about his questions and his poking - combined with his manner - is that, as a reader, you're left to wonder: Is he stirring the pot or is this just his typical assholeness? Is it even possible to tell? This is what I mean when I say it's a book you have to pay attention to.

The fight scenes were awesome. I usually don't have the patience for fight scenes in books (I seem to prefer mine via a visual medium) but I was right there with these fights and enjoying myself. Lewis has a way of describing the action so that it is immediately clear in only a few words. If I have to read a full page just to get the minute details of how one character lays out another you can be sure I'm skipping to the end. Additionally, Carter is violent when he feels he needs to be and he doesn't hold with Revelatory Speeches. If he has something to say he says it but, if not, he waits quietly for his moment of action. After a while, though, I tired of how easily he was escaping situations. I wanted the baddies (relative term in a book like this) to get a bit more skilled. The ending made up for this in a big way so I won't complain too much.

As the plot unfolds and you learn just what it was Frank got mixed up in and who the major players were, Carter gets angrier and angrier. This was weird to me. If he had become more determined I could understand that. He's arrogant and feels he has territory and rights that ought not be infringed upon so he needs to make his point. I get that but why is he angry? Has he conveniently forgotten what kind of people he works for? 

I sat there on the chair and stared at the hall but I didn't see anything. All I saw was what was in my mind: What I was going to do to them all. For everything.

My response: For what? Who did you think you were running with? Screwing the boss's wife? Duh! On a character level it was spot on for how I saw Carter but on the story level it was just another thing that took me out of really sympathizing with his mission.

Character-wise this book was a big win for me, story-wise... well, meh, I guess. I didn't care very much about what was going on. I wonder if that's me more than the story. Gangster thugs getting all put out because the people around them act like gangster thugs has never tripped my give-o-shit meter. Perhaps if I was more familiar with the Gangster Behavior Code I would get into the stories more but, alas, gangsters are far outside my purview.

One final comment: the ending kicks ass!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

El Chupacabra

I don't post about work due to various reasons like client confidentiality, examples of this being a bad idea all over the internet and the general attitude that it's not good to pee where you swim but, sometimes, you can make exceptions. Like when an individual alerts a news station:

I Found Chupacabra, El Dorado Hills Man Says

(close up photo here)

Comment the first: You fear for your safety in a wilderness situation and the first thing that comes to mind - out of all the possibilities - is that El Chupacabra is after you? Are you a goat?

Comment the second: Does this gentleman know something about the migratory tendencies of Mexican goat suckers that the rest of us do not? I mean, it's a Mexican legend, after all, making me think it's unlikely to be a problem in Northern California.

Comment the third: It was a yearling bear, and the poor tyke was hairless due to a dermatophyte.

Monday, March 14, 2011

My First Audiobook: L.A. Outlaws

Title: L.A. Outlaws
Author: T. Jefferson Parker
Read by: David Colacci and Susan Ericksen
Publisher: Brilliance Audio (2008)

I've decided to report from the trenches. So...

Location: Disc 2, Track 44
Chapter: 8??

I have to be honest, I almost gave up again. I am such a bad listener!

And not only that, I was so annoyed. All I could think was, I wouldn't hear this in that voice, I wouldn't use that tone, I wouldn't have applied that attitude, that gravelly voice just doesn't go there, and I already have a picture of this scene in my mind so could you please get on with it already and leave off the descriptions? But I was determined so I told myself to calm my shit down and just relax already!

And so it's not so bad anymore. I'm trying to think of it more as performance art than a book. I'm trying to let go of my desire to completely control the experience and enjoy how someone else presents it. I'm trying to listen better so I don't suddenly go, woops, where are we again?

But, a question: what does one do while listening to a book? Maybe the real reason I have never cultivated a talent for listening to stories is because I have no need. I don't have a long commute and I can't listen while working. Tonight was pretty good because it's chore night in sgwordy's house on Mondays but at other listening times I'm just sitting here, doing nothing, desperately trying to pay attention.

Next time...
more thoughts on the experience
initial thoughts of the book

Edith Layton Musings

Edith Layton was brought to my attention relatively recently courtesy of Dr Musacha. This, by the way, being one of the many ways in which Dr M proves himself an awesome life partner: thoughtfulness. When he's looking for a book for me he doesn't just cruise down to our local bookstore and grab an end cap feature or something from the top sellers' table. No, no! That's just not how he rolls. He fires up the old interwebs and starts doing some research. He's no reader of romance (and certainly not historicals) but he pays attention to what's on my shelves and starts looking for reviews. So Christmas morning saw me pulling out a lovingly used copy of a Signet Regency Romance, first printing February 1983. I was intrigued but the road has been hilly. I've tried two more and brief thoughts are included below.

Title: The Abandoned Bride
Author: Edith Layton
Publisher: Signet (1985)

Julia Hastings, not so very well off but from a loving family, elopes with her childhood sweetheart (who is naturally rich and titled). Said sweetheart has fetched the vicar and everything and then inexplicably cries off. A friend of his restores Julia to her family but failed elopements were not kindly looked upon in the early 19th Century and so she leaves her family to work as a governess/companion in towns where her past is not known. However, her past catches up with her in the form of her sweetheart's uncle. Only four years older than his nephew they grew up very close and the nephew has skipped to the Continent, supposedly heartbroken over Julia. Uncle Nicholas, under the impression Julia has been toying with his nephew the past three years, offers her money to help him fetch the nephew back to England. She refuses but with a very neat ploy he tricks her into taking a job on the Continent.

Like in The Duke's Wager I was quite impressed with the characterization (one major exception to this to be described) and dialogue. Unfortunately, the time spent in characters' heads was extended and I just don't need to be a part of every stinking thought a character might have as s/he weighs the pros and cons of a situation. Not only do I not care for it, it's unnecessary. Layton's dialogue is so good, and very well in keeping with the characters that she creates, that when you also have to delve into their heads it's overkill.

I liked Julie quite a bit. She's self-aware and thoughtful. When faced with a daunting situation she looks at every side of it and usually comes away from it making good decisions. No head-slapping moments while reading her. Nicholas, on the other hand, left a bit to be desired and on Layton's shoulders do I lay this problem. The problem arises from the major exception to good characterization mentioned above. Again as in The Duke's Wager, Layton really pushes the line with what a hero can do and still come back from. Well, in The Abandoned Bride she goes right over that line but it was so out of character that I pretty much ignored that it happened - but, technically, it did. Nicholas is a diligent man with the ability to plan and follow-through. Like Julia he comes from a loving family, his family being filled with women with whom he shares excellent relationships and respect. And yet, he loses his temper with Julia at one point and hits her. In sgwordy's book it's a major fucking party foul to hit a significant other or express yourself with violence when one individual is more physically or situationally powerful than the other. These two were not in a relationship but Nicholas had the upper hand in every way. It was ridiculous for him to express himself in this way and very out of character. So out of character that I simply couldn't accept it. I edited it out as too out of place to take seriously and tried to enjoy the story otherwise. The issue cropped up again at the end and the way it was handled was See Red offensive but I still wasn't able to take the initial event seriously as part of the book. It's that out of character. I can't imagine why it was included in the first place and how an editor didn't pick it up as a plot contrivance.

And kudos here for a neat resolution with the nephew. He wasn't on the scene often but when he was he was absolutely compelling. The best part? I wasn't subjected to his every teensy thought but was able to get to know him through his actions and dialogue. Very nice.

with physically violent behavior - 1 of 5 stars
without physically violent behavior - 3 of 5 stars

Title: The Disdainful Marquis
Author: Edith Layton
Publisher: Signet (1983)

The Disdainful Marquis has us back with St. John Basil of The Duke's Wager and I couldn't be happier. He was so close to being a good person that I really wanted to see him figure things out by the end of The Duke's Wager. Alas, he was a total wanker and got his just desserts but here he is again, older and wiser and trying to forget his youthful stupidity.

In the course of his work for the Crown he meets up with Catherine. A little snafu on Catherine's part has her in the employ of a duchess famous for keeping prostitutes as companions (I know these situations seem outrageous - and, ok, they are - but they end up working in the books) so our cynical marquis does not think so highly of Catherine.

What I liked best about this one was that the hero and heroine were not working out their inter-adversarial issues (bit fast and loose with the English language there but let's go with it) but were simply thrown together while trying to solve their own problems. Mistaken first impressions, politics, and untrustworthy traveling companions gum up the works for our h and h but they persevere. I also really enjoyed the companionship each had with their friends. The prostitute/companions could have been easily cast into the roles of spiteful and convenient plot points but, instead, readers are treated to two different types of people trying to find common ground. Likewise, Basil has a servant/friend with whom he works closely and who provides support and advice. Good companionship is a joy to read. I'm sure you're seeing the pattern here but I did not care for the lengthy mental discourses and so usually skipped them.

rating: 3 of 5 stars

All in all I'd say Layton will appeal to Romance readers but is probably not the author to bring in new fans of the genre. I will keep a lookout for her Signet titles because I love her dialogue and characterization.... most of the time. She seems to reserve the most interesting parts for her male characters and I'd like to run into a title that gives the females more compelling character growth. Any Layton readers have a suggestion for me?

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Reporting from the Vortex

I feel compelled to say that the best thing about the Vortex is that I am lucky enough to indulge in vortexes at all. Seeing the reports from Japan and other emergencies around the world remind a lucky individual like me just how lucky I am.

I read the following:
The Convenient Marriage
Bath Tangle
The Corinthian
Sprig Muslin

Of these, it was The Corinthian I enjoyed the most but none of them ended up being Heyer titles I will remember or re-visit in the future. The Convenient Marriage Woops, I meant Bath Tangle was interesting in that it probably featured the hero less than any other novel I've read. I kept waiting and waiting for him to show up more often but it just didn't happen.

But now it's time to get back to some other reading and finish up the stack of books I have started but set aside.

My First AudioBook

Well, folks, I've taken the plunge. I've got an audiobook and I plan on listening ALL the way through. This may not seem like news worth mentioning (luckily we peddle in "useless information" here at sgwordy) but for this non-audio learner it's the big time. I'm one of those people who learns from reading and from graphics. My reading comprehension is high and I can memorize a map relatively quickly, but when you start listing things, lecturing or simply reading from a handout you just gave me I'm lost.

Listening has always felt like it takes so much time. If you give me information in a written or graphical format I can get it into my brain fairly quickly. If you give me information orally then I have to listen at your pace and accept your rhythm and tone. Ugh! But it's good to step out of comfort zones and attempt to learn in new ways so here I go with:

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Heyer Vortex

I can't quite figure how it happened but I have been sucked into a Heyer* vortex. All I want to be doing at any given moment is reading Heyer novels. I suspect it has something to do with the final vestiges of winter that Mother Nature is desperately trying to throw off. My winter mood (never any good at all, just ask Dr M) is slow to note the harbingers of Spring and so instead I am gloming Heyer novels in a little ball on my couch hoping the world will forget me until winter is truly gone. (Or rather, hoping I can forget the world but still, somehow, all my responsibilities will be taken care of.)

But on a non-hibernating note: Baseball is almost here! Huzzah! I am reading a fantastic (non-Heyer) book that I can't wait to rave about but it's for review so I am going to hold off until the review is posted. It's my first "must read" of this year. And, while only my instructor and I ever get truly excited about this, my horse and I are doing so well. He's such a rock star!

*Don't you just love that picture of her? So glam! It makes me wish I had known her. :)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Microsoft Redefines Family Friendly

With the Xbox Kinect it's hard to not at least come up with one dirty joke about what all one could get up to in front of a motion sensor. (And before you think the immature denizens of this household are the only ones to do so you ought to see this.) But, sadly, Microsoft has put the kibosh on any such notion. I love their reasoning:

"Xbox is a family friendly games and entertainment console and does not allow Adults Only (AO) content to be certified for use on its platform, and would not condone this type of game for Kinect."

For funsies, let's take a look at some of the family friendly things you can do in games the Xbox console supports:

1. In hell, remove heads from babies who have scythes for arms. (Dante's Inferno)

2. Hire a prostitute, patronize said prostitute, kill prostitute in order to retrieve payment for services rendered. (Grand Theft Auto 4)

3. Detonate nuclear device in order to kill all residents in one town for personal gain. (Fallout 3)

4. Marry individual, lead trusting individual to alter for sacrifice. (Fable 2

But, says Microsoft, we will have none of this sex you speak of. Clearly this is not a family friendly activity. And while we're here, where do babies come from?