Sunday, April 12, 2015

i'm not outside, because it's cold out there.

more coffee, please.

Sex Criminals: Two Worlds, One Cop (vol. 2) by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky.  Can I, like, get these issues as they come out?  How do I sign up to receive comics?  Let me look into that...

The Last Man: The Deluxe Edition book 3 and book 4 by Brian Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Goran Sudzuka, and Jose Marzan, Jr.  Hah!  Compilation volumes ILL'ed so I don't run out of free requests for the year.  Score!
I do kind of feel like some of the situations in these felt a little contrived.  Surviving and traveling around the world in a post-apocalyptic environment would be difficult enough.  How many secret societies can be shoe-horned into this story line?

3rd Rock from the Sun, seasons 1-6, with John Lithgow.  I've been trying to hide from reality, so I watched a lot of TV the last few weeks.  Thank you, Netflix, for letting me know you had this.  I'd only ever seen random episodes in syndicate, so it was nice to watch them all in order.
Seasons 1 through 4 were best, season 5 ok, season 6... yeah, it's time to be done.  The series finale was ok.  It wasn't great, but at least it wasn't sappy.

The Book That Shall Not Be Named Here, by an author I won't mention right now.  Freelancing wasn't getting me much of anywhere, so now I'm doing a little bit of editing and/or proofreading for a small publisher.  (Does not represent a conflict of interest, since they really only publish in ebook format and the titles aren't available through OverDrive.  Plus, I wouldn't endanger my job over the 12 cents buying a copy would earn me.)

When I started this project, I was solicited to be the editor.  I would have been happy to tell you about this book because, while the first part had some issues, it had a good world and interesting characters at its base.  After editing a quarter of the book, the author decided no further editing was needed, and I was told to just proofread the manuscript.  I will now not be suggesting this title to you, because it has issues.  It needed editing.  I fixed the commas, but you would be appalled at the contradictory information and motivation gaps.
But I'm mentioning it here, because I read it twice.  It will count in my annual totals.

I think I'll work in the yard now.  The sun came out a bit, and the amount of work our yard needs usually warms me up.

Monday, April 06, 2015

novels, graphic and otherwise

Well, I wanted to finish this up last week and squeeze it in to March, but I wasn't feeling motivated.  I still made two posts last month without it.

Y:The Last Man: Unnanned, : Cycles, : One Small Step, and : Safeword by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, and Jose Marzan, Jr.  I've been meaning to look at the publication history for this as compared to the Saga installments, since the third volume especially (I think; they sort of run together) had the sort of teeth-exploding gratuitous-violence-for-shock-factor I found wasting space in later Saga volumes.  And, finally looking it up... there is no cross-over.  The stories were written in different decades.
I have to ILL the rest of the volumes; I'm not sure what it is about this series that seems attractive to GN thieves at leas state-wide: the last time I started to read this, at my library a mere ten miles from Idaho, I got only one volume in; when I went back to the shelf a few weeks later for more, they were gone.  Now, a stone's throw from the Pacific Ocean, I'm able to get a little bit further into the series but not much.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, vol. 1, by Alan Moore, Kevin O'Neill, Ben Dimagmaliw, and Bill Oakley.  I wanted very much a few weeks ago to read and enjoy more graphic novels.  Theoretically, I like them, but I find it hard to find specific ones I enjoy.  They kind of are like audiobooks for me-- an even greater number of elements than usual that interplay to affect reader perception, and they all have to be just right.  With the exception that one or two volumes per series seem to be placeholders that don't really move the plot along and just offer the fans something to look at while other installments are in the works, Vaughan's series are a good balance for me.  This one was also pretty close; some of the illustrations were more cartoon-y than I prefer, but otherwise mostly nice.

Plague Land by S.D. Sykes.  I remember that I read a review that made me place an immediate hold on this book.  The review was better-written than this novel. To be fair to this book, I am working on an editing project now and so I'm hyper-attuned to editing and proofreading issues.  The errors in this book (like ending an "I wondered if..." sentence with a question mark) would have annoyed me anyway, but probably not to this degree.  They are also not the reason I'm putting the book down-- it's the characters.  I was expecting a historical fiction, but this book is a mystery and, like many of that genre, has poorly-drawn characters.  The main character is weak and not particularly likable; all the supporting characters lack depth.  They are not interesting.

First Wilderness: My Quest in the Territory of Alaska, by Sam Keith.  I picked this up at PNBA last fall; the people who spoke about it really sold it.  Once again, a marvelously-sold but rather poor book.  This was compiled posthumously from an unpublished manuscript and, not to be mean, but there is a reason it was unpublished during the author's lifetime.  The writer invests way too much detail and information on things and people that turn out to literally just be passing in the street.  The reader has no way of knowing which situations or people will turn out to be important, because they are all presented the same way.  It's like having some kind of sensory processing disorder (it actually is quite alot like how the self-help and parenting books I'm reading describe ADHD, a label recently applied to my son-- the brain can't tell which is important: the teacher talking, the student whispering, the leaf hitting the window, or the shiny pencil at the neighboring desk.  That's pretty much how this writing feels).  Skipping ahead, it also looks like there are formatting inconsistencies with how added content (letters to and from, etc.) are labeled and included.
And this is me being kind; I picked this up and put it right back down a week before I started my editing gig.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

march 2

Elysium by Jennifer Marie Brissett. I read a little piece of this, to see if I wanted to use it in either of two new upcoming program series I'm working on. No.
The writing is terribly choppy: there is no flow, no ability to be swept along by the story. It consists entirely of a combination of very short sentences interspersed with fragments, and the fragments used indiscriminately-- because there are so many, and the sentences are universally short, it gives them no power, no punch. Also, each character over-emotes. Because the dialogue lack punch, each and every spoken line is accompanied by huge physical gestures and gesticulations, extreme facial expressions, deep sighs, and other things that are supposed to convey the emotions the characters are supposed to feel.

Finder: Third World by Carla Speed McNeil. I wanted to read more graphic novels, and this was ranked on a number of "best" and "top" lists. But I couldn't follow it. It was too other-world, no introduction of ideas, no common points of reference. Turns out this is something like vol. 10. How nice it would have been if that were indicated somewhere on here! But the spine, front cover, inside front cover, back cover, inside back cover, title page, and more blank filler pages all stubbornly refuse to give any actually-useful information about this series. This is one reason I've had such a hard time getting into GNs-- they are not user-friendly. You can't just pick one up; a surprising amount of research is needed on prospective titles.

Ghost of the Well of Souls by Jack L. Chalker. Oh, this is bloody ridiculous. The repetition has worn me down! I quit! Every time we enter a region. We get a recap of the race's abilities or physical characteristics. Every time two characters meet up, it goes into the backstory again. Every time. And (and! This is the best part!) the author's note says, in part, "you should read them in the order they are written; otherwise it completely spoils the surprise and, because there is a minimum if recap here, you might even get confused as to who's who." This dude was obviously not functioning in the same reality as the rest of us.

Series sum-up: the first three are an interesting imaginative exercise. The last two add nothing and are absolute torture to read.

The Girl With No Name: The Incredible Story of a Child Raised by Monkeys by Marina Chapman, with Vanessa James and Lynn Barrett-Lee. (921) These sorts of memoirs are really accessible. I find alot of nonfiction inaccessible, not because I can't follow the subject matter, but because it is written so poorly that I cannot wade through the crap to the important points. I have high expectations for people who are considered/consider themselves so high up in their own fields that they think they need to write a book. But people like this, who had an unusual experience and are encouraged to share it, their books may not be amazingly well-written, but that's ok.

This ended in kind of a weird place; I think many readers would still be curious about how she got from South America to Europe. She must have done research at some point or talked to doctors about many relevant topics-- delayed language acquisition, adult education, health topics-- but none of that information was shared.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

oo, slightly behind for March posts

step it up, me.

The Sea is Full of Stars by Jack L. Chalker.  Sea has some if the biggest editing mistakes to date-- people who leave the room but suddenly reappear, structures and set-ups which were described in great detail in previous novels now working in completely different ways.  Also, it seems obvious that this story set takes place thousands of years after the previous book, but references "our" history.  After resetting the universe, there would be major changes to the timeline; there would have to be, or the story would loop and there could be no hope for a different outcome.  Yet the author and characters reference Earth history that is the same as the shared history of the first half of the series.
Very poor.  I've started the last in the series, but I'm sad about it.

Saga vol. 4, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.  This didn't really move the story forward very much.  And while certain elements used previously have obviously been there for shock value, they have been previously well-played.  That is not the case in this installment.  How many different heads can we see blown into itty bitty pieces?  Tone it down, the gratuitous violence is now getting in the way of the story.

The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie.  I read this years ago, and just finished rereading it, as I chose it for my new library book group.  Tonight was the first meeting, and no one actually showed up, which is a real shame, because below are my musings and questions that I would have used to instigate stimulating conversation.  Feel free to use them as jumping-off points with your own bookgroups when you strong-arm them into reading this wonderful book, because honestly, the questions from the publisher are very sad.
(p6) "Pain is an event.  It happens to you, and you deal with it in whatever way you can."  Thomas is talking about physical pain.  How much of it is really mind over matter?  How much of other kinds of pain do we manufacture ourselves?
The author jumps about in descriptions, nearly going off topic all the time.  What effect does this have on the reader?  on the reading?
Thomas revises his opinion of Sarah's age several times during their first encounter, from 19 at most up through possibly 30.  What does she do to make him revise his opinion?  Is it even her doing?  Does the age given (p.17 gives dob, making her about 32 if story is set in year of publication) match up with your interpretation and assumption of her age, based on her character?
Thomas gives the pseudonym of James Fincham several times-- to Sarah, and to Toffee Spencer.  Does the name have a significance?  Early on, he says "...then my name isn't James Fincham.// Which, of course, it isn't."  But he uses the name so pervasively that sort of it is really his name.
In the first part of the book, we get everything-- every conversation, every step, every thought.  Right before Thomas' dinner with the Woolves, we learn things are happening to Thomas that he doesn't tell us.  For another chunk of the book, time stretches out farther and farther without anything being conveyed to us.  Is Thomas only telling the parts that support his version of events?  Why are some things only mentioned, not shown?  Or mentioned further after the fact?  How much of the Kevlar-suited Minister-of-Finance double cross did Thomas know about before the day on the slope?
(p293) Thomas starts referring to himself in the 3rd person in narration ("...said Ricky, turning back to Benjamin.") when he'd doing terroristy things.  Why this time, in Casablanca, but not before, in Switzerland?
One review says "an intricate thriller laced with Wodehousian humor."  Read any Wodehouse?  [Jeeves and Wooster ran 1990-1993.]  [I have read some Wodehouse, and the similarities are not immediately apparent to me, but I also didn't compare them side-by-side.  However, when one author is used to describe the work of another, a side-by-side comparison shouldn't really be necessary.  The derivative work should flaunt it; it should be visible from a distance.]
The author has written a screenplay adaptation.  Cast picks?  Insert thoughts on how well the story will translate to screen.  Sound track suggestions.  [I don't think this would actually translate very well to a movie, because the important parts of the story happen inside Thomas' head.  The reason the book is funny and engaging is because of his surprising, startling narration, and the reason it's interesting is because he, and we, can't quite figure who, if anyone, is a good guy.  Those sorts of things don't translate well to movies.  The movie would be full of all the actiony bits-- the fights, the tailing, the escapes, the secret meetings-- and so would be exciting, but it wouldn't capture even half the story.]  [I listened to one of my Pandora stations, which mostly plays Queen and Led Zepplin, while reading alot of this, and that seemed to fit,]
There is a rumor that a sequel, The Paper Soldier, will be released... eventually.  Is a sequel necessary?  Speculate as to focus, plot.  [Any sequel likely couldn't compare, and is unnecessary to finish the story.  A second story is not required.]

Saturday, February 28, 2015

the sci-fi post

Quest for the Well of Souls, The Return of Nathan Brazil, and Twilight at the Well of Souls by Jack L. Chalker.  Quest was less deliberately crude than previous novels, although by this point, I'm getting fatigued by all the exclamation points, not to mention the author's use of italics, primarily in dialogue but also in narration, to lend emphasis.  Let's not talk about his descriptions at introductions... let's just not.

Return suffered some editing problems-- mainly fairly large inconsistencies.  Details and names were changed or swapped for other locations, and time spans, which were very clearly stated in previous books, were different lengths in here.  In recounting-- or rather, retelling-- part of the story that came before, details and motivations were added that were never previously mentioned and which probably would have had a pretty big impact on the earlier novels.
Unfortunately, although this book moves the story along, a lot of it is just repetition.
Twilight is starting to get a little better, in the quality of writing and descriptions, although the good-ish sections are paid for by a fair few truly purple sections.  It's difficult to follow at times, as the author is rewriting huge swathes of backstory.  It doesn't work.
Series-wise, I have a few problems with the story:
A whole handful of characters live hundreds (and hundreds) of years, but most are just fine.  One does go loony, and this is implied as the natural, expected state for anyone of that age, but she's pretty much alone in that.  Some characters are ok, but lose most of their memories of anything before the last couple centuries; others have no memory loss at all.  There is no consistency.
Second, you can tell the author is scraping the bottom of the barrel on the imagination every time he has to invent new alien species-- they pretty much all look like earth animals with changes, but they make no sense.  A tree-dwelling flying squirrel that never, ever, ever goes in water, because that's where the predators are, would not have a duck bill.  It's thoughtless.  There is even a feeble attempt to work this craptitude into the story, but it is a blatant grasp at CYA.

My original reactions, circa-- judging by the pen and handwriting-- 2002-2004:
Quest:  This is the most poorly-written, entirely plot-driven collection of books that I've ever read, but I just keep reading them.  "I can't help it, it's a compulsion." [points to you if you know the quote.]
In addition to all his old vices, I noticed the author likes to use the phrase "try and" and "different than."  Rrr, stupid writers.
Plus, this book was almost entirely set-up anyway, which is really sucky in a plot-driven series.
Return: Once again, mostly set-up, which angers me.  Plus, things are getting really out of hand, as far as believability goes.  These people just live for thousands of years, through totally unbelievable artificial means and don't really suffer any ill effects, either mentally or emotionally.  It's rather annoying.
Twilight: Well, at least something actually happened in this book. 

the non-sci-fi post

The Paradise, series 2, with Johanna Vanderham.  If you liked series 1, you'll like series 2, which is a nice continuation of the story.  There were a couple of issues, including (1) the investor/owner character brought in for this series is unbelievably cruel (as in, his character isn't plausible, he doesn't make sense in his levels of cruelty), and (2) there were a few plot elements that got chucked into the final episode that didn't match up-- what was shown and what characters later reported to other characters were out of sync-- and generally gave the feeling of "details like this won't matter because it's all in the cause of a happy ending."

Dragons at Crumbling Castle and other tales by Terry Pratchett.  These were fun.  I'm glad someone took the time to compile them.  Some are obviously early works and didn't make a great deal of sense (the first Carpet People short story, for example, has too many characters for a short story and I wasn't always able to follow) but many have a line of dialogue or bit of description that has the same flavor as later works.

The Chemistry of Alchemy: From Dragon's Blood to Donkey Dung; How Chemistry was Forged by Cathy Cobb, Minty L. Fetterolf, and Harold Goldwhite.  This sounded interesting, but ended not being very well organized.  After each chapter were instructions for a science experiment.  The instructions (that I read) were poorly organized; they should have consulted a cookbook. 

Sex Criminals: One Weird Trick vol. 1 by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky.  Like my recent-favorite sci-fi books, which are stories about people who happen to be in a sci-fi setting, this actually is a story about two people who felt alone in the universe who find each other.  

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession by Allison Hoover Bartlett.  This was ok.  It was personally interesting, because I know people who seem to be like the Man traced here.  The story jumped around in time a bit, but in order to group similar things together, so it wasn't too distracting and did add to the story.  

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The length of this post is getting a little out of hand...

it's only been two weeks!

Primeval, series 5, with Andrew Lee Potts.  I'm glad it's over.  The incursion story lines were getting a bit samey, depending on the conspiracy plots to add variety.  I was never sold on that story arc.

The Prime Minister's Secret Agent by Susan Elus MacNeal.  This was a bit different from the other series books, in that the story was more about the character, less about a spy adventure.  
There was a big editing problem between this one and the 2nd book, but it might go unnoticed by people who don't read the books immediately back-to-back: towards the end of His Majesty's Hope, the main character's romantic interest tells her about a situation that got him fired, but in this installment a minor character relates the incident to the main character and she acts as if she's never heard it before.  Why could no one catch this?  I want to read the next one-- due out in the fall-- but I'm also rather dreading it.  Step it up, MacNeal!

Exiles at the Well of Souls by Jack K. Chalker.  On the one hand, this has been enjoyable to read because it's fun to suddenly remember what's going to happen after the page turn.  It's also been interesting to read scenes and descriptions which I remember surprisingly clearly from my first read circa 1999, but which, at that initial read, I skipped over or ignored a descriptor which has a pretty big impact on the scene.
What has not been so fun-- and this does apply to some extent to the first book, although it's way more pronounced in this one-- is that the author appears to be brash and gross on purpose.  It strikes me as a very boy-child thing to do.  Why describe a scene or person with tact and gentle care when you can be crass, brazen, or disgusting?  (Bonus points if you can be two-- or even three!-- out of three!)
I have the others in the series on hold (well, waiting for ILLs to arrive, I should say), including two books which are very late editions to the series, and which I'm pretty sure I haven't actually read yet.

Just for fun, my original review, or, probably not original since I first read the books pre-2001, which is when I actually started writing these things down, but certainly closer-to-original than today's reviews are here:
Midnight at the Well of Souls: Although this series presents an interesting idea and takes a grand amount of imagination-- from both the author and the reader-- i don't appreciate the author's writing style.  His characters tend to spend a large portion of time naked, and for no apparant purpose.  He also feels it necessary to comment on their... anatomy.  Every single time.  All females have either "small, rock hard" or "gargantuan" breasts, and all males are pleased, to say the least, with endowments "the biggest he'd ever seen."  And the first thing they always wonder, and sometimes ask out loud, is, how do I have sex?
Exiles at the Well of Souls: already transcribed here.

Also, after reading these two, I've sorted out the various remembered snippets enough to know that the series I was thinking of and kind of looking for is a different series by this author, which I originally read all mixed up and smooshed together and out of order, and which I will inflict upon myself after finishing these next few.

The Burning Men by Christopher Farnsworth.  I wasn't sure where in the series line-up this was quite supposed to go.  Other than that, and enjoyable mini-outing.

Masked Ball at Broxkey Manor by Rhys Bowen.  This short story series-insert had a nice mini-story, but not even the author could tell when you were supposed to read it.  There was so much introductory-type information that it made it seem like new readers should read the short story first, in the chronological order of events.  But there were so many reference to events in published books that maybe the reader should read all the books in publication order, coming to the short story at the end.  Either way, there was too much space wasted on reminders and introductions.  Not worth the $2.99 for the download.

The Darwin Awards: Next Evolution: Chlorinating the Gene Pool by Wendy Northcutt.  (081).  I decided to take another stab at my Nonfiction Survey and grabbed a small stack of books that would fill in some of the gaps.  I figured, correctly, that this book would go very quickly and be mildly entertaining.  I have nothing further to add to my review, and now I can cross another Dewey Decade off my list.

The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen.  Putting in the author names into the tag feature on my post settings, blogger prompted me that I had at some point in the past 9 years (!) used Mullen as a tag.  I went and found the 2007 post-- usually it's a different author, and I end up adding first names to both surname tags.  Not only is it the same author, but I read this book in 2007.  Knock me over with a feather.  I must have been so stressed and sleep deprived-- that 2007 post would be winter break after my first semester in grad school-- that I didn't remember a single thing.  I read this entire book without the foggiest idea.

Well, I guess it says something for the book that, slightly better-rested and at a different point in my life, I still enjoyed the book.  I don't think I would say, like my sleep-deprived self, that it's one of my top-five, but still good.

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson.  This was actually recommended by a friend, which now makes me doubt my friend a bit.  There is indeed interesting information on psychopaths and related psychology, which is what I was hoping for.  The information confirms for me that I know a few people who may very well be not alright in the head.
However, most of the book is not about that.  It is about the author.  It is about his concerns over his anxiety disorder, and becoming interested in psychological testing, and then psychopaths, and then psychopaths in industry and psychopaths in government... it isn't a book about an interesting topic, it's a boring book about him and his interest in an interesting topic.  Did not finish.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

And now for something slightly diferent

The different things:

Cook's Illustrated, no. 132, ed. by Christopher Kimball.  I'm not a big magazine reader.  I don't even usually read the articles in whatever professional journal is being routed past me.  But I've always enjoyed this magazine and the associated TV show-- I got rather hooked on it the first year we were married, when we lived out in the boondocks, owned only one vehicle, my husband worked and was in grad school, I worked only part time, and we only got the PBS station.  I have a handful of Test Kitchen recipes that my family loves-- the pancake recipe cannot fail.

So my husband got me a subscription as a gift this year.  There are several recipes from this issue that I think will go over well here, but I read all the recipes, even for the dishes I don't intend to make, because I love their process.  It is so normal, so what-I-do-in-my-own-kitchen, while also explaining chemistry and food science-- the researcher tried this method and anticipated a certain result, but ended up with something else and researched why that happened and incorporated that information into another attempt.  Awesome!

Other oddness for you:  this author apparently writes about legs.  Not really (I think), but the amazing similarity of the book jackets leads me to assume all her leading characters are extremely similar, and I wouldn't anticipate too much variety of plot, either.

We now return to regular programming.

Princess Elizabeth's Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal.  There were some issues in this book that would have been fixed by a good editor-- people jumping about in a scene, some sentences that were kind of awkward, and, in one memorable scene, a character finishing his flask and throwing it overboard, saying a line, and then finishing his flask and throwing it overboard.  That kind of stuff really bothers me because, what would otherwise be a great book, full of interesting and well-drawn characters, red herrings, and period detail, is messed up by the type of consistency errors that should be caught well before even the ARC stage.
I did like that the characters lived between books.  References were made to events that happened between when book one ended and book two began.  Those few things weren't reason enough to being the new story the day after the first one ended, but it gave the characters depth, added to their histories; they live whether we are watching or not.

His Majesty's Hope by Susan Elia MacNeal.  When I have two books in the same series that I read during the same review period, I normally just lump them together.  But I separated books 2 and 3 because this one was so much cleaner than its predecessor.  Well done on stepping up the proofreading, Susan.

Lie to Me, seasons 2 and 3, with Tim Roth.  I'm sure it's just as well that the series is over, since you can kind of see the characters slipping into caricatures-- losing some of their depth, becoming the embodiment of their defining character trait, doing the same things in all situations whereas a real person with depth is more adaptable and can change...
I was sort of bummed that the show just sort of stopped, though.  There wasn't any feeling like the over-arching story was wrapping up; rather, there just stopped being a "next episode" button at the bottom of the screen.  It kind of works, in a way though, because we can assume that the characters are still there, still doing their thing, since there was no reason for them to stop.

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley.  Sad, sad, did not finish.  One, waaay too many authors think giving their character Asperger's is a totally unique way to set them apart.  The intellectual with Asperger's is the new alcoholic PI.  It's overdone.  Point one, subsection A, it's completely unnecessary-- I would be way more drawn to a female intellectual who was just sort of naturally awkward; she doesn't need to be debilitatingly awkward.  Point one, subsection B, it's annoying in that each author feels the need to explain it, both overly-simply and simultaneously going on about it too much.  Of course, if each is under the impression that this is the first brush the reader has had with the diagnosis, then that would be understandable, but there are so many characters now who have it as their Achilles' heel that it's almost as if the author expects his or her book to be the only one the reader has ever picked up.  Generally annoying.
Two, the main character is supposed to be translating coded diary entries, but the historical parts of the novel are written the same as the present-day parts: same voice, same writing style.  The historical portions are written in third person and start before the character actually begins keeping her diary.  There isn't any feeling of significant difference between the time periods.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Actual Beach Reads

and poolside reads and airplane reads, because I'm on vacation!  (well, I was.  Now I'm home, the laundry is all done, and I'm back to work tomorrow.)

Midnight at the Well of Souls by Jack L. Chalker.  There are a few books I have been meaning to go back and read, titles which were important to me as a developing reader circa 1997.  I found and read that historical romance a few years ago; after finding that, this series began niggling at me.  I found one of the books in the series in the Friends' sale at the Silversale branch of the Kitsap Regional Library.  I originally read the series out of order, and soon after read it in the proper order.  It was my first introduction to hard core sci fi and influenced what I read for quite a while. 

I anticipated I wouldn't actually enjoy the book, but would be able to see the parts I originally appreciated.  I was actually wrong, in that I did still enjoy the book this read-through.  Yeah, it has some issues in that the writing could be cleaner: it reads like pulp sci fi, but that's what most readers expect.  There were a lot of distracting printing errors (like a word starting with cl being written as starting with d), and a pretty big binding deal where page 280 jumped to 313, proceeded to 344, and repeated beginning at 313 again.  I'm going to be generous and ascribe most plot inconsistencies in the last section of the book to details lost in the missing 30-ish pages.

I had so much fun rereading this pulp that I will go directly to my OPAC and request the next via ILL.  

Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal.
I had been looking for a little while for something to fill the same niche as Her Royal Spyness.  The Black Dahlia series didn't do it for me.  This is the answer-- realistically spunky female heroine, historic British setting, nice inclusion of setting details, mystery plot, although that isn't the main reason for reading the story.  Nice, enjoyable, used my phone to put books 2 and 3 on hold from my lounge chair.  

Genocide of One by Kazuaki Takano.  I had been looking forward to this one for a while, but I'm having a tough time getting into it-- the first characters are stereotypical tough guys, not largely distinct from other tough-guy characters, and it looks like the story is going to be largely plot-driven, when the jacket description had me hoping for more sci-fi elements.

The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge by Michael Punke.  The writing style in this book is very enjoyable, like in The Lieutenant or His Majesty's Dragon.  The writing adds considerably to the story.

The story does end at a really odd place; when the story is about real historical people, it seems like some authors struggle finding a good place to stop that doesn't end in death.  The main character comes looking for revenge, (spoiler!) is thwarted by circumstance, and it's suddenly the historical note and acknowledgement pages.  

Also, there is information on the front and back covers of this ARC about how it will soon be a "major motion picture" plus information directing book groups to publisher resources for this book.  Although I very much enjoyed the story, I don't think it would make a very exciting movie nor a good book for discussion-- while the character's constant struggle for survival against a variety of situations kept the book going, it seems it would get rather monotonous in a movie.  Plus, he only wants to survive to get revenge, not because he has a family or is a generally happy guy, so it would be hard to cheer him on in a movie.  And while there are a few characters worth a little discussion, they aren't main characters.  It's not as if the main character could have made very many different choices.  What's he going to do, talk it out with the bear?

The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki.  Ten pages past halfway, I quit this.  I'm rather interested in the story, since it's a time and place I haven't read much about, but I'm too annoyed.  The cover, binding, and some of the language are designed to make the book fit into "historical fiction," but it has most of the bad parts of a romance novel: the main characters are shallow and stupid, important secondary characters have no redeeming features, and motivations don't seem very plausible.  The most interesting and well-drawn characters are secondaries who don't actually get much screen-time.  

Friday, January 09, 2015

I'm so doing awesome at my resolutions.

Green by Jay Lake.  I kind of like where this is going, but I'm not totally into it.  I would so have been totally into it many (many) years ago, when I was temporarily infatuated with Maria Snyder's Poison Study et al.  Definitely a good title for fans of the same.

Saturday, January 03, 2015


I found notes on these titles ingeniously hidden in my email, and various other places I thought (at the time) would be a good place to make my future self find them. It's not a huge number of items, and none I finished.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Thomas Sweterlitsch. I placed this on hold as a possibility for an upcoming program. It isn't a good fit for the program, and also I didn't enjoy it very much.  The world building is interesting, but not enough information is shared; there too many new elements, all only hinted at, none explained.  This would be for dedicated sci-fi readers only; it's not a good genre-seducer.

First Impressions by Charlie Lovett.  I so loved Lovett's The Bookman's Tale.  I kept waffling on this: to read or not to read?  Second books are frequently such a let-down, but once in a while (like Susan Pfeffer), you get a sophomore book that's even better than the first.  

Turns out, this isn't bad, just not captivating. Plus, the Jane Austen thing.  I'm just not into it.

Beautiful Disaster by Janie McGuire.  Well, some sort of disaster, at any rate.  I saw this well-reviewed a number of times, and while the book isn't good, I'm just as annoyed at the reviewers.  1) "New Adult" novels can include characters outside of the 18-19 range.  2)  Even young-ish adults should be able to choose books on relevant topics and characters their own age that don't sacrifice writing quality.  
The writing is too simple-- the characters are shallow and predictable-- and overwritten-- every line of dialogue is underscored with macro facial expressions, winks, or practiced nonchalant body movements.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

and now for the count

I love tables. And graphs. And reports. When other department heads submitted 1- or 2-page annual reports, mine was 11. In high school, when we had to write a 10- to 12-page research paper, I was the kid who submitted a 17-pager, plus bibliography, plus maps. I like to compare and contrast things to other things. I like what we learn by comparing and contrasting things. I think what these numbers tell us is that I'm sort of a busy person and don't have as much time to read as I used to. That's not particularly useful information to anyone, nor any great surprise, but shush.

books started: 60
books finished: 43 (71.7%)
finished books that were fiction: 35 (81.3%) (includes 2 picture books and juvenile titles)
finished books that were nonfiction: 7 (16.3%)
finished books that were graphic novels: 1 (2.3%)
finished books by female authors: 29 (67.4%)
finished books by male authors: 11 (18.9%)
finished books by male and female authors: 3 (7%)

*these numbers don't include the books, either started or finished, that I read for the Benjamin Franklin awards, nor the books that I read as an editor, because I didn't choose any of those books for myself. Including those would add over 85 books to the total.

books started, decrease from 2013: 46 (43.4%)
books finished, decrease from 2013: 26 (37.7)
books finished ration, increase from 2013: 6.6%

books started: 106
books finished: 69 (65.1%)
finished books that were fiction: 55 (79.7%)
finished books that were nonfiction: 12 (17.4%)
finished books that were graphic novels: 2 (2.9%)
finished books by female authors: 48 (71%)
finished books by male authors: 20 (29%)

The first year I ever counted how many books I'd read, it was something ridiculous, like 212. I really think that's what it was. I was going to school full time and I worked a retail job, but I lived at home, not on campus; I didn't participate in student government; I didn't socialize. I worked, I did my schoolwork (which was not even particularly challenging, doing required courses at community college), and I read. Now, I work full-time, I do the laundry and cooking and dish washing, I spend time with my family, and I have other hobbies. Still, 43 books is more than a lot of people, so I don't feel too bad.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do this year. Some friends set themselves reading goals (100 books, which seems a little much for me, I mean that would be finishing over twice the number I read this year). I was thinking of making a reading challenge list for our little book group (you know, like read one sci-fi, one book set in a high school, one book with a bad guy as the main character), the kind of thing that's supposed to help you spread your reading wings a bit. I feel like I read an acceptably wide variety already.

I think perhaps instead, my goals will be to
1) always have something to write on my "Currently Reading" mug, i.e., to always be actively reading something, and
2) to actually post them up here at least twice a month.  Posting isn't as much work as I for some reason think it is, and it always makes me feel more inspired.  

But let's not call these resolutions, because those never turn out well.

i love being well-rested

My son has been staying a few days at his grandparents', so this morning I got to sleep in until 10:15, stay in bed until 11:30, get up, do just enough dishes to get to the coffee pot, turn the fireplace on, and get back in bed for another hour.  My mother-in-law deserves cake.

Yesterday's Kin by Nancy Kress.  This reads alot like The Martian: it's really a story about people-- in this case, a woman, her children, and a coworker-- and, oh, there happen to be sci-fi elements.  I really like that sort of sci-fi.
It also reads like The Martian in that the ending is oddly anticlimactic and makes one wonder about the author and publishing deadlines and things.
Except for the last 5 pages or so, the book was really great and I have recommended it to those friends on whom I forced The Martian, most of whom then went out and forced it on other people.
(I actually socialized last night at a friend's house.  She had been late coming around to reading The Martian, but then consumed it in 2 days.  Now that it's out in paperback, she had 2 copies on her counter, which she is going to give as gifts. Ha!)

You and I, Me and You by MaryJanice Davidson.  This was not a good series completion.  Not that this author was ever a great writer of amazing literature, but she has gone way down in my estimation.  First, instead of just reminding readers of what happened in the previous book, she actually lifted entire pages and copied them in by way of "flashback" scenes.  No.  Also, her character with synesthesia (who we met in the 2nd book but who had a lot more page-time in this installment) was very poorly drawn, being both overly-simplistic and inaccurate in what details were shared.  I know that's the character "handicap" du jour but if you're going to jump on the bandwagon, you could at least do it properly.

What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe.  (500)  I really like the web comics, but hadn't noticed the "What If?" section.  (What?  It's in the header border.  No one ever looks there.)  As this is just a compilation of answers that have been included online, it might not be a necessary read for people who follow the site religiously.  But, as it was all new to me, I heartily enjoyed it.  The creator is amazingly funny and assumes readers are smart enough to be able to follow along-- or at least get the general idea-- on some fairly involved science and math stuff.

Shall I Knit You a Hat?: A Christmas Yarn by Kate Klise; illustrated by M. Sarah Klise.  I make my boys a hat to include in their stockings every year, and this came up in the catalog when I was searching through for new patterns.  It is a sweet little picture book story, nothing earth shattering.

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith.  I have never read this book before.  Shocking, no?  Although my 7-year-old has a sadly inadequate familiarity with traditional fairy tales, including most of the ones in this book, he still got a kick out of it, because it's a little bit rude and some of the plots don't follow predictable lines, and that's funny.

The Boleyn King by Laura Andersen.  I very much wanted to like this, and I keep picking it up, but now I'm going to put it down for real.  Theoretically, I like the plot, but the sense of history isn't strong enough-- not enough historical detail, and the characters sound like modern-day speakers.  Good on the author for not trying for a dialect or for conventions she hasn't mastered, which would definitely ruin the reading.  The other thing is that this is a mystery set in an alternate history time line, so that's elements of mystery, historical fiction, and actually fantasy, and before a quarter of the way through, a romance story line is also being woven in.  That's too many genres being melded together.

As it has been Christmas time (shocking, I know), I haven't gotten much reading done lately; I did get to watch quite a bit of TV while knitting dozen or so projects.  (I'm very much looking forward to making this for myself as soon as I can find fingering weight yarn in the right color!)

Lie to Me, season 1, with Tim Roth.  I have had this on my Netflix Watch list for a very long time.  I wouldn't have added it if I'd noticed it starred Tim Roth; ages ago, an old boyfriend made me watch a whole bunch of Roth movies, and they were all disgusting and weird and stupid.  But I am very much enjoying this show, already part way through season 2, so I'm glad I was so unobservant.

The Paradise, series 1, with Joanna Vanderham.  You could watch this just for the costuming and props.  It looks amazing.  The acting is fine, the story line is ok, those two factors aren't why people watch BBC dramas.  I'm waiting for series 2 to be available for free through Amazon Prime.

Primeval, series 1 through 4, with Andrew Lee Potts.  I'm too lazy to check, but if I had to guess, I would say that the writers or directors, or both, changed season to season.  I really enjoyed series 1-- uncomplicated story lines, people fighting dinosaurs, check.  I don't know why they thought it necessary to add all these various conspiracies inside the government, outside the government, plus all the future time travel junk, in the later series.  I'll watch 5 when it becomes available, but I'm not convinced that the show was taken in the right direction.
As a side note, a major plot change depended on the characters killing a dinosaur instead of sending it home, and that action reverberated down through history and changed some of the characters.  But 1) both before and after, they had to kill other dinosaurs, or had to keep them at the research center and not send them home, and 2) they by-now hundreds of various animals that have come through and then gone home, not to mention the times the team has gone through and then come back, would have contaminated all those points in the past with modern-day germs and microbes and things, which would drastically change the evolutionary chain.  They don't even make any half-assed excuses and gloss past the problem; they just ignore it.  That frustrates me.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

i made 3 dozen cookies today.

Back in September, our laptop got a ransom virus.  Why hold our Christmas pictures hostage?  I've been doing everything on the phone, which is ok, and now we just fired up the old desktop we got when I was in grad school, circa 2007.  Go, compaq!  It is actually working ok as long as you only have one tab open at a time, one program open at a time, and bring a book or knitting or something so the random freezes don't drive you crazy.  I just keep pretending we're back on dial-up.  How did we live like this?

The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books by Azar Nafisi.  This author was at the PNBA and although she was obviously very passionate about literature and libraries and exploring the world through reading, her presentation was a bit rambly and seemed to lack focus.  We all went away thinking, "Yes, read all the things!" but the feeling faded and I'm not sure what the take-away was really supposed to be.
The book (or at least the part that I read) also seemed a bit out of focus: supposed to be about American literature and culture, but mostly feels like a memoir.  It's probably very good, but I need something with focus now.

The Snow Queen and The Sleeping Beauty by Mercedes Lackey.  I probably read these out of order when I read them the first time.  Things make more sense now, which is always nice.  

Only Enchanting by Mary Balogh.  This novel was rather repetitive, both in that it was similar to the other novels and also in that several scenes within the book were very similar to each other; even the vocabulary seemed limited.

The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control by Walter Mischel.  This sounded interesting, but I only got about 1/4 of the way; the author kept referencing the same articles and experiments.  It didn't feel like we were moving forward.  Ok if you have time, I guess.

Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell.  Now this is my sort of nonfiction.  It jumped around in time a bit, rather like Pandemonium, but the stories still made sense.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger.  Not only did my son devour this (vicariously), but after his dad and I each read one night at bedtime, we both decided we each wanted to read the whole thing.  It took us a little while to get through the book, waiting for all three of us to be conscious and in the same room at the same time, but we managed to find the time.  We are working on Darth Paper Strikes Back, but finding it hard to find the time.

The Sword of the Bright Lady by M.C. Planck.  I was really entranced while reading this; however, upon reflection, it could have used some work.  I liked the world-building, but it kind of got abandoned after the first few chapters; more detail would have added to the story.  More information about the mythology especially would have explained a lot, given background to the characters' actions.  There was plenty of action, but more world history would have made the action make more sense.  Maybe future series titles will add depth.

Yours, Mine, and Ours by MaryJanice Davidson.  Getting-ready-for-beach read!

The Lego Movie with Chris Pratt.  I'd had several fellow parents say this was a really great movie.  I concur.  It looks more stop-motion-y than some of the other Lego shows my kid has seen (Chima, Ninjago) and it was a nice effect.  Lots of kid-friendly jokes, lots of parent-jokes that weren't inappropriate.  

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


At the end of September, I got to go to the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association annual tradeshow.  This makes up a tiny bit for having to miss BEA this past summer, which I was super excited to have won a ticket to.  But, kind of tapped out from moving, didn't make it, etc., etc.

So, the PNBA tradeshow as fun, met some (of course!) awesome librarians and some pretty cool authors.  The majority of attendees are bookstore owners or employees, not surprisingly, and it was really interesting to listen to them talk among themselves.  It was frequently frustrating, because libraries and bookstores should be working together on more things, using each other as a local resource, more than we are.  They talk about alot of the same topics library people talk about-- how to get patrons to read signs, how to coach staff to do reader's advisory-- but booksellers would really benefit from attending a library conference, or even talking to their local library staff.  One bookseller was totally flabbergasted that, if you make a good book recommendation to a patron, the patron will come back and want more, and how do you cultivate a relationship like that?  That led to a much longer conversation than one (of us) might think strictly necessary.  I also, much to my surprise, had to grimace behind a smile when booksellers said, either directly to a group of librarians or merely in my hearing, some of the thoughtless things people commonly say about libraries and library staff.  We are definitely not all on the same team here.

But, I had a good time, and hey, look, I brought back a ton of books.  The registration was pretty pricey (thanks, library!), but I easily got our money's worth just in books.  Many are ARCs, but at least half were published and ready to back to TS for processing.  Huzzah!

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari.  This is interesting, and the author had a couple of points that I still mull over occasionally, but I didn't finish.  It was so dry that, even on my lunch break, I couldn't read for more than a few pages at a time, half a chapter at most.  Also, the longer I read, the more overly-simplified some of the examples seemed.  I felt like the author's credibility was wavering, so I set it down.  I'd say, don't order.

Pure Grit: How American Workd War II Nurses Survived Battle and Prison Camp in the Pacific by Mary Cronk Farrell. (940.5475) With a little more detail-- and less cartoon-y maps-- this would have been a good general-interest book.  The maps (and the exclamation points) make it more mid-YA.  Otherwise, fairly interesting and well-put-together.

The Legend of Sheba: Rise of a Queens by Tosca Lee.  The writing gave this a sort of YA feel, although I don't think it was intended as such.  Just things like sentence length and a certain lack of depth to the characters lead me to say that.  It is a nice historical fiction about an era, country, and historical figure I do t frequently see, so perhaps worth ordering for those reasons.

Finding Zero: A Mathematician's Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers by Amir D. Aczel.  This really wasn't about math at all; it was the autobiography if a man who happened to be a mathematician.  The first chapter is about when he first noticed as a boy that he was interested in math.  Skipping ahead and skimming, it's stuff about being faculty at a university and that sort of thing.  Not recommended.

The Birds of Pandemonium: Life Among the Exotic and the Endangered by Michele Raffin.  (639.978)  This wasn't what I was expecting from the title (having not even read the back) but I ended up devouring this: I stayed up waaaay to late to read about 3/4 in one go, and finished up the next day.  The author has a great voice, especially since her career path mightn't lead you to expecting writing experience.  

The story does jump around in time, but since she is sharing stories of her work, not giving a timeline of her nonprofit, it doesn't hurt the story.  How she has the little episodes organized works well.

A Place of Her Own: The Legacy of Oregon Pioneer Martha Poindexter Maupin by Janet Fisher.  I must have gotten this confused with another title I heard about at the trade show, because I was expecting something different.  Once I realized where the story was (not) going... I still couldn't get into it.  The book us marketed as nonfiction, but it is way too highly fictionalized for me: there is a main character, and her conversations, thoughts, and feelings are shared, even though there was no way those could have been documented.  This would have worked, possibly excelled, as a novel rooted in true historical events.  As "nonfiction," it doesn't work for me.

A Light in the Wilderness by Jane Kirkpatrick.  This author spent about 15 minutes at our supper table one night, and she sold me on this book.  This book succeeds where the previous title fails-- it is a meticulously-researched novel based on some known events.
It might have worked just a bit better if the author had made it longer; the end, the part of the story for which the most historical documentation exists, is a bit of a downer, and for a while.  Since the author had already used artistic license to get the story started, filling in some gaps to give the characters a happier next life stage would have been a more comfortable ending.

That Should Be a Word: A Language Lover's Guide to Choregasms, Povertunity, Brattling, and Other Much-Needed Terms for the Modern World by Lizzie Skurnick.  This is not a book you can sit down and read.  It also isn't funny.  Some of the made-up words are clever, but most obviously try too hard, are unnecessary and don't fill a gap in the language, or sound pretentious.  The few that I found that I would use sound too much like another word and would be missed by the listener in spoken conversation, such as "tyrunt."  These also aren't words, as far as i have seen, that have been made up or are being used online or in person; I think the author made them all up. 
Do not purchase.  

The Saxon by Margaret Moore.  This did not come from the show.  This is the ultimate in uber-Harlequin, and it was donated quite some time ago.  How could I refuse?  Nearly-naked muscly man on the front, complete with long, flowing hair, a great big weapon, and leather clothing for what clothing there is, plus (!) illustration on the back cover of same nearly-naked hunk clutching pregnant female with long gold hair, wearing gauzy, period-incorrect clothing, managing to hold herself up in a position that would be painful, if not impossible, even if not hugely pregnant?  Could it get more stereotypical?  

"No" is the answer you hear being whispered.

Freedom: The Story of My Second Life by Malika Oufkir.  This is an ARC, but it didn't come from the show.  I think it showed up randomly in the mail a while ago.

This is actually a follow-up ... Um, we'll go with memoir... To the author's earlier work Stolen lives, which I have not read.  I don't know if it would make more sense with the benefit of the first book, because it seems very disorganized.  In just the first few chapters, the author jumps around quite a bit, making the (I think) three different time periods hard to follow.  For someone, such as, perhaps, me, who was not alive at the time of the coup that started events, was not old enough to watch or follow international news 20 years later when the author was freed, and basically lives under a rock with regard to recent history, this is not an accessible story at all.  If people have read the first book, or are so familiar with the various events that they don't need even basic reminder information about people and places, it may be easier to follow.

Plucked: A History of Hair Renoval by Rebecca M. Herzig.  This sounds like just the thing for me!: micro history about a topic of marginal interest.  Nope.  The author makes it clear that she wants this to be an academic discussion, and as such, it us horribly dry.  It also focuses (or claims to; I didn't get very far) solely on the history of hair removal in the US in the last couple hundred years.  
I would totally read a book on this topic covering a good thousand years and with a world-wide overview. 

Note: my computer is down, so I'm doing this on my phone. If there is a typo, I can't even see it.   There are probably several.