Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Quarter 2, post 1

Beauty and the beast with Emma Watson and Dan Stevens.  I browsed a fairly comprehensive review before seeing this (in the theater!  with friends!  on a social outing!), plus having memorized the Disney movie as a tween and having seen a stage adaptation of the movie some years ago, so I have opinions.

Like the linked review, I disparage Belle's costuming, not only for it's lack of period correctness but also: I get that she's a rockin' independent lady, but she stands out on purpose.  As someone who didn't fit in until I went to a college big enough to support my niche, that seems silly at best, or else purposefully self-destructive.  It was a little hard to feel as sympathetic for her, when she's rather deliberately reminding everyone how much better she is.

I don't think I have anything substantial to add to the mounds of discussion on this movie.  Glad I saw it in the theater; would watch again.

Crosstalk by Connie Willis.  I waffled on this for a long time.  I read a good review and got excited, then saw the cover and was terrified of slogging through a door stopper of New Adult Angst.  I took it home and parked it on my night table for a month, to get myself used to the idea.  I finally cracked the cover, giving myself advance permission to put it down after two chapters if desired.  Chapter one was a bit iffy, but I got into it by chapter two and sped through the rest.

It's a good book, a solid four stars.  There are distracting, messy bits, but overall it's fun and light.  The things that bothered me are:

- the first chapter is almost entirely celebrity name-dropping and gossip.  I think this was supposed to set the time period and office culture, but I never figured out quite when the story is actually set-- very near future or present-day with one technological advancement?  This was a fairly big sticking point for me.
- (spoilery) the main character only falls for her new love interest because he keeps saving her.  She can't hear him so doesn't know how he feels about her.  I expected her to be a little more conscious of being interested only as a result of being a damsel in distress, or to at least recognize the situation.  That seemed fairly important and overlooked.
- there were editing problems throughout the whole book.  Specifically, there were no spaces between sentences (sentence.Sentence) everywhere.  Very distracting.

Eggs, beans, and crumpets by P.G. Wodehouse; read by Jonathan Cecil.  Hoopla has this marked as part of the Jeeves and Wooster series, but I think that's a mistake. A couple of the main characters from these short stories were side characters in Worcester stories, but Jeeves and Wooster themselves are completely lacking.  I thought it a nice enough addition to the J&W world, but the spouse is not yet familiar enough with all the characters and had trouble following. I finished the audiobook; he didn't.

A murder in time by Julie McElwain.    Before checking for a sequel, I wasn't sure if the couple of things that aren't wrapped up were supposed to be introducing a series or if they were just sloppy writing.  The writing isn't fantastic but it's a fun story.  The scenes set in the present-day were especially unbelievable and unrealistic.

I can't whole-heartedly recommend it as a "good book" but I do have the next one already checked out, if that information is helpful.

Japanese death poems: Written by Zen monks and haiku poets on the verge of death, compiled and with an introduction by Yoel Hoffmann.  I was hoping to squeeze this in in the "Japanese philosophy" category. There aren't too many books at my library exclusively on that topic.  

This is super cool but not a great fit: a significant portion of the book talks about the history of death poetry before the poems are included. Each poem is then followed by up to several paragraphs of commentary or explanation.  

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Q-1 recount

This has been an interesting exercise so far.  It has been easy to see which areas I read more widely on my own, which areas are thin on the shelves at our small-town library, and what I wasn't really thinking about when I made this list.  (An author born in Asia, one born in China, and one born in India?  I wasn't paying attention there.  I guess that's the result of trying to quickly conglomerate 3+ separate lists.)

Anyway, I have gotten a little creative with some of the tasks but feel the assigned titles still capture the spirit of the challenge.  Here's what I've completed so far*:

Philosophy: We are all stardust [applicable if using the very broad description of "philosophy"]
Women in war: The Queen's accomplice
Science: The tale of the dueling neurosurgeons
An immigrant or refugee to the U.S.: A different pond
Someone's journey-- inner or outer: Someone to hold
Author born in a European country: Nation
Author born in India: The Bollywood affair
Author born in North America: Heat
Multiple authors: nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E.
Set in the Middle East: Pride of Baghdad
Based on mythology: The lost book of the grail [there was some discussion as to whether or not Holy Grail stories qualify as mythology or as religious history.  Arguments welcome.]
With pictures: Age of reptiles
With an unreliable narrator: Right behind you
Set in the wilderness: Woods runner
Involving travel: The space between the stars
Graphic novel written by a woman: The night bookmobile
Espionage thriller: Cold barrel zero
Work of post-apocalyptic fiction written by a woman: The book of Phoenix
Feminist sci-fi novel: Y negative [maybe my favorite category.  See additional notes below.]
First book in a series you've never read: Touched by an alien
Translated book: Beartown
Set in Antarctica: South Pole station
Book of letters; Sorcery and Cecelia
Audiobook: NPR laughter therapy
Children's book you didn't read as a child: Thunder Boy Jr.
Book that has less than 100 pages: Bound with love [book total is more than 100 pages, but the actual story runs from pages 5 to 102.]
Murder mystery written by a woman: The corpse with the diamond hand

Jeeves: Joy in the morning (any of these Wodehouse novels may turn out to be a "Classic literature written by a man;" I could go either way on that)
Jeeves and the feudal spirit 
If not for you (this might turn out to be a "Bestseller from a genre you don't normally read")
Stiff upper lip, Jeeves
A closed and common orbit

The category for feminist sci-fi novel was one I thought would be a bit onerous to complete (it sounded "academic-y" and I was anticipating a slog through gender studies) but I LOVED some of the descriptions and suggestions I found on a variety of webpages.  It was so the sorts of things I love to read anyway!  I love sci-fi because it looks as society from the outside, and gender inequality tends to be a major player anyway.

other feminist sci-fi novels on my list of possibilities:
The mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, Kindred by Octavia Butler, Herland by Charlotte Gilman, Orlando by Virgina Woolf, Affinity by Sarah Waters, A crown for cold silver by Alex Marshall, All that outer space allows by Ian Sales, Sorcerer to the crown by Zen Cho, Bitch Planet volume 2 by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Hild by Nicolla Griffith, and Firebrand by Ankaret Wells.

*I reserve the right to reassign books to other tasks (Changing A different pond from "an immigrant or refugee to the U.S." to "Author born in Asia") depending on which other books I read throughout the year.

tl;dr: there are 70 boxes (71 books and 2 movies).  I have checked off 27 boxes (38.6%).  A completion rate of 25% per quarter would be 17 and a half books every three months.  I may not be able to quite keep up this pace, since these were largely "fun" ones that I didn't have to stretch too far or go too much out my way for.  But heavy completion in first quarter at leat gives me some breathing room if I have trouble coming up with titles for the remaining to-do's.

Still to read:
Non-Western history
An Indigenous culture
Japanese philosophy
Current events
Your favorite hobby
A difficult topic
Written by a woman under 25
Author born in an African country
Author born in Asia
Author born in China
Author born in Australia/Oceania
Author born in South America
Written by or about a person who has a disability
Read a book before you see the movie
A book that's mentioned in another book
From a genre/subgenre you've never heard of
Recommended by an author you love
That's been on your TBR list too long
From a nonhuman perspective
Classic literature written by a man
Classic literature written by a woman
Fiction set during wartime
Children's book aloud
Memoir by someone who identifies as LGBTQIA
Contemporary collection of poetry
Book by a modernist woman writer
Collection of comics
Science fiction book written by a man
Classic you have always wanted to read
Book written over a century ago, then read a retelling of the book
Graphic novel that's a retelling of a classic book
Book that was adapted to film.  Watch the film, then compare and contract it with the book.
Auto/biography of a man, written by a man
Auto/biography of a woman, written by a woman
Book by a female author that deals with a serious topic
Murder mystery written by a man
Bestseller from 2016
Bestseller from a genre you don't normally read
Reread your favorite book from your childhood.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

326 Challenge: Recap

It turns out that I have no idea how long 300 pages is.  I never look at page numbers.  I had the absurd idea that an adult-level novel, if including all the author notes and acknowledgements, might flirt with 200 pages.  The first book met my challenge, numbers-wise, so I kind of took it easy after Friday noon.  Here's the count:

A closed and common orbit by Becky Chambers: 364.

A different pond by Bao Phi; illustrated by Thi Bui: 31.

Sloshies: 102 boozy cocktails straight from the freezer by Jerry Nevins: 162.

nextwave: agents of H.A.T.E.: This is what they want by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen: 44.

Empire made: my search for an outlaw uncle who vanished in British India  by Kief Hillsbery:  Netgalley ebook, haven't formulated firm opinions yet to share.  Currently on page 57; might squeeze in a few pages before lights out, but I won't worry about the numbers.

Weekend total: 658.  I can be satisfied with that.  New plan: come up with better weekend challenges.

326 Challenge: 4

Saturday didn't include much reading.  There was grocery shopping and laundry and running and baking... so, a general sort of weekend day.

Stiff upper lip, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse; a BBC Radio 4 full-cast dramatization.  I have listened to this adaptation fairly recently, but downloaded it again for the spouse.  We enjoyed it.  Not counting toward the challenge total, just mentioning.

The spouse isn't much of a book-reader; he does read a lot of news and online articles, but I can count on one hand the number of books he has read in the last two to three years.  But he really got into the children's audios I downloaded around our recent vacation, and now I always have an audiobook on my phone.  We listen for half an hour or an hour a couple nights a week, after the boy is in bed.  Finding one all three of us can enjoy is turning out to be a bit of a challenge-- maybe easier in a few years when Tolkein and other classics come into range for the wee one-- but the two of us listen in the evenings while doing bills (him) and knitting (me) or otherwise working on separate quiet projects.

nextwave: agents of H.A.T.E.: This is what they want by Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen.  Too rushed; not good.  There's a note in the back about the writers trying to fit an action-packed story into a short space.  There could be a good story in here, but it needs more time.  World-building takes up pages.  There are only a few characters, but two of the women have similar body types and wear costumes of similar colors.  They don't have enough space to have distinct personalities much, and end up too being too similar.

Friday, March 24, 2017

326 Challenge: 3, aka, Lychee liqueur

A different pond by Bao Phi; illustrated by Thi Bui.  What a beautiful picture book.  The illustrations are simple and vague-- close in to buildings and streets, so it could be almost any city.  Highly recommended.

Sloshies: 102 boozy cocktails straight from the freezer by Jerry Nevins.  Unless you have the time, kitchen space, and funds-- not to mention a love of dishwashing-- to make these drinks at least weekly, I can't see owning this book as useful for most individuals.  The ingredients are typically pretty specialist, so I couldn't even recommend it for small libraries: Rose hip liqueur?  Maraschino liqueur, organic cucumber liqueur, elderflower liqueur?  You can't buy that anywhere around our small town.  Plus, several brands or ingredients only appeared once or twice in the whole book-- that's a pretty specialized ingredient.  In fact, looking at the "Drinks organized by liquor" index (Appendix #4) (a very nice feature, actually), it's more than just a handful of bottles that only get trotted out once or twice.

The book also isn't super accessible.  I don't drink mixed drinks much, so I don't know what prosecco is, what "shrub" refers to, or what a grenada is-- a word used heavily in the first chapter but never defined. Brand names were tossed around as if the reader would be familiar with them, too.  So, not for beginners.

Maybe all these faults put me off, but to cap it all, each drink title seemed a rather sad and desperate pop-culture reference,  and the little descriptions for each were equally hokey.  In short, do not recommend.  A better book is People's pops: 55 recipes for ice pops, shave ice, and boozy pops from Brooklyn's coolest pop shop by Nathalie Jordi, David Carrell, and Joel Horowitz.  Just change the shape of how you freeze (ziploc freezer bag instead of popsicle).  People's pops also provides more realistic amounts-- Sloshies figures you want 40 ounces of finished product.  We're a 2-adult, 1-drink-a-night (if that) type house, so 16 ounces is plenty.

Seriously, hibiscus liqueur.  How long would it take to use up that bottle.  Decades?  Generations?

... to be fair, I did write down two recipes that seem actually doable.

326 Challenge: 2

Yesterday... did not go as planned.  

This was as far as I'd gotten last night.  But, on the plus side, the handyman came by to replace the broken water heater and we are now no longer limited to 3-minute military showers.  

A closed and common orbit by Beck Chambers.  This follows mostly secondary characters from the first book; it's really only a sequel in that the world-building from the first book is integral.  Jumping in at this stage without book one is not recommended.  The author tried to incorporate a few things that didn't quiiiite work: mainly tried to give more detail about an alien culture or something, but didn't allow enough room.  She could have gone into more depth, or, if it started sounding too lecture-y, skipping it altogether would also have been fine in those couple of cases.  

Good.  I recommend it to people who liked the first book, and I recommend both to general fiction and casual sci-for readers. No need for a third.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

326 Challenge: 1

Ages ago, I apparently requested a long weekend. I did not, however, right down to share with myself why I wanted to. I am unable to make it a full-on 48 hour reading challenge, but I hit upon a mini-goal for my homey staycation.  Amid catching up on laundry and spending hours on fun, delicious things in the kitchen, the mini-goal is 326 pages by Sunday night (3/26/17).

So far, Day 1 has consisted of washing laundry, folding laundry, coffee, and a little bit of A closed and common orbit by Becky Chambers.  (I also finished the tail-end of one audiobook, just posted, and have another going, but audios don't count this weekend.)  Should be no major challenge, just a fun goal.  Will report back soon.


Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie and Yuyi Morales.   This picture book was coming up on a lot of lists and journals, what with being a local author. One more thing I can check off my 2017 to-do list: a children's book I did not read as a child.

This is cute and a nice picture book for all children.  I liked the illustration style.

A Bollywood affair by Sonali Dev.  This has been on my list for a long time, but I was disappointed.  It's a plain, poor romance novel, just with international flair: the characters have baggage, they lie to each other, they realize they should tell the truth and choose not to, and then they reconcile as if there was never a problem.

Jeeves in the offing by P.G. Wodehouse, read by Frederick Davidson.  This reader is super annoying.  The vote to quit before the end of the first chapter was unanimous.

We are all stardust: Scientists who shaped our world talk about their work, their lives, and what they still want to know; conversations with Stefan Klein; translated by Ross Benjamin; read by various narrators.  Listened to this audiobook mostly while exercising.  Recommended to a coworker.  Short segements on a wide array of topics so I enjoyed it: it's not an exhaustive examination on any one thing, making it more than average reader could or would want.  Appropriate for listeners who have already read a little bit on various science topics; not for people who haven't done anything since run-of-the-mill HS science class.

I listened to this last book--and am inside a few others-- through the hoopla app.  It has some pretty big problems: when I re-download a book that has expired, I have to delete my copy and download again... and then restart my phone to get it to recognize and play.  There was also some funny hiccup where audiobooks paused themselves, even though no other applications were open on my device.  I'm downloading an app update, so I really hope these are going to be fixed. Otherwise, I'll have to do something horrible, like contact hoopla directly.  *cringe*

Monday, March 13, 2017

am tired. must complete reviews.

The silent dead by Tetsuya Honda.  I cannot read this: the writing is so wooden and stilted.  Frustratingly, I can't tell if this is a preferred style for Japanese crime fiction, or if the writing is poor, or if it is the fault of the translation.

The night manager with Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston.  Good.  Would watch again.

Duet in Beirut by Mishka Ben-David.  I tried to get into this for one of my international titles; nope.  The early chapters make constant reference to events which preceded the book's opening.  Again, double-checked series status multiple times before packing it in.  I also found the writing (or, again, possibly the translation) too reliant on cliches and tropes.

Cold barrel zero by Matthew Quick.  I was kind of psyched for this; great reviews, a hot item-- I actually checked it out twice before but brought it back before reading because the holds list was so long.  I'm disappointed once again: this is a solid two and a half star experience.  There are way too many characters who aren't super distinct from each other.  It makes it difficult to follow who's tailing whom or to follow along in rapid-fire conversations.  There were some pretty gigantic assumptions and guesses early in the story, where a lucky guess is just most convenient to move the plot along even though it has no basis in the facts presented.  Unrealistic.  The author also used a fair number of acronyms and jargon without explaining, so it's mostly accessible only to people who regularly read military fiction.  What background information did need to be shared was clunky and poorly incorporated, a blatant instruction paragraph between action paragraphs.  Would not recommend.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

many series notes

Supervillainess; subtitle(s) could be either or both of Part one and/or "It's not easy being evil", by Lizzie Ford.  One more review to clean up my NetGalley completion percentage.  This is novella-length, and it does a huge disservice to the story.  Had the author taken more time to set up the story and the world, it would be a much better story.  Instead, world-building details are dumped in wherever there's room, the characters lack depth and clear motivation, and the story is in a hurry.  There's a second book, and the ending of the first sort of sets it up, but the reader isn't much motivated to work hard to find it.  Like 2 stars.

Jeeves and the feudal spirit by P.G. Wodehouse; read by Jonathan Cecil.  I was at a bit of a loss for audiobooks to my husband and me to listen to, so I checked this out not sure we'd listen to the whole thing.  I was surprised how much my husband liked it.  He's now flirting with season one of Jeeves and Wooster.

If not for you by Debbie Macomber.  I've never read a Debbie Macomber novel before, so seeing this ARC and noticing it wasn't part of a series, I thought it a perfect place to jump in.  (Actually a note at the front indicates it does follow some others in a short series, but I couldn't guess at what comes before.)

I am extremely disappointed.  If an author's works round to the nearest hundred, I would expect a certain level of quality to the writing.  This book leaves quite a bit to be desired.  It isn't bad, it's just not very good.  The romance is predictable, the characters lack depth and their "growth" is staid and anticipated, and there isn't much to help the reader attach to them, no real reason to care.  This definitely qualifies as a romance, as in, the romantic relationship itself is the main character in the book and the thing readers are supposed to attach to.  If this is how all her books are, I can't really see why she has such a following.

Practical Mischief by D.D. Scott.  I really, really wanted to like this book.  I met this author years ago-- she was a local, living in the county where I was librarianing, and she did a program with us and was lovely and sweet and wasn't upset when there wasn't a great turnout.  I tried and tried to read her first book [cannot find review right now but tried several times to read it] and it was bad.  Like, baaaad.  When I saw this, I had hopes that, with a dozen titles under her belt, she had maybe mellowed a bit, found a groove, and had a good book.  

It's... better.  Still did not finish, because it's not that much better.  Before I got through chapter 2, I'd checked two different places to make sure this wasn't part of a series, or maybe first in a spin-off series: the author makes constant references to past events.  She must explain all later, maybe she's trying to set up tension to draw in the reader and establish the characters' histories, but it's too much and the reader just feels lost.  Furthermore, the characters and the book itself are like parodies: the bad constantly smirky and snappish, the good always wounded and selfless, the entire format and story structure what you'd get if you took a regular romance novel and exaggerated all the proportions. 

The Queen's accomplice by Susan Elia MacNeal.  This is back on track after the last one, so good on the author there.  The characters referred several times to events that happened several installments ago, and which I admit to being pretty vague on years later.  I was annoyed I couldn't remember, but it didn't take away from the current story.  The story is set up for at least one more.

Zootopia with Ginnifer Goodwin.  I watched this by myself, since no one else in my house wanted to watch it.  Super cute.  :D  I wish just a tiny bit that the mystery part of the story was more important; it was mostly just the background for getting to know the characters (which is fine.  They're cute).  Four stars, would watch again.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

More pre-pubs

I'm getting a little crazy with my NetGalley downloads.  Every time I go to leave a review, I find three or four new things to read.  And even though they clearly have their self-archiving dates, all really well in the future, I feel like I must get them read now-ish.  Although that probably has more to do with the fact that if I don't read them now, I never will, and that's why my completion rate is currently 48%.  I'm really trying to clean it up now.

The space between the stars by Anne Corlett.  This turned out to be a middling after-the-end-of-the-world story.  The main character is much older than she seems; the reader is reminded several times of her advancing age and her ticking biological clock, but she acts like a teenager.  It was hard to like her very much.  The disease that starts the story is rather contrived: it seems outside of scientific possibility for a human body to turn instantly to dust, no matter the virus.  It is a sad and convenient way for the character to not have to deal with decomposing bodies; dust is so much easier.
3 stars, would neither recommend nor purchase.

Beartown by Fredrik Backman.  Despite his incredible popularity, I haven't read any of this author's work, although I certainly ordered plenty of it.  I did read bits and snippets of A man called Ove before using it in a program, and I've also recommended it to some people.  So I was excited to get this galley.

This book is two parts; the first is a happy but honest discussion of people who don't always have it easy.  The second is an honest and less happy examination of real-world feminist topics.  Although the story flowed fairly smoothly, I would have slightly preferred a more integrated structure, but I can imagine why it's organized the way it is-- it allows the reader to get to know the town and most of the characters pretty well before bigger issues come up.

There were way more characters than I can usually manage, but they are all distinct personalities.  I have no idea how the author managed it.  There were only a couple I tended to trip over: two adults who were involved with the local sports team and had been coached by the same mentor, and two current players who both were the muscle and their names started with the same letter.

I was upselling this to all my coworkers today.  It is probably my favorite book of the year so far.  There are so many amazing things, sentences that can be interpreted so many different ways, writing that carries the reader along.  I alternated between reading as fast as I could, to eat it all up, and reading as slowly as possible, to savor it.
Highly recommended, maybe even 5 stars.

Monday, February 20, 2017

GNs and media

The night bookmobile by Audrey Niffenegger.  Of course I have seen this title and cover before, but something about the description always put me off.  I picked it up because it is my turn to do the in-library display and I did graphic novels and something finally fell into place.

I read this, and when I got to the end, I went back to the front page and read it again.  The book goes in one direction, until a very abrupt turn towards the end.  Re-reading it, knowing what's coming, is a bit different from the first time around.

I wish the graphics were a little less cartoony, that the turn was less abrupt.  4 stars.

Age of reptiles: Ancient Egyptians by Ricardo Delgado.  I guess this won awards?  It was super-highly reviewed?  I don't see the appeal; like 1 and 1/2 stars.

This is a wordless graphic novel; it's very hard to follow the action because of the  very small pictures of various similar-looking dinosaurs.  In one of the introductions-- there are 2 by 2 different people-- the writer talks about anthropormophizing the animals and seeing emotion on their faces, making it such a deep story.  I looked really hard for that and couldn't find it.  I don't know if this isn't the book for me, or if I'm not right for this book.

Embrace with Taryn Brumfitt.  Our local movie theater never got this in-- and they never even replied to all the people who contacted them asking for it.  Poor form.  But this documentary is now on iTunes, so some friends had a little get-together for Girls' Night In.

Not very many of these ideas were really new to me; poking around online, having friends and family who are rockin' women, trying (and failing) to buy clothes in stores or online... no one should be surprised that our consumer culture, the fashion industry, and we ourselves have a very narrow definition of the ideal or even acceptable female body type, and that we should be consciously working to expand those definitions.  This film struck a really nice balance-- no, you don't need to meet these unrealistic measurements to be healthy and lovely, and no, you don't need to tell severely overweight people that they are healthy just how they are.  But however you are, why waste energy wishing you had other features?  Be heart-healthy and eat well, and ignore what the label in your jeans says.

(Don't ignore the washing instructions, though.)

Saturday, February 11, 2017

spoiler: mosly not super impressed.

Y negative by Kelly Haworth.  The main problem with this title is that there isn't enough information.  The book's social structure is fairly well-explained and incorporated, but it doesn't make any sense; it isn't necessarily a logical extrapolation from our current society.  Although certainly possible, the deciding factor, the cataclysmic event, whatever happened between now and the book's now isn't shared, so the underlying reason for why the world is the way it is is missing.  That's a pretty major part of world-building.

Quite a few parts where the characters discussed or reacted to social issues were not quite preachy but certainly heavy-handed-- the literary equivalent of being slapped across the face instead of tapped on the shoulder.  Give your readers some credit.

The existing social structure as described reminded me of an old sci-fi series, but I needed help to figure out the series title.  Fortunately, a coworker took my ramblng rememberings and turned up the Suzy McKee Charnas series, The Holdfast Chronicles.  Two of the reviews previously appeared in transcribed-from-the-print posts, but I'll include them here for convenience.

The Holdfast Chronicles by Suzy McKee Charnas:
Walk to the end of the world:  Although this book is good in that it makes the reader think, many of the images it presents are fairly disturbing.  It presents a post-apocolyptic dystopia in which socity has gone beyond mere regression.  Rather [militantly] feminist in both its view of man and possibly in its representation of women.  Even so, it is not all that well-written: the sentences are of a uniform length and fail to add flavor to the reading.
Motherlines: A sequel, bleh.  Includes none of the thought-provoking scenes of the first book, but conitnues the simple sentences.  Primarily plot-driven.
The furies:  Similar to the fourth book, this one picks up with a character it abandoned in the first book, 15 years ago.  I didn't like how that was handled wither.
The story is rather gory in places, and rather graphic a good deal as well.  For those reasons, partially, I didn't enjoy it, and partly because it was entirely plot driven.  The first and maybe the second books made statements.  This was more a reiteration.  I only read it because it's a compulsion.  I won't be reading it again.
(I've forgotten not only this book, but this entire series.)
The conqueror's child:  Plot driven and graphic like the others [in the series], it has the potential to raise social questions, but, due to its quick-read-ableness, those questions don't have a real chance to be grasped by the reader, and they certainly aren't dwelt on by the author.  It's not worth the time.

Sorcery and Cecelia: Or, the enchanted chocolate pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer.  This has been on my list for so very, very long.  I think I've seen it on various lists through the years, as I had this nearly guilty feeling that I'd never gotten around to it plus extremely high expectations.  A la this post's title, those expectations were not met.

Again, the lack of focus in this book comes down largely to world-building.  The notes at the back that explain how the book was initailly structured to much to explain why the book is the way it is, but that doesn't really excuse it.  The main characters jumpto conclusions or discuss matters in a way that would only make sense if they were hving outside discussions not shared with the reader-- which is not at all the structure of the book.  The book may have started as a writiing exercise, but the authors certainly had time to go back and add the relevant details in places that made sense.

I decided slightly over half-way through that I wanted to put it down and not finish, but then decided I would, because it was a YA book and easy read, even if not particularly brilliant, and it would allow me to check off one of my 2017 to-do boxes, and one I had thought I would have difficulty with.  So I finished, but I can't recommend it.

The book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor.  This is pretty all over the place.  Many sections are very clear and well-written and logically follow each other, but smaller parts or concepts sprinkled throughout aren't as great.  But the whole book is so big and almost overwhelmingly different than most post-apocalyptic fiction that an editor would be hard-pressed to help clean sections up without them becoming pale.

Madame Presidentess by Nicole Evelina.  Did not finish, despite my Kinde informing me that I'm 54% complete.

I downloaded this ages ago from NetGalley but didn't remember enough of the desciption so was lost.  The spiritualism is portrayed iin such detail that I thought this was a historical-fantasy, sort of alternate history, a la Naomi Novik or steampunk.  But nearly half-way through, I couldn't figure out where we were going-- there had to be more to the alternate history story, and there's no way it would be buried in the last quarter of the book-- what sense does that make?  So then I reread the description and got the straight historical fiction scoop.  But I couldn't wrap what I had already read into the new story structure.  Would not purchase for my library.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

hot stuff

Someone to hold by Mary Balough.  I must have been mightily impressed by the first book I read by this author, because I persist in reading new books year after year, despit the fact that the majority of the books leave me extremely underwhelmed.  Although, looking at that first review, I didn't think it superb even then.  The second and third books I read I seem to have enjoyed, but every book since then has been a let down and no mistake, and this title is no different.

There is nothing unique about this book.  There is no reason to purchase or read this and it contributes nothing to the genre.  The characters are slightly more likeable than the first book in this series, and are a bit more in focus, as the series has already been set up.  Events central to the plot strain credulity-- and manage to be repetitive simultaneously.  The erotic content is poorly balanced: too blatant to offer people who prefer such events to take place off-screen, and too vague and bland for readers who do want it.  You can't please everyone, and with romance novels, you really shouldn't try.

Note to self: no more Mary Balogh.

Jeeves: Joy in the morning by P.G. Wodehouse; a BBC Radio 4 full-cast dramatisation, with Michael Hordern and Richard Briers.  Our tiny, most-rural branches finally got hit with the flu that's been going around.  Whereas we have enough staff that, even with two or three people out, we can keep the doors open, the West End only has two or three people scheduled for the day, so it's a little bit different.  So I went out on day last week and comprised 50% of the branch's staff for the day.  It was super fun, I caught up on my ordering, and the drive was beautiful if longer than I'd want to make every day.

I hadn't heard these stories before, so it was enjoyable.  There were several aspects of the recording, however, that made it less enjoyable.  Primarily, there was way too much variation in volume.  Characters spoke quietly or shouted, and everywhere in between.  It was very difficult to hear in the car; I can't imagine it would be any easier to hear in other audiobook-convenient situations (walking, housework, gym, etc.); in fact, other than sitting perfectly still in a room with no machines, people, or other sources of noise, I'm not sure how one could expect to actually hear everything.

Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon.  This seems so thrown-together.  There was so much in here that could have been explored-- loyalty, empathy, family structure, cultural topics... and they were all just glossed over.  The story was rushed when it needed twice as much space to be told properly.  And leave it to Vaughan to inject as much gore as possible into a story despite-- or perhaps because of-- the fact that it does not add to or help tell the story.

Note to self: lay off Brian K. Vaughan for a while.

Nation by Terry Pratchett; read by Stephen Briggs.  Here is something I liked.  This was a repeat for me, obviously (1, 2), but I thought the family would like it.  We've been doing a very good job of not watching TV (DVDs, Netflex, whatever) in the evenings when we're stuck inside, so once we finished Woods runner, we needed something new.  The boy didn't get into this, but my husband really liked it, so we frequently stayed up later than we meant to, to listen after the boy had gone to bed.

I had always thought of this as very different from Pratchett's other work, particularly all the Discworld novels, because it isn't funny, it isn't satirical, and it isn't happy.  But, perhaps now that I have a little more distance since it's been a while since the last time I read a Discworld novel, I heard more of the little turns of phrase, the off-hand observations and comments that make his work funny, even when it's also sad.

The spouse said that Stephen Briggs' voice for Daphne sounds like C3PO.
"I enjoyed the structe and the writing style.  The story was great... right up until the point where Mao killed Cox, at which point the book should have come to a very, very quick end.  But I really like the idea of the two cultures merging and the way he wrote about the language barrier, some of the things Daphne gave up of her own culture so she could fit in with the Island, some of the things the Islanders took on from the European culture.  "Nation" is a great title becasue they had a nation, they created a new nation by merging nations, but each of them more or less retained their own identity.  I really like Mao's comment at the end about would he have rather have preferred it this way or that way.  He said it just is, there is no matter of making a choice.  That seemed to fit with the title and the concept of the story being what it is."


Wednesday, February 01, 2017

audios and sadness

Woods runner by Gary Paulsen; read by Danny Campbell.  I checked out this audiobook so we would have something to listen to on the drive to and from the airport earlier this month.  The boy ended up sleeping in the car more than anticipated, and my husband and I were equally interested in the story, so it took us a while to find enough family time with all three of us present to finish the book.

Opinion from the boy:  "Great, really great.  I liked the amount of detail.  I liked the adventure.  That's about it."

Opinion from the spouse: "I enjoyed the historical snippets that got put in there.  They're at [reading] level and a lot of times the content does prepare you for what's coming next in the actual story."

My opinion: The reader was pretty good, until later in the book when there got to be more characters and he trotted out a variety of poorly-done accents, a different one for each character.  That was annoying.

The tale of the dueling neurosurgeons: The history of the human brain as revealed by true stories of trauma, madness, and recovery by Sam Kean; read by Henry Leyva.  New San Kean?  Yes, please.  This was a fun, informative book.  The only problem is with the audio download: the narration directs the reader, repeatedly, to "the PDF" for puzzles, charts, diagrams, etc.  It is my working assumption that the Book on CD version has a disc with this treasure trove.  The downloadable audiobook, courtesy of OverDrive, does not appear to have any such thing.  It isn't listed in the file's table of contents and I can't find it anywhere else.  I heard a rumor about "enhanced content" recently made availale through OverDrive-- audiobooks with accompanying eBook-formatted content-- but I've yet to actually come across one, and it isn't the case with this title.

The lost book of the grail by Charlie Lovett.  I could have enjoyed this more than I did.  There were a few parts in particular where I felt the story sweeping me along, but I resisted, so I could stay outside the story and observe critically.  The hang-ups I found, which are minor, would have been less apparent had I immersed myself completely.

I found the underlying plot difficult to believe.  The main character isn't religious but he has invested his life in searching for the Holy Grail.  Without the one, you really can't have the other.  This made the whole story less plausible.

While the main character was likeable, he's kind of shallowly-drawn.  I mean, the crochety small-town university lecturer who prefers silent archives and enjoys his bachelorhood is... almost too easy.  I feel like the author relied on tropes and stereotypes a bit too much, didn't challenge himself to create a unique, vibrant character.  It is incredible, unbelievable, that a not-too-old man in a story set in 2016 doesn't have an email account or know how to send an attachment.  I think the character is probably drawn this way *in order to* appeal to likely interested readers-- people who bemoan the very exisence of eBooks and accuse the library of throwing away hardcovers so that we can buy DVDs.

Finally, the story set-up matches almost exactly The bookman's tale: a long-time-ago story which jumps forward in time, giving snippets but not the whole story; a modern-day story about a guy who is a little lost but finds love; the two stories told in alternating chapters.  My objection is that the story structure matched his work too closely.  It felt so exact, it's like the author used book one as a tempalte and just substituted the new story's details.

I really enjoyed it; it's definitely a 4-star book at least.  I just expected so much more from the author.