Monday, July 20, 2015

sped-read

I have another wine-and-books program coming up, so I did a little speed-reading, just a bit at the front and in the middle of each.

Look Who's Back by Timur Vermes.  This was requested by a patron whose tastes are eclectic but always good.  I was... not quite worried, but maybe worried, since first person voice is a bold choice for such a major character.  But the voice seemed realistic, believable, to me; I don't say it seemed "authentic" because I'm not a WWII buff so I don't feel qualified to evaluate the authenticity in this case.  Should be a great read.

The Love Book by Nina Solomon.  The writing starts out very passive, I think so as not to make any one character stick out.  But it doesn't work to have five main characters-- all the women are equally shallow, unimportant, and interchangeable, indistinct from each other.

Your Face in Mine by Jess Row.  The lack of quotation marks makes the reader think more, reevaluate, interpret, re-read.  I thought it would hurt the writing but instead it adds a layer of depth.  I can't say if it works in a sustainable way through the entire book. 

Juan de Fuca's Strait: Voyage in the Waterway of Forgotten Dreams by Barry Gough.  I gave this one a stab, as it was suggested by one of the winery staff (they have a wine named after the Strait).  This one would be of real interest to readers interested in an academic examination of the history of the area but is not right for this program--it seems quite a bit more dense than necessary, nearly inaccessible, and requires far too much concentration in ratio to content. 

Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett.  This had a Jim Lynch/Highest Tide sort of feel.  It has the necessary depth for this program and might be a good book club book, but for some reason not quite what I'm looking for for this.

Monday, July 13, 2015

are there any spaces missing?

because I have to either use the 4-year-old laptop, which can handle the internet but has a crappy keyboard, or I can use the 8-year-old desktop that has a decent keyboard but can't handle having two browser windows open at the same time.  Just trying to save a draft of thisfreezes it up for about 3 minutes. But I'm not yet desperate enough to commandeer various technologies and make Frankenstein's computer.

Storm Front, Fool Moon, and Grave Peril by Jim Butcher.  As it turns out, these are an ideal read-alike for Charlaine Harris' old series (and probably her new one, which I haven't tried yet).  I'd seen it on read-alike lists, but from the description I thought people were just lumping paranormal series together, but in fact, the storytelling, structure, and characters all have similar elements.
By the third book, some things are starting to get rather repetitive (describing the main character's car, and how it came to look that way, the first time it shows up in every book for example).  The third book also seems out of sequence.  I checked Fantastic Fiction, Novelist, and Wikipedia to be sure I hadn't missed a book or four in between: characters are referred to as if we had seen them before (we have not), and then the adventure that brought them all together is shared with the reader through a dream.  I strongly question the wisdom of that piece of story organization.

Orange is the New Black, season 3, with Taylor Schilling. Dear Netflix: in future, please film the entire run of whatever you plan to produce before releasing it.  Or, perhaps release one episode a week (like TV!) so viewers can't binge-watch the whole thing too quickly, inflicting longer wait times on ourselves.
I made this season last a whole week-- way longer than I took to get through season 2.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

*pop*fizzle*

ah, I can't believe I failed. I even have a back-up post of old content all typed up and ready to go.  Still, half a year of keeping to my goal isn't too bad.  

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach.  Another winner.  I didn't really intend to, but I read this while also re-reading The Martian for book club, and they went really well together.  Oo, what about a book club where you read a fiction and nonfiction pairing every month?  Of course, I understand two books a month is kind of a lot for some people.


Only a Promise by Mary Balogh.  The series information is depressingly repetitive.  Give your readers a little credit, Mary.  Or perhaps it's depressing that enough series followers need such a heavy reminder every time.  I'm not sure which it is, or which is worse, but I'm ready to officially quit the series after this one.

The Curiosity by Stephen P. Kiernan.  I started this one anticipating something pretty good, based on reviews.  I was figuring it would be something rather like Robert J. Sawyer's Hominids series.  It was not, or at least, not the part that I read.  This is a shining example of male authors who cannot write female main characters.  The thing that really bothered me about the way the story was structured is that the main character is telling her story in first person after the fact, after everything has happened.  Hindsight is 20/20, and the character has a vested interest in telling her story to the reader her way, explaining herself and her actions. 

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

BBC medias.

I did a lot of knitting, a lot of frogging, and now some hand-piecing for my very first quilt (!).  So, some media:
(Technically separate but I'll call them the) Spy on the... series, with David Attenborough:  Trek: Spy on the Wildebeest, Bears: Spy in the Woods, and Elephants: Spy in the Herd.
and also Nature's Great Events (6 episodes), with David Attenborough.
These are nice enough.  Mostly I just like listening to David Attenborough while my hands are busy and having pretty nature images to look at when I glance up.

Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice with David Tennant.  Not only a different narrator than the above, but a two-part/two-episode thingy instead of stand-alones.

Death in Paradise with Ben Miller and Sara Martins, Seasons 1 and 2.  I'm delighted that this series goes through several more seasons.  I'm disappointed that I can't find a place to watch them online.  I'm resigned to the fact that, like Primeval, there will be a near-complete turnover of actors/characters.

Mysteries of the Unseen World with Forest Whitaker.  I wouldn't recommend this documentary; I would assume most people are already familiar with most of this content.  If they had expanded, given each topic its own episode or something instead of smushing it all into one 39-minute show, it would have been worthwhile.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

[cricket chirps]

Prudence: The Custard Protocol: Book One by Gail Carriger.  I was thoroughly unimpressed.  I had to leave the Facebook group-- the constant fan-girl-type posts depressed me.  Yes, the book is fun, but it is ridiculously light.  The main point of the entire book (and, I'm afraid to assume, the whole upcoming spin-off series) is to describe in great detail steampunk style outfits and accessories-- not because they set the world, but because people are already dressing like that at conventions but next time, they will be "in character."  The main (first) series is entertaining.  Both spin-offs are silly, shallow, pandering to existing fans of the lowest common denominator and stretching to try to get more readers.  I'm distressed that the author, who seems like such a nice lady, seems to have sold out so quickly.

Y: The Last Man: Book 5 Deluxe Edition by Brian Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Goran Sudzuka, and Jose Marzan, Jr.  This kind of... petered out.  There seemed to be too many story lines that were supposed to weave together and inform each other, but just seemed to get a bit tangled.  I'm more interested in the world it sets up as the new recovering society.

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir by Roz Chast.  I didn't think I would like this graphic novel, based on the artwork, which is kind of cartoon-y.  But it lightens the heavy subject matter.  I also don't usually go in for memoirs, but because of the format, this was short enough to stay on topic the whole length.  I enjoyed it.

How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction by Beth Shapiro. (591.68)  This was annoying:
1.  Most chapters introduced and discussed a scientific theory or tool that some scientists have suggested may be helpful in cloning extinct animals.  The author takes half the chapter explaining the particular tool or theory.  She then takes the rest of the chapter explaining why it won't work or isn't a good theory.  That was probably over half the book.  I strongly suspect all of that is in there simply because it wouldn't be book-length without it, and the author wanted to publish a book, not a paper.
2.  The author would explain a complicated scientific idea too simply and then explain it in full-on Ph.D. mode.  There was a lot that was lost between the two versions.
I can't really recommend this one.

See Also Murder by Larry D. Sweazy.  I was pretty sure before cracking this one open that I wouldn't be impressed.  Should I be proud that I was right?
The setting and details behind some of the characters are ones I don't normally see, so that part is new and refreshing.  However, the main character is overly simplified: she is an indexer, but might as well have been a cataloger.  Certain stereotypes weren't just included in her character, the reader is beaten over the head with them. Secondary characters lack depth.
Quasi-subtitled on the cover is "A Marjorie Trumaine Mystery," so I fear this will be a(n unnecessary) series.

The Undertaking by Audrey Magee.  I read a review that sold me on this book.  An now I want to find that reviewer and have him/her tested for drugs.  We did not read the same book.
The first half of the book is very good-- the characters seem realistic and respond realistically, period details are well-incorporated.  In the second half, though, details get murky and time starts to pass in huge chunks without comment.  It certainly does not live up to the promise of the first part.  More Boo.

emergency content: i, part 1

I transcribed some of my circa-2002-2004 hand-written reviews in January, knowing there would be a month when even the 2-post goal would be a challenge.  Good job to me for planning ahead!

Illegal Alien by Robert J. Sawyer.  This is a pretty basic alien-conspiracy plot, certainly not a new idea.  The characters were fairly well-developed, though, so it wasn't too bad.
What I dislike about this author's aliens is that I find them all very unrealistic.  They're generally well thought out, but they don't work real well-- they are too alien to pull off without a visual aid.
The other thing about this author that bothers me is that he likes to introduce a new character and immediately follow that with a general physical description (i.e., "said Kathy, a slim 40-something with severe blue eyes and bouncy brown hair, short").  How lame.

The Illiad of Homer by Homer; translated by I.A. Richards.  I missed the rhyme and feel I experienced with the Odyssey (translated by Robert Fitzgerald) but this translation was a very quick read and almost painfully simple to understand, I thought, but I know many enjoyed this version. Since it's so easy, plus it's shortened, is probably why it was chosen for this class.

In Pursuit of the Green Lion by Judith Markle Riley.  The story was good.  So I am sorry to say, this book is crap.  The plot was pretty good.  Everything else, though was terribly weak.  The author switched repeated between first and third person, neither being a style she was very strong in.  The characters were fairly good, believable, but lacking the background that explained them, which I would say was the chief problem in the book-- people acted, things happened, but for little or no apparent reason.  They lacked depth and history.

Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers by Rob Grant and Doug Naylor.  I think that this book, taken by itself, is tons of fun: the writing is very good, if a little heavy on the fragments; the characters are funny and believable, if a trifle inconsistent; the plot moves along nicely.
Reading it in the wake of the TV series, however, isn't very fun.  There are, on the one hand, too many inconsistencies between the book and the episodes (things that contradict), and, on the other hand, too many similarities (countless pages aren't much more than a word-for-word recounting of entire episodes).  So, not so hot.

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.