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.  

Sunday, October 19, 2014

ARCs!

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. 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.  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.

Final clean-up

Cop Town by Karin Slaughter.  A story set in the 1970s, where sexism and racism are main plot points, is not the sort of story I would normally pick up.  But we were going swimming, so I really needed a not-library book, and I had an ARC of this hanging about for various unknown reasons.  The first chapters were a little tough to get into, since a new character was introduced in just about each one, and honestly I probably would have put it down had I had anything else to read.  But I ended up really enjoying it and even passed it on to a coworker, who also really enjoyed it.  Mysteries that can keep me engaged and guessing are rare.
I'm not feeling too keen on starting some of this author's series, but this was a new-ish stand-alone.  

Me, Myself and Why? by MaryJanice Davidson.  I've read quite a bit by this author, and this was different enough from her other things to be interesting, but probably not different enough to be enjoyable if you don't enjoy the author's other work. 

The Fairy Godmother, One Good Knight, and Fortune's Fool by Mercedes Lackey.  I had been wanting to re-read this series for a while; turns out I haven't read the most recent one, out a few years ago.  I had mixed up some of these story lines, but it's not as if I'll ever lose at Jeopardy for getting two of the characters confused.

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer.  I made it nearly half way.  The portion that I did read, I spent the whole time alternating between 1) thinking the book was really deep and inpenatrable and I just wasn't getting it and 2) thinking the book was crap and the author didn't get it.  I settled on 2).

Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse; read by Martin Jarvis.  Turns out most of the short stories in this volume were ones that were familiar to me from the TV series, but they were still enjoyable.  I really liked the reader, although his female voices were all really annoying.  (Fortunately, there are few female characters with many speaking lines.)  

I rarely look for audiobooks except when I'll be driving alone for a couple hours, and it annoys me that I cannot include running time as a search criteria through any of the audiobook portals I use.  You should also make this recommendation to OverDrive and OneClick and maybe they'll actually add it.  I cannot be the only one that would find this useful.

The House of the Four Winds by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory.  This was not good enough.  I expect better world-building from Lackey.  The fantasy world was vaguely 1700s-1800s European culture, complete with near-miss place names.  The magical elements are also not really fleshed out.  
Certain plot elements, and especially the ending, were too simple, too lucky, and too neat to be very engaging.  
Worst of all, this is likely to be a very long series, as the not-really-sub-title on the cover says "Book One of the One Dozen Daughters series."  Twelve is way too much anything.

The Guild, "seasons" 1-5, with Felicia Day.  This made me geek out a little (a lot).  Netflix kept suggesting this, but I was reticent.  Now I have recommended it to several people.  It's not super fantastic acting, and from the format, my guess is it was online first (I'm too lazy to actually look that up right now, and if details of its creation are common knowledge, sorry, I live under a rock) instead of being a regular TV show.  

Orange is the New Black, season 2, with Taylor Schilling.  Piper is stupid and I don't feel bad for her, but I super loved some of the backstories for the other characters.  Wow!


If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley.  I did not finish this title.  There wasn't a lot of substance to it, it was too fluffy, too simple, and too repetitive.  Not up to, say, Consider the Fork, which is more what I was expecting.

First Comes Marriage by Mary Balogh.  From the description, I didn't remember reading this.  However, once I was in a few chapters, I found myself too-correct when intuiting what was coming next.  Obviously not a highly-memorable story.  

I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui.I read this a whole season ago, when I went to do book talks to the high school AP English classes for SRP.  Wow, that was ages ago.
This is another book like The Nazi Officer's Wife: the author has a story to tell and isn't necessarily a writer.  It's pretty amazing, considering how little formal education the author received.  It's startling that situations like this still happen frequently in quite a lot of places.

The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals Died Out and We Survived by Clive Finlayson.  Why didn't I finish this book?  (Looking at how many books I started this summer but didn't finish makes me feel like maybe I've gotten pretty picky.  But there's so little time!)  I found it dry and repetitive, which is a shame, because it would have been an interesting topic if made more readable.  


Warehouse 13, seasons 4 and 5, with Eddie McClintock and Joanne Kelly.  I... am actually pretty satisfied with the wrap-up.  I definitely felt like the last episode was the writers' chance to throw in ideas for episodes that had to be cut, but the tie-up wasn't out of the blue or crazy off-kilter. 
But what was up with Pete's hair?  So bad.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Titles, part two

The Martian by Andy Weir.  This goes onto my top-10, possibly even top-5, favorite reads of all time.  It is super great and coerced several current and former colleagues into reading it, and they are all the better for it.
Although the book was captivating, it was not entirely without faults (and my various coworker-coreaders back me up on these points): the beginning was a little uneven, as it took the character a few chapters to find his voice.  It can be forgiven, because the first chapters are pretty action-packed, and I might not sound quite like myself in those circumstances either, but it was a rocky beginning.  The ending is also less-than-perfect: the story either needed to end just a few minutes before, leaving us with the suspense of the unknown, or carry on a week or two to wrap up more cleanly.  The way the story cuts out is a little... LifeTime Movie-ish.

Sparks Fly by Katie MacAlister.  This finishes the last in the series of series.  There isn't much add to what has gone before.

Breaking Point by Dana Haynes.  Like the first one, this was an engrossing, action-focused read.  Also like the first one, the writing is, if not horrendous, certainly not pleasant.  It strains credulity a bit that something so terrible could happen to the same group of people twice.  I don't know why that bothered me about this series when it hasn't occurred to me in regard to other action series before.

Regions Apart: The Four Societies of Canada and the United States by Edward Grabb and James Curtis.  I don't remember much about this, except that I didn't get much past a chapter or two because it kept putting me to sleep.  Such dull writing!  I thought, from the description, that this was a book I had read a review for a few years ago, about how neither state nor international borders are good demarcations, culturally, in the U.S. and Canada.  I don't think this was the book I was looking for.

Saga, v. 3 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.  These people need to work on this series and nothing but this series, full-time, never seeing the light of day, until the story is complete.

The Nazi Officer's Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust by Edith Hahn Beer and Susan Dworkin.  The author isn't a writer, she is someone with a story to tell.  Unfortunately, the story had a very passive feel; even when the author was instigating the action, it wasn't expressed in a captivating or exciting way. 
However, I haven't read too much about this period at all, so it was very informative for me.  It wasn't a challenging read, so I would think very appropriate for hs/college students to use, etc.

The Escape by Mary Balogh.  Meh.  These are getting a bit samey, and if this turns out be a 4-book series-- I'm not sure why I feel that it will be, but for some reason I think that the case-- we won't be getting to the two characters from the group that I'm actually interested in.

A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters. I only made it to page 58.  I really enjoyed the setting and level of detail, and I usually don't need a plot-driven story at all, but this just wasn't moving.  The side characters were too lacking in dimension to be interesting, and we didn't really seem to be going anywhere.  I know these are hugely popular and have been for a long time; I just can't see why.

Island in the Sea of Time, Against the Tide of Years, and On the Oceans of Eternity by S.M. Stirling.  As much as I enjoyed the underlying storyline, I'm not sure I'll be reading the associated 3-book series.  This series was, as I described it to a coworker, like Star Trek TOS (ok, and TNG, too): enjoyable for the ideas and details, not so much the writing or acting.  The author had pet phrases he overused.  The storyline was difficult to follow because, by the second book, we were following dozens of characters in seven different places around the world, plus some of the details were purposefully told out of order-- how many locations there were in the third book, I didn't try to count.  The author used italics to add emphasis, to denote foreign words, and to share characters' internal thoughts; there was at least one instance of italicized words on every page, and sometimes they overlapped each other.
Certainly a unique and interesting story for time-travel/alternate history, but hard to wade through.

Hello, Gorgeous and Drop Dead, Gorgeous by MaryJanice Davidson.  I was annoyed because the cover of the first book says  "Saving the world-- one Manolo Blahnik at a time..." but this character isn't obsessed with shoes or style at all (unlike Davidson's vampire queen series).  This made it seem like the publishing people weren't paying attention, or worse, maybe the author wasn't thinking about the character.
This reads alot like the author's Alaskan Royal Family and Fred the Mermaid series-- a bit silly, light, glossing over details that would require too much research or thinking.

Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett.  I was really sad that I didn't love this.  Unlike other titles that follow a piece of culture in Discworld over a short period of time, this book stretched on for months and months.  It had a more glossing-over feel.  There weren't any bits of writing or cultural observations that stood out.  Depressing.

There's more from the list of things I read while I thought I wasn't reading much, but I'll save them for later.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Titles, part one

Fringe, seasons 1 through 4, with Anna Torv.  I really enjoyed the first two seasons; I stopped after season 4 and won't finish the run because it has gotten a little out of control-- the original storyline, a storyline in a parallel universe, a storyline in an alternate reality caused by time-travel-y future beings who may turn out to be monsters, and a 25-years-ago storyline?  It worked fine when there were two-- the original and the parallel universe-- and it was still ok when they started bringing in the past-set episodes: few and far between, they function like long bits of back story.  But this is just too much to keep track of.  I can't see a way all storylines will merge, and if they don't, that's not a show, that's four shows.

Me and My Shadow by Katie MacAlister. More of the same in this spin-off series; enjoyable, not memorable.

Love in the Time of Dragons and The Unbearable Lightness of Dragons by Katie MacAlister.  Separated from the above-mentioned title because they are numbers one and two in a different sub-series, really a spin-off of the spin-off.  Each of the three three-book dragon series can be read alone, but they make more sense together.  With this series, I'm having a bit of trouble coming around to the main character's love interest; he has been the villain in all six previous books and I don't find the justifications and history to be as believable as I would prefer.


Soulless: The Manga by Gail Carriger and REM.  This is not the right format.  This completely changes the flavor and character of the story.  First, like many manga stories I've seen, the characters are all volatile, explosive, bi-polar-bordering types, and I think a huge part of the human characters in the original story is that they aren't, especially Alexia because of her personality, but everyone else, too, because of Victorian culture.  The other major issue is that what made the books so awesome were the costumes, the settings, and the steam-punk details on all the technology.  This rendition glosses right over all that, being black and white tiny pictures.  The focus in the manga is on the action.  The action is maybe the fourth or fifth most important thing about the original stories.  Boo.

The Serpent and the Moon: Two Rivals for the Love of a Renaissance King by Her Royal Highness Princess Michael of Kent.  This sounded like an interesting piece of history, and not one I'm terribly familiar with.  The first couple of chapters were very interesting and did a good job of establishing an interesting setting, but then the author went into a chapter that felt almost exclusively genealogy-focused.  I couldn't follow and wasn't sure why the reader should care to do so. 

Ain't Myth-Behaving by Katie MacAlister. Two short-ish stories, not linked to each other or, as far as I can tell, any of her other series or books.  I very much enjoyed these.  Let's be clear: these stories are beach reads, but they're beach reads without major plot or grammatical flaws.  Hurrah!

It's me again

After that Benjamin Franklin business and a cross-state move, I  didn't put anything up.  I felt like I wasn't reading anything, although looking at the list, it's quite long.  But I was only reading one thing at a time, and there weren't too many things I super-loved.


Last week, I realized I was again reding three books simultaneously.  It was, it may sound silly for other people, a really important realization for me.

I am now reading 6 books, all very different from each other-- maybe going a little overboard after my extended slump, true.

Also, the longer I went without posting anything, the more guilty about it I felt.  I had to remember that, as wonderful as any theoretical readers are, this blog is for me.  I started it for me and I maintained it for years with no followers.  These notes are mine, and if it stops being fun, a break is right and good.  

How the States Got Their Shapes by Mark Stein.  This sounded really interesting, and it was... to a degree.  It is cool to know some of these things, but more important to understand some of the general elements that affected state shapes.  I didn't read past the I states, other than to jump ahead to some western states.  It was actually the writing that made the book not totally readable-- the facts tend to be repetitive, but the writing was really repetitive.  The author has a few phrases he overused; it probably wouldn't be so notable if you read this book for just a few states of interest.  

I think the book may have made more sense if it was organized  border-to-border instead of alphabetically by state name.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

done!

now I can go back to reading things I actually want to!

Glass House 51 by John Hampel.  This has quite a lot of people introduced early on, none with depth.  Who's important?  Who are we supposed to remember? to care about?  There's just too much going on.
The dialogue is meant to carry the plot forward, but mostly misses on realism.

Sutton Place by Louise Gaylord.  Too, too much going on here, too many characters.  This reads like it is the second in a series and the reader should know about characters and histories already.  It's difficult to follow.

The Trouble with Charlie by Merry Jones.  Excellent.  I enjoyed how the story was about the main character, her feelings and insecurities and friends, and there happens to be a mystery going on also.  Well done.  There were some punctuation problems (a backwards quotation mark, that sort of thing) and too many fragments for my taste.

The Black Stiletto: Stars and Stripes by Raymond Benson.  The author tries to provide several different voices/points of view for narration, but only Martin's POV chapters sound remotely natural.  In the diary chapters, the voice is far too juvenile, and in the Maggie POV chapters, far too clinical, like it's just another report (and there are so few Maggie POV chapters that it would likely have been simpler to incorporate that information in another way).  Makes me think the author just can't write strong female characters.

The Last Sewer Ball by Steven Schindler.  The main character wrote a book that has the same title as the previous book in this pseudo-series?  Isn't that a little meta?
This is technically correct, no major flaws; it just didn't grab me.  I didn't feel connected to the characters.  With so many technically-correct books, this didn't make the top-ten.

Replacement Children by Rick Maloy.  A fantastic book.  The southern vernacular as written for the main character and his family is sometimes difficult to understand, but score for likeable people reacting in realistic ways. 

The Puppetmasters by K.D. Lamb.  Poor formatting choices-- too-small text and extra line breaks between paragraphs (don't let Word auto-format your book!).
The writing style needs perfecting: sentences are either too short or phrases are poorly mashed in; actions and descriptions are predictable; dialogue lacks realism.

Saving Faith by Patrick M. Garry.  What a fantastic title.  Interesting story, likeable characters, no major flaws.  Well done.

The Wings of Dragons by Josh VanBrakle.  Fair enough writing, although stereotypically fantasy-genre.  Slightly predictable story but engaging enough.  Would have made a top-ten list in a sci-fi/fantasy only category.  Sorry, it appears I've run out of sentences.

I'm having a hard time putting my top ten selections in any kind of order.  They are all very good.
10: Replacement Children
9: Night Chill
8: Little Joe
7: Shadow Constant
6: The Trouble with Charlie
5:  The Old Man's Love Story
4: Utopia, Texas
3: Saving Faith
2: Saving Laura
1: Cradle Lake

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

5 more down.

Cradle Lake by Ronald Malfi.  Excellent.  Buy it, read it.  Excellent suspense levels; this book makes me rethink my dislike of all things creepy.  I wish I had been able to read it slowly!

Coldwater by Diana Gould.  This title is interesting but not spectacular.  There were some minor punctuation errors, but mostly what failed to grab me is that the main character lacks depth-- she is only a collection of problems and issues, and none of them particularly engaging or exciting.  We're supposed to dislike her, I think, and want to see her turn around and improve, but the change isn't drastic enough.

The Last Guardian and the Keeper of the Magi by Ashland Menshouse.  There's a lot going on in (or against) this book, none of it good.  This is book 2 in a series and the reader cannot jump right in: there is too much detail from book 1 needed to follow the story.  The author is not skilled at dispensing detail at the right times and the right amount; there are too many characters and a lot of fast action, and it's usually very difficult to follow what's actually going on.  The dialogue and character reactions are overly simplistic and lack depth and realism.  Finally, this should be in the YA category.

The Ruling by Jose Magana.  This is a huge book with tiny font.  Boil the story down for more potency, less rambling. 
The author does not have a god grasp of flow in paragraphs or within sentences; most sound clunky and uneven, sometimes because the author is trying to incorporate more detail than necessary, or is trying to wedge in a $2 word.
The author also does not have a good grasp of suspense-- he shoots himself in the foot by working up to something exciting, then killing suspense by giving history, etc. 

Knuckleduster by Andrew Post.  Thumbs up for fairly good writing.  Although the intended audience is obviously adults, several elements of the writing style combine to give a very YA feel-- sentence structure, short chapters, even the font.  This isn't necessarily a problem, just an obvservation.
The sci-fi element is interesting, and some of the details are good, but the basic premise is not believable.  That's a pretty big flaw, since the entire reason for the main character's choices is to finance this bad-science tool he relies on.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

"I need your intention"...

...is what my son just told me.  Intention, attention, same difference, right?  The nerf darts have now been found and all is well with the world.

Bankers, Brokers and Charlatans by Jamie d'Antioc.  A novel to introduce readers to ideas of business and finance?  No, awful idea.  A novel is to connect with readers, to tell a story about people.  The characters are the driving reason to write.  Facts support the story and add realism.  If the facts are the reason the books being written, that's nonfiction.  Fudging together some shallow characters won't make people interested in stocks.
The writing has a very firm sense of time... that's all wrong.  Based on how the characters talk and act, I'd believe this if it were set anywhere between the '40s and '60s.  These characters are not today's college students.

For the Love of Honey by C.G. Morgan.  The voice in this novel is good, and consistent throughout, but very difficult to read for long.  There is a reason we have standardizations in grammar and speech.
The story is good but the telling is a hurdle.

The Rise of Cain by Michael Koogler, Jed Q. Peterson, and Jaren Riley.  The description on the entry label is idiotic, juvenile, and not actually helpful.  Step it up.  Is that the first impression you want to make?  (here it is for you):

[instructions:] Describe this book in 75 words or fewer (printed or typed) and indicate the targeted audience.
[entry:] Target audience: Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, Jimmy Fallon, Lebron James... and anyone else that enjoys apocalyptic fiction. 
Description: Best.  Book.  Ever.
Boom!

For real?
The writing is very true to the fantasy genre in every way.  The topic/focus will likely appeal to only a few.
This is the second in the series, but the reader can follow along well enough that reading the first is not required.

The Unification Symphony by Philip Rhyu.  This has good characters, but there are problems with the writing.  The author uses terms and turns of phrase that sound too modern for the time period.  There are also too many punctuation and proof-reading errors.

The Rat-boys of Karalabad by Zulfiqar Rashid.  The writing is good, with no major flaws and with a good sense of place.  This is the second in a series, though, and the reader cannot just jump in with this one-- there are too many people and the set-up is not clear.

Monday, April 07, 2014

International Edible Book Day

With several deadlines looming (last day at work last week; finish judging IBPA books, moving day, and upcoming new job still all coming up), I didn't have time to make a big to-do of this at work this year, but I still managed to participate.  I was honestly going to skip it because I couldn't come up with anything, but then I saw something like these guys online. 
I didn't actually cook anything (the toe part of the shoe is supposed to be a cupcake but I'd already packed away my muffin tins, so I just assembled these from various packaged cookies.  Not bad, though!  And I was quite pleased with how pretty the glitter sprinkles were.



3 days left.

Notown by Tess Collins.  This is so close to greatness.  I thought the time jumps wouldn't work, but the character ages well (and realistically) section to section.  The narration and dialogue are super; the author really captures the sound and cadence.
What knocks the book down are the "that day" sections.  We don't need the added suspense to want to follow the characters; they are strong enough on their own.  It's also confusing to jump between past tense/first person and present tense/3rd person.  The character presented in these sections doesn't jive with the character we see grow through the rest of the book.  Take out these sections and you'd have a solid book.

Gus by Martin Vlain.  This is a solid title with few errors, realistic and steady dialogue, and characters who aren't bipolar.  It isn't exciting or emotionally engaging as some of the other top-ten contenders, but it is more technically correct.

Night Chill by Jeff Gunhus.  Technically correct with a good level of creepy-factor-- good intensity of suspense and good lulls in between.  Possibly top-10.

Zandra's Journey by Darron Contryman.  Sadly overly simplistic writing, both in style and content.  This is more suited for young teens than an adult audience.

The Children Who Time Lost by Marvin Amazon.  The first portion of the book is very good, but it gets a bit farther and farther "out there" as the story progresses.  The author does an excellent job of releasing details about the world in bits as the story unfurls.  The book is about the character, and why would she stop what she's doing to hash out in detail the minutiae of her life and the world she lives in?  She's not talking to us.  Well done on that.
This possible future is too close to be plausible-- only 8 years away and we'll have robots and time travel and access to alternate timelines and parallel universes?  Nope.  This is where the story lost my buy-in.

The Way They See by Evelyn Marshall.  Good characters and a good setting with excellent sense of time and place, but too many grammar and punctuation errors.  So close.

The Jigsaw Window by Cameron Kennedy.  I had to live-update my Facebook status as I began to look over this book: "editing errors on the cover do not portend good things;" "the author's name is misspelled on the interior title page! can i just quit now?" and "this book makes me want to use more than one exclamation points. I'm in trouble now."  Surprisingly, despite the disastrous errors on the cover and title page, the contents are good-- interesting mechanism for telling the story, enough characters with enough going on that this could be a good book club choice.  I just can't get past the author misspelling her own name.

A Year in the Life of Dr. Fox by Frederick L Malphurs.  The dialogue and narration both are incredibly formal, not natural-sounding at all.  A number of proof-read and punctuation errors also detract from the reading.
There are many characters, none of which achieve any meaningful depth. The author wants to use the novel to make a social/political point, but the reader can't care about the issues if we can't connect with the characters.

The Third Peril by L. P. Hoffman.  The writing isn't exactly gripping, although it is largely technically correct ( some proof-reading-type errors remain).  This will likely be of interest to a rather small subset of adult readers.
The 5-year-old character isn't quite right, but isn't as bad as many child characters; readers without a kindergartener at home are unlikely to notice.
The author does a good job of following a large handful of characters, giving enough time to follow each closely enough to give some depth to each character. 

From Finland with Love by Ellie Alanko.  Dear Ellie: please engage me (or, really, anyone) to edit your book and then release a second edition.  This is so close!  It hurts my feelings that I can't include this in the top-10, seriously.
This as good characters that are pretty realistic and interesting, but the writing errors undermine the story-- dialogue that doesn't make sense (not attributed and missed paragraph breaks so in several back-and-forth conversations, the reader needs to go back and count forward who is speaking at what times) and some almost black-out periods, where the reader and the character are transported through time and space but it's not clear why the author would do that or how we got to this new point.  Fix these largely organization and editing errors and you'd have a winner.

The Concealers by James J. Kaufman.  The writing is fair, mostly correct, but without a unique voice.  It sounds like the author has studies and worked very hard to get it "right."  Unfortunately, the voice lacks spark or emotional connectivity.
The back of the book says it's second in the series, but it seems like it doesn't rely heavily on the same characters; it's fine to jump in with this one without reading the first if you wanted to. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

some near-misses. and some other books.

Emmanuel by Lilian White.  (Possible subtitle: "Created.  Tortured.  Murdered."  This appears on the cover but not on the title page.
This writing is so terrible: the concepts are all over the place, not organized at all; the dialogue is unnatural and the narration is jumpy and uneven; the punctuation needs a ton of clean-up, including no correct commas to be seen and way overuse of exclamation points.  The characters aren't realistic and don't react realistically to situations.  The time jumps are too big to allow for good plotting.  There isn't one redeeming thing about this book.

The Obexlanders: And the Assassination of JFK by TES. 
First, on the description submitted with the book, the title is descriped as "the penultimate in conspiracy theories."  If the author is using "penultimate" correctly, why does he not tell us what the true ultimate title is?  If the author is using "penultimate" incorrectly, it makes him look stupid.
The writing is very elementary-- there is little variation in sentence structure, concepts are repeated too much, there are copious punctuation problems, and the writer relies too heavily on sayings and cliches. 

Beyond the Bridge: A Dermot Sparhawk Novel by Tom MacDonald.  This is a good story with good writing in most ways.  The thing that's keeping this title out of the top ten for me is the main character's alcoholism-- it's written too strong, hammered on instead instead of being quietly woven into the story and character.  It's jarring and awkward instead of a character trait.  Otherwise excellent.

Lonely in the Heart of the World by Mini Meltz.  The second-person writing is weird and not working out, partially because the "you" is given too many details and is in fact not me at all. 
The writing is painfully stretching for metaphors.
There are some pretty big verb tense problems.
These characters don't have personalities, don't even have names. This story is vague and told from far away, without emotion.  The reader cannot connect.

Fatal Decree and Found, both by H. Terrell Griffin.  These are fairly good books and the notes below apply to both.  If anything, the author has a firmly established style that is consistent across both works. 
This fairly good writing-- interesting and largely error-free-- but the author struggles to weave in facts and to set the scene.  This makes the writing seem jumpy paragraph-to-paragraph and at times approaches being incredibly awkward in places, such as when he interrupts the story to give physical descriptions of people as they enter.  :(  Sentence-to-sentence the writing is pretty smooth.  This is smoothed out a fair bit by Found, but there are still jarring jump-to-description paragraphs, someone's physical characteristics and short bio in a couple of paragraphs, then we're back to the story.  This is largely what keeps it from being in the top ten for me.
The first chapters of each are great, grabbing and engaging.  They are written in third person.  Then the narrator comes in in the second/third chapter, and this is in first person.  It seems that the main character is not the narrator, and the narrator is more a chronicler.  This is an interesting method and not necessarily bad, but because the narrator is not present with the main character all the time, there is some back and forth between voices.  I think third person throughout, focusing on the main character, would have been stronger.
The main character's feminism is, first, what I categorize as an "older version" of feminism and doesn't fit with her age, and second, is too obvious and not very well incorporated with the story.  Is feminism is appropriate for the intended audience (older male readers) but isn't going to make too many friends among a younger audience.
this the author's impression of professional women?  I imagine the force and focus of the character's f

In both, the dialogue is very good, very natural-sounding, which is a real strength since there is so much of it-- it really carries the plot in placed.  But Fatal Decree more so than in Found, the organization of the dialogue leaves something to be desired; there is quite a bit of repetition of details in conversations.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

shame on me.

Up in Smoke by Katie MacAlister.  I don't have time to read all the books I need to judge, but I eked out time for a book for me!  I don't feel too bad, since it's the first since late January that I've chosen for myself.  I'm picking a much smaller category nest year!
Nothing new in this series installment, I look forward to more.

Gambit of the Glass Crowns by Ethan Risso.  (Stero)Typical fantasy writing style, no surprises there.  Beginning is very good, engaging, wish I had more time to read more of the title.  Not a top-ten considering the rest of the category, but could be a top-ten within a fantasy sub-group.

Chiral Mad 2: Anthology of Psychological Horror, edited by Michael Bailey.  Again, anthologies make it hard to judge each author, since we have to consider the work as a whole.  Overall, this was slightly sub-par in writing, not as tense or horrifying as anticipated.  Some short stories very good, emotionally engaging; some really not.

The Shadow Constant by AJ Scudiere.  Too heavy-handed in the beginning, forcing the main character's personality and difficulties: more caricature than character; don't lean so heavily on stereotypes for a more engaging character.  This calms down a bit, though, and main character is very interesting (although other characters always seem a bit shallow).
Writing is overall very good, just a couple places of weirdness (fight scene written in passive voice, for example).  Great book.

Tidal Pools by Lawrence Thackston.  Good, very near top-ten if not actually among the favored.  I wish I had time to savor it. 
Kind of a few too many characters for me, but that isn't a barrier for all readers.
Excellent first chapter.

Imaginary Flatulence by Ethan S. Edgerly.  What charming titles and section headers.
Writing is ok, style is pretty unique, main character is likeable enough.  Narrator/fictional writer is a bit dense and assumes the reader is more so.
Everything is fine, but that's about it.  There isn't much to care about.
The short stories are a little more engaging.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

le sigh

All the Shadows of the Rainbow by Inanna Arthen.  We all know my strong feelings about paranormal stories that don't conform to established rules for the species under discussion.
This is the third book in a series.  The writing is good enough, and the author makes it easy enough to pick up the story... I'm just not sure why anyone would want to: there isn't anything engaging or mesmerizing in the beginning, nothing to grab new readers.

On a Day Without Warning: A Work of Historical Fiction by James D. Fox.  I include the subtitle because, although it is more a descriptor (like "a novel" on covers), it appears on both the cover and the title page.  However, I think it inaccurate because I have the working definition that "historical fiction" means it would be before the lifetime/conscious memory of a majority of readers.  Events from the early 2000s are therefore not historical fiction, even though it happened in the past.  Am I the only one?
The author is going for an emotionally-engaging opening chapter, but he does not have the strength for this big a scene; this makes it not a strong start.
Terrible, horrible, terrible punctuation.  I was groaning before the bottom of the first page.  The writing in general is poor: stilted, unnatural dialogue and not enough sentence variation. 

Kismet or Kamasutra by Martha Rather. 
Very little sentence variation in length or structure.
This story tells: it relates so much history for characters and focuses on how people look and what they wear.
So, so very many exclamation points.  Let the story convey emotion, not the punctuation.
Organization not always clear.
If this is book 3 of the series, which begins int he present and tells a story that began 2 years ago, what could books 1 and 2 possibly be about?  Based on this, I can't imaging how this series is organized.

Deadly Diamonds by John F. Dobbyn. 
This reads like it's part of a series.  The author does a good job of helping the reader jump in, but there are a few too many characters glossed over a little too much.
Pretty good writing, if not always the most true-to-life (main character call his law partner "Mr.", i.e.).  Not ranked, but not bad.  I wish I could have more time with this one.

The Island: Never Will I Leave You by Roberta Kennedy.
Oh so many groans just in the first 2 pages-- terrible punctuation errors (mostly comma errors, but other types as well).  Possible formatting problems?-- so far, every apostrophe missing.
Verb tense problems-- the story is told in the present and uses past to talk about characters' history, but often gets confused and uses the wrong tense.
Facts very poorly woven into the story (... or not, I guess, in this case).  Some paragraphs are more a list of things to know and remember than a vehicle that moves the story along.
Nothing grabbing about the main characters, no reason to care.
Reading this is a complete slog through the terrible writing and punctuation to try to decipher the author's meaning.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

I sit in judgment.

Dark Seed: No one knows what evil grows: An ecological thriller by Lawrence Verigin.  I can't tell which of the subtitles is the real subtitle, and which is a sub-subtitle or other weirdness sometimes found on the front of books; neither appears on the title page or in the publication information.

  • The sentences are uniformly short; variety would be nice.
  • Inconsistent comma use and generally poor punctuation choices throughout.
  • Narration/main character thoughts are shallow, repetitive, heavy-handed, and not realistic.
  • The organization of the mystery is fair, but dialogue and character reactions feel fake.
The Covert Messiah by JR Lankford.  It's hard to pick up a book mid-series.  The author doesn't do much to help readers remember (or catch up).
  • Inconsistent translation of Italian dialogue-- sometimes italicized, sometimes not, sometimes in quotation marks, occasionally no translation provided at all.  The spoken Italian is also sometimes italicized, sometimes not.
  • fragments.
The story line is largely well-written, if likely of interest to only a few.

The Muse by Sylvia Gilbertson.
I don't get the characters, particularly Michel.  I don't understand him, why he does what he does.  I understand Ada a bit better, but find her annoying, not a sympathetic character.  I read the entire book trying to get into their heads, and I can't tell if the book is poorly-written, or if I'm having an anti-social week.
I kept alternating-- it's good, it's awful-- and read the entire thing trying to figure out which.  The answer is, the sentences and descriptions are mesmerizing, the characters are very poor.

The Harem Games by Jorge Carreras Jr.   My notes:
  • terrible cover-- poor design, off center, ixelated.
  • sever overuse of all caps, exclamation points, and combo exclamation-question marks.  Even a "!?!" on pg. 3 already.  Dialogue and narration, not punctuation, should carry the story.
  • "kracks knuckles"? 
  • very poorly written-- it seems like the narrator is supposed to actually be talking to us, although narration not in quotations.  But if he isn't, what's with all the other weirdness: "(The scene shifts to the bridal holding area where the future harem brides are selected.) (p.5)"  Why not just unite that, describe it as part of the story?  It's maybe like this is suposed to be the behind-the-scenes track on this reality story, but so poorly done.
  • the narrator swaps mid-chapter with no indication.
The old Man's Love Story by Rudolfo Anaya.  I wish I had time to read this slowly, savor it.  I didn't anticipate enjoying this-- the writing style has the potential to go so wrong, but the author gets it just right.
Odd and interesting that the major characters aren't named, although minor characters are.  I suppose they have less of their own identity, so we can put more of ourselves into them.
Maybe not for a huge audience, but those who read it will adore it.  Perhaps a good book club title?
Ranked.

Saving Laura by Jim Satterfield. I really loved this book, the author's writing.  The first part of the book was definitely the better part, focusing on the main character.  In the second part, when he interacts with people a lot more, it was quite as great, although it's hard to say why.  The dialogue was realistic, the reactions were good; it was just something about the intensity of the writing not matching the expected intensity of the situations.  People are scheming and worried for their lives, but the writing didn't quite reach the necessary level of suspense.  The ending was also a little too quick (or not quick enough)-- we experience the crisis, the character doesn't die, but then there are two pages of wrapping up the next 30 years.  Those always feel so neat, too much so.  He should have stopped at the bottom of page 232 and just left it. 
Still an excellent book and an author to watch.