Sunday, August 05, 2018

100

Midnight crossroad by Charlaine Harris.  This was pretty fun. There were a couple missteps with remarks that didn't end up leading anywhere, but they were pretty minor.  Probably best read by people with at least a passing familiarity with the author's Sookie Stackhouse series-- it may not be exactly the same universe, but we skip over the whole "oh, vampires exist?" business, so not for new readers of paranormal.  The who-done-it is a little out of left field, but not too jarring.

A lady's guide to etiquette and murder by Dianne Freeman.  I'm giving myself a pat on the back for the 100th book I've finished this year.  This is a Good Book: not too many side characters to track and they are different enough to keep separate; hints at future romance but not silly or overwhelming. Looking forward to future installments.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

2019 Re(ad)treat wrap-up

stats and such:

2016
I called my final count 8 books:
GN: 2
Audio: 2
novel: 2
partial novel: 1
novella: 1

2017
GN: 2
Partial audio: 2
novel: 3
partial novel: 1

2018
oo, 8 and 1/2 this year:
GN: 2
Audio: 1
novel: 2 + 1/2 + 1 Juv
picture books: 2


I just (belatedly) finished up The Alpine Advocate by Mary Daheim, which I read fully half of during the Reading Weekend.  I liked this more than I thought I would, for a small-town cozy mystery.  There are a ton of minor characters, too many to keep straight, but I'm sure they become bigger and more defined in future series installments.  I was annoyed because I had (what I thought of as) a pretty good guess as to the who and what, but I was wrong; the answer was one of those out-of-left-field, zero in-text hints so, while it made sense based on the explanation provided after the revelation, it didn't make sense in the story.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

2019 Re(ad)treat: 48 hrs + 17 minutes

Unfamiliar fishes by Sarah Vowell; narrated by the author.  I'd like to think I would be good friends with this author, as she's acerbic, but I think she'd get bored: she's so much smarter than me.  There are a great number of historical figures covered in this, even though it doesn't even cover a full century.  History not being my strong suit, I won't take away many specifics, although, between audiobooks and local historical research for work projects, I am developing a better idea of what was going on-- at least in the very western states-- after the Civil War.

I listened to this while doing dishes, hanging up the laundry outside, pruning my roses, and knitting.

The 48 hours is officially up, but I'm still home alone; I might be able to finish that last paperback.

2019 Re(ad)treat: 3.5 hours to go

I've read seven books, just cracked an eighth, and I have one track to go on my audiobook.

Dealing with dragons by Patricia C. Wrede.  I must've read this half a dozen times, but all more than 10 years ago. This series is quick and fun.  It doesn't quite go to the point of satire, but it is maybe self-aware of the role of the fairy tales.  All the characters regard the normal fairy tale plot lines as cultural traditions and good manners.  The main character is strong without being sassy.

Always highly recommended.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

2019 Re(ad)treat, hour 27 and a quarter.

The birchbark house by Louise Erdrich.  I saw this title pop up a few times last year, and then I saw it a few more times recently in discussions related to the renaming of the Laura Ingalls Wilder award.

The two books really aren't comparable.  The writing is jerky; the sentences don't flow.  The characters' relationships aren't shown, only narrated about: the main character is super-sad after the death of a minor side character; only after her death do we hear how close the two were.  It makes no sense.

The book does a good job of showing daily life for a one family in the identified culture throughout the year, but the writing is nothing special.

Troublemaker, vol. 1, by Janet Evanovich and Alex Evanovich; art by Joelle Jones.  The big number 1 on this graphic novel's spine is very misleading: turns it it's volume 1 of this particular story, which happens to be series installment number 3.  Confusingly, books 1 and 2 are just novels-- no GN adaptations anywhere to be seen-- and book 3 (this) is just a GN-- no novelization floating about.  That seems poorly planned.

This doesn't make quite as much sense without information from the first two books.  The boyfriend sure is easy on the eyes, but he alone isn't reason enough to crack open volume 2.  The format makes it pretty obvious that at least two of the side/friend characters are build on the same basic framework of thin stereotypes used in the Stephanie Plum novels.

Pass.

2019 Re(ad)treat 2

If you give a pig a party by Laura Numeroff; illustrated by Felicia Bond.  Although I've read Pig a pancake, I don't think I've seen this one before.  The pig is my favorite: she's so amazingly dainty.

If you give a dog a donut by Laura Numeroff; illustrated by Felicia Bond.  Only necessary for die-hard fans.  It is interesting that, in all these, there aren't any adults about but each child (8-ish?) quickly becomes the cook, organizer, and de-facto mom, cleaning up bits trailing behind the distracted animal and becoming more frazzled each page.

Ultra: Seven days by Joshua Luna and Jonathan Luna.  A graphic novel with a female superhero, by the guy who co-wrote that awesome Alex + Ada series?: You'd expect great things!  This is lazy, sexist, and written for frat boys.

Problems are obvious in the first scene when the characters (a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead, because how else are you supposed to tell hot girls apart?) compare their sexual exploits and rib each other in an interaction that only happens in drunken college football fan's wet dreams.  Here, and throughout the book, they and other female superheroes call each other "harlot," "slut," "bitch," "whore," "hoe," and more.  I recognize that we're talking about people with superpowers in some kind of alternate earth, but these women still have jobs.  They have families.  Their world is no so different from ours that it would be unrecognizable; these women aren't women, by definition, based on *every single other woman I've ever interacted with*.  Not only did this book apparently not have a single female beta reader, it seems obvious that whichever writer was the driving force behind these characters never interacted with a woman, like, ever.  No women talk like this.  No friends interact like this.  These characters do not represent anything that looks like a real-life woman.

In my approximately 3 minutes of internet research, one of the lauded points about this book is that the primary character, Pearl is Latina.  It isn't a super-big point in the book, but it's there.  But no one can hold her up as an example of Latinxs being represented in graphic novels or the superhero genre, because she is such a joke.  It would be like a man holding up a brown-haired version of a Barbie and wondering why I'm not happy that "she looks just like me."

I'm really disappointed, because the pacing was awesome and the art was amazing. There were a couple of scenes when at least two of the characters almost had personalities and growth.  Unfortunately, when they're not talking about work, the three female characters talk almost exclusively about guys in general, guys in particular, or themselves in relation to relationships with guys.  They occasionally talk (disparagingly) about other female side characters.  I'd have to say this fails the Bechdel Test.

Also a big fail is the would-be boyfriend, who (spoiler?) takes post-date photos of a sleeping, naked Pearl and sells them to a tabloid, along with private information and a totally false version of the events of their date.  Pearl gets angry and goes to look for him, but gets distracted by saving the world, which hates her now because she's a skank.  Other characters point out his actions were wrong, but the general feeling is a boys-will-be-boys shoulder-shrug; no other characters seek him out, no one suggests legal action against him, and he just fades into the background in favor of the real point of the story-- helping Pearl find "true love."  There's also a short scene where the loser date meets a sketchy guy in a car, who pays for the photos and makes references to taking Pearl down, but there's no information, prior to or after this scene, that would justify the sketchy guy's motivation to make her "burn."

Avoid.

Friday, July 27, 2018

2019 Re(ad)treat

Wednesday afternoon, I was looking at my calendar, trying to sort out my weekend.  The boys were going to leave on Friday afternoon, on their way to Enumclaw for the Clan Gathering Saturday, and I'd be all on my own until at least Sunday afternoon.  What to do with myself.

It's just enough time for 2019's Re(ad)treat, which I had yet to plan!  It means I'm taking it at home instead of camping, but since I'm alone, I think it'll work out. And it's less planning time than I like to give myself for an undertaking of this magnitude, but I think I have enough books to keep me busy.

Started at 6:30pm precisely.  One book now down.

Too Wilde to wed by Eloisa James. This female main character was a little more empty-headed, but still likable.  The tension in the relationship (mostly) comes from outside/interpersonal stressors, not a few easily-cleared-up misunderstandings.  The solution seemed a little obvious, and in general the characters seemed more disorganized-- both in that they are disorganized people and that their motives were more whimsical and less planned.  Still top of my list for romance.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

vacay catch-up

We took some vacation time, but since I'm still mostly limited to no activity (it's hard to hike on 1,200 calories a day), I got to sit in the sun and read.  I've had worse vacations.

More than a mistress and No man's mistress by Mary Balogh.  These are literally the same story.  If you enjoy book 1, you'll enjoy book 2.  It was nice to have a break from New Adult romances set in Southern California, but these fall into the general category of historical romance.  The female main characters unnecessarily complicate everything right from the start by hiding information.  The male main characters are burly and macho and don't have emotions.  The bulk of the tension comes from the characters trying to deny themselves and each other.

Erotic stories for Punjabi widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal.  I read this for work purposes, but still enjoyed it.  I'm not aware of many stories like this (immigrant communities in international locations) so it was a bit different from what I usually choose.  It was really great.  There weren't too many characters to keep separate, although several of the secondary characters did tend to sound rather similar.  There was a mystery element inside the story that I wasn't expecting from reviews, but it wasn't too heavy and made sense with the rest of the events.  If anything, I would have liked more: more time with the characters, starting earlier in the story, more space to get more from the secondary characters.

Wilde in love by Eloisa James.  I don't understand why this author doesn't get the love.  I don't buy her books every time there's a new one, because her circ stats aren't great.  But when I want an historical romance, she's top of my list: the heroines are less stupid and the heroes are more available than in other stereotypical romances.

The female main character was written to fill that bluestocking mold, but it's more a starting place than a description of her character.  She is more realistic; I wanted to hear more about her family backstory and her friendship with her... friend, with whom she had a list of rules for the recently-finished Season.  The male main character was a little bit more wooden than strictly required-- is anyone actually that single-minded?-- but again, his family and personal history are different from Generic Romance Hero.  Recommended.

Moonstuck, vol. 1: Magic to brew by Grace Ellis and Shae Beagle.  This art looked-- and is-- great, but the pacing is way off.  There were way too many times I turned a page and then searched for a page I may have accidentally missed.  It was mostly a problem during the more action-y parts, when events seemed to spiral in from nowhere.  Why is the world the way it is?  I can see the way it is, through the illustrations, but that doesn't explain the set-up.  Graphic novels that read like this seem to rely too much on the illustrations to explain things and gloss over the difficult parts.

Kill the farm boy by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne.  This made me think of Patricia Wrede's Enchanted Forest series (which I've been meaning to reread this summer), but a little bit sillier.  A little to silly for me to super-love it, but a fun read.

All caught up now!  (Except for tv, but I'm not going to think about that now.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

200% done.

I have surpassed by goal of 75 boxes by a wide margin and have now checked off 150 boxes.  Huzzah!
Link to original list.
Link to first set of boxes complete.

New completed challenges:

Cover:
A book with a cat on the cover: Eugenia Lincoln and the unexpected package
A book cover that features nature: Warriors of the storm
A book with an ugly cover: The evolution man: Or, how I ate my father
A book with food on the cover: The Wahls protocol
A book you chose for the cover: The lady and the thief
A book with a green cover: A is for alibi
A book with a brown cover: Well fed
A book with a white cover: The perfect health diet
A book with a dress on the cover: After the wedding

Title:
A book with a title [that] has an X in it somewhere: Eugenia Lincoln and the unexpected package
A book with a title that includes a number: 100% Real
A title with a word or phrase relating to "wildness": Wild fermentation
A book with a synonym for "chase" in the title: The drug hunters
A book with alliteration in the title: Anti-inflammatory eating for a happy, healthy brain
A book with an animal in the title: Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?

Author:
An author you've met: Owly and Wormy: Bright lights and starry nights
An author over 65: The folklore of Discworld
A debut author from this year: The map of salt and stars
A YA or middle-grade novel by an LGBTQ+ author: Princess princess ever after
A story collection by a female author: Relish
Three books by the same author: The deal of a lifetime, Us against you, and My grandmother asked me to tell you she's sorry
An audiobook narrated by the author: The soul of an octopus

Awards:
A National Book Award winner of finalist: The soul of an octopus

Genre:
A cookbook: Well fed
A memoir: Relish
A New Adult novel: Remedial rocket science
A steampunk novel: Stone mad
A twisted (adapted) fairy tale: Kiss of the spindle
An essay collection: The secret loves of geek girls
An historical fiction: The map of salt and stars

Publication:
A book published before 1970: Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see?
A book published the year you were born: A is for alibi
A book in the backlist of a new favorite author: The deal of a lifetime
A book originally published under a different title: The evolution man: Or, how I ate my father
A book targeted at the other gender: True fiction

Characters:
The protagonist is an interesting woman: The prisoner in the castle
The protagonist goes on a journey: The map of salt and stars
The protagonist is a dead person: For we are many
The protagonist is in the medical profession: Kiss of the spindle
The protagonist is Latinx: The proposal
The protagonist is LGBTQ+: Stone mad
The protagonist shares your occupation: The librarian and the spy
[this category added to replace -A superhero comic with a female lead-, a duplicate entry]

Setting:
A book set in a hotel: Stone mad
A book set in the Caribbean: Kiss of the spindle
A book set in the city of in an urban area: Remedial rocket science
A book set in two different time periods: The map of salt and stars
A book set on an island: The prisoner in the castle

Story Element:
A book about food: Well fed
A book about nature: The soul of an octopus
A book in which a character goes on a journey: The bookshop of yesterdays
A book involving a heist: Masks of the martyrs
A book with a mythical creature: Stone mad
A book involving travel: The librarian and the spy
A book with magic: Princess princess ever after
A book about books: Old cook books

Other:
A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure: The dirty bookclub
A book with at least 400 pages: The Wahls protocol
A book you borrowed or received as a gift: Paleo lunches and breakfasts on the go
A book you don't want to admit you're dying to read: Kiss of the spindle
A book you've heard a lot about but haven't read: The soul of an octopus
A not-really-for-you book: True fiction
A page-turner: We are legion
Finish a series you've started: Masks of the martyrs
Start a new series by an author you've never read: Remedial rocket science
The last book you received: Record of a spaceborn few

Monday, July 23, 2018

big fails

I rarely see my decision to quit a book as a failure on my part.  I blame hype and/or misleading descriptions, or flat-out bad choices by publishers.  Yeah, I'm a bit self-righteous about it.

On call in the Arctic: A doctor's pursuit of life, love, and miracles in the Alaskan frontier by Thomas J. Sims.  The author is trying too hard for what he imagines is a more literary style.  There are way too many cliches and the voice doesn't feel authentic.

Memoirs of a dragon hunter by Katie MacAlister.  This seems to be set in the same universe as the Aisling Grey and related dragon series, but is dependent on a middle series-- there are world-building details that apparently were related and explained somewhere after Sparks fly but before this.  It's a bit too hard to jump in to.

One for the rogue by Manda Collins.  This was hitting all the low notes for stereotypical romance-- cardboard bluestocking heroine, hero who is dishonest about his motivations for no visible reason, enemies-to-lovers obviously coming soon.  I would have soldiered on, but the story seems like it would make more sense if one had read the previous series installments. 

After nightfall by A.J. Banner.  The main character isn't honest about her emotions and tends toward hysteria.  I downloaded this because I anticipate there will be a fair amount of local interest.  While I recognize that I usually have trouble getting into suspense novels, in this case it's because this isn't a good suspense novel.

Downriver by Will Hobbs; read by Christina Moore.  This was on my list from last summer of family audiobooks featuring survival stories.  It's taking an awfully long time for the danger to get here: the main character is doing a lot of whining about her blended family, patently painting her parents as "evil" and verbalizing-- though failing to recognize-- her own poor choices.  The supporting characters blend together into a background of "generic troubled teen."  We didn't listen for more than an hour.

remnants

Making my lists is the best way to find titles I missed reviewing.  I was sure I had reviews for these somewhere, but I can't seem to find them.  I might be remembering telling coworkers or family about them instead...  Since some of these were read a little while ago now, we'll see what I can recall.

The drug hunters: The improbable quest to discover new medicines by Donald R. Kirsch and Ogi Ogas; read by James Foster.  Listen-able science nonfiction; I like.  4 stars.  One thing that confused me throughout, though, were the authors' frequent references to "Big Pharma" with a somewhat negative connotation.  However, they never took a firm stance on their position regarding the pharmaceutical industry, or even really defined what they meant specifically by "Big Pharma."

Groundbreaking food gardens: 73 plans that will change the way you grow your garden by Niki Jabbour.  This was one of the prettier gardening books I looked at recently.  The small-space designs were far more useful than any of the small-space or container-specific books.  I wouldn't feel extremely confident about making substitutions for my zone, or having to squeeze or lengthen to fit real spaces, but a lovely starting point for someone more skilled than me.

Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle and From head to toe by Eric Carle.  I counted these toward my 2018 totals and goals, because they were read to a group (including me, obvs) during a staff function.  It counts!  I'm counting it!  And I love Eric Carle.

The map of salt and stars by by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar.  I liked this, but I was never able to narrow down why I didn't love it.  I think there was a disconnect between the two timelines-- the pacing felt mismatched.  The modern-timeline-story was great in that it didn't seem overly dramatized, it didn't veer into feeling like hyperbole to emphasize the situation.

Princess princess ever after by Katie O'Neill.  This was far too short to adequately support the story.  The final product ended up feeling more like "quick, let's make a book with LGBT characters because it's important!", conveniently ignoring that those characters need to be realistic and have depth and make important choices.  They can't just be there, they need to be 3-D.

Relish: My life in the kitchen by Lucy Knisley.  I picked this up because I like the author's illustration style, and it seemed a nice counterpoint to all my food problems and books about food problems.  While I enjoyed the illustrations, the memoir-y bits seemed kind of flat.  Maybe it would be more enjoyable to people who have lived in her region and can appreciate some of the places she frequents?  Or by people who have more shared experiences in working kitchens?  There wasn't much for me to identify with.

The bookshop of yesterdays by Amy Meyerson.  Too angsty and drawn-out.  I wasn't a fan of the main character; she did a lot of hand-wringing and needed to be more confrontational in order to get stuff done.  It's hard to sympathize with a whiner.  Her family was the same way: just say something and then we can all move on.

nearly caught up.

Paleofantasy: What evolution really tells us about sex, diet, and how we live by Marlene Zuk.  After all the specialized diet and anti-inflammatory books I've been reading, I was hoping for more "do this, eat this, don't do that" instruction, which is not how this book is set up. Instead, it's a synopsis of research in a number of areas. Frustratingly for me, there isn't a list of "good" and "bad" foods and activities. But good for everyone is that the book presents information, with sources, that readers can use to influence their own decisions. Probably best for people thinking about Paleo but who aren't in the midst of trying to diagnose what my doctor has labeled "non-text book illness."

Assassination vacation by Sarah Vowell.  The family was in a groove for a few weeks, in which the boy would quickly and happily complete his chores, homework, and music practice every night in time to watch a episode or two of SG-1 with his dad. I watched through season 7 or 8 years ago and, although I liked them, I wasn't particularly interested in watching them again, which leaves me lots of time to watch TV on my own or listen to audiobooks. Once I started this one, though, not only did I get into it and find extra time for it, but my husband became interested as well; extra time with the audiobook supplanted our usual after-bedtime /Star Trek/ episode.

I thought it was an interesting choice for the author to also do the narration, since she doesn't have what one might normally think of as a voice-actor-type voice. Although I guess she does stuff on the radio, so maybe it seemed like a more natural extension for her; I was just a bit surprised. Partly because of her voice and partly because of her accent, it was sometimes difficult to understand her, but we muddled along ok.

Interesting and enjoyable; am looking for a few of her other audios through OverDrive.

Bobiverse series: We are legion (We are Bob), For we are many, and All these worlds by Dennis E. Taylor.  Highly recommended for laid-back sci-fi fans (that's both laid-back fans and fans of laid-back writing).  Overall, it's a little difficult to follow the scope-- the interplanetary distances and the time taken to achieve them seem a little glossed-over; a large number of characters quickly populate the universe, too, and it's a little tough to remember which of the infrequently-mentioned characters is which.  But the main characters are funny and the storylines invite some interesting questions.  It's a little meta in that the character(s) make some sci-fi jokes as they wander around the galaxy, but it's not Redshirts-meta.  Probably a good match for people who like Star Trek.  I've recommended the series to several coworkers.

Remedial rocket science and Intermediate thermodynamics by Susannah Nix.  It was pretty obvious right from the beginning where these stories were going, but that's kinda what I need right now.  (Warning: an amazing number of romance reviews are coming your way.)

These seem to be written for a New Adult audience, in addition to featuring New Adult characters.  With that in mind, the stories were surprisingly ... chaste.  Mostly fade-to-black kind of scenes, which was a little big surprising and perhaps refreshing.  The characters weren't particularly memorable but they seemed realistic enough-- certainly adequate for the genre.

Advanced physical chemistry by Susannah Nix.  This is book three in the series started directly above, but I've pulled it out because it is a surprising departure from the way the first two are set up.  The main difference is that the bedroom scenes are present.  They aren't cringily graphic, just there.  I also liked the main character more.  She seemed to have more depth; she was less cookie-cutter.  I was anticipating some stereotyping, based on how the author set her up, but she actually seems like a real person.  This is the best book of the three.

Record of a spaceborn few by Becky Chambers.  I was so excited to win an ARC from GoodReads, since it never came to NetGalley like previous installments.  (boo!)  I actually plan on reading this again very soon.  It feels very different from the first two books in the series, so I want to give it another go and make sure I get everything out of it.

The thing I struggled with primarily was the difference in scope. In books 1 and 2, we learn a lot about the cultures through a few specific people who are constantly interacting.  Both those books feel mostly like stories about those people. This book is way more a story about a culture, and a few people are selected as exemplars.  Although there aren't more characters to follow than in the first book, these characters barely interact with each other, so they seem more separate.  It's still a wonderfully complex universe and I want more by this author, like, yesterday.

The lady and the thief by Megan Derr.  So, so much is missing from this.  I didn't realize when I downloaded it that it was only a novella; there is an ok story in here, but it would have only benefited from more space.  First, the world-building gets no treatment.  It's pseudo-historical but obviously a bit fantastic.  This is marked as book 5 in a series, and based on character interactions, I'm guessing it's one of those series that just takes place in the same world, since nothing seemed to depend on earlier events.  It would be tempting to assume that all the world rules were established in previous installments.  However, based on how short the book was, and how little world-building appeared in this installment (i.e., none), it seems unlikely that clear backstory was given in previous novellas.

The plot, too, is rushed.  The characters lack depth, so their actions lack motivation, so the plot is hurried and pointless.

The kiss quotient by Helen Hoang.  Two coworkers spoke highly of this, so I was expecting greatness.  It's ok.  The female main character seems real enough (makes sense, since it's a little autobiographical), but the love interest is a cardboard cutout of a modern Prince Charming (maybe that also makes sense, if the author is on the Spectrum?).  Another New Adult romance set in California, which is quickly melting in with all the others in my memory; not much of a stand-out on any front.

The proposal by Jasmine Guillory.  A slightly better version of New Adult romance set in California-- the characters were more distinct and likable.  The family and friends aren't mass-produced background characters but individual and memorable.  Although of course the ending the expected, it's a fun read.

Unstuck: Your guide to the seven-stage journey out of depression by James S. Gordon.  My doctor recommended this because of the mind-gut connection.  Since the health of your gut can affect your mental state, her theory seems to be that it can work both ways.  That just seems like a mind-over-matter hope to me, and meditation and journaling have so far had no effect on my "non-textbook illness."

I would *never* recommend this book, particularly to anyone dealing with legitimate depression or other mental health concerns.  While multiple therapies can (and should?) be used in conjunction with medication, this author disparages the use of medications in treating mental illness.  Like other self-help books, all his methods are presented as being easy and having quick, clear results.  His examples of former patients always include a particular therapy (deep breathing, dance, exercise) as his first suggestion; the patient goes away, does the therapy religiously, and sees noticeable improvement by the time of the next office visit.

Like many self-help books, including several of the health books I've read this year, there's a certain implied responsibility on the reader, a certain level of "you deserve this" and "if you'd only try hard enough, you'd be well."  It's one thing to be a little irresponsible flirting with dairy if you're lactose intolerant; it seems like another class entirely to put the onus on the patient when it comes to depression and related mental illness.  Oh, still feeling a bit sad?  You obviously didn't [journal/breathe/run/swim/chat/meditate/yoga/etc.etc.etc.] hard enough.  All you have to do is get up and move, regardless that depression makes it nearly impossible to get out of bed.  Shame on you for not feeling like dancing.

It was also difficult to follow some of the author's ideas, since he co-opted religious terminology but assigned his own meanings.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

shame on me

my to-do list has gotten a little out of control. Let's knock out a few.  I can do it.

The evolution man: Or, how I ate my father by Roy Lewis.  I'm not sure what this was supposed to be. I skimmed a review, which I no longer remember, that gave me high hopes. Unfortunately, the edition from my library is exclusively the story-- no preface, no notes, no commentary from anyone that could give this short story some context. The book's descriptions focus on the satire, but maybe that hasn't been carried forward very well (or maybe I just don't get the jokes). I see that this isn't meant to be historical fiction, but I was somehow under the impression that this made an important mark in early sci-fi. I guess I don't see how.

The demon duke by Margaret Locke.  I enjoyed this so much I've suggested it to some coworkers. I'm anxiously awaiting more books by this author.

The main characters are likable, although the female lead is drawn in a little less depth; I wanted from and for her. Some reviewers complained about anachronism, but nothing jumped out at me particularly. There was an overabundance of references to the author's first series, to which this is related but on which this is not dependent. The frequent references were merely annoying. And looking at the descriptions for those first three books, I can't imagine that they read anything like the same-- paranormal story lines that function like a cross between time travel and parallel universes. I'll stick with the author's new material only.

Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package by Kate DiCamillo.  I checked this in at work and got a bit excited about it. I didn't realize at the time that it was part of a separate series, but they definitely don't need to be read in order, or together at all.

Mercy and the Watsons make some appearances. It's a sweet enough story, although, to be honest, I'm not sure what the point is. I can understand book 3 being about Baby Lincoln-- she's a nice character in the Mercy Watson original series and young readers might be understandably curious about her. But Eugenia wasn't written to be endearing. The writing also feels like there is supposed to be a lesson or moral inside, but it's a little unfocused. I guess it's most appropriate for readers who love Mercy Watson and refuse all others? Although the lack of hot buttered toast was a major loss.

The fat kitchen: How to render, cure, and cook with lard, tallow, and poultry fat by Andrea Chesman.  The recipes make sense, the information seems good, and the instructions are easy to follow. However, this doesn't seem like something the average person could implement. The author talks a few times about how lard or animal fats bought ready-made are of poor quality and it's best to make it at home. While it doesn't seem particularly difficult, it would be very challenging in terms of both space and time. Plus, the amount of finished product seems pretty small compared to the original material and time investment. Most useful for people with lots of time on their hands.

A is for alibi by Sue Grafton.  I picked this up-- and finished it-- because of it's pub date; one of my challenges for the year is to read a book published the year I was born. And may I say, I've aged so much better than this novel.

I was really surprised at how clunky and coarse the writing was. When my mom got sick, she started following a few book series and this was one of them, picked up in the late '90s.

The dialogue didn't sound natural, and the eventual conclusion seemed unbelievable. I agree with other people's reviews re: pacing (slow), suspense (poor), and character (wooden, an "independent working woman" with no depth). Too bad I didn't read through those one-stars before committing.

A curious beginning by Deanna Raybourn.  The male main character has an interesting backstory and is someone I would like to read more about, but the female main character was less likable. I tend to have trouble with characters who purposefully stand out from the crowd. Being on the margins of social convention is ok, but being purposefully antagonistic is only going to get you in trouble.

Not action-y enough to be a plot-driven book, but too much running through the countryside to feel like a character-driven story. Obviously a set-up for a series, but one I'm not interested in following.

After the wedding by Courtney Milan.  I didn't notice until after finishing that this is apparently number two in a series; it didn't feel like I was missing any information, so this can certainly be read alone. I was just looking for something light to distract me on the plane a few weeks ago.

I'm not sure how historically accurate this may be, although I'm sure that's not the point. The male main character was a little annoying in his hopefulness: it felt at times like he was willfully deceiving himself. The female main character was a little bit too Pollyanna; her outlook didn't seem sustainable. But still a sweet enough story with a predictably happy ending.

Masks of the martyrs by Jack L. Chalker.  I have relived this author and now I can be done. This series was an important one in my formation as a sci-fi reader, because it was the first giant-universe, far-future story I found. It opened up the galaxy for me. But dang this guy is a sex-obsessed pig. As characters are changed into other alien races, half of them change gender and struggle with that. All of them have different bodies and body types (obviously), but few attributes are described in as much detail as the secondary sexual characteristics. I must have skipped most of that junk as a young(er) reader, because I didn't remember how pervasive it is.

The writing is clunky, switching randomly from folksy, trying-to-sound-like-"real"-people to falling back on something that sounds sometimes like formal language and sometimes like high(ish) fantasy stereotypes. Although there are dozens of characters, none, even the most crucial, have unique voices. And while I recognize that the computer in the big space ship is a sentient AI and practically a person, I refuse to believe an AI would use exclamation points, and certainly not multiples. Space ship cores can't save your life and fly through the battle if they're freaking out all over the place.

Glad I reread them, and even more glad that I'm done.

The soul of an octopus: A surprising exploration into the wonder of consciousness, by Sy Montgomery.  A coworker suggested the audio version of this. The author does a great job narrating and the story is so interesting but sweet. I don't think I ever experienced the revulsion toward octopodes that the author describes in the early part of the book-- I've never seen one in the wild but they are a pretty cool thing around here along the West Coast-- but I never would have thought of them as quite so friendly. I'd heard a lot about this book over the years, and it's definitely worth the hype.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

weeks late

I've been reading bunches and am now way ahead of schedule (in your face, GoodReads count!) but have been doing a poor job writing things down.  Trying to get myself caught up a bit on that front.  

The prisoner in the castle by Susan Elia MacNeal.Ugh, nothing happened in this book. The main character wasn't integral to the plot at all, she was merely the vehicle through which we watched the story. She didn't find the bad guy, she didn't do a good job protecting her fellows, and she didn't [spoiler alert] even take down the bad guy on her own: he met his demise accidentally while she was trying to escape. This character is a strong, educated, brave woman when she's the leading lady; this book wasn't about her at all.

I keep reading these books because the first few were so good and I keep hoping a new installment will be a pleasant surprise. I really need to stop.

On highland time by Lexi Post.  I thought this would be a fun little bit to take on vacation-- romance! and time travel! But it's too full; there's also secret societies and other mentioned-but-not-explained mystical and magical powers. There is way too much going on to even be able to get into it.

True fiction
 by Lee Goldberg.  omg, this was horrible. Who is the intended audience for this? The book is plot-based, which is not my normal cuppa, but I can see that the pacing is pretty good. Although there's not much in the way of character development, actions are taken and the world is changed; things are different at the end of the book than they were at the beginning.


What is horrifying is how any non-main character is defaulted to a sex object. The waitress is introduced by her hair color and a description of her posterior. A henchman is described with height, eye color, and how masochistic he may or may not be in his intimate relationships. Bad guys are hacking private information to track down a side character; they find her glee club record, her parking tickets, and a specific model of vibrator she recently bought on Amazon. I have no problem with explicit content when it makes sense, but this makes no sense at all: there are no romantic relationships, and comments aren't made in the context of romance or consent. All these comments and asides are shoe-horned in; they don't fit and they are jarring, throwing off the flow of the narrative. It's like this author embodies the myth that guys think about sex every 7 seconds and he's... what? Trying to prove he's a man by showing how often he thinks about it? Hoping to captivate lowest-common-denominator readers who, he assumes, will get bored if we go more than two pages without explicitly commenting on someone's ass? I'm working up to a good angry about the social implications, and I'm properly angry about how clunky it makes the storytelling. Without this shameful fascination with all things sexual, this could have been a 3-and-a-half-star book with a likable, humorous main character and an over-the-top, Bond-villain-esque bad guy, all good fun for summer lounging. All crass comments are made about female characters, about inanimate objects, or are characters bragging, except for one comment made about a male character. This objectification is not ok, and shame, shame on the author Lee Goldberg and on the publisher Thomas and Mercer.

Kiss of the spindle by Nancy Campbell Allen.  I distinctly recall that the review I read about this was in a journal under "Romance." The subject headings on Baker & Taylor also specify "romance." For clarification, this is not a romance by any stretch of the imagination. It's steampunk with world-building and adventure, and it's a good book. It captures what the Soulless series offered before the author sold out.

Although marked as book two of a series, this completely stands on its own. It would be more accurate to say that the two (so far) books take place in the same universe, but do not have to be read in order.

Food pharmacy: A guide to gut bacteria, anti-inflammatory foods, and eating for health by Lina Nertby and Mia Clase.  There appears to be a lot of information in this book, but in the first quarter, there are no citations.  Many sentences include variations on "studies show" or "reserchers are finding" sorts of statements, but no specific studies, researchers, or articles mentioned.  There is a "References" section at the end, but it's only three pages of widely-spaced text and doesn't seem adequate for a book of this size.  Since neither of these writers are health professionals in the first place, this is the type of book that seems to rely on the reader feeling its truthiness.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Feed me, Seymour.

I think I keep checking these out because I'm hungry.  I can't hope to eat any of these things any time soon, but they are so lovely to look at.

PNW veg: 100 vegetable recipes inspired by the local bounty of the Pacific Northwest by Kim O'Donnel.  I really wanted to like this book.  The content might be useful for people who do a significant amount of shopping at (large) farmers' markets (most of the regional produce she focuses on doesn't show up in our market, which has only two actual farmers).  Many readers will be put off by the lack of pictures: many recipes don't have any picture at all; the ones that do either have a photo of an ingredient (leeks, green onions, asparagus), or the photo of the finished product is on the next page, not visible from the page with the ingredients and directions.  Those had me flipping back and forth; it was annoying.

Real food heals: Eat to feel younger and stronger every day by Seamus Mullen.  The very short introduction talks about how the author came to what is essentially an anti-inflammatory-style diet after being ill.  He mentions the Wahls protocol and several other researchers he talked with, but it isn't enough information for someone thinking about a diet change; it's more appropriate to comfort someone, who has read about anti-inflammatory diets elsewhere, where the author started from when he designed his diet.

Only about half the recipes, or maybe even fewer, have photos.  Since many of these dishes are gourmet-ish, I'm not sure how the finished product is supposed to look.  What's a caponata?  Or carpaccio?  Although there are no beans or gluten, and most of the inclusion of dairy seems optional or can be substituted, this book is primarily appropriate for people who like to cook a la froo-froo.  I did see a number of ingredients that seemed extremely specific that I might have difficult in purchasing locally: watermelon radishes, specific types of mushrooms and chiles I haven't ever seen before, something called gochujang, and that yuzu stuff again, as examples.

Wild fermentation: The flavor, nutrition, and craft of live-culture foods by Sandor Ellix Katz.  If you want information about fermentation, in addition to recipes, this is it.  There's a ton of history, regional information, and very clear directions.  If I ever ferment, I will use this book.

The anti-inflammatory diet and action plans: 4-week meal plans to heal the immune system and restore overall health by Dorothy Calimeris and Sondi Bruner.  This is not a worthwhile book to have.  I have to admit, I largely checked out when the authors described GMOs as "serious heath risks" (28).  Science is bad!  Looking ahead, the authors offer four different action plans.  There is a very short discussion on the differences between the plans (vegan, Paleo, Mediterranean, and "time-saving") but each type of plan gets less than 2 full pages-- certainly not nearly enough information for anyone to make an informed decision.  Neither of the authors are doctors; both have inflammatory diseases, and one is a nutritionist (credentials and institutions not specified), but they both are writers and (professional?) bloggers, so their authority is perhaps in question.

The recipes themselves, which make up over 2/3rds of the book, seem fine.  They are marked as to which of the 4 plans they are allowed under.  Each also lists nutrition information, including calories per serving, fat, carbs, fiber, and more, which is fantastic.  But overall, the information and authority is lacking.

The perfect health diet: Regain health and lose weight by eating the way you were meant to eat by Paul Jaminet and Shou-Ching Jaminet.  After nearly a month on the Wahls protocol, I was having a recurrence of the same problems I had before starting; I started adding back in non-gluten starches, trying to up my caloric intake.  Coincidentally, a few days after that, I started this book, which pretty much mirrors what I was already doing.  It has been about a week on this eating plan, and I'm doing better.  I need to find a way to incorporate more healthy fats, and I'd like it if my body could tolerate more vegetable variety, but I'm doing ok.

To be honest, I skimmed quite a bit of this.  This is a thick book with a ton of very technical information.  It wouldn't be out of reach of someone with basic undergraduate-level science education who was emotionally invested, paying attention, and taking notes.  The writing seemed comfortable and appropriate: not too jokey or hokey, but believable and reliable.

The elimination diet: Discover the foods that are making you sick and tired-- and feel better fast by Tom Malterre and Alissa Segersten.  I quit.  First, this isn't really applicable to me, as I've already eliminated pretty much everything.  I would have skimmed it, though, except it was driving me crazy: the tone is unbelievable.  Obviously the writer wants to come across as upbeat, confident, and reliable, but this was unreal.  Every example patient encounter was "I immediately knew exactly what was wrong" and after eliminating the problem food (which is always presented as being the first guess), everything is 100% better.  The patient experiences are completely unbelievable and the instruction and other information is disturbingly overconfident.

Simple green suppers: A fresh strategy for one-dish vegetarian meals by Susie Middlleton.  Even if I were physically able to eat most of these ingredients, this still wouldn't be the cookbook for me.  My new theory is that most people I know aren't vegetarian because it would be impossible to support at our small-town grocery stores.  Although this cookbook didn't have the outlandish ingredients of some others-- the kind of ingredients where I wouldn't even know which aisle to start looking in-- this still had plenty of specialty radishes and greens and such that you just won't find out here.  Additionally, although the author asserts that all of these dishes can be made in under an hour, they all seemed fussy.  I prefer meals that focus on a few ingredients and flavors, not six or seven things plus a custom spice blend plus a home-made dressing.  Not enough pictures.