21 December 2012

The GIF Admiration Society presents: The First Maybe-Semi-Annual Mini Read-a-thon!

Dear Readers,

Are you tired of feeling like you don't have enough time to read over the holidays? Are you hesitant to join in other read-a-thons because reading for 24 hours straight makes you want to throw things (probably books, and we all know that's not cool)? Are you feeling like a nice Saturday afternoon at the beginning of the year might be just The Thing to get you motivated to finish all the holiday chocolates and eggnog in your house so you can start fresh with healthy food for the New Year?


The GIF Admiration Society cordially invites you to partake in a truly excellent new thing we made up on the Twitter:

Thanks for the spiffy logo, Alice's brother!

Here are the Mini-Guidelines:

1) Your reading choices should somehow follow the "mini" theme. This can be interpreted any way you choose and part of the fun will be defending any iffy choices in the comments of your posts. Is your book tiny? Great! But let's go further, because tiny books do not take 8 hours to read and are generally novelty items.

Does your book contain any of the following:

- Dwarves?
- Goblins (*coughhaveyoujoinedAlice'sHarryPotterRead-a-longyetcough*)?
- Children?
- Small animals?

What I'm saying is, make your case!

2) Your snack choices may-or-may-not adhere to the "mini" theme. Some suggestions from the GIF-AS ladies include:

- SHOTS. Otherwise known as "mini-cocktails"
- Mini puff pastries from Trader Joe's
- Mini tacos from Trader Joe's
- Mini pizzas from... anywhere, really
- Those small corn chips - Tostitos maybe?
- Mini M&M's (unless you live in England, sorry Laura! Except I'm not because you get to visit places like Bath and Yorkshire and get to eat real Cadbury's, so 

Anyway, you all get the point, right? Mini food. Excellent! 

3) We shall read and snack and chatter amongst ourselves for EIGHT GLORIOUS HOURS! There will be a mid-'thon check-in around hour 4, and then of course a wrap-up if you choose. 

We begin, my mini-dumplings, at 8:00am Pacific time on Saturday, January 5! 

20 December 2012

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow WIlson

This is a curious little book - and yes, I tend to consider anything under 500 pages "little" because this is Reading the Bricks, not Reading Some Thin Things. Keep up!

Alif is the hacker name of a kid in an unmentioned Middle Eastern town who gets dumped by the upper-caste girl he was in love with and writes a computer program to identify her "signature"-  that is, not just her ISP and other internetty things, but there's a keylogger that figures out her keystroke pattern and over time learns to identify her based on her syntax.

In other words, he creates a program that is essentially AI, and then the Government hears about it and gets ahold of it and they try to start using it to find hackers. Which is TYPICAL, Big Bad Governmental Propaganda Machine, and you should stop doing that! Information wants to be figuratively free!

Sidebar: my boss recently told me that "information literally wants to be free." To which I smiled and nodded because if I'd opened my mouth at that particular moment I might have figuratively died on that grammatical hill. In retaliation that seems to be taking the form of torturing only me, I've started over-using the word "figuratively." So, I apologize in advance. Literally.

G.Willow Wilson has a way with ideas, my friends. As in her way, if you knowwhutImean.
"Dear Nurse, as much as I love you, you are terribly muddled when it comes to the morals of stories."
"Dear child, some stories have no morals. Sometimes darkness and madness are simply that.
"How terrible," said Farukhuaz.
"Do you think so? I find it reassuring. It saves me from having to divine meaning in every sorrow that comes my way" (139).

Just think about that for a minute. If we accept the nurse's first premise, then we can accept the second - and I can share with you from experience that accepting the second premise makes life much more bearable - not to mention self-centered.

But she's unexpectedly sly, too:

"You have that sullen expression young men get when they've been jilted. It's why men are meant to have beards - growing all that hair leaves no energy for moodiness. Much more dignified" (190). 
And lastly, a girl whose sense and responsible nature we can all get behind:

"No," said Dina. "We don't burn books."
"Who's we?"
"People with an ounce of brain." 

Renly Baratheon would probably not burn books either. Too bad he dies.

The thing that struck me most about this book is how not Western-centric it was. As if people who aren't Westerners generally don't give two figs about us - which is an interesting reminder that the bulk of the world will never read ANY of the books I've read, simply because there are books originally written in their own languages that are more important to them. How can Middlemarch and House of Mirth not be important to everyone?

That is so weird, you guys.

8.5 out of 11 Djinn Posing as Mob Leaders in your Home Town

17 December 2012

The Uninvited Guests - Sadie Jones

Soooooo this post has sat open on my Chrome desktop for literally a week [not a figurative week, you understand. An actual week, according to my Remember the Milk reminder (shameless plug - I love that app!)]. Just sitting there in my tabs, an empty post with the exception of the cover up there *points up*.

It's not because this book was bad; on the contrary, it was really quite good. It's not because I can't think of anything to say; I've got about 300 things I could mention, but decorum and modesty (read: a hatred of spoilers) forbids it. It *may* have to do with what appears to be my need to ruminate on books after I've read them, which doesn't mesh well with my tendency to prioritize my TBR pile by what's already overdue at the library.

Back to the story! It's Edwardian England, and this does not appear to be Sadie Jones's first authorial rodeo, based solely on the lack of sentence fragments in her book.

This one's for Jer.
Ok for real. It is Emerald Torrington's birthday, and there is going to be a party! But then the house gets word via the newfangled telephone that there's been a horrible train crash and refugees will be sent and they must take care of them. And what follows is a hugely intriguing story that I won't tell you about because of my EXTREME DELICACY. Or, you know, spoilers. But it's a bit of a combination of Wilde and Wharton with maybe a dash of King.

I particularly liked Florence, who describes tea as "the most labour-intensive and least productive substance on Earth...A feeble drink unchanged by passing through the body" (58). HAH! I love tea, but there's a reason people invented individual tea bags and the electric kettle. Pip pip, Old Bean.

Go read it! You'll like it! And if you've already read it,*

8.5 out of 11 mysterious phone calls

*let's have a discussion in the comments about the difference between zombies and ghosts. I have serious opinions, people.

13 December 2012

The Shadow of Night - Deborah Harkness

I read A Discovery of Witches in September and it was a lot of fun even though I got upset about the potential for vampire/witch sexytimes and then irritated that there wasn't enough. Consistency!

SO. The bane of trilogies is usually the middle book, in which a zillion expository developments happen but there's little actual movement toward the final book. For examples, see Tolkein's The Two Towers. (There are some exceptions to this, I know). In this middle book, Harkness attempted to alleviate the perennial problem by sending her characters back into the late 16th century. You know, the time of Elizabeth I and Shakespeare!

And this guy!
I didn't flag this book very liberally - mostly it was with quotes that made me laugh on the plane to and from Hawaii for a quick weekend trip with my dad. It turns out it's a 6-hour flight to and from Hawaii, which is longer than from San Francisco to NYC. I knew the Pacific was vast - after all, I lived within sight of it for half my life, and within quick driving distance for the rest of it - but I didn't know it was THAT far to Hawaii. This fact is vaguely embarrassing; I'm a born-and-bred Alaskan, which means I learned very early to sneer at Texas for being 1/3 the size of my state and at most maps for making us look so much littler than we actually are. Hawaiians and Alaskans have a "we're not one of the Mainland/Lower 48" bond, and we're kinda snooty about it.

Y'anyway, this was pretty solid plane-and-beach reading. Harkness didn't hesitate to toss in Major Historical Figures [like Diana Gabaldon does (except for Bonny Prince Charlie)]. The only major figure from London of the time period we missed was Shakespeare, and I'm not entirely sure why she didn't toss him into the mix.
Does anyone miss AngelFire right now? Just me? 
But there were some great moments. Diana starts explaining the modern obsession with vampires to her vampire husband, and he gets thoroughly disgusted by the violence. Then at another place, Diana is feeling sad about an event:
"Tomorrow?" I frowned. "I'm in no mood to make magic, Goody Alsop."
"I'm in no mood to go to my grave without seeing you weave your first spell, so I shall expect you when the bells ring six." 


I'm going to distract you from the not-enough-criticism by putting up some Hawaii pictures. I hope you don't mind.

I went on a helicopter tour of the volcanoes!* 

And then an hour later we went on a submarine tour of the reefs!

This is my new boyfriend. He likes to give kisses, which is more than I can say for the last guy.

*Our helicopter pilot was smokin' hot, but I couldn't work up the nerve to take a surreptitious photo. Also, even though I was with my dad, people tend to think we're a May-December couple.
And half the time when we mention oh-so-casually that he's my dad, they make that "I'm so not judging!" face, which is INFURIATING. Anyway. No pictures of the hot helicopter pilot. Alice understands that I already suck at sneaking photos of people. 

THE BOOK! There is a book in this post. And it only gets 7.5 out of 11 sixteenth century playwrights for plot, etc., but it gains an extra Smutty Delaney for the married characters having actual sex, bringing the total to two out of four.

10 December 2012

The Flight of Gemma Hardy - Margot Livesey

One of the fun things about reading a lot of (awesome) book blogs with the library request page open is that books show up on the hold shelf for me and, depending on how long I was in the queue for, I don't  remember anything about them - there's just a vague feeling of "positive" hanging about the title. SO, when this one showed up, I was surprised (probably for the second time) that it is a re-telling of my beloved Jane Eyre. And then I got suspicious! And then decided it can't be worse than Wide Sargasso Sea, and by "worse" I mean "more preachy," so just read it already, Self.

Just so we're all on the same page (HAHAHAHA I crack me up), my official Jane Eyre Re-telling Scale goes from Wide Sargasso Sea at the bottom to Rebecca at the top, with The Eyre Affair somewhere around the 85% mark.

Unlike in Rebecca, the events of this book follow Jane Eyre pretty closely for the first 2/3 of the book, and since we've all read the original or at least seen the movie with Michael Fassbender, I don't need to worry about spoilers for a book written in 1857, RIGHT? Good. Okay.

Then please come in and let's begin. Is it warm in here? Please feel free to disrobe, sir.
You've got your evil aunt, your wretched school, your Helen Burns - who in this context dies of asthma, your graduation/leaving of said wretched school, your governess in the remote wilds of a place, your inappropriate relationship between master and servant, etc. etc., and your wedding-that-wasn't.

But it's different, you see, because it all takes place in Scotland, which is further north than Yorkshire and so is colder and even more remote! And herein lies my first quibble with this book - there will be more, as should be expected with a re-telling of a beloved text - it could have been set anywhere, and I feel like a book deliberately set in northern Scotland needs to evoke the feeling of that place. I'm not demanding kilts and rugged, sexy time travelers - FOR NOW - but Livesey didn't capture the distinctive cadence of the Scots or their feelings about their country, which I understand from reading a lot of Diana Gabaldon are vehement.

And then there's the issue of the Mad Woman in the Attic, which was shocking and (barely) plausible in 1857 but definitely not going to work in 1965. I won't spoil how it was dealt with, but I will say that it made Gemma more petulant than her predecessor; the offense wasn't equal to her reaction.

The OTHER thing that I had difficulty with is that the female cousins were not sisters but they were *whispers* lesbians. WHY, Livesey? This is unnecessary. Ok, first of all I fully believe that there need to be more homosexual characters in literature - that fictional homosexuality is less obviously challenging (because it's in a book that you can put down and walk away from when it becomes "too much") and so it helps to encourage acceptance on a subconscious level. BUT. The story wasn't enhanced by the sexuality of these characters, and while their relationship taught Gemma some things about love, it stuck out as an anachronism. So I am torn; on one hand, yes please more positive homosexual relationships, Fiction! and on the other, don't fuck with canon if it's not going to forward the cause,

Overall, I walked away from this one feeling like the story would have stood better on its own feet and not pasted on top of an iconic story arc. The last 1/3 of the book - after Gemma runs away - took on a tale of its own and I liked it better than the previous section. I'd have also liked to hear more about Rochester's Whasshisname's stint in WWII and a deeper discussion of their age difference, as would have been appropriate for something set in the 60's.

6.5 of 11 Ferry Trips to the Orkneys

06 December 2012

Cinder - Marianne Meyer

Oh, dystopian re-telling of a fairy tale, how I was prepared to snub my nose in the air at you! How prepared I was to skim your pages, picking out parts of the Cinderella story, identifying characters as this or that archetype, and then pan you in the end as Yet Another Dystopian Re-telling of a Fairytale,

And at first, you didn't (or did?) disappoint. Here was that same weird use of sentence fragments, the hating of which makes me a huge hypocrite because it's okay in my published-only-on-the-internet writing but not in a BOOK. With PAGES (or maybe e-pages - and hopefully a COPY-EDITOR who is trained to spot sentence fragments posing as stream-of-consciousness writing.) In fact, when I came across the Sentence Fragments of Potential DNF, I flipped immediately to the dust jacket to see if... yep, a first novel.

First time authors, STOP DOING THIS. And the rest of you, too, unless it is for emphasis and please only once per chapter at a maximum.

And then the story got rolling and it was fun and I stopped muppet-flailing over grammar (which is how you know I actually liked it). Cyborgs, an evil stepmother (natch), one good stepsister a la Ever After, and a prince-sometimes-in-disguise! People who actually die of the scary disease!

Meyer doesn't just walk the fine line between re-telling and re-packaging; she dances along it like a tightrope walker  from Cirque du Soliel. Not every character is recognizable from the original (or Disney) story, and the world-building is done with plausible elegance. The biggest quibble I had - once the sentences started having a proper structure as sentences should - was that it's set in Future Shanghai, but there was very little actual Chinese culture folded into the story; I would have liked to read more about how Meyer envisions Chinese culture adapting (or NOT adapting) to the future she has created.

As an added bonus, it's book #1. If there's one thing I like, it's seeing "Book 1" on the cover of a book I thoroughly enjoyed.

8.5 of 11 Creepy Moon Queens

03 December 2012

The 2013 TBR Pile Challenge!

Adam over at Roofbeam Reader is hosting the annual TBR Pile Challenge, in which we choose 12 books from our TBR Piles and read them over the course of the year. But before we talk about all the books I want to read (and will genuinely try to finish but let's be honest,

I'mma tell you a story.

Soooooo last year around this time, I tore through my library and put little pink Post-it Flags on the spines of all the books I have not yet read. There were over 100 of them.

And in June I packed everything into boxes and into storage with the secret hope that the flags would all magically disappear, which would have been awesome and a little creepy. But alas, when I unpacked the library in my new place, they were still there.

But then as I was putting the books on the shelves, I realized that the next best thing had happened: some of the flags had fallen off or gotten stuck on books I had, in fact read, making the WHOLE SYSTEM ineffective. And there's nothing I loathe more than an ineffective system (Reason #45198 that I decided not to become a teacher and/or a parent).

SO, I took all the flags off and felt vaguely guilty about it, since I really should read the books I buy.

And then, along came Adam's challenge!

I'm joining to alleviate my post-Post-it flag guilt, is basically what I'm saying. Behold my tentative list (complete with commentary, por supuesto):

1. Moby-Dick by Hermann Melville (This title still makes me giggle like a 13-year-old. Dick. Haha.)
2. Wings of the Dove by Henry James (I heart you even though you talk shit about other authors, HENRY.)
3. Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy (I am a HUGE Hardy fan, maybe because I've never read this?)
4. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh (Oh, EVELYN. Be my melancholy gay friend! /sigh)
5. Mill on the Floss by George Eliot (I... have never read any Eliot. I KNOW.)
6. A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf (ditto)
7. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (I bet Anna closed her mouth occasionally, but to see KK play her YOU'D NEVER KNOW.)
8. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseni (handsome local author! I have an unread signed 1st edition. Go me.)
9. The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton (Eeedith! Let's hang with Evelyn and be fabulous together.)
10. Inside the Victorian Home by Judith Flanders (is that non-fiction you see? I must be growing as a human being...)
11. How Fiction Works by James Wood (yep, clearly I'm growing.)
12. Bleak House by Charles Dickens (Because I haven't grown THAT much. Dick. Haha.)

Middlemarch by George Eliot
Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace