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

29 November 2012

The Sisters Brothers - Patrick DeWitt

All right, chickadees. It's time to have a serious discussion, by which I mean I'll talk and you listen. Sit yourselves down and settle in for a spell.

The Internet-at-Large would have you believe that this is something of a Western because it takes place in the California Gold Rush Era*. It (they?) would have you believe that this is a tale of two brothers who roam around Oregon and Northern California as hired guns. It (definitely not they) would have you believe that this is a thought-provoking story about brotherhood in its many forms. And it would be right on all accounts, although it takes place in this... how do I describe it...

This book has a Tone. It's not a bad tone, but it's... unexpected. Okay.

There are these two brothers - the Sisters Brothers, if you can't keep up (like me, most of the time) - and they roam around killing people what needs kilt for this boss dude. The book is all told from the second brother's point of view (literary term in blog post: check!), and the second brother is contemplative and somewhat unusual for a Sisters Brother in that he wants to quit this life and go run a general store upstate, but he also doesn't want to leave his brother to do the killin' on his own because a team: they are one.

And then after a couple of shoot-outs and some whoring and drinking and a lot of vomiting - so much vomiting! - they find the guy they're actually supposed to kill, but they don't want to because he's clearly not a bad dude and they can get in on this thing to help pull money out of the rivers of California (gold rush, remember? Jeez, keep up!).

So the book takes this turn for the decidedly chemically fascinating, which I was definitely NOT expecting.

And overall it was very sedate and matter-of-fact in tone, which was fascinating but also kept me from getting into the characters so much, and there's nothing I like better than dreaming about being Marion Holcombe and giving Frederick Fairlie a swift kick in the tuchus.

Then again, there were lines like this:

"At this piece of dramatic exposition, I could not help but roll my eyes. A length of intestine would not carry the weight of a child, much less a full grown man." (p. 124)
Well played, Mr. DeWitt. Well played indeed.

8.5 of 11 Barrels of Purple Sludge

*The "California" part is an important distinction for those of us who grew up in Alaska and still think that the Gold Rush happened in 1898. Which it did, just not in California. Also, my state is bigger than your state.

26 November 2012

The Dark is Rising - Susan Cooper

H'well, here we are with book #22 on the Top 100 Children's Novels list: The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper. I mentioned before that this is book 2 of The Dark is Rising Sequence, which seems misleading since the title is the same as the series (sequence) title. I wonder how many people have skipped Over Sea, Under Stone all together simply because they didn't know it exists? Which... I'm really glad I didn't because helloooo, my own particular brand of Reading OCD (wherein I have to start with Volume 1 of any series even if Volume 1 is irrefutably bad - this also extends to TV). This is a not-at-all-rare form of what we in our office call FOMO Syndrome.

SO! The book! Once nice thing about this - the second book in the series asImayormaynothavementioned - is that the plot doesn't give away ANY of what's discussed in the first book. Which... is a round-a-bout way of saying that the two books are only loosely connected.

King Arthur stories are tough because so often authors assume that we already know the story, which we all sort-of do (some of us more than others because of the musical Camelot and Disney's The Sword in the Stone. Some of us also may have infuriated their mothers when they were teenagers by calling her "Mad Madam Mom," and some of us should probably feel guilty that the moniker still makes us giggle uncontrollably at our advanced age).

Ahem. Back to the book. Will Stanton turns 11 and all hell breaks loose as he discovers he is the last of the Old Ones, who must ever fight against the Dark - which is rising, don'tchaknow. And then... he goes on a journey? And then something something the Hunt with Whassisname who lives in a tree until you blow the horn? And then the dark gets chased away, which should be a big win but all I can muster is a big


My real problem with this book stems from something Alice pointed out: that the Dark can do things like... startle you at the top of the stairs so you fall down and break your leg, but it can't harm you directly. Which leads to roughly zero drama or tension.

And while zero drama or tension is what I strive for in my life outside the pages of a book (AHHHAHHAHA my family is huge, Spanish, and certifiably crazy, so good luck with that), within the pages of a book I definitely like a little stress. So I can see why this is a classic, but I did not dig it very much.

6.5 out of 11 rising... darks....

21 November 2012

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky

I think I was slightly too old for this book when it came out, so I missed it entirely.

That sentence probably encompasses most of the young adult section of the library, actually, so I should just stop typing it (fat chance).

But anyway. The book has finally (?) turned into a movie, and since I like Emma Watson I decided that I will probably watch it - but obviously not before I read the book, because that's just how you do in Book Blog Land.

You know.
The problem with being too old for a book isn't that I'm actually too old. I like YA fiction a lot. It's that I have a hard time getting into the headspace of a teenager without also being in the headspace of being a former high school English teacher; they're kind of inextricably linked at this point. [As a side note, I thoroughly enjoyed teaching English. It was hard and frustrating, but it was also surprising and hilarious every day, and I was really, really good at it. I wish teachers were paid appropriately so I could have actually supported myself in that job without needing a secondary income (i.e., a spouse). But that's a whole 'nother issue.]

Anyway, all that to say that I kind of want to sit the characters down and say, "this is not all there is. I know it's important and scary and very, very big right now. But it's not all there is." Except that they are teenagers which means they will look at me with that perfectly blank teenaged stare and think to themselves, "you don't know what it's like to be me. MY LIFE IS DIFFERENT!"

Oh yes, I remember being 16, and it. was. awful.

But this book was not! Especially if you happen to be 16 and need to feel all the feels.

7 out of 11 clandestine underage beers.

17 November 2012

The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac - Kris D'Agostino

I've never been a person to read the last few pages of a book before I read the first, but I think I'm going to start having to make an exception for reading the author's bio. A few key words that will immediately make me skeptical of the book's ability to rate on the (coveted, obvs.) Tika Scale of Success are:

Début novel
Lives in Brooklyn
Picture with fingers in hair and self-deprecating smile

I actually took the time to Post-it flag this novel, complete with comments on said flags. They read, in order:

"One of the banes - hah!"
Sentence frags errwherrrrr!
WTF is this?
Would it kill you to use a :?
Ok CE [copy editor], ":" =/= "is"
Homophone vs. synonym

Let's begin with the sentence fragments, shall we? Modern writers and readers understand that sentence fragments can be used to great effect. We've eschewed the idea that a sentence must have a subject and a verb to make sense because we understand context.


With great effect comes the great responsibility to not over-use the grammatical linguistic phenomenon to the point of reader exhaustion. (In the future, people will categorize the 2000's-2010's literary style as the Sentence Fragment Era.) Observe:
"We arrive at the warehouse just after nightfall. Part of an eerie industrial park. Abandoned and unused, seated behind the railroad tracks on the outskirts of Oscawana." (p.51)
I have a less emphatic "no no no" gif, but it wasn't getting the job done.
It turns out that first-person present is my least favorite of the tenses. I spend half my reading time thinking, "I do WHAT now? When did I did that?" When WHAM! Out of the blue come sentences like this:
"The scariest thing: that somehow I'm meant to be here, at this kitchen table, forever, for all time, watching these two women make chicken cacciatore." (p. 143)
As mentioned above, a colon does not function as the word "is." Punctuation is not to be thrown out (OR IN) all willy-nilly without-a-plan. It serves a purpose. It adds meaning. You are driving me to italics, Kris. And chicken cacciatore is awesome.

My dear copy editor of this wretched novel, do not think I've overlooked you! Let's have a little discussion about homophones, shall we? They're words that sound alike but are spelled differently, for those not keeping up (you).

One does not wave ones' rights. One waives them.
One does not steer from the yolk of a plane, but from the yoke.
Colons function not as verbs (see above) but as denoters of lists. Observe:

I make a list of everything in the attic: [correct!] 
Stacks of framed pictures. Grandma and Grandpa on the shores of Cape Cod. Chip, Elissa, and me in front of the Louvre. Our parents' wedding. Birthdays. Graduations. Proms. [NO!] (p. 123)
Allow me to refer you to the Tracy Morgan gif directly above, because Grandma and Grandpa on the shores of Cape Cod are not, in fact, things in the attic. Neither is your parents' wedding, etc. So, in closing, I'd like to take you out back for a little grammar/punctuation/learn-to-do-your-job lesson.

And the story is basically this guy who lives with his family and has to help them and he whines about it all the time because he's 24 and he wants to be freeeeeee! Which makes me want to punch him in the face. And then, you guys, something happens at the end that makes me feel guilty for hating this book. Which, perversely, makes me hate it even more.

In conclusion, this book is bullshit and I hated it.

2 out of 11 Ichabod Cranes.

13 November 2012

Seraphina - Rachel Hartman

So I read The Night Circus and I didn't like it all that much. Then I read Seraphina, and I want to hoist it above my head and wave it about at infodumpy fantasy authors as an example of How Shit is DID.

It's clear that Hartman took completely to heart (HAH) the old advice of "show, don't tell," and carefully went through her manuscript to excise out all the telling. (It's that second bit that's tough, I surmise.) She expects you to pay attention, and if you do, you'll figure things out. But if you don't, that's ok - you'll get the story anyway and it will just be less subtle. Do you need to know what a houppelande is? NO! So she doesn't tell you until the (very funny) glossary at the end of the book. Was I - a textiles nerd - tickled that she used the proper word for a medieval tunic worn my both men and women, recognizable in such films as The Lion in Winter and Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves? You bet your dagged sleeves I was.

Gratuitous Katherine Hepburn in The Lion in Winter. Seriously,  how did anyone dare to do this play after she and Peter O'Toole took every actor anywhere to school? Ahem. I digress.
She also understands my soul, as evidenced in this sentence describing something that happens to me on a regular basis:

"Some sober part of my brain seemed to observe everything I did, clucking disdainfully, informing me that I ought to be embarrassed, yet making no move to stop me" (p. 324).
Definitely written by a woman who has had her share of I-swear-on-my-eyes-once-I-find-them-I-will-never-drink-again moments.

The world is beautifully realized, well-researched, and, in an unusual, why-didn't-I-think-of-that twist, the dragons are the clear, scientific creatures with an astonishing ability to create mechanical objects, and humans are the superstitious ones.

The whole thing is just charmingly imagined, and as we've established I have very little imagination but I'm very particular about reading the imaginings of other people, so you'll just have to trust me. Someone pass me the liquor.

9.5 out of 11 Medieval Villages Left Standing after the Dragon Scourge

07 November 2012

Book Riot's Top 50 Books (Are def. not mine)

Awhile ago Book Riot solicited our favorite 3 books, and then compiled them all into a list and behold! That list is here! Along with the ones I've read in bold and some commentary. (I blame today's bandwagon-jumping on Laura and Red. And my inability to avoid a good book list.) Read count: 22

1. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (126 votes) *I get extra points for having read this as an adult.
2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen   *Anyone shocked by this? ::crickets::
3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte  *Oh Jane. I love your pious little plain self
4. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling 
5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald *YESSSSS THANK YOU are you taking notice, former students? Also, hey Jay Gatsby - call me!
6 . The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien *UGHHH I have opinions about this series and most of them boil down to: Tolkien's editor was terrible at his job.
7. Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell *I love this book so hard. It's the one of mine that made the list.
8. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte *Dear characters in this book: I hate you all.
9. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak *I LIKED IT OKAY LAURA?
10. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
11. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
12. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
13. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
14. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
15. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut *Never read any Vonnegut. Dunno if I will.
16. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving *The only person who can speak in all caps without shouting on the internet is dead.
17. The Stand by Stephen King
18. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien 
19. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy *I've read half of this and it was amazing.
20. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
21. Persuasion by Jane Austen
22. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
23. The Brothers Karamozov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
24. The Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon *Please let's fetishize more Scotsman. I like gingers.
25. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
26. The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
27. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger *What is WRONG with you people? This book was hooooorrible!
28. American Gods by Neil Gaiman *Not his best - not by a long shot. Read Neverwhere instead.
29. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas *This book makes the angels sing do-wop music in the angel shower.
30. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
31. 1984 by George Orwell
32. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
33. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott *Confession: I hate Jo and what she did to Laurie. HATE.
34. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
35. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
36. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
37. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams
38. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov *A not-ex has memorized the first line of this and used to quote it often. Not an incentive to 1)date him and 2)read the book, but did I do it any way? Yes I did. #occasionallynotthesharpesttool
39. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier *YESSSS one of the best ever.
40. Ulysses by James Joyce *This is a joke. No one loves Ulysses that much. Stop trying to look smart, Book Riot - we're all readers here, and everyone's read Flowers in the Attic.
41. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
42. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky *Nope. Too self-indulgent (literally - ew!)
43. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
44. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
45. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
46. Dune by Frank Herbert
47. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
48. Les Miserablesby Victor Hugo
49.The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern *My opinions on this book are: it was not so great.
50. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (13 votes) *This is SO MUCH BETTER than The Night Circus. SO MUCH.

The other two of mine that didn't make the list are: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton and The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy. I KNOW how pretentious that sounds, but it's true.

05 November 2012

The Age of Miracles - Karen Thompson Walker

There is this thing publishing has started doing in the last *mumblemumble* years where they call a first novel a debut novel. This always makes me think of débutantes dressed in white, swanning their way down stairs on their fathers' arms so they can be introduced to society, and I kind of hate it.

Firstly because there's suddenly all this pressure to make your début novel amazing, which only happens if you're Susanna Clarke or Harper Lee or Margaret Mitchell, which you are not. And secondly because it puts unrealistic expectations on the book to be HAAAA-mazing and flawless, which is hard enough for a seasoned writer, much less a débutante  And if there's one thing I will do when I'm expected to find a book to be flawless, it's... find a fuckton of flaws.

Julia is 11 when the world starts slowing on its axis. Days gain hours, and while it's kind of a thing, it's not really because she's eleven and has other stuff to worry about, like being the weird kid at the bus stop and liking the handsome skateboarder guy.

Now I'd like you to please pause and think about what you knew when you were eleven. If the answer is "almost nothing," then you are in the same boat as me and the rest of society. Julia, however, is outside of this boat. She's already made it to Adult Reflections Land, where people say things (to themselves) like,

"Carlotta's long gray hair swung near her waist, a ghost, I suspected, of its younger and sexier self" (p. 106).
Look, KT-Dubs, I dunno how long it's been since you were eleven, but I have a 12-year-old brother and I am here to tell you that considering the ghosts of people's formerly sexy hair is not on that age group's radar. AT ALL.

The narrator could have been 19, or 25, or 47 years 3 months and 7 days, because she's speaking through an adult mouthpiece - which I haaaaaaated. And I get that this is a coming-of-age novel, wherein the heroine Learns Lots of Things and Puts Away Childish Ideas, and that it's sad that she has to do that while the world is ending (slooooowly). And when there's a concept as fascinating as the Earth slowing its roll, it seems almost wasteful to overlay it with the everyday issues of a pre-teen girl, which to those of us who are no longer pre-teens are about as exciting and urgent as getting you car washed during the rainy season.

This would have been sooooooer much better as a short story or a novella. Cut 150 pages, throw a couple of other short stories on top about other people in this world, call it a collection and BOOM! Better.

Also because I don't read short stories, and thus wouldn't have read it or felt left out for skipping it.

4.5 of 11 Stockpiles of Apocalypse-Friendly Foodstuffs

29 October 2012

Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper

Apparently this is a Very Popular Children's Series? I don't know, I missed it somehow. Although I do have a vague memory of someone giving me a copy of The Dark is Rising when I was young and thinking it had a scary title and cover so I never read it. Possibly also because it says "Book 2" on the cover and we all know how I feel about jumping into things in the middle.

The Dark is Rising sequence falls into the category of YA extremely popular in the early-middle 20th century in which a group of children - usually brothers and sisters - goes on a Quest for Whatever Reason. Which can be done very well (I'm looking at you, Pevinsie and Alden children!), but it's tricky. The kids can't be too smart, the parents/guardians can't be too involved [orphans are useful here (looks at Alden children again)], and there should be one or more of the following:

- An Uncle, either big and brash and mysterious or scholarly. Possibly a Great-Uncle; unrelated is acceptable.
- A map or mystery of some sort
- A beautiful girl/woman who turns out to be evil
- An undiscovered country/part of town/etc.

So far, Cooper is 4/4. Also, you know how we (meaning I, of course) about "where are the parents/guardians? Who's watching these kids?!?" Well, props to Cooper again, because someone actually DOES care where the children are and tells them not to do the stupid, reckless things that children in YA novels usually do.

"Today my job is relevant!"
So good on ya, Susan Copoer. Way to keep the adults in the game, but not let them overpower the story. And extra points for the Arthurian business - I dig it.

And now, on to book 2 for The Estella Society's Top 100 Children's Book RAL, which I am joining impossibly late due to my gold-medal performance in the Procrastination Olympics.

7.5 of 11 Mysterious Uncles

23 October 2012

Code Name: Verity - Elizabeth Wein

One of the reasons I don't tend to read mysteries is that I like to talk about plot, and it's difficult to do so when one-third of a book is about "Lo, a mystery!" and the other two-thirds are about "Let's solve this (preferably with witty banter and possible sexytimes, a la Castle and Bones)!" And then one has to dance around the plot, not Giving It All Away, much like a great aunt warning you against sexytimes of your own while "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" plays sadly in the background.

And while this book is not a mystery, it presents many of the same discussion difficulties that a mystery might.

This book is...

I want to talk about...

And then there's this other thing...

Well, there is ONE thing I want to talk about. This book is set in the 1940s in England (mostly), and it's written in the first-person, which means that the characters should speak as if they were in that time period. And if I am not very much mistaken - which I am not - the convention of speaking forcefully being expressed in ALL CAPS, shouty-internet style, is fairly recent.

I know that complaining about all-caps usage by an author makes me a huge hypocrite. Trust me, I'm aware.

But it bugged me.

Especially because I tend to read sentences in all caps in a very specific type of shouty style - probably due to the book blogging friends I hang out with - which looks very much like this:

"...SO EMBARRASSING..." (p.1)

BUT aside from that, this is a Very Good Book and you should all read it and if I go on much longer I will Give It All Away, which as we've all learned will lead only to singing sad doo-wop tunes in the shower.

The best accolade for this book I can give is this: I think Connie Willis, High Dame of Alternative WWII History, would like it.

9 of 11 Muppet Flails, Aviatrixes!

19 October 2012

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern

Soooooo this book is all about atmosphere. It's beautifully conceived, and the author is clearly super-creative, which I am... not. At all. This is why I majored in art history instead of art. I like the scribblings and paint splashings of other people, but not my own.

Pretty sure this is how Raych's Sister of the Art paints.
Did you ever get into the FIMO/Sculpy clay thing? People were making all of these incredibly elaborate creations, and I was the kid in the back going, "lookit what I made!" and my mom would be all, "oh... that's a nice mud-colored blob, dear. What is it?" And I'd answer, "it's a RAINBOW!"

This is how I feel criticizing highly imaginative work. But someone's got to before Pinterest goes all crazy with The Night Circus-themed weddings, y'know? Oh, wait...

With all of that said, I feel like it was missing... something. Like maybe actual main characters? The Circus itself was uh-mazing, and all the secondaries were wonderfully realized, and the whole thing just oooooozed imagination like... I dunno because I'm not imaginative.

But I didn't dig the love story, ducklings, and I don't know why because I luuuurve a good tragic love story. Except it wasn't tragic and I felt like the lovers didn't really love one another so much as they loved their images of one another, and that always ends in tears.

I am totally That Girl who Side-Eyed this book.

6.5 of 11 flaming cauldrons full of ghosts