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