Sunday, March 27, 2005

Sundial in a Grave:1610 by Mary Gentle

This wasn't a badly written book, it was just a badly edited one. It needs to be 200 pages shorter than it is (660 pages with that many redundancies is a crime) and it also needs someone to delete much of the political talk, ruminations and information, because all that is boring to the reader. Not many people find the intricacies of the 17th century, in terms of politics and who is stabbing whom in the back, all that exciting. We know the outcome, after all, so why bore us with the details? What makes history interesting (and I speak as one with a history degree) is the people involved in it, and what the people do that is different or adventurous. I appreciate that Mary Gentle was obviously trying to write a tale in the came vein as Dumas or Sabatini, with the twist of having a female muskateer, however, she didn't really make her Dariole a likeable person. Dariole is a sadistic, cruel and vicious person who really got tiresome one-third of the way through the book. She was not remotely honorable in her behavior, and showed no compassion, kindness or even decency to the besotted and ridiculous Rochefort, who was a masochist and totally pathetic by that same one-third of the book. How Gentle can, in good conscience, have a main character who is supposedly a duelist and a man of dignity be beaten, bloodied, flayed, imprisoned, beaten again, and totally humiliated over and over again, and still try to have the reader believe he's a good guy, or at least a man of honor and dignity is beyond me. He never won any fights, he was constantly beaten by everyone, including a 15 year old and his own servant, and he constantly whined about being a masochist and wanting to be humiliated by Dariole. After about the fourth time that he blubbers that he is undeserving of anything or anyone because he enjoys being whipped by that horrid child, I wanted to scream "Oh please! Not AGAIN!" Gentle seems to want to torture the reader with such redundancy, instead of keeping the plot moving forward. And I found it hard to believe that someone as honorable as Samurai Tanaka Saburo would want Dariole to kill him. She was so shallow, so deliberately cruel, always angry and ill-behaved that I was actually hoping that Saburo would cut her arm off, just so we wouldn't have to read of her beating up Rochefort yet again and causing him to get an erection. Caterina and Fludd were interesting characters, and I felt that more time could have been spent on Caterinas predictions and less on humiliating Fludd, who was suddenly ill-spoken when confronted by Dariole, as if his brain fled. Speaking as a woman who has been raped, I found the whole idea that Dariole wanted to kill Fludd instead of the man who actually raped her just plain stupid. Trust me, you want to kill the guy who actually hurt you, not the evil mastermind guy who told him to do it, and then walked away because he could have cared less. The guy that did rape her did so because he could, and because he enjoyed it, obviously. She should have made it her business to cut off his "cod" and feed it to him. That she preferred anal sex was, I felt, added purely for the sake of titillation, and certainly didn't make Dariole seem any less ugly or freakish as a person. I was thankful that Gentle wrapped it up in the last two chapters, so at least we know what happened to the characters, but again, things could have moved at a much brisker pace, and the story would have benefited. The title of the book was somewhat misleading. We heard of two sundials in the story, but they were not central to the plot. The cover should have been something more important to the plot of the book, such as Dariole fighting, or portrait of "Sully's Black Dog" or something more reflective of the era than books and a skull. Books were a luxury few could afford back then, and not many people used skulls as paperweights. I am also concerned that Gentle used the "F-word" frequently during the book, for no apparent reason. I do not recall reading, during college, that this was a commonly used word during the 17th century, particularly among those of good family. I sincerely hope that Gentle considers what she is trying to say here, and cleans the book up a bit. It's a 300-400 page novel that took her 660 plus pages to finalize in a satisfying fashion. Someone needs to cut out the deadwood, and turn it into an adventure novel with a snappy plot.
I felt this was a novel that was somehow trying to normalize "sado-masochist" relationships, by saying that this type of thing has been around for so long, and was common enough that we should embrace it, and practitioners of it, as just perfectly normal people, instead of perverts. We should also, of course, realize that anal sex was common and made adventurous women liberated because they couldn't get pregnant that way. Yeah, right.
definitely not my cuppa tea, and I think I will henceforth steer clear of Ms Gentles works.

Monday, March 21, 2005

A Recommendation And Anticpiated Books I Want to Read

I spent a good 2/3 of last night reading a book called "Teany Book" by musician Moby and his ex-girlfriend Kelly Tisdale. Seems the two of them opened a tea house on the lower East Side of New York City called "Teany" not only because the space was small, but also because Moby and his friend consider themselves small persons. I've not had the opportunity to listen to Moby's music, but I did see him on a Sci-Fi Channel commercial in which he played music with the space ship from "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and thought it was pretty funny.
And I dearly love tea. I've been a tea fan since age 2, when my mother, an inveterate tea drinker, sat right down with me and my dolls and stuffed animals and had a 'real' tea party with real tea! I've tried coffee at various times in my life, and other than coffee soy ice cream, I just don't like the stuff, and it doesn't like my colon one iota. But what's wonderful about this book isn't just the information on various teas and herbal tisanes, it's the humor layered throughout the book, the funny cartoons Moby draws and the fabulous, and I mean scrumptious sounding vegan recipes, taken from their menu at Teany. Because I'm not able to eat any eggs or dairy products, the vegan items are perfect, as they eschew any animal products at all. That means I only have to take out the nuts, onions and strawberries that I am allergic to, and I am all set! There are some things, like key lime mini-pies and chocolate tea cakes that I am dying to make. There's a recipe for green tea chocolate pudding that sounds like heaven, too, but then, all the recipes sound wonderful. It's an intimate, warm and funny book, and I highly recommend it.
The Seattle Times has a Pacific Northwest Magazine insert, tab sized, that usually just publishes boring home and garden articles. However, twice a year, they publish lists of books that are coming out, and this years spring book list had some very promising items on it that I feel compelled to record here, lest I forget the titles when I'm next in a bookstore or at a garage sale.The blurb before the listing says these are "101 most anticipated books of spring"and since this is officially the first day of spring, here are the ones I am anticipating, in no particular order.
1) The Mermaid Chair, Sue Monk Kidd
2) Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
3) Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson
4) The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco
5) The Writing on the Wall by Lynne Sharon Schwartz
6) Everything She Thought She Wanted by Elizabeth Buchan
7) The Sign of the Book by John Dunning
8) The Breakdown Lane by Jacquelyn Mitchard
9) Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by JK Rowling
10) Writing With Intent: Essays, Reviews, Personal Prose: 1983-2005 by Margaret Atwood
11) Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
12) The Genius Factory: The Secret History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank by David Plotz. This book delineates the outcome for more than 200 children fathered by "genius" sperm. Fascinating.
I just got a copy of "The Fair Folk" edited by Marvin Kaye in the mail from the Science Fiction Book Club, and I am looking forward to reading it, as some of my favorite authors have stories in it, from Patricia McKillip to Jane Yolen and Tanith Lee. And speaking of Tanith Lee, she has, according to my very well connected friend, Renee Stern, written a sequel to "The Silver Metal Lover" which was one of my very favorite books of the early 1980s. That and "Electric Forest" are both about women dealing with body issues and as I've had to deal with body issues all of my life, these books spoke to me in a very intimate way.
Now I am left wondering if Magda Cled will make another appearance in a sequel to "Electric Forest"?

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Bloggers vs Journalists and what I am reading

"A craft's essential skills
Not everyone who simply gathers information and disseminates it can be called a journalist. The craft requires skill in finding story ideas and facts, cultivating sources, and then presenting news in a way that serves the public interest. It requires specific talents for research, interviews, and distillation of information; sifting rant from reality; and then presenting it with clarity, accuracy, speed, and relevance. In giving access to a reporter, newsmakers must be mindful of those essential skills.
This explosion of blog "news" puts more raw information before consumers, unfiltered by the clergy of the established media, who are losing their captured flock. This Protestant Reformation of news lets consumers more easily pick news sources more widely, but often without knowing who's credible.
Among traditional journalists, the checks and balances of editing generally produce credible news. Many bloggers, however, are directly accountable to no one. They may not always abide by basic rules of journalism. They often have no experienced editor questioning their reasoning and sourcing. Perhaps a new brand of bloggers will emerge who commit themselves to a code of standards, helped along by newsmakers who screen them carefully."
March 18 Christian Science Monitor

The above puts paid to the argument that bloggers are de facto journalists. They aren't. I happen to be a professional journalist, and I know the difference. It irks me that there are so many hobby writers out there doing online journals and assuming that by just typing anything onto a web page, they're suddenly transformed into journalists. It's absurd and ridiculous for them to think so, IMHO. There's a craft to journalism and to writing professionally, and that is something most bloggers don't recognize.
I've been working at the craft of writing for over 22 years, and I still learn and hone my skills each year via books, workshops, etc. Journalism and writing aren't just something you do the moment you pick up a pen or put your fingers on a keyboard. Skill, talent and hard work are required.
I am currently reading "A Sundial in the Grave, 1610" by Mary Gentle, the second ARC I've gotten from Harper Collins First Reader Program. It was rather slow going at first, even knowing the history of the era as I do. Finally, by page 100, things began to get interesting. Now, however, there has been a great deal too much angst and turmoil with the main male character being humiliated and debased by the main female character, and finding that he likes it. So he rambles on and on about how horrible he is and how disgusted she should be, until she admits she enjoys debasing him. A perfect S&M relationship. I find it odd that Gentle should use this particular mileau to express such a relationship, considering that she has her characters using the F word and other expressions that I am fairly certain were not commonly used in 1610 in France and England. But, I am hoping things will eventually even out, and there won't be so many more ridiculous moments of the main female character beating the daylights out of the male character just because she can.
I hope to finish the book before the end of the week.

Monday, March 14, 2005

The Hallowed Hunt is a Grand Read

The Hallowed Hunt is a magnificent fantasy work that truly shines with Bujold's glistening prose and beautifully-paced plot. Lord Ingrey, though dealing with an animal animagus that he didn't want, and with the murder of a prince that no one liked, keeps his wits and his logic about him as he deals with the political and social ramifications of the death of one close to the crown at a time when the current king himself is near death.One thing I have always appreciated about Bujold's characters is that she doesn't allow them to become pitiable, or pathetic, though they usually are in dire circumstances and fate hasn't been kind to them. Her main protagonists always find the intestinal fortitude and courage to fight their way through to a satisfactory conclusion. For example,Ijada has a murder charge hanging over her head, she is orphaned, and she has 'visions' to deal with due to her own animagus, yet even when at her most dire, we never see her become a weeping, wailing damsel in distress. She's strong, sensible and not about to allow others to completely control her fate. I also enjoyed the fact that in this book, as in "Curse of Chalion" and other Bujold fantasies, the "gods" are right to hand--the characters are touched by them, communicate with them and pledge their lives to them in such a way that you see that the gods are living entities that interact with the people who populate this world. And speaking of worlds, Bujold has always been a strong world-builder. You feel as if you have lived in this place and time once you read her works. Hallowed Hunt is no different. I felt as if I knew these people and their time, as if I could smell the forest, feel the lush fabrics of their tunics, see the enormous ice bear as it lunged toward Ingrey and then stopped cold. I also appreciate Bujold's determination not to have her characters who fall in love, or are married, to get all sticky and slobbering about it. They have moments that are intimate, but there are no heaving bosoms and manly tumescence, thank heaven! Her characters in love tend to have witty banter more than overly-moist kisses. Her male and female characters, especially the lead characters, are also invariably smart, which is great because it takes for granted that the reader is no dummy, either. I love an author who doesn't condescend to her readers. My only qualm with the book, and it's a small one, is Fara and Wencel Horseriver. Wencel, though he is obviously pondscum from the outset, is trusted and treated to a great deal more kindness and consideration than he deserves. Fara seems like a bit of an idiot, and yet she is also treated with too much kindness, when her actions should have gotten her a comeuppance that was much more harsh than what she recieved. Horseriver should have had the gods tormenting him further for all his ills, as I feel he didn't answer for all he'd done. But that was a small thing in comparision to the mighty scope of this book. I was left longing for more, for knowledge of the lives of the two main characters and their children,or grandchildren. The history in this book smells somewhat Scottish or Celtic, with some Skandinavian thrown in for good measure. I can only hope that Bujold will return to this world and populate it with more fascinating characters whose stories are delineated in her sterling prose.
Next week (or the following week) I plan on publishing my review of Mary Gentles "A Sundial In A Grave" which is a mystery, and therefore not a genre that I read a great deal of. But, when I do read a mystery, it has to be, as with everything else I read, very well written. The author must know how to tell a good story. So we shall see if Ms. Gentle, coming from the SF world, can create an exciting mystery story that holds the reader's interest.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Harper Collins ARCs and What I'm reading

I just heard from Harper Collins "First Books" program that they are sending me the latest Lois McMaster Bujold book as an advanced reader copy (ARC) for review, as well as Mary Gentles latest, so I am in heaven anticipating those! I have loved Bujolds works since reading "Falling Free" back in the early 80s, and then falling prey to her magnificent Miles Vorkosigan books, which are, to my knowledge, the only science fiction novels with a handicapped hero who gets into and out of trouble on brain power alone. I will post my review of the books that I get here on the Butterfly Books blog, and hopefully, I will find a magazine willing to print my reviews as a freelancer. That would be ideal, as then I'd get paid for them.
I just finished reading Jennifer Weiner's "Little Earthquakes" which was a good book, but not a great one, like "Good in Bed" which was marvelous. There were some distinctly sappy and unrealistic endings in the book, such as Becky wanting to befriend and be kind to the mother-in-law from Hell, Mimi. I would have said good riddance to bad rubbish, as I am sure most women would have, if they'd been abused and treated with such disrespect and contempt by this appalling woman. I have an awful mother-in-law myself, but even she isn't as horrid as Mimi. She only contacts us on holidays, and otherwise, we don't have to deal with her, thankfully.
I am currently reading "Rose" by Martin Cruz Smith, which is a mystery, (I am not normally fond of mysteries unless they have a fascinating sleuth attached, like Sherlock Holmes) but has some great information on the "pit girls" who worked in British coal mines in the 19th century. So far, it's riveting reading, and I do hope the main character, who is an American, and therefore grouchy as hell, (because all Americans are bastards in the eyes of the English, right?) will survive the narrative. Yet I find him interesting in his very honest view of the hipocrisy of the English and the Church of England.
I've been getting the "Common Reader" catalog from the Akadine Press for years now, and have always loved their reviews and their selections of wonderful books from all over the world. I find a number of future reads in the pages of their catalogs, and their March edition is no exception.
I find there's a book called "The Reading Group" by Elizabeth Noble that I'd love to read, and one called "Brewer's Rogues, Villains and Eccentrics" by William Donaldson that sound hilarious and lovely. Then there's "P.G. Wodehouse in His Own Words" which I am certain would be a marvelous read and extremely funny to boot. I would love to have a copy of "Switch on the Night," a childrens book by the master of the short story, and venerable SF author Ray Bradbury. I've been a fan of Ray Bradbury my entire life. His short stories are jewels of perfection, and his famed novels are classics for a reason.
There's a book called "Greenwich" subtitled "The Place Where Days Begin and End" by Charles Jennings that sounds interesting, because it delineates how Greenwich was chosen for the as the point of prime meridian. And finally, "The Prettiest Love Letters in the World" with letters between Lucrezia Borgia and Pietro Bembo (a typeface was named for him) sounds like great reading...I can only imagine what a Borgia would write in a love letter...or if she'd poison the ink she used to write it with! These letters were written in the 16th century, and the week before last I finished reading a book about a Jewish midwife in the 17th century that was amazing.
I'll write more later, but must dash to a garage sale now.