Tuesday, December 25, 2007

What I am trying to read/Christmas Book

I decided at the beginning of December to give Robin Hobb another chance with her Tawny Man books, Fools Errand and Golden Fool (there might be more, but those were the two I found for sale at the library). I must say that it has been rough going, as for the first 200 pages, nothing much happens. All we know is that poor Tom Badgerlock has had it rough, and has become a hermit of sorts to keep himself away from court and the life he lead as an assassin and person of "Wit" or magical talent. He is roused from his topor by an old friend, the Fool, who summons him back to his life at court, and back to help his former master, Chade.
Now that I am on page 235, and Tom, aka FitzChivalry, a royal bastard, has finally come back incognito to court, things are starting to happen---action is taking place, there is a problem to solve and I can finally stop snoozing my way from page to page. I can only hope that Hobb won't stop the action again and leave me bored silly with flashbacks that don't make much sense to someone who hasn't read all her previous books.
The other book I've been trying to read is Thomas Mullens "The Last Town on Earth" which is about the influenza "Spanish Flu" outbreaks during and after WW1 in America. Like most of the "plague" books that have been written in the last 10 years, the author researched his subject to the ground, and feels compelled to include as many gruesome details of the horrors of the times as he can wedge into the narrative. Mullen focuses on a small town near Everett, Washington, at that time a primative, tiny logging town and its inevitably quirky denizens. The town has decided to close its borders to outsiders to protect the citizens against an outbreak. However, like the Mask of the Red Death, starving soldiers carrying the flu try to infiltrate the town for food and lodging, and when the first such luckless bastard is shot, there is the inevitable moral quibbling over whether closing the town and keeping people out was the right thing to do. This book hasn't been nearly as boring as Fools Errand, but it has been full of stereotypical characters and plot lines you can see a mile away. I already know what is going to happen at the end of the book, because the author has chosen a predictable path early on.
Fortunately, I was saved from having to slave away at either of the above today by the inclusion of the wonderful Christmas book my husband purchased for me, Linnea Sinclairs "The Down Home Zombie Blues." I've already earmarked this evening for my total reading pleasure, and I don't care if I don't get any more housework done, or if my son neglects his homework. I am going to read until my eyes blur.
I can't wait! A Merry Christmas and reading joy to you all!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Chill Out, Josey, by Susan May Warren

I wanted to like this book, I really did, though it was supposed to be a romance novel, and I'm not in love with that genre because of the plethora of poorly written books that populate it.
Still, when Chill Out, Josey turned out to be a chick it-Christian romance hybrid, I did not immediately don a Haz-Mat suit and run for the recycle bin. I was willing to give Warren the benefit of the doubt and read through her book, which is the sequel, I gather, to a book about her heroine's first journey to Russia as a missionary. During the first book, we are told, the protagonist falls in love with Chase Anderson, gets married and moves back to the US, hoping to lead a boring, ordinary life.
Josey Berglund Anderson is a Minnesota native who, after a somewhat disaster-ridden wedding, discovers that her husband has found a job in Moscow with WorldMar, a company whose goal is to help poor villagers in Russia build sustainable industries so they'll have consistent employment. Josie, meanwhile, finds out that she is pregnant, but doesn't want to tell her husband because she fears he will not fulfill his dream of producing Russian industries and she will not become the perfect "Proverbs 31" wife.
My main problem with the book is that Josie is a blonde bimbo with all the brain power of a fig newton. She isn't heroic, humble, funny or interesting. She's also stereotypically obsessed with her weight and the weight/dress size of every woman she meets, whom she judges according to their looks. She judges all the men according to their looks as well, unfortunately, and is spiteful and cruel in her nicknames and treatment of them. Apparently, women in Russia under retirement age are all a size 2, dress like sleazy hookers and have roughly the same morals. Shallow and vain Josie reacts with melodramatic fear/jealousy toward all of the women who work with her husband at WorldMar, assuming the worst of them because she perceives them as better looking and thinner than herself, and therefore assumes that her husband has no self control, loyalty or morals at all, and will be bedding one of them at his earliest opportunity. Her days consist of shopping and obsessing about her weight and keeping her secret from her husband. It would seem Josie's mother never explained to her that women do get "fat" when they become pregnant, and that it is perfectly normal to be bigger because you are growing another human being. But poor Josie can't dress like she wants to and is therefore mean to her husband, who is as hapless, spineless and stupid as his wife...but he's blonde and gorgeous, so we're supposed to think him wonderful anyway.
Though she can't cook, Josie comes up with an idea to make peanut butter as a cottage industry for the Russians, and, because she's volunteering at an orphanage, she is also committed to saving her Russian maid's son from adoption by wealthy Americans. Josie's got a rather dim view of wealthy Americans, though she is one of them, with her constant shoe/designer clothing shopping and her adoration of caviar and having a maid to do all her cooking and cleaning for her (and since when is it okay for pregnant women to eat RAW fish eggs? I was told by my ob/gyn when I was pregnant that it was dangerous to eat sushi or any raw fish, eggs or meat because of the likelihood of worms or bacteria infecting the food and then infecting your fetus.) Throughout her bungling attempts to achieve these goals, Josie keeps up the patter about her wonderful self, how noble and fabulous a wife and person that she is, how perfect she is going to make her marriage and her life once she gets back to the US, and how important God and prayer are to her. Yeah, right. Josie wasn't the least bit sincere or mature in her approach to religion, and her nauseating egotism and size/looks prejudices made her seem less Christian wife than snobbish cheerleader. She is ready to throw in the towel on her marriage several times during the book merely because her husband gets home late from his new job and doesn't dote on her every word and movement. Josie is actually thrilled when a friends girlfriend, Daphne, asks to be mentored in "submission" to her boyfriend, so that she, too, might become the 'perfect, noble' Biblical wife. Gag. Josie seems to want to set the cause of feminism and equality back 50 years. She even faints when she goes in for the regulation HIV test before departing for Russia, merely because she makes all sorts of ridiculous assumptions about her husband's past, without any evidence to back them up. She couldn't just ask the man if he slept around, oh no, that would be too normal, too direct and smart. Josie shows little courage or character in anything she does, blaming all her faults and problems on others, and expecting to be bailed out of one bad situation after another by the very people she's jealous of or accusing of adultery (namely her sister and her husband). There's precious little romance in this romance novel, and it doesn't enlighten, entertain or inform much, either, which, in addition to good storytelling and excellent prose, are my criteria for enjoying a book.
I think that the Mormon mothers book group that I belonged to, albeit briefly, would have enjoyed this book, as they were mostly women who believed that submitting to their husbands and having babies were all a woman was meant to accomplish, unless she was doing missionary work, which amounts to foisting off one's religious beliefs on others, while denigrating their beliefs and culture as bad or false.
I just can't think of anyone else who would want to waste their time reading this book, filled with rambling first person prose and shallow, brainless characters.

Monday, November 05, 2007

My Winter Wish List

First of all, I can't resist a quick recommendation for the latest book in Mercedes Lackey's Elemental Mage series, "Reserved for the Cat." Great fun, a fire master as a major protagonist, and a magical, talking cat named Thomas in the midst of it all. Well worth a read, and, as with all of Lackey's books, a tale well told that keeps you up late turning pages.

Now, on to my winter wish list. I've read some of these books, but do not have copies, and some are out of print, alas. God willing, I will run across some of them on Amazon or at a library sale. Or, with any luck, I will get a Barnes and Noble or Amazon gift certificate for my birthday on December 12. One can only hope!

By Linnea Sinclair:
Dream Quest
Destiny's Game
The Down Home Zombie Blues

By Sharon Lee and Steve Miller:
Web of the Trident
Sword of Orion
Calamity's Child
Master Walk

By Diane Ackerman:
The Zookeepers Wife: A War Story
Writing as a Spiritual Quest
Twilight of the Tenderfoot

By Robin McKinley:
The Stone Fey
Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits

By Shana Abe:
The Last Mermaid
Queen of Dragons

By Jim Butcher:
Small Favor

By Jacqueline Carey:
Good Gossip

By Joanne Harris:
The Lollipop Shoes

Fingers crossed that my husband and friends keep an eye out for these titles, too!
There is nothing better, in my opinion, than "bed badgering" on a cold day or evening witha warm throw blanket, a hot mug full of decaf tea, a bit of toast and a stack of good books. MMMMMM. Add a bit of good lighting and you're set for hours of enjoyment.

Monday, October 29, 2007

My Father Had A Daughter

I finished my dollar-store-bought copy of "My Father Had A Daughter" by Grace Tiffany this past Sunday, and I must say I was surprised to discover that I'd spent over half the day immersed in this well written novel. Though I am not fond of the cliche, it really was a 'page turner' that had me stuck in one position reading for so long I developed a crick in my neck.
The subtitle of the book is "Judith Shakespeares Tale" and that gave me all I need to know to snag my copy and start reading. As a former theater major with a deep respect and adoration of all Shakespeare's work, I was compelled to read this fictional account of Will and his brilliant daughter Judith, twin of Hamnet.
Grace Tiffany, whose day job is working as an English Lit professor at Western Michigan University, has taught Shakespeare at Notre Dame, and it shows as she gets the tone and mileau of the 16th century just right, while also creating believable, fascinating characters and a wonderful plot that never lags.
We're treated to glowing descriptions of the Globe Theater, life in Stratford-on-Avon where Will kept his wife, three children and brother, and of London in the time of the evil Oliver Cromwell and King James. Judith is a delicious protagonist, whose need for her fathers attention leads her to pretending to be a boy in his first production of Twelfth Night. We meet the clown Kempe, and other famed actors of the time, and the descriptions of the crowds and the food and the sights/smells/sounds of the times are so vivid, you feel as if you are there.
The only flaw in the novel, and it isn't really a flaw per se, is that I wanted more at the end. I wanted to know how Judith fared in her later years, and why Shakespeare has no known living descendants (at least that is what I was taught in college) if his daughters both gave birth to live children.
Anyway, I suggest those who enjoy excellent storytelling, theater, history and a bit of romance pick up this gem of a book and dive in immediately. I doubt you will be disappointed.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse

"The quality of our thoughts is bordered on all sides by our facility with language."-J. Michael Straczynski, author (b.1954) and creator of Babylon 5, one of the best TV shows to ever grace the small screen.

I thought I'd start this post with a little wisdom from JMS, one of the best SF TV show writers in existence, and a nice guy too. It has nothing to do with the book I'm going to review, however.

That said, I want to share my thoughts on Labyrinth, a book that took me an entire month to finish.
This book is a grail story set in 13th century France and modern=day France, detailing the life of a woman who encounters an ancient labyrinth symbol in a cave on an archeological dig and has dreams about the life of a woman who became part of a secret society bent on harboring the secret to eternal, (or at least extended) life and keeping it only for "good" men who needed more than one lifetime to do Gods work on earth. Inevitably, there are bad people in both time periods who seek the three books that hold the secret, and they do battle with the good folks trying to save the secret.
Mosse has obviously done a great deal of research into the Cathars and the religions of the 13th century, and the holy grail myths, as well as Egyptian hieroglyphs and their meanings. The characters from 1209-1244 are very believable, and their everyday lives delineated in great detail, so much so that the plot begins to crawl about a third of the way through the book, and doesn't pick up again until thefinal third of the novel. While its fascinating to read about how people lived and loved hundreds of years ago, I feel that a little bit goes a long way, and too much detail is dreadfully dull for the average reader. I do not need to know every thought, every whim, every doubt that crosses the main characters minds. While historical research can make a novels landscape rich and realistic, it can also bog the reader down, miring them with things that are cool for history buffs, but not necessary for readers to know in order to get through the story.
Still, I liked the Labyrinth's focus on female characters and I enjoyed learning about the Cathar version of religion that told believers that reincarnation was probable and tolerance for other religions a must. The Catholic Church of the time was just the opposite, of course, sending the Inquisition to burn Cathars (and Jews, of course) as heretics. It's odd that most of the books I've read lately have been very anti-Catholicism, showing, ad nauseum, the various popes evil doings, the death and mayhem caused by church officials, the crusades, the wars, the inquisitions, the murder of innocents and so on. While I think its important that we never forget the evil that can be caused by humans interpreting religion to their own nefarious ends, I also think its important to realize that those circumstances are past, and while we must abhor them and educate people so that these things don't happen again, I don't think that tarring the Catholic church with history's brush is fair. Todays church is not the nest of vipers it once was, and many religions are allowed to flourish without oppression.
The tone and format of this book reminded me of Dan Browns' Da Vinci Code, which is both a good and bad things. It's good because everyone loves uncovering secret societies and learning that there are some new ways to interpret historical artifacts. Whats bad about it is that its been done to death, and its hard to be original when you're writing a book with the same kind of theme as a bestseller, even if you're focusing on women doing the sleuthing instead of men. Mosse manages to be fairly original, if a bit too stereotypical with her female characters, and gets the book to a solid happily ever after conclusion at breakneck speed in the last few chapters.
I'd recommend this book to Francophiles and lovers of Medieval history and grail myths.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Books that Deal with The Other

I've recently read three books that deal with being an outsider, or a person of a specific group, such as Jews, who are placed in an environment where they must deal with prejudice and stereotypes and the usual ignorant, cruel people who can't get past them being different.
The first book was a re-read, because I'd read it several years ago when I was on a Elinor Lipman spree; that dear author was one of my mentors in graduate school, and I like to think I have her to thank for not becoming a novelist. She insisted that I stick to non fictional prose, because she felt my storytelling abilities were best used describing the characters I'd grown up with and come into contact with in my life. I was bidden to read "The Inn At Lake Devine" again by my Tuesday night library book group. I'd forgotten how deliciously funny Lipman can be, how zingy her dialog is, and how zesty her plots. This particular novel is about a young woman who fights, in her own unique style, the anti-semitism of a WASP-y summer vacation hotel owner who sends her family a letter saying that only gentiles are welcome at their resort. Natalie, the main character, finagles her way into staying at the resort, and eventually falls in love with one of the sons of the owner, in an ironic little twist of fate that plays out in a realistic manner. Mrs Berry, the Inn owner and anti-semitic witch, remains resolute in her view of Jews, even when confronted by Natalie and the daughter of a Catskills resort owner. It is only when her son and Natalie almost die of an inadvertant poisoning that Berry realizes that she can't continue to run an Inn with such a prejudicial attitude. A person of the Jewish faith ends up buying her resort, in another twist that will leave the reader smiling.
"Chasing Cezanne" by Peter Mayle, is another tale of a fish out of water, this time a half-Irish half-French photographer living in NewYork who finds himself thrown into the world of fine French art. (And yes, its the same Peter Mayle who wrote the sublime "A Year in Provence") There's enough skulduggery and intrigue in the novel to keep the casual Francophile interested, and enough romance to keep the average woman reading through to the end. What intrigued me was the twisted and intricate way that the art thieves in this novel managed to replace masterpieces with fakes, and get away with it. There was also insight into the world of "Editor Divas" of big name magazines and how ruthlessly they operate. I liked Mayles clean and masculine prose, and also enjoyed his usual adoration of all things French, especially the food, which is incomparable, of course. His food descriptions could make even the most stringent dieter salavate for truffles and cheeses and fresh bagettes. My only qualm with the book was the ending. It was another one of those last chapters that just fades to black with no real resolution. We don't know if the good guys got away and managed to make things right, or if the bad guys ever got what was coming to them, and ended up in jail courtesy of interpol. Other than that, it was an interesting book,and certainly will have me seeking out other works by Mr Mayle.
"Because of Winn-Dixie" by Katie DiCamilla is a wonderful, sunshiney handful of a book that I was assigned for book group and that I found myself reading to my son Nick. It's a delightful tale of a little girl named Opal who moves to Naomi, Florida with her daddy the preacher and finds friends in a stray dog named Winn-Dixie, for the grocery store he nearly destroyed, and a host of other small-town eccentrics, from the little girl who sucks her knuckles to the town "witch" who is really just a blind old lady with a ready spoonful of peanut butter for friendly dogs and little girls. This book is destined to be a classic in the same vein as "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" and "To Kill a Mockingbird." You can't read a book this good without developing a bit of a Southern drawl and a speech pattern that meanders along like a lazy summer afternoon. Though Opal and Winn-Dixie are different and outsiders, they have a mature and open-hearted outlook on the world, and the reader can't help but pull for the two of them. Funny, poignient and sweet, I recommend this book for anyone who says that todays' kids are too cynical and tech-oriented to enjoy a good story. Good tales like this never run out of style, and I hope they never will.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Kajeet phone

This isn't my usual book review or author interview, but I thought I might take a brief break from books to write about this very cool (or as the kids say, kewl) new phone that was created just for kids ages 8-12.
It's called Kajeet, and the phone has a camera, games, text messaging and more on it, plus it's a pay-as-you-go phone, so there are no expensive contracts to enslave the parents and empty their wallets.
My son Nick, who is, he will tell you, 7-and-three-quarters years old, (his birthday is in November) took to the Kajeet like a duck to water. I was worried that he was too young to handle the responsibility of the phone, but other than a first day of school mishap,where he lost the phone on the playground and had to go to the office to pick it up (and the dean of students called me to explain that he's not allowed to take his cell phone out of his backpack while at school unless he gets an emergency phone call from his parents), he's been great about keeping track of his phone, watching that he doesn't use up all his minutes, and being careful when allowing his friends to look at or play with the phone.
Nick and his buddy who lives across the street, Abby, had a 'modeling' session where Abby posed in lots of silly ways and Nick took her pictures with the Kajeet. It was adorable watching them play 'executive' and pretend they were having a discussion with the president about allowing gum at school.
Nick is honing his spelling and language skills by text messaging our 13 year old neighbor, Mari, though he had to be told that there is a time limit to when she can recieve text messages and calls from him. She's a busy gal and has homework to do and friends to giggle with on her own cell.
Nick downloaded some fun ringtones and sounds, so now when his phone rings, the "Transformers" theme comes on, and a deep voice says "Incoming message from Cybertron!"
Several of my neighbors up the street have asked about the Kajeet for their 9 and 10 year olds, and have asked me about the safety of the phone, and I've told them that so far, it seems perfectly safe and easily understandable and programable for kids.
Nick also loves the graphics on the phone, and the fact that he can call his parents if he's hurt or lost. Kids encounter so many more frightening things these days, its comforting to know that he can call on us whenever he needs to.
I highly recommend Kajeet for anyone with a preteen or young teen at home. It has all the features they love, and it has a price that parents love.
Turns out that I was wrong about Andrea Rains Waggener and genre fiction. The publisher decided to put her book in the chick lit category because they felt it would sell better. I got an email from the author setting the record strait:

"And it would be lovely if you'd share my real view on genre fiction, which is that I love it and would happily publish a genre novel if allowed to do so. :) The book I wrote after Alternate Beauty was a "dreaded" cross-genre. It's a combo of sci fi, paranormal, and mystery. My editor at Bantam liked the story and characters but thought it would be too difficult to market and so insisted that I write another chick lit novel. Since I'd never set out to write chick lit and had been categorized into that niche quite without consent, I really struggled to write another book like it, but I did so. Probably because my heart wasn't in it, the book wasn't as good as it should have been, and my editor passed on it and then she stopped returning phone calls etc."

I sincerely wish Ms Waggener the best, and I hope some smart publisher picks up her next novel and puts it in the proper category!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Alternate Beauty by Andrea Rains Waggener

This blog has not delved much into my personal life, and I really prefer it that way, as I wanted to focus on books, authors and my passion for reading.
But this book, Alternate Beauty, attracted my attention because it deals with something that has been a part of my life since I started taking cortisone at age 5 for asthma and allergies--being a larger person. I dislike the terms 'fat' and 'obese' because they are used as epithets by ignorant and cruel people who don't know what its like to have no control over your body size.
Having been a larger person (I once weighed 300 pounds) who lost 100 pounds when I was in my 20s and became "normal" sized, I can honestly say that there is a great deal of truth to the idea that how you feel about yourself on the inside, your mindset and your heart, has a great deal to do with how the world percieves you and how attractive you are to the opposite sex. I was expecting to be propositioned constantly once I was in shape and svelte, but that didn't really happen. I did have more men notice me, and yes, I dated more, but a majority of the guys I dated turned out to be jerks and freaks, certainly not the kind of man I was looking to create a long term relationship with. Most of them were terrible lovers as well, interested only in what I could do for them sexually, and not at all interested in making me feel good or satisfied. The only man who ever bothered to ask me what I want and how I feel is now my husband.
So I could identify with the protagonist of Alternate Beauty, Veronica "Ronnie" Tremayne. (I could even identify, to some extent, with her having a mother who was thin and vain, as my mother never had a weight problem until she turned 65, and even then it was only an extra 20 pounds. My mother isn't cruel and nasty like Ronnie's however.) Ronnie works in a Queen Size Boutique in downtown Seattle (I also worked in a Queen size clothing boutique in downtown Seattle about 11 years ago, briefly) and is told that she's going to lose her job because her 300 pound size is making her customers "uncomfortable." She binge eats to fill the empty hole in her soul, and also as a means of revenge and control. She has a boyfriend who loves her as she is, but he looks like a chipmunk and she is dissatisfied with their sexual relationship, mainly due to her own loathing of her body. Ronnie ends up in a parallel universe by accident, and this universe is one in which fat is revered and desired, while the thin are discriminated against as the overweight are in our world. Ronnie revels, at first, in all the attention and adoration she recieves for being big and beautiful, and she moves in with a photographer who worships her avoirdupois. She soon discovers, though, that she doesn't feel the need to binge eat when she has the approval of her mother and her peers. Once Ronnie starts to lose weight, she experiences the same kind of discrimination that she felt in the 'real' world, being shunned by lovers and friends alike. Her old lover, however, still finds her attractive, no matter how saggy her skin becomes, and she renews her relationship with him. While all this is happening, Ronnie comes to realize that what she needs to do is to learn to love herself as she is, fat or thin, and esteem herself, realize her worth and move forward with her life, with or without her mothers approval. Once she's had that revelation, she ends up back in her own world, where she takes charge of her life and career once again in a classic Happily Ever After ending.
The prose in this novel seems a bit rough in spots, but the heart is there, and Waggener mentions in her bio that she's been there, done that with the whole weight issue, so I could forgive her a few rough spots because the message of the novel came through loud and clear. A vast majority of the prose is just fine, and her plot certainly moves along at a spritely pace. I was rather surprised that this novel was considered general fiction by the publisher when its clearly science fiction/romance, or fantasy/romance, complete with an explanation of different realities existing next to one another. I can only assume that Ms Waggener didn't want to be considered a genre fiction writer, because a number of people somehow assume that genre fiction isn't as good as regular fiction. Snobbish and silly as it is, there are writers who'd rather die than write genre novels, especially science fiction or romance. That attitude is ridiculous and I sincerely hope that Ms Waggener's publisher made the decision to house this fine novel in general fiction, where it got a chick lit cover and hopefully, some good marketing by Bantam. The honesty and emotion of the characters and the empathy I felt for Ronnie made me read through Alernate Beauty in two days. I plan on recommending it to my fellow SF/Romance bibliophiles.
I'd also recommend this book to any woman who has ever struggled with her weight and self image. I'd bet that qualifies most women to read Alternate Beauty, which is well worth the time. Its uplifting message of learning to love yourself as you are is not to be missed.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

RIP Madeleine L'Engle

I grew up reading A Wrinkle in Time (the series) and A Ring of Endless Light moved me to tears the first time I read it.
May Ms L'Engle forever reside in the "great ring of pure and endless light that dazzles the darkness in my heart."
Go with God, Madeleine.

'A Wrinkle in Time' author Madeleine L'Engle dies at 88
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Author Madeleine L'Engle, whose novel A Wrinkle in Time has been enjoyed by generations of schoolchildren and adults since the 1960s, has died, her publicist said Friday. She was 88. L'Engle died Thursday at a nursing home in Litchfield of natural causes, according to Jennifer Doerr, publicity manager for publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux.The Newbery Medal winner wrote more than 60 books, including fantasies, poetry and memoirs, often highlighting spiritual themes and her Christian faith. Although L'Engle was often labeled a children's author, she disliked that classification. In a 1993 Associated Press interview, she said she did not write down to children."In my dreams, I never have an age," she said. "I never write for any age group in mind. When people do, they tend to be tolerant and condescending and they don't write as well as they can write.""When you underestimate your audience, you're cutting yourself off from your best work."A Wrinkle in Time— which L'Engle said was rejected repeatedly before it found a publisher in 1962 — won the American Library Association's 1963 Newbery Medal for best American children's book. Her A Ring of Endless Light was a Newbery Honor Book, or medal runner-up, in 1981. In 2004, President Bush awarded her a National Humanities Medal.Wrinkle tells the story of adolescent Meg Murry, her genius little brother Charles Wallace, and their battle against evil as they search across the universe for their missing father, a scientist.L'Engle followed it up with further adventures of the Murry children, including A Wind in the Door, 1973; A Swiftly Tilting Planet, 1978, which won an American Book Award; and Many Waters, 1986. Copyright 2007 The Associated Press.

Friday, August 31, 2007

This makes me sad

Though I am the first to admit that I think Neil Gaiman is hot, it's more than just his dark good looks that make him attractive. It's his wit and intelligence that make me swoon, as it does with Steve Jobs and Sting and Alan Rickman, all men that I feel are sexy because they're brilliant first, they're good at what they do, and they have charisma and decent looks.
Still, books should be chosen for publication on their merits, not on the physical beauty, or lack thereof, of the author. Is nothing sacred anymore? Is there no part of society that is not subject now to the cult of celebrity and good looks? This article just makes me sad. I am only posting an excerpt, not the whole thing.

Aesthetic genius
Why can’t more writers be smart enough to be beautiful, handsome, or at least cute
By SHARON STEELAugust 29, 2007 5:55:20 PM
When I saw Marisha Pessl in the New York Times Style Section, meticulously posed on an antique chair wearing a pair of buttery leather high heels and a coy smile, I cringed. Pessl was responsible for 2006’s Special Topics in Calamity Physics, a Nabokovian coming-of-age mystery that had become my favorite novel of the year before I had even finished it. Her story follows Blue van Meer, an unlikely heroine who undergoes a series of personal transformations — and one major physical alteration as well: the proverbial ugly duckling turned swan. While I was reading about Blue, I often turned to the book-jacket flap to gape at Pessl’s photo. She stared back at me, an Audrey Hepburn in sweet black-and-white tones, someone who wouldn’t be out of place on the Ford Models women’s board. Pessl was, in fact, also an actress and a model. And she had written Special Topics, a New York Times bestseller, when she was only 25. But were the fuck-me boots in the photo really necessary?Literature, unlike so many other media industries, is technically a meritocracy. But that won’t stop book marketers, bloggers, critics, and the literary community at large from collectively slobbering over a pretty author. No, the literary rules changed ages ago. Books no longer need to be serious in order to be published; there are fewer and fewer venues available for reviews (rendering competition more intense with every passing catalogue season), and critics aren’t doing their job unless they are merciless. Perhaps as a response to all of this, publishers have begun to count on their authors to do double-duty — to act as sex symbols as well.The definition of beauty worship is still evolving, but if you thought phrases such as chick-lit or post-apocalyptic were annoying, wait until bloggers and reviewers start pegging authors as everything from “Lit Boys” (WASP-y Ivy League graduates with floppy hair who’ve written yet another coming-of-age book) to “literary wunderkinds” (they’re changing the state of fiction as we know it, right here, right now, grab your inhalers!) to “literary ingénues” (so endearingly innocent they’ll wrap you and your $24.95 hardcover book budget around their soft little finger). Armed with such superlatives, many of these writers go on to be inducted, from the first flush of their careers, into the postmodern canon of Hot Young Authors. Every published writer is bound to receive a varying amount of raves and pans, sure, but this group is special: each has been held to scrutiny not simply because of the hype their books have received, but because it has been suggested that their youth and appearance have given them an advantage that a less striking yet more gifted writer would never achieve.Agents of do-me feminism, such as Naomi Wolf, Candace Bushnell, and Jane magazine, said it was okay to be girly, confident, and in full possession of one’s womanly wiles. And the publishing industry has made a point to effusively court good-looking male authors ever since Hemingway appeared on the scene. But in the post-do-me feminist, post–Harry Potter publishing climate, nobody can predict what the Next Big Thing will be. So it makes sense, if you can’t force a phenomenon, to attract readers to books the same way you’d attract them to another human being. Instead of confining sex to the text, publishers have been quietly whoring out their authors in the best way they know how.“It’s incredibly difficult to get anyone to read, i.e. buy a book, in our joyously semi-literate age,” says Steve Almond, an Arlington-based writer and the author of short story collections My Life in Heavy Metal, The Evil B.B. Chow, and the memoir Candyfreak.“It’s easy to blame the folks in publishing for being so superficial and cynical,” says Almond. “But the fact is, it’s the culture at large that enforces these values.”Writing and publishing are businesses. Literature still has to sell. And when you’re working on a book that is in competition with the other 170,000 tomes published each year, clawing for Amazon.com rankings, review coverage, and the hilariously impossible lottery of Oprah’s Book Club, things can get ugly. Which is why it helps if the author you’re marketing is, well, pretty.
TOO PRETTY: Marisha Pessl is one of a growing group of young authors celebrated as much for their looks as their talent.Looking goodThe publishing industry is a lot like Hollywood: cruel, unpredictable, and rife with disillusionment. That doesn’t stop thousands of hopefuls from wanting to carve out their own stake in it. Youth and aesthetics have always been a major marketing currency — that’s why coming-of-age novels will be reinvented with every new generation. Nearly all of the books by the Hot Young Authors are of this variety. Everyone needs to write the book only they can write about what it’s like to be a postmodern adolescent in a postmodern world dealing with the sorts of postmodern problems that, inevitably, sound poetic instead of horrifyingly awkward.“It’s easier in life to be attractive. That’s reductive but true,” says HarperCollins editor Gail Winston. “On the other hand, a brilliant book by an author who is not young and not attractive isn’t going to fail. It’s just, I think that those other books — for those reasons, those authors maybe get a little bit of an advantage.
"The combination of fair-to-middling — or even strong but underdeveloped — talent with attractiveness and youth seems to be eternal catnip to publishers, if not reading audiences, and I think that’s a shame,” says Emily Gould, Gawker’s co-editor and a former associate editor at Hyperion. Gould, who has co-written a young-adult novel titled Hex Education, looks like Harry Potter’s Emma Watson might 10 years from now. She composes many of Gawker’s posts on the current stable of Hot Young Authors, commenting on recent mainstream media frenzies regarding literary merit versus a writer’s physical appearance. “What I am deeply, passionately opposed to,” Gould says, “is all the ridiculous praise that’s heaped on just-okay books because of the looks and pedigree and other accomplishments of their authors.”

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

My July Reads

I've had quite a tumultuous month going through books on my TBR stack and books for my book group at the library.
Here's what I read, or attempted to read in July:

Mercy by Jodi Picoult
The Sharing Knife/ Legacy by Lois McMaster Bujold
The Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Kushiel's Justice by Jacqueline Carey
The Inhabited World by David Long

I'll start at the top and work my way down. I've never read any other books by popular fiction author Jodi Picoult, and now I know why. Her characters are pathetic, dishonorable or stupid, her plots obvious and her prose riddled with cliches and stereotypes. I was so disgusted with the nonsense of Mercy that I only made it to page 77 before I just had to take it back to the library. I couldn't go on reading such tripe. The story is about a mercy killing, and the sheriff of a small Massachusetts town who is also the clan chief of a group of people with Scottish heritage who founded the town. Poor sheriff, who is chaffing under the leash of what he's supposed to do (he dreams of tahitian beaches, but for some reason can't take a vacation and actually go to some sunny place, I guess clan chiefs aren't allowed the freedom to take time off) suddenly and inexplicably falls in lust with a homeless woman who shows up at the sheriffs wifes flower shop out of nowhere and manages to get a job instantly. This drifter woman then weasels her way into the sheriffs home (she doesn't have anywhere else to stay) and proceeds to snoop into the wifes things and have a little tete-a-tete with her husband who catches the drifter sifting through his wifes stuff, and doesn't seem to care (rather odd for a lawman to not care about theft) he's just intent on getting into the drifters pants. Suddenly, he has no morals and is willing to commit adultery, just because this woman has eyes that remind him of a tropical ocean. Puuulllease! That just strains my credulity, that someone who supposedly loves his wife is willing to cheat on her so quickly. What a jerk. And his wife, meanwhile, is a real idiot, taking in the drifter, and worshipping her husband, never suspecting what a snake he is, as she goes about in a dreamy state of adoration in which she waits on the man like a slave. Feh. Nauseating.
I couldn't wait to get into Lois McMaster Bujolds second book in the Sharing Knife series, Legacy, thinking it would be full of her usual excitement and adventure and witty dialog. Alas, for some reason, Legacy is the only book I've ever read of Bujolds that bored me to tears. I was shocked that she had so many chapters of nothing but prejudice and complaint, whining and ugliness, with no real movement in the plot at all. The main character, Dag, has taken a farmer wife 30 years his junior, and she, of course, is all innocence and adulation, while Dag is a grizzled veteran of the malice wars who has a hook for one hand and a 'magical' energy stream for the other that works sometimes and sometimes doesn't. We are supposed to just accept that, with little explanation. Oh, and Dags child bride is called, wait for it, FAWN. Yes, like a baby deer. Pardon me while I try not to hurl and snigger. Bujold has written such smart works previously, I find it hard to believe she's fallen this far, with such a ridiculous situation, stereotypical characters and leaden plot. What happened to her strong female leads? Miles Vorkosigan's mother Cordelia springs to mind. She wouldn't be caught dead being breathless and childish and stupidly following around a man twice her age, nervously waiting for his approval on her every movement! Ugh! Bujold prose usually sparkles with wit and verve, yet Legacy shows not a scintilla of wit...nothing from her usual repartee or her normally fascinating characters. I was so dissappointed I wanted to cry.
Fortunately, just as I was giving up on Bujold, the final book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, came out and my husband bought me a copy at the grocery store while on a beer run. (No, not for me, I can't stand beer). Though I thought it could have used a good, brisk edit or three (the time spent on the lam in the woods seemed to go on forever!), I was gratified to learn that Harry didn't die to rid the world of Voldemort, and actually lived on, producing 3 children with the "pampered princess" Ginny Weasley. Personally, I was hoping he'd marry someone more of his calibre, like Cho Chang, but it seems Rowling wanted him to have some kind of 'traditional' stay at home wife who never realizes her potential and just lives for her husband the hero. (What is it with all these wimpy women in fiction lately? Some kind of hideous feminist backlash?) I was also sorry that Snape died, because I think he might have been a friend to Harry, in the end. I was also dissapointed that the Malfoys weren't killed off, as the only member of that family with any backbone was the mother. Draco and Lucius were proven to be craven, sniveling cowards, in addition to being Nazis. But, it was interesting of Rowling to round out Dumbledore and his brother as characters, and show us how human they really were, warts and all. It was also good to see that Hagrid and the others fared well, though I was shocked that Harry wasn't more upset at the death of Tonks and Lupin, or of Fred Weasley. Thank heaven for Molly Weasley, though, and thank god we got to see her in a strong role, protecting her young like the lioness that we all knew she has been all along! I found the afterword to be a bit anemic, but at least we got to see how everyone fared. So it was a decent ending, not perfect, but decent. Thanks JK, for your imaginative world of Hogwarts and Harry Potter, long may he wave his wand!
Water for Elephants has gotten a lot of good ink from local and national newspapers and magazines. My neighbor Janine read the advanced copy I brought home from the Book Expo and pronounced it well worth the time, so I scooped it up last week and decided to give it a chance. Ironically, last week we were on vacation in Oregon, and stopped by my grandmothers nursing home in Canby. She will be 99 in October this year, and is still as cantankerous as ever. My 7 year old son just adores her, and we stopped by a store to bring her a bag of the special bite size prunes she likes. Grandma hates living in this very nice, clean nursing home, though, because she wanted her children to wait on her and take care of her for the rest of her life. That just wasn't going to work, because my grandmother has to have care 24/7, and my mother has an 89 year old husband whom she has to care for and Crohns disease that she has to deal with.
At any rate, the protagonist of Water for Elephants is a man who worked as a veterinarian for the circus during the depression, but now, at age 93, is in a nursing home and railing against the too soft food and the ravages of time on his mind and his body. He's also saddened by the lack of attention from his children, but when they do visit, or his grandchildren visit, he doesn't remember who they are, so I don't see why he's so sour about it. He recounts his time with the circus in vivid detail, including the incredible cruelty to the circus animals. The humans were also treated poorly, it seems, but Jakob seems to find that somewhat more tolerable than the cruelty to the beasts, especially the elephant Rosie, whom he learns only responds to commands in Polish. The bad guys in this novel come to a gruesome end, while the protagonist manages to marry his circus sweetheart and have a nice family. He even manages to escape back to the circus in an ending that is just a bit too convenient and easy for my tastes, but its happy, so that's all that is really important, right?
The latest book in the Kushiels series, Kushiels Justice, was just as juicy and riveting as the first book in the series, though we saw very little of our favorite courtesan, Phaedra, in this book. Imriel takes center stage, and we watch him mature and grow as a human and a man throughout the novel. There is a succulence to Carey's prose that leaves the reader satisfied both emotionally and intellectually. Her plots rarely flag, her characters are honorable, smart and often flawed but fascinating. I can hardly wait for the next novel in the series, as I have a feeling the main characters are going to flush Melisande Shaharizahi out of the bushes and into the court of Terre D'Ange. I only hope that Imriel and Sidonnie can marry before then.
Finally, though its a NYT notable book and is being read by all the KCLS book groups, I found The Inhabited World to be rather boring and depressing. It is all about the ghost of a man who committed suicide hovering around the denizens of the house he used to live in, and reflecting on his own life and why he married the same woman twice and lost her both times. The man character, Evan, is a pathetic creature, a real nutball who would have driven me crazy long before he drove away his wife. He has an affair for no other reason than because he can, and he lusts after this slutty woman in his office, and then he claims that he still loves his wife, though he treats her like crap both times he married her. His father, a strong man who works as a blacksmith, sounded like more of an interesting person than Evan, who just couldn't seem to cope with life or people or reality. He even says he commited suicide not for any noble reasons, but because he failed to live, failed to not have a good reason not to do it. How stupid, and apathetic. Nancy Pearl claims that there are moments of transcendant joy in the book, but I failed to see those. It was just one depressing scene after another. The woman whom Evan tries to convince to leave town because she's apparently incapable of saying no to this jerk she's having an affair with, does leave town and gets rid of the house, but we're not sure whether that is due to Evans influence or whether this woman actually grows a spine and decides to move on with her life. I certainly hope its the latter. Meanwhile, I have to say that all the affairs I've been reading about in these books shock and sicken me, mainly because they are made to seem normal and commonplace. As if there is no moral problem with committing adultery, no spiritual degradation. Shame on authors for portraying such a terrible thing in such a positive way.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

My Latest Review

My latest review for Big Ol face Full of Monster is up and running, at this url:
It's a review of "The Midnight Hour" a paranormal romance by Patti O'Shea, who has a rather amusing pen name.
Meanwhile, I am indulging in another one of Jacqueline Carey's lush Kushiels books, her latest, Kushiels Justice. I'm also reading Mercy by Jodi Picoult and the second book of the knife series by Lois McMaster Bujold, called Legacy.
My TBR stack never seems to shrink of late, though I keep trying to work at it, a few books at a time.
I will be back to write reviews later in the month.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Fragile Things/City of Beasts

What a joy it is to read a Neil Gaiman book. He's so inventive, brilliant and witty, and his prose is impeccable. But it's the characters in any given Gaiman book that stay with you, and make you think, laugh, cry or ponder. Like any art that is real and of the best quality, a book by Gaiman will have you reflecting on the people you've read about and their story's impact on your life for years to come.
I have been a fan of Gaiman's since I first read his Sandman series back in the late 80s early 90s. Full disclosure, I am NOT a graphic novel/comic book fan, and never have been. But a friend of mine at Wilsons Book Store in St Petersburg, Florida, told me that I should pick up a graphic novel by Neil Gaiman, because he was doing something different--taking myths and legends and folktales, and crafting literary graphic novels that were intellectual and fascinating, especially to those who like classic literature, like myself.
I took his advice and got hooked on his "Death" series, because Death was portrayed as a spunky goth chick, and Dream, her brother, was a Rick O'Casic-looking poet who had a wry turn of phrase and a genius for getting his family members out of trouble and helping hapless humans at the same time. The literary references were fun to spot, and the storylines riveting.
I read Coraline and Stardust and Neverwhere, and felt as if I'd fallen into a dream-state with each one. Then I got ahold of American Gods, and I knew that though I was not at all fond of several of the main characters, that this world Gaiman had created was unlike any other, and his character Shadow a modern day titan I could sympathize with, instead of envy. Gaiman placed some of the events of American Gods at the House on the Rock in Wisconsin, and, having visited there myself, I'd have to say that it is such a bizarre and fascinating house/museum, that it is perfectly suited to be a meeting place for unemployed gods. Around the time I first began reading the Death series, I found a book called "The Faces of Fantasy" and lo and behold, Neil Gaiman graced the cover of the book. He really has no right to be that handsome and talented at the same time....it is just not fair. Something about the gleam of mischief in his eyes made me go all wobbly at the knees back then, and I realized, as I read "Fragile Things" one of his short story collections, that I have had a raging crush on the man for years. How can any sane woman not get all steamed up over a tall, dark and handsome man who also writes tender poetry and soulful ballads disguised as short stories? He's got a killer wit and a marvelous sense of humor, too, which places him firmly in my pantheon of "Men I'd Love to Lick." That's him there, standing next to Steve Jobs (brains, charisma and impeccable taste), Sting (brains, beauty and tons of talent), Alan Rickman (brains, oozing sex appeal and even more talent) and all the hottie guys on StarGate Atlantis, particularly Mr Momoa.
At any rate, I highly recommend "Fragile Things" because each story delights or frightens or comforts the reader in a different way.
I can't say the same for Isabelle Alende's "The City of Beasts." Meant as a Young Adult title, the novel takes place in the steamy Amazon jungle, and the protagonist is an American teenage boy who starts the novel as a spoiled and sullen youth, but ends it as a new man, full of values and standards that he gleaned from the natives of the jungle. Sound cliche'd? It is. The whole dang novel is just one cliche after another, and the author makes an even larger mistake in talking down to the reader, as if anything but black and white characters who have the obvious good or evil motivations would somehow be too much to fathom for teens. If I had read this book in my teens, I'd have been furious. It has the standard "all whites are stupid and imperialistic" and "all adult whites are greedy, evil, mean, stupid or all of the above" with the expected flip side that all the natives/Indians are mysterious, wise, magical and good. The prose is flooded with overly obvious observations, and the last half of the book is so predictable I could have put it down after page 150 and still explained to you exactly what was going to happen to the main character. Allende shouldn't try to get into the head of an American boy, as she ascribes feelings and motivations to him that just don't wash. Though I can appreciate the fact that mankind is clear-cutting the jungle and mining/ruining its land at an alarming rate, I don't think that equates to the natives there automatically being the noble savages who have cures for every disease that they won't share with all those greedy white people. I know there are people and organizations who are trying to save the Amazon, and who are working to save the environment as well. Not everyone in the industrialized world is an evil robber baron in search of gold or the fountain of youth. All these issues are more complex than the way they are presented in this book, and youths deserve to have a full spectrum of characters and themes to think about, instead of having the black and white hat argument presented to them on a silver platter. I would give this novel a pass and try for something more realistic and honestly written.
Happy 4th of July!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Three Recent Reads

I’ve just finished three very diverse novels.
The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova was an enormous volume (642 pages) that I’d hesitated to tackle previously for fear it was going to be too full of historical trivia, and therefore boring, or too fascinating, at which point I’d end up dropping everything else in my life and staying up all hours of the night to finish it.
It was, unfortunately, more of the latter than the former. I spent a great deal of time juggling my schedule so I could steal moments to read and reflect on the large and amazing plot of this novel. The story involves a young woman who discovers that her father is in possession of a book stamped with a large dragon woodcut symbolizing the reign of Vlad Tepes, also know as Dracula. She finds that her fathers mentor at his college has also received a book, and that both her father and her mother went searching for Dracula’s tomb, based on evidence they find in folklore, oral history, and ancient texts. Her fathers mentor disappears, supposedly spirited away by Dracula himself. The father follows, and so does the daughter, on a historical quest to find the truth about Vlad the Impaler. I found the authors blending of history and myth, legend, fable, ancient folk songs and monastic letters to be riveting reading. The plot did slow a bit on occaision, but it sped up again immediately, and drew itself to a dramatic and satisfying conclusion. The book is a slow starter for those not interested in historical figures or vampiric legend. But I found it well worth the slightly slow beginning to get to the meat of the story, which had adventure, intrigue and a variety of fully-realized characters. I heartily recommend this book to all those interested in the bloody history of vampires.

The next novel I latched onto with all due fervor was the latest Sookie Stackhouse paranormal mystery/romance by Charlaine Harris, called All Together Dead. I’ve read every Stackhouse novel Harris has written, and though I can’t say I’m at all happy with our demi-fae heroine getting the crap kicked out of her in every book, I still love her spunk and her no-nonsense approach to all the supernatural creatures around her. Sookie reminds me a great deal of Harry Dresden in female form. She’s always there to drag others out of trouble, and she really cares about the fate of the world, or her world in Bon Temps, Louisiana, and those who inhabit it. She is always willing to put her life on the line to save others, just like Harry, and she’s always getting used (her telepathic powers are, anyway) by vampires or others for their own purposes and desires, without thought to the fallout for herself. This particular book involves a summit meeting of vampires for the purposes of putting the Queen Vampire of Louisiana on trial for the death of her contract husband, the King of the Arkansas vampires. Sookie is paid to be the Queen’s telepath at the summit, and she ends up, as usual, in the middle of a bloodbath of monumental proportions. She also has to deal with her feeling for her ex-boyfriends Bill and Eric, and her current feelings for Quinn, her were-tiger lover. Barry the “only other” telepath in Harris’ novels is back, as is Amelia the witch and Pam the vampire, Eric’s second in command. We find out how and why Pam was turned or made into a vampire by Eric, and something of what her life was like hundreds of years ago before she was turned. We attend Sookie's worthless brother's wedding to a shapeshifter, which was expected, but there are hints that the marriage will be a troubled one. We also encounter, once again, the fanatic nutball Fellowship of the Sun, who take religion to new heights of horror by attempting to wipe out as many vampires as possible with their terrorist acts. It is these sidekicks and second string characters that make Harris’s Stackhouse novels such a rich and satisfying read. Though we know Sookie’s honesty and her forthright nature, in addition to her mind-reading abilities will always get her into scrapes or serious trouble, we also know, as readers, that she has allies, and that she will inevitably triumph, though in this novel she pays an unnecessarily high price in being bonded to Eric through being forced to drink his blood for the third time. Those of us who love Sookie will be desperately awaiting the next novel to see if she is too much changed by this, or if she remains her old spunky self.

The final book I finished was one chosen by my Tuesday night book group at the library, called Ride a Painted Pony by Kathleen Eagle. It was supposed to be a romance novel, but I found it to be more modern fiction novel than romance. The story is about a young woman who, after having a baby with a mobster, discovers that said mobster finds her expendable as a jockey for his horses, but refuses to give up their child because he likes to “collect” people and flashy things. Lauren, the young woman, is taken for the inevitable ride by the mobsters henchman, who is supposed to kill her but, also inevitably, just beats her up a bit and leaves her unconscious by the highway, (she’s too cute to kill! He even calls her little girl, gag). Enter Lakota Sioux Nick Red Shield, a horse rancher and a decent sort of guy, for the most part, who nearly runs our protagonist over in the rain, and ends up rescuing her from the road, and taking her with him to pick up and deliver horses. Lauren gives Nick a false name (“Joey”) and refuses to tell him who beat the daylights out of her, though she lies glibly enough when a cop stops them on the road and asks her if she needs help. What I found hard to believe about the first third of this story was Nick’s reaction to this battered, bruised and black-eyed woman who is, of course, the clichéd petite blonde who weighs 80 pounds soaking wet and is all of 5 feet tall. He becomes sexually aroused at the sight of her, though she’s obviously wet and beat up and hardly sexy looking. This makes him seem like some kind of dog who can’t control his penis around members of the opposite sex, no matter what state they are in. Lauren/Joey also comes off as the typical damsel in distress who is so weak and wimpy that Nick has to bathe and take care of her like she’s a child. Eck. So much for women’s liberation or feminism. She falls in love with Nick almost immediately, and makes several sexual advances toward him that are eventually returned, but she has to seduce him, after all the descriptions of him getting so hot and bothered around her, and I found that hard to believe as well. Of course, because she’s a clichéd petite blonde heroine, she’s irresistible to men in general, and she eventually wins over the mobsters henchman (like that would ever happen!) and manages to get Nick and the henchman to work together to get her baby back for her, after her inevitable failure at trying to do it herself (she’s pathetic and weak, of course, and shoots the wrong guy in the shoulder, but that is to be expected of a woman, right? Ugh!) The Happily Ever After is in place by the end of the book, and everything happens exactly as you’d expect it to, with the heroine birthing another baby to round out the perfect family. Oh joy. Oh boring, predictable ending and plot. The lengthy dialog in the book wasn’t bad, for the most part, but the internal dialog of the characters was often laughable. The plot was even and regular, paced well and the prose was average, when it wasn’t riddled with clichés. Ms. Eagle has apparently written many romances, including the dreadful Harlequins, and she’s married to a Lakota Sioux, so she has some experience with the type of man she’s writing about. Still, she didn’t redeem the romance genre for me at all with this wimpy “rescue me, big Indian” heroine. I find it astonishing that women would rather read this tripe than good Science Fiction or Fantasy with a little romance thrown in, which is far more imaginative and intellectually stimulating, not to mention entertaining, than all the petite blondes breathlessly awaiting rescue in soppy romance novels. If this sort of simpering heroine doesn’t make you gag, then I’d recommend you read this novel and enjoy. If, however, you remember that feminism is still alive and well and a viable idea, I’d recommend you give this one a pass and open up something by Linnea Sinclair or Melissa Scott, or Mercedes Lackey, or Marian Zimmer Bradley, or Steve Miller and Sharon Lee, etc. There are plenty of female heroines in SF and Fantasy who have grit and spine and aren't tiny little blondes!

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Take was this years "Shadow of the Wind" for me as a reader. I was fortunate enough to run across the book while shopping at my sons Scholastic book fair at Lake Wilderness Elementary School, and I have to say I was shocked at how small the adult reading section was this year. Last year I had my choice of several interesting books, both paperback and hardback, and this year there was just a couple of stacks of adult books pushed into a far and shadowy corner where you had to stumble across them to even see them. The Thirteenth Tale caught my eye because its cover is a handsome painting of a stack of old leather bound books with ribbon bookmarks hanging from the middle of the book. Though I'd never heard of the author, once I got to the counter to purchase the book, the volunteer clerk said "Oh, I've heard this one's really good."
Turns out she was right, it was a good book, though with lingering traces of bitterness and vitriol that seems to be inherent in British literature.
The story is about a young woman who runs a rare and antique bookstore with her father in a sleepy part of England. She tends to read, research and write about authors long dead, and she has a fixation on twins because she was born a twin, but her sister died at birth, after they were separated. Her parents never told her about this, (it seems to have driven her mother mad), though she discovers it on her own. She receives a letter one day from a famous best selling author of popular fiction, asking her to write the authors real biography. This particular author has been lying to reporters and fans for years about her background, because she's certain that people do not really savor the truth, and would rather have a tidy and happy fiction provided for their entertainment.
Our heroine agrees to write the biography, though she's never given a clear answer as to why she was chosen to write the book, and she moves into the authors mansion. It is then that we are treated to an old fashioned classic tale of eccentric and horrific people who become parents, yet who do not parent their children, thus ensuring that their offspring become bizarre and eccentric people who make bad decisions, like themselves. The prose in this book reads like a cross between Austin and Dickens with a bit of Thackery thrown in for good measure. The reader isn't spared any of the horror or the madness of the authors background, and we begin to see early on why the author hasn't shared this tale with anyone before; it's almost too strange, frightening and awful to be believed. The bookworm finds herself falling into the story and asking questions about her own past through the impetus of all the secrets that are revealed by the author, and she even manages to find the identity of a foundling and introduce him to his family with her sharp and deductive reasoning abilities. I found myself wanting more romance in the book, more happiness and less despair and degradation, but I am one of those people who find happy endings more entertaining than tragic ones. Still, despite the hard truths and death that attends this novel, it is well worth the time it takes to make the journey through the Thirteen Tale with Ms Setterfield. I highly recommend it, but only for those who love classic storytelling with a bite of bitterness.
Currently I'm reading a book sent to me by Penguin imprint Hudson Street Press called "Twinkie, Deconstructed" which looks to be similar to another non fiction favorite of mine, "Glass, Paper, Beans" by Leah Hager Cohen. Both are works about finding out what goes into the making of everyday objects or food. In the case of Cohen's book, its a behind the scenes look at what goes into making newsprint paper, a glass cup and the coffee that resides inside the cup. Twinkie is about what those indeciperable ingredients like Polysorbate 60 really are, and where they come from to make the delicious sponge cake known as a Twinkie. It should prove to be a fascinating read. I will review it here when I am done. I hope to get to some other summer reads in the meantime.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Review of a book I want to read!

I wish I had written this review, which is witty and wonderful.
From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com
Reviewed by Ron Charles
Contrary to what you may have heard, the life of a book reviewer is not unending adventure. It's lots of speed-reading and sitting around in your bathrobe, trying to finish the next review while scouring the cupboard for more chocolate chips and wondering if that mole on your shoulder is looking weirder. Oh sure, "There is no frigate like a book/ To take us lands away," but give me a frigate break; sometimes you wouldn't mind a few thrills.Which may be why I'm such a sucker for this relatively new genre of books that are literally literary thrillers -- stories in which some pudgy book guy is propelled into a vortex of romance, crime and intrigue. If you love books -- their physical presence, the craft of making them, the art of collecting them -- then you already may well have enjoyed Ross King's Ex Libris, Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind and a dozen others. Now make room on the shelf for a new guilty pleasure from Michael Gruber called The Book of Air and Shadows. It's smart enough to let you think you're still superior to that cousin who raves about The Da Vinci Code, but it's packed with enough excitement to keep your inner bibliophile as happy as a folio in vellum.Gruber's story revolves around the search for the most sought-after document in the world: a new play by William Shakespeare. In his own handwriting. To get an idea of how precious such a treasure would be, consider that for 400 years the entire Shakespeare industry has managed to find only six tiny samples of the playwright's handwriting: signatures (all misspelled) on a few legal documents. What would a Shakespeare scholar do to find an entire play in the Bard's hand? Whom would a criminal mastermind kill to steal it?
Enter The Book of Air and Shadows, stage right. The story begins with a fire at a rare bookshop on Madison Avenue. The next day, while trying to salvage some of the merchandise, Carolyn Rolly (gorgeous, mysterious) and Albert Crosetti (lives with mom) discover some pages hidden in the binding of an old book. After struggling for hours with the difficult handwriting and archaic spelling, Crosetti determines that he's reading a letter written by a 17th-century soldier on his deathbed.Excerpts of this letter appear throughout the novel in alternating chapters, and it's not easy going: "Now my father seeyng this taxed us sayyng what shal you not only be idle thyselfe but also tayke my clerke into idlenesse with thee?" You'll be tempted to skip these rough patches, but don't. First of all, they get easier as you get used to them, and second, they're a chance to experience the mingled tedium and thrill of discovery. The letter describes a spectacularly exciting life, which culminated in an assignment to spy on a popular playwright and suspected Roman Catholic, Shakespeare.
Meanwhile, another thread of the novel takes up the story of Jake Mishkin, an intellectual-property lawyer who's holed up in a cabin in the Adirondacks. While waiting for some Russian gangsters who will surely kill him, he's typing out the story of how he got in this mess. "Although there is a kind of lawyer who can reasonably expect a certain level of physical danger as part of the employment picture," he writes in his witty, rambling narrative, "I am not that kind of lawyer." Once an Olympic weightlifter, he's long since settled down to shuffling paper, cheating on his wife and leading a generally dull and morally vacuous life. But several months earlier, a frightened English professor came to his office. He wanted advice about how to secure the rights to a 17th-century letter that may point to the location of an unknown manuscript by Shakespeare. Jake promised to advise him and took possession of the letter, but soon after that meeting, the professor was found tortured to death, and Jake found his exquisitely ordered and pampered existence thrown into deadly disarray.What follows is a wild story of double-crossings, forgeries, kidnappings and murders that's engrossing even when it's ridiculous. (At one point, the code secret is tattooed on a beautiful woman's thigh -- so handy.) We've got Russian mobsters, Jewish gangsters, Nazi thieves, international models and currency traders, oh my. And all of this madcap adventure in the present is mirrored in a story we gradually decipher from that 17th-century letter, describing a nefarious plot by radical Puritans to entrap "the secret papist Shaxpure." While twisting the plot into great knots of complexity, Gruber mixes in fascinating details about rare manuscripts, intellectual property, and ancient and modern cryptography.Sadly, the women in this novel don't come off much better than they do in the average James Bond movie, but Jake is a truly engaging narrator, who's forced by this crisis to face up to a lifetime of moral weakness. And young Crosetti, who works in the rare bookstore only to put himself through film school, constantly reminds us -- even in the most dire circumstances -- that movies determine "our sense of how to behave. . . . Movies shape everyone's reality." That's a pop echo of Harold Bloom's Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (1998), which argued that the Bard's plays literally created modern consciousness, assembling a vast index of human personalities and experiences in which we continue to find ourselves. Gruber never reaches for Bloom's gravitas (thank God), but, as Bottom would say, it's "a very good piece of work, I assure you."
Copyright 2007, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Dream Thief by Shana Abe & Burning Bright

Shana Abe scores again with this sequel to last years "The Smoke Thief" which was an elegant tale of Dragon-human hybrids living in Victorian England.
This book continues the tale of the Drakon, but from the POV of the street-wise cutpurse and thief Zane, who was saved from death by the current ingenue's mother in the first novel. Amalia Langford is the fourth child of the clan, and hasn't shown any of the Gifts of her siblings, with the exception of her mothers talent for willful flouting of the Drakon rules. She hears the "singing" of jewels, in particular, the Dramur, a blue diamond that has the power to rule the Drakon, turning them into mindless slaves. There's a grim legend with the stone, of course, and poor "Lia" as Amalia is called, dreams every night of a future in which Zane marries her, finds the stone and kills her entire family.
After taking this dream to Zane as a teenager, he reacts like a jerk and doesn't believe her, but after she reaches adulthood, Lia comes to him with an offer to accompany her on the quest for Dramur and he accepts.
What follows is a typical quest myth, fraught with trouble and deepening sexual tension between Lia and Zane.
Abe is a master of evocative, sensual prose that begs to be read aloud, so as to hear it glide across the tongue. Her first three paragraphs are weepingly beautiful, and she never lets the plot and the pace lag during the entire novel. My only qualm is that there aren't more love scenes between Lia and Zane. Abe is one of the rare authors who can write a sex scene without florid, embarrasing euphemisms, such as heaving bosoms and throbbling manliness. She lets the reader feel the sensual passion of one kiss, a lingering touch, or a taste of silken skin. Her love scenes are hypnotic and hot, yet they fit in with the action of the novel so well, one doesn't feel they're at all gratuitous.
If you find dragons fascinating and enjoy adventure and a tightly-paced love story, you'll enjoy this book.
I wasn't as enamored of Tracy Chevalier's latest work, "Burning Bright" which was supposedly about artist and poet William Blake. I've read all of Chevalier's works, and as in her other novels, we see the action of the era through the eyes of the common people, instead of the famed artist. In this case, the common people are a chair-maker and his family, and a street-wise urchin and her grifter parents and cruel brother. The Chair maker and his kin move to London in hopes of setting up a new life after the death of the eldest son, and though their hamlet is not that far from London, it's apparently a completely different world, because they fall prey to the many horrid goings-on in the nastier parts of London during the reign of King George (the 18th century). Maisie and Jem, her brother, get involved with the street urchin, Maggie, and spy on their neighbor, the stern and terrifying Wm Blake. They all become involved with a circus man and his horrible wastrel son, who manages to get several women pregnant by the end of the book. There was a great deal of description of the filth and grime of 18th century London, of the ignorance and pestilence, and the terrible way children were treated at the time. While I understand all that, I was hoping for a bit more insight into the brilliance of Blakes poetry and illustrations. We get very little of that in this novel, which dwells on the evils of society in relation to women more than the artistry of Blake. There was little relief from the horrific descriptions of London and its denizens, and I was rather disappointed in that. I found the idea of being next door to Blake intriguing, but Chevalier never comes through for her readers and satisfies their curiosity as to what the mans mindset was like, or why he wrote the passionate poetry that he created and printed. Unless you find the gritty side of 18th century London fascinating, I'd give this book a pass.

The death of reviews, part 2,

I found another article on the death of book reviews, and wanted to post part of it here:
May 2, 2007Are Book Reviewers Out of Print?
Last year Dan Wickett, a former quality-control manager for a car-parts maker, wrote 95 book reviews on his blog, Emerging Writers Network (emergingwriters.typepad.com/), singlehandedly compiling almost half as many reviews as appeared in all of the book pages of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.Mr. Wickett has now quit the automotive industry and started a nonprofit organization that supports literary journals and writers-in-residence programs, giving him more time to devote to his literary blog. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, meanwhile, has recently eliminated the job of its book editor, leading many fans to worry that book coverage will soon be provided mostly by wire services and reprints from national papers.The decision in Atlanta — in which book reviews will now be overseen by one editor responsible for virtually all arts coverage — comes after a string of changes at book reviews across the country. The Los Angeles Times recently merged its once stand-alone book review into a new section combining the review with the paper’s Sunday opinion pages, effectively cutting the number of pages devoted to books to 10 from 12. Last year The San Francisco Chronicle’s book review went from six pages to four. All across the country, newspapers are cutting book sections or running more reprints of reviews from wire services or larger papers.To some authors and critics, these moves amount to yet one more nail in the coffin of literary culture. But some publishers and literary bloggers — not surprisingly — see it as an inevitable transition toward a new, more democratic literary landscape where anyone can comment on books. In recent years, dozens of sites, including Bookslut.com, The Elegant Variation (marksarvas.blogs.com/elegvar/), maudnewton .com, Beatrice.com and the Syntax of Things (syntaxofthings.typepad.com), have been offering a mix of book news, debates, interviews and reviews, often on subjects not generally covered by newspaper book sections.For those who are used to the old way, it’s a tough evolution. “Like anything new, it’s difficult for authors and agents to understand when we say, ‘I’m sorry, you’re not going to be in The New York Times or The Chicago Tribune, but you are going to be at curledup.com,’ ” said Trish Todd, publisher of Touchstone Fireside, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. “But we think that’s the wave of the future.”Obviously, the changes at newspaper book reviews reflect the broader challenges faced by newspapers in general, as advertisement revenues decline, and readers decamp to the Internet. But some writers (and readers) question whether economics should be the only driving factor. Newspapers like The Atlanta Journal-Constitution could run book reviews “as a public service, and the fact of the matter is that they are unwilling to,” said Richard Ford, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist.“I think the reviewing function as it is thoroughly taken up by newspapers is vital,” he continued, “in the same way that literature itself is vital.”Mr. Ford is one of more than 120 writers who have signed a petition to save the job of Teresa Weaver, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s book editor. The petition, sponsored by the National Book Critics Circle, comes as part of the organization’s effort to save imperiled book coverage generally. “We will continue to use freelancers, established news services and our staff to provide stories about books of interest to our readers and the local literary community,” said Mary Dugenske, a spokeswoman for the newspaper, in an e-mail message.Coming as it does at a time when newspaper book reviews are endangered, many writers, publishers and critics worry that the spread of literary blogs will be seen as compensation for more traditional coverage. “We have a lot of opinions in our world,” said John Freeman, president of the National Book Critics Circle. “What we need is more mediation and reflection, which is why newspapers and literary journals are so important.”Edward Champion, who writes about books on his blog, Return of the Reluctant (edrants.com), said that literary blogs responded to the “often stodgy and pretentious tone” of traditional reviews.
But while online buzz can help some books, newspapers can pique the interest of a general reader, said Oscar Villalon, books editor at The San Francisco Chronicle. Blogs, he said, are “not mass media.” The Chronicle, for example, he said, has a circulation of nearly 500,000, a number not many blogs can achieve.On the other hand, committed readers who take the time to find a literary blog may be more likely than a casual reader of the Sunday newspaper to buy a book. “I know that everyone who comes to my site is interested in books,” said Mark Sarvas, editor of The Elegant Variation, a literary blog that publishes lengthy reviews.And newspaper book reviews, which are often accused of hewing too closely to “safe choices,” could learn something from the more freewheeling approach of some of the book blogs, said David L. Ulin, who edits the book review at The Los Angeles Times.“One of the troubles with mainstream print criticism is that people can be too polite,” Mr. Ulin said. “I feel like an aspect of the gloves-off nature of blogs is something that we could all learn from, not in an irresponsible way, but in a wear-your-likes-and-dislikes-on-your-sleeves kind of way.”Maud Newton, who has been writing a literary blog since 2002, said she has the freedom to follow obsessions like, say, Mark Twain in a way that a newspaper book review could not, unless there was a current book on the subject. But she would never consider what she does a replacement for more traditional book reviews.“I find it kind of naïve and misguided to be a triumphalist blogger,” Ms. Newton said. “But I also find it kind of silly when people in the print media bash blogs as a general category, because I think the people are doing very, very different things.”One thing that regional newspapers in particular can do is highlight local authors. “While I’m all for the literary bloggers, and I think the more people that write about books the better, they’re not necessarily as regionally focused as knowledgeable, experienced long-term editors in the South or Midwest or anywhere where the most important writers come from,” said Sam Tanenhaus, the editor of The New York Times Book Review.Many local authors view the decision at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a betrayal of important local coverage.“With the removal of its cultural critics, Atlanta is surrendering again,” wrote Melissa Fay Greene, author of “Praying for Sheetrock” in an e-mail message. “We all lose, you know, not just Atlantans, with the disappearance from the scene of a literate intelligence.”Of course literary bloggers argue that they do provide a multiplicity of voices. But some authors distrust those voices. Mr. Ford, who has never looked at a literary blog, said he wanted the judgment and filter that he believed a newspaper book editor could provide. “Newspapers, by having institutional backing, have a responsible relationship not only to their publisher but to their readership,” Mr. Ford said, “in a way that some guy sitting in his basement in Terre Haute maybe doesn’t.”

Friday, April 27, 2007

Book review sections disappearing!

I discovered this on Media Bistro and felt that I should post it here. It's an article that details the rapid loss of book review sections in most major newspapers. I find it sad that there are so many papers that feel book reviews are expendible.

Book Review Sections Up in Smoke (HuffPo)Art Winslow: In the new book burning we don't burn books, we burn discussion of them instead. I am referring to the ongoing collapse of book review sections at American newspapers, which has accelerated in recent months, an intellectual brownout in progress that is beginning to look like a rolling blackout instead.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Jim Butcher ROCKS!

I had the great good fortune this past week (April 3) of listening to Jim Butcher, of Harry Dresden fame, speak and answer questions at the University Bookstore in Seattle. I thought that I’d actually read some of the Dresden File novels, mainly because I’ve read so much Science Fiction and Fantasy in the past 40 years that it’s easy for me to get authors and book titles/characters mixed up. To be fair, I have the same problem with actors faces and historical events. Anyway, what I got mixed up with Harry Dresden was Harry Harrison’s “Stainless Steel Rat” series that I read in the late 1980s.
I began my interest in Dresden when watching the premier showing of the SciFi Channels series “The Dresden Files” as I enjoyed the performance of the luscious Paul Blackthorne as Harry Dresden, sidekicked by an old friend from Florida, Terence Mann, whom I interviewed for Tampa Bay/The Suncoasts Magazine back in 87. He had long brown curly hair back then, was married to a Brit that his mother disapproved of, and had the sexiest voice I’d ever heard. Seriously, the type of voice that, in conjunction with a gorgeous smile and wickedly twinkling eyes can make your kneecaps melt and your blood pressure rise in 7 seconds or less. When I mentioned to Butcher that I was surprised that Mann had short white hair in the show, he said, “Ah yes, but the man has had children since you spoke to him, and that tends to age you.” Indeed.
I happened across a copy of “Proven Guilty” which was the Dresden Files novel published last year, at the Library Guild sale, and I snapped it up. After reading and enjoying it, though it had a much higher body count and gore factor than I like, I decided to go to the UW Bookstore to hear the man who created these fascinating characters explain himself. I figured anyone who creates a funky Midwestern wizard with a talking ghost in a skull for a buddy HAS to have a good story or three to tell.
I was not disappointed.
Other than the fact that I was in the “standing room only” part of the large group listening to Butcher, and had to ask the linebacker standing next to me what questions people were asking, I was perfectly enchanted with Butcher and his charming, witty personality. It was obvious that the man is not only a creative genius, he’s also cynical, wise and has a rather tart sense of humor. He started the talk by saying he is happy with the SciFi Channel’s version of his books, though he wished there were more “dinosaurs and Kung Fu” involved, because he happens to love those two things. Butcher is a martial arts enthusiast who, though he looks svelte and harmless, could probably kick the butt of everyone in the room, including the human wall of meat that was standing next to me. Butcher said that he’s done some riding and fencing, and that this past Sunday’s “Dresden Files” (which was by far the most violent one yet) must have been approved by the fans, because this Monday was the first one in which he didn’t receive angry emails from said fans. Butcher said he has the Dresden File books planned out through number 23 (and I have just finished the latest book, number 9 in the series, “The White Knight”) and that the only thing he doesn’t have planned out in advance is Dresden’s love life.
Butcher mentioned that while he writes he listens to “lots of righteously angry music” and Weird Al Yankovic’s Polka album.
Apparently the Dresden Files began as a writing project for a class at the U of Oklahoma called “How to Write a Genre Novel” that Butcher took years ago. Butcher lives in Missouri (just below Iowa, therefore a target for Iowan jokes, just as Minnesota natives target Iowa for jokes), but his writing teacher wouldn’t allow him to place Dresden in Kansas City, I would assume because she felt that might not stretch him as a writer. Anyway, he looked at her desk, found a paper that said “LA, New York and Chicago” on it and chose Chicago as the closest city of the three. Butcher mentioned that he has contact now with a number of people in Chicago who help him keep his mileau real. “Chicago is one of the oldest cities in America,” he said. “What is it they say, people in America think 100 years is a long time, while people in Europe think 100 miles is a long drive.”

Butcher got into a long story about how he created his Codex series of books, by being an “internet loudmouth” and betting with a guy online who said he’d give Butcher two terrible ideas that he was then challenged to write into a book. He took those ideas and turned them into the Codex books. As I am not a fan of the Romans or Pokemon, I’ve decided to skip that series and focus on the first 7 books of the Dresden Files that I just bought from the Science Fiction Book Club.Butcher also said that he has a 25 pound Bisson Friche (I don’t think I am spelling that right) who thinks he’s a Rottweiler, the “ultimate macho dog.” The dog’s name is Frostbite Doomseeker McBain.

Harry Dresden the character is based on a British friend of Butchers named Charlie who is 6ft 9 and a “very comforting person to have with you in a dark alley.” The character Anna Ash in “White Knight” is also a real person who paid $3,600 in an auction for a childrens cancer charity for the priviledge of getting killed off in a gruesome fashion in print. Lucky gal.“Mouse” the mountain of a dog is a real breed, apparently, called a Caucusus Mountain Dog that is “huge, aggressive, and will knock you down and say, “Show me your ID,” according to Butcher.Butcher said he’d like a “Spiderman/Dresden” crossover novel, but that he’s been approached by the people who own Kolchak, the Night Stalker rights and they want a Kolchak/Dresden crossover, but Butcher has to find the time to write it, which is a problem.“I have a story to be told and Harry has to do it, which is probably why he gets bludgeoned so often,” said Butcher.

Bob started out as a joke, he said, between himself and his writing teacher, when Butcher wanted to do an info dump that wouldn’t be boring, he said he’d have the skull talk about it, and the teacher said, “That’s okay as long as you don’t make Bob a talking head.” Ha, ha. “I wish I had something cooler behind that, like Proust,” Butcher said. “I come up with these wonderful ideas, and two years later I’m watching Boomerang (a channel that shows TV shows and cartoons from the 60s and 70s) and I’ll say, “Oh man, I got that from Johnny Quest.”Butcher is currently reading “The 10 Most Evil Men and Women in History” and books on philosophy, poetry and martial arts instruction. He’s seen the movie “The 300” three times, and said “You’ve got to give the Spartans credit for the first pithy line in action film history, “We will fight in the shade!”
He said that when SciFi approached him about making a two hour movie of the Dresden Files for Saturday night, he was freaked out because it’s a tradition in his family to watch “terrible movies” on Saturday night and “MST 3K the heck out of them,” with Butcher himself on the defense, trying to get his family to believe it’s the best movie ever.He said “I realized that (the SciFi TV series) was going to be a two hour commercial in front of a captive audience, for my books. Even if it’s a total piece of crap, I’m still going to be up there with Dean Koontz and Stephen King.” Butcher said that the TV show producers decided to roll his characters of Ebineezer and Bob together, which turned out okay in his book, “Because I like Terence Mann. He’s a great guy, and he plays Felix to Harry’s Oscar. I like him better than the flaming head (skull) they had in the pilot and way better than the puppet head in “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.” Bob also channels Butchers “inner letch,” he said. He also mentioned that the show is an alternate version of his books, and if it’s a “lite” version, as a fan suggested, that is because it takes background to build a show up, to create gravitas, if you will.

Butcher was influenced by reading books like the Belgariad (David Eddings)Elizabeth Moons “Paksenarrion” series, CS Lewis’ Narnia and, of course, Tolkiens Middle Earth works.Butcher had to cease his discussions with the audience because he needed at least an hour or more to sign all the books of all the folks lining up to meet him. I felt the photo of Butcher on his books dust jacket did not do him justice. He’s youthful looking in a way that suggests he has a portrait in the attic at home somewhere that is aging for him, ala “Dorian Grey.”
I made the mistake of mentioning that I found the TV Murphy the cop to be a drug-addicted shrew, and Butcher sprang to her defense, saying “Yes, but she also took drugs and was nasty in the books.” Uhm, okay, I will have to take his word for it, as I’ve yet to read those first seven novels. Murphy must have gone into rehab at some point, because in the two latest Dresden novels, which I have read, she’s not shrewish and she’s not on drugs. I rather liked her in the books, sans child.And I have to say that I still love Harry Dresdens sense of humor and his funky way with magic. He makes it all seem somehow normal. My only quibble is the gruesome death scenes and the body count, which is fairly high for both the novels I read. But Harry and Mouse make it all worthwhile, in the end.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

My two Latest BOFFM Reviews

The following two reviews are up on the Big Ol Face Full of Monster Web site (gomonstergo.com) and will be published in their next magazine as well.
Here are the links:


Meanwhile, I'm almost done with "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio" by Terry Ryan for my book group, and I have really enjoyed this story of hope and determination on the part of a mother of 10 in the Midwest.

I'd also like to post that, while my review of Linnea Sinclairs "Games of Command" wasn't gushy and saccarine, it also wasn't damning with faint praise.
I love Linnea's books, and eagerly look forward to her next SF/Romance hybrid, which I snatch off the shelf of the bookstore the minute I am able to do so. Linnea is a rarity, in my book, as an author who can write credible science fiction and still manage to have at least one romance threading through the plot at the same time. No mean feat, considering how few modern authors can even write a decent SF novel without any romance. Linnea's characters are fully realized, fascinating and fun, her plots zoom along with vigor and a blessed lack of triteness, and her prose is generally tight and tough, exposing her background in journalism. Considering that the woman has had two other careers before this one, I think she's a marvel. I only wish she could create more SF/Romance books in short order, as I would enjoy having a nice backlog of them on my TBR stack to look forward to, after I finish my requisite books for reviews.
Thanks, Linnea, for your imaginative, fun world-building talents. You are a bright spot in a genre that can use as much light as it can get.

Monday, March 19, 2007

It's not a book, but...

This link isn't to a site about a book, but it is an excellent article about the struggle of working mothers to balance work and family in a biased workplace.


Teens Buying Books

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Celia Goodnow checks in on one of the happier publishing trends, where teens are buying books in numbers not seen in decades. "Kids are buying books in quantities we've never seen before," said Booklist magazine critic Michael Cart, a leading authority on young adult literature. "And publishers are courting young adults in ways we haven't seen since the 1940s." Credit a bulging teen population, a surge of global talent and perhaps a bit of Harry Potter afterglow as the preteen Muggles of yesteryear carry an ingrained reading habit into later adolescence.
Fantasy and graphic novels are especially hot, Goodnow discovers, and adventure, romance, humor and gritty coming-of-age tales remain perennial favorites. In addition, racy series such as GOSSIP GIRL -- often likened to a teen "Sex and the City" -- have created a buzz. More notably, though, there's a new strain of sophistication and literary heft as publishers cater to the older end of the spectrum with books that straddle teen and adult markets. Teens' increased disposable income is a big factor, too, leading to more sales, more choice and better quality. In other words, for those who might overlook YA fiction because it's ostensibly written for kids, you'd be doing a serious disservice - there's lots of good stuff out there, just waiting to be found.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair

Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on brokenglass. -Anton Chekhov, short-story writer and dramatist (1860-1904)

Games of Command by Linnea Sinclair
Published by Bantam Spectra, March, 2007, 525 pages

Having previously read “Finders Keepers,” “An Accidental Goddess” and, my favorite, “Gabriel’s Ghost,” by Sinclair, I can honestly say I was anticipating the release of her latest SF/Romance hybrid, “Games of Command” with all due fervor. Sinclair is a rarity, one of the few authors who can write decent science fiction and add in romance that doesn’t detract from the storyline, but enhances it. Games of Command is somewhat more complex than her previous novels, and contains fewer passionate clutches, looks and words between the main characters, yet it manages to give readers a secondary storyline, with the ships doctor and a rogue telepath, that allows us to experience all the romance and passion without interrupting the science fiction plot run by the main characters.The book is mainly about Captain “Sass” Tasha Sebastian, who has, in the past, been up to no good, but now is flying the straight and narrow space lanes when she’s ordered to duty on the ship of Admiral Branden Kel-Paten, a human-cyborg mix who has had a secret crush on Sass for years. Sebastian’s best friend, Dr. Eden Fynn, is also commandeered for the trip, and we learn early on that she is, thankfully, not another petite blonde with big breasts, but rather a voluptuous redhead who is an empath as well. Part of my problem with reading romances, paranormal, SF and fantasy-hybrids has been the authors insistence on using clichés and stereotypes in so much of the text. The heroine is always petite, usually blonde but occaisionally raven-haired, and always feisty. It’s as if that is the only kind of woman these writers assume that men find sexually attractive. Because a majority of women in the United States are a size 14 and over, I would think this one cliché alone would hack female romance readers off. There’s also the trope of the female protagonist never performing oral sex on the male protagonist that has had me wondering why for quite awhile. Fortunately, Sinclair takes a healthy stab at breaking those stereotypes and clichés with Dr Eden Fynn and her curvaceous, full-figured form, and Sass, the main character, performing oral sex on Kel Paten. What a relief to see some realistic sexuality and a realistic woman in this novel! Halleluiah! Kudos to Sinclair for her bravery in the face of romance novel convention.
The rest of “Games of Command” zings along like a well-written episode of Star Trek, The Next Generation, or Babylon 5. The Sebastian and Kel Paten characters go through a series of crisis and pages of sprightly dialog later, come out on the other end realizing that they love one another, which was not a given, at least for Sebastian, who was fairly embarrassed about the lovesick log entries she stole from Kel Patens personal computer. Dr Fynn, meanwhile, falls for secret agent and rouge telepath, Jace Serafino, and we learn all about the secret war being waged between the Psy-Serv command, (which reminded me of Psycorps from Babylon 5) a faintly Nazi-like organization that puts inhibitors on telepaths and controls their lives, and the Alliance, who only want peace and commerce, of course. We also learn that “furzels” and “fidgets” (cats and kittens, respectively) are embroiled in the war as a way to protect their humans and keep the galaxy smelling clean for all humankind. Though I enjoyed the telepathic cats and their exploits, I have to say that the cuteness of their childish dialog, calling their humans “mommy” and such got to be a bit too much. I know that people get very attached to their pets, and anthropomorphize them to the Nth degree, but they are still animals, not people, and their function as pets or deus ex machina (as is the case in the novel) shouldn’t be degraded by cutesy baby-talk. But that is a minor quibble with an otherwise great SF/Romance. My only other quibble is the use of clichéd euphemisms for anatomy during sex scenes. But I’d be willing to bet Sinclair will be one of the first to use words like “penis” and “vagina” or even, gasp, “clitoris” in one of her future novels. She’s just that gutsy.
I would recommend Games of Command to any reader who enjoy science fiction imbued with fascinating characters who come together in relationships that are wonderful fun. Sinclair's plots never plod and her prose is always sensible and clean, allowing her sparky dialog to shine each time she brings her characters together. Games of Command is well worth the late-night page-turning that will ensue when the reader must see what happens in the end.