Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Massive: Subcontinental

Evidently, I rather enjoyed the first volume of The Massive (going by my rating of the book).  We finally (!) got the trade paperback of volume two in at the library, so I checked it out.  I remembered the basic conceit, but details--who has time for remembering those?

Monday, March 30, 2015

Flights, Chimes, and Mysterious Times

I can't tell you how much I wanted to spell the title "Flyghts, Chymes, and Mysterious Tymes" because it's steampunkier.  Plus, I also read way too much Chaucer Doth Tweet on Twitter.

Emma Trevayne's Flights, Chimes, and Mysterious Times started out so well!  And then ... it meandered ... over thataway ... and back this-a-way, until BOOM!  THE END!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Everybody Sees the Ants

I almost deleted this whole review because I thought I would spoil the book.  Plus, I'm still working through it myself, so ...

Plus plus (doubleplus?  Doubleplusplus?) I have difficulty writing about books I truly enjoyed.  But here goes...

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Etiquette and Espionage: Sign me up!

Sophronia Temminnick.

I wish I lived in a steampunk world.  At least if I were named Sophronia, no one would mistake my name for a cut of pork (true story).  Also there would be Finishing Schools where promising young ladies learn the power of eyelash batting, the delicate art of passing notes during a dance, how to detect poisons, and how what is on one's person may be MacGyvered into a weapon.

As one does.

This book is marvelous.  I mean that in both the literal and more commonly-used figurative sense.  I marveled at the ease with which Carriger created her world.  I fell in love with the dumbwaiter-riding Sophronia.  And the Scots noblewoman raised by (were)wolves?  Magnificent.  The sooties?  The professors?  The school for evil geniuses?  Gail Carriger basically wrote my dream book.

My brain is broken and doesn't want to write a proper review, so I'll simply slip something in your tea that will make you go out and either buy this book or borrow it from your friendly local public library.

Coercion by force will be used if necessary.  *flutters lashes bewitchingly*

All the Rage

I've been sitting on this book.  Okay, not literally, because a) I had an e-ARC and b) even if it was a physical book, ouch.  I don't feel qualified to review it.  It's so good.  I could just type WOWOWOWOWOWOWOWOW! over and over again and I think that would barely scratch the surface of how marvelous this book truly is.

As of me writing this, there's been all sorts of, shall we say, drama about young adult books and the way women are treated in publishing and as fictional characters.  A lot of people have been made to feel othered simply because of their gender.  The Interwebs complains that women who speak up and who point out flaws and who have feelings about being shunted to the side are, well, I won't say what most people said.  We're hysterical, we're harpies, we're nasty, we're demanding, we're bullies.


We're really, really tired of being told we're worth nothing.  I'm tired of it.  I'm tired of worrying that a teen girl who comes in my library has something to fear from another guy in the place because he thinks it's funny or cool or just his right to ogle her because of her body.  I'm tired of girls thinking that they need to change or hide their bodies because they are too big or too small or too curvy or too straight or too anything.  And heaven forbid that what a girl says is taken seriously.  We all know that it's all for attention, amirite, guyz?

All the Rage is about rape, yes, but it's also about being silenced, about abuse of power, about prejudice, and about what it's really like to grow up female.

When a book reaches deep down into my soul and gives it a good twist, I generally have two reactions: ugly cry or stunned silence.  All the Rage evoked the latter, which to me, is harder to deal with and express.  For example, The Book Thief made me ugly cry.  My brother walked in on me reading Augustus Waters' obituary and freaked out because he thought something was wrong with me because I was sobbing fit to burst.  But All the Rage?  It goes along with the books that have changed me: To Kill A Mockingbird, Speak, Reality Boy.  And something they all have in common is the refusal of a person in power to believe the truth being spoken by the oppressed or disenfranchised.

I have a recurring nightmare.  It's more of a theme than a specific dream, but it always involves me being forced to do something against my will.  Nine times out of ten, it's getting married to someone I don't love.  I'm a commitment-phobe.  I have panic attacks at other people's weddings because the idea of getting married is so big that I feel completely overwhelmed.  In my nightmares, my parents generally set me up to marry someone I know but don't love, which might even be worse than marrying someone I don't know at all.  Now, lest you think that this might actually happen, my parents are wonderful.  They would never, ever, ever do anything like this.  They want me to be happy, and if my happy means that I am not married or with someone right now, that's great!

But underneath it all, it's not about the actual marriage: it's that I'm saying to someone with more power than me (my parents): "No, no, no, I don't want this.  Don't make me do this," and they refuse to listen.  My opinion and my feelings mean nothing.  This scares me so badly that I feel sick just writing about it.

Those are the emotions I felt as I read Romy's story.  The boy who raped her was the sheriff's son.  She had a crush on him, wanted to be with him.  People took her infatuation as consent.  Saying, "He's hot," or "I want his body" is not giving consent to a person to have sex.  So the town shuns her. The sheriff, obviously, covers it over and sends golden boy off to school.  Romy's branded a slut and a liar.  Her own mother can't (or won't) help her.  After all, how do you report a rape to a police force who has already decided your testimony isn't worth jack?

"He says, so I hope we can get this sorted out before you make it worse for yourselves.

There is no way to stop this.

He says, but I want to understand, Romy, so you tell me what you think happened.

And it's not that she tells him it didn't happen, it's that by the time he asks, she no longer has a language of her own.  But that's enough.  It always is."

Then, the night of Wake Lake, the annual seniors' bash, Romy's ex-best friend Penny disappears.  Romy leaves work and goes to Wake Lake too, waking up on the side of the road with "RAPE ME" written in red lipstick--her special color of lipstick--written across her pelvis.  She doesn't remember anything.  Was she really that drunk?  Why did she go?  What happened to Penny?  Penny, the golden girl?  Penny, who was perfect.  The cops organize fleets of officers to search the area.  Concerned citizens form task forces.  And kids at school cry and wail "in way they never would for me.  This is what happens when a girl befalls a fate no one thinks she deserves."

Tina, another popular girl, mocks Romy in the locker room, because it feels so good to inflict pain.  " 'So you think she was raped before she was in the water?'  Cold.  I'm cold.  I don't feel the floor under my feet, don't feel anything ... 'Come on, I want to hear it from you,' Tina says.  'What if she was?'  'Then she's better off dead."

Romy is a walking dead girl.  She's been killed multiple times: by the boy who raped her.  By the friends who abandoned her.  By the schoolmates who mock her.  By the adults who don't believe her. By a mother who couldn't protect her.  By a drunken father who left her the legacy of alcoholism and a bad name.

There's someone who makes her feel, though.  Leon, a guy who works at the diner with her.  He's kind.  He's smart.  He makes Romy feel like a human girl again, one who maybe could love someone.  But she's afraid.  She ends up pushing him away out of fear, and realizing that she causes pain because she suffers pain.  After a blow up, she says, "I don't know why he still cares.  What a stupid thing it is, to care about a girl."  And now I'm crying because so many girls feel that way.  Sometimes I feel that way--like I'm not worthy of being loved.  Why?  My family loves me.  I know that.  But deep inside, there's always this fear, I think, as a woman: what if he doesn't listen?  What if I say no and he doesn't listen?  He doesn't care who I am or what I think.  

Summers unwinds the plot like a trip wire, and her characters are so real that I think I've met them before.  Or I could, somewhere or sometime in the future.

Do you know what scared me the most when I finished this book?  It's that Romy got to tell her story, but untold girls out there don't or can't tell theirs.  They're still being silenced.  They're still being called whores and sluts and being told they deserved what happened to them.  And maybe they'll give up.  It's time for that to stop.

On the launch day of the book, April 14th, 2015, Summers encourages everyone to participate in a campaign to let girls know that they are heard and loved and believed.  It's called #tothegirls, and here's the link to her tumblr (she obviously explains it much better than I ever could).  I'm going to do it, and I'm going to get my friends and colleagues to do it as well.  Even if you don't post on social media, make sure you tell all the girls in your life that you love them.  That you believe them.  That they matter to you.  That they matter, full stop.

I love you, Romy Grey.  You matter to me.  I love you, Melinda Sordino.  You matter to me.  I love you, all the girls I talk to at the library.  You matter to me.  I love you, all the girls I don't know but who think that no one loves them.  I care about you because you are ... you.  You have a voice that must not be silenced, a voice that will say wonderful things.  #tothegirls, you matter.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

What I'm Reading Wednesday

Girls Like Us by Gail Giles:  This is so compelling.  I'm curious to see how it turns out, but I'm worried that things might take a left turn into oh-no-not-that.  

The Massive: Subcontinental by Brian Wood:  I keep dancing around reading Saga, which everyone is OMGINLOVEWITH, so I'm getting my toes wet with this new-ish series about a post-apocalyptic world where the environment has been shot to heck and back, and the eco-hippy crew of two ships are trying to figure out their role in this watery new world.

Empire of Sin (still): I know, I know.  I like to savor my stories about murder in old-timey New Orleans.

I've been rotating through new ARCs but nothing's grabbed me enough to pull me in for a full reading or a cranky review.  It's kind of like one big "meh" right now.  I'm trying to write a review for Courtney Summers' All the Rage and it's slaying me.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Jokes for Smart, Attractive Hipsters Who Think Cultural Appropriation Jokes Are Funny


Ahem.  That just exploded out of me.

I had the misfortune of reading this collection of comics, Hand-Drawn Jokes for Smart Attractive People.  I also had the misfortune of reading it in a public place, so I had to try and control my groans and angry gesticulations.  People probably called the local Panera to complain that the girl with the polka dot iPad case and Fuji Apple Chicken Salad was distracting at best, frightening at worst.

So, this is a collection of comics from a guy who does them for The New Yorker.  I usually find The New Yorker's comics to be pretty funny, but a lot of the ones included in here are tone-deaf at best, and totally offensive at worst.  I can't offer any commentary on the text included, because my e-ARC was so pitifully formatted that it was like trying to read something after it went through the shredder.  Other "chapters" were just filler text, like "afoign jklke nweoin mfiej thei lkjljfwqj at."  The "words" almost made sense, but not quite.

I wasn't a huge fan of the tee-hee religion comics, mostly because it relied heavily on stereotypes.  For example, there were probably three comics alone that said something about Mormons having eight wives.  Note: I am not a Mormon.  However, I do know that the vast majority of practicing Mormons do not practice polygamy, and I'm sure they're really, really tired of the multiple-wife jokes.    Sikhism is defined as "the bearded good guys."  What does that even mean?

But by far the worst part of this book is the racism.  And don't tell me that "it's funny."  It.  Is.  Not.  Funny.  This is the book embodiment of those horrible Urban Outfitters "Navajo print boyshorts."  No, it's worse.

All the Native Americans in this book are either drawn as "Eskimos" with furry body suits or as Plains tribe warriors with war paint and feathers.  It's awful.  There's one cartoon that shows two identical Inuit people, one labeled "Eskimo" and the other labeled "transvestite Eskimo."  HA HA BECAUSE THEY LOOK THE SAME HA HA HA no.  Another awesome one is labeled "Nanook of the South" and it's an old white dude dressed in an "Eskimo costume" saying "I have over a hundred words for black people."  Here was my reaction to that "comic," now rendered in handy gif format!

Which can be said for the entire book, really.

I unfortunately received an ARC of this from Netgalley.

Monday, March 23, 2015

In Pursuit of Flight (and also some character history)

I was pretty excited to read Captain Marvel Vol. 1: In Pursuit of Flight because ... I don't know.  Reasons?  One of them being that Captain Marvel has a legitimate costume that is not a bikini and go-go boots, which seems to be the standard uniform for lady superheroes (unless you are Wonder Woman, and then you get a one-piece and go-go boots).  Plus, I love seeing ladies kick butt in comics, alien or human or whatever weird combo of the two you've got going on.

One of the main problems with In Pursuit of Flight is that Kelly Sue DeConnick just plunks you down in the middle of the storyline with pretty much zero background info.  What meager morsels are portioned out to the reader are cryptic at best.  My knowledge of Marvel superheroes is pretty limited, but I guess Captain Marvel was once Carol Danvers, a great pilot and person involved with the Avengers (???) who hung out with Mar-Vell, a Kree (do all Kree have names that sound like you're hiccuping in the middle?).  After another Kree tried to use a Big Bad Weapon on the universe. Mar-Vell's powers transferred to Carol because she wanted them to.  Mar-Vell died (skimming through the Wikipedia page on Mar-Vell, it seems like he died a lot, poor fellow), and Carol assumes the mantle of Captain Marvel.

There's a quick intro scene where Carol and Captain America are fighting this large ... thing, and after successfully defeating it/him/whatever, Cap persuades Carol to become Captain Marvel.  Jarringly, Cap is drawn to look just like Chris Evans, and Spidey looks just like Andrew Garfield.  I don't like that.  I don't want to look at a comic and recognize the actor who plays the superhero instead of just seeing the character.

Anyway, then the real fun (ha-ha!) begins.  I'm pretty unsure of what exactly happened in this comic but it involved a lot of time travel.  Carol's friend and mentor Helen Cobb has just died, and left her her plane.  Carol decides to fly the plane to see if she can reach her friend's altitude record.  As she does so, the plane ices over, she loses control and blammo!  Wakes up on an island off the coast of Peru that's teeming with Japanese soldiers.  Surprise!  It's 1943!  Carol is rescued by a band of extremely tough lady-soldiers, who tell her that they're fighting these Prowlers.  After a kind of pointless battle with these Prowlers (which are Kree tech), Carol sees her plane passing overhead and ... does something to travel in time again.

I know.  I mean, I don't know, but I'm right there with you in the "Whaaa?" department.

Now she ends up in the early 1960s, when her mentor Helen is bribing some dude at NASA to let ladies fly spacecraft.  Carol pops up in her Captain Marvel costume and Helen is like, "Hi, cool clothes, let's fly planes."

The plane (de plane!  De plane!) flies over again, zapping Carol and Helen to the point in time when Carol became Captain Marvel.  I guess all of this happened so that Helen could get Carol's powers for herself ... or something.  And then blah-blah-blah something-something about the shard of Kree tech disrupting the space-time continuum blah-blah-blah.

So how does this time loop thing work, anyway?  And why were there Japanese people on a Peruvian island working with alien tech?  That was never explained.  Does the time-travel figure into Carol and Helen's past relationship at all, because Carol would remember it too, then, right?  Argh!

In the end, all's well that ends well, and Carol ends up making it just in time to see her friend off into surgery for cancer.  I literally have no idea what that storyline is all about and I need to go look it up.

Aside from the issues with, well, pretty much everything, the art was confusing to me.  So, I guess Carol just thinks herself into wearing the Captain Marvel costume?  All right.  But: why does she sometimes have a helmet when she's fighting and sometimes not?  Like, every other panel "sometimes"?  Also, is she trying to rock a mullet or what?  Help!

This makes me sad, because we've finally got a female superhero with a functional costume and her story is gobbledygook.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Food: A Love Story

I have a complicated relationship with food.  It would never be a love story.  More like an I-hate-you-but-I-need-you-especially-Mexican-food story.  I know it's not healthy, but I'm working on it.

Jim Gaffigan, Funny Man, Has Many Children, seems pretty chill with loving food and not having washboard abs.  Despite the title of his first book (taken from something one of his kids said), dad is not really fat.  I've seen him in person, and he's ... I don't know, dude-sized?  Honestly, to me, most guys' bodies look alike unless they're bodybuilders.  They are ... man-shaped.  This is why I would make the world's worst police eyewitness, seriously.  "How big was he?"  "Man big?"

To take a quick jaunt off into how horribly messed-up society is, doesn't what I just said seem really odd?  Women are trained to notice size fluctuations in their own bodies, and told that they should feel a vicarious sense of schadenfreude if other women gain weight, and feel horribly, nastily jealous if another woman should lose weight.  We have to be perfectly lean!  Toned!  Bikini-ready!

But although guys also get messages about their weight, and guys do get eating disorders, it's not nearly as socially prevalent to talk about so-and-so gaining weight if so-and-so is a man.  I mean, if I wrote this book?  Or another woman wrote this book?  People would be all over it saying how the author is a fat pig who only thinks about food all the time and it's disgusting.  When a guy says it, it's funny.

None of that was aimed at Jim Gaffigan, by the way.  More so at society in general.  But that's not the main dividing line on positive versus negative reviews of this book.  The naysayers complain that it's all recycled material.

I haven't watched every Gaffigan special ever, nor have I seen every show he's done, but I think I'm pretty familiar with his schtick, and although there were repeats in here (I could pretty much recite the Hot Pockets chapter for you), that didn't bother me.  The Hot Pockets routine is much funnier when he actually does it, though, so nip on over to YouTube or Netflix and watch it.  When I saw him at the Pabst two years ago, he saved it for last.  As soon as he started in on that routine, the whole theater went wild: WE WANT HOT POCKETS.  BOILING LAVA HOT.

But trust me: it's not all about the HPs.  Gaffigan pretty thoroughly goes through the American food landscape, acknowledging that yeah, as a culture we have a serious issue with food, but dang if some of it isn't just delicious, even if it is made of unknown ingredients!  I got some hearty laughs out of the book.

Gaffigan also is surprisingly insightful about possible reasons his dad actually cooked steak (hint: not because he cooked steak well) and how we all have our own McDonald's, and it doesn't have to be food.  I totally cop to having a frappuccino and pretending it's coffee.  Er, "coffee."

But the most winning part of this book is how much love Gaffigan shows to my home state of Wisconsin.  Jeannie Gaffigan's family is from Milwaukee, which is how Jim became indoctrinated into the glorious mysteries of brats and cheese trays and fried cheese curds.  I love how he says time spent visiting Wisconsin is measured in pounds.

We like food in Wisconsin.  Preferably deep-fried, beer-battered, and with cheese.  And a beer.  My mom comes from a Milwaukee German family and my dad from a Polish/Russian/Slovenian family, and let me tell you that there are serious food rituals involved.  Hot ham and rolls on a Sunday for my mom; kluski and borscht and "schtew" for my dad.  When I was a kid, my grandpa taught me a polka called "Who Stole the Kishka?" (kishka [kiszka] is a type of blood sausage).  And going to the Wisconsin State Fair?  We go twice in order to eat all the things (not kidding).  I am a bit disappointed that Gaffigan left out our insanely delicious frozen custard--thou shalt get a Leon's Special Sundae with pecans at Leon's on 27th and Oklahoma in Milwaukee--but you can't fit it all in.

A word of advice: do not read this while hungry.  Jim will make you hungry.  I ended up eating a burger, fries, guacamole, and some Spanish rice while reading this.  I feel a bit ill.

This is lots of fun for Gaffigan fans, unless you want all-new, totally original content for ever and ever, amen, in which case, take your cranky patootie somewhere else.  And if you've not read or heard Gaffigan's routines before, this is a great place to start.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Through the Woods Mini-Review

The artwork in this book is marvelous, and it suits the whole fairy-tale-gone-horror idea perfectly.  Carroll's art is angular and jagged, with trees like needles and eyes like knives.  Her use of color is also practically perfect, with strategic splashes of red and blue.  I would have been perfectly happy with this had the stories not been so excessively vague.

It's quite chic, you know, to go the ambiguous route.  One must be careful, however, that the ambiguity isn't so strong that the reader struggles to even guess at what's going on.  For example, in the story about fratricide, I didn't quite *get* the ending.  I mean, I think I did, but don't quiz me on it.  I like to take an ambiguous story and then create my own ending.  I can't even do that here.  It's just like, "Huh.  So, there's that."

I'd love to see more of Carroll's art, but perhaps with more tangibility to the stories.

Daredevil Vol. 1 (Again?)

So, I'm not exactly hip to all the relaunching/scrambling/rebooting of the major story lines in comics.  I may be wrong, but I thought that Mark Waid's run on Daredevil was part of the Marvel NOW! relaunch.

Every time I say Marvel NOW! or The New 52, a comics aficionado dies.  That's how hardcore this is.

I'm mostly looking for a great story with great artwork and some sassy humor.  I found it in Waid's Daredevil.  To be completely honest, I had a bad taste in my mouth about Matt Murdock just because I know that Ben Affleck played him in That Movie (which I refuse to watch).  I guess Bendis had him in a pretty dark place, but Waid pulled him out and made him funny and witty and ... charming.

I loved almost all of that story arc except for the weird issues where Daredevil was running around the South with monsters, because that came at me out of nowhere and didn't fit with the general tone of the story.  At the end, Murdock outs himself as Daredevil and is disbarred in the State of New York, so he packs up and heads to San Francisco, which is where we find him in ... volume one.

I guess this is a relaunch of the relaunch, except nothing is really relaunched.  We just pick up the story and carry on in San Francisco.  I really miss the New York City setting, but Samnee does a great job of evoking San Francisco without having Daredevil leap off the Golden Gate Bridge every other panel to remind you that we are not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.

What I didn't like so much about this volume, Devil at Bay, was the kind of sucky villains that Daredevil has to go up against.  So, the Shroud is basically Marvel Batman but with more nefarious leanings?  And The Owl's drastic plastic surgery involved ... a brow lift?

Also, be warned that a couple issues are actually flashbacks, so even though you start the volume in SF, you end up flashing back to NYC, which was disconcerting.  Even so, I'm willing to keep truckin' with Daredevil and Waid.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Princess in the Opal Mask

Hi there!  Life got you down?  What you need is the equivalent of a fluffy bathrobe and bubble bath: The Princess in the Opal Mask by Jenny Lundquist.  This was a marvelously enjoyable read that just made me feel happy.  Like a room without a roof.  Whatever that means.  You like ... getting wet?  Getting sunburned?  Bird poop?


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What I'm Reading Wednesday

Heavy on the middle grade books here (hooray!).

The Balance Keepers: The Fires of Calderon by Lindsay Cummings:  I enjoyed, but didn't adore, Cummings' YA debut The Murder Complex, but that was more because of some genre issues than anything.  She's a very good writer and this has had a really engaging start.

Flights and Chimes and Mysterious Times by Emma Trevayne: Look, any time you add "inium" on the end of anything, I'm pretty much on board.  So portaling to an alternate version of London?  Yes, please, and thank you.

Stolen Magic by Gail Carson Levine: It's horrible that I remember very little about A Tale of Two Castles besides "I really liked it," but I snatched up this sequel at ALA Midwinter like you wouldn't believe.  It's taking me a bit to get back into it, but Levine is always enjoyable.

And now for something completely different:

Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by Gary Trist: I mentioned the other day that the only nonfiction titles that I read for pleasure are cookbooks and historical crime.  I'm only a few chapters into this but already there's been a double homicide and a madam trying to go respectable.  Yes!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Illusionarium by Heather Dixon

I'm not sure why, but this book is getting a bad rap from a lot of reviewers.  I think many readers went into this expecting another riff on fairy tales like Dixon's first YA book, Entwined, but it's not.  It's a steampunk adventure and I loved it.

Authors can write about whatever they want.  They really shouldn't be pigeonholed for writing fantasy or sci-fi or romance or whatever.

Dixon has a knack for making the style of her novels match the theme.  That's a rather vague way of putting it, but let me give you examples.  In Entwined, she does a riff on The Twelve Dancing Princesses involving an intricate dance called the Entwine.  The plot and characterization, too, is slowly unraveled as the characters become more entwined with each other.  It's a fairly complex plot, reflecting the theme of the novel.  Similarly, in Illusionarium, Dixon plays with concepts of reality and space-time in a steampunk setting.

Jonathan Gouden is the son and assistant of one of Fata Morgana's most esteemed scientists.  What is Fata Morgana, you ask?  Well, only the northernmost floating city of the Empire.  One day, the Westminster, the royal airship, arrives at Fata Morgana.  Aboard is King Edward VII and the Queen.  King Edward has come from the capital of Arthurise to ask Jonathan's father to assist his former teacher, the brilliant Lady Florel, in discovering a cure for the Venen.  The Venen is a disease with a known pathology and no cure.  It only affects women ... and the queen is ill.  The King is desperate, and he informs Jonathan and Dr. Gouden that Lady Florel has discovered a new way to conduct research: illusioning.

I'll not get into the nitty gritty but basically you inhale fantillium, a mysterious liquid substance that enables some people to create extremely realistic illusions with the power of their minds.  These illusions can be shared by many people as a sort of mass psychosis.  Form the molecular structure of ice in your mind, project it, and whoosh!  Those with you will feel and see the ice as if it really existed.

So basically they're doing drugs, yes.

ANYWAY.  Lady Florel reasons that an illusionist can illusion time to move more quickly or more slowly, thus giving the scientists more time to find a cure.

Unfortunately, Dr. Gouden declares that Lady Florel is not the real Lady Florel, refuses to work, and is summarily arrested.  And then ... Jonathan's mother and little sister Hannah both fall ill with the Venen.  And now he's desperate.  We all know what desperation does.  He has to save her, this "absolute sort of person.  She could stand there, leaving a trail of water on the dusty library rug, and yet command attention from just the delight in her eyes and the whip of her voice."  Yes, I too like Hannah!

After some family feuding and several scuffles with Lockwood, a one-eyed crackshot guardsman, Jonathan orchestrates a jailbreak to free Lady Florel (the king was in sort of a jailing mood, being that his wife was dying and all).  She illusions a doorway to a place that is Arthurise, and yet not.  It is "Nod'ol."  Jonathan and a very unwilling Lockwood both end up in Nod'ol, where Florel promises a cure for the Venen can be found.  Only this glistening version of Arthurise, of Old London, done up in gold and shining glass, isn't all ponies and rainbows.

This is a land of masks and illusions.  A land where illusions are commonplace entertainment.  Lady Florel has the antitoxin to hand, and yet Jonathan must pay for it.  He must enter a sort of tournament for illusionists.  It's basically like imagination gladiators, and just as cruel.

Soon, Jonathan realizes that something is rotten in the state of Nod'ol, as the masks are not merely ornamental, but ways to disguise a rather horrifying side effect of fantillium exposure.  Soon, Jonathan, Lockwood, and a girl named Anna (his sister's parallel universe counterpart) are on the run from the Masked Guard as Jonathan tries to illusion a door back to their own universe.

That's barely scratching the surface, really.  I adored all the footnotes that Dixon added, which is very steampunk and very, very funny!  I did guess one of the major plot twists but it was quite satisfactory.  Dixon has an excellent sense of world building and it's fun to play "spot the real British Empire" here in a universe where everything just went wrong.  In the beginning, Jonathan describes himself as a "sort-of" kind of guy, neither strong nor weak, handsome nor ugly.  Just ... there.  And as he finds himself falling deeper into moral decay, he must fight even harder to scrabble back to what is right ... or what seems to be right.

Dixon also does a really good job of a basic multiverse theory explanation, although my favorite is still the one in Michael Crichton's Timeline.

This is an absolute winner, but might not be for everyone.  Those with a taste for steampunk-universe-jumping-scientific-adventure?  Here you go.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Shipwreck Island (with coconuts!)

As a kid, I loved watching reruns of Gilligan's Island.  It was funny and silly and pretty sweet.  I didn't care (and, FYI, I still don't) about all of the gaping maw-like plot holes, because it was all for laughs.  Plus, the Professor was pretty easy on the eyes.

In general, I enjoy shipwreck/survival stories.  I did not particularly enjoy Robinson Crusoe, the Big Daddy in the genre, but I think that had to do more with a) having read and immensely enjoyed Defoe's Moll Flanders already and wondering where all the cheekiness went and b) Defoe's complete inability to just ... move ... the ... story ... along.

Now, pacing isn't really an issue in Shipwreck Island, the first in S.A. Bodeen's new series.  If anything, it moved a titch too quickly for me.  And while the characters aren't particularly complex, and the family situation is pretty unbelievable (more on that in a moment), this is a bonafide winner for reluctant readers.

Come on, it has:

  • shipwrecks
  • survival on a tropical island
  • impossible animals
  • possibly evil/sentient weather phenomena
  • giant killer crabs
  • a mysterious seaman's chest
  • a kid named Nacho
Hello?  The next time I get one of those kids who wants "exciting" books but "not too long" I'll be like BOOM! here ya go.  Shipwreck Island.  Plus kids love a series.  AND no one can complain that it's a "boy book" or a "girl book," especially since those phrases make me all ragey.

Now, on to the not-so-good-but-then-again-not-awful things in this book.  The characters are pretty flat.  The kids are all right angry and the parents are oblivious.  Danger, Will Robinson!  Oblivious parent alert!  I'd seriously like to see this convenient trope die a quiet and peaceful death, never to return to the written word.  John and Yvonna got married after meeting just a few times in person, but knowing each other over a year.  Thing is?  They didn't introduce their kids to each other until after the wedding.  

"Why, goodness, darling, why do our children hate each other?  Why won't Sarah eat my delicious enchiladas?  Could it be ... she sees me as 'the evil stepmother'?"  

"Oh, my dear, I'm sure it's just a phase.  Aren't you happy that I saved you from Texas and brought you to live in SoCal, even if I have the personality of a sea slug?"

So, bottom line, read it for fun, not for any sort of deep meaning.  I am curious about all the crazy stuff going on with the supposed Paradise Island and I'm wondering if there's a link between the perfume bottles ...

Not a necessary book, but a good one to have in your bandolier o' books for reluctant readers.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Don't Turn Around (woah-oh-oh! Der Kommissar's in town!)

Woah-oh-OH!  Obscure-ish music reference.  Yes, I listen to 80s music.  My parents are awesome and ensured that I listed to a wide variety of music as a kid.  Road trips were set to Huey Lewis and the News and Queen and Jim Croce.  Good times.

The whole time I was reading Don't Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon, that song kept rumbling around in my brain.  And strangely, it didn't drive me absolutely mad!

Also strangely enough: I quite enjoyed this book.  It requires a huge suspension of disbelief, but it is just plain fun and Gagnon does a bang-up job of pacing.  A lot of thrillers (in general--not just YA, but for all ages) have pacing issues, particularly the ol' sag-in-the-middle.  It's like the plot version of Second Book Syndrome.  Equally pernicious is the "oh no, hurry up!  It's the end!" syndrome.  DTA doesn't really have any of these issues and kept me entertained and engrossed all the way up to the end.

Noa wakes up on a table in a makeshift recovery room, a giant incision in her chest.  She doesn't know how she got there or what's been done to her, but she does know that she has to get out.  Now.  Despite having a scar in her chest and pretty much no clothing, Noa manages to evade guards and hitch a ride out on a very unique conveyance.

Meanwhile, Peter, being bored and left alone in the house, decides to hack his dad's computer.  Just a tiny bit.  Not much.  Despite his pretty-boy rich-boy image, Peter's actually the creator of an online hacker group called /ALLIANCE/ that's a bit like Anonymous, but less ... shall we say, extreme in their methods.  A few ill-advised keystrokes later, and some mysterious men in suits show up, kick in the door, and threaten Peter and his parents.  Now, Peter's parents are serious pieces of work.  Mummy Dear is one of those people who exists to buy clothing, have cosmetic procedures, and generally take up space, and Daddy Dearest is, well, if I swore, I'd call him several things.  He's generally a horrible person.  One would think that Gagnon would fall into the trap of the unlikeable parent, but this is above and beyond, and there's a reason: Peter's brother died, and they loved him more.  I'm not saying that's right or proper, but it's not unrealistic.  They're bitter about his death, and Daddykins even wishes that Peter had died instead of his brother.  Grief makes you crazy, and sometimes it never lets go.

Peter's brother died of a strange new disease that only affects teenagers, and there is no known cure at this time.  It seems to attack the hypothalamus.  Now, Noa's got an incision in her chest (because you know she's involved somehow!) and not her head, so what gives?

Noa and Peter, formerly just acquainted via /ALLIANCE/ have to team up to survive.  Noa's street smarts just aren't enough to elude the seemingly omnipresent eyes of those who cut her up and experimented on her, and Peter's parents kick him out of the house for probing too deeply.

There's a lot of fun techno-thriller hacking going on here, plus some really engaging chase scenes.  The idea that a sixteen-year-old girl and an eighteen-year-old boy could do some of the things that they do is crazy, but this isn't meant to be real life: it's escapism.  And it's fun escapism.  Gagnon is a good writer--she doesn't flail around in crazy metaphors or make the dialogue totally cheesy.  She's also really, really good at keeping the pace moving along at a nice clip without stranding the reader.  I'm impressed.

I'm also intrigued.  I don't want to tell you any more about the story because that would ruin everything.  And we're just getting started.  On to books two and three!

West of the Moon, with Goats

Sometimes, I read a book, and I think that something serious has happened to my brain.  Is my neighbor burning special incense?  Did someone slip something into my coffee?  Is it a tumor?

Eeet's naht ah tooo-mah!

West of the Moon started out very strongly, and then ... drifted ... off into a wild land of dreams, deals with the devil, repressed memories, and cholera.  In order to make reading this review a bit easier, as it tends to wander off into strange places, I've inserted happy goat gifs to make you smile and not run away.  Plus, they also tie into the story.  Sort of.

*spoilers ahead*

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Crossover

I'm not much of a sports-book person.  Even if I did read something sporty, it would probably be about football, since I hail from Wisconsin and really, that's the only sport that truly matters here.  However.  As a children's/teen librarian, I try to read the Newbery winners and honors for each year, just so I know how to direct parents or teachers who may be looking for them.  Plus, hey, a committee of librarians decided that these are the best books of the year.

I was really excited when The Crossover won the Newbery.  Not only does it completely support what We Need Diverse Books has been saying: diverse books are needed, necessary, and totally awesome, but it's also a verse novel.

Some readers, and perhaps even authors, might look askance at the thought of a novel in verse.  Ellen Hopkins proved that teens would totally read verse novels when she wrote Crank.  Nikki Grimes is another stellar verse-novel writer.  Alexander incorporates elements of concrete poetry in The Crossover, which fits in perfectly with the intensely physical aspects of basketball.  You can see the flashing of sneakers in the words zigzagging from one line to the next.

Josh and JB are twins.  JB masters the free throws while Josh flies across the court with a wicked crossover and a power slam dunk.  They love the game and they know that this year, it's their time to win the championship.  Plus, with an ex pro-baller for a dad, basketball is all around.

Josh, the narrator, gives a very realistic experience of "a year in the life of."  The Crossover has multiple ups and downs, crises and triumphs.  JB gets a girlfriend, and this strange splitting of the twins throws Josh off his game.  JB and Josh worry about their dad's health, but are wary of speaking of this aloud.

Alexander manages to deliver a whole lot of emotion in comparatively few words.  That takes skill and dexterity, just like a crossover.  This is absolutely a winner and the Newbery was well-deserved.  Kudos.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

What I'm Reading Wednesday

"Step into my parlor," said the spider to the fly* ...

and see what I'm reading!

Still tripping through the fun world of Gail Carriger's Finishing School series' opener, Etiquette and Espionage.

Just started Kwame Alexander's The Crossover on my break and I'm already hooked.  Alexander's got flow like you wouldn't believe.  Even this girl, who isn't into basketball, is totally into this book.

West of the Moon by Margi Preus is a fascinating quasi-retelling of the folk tale "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" (one of my personal favorites), with a historical setting and a family connection.

I think that's it for now.  I'm pulling a long shift, so forgive me for errant commas and general nonsense.

Bimbos of the Death Sun

This certainly wins for "funniest title" of any book I've read this year.  Actually, I can't even say the title inside my head without giggling out loud, which makes me seem rather mad (but, as you all know, we are all mad here).  We have a shelf-talker program at my library where staff members pick out favorites and place a special bookmark in them and voila!  Instant display!

My friend Shannon is a geek/nerd like me.  However, she also has vastly more con experience and life experience in general.  I noticed a rather oddly-titled book with her bookmark in it.  "Bimbos .. of the Death ... Sun?" I read.  Obviously, I had to take it.  She told me that it was actually an Edgar Award winner that was set at a con ... in the 1980s.  This book is literally older than me.  Now, some of that shows in the fandoms of the time, and most definitely in the technology, but while I found this to be overall enjoyable, I felt uncomfortable with Sharyn McCrumb's portrayal of women in geekdom.  But first!  A synopsis!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

East of West Vol. 3: In which very little happens and much happens at the same time

So, being the masochistic reader that I am, I decided to check out Hickman and Dragotta's third trade of East of West, despite having gone through vol. 2 with an incredulous scowl.

I grant you this: vol. 3 is not as awful as vol. 2.  It's just bloody boring.

I don't quite remember what was going on in the first two volumes anyway, but basically: the Civil War lasted a really long time, and there are seven ruling empires on Earth.  One of them is being run by Death (yes, the personified kind)'s ex-wife.  She decides that it would be just peachy if everyone went to war.  Meanwhile, Death is squaring off against a super-tough bounty-hunter who rides a dog, not a hog.

There are a lot of plots going on, but I don't have the nimble recall of my youth to remember who is deceiving whom and what sort of organism is in that guy's head, anyway.  The most cringeworthy moment came when the Nation arrived at the seven empire summit.  Native Americans in full regalia and tinged red.

Are.  You.  Kidding me.

I guess when I read the first two, I wasn't as critical of the portrayal of Native peoples in popular literature as I am now.  Then I remembered that Death is hanging out with these two shamans (or something) who are literally black-and-white Native Americans ... yikes.

All weird cultural things aside, everything seems to happen very conveniently for everyone in this story.  Like, Death tells Macho Bounty Hunter he's looking for his sun, and then they're riding off into the sunset together?

I promise, I really am done with this series now.  Thank goodness half of the book was either blank paper of some sort of weird negative koan that I could just skip.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Nothing sounds good

You know how when you're feeling meh, not quite sick, but not quite zippy either?  Nothing sounds good.  Nothing to eat, nothing to do.  Right now I have the mental equivalent of that state of being, and it's affecting my reading.

I mean, I'm READING, and enjoying what I'm reading right now, but looking at the shelves of books I have checked out, very few are calling out to me, saying, "Ooh!  Ooh!  Pick me!"  I'm feeling all late 19th-century French poet.  Maybe I should pull a Proust and lock myself in a cork-lined room.  Except, I'm not exactly working on a magnum opus, so.

A few weeks ago, there was a really great discussion on Twitter about mental illness and its portrayal in books, specifically in YA literature.  Medication is often painted as evil, the minion of the Big Bad Pharmaceutical Company who wants to suppress your "real self."  Actually, that's rather the opposite (although I'm not going to start debating Big Pharma here).  Depression is what covers your real self. Sometimes, depression can make the self disappear--permanently.  I found medicine that helps me, after almost a decade of trying different things.  I knew it was working when I no longer drove to work in tears, wishing that I would die.  I know that if I hadn't gone for medical help, I wouldn't be here.  And that's one of the scariest things you can ever know about yourself.

It's not all puppies and roses and unicorns now.  My brain is a strong-willed piece of nastiness sometimes.  Like today.  Nothing feels right or good or fun or positive.  My heart is a sucking black hole of negativity.  And for pete's sake, I've got a zit on my chin.

But at least I can say these things about myself--I am aware of them and I don't want them to overpower me.  Sometimes, what I need to do is give in just a little--like how I spent most of the day in my pajamas watching movies.  It'll swing back up to normal-ish soon enough.

I almost apologized for writing this.  But I won't.  Because this is my blog, and how I feel and who I am affects what I read and what I enjoy.  I have depression, and I'm not ashamed to say that I do.

Also: stupid zit.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Legacy of the Clockwork Key Mini-Review/DNF Reasoning

Oh, the miserable, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when the awkward, clunky romance lumbers into a book like a kaiju and demolishes all of the pretty things the author has built.

This book starts out rather well: our heroine, Meg, has lost everything--parents, wealth, position, and home--to a catastrophic fire.  The only link she has to her past life is a tarnished old watch that she found by her father's body.  Her father's solicitor informs her that she must find employment to survive, but that a peer named Lord Rathford has specifically requested her services as housemaid.  Feeling the sting of her social fall, as well as mourning her parents, Meg must nevertheless accept, for what other option is there for a young lady in 19th century London?  Well, I suppose I can think of at least one, but it's not an option for Meg.

So, she enters the service of the mysterious Lord Rathford, also referred to as "the Baron."  After much poking and prodding of the English peerage system, I've managed to conclude that barons are addressed as lords and that there is no lordship, only a baronage.  ANYWAY.  I got confused a bit, because I kept thinking that Meg worked for two different people, but they're one and the same.

Every day, Meg performs the same tasks.  She starts the fire.  She brews the tea.  She cleans the spilt tea in the sitting room, refills the cup halfway, and then re-spills the tea.  She makes unmade beds and avoids shattered porcelain on the steps, taking care to keep the shards just so.  Meg states, "I had moved in to a place where timed had stopped altogether.  It was my job to make it certain it never moved again."

Now, come on. Aren't you intrigued?  Don't you want to know more about the mysterious and probably sinister baron who sits in the upper rooms of the house, spying on his servants and ensuring that nothing is ever changed?  I was.  It was very Bertha-Rochester-in-the-attic with a twist.

Ooh, that makes me think I could use a drink.  With a twist.

My apologies for the digression.  Things progress rather spookily until Meg meets the mysterious Scottish stablehand, of whose existence she's known vaguely, but it never occured to her to, you know, meet the guy.  Of course he is tall, dark, and mysterious, with an air of danger.  The cook warns her to stay away from him, but does Meg listen?  Nooooo.  Of course not.  She makes a trade with Stable Boy Will (dear lord, authors: there are more male names in the English language than Will.  I am so sick of reading about "Will"s).  She'll mend his shirts and he'll try to fix her watch.

Now, "fixing the watch" consists of Will prying it open and finding a SUPER SECRET MAGICAL SURPRISE inside that Meg could have totally found all along, being that she works in a kitchen with knives and such.  But poor Meg was worried that she'd not be able to put the watch back together.  It's actually not a watch at all, but rather a music box and shhhh secret key!  Whilst poking around the house that she helps maintain in stasis, Meg discovers that her watch opens a clock above a fireplace. She has to finish playing a tune that only she and her grandfather knew.  Gasp!  He is involved somehow.

Meg discovers a laboratory and evidence that her grandfather was part of a secret society conducting possibly unethical experiments.  He's not dead, as she thought, but in hiding.  Thus begins Meg's quest to find her not-dead grandfather.  She keeps dragging Hots McScots into the deal, and he keeps going, "Nae, I willnae help you!" and then proceeds to help her because she is, obviously, hot.  This seems to be the extent of their relationship, but I'm sure they fall in SO MUCH LOVE at the end.

What was an interesting premise faltered under the weight of stilted "dialogue" and a confusing set of quests that Meg must complete.  I could just see the downward spiral.  I wasn't interested in this secret society, or her grandfather, or the murder plots, or anything anymore.  And I'm rather unsure how this ends up being steampunk.

Some people loved this; I did not.  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Remember when Noah Wyle WAS The Librarian?

Yeah, the Librarian movies were silly, but they were cheekily poking fun at the whole Tomb Raider / Indiana Jones action genre, and I loved them.  I also have always found Noah Wyle to be much more attractive than George Clooney.


Ahem.  Well, remember that scene in the first movie, when Noah Wyle's character speaks a lost bird language?  It's hilarious.  Possibly the language of the archeopteryx, the "First Bird" of the title of Greig Beck's omnibus about linguist Matt Kearns.  Everything that The Librarian has going for it: wit, charm, humor, well, that's missing in The First Bird.  Also missing: a coherent plot, likable characters, and any world/timeline continuity within Beck's work.

So, The First Bird is actually an omnibus of three shortish-stories that would have been pretty decent had he stopped after the first two.  The third one, is, to be blunt, a hot mess.  The main character was in (I believe) two out of the three earlier Arcadian books, although I don't much remember him.

Matt Kearns is a rock-star college professor who thinks it's perfectly acceptable to sleep with his students.

Um.  No.

That was one giant, inky black mark against him right from the get-go.  One of his "job perks" is having an undergraduate paramour du jour.  Matt and Megan are having teh sexiest times evah in the pool (she ends up "kneading his groin" like pizza dough) when he's irritatingly called away to do that adult thing called Work.  A mysterious woman named Carla Nero calls ... from the CDC, and begs for his help.  For, as you know, Matt is the best and most brilliant paleolinguist on the face of the earth.  He is the only one who can decipher a mysterious language used by a "Lost Tribe" of the Amazon.  But why the rush?

Well, the last guy to visit that tribe?  His skin ... fell off.

The CDC figures it's some sort of throwback scabies mite, except instead of being embarrassing, this little scabies guy shuts down your pain receptors and then liquifies your flesh, so you start going all Wicked Witch of the West.  Death, obviously, inevitably follows.  (Except for in the last third of the book but let's just ignore that now, mmkay?)

Unfortunately, the Brazilian government, alerted to a possible source of pandemic emanating from deep within the Heart of Darkness (whoops, sorry, wrong continent, wrong genre), has declared a quarantine.  Even the CDC can't get in to help.  But!  Convenient plot device alert!  A big-shot Hollywood director/producer named Evil Stephen Spielberg Max Steinberg charters one of his private jets, allowing the CDC team to tag along with his own group on scientists.  You see, the chappie who started this whole business, Jorghanson (melted-skin man), sold the "rights" to the archeopteryx to Steinberg.  Not quite sure how that works, but whatever.  It conveniently means that Steinberg wants to go get another bird for a film to make gabajillions of dollars.

So, Steinberg, his team of Redshirt scientists, plus Matt, Megan, and Carla, zip down into the Scariest Jungle on Earth: "the Gran Chaco ... to its very heart--the Boreal--one of the last secretive, primordial areas in the world."  Here, they boast such attractions as "two-foot long centipedes or the Brazilian Wandering Spider." It's basically like Jurassic Park for scary bugs.  Except, instead of worrying about venomous snakes, dehydration, or, you know, the flesh-liquifying Scabies of Doom, Matt gets all peeved that Megan seems to be flirty-flirty with a buff dude on the expedition named Kurt.  I mean, doesn't "Kurt" just scream "muscular manly-man"?

Unfortunately, they're soon set upon by Mesothelae spiders, giant and deadly, who kill a wee little horse ancestor and suck its bodily fluids out, kind of like an arachnid chupacabra with a more varied diet.  And things only get worse from there.

History repeats itself in that they find the "lost tribe" completely wiped out because Captain Amazing (i.e. Jorghanson of the Liquified Skin) was a measles carrier.  The bodies, however, are all gone, and I don't think that that is ever fully explained.  Matt and Megan magically translate the ancient pictograms and learn that the water inside this Special Area of the jungle nullifies the effects of the Scabies of Doom.  Whilst in there, they encounter even more animals that should have died out millions of years ago, all of which are homicidal.

Anyway, long story short (jeez, this review is massive already), they get the cure, which is a vial of the *magical water* at the cost of pretty much everyone's lives except Matt and Megan (duh), Carla of the CDC, Kurt the Muscle Man, and a random Norseman (I think?) who is a scientist.  They return to the US only to find that the pathogen has spread and basically completely wiped out life as we know it.  There are roving bands of people with no flesh (wait, I thought once your skin fell off, you died.  Isn't that how this usually works?  Then how are these people alive???) who dress somewhat akin to Tuskan Raiders and murder, loot, pillage, and rampage (the cornerstones of any good downfall of civilization).

There's one particularly nasty subgroup who is under the control of a former preacher, and who has adopted REM's classic "It's the End of the World"* as their anthem, only with slightly changed words.  Behold:
"This is the end of days. This is the end of your life.
Say goodbye to your husband
Say goodbye to your wife
You caused all this when you took our skins.  
Now all off to hell, for your terrible sins...
This is the end of your world-ddd"

I'm sorry, but that does not scan AT ALL.  And although I had nothing to do with it, I would like to apologize to Michael Stipe.

They also worship "the great goddess Angelina Jolie, may her name be forever blessed."

Sooo, in the last third of the book (I'm talking the last novella here), the tone totally changes from Quest in the Jungle/Surviving Anachronistic Beasts to Apocalyptic End-Times with Bonus Deadly Diseases.  I guess now somehow the mite is airborne so you can't go anywhere unless you're doused with chemicals, and yet Matt, Megan, and Carla are prancing around and making generally Poor Decisions.  The last sequences had me praying for the end of the book because it just made no sense.

I really question the 90-degree turn that this story made after books 1 and 2.  Sure, the first two novellas were silly, but they were at least readable.  Book 3 was just ... no.  I mean, so much no in that one.  If I had to give an example of everything that was ridiculous this review would take me another three weeks to write.  I also don't know why Beck chose to use a character from his Arcadian universe and then create this wholly incompatible universe at the end of The First Bird.  The world is totally destroyed.  I haven't read Gorgon yet, but I'm pretty sure it's Alex Hunter as usual (thank you thank you thank you).  How does one reconcile the two series?

Bottom line: Skip this for the love of Cthulhu and all other Old Ones.  If you like the Alex Hunter/Arcadian books, you really don't need to read this.  I promise.

*Fun fact: The only words I know to this song other than the title are "Leonard Bernstein!" which I yell out à la Homer Simpson.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What I'm Reading Wednesday

After having conquered Jude the Obscure, I'm bouncing between several different things right now.

First up is Legacy of the Clockwork Key by Kristin Bailey.  It's steampunk and it has a pretty font on the cover.  Sometimes my needs and wants are very simple indeed.

I've been browsing the print ARCs I picked up at ALA Midwinter, and after having given the boot to several (and put them out as freebies for the teens!), I started one called Stone Rider by David Hofmeyr.  Now, to be absolutely frank, I do not know how much of this I will actually read.  I'm only on chapter three and I've already dogeared several pages for sheer what-in-Cthulhu's-name? moments.

Still working on Don't Turn Around by Michelle Gagnon, which is one that I sort of forgot that I started at the gym.  This is moving really quickly now, and it's super fun.  Implausible, but fun.

Finally, I've made my first foray into the world of Gail Carriger with her Finishing School series opener, Etiquette and Espionage.  I am in love.  I can see why everyone (relatively speaking) loves her books.  Also, why can't people nowadays have awesome names like "Sophronia"?  Instead we have "Apple" and "Canyon."

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

One for sorrow...

I get so cranky when I book I was rooting for just goes whoosh right over the cliff of readability into the Sea of Pseudo-Feminism.

May I present The Glass Arrow by Kristen Simmons?

I know, I know, I didn't like Article 5.  Okay, fine, I didn't even make it past the first few chapters because all of my eye-rolling was freaking people out.  I looked like an extra in a Stephen King film.  However, I got sucked into The Glass Arrow because a) that cover! and b) I thought it was more fantasy-ish.  Nope.  Nope nope nope.

In a world where the population is declining, the cities are dying, and people are desperate, the most precious commodity ... is a woman.

Uh, ahem, sorry, not reading the synopsis for that book.  Moving right along.

Women lucky enough to become wives see their sons taken away by the government...

COME ON.  I AM TRYING TO SYNOPSIZE THE GLASS ARROW HERE.  Stop giving me info for the wrong books.  

One girl, captured from the wilds, fights against destiny and her inevitable auction, while plotting to destroy this twisted system.


Answer: Yes, but in all the wrong ways.

A fuller review:

The population lives in overcrowded, polluted cities.  There is a shortage of women, and they are rendered less-fertile by the fake food supplements they take.  Outside of the cities, small groups of escapee women roam, squishing through moss and going all nature goddess.  They refuse to be any man's slave again.

Aya has been raised outside of the cities, and despite being like the best at everything ever, gets captured and sent to a city to be auctioned off as a baby-maker.  Here, she employs strategery à la Bush, which basically consists of acting like a five-year-old and picking fights so as not to have to face the music.  She's particularly cruel to the other girls, especially anyone who isn't slim and muscular like herself.  She finds the fat girls repulsive.  Aya.  No.  You are the problem.

Anyway, the girls are auctioned off in this quasi-theatrical spectacle headed up by Effie Trinket the illiterate head of the "Garden" facility.  After fighting with one of the *icky fat girls,* Aya gets sent to Solitary, which is her favoritest place evar because her man-friend is there (sides one and two of requisite love triangle are now complete).  This is where I stopped.

However, in skimming ahead, I found two very problematic sentiments expressed by our pseudo-feminist protagonist.  The whole idea of the novel (I think) is women's autonomy and sexual subjection and freedom and all that jazz.  Aya refuses to become a man's property.  However, when she finds her Soul Mate, she decides that it's okay to be "owned" by someone, because she "owns" part of him too.  So, three hundred pages of fighting for freedom, and you're like, "Own me!"  Then, she ends with the most bizarre statement that "I am just a woman" like it's some sort of empowerment rallying cry.

Typical love-triangle dreck couched as pseudo-feminist adventure.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Kindle Drama

Ha-HA! You thought this was a post about the now-mostly-over-but-maybe-not Amazon/Hachette feud!  Perhaps you thought I was going to rant and rave about Amazon's takeover of my hometown with their Lichtenstein-sized warehouse!  Or perhaps you wanted me to tell you that Jeff Bezos is evil.

Actually, I don't have much to say about any of those things.  I feel most strongly about the Amazon/Hachette thing because it affects authors, who really deserve to be paid more.  However, I also feel that monopolies tend to sort themselves out.  Either they'll go the way of the Dutch East India Company, or we'll end up working for them à la the Goliath Corporation in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books.

No.  This is about my sad history of Kindles.  About three years ago, I was headed off to the gym.  Because I dislike remembering I'm at the gym while I'm there, I usually bring a book to read.  In this case, I grabbed my Kindle, which is ensconced in a pinkish case with some retro Pride and Prejudice cover art on it, went to my car, and drove to my gym.  When I got there, I couldn't find my Kindle.  Being a forgetful sort of person, I figured that I had just left it on my bed at home and proceeded to workout.  Upon returning to my house, I decided to back in the driveway because it had snowed.  This is important because it's much easier to punch your way out of a driveway in the snow going forward than it is going backward.

Words of wisdom from Wisconsin.  You're welcome.

Anyway, I gunned it, popped over the driveway skirt, hit the brakes, and pulled my handbrake (I drive a manual).  As I gathered my things, I noticed a funny pinkish thing under my front tire.

Yes.  It was my Kindle.  I had evidently dropped it on my way to the car, left it lying there in the snowy driveway while I was at the gym, and rolled over it at a good 20mph.  I left a lovely tire track mark across the back of the case.  The entire top portion of the screen simply didn't work.  On the off chance that there was some obscure clause in my Kindle purchasing agreement, I called Amazon and told the guy what happened.  He basically said that most normal people don't drive over their Kindles but all my books would transfer if I bought a new one.  So I did.  A nice, cheap, clicky-on-the-sides El Cheapo Kindle.

And now I believe I've lost it.  I cleaned my whole apartment this weekend looking for it.  I scanned my desk at work.  I need to thoroughly go through my car (which resembles a roller skate, or so I am told) to make sure it didn't slide under the seat.  But dangit.  I liked my El Cheapo Kindle.  I liked my case with the memorial tire tread on the back.

I suppose I should be happy that Kindles are on sale this week.  But this was seriously the gourmet cherry on top of an utterly loathsome day.

Trees, Vol. 1; or, Invasion of the Space Sequoias Mini-Review

I enjoyed this, but I didn't adore it.

Ha!  That's not all I'm going to write, but I was tempted.  I'm so burned out this week that it's not even funny.  Not even the llama drama on Twitter could save my mood from plummeting down to one of the more miserable circles of Hell ... say, the Sixth Bolgia of the Eighth Circle, where the hypocrites wear cloaks made of lead.  That's how much I was dragging.  Hopefully, however, I am not a hypocrite.  At least not consciously--all of us say and do opposite things, but often unintentionally and unknowingly.

Well, then.  I just managed to write an entire paragraph that's not at all about this comic.

Trees.  Trees trees trees trees.  (This is humming in my brain in the Tenth Doctor's "thinking voice")

Right!  Here we go:

In the future past, these giant alien formations plummeted out of the sky to plop down on major population centers.  They grow like giant trees.  They've not done anything proactively naughty, but as you can imagine, having your city overshadowed by a mysterious alien construct doesn't really do wonders for the local economy.

Some humans have learned to live with the trees, while others want to study them, and still others use their appearance to seize power.  Trees follows four narratives weaving through different landscapes.  It's definitely more of a study of human nature under stress than pew-pew alien sci-fi.  I liked the Antarctica storyline the most, and the one set in China the least.  The Chinese characters seemed ... whitewashed, somehow, and the vague preachiness of "be whatever you want to be, man" was a bit odd.  It's nice to see a really diverse cast of characters but at times they can become the Requisite Diverse Characters instead of just ... themselves.

One other major side-eye moment came when a person checked his cell phone whilst in France, and the screen said "Batterie faible."  I would have used the word "pile" instead, but whatever.  It's just foreign language.  Who cares?  Generally when I use the word "batterie" I mean it in the military sense of "battery" or in its other meaning of "drum set."

Overall, however, this was enjoyable, and I'm curious enough to continue the series.

I received an ARC of this title from NetGalley.