Monday, October 31, 2016

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

DNF: Mars One

I wonder what the collective noun for unfinished books would be?  I am particular to words like murder (of crows), conspiracy (of ravens), gulp (of cormorants), and pandemonium (of parrots.  It does seem that birds get the best collective nouns, as I don't find herd, flock, or team to be nearly as delightful or descriptive.  While starting this review, I started wool-gathering, wondering why we don't have collective nouns for more objects, since they're so much fun in the first place.

A catastrophe of DNFs?

A tragedy of DNFs?

A failure of DNFs?

Hmm.  I'll have to think on this one.  In the meantime, here are my rambling thoughts on Jonathan Maberry's latest, Mars One.

First of all, can we just all agree that the cover is awful?  The typeface is not good, it's too dark, and the boy's face looks like a mid-00s video game avatar.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Sad Perfect

Warning: this is a very long review.  No tl;dr here.  Let's do this.

Have you ever read a book that made you feel physically ill?  And I don't mean ugly-crying or any sort of higher emotional reaction.  I mean a sucker punch to the lizard brain: that weird, deep core that controls your gut.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Mini-Review: Harley Quinn, Vol. 4: A Call to Arms

The tricky thing about reading Harley Quinn comics right now is that she is starring in two completely different series with very different versions of herself: her Suicide Squad iteration, which is far more bloodthirsty, and the Conner/Palmiotti version, which is a bit more ... cuddly.  Okay, wrong word.  Likeable?  Witty?  Winkingly self-aware?  Anyway, as I started volume four of Harley Quinn, I felt like the art was a bit off.  And then I realized that I had gotten so used to the gritty wildness of Suicide Squad Harley that Harley-Harley felt a bit too clean.

Confused?  Yeah, me too.

Volume Four wasn't my favorite in the Harleyverse, mostly because there aren't a ton of opportunities for humor with the "gang of Harleys" storyline (but we do see a lot of diversity, so mad props there).  Harley on a plane is delightful(ly awful).  Plus, this volume includes some one-offs that disrupt the flow of the storyline, especially because one issue comes chronologically after another, but is printed before it.  ???

The last issue with Harley, Catwoman, and Ivy all together on a road trip is loads of fun.  The artwork wasn't my favorite--it felt a teensy bit juvenile?--but this was altogether silly and a nice antidote to Suicide Squad Harley.

Additionally, Harley meets up with Deadshot, which makes for a fun inter-Harleyverse crossover, and has her conversations with her beaver.  No, really.  It's a stuffed beaver.  Ahem.  Yes.

I would say volumes 1 and 2 are the strongest that DC has put out so far, but I can't wait for more Harley shenanigans as volumes are released.  Yes, I am that cheap person who waits for the bound volumes to come out instead of buying single issues.  I barely remember who I am most of the time, much less when I should go in and grab things at the local comic book store (holla, Rockheads!).

Overall, this is a comic you should definitely be reading if you want a more tongue-in-cheek take on the Clown Prince of Crime's ex-squeeze.  She's doing just fine on her own, thanks.  I mean, still murderous and completely unhinged, but in a better-ish mental space.  Love ya, puddin'!

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Rains

I have been musing on the phenomenon (a not unsurprising one) of bestselling authors of adult fiction writing kidlit or teen fiction.  In my mental perambulations, I haven't stumbled across many authors who can write for different age groups at a consistently high level of quality.  Here is my list:

Neil Gaiman
Jasper Fforde
Ursula LeGuin

Saturday, October 15, 2016

I'm Not Here

I haven't been writing because I can't seem to finish a book.  And when I do, the anxiety that washes over me when I even think about opening up a blank page to fill with text is completely  overwhelming.

Lately, stress at work has been ... well, something else.  Working with the public is always going to be stressful.  And I chose it, because I want to help people.  That's why people should become librarians--it doesn't matter how much you love books or how big of a fangirl/boy you are: you have to love people.  At the same time, you have to realize that a lot of that care is going to be one-sided.  And then there are people who really don't like what you do.

Because what you do is promote the right to read widely and diversely.  You provide people who might not have anywhere else to go with a place to be safe.  You step up when the world seems to be falling apart.

But some people look at your assistance and your advocacy and they don't want it.  In fact, they hate it.  If I've learned nothing else this year it's that humans have an unbelievable capacity for hate.

Hooray, 2016.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

I Should Have Stayed Home

If F. Scott Fitzgerald is the scribe of the Jazz Age, then Horace McCoy is the chronicler of the ensuing Great Depression.  His short novel They Shoot Horses, Don't They? drags us into the world of dance marathons.  No horses are actually shot, so all you animal lovers can feel okay about reading it.  McCoy is relentless in his portrayal of the complete apathy and desperation caused by the prospect of having no prospects for the future.

He also had a knack for choosing titles, that's for sure!

I Should Have Stayed Home opens on two aspiring actors, hoping to make it big in the golden age of the Silver Screen in 1938.  In some respects, the concept of the novel resembles Nathanael West's The Day of the Locust--in fact, as I read the opening chapter, I wondered if I had read this book before.  But while I found West's book dense as a stale fruitcake, McCoy peels back the thin layer of glamour covering Hollywood and lets us look at its messy guts.

Yum, what a delicious mixed metaphor!  But on to the book!

Ralph and Mona are roommates.  Oddly, they're not *roommates* roommates, but they get along okay.  They're always out of money and out of a job.  That happens when you're part of the crush to become extras in a Hollywood movie, with the eventual hope of Making It Big and Becoming A Star.  They survive on coffee and credit from the corner store.  Too proud to admit that the job he traveled across the country for never panned out, Ralph dutifully pens letters to his mother back in Georgia describing the wonders of Hollywood life.  Mona's secretive scribbles are no doubt the same.

But when Mona cusses out a judge at their friend's trial, a series of events (unfortunate events?) are set in motion that hurry both of them along the path to disillusionment.

After a chance encounter with one of Mona's former roommates, the two are invited to a big gala in Beverly Hills.  The hostess, a rich widow that Mona describes as a "nymphomaniac," takes a shine to Ralph.  His gee-shucks attitude and smashing good looks land him the job as Mrs. Smithers' next boy toy.  He figures that with her connections, he'll be sure to break into the business.  He might have to submit to some ... unpleasantness ... but it'll be worth it.  Right?

Mona knows that Ralph is headed for trouble, but can't stop him. From gala to jail to dingy apartment, the two extras desperately search Hollywood for the fame and fortune that must be just around the corner.  It has to be.

McCoy's bleak, atmospheric description of Depression-era Hollywood is enthralling.  You can see the roots of classics like Sunset Boulevard in this novel.  McCoy writes noir social commentary that's well worth seeking out.

Friday, October 7, 2016

I Am Providence

I Am Providence is the love child of Bimbos of the Death Sun by Sharyn McCrumb and H.P. Lovecraft.  My sincerest apologies to Ms. McCrumb for putting you in that compromising situation.

This pastiche by Nick Mamatas gently pokes fun at modern fandom--especially fringe fandom--and isn't afraid to confront the problematic aspects of Lovecraft head-on.  You know, the anti-Semitism, the pro-Nazism, the volcanic bigotry, and what he named his cat.  I Am Providence is a darkly hilarious tale of murder, obsession, and tentacles.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Under A Painted Sky

By a show of virtual hands, how many of you grew up playing The Oregon Trail?  We would beg our teachers to let us play it--the first one, even though at that point it was a little outdated--and even willingly do math problems to have computer time.

It was always so frustrating when a screen popped up and one of your party had randomly died of dysentery, a bear attack, or drowning.  Mostly dysentery (ew).  Oregon Trail II improved this slightly by allowing you to purchase medicine (er, 19th Century "medicine") to heal your party members.  My little brother and I quickly found out that laudanum healed EVERYTHING.  Snake bites, cholera, pneumonia ... we would just dose 'em up with laudanum and be on our merry way.  I traded hundreds of pounds of meat for laudanum.

Then my mom told us what laudanum was.  Dang, if my brother and I had been actual pioneers, we would have been the highest travelers ever.

I'd heard really excellent things about Stacey Lee's Under A Painted Sky, which has been described as diversity and female friendship on the Oregon Trail.  I keep trying to convince myself that I loved this, but I did not.  I vaguely liked it.  Kind of.  Maybe?  Maybe not.  I am having issues with my feelings for this.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Sky Between You And Me

The Sky Between You And Me is a story about a horse-loving girl who develops an eating disorder in order to become a better athlete.  Unfortunately, this novel in verse focuses very little on the sport and throws all of its energy at repetitive phrasing and one-dimensional characters.

If you are writing a novel
in verse then
rely on line
to make your novel

Gag me.  I know I'm showing my 90s roots here, but gag me with a spoon.  When poetry is used to enhance a story, it completely works (see: anything by Christine Hepperman!).  When a story is lacking and an author decides to *jazz hands* it up with some versification, well then, Houston, we have a problem.  You cannot fix a weak story or flat characters with formatting.  If anything, this draws attention to issues with vocabulary and metaphor and so on.

The idea behind The Sky between You and Me is certainly not a bad one; although cowboys and cowgirls are popular in mysteries and romances, they don't show up very often in YA.  Especially not contemporary YA!  So I was really excited to see the point of view of someone whose life is totally different from that of the teens in my suburban city.  Here are some things that our character does that I have never done:

Kiss a guy while they were both riding different horses
Race around barrels
Contemplate running for Court--Rodeo Court, that is
See her dog get kicked by a horse
Pull a calf out of its mother using a pickup truck (I swear to Cthulhu I am not making this up)

I don't doubt that these things are pretty par for the course for kids who live on farms and ranches; however, the story waffles between making Rae's life as a ranch girl the priority and focusing on her eating disorder.  Random events are pulled from Rae's life and built up to in such a way that the reader may think that it is a pivotal moment--for example, when Rae's mother's horse becomes ill.  But then in the next chapter the slate is wiped clean and the event is never referred to again.

Reading The Sky Between You and Me was a bit like riding in the car with someone learning to drive a manual transmission (apologies to my mother and father for probably giving them whiplash).  The author would introduce an interesting plot point, but instead of running with it, she popped the clutch, stalled the plot, and then jumped over to a totally different plot point.

I'm not sure if you can be an awesome cowgirl, as opposed to a mediocre one, but in any case, Raesha is a great rider and a help to her single father on their ranch.  Her life revolves around animals, especially competing in rodeos with her horse.

Except not really!  Very little of the story actually describes Rae's passion.  We are instead told that she dreams of being a rodeo champion like her mother.  We are told that she loves horses.  I guess she is fast at barrels.  There is a long interlude about these old nanny goats that no one wanted but Rae's daddy bought anyway.  I love goats as much as the next girl (probably more, actually), but why are we waxing poetic about old goats?  Rae talks a lot more about her dog Blue than she does her horse Fancy, which seems a bit off to me.

Anyway, while analyzing her times in barrel racing, Rae figures that if she could just be her mom's size, she could shave seconds off of her time.  She could sit better in the saddle if she were just her weight Minus Five.

Rae learns the calorie counts of everything and begins avoiding social situations like going out for ice cream because of the mental distress it causes.  Her best friend Asia notices that Rae has stopped eating, but instead of talking to her about it, she just gets mad and sassy.  The kicker is that a hot new girl named Kierra rides into town, accidentally almost kills Blue, and then sets her sights on Rae's boyfriend, the ultra-hot Cody.

As her disease progresses, Rae withdraws further and further from her friends and her life at the rodeo.  Honestly, she could do without her so-called friends, especially that turd she calls a boyfriend.  Since the story is written from Rae's point of view, it's obviously skewed toward her unhealthy way of thinking, but Mr. Perfect Boyfriend  cody runs around acting like a complete idiot.  He wonders why Rae is upset that he gives Kierra rides in his truck and partners with her for roping and never acknowledges that this behavior hurts his girlfriend.   He is a cowboy playa who doesn't even notice that his girlfriend is starving herself.  But when he does, we get this gem of a comment: "Getting so thin isn't attractive.  Nobody likes to hug a skeleton."  Are.  You.  Kidding.  Me?  Rae doesn't even dump his sorry keister after that, either.  Gee, what a catch.

The progression of Rae's anorexia is very believable.  She doesn't see anything wrong with being Minus Five her current weight all the time, even when her weight is still dropping.  She doesn't see that she's hurting herself--she's chasing an uncatchable ideal.

If the story had focused on Rae's disease and maybe one other plot point--like the regional rodeo competition and training for it--then I would have enjoyed it much more.  Instead, it incorporates the disparate incidents I mentioned earlier and tries to mash them all together into a cohesive plot.  The book ends up looking like headcheese, with hunks of this and chunks of that all held together tenuously by gelatinous goo.

Certainly, I am no expert in farm or country-type things.  I grew up in a suburb and have lived in big cities.  Pollution is actually helpful to my messed-up immune system because it muscles out all of the pollen that makes me so sick.  I am the kind of person that the Good Old Boy Farmer in those Farmers Only commercials makes fun of.  It was interesting to learn about a life so different from my own, but I also felt totally inferior to these people because I have no useful life skills.  Like pulling a breech calf out of its mama with a truck.  I feel a bit noodly just thinking about it.

Quick question regarding names: Cody seems like typical farm guy name, but Raesha, Kierra, and Asia?  I have a hard time putting those names with pretty cowgirls.  Is it just me?

I wish all the best to the author in her recovery from anorexia.  Her experience lends so much verisimilitude to Rae's illness, and I applaud that.  But the stylistic choice of a novel in verse and a scattershot plot distract from the powerful simplicity of Rae and her Minus Five.

And that Cody loser can go walk in front of an angry bull for all I care.  I'm still seething.

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Castle Cranshaw runs.  And he's fast.  You have to be when you're running away from the memory of your daddy pulling a gun on you.  The memory of fleeing with his mom and spending the night in terror inside the local grocery's storage room.  The idea that life might not get any better, and that running is all he'll do isn't just a possibility in Castle's mind.  It's inevitable.  So maybe he needs that running practice.

Oh, and don't call him Castle.  He's Ghost.