bunrab: (me)

First off, a couple of books I didn't like, but they were part of my "quest" - I made it a goal of my own to try and read some things that aren't the kind of stuff I always read. So we have a couple of books that are by authors I've never heard of before.
1. A Kindle book, cheap. Witch for Hire (A Witch's Path Book 1) by N. E. Conneely The premise sounded amusing - a witch who works for several police departments in Georgia, as a consultant, when supernatural things cause problems. In execution, however, the book was weak - it read more like a YA than anything else, even though our protagonist isn't a teenager. There's absolutely no sense of how a real work day goes, or what real jobs are like. The family secret is revealed, with reasons for keeping it that sound incoherent, and the resolution of it goes far too smoothly and quickly for what it is. New magical beings spring out of nowhere, as needed, just to give our heroine something to do. The dinner table conversation at the boarding house she lives in is there just so that there are other characters for Michelle to bounce off of - and it's difficult to tell one kind of supernatural humanoid character from another. And the love interest is barely even there at all - and really, Elron? An elf named Elron? Reeeeally? No convincing reasons why said elf should be attracted to Michelle, and even fewer to explain why she should be interested in a middle-aged elf; their repeated interactions seem to be a series of non-sequiters. The ending is ambiguous enough to pretty much guarantee that the author intends a sequel; I don't intend to read it.
2. From the library, allegedly first in a new series: Pile of Bones (A Novel of the Parallel Parks) by Bailey Cunningham  - I'm providing a link to Amazon, because that's easier that linking to a library site most of you won't be signed in on. " In one world, they’re ordinary university students. In another world, they are a company of heroes in a place of magic and myth called Anfractus" RPGers playing a game in a park in Regina, Saskatchewan. The university students are allegedly grad students, and honestly, the grad students I know don't have time for this much game playing. And /everybody/ needs more sleep than any of these characters get - even medical interns on call get more time to sleep between shifts than these guys seem to get between playing their game all night and TA-ing all day. Anyway, the magical world inside the park.seems to be vaguely based on ancient Rome, with lots of Latin words and place names and professions. Why a magical interface from a park made over a Cree area full of buffalo bones should be European rather than Native American/First People/Indian, I haven't figured out. And after chapter 3 or so, I stopped trying, and started skimming, because it became obvious that this book is written for gamers, and is just a novelization of a game, albeit a game the author invented. And I think you'd have to be a serious live-action RPG-er to care what these characters are doing, or to follow their reasoning, even when they're in the real world. You'd also have to be more familiar with Regina than I am, and I don't care to have to familiarize myself with the streets and neighborhoods of an unfamiliar small Canadian city just in order to be able to follow a fantasy novel. In short - not at all interesting to someone who isn't fascinated by novelizations of someone's D&D games from college.

Now on to one I did like:
3. Dragon Bones (The Hurog Duology, Book 1) by Patricia Briggs - I've read her entire Mercy Thompson series, but had never gotten around to any others of hers, so I grabbed this one from the library. And I like it. I like Briggs' writing style. It isn't exactly humorous - well, the Mercy Thompson books have plenty of humor, but that's not their main raison - but it is wry. Most of the characters have a good sense of the fact that so much of what they have to do is ridiculous, and that life is an awful lot of trouble, and that other people are usually inexplicable. Our hero, accompanied by the family ghost, gives up his fortress/leadership of the clan because he can clearly see that no physical castle is worth as much as saving the lives of his people. There are plenty of plot twists that I'm not going to give away. I'll just say, I found the premise - the last set of bones of an extinct race of dragons is buried under the keep of the Hurog - to be carried out well, and I really liked the characters. Ward does what he has to, to make sure his father doesn't kill him, and then has to figure out a way to get out of the hole he's dug for himself after his father dies. He has siblings, and cousins, and faithful followers, and not-so-faithful members of his band of misfits, and he has the aforementioned family ghost. Keep an eye on the ghost. Some particular things I liked about this book, as specifically pertains to fantasy: first, there's not /that/ much magic in it - there's a lot going on that's people interacting, not magical things happening. And the magic seems to follow a reasonable set of rules; there aren't new magical things popping up every few pages just to solve problems or just to give our hero something to kill, as happens in far too many fantasies. There are the dragons, and there are mages, some with more magical abilities than others, and that's about it. The rest of it's real people, doing what real people in feudal societies do, and frankly, when magic comes messing with their lives, they aren't all that enthused about it - it's usually more trouble to people than it is a help. And yes, that has some parallels to Game of Thrones, such as the line that the series is named after. In fact, if you liked Game of Thrones but would prefer to read something with far fewer gory deaths and far fewer pages, you could do far worse than this. It's got the hardworking people of the north, and the king in the south who maybe shouldn't be king, and some other similarities, but all in a normal-sized volume and with not one single toilet disemboweling. I plan on reading the sequel, and on finding more of Patricia Briggs, because I like her voice.

I think that completes
for this year; I probably won't have time for another quest, as there is real stuff I should be doing. Maybe next year.
bunrab: (me)

So when we last met, I had mentioned that I was going to attempt to read one of the volumes in Daniel Abraham's current series; two chapters of that disabused me of the notion. It's definitely complicated enough that one would have to start at the beginning. And given the size of each volume - fatter than the volumes of Game of Thrones, for comparison - it would be far more than I want to take on at this time. So back it went to the library, unfinished.

lengthy book stuff )

Now under way: another Patricia Briggs, but this time a series I haven't read before, or even noticed existed before, which appears to include dragons, maybe - at the moment, at the beginning of the book, the dragons appear to be extinct. So that will be the next one I report on.

Also read a graphic novel that sort of counts as fantasy: Beasts of Burden Volume: Animal Rites - cute, not terribly deep, but the dog characters and the cat are sort of cool.

Other things: took the euphonium to a Browningsville rehearsal and played it for about half the time, and there were moments when I didn't make a fool of myself. And saw "A Million Ways to Die in the West" with Larry, speaking of the West, and Seth MacFarlane's West is probably almost as fantastical as the books above, and from the first couple of measures of the score during the opening credits I was laughing, and I think I enjoyed it so much because so much of the humor was audio in one way or another, which is what I was paying attention to rather than the gross and tasteless poop jokes. From the snippets of Copland in the score, to "Mila Kunis" by way of "People die at the fair" and not forgetting the uncredited cameo by Bill Maher, I laughed a lot. I'll probably buy the soundtrack album.
bunrab: (me)


As I described in the previous post, trying to read 5 fantasy books by June 21. Well, I don't really have to try hard; I read enough that I'll have far more than 5 by then. The part that's a challenge for me is remembering to blog about them, and then writing a post that actually says something more than "I read this."

So today's book is Brazen by Kelley Armstrong. It's the newest entry in a werewolf-and-vampire series, a minor entry in several senses of the word, and a disappointing one. Its purpose is apparently to convince us that there's more to a particular minor character than there appears to be, and I didn't find it convincing.

First off, it's barely novelette length - there's not much story here, not even for the short length of the book. What brings the price of the book up to that of others in the series is supposed to be the illustrations - a whopping three of them, on glossy page inserts, none of them necessary and none of them at all useful in furthering the story nor in clarifying anything from the text. So, if you were to pay the list price of the hardcover (I got it from the library; I don't buy hardcovers any more), you'd be paying for a longish short story in which nothing gets resolved, with three glossy black-white-and-red illustrations with no action in them.

Spoiler alert )

If you're following Armstrong's series, there's no real need to read this, I don't guess, and if it doesn't make it to your library, you can nonetheless read the next one without having lost any major threads in the series arc.
Other recent reading )

Now tackling a much more substantial volume: Daniel Abrahams. It's apparently the third in a series - new on the library shelves; I often start series in the middle and then decide whether it's worth going back and reading from the beginning. I liked Abrahams' Long Price Quartet, mostly, so this has promise. Stay tuned.
bunrab: (me)
I regularly grab large armfuls of stuff off the new books shelf in the library, on spec, to see if there are random authors out there I haven't run across who might be any good. This is particularly the case with murder mysteries - I read 'em faster than the authors write 'em, so I am constantly on the lookout for new series, or new to me, anyway.

One of the things that I've noticed is that there are more and more gimmicks in the mystery genre.
A long rant about gimmick escalation. )
One example of too many gimmicks, that I skimmed through and could hardly stand even the skim version: our protagonist spends lots of time drinking brand name liquor and talking about kinky sex with her neighbors, but still has time to have a really successful career! And she has a boyfriend who's a cop, and he doesn't mind at all that she constantly gets involved in murders and solves them for him! And she's going to be on a reality show! Which is supposed to be a bunch of women from whom the rich guy will choose a spouse, but really he's gay and it's one of the men in the house that he's going to choose! Only one of the guys is secretly straight and pretending to be gay in order to get the rich guy's money! Oh, and there's a guy who's secretly his son he didn't know he had! I'm pretty sure there were designer shoes in there somewhere too, but I couldn't hack even skimming more than the first two chapters and the last one.

And then there's the other bane of the random book grab, the self-published book. These show up on the library shelves, often because a local author has donated copies to the library. Where do I even start about the horrors of most self-published books? I won't even mention the lack of proofreading in many; that's just pitiful - but the stuff beyond typos and obvious grammar errors? The dialogue that clearly no one has ever tried saying out loud? The massive info dumps as filler? The continuity errors, oh gods, the continuity errors. Bad enough when it's just that the spelling of someone's name changes from Marjorie to Marjory, a little worse when someone's physical characteristics such as hair color change suddenly, or their background information changes. Then it gets to the point where someplace that we were told 2 chapters ago is a place our protagonist has never been, but suddenly he's familiar with it and has spent years there. Or there's dialogue and suddenly one of the characters who's speaking is someone who wasn't in the book at all until suddenly they were in the middle of this conversation! And then there's the really egregious stuff - the narration changes from third-person to first person at random times that are clearly accidental, not a deliberate viewpoint change to make something clearer. Or similarly, the tense changes for no reason, and a paragraph that was in standard fictional past tense is suddenly being told in the present tense, even though nothing else has changed. Or someone who was speaking standard English (albeit stiffly and without contractions or very unrealistically) suddenly starts speaking in a dialect, with the dialect spelled phonetically.

I've been sent a few such books by authors who see my name on Amazon; so far, there hasn't been a one of the self-published books where I'd be able to write a positive review.

Sometimes it really makes me question whether it's worth trying to read anything new. But in the next post I will describe a couple of books I liked, one with a gimmick that was a little bit gimmicky but the characters were likeable and the plot was good, so it worked; another that was self-published but turned out to be quite decent.
bunrab: (Default)
First, some tea reviews:
Ginger Bread Cookie from Teavana http://www.teareviewblog.com/?p=5282 Thanks, Chas! Yummy tea!
Smoky Earl Grey from Fortnum & Mason http://www.teareviewblog.com/?p=5276 Thanks, [livejournal.com profile] parelle! This is one intense tea! (Other one to be reviewed soon!)

And some of my other recent tea reviews:
http://www.teareviewblog.com/?p=5375 Pomegranate Oolong from Harney & Sons
http://www.teareviewblog.com/?p=5332 Ginger Peach Black Tea from Let’s Do Tea
http://www.teareviewblog.com/?p=5327 Starry Night from Liber-Teas

And some book reviews on Amazon.com:
The Enthusiast by Charlie Haas - read the review here: The Enthusiast
Monster by A. Lee Martinez - read the review here: Monster
As usual, you might have to scroll down through several reviews to find mine. And as usual, if you like the reviews, please click the little Yes button! Thank you.

Other recent reading:
A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage: there's a cute visual pun on the cover - in place of the word "the" in the title, there's an elaborate tea tin, looking like it's from an era when the French went in for Chinoiserie - and the French word for tea is thé. The book is a bit superficial, but fun, and let's hear it for beer, bringer of civilization!

Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris - latest in the Sookie Stackhouse series, a bit too much blood, gore and torture - catering too much to the Anita Hamilton fans? Lots of action, but some of it totally unnecessary to the plot. If you are a reader of diverse and sundry fantasy and SF and have read Miller & Lee's Liad series, you can compare Sookie's accidental marriage to Eric with Miri accidentally marrying Val Con - both have knives. I didn't bother to do an Amazon review of this one because (a) there were already 493 reviews of it on there, and (b) my review would have been more negative than not, given the aforementioned blood and gore and torture, and the loyal fans don't want to see any negatives.

Coyote Horizon by Allen Steele - 4 connected novellas in his Coyote series, ties up some loose ends but creates others with its semi-cliffhanger ending.Won't make much sense if you haven't read the earlier books - but I do recommend them; it's good, straight-forward SF. Many people have compared Steele to earlier Heinlen (before the porn) - but Steele's politics are more nuanced and complex than Heinlein's rabid take-no-prisoners libertarianism.

Now the request: I can read Latin, more or less, as long as I don't have to get the tenses right, but I can't generate grammatically correct Latin. And there's two things I really want to make needlework samplers out of.
(1) Rust never sleeps.
(2) I know it's in here *somewhere*. (As in, someone asks whether we own such-and-such a book or object; our reply is that we do own it, but haven't the foggiest idea of where in the house or garage, packed or unpacked, it might be. This is pretty much our family motto, and has been, since the day we got married. So, I want Latin for something equivalent to "I know it's in here somewhere" although to sound euphonious, you might have to be a little elastic with the exact wording - I know that these objects are located within somewhere? Anyway. Something like that.)
bunrab: (alien reading)
So, I read this book called How to Read Novels Like A Professor, which turned out to be great - imagine a course on literature, except instead of concentrating on all the boring stuff, he concentrates on bestsellers and genre fiction. And he's funny. He starts out by telling us how the first two sentences of the book can already reveal exactly how much effort and attention we'll have to put into reading it. Several chapters are spent on discussing the unusual narrative techniques of modern novels - as a contrast to Victorian novels, explaining too why those were written the way they were, and how much something can change from that and still be considered a novel. We have the usual discussion of POV, and what the limitations of first-person are, and so on. He uses a lot of examples, including Agatha Christie mysteries, and the aforesaid Dickens. Mostly, when he discusses Dickens, he talks about Great Expectations, which I didn't like and never finished; he doesn't mention my favorite, A Tale of Two Cities, at all. And he spends a lot of time trying to justify reading Joyce's Ulysses, leaving me totally unconvinced - I'm still never going to read it. On the other hand, some of the books he discussed were ones I had not previously considered, that he made sound downright interesting - see more on that below. Others, well, no - he spends a lot of time on Fowles' The Magus, which I read while I was in college in the 70's, and didn't like at all, and the very points that I didn't like are what he does like about it: how "clever" it is, where you have to *work* at figuring out what's going on. And when I read it, I kept thinking, this is an awful lot of effort for very little story; there's not enough plot under the cleverness, and if I want to do this much work while reading, I'll read a textbook and get a good grade for it, thank you very much. So, not everything he considers interesting is attractive. Nonetheless, an excellent book; the writers on my flist would probably enjoy it, too.

One of the books he used in illustrating POV was Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible which I had heretofore ignored. But his description of multiple third-person non-omniscient POVs sounded interesting. So I went and took that out of the library next, and wound up reading it through in only two sittings - it was that interesting. And going in knowing what to expect, the multiple POVs, some with limited information, were not too much work, and were quite enjoyable. Lots of story in there; it's not just character and cleverness.

I also finally got around to reading Koontz's Odd Thomas and one of its sequels, Brother Odd, books which illustrate yet another POV - the *unreliable* first-person narrator, as Odd himself describes himself, comparing it to the POV in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I don't think I would have focused as much on how the unreliable-first-person POV affects the story had I not recently read the How to Read.... Anyway, I liked the first one, didn't like Brother Odd as much, mainly because of the excess of "Forbidden Planet" woo-woo - I didn't like "Forbidden Planet," for that matter, and for that matter, I hate "The Tempest" - I think it's the stupidest play of Shakespeare's that I've ever read, character and plot-wise. (Great language, but stupid.) Despite the "things man was not meant to create" vibe, though, I enjoyed a lot of the book, especially the Russian character.

Now off to more crocheting and some herbal tea.
bunrab: (Default)
Stalking the Vampire by Mike Resnick - second in his series about PI John Justin Mallory; I liked it better than the first (Stalking the Unicorn) - it made more sense as a mystery, if one can say that about farcical fantasy. Anyway, John Justin, aided by ex-military Winifred Carruthers and 90-pound cat-girl Felina, have to determine why Winifred's nephew seems to be turning into a vampire. This winds up involving several funeral homes with odd names not to mention the Vampire State Building. This is definitely the other Manhattan.

The Anteater of Death by Betty Webb. Who could resist a title like that? Not I, certainly. I hadn't enjoyed what little I'd read of Webb's "Desert" series, but this is a new series, taking place in a small zoo in California. It's still not a great book, or a great murder mystery, but it's OK, and the details about the animals and their care are interesting enough and funny enough to make up for the stereotypical nasty rich people who populate the surrounding town. Among other things, we get a giraffe giving birth, as well as the banana-obsessed anteater giving birth. Spoiler: neither the anteater nor the butler did it.

The Handicap Principle by Amotz and Avishag Zahavi. Probably the most boring pop-science book I've read in a while, partly because very little has been done to turn it from academese to pop. Excessively long to convey a fairly simple idea, the authors insist on dragging EVERY possible feature of an animal into play as a handicap for mating competitions, including, for pete's sake, why men have beards and women don't. The authors claim, you see, that it's because men fight a lot, and having a beard makes it easier for other men to grab them, so by displaying one, a man is claiming that he can win any fistfight, even with the handicap, thereby making him a more attractive mate. Women don't have beards because they don't get into fistfights. Honest, the authors say this!! Also, besides dragging their premise to absurd lengths, the book has crappy illustrations that do nothing for it. Would be much improved by editing out the more outrageous half of their claims, and filling the space with photos of the animals and some side-by-side comparison illustrations. Also including more rodents, perhaps overlooked here because so many of them aren't flashy and aren't terribly dimorphic in size and therefore would be difficult to stretch into the authors' thesis.

Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin. Known for her work with livestock animals, Grandin here adds pet animals to the mix, discussing how improving our pets' lives by considering their evolutionary environment can also improve our own lives. Some of it is redundant stuff from her other books. The chapter on cats is interesting - a good explanation of why, although cats and dogs are both "domesticated" animals, a cat is a lot less domesticated than a dog.

The Van Rijn Method by Poul Anderson, edited by Hank Davis - a collection of some of the Van Rijn and Falkayn stories, nothing one hasn't read before, but with introductions to each explaining a little more of the big picture of Anderson's future history. Also, at the end, a very good timeline showing how the Polesotechnic League develops and dissolves and the eventual development of the Empire period of Ensign Flandry.

The Fourth Time is Murder by Steven Havill - grabbed at random off library shelves, looking for more to read, this turns out to be a recent volume in a long-established series. It takes place in the Southwest - New Mexico, near the Mexican border - but is NOT, thank goodness, another attempt to be a Hillerman clone. (I get tired of those - all the Hillerman wannabes who toss in a Navajo and a mention of Navajo religion, and then expect that we'll all enjoy their books just because of that, regardless of how superficial or unrealistic it otherwise is.) Main protagonist is a woman under-sheriff. Plot is based around a financial scam we only slowly find out about; side plots include illegal immigrants, perhaps unavoidable given the location.

The Golden Age of Novelty Songs by Steve Otfinoski. Although it hits most of the high points, I can't entirely agree with a book that devotes almost an entire chapter to Alvin and the Chipmunks and only a couple of sentences to "Camp Grenada." And in the chapter about Christmas novelty songs, he doesn't even MENTION "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" - hmph! Includes photos, and does include things you might not instantly think of in the novelty song genre - Cheech and Chong, and William Fries (better known as C.W. McColl), along with the ones you would instantly think of - Napoleon XIV, Homer & Jethro, The Chad Mitchell Trio (my favorites! for their song "Lizzie Borden.")

There, now I'm only a couple weeks behind on the news.
bunrab: (alien reading)
Finally! A genuine post instead of a bunch of tweets!

First, the best book I've read in the past month is The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett - it's a really original fantasy. My Amazon.com review is here and as ever, I'd appreciate it if you read the review, voted Yes for it, and commented on it if you have the time and willingness to do so.*

Then, books that I tweeted, but haven't mentioned in more detail:
Salvation in Death - JD Robb, latest in her Eve Dallas series, not bad, has to do with a televangelist who suddenly goes honest.
Bones and Obsession - Jonathan Kellerman, latest in his Alex Delaware series; Alex and Milo sound more alike than ever, both of them frequently leaving any personal pronouns off the beginnings of sentences; the new sidekick that Milo acquires in Obsession shows some promise as a character.
The Best of Michael Swanwick - anthology of short stories, some of which I had already read when they appeared in SF magazines; perhaps the most famous is "The Feast of St. Janis."
A graphic novel of Thor based on the comic books of the same name; the book uses up quite a bit of space on the set-up of why Thor is coming back, and a lot of it is pretentious panels that show almost nothing. Thor establishes a new Asgard - hovering over a farm in Oklahoma. There are some good bits in here, such as when someone from the town wants to deliver an invitation to the residents of Asgard to attend a town hall meeting, and has to first install a mailbox under Asgard, so he has something to deliver it to. Also the scene where the gods come to the town meeting - that's where the quote "What unfortunate day's events are not made gladder by cake?" comes from.
Manga Shakespeare Julius Caesar - worst in the series so far; the artwork is so ugly it makes it nearly impossible to tell the characters apart. And having the characters wearing togae in one scene, and then put on zoomy helmets and hop on motorcycles, is so wrong. I can't see where anyone would ever be drawn to a deeper understanding of Shakespeare or toward reading more of his plays, from this presentation; if anything, it'll drive new readers away.
Cretaceous Dawn by L. and M. Graziano - sorta like Jurassic Park, except it involves the scientists actually being dumped back in time. A couple of characters seem real; others are cardboard, but overall it's readable. Manages to involve a turf war between OSHA and ONR (Office of Naval Research) and a couple of crooked physicists, to give more interest to the modern end of things. The entomologist gets the girl.
A Very Private Enterprise by Elizabeth Ironsides - from the cover illustration, and even the back cover blurb, I thought this was going to be a historical mystery, but it turned out to be modern, far too British for me to understand what was going on, and it had a totally implausible ending where after everything is over and one person is left packing up, the real killer just wanders in and confesses.

And a few I hadn't mentioned at all yet:
Stat-Spotting by Joel Best - lightweight, but good summaries. Perhaps his best chapter is the idea of knowing benchmarks - there are about 300m americans, 4m babies born each year in US, 2.4m die each year and a few other general ones - so that you can recognize totally bogus stats (like one claim I heard, from a relative, that there are 150 million abortions a year in the US - oh yes, 50% of every man, woman, and child in the country had an abortion last year? Really?)

Free-Range Knitter by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee - a lot about her daughters. No sense anyone who doesn't knit or haunt yarn shops reading it. It's humorous, but only for yarn addicts.

Ageless Memory - Harry Lorayne - a reminder of the old trick of putting absurd images to things you need to remember. I used to do that and then didn't and now Lorayne has reminded me that it works.

A Just Determination - John Hemry (not Henry) - well-written and fascinating, and at the same time way too much detail of every sentence needed to launch a ship or start a court-martial. He's best known for a particular mil-fic series, which I haven't read and which this isn't in. This one has a touch of Young Adult coming-of-age stuff in it, but it isn't juvenile. I liked it. Our boy is a newly minted lawyer (well, that's not what they call it, but that's what it is) on a battleship on a supposedly peaceful mission. Which of course goes awry. Warning: unless you're already deeply into Navy stuff, you'll spend a while getting straight about the difference between Captains and Commanders and whatnot, and the exact chain of command, and who isn't on the usual chain, and more of that nature.

Gaaah, and there's still a short stack of books here - I'll include the 4 remaining in a second post, before this one gets big enough to invade a small nation.
bunrab: (alien reading)
some of which must return to library Thursday. So I'd better mention 'em now.

American Nerd by Benjamin Nugent - amusic, sometimes superficial. He makes an interesting case, in his chapter about the SCA, for the way the SCA manages to create nerd jocks, unlike most nerdy groups.

Recovery Man by Kristine Kathryn Rusch - latest in her Retrieval Artist (Miles Flint) series; all the books in this series are seriously good crime fic/mystery fic as well as quite acceptable science fiction - a far more serious blend of SF elements than, say, J.D. Robb. I like the way she does really alien aliens. And I like the dry sense of humor that sneaks in occasionally. This volume has far more to do with Miles' past history/personal life than any of the previous ones. One of the things I like best is how realistic the characters are - even the nasty-guy Recovery Man has some sophisticated thoughts and thinks about what he's doing, not an all-evil-all-the-time-just-because villain.

Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck. Well, of course, RVs/motor homes/campers are a lot more common now than they were in 1960, and the interstate highway system is a lot more complete (even in some of its deteriorating-infrastructure state), so some of the book is a bit dated. But it's still interesting, especially the postscript about the Kennedy inauguration - coming up as we are on the Obama inauguration, which, you will recall, is more or less a local event where I am; yes, traffic and security and whatnot for DC does stretch all the way to our area.

I had briefly mentioned Odysseus on the Rhine but didn't say anything about it, and I should. It's a sequel to The Odyssey and before you go "ewwww" please listen when I say it's quite nicely done. I've added a review to Amazon.com, which should be posted within a few hours. (And if you read it and like it, besides the Yes button, could you possibly add a comment? I'm a glutton for comments, and they keep Amazon from thinking that it's the same few fans all the time. Thanks!)
bunrab: (alien reading)
Read a whole bunch of xmas-themed short story and novella anthologies, not worth mentioning (although Wolfsbane and Mistletoe, werewolf Christmas stories, is a pretty funny concept, erractically implemented) and I'll mention one xmas novel, Donna Andrews' Six Geese a-Slaying - it's the latest in her Meg Lanslow series, and it's back to being funny, which the previous volume wasn't, which is why I mention it even though it's a series book.

And Jim Butcher's Welcome to the Jungle, a Harry Dresden graphic novel, which I felt was eh. I mean, OK, but thinnish on plot and I really like having more detail in these; in this case, the pictures were NOT worth a thousand words to me, and I much would have preferred a good ol'-fashioned text novel. Oh, and when it has a cape/mantle, people, it's not a duster any more, it's a freakin' greatcoat, OK??

And a graphic novel I didn't finish, Preacher, Vo. 1: Welcome to Texas - not my cup o' tea, too weird, with a plot line that has too little coherence and too much violence and profanity just for the sake of violence and profanity. Though I do sorta like the Irish vampire character. But I'm not gonna bother finishing this or looking for the rest of the series.
bunrab: (alien reading)
Kitty and the Silver Bullet - Carrie Vaughn - latest in her werewolf series, includes vampires and a vampire war over the next king of the city.

The Circular Staircase - Mary Roberts Rinehart. This murder mystery was written a century ago, 1908, and what's surprising is how modern it is. I think that Agatha Christie probably couldn't have written her stuff had there not been Rinehart's stuff to ease us out of the all-male Victorian stuff. In Conan Doyle and other mystery writers of the turn of the 20th century, mostly women are just objects that things happen to. Rinehart, however, made her protagonist a grumpy old maiden aunt, and both the mystery and the characters seem far more modern than I expected. For example, the aunt inherits guardianship of her niece and nephew. When the nephew graduates college, the first thing he does is go out and buy a car. In 1908! And a period touch: "... and I learned how to tie over my bonnet a gray baize veil, and, after a time, never to stop to look at the dogs one has run down. People are apt to be so unpleasant about their dogs." The copy I read, incidentally, was the original 1908 edition, with its carefully inset illustrations. The crime is certainly modern enough - it involves a bank officer faking his own death to avoid being punished for his embezzlement, when his bank fails. (Ken Lay, anyone? Many people suspect that his death was all too convenient...) Anyway, I liked this, found it easier to read than much turn-o-century stuff, and certainly more modern characters and plot than some of the other stuff I've read from that era. For example, in the back of the book are pages advertising other recent releases from the publisher; I've read a couple of Grace Livingston Hill's books, and they were so awful I never read more, and I've read every word Kathleen Norris ever wrote - I went through a phase - and while those were more readable, they still have a certain saccharine quality to them, and a certain dependence on unrealistic coincidences and people walking into other people's houses uninvited and then eavesdropping to their detriment; Rinehart has much better characters than that!

I noticed that I've already blogged about more than 100 books this year, so for the rest of the year I'm probably going to only mention books where I really have something to say about the book; not gonna blog about any more routine murder mysteries or routine vampire stories. I may change my mind about that, but right now, I figure I've already done my share for promoting literacy. And only a quarter of the ones I've mentioned are murder mysteries, and nearly half of them were nonfiction! So I've met at least one New Year's Goal.

Ketchup

Sep. 15th, 2008 11:53 pm
bunrab: (Default)
Okay, so after the flu in the middle of August and then a week at Sally's inhaling dust, I couldn't stop coughing and I felt even more fatigued than usual; eventually I started thinking maybe there's fluid in my lungs, so I went to the doc. Apparently not fluid, just inflamation, so using steroid inhaler (as of this past Wed) to reduce inflamation; it's working a bit, I guess - still coughing and stuff, but nearly back to only tired all the time instead of exhausted to the point of not getting out of bed.

I got a couple of RL projects done - finally finished a couple of bedside rugs I've been working on for me and [livejournal.com profile] squirrel_magnet, since cooler weather is coming and we may not want to step onto cold floors. I'll try to get pictures of them sometime soon. Started work on wedding gift for my cousin Jesse who got married last September - goal is to finish the stuff (quilted table runner and 4 placemats) and mail them off by the end of this month, a year after the wedding. Still cleaning up bits and pieces at old house; we buried Lamarck chinchilla who passed away this past spring and had been in the freezer, and I put a stepping stone on his grave - I'll take a picture of that, too, when I get a chance.

And there has been reading, as usual:

Book I did not finish: Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light. Forty years ago I didn't make it ten pages in before giving up out of total lack of interest in figuring out who these characters were; twenty years ago I made it about twenty pages in; this time, all the way to page 27 before closing it again. I do not care enough about Hindu mythology and other mythology to follow who these characters are, who is an avatar of who else, who is on which side... I just don't care.

Book I didn't like: White Oleander by Janet Fitch. This was apparently a big bestseller and very popular with book clubs, and it reads exactly as if it were written to be a book club discussion subject, and I don't mean that kindly. Where some reviewer sees a "surprising journey of self-discovery" I see a protagonist who stays stupid the whole way through - she doesn't make the same mistake twice, but she makes new and dumber ones all the time, and never seems to wise up and stop approaching life as a manipulating but clueless slut. We're supposed to care about what she learns from each of her foster mothers, and compare them, but she doesn't ever seem to learn any rational kind of lesson. Even when her own mother gets out of jail, she isn't really happy. This book doesn't really have much of a plot; the character grows older but doesn't grow up; her mother gets out of jail but that's just a small paragraph amidst the general whining and indecisiveness. Bleah. I know thousands of people disagree with this evaluation of the book; clearly, many people are looking more for "emotionally gripping" than for "fast-moving plot and rational characters."

And for stuff I did enjoy: Watchers by Dean Koontz - not great literature, but a fast-moving plot and nice characters! This is the first Koontz I've ever read - somehow managed to not get around to any till now. This one features a golden retriever named Einstein, genetically modified to near-human intelligence, able to read and even converse in writing. Plot also includes a nastier genetically modified character, the Outsider, and along the way we are supposed to compare the Outsider and Vince the mob hit-man, and notice which of them is really less human and kills more people. That part is a bit obvious. But hey, it's a good story, and most of the characters are likeable, and there's a more-or-less happy ending.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. This is a novel about a historian who is researching Vlad Tepes, who turns out to be an immortal vampire after all, sort of, only not. It's a very long book, and some of it was longer than need be - in almost a deliberate imitation of Victorian style, there is much more exposition, and jumping back from generation to generation, and words upon words, than is really necessary. Sometimes one can lose track of which generation is taking place - is it our female protagonist as a teenager listening to her father tell about his research, or the father listening to his mentor from a generation earlier, or is it 30 years later? We run through all sorts of minute historical detail from the 1470's onward. I admit to skimming in spots.

Smoke-Filled Rooms by Kris Nelscott - a murder mystery set during the 1968 Chicago convention, featuring a black, male, PI - written in the first person by Nelscott, which is one of Kristen Kathryn Rusch's pen names. So, quite a feat of characterization. Anyway, a decent mystery, though a bit of gory torture of the sort I really don't think could go unnoticed for so long. Much of the plot is timely enough given this election year. I'll probably look for the rest of the series.

The Apostate's Tale by Margaret Frazer - most recent in her Dame Frevisse series, and this one returns more to the priory (convent) after the last couple of very political volumes. The last two were almost entirely about English political uprisings and Frevisse's cousin Alice, and I was not crazy about them; I was glad to see this one get back to the day to day details of everyday life in the fifteenth century. Unfortunately, it's probably the last one, since it ends with Frevisse becoming Prioress, and also it's set in 1452, so any ten minutes now the printing press is going to come along and destroy the priory's book-copying business and only source of income.

Warning: I am going to attempt Twittering. No telling what may show up.

Now to go see if I can catch up on a couple of weeks of unread flist. Speaking of, Chas, your bday present will be in the mail tomorrow. [livejournal.com profile] richspk, speaking of addresses, I need your snail mail address. Email me, plz.
bunrab: (alien reading)
Well, it's been a murder mystery binge:
Dyer Consequences by Maggie Sefton - latest in her knitting series; so-so. I probably won't bother with more of these; they're just not interesting enough. Could see who the murderer was (though not all the details of why) fairly quickly. One high spot: one of the alpacas is a hero in the final showdown between our heroine and the murderer. But at the end of this book, she's getting rid of most of the alpacas.
Mercedes Coffin by Faye Kellerman - again has Peter Decker and his daughter Cindy working together. Didn't like it that much though; the plot had complications and coincidences multiplied unnecessarily. In connecting two murders some 15 years apart, we have so many characters who were supposedly involved in both but for different reasons that I started losing track of who was who, which victim and which year we were talking about. It just didn't appeal to me that much. On the other hand,
Cold Case by Kate Wilhelm, latest in her Barbara Holloway series, is also about 2 murders, 15 years apart, but I found it much easier to follow who the characters were and why they were involved with each other. Perhaps it's that the setting for this one is mostly academia, while the setting for the Kellerman is the rap-music-and-drugs business in L.A. - I can relate more to the university characters.
Damage Control by J.A. Jance. Latest in her Sheriff Joanna Brady series. Always good. Joanna's mother is getting a bit tiresome, but we do find out a lot more about Joanna's family history in this one, along with the usual exposures of human greed and stupidity.

And one non-murder:
Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman. Very similar to Predictably Irrational but not quite as long or as amusing. In one chapter, the authors make the assumption that the discovery of homo floriensis has been proven to be a separate species of humanity and that anyone who doesn't buy the arguments in that direction (instead of the many scientists who feel there's not nearly enough evidence yet to draw that conclusion) is irrational. That was a bit annoying. On the other hand, the chapter about the ineffectiveness of the typical job interview in predicting whether a person will fit the prevailing corporate culture is interesting.

Every post deserves a picture:


There is a 36-Euro fine for not picking up your dog poop in Vienna. There are MANY of these little signs, on virtually every patch of grass, alerting you to the consequences.
bunrab: (alien reading)
First, stuff:
[livejournal.com profile] fadethecat, did you already know that the Maker Faire will be Oct. 10-12 at the Travis County Expo Center? Now you know. I suspect you will want to attend.

Then, some books:
I Love Knitting - Amazon.com review here though this was short enough to hardly count as reading.
Judge by Karen Traviss - Amazon.com review here - sixth and final in her Wess'har series. It's OK but not great science fiction; those of you in places outside the US and UK, you won't be unduly deprived of any great literature if the series never makes it to your distant shores.
I think I already mentioned Kluge, right? That was fun.
Take the Cannoli by Sarah Vowell - musings by a public radio commentator on modern American life. Eh. Some were amusing - the essay about what she learned from being in high school marching band, for instance; others, including the title essay, struck me as self-absorbed and shallow.

I have most of the mugs hung up in the kitchen! I have some pictures hung on the walls! I can see more floor space than I could a week ago! I still have a bunch more curtains to make, though, to replace what was here, most of which is definitely not to my taste. I've gotta take some pictures of the living room, now that it looks halfway like it should.

More about travel:
Found a bunch of my receipts and stuff from trip to Europe. The place where we ate the last night in Vienna was Cafe Bierbeisl Einstein, which I found the take-out service card from, which does have its own website: http://www.einstein.at . They have phone-in take-out, though I doubt you can get delivery here. And a souvenir picture of [livejournal.com profile] squirrel_magnet from Postojna Caves - once we get the new scanner/copier/printer plugged in, I'll scan it for your viewing pleasure. And postcards from Schonbrunn Castle. And hotel receipts, and my receipt from the internet cafe in Pula, Croatia, and some scribbled notes that I need to match up to their proper photographs.

Stuff: our old copier died - well, it was over 10 years old and a cheap one to begin with, and had done excellent duty for something so small and cheap (I used to pick it up by its little handle and drag it to quilting classes with me, which made me a very popular attendee). We could have waited for a while to buy something new, as the old scanner still works, sort of, and the old printer still works, though slowly, but this was on way-marked-down, instant-rebate, net price $50 for the whole thing. Even if it turns out to be junk that breaks in a year, that's about the price per year we'd be willing to pay for such a unit. So when that gets plugged in, a whole bunch o' old-fashioned printed photos are gonna get scanned!
bunrab: (alien reading)
Okay. Let's see. The Outlaw Demon Wails by Kim Harrison - latest in her Rachel Morgan series. Urban fantasy set in Cincinnati, our heroine is a witch, and demons are - well, not necessarily the enemy, and elves are, well, not necessarily nice people. This volume ties up a few loose ends, and introduces a cool plot twist. I really still don't like the character of Rachel's mother, though, no matter what good reasons she has for being nuts. Oh, and revelations about Rachel's father - surprising but I'm not sure I like that direction.

Have I already mentioned Where the Heart Leads by Stephanie Laurens? Yes, it's a Regency romance - but it's part of a series that features crime solving (murder mysteries and other crimes) as a major feature; in this one, not only our proto-PI, Barnaby Adair, but also our proto-police-detective, get a romance going.

Right is Wrong by Arianna Huffington. Even though I'm on the same general side of the fence, this book is a waste of time, because if one reads any political blogs at all, one has already read all of this. As blog entries, fine. As a book, it's incoherent. And repetitive and redundant. Preaching to the choir. People who disagree aren't going to buy the book, any more than I'd ever buy Coulter; people who agree, well, nothing new here, just a jolly bit of self-congratulatory feeling if you want to read somebody famous agreeing with you; and as for undecideds, well, I have the feeling that most people who are still undecided at this point are unlikely to buy or read hardcover books to help make their decisions. Will be remaindered the minute after the election, and have trouble selling even at $3.99. And I say this who agree with the general gist of the book.

Also a couple knitting books - possibly I'll go into detail on those some slow moment.

Pictures: jumping around a bit, here's toward the end of our trip; we're in Vienna eating pastry at a sidewalk cafe.


And here's one from Slovenia, speaking of pastry: Bled is famous for its cream cakes. We had some, and it was indeed delicious.

However, mostly what we saw in Bled was this: rain. And more rain. Frog-strangling rain.

That's looking down the street from the covered outdoor section of the very good pizza place attached to the back of our hotel.

I really do have to get these pictures up on a page so I can show you all of them without breaking anyone's fpage.
bunrab: (alien reading)
Crime fiction:
Holy Moly by Ben Rehder - Read my Amazon.com review here. (And clicky the helpful Yes button, plz.) Latest in his Game Warden John Marlin series, set in Texas.
Cockatiels at Seven by Donna Andrews - Read my Amazon.com review here. Latest in her Meg Lanslow series, and not as funny as the previous ones.

Science Fiction and Fantasy:
Sky Horizon by David Brin - Read my Amazon.com review here. Ick - young adult, full of teenage angst, highly improbable alien attitude.
From Dead to Worse by Charlaine Harris - latest in her Sookie Stackhouse series. I didn't review it on Amazon.com because 152 people had already done so. I actually liked it better than many of the reviewers did, though - I liked that it had numerous different plot threads, and a lot of ongoing issues were resolved, though by no means all of them - things were neatened up considerably, so that we can start in on some new plots next volume. Spoiler: Bob the cat finally gets turned back into a human.
bunrab: (alien reading)
After we got back from Europe, I was only home for a couple of days before I turned around and went up to New York to help my friend Sally-the-hoarder throw some stuff out. Just got back this Thursday. Did not have computer with me while I was there, and didn't have much chance to use Sally's computer. We did get some stuff thrown out, but it's a battle - while she knows she's got a problem, she doesn't like to think that any individual thing is a problem, and so every single piece has to be looked at, categorized, and a decision made about it. We couldn't even compromise about putting some stuff in boxes and sticking them in the POD that I rented for her and then deciding about them later, because the stuff in boxes *might* be something she'd need within the next couple months. The fact that many of said things were things she's done without for years because they were buried under other stuff does not in any way alleviate her anxiety that she might need it, that she can think of a possible use for it, and therefore it can't get stored somewhere where she can't get at it instantly, let alone thrown away. So we debate that need to a standstill on every receipt, every tennis ball, every bag of candy purchased in 2004 and long since past its expiration date. Despite all that, we DID make some progress. And I got a chance to talk to a couple of her other friends who live up there, and started enlisting them to help out with one small chunk of STUFF at a time.

Wait, here's a picture, so that this post isn't just whining! This one is me on my travel scooter, on the road leading to the beach in Opatija, Croatia; the bikes behind me are Kawasakis, which seemed to be the most popular motorcycles in town, though still far behind motor scooters in numbers; there are a couple other band members, too - we were on our way to the amphitheatre for our first performance!


Anyway. Reading. Let's see. Re-reading some Terry Pratchett - so far, Guards, Guards!, Men at Arms, and Feet of Clay. Also have progressed through Matriarch and Ally in the second trilogy of Karen Traviss' Shan Frankland series. Now on the final book, Judge - I'll give a more thorough report on that one when I'm done. Also have started the latest Harry Dresden book, Small Favors (Jim Butcher) - I won't give anything away, don't worry. Um, Carolyn Hart's Death Walked In in her Annie Darling series - eh, she's recycling plots lately. There's been other stuff as well - I know a bunch of library books have wandered in and out of here - but I can't remember what.

Wait, I am drifting into boring, must be time for another picture! Here are some bikes and scooters parked under the palm trees along the sidewalks of one of the main streets. I bet you never thought of Eastern Europe and palm trees in the same breath - but Croatia is a seaside country, this is a seaside resort town, and yes, it has lots of palm trees!


We got most of the remainder of the stuff out of the old house yesterday - there's still loose odds and ends in the kitchen that we can carry over in the car, but all the big stuff's out of there, and we can call in the carpet shampooers and the general cleaners and probably have that house ready to rent out for September 1! This house is messier than ever now - but the electrician is coming next Thursday to do the rest of the work on the outlets, and then we can push all the bookcases against the walls and really get to unpacking the books.

This is the Hotel Agava (yes, after the agave plant), which is where we were staying in Opatija.


Anyway, I'm just going to look at my flist starting now, and only go back if (a) I see something drastic that begs for explanation that may be in an earlier post, or (b) you actually put a comment here telling me that there's something I should know or would like to know in your posts of the past month. Sorry I'm being so lazy - but lazy is my middle name, right?

One more pic: This is looking out from the stage into the audience portion of the amphitheater, during our sound check a couple hours before the concert.
bunrab: (Default)
Of All Sad Words by Bill Crider - latest in his Sheriff Dan Rhodes series of murder mysteries. Amusing if lightweight.

City of Pearl and its sequels, Crossing the Line and The World Before by Karen Traviss - science fiction series; there's a second trilogy also out that I'll probably look for. I stumbled across these by accident. They're not bad - strong milfic element, but mainly alien sociology, if you will - humans are NOT the good guys here. (At one point, one of the aliens says, in effect, "I've read some of your science fiction. The aliens always help the humans, or release the human captives, because they admire the spunky human spirit. I've got news for you: you're not spunky; you're obnoxious!") The third volume had a couple weaknesses - a touch of one of the romance genre tropes, where characters don't speak to each other and do all the wrong things simply because they won't ask the other person a forthright "What do you want to do?" I don't like this trope when it shows up in romance, and I like it even less when some of the aliens are supposed to be completely forthright.)

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely - this was fun, confirming all one's worst fears about how illogical we are, how easy it is for people to fall into cheating, how crappy our thinking gets when it involves money, how much more we cheat if a transaction DOESN'T involve money, and how traditional economics is full of crap. ([livejournal.com profile] elfbiter, this is sort of similar to The Failure of Logic except it discusses a series of shorter, but much broader, experiments.)

I'm sure there's been something else in there; darned if I remember what. We're still doing the unpacking-one-house, packing-the-rest-of-the-old-house thing, and we can never find anything when we need it. Camera recharger? who knows. Size 13 knitting needles? No idea. The curtain hooks we bought just yesterday? Disappeared into the morass.
bunrab: (alien reading)

Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia - despite the subject, not as interesting to me as some of his books - the anecdotes are quite short, and a lot of time is spent on amusia. One fascinating thing: the incidence of musical hallucinations is much more common than you'd think; estimates are that as many as one in four people will have a musical hallucination at some time in their lives, and that there are probably about as many people who have repeated or near-constant musical hallucinations as there are completely deaf people. So chances are, if your circle of acquaintances is large enough to include someone who's deaf, you also know someone who, unbeknownst to you, has musical hallucinations.
Jane Haddam, Cheating at Solitaire - latest in the Gregor Demarkian series. Partly a Hollywood roman a clef and while I realized promptly that "Stewart Gordon" is Patrick Stewart, it took me longer than it should have to figure out that Arrow Normand is Brittney Spears spelled backward.

bunrab: (Sniffy)
Whew. Band Day was fun but exhausting. All went well. The bands all did great programs. The ice cream vendor sold out of all flavors. After we got home, I slept till 4:30 Monday afternoon.

The house is almost ready for us to move in - the painters were doing the final touch-ups today; the new windows are installed and the sunroom shades re-loaded; the washer-dryer vent and power are up and running; the electrician just has to do one more electrical outlet in the kitchen. We have started carrying all sorts of loose stuff over there, but I need to call a mover and get a firm date in order to push me into getting really moving. I have finished crocheting one cotton throw rug for the floor, but I have to get a non-skid backing for it yet; I will take a pic once the rug is all smooth and flat.

Cindythelibrarian has brought us an armful of flattened boxes so I have no excuse not to start packing!!

Recent reading:
Lisa Scottoline, Daddy's Girl - plucky law professor up for tenure gets caught up in giant prison plot. OK, if not great.
G.M. Ford, Nameless Night - amnesia, the NSA and NASA - it's a thriller. Not my usual cup of tea but this was good, and the beginning, with the amnesia patient, tied in interestingly with that book about traumatic head injury I read a couple weeks ago.
Justin Scott, Mausoleum - latest in his Ben Abbott series; as usual, real estate developers are the bad guys. I have a quibble with this series, which is that its protagonist supposedly has a felony conviction and multiple-year jail term in his past and yet somehow had no trouble getting both a PI license and a Realtor license?

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