Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Book Review: How to Be a Heroine

How to Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis


I have a small but insistent affection for books about what books people read, and this one is about so many books that I've either read or want to read (and one or two I'm giving a big skip).  I won't go into the details of the books -- there's a full bibliography at the end of the book -- and instead tell you a bit about the idea of being a heroine.

In Ellis's life, what a heroine is changes, and because it's important to her to be one, she considers them from many angles.  It's not something that I've every really considered, at least not consciously.  At a fairly young age I discovered that most of the book characters (and TV and movie characters) I most admired were all male, which sort of denied the whole idea of a woman as hero for me.  It was some years before I found enough female literary heroines to think of them as a thing, and I never thought to model myself on them (I was busy trying to me Mr. Spock for too many years).  But I can sort of catch onto what she's saying, that we are the authors of our lives and the heroines of our own stories. 

It sounds so pat and even trite, but in the context of the book, it isn't.  It's important and deep and a thought a lot of women (and men) don't really incorporate.

Above that, Ellis really examines these characters  -- Lizzy and Anne and Scarlett, Jane and Laura and so many more.  She digs into them within the fictional worlds they inhabit, and she digs into what their authors did with them or didn't do with them, what the authors were saying or not saying.  If you have a taste for literary analysis (in a lighter, less academic form), you'll find it here. 

I now have to read and reread a number of books to see these heroines for myself.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Book Review - Pacific Rim

Pacific Rim (Movie Novelization) by Alex Irvine

Reading has been a struggle for months, but (quite suddenly, it seems to me) I am back to reading again.  I suspect it might be a slight change in my meds, or the coming of spring, or a change in the planetary alignments.  I dunno, but I'm glad.

First book read was this one, because I love the movie and I tend to like novelizations when I want a non-thinking read.  This one satisfied.  It's pretty much spot on to the movie (a few minor variations which are to be expected), and it filled in some background.  It isn't exactly stellar writing, but I wasn't expecting to be blown away by the prose.  It was comfortable, familiar, and easy to read, which was just what I wanted.  I'm already on to the next book, which is a bit more challenging.

In other reading news, I'm mourning the end of a favorite series, The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne.  The last book arrived.  I'm not likely to read it, to tell the truth, because for me the series really ended 3 books back when I realized Hearne was sick of his character and the world he'd made and just wanted to get it over with.  The last few books have felt rushed and a little bitter.  I've heard a synopsis of the final book and I'm content with that.  I'd rather hang on to the positive feelings I have for the first 6 books and the short stories than to have it all sink into a bitter aftertaste.

I suspect that's a problem with a good series -- there comes a point where a smart author has to end it if there is a long running arc or an interconnected series of arcs.  As a writer, I know that when I already know the end of the story I'm writing, I tend to lose interest in it.  I write as much to tell myself a story as to tell it to anyone else.  There are series I've read where the author jumped the shark bigtime and couldn't go back to fix it.  Others, the author didn't realize when enough was enough.  But the hardest ones are when the author has gotten tired of what she's writing about and is eager to get on to some other project, but due to contractual obligations or just a completionist obsession has to write the thing out to a projected conclusion.  Those are the saddest endings.

That might also be one reason I haven't finished reading the whole Dresden Files series yet, because I fear that it will have that sad ending of a author who no longer loves his characters and just wants them to be done and over.  I think it's better when an author ends a series while she still loves her characters and still has a few stories left about them, but doesn't want to get sick of them.  Better to find a nice parking spot, move on for a while, and decide later if the whole thing is really done and better left alone, or if perhaps one or two more stories might be ready to appear in the world.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Book Review: Two Old Women

Two Old Women: An Alaska Legend of Betrayal, Courage, and Survival by Velma Wallis

I'm struggling to read, still, and since neither the third Dresden Files book or The Fire and the Fury seem able to hold my attention, I pulled this off my shelf and finished it.  It's a short little story.  The book itself is not even 150 pages and it's a small format with illustrations.  But as a retelling of a legend, it was enjoyable and interesting.  Not much else to say about it, really.  Lots to think about, though. 

The premise is that, during a particular hard winter, an indigenous Alaskan tribe makes the hard decision to leave behind two elderly women in order to help save the rest of the tribe.  It's done with much heartache and sadness, but it's the way The People have done for a long time whenever times were particularly tough.  Usually, though, the ones left behind were near death, or unable to do much for themselves anymore and thus a drain on the tribe.  These two old women have just sunk into the complaints and peculiar stasis of their age.  So, when left behind with two secret gifts -- a bundle of precious sinew and a hatchet -- they decide to fight for their own survival with the idea that rather than sit around waiting for death, they would die trying.

Their struggle is hard, but they draw on the knowledge and memories of their long lives and push their bodies to find a place that The People have forgotten and set up camp there.  They not only survive, but flourish.  And then The People come back looking for them after a long, terrible year. hoping to find them alive, and the repair of relationships must happen.

It is a moral tale, of course, as most legends are, about the value elders are to the younger, of the problems the elderly are prey to and how they can lose sight of their own value, and about the harshness of nomadic life in the far north.  It's a sweet story, and  rests upon a solid foundation of knowledge about what life was like (and, for many, still is like).  It is the sort of story that leaves an impression.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Wow, How Do I Work This?

Yes, a very long time.  Seems that the summer in Maine was so rough this year that I stopped reading.  Indeed, not a book was finished for 5 months. A long drought.

So, because of the new year and all that, I set a goal to read a book per week.  I was stymied in the very first week by the flu, of course, but I still finished the first book.

Manga Classics: Pride and Prejudice

Ok, so I went easy on myself.  I had the flu.

This retelling of the Austen classic isn't so bad.  If I knew some very young person who liked Manga and was curious, I'd pass it along.  But for someone who is either familiar with the story or has a more complete understanding of the historic era and/or mature emotions, eh, not so much.

In short, the story has been hugely streamlined. Stacy King, who adapted the novel for the Manga, really cut and condensed, in my opinion, far too much. All the social criticism, satire, and commentary of the original book is gone.  Much of the character nuance, depth, and complexity is gone (as well as a number of characters).  Women now seek to marry wealthy men because they are golddiggers.  A man who romances women in search of a fortune is just a horndog. And everything is Elizabeth's fault.

Yes, I think that was the most annoying part of the whole story for me -- the final chapters, in which Elizabeth and Darcy apologize to each other for past behaviors, come to understand each other, analyze their relationship and how it came to be, are all compressed into a kiss and some wedding images.  Darcy doesn't even apologize to Elizabeth at all for the manner of his first proposal or for the things he did and said when they first came to know each other.  He doesn't reveal his shyness and his retreat behind his position and power.  He's just the hero with some 'flaws' taped to his side.

Elizabeth's sharp, satirical eye and  tongue are also gone from the book. She's just a very pretty girl. Yes, it preserves the occasional quote, but the color and energy that make Elizabeth a favorite heroine are removed.  We don't need her observations in part because Manga is a symbolic, visual medium and the signs and clues she saw (and therefore we saw) in the original novel are now given to us in the language of Manga (in fact, if one is not familiar with Manga, I suspect the story will appear a little confusing).

Now, as Manga, it's quite enjoyable. Po Tse's artwork isn't 100% to my tastes, but in general I liked it very much.  The clothing was fairy true to the Regency period the novel is typically seen to be set in (although there are many historical indications that the novel was written during, and perhaps imaged by the author originally, in the Georgian period).  Scenery was nicely done and often included.  I can't fault the representations of the characters just because they didn't suite me so much.  I'd guess the artist has seen the A&E/BBC miniseries at least once based on the appearance of the characters.

Last of all, as a book to read while one has the flu, it was just about on level.  It took me a while to read only because of coughing, headaches, and the constant need to sleep.  In other circumstances, it would have been an hour or two, tops.


So, I have my next book picked out -- another easy read, a reread of Jim Butcher's Grave Peril, book 3 of the Dresden Files series which I had started rereading quite some time ago to refresh myself before diving into the last few books of the series.  My brain tapped out at some point, so I parked a marker in it and put it on the pile. As a post-flu recovery novel, should be an easy read.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Book Sales, Books Sales!

I'm in Maine and I've already attended the first of the two library sales I look forward to all year.  And I have spoils, oh do I!

Yeah, it's an addiction, I admit it.  But 20 books for $20 bucks!  Plus a not pictured handful I got at Bull Moose that are already shelved and mixed in, $5.50 for 11 books with a few more real treats in the pile. (Did I take a picture of those?  Yes, I took a picture of those!

I didn't even know there was a follow up/sequel to Island of the Blue Dolphins until I happened upon it.

And, of course, Zeus helped me book shop by guarding my pile while I scoured the shelves.

I did manage to read "The Whipping Boy" by one of my childhood favorite authors, Sid Fleischman.  I'm currently reading an e-version of  one of the "The Saint" books -- the print is TINY so that's not going very quickly.  And I'm working my way into China Mieville's Railsea.  I like it and I don't know why I'm reading so slowly.

Tomorrow will be spent writing, as I have a deadline.  Whoo hoo!  Am I weird in that I love deadlines?  I need something to scare me through the roadblocks in my head.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

The Ever Increasing Mount To-Be-Read

I spend the weekend at ConCarolinas and had a wonderful time.  Lots and lots of authors there, some of whom I have read, many I have not.

Thus, all the books.  I met authors, chatted with them, and the ones I liked got to sell me books. That is the stack of what I bought (only three are from the used book booth).

So, what did I get?

Sound and Salvage by Alexandra Duncan

The Green Hornet Casefiles by Joe Gentile, with contributions by Bobby Nash

Gretchen Thyrd: On the Bridge by Jason T. Graves

Bill the Vampire by Rick Gualtieri

Steeplejack, MacBeth: A Novel, and Cathedrals of Glass: A Planet of Blood and Ice by A.J. Hartley

We Are Not This (anthology) Edited by Melissa M. Gilbert

Chains of Fate, Blades of Fate, and Dark King Rising by Alledria Hurt

Lawless Lands:  Tales from the Weird Frontier (anthology) Edited by Misty Massey

Badass and the Beast: 10 "Tails" of Kickass Heroines and the Beasts Who Love Them (Anthology)

Timebound, Time's Edge, and Time's Divide by Rysa Walker

Perishables and Tooth & Nail by Michael G. Williams

My plan is to read and review ALL OF THEM by the end of the year (Yeah, I have ambitions.  We Shall See.)  I hope I love every single book because I really liked all the authors and editors I met and I want to like them.  Well, face it, I want to at least like every book I read -- who wants to waste hours with a book that doesn't work for you?  It's like wearing shoes that don't fit -- it doesn't matter how good the shoes look,  how well made or expensive they are, what outfit they match, or anything else.  If your feet hurt, all you want is to get those shoes off.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Losing and Gaining Time

I haven't been reading so much so far this year.  I'm not even listening to audio books.

Why?  Politics.

Ok, lemme 'splain here.

The election last year and the resulting shit-show going on has me upset.  So, I felt like maybe, after some 30 years of being politically indifferent, maybe it was time I got off my ass and started paying attention.  The easiest way to do this available to me was via podcasts.  I've spent much of 2017 trying and culling various podcasts to find the ones that spoke to me, that made sense to me, that seemed less like idiocy to me.

I have a surprisingly long list.

Of course, not everything I listen to is politically related.  There are science podcasts, humor podcasts, podcasts about books and writing, and a few that are pure entertainment.  Listening to podcasts eats up a lot of the brain power I would normally use in reading.   I'm following the stories, trying to keep my eye on the smaller, important ones and not get distracted by the splashy big headlines of the latest rumor or gaffe.  I'm watching court cases, keeping an eye on legislation in committee, and of course, watching the White House.

I'm also having a current brain problem with emotionally connecting with fiction.  This is related to my depression and anxiety disorder.  I've started I can't count how many books recently, was reading along with interest, when -- at a point where I had to emotionally engage with a character -- a giant NOPE spider would drop metaphorically on the page and I would just ...go away.  I'll push through this at some point, but right now it's a spoon too many.

I'm also dealing with physical issues -- arthritis in my already borked spine has reached a level where I need pain management to do things like walk or stand.  What I've got going works, and works pretty well, but it requires regular "updates" and has some side effects that aren't so wonderful (my first 7 day total migraine, for one).  Again, these will be handled in time, but that time issue is important.  Physical pain and mental pain eat up a lot of my time and energy these days.  This seriously cuts into reading time.

I have ambitions to catch up this summer and read at least 6 books.  I intend to spend my time in Maine reading, writing, doing a few craft projects, swimming and kayaking, and staring at trees.

So, actual reading done -- I read through the second volume of Noah Lugeons' Diatribes, which I enjoyed.  I got to meet him in April at ReasonCon. Everything I said the with the first one stays true here.  I enjoy Noah's voice.

I also read yet another Pride and Prejudice fanfic called Unequal Affections by Lara S. Ormiston, which was unusual and pretty good. It explored the "road untaken" of having Elizabeth accept Darcy's first proposal --upon conditions.  It didn't pull too many non-sequiturs and anachronisms, and did a nice job of sticking to the original material where it could.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Catch up and Diatribes by Noah Lugeons

It's been a long, difficult few months for me and many of the people I know.  I don't bring politics onto this blog anymore but suffice to say my interest in politics has increased greatly since November.  I'm joining, I'm marching (as far as my back and hips and knees will allow), I'm writing, I'm attending meetings.  I'm becoming, at 52, radicalized.  It feels strange.

My first completed book this year was Diatribes V. 1, the first collection of the Diatribes of the podcast The Scathing Atheist.
Noah Lugeons is the voice of my anger.  He's far better at it than I am -- I wish I had his access to the sharp, vulgar, accurate insult.

These Diatribes are from the first year of an over 4 year old podcast that drops an episode every week.  Noah is sometimes topical, but often his wit and fury are directed at more universal wrongs, so they don't age.

I'm not much of a reviewer.  I write about my experience with a particular book, and not in a very professional way, so I'm at something of a loss here.  I'm attached to the voices of this podcast, and especially to Noah's voice, so it's hard to be objective about this book.  Noah expands upon the Diatribes here, giving his thoughts upon rereading, filling in background and context, which makes this more than just a collection of angry and often funny essays.  I read through them pretty quickly, in part because I'd heard them all before at least once (yes, I've plundered the archives of the podcast) and in part because they were written to be spoken, and so flow nicely.  The act of reading them is pleasant even if the subjects (and, occasionally, the language) is rough and pointy.

Negatives?  If you aren't a person friendly to the ideas of secularism, humanism, and especially atheism, this book will piss you off.  In fact, it's intended to do so.  It's not for a general audience.  Also, I had to restrain my inner pedant because there are typos and the occasional grammar error, the casual kind that happen when someone is trying to compile a large collection of writings created over a long period (mostly problems with "it's" and "its".  I would happily go into the original file, remove the unnecessary apostrophes, add in the missing commas and periods, and fix that one subjective pronoun into an objective pronoun.

If you aren't familiar with the podcast, I enthusiastically recommend it, especially if you are curious or enjoy dick jokes with an underlying layer of smarts.  If you aren't into podcasts, or just want to sample before you tune in, this book will give you a taste.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Book Review -- In Shining Armor

In Shining Armor:  Book 4 of the Pax Arcana by Elliott James

Audiobook read by Roger Wayne

I've waited a year for the audiobook version of this.  It was worth waiting.  I'm addicted to Roger Wayne's voice acting.

This time the author digs up some dangly threads from the second book (excellent) and spins them into another tangled web.  I really admire how he's developed his main character, John Charming.  John isn't gaining powers and magic weapons as the books go by, as often happens in series like these.  Instead, he's trying to make a life with what he gained in terms of lovers and friends in the previous books. He's dealing with his internal issues while dealing with the difficulties around him, and he's maturing (gasp!) in a slow, natural way. His romance with Sig may have resolved the sexual tension of the first three books, but there's plenty of other relationship tension to keep things interesting.

It's also a deep delve into the world of the Templars -- and we get to see the Templars being has competent and deadly as we've been told they are (but never quite seen, since John can always best them).  We also get to meet up with new and varied magical creatures and get an idea of how they live.  I thoroughly enjoyed that.

If there's anything lacking, it's that John seems to get emotionally close only to women -- Molly (who doesn't really appear in the book, but is referenced several times) and Sig, and now his baby goddaughter Constance.  There are several male figures in his life with whom he has emotionally fraught relationships, but he holds those at an unexamined distance and any resolution in them we are told rather than shown.  I could speculate about why the author does this (or doesn't do this), but it would be just speculation.  It does appear to me to be a stark omission in the books, since there are few female characters compared to male, and John is actively trying to build a sort of family for himself.  Maybe James is saving those tensions and questions for later books.  I hope they are dealt with eventually.

I'm a big fan of the Pax Arcana series, especially in the audio book versions, and I recommend them to any reader who enjoys urban fantasy with some twists on the tropes.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Book Review: Darcy's Passions

Darcy's Passions: Pride and Prejudice Retold Through His Eyes  by Regina Jeffers

Every so often I like to read a Not Good book.  That is, I pick something that requires nothing of me, that's easy to read and easy to forget.  Since I am an admitted lover of Jane Austen's work, I have an unfortunate addiction to all the assorted sequels, variations, and other fan fiction that finds its way into print.  Most of it falls into the circle of Not Good.

This does not equal Bad.  A Bad book is another creature entirely.  I avoid Bad Books.  I resist giving them my time.

So, here we have a fan service novel where the writer goes into the territory Austen herself did not feel qualified to enter.  There are no surprises here -- the writer slips in how she would have tied up the various loose threads in the original story, and then continues the weave beyond the final line of Austen's work to imagine the first few months of Darcy and Elizabeth as a married couple.

The worst I can say of this particular book is that it could have used a better editor with more of a grasp on 18th and 19th century language.  Many anachronistic slips occurred, especially when Jeffers is creating dialog for the characters.  These were jarring, because otherwise she managed to keep things smooth and predictable.  She did a good job of that otherwise.

Yes, the various side characters she chose to amplify tended to have very modern ideas.  Her ideas of character development tended to be restricted to "Strong but weak.  Confident but unsure.  Kind but cruel."  However, all the real character development was done by Austen in the original novel, so she didn't need to do any heavy lifting.  Tensions between characters already existed and she just gave a view of them from different eyes.  Nothing was going to change.  Her biggest problems began when she moved away from the solid ground of the novels into her extensions, where everything took on a sheen of Teen Angst and Young Love.

None of these problems interfered with my enjoyment of the book while it lasted, however,  It' a Not Good book, as I said.  It fulfilled its purpose in letting me relax before bed, not putting any negative thoughts into my mind, and being entertaining enough.  It didn't contradict the original novel or my ideas about it, it didn't commit any egregious errors, and it didn't take itself too seriously.  In all, a satisfying Not Good book experience.