Monday, December 28, 2015

Review: The Long Way Down

The Long Way Down: Daniel Faust Book 1 by Craig Shaefer

Audio book

Ahhhh, a decent scratch for my itch!

The first book in this series worked out pretty well for me.  Oh, there were some problems, but plenty of good stuff to help me get over those.

We have a Las Vegas magician who's a con-man, an occasional thief,  and a survivor (In my head, it's the Marlowe trope -- the hero must get warned off the case and beaten nearly to death at least once.  I see the long shadow of Chandler's The Big Sleep , but that book has a huge shadow).  He's a guy with a moral compass that points more or less toward good, but he deals with bad people and has to use bad methods.  Oh, and he has to save the world, although he doesn't know that until the third quarter of the book, which was nice.  Everybody has to save the world in their first book.  High stakes and all.   There is plenty of dark underbelly and gritty reality here.

The reader, Adam Verner,  does well as the voice of Faust, but his attempts at accents (in particular, a semi-sort of Scots accent) are painful.  He needs a heavy dose of BBC programming as training.   He does great with voices -- even his female voices sounded convincing and he differentiated between characters nicely -- but the attempts to do non-US accents was cringeworthy.  Still, not a deal breaker.

I liked the story.  The character hits the usual (practically required) traits -- abusive childhood,  unsuccessful love life, often scrambling for money which leads him into trouble as he tries to make ends meet, strong loyalty to friends, a sense of right and wrong, a need to protect the helpless, and a tough guy attitude.  Schaefer managed to shake those up a bit, though -- our tough guy hero is currently mourning rather deeply over a badly ended romance.  His friends are his adopted family of magical folk, including an older gay couple who were his substitute fathers  (and Yay for a non-stereotypical and positive depiction of gay men) and a couple of very strong women (also Yay, although one character is quite literally a Magical Negro, which makes me grin for the pun so no eye rolling).  The majority of characters are full and round and fun to watch.

The plot starts in typical fashion as a small case leads to bigger and bigger things -- again, Schaefer pulled that off well enough that I didn't originally see it coming until about halfway through the book, so that's another good thing.  Faust is another mouthy smart-ass, but...he doesn't have to have the last word, and because he's also a grifter, a con-man, he knows better.  That was the best twist on the tropes I found -- a POV character who knew when to keep his mouth shut, who didn't always use force or threats to get information.  I suspect the author might be a Leverage fan, which is all to the good.   The plot switched things up nicely.

The one big problem in the book was the relationship between Faust and Caitlin.  Caitlin is a succubus, and while that gets a bit toyed with as an obstacle, it isn't really brought into play.  The relationship is essential to the book, but it was sort of hammered in whole (perhaps for the sake of a soft sex scene).  The author decreed it to be so, and so it was.  Not enough time, not enough interaction, and certainly not enough caution.  I rather wonder if it was an editing decision, because a proper building of the relationship, even at high speed due to lust at first sight, would have taken some pages to accomplish and might have slowed down the pace of the book.  It was not gracefully handled.  Still, not a deal breaker.  There were enough pieces for Instant Love, Just Add Water, but the author didn't really use enough of them.

That aside, the other relationships Daniel has in the book, in particular the ones with his "family", are well done and made me quite happy.  Daniel's internal struggles make things interesting, although, again, there was an exchange of depth for speed, which is ok.   As mentioned above, we have strong women and they do strong women stuff, and the gendering of roles wasn't marked strongly (The existence of the gay couple might have been used to mitigate this, but, hey, it's a genre novel and you can't have it all).

So, the end result is this series will be one I keep up with.   I recommend it to those who are also seeking to scratch that hard-boiled, edgy, noir paranormal urban fantasy (sheesh, what a subgenre name!) itch.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Review: A Kiss Before the Apocalypse

A Kiss Before the Apocalypse (Remy Chandler Series #1) by Thomas E. Sniegoski

Audio book
 
I'm still searching for another series to scratch the itch I currently have, the hard-boiled noir urban fantasy which maybe plays with religious tropes of various kinds and might have an anti-heroish main character.  This book wasn't that.  It was something else.

First, the reading.  Luke Daniels is one of my favorite readers, with a nimble voice and a talent for accents.  This time, not so much.  His reading was absolutely stiff, and most of his voices were just growly.  Of course, that colors the story itself.

The story itself didn't play fair.  It danced hard on my emotional buttons -- it's rare that I read a book in this genre and have tears running down my face.  More than once.  Too many times, really, but that wasn't a negative.  Sniegoski knows how to hit emotional beats.  Arm those beats with a Black Labrador dog, and I stand no chance.  Dirty pool, as my dad would say.  The plot was pretty strong, and while there were a few dangling threads here and there, it wound up fairly well.  Again, of course, the hero saves the world -- this time from the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and a missing Angel of Death (Echoes of Kadrey's Killing Pretty here, although I think this was published much earlier, so maybe it's Kadrey's book that is the echo).  The humor was gentle and the tension fairly mild but consistent.

Unusual for this genre, the story is told in third person limited, with a couple of jaunts to see things from other characters.  Most stories like this are in first person.  I had to adjust my thinking for that. Characters were full and easy to separate, for the most part.  Of course, because Remy is a hero instead of an anti-hero, I had no trouble liking him and sympathizing with him.

My one solid complaint is the slow, almost languorous, fight/action scenes.  The action was going on, but the author used lots of long, detailed, descriptive sentences to narrate it.  One in particular struck me, when a character pulled a knife from a pocked in his jacket underneath a coat (the original was more descriptive).  Why the clothing detail?  Why couldn't he just pull a knife and stick it into something or someone? The extra detail was just so much molasses poured onto what should have been a sharp, tight, forward pressing scene.  This happened in every action sequence, almost like the author was bubble wrapping the sharp edges.  He has scary stuff going on, but he doesn't use his talent for hitting emotional buttons once the fists start flying.  He seems to be pulling back, placing distance between the mean stuff and the reader.  This did not work for me.  It drained the tension right out of everything.  I couldn't even pretend not to know how things would end.

Remy Chandler isn't a hard boiled, edgy main character.  He's a hero without doubt, with few shades of grey making him up.  The blackest thing about him is his dog, Marlowe, and Marlowe is a black Lab (and mostly comic relief/dependent character emotional button).  The world is not nuanced enough for my tastes.  It's a perfectly good world, but I don't know really all that much about it, and I am not invested in it.

I guess this is a case of another book I liked enough to finish, but not so much to heartily recommend.  I'm still debating if I want to continue the series, to see how the next one works now that the baseline is set.  Or I might go on to something else for a while.  I'm still itchy.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Review: Strange Magic

Strange Magic: A Yancy Lazarus Novel, Volume 1 by James A. Hunter

Audio version

Here's another case of wanting to like a book more than I did.  I'm in the mood for the anti-hero-ish paranormal mystery/fantasy with a noir tone and a hard edge.  This book had all the markers of that very particular niche.  It should have been a satisfying listen/read.

I'm not really satisfied.  Let's get down to why.

First, I have lay some blame on the reader, or the director and sound editor.  I listen to a lot of audio books, and I do mean a lot.  I listen to many of them multiple times. On occasion I've bought multiple versions of a particular book because the voicing didn't work for me and I hoped for a better one.  So, yeah, that's important.  Charlie Kevin did a good job voicing the novel, but in many places the reading was rushed, sentences stumbling over each other, thoughts that should have had a beat between them crammed together.  Now, this could have been an attempt by the director or editor or someone else to keep the book under 7 hours (why?  I don't know.  Many of the books I love best run to 10 hours or more.)  That sense of being rushed really clashed hard against the character idea of a blues man, a gambler, someone who just wants to play cards, smoke a cigarette, and ease through his rather long life.  It especially ran rough against the idea of this man being a Southerner.  I was fine without the exaggeration of a drawl or any imitation of dialect (I'm familiar with such and work carefully to scrub my own speech as free of my Southern roots as I can).  But the breakneck speed of the narration just blew that particular illusion away.

Also, mispronounced words were distracting.  I'm not exactly sure how voicing an audiobook works, but I would think that the pronunciation of words would be marked before recording, and mispronunciations would be easily corrected.  Since this is a reading of a written work, it doesn't make sense to interpret those blunders as characteristic misspellings or typos.  I'm not sure.  I just know that there were several such and each time I had to pause, figure out what was meant, and then climb back into the story.

As for the story itself, it's a competent story that hits all the proper tropes for the genre.  In fact, I think it hit all the tropes.  Hard.  Well, no, we didn't have a fem fatale in this one, but the author seeded in lots of hints that there was one around somewhere.  In truth, there were nearly no female characters in the story except the one who had to be rescued.  So, yeah, tropes were laid in like bricks in a pathway.

Yancy also never really became alive for me.  He should have.  He had all kinds of little quirks, including a very cliche ridden manner of speaking.  I could deal with that.  At the same time, he could turn around and spiel out paragraphs of magical jargon full of all manner of words and phrases a man who just barely made it through high school (as the background given indicates) would not be so likely to use. Since the whole story is narrated by Yancy, he comes across sounding almost like two different people, which pushes me away from the character.  He's a little too constructed, too much like a list of character traits instead of the image of a person with quirks and traits, little gestures and habits.  Yancy is supposed to be unique, but I felt more told than he was unusual than I was allowed to discover this for myself.

Still, there's a lot of good stuff in here.  The relationship and the banter between Yancy and his friends Greg was some of the best stuff in the book.  Hunter has some interesting ideas he's playing with, some twists and angles on his version of the universe.  He also worked hard to control the power level of his main character -- Yancy saves the world, which is a pretty high mark for a first book, but he doesn't do it alone and in fact needs his ass hauled out of trouble while someone else actually finishes up.  I liked that.   The stakes might have been a bit too high for the first book, but he dialed that back so that he has somewhere to go in the next book.

So, I didn't hate this.  I would even say I liked it, in a mild, genial, wishing-no-one-harm and not grudging the money or time spent sort of way. It was a step or two above mediocre.  I'm not sure about following up on the next book in the series, because while Hunter could easily hit his stride as he gets more comfortable with his characters and their world, waiting until the second book to make things click is not the way things usually go.   Then again, I didn't toss the book in disgust or anger or just frustration, so there's that.  I did finish it, and I don't finish a book that doesn't fulfill the promises made in the beginning.

Like I said at the start, I wanted to like this book more.   I'd like to recommend it more highly.  At this point, I'll say this is a good way to ignore air travel or to endure having a cold.  I guess I'll have to read the next one to see if Hunter and Yancy keep playing the same song or if they step it up.

Review: Mr. Mann

Mr. Mann: The Afterlife and Times of the Devil's Acquisitor Ad Infinitum by John Byron

Audiobook version.

I seem to be on a "Devil and God" book kick  -- I finished the Sandman Slim series up to the current book, and as soon as that was done, I started this one.

I picked this book up because Audible was having one of their sales and it was cheap.  The description sounded interesting -- I've long enjoyed stories from 'the other side' of  traditional pairings or dichotomies.

Now, what was it about this book that made me spend the two days before Christmas listening to it?  I'm trying to pin that down.

I did like it.  I didn't love it.  So let me take it apart a bit.

Martin Mann is not your average Wall Street wolf.  Abused as a child, he murdered his mother and stepfather as a teen, then went on to make a material success of himself.  He's a bit special, but nothing in particular -- he can see auras, and can read them a bit.  And one day, he meets up with the Devil, who wants to hire him for a special job, and arranges matters so that it's an offer Mann can't really refuse.

We then skip and jump through Mann's disjointed life as he collects damned souls.  He's put in contact with parts of humanity he had never before encountered and it changes him.  He also has a relationship with The Devil (aka Abi or Abby -- I don't know the spelling because, well, audiobook) that is difficult and scary (duh!) but still deep.  And in all this mix we have God and Angels and stories of redemption and forgiveness, balance and responsibility, love and hate, along with some interesting theological viewpoints and ideas about what really is going on.

All that is good.  Characters walk around and talk with enough reality to make them easily identifiable.  The story is full of emotion and mystery that carries it along the somewhat twisty and cerebral plot.  Told in first person, Martin Mann is engaging, sympathetic, and a good narrator of his own story.

Problems?  First, Byron needs a better editor to polish his writing style.  Listening is a different beast from reading, but I still got caught up on repeated words, some difficult dialog attribution, and a few sections that were, frankly, writerly self indulgence.  None of this seriously affected my ability to follow the story, but they did catch me up and pull me away from the story to notice the writing and wonder what that static was.  It was like walking a clean path and then stepping on some gravel -- I didn't fall, but I did feel those sharp points through my shoe.  A good editor would have pointed those little things out and helped the author clean them up.  My own writer brain wonders what I would have noticed in print -- the narrator of an audiobook can help a listener over some of those rocks with the magic of voice inflection and interpretation, and, of course, you don't hear the typos.

Second, sometimes Martin just seemed a bit...dumb.  And since he was narrating directly to whomever was reading/listening, that came across as the author worrying his audience was going to be a bit dumb.  Some points were belabored a bit.  Some others, more than  a bit.  I had more than one occasion where I thought  "Oh, come on, don't you get it?" because I'd figured something out based on story cues and clues, but the character just wasn't there yet, and, really, it didn't mesh with the intelligence he was supposed to have.

I'm going to say those problems would also be cured by a diligent, careful editor who isn't afraid to wound the delicate writerly soul.  Not that Byron is delicate or too touchy to edit -- I have no idea. Writers in general tend to feel a bit bruised when working with a good editor.  It's sort of like when you use your gym membership and hire a trainer.  You finish your workout in pain and you might think you hate the dictator who pushes you through that extra set of leg lifts, but a few weeks later the pain has faded and you see those great legs starting to emerge.)

I think -- from the publisher information -- that this is a self-published title and the author may not have known anyone who could edit him into near perfection.  The book is good, don't get me wrong, but it just skims under great because of those blips and stumbles and gravel in the path.  It's a book with more thought than action, so there's not a lot of movement to pick a reader up and carry her over those rough patches.

Give it a read yourself.  I think it's a perfectly pleasant way to spend a couple of evenings or a boring rainy day.  I'll keep my eye open for other books by this author.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Reading Lately

I'm still plowing through audio books in the Sandman Slim series -- Aloha from Hell , Devil Said Bang,  a short story called Devil in the Dollhouse, and now I'm into Kill City Blues.

This isn't a perfect series -- no series is really perfect and why would anyone want that? -- but I'm hooked.  I'm watching the main character, practically the greyist anti-hero I've run into, change and mature while still being just as difficult to like.  That's a challenge I can get into.

I still have a lot of unfinished books, bookmarks waving at me, inducing guilt that I take up with a new book rather than dealing with what I started and finishing up properly.  I don't think any of them are books I want to break up with before the end.  That's how I think of it, by the way.  When I give up on a book, when I take my marker out of it, close it, and put it on a pile for donation or whatever, I've broken up with that book.  Every time I open a book it's a new relationship that has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  Some books I revisit  over and over again, and they are like long term friends.  Others are just one night stands and that's fine -- it's fun and it's over.

Series, especially long series that I get into before they end, are like marriages only without children and community property. One or the other of us will end first, or there will be a divorce caused by betrayal and anger or just weary indifference.

Such a stack of books I want to read and haven't read yet.  Always it seems like either I have something else I must do, or I'm too tired to focus, or there's something going on that distracts me.  I haven't managed to sit down with a book in my hands more than a couple of times this month.

I have to figure out how to do better.  Probably limiting my online time would help.  Ah, Internet, you are a fascinating time suck!

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Review: Kill The Dead

Kill the Dead:  Sandman Slim book 2 by Richard Kadrey

My husband prefers audio books so books I like tend to get repurchased in that format.  I'm OCD about such things, so it takes a bit of willpower to switch formats, but I listened the audio version of the first book (constituting a second read) and then moved straight into this one.  MacLeod Andrews isn't perhaps my favorite reader, but he works for this series.  I also really enjoy Brilliance Audio productions in part because of the music they use to intro and end books (they did a great job on the first three books in the Iron Druid series, and I wish they'd done the whole series).

Yeah, there's a whole other thing involved in reviewing an audio book.

As for the book itself, Kadrey does an excellent job in subverting all my genre-based expectations for this series.  I appreciate that.  While some things did sort of leap out at me as obvious, I suspect it might have been a deliberate move on the author's part.  He seems to want the reader to know this big secret that the main character doesn't figure out until near the end so we can yell and scream at Stark to get his head out of his ass and See The Big Thing.  But he doesn't listen to us anymore than he listens to most of the characters in the book.

The anti-hero motif can be a tricky tightrope to walk.  Stark isn't really likeable, and he's nobody's buddy in this particular set of adventures.  I like that I can keep him at a distance.  It makes watching the things he does more enjoyable.  I read these books the same way I occasionally watch those cop-cam shows where you see the dashboard camera aimed at the idiot in the stolen car running down a major highway on four sparking rims.  You know he's going to get caught, but you feel so much smarter than him because he's fighting the inevitability of consequence.  Carthief guy made some choices, they weren't smart choices, and now it's payback time.  I'm not emotionally involved in particular -- I don't find myself getting upset or anxious ot worried.  I'm not identifying with this character at all.  I'm just enjoying the show.  It's a cool action flick of a book, with lots of over the top carnage and various main character motivational button pushing.  It isn't boring at all, but -- for me -- it isn't emotionally attaching the way other books have been.

Solid, good reading.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Review: Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel Jose Older

Half-Resurrection Blues:  Bone Street Rumba, Book 1 by Daniel Jose Older

Damn!

I just finished listening to the audio version of this book -- it's read by the author -- and I really, really, really have to recommend the audio version.  I'll get to why in a minute.

Yet another Urban Fantasy, this time with ghosts of all flavors, a whole Ghost Organization,  Our hero is not white (gasp) and not middle class (gasp gasp) and his Latino rhythms and view of the world are so much fresh spicy air.  We're dealing with a "halfie" here -- someone who has died but is still alive, and still human, just...changed a bit.  Not a ghoul or a vampire or a zombie.  A Halfie. An In-betweener.  His name is Carlos.  He might be Puerto Rican.  He's not sure because he can't remember his life before he was killed.

His best friends are ghosts, and he works for the New York Council of the Dead.  Yes, there is bureaucracy even in death.  His job?  He handles the unruly spirits, sending them to the final death for messing around and causing trouble.  There aren't many like him.  The story has a nice twist to it -- oh yes, he has to save the world and all, but that's really not his goal.  It's not his complete goal, pretty much.  So he's running down clues and getting in trouble and yes, he meets a beautiful woman and the music plays.

But those are just the facts of the story.  What really rings true to me -- and why I recommend the audio version so highly -- is that this story is just pure street poetry.  Older uses words like Carlos Santana uses musical notes.  This shit sings.  It dances.  There were parts where he was reading it and I forgot there was a story going on because I was just falling into the cadence of his words.  They writhed and rumbaed and tangoed and every sexy, tropical, fruit flavored, flower scented, spice fired thing words can do.  I'm a staid white middle class old woman, and it infected me.  Right now, my thoughts are bouncing in that same rhythm Older used to voice Carlos.  It was far more beautiful than is the usual in books like this.  I'm glad of that, too, because a story is a story and a great voice is a great voice, even if it's singing pop tunes in the shower.

So, yeah. Damn!




Friday, December 04, 2015

Review: Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey

Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey

I admit it.  I have a big love for the urban fantasy stuff.   I also enjoy a good anti-hero.

James Stark, a.k.a. Sandman Slim, is one of the most hardboiled, foul mouthed, don't-give-a-damn anti-heros I've run into.  He doesn't have a lot of good qualities and he's stubborn as hell.  Which is a good thing, because that is a big reason he survived being sent to Hell.  It's also how he got back to earth.

I must also admit that I started this book shortly after it was published, but only finished it recently.  That didn't have anything to do with the book itself, really.  It had to do with the amount of tightly wound tension the author managed to pack into  his terse, tight prose.  It was tense, I tell you.  Very tense.  

Which is why I kept hauling the book around with me to finish.  And it's why I finished it pretty quickly once I dove back in.

This is a story without any real good guys.  Everybody is a bad guy, but in various shades from pale grey to blackest nothing.  It's also a nuanced look at the world, which is kind of surprising in an urban fantasy.  Slim isn't a rogue with a good heart. He isn't holding a little spark of love in his soul.  He isn't harboring some dark secret that forces him to act against his inclinations. He isn't redeemable.  He doesn't want to be redeemed.  He flat out refuses it.

That's what hooked me.  Well, and the prose, all prickly and sharp edged, outlined in razor wire.  And the convoluted, upside down world.  There are no cute puppies, no rays of sunshine gilding the head of our hero.  It's sweaty and it stinks, this world, but it's still the world we have.  When you ride along with Sandman Slim, you don't know what will happen, but you know it's going to hurt.  And you're ok with that.

I'm going to check out the audio book versions of this series as well, because I'm curious what voicing they've chosen for little Jimmy Stark.  It should sound like the reader gargled with ammonia.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Review: The Pax Arcana series

It's been an interesting November for me.  I did NaNoWriMo -- National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated.  And I "won" -- that is, I finished 50,000 words in a novel.  I finished ahead of the deadline and so kept writing, determined to finish the novel by November 30th.  And I did.  What's more, it is a Science Fiction novel, more or less,   I'm pretty pleased about this.

And I've been reading/listening to audio books, so I have reviews to write.

Charming -- Pax Arcana series book 1 by Elliott James

Also Daring (book 2)  and Fearless (book 3),

I have the audio versions.

These are newer entries in the Urban Fantasy genre, In my mind, they fill a space between The Dresden Files and The Iron Druid Chronicles.  In this case, we have a Knight Templar/Werewolf monster hunter sort of guy, John Charming.  We have smart assedness and a near inability to keep his remarks to himself.  We have kick-ass abilities, lots of internal conflict, and pretty much all the hallmarks of of this genre.

What makes it worth reading?  The world and the things that happen in the world.  The kind of research James is doing to underpin the story.  That kickassery is not strictly the province of the main character, but also extends to various supporting characters (two of them female).  The new elements and the vast, vast, VAST collection of supernatural critters, good, bad, neutral.  Like I said above, this series seems to fill in a niche between others.  It's fun to read, fun to sit with and think about.

The best recommendation I can offer is that I intend to read/listen to them again.  I've also got a list of short stories based in the world on my wishlist.  I'm looking forward to the next announced title.

Friday, October 09, 2015

A look back -- Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Because trailers for the upcoming movie are beginning to show up, I think now is an appropriate time to reexamine my opinion of the book, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.


Full disclosure -- I am an Austen fan. However, I've enjoyed other irreverent takes on her works (in particular, Pride and Promiscuity : The Lost Sex Scenes of Jane Austen by Dennis Ashton was a hoot) and I really wanted to enjoy this book.

This particular mash-up, the one that started the latest craze, was just a series of missed opportunities, 7th grade humor, and lack of understanding (or perhaps a lack of reading) of the original work. I wanted to like it. It had a lot of promise. There were redeeming scenes and funny moments. But, in the end, it was just not well done -- and with very little effort, it could have been so much better. If I hadn't been so disappointed I wouldn't rant against the book quite so much.


First, let's start with some simple research. In this version, Elizabeth Bennett and her sisters are Shaolin-trained zombie killers who spent years in the Orient undergoing rigorous schooling in sword work and other martial arts. Note that Shaolin thing -- it's prominent in the book. Anyone who watched the 1970s show Kung Fu or its later reincarnation, or who can type into Wikipedia, will know this references a Chinese martial arts style and monastery. If you've seen Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon , you've seen Chinese swords. This isn't deep research -- it's popular culture.


However, Elizabeth uses a Katana -- a Japanese sword with a distinct fighting style. The Kill Bill movies featured Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu using them, and any samurai has one. Again, this is pop culture. The book makes a point of pitting Japanese/Ninja zombie fighting style against the Chinese style. It's pervasive in the book and forms the crux of a couple of important scenes. Yet Elizabeth would not use a Katana because her training was Chinese, not Japanese. I know zippity-do-dah about Oriental fighting schools and such, but I know that, and it's just dumb. If it hadn't been made such a point in the books, I'd have ignored it, but the whole Japanese/Chinese thing is used as part of the conflict between Elizabeth and Lady Catherine deBourgh (if you know the original book, you know how crucial to the plot this is). That Grahame-Smith and his editors made this kind of error just illustrates how careless they were about the whole book. It irritated me throughout.


[notice, please, that I am perfectly willing to accept the outlandish proposition that someone from early 19th century England could have traveled to China, trained to become a proficient warrior, and returned all before turning 21. We won't even go into the issue about this person being female. See how generous I am about all this? And he couldn't get the swords straight?]


Second, the constant sexual puns on "balls" read like a bunch of 12 year old boys trying to make it through a sex-ed class. Anti-zombie weaponry includes blunderbusses or muskets, which used a round "ball" shot. At least that was, more or less, period accurate (early rifles that used bullets instead of shot were in use in the 18th century.) A few such puns would have been no problem, but Grahame-Smith never gets tired of sniggering over this little joke. Also, you'd think that in a 20 year war against zombies, the best weapons would be in production and in use by everyone. Again, a quick glance at Wikipedia would have served to take some of the dumb out, but that would have removed opportunities to giggle about "balls".


Third, Wickham is punished by being beaten to near death, rendered a quadriplegic, and made incontinent (because, of course, people in wheelchairs are there as punishment for something). Lydia is destined to a lifetime of changing her husband's diapers and living with the horrible smell, because of course that's the punishment for slutty behavior. On top of this, Wickham is pressed into the clergy now. Has the author insulted enough people at this point, or did he leave anyone out? Moreover, it isn't the least bit funny. It's stretched thin, squeezed for non-existent humor, and -- in the midst of a zombie novel with descriptions of brain eating, body rotting, and bursting fluids, no less! -- disgusting.


The last thing that irritated me was the handling of Charlotte and Mr. Collins. Talk about lost opportunities! Mr. Collins is patently one of Austen's most easily dislikable characters. He's a parody already, and deserved a proper treatment in this mash-up. Instead, he's made into a near-hero. Charlotte is stricken with the zombie disease (which is, in the depiction, actually pretty funny) but instead of having her eat Mr. Collins (I was so rooting for that), he mercifully kills her off and then hangs himself for love of her. I very nearly tossed the book there. I suspected that Grahame-Smith only read the Cliff's Notes version of P & P and so missed the whole sub-plot about the Collinses. A grand chance for satisfaction to many an Austen fan just ignored!


In fact, on reflection, it seems Grahame-Smith worked hard to make sure he skewered only the female characters in the novel while protecting (or, in some cases, enhancing) the dignity of all the male characters, trying to undo the fine and evenhanded work of the original author. While some of my favorite scenes -- in particular, the piano scene at Rosings and the confrontation between Lady deBough and Elizabeth over the question of Darcy's proposal -- were pushed to the edge of ridiculousness and so worked very well as humor, they also worked hard to show just how stupid all these women were.


The more I think about it, the more I realize how sadly wasted was the whole effort.


I won't say "don't read this book". It's already being made into a movie, for pete's sake (although I hope someone catches those big errors before it hits the screen, because the geek audience at whom it is aimed will raise a hue and cry over those details). But don't hold out much hope if you do read it. Don't expect much. That way, you won't risk disappointment.


Also, try to buy it used or get it from the library. It's not worth spending money.


[edited 2/22/11 because I am STILL mad.]

Monday, September 21, 2015

Repost from G+

With thanks to +Paul Ramsay for sharing this.

This is long.  Read it anyway.  Then listen to the talk a few times over the next few days and weeks.  Share it.  Remind ourselves and each other that even *good, kind people can be hanging judges*when we forget we are all creatures drawn in grey colors, not in black and white.

Yesterday at service, our minister talked about the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur and the idea of forgiveness, of releasing the ties to past hurts and errors and moving on with resolve not to repeat mistakes.  The UU hymnal has the following reading in it, which this Ted Talk by Jon Ronson brought back to me so strongly.

For remaining silent when a single voice would have made a difference

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For each time that our fears have made us rigid and inaccessible

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For each time that we have struck out in anger without just cause

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For each time that our greed has blinded us to the needs of others

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For the selfishness which sets us apart and alone

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For falling short of the admonitions of the spirit

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For losing sight of our unity

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.

For these and for so many acts both evident and subtle which have fueled the illusion of
separateness

We forgive ourselves and each other; we begin again in love.


Ronson finished his talk with what I thought was the most deep-striking realization -- the touted voice that social media gives the voiceless has turned, so that the best way to remain safe on social media is to be silent -- voiceless.
 
What Voice Do You Speak With?

Watch this, and then think on it a bit, and then maybe watch it again tomorrow. Think about how we all have some times when we contribute to this culture of shaming. We move too quickly from disagreement or disappointment to outrage when others say things or write things or do things that we don't agree with.

The internet brings details to us with such speed, and we have been living at this speed for long enough, now, that we let ourselves sort of live carelessly at that tempo. We don't fact check. We pass the "facts" on with a click, and we add our sentiments, our reaction, to the narrative that is building. It can be a terrible, damaging snowball effect.

I've posted stupid things on social media before. I've made comments that were not crafted as articulately as they might have been, so they came off as insensitive. Usually, it was because I was acting on an impulse, rather than on an intention. But I want to live my life with good intention.

I want my first instinct to be one of compassion, not outrage.
I want my first action to be one of kindness, not of aggression.
I want to be impeccable with my word.
Twitter gives a voice to the voiceless, a way to speak up and hit back at perceived injustice. But sometimes, says Jon Ronson, things go too far. In a jaw-dropping story of how one un-funny tweet ruined a woman's life and career, Ronson shows how online commenters can e

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Snippet

Had an idea and started scribbling it today.  Here's a taste.

“Ma!  Ma! They’re comin’!”  I grabbed little Letty as I scooted across the dusty yard toward the house.  “They’re coming’!”  Letty squirmed in my arms, her dirty pink shoes kicking at my thigh.  She was almost too big to carry and her legs hung down because she was too mad to wrap them around my hips.  “Ma!”

Ma Deuce strolled onto the porch, her whip sword wrapped around her waist, the pommel under her right hand.  She was such a little woman, sort of squat and dark, grey streaks in her braided black hair, but she always seemed bigger than me.  Behind her, taller but so slight she practically faded,  Kelly Ann looked out.  She had another baby on her hips and she looked scared.

"Get the little 'uns inside, Amber, and see to the Mister."  Ma's voice didn't match her appearance, either.  The Tamil she'd talked as a baby was paved over with the clips and stretches of the mountain people's speech.  My own speech had taken on that flavor, too, since I'd found refuge here in the old mountains.  I snagged Hunter's arm and pulled him with me, and Tag followed without being pushed or told.  We hurried into the house behind Ma's shadow. 

"Yes, ma'am."

"How many?"  Ma asked, voice low, as I scuttled passed her.

"Two trucks.  Maybe five or six."  I dropped Letty to the floor and pushed her toward Kelly Ann.  "Tailor saw 'em first and took off to the blind."

She nodded once, sharp and definite.  "Good.  Where're  Tony and Skye?"

I shook my head as I untwisted Hunter's hand from his grip on my jeans leg. "Didn't see 'em."

She nodded again, just once, and I pushed the two little boys in front of me before they could stop being scared and start being curious. 

 Kelly Ann gave me her wide eyed stare and slowly backed into the shade of the house. "Amber, " she whispered, "Was Prentiss Waine there?"

I shrugged, herding the little ones toward the kitchen.  "I didn't see.  Check the back door and the windows.  Get Lilly to help you."  She stared at me for a few more breaths and my impatience got the better of me.  "Kelly Ann! Move it!"  Shaken, she hitched up the baby on her hip and moved down the hall toward the kitchen.

I turned the other way to the big bedroom.  The Mister lay sprawled on the bed, a sheet carefully laid over him so that only his face showed in the lamp light.  It hard looked like a human face, it had been beaten so hard.  Swollen eyes, swollen nose, swollen lips, little bloody lines of cuts every which way, and some of his hair shaved off so Ma could stitch his scalp.  I wasn't sure he could see me when I crept in to secure the window and put the wooden shades in place.

"Whus habbnin?" he murmured at me, making me jump just a little.  He'd crawled his way to the back door late last night, scaring Kelly Ann near to death.  Tailor and I had carried him inside.  He'd left us yesterday morning, saying he intended to get what he was owed, and we'd all slunk around the whole day wondering if he'd ever come back.  Except Ma.  Ma told us that the Mister would do what he said he would do, no matter.

"Two pick up trucks comin'. "  I didn't have to tell him who was in those trucks.  He knew better than I did.

"Whes Ma?"

I carefully lifted the cold pack against his jaw and examined the red and blue bruises underneath it.  "On the porch."  I reached for the clean rag resting in a bowl of water and squeezed a few drops into his mouth.  

"Good."  He moved one hand under the sheet, the one that wasn't wrapped in tight bandages.  He was hurt, but not near killed.  They wanted to teach a lesson, not murder a useful man.  Still, it hurt me to see his big muscled body so battered and broken.  "'Ey won find it."

"You be still, Mister.  Ma will skin us both if you mess up her work."  He chuckled soft in his throat and I turned down the lamp so it barely flickered and  put it on the floor between the table and the wall.  I didn't want anything to hit it and catch the house on fire.  At least the house was cinder block.  I closed the door behind me, knowing full well that the Mister wouldn't be resting even in the dark, not until this was over.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

I plug my own publication

Guess what?

I finally published this story I've had kicking around for some long time.

I'm supposed to publicize it, something I am in no way suited to do.  I'm just not comfortable telling people that I did something, that it's good, and that they should agree with me and be excited about it.  In fact, I just don't have those thoughts anymore.  I did once, but it was a long time ago and I can't remember how it worked.

But that's my Crazy, and another subject.  This post is about In the Temple of Nogged, that it is available for purchase on Smashwords, it has illustrations by my friend Chris Tsuda, and if you like humorous m/m erotica, it might suit you.

That is all.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Book Review: VIcious

Vicious by V. E. Schwab

I finally found a copy of this book in the wild this summer (thanks, Bull Moose!) and dived into it as soon as I could.  However, it was a slow read for me because it is a very tensely constructed and plotted book, telling a very tense sort of story.  (True confession -- once I skipped to the end and read the last chapter, I was able to go back to the middle and read on without problem -- that's me and my difficultues with stress, nothing bad about the book).

Here we have the most "it could happen just this way" superhero story I've run across.  Wait, scratch that.  Take out "superhero".  The superhero aspect is there, but it's not a cliche, not a comfortable, familiar trope.  That worked for me.

This is a science fiction story that cuts very close to the bone, that puts forth a what if idea that leads right into "how the hell?"  It does something that makes complete sense to me -- it leaves a big swatch of unknown because, for all we know, for all science teaches us, there is always more that is unknown.  Every discovery results in far more questions than answers.

More to the point, the particular area of unknown isn't crucial to the story.  The characters don't know, but they accept what's happening and keep going, so as a reader it was easy to accept what's happening and keep going.  I must admit, I like that in a story.  I just don't buy it when characters know everything there is to know about their particular situation or the weird things that are happening to them or their world.  There is always the unknown (and the unknown unknown, the stuff you don't even known you don't know).  Schwab uses that well.

Of course, the various switches in time, point of view, and action creates a sort of "spiral' effect in the narrative, as the reader gathers all the parts of the story together to the ultimate end, as inevitably as water going down a hole.  And then?  and then, there's a little postlude where something we should have been expecting all along but might have forgotten about in the big boom of the ending takes place.

In short, I really enjoyed this book.  I enjoyed the way the characters, all painted in shades of grey, interacted.  I enjoyed the ideas about what is a hero and what is a villain were played with, but weren't hammered on.  I kinda wish there was a follow up book, although I'm not sure what it would be about or what is left to be said with these characters.  Still, I had such a good time with them that I wouldn't mind spending more time in their world.

Summer Book Haul

One of the joys of spending the summer in Maine is the number of library sales and used book stores I can wander.  I can satisfy my dragon-like urge to add more books to my already overloaded shelves for a fairly low price (most of what you see here I got for between $.50 and $1.00).  There are a few new books in the mix (5, now that I count 'em).  Also,  left about 8 or 9 books in Maine.

Yeah, it's a sickness.

However, I think I've discovered the real obstacle to my reading.  I think I've mentioned somewhere in this old blog that I have no tolerance for stress anymore.  That means any kind of stress (and I'm discovering there are more kinds of stress than I ever imagined as I discover things that trigger my problems, weeee), including the usually pleasurable tension of "what will happen next?" in a book.  Yeah, I start into some of that, and suddenly I can't sit still, can't concentrate my mind, can't line words up to make sense, and simply can't read. It's a problem.

Solution?  Read the freakin' last chapter before I finish.  Spoilers have never bothered me (it's the journey, not the destination), and since the usual tension of a book is exactly what keeps me from being able to read the dratted thing, I can totally handle being "spoiled".  With that handy dandy trick now in my bag, I hope to resume fiction reading and eat away some of my mountain of To Be Read books.  I only have, what, 800 or so books waiting for me?  Heck, I can get through those before I die, right?

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Review: Ghost on Black Mountain

Ghost on Black Mountain by Ann Hite

I met Ann Hite last Saturday at the Dahlonega Literary Festival.  She sat on both the panels I attended and at some point that afternoon, while sitting in the book-sales room, she was introduced to Zeus.  Hearing her talk about her book got me interested a bit, for one reason in particular.  I spent a lot of my young life in and around Black Mountain.  My maternal grandmother and a fair number of aunts and uncles lived there.  My mother lived there at various times.  Me-Maw, my grandmother,  didn't live on the mountain itself, but just outside the little town, in a tiny cinder block house with a cellar and a long front porch.  The house is gone now, mowed down for a highway project or something when I was 8 or so, and she moved to another house a few streets away (on Ruby Avenue, as it happens, which was my mother's name).  She died when  I was 11, and thereafter when we visited (more rarely) it was to stay with an aunt or uncle.

So, I had that connection.  It's a strained one, made of dim memories -- a rainy night when my mother and I drove up from Florida and Mom took a wrong turn, taking us up the curving hairpins of Black Mountain itself.  She was scared the whole time, as it was hard to turn around in the black dark and the rain, with no guardrails and not much road.  She didn't want to be on the mountain.  I don't recall ever going up that road again, but we may well have at some less memorable time.

My dim memories are made of sunlight and the smell of cool water, of biscuits and herbs, the sour green apples that grew in my grandmother's front yard and the cherry tomatoes my cousins and I would snitch -- so sweet!  We pinched her pinch-me-nots and hunted for four lead clovers, and even adventurously bit into the green rounded leaves for the sharp-sweet-green taste of them. The only place I ever chased fireflies was under those trees.

The two cousins I spent the most time with, Karen and Lynn -- Karen two years older, Lynn almost a whole year younger -- and and I hunted fox grapes in the little single lane road behind the house and made a yearly mission of damming up a little creek that ran nearby, hauling rocks and getting soaked every day.  They were jealous because I called our grandmother "Grandma" while they called her "Me-maw", as did most of my other cousins.  I always wanted to call her "Me-maw" so I could be like them.

 My mother was born in 1927, on the younger end of her 12 siblings, and her family moved around a fair bit between Tennessee and North Carolina.  I'm not sure when they settled in Black Mountain, but it was well before my grandfather died in 1956.  I know my mother went to highschool there and played girl's basketball, a secret kept from my grandfather by MeMaw.  My grandfather didn't approve of such things, just as he didn't approve of girls cutting their hair or going with boys.   My mother married at 19 to get away from him, to a man who abused her terribly.  The marriage was annulled, she told me.  I don't know the man's name.  She went on to marry 3 more times. Her second husband was also abusive, at least by modern standards, and, as far as I can tell, also local to that area.  The third was my father, her fourth and last my stepfather, both from out west.

So, I came into this book with a lot of luggage, shall we say.

The book itself tells a single braided story from several points of view, all female, and from different points in time.  It is filled with ghosts, of course, both malevolent and benign, but none who rattle chains or make walls bleed.  They are the manifestations of human guilt and love, shame and hatred, kept moving and talking by the living people around them.  When Ann talked to me about her book, she asked me to give some attention to the voices of her characters.  Some readers, I imagine, have told her that "real people don't talk like that", that she is stereotyping and insulting to the Mountain people.  All I can say is that I never noticed anything that didn't sound familiar.  In fact, the voices flowed over me as comfortably as my aunts and uncles talking around MeMaw's kitchen table.  If anything, Ann made them sound smoother and more educated than perhaps they really did, raising them up a bit rather than looking down on them.  More importantly, they fit the story perfectly and never drew my attention.

The story itself kept me reading -- I started and finished on the same day -- and, while I can't say it exactly surprised me, nothing was telegraphed to me.  I got into the lives of the women I met within the pages and tried to see the men in their lives as they saw them.  By the end, by the last page, I had tear-blurred eyes for no reason and for many reasons.

Did I enjoy it?  I'd say that's not a proper question about this book.  This isn't a story set down to enjoy, exactly.  There's too much pain and too little laughter for enjoyment.  In fact, the book might feel a bit shallow, the way a creek is shallow until one takes a wrong step and then you're up to your hips in icy water, smooth rocks rolling under your shod feet and denying you an easy escape.  It looks pretty and sparkly, makes a charming noise, but you can get hurt there.  Yes, you can drink the water.  It will keep you alive.  It can also kill you if you are careless near it.

Yeah, that's what this book is.

And, yes, I will have to hunt up her other books.  I don't read a lot of ghost stories or Southern stories.  I was born and raised in Central Florida, which is to the South what Cheez Whiz is to a good Gouda, so my accent, my viewpoints, and my essential self is not attached firmly to the region.  However, that desire to play in creek water, to haul the rocks around and change the song, will pull me back to her stories and her voices.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Proof of my Compulsive Need to Own Books

Might as well make a list of the books I have recently acquired from assorted sources over the last month, including the veritable dragon's hoard I dragged to my cave  home on Saturday.  I think it is evident enough that I have a problem.  I do not really want a cure, thank you very much.

From a B&N run
The Tropic of Serpents -- Marie Brennan
The Annotated Northanger Abbey -- ed. David M. Shapard (I'm collecting this set.  They are marvelous).

From two different visits to Boomerang Books

Red Mars -- Kim Stanley Robinson
The Harp of the Grey Rose -- Charles De Lint
Devices and Desires -- K.J. Parker

The Charterhouse of Parma -- Stendhal
Last and First Men /Star Maker -- Olaf Stapledon
Turning Back the Clock -- Umberto Eco
The Blank Slate / How the Mind Works - Steven Pinker

From the Clemson Literary Festival

Telling Stories, Talking Craft -- ed. Chris Arnold & Anthony Cook

From the Dahlonega Literary Festival

The Art of War for Writers -- James Scott Bell
The Kick-Ass Writer - Chuck Wendig
Plot Perfect -- Paula Munier
Mrs. Poe -- Lynn Cullen
Wicked As They Come / Wicked As She Wants  (I confess, I think these will be guilty pleasures, plus she charmed me.)/ Hit - Delilah S. Dawson
Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs / How To Flirt with a Naked Werewolf -- Molly Harper (more guilty pleasure, I suspect)
Fiddlehead / The Inexplicables / Dreadnought / Ganymede -- Cherie Priest
Ghost on Black Mountain -- Ann Hite
The Five Destinies of Carlos Moreno - George Weinstein


True Confession:  I only got 1/3 of the way through Cherie Priest's Boneshaker before, frankly, I chickened out.  I knew horrible things were going to happen.  I mean, ZOMBIES.  Usually that results in the terrible, and I'm not much good at the terrible because I'm a chickenshit coward and I don't much like to be scared.  However, now that I've met and talked with Cherie Priest, I somehow feel better about it.  I can't explain it exactly --  I mean, I've made it through most of the Dresden Files books, and any number of other supernatural horrible things books without much problem -- but now it feels more like a friend telling me a scary story instead of someone evil and unknown intending to deprive me of sleep by whispering how some old lady accidently killed her cat by putting it in the microwave to dry (THAT HAUNTS ME AT NIGHT! NOOOO!)  So I think I can pick up Boneshaker now and finish it, and march right on through her other books with defiance and smiles.

And, yes, I admit that I fight to resist the urge to pile all my books up, sit on top of them, and gloat.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Hey, I Went Somewhere. There Were Books!

Last Saturday, The Husband, the Wonder Poodle, and I all left the house and attended the Dahlonega Literary Festival in Dahlonega, GA.  Aside from being an unusually chilly day for this late in March, it was marvelous.  I met Kevin Hearne and Cherie Priest (with whom I shared many dog pictures), Molly Harper and Delilah S. Dawson, among many other authors I didn't know before, all of whom were chatty and funny and wanting to pet The Wonder Poodle.  Said poodle performed his duties with great aplomb despite many distractions and many dogs (a celebration of the Appalachian Trail was also taking place along the streets). If my back and my energy had not begun to flag, I would have stayed all day and come back the next day but the whole "It now hurts to sit" thing dissuaded me.

It felt unusually good to be among so many readers and writers, even though I was at my most inarticulate, stumbling over my words and hyper-conscious of everything I said.  Ahh, the joys of anxiety!  I could have soaked up a lot more, spent more time chatting and listening (as it was a small festival, intimate, even, and it was actually possible to chat with the authors -- that's a huge treat).  Stupid pain.

I'm working on that, by the way.  Doctor's visit last week, e-rays and blood tests and new medication so I can sleep at night (but still wake up in the morning).  Who knows?  I might even start exercising.

I also wish I could relate specific, wonderful things said by these people, but it is all just a lively mush in my head.  Of course, if I'd really wanted to do that sort of thing I should have recorded the panel sessions, but that would have required me to remember I could even do that, and I had enough to do managing Wonder Poodle so people wouldn't have to step on him,

Still, I feel a bit more inspired than usual.  Several of them spoke to the problem I have, which is that of the internal editor not letting the words out.  It feels good to know it isn't just my personal weirdness making that happen.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Review: Zombie Spaceship Wasteland

 Zombie Spaceship Wasteland: A Book by Patton Oswalt

"Bugdick, bugdick, oatmeal pants"

That is a line from an old hobo song about the glories of springtime...at least, that's what Patton Oswalt has told me and I am convinced.  The lines are on repeat in my head, because I listened to the audio version of this book (which means I didn't see the graphic novel part because I can't open the stupid PDF, but I'll mess with that later) and these were actually sung.

I can't really review this book because I can't adequately phrase my response to it in words.  It requires interpretive dance, I think, and possibly some tissue paper flower garlands.  I'm not much of a dancer, so I'm stuck.

Would I recommend others read (or, ideally, listen) to this book?  Certainly, but with caveats.  If you've never really understood D&D or Star Trek or Bladerunner, I'd suggest you read something else, as beautiful parts of this book will simply not be available to your interpretation.  If you have to Google Harlan Ellison or Warren Ellis because the names are completely unfamiliar to you, you might run into trouble (not because Oswalt discusses them extensively, but...it's handy background information to have while reading, like it's handy to know where Russia is when reading/watching The Hunt For Red October.)

Upon reflection, perhaps the line from the song is "Bugdickin', bugdickin', oatmeal pants."  It's a bit hard to tell over the pops and cracks of the recording.

Patton (I just want to call him Patton.  Calling him Oswalt is more pseudo-professional than I want to be, and calling him Sad Boy is just rude.) is so much fun to hear.  I woke up at 3 am with the beginnings of the day's headache, and decided to continue with his book (which I had started the previous evening) because it was plain I wouldn't be sleeping for a while and I might as well be entertained.  It was a good idea.  When exhaustion finally won out over pain, my mood was improved by....what, exactly?  Not his sunny outlook and smiling disposition, certainly, and I can't say I laughed aloud at any point.  I was amused.  Perhaps that isn't what a comedian really wants, but there it is.  I smiled softly and nodded my head and was amused.  I wouldn't have gotten up to go to the bathroom (well, as it was an audio book, I could take my media device with me into the bathroom and simply backed up to hear anything I might have missed during the time there.)  I was content to be listening.  I was curious as to what came next.  In fact, I kinda had to find out what he would say next.

So I guess Patton won.  I'm content with that.  I also suspect that if Patton Oswalt were to spew out some fake facts in his sincere "I'm a geek sharing my geekdom" voice, I'd go right along, and isn't that what we want from our writers?



Ahhah!  Everything is on the Interwebinet!  Check this and, at about minute 18, some of the hobo song bits show up (the audio book versions are better, of course).  Not my favorite, of course, but I suspect the bit was in process.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Review: Silver Screen Fiend

Silver Screen Fiend: Learning about Life from an Addiction to Film by Patton Oswalt

Patton Oswalt is one of those famous people who have drifted on the periphery of my awareness for years, always with this vague idea that I'd really like him if only I took the trouble to, you know, pay attention.  Oh, I caught his comedy specials when they showed up on Netflix or where ever (Youtube is my friend) (ok, I've seen them multiple times because Netflix is easy).  I read his Twitter comments if they drifted through G+ or read about his assorted feuds and blow-ups.  Since my movie watching is quite limited, I've only "seen" him in Ratatouille (and quite enjoyed him). Because of my complete lack of awareness of anything on TV from the mid 90s through to today (if it wasn't Mythbusters, I didn't know about it), I've missed much of his other work.

Random chance, my Scribd subscription, and the latest attention Salon paid him made me grab his new book.  I picked up the audio version because, for reasons perhaps best not explored, I really, really enjoy listening to this man.  Seriously, if he will talk, apparently I will listen.  For hours. (And, yes, I have his earlier book, Zombie Spaceship Wasteland in my audio queue, although I already started reading it earlier this week.).

Now, what have I to say about the book, and about the author, since this stuff is all memoir?  What is my reaction?  I think I have a pretend love for him -- that is, it's all in my head that I feel so much affection for this person about whom I really know so little except for what he says about himself and what others screech about him.  In my head, I wish I could sit down with him someplace comfortable, watch Godzilla movies, and listen to him pontificate about them endlessly while occasionally making my own comments.  The reality of that is 1) not happening 2) I am also afraid he'd eviscerate my lowbrow movie tastes 3) I can't think of anything I have in common with him that could be the basis of a conversation, with the possible exception of Star Wars, and possibly Star Trek, trivia.  And maybe we could discuss movies from the 1930s and 40s.  Maybe.  And growing up in suburbia in the 70s and 80s.  I'm a few years older than he, so my memory portal is a bit shifted.  I really don't know.  I can't imagine he'd want to talk to me.

Then again, I have that thought about almost everyone.

But I like thinking about a possible conversation.  He is, I believe, on G+ (Is that right, +Patton Oswalt ?) but I don't know that he pays the slightest attention.  Ghost town and all that.  Still, listening to him talk about his experiences, his thoughts, his memories, makes me wish I could talk with him.  Seriously, it makes me think he's like a real person, despite the being famous and being on TV and publishing books that make best seller lists.  I mean, I totally know that he's actual flesh, blood, memory, and experiences, like millions of others, but he still has that "Famous" aura which makes him one of the featured few while I'm one of faceless many.  I pay attention to him, while he doesn't know dick about me, and he has no particular motivation to change that.

I run into that thought a lot, too.  There's someone in the world who I admire, but it's a one way street where I can admire at a safe distance, but whatever comes back must be shared with everyone else on that street.  What's on the other end of that street is for the rare, the lucky, the few -- it's really a ridiculous situation.

What in the world would I talk about with him?  We could talk about depression.  That's something about which I know quite a bit, and he does as well.  And we could talk about The Princess Bride.

Which is how I am transitioning to the other book I've read this week, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales about the Making of the Princess Bride by Cary Elwes.  There isn't a lot to be said about this book, which is why I am tucking into this review.  This is a sweet, fun, happy book about a sweet, fun, happy movie that I completely love.  There's no dirt dishing here, and that's fine, because it would be out of place.  Elwes also comes across as a nice human being, which is fine, too, because I'm perfectly content to think of him that way.  In fact, I'm perfectly pleased to live thinking he has no deep dark deeds kept secret from the wider world (just the usual flaws that go with being human).  As luck would have it, the movie popped up on TV while I was reading (well, reading and knitting, going back and forth because I do that).  Reading about the movie while watching the movie was perhaps the best way to enjoy the book.

I wonder if Patton Oswalt has read the book?  Or did he go to the 25th anniversary celebration of the movie?  Did he read the original William Goldman book before seeing the movie? (I ran into the book a few years before the movie, which isn't some mark of superiority, just good luck).

I suspect that, in my subconscious, these two books may melt together, and Patton Oswalt will be dashing about in black suede pants and a mask, offering peanuts and scotch to assorted large rodents.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Just Putting This Here So I Can Keep It



Hadn't heard the song until this video made the rounds a few weeks ago.  I've watched it at least 6 times now.  The song is strong, the dancing is blood and sweat and sweetness.  Must keep it handy.  I need this sort of beauty in my life to keep me in my life.

Review: Lolly Willowes; Or, The Loving Huntsman

 Lolly Willowes: Or, The Loving Huntsman by Sylvia Townsend Warner

First -- lookit!  My banner fits my template now!  Thanks goes to @snipped on Ello for the help, since my brain won't do that kind of thing anymore.

Second -- I forget exactly when this book landed on Mount TBR, but it recently fell into my hands and I started reading.  Now I'm trying to think exactly what my reaction to it is.

The first thought I had as I reached the end of the book was "Damn, once again the only solution for a woman to have freedom is to become a witch, just like in The Master and Margarita."  That book was actually written after Lolly Willowes was published, and wasn't published until decades later.  Lolly Willowes isn't political satire, but it is cultural satire, so maybe that's the echo I hear.

I find I can't talk about my reaction to the book unless I talk about the book, so if you haven't read this 90 year old book, I guess I'm going to spoil things for you.  Laura Willowes is born into the heavy quilted traditions of the Willowes family, in late Victorian England.  She's a self contained child, a quiet young woman, content with her relative freedom to wander the countryside, maintain the fixed patterns of her home in Lady Place, and look after her elderly father.  She has no interest in balls or parties, in flirting or dancing, in having a home, a husband, or children of her own.  Upon her father's death, she loses her freedom and is chivvied, without much resistance because she isn't the fighting sort, into the mold of the spinster aunt.  She lives with her older brother and his wife, and she dwindles into what they imagine her to be -- quiet, unassuming, acquiescent, ignorable.  They can give her the thoughts they want, attribute to her the feelings and motives they think best. She becomes Aunt Lolly, not Laura Willowes, and for 20 years that is who she is.

When she has her awakening and decides to become Laura Willowes, her brother and sisters-in-law, nieces and nephews all try to keep her in the niche they think she should fit.  She doesn't so much break free as slide out from beneath their collective thumbs.  She retreats to an odd little village in the country and settles back to a self-directed, quiet life, making her own little patterns.  When her family try to recapture her in the person of her self-centered nephew Titus, who comes to her little village to live and make her into Aunt Lolly again, Laura enters into a mysterious compact with a very different version of the Devil and becomes a witch. She discovers the odd little village is full of witches.  Being a witch is, at least in this book, just a way for one to be quietly self directed, allowed to be the shape one wants to be, to defy the heavy hands of social expectations.

Of course the book has just loads of symbolic meaning and interpretable material.  It's such a quiet, calm, matter of fact little story, just like its main character, only the facts in this matter are tinged with otherworldliness and oddness.  Still, they are facts and they are accepted with perhaps a little pop of surprise before being swallowed up as just part of the pattern.  That's how I reacted to the book.  It's soft, whispered pattern had little pops of surprise that settled into the whole as I read.  The surprises were subtle and seemed so small until after I had read them and digested them.  Once they were over and part of the whole, they grew and got more important.  Now they whizz around my head and unfold.  The things Warner is making fun of, the things she satires, are just a relevant now as in 1926, because the desire to make others fit into the niches we allow them (we being a cultural or a societal we) still exists.  The means by which people slide away from the expectations of others are often just as small and whispered, although we tend to give more attention to those who blast their way free, who try to destroy with flashes and bangs what fetters them rather than becoming misty and faint and just drifting out.

Yes, there's a proper metaphor.  This is a drifty, misty book, a book about a woman deciding what she does and does not like, and then setting about making her world into what she likes while repelling what she does not.  That's not the whole book, of course.  That's my bit of it.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Review: Hyperbole and a Half

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Yeah, I know, old news.  I'm not worried about being up-to-date or cutting edge or anything like that.  I'm here because I read something and I am going to write about it.

I've been aware of Hyperbole and a Half as a webcomic for some years.  It's hard to be online and not be aware of it. However, its rise to Bestseller heights took place during the period of my own struggle with depression, so I was in no way able to, you know, be cognizant of much of anything.  Depression keeps a person very busy being depressed.

Allie Brosh talks about this.  Indeed, the chapters on depression were terribly familiar to me.

However, the other chapters -- some of which I had seen online, usually passed to me by my beloved friend Jammies of Curmugeonette infamy because she always knows about this stuff before I do -- had me laughing so very hard I flopped bonelessly on the couch and flapped my hands at The Husband.  I know I drooled a bit.  I might have peed a teeny amount, but that could also be because I've turned 50 now and everything is out of warranty and thus prone to malfunction.  Still, there was much, much laughing helplessly.

I love that much laughing.

I did a quicky search online for Allie Brosh and Hyperbole and a Half.  The weblog still exists, but it is static and silent.  I wonder what she's doing now, and how publishing a book (and all the other marketing items -- calendars!  Note cards!  Date books!) has altered her life.

I also read two other webcomics-turned-books: Cyanide & Happiness, and Ice Cream & Sadness: More Comics from Cyanide & Happiness.   Again, this is a webcomic I see from time to time but do not follow myself.  I read the books with a sort of fascinated horror.  My sense of humor, I will admit, is, ah, very individual.  I often watch and enjoy comedy without ever laughing.  I also do not enjoy some kinds of comedy which others find hilarious (for example, almost every sit-com in the last 10 years.  In fact, I think the last such show I did enjoy was Northern Exposure, and even that wore out by 1994).  I didn't find much in the books that was funny, although absurd humor usually appeals to me.  Yet I read them, lingering over particular strips and puzzling over text.  I don't feel much draw to read more, yet I do see why people read and link to the comics.  Just because I don't get it doesn't mean they have nothing to give.  Like I said, I spent some time on them myself.  Still, they don't excite me much.