Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Review: Nightlife

Nightlife (Cal Leandros, #1)Nightlife by Rob Thurman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Story time!

I picked up this book and its sequel in 2007, at the Borders in North Orlando where I was attending a NaNoWriMo event. Yes, I remember quite clearly when I picked up the books. I'd read or heard about them, looked through the blurbs and peeked into the opening pages, so I bought them and put them on a shelf for later.

Later ended up being 4 years later, of course, but I'm glad I waited. Some instinct or whispering voice warned me to wait until more the series existed so that when I finished one book, I could move on to the next because, dammit, that's what happens with series -- you start one, you really like it, but then you have to wait a year or two years for the next installment and that's crazy making. I've been through it a few times. Books are like relationships to me, which makes it hard to get involved if I feel like I'm being strung along. I really hate it. So, I tend to wait until most of the story is available (like waiting for the unavailable guy you're crushing on to be single.)

Anyway, I've had the good luck to chat on occasion with Rob Thurman on Twitter. Wow. There is one impressive mind. I like this lady a lot. And I had guilt because there were the books, pulled from my storage locker of books to be read this year, and what was I reading that I couldn't start one of them...so yesterday afternoon I cracked open Nightlife. I read it on and off all evening and went to bed about 11 pm.

And woke up at about 3:30 am, flipped on my little reading light, and started in on it again. I finished it this afternoon. My own writing is ignored, dishes rot in the sink, the dog really wishes I'd take him out, and the cats have had about enough of this nasty litter box, but I HAD TO FINISH THE BOOK.

And I am SO glad I know this is a series, that more books exist, the story goes on. I would not have made it through without that meta-information. Because I got really attached. Hooked, I should say. Here are all my favorite things -- a smart assy first person narrative, main characters who are kick ass but imperfect, emotional relationships that made sense to me and felt real, and a world full of darkness and light, mystery and wonder. You know, all that good stuff I want from my urban fantasy. Hell, what I want from any book.

Now, for anyone familiar with urban fantasy, this isn't brand new ground, but it's well woven storytelling. The whole way through this book I caught threads of other books and series I've really devoted myself to (Jim Butcher's Dresden Files popped to mind, among others). Not a copy, just those same good qualities, the same level of involvement for me, the cleverness of the twists, the way the things I expected and the stuff I didn't expect came together. How much I liked all of it. How attached I got to Cal and Niko, and even to Robin and Promise and Georgina. Hell, even the Big Bad had repulsive fascination. I liked how things were not always explained out encyclopedia style because the characters don't know and don't always find out. The point of view worked really well, even though Thurman played some great tricks with it (I love tricks with points of view when they are done right.)

The second book is sitting on the couch next to me and I happen to know I will be in close proximity to the only large bookstore in a 3 county area on Friday -- if they have copies, I'll get the rest of the series. Then, yes, maybe I will delver into her other series (it isn't like I don't have some 300 books on my TBR pile, but we will let that pass for now.) I fully expect I will read these again (when I'll bump up to 5 stars). I expect I'll recommend them to others because when I get enthused, I get enthused.

I'm enthused. Sorry, Rob, that I waited so long, but at least I didn't wait forever. Now, I have to go read.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Book Shelf Porn

Yeah, I had this sudden urge to post pictures of my current TBR shelves.  I'm just going to show my 2011 ambitions, though.

 Oh, it' s not like I don't have another 4 CASES of books (in the house) I want to read.  Oh, no, not that at all.  This is just a select few I actually pulled out to read SOON.  Because I'm an idiot.  Keep that fact in mind.  I am an idiot.  And that's because I also want to read this

and this

oh, and I want to read and take notes on these

Like I said.  Idiot.  Not that I couldn't do it...if I gave up everything else for the year.  Maybe.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My New Camera

I love love love my new camera.  It's a Nikon Coolpix 18x.  I didn't think I would like it as much as I do.

You see, I was very fond of my (comparatively) elderly Canon digital.  It had a viewfinder, which let me find a compromise with my vision -- this whole nearsighted/farsighted/astigmatic thing has made my life complex.  I now have 4 (yes, FOUR) pairs of glasses with different lenses, plus sunglasses, plus a pair of stunt glasses with my regular prescription.  Two are just magnifiers, but, dammit, I need those anymore (plus I am pretty sure my readers need updating).  Anyway, this meant that if I used the viewscreen, I couldn't hold it far enough away to see both the picture and the setting while wearing my distance lenses, and if I took those off, I couldn't see what I was aiming at -- except if I used the viewfinder, which let me keep my glasses on for most shots. (we won't even go into the whole bi-focal thing.  It's not pretty and involves nausea.)

But MIL wanted a digital camera and couldn't find one that suited her, so we decided to give her my trusty Canon because it still had the viewfinder so she'd be able to take pictures either way, and she would buy me a new one.  We looked for a while and settled on the Nikon because now a viewfinder is a premium option not to be found on cameras under $500.  But it's ok.  It's working out.

Anyway, I still have the vision problem, but my new camera seems to compensate for my usually shaky hands, my poor vision, and my sensitivity to bright light.  I get shots like this... 

and this...

and even this
 It's almost like I know what I'm doing.  Almost.

(you can click on each picture to see it full sized)

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Review: Howl's Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle (Castle, #1)Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How often are we our own problem? How often do our own beliefs -- about ourselves, about our world, and about what our lives will be -- stand like a wall between us and what we really want?

This is the essential conundrum facing Sophie, the protagonist in Howl's Moving Castle. She's a young woman living in a world where fairy tales and magic are a part of everyday life, and she has very firm -- and very self-defeating -- ideas about all of it. The eldest of three sisters, helping her stepmother run the hat shop her father left them, Sophie believes her life is all about sacrifice and messing things up. Fate is against her, she thinks. She'll always make mistakes and she will never achieve anything worthwhile.

Oh boy, is she wrong. But it takes her a lot of mistakes, worrying, misunderstanding, love, and courage for her to learn to see herself and the world around her in new ways.

That's what I love best about this book, this transformation of a young woman. Sophie is a marvelous character, someone a reader can relate to no matter what age the reader is. We all get in our own way, and we all struggle to realize it. Sophie's adventures with the Wizard Howl and his magical castle serve to help her grow and mature. The book itself is --oh, that most terrible of words -- charming, as if it cast its own spell.

It's not quite a perfect book. As with many books written for a young adult audience, it gets in a big hurry to end as fast as it can after the climactic action. Some questions are never answered (and, potentially, never should be). Some of the secondary characters are a bit thinner than I like. Then again, I found this book as an adult, and it isn't required to live up to my adult expectations.

One warning -- if you've seen the Miyazaki movie, this is NOT the same story. Miyazaki took elements from the book to illustrate his own story, and the two are only superficially related. I've seen the Miyazaki version several times and it's very wonderful, but it is not the book. The book is, in so many ways, a much superior story.

6/8/11 Good gravy on a stick but I enjoy this book! This time, of course, I saw a few new things -- like a harkening back to what irritated me so much when I read The Mysteries of Udolpho in the poor communication, the assumptions, and failure to think of things instead of reacting in fear because they are strange or unknown. Still, much better here!

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Saturday, June 04, 2011

Review: The Master and Margarita

The Master and MargaritaThe Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have no idea what I think of this strange tale of the devil and the mortals in early 20th century Soviet Russia. It is an angry tale, a vengeful satire, with references not known to me so that I couldn't appreciate the finer points and details. For me, it was a wild, whirling tale, a fluttering of colors and images told in an arch tone.

I read it slowly, taking in sections and letting them digest in my mind. I spent some time on Wikipedia looking up things like Primus Stoves and Woland, and reading about the novel itself. It does take some study to grasp a book translated from another language and written some 80+ years ago.

It's hard to run down any proper narrative thread, for there really isn't any, at least, not until well into the novel, when one finally meets the titular Master. The story comes to the reader like fluttery bits of torn colored paper collected together and laid down, adjacent and overlapping, fixed into a collage that eventually forms first one picture, then another, until the whole is apparent. Yet what the picture is, I cannot tell. It's still beyond me. I grasp the sarcastic tone, the dislike of overwhelming bureaucracy, the anger at restraint and cruelty and greed for power, money, and status, but I sense there are other layers in the book to which I am blind -- jokes, observations, philosophy and references for which I have no clue, glimpses into a time and a culture of which I know little.

Ah well, there's no help for it. Still, I enjoyed reading the novel, enjoyed the madness of it, the resolution of it, the odd tilt of it. I'll have to put it on my list of books to reread.

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Thursday, June 02, 2011

More on Stupid People

I must admire this particular article

Viewpoint: Facebook Is Not Your Friend

because, once again, it points out what is, to me, FREAKING OBVIOUS. I make no claims to genius, to greater perception, or to mystical knowledge. I've just had a lifetime of assuming that anything I did in public is, you know, PUBLIC, and after my first year or so waddling around the Internet (back in the dark ages), it was borne in upon me that the Internet was REALLY SUPER PUBLIC.

Maybe I should make that a larger font, with color.

THE INTERNET (including all social media, email, instant messaging, etc.) IS PUBLIC.

Yeah, I know. It won't help.  I feel a bit like Charlton Heston.