Saturday, June 25, 2016

Reviving this blog

No guarantees of great verbal skills or entertainment, but I'm going to try to review more of the books that I read, because reasons.

Let's start with a few that I finished in the last week:

Hogfather by Terry Pratchett




The Premise:  There's a group of creatures called the Auditors, who are responsible for combating entropy in the universe. Think of a bunch of slightly blobbish extremely OCD types. Anyhow, they determine that the Hogfather (the Discworld version of Santa) is a force for entropy and disorder, and they hire the Assassin's Guild of Anhk-Morpork to eliminate him and decrease the power of the belief in the Hogfather on that world. The Assassin's Guild appoints the job to Teatime, a benign-seeming psychopath who forces  people into doing various duties, slaying them when they either object or the instant they finish the task.
Susan Sto-Helit, the duchess granddaughter of Death, is currently is working as a no-nonsense governess to the children of a middle-class family when she realizes that Death is taking up the role of Hogfather, for unknown reasons.
We also have a side-story of  the scholars at the The Unseen University fighting over whether or not to re-open a work by Bloody Stupid Johnson - the inventor of inadvertent inventions. The Chancellor of university being a bit of an idiot, you know this is only going to end one way. But the scholars ridiculous statements help set up a scenario that helps explain later why the Hogfather is such a pivotal character whose loss would alter the unverse so much.

This was good book, but there were a few points that dragged. The scenes with Teatime (who poncily pronounces his name Teh-a-tim-eh), kind of  felt belaboured and repetitive. The scenes with the Chancellor were okay, but I felt like there was some kind of inside joke with some of the terms involved that I just didn't get - other than the "tunnel vision scholar" one.

What I really enjoyed in this book were the scenes with both Death and Susan, both separately and together. Death's interactions with the population of Ankh-Morpork in his Hogfather guise pokes gently at the commercial role of Santa Claus in our society,  (Love the boars being boars aspect in the shopping mall winning over the children in the line up, much to the dismay of the mall manager).
Some of the philosophical discussion between Susan and Death about the nature of humanity, the role of belief and the idea of a sort of Newton's Third Law of Belief resulting in various demigods were also interesting to ponder.

I'd say 4.0 out of 5.0 stars.


The Sleeper and the Spindle



If the former book is all about the need for belief, this one is all about the need for choice. The main plot of the story is about loss of choice -- either through the movement of a spell sweeping across the continent over 80 years -- or as the result of following through on an expected social ritual. The action starts the day before the wedding of the  main character -- who figures that as a result of wedding her prince tomorrow, she shall start on that long slow decline towards death, and will be locked into a series of expectations that will remove all her further choices about her destiny.When you are at that point of melancholia, any kind of delay has got to look good; when she hears about issues with the neighbouring territories losing their citizens to eternal slumber, she jumps at the chance to investigate.

The book is at times a little bit 'meta', what  with bar patron characters pointing out that the sleeper must be awakened in "the usual way" according to the stories. There are plenty of scenes in this story that are pulled straight out of traditional fairy tales - but once all the characters have come together in the second half, the expectations of who the protagonist and antagonist really are is turned on its head. In the meantime, you have a slightly girl-power story, although not a lesbian fairy tale as some may have assumed from one of the pictures being bandied about on the internet.

Oh, and the pictures in this book I think add as much to the story as the text does in this book, if not more. Just gorgeous. If I ever need to hire an illustrator for a book I write, I will be paging Chris Riddell to the job.

3.5 out of 5.00

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Dewey's III: Random thoughts of bookishness

April 23, 2016 -- Competing again in another Dewey's 24-hour Bookathon, with the goal of chopping down my TBR somewhat. My physical books have not been getting read as much as my e- books these days, so that's what I'm focusing on. I had my sister select 6 books from the Jar of Random Book Choices, and they are:

Aaronovitch, Ben. Midnight Riot.
Bardugo, Leigh. Shadow and Bone.
Chaucer. The Canterbury Tales.
Cooper, Susan. The Dark is Rising.
DuHigg, Charles. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and in Business.
Scalzi, John. Agent to the Stars.

I also have an assortment of books that are out from the library. These include:

Arnett, Mindee. Avalon.
Barnett, David. Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl.
Benson, Amber. Cat's Claw.
Bestler, Alfred. The Stars My Destination.
Black, Holly. The Coldest Girl in Cold Town.
Bray, Libba. Beauty Queens.
Spencer-Fleming, Julia. One Was a Soldier.
Wilson, Kevin. The Family Fang.

Like to get these all read before their next due date, on the 6th of May. We'll see how it goes. :)


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Born of Defiance -- Review


I've been reading The League series for the last couple of years and generally they are great fun. Science fiction/Romance, if the Star Wars franchise did a Harlequin crossover, these could be them. If Star Wars did a series where it discussed how each of the couples of the Rebel Alliance came to unite. Only, in this case, we swap out Rebels for the Sentella, and Empire for the League. So when I saw that my library ebooks centre had this one available for borrowing, I snatched it up and settled in for an afternoon of losing myself in a galaxy far, far away. However, while I did enjoy the book, it wasn't quite up to the standard of the last few books in the series. 

There are a few problems with this one -- primarily the setting. This is book 8, and up till this point, all the books have been happening chronologically, beginning with the tale of how Nykirian, one of the main badasses running the Sentella, and Kiara come together. The seventh tale ended with hints that it will be Fain and Galene's story, leading from situations that end that story. With this book, however, we get a suspension of this chronological order. It really should be situated between the first and second books in the series, not eighth --- and it takes some doing as a reader to figure out what has happened to the time frame. It was so confusing that, following along with the details as they had been revealed, it seems like  Talyn Batur,the main male protagonist, is his own grandfather or something. The constant "when the heck are they? " really brought me out of being fully immersed in the book several points in the tale.  

The next problem to deal with is a rather annoying trope. It's the "I couldn't possibly tell him/her" trope. In this case, it has to do with the parentage of Talyn. On Andaria, the lineage is fiercely matrilineal and very status-defined. Preservation of a bloodline is worth more than gold -- and marriage deals are made to increase your family's status by linking to a higher-status family.
Personal status is defined by where on the social hierarchy you are, with different families having different ranks. At the bottom of the ranking are those that have been ejected from their families by their matriarchs. Only one level up from that are those that are unacknowledged by their male parent's family --outcasts. Talyn is a member of the unacknowledged ones,  and this fact shapes his whole life, making his social life and workplace hell. His life is restricted in so many ways (some spoilery) - and why? Not because  his father rejected acknowledging him in the first place --- because his mother refused to tell the father about the pregnancy in the first place. And it's not because the father was abusive or otherwise harmful. Just didn't wanna. GAH! This has gone on for twenty some-odd years. You've seen the impact it has had on your kid, now a man, you know your society is majorly prejudiced in this fashion. Yeah, you're a strong military woman, but you are also an idiot. Suck it up buttercup. (And in addition, they keep mentioning how  much he looks like Fain. No one puts two and two together and sends the guy an email?)

The final issue I have with the book is with the amount of times the book tries to prove how much the cards are stacked against Talyn and Felicia -- and yet some of the saves in the book are a little too providential. Probably the greatest is when Felicia  contacts her brother, Lorens,in order to get help pull Talyn out of a certain military situation. They haven't talked ever as adults, he always treated her like crud when they were kids because she is his half-sibling . Conveniently, however, he happens to be high up the military chain of command and can swing this matter -- and takes very little convincing to do so.  It was difficult to buy how easily the pair jump into easy familiarity and trust. He later comments that he cashes in a lot of favours to do so. Maybe I'm cynical, but if I were Lorens, I would be making Felicia jump through a lot more hoops before I cashed in all my markers --even in a society where the males main role is defense of the females.

Would I read this book again? Yes. Just like all the other League books,  it is very entertaining, and in this one you get a lot of hints at backstory of other characters that aren't the focus of the narrative. Would I buy it full -price from the store? No. Thank goodness for libraries.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Dewey's II -- or, a great way to survive a bout of influenza.

I started this blog with the last (first) Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon. When I went on Youtube and saw a favourite vlogger talking about it coming around again, I figured, why not?

Then I got the Plague that has been going around the office. Luckily, I posted a restricted book list last night--only two books. The ones I wanted to get through were (1) The Looking-Glass Wars by Frank Beddor - a current book club item- and (2) A Geek Girl's Guide to Murder by Julie Anne Lindsey. Done! and Done!

Both were really great  -- Looking Glass was a little better than the other, but that's simply because it had more tricks and turns. I had figured out who the main suspect truly was with the mystery novel early on --cozy mysteries have long been a favourite of mine. Getting the characters from the beginning to the end and seeing how it was deconstructed was entertaining. And just like Looking Glass, this one has openings you can see the future novels using as launching off points. I enjoyed the protagonist quite a bit -- quirky, smart, introverted and can handle herself. She reminds me very much of a friend of mine. The main character, Mia Connor,  has a family that is just as decent and bizarre as that of Stephanie Plum's in the Janet Evanovich series -- but not so carbon copy as to get annoying. It's a danger with any writer of a quirky cozy mystery heroine to avoid being a Stephanie Plum knock-off --but so far this one seems to avoid that trap. And best of all, it does geekery accurately.

I'm going to try to avoid spoiling Looking-Glass Wars for anyone reading this. Which is difficult because I really want to discuss the plot points on this with someone - I already have theories about some of the characters identities! Essentially this is a fairy-tale with a twist -- the author has taken Lewis Carrol's well loved book and turned it slightly on its ear. It predates Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland by 4 years but there are some strong echoes of this book in that movie, particularly in the role of the Mad Hatter. Probably the strongest resonances, however, are simply due to the fact that this book reads like a movie. The pacing, the visual imagery, the world building -- all would make this a cinch to translate to the big screen. If you are a person that dislikes slow books, read this one.
Now I have to go online in search of books 2-4. Oh, and if you do take my advice and bring this to the big screen, I deserve at least a credit in the film, eh?

There's a couple more hours left in this readathon, but I think the Plague is going to keep me from continuing on any further. Bleaugh.

Cheers, friends and fellow read-a-thoners. And here's to doing my third Dewey's readathon in next April! Maybe I will actually get time to do a lot of the events next go round.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Never Judge a Book By Its Cover

So, I was in the library grabbing books to read, in a bit of a rush. Picked up the holds I had waiting, collected a few more of the Y: The Last Man series, and was looking for something to round out the stack of volumes I was about to borrow. I saw this book on display in the "New Books" section.


No time to read the back cover -- it looks like a food book. And addressing organic food --maybe ths is something like what Michael Pollan writes, I thought to myself. Or book in the same vein as "Can You Trust a Tomato in January," by Vince Staten.  Needless to say, I was expecting a bunch of foodie wisdom and rants.

What I got was the joys and travails in the life of a stay-at home mom. Quite the dramatic content shift!  Or to quote Obi-wan..


Although this wasn't what I would probably have picked up for myself, it actually turned out to be not that bad a book. It reminded me a lot of Jenny Lawson's Blogess series, but kid-focused. The author, Stefanie Wilder-Taylor, doesn't pull punches and she uses humour to take issue with the state of parenting today. In a world where the mere act of sending a lunch to school with a child is promoted by Martha Stewart and her ilk as an opportunity to get creative with ingredients and presentation, producing little bento boxes of cuteness, she doesn't hold back from telling the world:


She also takes the world of "everyone's child is a special snowflake and/or genius" to task, and gives parents of the world the sad fact that no, their child most likely isn't a genius/ the next Picasso/ insert superlative here. And really, how could they be? The whole idea of everyone being exceptional leads to no one being so. The book covers a wide variety of other topics as well, from finding a new BFF that can relate to your status as a new mom to how not to get sucked into the black hole of being an unappreciated volunteer at the local PTA (in other words, avoiding Mean Girls part II), to reviews of children's books that are a bit problematic when you think about what they are actually saying. (I liked that she agreed with me on The Giving Tree by Sheldon Silverstein being abused by the little boy.)

Overall, I gave this book a 3.5 out of 5. Some of the humour fell a little flat for me, and some of the content was stuff I had heard quite a bit before. But overall, it was good. I would probably recommend this book to my friends with little ones.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Another trip to the Graphic novel stacks

Y:The Last Man, Vol. 7:Paper Dolls
Author: Brian K Vaughan
Illustrators: Pia Guerra, Goran Sudzuka, Jose Marzan
Genre: Graphic Novel

 As a child, I can remember receiving sets of paper dolls. They'd vary in design and character, but always the same format -- a  figure, perforated into hardened cardboard, with a foldable stand that fit into two notches at the bottom of the doll's image. Outfits for various features of the doll's life would be included, with little tabs to fold around the doll. But at the bottom of it all, the figure would be wearing the sparsest of underthings that would coincidentally be conveniently hidden no matter what various outfits it wore. From astronaut gear to bikini-wearing beach babe. Inevitably -- sometimes almost instantaneously -- the tabs for the clothes would break off, and another outfit would be discarded. Eventually, so would the doll, its cardboard base worn to a nubbin, having suffered one too many bends at the waist and legs.

       The seventh collection of "Y: The Last Man: Paper Dolls" can be seen as an extension of that paper doll metaphor. If this volume of the work has a theme, I'd say it's continual push/pull of secrets and the desire for their divulgence by various authorities -- whether that is the  church, the media, the government or the scientific community. We get that interplay with all the members of the Y crew-- even Ampersand to a certain extent. Just like a child seeing a set of paper dolls that have been done up, societal authorities are eager to strip the main characters (and some of the satellite characters)  to see the inner workings. And just like that omnipotent seven year-old, little care is taken towards how that impacts them.

At the same time the graphic novel is working in how personal rights are being casually violated, the author is also entwining the broad mesh of characters together. Rose and Dr.Alison, Ampersand and Yorick and Beth, Other Beth and Hero. Even Yorick's mother, Congresswoman Brown, has her past tied in with that of an antagonist from the story. I liked how the details of how Ampersand came to be with Yorick interweaves personal connections for the reader between two of the members of the Y crew. Equally interesting here is 335's backstory and how she became a member of the Culper Ring. It's stated in the story that she was nearly too old for their notice -- and we ain't talking because she was collecting OAP. Which further highlights the cultish nature of Culper Ring -- loss of personal identity, induction occuring before the age of informed legal consent --how is it any different than the Sisters of the Amazon and other cult groups that spring up in the 3.5 years after "the Great Unmanning"?  As these are the supposed "good guys" of the government, this tarnishes the group in the reader's eyes. I wouldn't be surprised if this builds to 355 having a crisis of conscience of some sort in later episodes.

 All in all, this is a great addition to this series.I would definitely recommend it.


 ISBN:  9781845762414
Publication date/Publisher: May 1, 2006  by Vertigo
Link: http://www.dccomics.com/vertigo/graphic_novels/?gn=5163


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Dewey's Book 4: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Several years ago, I managed to snag a ticket to see Neil Gaiman when he was doing a tour for the Ocean at the End of the Lane. Getting to hear him read this book in person was really something - he is pretty darn eloquent. It had the desired effect of getting me to buy it, but for some reason I never quite got around to finding out how the story ends. I had too much on my plate to read, or the books from the library that week were too enticing. Most of all, I think I just didn't want to ruin the memory of the reading in case the rest of the book turned out to be a dud, as some reviewers had hinted might happen. (NB: Ignorance is bliss. Spread the word.)

Today I sat down and read it. In one go. Captivated. It wraps you up in the world he's created of regular people and "varmints" and "fleas" and Hempstocks. A world where people can have a side of the house that only ever shows the full moon, no matter what quarter it should be. A world where an entire ocean can be contained in a pond. And where a property boundary can be life-changing, literally. He introduces us to a homewrecking supervillain named Ursula Monkton. And a new use for old toys. There's bravado. Fear. Mystery of many kinds. And sacrifice. It had my heart pounding and my brain bemused several times.

Good job, Neil. 5 stars.