Monday, July 27, 2009

"Land of Mist and Snow" by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald

Why I read it: Another book by my instructors. It's not something I would have picked up myself, the civil war not being something I... well, I care about it, but I don't read about it, and I didn't watch that documentary series. Though the thing about "United State of Jones" on the Daily Show last week sure sounded interesting.

Bookmark: Library receipt

Tastes like chicken: "The Liveship Traders Trilogy" by Robin Hobb, except with more boat-tech. When I explained to people what it was, I called it "Master and Commander and Magic", though I've never read any Patrick O'Brien so I don't really know. Had something of the "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell" in it, too, with the two dueling wizards, and the history.

What I liked: Pages 120-121 were magic. So was page (I think it was ) 249, where one of the minor characters says "Oh, belike," and you can hear the sarcasm dripping, and it's like the way we say "Whatever" now, or "Yeah, right." I really like "belike", and Ed and I have been saying it for two days now.

Not so much: When I read the amazon reviews of something, I tend to go for the 1-stars first. Maybe I like to watch train wrecks or something. Anyway, the complaints there fell into two categories: too many boat-words, and un-huggable characters. For the first, I think that was voice. The main character is a sailor, so he's going to use the boat words for things. I think that's a good thing. If he was using 20th-21st century words for things, or explaining them, or calling them "the sail strings" and "that thing at the front of the boat" and stuff, I would have found the character quite unreliable. One of the problems with the liveships books for me might have been that the main character didn't use enough boat words for me to really believe that it was her boat, and they ought to give it back. As for unlikable characters, so what? What Ursula K. LeGuin said.

Lesson: It was neat the way this book was put together. There were letters, diaries, and the narrative of John Nevis. Structurally similar to how "The Historian" was put together, in fact. I would like to try that structure sometime. Maybe when I've finished some of this other stuff. Maybe that would be how to handle the karate zombies story...

Friday, July 17, 2009

"Tales of the Unexpected" by Roald Dahl

Why I read it: Short stories -- seemed like a good carry-around book. I bought this at a flea market a while back because I'd heard RD's adult-targeted fiction was disturbing and haunting.

Bookmark: Tag from a "two-journal set" someone must have given me. I love gifts of paper products.

Tastes like Chicken: After a while these stories began to be predictable in their unexpectedness. I started to read them the way one reads an Encyclopedia Brown collection -- trying to guess what their twist ending was going to be. There was no magic, no supernatural, only humans being asses to one another.

What I liked: Interesting to read short stories. They were structurally sound. They all had endings, which is nice. Also, Roald Dahl seems to have had a lot of knowledge about a lot of different stuff, because the details seemed believable to me -- about art, wine, music, etc.

Not so much: As a kid, I loved Roald Dahl. These stories, though, seemed more Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. They all went on too long, and the voice was always the same. They were also sort of sexist, in a 60's way. They made me yearn for Kelly Link. I found her stuff much more disturbing and haunting than these.

Lesson: Roald Dahl's kids' stuff good, grup stuff bad?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"Jumper" by Steven Gould

Why I read it: The boy had bought the movie tie-in cover, so it's been around the house for more than a year. He's read it twice. Ed has also read it twice. When I was explaining to the boy about Viable Paradise, he was quite jealous that I was going to get to meet SG, and asked if he could come too. I told him he had to go to school. So anyway, since I got into VP, it seemed logical to read some books by some of the instructors.

My sister asked if this book was by the famed (dead) naturalist. Um, no.

Bookmark: marketing for Uhuru Street by MG Vassanji

Tastes like chicken: On Wednesday, the boy was casting about for something to read, so I pulled out a few things. One of them was "On a Pale Horse" by Piers Anthony. On Friday he asked me to pull out the other six, which fortunately we have. I know lots of people malign Piers Anthony for being a hack and writing weak, lame, sexist female characters and writing four books a year, and especially for those ridiculously self-absorbed author's notes that he puts in, but there are not that many other authors that can appeal to a teenaged boy. Jumper is another one of those, kind of a thriller for late teens.

What I liked: The beginning was awesome. Hayden Christiansen wrecked the next section, before we got to the terrorist stuff. He played the main character in the movie, and I couldn't stop hearing him whine the dialog. The boy suggested I replace him in my brain with a different actor. I tried Hayden Panettiere. It created a totally different effect, that's for sure. That problem went away when the terrorist/hijacker storyline developed.

This book had really good sense of place, lots of detail about places, which was important to the character, because he had to have a good mental image of a place in order to be able to get back there.

Not so much: Some of the relationship/dialog sections made me uncomfortable, and in the terrorist-chasing sections, sometimes I had to put it down in order to de-stress.

Lesson: We were trying to guess, over dinner last night, since everyone has read this book, who was the target audience. Ed's guess was the movie producers, so it could get made into a movie. The boy disagreed with that, because the movie was so different from the book. I disagreed because there was so much time between when the book was written and when the movie came out.

Maybe the lesson is that there are books out there for teenaged boys, and the problem isn't the publishers, it's the bookstore people, who make the displays.

Friday, July 10, 2009

"City of Bones" by Cassandra Clare

Why I read it: The boy asked for it for his birthday, and then he asked for the other two books in the series in quick succession. So we own them all. And he told me they're way better than Twilight, so I went for it.

Bookmark: Receipt for sunglasses from the drugstore.

Tastes like chicken: When I started reading it, it seemed a lot like "Tithe" by Holly Black. I don't know how much I was influenced by the blurb (from Holly Black) on the cover. So when the boy was casting about for something to read, naturally I forced Tithe on him. I'm not sure if he finished it, but he did mention that the Seelie (or maybe Unseelie) court comes up in book 2 (City of Ashes) so clearly he got pretty far in it.

What I liked: This was an entertaining read that had some good twists. I always wonder about books where youth and teenagers seem quite unsupervised, but this one made that believable. I really liked the way Clary didn't know what she was. That seemed well done.

Not so much: The boy kept trying to tell me what's going to happen next.

Lesson: The mythology here didn't make me nervous at all, even though there are angels and demons, vampires and werewolves, and especially crossbreeds, all of which my mythology has. It all seems well worked-out, but completely different from my mythology, which is reassuring.

Monday, July 06, 2009

"Vietnam: A Natural History" by Eleanor Jane Sterling, Martha Maud Hurley, Le Duc Minh, and Joyce A. Powzyk

Why I read it: My brain needed some information to process in order to work on "Water Leopard". It's a library book.

Bookmark: Chapters Love of Reading Fund

Tastes like chicken: I don't think I've ever read a natural history of anything before. Reading it seemed a lot like that history of Finland I read a couple of years ago, where towards the middle it started to feel like work. Though this book picked up again at the end.

The book started off with a description of the plate tectonics and other actions that have led to where this particular chunk of land is now, and how that makes this chunk of land interesting and unique, in terms of climate, landforms, flora, and fauna. Then the authors explained the various types of forests that exist in Vietnam, and an overview of the various animals. After that, there were three chapters, one each for northern, central, and southern Vietnam. The north is dominated by the Red river delta (does every country have a red river? Here in Toronto we have the Rouge), and the south by the Mekong river delta. These chapters were long and difficult. They introduced creatures and plants, mostly following their common names with their latin names, and then their bleak conservation status. It was kind of depressing. Each of these chapters ended with a few pages about the various national parks (and the like) where one might be able to experience the local flora and fauna. The end of the book described challenges.

What I liked: This book was published in 2006, so it's quite up-to-date. The story of the Soala is awesome. A soala is a bovine-type animal with horns like an ibix that apparently has never been seen live in the wild by a researcher. They have no photos. They know it exists because they've seen heads of them in hunting lodges.

Not so much: I did not love the watercolors, though I see the reason for them (no photos of soalas, for example). Also, the fact that so much conservation work still needs to be done makes me very sad.

Lesson: One thing is, I don't think the water leopard is a ridiculously large cat. Vietnam has a couple of really interesting cats: fishing cat and leopard cat. The fishing cat has webbed toes, dives into the water to chase fish and waterfowl, and swims.

Also, I love the idea of mythical creatures with no magical powers at all. The saola is just a cow.


Apparently I'm accepted. I'm weirdly giddy.