Friday, July 19, 2013

Perfect Escape by Jennifer Brown

"This is what it's like living with a mentally ill person: everyone afraid to move.  Everyone afraid to speak.  You don't say certain words like suicide or crazy, and you do everything in your power to keep the good milliseconds lasting as long as they possibly can.  And you don't rush into anything at all, because rushing feels like courting disaster and you don't even know what that disaster is, because it's never the same disaster twice.  A ruined birthday?  A scene at a restaurant?  Police cars in the driveway in the middle of the night?  All of the above?  

And you don't ask for attention.  

And you get used to it when you don't get any. 

And you try really, really hard to forget that not getting attention hurts and that this person--this muttering, shadow-eyes, scabbed patient--was once your hero and best friend in the world.  Back when he was just a "weird kid."

And you try to remember that you still love him, even if some days, you can't exactly pinpoint why."  Page 8

Kendra's older brother, Grayson, has problems.  Not in any sense that most people can readily identify with either.  It's not merely Grayson's extreme OCD but a host of other anxiety issues that attest to his mental health and render his life eternally to the care of someone else.  

For the past few years Kendra has, consciously or not, made a choice about how she treated her brother.  She was never indifferent and she most certainly did care, but she was for the most part hands-off: the direct involvement she left to her parents, Grayson's doctors, and the institutional facilities he regularly checked into.  They have grown apart and due to some rash (i.e. bad) decision making on her part, facilitated by some serious trouble she has gotten herself into, we see how she plans to reestablish her past relationship with Grayson, maintain it, and even make it stronger.

Kendra is running away because she is in trouble at school.  It's not shallow, surface level trouble either, rather she'll probably be expelled, have her scholarships revoked, and not go to college kind of trouble.  Though not part of any grand premeditated plan, she manages to somehow accidentally--believably-- kidnap her brother and they head out to California, from Missouri.  Kendra excels at overreacting.  Here you would think the cliches come in, and here you'd be wrong.

They pickup Rena, a young woman not much older than Kendra, and her infant son.  It is almost immediately that we see that in a car with the leader of a school wide scandal, a single mother without a penny to her name (literally) and a mentally ill kid who is already miles away from his meds that Kendra is perhaps the least 'normal' person in the car.  

Kendra's discovery about so many things concerning Grayson and how they apply to their relationship was wonderful to watch unfold.  They physically get in a fight and she notices how much weight he's lost since he's been away at the most recent treatment facility.  She never looked at him long enough to see this; she had to physically start pushing him around to notice.  Rena points out, more than once, how genuinely nice he is and Kendra is appalled that she never came to see such an obvious truth.  Grayson is good looking and girls find him attractive and Kendra is outright offended at how she has had the opportunity to know him better than most anyone else ever would and yet she was never aware of these things.  She begins to marvel at how self-absorbed she has been in years past not wanting to get involved with Grayson and his problems.  She'd rather escape from all his drama and be normal.  And yet, on this impromptu, under-funded, not thought out beyond 'get in the car and drive' road trip she kinda treats him like shit… 

This, was a masterstroke by Brown.  Grayson has been coddled by his mother ever since the severity of his illness was uncovered even against the recommendations of his doctors that preach exposure therapy.  Kendra is stubborn, never more so than when she owns up to a mistake like taking someone such as Grayson half way across the country without his meds and not truly being capable of caring for him.  She's never directly mean to him, but she does revel in making Grayson uncomfortable, and everything makes Grayson uncomfortable: the car, a restaurant, a hospital, the motel… She's always joking but circumstance have made her jokes serious; Kendra has chosen to make Grayson confront all that makes him sick or suffer one of his epic meltdowns  knowing that there will be no one available for miles that can help him.  Needless to say, this makes for a ridiculous amount of tension on every page of this book.  

Which brings me to the third and greatest character in the book.  California; the cure; Zoe.  Kendra has it in her head that if everyone would stop coddling Grayson and make him deal with life that he would do so and be okay.  (The full extent of which she is wrong make some of the more intense sections of the book.)  She is going to fix her brother.  California, and Zoe her erstwhile best friend and past pseudo girl friend for Grayson represents a panacea for all his ails, or so she thinks.  Before she moved away, Zoe had a calming affect on Grayson that seemingly no other has had.  Rena too fits this mold in a very fleeting manner.  Reuniting with Zoe will be the culmination of all the trials she puts Grayson through in getting to California.  What Kendra is blind to--and never once stops to consider along the way--is that if she wants to be; if she actually applies herself, and works at this unique and extraordinarily difficult relationship, no one has a more calming and positive affect on Grayson's mind than she.  

The lack of overt affection between the two is a great strength of the novel.  Even when she wants to hug him, with full regard of how poorly Grayson responds to that kind of contact, she doesn't.  It's the kind of thing her mom would do that she feels has held him down.  Right or wrong, she's stubborn to a fault.  And her faults are colossal.  A lot of bad things happen in this book and yet Kendra never stopped pushing him.  

Their interaction is brilliant and it's interesting to see how similar they are.  They each feel they've have destroyed the other's life over the course of living their own.  And in no small degree they are both right.  The story, and the story of both their lives, is all about Grayson.  Even though it's told through Kendra's first person there is no distance or objectivity with Grayson.  No one hates that fact more than Grayson.  While his self-loathing is evident from the outset it is never explicitly communicated until a 'full-on freak out' as Kendra would say near the end.  He's almost always completely lucid (and it's usually some manifestation of his genius that pushes him into freak out mode) even if he has to always be counting something, touching something, rubbing something.  He can joke, and recall anecdotes from years past, he can sing along with the radio and bad pop music.  And after being forced into so many awkward situation by his sister he is surprised at the full extent of what he is capable of doing that he didn't know he was capable of doing.  

Kendra's self loathing is jealousy of all that has been taken away from her due to Grayson and a little bit of jealously masquerading as guilt for allowing them to grow apart in the first place. 

"Zoe was able to do something for Grayson that nobody else could: accept him for who he was.  Laugh and have fun with him.  Love him.  Make him relax.  She was able to do what I only wished I could.  She would never try to cure him.  She'd only try to make herself understand him better.  I was his sister.  I was his blood.  Why couldn't I do that?"  page 153

"...the feeling of resentment that I tried to stuff away because when someone can't even walk through his home normally, resenting him somehow feels mean.  Not to mention pointless.  Resenting Grayson wasn't going to cure him."  Page 9

Grayson is aware of how hard he's made his parents life, and Kendra's.  He feels like a hostage himself.  He's sick and not willfully so.  What he needs Kendra to see is that his pills, Zoe, nor this hell-bound road trip will cure him.  

They got in the car because of Kendra's problems; Grayson was an unfortunate casualty of Kendra's impulsive wrath.  They drove to California, 1,800 miles from home, because she thought she could outrun her troubles.  As strong as Kendra is, discovering the true nature of her problems and how to save herself from them took the help of the most broken person she knew; the one she'd been trying to ignore for years.  Understanding how, and why, is the reason you should read Perfect Escape.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

How do I write this review?

I'm not sure I'll ever read another book again.  Perfect Escape by Jennifer Brown may have destroyed my ability to read for pleasure.  I'm pretty sure that everything I may read for the rest of my life will be awful by comparison.  The bar has been set too high and my bookshelves are now weighted down with fail...

It's a rare feeling upon finishing a book that one can be so wholly satisfied with the experience that the thought of reading something else seems nothing short of absurd.  That is exactly how I feel.  Hopefully, this feeling will fade after a good night's sleep.  My sentiment aside I do feel a bit confused as to how to leave comments for this book.  I generally rip the books I love to shreds.  The ones I don't like I spend time trying to express reasons as to why.  I rarely rant or gush and when I do those are my worst bits of commentary.

I won't be ripping Perfects Escape to shreds and I'm not even going to attempt to temper my gushing.  In thinking about this I've come up with the following three thoughts:

1  The book personally speaks to me in a powerful and favorable way and for whatever reason I can't see it objectively.

2  The book is factually the best bit of fiction ever set to paper.

3  A combination of the above two (which is what I'm currently feeling, hours after finishing it).  

There may be other options, but right now, I admit to being blind to them--willfully or not.  I don't want to talk about this book.  I want to forcibly make my friends read it so I can talk about it with them.  I'll write it up tomorrow or the next day (I'm gonna take at least that long and enjoy basking in the glow of how good this book was).  Once written, I'll hang onto it for a bit longer in hopes of not gushing to the point of losing credibility.

Is objectivity a set goal in writing a review?  If so, I plan on failing that criteria.  

A Stir of Bones by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

"House has a mind of it's own," said Nathan, "and I don't know what it's thinking right now.  This isn't the way things are supposed to go."

"So what's supposed to happen," Julio asked.  His voice shook.  "Are we all supposed to die?"

"No.  You run away screaming, and tell everyone how scary it is here."

"But we can't."  Deirdre jerked the doorknob.

Susan slipped away from Edmund and went to the kitchen wall.  She placed her hands flat on it.  The house was breathing more rapidly.

She leaned against the wall, wondering at it's warmth.  It felt welcoming.  She sensed a laugh inside it.  She pressed her cheek against it, closed her eyes, breathed deeply in time with the house.

The house was alive, and the boy wasn't.  Page 35

This is the first novel by Hoffman I've read and I may have messed things up from the very start.  A Stir of Bones is a prequel to A Red Heart of Memories which was written four years before.  While reading the books in order of publication may impart some deeper attachment or meaning, I didn't feel short changed in anyway.

While not exactly dense the story is well controlled and the pacing reflects a style that I've encountered before with many of Hoffman's longer short stories.  That alone makes me think that this story about children and a haunted house is for adults, but the novel's sense of magic and wonder are certainly strong enough to appeal to any reader.

Susan, the main character, is perhaps the most boring girl on the planet.  She's endearing in that her lack of personality isn't necessarily her fault, but her fathers.  Her life is so tightly controlled by her father that she never has a chance to develop a personality.  She is Daddy's most prized possession; an angel; a 'princess.'

She is fourteen and learned at an even younger age that acting out, being an individual, a kid, or going against her father in any way, shape, or form, meant that bad things would happen to her mother.  Sometimes her parents had to make late night hospital visits due to Susan's behavior or she may notice her mother carrying herself in an awkward manner the next morning due to bruises easily concealed by clothing.  To escape the pain that Susan could bring about, her mother seeks alcohol.  To escape her abusive father and her mother's drinking--of which she is made to believe are directly related to her behavior--Susan seeks out a haunted house, a dead boy, and paradoxically, that which has been most explicitly forbidden to her by her father: friends.

Julio is an aspiring magician.  Unknowingly, Susan is something akin to a medium.  Alone with some other friends they spend time in a long abandon house with it's lone inhabitant: a long deceased suicide victim, Nathan,  a boy who died when he was their age.  Susan grows.  She develops as a person and finds that life--and even death--have more to offer her than the ridiculously harsh strictures that she lives under with her father.  As she learns the power of friendship and as her friends enable her with her own fey abilities Susan ceases to see the house as an escape, but as a symbol of power she can wield.

It's amazing how quickly we come to understand her father considering the minimal amount of time given to him.  While he is hyper possessive and controlling of Susan there was never a doubt that he loved her in his own way.  Susan can't stand up to him in any literal, physical sense.  Any opposition means horrible things for her mother, but through the house and her friends Susan finds that she does have the power to aid her mother.

It's a dark book but not overtly so.  There is plenty of reading in between the lines to be done and despite the fact that there is magic and children named 'Susan and Edmund' I'm not sure this book should be passed off to the kids.  I'll never know what anxieties and tensions I've missed by not reading these books in order of publication, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy A Stir of Bones and it certainly won't keep me from reading A Red Heart of Memories.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Kristin Cashore likes to torment me: this is how I know she loves me back.

Bittleblue takes place ten years after Graceling and even makes ties to Fire, the chronological 'first' book in this series of stand alone novels.  Bitterblue is the Queen (who for infuriating reasons unknown to me was always redundantly called 'Lady Queen' as if this dual honorific helped separate her from all the Mr Queens and Gentlemen Queens that aren't in the book) who inherits the shambles or her father's kingdom.  While her father has passed away, undoing his legacy--the mind job he did on the nation's psyche--is a real and present task.  Sadly, that's it.  That's our conflict; nothing more.  

I didn't think Fire, had that much to go on so how does Cashore fare with equally weak conflict in Bitterblue?  Much, much better, yet she still leaves us wanting.  

Bitterblue is born into a position of extreme power yet refuses to exert herself in anyway for fear of drawing comparisons to her father who abused the obscene amount of power he wielded.  (This has become Cashore's shtick: powerful, rash, young women who want nothing more than to avoid the male family shadow lurking over them.  Katsa didn't want to be her uncle--yet another bad guy king--Fire was afraid of being her father--a really, really bad guy who was advisor to the king--and now Bitterblue whose father is still, in my mind the granddaddy of bad guys.)  The conflict is weak in light of the character's Cashore has created; this is a compliment.  The uniqueness of this problem lies in the character's the author brings back rather than those created in Bitterblue.  

There is not a situation of intrigue that Po, a graceling with an extraordinary ability and a very good friend of the Queen's, can't solve.  In the beginning of Bitterblue Po is not around and I thought that was the only way the novel could work.  He eventually works himself in the story but had to be sick and delusional the entire time or risk ruining any tension created.  (As was evidenced by his only moment of 'health' at the end when he finds Bitterblue's crown with ridiculous ease.)  

The other returning character that makes the story difficult to countenance is a dead guy: Bitterblue's father.  The previous king's grace (i.e. magical power) and subsequent abuse of power is what Bitterblue is self-tasked with eradicating.  Even dead, the past king is still strong enough to warrant top billing as a villain, but it's hard to concretely identify what is being fought against and why, without a tangible figure head.  A lot of powerful people are doing absurd things in an effort absolve themselves of crimes committed under the past king's influence.  It's even harder (and more vague) to resolve such conflict.

The onus of cleaning up the previous king's mess falls to Bitterflue as she is our heroine.  Again, her problems stem more from Graceling than the novel that bears her name.  Her uncle, Po's father and the only good guy king in the entire world, left her in charge at the age of eight.  He's not one for international politics so he gives her a hug and a kiss, 'Holla if you need me,' and I'm out.  At age eight… 

Her top four advisors and indeed everyone in a position of power were retained from her father's rule.  Major fucking oversight considering her dad ruled for thirty-fives years and was the scourge of the world from day one…  So terrified of being called daddy's little girl, (and with good reason) Bitterblue is content to drown in her own ignorance and bad decision making.  As soon as I realized Po wasn't going to be around to solve every issue that arose, I kept waiting for her to exert her power as an absolute monarch.  Even if she made a bad decision I wanted just a little bit of backbone and her to say, 'Look Bitches, I'm the Queen.  This is how shit's gon' be…'  She finds administrators working against her--the same ones more than once--and they don't even get a slap on the wrist.  They are left to their own device, which is undermining Bitterblue, because she never thinks to have someone put away for a bit let alone 'off with his head.'  There is a strong undercurrent of Bitterblue's public perception, which is true for any ruler especially so for her due to her father, but it's not like she's living in the Twitter age and I continually marveled at her lack of a propaganda machine even when she was working with the people who were deceiving her.  Having a near inept character execute a weak story is not only difficult to convey as convincing, but equally difficult to keep interesting.  

So what happens in the book where Bitterblue tries to correct the wrongs of her father and establish a true understanding of her people and her land?  Well; she starts a romance with a commoner, she gets beat up, and she spends a lot of time in her library trying to break codes.  (The latter of which had huge potential and I kept waiting for something to come of it.)  It's not as if from the first day she decided she was tired of being a puppet Queen she starts whooping ass.  One could presumably write a story around that.  Nor is the reconciling of her family history through her mother's encrypted embroidery and her father's journals--encrypted from a language no one else speaks (can't make this up)--connecting to her people's suffering and why people are manipulating her the launching point for the narrative.  The infrastructure for a great story is there, there are many many elements to build on.  Somehow, nothing materialized.  

There is no real ending or resolution as their is no real conflict.  External, internal, or otherwise.  The story just kinda peters out with a resounding, soft, wet, 'splat.'  It's not necessary to give up the endgame stakes on page one, but if you're not building toward that point you do need to find away to keep your finger on the 'high tension anxiety' button at all times.    

There is a great story in-between this novel's covers only I didn't feel it was told very well.  Many of the problems stem the world she's created and past characters.  (Po can't be in a story unless he's a primary character.  It even felt like Cashore knew this as the times he was present he felt a bit 'neutered' from where we left him in Graceling.  My biggest contention with her 'world' is in the connection of The Dells to The Seven Kingdoms and the inexplicable notion of gracelings in one and 'monsters' in the other.)  Cashore humanized Bitterblue's father which was not only a mammoth accomplished but also a missed opportunity for Bitterblue to be active in her own story.  Is the book bad?  Absolutely not; I could talk about it ad nauseum.  Point me in the direction of the correct forum and I'm all over it.  Only Bitterblue isn't very strong either.  I don't need Aslan fighting The White Witch in terms of conflict and resolution, but upon finishing a novel I do need a sense that something was accomplished.  

Kristin Cashore likes to torment me: this is how I know she loves me back.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Finding my Mojo

Nothing like book buying to rekindle my desire to read.  After buying new books I always have an immediate desire to read whatever it is I've just purchased.  If only I could buy them one at a time I wouldn't have a huge TBR pile.

That will never happen so 'oh well...'

I got two by Arturo Perez-Reverte The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet and Pirates of the Levant the fifth and sixth entries in his Captain Alatriste series which I love.  The Line Between by Peter S. Beagle because I think he's amazing and I don't currently own any short story collections I haven't read, which I find odd for some reason.  Perfect Escape by Jennifer Brown, because of Hate List; 'nuf said...   Finally I got A Stir of Bones by Nina Kiriki Hoffman because I've only read her short stories and never any of her novels.

I'm presently still reading Gormenghast (and it's still going nowhere; I'm truly amazed) and Bitterblue at the same time.  I'm gonna ride this reading urge: as in I'm gonna read all this stuff in July.  It will happen, because I'm awesome.  I doubt I'll leave comments for Gormenghast as I haven't been inspired which is odd since I liked Titus Groan so much, but expect comments for the rest.  

I don't know how to quantify it, but I like holding Perfect Escape in my hands more than any of the other books purchased.  As in I enjoy the tactile feel of it; okay... I'll shut up now.  I've work to do.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Story of A Girl by Sara Zarr

"One of the things Darren and me have in common is that we both let Mom and Dad down.  Him because of having a kid so young, not to mention getting busted for pot when he was sixteen and having to go through this whole court thing.  And me because, well, no one wants the school slut for a daughter.  Technically, I'm not a slut, because there was only ever Tommy, but it's hard to defend myself on a technicality when things happened the way they did.  It's not like I could get on the school PA system and issue a rebuttal.  Page 42

"This is my life, I thought.  This is it.  When I'm thirty-five years old picking up tampons and a loaf of bread at the store and I run into Jolene Hancock in the express line, she'll look at me and when she gets home she'll tell her husband, 'I saw Deanna Lambert at the store.  She's this girl I knew in high school.  Kind of skanky.  Slept with this gross junior when she was only thirteen.' "  Page 90

In terms of character, Zarr's debut novel establishes the foundation that serves as a template for at least two of her other novels.  While I feel she is a writer who has gotten better which each new book all of her signature power and visceral reality is present in Story of a Girl.

Deanna started having sex at thirteen; a year after she started smoking cigarettes; the same year she started smoking pot.  Now, years later, she still struggles to redefine her identity in the eyes of her contemporaries and her family.  

Deanna's parents never addressed her having sex with Tommy past her father catching them in the act and her mother--assuming Deanne is was a hyper sexually active person--buying condoms and getting her on the pilll.  As time passes her mother ignores the issue; acts as if it never happened.  While her father feels, and makes Deanna feel, as if it happened yesterday, everyday of their lives.  Her only positive family relationship is with her older brother Darren who, fortunately for Deanna, still lives in the house with his daughter and girlfriend.  Darren and Tommy were drug buddies and it was Deanna who had to call Darren off from regularly beating Tommy's ass.

Tommy has his version of what happened the night he and Deanna hooked up and he felt the urge to tell this story to everyone he knew and in the smallest of small towns in California rumor and gossip quickly become true.  Deanna struggles with being comfortable with who she is and where she is, and her dreams of escape and starting over.  It was nice to see the subtly in which she mirrored her father who sees his children as defined by their past and how Deanna struggles to not do the same with her friends and herself.  

Outside of Darren her male relationships are all borderline disastrous   She's more than a little bit in love with her best and only friend Jason, who has a girlfriend he's more than a little bit in love with.  Deanna is also starting to spend time with Tommy again so many years after he has ruined so much in her life.  It's through potentially epic conflict with Jason and Tommy that Deanna finds acceptance of herself and of everyone around her.

Zarr's language isn't as beautiful or well controlled as in Once was Lost; the presentation is different--more mature--than the tragically named Sweethearts; but the narrative voice is still the same and instantly recognizable as hers.  Another aspect of Zarr's that I immediately picked up on was her depiction of 'blurry sex.'  In a book where no language is spared--and the very crux of every aspect of Deanna's personality is the fact that she was sexually active at thirteen--from an author who clearly has control of language and subtly; I'm continually surprised at how she can put two people in a sexual situation and I can't follow what is happening between them.  I don't need explicit details but Zarr has a tendency to be so vague as to be confusing.  The harsh bluntness of Zarr clearly saying what happens in these moments would not only clear things up for me but would powerfully contrast with her otherwise beautiful prose in what would be some of the most tense moments of the story.

I think it's because Zarr is a writer that I enjoy so much that always want more from every book she writes.  That, would be my problem as there is certainly nothing wrong or wanting in Story of Girl or anything else Zarr has written.  It's good enough to make me curious about reading what won the nation book award in 2007 as Story of a Girl was a finalist but not chosen.  It's good enough for me to say--as I've said many times before--that Zarr is worth reading, and this being her first book is as good a place to start as any.               

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Millar

I'm going to start off by saying something absurd: Lonely Werewolf Girl reminds me a lot of The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.

Stay with me...

It's a family drama that explores the lives of the ruling family of Scotland's most powerful clan of werewolves. The family patriarch is in declining health and the subsequent nomination of his replacement is the cause of conflict worthy of a family feud and lots and lots of bloodshed.

The MacRinnalch children are all well adjusted and 'normal' on the outside.  As their father, passes leaving the clan in turmoil and instability, we see their true character surface.  Seraphen, the eldest is a murder bent psychopath.  Thrix is not only a werewolf but an extraordinarily powerful sorceress (which for reasons never explained was heavily frowned upon by her family).  Markus, the second son, is a cross-dressing Cassanova, and Kalix--the title character and youngest sibling--is an anorexic, illiterate, suffering multiple anxiety disorders, self mutilating, junkie.  Oh, and their mother isn't shy about stating who her favorite child is and sacrificing her other children to get what she wants.  

The story is about the election of the next Thane; the nominees are Seraphen and Markus.  There is much intrigue and manipulation (read: murder) to get the required amount of votes.

The other primary characters are two human college students, Daniel and the unfortunately named Moonglow, and the Fire Queen of a secondary world Malvaria and her 'most abysmal, never-to-be-adopted-niece' Vex.  There are also 'the twins;' the cousins the MacRinnalch family doesn't talk about: they are wanna be rock stars, but very successful alcoholics.    

Both factions enact plans to garner votes to see their choice elected.  We follow Kalix around London.  She has been banished from home since she is inextricably linked to the Thane's decline.  The reluctant family is brought together by the Thane's death and we see that even the most far reaching plot points come together as the death of their father dominates their lives.  Thrix runs a fashion boutique and wants nothing to do with the family.  Malveria is the most aggressively vapid character I've ever come across.  She is Thrix biggest client.  If it doesn't involve clothes or who you're sleeping with and why she really won't care.

In regards to who characters are sleeping with, it should be said that all of Millar's werewolves are the most beautiful people ever.  Each with a startlingly unique attribute that sets them apart from each other.  They will also sleep with anything under the sun (or moon) with no regard for who that person is connected with past present, human, werewolf, or deity from a different realm of existence.  If you look the part; they'll hit it.  While none can match a werewolf in terms of beauty all of Millar's characters were homogeneous in the super unique from anyone else but undeniably gorgeous presentation.  That got sterile quickly.

The books vying for votes and assertion of male supremacy (with momma's backing of course) with all the wild personalities mentioned is anything but what I was expecting from the title.  There is room to do something more intimate--you could pick any one of Millar's messed up characters and examine their mental state--but the focus is very broad and focused on plot.  It felt a bit like reading a Guy Ritchie movie (one of the good ones) and that's not a bad thing.  However, I was surprised at this choice of direction considering how good Millar is at the intimate moments such as Kalix's anxiety attacks and addiction.

The strongest accomplishment is the how believable so much supernatural craziness seems in contemporary London.  Considering how easily I bought into what Millar presented I was sad to see the strongest unifying element to the all the plot points--Moonglow--be so awfully unconvincing and blatantly convenient.  I couldn't tell if this was a character Millar wanted readers hate or not, but I officially hated everything about her.  She was walking deus ex machina of the highest order; way worse than anything or person in the Harry Potter universe.  All of this would be okay if she didn't stand out as such so clearly.  She was bad on her own, but when put in situations with more strongly drawn characters as Thrix or Malvaria she really stood out in a 'not good' way.      

There's a guild of werewolf hunters that served no purpose.  There is never any human/werewolf conflict and yet the guild's reason for existing is hunting werewolves down.  The reason why was never stated and I found that bothersome and forced to say the least.  They were a militant organization of haters without cause; which is admittedly scary and kinda awesome but considering their self importance, incompetence and general lack of purpose I have to wonder at their inclusion.  

A judicious editor may have trimmed a hundred and fifty pages, but every page is entertaining.  It's also funny as hell.  I'm hoping the rest of what Millar has written is this much fun because I may have found a new go-to comfort writer.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Tennis, Crappy Sports Journalism, and Other Good News

This post will be far removed from the ordinary.

Is anyone else in love with Agnieszka Radwanska?  Radwanska-Lisicki at Wimbledon was the best match I've seen this year.  I've never been a fan of 'power tennis,' to me it's a bit sterile to watch.  Radwanska reminds me of David Ferrer: no huge ground strokes, no overpowering serve, plenty of hustle, and an almost unbelievable number of unforced errors per match.  Both Radwanska and Ferrer remind of me Justine Henin who was my all-time favorite player to watch.  Something about their composure and self control; their ability to extend any rally beyond the opponents' comfort zone; the ability to seem so distant from the game while playing is very attractive to me.  Since I'm not above being shallow let me say in the case of Radwanska she's just play ole attractive.  Hell, if you look at her website I'm not sure if she's a tennis player or a model.  Such is the case with professional athletes.

Anyone else annoyed with Chris Fowler and Chrissie Evert calling the Radwanska-Lisicki match?  It didn't come across as partial to me--which is fine--but that is part of the 'job.'  Perhaps since "Lisicki" is the new way to spell "Cinderella" they had already made their pick.  Their were two people in that match Chris and Chrissie and each was making things extraordinarily difficult for the other.  Their was nothing wrong with Lisicki or Radwanska at anytime (though the latter looked a bit gassed to me toward the end) they merely had a heck of an opponent on the other side of the net.      

I really don't like sports journalist who assume they know what a player is thinking.  Not even a great champion like Evert.  "This is a sign of the pressure."  They don't know that and in their effort to make sure viewers get maximum tense and anxiety they have to build up and talk about everything.  Or how about this interview with Andy Murray after a seriously awesome match with Fernado Verdasco.  "Didn't he?"  "Why wasn't it working for you today?"  "Do you know it all yourself?"  "Was this match a warning in any way?"  I love Murray's near deadpan answer to that: "Dude's a damn good tennis player...  He was trying to win just as I was, get off my ass for not making it look easier."  That wasn't an interview, and it's not journalism; it's finishing for a headline or a quote.  He's being pushed along in hopes of being given an answer the outlet wants to receive.  It's as if they already have the story written they just need Murray to drop a few quotes along certain lines so they can go to print.  It all felt very tabloid-ish to me.  Meanwhile so many pertinent tennis question went unasked.  I remember a similar interview after the French Open quarterfinals with Nadal this year.  Kudos to the players for brushing these guys off.    

So I'm making Agnieszka Radwanska my girlfriend; everyone else back off.  We clear on that?

Oh yeah, I'm supposed to talk about books.

As of writing this I got a notification from the library that I can pick up Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore (my other girlfriend).  I loved Gracling more than is healthy and as Bitterblue is a direct sequel I'm looking forward to it.
Finally--the grand daddy of good news for the day--Edward Whittemore is back in print!  E-print to be exact but print nonetheless.  This is great news covered in delicious awesome sauce.  I loved The Jerusalem Quartet for a host of reasons.  I enjoyed Quin's Shaghai Circus as well.  Now you, dear blog reader, don't have to track them down second hand!  Just go to the open road's media website and wait for July 23.  If you're thinking about checking out Whittemore, which you should, start with Sinai Tapestry.  All the books stand alone very well, but Quin's Shanghai Circus could be off putting for some (me) while I found Sinai Tapestry to be all around more palatable.

I've got werewolves on the brain.  More on that in a few days.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Month in Review

If I was on a reading hiatus in May, June has seen me suffer from a bit of reader's block.  I'm okay with that.  For whatever reasons reading has taken a bit of a back seat to others interest as of late.  That said, I have been reading...

Gormenghast is something like 13,859 pages and stylistically I knew what I was getting into before I started reading.  Even after having read Titus Groan and liking it Gormenghast doesn't feel like it's going anywhere but then again I'm only on page 733 so perhaps things will change.  Usually when I get stuck in a book that I'm not going to put down I'll read a short story collection so I can get a faster sense of completion.  I was surprised to notice that while my TBR shelf is substantially lighter than years past, I didn't have a short story collection there.  In lieu of what I wanted, I picked up Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Millar.  Here's hoping that Millar's blacklist is equally strong because I'd love to make him a new 'comfort food' writer.  My only real reading goal for July will be to finish these two behemoths.  

And now for the news and some social commentary which I don't usually do.  

"Where are the Snowden's of yesteryear?"  Did anyone else immediately think Joseph Heller when all this Snowden name dropping began?

"Rich, old, Caucasian women in Georgia uses N-word.  Nation in an uproar; State of Georgia surprised at the nations' surprise and generally couldn't care less."  I could go on for a bit with this one, but... there are so many better and more interesting things to do.