Thursday, March 24, 2022

"A Secret Guide to Fighting Elder Gods"

A Secret Guide to Fighting Elder GodsA Secret Guide to Fighting Elder Gods by Jennifer Brozek
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This has Away Game by Seanan Mcguire, and I will never not love her cheerleader stories. "The Art of Dreaming" by Josh Vogt is the best kind of creepy. "Being Emily Clare" by Jonathan Mayberry made me go look at his other books; sadly, none of them seem to be at all similar (possibly interesting, but not like this); the story is a strange mix of cute and creepy. "The Art of Dreams" by Wendy N. Wagner was solid and made me wish there were more to the story.

The others were a mixed bag--none terrible, but none that particularly stood out for me.

The book as a whole is entertaining, but not earthshaking.

View all my reviews

Random Blake's 7 Thought: Vila

Just started re-watching Blake's 7 thanks to it being available for through BBC-something, which one can add to Amazon Prime Viewing for an extra fee (I find the extra fees annoying, but I am glad it is possible now to choose channels individually. One reason I never liked cable was that I'd want shows on three different channels that were in three entirely different packages). I had totally forgotten that Vila-the-coward chose to join Blake in the attempt to escape Cygnus Alpha, and there were actually quite a few people who didn't join but chose to stay in the prison/with the cult out of fear. I'd also forgotten his role in the ship rebellion earlier--that he'd been doing magic tricks for the guards all along & willingly acted as a distraction for the team (though he quite sensibly refused to go wandering through the ship's walls & thus avoided death-by-foam). I'm not sure what the point of this is: That Vila really isn't quite as cowardly as he thinks? That he really is useful? That Avon should shut up about him already? (Not that Avon is likely to shut up about anyone, ever!).

Monday, February 11, 2019

"Amethyst Dreams" is better described as beige

Three parts to this review: 1) The introduction is entirely charming and I could listen to Whitney reminisce for much longer. 2) The narrator, Susan Ericksen, is superb and provides the protagonist with far more personality than the text. 3) The book itself, which is disappointing.

This is supposed to be a Gothic & a mystery. It's neither. Hallie enters a world of lost people and long buried secrets and...does nothing and has nothing done to her. She's confused, people decide to spill their secrets, the book ends.

I can almost believe people opening up about long-hidden secrets--there is something to be said for throwing a stone into a pond, and Hallie serves that role. The trouble is, she has about that level of personality as well, and one wants rather more in a protagonist.

Her "detecting" consists of saying "I can't do this" alternating with asking people "What do you think happened?" and ignoring people who said things about her friend "liking to cause trouble."

There's also a lot of telling rather than showing: We are told Hallie is practical and stable and that her more flighty friend, Susan, listened to her advice. There's no point in the novel where Hallie comes across as particularly practical, stable, or useful. There are also no stories or memories of incidents in which Susan needed her help--just statements that she had.

And I love happy endings, but Amethyst Dreams consists of a sudden "Bam! Everyone is happy now!" Even someone who has spent the entire book dying of cancer is suddenly chipper and apparently well because he's regained the will to live.

I was so glad to visit Goodreads and see others saying Amethyst Dreams isn't Whitney's best because I have fond memories of her from high school and would hate to think that they were entirely based on fals premises.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Embroidering My Little Mermaid

I'm embroidering and doll making more again. I just finished one of 3 mermaids I currently plan on making. My main concern about her now is that I made it for a little girl (6ish) and now I'm afraid I may have fancied it up too much for her to enjoy it. I was having so much fun putting beads on!

Friday, November 2, 2018

Facebook. Meet Friends or Manage Your Feed?

This used to be true.

I am fed up with Facebook.

I have had a profile for years (more than a decade!) now, and somewhere along the line, the platform has gone from "Meet your friends!" to "Manage your feed!" The first was fun, the last—not so much.

I know it's common to complain about "The good old days," but Facebook, when I first got my profile, was fun. I played silly games with friends, I got to see pictures of their kids, their pets, their houses, and to be a part of their lives. I reconnected with people I hadn't seen in years, and stayed in touch with people who probably wouldn't have kept up with letter or email exchanges. We goofed off, we chatted, and we got to know one another better.

I quickly learned that the silly games were a bad idea—Facebook wasn't careful about making sure the apps didn't share data I wanted shared—but that was a simple fix. I stopped playing Farmville or trading zoo animals with people, and Facebook went on being fun.

Somewhere in there, though, it changed, slowly enough at first that I didn't really notice, or mind—much. Ads gained more prominence, the newsfeed started to be organized by an unexplained algorithm, I started to miss more and more posts by friends. Things got increasingly political and stressful, egged on by the mystery algorithm which, whatever else it was doing, promoted controversial posts over quiet ones. 

I kept adapting. I read articles. I learned how to best manage my feed. I blocked this and tweaked that. I held onto the idea that Facebook was about staying connected to my friends, and I wanted to stay connected to my friends. This all started because I like these people and I want to hear about their lives.

And it wasn't hopeless: There are still flares of people meeting. I get to share pictures of my adorable dog, people still enjoy word play, and the amount of love and support people gave when my mother died helped through a very dark time—and still helps.

But that was almost two years ago. I'm not sure the same thing would happen today. Not because the people have grown any worse--They remain the same wonderful friends I have had for years—but because the mystery algorithm has continued to evolve and feed management has become ever more complex. These days, I don't know if my friends would see my post to respond to it. I don't know what triumphs or tragedies I've missed in their lives.  The last time I logged on as a casual user, I could barely find my friends amidst all the noise.

There were suggestions that I "promote" posts from pages I manage, posts from publications one friend or another had liked at some point or another. Posts from publications whose articles I had liked, sponsored articles from various publications I might like, and a new set of "popular on Facebook" posts that had nothing to do with anything. It was almost impossible to find anything actually written by a friend amidst all this. I gave up on counting, but I think less than one in four items in that day's feed was an actual, real update by an actual, real friend.

And I realized: This has stopped being fun. It hasn't been fun for a long time now, no matter how I've tried to keep it about friends, how I've juggled timing or rearranged my "likes." And—it really doesn’t matter how much work I put into this business of managing my feed, it's never going t be enough. The algorithms are going to change again. The clutter is going to increase, and the stress is going to go up.

Yes, I still have an account—I need one for work—but the initial reason I signed on? That got lost somewhere in the shuffle. It's not coming back. 

I might not either, not to my personal page.

How will I replace Facebook? I don't know. Maybe I'll try emailing again, or letter writing. Maybe I'll try carrier pigeons. I haven't decided. I'm away for the month, that's all I know for now.

PS: Yes, I am aware of the irony of sharing this on Facebook.  But I do want my friends—the ones who can find me amidst that thicket of ads—to know that I haven't abandoned them. I still care for them. I just can't handle all that clutter.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Good Writers Should Never Die: Sue Hubbell

Writers should live forever.

That's all there is to it.

I just found out today that Sue Hubbell died on October 17, 2018. As with other cases where authors have died, this is a selfish grief: I didn't know Sue Hubbell, I knew her work, and I wanted more of it.

She, or at least her writing self, is what I want to be when I grow up: Observant, endlessly curious, forever asking questions, getting people to show her behind the scenes and sharing what she found. She has a persistent and quiet sense of wonder about the natural world, and she shares it with everyone.

A Country Year: Living the Questions, Broadsides from the Other Orders: A Book of Bugsm Waiting for Aphrodite: Journeys into the Time Before Bones and especially Shrinking the Cat: Genetic Engineering Before We Knew About Genes are some of my favorite books.

And, yes, in some ways she is living forever, thus the present-tense when I talk of her as a writer--her books are available and will, hopefully, remain so. But, I've been looking forward to her next set of questions, her next exploration, and now...there won't be any more.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

I LOVE This! Flip-Flops become Art

I'm in love with people who can make things out of trash anyway, and these are unexpected and beautiful:

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Your Day Just Got 100% Better because Patrick Stewart read 1-Star Reviews of Famous Monuments

I have no idea what prompted GQ decide to ask Patrick Stewart to sit down and read 1-star reviews of famous monuments, but whoever thought of the idea deserves our gratitude.

And, now that I think of it, Mt. Rushmore is rather inconveniently located. Let's move it closer to some other landmark--Disneyland, perhaps?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Books From the Book Club that Never Was

A while ago, I was going to lead a book club. I was very excited about the idea and spent some time choosing the books--which involved lots of reading of all kinds of authors I had never heard of before. Other demands kept taking my time, though, and when someone else volunteered to lead the club, I stepped aside

Still, I spent a lot of time working on the list, and I still think it's a good list, so here, for your own book club and private enjoyment, is a list of twelve books for the year, plus some "Maybe next year" books with shorter blurbs.

I had three rules when I was making this list. I wanted:

1) Books written by women

2) Books that were easily available

3) Some diversity.

They also had to be good, of course, and if the book was a part of a series, I chose the first book.

1.  The Book The Last Planet by Andre Norton  (also published as Star Rangers; it's out of print in either title, but there seem to be plenty of second-hand books available.)

What It's About: The Patrol are proud members of the Galactic Empire's Fleet. They're also in the way, and the Starfire has been ordered to re-map lost territories, going past the edges of currently known space. Ultimately, the ship crashes irreparably on a world so far off the map the crew doesn't know the name. Now, they must choose between reviving an ancient city or striking out into the wilderness. They also have to deal with long-standing divisions in the ship, divisions between human and non-human and between Patrol and Rangers. There may also be allies out in this new world—or enemies.

Why I Chose It: Andre Norton is the Grand Dame of science fiction and fantasy, one of the Golden Age writers (the Andre Norton Award was named after her) and author of over three hundred published works. The Last Planet combines her interest in history (the Starfire's mission was inspired by a tale from Roman history) with her loosely developed Galactic Empire. Many of the races and relationships shown here appear in her other books. Also? It's good, one of her best.

Additional: Adult, older book not currently in publication. There are plenty of second-hand copies, though.

Ultimately, I might have chosen a more readily-available Andre Norton. There are even some free ebooks. But—this is my favorite of her books.

2. The Book: Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees

What it's About: Lud-in-the-Mist is a quiet, staid, and sensible town. So what if it is near Fairyland? Everyone knows better than to eat fairy fruit or to follow the fairies anywhere. They don't even mention it, if they can help it. Then the mayor's son turns out to have eaten fairy fruit and several young women from Miss Crabapple's Academy for Young Ladies disappear. Now what?

Why I Chose It: It's early fantasy. It's beautiful. It was written by one of Virginia Woolfe's friends. Really, the question is why not read it?

Do give yourself some extra time for this one. It asks for the reader's full attention.

Additional notes : Adult; just barely out of the Victorian era.

3.  The Book: Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh

What It's About: Bren Bren Cameron is the paidhi, the only human allowed to set foot on the atevi mainland, the ambassador between the two races. Most humans, descendents of a group who landed on the planet long ago, live on the island of Mospheira, the place they were allowed after a disastrous war between the races. Mostly, Bren's job is ceremonial and quiet—until it isn't. Suddenly, he's being shot at, shuffled off, away from the capital where he has always lived, trying frantically to figure out what has changed and why, and which of the factions is telling the truth.

Why I Chose It: Cherryh creates some of the most fully-realized aliens in contemporary science fiction. The Foreigner series is her most elaborate and layered creation, featuring a planet full of aliens with varied cultures and responses—and humans with almost as much variation. Also, there is intrigue, some fighting, and cross-country rides on beasts that are rather like mammoths. And this is the book where it all started.

Additional notes : Adult, the first of FIFTEEN books and counting.

4. The Book: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

What It's About: Magic in England is entirely theoretical, something clubs of magicians sit and chat about comfortably. Oh, it was real once, but that was a long time ago. Then Mr. Norrell announces he can work real magic, Jonathan Strange figures out how to do some spectacular works, and it's being used in warfare. A fairy (not the little kind; the scary sort) shows up making dangerous bargains, and the Raven King may be returning.

Why I Chose It: Footnotes! This book has some seriously funny footnotes. It's also the best Victorian novel written in the twentieth century. There's great world-building, some terrifying fairies, and an eccentric pair of not-exactly heroes. Also, Mr. Norrell is a book-miser.

Additional notes : Adult, long, so far the author's only full-length book.

5. The Book: Shadows by Robin McKinley

What It's About: Maggie's new stepfather may make her mother smile, but he comes complete with terrible taste in shirts, an odd accent, and far, far too many shadows. The shadows are oddly shaped and they don't move the way they should. Maggie has enough to handle dealing with her senior year of high school, hauling around an enormous Algebra book, and helping out at the animal shelter to cope with shadows that shouldn't be there, and that she shouldn't be seeing anyway. Then she meets a handsome young man who recognizes her stepfather, gaps in reality start opening near her town, and the army moves in to help out, and magic, which should not exist in Newworld, where Maggie lives, becomes increasingly important.

Why I Chose It:  Robin McKinley. Also, there is a friendly Algebra book. It's has a unique look at magic, good character development, a cheerful and mostly obedient dog, and is simply well-written.

Additional notes : MG.

6. The Book: The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones

What it's About: Mr. Chesney offers Pilgrim Tours to a magical realm where people are promised the chance to go on a quest, slay a dark lord, and see some magic. The trouble is, the people of the magic realm are getting tired of the tours. They have to take turns being the Dark Lord and they're tired of keeping their villages looking just so. They're obligated to continue hosting the tours, however, unless someone can think of a way out.

Why I Chose It: It's funny and a good story, both. The author of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland had taken all the fantasy clich├ęs she can think of, given them a good shake, and told a story with them. It even includes a genuine quest as the Dark Lord and his children try to figure out how to get rid of the tourists once and for all.

Additional notes : YA/Adult

7. The Book A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd

What It's About: Felicity Pickle and her sister, Frannie Jo, travel with their mother from place to place, never really settling down. The two girls are getting tired of it, and when the family arrives in Midnight Gulch, a town that tales say was once full of magic, Felicity feels at home. She decides that in order to stay she has to bring the magic back full force. As she moves through the town learning the town’s stories and that of its people, she figures out the magic that is left and the mending that is needed to bring it back.

Why I Chose It: It is beautifully written, as in the prose itself is beautiful. Lloyd is writing about small, everyday magics and how they affect life. She is also a word-lover, writing about words.

Additional notes : MG.

8. The Book: Apparitions: Ghosts of Old Edo by Miyuki Miyabe

What It's About: A series of short stories based on Japanese tales, now translated into English. There are ghosts, of course. Some of them are harmful, some are quite helpful. The tales are borderline fantasy/horror stories.
Why I Chose It: These stories are haunting in both senses of the world. They are full of ghosts, and they will linger in your mind long after you have finished reading. They are somewhere between fantasy and horror.

Additional notes : Adult, Japanese author; borders on horror.

9. The Book: Half World by Hiromi Goto

What It's About:  Fourteen-year-old Melanie Tamaki is struggling to take care of her often-ill mother and struggling to figure out what they will eat at home. She's more or less used to being bullied. Then her mother disappears, and she finds out that both her mother and father are in the Half World, a kind of Purgatory. She follows to rescue them and learns that the half world, the spirit world, and the material world split long ago, trapping everyone in the Half World in an endless cycle, and the only way to save her mother is to break the cycle.

Why I Chose It: It has one of the spookiest villains in literature. It also has a stubborn heroine who keeps on putting one foot in front of another, even when life gets difficult. Add to that a green Jade rat who gives advice, an eight-ball that asks more questions than it answers, and an unusual and detailed setting, and this book is a winner.

Additional notes : MG, Japanese-Canadian author

10. The Book: Prophecy by Ellen Oh

What It's About: Kira is the only demon-slayer in the king's army and bodyguard to the prince. When treachery and a demon invasion endanger the prince, her cousin, she is charged with keeping him safe. Some think that he is the savior predicted in the Dragon King's prophecy, the one who will drive back the demons and restore peace. She has to keep him alive for this to happen.

Why I Chose It: It's not just that Kira is a skilled fighter and a determined bodyguard, though she is. It is also the way Ellen Oh has written the family dynamics in the traveling group: The king is Kira's cousin and they travel with her older brother. Then there is the beauty of the kingdom they travel through, and the way Oh weaves the kingdom's mythology through the book. This is the first book in a trilogy, but it functions well as a standalone

Additional Notes, : YA, Korean-American Author

11. The Book: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin

What It's About: Yeine Darr spent her life in her father's homeland of Darre, a small kingdom looked down on by the ruling Aramari, her mother's people. Then, four months after her mother's death, her grandfather summons her to the capital and makes her one of his heirs. The trouble is, there are two others—and she is in competition with them. She finds herself dealing with unfamiliar people and manners and meeting the captive gods, held as servants to the royal family. These gods might be her friends, but they also want something from her.

Why I Chose It: N. K. Jemisin does a first-class job of world-building here. The mythology is strong, well-developed, and memorable. Yeine has to balance what is true and what is not from the conflicting tales she has been told in the past and is told now.

12. The Book: Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger

What It's About: Fourteen-year-old Sophronia Temminneck is extremely annoyed when her mother sends her to finishing school.  The school catches her attention when she learns that, in addition to teaching social discourse, proper deportment, eyelash fluttering,  and how to curtsy properly, it includes courses on “the fine arts of death, diversion, and the modern weaponries." There are is also a mystery to solve: What and where is the "prototype" everyone keeps hunting for?

Why I Chose It: It's a funny, light-hearted book with plenty of wit and whimsy—perfect for reading during the busy holidays when most people are "too busy" to read. There are plenty of read-aloud and laugh-aloud lines included.

Middle Grade

Other Possibilities:

Sister Mine by Nolo Hopkinson (Strong characterization, great use of the mythos. Makela and Abby keep on having the same argument. It may be realistic, but it's also tiresome. Adult, African American author.)

Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper (MG, a fantasy classic; haunting in spots; annoying in others)

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

In the Forrests of Serre by  Patricia Mckillip

Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

Jinx by Sage Blackwood

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

Don't Look Now: and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier

Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine

Sorrow's Knot by Erin Bow (will make you cry)

Speed of Dark Elizabeth Moon

Zahrah Windseeker by Nnedi Okorafo (Great world-building, overused exclamation marks; middle grade, African American)

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (Japanese. Adult(?) I totally loved this story—the warrior guardian has to take care of the prince while he serves as a "nursery" to the egg of a rain spirit; Uehashi has a fantastic supporting cast, too. The drawback? The translation is stilted. There's nothing overtly wrong with it in terms of grammatical construction, but it gets dull after a time)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Pickiness That Can Trouble A Reader

I'm back to looking for a new cozy series to follow again. Part of the problem I am having is that, while I really enjoy a lot of the tropes, I've now read enough books to be getting picky.

I'm not sure how to categorize the kind I've been devouring lately, but they are a subgenre of the cozy and usually include:

1) A female amateur detective
2) A bitchy rival--often she's the person who dies in the first book, thus making Our Heroine suspect number one and getting her involved in crime solving.
2) Sexual Tension between the amateur detective and the police detective in charge of the crime.
3) A carefully described, usually idyllic setting (Idyllic except for the bodies)
4) A punning title
5) Lots of good food.
6) A murder that really doesn't bother the reader significantly and is usually not that big a deal to the protagonist either (Unless it's bitchy rival; then she gets whatever niche to herself).

Also 7) They tend to be written quickly for summer reading and therefore don't generally have the best prose (though there are exceptions).

And...I am probably missing a few traits.

The thing is, when I'm in the mood for these, I really love them. They are reassuring and comfortable, like a favorite pair of jeans, or the baggy T-shirt you wear just for watching TV or reading in.

But--even while I love them, I eventually turn away because some of the tropes start to grate. Like--Why does the heroine have to date the policeman in charge of the investigation? Can't she just investigate alone? Or date the local chef or something? And, can we please, forever and always ditch the bitchy alternate? All she really does is prove Our Heroine to be good by contrast. And die. Like I said, she often dies. Surely the heroine can start elsewhere?

Yet, it's almost impossible to find a punny-titled cozy that doesn't include those two things, and I'm left with a quite unreasonable push and pull.

Do you ever find that pickiness gets in the way of enjoying something? How do you overcome it?

This doesn't mean I haven't found any to enjoy, on the contrary. It just means sometimes I get in my way!