Tuesday, August 5, 2014

That Word. You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means.

In my reading, I run across some of the same mistakes again and again and again and some of them show up so often that I feel like I need to launch a personal crusade to eradicate them. Now, I'll be the first to admit that my grammar and word usage are not always above reproach. I make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. However, I try not to make the same mistake on a consistent basis and if someone points out my error, I will take pains to correct it. Consider this my attempt to point out some such mistakes.

It all started with authors who use "vice" when they mean "vise". This is still the one error that makes me growl out loud when I run across it. And I run across it A LOT. The usual occurrence is when an author is trying to describe a hangover and the character describes his or her head as being stuck in a "vice". Which, okay, is kind of true. But, truthfully, it's a vice (specifically, overindulgence) that has led to the head feeling as if it's stuck in a vise. No one ever seems to make the error in reverse, though. I've never read of a character whose only "vise" was gambling. Oh, I'm sure there are books out there where this mistake is made, they're just not as common. This mistake is actually so prevalent that I literally cheer a little when I see an author using "vise".

I've also noticed a tendency among authors to use regime/regimen/regiment interchangeably. These things are not the same. A regiment may assist with regime change and endure a rigorous exercise regimen to get them in shape to do so. But, my dears, it is not an exercise regime. Or an exercise regiment. Not the same. Just because the words are similar and share a root does not make them synonymous.

Recently, I've noticed a number of romance authors writing about the "throws" of passion. Now, it's possible that the participants got so excited they began hurling items across the room, but I do believe that they were actually in the throes of passion. Homonyms are not synonyms.

There are other errors that rub me the wrong way, but these three seem to be the ones I'm seeing a lot of recently and the ones that are almost bad enough to make me give up on an otherwise perfectly good book. Remember, authors, spell check is a helper, but it's far from infallible. Trust your instincts; if it doesn't feel right, double check it. even if it feels right, double check it. Ask your local grammar snob to proofread for you. (You may not think you have a local grammar snob, but you do. Some are just better than others at hiding it n public. Trust me, they're judging you in their minds. Talk about an "exercise regime" and look for the quickly-concealed wince.)

Well, I've basically turned this blog into a place for me to rant about the crap that bugs me in my reading, so I expect both of you will see more posts along this line in the future. Consider yourselves warned.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Just Putting This Out There

I'm not sure if anything will come of it--if I'll even add more--but it's just been sitting around in my head and in draft form for a while. I'm a little unsure of making it public. Well, public to all both of the people who might read it, but still. I'm thinking that maybe by putting this up, it will inspire me to continue working on it. Or not.


I am queen.

I was never meant to ascend the throne; never meant to rule. My mother was supposed to live forever or, more realistically, one of my siblings was supposed to take the throne. My mother and I didn't have much hope that we would ever convince the Council to change the laws so that my brother--the best suited to leadership of we three siblings--could one day inherit, but that didn't stop us from trying. Should our efforts fail to bear fruit, I was going to step aside as heir as soon as my younger sister had come of age. Unfortunately, fate is a cruel thing and my mother was cut down in battle, which is likely how she would have chosen to leave this plane, but just not this soon.

Gods, it wasn't even an important battle--merely a skirmish with our neighbors over borders and grazing lands. She was supposed to be gone only a couple of hours but now she's not coming back at all and I'm thrust into a role that I am not qualified for, no matter how much my mother worked with me to assure otherwise and the issues that sparked today's skirmish still haven't been resolved and no one's yet told my siblings that my mother is dead and my father has disappeared into his grief and a bottle of brandy and gods, I am not ready. 

And now there's a knock on my chamber door. A messenger from the Council, no doubt, come to summon me to a meeting to determine my future and that of our land. Not one of them will care that I am more hurt, more broken, more grieving than any of them could ever imagine. Not one of them will care that I feel as if I am drowning in the tide of responsibility that I now face. I cannot show them that I am weak and overwhelmed and not suited for the role I now must play.

I call out to whomever's at the door to give me a moment. Facing the mirror, I smooth my hair and brush dirt and creases that only I can see from my dress, then turn and walk slowly to the door. I take the deepest breath I can and, as I exhale, I lift my chin, square my shoulders and school my features into a mask of regal dignity.

Another deep breath as I turn the handle to open the door and step through to whatever my future may hold. On the exhale, a silent reminder to myself:



I am queen.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Slump

I know you've gone through them--those periods when nothing on your TBR stack is catching your fancy; when none of the hundreds of books you have seem appealing; when every book you do manage to read leaves you profoundly underwhelmed. Or maybe you don't, but it seems to be a regular thing for me. I'm going through a slump right now and it's not because I'm not reading good books. I've read a lot in the past couple of weeks that I know, objectively, are good books. The problem is that the only books giving me profound feelings are the ones that I want to fling at the wall and then jump up and down on in anger and frustration. And, I hate this feeling. I hate feeling like I'm reading books because it's habit and not because there's something that I just can't wait to get to. And even the books I've been excited by haven't lingered with me for long, no matter how good they were from an objective point of view.

I want something that makes my heart sing. Or that makes me laugh out loud. Or that makes me weep like my world is ending. I want to feel big, teenager emotions. I want book crush. I want to feel the way I did when I first read Andrew Smith's Winger or Ernest Cline's Ready Player One or Neil Gaiman's American Gods or Lish McBride's Hold Me Closer, Necromancer or any of the myriad other books that have made me give a little squeal of happiness and hug them to my chest and maybe do a little happy dance around the apartment (though I admit to nothing).

And it's not the books, it's me. I know that. I mean, one of the books I just finished was Scott Westerfeld's upcoming Afterworlds which is really fucking good. I could write a wordy discourse on its razor-sharp observations on publishing and its keen insights into the life of a writer and its seamless integration of two separate novels into a cohesive whole and how perfectly it captures the highest highs and lowest lows of that first young love. But, I can't rhapsodize over it like a teenager discovering John Green for the first time. I'll be recommending it to friends and colleagues and my sixteen-year-old niece, but my skin won't flush and my eyes light up with evangelical zeal when I do. Which is not due to any shortcoming of the book itself. I'm just feeling oddly flat about everything I read right now.

Have you ever felt that way? I'd think it was symptomatic of something deeper, but it's only books that are leaving me (not) feeling this way. Movies, TV shows, toy-like things, really good stinky cheese--any of these can still make me giddy and excited and desirous of sharing my "discovery" with everyone who crosses my path. It's just books.Maybe I need to go back and re-read some old stand-bys. Maybe that would shake me out of my slump. Or maybe I need to read a book that I know I'll enjoy but that I can read completely non-critically. (Mmmmm...brain candy.)

Or maybe I'll never have that giddy, book-crush feeling again. Maybe I'm doomed to a life of readerly maturity. Maybe I'm becoming,,,a critic.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Did Not Finish

So, if you're coming here looking for in-depth reviews and blurb-worthy pull quotes, I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed. I've given up all my noble intentions of finding something nice to say about every book I read and trying to be thorough and coherent in my thoughts. Instead, I'm just going to write about books the way I talk about books, which is all emotion and little thought.

Okay. So, there was this book that I was looking forward to reading because it was a fantasy/sci-fi hybrid about a girl who falls in love with a (male) harpy, which sounded like something that would entertain the hell out of me. But, what this book really and truly was was something completely different. Have you ever read one of those awful Native American romance novels from back in the day? You know the ones where the innocent white girl ends up living with a Native tribe and falling in love with the Alpha Warrior (usually after a bout of "lovemaking" that is really rape), but she can't love him because her mother was kidnapped and.or killed by members of this same tribe and her father (and the entire town) believes the Natives to be brutal inhuman killers but her love for the Alpha Warrior is enough to build a bridge and make the villainous villagers realize their mistake? THIS IS THAT NOVEL. Only the Native Americans are replaced by "harpies", which aren't even really harpies, but a species indigenous to the planet that has been colonized by earthlings sometime in the future. Oh, and the harpies are brown, except for the Alpha Harpies, which are golden. This is a seriously racist, imperialist, sexist piece of garbage and I could only get through about a third of it before I gave up in disgust. (Had I not been reading it digitally, I would have thrown it across the room, then ripped it into pieces and tossed it in the recycling. Pushing the <Delete> button just isn't nearly as satisfying when a book is this offensive.) Maybe the plot got better. Maybe the heroine stopped being so very Mary Sue. Maybe all of the racist bullshit (that isn't really racist bullshit because these are fantasy creatures, duh) got justified or rectified or something later on. Maybe something happened in the 200 or so pages that I didn't read that made this story brilliant. But, I wasn't going to finish, even if none of the (very, very, very serious) problems I've already mentioned hadn't existed because the prose was gods awful. It was all short declarative sentences and not a contraction in sight. Remember those stories you wrote in first and second grade? Remember the prose "style" you employed because you were seven and didn't know any better? This whole book was pretty much written in exactly that style.

I'm not sure if I should name the book or not. A couple minutes of Googling would probably lead you right to it. I mean, I'm sure the author spent a shit-ton of time writing it and it's her baby and she's probably really proud of it and although it's a really, really small possibility, there's still a possibility that if I name the book the author, or someone from her publisher, will come across this and read it and it'll make her feel bad, which would make me feel bad. On the other hand, that's a miniscule possibility and naming the book may keep someone from wasting their money on it. Grrr. Okay. A compromise. I'll name it, but I won't link to it. The book is 'The Flight of the Golden Harpy' by Susan Klaus. It;s got an average of four stars over on GoodReads, but the reviews seem to be fairly evenly divided into the five-star and no-star or one-star camps, so I'm not the only one who had issues. Apparently, though there are some serious fangirls out there and gods bless them. It just goes to show that the right reader is out there for every book.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ahhhh...That's Better

So, Queen of the Tearling didn't really work for me. But, shortly after completing it, I read The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, and everything that didn't work for me in the Johansen was "fixed" in the Pearson. The plots of the two novels aren't really similar at all and, if they weren't both fantasies that I read close together, I'd likely not be comparing them at all. But, I did read them close together and, while I didn't hate the Johansen, it was a deeply flawed novel, in my opinion. The Pearson isn't perfect (I don't think there is such a thing as a perfect novel), but the elements I found troublesome in the Johansen--world-building and character-development chief among them--were so well done here as to create, for me, a startling contrast.

While very, very different in their approaches to creating such, both novels take place on a post-technical Earth, in a society vaguely medieval in nature. However, where the world-building in QotT was vague, with only sporadic clues as to how the old world ended and the new one began TKoD without spending excessive page count on back story, still manages to convey exactly why technology no longer works in her world and how society first began to rebuild itself. The characters in Kiss are fully-realized; her women are strong and capable without sliding into Mary Sue territory; both male leads have their attractions,but also some big, big secrets and flaws; her "villains" seem less like over-the-top mustache-twirlers than deeply committed, possibly misguided people whose agenda doesn't necessarily align neatly with that of our heroine. If you're looking for a sweeping fantasy of a post-tech human society, I can't recommend The Kiss of Deception highly enough. It is a YA novel, in contrast to the Johansen, which is being marketed to an adult audience, but it is, in my opinion, far more mature than QotT and worth the read.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Adieu, Jay Lake

I had started a post on a book that was an antidote to 'The Queen of the Tearling' and had planned to finish it up and post it today. But, as soon as I got to work this morning, I heard that Jay Lake had died and my plans changed.

I didn't know Jay well--we met a handful of times and attended the same haggis party once--but the few interactions I had with him made me realize he was genuinely good people. I am deeply grateful that I had the opportunity to get to know him, however slightly. I feel as if my life was made just a little bit better for having crossed his path. I know that my reading life was made a whole lot better for having read his words.

My heart goes out to his family and friends. If I, who hardly knew him, am feeling this grief, I can't imagine how much worse it must be for those who were close to him.

Good bye, Jay Lake. You are missed.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Bitch is Back

Hey, kids, I'm back. I know it's been more than two years since I last updated this. My original plan was to use this as a log of what I'd been reading. Of everything I'd been reading. But, let's face it, I read too damned much for that to ever be realistic. But, I got to where I was missing pontificating about books to anonymous strangers, so I'm back. Things will be a bit different this time around, though. I'm only going to post maybe once a week and only when there's a book about which I feel I have something that I need to say. And, yes, I have such a book in mind. The book is The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen and it's a book I wanted to love. Hell, it's a book I should have loved. But, it had problems that left me feeling disappointed that it never lived up to its full potential.

Here's why this book should have been right up my alley: It's a fantasy novel with a female protagonist and set in a land where sovereignty is handed down matrilineally. The crown princess has been in hiding her entire life and the book opens on her nineteenth birthday when members of the Queen's Guard come to fetch her back to the castle so that she can take the throne.Road trip? Hidden princess? Women in power?Yes, please. Count me right on in.

But, sadly, things started to go wrong for me quite early on.Well, from the beginning, really, with the princess's name: Kelsey. Yes, just like Kelsey Grammer (and you're more than welcome for that mental image). Kelsey is not the name of a princess, unless she's in one of those books where you can have your child's name inserted as the main character. Kelsey is the love interest in a contemporary YA romance or the plot moppet in a breezy chick-lit. She is not the hidden princess in a fantasy novel set in a pseudo-medieval post-apocalyptic (I think, but that's another issue and we'll get to it soon enough) world. Her mother was named Elyssa, which works for the type of world that Johansen is trying to create, but Kelsey was just too jarringly contemporary and casual.

And, about the world-building: I don't get it. There was a mention of Christmas quite early on, but it was before Johansen had in any other way intimated that her world was populated by humans descended from, well, us. Instead of reading as a clue to the origins of the society, it read as lazy storytelling. It wasn't until much later that the use of "Christmas" rather than Yule or Solstice or Longest Night or whatever made sense. But, by that point, not much else of the world-building really did. I know that the world is populated by descendants of Earth, but I'm not clear on whether they're still on Earth, or whether they're somewhere or some time else, or maybe both. There was a lot of talk of ships, but, contextually, it doesn't make sense for them to have been ocean-going vessels. I assumed they were space ships and that the seafaring terminology was used metaphorically, but I'm not sure. There seems to have been some disaster that forced people to flee, but if one goes strictly by what is explicit in the text, it would seem that the survivors just fled across the sea to some unpopulated land, which, what? Is there still a place on Earth that is sparsely populated enough to support a large influx of refugees? So, I had to assume that they had fled to another planet or an alternate Earth or back in time or some such, because it was the only way I could make it make sense.

And, there was magic, but the magic system wasn't really explained in any way, so it was more the magic of fairy tales than that of good fantasy fiction. And the Red Queen, who is the villain of the piece, was some slapdash mishmash of every Evil Queen ever, built on a foundation of A Song of Ice & Fire's Melisandre. The central conflict of the plot was almost too over-the-top evil and the book ended in a way that felt weird to me: Kelsey took an action which should have spurred the Red Queen to march to war on Kelsey and her "kingdom" (which is not what you should call a land historically ruled by Queens, but whatever, even though it bugged the ever-living jeebus out of me), but the book ended with Kelsey's coronation and seemingly no immediate consequences of her actions. This is the first of a proposed trilogy, so I'm sure there will be consequences to follow in the subsequent books, but I'd have liked more of an inkling of them here--maybe an epilogue which showed the Red Queen's spy in the crowd at the coronation or her troops approaching the castle gates or burning a village or something. Instead, the implication was that all would be puppies and rainbows now that Kelsey was Queen.

And, yes, I'm totally pounding on this book, but for one reason and one reason only: It could have been awesome and I'm taking my disappointment out on it. The potential is there for a truly amazing fantasy epic that would appeal to a broad spectrum of readers. But, the finished product feels like it got very little editorial attention or that it was edited by someone unfamiliar with fantasy fiction.I wanted nothing more than to take a red pen and "fix" what I saw as its major shortcomings. There was nothing wrong with this book that a strong and honest editorial hand couldn't have fixed.But, in the end, all I was left with was disappointment at what might have been.