Category Archives: sci fi

Review: The Woman Who Died A Lot by Jasper Fforde & Giveaway

29th October 2012

Via Goodreads

*I received this book from the publisher Viking in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday Next lives in a world…slightly different than ours. Librarians are highly respected and well paid. The punishment for overdue library books is a bit stiffer than a quarter-per-day fine, and then there’s Bookworld, where the characters and places in books actually exist. After being injured in the line of duty as a literary detective, Thursday Next is recuperating. But that doesn’t mean the world is perfect. A mindworm has left her with memories of a daughter she doesn’t have and a tattoo on her wrist as a reminder. The Global Standard Deity is planning a smiting, and Thursday’s genius daughter, Tuesday, hasn’t quite figured out an anti-smiting technology. Thursday’s son, Friday, has problems of his own. The time engines have shut down, and the career he would have had has been replaced. Now he’s slated to murder someone in less than a week, and he feels powerless to stop it. Thursday has been instated as Chief Librarian, but she comes up against her enemy, Goliath and faces a 100% budget cut.

If that sounds like a lot, it is. In fact, it had been long enough since I read a Fforde, that, in the beginning, I felt like I was reading a very fun but very different language. Partly, though, that’s because Thursday and her family are confused. One day she wakes up with cuts and bruises and doesn’t know how she got them. Then, the mindworm with the memory of Jenny, the fake daughter, switches to Thursday’s husband. Her children wake up with signs of fights but can’t recall how they got them, either. What’s going on?

The Woman Who Died A Lot is so enjoyable. In many ways, Fforde’s writing feels much older than it is and in fact reminded me of a book I read when I was young, Rivets and Sprockets (though I don’t remember much about it). The sci-fi feel along with the humor and a touch of mystery is perfect, and I can’t wait to go back and re-read The Eyre Affair and pick up the other books in the series.

Courtesy of Viking, you get a chance to join in the fun. Just leave me a comment, and I’ll pick a winner by next Sunday at midnight (CST).

Check out other reviews or add this to your shelf on Goodreads.

**Congrats to Rebecca at Love at First Book who won a copy of The Woman Who Died A Lot!

The Hunger Games and Subversion

25th March 2012

The moment in the film where Katniss acknowledges District 11's loss and incites revolt (Fair Use Doctrine)

Warning: If you haven’t read the books, you may not want to read on for fear of spoilers.

The reaping. People in threadbare, graying clothes shuffle in amid men in shiny uniforms. A woman in impossibly bright clothing and makeup reminds the citizens of District 12 why such hardship is upon them: they revolted against the Capitol of Panem. She then swirls her fingers above a glass fishbowl, drawing out the tension, as she selects the name of a young girl destined to fight to the death in The Hunger Games, the 74th Hunger Games. The name? Primrose Everdeen. Silence as she stands for a moment, shocked, and begins to make her way toward the platform and her death before her sister runs like a feral animal to volunteer in her sister’s place.

In that instance of self sacrifice and love, Katniss subverts the order the Capitol instills in its citizens. Is it within the rules? Certainly. Is it common? No. The reaping is, much like in other works like Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” simply a way of life. To disrupt it, to show strength in its face is dangerous. For Katniss, though, used to providing for her family in the absence of her father and the depressed lack of care from her mother, cannot let Prim go. Her one worry? That while she is away in the Hunger Games, her family will starve.

Katniss is a girl used to small acts of revolution. Hunting in the woods, she defies the Capitol but not for ideological reasons. She defies the Capitol to stay alive as the poorest in a poor District. All she wants is a modicum of control over her own life. She has no special talent; she has skill. She and Gale do what they must and have found peace in the woods outside the Seam. In comments critical of Katniss, such as the Persephone Book Club, readers remark that Katniss doesn’t act, she is acted upon. They say this as though it makes her bravery less, as though reaction to control and power is always spontaneous. It isn’t. The impetus for her action is not revolution but familial love and need for survival. She isn’t unique in this. Gale, too, hunts, and at least in The Hunger Games, his desire to leave is strong, but neither is he jumping to defy the Capitol. He has mouths to feed, responsibility.

I saw the film last night, and while I had heard good things, I was wary. I needn’t have been. I sat, nauseated, not from the shaky camera but from the absolute baseness of the reaping. My stomach churned as I realized just how close this sort of society is. In fact, it does exist in other places around the world, in places with governments far more controlling than our own. I left impressed by Jennifer Lawrence and her ability to act with her entire body and the director’s ability to have his cast speak without saying one word. There were those who were laughing at inopportune moments and sniffs when Rue died, but the moments that really tore me apart, were the moments when Katniss’s nature, undid the audience.

While Rue’s death is, of course sad, in a tale full of death, I was moved but not torn. When Katniss lifts her hand in a symbol to District 11, however, I wanted to weep. Because no, Katniss is not a revolutionary by design. I think that is evident throughout the books, particularly in the second and third when her awareness of the mockingjay and its meaning slowly makes sense to her. Instead, she has a heart. Unlike the citizens of the Capitol, laughing and jeering and cheering the deaths and near misses of the children on screen, Katniss is simply human. Rue, a sweet, young child who helps her and cheers her, has died, partially because of her but totally because of the control of the Gamekeepers and by extension, the Capitol.

The Capitol “ahhs” – not for Rue’s sake – but because Katniss has become a character, one they have been fed to like, the girl on fire. They are aware that the Games are real, but like Katniss who wants to touch the image of the woods projected on her window by the remote, the idea of real versus unreal is muddled. The Capitol is a society based on unreality, so the Games don’t affect them in the way they do the Districts who are forced to watch, fully aware of the death toll and the horror the children are enduring.

The Hunger Games are manufactured entertainment, evident in the Gamekeeper’s manipulation of the game, moving the arena, changing day to night, adding obstacles. In fact, I’d lay bets that the Capitol could care less whether or not the Districts are tamped down, so much as they want the entertainment. They seek it. They delight in it. Tributes are paraded in front of them, fed well and dressed in clothes beyond imagining, all to entertain. Katniss, unused to attention and amiability, raised in a place where entertainment is a luxury none can afford, must recognize what the audience wants from her. Peeta does and works for it, angering her before she realizes he has, as Haymitch tells her, made her desireable.

Though I don’t want to veer far into the arena of reality TV, it is undeniable that though not as brutal, the same is happening here. The show Big Brother is, to me, a perfect example as when it airs, I see Twitter and Facebook feeds where people check in to chat rooms or websites where they can watch the contestants outside the show, 24 hours a day. The more drama, the better, with people tweeting and texting in support of particular individuals on the show.

This is all too similar to the sponsors and gifts given to the tributes. Katniss must “act” for them, a blatant message from Haymitch and one she resists but gives in to when her or Peeta’s survival is in danger. Just as in her interview with Caesar, she must work the audience in order to receive preferential treatment, slowly understanding what is expected of her and how it will help in her ultimate goal of survival. As she tells Peeta on the rooftop the night before the Games, when he says if he dies, he wants to die as himself, “I can’t afford to think like that.”

The Girl on Fire is now a symbol: to the Capitol, she is brave and entertaining, the young girl destined to lose her young love. To the Districts, she is hope, and as President Snow remarks to Seneca in the film, a little hope is a good thing. A lot of it can destroy the fragile control the Capitol maintains.

The Games have changed Katniss, which is evident in the closing scene at the Games when the Gamekeeper has again changed the rules, indicating that either Peeta or Katniss must kill the other. At this point, she is aware of their power and in that understanding, she knows what they must do in order to overthrow the Games and live. She offers the nightlock to Peeta, and in the instant before they eat the poisonous berries, the voice comes over the arena frantically asking them to stop.

In that moment, Katniss has become a true revolutionary, though her motives, I think, are still Prim and surviving. The effects of her actions are what President Snow is terrified of because whether or not her motives are change and subversion, Snow is completely attuned to the balance of power and knows he has now lost control.

It’s a fascinating story, and I know a lot of people have wondered why children? Historically, children are the weakest, the ones who are made prey. It follows, then, that in juxtaposing that order and instead giving a child (near adult) power, the world order and model of the Capitol is truly weakened and vulnerable to ruin.

Honestly, I think the film is one of the best book-to-movie adaptations I’ve seen in recent years, and if you get a chance, make sure you see it. The Hunger Games is designed to make you think, and the movie reinforced that in ways I wasn’t fully expecting.

What do you think? What about The Hunger Games -book or movie – made an impression on you?

Judgy McJudgerson

9th February 2012

 

I don’t often read the posts on Book Riot, but today I noticed Amanda from Dead White Guys had a new post up on Book Riot titled “Confessions of a Newbie Independent Bookseller.”

The article discusses quirks of working in such a specialized place and the types of books people come in requesting. She shares one particular confession I loved:

I Don’t Judge Your Taste in Books
When I get a customer who wants a recommendation, I usually ask what the last book was that they loved so I can see what they’re looking for in a book. Sometimes there’s a pause, an embarrassed shifty-eyed gaze to the floor. A mumble of, “well, I read a lot of teen books, like, Hunger Games and stuff…” Independent bookstores can have a reputation for being snobby places where the books are “curated” out the ass- where you won’t find a best seller anywhere, but where you can definitely find the collected works of David Foster Wallace. I’m sorry if you’ve had that experience at other indies, but honestly- I don’t care what you read. If you want to add to your collection of mermaid erotica, I’ll help you. You want to read the next Twilight? I’ll help you. Looking for a how-to on building your own yurt? You’re the coolest! Let’s do this. There’s no judgment.

However, one person in the comments talks about how he or she does judge a person by what he or she reads. Unfortunately, this type of book shaming is not confined to bookstores. Frankly, I experience this all the time, and I’m sure it’s partially because I am so plugged in to the bookish world and bookish people. More often than not, this judgment comes from someone without a literature degree, someone who is very serious about serious literature.

Please understand I am not saying that an individual without a literature degree cannot criticize books. What I am saying is I do have those qualifications, and I still don’t feel the need/desire to lecture people about their reading choices. I have two degrees in English, one undergrad, one grad. I’ve read most of the big guns. I know literary terms many people do not. This does not make me cool; in fact, it puts me in a very low wage-earning category. I can talk a book to death if I want or need. But here’s the truth: that ain’t fun. I know I’m playing fast and loose, using “ain’t” and cliches and telling you this, but come on: Reading should be the least judged thing we do. We’re reading. In 2009, I remember reading that the average American reads one book a year. If you’re here, you’ve probably already hit that number this year. Whether that one book is a Harlequin romance novel, Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, or James Patterson’s newest, it’s better than no books read this year.

I’ll level with you: I read, no, I devoured the Twilight series. Granted, I knew they weren’t quality writing, but I didn’t care. The story drew me in, no matter how ludicrous parts of it were. I mention this because this is the most criticized reading choice for many. You may not like it, but guess what? Those books enticed people who had never read an entire book for fun to read several – several long books, no less.

My best friend reads at least 80% paranormal romance. We were talking about Goodreads the other night, and every single time she mentioned what she had been reading, she explained her choices away. This is an intelligent teacher and mother of three. The fact that she does read with all that going on is impressive to me. I know she isn’t a big fan of mysteries just like I’m not a big fan of paranormal romance. When we do read the same book, it’s that much more fun. We are diversifying our book stock, making us more interesting.

My reading list includes classics, contemporary literary fiction, an occasional chick lit, and tons of mysteries. I love mysteries, and sometimes even if I know it’s not the best mystery I’ll ever read, I keep reading. Why? Because it’s still enjoyable. The act of sitting down with a book is pleasurable and calming to me.

Maybe part of my ire has built up because I have seen non-readers turned into readers using books others might discount. Most of the students who have entered my classroom have told me they hate reading. They don’t dislike it or find it boring. No, they tell me they hate it. I make it my mission to turn at least one of them on to reading. How do I hit that target? I find out what they enjoy, and I give them a book that aligns well with those interests. Nine times out of ten it works, and I love being part of that person’s life in some small way. If that means putting The Hunger Games in the hands of one student and Madame Bovary in the hands of another, I’m perfectly ok with that. For those of us who truly love books and reading, why would we have it any other way?

So my big question is, have you ever felt judged for your reading choices? And WHY are we allowing others to guilt us? I won’t be had. Come look at my bookshelves and judge away. I dare you.

 

Reading the old year out…

31st December 2011

And I must say, I’m not at all sad to see the back end of 2011. It was a very tumultuous year, and I am very happy to be ringing in a new year this evening with a mini-readathon cooked up by two other bloggers (Becky and Tasha) and myself. There will be champagne, so in the infinite wisdom and singing voice of Bing Crosby, let’s start the new year right.

But. Before we get to that, I wanted to do a year end post. As of midnight on December 30, I have read 121 books. Of these, 46 were written by men and 75 written by women (wow!); 109 fiction and 12 nonfiction. This year I read 9 audiobooks, and considering I read none last year, that’s quite a jump. Also, just so you can see my habits, 42 of these books came from the publisher/author/publicist, but I bought 52 and checked out 26 from the library, a pretty decent statistic. Now down to brass tacks….

Least favorite books of the year: Let’s just get this one out of the way. I only really disliked two books this year, and if you’ve been around for a bit, you can probably guess the first one: The Magicians by Lev Grossman. The other I just finished this morning: Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron. I’ll put up a review next week with details. Suffice it to say, memoirs are tricky.

Best New-to-Me Series: Well, obviously I love the Patricia Wentworth Miss Silver books, but seeing as they were written in the last century, I won’t call them new. If you’re looking for a vintage mystery, give these a go. Also consider joining me for Miss Silver Saturdays through 2012.

Best New Series: I just finished Discovery of Witches and am pretty much in love with it. I can’t wait for the next one. Many compare it to Twilight, but for me, it was much more reminiscent of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. I loved it!

Funniest Book: Hands down, Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman. In fact, this is a book that I plan to re-read soon, I liked it that much. Definitely keep an eye out for debut author Matt Norman.

Best Dark Comedy: Funny Man by John Warner. I’m really surprised this book hasn’t gotten more attention, as I think it’s pretty genius in a lot of ways. I’m really eager to see what else Warner writes.

Book that Made Me Think Rainbow Rowell stole my life and wrote about it: Attachments. Runner up for funniest book of the year, it was just so perfectly me. Sadly, many other bloggers have said the same thing, so obviously I ain’t anything special. Distinctive? Pshaw.

Book That Seriously Creeped Me Out and Blew My Mind: The Magus by John Fowles. Review next week, and boy howdy, what a book. Thanks so much to Sean at Read Heavily for the gift.

Best Middle Grade Book: Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier. Absolute fun and super smart. Reminds me of books written when I was young.

Book that Made Me Cry: Thankfully there were only two of these this year (one sparked this post about crying in reading). The other is A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead. This is nonfiction and about the women of the French Resistance. It’s incredibly moving to see just how much the human spirit can endure.

Most Beautiful Book: The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock. This is physically just a beautiful, beautiful specimen of a book. The cover art, the inside art, the paper. It’s technically the biography of a woman artist, but it’s so much more than that.

Biggest Surprise: Ian Fleming’s Bond series. Yes, he can be a misogynistic, slightly-racist ass, but damn, these books are good. If you think you know Bond from the films, think again and join Lit Housewife’s Shaken Not Stirred challenge. You won’t be disappointed.

~and last but not least~

Best Book of 2011: Galore by Michael Crummey. I read this book in April, but it will not leave me. The story is timeless, the writing superb. If you haven’t read it, make sure you add it to your list for the new year. I compare it to East of Eden by Steinbeck and House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. One of my favorite passages from the book is below:

~Watching Judah emerge from the whale’s guts, King-me felt the widow was birthing everything he despised in the country, laying it out before him like a taunt. Irish nor English, Jerseyman nor bushborn nor savage, not Roman or Episcopalian or apostate, Judah was the wilderness on two legs, mute and unknowable, a blankness that could drown a man.

So that’s my list. I wish you all the best in 2012 and hope to see you back here. Thank you all for reading, commenting, emailing, etc. I so enjoy your company.

And on that note, what was your favorite book this year?

The Revisionists by Thomas Mullen

17th November 2011

*I read this book through Netgalley, courtesy of Mulholland Books, an imprint of Little, Brown.

Premise: Current time is somewheres about where we are now, and it is about to hit the fan and civilization will be semi-wiped out. Dude from future (which is perfect) is sent back in time to stop other dudes from future from messing with stuff, yo. Two different factions exist: one intent on leaving the end of modern civilization as it is and the other determined to avert disaster.

 I’m not big on time travel in books. It worked in Outlander. That’s about the extent of my time travel love. BUT. After I started The Revisionists, I would read a bit more and a bit more until I didn’t want to do anything else.

Which is why what I’m about to say will sound so strange:

I love the title. I love the cover. I did not love this book. I know it’s getting all sorts of crazy love out there, but I had the hardest time keeping track of the characters. There’s Zed who is from Present Perfect where everything is hunky dory, and the problems of the world have gone away in an ultra-controlled environ. Then there’s Leo, a spy, who for half of the book I thought was Zed because well, I just thought the characterization wasn’t great. There is also a whole host of other characters who play into the novel: Sari, a housekeeper for the Korean diplomat, Tasha, a young attorney whose brother was killed in war, as well as a young activist whose actions may lead to the end of the modern world.

Once I finally got into this book, as I said, I enjoyed it. Even so, the characterization and some of the plot twists felt rushed and ill conceived, so it wasn’t a total win for me.

This is a case, though, where almost everyone but me raves about this book. Maybe it just wasn’t for me? What do you think?