Review: Yesterday’s News

Yesterday's News
Yesterday’s News by Kajsa Ingemarsson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Agnes has most things in life: a job at a fancy restaurant, a boyfriend who loves her, and a best friend whom she knows inside out. Or does she? All of a sudden things begin to crumble, one by one, and soon nothing is as it was. Her boyfriend leaves her for a big busted singer, and she is fired by the sexist and abusive owner of the restaurant where she works. She gambles everything she has on the success of a newly opened restaurant, but the road to the glowing review which will open the door to fame and fortune has, to say the least, unexpected twists and turns.

In Yesterday’s News Kajsa Ingemarsson’s comic talent comes into its own. The book is one of the greatest bestsellers of all time in Sweden with more than 800,000 copies sold. Juicy and satisfying, Yesterday’s News is a story about daring and winning and about faith in yourself, a feelgood novel sure to please anyone looking for the antithesis to Stieg Larsson.

4.5 Stars

This popped up in my inbox for B&N’s “Daily Find” which meant I got it for several dollars less, and I am so vulnerable to affordable books. Described as “the antithesis to Stieg Larsson”, whose series I cannot bring myself to read after everything I’ve heard, this description won me over.

For back cover copy, it’s remarkably faithful to the book. It doesn’t overstate the drama or pull the other tricks often used to hook readers. This paragraph for the default description, in fact, names the part that won me over:

The woman in trouble is Agnes. In Yesterday’s News she will rebound from personal tragedy and find courage in the face of the unknown. In the end she stands there as the hero of her own life.

Agnes is the steady, reliable girl, without any overwhelming ambition to be somewhere else, though she had enough to get out of her isolated small town. She’s a romantic, and in that stage of life that society arbitrarily names adulthood but is so hard to define and realize once you’re actually in it. Make sure you’re a reasonably productive member of society, and mark time until you know you’re “there”: like buying a house or winning the Nobel Prize.

this is why I'll never be an adult

But she’s just lost her job and her boyfriend dumped her, and she’s lost.

Actually, that all happens pretty quickly and the rest is Agnes defining her life thereafter. Where do we find direction? and of course, what’s really important?

So if you’ve been reading..well a great many books with romantic plot tumors…and are sick of characters like Bella Swan not recognize they have a jerk for a boyfriend—I think you’ll like Agnes. She’s not really very Bella-like, she does have a backbone, but she also has little self-confidence and doesn’t recognize her own worth. What a difference that makes, when she starts to take initiative in her own life!

I remember saying I fell in love with Agnes by first chapter. She’s basically being groped by her boss, at work, in the wine cellar, and she’s just so taken aback. A “what is happening?” kind of response, which made sense to me. She fends him off, but the victory isn’t unsullied: after all, she’s lost her job, and it’s not so easy to find a new one.

All the side characters are great: her relationships with her parents and sister are easy and natural to read, but they aren’t necessarily easy for Agnes. She doesn’t always understand them, and finds they can take her by surprise.

There’s the moment, about two thirds of the novel that made me cry, for several chapters. I won’t say more, but Ingemarsson writes emotion well; the reader can relate to Agnes.

My favorite part of the book was Agnes learning she didn’t have a handle on everything and didn’t have to. She’s emotionally dependent, at the start, pretty much on everyone around her. Once Tobias leaves her, she leans on her friend. When she finally gets a job, she starts taking control, but still treats it much like a crutch. Eventually, she realizes starts standing on her own, after finally hearing a few hard truths that she never really listened to before.

When I first added the book, the top shelf was “romance” and the entire 287 pages I was looking for it. Now, she does have a romantic arc, but this is not a romance book at all. In fact, even when the love interest showed up (which was fairly obvious to all but Agnes) it still barely counted as part of her character growth: there was no romance until she actually understood what she wanted in a relationship. I squeed.

Yes, I saw most of the plot-points coming, the twist was telegraphed fairly early on. But I’d still say a lot of that’s on Agnes, on her prejudices and assumptions.

Yesterday’s News stands best as a character study than even the ‘chick lit’ genre covers, at least in the US market I know. Calling it a story about “growing up” sounds ridiculous, when Agnes starts already a functioning adult. She’s just unsure of herself, and her boundaries—she hasn’t pushed herself for a time.

I gave Yesterday’s News four stars because I loved it, but it didn’t blow me away. Now I feel like the Grinch.

Don’t be a Grinch: read Yesterday’s News!

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Review: The Consulting Detective Trilogy Part I: University

The Consulting Detective Trilogy Part I: University
The Consulting Detective Trilogy Part I: University by Darlene A. Cypser
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Won on First Reads! and I can’t wait til it arrives—I’m a great fan of Sherlock Holmes and am definitely crossing my fingers.

Final Review:

3.5 Stars

Maybe I should round up, but I’m trying to be as scrupulously honest as possible, and I think I liked it less than ‘really’.

The Consulting Detective Part I describes the university years of Sherlock Holmes (I’m sure you never would have guessed). It is less of a standalone novel than I’d supposed. Though The Crack in the Lens was described as a prequel, TCDpI continues directly after the events of that novel, and there’s little catch-up for new readers.

As a long-term fan fiction reader, I’m not sure how much this will throw off the average reader.

To sum up as best I can without spoilers, Sherlock survived a traumatic event back home, that left him ill and mentally fragile. By the time TCDpI takes place, he’s mostly recovered, but his convalescence is long, and he needs to decide what to do with his life.

The ‘in media res’ beginning cause some confusion for the reader, mostly in the lack of description: for instance I didn’t know Sherlock’s servant, Jonathan, was only 13 until chapter 4.

I’m not sure this book should be described as a “trilogy”. While it covers only one era of Sherlock’s life, there’s not a strong plot thread—it’s more an overall plot arc, told through an episodic structure. For the most part, I enjoyed the breadth of his experiences, as all these different events do show the growth of his character effectively.

The characters were fun. Sherrinford, Sherlock’s mother and father, Jonathan, all felt rather thin. However, I loved Mycroft; every time he showed up he right on point, exactly right. Since many writers seem to struggle with his character, I especially appreciated his few brief appearances. One character, a Lord Cecil, is the standard bully in any school story; though he and Sherlock rarely interact, so it doesn’t overwhelm Sherlock’s story. Cecil is also a self-aware jerk, and frankly I liked him better than way, but then he’s reformed.

The prose was workmanlike, for the most part. Cypserstruggles with integrated dialogue and exposition into the story. However,she clearly did her research, and there were several surprising details. I did notice a few problems with typos and run on sentences, but not too disruptive.

Sidney Paget: Sherlock Holmes

Sidney Paget: Sherlock Holmes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My favorite part is that in some ways, Sherlock makes some dumb decisions and lots of mistakes. He lacks much of his later self-control. Knowing Sherlock almost entirely through Watson (who, honestly, is my favorite), that sounds a little odd, but it makes sense for such a young man, and it’s never out of character, especially for the back story we’re given. Sometimes he veers toward melodrama, but not for long, and especially as he recovers and events pick up, most of that goes away.

Overall, if you like Sherlock Holmes pastiches, and are interested in a logical Sherlockian back story, I’d definitely recommend this novel!

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Review: The Woman In Black

Last weekend, my brothers and I watched The Woman in Black together. We’d been discussing this:

 …because wow.

And that’s how we started talking about watching the HP actors in different movies, and I remembered I had wanted to watch The Woman in Black since I saw Daniel Radcliffe’s interview with GMA back in…January, February? though I couldn’t remember why. As for me, it wasn’t on Netflix, which I have, but it was for rent on Vudu, which my brother does have. (The TV has an app for that.)

For the most part, I enjoyed this movie. In fact, it might have gotten four stars from me (out of five, even if that’s not how you’re supposed to star movies) if it hadn’t been for the awful ending that made me question everything from the beginning all over again.

Which, yeah, it had a rather absurd beginning. Radcliffe, who is Mr. Kipps (although I kept thinking they were saying Mr. Gibbs and wanted an NCIS crossover) is a lawyer sent off to review the papers of a creepy, rich old lady who lives in the middle of nowhere. Yes, you’ve seen it before. Then you learn he’s ambiguously a father.

Really, movie, really?

Yeah, Radcliffe is just too baby-faced to be a convincing father; we wondered if he might just be an older brother.

The movie is overblown melodrama from the start. Every line is deep, every room is dark—every moment portentous. And every character that walks on screen is so dramatic it’s distracting…by the time relevant characters started showing up, I couldn’t tell, because they got the same amount of screen time and as little actual explanation as everything else had been.

Oddly, my favorite part of the movie, for the creep factor, was Kibbs exploring the haunted house. Aside from the fact that he kept hearing creepy things that are demonstrably haunting and then keeps opening the door anyway, I’d been genuinely startled several times. The sets are gorgeous. Every period detail is perfect. And the special effects fit right in without drawing attention to themselves.

Everything was aimed for the atmosphere of creepy. Not gore, not thrills, but the tension. That works for me, and I enjoyed it, even if it implies Kipps is a man of a tiny imagination.

“Maybe next time I open the door, it really won’t be a ghost!”

Then he fairly abruptly changes his mind, and convinces this rich not-neighbor, who gets a strangely intense narrative focus, to help him restore the peace.

Now, though you know I hate the ending, there were still questions that had already come up. When Kipps arrives in the required creepy hamlet, all the villagers fear him and try to run him out of town as quickly as possible. That’s also standard for this premise, but as I’ve said, everything in this movie gets the same amount of foreshadowing so I couldn’t tell if this was relevant or if every character in the movie was just nuts. And we never learn why the arrival of a stranger made the difference, and if it was just anyone who saw the woman in black:

Why didn’t they burn down the house?

Okay, so kids are dying. How is this at all Radcliff’s fault? They’ve apparently been dying for years. How did they not decide to just torch the place? Gaston got his village to march miles to burn down Beast’s castle strictly through rhetoric: “save your children and your wives!” Not even one dead kid. But in this village, no one apparently even chooses to move, though they apparently already know all the rules of the haunting.

It might have helped if clearer reason for villagers to blame him.

Now this mid-movie other male lead (Mr. Daley?) gained an awful lot of unexplained prominence near the end that didn’t make much sense. Well, okay, it made a plot point, but it was the plot point I hated. Why was he there, and why was his kid targeted? We never learned who saw what that set it off. I rather liked the wife, at least.

As for the Woman: what happened to her sister and husband? If they declared her insane and were imprisoning her, how did she get the house?

Like I said, the suspense of the middle of the movie held my interest enough to forgive the early schmaltz and the plot device Kipps-as-door-opener, and then, and then…

So Kipps has the idea to reunite mother and son, even retrieving the boy’s body (see? plot device). There’s some final ghost action, including dramatic sightings of the dead village kids, and all goes quiet. Kipps plans to leave right away, taking his son with him. Unfortunately, the Woman in Black will never forgive and pulls his son away onto the railroad tracks. Kipps reacts only at the last second and he and the boy are apparently run over while Mr. Daley or whoever he is watches in horror (I don’t know if the nanny noticed)—witnessing the crowd of dead kids again behind the train as it passes. Then we see Kipps and son meeting up with ghostly Mrs. Kipps and they all walk into the afterlife together while TWiB watches in anger.

And I say…

What did I just watch?

That ending just invalidated the entire movie. Not the death of Kipps, which could have been very effective, even including the son (for any other reason than pathos) if we didn’t get the stupid reunion. It’s just so trite and goofy. And apparently too similar to the final Harry Potter, which while I know quite a bit about, never saw: my youngest brother called it as soon as the train went by and then I went online and saw it everywhere else.

The movie has significant differences from the novel it’s based on, but they should have tried a little harder to connect the endings. Difficult, as in the book Kipps didn’t have a child until well after the main plot, but it’s only then TWiB gets her revenge. Much creepier for her to come back when Kipps thought he was safe. Sure, they thought they’d cleared the ghost, but it’s only been a matter of hours at most, Kipps should have been far more paranoid.

But what can I expect? I read the premise for the sequel, and next she’s going after WWII soldiers.

Wha—

That upends the entire premise of this movie, in that she is going after the children. That was kinda important to her character. My fault for expecting dedicated storytelling from Hollywood, I suppose. God forbid I actually try to think.

Review: Ship of Magic

Ship of MagicIt’s been awhile since I read this, but since I should be starting the second one soon (crossing my fingers), I’d better get this up!

Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Final verdict: a great antidote to A Game of Thrones, with brilliant, complicated characters.

My friend introduced to me to Ship of Magic (Liveship Traders, #1) because I’d been complaining about annoying stupid characters. She recommended Robin Hobb in general, but Ship of Magic especially, primarily for Althea Vestrit, our primary protagonist.

One thing I want to point out is that I would have never picked this up on my own. Not for the title, not the cover (yes, I’m disproportionately attracted to pretty covers—there’s a blog post in there somehow), and not even the cover copy. Although Althea is my middle name. But normally not even that.

Thank goodness for my friend, because this book seems to have marked a change in the books I’m reading—after a streak of at best mediocre reading, I’m enjoying it again! (That can’t be attributed entirely to this book, but did contribute to the exhilaration of my reading experience.)

Althea Vestrit is the younger daughter of a liveship trader family. In essence, the elite of colonial Bingtown. Liveships are just that: living ships. But you don’t just build a ship that’s alive, or buy one, it has to be built first of wizard wood, and ‘grow’: that is to say, quicken. A liveship, though, will only quicken after three of its family members die on-deck, through which they gain knowledge and awareness. And a liveship will only respond to a member of the family, especially once it is alive.

And I haven’t even gotten to the story yet.

Robin Hobb has built an incredible, complex world, much of which is gradually revealed throughout the story, naturally and through the characters’ perspectives. The world-building is crucial to the story’s success, because in many ways, its core theme is the clash of worlds, old and new. There isn’t one simple conflict between good and evil or even two families. Bingtown is a colony, only now, they’re being settled again by people who don’t understand the land and customs–and worse, Bingtown has started following the customs of the mainland, even those that just a generation ago would have been too horrifying to contemplate. Now, the newcomers may not understand the reasons for Bingtown’s customs, but the locals won’t explain them either (more on that later).

The conflict of cultures is so important. Worldly Jamaillia is decadent, rich, slave-owning. And the slaves can be anyone: the educated call for particularly high prices. Bingtown once had equal relations to men and women: they’ve borrowed the madonna/whore complex from Jamaillia and now are looking to slavery. But Bingtown has a strange relationship with magic and the people up the river who make it.

Back to Althea. Because she’s the natural daughter of the Vestrit’s, who own a liveship just one death away from quickening, Althea fully expects to be the next captain. After all, she’s been sailing with her father for years, and her older sister is married: settled with children. But as the summary states so baldly, Althea doesn’t get Vivacia, her brother-in-law does.

Ways in which Ship of Magic exceeds A Game of Thrones:

  • The characters matter. The majority of characters in A Game of Thrones are AT BEST observers, and often not even good at that; all the characters (especially viewpoint characters) in Ship of Magic have agency: they are making things happen, everything they do affects the plot, the story. In A Game of Thrones, the plot is happening around the characters—when they could make a difference, they don’t, because characters get in the way of the plot. That could work, but only if the reader has a sense that characters caused the plot in the first place. Ship of Magic only takes place because of decisions made generations ago, and how the current people are trying to live around and with those decisions. There is a deep, complicated back story that at no time takes over what’s happening now, but only makes it possible. Can I say how much I’ve missed this?
  • A Game of thrones suffered from odd, arbitrary chapter breaks that always followed only one character (ideally, and when Martin didn’t abruptly drop into omniscient when he forget what he was doing) and didn’t follow the same characters in a row BECAUSE. The chapter breaks and POV changes in Ship of Magic are based on the timeline and pacing. And they don’t just skip the big scenes to sum up later.
  • The characters in Ship of Magic are so much better. In fact they’re so awesome, I’ll have to get back to this.
  • The women are just as complex as the men! and just as active! and compelling! and have equal textual representation in a sexist world! and there’s no creepy, overdone euphemisms for genitalia! and no glorified, underage, fetishized rape scenes! uhhhh….I feel like I shouldn’t have to expect such things, but I am comparing it strictly to GoT here.
  • This is also a vaguely historically based world with only rare magic. Only here it’s embedded from the beginning, and while not understood and distrusted by the inhabitants of the world, it doesn’t follow the pattern of: 100 pages of ambiguity 1 sentence maybe? (x3) 100 pages ambiguity full-on firewalking and suckling dragons!

Like A Game of Thrones, Ship of Magic has several major plot threads (approximately eight, some embedded in the ‘world’ arcs), all given roughly equal treatment, and a great many POV characters (at least eight). I wonder if there’s something to those numbers. and Martin is praised because he’s willing to kill off ‘anyone’, which just makes me suspect a paucity of decent literature in the fantasy section. Ship of Magic made me care about the characters, even without ever having a POV of their own, and then they died.

Getting into more spoiler-y territory, I loved the conflict between Ronica (Althea’s mother) and Kyle (her brother-in-law).Kyle really seems like just your standard sub-boss evil. In most novels The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1), he’d be petty and cruel, and basically the antagonist until the confrontation with the real bad guy happens. In some ways, Kyle is all of those things. But his main threat is in how he threatens, and represents the threat, to the liveship trader way of life. And Ronica loathes him for it. But he’s been her son-in-law for 15 years, IIRC, and no one in the family has tried to make him understand these traditions and why things are the way they are in Bingtown. There’s a lot of hidden history that’s gradually being revealed, but the locals don’t discuss it amongst themselves, much less outsiders like Kyle. At least once, the truth has been actively hidden from him. These are cultures clashing because their people (on any side) cannot understand comprehend a way of life different from their own.

Wintrow, Althea’s oldest nephew, lived with the priests since infancy, because in Bingtown, it’s an honor. Wintrow can’t wait to be a priest. But since Kyle captains the Vivacia, he needs a family member by blood on board, especially now that Vivacia is conscious. Wintrow’s struggles: to stay safe, to stay sane—my heart BLED for him.

Btw: Hobb has built an incredible, convincing fictional religion.

Kennit is about as villainous as a villain can be. As I said in a forum: “[he] knows he’s not a good guy, goes around plotting like mad, but is just going after what he wants in any way he can. He knows he’s not a good guy, but doesn’t care: he just wants power. He also goes around going good deeds, but evilly…He’s a pirate freeing slaves because then they’ll voluntarily be his army to help him take over the world. And he’s surrounded by people who are unbearably loyal to him: even his sentient charm fashioned in his image hates him and doesn’t think he deserves what he has.”

One thing that Hobb does beautifully that Martin fails entirely, is have a focus to her narrative. Althea’s story is central to the unifying thread. All of these characters have very important stories of their own, but Althea’s is going to be right in the middle of it all.

One note about the characters: sometimes they aren’t all good. Or bad. (Unless it’s Kennit) They can be whiny, infuriating, annoying, ignorant, just-plain-stupid, and often wrong. For instance, Althea’s quest to retake the Vivacia? Well, first she has to learn that she wasn’t qualified to captain a vessel on her own, that when she traveled with her father, she was playing at sailoring. So she goes off on her own to learn—and learn she does. Slowly. Which is possibly the best part.

Now that I’ve been working on this for two hours, I want to touch on a subject I know is important to many of my GR friends—and the reviewers I follow who have no idea who I am: slut shaming.

THERE ISN’T ANY!

First you have Malta, Althea’s niece, all of thirteen years old, *IIRC. O Good Lord, Malta. She takes the place of Martin’s Sansa: obsessed with boys, rather stupid. Only Malta specifically wants sex. Preferably before babies and marriage, because she doesn’t want to end up with an icky husband. Is she too young for this? Hell yes, she’s spoiled rotten, doesn’t understand how her own society works, and despite her interest, completely ignorant of what said sex would actually mean. Sansa, I just hated, but while I wanted to smack Malta upside the head, I also ached for her. She is so completely unaware of how vulnerable she is—and she does have to work at ignoring it too. Unlike Althea, she retreats from what scares her, what’s hard (although Althea has her moments), and Keffria (her mother) and Ronica are only just learning how much they’ve neglected to teach her.

As for Althea—

Spoilers! Please click carefully, because this section is so important to her character development! It wouldn’t ruin the book, but it would color the reading experience.

After Althea goes off to learn sailing while disguised as a boy (explained in text) she sleeps with Brashen (well, okay, it’s clear he’s a love interest from the cover copy) while both are impaired. She’s concussed and they’re both drunk and high, I think. He might be concussed too. It turns out, despite being ‘upper class’ in this society, and their expectations for women, she’s had sex before. The first time when she was fourteen under skeevy circumstances. When she goes home to tell her sister, Keffria makes her get a charm to prevent pregnancy and STDs, assuming her sister is easy. It’s the betray of trust that Althea has a problem with, she doesn’t think of herself that way. In fact, she’s NOT damaged by the experience, and she knows it’s supposed to be pleasurable, so she seeks it out herself, occasionally. But it’s not a flaw of her character that she’s sexually active, and while other characters may not like it, it’s never a view condoned by the text. Thought you guys might like that.

I didn’t get to this point in my GR review (which is is), but Hobb can also write convincing ‘alien’ consciousness. This is most evident with the living ships—which aren’t human, but have to balance how much they owe to the humanity that created them and reconcile their own free will. There’s also the sea serpents, which I don’t understand yet, and are sentient, but not human whatsoever.

I just want to get everyone to read it themselves! It’s just that awesome!

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Review: The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, 2011 Edition

The Year's Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, 2011 EditionFinally reviewing again! (at least once). Already outdated, but this is what the library had.

The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, 2011 Edition by Paula Guran
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dark fantasy, so this isn’t really my genre. Since I picked it up to get an overview of what this rather nebulous genre is about, I can’t say whether this is representative or not, or good for that matter.

It covered quite a bit of ground, but few stories stood out to me, and I don’t think that says much for the genre as a whole. Again, I don’t know whether that’s just because I don’t know much about the genre and what it’s compared to: but if I couldn’t find much, is that really a good thing?

Maybe a year is too short in time to get a decent overview.
The first three stories were all first person and all disappointing. I almost thought there was a conclusion to be drawn there until “Tragic Life Stories” which was third person and fantastic. I think the only first person story that stood out to me was Gaiman’s, and though I didn’t think anything of it in particular (sacrilege!) but at least he used the first person properly—I knew who the character, the “I”, was pretty quickly. I just think 3rd person is better at orientating the reader. Second person, of course, is most difficult of all for an author and reader alike, and there are three in the collection: decent, as best I recall.

As for the standout stories:

“Tragic Life Stories” How much I enjoyed this because I connected to a narrator who was an author as well may have made this story more appealing to me than a reader who doesn’t write, but I hope not, because that would say nothing good about Duffy as author or my reading. Nevertheless I immediately connected to how Dan created his fictional worlds, and then that’s where it all went wrong. Well-constructed, good pacing, and a fascinating premise (the inability to discriminate between hallucinations and reality) took me by surprise. And I cared about the character and wanted the best for him. But did he want the best for himself in this story?

“The Naturalist” A zombie story, and once I enjoyed The Walking Dead Rise of the Governor that I won on First Reads, but I’m starting to think, with the handful in this collection, that zombie stories, by definition, all sound the same. I was curious about the narrator’s observations, and thought that the most interesting part of the work, but given how quickly the end came after, I’m not sure even the author knew what it meant. A disappointment, since I saw that as really the most original part of the story.

“The Broadsword” I wanted to like this one, and it is dark, I’ll give it that. But it felt unsatisfying. There seemed both too much of information that contributed nothing, but then too little about the coming darkness. Some vividly disturbing description though.

“A Thousand Flowers” Not only did I not know what I was supposed to get out of it: what was the point? why was it written? (that seemed to be the weakness of much of the collection: someone had an image they wanted to share, but seemed to have trouble making it into a full story. The sheer amount of detail everywhere that made no sense, went nowhere and never connected to anything else boggled my mind. Peeing on flowers is bad. Why? I have no idea. Is it related to this world’s culture? I don’t know. I’m not even sure what this culture is supposed to be.

Frankly, I hated this story—terrible characters, pointless plot accomplishes nothing, plenty of creepy and unfortunate implications in a quasi-medieval setting (with Narwhals, Africa, and rhinoceros WHAT). Decent ear for dialogue at least.

“Hurt Me” I did like this one. The fantasy, the supernatural darkness of the story paralleled the character growth and back story and became a metaphor for the underlying plot. That’s what I mean by a plot with a point. Not only did something happen, but it changed the characters and it made a difference. Worth it.

“Sea Warg” Only notable because it has a misanthropic philosophy that I don’t disagree with, but in the story found unconvincing. I rather liked the clinical Johnson, but the uneven pacing made the end sudden and unconvincing.

“The Thing About Cassandra” Gaiman’s story. I rather liked it, but the end was too telegraphed and obvious. Felt cliché, even though I couldn’t say that it actually is.

“The Things” Lee developed an interesting and distinct alien consciousness.I haven’t seen the movie it’s based on (The Thing), so I’m not sure how it fits in? But I think I know enough of the genre tropes to get what the human characters were up to anyway.
“The Return” Again, a story without a real premise. An idea: a girl disappears, returns without her soul, but went where?

“How Bria Died” A good story I guess, like any horror story. But there’s a bit about a promise at the very, very end and it made no sense and made me think I missed something. I may have. I tried rereading and it didn’t help. Otherwise a fairly standard ghost-story type, and I rather liked it.

“Parallel Lines” another one where the supernatural element highlights the character growth. Engaging and good character growth: well, for someone.

“The Mystery Knight” This isn’t going to be fair. But.

I didn’t like A Game of Thrones. It felt bloated. I can only imagine this equally bloated so-called story means he’s incapable of conciseness. Much of it is unnecessary of the story I actually did manage to discern. Also the main character is introduced with his squire as Dunk and Egg. I think Martin may have found it amusing. But I found it increasingly difficult to remember who anyone was, especially since everyone has at least three names and there are approximately one hundred named characters.

This seems to take place in the same universe as his series, though I’m not sure where or when it takes place, this is one time I would have preferred some appendices. It’s some kind of really, really dull political intrigue, without any actually intrigue, just a badly put together conspiracy that’s already been ‘solved’ before our characters were even introduced. They’re just witnesses. So pointless! Yes, that may be how “real life” happens (which seems to be how Martin’s work is often defended, but that doesn’t mean it makes good fiction. And hey, Nick wasn’t involved in Gatsby’s story, but at least he had a point, and he observed a story and drew conclusions. The interlude described in this novella-length work happens but doesn’t seem to matter, and the observers don’t actually accomplish anything other than to be there for literally no good reason. Just terrible storytelling all over.

Unfortunately it affected my entire view toward the book as a whole, which did have some good stories.

Still, I do want to say it’s probably worth picking up for anyone who does like the genre.

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Pardon Me, I Have Opinions

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As lethargic as I’ve been lately, at least I’m up on my Goodreads drama.

Sticker advocating dissent: "dissent deve...

Sticker advocating dissent: “dissent develops democracy”, accompanied by a peace symbol. Photo taken in Portland, Oregon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For anyone who may not know, Goodreads is a social website that’s primarily about books. Now, aside from reading books, there’s nothing I like better than talking about them, so while I’m doing little else, I’m on this site all the time.

There’s been a great deal of upheaval and unhappiness  as GR staff try to balance their responsibilities to their users—primarily readers— and, well, call them the producers—authors, publishers, etc. Unfortunately this trend has been sliding to the conservative side and limiting the social side. For example, some readers really don’t like some books. They write reviews that make it clear how much they dislike those books. Authors and publishers and fans disagree with the idea that someone may not like this book. Review either disappears or is ‘hidden’ from the book page.

So far that extreme is fairly uncommon, but the change in attitude towards these reviewers brings me back to my point:  dissenting opinions are not welcome, and neither is discussion.

Anywhere.

Have you noticed? Putting forth an opinion, anywhere, leaves you open to attack. There are some great reviews —thoughtful, passionate, clever, well-written, negative reviews—on GR. Many are written about bestsellers. Most have comments running into the hundreds because of comments like:

Why did you read the book if you didn’t like it?

Do you think this is a college class? Your reviews are too long. You’re just showing off how many words you know.

Have you written a better book? Then why should I listen to you?

I can’t believe how much effort you’re putting into hate. It’s just a book!

Etcetera, etcetera.

Though I thought about using actually comments, the content posted in this type of content hardly varies, so it didn’t seem fair to name names.  Just be glad I can’t help but use decent grammar and spelling. Though some trolls are fairly articulate, especially on GR, most don’t bother.

Trolls, you ask? If they can write coherently, why are they trolls?

Because they aren’t interested in starting a discussion. Because the only reason for including a comments area on a review is to foster discussion, a format even most online news sources support.

What these commentators have in common is the intent to take offense at someone’s opinion merely because it’s in opposition to their own.

But when I’m writing reviews, I’m writing because, good or bad, no one else shares exactly my opinion. And I want to share what I thought with others who actually know what I’m talking about. Think of it like a discussion group, but in a slow motion IM chat. Sometimes everyone’s talking at once, and sometimes no one says anything.

At any rate, I find myself extremely bothered by someone telling me to shut up and go home, because they’re threatened by opinion.

And that’s the fundamental problem. Dissenting opinions aren’t a chance for discussion; they are threats. Threats to what I don’t know. Frankly I don’t care. I’m not going to listen if someone tells me to stop talking, I’m going to wait for someone capable of holding a conversation.

"Writing on the wood is prohibited."...

“Writing on the wood is prohibited.” DSC07600 (Photo credit: Nicolas Karim)

 

Review: The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

http://www.ferretbrain.com/articles/article-295

Dan says it pretty much exactly how I wish I could.

Update:

There may be spoilers?

I think the best way to respond to this book is by naming as many ways that I thought it could have been improved while reading it.

Firstly, this book is, in essence, structured through a frame narrative: We are introduced to an innkeeper, Kote, and several local villagers. They aren’t important (although two show up at the very, very end so you need to keep track anyway). Mysterious bad things show up that the incredulous locals do not believe in, but Kote goes out and slaughters the not-demons anyway, because he knows better. Unfortunately for Kote, a famed storyteller (or something) shows up and announces he knows of Kote’s secret past as Kvothe, the Hero who is so Heroic most people don’t believe he really existed, despite the fact that his heroics took place not even five years ago.

Don’t ask me.

So Kvothe gives in to the storyteller and agrees to tell his story. For some reason this skinny guy with no particular prowess or even equivalent intellectual power still outmaneuvers the hero. Well, the reason is otherwise we wouldn’t have the story, short of it being written entirely in first person. Turns out Kvothe was born a genius–a proper genius, not just smart, but literally brilliant–into some kind of travelling entertainment troupe. His parents loved him and he ended up with a tutor in magic who is put on a bus and as yet not heard from again. He gets a lot of page time for such an abrupt dismissal, but there you are. Then the parents and the rest of the troupe are murdered by the Chandrian, which is ostensibly Kvothe’s driving motive. Except the 11-year-old Kvothe instead runs away to the forest for a year, then to the city for three more.

At which point we reach a major theme of the novel which is, if you aren’t poor like Kvothe, you can never have any idea what it means to be poor like Kvothe. Though since this is a fiction book, I rather expect it to teach me what it means to be that poor, rather than simply insisting I don’t know what it’s like. Especially since Kvothe doesn’t particularly seem to suffer from being poor. Seriously, he’s an urchin in an urban medieval-type city, that should be awful.

Anyway, Kvothe finally decides not be be desperately poor anymore and goes to the magic school, where he is just so brilliant they let him, even though they have absolutely no reason too: no money, no recommendation. He’s just That Good. And he makes friends with a few other guys who are kinda at the bottom rung as well (maybe: they all get names and a bit of page-space, but not much and I kept forgetting who they were). And then he antagonizes the queen (king?) bee of the school, Ambrose, whose father is uber-rich and powerful and crushes anyone who doesn’t like his son because he has nothing better to do? Kvothe is supposed to be astute and good with people and a super genius–I have no idea why he couldn’t not be stupid about this or stand up to him in any other way: suffice to stay it’s a stupid conflict that really doesn’t match anything else and comes up too fast and lasts too long.

At this point the novel goes on: Kvothe is an incredible, transformative musician, great at magic of both types (I’m not sure what the difference is), builds perfect devices that even when illegal or ill-advised are still allowed, meets girls whole love him for no good reason and goes places and does things none of which made much impression. Go read Dan’s article again, he does a much better job overall. I’m just bored remembering it.

So how could this have worked?

1) It would have been awesome if Kote the badass innkeeper was 50-60 years old rather than his mid-twenties. For one thing, it would have been a lot more impressive, and make his world-weary ennui far more understandable and even heartbreaking. (Rothfuss handles his prose skillfully, if not his subject matter).

2) What if young Kvothe hadn’t been born a genius? A good third of his problematic characterization would have been solved right there!

2.5) Young Kvothe’s storyline would be far more effective it had taken place over, say, a minimum of twenty years. Again, because he’s not a genius, his school takes longer and he has to undergo actual struggle to learn proper magic–he could have still had a unusual flair for creative spellcasting or something that makes his work Better Than Yours, but he wouldn’t be infuriatingly precocious and get away with all that he does. He might have actually learned and grown while on the streets of the city, rather than unaccountably simply deciding he doesn’t want to be a street rat anymore. His school years (because it would have taken years) would mean he’d have to actually figure out how the system worked and how the master’s related to each other and what the back stories of the school and characters are before he could a) figure out how to manipulate it all to his advantage and b) without simply being told just because. Also, again: he’d have to expend actual effort.

3) There wouldn’t be the slightly skeevy romantic relationships. Kvothe isn’t supposed to know how to deal with women (although after living such a distrustful life on the streets during such a crucial point in his development, how does he know how to deal with people at all?), and yet, he’s got at least three who ‘admire’ him. There’s Denna, who’s his One True Love, which we know because he meets her first, at which point there’s nothing at all to indicate that they have chemistry, and they never do, but he finds her sexually exciting: very Nice Guy syndrome, no one else could treat her as well, they have conversations! etc. There’s the blonde (?) girl who’s a money-lender, who breaks her own lending rules for him just ’cause. And then there’s the psychologically damaged girl who lives under the school and for some reason will only trust Kvothe, because he plays the best music. But I can’t forget the one Ambrose is lusting after, but who has to look to Kvothe for protection because, despite being presented as perfectly competent (other than later setting herself on fire) won’t stand up to Ambrose’s father. She’s the damsel in distress. It’s exceedingly depressing.

Conclusion: If Kvothe wasn’t a genius the story would have had to take much longer and time-wise wouldn’t be so compressed. Old Kote would be old and a lot more impressive. And he wouldn’t be such a Stu that while reading I wouldn’t be twitching right out of my chair, which is so terribly undignified.

I have NO IDEA why I liked this book. None. But the prose was pretty. So the pacing must have been pretty good too, since never got so much of Kvothe that I couldn’t finish, which by any normal laws of the universe, shouldn’t have happened.

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