Top Ten Tuesdays: Switcheroo

Matthew McFadyen or Colin Firth? Decisions, decisions.

Matthew McFadyen or Colin Firth? Decisions, decisions.

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is literary characters we’d like to switch places with for 24 hours. Hit it!

1. Elizabeth Bennett, Pride and Prejudice – Preferably on a ball day. Swanning through the English countryside in long dresses, men in tight breeches, sisterly affection. Dancing (and bantering) with Darcy? I’ll get it all and out in time for my daily shower. Win.

I'd have a golden ticket!

I’d have a golden ticket!

2. Charlie Bucket, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – I’d gladly switch with Charlie for the day of his factory tour (or any day after really). Lots to see in the Wonka Factory!

3. Bramble, Entwined – Azalea had quite a lot of responsibility on her plate, plus the creepy Keeper was all up in her grill. I’d rather be cranky Bramble and hang with Lord Teddy. All the dancing with none of the pesky expectations!

Classy!

Classy!

Boy, this is tough when you read a lot of dystopia and depressing books…

4.Midshipman Deryn (Dylan) Sharp, The Leviathan trilogy – Just to get the chance to check out the ecosystem of the Leviathan, up close and personal.It would be fun to crawl all over the ratlines of a giant airship.

5. Vivian Gandillon, Blood and Chocolate – Change into a wolf and run around the forest all day, ride on the back of Gabe’s motorcycle (or just take it for a ride myself). Sounds like a good time to me.

Mmm. Grapes.

Mmm. Grapes.

6. Good Magician Humphrey (Magician of Information), the Xanth series – I would have ALL the information, in a castle surrounded by puzzles to keep the pesky people away! Not to mention the quest-giving. It would be pretty cool to send some folks on quests.

Serving up Greek goddess realness.

Serving up Greek goddess realness.

7. Beatrice, Much Ado About NothingEveryone around me would be so articulate!

8. Sorcha, Fragile Eternity – She had a pretty epic palace. Queen of the High Court. I really need to finish this series, but I just don’t give a fig about Ani.

9. Artemis, of Greek Myth – Hunt with my girls all day, drive a chariot pulling the moon at night.

10. Eowyn, Lord of the Rings trilogy. Yes I will save Middle Earth’s present while Shortstack sees to its future, thank you. What a badass.

That nazgul never saw it coming.

That nazgul never saw it coming.

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Random Review: Gone

My feelings about this book are proving hard to articulate, or even pin down.

Gone by Michael Grant

This is the first in a series of YA sci-fi novels set in the small town of Perdido Beach, where every person aged fifteen or older suddenly disappears one morning. In addition to facing basic questions of survival, the children of the “Fallout Alley Youth Zone” (or FAYZ) find themselves in a power-struggle complicated by some individuals’ development of super-human abilities. My feelings about this book are a bit tangled, so I’m going to try and use a list to make sense of them:

  • These books are described as both a sci-fi Lord of the Flies and ¬†Stephen King for kids. It does not have the believable psychology and slow transformation of a Lord of the Flies, the mounting horror as civilization leaves the boys one by one. The “bad” kids start bad and end that way, pretty much the same with the “good” or “heroic” kids. There is a lot of telling rather than showing with these characters. As to the Stephen King claim…Stephen King is Stephen King for kids. The stories are good no matter your age, and many of his novels and stories have protagonists as young (or younger) than these kids. A parallel might be drawn between some of the themes of good and evil, the premise (similar to Under the Dome in the first novel, blurbs for later novels indicate shades of It and The Stand). Rather weak tea, but I understand that marketing departments have books to sell.
  • I found it hard to relate to main character Sam, the “reluctant hero” of the tale. He felt like a cipher to me throughout the novel. I was told that he had feelings, longings and reservations, but I never felt them as a reader. Secondary characters like the very capable Edilio, cowardly Quinn and Astrid, and pragmatic Albert felt far more vivid to me. The book shone brightest in segments dealing with Lana, the exiled problem-child who finds herself alone and gravely injured in the desert.
  • I liked that some characters were allowed to be cowardly, and the recognition of the damage seemingly “courageous” acts can do when carried out by an emotionally sensitive person.
  • Fifteen is a weird age to disappear at. Perhaps this will be explained later in the series, but it just sort of sat in the back of my mind bugging me while I read. It seems like an age picked for convenience to the writer rather than logic.
  • The beginning progresses rather slowly, but after the arrival of the private-school kids things get crazier and crazier. This is good. When the crazy picked up (and the action with it), it became easier to get caught up in the story and ignore some of the weaker characterization/writing.
  • The people of Perdido Beach were not the only things affected by the event that spirited away the adults and granted others powers. This is another strong point of the novel.

In the end, I liked the story and am interested to know what happens to the denizens of the Fallout Alley Youth Zone, but I am reluctant to actually read more of Michael Grant’s writing. His ideas are aces, his execution is only okay. For others, I imagine it will be a matter of taste. If you are picky about writing, maybe not the story for you. If you can ignore clunky sentences and unearned character moments as long as there’s plenty of wild action, I couldn’t recommend this book more.

Chair Rating:

Complex, interesting in theory, a bit problematic in practice.

Random Review: Ready Player One

I meant to write a proper review of this, more fitting to the blog, but it’s been so long that the feeling is gone and you’ll all have to settle for what I wrote on Goodreads.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, 372 Pages

The basic plot is this: a Steve Jobs-type computer game-design guru died and left a puzzle for the world. Whoever solves it inherits his gaming empire, and control of the world-wide online environment known as the OASIS. The clues to solve the puzzle require a knowledge of everything James Halliday ever liked during his life: a whole bunch of films, television shows, games, and bands that were popular during the eighties. Impoverished, isolated, obsessed geek Wade cracks the first clue and the race is on.

This book was truly dreadful, the only reason my husband and I finished was because I read it aloud on a long car trip and we took to mocking it with added lines and created a drinking game from its repetition of words and phrases like “classic”, “vintage”, and “one of Halliday’s favorites”. Had we actually been drinking rather than miming, we would have been dead within two chapters. The basic plot is cribbed off of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, endless references to 80’s pop cultural artifacts are substituted for creativity, and the main character is utterly unlikable. There were a few points where the author might have taken the literary road slightly less traveled, but he plays it straight (and cliched) every time.

I am loathe to skip anything when reading, but after the third straight chapter of near-endless infodump my husband insisted we jump forward to the point where something actually happens. Dialogue reads like a thirteen-year-old boy’s IM conversation, and as an MMO player I would certainly know.

I picked this book up because I read to my husband on long trips, and having finished our last series we were looking for something new. This seemed perfect: gamer geekdom, D&D, epic quests, 80’s stuff…we love all of those things and are deeply immersed in that culture.

Sadly, it turned out to be an overhyped litany of loosely-related 80’s creative properties linked by a threadbare plot and the occasional political/environmentalist diatribe. Spend a little more time in the real world Cline, and less time patting yourself on the back for being smarter/more informed than everyone else.

I suppose I do have more to add:

This book disappointed me on a level most don’t achieve because I so wanted it to be a good, or at least fun and frothy, read. It is apparent from the author’s every sentence how much he looks down on other people, and his main character is a rather obvious author-proxy. He goes into mind-numbing detail explaining each of the bits of 80’s ephemera he inserts into the narrative. For example: he explains, at length, the premise of Family Ties. It’s insulting. I read the book because I was familiar with almost all of the things he fervently referenced. If I weren’t, I would still be perfectly capable of using Wikipedia/Google. It absolutely cripples the narrative.

He has serious continuity and logic issues: his main character is in his late teens and yet there are several movies and years-long TV series that he claims to have viewed literally hundreds of times each. I believe that maybe mid-thirties Cline has lived long enough for this to be true, but teenaged Wade? Who is required to be in school six hours a day? Not buying it. Wade is also a bit of a sociopath, many people die (people he has personal relationships with) because of him and  he displays no emotion other than fear for himself. Wade is rude, cocky, dishonest, and socially stunted. He seems to have no concept of the reactions he is likely to provoke in others when he treats them callously, or dismisses them out of hand. His attempts at flirting and romance are unintentionally hilarious, not to mention presented via pages and pages of IM conversation.

The level of pandering to geekdom is also nausea-inducing. In this novel, Wil Wheaton (Wesley Crusher of Star Trek: The Next Generation and current host of TableTop) is president of the OASIS and Cory Doctorow (BoingBoing) is his VP. Wheaton also narrates the audiobook, natch. There is a Wozniak-insertion to match the Jobs-insertion. Two characters of foreign (non-U.S.-American) nationality are rendered in downright offensive stereotypes. In the OASIS, Wade drives a DeLorean with a Gostbusters decal on the side. It’s embarrassing.

This might make for an entertaining film, where it is not possible to bore the audience to tears with too much infodump (unless someone opts for a thirty-minute Star Wars-style exposition opener). As a book, it’s downright painful. It’s clear that Cline is a Dungeons and Dragons Dungeon Master at heart, holding his players captive while he rambles on in love with his (very limited) storytelling ability. Forgive me, because I am about to get gross: this is literary masturbation. Gamer geeks like Cline are a dime a dozen. Just because people have stopped listening, doesn’t mean you are smarter. It just means you are boring.

Chair Rating:

Torture device.

Top Ten Tuesdays: Ten Most Vivid Fictional Worlds/Settings

As always, thanks to The Broke and The Bookish for creating this happy fun-time meme.

 

1. Xanth (Piers Anthony’s Xanth novels)

The pun-filled, magical world of Xanth may have been the first whistle-stop on my journey to becoming a lifetime fantasy fan. My sister read Dragon on a Pedestal to my brother and I during a three-week drive from California to Alaska and back when I was eight, and I spent the next decade-plus tracking down further installments in the series. Xanth is a fantastical landscape vaguely the shape of Florida filled with ogres, nymphs, centaurs, humans with Talent, and many more winsome creatures. I always thought I’d like to be Magician Humphrey, whose talent is Information. The ultimate know-it-all.

2. Pern (Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series)

With Pern, McCaffrey created a nuanced world of craft and tradition which periodically faced a terrible scourge. Throughout the long-running series more and more details about the relationship between hold, hall, and weir were revealed. The history of Pern was a rich source of drama even as new political intrigues and societal challenges unfolded. The novels that dealt with life in the guild halls and weirs were always my favorite, particularly The Masterharper of Pern which managed both. Being a dork and naturally inclined toward teaching, I thought it would be much cooler to be a harper than a dragonrider.

3. The Wizarding World (J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels)

There can be no argument.”Muggle” has entered the general lexicon.

4. Middle-earth (J.R.R. Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Hobbit, The Silmarillion)

This may actually be the definitive fictional fantasy world. It is so complex and widely known that it is often hard for fantasy authors to think in terms other than those of Middle-earth. Dungeons and Dragons spawned four decades worth of adventures set in Middle-earth inspired landscapes, courses are taught at real world universities in Elven and Dwarven language as Tolkein presented them.

5. The future United States (M.T. Anderson’s Feed)

The future U.S.A. of Feed is scarily plausible: dead oceans, meat farms, mind-numbingly simple/dumb popular culture, people with what amounts to a mind-controlled iPhone embedded in their skulls. Corporate-owned schools who exist only to teach students how to become more efficient at purchasing. The thing that keeps the novel from being utterly depressing is that main character Titus has no clue how depressing it all is. He’s just a normal teen, product of his time, enjoying his wasteful and worthless lifestyle.

6. The future London (Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World)

Huxley’s prediction of a culture that had taken industrialism and capitalism to their most extreme conclusion is every bit as chilling as Anderson’s vision of the U.S. The novels have quite a bit in common: genetic engineering, consumption promoted over all other virtues, a popular culture gone low-to-subterranean. Huxley built a religion around Ford and the assembly-line, envisioning a future of batch-processed humans chemically retarded (or advanced) to suit their future occupations. Further batch processing to condition those humans to disdain castes below them, admire those above, but above all be satisfied with their place. The devaluation of intimacy by requiring children to engage in sexplay, and discouraging monogamy. Spiritual death.

7. Wonderland (Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass)

I am not a fan of Alice or Wonderland, because quite frankly they scare the crap out of me. For a fictional world to scare the crap out of a real person, it must be rather vivid. The idea of being trapped in Wonderland forever (as Alice fears she might be) always gave me panic-attacks, exacerbated by the fact that my mother would put the Disney version on whenever she had left my brother and I home alone while we were sleeping. Good job, Mr. Carroll…but no thank you.

8. The alternate history of WWI (Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy)

I sincerely doubted that I could enjoy an alternate history of World War I (I’m more of a Revolutionary War kind of gal), but with a combination of first-rate world-building and gorgeous illustrations Leviathan won me over. The novel imagines a mechanized “Clanker” German army pitted against “Darwinist” England and their menagerie of specially-designed creatures. America, ever the magpie, has created a mishmash of both sensibilities but most of the other major world powers have picked one side or another. Russia boasts giant fighting bears and the Ottoman Empire has an impressive collection of mechanized airships and exotic mechanical-animal transports. The world was vivid enough to support a Manual of Aeronautics, soon to be released with plenty of tasty new diagrams and illustrations.

9. The city of Divergent (Veronica Roth’s Divergent trilogy)

Can’t say too much about this one because the trilogy is unfinished and I don’t want to spoil anything, but the five factions (and the reasoning behind them) are so thoroughly thought-out by the author that the scenario seems almost perfectly logical.

10. Thisby (Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races)

Thisby is only slightly fictional, in that it doesn’t actually exist and there is no known place in present-day where carnivorous horses leap from the water and are captured yearly for a race down the beach. While I was reading the novel, it was real to me. I could see the view from the cliffs of Thisby in my mind, I could smell its peat fires and ocean air. The inhabitants and the way their small island and its bloody tradition had shaped them. I could hear the music they would play and feel the tension as the races approached. That’s magic.

Top Ten Tuesdays: Top Ten OCD Bookish Habits

For round two of catch-up, we have last week’s Top Ten Tuesdays topic.

Top Ten OCD Bookish Habits

1. I can’t read a hardcover with the dust jacket on. Every time it slips and gets a ding a fairy loses its wings. Very distracting.

2. I rarely ever read sitting up. I have a hard time focusing on my reading when I am sitting in a chair, for whatever reason. I prefer to read lying down: in bed, on a couch, on the floor, in the grass, what have you. In a pinch I will turn sideways and toss my legs over the armrest.

3. Books have to be in series order on my bookshelves. If I have multiple copies of a book, they are shelved in order of condition (from my “good copy” to my “loaner” copy). I actually had enough copies of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (it was released on my birthday), to grade my loaner copies for the trustworthiness of the lendee. My sister got the second-string loaner copy and what did she do? Dropped it down a flight of stairs.

4. When deciding if I should buy a new book, I read the back cover/front flap blurb and the first page. If the blurb gives away too much, I won’t buy it. Mostly I rely on that first page, for the writing style to grab me. I like to discover all of the events of a book as they unfold, so back-cover spoilers really turn me off. Books with nothing but author blurbs and review pull-quotes automatically start off at a disadvantage in my mind. Give me an impression, don’t tell me the whole story or how it’s a “tour de force“.

5. If a book is being made into a movie (that I want to see), I have to read the book before the film is released. Even if that only gives me two days to read it. This led to tremendous disappointment with The Golden Compass since I loved the movie and the whole series, but they never made a sequel.

6. If a sequel to a film based on a book series is being released, I have to go back and re-read the series up to that book. Example: for the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix film, I re-read books 1-5. Luckily it takes a long time to make a movie, and I am a fast reader.

7. I will give away a book I didn’t like in a heartbeat, but if I enjoyed it I will expect it to be returned. Not very generous of me. This does not apply to the giveaway of The Selection by Kiera Cass that I did on this blog a couple of months ago, I bought that with the intention of giving it away…it just would have been harder to part with if I’d liked it.

8. If I am tempted to mock a book series, I make sure to read it first. This is how I ended up reading Twilight. Mocking without reading just seems hypocritical.

9. I never rest books open, face down. It just bugs me when the covers on my paperbacks start curling up, and don’t get me started on hardbacks where the bookblock is separating from the spine.

10. I never dog-ear. I have a good enough memory that I can usually remember a page number, or the general vicinity of where I was at. Putting dog-ears in my own book is the worst kind of vandalism!

Top Ten Tuesdays: Books for Those Who Liked X Author

Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that I’ve been gone for a couple of weeks at an artist’s workshop, and anyone who has seen Big Fish knows then when time stops it has to go super-fast when it re-starts in order to catch up. As a result, over the next three days I will be posting all of the Top Ten Tuesdays I missed while I was gone. For the newer viewer: Top Ten Tuesdays is the utterly bookish meme created by the gals over at The Broke and the Bookish.

1. For those who enjoy the work of Francesca Lia Block: Janet Fitch writes the adult version of Block’s magical-L.A. Fitch can satisfy the need for beautiful language and fanciful thinking present in any Block fan, though her version of the desert city is less overtly fantastic than Block’s.

2. Fans of Edith Wharton will really dig: Henry James, particularly Daisy Miller and The Portrait of a Lady. The two authors were longtime friends and correspondents, and each possessed a sharp wit and keen eye for human behavior.

3. Those who liked Melissa Marr‘s Wicked Lovely series might enjoy: Maggie Stiefvater‘s Books of Faerie (Lament, Ballad, the forthcoming Requiem). Both series are contemporary urban fantasy informed by Celtic myth. That ever-popular YA love-triangle is present in both series, but neither author plays it straight, and both authors possess a love of music that shines through in the narrative.

4. If you can’t get enough Judy Blume, try: Rob Thomas. Blume and Thomas write about adolescence, in all it’s unbridled enthusiasm and foolishness, with a frankness few can match. Blume’s YA characters tend to skew slightly younger than Thomas’, but the honesty and humor in both oeuvres is undeniably similar.

5. A reader who liked the futuristic slang and world-building of Scott Westerfeld‘s Uglies series could really sink their teeth into: Feed by M.T. Anderson.

6. Addicts of J.K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter series can get a fix from: the works of Roald Dahl. Dahl novels like James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Matilda feature children in less-than-ideal family situations discovering their own agency…livened up with a heaping helping of whimsical British humor.

7. Those who appreciated Robert A. Heinlein‘s space-faring novels Tunnel in the Sky and Farmer in the Sky should try: Higher Education by Charles Sheffield and Jerry Pournelle. Teens forced to forge new lives for themselves…in SPACE! What could possibly go wrong?

8. If you’re a fan of Jerry Spinelli novels like Stargirl or There’s a Girl in My Hammerlock; pick up a copy of: Crooked by Laura and Tom McNeal. Spinelli’s female protagonists often struggle with their peers’ inability to accept the protag’s lack of desire to conform. So it goes with the McNeal’s Clara Wilson, one of the few literary characters I’ve found myself able to completely identify with. Clara navigates by her own compass as much as any Stargirl or Maisie. Which isn’t to say that she always makes the right choice. Crooked is a novel of growing up, deciding the kind of person one wants to be…just like much of Spinelli’s work.

9. If your favorite part of Suzanne CollinsThe Hunger Games series was reading about Katniss’ survival skills and determination, you might like: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. The fictionalized account of the real life Woman-of-San-Nicolas-Island is chock full of both survival skills and emotional turmoil, just like The Hunger Games, and both novels feature heroines dealing with the loss of family.

10. Just for a shock, if you enjoy Sara Shepard‘s Pretty Little Liars series (I sure do, I love a trashy book now and then) give this classic a try: Alexandre DumasLe Comte de Monte Cristo (The Count of Monte Cristo). Revenge years in the making, romance, betrayal…it’s got everything but the designer labels!