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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How To Know Your Blog Is Cool

While I was out there was apparently a discussion on what makes book blogs worthwhile and what makes them lame. There are lots of people who wrote lots of interesting things about it, so all that I want to add is...

I know I'm cool.

Because I've started getting spam comments.

I never used to get them. But someone's decided that my blog is a great place to dump a bunch of random links. I don't want to add the dumb blogger visual verification and I am too technologically illiterate for the cooler options, so for now I'll just be deleting them by hand.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Holy Schmoly

I have had a busy couple of weeks. Tonight is the first in probably two weeks I've sat down to do some serious writing/blogging. I got back from my vacay just in time to pack for a weekend scrapbooking retreat.

And we did some serious scrapbooking. And some serious movie watching. We watched a total range of movies, from Tropic Thunder to Twilight. Office Space to Love Story.

I did get some stuff done.
I've been so good about scrapbooking this year, I might even get... (wait for it) TOTALLY CAUGHT UP. Holy Schmoly.

Try not to get too excited for me. Seriously.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Back From Arizona

Arizona was grand. Compared to 30 degrees and lower here in the Minnesota, the sunshine sure felt nice. Hubby and I went to visit grandparents living in Green Valley, AZ and we decided we want to skip the whole career thing and go straight to being retired. As my grandma puts it, "the worst part is that you always forget what day it is." Because without the 9-5 routine, who cares when the weekend is? You just do what you want when you want. Have a craving for ice cream at 10am on a Monday? Go for it. Drive past a garage sale sign and have an itch to stop? Go get some bargains. Wanna shop all day in the tourist traps? Done. Sit up all night watching the stars? Hey, in Green Valley everyone has special lights to cut down the light pollution.

So we visited a mine (the large tire we're sitting on is from one of the enormous trucks they use in the mine), went horseback riding, hiked in the desert, ate Mexican food and drank Mexican beer. And bought Mexican trinkets.

Oh yeah, we visited Ruby, Arizona, population 1. It's a ghost town tucked away back on a very long, very windy, very dirt road. The kind of road where you tell yourself there better be something pretty darn cool at the end to make the trip worthwhile. Luckily it is just about the coolest thing we did all week.

Some things I learned about Arizona:
1. With fair skin, it is possible to turn the color of a lobster
2. Walking sticks are used not only for walking but for checking to make sure you don't step on a rattlesnake
3. Abandoned mines make great bat caves.
4. 70 degrees is long sleeve shirt and jacket weather
5. The desert is hot.
6. Cowboy hats are not just decoration. They are kind of a necessity to keep the sun out of one's eyes.

How about you? How was your week while I was gone?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Marketing FAIL

The Sci Fi channel will now become the SyFy channel.


The SyFy channel.

There are no words.


I know that the Sci Fi channel has produced very little as of late that could be called science fiction. But really.


You couldn't come up with anything more clever than substituting different vowels? Did you all get together, have a little too much wine and decide around 2am that this was a smart idea? When you woke up in the morning with a hangover, that should have been your cue.

Oh sci-fi channel. You used to be cool.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

On Why You Should Always Google Yourself On Occasion

I googled myself tonight and realized that I was an honorable mention in a writing contest I had entered a few months ago.

OMG, right?

Except... this should not have been news to me. The announcement of the winners was made several weeks ago, and I actually looked at the website back when the announcement was first made, to see if my name was mentioned anywhere.

I am apparently blind.

My name was there the whole time. I completely missed it. And I would not have realized about being an honorable mention if not for googling my name.

Wow. I feel really dumb. And really happy. Because I won a prize thingy!

So the moral of the story is to google your name.

Go ahead, google it. I'll wait. I'm basking in the glow of success.

Back already? So, what did you find?

The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Rating: 4.5/5
Reason for Reading: Recommendation

The Name of the Wind
is a book that somehow manages to incorporate some of the most infamous and overused cliques of fantasy writing while managing to be something so different that it doesn't read as fantasy at all.

Kvothe has led such a famous and heroic life he's become the stuff of legends during his own lifetime. Now in hiding as an innkeeper at an obscure village, it seems that he's left his old life behind. That is, until a Chronicler comes to town looking to write the story of Kvothe's life. Reluctantly, Kvothe agrees.

From his life among the traveling Edema Ruh to hardscrabble life on the streets after his parents are mysteriously mudered, to becoming the youngest student at the University, Kvothe's childhood (this book, one of a planned trilogy, follows Kvothe until he is in his mid-teens) is nothing if not eventful. From a young age, Kvothe knew that he was talented. At science, at acting, at playing the lute, and most of all, at magic.

The university that Kvothe attends is one that teaches magic, but it has as much in common with Harry Potter as Twilight does with I Am Legend. That is to say, as he struggles through classes, professors, bullies, and poverty, his world seems like one that may have very well existed, tucked away somewhere in the Middle Ages. By the time he enters the university, Kvothe is already proficient with sympathy magic, or binding together energies, but he longs to learn the power he once saw his possess. The power to name, and thus command the elements of nature. He wants to know the name of the wind.

A thoughtful, engaging book that doesn't really fit into the pattern of any other fantasy books I've read before, I recommend this one to fans of the genre. Although a lengthy read, the pages fly by.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sandman IV & V

Sandman IV: Season of Mists & Sandman V: A Game of You by Neil Gaiman

In earlier novels, it was revealed that Dream had banished his one-time lover, Nada to hell, where she had languished for 10,000 years. In Season of Mists, prodded by his siblings, Dream decides that the time has come to free her, even though Lucifer had threatened to kill him not too long ago. When he gets to Hell, though, things are not what he expected. I don't want to give any more away than that, but this is an entertaining novel that gets back into the story arc of the first two novels.

Like the other Sandman novels, this one introduces a short story in the middle that seems unrelated at first, but turns out to be set during the drama of the rest of the novel. Although a little creepy, it ends up happy (happy-ish?).

This novel also sets up some interesting characters that ultimately play a part in later novels. We meet Dream's entire family, Death, Despair, Desire, Delirium, and Destiny, and they all have a nice family dinner. Okay let's admit it, they are pretty dysfunctional. Nearly immortal beings with completely different aims, and age-old rivalries do not a good dinner party make.

We also get to meet quite a few gods, goddess, and beings of the mythological variety. Again, they make for interesting company hanging out together in Dream's Castle. Part of Gaiman's brilliance in this series is imagining how all these bizarre characters would look like and how they'd react to one another.

A Game of You on the other hand, while incorporating a few characters from previous novels, is very separate from the rest of the Sandman story arcs and actually does not focus much on Dream at all. Barbie, who was introduced in The Doll's House, has stopped dreaming. But her life begins to take a strange turn when a giant creature that she seems to half remember from her dreams calls her name on the street and tries to warn her of something before being shot to death by policemen.

Barbie quickly finds herself caught up in a conspiracy she could never have imagined. Pulled away into the Dreaming, she encounters a world where she is princess and her loyal subjects are in hiding from an evil creature called the Cuckoo. Barbie's friends, Hazel, Foxglove, and Wanda, all waking from horrible nightmares, realize that Barbie has fallen into a sleep she won't wake from. Their neighbor, Thessaly, who is, as it turns out, a witch, offers to help. She helps them all enter the Dreaming in order to find Barbie and bring her back from the clutches of the Cuckoo.

This novel is not nearly as expansive as most of the Sandman novels, but it is a nice change. I enjoyed the characters, especially Thessaly. Although she does help Barbie's friends look for her, she is willing to do it in the face of extreme consequences. She is motivated by revenge and even dares to defy Dream when he finally does make an appearance.

Two excellent additions to the Sandman series.

Should I read it? Do you like Neil Gaiman? Then why the heck haven't you read them already?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Why Yes I Read Eclipse

AKA the most poorly written book I couldn't put down. Why, why, why Stephanie Meyer do you have to rob me of sleep with your group of angsty werewolves, vampires and klutzy teenage girls? Okay, here's my review:

"Please, I need you." I didn't want to say this, I didn't want to believe that it was possible how much I needed it. There it sat in the sunlight in all its glory, and although I had seen it many times before, I could only marvel at its beauty. As perfect as an angel.

And then I heard a voice. It chuckled quietly, low and sweet, and I knew that it was a voice that only I could hear. A private voice in my head.

"Take me," it said. "I've been waiting so long."

It was a moment before I could speak. Those were the words I'd been hoping, dreaming to hear, and yet my heart felt tender. I knew that I couldn't take any more pain, not after what I'd been through before. It seemed to understand my hesitation, and I heard that same gentle chuckle again.

"I promise not to disappoint you."

My mind raced as I wondered how much I could trust its promises. Before it had come into my life, I had been so carefree and innocent. But I could never go back to living without it. As much as I resisted, I knew I had only so much self control. The passion I'd felt before had never really gone away, and somewhere inside it was building up. I took a deep breath and answered it.

"I will accept your offer. But I will not let you interfere in my life. When I go to bed, you stay in the living room."

I knew it was looking at me reproachfully. I didn't even have to look. It was going to remind me in a minute of all the time we had spent together in my bed, torment me with memories of stolen moments.

Then it laughed lightly. "You can try, but you know that you aren't able to resist me."

It was right, and I knew it. I picked it up, promising myself I'd be good this time. I wouldn't overindulge. I was far too mature for it, anyhow. The whole thing was fluff, poorly written tripe for teenage girls to devour. The heroine was stupid, annoying as hell, and to call the hero controlling would be putting it mildly. There was another love interest, a werewolf, and he showed promise but ruined it by getting way too cocky. There were logical plot holes. Why had it taken her the course of three novels to realize she was actually going to be giving up all of her friends and family when she became a vampire? How could she want to spend all eternity with him and yet refuse to marry him? Why on earth did she not fall for the werewolf who could have loved her without forcing her to become a blood-sucking monster? And how the heck did everyone fall in love in the first place? Is there going to be a sequel (or interquel) further illuminating the growing "bromance" between the vampire and the werewolf while Bella is supposedly asleep, since they make about as believable of a couple as anyone else.

With a sigh I set it back down, and then to my horror discovered the time that had passed. "You tricked me!"

There was that chuckle again.

"I'm going to bed. Goodnight, and I hope I never see you again!"

I stalked away and climbed into bed, but it was already there, on my bedstand.

"This doesn't mean I have to talk to you," I huffed.

There was no sound, and I laid down in bed.

"See? This is me resisting you."

Still nothing. How strange. I leaned over, and was struck once again by its beauty, perfection. I picked it up, feeling guilty for my passion. Then I pushed away all other thoughts but the one that consumed me. I flicked on the lamp and opened it once again. I would have regrets tomorrow, I knew, but for now, I was content to just be with it.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Fables III & IV

Fables III:Storybook Love & Fables IV:March of the Wooden Soldiers by Bill Willingham
Reason for Reading: Graphic Novel Challenge
Rating: 4.5/5

I recently got my library card set up at another county library system for the specific reason that they have the full Fables and Sandman series (why libraries don't buy an entire set of graphic novels I will never understand!). So I got to read Storybook Love and March of the Wooden Soldiers. Check out my review of Fables I and Fables II, which is an urban fantasy imaging that the fairy-tale characters of old have all relocated to New York.

Storybook Love is an interesting title for the first book. Through a series of events put into place when a mundane ("mundy") journalist reveals that he knows the secrets of Fabletown and is prepared to publish, Snow (i.e. Snow White) and Bigby (i.e. the Big Bad Wolf, or Fabletown's sheriff) end up spending some quality time together fighting for their life against a homocidal Goldilocks. From the first book, we know that there is some passion hiding beneath the surface, but things don't end up with a happily ever after, not at this point any how. The issue includes what was to me a shocking death, and some entertaining stories about that reckless knave, Jack.

In March of the Wooden Soldiers we learn more about the Adversary who caused the exile of all the Fables. Boy Blue talks tells Snow about love and loss during the last days of the battle. The sudden reappearance of a fable in New York claiming to have narrowly escaped from the Adversary causes suspicion for Snow and Bigby and jubilation for most everyone else. Prince Charming, who is a complete cad, begins to redeem himself in these two novels.

Should I read it? Do you like fantasy? Then absolutely. This series is a great introduction to graphic novels.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

I Watch Watchmen. And Try To Write Coherently About it

Watchmen was one of the more challenging books I read last year. It is a demanding novel with many divergent plots, characters, and themes, and I had mixed reactions to it when I had finished it. Seeing the movie Watchmen today was like re-experiencing the graphic novel because it is particularly faithful to the source material. Revisiting the characters and plot of Watchmen actually made me enjoy the story more than I did immediately after reading the book. I already knew how the whole thing was going to end, and by now I've read plenty of other reviews and had time to actually digest the book. (My reaction to the ending at first was WTH??, and this time around was much more admiration of the brilliance).

Watchmen begins with a sequence I can only describe as "visually stunning" introducing us to the the history of costumed adventurers in the U.S., set to Bob Dylan's "The Times They are a-changin' ". We see the rise and fall of superheros, from the original Minutemen who fought crime in the 1940's who evolved the new group of Watchmen. Most of them are now living out their lives mostly in obscurity. Set in an alternate 1980's where Richard Nixon is still president, the Cold War is at its climax, and costumed adventuring has been outlawed for a few years now.

Watchmen is framed as a type of murder mystery, but in truth it is more of a character study than anything else. The novel gave us close up looks at not only the main Watchmen but also histories of most of the original MinuteMen. The movie wisely sticks to a manageable number of characters. We first meet the Comedian, who is tossed out of his high rise apartment window at the beginning of the movie. Rorschach (played with a particular intensity by Jackie Earle Haley), who has kept to his vigilante ways, investigates the murder.

The only character in Watchmen with any traditional super powers is Dr. Manhattan. He was once an ordinary person, but in a laboratory accident he was endowed with god-like abilities and glowing blue skin. Able to manipulate matter and see the future and the present, he has grown increasingly distant from his girlfriend, Laurie, AKA the Silk Spectre. After she catches him making love to her and working at the same time, she leaves him for the geeky and awkward Nite Owl. He's always held a candle for her, but who can compete with a being who single-handedly won the Vietnam War by exploding the Vietcong?

Watchmen has long been considered unfilmable because of the sheer amount of characters and the nonlinear plot. Based on some of the reviews out there (and Alan Moore's own opinion), there are plenty who think that this movie didn't get it right. I went to the movie uncertain what to expect.

But I went away absolutely amazed. I asked my husband (who has not read the book) if there had been any parts that were hard to follow along, and he said absolutely not. The movie is unusually faithful to the graphic novel, and all the familiar scenes are there. Dr. Manhattan's palace-thing on Mars. Each of the characters at the funeral, remembering who the Comedian was and reflecting on what he had actually stood for. The bizarre antarctic fortress where the ultimate plan is set into motion. Speaking of, although there was a minor change to how the ultimate plan is executed, in the end it doesn't really matter and it kind of works better than the graphic novel anyhow.

And those same questions and themes from the novel are translated well onscreen. What makes a hero? Are any of the Watchmen truly heroes? What motivates a person to dress up in a costume and patrol the streets at night?

Certain things translated even better on screen. Rorschach's mask, which we know in the novel to be a series of changing inkblots, is really cool onscreen. And the action scenes look cool in a way they can't in a novel. However, my one and only gripe with the movie lies in the action scenes. My personal preference is to not watch gratutitous violence, and parts of the movie were not only far more violent than the novel but also much more than they needed to be, period. Do I really need five minutes of Silk Spectre and Nite Owl chopping a group of gang bangers into pieces, when in any type of world approaching reality, the gang would have run off when they first realized that they were outclassed? One of the more effective scenes is when Rorschach dispatches a crime lord who was threatening him earlier. We don't see the actual act, just the blood seeping down the floor. Some other scenes with Rorschach could have shown similar restraint.

My approach was to just look away when there were scenes I knew were going to bother me. If you feel similarly to me, you are now forewarned.

Despite this, I found so much to like about the movie, I still highly recommend it. It clocked in at close to three hours, and it didn't seem to drag at all, unlike say, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, another recent movie I really liked. It is a movie that will satisfy fans of the graphic novel and entertain those who haven't read it yet. (Want some evidence? Here's my husband's review)

Have you seen Watchmen? What did you think?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Note on My Ratings

It was commented once to me that I give the books I review high ratings in general, usually no lower than 2/5. I don't think I've probably ever given a book a 1/5 rating on Bold. Blue. Adventure. No, it isn't because I am a ratings-inflater. Don't you worry, I have started plenty of books that would have received a 1/5. Had I finished them.

Gah, now you know my dark secret. I am not good at finishing books I don't like. There are some I try really hard with, but I just can't. I just can't. I try, but I have this huge tbr pile staring me down, and I just can't do it.

I don't even write down the titles of the books I don't finish. Because I can't really review a book I didn't finish, because that's just not fair. Who knows, I may have liked it had I finished it. Most likely not, though.

But here is a random sample of books that I remember reading but never got around to finishing:

Zorro by Isabel Allende.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
The Human Stain by Phillip Roth
The Constant Princess by Phillippa Gregory
Mortal Love by Elizabeth Hand

Those are just the ones I remember. Some of them I was lukewarm about, but others (The Human Stain, Mortal Love) I just got so bored I couldn't read another page.

So there, I've just outed myself as a bad book reader. Sorry. Can we still be friends?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Eclipse One

Eclipse One edited by Jonathan Strahan
Reason for Reading: Sci fi experience
Rating: 2/5

The best part and the worst part of any short story collection is the variety. If a story doesn't catch your fancy on the first try, turn the page and perhaps the next one will. Rarely do I read a collection, though, where my reaction to almost every story is: "You call this science fiction/fantasy?"

My knowledge of contemporary science fiction is abominably lacking, so perhaps I am just out of the loop on what style of story is in fashion right now. But still, I had to really stretch it to consider some of these stories scifi/fantasy. The Last and Only or, Mr. Moscowitz Becomes French is about a man who inexplicably and involuntarily changes nationalities. It had the feel of a story that was some sort of large metaphor for somethingy or another, but I just didn't get it. Unique Chicken goes in Reverse about a possibly mentally disturbed child and the pet chicken she calls Jesus was really meh for me.

A few of the stories were definitely scifi/fantasy, but they just didn't hold my attention. If it takes me too long to get into the concept of a story, I'm not likely to enjoy it much, and there were a few that just took too long to get warmed up.

However. There were a few stories I genuinely enjoyed. The Transformation of Targ about a evil overlord who's lost his evil mojo and tries a visit to a evil consultant to get it back was absolutely fabulous. I laughed, I cried. Okay, I laughed until I cried. Because it was perfectly written. I also found myself thrilled by the hypnotic Larissa Miusov, which seemed to fit into the category of "this is scifi?" until I got further into it. But by the time I got to that point, I was already in love with the writing, so I didn't mind. Another excellent story that manages to hint at a well-developed fantasy world without forcing the reader into a lengthy introduction is Quartermaster Returns.

Should I read it? Do you have an itch for short stories? Go for it.

I'm Back

I apparently took a week long blogging break. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to leave you. I just... I just...

Oh you know, it was one of those weeks. I really wasn't any more productive at anything else. But I did have a party! It was kind of an intense weekend, with a major snowstorm, friends visiting from out of town, a tubing excursion, then a wine party, then a trip to Mall of America.

In the photo to the left, you can see the lovely bottles of wine that we served, all from Minnesota.

Minnesota??? You may be asking yourself. Minnesota wine?

Yes, my friend. Minnesota wine. There are actually 26 or so wineries in this great state, and there are a number of winter-hardy grapes that are grown here. For more info about the wines we served, my husband blogged about it here.

Oh right, I mentioned a snow storm. It actually wasn't that bad, on the scale of things, but for those of you who live in warm weather areas and want another reminder of why you are awesome, know that we got 6 inches of snow in about 3 hours or something ridiculous like that.

While I was stuck in traffic on the way home from work after the storm, however, I had the opportunity to snap a picture of a billboard that really annoys me. Every day as I come home from work I pass this billboard and think evil thoughts towards Buffalo Wild Wings and their pathetic attempt to appeal to stereotypes.

Something about the telling men, well, your marriage probably sucks, but hey, at least there's wings and beer with your buddies to cheer you up. In fact this is probably better than sex with your wife anyhow.

Something about that smacks of BWW marketing team forgetting that behind each husband out drinking and eating wings there is a woman who is probably:
  1. Actually there at BWW with him drinking and eating said wings
  2. Told him to get out of the house and give her some alone time gosh darn it, and have fun while he's doing it.
  3. Said, "honey isn't it your night out with the guys tonight? Here's some cash."
So I'm going to call this one a marketing fail. Because this sign makes me want to do the opposite of go to BWW. It makes me want to make long ranty lists on my blog and never go to BWW again.

What do you think? Funny or annoying?