Tag Archives: books

Review: The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater

The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater: Essays on CraftingThe Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater: Essays on Crafting by Alanna Okun
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I gobbled this book up. I heard an interview with the author and went home and immediately bought it, which I never do, and then the second it came in I put aside my other books and gobbled. It is a book I didn’t know I needed.

It is alternatively poignant and funny, and I felt the author’s feelings right there beneath the page. I love the footnotes.

There are a lot of resources from sciencey folks telling us that crafting is good for mental health, but this is spoken here directly from the crafter. That gives the message a vividness and a relatablity that made me feel not alone.

It’s one of the themes that echos throughout the book: oh, you like this too? How wonderful, let’s be friends! And because I am the most crafty person I know, this book made me ache for a crafting community, or just a person like the author in my own life. But I know I am Not Alone, and that may be enough.

I do have two complaints:
1) the title, taken from one of the essays, makes this seem like a book about boys/love/grief. It is not. It is about crafting and its place in our lives. A better title, poached from inside another essay, would have been Unfinished Objects (UFOs).

2) There is not a single pattern or craft suggestion in it! A missed opportunity, because now that I’m done I want to make a thing and have to go find an idea all my own somewhere else.

View all my reviews

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Review: Uprooted

UprootedUprooted by Naomi Novik
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don’t know that I’ve ever boomeranged so intensely about a book. When I started reading, I would have easily given it a 5-star rating. At the end, I wanted to give it a 2. So I’m compromising and giving it a 3.
“Uprooted” is an incredible idea for anyone who likes dark fairy tales—or, you know, the originals. At the beginning, at least, it’s a Eastern European-flavored “Brothers Grimm” (yes, that wonderful/terrible movie!). And it’s rhapsodic! It’s so great! We follow the main character, (who I called “Agnes” in my head because I couldn’t figure out how to pronounce it), a peasant girl without much in her favor, as she is swept up by a stern and mysterious wizard to live for a term of 10 years in his brooding and chilly tower. He is known as “the Dragon,” and the story opens with a clever play on the “dragon abducting virgins” trope. In fact, that’s what I loved about the beginning: it is SO clever, and has such beautiful writing, and is so unexpected in so many ways. Things in the evil Wood were literally downright terrifying in ways you never see in modern fairytales anymore; Novik really knew how to make them scary!

And I was so completely on board—yes, this! Give me more of this! It’s so wonderful!

And then I started to get annoyed. And then really really pissed off.

The following airing of the grievances will be spoilery. Stop now if you’re thinking of reading it and want to be surprised.

It’s not too surprising that Agnes discovers she has magical abilities: she’s the heroine, it happens! But when the story went from “she has magic and it’s really really hard” to “she has magic and also she’s the best in the whole wide world,” I had a problem.

The story takes place over 1 year, and she’s like 16 or 18. She definitively begins the story as a confused young teen girl, all gawky knees and teen confusion and angst. But by the end, she seems… 25? 30? Very knowing and self-confident and instinctively talented at magic. But is there a logical progression between these two points? Hell no. Just 2/3 of the way through the book, Agnes just completely changes personalities. And because she’s the best most magicalist and youngest and suddenly confidentest and whatever, she comes across as a ridiculous Mary Sue character. There’s an early struggle, then other totally unrelated stuff happens, and suddenly she’s the best. Gag me.

Then there’s the forced and utterly unnecessary romance. It feels like someone late in the process said “you know what this book needs? Someone needs to have some sex!” But that is exactly what I found charming about the early part of the book—she had this really interesting (and frankly, rare) teacher-student relationship with the Dragon. It was perfect just as it was, as a deep if perhaps confusing connection. But then they have sex for no good reason…and it is totally inconsequential to the plot. I don’t know why I had to read it! Why did it matter? I don’t care! Plus it is totally creepy that he’s several hundred years old and she is, don’t forget, 16. This weirdness is even mentioned, and Agnes just laughs it off! No, address it! It’s weird! How is it not weird? Give me a reason, make it mean something, don’t just shoehorn a romantic subplot in there because it’s a woman-led story!

Then there’s the whole thing with the royal family. Just everything in that section…I don’t care. You know why? A bunch of characters are introduced and then murdered in very quick succession, and I am never given a chance to understand why they are important. And the Wood was already mysterious and dangerous as it was. Decamping the storyline to another city (and separating the Dragon and Agnes) just felt entirely unnecessary. And I really truly just don’t care what is happening to the royals. That could have been a sequel, but it felt crammed into this novel and for no good reason. It would have been better without it.

And the last thing that annoyed me was purely in the writing: characters seeming to think things to themselves but other characters answering as if they’d been speaking, and characters having multiple names, not always with the new name explained or even introduced in a logical way. The first issue made it seem like characters were reading minds, and that was just weird and unnecessary, and the second issue made it seem like there were a lot more characters than there really were, and then I had to go back and reread to figure stuff out.

I don’t know what to make of this book. I LOVED the first half. It was amazing. I loved the characters, I loved the ideas, I was afraid of the scary things, the writing was beautiful. The end was pretty okay, I guess, even if I disagree with a few nits. But from midway to nearly the end? Throw that right out. Rubbish.

Read at your own risk.

View all my reviews

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

“What Do You Write?”, or The Genre Prison

I just recently read one of those articles about how the “new wave” of self-publishers “must” act, and it left me rolling my eyes. It said, instead of just writing, editing, and publishing something, and then working on a social media platform/blog, you should do it the other way around: blog first, become popular (literally, that was the whole step–oh, ok!), hope you still have time for the book you originally wanted to write.

I’ve seen that advice before, but today it just made me eyeroll particularly hard (because of course it’s as easy as “get popular.” Gag me). The advice was further to pick what you were going to write about–presumably the same thing that is your future book topic–and then write extensively on that narrow subject.

Now, don’t get me wrong, that totally works for some people. I met a woman at a conference who started her blog about kids’ photography, and it led to a book deal and stuff. Great. But guess what? She didn’t start the blog so she could eventually write a book; she started the blog because she wanted to be a blogger.

Anyway, back to the “write about one topic a lot” thing: most broadly, that means writing about a specific genre. But I think that’s locking yourself into a prison for no good reason: so your first book ends up being a steampunk romance, great, but what if you want to do a sci-fi horror for the second one? Do you have to spin off a totally different blog? Start all over again? Insanity!

Besides, sometimes the genre is stupidly hard to define. That’s one of the biggest problems with Undead Rising. What genre is it? It’s got zombies, so that’s sometimes horror, even though it’s maybe PG-13 level scary. Zombies are also supernatural, so it kinda fits in that arena. But it’s also funny, so does that make it humor? Except it turns out, weirdly, that most humor books are nonfiction, so that isn’t exactly a good fit. It’s a gamebook, which is awesome, except it’s a genre completely dominated by children’s books from the 1970s and that’s not exactly a section most people are familiar with… so what, exactly, would my one-genre blog be about?

I guarantee you if I had to talk exclusively about zombies, this blog would have died a long time ago.

The conventional publishing wisdom is contradictory here, too. Officially, you pick a genre and you just write in that genre until your hands fall off. It used to be if you wanted to write in a different genre, your publisher would frown on that and your new stuff wouldn’t be published; you were only “known” in one arena. Except… if you got famous, then it was back to whatever you wanted, apparently. All my favorite authors right now may be best known for a certain thing, but they cross genres at will, following whatever they are interested in: Neil Gaiman (comics, children’s books, YA, adult novels); Brad Meltzer (historical fiction, superhero comics, children’s picture books); Margaret Atwood (dystopian fiction that she likes to call literary fiction, short stories, fantasy); and Jim Butcher (urban fantasy, role playing games, comic books, steampunk).

So I say….write what you want. Following your passion is far more interesting and more likely to keep you motivated. Who cares what the box is supposed to be? Just go for it. Make the box fit you, not the other way around.

Leave a comment

Filed under Publishing, Undead Rising, writing

The Results of Judging Books by Their Covers

Some folks decided to put book covers to the ultimate test—how are they really judged? They made a game that had people judge book covers, and then compiled all the results. 3 million books had their covers judged, and then they posted up the results. It’s pretty cool.

You’ll have to head over to the original post for a breakdown on the book cover judgements, but it’s a great experiment. And it shows that the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” is completely full of sh*t. Everyone is judging a book by its cover. The cover really matters. And, that sometimes it matters for weird ways (even books that were universally slammed for design would sometimes be highly rated because it had an attractive person on the cover. Oy.).

And for independent authors, it means that the money you are investing in your cover art designer is 100% worth it. It’s foolish to imagine that just because your words are good that the cover doesn’t matter. It does. A lot. So put some work into that cover art…and be judged favorably.

Leave a comment

Filed under Publishing, writing

Review: The Once and Future King

The Once and Future King (The Once and Future King #1-4)The Once and Future King by T.H. White
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Ugh. It pains me to mark one of the literary classics two stars, but I also have to admit to myself that I started reading this book in January and now it’s September and I haven’t finished it and really have no intention of ever actually getting around to doing so.

There are 639 pages in my book. I made it only 245 pages into it. It felt like much much more. (The typeface is tiny, I swear!) I stopped partway through “The Queen of Air and Darkness,” but did make it all the way through “The Sword in the Stone.”

Let’s just assess real quick: the cover of my book includes a quote from none other than Ursula K. LeGuin about how much she loves it. The subtitle of the book is “The World’s Greatest Fantasy Classic.” With that in mind, imagine my shock when I discovered the slapstick-heavy Disney movie The Sword in the Stone is actually completely accurate to the book.

This book–or at least the parts I managed to get through–is just ridiculously silly! It’s also very dense. And randomly episodic. And I just couldn’t bring myself to care about King Arthur among all the nonsense. I still feel that I really ought to just buckle down and finish the damn book so I can say I did, but then I’d be sucking 80% of the joy of reading right out of my life and I still wouldn’t finish it until at least next June.

So, adieu Merlin. Maybe some other time.

View all my reviews

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Review: Dead Until Dark

Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse, #1)Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this book because I got to hear author Charlaine Harris speak at a conference—and everything about her was adorable. I felt I owed it to her to actually read her work. I’d seen (some of) the TV show TrueBlood based on the books, so I was a little worried I’d ruined the experience for myself. Luckily, it just left me well-prepared.

Let me give an aside on Ms. Harris. She has a gentle Southern accent, just a touch, and a modest demeanor. Judging by her appearance and her publicity photos, she’s partial to the long, elegant, drapey fabric looks. But underneath, just below the surface, is a sharp wit and a snappy bite. She’s the epitome of the Southern women I know: all cookies and Bless your hearts on the surface, but acute observation and rapier wit hiding just below the surface, where it’s modest and ok to whisper behind your hands.

So, in that way, Dead Until Dark is very true to life for me. My absolute favorite character was Sookie’s grandmother (which…may be unfortunate). She doesn’t hold truck with people being discriminatory for no good reason; she cooks a damn good spread and keeps a tidy house; and hopes against hope that her granddaughter will just get a date already–even if he IS dead.

The writing in this book was warm and cool like a glass of iced tea on a hot, sticky day. The story is certainly original: rather than Anne Rice’s cool and distant, extremely frightening vampires, Harris’ vamps come in a range–still spooky, maybe even deadly, but much more approachable. You’re invited to fangirl right next to Sookie as she swoons over the hunks in the vampire community. And hunks there are, of both the male and female variety. You can immediately see why HBO wanted this for their channel.
That said, the book is more tame than the TV series, by far. It almost feels that Harris wanted sex scenes, but felt they were rather too icky to actually write down (that Southern discretion again). Much of the scenes are…left to the readers’ imagination. Which is good. Because it seems vampires don’t particularly invest in foreplay; I imagine a more realistic rendition would involve bruising.

A lot happens in the story, and it pulls you right along. I find it a little hard to get into, for the same reason I eventually dropped out of the TV show—the townspeople in Bon Temps seem to roll with an awful lot of punches, without asking too many questions. Convenient for the author, perhaps, but it took me out of the story a bit. Plus, there’s so much action, so much I want to know…and then the story stopped as suddenly as if we’d crashed into a tree. I actually put my Kindle down and exclaimed,”That’s IT?!”

I guess it’s supposed to make you want to read more–and maybe I will–but it was also frustrating. Overall, these books will make excellent vacation reads, or perhaps an All Hallow’s Read book for those who can’t handle spooky stuff. They’re brain candy, as rich as Sookie’s grandmother’s hummingbird cake.

View all my reviews

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

Review: Eric

Eric (Discworld, #9)Eric by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goodreads doesn’t aptly display the cover of this book, so let me describe it. It has “Faust” written in normal typography, crossed out with fat red marker and “Eric” written in its place. And that perfectly well sets you up for this misguided teenager’s wish-fulfillment disaster.
As always, Pratchett is insightful and hilarious. This time he takes on Homer, which not enough authors are brave enough to do. This is the line that made me love the book: “He tried to remember what little he knew of classical history, but it was just a confusion of battles, one-eyed giants and women launching thousands of ships with their faces.”
Glorious!
Anyway, this short little jaunt is about a jerky prepubescent teenager, Eric, who manages to call up the hapless/cowardly/useless wizard Rincewind, convinced Rincewind is a demon who can grant wishes. Eric makes wishes–bad ones, of course, or rather traditional ones that come to bad ends–and much to his surprise, Rincewind hurtles him toward it. Or at least, seems to.
Goethe, Homer, and Dante all get a thorough Pratchett treatment, and it’s a delight. Plus it’s only about 200 pages, so it’s a quick read. You’ll be giggling right through bedtime.
That old blind classical guy doesn’t get teased enough, I say. Pratchett to the rescue!

View all my reviews

Leave a comment

Filed under Reading, Reviews