Monday, July 29, 2013

New SF review posted 29 July 2013

I asked the author for a copy of LEAGUE OF SOMEBODIES. He complied. I'm glad he did!

See my three-plus star review for details. It's heart-warming to know that good indie publishing is still happening.

New Review Posted 29 July 2013

I got lured into a Kindle Original purchase. I like mysteries, and I like smexy gay romantic silliness and fluff. MURDER AT THE RESORT promised both. It would have delivered if the author had had an editor to make the text fit the story. My two-star review is here.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Jay Lake Pre-Mortem Read-a-thon, Week 5

This week, Saturday the 27th, Jay Lake will hold the Jay Wake. It's the best idea I've ever heard, hosting your own funeral! Think of all the things you've said at the funeral of a friend, things you wish you'd had the chance, and the permission, to say while they were yet breathing. Well, here it is. Opportunity meeting motivation. I've gotten motivated to say my piece about the reading pleasure I've found in Lake's books.

I've reviewed TRIAL OF FLOWERS at Shelf Inflicted, the group blog. It's a fantasy novel.

I read a fantasy novel.

There, I said it.

I not only read it, I enjoyed it. BUT DON'T FOR GAWD'S SAKE TELL ANYONE. I will swear an oath that you're lying and that you must be the one who hacked my account and wrote a glowing heap of praise for a book with dwarves, an ancient city declining under an empty throne, a reluctant hero...well, you see my predicament. I can't admit out loud that I liked this kind of guff. "The city is," runs the motto Lake gives the City Imperishable. Yeeesh, really?

Really. And really worth your time.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Jay Lake Pre-Mortem Readathon, Review the Fourth

My ghoulish valentine to Jay before he goes has a new installment:


Last week was ESCAPEMENT

Before that MAINSPRING

And first, fittingly, his first novel ROCKET SCIENCE

The Jay Wake itself is Saturday, 27 July

Every time I've asked you to run a Tidbit about this, you've been good enough to do it, and it's resulted in around a hundred extra eyes on Jay's work. Would you consider doing this one, since the Wake's next week, as a blog entry with all the links? If not, I understand, and I have no kick. I want people to pay attention, though! It's not like I'm any great force in the world, but I know sometimes people don't see what's not shoved in front of 'em, so here's me doing what shoving I can.

Can you even fathom what depths of depraved humor it takes to plan your own wake-cum-roast, and then invite the entire world to it? Jay's cancer has given him the two-minute warning to end all warnings. Many would sit in a corner and cry. Most would stare blankly at walls. He keeps fighting, knowing the end is in sight and working to stave it off, and he plans a gift for the thousands and thousands whose lives he's enriched: A party. A chance to say goodbye before the ears you want to hear the words go deaf.

I want to have that spirit to face my LIFE, still less my death! So I say my thanks as publicly as I can. My reviews have to do, since I can't travel to Portland and shove my stranger's face into his.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Honey, Olives, Octopus: Adventures at the Greek Table by Christopher Bakken

Honey, Olives, Octopus: Adventures at the Greek Table by Christopher Bakken
(illustrated by Mollie Katzen)

Rating: 4* of five
The Publisher Says: Combining the best of memoir, travel literature, and food writing, Christopher Bakken delves into one of the most underappreciated cuisines in Europe in this rollicking celebration of the Greek table. He explores the traditions and history behind eight elements of Greek cuisine―olives, bread, fish, cheese, beans, wine, meat, and honey―and journeys through the country searching for the best examples of each. He picks olives on Thasos, bakes bread on Crete, eats thyme honey from Kythira with one of Greece’s greatest poets, and learns why Naxos is the best place for cheese in the Cyclades. Working with local cooks and artisans, he offers an intimate look at traditional village life, while honoring the conversations, friendships, and leisurely ceremonies of dining around which Hellenic culture has revolved for thousands of years. A hymn to slow food and to seasonal and sustainable cuisine, Honey, Olives, Octopus is a lyrical celebration of Greece, where such concepts have always been a simple part of living and eating well.


My Review
: Recipes per chapter...and lush descriptions of the author’s extensive travels around the foodie paradise that is Greece.

The entire read was a fever dream of drooling and craving and meal-planning, then scrapping the plans because no one else wants this cuisine where I am. The ways that food is entwined into Hellenic culture no matter where it finds itself rooted make me think that the whole Hellenic world is onto something all of us would do well to attend to: center the glorious gifts of food culture in your daily life, do not stop being aware of what and how you are eating, use food and its rituals to strengthen your ties to others with pleasant, ongoing memories.

Bakken bring us with him on a journey in space, as well as time, delineating the cultural origins of the food rituals he brings to us. He is careful to offer his gleaned knowledge as an eager amateur, not a native expert, which sensitivity made me trust his insights more than a more learnèd, academic approach would have. I was a little afraid I would find him more on the Subject Matter Expert side, seeing as this is a book from a university press, but that was never for a moment his authorial stance.

What else would you ask for? Inquiring mind eats his way around one of the West’s oldest cultures, brings us at home his findings, and shares a trained mind’s obervations. All the way around it is a win!

This Book Is AMAZING WONDERFUL GLORIOUS! Or, well, maybe not.

Long ago, I read a book called Damage:
Damage is the gripping story of a man’s desperate obsession and scandalous love affair. He is a man who appears to have everything: wealth, a beautiful wife and children, and a prestigious political career in Parliament. But his life lacks passion, and his aching emptiness drives him to an all-consuming, and ultimately catastrophic, relationship with his son’s fiancĂ©e.

Chilling and brilliant, Damage is a masterpiece—a daring look at the dangers of obsession and the depth of its shattering consequences.
...and was captivated, enthralled, hooked, over the moon! I recommended it and even bought it for folks. Someone asked me why I was so thrilled, and after I'd gushed for a while, he said, "Did you actually read this?"

While I was offended mightily by his snark, I was inspired to go back and read it again. It was...

Lesson learned. Now I wait before I shout about books. I'm especially cynical about The Book of the Moment-type books, because they so frequently disappoint. (I'm lookin' right at you, Gillian Flynn/Karen Russell/Jonathan Franzen/Jeffrey Eugenides. Right. At. You.) But books nominated for prizes, books by unknowns and self-pubbeds, books from the Dark Ages of Cloth Bindings...I wait on 'em all, let 'em perk gently through the sieve I call a brain, and let some synapses fire and some neuronal pathways alter before I go hollerin' hallelujah. And still, despite this care and feeding, my brain gets all flippied and damzeled about (ancient book of poems I once had, wonder where it is, was titled that and I still love it). I crow over books people look at and say, "...yeah? The author doin' you or what?" about.

I guess it's inevitable, given that everyone has different taste. But it seems to me that there are some things we should all know, like what good writing is. (It's what Chuckles the Dick and Ernie Hemmenhaw couldn't do.) Not writing that you like, that's a taste thing and it's inarguable because it's your taste. No one gets to tell you your taste is wrong. Bad, maybe, but never wrong.

And then came the real eye-opener. So what is good writing?


Hell if I know what you think good writing is. Hell if I know what to tell you to read to show good writing. People have spent much of my literate life praising Dickens *shudder* to me as superbly written! Only my innate kindliness and irreproachable good manners prevent me from saying what my long-ago friend did: "Did you actually read this?"

What makes writing good? I wonder. For me, good writing does its job of story-telling without undue fuss and bother. So why do I like Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner, but not Ernest Hemingway or the nonce-book writers from all the MFA programs?

Woolf and Faulkner, and James Joyce (whose work I don't like as a matter of taste), all told complex stories in precise ways. There isn't another, or a better, way to tell those stories. Yes, the sentences curl around themselves, rubbing scales with their own nether bits. But how else could my doted-on Mrs. Dalloway or the superb As I Lay Dying or Ulysses be told? Hemingway's short, staccato sentences don't serve The Old Man and the Sea nearly as well as they served "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" or even For Whom the Bell Tolls (a thoroughly horrible book, dull and featureless and stupid, but the style suits it).

Equally enjoyable to me is Colum McCann's staccato delivery of his two most recent novels, both of which I like quite a lot, TransAtlantic and Let the Great World Spin. It suits the stories. It's also not the only arrow in his quiver. Read Zoli or the stories in Fishing the Sloe-Black River...different styles indeed, in those cases the delivery matches the story being told.

And that, to me, is what good writing does. It tells me the story the author wants me to hear in the most effective way, not showing off what the MFA program taught or bookhorning a story into a style.

So how do we all agree on which books achieve this goal? Ideas welcomed.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Jay Lake Pre-Mortem Read-a-thon continues! Blasphemous goodness!

Jay Lake's demise from cancer is assured. What we hope for is that it takes a long time to claim him! But in the meantime, I'm reading through and reviewing Lake's novels so I can be sure that he knows how much his books have given me in terms of reading pleasure.

This week it's ESCAPEMENT, reviewed at Shelf Inflicted, the group blog. Set in Lake's Clockwork Earth alternative reality, this is a beautifully blasphemous book. What if, and you know it's a good story when the premise starts that way, the Universe really WAS a clockwork? Pre-modern thinkers assumed the Earth and the planets were all mechanically, what if they were?

These books give me the happy. Read my review, and I hope you'll want to read the book.

Historical fiction review posted 10 July 2013

I've finally, after a horribly guilt-making TWO YEARS (!), reviewed Authora: Celtic Prince by R.W. Hughes. It's a 3-star review, which ain't half bad. Historical fiction that isn't all Arthurian and majgicqkal and stuff, set in this time, is rare as hen's teeth and this was a treat for that reason.

Do check it out!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

This man's blog is giving away this 5-star reviewed book by Chris F. Holm. I'd enter the giveaway, but it would only encourage him. You should enter, though, the book's wonderful.

Tomorrow's review will be Escapement, the second of Jay Lake's weird steam/clock-punk novels. I can't help but admire Lake's brio!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

It's Jay Wake Day! Second review of a Jay Lake title

It's time for the next review in my ‎Jay Wake Pre-Mortem Jay Lake Read-a-thon! And today, Lake does what so few others in my 53 years have done: Used the word "God" and not made me screechingly furiously attack-mode angry. MAINSPRING, reviewed at Shelf Inflicted, is a good book for many reasons. That one is mine. Others include elegant phrasemaking, deft plotting, and a re-imagining of the laws of the Universe that's breathtaking.

I'm very happy I've read, and re-read, this book.