Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Nothing Too Impressive Here

Shameful as it is, I have not yet finished my first days reviews.  As excuse, I offer my current residence in the laziness-inducing locale of Chapman Lake.  I have spent the past few days not reading and definitely not blog-writing.  But since it's almost the second days and I've got a whole new crop of books to read and then review I figured I better get caught up... So here goes #4, Shades of Milk and Honey by... s/t like Mary Robertson Kowal.  This is Austen paraliterature reviewed on austenprose, where Laurel Ann has never given any book less than a 4 as far as I can remember.  That means recommendations there are more like a mild suggestion, but this one looked promising enough.  #1, it's not about the Bingleys, the Darcys, or any other character from P&P.  It's basically a Regency country gentlepeople setting, with a slight protusion of magic thrown in - and as I mentioned just a few posts ago, what better setting is there? :) It was purportedly a romance and that's really all I need to give it a whirl.

And you know, I can't really say it didn't live up to its promise.  The magical element was kind of weird and I didn't really get the point but it was also extremely unobtrusive - not really changing society or humanity at all in any way that mattered.  The writing wasn't great, but I can't say I really expected more.  But... the romance! My gosh, I don't even know if I can call it romance.  Well I guess I can, because the guy liked her, there was a *tiny* drop of angst, there were some subtle hints, they didn't get together till the end... but 1) it was really badly done and 2) there was another guy involved the whole time! who she liked! and who seemed to like her! and who didn't turn out to be bad in the end! I don't know, it was just weird and badly done.  Totally not enjoyable.  Also there were all these weird elements of different Jane Austen plots mixed in and it kind of confused everything.  Basically, concept was decent, execution pretty darn bad.  Oh well, can't win 'em all.

Verdict: 2/5
Food: Like I said, decent concept, terrible execution... raw a/t... raw chicken i suppose - i do seem to use the raw metaphor a lot, don't I? I really don't like raw food :)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Funny Saves the Day

Continuing with authors you will find familiar (yes, I'm assuming an intimate acquaintance with posts on this blog :)), next on the list of yom tov reading was Gail Carriger's Changeless, sequel to Soulless (see here).  If you recall (and I know you do :)), I read Soulless mainly (solely) for the romance.  So that romance was satisfactory enough, but since the book ended in marriage, I wasn't actually expecting much of a romance for the sequel.  So why would I bother reading it? Well the simplest answer is that when I like a book, I don't want to leave the characters.  If more's going to happen, why wouldn't I want to know it? And even though the vampire/werewolf menage holds little interest to me, I'm a sucker for Victorian England and the nobility thereof :)  The last book was light and funny, I enjoyed it despite all the supernatural stuff, so I expected to get through this one easily as well.

And I'd say my expectations were more than met.  As expected, very little romance, though it was fun enough to see the happy couple alternately sparring and swooning (not really swooning :)) But the main attraction of the book proved to be humor.  The book was written in the same facetious way the first one was, but I think she kind of hit her stride with this one.  Either that or I am starting to understand the writing better.  In any case, I was able to appreciate the complete zaniness of most of the characters in the book and sympathize with Alexia's rather unorthodox approach to society.  And Alexia has really come in to her own as a force to be reckoned with, I think.  I never felt like she was unduly threatened, she basically stayed in command of every situation.  That's not to say she was like Scarlet Pimpernel cool or anything.  It was more like the tension/danger was kept light in keeping with the humorous tone.  So we never feel too nervous that something cataclysmic is going to happen.  She's in control, we're in control, so why not enjoy it? Rather a quick and bouncy ride, if you know what I'm saying.

So I'd say I enjoyed it even more than I expected.  But that was because I wasn't expecting any romance in the first place.  And in the end, (not going to spoil here :)) there's a new development that brings up the possibility of some nice angst in Book III.  But don't get too excited... Book 3 (Blameless) has actually already come out and according to the review I read on Amazon... we may have wait till 4 before the series gets back in form.  Oh well, one good 'un will have to be enough to tide me over for now :)

Verdict: 3.5/5
Food: Unexpectedly delightful in a bit of different way... fresh teriyaki salmon - you never till you taste, but sometimes it's just really good... of course, it's still fish, not ice cream :)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Yes, Another One of Those

Next one's pretty boring... read yet another Robin Lee Hatcher (I think this is like the 4th or 5th Christian romance I'm reviewing here... what can I say, easy pickings).  So this was actually the second in the series... and I will be reading the first and third, which I think pretty much says everything I want to say.  It was your usual Robin Lee Hatcher, so not cringeworthy, easy reading, a few light references to G-d, but nothing that really gets in the way.  Characters likable enough... actually this one was kind of welcome change - Woody isn't quite as much of the brooding male type as I'm used to in these things.  Actually he's a lord - son of a duke! - but it's so out of place here, I didn't even care too much about it - it was almost annoying actually.  Of course, a marriage between a duke's son and a cowgirl really is completely implausible, so that makes the back-and-forth, what are we going to do, how are we going to be together a little less annoying than usual, because it's actually grounded in reality.  The way they solve it? well (spoiler) they stay in America, but it doesn't go much beyond that.  Doesn't bother too much with the details.  That's because this one is nice and short - which I think is the real reason the back and forth doesn't annoy me too much - there actually isn't too much of it.  I mean, often the issue with these books is they're completely dragged out - they fall in love too early and then other stuff has to be introduced so the story doesn't just end... but here I guess Robin Lee Hatcher said, why not just end it? And I agree, why not? I get exactly the same enjoyment out of the romance and I stop reading before I get bored with all the other stuff.  So good decision there :)

Verdict: 3/5 (I think that's my usual for Christian romance)
Food: same old, enjoyable enough... pretzels works I think - and I don't mean honey mustard, just the usual

A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That... And Ta da!

I've got a lot to catch up on! Three days of yom tov with no Internet access and nothing to do but read... well I actually finished four books, which I guess isn't a ton, but I'm not sure if they're all getting full treatment - I'm taking them one at a time.  Let's start with #1 - #1 because it's the first one I finished, but easily #1 of the bunch in any case.  That's Sanditon, which is slightly by Jane Austen, mostly by Another Lady (Anne Telscombe is her name, I think).  The story with this one is that Jane Austen wrote the first 11 chapters of the book right before she died.  There are a few versions finishing it, but I think this is the original.  I never had much of an interest in reading it - I think I thought Sanditon was kind of like Cranford, a village tale with not much romance for some reason - but I read a review of a few of the different ones on one of the Austen websites and decided to read this one (well I wanted to read others too, but this was the one I found first - and lucky for that :)) I read it in December (actually got it out the last day of school :)) and I LOVED it - so much that I immediately bought a copy (yes, this was after I started getting into buying books, and the main reason I bought this one was because the only library that had a copy was Prince Georges but still... I really liked it).  Anyway, that was in December.  For some reason, I picked it up earlier this week and decided to reread it.

So right away, I found myself caught up in it again.  I was kind of hyper aware the first 11 chapters of it being Jane Austen's writing and trying to compare it with her other books, but the truth is, I think it's a lot less polished than any of the others because it was a first draft.  So it's not Jane Austen's writing even in the beginning, and certainly not after that, but Jane Austen isn't the only decent writer around :) What I mean to say is, Jane Austen's writing is perfectly crafted, exquisitely witty, full of subtle meaning... but light and easy writing sounding straight out of my comfort zone is fun to read even if it doesn't quite meet all those criteria.  Whatever, the writing was 100% enjoyable, I would say totally unobtrusive, completely quiet and completely unboring.  So I could concentrate on the story... and on the romance of course.  Now the romance was definitely a good one - Sydney's a great guy, personable, smart, very eligible, nice and loyal, he loves Charlotte the whole time, there's a fair amount of doubt on both sides so they don't get together too soon... but the truth is, a lot of the romance is not at all overt.  I mean, we know Sydney loves her, but the book doesn't give much hint of that.  And there's a whole lot of attention given to the main plot (can't even say subplot) involving Sydney's friend Henry Brudenall and lovely girl Clara Brereton.  And of course I have no interest in that romance, none at all :)

So why did I like this book so much? Like I said, the writing style is *just* up my alley, but why is that enough? There's also the setting, which I suppose would be even more up my alley if they were *just* a degree higher socially (why not go for nobility? :)) but English Regency gentility's good enough for me. Of course there's the all important every character is likeable and there's like *no* tension (not even when Charlotte (main girl - don't believe I've mentioned that yet :)) is kidnapped by Sir Edward... I guess it's just a combination of all factors.  It's funny, because I enjoyed it when I was reading it, but only after I finished was I like, wow this is a great book.  And I think it was like that last time too.  I think all those factors combine to make a product so satisfactory that that's my reaction.... So writers, if you're looking for the blue-ribbon recipe in writing books Rochel likes... you can do no better than this book's combo :)

Verdict: 5/5
Food: thought of a perfect one while I was writing that recipe part - chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream - I mean, talk about perfect combo :)

P.S. on a slightly more literary note, I was thinking that this book might have been meant as a reworking of Northanger Abbey - it has some similarity in an older/wiser hero with a sense of humor, a heroine away from her country home at a watering place... with the significant difference that this heroine is as practical as Catherine is flightly... I wonder if there are critics out there who agree with me? You never know :)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ordinary Life Can Be Charming in Small Doses

This latest is a find of Chava's, which both she and abg enjoyed immensely (abg read it right in front of me and she's rather demonstrative reader) so even though both of them have somewhat different taste than I have, I thought it was definitely worth a look-see.  Katherine Center writes those slightly comic books about women, differing from chic lit in that the women are in relationships already (actually, I can only say that definitively about the only one I've read, Everyone is Beautiful, but you know the type... the banalities of ordinary life and the conundrum of how to make it meaningful - n/t too scary or serious, mostly meant to entertain.. okay, you either know what I'm talking about or you don't at this point).  Anyway, I usually avoid this type of book at the library, mostly because it simply doesn't interest me.  I am just less than interested in reading about the difficulties of being a mommy, about trying to keep a marriage together, about balancing work and life... unless there's something else thrown in to spice it up.

In this case, Chava recommended the books because they are just so well written.  Light, funny, smooth... well she didn't use those descriptions exactly, but that's what I found.  The book does flow easily along, never getting too bogged down in the issues, despite the fact that the issues are just about all there are.  Most of the book is a description of just how hard Lanie's life with three kids 3 and under is (and yes, I believe that's pretty darn hard).  But she doesn't really complain, it's all pretty matter of fact.  And like I said, the book moves quickly - not much time for too much real crisis to balloon.  So I was able to enjoy it surprisingly well considering that not much good happens until the very end.  Because not much bad happens either.  And there's no real enemy or bad guy to come along and menace the population.  Actually the biggest ba-dum ba-dum alls comes from Lanie's forshadowing... but I should have known this, but what would happen... which I did find annoying but not overly tense, as I didn't take it too seriously (and rightly as it happens).

So as far as a book about someone's miserable life and horrible mistakes, my fears weren't realized.  On the other hand, neither were my expectations.  Abg said this book was incredibly romantic... girl, I love you but I should know better than to trust you on the romance.  Peter's and Lanie's beginning were fraught with lovely moments and tension... but that's fifteen-year-old flashbacks! Not the knock-your-sock-off in the moment tension and angst-ridden love story which I define as incredible romance.  And of course Peter loves her... but until the very end, that's not even an issue - no questioning on either side at all.  So at best, it's a romantic ending.

Basically, nothing really bad happens in this book, it's fairly funny, and well-enough written.  The worst I can say about it is that it's not my type.  The best is that it's short.  And for 2 hours, I can handle not my type :)

Verdict: 3/5
Food: not my usual, nothing outstanding in any way, but I get why people like it... cheese crackers! some people totally love those, I can kind of eat them... and they are thoroughly ordinary

Funny PS - So we were discussing mothers and children on the first night of yom tov and I mentioned this book as an example of something and Jen T. who was there for yom tov said - wait which author? and I was like, Katherine Center.  And she said, she went to Vassar? I know her! and I was like no way! Couldn't get over it! and she said she's really nice and sweet and not at all pretentious which was the impression I got from the book jacket, which just goes to show, you can't judge the author by the book jacket :) Isn't that too cool and funny though? :)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Just Keep 'em Human, Please!

After a brief venture out of my comfort zone, which did not particularly succeed, I went to the library yesterday and got out 13 eminently comfortable books ranging from old favorites to total junk chic lit, to known authors, to recommendations from trustworthy sources.  So expect a more positive crop of reviews comin' up.  But not this one... not particularly anyway.  Meg Cabot published her latest in June actually, but I hadn't gotten around to reading it till now (I lost my reserve at the library b/c I had no time to pick it up and then I left Baltimore...) I wasn't overly enthusiastic about it in the first place, because though I general enjoy her tried-and-true formula (with a few exceptions, like the one I reviewed a while ago), this book is pretty new for her... Meg Cabot has jumped on the bandwagon with, you guessed it, a vampire novel.

I think I've stated my feelings on the supernatural genre previously, which are basically that it holds no interest to me in and of itself, but that I can usually stomach it when it comes in the form of supernatural romance/chic lit, as it so often does.  And this being Meg Cabot, Insatiable does fall squarely in the chic lit category.  Unfortunately, it falls pretty neatly into the chic lit mystery/action sub-genre as well, which, while it really is to be expected of a vampire book, does not improve its readability.  The book departs from most of the MC books I've read in another way as well - it's missing her trademark total ditz of a first person narrator who does like a very slightly - very slightly - older version of Junie B. Jones.   I must say, I don't really miss that narrator, but the third person viewpoint means there's a whole lot of description of scenes not directly observable by our heroine... and of course many of those are less than interesting to me.

But I must admit that a lot of those scenes were those involving vampire hunter Alaric, who I thought at first was mostly there for the plot and at best was somewhat of a comic relief.  This was because Alaric does not appear to be a very attractive character (personality wise; physically he is a-ok :)) And since there's another very eligible male who likes Meena (main girl) very much, why would I assume the nasty guy was the interest? I don't think this is a fault in my romantic interest radar - I think Meg Cabot does a bad job with his initial portrayal.  And yes, this may be deliberate, since she actually does seem to like introducing red herrings (very prominent in Queen of Babble and I noticed it in Airhead as well) but it still creates inconsistencies with the likeability of the characters.  The other thing throwing me off was that I didn't realize that this is meant to be the beginning of a series (yay?) so that it's not like e/t was meant to be resolved happily ever after by the end.  I assume Meena will get over her dislike of Alaric next book and they can get together in the third or s/t... but for now, Alaric can stay a bit of an off-putting type w/o wrecking the plot line.

And the truth is, why should I complain? Alaric is a better main man than Lucien (son of Dracula).  He's human, rather awesome, rich, gorgeous... (I mean except for the one, he shares those attributes with vampire guy but whatever).  And there's a much more interesting romance than the open and shut one w/ Meena and Lucien. That one happened way too fast - almost not qualifying as romance fast, though it could have been saved by insertion of the vampire element to keep them apart.  But since the book veered off after the original pairing, there was no question of that happening.  And Alaric-Meena shows a lot of promise, if handled correctly...

Of course, that's not a trivial if.  Meg Cabot can definitely do decent romance, but that's her strongest suit, to put it mildly.  Her writing leaves something to be desired.... it's very jumpy and the characters sometimes feel inconsistent (like, why is he saying that type of thing).  I can't really complain that much b/c I guess she's about average for a chic lit writer... but this book aspires to be more than chic lit.  Drama, mystery, danger, pathos... and if you're going to dive into all that, you should be a better swimmer than Meg Cabot is.  Instead, it's all just competely distracting from what could be a promising romance.  These authors need to remember that their loyal readers *do not care* if the books contain not one meaningful idea.  Really, we dont.

Verdict: 2.75/5 (but my expectation is that the next book should be a 3)
Food: bland, nothing too exciting, but nothing objectionable either... and it is something I like in general  - Utz regular potato chips fits the bill here- I think they're my least favorite type of regular potato chips b/c they don't have enough salt, but I don't say no to them

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lamentations on The State of Literature

After the previous months' reading, consisting of either junk or girly classics, you must be wondering, does Rochel ever read any quality literature? An excellent question - and one to which the short answer is yes, when I get around to it.  Having read all my good library books and treated myself to a few old favorites, I finally got around to reading one of my man books, which is due pretty shortly.  As I've said before, I prefer woman writers in general, but I like male "funny guys" - see my earlier post about Terry Pratchett, etc.  Peter Carey came up on a list of authors matching the keyword "Australia" at my library's search engine.  My Life As a Fake seemed to be the kind of satirical and lighthearted material to which men are best suited and which I often enjoy, so I got the book out as potential entertainment for my down under journey.  Of course, I didn't get around to reading it till a month later…
…and I must say that while it did live up to its promise as an Australian novel, that is *all* it lived up to.  Let me just talk about that a little first - although the book takes place in 1970's Malaysia, a place about which I know very little and about which I wish I knew even less after reading this book, one of the central characters talks extensively about his earlier life in Australia.  Mentioned are, among other places, Queensland, Townsville, Melbourne, Sydney, Bondi, St. Kilda, the Australian Hotel, Darlinghurst, the Harbor Bridge, Warrnambool… so it was definitely exciting to have been to all those places.  But DO NOT read this book, even if you've been to Australia and want to relive the glory.

Peter Carey is considered a pretty literary author.  He's won the Booker Prize, which I think is the English equivalent of the Pulitzer *twice* (and he's considered a long shot to win this year actually).  He has a plaque in Sydney harbor (that got me pretty excited when I saw it, I admit) and the little blurbs all laud him as a master.  I have no idea why.  The writing itself… well I guess it was pretty powerful and it moved along pretty quickly but I found it needlessly confusing and hard to understand.  I get that's the effect he was trying to create, but I think it does more to obfuscate (like that bit of poetry? a nod to a central issue in the book, the definition of great verse :)) And more than needlessly confusing, absolutely, completely, needlessly and extremely crude.  I mean seriously - is it really great literature just because its so completely off-putting in every way? Disgusting, dirty, cruel, malevolent… none of the characters was at all likable, nothing good happened, the scenery was repulsive.

I just don't get the point of this book.  It doesn't even have a discernible theme.  There seems to be no moral lesson, just an obsession with evil and reprehensible behavior.  I mean bad isn't rewarded, not by any means, but it's not like divine justice pays back, just that nothing good happens period.  These people all have miserable lives and they behave miserably.  Why would I, why would *anyone* want to read about this? I really don't get it.

Verdict: 1.5/5 (.5 because the writing wasn't junk writing, I'll admit that)
Food: something gross and repulsive that some people seem to like, but I don't get why - how about that plain yogurt I ate in New Zealand.  Full of bacteria, tastes gross, but some people claimed it was edible, even somewhat decent. (yes that was a jab at those some people, dear to my heart as they are :)) 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why Do Authors Bother Trying to Make Me Think?

On Sunday, my wonderful mother went on a cleaning spree in the cl house.  Among  the items that fell under her swift sword were a number of books she designated as junk, and among  these books was Sharon Shinn's The Alleluiah Files.  The reason this book was in the house was that when I read the first two books in the Archangel series, I wanted to read this third one, but I couldn't find it anywhere, so I bought it at the borders in viewmont mall.  Anyway, as it sits there in cl, I end up rereading it every few years, and I naturally rescued it from the destruction that awaited it at the hands of my zealously clean and clutter-free mommy :) And having rescued it, I promptly sat down and read it (well I sat down and started to read it, and finished it two days later).

I can't argue that this book is junk in a certain sense.  I mean it's not junk like some of the chic lit I read.  It's written fairly well and it has some substance.  But the truth is, it's more than somewhat melodramatic and it has that certain trashy quality that hard core sci-fi/fantasy sometimes does - kind of comes with creating a world that is meant to be taken seriously, but of course is really only a completely arbitrary variation on our own G-d created one.  I guess that's a little unclear, but what I mean is, science fiction and fantasy writers take pride in their "world-building", but to me there isn't really much point or much skill involved in crafting an imaginary place where absolutely anything goes, no logical explanation needed.  

And this world is particularly offensive, as it draws heavily on Biblical themes, but recasts them to fit the author's more egalitarian and modern views.  So there are some disturbing echoes of places and people I consider sacred (e.g. the Jews wandering in the desert waiting for the promised land) but mixed with a very physical and morally ambiguous crew ("angels" and Edori with rather modern views of marriage, among other things).   All this is true of the first two books (well I barely remember the second book, as I've only read it once, but it's true of the first book as well), and in order to enjoy Archangel, I need to ignore all this.  But of course, I never find ignoring stuff in books too difficult, so I always thoroughly enjoy Archangel and its perfectly wonderful love story between a resilient and talented slave girl and a gorgeous and powerful angel ruler (I feel compulsion to again quote that angel, as of course I mean angel only in the Sharon Shinn sense here, but you know what I'm saying).  

Most of this applies just as well to the Alleluiah Files, but there is an additional element of to the disturbing themes in this book.  Actually I can think of three reasons why this book is not nearly as good as Archangel, but I'll get to the other two later.  About the religious overtones first - this book describes the fight of the rebel Jacobites to bring the rest of Samaria (the world) to the knowledge that what they see as their god is in fact a very advanced spaceship, that responds to their prayers with set replies to provide their needs.  This is obviously disturbing, and the Jacobites are seen as heretics, but in the end - the Jacobites are right! So here we have a small group of people insisting that science can explain away the god they know, that the religion they have followed for hundreds of years is simply wrong… sound familiar? So apparently, just as the Jacobites are proved right in the end, we are supposed to conclude that evolution and its associated ideas can explain away the need for any divine creation of our world.  Well, naturally, I know that's wrong, but I can't enjoy reading a book that basically makes a plot out of it.  The only redeeming element to the religious debate is that in the end, the characters conclude that even though their spaceship may not be a god, there is still in fact some overarching, intangible divine being that watches over the universe - and they're certainly right about that :) And their conclusion that the original settlers knew this, but that over the years the people forgot about the real G-d and began worshiping the intermediating machine, parallels the history of idol worship in the real world perfectly.  So I guess the end message isn't one I strictly disagree with.

But none of that matters very much, because I am of course not reading this book as a religious treatise and as far as I'm concerned, the less philosophy the better.  The other two objections to this book are much more typical complaints of mine.  First off - the angels in Archangel are like these superhumans (actually they are superhumans) whom everyone basically worships, and the Archangel is the coolest and most powerful of them all.  Of course, that makes for one great romance, just like the most fun romances are about noblemen, not to say about dukes.  But in The A. Files, the angels are taken down a notch or two from their status and basically re-outfitted as men with wings.  Wings and great voices that allow them to communicate with a machine, but nothing to be worshipped or allocating any extra degree of respect.  It's as if democracy did away with the nobility - and where's the fun in that?! :) But even with all that, Jared (main angel guy) is pretty darn cool - nice, gorgeous, smart, powerful, with it… so I guess I can't complain too much.

Objection number #3 is even more simple - there are two romances going on here - Tamar and Jared, which is great, and Lucinda and Reuben, which I find completely uninteresting.  In fact, that one doesn't even meet my definition of romance, because they like each other right away and there aren't really every any obstacles keeping them apart.  So where's the fun in that? :) In fact, I don't think theirs is even meant to be a fun romance - it's more a part of the plot and maybe more of Sharon Shinn's desire to make a statement about iconoclastic relationships (angel and Edori again).  So of course, we're basically talking about half the book where I was basically like, kay, let's get back to the other half here.  

The truth is though, there's so much more going on here than the romance, that even the other half wasn't wholly, or even mostly romantic.  And with all that, the book wasn't half hard to read.  Went by pretty fast, though I can't say I couldn't put it down (I think every time I put it down was probably at a Lucinda and Reuben part though :)) That all goes back to what I said at the beginning, Sharon Shinn is not a bad writer, not at all.  Of course, part of this can be attributed to the fact that I am very used to her writing style, having read almost (maybe all? all of her adult one anyway) of her books, and some of the multiple times (Summers at Castle Auburn is great, though not as great as I used to think it was by the way - I should really do a review of that one too…)  but anyway, I'm sure my familiarity with the writing somewhat biases me.  And I'm the first to admit she's melodramatic with a capital cantaloupe (like that expression? made it up just now :)) but still… the descriptions are good, the characters are mostly very likable, plot moves quickly, the tension is more than I'd like, but not crazy over the top… and what can I say, she's a good world builder :) So overall, I'm glad I rescued this book from the garbage can (literally - I took it out of the garbage can :)) 
Verdict: 3.5/5
Food: Something with the capacity to make me nauseous… but something that I go back to time and time again anyway… I think I've used sugar free pudding here already, but I think just the Hunt's kind, not the Jello kind.  So I'm going to use the Jello kind here - I eat them all the time, or at least all the time when I'm not on a real diet.  They do have sugar alcohols in them which means 1) they give me *major* stomach issues when I eat too many (tmi? sorry :)) and 2) I feel guilty eating them b/c they're not actually carb free. But yet every once in a while, the urge overcomes me and I buy a pack of cinnamon roll… or chocolate vanilla… or boston creme… and eat every last one :)
But on second thought, I have a much more original food - Morningside Farms vegetarian bacon strips.  They are not particularly good, and I feel kind of weird eating them, being that they're imitation bacon, but in the end of the day, I'll eat them anyway because they're not too bad… and they are kosher, don't worry :)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Can't Grab a Hold When It Moves So Fast

After quite a delay, involving a few mix-ups with book location, etc., I finally got around to reading Alexander McCall Smith's latest (yes, he has *yet* another latest), The Importance of Being Seven.  This book is the 6th in the 44 Scotland St. series, which I am used to thinking of as my favorite of the McCall Smith (does that not sound professional :)) series.  I'm not going to say yes or no on that at the moment, but to discuss the enjoyability of this book, I need first to establish what these books are meant to accomplish.

Usually that's not much of a question - a book is meant to tell a story from start to finish.  The message tends to vary, the tone, and all that, but the basic format of a novel is pretty much set (the 5 elements of a plot - thank you, Mrs. Janney :)) But the 44 Scotland Sts are not novels, despite any appearance of being so.  They are blocks of serial units, published daily in some newspaper.  So it's not like they are any cohesive story, or even meant as a cohesive story.  So the question becomes whether they should be critiqued as such at all.  On the yes side, there is an effort made to somewhat close off each character's story at the end of the book, so I can't say there's absolutely no plot development.  But for the most part the book meanders back and forth with each character's story and jumps from character to character quite abruptly (well that's not something novels are immune to actually).  But in any case, I didn't read the book as a serial, I read it as a book - so to some extent, that's just what I've got to review it as...

Let me start with the serial part first at least though.  The truth is, I did read the book in fits and spurts so I think I got more enjoyment out of the rapid jumping than I might otherwise have had.  And there is a lot of jumping.  I don't mean just between the different stories, which is to be expected, I mean that there is a *ton* going on for each character.  Some little things that get resolved right away, some big changes... but it's never boring on Scotland St :) And that's definitely necessary for a serial - it keeps you interested and reading on every single day.  As for the characters themselves, the same ones are likeable as ever, the same ones are hateable as ever, and the same ones are as annoying as ever.  So good job with consistency there, AMS :)

When it comes down to it, what I actually (and I assume you actually) care about is, is the book fun to read? And that means no matter how good it is as serial, it needs to be good enough to sit and down and read in one or two sittings.  And it is - I mean a very good serial is going to be at least a decent book.  But I don't know if it's more than that- too many people I just don't care about for one thing.  But besides that, the way things just keep happening creates a very unsettled feeling - prevents me from getting in to the book, as there's always something coming up and going down.  But the truth is, I've read enough of these to know what I'm getting into - and when you've been reading about the same characters for quite a while already, you want to know what happens to them, even if it is sometimes ridiculously improbable and not particularly well explained.  So I definitely get some enjoyment out of these books.

Actually my biggest complaint had nothing to do with the serial form.  AMS has a tendency of moralizing through the mouths or minds of his characters and I'm usually okay with that, as their thoughts and views tend to be fairly innocuous.  This one started out though with a doozy... s/t about a married couple and then saying he and she and *then* - or he and he or she and she! -and I'm like thank you very much, you really needed to put that in, point out how wrong we all are for assuming that a married couple would be a man and a woman... So then I was more hyper-vigilant in searching out liberal propaganda and I did find a few more references... but given that I read this book over a pretty long time, I had pretty much forgotten about it by the end - so no harm done :) And besides, I know he's a pretty outrageous liberal based on everything else he's written - so this is really par for the course.

To sum up (and I think this one needs a sum up :)) Definitely a good serial, other than the blatant propagandizing, less of a good book, because the plot moves too fast and is not well developed enough to allow the reader (me! :)) to get really into it.
Verdict: 3/5 (this is really because I've been reading these books forever, and I like them just because I like them)
Food: Something fleetingly good, but unsatisfying... I'm going to say under-seasoned vegetables - in salad, or grilled, or whatever.  I mean they are good, because vegetables are good plain anyway, and because it's not like there's *no* seasoning... but you keep on trying to taste more than is actually there.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Delivery As Expected

On my way to finally getting around to some quality reading, I got hijacked by yet another Christian romance.  This one was Karen Witemeyer's A Tailor Made Bride, and I found it sitting in my room when I got back from Australia.  Since Aliza had picked it up earlier and found it not unreadable, and I tend to be very lazy in my choice of fiction when I can be (as you know) I felt it was worth a read. 

The book is, I would say, almost a prototypical Christian romance.  If you recall, I've read a few others in this genre (actually 2 since I started this blog, and a Mormon one!) and what I said about those is that they substitute Christian blather for subplot.  Now this is pretty much true about my current read as well - but even more so.  Robin Lee Hatcher especially tends to just insert a few self doubting passages where the characters talk to G-d and then feel peace.   Here, the entire plot is really based on questions of religion, where the main guy is opposed to the main girl's occupation of dressmaker on the grounds that it promotes vanity.  Aliza used the word agenda to describe the religious overtones of this book, and while I don't know if I'd go so far, it was certainly a whole lot more present than in anything I've seen previously.

But even with all that, I must say this book was not badly written.  I mean, the plot and characterization were the usual you'd expect, which means not quite up to par, but there wasn't really any place where I was wincing at the writing.  And she did a great job of introducing romantic situations, whether quite plausible or not, which made the book quite fun.  So the book basically did its job - entertaining without being too annoying, as long as you can stomach all that other stuff. 

Verdict: 3/5
Food: well definitely something I'd enjoy, but not my first choice... but for what it is, pretty much as good as it can be... I guess I could say a good hot dog... I like them, but they're not a huge treat - plus they're full of nitrates, which is something I happily ignore, but that bothers a lot of other people - I like that :)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sometimes, Stick to What You Do Best

Remember back in like the beginning of May, I was so excited because I found another Melissa Nathan book (The Learning Curve)? Remember how I scoured the internet for a used copy and ending up buying one along with like 15 other books? So after all that, you would think I would have devoured it right up the second I got it in the mail, right? But of course, if you own it, you don't read it - even if you've never read it before apparently.  Actually, a whole bunch of other people read it in the past few months, but I didn't get around to it until this past week, believe it or not (I know, I'm shocked myself :)) So I had a lot of feedback going into it...

Peryl loved it, Penina thought it was okay, Huvi thought it was too dragged out - so I knew it wasn't great, but given Melissa Nathan's track record, and the fact that I'm usually not the pickiest one in the crowd, I thought I would like it.  But as it turned out... there's a reason this book was only published in England (actually I have no idea if that's the reason but whatever).  So it started out similarly to The Nanny (see here) - the first thing I noticed was the kind of stylized writing, where the author tends to come up with these strange extended similes/metaphors that distract from the story instead of illustrating anything.  They're meant to be funny, and I guess they are, but when you notice the writing, it isn't good (I think I've said that before - could that be a new rule for me? ooh, exciting :)) And whereas in the other book, I kind of stopped noticing after a while... this one didn't really get better.  The other thing I noticed at the beginning of The Nanny was that the characters were difficult to get a read on - was I supposed to like this one, hate that one... again, by the middle of the book, it became clear, but with The Learning Curve, I actually never got a read - Rob and Amanda turned out horrible in the end, and Miss James pretty much with it... but I went back and forth on them too often for them to be any kind of consistent characters.   So that was definitely annoying.

The Nanny started out with too much plot, but by the end, I pretty much enjoyed, or at least cared about, Jo's issues with the family.  This one on the other hand... I'm not sure why Huvi thought it was dragged out.  Dragged out implies that it gets to some point and then it should end there- but this one never went anywhere.  It was mostly about Nicky's struggle with her ex-boyfriend and whether she's over him and also about her doubts about raising a family and going for a career at the same time.  The first one was annoying both b/c she was an idiot about him and I had no patience for a non-romance going nowhere and the second was even worse b/c it's such a dead issue if you ask me - yes you can have a career and raise a family, n/1 cares, get over yourself and do what you have to do! or don't, whatever, but n/1 is out to get you from either side, trust me.  Basically, I found Nicky impossibly stupid in both her personal and professional life.  She goes back and forth about whom to trust when all she really needs to do is have a few straight conversations with a few people to get e/t ship shape.  So I guess it's dragged out in that sense - on and on about s/t I never cared about in the first place!

At this point, you must be saying, but Rochel, what about that great redeeming factor? Isn't Melissa Nathan one of your favorite chic lit writers? There *must* be an awesome romance sprinkled out there somewhere.  Well I suppose there is... if by sprinkled, you mean one or two little bits placed gingerly somewhere out there in the wide expanse.  I mean, the guy likes the girl, the girl likes the guy, they don't get together... but the tension, the angst, the moments? They're mostly not there at all, and when they are there, mostly not well done.  I think there was like one point where I said, okay, finally, it's getting good... but then it just went back to the same old, same old.  Sigh...

What exactly happened here? Well the first thing is that Melissa Nathan died very soon after completing this, so she probably didn't have the time to craft it properly, very understandably.  I'm sure some of the back and forth would have been edited, and maybe the romance would have been dusted up a bit.  And besides that, I think she wanted to write a bit of a more serious book, one that would say something, and one that would kind of stand as a message to her husband/son... well I hope she got what she wanted in terms of that, because I must say it just doesn't succeed as well as a chic lit.  Sorry.

Verdict: 2/5
Food: something really, really disappointing - because it just wasn't done right... let me go with slightly raw chicken - not so raw you can't eat it, just raw enough that you can't enjoy it... to bad