RSS

State of the Blog Address part 2

It’s absolutely, totally, and completely my fault this time.  After Sweden, I had visitors from Missouri, I went to Missouri, and then moved out of the same house as my dear sister.  It made for a difficult time.  So, thanks for your patience and I just sent an e-mail to my sister about the book we read for the blog a year ago.  Hopefully, we’ll remember enough to do it justice.

My most profuse apologies.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 17, 2012 in General

 

State of the Blog Address

Sorry about the long, long, long delay between posts. It was entirely my fault; you may berate me at will.

Our goal is to get up one book per month from here on out, though that might not quite work for July, since we are about to embark on a family vacation of a lifetime. We’re going to Sweden, and we could not be more excited!

Thanks for sticking with us.  We (read: I) will be better in the future!

Annalisa

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 20, 2011 in General

 

Sun of Suns – It’s a World Like No Other

Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder
From Publishers Weekly: “The swashbuckling space settlers of Schroeder’s fantastical novel (after 2005′s Lady of Mazes) inhabit warring nation-states inside a planet-sized balloon called Virga. This adventure-filled tale of sword fights and naval battles stars young Hayden Griffin of the nation of Aerie, orphaned by an attack on the artificial sun that his parents tried to build. He grows up to seek vengeance against the man who led it, Adm. Chaison Fanning of the nation Slipstream. Getting close to Fanning, though, entails infiltrating the flagship Rook and interfering in the schemes of the admiral’s wife, the devious Venera. Schroeder layers in scientific rationales for his air-filled, gravity-poor world—with its spinning cylinder towns and miles-long icebergs—but the real fun of this coming-of-age tale includes a pirate treasure hunt and grand scale naval invasions set in the cold, far reaches of space.”

* * * * *

I unabashedly love science fiction.  This is a gift mostly from my dad.  He’s a fan of classic sci-fi—Asimov, Heinlein, Herbert—which allowed me to discover the genre on late night book raids while searching for a new book to read among the family library.  But I have a confession to make: I also have a hard time reading science fiction.  Almost inevitably, those first two chapters are laborious, occasionally tortuous to get through.  It is not uncommon for me to start a sci-fi book and lose interest within the first 30 pages, only to pick up the exact same book a year later and, enthralled, read the entire book in one sitting.  I’m not sure why I’m so prone to false starts, but I think it might just be an extension of, quite simply, being in the mood for a certain kind of book.

So what does this have to do with Sun of Suns? Read the rest of this entry »

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on June 20, 2011 in Review/Rebuttal

 

Sun of Suns: Assumptions make a what out of you and me again?

I swear, I will write an unreservedly positive review and soon.  Unfortunately, I cannot do so on this one.  Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder is inventive and an adventure, but it left me stumped.  To give you some context, here is the description from “Publishers Weekley”:

The swashbuckling space settlers of Schroeder’s fantastical novel inhabit warring nation-states inside a planet-sized balloon called Virga. This adventure-filled tale of sword fights and naval battles stars young Hayden Griffin of the nation of Aerie, orphaned by an attack on the artificial sun that his parents tried to build. He grows up to seek vengeance against the man who led it, Adm. Chaison Fanning of the nation Slipstream. Getting close to Fanning, though, entails infiltrating the flagship Rook and interfering in the schemes of the admiral’s wife, the devious Venera. Schroeder layers in scientific rationales for his air-filled, gravity-poor world—with its spinning cylinder towns and miles-long icebergs—but the real fun of this coming-of-age tale includes a pirate treasure hunt and grand scale naval invasions set in the cold, far reaches of space.

Sounds like fun, right?  Well reading this book, for me, was an experience not unlike showing up at a party late.  The games have started and you’ve missed all the food except cake (yummy though it is, you wanted the meal, too).  That wouldn’t be so bad if it had been your fault that you were late, but the host is the one who accidentally told you that the party started half an hour later than it actually did.  Upon finding this out, rather than warming up a plate of food and explaining the rules of the game the guests are in the middle of, the host merely says, “Oh, you’ll catch on.”

This is the same assumption Karl Schroeder makes.  That the reader will catch on.  He is my infuriating host and I was the confused, tardy guest who spent the rest of the party limping through, because there was a great deal of promise in some of the best moments in the book (okay, done with the metaphor).  However, because Schroeder never explains all the assumptions he expects his reader to make, I was left unimpressed.

Schroeder starts too early and too late in his story at once.  Introducing the reason for Hayden’s desire for revenge was best left to a flashback later in the novel, in my opinion, not the first chapter.  Why?  Because that first chapter is an all important moment for world-creation.  It is my not-so-humble opinion that, when creating a world, you must provide a few answers to the basic questions in the first chapters.  Questions like: “How does this world work?” or “What kind of society am I in?  What are the basic structures?”  or perhaps “WHERE THE HECK AM I?!?!?”  All of these answers are good, important things to introduce very early.  I never got a clear answer to any of those questions.  (Please understand I am not asking for a didactic, school-like lesson on the functions of the world, just a couple hints early-on would have been nice.)

Also, and this may be just me, but I have an issue with Terran swear words in a distinctly NON-Terran society.  Anne McCaffrey solved this issue with the word “shards” and another couple (a couple of her books even provide a handy-dandy list!).  It was an entirely appropriate word to be used as an expletive, considering the culture she created.  Surely Schroeder had imagination enough for that?  I assume he merely thought it unnecessary.  Very possibly he thought the reader wouldn’t care if there were Terran swear words.  I very much so do, from a personal point as well as the offensive lack of imagination.  I find it offensive because it would have taken so little effort, and would have been much more respectful to his readers.

Speaking of imagination, what was with the cliché love interest?  Aubri Mahallan is a foreigner who clearly has an advanced understanding of science in general, not to mention the science specific to the world the characters live in.  (Would have been nice for the author to let us in on that more thoroughly.  Yes–I am still grumpy about this.)  However, for some reason, this makes her sad.  In fact, the first time we meet her, she gives some cryptic answer about her background and when the main character answers, “I don’t understand,” she says, “Good.  That means we can still be friends.”  Melodramatic, cryptic, foreign, AND the only unmarried female on-board a ship.  This makes her two things automatically: the eventual sexual partner of the main character and slated to die.  Sure enough, the cold fish dies after becoming involved with, but not loving, Hayden, who loves her.  This leaves a broken-hearted main character, therefore conveniently giving him his motivation for the next novel (which I will NOT be reading).

I guess, what I am ultimately saying  is that this book was disappointing.  I enjoyed parts of it.  I thought the sometimes-adversarial, sometimes-caring relationship between Chaison and Venera was fantastic.  There was a moment when, after an entire book of sniping little fights, the couple sought comfort from each other after a near-death experience that involved hostages, a shoot-out, and jumping into space with just a hope of a clean rescue.  It was a beautifully human moment when two of the most guarded characters–characters who I’m still not sure love each other–found solace in the company of their spouse, not some mistress, kept-man, or convenient body.  They needed someone there who they knew, and were familiar with, to remind them that not only were they alive but also understood.  Strangers cannot give such comfort.

Beautiful as some moments were (fight to the death in no gravity, where you’re dead if you lose momentum and/or if your opponent gets to you–awesome!), the rest were dull, confusing, or cliché.   I found myself an indignant and frustrated reader, feeling as if I were being talked down to and told to catch up because surely I’m clever enough to at the same time.  I feel like Schroeder assumes the reader is in his head by choosing to read the book, and that is exactly the place I was never allowed access to.

I suppose, with a bit of patience and luck, I could make it through the next book and see where that took me.   Perhaps I’d understand more.  However, I don’t believe reading should require patience and luck (unless, of course, it is required reading for school or work . . . then it demands all the patience and luck the universe can spare you).  Reading is to be enjoyed, not endured.  That is my problem with Sun of Suns:  I endured it.  I do so wish I could have enjoyed it.

Joie

 
2 Comments

Posted by on July 7, 2010 in Review/Rebuttal

 

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon – Annalisa is a Child

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
From the flap: “In the valley of Fruitless Mountain, a young girl named Minli spends her days working hard in the fields and her nights listening to her father spin fantastic tales about the Jade Dragon and the Old Man of the Moon.  Minli’s mother, tired of their poor life, chides him for filling her head with nonsense.  But Minli believes these enchanting stories and embarks on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how her family can change their fortune.  She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest.”

* * * * *

I admit that my first reaction to this book was “Ooo, look!  Pictures!  Pretty pictures!”  I know, I am such a child.  But come on!  Full-page illustrations in a novel is such a rarity these days that I think it is worth pointing out, even if only in childlike glee.  There are about 10 or so of the full-page pictures plus a host of section dividers and chapter headings all drawn by the author and printed in full color.  And while they are not the focus of the book, I think that the illustrations are a natural outcropping of the exuberance with which the author took to her project.

And what was her project? you may ask. Read the rest of this entry »

 
2 Comments

Posted by on June 9, 2010 in Individual Reviews

 

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon: Where the Author Gets Lazy

Don’t let the blog title fool you: I like the book.  However, this is the second time I’ve read the book and this is when the flaws of a text tend to show themselves (unless the flaws are glaringly obvious . . . even then new eyes cannot hide them).  Unfortunately, this particular flaw is one of my pet peeves.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin is a fantastic little compendium of connected Chinese myths.  The jacket flap describes it thusly:

“In the valley of Fruitless Mountain, a young girl named Minli spends her days working hard in the fields and her nights listening to her father spin fantastic tales about the Jade Dragon and the Old Man of the Moon.  Minli’s mother, tired of their poor life, chides him for filling her head with nonsense.  But Minli believes these enchanting stories and embarks on an extraordinary journey to find the Old Man of the Moon and ask him how her family can change their fortune.  She encounters an assorted cast of characters and magical creatures along the way, including a dragon who accompanies her on her quest.”

The flap doesn’t do the book justice.  The true beauty of this book isn’t the plot that connects the myths, but the myths themselves.  Every time someone tells one of these stories, it’s separated from the text with a title surrounded by an individual graphic and a different typeface.  These myths, with their special typeface and titles, serve a similar function to the occasional pictures within the book.  They create a mental image, one of fancy and mystery.  What story is to be told next?

This is why it so frustrating when, in the middle of the book, the author gets lazy.  These myths at the beginning have all the florid language of oral stories without the cumbersome format of the epics of old.  The first begins, “Once when there were no rivers on the earth, the Jade Dragon was in charge of the clouds.”  Many of the stories, beginning and end, have this same sense of anticipation for a story to explain the fantastic.  But in the middle of the book, the language of the stories dulls and I get the feeling that the author went too long without a myth to include so she just made a story up.

If she had managed to keep that sense of wonder and distinction from ordinary life in the myths, I wouldn’t have minded.  However, these middle myths have a feeling of banality, like they serve a purpose, but don’t matter enough to deserve the same caliber of writing that the suspected “real myths” do.  One of my least favorites, “The Story of the Buffalo Boy’s Friend” begins like this: “Sometimes, during the hot summer days, there is not enough water for my buffalo . . .”  This hardly inspires interest.  What is more heartbreaking is the friend from the title is a mystical girl.  She, like the Jade Dragon, is a puzzle to be introduced to and solved.  But the reader’s wonder is inhibited, even reduced to mild curiosity, by the dreary format and language of the tale.

I’ll admit, I think I might be looking at this book more critically than others might, especially children.  I have a passion for myth that has been my constant companion since childhood.  It’s heavily influenced my studies and continues to be something I habitually delve back into.  Treating myth as something that just serves a purpose feels intrinsically wrong.

Thankfully, the writing in this book, even in the plot that connects all these myths, is mostly beautiful.  Even the story of little Minli has some distinctly mythic characteristics, and the language follows.  In the first few pages Minli’s family is described with phrases that put me in mind of the Grimm Brothers: “Minli could not remember a time when Ma did not sigh; it often made Minli wish she had been called a name that meant gold or fortune instead.  Because Minli and her parents, like the village and the land around them, were very poor.”

Grace Lin is, in my opinion, a talented author.  Her blend of a very Western heroine, independent and free-thinking, with the Chinese mythology and culture is masterful.  I would recommend this book to many different types and ages.  However, I wish there had been just a little more care.  Eastern myths are hard enough to come by in Western literature.  How unfortunate that some of these bright little stories were merely deemed “good enough.”

Joie

 
5 Comments

Posted by on June 3, 2010 in Individual Reviews

 

*taps microphone* …Hello?

Hi, I’m Annalisa, and I’m a bookaholic.

Hi Annalisa.

As my sister has far more eloquently described, we are a family of readers.  Some of my fondest memories of our camping trips to Yellowstone are of Mom and Dad reading us stories both in the car and at the campfire before bed.  I was that kid that was always begging to go to the library all summer, whose reward for doing her chores was getting her book back.  In a phonology class in college, we got to talking about how we knew what some words meant, but not how to pronounce them correctly, which our professor promptly told us meant “you have more book friends than real friends.”  This was not at all an inaccurate assessment.

Now that you have my “qualifications” for making judgments about books, I suppose I should explain why we’re doing this.  Primarily, this is a way we can share our passion for books with other people and each other.  We’ve spent hours discussing books before, so it seemed a natural extension to write about them in a way where we could feed off of each other and get others involved too.  We’re so excited about this that we’ve already made a list of books that we want to read (see here), and it’s fairly eclectic.  Most are novels that one of us has read while the other hasn’t had the chance, but we have some that neither of us has read (usually from an author that we both enjoy), and some are books we’ve read so many times that we lost count years ago.  Hopefully there will be something there that you enjoy, in addition to reading us flail excitedly over them.

You’ll notice that Joie and I have very different writing styles.  I can guarantee that those differences will also show up in which books we like and dislike, so if you happen to see smoke billowing from the Colorado Springs area, don’t worry; it’s probably just us having a chat about why the other one is being absurd.

Thanks for reading; we hope that you’ll stick with us while we’re getting this up and running!

 
7 Comments

Posted by on May 27, 2010 in General

 
 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.