First, I would like to thank my mother’s computer for allowing me to put up a blog post. As some of you know, me and my computer have been forcibly separated by circumstances beyond my control (*cough* Olive oil *cough*) and until some kind of brilliant solution is worked out, I need to mooch off of other peoples’ computers to get blog-related work done. So thanks, Mom! (and Mom’s computer. I’m sorry I made fun of you for not having an alarm clock.) It’s also a minor miracle that my mother and I are in the same city, so thank you, giver of miracles.
[My mother would like to take this opportunity to note that:
1. She doesn’t like my blog theme (hey, you should see the other ones. But shall work on it.)
2. She thinks it’s too hard to comment on my blog (fair point. Shall work on it)
3. She thinks I should talk more about why the title of the movie Shame is an example of America’s moralizing puritanism (yeah…that’s probably not going to happen)
4. If I don’t talk about why the title of Shame is an example of America’s moralizing puritanism, she threatens to take over my blog for a day and do it herself (oy! Get your own blog!)]
Secondly, I would like to register my outrage at the fact that Skylar Laine was eliminated from American Idol this week.
Skylar should not have gone home in fifth place. Let’s just say that when I found out, I used language that I would not repeat on the internet.
Skylar was not necessarily my favorite contestant – I kept switching between her and Jessica Sanchez for the female contestants (and Joshua Ledet for the male contestants) – but she was a bloody incredible singer and performer; she was charismatic and always fun to watch; and unlike certain other contestants, she was consistently improving, consistently pushing herself, consistently staying on pitch and on key, consistently challenging the boundaries of her vocal abilities.
SHE SHOULD NOT HAVE GONE HOME FIFTH PLACE, is what I’m saying.
Heck, she made me, a non-country fan, like country music. Which is Saying Something – one of my best friends has been trying to get me on board the country bandwagon for years.
Her ouster is particularly frustrating because the one contestant who messed up both of his performances (I’m sorry, Phillip Phillips fans, but he was off-pitch for most of the night, and the melody got beaten into a bloody pulp in his first performance) was STILL nowhere near the bottom 3. At this point, I think Phillip Phillips could kill a kitten onstage, and he’d still sail through to next week.
And no, I still won’t blame teen girls. I don’t need to. Last week, after a particularly bad Phillip Phillips performance, Jennifer Lopez said: “I need you to do songs that are going to get you to that last show so you can win.”
Did she say the same thing to Elise Testone, Jessica Sanchez or Skylar Laine in one of their less-spectacular performances?
Even in Phillip Phillips’ bad performances, he’s still tagged as the winner.
Bias? What bias? I don’t see bias!
(And Lopez, let’s be clear, is the judge who has explicitly said she wants a girl to win idol this year)
Bah. I shall bring this rant to a close, because, in the immortal words of Skylar Laine, the show must go on:
On with the (book-related) show!
This is, of course, my monthly act of reading-related naval-gazing, whereupon I list and discuss all the books I read in the past month. Let’s look at my reading list for April, shall we?
1. The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold
2. After the Apocalypse by Maureen McHugh
3. Libra by Don Delillo
4. The Vor Games by Lois McMaster Bujold
5. The Jew of New York by Ben Katchor
6. Cold Fire by Kate Elliot
7. Chime by Franny Billingsley
8. The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines
For those of you who have been following my monthly reading roundups since the start (ie: my brother)… have you noticed the drop? Eight books! Eight! That’s well below my monthly average of thirteen (for last year), and it’s a four book drop from March.
I would be worried, but, let’s face it: it was finals.
It’s surprisingly hard to read when you’re trying to memorize a hundred and fifty pages of lecture notes, or desperately trying to find your way out of Heidegger’s Hermeneutic Circle. (What is the hermeneutic circle, you ask? Don’t ask. You don’t want to know).
On the other hand, I enjoyed every single book I read, which is… rare. Very rare. It’s why I didn’t star and italicize the books I would recommend – because I would honestly recommend any of the books I read this month. Very bizarre. Very VERY bizarre, even. Maybe I’m becoming less picky in my old age? (hey, my brother thinks I’m old. And I can buy alcohol in the United States. That’s pretty old).
I even enjoyed Don DeLillo, who I was convinced I would dislike based on the reviews I’ve read of his work. I also tend to dislike contemporary American “literary” writers (*cough* Jonathan Franzen *cough*), but… I liked DeLillo. Maybe it was just the pre-finals adrenaline rush. Maybe it was just the fact that Libra is a spy novel, and I like spy novels. I’ll have to read something else of DeLillo’s, and make my mind up then.
The Jew of New York was the most painful read of the month, but it wasn’t the book’s fault (necessarily). For some reason, every time I tried to read it, I would fall asleep, which would, in turn, make me freak out that I wasn’t going to finish the book before my Graphic Novels final. Not a good reading experience. In the book’s defense, I think my falling asleep was due more to my finals-related exhaustion than to the contents of the novel – it’s not a boring read. Once I’d had a couple hundred cups of coffee, I really enjoyed it.
Of course, in a moment of supreme irony, I spent the days before my graphic novels final desperately finishing The Jew of New York… and it ended up being the only book of the entire course that I couldn’t find a place to talk about in the exam. We read 13 comics. I managed to talk about every single one except this one. GAAAH. ( I added it to my definition of graphiation, just so I could say I’d covered every book. Yes, I’m slightly obsessive, why do you ask?)
April would have been a good reading month if only because I continued my foray into Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga. Yes, I do now understand why everyone in Sci-Fi is obsessed. I read Shards of Honor and Barrayar during winter break, and was immediately hooked onto the series (as evidenced by the fact that I put both books in my list of great SF books for women). Sadly, Young Miles, the omnibus that contains The Warrior’s Apprentice and The Vor Game, was unavailable at my local bookstore, and checked out of the city library… so it took me a while to get my hands on it.
I was somewhat worried that I wouldn’t like Miles as much as I loved his mother, Cordelia Naismith (the hero of the first books in the Vorkosigan Saga). But although my love for Cordelia is eternal, I have managed to find a place in my heart for Miles, who is just… divine.
Miles Naismith Vorkosigan lives on Barrayar, a planet where physical strength and military ability are valued above all else. Worse yet, his father, Admiral Aral Vorkosigan, is an intergalactically reknown military hero (his mother, Cordelia, is also a military hero, but Barrayar is a highly patriarchal society, and thus prefers not to talk about a woman’s military achievements).
Unfortunately, Miles is a dwarf. A biological attack on his parents while Cordelia was pregnant with him permanently damaged Miles’ spine and bones, leaving him short and disabled. His bones break easily; he needs leg braces and canes to walk correctly. On Barrayar, someone like Miles would usually be aborted; only the courage of his parents saved his life. As someone with extreme physical disabilities, Miles has no real place in Barrayar’s militaristic society. Indeed, the beginning of The Warrior’s Apprentice sees him failing out of officer training when he breaks his legs on an obstacle course.
So Miles needs to find… alternatives.
Alternatives which include (among others): commandeering an ship, running guns to a besieged planet, impersonating an admiral and, somewhat accidentally, gaining the control of an entire mercenary fleet. For kicks, Miles wins a war and then goes to save the emperor of Barrayar from an evil plot.
He’s pretty resourceful, is what I’m saying.
All of Miles’s achievements should feel ridiculous, but Bujold crafts the character so well that I bought them, hook, line and sinker. I never felt like Miles was a Gary Stu. He’s real. And the stakes are sufficiently high, and the plot is sufficiently dark that the books are more than just a caper. When I started to worry that Bujold was making things too damn easy for Miles, she hit me with a great plot twist, and I was satisfied: there are consequences to Miles’ actions.
Yet even with the darkness, Miles is just so damn fun to read. I found myself laughing at the sheer audacity of his schemes, or cheering at his ridiculous and hard-earned successes. You can’t help but enjoy him. Case in point:
“Am I reading too much into all that innuendo, or did you in fact just connive to assassinate Gregor in one breath, offer to cuckold him in the next, accuse your father of homosexuality, suggest a patricidal plot against him, and league yourself with Cavilo—what are you going to do for an encore?” (Bujold, The Vor Games)
I, for one, can’t wait to see what Miles does for an encore. Damn, I love these books.
I’ve been trying to read more short stories – they are not my genre of choice, sadly, but I’m learning to appreciate them. Since I was a big fan of Maureen McHugh’s novel China Mountain Zhang, I thought I would pick up her short story collection, After the Apocalypse.
That turned out to be a good decision – as it turns out McHugh is one of a very few writers whose short stories I enjoy every time (Octavia Butler is another of this rare breed).
All the stories in this collection are linked by the title theme – they tell stories of people surviving after some kind of major, apocalyptic change. And, just as she does in China Mountain Zhang, McHugh focuses in on the stories of individuals, and the way they live (or don’t) in the midst of these changes.
Although I admired all of the stories in the book, I was particularly impressed by four: “The Naturalist,” “Special Economics,” “The Effect of Centrifugal Forces” and “After the Apocalypse.” I’m actually glad I was spoiled for the ending of “After the Apocalypse,” because I think it would have been too much of a blow if I hadn’t known it was coming – it’s a tale of mother-daughter survival that… does not go the way reader’s expect (I shall refrain from spoilers). “The Effect of Centrifugal Forces” is a bit of a companion piece to “After the Apocalypse” – it too, focuses on mother-daughter relations, although in this case, the “apocalypse” is a degenerative disease.
“The Naturalist” has a fascinating premise: Zombies have been confined into a sort of natural reserve; the government drops criminals into the reserve as punishment. One of the criminals (our protagonist) becomes fascinating by the zombies, and starts using his fellow criminals as bait so he can observe the zombies’ behavior when they feed (I mean, people have to find a way to occupy themselves…).
I suppose one of McHugh’s central questions is whether or not “natural” relationships and instincts are that “natural” when people are in extreme circumstances. Do mothers and daughters remain close in the face of the apocalypse? Do we keep our link with our humanity, even when we’ve been abandoned to die? McHugh’s exploration of this theme is brutal (if fascinating) which is why I appreciated ‘Special Economics,” a somewhat more light-hearted take on two women navigating an exploitative Chinese company.
I also thoroughly enjoyed Cold Fire by Kate Elliot, but have no idea how to review it without giving spoilers for the first book in the series, Cold Magic. I’ll just say that you should check both books out: they’re pretty fantastic.
The series as a whole is:“An Afro-Celtic post-Roman icepunk Regency fantasy adventure with airships, Phoenician spies, the intelligent descendents of troodons, and a dash of steampunk whose gas lamps can be easily doused by the touch of a powerful cold mage.”
And if that’s not enough to send you running to the bookstore, the series also includes irritatingly handsome men who would be more attractive if they weren’t trying to kill you, cat-human shapeshifters, dragons, trolls (the intelligent descendents of troodoons), witty (and less witty) banter, and an awesome protagonist who has her priorities straight (when married off without warning, first: locate food. When sent to the spirit word, first: locate food. When exiled to an island full of zombies, first: locate food. Priorities: Cat has ’em).
Oh yes. There are now zombies.
Seriously, why didn’t I know about Kate Elliot earlier?
(Dear Universe: When there are awesome authors I should read, please let me know about them early, okay? An intergalactic newsletter will do just fine! Thanks!)
Okay, I lied before: the worst part of my reading this month was the cover of Chime. Seriously. Worst and least accurate cover ever. Yes, it’s pretty…I suppose. But why does Briony look like a half-buried barbie? For that matter, why is she so darn pretty? The cover makes it seem like poor Briony is off to a very, very bizarre school dance (she’s not).
If you can’t already tell, I REALLY dislike this cover. Maybe it’s because I spent my childhood decapitating my barbies and burying them in the backyard (totally normal behavior!). Or maybe it’s because the book is about a girl who is convinced she’s a horrible witch who deserves to be hung, and not about a girl going to her prom (not that there’s anything wrong going to your prom).Chime is dark and edgy and tortured and the cover… is a very pretty version of that.
On the other hand I really liked the book, which is one of the most original YA novels I’ve read this year.. It’s very rare to read a young adult character quite as self-loathing as Briony, who is convinced she’s a witch, and responsible for the death of her stepmother, and the mental illness of her twin sister. Briony’s voice and her journey is fascinating. I was disappointed by the ending, which was a bit too pat for my taste – I was hoping that such a nuanced character would merit an equally nuanced ending. Or perhaps I wanted this nuance to translate to the rest of the “monsters” in the story. If Briony is redeemable, shouldn’t witches be redeemable as well? Are all (other) witches evil? Are all dark creatures evil? Did anyone else feel unsatisfied by the ending, or is that just me?
I also feel like there’s a trend in YA these days to write about protagonists who would usually be the villains – I’m thinking of Briony, of course, and also of Cassel Sharpe in Holly Black’s Curse Workers series. But maybe that’s always been a trend, and I’ve just missed it? The villain-as-hero seems particularly pertinent to the YA genre, in any case (since the genre is oriented towards teenagers).
I’ve been following Jim C. Hines’s blog for a while, and he did me a big favor a couple of days ago (he doesn’t know he did me a favor, and I don’t know him personally. He just wrote something very helpful on his blog). So I figured since I was getting so many benefits from his blog, I should probably buy one of his books (rather than just mooch off his free stuff).
The Stepsister Scheme is the very, very long epilogue to the Cinderella fairy tale. Cinderella (Danielle) and her prince (Armand) are happily married. Unfortunately, Danielle’s evil stepsisters haven’t given up on marrying Armand themselves, and kidnap him (they’re persistent, you have to give them that). Danielle goes off to save Armand; she’s joined by two of the Queen’s employees, Snow and Talia.
It took me a while to get into the plot of The Stepsister Scheme – I almost needed three more chapters of info-dump than I got. Since the story begins in medias res, it was harder to attach to the characters – I almost needed three more chapters of info-dump than I got. I know, I just said I wanted more info-dump. I’m sure the universe will punish me for this horrific statement somehow…
Once I was hooked, however, the book was very good. What’s fascinating about the story is that it’s not just the epilogue of one fairy tale – Snow turns out to be “Snow White,” and Talia turns out to be “Sleeping Beauty” The interactions between the three princesses – Danielle, Talia and Snow – are also quite interesting. They’re all deeply traumatized by their “fairy tale” experiences, and who can blame them?
I’m intrigued to see what else Hines does with the series – the characters are great, and it’ll be interesting to see how they continue to evolve in the rest of the series. Plus, I’m hoping for the appearance of Little Red Riding Hood. Apparently, she’s an assassin now.
Random Other Stuff
Apparently, when I’m super -stressed out for finals, I find awesome things on youtube. Yes, those two things seem… incompatible. I am a woman of many skills.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries: a video-blog (re)telling of Pride and Prejudice. I loves it very much. It is my precious. And it is helping me get over the end of my Austen course.
America’s Next Top Doll
It is a truth universally acknowledged that I, to my great shame, have watched every single episode of America’s Next Top Model. More than once. Yes, I pretended it was some kind of deep sociological problem, but really? I was hooked. Hooked on the weaves and the photoshoots and the drama. And hooked on the weirdness of Tyra Banks.
(For the record, my favorite cycles are 3, 6, 7 and 13).
I have since gotten over my obsession, but the scars of those months run deep. Very deep. And this youtube parody has helped me heal. With the gift of laughter.
(Oh, Michael Slezak, where would I be without you?)
Sadly, the season is not complete (and probably never will be…) , but my money is on Zombie-girl to win it all.
And that’s all for now! Hopefully my computer will be fixed soon, and I can return to some kind of normal blogging schedule… but until then, I remain, as ever, trapped in Heidegger’s Hermeneutic Circle.
(p.s: in my next post, there may be a cat. No promises, but I figured I’d give advanced warning just in case for those allergic to cat hair. And cuteness)