Thursday, April 18, 2013

Naked City edited by Ellen Datlow

Finished! Finally...

Overall, not bad. A few stories were nice, a few were good enough that I will add those authors to my find-something-else-by-them list, and many were just "meh" - passable reading, but nothing to write home about.

I really enjoyed "Noble Rot" by Holly Black and "King Pole, Gallows Pole, Bottle Tree" by Elizabeth Bear. I'd never read anything by these ladies before, and both had a wonderful way of telling her tale.

Only other honorable mention is "Underbridge" by Peter S. Beagle; he's got a character a character Cut'n-Shoot, who supposedly got the moniker from a Texas town. This is completely true, as I used to have to drive thru Cut and Shoot, TX to get to my parents' place when they lived just outside of Houston. It's a tiny town (Wikipedia says it's only 2.7 square miles, and that sounds about right), the sort that has one stoplight and one bar. And the parking lot of said bar is full of pretty much nothing but pickup trucks, and almost all of them have gun racks in the back window. Yes, there were always guns in the racks. While I'm sure the people of Cut and Shoot are nice enough folk, I tried to make sure that I drove through during the day, dusk at the latest.

As for the head-scratchers, there were a few of those, too. I liked "The Colliers' Venus (1893)" by Caitlin R. Kiernan well enough at first glance, but then it veered off into her usual "what's going on here?" territory. Le sigh. "The Skinny Girl" by Lucius Shepard was in the same vein: seemed pretty decent at first, but by the end, I wasn't really sure what happened.

Why do I pick up this sort of book, when it's obvious that I don't always like the stories? Well, because they are stories; it's a nice way to find a new author (I think it's really hard to write short stories, so if one comes off well, I know that writer's got some chops) and it's something that's easy to read at night - no getting so caught up in the story that I might end up sacrificing sleep to finish up.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"Marginal" titles

I've been working my way through Naked City, a collection of urban fantasy short stories, and I came across this turn of phrase in "The Projected Girl" by Lavie Tidhar. Here's a bit more of the original paragraph, so you get the full gist of the thing:

"D'you know," he said, as if imparting a great truth to his young audience, "these are marginal titles. A boy like you - you should be reading Agnon, Grossman, Oz, Appelfeld. Serious literature, not this trash."

Oh, how reading this brought back memories! Long ago, when I was still working in a used book store, I had a co-worker who was always on me about what I was reading. I was very much into horror at the time: vampires, werewolves, and lots of other scary stuff. I also picked up a lot of the paranormal romance authors, mostly because I didn't mind the spice and I could usually get my vamp/were fix easier with that genre. And I picked up other stuff that was fun, too, humor (this was the store where I discovered Jill Connor Browne and her Sweet Potato Queens), some philosophy (never did really get it), and once upon a time, an awesome book about female exploitation in slasher flicks (a book that spurred me to finally track down and watch I Spit on Your Grave...). In other words, I was reading for fun.

Cue the wailing and gnashing of teeth from aforementioned co-worker, who kept saying that he/she didn't understand why I read such "trash" (and yes, I'm trying to protect the identity of this person). Why, oh why, would I waste my time on such garbage? I was an English major, for crying out loud - where was the serious literature? Why wasn't I continuing my studies of the greats? Why wouldn't I, at the very least, pick up a modern literary title? In other words, why was a reading such "marginal" work?

I'll tell you why: I enjoyed it. Honestly, I had read a lot of great stuff while working on my bachelor's. But that time was over, and I just wanted to read...well, what I wanted to read. And what I chose was light, fluffy stuff. OK, maybe not that fluffy, considering some of it was pretty good horror, but I'm sure you see where I'm going with this. I didn't want to be reading anything terribly deep. I didn't want to have to parse a sentence. I didn't want to lay out the motives of the protagonist. I just did not want to be reading "serious literature" at that time. This is what I explained to the co-worker. He/she was aghast, and actually said something to the effect that he/she was worried for my "literary soul".

Um, seriously? Can we say "pretentious"?

It's been many years since this episode, and I've read many, many books since then. As I've gotten older, I have gone back and started reading some "serious literature" again. I've read a few authors that I somehow never read (despite being an English major), and I've been reading a lot more non-fiction, perhaps trying to keep my grey matter working at its peak. But this has been my choice.

And when I want, I read lots of those "marginal" titles. What can I say? I like to be entertained.

Monday, April 8, 2013

A Fistful of Collars by Spencer Quinn

Just finished up the fifth book in the Chet and Bernie series by Spencer Quinn, A Fistful of Collars. Still a cute series about The Little Detective Agency, so named for Bernie Little. Chet is his dog and partner. The mystery is done pretty well, the characters are engaging, and Chet is...well, Chet.

While I like the idea of the story being told from a first-person perspective - namely Chet's POV - I found myself a bit annoyed at times this go-round. Yes, the author totally nails what it must be like to be in a dog's head: lots of jumping around from subject to subject, confusion over what certain sayings mean, how smells are so good and what they're like, lots of naps.

But this time I really noticed that often these quick jumps in POV were done so that we, the readers, weren't privileged to information that was obviously being related/revealed to the human characters. And that sort of had me a bit peeved. IMHO, one should never notice a literary "trick", regardless of what that trick is. Here, it's obviously what amounts to a jump-cut in Chet's POV so that we're kept in the dark. I get that Chet doesn't always pay attention (and who would when there's bacon around?) but this time it was often glaringly obvious what was happening.

Didn't make the book any less enjoyable, I suppose, as I raced through it. I do hope that the author doesn't use the construction quite so much in the next book, though, or at the very least, hides it to some extent. And I really hope we get to learn more about the pup who has been seen around the neighborhood, the one who looks suspiciously like Chet...

Thursday, April 4, 2013

New directions, new beginnings, new and improved?

As I'm sure you've noticed by now, I'm not doing so well at keeping up with the book reviews. In fact, at this point I'd be surprised if any of you have stuck with this blog, as I post so infrequently. I always say I'll do better, and it doesn't happen.

So I've decided to simply...

take it in a new direction.

You thought I was going to say I was giving it up, didn't you? Truth be told, I did consider it. But I like the idea of my thoughts/opinions being out here too much to just throw in the towel. However, that realization got me to thinking of what I might want to do with this thing. Obviously the review thing didn't really work out. And the "let me tell you about what's coming out this week/month" thing didn't work, either. (What? You don't remember that? Don't feel was a while back and it didn't last long).

What to do, what to do.

Why not do what I do best? Just talk about books in general, and what I'm reading, trends I see in the business, etc? Sort of like what I do at the library; now you can ALL be my patrons!

The plan now is this: I will try to blog at least 4 days/week, and it will be about books. The posts may not be long, but I will post often. I'd love to get some discussion going on the topics I muse about, so please, feel free to leave comments!

Keep your fingers crossed that this change is successful, and that it even brings in some new readers/followers. If not, then yeah, I'll probably have to give serious consideration to shutting this down...

The Diet Dropout's Guide to Natural Weight Loss: Find your easiest path to naturally thin by Stan Spencer

No hype. No fluff. This slim book is packed with myth-busting facts and practical advice.

You will learn:

The truth about common weight loss myths
  • The secret to losing weight and keeping it off
  • Why "fat genes" can't keep you from being thin
  • How to naturally boost your metabolism
  • How to calm cravings and quit emotional eating
  • How to keep a "slip" from becoming a binge
  • How to eat less without going hungry
  • How to get more exercise and enjoy it

  • And much more

    With this book you will create your own weight loss plan—your easiest path to naturally thin. Take your first steps on the path today and leave dieting behind forever.
    OK, so this is one of those books that I tried to win from Goodreads - many, many times. I finally gave up on entering after I lost something like 5 or 6 times. Imagine my shock when I realized my library system had picked it up! I would get to read it/see it after all, and I didn't have to keep being a "loser".
    So this is definitely a different diet book - there's no "diet" here. The author provides the basic weight loss advice that we've been told for years, the one we really don't want to hear since we're looking for an easy fix: eat less overall, make healthier food choices, and get some exercise. Really, that's it! But it's laid out in a nice, easy-to-digest manner (no pun intended). Short chapters that explain why we are probably overweight now (changes to how food is prepared in conjunction with a much more sedentary lifestyle), how to handle cravings and stress, and how to start losing weight. There's a few basic recipes at the end of the book, and that's it.
    So why did I enjoy this? Well, because I think it's the sort of thing that would actually be worth the money to have at home. It's inexpensive at $11 for the physical book, even less for the e-book ($2.99 for the Kindle version). It's got a little bit of cheerleading for the reader, but not so much that it's a turn-off. There's great advice about going slowly, how to add a healthy choice to each meal, how to get just a bit more exercise, etc. And lots of comments about how you shouldn't just throw in the towel if you have an "off day" or even an "off" meal. The doctor wisely reminds the reader that this is a life-style change, that it should be looked at for the long haul, and so mistakes/slips are going to be part of the process. That's probably the downfall of a lot of dieters - giving up just because they eat a cookie (or 20) or skip exercise one day (or a week).
    I'm very glad to see this in our library, and I'll be recommending it to our patrons. And yes, I think I just might be buying a copy of this for myself.