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Archive for June, 2012

The Night of Cussing in Books-A-Million

It would be very strange indeed if it was just a random night and all of a sudden there was an eruption of expletives from somewhere in the stacks. It would be epic to blame the rather askew nature of the magazines of the torrent of hot air carrying naughty words that cause titters even in grown adults.

But no.

It was actually a little better than that, and that requires me to back up a little.

For those of us who have been living under a rock (and yes, I include myself in this, since I only emerged from under mine within the last couple of months or so), the rest of the internet has been following a witty, wonderful woman who uses all these delightfully, decadently bad words in abundance named Jenny Lawson. Of course, most of the internet knows her as “The Bloggess.” She is hilarious, creative, honest, self-deprecating in a charming way, raw, open, snarky, tough…and really, I could go on, but I feel like that would require some kind of spoiler warning.

I blame Wil Wheaton for my discovery of The Bloggess and the introduction to her book. He’d been raving on Twitter, and thanks to the linkage which makes some other people intolerable, reposting those tweets to Facebook about The Bloggess and how much he was enjoying her book. Intrigued, I noted it and decided to soldier on with the homework and being a good little doo-bee.

As we all know, behaving only really lasts for so long and the benefits of being a good little homework-doer are only so gratifying when you feel like your eyeballs are going to fall out of your head. So, when one of these moods hit, I decided to figure out what the hell Wes- err… Wil Wheaton was talking about and I went on a trek to find out about The Bloggess.

I giggled my way through her blog, enchanted by her arguments with Victor and recognizing glimpses of myself through her arguments and just outlandish conversations. Yes, people, it is something like this in my head as well, but somewhat more violent. Mingle this with a horror movie or slasher film where you’re giggling at the overused tropes and conventions and you’re counting down the moments until the busty blonde who made the mistake of getting her itch scratched (brown-chicken-brown-cow) is gonna have to pay for her transgressions. (It’s not exactly a tourist destination, if you know what I mean…)

So I blame Wil Wheaton for my purchase of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.

What was entirely awesome and I can only say was destiny was the fact that after I started listening to the audiobook (which you should totally buy because it is more awesome than Reese’s peanut butter cups and because Jenny Lawson is the one reading it in a way that no other ever could), I found out that she was going to be doing a reading at a close-enough-to-be-local Books-A-Million. So I made plans to go and see her read since I was already planning on buying a copy of the book for my shelves anyway.

And that was the night that we packed the BAM in Concord, NC and totally flabbergasted Jenny Lawson with the turn out. Seriously. We were packed in there, but it was a great experience. Books-A-Million definitely underestimated the turn out (I don’t think the philistines had read the book because if they had, well, there would have been more room and a sign on the door with a parental advisory warning.)

Even packed in like sardines in folding chairs with books clutched in our flippery little hands, the crowd was excited and energized and nary a cranky word heard (at least by me). I was somewhat surprised to see the cult following Lawson has already, but perhaps only in the expressive and inventive ways they showed their enthusiasm. There were lots of metal chickens, taxidermied critters, and even a cake with Hamlet von Schnitzel brought in by one fan. Though being somewhat overwhelmed by the number of attendees, Lawson was smiling, cheerful and took the time to chat and take pictures with the legion of fans lined up to get her personal touch on the books. She handled it with a southern grace and charm I think few people can really pull off while still being genuine and endearing. But that’s just the thing – in person, she was just as wonderful and funny and REAL as she is in her blog and in her book, and her in-person reading was fantastic. I giggled all the way through it and I was not the only one. I had the opportunity to get her author-graph on my book and tell her that she did the impossible – and made the ride in to work something I looked forward to. There will be Something Like a Review available on Sunday for Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, but I’ll give a minor spoiler: GO. BUY. IT. If you have the misfortune of living somewhere you can’t get your reader-ly little paws on it immediately, order it and go read her blog. Even if you can get it immediately, go read her blog. You won’t regret joining the rest of us. (And I promise, you get used to how bright the sun is after a while.)

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Something Like a Review – The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice

I debated writing Something Like a Review for The Wolf Gift by Anne Rice for a variety of reasons. As much as I loved her bloodsucking fiends and witches from other novels, I had been sorely disappointed by her more recent offerings. When I heard that this book was to be more of a return to her roots, I was excited, but hesitant. Could this be the return to the storyteller that had vowed to change her ways? Or at least her subject matter?

For those not in the know, or who are young enough not to have been aware of the blip in the Anne Rice radar, in 2005, Anne Rice gave up her dark subject matter – vampires and witches and sex, oh my – to pursue a more divine subject matter. In her own words (or at least words attributed to her and plastered all over the internet, “I promised that from now on I would write only for the Lord.” One’s personal religious convictions aside, what this meant for her writing was a swift kick in the ideals to readers who flocked to her stories for their lush, extravagant, New Orleans-inspired prose. The greens were verdant, the air redolent of antiquity, tradition and the blood always ruby red and flowing. I admit that I was a disenfranchised reader – one who read the Christ books and while the story was decent, it wasn’t the same writer. The prose wasn’t as captivating and the characters weren’t as engaging. I will venture the possibility that it was me, that the thrill of her naughtiness or dabbling with the forbidden was a majority of the allure for me. It’s possible. However, for this reason, I only flipped through a couple of the books she released after that to discover more of the same…and I didn’t buy them. The Anne Rice I knew as a writer was gone and I mourned her.

Fast forward a few years and Anne Rice quits Christianity. I admired her stance, her position and was hopeful this meant a return to the writer without constraint. I had stopped looking. The titles and blurbs didn’t captivate me nor did the samples I read demand further investigation and I didn’t want to be further disappointed.

Enter The Wolf Gift. Even the subject matter sounded more like a return to thee Anne Rice of old, so I took a chance and downloaded it using my Audible account.

I wish I could give a glowing review. I want to give a glowing review.

But I’m not going to.

Don’t get me wrong, she had a great story line, and there were things I really liked. This is a huge departure from the Christ books that got on my nerves and the angel books that turned me off before I got them to the register. What was weird was the division between the beginning of the book and the end. The beginning sounds like a first time novelist, and is littered with things I’ve grown accustomed to NOT seeing in the works of authors who have reached great success. What grated on my nerves the most was the product placement. Walmart. Bose. Porsche. Mercedes. iPhone. Amazon.com. Facebook. Twitter. YouTube. Brooks Brothers. Game of Thrones. The most egregious instance of this was when one character asked another “Do you have your Nikon?” Seriously? Do people even talk like that? Maybe it’s petty, but it broke the enchantment of the story for me and limited this story to a contemporary setting. What will readers in ten years think about the story? I can only have visions of a character in a book playing Atari and drinking Hi-C Ecto Coolers. It annoyed me enough that I stopped reading for a while, especially after the Nikon question.

The beginning of the story just got on my nerves. The lavish (long-winded) descriptions got on my nerves because it didn’t seem to match the California setting, as gothic a manse as Nydek Point may have been. There was just something…missing. Something that felt forced, as if I knew this could be great, but was missing the mark. I don’t know if it was symptomatic of trying too hard, or of recovering from such a drastic change from the most recent novels or what, but it didn’t click until halfway through the book. Until that point, the characters were simply not as vivid or vibrant. Reuben got on my nerves at the beginning as well. His obsession with Marchand, with whom he’d only spent a very limited time, was so overwhelming, in my frustration, I caught myself mumbling “Marchand, Marchand, Marchand! Can’t you talk about anything else?” as I shut it off. Then I giggled, but not enough to break the mood and turn it back on. I wanted Reuben to man up and quit obsessing about a captivating one night stand and making it the pinnacle of his worldly experience. I mean seriously. You thought Louis was whiny and broody, just get a load of “Baby Boy” through the first half of the book. I wasn’t and I’m not looking for Lestat, but I was expecting a character of equal vibrancy and passion and backbone.

Rice did a great job creating the world of the werewolf, envisioning the powers and transformation. This is where the story finally came to life for me and where it seemed that Rice caught her stride. In the second half of the book, I wanted more of the story, and I could see her not only gathering strength, but returning to herself. There were still a couple of glitches that I feel should have been caught by the editorial staff, like a character not understanding how DNA can be matched to him, yet suddenly spouting off about how mitochondrial DNA can differentiate two people, or the somewhat heavy handed explanation of what “pluripotent progenitor” (stem) cells are. These weren’t nearly as disruptive of the story as the issues in the first half.

I wanted to love this story, but I can only honestly say that I liked it. It does, however, give me hope that future offerings from Anne Rice will being to bring the vibrancy of her world building and characters that I’ve come to expect. I hope that she does return to New Orleans in the future because of the life she breathes into the pages, or perhaps some other gothic location that allows her florid prose to thrive and take on a life of its own.

Medium:  Audiobook from Audible.com

Other: Multiple formats available from Amazon.com.

Overall rating: 3 stars. The beginning was less, but the end redeemed it to some degree.

Potential re-read?: Only to review the beginning as a cautionary tale of “what not to do,” or to compare the differences between the beginning and the end of the story. There might be a lot to learn between the difference in the beginning and at the end. Or as a kick in the pants to remind myself that we’re all human and we all make mistakes, even if we’re a big name author and can make a living off of our published works.

Dead tree worthy?: No. I’m glad I listened to it, but I don’t see the value of allocating this one shelf space. If I ever need to review this tale again, I’ll either borrow it from the library or from someone who already has it.

All the…Cool Things…

I blame the title on my utterly random music collection spitting out Blink-182 at me while I was pondering the blank page. This is probably the most harmless of its influences, so instead of “blame,” perhaps I’ll just “give credit…” 😉

So I’ve been quiet for a while and what this means for you is that you get to hear all kinds of stuff that has been happening in the world of me. Some is awesome, some is terrifying yet awesome, and some has me so excited, I swear I might just pee my pants.

Not really, but you know what I mean, I’m sure.

At least, I hope you do.

Anywhooo…..last weekend was ConCarolinas and, of course, I had a fabulous time. I spent much of my weekend in panels, but it was well worth the cost of admission. The more I write, the more I learn, the more value I find in listening to writers who have been where I am right now. I’ll gush more later, but I ended up with pages of notes, an armful of autographed books and the first half dozen handwritten pages of a WIP. Suffice to say, I was a happy girl.

This was not my first author encounter of the year, however, and it won’t be the last. The wildly popular Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, trekked on over to Concord, NC and I had the good fortune of getting to see her and get yet another autographed book. (If you have a chance to catch her on her book tour, or any other appearance, I highly recommend it. Even if only to hear her swear in public as she reads Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. If you can’t catch up with her on a reading, go buy the audiobook. Seriously. It’s worth every penny.) More to come on this, along with a companion review next week!

Even though I have a deep and utter loathing of snow and all winter weather shenanigans, I am very excited to say that I will be going to see Stephen King in Lowell, MA this December. The Master, the Man I’ve been reading since I was a teenager is doing a rare reading and QA session at the school I’m attending electronically, and I’m braving potentially shitty snow to see him in person. I’m thinking this is a once in a lifetime event and I will be there, come hell or high water. Err…snow.

I’ve also fallen into a super cool opportunity. Normally, I’m not much of a risk taker. I do take calculated risks, but since I’m not much of a gambler, I’m not going all in unless I know I’ve got an unbeatable hand. I’m also (usually) in control of my baser instincts that would have me leaping off cliff edges. Well, a few days ago, after falling into an internet research hole, I found a call for slush pile readers for a new horror magazine, Nightmare, edited by John Joseph Adams. I blame the application email I sent on the post-homework, post-work delirium of the wee hours. Well, that and the assumption that I’d never be accepted. Um. Right. About that… So, I have a new job title… “Slush Pile Reader for Nightmare Magazine.” I’m thrilled and I can’t wait to dig in. I won’t be posting much about it, however. I wouldn’t want someone talking about the work I submitted to a magazine, so I wouldn’t do that to someone else. Unless maybe it’s a post-publication moment to brag about “I recommended that one…”

Well, I think that’s enough for y’all to chew on for now. I will be back on Sunday with Something Like a Review for another Seth Grahame-Smith book, How to Survive a Horror Movie. Check back in on Sunday morning and, until then, may your weekend come just at the right time.

Something Like a Review: Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith

I’ve been following Seth Grahame-Smith’s work since Pride & Prejudice & Zombies caught my attention. With each book that pushes the limits of convention (like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter or How to Survive a Horror Movie), I’ve approached them with wariness, only to be pleasantly surprised. I was very intrigued by Unholy Night, and after I read the cover copy, I was more wary about it than any other title I’d seen by him. Given the subject matter (the birth of Christ and the story of the three wise men), I was convinced that it was going to either be brilliant or completely fail.

I’m neither easily offended, nor am I one who believes that the stories in the Bible are meant to be taken literally (although that’s a discussion for an entirely different post), so I wasn’t concerned about whether the story would send me into any kind of an uproar. Instead, my caution was more along the lines of the repercussions of reading Anne Rice’s Christ the Lord: Road to Cana. It was a case of a writer I enjoyed reading and whose work I respected that fell absolutely flat for me. Granted, that story and Grahame-Smith’s Unholy Night take an entirely different approach to the religious story but, as they say, once bitten…

My fears were unfounded. I was very happy with the story and quite addicted to the engaging anti-hero, Balthazar. He was charming, though without intending to be so. He, among others, were not riddled with the virtues assigned in more dogmatic mythology. Balthazar was human and believable, but not the heroic, questing figure you’d expect.  Listening to it, there were times I felt sympathy with him, and times I just wanted to berate him for being an asshole. Another surprising figure was Mary herself. The mother of Christ as a 15 year old girl with what can only be referred to as spunk. She was not the milksop creature she’s portrayed as in religious stories, and I rather enjoyed her. Herrod and Pontius were great characters and gave great depth and a new twist to the stories most people have at least a passing familiarity with.

The challenge that most people would face by taking a religious story and re-telling it without the glossy sheen of faith is being torn apart for mishandling something that deserves reverence. While Unholy Night is certainly not going to be on the Vatican’s recommended reading list any time soon, it also handles the story and religious aspects of it with enough respect to avoid a massive outcry against it from the religious. I wouldn’t be surprised by some grumbling, of course, but Grahame-Smith did a great job balancing the characters’ flaws against their virtues.

All in all, I have to admit that I’m one step closer to being a fan of Grahame-Smith in the same way that I’m a Rushdie fan. I’ll be looking forward to the next one, and I’m hoping I won’t have to wait long.

Medium: audiobook from Audible.com

Other: Multiple formats available from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 4 stars

Potential re-read?: Yes, because I’m sure there are things I missed and I’d like to see if the impact of the characters changes now that I know what happens in the end.

Dead tree worthy: Possibly in the future, but at the moment, I’m content with the audiobook I can revisit. This may change, but for now, I’m not investing in a print copy. Yet.

Not Gone, Just Crazy

Building good habits is only as effective as the ability to adhere to them and keep them going in spite of other obstacles. I think this is why I fall on my face because I’m too adaptable sometimes. In my Day Job, things change unexpectedly, often and usually result in a dramatic shift in the status quo. In general, learning to adapt to rapid change is a good skill to possess and is a great asset to take into a professional environment. When you’re a creative type that tends to be distracted by bright and shiny objects (like new story ideas, new information to chew on, or a strange and curious path to research), it’s not such a good thing. Getting me off track on my habit building (like getting my blog posts ready before my intended publish dates) is a bad, bad thing, but I’m determined to get back on track. School is integral in providing this kind of structure and has helped me get a handful of pages deep into a story I’m working on, so now it’s time to bring those habits to fixing my blogging habits.

Now what this means is that I’ll have all kinds of shiny things to share here, including a couple of exciting little tidbits, which some may have already seen on Facebook, or heard me gush and squeal over in person. 😉 There is also a list of books which have earned Something Like a Review forthcoming, so stay tuned! Starting on Sunday, I’ll be back on schedule with a peek at Seth Grahame-Smith’s Unholy Night.

See you then!

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