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Something Like a Review – The Chosen by John G. Hartness

August 28, 2016 Leave a comment

Disclosure: I know the author personally. I purchased this book with my own Audible credit because I wanted to read it. This post is simply a reflection of my desire to share a piece of fiction I enjoyed from an author I choose to support.

John is one of the best marketers I’ve ever seen in action. If you’ve seen him at a con, you know what I mean. No panel is complete without his signature “buy our shit” proclamation, and if you’ve never witnessed his epic readings replete with Sasquatch dick jokes, you’re missing out. So when he promoted “The Chosen” as “the book that got me fired from one of my jobs for blasphemy,” I knew I had to read it.

In true John style, “The Chosen” is an irreverent and humorous poke at things people take “super cereal.” He introduces us to an Adam and Eve (yes, THAT Adam and Eve) that will send the devout for their rosaries, an angel that will make you question both your definition and affiliation with good/evil and an unforgettable motley crew as they set off on a road trip to save the world.

One of the things I loved most about this book, and I did love it, was the knowledgeable and respectful ways religious belief was handled. And warped. I listened to this as an audiobook, but I’ll be getting my hands on a copy of “The Chosen” to see how the hell he managed to have his characters refute the creation story in a way that 1.) makes sense, 2.) was amusing, and 3.) respected the essence of the story. While I’m not religious, I could tell that Hartness is knowledgeable about the material, respects those who believe it, and yet finds ways of cutting through the poetic language and creating a plausible story.

So, if he’s so respectful, why might he have been fired for blasphemy? Well, let’s just say that after millennia of walking the Earth after their expulsion from the garden, Adam and Eve aren’t exactly what the faithful may expect. But after all they’ve witnessed, I can’t say that I blame them for the way they change. Character development, yo. Even though it’s not what many would approve of, the changes to their characters feels genuine, as if they really are people who’ve lived tens of thousands of years, witnessed some of the greatest tragedies of history, experienced their own personal tragedies and yet, still manage to function in our crazy world. Theirs is a creation story I want to believe, and the choices at the end are believable and fulfilling.

And what are those choices? Well, that’s what you’ll need to find out. Suffice to say that there’s a Pandora’s box feeling to the tone at the end (and if you know your mythology, you’ll know what I mean). I read this and was able to put all the recent tragedies and horrific occurrences aside for a little while.

Pick up this book – however you choose to ingest it, and read it. If you’re super sensitive about religion, this isn’t the book for you, but if you’re willing to have an open mind and enjoy a well-written piece of fiction with a religious (though not proselytizing) bent to it, this is the one I’d recommend.

Medium: Audiobook from Audible.com

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 5 stars

Potential re-read: Definitely, especially to figure out how the hell did did what he did.

Dead-tree worthy?: Yes. You’ll find your own reasons, I’m sure, but from this writer, my purchase is motivated by the need to figure out how the hell did did what he did.

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Something Like a Review – The Fireman by Joe Hill

The second I saw the promo for this release, I marked it down on my calendar. Fate intervened on my behalf and prevented me from buying it right away.

An ominous start for Something Like a Review from an author I’ve raved over in the past, isn’t it?

Patience, grasshopper.

My local indie bookstore hosted a release party for an author friend’s book, Daughters of Shadow and Blood, Book 2: Elena. While wandering the stacks, to what should my wondering eyes should appear, but an autographed copy! After spending roughly two hours cradling this substantial book to my chest, I knew I’d need to invest in a digital copy to prevent damage to my preciousssss.

Ahem.

Sorry.

Draco Incendia Trycophyton, aka Dragonscale, infects people all over the world. People spontaneously combust and spark wildfires decimating the land. The infected are feared, hunted and killed to contain the infection and prevent fires. But not everyone falls prey to the spore. Some learn to coexist with the fungus and band together to survive, living in harmony with the spore and each other.

This is a rich, complex story that has lingered in my mind long after finishing the book. The lush detail evoked a vibrant, post-apocalyptic world, but in the end, it wasn’t the spore I feared. Harper flees the world she has known after she’s infected and finds a group of survivors hiding out in the New Hampsire woods. Under the care of a mad leader, the group evolves into an zealous, persecutory evangelical knot more terrifying than the prospect of burning to death.

There’s a foreboding sparked by the realistic, plausible and almost prophetic example of the camp inhabitants and leaders and speaking to the larger problems in the real world lurking under the plot lines. Not only does it give the story depth, it creates a lasting impression of disturbance and unease.

And though expertly done, there were a few quirks that irritated me throughout the novel. Pop culture references are a pet peeve of mine because I think they can take away from the timelessness of the story. In this novel, there were a lot and covered everything from classic rock to Mary Poppins and Harry Potter. A few were great and integral to the character, but overall, I could have done with less and been happy. The other quirk I hadn’t noticed in his previous books was the habit of including little “throwaway” comments. These usually appeared at the end of chapters, and while they could be considered overt foreshadowing, they felt spoilery and frustrating. Omitting them altogether would punch up the tension, but that’s my opinion.”

Like NOS4A2, there were a couple of Easter eggs throwing back to King’s universe (like a character’s behavior leading to the comment that she had “forgotten the face of [her] father.” Even as hill builds a solid reputation for himself and his work apart from the spectre of his dad’s work, these little homages make my inner (and outer) fangirl squee with delight.

Overall, I loved this book and I’m glad I’ve read so few of Hill’s books that I still have plenty to get me through until the next one.

Medium: Audiobook from Audible.com

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 5 stars

Potential re-read: Definitely, especially to figure out how the hell did did what he did.

Dead-tree worthy?: Yes. You’ll find your own reasons, I’m sure, but from this writer, my purchase is motivated by the need to figure out how the hell did did what he did.

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.)

Indulgence (or Taking the Time to Sniff the Bubble Bars)

Life is too damned short and there’s way too much to cram in the confines of 24 hours. We run around and stress ourselves out and for what? What is so important? Is it really going to matter in the long run?

Granted, there is a reason and yes, sometimes it does matter in the long run when you trace your actions using the butterfly effect theory. Each decision is a step in some direction, and even indecision is an action. Slacking at work can lead to lackluster performance which can lead to missing opportunities for promotion, but let’s be real…will you get the same promotion if you’re so stressed out that you can’t function? Not likely. They’ll take one look at your shiny, bug-eyed face with the scary lupine grin and they’ll pass faster than a state trooper on the highway.

I have come to realize that taking time to do the things that make you feel good, that allow you to recharge your batteries is not only the right thing to do, it’s a requirement. I deserve a break from my personally created hamster wheel to recharge. My current indulgence is my introduction to Lush.

We really should wait for the aficionados to return from their lavishly scented day dreams, but it could take them a while, so for those of you not familiar, we’ll continue and let them catch up.

I won’t extol the virtues of the company because being an informed consumer, you can do all that nifty research yourself and make your own decision. What I will do is tell you that I have incorporated them into my weekly routine – a long, hot scented, silky bath, usually rounded out with a book and a beverage of some sort. I love the bath bombs like Phoenix Rising, and the bubble bars like The Comforter. There’s a heady luxury in Temple of Truth and bliss in Yuzu and Cocoa. This is the kind of bath you sink into and just laze around in until you’re pruny and the water starts to feel somewhat chilled. The often brilliantly colored, scented water erases the trials of the week and the scent lingers with you long after the bath is over.

As healing and restorative as these are, there is a draw back – if you’re a stress monkey to begin with, by the time you’re out, sleep is pretty much inevitable. There have been many a Sunday “ruined” by the narcolepsy that overtook me after such a bath where comfort was simply inevitable and, when added to such deep relaxation, it meant sleep. The value of these moments is that there’s nothing in the world that can replace them. No amount of task completion, or progress is going to be this fulfilling, and without these moments, I’m less likely to achieve task completion or progression any way. Everyone needs to find that moment of indulgence in their week, no matter what it is. Everyone needs to recharge their batteries. Our batteries are permanent – while you can recharge them, you really can’t replace them. Take care of them so they can take you through the rest of your beloved chaos.

I’ll Pass, Thanks

February 22, 2012 Leave a comment

We all have our passions and there are times when those passions get the better of us and we spew verbal poison. I’m guilty. My favorite punching bag is Twilight and all things that come with it. I am (relatively) unapologetic about it, and where there are merits, I will admit them. There aren’t many, but I give credit where credit is due. Part of the reason why I don’t feel too awful about beating up on Meyer or her franchise is because of its rampant success. My bitching is but one drop in the ocean of its fan-dom, and I realize that it’s only relevant to the people who agree with me. Rabid fans see no flaws, or reject them because of the “quality” of the story and most will try to defend it.

But no, I’m not talking about the bad fiction that becomes a mega-success. I’m talking about the small publications that you come across that are either the shallow end of the mediocrity scale, or the ones that plummet into the depths of bad. Small press publications and authors can be broken with negative comments. Sometimes this is justified, but even when it is, it’s not professional. In a very broad, sweeping generalization, let’s say there are two kinds of authors; those willing and able to identify their mistakes, and those who chase their name in print. The former do everything they can to read, educate themselves on their craft and fine tune their writing as a matter of professional pride. They seek opportunities to push themselves, to learn and to not only figure out what’s broken in a manuscript, but how to fix it. The latter are those who swell with uncritical pride when they hear an unqualified “it’s good” from a friend, or who don’t see the value in pushing their limits to make what’s good into something “great,” or “amazing.” I feel sorry for those people, especially the ones with talent for telling a story.

I get it. Really. Bad writing happens. It’s a fact of a writer’s life, and something that we try to grow through and out of. The problem is, thanks to the digital age, bad writing gets published, bought and sold every single day. Even in the larger market where publishers are reading, buying, printing and selling so fast in the interest of seizing a trend to grab the interest of a target market, decent stories get pushed out without the polish or attention they need to make them great. Mistakes happen. Plot holes happen. Typos are par for the course, and when the digital eyes of spell check don’t grab the word taking the place of the one the author meant to use because it is actually spelled correctly, they can happen in abundance. The author bears the brunt of the responsibility for this clean up before it ever leaves the sanctity of their desk, but every author needs help picking the nits from the manuscript once in a while. When you’re too close to the subject, you miss things or you interpret what’s on the page as the visual drama unfolding behind your eyes, even though the actual words may be missing. The trick is to have a support team to help find these nasties BEFORE the reader finds it on the shelves, digital or otherwise.

One of my favorite e-book haunts is Amazon’s Top 100 Free list. I have gotten great classics and based on what I’ve skimmed through on my Kindle, I’ve scored some pretty good reads from reputable publishers promoting new works on limited time offers. (I’ll let you know once I’ve actually gotten through them.) I’ve also downloaded some really poorly written “stories.” I believe I have realistic expectations about what I’m getting there most of the time, since I know you usually get what you pay for. But on the other hand, I also understand that self-pub and vanity press in the e-book market are pretty damn cheap – and it shows. The ones that have been bad have been really bad and I don’t include them on my “What I’m Reading” or “What I’ve Read” lists. I don’t feel right being honest about them with my standard blurb, and I don’t want to be asked why they’re there without one. I can handle mediocre with a diplomatically worded blurb, but with the truly awful, I’ll pass, thanks.

Anachronisms in Reading

February 15, 2012 Leave a comment

What I mean here is not a digital watch showing up in a Victorian novella, but more the language used in books we consider “modern,” that make us squirm. Words that are not a familiar part of polite or respectful conversation about others appearing in print have the ability and tendency to shock, discomfort and provoke a sense of guilt when they are repeated frequently.

As an example, I am currently listening to “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” by Oliver Sacks. My cursory perusal of the book showed a print date of 1998, and I didn’t delve deeper. The subject matter seemed relevant and recent enough to expect only minimal pitfalls from new research and data. (I do mean this in a more relative sense than literal because I understand that drastic changes in research can take place in a short period of time, and that more than a decade could bring about a revolution of understanding.)

What disabused me of that expectation was the past two morning commutes where I began, then delved further into Part Four –  “The World of the Simple.”

While I was not surprised to encounter stories of those with mental handicaps in a book of this nature, what startled, disturbed and upset me was the terms used to describe these individuals. “Retarded.” “Idiot.” “Moron.” “Simpleton.” At best, these words are pejorative in the context of current day language usage, yet were used in conjunction with compassionate accounts of individuals who were uniquely talented, in some ways, and devastatingly impaired by standards of “normal” functioning. The dichotomy of these terms, the sometimes bewildered language used to account the doctor’s experience and his struggle to see past the “deficits” and reconcile that the testing available was by no account complete were and are confusing to more modern sensibilities. Because of the discomfort this part of the book has already inspired, I have dug a little deeper and noticed that the first copyright of the book was 1970, which goes a long way towards explaining the language, and the mindset around this group within society. But it doesn’t make it any more comfortable to listen to.

So what words, what language, prejudices or anachronistic attitudes have you come across in reading that make you squirm, or that make you feel uncomfortable for reading or guilty for enjoying what you’re reading in spite of context? Do you still keep reading? When you have expectations of encountering this kind of experience while reading, how do you prepare yourself?

World-Building

February 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Even with all the school reading, I cannot seem to put aside 11/22/63, Stephen King‘s newest book. As I’m reading, I can’t help but feel a renewed sense of awe over his skill at world-building. This is nothing new. I’ve been reading him since I was a teenager, but it took several books to really understand his skill, and I’ve only recently been able to truly appreciate the diligence it takes to bring it to life and continue from novel to novel. While I’ve not finished it yet, 11/22/63 is only another example of his ability to create worlds that ring true, seem familiar and are consistent from story to story. To show familiar characters at different stages of development in another story and still make them both credible and recognizable is pretty astonishing, and a welcome hallmark for a Constant Reader.

The first time I encountered his world-building was in It. The evidence was on somewhat of a smaller scale, but it was still indicative of his continuity skills to bring the world from 1957 Derry to 1984 Derry and then to branch it out into the world beyond. The web only grew, as did my appreciation, when I’d read the Dark Tower/Gunslinger series, watching the worlds unfold, overlap, seeing the appearance of the man in black, Randall Flagg, wander between worlds and make his appearance on our side of the veil in The Stand. I was captivated by Eyes of the Dragon, seeing the parallels there, the overlapping story lines for the series I’d just begun and then the sensation of falling down the rabbit hole. I fell harder seeing it pop up in Hearts of Atlantis and even in some of the stories from Everything’s Eventual. I don’t pretend to know all of the overlaps or notice all of the ties from one story into the next. Too many years and other books have come between me and the experiences I’ve had with the stories. My memories aren’t as clear as they probably should be, so I miss things that probably should resonate, but I’m always delighted when I do encounter them.

The most recent instance was last year as I was revisiting It as an audiobook. I was listening on my way to work one morning and my ear caught a name familiar enough to garner my attention, yet I was unable to determine where I’d heard it before. “Dick Hallorann” became an irritating refrain for the ride to work because I kept trying to remember why it felt so significant. My brain itched and squirmed and I hurried into work with more vigor than usual and as soon as I’d fired up my computer, I googled the name. Turns out, it was significant. Dick Hallorann was the cook from the Overlook Hotel that recognized Danny Torrence’s talent for “shining” and had an integral role in the climax of The Shining. His roots are in the same Derry, Maine terrorized by the evil that manifested in so many ways. He fled, only seeing a small glimpse of what was to come…yet the evil was revisited upon him in a Colorado mountaintop hotel in the dead of winter.

Since I’m currently reading 11/22/63, I’m deeply immersed, again, in his world building talents. Jake Epping, aka George Amberson, is traveling in time (without some of the cheesy mechanics I’ve seen in other stories), and without giving too much away from either story, steps into 1958 Derry and has a chat with young Ritchie (beep-beep) and Bev, post-conflict. It’s a brief glimpse into the middle years, the “what happened in between” that the characters themselves are reluctant to discuss, if they even remember at all. For a brief moment, you see them as kids, again, though not as innocent as most and instantly recognizable even before they introduce themselves by name. The part of me that’s most attached to these characters wants to just warn them that more is waiting for them, to enjoy what they can, but as I said, it’s but a brief glimpse, and Jake/George is back on his path (perhaps one following the beam?) to fulfill his own story.

There are other authors who have this same talent and wield it with similar expertise, but not with the same breadth. Jacqueline Carey does an amazing job with her Kushiel series, superimposing a fictional world over a familiar geography, landmarks, and ancient yet familiar cultures. Her world is rich and different from the past, yet familiar enough that it’s easy to immerse yourself in the story. Terre d’Ange and Caerdicca Unitas are fictional places, they resonate with the reader and feel familiar, and Phaedra remains one of my favorite characters ever fully realized and written. (Joscelin, on the other hand, I just wanted to shake until some sense finally fell into place. In his own way, he was endearing for his thick-headedness, but that doesn’t staunch the desire to shake him when it manifested.) While the stories branch across the lives of several characters, there’s a sense of continuity to them and a sense of unity unlike the disjointed yet interconnected King universe. This does not change the fact that Terre d’Ange is a place I’d love to visit, and the Night Court would be my first stop…

Anne Rice is another author who creates vast, interlocking worlds that draw the reader in and begin to feel like home. I will admit that I am referring to the dark, gothic version of Anne Rice. I miss the woman who reveled in the worlds of Lestat and his vampiric peers and the baroque tangle of her Mayfair family. I have not been as impressed with her recent works, and I feel a sense of loss when reading them. I miss the dark depths of her work, the feeling of sliding through the dark underbelly of bright and gleaming places, not only for the lascivious details and the lush experience of slipping into the skins and minds of her most unrepentant characters, but because the newer material doesn’t seem to have the same soul. Somewhat ironic, huh? Angels lacking soul, and vampires and witches rife with them?  But enough about that…. I am intrigued by her upcoming title, but I’m hesitant to buy it. The Wolf Gift seems to promise a return to the Anne Rice I miss, but we shall see on Valentine’s Day.

L. A. Banks is another who did a fantastic job creating a world in which her angel half-breed vampire huntress, Damali, and her vampire lover/husband, Carlos, struggle against Lilith, Satan, and a horde of their minions (Fallon Nuit, Dante and Elizabeth Bathory, just to name a few) as they try to prevent the end of days. The Vampire Huntress series features a well crafted world, with frighteningly plausible characters. With each book, it was like returning home to a world I understood, feared and welcomed, even knowing what stewed beneath my feet in the underworld. This series was my guilty pleasure, and though I’ve not explored her other works yet, I’m saddened by that we won’t be getting any more stories featuring these characters.

N. K. Jemisin has a series with which I’ve become fascinated. Her Inheritance Trilogy series has become pretty addictive. I devoured the first and second books immediately. I’m trying to restrain myself from diving into the third so I can get a handle on my challenge list and to stay caught up with school work, but it is an effort. The binding stares at me from it’s spot in my TBR pile. It watches me while I sleep, and taunts me while I’m reading things far less interesting about the construction of plant cells and the composite cycle of photosynthesis and cell respiration.

These are not the only great world builders out there, but only ones I’ve had more experience with. I’ve done some research on Faith Hunter‘s Jane Yellowrock series and I’m intrigued. From what I’ve read in reviews, her world building skills are pretty spectacular. Her books are also mocking me from my TBR pile. I promise (more to myself , but also to you) ladies, I’ll be reading yours in the next cycle!!

Bottom line is, the world you create for your characters is just as important as your characters and the predicaments they find themselves in. The worlds your characters live in will feel like home to the readers too and they’ll keep coming back for a visit and to explore a little more with them.

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