July 29, 2008

Review: Awesome Lavratt, by Ann Wilkes

Okay, so I got sent Awesome Lavratt what seems like a billion years ago but was, my email tells me, was mid April. Which is actually pretty far away from July, and somebody should probably look into that. I read it, thought about it, wrote my university finals, started working, and once again proved my unreliability by putting Awesome Lavratt back on the shelf and promptly forgetting about it.

I hadn't forgotten about it all the way, though. Every once in a while there'd be a little tingle in my brain, like: "Haven't you reviewed that book yet, self?" or "Hmm, maybe I should write to Ann and apologize" or just "How in the hoopla am I supposed to review Awesome Lavratt?". And that last was maybe the biggest probelm: I was torn as to how to review it. I still am. I am ... deeply ambivalent about Awesome Lavratt, which is disturbing to me because I like being able to make up my mind, and also because I personally feel better being able to give books a solid yea or nay. Ambuguity can be distressing.

Aw, well. Distress or nothing, let's do this thing.

Here's the back cover:

Beautiful Aranna Navna plans to conquer the galaxy one planet at a time. She steals the Awesome Lavratt, a mind control device, from a freighter in Horace Whistlestop's junkyard. Then things go from bad to worse for Aranna. The Lavratt, however, has only just begun! Oh, the fun you can have from a small cube with mind control powers. Travel the galaxy with Tyrantz Lavratt. Silly science fiction at its best. All puns intended.

This blurb is a good example of some of the things wrong with this book. Notice that we are introduced to Aranna Navna, but end with Tyrantz Lavratt (who is, as it turns out, the entity within the mind-control cube). Characters come and go in Awesome Lavratt with little sense of continuity; the story begins with Horace, transfers to Aranna, changes mid-book to Tyrantz, and ends with some people named Gurmt and Salmig. The trouble is that when the story shifts focus, the characters it had been following are summarily discarded.

I know that this happens a lot in novels. But here's the thing: Awesome Lavratt isn't a full-length novel. I don't know whether it's technically a novella or a just a very long short story, but the copy I have clocks in at 94 pages. It is way too short for what it's trying to do. Way, way too short.

Because here's the kicker: Awesome Lavratt is definitely flawed, but it's still a really fun story. Ann has created a really imaginative universe that has a lot of the same texture as you get in Star Wars novelizations. It's funny and full of adventure, and I think it's obvious that the author had a heck of a lot of fun writing it. But the story is too short for the plot. This means that a lot of characterization falls by the wayside, for example, while including more characterization and spending more time with all of the characters would have probably made for much less jarring transitions. The plot is aching to be treated as a full-length novel. And it's not.

Therein my dilemma. The problem with Awesome Lavratt (besides some apostrophe abuse) is not that it's bad per se, but that it could/should have been so much better.

There is good news, though. I have heard that Ann Wilkes is currently working on a full-length sequel, which will be featuring Horace Whistlestop. That, I think will be a good thing.

And now, that's all I have to stay.

July 26, 2008

More Questions, More Answers

I hope I finish this Weekly Geek up soon, because eventually I'm going to run out of titles.

Heather commented that
I’d love to read a review of Colbert’s book.

The one she's referring to is Stephen Colbert's I Am America (And So Can You). It was ... amusing. I didn't once laugh out loud, although others around me did when they read it. The book is basically just Stephen Colbert on paper instead of on TV. I do like the show, but the book elicited less of a "wow this is so funny" reaction and more of a "okay, this is vaguely funny" one.

It's alright. I'd give it a three. I don't think I can review it much more thoroughly than that because the copy I read lives 12 hours away.

bkclubcare had another question:
Why did you choose the What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew? Was it Austen-love or just interest in the time period? What kind of non-fiction is your preference?

I actually read this for a research paper back in the winter term. It was a Victorian Fiction course and our prof had us choose a "Victorian theme" to research throughout the year. I chose reading & books, so my first essay was about how literacy is used as a mark of gentility and a means of reform in Wuthering Heights. My second paper looked at reading trends throughout the nineteenth century, as evidenced in Wuthering Heights and ... something else. Tess of the D'Urbervilles? Adam Bede? I actually just had to go look it up; it was Lady Audley's Secret, which, for the record, is a pretty excellent book. But I read WJAAaCDK primarily for its notes on fiction and readership in the nineteenth century.

After I finished the paper, though, I did flick through most of the rest. It was exceedingly interesting. It's subdivided into thematic chapters: The Home, Church, Education, Sex, etc., and while all of those topics certainly have entire bookshelves dedicated to them, I thought that WJAAaCDK (aside: best acronym ever? End of aside) gave each subject a very good introductory treatment. I'd recommend it.

As for which kind of non-fiction is my favourite, I've been on a neuroscience kick for a while now. I'm not a scientist, and so I don't read huge technical tomes, but I greatly enjoy things written by Oliver Sacks (Musicophilia, The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, etc) and others like him.

Tiny Librarian asks,
I’ve never read any of Clancy’s Rabbit books. Have you read the whole series? Do you recommend them? Is it one where you need to start at the very beginning or could I start with one of the more recent ones?

I've read them piecemeal, and so I'll say that it's safe to read them out of order. In fact, their chronological and publication orders differ anyway, because Clancy went back and wrote books into earlier parts of the series -- so take that as a license to read them in any old order you please. I'd more or less recommend them. Sometimes it seems as if Clancy's always trying to put about three too many storylines into his books, but I've found them enjoyable overall.

Joanne asked,
And is the book What Would Dewey Do? referring to the Dewey Decimal System? Or a person named Dewey?

And then rantsandreads asked,
#62 Unshelved, by Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum.
I see this book sitting around in the breakroom at my library (I am a Part-time librarian). What did you like about this book, and this author in particular? I see you’ve read multiple titles by the same authors. Are these books aimed more towards librarians, or to the general public?

Dudes. You are missing so much.

Okay, so Unshelved is a webcomic set in the Mallville Library. Go read it online. In fact, read it from the beginning. It's so good. The drawing at the beginning is a bit crude, but it gets better over time, as do the jokes. There's a librarian named Dewey (he of What Would Dewey Do?), a page who works in a beaver costume, a naked lawyer, and... oh, I can't explain it. Just go add it to your rss feed. Or check out one of the collections from your library. They're great.

(I also have to thank my cousin the sometimes-librarian for first introducing me to the series).

Joanne also asked,
Do you think that Fall On Your Knees presents a realistic portrayal of smalltown Nova Scotia?

I don't know! I've never been to Nova Scotia, smalltown or not. But I see that you hail from NS -- would you like to answer your own question for us?

That's all, kiddos! Well, that's not all, actually, but that's all for this post. A lot of you have asked about the same few books, so look for reviews of those popping up over the next while.

July 24, 2008

You Asked; I'll Tell

So many questions on that last post! I haven't gotten to all of them yet, but here are some preliminary answers.

Eva says:
You make me feel so much better about having 56 to be reviewed! Most people only had a few on their list. :)

A ha ha. Why yes, they did. I will assume that I read more books, since it's so obvious that I'm not just super lazy at reviewing. Ahem.

Eva also asked some other stuff:
What did you think about Asleep? I’ve been thinking about reading Banana Yoshimoto for awhile, mainly because of her name, lol.

Asleep was interesting. Like most of the books I've read that have been translated from the Japanese, the language was very formal -- I'm not sure if that's a translation thing or a Japanese writing thing. It was a pretty quick read; it's a shortish book and it's split into three separate stories, each focusing on a different young woman with some sleep wackiness going on. I sent the book to someone so I'll have to see if I can just remember, but I think the stories are about a woman who starts sleepwalking after a breakup, a woman who's having an affair with a man whose wife is in a coma, and a woman who believes she is being haunted in her sleep by another woman with whom she used to share (yes: share) a man. Asleep is pretty weird, actually. But it's an enjoyable sort of weird. I'd recommend it.

It might also be worth pointing that I also started reading Banana Yoshimoto because of her name. Best pseudonym ever? I think so.

Jackie asked,
I’ve seen the trailers for V for Vendetta and it looks really good. Is the novel better than the movie? Did the produces stick pretty close to the book? How would you describe this novel to someone who hasn’t come across it before?

I haven't see the movie version of V for Vendetta either, so I can't really answer the first part of this question. But my brother did! Here's his take:
The graphic novel is better than the movie. The movie is also really good, and sticks fairly closely to the story. It does cut a few minor plotlines (mainly for time reasons), but it’s still quite good.

For the most overall enjoyment, I’d suggest seeing the movie first, and then reading the graphic novel. That way, you won’t be disappointed with the changes the movie makes.

Thanks, dude. As to the last part of Jackie's question, I'm not sure how I would describe the novel to someone who hadn't come across it. That would depend on whether they were familiar with graphic novels in general, I think -- because if not, then you have to start at the beginning ("Okay, so it's like a comic book, but really thick, and not really a comic book because it's all wordy and has more plot, but there are still lots of pictures, you should see the way the setting is set with just a single panel sometimes...").

But if they were familiar with the genre, that's more to build on. And then I'd have to start using words like "dystopia" and "alternate history" and "gritty" and "dark" and "deeply disturbing, but also kind of weirdly inspiring." It's definitely literature that makes you think. And I'll warn those who are usually called "more sensitive readers": the "graphic" in "graphic novel" is, in this case, apt on several different levels.

Nymeth had a follow-up V for Vendetta question:
Also, do you think that V for Vendetta would be a good introduction to Alan Moore?

This is the first Alan Moore I've ever read -- so I have to say yes!

bkclubcare asked about my reading habits:
I see a lot by same authors - do you plan it that way or just get on a roll and can’t stop? I personally have to switch it up and do not like to see trends in style - it makes me analyze the author rather than the story.

It's a combination of planning and inertia, I think. With some authors, there's a definite pattern: Terry Pratchett is the most obvious example. We only discovered Pratchett in my house last Christmas (I know! Such literary deprivation!) and at least three of us are bound and determined to read them all. We've made a good dent, I think!

Sometimes it's a lot more random. There's all of the first part of the Chronicles of Amber on my list; I decided to reread the series on a whim and knocked them all back in two days. There's a lot of Elizabeth George up there as well; when I helped a friend move some months ago I got to pick through the books she didn't want anymore. I like mysteries and so I jump-started my George reading that way. Since then I've picked a few up second-hand, one new, and read another one or two that are in our office library. So I've read a lot of her books, but I've read them piecemeal.

As well, I'm doing an English degree, and a lot of the books I read are on compulsory reading lists. I still take pleasure in reading most of them -- but all the same, I have to do it!

Speaking of series, Joanne wants to know,
What a fantastic list - you have a lot of Discworld novels there so I’m assuming you would recommend it as a good series to read, but is it necessary to read them in order?

Not at all! In fact, I would recommend skipping The Colour of Magic entirely, or at least holding off on it for a good long while. It's funny but it's not nearly as good or as funny or as smart as Pratchett's later work, and I think that if you read it first you might get a skewed impression of what Discworld books are like. I've read them all completely out of order, and I don't think I've suffered for it. They all stand alone very well. If you'd like to start reading Pratchett, I'd personally recommend any of the following as good places to start: Night Watch, Soul Music, Jingo, Feet of Clay, or Monstrous Regiment. But actually, just read any of them. Read them! They're so good!

(Incidentally, this is probably why I don't review Pratchett very often: because most of the time I think it would just turn into AAAAAA TERRY PRATCHETT IS A GENIUS HE MAKES ME LOL SO MUCH ROFL ROFL ROFL. Which is not particularly informative.)

So that's part one! I hope to answer more questions over the next few days -- and write some longer reviews as requested. And if there's more you want to know, it's not too late to ask (on this post, or that post, or any other really).

July 21, 2008

Review: The Last Plague, by Glen E. Page

Title: The Last Plague
Author: Glen E. Page
First published: 2008
This edition: 2008
ISBN: 9781933538969 / 1933538961

This was another book sent to me by the lovely people at Phenix & Phenix. It was interesting -- kinda a mixed review from me, but definitely interesting. Here's the back cover:

A young girl is brought into Dr. Douglas Hunter's ER one night with her abdomen ripped open. One of her ovaries has been stolen; the other is hard and black as coal. When the bodies of more young girls are discovered, their ovaries also missing, Dr. Hunter and his family of adopted misfits find themselves unwittingly drawn into a dark plot of government intrigue and biblical prophecy.

As Dr. Hunter investigates the cause behind this mysterious plague, he and his family uncover unsettling connections, not only between their own painful pasts, but to war crimes in Nazi Germany and even events fromt he days of Christ. The investigation attracts the attention of a group of ruthless people with mysterious powers who are determined to keep the plague a secret. But as more secrets come to light, Dr. Hunter realizes his family may be facing the last plague, the beginnings of the Apocalypse.

Exciting stuff, yes? Well, here's my take. I'll start with the bad so that I can end with the good: this book has some significant flaws. One is that "Dr. Hunter and his family of adopted misfits," plus miscellaneous villains and supporting characters, make for an exceedingly large cast -- so much so that, even after having finished the novel, I'm still not sure who some characters were and what their relation was to others. Because it's a thriller, a lot of things are revealed only gradually -- which is good -- but that includes characters' names and relationships, and it ends up more befuddling than suspenseful.

The other thing that gave me pause had to do with some of the supernatural/religious themes in the novel. Now, I don't have any problem with religious or supernatural themes -- as long as they're done well. But there were some errors here, and they stood out and make things less believable. One example of this: maybe two-thirds into The Last Plague there's a discussion pertaining to the name "Egyptus." One character mentions his familiarity with the story of Egyptus because she was mentioned by his brother, an ex-Catholic priest. But "Egyptus" is not a character from the Catholic or Christian Bible, but from the Mormon religious text Pearl of Great Price. There's no real reason for the ex-priest to know the Mormon story (much less accept it). So, yeah, the mixing up of religions irked me a fair bit.

Irk. Irk. Irk.

But! Do not despair -- especially not you, Mr. Glen E. Page, MD -- because there is also much in this book that is good and enjoyable. First off, it is a thriller, and it is sufficiently fast-paced to live up to that nomer. The plot is quite intricate and consistently had me wanting more. It's tense and funny and I always love a good conspiracy theory, so it gets another plus for that. There were lots of different points that really made me stop and think -- causing speculation is good! And the scope is epic: according to an interview with the author I read, he's currently working on books four and five in the series. (Which means, as you might guess, that The Last Plague, as first in the series, offers little resolution at its end).

The Last Plague made for good summer reading and I'll be interested in seeing where the series ends.

July 20, 2008

More Delicious Used Books

I had a meeting downtown yesterday morning, and on the way back to the subway I just so happened to pass by my favourite ever bookstore. And since I had ten dollars in my purse, and am a huge sucker for used books, I decided to stop and see what I could get.

Here's the haul:

  • Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy ($1.00)

  • Amnesia, by Douglas Cooper ($1.00)

  • The Wars, by Timothy Findley ($1.00)

  • Wacousta, by John Richardson ($0.50)

  • Lives of Girls and Women, by Alice Munro ($2.00)

  • The Fire-Dwellers, by Margaret Laurence ($1.00)

  • The Road Past Altamont, by Gabrielle Roy ($1.00)

Total outlay, including tax: $7.88. For seven books! Stores like this are the best.

The Hardy book I bought merely on the strength of having loved Tess of the D'Urbervilles. The rest, you may note, are all Candian Fiction. I took a CanFic class last year, and while I didn't like the prof or the lectures or really anything about the class itself, I did discover/renew a definite love for Candidan books and authors. We've got some good writers up here, Skippy!

I'm especially interested in Wacousta, not least because it is about a million years old (first pub: 1832) and is, as the cover says, "An important landmark in the development of Canadian historical fiction". But I'm also interested it in because, back in first year, I took a course -- I don't remember what it was -- where the prof didn't have us read Wacousta, but gave us a plot summary thereof, and then tried to talk about why the book was so excellent, historical fiction, woah woah woah et cetera. And we were completely confused. Note to aspiring literature profs: teach off of plot summaries doesn't really work. So now I own Wacousta, and finally have a chance at figuring out what on earth he was talking about. Hooray!

Well, actually, when you get down to it I want to read all of them. Though I might have to completely revamp my list for the 2nd Canadian Book Challenge.

July 15, 2008

Review: Stealing Athena, by Karen Essex

I liked this book!

Sometimes I feel like my reviews would be more efficacious if they were limited to sentences like the above. I'll be the first to admit that I usually don't have the attention span to read long reviews. So, if you're tempted to stop reading now, just leave with this point: Stealing Athena is good and you should read it.

There. Now to the meat of the thing.

Title: Stealing Athena
Author: Karen Essex
First published: 2008
This edition: 2008 (First)
ISBN: 9780385519717

Stealing Athena tells two stories, which rarely converge but always inform the one upon the other. The main story is that of Mary Nisbet, Countess of Elgin, the wife of Lord Elgin (yes, the one responsible for bringing these marbles to England). The second story is that of Aspasia, Athenian female philosopher and Pericles's favourite courtesan. Interestingly, the two stories are told in different narrative voices: Mary's story is related in the third-person, while Aspasia tells her own story in the first. It's a nice touch, and besides helping to keep the stories differentiated, it contrasts the two characters: Mary lets people (well, men) largely decide things for her, and Aspasia aspires to control her own destiny. The way their respective stories are told is fitting.

As to the timing, Mary's story begins with her newlywed journey to Constantinople, in 1799. It ends in London in 1816. Aspasia's story begins in "the fourth year of the Thirty-Year Truce with Sparta" and ends in "the first years of the war with Sparta". Both time periods are well treated and I think that both could have sustained full-length novels on their own.

Here's the official blurb (link above):

At the height of the Napoleonic Wars, the 21-year-old newly wedded Mary Nisbet, Countess of Elgin, a Scottish heiress and celebrated beauty, enchanted the power brokers of the Ottoman Empire, using her charms to obtain their permission for her husband’s audacious plan to deconstruct the Parthenon and bring its magnificent sculptures to England. Two millennia earlier, Aspasia, a female philosopher and courtesan who presided with her lover, the visionary politician Pericles, over Athens’ Golden Age, plied her wits and allure with equal determination, standing with him at the center of vehement opposition to his ambitious plan to construct the most exquisite monuments the world had ever seen.

In parallel stories that resonate hauntingly, Aspasia witnesses the dramatic events that lead to the construction and dedication of the Parthenon, and Mary Nisbet witnesses that same magnificent building’s deconstruction and demise.

Rich in romance and intrigue, greed and glory, Stealing Athena is an enthralling work of historical fiction and a window into the intimate lives of some of history’s most influential and fascinating women.

It's a neat book. I'm a huge sucker for historical novels, and Stealing Athena delivers what it promises: romance, intrigue, audacity, greed -- with a lot of not-quite-subtle feminist themes thrown in to boot. And although I've seen the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum, I didn't know a lot about them before I began, except that they're controversial. Now I know why! And while, yes, this is a fictional account of the removal of the marbles from Greece, Karen Essex does provide a "Fates of Our Characters" section, as well as "Author's Notes," that explain the historical fate of the real characters and point in several good directions for further reading.

Are there any problems with this text? Dude, there are problems with every text. I thought that many of the love scenes, especially in the first chapters, were pretty unnecessary to the story. And because Mary is often pregnant, she is often vomiting. Vomiting for chapter after chapter: it's a little tiresome. But, these problems are neither huge nor very important, and Stealing Athena is an excellent read regardless.

July 12, 2008

Things You Want to Know

Hello, internet.

I've noticed some interesting search terms directing you here lately. So I thought I'd answer your questions:

art of belligerent email I'm not sure that there's a particular art to it, but if you'd like to write something truly belligerent, I'd suggest the following. Use complicated insults ("your corpulence is Brobdignagian, you aberrant prig") but stay away from swears, since we're all too used to them anyway. Promise to delete any replies sent, so that your target feels that they can't respond to you. Try to keep it short and sweet, but powerful (a pretty good example is here). And if you get in trouble over sending belligerent email, please don't blame me.

how can my kid remember what she reads? I dunno, the same way she remembers anything else? You could try using mnemnonics. You could also have her talk through what she's reading, or write notes or little reports. If she's someone who learns best by talking or writing or doing, helping her to use her particular learning style while reading will probably have good results. You can find out more about learning styles here.

which laura ingalls book has the tin cup Little House on the Prairie is the book in which the girls get the tin cups for Christmas. The cups, however, are mentioned in subsequent books as well.

critical review of castaway kid It's on his way. I haven't finished the book yet, but once I do, I'll review it.

wordpress "joshua knelman" If you were looking for his blog, I can't find it either. But here are some articles he's written.

the sweet hereafter characters Here are some: Delores Driscoll, Mitchell Stephens, Nichole Burnell. But you really ought to read the book yourself.

brice courtenay four fires It's really good! I know, I know, I love everything that Bryce Courtenay has ever written, but I thought that Four Fires was particularly excellent.

edward rutherfurd dublin It's pretty good. I thought that London was better, though.

viros games you spelled "virus" wrong.

movie and book differences I assume that this means in general, not in terms of a particular book/movie set.

helminthdale You can find Kevin Musgrove's excellent blog here.

terry pratchett booklist I don't have the complete list, but you can find it here.

challenger raeds books You spelled "reads" wrong.

she blabbers She certainly does!

diana gabaldon what she reads I don't know who Diana Gabaldon is, or what she reads, but I hope that you found out.

i am not much of a reader what are the b What are the b-what? What are the b-what? Dude, you can't leave me in suspense like that.

music Yeah. I like music.

Any questions, internet?

July 10, 2008

Banks Rattle Me

One of my favourite Stephen Leacock stories, "My Financial Career," starts this way:
When I go into a bank I get rattled. The clerks rattle me; the wickets rattle me; the sight of the money rattles me; everything rattles me.

The moment I cross the threshold of a bank and attempt to transact business there, I become an irresponsible idiot.


I went up to the accountant's wicket and poked the ball of money at him with a quick convulsive movement as if I were doing a conjuring trick.

My face was ghastly pale.

"Here," I said, "deposit it." The tone of the words seemed to mean, "Let us do this painful thing while the fit is on us."

This is not something which generally happens to me. Banks mostly aren't marbled and tomb-like these days, and I tend to use ATMs anyway. Pushing buttons is not intimidating.


Being as one of our coworkers is recovering from a gallstone-removal operation, and being that numerous cheques needed to be deposited into the company account, and being that said coworker usually does that but can't, it fell upon me to do it. And I did! With some help and lots of gumption, I sucessfully sorted and stamped the cheques, entered that they were paid into our database program, used an adding machine for the total and checked it against the database report, and finally filled out the deposit slip -- correctly, even -- and bound it all up.

Then I went to the bank, the $47,114.49 in hand (well, in purse, anyway).

Then I got to the bank.

Then I got lost. Yes, in the bank.

You see, this was a bank designed to rattle. A bank for the ages. A bank perhaps twenty-five stories tall and with a main lobby that had at least six or seven times the floorspace of my house. A bank that was templesque and most bankly indeed. This was the corporate headquarters, and they weren't fooling around.

It probably took me five minutes of wandering, hoping I wasn't attracting too much attention from the myriad guards, before I found the place I needed to be.

Then I deposited the money, and went back to work.

There isn't really much more point to my story than that, now that I come down to it. It just reminded me of the Leacock story. Is it weird when your life reminds you of things you've read in books, and not the other way around?

July 8, 2008

Course Registration

Egad! I register for classes for my final year of undergrad tomorrow morning. And true to form, I have left it till tonight to pick said classes. Go self!

It's a bit intimidating, actually, just because I have to sort out all of my requirements so that I can, you know, graduate on time next year. And the course descriptions come in a different book than the actual course calendar, so there's a fair bit of juggling paper that comes with it as well. And choosing is a bit of "What do I still need to take?" and a bit of "What is offered on Tuesdays in the spring?" and "Which profs am I not willing to have again?" -- and, it sometimes seems, very little of "What looks cool and interesting?". But! I have persevered, and all going well tomorrow morning, this is what I'll be taking next year:

Fall Term

  1. English Drama to 1603

  2. The Novel

  3. Ulysses

  4. French Language II

  5. African Literature in English

Spring Term

  1. The Novel (cont'd)

  2. French Language II (cont'd)

  3. African Literature in English (cont'd)

  4. Darwin & Literature

Looks good, n'est-ce pas? I've also amassed enough credits already that I can take one course fewer in the spring, which will be lovely. 80% course loads are wonderful.

Strangely enough, though, I think that the one I'm most excited about is the French grammar class. It's been a long time since I studied French. I had nine years of immersion when I was young, and a piddling amount in highschool, but my language skills have sort of atrophied since then (although I do use written French at work). I did the university's assessment basically on a whim, but now I think that I'd really like to bone up on it again. (My assessment results are pretty typical for previously-immersed students: oral comprehension great, grammar abysmal).

On towards tomorrow, then.

July 3, 2008

Review: Runaway, by Steve Simpson

Runaway, by Steve Simpson, is perhaps the worst book I have ever read.

My copy is a third edition but I am frankly surprised it was published at all. It reads like a first draft and doesn't appear to ever have been edited, or even spell-checked. The writing is extremely crude: sentence fragments abound, tenses change at a moment's notice, capitalization is weird, spelling and grammatical errors are common, very necessary commas are missing, apostrophes are frequently used incorrectly, and the list goes on.

Runaway's text has problems upon problems. "Your" is used instead of "you're", "alot" is used instead of "a lot", "lay" is consistently used where it should be "lie" -- and my beloved semicolon is woefully abused. I try not to be the grammar gestapo, but the errors in this text are beyond ridiculous.

Here's a sample (the ellipses are in the text; I haven't removed anything):
A house . . . A door . . . A few windows . . . A garage . . . A chimney; all the things that would make for the description of an ordinary house. The house is situated with similar houses making for an ordinary block. It's just getting dark. All is quiet. Nobody is on the street. Not even the children. It's dinner time and everybody is home eating with their family. All is very quiet.

The silence is broken! . . .

The side door to one of the houses explodes open. Out bolts a young boy, with tears in his eyes. The boy frantically runs away from the house and away from the block. He runs. A blind run it seems, but he does have a destination.

Aside from his frenzy and tears, there is nothing special about the boy. Average looking, brown hair, brown eyes, very thin and about five-three. He has a slightly boyish face, but that could be due to his emotional state. But surely there is nothing outstanding about him. After running for several minutes he reaches his destination. The town sump. He climbs through the rather large hole in the fence and plops on the grass. Immediately, as if on cue, he puts his face in his hands and hysterically sobs. The boy literally cries for over an hour.

When he stops, he just lies across the grass playing with the weeds, staring at the grass, never once looking up. This too goes on for more than an hour. Finally, the peace is over. A hand appears on the boy's shoulder. The boy is startled and swallows his breath.

"Relax Steve, it's only me," said a boy standing behind him.

He's very similar to Steve except he is just a shy taller and seems maybe a tad older. The boy sits down next to Steve.

"Happened again, Huh?" asked the boy.

Steve does not answer.

"Well, at least your not bleeding this time," said the boy.

"This time," mumbles Steve.

"What's it over this time?"

"What's it ever over? She got drunk again . . . and he's nuts!" answered Steve.

"What'd they tell you this time?" asked the boy.

"I didn't come down the stairs fast enough. Last time they told me I came down too fast!"

The boy just laughs.

"It's not funny!" exclaims Steve.

"I know. I was just identifying, that's all. Relax, hu! I'm Bob, remember? Your friend not your parent."

"I know! I know! It's just that I don't know how much longer I can take this!"

"I hear you. I'm thinking the same thing."

"But it doesn't affect you that bad," said Steve.

"Who said? I'm affected. Just that I don't show it like you. I just came from spending two and a half hours crying in my attic."

"Really? Mmm . . . Well, then, what do we do?" asked Steve.

"The only thing we can do, runaway."

"But, but where, how and with, with what do we . . . " starts Steve.

"Hey, will you cool it. I've got it all worked out. I've been thinking about it for a while now. Got it all planned out in my head. But I need a partner. A friend, a brother." said Bob as he puts his hand on Steve's shoulder.

Steve smiles. "Well, okay, but promise me one thing."

"What bro?" asked Bob ever confident.

"Promise you'll always be there."

"Promise," replied Bob laughing. (pp. 3-5)

That was the first two and a half hours spent crying in the attic pages. It starts off pretty badly and gets worse, and I pretty near gave up after the first chapter. Then I flipped through the middle, and it was still bad. Then I read the last chapter and it was just as awful. Then I skimmed the rest, so that I could finish this review.

Even leaving aside the atrocious prose, there is still the matter of the plot. Here's the basic idea: Steve and Bob run away. Bob is killed in New York City. Steve is initiated into a gang (the "Good Guys Government") and spends the rest of the book beating up and/or killing other gang members in a quest to avenge Bob's death. At the end of the book he is rich from the reward money for getting rid of those gang members, and the last pages see him flying "down South" to get married. It ought to be noted that Steve is fourteen years old; his intended is thirteen.

The moral lesson of Runaway? That the road to a better life lies in petty thugdom, vigilante justice, violent shoot-outs, and murder. That "there are no experts at the police department, just drunks and perverts" (p. 105). Steve is supposed to be a great and just hero but he is utterly amoral. It is, in fact, extremely repellant.

Does Runaway have any redeeming qualities? The only possible answer I can give is that, according to the front cover, "A portion of the proceeds of this book will be donated to charity." That charity is probably the National Runway Switchboard, for which a phone number is given on the back (1-800-621-4000). NRS is an American foundation that supports youths who have or are considering running away. So, that's good, to be supporting them. But the whole message of the book (ie., "Running away solves all problems!") maybe counteracts that good as well.

Here's one more redeeming quality: it's so bad it becomes absolutely hilarious after you get over the pain. Ladies and gents, Runaway is truly awful. It's the kind of awful that should be shared out loud with friends and family.

And you can have a copy, too! I got sent two by the publicist and so I have put the extra into my bookmooch inventory. Please, take it away.

July 1, 2008

June Books

Happy Canada Day! We just ate our Canada Day lunch: back-bacon on buns, roasted asparagus, corn on the cob, and lemon cake and fresh strawberries for dessert.

And now I'm all happy and full and thinking back over the last month. I read approximately seven thousand books in June. Well, it was actually 26, but it sure felt like more. Definitely in excess of my normal intake, anyway. Since there were so many (and because it's fun) I'm going to six-word reviews this time:

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, by Marjane Satrapi. Spawned new love for graphic novels.

*Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett. Great god Om as talking tortoise!

*Pyramids, by Terry Pratchett. Not the best but loved mummies.

*Lords and Ladies, by Terry Pratchett. Elves are evil! (Roleplayers take note).

Nine Princes in Amber, by Roger Zelazny. Read whole series in two days.

The Guns of Avalon, by Roger Zelazny. Five books can go pretty quickly.

Sign of the Unicorn, by Roger Zelazny. These are still good on re-reading.

The Hand of Oberon, by Roger Zelazny. But I won't read next five.

The Courts of Chaos, by Roger Zelazny. These first five are the best.

Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Light prose, sweet pictures, maple sugaring.

*Farworld: Water Keep, by J. Scott Savage. You guys: it's really really good.

*Fatal Voyage, by Kathy Reichs. This is a book I reviewed, yup.

Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Pioneering spirit makes me feel lazy.

On the Banks of Plum Creek, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Debut of Nellie! (Duhn dhun DUHHHN).

Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Work, eat, work, eat, work, EAT!

By the Shores of Silver Lake, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Not much happens in this one.

The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. This has traditionally been my favourite.

These Happy Golden Years, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Sweetest courtship ever written? Could be.

*Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson. Should have read it years ago!

The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkein. Love The Hobbit, love, love, love.

*Four Fires, by Bryce Courtenay. Courtenay's books still just so good!

*Victory Conditions, by Elizabeth Moon. Spaceships, romance, guns, adventure: series finale.

*Wyrd Sisters, by Terry Pratchett. First Witches book. Was vastly entertained.

*Reaper Man, by Terry Pratchett. Death storyline: great. Wizard storyline: boring.

*I Am America (and So Can You), by Stephen Colbert. Amusing, but no laughs out loud.

*Thief of Time, by Terry Pratchett. Pratchett writes Christine's new favourite, again.

That's the lot of them! (And it is a lot of them). This brings me up to 81/100 for the 100+ Books Challenge. Next month's goal is 19 books, to finish!