April 18, 2009

In the Spirit of Public Service

I would like to present to you, the internet, some handy tips for correcting errors I see -- all too frequently! -- when I am reading your blogs or your tweets or your comments. This is not directed at anyone in particular; I speak of general evils.

Homonym abuse is the problem. Homonyms -- words that sound alike but are spelled differently and mean different things -- have taken a terrible beating lately. It is of course easy to mis-type in the heat of the moment, but serious and persistent errors must be addressed. The excellent thing about homonyms, however, is that if you simply take a moment to memorize which is which you will rarely be confused thereafter.

Their / They're / There:

  • Their is a possessive word, as in "That is their idea".

  • They're means "they are", which may handily be seen as a contraction because of our friend the apostrophe's signal. The apostrophe is replacing the letter "a" in "are".

  • There is a direction, as in "over there".

Its / It's:

Again, our friend the apostrophe can help us out, as it signals a contraction:

  • "It's" means "it is", and the apostrophe is again taking the place of an initial vowel. If you mean to describe something, use "it's".

  • If you are referring to a possession -- "The cup sat on its saucer" (that is to say, on the saucer belonging to the cup) -- omit the apostrophe. This will seem counter-intuitive at first, since we say things like "Christine's chocolate" or "Canada's national sport" and use an apostrophe in this case. But IT is different, and if you take care, you will soon get used to it.

Your / You're:

This one drives me particularly crazy because, as with the examples above, it's really quite simple to learn and then to memorize. Grammar, mostly, is not difficult -- it's merely tedious, but that's enough to put people off it. I am digressing, however. Here's the distinction:

  • The word "your" is possessive. "Your boots" are the boots that you own. "Your crazy" is the crazy that you own.

  • "You're" has an apostrophe in it, once again signalling a contraction. It means "you are", and so you can say "you're special" or "you're happy".

  • Mixing these two up can be disastrous. Consider the difference between "your nuts" and "you're nuts", by way of brief example.

Miscellaneous evils:

  • Sight/Site: The first is one of your five senses. The latter is more of a place, like a camp site or a web site.

  • Coarse/Course: Coarse means rough. Course might mean something like path. It is also used in the phrase "of course".

  • To/Too/Two: The first is probably the most commonly used, forming part of the oft-used "to do" -- if you are going to the store, or off to do the dishes, or intending to give me lots of money, use this word. The middle version means "as well" or "also". The last is the number that we all know and love.

  • Effect/Affect: The former is the result of the latter. You affect something in order to have an effect on it.

  • Bored/Board: Bored is what you are when there's nothing to do. A board either comes from a tree, has -game attached to the end of it, or holds periodic management meetings.

Did I miss any obvious ones? Out them in the comments!

(Note: Anyone who comments about how grammar is obsolete -- and that as long as you can be understood, even with errors, everything's good enough -- will be summarily executed. Yes, I can understand you, with effort, if you say things like "Your going too have a bad affect", but I won't assume you're clever. I spent four hours copy-editing yesterday; don't cross me.)

April 9, 2009

Review: The Tenth Case, by Joseph Teller

This book was sent to me for review by the ever-patient TJ at Planned TV Arts, so long ago that I am frankly embarrassed just to remember when it was, never mind to actually tell you. The fact that I'm reviewing an ARC and the book has been out on shelves since last October may be trusted to speak for itself. And of course, I'm now kicking myself for not reading it sooner, not only because I received it in the good faith that I'd get to it in some semblance of good time, but because it's really, really good, and I could have enjoyed it ages ago.

Here's the back cover:
Criminal defense attorney Harrison J. Walker, better known as Jaywalker, has just been suspended for using "creative" tactics and receiving "gratitude" in the courtroom stairwell from a client charged with prostitution. Convincing the judge that his other clients are counting on him, Jaywalker is allowed to complete ten cases. But it's the last case that trule tests his abilities -- and his acquittal record.

Samara Moss -- young, petite and sexy as hell -- stabbed her husband in the heart. Or so everyone believes. Having married the elderly billionaire when she was an eighteen-year-old former prostitute, Samara appears to be the cliched gold digger. But Jaywalker knows all too well that appearances can be deceiving. Who else could have killed the billionaire? Has Samara been framed? Or is Jaywalker just driven by his need to win his clients' cases -- and this particular client's undying gratitude?

So there's the basic setup. Jaywalker is working with an over-90% acquittal rate, when he is hired to defend Samara Moss Tannenbaum, who has been charged with his murder. But it's not the first time that they've met: Jaywalker defended Samara over a traffic charge six years ago, and he's been smitten ever since. He is determined to win her case, not just for the sake of his own record, but in the hopes of winning Samara as well. The trouble is, the evidence against her is air-tight: she was alone with her husband the night he died, was heard arguing with him, initially lied to police investigating the case, and to top it all, a bloody steak-knife was found hidden in her apartment. Samara insists that she's innocent, and Jaywalker has little choice but to believe her.

This is the first installement of a planned series of books by Joseph Teller, himself a former criminal defense attorney. This novel, at least, is fairly heavy on the exposition: a lot of pages are taken up with explaining the ins and outs of the legal system in New York, at least so far as that system relates to Jaywalker's last case. It doesn't interfere with the story -- indeed, I found it interesting -- but I do wonder as to how that will be handled in future books, when the reading audience might be presumed to need less explanation as the plots move along. The exposition didn't get in the way in The Tenth Case, but I can easily see how it could eventually get wearisome.

The other thing in this book that I found intriguing in terms of the writing is the question of who, exactly, is narrating? It appears to be a limited-omnicient third person narrator -- that is to say, the narration is in the third person, and the narrator has full access to the protagonist's thoughts, but no access to anyone else's. But the narrator is clearly outside of Jaywalker, which is slightly more unusual, and he(?) often breaks the fourth wall to talk about something that Jaywalker is doing, or about certain points of law or trial procedure that may not be clear to lay readers. There's a certain amount of comments along the lines of "Wasn't it strange that Jaywalker was doing such-and-such? Actually no, because blah-de-blah..." and the feel is a bit as if Teller is explaining the law to the reader, with Jaywalker's story sort of thrown in as an illustration of how things work. It's an interesting dynamic -- again, not intrusive, but unusual -- and I look forward to seeing how it changes (or doesn't) in subsequent books.

As to the story itself -- the plot, I mean -- it's well-written, enjoyable, and well-plotted. It's primarily a legal drama, so there are relatively few gruesome details to deal with. And the ending is rather deliciously ambiguous, which is sometimes the way I like my murder mysteries. Highly recommended.

April 7, 2009

Review: The Temperance Brennan series, by Kathy Reichs

Attention Kathy Reichs: I've figured you out. I've been reading your Temperance Brennan series, and I think that I'm ready to take over if you ever get tired of doing them. I might need some help with the forensics, but I've figured out all of the other necessary plot elements:

  • Temperance Brennan must get bonked on the head and knocked unconscious at least once per novel -- but twice must be better. If twice, one incident should occur about a third of the way through the novel, and the other should occur right at the climactic moment. (Lady's skull must be harder than a rock. Or maybe she's just punch-drunk all the time, and that's why the cops don't take her seriously.)

  • Secondary characters should have one physical characteristic or mannerism that is mentioned over and over. Detective Ryan has Very Blue Eyes. Claudel is The Impeccable Dresser. Tempe's sister is The Crazy One. Repeat as necessary.

  • Some wackadoo from Tempe's past will show up in Montreal and take over the guest bedroom. Said guest will then disappear for several days, which Tempe will not notice for those same several days, despite the fact that (a) this always happens, and (b) it is almost always really bad. Like my-best-friend-was-murdered-because-I-thought-she-just-needed-some-space bad.

  • Pattern recognition: thankfully, none appears to be needed! Must be all the concussions.

  • Tempe will know how to solve the mystery -- except that it will be Stuck! In! Her! Subconscious! until about the point that she's actually tied up and hanging on a meathook (or whatever the psycho of the day deems appropriate).

  • Convergent with not being able to remember important things: weird, prophetic dreams that provide clues that the readers can see, but Tempe usually can't.

  • Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

I like these books, mostly. I find all of the forensics stuff fascinating, and the stories themselves are usually quite good. But here's the thing: they are woefully predictable. I read these three right in a row, and I think that was a mistake, because there are definite patterns at play and my brain couldn't help but pick them up after a book or two. If you like mysteries and don't mind gore you might enjoy these books -- just make sure to space them out!

April 2, 2009

Review: Jane Austen Ruined My Life, by Beth Pattillo

I have to tell you, I was all set to hate this book. For one thing, it arrived in the mail in a completely unsolicited fashion, and so I took one look at it and thought, I really don't want to read this right now. And for a long time I didn't want to read it -- because I had other things to read, things I'd bought or asked for, and anyway, I thought that the whole premise was, let's face it, kind of dopey.

But you know, actually, it's pretty okay. Here's the back cover:
Emma Grant has always done everything just the way her minister father told her she should -- a respectable marriage, a teaching job, and plans for the requisite two children. Life was prodigiously good, as her favourite author Jane Austen might say, until the day Emma finds her husband in bed with another woman. Suddenly, all her romantic notions à la Austen as exposed for the foolish dreams they are.

Denied tenure in the wake of the scandal, Emma packs up what few worldly possessions she has left and heads to England on a quest to find the missing letters of Jane Austen. The reclusive dowager Mrs. Gwendolyn Parrot claims to have the author's missing correspondence, but Mrs. Parrot proces coy about her prize possessions, sending Emma on a series of Austen-related tasks that bring her closer and closer to the secrets Jane Austen had hoped to bury. As Emma learns more about the beloved author's life, she comes to realize how much Jane Austen has to teach all of us.

That's the basic premise and it's more or less correct, if you substitute "on the kitchen table" for "in bed" in the first paragraph. But the blurb also highlights what I see as one of the basic problems of this text: who, exactly, thinks that Jane Austen is all about romantic happy endings? Anyone? I mean, yes, of course she wrote some highly romantic stories. But they are (a) fiction, and (b) full of not-so-happy and not-so-romantic situations. Take just Pride and Prejudice as example. Yes, you've got Elizabeth and Darcy, and Jane and Bingley, and their plots are romantic and end more or less happily. But you've also got Charlotte and Mr. Collins, an unsuitable couple in a marriage of desperation (on her part, at least). There's Lydia and Wickham, who elope, live in perpetual debt and quickly grow less and less fond of each other. There are Caroline Bingley, Lady Catherine, and Anne de Bourgh, who are all rather disappointed with Darcy's marriage to Elizabeth. There's Mary Bennett, who will likely never marry. And of course, the incomparable Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, wholly unsuitable for each other and trapped in a marriage devoid of genuine love and respect. These are the happy endings that Emma Grant has latched on to?

Which brings me to my second beef with the novel, which is the protagonist herself. She's kind of dumb (see above), and a bit of a whiner to boot. Girl needs to step up and take some responsibility for her own life, and stop blaming her life's problems on her upbringing and her perhaps overly zealous reading of Austen. She annoyed me to no end.

That being said, this isn't really a bad little story. There's a secret society of Austen guardians -- the Formidables -- who make Emma hop around England doing secret tasks, in return for what they say are nearly three thousand unpublished Austen letters. And of course, there is a romantic subplot, as Emma tries to decide between Adam, her former best friend, whom she hasn't seen since her unwise marriage, and Barry, the handsome American she meets in London -- not to mention her ex-husband, Edward. And Emma is desperate to keep her true reasons for being in England from Adam, even has he is busy hiding something -- something big -- from her.

Jane Austen Ruined my Life, aside from the aforementioned flaws, was a pleasant, quick, and undemanding read. It's not high literature but it'd be good for the beach. I read it swiftly following several gruesome murder mysteries and it served as an excellent palate cleanser.

April 1, 2009

March Search Terms!

Happy April, everybody. Let's look at what brought you here last month.

"i'll start purging at school" Honey, don't. You're not going to keep it a secret there, either, and you're not doing yourself any favours. Eating disorders -- what I assume this is about -- are a nasty business. You can find more information here.

stroke insight cookie Erm, what? Maybe I missed something because I didn't finish the book, but I'm really not seeing the connection. Can anyone give a girl a little help?

firefly lane badly written kristin hannah You said it, not me! Oh wait. I said it too.

peter wimsey fanfic sex I'm sorry, but I cannot help you. Consider writing your own. And then keeping it to yourself.

got it sorted out I'm so very glad to hear that. Are you the "is this sorted" person from last time? Or are you two people secretly sending messages through search terms aimed at my blog? Are you secret agents? Am I your dupe?

how to recycle hardcover books Depending on where you live, your municipality may take them in your blue bin or its equivalent. Otherwise, the best way -- I am given to understand -- is to remove the hard cover and recycle the inside pages as you would normal paper. The cover may be recycled or thrown out, depending on its materials and what your municipality collects. Of course, you should consider first whether the books might be read by someone else; there are lots of ways to get rid of used books that don't involve their destruction.

how long is dr. jekyll book It's about a hundred pages. Now get cracking.

go jill taylor Go where?

she books Unless she's a police officer, I question the validity of this statement. Just so you know.

step children book I can't help you specifically. But here's a list of books tagged with "step-children" on LibraryThing. There are not many.

second hand bookshop no point No point buying books there? Or no point selling books there? On the first point, I heartily disagree -- I think that second-hand bookstores rock. But I understand if you mean that there's no point selling books there. It's true that most of the time you won't get very much money for your discarded tomes (especially if they're going to be re-sold for a dollar or fifty cents, you have to be prepared to get very little back). It depends on what the final goal of selling your books is: are you in it for the money, or do you just want to have some more space on your shelves? If the latter, consider settling for those low prices -- or even donating them somewhere.

web mail yellowknife golf club Oscar big blue templeton ocean!

chapter summaries of the book an abundance of katherines I'd actually be up for this except that I can't find my copy of An Abundance of Katherines anywhere. This is one of the hazards of deciding to organise your books and then stopping halfway through: you are left with three or four lovely & organized shelves, and everything else is just giant piles of chaos.

novels with swim(ming) in the title Again, LibraryThing is our friend. Here's a list. They're not all novels, though; you'll have to do some refining on your own.

christine book blog 5 stars You're too, too kind. I'd like to thank the Academy, of course.

twilight the light from the sky between full night and sunrise or between sunset and full night produced by diffusion of sunlight through the atmosphere and its dust; also:a time of twilight. Also, a really crummy book series by Stephanie Meyer that I refuse to read. You know, on account of the crummy.

why is charlotte crossing the atlantic ocean If you're talking about Charlotte Doyle, she's crossing the ocean to return to her family's home after being at school in England -- also because without that little plot device, the whole story couldn't happen. If you're asking about other Charlottes, I can't help you.

r.b.mitchell = castaway kid Good math, googler! Rob Mitchell did indeed write Castaway Kid. Also he is the aforementioned kid who was cast away. I probably wouldn't have thought of using the equals sign myself... so I'm going to assume that you're a big nerd. Hope that's okay!

swimming pool sunday book report Call me a crazy old coot (and they do) but I really think that you kids ought to start writing your own book reports. And pull up your pants. And get off my lawn.