September 27, 2008

Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls: The New Girl

Wow, I have four followers! Thank ya'll. In addition, I have three links:

1) Radio Show: My newest is about study habits. Listen to my cold-stricken voice.

2) I'd Tell You I Love You But Then I'd Have to Kill You: Most of my TGTBTU reviews don't fit on this blog, but this one is YA. Feel free to read the other reviews there as well - the duckies are a sharp bunch with good taste.

3) The Jewel of Medina: Watch me offer a personal opinion. This won't happen often.

By Meg Cabot

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I thought this one was an October book for some reason. Imagine my suprise when I saw it in the bookstore yesterday! It all works for the best since I really needed to update this blog. (Hey, Deimyts . . . help me out or I won't give you your beautiful, personally signed copy of ANATHEM.) In the second Allie Finkle book, the title character and her two little brothers begin attending their new school and their grandmother comes for a visit. Allie also adopts a kitten that needs a great deal of care.

Those in the age range the book is aimed at (I'd say second to fourth grade) will probably enjoy the school storyline the most. Bully Rosemary threatens to beat Allie up, and Allie has no clue how to deal with the situation. She doesn't want to tattle to the teacher or scare her parents, but knows she is not likely to win a physical battle. Everything she does to appease Rosemary seems to make her more angry. (One question: What elementary nowadays lets the kids go home for lunch?)

On the other hand, I enjoyed the grandmother's visit the most. There's quite a bit of tension that might have gone over my head when I was younger. Now that I know just how badly my mom got along with her mother-in-law, I can really identify with the family dynamic Meg Cabot uses. It feels very real to me, with plenty of love and some unintentional hurt.

I'm not sure how much of a crossover audience the Allie Finkle books will draw from Cabot's teen readers. Cabot writes well for children, with a simpler sentence structure. She doesn't condescend to them - she uses some nice vocabulary words, multiple storylines, and THE NEW GIRL clocks in at over 200 pages. However, it's still a simpler read. It's not a series I would pick up for myself, but I plan to give my copy of THE NEW GIRL to my cousin when she enters the second grade next year.

I don't always agree with the moral lesson in Cabot's books, but I think all those present in THE NEW GIRL are ones I'd like the little ones in my family to abide by. Plus, Allie makes a rule against eating tomatoes. She's a girl after my own heart (although I do eat salsa).

THE NEW GIRL is the second in the Allie Finkle series; MOVING DAY is the first. The novel stood well on its own. You can find out more about the series on Cabot's website. The menu links to her very interesting "diary." Cabot is the author of the popular Princess Diaries novels (ya'll can't wait for the tenth either, can ya?), the Mediator series, 1-800-WHERE-R-U, and various others.

September 18, 2008

Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, Oct/Nov 2008, Part II

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The last post has a link to a description discount. Again, if you have better links please send them to me.

Going Back in Time by Laurel Winter

Richard meets Ellie at the end. Before that – can you call it before? Winter’s contribution is a time-travel tale told in brief snippets. Slightly confusing, she keeps her tale short enough that the snippets are fairly easy to piece together. An amusing and deceptively light story, I think about this tale a little more than I should when I read it.

Private Eye by Terry Bissom

As the intro warns, this story is not for the kids. Whoever said kids get to have all the fun? This ranks in my top three from the issue, along with “Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment” and “The Scarecrow’s Boy.” It’s a little bit psychological, quite a bit voyeuristic, and completely satisfying. No ‘onscreen’ sex, but very sexy. For me the sexiness works because it’s also romantic. Eula and the narrator are both strong characters and Bissom uses technology in a rather probable manner.

December 22, 2012 by Sophie M. White

Pff-t. The Maya
Are absolutely correct
About 2012.*


Whoever by Carol Emshwiller

A woman wakes up without an identity, but discovers one she likes. She tries to discover more about herself and knows a little of what she’d like to become, but she’s content as “Whoever.” I wonder about the woman’s past, especially given some of the story’s events, but I like that she’s happy without it. This story made me cheerful just in time for M. Ricket’s assault on my psyche.

Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment: One Daughter’s Personal Account by M. Rickert

The comparison is facile, but I draw a connection between this and Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.” For one thing, both disturb me. “Evidence of Love in a Case of Abandonment” does not hide what is happening in the story. It neither reveals everything at the beginning nor ends with an unexpected twist. The narrator is simply considers the executions of mass numbers of women so commonplace that she doesn’t need to think about why they happen until she becomes introspective. Ricket’s tale revels in hypocrisy and mixes the mundane and grotesque into a too-realistic tale. I want to read it again to pick apart the details, but I’m giving my mind some time to recover first.

Planetismal Dawn by Tim Sullivan

Sullivan’s contribution, like Winter’s, involves some time travel. He goes about it in a much different way, although both stories offer greatest insight into a single relationship. Nozaki’s subordinate Wolverton discovers something rather curious while the two try to return to the base on the asteroid they’re studying. Nozaki, on the other hand, discovers some of her shortcomings as an officer. Quite a bit occurs in this novella, but Sullivan keeps things under control and ends the story neatly.

The Scarecrow’s Boy by Michael Swanwick

I would like this story if only for the line, “We are as God and Sony made us.” Stanwick pulls together adventure, politics, and robots in a fabulous story about an old technology scarecrow who doesn’t need a wizard for brains, heart, or courage. There’s a moment of darkness that both gives the story necessary edge and highlights how sweet most of it is.


I enjoyed the departments and enjoyed the book reviews most. However, I am going to see Iron Man tonight. I wonder what my view of the movie will be. (Eh, I tend to enjoy both brainless spectacles and Edward Norton so it will probably be positive.)

*Had an amusing story about the movie and Edward Norton (who isn't in the movie), but I just got crappy news. Oh well.

September 14, 2008

Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, Oct/Nov 2008, Part I

Ike report: I'm cool, just got some rain in my area. My family members in Houston suffered both major and minor property damage, but none of them are hurt.

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Inside Story by Albert E. Cowdrey

I have not read “Queen for a Day,” the World Fantasy Award winning short story featuring the same two characters, Detective Fournet and Tobin. It’s posted on the F&SF website, but I decided to go in cold to the story. It’s set in post-Katrina New Orleans, with a strong sense of place. Cowdrey writes his characters’ dialect but it’s easy to decipher. There are some nice bits of humor and a cute ending. Still, I never connected to the characters and found the beginning somewhat slow. In any issue, not all the stories will work for all readers. This one didn’t work for me, but it deserves inclusion in the magazine.

Sleepless Years by Steven Utley

This and M. Rickert’s story make me want to add & Horror to the magazine’s title. Oh yes, it’s SF, but this story scares me. Scientists may gain the power to return life, but what if those people can no longer sleep? What if they won’t let those people exercise their right to die again? The zombie narrator possesses more humanity than the zealous living characters. If I were them, I would listen closer to his threats about Hell. Thought-provoking, disturbing, and faintly religious, “Sleepless Years” is one of my favorites in this crop.

Days of Wonder by Geoff Ryman

The intro to this story directs you to an article on artificial chromosomes in Science, which got my hopes up. I adore SF based on genetic principles. (Brief warning: I’m fairly sure you can only read abstracts from Science without a subscription. I am unable to check as my campus subscribes, which is very handy.) In this world, humans( “Ancestors”) have passed from the world, although they combined their DNA with that of various animals. The story is from the point of view of Akwa, a horse. Her strong, unconventional groom-mate Leveza decides to capture a Cat in a moment of distress. I liked Leveza’s character and understood Akwa’s, but ended up finding the story only mildly appealing. Akwa’s perspective offered a view of the societal norms that contrasted with her friend’s behavior, but I felt like Leveza’s was probably more interesting.

The New York Times at Special Bargain Rates by Stephen King

I enjoy it when King writes outside of the horror genre. He tends to avoid his current formula in such pieces. Anne receives a strange call from her husband James. It becomes less strange if you consider that her husband died days before. King touches briefly on her life after that call, and the wonder of who is on the line when you just can’t reach the phone in time. Short and simple.

Dazzle Joins the Screenwriter’s Guild by Scott Bradfield

Parts of this one fall flat, but most of the time it’s funny in both straightforward and satirical ways. Two other stories about dazzle can be found in Bradfield’s collection HOT ANIMAL LOVE, but “Dazzle Joins the Screenwriter’s Guild” can stand on its own four paws. I sometimes wish I knew whether Dazzle actually could talk or not, and to know whether I’m silly for not knowing that. Either way, that story comes to a most satisfying climax. I had to wait for my laughter to subside before moving on to the coda.

The Visionaries by Robert Reed

Reed writes about the best job ever. Oh, there’s certainly something going on behind the scenes, but on the surface it’s the best job ever. (As for the behind the scenes – I now have the desire to read terrible stories on to see if there’s something more to them.) Reed starts with an intriguing idea, unfolding in it through small meetings. I love how it finishes, with the narrator still fixated on the small picture, even though he’s caught a glimpse of the bigger one. In my mind, he succeeds in his endeavor.

Part II will be posted on the 18th. F&SF is currently offering a discounted subscription through this link. If anyone has a better site for me to link some of the author's names to, please feel free to tell me.

September 9, 2008

All About Vee

The poetic and talented Beth Kephart interviewed me here. You should check it out because she makes me sound far more awesome than I am. (Stay to look at the rest of her blog too. There's beautiful photos, interesting thoughts, and she's begun to vlog.)

By C. Leigh Purtill

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I must admit, before I started ALL ABOUT VEE I believed I knew how the story would turn out. Naive young woman goes to Hollywood to make it big? Plus-sized girl tries to make it in an industry obsessed with too-thin girls? I expected a story that would feel good in the end, but until then I'd face the protagonist's lack of self-confidence and growing disillusionment. No, I don't hate that kind of book. It's simply a familiar trajectory and sometimes you long for something different.

Something different is what C. Leigh Purtill delivered. In the first chapter, she smacked down my prejudices. Veronica wasn't self-conscious about her weight. Oh, she knows she's 217 pounds. She also knows it doesn't matter onstage. Onstage she's a star. She's got arrogance and pride because she's talented, hard-working, and a budding star.

But while Vee has plenty of confidence in her professional life, she's less certain in her personal. She's fond of her father's long-time fiancee, May May, but she just can't bring herself to acknowledge her as a mother figure. It's the discovery of her mother Diana's letters to her father while she tried to make it as an actress that convinces Vee to make her move. She's seeking a connection with her mother just as much as she's seeking success.

She leaves the two Vees - Val and Virginia - in Chester, AZ, and joins the Vee - Vivian, who now goes by Reed - who already set out for Hollywood. It's beautiful, tiny Reed who lacks self-confidence, not Veronica. Of course, Veronica trusts her friend and misses how Reed knocks her down to build herself up. Luckily for Veronica, she makes some real friends. These real friends include Phillip, the cute coffee shop manager who encourages Veronica to remain true to her talent.

It's hard to watch Vee try to navigate Hollywood. She's learning a new medium, realizing that some of her stage training works against acting in front of a camera. She's also learning that some roles will never consider her, despite her skill. Others will consider her regardless of skill, to make her a sitcom's token slob. Despite this, Veronica remains refreshingly confident and optimistic to the end.

Purtill resolves Veronica's issues with her family equally well. Early on I realized that if Diana became famous, Veronica's life likely wouldn't exist. It's interesting to read Diana's letters and put the pieces of the past together. It's also interesting to see how they help Vee appreciate her father and May May, who she left rather callously in the beginning of the novel.

As for the love interest, I like Phillip. He knows how to appreciate personality, intelligence, and talent. He lets Veronica make her own decisions but offers her advice and opportunities. Plus, he encourages Vee to make coffee. She clearly can't make iced tea correctly if she thinks the secret is not boiling the water.

ALL ABOUT VEE is available now, as is Purtill's first novel LOVE, MEG. Find out more at her official website, MySpace, or blog. The first time I visited her blog, I noticed she makes legwarmers. I e-mailed her asking about price, and she agreed to send me a pair in return for a review. Yes, this review is favorable, no, it is not because of the adorable legwarmers. If it was I wouldn't make the trade public. ^_~

They go over my knees - I'm wearing them nice and slouchy in the photo.

September 4, 2008

The Lost Diary of Don Juan

Just a note: yes, I will continue updating while I'm at college, but probably at the rate of one review per week. This month with definitely include a review of ALL ABOUT VEE by C. Leigh Purtill and the Oct/Nov issue of FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION magazine. Next month will definitely include reviews of Allie Finkle's THE NEW GIRL by Meg Cabot and MELTING STONES by Tamora Pierce. I have several reviews already written to use as filler if I don't finish anything new. Publishers and authors, please feel free to contact me if you would like to send me something to review.

By Douglas Carlton Abrams

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The book begins promisingly, with the meta joke, "Many, I am sure, will try to turn my life into a morality play after I am dead." For whether Don Juan truly existed as a Spanish nobleman or not, he is commonly known due to plays, books, poems, and movies. Of course, the book shortly after offers a preview of its greatest downfall, when Don Juan seduces the Widow Elvira:

I sipped the moist nectar of her mouth as she opened her petals to me. Our mouths fused together, her thirst palpable and her breath short. With out tonges and lips, we drank from each other a cordial as sweet as honey.

Yes, it's oftentimes that purple. Now, I was expecting a little purple in a book about one of the world's most famous lovers. It just wouldn't be right without it. However, Abrams often ventures to the point of just plain silly. (In the glossary included in the notes, just look at the definitions for Supreme Pleasure and Ultimate Skill. Even the author is a bit confunded by the word choice.) This dovetails in with the other fault, which is how Abrams addresses Don Juan's spirituality.

Don Juan believes in a 'heresy,' that laying with a woman, even outside of marriage, is a way of worshipping God. It's an interesting point of view and Abrams uses Juan to make some good points, it all seems a bit false coming from a man who only physically loves his lovers.

These things detract from an otherwise excellent story. On the romance side, Don Juan finally becomes emotionally connected to a woman, but one with whom he cannot have a physical relationship due to his loyalty to her fiance. On the historical side, Don Juan's practicing heresy during the Inquisition.

Abrams presents the Inquisition in its full hideousness, torturing the innocent to death as well as the guilty. The text also speaks of those men who would denounce people to this fate for their own gain. Human history is full of dark and shameful things, which most certainly fits the Inquisition. It was a dangerous time, and Abrams uses it well. Don Juan had far more to fear than an enraged husband.

Back to the romance side, the circumstances surrounding Dona Ana and Don Juan's relationship are more interesting than the woman herself. I liked her at her first introduction, but after that she seemed somewhat bland. It's realistic for a high born woman of the time to not be able to do much about her fate, but it left the novel with a hero far more dynamic than the heroine. Still, she did well enough as the love interest.

I wanted to love THE LOST DIARY OF DON JUAN at many points, but I just couldn't. There's certainly a good story there, but it would be better if the language were a little less flowery. Find out more at Abrams' website, MySpace, or book site. THE LOST DIARY OF DON JUAN is now available in paperback.

I received my review copy through Pump Up Your Book Promotion.



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