Tag Archives: Books Read in 2010

14: Peril Over the Airport

Peril Over the Airport by Helen Wells

Peril Over the Airport is part of the Vicki Barr, Flight Stewardess series. I saw it at the library book sale (not a library book) and picked it because I read a lot of these juvenile series as a kid, but I don’t think I ever read any Vicki Barrs. I did like Cherry Ames, though, which was a very similar series (same authors) except Cherry was a nurse.

So, anyway, when you think about it, these books are a little odd, because they’re obviously aimed at a pretty young audience but the main characters are in their 20s (at least) and they have jobs. I mean, can you imagine trying to pitch something like that today? “I have this story about a 23-year-old Starbucks barista. The target audience is 7-9 year-olds.” Somehow, I don’t think that would fly.

Anyhow, in POtA, the setup is that Vicki wants to learn to fly. A pilot she works with recommends she learn to fly from this nice WWII vet who has just happened to set up a small airport in her hometown. So she cuts back on her work schedule and goes home for the summer to take flying lessons. She does work some during the story, but those bits are skipped over, except for one incident where she runs into a character pertinent to the plot. I assume there’s more coverage of her stewardessing in other books in the series.

POtA was published in 1953, and at first I just assumed that was when it was set. Although, it was a little odd that everyone kept referring to Bill Avery as a “boy,” when he had to be closer to 30 than 20 (if it was 1953, and he was a veteran, the youngest he could be was 26, and given his war backstory, probably older). But, his sister appears later in the story, as a war widow with a 5-year-old son, so I think it was actually supposed to be set earlier (I do not think they were implying that she got pregnant after becoming a widow). It was kind of weird, because Wells makes obvious references to WWII, yet when it comes to dates, she very deliberately leaves them out. I mean, that’s typical for this sort of book, but it seems a little silly when you have a major historical event playing a large role in the story.

Wells frequently refers to planes as “ships.” I guess this is an abbreviation of “airship”? Either that, or it was considered cool to call planes ships at the time; maybe military slang?

Given the intended audience, the plot and the mystery to be solved are very basic. Vicki takes most of the book to solve a “code note” the solution of which is obvious on first glance. And the resolution  of the mystery is exactly what you’d expect. But in addition to the ostensible plot and mystery, there is lots of information on flying, both as a hobby (here’s how it works! you can do it too!) and as a career for women (no, women can’t be commercial airline pilots—yet! and yes, it does indeed say that—but they can do almost any other kind of flying! and you can too!). Despite the overtly feminist message, or rather, probably because of it, Vicki is otherwise depicted as being a very traditional female, e.g. she wants to wear high heels even when they are impractical, she’s obsessed with tidying up disorganized Bill’s office, she’s squicked out by dirt.

She’s also described as being tiny, and although it could be though of as just another way of feminizing the character, I liked it here because Wells got it right. Vicki complains of not being taken seriously, of people assuming she’s younger than she is, of the practical difficulties of being little—like not being able to able to reach the pedals, having to sit on a cushion, stuff like that. That was perfect. As a kid who was always stymied by height requirements, I would’ve loved to read about a short adult female who was doing cool stuff like flying in spite of being little.

13: Cinnamon Kiss

Cinnamon Kiss by Walter Mosley

Previously on The Remainder Table: I Heart You, Walter Mosley.

And… that is why you blog, folks. Well, at least one of the reasons.

So anyway, since then I’ve wanting/meaning to read some Walter Mosley. Hoping his writing of fiction would live up to his writing about the writing of fiction. Because, as you know, sometimes it doesn’t. But this time… it did.

Cinnamon Kiss is the 10th Easy Rawlins mystery, so I jumped into the series in medias res. It was ok, though. Even though the book did not have a huge “as you know, Bob” info-dump on the first few pages (thank you), enough info was sprinkled throughout to sort out the supporting characters and pick up the gist of the existing relationships. I do imagine knowing the full background of the characters would add further dimensions to the story, however.

So anyway, I really enjoyed Cinnamon Kiss. Sometimes I almost forget how much I like mystery fic (so much mediocrity out there…). And then something like this reminds me. Oh, yeah… But the best part about it may be that fans of the series think CK isn’t Mosley’s best work. So yay! If the rest of the series is even better, awesome. I have something (or 10 more somethings) to look forward to.

In CK, Easy’s daughter is sick and he needs to raise some money quick to pay for her treatment. He’s so desperate he considers pulling off a heist with his friend Mouse, but reconsiders when he gets a call from another friend, Saul, about a job for a mysterious detective in San Francisco.

The mystery was solid, although the final resolution was a little less than satisfying. And oh, sure, Easy’s a little too popular with the ladies. But it’s detective fic, so it’s already a bit o’ a fantasy to begin with, so I think that’s ok. The story’s setting and atmosphere were vivid and the characters intriguing, but I think Mosley’s real strength is dialogue. The dialect switches (depending on whom a character was speaking to) seemed absolutely effortless. I wonder if he teaches. He could totally give a lesson on dialogue how-to.

Also I do love that Easy is short for Ezekiel. Of course I do.

Some Reviews:

12: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

I see that reviewers really didn’t like this book (see, for example, the NY Sun, the Sunday Times, the Telegraph). Keep in mind the sharp edges are tempered due to the author being beloved.

I think this is where I’m supposed to get outraged and start ranting about people reading it wrong, and so on. But honestly? I find it rather amusing, because they’re so clearly wtf? about the whole thing. Like when Murakami writes about what he thinks about while running:

What exactly do I think about when I’m running? I don’t have a clue. … I just run. I run in a void. Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void. But as you might expect, an occasional thought will slip into this void. … The thoughts that occur to me while I’m running are like clouds in the sky. Clouds of all different sizes. They come and they go, while the sky remains the same sky always. The clouds are mere guests in the sky that pass away and vanish, leaving behind the sky. (p. 16-17)

They’re all like, “But that’s so dull!” But it’s not dull to me, because that’s exactly how it is. As is this:

I don’t even think there’s that much correlation between my running every  day and whether or not I have a strong will. I think I’ve been able to run for more than twenty years for a simple reason: It suits me. … Human beings naturally continue doing things they like, and they don’t continue what they don’t like. (p. 44)

It’s a great illustration of the importance of audience. In the opening paragraph of the NY Times review, Geoff Dyer writes:

I’m guessing that the potential readership for “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running” is 70 percent Murakami nuts, 10 percent running enthusiasts and an overlapping 20 percent who will be on the brink of orgasm before they’ve even sprinted to the cash register. And then there’s me, the zero-percenter: a non-running Murakami virgin. Oh well. The supreme test of nonfiction is that it be interesting irrespective of the reader’s indifference to the subject under discussion, and a great writer’s work is obviously beflecked with greatness whatever the occasion. So the terms of the test are clear.

Well, I’d never heard of Haruki Murakami before I picked up this book. But I do run. And I also write. And, as I noted shortly after I bought the book, I have in fact actually used running as a metaphor for writing! So when I saw WITAWITAR while browsing the memoir/bio section at Chapters (where, fyi, it was displayed face-out rather than spine-out, ahem), I knew I had to read it. In other words, I think I’m an Ideal Reader for this book, one of the (apparently*) teeny number of people who both write and run. It never would’ve occurred to me that this was a rarity, but not only does Murakami comment on it (apparently he’s popular with running mags for this reason), Peter Terzian’s LA Times review makes note of how unusual it is for writers to write about running [emphasis added]:

In a 1999 essay for the New York Times, Joyce Carol Oates drew a parallel between the tireless walker-writers of the 19th century (Coleridge, Dickens, Whitman) and the contemplative present-day jogger. “In running,” she wrote, “the mysterious efflorescence of language seems to pulse in the brain.” An afternoon run allows Oates to untangle the structural problems that bedevil her fiction in the morning.

Oates’ essay aside, the literature of running is as thin as a mesh singlet. Running pops up in fiction and poetry from time to time, from Homer to John Updike, but the sport doesn’t easily lend itself to the dramatic. The vagaries of weather, the joint pains and the repetition of putting one foot in front of the other can’t compete with the traded blows of the boxing ring or a home run.

O rly?

While reading WITAWITAR, I started thinking that perhaps I should be writing about running—not just in one-offs, but in a more sustained way—but the idea that running can’t compete with boxing or baseball?! That’s like an outright challenge!

Oh, it’s on.

But back to the book. If the ideal audience for one’s book is miniscule, does that matter? Should one try for wider appeal? Murakami thinks not. Before he started writing, he ran a bar where he learned this:

If one out of ten was a repeat customer, then the business would survive. To put it the other way, it didn’t really matter if nine out of ten didn’t like my bar. This realization lifted a weight off my shoulders. Still, I had to make sure that the one person who did like the place really liked it. In order to make sure he did, I had to make my philosophy and stance clear-cut, and patiently maintain that stance no matter what. (p. 38)

I love the 1,000 True Fans concept (i.e. in order to make a living doing something creative, you don’t need a kajillion fans; you just need ~1,000 people who really love your work). Over at TC, I’ve been trying to start a discussion about self-/e-publishing and readers. The point I’ve been trying to make is that if the bulk of your readership consists of True Fans, it’s in your best interest to treat them well (i.e. not try to sell them crap just because you can). Murakami’s idea seems along the same lines.

Oddly, right after I bought WITAWITAR, I saw Kevin Hartnett’s essay about it at The Millions. Recommended. It’s a good essay and a much better summary of what the book’s about than my meanderings. Plus, he’s already sought out Murakami’s fiction, so he’s a step ahead of me.

*I don’t really buy that there’s so little crossover. Do you write & run?

11: T is for Trespass

T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton

Another 55 cent book from the Book Sale. Hardcover, with a jacket, and another that was not a library book.

Previously on The Remainder Table…

[S is for Silence] flips between Kinsey’s 1987 world and flashbacks to 1953 (various characters). Since Kinsey is not a party to the 1953 flashbacks, the reader always knows more than she does. I’m not thrilled with this device. In a detective story, I think it’s best if we stick to the detective’s PoV—this is the only way the reader can play along (and isn’t that what a detective story is about?).

I’d forgotten about this. In T, while most of the story is told from Kinsey’s PoV, some of the chapters are told from the villain’s PoV. As with the flashbacks in S, I wasn’t excited about this device—I don’t think Grafton provided any insights into the character that we couldn’t have gotten another way. And it mitigated the suspense. Sure, there was still the “what is she going to do?” suspense, but there was no “who’s the villain?” More importantly, it put the reader ahead of Kinsey from the very beginning, which made Kinsey look kind of slow when she finally did catch on (which seems kind of unfair to the character).

I’m guessing that Grafton couldn’t think of a way to create doubt as to who the villain was with this particular storyline, so that’s why she went this route. But I think it would have been possible, if some of the minor characters had been played up more.

In T, what would normally be the side plot turns into the main plot. Kinsey’s neighbor, 89-year-old Gus, falls and dislocates his shoulder. He needs help while he recovers, but his only relative is a great-great-niece in NY. Kinsey manages to locate the niece, and she makes a brief visit to Santa Teresa. But because Gus is a Grumpy Old Man, she has trouble finding a home care nurse for him. When she finally finds someone, she only has Kinsey do a cursory background check, because she is eager to get back to her life in NY. Duh-duh-duh!

I enjoyed T more than S. But I know if I think about it too much, the whole thing will fall apart. (So I’m not going to ;-))

Here’s the thing. I know Kinsey Millhone isn’t great literature, but also know if I come across another in the series, I will probably read it. It’s reading junk food! nomnomnom It’s not even so much about the series itself, but about the fact that reading it also reminds me of reading the first books in the series, back when my favorite TV show was Remington Steele and my career aspiration was to be either a police detective, a private investigator, or a cat burglar.

Random tidbit: Grafton’s pet word is “ease”: people are forever easing onto stools, cars easing out of driveways, etc. etc.

Haha. It’s true! She still likes ease, but its noticeability was eclipsed by her new pet word (phrase?): “thumb lock.” I assume she means a deadbolt. I’ve never heard them referred to as thumb locks before.

10: The End of East

The End of East by Jen Sookfong Lee

Another hardcover picked up at the book sale (I’m starting to feel repetitive…). This one was actually a library book—gently-used, as they say. The dust jacket was in good condition.

I was pretty excited to read this book because it’s not only set in Vancouver, it’s set on the east side.

If you’re not familiar, the east side of the City of Vancouver is generally referred to as “East Van.” The west side, otoh, is just referred to as the west side. This is because there’s already West Vancouver—a different city, to the north(west) of Vancouver. There is also the West End, which is the neighborhood near Stanley Park. (If you think that’s confusing, to the east of West Vancouver are not one, but two, North Vancouvers.)

Bonus Fun Fact: most people think of the east and west sides being divided by Main Street. But this is incorrect! The east/west divide is actually Ontario Street. This leaves a two-block strip of east-side addresses for Realtors to tout as “west of Main!” This has cachet because the west is the more affluent side of the city.

And my blathering is less of a digression than you might think when you consider the title…

Anyhow, I could very much visualize the areas she described, but I did start to wonder how much of that was my own pre-existing knowledge. Was there too much of a reliance on street names as a shorthand? I’m not sure. If you’re not from Vancouver and you read it, let me know what you think.

The End of East is Jen Sookfong Lee’s first novel. It’s about three generations of the Chan family, but more broadly about the difficulties Chinese immigrants to Canada faced due to racist immigration laws.

Seid Quan immigrates to Vancouver in the early 1900s, at a time when Chinese immigrants were subject to the head tax. He settles in the Downtown Eastside, in Chinatown, and ends up taking over ownership of a barbershop. His village finances his immigration and his purchase of the shop and he works for many years to repay them. He is only able to return home a few times (for both financial and immigration law reasons). After many years alone in Canada, he is able to bring his son and his wife over. Eventually, his son marries and has five daughters, the first generation to be born in Canada. The story is narrated by the youngest, Samantha (Sammy).

Sammy’s parents and grandparents are nuanced characters, and her telling of their stories is unsentimental yet moving. I really liked the non-linear structure of the story. Instead of moving steadily forward in time we jump forward and back, learning different pieces of the story, until they all fit together in the end like a puzzle. Loved that. (And I think Lee’s ability to do this well in a first novel bodes well for her future books.)

The weak part of the book for me was Sammy. She’s just sort of… there. First you think, well, maybe she’s just there to tell her family’s story, a Scheherazade, if you will. Ok, I could get behind that. Except, not exactly. Because there is this sketchy backstory that doesn’t really go anywhere. And also this weird side-plot that doesn’t really go anywhere. And even these things would have been ok if they had been developed to that level but  associated with another character, e.g. one of her sisters. The problem for me was that she’s a first-person narrator.

But this is a quibble. I liked this book very much, and I look forward to reading Lee’s second novel when it comes out.

9: Back Roads

Back Roads by Tawni O’Dell

I got this at the book sale, but it’s not a library book. Must have been a donation. Good condition hardcover, with dust jacket. The front cover is embossed with TLO. Author’s initials?

It’s odd reading this book, finally. Brings back memories of when it was first released and Oprah picked it and everyone and their dog was reading it. Back in the pre-TC days…!

Of course, I didn’t read it then, because I don’t like to jump on bandwagons. So it’s funny that after I finished reading and went poking around for a few links to add here, one of the first that popped up was a recent newspaper article that mentioned it’s being made into a movie. lol! Good thing I read it before all the dust jackets were replaced with movie-tie-in covers 😉

Back Roads is narrated by 19-year-old Harley, who has been guardian of his three younger sisters since their mother went to prison for killing their father. He’s worried about money, being a virgin, and how to keep his sisters out of trouble. The eldest, Amber, is wild. The middle, Misty, is possibly insane. The youngest, Jody, is traumatized.

At the beginning, Harley is working two jobs and is infatuated with the mother (Callie) of one of Jody’s friends. He hasn’t seen his mother since she went to prison, although he takes his sisters to see her. He has court-mandated appointments with a psychologist. It’s a good set-up.

The flaw to this book, for me, was with the plot, which started out well, but careened out of control from about halfway to the end. I think one Big Secret was plenty. Two Big Secrets? Overkill. The thing is, Secret One, which was plenty huge and could have been developed much further than it was, kind of got swept away by the tsunami of Secret Two.

It was a bit of a let-down to have this big build to the first secret (there had already been a red herring subplot on the way to its reveal), only to have it brushed aside like it didn’t really matter (I think it did). I felt like I was being yanked around as a reader.

I realize the second secret led directly to the climax, but I think we could have got there another way.

But I liked this book. The voice, the characterization—so often when you have a bunch of siblings, they’re indistinguishable from one another aside from their names; here Harley’s three sisters were all distinct individuals—and the setting were all well done.

Not to mention it was refreshing to read a story without a single millionaire in it. Oh, wait. Maybe Callie was a millionaire. She did have all that land… 😉

8: Rise and Shine

Rise and Shine by Anna Quindlen

Also from the book sale. I picked this up because way back in the day I used to like this newspaper column Anna Quindlen wrote.

So it’s a library hardcover. It came with the dust jacket, but I couldn’t get the library stickers off, so  it’s jacket-less now. I understand this is sacrilege to some. But it’s a 55c book, with WITHDRAWN FROM COLLECTION stamped inside. I’m ok with my decision. 😉 The book itself is white with gold lettering.

I gather from online reviews that this wasn’t the best Quindlen novel to start with, as it seems to be the least-loved of her books. But it was a good sequel to The Nanny Diaries, as it is also set in New York and features uber-rich people! However, unlike The Nanny Diaries, the main mom in this one, the narrator’s sister, Meghan, is presented as being a good mom despite being a workaholic, who has raised her son right—he may be rich, but he’s humble about his privilege! He even uses honorifics and last names when addressing the help!

Throughout Rise and Shine, the privileged characters were unfailingly polite, helpful, kind, etc. to the underprivileged characters. But the kindnesses all came from a position of superiority. They accepted, they forgave, they patronized, but they didn’t understand. They oozed sympathy, but they lacked empathy.

The book was really telly, not so much in a “I’m going to tell you a story” kind of way, but more of a “Let me explain to you how it is” kind of way. So there were these weird passages of exposition (that went on for pages and were completely extraneous to the plot) about things that anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock would be aware of, like the fact that many New Yorkers make use of a car service (“black cars”), rather than private cars or public transport. Um, yeah. What? Does she think we’ve never seen a movie/TV show set in NY? Or, you know, that car services don’t exist anywhere else?  I’m really not sure why that was there. It should have been cut. (I’m looking at you, Anna Quindlen’s editor.)

The backstory is that Meghan and Bridget (the narrator) are orphaned at a young age when their parents die in a car accident. Their early life, which Meghan can remember and Bridget, being younger, can’t, was one of privilege, although it turns out the wealth they thought they had was an illusion. After their parents die, it turns out their father was in debt up to his eyeballs and they were left with nothing! Oh noes! Off to the poorhouse!

Well, not exactly. Meghan and Bridget go to live with their mother’s sister and her husband, and live an ordinary middle-class life (their aunt is a nurse). They have to share a room. (The horror!) When they grow up, Meghan is driven to succeed! I guess to gain back all they (thought they) lost. She winds up the STAR! of a network morning program (Rise and Shine). Meanwhile Bridget drifts through a series of menial and granola jobs, before finally going back to school in her thirties to become a social worker.

Bridget is actually a pretty interesting character and I think if this had been more her story and less “Meghan’s story as told by Bridget” I would have liked it better. For example, I would’ve like to read more about dealing (or not dealing) with the loss of their parents (the part that’s glossed over in the backstory) or more about how Bridget deals with the wild swings between the uber-rich world of her sister and the very poor world that she deals with at her job. It’s kind of like a superhero role: by day, mild-mannered social worker, by night, glittery  dinner-party sidekick!

So anyway, the inciting incident is when Meghan calls an interviewee an asshole on air. Or, rather, she thinks  they have gone to commercial, but they haven’t and her mic catches her muttering to herself. Also, the guy, as presented, was an asshole. But this causes a big to-do.

Which… that’s all? That’s it? That’s the Big Incident? Yes, I know. Wardrobe Malfunction-gate. I know people get their underpants in a twist over lesser things in real life. (Sigh.) Yet, in fiction, plot twists have to be believable. And the thing is, I don’t believe (even in real life) that people really get upset at hearing other people swear. Even on TV. I think they act like they’re upset because it’s politically advantageous. But I don’t think they’re really upset. (It’s not like the person was calling you an asshole, which would be something entirely different.)

Anyhow. I guess I’m supposed to feel bad for Poor Meghan, but I don’t. I just don’t feel the urgency when someone who has more money than they know what to do with loses their job and then is like “oh noes! I’ll never work in The Biz again! whatever will I do?!” Oh, I don’t know. How about setting up a philanthropic organization a la Bill Gates and giving away some of those millions? Or you know, any one of a googol things that you could do when you have millions of dollars to fund it. Or are you so lacking in imagination that you honestly can’t think of anything to do but lament not being Ms. Popularity anymore?

And then, well into the book, an actual tragic event occurs, the impact of which is lessened because it’s so clearly a device to kick Meghan out of her funk and straight back into everyone’s good graces, and before you know it, ta-da!

Happy Ending!

7: The Nanny Diaries

The Nanny Diaries by Emma McLaughlin & Nicola Kraus

After finishing Dogs and Goddesses (shudder), I wanted to read something in a similar genre, rather than immediately fleeing to something I knew I’d like. The Nanny Diaries, also picked up at the VPL book sale, seemed to fit the bill: it’s not just chick lit; it’s also co-authored!

[Aside: I had this moment of cognitive dissonance when I first saw the authors’ names. Nicola Kraus? Didn’t I read another—very different—book by an author with that name? Well, close. That was Nicole Krauss.]

I picked this up mainly because I’d just seen the movie on TV and wondered how it compared. It turned out there wasn’t a whole lot of similarity between the two, and the only time Scarlett Johansson appeared in my head was when Nanny called Grayer “Grover” or “Grove” (for some reason, I heard Nanny say this—and only this—in Scarlett’s voice).

As a light read, this one works. There’s a single protagonist to focus on, an antagonist who is more than one-dimensional, and a story that takes adequate time to build and reach a conclusion. And, unlike the film, there’s no cliched happy ending. The book’s ending is much more ambiguous.

It’s supposed to be a satire (hence the X/Nanny thing), so the narrative focuses primarily on Nanny’s interactions with the X family, and leaves out the rest of her life when she is not with them. Nanny is mainly a filter (she doesn’t even get a real name) to showcase how awful the Xes (i.e. The Rich) are. I think we’re supposed to laugh at how ridiculous rich people are and thus feel better about our own, not rich, lives.

And it’s certainly readable on this level—but it’s also sort of throw away, you know? I think it would have been a better—more complete/complex—story if we had got more into Nanny’s head, spent more time with her, and understood her motivations better.

Nanny’s grandmother and parents live in NYC, and she is on speaking terms with them. So presumably, if she had to, she could have moved back home or moved in with grandma. We get the idea that she wants to support herself, live on her own (she shares a tiny apartment with a roommate), etc. but seems clear that—unlike most of the other nannies she comes into contact with—she has options. Not only the family safety net, but also other job options. She doesn’t have to be a nanny. So why is she doing it? The only clue that we get is that she’s studying early childhood education and she likes kids—oh, and she likes the pay.

She seems to come from (at least) an upper-middle-class background herself (went to a private school, is attending NYU, her grandmother seems to have connections, etc.). An explanation of NYC class relationships for those who aren’t familiar might have helped readers better understand why the Xes and their ilk would think this private-schooled, private university-attending young woman was so beneath them. Are they just insecure about their own status?

And then there’s school. She’s supposed to be a full-time student in her final year of undergrad—but this is totally glossed over! The only time it’s mentioned is when Mrs. X is preventing her from getting to class and/or paper-writing. She writes her thesis—her thesis—in 48 hours. I know it’s an undergrad thesis, but come on.

It would have been nice to see the Xes’ actions / Nanny’s commitment to the X family wreaking havoc on her education. That would be the logical consequence for someone in her situation, right? We see how other nannies are affected in terrible ways by the actions of their employers, but her year with the Xes seems to cost Nanny little more than lost sleep and a twinge of conscience over leaving Grayer; she breezes through school and even picks up a Harvard boyfriend along the way. This makes her a lot less sympathetic than she otherwise might have been.

6: Dogs and Goddesses

Dogs and Goddesses by Jennifer Crusie, Anne Stuart & Lani Diane Rich

I picked up a passel of books at the VPL’s Spring Book Sale. Check it out. This was Thursday’s stack:

VPL Spring Book Sale

And this was Saturday’s stack:

VPL Spring Book Sale

Yes, I went twice! Why not? Novels were 55 cents! 55 cents, people! At that price, you can’t lose. Or can you…?

(insert ominous movie music here)

My first read was Dogs and Goddesses, a mass market pb that I picked up because Lani was one of the authors. Back in the day, Lani was also a member at the writing site where the original TCers met. Her first novel originated as a NaNo. I want to like her books!

But I’m not going to lie. This book was bad. I never thought I’d say this, but I paid too much for this book. I want my 55 cents back! j/k 😉

Lest you think that I just didn’t like it because this genre of book is just not my thing, do check out the Amazon One Star reviews. They’re like the nicest One Star reviews ever. Unlike the usual vitriol-filled one-star reviews, it’s pretty clear that these reviewers are fans of at least one of the three authors and the one star was given reluctantly.

Most of the reviewers seem to be more familiar with the other two authors (Jennifer Crusie & Anne Stuart). I haven’t read either of them. I have read Lani’s first book (the one that began as a NaNo): Time Off For Good Behavior. I didn’t really like it, but I attributed it to “not my thing.”

Dogs and Goddesses, otoh? Ahhhhh! I only finished it because I think it’s good to read something bad occasionally.You know, as a refresher course on what not to do. Bullet points of commentary:

  • Too many characters. Way, way too many characters! Names would pop up and I’d have no idea who they were. There were three protagonists (each one written by one of the 3 authors; reviewers who were more familiar with the authors said they could tell who wrote what, but the styles seemed indistinguishable to me), plus three love interests, plus the antagonist, plus the antagonist’s minion, plus three other secondary characters, plus several named tertiary characters, plus approximately 10 talking dogs.
  • Why is everyone yelling? I felt like the opening of the book was written in ALL-CAPS. It wasn’t. It just felt that way.
  • Similarly, what’s with the excessively irritable responses to fairly innocuous situations? I think it was supposed to be ramping up the tension. It didn’t work. (Damn it!)
  • Absolutely no getting to know the characters before they are tossed into the plot. I have no idea why I should care about these people. And I don’t.
  • I can’t tell the protagonists apart. I can’t tell the love interests apart. I can’t tell the secondary characters apart. These characters aren’t cardboard; they’re paper. Paper dolls with interchangeable outfits.
  • One character is named “Bun.” There’s no shortage of smart remarks in this book, but no one comments on this. Bun. Seriously.
  • I think this book is supposed to be funny. It’s not. The most amusing thing is the talking dogs.
  • We’re supposed to believe that these three sets of characters are in love. We know this because they keep saying “I love you/him/her!”
  • Their love is instigated by eating magic cookies. They eat so many cookies in this book that I start to feel like I’ve eaten an entire batch by myself: over-full and about to crash down from a sugar high. Blech.
  • There’s a scene where one of the characters paints a wall with a paintbrush (nooooo!). Also she dips the same brush into two different colors without rinsing in between (nooooo!). That is just so, so wrong.
  • WTF was up with those sex scenes? You’ve this silly, silly plot where people are running around scarfing cookies and listening to talking dogs and then all of a sudden we’re being told who’s sticking what body part where. Total discord.
  • What genre is this book supposed to be anyway? Is it Chick Lit (funny)? Romance (sexy)? Paranormal (scary)? I can’t figure it out.

4: More Watery Still & 5: What I Remember from My Time on Earth

More Watery Still and What I Remember from My Time on Earth
by Patricia Young

For poetry month, I decided to read all the poetry books on my to-read shelf.

The first two are by Patricia Young, and are used finds from The Bookshop in Penticton. Both are signed by the author. More Watery Still (1993) says: “For Sharon / with best / wishes / patricia young” and What I Remember… (1997) says: “For Pati / with best wishes / patricia young.” I wonder if Sharon and/or Pati bought the books or if they were gifts?

PY is from Victoria. She was my creative writing 100 seminar instructor way back in my 1st year at UVic when I was a creative writing major!

The weird thing about her poetry is how familiar it seems, even though I’ve never read a book of hers before, and I’m not even sure if I’ve read any individual poems (it’s possible I have seen some in a lit journal or anthology—I’d have to look). But I think it’s more her sensibility that’s triggering that feeling of recognition. I was struck, reading MWS and WIRFMTOE, how much she influenced my own poetry (back when I was writing poetry). I mean stylistically, not content-wise. It’s weird because after the CW fiasco there was quite a long gap before I started writing again (so you’d think any influence would have been mitigated). But I guess if there was going to be a lasting influence coming out of that class, it makes sense that it would be with respect to poetry (we also did fiction and drama).

Last week The Literary Type posted a recording of her recent reading at the University of Waterloo (um, coincidence?!). Even her voice sounded so familiar—like I’d heard it days or weeks ago instead of years. Strange what sticks with you…

My relationship with that class was fraught. The lecture, taught by three men, remains the biggest disappointment of my undergrad. The seminar I loved—but it was love tinged with melancholy and angst because I knew PY didn’t like my writing. Not that I blame her; it was typical 18yo crap.

One of my most vivid memories of the class is PY gushing over a poem that one of my classmates wrote. It was about tomato soup and grilled cheese.

At the end of year, she had us all over to her house for a party. It was a Craftsman in Fairfield that I was terribly covetous of (and let’s face it, still would be). I think she still lives there.

The poems in MWS seem centered around the theme of family, while those in WIRFMTOE seem more focused on a sort of fantastical history (though there are still lots of family mentions). I think I preferred MWS. It was hard to read many of the poems without seeing parts of Victoria. For example, when I read this part of “The Adulters” (MWS):

Someone knocked

on my office door; startled,
I played dead. In the courtyard—
talk and laughter, students gathered round
the fountain, textbooks open
on their laps.

I couldn’t help picturing the fountain in front of the library at UVic:

UVic Fountain Prank
Photo credit: Rick Scott (philosophergeek)

Autumn Leaves at UVic
Photo credit: Lawrence Wong (el dubb)

This bit from “Geese and Girls” (MWS) made me laugh, for reasons some TCers will understand (butter knife!):

And if I said,
ok, but carry this bread knife,
for protection take this small axe?

Also liked this bit from “Beginning of a Terrible Career” (MWS):

Families

are like that, they don’t notice what you’re doing
unless they think you’re going to burn
the house down.

Oh, and this! From “Skipping Song” (MWS):

and is that me
beneath the dogwood, kitchen
scissors shoved inside my cardigan?

Every kid knows—

one cut and the whole  tree dies.
I snip off a twig because
it’s forbidden, because it’s against
the law, because it will serve them all right
if I go
to jail.

Reminded me of my first day of school in Campbell River (also on Vancouver Island) and being lectured by the kids about the illegality of picking dogwoods (it’s the provincial flower). I didn’t know whether to believe them or not, but it was too late! because I’d already picked one (which I promptly hid in my pocket).

In WIRFMTOE, there’s a scotch broom (the invasive pest counterpoint to the indigenous dogwood) poem, “Walk in the Broom Stand”:

Or would you take her hand, walk into the stand
of late summer broom—every wildflower
choked out, nothing alive
but the orchard grass beneath you?
Would you accept as your own
each of her small, selfish acts,
ask her to accept each of yours,
dried pods bursting open like coiled springs?

Oh, and I liked this from “The Dress”:

My daughter is too much like me.
She does not give her love to what lies ahead.

If I saved things
I wold have saved her the dress.

But then I didn’t know, I just didn’t know.

And this, from “In the Museum the Hominid Speaks to Her Lover”:

The experts have determined many things—
that we lived in moss-laden hagenia trees
but when the earth cooled and the forests thinned,
we travelled upright, in small bands, onto the savannah.

What they cannot know: our dreams by firelight,
digging nuts together in the shadow of Rusinga Island.
Memories like the slow vanishing of seeds and berries.
What they cannot know is that you and I
walked onto those sun-drenched plains hand in hand.