Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Glass CastleThe Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was recommend to me years ago by a friend, and I can't believe it's taken me this long to read it. Jeannette Walls's childhood is so bizarre to me that I actually had to double check that this was a memoir and not a work of fiction.

Jeannette's parents are beyond free-spirited, which is both awesome and terrifying. Her father, an alcoholic, is chronically unemployed, and her mother is completely not interested in raising her children. Her father is brilliant, but because of his drinking and his general hatred of anything organized (unions, the government), can't hold a steady job and the family moves around a lot, eventually settling in a mining town in West Virginia. Her mother fancies herself an artist (but refuses to get glasses because she likes the way she sees the world) is a more confusing character...she has a teaching degree, and at times is gainfully employed, but she keeps saying that she's tired of taking care of everyone else and just wants to focus on herself and her art (which drives me bananas because she has four kids to feed).

Jeannette's parents are a mixed bag. I loved that one Christmas, when there was no money for presents, Rex (the father) lets each of his children pick out a star and he gives it to them...I thought that was very creative. On the other hand, there might have been money for presents if either parent kept a job.

Jeannette and her siblings learn to take care of themselves and each other and become remarkably well-adjusted people.

My one complaint about the story is the lack of dates...I had a hard time gauging how old the children were, and how to place it in context of how old I was at the same point in time.

Jeannette manages to tell her story in a way that empathizes with the plights of her parents and doesn't subject itself to whining and undo self-reflection...she never says, if only my parents had done this or we had that growing up things would be better.

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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Artemis Fowl (Artemis Fowl, #1)Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I was expecting to love this book. This totally sounds like the kind of book I love. Sadly, it was just okay. There were a few plot inconsistencies and some editorial errors, but mostly I disliked the jumping changes in POV (sometimes backtracking a little bit, when two events are happening simultaneously) and I didn't feel like Artemis Fowl's universe was real.

When writing fiction, you're allowed to make stuff up. Hence the label fiction. But it has to work in that universe. Harry Potter can ride a broom because he's a wizard and Hans Solo can fly the Millennium Falcon because it's sci-fi and he's Hans Solo, but Harry Potter flying the Millennium Falcon makes as much sense as Hans Solo riding a broom. My point is, I just didn't feel like the truly fictitious fantasy stuff actually worked.

I think if I had read this book when it first came out I would have really enjoyed it, but I got on the bandwagon too late and it just didn't work for me.

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Heist (O'Hare and Fox #1)The Heist by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a return to everything that made me enjoy Evanovich in the first place. Fine literature it's not, but for readers who enjoyed the Stephanie Plum series until book eight or so, and then got burnt out on the repetitive plot, and the fact that Stephanie was managing to string along two apparently desirable men, you'll like this book.

This book introduces a new heroine, Kate O'Hare, who is still similar to Stephanie in many ways, but not nearly as similar as Lizzie (from the Lizzie and Diesel series). For one thing, Kate's a whole lot tougher than Stephanie.

The plot is entertaining enough, although there were no real laugh-out-loud moments. I would describe this more as a caper story than a true heist, which is okay with me because I like caper stories.

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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sometimes there's just no way to win

I bought a 20-ounce, or venti, travel mug. I though this was a great idea. I like venti lattes, and I feel guilty about throwing away a paper cup every time I get one. Plus, when you bring your own cup, you get a small discount.

However, 20-ounce travel mugs are rare. They usually come in a 16-ounce size. I had to order mine through Amazon. Which was really no big deal. Except that, because they're rare, no one actually believes me that it's 20 ounces. Even though I tell them it is. Even though I do actually have a 16-ounce travel mug by the exact same company--and shockingly--it's smaller than my 20-ounce cup. I get questioned about it so often that I actually measured 20 ounces of water and poured it into the cup, just to prove to myself that I wasn't the crazy one at Starbucks.

I go to two Starbucks coffee shops. One by my house that I like a lot and one on the way to work. (I usually don't go to them both on the same day.)  My travel cup is metal, which is awesome, because it keeps my drinks hot even longer than plastic travel mugs. See, what happens is, I go to cross-fit in the mornings, then I go and get my latte, then I go to work, where I shower off the cross-fit funk. So it's really important to me that the latte stay hot because I won't actually be drinking it until about a half hour after buying it.

The Starbucks near my house doesn't seem to have any problem with my 20-ounce travel mug (but I only go here when I'm not going to cross-fit), but the one on my way to work is constantly giving me a grande latte even though I paid for a venti. Which means I have to explain to them that they need to give me another four ounces. (Which I thought would be easy, because it's just steamed milk--a grande and a venti both have two shots of espresso, but no, they apparently have to remake the entire latte because they're artists.)

Part of the problem, I am sure, is that the cup doesn't say "20 ounces" anywhere on it. And I haven't figured out a good way to respond to the baristas who ask me if I'm sure it's a 20-ounce cup. Because it's never a conversation where they say: are you sure this is a venti and not a grande? And I say: yes, and then we all just move on and get our coffees. It always turns into a bigger conversation, and I always feel like saying, if I'm going to pay for a venti coffee, could you just make me one and put it in my fucking cup? I have shit to do and discussing this with you isn't on my list!

The other part of the problem, I'm sure, is that I just don't drink that much coffee. This routine normally happens at the beginning of the month when I'm working crazy hours. So I'm not a "regular" and they aren't used to me coming in with my 20-ounce cup. So every time I do, it's like a totally new, surprising experience for the baristas.

So, in order to save myself the aggravation of this whole fiasco, I've decided only to use my 20-ounce travel mug when I go to the Starbucks near my house, where apparently it doesn't present any sort of crisis. It's a silly waste of paper cups when I go to the Starbucks on my way to work, but it's a battle that is exhausting to me, and I don't have spare energy to be exhausted before I get to work...if I did, I wouldn't be getting the latte in the first place.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the LaneThe Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I always want to like Neil Gaiman a lot more than I do. I enjoy his work, I do, it's just that I don't find his writing gush-worthy.

In this book, I liked that he put fantasy-type elements into an otherwise normal setting. It's a little bit like what happens in my own imagination.

However, I never feel like Gaiman provides quite enough details, and I'm always left to fill in a few holes myself, which is problematic when what I imagine doesn't line up with what happens next.

This book is a nice, short read, with some likable characters. Gaiman is very good at not over-writing. He tells a story and when it's over, he stops.

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Sunday, September 8, 2013

You know you live in California when...

Two weeks ago Captain America and I went to Orlando to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and it was amazing.

However, that's not what this post is about. It's about how, the longer we live in California, the more we become like Californians, and then when we leave, we totally understand why Californians annoy the rest of the country. We've identified a couple of tells that we've just arrived from California:

1. We are always blown away by people smoking anywhere we happen to be.
2. Similarly, we're blown away by people smoking wherever they happen to be.
3. We want to add avocado to everything (seriously, is there anything that isn't improved by avocado?).
4. Resort pricing, while still exorbitant, is no more or less exorbitant than standard everyday California prices.
5. I had one more, but I've returned to California, so I can't remember what it is, because whatever it was is normal behavior again.

And here are some pictures that don't have anything to do with this post, except that they're from our trip to Florida.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Different SeasonsDifferent Seasons by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoy Stephen King, however, I have to be really choosy in what I read of his, because some of his works scare the shit out of me.

This is a series of four shortish stories, and while each story (except the first one) has an element of creepy darkish weirdness to it, they're not bad.

The first story is Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, and the movie remarkably nails it, so I'm not going to discuss it here.

The second story is Apt Pupil, and this is, by far, the most disturbing of the set, but not in a sleep-with-the-light-on sort of way. It's about a boy who discovers a former Nazi officer living in his home town, and rather than turn him in, the boy asks a lot of questions about what the man did during WWII. The boy and the man develop this mutual co-dependent grotesque relationship based on their fascination with mass murder. The content is disturbing, in and of itself, and also because you watch a seemingly normal, albeit precocious, boy turn a corner into someone very dark and disturbed, and even to the end of the book, I found myself wondering how he was going to get out of it, how this boy was going to get back to normal.

The third story is The Body, which was turned into the movie, Stand by Me. It was after watching the movie and seeing in the credits that it was based on a short story by King, that I decided to read the book. The Body is, in a nutshell, a coming-of-age story about four boys. The boys go off on an adventure to find the body of a boy about their own age who was hit by a train. That description doesn't really do the story justice, but I don't think you read coming-of-age stories for the plot so much as for self-reflection and an opportunity to go back and live a different youth.

The fourth story is called The Breathing Method, and is about a man who joins a club where the members tell stories. Except it isn't quite as simple as that. The club has an element of almost Alice in Wonderland-ish mystique to it, where not all doors are open, and not all doors lead to rooms in this world. There's an almost dream-like quality to the club, and while reading the story, I felt at any moment I might be drawn back into reality.

I had a friend tell me she liked reading King because he wrote what we all thought but were afraid to say. I'm not sure I totally agree with that assessment, but I do think King says things we all want to say, only he manages to articulate it so much better than we ever could. As an example, here's a quote from The Breathing Method: Ellen was sixty per cent asleep when I sat down on the bed to take off my shoes. She rolled over and made a fuzzy interrogative sound deep in her throat. I told her to go back to sleep. She made the muzzy sound again. This time it approximated English: "Howwuzzit?"

Captain America and I have lots of conversations where one of us is "sixty per cent asleep" and this is EXACTLY what they sound like, although it would have taken me about 92 sentences to describe them.

At the end of the book (at least in the version I read) is a letter from King to his readers. He says a couple of interesting things in it that I want to share.

But neither of these magazines [Atlantic Monthly or The New Yorker] has been particularly receptive to my stuff, which is fairly plan, not very literary, and sometimes (although it hurts like hell to admit it) downright clumsy. To some degree or other, I would guess that those very qualities--unadmirable though they may be--have been responsible for the success of my novels. Most of them have been plain fiction for plain folks, the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and a large fries from McDonald's.

I disagree with King's assessment of his writing, and I wouldn't have used the word plain, except that King doesn't use flowery language, he uses accurate language. I'm not sure that makes it plain at all.

Finally, he says of this book in particular:

But I've been in love with each of these stories, too, and part of me always will be in love with them, I guess. I hope that you liked them, Reader; that they did for you what any good story should do--make you forget the real stuff weighing on your mind for a little while and take you away to a place you've never been. It's the most amiable sort of magic I know. 

Isn't that wonderful?

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Monday, September 2, 2013

Second GlanceSecond Glance by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my favorite Jodi Picoult, although now, having read it for the second time years after reading it a first time, I might downgrade my rating to 4 stars; however I'm going to leave it at 5 stars in the spirit of how I felt about it the first time I read it.

In a departure from her more law-based works, this is a ghost story that deals with the Vermont eugenics project, which actually served as inspiration for Hitler.

The two criticisms I have, after re-reading it, are that Picoult can sometimes be overly descriptive (usually I love her descriptions, but every now and then there was a paragraph or two where I felt like there were too many adjectives), and two female characters, Meredith and Shelby, were interchangeable. Meredith and Shelby are both single moms, and their kids are more important to the story line than they are. I felt like they were very much the same person, to the point where I would mix up who lived where, who was which kid's mother, and who did what for a living.

Honestly, though, I still really enjoyed this book.

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Sunday, September 1, 2013

When We Were Very YoungWhen We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a delightful set of poems by A.A. Milne.

Some of these poems refer to Christopher Robin and Pooh, but most do not. They are whimsical in nature.

I've always enjoyed A.A. Milne, but as an adult, I'm always surprised that his work even got published. He writes the kinds of poems that I think my teachers would have described as trite or sophomoric. The poems almost always rhyme, and usually feel more like nursery rhymes than literary accomplishments, which, in my opinion, makes them a whole lot more fun to read than serious poetry, which is always just weird to me.

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