Don't Shake the Flask

Because you don't know if it'll explode

Month: December, 2007


Booking Through Thursday: Highlights

What were your favorite books this year?

Favorite as in among all the books I have ever read or books that I have only read this year? For this year, I would refer to the answer that I gave last week. For me, “best” and “favorite” should be the same. A book must be both well written and have that extra something that makes the reader form a positive emotional attachment to it. If it’s just well written, it can’t be best or favorite, can it? The only thing the writer has done is to rearrange words in an aesthetically pleasing manner.

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The Thursday Threesome: Better Late than Never!

Onesome: Better– butter than margarine? …or Mayonnaise? What goes on your bread for sandwiches? How about dinner rolls? Honey, anyone?

How about hummus? I like the stuff at the local Co-op (in Moscow) although I get it rarely.

Twosome: Late– again! I think that’s something I do about once a year. May I blame it on Christmas cleaning? How about you: is your place all cleaned up from the paper-fest? …or can you even get to the door yet?

There was very little paper involved this Christmas. All I can say is: gift bags. You can reuse them for next year. Far more environmentally friendly than wrapping paper.

Threesome: than Never– again? Do you have any Christmas memories (this year or Christmas Pasts) that you’d just like to never repeat? I’m thinking humourous stories would be best!

Christmas, for me anyway, is a quiet and sedate affair. I tend to avoid the crowds of people out shopping or the stress of shopping for other people. In other words, I’m boring. I have no crazy holiday stories to share.

Happy Holidays!

And don’t get glued permanently to the internet…

Well, This Is Cutting It Close

It’s always interesting traveling–some people just seem to conform to stereotype even if they don’t realize it. Like those older ladies who always talk loudly and non-stop about their recent trips around the world to say, oh, Vienna and Santiago. They remind me of those certain younger ladies who talk non-stop without seeming to take a breath. These people fascinate me, in one respect, because they can gab about nothing for hours. I, well, only feel comfortable talking when I have something important to say. And sometimes I just need silence. I can’t fathom wanting to fill the air with talk all the time.

And I’ll be taking off in a little over two hours. At least I’m not flying to a place where it’s snowing.

A Christmas Anthology

I usually stay far away from Christmas themed books with romantic undercurrents unless the author is someone I would read regardless of the subject matter. Maybe I’m just a cynical person. Or maybe it’s because some Christmas stories skirt too close to the “inspirational”–which annoys me. Miracles which force the characters to act (rather than having the characters choosing their own decisions) seem de rigueur for these stories–making them cliched and as sweet as candied plums. Too many authors go for the sappy feel-good instead of the edgy such as, say, Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising.

An Enchanted Season contains four novellas. I got a hold of this book only because there was one author I wanted to read (who also happened to have penned the best novella of the lot). There were two other authors who I have read before but have only found so-so–although only one of them managed to rise above the mediocre. The last author I have never heard of before, and I doubt I’ll ever want to read her again.

“Melting Frosty” by Maggie Shayne. The two main protagonists, Matt and Holly, have had terrible things happen to them during Christmas in the past, but they have dealt with it in different ways. When the two meet, it is up to the heroine to convince Matt that Christmas is supposed to be about joy and happiness. This just seemed like a generic trapped-in-a-cabin-with-a-stranger-because-
there’s-a-freak-blizzard story. Nothing in Shayne’s story was original or striking enough to elevate it above the kazillion others with similar themes.

“Charlotte’s Web” by Erin McCarthy. An unfortunate title, since it evokes the children’s story of the same name but has absolutely nothing to do with it. Like Shayne’s story, this one has a well used cliche as its backbone–two childhood friends falling in love. Fortunately, it doesn’t use the particular variant in which one person abruptly sees the other person in a different light (which to me, shatters the suspension of disbelief). Instead, Charlotte and Will are already in love with each other–they’re just too afraid to admit it. It takes the sudden manifestation of Charlotte’s latent telekinetic powers for them to take a risk at moving their relationship beyond friendship. This story worked because the plot focused on one problem and none of the characters were actually trying to change each other.

“Beat of Temptation” by Nalini Singh. This is the reason why I got the book. “Beat of Temptation” is a prequel to Singh’s Psy-Changeling series, although it’s odd in that I would recommend reading at least one of the books in the series before reading the novella–otherwise the reader might find some things confusing. But that’s a minor detail. In an alternate future world, the Psy have attempted to outlaw Christmas–but with little effect. However, this takes a back seat to the main part of the story which deals with Tamsyn, the healer of the shape-shifting leopard pack, and the mating bond tug-of-war she has with Nate, a fellow pack member. Singh really drags the two protagonists through the emotional wringer, but it’s worth it. In the end, when Nate presents Tamsyn with a bouquet of orchids, the reader actually believes that he means it and that the token was not just obtained to get into someone’s good graces. Well, it was impressive to me that the author got me to buy into the ending–I’m usually quite skeptical about men and flowers.

“Gifts of the Magi” by Jean Johnson. Steve and his fiancee Rachel are struggling with a family bed-and-breakfast. The weather is horrible, the guests cancel their reservations, and their relationship is on the rocks. It doesn’t seem like a very good holiday until three unexpected visitors show up. I didn’t particularly like this story. The three visitors–Bella, Cassi, and Mike–were sort of annoying. I felt as if the entire story was a deus ex machina. If Steve and Rachel truly cared about each other, they could have worked it out even with a failing bed-and-breakfast–no magical interference needed.

I found it interesting that the two stories that I liked out of the entire anthology weren’t exactly Christmasy. The preachy Christmas magic woo-woo stuff was probably just a bit too much for me. I’d recommend the Singh and the McCarthy. Now if only people will figure out a way where they could sell novellas separately

Two Short Reviews

I first read Kathy Love last year. Although I did not review them, I can say that Fangs for the Memories and Fangs But No Fangs were amusing. The first, because it was a wacky twist on that old amnesia plot, and the second because one of the main characters was a vampire living in a trailer park…who blogs! So I had similar expectations with the next novels.

In I Only Have Fangs for You, Sebastian Young is a vampire busy running Carfax Abbey, a nightclub for paranormal creatures, and in general wooing the ladies with his supernatural playboy charms. That is, until he gets distracted by a very clumsy and newly hired cocktail waitress. Wilhelmina (Mina) Weiss is a vampire in denial. To prove herself to the Society of Preternaturals Against the Mistreatment of Mortals (SPAMM), she decides to take on Sebastian who is supposedly the number one menace to humans by taking a job in his nightclub. Most of the characters in this novel, including Sebastian, are superficial. Mina’s mishaps read less as shenanigans and more as the misdirections of someone who is trying to get her (un)life back together. It was far more interesting to see her develop as she struggles to overcome the traumatic memories spawned by her early existence as a vampire and to accept who she has become.

The last book in the tetrology is My Sister is a Werewolf – an unfortunate title as it is a spoiler for the three books that came before it. (However, I am not convinced that the original title, My Hair Lady, is any better.) Elizabeth Young is the sister to the three vampires in the previous books. Her aim in life is to find a cure for her lycanthropy–except her latest research isn’t going so well. In her restlessness, she heads to her brother’s bar–only to end up jumping the bones of veterinarian Jensen Adler who up until that point was moping his ex-fiancee’s death. Unfortunately, hormones aren’t the only problem. A crazed werewolf from Elizabeth’s former pack has started stalking her. I found this novel the least convincing of the four. How can the protagonist be so sure that her feelings are true and not the result of being in heat? How can Jensen be so dense to his paramour’s true nature and how can he be so nonchalant about it once he does realize the truth?

On a whole, I Only Have Fangs for You is better than My Sister is a Werewolf, but I would not recommend anyone to read these first of the author’s paranormal oeuvre.

And Some Short Notes

I’ve been looking over the responses to this meme because I’m curious as to what the rest of the book-reading blogosphere thinks is “good.” Two top cited fiction books are J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows and Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns. A number of people did not answer the second question because they did not read any non-fiction.

I haven’t read any of Hosseini’s work so I have no idea if he is actually any good as a writer, but both of the above books are “bestsellers.” I wonder if people are nominating them for “best” because they’ve been hyped by critics and fans and have been bought by lots of people–so that if you say they are “best”, no one’s going to argue with you.

And I was disappointed with the non-non-fiction readers. I was hoping to find some interesting recommendations. Instead, people were like: “I only read one non-fiction book this year, so I guess I’ll nominate it for best!”

Maybe people who actually read books don’t do memes.

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I just watched the “Jungles” episode of Planet Earth. I was totally excited with the parasitic fungi (Cordyceps) segment. I first read about it in Mr. Bloomfield’s Orchard (review) which only had some black and white line drawings to go on.

Short and Funny

The Royal Mess is MaryJanice Davidson‘s third Alaskan Royal book. It takes place in a parallel universe in which the author wondered: “What if Alaska was its own country, with a weirdo royal family?”

The Baranovs are the rulers of Alaska, down-to-earth tabloid magnets who are hilariously strange (fortunately, the funny ha-ha rather than the funny farm). However, the king is shaken up when out of nowhere, a bastard daughter writes a letter to him explaining who she is due to her dying mother’s last wish. Nicole Krenski only wrote the letter as a favor for her mother, but it is that very letter that propels her into the front of the cameras and into the royal family’s life. Nicole wants nothing to do with the royal family, but they insist that she live with them. To convince her, the king sends in one of the bodyguards, Jeffrey Rodinov, whose family has served the royal family for generations.

Davidson excels in the eccentric and does manage to add in some character development in her own odd style. Nicole is loyal to her mother’s memory and resentful of the interfering king who suddenly bursts into her life fully expecting her to accept him as her father quickly, if not immediately. She finds an odd ally with the youngest prince who is also a bastard–although no one wants to admit it. Jeffrey is somewhat more two-dimensional as most of the time, he oscillates between his attraction to Nicole and his sense of duty.

This is a fairly short book–a novella almost–and unless you’re a die-hard fan for this author, buying the trade paperback is probably not worth it. I like Davidson’s style–short, terse, and to the point. Plenty of sudden action and mouthy dialogue. However this gives short shrift to description and introspection which can really be a detriment at some points. It gives the impression that the interactions between the main characters are passionless, fueled by nothing more than a sugar high and an abnormal spike in hormones.


Booking Through Thursday: And, The Nominees Are….

1. What fiction book (or books) would you nominate to be the best new book published in 2007? (Older books that you read for the first time in 2007 don’t count.)

I feel so underqualified to answer this. Although I’ve read more books than most people (as evidenced by my bookrolling page), most of the fiction I’ve read fall in the romance/speculative fiction hybrid category. And even those–I’ve only read a fraction of what’s been published this year in just that subgenre alone. But if I did have to recommend books, curiously they all have strong sci-fi elements. So here they are: Nalini Singh’s Visions of Heat (review) and Caressed by Ice (review), Linnea Sinclair’s Games of Command (review), and Eve Kenin’s Driven (review).

Now if you had asked which was the best fiction book I have read in the year, regardless of publication date, I would have said Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino (review).

2. What non-fiction book (or books) would you nominate to be the best new book published in 2007? (Older books that you read for the first time in 2007 don’t count.)

I’m probably even less qualified to answer this question than the one above. My non-fiction reading has always been somewhat sporadic and random. My recommendations are more nature oriented. The absolute best would be Chrysalis by Kim Todd (review) followed closely by Amy Stewart’s Flower Confidential (review) and Terry Abraham’s Mountains So Sublime (review).

If that list was not restricted to those published this year, I would have included The Face in the Mirror by Julian Paul Keenan (review), Nabokov’s Blues by Kurt Johnson and Steve Coates (review), and something that I’m currently reading: The Arcanum by Janet Gleeson (review forthcoming, but I can tell you right now, it’s a kickass book about Meissen porcelain).

3. And, do “best of” lists influence your reading?

Ha! I amuse myself by reading them, but no, they don’t influence my reading much. Unless your reading tastes align with mine, I suggest people go find books that they like on their own. Reading books which other people deem “good” (which on an individual basis may or may not be true) is a waste of time. Example: I would not pay attention to a list heavily weighted with Thomas Pynchon and other writers with his sort of style. If I did, I’d end up swearing off my book addiction.

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The Thursday Threesome: Angels we have heard…

Onesome: Angels– as tree topppers? …or spires? Stars? Bears? What do you like to use to set off that tree?

I don’t really have a preference.

Twosome: we have– heard you’re getting something special this year! Do you have any idea what any of your Christmas presents are going to be?

I’m at the age where I don’t really give a damn about presents anymore. (Although I must say that I never really gave much a damn before…) What’s wrong with just relaxing and spending time with your family?

Threesome: …heard– the worst Christmas song ever this year? Which one is it for you? I mean that one that even if Aunt Martha is playing it on Christmas Eve puts you out on the porch!

Er, all of them? Yeah, I know I sound like such a Bah Humbug on these questions, but I just can’t get up enough enthusiasm for something that remains the same year after year. I know it’s tradition, but tradition is boring.

Or maybe I’m just grumpy because I’m stuck in lab until almost the end.

Jump Start, Too Late

Tanner’s Scheme by Lora Leigh is another one of those books which is in the middle of a series. I’ve skimmed the previous books, but the characters in those books somehow never seemed to hold my attention. Here, the characters seem so out of control that you can’t help but look.

In this alternate world, Breeds are genetically engineered–deliberately created to be super soldiers for a military purpose. But their training was abusive–in order to drive any humanity out of them. The series takes place after the existence of the Breeds have been exposed and while they are fighting for equal rights. Scheme Tallant is an assassin and a double agent ultimately working for the pro-Breed faction. Her father, however, is a high-ranking member of the Genetics Council who wants to destroy the Breeds even if it means getting rid of his own daughter. Tanner Reynolds is a feline Breed who doesn’t hesitate to kidnap Scheme for revenge against the atrocities the Genetics Council had visited upon his kind.

The characters were interesting on a psychological standpoint. Even saddled with several fears, Scheme somehow survived her father’s brand of brutal conditioning and torture. Tanner is an almost irredeemable cad with anger issues. Most of the time he was channelling those old-school contemptible alpha heroes with Scheme perilously on the edge to succumbing to Stockholm Syndrome. It wasn’t so much as the two characters trying to trust each other as Tanner trying to break Scheme in. At least she didn’t completely give in (that would have been uber irritating) as she didn’t give up trying to find a way to escape him.

Things really jump-started about two-thirds of the way through when Tanner’s twin brother Cabal shows up. Then it was all action and craziness. This is one of those novels where I ended up preferring the secondary character over the main ones. Scheme and Tanner were just plain nuts. Cabal, however, seemed more mysterious and complex and not as high strung as his brother. I’ll take a pass on Leigh’s other books, but if she decides to write more about Cabal, I’d probably read it.

Zut Alors!

It’s Tangled Bank #95 over at Ouroboros. Read about scientific fraud, lovebird behavior, and insect-devouring pitcher plants!

Fact of Fiction?: Stress Causes Gray Hair. I also wonder if some people have more stress tolerance than others. I’ve been under a bit of stress, but I’m not silvered yet.

The Future of Food. Hm. Flavoring food with a rotary evaporator–well, in some ways, it doesn’t really hold a candle to the local science club making milkshakes with homogenizers (which were originally used on rat brains).