Thursday, January 02, 2014

First Reads of 2014

I thought I'd kick off my 2014 reading year with books and mags I was given or bought during the holidays. Here's what I picked:



And, what I thought:

I picked up a copy of Writer's Digest Writer's Yearbook 2014 special issue because of the market listings; I needed the info for some future sub op posts. Kevin Kaiser has a decent article with some smart strategies on self-promotion for those of you who are looking more for theory, but the rest isn't all that new or interesting. I do think the market listings make it worth the cover price, though.

The Cuckoo's Calling by J.K. Rowling (at first pretending to be a guy writer named Robert Galbraith until the publisher realized no one was buying the book and accidentally/artfully spilled the beans) is a private detective mystery. It's easy to sneer over a book that didn't sell until everyone knew who really wrote it, but I thought it was okay. Middle of the road, earnestly-written -- like a lot of popular hardcover crime fic, in fact (disclaimer: I'm not really a P.I. mystery fan, but I started with P.D. James's Dagliesh novels, so as a result I expect my reading bar is a bit higher than most.) There were a few size references for the protag that also made me envision that kindly giant character Hagrid from Harry Potter, but otherwise it seemed to be entirely Hogwart-free. I would not recommend it for youngsters due to the violence, language and certain themes -- J.K. does sprinkle the eff word about quite liberally -- but fans of Michael Connolly and his sort might find it mildly diverting.

Land of the Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel. How do I describe this reading experience, besides regret over the large chunks of three days of my life spent plowing through it that I'll never get back? I had wondered why so many of you had nothing good to say about the book when I mentioned it last year, and hindsight says I should have listened to you. It's true that I haven't really loved the series since the end of The Mammoth Hunters, but I was hanging on until we could get to the last novel, you know? I even waited an extra two years before I cracked this puppy so I'd be emotionally ready to let go.

Am now quite ready. Fasten your seatbelts, friends.

Probably the most annoying thing was all the repetition, repetition, rep -- I mean, how many times did we really have to hear the Mother's song in its entirety? I'm thinking not twenty-seven, how about you? Or what it was like to bring the horses into a strange camp and calm people's fears about them (fifty times), or show them how to pet Wolf and feel his neck fur (ninety times), or be introduced to Ayla and hear all her titles (two hundred times), or see the same fricking boring cave paintings of horse heads and elephant heads and what have you over and over (I'm not counting those. After the third cave, I just skipped over those scenes.) I think some of you mentioned that, too.

And what was with the kid and whipping her out of the carrying blanket so she could pee on the ground? Why, exactly, did I have read that four hundred times? Jean, honey, I've potty-trained a daughter. After the first perfectly-timed piddle it's just not that impressive. And that's in real life -- but in fiction? Even less.

I know how difficult it is to end a series, so I think I could have forgiven all the repeats and dragginess, but whoever was playing the part of Ayla in this book was not the Ayla I know from The Valley of Horses. That Ayla would have never stood around so much, or uttered all this housekeeping dialogue, or treated Jondalar like an unreliable babysitter instead of the love of her life, or perpetually kissed the First's butt for reasons I'm still not straight on (and don't get me started on that portion of the story. Your seatbelt will snap.) No, my Ayla would have packed up her sling and dragged Jondalar back to the Mamutoi and gone on thrilling hunts and invented more cool stuff and tamed some more critters and kept me from falling asleep. This Ayla was about as engaging as Zzzzzzquil.

No reunion with Durc, so that was a huge disappointment. I should have expected that, but I really wanted Ayla to see her kid again, one last time. I was led to believe it would happen. Remember the dream she had where her Clan son meets her Other son and they fight or something? I think that was in The Mammoth Hunters. What happened to that coming true?

Then, toward the end, in the last part . . . I won't get into specifics so I don't totally spoil the end, even though I want to, but Jondalar and Marona? After what that witch did to Ayla in Shelters? Okay, maybe my disbelief might have eventually stretched to accomodate that drop into fictional relationship hell -- Jondalar could have had a complete lobotomy at the Big Summer Meeting, right? -- but then to follow it up with Ayla and Laramar? Really? Laramar? No, really? Laramar? Laramar?

JM&J. I never like to caps-yell, but the next time you all tell me not to read a book, I swear, I AM GOING TO LISTEN TO YOU.

To end on a positive note, the Winter 2014 issue of Pages magazine has just hit the racks, and this one has another great assortment of ideas and projects for your handmade books, journals and art journaling. I was amused to see the "Pocket Star" journal (have to make one of those for my editor) but I thought Gina Lee Kim's Washi Tape Art Journal project and Shayna Butler's article on what to put in an idea book were especially inspiring. I also applaud the editors for continuing to provide fresh new projects, many of which use recycled materials, for those of us who love to make books.

So what have you read so far in 2014? Let us know in comments.

14 comments:

  1. Wow - you read a LOT in one day! I finished Beautiful Creatures (Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl) yesterday and LOVED it! Then I started reading Doctor Sleep (Stephen King), which is interesting so far. I figure it'll take me a few days (at least!) to finish that one.

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    1. I'm dodging the Doctor as I swore off King after Under the Dome, which just seemed like an elaborate rewrite of Tommyknockers (although I did finally read his Black House collab with Peter Straub so I could find out what they did to Jack. Very weird; awful book, lovely Harlequin romance ending.) I'm about halfway through Creatures myself so I'll have to keep at it. :)

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  2. Fran K7:50 AM

    Hi all, happy new year. I had a re-reading frenzy over the holiday period. I went through Annette Blair's Vintage Magic series & Victoria Laurie's Abby Cooper series. In 2014 I've re-read 3 of my old Georgette Heyer's, The Reluctant Widow, The Nonsuch and Charity Girl. I've now gone back to my TBR pile and have started Juliet Blackwell's Home for the Haunting. All of them have been thoroughly enjoyable.

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    1. Isn't it great to go back and revisit old book loves? Happy New Year, Fran.

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  3. "the next time you all tell me not to read a book, I swear, I AM GOING TO LISTEN TO YOU."

    Or maybe check the book out at the library?

    At least you got a blogpost out of it.

    I'm always fascinated by stories that don't work, far more than the ones that do (unless they're so powerfully done that you have to go back with a marker and scalpel -- I did that with Pratchett).

    In fact, Hollywood's missing a big bet by not redoing movies that nearly could have been good (I still grind my teeth over Diane Keaton in "Baby Blues" for turning into a wimp mother at the end. She should have been a corporate shark mother, ruthlessly took over her company, booted the board into the street and said "if we're going to have working mothers, we're going to take care of them as mothers.")

    *Ahem* -- and a happy new year to you!

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    1. I have never read Pratchett, Bill -- I think me and the Amish are the only ones who haven't -- but I am very well acquainted with that marker-and-scalpel feeling. Thomas Harris brings that out in me most often, and Charles Frazier and China Mieville most violently.

      I don't care for Diane Keaton so I don't watch her movies. I think she's had too much therapy. ;)

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    2. Fran K4:36 AM

      Add me to the list along with you and the Amish! I haven't read Pratchett and always feel a little sheepish when I admit it. He's so very popular. I think its a bit like movies - the bigger the hype the less I want to see it.

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  4. Didn't I warn you not to read Caves? I meant to warn you not to read Caves. I coped with it by ignoring everything but the part about cave art and figuratively sticking my fingers in my ears and going "lalala can't hear you" on the rest. What I disliked most about what happened to Ayla and Jondalar, and hell everybody in this book, is the way they all seemed to be children. Literal children. Childish and incapable of adulthood. A disservice all around.

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    1. I don't know what happened, Charli -- I think the series has been in decline since Hunters, but I thought Jean would pull a rabbit out of her hat in the end, not this -- this weasel of a story. And you're right; everyone did seem like clueless or squabbling children. Except Ayla, who was in a walking coma or something.

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  5. So it would be a good idea to NOT read the final book then? I've been holding off since i was y'know, named after her and all...

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    1. Please let me be the first to say NO. Don't read this book. Your namesake deserved better than this.

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  6. I've just finished Meljean Brook's "Heart of Steel" this morning. I read "The Iron Duke" earlier this week--and I know I'm late to the party on this series but I made a grievous error by listening to bad reviews about an issue in that book. So, I had an opposite experience than yours: I DID listen...and what a mistake! I love this series and can't wait to start "Riveted" later today.

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    1. That's why I don't read reviews, Terlee; I'd rather form my own opinions than have someone else tell me what to think.

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  7. On a happier note, I kicked off my new year finishing the Girl of Fire and Thorns series by Rae Carson, Crown of Embers and The Bitter Kingdom. I loved how the protagonist wins not by being the strongest but by making friends. And in the end, it's her friends who save her. There's a powerful message to begin my year! Here's to friends. GROUP HUG!

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