Month: January 2015

2015 Book #6: Still Life with Woodpecker

stilllifeI should have stopped reading Still Life with Woodpecker at the first mention of the “half-shellfish half-peach that occupied the warm, watery bowl of [Princess Leigh-Cheri’s] lower regions.” This is a (mostly) family-friendly blog, so I’ll let you come to your own conclusions about exactly what that means. My conclusion? YUCK.

Anyway. Still Life with Woodpecker has been on my TBR list for at least a couple of years now. It was toward the top of my failed TBR Pile Challenge last year, but I didn’t get around to it then. I’m not sure how I first discovered it, though it might have been Goodreads’s recommendation engine, which is usually pretty reliable. This time, it made it to the top of my list because of a recommendation from Book Riot: they seem to think that if you’re a Twin Peaks fan, you’ll like Still Life with Woodpecker.


That peach business shows up around the 10% mark in a very short book, and that’s when I figured out that it’s Not My Kind of Book. I’m not a prude, but I don’t like a bunch of sex in my books. One or two tasteful scenes is tolerable, but Still Life with Woodpecker goes way overboard. Even her dad calls her a sexpot. Meh. That, and I just don’t like Tom Robbins‘s version of humor. It wasn’t funny to me: it was stupid. If it wasn’t so short and hadn’t been on my list for so long, I would have stopped.

So what’s this book about, anyway? you ask. Well, there’s a family that had been royalty of a nonexistent country, and they’ve been deposed by rebels. They’ve been given political asylum in the US and live near Seattle. Princess Leigh-Cheri is the daughter of the deposed king and queen, and she’s always in trouble, mostly for hijinks involving sex. She ends up going to Hawaii for a hippie-type conference and falling in love with a man who tries to blow it up. Things continue to happen.

Sounds exciting, right? I guess it is. Still Life with Woodpecker has good reviews on Goodreads. My issues with this book are personal, and in this case, I don’t claim any sort of objectivity: I just didn’t like it, and I’ll probably avoid Tom Robbins in the future just because I don’t like his style.

Featured photo credit: frankieleon

2015 Book #5: The Stand

thestandSo I finally read The Stand. It had a firm place on my TBR list for at least ten years, possibly since I saw the TV miniseries several years ago. Okay, so I’ve seen said miniseries more than once. Probably at least five times. Don’t judge.

Until fairly recently, most of my exposure to Stephen King was made-for-TV movies like The Stand, IT, and The Langoliers, all of which I love. I’d only read The Shining and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, one of which is good and one of which is in my top five Worst Books Ever. I’ll let you guess which one is which. Then, of course, the Dark Tower series happened, and all hell broke loose.

I can’t get enough of Stephen King.

I don’t think I know anyone who hasn’t either read The Stand or seen the miniseries, so I’ll only give the vaguest of synopses: A horrible plague decimates society, leaving two camps of immune people: one drawn to a nice old lady in Nebraska and another drawn to an evil Walkin Dude in Las Vegas. They divide into their various camps and Things Happen.

See what I did there? Two sentences to explain a 1200-page book. Easy.

I think I would have liked it more if I hadn’t seen the miniseries so many times. I couldn’t help but compare them. You aren’t missing anything super-important if you haven’t read the book. The main differences involve horror and sex that couldn’t be put on TV. Maybe it’s worth it for the real story on the dog named Kojak, but otherwise, you aren’t missing too much. (One amusing bit, though, involves Harold Lauder: he’s nothing like the actor. Imagine a young George R.R. Martin. Yep. That’s Harold.)


What I did find interesting were the numerous references to The Dark Tower. First of all, there’s Randall Flagg, who is a character in the Dark Tower series. There are also mentions of ka, the unfound door, and gunslingers. Fascinating stuff! Otherwise, The Stand is okay. I don’t regret reading it, though I probably won’t do it again. That said, I still can’t stop reading Stephen King. I think IT is next, though I’m going to stick with smaller books in the short term, as The Stand took quite a while and I have a quota to hit.


Featured photo credit: Kevin Schraer

2015 Book #4: The Rithmatist

rithmatistHere’s another book I chose almost solely based on its immediate availability on OverDrive. I’d just finished listening to 10% Happier (and was somewhere around half-through The Stand), and I was in the middle of a massive scanning project at work, which required some sort of audio entertainment since scanning is so monotonous. The Rithmatist‘s blurb looked interesting enough and Goodreads thought I’d like it, so I downloaded it, not really knowing what I was getting myself into – especially since it’s YA.

And I really enjoyed it!

The Rithmatist is about a 16-year-old kid named Joel who goes to an exclusive school because his mom works there and his dad did before he died. Joel’s grades are by no means spectacular. He’s obsessed with rithmatics, a type of magic involving chalk drawings, though he’s not a rithmatist. Rithmatists are chosen in a special religious ceremony at age eight, and Joel didn’t make the cut, so he goes to the regular part of the school but spends as much time as he can on the rithmatics side of campus. While delivering a note to a teacher in a rithmatics classroom, Joel witnesses a duel that ends with that professor’s losing his place and being replaced by the younger professor winning his position. Joel immediately dislikes the younger professor and wonders what he’s up to, especially when rithmatic students start disappearing. What follows is a steampunky magical mystery with various twists and so on.

While I enjoyed this book, it’s really not that great. Brandon Sanderson writes a lot of books, and it seems like he wrote this one pretty quickly. It follows the usual Harry Pottery story arc, and while it’s not exactly predictable, I wasn’t surprised by the outcome. Which is fine when the outcome isn’t annoying, as it is here. It seems like Sanderson spent the bulk of his time coming up with the magic system, which is innovative. I enjoyed that part. Basic rithmatics looks almost like a game played on the ground with chalk, circles and lines for defenses and mythical creatures for offenses.


The book is, for obvious reasons, illustrated, and I missed that part since I listened to it, but judging from my Google Images results, I sure wasn’t missing much. These illustrations look more like they’re for a kids’ book than YA. Anyway.

Again, I enjoyed it. It’s fun, easy YA and was a nice break from The Stand. It passed the time during my Massive Scanning Project. Sanderson has a sequel queued up for 2017, but that’s so far away that I’m sure I’ll have forgotten all about The Rithmatist. I guess that’s my main problem with Sanderson: he’s working on too many series at once, and it seems like this one might be an afterthought, like he’s just churning out books as fast as he can for the money. Not releasing the next book in a series for four years is a bit excessive (though I guess that if Mr. Stephenking can do it, Sanderson thinks he can too).

Friday Things: 1/23/2015

So I’m not very good at posting Things every week. I’m not sure whether I want to make myself be better about it or give up the venture entirely. We’ll see what happens. This week, anyway, you’re in luck!

If you haven’t guessed, the featured image is one of Dalí’s paintings. If you can name it, I’ll give you a cookie.

Non-Book Update Time (of course it’s mostly about the dog)

I made a few changes to the blog to accommodate posts that don’t involve books, and I haven’t written even one non-book post since. Until now. You, dear readers, have been underinformed about dog-related happenings, and it’s time to rectify that situation.

Zelda went to the dog park in Longview, TX.


Which wouldn’t be so monumental if Shreveport would ever get one. (They say the paperwork is signed, but I’m guessing we might have one in 2020. Maybe.)


Longview is over an hour away, so we stopped in Marshall for a bite to eat. Zelda tried her first potato chips.


(She also snapped at the owner’s hand, but that was because he got all up in her face and scared the living bejeezus out of her. I was mortified.)

Zelda was timid at first, but she eventually joined in the fun and had an excellent time.


It was nice to see her run. At home, her only outside option is a leash. Hopefully, we’ll have a backyard fence installed soon.

After the dog park, we met some friends at Starbucks, and Zelda enjoyed a puppy latte.


In other news, Shakespeare turned 11 on January 1. His present was his very own cubby next to my desk, complete with a heating pad and No Dogs Allowed sign. He spends a good bit of his time there.


And, finally, I got a master’s degree. The one I’d been working on for years. Good times.


2015 Book #3: 10% Happier

tenpercentI usually lump nonfiction reviews into bulk posts because I don’t have much to say about them. Same goes for Dan Harris‘s 10% Happier, but it gets its own post because I’m doing my best not to get behind. Which means this’ll be a short one.

I’m not sure what section of Barnes & Noble you’d have to look in to find 10% Happier, though I figure it’d be either biography or self-help. Both categories might help, but I’ll vote the former because it was much more interesting to me on a biographical level.

The title refers to Harris’s claim that meditation has made him 10% happier. He works in the cutthroat news industry and has anxiety issues. After various investigations and attempts to allay his anxiety, he settles on Buddhist meditation. He meets various self-help celebrity gurus like Eckhart Tolle and Deepak Chopra along the way and examines how meditation has affected his career and his private life. At the very end, he offers a list of ways people with similarly stressful careers might become happier.

I guess I read 10% Happier because it’s featured on Good Morning America so often, and I thought it might be interesting. And it is – except not in the way Harris probably intended it. Sure, meditation is good by almost all counts. I should meditate. You probably should, too. That’s fine. What’s really interesting here is Harris’s account of his career. I had never thought about what newsy celebrities put themselves through to get to the top, so I had no idea the degree of stressed caused by constant, insane competition. No wonder Harris went a little crazy after a while.

So. Should you read this? Maybe? I liked it. It’s well-written. It’s a good starting point if you’re interested in meditation as it points you in various directions you might want to pursue. Am I going to pursue said further research? Probably not. I might give meditation a try at some point. Which all means that if you’re into meditation or finding out what being in television news is all about, it’s worth a read.

Photo credit: Jules Antonio

2015 Book #2: The Strange Library

strangelibraryWhat a (very tiny) book! Haruki Murakami‘s book release dates are the only ones to which I pay close attention. If there’s a new Murakami book translated into English, chances are I’ve read it. Okay, I have, as I’ve read all of his novels. All of them. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage disappointed me, so this time I wasn’t sure what to expect.

And oh, was I surprised.

The Strange Library is now my favorite Murakami book. It’s fantastic. I love it. I want more.

It’s very, very short. Like a half-hour kind of short. A kid goes into a library to research a random thought and ends up trapped there. That’s the gist of it.



But it’s so much more than that! It’s sort of a short Bildungsroman involving loneliness. And the Sheep Man makes an appearance! Gah! It’s also illustrated which is kind of neat, but the illustrations didn’t really add much to it. I think they were mainly there to take up space. The diverse images in this post all come from the book.


Which brings me to my one complaint: The Strange Library is marketed as a novel (or at least a novella) with a list price of $18. The description says the book is 93, or so, pages long. That’s counting lots of full-page and sometimes multi-page illustrations. This “book” is really the length of a short story – and a short short story at that. It took me less than a half-hour to read, and I’m questioning the money I spent because of that. Sure, I could have waited for the library to get it, but it’s the beginning of the year and city funding hasn’t been dispensed yet, so I’d have to wait a while. I even went over to Barnes and Noble to have a look, but they didn’t have it in stock, so I gave up and bought the Kindle version from Amazon. Granted, it’s only $8, but for a half-hour of entertainment and no physical copy, that’s still a little cheap. I know full-color illustrations are not cheap, but I’d rather skip them and buy a reasonably priced tiny book instead. I’m pretty sure this is my first time complaining about the cost of a book…




I really, really love this book. There are so many good things about it. I know I’m gushing at this point, but I can’t help myself. If you haven’t read Murakami before and like magical realism (or straight fantasy, really), get your hands on a copy. It’s a great Murakami primer and introduces so many of the ideas in his later books. Somehow, there’s a startling lack of cats or wells. But the Sheep Man!


SO. Should you read The Strange Library? YES. Should you buy it? Not unless you love Murakami so much that you collect his books. Your local library (or Barnes and Noble) will eventually have it, and you can borrow it (or drink a cup of coffee while you read it in the store).

2015 Book #1: 10:04

tenohfourI hate to start the new year off on a bad note, but damn. I hated soooo many things about this book. Don’t worry, this’ll be a quick review.

10:04 is by Ben Lerner, who, I gather, is mostly a poet. It’s like he tried to write his version of The Bell Jar but failed miserably. He should stick to poetry, though I won’t be reading it.

It’s about a poet (who is currently writing a novel) who lives in New York. He teaches at a New York college, has New York friends, and is using various means to get a friend pregnant because she thinks it’s a good idea. He’s also doing other various New Yorky things. Two minor hurricanes happen, and he might or might not have a tumor slowly growing in his sinuses. So very exciting.

Now I’m going to list some of the things I hate about this novel.

  1. It’s a memoir, dammit, and Ben Lerner is no Sylvia Plath and is not good enough at writing to make a memoir pass as a novel.
  2. He can’t get his head out of his ass. 10:04 is the most self-indulgent book I’ve read in…I don’t remember how long.
  3. He likes to display his diverse vocabulary, which is fine in poetry but terrible in most novels. Don’t think Cormac McCarthy. Lerner makes it almost intolerably awkward.
  4. Nothing really happens. That can totally work for better authors. This isn’t an episode of Seinfeld.

So why, you ask, did I even finish this novel when I figured out very quickly that I hated it? Mainly because I listened to the audiobook. I’ve talked before about how that more passive form of reading can make difficult novels easier to wade through. That, and I’m also reading The Stand, which is really long and will take a while to finish (right now, I’m somewhere around 43%). Keeping my 50-book goal (and regular blog-posting) in mind, I figured that the benefits of slogging through a few hours of crappy book might outweigh the annoyance factor. And I was hoping that Lerner might redeem himself at the end. He didn’t. I’m not even sure I remember how 10:04 ends, and I just finished it a couple days ago. Meh.

Here’s to better books in the (very near) future!

Image credit: Davide Costanzo

Friday Things: 1/9/15

Okay, okay. I’m not very good at posting things Every Single Friday. I blame Christmas, the New Year, and general laziness. And not spending much time on the internet because I was playing stupid computer games.

But here we are, a little over a week into 2015, and Things have finally settled down. Here’s my list, which includes some links from the past two weeks:


Please excuse the bit of construction mess that’s about to happen around here. I have to update the lists and various other new year-related stuff, so I’m going to try to update the template while I’m at it since Elegant Themes continues to withhold Extra.


2014: The Year in Books

Here we are at the beginning of another year. As usual, I read Lots of Things last year, and I plan to do the same in 2015. Here’s what I read in 2014, formatted as always: bold means I really liked it, italics means I hated it, and plain ol’ text means it was good enough.

Lots of bold this year!

So, you ask, what was the best? Sort of like last year, I’m going to list a couple: the BEST book I read (as in objectively the best) and the book I most enjoyed. If you’re a regular reader, you probably know at least the first book already.

Drumroll, please…


Yep. This is the second year in a row that John Williams has taken the prize. Last year, it was Stoner, which is in my top five Best Books I’ve Ever Read. I’m not sure that Butcher’s Crossing made its way that high, but it just might be in the top ten. It’s perfectly constructed and definitely the best book of 2015. I had to get it from the library’s ILL system because there was no local copy, and I liked it so much that I asked for my own copy for Christmas. It’s sitting on my shelf next to Williams’s only other novel, Augustus, which I’ll probably read this year.

Okay, the best novel is down. This second category isn’t quite as easy, and my decision surprises even me. Ready?


What? I know. Where’d You Go, Bernadette was the first audiobook I listened to on my frequent walks with Zelda, and I enjoyed it so much that it made the top of the list. I somehow doubt it’d be here if I’d read the book, as the audiobook presentation made it for me. That’s one I’ll probably listen to again at some point.

Of course there are honorable mentions because I can’t make up my mind about this one. Butcher’s Crossing is my rock solid choice for Best Book, but I’m clearly fuzzy about Where’d You Go, Bernadette, so here are some close runners-up, in no particular order:


So there you have it: Cosmicomics by Italo CalvinoThe Inverted World by Christopher Priest, and The Wind through the Keyhole by Stephen King. Oh so good! I’m reliving them in my head right now. I sure hope Mr. Stephenking finds it in his heart to write another Dark Tower novel…


2015 is off to a slow start: I’m reading another novel by Mr. Stephenking, and it’s LONG, so give me a couple weeks. I’m trying to make myself suffer through the second half of a crappy audiobook so I have something to post, but I’m not sure it’s worth it. I’ve decided to dispense entirely with any extracurricular reading goals (beyond the Usual Fifty), so we’ll see what happens. I’m not even going to try making a TBR list because we all know how that turned out last year. Yay, 2015!

Photo credit: Jack

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