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Book Review: The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel (Series, #6)

May 30, 2011 40 comments

Woman standing in cave looking out at scenery.Summary:
All of Ayla’s unique life situations–from being adopted by the Clan to living in a valley by herself to her long Journey with Jondalar–have been combining to make her into a great, powerful woman.  In this final entry in the Earth’s Children series we witness her transformation from Ayla to Zelandoni shaman of the Zelandonii.

Review:
As a fan of the Earth’s Children series since the age of 15, there is just no way I can review this epically disappointing, long-awaited finale to the series without spoilers.  So, be warned, this whole post is going to contain spoilers, because there is just no way I can possibly not talk about  everything that went horribly awry here.

First there is the incredibly huge issue of plot.  The book is divided into three sections.  The first section is entirely Ayla wandering around looking at caves with Zelandoni.  Which would be fine.  If the caves had anything particularly unique about them or anything exciting happened in the caves or if we weren’t told repeatedly “here’s a horse painting, here’s a cave lion painting, here are dots that mean something to the Zelandoni but I won’t ever tell you what they mean because where would the fun in that be?”  Oh sure, there are hints that something more exciting might happen, but nothing ever does.  It’s like Auel thought about putting action in, but then decided it’d be way easier to talk more about the badly painted and scratched in horses in these caves that for some reason the Zelandonii think are so incredibly sacred.  Oh yeah.  I remember why.  Because they’re supposedly the vagina of the Earth Mother.  Think about that for a second.  These people are worshiping in sacred vaginas.

Then we have the second section which mysteriously jumps forward four years in Ayla’s acolyte training because for some reason we couldn’t possibly be interested in that, oh no, there’s nothing interesting about ceremonies or studies.  Instead, we get to jump ahead four years and go on Ayla’s Donier tour.  Do you know what Ayla’s Donier tour is?  Going around Zelandonii territory to look at MORE CAVES.  This traveling could possibly be interesting.  We have foreshadowing multiple times that something bad is going to happen to Ayla, particularly that a band of evil bad rapist men are going to kidnap her and drag her off.  But no.  They grab her and Jondalar somehow miraculously goes from in front of the evil band of rapist men to behind them, breaks the leather-thong assisted choke-hold the dude has on Ayla, and saves her from them.  Then the Zelandoni beat them to death in an instance of mob justice.  Well.  At least something sort of happened?

The third section jumps ahead two more years (skipping almost all the rest of Ayla’s acolyte training) to yet another summer meeting, which Ayla has to come to part-way through because she had to stay back to complete her final assignment of training.  Ayla has a vision in a cave (oh, we’ll get to that in a minute) and then goes to the summer meeting where she walks in on Jondalar getting naked sexy head from the one woman in the Ninth Cave of the Zelandonii immune to liking Ayla.  No, I am not joking.  Jondalar, the oh I am Ayla’s soulmate and we will be together forever and I love her so much has totally been cheating on her for almost the entire last two years of her acolyte training.  Because she was busy.  Because a man has needs.  Because the ho offered herself to him and why on earth would Jondalar say no?  I am not joking, that is the tone of the book in the whole revelation of cheating thing.  PLUS, the whole cave knew about it and hid it from Ayla to protect her feelings.  Ayla, naturally, knows jealousy is taboo in Zelandonii society, so instead of confronting the cheating bastard she first has sex at a Mother Ceremony (ahem, orgy) with the dude Jondalar hates most in the Ninth Cave, and then she decides life isn’t worth living and tries to kill herself with the Clan root.  This from a woman who has three horses, a wolf, and a freaking 6 year old daughter to look after.  The only thing that saves her, naturally, is Jondalar’s undying love.  It took all of my self-control not to throw my kindle across the room.  Well, and also my intense love for my kindle.

So for two-thirds of the book nothing really happens, and then in the last third our two heroes both turn into loathsome people.  Good. Times.

Ok, so, the plot takes a complete nose-dive off Niagara Falls without a barrel while holding your beloved kitten.  What about the supposedly key element of the book and series?  What world-changing thing does this special woman, this powerful shaman, bring about?  Allow me to quote the new verse of the Earth Mother’s Song that is revealed to Ayla at the climax:

Her last Gift, the Knowledge that man has his part.
His need must be spent before new life can start.
It honors the Mother when the couple is paired,
Because woman conceives when Pleasures are shared.
Earth’s Children were blessed.
The Mother could rest. (page 540)

Yes. That is right, people.  The reason for this woman existing is to reveal to these dim-wits that sex, not the Earth Mother mixing spirits, causes babies.  Allow me to repeat that.  Ayla’s big contribution to pre-historic society is to teach these people the birds and the bees.

I wish I could say it gets better from there, but it doesn’t.  First Ayla has to convince the other shamans (Zelandoni) that this is true.  They, naturally, don’t want to believe it.  The lead Zelandoni convinces them that they must tell the people in a huge ceremony, because this will be life-changing.  Then we have, quite possibly, the most eyeball-widening, face-palming, head:desk inducing passage I have ever read.  The ceremony, meetings, and Mother’s Celebration that go along with it.  I won’t put you through the pain of all of it, but allow me to show you a good sample.  The passage in which the lead Zelandoni explains what to call the men who are also parents:

He is a far-mother, a fa-ther. It was also chosen to indicate that while women are the Blessed of Doni, men may now think of themselves as the Favored of Doni. It is similar to ‘mother,’ but the fa sound was chosen to make it clear that it is a name for a man, just as ‘fa’lodge’ is the name for the men’s place. (page 676-7)

I just…..there are no words for the inanity of it all.

Then, of course, all the men overnight turn into possessive, abusive, over-aggressive douchebags since now they know that their sperm has magical powers.  The book ends with the very heavy-handed suggestion that this revelation is what caused the move from matriarchy to patriarchy.

Oh, but it gets better.  To put one final touch of absurdity on the whole thing, we also finally get to find out what happened to the Neanderthals (Clan).  Ayla still has the black stone that contains a piece of every Clan member’s spirit in it from when she was a medicine woman for them.  A vision reveals to her that when Broud cast her out with the death curse, she forgot to leave the stone behind and thus caused the death of the entire Clan.  Yeah. Really. That’s what happens.  All of this build-up, and we find out that Ayla reveals the birds and the bees, kills matriarchy, and kills the Neanderthals.  What. The. Fuck.

As if the meandering plot and completely inane and horrifying huge reveals weren’t bad enough, something happened to Auel’s writing style.  I like to call it “let me give everything really long names and repeat myself a lot”  Just one example of the plethora of overly long names is “Zelandoni Who Was First Among Those Who Served The Great Earth Mother.”  That would be less painful, maybe, if Auel didn’t also repeat herself all the time.  Almost every time the lead Zelandoni shows up, we are reminded that she is a very large woman.  Almost every time Ayla speaks, someone notices her foreign accent.  Almost every time someone sees Jonayla (kill me now with that name), someone notices that she has Jondalar’s eyes.  Enough already!  We know! Stop telling us!

Between the meandering plot, completely what the fuck ending, and simply bad writing, I can’t recommend this book to anyone.  My best advice to fans of the series, or those interested in it, is to pretend that it ends with The Mammoth Hunters and Jondalar riding off into the sunset with Ayla.  Just pretend it stops there.  Ignore his people.  Ignore Ayla’s calling.  Ignore the Journey.  Just ignore the whole thing.  Take the characters and world back from Auel who completely mistreated them and let them exist in your mind the way they were at the end of The Mammoth Hunters.  Do not waste your time or hurt your brain reading this book. Just…..don’t.

1 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Previous Books in Series:
The Clan of the Cave Bear
The Valley of the Horses
The Mammoth Hunters
The Plains of Passage
The Shelters of Stone 

Friday Fun! (NAMI Walk and Best Friend)

May 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Hello my lovely readers!  Sorry we were a bit short on reviews this week.  I just finished up a chunkster (758 pages) that will be reviewed on Monday.  It slowed me down a wee bit!

Last weekend I participated in the NAMI walk with my hospital.  Thanks to generous contributions from friends and twitter followers, I raised $100 for the National Alliance on Mental Illness.  Yet I felt of more value than the money raised by all the participants was the walk itself.  Mental illness is still so stigmatized and here were people living with mental illnesses, people who routinely treat it, people who love people with it, gathered together and being loud and proud in the middle of Boston.  My absolutely favorite team tshirt I saw was “Stamp Out Stigma” followed by “Stigma Stings.”  People are people, and it is hard enough for those with a mental illness to live with it and attempt recovery without facing stigma from society.  I am so glad out of all the walks in Boston I chose to participate in this one.  It was very moving.

Also this week, I had to say goodbye to my best friend who’s moving from Boston back home to Colorado.  I fully support her decision and know it’s the right one for her, but I will miss her dearly.  We are still working together on a secret project from a distance though.  The internet is amazing like that.  Also, I hope to be able to save up to visit her sometime next winter.  It’s still sad though.  Nothing is the same as getting to see your best friend every week, you know?

So it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster emotional week for me, but I at least have a three day weekend this weekend for Memorial Day.  Happy weekends!

Book Review: Undead and Unemployed by MaryJanice Davidson (Series, #2)

May 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Woman sitting on coffin reading newspaper.Summary:
Betsy may have dealt with the fact that she’s an undead blood-sucker, but she certainly is not ready to deal with the idea of being queen of the vampires for 1,000 years.  Or mated to the horribly tricky Sinclair.  The sexy, tricky Sinclair.  She is focused on more important things, like her new job selling designers shoes at Macy’s.  But when vamps start popping up dead a second time, her duty calls whether she wants to listen or not.

Review:
If somebody asked me to hand them the quintessential chick lit summer beach read, I’d toss the Queen Betsy series at them.  Light, short, set in a cool climate, and one guaranteed hot sex scene per book.  Great literature it ain’t, but I’ve definitely read far worse paranormal romance in my time, plus Davidson always manages to get at least a few chuckles out of me.

The one thing that baffles me is that I truly hate Queen Betsy.  She is everything I loathe in *coughs* certain women: shallow, conceited, wears too much make-up, obsessed with shoes, self-centered.  Yet for some reason I can’t help rooting for her.  Maybe it’s that she didn’t ask to be queen of the vampires and yet still manages to rise to the occasion when needed that makes her bearable.  This is a long series, and I do hope that Davidson will see fit to give us a good character arc for Betsy.  Going from a shallow 20-something to a fully grown-up queen.  I could dig that.

In the meantime, the storyline here in the second book was actually a bit more interesting than the first, although the mystery was quite easy to solve.  Unfortunately, the laughs weren’t quite as frequent, which is what made the first book so enjoyable, but they are still present.  Who reads paranormal chick lit for more than a few hours of giggles and horribly unrealistic vampire sex that knocks chunks of plaster out of the ceiling?  If that’s what you’re looking for, you won’t go wrong with the Queen Betsy series.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Previous Books in Series:
Undead and Unwed, review

Friday Fun! (Provincetown)

May 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Hello my lovely readers!  Last weekend, two of my friends and I decided to take a one night vacation to Cape Cod–Provincetown to be exact.  For those of you who don’t know, Ptown, as it’s more commonly known, is not only the first landing place of the Pilgrims before they moved on to Plymouth, but also is the gay mecca of the Eastern seaboard.  Coastal town plus fabulousness everywhere?  What more could we ask for?

My lovely weekend included wading in the Atlantic, a run along the beach, flipping off a lighthouse, hilarious window shopping, hot tubbing, some whiskey, and possibly the best knock-off of a chain restaurant ever–the Burger Queen, which included Larry the most fabulous gay man I’ve ever met.  We became their first customers to get our picture taken for their book.  Every time I go to the ocean, I know I’m going to end up living on it eventually in my life.  It was exactly the vacation the doctor ordered.  Thanks, ladies, for the epic weekend!

This one won’t be quite so epic, but it will involve a charity walk, meeting GameCouch, and a party for a Team Unicorn member.  What are you all up to with your weekends?

Book Review: I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

May 19, 2011 Leave a comment

Vampire horde.Summary:
A worldwide virus pandemic has turned most of the world’s population into vampires–both alive and undead.  Robert Neville might, quite possibly, be the only uninfected left.  Every day he goes out on his quest to simply kill the vampires while they sleep.  Every night he curls up in sound-proofed home drinking whiskey and listening to records.  Will anything ever save him from this monotonous existence?

Review:
It’s difficult to read a highly influential scifi book that inspired both the trend of writing of a worldwide pandemic and the original Night of the Living Dead and find that you actually are a bit unimpressed by it.  I was simply expecting more from such an influential book.

Claustrophobic.  That is the best word to describe the book, and it is also what Matheson excels at.  Depicting the effects of painful ostracism and loneliness on a person’s psyche.  For Robert isn’t alone per se.  He is surrounded by those infected with the virus.  Yet he can’t hang out with them or converse logically with them.  They are entirely at odds, and whereas the infected have each other, Neville has no one.  What this book depicts is what happens when the world moves on, and someone is left behind.  This is truly well done and what makes the book periodically powerful.

Yet it struggles with things, particularly the most simple story-telling and pacing.  The order of events is disjointed and difficult to make sense of.  Neville is a rather unsympathetic character because we only get rare glimpses into his past life before the apocalypse.  His relationship with Ben Cortman, an infected neighbor, is built up to be important and influential, yet it is dropped at the last minute.  One plot point in particular toward the end of the book truly makes very little sense.  The actions of the infected seem to be ludicrous at best.  At the base of it, we see Neville’s insanity much more clearly than we see his previous sanity, which makes his gradual changes due to loneliness less powerful.  Thus, both the characterization and the plot suffer from a certain ever-present disjointedness.

This reads as a great idea that was a bit poorly executed.  Perhaps this is why it has inspired so much other creativity.  The germ of the idea is excellent and easy to ponder upon in spite of a far less sophisticated story-telling.  I thus mostly recommend this to fans of the worldwide pandemic or Night of the Living Dead franchise to see where it all started.  Those who are intrigued by the look at ostracism may enjoy it as well, but others probably should steer clear.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Borrowed

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Book Review: Thinner by Stephen King

May 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Skeletal man gripping own face.Summary:
Billy Halleck is an overweight, high-powered lawyer in a wealthy Connecticut town.  He’s getting a bit irritated at his wife and a bit frustrated with his weight, but he loves his teenage daughter.  One day, a band of gypsies come to town, and Billy accidentally runs one of them down with his car, killing her.  His law firm and the cops, naturally, get him out of the manslaughter charge, but nobody can protect him from the lead gypsy’s curse, uttered while stroking one finger down his cheek, “Thinner.”  Now he’s dropping weight no matter how much he eats, and he must race against the clock in an attempt to save himself.

Review:
A book about gypsy curses could easily slide into racist territory, but in fact Thinner actually criticizes the treatment the gypsies have received in the United States over the years, in spite of them not always being the most sympathetic characters in the book.  They may be a bit non-mainstream and overly quick to exact their own vengeance, but Billy Halleck and his cronies are a much more frightening type of bad.  They’re the bad that comes from too much money and power.  The bad that comes from being so self-centered and over-indulgent that you’ve stopped noticing the rest of the world exists.

So, the social commentary is good and not offensive, what about the horror and thrills?  That is, after all, what one reads a King novel for.  The grotesqueness definitely builds gradually over time, making this much more of a thriller than a horror.  At first Billy’s weight loss is welcomed.  He was, after all, overweight before.  Gradually, though he starts to freak out about how much weight he’s consistently losing in spite of eating as much as he possibly can.  He starts to investigate and discovers two others with their own unique and, frankly, much more frightening curses.  Although the beginning may feel a bit slow, that is exactly as it should be.  Billy goes from normal life to life under a curse to racing against  the clock to save his own life.  The horror builds perfectly.

That said, this still doesn’t quite read as sophisticated as some of King’s later work.  It does almost seem like a bit too obvious an allegory.  A bit too obvious a statement being made.  In spite of the story providing chills, it’s not quite terrifying or mind-blowing.  It’s a fun read, but it’s no Dark Tower.

Overall this thriller provides chills, horror, and a good social commentary.  I recommend it to fans of horror and thrillers alike, although slightly more to fans of thrillers.

4 out of 5 stars

Source:  Harvard Book Store

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Randomness: Tumblr!

May 13, 2011 Leave a comment

You guys!  I totally have a tumblr now that will contain complete epic randomness that thus far is mostly book quotes and kitties.  You should def check it out!  Particularly if you like my blog, which, um, if you’re reading this, you probably do.

:-)

Friday Fun! (Quirky Wolfy)

May 13, 2011 4 comments

I’ve always had this problem that I just don’t quite fit in anywhere.  I’m what they call an odd duck.  If I was a house, you’d say I was decorated in an eclectic fashion.  I’m kind of a big bunch of contradictions.  I’m a huge reader, so people think I’m a nerd, but then they find out that I scoff at D+D and WoW.  Suddenly, the nerds don’t know what to do with me.

I love going out to sporting events and cheering on the home team, but I don’t wear makeup.  Suddenly, the jocks are wondering how on earth I got into a sorority.  Um, I didn’t.

I recycle and garden passionately, but I shave my legs.  The hippies become very confused.

I am highly educated, but I’m more comfortable drinking at a bonfire and roasting veggie dogs over the open flames than I would ever EVER be in a fancy restaurant.

All of this has led me to make a pretty eclectic bunch of friends, and I love it, and I love them for it.  It really has enhanced my social circle to the umpteenth degree.  I have my hippie friends and my artistic friends and my nerd friends and my girly girl friends, etc….  I love them all for their own reasons, and I can pretty much always find someone to do any of my various pursuits with.  The problem, of course, comes when I’m trying to date.

I am weird.  Guys never know quite what to expect, and just when they think they have me figured out, I do something that to them is out of left field, but to me is totally perfectly normal.  I can go from discussing Kant to swearing like a sailor in five seconds flat.  I seriously get why it’s confusing.  The problem is that that’s just who I am, and I ain’t gonna change it to suit nobody.  I can’t pretend to be a classy lady when I’m not most of the time.  I can’t pretend I’m comfortable just sitting around drinking beer and watching the game every weekend, when sometimes I want to go to the museum.  I love who I am and how I am and the fact that it makes my life so varied and unpredictable.  The problem is that’s a lot of quirks to match someone up to.  Or at least to find someone who thinks they’re all cute.  I’m sure that quirky guy is out there somewhere.  I mean, after all, my father and uncles are all similarly quirky, and we can’t be the only family like that on the planet.  (please oh please oh please universe)

But, you know, waiting for him kind of sucks.  Even if I do get to pump iron at the gym, go out for beers to watch the Bruins, read on a riverbank on my kindle, and then hit up the MFA all in one weekend in the meantime.

Randomness: Ebay aka Help a Poor Lady Out

May 12, 2011 Leave a comment

You guys, so I totally am selling stuff I don’t need anymore on ebay to help myself out in this slightly tight financial time while I’m hunting for an MLIS job.  So.  If you want to get any movies/music/videogames/periodically other stuff from a trustworthy source, please do check it out!

You benefit. I benefit. It’s all good karma.

Grazi!

Book Review: Mr. Monster by Dan Wells (Series, #2)

May 12, 2011 1 comment

Knife against a white background.Summary:
John Wayne Cleaver, diagnosed sociopath and assistant in his family’s morgue, is trying to recover from the aftermath of the demonic serial killer that was haunting Clayton County until a few months ago.  A few months ago when he let loose his own inner sociopath, otherwise known as Mr. Monster, and killed the demon.  For the sake of the town.  Now he is struggling to get Mr. Monster back under control as well as deal with new feelings for his neighbor, Brooke, both of which would be easier if the demon hadn’t killed his therapist.  In spite of all this, things seem to be slowly calming down–until new dead bodies start showing up.

Review:
In a series such as this, the second book is rather crucial.  In the first book, we see John trying to deal with his mental illness in the normal ways, only to be confronted with an abnormal solution.  He takes it.  The next book must then show not only if John continues down this path, but also why, not to mention set up the structure so that he may continue down this path indefinitely for most of the rest of the series.  Wells definitely accomplishes this tough task, although not quite as smoothly or uniquely as he set up the initial plot and character of John in the first book.

One thing that this book suffers from is uneven pacing.  Whereas the first book used the classic thriller scenario of gradually amping up the tension, here the tension rises and falls so frequently and to such different levels that it’s a bit off-putting.  It provides too many moments where it’s not too distressing to put the book down and go do something else.  It is only the last few chapters of the book that hold the same tension as in the first entry in the series.  This is problematic when this is supposed to be a thriller, but understandable given all of the set-up and developments that Wells must pull off.

The new demon is definitely well-done and scary in his own way, although I must say I guessed who he was pretty much the instant he showed up in the book.  Thus, what was shocking was not who the demon is, but what he does to his victims, why, and how he pulls it off.  This part is creative and thankfully it is evident that the demons in the series will be variable and non-formulaic.  This is essential if the elements of surprise, disgust, horror, and delight are to remain.

Yet the focus is not just on the demons, thankfully.  Wells skillfully still includes the issues John faces as someone struggling with a rather non-sympathetic mental illness, making him alternately relatable and grotesque.  John struggles.  He is sometimes unlikable, but he tries so damn hard.  Similarly, Wells continues to develop the messed-up family structure John has to deal with, an issue that is absolutely relatable to most readers of YA lit.  There is much more going on here than demon fighting.  Indeed, even John’s first romantic interest is addressed.

I feel the need to say to animal lovers, particularly ones who love the wonderful kitties among us, that there is a very distressing scene in this book involving a cat that almost made me stop reading it.  I do think Wells handles it well, including the aftermath, but if you find animal cruelty incredibly upsetting, um, either skip this book or skim that section.  You’ll know when it’s coming.

Overall, this entry in the series does well for all the tasks it had to do to smoothly connect the set-up in the first book to the running themes of the rest of the series.  Although the pacing struggles a bit, characterization is still strong, as are surprising plot points.  I’m interested to see what Wells does with the next book in the series, and I recommend this one to fans of psychological and paranormal thrillers alike.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Previous Books in Series:
I Am Not a Serial Killer, review

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