Monthly Archives: April 2015

“And then what happens?”: A rant about defective ebooks

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Seriously, what the hell is going on with my ebooks?

The last three ebooks I have tried to read have all had errors. Whole pages missing. Hitting the next button and inexplicably going from page 204 to 201 (and then you never can find page 205, anyway). Invariably, this happens near the end of the book, just as the plot is reaching the climax. And it is really starting to piss me off.

These books are published by reputable houses. The three I’m speaking of now were published by Algonquin (full disclosure, I used to intern for them), Avon, and Bantam. But I’ve had tons of ebooks with these errors. And I don’t understand it.

You wouldn’t buy a book from a store, find that page 152 is completely missing, and just think, oh well, guess I’ll try to figure out what’s happening and move on. You would return the stupid thing. But once you own an ebook, you’re stuck with it.

I read books on a nook, which means that they are .epub format. Do any of you read on Kindles or tablets? Do your books have missing pages and random errors? [Another favorite of mine- the squares. Where what I assume is punctuation or some sort of accented letter is turned into a blank square.] Is it just that nook is terrible?

When I buy digital editions of magazines like Apex and Lightspeed they are always flawlessly put together, despite, I’m assuming, having fewer resources than major book publishers. I don’t understand where these errors are coming from, and why it seems like there’s no quality control of the products. I wouldn’t think that creating a file to send to the printer and creating a file to send to ebook distributors would be that different, but if there are major differences, why isn’t anyone checking to make sure everything transcribes okay?

This is why I never pay full price for any ebooks, though I have to say, even four or five dollars is starting to seem like a waste of money when I keep coming across these errors. I’ve considered giving up my physical library, but I never will when the quality of ebooks is so shoddy.

Anyone else have these problems? It can’t just be me, right?

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Review: Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon

22294061Title: Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley

Author: Charlotte Gordon

Rating: 4 stars

I received this book through NetGalley in exchange for a fair review

As a feminist, I have long counted Mary Wollstonecraft as one of my heroes, along with her daughter, Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, one of my favorite novels of all time. But as much as I admire both of these women, I’ve never read in depth about either of them. I knew the “Cliff’s Notes” of the Romantics: Shelley and Byron, scandalous love affairs and tragic boating accidents. I knew much less than that about Wollstonecraft–basically, I knew A Vindication of the Rights of Woman and about her death. Luckily, Romantic Outlaws came along to fill in my prodigious blanks on the subject of these two remarkable women.

Romantic Outlaws is a hefty tome. At nearly 600 pages, it is probably not for the casual reader. But Gordon brings both Marys fascinatingly to life, while also analyzing their work, their legacies, and their receptions over the centuries.

It is unusually structured. In fact, I’ve never seen a book laid out quite like it. Each Mary is almost a footnote in the other’s story–Wollstonecraft died when her daughter was just ten days old–and when you read about Wollstonecraft you are likely to see Shelley as a brief reference at the end of the story, while when you read about Shelley you are likely to see Wollstonecraft briefly referenced at the beginning. But Gordon, as much as she gives each woman her own story, is also attempting to analyze them in relation to one another, and so each chapter alternates. Chapter one focuses on Wollstonecraft. Chapter two focuses on Shelley. And so on and so forth, for the entirety of the book.

It took a while to get used to, and led, at times, to some pacing problems, but on the whole I really liked this setup. It allowed Gordon to highlight similarities in the Marys’ philosophies and personalities while also painting them as products of their different generations.

Both Marys were daughters, lovers before becoming wives, and mothers. Gordon does a great job of illustrating how those feminine roles at times imprisoned them and kept them from living their true philosophies. They were both punished for breaking the rules of their society in ways that the men in their lives were not. For instance, William Gordon–Wollstonecraft’s (eventual) husband and Shelley’s father–was able to live a lofty philosophical life-of-the-mind, writing without interruption for a set number of hours every day, while Wollstonecraft had to deal with the messy realities of household budgets and childcare. When she was able to find the time to write, Gordon mostly responded to her work by criticizing her grammar. He preached Free Love–until his daughter eloped. But while he decried the scandal and refused to talk to Mary Shelley in person for years, that certainly didn’t stop him from begging money from her at every turn (and she, as a proper daughter, always complied).

As for the Shelleys, while Percy was able to cultivate a poetic mystique about himself with his radical, atheistic ways, Mary was shunned by polite society and, at the same time, deemed not radical enough for the radicals. While he fell in love with one new muse after another, she had to deal with the devastating loss of child after child. And after Shelley’s death  she was often seen as “unworthy” of his legacy, unworthy of his love. Even her work was questioned. Because it is known that Percy Shelley had some editorial input on Frankenstein, it was long assumed that it was more the work of his hand than Mary’s (of course, she had as much or more editorial impact on Percy’s poetry, but no one ever accused him of not authoring his own words!)

The hypocrisy of society is evident again and again in this narrative. Each Mary was done a disservice by her age–but the more things change, the more they stay the same, and it is easy to see parallels of their stories, by different degrees, even today. Each Mary was also done a disservice by those who came after her. In his biography of Wollstonecraft, William Gordon–who thought he was doing his wife a great service–exposed all of her scandals and destroyed her reputation for centuries. Shelley–at the hands of her son and daughter-in-law–was remade into an almost saintly Victorian icon, even though she had once written a book that shocked an entire age and publicly eloped in a sex scandal that made her notorious. So the mother became a scandalous harridan while the daughter became a boring prude who cramped the style of her genius husband. No wonder the two women are so seldom studied together–they’ve been painted as almost exact opposites for centuries.

Charlotte Gordon works to undo all that. Romantic Outlaws is a great history in that it explores the women in the context of their times. It’s also a good piece of literary criticism that analyzes all of Wollstonecraft and Shelley’s written works, not just the most famous ones. It’s definitely an investment of time, but a well worthy one. It gave me new appreciation for a story I thought I knew.

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Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Authors

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The topic of this Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is Top Ten ALL TIME Favorite Authors. This has actually changed quite a bit over the past year or two. A few authors got demoted and I fell head over heels for some others. So I guess “all time” is really relative for me.

Also, there are not ten. I have some auto-buy authors not on this list, and I have some favorite debut authors that may move on to it as they (hopefully) write more. But to be an all time favorite is to be in rarefied company.

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1. Lynn Flewelling

Lynn Flewelling is the first “grown-up” fantasy author I read. I still remember going into B. Dalton (oh my god–remember B. Dalton? I am so old) when I was a freshman in high school and walking out with The Bone Doll’s Twin based solely on it’s creepy cover. I’ve read her books more times than I can count, to the point where they just scream “comfort read” to me. Flewelling was the first author I read who wrote m/m romantic plotlines, and it was the first time I realized that I wasn’t weird for liking that. She was the first (only) author I ever dared write a fan letter to—and she EMAILED ME BACK. Fifteen year old me was starstruck. I think at the moment she is focusing on other things than writing, but I really do hope one day she writes more books, because I will be first in line for them.

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2. David Mitchell

Like with Lynn Flewelling, I remember the exact circumstances of the first time I read David Mitchell, down to the texture of my bedspread. The book was McSweeney’s Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories, the story was “What You Do Not Know You Want,” and when I finished, I closed the book and stared off into space for a good long while because I was wrecked. Mitchell is, quite simply, a master. No living writer is as good with words as he is.

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3. Fyodor Dostoevsky

I had a very influential history professor who told me that Crime and Punishment was the best novel ever written, and so, for a time, it was for me. I’ve become more nuanced in how I judge things and learned to create my own criteria without relying so much on outsiders to influence my value judgments…but I still really love Dostoevsky. There is hope beneath his bleakness that will always appeal to me. (And I will never, ever forget reading Demons in an airport while waiting for a plane and having a conservative woman loudly berate me for devil-worshiping.)

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4. Vladimir Nabokov

Another favorite Russian. I have not finished my survey of Nabokov yet, because I like to linger over his books and it takes a long time for me to digest them. He’s a master of language and wordplay.

 

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5. Tana French

I read all five of Tana French’s books in less than nine months. I just vacuumed through them. Her grasp of language and characterization mixes with incredibly dense, twisty plots and makes magic.

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6. N. K. Jemisin

I’m not reading nearly as much fantasy as I used to, especially longform. Of those authors I do read, Jemisin is hands-down the best. I love her worldbuilding and her characters

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7. Courtney Milan

I still kind of can’t believe a romance author is on this list. But Milan’s books really changed how I look at that genre. They’re sexy and smart, they always make me laugh, and they’ve opened up a whole list of other writers and books to me.

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8. Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Oh, wait, you thought there were only gonna be two Russians on this list? Please. Petrushevskaya’s work is exquisite, and vital and raw, and I eagerly await each new translation.

That’s all I’ve got this week. There are plenty of authors who could make the list, and maybe will one day, but these are my desert island authors, the ones I wouldn’t want to have to live without.

Who are yours?

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Review: Graceling by Kristin Cashore

3236307Title: Graceling

Author: Kristin Cashore

Rating: 3 stars

Middle-of-the-road reviews are the hardest ones to write.

Negative reviews are the easiest. This is an upsetting thing to admit for a person who basically tries to be nice, but if there’s an element of a book, be it style or characters or plot, that I don’t like, it is easy to tear that book apart. Being balanced and fair and not going overboard can present their own challenges, but I will never run out of words.

Glowing reviews are pretty simple. Either I flail and gush and implore you to go out and read this book immediately, or I am able to hold myself back just enough to rationally dissect and discuss what I think makes a read so great. Again, I never run out of words.

But a middle-of-the-road book? One that doesn’t have great faults, per se, but just feels kind of…flat? That’s hard. Because how do we talk fairly about things that don’t inspire passion?

Which is all a very long way of saying that Graceling, the fourth book I read for the TBR Pile Challenge, was kind of…just okay. I didn’t hate it. I didn’t love it. And I struggled trying to figure out how to put that into words.

It took me a long time to read Graceling. Weeks. (It doesn’t take me weeks to read anything). I just could not get interested. It took me almost 100 pages to really feel invested in the novel, which is about 90 pages too long, and by that point I was not looking forward to any marathon reading sessions or book binges to finish.

Lady Katsa is born with an extreme skill called a Grace, which makes her extremely adept at fighting. At first a pawn of her uncle, a king, Katsa breaks away from him and starts on a journey with her lover, Prince Po, to learn more about her Grace and save a kingdom from dangerous, mind-controlling enemy.

I think I was initially wary because Katsa is the Super Special Girl. The one who doesn’t have female friends because, psh, girl stuff, and who is alluring and attractive to every male in existence because of her Super Special Magic Eyes. I feared a love triangle. I feared a makeover scene. YA tropes have made me weary, and wary, and for a long time the text didn’t give me anything to alleviate that.

It did get better. I got to liking Katsa after a while, and Po. There was a lot of harrowing scenes when Katsa took charge of the princess Bitterblue, and while she pieced together the fact that her Grace was not exactly for fighting and more for making her Pseudo-Medieval MacGyver. Then a middle-aged badass lady pirate showed up, and I was incensed. Why couldn’t we start with the middle-aged badass lady pirate? Why did I have to sit through whiny teens for so long? And then the long-built-up confrontation was resolved in about three paragraphs and I was left blinking, wondering what the hell the rest of the book was supposed to be about.

I think it was the worldbuilding that made Graceling feel most weak to me. I just could not get lost in this world because it felt…flimsy. And it’s very odd–there’s no science to this, and I feel like a weirdo to even be bothered by it, but the names of things felt deeply, deeply stupid. I have sat through some really strange fantasy worlds with really strange names. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with these that I can point to, but they all just felt off to me. The countries–Nander, Wester, Estill, Sunder? Just call them North, West, East, and South if that’s what you want to convey. All the capitals are just “some dude’s name” city– Randa City, Birn City, Thigpen City. I longed dearly for a possessive of some kind. And the humans names were even weirder. Something about it all just threw me out of the story every time I came across a new character. It is such a strange, nitpicky thing to be bothered by, but it bothered me nonetheless.

Are these reasons to hate a book? No, and I didn’t hate it. Do lots of people love Graceling? Yes. Is it okay to be indifferent to a book, even when lots of people feel passionately about it? Sure. It just means that the mysterious alchemy of fiction didn’t mix for me in this case, which is kind of a bummer, but there’s always another book on the list to look forward to.

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March Round Up

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Reading

In March I read 14 books. This particular bit of insanity, as opposed to last months, is due to anxiety. Anxiety: when you can barely leave the house and don’t like to remember that you are an adult, hey, at least there’s fiction.

Lots of short story collections this month. Stuck to my goal of doing one nonfiction and one for the TBR challenge. Participated in one read along, which I don’t think I’ve ever done before.

Reading Diversity

Three of the authors I read this month were male, eleven female. All, to my knowledge, were white. I am not doing particularly well on the author diversity front at the moment.

Three of the books included QUILTBAG characters in some form, but one in a way that pissed me off so much that I almost threw my nook off the balcony. It was Kerry Greenwood’s Cocaine Blues and I was really disappointed and angered by it. The main character was a sexually liberated woman in the 1920s which would have been fantastic, if Greenwood didn’t decide that she needed to contrast that by having an asexual villain, who of course was presented as evil specifically because she didn’t like sex. If only she was a lesbian, the heroine mused, wouldn’t that be so much better than her being an evil, sexless prude?

Yeah. Won’t be reading any more of that series.

Writing

It’s been a pretty flat month for writing because I’m anxious about some things. I submitted one story and have not finished anything. I’m writing every day but it’s usually only a sentence or two. I’m way too much in my own head right now.

Novel 2 is at about 25000 words and sort of stalled. 25-30K words seems to be where I stall on large projects, pretty predictably. I’ll get through it but I’m annoyed. And also predictably, since I’m sort of stuck on Novel 2, I’ve randomly decided to start notes on another long project idea from my idea folder. I like the beginnings of things. I’m still not so good on the follow through.

TV Junkie

I’m so sad about Vikings, guys. First Siggy and then Athelstan. It was beautifully done, but that doesn’t mean I’m not wrecked about it.

The Americans continues to amaze. Scandal continues to piss me off. (If I have to see Fitz and Olivia give each other one more longing glance I’m going to hurl). And I’m waiting not-so-patiently for Mad Men and Orphan Black. That’s about it on the TV front these days.

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Sometimes I go to the Movies

Not often. It’s expensive and rarely worth it; truthfully I don’t even like watching movies at home all that much. But this month for my best friend’s birthday I took her to see Cinderella. That is far from my favorite Disney cartoon so I didn’t particularly have high expectations, but for what it was, I ended up adoring it. And what it was was glitter and butterflies and a gorgeous ballroom scene and costume porn and Richard Madden’s dreamy eyes filling the screen for inordinate amounts of time. All wins in my book.

Mix Tape

The Americans got me on a Fleetwood Mac kick so thanks. I’ve also been listening to a lot a lot a lot of Van Morrison. That’s about it for the month of music, nothing particularly new or exciting.

That’s it this time around. I am ready for April and spring.

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