Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Hungry, Miserable & Watching
Whittling Down my TBR List

Cover of "The Hunger Games"Cover of The Hunger GamesKnocking out the books on my TBR list, here's my loves and hates for February: 

The Hunger Games (trilogy).  I have felt vastly disappointed in wildly popular books whenever I get around to reading for myself what all the buzz is about.  The Horse Whisperer.  The DaVinci Code. (Somebody, anybody, buy Robert Whatshisface a personality, any personality, please!)  The Girl Who Might Possibly Do interesting things eventually after you have slogged through 100+ pages of mind-numbing dullness, with the lead journalist Mikhail guy just as bland as Robert Whatshisface.

 I'd call those characters vanilla, but that would be insulting vanilla, which does have a distinct odor and flavor. (Yes, yes, I hear that the films and the acting in them was great, but a screenplay is only 180 pages, tops, not 600 as those borefests were.)

So I put off reading The Hunger Games, out of fear of being let down yet again, and an outsider at the party of everybody yelling, "Hurray, doesn't the Emperor have on a gorgeous new suit?" Plus it was *holding my nose* Young Adult.  I'm a grown-up, isn't the genre beneath me?

I have rarely been so happily surprised by a book/series (because like eating M & M's or potato chips, I had to keep going until I finished the entire series).  Among other things, Suzanne Collins has a background in screenwriting, so she understands how to make a story move.  I would advise every novelist to spend a little time studying screenwriting.  You're required to say more with fewer words. (Not that I've mastered this.) The Hunger Games characters are engaging, the plot has interesting twists and turns, and the stakes couldn't be higher.  (5/5 stars, across the board.)
I could tell you about it, but this trailer does a better job describing the storyline:

I'm generally not a "movies" person.  IMO, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, the book is way better - even Gone With the Wind which is still a great movie - but I am actually looking forward to this movie.  Jennifer Lawrence (incredible in Winter's Bone), based on the trailers, looks and moves just as I pictured Katniss.  Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, the washed-up drunk mentor, perfect.  Donald Sutherland chewing up the scenery as evil President Snow, Lenny Kravitz as Cinna... the casting looks amazing.

So, comparing this series to an old classic, also made into movies and plays, Les Misérables by Victor Hugo.   Freshen your drink, and hit the head, we'll be a while.  Our buddy Victor takes a looooong time to set up any conflict.  We start with the wonderful, saintly Bishop.  Chapter after chapter of snooze-worthy saintliness.  There's a telling (not a showing) of an encounter with bandits in a remote village, and then a second telling via letter of the Bishop's sister, of the same incident.  There's a lot of name-dropping about people who were semi-important in 1815 France, but mean about as much to a modern reader as the names of the semi-finalists of American Idol, Season Three, would mean to somebody in 1815 France.

I stuck with Les Mis, till I was 60% of the way through (and do intend to return to it, sometime this century) while I did not with Dragon Tattoo, because even though there was little conflict, I had interesting characters.  The Bishop, his sister, and, once he arrived on the scene, Jean Valjean.  Fantine, and her petit Cosette.  Inspector Javert and his OCPD. I cared about what happened to them, whereas with those other characters, I didn't care if they lived or died. (I kinda leaned on the "die" side.)

That said, I could not read every word of Les Mis.  I gave it a go, but after 3-4 pages of the battle of Waterloo, one bullet at a time, with another 15 or so pages ahead, I gave myself permission to skim the boring parts. IMO, Hugo would not get published today without major editing - way too much scenery and boring backstory. Even skimming, I could not finish it without taking breaks to read books that were, well, interesting.

Tolkien had never-ending battles in his works, too, and so do other classic and popular works of fiction.  Is this some kind of battle-porn that some readers actually enjoy?  Is it a guy thing?   Pages and pages of thrusting swords, bullets piercing through flesh, and big fat cannons going off? *shakes head*  Not interesting to me.  I'll take my porn straight up, thank you.

Watching Willow Watts by Talli Roland. I "met" Talli last year during Arlee Bird's A-Z Blogfest.  She's a sweet, gracious, kind writer always eager to give a hand or word of encouragement to another writer.  So I was a little nervous about reading this book.  What if I hated it?  Do I go ahead and be honest, giving it a crappy review?  Do I ignore it as if I bought but never read it?

Luckily - I liked the book very much.  Willow was a little too pliant (something like an actual willow, possibly a deliberate author choice) for my taste in the beginning of the novel, but by the end, she's discovered quite a sturdy backbone, thank you very much!

I loved the subplot romance between Bette Johnson, co-dependent and unsatisfied middle-aged woman out of Georgia (USA) and Willow's dad.   I also loved the many slang Brit terms - as a Yank, for whatever reason, everything sounds twice as charming in a British accent or term.  (You had me at the loo!)  I am looking forward to reading more of Talli's work.

Four Queens- Nancy Goldstone - I gave this 4/5 stars.  If you're curious about medieval history, but hate dry scholarly tomes, this would work well for you. Goldstone's style is chatty, almost tabloid-like, though she unobtrusively works in dates and important events (wars, births of heirs, deaths, etc). Imagine if Kate Middleton had three younger sisters, one of whom married Prince Harry, and the other two married other European royalty.  Pretty unlikely, huh? Like Middleton, these girls (they became women later, but marrying at 13 or so, counts as being girls, IMO) were not themselves royalty; unlike the Middletons, their county, while beautiful, was vastly in debt. Except for the youngest daughter, they had no dowry; Mama Dearest was charming but also manipulative and a bit controlling. She also had eight ambitious brothers who managed to work the royal connections with their nieces to do quite well for themselves.  (My full review is up on Goodreads & Amazon.)

Crash Into You - Roni Loren

In one way this has been on my TBR list for a very long time - since I "met" Roni online last year, though it was only released in January 2012.  Regardless of your genre, Roni writes one of of the best writing blogs on the web, so you're a fool if you don't follow her.  Just sayin'. 

But, like reading Talli, I was afraid.  What if I don't like it?  Roni has not only been a kind blogfriend, she's even given me an interview.  Her book is explicit BDSM stuff, and that's not generally my flavor of lube, if you KWIM (Know What I Mean). 

Not to worry.  Loren develops the characters beautifully.  Brynn is beautiful, kinky, and vulnerable.  Reid is to-die-for sexy, but he's very much in love with Brynn... and also has his weak spots.  She violates "the rules" but writes a beautiful book by telling the story in parallel: then and now. The end is a twist I didn't quite see coming, but found believable, and she also introduces a mancandy character, Jace, I hope to be seeing a lot more of.  If you like this kind of material, you will love it, and if you don't like this material... you should read it anyway, just for the experience.  You may find, just like myself and the Hunger Games, to be surprised.

Left on my TBR list: 

The Birthday of the World - Ursula LeGuin
Messalina: Devourer of Men - Zetta Brown
Uncut Diamonds - Karen Jones Gowan
On Writing - Stephen King
Les Miserables - Victor Hugo - slightly more than halfway through
Daisy Miller - Henry James
Bet Me - Jennifer Crusie
Hot, Flat and Crowded - Thomas Friedman
Pleasure's Edge - Eve Berlin
Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffeneger
Falling Leaves - Adeline Yen Mah
Picture Perfect - Jodi Picoult
Giving Up the Dream - J.L. Campbell
Watching Willow Watts - Talli Roland
Shifters' Storm - Vonna Harper
Automagically - Sommer Marsden
You Can Heal Your Life
- Louise Hay
The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins
Little Black Dress - Susan McBride
Tourist Trap - Sue Ann Bowling 
Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
Confessions of an Improper Bride
- Jennifer Haymore

The details and sign-up are at Vicky's blog, Books Biscuits and Tea.

Are there any books you're moved off your TBR pile so far this year?  
Have you read any of the books I read?  
What did you think?  Are you a fan of battle-porn?

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