Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Cheater's Guide to Baseball (Book #39)

Derek Zumsteg, author of The Cheater's Guide to Baseball (2007), is one of the authors of the USS Mariner blog, where I regularly lurk (but rarely post, feeling that I'm insufficiently statheaded to contribute to the conversation). His new book is a generally humorous history of over a century of cheating in baseball, espousing the view that the lighter forms of cheating--stealing signs, spitballing, blocking the plate, and the like--are among the pleasures of the game, while fixing games like the Black Sox, gambling like Pete Rose, and taking steroids like Bonds, Giambi, and who knows how many others, destroy the integrity of the game and deserve harsh penalties. Definitely a book worth reading for the baseball fan.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Lady of Fortune (Book #38)

Lady of Fortune (Mary Jo Putney, 1988) is one of the author's earliest works, recently re-released for the library market in large print format. I checked it out even though I find large print a bit of a chore to read. Yes, I know in 30 years I'll probably feel differently. Only by then we'll be reading all our books electronically and can choose our favorite fonts and text sizes. Or maybe not. So far the future has been disappointingly unfuturistic. I mean, here we are in the 21st century and not a flying car to be found! This is not what I expected as a little girl in the 1970's watching the Jetsons, that's for sure.

Anyway, the book. Even without the copyright date I'd know this was an early work, because Putney's current writing is a lot more polished. And the heroine is just a little too capable. But this was still a fun read, and with a level of historical detail and overall richness that's all too rare in romance nowadays, IMHO. It's set in the 1790's, and the heroine is a French noble emigre who through a series of misadventures is obliged to support herself as a servant--your basic Cinderella tale.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Sharpe's Enemy (Book #37)

Due to how insanely busy I've been, it took me over a week to read Sharpe's Enemy (Bernard Cornwell, 1984). Fortunately it's the right kind of book for that--15 books into the series, I'm familiar enough with the story structure not to get lost when I went a few days without reading, though I did kinda lose track of which secondary character was which.

I'm not sure what I think of this entry in the series. I knew from watching the movie version that two major secondary characters would die. I don't want to offer spoilers, but suffice it to say one is a character I never would've killed if these were my books (heck, if I was writing them, the character in question might well be the protagonist instead of Sharpe), while the other is one I would've killed a dozen books ago if I'd created him at all, though I think I'm alone among Cornwell fans in feeling that way. So my relief in getting rid of the Villain Everyone But Me Loves to Hate is tempered by my mourning for the Bestest Most Kick-Ass Character EVER.

I can't believe I'm over halfway through the series, though. I'm starting to feel the same "but what am I supposed to read NEXT?" gloom I felt after hitting the halfway point of the Aubrey/Maturin series a few years ago. At least Cornwell is alive and writing more Sharpes (though I wish he'd write more of the Starbuck Chronicles--he really left that series hanging and I'm dying to know what happens to Nate between Antietam and Appomatox).

Quick update

Just a quick update on my life...

My mom had surgery last week. Unfortunately, the surgeon discovered her lung cancer was stage 3, rather than stage 2 as we'd hoped, and he removed her entire right lung. She's now home recovering, with two of my aunts taking care of her. Her doctors are waiting for her to recover before determining a course of treatment, but chemotherapy is normally indicated for stage 3, and I know she's wary of that because of what my dad went through with chemo for the lung cancer that ultimately led to his death two years ago.

I talked to her tonight, not saying anything about the cancer beyond discussing how she feels today. Mostly I talked about our move, what the daughter is up to, and so on. She seemed to be in pretty good spirits, and at this point I suppose it's just a waiting game. Prayers and good thoughts are, of course, appreciated.

We're now mostly moved into our new place. The movers came yesterday and took care of our furniture, but there's still a lot of stuff to pack at the old place, including, unfortunately, almost the entire contents of our kitchen. We've been working since the beginning of the month on getting ready, but we'd been there for eight years, accumulating a lot of stuff in the process, so I think we underestimated how long it would take to pack everything. But I'm happy in the new place, at least so far. We'd been uncomfortably cramped pretty much since our daughter was born three years ago. The new place has almost double the square footage, so I'm just walking around glorying in the space.

So. Those are my joys and sorrows, at least the main ones. Hopefully I'll have regular reading time again soon, and once May 1 gets here and we have to turn over the keys to the old place whether it's pristinely clean or not, I'm starting a new manuscript. I haven't written since the first week of March, and I'm itching to tell stories again.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Busy times

I promise that sometime soon I'll go back to posting frequently again, hopefully in just a few weeks. But for now life is, let's say, challenging. The challenging bits I can reveal publicly are that we're moving into a new place next week (a rented townhouse that's nearly twice the size of our current rented bandbox of a house) and that my mother was just diagnosed with lung cancer (adenocarcinoma) and will be having surgery on Friday. There are other things going on that I'm either at present not free to discuss or that I don't feel are appropriate fodder for a public blog. (Nothing to do with my marriage or our daughter, so don't worry about me on that ground.) It's...a lot to deal with, and I'm just trying to plow my way through what has to be done through sheer adrenaline and stubborness for now. But I'll make it. Somehow.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Forever in Blue (Book #36)

You know, I think I read more YA fiction now than I did when I was an actual teenager. This week it was Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood (Ann Brashares, 2007), the final volume in the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. It's hard to review just this book, because it doesn't even remotely stand alone--you need to know who the characters are and what's happened in the previous three volumes to not feel lost. In this volume, the four girls have just finished their first years of college and are to various degrees drifting and out-of-place from the transition. It's not quite how I remember being 18 or 19. I was actually all about the certainties back then. But in some ways it's how I think I should've been at 19, if that makes any sense.

It's definitely the end of the series--Brashares slams the door on any possibility of sequels. But since the characters are still so young, there's not really a Happily Ever After closure. All we get is the promise the characters can mature well, that they're starting to understand their inner demons and how to combat and channel them. And that's realistic, even if part of me wanted a "10 years later" epilogue showing their lives as women.

Maybe I'm a little too identified with my characters' world...

So, these days I'm primarily writing Napoleonic-era stories with British protagonists who have some degree of military affiliation. A sergeant, a captain's widow, an ambitious naval lieutenant, a general who's taken the bit in his teeth and taken over a story where he was supposed to be a supporting character, etc.

I think maybe I've internalized their mindsets a little bit too much. Tonight at choir practice our director was going over the introit for the Easter service on Sunday. He called it a 16th century English carol. I looked at the header and saw a bunch of French names, the only English name being that of a translator, and without even thinking about it said, "Actually, it looks like a Frog carol." It just popped out. And the thing is, I'm very impatient with 21st century American French-bashing, because I think most of it is stupid, lame, and displays a stunning ignorance of history. But apparently the 19th century Brits are taking over my vocabulary...

Monday, April 2, 2007

Rapture Culture (Book #35)

I haven't read Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins' Left Behind series of apocalyptic novels, but I have a good idea of the plot and themes from reading the analysis of the series on Slacktivist's blog. I don't share the theology and worldview of the series anymore, but I'm intimately familiar with it because I was a dispensational premillenialist until I was 25 or so (in other words, I believed the world would end much as the Left Behind books portray it).

In Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America (Amy Johnson Frykholm, 2004), the author, who, like me, grew up in the subculture but has since, um, left it behind, interviews an assortment of readers to get an idea of what the books mean to them. There's been plenty of analysis of the books' literary merit or lack thereof, their politics, the way they treat gender, etc., but less on what they mean to the people who choose to read them for pleasure and/or edification. And Frykholm's main point seems to be that their meaning isn't as monolithic as outside observers might think--that these readers, like any others, bring their own lives and meanings to the texts and are capable of accepting or rejecting what they read as free agents. She also talks a lot about the meaning of community for Left Behind readers, both in the way the books have been popularized through word-of-mouth marketing in churches and families and in how readers tend to especially admire the books' Tribulation Force as a sort of ideal community to aspire to.

I'd be interested in similar studies of reader interaction through book clubs, Oprah books, internet communities, and the like.