Saturday, March 30, 2013

Wool 5 - The Stranded

Wool 5 - The Stranded
by Hugh Howey

My Not-Really-a-Blurb:
The story of the Silo and its inhabitants continues to unfold in this fifth installment in the Wool series.  ...And that's about it.  I don't think I can go into much more detail without risking spoiling aspects of the previous books.  Do you like books with a post-apocalyptic setting?  Give the series a try.  

My Reaction:
Overall, I enjoyed the books as a whole.  It was an interesting idea, and if "they" ever really do make a movie based on it, I'll definitely want to see how it translates to the screen.  That said, it wasn't flawless.  My chief complaint about this installment is that it seemed to wrap up very quickly and easily at the end... And a large part of the story takes place "off-camera".  I suppose the author felt it was necessary to provide a plot twist (which unfortunately was almost immediately obvious), but instead, it ended up being something of a let-down.

But again, negatives aside, it was usually an engrossing story.  I plan to eventually try the first of the prequels and... is the last one some sort of sequel to the Wool series?  Anyway, I'll try to read the rest of the related books, and I'd certainly recommend the series (faults and all) to anyone who enjoys dystopian fiction. 

More Detailed Comments (with SPOILERS):
--  So much negativity!  Which, alright, I guess is only to be expected under the circumstances-- but seriously, there seems to be a lot of contemplation of suicide in this series.

--  Weird that the "new" silo (sorry, can't remember their numbers... was it 17?) had spare suits ready and waiting, while Juliette's old silo (18?) evidently made them on demand.  The only reason she was able to survive her cleaning was that her silo had to make her suit to order, and was made of good materials from Supply instead of the usual "made-to-fail" materials.  It's a little thing, and maybe there's an easy explanation...

--  I must admit that I was really disappointed by the "big reveal" of how the surface world was (temporarily?) destroyed.  "We did it"?  Ugh.  "Operation fifty is completely pointless if anyone else survives.  The population has to be homogenous--"... and "The people who did this, they were in charge of a powerful country [which we know is supposed to be the U.S.] that was beginning to crumble.  They could see the end, their end, and it scared them suicidal."  Really?  ...Yeah, disappointed.  (And in case it wasn't obvious, the italicized words in the quotation above was my own comment.)

--  Also, it turns out that "it's only been a few hundred years"?  I could almost swear that one of the earlier books stated that it had been longer, but even if so, maybe that was just someone's mistaken belief... However, you have to wonder, would a people collectively forget so much (history, exotic animals) in just a few hundred years?  It sounds like a long time, but even by human standards it's not that long.  Possibly the strictures of the Silo-- being forbidden to discuss certain things on pain of death-- would be enough to keep people quiet and more quickly deteriorate common knowledge that would ordinarily be passed down orally from generation to generation... Just strikes me as odd. 

--  Bernard spends 90% of his time with one hand (a small hand, mind you) tucked into the front of his coveralls.  It's kind of funny, imo.

--  The cursing from the last book in the series?  It's baa-aack.  It's pretty strong stuff, again, too.  Part of the reason it feels so shocking is that most of the language is very mild, then all of a sudden-- blam!-- big, bad curse words.  However, this is not a series for the kids, so it's not as much of an issue as it could have been. 

--  The kids in the "new" silo feel a bit too convenient.  A plot device more than anything else.  What happened to the adults who had been sheltering them?  Was the baby the only child of the teenage girl?  Who was the baby's father?  (The teen boy?  One of the now-dead adults?)  They pop up out of nowhere, just to give poor Solo/Jimmy some company once Juliette's gone-- and a reason for him to finally begin to mentally mature. 

--  I'm glad that at least there was some type of a happy ending.  I was afraid for a while that the whole thing was going to end on a tragic note.

Blandings Castle

Blandings Castle (aka Blandings Castle and Elsewhere)
by P.G. Wodehouse

Welcome to Blandings Castle, home of the well-intentioned but often distracted Lord Emsworth—and there are quite a few distractions at this stately country house. Head gardener Angus McAllister has resigned before the Shrewsbury Agricultural Show, when Emsworth needs him most; Lady Constance, Emsworth’s officious sister, has caged her daughter in the castle to keep her away from the persistent Beefy Bingham; and the Blandings pigman, Wellbeloved, has been sent to prison for drunken and disorderly conduct just days before Emsworth’s adored sow can win first prize at the 87th Annual Shropshire Show. Through P.G. Wodehouse’s expert wit, we witness Lord Emsworth trying to solve these predicaments and others, with the unexpected help (and hindrance) of a lively array of characters.

My Reaction:
It's Wodehouse, so it can't help being charming and entertaining.  However, judging it against other works by the author, I'd have to give this one a grade a few notches lower than "Best of".  Part of the blame may be due to the fact that I don't usually like short stories as much as novels.  A bigger problem is that the "Elsewhere" portion of the book takes place... well, elsewhere-- places other than Blandings Castle-- and tells the stories of different sets of characters.  The Hollywood tales, in particular, grew a bit dull (by comparison!) after the first couple.  Still, we found it entertaining.  I wouldn't recommend it as someone's first experience of P.G. Wodehouse, though.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Team Human

Team Human, by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan

Readers who love vampire romances will be thrilled to devour Team Human by Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan. Team Human celebrates and parodies the Twilight books, as well as other classics in the paranormal romance genre.

Mel is horrified when Francis Duvarney, arrogant, gorgeous, and undead, starts at her high school. Mel’s best friend, Cathy, immediately falls for the vampire. Cathy is determined to be with him forever, even if having him turn her could inadvertently make her a zombie.

And Mel is equally determined to prove to her BFF that Francis is no good, braving the city’s vampire district and kissing a cute boy raised by vampires as she searches evidence in this touching and comic novel.

My Reaction:
It was better than my last attempt to read YA lit.  Laugh-out-loud funny?  Not to me.  The strongest humor came from poking fun at vampire cliches and the silliest parts of popular vampire novels, and even that didn't merit more than a chuckle or two.  (And it was much less humor/satire than you  might expect, when the blurb indicates that it "parodies the Twilight books".)  Destined to be a classic?  Um, no.  Still, it was entertaining in spots-- especially if you're familiar with currently-popular vampire/paranormal YA lit.  I'd recommend it for adults and older teens only, though.  Some of the themes explored don't seem appropriate for younger readers.  (IMHO.)

In More Detail... (with SPOILERS!)

-- A nit-pick about the cover.  There are three people on the cover art.  The one in the center is obviously Mel, and I think it's safe to assume that the other dark-haired girl, in the background, must be Cathy (even though she looks less youthful and... helpless?... than I pictured her).  But who's the guy supposed to be?  Can't be Francis, because we are told repeatedly that he's blond, and Cover Dude has brown hair.  Can't be Kit, either, though, because we are told even more repeatedly that he has unruly curls, while Cover Dude's hair is short and straight.  So... Who is he supposed to be?  (Well, I'm sure he's supposed to be Francis, because he's so pale he's almost blue, and he appears to be wearing a silk cravat.  But why make him a brunette?)  Yeah, yeah, I know it's not that important, but it's a pet peeve of mine.  Why can't cover designers be bothered to familiarize themselves with the content of the book?  WHY?

--  The book was better than I'd have expected from "team writing".  However, I'm probably just so prejudiced against things written by two people (because my own experiences of trying to write something-- anything-- with another person have been less than pleasant) that I'm easily impressed by people who can write readable fiction in teams.

--  The inclusion of zombies in the book's universe was interesting and unexpected. 

--  The pacing felt a bit slow.  And as is almost always the case, if characters would have just talked and made a few logical connections, some of the problems that dragged out for chapters could have been solved in pages.  But since that's almost always the case... I guess we should just get used to it.

--  This bit did amuse me:  "He had one eyebrow raised, and he was scowling slightly.  I raised both eyebrows back at him. (I can't raise just one, however much I practice in front of the mirror.)"  I can sympathize!  

--  I was going to comment on how unlikely it was for your typical sporty male teenager to be "into" romance novels... but then the authors tell us in the last few pages that Ty's interested in dating guys as well as girls, so...  And while we're on that issue, why was it necessary to have Ty magically make that decision at the last minute, anyway?  Especially since the authors had already filled their "inclusivity quota" with Mel's sister.  Ty's "plot twist" seemed a little too "ooh, look at us, being all modern and inclusive and stuff".

--  Ok, what was up with the New Whitby sewage system?  Was that a red herring?  If so, I guess it worked, because I felt sure that Anna's father would turn out to be hidden (dead, alive, or undead) in some old (no longer in use) part of it.  Otherwise, why would they keep mentioning it?  And why on earth would a teacher assign high school history students (Honors Program or not) to write an essay about a sewage system???  It's bizarre.  As is the fact that Ty apparently found the sewer maps online.  Yes, you can see why that would be something the city would make available online.  Such an interesting subject-- something that the townsfolk would find useful in their daily lives.

-- Reading about the Chinese food made me hungry, even though I don't think I've ever had the particular dishes mentioned.  Possibly I was already hungry, when I read that bit...

--  A lot of readers (or those who bothered to review, at least) seem to have found Mel annoying and even "racist" against vampires.  I'll admit that the thought occurred to me while I was reading, but... um, vampires aren't real, you guys.  Also, vampires are known for biting and even killing people.  I hardly think any race (as a whole) would thank you for drawing these comparisons.  Calm down and try not to take everything so seriously.  ;o)  Yes, I got a little tired of Mel at times, but it's just a book.  I put it down, did something else for a while, and came back later.

--  One thing that felt odd to me was Mel making a point to talk about the difficulty her family would have to pay for her college.  (Can't remember the exact wording...)  But then a few pages (or less) later, we learn that both of her parents are lawyers.  Maybe the point was that it would be difficult for them to afford to send her to an especially expensive college-- in which case, cry me a river.  It just felt silly (and annoying, honestly) that it would even be an issue that they couldn't afford to send her to college, period. 

--  It occurred to me while reading that at Mel's age, I didn't have a single friend that I would've been that obsessed/upset over, under similar circumstances.  The "best friend" phase of my life had already ended, at least a couple of years before.  I still had friends, but it was much more casual.  Not the intimate, tell-each-other-everything experience that I associate more with elementary school than the teen years.  It wasn't until I met the man who would become my husband that I felt I had a "best friend", again.  I wonder which of the two is the more typical experience...

Thursday, March 7, 2013


Tish, by Mary Roberts Rinehart

A spunky trio of "elderly" (i.e. 50-ish) ladies, led by the spunky, irrepressible Tish, find humorous adventure wherever they go in this series of long short stories.

My Reaction:
I had mixed reactions to this book.  It's a little weak in some spots-- and gets off to a bit of a slow start-- but when it's good, it's hilarious.  I'd particularly recommend it for people who generally enjoy old-fashioned books (this one's from 1916), don't mind predictable plot twists, and aren't easily offended by politically incorrect (and possibly offensive) terminology.  (One reviewer on Amazon actually suggested that the person/people who "digitized" the text should have "deleted those references"!  Um, no.  We call that "censorship", and most people agree that it's not a good thing to do.)

Specific, Random Thoughts:
--This struck me as a more modern, more American, more slapstick version of Cranford.   

--  I loved all the references to knitting and crochet.  There weren't tons of them, and they weren't integral to the action, but still.  I was pleased.  (Note: I am easily pleased, sometimes.)

--  Alright, so 50 isn't young... and was even less young back in 1916... but it was jarring to see the women described (and in some instances describe themselves) as practically elderly.  Clearly they were in pretty good physical (and mental) condition, to be going around and doing the things they did (camping, canoeing, horseback riding, etc.).

-- It took me a while to figure out where the characters live.  There were some things that felt like England, but others strongly suggested America.  I can't recall if a state is ever mentioned, but it turns out they are somewhere in New England.

--  There was a reference to a "vacuum bottle".  It seems that's a type of thermos.

--  The whole story about Tufik just made me mad-- disgusted.  Ugh!  I get annoyed even simply remembering it.   It's hard to believe the three of them would be so gullible...

--  "Tish says the cakes are probably all right in the Orient, where it is hot and the grease does not get a chance to solidify.  She thinks that Tufik is probably a good cook in his own country.  But Aggie says that a good many things in the Bible that she never understood are made plain to her if that is what they ate in Biblical times-- some of the things they saw in visions, and all that."

--  "I suppose there is something in all of us that harks back to the soil.  When you come to think of it, what are picnics but outcroppings of instinct?  No one really enjoys them or expects to enjoy them, but with the first warm days some prehistoric instinct takes us out into the woods, to fry potatoes over a strangling wood fire and spend the next week getting grass stains out of our clothes.  It must be instinct; every atom of intelligence warns us to stay at home near the refrigerator."

--  New word for me:  natatorium.  It's a building containing a swimming pool.

--  When Lizzie scrapes a message on a large fungus with a pin, I was amazed.

--  A "Garrison finish" apparently means to come from behind and win at the last moment.

--  The casual mentions of WWI as "the European war" are fascinating from a historical point of view.  Of course, even when it was published (1916) the U.S. still hadn't entered the war...

--  "Canyon" was spelled "caƱon".  Interesting.

-- There was a reference to another book-- Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey.  Doesn't sound like something I'll be interested to read, though.

--  "No woman over forty should ever reduce, at least not violently.  She wrinkles.  My face that summer had fallen into accordion plaits, and I had the curious feeling of having enough skin for two."

--  "Aggie had suggested at that time that I have my cheeks filled out with paraffin, which I believe cakes and gives the appearance of youth.  But Mrs. Ostermaier knew a woman who had done so, and being hit on one side by a snowball, the padding broke in half, one part moving up under her eye and the second lodging at the angle of her jaw.  She tried lying on a hot-water bottle to melt the pieces and bring them together again, but they did not remain fixed, having developed a wandering habit and slipping unexpectedly now and then.  Mrs. Ostermaier says it is painful to watch her holding them in place when she yawns."

--  There was reference to "the gold cure".  Had to look that one up...

-- "There should be one spot in America free from the advertising man and his schemes, and this is going to be it.  'Commercialism,' she went on, growing oratorical, 'does not belong here among these mighty mountains.  Once let it start, and these towering cliffs will be defaced with toothpowder and intoxicating-liquor signs.'"

--  "'I am convinced,' Tish went on... 'that sensational movies are responsible for much that is wrong with the country to-day.  They set false standards.  Perfectly pure-minded people see them and are filled with thoughts of crime.'"

If you read and enjoy Tish, you'll be happy to know that there are more collections of her adventures.  I'll be looking into them, sometime down the road.  For now, it's time for something different!