Monthly Archives: March 2014

Series Readery

So, I just finished An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon, the 7th (and, as-of-now, final) book in the Outlander series. And, I enjoyed it. But…

I really loved the original book, Outlander, and my expectations began high as I set out to read through the series. And, per the usual, those hopes diminished slowly as I progressed. (To be clear: I would still recommend the series as a whole. But, in its entirety, I find it somewhat frustrating).

There is no endgame in sight. Thousands of pages and we are drawing no nearer to a conclusion. The opposite is true, in fact. Gabaldon introduces more characters, more developments, more twists. To excess unfortunately. I take personal issue with this. Unfounded or not, I am deeply, suspiciously critical of said excess. In a situation such as this, the author does not appear to have a well-delineated story outline from the onset. Rather, she is churning out material for the sake of churning out material… and, likely, for profit. That’s gross. I am personally affronted that I may be just another cog in the money-making machinery.

The fact is: I am sensitive to the ability to maintain my interest over a series. I think it’s a profound gift to generate a successful story over hundreds and hundreds of pages. I may have mentioned that the short story is my favorite literary type. It requires unparalleled talent to complete a tale succinctly. But, the opposite is true also. If you’ve required the amount of script that a series might, you have a profoundly intricate story to tell. Or, you don’t. And it is those series that fall flat in my estimation.

Some other recent series and my thoughts on them:

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, 3.5 of 5 stars. As stated, I have enjoyed this series. Regardless of my dismay at being potentially exploited, the story is well-written. The dialogue is an original and inventive component. Gabaldon also masters technique in her settings. She captures memory and emotion well. And, she has an exceptional grasp of several genres including history, medicine, and language.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, 2 of 5 stars. Yeah… I do not like them. (Sue me). Some people may argue that the subject matter is inappropriate for young adult reading. I disagree. “The Lottery” is actually one of my favorite shorts. But, I agree that The Hunger Games lacks in content. I also do not think it was written particularly well. Collins does not impress me with her writing style (or uninspired plot). The only real talent that she possesses (in spades, I might add) can be found in her descriptions. She quite ably illustrates grotesque scenes. It is this, however, that I find inappropriately mature for her readership. The series reads to me as though they are meant to be films. However, I cannot equate the images from the book with a PG-13 movie, the target audience. Mayhaps I’m prudish with gore but… ew.

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James, 1 out of 5 stars. I’m truly embarrassed that I read this. It is so contrived. If James wanted to write erotica, she shouldn’t have tried to complicate it by supplementing a plot. A poorly executed attempt at porn in print. As to the “love story” aspect? Read a classic if you truly want your heart to be inspired.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, 5 out of 5 stars. I cannot expound upon the value of this series in any coherent way. It. Is. Amazing. Read it.

A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, 4 out of 5 stars. While the series remains unfinished, it has thus far captured my attention. Furthermore, there is a definite sense of Martin’s endgame. Readers should enjoy the plot intricacies and look forward to their (hopeful) resolution. My only complaint relates to the complication of such a multi-veined story. It is difficult to track the numerous story lines, particularly in the manner in which they are written. However, once you devise a means to track individuals, it becomes less cumbersome. This series definitely benefits the reader who is willing to read and overlook detail; awaiting the eventual conclusion. It can be somewhat tiresome for those of us who try to identify every plot clue.

The Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, 1 out of 5 stars. Since I had enjoyed the television adaptation, True Blood, I wanted to read the books. Big mistake. I can mostly overlook the books as inane-magic-vampiric-fluffery. Mostly. The real shame of the series comes in the finale; which grossly ignores the development of the rest of the books and concludes in a most disappointing fashion.

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, 0 out of 5 stars. Ugh. Setting aside the fact that Bella Swan is the most aggravatingly dumb character ever. And the fact that, again, the subject matter is arguably adult in nature for a suggestible readership. (Vampire babies violently ripping through teenage wombs? Blech). The vampires sparkle. They sparkle. ‘Nuff said.

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Recent Readery

I’ve managed to be pretty productive in the past few weeks when it comes to my books. Here are five recent reads:

Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. 3 out of 5 stars. I thought the premise of this book was incredibly inventive. I thought the language was thoroughly engaging. But, much like I find Neil Gaiman, I was a bit bogged down by the details and descriptions. Mayhaps my imagination just doesn’t reach the realms these authors employ? I simply could not grasp certain crucial elements. If I didn’t suffer from this misunderstanding/disbelief, I would probably have rated this book higher. As it is, I know Panda Bear and my mom would disagree completely with my assessment.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe. 3 out of 5 stars. This book was easy. Predictable. Fun. I liked Howe’s narrative devices. While it was not innovative or intelligent, it did keep me entertained. I would equate it to a Dan Brown novel; not incredibly well-written but nonetheless enjoyable.

A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon. 4 out of 5 stars. I mentioned before that I had really enjoyed Gabaldon’s Outlander series. I just finished the sixth book and I remain, surprisingly, entertained. Actually, I found this book recovered well from the previous two, in which I had begun to lose my enthusiasm. I think the way Gabaldon captures dialogue is fantastic. She also has a serious grasp of history and medicine. I would definitely recommend the series in its entirety so far. I am definitely looking forward to reading the seventh book.

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan. 4 out of 5 stars. I loved this story. Loved it. Mostly, I thought the characters were wonderful and wonderfully-flawed. In particular, I thought Rogan captured the essence of her protagonist as simultaneously weak and strong; shallow and deep; simple and complicated. The situational developments are interesting and true to the nature of people. She definitely captures the scene in an unimaginable predicament. In and of itself, that’s a helluva achievement.

Transatlantic by Colum McCann. 3 out of 5 stars. This story dragged for me. The language was appealing. In fact, much was beautifully written. But, I didn’t understand why I was reading until the end. The plot simply wasn’t engaging. It took too long to tie together the point. And, even once I understood, I was mostly disappointed.

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Rant: Celebration, Commemoration, and Delusions of Grandeur

So, it has been a wee bit since my last post. Apologies. I can only assume you’ve been waiting with breath that is bated…

Duck and I spent a few days in metro-Detroit with the Bear Pack and stayed at my parents’ home, Grandpa and Grandma Grizzlies’ den. Henceforth, they will be known as such. It is without irony. During the course of our stay, Duckers turned two. Now, she’s been terrible for at least 20 months, but we still felt that we should celebrate her birthday as she makes it official and enters this dreaded and difficult age.

We kept it pretty simple: We blew up some balloons, threw on some party hats, and she enjoyed a little cake. Both Grandfolk Grizzly were there, Panda Bear, Beer Bear and myself, and, of course, the birthday girl.

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Duck is the first grandchild on both sides. She is quite spoiled. For this past Christmas, she received soooooo many gifts from various family and friends. Too many. As a consequence, Santa (ahem, ahem), decided to put most of her gifts away unopened for a later date. She still received a couple gifts from Santa in the morning, but we put a half-dozen wrapped gifts in a closet to wait for her birthday.

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You may notice that we left the holiday wrapping on the presents. Oh well.

Fortunately, we also had a significant break in the winter weather. After cake and presents, we went to a local petting zoo and wandered around with the animals. Springtime is a great time to see the new babies and they did not disappoint with new piglets, goat kids, and lambs. Duck really loved the horsey. I was partial to the cow and calf.

The next day, on our way home, we stopped in Lansing to visit with my in-laws, Beer Bear’s parents. We had a nice dinner with them (and maybe a little more cake) before getting back on the road to Grand Rapids.

Altogether, it was a very nice family celebration. Simple and still special for my Duck.

Which brings me to the meat of this post: No big party. No rentals. No photographer. No outlandish gifting. No favors. Not even one Pinterest project. Was my girl happy? Absolutely. Did she get to celebrate with people she loves? Yep. Did I fork out a fortune on a second birthday? Nope. Not even a little bit.

I am constantly amazed at the lengths to which folks are going nowadays to commemorate every single milestone for their kiddos. Be it small or large, each accomplishment seems to warrant a big to-do.

Young birthday parties are regularly huge events that require forethought equal to the planning of a wedding. Decorations, hiring a photographer, crafting a guest list, catering food, renting a venue, ordering a cake, etc. It’s ridiculous in my opinion. At one and even two years old, the kids won’t even have a memory for these events. More often, in my experience, going overboard can be overwhelming for them. But, the expectation for extravagance exists. Sidenote: Mayhaps our situation immediately precludes me from seeing a “party” as requisite. Duck has no siblings, cousins, or bosom friends. I do understand that we are inherently able to keep it smaller than a larger family might. While I can see how family-size may impact how one would celebrate in certain ways, it doesn’t forgive the ever-apparent extra expenses. Doesn’t anyone trust Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker anymore? Sheesh.

But, it’s not just birthdays. I cannot believe how parents are memorializing every event. They are hiring professional photographers all the time. Maternity photo shoots, newborn shoots, announcement shoots, monthly shoots, seasonal shoots, birthday shoots, cake-smash shoots. I’m not suggesting that I do not want to capture those moments myself, but I have a point-and-shoot camera and an iPhone. Truthfully, my favorite photos are always of everyday life; those tiny moments that surprise you. Second sidenote: Ok. We did take a family portrait last spring. But only because I bought a great groupon deal. And, it was our Mothers’ Day gift to the Grandmas… win. Also, strictly speaking, I may not have wanted to “capture any moments” during my pregnancy, professionally or otherwise. Even my mom agrees that I was a hideous beast. Less “glowing,” more “Quasimodo-ing.”

Every achievement is highlighted on my newsfeed too. Again, it’s not as though I don’t feel pride and want to share it. In fact, I’ve been accused of overdoing it on Facebook. The Duck is a cool kid. She does cool stuff. But… everyday? I swear. Some kids do something absolutely amazing every day. Every. Single. Day. Ohmigosh! They farted today? Wow. That’s great. Do you need to publicly commemorate every step? Seriously.

If everything is special, nothing is really special.

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Academy Family

In today’s day and age, being a parent is practically a competitive sport.

My newsfeed is constantly flooded with children’s accomplishments and early milestones.

Hey. I guess I’d be proud if I thought Duckers was ahead of the game. But, I think it’s okay to be an almost-two year old too.

So, you’re 20 month old is potty-trained? That’s nice. I just cleaned a huge poopy diaper… even when Duck insisted that “no poop.”

So, you’re 19 month old is writing his name? That’s nice. Duck uses letters and numbers quite interchangeably.

So, you’re 18 month old recites the alphabet? That’s nice. Duck counts… quite sporadically and with no reliable starting point… “6, 7, 8, 10, 16.”

So, your 16 month old is running marathons? That’s nice. Duck is just running (and ruining) our household.

So, your 12 month old just passed the bar exam? That’s nice. Duck just hit me in the face with a bar.

When did we start emphasizing academic-learning in pre-pre-k? When did we start prioritizing formal learning in advance of the basics?

Today, while playing with the Duck’s dollhouse, she sat her various “people” at their table. Then, she pointed them out and told me that it was a “family.”

Maybe Duck can’t perform the same illustrious feats of academic achievement as your kiddo. Maybe she wouldn’t “test” as well. But, in the competitive world of parenting, I’m nonetheless giving myself a pat on the back for a job well-done.

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Follow up: She then kicked the table over and “smashed” her little family. So, there’s that…

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