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Sunday, January 31, 2010

An Update on Amazon

John Scalzi and Scott Westerfeld have written up my favorite summaries of the internet's weekend with Amazon.

There have been a lot of talk with readers wanting to boycott Amazon, boycott Macmillan, or boycott Amazon and Macmillan.  Personally, I was very unhappy with how Amazon handled everything--especially since as a non-e-book reader, I was unfairly affected by a dispute that had nothing to do with me.

In light of Amazon's response (in their Kindle forums where normal visitors to Amazon don't venture) I am pretty disappointed with them.  Macmillan wasn't too much better, but I have to keep in mind they responded first, albeit in a paid ad to a publishing website.

Amazon will probably never apologize to the customers they clearly don't care about: people who don't own Kindles and frankly, don't want one, and now will never buy one (even as a gift).  All talk of e-book pricing and business practices aside, this was not handled well at all.

Concerning JRT: I am still reading Watership Down, if that explains to anyone who was curious as to why I haven't put up a review in the past week. :)

Poll Results #2

There was much competition and close calls in the second JRT poll.  The mission: lunch. The objective: choose your partner.

In the beginning, the rabid Jawa was the clear companion of choice (gross fascination or a death wish?), but Harry Potter soon gave chase and it was an anxious race.  In the end, with only 1 vote, Peeta was the obvious loser (poor Peeta).  In a very close third, with a whopping 4 votes was Edward Cullen.  Does it say something that, given the choices, Harry only pulled a 12% lead on the sparkly vampire with an extra 3 votes?

After the results of the last poll, I was hoping, but who wants to jinx the outcome, that the Jawa--albeit a rabid one--would once again come out on top.  Readers, you have not disappointed me.

With an overwhelming 13 votes, giving a 52% lead--THE RABID JAWA IS THE WINNER!

Let it be known that the readers of JRT would rather have lunch with a Rabid Jawa than a boy wizard, a pale teenager, and a lovesick champion.

Thank you to everyone who voted!  The next poll is already up and is drastically different from the last two (mostly).  You can choose as many answers as you want to; there are a lot of options.  Don't forget to vote! It's on the top left sidebar.  It will be up for a month since this one's a bit more comprehensive than the last two.

Tell your friends about it!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Weekend Discussion: Amazon Pulls Yet Another Stunt

ETA 2 (Jan 31, 2010 2:46 PST) : Amazon caves to Macmillan's demands.

ETA: John Sargent's open response to Macmillan Authors, Illustrators, and literary agents.

This time at the expense of American publisher, Macmillan, and its imprints (e.g. Tor, Orb Books, etc...). Notably, authors such as John Scalzi, Emma Bull, and China MiƩville are among the many affected by this.

I was going to talk about something else for this weekend discussion.  The post was already scheduled, but I got wind of this via John Scalzi's blog and thought it was a much more appropriate topic of discussion--breaking news and everything.

Early Friday evening, people started noticing certain books were listed as "currently unavailable" on Amazon's website (albeit you can still purchase via 3rd party sellers) and the NY Times thinks it knows why.

Quoted from the article:
I’ve talked to a person in the industry with knowledge of the dispute who says the disappearance is the result of a disagreement between Amazon.com and book publishers that has been brewing for the last year. Macmillan, like other publishers, has asked Amazon to raise the price of electronic books from $9.99 to around $15. Amazon is expressing its strong disagreement by temporarily removing Macmillan books, said this person, who did not want to be quoted by name because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Does anyone else thinks this move hurts Amazon's reputation in light of their recent incident involving the removal of Orwell's 1984 from many Kindle-user libraries? Not to mention: consumers are just going to buy their Macmillan books elsewhere! Temporary move or not (if the above article is true), some consumers are impatient or have deadlines (birthdays are deadlines) and will give their money to a different bookseller.  There are many online bookstores to choose from (and brick and mortar stores); they also offer free shipping for spending $25 or more.

I shop from Amazon pretty regularly, but I am confused and unsure where I stand on this.  My initial reaction: irritation.  After I thought about it, true: Amazon is a business and I respect their resistance.  What I do not agree with is the resistive action of removing all Macmillan titles.  Why not just remove Macmillan e-books?  While aimed at pressuring the publisher, it remains unclear what the move will accomplish.

Again, this is all given that the article is true.

But what about you: What do you think of Amazon removing Macmillan titles from their website?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary Pearson

Title: The Adoration of Jenna Fox
Author: Mary E. Pearson
Reviewed Format: hard cover
Release Date: April 29, 2008
Pages: 272

Jenna Fox has just woken from a year-long coma.  She can recall facts about history and recite verbatim lines from Walden, but she can’t remember anything about who she is.  When her mother gives Jenna a stack of DVDs documenting the 16 years leading up to her coma, she sits down to watch.  What she can’t figure out is: why was she in a coma? Why does her grandmother hate her so much? And why does she walk funny?

The Adoration of Jenna Fox is a YA dystopian novel that has all the usual tropes: threat of agricultural integrity (engineered crops vs. natural ones), development of super bugs due to vaccines and over-medication, heavy use of biotechnology, an incredibly devastating--natural--disaster (California had a really bad earthquake), and an angry teenager. To temper the elements that are out of control or have gotten to that point, Pearson introduces Lily, Jenna’s grandmother and a devout Catholic. I don’t normally like the inclusion of religion in the fiction I read (too easily it borders on proselytizing), but here it fuels Lily’s emotional and spiritual motivations and behavior toward Jenna.  There is also Allys, a friend Jenna makes in charter school who battles the political and social side of the science that has become quite personal for Lily.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Thirteen Curses by Michelle Harrison

Title: The Thirteen Curses (Book 2 of The Thirteen Treasures)
Author: Michelle Harrison
Reviewed Format: UK paperback
Release Date: January 7, 2010
Pages: 452

Tanya has discarded the charm bracelet that reminds her of the previous summer’s nightmare from The Thirteen Treasures.  Burdened with bad memories, the bracelet is left on Florence’s kitchen table while Tanya (back at her grandmother’s house for mid-term vacations) and Fabian venture into Hangman’s Wood to return Mad Morag’s magical compass.  It belongs with her now that, as promised, it no longer works for the children. As the duo enters the woods, the bracelet, alone on the table, reminds the reader of the strange power it has over these character’s lives as it accidentally trades owners.  It ties the seemingly disparate narratives of Tanya’s story in The Thirteen Treasures and Rowan Fox’s in it sequel, The Thirteen Curses.

The charm bracelet was the biggest disappointment of the first book.  It served to set up a potential storyline that fell flat and did not appear.  The weird magic of the bracelet would, presumably, have to wait for another book.  The cover then, was a little misleading--surely the thirteen charms would have some significance, surely they’re somehow important.  But still, the bracelet remained in the background, never really to be thought of and I had to wonder: what does the bracelet have to do with a story about a young girl unravelling the mystery of an old murder?  The answer now still puzzles me--it didn’t have anything to do with a murder, but now that it’s been introduced, gives meaning to Red’s mission as she becomes the new temporary owner.

Like ownership, perspective changes for The Thirteen Curses to heavily favor Red.  The novel opens with a prologue returning to the tragic events of the summer before--Red saving Tanya by giving herself in the younger girl’s place, breaking the pact Morwenna Bloom made with Florence.  Sure that the traumatic adventures are over, Tanya and Fabian think nothing of venturing into the woods alone, but when Warwick nearly catches them, they think twice and go back home only to get caught up in even more dangerous turn of events.  Red’s sacrifice wasn’t as altruistic as Tania and Fabian first assumed--she’s gone into the Fairy realm to find her brother James and bring him back.  On the way, she discovers new people, frightening creatures, hard lessons, and more about her past than she ever would have imagined.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Weekend Discussion: Book Covers

This week started out with a bang.  Many of you took notice of Ari's open letter to Bloomsbury and like me, felt the need to write in disappointment to Bloomsbury.  If it wasn't for Ari, who knows how long it would have taken for the cover to change?  And that's being optimistic.  It might not have been pointed out at all.

The attention drawn to Jaclyn Dolamore's Magic Under Glass, of course, also due to the recent controversy over the cover of Justine Larbalestier's Liar.  As both cases have taught us: covers don't always accurately represent what's inside of a book.  The old adage rings true: You can't judge a book by its cover.

This weekend's discussion is all about book covers.  Covers have the distinguished burden of being the first impression readers get of a book.  In some cases, a book cover can make or break a sell.  No matter how much I hate to use use the example: pairing a tanned and sculpted male with an open (or no) shirt on a cover holding a buxom female with long, flowing hair is sure to send a red flag of recognition to readers: this book is primarily a romance.  Some readers may not even bother picking this one up to read the jacket copy--it'll be left on the shelf.  Who needs to make sure it's not a romance, when, chances are, further exploration will probably confirm suspicions?  On the other hand, using the same assumptions (man and woman in a compromising pose plus loss of certain articles of clothing equals at least one hot romantic scene), other readers may snatch this book off the shelves, eager to read.  Covers, like names, can be very important things.
Aside from Magic Under Glass and Liar, what book covers have you seen that appear at odds with the contents of what's inside?  If you haven't come across any glaringly wrong covers, then what book (or books) do you wish had a better cover?  What would you put on it instead?

I'm going to pick on the UK cover of Jessica Verday's The Hollow.  This edition has a bright purple pendant attached to a satin ribbon--different from the US cover only in its lack of a stunning heroine.  I actually liked that there was no person on this cover.  It let the necklace speak for itself.  What plot, I wondered, surrounded the necklace?  What weight must it bear, what significance to have been featured so prominently, so lonely, so bravely, on this cover?

It really has nothing to do with much of anything.  The actual necklace in the book is not purple or magenta, it's blue.  That, and, the necklace wasn't as high of a priority in the book as I first thought.  So, mine isn't really a big deal, but I felt a little mislead.

What about you? Let me know what you think!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

An Update on Bloomsbury

Thanks to Ellen Datlow, the following article:

Originally from Publisher's Weekly Children's Bookshelf:

Earlier this week, criticism grew online over the cover of Jaclyn Dolamore’s Magic Under Glass, a January fantasy novel from Bloomsbury Children’s Books—the second time in recent months one of the publisher’s covers has come under fire. Today, Bloomsbury apologized for the cover and released a statement saying that it would stop supplying copies of Magic Under Glass, Dolamore’s debut novel, and that books with a new jacket would be made “available shortly.”

The controversy calls to mind the online furor last summer over Justine Larbalestier’s Liar, also published by Bloomsbury, in which the cover used an image of a white girl, when the protagonist is described in the book as being half-black. The house designed a new cover for Liar before it went on-sale. In the case of Magic Under Glass, the circumstances—a discrepancy between the description of a character’s ethnicity in the book and her appearance on the cover—are much the same. The protagonist, Nimira, is described in the story as having brown skin and considered by others to have “exotic” features.

Here is Bloomsbury’s full statement: “Bloomsbury is ceasing to supply copies of the US edition of Magic Under Glass. The jacket design has caused offense and we apologize for our mistake. Copies of the book with a new jacket design will be available shortly.”

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Fool by Christopher Moore

Title: Fool
Author: Christopher Moore
Reviewed Format: trade paperback
Release Date: February 10, 2009
Pages:  336

What can I say about Fool without going on about how funny and endearing Christopher Moore’s writing is?  His take on King Lear is almost as good as his take on the Bible (Lamb)--with, dare I say, even more toilet humor and dirty sex?  The jokes are non-stop, but so is the emotion.  How can it not when Moore is working with Shakespeare’s arguably most tragic play?

In the actual play, the Fool (unnamed)--if I remember right--acts as the voice of the play, commenting on what is happening through humor that’s both entertaining and useful.  He puts the characters actions into perspective (and keeps Lear in check), which is a great tool to orient readers who might get a little lost in all of the drama (oh boy, is there drama).  Where he is absent from the text Moore built a presence and filled the gaps to bring us Pocket and his bawdy commitments.  So how does Fool differ?  It’s a different perspective.  It still opens (more or less, Pocket need to have a flashier entrance) with Lear dividing his kingdom between two ungrateful daughters and one very honest one.  When Lear gets angry and disowns Cordelia (the honest one) he lashes out at his best friend Kent (who only wanted to defend her) and banishes him, too.  There’s some son-in-laws involved, a bastard, and in this case, a ghost (as Moore reminds us, “there’s always a fucking ghost.”).  This book even has a map with all sorts of helpful labels to explain all the “norths” and “souths” that people seem to be going to or coming from.  Unfortunately, there is no explanation for Lear’s downward spiral into madness.  I think that’s best left to speculation.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

Title: On Chesil Beach
Author: Ian McEwan
Reviewed Format: paperback
Release Date: June 10, 2008
Pages: 203

It’s 1962.  Edward and Florence have just gotten married and now face the colossal expectation looming before their nuptial dinner table: sex.  Don’t be confused--On Chesil Beach isn’t just about sex--there’s so much more to it than that.  In the spirit of Mrs. Dalloway and McEwan’s more recent Saturday, On Chesil Beach culminates in an exhausting and contemplative day that speaks for a waning culture struggling to transition in the face of a worldwide explosion of television, rock and roll, and a war in Vietnam.

The narrative follows dramatic structure.  On the surface there is Edward and Florence with all of their apprehensions and anxieties over their wedding night.  The thoughts they distract themselves with lead to flashbacks into the past: their first meeting (told from both perspectives); introducing each other to their respective families; their first sexually-charged encounter.  These memories are made even more poignant in the narrative when they break the reader away from the present--the moment when Edward and Florence set into motion the unspoken momentum of their conjugal obligations.  As the couple navigates the strange and foreign land of their new relationship, so too do they struggle to rise above the norms of society that pull them in two different directions.

Monday, January 18, 2010

People of Color in Fiction


Bloomsbury Contact Information (Thanks to Ellen Datlow):

Editorial and Marketing office:
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010
Phone: 646-307-5151
Fax: 212-780-0115

I sent them an e-mail.  I suggest you do so, too.

I want to bring your attention to a topic that's important to me, not only because I consider myself a person of color, but because to ignore the issue is, I think, to look society in the face and ignore a large swath of the reading public.

Normally, I don't make an issue (by this I mean point it out) of my race.  Why should it matter, really, except to be one possible explanation for who I am (granted, a large part, but not every POC lays claim to any one culture, tastes, or way of life, even if they "look different"--different from whom, at this point, is what I'm curious about).

Many of you are familiar with the recent controversy surrounding the cover of Justine Larbalestier's Liar.  The protagonist is a girl with more melanin in her skin than was shown by the blatantly white model on the cover of the novel (not having read the book yet, I have only gathered that I think she is half-black, half-white).  Luckily, this was only before it was released for purchase.  Larbalestier was professionally outraged and Bloomsbury fixed the problem and changed covers to reflect Micah's skin tone more accurately.

In an open letter to Bloomsbury concerning Jaclyn Dolamore's Magic Under Glass, Ari from Reading in Color, has put into words what I feel is an important message for publishers everywhere: covers need to start reflecting persons of color in positive ways, but first and foremost, they need to be put on covers where they are the protagonists in the first place!  Have you ever seen a Samuel R. Delaney cover?  Where are the people of color?  Obscured by graphics and text--an easy way out to avoid the representation?  Or, a less angry and presumptuous curiosity: do publishing houses really not think it's important to put protagonists on the cover when other subject matter can be taken into consideration (see: Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand or Nova)?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Book Faeries - January Edition, part 2

Here is the second half of my January Book Faeries post.  These kind of all came at once and have been waiting for me to take a photo and share with my fellow book lovers!  Follow through the link to get a little bit of information on each title. :)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Poll Results #1

I've tallied the votess for the latest poll and here are the results:

As you can see, Tally Youngblood was not a strong contender.  While Katsa and Katniss put up a valiant effort, in the end, it was the Jawa who came out on top.

Thank you everyone for voting and don't forget about the new poll on the top left of the sidebar!  It's nonsensical on purpose--you absolutely must pick an answer.  That's the fun, yes? ;)  It will be up for 2 weeks.  Make sure you vote and tell your friends about it!

The Book Faeries - January Edition, part 1

In an effort to continue to improve JRT (and in lieu of a Weekend Discussion this weekend because frankly, I haven't been able to concentrate enough to think of something to discuss with you lovely folks), I'm taking a different approach to my monthly Book Faeries post.  There will be a photo of each book, some description, how/where I got my copy, and, of course, the photo of the entire pile.

The past week has been difficult, but it's also been strangely giving when it comes to books.  I've received so many, I've decided to make two posts.

Here is the photo of the first half of this month's fantastic surprises!  Hit the 'read more' link to get some information on the books. :)

(I do apologize--two of the books I received were not photographed, but they are mentioned below)

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Sheriff of Yrnameer by Michael Rubens

Title: The Sheriff of Yrnameer
Author: Michael Rubens
Reviewed Format: hardcover
Release Date: August 4, 2009
Pages: 288

Yrnameer is the last of the “Your Name Heres”--planets that haven’t gotten corporate sponsors yet.  It’s pretty rare, so rare it’s become a myth.  Mentioning Yrnameer is a sure way to earn a laugh because it’s a well known probability that Yrnameer, if it exists, is in some remote location; even if you wanted to reach it, you couldn’t.

Lucky for Cole--space pirate extraordinaire--he’s just hijacked a spaceship on InvestCo3 with the coordinates for Yrnameer ready to program in and it’s his next destination.  Unfortunately, Cole has a few problems on his hands: Kenneth wants to lay his eggs in Cole’s eye, his new crew wants to kill him, and bending space to reach Yrnameer won’t be easy on a broken ship.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

A Small Hiatus

Scheduling posts here has made it easy to look as if I've been here 100% the past week.  But I've been hit by something unexpected: the death of our kitty.

A couple of years ago, she had to be rushed to the vet and different specialists because she wasn't eating or drinking water.  The diagnosis: bad kidneys.  She was only 3.  We thought the worst was over, really, she turned back into her old, ultra-hyper self as if nothing had happened.  And so, we went back to life as normal.  She didn't want a special diet which may have prolonged her life in hindsight, but the vet agrees: quality over quantity.

Tuesday night she became very ill.  She was so ill the vet was called the next day to schedule an appointment.  Komi wasn't eating or drinking again.  This time it was much, much worse.  When she finally went in Thursday afternoon, she was very weak and agitated, but never growled or hissed at me.  Ever.  That's the kind of girl she was to me: patient and loving.  I'm the only one who she lets pick her up any time of day, no matter what.  She never bit me; she always made time for me.

After some fluid hydration and an anti-emitic, she came home and, weak as she still was, went around one last time to, we think, say her good-byes.  On Friday morning, her tests results came back.  Her kidneys were worse, and that's the nice way of putting it.  She was taken to the UC Davis small animal clinic (I couldn't handle going, I am now struggling with that decision) where they were going to do further tests and determine if it treatment was best for her, if it would help, if it was humane to prolong her life further.

When my brother and his girlfriend came home, it was without Komi.  As someone who, like all of my family, had a unique bond with her, I was devastasted.  I did not get to say good-bye.

They brought me back her collar and explained that she was most likely born with bad kidneys; there was nothing we did wrong or could have done better.  The vets were all amazed she was in as good condition as she was physically (and that she had lived this long) and all assumed, before they were told otherwise, that she was a much, much older cat, three times her actual age.  Komi was only 5.

One kidney was virtually useless.  The other had been overcompensating this entire time and was running at 20%.  In the end, to ease her pain, she was sedated and went peacefully.

Komi was only 5.

This is hitting me particularly hard.  To be honest, I do not much feel like writing reviews.  Komi was my guardian angel.  She kept me company when I was home alone, she ran into my room the moment I woke up (she slept with me solid for 3 years, but would typically leave an hour before I was ready to get up myself) with a purr and a meow for good morning.  She sat with me (and on the laptop) for everything I wrote--review, essay, anything--and followed me around the house, helping me do the most mundane tasks (wrap presents, open boxes, open the closet, clean).

I don't know why I'm explaining these things.  Clearly, my entire family has lost someone irreplaceable.  We're all feeling a huge loss.  Komi had such an enormous spirit and really, a generous heart and sense of humor.  She was my animal soul mate who always knew when I was sick or upset and came to comfort me.

The vets don't think she was in pain, except for the past couple of days.  And I think she was a happy cat over the years.  I'm happy we gave her the best 5 years we could (we got her the week "Revenge of the Sith" came out--I called her my Star Wars kitty).  If love could bring her back, healthy, she would be here.

What I need most right now is time.  She may have been my brother's cat, but cats are fickle and for most of her life, she made me feel extraordinarily loved.  I'll miss her devotion, her energy, but most of all: I'll miss her.

Please understand if I don't post for awhile.  My editor and one of my staunchest supporters is gone.  She will no longer approve my books with a sniff and rub of her cheek (my books she never bit--my brother's are a different story).  I need some time to gather myself.

Good-bye Komi.  You are already missed.

March 2005-January 8, 2010


Weekend Discussion

Show off your bookshelves!  I want photos of where you store your books and how.  Let me see those overstuffed shelves and piles teetering on the edge of your dresser, TV stand, kitchen counter, bathroom sink, or pool table.  Take photos of the floor next to your bed where you know you keep a pile of books "just in case" you want something to read before you nod off to sleep (or in case you wake up in the middle of the night).

Also, do you have a favorite place to put your books or does it all just go wherever there's room?

Here are photos of some of my book collection!  (And also where I make myself terribly vulnerable to you and reveal my nerdish pack-rat tendencies)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The First Crusade: A New History by Thomas Asbridge

Title: The First Crusade: A New History
Author: Thomas Asbridge
Reviewed Format: Trade Paperback
Release Date: April 2005
Pages: 432

This is going to be a curious review for me.  I want to begin by saying: I have not finished reading this book.  There are good reasons for this.

The first is: I’m not too big on history.  I need a lot of context for my historical facts otherwise, try as hard as I might I forget everything I hear or read.  That’s not say I don’t like history--I like it quite a bit--I just need to get it in small doses.  The second is: Thomas Asbridge’s The First Crusade: A New History is not particularly dry or boring, it’s actually really fascinating and easier for me to read than a textbook (of the historical variety); it puts things in context.  Historical figures are put into roles as characters, given motives and backstories, there are maps, illustrations, and full color photo panels of medieval artwork and modern day buildings that were once pivotal during the Crusades.  It’s not quite an historical fiction novel, but I’m invested in the text anyway.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed by Sean Williams

Title: Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
Author: Sean Williams
Reviewed Format: UK hardcover
Release Date: 2008
Pages: 319

I think I understand why I don’t like the Darth Bane books and why I didn’t like The Force Unleashed as much as I could have.  Both have Sith as protagonists.  Sith have massive egos.  I don’t particularly like massive egos.  I’m also tired of reading about the “best” pilot/apprentice/whatever who did everything phenomenally well in their careers, did it early, and are infinitely better than their peers, past and present.  What happened to slightly above average, average, or even really below average protagonists?

I’ll tell you why these massively huge, uncontrollable egos bother me.  A character can boast all they want or simmer under the surface with barely contained self-love and admiration, preen themselves flailing a weapon around and showing off to their underlings or other, less worthy souls, but they still wind up getting killed in the lamest, most easy way ever.  Are Sith really supposed to be this two dimensional?  I don’t think I’ve ever read an in-depth study of any Sith, other than Anakin; the star of the Prequel Trilogy had his psyche picked apart so we could have the movies in the first place.  Jacen Solo’s recent dive into the Dark Side was enough to provoke my desires for him to finally do something as a character.  I was impressed with his transformation, but ultimately was left feeling like Sith are boring for a reason: they’re single-minded ego-maniacs with anger management issues.  There’s only so much repetition of the same archetype I can take before my brain says, “no more.”

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Weekend Discussion

The past couple of weeks I haven't put up a discussion post mostly due to the holidays.  Instead, you've gotten a list of some of the books I most anticipate coming out in 2010 and then my year in comics.   Since the holidays are over and I'm sure some of you received gift cards--or books--this year as presents, I want to ask: what books did you get this holiday season?

Here are the books I either received as gifts or purchased with a gift card!  (these will also be featured in my January Book Faeries post)

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