bookshelf books

The Books I Read: January – February 2019

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

Too cutesy, too moralistic, and it kept running on. I felt like nothing important happened. It’s all stuff I’ve seen before in “little animal befriends a human” stories, like The Littles or The Secret World of Arietty or Stuart Little or any other of the various children’s books I’ve read to my offspring.

It’s slow. I was constantly yelling at the book to get on with it. Especially cause the formula was so predictable. I could see it checking off boxes as the narrative went on. Too much set-up, not enough plot.

I couldn’t figure out why the book was so popular. It seems to rival The Mouse and the Motorcycle. But it felt like any other middle-of-the-road book. Maybe it had good marketing. But I got enough Ned Flanders-style writing in Because of Winn-Dixie.

Crispin: The Cross of Lead by Avi

I stopped 50% – 60% of the way through. Just didn’t want to finish it. Someone told me if you’re not wholly in love with the book you’re reading, you should stop. There are plenty of other books out there. And this one didn’t spark joy.

Disclosure: I’ve never seen Marie Kondo

I try my best to get through these award winners and classics, but they’re always drab and dry. The POV is a peasant boy, so he has no great vocabulary. The narrative stark and emotionless (maybe it’s supposed to be because he’s little better than a slave). And everything is historically accurate so the prose gets dry and boring.

But the key was that I couldn’t care about anyone. It took forever for supporting characters to enter the story. And they kept me going for a little, but I didn’t care if the kid lived or died. I read the Wikipedia entry to find out the ending, and I missed nothing.

The big revelation, you can see from a mile away (think Jon Snow). But then he doesn’t even use it! After all those pages about being dirt poor and not being able to eat meat, and he’d rather be a traveling peasant when he could be a baron or lord. I thought the ending would result in his taking the power on to change the ways things were. But nope, he pusses out. Not my kind of hero.

Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede

Eh, I guess it’s fine. It’s short anyway.

A woman who doesn’t want to be a proper princess leaves the castle. She wants to learn fencing and performing, but they won’t let her. So she finds some dragons to capture her as a fair maiden. The kind you rescue if any male in this story was capable. What this really means is she becomes a maid, doing dragon stuff like polishing the gold hoard, making breakfast, and handling appointments. So much for feminism.

To be honest, I didn’t think there was much there. Not enough to recommend it. It’s got a few funny moments, but I find comedy in books comes greatly from the absurd. And this isn’t it.

I think this might even be more of a prequel or setup to some other book. I like my stories with a little more substance than twee charm. Like Diana Wynne Jones lite. Nothing seemed to matter to anyone. It was just a few trite “stronger princess than prince” jokes. As if fairy tale maidens have never broken the mold before.

Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made by Jason Schreier

A collection of stories about video games and how they got made. It doesn’t take for them to get samey. Company wants to make a game. It takes longer than they think. It costs more than they think. They work ninety hour weeks, beg for deadline extensions, and then release it. Game is a hit. Then they all go and do it again. I’m reminded of a George Carlin bit my dad liked:

“You know when you’ve been eating ice cream too fast and you get that frozen spot in the back of your throat but you can’t do anything about it because you can’t reach it to rub it? You just have to kinda wait for it to go away? And it does… then what do you do? EAT MORE ICE CREAM!”

At times it almost sounds like propaganda for the video game industry. There are no tales of when it all fell apart or everything was cancelled and dreams were destroyed (except one). He glosses over the lay-offs and misses those times when they just lock the doors and fire everyone. I bet he lifted from stories he’s written on Kotaku, so he didn’t have much work after that.

I don’t think it’s a well-balanced look at the crunch video games are famous for. And really, I don’t think it’s telling us anything we don’t already know–that working conditions for video game makers are horrible. I think you’re better off subscribing to a video game news feed.

The Company of Death by Elisa Hansen

I wanted to read this book because Elisa Hansen is the Maven of the Eventide–a youtuber specializing in vampire media. And friend to Lindsay Ellis, who I’ve talked about before.

But the book has a fatal flaw–amateur writing. There are adverbs everywhere. There are long sentences. There are pacing problems. So much telling. Bad dialogue to narrative ratio. It’s like the stuff I read from people putting their novels up for critique.

This is a flaw that can be fixed over time, but it won’t be fixed in this text, so I decided to stop (see previous comment on joy sparking). There is charm there, and the content sounds plenty promising (there’s a zombie apocalypse at the same time as a vampire horde takeover). And if you can get past the writing style, maybe this is the book for you. Maybe I’m not the right audience for it.

But right away, I could tell this is an issue book (fair disclosure, I’m probably biased because I knew as much going in–I follow her on Twitter and saw how this book came about). And that issue is asexuality.

It’s a topic I don’t know much about it but was hoping to learn. Hansen herself identifies as asexual. I don’t understand it, but I was looking forward to learning about it in this book. But I couldn’t get past the beginning. Sorry Elisa.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

I was going on vacation for a week (a Disney cruise). I did not bring my Kindle, because I thought it would be too sunny to read or I wouldn’t have time. I didn’t bring anything to read on the plane. And they don’t make SkyMall anymore.

So I had to quickly peruse the selection in one of those airport kiosks. Lots of spy/CIA/political thrillers, romances, and “going home” books. No science-fiction or fantasy. The reason I picked this is because A) it advertised humor and satire (specifically using the term “beach read”) B) I remembered seeing the trailer for this. If someone turned it into a movie, it must have at least a moving plot, right?

I was most afraid of it being quirky chick-lit. You know the kind, where the main character is always an attractive professional woman who just can’t land a man. Her friend is a sassy bartender or gay guy. And it’s all about careers, shopping, and other stuff Sex & the City already covered. But it’s not. It’s more of a family-style novel, like an ABC dramedy.

The plot is hard to describe. Its mood is ambivalent even, but the humor makes up for it. The key plot point forms the third act. Before that, all of the first two acts are epistolary. I kind of frown on epistolary because it’s an easy way to get world-building, and plot out there without narration. It’s a novel of all dialogue. The best part is the main antagonist–a nosy oblivious suburban mom who puts that one busybody in Donnie Darko to shame.

This isn’t my normal faire, so it’s hard to judge it using my perspective. I know I enjoyed it. I’m a little miffed at some of the shots it takes at Microsoft (and that’s saying a lot, because I’m a software engineer) and there are some things that don’t make sense. Like one of the things is Samantha 2, which is an incredible invention that [SPOILER REDACTED] and Microsoft cancels it. Not even they could fail to see the money-making opportunities, especially when the CEO invented poo water.

I think the theming was more about a woman’s need to be unexpectable vs. the expectations placed on her being a “normal” mother. It’s not going to be taught in any future curriculum, but hey, sometimes you need a beach read.

Dungeon Master Guide by Mike Mearls

Well, there’s really no sense to review this one. It is what it says on the tin. What surprises me is how much information in the DMG is already covered in the Player’s Handbook (which I’m in the middle of now).

But as for whether you’re going to read it? Well, it is a pretty book. Lots of cool pictures. Nice tables. After five revisions, I imagine they’ve got the technical documents down to a science. I just wish it wasn’t so expensive.

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.

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