Saturday, January 25, 2014

"The Proposal", Regency romance by Mary Balogh

The Proposal (The Survivors' Club #1)The Proposal by Mary Balogh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finally, a romance novel that I actually like without reservation. Very few historical faux pax, and sexy without being trashy. Chock full of believable characters and dialogue, interesting settings, and story and character arcs. I was beginning to think this animal didn't exist, but here it is. I'm actually looking forward to trying something else by this author.

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Casting Notice of the Day: a couple of birds walk in to a mine...

There are many current misspellings bouncing around the 'net these days. There's the classic "alot" for "a lot" (see Hyperbole and a Half's adorable illustrated essay on that topic), the "there"/"they're"/"their" connundrum, and then things like "suposably" for "supposedly". For more crazy spellings you can always browse through the You Suck at Craigslist blog. Trust me, it's always good for a pained laugh.

Today's winner is yet another casting notice posted over at Performer's Callboard, a Yahoo Group through which I actually get an occasional job. It's sort of the shallow end of the casting pool, though, so there are at least one or two gems of grammaticide every week. Here's a sample of today's offerings, a call for a short:
[name of project] - Thriller

synopsis: Two college students venture into the mountains to find lost gold
hidden by a long dead relative. They run a fowl of menacing claim jumpers.

Looking for 2 females age 18-27 college type, normal height and weight.
3 males age 23-30 college type, athletic, brawny
First female - smart, energetic, full of life.
Second Female - conniving, mean spirited, villain.
First male - smart, kind spirited, humorous, strong.
Second male - villain, smart, strong, always smiling.
Third male - Villain, follower, grunt, side kick, henchman.

Please communicate if you are wanting to audition on one of the following
days in your responds....
I wonder what kind of "fowl" they are running? Is chicken smuggling rampant in the Pacific Northwest?  Of course in a bit of industry irony the Cascades Mountains could be standing in for New Zealand or the Czech Republic in this case. I'm also bemused by the use of "respond" as a noun. Is that some new kind of slang that the kids are using these days, like "my bad" (My bad what?) or "text" as a verb? Is it too stodgy to use "response", or is "responds" the new plural of "response" and they expect you to send multiple missives?  As the kids these days say; whatevs.

The rest of it is pretty typical, however I must give them full marks for actually sending out this notice more than 48 hours in advance, which seems to be the MO of alot (ha ha) of casting "directors". An extra point for giving the city of the location of the audition, too. You wouldn't think this would be a problem, but many casting people seem to think that the only work in the country is going on within 15 miles of their current location. Points off for it wanting to be a gritty thriller yet insisting on casting children in the leads. Two Barbies "menaced" by three Kens doesn't sound that compelling.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Cove, by Ron Rash, or "I lemmed another one"

As a kid I was a voracious reader. I would have been the cowboy on a long cattle drive who shot another cowboy for throwing the soup can in the fire before he could read the label. When I go to the library I usually come home with a big bag of paper books and CDs. The CDs are recorded books, because I want somebody to tell me a story whilst I'm driving or sewing or cooking or doing other onerous chores. I go through them like a chicken through a bowl of pumpkin seeds.  In my old age, however, I've grown very, very picky about what I read. The world is full of millions of good books. I do not wish to devote any time to reading something lackluster, trashy, offensive, or even just mediocre.

What this boils down to is this: I've become pretty ruthless about bailing on books that just don't enthrall me. The good folks at Sword & Laser coined a term a few years ago for this: to "lem".
'The term "Lem" means to not finish a book and abandon it. This term comes from when Sword and Laser were reading Stanisław Lem's Memoirs Found in a Bathtub. Veronica couldn't make it through the book so just gave up reading it.             (From the Sword & Laser FAQ at Goodreads)
I've started a lot of books in the last few years that have alienated me before the second disk (or chapter, whichever comes first). Most of them are not what I would call "bad" books, but they just didn't make me happy for one or more reasons. Some of those reasons could be things like unrealistic dialogue, glaring historical inaccuracies, glaring tech or weapons inaccuracies, women in romance novels acting like ninnies, lack of even one appealing character, gratuitous violence or sexual situations, sparkly get the gist.

Sometimes the book is good, but the reader of the audio version I've chosen is annoying. I lemmed a romance novel a few months ago despite the interesting story because sound engineering was appallingly inconsistent. It was one of those efforts where somebody decided that a man should read the male POV parts and a woman should read the female POV parts despite the fact that it was mostly female POV. Anyway, the male POV sections sounded like they were recorded in somebody's bathroom on a dictaphone. The female reader's sections were nicely engineered, but the reader herself drove me nuts with her syrup on quaaludes interpretation of a Georgian accent. More recently I was saddened to lem a recorded book read by Will Patton, a fabulous actor and voice artist, because even after several chapters I hadn't come to a single likeable character in the story. Every character was evil or stupid or sleazy or all of the above. Yuck. Not my speed.

Today I lemmed "The Cove", by Ron Rash. Apparently he has some serious fans out there, if you look at the reader reviews over at Goodreads. I found his prose lovely and the setting of the story interesting, but this is another case where a voice artist alienated me. I think she was going for "down-home, unsophisticated but pure" but came across as flat and bored to my ear. The real deal-breaker was a scene where the female protagonist recalls the incident where she lost her virginity as a naive high schooler. It's appalling and tragic, and yet it's written in an off-hand manner that struck me as pretty callous. This is a traumatic moment in this girl's life, and I don't know if the subject ever comes up again in the story, but the way it's presented to the reader is so casual and bland that it's almost as if it's coming from the POV of the despicable boys who committed the violence. "Yeah, whatever. We did her. Har har." No thanks. I didn't need our girl to hark back to that day and lament, "...and then she spent the next forty-eight hours sobbing. She was scarred for life", but some kind of tone that conveys the shock and sadness of an event like that would have kept me engaged. As it was, I decided that it wasn't worth the risk of more of the same, so I moved on. I'd be interested to try something else by the same author, with a different reader or in a hard copy, because it was otherwise excellent.

Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves (no, it's not a YA fantasy novel)

Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves (Shane Schofield, #5)Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves by Matthew Reilly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book reads like a James Bond story on steroids. It's basically a running battle from start to finish, rarely slowing down to ease up on the running and gunning (and driving and exploding). In that way it's fluff candy for action-adventure enthusiasts, and I'm not saying that's a bad thing, but there are just too many really implausible moments for me to give it an enthusiastic recommendation. I'll say this much: at least Reilly knows his firearms. This in itself made the book more readable (listenable) than it could have been. Reilly is not a bad writer, in fact it's a telling thing that I made it to the end. I liked the characters, the dialogue is believable, the situation intriguing, the tech is cool, and the pacing is good. At some point, though, I realized that I was making the same pained face I made when I first watched "Van Helsing" (the Sommers film starring Hugh Jackman). The pain was from too many cartoony moments of disbelief suspended so thin it was beginning to fray and about to snap. No, wait, it did snap. Several times.

* * * Spoilers * * * when our hero is electrocuted to death and then miraculously resuscitated via defibrillator, and immediately leaps back in to action. Want more of that kind of "getting blown across the room and through a window by an explosion with no apparent injury" type of thing? Read the book. The author also needs to bone up on how and why explosive compression works underwater. If an object sinks because it's open to the sea at multiple gaping points, it's not going to collapse catastrophically due to crushing pressure...because there is no pressure because it's open to the sea. And if our hero were in a water-tight compartment in said sinking object, which then would be in danger of structural failure due to high pressure, then he'd be awfully deep to swim to the surface for several reasons. Ask a diver. Ask any grade-school kid. Seriously. This is basic science stuff. Anyway, it was fun, but kind of goofy at times.

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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Blustery winter night musings

Hurts to sit, hurts to stand, let's see if I can type semi-reclined...with a cat on my arms because apparently this is an open invetation.

Quote of the day: "Isn't it funny how day by day nothing changes but when you look back everything's different." C.S. Lewis

Current weather: pouring down rain, windy, January! The exclamation point is for the temp, not the wind and the rain.

                                                            *     *    *

Apparently I am terrified of "doing it wrong" or not knowing how to start or over-thinking everything I want to do, so I've made a vow to just write something, anything, every day. There used to be a nifty little web site where you typed like a crazy person and earned little rewards for typing more than X amount every day, but about two months after I discovered it the site went to paid subscriptions and I bailed because I just can't afford pretty much anything that isn't food, household expenses, gas, and other boring grownup things. I'm just going to have to make my daily quota without benefit of virtual awards, because I really need to make writing a habit and a need as much as brushing my teeth and drinking enough water. I think it's that important for me.

I don't have kids, but that doesn't mean I don't have plenty of distractions to keep me from just sitting down (or standing up) and getting the writing done. At this moment I can just barely hear my rooster crowing in the henhouse behind the gusting wind and the rumble of the rain on the kitchen skylights, and I'm tempted to go see if they're all right. Even though I know the difference between the squawk of a terrified chicken and the casual call of a rooster who doesn't care that it's the middle of the night but feels the urge to alert the world to his magnificence, I still worry, because a few minutes ago I heard the neighbor's mare whinnying in her paddock next to my chicken coop. In a suspense film this would be a dead giveaway that some creature, human or otherwise, was lurking about in my yard. In this case, however, knowing what I know about horses in general and this one in particular, I'm pretty sure she's just annoyed that her "boyfriends", the two geldings who live in our pasture, are locked up in the barn for the night and not able to visit with her across the fence, and she's calling to them for attention. A whole pack of coyotes could parade by any of those horses and they wouldn't bat an eyelash, but separate them for five minutes and it's the end of the world.

Being very distractable means I tend to go through my day bouncing from one task to another and not really completing anything. I start to do something, but then that something reminds me of another thing I should do first, so I defer to that, then the process repeats itself. Making a list of things to do helps a bit, but I still rarely if ever get to the end of a list, no matter how small I make it. Right now the most important thing I keep putting off, besides writing, is walking. I really need to walk at least three times a week, and really more than that, if I ever want to get my health back up to a decent level. The flat disk in my spine is acutely painful all the time these days, but I don't think walking on level ground will exacerbate it much. I have to get my overall health buffed up or I'm doomed. Walking, pilates, and some free weights are where I need to start. I was doing pretty well with weights over the past few months, but then I dropped the ball over the holidays. I'm trying to keep painkiller use to a minimum, so I'm in pain most of the time and spend several sessions each day lying on ice packs so I can stand and walk a bit. Maybe the walking will help with pain management as much as taking vitamin C seems to help, I don't know, but it can't hurt to try, I guess. If my pain escalates I'll have to do something different.

Changing my diet has certainly helped. Removing wheat from my life was huge. Within a week I saw a major change in my GI system and went from borderline IBS to almost normal function for the first time in my life. After a week or so I noticed something else: my headaches, an almost daily condition, almost disappeared. Now, instead of being thankful for the occasional headache-free day, I'm surprised by the occasional headache. Again, this had been going on pretty much since my teenage years, non-stop. Nothing seemed to help prevent them, and only ibuprofen relieved them. Now I rarely take anything for a headache, and it's usually because I cheated and ate wheat or too much sugar and that triggered it.

Fixing my terrible sleep patterns is an ongoing struggle. I know I'd feel better, have less depression, and probably less pain if I could get to bed earlier and sleep through the night, but I fail more often than not in this department. My biggest hurdle is having to share a bed with my spouse, whom I love, but...I'm just not great with sharing sleeping space with another human. It's hard for me to relax when there's another person in my bed because I really need my personal space. The cats are fine, but another human, especially one who becomes very annoyed if awakened in the night by anything, makes for stress that impairs my ability to relax most nights. The upshot of this is that I want to be sure he's good and solidly asleep before I crawl into bed. Occasionally I make an attempt at getting to bed before him, but this usually results in us heading for the shower at the same time and then doing the "After you." "Oh no, after you!" dance. Then either I feel like I need to rush through my ablutions and race for bed, or I send him in and start some project which results in my usual staying up too late again. Someday I hope we have a house with two bedrooms so this won't be an issue. Until then, I really need to find a way to get to bed earlier, because I need a lot more sleep than he does. He seems to be good with around eight hours, but I'm groggy with less than nine or ten, especially if I don't sleep soundly. I'm experimenting with various supplements to help with this, and niacin is helping a lot. Valerian root and melatonin never seemed to do much, but 1,000 mg of niacin about an hour before bed seems to help me relax. Herbal tea is good, too. I read an article that talked about using honey before bed, so I try that sometimes, too. Then there's the pain management. Right now I'm pretty much stuck with taking a couple of naproxen every night in order to notch the spinal pain down enough to get to sleep. By morning it's worn off, but it usually gets me through the night. Getting a better form of magnesium has helped with muscle cramping, too. It's a constant experiment to adjust the supplements and diet and painkillers, but I kept myself out of the ER in 2013: yay!

It's half-past midnight, so I should quit. I dreamed about the "square house" night before last. It shows up every once in awhile. Not sure what it means. In my dreams it's supposed to be the house of a family in Seattle, the kids of which are friends of mine and I believe my sister's. It's not really the old Lyons' house on Queen Anne, at least I don't think it is, but then I barely remember that place. It's like a cross between that house and a place near the U of WA in which I rented a room for a few months after college, not long before I moved to Japan. Edwardian, square, bigger than a bungalow. Three stories with a central staircase and a sun porch on the East side. A house of many rooms, once grand but now a bit frayed at the edges. Lived in, loved, and full of the accumulated detritus of the years. It doesn't represent "home" to me, but I'm not sure what it does represent, then. I've been dreaming about it since the 80s, I think. One of these days I'll figure it out. In the meanwhile, time to hit the shower and sneak in to bed. Sam cat is probably warming up my spot right now, as is his wont. He won't mind when I move him over so I have a place for my feet. He'll just curl up and go back to sleep. Cats are pretty unflappable when it comes to sleeping arrangements.