Tag Archive: 6.5

Nov 05

Review: Yes, Please by Amy Poehler

Yes pleaseI’m just going to jump over the fact that I haven’t reviewed a book since basically the birth of Christ and jump right back into it.

I just finished the audiobook version of Yes, Please by Amy Poehler. After having listened to her soul sister Tina Fey’s book Bossypants the week that the GIlstraps got married, I knew that reading this book wouldn’t even be an option. I was going to have to hear it. And I’m really glad that that is the format that I chose. Poehler constantly makes references that she is reading this book in an underground audio booth that she constructed beneath Mount Rushmore years before she was famous. And of course, because she’s hilarious, the book is even more hilarious with her reading and her voice literally saying all of the things that are in the book. However, unlike most audiobooks, she isn’t the only talker. She brings in Seth Meyers, Kathleen Turner, Patrick Stewart, her parents, and a slew of other people to read sections, titles, and to do their own voices during stories. In short, it really feels like you’re eavesdropping on some of the coolest people you know rather than just walking your dog around the apartment complex parking lot with your headphones in.

The book takes a fairly standard format. It contains stories of Poehler’s childhood, education, being young and scrappy, starting and growing with the Upright Citizens Brigade, her years on SNL and Parks and Recreation, and essays about being a mother, a woman, and a human being all at the same time. Poehler rarely if ever lets herself off the hook. If she did something crappy or mean or dumb, she presents it just as it happened (maybe tweaked for better comic effect). Stuff that she isn’t willing to do that to, she leaves out of the book. And I can applaud that. Things like her divorce or overly specific details about her children aren’t meant for the ravenous masses to digest, and so she keeps those as part of her personal life outside the memoir. Just because she wrote a book doesn’t mean that people get to own every little piece of her.

One of my favorite stories from the book is contained in this interview:

However, not everything is light-hearted. Poehler tells an extended story of a sketch that went wrong on SNL that ended up offending the people it was based on. She didn’t have the guts to apologize for for years (although eventually she did and it was accepted by the hurt parties). Poehler doesn’t try to present herself as the best possible person. She freely admits that she doesn’t like most people she meets and that as she gets older her patience for people she doesn’t find interesting is dwindling. She talks numerous times about her drug use when she was younger (which was recreational and not like Million Little Pieces tragic). But through it all, the listener ends up liking Poehler because she seems real and like a rougher Tina Fey.

The book doesn’t revolutionize the memoir world, and if you’re not a fan of Poehler’s, it probably won’t do very much for you. But if you’ve always wanted to spend some time hanging out with a woman that just wants to build a park, then I recommend giving this book a listen.

JMF Rating: 6.5/10

‘Til next time,

-JMF

Jan 25

Review: The God Engines by John Scalzi

The God Engines

This book is really short. Like read it in a sitting short to cleanse my mind after A Tale for the Time Being (which was so excellent I can still barely stand it). And I thought I was going to ding it on one major level, but then I was reading some other reader’s reviews to refresh myself on character names, and I realized that I had been had. But more on that in a minute.

So the story follows Ean Tephe, captain of a spaceship. Spaceships in this universe are not run on fuel; they are run on the power of gods that have been captured and chained in the engine areas. These gods bend reality, propelling the ship forward at the behest (and torture) of their captors. The gods were captured by the god of the empire that the spaceship is a part of. So basically, giant pantheon of powerful beings, but one has become much more supreme than the others. Kinda like Diana Ross and the rest of the Supremes.

The most supreme of them all.

The most supreme of them all.

Well, Tephe and his ship get called to a super secret meeting on the home world. Apparently, their god is worried that the other gods are trying to topple him, so he needs the good juju that new believers bring. Basically, the belief of people who have never believed is like the best meth in the world, and the god is jonesing for a fix.

They get to the new place, convert the populace, and the god shows up. But instead of being all benevolent and blessed are the meek, he starts absorbing the new believers souls, obliterating them entirely to add to his power. Well, come to find out, this is how this god has gotten all of his power, and all righteousness and honor that his believers have put in him is a sham. So their faith gets twisted and broken, allowing the trickster god powering the ship to trick them into delivering a sigil that can summon a god of the gods. The big god gets there and obliterates the soul-sucking god. This releases all the engine gods from bondage, and they are after revenge. The story closes right before the god in the engine room busts out to slaughter the crew en masse.

So, you know, super positive.

I enjoyed the story, but I did have a moment of rolling my eyes that Scalzi didn’t deserve. There’s a harem on the ship that helps deal with the problems that the officers by giving them someone that provides release (in all possible ways). So I was just thinking that this was a moment of your on-ship whorehouse with all your stereotypical science fiction women available for the menfolk. But apparently, and I didn’t notice this when reading, Scalzi doesn’t describe any of the courtesans and he gave them all gender neutral names. Whatever people envisioned was all their own doing. Which I think is a great stab for storytelling, but also points out the oppressive heteronormativity that I have internalized.

A nice story, an interesting take, and a fast read.

JMF Rating: 6.5/10

‘Til next time,

-JMF

Jan 20

Review: Jack of Hearts by Bill Willingham, et al.

Jack of Hearts

It’s been eleven hundred years since I read the first Jack of Fables collection, but I remember enjoying it immensely. So when I got this recently, I tore through it. After all, I love a good graphic novel collection: easy to read, engaging stories, and usually fast-paced enough to finish in a single sitting.

The series is a spinoff of the Fables series (which is fantastic and wonderful and you should already be reading). It follows the character of Jack, a living embodiment of all of the fables, stories, and myths that have ever had a character named Jack in them. Because of his enduring fame throughout the mortal realm, he remains hail, vital, and powerful. But he’s an amoral guy, more willing to do good for himself or others when convenient than to get involved in ideas of nobility. He can be man-whorish (or as Dale’s book would say, filled with a demon of whoredom), crass, and hardhearted. But he’s the kind of bad person that makes a great good guy.

And that’s what really makes the stories work: Jack does bad things and is often (though not always) the cause of the problems that he encounters. But he’s so rakishly charming, that he gets all the chances.

Oh, and then there’s Gary, The Pathetic Fallacy. Since he’s the embodiment of a storytelling trope, he can make any inanimate object do whatever he wants. So he’s useful in a pinch, and he’s a walking deus ex machina. But the whole series acknowledges that fact, so it’s kinda meta. I don’t know; I like it.

This particular collection contains two story arcs from the series. The first follows Jack and some other fables who have escaped from the Golden Boughs Retirement Village. While hiding out on a mountain, Jack reveals the period in his life when he took over the mantle of winter and became Jack Frost. Cute little story of castle intrigue and power going to one’s head, but not super memorable.

The bulk of the collection, though, follows Jack and Gary as Jack decides to take over a casino in Las Vegas. But, he ends up falling in love with the daughter of the casino owner. But then all the drama goes down. Because there are evil Belgians after the casino family. Right, Belgians. They’re not just for waffles anymore. I imagine that all Belgian gangsters are just like the people from the movie In Bruges because that’s the only time I think I’ve ever seen Belgium and gangsters in the same plot.

Except going to, they actually do.

Except going to, they actually do.

Yeah, the Belgians kill Jack’s wife and her family, so he ends up inhering the hotel. But then he manages to piss off Lady Luck (the physical embodiment of luck, not the idea). Which is not a great idea. Because she kills lucky gamblers in Las Vegas and sucks the extra luckiness out of their bones to keep herself juiced. Which is gross. And when you’re running a casino, it’s no good when the luck goddess is literally against you.

Without ruining it, suffice it to say that Jack gets away, but he gets away penniless (which I seem to recall is how he gets away in the first collection). He’s very easy won, easy lost.

Overall, the collection was fun, but it had kind of a popcorn feel: delicious and crave-able, but you hope something more substantial is coming along soon.

JMF Rating: 6.5/10

‘Til next time,

-JMF

Dec 23

Review: Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

Queen Victoria's Book of Spells

I’m the first to admit that short stories are not really my thing. By the time you’ve gotten a good feel for the lay of the land and the characters, it’s over. It’s the petits-four of literature: bite size bits that are occasionally delectable, but often are just filler that I eat because I’m not thinking about it too hard.

And on top of that, the Victorian era really isn’t my jam either. Sometimes I really appreciate the stories of manners and manors, but a lot of time, I find the whole society strange and overblown. Plus, with its extreme income inequality, everyone is either rich and fabulous or incredibly poor and sad. So either way, kind of a downer.

But Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells made Kirkus’s top ten sci-fi/fantasy books of the year, so I thought I’d give it a shot. It’s the time of year when all sorts of year end lists coax me into reading things beyond my usual purview.

And as someone who doesn’t read a lot of short stories, these were pretty good. The entire collection is built around the “gaslamp fantasy” genre. Basically, that means that it’s the Victorian era, but there are magical bits and pieces. But because it’s not pure fantasy, the magic is often subtle or a minor element.

Some of the stories read incredibly quickly, are instantly engaging, and stand on their own. The eponymous story by Delia Sherman offers up a world where magic is an everyday part of life, and the hidden ciphers of Queen Victoria offer new insight into her life and character. “Phosphorus” by Veronica Schanoes refreshingly tells the story of people who aren’t the best and the brightest; rather, it tells the story of the founding of the matchgirls union to protest the crazy unsafe working conditions. Apparently, white phosphorous from matches would get in the workers’ food, and then it would migrate into their jaw through their cavities (because it’s the 19th century and you’re a matchgirl, so you’re dental hygiene isn’t the best), and then their jaw would rot off. Rot. Off. Seriously, if I believed in hell, there would be no way that any industrial baron from the Victorian era made it out. Not a chance.

No No Raven

So yeah, tycoons of business suck, and they do the sucking in more than a couple of these stories. Probably my favorite of the batch, though, is “The Vital Importance of the Superficial” by Ellen Kushner and Caroline Stevemer. This story of magical artifacts lost and regained is told in an epistolary style, but the author keeps shifting, giving it a Rashomon-style feel. Plus, it moves quickly and is relatively action-packed for a collection that is overall pretty sedate. Also, I appreciate that the authors composed this story in alternating letters via e-mail. A good creation story always makes me love the finished product even more.

For as good as the strengths are in this collection, though, some parts are unmemorable or just disappointing. And because they’re short, I felt like I should read to the end even if it wasn’t promising because they weren’t that long to slog through. But having to slog at all is a disappointing, and anthologies are the quintessential “some were good, some were bad, and there was a whole lot of meh.” This one isn’t really an exception

JMF Rating: 6.5/10

‘Til next time,

-JMF

Nov 09

Review: Miss Manners Minds Your Business by Judith Martin

9780393081367I promise I haven’t died! Or abandoned this blog! A lot has happened over the last month, including final assignments in library school, job craziness, unexpected clients, windfalls of work, church mergers, and blessings of animals. In the midst of all that, who has time to read?

I made a little bit of time. I always make a little bit of time. And so my selection was Miss Manners Minds Your Business by Judith Martin and Nicholas Ivor Martin. I love etiquette. I think the world can be awfully ill-behaved at times, but if we can approach it with a bit of class and style, then everyone can end the day feeling better about themselves and society. And while I’m not a regular Miss Manners column reader, a well-placed barb while giving you something real is right up my alley.

Okay, and maybe you caught this before I did, but this is a whole book on business manners. Because she’s minding your business. Get it? (I didn’t). Anywho, it’s laid out in thematic chapters about things like interviews, firings, workplace events, salary, etc. Every chapter starts out with Martin offering a brief explanation of what’s wrong in that particular area of work life. Then, the sections are letters and their answers that deal with specific concerns.

And that’s the principal shortcoming of the book: instead of offering axioms, the responses are situation-specific and few universal rules are given. So, if you happen to find yourself in the same situation as a letter writer or something similar enough that you can extrapolate, then great. Otherwise, you’re just in it for the fun of it. And it can be fun.

The Miss Manners philosophy boils down to the idea of “If you can’t be polite, at least be vague.” And that extends to the workplace. She thinks its ludicrous that workplaces are places where everyone is supposed to be friends and to bond and to feel like a family. She (in my opinion, rightly) says that work is for work and your personal life gets left at the door (or preferably the door of your house). And she offers great ways to get out off work parties, avoid participating in office extortions, and how to be polite, kind, and firm in avoiding things you hate. Basically, everything you’d want an etiquette goddess to do.

So what does etiquette matter in the digital age? For someone who’s been writing as long as Martin, she has a vested interest in it. But she also provides it’s greatest defense:

You can deny all you want that there is etiquette, and a lot of people do in everyday life. But if you behave in a way that offends the people you’re trying to deal with, they will stop dealing with you…There are plenty of people who say, ‘We don’t care about etiquette, but we can’t stand the way so-and-so behaves, and we don’t want him around!’ Etiquette doesn’t have the great sanctions that the law has. But the main sanction we do have is in not dealing with these people and isolating them because their behavior is unbearable.

So, there you go. Be nice. And if you can’t be nice, be vague.

JMF Rating: 6.5/10

‘Til next time,

-JMF

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