Monthly Archives: January 2014

wIsr 00: why I stopped reading

I receive far too many advanced reading copies to give each book I receive a proper read and thoughtful review. I actually have to look for reasons not to continue reading because my time is valuable and I can’t afford to waste it.

In terms of scope, “why I stopped reading” (or wIsr) is similar to One Paragraph. (You can learn more about One Paragraph here.) The primary difference between them is that the books in wIsr will focus on—as you may have already guessed—why I stopped reading. One Paragraph is for things I have finished but don’t have time to give a proper, full-length interview.

So here’s how it’s going to work. I’ll include the title with an appropriate link (if any) and then explain how many pages I read, why I put the book down, and how many pages in total to give an idea of how far I got before getting fed up. I may also include the book’s genre, how it came into my possession, and in what format I received it. In some cases, I may include what I’ll be doing with my copy (ie: giving it away, donating it, or deleting it forever, etc.) and to whom, if anyone, I would deign to recommend it.

I will always try to pinpoint why I didn’t finish the book in question, but these are some common reasons I might stop:
—poor writing (sentence structure, paragraphs, etc.)
—poor spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.
—poor plot or no plot
—gender essentialism or sexism
—setting/characters not internally consistent
—offensive material (which I’ll generally specify)
—I’m lost/it’s confusing
—it’s boring

As with One Paragraph, I’ll post these in batches of five with the date I stopped reading each book listed next to the book’s title.

As a writer and editor myself, my standards for what makes a book “good” or “great” are extremely high; for instance, I usually rate on Amazon.com books I’ve read either two or three stars. Rarely will I give four stars, and when I do, I would probably recommend that book to anyone. I almost never give five stars. (To be fair to myself, though, I almost never give one star ratings, either, because I can almost always find some merit in at least the effort, if not the execution.)

Because I have such high standards—I swear my education has ruined me for any “beach reading”—I often pick up a novel, memoir, collection of poetry, or the like with high hopes and low expectations. Just because I can’t or won’t finish a book doesn’t make it bad or even poorly written, it just makes it a book that doesn’t excel the way I hoped it would. I never pick up any book expecting not to like it; I don’t have time for that bullshit.

I am critical of everything I read because I want poets and authors to excel in their field. Writing is an art, and my criticism should be seen as constructive, not derogatory.

My family and AAA

Yes, that AAA.

BACKSTORY
Okay, so when I was first in college, I learned that if I was a member of the American Automobile Association, I could get 10% discounts on train tickets, hotel expenses, and other travel-related stuff. Since I was attending school in Pennsylvania, where Amtrak actually has a decent railroad presence, it was a great deal for me to sign up even though I didn’t have a car or motorcycle or other vehicle. Then, a couple of years later, my dad mentioned that he thought he could use some of the discounts and car-towing services AAA offered, and I put him on my account for his birthday. I was an adult, and AAA only allows two adults per “family membership”, so I wouldn’t be able to add anyone else to my “family membership” after that since by that time, my younger siblings were both adults (18+ years of age), too.

That didn’t become a problem until my sister obviously needed car service that AAA provides a while later, and when we discovered that we couldn’t add her to my “family membership” as well, she went ahead and signed up alone.

Fast forward in time again. After falling and breaking her hip living on her own, my grandma came from Texas to live with us in California. My parents moved out of the master bedroom into the living room to provide her with a two-room apartment of sorts: a bedroom and a sitting room. (Do not even get me started on how ridiculous I think this whole thing is—it’s another story entirely.) She brought her car with her, which was still registered in Texas. After ignoring the mandatory registration timing, we finally got our shit together and headed down to the local AAA to register the car in California. That involved new plates, new registration stickers, and lots of official documents that had to be signed in multiple places.

Because my grandma is super old-fashioned and likes doing things in person and refuses to pay for anything that isn’t strictly, absolutely necessary, my dad (my grandma’s son) suggested she and I go down to the nearby AAA and register the car there instead of taking her to the DMV because uuuuugh DMV. So, we did.

Except that’s where another problem popped up. It wasn’t enough, according to the AAA staff person, that I, the car’s primary driver, was a member… the car’s owner had to be a member for them to process the car’s new plates and registration. Except we’d run into this problem before, and it wasn’t as simple as just adding her name to my “family membership” because there were already two adults on that account.

But no fear! My sister had a separate membership by herself! All we needed was her permission to add our grandmother to her “family membership” and then we could proceed as planned and have the car stuff done at AAA instead of the DMV. (If you knew my grandma, you would know why I wouldn’t volunteer myself to take her to the DMV if there was any way to avoid it.) So! We called up my sister while we were standing there at AAA and she gave her verbal assent to add our grandma to her account. We processed the car stuff—which is what we’d gone there for in the first place—and went home. Crisis over.

American Automobile Association 50th Anniversary 1902-1952 U.S. postage stamp 3¢STORY
Or so we thought. Time moved along like normal until tonight, when my sister noticed that she had an overdue AAA membership bill sitting in her pile of unread mail and asked my dad why Grandma needed a membership in the first place, especially since she doesn’t drive. She wanted to take Grandma off her account and add our mother, who drives further than any of us daily and goes to see sick friends in the hospital all the time and is generally on the road more than the rest of us most days.

I was reading and not paying attention to the growing tension around me, so when my sister called me into the living room (yes, the place that is now my parents’ bedroom) to talk to her and our dad, I didn’t know what a mess I was stepping into. Already frustrated by the apparent complications the rest of us were adding to what seemed to her like a simple problem with a simple solution, my sister verbally attacked me on the spot, immediately putting me on the defensive and not making the conversation any easier for any of us.

“Why does Grandma even need AAA?” she asked angrily. “She doesn’t even drive.”

“Because the staff people at AAA wouldn’t process her car stuff without her being a member, and I already had Dad on my account, and she wouldn’t pay for her own membership, and so we asked you if it was okay to add her to your account, which you agreed was fine, so that’s what we did, and I paid for it,” I started to say, but I didn’t get so far as “…process her car stuff—” before she cut me off.

“You and Dad have and account, and I had an open space; I know all that,” she said. I frowned, my defenses up. “Grandma doesn’t need a membership and Mom does.”

We bickered back a forth for a minute or two until my dad finally said, “I wanted you [me] to come in here so that I could ask you a question, which is”—he gave us both a look and we remained silent, waiting for him to finish—“if you were a member of AAA as a driver of the car, would they process the car stuff for Grandma on your behalf?”

“No,” I said. “We tried to do that the first time.” He nodded.

“And that time that the car died in the left turn lane on Foothill? Did you use your AAA card information, or Grandma’s?”

“Grandma’s.”

“All right,” he said, looking back toward my sister, “so Grandma does need a membership then.”

“No, she doesn’t,” my sister argued. “She doesn’t drive. What does she even use the membership for?”

“Were you not even listening just now?” I asked, slightly incredulous.

“I just don’t want to have to pay for something that Grandma doesn’t even use when we know Mom would use it.”

“Then don’t pay for it,” I said.

Not have AAA?” she asked, and it was her turn for incredulity. “Last year, I was the one who needed it the most!”

“No,” I said, irritated, “Don’t pay for Grandma’s part; I don’t care. If you do that, though, you get to take her to the DMV to reregister her car.”

“She could do it by mail, you know.”

“Then you get to help her with the paperwork,” I said, not even missing a beat. “We can do it your way, but your way means you also have to deal with Grandma and doing shit her way. Good luck getting her to register her car by mail when she knows there’s an in person option she could use, even one at the DMV.”

My sister narrowed her eyes at me—we both know that I’m the one who’s supposed to deal with Grandma and her car when it relates to her car—but I just looked right back at her.

“Do whatever you want,” I said. “I don’t care. I deal with Grandma and the car, but I’m not going to unnecessarily deal with the DMV.”

“I don’t think—” my sister started, and I held up a hand to stop her.

“Look, you called me in here to help you, presumably, and I came in here thinking I was going to be helpful, but all you’ve done since I’ve turned the corner has been to attack me. I’m not going to put up with that, so I’m done helping and will be going back into the other room to read.”

“Mom’s the one who drives the most around here,” she said. “She should have the membership, not Grandma.”

“And Mom’s also the only person who has a driver’s license in this house who’s also never gotten a ticket. Her little guardian angels don’t work overtime like yours have to… No offense.”

“That doesn’t sound like ‘no offense’,” my sister frowned, her eyes tearing up.

“Does Mom even want a AAA membership?”

“Well, when she comes back,” my sister said, “we can ask her.”

You can ask her. This has nothing to do with me. I wasn’t even part of the conversation before you called me in here.”

“It was Dad who wanted you in on the conversation, not me!” she cried.

“Here’s what I think,” my dad finally cut in again. “Katy needs her own membership. She has her own car; she needs her own membership.” My sister opened her mouth to say something and then closed it again when it was apparent our father wasn’t finished. He continued. “In a perfect world, you”—he nodded at me—“and Grandma would have a membership together because the deal with her and the car is with you, not Katy. And your mom and I would have our own membership.”

“Fine by me,” I said to him, “but I already paid for your and my ‘family membership’ for this year, so figure it out.”

My mom walked by behind us toward the kitchen and I said, “Whatever, people. Figure your shit out and I will do that.” I looked pointedly at my sister: “Remember what I said about the DMV, though.”

I left the room. My sister, in tears, fled upstairs. My mom, standing in the kitchen pouring herself a glass of water, asked, “Everything okay?”

I shrugged. “Drama.”

“Should I go in there?”

“You can if you want; we were talking about you.” She looked alarmed, and I shook my head. “It’s stupid; it’s about AAA.” She blinked, gave me an owl stare for half a second, and then burst out laughing.

And that, my friends, is my family and AAA. /dies

(Unrelated side note: I got as much of this as what I was expecting when I typed “AAA” into Google’s image search.)

Death of the Body: Hunt + Giveaway

Death of the Body cover Death of the Body
By Rick Chiantaretto
Orenda Press
11 December 2013

BOOK DESCRIPTION
I grew up in a world of magic. By the time I was ten I understood nature, talked to the trees, and listened to the wind. When the kingdom of men conquered my town, I was murdered by one of my own—the betrayer of my kind. But I didn’t stay dead. I woke to find myself in a strange new world called Los Angeles. The only keys to the life I remembered were my father’s ring, my unique abilities, and the onslaught of demons that seemed hell-bent on finding me. Now I must learn who I really am, protect my friends, get the girl, and find my way back to my beloved hometown of Orenda.

FROM THE PUBLICIST
Let’s go on a hunt! Each blog participating in this tour (see below for links) has shared a Teaser image. Mixed into ten of them are numbers that have been emphasized. So start visiting!

Click the Mother Tree bracelet image
for more information about the giveaway!

Save the blog’s Names and the #s you find until the last day of the tour! Then send an email to michelle@ markmywordsbookpublicity.com with the subject line: “The Hunt List” with the blogs names listed in order #1-10! If you get the order correct you will be entered to win! Careful, not all the images contain the information you need.

***These entry points will ONLY be counted if we receive an email with your list by midnight on February 3rd—if you list the blogs in the correct order you will receive an extra 10 entries!***

TOUR SCHEDULE
1/27: Sapphyria’s Book Reviews, Mom With A Kindle, Wicca Witch 4 Book Blog
1/28: A Book Addict’s Bookshelves, Worlds of Words, Margay Leah Justice, Novel Grounds, Reading Room
1/29: Here is Some of What I Read, The Passionate Bookworms, Book Hog
1/30: Verna Loves Books, Rose’s Book Blog, Mythical Books, Snarky Bloggers, Duncan Heights
1/31: Addicted to Books, Fabulous and Fun, Never Judge a Book By It’s Movie, Coffee & Art & Books

Death of the Body teaser

Perfect Ending

Perfect Ending cover Perfect Ending:
Why Your Eternal Future Matters Today

By Robert Jeffress
Worthy Publishing
21 January 2014

“When will Jesus Christ return? When is the Second Coming?” Those are the big questions for many Christians. As someone who does not identify as Christian (or Christ-follower, or any variation thereof), Bible prophecy isn’t on me list of important things to keep track of. I have a hard enough time believing that Jesus lived, enacted miracles, and was who he said he was when he was alive. Most days, I don’t even bother thinking about something many preachers and (arguably false) prophets have failed to correctly predict. Not that prediction is a science or necessarily anything more than wishful thinking, but there are many things we can do today (heart transplants, using the internet, plastic cards taken as currency) that would’ve been witchcraft in the past, so who am I to say that predictions of the future will never be correct? It’s just that they haven’t been so far.

Honestly, I think people think too much about Bible prophecy, the Book of Revelation, and “why your eternal future matters today”—which is exactly the opposite of what the author of Perfect Ending argues in his easy-to-read, 236-page book, complete with Bible verses on every page and study questions for each chapter. Jeffress goes from explaining the similarities and differences between “the Tribulation” and “the Rapture” and “Premillenialism” and so on to mentioning what’s temporary (God turning his back on Israel, for one thing) to talking about what’s permanent (heaven and hell are final destinations and there’s no backing out after death). I’m making it sound much more complicated than he does, but it trying to absorb and retain all the information in Perfect Ending, I just kept thinking to myself, “I see now why so many Mormons could think such ridiculous things about heaven, heaven on Earth, and the afterlife.”

The Book of Revelation, where the most prophecy regarding the “end times” is in the Bible, was written by a traumatized exile hiding on an island who somehow thought that writing down his delusions and hallucinations would be a good thing. Seriously, step back for a minute and think about it. It’s just… the whole thing’s incredible.

To whom would I recommend this book? It was actually well-thought out and covers a lot of the strangeness that many people don’t understand about Christian fanatics who get stuck in an “You’re going to hell if you don’t repent right now!” end times loop in their lives. I wasn’t expecting much from Perfect Ending, but it actually helped me better understand the Second Coming idea and all that surrounds it. I was going to donate this book after reading it, but it’s seems pretty useful as a reference, so I’ll probably keep it around. I didn’t agree with the theology, but I live with and deal with people who do agree with it, and I think understanding their beliefs about the future and the end of the world will help me work with them more compassionately.

DISCLAIMER: I received Perfect Ending free from Worthy Publishing for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Eyes Wide Open

Eyes Wide Open cover Eyes Wide Open
By Ted Dekker
Worthy Publishing
21 January 2014

I’ve read one other of Ted Dekker’s novels, and unfortunately Eyes Wide Open is similar… at least it’s similar in the sense that the storyline is at the same time predictable and surprising. It’s true that this novel threw in some unexpected twists and turns, but ultimately I was disappointed.

It began interestingly enough: Christy, the protagonist, gets stuck—literally—in a grave of her own making, however accidental the circumstances may have been. But the tension and suspense implied on the back cover is resolved within the first three of four chapters: though she got herself stuck in a virtual coffin, Christy also manages to get herself out.

Strange things kept happening: she goes from her almost-coffin to a locked psych ward, and then her friend Austin also stumbles into the psych ward while he’s trying to find Christy after she left him a frantic partial voicemail message. And yet, it was so unfulfilling: the other patients were two-dimensional, the therapists and staff were presented as misguided at best and downright evil at at worst, and their techniques were not at all therapeutic. Maybe that was the point since Christy is saved by “the Outlaw” and eventually manages to escape (and help Austin escape) the dangerous ward and its wardens.

Honestly, though? I am so, so done with psych hospitals/units/wards being a backdrop for drama. Psychology and psychiatry are good for many people; psychiatric hospital(s) as a representations of all the world’s evils, as Dekker implies in Eyes Wide Open, hardly inspires confidence in the medical professionals in the mental health field. Can I have a novel that has a psych ward in it that actually helps people instead of making them crazier? Just once? What a revolutionary idea that must be!

While I admit this novel was a page-turner, it was mostly a page-turner for me because I kept hoping it would defy convention and expectations. In that respect, it never surprised me at all. The end seemed rushed and sort of thrown together like the author had a deadline: the Outlaw tells Christy about the past she cannot remember, and what he tells her is basically out of left field. No foreshadowing, no explanation or even “Oh, that makes sense”-type of realization. Eh. I was less-than-impressed.

DISCLAIMER: I received Eyes Wide Open free from Worthy Publishing for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Big Daddy Weave’s ~Redeemed~

Redeemed cover Redeemed
By Mike Weaver of the band Big Daddy Weave
Freeman-Smith LLC
27 August 2013

partial Redeemed lyrics
I am redeemed, You set me free
So I’ll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain, ’cause I’m not who I used to be

All my life I have been called unworthy
Named by the voice of my shame and regret
But when I hear You whisper, “Child lift up your head”
I remember, oh God, You’re not done with me yet

I’m coming at this song and devotional from a completely different perspective than I suspect most readers of Redeemed are. Before reading through the book, I’d never heard—or even heard of—the song of the same name, which inspired the thirty included devotions. I read through the entire book before ever listening to the song that prompted it; I hoped that in doing so, I would appreciate the song itself more than I would’ve the other way around.

Each chapter makes up one devotion, which is split into the following smaller sections: title, Bible verse, 3-4 paragraphs of related writing, “more promises from God’s word” (3-4 further verses), “more great ideas” (4+ related quotations from prominent Christians), “a prayer for today”, and a one-page section for the reader to write their own thoughts about the devotion’s material/topic, etc.

The chapter titles all begin with “Redeemed…” and continue with topics like “from the Shame”, “and Courageous”, and “for All Time”. As you may imagine, the Bible verses and the rest of each devotion center around its title. As a reader and a skeptic, I think that reading different versions of the Bible is absolutely a great thing to do, but when another book (especially a devotional) is just taking verses here and there, the verses should all be from the same version. Just pick a version and stick with it. This devotional uses nine—nine—different versions: King James Version, New King James Version, The Message, New International Version, New Living Translation, New Century Version, English Standard Version, New American Standard Bible, and Holman Christian Standard Bible. That’s like reading something written semi-randomly in nine different dialects, and it doesn’t inspire confidence. Even though all the versions mentioned here are in English, anyone who’s read the King James Version will tell you it’s markedly different from The Message, which is much different from the Holman Christian Standard Bible, and so on.

The further ideas from prominent Christians section isn’t that much better, but for a different reason. First, the quotations “are not, in all cases, exact quotations, as some have been edited for clarity and brevity”. Some were retrieved from secondary sources, and their “accuracy cannot be guaranteed”. I understand that brevity is the soul of wit and all that, but it strikes me as dishonest for an author to mold another person’s words to fit his own purposes, whatever his good intentions may be. The reader is forced to trust the author’s interpretation of another person’s words. It’s like reading a translation of a translation, which is problematic in and of itself, but could be acceptable if it was so presented. But in this case, I can’t tell how accurate these “quotations” actually are, and there’s no obvious warning about the author’s paraphrasing.

Second, this section is taken up far more by men’s words than by women’s, at a clip of more than 2 to 1 (which is a far better ratio than I was expecting, to the author’s credit… sort of). Since I can safely assume that most, if not all, of the Bible was written by men—and most, if not all, of the Bible was translated by men—having men’s words outpace women’s words so completely in the section following multiple Bible verses just adds insult to injury.

I ended up so disheartened by the devotional that I didn’t even bother listening to the song that prompted it. “Redeemed” (the song) may have inspired millions, but I cannot in good faith recommend this book. When I read a devotional, I want to be lost in the wonder of God, but when the devotions themselves are so problematic, it’s impossible for me to find much worth in them.

DISCLAIMER: I received Redeemed free from Worthy Publishing for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Sebastian and the Afterlife

Sebastian and the Afterlife cover Sebastian and the Afterlife
By William J. Barry
The Writer’s Coffee Shop
11 October 2012

Death is a debt we all must pay. ~Euripides

…and Sebastian, the title character in Sebastian and the Afterlife, has just paid his debt. The author creates an intriguing world in between life and afterlife, one that begins after Sebastian dies, though how he dies is brushed over and never really readdressed.

Sebastian is seventeen and his primary concern is for his widowed girlfriend, Sarah. I was confused by that idea—what about his family or best friend, or anyone else?—until I realised that he’s seventeen; of course it’s all about the girlfriend. (To the author’s credit, though, Sebastian’s still-living friends are important, too.)

There are two girl characters of note—or three, if you include the primary love interest Sarah. (Don’t even get me started on how annoying it is that yet another novel using a girl/woman as a goal or reward instead of as a character in and of herself. Ugh.) The melodrama is reminiscent of Romeo & Juliet, but it didn’t really seem like Sebastian was connected to everything he’d just lost by dying, and I’m not sure his still living family and friends were really connected to (the memory of) him. The emotion seemed… skimmed over, I guess?

Sebastian and the Afterlife was an easy read—and relatively short—but the writing style was choppy and unsophisticated, and it pulled me out of the story too often for me to really enjoy the content. Likewise, the story implied in the book’s description—about the Grim Reaper and his agents, Axis Red and the soul pirates, and the war over souls—turned out to be background against Sebastian’s simplistic idea that if he could just get one last kiss from Sarah, he’d be able to move on into the Afterlife proper.

The potential was there, but assuming that immature writing is acceptable just because the intended audience is children and youth is a mistake. There are two further books in the series, Agents of the Reaper and Forever Awakening, so it’s obvious the author has stories to tell about Sebastian and the other characters, but I wish he’d have spent more time in the first book to make it really great instead of just okay.

DISCLAIMER: I received an ebook version of Sebastian and the Afterlife free from The Writer’s Coffee Shop for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.