Archives for March 2011

“Sweet Valley Confidential”

Finding books now is much easier than it was when I was younger. I can sit on my computer and search Amazon for exactly the titles I might be interested in. And, well, I have my own finances to spend on books. When I was younger I basically read whatever I could get my hands on because there wasn’t another option. My grandmother was a large provider of books but I wasn’t yet familiar with authors that I could rely on and since I had to pretty much stand on top of a book to see what it was, I didn’t find as much enjoyment in perusing bookstore or library shelves as I do now. Anyway, my grandmother sticks to serial romances so it was no big leap for her to suggest trying out something similar. This also meant that she had an easy way to keep track of what to get next in terms of gifts because then she could just run around with a list of numbers rather than a lengthy bibliography.

All that is to say that I was one of the many that read The Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High. Both of which are going through a bit of a revitalization of late. BSC is apparently re-releasing books with updates for the current times; while, SVH has a new book penned by creator Francine Pascal set ten years after the original series. For those of you who were living under a literary rock in the early 80’s to late 90’s (or aren’t a girl), Sweet Valley High was a series of books about two identical twins living the life in idyllic Southern California. They’re blond, they’re beautiful, and they’re absolutely not alike at all. Basically, it was a soap opera in written form about sixteen-year-olds. Anyway, curiosity compelled me to check out the new SVH book.

Book cover

It’s been way more than ten years since I stopped reading Sweet Valley High books. I’ve forgotten more about the series as a whole than most people are even vaguely familiar with. I was never a diehard fan, but they were something to read and they weren’t terrible.1 But to be honest, I was not expecting much out of this book.

Which is probably good because it didn’t offer much. Oh, there’s a story of sorts there. One that kind of meanders around before bothering to go anywhere and then when it does finally manage to get off its own arse it peters out in a rather unremarkable and way too conveniently SVH style way. You know, happy endings abound. Blah blah blah. That in itself is irksome, but the thing that just bewilders me is that there’s so much time devoted to the pure shock value of introducing the old characters in their new and completely different lives. It plays out rather like a sensationalized high school reunion where (shockingly!) everyone has grown up and had these dramatic lives that no one expected. And maybe that was the point? Even so it’s either not interesting enough or so over-the-top that it defies believability. Mostly, I just found myself rolling my eyes.

Liz and Jess are basically the same as I recall them, if not even more dynamically extreme in their personalities. It’s hard to believe that anyone can be as selfless as Liz or as selfish as Jess and yet ten years later they’re still having basically the same issues they were having when we could blame it on teenaged hormones. Todd’s completely one-dimensional and everyone else has so little time in the spotlight that they’re basically day players on a television show.

If it were just that, I’d probably have managed to gleam a modicum of enjoyment out of the book just chalking it up to a trashy read. But then there’s all the stuff that truly aggravated me. One, the book jumps points-of-view like I change socks. Sometimes paragraph by paragraph! This is kind of humorous since there’s an apparent clue as to who is telling the story at the beginning of each chapter by way of a caption for which city we’re in because I don’t know about you but I always have a hard time figuring out the difference between Manhattan and Sweet Valley.

The coup de grâce is that the book switches what tense it’s told in, too! And in a move that can only be the most backwards thing I can think of the FLASHBACKS are told in first person present tense, while the rest of the book is in third person past-tense. Which leads me into my biggest issue of all: the Valley speak. Really, do people actually talk like that? I’ve never been to the West Coast, but it just seems quite far-fetched. Moreover I don’t recall Jessica having this odd speech impediment in the actual series and even if she did I would think that in ten years she could have grown out of using “like” and “so” and “way” every third word. Not to mention no one else except Jess speaks like that.

Even though there was all that to contend with, surprisingly, I did read the entire book. I can only chalk it up to the fact that it was just too much of a train wreck to put down, but I will admit there were a few moments spread here and there that I found truly enjoyable. Unfortunately, they were so few and far between they couldn’t stop the sinking that was this book’s ship . . . and then there was the epilogue which is just downright cringe-worthy in every way that sealed its fate entirely. My curiosity is fully sated and yet I can’t help but feel it was a waste of my time.

  1. I do have a theory that it is through reading this kind of stuff in my “tween” years that completely put me off to soap operas and chick flicks.

“Feed”

I don’t like horror. I don’t necessarily mind reading it, though, I’m not drawn to reading about gore and violence. However, I’ve been known to read many a thing that technically doesn’t fall into my interests just because it’s well written.

All that said, I’m always up for recommendations. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll never beat down Mt. TBR so the best course of action is just read as much as I can before I shuffle off this mortal coil. So, my friend Alice is quite a fan of Seanan McGuire and has been outright pestering me to read her stuff. I was a bit wary because while I fully believed that Alice’s rave reviews were on par — our reading habits tend to mesh quite nicely — I’m just not that into fairies. So, Alice suggested starting with this new series McGuire is penning under the name of Mira Grant. The author sums it up better than I could:

The Newsflesh Trilogy is a story about blogging, politics, medical science, espionage, betrayal, the ties that bind, the ties that don’t, how George Romero accidentally saved the world, and, of course, zombies. It’s thoughtful horror, and horrific science fiction, and I’m very fond of it.

I’ve read a few post-(zombie-)apocalyptic novels — especially over the last several years — so the idea of setting a novel there wasn’t new to me. However, the idea of not having the focus of the book be everyone getting their brains eaten does appeal to me and the more good things I read online about Feed the more I had to finally crack it open . . . or in this case download it onto my Kindle.

Book cover

Reviewing Feed is difficult for me because my thoughts are incredibly scattered about it. On the one hand I think it’s brilliant; it’s well written, deeply thought-provoking, intensely entertaining, and on more than one occasion managed to literally make me laugh out loud. The premise isn’t itself entirely new, but Grant (who is openly known to be the ridiculously talented Seanan McGuire) manages to combine many different elements of the genre in a fresh and unique way. I’m the first to admit that horror itself is not the draw for me in any book — and if you’re looking for it here you might be sadly disappointed. The book isn’t focused on the gore or fear factors.

Instead, it’s like having the narrator sitting on your couch relaying her story. And that’s sort of where the author loses me a bit because George, the primary narrator, has a mildly difficult time staying on topic. This amuses me to no end because she’s a journalist and staying on point isn’t just a necessary skill, it’s a job requirement. That’s not to say she’s suddenly talking about fashion in the middle of a zombie attack, nor am I saying that it’s even presented in a way that is boring. In fact, it’s anything but. A lot of the most interesting parts of the book are during all these exposition tangents that George takes. However, there are a LOT of these and they sometimes go on for pages at a time. Of course, this is a bit of the pot and kettle here because I do this all the time in both my writing and in just speaking with others. And when I catch myself I marvel at how anyone follows along with me because I’m basically rambling along, which is probably why this was such an issue for me in the book. Anytime I felt like I was especially riveted in the plot suddenly there was some other random piece of information that George had to tell me be it further history of Kellis-Amberlee or the way politics has been run for the last 25 years. I won’t say I didn’t care, but it made focusing on the current situation of the plot so much harder. And, honestly, sometimes I just didn’t care. But it is entertaining and interesting enough to be only a minor issue.

What turned out to cause me the most issue with the book was three somewhat throwaway statements that any lay person would most likely never notice. And to be honest I’m willing to chalk these up to that and/or complete ignorance of specifics about blindness. However, as a blind person with extreme light sensitivity I couldn’t help but notice the gross inaccuracies that were presented, even if the statements themselves were rather innocuous. The first, which actually if I recall properly was the last of the three things that stood out for me to occur within the book, I will mention only because I couldn’t help but be somewhat personally insulted: that being George’s statement that she couldn’t lose her sight because of her need to do specific things. Granted, of course, I’m not running around worrying about my fellow man spontaneously noshing on me, and I admit readily that this was most probably the reason the statement was made but it perpetuates a myth that blind people are essentially helpless and it never ceases to infuriate me.

The inaccuracies I mention are with regards to light sensitivity and retinal damage. Let me first say that I commend the author for her almost perfect depiction of a person dealing with light sensitivity. George’s inner dialog about her handicap is spot on and I know because I suffer from exactly the same thing. Well, minus the whole zombie virus. What I dispute is the reference that the virus makes it so that she does not need to blink. This is because her eyes no longer require lubricating, which is pretty much why people blink. However, a light sensitive person blinks much more than the average person because of this fact; light is painful and the sensitivity to it causes an involuntary need to blink to protect one’s eyes. It has absolutely zero to do with lubrication and I can only justify the statement by way of rationalizing that the zombie virus has affected her pain reaction, except there’s too many times that George notes an aversion to light or subsequent pain from exposure to light. There is also a mention that a blind person doesn’t have to worry about damaging their retinas by way of exposure to light (essentially UV rays). This utterly incorrect. Just because a blind person has limited or no vision does not mean that they can’t inflict damage to their eyes. In fact, while I loathe the eye doctor with the fiery passion of a thousand suns, I am the first to advocate regular visits to one by anyne whether sighted or not because there are many things that can impact the health of your eyes. Basically, a blind person is just as likely to damage their eyes staring at the sun as a fully sighted person. In some cases even more so.

It was these things that sent me into an absolute fury and if it weren’t for the fact that I could compartmentalize these issues and move past them, I wouldn’t have managed to finish the book. Of course, I kept reading and I’m very glad for that because the book itself is truly grand. It’s impeccably researched and well thought out and there is little that happens in it that doesn’t feel exactly appropriate. While there are nitpicky things I have — even aside from the aggravation I have over the blindness stuff — I can’t fault the book as a whole for them. It’s honestly just too good for that. Will definitely be reading the sequel, Deadline, when it comes out in a few months.

“Do or do not. There is no try.”

Possibly the Star Wars marathon is affecting my mind, but all day this statement of Yoda’s to Luke kept running through my head as Uschi and I ran here and there.

Uschi chowing down on a a mini puppie cuppie from Bettie's Cakes at Colonie CenterIn short, since being partnered with Uschi we have not had a real day of work. The weather has just been completely uncooperative and I’m even if it weren’t I’m just a wimp when it comes to the cold. But honestly, I just haven’t had a truly busy enough day that’s required some real work on Uschi’s part.

Until today that is. We were out the door bright and early this morning and walked back through that same door about eleven hours later. All the running itself is hardly interesting. Rather the noteworthy aspect of today was that Uschi was absolutely unfazed. We rode a total of six different buses today, walked at least eight miles, and had some of the strangest encounters with the general public that I can recall in recent years and through it all she remained calm, collected and ever focused.

Uschi checking out her new mammoth (15 inches long) bone in honor of our upcoming anniversary dayOh, and this included a 30+ minute ride on a bus sitting right next to another guide dog and in case you’ve forgotten Uschi’s quite distracted by dogs (or animals in general). Behind us on that same bus ride was an eleven-month-old baby who spent the entire ride split between very loudly alerting the bus to the fact there was a dog right in front of him and working at pulling out any of her fur he could reach — and Uschi barely noticed him.

To celebrate her awesomeness, I swung by Bettie’s Cakes to nab her a treat. She ended up with a dozen because the regular sized cupcakes were sadly no good. And in a moment of weakness I decided to give her the bone I’d gotten for our three month Dog Day! anniversary. Both were very well received and, I think, very much deserved.

I’m so incredibly proud of my little girl. \o/

Ugh. Just Ugh.

Today was one of those days where I spent the majority of it wishing I could crawl back into bed and start it all over.

First, I had a doctor’s appointment which always puts me in a sour mood. Inexplicably I had to have blood drawn and the nurse was a total bitch about the fact that I really wanted her to draw it from my right arm. Yes, I know the veins are easier to see in my left arm, but depending on the proficiency of the phlebotomist I end up with varying degrees of pain in my inner elbow after a blood draw. And as I work my dog on my left, which is the standard for a guide dog, I don’t want to have my arm in pain since my elbow will be bent and have 70 pounds of shepherd tugging on it. She did draw from my right arm and grouched about it the entire time stating that it shouldn’t hurt. Except she made my fingertips tingle, so I strenuously dispute this.

I then spent the better part of two hours trying to get through to someone at Verizon regarding my internet service because I had been double billed. I lost count of the number of times I ended up finally getting a human being only to be blindly transferred and end up back at the automated system to make a payment. And the number of morons I ended up speaking with who kept telling me the issue was from automatic payments requiring a month to cancel literally was sending me through the roof since I’ve never set up automatic payments with Verizon. I made that mistake with Sprint and they managed to triple bill me once and overdrew my checking account by almost $200. Thankfully, I have overdraft protection now, but nonetheless automatic payments were not the issue. The issue had stemmed from setting up a payment, canceling it and then paying a different way because they added a surcharge to a payment made with my debit card. To top all this off, I kept being asked if I wanted to make a payment when my account it sitting there in front of them showing a CREDIT BALANCE! Good grief, no I don’t want to pay you more! I want my damn money back you essentially stole from me! Or at the very least to be assured without a doubt that you wouldn’t be taking yet more money from me as a payment. Ugh. Supposedly, I have the issue resolved, but by then I’d kind of stopped caring one way or the other.

There was a silver lining to the day at least: I had lunch with Angelia and Margaret and it was very yummy and very fun. Tomorrow there should be some fun stuff coming in the mail and arriving on my Kindle thanks to pre-orders. And I am meeting Kerry for dinner at The Cheesecake Factory. So, I’m going to focus on all that and try and decompress from this mess of a day.

Babblings

Today was a pretty laid back kind of day.

I’m still working my way through Feed. It’s a very interesting read and I have a lot of thoughts about it, though, I don’t know how much that will translate into actually writing a review. As it is I’m still trying to form a completely opinion on the book. I don’t dislike it by any means, but something about it that I haven’t yet defined keeps me from saying right out that I do in fact like it. I know that makes no sense; it doesn’t even make sense to me! I think my issue is that I’m very engaged in the story, but then there will be something that just knocks me right out of the narrative. Today, for instance I spent the better part of 20 minutes venting to Alice about one small line about blindness that isn’t really central to the plot but nonetheless bothered me greatly. Partly this is because its a throwaway reference so I can’t tell where specifically the stress is, but the point that was being made was nonetheless entirely incorrect and bothered me greatly.

Uschi and I also ran some errands today. I think I am finally settling into this partnership because her continued calm and focused work seems more natural and less of an odd surprise. It was still a bit chilly out, but the sun was shining and the wind has died down considerably as opposed to yesterday, so we actually walked a bit out of our way just to get some good working time in. I’m used to taking the dogs out for at least five miles daily for both our benefits, but this winter made it virtually impossible to do that regularly. It was refreshing and pleasant and I’m looking forward to being able to get back into this habit again. The only downside, though, is now that I’ve moved I no longer have any real destination nearby to walk to. There are sidewalks and back paths to walk that are safe and quiet, but to get to any real place other than CVS I need to take the bus. It’s kind of a shame, but it could be worse.

The rest of the day has been taken up by the continued Star Wars marathon. And in case you were at all wondering how serious my half-brother is about the “all things” aspect, I can inform you that not only am I irrevocably damaged from having to sit through The Star Wars Holiday Special, but also today we watched both of the Ewok TV movies. I have fond memories of watching the latter two films as a child — and I have a stuffed Ewok in my office — so I won’t say they were bad, but I don’t think they’ve aged well. Ugh. Anyway, next up are the prequels.

Tomorrow I have a doctor’s appointment and then Uschi and I are meeting friends for lunch and dinner. If nothing else, it should be a busy day!