Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What I Read in 2012

Goodreads is a great way to track what you read throughout the year, but I thought I would also try a post to list and rate the books I read this year, if only to give myself a better idea of how much reading I'm managing to get through.

So, here they are in roughly the order in which I read them, along with my star ranking from one to five with five being a book I thought was great and would read again. Four stars is a book I really enjoyed but might not want to read again. Three stars is a book I liked but wouldn't read over again, and anything less means it had issues for me.

1. Chasm City by Alistair Reynolds *****  I've read a few by Mr. Reynolds so far, but this is the best. He brings to life an amazing city on a distant planet in a way I haven't seen done so well by any other author.
2. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson ****
3. The Once and Future King by T.H. White ***
4. The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson ****
5. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy *** and a half
6. A Circle in the Woods by Winston Emerson ***
7. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson ****
8. To Green Angel Tower part 2 by Tad Williams ****
9. Acting in Film by Michael Caine ****
10. The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss ***** Amazing. Rothfuss may challenge George Martin as the best living fantasy writer.
11. Acting for the Camera by Tony Barr ***
12. The 25th Hour by David Benioff **** and a half
13. City of Thieves by David Benioff ***** Everyone should read this brilliant little story
14. The Skystone by Jack Whyte ****
15. The Singing Sword by Jack Whyte *** and a half
16. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood ***
17. Duma Key by Stephen King ****
18. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson ****
19. Chronicles of the Black Company by Glen Cook ***** Just my type of fantasy! Vivid sword and sorcery blended with military fantasy that reminds me of the hellhounds from the Thieves World novels. Not quite as brilliant as Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, but still right up there.

Note that there are several books that I began and haven't finished. Two of them were just dreary and irritating for me, these being Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke and Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Others are ones that I haven't yet completed, though they will get decent or even great ratings, such as the one I just began--The Passage by Justin Cronin. The others I am still currently reading are Rose Madder by Stephen King and Auditioning: An Actor-friendly Guide by Joanna Merlin.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Hobbit Movie -- My Review

Along with just about everyone, it seems, I saw the first part of The Hobbit this weekend (note there may be spoilers here for any who have not yet seen the movie). While it didn't come close to being as good as any of the Lord of the Rings films, it was better than my low expectations for it. I had been dreading the comedy aspects of it more than anything else, but those ended up not bothering me so much. And what many critics disliked about it--the loads of exposition--were some of my favorite bits. I especially liked it when it showed historical scenes from when the dwarves lived in Erebor and when Smaug came.
Now, I've seen a lot of people rave about Richard Armitage as the leader of the dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield. While I didn't dislike him in the part, I felt he rarely changed expression throughout the entire film, making him a bit one-dimensional to me. I especially disliked the scene where the entire company is dangling from a tree over a cliff and he decides to walk away from them to challenge his orc nemesis, when it appeared he had the breathing room to turn around and help his companions to not plunge to their deaths, as they should have if the film had been a tad more realistic in its portrayal of action sequences.

That last is actually my biggest problem with the movie--the action sequences were so unrealistic as to be absurd, which pulled me right out of the believability. Lord of the Rings had done a decent job of keeping it real. The Hobbit doesn't bother with realism at all. I won't bore you with a listing of every scene that bothered me, but I'll tell you the worst offenders:

1. The mountain giants -- in the book, if I remember correctly, the giants are at play in the storm off in the distance, so the party decides to hide in a cave to ride out the storm. In the film the giants are 'warring' with each other and the party happens to be on one of the giants as it gets up and enters the fray. So much of what happens is utterly ludicrous and anyone would have died or at least been seriously maimed. The sheer quantity of rocks and fragments flying around makes it impossible that they would have come through unscathed, yet that is exactly what happens.

2. In the goblin caverns, they flee and go through several absurdly long falls into chasms, which with, you know, uh,...gravity...would have killed all or most of them. Yet it happens over and over again and not one of them gets so much as a scratch, it appears.

3. When the company climbs into the trees to flee the chasing orcs and wargs, the sequence goes off the deep end, with wargs actually knocking over trees just by slamming into them. Not only this, but each tree does a whole domino effect thing, with the company jumping from tree to tree as each collapses under the weight of those unbelievably powerful wargs.

The sad thing, in my opinion, is that there was simply no need to make things so unrealistic. I'm not one that needs the movie to follow the book faithfully. I understand that movies need a different type of story than books generally, if they are to succeed. But regular, believable action would have worked splendidly.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

King Animal by Soundgarden

In these sad days for music when presentation tends to trump substance, it's refreshing to have an album come out from a band that wrote its own music, played its own instruments, didn't need any dance choreography, and gave us solid or even great tracks from beginning to end. That album is King Animal by Soundgarden.

Soundgarden was one of the original bands involved in the early nineties Grunge movement out of Seattle. I saw them live, opening for Guns n Roses, before I knew who they were, but they impressed me more than the headliners did, and I immediately bought their latest album and fell in love with the incredibly heavy sound of the song Searching With My Good Eye Closed. It's still my favorite Soundgarden song, though they've done well enough to have more than fifty songs of four stars or higher in my iTunes list.

Their most commercial album Superunknown was my least favorite, though it still had some good stuff like 4th of July. They broke up in 1997 shortly after releasing my favorite of their albums Down on the Upside.

Fifteen years later the group overcame their disputes and got back together. Would they still have their old chemistry? King Animal gives us a resounding 'yes'!

In the past I got used to their songs often appealing to me right off, while with this album I had to let it grow on me by multiple listens (the same thing I had to do with one of my all-time favorite albums--Mer de Noms by A Perfect Circle). I've now listened to the album more than fifty times, and there are no tracks of less than three stars in my iTunes, and there are only two of those, which makes this a pretty amazing album.

Taste differs from person to person, so these ratings are mine alone. Here are my rankings of the songs in the approximate order of how much I like them:

5 stars: Bones of Birds, Blood on the Valley Floor, Worse Dreams, By Crooked Steps
4.5 stars: Taree
4 stars: Non-State Actor, A Thousand Day's Before, Eyelid's Mouth, Attrition, Black Saturday, Been Away Too Long
3 stars: Halfway there, Rowing

They did a great sounding mini-concert on Letterman a month ago, and here was an oldie but goodie to turn way up and enjoy.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dived vs Dove

Ever been confused about the past tense of the word 'dive'? You'll see it in literature as both 'dived' and 'dove'.

The truth is that both are correct. Purists from Britain will argue that only 'dived' is correct, and that is the form you will see there. In Canada you will see a mix of both. The US mainly uses 'dove', and this latter form has been in use for well over a century.