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Fire Watch
Connie Willis
Lonely Planet: Southeast Asia on a shoestring
China Williams, Greg Bloom, Celeste Brash, Andrew Burke
Fodor's See It Thailand 2008
Fodor's Travel Publications Inc.
Counter-Clock World - Philip K. Dick It's been a while since I've read any PKD, so I was way overdue for a dose of his usual crazy. This one comes with an extra helping of surreality! It's the future (i.e. the year 1998 -- Dick didn't really leave himself much room with this one) and for reasons no one is really sure about, time has begun moving backward. It's a phenomenon known as the Hobart Phase, named after the guy who predicted it, who of course everyone assumed was a lunatic until it actually happened. Now people don't eat, they disgorge food; men don't shave in the morning but apply whiskers instead; and people begin smoking by lighting butts from the ashtray, which grow which each inhalation until they're full cigarettes again. There's some amusing wordplay with this -- "food" is now an expletive instead of "shit", and people greet each other with "goodbye" and end conversations by saying "hello". In addition, the library is no longer a depository of books and knowledge but a place where the written word is systematically eradicated. (There's a touch of [b:Fahrenheit 451|4381|Fahrenheit 451|Ray Bradbury|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1351643740s/4381.jpg|1272463] about it.) Oh yeah, and the dead come back to life in their graves to start the whole cycle over again, growing young, dwindling into children and babies, and then finally finding a womb to crawl back into. Kind of a disturbing visual, that last part.

The whole reverse-time thing isn't that consistent though, and I wish it were more so. As usual, Dick is really great with ideas and then falters a bit in the execution. His characters are typically a bit flat and undeveloped, and here they're incredibly naive and constantly doing stupid things to boot. I still enjoyed this one, though. I'm actually kind of surprised it was as easy to follow as it was, since the temporal changes were really only window dressing to the main story.

I actually kept trying to read all the future-y words backwards, searching for hidden meanings, but there weren't really any that I found. I almost would have expected Dick to write the whole story in reverse to go with the whole "Goodbye" and "Hello" changes in language and conversation: .him past it put wouldn't I .mindfuck postmodern a be really would that Now .ecneirepe kcolc-retnuoc eurt a rof sdrawkcab yletelpmoc levon eht eht gnitirw ,srettel eht ot nwod lla ti esrever neve rO

But I suppose that would be much more difficult to read.
Switch Bitch - Roald Dahl Original pre-read review, 4/15/2012:
This does not sound like the Roald Dahl I remember. Color me intrigued.

After reading, 9/10/2013:
So yeah, okay, this isn't the Roald Dahl I remember. But somehow it is. His style is all there: the dry humor, creepiness, and gross-out shock value all play a big part in these stories. They're just not for kids anymore. These four tales are all about sex, sex, SEX. I was actually expecting them to be a bit more titillating, but it turns out they're not explicit at all -- most of the action is implied and all the juicy bits happen "offscreen".

These stories are highly dated, though. This was published in the 1960's, so I'm not too surprised, but the attitudes towards sex and gender roles as portrayed here are definitely of another era. All of the male characters are highly misogynistic, and that's at their best -- many of them are downright rapey. Still, they all have twist endings and the men who have taken advantage of women in the stories typically have their plans backfire and get some punishment.

"The Visitor" -- 3 stars
Introduces the over-the-top hedonist and spider enthusiast (but germophobic) Oswald Hendryks Cornelius along with the story of one of his trysts. This was probably my favorite of the collection. Uncle Oswald is one of those people that would be absolutely insufferable in real life--a snobby womanizer who is completely self-absorbed--but he is wonderfully amusing as a character to read about.

"The Great Switcheroo" -- 3 stars
Two neighbors arrange to secretly have sex with each others' wives without the ladies finding out about it. This goes about as well as you would expect.

"The Last Act" -- 2 stars
Definitely my least favorite. This one isn't funny at all like the other three; it's mostly just depressing. I found the first part boring and the ending vaguely confusing. Meh.

"Bitch" -- 3 stars
Uncle Oswald is back and this time he's collaborating with a talented "nose" to create a perfume that will make a woman absolutely irresistable to any men who smell her. As in, they will be overcome by animal instincts, rip her clothes off, and assault her. See what I mean about the rapey?

Overall rating: 3 stars
I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats - Francesco Marciuliano Maybe I was expecting too much from these cat poets. A few of these were cute and made me crack a smile, though. My fave:

Oh, uh, hello
I did not expect an answer
I did not expect an entrance
I did not expect this room to be so unbelievably dull
So, uh, goodbye

Pretty much describes my cat to a T.
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Jean-Dominique Bauby, Jeremy Leggatt The first time I heard about Locked-In Syndrome was on that episode of House. I almost didn't believe it was a real condition at first, it seemed so horrific. Being trapped in your own body like that, with a mind as sharp as ever but unable to control your body or communicate? It's the stuff of nightmares. Because of the nature of the syndrome and its rarity, doctors know very little about it. They do have this firsthand account to go on, though -- Jean-Dominique Bauby became "locked-in" following a severe stroke and being a journalist, decided to write about his experience. He never recovered, however, and his entire memoir was composed and memorized in his head and then dictated to an assistant through a special code consisting entirely of blinking his left eyelid -- the only part of his body he could control. Now that is impressive.
Jellicoe Road - Melina Marchetta It took me much longer than I expected to get into this one. I kept seeing awesome rave reviews all over goodreads so I thought it would blow me away from the first page, but it took a while for me to make sense of the multiple narratives and how it all fit together. Once the pieces started falling into place I found myself enjoying it more and more.

And yes, I totally cried.
How to Live with a Neurotic Cat - Stephen Baker, Jackie Geyer Meh. The introduction made me smile --

"And then God created a furry lump which for lack of a better term He called the Cat. He looked at His creation and shook His head. It wasn't exactly what He had in mind.

He held the thing up in the air and it hung limply from His finger. He dropped it to the ground and it spread out in all directions as flat as a pancake.


He rubbed His beard incredulously. He didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. He knew of course that what He had just created was less than a miracle."

Unfortunately the rest of the book, while being cute, didn't really deliver the laughs. I don't think I even chuckled out loud once. Plus there's a bit too much dependence on the same old "cats sleep all day" jokes (and not much else), so it gets a bit repetitive. But it's not like this a book you're going to invest a lot of time in, so it's perfectly adequate for whiling away half an hour or so.
Stockholm: A Novel - Kian Kaul I have pretty much no idea what happened in this novel or what it was supposed to be about. I guess it's supposed to be a very near-future dystopia, but there's basically no world-building and the whole thing just seems undeveloped. The plot is either completely nonexistent or just very hard to follow -- it seems like nothing happens at all for the first two-thirds of the story, and then when all the action started it was totally unclear and I had no idea what was actually going on. Maybe the author intended for the events to be ambiguous, but I don't feel like it was executed well. I just never got into it and was bored the entire time.

I also didn't really care for the writing style. It's not bad exactly -- the sentences are grammatically correct, there's a minimum of typos -- but there are weird stylistic things that I found jarring. Again, some of this is probably intentional to illustrate the protagonist's overly-analytical thought processes and personality quirks, but it really broke the narrative flow. I don't need to read two pages of flowery descriptions of a cup of coffee (akin to a really overdone yelp review) in the middle of some dialogue.

I don't know guys, I guess I missed something with this one.
Sharp Objects - Gillian Flynn I feel like every Gillian Flynn book I read has even more fucked-up characters than the last. Except the first one I tackled was her most recent, [b:Gone Girl|8442457|Gone Girl|Gillian Flynn|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1339602131s/8442457.jpg|13306276], and finished up with this one (her debut), so maybe it's actually the opposite. In any case, [b:Sharp Objects|66559|Sharp Objects|Gillian Flynn|http://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1298431315s/66559.jpg|3801] was totally horrifying and I loved every minute of it.

I did suspect the killer fairly early on, but then I kept rethinking my suspicion so that didn't detract from the book or make it any less suspenseful. As with Flynn's other books, I found this one totally riveting.

Trigger warning for cutting, though I actually didn't find it as triggering as I expected from the description. Still, I try to warn about these things in case others are more sensitive.
Cat's Eye - Margaret Atwood I had almost forgotten how horrible kids can be to each other, especially girls. Completely heartbreaking; completely identifiable.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes -  Arthur Conan Doyle,  Sidney Paget,  Alex Lubertozzi Unfortunately the kindle formatting on this one was kind of terrible (missing full sentences in some places!) so I kept switching back and forth between this illustrated edition and another free edition without illustrations but that actually had the full, uninterrupted text. It's a shame, because I really liked the illustrations, but there's just no excuse for such bad formatting even if it's a public domain Amazon freebie that there are 500 editions of!

Other than that, the stories were good and had a nice variety of plots and mysteries (not just murders), but I can only take so much Sherlock at one time. They do become formulaic after a while.
How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship & Musical Theater - Marc Acito I definitely wasn't expecting deep literature with this one, but I was still disappointed. I thought it would be a cute, funny coming-of-age story about a bunch of awkward drama geeks. I guess it comes through on some of that, but unfortunately it's not really funny at all and every one of the characters is completely insufferable. Between the constant "OMG, Barbara Streisand is JUST like me!" and "No one understands my art because I'm just too good for them" snobbiness of the protagonist (and I'm paraphrasing here, but he makes equally eye-roll-inducing statements about once per page) and the ridiculous affectations of everyone else, there was just way too much annoying to go around. I could maybe, MAYBE have dealt with the beyond obnoxious narrative voice if that was the only major drawback, but it just was't.

The plot is just completely stupid and contrived. "Silly" doesn't even begin to describe it. The vast majority of the theatre/pop culture references felt really forced and grated after a while (once again, the main character's constant name-dropping). Also, I know theatre people are huge sluts and all, and teenageers experiment and whatever, but all these kids having tons of sex in every configuration and swapping partners just rang so false to me. I mean, staging an orgy to take blackmail photos? Scenes like that mixed with all the characters' sheltered ignorance and naivete was just absurd to me.

Not impressed.
The Shining Girls - Lauren Beukes OMG Lauren Beukes has a new novel and it's about a time-traveling serial killer? This sounds AMAZING.
Cinder - Marissa Meyer I actually enjoyed this one more than I expected to. I thought it would be a total novelty act like [b:Pride and Prejudice and Zombies|5899779|Pride and Prejudice and Zombies The Classic Regency Romance--Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem|Jane Austen|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320449653s/5899779.jpg|6072122] and others of that ilk (none of which I've read or have any desire to), but it's actually pretty clever. It's definitely its own story that borrows from the original Cinderella tale at times but completely differs in other parts.

It's certainly entertaining, but far from perfect. For one, Meyer's foreshadowing is extremely heavy handed so every turn of the plot was totally predictable. (Come on, who didn't call Cinder actually being Princess Selene from about the very first time she's mentioned?) Weak character development in some cases, including a total cardboard-cutout villainess. The world building could also use a stronger foundation -- I had quite a few plot hole-y WTF questions. Like If the Lunars are all so afraid of mirrors, why do they apparently have them? Just to conveniently place on dinner plates and have immediately identifiable by special runes so the royals know they're being tested? That seems like a stretch.... Also, the ending was completely unsatisfying. It wasn't quite a cliffhanger, but I would really appreciate a little more conclusion to the story than that whether or not there are more books in the series.

I will most likely read the next one, though. If nothing else, it was a nice bit of fluff.
The Shining - Stephen King This was my first Stephen King novel (really!) and I seriously don't get what all the fuss is about. Sure, this is an easy read and while it was never so horrible that I wanted to abandon ship, it was the type of book that I found myself frequently setting down and not really dying to pick it up again. It was my commute book for a few days and I never even came close to missing my stop on the train -- you subway readers know what I'm talking about! For something that's supposed to be a horror/thriller-type book, it was not particularly suspenseful. It also wasn't scary at all.

And ugh, the characters. I'm not the type of reader who has to like or identify with the characters in a book, but I just couldn't bring myself to care about anyone in this novel or what happened to them. I don't generally like kid protagonists, however precocious they may be, so that was a big part of it. Wendy, despite being described as "a reader", does absolutely nothing in the book except sleep, whine, cook, and occasionally have sex with her husband. I guess this is King's idea of a modern, supposedly intelligent woman? I was probably supposed to feel some sympathy towards her but sorry, I just couldn't do it. And where do I even begin with Jack? Asshole. Abusive, misogynistic, pathetic asshole. Don't give me that "the hotel made him do it" bullshit. He was an asshole before all that ballroom mumbo jumbo. I would hate him if he didn't bore me so much. The way he complains about needing a drink on every other page and is constantly wiping his mouth -- I'm sure this is supposed to be some endearing flaw but I couldn't help imagining him as some fool bumbling around and drooling everywhere. Halloran... well, I guess he was okay, but I didn't really care about him either. As far as I'm concerned, this is one of the few books that would have been improved if everyone died a horrible death at the end.

I haven't seen the movie of this either (I know! Another shocker!) but now I actually want to. I can kind of see how this might work better as a film. At least it wouldn't have random psychic ESP thoughts in parenthesis everywhere... or so I hope.
Homeland - Cory Doctorow Not that [b:Little Brother|954674|Little Brother|Cory Doctorow|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1349673129s/954674.jpg|939584] needs a sequel, but I will totally read this anyway.
Special Topics in Calamity Physics - Marisha Pessl **This review may contain some slight spoilers, because I don't know how to write about this book without hinting at some things. You've been warned.**

I have so many questions!

So this is ostensibly a murder mystery, sort of, but it's unlike anything remotely related to that genre that I've ever read. First of all, it doesn't get mysterious at all until after the first hundred or so pages, and no one dies until over halfway through. It's more of a coming-of-age story with some awesome conspiracy elements, or possibly the ravings of a delusional, grieving teenager with an overactive imagination. You pick!

Another thing that makes this different is the lack of conclusion. Unlike most whodunits, here we never actually find out who dun it. There are probably as many red herrings as real clues, and the case is never wrapped up in a tidy bow. For every answer we get, there are a dozen more questions. It should be immensely frustrating, but somehow it isn't. Usually an ending like this would tempt me to throw a book across the room, but I felt strangely satisfied after turning the last page. I don't know. Writing a novel this unique, when so much literature is so formulaic these days, must have been super risky, but something about it just works.

I also totally want to read all the books that the chapter titles are named after now, as well as all the other works alluded to. It's a loooong list!