Monthly Archives: September 2011

Book Review: Love in the Time of Dinosaurs

Love in the Time of Dinosaurs
Love in the Time of Dinosaurs by Kirsten Alene
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tyrannosaurs carrying three-barreled bazookas!

That is all.

Okay, maybe not all. That would be too short for a proper review, but if the world were a fair place, that’s all that would need to be said about Love in the Time of Dinosaurs by Kirsten Alene.

To start with, the author builds an entire world populated by what we assume are probably humans, although at times I questioned this. The unnamed hero of the novel is a warrior monk fighting off an invasion of heavily armed dinosaurs. Is this Earth’s unknown past? Its future? My take is that it’s an entirely mythical world, but this is open to interpretation.

In this world, all dinosaurs, or Jeremies as they’re referred to by the monks, are vicious killers. Even dinosaurs that have traditionally been considered herbivores will kill and devour people, such as the stegosaurus that ate the hero’s best friend. That is until the hero catches a glimpse of a previously unseen dinosaur (a trachodon) who is peaceful, intelligent, and also a monk, something that the humans believe is impossible since all dinosaurs are animals to them. Armor-wearing, gun-toting, samurai-sword wielding animals. This trachodon is a female named Petunia, and the two are instantly drawn to each other. Hence the “love” part of the title. It’s almost a Romeo-and-Juliet star-crossed lovers kind of deal, except that instead of Verona, it takes place on a world invaded by dinosaurs, and Tybalt is a stegosaurus with cannons mounted on his back.

There are only two complaints I have with this novel. The first is that it feels like there’s more to tell. I know that I say this a lot when reviewing books from the Eraserhead Press label, but this is really the case here. It feels like there is a large chunk of the overall story missing, such as why the dinosaurs are called Jeremies, why the half-badger spiritish animals are called Steves, and where the dinosaurs came from and why they attacked. This last one is a question that seems to be creeping around in the back of the hero’s mind, but is never answered, and there are hints dropped that there is definitely something going on here. But it’s never fully pursued. Maybe the author will write a sequel which explores this, particularly as this whole war seems to center around the one monastery and the surrounding area, and we don’t see the much of the rest of the world. There’s a myth in the book surrounding islands floating at the center of the planet with one old man and one old woman on each one who never meet, and of the Great Destroyer Jeremy. If this has to do with something larger, I would like to read it.

The second problem is more of a pet peeve, that being the author completely ignores basic physical (not to mention physiological) laws. At one point, a character who has been cut in half, and generally seems to be okay if only a little upset at losing his lower half, opens his ribcage up after jumping with the hero from a pterodactyl in order to become a parachute and slow their descent (did you get all that?). I can understand and accept some stretching of basic physical principles, but when they’re completely broken like that, it rips me off the page and restores disbelief. Others may be more accepting of this, but unfortunately, I just can’t do it. It’s not in my nature.

Still, Love in the Time of Dinosaurs is a good read. It can be surprisingly deep at times, and Kirsten Alene has an interesting and unique writing style. Her imagery, not to mention her prose, can actually be quite poetic. The novel can also be very gory, so interested readers should keep this in mind before they start reading it, aside from the above issues I mentioned. Because of those aforementioned issues, I can’t say that I loved the book. However, I can say that despite those issues, I still really did like it, and I feel comfortable in giving it a solid recommendation.

Love in the Time of Dinosaurs earns four out of five stars.

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To NaNo or not to NaNo?

WritingWith less than two months left to go before the start of the National Novel Writing Month 2011, I’ve had to make a difficult decision: I’ve decided not to participate this year. After participating for the last four years, and my dismal failure last year, I’ve decided to take a year off. This was not an easy decision to come to.

It’s not without good reason though. It has nothing to do with the failure to complete much of a word count at all last year. That happens. The main reason I won’t be participating this year is because I’m trying to focus on getting the first draft of my novel finished, which I’ve been working on and rewriting elements for too long. I’m the worst kind of artist: An absolute perfectionist. So, I’ll still be writing during November, but I’m not going to put the pressure of having a specific word count and giving myself the leeway of rewriting and correcting, something that is nearly impossible to do during NaNoWriMo (although that’s also part of the point of it). Since I’m trying to iron out some wrinkles and character issues, I find myself getting into a rewrite pattern at times, which slows progress, to say the least, but it’s still a necessary part of the process that I need to allow myself to deal with. That, and I’ll be working on something that I’m already working on, which is technically a violation of the rules.

However, this is will still be a good tradeoff. Completing this novel is important to me and I need to put the proper work into it rather than jamming it through. Besides, I tried that already. This novel was partially written during NaNoWriMo two years ago, and I was not happy with the result, which is likely what contributed to my dry spell and having to fight through some blocks until recently.

Still, I’ll maintain my registration with the site and participate in the forums. I may enter my word count for what I actually write during November into the site’s word counter just to boost my region a little, but I will definitely not be shooting for those fifty thousand words that I’ve tried for every November since 2007. I might also write at midnight on November 1 just to feel connected even if I’m not really participating.

As I said a while ago, I’m hoping to have the first draft of the manuscript done by the end of the year, so I’ll probably be back next year. But this year, I have to focus my creative energies in a different area, and dividing them at this crucial stage would likely be disastrous. I have to sacrifice something for the greater and long-term good.

I will miss you, NaNoWriMo, but we will meet again.

Book Review: Bobblehead Dad: 25 Life Lessons I Forgot I Knew

Bobblehead Dad: 25 Life Lessons I Forgot I Knew
Bobblehead Dad: 25 Life Lessons I Forgot I Knew by Jim Higley
My rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Bobblehead Dad by Jim Higley is a nonlinear memoir told in the form of 25 lesson the author has learned during his life. In his forties, the author was diagnosed with prostate cancer and had to take stock of his life, the legacy he was given by his family, and the legacy he would leave to his children. He described himself as a bobblehead in the introduction, a plastic figure who always had a constant smile no matter what influences or stimuli were thrown at him and simply bobbled throughout his day, but that it was still a plastic smile and he wasn’t really living. Hence the title of the book.

The lessons are short and seem to be pretty much common sense, although the author acknowledges this near the end of the book. He explains that while most people know these lessons and they may seem easy, they also seem to be difficult to actually put into practice. It would have been better if the author had acknowledged this near the beginning of the book rather than at the end, because it leads to a bit of frustration and forehead slapping.

The author’s story is told in a nonlinear style. Each chapter/lesson is divided into two parts. The first is a personal memory, usually of growing up in a house where he was the youngest of five boys. At the age of fourteen, he lost his mother rather suddenly to brain cancer. Later, he lost his father, and then his brother, both to cancer. He shares personal memories of these particular parts of his life. The second part of each chapter involves how these parts influenced his feelings and reactions during the time he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, the time leading up to his surgery, and his recovery. Each chapter concludes with the lesson that he took away these experiences.

There are some distinct problems with Bobblehead Dad, the first being the title. Higley describes what he means by being a bobblehead in the introduction. This is where the problem starts, however. Through the rest of the book, I just don’t get it. It didn’t make sense as to why or how being a bobblehead related to these lessons. It seems like he forgot what the original motif was shortly after starting it. So, why he chose the title and went to the trouble of describing what he meant in the introduction seemed confusing and ultimately disappointing, like getting literary blue balls.

I can tell what Higley is going for with his nonlinear storytelling in the memoir. It creates an interesting feel, and he’s clearly going for the effect of pulling different pieces of his life together like a jigsaw puzzle to use as teachable moments and ultimate lesson that he has at the end of the book. The only problem is that it…just…doesn’t…quite…work, at least not for this reviewer. Let me be clear that there’s a certain charm to the approach. There definitely is. At the same time, though, it can be frustrating or, at worst, confusing as the reader tries to piece together this life from different non-contiguous and nonlinear parts. It’s a style that I found interesting, but it also feels like it needed more time to cook.

Ultimately, Bobblehead Dad was not without it’s interesting moments or style, and I can’t fault Higley for trying something a little new and in a style that’s not seen often. It’s part memoir and part self-help book. At the same time, it’s not without some major problems and at times falls flat, and while the style of the book is interesting, it felt like the style was also experimental needed more time time and editing. My heart goes out to the author and his family for the struggles they’ve gone through in fighting his cancer and the losses they’ve suffered. But this book feels like it comes up short in telling of this struggle, which makes it difficult to fully recommend.

Bobblehead Dad earns 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Note: A free Advanced Reader’s Copy of this book was sent to this reviewer through a Goodreads First Read giveaway. This did not affect this review in any way.

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Random Things and Uninteresting Updates

ThumbnailSome random stuff and uninteresting personal updates, mainly because I’m tired of seeing nothing but book reviews in the front page blogroll and this is not what I want the blog to have as a primary focus (and I’m only writing this now because I’m home getting over some kind of bug):

  • I’ve been working on my novel again. Actually, I’ve been working on it a lot. Hooray! It’s still a rough road and I find myself getting into a rewrite pattern often, which slows progress, to say the least. But progress is happening, even if it’s slow. I am hoping that I’ll have a first draft finished by the end of the year, although that might be a little ambitious. If not by the end of the year, then hopefully by my next birthday. It will be either my Christmas gift or my birthday gift to myself. I’m thinking of taking a page from Brandon Sanderson and tweeting my daily word count on days I write a lot. It would give me some public accountability.
  • Now that I’ve been writing again, I’m using my Alphasmart Neo a lot, which I got a long time ago on the recommendation of a NaNoWriMo buddy. In fact, I’m writing this post on it. I have to say that I really like this little device. Since I can’t format on it or do anything else, it forces me to focus on writing only and getting the words down. I have a feeling this thing is going to be my constant companion for quite some time.
  • I’m still acting as a Dungeon Master for the Neverwinter season of Dungeons & Dragons Encounters. I’m really getting my feet underneath me now, and I’m figuring out how to keep the players on track and not breaking the game (a few seem to try to test the limits of this) without simply telling them “No, you can’t do that.” Instead, I find a logical reason in-world the “encourage” them to stay on a particular path. I also try to keep things light and funny when I can. I’m thinking of running my regular group who I’ve recently been playing Dark Sun with through this season separately, although I can’t go ahead of the Wednesday night schedule. It might also let me play a little looser with the direction and the rules. We’ll see how that works out. But for the time being, I’m having a lot of fun DMing these Encounters games.
  • Still on the hunt for regular work. I had a job test recently. It went okay, although not great. It was for a very techie job, which demonstrated something I’ve known for a while: I don’t know how people started thinking I’m a technical person, because I’m not. I have a higher than average understanding of this stuff, but that’s where it ends. I know enough to get myself into trouble, but not necessarily enough to get myself out of it. I’m an artist. I’m a designer. I’m a creator. But I’m bad at implementation and the heavy technical lifting. So, if the job comes through, great. If not, I’m not surprised, so not that disappointed.
  • While I’ve been a bit of a gamer, I’m more of an old-school gamer. The new stuff…kind of scares me a little bit. Still, I do play it, and I’ve recently started playing “Assassin’s Creed II.” Having no money means that I’m going to be a bit behind on the latest releases, or in this case two years behind. I liked the first “Assassin’s Creed.” It was a great idea and a great story, but it got very repetitive. The second game has sharper graphics and seems to have a deeper story so far, although I’m not far enough in yet to see if this one will have the same problem with repetitive missions.
  • I need to get my weight back under control. I know I’ve been gaining weight again, although when I weighed myself yesterday, I saw that while I have gained weight, I haven’t gained as much as I thought I had. I just don’t feel good when I’m carrying extra weight, and it makes me feel sluggish physically and mentally. Having the back problems I do makes it difficult to exercise a lot, so I need to double down on my diet and stick to only the healthiest stuff as often as possible. No gimmicky diets. Just eat healthier and eat less. Tomorrow…
  • I’m trying to get through my backlog of review books. I’m way behind of where I should be, so combined with my writing, I’m going to be immersed in literature for quite a while yet. Hence the reason for all the book review posts recently.

Anyway, enough updates for now. More updates later. Yes, there is more, just not now.