some books and subjective stars

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Saturday, February 26, 2011
Finally, some books! If I ever want to get through my 2010 list along with my 2011 list, I'm going to have get moving. I thought it might be useful (for myself as much as anyone) to put up a general description of my personal goodreads rating system. It's all so subjective - one person's three might be someone else's five, etc. etc. Anyway, here's mine (subject to change):

ONE STAR: I doubt I'll ever write up a book that gets one star -  if I hated it this much I don't think I'd finish.

TWO STARS: this would be for a book that's got a good premise but fails to deliver, or a disappointing book by an author I know can do better.

THREE STARS: This is a good, solid, would recommend it to someone but probably not everyone rating.

FOUR STARS: I like it a lot/ love it. What keeps a four star book from being a five star book (aside from how I'm really stingy with five stars) is that there's some little bit that I think could have been better, or maybe it reaches me intellectually but not emotionally or the other way around. I like it a lot, though.

FIVE STARS: I REALLY LOVE IT YOU GUYS! It's so good and if I think you'll like it, I will be relentless suggesting it until you give up out of sheer exhaustion. It will be so good you won't even hold my disgraceful behavior against the book. (Have you read Jane Eyre yet? You probably should! It's long, so start now.)

and now, today's books: 

Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay - (for my nonfiction book group). This is an interesting subject, but I found the book to be as frustrating as it was intriguing. It's meant to be a combination travelogue and a history of color; while it contains these elements, it's also full of speculation and presumptive guessing that never quite landed for me. I love travelogues, I love natural history, I love adventure, I love imaginative leaps. You'd think this would be a slam dunk, but I found her digressive ruminations on what people might have maybe been thinking when they may or may not have done such or another thing to be distracting. She lost me on the first or second page with sentences like this one (talking about a monk in a medieval Florentine prison): "Perhaps he paused for a moment before doing something that was probably forbidden to him as a prisoner of the Vatican(…)" It goes on, but that perhaps so close to the probably in a work of nonfiction made me crazy. 

The subject is fascinating - how pigments are made, where they come from, how they were used, what makes them valuable, where they're found in the world. She often took tremendous risks to do her research (I'm thinking specifically of visiting Afghanistan shortly after 9/11 to see the lapis lazuli mines) and I respect the legwork that went into this - if only more editing had gone into it! I think there's a good book on the natural history of color somewhere in here, as well as a collection of short stories based on her ruminations and wild-ass speculation. I wish it had been a little tighter; I wish she'd talked more about the travel - it was mentioned just enough to be tantalizing, but never satisfying. I should note that there were people in the group who LOVED this book, but most of them hadn't read the whole thing, only the chapters on their favorite colors. Maybe reading it straight through was my mistake. THREE STARS.  (read Jan. 2011)

Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Twilight (Season 8, # 7): I don't even know what to say about this except WHAT?! I've been getting these from the library so I don't have the earlier volumes to look back on, which might be helpful with the sense making. Or maybe it makes NO SENSE no matter where and when you look.  When season 8 is all done I'll gather them up and do a re-read. At this point, I'm always happy to see the old gang from the series, but WHAT?! Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should, and that's all I'll say about that right now. THREE STARS, with hope that the last volume will exceed all my FIVE STAR DREAMS.  (read Feb. 2011)

Silent in the Grave (Lady Julia #1) by Deanna Raybourn: This book set in Victorian London features a plucky, first-person lady detective in the form of one Lady Julia Grey. Lady Julia's husband dies and foul play is suspected; being the clever, independent-minded woman she is, she assists the handsome, dashing, mysterious yet irritating personal inquiry agent Nicholas Brisbane to solve the case. "To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching on the floor." Oh, Lady Julia! Don't ever change. 

I liked it - plucky, first-person lady detectives are one of my favorite things - I recommend it if you also like these things! However, I will offer some caveats: first, the book started very slow - during the early chapters it wasn't bad enough to abandon but was taking its sweet time to get anywhere. I think this is often the case in first-person stories which are intended to be the start of a series: we have to meet the protagonist, then we have to meet the large cast of characters as she encounters them - most of whom will be returning at some point so they require even more time to set up. This takes a while - it's an investment - but once things got underway the pages started turning faster and faster. Second caveat: if you're bothered by anachronistic heroines in historical fiction, this is probably not the book for you. Lady Julia reminds me very much of a 21st century woman (with modern, enlightened attitudes to sex, class, and race) who has traveled in time to the era of bustle skirts and scandalous decolletage. For some reason it doesn't bother me when she does it. So yes, - the book started slow, had some ludicrous plot developments, not to mention the psychic, multi-talented, polylingual hero who plays the violin, sings, boxes, fills out a white shirt, and solves crime - but as soon as I finished it I put the next one on hold at the library. I'm excited at the thought of having a new series to read. I give it THREE STARS, but it's a solid THREE PLUS.  (read Jan/Feb. 2011)
2 comments on "some books and subjective stars"
  1. I read all of the Buffy volumes from the library during one weekend so I could refresh my memory and hopefully make sense of, well, everything. It didn't help. I could follow the thread, but the thread is so shredded that it is beyond frustrating. I saw a DVD of Season 8 at the Target, some sort of stop motion animated sort of thing, which looked fun but I am not sure if it would be worth the 25 clams. Clams being a dollar, of course.

  2. Oh, man! I was hoping they would take actual clams. Not that I'd know where to find any, but still.


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