Thursday, February 28, 2013

Volcano Pacaya

Me at Pacaya

Near Antigua, Guatemala, Volcán Pacaya is one of the most easily accessible volcanoes in the country.  We went at dusk so we could see the lava fields both in sunlight and darkness, and even though we left late and blew a tire, and thus had to sprint up the mountain, and our guide lost my half of the tour on the volcano, it was an awesome trip.  After all, it was already dark when we got lost, so though we didn't all have flashlights, we could easily avoid stepping anywhere terribly dangerous because the terribly dangerous places all glowed.  

As I said, great fun.  The type they'd never let you have in America.  J 

And if you want to know how to gain sudden popularity, take a bag of marshmallows with you to a volcano.    

Volcán Pacaya.  Yes, that's a marshmallow I roasted on lava.  Photo by Mel and Wes, my Aussie hostel friends.   

Friday, February 22, 2013

"Storm Front," by Jim Butcher

I'd heard Jim Butcher's Dresden Files recommended by various writers and readers of speculative fiction, but since urban fantasy isn't my favorite genre, I hadn't bothered looking up the books.

Then I found Storm Front (volume 1) at Goodwill and idly read the first page.  Hooked!

I love the voice of the protagonist:  rather goofy and self-effacing, but charming.  

Great world building.  The magic is pretty clear, interesting, and not all powerful, which is important to me in fantasy.  Good narrative structure and pacing.  Exciting and unique action scenes.  

We do spend a bit too much time in the main character's head.  I don't mind that so much, but some of my critiquer friends would be seriously annoyed.

As I said, urban fantasy isn't my favorite, but I really enjoyed the book, and would read more by the talented Jim Butcher.  

My rating:  4

Check out Jim Butcher's website or buy Storm Front.  

Saturday, February 2, 2013

"The Help" by Kathryn Stockett

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, was one of those super popular books that actually stood up to its hype.  It was the most interesting book I've read in a while.

While it wasn't always page-turning, it engaged me completely.  I loved the interesting perspectives, the harsh historical details, and the completely foreign setting.  I loved rooting for the good guys.  Parts were absolutely heart-rending, especially the pain these maids faced, practically raising white kids, loving them, but all the while waiting until they turn into their prejudiced mothers and fathers.

Some people have complained that the book misrepresents the time, the area, the people.  I'm not from the South, so I don't know.  I grew up in a small town in Arizona, where I was never aware of much White-Black tension, though maybe I was just naïve.  I also wasn't born until a while after the sixties.  So I'm not really qualified to speak to the matter, but I feel that it was handled well.  Neither the maids nor their employers in The Help were all saint or sinner.  And while the situation in Jackson (and other places) was ugly in the 60s, I don't think it's something we should ignore.  Prejudice and bigotry are by no means dead, and the more empathy we can have with each other, regardless of race, social position, politics, gender, nationality, sexuality, religion, lifestyle, etc., etc., the better.

As for the dialect, that's been called racist too, especially since the Whites didn't drawl on paper.  I'm really sorry if people took it that way, but I thought it was really well done.  It wasn't distracting and hard to decipher, as I find much dialect in writing.  I could really hear the characters' voices.

I watched the movie after the book.  While it's a good movie, it can't compare to the book (of course, what movie can?).

Great premise.  Great details.  Great writing.  Great job, Kathryn Stockett.

My rating:  5

Click here to buy The Help.
Click here to learn more about Kathryn Stockett