Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sleeping Beauty, in Two Parts

I'm not sure this is going to be a review, so much as a ramble about two books I recently read. Well, one book, except then there was a "alternate ending" version. I've decided to make it my policy only to review books on here that merit at least a one on the five-point scale, and I'm just not sure these fit that bill. They were, quite simply, not that good. All I really want to talk to you about is the author's decision to rewrite her ending based on reader feedback.

Surprisingly, these were written by the same author as The Frog Prince, which I reviewed below. However, they were neither as funny nor as charming as that book, and the characters were worse than blah. What do I mean "worse than blah?" I mean grating and pathetic, is what I mean. But anywho, on to the real reason I'm posting this!

The story is meant to be a modern update of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, complete with diagnosable sleep disorders and sexy neurosurgeons. Also, there are some surfer dudes and an eventual arrest for sexual assault. So, you know, there's that. And of course, the character so cleverly named "Dr. Charmant" is obviously the one filling in for Prince Charming. The problem is that along the way, the girl's male best friend (who is somewhere along the gay-bisexual spectrum) is hanging around actually being, you know, charming. He takes care of her when she falls into her "episodes" of month-long sleepwalking. He is the one she looks for when she wakes up. She's had a crush on him for years, and he is the most loyal and patient friend she's ever known. Recipe for a romance, AmIright? Only, here's the thing: he is also her brother's boyfriend. Dude is gay. He loves women but is sexually attracted to other dudes. So, you know, that sort of helps things work a little better for Dr. Charmant who, rather than being charming and supportive or anything like that, is hetero but refuses to have sex with her right away. (Because, you know, who needs any emotional depth to a relationship when the eroticism of abstinence is there to keep things rolling?)

So already you can see why plenty of reviews would have come in routing for team "best-friend guy" rather than Charmant. And to her credit, the author took those complaints seriously enough to write an alternate ending version wherein our lovely heroine ends up with the gay/bisexual surfer dude. Here's the problem with that solution: He is still gay. She end's up with her brother's boyfriend. And you as the reader end up feeling kind of depressed for all of them because now she's stuck with a guy who will never find her as sexually attractive as he does her brother, he's ended up with his best friend with whom he had brief but probably short lived passion, and Dr. Charmant is still a nice guy who ends up...delivering her baby. In a word: Phiffle.

Here's how it should have gone down: She should have ended up with Dr. Charmant, but instead of gay-best-friend providing all support and love to her, Dr. Charmant should have done the heavy lifting there. The plot would have progressed not because she was aching to bang the doctor, but because she was slowly learning to trust and rely on him as a friend (whom she would also, coincidentally, like to bang). The issue with the first book is not that she ended up with the wrong guy, but that the character of the guy she ended up with is poorly developed. Don't marry her off to a gay man. Just improve the man she ends up with.

Like I said, no rating on this one (or, well, I guess "these ones"?). I don't recommend them at all. Just stick with The Frog Prince.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Frog Prince

"It was his pheromones that did it. With one sniff, sex researcher Leigh Fromm recognizes that any offspring she might have with the mysterious stranger would have a better-than-average chance of surviving any number of impending pandemics.

But when Leigh finds out that the handsome “someone” at her great aunt’s wake is Prince Roman Habsburg von Lorraine of Austria, she suddenly doubts her instincts—not that she was intending to sleep with the guy. The royal house of Habsburg was once completely inbred, insanity and impotency among the highlights of their genetic pedigree. (The extreme “bulldog underbite” that plagued them wasn’t called the Habsburg Jaw for nothing.)

It doesn’t matter that his family hasn’t sat on a throne (other than the ones in their Toilette) since 1918, or that Austria is now a parliamentary democracy. Their lives couldn’t be more different: Roman is routinely mobbed by paparazzi in Europe. Leigh is regularly mocked for having the social skills of a potted plant. Even if she suddenly developed grace, charm and a pedigree that would withstand the scrutiny of the press and his family, what exactly is she supposed to do with this would-have-been king of Austria who is in self-imposed exile in Denver, Colorado?"

I know, right? Sex researcher? Uncrowned Prince of Austria? The fetch was I thinking? Well, jokes on you dudes because this one was a winner!

First of all, it was funny. Not just "heh-heh" funny. I mean, chuckling out loud on the bus funny. Not every joke hit its mark, but enough of them did that I was charmed and delighted throughout.

It's not a weighty tome and it doesn't pretend to be, so the characters and plot don't do any more heavy lifting than strictly required in a light romance/comedy (I'd say romantic comedy, but that has such...connotations.) I liked the side characters all right, through they didn't have all that much to say. I absolutely loved the protagonist. I found her charming and hilarious. She was just the right amount of awkward and self aware and she didn't spend any time fishing for compliments (ok, so she did get a little too self effacing once or twice, but in this kind of book? That's almost unheard of, dudes.) And the hero was charming too, though not in a very fleshed-out, realistic kind of way. He was super hot and smart and observant and occasionally quite funny. So, okay fine.

I think more than anything this book hit the right tone and didn't overstay its welcome. It didn't try to be something deep and sweeping, and it kept the funnies coming without becoming totally crass and horrible (such a common problem with "funny" books these days). I mean, alright yes, there was some discussion of dildos and one masturbation joke. Since both of these were related to her line of work (sex researcher, only in a totally legit, academic, various graduate degrees kind of way and not...you know...code for pornography.) I'd still recommend it to my mother. (Maybe not to your mother, but mine would totally get it.)

Rating: Three glasses of champagne!

PS. These ratings things aren't really helpful, are they? What if I give you some points of reference? Like:

5: Out of this world. I loved/hated/loved it and will be buying the hard copy stat (rare that any book gets a 5 out of me)
4: Great.  Super. You should read it! It's fantastic!
3: Nice. Glad I read that. Recomended.
2: I may or may not recommend this one, because it isn't all that great but I did like some things and it was okay so....meh.
1: Woops. Probably should not have read this one.
<1: I deserve to be ridiculed for buying this book.

Does that help? No? Well buzz off, dork. This here's my bloggity turf!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Word on Amazon and the Fantasticness Thereof

So, I own a Kindle. And before you jump on your "Real books are so much better!" bandwagon, let me just inform you that: You're either an idiot or just cheap and using this as an excuse. Why, exactly, are real books better? Because they're made of paper? Because they have fancy covers? Because you like the way they smell? So basically, you're choosing a house full of dust gathering paperbacks you'll only ready once over...I don't know...forests? efficiency? living space? Come on, loser, no one believes your holier-than-thou booklover schpeel, so just buy the eReader already. And an air-freshener. Honestly.

Anywho, we were talking about my Kindle. Oh, my Kindle!! Holder of hundreds of books and yet fitting so nicely into my purse! Faithful companion on many a long commute home/wait at the DMV/boring church meeting (woops, probably shouldn't admit to the last one). That was, until...I dropped you. Hard. And you stopped turning on. And the hard reboot did nothing. And I may or may not have had a small meltdown not unlike that of a small child which involved telling my husband, and I quote, "I don't WANT to buy a new Kindle! I want MY Kindle, and it's ruined forever and I hate you!" (Seriously, the things this man lives through).

He knows I do not really hate him.

Enter: Amazon customer service, via livechat. After about 2 minutes of walking me through the steps to hard-reboot one more time (just in case), the nice Amazonian(?) was soon telling me that she would have a new Kindle to me ASAP. Since mine is off warranty, they'll have to charge me the $65 dollar replacement fee. Now, buying a new Kindle-keyboard would cost me about $140, and I had fully admitted that the dropping thing was totally my fault here folks. I think we can all agree that this arrangement is a fairly good deal for me. If we're honest with ourselves, it's also a great deal for Amazon since a working Kindle in my hands is money in the bank for them. I mean, a blog address like "onebookdaily.blogspot.com" clearly translates to "chaching!" for the folks at Amazon. So, it's a win-win. Actually, to be more accurate, it's a loss-freakout-win-win-eyeroll (that last one on behalf of my much beleaguered spouse).

Moral of the story: Seriously, just buy the darn e-Ready already. Dork. Oh, and thank you Amazon!


"When Jacqueline follows her longtime boyfriend to the college of his choice, the last thing she expects is a breakup. After two weeks in shock, she wakes up to her new reality: she's single, attending a state university instead of a music conservatory, ignored by her former circle of friends, stalked by her ex's frat brother, and failing a class for the first time in her life."

That will have to do for a synopsis, and it's...not very accurate. I mean, it is, but this isn't just about some girl who make a cake of herself over a guy. The subtext here, and the weight the author tries to give this otherwise flimsy story, is sexual assault and the way a young woman deals with the aftermath. So, you know, cheerful stuff.

It's a tidy little thing, very plot driven and easy to get through in an afternoon. The writing is smooth and the dialog much better than I expected. Unfortunately, none of the characters ever really come to life, with some side characters (most notably the stalking frat brother) barely more than caricatures. And, of course, there is far too much oogling of male physic going on. When the love interest can offer no more than ripped abs and some smoldering looks the whole thing feels icky and degrading to me. Luckily, a portion of the romance happens over email. That bit is charming, and I would have so much liked to see the same type of interaction in person. However, in person it's pretty much just sex and a brief mention that they "talked". About what, honey? Your bra?

Webber obviously wanted this to be, at least on some level, a PSA about sexual assault and why victims should out their attackers. The plot includes glimpses of the peer pressure, shame, fear, and potential consequences of surviving attempted (and successful) rape. It also takes the time to look briefly at the ways in which women both stand up for and betray each other in these situations. But, since it's a simple piece mostly concerned with the various ways a bra can be manipulated, it falls a bit short on this score. Jacqueline's roommate, Erin, had some real potential as a secondary character-the sorority girl/cheerleader/jock's girlfriend who unflinchingly supports her roommate against all societal pressure. But, unfortunately, she isn't every really developed. None of the other girls are either, though the book is filled with them. I kept wondering how this book would have read if the weight had been on the girls' relationships to each other in this situation, if their characters and motivations had been better developed.

Instead, this isn't really much more than a quick romance. And perhaps that suits its purposes best. In this way, the novel is perhaps more appealing (or at least more accessible/easily digestible) to the audience that would most benefit from it's message: busy and hormonally driven undergraduate girls. If a little drama/romance and some bump-and-grind will get girls to read it, perhaps they'll also respond to the plug for self-defense classes and being there for each other when crap like this goes down. So, in that way, well played Ms. Webber. Well played.

Rating: Two hickeys and a red solo cup.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Lions of Al-Rassan

"Over the centuries, the once stern rulers of Al-Rassan have been seduced by sensuous pleasures. Now King Almalik of Cartada is on the ascendancy, adding city after city to his realm, aided by his friend and advisor, the notorious Ammar ibn Khairan--poet, diplomat, soldier--until a summer day of savage brutality changes their relationship forever. Meanwhile, in the north, the Jaddite's most celebrated--and feared--military leader, Rodrigo Belmonte, and Ammar meet. Sharing the interwoven fate of both men is Jehane, the beautiful, accomplished court physician, whose own skills play an increasing role as Al-Rassan is swept to the brink of holy war, and beyond...."

So this was, how can I put this...great. Love. So glad I read this one.

First off, what I didn't like: The sex. It was mostly gratuitous. I'm not a prude when it comes to some literary coitus, but I only appreciate it when it is useful to the plot/character development/atmosphere. When sex is just thrown in there to titillate and fill some space (and in this case, possibly to gross the reader out?), I'm just not into it. And oddly, this is a work in which some sex is useful. It's about the fall of a very decadent empire, and the pleasures of the flesh are part of that empire. However, enough is enough. This was just a bit too graphic in most cases, and at that point it only detracted from Gavriel Kay's otherwise beautiful prose.

Other than that? Rock it, GGK, rock it. We all know I love me a strong female protagonist, and Jehane was definitely that. She had strength, depth, and (holy moly, can you believe it?) confidence! OMG!  A woman with confidence who doesn't spend any amount of time in front of a mirror wondering if she is pretty enough! Can I get an AMEN, sistas? Also, she's a doctor.  So, boom. Oh, and none of her worth was invested in her hymen, so that was a refreshing departure from the norm. As per usual with an epic novel, the cast was large. Other than Jehane, it was also entirely male. So that was odd, but sort of fun. Jehane's interactions with her all male costars were part of the novelty of her character. She got to be strong and intelligent and witty, and she neither submitted to her male leads nor spent the entire book competing with them. Refreshing indeed.

The novel parlays with religion and love, and treats both with fascinating nuance. Given that it's roughly based on the time leading up to the Reconquista in medieval Spain, Kay built his three religions to be roughly representative of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. The beliefs of each as represented in the novel don't map well onto any of the three, and that isn't his intention here. His point is the interplay between three very similar and yet ultimately opposed methods of explaining the world. There is racial violence (the Kindaths, or Jews, get the worst of it) and there is tolerance and exchange, particularly among the three main characters who each come from one of the three religions. Kay gives you reasons to love and hate all three religions (though the Kindath's get a kinder portrait than the other two). But his purpose is not to convert you to any religion, but to get us look at the ways they interact, their power and their limitations.

More than the interplay of religion, however, I truly enjoyed Kay's treatment of Love. The long lasting love of an old married couple. Fidelity despite cultural expectations to the contrary. Short lived but bright flames of love. Love despite infidelity, or perhaps without any reference to sexual fidelity at all. And most of all, the question: Is it possible to be deeply in love with two people at once? I'm coming down on the side of no, and of course Jehane eventually has to choose one as well. But still, it's interesting. There are lots of interesting love plots in this novel, and none of them are the sappy fare that make you give the sour-grape face when you have to read past them. Also, and this is strange, most of the explicit sex is not related to any sort of love at all. Maybe that's why I felt it was so gratuitous? I don't know.

But more, even, than the treatment of religion and the exploration of love, I really, truly swam in the atmosphere Kay created here. Somehow he made me love Al-Rassan. I wept for it's fall. He gave the whole a sense of poetry and grace, so that even though you recognize it as a decaying corpse of an empire, you still long for it to rebuild itself. It made me want to read some Arabic/Spanish poetry and immediately buy tickets for Grenada. (Screw Iceland, our next vacation is going to be Spain).

War rears it's ugly head in this novel as well, but thankfully Kay allows it to remain ugly. Along side the courage and daring of the heroes, there is loss and pain and horror. None is immune from it. It is not forgiven or forgotten. Again, it was a bit more graphic here than I generally enjoy. I'm trying to excuse it all on the basis of a novel that treats so well with the desires, powers, and frailties of the flesh. But still. Ew. Worth the read, though. Oh, very worth the read.

Rating: Four lions by fountain.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Liveship Traders

"Bingtown is a hub of exotic trade and home to a merchant nobility famed for its liveships--rare vessels carved from wizardwood, which ripens magically into sentient awareness. The fortunes of one of Bingtown's oldest families rest on the newly awakened liveship Vivacia.

For Althea Vestrit, the ship is her rightful legacy unjustly denied her--a legacy she will risk anything to reclaim. For Althea's young nephew Wintrow, wrenched from his religious studies and forced to serve aboard ship, Vivacia is a life sentence.

But the fate of the Vestrit family--and the ship--may ultimately lie in the hands of an outsider. The ruthless pirate Kennit seeks a way to seize power over all the denizens of the Pirate Isles...and the first step of his plan requires him to capture his own liveship and bend it to his will...."

This is a trilogy, as most epic fiction is, and I read all three books within a day or two. This makes reviewing them separately somewhat more difficult, since I don't clearly remember where one left off and the other began. So, a triple review! Aren't you lucky?

First up, world building. Super delux. Loved the cultures, loved the lore, loved the magic. The religious was nicely downplayed as well. The whole book did not turn on belief in Sa, but the god came up enough to be interesting. I like divinity used as a character building tool, once in a while, rather than a main plot device. Also, as the books progressed, the glimpses we see into the mystery and magic of the Rain Wilds are fantastic. I liked Bingtown, loved the open sea, but most of all I loved the freaky acid-river-running-through-a-burried-city-in-the-jungle stuff. Woot, hommies. Woot.

The downside to this trilogy is the length, which is, in a word, lengthy. Each book is big enough to kill a rabbit with, and there are three of these suckers to plow through. The pacing was uneven, too, in all three books. When Hobb was rolling she was really really rolling, and when she was slow it was painful. But, you know, epic science fiction carries that price.

The other price for epic fiction is the initial downward spiral. Granted, not all books take you down very far. Some sort of whimp out at code orange. Some books, however, drag the protagonists straight into code red before building up to that eventual hurrah-filled climax. This book, on the other hand, took them down, and down, and down, and down. The whole first book was pretty much one very wide downward spiral straight past red into black. To be honest, it kind of pissed me off. You know right away that Althea should be with Vivacia and that the whole point of the story will be them being reunited and proving that they work best together. So, an entire loooooong book about that not happening was annoying. As was the fact that throughout it, Kyle Haven just kept being bad. Doing horrible things and never getting his comeuppance. I had the thought that Hobb is probably a sadist who really, really likes making bad things happen to the people she makes you identify with. I ended up loving the trilogy, but I stand by that thought. Hobb enjoys hurting her characters.

It can be forgiven, though, thanks to Hobb's beautiful ensemble cast of mostly women. None of them fit easily into the prescribed stereotypes, either. Althea, for example, is obviously the strong young heroine who will eventually win and prove that she can do anything a man can do, even captain a ship! Or can she? Is she really strong, or just headstrong and stubborn? Is she a good leader or just really selfish? And what about her mother, Ronica? She must be the evil manipulative older woman, yes? Or no, perhaps she is the strong, self assured matron that will hold it all together? Or is she something more complicated? And Keffria, the sister. She is the weakling, the fool. Married early to a cruel controlling man and still in love with him even now. She'll never save anyone's day or be anything useful at all. Will she? Or is she the leader you're looking for? And then, oh then, there was Malta. I hated Malta. Loathed her. And so will you, I'll promise you that. You will look forward to the day she is broken against the rocks of her own pride! And when she gets her happily ever after? You will cry for joy because you love her so. She a bitch. She's a child. She's a clever, pretty girl. She's a fighter. She will lose and she will win and you will love every second of it.

And then, mes amies, there is Kennit. Ah, Captain Kennit. Is he the villain? The hero? Will he deliver the world from slavery or destroy every other character you love? Right off, the first time you meet him, you will learn how easily he plans the deaths of those around him, and always for his own selfish purposes. He is arrogant, insecure, and blindingly charming. And his relationship to the whore, Etta, will have you wishing for his salvation while cursing the day he was born. He is truly a nuanced character and probably the best written one in this novel. Hobb masterfully avoided turning him into a perfect hero. So that during his last scene you were not sure, even then, if you loved him or hated him. Both, maybe? For me, a little more hate than love I think. There were other characters, too. So many that it would take pages to write about them all. And they were mostly nuanced as well. Deeply, gorgeously flawed. At times, Hobb let's their flaws far outweigh their strengths. She lets them stew in it, and you with them. That, I think, is both brave and smart of her, to trust her characters that much.

There were things I did not like about these books. The length and pacing I've already mentioned, but the serpents and dragons were also difficult to read. Really, the dragon we get to know best is sadly two-dimensional compared to the characters Hobb delivers. Since dragons are meant to be this incredibly intelligent, master race, that really is a shame.

These books were too complex and too long to lend them selves well to a triple-review. I've read half a dozen books since, so these are less fresh in my mind. Overall, it was a worth the time. I'm very glad I read through them, but I will not call them steller. They were complex though, on some levels, and the world was well built and imagined.

Rating: Four splinters of "wizard wood", but don't tell the dragons where it came from.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

War Brides

"Five young women, five wartime love stories, an adventure plot, and eventually, revenge."

I really loved this book, right up until the last few chapters when it descended rapidly into an eye-rollingly bad denouement. Oh Helen Bryan! Why did you do that to us?

First and foremost, Bryan rendered her setting beautifully. Every location, from Louisiana to London to Crowmarsh Priors had the feel of a real place, a real time. None of those flowery descriptions that weigh down a narrative and bore readers, and yet Bryan managed to transport us all back to the war torn countryside of England and make us feel right at home.

As a look into what life would have been like for a woman living in WWII England, this book was fantastic. Yes, we all know about the air raid sirens and the city children shipped off to live with strangers outside of London. But what about living without access to real meat for years at a time? What about "mend and make-do" until you're wearing a dress made of old linens? What about doing your part for the war effort by learning to milk cows? What about living with the constant fear that at some point, really any day now, the Germans will invade your homeland? What about being a foreign Jew in England, barely escaping the Nazis only to meet with mistrust and even internment in your new home? Bryan brings these questions up without any preaching about any of it. And it isn't a depressing novel either. Instead it's a story of survival, of bucking up under pressure, of living through these hard things and still finding joy, and even love, in one's life.

Each of the five protagonists is an interesting, three-dimensional girl with her own personality and quirks. Doubly fascinating is the way the author makes you sympathize with whichever character's viewpoint you are currently seeing, even when they do not like each other. Alice, for example, when the story is told through her eyes, is a wonderful girl. She's practical and kind and truly heartbroken over her failed engagement. And yet when you see her through Francis's eyes Alice is bossy, gruff, and a little annoying. The same can be said for each of the characters, you feel for Evangaline as she flees the states and you fall in love right along side her when she finally gets to know her husband. But when you see her through Alice's eyes you loath her. And it's this nuance, this refusal to let everyone be shiny and good and perfect, that I loved most about the novel. The five women are friends, of a sort, but this is no fairytale rosebud girls club. They do not all get along all the time. They do not even all really like each other. And yet, somehow, they need each other.

The book needed a better editor after the frequent typos and someone should really tell Bryan that having your characters sum up scenes for the audience by giving long speeches to each other about things both characters already know is just bad form. When you do that, the readers stop hearing the characters and start hearing the author. Yes, I know you are trying to give me important information in a clever way, but this is not how it's done. People to not stand around recapping each other about things they both know happened.

And then, the end. Oh bother. So much potential! Such a letdown! If there is one thing this author has not yet caught onto, it is ambiguity. Not all the loose ends should be tied up in a neat little package in the last three chapters! This is a novel about war and loss, and you know, sometimes people did go MIA. Some traitors were never caught, some spies never seen again. Having the now octogenarian women get back together and wrap up the puzzle in the course of an afternoon over sandwiches was not only poorly done, it was unnecessary. It made each of their stories seem a little less poignant as well. They went from being stories of survival and loss and strength to the Agatha Christie knitting group. I appreciate the desire to let them get even at someone or something for the losses they sustained during the war, but actually that "getting even" was cheap and dirty compared to the lives of dignity and humor that lead up to it.

Still, I'm glad I read it. I choose to ignore the last chapters and remember instead the feeling of being there with them as they struggled to find purpose and hope in a dark and frightening time. Pity the author did not trust her own story enough to let it be just that without a neat little mystery-solve at the end.

Rating: Two cheery "made-do and mend" pamphlets.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spell Bound

"Just as Sophie Mercer has come to accept her extraordinary magical powers as a demon, the Prodigium Council strips them away. Now Sophie is defenseless, alone, and at the mercy of her sworn enemies—the Brannicks, a family of warrior women who hunt down the Prodigium.  Or at least that’s what Sophie thinks, until she makes a surprising discovery. The Brannicks know an epic war is coming, and they believe Sophie is the only one powerful enough to stop the world from ending. But without her magic, Sophie isn’t as confident.
Sophie’s bound for one hell of a ride—can she get her powers back before it’s too late?"

Oh honey, it's already too late. Far, far too late. In fact, I'm pretty sure the clock ran out somewhere in the first few chapters of the second book.

I'll admit to really liking Hex Hall, the first in this series. After all the sappy, drippy, formulaic YA paranormal romance out there, it was fun to see someone poke fun at that template while still working within it. Sophie herself was a likeable and nicely sassy character. It was also a relief to see a girl reacting with a bit of spirit rather than rolling over and asking for more when the male lead is playing his first-few-chapters-total-tool character. Interesting scenery, fun secondary characters, nuanced villains (ish, I mean, Hawkins is no Penman after all). But this isn't a review of that first book. It's the review of the third book wherein all those wells have run dry and we must cling to a fast paced plot as we tumbled over the rapids toward the vapid finish (contradicting water metaphors? sorry.).

Somewhere along the way the series stopped being light satire of the genre and bought into the formula lock, stock, and barrel. All that was left was Sophie's sarcasm, but even that got stretched until she was practically telling bad puns for most of the book. Also, somehow most of the other characters weirdly started saying the same sorts of things, and suddenly everyone in the book has the same sense of humor.  Of course, the idea is that Sophie et al are trying to deal with the stress through humor, but that seems like an opportunity wasted, to me. The girl is supposed to be walking to hell and back, and all we get are a few odd jokes? 

Luckily, as I said, the plot moves quickly and that plot-driven quality got me through it. I was not emotionally attached to Sophie and somewhere along the way I  completely forgot why I ever cared about Archer, but it's action packed so you get to the last page. And then we wrap everything up with a nice bow, because we've totally given up on the genre-satire bit we had going in book one. Just kill of one corner of the love triangle, remove all nuance from the baddies before whacking them off in one fell swoop, reassemble the paranormal "counsel" out of thin air, and crown our girl queen-of-awesome. And then there was Elodie.

Oh Elodie. Such an interesting character with such potential. I truly enjoyed reading her, at times liking her infinitely more than Sophie. She's got such an arc here, too. Her history with Sophie's man, her own issues with Sophie. She's a tragic little thing with attitude. And then she very conveniently falls for the axed portion of Sophie's love triangle and get a very disappointing "happy" ending of her own. I wanted to believe there was more to Elodie than the desire to make out with a nice ghost guy. Oh well.

Rating: Two glittering demon fairies.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Twixt Firelight and Water

"Long ago, the sorceress Lady Oonagh cast a curse over her own child. Now a druid, an ill-tempered raven and an adventurous young woman are drawn together as the time approaches for the evil magic to be undone. Fans of the Sevenwaters series will love this new episode, which fleshes out the history of druid Ciaran and his constant companion Fiacha."

Ahhhh, Juliet Marillier. Have you read Ms. Marillier yet? Read her, my dears. Read her for her imagery, her emotional finesse, her character clarity. Read her because once you were a little girl who believed in fairy tales, and she makes those fairy tales real again.

This isn't a long work, and it isn't her best. She dedicated almost no time to the emotional development of the female lead. But in this case, the girl need not take center stage. The broken boy within the man within the bird is the real story here. One imagines that if those ancient tale spinning druids were to tell their tales today, this is what it would look like.

Rating: Four notes of birdsong.

Falls the Shadow

"This is Simon de Montfort's story--and the story of King Henry III, as weak and changeable as Montfort was brash and unbending. It is a saga of two opposing wills that would later clash in a storm of violence and betrayal, a story straight from the pages of history that brings the world of the thirteenth century comletely, provocatively, and magnificently alive. Above all, this is a story of conflict and treachery, of human frailty and broken legends, a tale of pageantry and grandeur that is as unforgettable as it is real."

I'm not sure how I feel about posting about sequels to books for which I've already posted. I guess we'll see. I'm also not sure how I feel about Falls the Shadow either, so grab a glass, ambivalence all around!

Penman is a master at what she does, and I won't really go into that again here. She uses the same episodic style in this as she did for Here Be Dragons, and it worked with that same efficiency. Unfortunately, this book came up severely lacking in what will henceforth be known as the King John Department. There were no characters here that really grabbed me and held on until the end, as he did. Ellen ferch Llewellyn did for a bit as did her brother Daffyd, but neither featured in even the full first half of the novel. After that, Wales took a clear backseat to the action happening in England and my interest suffered for it. I think perhaps I was meant to latch on to Nell or Simon de Montfort at some point, but I just couldn't. There is nothing wrong with them, but then maybe that's the problem, not enough weakness for my sympathy? I don't really know. All I do know is that I felt for the entire last half of the novel that we were approaching doom and I didn't have a character to hold my hand through it. I had no Joanna to root for. No romance with Llewellyn Fawr cheer on. Nothing but a doomed, if just, cause and a white knight to fight for it.

It's possible the doom bit was my real issue with this novel. Penman paints a clear good v. bad picture in this one, with far less subtlety than in the former novel, and the whole time you know team good is going to get its little fanny kicked. And there is nothing you can do about it. King Henry is a dribbling fool, but he'll win. And unlike his father KJ (Do you mind if I call him KJ? I feel we've reached this point in our relationship.), he isn't an interesting villain. You don't care about him at all. You hate him. He's a fool and a weakling and entirely without redeeming qualities. KJ was the spawn of the devil, but at least he was clever and you respected him even while you hated him. I'm hoping Edward can bring a little more nuance to the "Evil English King" role in the third novel. Hints of his being KJ's grandson in various ways have been dropped along the way, so we'll see.

Honestly, it took me a while to finish this one because I knew the good guys would loose and the closer that loss came the harder it was for me to go on reading it. In the end, Penman let her characters sign off with dignity and humanity, so it was worth forcing myself to keep going. I'm not sure I'm ready for the third one, though. I also feel that Llewellyn is a stranger now. I knew him as a small boy, and a bit as a young man, but then he sort of...faded away. Here's hoping when we meet again in the last installment he'll have lived up to my earlier memories of him.

Rating: Three KJs.

Girl in the Arena

Lyn is a neo-gladiator’s daughter, through and through.  Her mother has made a career out of marrying into the high-profile world of televised blood sport, and the rules of the Gladiator Sports Association are second nature to their family.  Always lend ineffable confidence to the gladiator.  Remind him constantly of his victories. And most importantly: Never leave the stadium when your father is dying. The rules help the family survive, but rules—and the GSA—can also turn against you. When a gifted young fighter kills Lyn’s seventh father, he also captures Lyn’s dowry bracelet, which means she must marry him... For fans of The Hunger Games and Fight Club, Lise Haines’ debut novel is a mesmerizing look at a world addicted to violence—a modern world that’s disturbingly easy to imagine. 
How Suzanne Collin's did not get a credit in this work is beyond me. I mean, she basically wrote the template for it. And I have to hand it to the author, it's a move well played. Take a wildly popular book, decompose it to its basic elements, rename characters, mix with a slightly new setting, bake at 350 degrees for ten minutes and serve immediately. 
I'm not exaggerating the similarities here, either. A strong teenaged girl loses her father, her mother can't cope, she needs to look out for a beloved younger sibling or they'll both starve and be homeless, she's got ambiguous feelings for a beefy male BFF, the establishment wants to turn her life into mass entertainment and has the ability to take everything from her if she doesn't go with it, and she's developing "feelings" for the guy she's supposed to face in the arena. Reads like a check-ist, doesn't it?
Unfortunately, this time the plot and character motivations just didn't gel. First off, the culture of the Glads (ouch, right? I know) is thoroughly unbelievable. Rather than building a post-apocalyptic scene or an alternate world or any other slightly more plausible explanation, Haines wants us to imagine this Gladiator culture happening in the hear and now. Then she whips out a dowry bracelet? Honey, please. And then there were those plot points and character motivations that made absolutely no sense whatsoever. Why does Lyn think becoming a gladiator is any less grotesque than marrying one? She is honestly going to march into the ring and kill a man she has come to think of as a friend? Because the thought of marrying a gladiator is beyond the pale? She's smart and resourceful and completely unable to see a more sane way of dealing with this mess? Honey, please.
Strangely, overall Lyn is a likeable character. She's got that nice mix of sarcasm, teenaged angst, beyond-her-years wisdom, and badassery that makes reading her both enjoyable and familiar (she's a lot like all the other action fighting women you see in YA these days, so it's template but done well even so). So the fact that she follows the prescribed plot actually makes the whole thing worse.

Lyn's relationship to her autism-spectrum brother is sweet and well written. Her relationship with Uber (Yes, his name is Uber. I know.) even has some potential. But again, that potential is unrealized, in this case because this is based on another work and dare not break the given mold (wherein the female lead cannot resolve her angsty lovey-dovey feeling in the first book, because that would kill the angst). I loved Uber as a character. An awkward, clumsy dork in thick glasses and sandals who can't help but profess his undying love for a girl is pretty hard not to love, if we're being honest. However, we are not being honest here. If we were honest, very nearly all of Lyn's decisions are ridiculous. As is the name Uber. (I know)
And then there was that ending. Look, we all know both Lyn and Uber will survive because, again, it's in the template, but if you thought the "dowry bracelet" was an insult to your intelligence wait until the last slap-dash few pages. Suddenly, out of the blue, Lyn gets hit with the stop-acting-like-an-idiot stick and does what she should have done the moment her mother bowed out of the scene. Somehow, the rationality of that decision makes the rest of the plot all that much more unbelievable. I just don't have any suspension of disbelief left in me for this one.
Rating: One strappy Glad sandal.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Cathup Ketchup

No, that is not a real book title. (Yet!) There were several weeks between the last two posts and in full disclosure I feel I should admit to having read a few books in those weeks. Most of this gap was my own laziness in not wanting to post. However, one purpose behind the creation of this blog was to hold myself accountable for the sort of books I choose to spend time reading, so...here goes.

I re-read These Old Shades. Re-read as in I've read that puppy more than two times already. It's not that it is such a fantastic book either. Georgette Heyer was a master at what she did, but this was hardly her magnum opus. The truth is I can't really explain why I re-read this one instead of something else except that I finished the other book I had been reading while on the train and I needed something else to get me through the commute home and this was already on my kindle and it just happened. Again. Rating: Three out of five powdered wigs. Seriously, though, if you like regency stuff, better than average romance, and a few laugh out loud side characters, pick up any one of Heyer's dozens of books.

I also read The Warrior's Maiden. Go ahead. Judge me. Mock my taste. I deserve it. With a title like that, what did I expect? Realistic characters? An actual plot? Oh honey, they don't make those for less than $1. Rating: The hem of one torn bodice. Oy.

I tried to read The Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning because it sounded pretty funny. Turned out it was crass and horrible. I won't bother rating a book I didn't finish.

And I finally caved and read...or rather devoured....The Scourge of Muirwood  and The Blight of Muirwood. And they were each better than the first. Better atmosphere somehow, same great characters, and even more epic plot twists. Loved both, to be honest. Except for Colvin. I just don't get that character. Who is this grumpy man? Why does Lia love him? He is an mystery wrapped in an enigma, my friends. Oh, and the LDS mythology thing didn't bother me as it was tempered by some other fairly awesome religious mythology and did not involve any more Nephites...much. Rating: Four out of five splotchy apples.

I guess I also read A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections. I don't know why I would need to guess about that, I know I read it. I was there. And so was Campbell, and it was trippy. And then we both leaped over the chasms in our lives and found the warrior within. Groovy, man. Rating: Three out of five bright shiny souls.

Other than that it really did take me a few days to get through Here Be Dragons, so that took some time. And I'm now halfway through the sequel so...off we go again!

Here Be Dragons

"Thirteenth-century Wales is a divided country, ever at the mercy of England’s ruthless, power-hungry King John. Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, secures an uneasy truce by marrying the English king’s beloved illegitimate daughter, Joanna, who slowly grows to love her charismatic and courageous husband. But as John’s attentions turn again and again to subduing Wales---and Llewelyn---Joanna must decide where her love and loyalties truly lie.
The turbulent clashes of two disparate worlds and the destinies of the individuals caught between them spring to life in this magnificent novel of power and passion, loyalty and lies. The book that began the trilogy that includes Falls the Shadow and The Reckoning, Here Be Dragons brings thirteenth-century England, France, and Wales to tangled, tempestuous life."

Honestly, I don't generally read so very much historical fiction, but since the start of this blog I've been all over that genre like a blister on a plague victim (too graphic? sorry). And then Sharon K. Penman walked in and blew my mind.

This is the first split-perspective book I've ever read that I did not at one point toss aside in exasperation at yet another unwanted perspective shift. Generally when authors choose to switch between two different character viewpoints to tell concurrent story lines, the story feels uneven. One character's plot will invariably be more compelling than the other and I find myself resenting the second plot line and investing zero emotional effort into its characters. To say Penman pulled it off would be an understatement. She rocked it. I never minded when the scene changed to Wales from England or to England from France. I cared just as much for Llewellyn as I did for Joanna before their stories joined, and whenever King John entered the page I ate it up. Is it wrong that I loved him best?

And how could I not? Penman's treatment of John was nothing short of genius. The man has been vilified for centuries now, and even his contemporaries hated him. Unless they didn't. Unless they were his daughter or son. Unless they saw how viciously, unrepentantly clever he was. Unless they loved him. It would have been all too easy to let John be a caricature, to paint him as the mustache twirling villain or the misunderstood champion of the common man. But he was neither and both of those, and Penman breathed life into that dichotomy. She showed us John from the moment of his first betrayal to his final moments of dying alone and betrayed. She didn't gloss over his more heinous sins or sweep his vindictiveness under the table. But when the curtain closed on his life, I chocked up a bit. True, he did some blatantly horrible things in that life for which not even his daughter could fully forgive him. And yet he was compelling, daring, generous, and so very, very clever.

This book is thick and full to the brim with historic detail. Penman chose an ambitious timeline to fit into a single novel. Decades of historical intrigue and wars should have made this tomb unremittingly boring. Her list of characters along should have sunk the ship. But it didn't, because she's oh so very good at what she does. She wrote it as a sort of compilation of vignettes. Short scenes that manage to tell us everything we need to know and not bog us down with unnecessary filler. We see glimpses of the main characters rather than drawn out sagas of them. Here Llewellyn is starting his first campaign for Wales, and there little Joanna sits trying desperately to please a mother who hates her. We do not need to hear about every battle Llewellyn fights or every week Joanna manages to survive, the glimpse is enough. That is perhaps why her characters seemed so real. Penman chose her moments well, each chapter was like another thread in a complex tapestry that, when you stood back and looked at the whole, was stunning.

I like a little romance in my literature, and Penman delivered that nicely. How refreshingly new, too, to read a love story that lasts decades rather than months! Most romantic plots rely on a few sighs of unrequited love or romantic obstacles that must first be overcome before a single moment of epiphany-like bliss is reached. Not this time. Joanna's relationship with Llewellyn lasted more than twenty years and was a complex thing, fraught with troubles and joy both. When the eventual (SPOILERS!) adultery happened, she had me in tears more than once for both of them.

Another reader posted elsewhwere about not wanting to give the author too much credit since, let's be honest, she didn't come up with the plot on her own. It's history! Wikipedia basically did the work for her. Really? REALLY? Let me introduce you to King John, honey. I hear he has some lovely dungeons.

Rating: Five our of five troths plighted.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Queen Hereafter

"Refugee. Queen. Saint. In eleventh-century Scotland, a young woman strives to fulfill her destiny despite the risks . . .

Shipwrecked on the Scottish coast, a young Saxon princess and her family—including the outlawed Edgar of England—ask sanctuary of the warrior-king Malcolm Canmore, who shrewdly sees the political advantage. He promises to aid Edgar and the Saxon cause in return for the hand of Edgar’s sister, Margaret, in marriage.

A foreign queen in a strange land, Margaret adapts to life among the barbarian Scots, bears princes, and shapes the fierce warrior Malcolm into a sophisticated ruler. Yet even as the king and queen build a passionate and tempestuous partnership, the Scots distrust her. When her husband brings Eva, a Celtic bard, to court as a hostage for the good behavior of the formidable Lady Macbeth, Margaret expects trouble. Instead, an unlikely friendship grows between the queen and her bard, though one has a wild Celtic nature and the other follows the demanding path of obligation.
Torn between old and new loyalties, Eva is bound by a vow to betray the king and his Saxon queen. Soon imprisoned and charged with witchcraft and treason, Eva learns that Queen Margaret—counseled by the furious king and his powerful priests—will decide her fate and that of her kinswoman Lady Macbeth. But can the proud queen forgive such deep treachery?"

Why are all blurbs so inaccurate these days? I guess not too inaccurate, just...intentionally misleading on one or two points.

Another Scotland novel, and this one a historical fiction piece to boot. Margaret of Scotland is a new heroine for me, and one I may choose to read more about from other authors. Susan Fraser King's novel is a tight, well paced, well written work that left me wanting more...just not from that same author. One gets the feeling that Ms. King does not like Malcom Canmore and so is unable to render him clearly. Instead she sketches a bear of a man and pushes him off to the side where he can do little harm and she is not obligated to make him into a hero for anyone.

Margaret herself is a difficult woman to like in this novel. No, better said she is a difficult woman to love. One can like her, as the protagonist Eva does, for her brief moments of intelligence and goodness. But she is incompletely drawn. Rather than a living woman, the author gives us a holy statue, somewhat wooden even. Her saintly ways (holy anorexia anyone?) and sharp perfectionist temper are not balanced by a sympathetic look into her heart. Indeed, the author begins the novel allowing us to see into Margaret's thoughts, but shortly we leave them never to re-enter. It's an unsatisfied potential, and I'm sorry for it.

All of this means that what could have been a lovely trip into one of the most fabled romances of Scottish history fell short. Margaret and Malcolm have all the makings of Beauty and the Beast (as the author herself notes in her afterward), yet their relationship is a cold one here. Brief moments of closeness between the two, as seen through the eyes of a fictional protagonist, barely whet the appetite for more. The author uses Eva as protagonist to avoid trying to write through the voice of a saint. I can't help feeling Margaret would have made a much more interesting sole protagonist. Neither can I shake the notion that this author did not like Malcom and was too afraid to humanize St. Margaret to give their story the best telling. Ah well. At least Ms. King made wise plot decisions which cut down the timeline and make the book a smoother read than pure history would have allowed.

Rating: Three kilts and a bottle of Scotch. I'm glad I read it, and now I need to find another book about this woman.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Flight of Gemma Hardy

"Set in Scotland and Iceland in the 1950s and '60s, The Flight of Gemma Hardy—a captivating homage to Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre—is a sweeping saga that resurrects the timeless themes of the original but is destined to become a classic all its own."

I'm leaving out the bulk of the blurb there since if you've read Jane Eyre you know how this story goes. And while I love Bronte's book, I actually picked this one up for the setting since I'll be visiting the Orkney Islands in a few months.

Luckily, the setting is wonderfully rendered. Settings plural, I should say, since the novel travels all around Scotland before taking a trip to Iceland and back. Margot Livesey creates a lovely atmosphere in each of her various settings, including Gemma's stay on the Orkney Islands. Without getting bogged down in descriptions, I felt myself surrounded by the sea, listening to the calls of birds and seals, and feeling the cold wind pushing my back from the cliffs. Truly, well done.

The author unabashedly uses Jane Eyre as template for this novel. However, it was a bit like reading the same classic plot with all new characters. Mostly the wrong characters, unfortunately. A few of the lesser figures were given nice backstories and modern updates that seemed to work. Mirriam (aka Helen) has asthma and an actual personality in this version, and Nell is much more enjoyable than Adelle ever was, with a more heart-wrenching history. Mr. Sinclair, on the other hand, is nothing like the brooding, passionate, tormented hero that was Mr. Rochester. Instead he's a claustrophobic banker who says very little and spends virtually no time with the heroine before falling inexplicably in love with her, making it seem more like a rebound off of Coco (Miss Ingrid's tacky, two-dimensional update who self-destructs almost instantaneously).

Gemma herself is the worst fit of all in her role as Jane Eyre. Unlike her forbearer, Gemma does not grow from a difficult childhood into a strong woman whose integrity and belief in humanity define her. Instead, Gemma grows from a difficult childhood into a selfish, unlikeable liar with a sense of entitlement which baffles the mind. While Jane's flight from Thornfield hall is fraught with heartbreak and sacrifice, Gemma's flight is a story of selfish abandonment. Sinclair, it turns out, does not have a mad wife in the attic ala Rochester. What he does have is neither a romantic deal breaker nor any reason for Gemma to drop him like a hot potato. Drop him she does, however, and goes on to wreak havoc in the lives of several more innocent people, lying and stealing her way to "finding herself", before magnanimously forgiving Sinclair when he presents himself again in a very deux ex machina moment in the last chapter. That last chapter, by the way? Horrific. Slap-dash, void of atmosphere, climaxing in one of the worst speeches I've yet read from a main character. Basically, she wants to be treated like an adult. She wants to act like a spoiled, selfish child of course, but be treated like an adult. Okay, sweetie. Welcome to prison. It's where adults who do the things you did end up.

Rating: Two stars. One for the ocean birds and one for the secondary characters like Seamus and Ross.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Red Queen

Heiress to the red rose of Lancaster, Margaret Beaufort never surrenders her belief that her house is the true ruler of England and that she has a great destiny before her.
Married to a man twice her age, quickly widowed, and a mother at only fourteen, Margaret is determined to turn her lonely life into a triumph. She sets her heart on putting her son on the throne of England regardless of the cost to herself, to England, and even to the little boy. Disregarding rival heirs and the overwhelming power of the York dynasty, she names him Henry, like the king; sends him into exile; and pledges him in marriage to her enemy Elizabeth of York’s daughter. As the political tides constantly move and shift, Margaret charts her own way through another loveless marriage, treacherous alliances, and secret plots."

The actual summary for this book is about five times the length of what I've cut and pasted up there. Gives you an idea about just how long and involved this book is. Historical fiction, honey, what can I say?

I will say this, it was less sexy than The Other Boleyn Girl that's for darn sure. It helps that the protagonist here pretty much spends the entire novel wanting to be a nun, so there's that. It also had a lot less intrigue than Other Boleyn, which means it was harder to get through.

What I loved about this book is that even though the protagonist is an egotistical brat and master manipulator, Phillipa Gregory totally had me routing for the Red Queen all the way. It's written in first person narrative style, which should make it difficult for readers to get a clear picture of the heroine. Gregory managed it deftly. You know from the very beginning that you are reading from the perspective of a woman who could give Malificent a run for her money, and yet you like reading her. You want her to win. When she falls, you are not only disappointed for her, you're angry right along with her as though your pride has also been wounded. When she triumphs, you want to stand looking haughtily down at enemies now vanquished. This is what I imagine it would feel like to read from the perspective of the villainess.

I also loved the love stories. Yes, there were multiple. Some predictable and others not. One in particular, with her second husband, is bitter sweet and understated. Again, Gregory shows her talent in getting us to see  Margaret not only through her own eyes but through those of her aging, gentle second husband who is wiser than Margaret gives him credit for and loves her much more than she deserves.

I did not love how action free the novel was. Margaret eventually became the king's mother, but her contributions to the cause didn't amount to much more than getting pregnant, marrying some dudes, and writing a few letters. For the greater portion of the book it felt like the action was happening off stage somewhere. And that's probably how it was for Margaret. Her power came not from herself but her husbands and sons who did all the manoeuvring themselves. The book is a window into the impotence of being a woman during those times, when girls are not much more than heifers sent to breed by the men who own them.

I would not read this book again, but then I can't really think of any historical fiction novel which I would read again. I would, however, totally love to hang out with Margaret and let her be witchy to me. So there's that.

Rating: Two stars, my gentle lords and ladies faire.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Wretched of Muirwood

"Imagine a world where words are so precious they are only etched in gold, and only the privileged are allowed to learn how to read. Muirwood Abbey is one of the few places where learners are taught to read and engrave, and thirteen year-old Lia wants nothing more than to learn both of these skills—yet she is a wretched, an orphan, and doomed to remain in the Aldermaston’s kitchen, forbidden to read and subject to his authority. Her future is destined for preparing recipes in a privileged household until, unexpectedly, a mysterious knight-maston abandons the wounded squire Colvin at the Aldermaston’s kitchen in the middle of the night. Soon after, Sheriff Almaguer comes hunting for Colvin, and Lia is thrust into the greatest adventure of her life as she and the squire are forced into a partnership that brings her closer to her dream—and Colvin closer to his fear of dying on the battlefield. The Wretched of Muirwood is the first book of the Muirwood Trilogy."

He had me at "words are so precious they are only etched in gold". I love the idea of learning being a treasure and reading more precious than any other skill. I'm also drawn to the underdog protagonist, beating the odds and all that. I think I loved this book. Actually, I hated it. I don't know. Both.

I like the world and the mythology, and Wheeler's pacing is almost perfect. And his characters are delightful.  Not just Lia, but all of the characters are pleasantly real and varying. I came away loving Pasqua the cook, perhaps most of all. Lia herself is a fine protagonist, brave and resourceful and most of all clever, with just enough faults to balance all of it out.

In terms of atmosphere the book has no more or less than Wheeler put into it. That is to say, it does not linger with me afterword the way the best books do, but I was drawn in for the read and believed it while it lasted. His imagery is solid, and he leaves some lovely mysteries unresolved. It's a well built world with even better built characters.

Those characters are not, however, well spoken. Or rather, they are too well spoken. I think his choice to avoid any contractions (always I am or I will or We had, never I'm or I'll or We'd) was a deliberate one based on the notion that words are priceless. However, it made some dialog seem artificial and strange. Likewise his use of dialog to convey information meant characters gave some odd speeches, saying three unrelated things in one breath without linking them. In those moments one feels the author speaking through the characters, rushing to tell you what he wants you to know.

Dialog aside, this book has one flaw that I can't really handle. I was suspicious at the beginning with some of the mythology, then there were some quotes that seemed a little to familiar.

Then the Liahona showed up.

Dude! It's one thing for a fellow Mormon to sneak onto my kindle, but then to flaunt it in my face with blatant use of LDS mythology!?! Not cool, man. Not cool.

Except, it should be cool. He's a solid author with a great handle on building a world out of the mythology he's using. And anyway, one of the things I love about sci-fy and fantasy is the religious ideas an author builds. And come on, I LOVED Tathea and Come Armageddon. But this time...ick. Once I knew what he was doing, I kept seeing the strings and being creeped out by it. It does not matter how he renames them, I'm freaked out by the presence of Urim and Thumim and... hello Strippling Warriors WTH are you doing here?

So, no. Only, yes. I get the feeling that if I weren't LDS I would dig it. It seems cool and well thought out. But because I am LDS it feels like someone has taken my religion and made it into science fiction. Dudes, I don't need to read a novel to get that. Just read the comment section of any online article about Mormons.

I will not be reading the sequels. Except that I will because, as previously mentioned, I dig Pasqua the cook.

Rating: ZERO!... wait, no... Four!.... nope, negative one million. Oh, who cares?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

"A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of very curious photographs.

As our story opens, a horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive."

How's that for an inaccurate cover synopsis? I'll leave it be, since it isn't too misleading and I don't want to bother coming up with my own. I'll file this one away as a book I don't regret reading and probably won't be reading again.

Ransom Riggs tries very hard to create an atmosphere in this novel. He's got some nice ingredients for it, too. A crumbling house with a mysterious past, strange old photographs, and cryptic messages from a deceased grandfather. However, while Riggs does manage to dig up some nice imagery and a few creepy scenes, it never coalesces into a full atmosphere. His writing is clean but contrived, and that never allows a real mystery to build. I enjoyed romping around the world he created, and his pacing was just quick enough to keep me turning pages. His main character, too, was pleasantly real. Reading him felt like walking around with a real sixteen year old boy who is both awkward and self-conscious as well as stubborn and unknowingly brave. His reactions to the girl (yes, there is "a girl" for him) are refreshingly simple. He doesn't look upon her once and see his soul mate or read her mind or any of the other popular "this is love" things you see in most YA novels these days. He's confused by her, a little intimidated, and he'd probably like to kiss her if he gets the chance.

I only wish the other characters felt as genuine as the narrator, though. Riggs makes his brief introductory sketches for each new character with bold strokes, but the characters quickly flatten out and become mere tools to the plot without substance of their own. That means the relationships between the characters are stunted as well, and that is a great pity indeed with such a plot and backstory.

All that aside, my main gripe with this text is the photos. Fairly early on it becomes clear that instead of using the photos to tell the story, Riggs is writing the story to show the photos. After the first few admittedly creepy photos, he comes up with stranger and stranger reasons to include more photos that are neither creepy nor believable within the context he gives them. Instead of drawing you into the story as he hopes, they draw you out again as you wonder why they are there at all. Who took all these photos? Why does whoever has this photo have it? I wonder if the photos would have made more sense had Riggs made something more of the desire to have/take photos or used visual imagery as some sort of theme within his mythology.

A sequel is promised, and while I'm glad to see these characters get another chance I've also heard the author has "started collecting photos already".

Rating: Three out of five. (Three out of five what? Stars? Bookmarks? Smiley stickers? I haven't decided yet. And does it really matter?)