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.