Didn't realize I didn't have this marked, but I got a copy in the mail a few weeks ago and it's Kelley Armstrong, so, yeah. Definitely in the to-read...moreDidn't realize I didn't have this marked, but I got a copy in the mail a few weeks ago and it's Kelley Armstrong, so, yeah. Definitely in the to-read pile. ^_^(less)
I've actually had this all but finished for weeks, but got distracted and realized that I hadn't finished up the last few pages or so (oops). Definite...moreI've actually had this all but finished for weeks, but got distracted and realized that I hadn't finished up the last few pages or so (oops). Definitely enjoyed. Full review (and an interview with its ghostly narrator) to come. =)(less)
I hadn't heard of Sara B Larson's debut, Defy, until it showed up in my mailbox, which is shameful of me, because I'm normally pretty on top of anythi...moreI hadn't heard of Sara B Larson's debut, Defy, until it showed up in my mailbox, which is shameful of me, because I'm normally pretty on top of anything that even hints at the phrase "gender-bender." (I blame this almost completely on Tamora Pierce, and probably a little bit on movies like Rocky Horror, Ladybugs, To Wong Foo and Just One of the Guys. My formative years in a nutshell, friends.) So even though I had no plans to read this, and a whole stack of other things that needed to be read instead, I promptly sat down with this one almost immediately upon opening the package. And for all my high hopes and a fairly strong start, I was sadly disappointed.
Defy was an oddly confused piece of writing. It doesn't know if it wants to be the next big smexy romance novel or a straight-forward epic fantasy, so it tries to do both, and fails. 'Hot and bothered' just doesn't work as well when there are more pressing concerns like fighting for your life. Now, I've always been one to say that romance still has a place - maybe even more of a place - when the setting isn't all that conducive to a romance; people still fall in love in the middle of wars. Emotions are heightened, life seems short, and people carpe the hell out of their diems. But... if that's the case you wanna make, then that mentality, that forced, manic, precarious vitality has to be represented and believable. And those other concerns, like war and death and hurt, loss, pain, anxiety — they need to intrude, need to make up a bulk of the characters' thought-space, even. Otherwise, it makes your characters seem vapid and self-absorbed, and all of the potential tension in your story (beyond the sexual) goes right out the window. If they don't legitimately fear for their lives, we won't. If they only care about the ills of society in a cursory way, when forced to, we'll either stop caring about the world, or stop caring about the characters. (And by we, I mean me, but I'm guessing some of you, too.)
Defy felt like a lot of potential, wasted. And I don't just mean the more dire aspects of the society, and the seriousness of the situation. Even Alexa's disguise as Alex felt wasted. Larson does have talent that tries to rear its troublesome head, but beyond the lack of depth and the apparent obviousness of Alexa's disguise (who doesn't know? I think just adults, who presumably are too busy or too obtuse to pay attention to anything around them...Like the fact that one twin matures from boy to going-on man while the other remains sexless and ambiguous. Or the fact that one twin (the not-boy one) seems to spend most of his/her time openly leering at all of the sweaty dreamboats in his/her regiment...), I just felt like there needed to be more follow-through, follow-all-the-way-through, in Defy. There needed to be some psychology, some cause-effect, and all those fundamental hallmarks of good world & character building. Two apparently-straight boys are in love with someone pretending to be a boy - shouldn't there be...a grappling with confusing feelings? As a woman in a society where women are forced into brothels to be brood mares for the army, shouldn't their be some real hatred and bitterness? More distrust, more paranoia and caution in regards to the "disguise," or some acting-out, and even some self-loathing for being a member of the Army that helps prop up this institutionalized sex trafficking? Though there was a scene - a single scene - of disgust for the world Alexa lives in, I can't say that it was really more than set-up for a pivotal moment of the book -- a means to an end, and not a real analysis or condemnation of the world. It was well-done in the moment, and then relegated to the d-plotlines once again.
There were things that should have been explored and capitalized on, that should have had a greater share of the focus, over faux drama and twu wuv. So Alexa's the best fighter ever, and she's maybe magic ooh ahh. She's also smart and resourceful (one assumes), so let us see some more of that. She shows moments, but let's have more than moments; let's have that be the bulk of the narrative instead. Not confused longing and a lip-service condemnation of the serious ills of the world, before getting back to the Very Urgent Business of who's hotter, the prince or the pauper? I try not to get too moral when it comes to a book and how it presents its story -- I generally don't feel authors have some sort of "responsibility" to...well, anything, really, other than the story they set out to tell. But as amoral a reader as I am, I couldn't help but be bothered by the shock tactic of using the forced prostitution of children as an easily-discarded frame for a story about how Alexa's milkshake swordplay brings all the boys to the yard.
Now. I've gone very negative, and some of that may be the wine talking (but probably not), so I do want to say that some of this I just saw as rookie mistakes. The story could have done with a lot of lengthening, which, beyond making more depth likely, would have allowed for more of an exploration of some of these difficult plotlines. The timeframe is very compressed, and if you're rushing to get your main characters alone in the woods together so they can get their angsty-flirt on, you're bound to neglect some of the more troublesome aspects of the story. They're just not as fun, amirite? The story as a whole would have benefitted from a slower pace, and I know I'm not the only one who thought that:
And while we're talking about rookie mistakes, even though it seems silly after the more serious stuff: the names! What was with the names? They were so jarring to me; every last one of them seemed like something the author thought sounded cool, and not at all like something that fit the world being built. Cultures have patterns, languages have forms and cadence and a feel to them, and these things all make part of a believable world. Names are a much bigger part of that than you'd think, because they represent the characters who are our 'in' to the world, and therefore represent the world itself; you can't have:
This one is Frenchish, and this one's English-like, this sounds kinda Spanishy, and ooh, this sounds "exotic" and maybe a little ethnic, so that's perfect - let's toss them all together into my insular, isolated world! Perfect! No one would ever believe they didn't develop organically as an extension of the culture and language of a people! *pats self on back*
Choosing something with no real rhyme or reason other than it sounds badass is something a budding writer does in middle school. You gotta murder your darlings, baby, and you gotta make sound decisions rather than "cool" ones. I just had to get that little rant out of the way, 'cause it bothered me...
BUT, all that said, it is very fast-paced, and managed to be engaging even when it was getting under my skin. I saw enough in it that I would read the follow-up, even if it won't be high-priority; there is talent there, it just wants developing, and I'm curious to see what Larson does in the future. And I think I'll get that chance, as I have a feeling Defy is going to find a very devoted audience. (In fact, judging from some of my GR friends' reactions, it already has.) No matter how much we all rail against it and its predictability, there's always a huge market for love triangles; everybody wants to be Team Somebody. Defy will have that in spades. It's just the rest of it - all of its other bookness - that failed to deliver. It's probably a good "epic fantasy" for people who don't actually like epic fantasy, but want to feel like they're reading one - it gives you the bare bones of such a thing, with some vaguely jungle-ish world-building, looming war and atrocities, and mad swordplay skillz, but in the end, it's really just a standard YA love triangle dressed up in epic fantasy's clothing, like a child wearing her mother's heels and playing house. (less)
High 3ish territory, rounded up to a 4. I did a video review of this, which can be found here, but some things I mentioned (and some things I forgot t...moreHigh 3ish territory, rounded up to a 4. I did a video review of this, which can be found here, but some things I mentioned (and some things I forgot to mention): * This was a bit like an action movie with a lot if pithy one-liners, that manages to still be fun despite, or because of, how cheesy it is * Aileana is bloodthirsty, which make her atypical and interesting, but sometimes the choices are strange. I'm all for an anti-hero or simply dubious hero, but she calls her hunted "victims," and what she does "murder," which makes it harder to like her. Again, not because she's an anti-hero, but because of how she sees herself, and how much she likes it, makes her seem psychopathic. Strange writer choice. ... It's not that I dislike her gleeful bloodlust as a rule; I like anti-heroes, I like explorations of darkness. It's more that it didn't quite fit with the overall. It didn't quite ring true; it felt a little forced. But as the story goes on, the layers are peeled away and you get to know her better, and it starts to work. Becomes less cheesy and more realistic. * It could use less obviousness in the relationships, though I couldn't help but like them, and like the male lead, even if it was a little obvious and predictable. * It wears the trappings of steampunk more than feeling like a true representation of steampunk. Everything's a little too easy, and the steampunk aspects don't really permeate the world in the way I'd like them to. * I almost gave up in the beginning, BUT I'm glad I didn't, because I enjoyed it, and will definitely read the next book. (less)
I've been meaning to share this review with you for ages;I've talked about the book a ton in various other postsand vlogs, and have had the review nearly completed for months — it just kept slipping my mind, and for that, I'm sorry, because I think this book could use the push, and I am more than happy to push it on you. While I don't think everyone will like this, with its cold-fish narrator, Tula, and her detached, inhuman way of relating her story, I think that those who connect to it will find a very unique, compelling story with surprising depth and power and memorable characters.
I've said before that I'm a sucker for those cold-fish characters. [My chronic Resting Bitch Face may give some insight into why this is. Whatever.] I don't think it's just because they're understated that these books appeal to me, but that by their very nature, these characters speak to something in me — despite being a fairly gregarious and outspoken person in most situations, personally, I can be very reticent; I gravitate towards prickly people and hopeless situations; I like a challenge. But beyond the reasons I relate, or at least find myself drawn to, these characters, I find them necessary and psychologically true. I'm going to try really hard not to go off on some absurd philosophical tangent (once again), but the fact is, some people deal by shutting down, or shutting people out. To have those personality types represented is not only right in the sense of creating characters that those types of readers can relate to, but also makes some scenarios more believable for me, varies things up, and adds a layer to the story that I may not otherwise get (enhanced by the challenge these characters present, which is simply just pleasing to my puzzle-loving brain).
Nowhere is this better used than in Tin Star, where the main character, Tula, is literally the only human in her corner of deep space for years, with no hope of seeing another human for the rest of her life. It makes perfect sense that Tula would shut down as not only a coping mechanism, but as a means of survival. Surrounded by alien lifeforms, in a potentially hostile environment that doesn't look kindly on what it means to be human, it's fitting that she'd begin to lose some of the signifiers of 'humanity.' Ironically, it's the very human trait of mimicry, of conscious and unconscious mirroring as means of forming & cementing a place in a community (something humans do with such frequency and ease, we don't always realize we're doing it), that allows Tula to lose some of her humanity alongside the loss of human connection, and become more alien while she seeks connection elsewhere. Think about that for a minute. Her very humanity helps her become alien and lose her human-ness. I can't begin to tell you how much that aspect of the book pleases me, both as a reader and a ponderer.
Of course, while that may please and make the story infinitely more fascinating to me, that same trait is what may put some readers off the book. Tula becomes progressively more alien-like, and more detached and wooden (and that may be the only instance of me ever using wooden in a good way when describing a book), which intrigues me and makes me curious to see what — if anything — will ever break her out of it. BUT, there are many readers out there that want immediate connection and root-for-ableness, and may give up on Tula and Tin Star when they don't get it. People read to escape, and often they want a character to empathize with and — most of all — want something immediate and engaging and always, always, likable. Many readers may not want to work at finding what Tula has to offer, or may not find what she has to offer worth the effort. And while there's nothing wrong with wanting something that simply entertains and takes your mind off things, or makes your heart race and your stomach somersault, the lack of those bells and whistles is what makes this a love it or hate it book.
So it might make me a bit of an odd duck* that I liked this so much, but as has been shown in the past, I like distant, cold-fish characters. I like it even more so when it's so perfectly suited to the world and the disconnect from our own reality that it goes beyond being a gimmick or a trait, and actually adds a whole new dimension to the story. Tula's personality and situation adds a sense of loneliness and isolation, which is made even more poignant by the fact that to survive, to keep sane, Tula steadfastly denies to herself that there's even anything wrong. She pretends to be fine, she makes connections only as deeply as she must to get by, but not so much as to get hurt, if she can at all avoid it, and then she gets back to the day to day business of surviving. And in this, she has a remarkable amount in common with the aliens around her. There is a great sense of Otherness that is explored in Tin Star, both for the aliens and Tula, and the ways in which each is demonstrated to be notably Other, while still maintaining some relatable commonality, is just brilliantly and subtly done. The character dynamics worked both in a human, relatable way, and in a way that was wholly foreign and fascinating. For the love of all things bookish, not only did Castellucci make me care about these aliens, but she may have even made me bookcrush on one. Hard.
...so if I haven't scared you off by this long, rambling review, let me just end by saying this gets a very high (a surprisingly high) recommendation from me. I found myself thinking about these characters long after I'd finished the book, and feeling a little bereft that it was over and I couldn't keep exploring their isolated little world and all the differences and sameness that make their dynamics work. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but if it sounds like it may be yours, please pick it up and let me know what you think.
*See what I did there? 'Cause Odd Duck is a graphic novel by Cecil Castellucci? Yeah... ;)(less)
Something Realis a pitch-perfect coming of age story about finding yourself and your voice, and how much that struggle is compounded when all eyes...more4.5
Something Real is a pitch-perfect coming of age story about finding yourself and your voice, and how much that struggle is compounded when all eyes are on you. I had a feeling I would like this one, as reality TV and the obsession with celebrity is something that freaks me out, frankly, and I think is ripe for the exploring through books like this. Fortunately, I wasn't wrong - Demetrios' story and characters easily won me over, and her humor and engaging style, and sharp understanding of human nature, made this one enjoyable and surprisingly affecting.
Now, I'm going to try to not go totally off on a tangent when I say this, and I mean it as a good thing, so bear with me, but: this book kinda had me a little depressed. It's not that it's a saccharine, traumatizing, emo-fest; the book retains its sense of humor and sort of 'Ugh, my life' tone, keeping it relatable and believable, and just generally readable. But because it was so believable, it brought to life one of my least favorite things about the modern age, and that is the stifling, piranha-crazed mess that is our obsession with celebrity culture and its (apparent) lack of privacy.
The anonymity of the internet and the constant feed of images from other people's lives has given us license to take the playground bully phase into our adult lives with impunity; one look at the comments section on youtube, gawker, reddit, etc. will tell you that people don't blink an eye when it comes to laying bare their most vile, callous, unasked-for and uncalled-for opinions for the world to see. They do so gleefully. People will post anything, from one extreme to another, about every last aspect of a person's life - a complete strangers life - including the most vile things you could ever say about a person; they will put this all into writing and make it a concrete, shareable released unto the world, with a total lack of any feeling of guilt or empathy. When people speak out against these things, there is always, always, an avalanche of comments to the effect of They signed up for this, she knew what she was getting herself into, he's more than compensated for this, etc etc, as if any of that is an excuse to treat human beings the way we do. We shrug and say, Comes with the territory, as if this is an unavoidable evil. As if we don't decide what "the territory" is, as if we don't decide what type of people, what type of culture we want to be. As if going about your LIFE on the day to day gives people the right to harass you, your children, your friends, family and barest acquaintances just because your WORK happens to be in the public sphere. And it's so pervasive - it's thoroughly inescapable and it warps us all. I don't watch celebrity news shows, read the gossip mags or blogs, and yet I can still tell you who's dating who and I DON'T EVEN KNOW WHY. THIS is the dystopia of our time. We live in 1984, and it is of our own choosing.
My god, I sound maudlin. But to have a soul-stealing spotlight like this thrust on you from an early age - from any age, frankly - and to know you can never escape it - never, truly never - has got to make you feel defeated. To be your own brand, to have to make every move of your life calculated to suit that brand...it's disheartening and dehumanizing, and it pervades everything. It's CREEPY. And then heaped on that, the guilting and shaming if you dare to disrupt the flow... It just makes me sad. And tired. I felt real empathy for Bonnie™. She's not even real, yet I was kinda stressed for her. I was sad for her. I was sad for the real people like her that bite off more than they can chew when it comes to life in the spotlight, or find themselves unwittingly (or unwillingly) thrust into it. I suppose there are worse things, bigger problems to worry about in this world, but we can't choose what freaks us out, and paparazzi feeding frenzies freak me out. It makes me feel claustrophobic. And then, expanding beyond the paparazzi into everyone having to have - and express. Vocally - an opinion, and it just makes me feel disheartened.
And yet, this is something we seem to welcome, to strive for. Hell, I'm just a blogger and I'm told to think about "my brand." I'm just a random girl on the internet talking about books and people don't hesitate to comment on my looks/weight/voice/clothes, ask to see my tits (and an inordinate amount of requests to see my feet, WTF?), and any other thing they feel comfortable with saying behind the anonymity of a computer screen. And that, I think, is what's at the heart of why this bothers me so much - if all it takes is a little anonymity for people to behave the way they do, then that's what we really are at our most base, and it doesn't even take much digging to get there. This behavior exposes us. And Heather Demetrios holds up a mirror to that and, through Bonnie™, shows us what we value versus what we should; how we should treat people versus how we do.
And so, yeah, I wasn't supposed to go off on a tangent, but all of that. That's what made me feel a little depressed, just really, really sad reading this book. It put a face to all of those things that have always sort of eaten at me, and the inescapability and manipulation in the story (and its sheer plausibility) all worked together to make this more powerful and affecting than I thought it'd be.
...all of this makes it sound like I sit around all day, stressing out over the fishbowl lives of celebrities. Guys, I'm really not. I'm not that neurotic, I promise. So, MOVING ON, basically what I'm trying to say is it was good and it felt real, and it made me feel, which always makes me rate a book higher in my estimation, and makes it more memorable to boot. I fully believed Bonnie™ as a character, as well as pretty much all of the people she was surrounded by. Some made my skin crawl, some made me have hope - she really nailed the characters. Bonnie™ has a strong voice and sense of humor, and Demetrios deals with difficult subject matter in a non-cloying way. She explores relationships, decisions and choices really well, keeping it all relatable, and very realistic. Bonnie™'s doubts of whether she's doing the right thing, whether she should just go with the flow, whether she's causing more harm than good by trying to stand up for herself, etc., ring very true, and the myriad ways people react to what she's doing, how people (complete strangers, those closest to her, everyone) treat her and have opinions on her was sadly realistic and perfectly captured.
The pressure and the fishbowl and the emotional blackmail - all of it felt true and heartbreaking, and made the book memorable. But lest you think its a depressing sobfest, it's not; it manages to always be engaging and often surprisingly light-hearted, with the emotional peaks and valleys that signal a well-plotted book and a good understanding of human nature. And though it made me sad, it's also an empowering book. It's about finding your voice, finding yourself, and not being afraid to embrace that. It made me sad because clearly I'm more neurotic than I'm willing to admit, but it's also funny and smart and sexy and triumphant. There was never a time where I felt it fell flat or had a weak spot. The revelations, manipulations, and peeks into the family dynamics are well-placed to keep the tension, and looooong story short, I think Heather Demetrios is one to watch.
Jesus, why did it take me so long to get to that? I might have some deep-seated privacy issues...
My August Rewind (up late, but better late than pregnant... Err, never. Better late than never.
THE BOOKS: The Fairest of Them All| Carolyn Turgeon [re...more My August Rewind (up late, but better late than pregnant... Err, never. Better late than never.
THE BOOKS: The Fairest of Them All | Carolyn Turgeon [review] Mansfield Park | Jane Austen (obvs) Among the Janeites | Deborah Yaffe [review] The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. | Adelle Waldman [review] Austentatious | Alyssa Goodnight [review](less)