Before I start reviewing, I would just like to take a moment to thank the friend who gifted me a copy of this book. When I heard this was to be a retelling of Tam Lin, one of my all-time favorite fairy tales (superseded only, perhaps, by 1001 Nights and East of the Sun, West of the Moon), I was excited...and a little sad, because I knew I probably wouldn't be able to purchase this right away. She sent me a copy in the mail, and I want to say that I am very, very grateful to her for doing that. It made my entire week.
I only wish I had enjoyed it more.
This is not my first Maas book. I've also read THRONE OF GLASS (and I didn't care for that one, either). Barring the usual stereotypes that plague YA fiction (particularly YA fiction marketed at teen girls), both books are riddled with some eyebrow-raising themes. Both characters are described exactly the same, with blonde hair and blue eyes and good-looking enough that everyone seems to think it's worth commenting on. Both characters are the focus of every single male character in the book, good and bad, and receive more propositions than a sexy grindr profile. All those things, in and of themselves, would be bad enough, but both stories also take very strange liberties with the fairytales they're supposed to be retellings of, with female characters who are (I think) intended to challenge the mold--but end up subtly propagating it instead.
Before I get into that, though, I'd like to take a moment to point out that, historically, fairies came in two flavors: evil and less evil. Some of them were genuinely malicious, but most of them simply existed on a moral plane that was completely separate from and therefore incomprehensible to humans. I think the best book I've ever read that illustrated a completely inhuman moral template was R. Lee Smith's SCHOLOMANCE (demons, instead of fairies, but the idea is the same). The fairies in A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES are not like this. They read like a bunch of teenagers, to be honest, who just so happen to be gifted with magic powers: they're immature, irrational, spiteful, and lack any of the knowledge or common sense that you would expect to see in someone who was over five hundred years old. That was disappointing.
A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES also doesn't seem to know which fairy tale it would like to be. There are elements of Beauty and the Beast in here, but also Tam Lin, Cinderella, East of the Sun, and The Snow Queen. This should have made me like this book more, but it did not. I really did not like the fact that Feyre's attraction to Tam Lin was supposed to be meaningful...he's hot. Yes, he has a mask glued to his head with magic, but it's pretty obvious that he's hot under there. It's not like in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, when the guy had serious issues under the mask literally and metaphorically: Tam Lin is an attractive fae, who isn't even particularly evil (although he's not nice). I am not going to be particularly impressed with your ability to find love with some dude who is attractive and rich and doesn't treat you badly. I mean, where's the obstacle there?
Feyre gets taken into the lands of the Fae after killing a wolf that turns out to be a fae and therefore breaking the treaty between Fae and human (i.e. no killing). Feyre only kills the wolf because her family is seriously weaksauce and makes her get all the food and supplies because they're lazy, previously rich people who live off their own sense of entitlement like it's bread and water and air. Tam Lin tells Feyre that if she lives with him, he will take care of her family and let her live out her life in comfort--but she will be unable to leave. Wow, so she kills one of your friends, and you're going to pay to feed her family, clothe her, and feed her off gold plates until her end of days? This makes total perfect sense.
At this point in my status updates, several people hastened to tell me that it would make total perfect sense by the time I got to the end of the book. These people told me the exact same thing when I read THRONE OF GLASS and they received a side-eye. I read to the end of the book, and I have to say: NO, IT DOESN'T. If anything, knowing what I know about Tam Lin now makes me like him less, because it kind of makes him look like a callous asshole.
Admittedly, the last third of this book is much better than the first two. Rhysand was probably my favorite character: there's just something about morally ambiguous, slightly creepy immortal guys...
This is a prevailing theme with Maas books, though. Secondary characters are much more interesting and have so much more depth than the cardboard cutouts that are the main characters. Feyre is a terrible main character, and Tam Lin, apart from being hot and borderline sociopathic, doesn't have much to speak in his favor, either.
Maas can write well, and in this book especially, she introduces some fantasy elements and sex scenes that suggest that she has a fantastic imagination as well. I imagine that these reasons are probably why the book has received such high ratings. But honestly, I felt like the plotting was all over the place, and served as little more than a pretense for some forbidden love scenes between a human and a fae. Also, that ending was so BREAKING DAWN PART II that I can't even.
P.S. I'm rounding up a half star because of Fire Night. Who knew blue paint could be so sexy?
P.P.S. For a retelling of Tam Lin that DOESN'T suck, I suggest FIRE & HEMLOCK. Oh, yes.
You know those "independent films" that are constantly made fun of on TV? The black and white ones with the cheesy opera music and the Ayn Randian quotes of despair? Reading this book was like watching that, except without the parody.
Esther's mother was a vain dancer, beautiful in life, and when she dies, in death. Her death screws Esther up and for some reason she decides that she's going to faint--as much and in as many different ways as possible, from playing the fainting game in high school by hyperventilating to auto-erotic asphyxiation to drugs.
Esther's craziness escalates until she gets older and her father imparts a revelation about her mother that changes everything.
Honestly, this book was really boring. I was hoping for something like Megan Abbott--odd, but enlightening, with some interesting insights about the female psyche. Instead, we get lots of navel-gazing and whining and really idiotic behaviors that serve no purpose but to titillate the reader with these incredible displays of insanity (look! a crazy person! whatever will they do next?)
The revelation about Esther's mother was so obvious that I didn't even realize that we weren't suppose to have it figured out from the moment the issue was raised. Reading between the lines enabled me to figure it out immediately, and to take it as the status quo from the get-go.
I can't say anything positive about this work. It bored me and didn't contribute anything new or novel to the steadily growing genre of "crazy ladies acting crazy" lit that's starting to become so popular.
I'm using THE WHALE THAT FELL IN LOVE WITH A SUBMARINE for my 2015 Popsugar Challenge.The category it's meant to fulfill? A book that made you cry. It didn't actually made me cry, but it did depress me, and haunt me, and just in general put a darker, gloomy cast on my day that definitely wasn't present before.
There's this movie Studio Ghibli put out called Grave of the Fireflies (1988). It's about a boy and his little sister struggling to survive in Japan during WWII, and it's depressing as fuck. I literally cannot watch it because of how shitty it makes me feel. It is a movie without any hope, without any redemption; it takes a fatalistic and devastating look at war, and its casualties.
THE WHALE THAT FELL IN LOVE WITH A SUBMARINE is set in the same time period, with the same heavy-handed approach to the consequences of war. Which really surprised me, because this is being marketed as a children's book, and yet I'm really not sure it's appropriate for children because of the content of the stories. I'm all for darker YA and middle grade books, but not to the point of traumatizing kids.
How traumatic do you ask? OH BOY. LET ME TELL YA.
For example, in the first story, the main character is a sardine whale who is sad because he is too big (females only mate with males smaller than them). He ends up falling in love with a Japanese submarine heading out to battle the Americans. The Americans think the lovesick whale is the Japanese submarine on their sonar, and end up blasting him to pieces.
There's another story, called something like "The Boy Whose Mother Was a Kite." It's about a mother and her son who are caught in a burning building that was bombed by the Americans (don't you just feel like a total asshole right now? that's another thing--if you're an American, you're going to feel like the world's biggest douche while reading this book), and the air is getting hot and dry. To save her son, she pours her sweat on him. Then her tears. Then her breastmilk (there's this really uncomfortable passage describing her rubbing her nipples all over him when her breasts run dry D:). Then her blood. Finally, she withers away and ends up flying up towards the sky like a kite.
WHAT THE FUCK.
The writing in these stories is gorgeous and evocative, but I really don't think that stories about being burned alive, or about being a kamikaze pilot, or about being exploded into a bloody pulp by a torpedo are really appropriate for children. THE WHALE THAT FELL IN LOVE WITH A SUBMARINE makes it sound like it's going to be a hipster quirky story, but that is misleading. This book should be called EMOTIONALLY MANIPULATIVE CHILD AND ANIMAL DEATHS IN WWII JAPAN. Please don't read this to your children as a bedtime story. D:
Part Addams family and part Van Hellsing, OCTOBER FACTION is about a family of monster hunters and the every day struggles they face of having an enemy list a mile long.
Frederick Allen was once the greatest monster hunter ever, but now he is retired and teaches a popular (but difficult) college course about monsters at the local university. His wife, who used to slay at his side, now avoids him, and they almost never see each other. His kids both want to be monster hunters but he does everything he can to dissuade them, because it's too dangerous.
Then some old faces start appearing, right out of Frederick's past, and in order to protect Victoria and Geoff, and also his wife, Deloris, he has to let them do what's in their blood...
Spilling the blood of others.
The art style in this comic book is really unusual and reminded me of Tim Burton or some of Jim Henson's darker stuff. There are lots of sharp angles and odd perspectives that give this book the distorted look of a funhouse mirror--or a nightmare. Add to that dark, washed out colors and lots of shadows, and you have something that's pretty grim and unsettling to look at. Once I got used to the style, though, I found that it complimented the story very nicely. It's not pretty but neither is the story, and as plenty of others have said, a gritty story needs gritty artwork.
I would definitely recommend this book to others, especially aficionados of horror comics. This one is actually more than decent and I'm really looking forward to the sequel.
If you work in retail (or happen to be a mom), you know that three of the most popular toys right now are My Little Pony, Shopkins, and Littlest Pet Shop. (And I would bet money that a Shopkins graphic novel is in the works...hell, they just came out with a storybook last month.)
I've read about four of the MLP graphic novels, and they were surprisingly good. I enjoyed all of them but one. The story writing was fantastic for a children's comic, and the moral lessons weren't completely over-the-top. I enjoyed the characterization, and the way that the franchise builds off the original MLP while also exchanging frequent nods with the fandom who loves them.
I don't actually know that much about Littlest Pet Shop, other than the fact that the collectible toys are very popular, and very cute.
All these cute little animals live in a pet shop owned by a nice old lady whose name I can't remember. A preteen girl works here, too, whose name is Blythe, and for some reason she can understand the animals when they talk, although nobody else seems to.
All the little animals have distinct personalities, and sometimes they get into trouble. Each chapter features an incident involving said trouble, and the way that the little animals resolve it usually carries a moral lesson (in a very PBS, children's programming way).
I have to say, I was not super impressed with WAIT A SECOND. Yes, the animals were so cute (especially the kitten with sprinkles in her fur), but cute is not a substitute for story (I dinged an MLP comic for that, so you know I am SRS). And most of the stories in here were just, well, lame. The panda rooms with the skunk and finds out that they have totally opposite personalities. Blythe takes the animals on vacations and struggles to fit in with the cool kids, even though they're kind of mean. The mean-girl Biskit twins have a better float in the parade--but they're not fun! OH NOEZ.
Oh, the Biskit twins. They were painful. Their names are Whittany and Brittany and they say "like" in every sentence, and end half those sentences with question marks. Evil Valley Girls, that's what they are. Like, oh my God, that is, like, so twenty years ago! Gag me with a VHS tape of Clueless.
I wasn't really too thrilled with Blythe, either. She has the proportions of a Bratz doll and the personality of Barbie--and I'm not slut-shaming. New adult novels are quick to show that being like Barbie is a bad thing, but if you ever actually owned any, you'd know that Barbie is that nice, wholesome, girl-next-door type who can do anything, be anything. How many other women do you know who own their own mansion, have magical hair, and are also president elect? Exactly.
The problem with this portrayal is that it is unrealistic, and doesn't really give much to relate to. Blythe is pretty (although she doesn't know it--ugh), interested in fashion and cute animals, attracts boys totally by accident while out with her lame (single?) dad who's just a bit too touchy-feely for comfort, and easily ditches a group of 'friends' when they prove too shallow for her tastes after she catches them making fun of two girls she doesn't even really like. The decisions she made didn't seem like decisions an actual preteen would make, that any normal, flawed human would make.
Naturally, when I saw that my all time favorite movie was being turned into a graphic novel as well, I was all over that like white on rice. Even though the characters on the cover don't resemble their movie incarnations in the slightest (WHY), I was like, "Okay." After all, you have to license that shit, and it's possible the comic people didn't want to have to pay the actors royalties. (Although who wouldn't want to pay Alan Rickman for being Alan Rickman? That man is a god.)
However, from the first page, I realized that there was a problem. Galaxy Quest was intended as a parody of Star Trek. It is a comedy, and does not take itself seriously. Galaxy Quest the comic is not a comedy and does take itself seriously, and that required a serious mental transition because it totally went against my expectations.
Jason Nesmith and his crew are once again in trouble with an alien race because of their activating the Omega 13. It changed the outcome of a war this race of alien shape-changing lizard people was having. Said lizard people now demand that Nesmith & co. help them fix their situation, or else they will take on their faces and wreak havoc on their lives. THUS SAYETH THE LIZARD PEOPLE.
There was another problem, too. All the male characters looked exactly the same to me (black hair and thick eyebrows) and I had a hell of a time telling people apart. Guy and Jason looked especially similar and it took me a while to be able to distinguish them. There were also some really random cheesecake shots. A close-up of the crotches of two unconscious alien women. A zoomed-in shot of one of the lizard men's chests. It was bizarre, and I didn't see the purpose of it.
Between the writing and the artwork, there wasn't a whole lot to redeem this comic for me. My expectations were very high, but I don't think that will set my opinion apart from the other Galaxy Quest fans who are sure to read this and be similarly disappointed because of how much it fails to do its predecessor justice. Galaxy Quest was a brilliant satire. This comic is a derivative cliche.
Gillian Flynn is quite possibly the evilest person in the world. She gets people hooked on her writing, cleverly makes people wait years and years and years for their fix so that by the time the next book rolls around they're desperate and buy them in droves to make her a NYT best-seller and land her a movie deal--and then, most cunningly of all, inspires legions of inferior copycats who give her readers a taste of what they want without actually providing them enough with anything to be substantial.
Gillian Flynn makes dictators look like school children playing a game of RISK.
Gillian Flynn's style may be difficult to replicate, but A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS comes pretty damn close. It is a dark story about a two sisters. One of them, now an adult (a very cool adult! who blogs!! and is into pop culture!) is interviewing with a journalist who wants to know the Full Story so she can write a documentary about it. The story slips between past and present, weaving together the hows and whys until the conclusion comes along to knock you on your rear and make you go, BWUH?
A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS is really excellent because it subverts a lot of the stereotypes in horror novels--specifically exorcism horror novels--and even brings up some ideas that I never thought about but make perfect sense. The victims of demonic possession are often virginal young women who are then "purified" by *COUGH* men. Specifically white religious older men. Oh, and it brings up the male gaze, too. And does so in a way that really, really fits the context. Some male authors don't get it, but Tremblay, he gets it.
Merry, the narrating sister, talks about what life was like growing up with her sister, Marjorie, her older sister by six years, who was either severely psychologically disturbed--or possessed by a demon. Some of the things that Marjorie says and does are horrifying. So horrifying that you don't really realize that other things in the family aren't quite right either...until you look more closely at what's going on with the mom and the dad and realize that there's a weird dynamic at play here. What sane family would willingly sign up with a reality television show that focuses on their trying to "exorcise" what they believe is a demon out of their daughter? That's some scary shit right there.
I was really impressed by the original premise, and the characterization of the narrator, Merry. She's a creepy girl, but interesting and highly relatable, which is why I think she would fit right in with Flynn's protagonists. They were also creepy and yet managed to be endearing in their own psychotic way, too. A HEAD FULL OF GHOSTS takes a while to get moving, but is worth the ride. The literary references and pop cultural references are seriously on point, and make this a worthy read in and of themselves (not since Pessl's NIGHT FILM have I read a book that referenced Tor and Dark Net). Also, our very own karen brissette has a huuuuuuge cameo in this story! AWESOME.
I am reading THE LADY HELLION for my 2015 Popsugar Reading Challenge. The category it is meant to fulfill? A trilogy. This is book #3 in the Wicked Deceptions trilogy, and I've already read books one & two (my reviews of which you can read here and here).
This has been a very long ride. I read book two first, and really enjoyed it. When I found out I had been approved for the rest of the trilogy on Netgalley I was so excited. THE HARLOT COUNTESS, which I read first, had its fair share of flaws, but also possessed a number of redeeming factors. I hoped--I expected--that as the books went on and Shupe had time to iron out her talent (she is a debuting author, after all), she would reach her stride with her writing.
I'm sorry to say that after completing this series, my feelings about this book can be summed up as disappointment and a sense of wasted talent--with this book, especially, because it has so many of my favorite tropes. Quint, the nerdy, asocial gentlemen who has teased his way into the storylines of the two more douchey characters, was a character I'd been waiting for. I wanted his story. He's exactly what I love in a hero: a beta with a commanding streak.
Sophie--well, Sophie is much more likable than the other two female characters (even if her plight does not lead one to sympathy). Prostitutes are being brutally raped and murdered and Sophie, after seeing one of her favorite childhood maids get fired because of classist sentiments and unfair bigotry, has decided that since the police aren't going to do anything serious about the murders of these women, she is going to do some investigation herself. So she dressed up like a man, calls herself Sir Stephen, and heads out into these brothels for some firsthand investigation.
Quint discovers her secret pretty quickly, especially when Sir Stephen steps on some toes and gets involved in a duel, and she names Quint her second. When Quint finds out that she, a woman, is involved in a duel, he starts keeping an eye on her, and then he realizes what she's doing and flips the fuck out. You might ask yourself why he has so much emotional investment in her case, when what she's doing is social suicide, and that's because they were childhood sweethearts, but when he proposed, Sophie turned him down. (This is because she was Scarred for Life by another douchebag she was engaged to. When they had sex for the first time, she didn't bleed, and because of this, and because she enjoyed the sex, her ex-fiance jilted her and ended up marrying someone else.)
Quint reluctantly agrees to help her out if she agrees to taking some precautions for her own safety. Sophie agrees--but LOL, she has no intention of following through, and if you think this reckless disregard for her own sense of preservation isn't going to endanger her life or her virtue at least fifty million times, then, hello! You must be new here. Pull up a seat and prepare to get schooled.
Since they're both scarred and afraid of commitment they start taking up an affair that gets pretty intense, and, yes, emotional. Shupe makes an unfortunate artistic choice here, too: she decides that as a way of showing us all how nerdy she is, Quint will use all sorts of Latin words to describe coitus (such as using words like coitus). The sexual scenes are also very...unpleasant. As with previous books in this series, Shupe overuses words like 'delicious' and 'plumped', and has some dubious descriptions.
...he speared the opening to her vagina with his tongue (168).
It went on forever, the thick, ropy strands of ejaculate expelling from his body and into the protective barrier while he shuddered beneath her (169).
When Quint's friends, Nick the Douche and Lord Winejester, get wind of his affair, they immediately stick their noses into it, assuming that Sophie is a virgin (she's not--which is nice) and telling him that because she is pure and because she is quality, they oughtn't to fool around with her, which is total bullshit, because I HAVE READ YOUR BACKSTORIES, ASSHOLES, AND I KNOW WHAT FUCKERY YOU ARE CAPABLE OF. Which is something that upset me--Nick and Simon did terrible, terrible, terrible things to their wives, and they are all but brushed under the carpet in this book.
For example, Nick's wife was also a virgin when he married her, but because he was angry about the arranged marriage he ditched her immediately after the wedding, then went to Italy where he literally fucked every woman in sight. His wife had to disguise herself as a courtesan to get his attention, and then when he found out who she really was, he treated her like crap. He also used the "women who enjoy sex can't be virgins" excuse, and he only felt bad about the matter when he realized that she was a virgin after all. But you wouldn't know that by reading this book. These circumstances are only alluded to once as a "tempestuous courtship." Fucking understatement of the century, that.
Simon was only a little better. After Maggie was almost raped during her season, he assumed, along with everyone else, that she was a shameless flirt trying to steal other girls' men. He spent the whole first portion of the book slut-shaming her. And again, he only really felt bad once he found out that she really had been a virgin and her whole "harlot" act was just that--an act.
Like THE LADY HELLION, THE HARLOT COUNTESS also had a subplot about a man who raped and murdered prostitutes. I did like the fact that LADY HELLION actually let us get to know the prostitutes and showed the murderer coming to justice. The subplot in THE HARLOT was not resolved to my satisfaction and that seemed to cheapen the plights of the women who were murdered, in my opinion. However, despite that, I did not like THE LADY HELLION as much because, quite simply, it lacked development. It was rife with hypocrisy and bad sex scenes, and, worse, trivializes mental illness. I can't tell you how exciting it was to see a male love interest who actually seemed stricken with a genuine mental illness--ONLY TO HAVE IT MADE LIGHT OF AT THE END. And, oh, yes, CURED BY LOVE. Fuck that bullshit. I don't buy it. No sirree, I do not!
I've completed the Wicked Deceptions series now and I have to say that I am disappointed. Shupe showed a lot of promise with THE HARLOT COUNTESS but everything she achieved in that story was undermined by books one and three. Maybe if she writes another series, I'll read it, but she's no longer a debut author and doesn't have inexperience to fall back on as an excuse any longer.
Work has been insane lately--in between my day job and my own writing, I've scarcely had time to sleep, let alone read. I had to pass on a ton of ARCs that I was actually looking forward to reviewing, and I'm so painfully behind on my hard copy reads. A COURT OF THORNS AND ROSES has been giving me sad eyes for over a week now, and I haven't even been able to pick it up.
(SOON, MY PRECIOUS. SOON.)
THE HAREM MASTER leaped out at me on Netgalley because of its title. Even though I am not a huge fan of fantasy, there are three things that are pretty much guaranteed to at least make me take a look: harems/concubines, assassins, and court intrigue.
This book boasts all three.
Demir is Harem Master in Tavamara. This means he is responsible for the safe-keeping of the concubines in the royal harem. He trains them, looks after them, and sees to it that their lives are as comfortable, safe, and pleasant as possible. Traditionally, harems were a highly respectable, almost sacred, profession, but corrupt rulers have steadily been changing the ways of the harem for the worse. Now, the sons of nobles are often blackmailed into being concubines as a way for the king to get back at those he doesn't like, and killed if they displease their fickle ruler.
When the king's son, Ihsen, returns from war, along with his princess, the old monarchy is threatened, and the harems hang in the balance, especially from outside pressure from foreign diplomats. Demir finds himself attracted to Ihsen, but he also is forbidden from romantic relationships because of his profession, and also because he needs to stay loyal to the concubines of his harem first and foremost.
THE HAREM MASTER has a lot of court intrigue, and a lot of LGBT sex. Which should make it an awesome book, but for me, it was merely a good one. The first problem is that it takes a while for the book to gain steam. Once it does, things get a lot better, but in the beginning of the story, I had a hard time staying interested. There are a lot of pointless descriptions of clothes and jewelry and food. Everything everyone is wearing is described in full every time they appear. This is also a problem I have with Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, although at least in her case you can claim she is just being especially true to the historical details she so painstakingly researched for her novels.
Another problem is the sex. It is not badly written but also seemed very tepid. At least, to me. I think part of that was there was just so much sex, and most of the sex scenes were repetitive. After a while, I was kind of like, "Oh look, they're having sex again. And describing the outfits while they're having sex! Yay." I will say this, though: there are all kinds of sex in this book, and a lot of it is polyamorous. Want to read about a whole bunch of guys going at it together, all at once? IT HAPPENS IN THIS BOOK. How 'bout a bunch of girls having an orgy? THAT HAPPENS TOO. Is het more your thing? It happens as well! (Although no orgies, just straight up M/F. Also, no F/F/M, or M/M/F.)
That is actually something that made me raise an eyebrow. The way it works in Tavamara is that everyone is bisexual. Men and women marry, but they keep harems of the same sex. I thought this was an interesting idea, but it also troubled me, too. Why can't same sex couples marry? Why do they only keep same-sex harems? But then as the book went on, I realized it was probably so people wouldn't get pregnant with all this gratuitous unprotected sex, because apparently in Tavamara, having children out of wedlock can get you killed! Something that is mentioned a couple times, and then kind of glossed over. Um, what?!
Weird sex and weird gender/sex roles aside, there was some really great writing and plotting in this book, and I enjoyed the court intrigue and assassin plots of THE HAREM MASTER. I'm not sure this author is a good enough fit that I would immediately go out and buy all her books, but if I was asked to review more, or saw them appear on Netgalley, I would be willing to give her stories another go. This was a fun read, and I did enjoy it, even if it had its share of flaws.
THINGS I'VE SAID TO MY CHILDREN was a much better book than I anticipated. Ripperger is a graphic designer and accompanies all of the bizarre things he's said to his children with really funny illustrations.
Some of my friends didn't like this, but I thought that as a fluffy, funny read it managed to accomplish what it set out to do. It made me blink in astonishment and then smile.
Full disclosure: I don't have kids, so maybe I am easier to impress with outlandishness than veterans who already have a kid--or even multiple kids--themselves, and consider themselves proponents of even more outlandishness than Ripperger.
I think THINGS I'VE SAID TO MY CHILDREN is a cute, light read. I wouldn't buy it for myself but it would make a nice gift for parents-to-be or parents with kids. Definitely a coffee table book if there ever was one (just don't poop in it! said Ripperger).
Mercedes Lackey is one of my favorite guilty-pleasure authors. I've found through trial and error that while I don't care at all for her Valdemar series, pretty much everything else she writes is gold. Especially since, like me, Lackey seems wild about fairytale retellings. She has three active fairytale series: Fairytale, 500 Kingdoms, and the Elemental Masters.
The Fairytale series and the Elemental Masters are my favorites. Elemental Masters has better world-building though, whereas Fairytale is more of a straight-up retelling. The Elemental Masters books are historical fantasy stories that take place in various points of history. The magic system is based on the four classical elements--earth, water, fire, and air--and the powerful magicians who are able to control them and work with the sprites and elementals who embody this magical energy.
FROM A HIGH TOWER is a reimagining of Rapunzel. Giselle is taken from her family when the witch Anneliese finds Giselle's father stealing from her vegetable patch. He's not the victim of fate that he was in the fairytale--no, her father is a greedy, selfish bastard who allows himself to be corrupted by his rationalizing of theft. He's not very sympathetic.
Anneliese is actually a good witch, and she rears Giselle with love and care. Giselle is an Air Master, which means she has power over the element air, and Anneliese keeps her in a tower because this serves the purpose of allowing her to be closer to the elementals who share her power, while also keeping her isolated from the world in case she accidentally loses control of her power.
Giselle learns from a horrible incident that the outside world can be a cruel and merciless place, and when her mother dies she ends up leaving her tower for reasons. There was a reason but I can't remember what it was. Anyway, she lives in 19th century Germany, and there are beautiful descriptions of the land and the people and the food (OH GOD THE FOOD). While in one of the towns, she encounters a Wild West troupe that act out spaghetti westerns (bratwurst westerns?) for the general public, which are vogue right now because of the writings of Karl May.
By the way, Karl May is a legit German author. Out of curiosity, I looked him up and was really surprised to see that he was real, and did write historically inaccurate western romps.
Anyway, Giselle ends up with the troupe and she's pretty cool. Her mastery of air allows her to be really good with a gun, so she becomes a markswoman for the show. We also meet another cool lady named Rosamund who has power over earth and is in charge of a group who make sure that Elemental Masters don't abuse their powers for evil or call unnecessary attention to themselves (think the Volturi from Twilight).
The creepier passages in this book were the best portions by far. There is this scene when they are being stalked by supernatural creatures in the Black Forest that was amazing, so amazing that if the entire book had been like that, this would have gotten five stars from me. There's also a fight scene towards the end that was similarly awesome.
Unfortunately, the action in this book is pretty spaced out and a lot of this book is about friendships and relationships (although not the romantic kind), and traveling. I prefer more action, but most of this book was set-up for the climactic ending. I'm giving this 3.5 stars because despite the slow pacing and some cheesy moments, this is Mercedes Lackey doing what she knows best, and features some pretty fantastic world-building and strong-female-badassery.
Buying lunch at work is expensive, and since I'm trying to bring my own lunch more often I thought this would be a helpful guide for recipe ideas and quick-fix lunches.
The first portion of the book consists of product placement: the author lists all of her favorite brands of lunch pails, canteens, thermoses, coolers, and lunch boxes/bento. There is some helpful information about what will freeze and what won't, and the temperature that one needs to keep their food at for it to be safe. The danger zone for food is above 40-degrees for cold food and below 140-degrees for hot food. These are the temperatures at which bacteria can flourish, and food is safe for about two hours if these temperatures remain unchecked.
The last two thirds of the book are recipes for meals that you can take to work. I flipped through them, but wasn't really impressed. They're all so complicated and strange, like fig prosciutto sandwiches. It was like something you'd read in Rachel Ray's magazine. Prosciutto is expensive and so are figs, and so were a lot of the other ingredients used in this book. It was disappointing.
For example, some of my favorite recipes are egg flower soup. It's really easy to make. You just take chicken stock and add about a tablespoon of flour as you boil it on the stove. As soon as the water reaches a boil, you add a few eggs. The eggs scramble as soon as they hit the boiling water. I often add frozen vegetables like peas and carrots, and some red pepper for flavor.
All my friends were reading this and eating it up, so naturally, I was curious. And since I was lucky enough to finagle an ARC of EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING I had the opportunity to find out for myself if it was as good and original as everyone was saying.
IT WAS NOT.
Not that EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING is a bad book. It has some interesting things to say about being sick and being well, the female character, Maddy, is a POC (African American and Japanese) who likes reading and has a reviewing blog, the love interest, Olly, is not abusive (although he is a manic pixie dream boy). There are a lot of things in this book's favor.
***very minor spoilers***
The premise is this: Maddy is housebound because she has a rare disease, called SCID. The only person she ever talks to in real life is her mother. All her tutors Skype with her. The books she reads arrive in sterile, vacuum-sealed packages. She has absolutely no contact with the outside world.
One day she gets new neighbors, and their son, Olly, is instantly curious about the girl who's constantly spying on him through the window. One day he holds up a sign with his email address written on it and the two of them immediately start chatting. As their tentative friendship blossoms, they learn each other's secrets--she's sick, he has an abusive father. They start to fall in love.
I'm not really sure how I feel about this book. It's definitely a copy of FAULT IN OUR STARS, just like ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES and ANTHEM FOR JACKSON DAWES, and that's a little infuriating. EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING was better than both those two books, but it still had insta-love (something that annoys me) and a manic pixie dream boy whose sole purpose in the book is to teach the female protagonist how to live through teh lurve (something that annoys me more). Oh, and yes, they take a trip together, despite their love being doomed and all. O RLY.
There's a twist to this book that wasn't present in the other two TFIOS-esque books, and I'm not sure how I feel about that, either. It felt like cheating, to me, but you may feel differently.
EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING is a book for people who wished TFIOS had a slightly less devastating ending. I'm sure it'll succeed, just because it's an emotionally manipulative love story, and people seem to eat those up like they're dripping hot cheeseburgers. It wasn't really for me, though.
Clowns are creepy. I was not impressed by party clowns as a little girl, especially the men. They were creepier yet, and seemed to be hiding nefarious secrets behind that white greasepaint. When I read Stephen King's IT as a fourteen-year-old, I was afraid of my shower drain for weeks afterward, because if there's anything scarier than a clown, it's a sewer clown that comes after you while you're at your most vulnerable (i.e. showering or pooping).
WHEN CLOWNS ATTACK leaped out at me on Netgalley like...well, like a clown from a sewer. The cover caught my attention from the get-go and when I saw that this title was published by Ten Speed Press, I was excited, because, like Quirk, they publish a lot of specialty books that are just plain fun.
I'm sorry to say that WHEN CLOWNS ATTACK was a miss for me. The biggest problem was that, like clowns themselves, I didn't find this book funny. The humor in this book is a blend of random and juvenile. For example, the author suggests making a "scareclown", which I guess is a hospital orderly since clowns are crazy and therefore hospital orderlies are their natural enemies.
WHEN CLOWNS ATTACK is a mock manual on how to identify the dangers of clowns (i.e. they exist), how to attack clowns, the different types of clowns, etc. etc. There are a lot of pictures of scary clowns interspersed throughout this book. I'd hoped it was going to take the meme route and feature pictures pulled from the internet, with mentions of famous horror movie clowns, but no.
I think if this had gone the pop culture route, and instead of focusing on oddball humor, discussed scary clowns in pop culture, this could have been a really good book. But as it is, I found it lame & boring.
I'm reading this book for my 2015 Popsugar Challenge. The category this book is meant to fulfill is "a book released this year." Technically NOTHING LEFT TO BURN hasn't been released yet (it comes out in August), but that's splitting hairs.
I've read SOME BOYS by this author, and while I thought it tried (oh, Lord, how it tried) to send a good message, it failed on the execution of the premise. NOTHING LEFT TO BURN has the exact same problems: good premise, bad execution.
Reece Logan's father stopped loving him when his older brother died. Matt was the family's golden child, beloved by everyone (including Reece)--but Logan's father blames Reece for his death, and moves out of the family house shortly thereafter.
Amanda (Man) is a foster child living with her foster brother in the Becketts' household. She volunteers with the fire department at her foster father's insistence, although she later grew to love it. She also really loved Matt, and like everyone else, was devastated when he died. (Not that she really had a shot--Matt liked girly-girls, not tomboys, and her foster father has a strict "no boys" rule. As in, no dating, or she gets kicked out).
Reece decides to join up with the fire department because that's where his dad works, and it's the only opportunity he has to confront him. When he joins, he immediately makes waves, because Matt volunteered too. And all of the volunteers were friends with Matt and, like Reece's father, blame him for what happened. Especially Amanda. But when she sees the way Reece's father treat shim, she ends up feeling sorry for him and even taking his side, much to her surprise.
I learned a lot about fires, how fires are started, the different types of fires, and how they are put out. I learned a lot about the physical demands of firefighters, and how scary it can be to go "on the scene". That was the best aspect of the book, I think. It was clear that Blount put a lot of research into the topic, and talked to some very choice people who work in this profession.
What I didn't like was either of the two main characters. Both of them were childish and whiny and highly overdramatic. They went from insta-hate to insta-love pretty damn fast, and that only lead to even more childishness and whining. Reece's father really made me hate him, and even when he had a redemption arc later on in the book, I just shook my head and sneered. That was a lame excuse. No parent should act like that. I guess now I know where Reece's childishness and whining come from.
Also, there are only so many times that I'm willing to read about someone's hair being compared to toast, or being called "toast" or "toasty" or some variant thereof. So thank you, Amanda, for making me ambivalent about one of my favorite foods. I'll never be able to dissociate Reece or Matt or their fucking sorry excuse of a father from toast ever again. It'll forever be paired with w(h)ine.
There's also an arson mystery in here, but it doesn't really come into play much until the end of the book. This was also one of the better parts of the story, and to be honest, I didn't see it coming.
NOTHING LEFT TO BURN isn't as rage-inducing as SOME BOYS was, or as insensitive, but it does gloss over serious issues in the same way, and also tries to make apologies for parents who treat their kids like crap, which I really didn't like. If this had been a straight-up thriller with no insta-love and sappy romance, I think I would have liked this a lot better. As it was?
The woman on the cover totally reminds me of Emma Watson (and if this book ever becomes popular enough to be a movie, God willing, I think Emma would be perfect for the role). Unfortunately, Emma Watson is a pretty cool person and some pretty terrible things happen to the titular Mireille (the woman on the cover). Really, really terrible things.
In the 1970s and 80s, really long historical sagas were in. They were this generations "new adult." They were inescapable--everyone wanted to write them, and they were these incredibly wordy 500+ page epics about women and the men who treated them ill, and all the horrible things that happened to them as they came of age, and somehow in the midst of all these terrible things happening they ended up in a romance fraught with wangst.
I think the most modern example of this type of book is MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA. You have this naive girl who is born speshul. And she ends up being thrust into this incredibly stressful and decadent way of life that she's totally unprepared for (and yet, does she take to it immediately with very little effort? Ofc). The men in her life are duplicitous and even the ones who love her love her more for what she is and what she represents than the real, actual her. From her precocious sexual awakening to her grim realization that men are cads who prefer dream women to the actual, breathing article, it's long and it's dark.
MIREILLE really reminded me of MEMOIRS. The book starts out with modern day celebrity Mireille, who has snubbed the awards ceremony honoring her movie while her producer fumes and swears revenge. Then we're introduced to France right before the end of WII. Mireille lives with her stepmother and her Nazi sympathizer boyfriend who tries to rape her. She kills him and ends up taking refuge with the gypsy her parents used to have as their help before evil step-mama fired him. They profess their love, and he draws her naked (PAINT ME LIKE ONE OF YOUR FRENCH GIRLS), and then they have sex--but oh noes! The Germans have found out that he was involved in a plot to thwart him, and kill him dead. Marianne must escape before they find her, too.
From provincial France, she goes to Paris and ends up becoming a prostitute (after being fucked over by amoral people who wouldn't be out of place in a Dickens novel). This is where the book really reminded me of MEMOIRS: there's the Madam who isn't necessarily a bad person (and has some kind moments) but is driven entirely by money and greed. There's also the prostitute with the heart of gold mentor, who helps Mireille out, even though they're competition. And Mireille ends up becoming the best of the best, and all of Paris (and indeed, Europe) know her as L'Ange.
In her capacity as L'Age, she meets a libertine film producer named Oliver Jordan, whose good looks have bought him many a free pass for increasingly sociopathic behavior. He is sexually depraved, and his appetites are pretty much incapable of being satisfied...until he meets L'Ange, and professes that he has fallen in love with her on sight.
The book picks up full steam, starting in Golden Age Hollywood and ending in the 60s. Mireille sleeps with many men, with peculiar appetites. She gets in relationships with men who treat her badly (and even abuse and rape her). She does some spaghetti westerns. She deals with jealousy and slut-shaming from women who fear her reputation and envy her beauty. All the while, she hardens her heart around the two things that mean most to her: her daughter, Stephanie, and her dead gypsy lover, Stefan. She would do anything, anything to protect them. Anything.
So here's the skinny. I liked this book. Even though it embodies pretty much every cliche there is to be had in romance novels these days, I liked it. It was vastly entertaining, and despite being almost 600 pages, I finished it in under two days. (Lake Union Publishing is fast becoming one of my favorite publishers. I've liked pretty much everything I've read for them so far, and they seem to specialize in ball-busting historical doorstops.) But it does have some problems. The sex scenes in this book are wince-worthy, and really grossed me out. Some were almost sexy, but then there would be a phrase or a description that had me going, "Um, no." It is also very dark. I went into MIREILLE thinking it was going to be a young adult novel for some reason. NOPE. It is definitely an Adult novel in every sense of the world, and has many unpleasant subjects like rape, pedophilia, child abuse, domestic violence, blackmail, sexual deviancy, sexual fetishes, prostitution, drug use, suicide, mental illness, drug overdose, murder, racism, violence, and so much more. IT IS SHOCKING, OKAY.
If you can get over these triggers and enjoy a bit of sensationalist nonsense, I recommend this book. It definitely reads like an homage to the bodice rippers and historical epics of the 70s and 80s, and is just bizarre and stranger-than-fiction-y that you can't help but wonder if anything like this actually happened. Even though Mireille made me want to shake her sometimes with her obstinacy and her complete refusal to confide in anyone who would help her (WHY!!!), I could sympathize with her plight and could at least understand why she was being such a blockhead (even though it frustrated me). I honestly can't wait for my next Lake Union read. I'm pretty sure it'll be good. ;)