I don't think I've read such a hilarious, mean-spirited satire since Christopher Buckley's THANK YOU FOR SMOKING.
I'll admit, when I found out that the writer was a producer for Family Guy, I was kind of like, "Uhhh..." Because Family Guy has become pretty tasteless lately, especially in its treatment of Meg Griffin, but also with rape, misogyny, and insensitivity. (In fact, I actually wrote a blog post about the show's terrible treatment of Meg called "The Dregs--I Mean, Megs, of Society: The Not So 'Family' Aspects of Family Guy.")
But I loved the concept. Because it's so relevant. I think most of us know about Toddlers and Tiaras and Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. It's sickening to do that to a child, and part of me was really, really curious to see what Kirker Butler would do with that subject. And d'you know what? I was pleasantly surprised.
Miranda, the mother in this book, has always had a hankering for fame. When she's a runner-up as a young girl, she thinks that the gateway to this elusive holy grail might be pageants. But not her, no; she grows up and has kids -- and puts the kids through pageants instead. Specifically, her daughter: nine-year-old Bailey. Her two sons, she doesn't care about, because they can't be entered in pageants...not unless she's willing to let them catch the gay (and as a Southern Christian mom, she isn't willing to see them prance through hellfire in Abercrombie and Fitch jeans).
Ray, her husband, has had it up to here with pageants. He's seen them taking over his life and he doesn't like it. Once a doctor who got barred for malpractice, Ray is now a hospice nurse, which is okay, because now it's his job to kill people. For fun, he takes random pills he finds in sample packets and tries to guess what they are based on the side-effects. Hey, everyone needs a hobby. Although Ray's recently decided to branch out and have sex with the underage granddaughter of one of his hospice patients. Oh no. And the hospice patient actually sees him. Oh no.
Oh, and let's not forget Miranda's mother, Joan, who talks to Jesus daily. And he talks back...
I think my thoughts & feelings about this book can eloquently be summed up as such:
I think the best way to describe PRETTY UGLY is Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999) meets Toddlers and Tiaras. PRETTY UGLY had me snickering well into the night, but it's definitely not a book for everyone. I'm from California, you see. Urban California (there is a difference, you see. Rural California isn't all that different from the Midwest or, in some cases, the South). And one of the things we Urban Californians do is laugh at Rednecks. It's pretty much the worst thing you can be.
I mean, what else are we going to do? We can't fire guns at endangered creatures, and after a while smoking pot and having orgies on top of our hybrid cars and living the gay lifestyle (read: raising teacup yorkies and watching lots of musicals) and doing lines of free trade organic coffee gets boring.
So we make fun of rednecks.
And get high off the fumes of our own sense of smug self-importance, of course.
But PRETTY UGLY has a really great cast of characters, and it's full of dark, twisted humor (which, incidentally, happens to be my favorite kind of humor). Some authors don't do the whole "wry aside" schtick too well, but Kirker Butler does, which makes me happy, because when it's done right, it makes a book 10x more fun, like making eye contact with a comedian while he's telling an inappropriate joke and the comedian also happens to be really cute.
I could easily see PRETTY UGLY being turned into a movie. I think it would transition to the big screen well, especially with a good cast.
Do you like your books dark? Really, really dark? Like, so dark that even light can't escape? Then BORING GIRLS is the book for you.
***WARNING: SPOILERS & TRIGGERS (OH MY)***
BORING GIRLS triggered a lot of things for me, as it probably will for you. It touches upon many subjects that most people won't touch, or don't approach very well -- misogyny, sexism, rape culture, bullying, tolerance for violence, revenge.
The most striking, and terrifying, aspect of BORING GIRLS is Rachel's transformation. She started out as someone who was very much like me: an unhappy girl with a loving family who was bullied by her peers for being different, and didn't find solace until she met a group of like-minded individuals in a counter-culture. But by the end of the book, she was...well, almost unrecognizable.
It's scary, seeing someone like you turn into a monster. It makes you wonder what kind of monsters might be lurking inside you.
Rachel is an ordinary loner girl, and I thought the way she was bullied was very realistically done. Her fear, her anger, her helplessness; these were all things that resonated very strongly with me. It's clear from the beginning that Rachel has a fascination with things that are dark and morbid. Her favorite painting is Artemisia Gentileschi's Judith Slaying Holofernes.
Artemisia Gentileschi happens to be one of my favorite painters, and the parallels between her and Rachel are not coincidental. Artemisia was a female in an occupation dominated by men, in an environment where women were still considered pretty much worthless. She was raped by another painter, Agostino Tassi, who was actually hired to be her tutor. Her paintings often depicted women being abused or repressed by men, or strong women rising up against their oppressors.
In the same vein, Rachel becomes fascinated with metal. (The ex-metalhead in me would just like to take a moment to point out that what Rachel is actually listening to -- the screaming and shouting kind of metal, with the dramatic costumes and gory imagery, is more like nu-metal. Slipknot was the first band that came immediately to mind, although there are other bands like that -- like Cannibal Corpse (they have a song called "Stripped, Raped, and Strangled") , Lord Gore ("Rape Camp"), and Dying Fetus ("Kill Your Mother / Rape Your Dog").
A lot of metalheads don't like bands like these. As with many music genres, there are purists, and a lot of the die-hard metal fans don't consider "nu metal" real metal, preferring instead the epic sorts of metal bands that tend to be based in Scandinavia (Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Norway have excellent metal bands), with Nightwish, Stratovarius, Epica, Sonata Arctica, and November's Doom being some notable examples. I knew some people who wouldn't even consider listening to an American or British band, because they didn't have the same roots as the traditional stuff.
One of the things that put me off nu-metal was the violence. Especially the sexual violence. I found the music achromatic and dissonant and couldn't stand to listen to it, not when I had symphonic metal power ballads at the ready with singers who were actually trained in classical opera (I love you Tarja Turunen). But this is exactly why Rachel adores these bands: they provide an outlet for her impotent rage and frustration about being bullied and not fitting in at school.
Rachel ends up meeting another girl through a friend, Josephine, because the two girls went to Catholic school together. Josephine's ex-classmate is named Fern and she and Rachel form an almost instant rapport when they realize that they're interested in the same music and subculture. Pretty soon, they decide to form a metal band of their own.
One of the best things about this book is the way that the author portrays what it's like being a female in a career that is dominated by men. I find this is especially true in geek culture. People think of geeks as being adorable and awkward, but a lot of them are quite nasty towards women, with a lot of inherent sexism being directed towards female gamers, female cosplayers, and female geeks. She captures that "rape- and misogyny-culture" really well, and I loved some of the messages Sara Taylor had to send about sticking up for yourself and not buying into rape culture.
Then, about 3/4 of the way through the book, things take a turn for the worse. The band is starting to go pretty well, and there's a concert, and I'm thinking, "Oh, they're about to be a success..."
And then Rachel and Fern are both raped, just as Artemisia Gentileschi was, and, like Artemisia, it changes the way they approach their art. Unlike Artemisia, however, they plan to exact revenge on their rapist...and it will change everything. EVERYTHING. AND THERE WILL BE BLOOD.
Since I'm the first person to write a full-length review for this book, I feel obligated to go into detail because this is a very explicit book, with a lot of topics that will upset people. Yes, there is some very vivid and graphic imagery in this book that people will find upsetting. There is rape. There is murder (and it's descriptive murder, too -- no clean and pristine "fade to black" here).
It's interesting, because when I looked up the lyrics to the nu metal bands some of my friends at the time sent me, I couldn't image what kind of a person you would have to be to write that kind of thing. "These men must be fucked in the head," I thought to myself. In the here and now, that seems a little hypocritical, because I'm sure some of the people who read my books take one look at some of those fucked up passages and think to themselves, "Nenia Campbell must be a total psycho in real life." (I am, actually, but that's a secret...shhh.)
In BORING GIRLS, Sara Taylor shows that sometimes this is true -- sometimes the people who write psychotic stuff are psychos. And sometimes they're psychos who hide in sheep's clothing and pretend to be nice. And sometimes they're nice people who dress up like wolves as catharsis for the stressors in their lives. What an incredibly disturbing book this was. I think I loved it.
Let me start by saying this authors vs. reviewers crap doesn't benefit anyone. There are no 'sides.' Or at least, there shouldn't be. Most writers staLet me start by saying this authors vs. reviewers crap doesn't benefit anyone. There are no 'sides.' Or at least, there shouldn't be. Most writers start out as readers -- at least, I did -- and I know that some books that work for me don't work for others (and vice versa). We're all in the same boat...except some of us happen to write books.
(Honestly, if you're a writer and hate reading or don't want to make the time to read, you probably shouldn't be writing in the first place.)
And yeah, maybe the whole writing-books thing makes the relationship unequal from the start, because authors have a lot of influence that most reviewers don't have. (Although there are reviewers and authors of all levels of fame and popularity, so this really depends.)
I started blogging on this site seven years ago, way before Goodreads achieved its present day claim to fame. I remember when it was just a handful of users and I'd see the same faces on every book page. I'm ollllllld school.
And then a few years after that I started publishing and kept on reviewing, because that was how I'd made my friends on this site and it seemed disingenuous to no longer review and share books with my friends just because I'd happened to write some.
But because people do take this whole 'sides' business to heart, even if they say they don't or wish they didn't, a small but vocal population started getting pretty angry with me once I started becoming popular enough to matter.
They would say things like, "It's kind of strange seeing one author bash another author's books. Don't you have any empathy?" Or, "It's kind of tacky to attack other authors, don't you think?" Or, "I bet you don't even read half those books you're reviewing. No way you have time to read and write."
Because as an author, I'm only supposed to say nice things about other people's books and if I don't like something, I'm not supposed to say anything at all. That's how it is apparently supposed to work, apparently, and if you break the rules, a lot of people won't have anything to do with you. Because there are authors and there are reviewers, and we are supposed to stick this out together, don'tcha know?
I've had people I considered friends remove and block me because they didn't like my conduct as an author (for various reasons). And while this is fine, I'm not going to pretend that this doesn't make me sad, or that it didn't take me a while to be as okay with it as I am now. I mean, there's my reviewer persona and there's my author persona and there's my everyday persona and they are not all the same or equal. I may be vitriolic in my reviews at times, but that doesn't mean I do the same with people.
Authors aren't their books, and it's important to recognize that because I think that is where so much of this drama comes from: authors (and sometimes fans) taking reviews as personal attacks when they are just basically a list of reasons about why that book did not work for that particular reader.
Reading is something I feel very passionate about. Books take more time to get through than movies, and I think because of that, the relationship between a book and reader is so much more personal, so much more fraught with emotion. It's like a relationship (gah, I sound so corny, but it's true)- both sides have to put in effort to make it work. And like relationship, not every pairing is guaranteed for success...and sometimes one party is more at fault than the other (baby, it's not you, it's me).
So yeah, this 'sides' thing really doesn't help anything. It alienates readers from authors -- it makes it more difficult for readers to approach authors about their books or to feel safe offering criticism that (let's be honest) really would benefit all parties if it came to light. It makes it difficult for authors to GET people to read their books because readers can never really be sure whether you're going to be one of those author crazies that will throw a rage tantrum when they get anything less than three stars. And it makes it difficult for author reviewers like myself, because we straddle the fence and end up getting people from BOTH camps mad at us, because who the hell do we think we are, thinking we're too good/speshul to choose a side?
I used to blog about this pretty often, but I stopped because I was starting to feel like a broken record, and because reviewing and writing take so much out of me that I don't really have as much time as I'd like to bitch (I'm really, really good at bitching). I think most people get it, anyway. But for the small and obdurate portion of the 'net that don't, here's a clue:
Life is too short to get hung up over things like, "Waaah this meanie gave my book two stars!" or "Waaah this person said mean things about me on the internet! I'M GOING TO GET THE DIRT ON THEM NOW." Rather than focusing on 'sides', you should be focusing on your passions and finding good books to read and meeting people you actually like, who make you think about the world in new and exciting ways.
I don't always agree with what my friends say -- whether it's about a book I wrote or a book that I just really, really like -- but that doesn't in anyway detract from their right to say it, or its overall subjective truthfulness.
I know there's a number of people here who think of me as a big fat hypocrite and in some ways, yeah, you're probably right. We're all hypocrites. But I also put up with a lot of stuff. I get negative reviews. I get people who stalk me from website to website under various sock accounts & talk shit. I've had authors more famous and popular than me write nasty things about me. I get blocked all the time. And I deal with it. I don't whine (much) about it, or send my readers and fans to attack them (not that they would, anyway -- they're good people, and if I tried that crap, I'm sure they'd give me a good talking to: it's why I love them), or write long, butthurt treatises about why being an author is so hard. (Actually, this review probably comes pretty close to that -- but hey, I already admitted I was a hypocrite, so Mulligan.) But I try my best to be professional, and I really respect and admire and love the people on here who do the same: who feel that same passion about the written word and want to share it with others.
That's why I became a writer in the first place, yo.
I think my fascination with twins started with the Sweet Valley Twins series (which probably gives you a rough idea of how old I am, even though it isn't exactly a secret). What if someone else shared your face, your body, and sometimes, even your thoughts? I can't even fathom that. I'm such a weirdo -- I don't think the world would be ready for two of me (thank goodness that's not the case). Sweet Valley was pretty innocent, although once in a while, Jessica (the selfish, bitchy, "pretty" one) would impersonate her sister in order to get her way. Identity theft!!
Since then I've read a couple other books about twins, and they pursue the whole, I'm-not-me-I'm-you concept in spookier detail. A few years ago, I won a book by Jennifer Warman in a giveaway called BEAUTIFUL LIES (it was amazing, and creepy, and amazing -- like THE LOVELY BONES with twins). When I saw THE SECRETS WE KEEP on Netgalley, and read in the summary that it was about two of my favorite subjects -- secrets and twins -- I was clicking the "apply" button. Books about secrets are my weakness. Twins fascinate me, but secrets: I am a secret miser; I hoard secrets. GIVE THEM TO ME NAO, KTHX.
THE SECRETS WE KEEP is about two twins named Ella and Maddy Lawton. Maddy is the "pretty" popular one, and Ella is the weird artsy loner kid nobody likes for some reason. It could possibly be that she's a judgmental bitch. Anyway, one day Maddy calls her sister from a party in tears demanding to be picked up. It's pretty clear that something horrible has happened, but Maddy won't give her any details, which pisses Ella off. They fight in the car, it swerves, and then blackness. When Ella wakes up, she's all alone in a hospital, with no Maddy, and when she's asking for her sister, the hospital orderlies think she's saying her own name. When Ella realizes how relieved and happy everyone is that "Maddy" lived and "Ella" died, she decides to take on her sister's identity.
First off, this is really weird. I couldn't really understand Ella's motivations for doing this -- she hated her sister, and her sister's life, and she's not enough of a people pleaser that I bought the whole "I am selflessly doing this to make everyone happy" thing. I guess she could have been doing it out of morbid curiosity -- both to find out what people really thought of Ella, who her parents liked best, and what all of Maddy's secrets are, and that makes me feel a little icky. What the hell, Ella?
So Ella becomes Ms. Cheerleader Popular and plays the temporary amnesia card up to hide anything "Maddy" should know but "Ella" wouldn't. And it's pretty clear that people are suspicious. She catches her mother looking for "Ella"'s telltale birthmark, which is no longer visible because her face got slashed up from the car wreck. And it's pretty clear as well that Maddy was not as wholesome as she pretended to be: her boyfriend spends all his time doing coverups and protecting her image which seems to suggest that he's got something to lose. And Maddy's creepy friend Jenna is always cornering Maddy in hallways and bathrooms, leaving cryptic threats that Bad Things Will Happen unless she gets to be Prom Queen. New Maddy can't help but feel that she's in over her head.
THE SECRETS WE KEEP kept me turning the pages, but it wasn't the story I was hoping it would be. Part of me was hoping for murder and a darker storyline, or even something more innovative, like the awesome SIX MONTHS LATER by Natalie D. Richards (even though her follow up story tanked). There's nothing too memorable about THE SECRETS WE KEEP, and I'll probably forget most of the details in a week from now, but it isn't a bad book, either. I think middle school girls would probably get a kick out of it, because it's just dark enough to seem edgy to someone who probably still secretly plays with their Barbies, and it's got plenty of TEH DRAMAZ.
Okay, seriously? Once again, Manga Classics has published their manga backwards on Netgalley, with the last page being the first page. LES MISERABLES had this, and so did PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. You would think by now that the publisher would have figured out how to correctly format their book...
And yes, I know how to read manga (R to L, instead of L to R). I know the book was published backwards because that condescending "STOP! You're reading this book wrong!" warning that's on pretty much all manga was on page 1. (For more on how to read books wrong, check out this video.)
So, THE SCARLET LETTER.
I'll be honest with you; I was never a fan. A lot of people call THE SCARLET LETTER a book with feminist principles, but I'm not all that sure that it is, because it still endorses all the tenets that continue to suppress women: (1) women should suffer in silence, (2) you should be kind to people who treat you badly because it is the Right thing to do, (3) women are responsible for negative consequences of sexual affairs. Hester is treated badly by her Puritan community after cheating on her absent husband with an unnamed man and then becoming pregnant with his child. The man turns out to be the young priest who the town holds in the highest regard. Hypocrisy, much?
Hester's husband, presumed by many to be dead at sea, arrives in the middle of her trial, and she recognizes him -- but he tells her not to identify him, and ends up shunning her along with the rest of the community, leaving Hester to go through her ordeal alone. She decides to start sewing and embroidering, and doing a shit ton of work with no recognition, and after years of abuse and an intervention where the religious members of town try to take away Hester's daughter, the townspeople decide, "Hey, Hester's a good little slavewimp. Let's forgive her sins!"
(Whatever happened to "Judge not, lest ye be judged?")
Meanwhile, the priest who slept with Hester has been growing sickly with guilt. Hester's husband suspects he is the adulterer and has been doing a number of small cruelties designed to hasten his illness, all under the guise of friendship. Hester eventually tells the priest the name of her husband, and the priest realizes he's been fucked and cuts off the friendship -- but too late. He dies, eventually, and leaves all of his money to Hester and Pearl, who then move away and end up marrying a rich nobleman. It's like a Horatio Alger story for promiscuous women. Put out, but act as passive as the men around you want you to act, and then one day your prince will come.
No, I can't say that I'm a fan.
The upside to this edition is that it is highly condensed and many of the tedious descriptions and painful dialogue have been omitted for expediency's sake.
A friend lent the omnibus edition of the first three Soul Drinkers books to me. I guess it's based off a video game series -- which I haven't played, although I do love me some science fiction. The Warhammer universe is space opera meets military science fiction. If you haven't played the games, there is a wiki for it (what isn't there a wiki for these days?), although it isn't very helpful.
In SOUL DRINKER, the first book in the series, we are introduced to the Space Marines. The Soul Drinkers are a faction of these marines, among the most powerful of their kind. They're genetically engineered soldiers whose stock came from more genetically engineered soldiers, whose DNA was taken from the Emperor of Humankind himself.
The friend who lent me this book gave me the back story on the universe. So apparently, humans have made contact with aliens, and like the bad-asses we are, we fly around the galaxy conquering other solar systems -- and this is called The Golden Age of Expansion. Humans conquered so much that they ended up losing contact with each other, and this became known as The Age of Darkness. Then the Emperor came along and was like, "This won't do." He created the aforementioned genetically engineered soldiers, who were the Primarchs, with his own DNA, to lead his armies and, I guess, rally mankind. But that didn't work. So he created the Space Marines, who were given the DNA of the Primarchs. The Space Marines were supposed to hunt down and find the Primarchs so that the Primarchs could lead. And that worked, but there was a rebellion where Horus pulled a Lucifer and rebelled against the Emperor (God). Horus was killed and the Emperor was put on a special magic throne to keep him alive, although he doesn't do much.
Most of the Primarchs are dead now, and the Space Marines try to carry out the will of their Emperor, but humanity is so scattered and pretty much everyone and everything want us dead. There's something called Chaos, which is like, evil stuff that comes out of something called the warp and turns people into pus- and maggot-filled demons. And then there's mutants. And there's aliens who want us dead. And there's humans who want us dead because they disagree on Important Issues. Which ties into the major point of conflict of this book in the first half.
Our main character is Sarpedon, who is the leader of the Soul Drinkers. He's kind of an idiot. No, he is an idiot. But he's also brave and tries to do right by his men. But man, is he thick. He and his soldiers are hunting down heretics called the Van Skorvolds. There isn't really anything about them in the Warhammer wiki, but according to my friend they are enemies of the Space Marines that the Emperor called them in to defeat. (From what I gathered, they're like mercenaries cum soldiers.) He manages to kill most of the family, although he loses some good men in the process. And while they are doing this, a bunch of cyborgs called the Adeptus Mechanicus, who were allies of the Space Marines, swoop in and steal a holy relic to the Soul Drinkers: the Soulspear that was bequeathed to them by their founding primarch. WHICH IS A HUGE OFFENSE.
Sarpedon and his men are PISSED OFF, and go down to fuck shit up. They don't get the Spear back, but they do end up enraging their commanding officers and getting charged for treason. Sarpedon fights the Hereticus and wins, so he and his men aren't court-marshalled (i.e. murdered), and he marvels at how easy it was. A little too easy, if you know what I mean. (DUN DUN DUN.) In fact, later on, when his Chapter Master calls him in and yells at him for bringing shame and dishonor to what was once a prestigious and uncorrupted branch of the Space Marines, Sarpedon ends up fighting him (his name is Gargoleon) in an honor duel. And halfway through, he sprouts a bunch of legs and becomes a mutant. And mutants, as I have said before, are bad. But Sarpedon doesn't realize what's going on. He thinks he has been blessed by the Emperor with strength. (Uh huh...)
After this, Sarpedon and his now mutated crew go to a planet that's been overrun with Chaos. Its demon ruler Ve'Meth has poisoned the entire planet, and this is honestly one of the best parts of the book because it's so fucking disgusting. What they think is a ship comes out of the ocean, but it's actually a giant ZOMBIE SHARK, and a bunch of demons are riding in the hollowed cavities of its flesh. When they blast a whole through it, maggots pour out. Its covered with mold, and absolutely disgusting, and oh my God, it's just kind of amazing how disgusting and horrific it is.
Obviously, Sarps and his men win the battle (although, again, at a cost) and end up meeting the thing that has the Soulspear now: something called The Engineer of Time, or Abraxes. I'm not sure exactly what he is...I got the impression that he was, like, a false deity meant to lure away Sarps from the straight and narrow. He offers Sarps the chance to join him, by turning away from the Emperor (who treated him like crap anyway -- and things will only get worse because now he's a mutant) and fighting back against those who have wronged him and his men. Sarpedon almost gives in, but then he kills Abraxes with the Soulspear and he and his men ride off into the galaxy to fight for the will of the Emperor, whether he will have them or not. I'm actually kind of wondering now whether Abraxes was an embodiment of Chaos, because my friend says that humans are the preferred meat and potatoes of the evil forces in this book since they are so hard to corrupt but so so worth it in the end.
Overall, I liked SOUL DRINKER. Which is weird, because it's much more hardcore than the science-fiction I normally read. I love post-apocalyptic sci-fi and cyberpunk and space opera. And while this is, technically, space opera, it's more military in nature because of the sheer amount of text space devoted to the battles and the gore and the sweet, sweet victory. I definitely think playing the games gives you the advantage when it comes to understanding what the hell is going on, because this is basically licensed fanfiction, and it's very cannon. But I liked it. On to book two!
I need to make a new shelf - 'M. Night Shyamalan twists.' So many books have been springing them on me lately, and it's kind of funny, because Shyamalan hasn't really been popular for about ten years, so I'm feeling all nostalgic, and also really amused.
Nova Ren Suma has become a household name in YA for what I call "quirky girl lit." Bloggers are forever praising her for these M. Night Shyamalan twists and her beautiful (it's in the eye of the beholder) prose. THE WALLS AROUND US is the first book of Ms. Suma's that I've ever read, and while both these things are true, she seems rather...overrated. Basically, she's the Francesca Lia Block of the 21st century. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is a matter or preference. Do you like quirky girl lit?
THE WALLS is about three girls: two of them are narrators but one of them is not, and you have to read between the lines of the other two POVs to get her story. Is this dragged out? Ohhhhhhh yeeeeeeeessss, it iiiiiiiiiis. It took forever to get closure- the author dropped hints, but everything was surreal and vague, which can be fun if you like that sort of thing, like wearing beer goggles.
Violet is an eighteen-year-old ballerina on the road to Great Things. She loves being the center of attention, and seeing people praise the way she looks and dances on stage. She comes from money, she has a nuclear family- she's the epitome of upper class entitlement. But she's haunted by the incarceration and death of her best friend, another ballerina: Orianna.
Amber, the other narrator, is a prisoner at the same correctional facility as Orianna. She is being held for a murder she didn't commit, although she may as well have done it. When her old cellmate leaves and Orianna takes her place, Amber isn't sure what to make of the media-dubbed "Bloody Ballerina." She doesn't seem like a killer- but then again, very often, none of them do.
The interwoven stories each have a key that unlock the secrets of the next girl, so you have to keep reading in order to find out what happened. I'm not sure what to make of THE WALLS; the writing was great, but it didn't flow naturally, and sometimes it was so lyrical as to seem calculated and actually distracted me from the narration.
Likewise, the surreality could be disorienting. In one of my status updates, I said it was like Salvador Dali had decided to write a YA (and Francesa Lia Block decided to join the party). I stand by that. I could easily see M. Night Shyamalan making this into a movie... and as a movie, it might actually work better than it did as a book...maybe.
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SOPHIE STARK is a novel told in negative space. Sophie Stark is an indie filmmaker who is rising to fame because of how well her movies capture what it means to be human. We never once hear Sophie's narration; instead, we get an idea of what she is like through the narratives of those around her -- movie critics, directors, her girlfriend, her husband, her brother -- and as the portrait of Sophie is painstakingly colored in, we see a young woman who is painfully alone, and possibly depressed, and has no idea how to relate to others, because outside of her movies (and not always in them, either), nobody is interested in what she sees as the clear truth.
"I used to feel kind of isolated a lot of the time...like I was in a box and the rest of the world was outside the box. After I started taking pictures, I felt less like that. But I started getting really interested in how people move, and you can't really show that in photos -- or you can, but it's difficult, and you can only get little pieces of it. So I decided I wanted to make movies" (174).
One of Sophie's key tenets is something I also happen to strongly agree with: a good story is not always a happy story. Sometimes in order to make something good, you have to end it in a way that most people would see as devastating. And there will always be people who will not like your work just for that, because in a culture of false optimism, nobody likes the Debbie Downer. Sophie has trouble lying, even in her movies. She's willing to manipulate people, and upset people, just to make them good. This is reflected in her personal relationships, where she can fall in love with someone for the smallest of reasons, and then out again when she realizes that they're no longer interesting.
While reading THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SOPHIE STARK, I couldn't help but think about THE NIGHT FILM, which I also reviewed (and adored). It's also a book that tells the story of people -- well, one person, anyway, who's also a filmmaker -- through movies: and Stanislaus Cordova is also doomed from the start. And while the plots, and the tone, and the purpose of these books are totally different, they both conclude, I think, that sometimes trying to get to know an artist through their work can be like chasing a phantom.
Reading THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SOPHIE STARK also made me think of, well, me, which made this a difficult read, because certain parts of this story really resonated with me on a personal level. Throughout my whole life, I've always felt like an outsider looking in, and while I feel like this has given me certain insights about people, it's also made me very lonely, and like Sophie, I think my works suffer when I try to write about relationships because I have never been very good at those. I think being an artist does inherently make you a selfish person, because in order to be good, you have to pour your whole heart into your work, and that doesn't leave a whole lot of room for anyone else. Sometimes not even the artist. I once made myself really sick while working on one of my books because I was so obsessed with finishing, and I stopped sleeping for several days. My mother actually told me that if I did not curb myself I would have to stop, because I was destroying myself.
"I thought making movies would make me more like other people....But sometimes I think it just makes me even more like me" (188).
I've always believed that artists are like conduits for their work, and sometimes the channel just isn't strong enough to withstand the creative energies pouring through. It's like possession -- and if you're not careful and don't work in moderation, it is possession -- and the results can be beautiful or frightening or, in Sophie's case, both. Being an artist also means looking at the world in a different way, and while this can be beautiful too, it can also be terribly lonely if nobody else sees or understands the world in the same way as you.
Whether Sophie Stark is a strong person or not is up for debate, but she is definitely a memorable one, and I feel like she would have approved of the ending Anna North chose. THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SOPHIE STARK is a very meta work of fiction that both captures the pain of an artist, and the problems of living with one. It's certainly given me a lot to think about.
Growing up, the one night I was allowed to stay up past my usual bedtime was Wednesday Night. Because that was the night that Star Trek was on. I'm not going to lie; I watched it pretty much every week with my dad for several years. Voyager was my favorite (female captain!!!), but DS9 and TNG followed pretty closely behind. Maybe Warp 4 to Voyager's awesome Warp 5.
Star Trek is amazing because, in addition to being one of the few imaginative, kick-ass, sci-fi based shows out there, it has so many different emotional tones. There were episodes that made me laugh, episodes that made me cry, and episodes that scared the shit out of me. You never knew what you were going to get.
When I saw THE Q GAMBIT on Netgalley, I was excited because Q is probably one of my favorite characters of all time from the show. I love morally ambiguous characters and Q, as an extra-dimensional being whose powers make him almost like a god, takes the cake. It's not that he's evil, necessarily; he operates in a way that transcends normal human morality because it's so inconsequential when it comes to the Big Picture. Pretty cool, huh?
The book starts out with Jean-Luc Picard mourning Spock's death and sacrifice as he drinks his Earl Grey. Of course, Q pops up to tell him that Spock actually isn't dead -- when he got sucked into the worm hole, it spat him out 100 years in the past in an alternate timeline. And while his sacrifice saved this universe, it might have just doomed the other. Picard says he doesn't want to know, because alternate timelines should remain disparate, less they be fucked up by Q-ish meddling. (Ooh, burn.)
But since meddling is pretty much Q's middle name, the story then flashes to the crew of the Enterprise as they appeared in that new movie that just came out, all baby-faced and young. Q mocks Kirk and does a bunch of mean-spirited tricks to prove his superior powers, including bringing Kirk outside the spaceship, saying, "I'm the only thing keeping you from being a block of ice with boots." Nice, Q. Real nice. After all this, Q then tells Kirk he is going to show him the ultimate no-win game.
After showing Kirk an image of his own death -- the game you can't beat -- Q takes the crew to another timeline in which the Federation has fallen. Parts of the universe are ruled by the Klingons (Earth) and most are ruled by the Cardassians. Captain Sisko (SQUEE!) is the leader of a resistance movement which Kirk and co. end up joining. All the while, Q watches and mocks their efforts, but it soon becomes clear that he, too, has something at stake...
My inner fangirl was pretty much screaming internally throughout this crossover. It was so cool (SO COOL, DAMMIT) to see all my favorite characters cropping up in one volume. Yes, the storyline was a little cheesy, but no more so than some of the episodes from the actual TV series, and I could see this being an actual episode...even if it was fan service. It was good fan service and had a compelling storyline and a really good twist at the end. (But I'm not telling you what it is, obv.)
My one complaint is that Janeway didn't get a cameo. For some reason, many people consider Voyager to be one of the worst incarnations of Star Trek and it doesn't really have a big following. I'm not quite sure why; it explored so many great topics, and had such a wonderful cast. Plus, I don't know if I said this already but--IT HAS A FEMALE CAPTAIN! (Maybe that's why people don't like it. As much as I wish otherwise, science-fiction has a lot of hidden and not-so-hidden misogyny.) If Janeway had appeared, I would have given this book 5 stars just because of that. But as it stands, THE Q GAMBIT was pretty decent. I do love Q.
When was the last time I read a chunky fantasy novel? I can't even remember, it's been so long.
Chunky fantasy novels and I tend not to get along. A lot of them seem to be based on Dungeons & Dragons or Tolkien or Magic: The Gathering, populated with stock characters in a token faux medieval Europe setting, rife with misogyny and RPG woodenness.
So many people told me that Brandon Sanderson was different. That I couldn't be a geek and not read Brandon Sanderson because don't you know that he's cannon? And while I wanted to believe that he was, in fact, different, I'd been burned so many times before. I had ELANTRIS and MISTBORN waiting for me patiently, vying for my attention, but I just couldn't open myself up to that kind of hurt. And then I was cleaning my room, and ELANTRIS all but leaped out at me. "Give me a chance," it cried. "Love meee."
Well, I don't know, book. I just don't know.
The summary on the back is certainly promising. Yes, ELANTRIS is set in a medieval setting (why) but Sanderson puts more effort into building this world than most. I loved the idea of Elantris -- a fallen city where men were once gods and are now tortured monsters because the magic that kept their world alive has completely drained away.
One of the best aspects of ELANTRIS, however, is the court intrigue. I loved the plots and subplots, and how every action had consequence. The author is Mormon, and it isn't surprising that religion plays a key role in the book, but I thought it was done very well and Sanderson had some interesting things to say about faith and god(s) and magic. I liked how spiritualism tied into magic, and vice versa, as well as philosophy and theology. The way religious fanaticism was portrayed was also quite good, and I liked the distinction between faith and fervor.
His female characters are also surprisingly good. Well, mostly. Sarene is a bit of a Mary Sue--the sci-fi-fantasy equivalent of the male dream girl: beautiful, likes to eat a lot but doesn't spoil her figure, falls in love with the guy even when he's ugly, feminine but interested in masculine pastimes, good at these pastimes but not so great that she overshadows the man... To be honest, she got most annoying in the middle of the book, where she started being a bitch to the Elantrians just because she could. Before that, I had liked her despite her Sue-isms, but that ruined her character for me; I couldn't root for someone who was being so petty.
My favorite characters were probably Raoden -- he was a strong character, but he had weaknesses as well, and there was a time where I really wondered if he was going to fail. Galladon was a cool character, too, and so was Katara (another awesome female character). The Arelish court was also very interesting -- especially the battle of the sexes thing that was going on. The problem with fantasy books is that the characters often come across as flat in the wake of a heavily plot-driven story, but Sanderson did a fairly decent (but not perfect) job of breathing life into his creations.
As a final note, let me just say that I loved the twist, and the complex character that was Hrathen (in fact, I kind of wish he had been the main character -- he was so much more interesting than anyone else). This was my first book by Sanderson and I was pleasantly surprised. It was not great, but it was good, and I would happily read more by him -- especially STEELHEART, which sounds awesome.
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like, to be one of those women who always agrees with the majority. Sobbing along to The Notebook, calling Christian Grey your book boyfriend, believing in love at first sight...it must be nice. I'm not one of those women. In fact, the only thing that keeps me from being a total raving bitch is that I know (sometimes) when to keep my unpopular opinions to myself.
This is not one of those times.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you are probably aware of John Green's incredible success with THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. Not that he was lacking in success before. And as he continues to break the bank, lesser authors are falling over themselves in attempt to ride his coattails and scoop up any dropped cash. Jennifer Niven, with her terrible attempt at FAULT IN OUR STARS PART II: BIPOLAR EDITION is one of these.
It's hard to say, exactly, why this book pisses me off. There are so many reasons. One is that, as someone who has had problems with depression in the past and who knows many other people with depression and bipolar who struggle with their disorders daily, this book is really fucking insulting. Niven attempts to glamorize bipolar and suicidal ideation, and in doing so marginalizes everyone afflicted with the disorder. Finch, who has what is probably Bipolar II, is a pretentious ass-hatter. He's nasty to everyone except Violet, reckless, pretentious, and fascinated with suicide. But the way it's written, he turns suicide into a game. "Hmm, this might be fun," he goes. "Will I, or won't I?"
Violet is also depressed because of her sister's death. They were close and now she's gone, and she thinks she might like to die, too. So she climbs up to the school's bell tower with the intent of jumping and -- surprise, surprise -- Finch is already there, and persuades her not to jump. (Which made me think of Jack and Rose from the Titanic, and yes, it is just as contrived.) After this, they form a relationship. And really, what kind of a message is that to send to teens? It's basically the same thing that New Moon got so much criticism for: "put your life in danger, and hot men will save you!"
Another thing that bothered me about the book is its complete lack of authenticity. The teens in this book do not sound like teens. A good percentage of their romantic exchanges consists of quoting Virginia Woolf (and does the fact that Virginia Woolf committed suicide foreshadow something, perhaps suicidal ideation? Oh look, someone read the Wikipedia page about depression and suicide! Good job! Here's your gold star) at each other and paragraphs of navel gazing a la John Green that really made me want to exfoliate because at least when John Green does it, you expect that from John Green; it's far more painful to see someone do it in conscious imitation. I mean, for fuck's sake.
Oh, -- and even at my darkest points, I still thought Virginia Woolf had a giant stick up her ass.
The way suicide and depression are treated in this book is also sickening. When Violet's parents find out that he was thinking about killing himself, they treat him as if he's got leprosy -- like his suicidal nature might rub off on their daughter (literally) and cause a gun to magically appear in her hand and blow her head off. The entire school calls Finch (whose full name is Theodore Finch) Theodore Freak. The school paper publishes a list of the top 10 suicidal students, and the faculty allows this (never mind that no school in their right mind would do this because of the potential lawsuits and psychological trauma). In fact, the principal actually interrogates Finch (who is number one on the list), giving him a hard time about whether he is going to kill himself because, after all, the idiotic assholes on the school paper said it, so it must be fucking true!
I am honestly blown away by the fact that this book has been optioned for a movie already because it is pretty much a carbon copy of THE FAULT IN OUR STARS -- worse, it brings nothing new to the table, somehow managing to be both pretentious and ignorant, while also insulting the very people it claims to be bringing attention to. I didn't cry while reading this book. I said, ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME RIGHT NOW, and deducted another star for predictability.
This was quite possibly the most over-hyped book I have come across in years. I can't believe they're making a movie out of something that's so unpolished. It is awful, offensive, and ignorant, and I am honestly shocked that it doesn't have more negative reviews because HOLY SHIT.