Whenever a new book about some famous dead guy comes out, it's dollars to doughnuts that it's about King Henry VIII and one of his (soon to be) dead wives. That man went through wives more often than some of those peasants and serfs changed their undies -- the man was cray.
A LOVE MOST DANGEROUS takes place during the reign of King Cray-Cray himself. The narrator is one of Jane Seymour's Maids of Honour, Alice Petherton, although she was also in court during Anne Boleyn's short-lived stay, as well.
Alice is friends with all her fellow Maids and very happy...until one day, the love interest of her friend, Philippa, a man named Richard Rich, professes his interest in Alice instead. This creates a rift between Alice and her Maids, and also causes Rich to pursue her doggedly -- and oh-so-rapily, at one point cornering her in her chambers and attempting to sexually assault her.
"I'll break your maidenhead, Alice," he said. "There's nothing better for a man than to hear the squeal of pain and feel the rush of blood" (25).
Alice stabs Sir Rich in the throat with a needle and after she threatens to stab it into his eye, as well, he leaves her chamber with her virginity still intact. But Alice realizes that this is a pretty huge problem, and with her ex-friends Philippa and Dorothy contriving to create trouble for her, in addition to the new-found problem of Richard, she realizes that she needs a protector...someone more powerful than Sir Richard Rich: The King of bloody England himself.
A LOVE MOST DANGEROUS is like two very different books sandwiched together. The first half of the book is your typical wallpaper historical about Tudor England: some naive girl designs to ensnare King Henry VIII only to realize that being his favorite/love interest/wife means a) being constantly in the spotlight and therefore falling prey to the whims of a very fickle (and ruthless, and ambitious) court and b) married to a crazypants.
Speaking of crazypants, Lake employs the use of the royal "we" when we first meet Henry VIII, but rather than sounding regal and in command, King Henry VIII sounds more like, well, Golem.
"We like this, Alice Petherton; we like this greatly" (42).
"No, precious, we hates Alice Petherton. Yes, we does!" (And this does prove prophetic.)
Jane Seymour dies. King Henry VIII hems and haws about the etiquette of how soon one can brandish his mistress in the public's eye after his wife's untimely death. Conspirators gonna conspire (namely, the Howards, who desperately want one of their daughters to marry the King -- DUN DUN DUN). Henry suffers that infamous joust wound that never healed and led to his health's downfall, etc.
**SPOILERS FOLLOW FROM THIS POINT ON**
The second half of the book starts when Alice loses favor with the king. He takes her to the menagerie to see some lions that the Duke of Norfolk gave him as a present, and after the king orders the cages open everyone is horrified that the keeper's daughter is playing in the arena. The king orders the death of the man who ordered the cages, and Alice reminds him (pretty nicely) that he was the one who ordered the cages opened, and shouldn't he be clement and merciful?
The hapless patsy is spared, but Alice is exiled for her impertinence to remind a King that he is Wrong. She ends up staying with the waterman, Mr. Scrump, who ferries her out of Court in a place near Eastcheap. Despite Mr. Scrump's warnings, Alice takes up with his young and attractive son, Art, who is somewhat of a ladies' man. Art breaks down her defenses and they end up sleeping together, but then one day, Art asks her for money to help bail his father out of some trouble. Alice reluctantly gives him some of her savings and a locket the king gave her.
But SURPRISE! LOL. Art has sold her to a brothel keeper to get even more money, and the brothel keeper is interested in the rough stuff. He and his men gang rape her, cane her, beat her with a paddle, and do butt stuff with her, while leaving ambiguous threats that this is exactly what her clients will be into, hurr hurr hurr. The servants there are sympathetic but jaded, and while they don't add to her misery, exactly, they are complicit in her beatings and starvings, which is just as bad, in a way.
When Alice looks her first client in the eye, she is mortified. But then...
Why should I feel any shame? It was me who was being abused, me who was being degraded. It was not me who should feel shame but him (277).
She knocks him unconscious with the chamberpot, steals his clothes (and cuts off his beard, which she keeps in her mouth (blerghhhh)) and then flees the scene to one of the taverns, where a tavern wench named Amy Pepper, and her friends, helps her. There's a chase scene that leads them all to the same menagerie where the King took Alice, and Alice's pimp gets torn to shreds by the lions.
It turns out that Amy Pepper is the older daughter of the man whose child Alice tried (and failed) to save from the lions. As thanks, he invites them to live with him, and then, once she's regained her wits, with his brother in Stratford-Upon-Avon. Alice makes friends with all of Unc Pepper's daughters, and it's there that Thoms Cromwell finds Alice and tells her that she is to come back to Court immediately because the King has fallen into a melancholy in her absence.
Alice comes back to Court, taking one of the girls with her as a maid, and the King is angered to see her. He exiles her again, but as Alice is packing, he changes his mind, and calls her back into his private rooms to fuck. Dorothy and Philippa appear to make snide comments, but Alice bests them with a trololo. She is the Favorite once more, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Honestly, if it weren't for the lolzy, bodice-rippery second half of the book, I probably would have given A LOVE MOST DANGEROUS three stars. But that second part was this book's saving grace. In fact, it kind of reminded me a bit of Jennifer Wilde's LOVE TENDER FURY from the fact that they were both written by men to the fact that both have outlandish plots with irresistible female protagonists that men just can't help but want to rape/fuck/what have you.
One thing I found interesting was that this book puts forth the theory that Anne Boleyn was killed not because of the king's fear that she had committed adultery (i.e. treason) but for money: that she wanted the money the King was getting from dismantled Catholic Abbeys to be used not for the King's treasury but for the schools and charities. The book suggests that her death was part of a Conspiracy between Sir Thomas Cromwell and the King.
(Also I have to laugh at the image Martin Lake paints of the King and Cromwell being like an old married couple. It was very amusing - and it fits. I ship it! Write me slash-fiction of the two!)
My one complaint is that the timeline seems a little sketchy. Time definitely passes with Alice as the king's mistress - it seemed like at least three years (I have trouble believing the sex, the disfavor, the brothel, and the shunting around from plot convenience to plot convenience took only a few months). King Henry VIII was engaged to Anne of Cleves about two years after Jane Seymour's death, and married Catherine Howard (that Howard again) three years after her death (almost immediately after his annulment to Anne). It seemed like one, or both, of them should have been mentioned. I kept waiting for it, but it never happened. So that just made the whole book feel funny to me.
A LOVE MOST DANGEROUS is more entertaining than anything else. If you're a fan of bodice rippers, you will probably adore this. If you like your historical fiction free of sensationalistic artistic license, this will probably be a miss for you.
Oh hey...hey...hey, what's this? I'm rating a new adult book more than one star? That's right, bah-zitches! I liked this book!
...Well, sort of.
SHATTERED actually has some pretty major problems that are hard to ignore, and really affected what would have been a mostly positive experience for me otherwise.
Mia Horton, the main character, is a bitch. She's a control freak, she's insensitive, she's snobby and stuck up and superficial...and it's clear that she's meant to be this way, which was refreshing. Well, sort of. In the beginning, I was amused by her antics and insensitivity, like her insistence on calling the in-patients she's supposed to be working with "mental patients," and the fact that when she is invited by the doctor to sit in on a therapy session, she pulls a Hermione Granger and keeps answering the questions that are meant for those in the therapy session. When the doctor gets frustrated with her, Mia assumes, naturally, that the doctor must be frustrated with the patients for being so stupid. She couldn't possibly be the source of the ire. LOL.
All of this changes when Flynn McKenna comes into the picture. He's a second gen. Irishman who dropped out of school in the ninth grade to become a professional boxer. His career fed his family and (mostly) kept his dad from whaling on his siblings. Then he had a mental breakdown and beat someone almost to death. Now he's at Newton Heights Mental Hospital (Psychiatric Clinic/Hospital would be more PC, tbh) for the treatment of a wide variety of disorders. Obviously, Mia falls for him at first sight and the feeling is totally mutual.
Conway did touch on the fact that relationships with patients are wrong because those undergoing treatment for psychiatric disorders aren't necessarily in a mental state where they can form equivocal and consenting relationships, which I liked. There's also the imbalance of power, which she still mentioned, albeit less so, and the fact that having a trusted figure enter a sexual relationship with you can warp a patient's sense of well-being and security in a place where they should be focused on getting better (which was mostly left to inference). Unfortunately, all of this crumbles when Flynn says -- after Mia has been kicked out of the program and disbarred from ever working with patients again -- that Mia sleeping with him was a good thing because it motivated him to get better!
First off, there is no "better" with mental health disorders. At least, not in the "all cured" sense. You can cope, and you can learn to diminish certain symptoms, but usually the disorders are lifelong and you could slide back at any time...especially in times of stress. I am so, so, so tired of young and new adult books portraying love as this magical curing thing that breaks mental health disorders the way curses are broken in fairytales. It does not work that way, and fuck you for saying it does.
(I mean "fuck you" in the general sense, by the way -- I'm not actually saying "fuck you, Ava Conway." You can still come to my birthday party.)
Second off, what Mia did was very, very bad. Yes, there were consequences for her behavior, but they were mild, and when the doctor said she wouldn't prosecute, I was like, "WHY NOT?" For a moment, I actually thought this book was going to have a downer ending (lol ikr) and I was excited, because, finally, a book that had the ovaries to sock it to me, and tell me, "Hey, you know what? Sometimes when you fuck up, there are consequences -- and here they are!" NOPE. (Although this book does get bonus points for not ending with a pregnancy and a wedding...there was some foreshadowing in this book that made me think that Mia was going to end up pregnant.) In the book, her friend (who was also an in-patient) says, "Maybe you did it because subconsciously you knew that this wasn't the right profession for you." Maybe -- BUT THAT DOESN'T MAKE IT OK.
I don't really feel like Mia grew as a character. Her issues with her body weren't addressed in a way I found satisfactory and neither were her insensitivity or the fact that she was burying all this psychic pain that she didn't want to deal with. She obviously has mental health issues, but never seeks treatment, and it's implied that burying your problems away, or avoiding dealing with them, is the healthy thing to do here -- and it really isn't. Mia never stops calling them "mental patients", two of the orderlies actually call them "animals" multiple times, and Newton Heights doesn't really provide much except for an unconventional backdrop for a garden variety new adult romance, when I was hoping it would really provide a lot of insight into two very obviously broken and unstable people.
Speaking of ovaries and pregnancy...the reason I thought Mia would end up pregnant at the end of the book is because she has infertility; it runs in her family. There's a passage when Flynn tells her that doctors aren't always right (they aren't if they're hiring people like Mia), and that she should still try to have a baby. Mia's ex-boyfriend is pretty much the asshole from hell. The night after they do anal, she finds out she's pregnant and her boyfriend calls her a slut and tells her it couldn't possibly be his and then she has a miscarriage. I guess she has some scarring "down there", and because of this, she keeps referring to herself as "damaged." Now I can't really help but find that offensive...as if women are somehow less than whole if they can't have children. There are other things in life, and saying that you're damaged just because you can't have kids (although in Mia's case, it's not the only reason) is just...well, wrong.
Likewise, a lot of things fell apart in the sex scenes. They felt very awkward to me, and at odds with the rest of the book, which was pretty well written as a whole. Once Flynn and Mia started having sex, the book started to get stupid in the traditional way of new adult. Just look at these quotes:
I had heard of other women having oral sex before but had never experienced it myself. My boyfriends were much too selfish to try anything like that (161).
He pressed his lips together and ripped open the [condom] package.
"You don't need that. I'm clean" (162).
Luckily, Flynn insists on the condom Mia is too stupid to want or use. I wanted to bash my head against the desk. You may be clean, but is he? STDs are never mentioned. Mia assumes condoms are unnecessary because, since her reproductive organs are scarred, she will never get pregnant. (Which is at odds with what Flynn said, about doctors being wrong sometimes. Inconsistency, you has it.)
The most painful part of the book, for me, is Johnson and Everett. How they became orderlies in the first place, I don't know, but I found myself shaking their head at everything they said and did. Johnson was a rapist, and like Mia, his bad actions are never really addressed. It's implied he got away with sexually assaulting a patient, and when he attempts to rape Mia...well, he seemed to get let off pretty easy too. What's especially painful is that Flynn saves her from being raped, and when other people come in to see what the commotion is about, Johnson flips the story and says that Flynn was the rapist, he was saving her. And Mia doesn't correct him and lets Flynn be taken away and drugged. It isn't until she's on her way home that she's like, MAYBE I SHOULD HAVE SAID SOMETHING.
Gee, ya think?!
I think the author really did put effort into researching psychiatric care and the treatment of mental health disorders. I liked that Mia was a graduate student and a shade smarter than most of her NA counterparts. I liked that SHATTERED tried to bring something new to the table (even if, overall, the attempt rather failed). I didn't like the execution, the characters, or the way that various serious issues in this book were presented, especially when they weren't resolved.
As you can see from my notes for this book I had a lot of conflicted feels.
Overall, though, it wasn't an entirely negative experience, and except for those handful of issues that peeved me off, this could have been a three- or a four-star read. Others less discriminating than me will probably like it a lot more...but then, I'm a critic, and always have been. ;)
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.