Lays recently released a bunch of their new "Do Us A Flavor" contest winners' special edition potato chips. I bought a bag each of the Reuben and the gyro-flavored potato chips, thinking that they would last me until Friday, even though I knew, I knew, that, deep down, I would probably eat both bags the same day.
Reading these young-adult contemporary dramas is a lot like scarfing down entire bags of these special flavored chips. They claim to be something different, something new, but most of us have eaten a potato chip before, and beneath all the fancy trimmings and spices, it is, at heart, a humble potato chip.
WHAT'S BROKEN INSIDE is about a boy named Johnathan who drives drunk one night and ends up killing his friend Grace and injuring his now ex-girlfriend, Sutton. His brash, unapologetic facade leads the public to condemn him, and his D.U.I. and manslaughter charges end up sending him to jail.
His younger sister, Amanda, is left to deal with the social fallout. Which isn't much, surprisingly, but it's enough that she still wants to cry tears she is unable to shed because if she does cry, she feels, her peers will think it's her brother she's shedding tears for.
99.9% of the drama comes from Amanda's "forbidden" attraction to Sutton's younger brother, Henry. What makes this an even bigger Neddy No-No is that they're both in relationships...with other people. Henry is dating a girl named Imogen and Amanda is dating a boy named Graham who talks like Mayor Quimby, for some reason. Anyway, since this is a young adult novel, you can imagine what happens...and all I'm going to say is that if you don't like cheating, don't read this book.
Drunk driving and alcohol abuse are highly relevant topics for teens when they are approached the right way. But the right way is highly subjective. Some people think a heavy-handed approach is necessary. Others prefer a lighter touch. WHAT'S BROKEN BETWEEN US didn't seem sure what it wanted to be. There's talk about jail and consequences, but Johnathan never actually learns anything and neither does Amanda, really. Johnathan languishes in his hook-ups and his alcoholism, and everyone is awed by his in-your-face, assholeish attitude, including his own sister.
The writing itself is actually pretty decent, but the drama, combined with the fact that not much happens in this book, action-wise, made this a really frustrating read for me. As I turned the pages listlessly, I asked myself why I continue to insist that one of these YA books will surely speak to me, as so few of them do, and the losses far outweigh the gain. I guess I'm lying to myself, telling myself that this will be different, like eating a real gyro, when really, I'm just snarfing potato chips.
I love conspiracy plots in books and movies. I just recently watched this techno-thriller from 2003 starring Ben Affleck, called Paycheck. It's cheesy as all get-out, but has some pretty cool ideas and since I saw it in theaters as a high school freshman, I've got a bit of a soft spot for it in my heart.
TRUST NO ONE is the ultimate conspiracy: what if you're a mystery writer with Alzheimer's and the plots of your murder mysteries start to blend and meld with your actual memories? What if people start to tell you that you actually did kill someone? How the hell would you know?
Jerry Grey gained fame and infamy under his pen name, Henry Cutter, a mass-market paperback mystery author of critical acclaim. Then, at age forty-nine, he was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's. He can no longer write. He can't even remember what he had for breakfast most days.
And he is starting to wonder if he's killed someone.
The story is told in alternating chapters. One is Jerry on a day-to-day basis as he lives his confusing and frightening life in the mental void his disease has created. The other is told through journal entries, excerpts from what he's called "The Madness Journal." Originally, he started the madness journal to help him remember things that he knew he was going to forget, but as the book progresses, it takes on a sharp, paranoid flavor. Everyone around him is a suspect. Everyone.
The first half of this book is very strong, but I felt that the second half was much weaker. I'm not sure if this was intentional and meant to reflect Jerry falling apart, but I don't think so. That ending, you guys. That ending was the worst. I'd read over three hundred pages of this novel, holding my breath as I waited for the ending that would change everything, and ended up with something that made me scream, "ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?" and mentally throw the book across the room.
Seriously, that has got to be one of the most frustrating, infuriating endings I have ever read.
As someone who as struggled with both weight and emotional eating, I was fully prepared to identify with the eponymous heroine of SUGAR. The weighty topics, combined with the mostly positive reviews, indicated this would be an easy 5-star review. I mean, with so much going for it, how could SUGAR possibly go wrong?
And initially, it seemed like nothing would. SUGAR started out a lot like PUSH by Sapphire: here you have a very unhappy, self-conscious heroine who deals with an abusive home environment and unhealthy body image that results in negativity being projected both inward (towards the self) and outward (towards, well, pretty much everyone). Sugar is of Puerto Rican and Polish descent with a morbidly obese mother who is unable to leave her bed and a physically abusive brother who thinks nothing of burning her on the stove or throwing a knife or two at her.
As I read on, I began cringing every time Sugar reached for a slice of cake or a bag of chips to self-medicate. Because that's what emotional eating is, in a sense. You're eating to make yourself feel better, not to satisfy hunger, which creates an emotional dependence on food that can become as addicting as any drug. It's kind of the opposite of what happens in Laurie Halse Anderson's book, WINTERGIRLS: a book in which a girl becomes anorexic because starving herself and counting calories gives her the control that she feels she lacks over her own world.
The problem starts when Sugar begins to lose weight. Suddenly, she's eating better (and less), and walking more, and starting to do other activities instead of eating when she's upset. Why?
Because she met a boy.
On the one hand, it's natural to want to better yourself when you become infatuated with someone. You want them to see your best side--literally, and figuratively. But this is not a permanent solution, nor is it the ideal one. I've written a blog post about how I feel about infatuation being used to solve psychological problems; and despite the attempts on the author's part to send a feminist message, it still fails on so many levels because a) Sugar doesn't realize she's beautiful until she has a man to tell her, and b) she requires a man to motivate her to become healthier& make the changes to her body that she needs in order to become healthy. Her epiphany at the end is that skinny bitches aren't as sexy as "curvy" women, and that she's decided to embrace her curves, a philosophy straight out of Meghan Trainor's song, All About That Bass (which is also problematic in its own right, and author Jenny Trout does an excellent job deconstructing some of the disturbing implications of this song in this blog post). This conflict is exacerbated by the fact that over the course of the novel, Sugar has to war over Even (the boy's name is Even)'s affections with a skinny bitch, Allie.
Bullying is ugly, especially since people who are already suffering from mental health disorders tend to be targets of bullying, which can lead to all sorts of terrible emotional reactions. And I think that bullying can cause people to think of the world around them in equally hateful ways. Sugar is physically, emotionally, and even sexually abused by her classmates, who seem to get away with it (which was surprising, considering how most schools have a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying; nobody wants a suicide or a school shooting on their hands, or to be held liable for one). Sugar is rather cruel, too, though, and instead of having this portrayed as a character flaw, or a defense mechanism (projection) resulting from internalization of repeated verbal abuse, it is treated instead as a "you go, girl!" moment. We're supposed to applaud Sugar when she realizes that, even though her mother has told her she's stupid from day one, her friend is the real dunce for getting pregnant from repeated unprotected sex (and she dares not feel shame! how dare she!). We're supposed to stand up and cheer when she insults the skinny bitches who have been making her life hell, and shames their bodies, and their sexuality, and their lack of curves.
Here is the problem with slut-shaming, and the word slut, and I know I'm going to get some flack for this, and that's okay, but this is my opinion. "Slut" is a result of internalized misogyny in our culture, but not necessarily in the way you think. When pressed, people have a hard time defining what a slut actually is. My definition of a slut was always a woman who would go to any length to sabotage her female friendships and female rivals because she puts a man above all else. And when you look at books & movies, the character development of a female protagonist almost always involves getting a boyfriend or getting married, even in books that allegedly champion the female cause like DIVERGENT and THE HUNGER GAMES. Pop culture tells us that we need to whore ourselves out to men, that we have to be prepared to be extraordinarily cruel to other women and resort to petty manipulation in order to get the men (or women) that we want, but it's only okay when we do it, and it's only okay if we're virginal or inexperienced--any other woman who does it is a slut. What does this mean? That, basically, most of us are exactly what we condemn other women for being. We shame in others what we do ourselves, because they're either more successful at it, or because they're less successful at it and their failure makes us look at that shameful, self-hating part of ourselves that wonders, secretly (or not so secretly), "Why does it have to be this way?"
I enjoyed SUGAR a lot more before I realized that it was another one of those emotionally manipulative books in which all character development is spurred on by the appearance of a manic pixie dreamboy and the main character's determination to get back at those who wronged her. It also reinforces some unpleasant stereotypes about obesity--that it's something people inflict upon themselves (it isn't, always); that overweight people have inherent psychological problems (they might, but it isn't necessary); that overweight people are poor; that overweight people eat too much; and so on, and so forth. Part of me was happy that Sugar lost some of the weight at the end, but I was upset that most of the emphasis of this transformation was on Sugar's sex appeal. Losing the weight also seemed to cure her underlying psychological problems, and if she actually did suffer from depression, the weight loss wouldn't have cured it. It's a symptom, and a dangerous, life-threatening symptom that is important to treat, but it also doesn't make all the psychological stuff just go away.
I think that style of thinking is actually a factor in what causes eating disorders; if you start thinking, "If I'd just lose the weight, I'd be so much happier." But you aren't, because it doesn't work like that.
So I'd say SUGAR ended up being a major disappointment for me. Yes, it was a deep read, and mostly enjoyable for the first 50%, but by the end of the book it actually starts pushing some fairly dangerous and unpleasant ideas. I started, thinking I'd found the new SPEAK and finished with a sad shake of the head, feeling as guilty as if I'd just watched an episode of Jerry Springer.
Also, minus a star for copying that THE FAULT IN OUR STARS twist.
Last night I came home completely exhausted. My feet hurt, I'd worked a full shift, & I had been dealing with some very odd and demanding customers, including one who insisted that there was a difference between carpets and rugs (which there is, technically, although the two are generally used interchangeably) & that nothing we had in stock was suitable for anything except, apparently, for using as bathmats. Anyway, I was completely tired and didn't feel like starting anything major, so I decided to read A DECADE OF FRENCH FASHION. I was worried that it would be dry, but figured that at least it would help put me to sleep. Imagine my surprise when I realized that very little text was involved; it was a book of beautiful vintage fashion sketches.
My favorite dresses were mostly the 1920s evening gowns, the kinds that looked like flapper dresses. The suits, not so much. In fact, that seemed to be a general rule of thumb for me as I flipped through these fashions. Evening gowns were gorgeous, garden party dresses were gorgeous (oh my God, serious dress lust), but everything else was kind of boxy and unattractive.
I think the problem was that these styles promoted a more androgynous, tomboyish look and these fashions look best on women with a certain face-shape and body-type. I fully believe that everyone has the right to dress the way they want, but with my body type and rather square jaw, I can't get by wearing masculine looking suits--even if they have feminine details like bows and pleats.
I know I have a lot of friends who love history and vintage stuff, and I think that you guys will really enjoy this book. It talks about the names for the details (official, fashiony major names that I already forgot because I know almost nothing about fashion), the materials used, and whether these details were "unusual." Reading this book made me want to write a period piece, with Ayn Randian morals, with beautiful people acting like total selfish douchebags who justify their actions with philosophy.
Seems like all the cool kids are graphic-novelizing their best-sellers, and Patricia Briggs is no exception.
Warning: contains series spoilers.
I buddy read the first couple books in the Mercy Thompson series with Louisa a while back. I liked them, but I didn't like-like them. I think the problem is that so many paranormal books seem derivative because it's really hard to deviate from the acceptable canon of vampires, werewolves, and witches; they're so popular that information about them is readily available, even to the laziest researchers possible, so it becomes a self-feeding hype train.
Mercy Thompson is better than most, and I liked the books, even though they had their flaws. The graphic-novel takes place later in the series--much later than I'd managed to read through. Mercy Thompson is now Mercy Hauptman--she and Adam finally managed to tie the knot--and Jesse, Adam's daughter, is now her beloved stepdaughter.
The plot is this. Mercy and the wolves find some dead bodies that are missing their fingers and toes. She suspects it is the work of fae, and this actually ends up tying into some interesting folklore which I'm not sure the author made up or not. (I looked it up, hoping to find some of the mythology she used, but my search garnered no results. Still, it's a cool idea--especially if she did make it up.)
When I found out Jesse was pretty much the main character in this graphic-novel, I got my side-eye ready and rearing to go, because as soon as you introduce children into a series (Jackie Chan's Adventures, Indiana Jones, I'm side-eying you), it becomes super, uber annoying.
But Jesse was actually a good (heh) character. I liked her punk look (even though making someone punk or goth is a pretty cheap and cliche way to mark them as an outcast), I liked her relationship with her father and Mercy, I liked the struggle she had with dealing with her father being an alpha werewolf and all, and the stigma that this caused with her classmates.
I suppose my one beef with this book is that the ending was a little convenient, which kind of ties into the whole "children are annoying" thing I have going on; when children are involved, the series usually becomes less dark, because nobody wants to see children die. (Warning: children die in this graphic-novel. In very unpleasant ways. Also, a cat. D:) But since the story has the feel of a Brothers Grimm fairytale, I guess it's only fair that it gets resolved like one too.
Before the big dystopian/post-apocalyptic boom that followed in THE HUNGER GAMES' wake, it was actually fairly difficult to find books in this genre. Now everyone wants to try their hand at showing all the fun and horrible ways the world can be destroyed. It's like meanly kicking over your little brother's Legos all over again--except on a much larger scale.
While reading STATION ELEVEN, I was strongly reminded of another book (also a post-apoc/dystopia) called LIGHTHOUSE ISLAND. I won it from the Goodreads giveaways a few years back, and it has many similarities to STATION. The parallels--chiefly how fine art and sophisticated culture survive in an increasingly wild and devolving society--are hard to ignore. But whereas LIGHTHOUSE focuses on books and poetry and their relevance, STATION ELEVEN focuses primarily on theater.
There are three subplots in this book. First, the life of an actor named Arthur Leander, who, despite dying in the first chapter (spoiler), and despite not being patient zero (spoiler), is the epicenter of the book; all the characters have ties to him, whether it's personal, or through objects he's left behind, or from six-degrees-of-separation uncanniness. The exact nature of these connections is revealed gradually, and in often surprising (or touching) ways.
The second is a group of people who call themselves The Symphony. They travel from town to town, performing Shakespearean plays. I loved this part of the book; the sheer meta-ness of it was brain candy on so many levels because a) I love reading and art, and I desperately wanted these things to survive in this world, and b) Shakespeare was fond of the play-within-a-play technique, and the fact that one of the plays they perform is Midsummer Night is a huge, ribald, self-aware wink, and c) I feel that the author managed to capture the humanity that is art; art is so much more than a physical object; it's a physical object that we impress our own thoughts, feelings, and reflections of the world at large upon. It's not just what the author intended, and yadda yadda yadda, it's also how we interpret what the author intended, and how it reflects upon us, and how it relates to our own experiences. With her beautiful, shiny writing, she conveyed why it is important to preserve culture.
The third story is about an evil prophet. Because all post-apocalyptic societies must have a crazy despot who believes Things Happen For a Reason and that these Reasons involve him getting busy with as many women as he wants while everyone does as he Says. He's suitably crazy, and a cross between the batshit insane guy in ROT AND RUIN and the batshit insane guy in THE SACRED LIES OF MINNOW BLY and the batshit insane guy in THE WALKING DEAD. So basically, he's pretty batshit insane, but I guess sanity can be hard to maintain in a void like the end of days.
The mechanics of the apocalypse itself are pretty straightforward and not unlike what happens in THE STAND by Stephen King: a super flu comes along and wipes out 99.9% of the human race. Society flops and flounders for a while, before receding like a dead sea, leaving an inaccessible internet, silent skies, rusting cars, and various other hindrances that were once useful and necessary and are now obsolete relics. I got teary-eyed at this one scene where an airplane takes off, and the person watching it realizes that it might be the last airplane to do so, ever. Yeah, we can rebuild ourselves, we have the technology, but this scene really showed how much we take for granted all the amazing things that surround us, and how beautiful the mundane can be when it's about to be lost.
STATION ELEVEN was a very good book. The beginning was a lot stronger than the ending, which raised more questions than it answered (and had a very vague--will they, won't they? ending which annoys me, because I feel like that is lazy--I WANT ANSWERS, DAMMIT), but I enjoyed the journey. Kirsten is a strong character, Jeevan is kind and conflicted, and Arthur is a fascinating trainwreck. Usually in multiple POV stories there is one character I can't stand, but that wasn't the case in STATION ELEVEN: I found all three main characters interesting.
I think it's a vast understatement to say that TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD is a popular book. Pulitzer-Prize-winner, best-seller, life-changer, it's a book that's made a serious impact on and contribution to society, as well as literature.
I, however, did not like TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I found its alleged charms overrated, and the message heavy-handed. Yes, I could appreciate the moral message in the book, and the impact it must have had in its time, but I thought it was really boring.
GO SET A WATCHMAN is worse, though. Far, far worse.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding this book's publication. I'm not going to get into that, but if you're interested, you can easily look it up. But from what I gathered, GO SET A WATCHMAN was never intended for publication. It was the prototype of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and TKAM was the fleshed-out story that emerged from the flashbacks of her original story of an adult Scout.
GO SET A WATCHMAN is the story that preceded TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Scout is an adult, now going by Jean Louise, visiting her father after living in New York for many years. She gets a lot of crap from her Aunt Alexandra because she's marrying her childhood friend, Henry, "Hank," who is, according to her and several other people, "poor white trash."
Scout annoyed me in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD because she was so childish. Jean Louise is worse. She's judgmental and seems to have a nasty, judgmental thing to say about anyone. Repeatedly, she condemns femininity, and bemoans the fact that Eve was stupid enough to eat the apple and inflict womankind with something as inconvenient and offensive as menstruation.
She also has a lot of opinions about race.
I just read Robin Talley's book, LIES WE TELL OURSELVES, and one of the things that really jumped out at me was how racist people can be even when they're so convinced that they have good intentions, and the racist lengths such people will go to rationalize their racist beliefs while simultaneously desperately, eagerly, pathetically, trying to convince everyone that they are still a nice person, despite trying to keep an entire group of people down.
Jean Louise informs us with smarmy self-satisfaction that she grew up surrounded by Negroes who swept her floors and took out her garbage, and how much she appreciates them for this. She loves her help, and would never dream of treating them poorly, even if they are inferior human beings. My stomach churned when she called herself "color-blind" and is called this by others, as well, even though she repeatedly refers to black people as Negroes.
[The Negroes] were poor, they were diseased and dirty, some were lazy and shiftless, but never in my life was I given the idea that I should despise one, should fear one, should be discourteous to one, or think that I could mistreat one and get away with it (125).
Barf. Like, seriously. Barf-and-a-half.
I couldn't help but wonder if this was a product of its time. Because if the book was written earlier than TKAM, this might very well have been the thinking style of "liberal" people in the South. The problem is that it doesn't really work in a modern lens, except to provide a snapshot of a single point in history that is now horribly dated and ickily personal, because it read, to me, like someone's musings on their own personal philosophies as they tried to work out their shaky thoughts on a hot-button issue. The last fifty pages or so consists mostly of proselytizing.
Because here is where the book gets really weird and fucked up. Atticus is now an old man and still a lawyer, although he's become bitter--and racist. In the interim that Jean Louise was gone, he's also become an ardent segregationist and a racist. For example, Atticus has joined "All the Maycomb Citizens' Council," Maycomb's answer to the Ku Klux Klan. And when Jean Louise confronts her uncle about it, she finds out that he may have been in the actual KKK as well. Can you fucking believe it? Atticus Finch in the KKK.
The book attempts to rationalize his membership in this group by saying that you can't change anything from the outside--you have to conform to society's thinking in order to make a difference. And while Atticus would never bomb any Negro houses (seriously, explosives are used as an example), it's perfectly okay for him to talk about his views with like-minded gentlemen.
Uh-huh. I repeat, barf-and-a-half.
She ends up confronting her father, who tells her, condescendingly, that New York has made her too liberal. He says that it's important to oppose the NAACP, because they're idiots who don't know what they're doing, basically, and that black people are "inferior" and don't know what's best for them. He delivers a slippery slope argument, adding that if blacks are treated equally, they'll vote and elect black people to take government positions! THE HORROR! Also, schools will suffer and everyone will become stupider as desegregated schools are forced to lower their standards to accommodate the poor, lazy black student. By this point, I was reaching for the alcohol, because seriously--WTF.
JL is horrified--understandably--at this wretched perversion of what her father was and what he stood for, and reminds him of this. But he cross-examines her like a lawyer, and manages to drag out her own racist thoughts. She is also against desegregation, because the gov't shouldn't get involved in what doesn't involve them, dammit! It opposes the 10th Amendment! Also, she feels a little revolted at the thought of marrying a black person and desegregation might cause that, too. THE HORROR. Because in this book, it is said that only "trashy" people marry black people, and that they, too, must be saved from themselves by having segregation maintained because ew, guys! EW!
At the end of the book, JL talks to her uncle, Dr. Finch, who has heard about her confrontation with her father. He gives her that story I told you earlier, that her father is just a gentleman talking about ideas with other gentlemen in his pseudo-KKK group, and would never actually harm a black person, and all he does is subtly influence the group with his magnificent, noble ideals. Scout realizes that she's been a total bitch, that her father was right all along, and feels guilty for calling him names, and accusing him of being racist. Also she breaks off her marriage with Henry. Not because he's poor white trash but because she just doesn't want to marry him. Because Scout--Jean Louise--is noble and color-blind and doesn't see things like race or class. She's amazing like that.
BRB, barf-bucket's full. Let me go bail that out.
This book is...I don't even have words for it. I feel like we've all been trolled on an epic scale. Hell, I half-expected the last page of the book to be a Rick Roll. That's how fucked up this is.
I discovered bodice rippers a few years ago, by mistake--I was entering random key words into Goodreads's search engine to see what popped up, and a vintage book with a very dated cover popped up. Curious, I clicked the link to the book and saw it had a few reviews from some people who seemed to pop up again and again for similar books in that genre. When I read the summaries of the books, I realized that this genre was actually exactly what I wanted in my fiction--dark, gloomy, and weird. I have a friend who feels the same way. She also likes her books dark. So I said, hey, Jenn Young, let's read THIS OTHER EDEN.
The book starts out in a charnel pit where sixteen-year-old Marianne Locke waits in the rotting, suffocating gloom for her public whipping the following morning. Why is she going to get whipped, you ask? Because she refused the advances of Lord Thomas Eden--and then, to add insult to injury, literally, kicked him in the 'nads. A gross indignity he refused to suffer.
THIS OTHER EDEN is an odd book in many respects. First, the terrible situations all the characters suffer. Harris doesn't spare her characters the rod. At all. Marianne's whipping is appalling, and she is traumatized by it. Thomas Eden does many terrible things in fits of pique, and he suffers for it. There are many terrible characters who do terrible things in this book, and they all receive consequences for their actions, many of them terrible. I really appreciated that. Too many books have a black and white morality that just doesn't jibe with the workings of the real world. All the characters in THIS OTHER EDEN felt real, even if I didn't like them.
Gradually, Thomas Eden becomes obsessed with Marianne. What would have been a quick obligatory tithe, once refused, takes on the desirability of--I don't know--Paradise. As Marianne recovers at her sister's house in London (while her sister's common law husband sniffs around her skirts), Thomas Eden wonders if maybe she refused him because he was a little too harsh what with the whole whipping and all. He then plots and schemes to get into Marianne's skirts, disguising himself at a masquerade to dance with her, bribing her sister into letting him rape her--and then, when that fails, making a pretense at regret he does not feel, tricking Marianne into selling herself, and, oh, yes, resorting to eighteenth century quackery via the Scottish sexologist, James Graham.
There is literally nothing Eden will not stoop to to get his way.
My feelings about this book are mixed. On the one hand, the writing was beautiful and extraordinarily detailed, and I loved how messed up the characters were. On the other hand, there were some aspects about the book that made me raise an eyebrow. Sometimes the characters seemed inconsistent. Marianne, for example, is a bit all over the place. She starts out proud and spoiled, but then later on she becomes quite bland and tempered. Eden, too, is not your typical romance novel sociopath. He is privileged, and thinks that he is entitled to do everything that he does because it is his Divine Right. Whether this is abducting a developmentally disabled girl and delivering her to be raped at the leisure of one of his drinking buddies, or telling people to stop socializing with The Help, Eden is as determined about getting his way as your average four-year-old, and the results when this does not happen are pretty much the same. Eden is surprisingly whiny and self-centered, and also very easily scandalized. To be honest, I found him pretty pathetic. A horny old man who is driven to desperation by the insistence of his own dick, even at the cost of his limited sense of morality.
The ending, I felt, lost steam. It illustrates how far the two characters have come in their development, but I still wanted more. I didn't think the story was dark enough when it should have been, and maybe that is partially because the horrible things that I found so horrible were more accepted in Marianne's day. After all, at one point she points out that even if Eden does give her his property, it's still moot because she isn't legally allowed to own it. Women were pretty much nothing, and that is very much reflected in this book's plot. An HEA didn't convince me. I didn't see how Marianne could allow so much to be swept under the rug, especially the numerous attempted rapes.
THIS OTHER EDEN is definitely one of the more interesting bodice rippers that I have read. There isn't much sex in this book, but the plot is good. Lots of twists and turns, and many gothic elements that practically make the atmosphere itself a character. The writing is good (although there were a lot of typos in my edition), and touches upon many things that you would be unlikely to see in a modern published novel (at least, not without tons and tons of criticism and anger). I would recommend this to people who are interested in the vintage romances novels of the past; it's pretty much cannon.
INTERRACIAL LESBIAN LOVE STORY SET IN THE 1950s. DO I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION, PUNK? DO I?
I suggest you go into this book with a stress ball at the ready because reading this book will make you mad. LIES WE TELL OURSELVES takes place just after the Brown vs. the Board of Education ruling, when desegregating schools was still a very new, and very controversial thing. Sarah Dunbar, her younger sister, Ruth, and a couple of her black classmates, are all starting their new semester at the previously all white Jefferson High School--and right away, it's clear that this is no fairytale.
Sarah is tortured daily. She's put in all remedial classes, even though she was one of the best students at her old school, because the administration is afraid that her inferior black intellect will hold students back at the higher levels. She has to endure taunts and physical and sexual abuse, knowing that her teachers will either silently condone it or else do absolutely nothing.
Linda Hairston is the daughter of a journalist who violently opposes desegregation in the schools. He violently opposes a lot of things, actually, including his own daughter. But Linda is desperate to have his approval, so she parrots her father at every given opportunity, taking great pains to let everyone know she thinks that her school should remain white.
It seems inevitable that Linda and Sarah get paired together on a school assignment. I mean, come on. Didn't you see that coming? It's even written on the book jacket. Once they get to talking, they realize that stereotypes don't set the mold. But Linda continues to cling to her beliefs, even as she feels them slipping through their fingers, and pretty soon it becomes clear that the separation of skin color, of black and white, is the only shield she has against her undeniable attraction to Sarah--
I wasn't expecting a lesbian love story when I picked up this book about race, and I was surprised by how natural it felt. It made my heart ache, though, because as soon as I realized the truth about Sarah, I shook my head, because talk about having two strikes against you in the middle of an unforgiving time period. It's funny, because people often talk about the fifties with such nostalgia--how it was a nicer time, a kinder time, a safer time. And yet, the only people who ever say things like that tend to be of a privileged group: white, upper-middle-class, usually religious and conservative, to boot.
Several other YA books that came out over the last few years have attempted to deal with matters of race, and most of them fell flat. LIES WE TELL OURSELVES really forces the reader to come to terms with uncomfortable truths: that there are different kinds of racist acts, and that sometimes staying silent when you should be speaking up can be just as cruel as if you're performing the bigoted act yourself. Especially if the person on the receiving end is someone you allegedly care about.
The writing in this book was fantastic, and I found myself itching to quote everything. I won't, because of a niggling little detail called copyright, but I loved the prose in this book, and the way Talley characterized the two girls. I loved their budding relationship, the numerous obstacles they faced, and the sort of HEA at the end. I mean, I guess it's a real HEA but they had to go through so much crap to get it that it feels more bittersweet than truly joyous.
Racism is still a topic that plagues our society, and even though things have gotten much better since the 50s, we have quite a long ways to go. I'm so happy that this book was published because it calls attention to a very important issue without appropriating the suffering of another group or being condescending or preachy, and that is so painfully rare in the YA lit cannon that it hurts.
DOPPLEGANGER is a weird, Tim Burtony book about two twins named Saskia and Sadie Dopple living in a grim little orphanage in England. One day a woman named Muzz Something-Or-Other decides that she'll adopt Saskia because she has good teeth, but not Sadie because she has a "weak smile." The two girls are devastated, but there's not much they can do.
There's a lot of really weird stuff in here--twins, dopplegangers, secret paintings, conspiracies, creepy butlers, creepy teachers, and all this other stuff. I didn't really like the art style or the storyline and I spent a big portion of this book giving it the side-eye because I just couldn't get into it.
I should also point out that this book is probably intended for a much younger audience than me. It was less a a graphic novel than a picture book.
When I first learned of GREY's existence, I immediately looked to my calendar to see if it was April 1st. It was not. The horror was real. FIFTY SHADES OF GREY was going to be written--and speedily published--from Christian's point of view.
In all honesty, I wasn't surprised. All the commercially successful books are doing it. BEAUTIFUL DISASTER did it. EDGE OF NEVER did it. HOPELESS did it. It's probably the easiest way to publish a "new" story: rewrite it from another character's point of view. Hell, Stephenie Meyer did it in her heydey, too. Not just with MIDNIGHT SUN, but also with THE SHORT SECOND LIFE OF BREE TANNER. And considering FSoG's origins, it makes sense that it would follow in its predecessor's footsteps.
But that doesn't mean I was happy about it.
I think you all know the synopsis of this book by now, even if you haven't read the series or watched the movie. Girl meets boy. Boy is billionaire. Boy is really into BDSM. Girl is really into boy, but not so into BDSM. Enter soapy wangsting and bad sex.
This is literally the summary of the book. Literally.
Nothing else really happens.
So Anastasia Steele is a student at Washington State University. Her roommate and best friend, Kate Kavanagh is supposed to interview Christian Grey, a media mogul and CEO of a corporation that allegedly doesn't have a board. Kate gets sick, and convinces Ana to do the interview instead.
I've only read part of the first book, and I didn't like what I read (why I didn't finish, obviously), but at least it was readable. Not particularly pleasant, mind you, but readable. This book is...I don't know. It's like if you told a really sexist, douchey, sadistic boy to sit down and write what he thought FIFTY SHADES OF GREY should be like. During the whole interview, for example, Christian fantasizes about hurting Ana.
I wonder briefly if all her skin is like that--flawless--and what it would look like pink and warmed from the bite of a cane (10).
As she fumbles and grows more and more flustered, it occurs to me that I could refine her motor skills with the aid of a riding crop (11).
I have a sudden urge to drag her out of her seat, bend her over my knee, spank her, and then fuck her over my desk with her hands tied behind her back. That would answer her ridiculous question (17).
The ridiculous question she asked is, "Are you gay?" There is a pretty strong undercurrent of homophobia in this book. Christian takes many opportunities to assert that he has never done any BDSM activity with the opposite sex, ever, God forbid! But BDSM doesn't always have to be about sex. I'm fairly sure that a straight Dom could tie a gay sub up, just so the sub could enjoy the sensations--and vice-versa. Not all aspects of BDSM revolve around sex. So this...odd reiterating of his sexuality seems defensive, and blurs what BDSM is really, actually about.
FSoG does a lot of that, blurring what BDSM is actually about. But more on that.
After the interview, Christian is obsessed and orders a background check on Ana. Somehow, this background check allows him to be privy to some details--i.e. the amount of money in her bank account to the penny--but not others, like her religious views or her sexual history. Which is odd, because those things should be pretty easy to find, whereas bank details are, well, not.
Also, what the fuck, Christian? WHO DOES THAT? Oh, hey, I like this girl--I THINK I WILL LOOK UP ALL HER PERSONAL INFORMATION TO DOCUMENT FOR LATER.
As Christian's dick comes to the conclusion that it wants to fuck Ana, he starts referring to her as "a deal." Getting Ana to sleep with him is "closing the deal." Every time he thinks he's cockblocked himself, he calls it "blowing the deal" or "losing the deal." One of Ana's reservations about starting a relationship with him later on is that he treats her like a prostitute. He denies this repeatedly (and gets pissed off, to boot), but referring to her like a business deal really underscored (for me) the reasons she might have felt this way: he thinks he can buy sex for money from her. By his own admission, he's done it before. By his own admission, he's used to using money to get his way.
Hell, he's referring to her as "a deal." Like consent is something you can fucking broker.
Newsflash: it isn't.
Anyway, they have coffee, and we get this weird line.
As she tells me she likes her tea weak and black, for a moment I think she's describing what she likes in a man (37).
He lets it drop that he used a GPS to track her cell phone and she doesn't even blink.
When Christian takes Ana home after she drinks too much, it's supposed to be sweet in the original book. Considerate. Especially since he saves her from date-rape. But in this edition, told from Grey's POV, he pretty much jokes about date-raping Ana with his brother right after he chastises Jose for doing the exact same thing. When Jose, a man of color, attempts to take advantage of Ana, it's wrong. But when Christian, a privileged white man, laughs at his brother's congratulatory "hope you get laid!" with a "me, too, bro!" it's supposed to be...I don't know...an insight into how much he wants her? Some bullshit like that? No matter how you look at it, it's ugly. Moving on.
The original books received a lot of flack for the ever-present inner-goddess and subconscious. You're probably wondering if Christian has something similar. The answer would be yes! His cock. It agrees. It concurs. It listens to music, and is oh-so-eager. So basically, yes, exactly what you would expect.
Christian also has a really weird relationship with food. I've seen friends criticize the other books for how he berates Ana about food, but I had no idea it was so bad until I read the books myself. He is always on her about food, always asking her when she's eaten last and what, how much she's had to drink, how skinny she is, how she's not athletic enough, how she doesn't eat enough, how she isn't allowed to waste food. One of the clauses of his infamous contract is that he gets to provide her a list with what she is and isn't allowed to eat. What the actual fuck. How invasive.
I also took issue with his relationship with Elena, who "seduced" him when he was fifteen. This is statutory rape. In most states, the age of consent is eighteen. Why? Because young adults--children--do not have the emotional or experiential wherewithal to enter into consenting relationships with adults. It puts them at risk for being taken advantage of--and it is taking advantage, because the balance of power is so unequal, and the risk of physical and emotional damage is so great.
Relationships like that can't be equal.
But in this book, Christian treats Elena with reverence. He's annoyed when Ana calls her Mrs. Robinson (a reference from The Graduate, in case you didn't get it, although that at least had a male who was of-age and in a consensual relationship, whereas this one has a lot of uncomfortably blurred lines--she was a friend of his mom, they had to keep it a secret, she later employed him (while they were having sex?--that enters into a whole other morally gray (ha--gray) ballpark, etc.)).
At one point, Ana (surprisingly) sums up my dislike of this relationship with this:
"She took advantage of a vulnerable fifteen-year-old boy. If you had been a fifteen-year-old girl and Mrs. Robinson was a Mr. Robinson, tempting you into a BDSM lifestyle, that would have been okay?" (291).
While this is a good point, it's still a flawed argument, because it suggests that all people who engage in BDSM are mentally ill, or emotionally disturbed, or else in some way perverted. Christian says that he is drawn to BDSM because he uses it like therapy (which I'm pretty sure is a huge no-no). BDSM isn't supposed to be about transferring your own issues onto your submissives as if they were strawmen. It's about sexual (or psychological) satisfaction and trust.
But Christian does a lot of things that are borderline (or in some cases, actually) abusive, as I said earlier. He tries to isolate her from her friends. He gets very angry and hostile towards Kate, when she starts to get worried about his effect on Ana and attempts to keep them apart. When Ana says she doesn't want to see him again--twice--both times he drives to her house and in one instance, demands explanations; in the other, he spies on her house and sends her presents.
The gift-giving is really inappropriate. Even though Ana is quite poor, and he knows she is in no position to reciprocate and that this makes her uncomfortable, he insists on sending her things he knows--he knows!!!--are unwelcome. First edition Thomas Hardy books, an Audi, a BlackBerry, diamond earrings, expensive clothes, and uprgrading her plane tickets without her permission.
The car thing is especially disturbing because he arranges to have her own car sold without her permission. Oh, he informs her retroactively, but that's not the same as asking permission, and doesn't quite cover how invasive and domineering and creepy his actions are.
Why does he do this, do you ask? He doesn't think her car is safe.
Oh, the irony.
Then there's also these decidedly unromantic quotes:
Christian: "You'd think I'd coerce you into something you don't want to do, and then pretend I have a legal hold over you?"
Ana: "Well, yes" (156).
Note: he doesn't dissuade her from this.
"If you were my sub, you wouldn't have to think about this. It would be easy" (161).
Note: this seemed like a pretty concrete example of how this book uses BDSM to legitimize domestic abuse. It sounds dangerously close to the "if you loved me, you'd do it" guilt-tripping some abusers use to emotionally manipulate their victims into doing what they want.
...you really wouldn't like me when I'm angry (199).
Note: he says this to her a lot. His bad temper is joked about, but it's scary how often he threatens Ana with it. It makes the "punishment" scenes uncomfortable, rather than sexy.
Kate, on their relationship: "Ever since she met you she cries all the time" (200).
Alaska is very cold and no place to run. I would find you.
I can track your cell phone--remember? (208)
"No one's ever said no to me before. And it's so--hot" (245).
Note: Trivializes the importance of consent while also shaming women who embrace their sexuality and actively seek out and fulfill their own sexual gratification. All the women who express interest in Christian in this book are shamed by him--ruthlessly. He's quite cruel. Sickeningly so.
[Ana's] pissed at me; maybe she has PMS. She said her period was due this week (293).
Note: He refuses to see that his own behaviors might be the source of her distress.
"What happened to the other fourteen [women you slept with]?" she asked.
"You want a list? Divorced, beheaded, died?" (311)
Note: this is a legitimate concern since the only other two sexual partners of his that we actually meet are severely disturbed. One is a pedophile, and the other is apparently suicidal. Apparently slashing your wrists in your ex-boyfriend's house is a "spectacle" and merely a case of "suicidal ideation."
You know. Nothing serious.
I think the most disturbing scene of all happens when they actually discuss the contract. Christian decides to get Ana drunk because he knows it makes her more talkative and complacent.
REAL BDSM revolves around SSC--safe, sane, consensual. You cannot be safe, sane, and consensual if you're drunk, and Ana's painful lack of experience (and Christian's bucketloads) make this even more unpleasant because it's so obvious he's taking advantage. It'd be taking advantage even if Ana had slept with hundreds of men, but the fact that she knows so little about sex just makes this feel like she's a lamb in the lion's den, and it's so unpleasant and so unsexy that I was just like WHAT. D:<
Other highlights of this book.
At one point, Christian contemplates stuffing a peeled ginger root up Ana's ass. Peeled, because apparently it hurts more if you peel it. I'm surprised he didn't go with a ghost pepper, then.
By the way, this is what ginger root looks like. It is about the size of a human hand. Can you picture this shoved up your ass? I can't. And I have a good imagination, & years of Tetris under my belt.
My hand glides down her ass to the blue string, and I tug out the tampon, which I toss in the toilet. She gasps, shocked, I think, but I grab my cock and slide into her quickly (298).
Stop trying to make tampon sex happen. It's not going to happen!
He also has a special pair of jeans he wears when he has BDSM sex. He calls them "Dom Jeans" or DJs for short.
Christian--and E.L. James, by proxy--quotes Andrew Carnegie to Ana in his interview. Except he doesn't. The quote he shares with her--"the growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership"--was actually coined by Harvey S. Firestone. A quick visit to Google would have cleared that right up, but it's obvious that nobody ever bothered to fact-check.
I think that was my biggest beef with this book, to be honest. I'm a reader of bodice-rippers and bad romance. If a book is entertaining enough, and well-written enough, it can be excused of nearly any flaw. However, the writing quality in this book is all over the place. Many parts of it are so boring that I just skimmed them (the contract itself is at least ten pages long and written in painfully dull legalese). Christian's many asides to himself, his tendency to refer to anything with two X-chromosomes baby, his self-congratulatory attitude, and the many factual errors in this book (yes, you can get pregnant on your period), bespoke a painful lack of editing. The impression I got from reading this work was that editing was mostly bypassed in favor of getting it published as close to the movie's release as possible in order to capitalize on the renewed interest following in its wake. This is pure speculation on my part, of course, but I don't think I'm completely incorrect.
GREY is a truly terrible book, easily one of the worst--if not the worst--I've read this year. It truly puzzles me how this series has garnered the popularity that it has. The relationship was awful, and borderline abusive, and reading the book through Grey's eyes turned an already dubious male lead into what almost seemed to be a reprise of Patrick Bateman a la American Psycho (maybe that's why he allegedly wanted to be the screenwriter for the movie version?).
I suppose if there's one bit of silver lining in this (fifty shades of) gray cloud, it's that E.L. James has caused publishers to look at independent authors differently than they have in the past. Before, they were a mockery, the much-laughed-at vanity-publishers. Now, people are looking at it as a viable enterprise that can actually--if you're very lucky--bring in the big bucks.
Okay, James. You've made your point. Now can we all stop beating the dead cash cow and go home?
------- Edit: Is it just me, or does that REALLY look like it could be Daniel Radcliffe on the cover?
I got Sakura Taisen off a library discard table. I mean, it was free. And free manga is practically unheard of. (Seriously, that shit's more expensive than a heroine addiction.)
...It's really weird.
The book starts out with a war simulation. Then Ensign Ogami happily graduates with his naval academy. After a night of celebration, he is drafted to a very special assignment...
Ticket master at an old theater in Tokyo.
He must have pissed someone off.
Several girls have the run of the theater, and all of them have very different personalities. Sakura is the first we meet, and she's the bubbly, feminine archetype of female heroines in Japanese manga: the perfect girl. Sumire is the spoiled princess, who is loud, and arrogant, and all too used to getting her way. Iris looks like a little doll, and she's spoiled and has psychic powers. Maria dresses in drag all the time. She's half-Japanese, half-French, and extremely icy and reserved.
While Ogami has these women running all over him (sometimes literally), demons are wandering around in Japan and so, oddly enough, are these little steam-powered robots. They don't really appear until the very end, and yes, there is a cliffhanger ending that suggests that in spite of the humiliating appearance of his new job, Ogami's new situation might not as be as deprecating as it seems.
I couldn't really get into Sakura Taisen. Firstly, I don't really like the more rounded style of faces in shounen style manga. I grew up with shoujo and that's what I tend to prefer. I'll make an exception for really good storylines, but this wasn't a really good storyline. The world-building was flat. I get that in the first book, the artist and writer have to take the time to set up the story, but that literally took up the whole book. And like I said, manga is expensive. If I'd paid money for this shit, I'd have been very angry that my money had basically gone up in smoke. I don't want to have to read an entire series to wait for something interesting to happen.
When I finished this book, I wanted to clap my hands together like Mr. Burns and go, "Eeeexcellent."
As a lifetime Rowling fan, I'm super curious and enthusiastic about Rowling's post-Potter work. Don't get me wrong. I grew up with Harry & the gang, and was convinced--convinced--when I heard that they were making a movie of the book, all the way back in fifth grade, that when they were casting children, somehow a producer would come to America, see me, and even though I've got the most ridiculously Californian accent ever and have blue eyes instead of brown, they would see me and say, "That's our Hermione!" And somehow this would give me magic powers, as well... (I was ten, okay? Ten, and deluded, and possibly crazy.)
ANYWAY, I'm an adult now, and a bit more realistic about my future (I say that, and yet I am a writer--hahahahaha I'm still just as deluded and crazy as I was before, but now I get paid for it). And as an adult, I am very, extremely happy that Rowling has started writing adult fiction. I am one of the few people who actually enjoyed THE CASUAL VACANCY. I go into the reasons why in my review, but basically it's because Rowling is a genius when it comes to developing characters.
However, VACANCY was an exclusively character-driven novel, and besides a bunch of middle-class (and lower-class) British people fucking each other over in inventively cruel and interesting ways, not a whole lot happens. I will concede this. There is not much in the way of plot. It is a case study written by a literary Jane Goodall who's all like, "LOL LOOK AT HOW TERRIBLE THESE PEOPLE ARE? LET'S FOLLOW THEM AND SEE WHAT THEY DO NEXT, WOT."
THE CUCKOO'S CALLING is the next step. Not only does this book have the brilliant characterization of VACANCY, it has the brilliant plotting and foreshadowing that made Harry Potter such a joy to read. One of the things that fascinated me about the Potter series was how effortless the world-building seemed. Rowling was really good at bringing you up to date about what happened in the previous books without the heavy-handed, LET'S WRITE A COPY-PASTE RECAP INTO THE SECOND PAGE OF EVERY BOOK deal that was so popular in the 90s and early 2000s (Animorphs and Baby-Sitters' Club were especially devout about following this rule).
These subtle nuances are perfect--perfect--for murder mysteries, apparently. When I got to the brilliant grand reveal at the end, I sat there, wide-eyed, as everything fell neatly into place and thought, "My God, this woman is a genius." And then, "Oh God, I'm glad she's not a murderer."
The book opens with a biracial supermodel's death. Lula Landry falls from her apartment window and because she had a clinical history the cops immediately write it off as a suicide. Case open, case shut. But Lula's sister, John Bristow, is not convinced that her death was self-inflicted, so he decides to hire the reluctant PI, Cormoran Strike, at double-pay, to help discover what really happened to his sister.
With the help of a very lovely, wonderful woman named Robin, Cormoran interviews Lula's friends, family, and coworkers, gradually weaving a tapestry of lies, lurid acts, and treachery. We never see Lula alive, but gradually we understand her personality and her motives through the literary equivalent of negative space, something that was done equally well in THE LIFE AND DEATH OF SOPHIE STARK. As we learn more and more, we wonder: is this a woman who would want to die?
Strike's personality is really well done. As an Afghan vet who both lost his leg and still suffers from PTSD, his life is full of suck already. But add to that a horrible ex-girlfriend who is psychotic and also a compulsive liar, and the fact that he's a few bounced checks from losing his business, and you find yourself with a down-in-the-dumps character who is pretty hard not to root for. His relationship with Robin is really charming, and I found it so refreshing to see a deep relationship between a man and a woman that remains entirely platonic throughout the story. It was wonderful.
When Rowling's Galbraith penname was leaked to the public, I was very sad for her, because I had strongly suspected that the negative reception VACANCY received was part of her motive for adopting a pseudonym. There are some very powerful (and negative) statements about fame, and the effects of fame, and how fans can sometimes back the very figures they idolize into a corner in this book, and at times the bitterness and the frustration are extremely uncomfortable because they seem so personal. The sordid controversy surrounding this book seems even more ironic when you take all that into account. However, if her name hadn't been leaked, I probably wouldn't have picked this book up--and I'm sure lots of others are probably in the same boat of cognitive dissonance.
Personally, I thought THE CUCKOO'S CALLING was great. It's kind of like what you would get if you took Meg Cabot's SIZE 12 IS NOT FAT mystery and had Gillian Flynn rewrite it, and then had Stephen Fry narrate it. It's good, and it's unexpectedly funny, and it's also dark and gritty, as well.
But don't take my word for it. Read this book! It's--
MAGONIA is like several books crammed into one, and unfortunately for this book, none of them really fit together.
MAGONIA starts out like an overly precious "sick kid book" like ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES (a book I would happily toss into a bonfire) and THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. Yeah, she's probably dying, of a mysterious disease that has no cure, but that doesn't stop her from being twee as fuck, or from falling in luuurve.
Then one day, Aza realizes something that changes her entire life--her illness, her family, her very world are not what they seem. For the first time in her life, she might be able to be well. But at what cost? (There's always a cost.)
For the fantasy element, I went in here expecting one thing and was presented with another, so props to the author for that. As others have said, the world-building truly is unique and she should be lauded for not relying on the more typical vampires, werewolves, and demons (oh my) tropes.
However...I felt slammed with all the fantasy, and this, paired with Aza's truly horrendous narrative, made it really hard to sink into the story. There was just so much, and being introduced to it all through Aza's eyes was unbearable. (Seriously, Aza is annoying--so freaking annoying--and it never stops.) It was like reading Hayao Miyazaki fanfiction with someone's self-insertion Sue. Oh, don't mind me, I'm just Aza Ray, the real heir to Laputa: Castle in the Sky! Yeah-fucking-right.
Another problem is that, when you take away the fantasy elements, this is a pretty cliche young adult story. There's the special girl who doesn't know she's special (and she doesn't know she's beautiful, either). There's the mandatory love triangle. There's the brooding love interest who alternates between elaborate, magical displays of love and extreme acts of condescension. There's the manic pixie dreamboy love interest who's just a little too nice and too quirky to be believable.
I'm a little surprised at how many of my friends gave this book such high ratings because, to me, it was a very unpolished, erratic mess. I suppose that we're all jut so saturated in cliche YA paranormals that anything remotely unique would get a high rating out of a feeling of respite, because apart from the world-building and some decent passages of writing, I don't see anything about this book that warrants such a high rating. It's a debut, and it reads like one. Make of that what you will.
Owls became a hipster icon a few years ago--owl shirts, purses, accessories, plushies...you couldn't go anywhere without seeing something with an owl printed on it. Even now, they remain a popular motif among certain brands.
When I saw OWLS on Netgalley, I knew it was special. Quirky, artsy books like these hold a special place in my heart. They are like the book equivalent of junk food; usually, you want something meatier, something filling, but sometimes you also want something light and fluffy, like a cupcake. Coffee table books are like the cupcakes of the literary world.
OWLS is an illustrated book about owls. Self-explanatory. The watercolor illustrations are surprisingly gorgeous, and I liked how the artist managed to capture the "personality" of each owl. Accompanying the drawings are brief descriptions of each owl (think a few paragraphs) and then some facts.
I enjoyed reading OWLS. It was a cute, light read.
This book was originally published in Italian but was recently translated into English, so Netgalley was offering the newly translated English edition on the site, for review. Since I am only the second English review for this book, this is going to be a very comprehensive analysis of the storyline and that means spoilers.
Lots, and lots, and lots of spoilers.
The title makes LEMONADE sound like it's going to be a light-hearted book. It isn't. Anna Champion is an ill-tempered girl who is all too used to being referred to as an ugly duckling. Her friend, Lucy, however, is very beautiful and quite social and insists on dragging Anna to all the local parties and soirees.
Christopher grew up in a brothel with a whore mother who later committed suicide. For a while, he continued to live there out of pity until the madam decided to sell him to a pedophile. He escaped, but at a terrible cost. Now he is a socialite with ice in his veins and revenge in his heart.
When they are at the same party, Christopher spills lemonade on Anna's dress and doesn't apologize. She decides to embarrass him in turn. Christopher escalates things. Anna refuses to back down. So Christopher decides to completely humiliate her, insinuating himself into every possible facet of her life, while at the same time using her as an instrument through which he can carry out his revenge.
In one of my status updates for LEMONADE, I said that this was like a Victorian version of the Japanese manga, HANA YORI DANGO. And it is, at least in the first 25-30%. Anna is in love with her sweet, gentle childhood friend, Daniel, and is conflicted and disturbed by how she reacts to Christopher. And Christopher is a lot like Doumyouji--violent, impulsive, ruthless, and tortured.
Christopher is a really terrible love interest. I almost hesitate to call him that, because he is so awful. In his single-minded determination to kill Daniel's father, he thinks nothing of casually threatening his cousin, Matthew, with violence, threatening Anna's family, impoverishing local farmers, evicting a widow from her husband's land, or even committing acts of rape.
After near-raping Anna at a party (which he blames her for, of course), he resolves to stay away from her because of how she tests his self-control. But then he finds out that Daniel proposed to her, and decides, in a fit of "if I can't have her, no one can", tracks her down, rapes and beats her, and then kind of sighs and shakes his head and says, "Well, now we have to be married!"
He blackmails her into marrying him, threatens her with more rape, threatens her family, beats her some more, rapes her, threatens her childhood friend, beats Daniel about twice to a bloody pulp, and just basically acts like a total whirlwind of violence and misogynistic bullcrap. Of course he tells Anna that she was asking for it, that she pushes him too far, and it's really sad how she internalizes this abuse. She starts out as this very spirited, stubborn girl, but she breaks so early on that all interactions between them after her rape are painful to read. She's just...empty.
I think this was meant to be written in the style of bodice-rippers and gothic novels from the 70s and 80s and I think it succeeds in that quite well. (I also wonder if cultural differences might explain the content, as well.) However, I didn't like the attempts to make Christopher a sympathetic character. I didn't want to feel sorry for him: I wanted to hate him, and I wanted the female MC to hate him too. At the end of the book he pretty much tells her that he raped her because he loved her so much he just couldn't help himself, and even though the main character tells him that this is in no way an excuse, it's pretty obvious that they are going to end up together.
Even the revenge plot kind of petered out to nothing in the end, which made me angry, because I was expecting an exciting COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO revenge scheme and ended up with a puppy peeing on the rug and then slinking away in shame. After reading over four hundred pages of this story, I became quite invested in it, and was hoping for a much bigger payoff.
LEMONADE is a shocking and scandalous read that I know will upset lots of people. Thus the basis of its appeal, I imagine. Shocking and scandalous things sell. If you are a fan of Philippa Greggory's Wideacre trilogy, you will probably enjoy this. It is just as lurid and sensational--
I have decided that I just do not have enough fucks to get me through this book. I have officially run out of fucks.
The summary for this book sounded amazing and this was a hugely anticipated read for me. But the moment I picked it up and encountered whiny narrator #1, Laia, I knew I was in for an unpleasant surprise.
I didn't like either of the two narrators.
I didn't like how casually the rape and violence were introduced, or that they were completely unframed by emotional contexts.
I didn't like how boring this book was, particularly the crawling pace that did nothing but make me skim, looking for the (nonexistent) action. Ridiculous in a book that's supposed to be about gladiators.
I didn't like that the author decided to write a fucking love square into the plot. As if love triangles weren't messy and dramatic enough. No, we need more stupid, silly teen wangst.
I didn't like how stupid the narrators were, and how poorly-thought-out their schemes for betrayal and revenge were.
I didn't like that the resistance movement in this book is actually called The Resistance.
I didn't like all the terminology, especially since this, coupled with the shoddy world-building, made it very difficult to understand what the hell was going on.
I didn't like that this book was marketed as "Rome-inspired" when it really had nothing to do with Rome apart from gladiators and Latin-sounding names. With a bit of extra research, this could have been a pretty cool AU or historical-fantasy novel. But no, now it's lame and hackneyed.
I didn't like how weak the female protagonist is, especially when compared to Helene, her rival for one of her two love interests. She is lame and stupid and derpy.
I didn't like how misleading the summary was. It made me think that things were going to happen, but in the first third of this book that I managed to read, nothing did.
I didn't like how the suckiness of this book contributed to my growing list of disappointments for the 2015 releases I was looking forward to.
I didn't like reading this book. At all. Thank God I didn't pay money for it. (I love libraries.)
This was a buddy read with my Goodreads friend, Rabbit, and I have to say that it was a definite step-up from our last endeavor, TENDER THE STORM. WILD BELLS TO THE WILD SKY, a line taken from Tennyson's poem, "Ring Out, Wild Bells" takes place in Elizabethan England. The book is about the half-English, half-Spanish Lily Christian, and her transition from childhood to adulthood in the midst of personal tragedy and political scheming.
Basically, Lily as a child witnesses some very suspicious behavior from a man who plans to do the Spanish gov't a solid by assassinating Queen Elizabeth. He attempts to kill her and her family but doesn't succeed quite as he hoped. In fact, he fails miserably--but at a terrible cost to Lily.
When I look back on the events in this book, it has a very Princess Bride-like feel to it--marooned on a tropical island, befriending exotic animal sidekicks, traveling with a band of gypsies, daring escapes, Middle Eastern bodyguards with scimitars, attempted murders, court intrigue, unrequited love, attempted rape, bumbling comedy relief, bitchy mcbitcherson romantic rivals...BELLS is an odd mixture of some really dark shit told in a really light way, which gives it a fairytale feel.
You're probably wondering why this book only gets three stars from me in spite of its gorgeous writing and truly unique plot. That's a valid question, and one that I can't really answer, except to say that this book didn't really "click" for me. I was really into it in the beginning, and then I kind of lost interest. Lily is just too...nice. Almost naively so. I didn't really like her younger siblings much, especially Dulcie. I thought they were annoying. The villains weren't as evil as I usually like to see in bodice rippers (points for innovation), and Whitelaw was too much of an asshole to be a beta, but too "nice" to be an unapologetically asshole alpha, either. I didn't much care for that, either.
This is good for a bodice ripper, though. The huge cast and attention to historical details made this an interesting read, even if it won't be topping my favorites lists, and I loved that title. I also loved the recurring characters, and how McBain foreshadowed things quite nicely so when certain events happened they didn't seem like deus-ex-machinas. Actually, there's a bit of a sad story behind this author and her books. She was one of the first really famous bodice ripper authors, on par with Kathleen Woodiwiss, but then her father died and she gave up writing and sort of withdrew from the public eye, which is terribly sad, because she is so much more talented than Woodiwiss.
If you're just getting into vintage romance novels, I think WILD BELLS would be a good jumping off point because it doesn't have any of the seriously messed-up stuff that some of the more (in)famous novels do (i.e. no torture, no (successful) rape, no whippings, gang-bangs, etc.). The weird shit that does happen is actually pretty tame, and there isn't any sex at all between the H and the h until the very end (although you can watch him banging a few other women in the interim--wink). Definitely a starter bodice-ripper, and also on that note, not really for me.
Warning: do not read this book on an empty stomach.
SLICE HARVESTER is a stunt memoir. What's a stunt memoir? It's a memoir someone decides to write after doing something wacky, dangerous, or weird for the sheer sake of writing about it.FAKEBOOK is abut a man who decided he was going to lie--exclusively and extensively--on his Facebook. JULIE & JULIA is about a woman who decided she was going to cook one Julia Child recipe every day (and also proselytize--more than every day). GARLIC AND SAPPHIRES is about a food critic who decides to go to various restaurants in various disguises in order to see how she would be treated differently. SLICE HARVESTER is about a guy who drunkenly suggests that he ought to eat all the pizza in New York City. His friend says, "Yeah, man, let's do it." And then he does.
He eats all the pizza in New York City.
I can't help but think that this memoir would have been a little more impressive before the days of Yelp. Really active Yelpers have a lot of leisure time, and some of them seem to do nothing but eat, club, and drink. Hagendorf writes this with the implicit assumption that most of the people reading this book will have already heard of his blog (I haven't), so most of the book isn't about his blogging. It's about the circumstances that surrounded his visits to each pizza place, how the idea came to inception, his relationships with his friends, his alcoholism, and his girlfriend, Christine.
Hagendorf has a very distinctive style of writing that I know will irritate a lot of people. He injects the vernacular into his prose with the same enthusiasm of a child who gets to frost his own cake. "Hella" is used a lot (which is weird, because that's a So-Cal thing). "Corndoggin'" is used once. In one of his review excerpts, he refers to a bad slice of pizza as a floppy dick. This guy is crude and doesn't care who knows it, and also, he's really, really fond of punk culture. If you don't care about punk culture at all, don't worry. It's only lurking in every other page. UP DA PUNX.
The descriptions of pizza are easily the best part of this book. Easily. I found myself craving pizza at 2 A.M. last night because I'd made the mistake of reading this book before bed. Pizza is one of those childhood foods that never really loses its luster, so closely entwined is it with nostalgia.
One thing I wish had been touched upon more was the actual experience of what it is like to be a blogger. He mentioned trolls briefly, but the one example he gave was positive in the end (the troll, who wasn't even that big of a troll, felt bad, and ended up leaving his site a donation of $100). I wondered if any of the trolls had ever left retorts like those of us in the book blogging community see: "Oh, you're probably just a failed, bitter chef." "Why don't you try cooking a pizza before shooting off your mouth?" "You're going to destroy this person's livelihood." "Sorry this place wasn't enough like a Pizza Lunchable for you. Why don't you try going to Safeway with your mommy?" I regularly get comments like that once a week or more--it's something all bloggers have to face--and it seemed odd to me that this memoir glossed over that when blogging was such a focus.
SLICE HARVESTER was an interesting read. Not really for me, but interesting nonetheless. I think this book will only really appeal to a certain niche, but the people in that niche will probably embrace it wholeheartedly. It is what it is: a thirty-something punk rocker talking about how he got to blog about pizza for money while kicking the booze habit. If that doesn't appeal to you, stay away.
This book has a very similar cover and premise to SOME BOYS, by Patty Blount. However, unlike SOME BOYS, ALL THE RAGE really captures the trauma and the social consequences of rape. SOME BOYS used rape as a gimmick, and the main character's trauma was essentially healed by romance. In ALL THE RAGE, rape isn't a gimmick, it's the cross she's been forced to bear by her community. Rape is a fucking assault.
I think comparisons to SPEAK are going to be inevitable because both books deal with weighty subjects with raw, uncushioned bluntness. Each word is like a blow.
SPEAK resonated with me when I read it the first time, because it was the first accurate portrayal of a depressed teenager that I'd ever read. As a book about rape, though, I think it fails on several crucial points: it fails to explore society's reactions to rape as a whole and the rape myths that propagate these reactions.
Romy was one of the popular girls until one night, at a party, she is raped by the sheriff's son. She talks, he's expelled, and nobody has ever forgiven her for it. The children--and adults--in her town do cruel, unspeakable things. They tell her that she deserved it. That she was asking for it. That she's a slut. Did you wear a short skirt? What did you think would happen? A button-down shirt? You're just asking for it to be unbuttoned. Red lipstick? Why not go all out, and take a scarlet letter, too?
The only people who aren't jumping on the rape-train are Romy's step-father and mother, her coworkers, and, surprisingly, one of her ex-best-friends, a girl named Penny.
Then, one day, Penny disappears, and everything heads down in a tailspin.
I've only read one of Courtney Summers's books before--her first, actually--and it's amazing how much she has improved as a writer.
I really liked that the focus of this story was on Romy. I even liked that her rapist barely makes an appearance in this book. Everything takes second stage to Romy and her dealing with her rape and the abuse of her classmates and the adults who should be in her corner, but aren't. The romance was done in a really great way, and it's clear that in this case love will not heal all wounds.
You know all the ways you can kill a girl?
God, there are so many.
I really liked the way Summers portrays high school dynamics and relationships. She gets it. It felt authentic. Twitter is used. So is Facebook. The cruel pranks her classmates play on her seem like things particularly mean-spirited teens would do.
This book is written in an artsy, quirky-girl-lit style that didn't appeal to me, but my god, the writing--the story--the message. It's difficult to talk about how this book affected me, how frustrated and angry and helpless it made me feel. We've come a long way in women's rights in this decade (my state recently enacted the "Yes means Yes law, for example), but you still hear people pleading, "Won't somebody please think of these poor boys' futures?" whenever a man or a group of men are accused of committing acts of rape.
One thing that this book does, which really surprises me, is that it shows that girls can also be rapists, too. Men can be victims. Unfortunately, this was only briefly touched upon, and you have to read carefully to see what really happened, but it was only the second time I'd ever encountered the subject of female-to-male rape in YA, and it was really striking how shocking this was, because we don't often see that, do we? There's an implicit assumption in our culture that men want sex, all the time. They are incapable of saying no to it. And when you take away that ability to say no, you are not only extricating them from any burdens of responsibility, you're also robbing them of consent.
Men have the ability to choose. And the very thing that enables them to say, "No, I don't want sex," can also cause them to say, "Yes, I am going to have sex with this girl--even though she said no." The same goes for women. Rape myths hurt everyone.
I see this book all the time at work, and every time I walk past it, a little part of my brain goes "WANT." But I don't really have the money for new books, and Stephen King is such a hit-or-miss author with me that I'm loath to spend my hard-earned cash on what is essentially a crap shoot. Then my library got a copy of this book and solved my dilemma for me. Hooray.
REVIVAL is about a boy named Jamie Morton who is an old man by the end of the book. It can basically be chopped into three parts: Jamie as a kid growing up in the sixties. Jamie as a junkie, trying to obliterate the traumas of his past with a failed career as a rock star and copious use of drugs. Jamie reunited with the now-insane preacher he knew and admired as a little boy--the horror.
I loved the first part of the book. Nobody can write nostalgia like Stephen King. He can capture the zeitgeist of a given time period with ease, which makes reading his historical fiction a pleasure. Part of the reason IT is one of my favorite books of all time is because of how well Stephen King wrote about the fifties. He does the same with his book, 11/22/63 (which I loved), and again here.
The problem is that it takes a while for this book to get creepy. It's a little ominous in some parts in the beginning (and there are some really disgusting gory accidents), but nothing like the tightly laced suspense of some of his other books. NEEDFUL THINGS, for example, and IT, had me turning the pages with one hand so I could bite the nails on the other. Usually, King's middles are solid, but I found myself skimming. I wasn't interested in Jamie's failed career or his drug-fueled oblivions.
I kept reading because I heard the ending was a mind-fuck and I had several theories about which direction it would go in. I had hoped that none of my theories would prove correct--and that happened (be careful what you wish for), but in the worst way possible. Stephen King went out with a Langoliers ending: in giving us closure, he went the reductio ad absurdum approach and ended up becoming laughably ridiculous. Which is sad, because I could think of so many great possibilities for this book. (I was thinking something along the lines of Christopher Priest's PRESTIGE.)
However there were two things that I did really like about this book:
1. The Easter eggs. Stephen King makes several references to some of his other books. Just as the main character in 11/22/63 ends up meeting the kids from IT, Charlie Jacobs makes a passing reference to JOYLAND and at one point Jamie is in a band that considers calling itself "The Gunslingers" (although they decide that would be too "dark").
2. The play on words in the title. On the one hand, it can be interpreted as referring to revival churches in the South, built on fire and brimstone and "call and answer" evangelical sermons that portray Jesus as almost magical. It can also refer to bringing someone back. To revive.
All those definitions come into play in this book.
I wasn't a fan of this book, but all of his works are so different--I love that he's starting to branch out into other genres, like noir and time travel--that I'm hoping his next one will be a better fit for me.
Molly applies for a very odd job listing that seems inoffensive until she sees the Dickensian manor he lives in and realizes that her employer is a relic of the 19th century--he uses words that wouldn't be out of place in Jane Eyre, wears cravats, and has the same insufferable primness as most Victorians of that era...
...or does he?
One of my friends said that this book was like a cross between JANE EYRE and The Secretary, and now that I've read the book I can sort of see it. Sort of. Stein imbues the female MC with enthusiastic kinkiness, and both characters use sex as an allegory for and as an ultimate solution to their problems.
Which I did not like.
I've actually written an entire mini essay on why using sex or love as a cure for your emotional or psychological problems is not beneficial, but basically, I believe that this trope trivializes the actual sufferers of mental health problems.
And to be honest, I was a little puzzled by why Cyrian was the way he was. Why did he demand control in all things? Why didn't he like being touched? Why did he read as though someone made a valiant but not entirely successful venture to combine Edward Rochester and Christian Grey in a blender? I was hoping that there would be a back story to explain why Cyrian was the way he was, but there wasn't. Which I guess makes sense, because sometimes people are the way they are and they don't need tragic back stories to make them this way, but it was still...odd.
If this was, indeed, the way he was, he got over his ailments remarkably quickly.
The beginning of this book was definitely my favorite part. I loved how saucy Molly was, and cheered for her when she got the job because of her mouth (not like that...perverts). The back and forths were great, and I was even okay with the first spanking scene because of the way it was done. The problem was that in the middle of the book the sex became more messy than sexy and some of their lines to each other started to cross over into wince-worthy territory. The book stopped being sexy and starting being more, well, weird.
I know this author can do better because I read and loved TELLING TALES, which was just as kinky but also had better dialogue and more in the way of back story and plot. In comparison, SWEET AGONY was a definite step-down.
I saw this on Netgalley and was immediately drawn to the giant teddybear-like creature in the sailor suit on the cover. "This looks adorable," I thought to myself. "I must have it!"
It wasn't until I put together the name of the manga--Shibainuko-san--that I realized that the fluffy protagonist in this book wasn't a teddybear.
It's a shiba inu.
The main character of this manga is a doge.
Cuteness aside, I actually found SHIBAINUKO-SAN to be a pretty disappointing read. And part of that may be because I don't really like dogs, so a lot of the jokes in this book meant to appeal to dog lovers just had me rolling my eyes.
The main character is a grim, miserable girl named Chako who has trouble making friends and always comes across as a bit of a Debbie-Downer. She's in middle school. One day she realizes one of her classmates is actually a shiba inu in a little dress--although nobody seems the wiser.
I don't know if you ever saw that Saturday Night Live skit about "Pat", but Shibainuko-san kind of reminded me of that. Chako becomes kind of obsessed with her dog classmate, and keeps accidentally making conversational missteps that make everyone--even Shibainuko-san herself--look at her in puzzlement. As Scooby-Doo would say, "Rog? Rare?"
The artwork in this manga was as cute as all get out, but it just wasn't for me.
You know those "independent films" that are constantly made fun of on TV? The black and white ones with the cheesy opera music and the Ayn Randian quotes of despair? Reading this book was like watching that, except without the parody.
Esther's mother was a vain dancer, beautiful in life, and when she dies, in death. Her death screws Esther up and for some reason she decides that she's going to faint--as much and in as many different ways as possible, from playing the fainting game in high school by hyperventilating to auto-erotic asphyxiation to drugs.
Esther's craziness escalates until she gets older and her father imparts a revelation about her mother that changes everything.
Honestly, this book was really boring. I was hoping for something like Megan Abbott--odd, but enlightening, with some interesting insights about the female psyche. Instead, we get lots of navel-gazing and whining and really idiotic behaviors that serve no purpose but to titillate the reader with these incredible displays of insanity (look! a crazy person! whatever will they do next?)
The revelation about Esther's mother was so obvious that I didn't even realize that we weren't suppose to have it figured out from the moment the issue was raised. Reading between the lines enabled me to figure it out immediately, and to take it as the status quo from the get-go.
I can't say anything positive about this work. It bored me and didn't contribute anything new or novel to the steadily growing genre of "crazy ladies acting crazy" lit that's starting to become so popular.
Clocking in almost 900 pages, THE CRIMSON PETAL AND THE WHITE is a wincingly long book whose length alone would be capable of scaring off most potential readers (which is what makes it a perfect book to fill the category of "book longer than 500 pages" for my Popsugar Challenge). As if that weren't enough of an impediment, this is literary fiction at its most bumblingly pretentious; if this book was a person, it would be wearing tweed and a pince-nez, and lecturing you about the finer points of rhetoric in obscure Russian literature in a gastropub.
I have been reading this book for almost two months, in between working, writing, and my other reading commitments (namely, the ARCs I receive for review from publishers). I've poured time, effort, and mental resources into this book. People enter into relationships that are shorter than this book. And now that it is over, my feelings are a mixture of exhaustion...and relief.
THE CRIMSON PETAL has been called "sexy Dickens" by some people, and I think that is one of the best descriptions possible. It is also reminiscent of GREAT EXPECTATIONS (Dickens, I know, but this story specifically) and a darker, gloomier, more unpleasantly realistic version of JANE EYRE. This book is about a prostitution named Sugar, and the effect that she has on the lives of the people with whom she has contact. The main person is William Rackham, the unwilling heir to the Rackham perfumery industry. He falls for Sugar at first sight, and in wanting to woo her, ends up making a series of decisions that end up changing his life in a powerful way. Eventually, he takes Sugar on as his mistress--which would be the happy ending, if this were a romance novel. But because it is not a romance novel, Sugar has to deal with a number of additional problems--how to keep her man now that the chase is over; how to deal with his insane wife and her increasingly violent delusions; how to approach the subject of his silent-and-not-heard daughter, Sophie; and perhaps, most troublesomely of all, how to deal with her new-found feelings of privilege that result from her sudden rise in station?
I think what I liked best about this book was the moral ambiguity. There is no clear-cut "here is the good guy, here is the bad guy." You can't really do that in a book about prostitutes and johns. That was something else I liked--the research the author obviously put into this work. The Victorians were notorious prudes, and the dichotomy between those puritanical ideals and the earthly desires that they were intended to mask is quite clear here.The sex is well-written for the most part (there are some scenes that had me looking at this book with squinted eyes, because they recalled some horrendous scenes I'd read in Dave Eggers's THE CIRCLE), but not really intended to titillate.
Sugar is by far one of the most complex characters in this novel and her evolution is fascinating. William Rackham too, although I'm not sure he "evolves"--the opposite, maybe. Devolution. It takes almost one hundred pages into this novel before we actually meet Sugar: before, the author intentionally meanders, introducing us to a dozen of the peripheral characters who will recur in the narrative at least once. The tone of this book is definitely one of the omniscient narrator and sometimes the tongue-in-cheek prose is just too much. Especially at the end, which I found very vague. What happens? No, seriously? STOP SMIRKING AT ME, YOU ASSHOLE.
I did like THE CRIMSON PETAL AND THE WHITE, but it was not easy reading. If you enjoyed MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA and also enjoy high-brow historical fiction, then this book will probably be an easy hit for you. If on the other hand, you like reading smut, saw the word "prostitutes" and assumed that this was going to be a trashy bodice ripper of epic proportions, think again. I mean, you may still like it anyway, but it is not an easy read, nor is it particularly sexy (in my opinion). I'm glad I read THE CRIMSON PETAL AND THE WHITE but I probably wouldn't read it again.
This was one of my most anticipated reads of 2015. I love fairytale retellings and in particular, I love 1001 Nights. THE WRATH AND THE DAWN received all sorts of advanced praise from the reviewers lucky enough to finagle ARCs, and somehow Ahdieh got Carrie Ryan and Marie Lu to sing her praises. I begged--begged--my library to purchase a copy (honestly, I'm surprised they haven't written me a cease & desist letter because of how often I'm on them to buy new books), and when they did, I checked that sucker out that day because I was so excited.
Before I get into my review, I want to tell you about another retelling of 1001 Nights. It's called Arabian Nights (2000) and was a TV movie that my parents had purchased on VHS from Blockbuster when they were liquidating their assets. I know, I know--a TV movie? What's even more wince-worthy is that, despite the Middle Eastern setting, Scheherazade is played by an Israeli actress, Mili Avital, and the caliph is played by Scottish actor, Dougray Scott.
But you know what? I fell in love with this movie. Even though the special effects are cheesy, and the casting was a little dubious, it convinced me. Scheherazade is brave, and intelligent, and beautiful, and mysterious. Shahryar was her childhood friend and she can't understand what transformed him into the ruthless killer he is now. She is certain that she can stop the murders and reach into that part of him that once knew gentleness and love--and she saves her own life, and, eventually, his, with her stories that feature strong, brave men and the even stronger women who are their salvation.
I think that is why this story is powerful enough that it has transcended time itself to become one of the most lasting fairytales of all time: it resonates with people who love stories, who love telling stories, who love reading stories; and it resonates with people who know what it's like to be weak and who want to be seen as strong; more importantly, though, it shows that sometimes, in playing the victim, we sometimes end up being the villain, and it's important to learn how to forgive.
So yes, I fell in love with this cheesy TV movie, because it exposed me to a fairytale where women don't have to be damsels in distress and where the princes can sometimes also be villains.
That brings me to THE WRATH AND THE YAWN. The wrath is all mine, and the yawn--well, that's mine, too. Oh--what a crushing disappointment it was. I spent most of this book alternately pissed off and bored. First off, Shahrzad is not the compassionate and brave woman I met through Arabian Nights. She is a vengeful, angry, bitter bitch who wants to assassinate the caliph because her best friend was one of his victims. Which, okay, I get it. It makes sense. But seriously? What the fuck was she doing why he was killing those other women, then? It was okay until your best friend died?
WHO THE FUCK ARE YOU, BITCH? WHO ARE YOU? YOU DON'T EVEN GO HERE.
Anyway, she marries the caliph and immediately starts sniffing for weaknesses. And yes, while she does tell a story to save her life the first two nights--that's it. That is the end of the storytelling in this book. Which frustrated me to no end, because how can you have 1001 Nights if you stop at night two? The stories told within the story were what endeared me to Arabian Nights--Aladdin, Sinbad, The Golden Apple. I did appreciate the author showing the parallels between Bluebeard and 1001, but that was not nearly enough to compensate for the crushing disappointment I felt at seeing such an integral part of the original story removed entirely.
Oh, and let's talk about Shahrzad. She goes about her sleuthing in the most obvious, blatant way, arousing suspicion everywhere, raising eyebrows with her prying. And then she has the nerve to act shocked that people seem to catch on to the fact that her motives in marrying the caliph maybe weren't entirely pure. Miss Katniss Everdeen over here walks up to the Captain of the Guard and handles the bows and arrows like an expert in front of him, allows herself to be tricked into assuming a professional defensive posture, and then acts all scandalized that he's found her out!
WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU, SOME KIND OF MORON? EVEN A FUCKING THREE YEAR OLD WATCHING BLUE'S CLUES COULD FIGURE OUT YOUR GODDAMN TRICKERY.
But no, we're told--continually--how good at archery Shahrzad is. How smart she is. How clever she is. How witty she is. (Her wittiness is mostly sarcasm and insults. She sounds like the teenaged spoiled brat she is, but hey, potatoes, poh-tot-oes.) Oh, and most importantly of all, how beautiful she is. If the thought of endless passages about the heroine's gleaming hair and emotional eyes and sparkly outfits does not appeal to you, steer clear of this book, because that's 50% of the content right there. In fact, as I read further in THE WRATH AND THE YAWN, I realized that my chief complaints with this book mirrored many of the complaints my friends had with Caleana Sardothien from THRONE OF GLASS: we are told, instead of shown, that a vapid, useless, even incompetent girl is in possession of far more agency than she actually has and are expected to swallow it because she gets her way in spite of said incompetence just because boys think she is pretty.
You might notice that I used the plural--boys. That's because there is more than one boy in this book. That's right--IN A BOOK THAT ORIGINALLY WAS ABOUT A WOMAN SAVING A BROKEN MAN WITH LOVE, THIS AUTHOR DECIDED TO INSERT A FUCKING LOVE TRIANGLE RIFE WITH EMOTIONAL MANIPULATION. You know what the irony is? In the original 1001 Nights, the reason Shahryar went cray-cray was because his wife--his first love, the woman he entrusted with his heart--cheated on him. It broke him inside, and made him think that no woman could be trusted, and that was why he executed his brides every night. (In the movie version I talked about earlier, they ran with this a step farther: his wife cheated on him with his brother and then tried to kill him so his brother would be caliph instead.) WHAT THE FUCKING FUCK.
It doesn't help that Tariq is a total asshole, like Gale from Hunger Games on some high-aggression 'roids. He wants to bone Shahrzad and kill Khalid. Which could maybe make you sympathize with him, but towards the end of the book he spews out some misogynistic bullcrap about how the fact that Shahrzad has fallen in love a bit with Khalid makes her in need of fixing and that he's the one who's going to do that, never mind her feelings or what she wants, the fucking sod.
And the reason why Khalid kills his wives in this book is stupid and really made me angry. It made me angry on multiple levels, because of how it simplifies many touchy and serious topics that were not treated with the justice that they deserved in this book. And you could make the argument that this is YA and therefore doesn't have to be complicated, but I disagree. I mean, it had sex in it. (Dot-dot-dot fade-to-black sex, but IT WAS THERE.) If you are old enough for sex, then you are old enough for other adult issues, too. You don't get to pick and choose.
Lastly, there is the writing. Some people said it was beautiful. I found it pretentious and twee. Each sentence seemed to be written with such calculatedly purple prose that I began to wonder if the author used the thesaurus function on her word processor whenever she got bored with a word. There were a few instances when it didn't even make sense.
"[The obsidian beads] caught at wayward beams of light, making each curl flash like shadow incarnate (169).
What the hell is that even supposed to mean? Shadows don't glitter and gleam. If something sparkles, that would make it the antithesis of a shadow, wouldn't it? Not its incarnate.
The only thing that I can say in this book's favor is that it does have POC characters. But if that is a book's only redeeming value, then that's rather unfortunate and insulting in and of itself, because it says, "Oh, hey, you can publish this utterly inferior and undeveloped book, but it's okay, because--you see--the characters aren't white! Who cares if it's good or not? DIVERSITY!"
I am reading THE LADY HELLION for my 2015 Popsugar Reading Challenge. The category it is meant to fulfill? A trilogy. This is book #3 in the Wicked Deceptions trilogy, and I've already read books one & two (my reviews of which you can read here and here).
This has been a very long ride. I read book two first, and really enjoyed it. When I found out I had been approved for the rest of the trilogy on Netgalley I was so excited. THE HARLOT COUNTESS, which I read first, had its fair share of flaws, but also possessed a number of redeeming factors. I hoped--I expected--that as the books went on and Shupe had time to iron out her talent (she is a debuting author, after all), she would reach her stride with her writing.
I'm sorry to say that after completing this series, my feelings about this book can be summed up as disappointment and a sense of wasted talent--with this book, especially, because it has so many of my favorite tropes. Quint, the nerdy, asocial gentlemen who has teased his way into the storylines of the two more douchey characters, was a character I'd been waiting for. I wanted his story. He's exactly what I love in a hero: a beta with a commanding streak.
Sophie--well, Sophie is much more likable than the other two female characters (even if her plight does not lead one to sympathy). Prostitutes are being brutally raped and murdered and Sophie, after seeing one of her favorite childhood maids get fired because of classist sentiments and unfair bigotry, has decided that since the police aren't going to do anything serious about the murders of these women, she is going to do some investigation herself. So she dressed up like a man, calls herself Sir Stephen, and heads out into these brothels for some firsthand investigation.
Quint discovers her secret pretty quickly, especially when Sir Stephen steps on some toes and gets involved in a duel, and she names Quint her second. When Quint finds out that she, a woman, is involved in a duel, he starts keeping an eye on her, and then he realizes what she's doing and flips the fuck out. You might ask yourself why he has so much emotional investment in her case, when what she's doing is social suicide, and that's because they were childhood sweethearts, but when he proposed, Sophie turned him down. (This is because she was Scarred for Life by another douchebag she was engaged to. When they had sex for the first time, she didn't bleed, and because of this, and because she enjoyed the sex, her ex-fiance jilted her and ended up marrying someone else.)
Quint reluctantly agrees to help her out if she agrees to taking some precautions for her own safety. Sophie agrees--but LOL, she has no intention of following through, and if you think this reckless disregard for her own sense of preservation isn't going to endanger her life or her virtue at least fifty million times, then, hello! You must be new here. Pull up a seat and prepare to get schooled.
Since they're both scarred and afraid of commitment they start taking up an affair that gets pretty intense, and, yes, emotional. Shupe makes an unfortunate artistic choice here, too: she decides that as a way of showing us all how nerdy she is, Quint will use all sorts of Latin words to describe coitus (such as using words like coitus). The sexual scenes are also very...unpleasant. As with previous books in this series, Shupe overuses words like 'delicious' and 'plumped', and has some dubious descriptions.
...he speared the opening to her vagina with his tongue (168).
It went on forever, the thick, ropy strands of ejaculate expelling from his body and into the protective barrier while he shuddered beneath her (169).
When Quint's friends, Nick the Douche and Lord Winejester, get wind of his affair, they immediately stick their noses into it, assuming that Sophie is a virgin (she's not--which is nice) and telling him that because she is pure and because she is quality, they oughtn't to fool around with her, which is total bullshit, because I HAVE READ YOUR BACKSTORIES, ASSHOLES, AND I KNOW WHAT FUCKERY YOU ARE CAPABLE OF. Which is something that upset me--Nick and Simon did terrible, terrible, terrible things to their wives, and they are all but brushed under the carpet in this book.
For example, Nick's wife was also a virgin when he married her, but because he was angry about the arranged marriage he ditched her immediately after the wedding, then went to Italy where he literally fucked every woman in sight. His wife had to disguise herself as a courtesan to get his attention, and then when he found out who she really was, he treated her like crap. He also used the "women who enjoy sex can't be virgins" excuse, and he only felt bad about the matter when he realized that she was a virgin after all. But you wouldn't know that by reading this book. These circumstances are only alluded to once as a "tempestuous courtship." Fucking understatement of the century, that.
Simon was only a little better. After Maggie was almost raped during her season, he assumed, along with everyone else, that she was a shameless flirt trying to steal other girls' men. He spent the whole first portion of the book slut-shaming her. And again, he only really felt bad once he found out that she really had been a virgin and her whole "harlot" act was just that--an act.
Like THE LADY HELLION, THE HARLOT COUNTESS also had a subplot about a man who raped and murdered prostitutes. I did like the fact that LADY HELLION actually let us get to know the prostitutes and showed the murderer coming to justice. The subplot in THE HARLOT was not resolved to my satisfaction and that seemed to cheapen the plights of the women who were murdered, in my opinion. However, despite that, I did not like THE LADY HELLION as much because, quite simply, it lacked development. It was rife with hypocrisy and bad sex scenes, and, worse, trivializes mental illness. I can't tell you how exciting it was to see a male love interest who actually seemed stricken with a genuine mental illness--ONLY TO HAVE IT MADE LIGHT OF AT THE END. And, oh, yes, CURED BY LOVE. Fuck that bullshit. I don't buy it. No sirree, I do not!
I've completed the Wicked Deceptions series now and I have to say that I am disappointed. Shupe showed a lot of promise with THE HARLOT COUNTESS but everything she achieved in that story was undermined by books one and three. Maybe if she writes another series, I'll read it, but she's no longer a debut author and doesn't have inexperience to fall back on as an excuse any longer.
I'm using THE WHALE THAT FELL IN LOVE WITH A SUBMARINE for my 2015 Popsugar Challenge.The category it's meant to fulfill? A book that made you cry. It didn't actually made me cry, but it did depress me, and haunt me, and just in general put a darker, gloomy cast on my day that definitely wasn't present before.
There's this movie Studio Ghibli put out called Grave of the Fireflies (1988). It's about a boy and his little sister struggling to survive in Japan during WWII, and it's depressing as fuck. I literally cannot watch it because of how shitty it makes me feel. It is a movie without any hope, without any redemption; it takes a fatalistic and devastating look at war, and its casualties.
THE WHALE THAT FELL IN LOVE WITH A SUBMARINE is set in the same time period, with the same heavy-handed approach to the consequences of war. Which really surprised me, because this is being marketed as a children's book, and yet I'm really not sure it's appropriate for children because of the content of the stories. I'm all for darker YA and middle grade books, but not to the point of traumatizing kids.
How traumatic do you ask? OH BOY. LET ME TELL YA.
For example, in the first story, the main character is a sardine whale who is sad because he is too big (females only mate with males smaller than them). He ends up falling in love with a Japanese submarine heading out to battle the Americans. The Americans think the lovesick whale is the Japanese submarine on their sonar, and end up blasting him to pieces.
There's another story, called something like "The Boy Whose Mother Was a Kite." It's about a mother and her son who are caught in a burning building that was bombed by the Americans (don't you just feel like a total asshole right now? that's another thing--if you're an American, you're going to feel like the world's biggest douche while reading this book), and the air is getting hot and dry. To save her son, she pours her sweat on him. Then her tears. Then her breastmilk (there's this really uncomfortable passage describing her rubbing her nipples all over him when her breasts run dry D:). Then her blood. Finally, she withers away and ends up flying up towards the sky like a kite.
WHAT THE FUCK.
The writing in these stories is gorgeous and evocative, but I really don't think that stories about being burned alive, or about being a kamikaze pilot, or about being exploded into a bloody pulp by a torpedo are really appropriate for children. THE WHALE THAT FELL IN LOVE WITH A SUBMARINE makes it sound like it's going to be a hipster quirky story, but that is misleading. This book should be called EMOTIONALLY MANIPULATIVE CHILD AND ANIMAL DEATHS IN WWII JAPAN. Please don't read this to your children as a bedtime story. D:
If you work in retail (or happen to be a mom), you know that three of the most popular toys right now are My Little Pony, Shopkins, and Littlest Pet Shop. (And I would bet money that a Shopkins graphic novel is in the works...hell, they just came out with a storybook last month.)
I've read about four of the MLP graphic novels, and they were surprisingly good. I enjoyed all of them but one. The story writing was fantastic for a children's comic, and the moral lessons weren't completely over-the-top. I enjoyed the characterization, and the way that the franchise builds off the original MLP while also exchanging frequent nods with the fandom who loves them.
I don't actually know that much about Littlest Pet Shop, other than the fact that the collectible toys are very popular, and very cute.
All these cute little animals live in a pet shop owned by a nice old lady whose name I can't remember. A preteen girl works here, too, whose name is Blythe, and for some reason she can understand the animals when they talk, although nobody else seems to.
All the little animals have distinct personalities, and sometimes they get into trouble. Each chapter features an incident involving said trouble, and the way that the little animals resolve it usually carries a moral lesson (in a very PBS, children's programming way).
I have to say, I was not super impressed with WAIT A SECOND. Yes, the animals were so cute (especially the kitten with sprinkles in her fur), but cute is not a substitute for story (I dinged an MLP comic for that, so you know I am SRS). And most of the stories in here were just, well, lame. The panda rooms with the skunk and finds out that they have totally opposite personalities. Blythe takes the animals on vacations and struggles to fit in with the cool kids, even though they're kind of mean. The mean-girl Biskit twins have a better float in the parade--but they're not fun! OH NOEZ.
Oh, the Biskit twins. They were painful. Their names are Whittany and Brittany and they say "like" in every sentence, and end half those sentences with question marks. Evil Valley Girls, that's what they are. Like, oh my God, that is, like, so twenty years ago! Gag me with a VHS tape of Clueless.
I wasn't really too thrilled with Blythe, either. She has the proportions of a Bratz doll and the personality of Barbie--and I'm not slut-shaming. New adult novels are quick to show that being like Barbie is a bad thing, but if you ever actually owned any, you'd know that Barbie is that nice, wholesome, girl-next-door type who can do anything, be anything. How many other women do you know who own their own mansion, have magical hair, and are also president elect? Exactly.
The problem with this portrayal is that it is unrealistic, and doesn't really give much to relate to. Blythe is pretty (although she doesn't know it--ugh), interested in fashion and cute animals, attracts boys totally by accident while out with her lame (single?) dad who's just a bit too touchy-feely for comfort, and easily ditches a group of 'friends' when they prove too shallow for her tastes after she catches them making fun of two girls she doesn't even really like. The decisions she made didn't seem like decisions an actual preteen would make, that any normal, flawed human would make.