**spoiler alert** Wow, that was a downer. A beautiful, fascinating, eloquent downer. Yeesh.
I'd heard a little before I read it about the unconventiona...more**spoiler alert** Wow, that was a downer. A beautiful, fascinating, eloquent downer. Yeesh.
I'd heard a little before I read it about the unconventional romantic and sexual relationships in Fire. I think they're interesting. They sometimes make me mad. There's Archer, sleeping around with lots of women who don't know about each other, each of whom thinks she means more to him than she does - and all the while being tremendously jealous of Fire, who hasn't been involved with anyone except, occasionally, him. There's Archer's father, who cheated on his wife . . . with the queen, while he himself was the king's foremost general. Kind of like Lancelot, if King Arthur was a murderous madman. Or, more accurately, if Merlin was a murderous madman who completely controlled King Arthur's mind. As part of his retribution, the king sent a thug to rape the general's wife, who then gave birth to Archer, making Archer the unknowing sort-of-brother-but-no-actual-biological-relation of the illegitimate prince who will become Fire's love interest.
Most of the above do make me mad. I think, though, that I like that Fire isn't judged and doesn't feel bad for sleeping with Archer when she wants to, knowing everything that he's up to in general and knowing that he and she care very much about each other. It's nothing I'd ever do, but I don't think Fire should be looked down on for it. (Though, as in any medievalesque setting, I wonder about the safety of the arrangement. I mean, Archer knocks up two women in one visit to King's City, so he's obviously not using any kind of protection - what are the odds, with his level of promiscuity, that he's not carrying some kind of disease?)
Largely because of the above relationship stew, there are a LOT of, "Whoah, you're actually my/his/her father/grandmother/uncle/etc.!" moments in this book. Like, a lot. Fire actually sort of comments on it at one point.
The other big thing I'd heard about before reading the book is its treatment of beauty and the reactions beauty inspires. That I do find very interesting. Fire is a "monster," a trait which appears sometimes in every species in her world, resulting in "monster cats," "monster mice," etc. She is currently the only known monster human, now that her father is dead, but the trait is completely dominant, so any children she would have would be monsters. Monsters possess supernatural beauty, which includes unusual coloration - green cats, etc. (Fire was named for her hair, which is vividly red with streaks of orange and pink.) They also have the power to read and control minds.
The result is that virtually everyone who sees Fire wants her in some capacity, and she is always aware of it. Not in a flattering, all-eyes-are-on-me way, but in a scary way. People want to possess her, to touch her, to force themselves on her. I find this a pretty powerful commentary on the (usually) male gaze in our society and how it makes people feel.
(Although at this point, I have to say, I am STARVING for some good fantasy in which being female is not a disadvantage. Bonus points for no rape ever being mentioned ever. Ever. I am grateful that these books exist and are sometimes well-written, and I think they're very valuable. It's just that I also think it's valuable to imagine the world one would like to see, a world where girls never have to dress up as boys for their safety or to be allowed to do something, a world of equality and that isn't full of rape culture.)
(And it frustrates me that people seem to think that medievalesque fantasy somehow requires misogyny, like it's inextricably woven into the setting. News flash: if you're setting your medieval-type fantasy in a place that's not Earth, a place that has different historical figures, religious beliefs, geology, etc., then you've already altered the setting drastically. Ditto ADDING MAGIC. You're working with a different world. You make the rules. If the world is sexist, you made it that way. If you're trying to make a statement about sexism or something, then go ahead. But I think sexism should be included or excluded in fantasy settings as deliberately and thoughtfully as magic is.)
Ahem. Back to that book I was talking about.
It kind of annoys me that Fire almost never seems to get or stay angry. I was able to identify with her despite some important ways in which she's different from me - for example, the fact that she's desperate to have a baby, which is a totally alien feeling to me. (I was so sad for, yet kind of in awe of, her decision to sterilize herself with the poisonous herbs. She knows that any child she had would be, like herself, both dangerous and constantly in danger.) But in some ways, Fire is just too nice. It particularly irked me that Archer vindictively spilled her biggest and most emotional secret - that she had killed her own (cruel, murderous, kingdom-endangering) father and made it look like a suicide - and Fire is upset for, like, ten minutes. Then she basically shrugs and is like, "Well, it's about time people knew." SO not the point, Fire! That was a major betrayal! And even if he does immediately apologize, that was not okay!
(Although totally brilliant writing. I had only just begun to guess that her father's death had been Fire's doing, and it's fascinating and tragic how complicated her feelings are about it. Her father drove the king to madness and compelled him to do horrible things, tortured animals, killed people, mind-controlled people, raped people . . . basically all the worst stuff ever, but Fire was the only person he loved and trusted, and he always treated her well, and she loved him. Of course, the fact that she was the only one he trusted meant she was the only one who had a real chance of killing him, which basically needed to be done to save the kingdom.)
Anyway. I wanted to see Fire get mad more often. Here are some other things I'd have liked to see her get all righteous about:
1. People hating her on sight because of who her father was. Um, not her fault. And though most people don't know it, they should be thanking her for solving that whole evil-father problem.
2. Clara sleeping with Archer. Clara believed at the time that Archer was in a relationship with Fire such that Fire would be upset about him sleeping with other women. Clara is Fire's friend. Archer says that Clara ended "it" quickly, and out of loyalty to Fire, but as Fire ponders unhappily for about half a second, that still means there was an "it," and it was kept secret from Fire. Some loyalty.
3. People getting all tough-love with Fire after momentously bad things have happened to her. Seriously? You're accusing Fire of lying in bed moping? She was kidnapped, her best childhood friend was horribly murdered, and now she's recovering from hypothermia, frostbite (that will claim two of her fingers, especially rough given that Fire is a master fiddler), and being frequently drugged by her kidnappers. I know there's a war on and Fire's powers are a valuable asset, but slow your roll!
I had wondered how this book would work out being a semi-prequel to Graceling, considering that they have the same villain, so obviously that villain couldn't die in this book. The book does a good job resolving the plot, given that. If I hadn't known that Leck had to be alive for a sequel, I think I would have found his crevasse-toppling-into "death" to be a cop-out. (Show me the body, or it didn't happen!) Interesting to know where creeptastic Leck came from and to learn how he lost his eye. (Here I'd kind of assumed he cut it out himself so that no one would know he was a Graceling.)
I might have more thoughts later. This is a bleak and powerful book. The writing is beautiful, and the worldbuilding excellent, but I think I found it a little too . . . formal? . . . for me to get attached very well to a lot of the characters. It certainly did move me at times, though. But dang, like I said: downer. You won't catch me rereading this.
(Though you might catch me picking it up just to learn how some of the names are spelled. The audiobook reader is excellent - I especially love all the accents she does - but I can only guess at the spellings, and sometimes even the names themselves. Is Archer's father Lord Brocka? Lord Brocker, with a British soft R? Or even Lord Brocko? His name comes up a ton of times, but the reader's accent leaves it unclear to me.)(less)
**spoiler alert** Oh boy, I am torn. I'm rounding this book's score up to a four because I did enjoy the experience of reading it, but I did NOT like...more**spoiler alert** Oh boy, I am torn. I'm rounding this book's score up to a four because I did enjoy the experience of reading it, but I did NOT like either of the point-of-view characters. In fact, I didn't take a particular shine to any character that I can remember.
The writing style is pretty fun, and not so heavy on the weird introspective monologues as Scrambled Eggs at Midnight, which is written by the same authors in the same style: alternating chapters between a guy's and girl's points of view as they fall for each other. I will say that, like Cal from Scrambled Eggs at Midnight, Ella of Dream Factory makes one long, unwieldy, distracting metaphor using colors. Only for Ella, so help me, colors are not enough. She makes all the things that have upset her into the cars of a train, which she then assigns colors seemingly at random. One event is an "orange boxcar," another a "blue passenger car," etc. I get that she's trying to create a visual of a series of discreet traumatic events linking together into one long train that is too much for her, but for me, it's a little much.
What drew me into the book - in fact, what made me pick it up - is the premise: the costumed characters at Disney World go on strike, and the park temporarily replaces them with a bunch of teens. Now, with minimal training, these teens (on the older side - seventeen, eighteen, nineteen) have to reenact Disney scenes, entertain hyper kids, and try to stay in character, whether that character is Cinderella (Ella) or Dale (Luke - that's Dale of Chip and Dale).
Whereas Scrambled Eggs at Midnight left me wishing for more detail about the interesting settings - a Renaissance Faire and a Christian weight-loss camp - this book absolutely delivers the goods. I'm very curious about how the authors know so much about working at Disney World, or whether it's possible they made it up. I'm guessing that either one of the authors worked there or they interviewed at least one person who did. I myself have never even been to the park, but this portrayal of the lives of the costumed character actors seems real (and hilarious) to me. Too bad there isn't a credit in the book somewhere to explain where the info came from. I was actually curious about the legalities of setting a story in a famous real place, especially given that the book is not always complimentary of Disney World. There is a sort of disclaimer at the front of the book, at the end of that bit saying that this is fiction and any resemblance blah blah is coincidental. It says something like, "This book depicts fictional events occurring in a real place." So . . . does that mean Disney couldn't sue or anything? Not that the book is exactly scathing, but what I've heard is that Disney can be pretty lawsuit-happy.
At any rate, the setting is excellent. Once again, my problem is with the characters. Basically, when we meet Ella and Luke, Luke can't believe he's lucky enough to be dating hot, smart, put-together Cassie, who plays Chip. Even though he doesn't actually like her. Meanwhile, Ella likes Luke, but will not make a move because since her brother died and her parents kind of abandoned her, she's scared that people she cares about can devastate her by leaving, so she doesn't want to let people get that close in the first place. Still, she doesn't like Cassie, and so she totally flirts with Luke anyway. Then Mark, the poor sweethearted sap who plays her Prince Charming, asks her out, and she says yes, so they start dating, despite the fact that Ella (a) doesn't want to connect to anyone really, and (b) if she were going to connect to someone, would definitely want it to be Luke.
Meanwhile there are a bunch of other characters, including Robin Hood (sleazy pickup artist, but mostly portrayed as kind of funny and occasionally bizarrely wise), Snow White (played by Ella's friend Amy), Friar Tuck (Jesse, eventually winds up dating Amy), and Eyore (Anna, who exists so that the other characters can slut-shame her, even though, uh, SHE'S not the one ignoring the person she's dating to flirt with another person who's dating someone else, and also Robin Hood appears in a MUCH more positive light, and I'm SO SURE it's just a coincidence that a guy interested in sex is fun and popular while a girl interested in sex is vapid and "slutty" and gets no respect from anyone, including Robin Hood, even when they're dating) (deep breath).
I feel like the authors are inconsistent on Cassie's character. Her characterization ranges from, "Cassie's ambitious and driven, but that doesn't make her a bad person," to, "Boy, that Cassie is a witch." Mostly, they avoid the easy trap of demonizing her automatically, and I appreciate that they let her make some very good and reasonable points about the way Luke is acting around Ella and how that makes Cassie feel. Of course, Luke's reaction is to feel kind of bad, but not stop. He's stringing Cassie along because she's a trophy and because she's what he thinks his family would pick out to go along with the perfect future they've arranged for him. By the end of the book, he's staying out all night with Ella and smooching her for four hours at a time, all without ever having broken up with Cassie. Ella takes absolutely zero issue with this on Cassie's behalf, being unhappy about it only insomuch as whyyyy is Luke still dating that girl I don't liiiiike? So now we're supposed to be rooting for a cheating guy and the complicit other woman? (Who isn't herself a cheater exactly because she and Mark break up shortly before this point, but whose treatment of him before that was far from stellar.)
As in Scrambled Eggs for Breakfast, the main boy and main girl seem to have a near-immediate sense that they belong together. However, in that other book, the two have no internal obstacles: they just get together, then spend the rest of the book resisting the attempts of the rest of the world to get in the way. In this book, the obstacles are mostly internal: Ella's sadness and fear of loss, Luke's discontent with the future his parents planned for him and fear of selling out. Which I could have dealt with if it weren't for Cassie and poor Mark. I just do not like, under virtually any circumstances, to be expected to sympathize with someone who is cheating on her/his partner. Especially in a situation like this, when just breaking up with said partner would be so easy and consequence-free. There are parts of this book where Cassie in particular is made to seem like the villain just for daring to be dating Luke when OBVIOUSLY Luke and Ella were made for each other. But, um, dating someone is a collaboration, and every glare being thrown at Cassie should engender an equal glare at Luke - maybe even a bigger one, because Cassie doesn't know that their relationship is standing in the way of TWU WUV and Luke does.
So, in review (of my review! ha ha!), love the setting, can't stand the characters. The final factor in my deciding to round up my score is Luke's middle name, because it is great and I never guessed.(less)
Fun book. I love the play on words with the title. Our protagonist used to go to nightclubs in her native London, but when she is caught with a fake I...moreFun book. I love the play on words with the title. Our protagonist used to go to nightclubs in her native London, but when she is caught with a fake ID, she's shipped out to relatives in the Lake District . . . who own and run a country club. "Clubbing," ha ha. I can't help but think the authors missed an opportunity, though: since there's a murder mystery here, they could have made the cause of death "blunt trauma" for triple points.(less)
A 3.5, really. I admire what the author is doing in creating an eminently readable book for teens with a strong anti-bullying message. I think I was a...moreA 3.5, really. I admire what the author is doing in creating an eminently readable book for teens with a strong anti-bullying message. I think I was a little confused because I expected this to be a teen romance - I usually hear of Susane Colasanti as a readalike author for Sarah Dessen - but it's really an anti-bullying book with a little side of romance. Still, very readable and realistic (and, at times, disturbingly sad and upsetting), and I appreciate the happy, hopeful ending. It's nice that the author includes resources for bullied teens at the back of the book, too.
I especially appreciate that the main character stands up to her neglectful and hugely negative mother from the beginning. She's always saying the things I want to hear her say, like, "You're my mother! You're supposed to take care of me! How can you think this is okay?" It unnerves me, though, how much the mother reminds me of a person I used to know. These people really are out there, being hideously awful parents and people in general and apparently having no idea that they're doing it.(less)
Meh. I almost didn't finish this. I liked most of the characters and writing okay, and I didn't begrudge protagonists Cal and Eliot their unrealistic...moreMeh. I almost didn't finish this. I liked most of the characters and writing okay, and I didn't begrudge protagonists Cal and Eliot their unrealistic instalove too much because it's sort of the point of the story, but I just felt like the internal monologues were too much. Like the writers were trying too hard and going too far.
For example, there's a scene where the two protags are driving, and Cal mentally describes the silence they're in as a comfortable one using some kind of color, like "a soft rosy silence" or something, and then she says something and Eliot gets uncomfortable and the silence shifts to "a cold blue silence" or something else - I'm too lazy to look it up. Anyway, I thought it was kind of a cool device the first time, but as it goes on and she repaints their various silences about four different colors in that chapter alone, I start to think, "Unless Cal actually has synesthesia, which I have no reason to believe she does, this is too much."
Anyway, though, there's some humor I appreciate. The book's okay. It's just that when the characters stop and get lost in their own heads, the prose - to take a page out of Cal's book of description - becomes a bit purple.(less)
Honestly, I was pretty meh on this one. I like the concept, and some of the humor and emotional content is good, but I wasn't that into it. I think it...moreHonestly, I was pretty meh on this one. I like the concept, and some of the humor and emotional content is good, but I wasn't that into it. I think it's partly because there are a couple of things I'm not that big a fan of: the girl who really doesn't see the guy romantically AT ALL but he keeps on trying and trying and eventually she just wakes up and decides that actually she's in love with him, and the old lady who smokes and says intentionally inflammatory things. (I actually really like the "spunky grandma" trope sometimes, but I hate smoking and I don't like when people are just prickly and mean to other people, no matter what age they are.)
I listened to so little of this - the prologue and part of the first chapter - that I feel bad, but I was just really bored. And I found the way the a...moreI listened to so little of this - the prologue and part of the first chapter - that I feel bad, but I was just really bored. And I found the way the author worked in facts to be a little clumsy. So, on to the next book.(less)
**spoiler alert** So funny! Really, really funny! And smart, and with emotional depth. This is an awesome book. I love that Guy and his friend Anoop (...more**spoiler alert** So funny! Really, really funny! And smart, and with emotional depth. This is an awesome book. I love that Guy and his friend Anoop (with a P? Really? The whole audiobook I was totally hearing "Anoob") are quirky, realistic teenaged guys who like dumb/gross humor without becoming disgusting or babyish and who are a little hormone-crazed without becoming freaking predators, like all the guys in The Chocolate War seemed like to me. Totally identify-with-able characters. Plus, Guy's various reactions to his dad's having died, and to meeting his own half-brother, and so on, give the book real emotional depth. And did I mention that it's funny? Because it's hilarious.
(I especially love the way Guy and Anoop play off one another. I do wish Guy hadn't been so easily convinced to suspect Anoop of stealing his treasure - haha, as Guy points out, this book does talk about treasure a lot! - but they're great friends, and really fun to read about.)
Audiobooks have some weird quirks. One thing I notice is that you can't always tell when a character is speaking aloud versus when you're getting musings or the narrative voice. Sometimes you think something is just being said in the narrative voice, and then someone else responds and you realize it was spoken aloud. There are also a couple of places in this book where a person says something and then Guy (in his capacity of first-person narrator) tells us how they said it, so the poor CD reader (who did a fantastic job) has to, for example, say something in an English accent and then say, "I said it with an English accent."
Anyway, really fun. And bonus, great cover featuring a teen who I'd say actually looks like Guy. Win!(less)
Fun book, and I like the illustrations a lot. I especially like the side characters - the cat, the velvet spies, and the psycho carnage beasts. Hilari...moreFun book, and I like the illustrations a lot. I especially like the side characters - the cat, the velvet spies, and the psycho carnage beasts. Hilarious!(less)
Beautifully written. I think my esteem for this book benefitted from the fact that I read it while suffering from a cold, just in that having a stuffy...moreBeautifully written. I think my esteem for this book benefitted from the fact that I read it while suffering from a cold, just in that having a stuffy head makes me slow down and pay close attention when reading, which helps me really enjoy good writing.
I like how the story is set in places that are like, but not quite, real-world locations. It even includes similarly whimsical takes on some historical figures - all hail poet Whit Waltman!
(It is a little embarrassing to me just how long it took me to realize that the locations were based on real-world places, though. Geography is not really a thing that I do.)(less)
A 3.5, really. I love Jane Austen's writing, as always. But Fanny Price is the saddest sack of all the sad sacks that have ever been. And if you ask m...moreA 3.5, really. I love Jane Austen's writing, as always. But Fanny Price is the saddest sack of all the sad sacks that have ever been. And if you ask me, Edmund's no real catch, either.
Seriously, I felt like Jane Austen wrote these characters because she lost a bet or something.
Here is how this book goes:
MRS. NORRIS (status: widowed) - La, we shall adopt our poor sister's oldest daughter! It will be so smashingly nice of us!
SIR THOMAS (married to Mrs. Norris' other, non-poor sister; status: rich) - Yes, we shall.
MRS. NORRIS - We? Hahaha, obviously I meant you.
FANNY (status: newly adopted) - I am scared of everything and do nothing but cry! This is the most sympathetic I'm going to be in the whole book!
EDMUND (status: younger son of Sir Thomas) - Hey, cheer up, you.
MRS. NORRIS - No, don't, for you are worthless and a burden. And you'd better be grateful for all the kind treatment you're getting!
FANNY - Oh, Edmund, I love you forever. But only silently, in my suffering, suffering heart.
EDMUND - Say! I think I am falling in love with Ms. Crawford!
FANNY - MS. CRAWFORD IS WAY MORE FUN THAN I AM TOTALLY IMPROPER. I will silently lament your being deceived in her nature, and definitely not just preferring someone who has a spine and isn't your cousin.
EDMUND - *obliiiiviouuuuus*
EVERYONE BUT FANNY (status: more fun than Fanny) - Let us frolic in the garden!
FANNY - Woe, I am too frail. I shall suffer in silence.
EVERYONE BUT FANNY AND EDMUND - Let us arrange and act in a little play inside Sir Thomas' house!
EDMUND - THIS IS UNACCEPTABLY IMPROPER. My sensibilities are swooning and panging with all manner of exciting horrid sensations!
FANNY - Yeah! Shame on you all!
MS. CRAWFORD (status: way more fun than Fanny) - Ooh, a play! I think I will be in it.
EDMUND - Me too me too ooh me too!
FANNY - Alas! Edmund is dragged down by the harmless fun deleterious effects of that most wretched pursuit, acting!
SIR THOMAS - What? Acting! I am ashamed of you all, except Fanny. Bad, bad friends and relations.
MR. CRAWFORD (status: brother of Mrs. Crawford) - Hey Fanny, girl, how you doin'?
FANNY - Pray, do not ask me! I flee to live with my poor family, whom I shall view with sadness and disgust.
SIR THOMAS - You sure you don't want to marry Mr. Crawford? He's rich and he seems nice, and after all, you are poor and stuff.
MRS. NORRIS - DISGRACEFULLY POOR, YOU DISGRACEFUL WRETCH!
FANNY - No! Although, ick, my family has SUCH a small parlor, and it is so NOISY here, and I bet Mr. Crawford's house has vast, quiet acres of parlor . . .
MR. CRAWFORD - Too late! I'm running off with one of Sir Thomas' daughters!
EVERYONE (status: scandalized) - Scandal!
SIR THOMAS - Hunh, guess you were right not to marry him, Fanny.
EDMUND - Woe, woe, woe is me, for I cannot marry Ms. Crawford when she only imperfectly condemns the behavior of her brother, using language that is not to suit me! Oh, unhappy day. Although . . . hey, Fanny, girl, how you doin'?
FANNY (status: triumphant) - Oh, most agreeably, dear Edmund . . .
*Marriage and happy ending ensues*
Yeeeeah . . . I'm pretty sure Lizzie Bennett would be a-okay with acting in a play in her own or a dear friend's home. And Marianne Dashwood would straight-up kick Fanny in the face.
I will say, however, that I appreciate how Fanny is not too good to feel jealous or envious. She feels bad about it, of course, and she has no self-esteem at all (though she hasn't been much encouraged to have any), but she does feel happy when Ms. Crawford blunders and sad when Edmund is happy with said Ms. Crawford. And Austen does go to almost comical lengths to have their relationship blossom right in Fanny's face - my favorite is when both of them come to her to get help rehearsing a love scene they have together, and then since they're both there, they decide to rehearse it together right in front of her. Burn.
It is interesting the way Austen (and, presumably, her contemporaries) view some elements of romantic feeling. For example, Edmund really doesn't become romantically interested in Fanny AT ALL until, like, the last chapter, after it becomes clear that he and rs. Crawford ain't never gonna happen. He's very nice to Fanny right along, but he's genuinely happy for her - unaffected by any level of jealousy - when he thinks she will marry Mr. Crawford. I don't think this would fly in a modern romantic story.
Anyway, as I said, wonderful Austen writing, but some of the characters - yeesh.(less)