Why I Read It: Let me preface this by saying that I did not read this book completely willingly. I have a fourth year English class called Theory and...moreWhy I Read It: Let me preface this by saying that I did not read this book completely willingly. I have a fourth year English class called Theory and Criticism and my teacher wanted us to take theory and criticism and apply it to popular fiction, so at the beginning of last semester she gave the class a list of 3-4 best seller lists and the class voted on a book. This particular book was on a UK best seller list, which is unfortunate because 98% of my class is female. Now, I do also want to say that I have *nothing* against chick-lit. It's not MY cup of tea, but I don't judge people that read it, nor do I think it's all trashy. However, the synopsis of this book still just did not sound appealing to me. It also doesn't help that this is a celebrity-penned ghost-written novel, which I'm sorry, are really ever any good. Anyway, all this to say, I was not expecting to like this book and I was not at all surprised when I didn't.
Oh, and spoilers ahoy by the way.
All right, let's get the really obvious out of the way: this is not a well written book. Actually, I would go so far as to argue that this is potentially the WORST written novel I've ever read. An example of this is how people's physical appearance is described: instead of describing physical features, people are at times described by being compared to celebrities. For example, Jay, Sapphire's boy-toy/boyfriend and central character, is described as looking like an actor from the tv show Prison Break, which is puzzling, because it's later revealed that Jay is mulatto and the aforementioned actor is NOT. This is just one example, but there are many other instances of lazy writing.
The novel has a plethora of other problems. As you can probably tell from the summary, this is a book that pitches itself as feminist (the "I don't need a man!" attitude and "I don't believe in marriage!" attitude of Sapphire is the most predominant examples of this) but in the end, this book is not feminist in so many ways. (view spoiler)[For one, the novel still ends in Sapphire getting married, when prior to that, her life goes to shit when she temporarily breaks up with Jay. Yay for female empowerment! (hide spoiler)] Not to mention that only the women who are beautiful (like Sapphire) are happy and successful, whereas people like Sapphire's friend Sam, who's described as overweight and average-looking, is always living a life unfulfilled (view spoiler)[(until she loses a bunch of weight; then she's drop-dead gorgeous and gets a man who is rich and loves her, obviously -- she also becomes a huge bitch.) (hide spoiler)]
There was also an instance in the book that REALLY bothered me. Sapphire runs a business where she organizes hen weekends (basically they're weekend-long bachelorette parties) and in the novel, she organizes one such hen weekend for a C-list soap-opera celebrity who is in a ton of magazines, so Sapphire wants to use her to promote business. However, said celebrity (who's name is Georgia) is upset when Sapphire's male stripper calls in sick. Because Sapphire is a dumbass, she calls her boyfriend Jay to come do the strip-tease instead! Brilliant. However, the ladies get out of control and literally try to RAPE Jay (Georgia tries to give him a blow-job clearly against his will, which qualifies as attempted rape to me). The novel alarmingly skims over this event. Yes, Jay is upset, but when Sapphire later faces him about it he says that the incident reminded him of when he was picked on in school for being half-black. WHY the novel wanted to defer this event to something else completely baffles me, and in the end is inconsiderate to BOTH issues (attempted rape and racism). Whenever the novel has a chance to be some kind of commentary on anything, it always defers the subject and I couldn't understand WHY. Also, there's a point later on in the novel when someone tries to rape Sapphire and it is a HUGE deal (for good reason -- it's frikken rape!), so why is it less of a big deal when it's a man who's almost raped?
During our discussion of his book in class, I got into a bit of a tiff with someone because she thought I was being too harsh on the book. "But this isn't a book you're supposed to think too hard about!! It's just supposed to be fun and that doesn't make it a bad book!!" To which I replied that, no, just because a book is light-hearted and fluffy does not make it bad. BUT, this book was riddled with so many problems that I couldn't enjoy it. The writing was terrible, and there were so many problems on an ideological level that this book made me ANGRY. And not because I was thinking about it too much; the problems were so glaring and in my face that I couldn't have ignored them even if I tried.
Final Verdict: Unsurprisingly, this was NOT the book for me. The writing was terrible and the book was riddled with so many problems besides: it poses as a feminist text when in many ways it's the opposite, whenever it touches on ANY kinds of issues (racism and rape, for example) the novel almost always defers them or doesn't really touch upon it in a satisfying way. I got some slack from my classmates (though I do want to point out that many others agreed with me) that I took the novel too seriously and that I should've just enjoyed the ride; I would've if I could've, but there's a difference between "light, fluffy and fun" to outright BAD and this novel definitely fell in the latter category.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Why I Read It: I'm not sure actually. I've always been kind of curious about DiCamillo's work, especially after her novel The Tales of Despereaux exploded in popularity a few years ago. I came across this particular title when I was browsing through the Kids/Teen section of the Kobo store and found for really cheap, something like $2.00. So I bought it. When I went on my trip at the end of December I didn't want to lug books around with me so I brought just my e-reader and decided to read this first.
After reading this book I can totally see why DiCamillo is such a celebrated middle grade author. This is such a little gem of a book. The book itself was really short and straightforward, so I think my review is going to be very similar.
I think my favorite part of the book was how it never talks down on its readers, despite the fact that it's clearly aimed for a younger demographic. This is mostly seen in Opal's coming to learn about her mother -- who she was, what she was like and why she left Opal and her father. It's said flat-out that Opal's mother was a bit of a drinker and that it was a point of contention between her and her husband. I appreciated so much that DiCamillo didn't feel the need to attempt to hide any ugly truths about Opal's mother. She was also never an idealized or perfect woman -- she was obviously a good person, but she was also flawed (and not just because of the drinking.) I felt this diverted from the typical Absent Mother figure that you find in most middle grade novels, which usually has the mother die in some kind of tragic circumstances. In that situation, the mother is usually a seemingly perfect being who was separated from their family for reasons they couldn't control -- that's definitely not the case in this story.
The development of Opal dealing with her introverted father was also really touching. I love how Winn-Dixie tied into it all.. how he gave Opal the courage to ask her father about her mother in the first place, and how Winn-Dixie helped her father loosen up and come out of his turtle shell (as Opal describes it). There was a scene at the end of the book between Opal and the Preacher (his job and what Opal refers to him as) that was especially touching and made me tear up quite a bit.
Just as lovable are all the supporting characters. Despite the short length of the book, the secondary characters felt well-developed and were largely very likable. Even Amanda Wilkinson who comes off as quite the snob at the beginning of the novel turned out to be quite likable. It was nice that her and Opal weren't BFFs by the end of the novel either though -- things just don't work like that in real life. But still, watching them go from less-than-friends to almost-friends was sweet. And of course, I loved the librarian Mrs. Dump and the elder Ms. Franny Block. I also liked the sensitivity that was taken into account for Otis's character. I felt so bad for the poor guy.
Final Judgment: This was a very cute, sweet and touching novel. I loved how the Absent Mother was dealt with (which was not how it's typically dealt with in MG novels) and how DiCamillo never talks down to her readers. I also loved watching Opal's relationship with her father grow and watching how they both learn to grieve for the absence of a wife and mother. The cast of supporting characters was also really done and they were all well developed despite the short length of the novel. This is seriously worth checking out and I can see this being a classic in children's literature. I definitely want to check out the rest of DiCamillo's MG work.(less)
Why I read this: [info]calico_reaction's Alphabet Soup book club
So, as usual, when this book was chosen as September's pick for [info]calico_reaction's Alphabet Soup book club, I had never heard of it. However, I was completely and utterly sold on the premise: gene-altering to make it possible for people to never need sleep? THAT IS SO COOL. I've never been a huge sleeper (though that seems to be changing as I get older.. guh) but I've still always wished I never needed sleep. Think of all the books I could read stuff I could do!!
So, I went into this book with a fair bit of excitement. I also really loved Nancy Kress's Author's Note/Beforeword at the beginning of the book in which she explains how she came up with the premise.
Overall, it was a good experience, but I had some issues. Mostly to do with length.
All right SO, the first half of this book was excellent. I really enjoyed the first part of the book, where we watch Leisha grow up as a Sleepless child and slowly watch as she begins to realize just what that means and how that affects how people see her and how that affects how they treat her. We get to watch her find other friends, other people who are also Sleepless, as she feels (understandably) isolated.
It then shifts to Leisha's adult life. She's come to fully realize that being a Sleepless means people will, whether they realize it or not, fear her, be jealous of her, and thus, feel anger towards her and the other Sleepless in the United States. I loved how Kress handled the segregation that ensued from people being able to not need sleep. She also added in the fact that people who are Sleepless are inherently more inclined and apt at learning (making them super smart) and also be incredibly less susceptible to aging. I mean, to be compeltely honest, I would feel pretty bitter myself if I were a Sleeper in a world that had Sleepless. Maybe I wouldn't be prejudiced against them, but I would certainly wish to possess the traits they have.
I feel it's also worth making note of Leisha's character, because I felt a little torn about her. On the one hand, I loved her; she's an incredibly compassionate person, and it's really admirable that she refuses to take sides in the Sleeper/Sleepless debate, despite being a Sleepless herself and being subjected to prejudicial treatment because of this (which is something she also never chose.) She refuses to see Sleepers as the enemy and will help them just as readily as she would help the Sleepless. Now, while that's all very noble and stuff, it was also frustrating because she really did come off as naive, or just plain delusional sometimes. She would constantly defend Sleepers who were being very discriminant against Sleepless, and while I realize that not ALL Sleepers were hate-mongerers, I just sometimes wished she acknowledged those who DID more.
I *really* loved the end of this first book, when Leisha and Alice rescue Stella Bevington from her abusive home. It really drove home the whole theme of "beggars" and completely changed Leisha's view on things. The whole metaphor of the "beggars in Spain" was really awesome actually, and I loved it. I especially loved when Tony brought it up, because I remember writing down in my notes that I was confused about Leisha's reasoning: she doesn't mind helping the Sleepers because she feels like she needs to contribute to society in order to fulfill her moral obligations, as stated by her belief in the political system inplemented by that Yagai guy. However, the whole system relies on trade, and I just couldn't see Sleepers being able to trade (fairly) with the Sleepless, so in turn, I couldn't see how Leisha thought she was going to negotiate with the Sleepers. (Of course, all these notions are sort of turned on their heads at the beginning of book one.)
I think it's *also* worth mentioning that Beggars in Spain was originally written as a novella (and won the Hugo I believe) and that that novella constituted the first part of this book. It was easily my favorite part of the book, and I can see why it won the Hugo -- it's really well done.
The whole court case in the second part of the book also really engaged me as well though. Especially the end, when it's revealed that the doctor has been lying the whole time, and it's discovered that that asshole at the scooter place planned everything -- that was all a bit of an OMG moment for me.
One more thing I want to mention about the first half of the book (and this part actually applies to the book as a whole, because it's present throughout) is the relationship between Leisha and her twin sister Alice. The two are fraternal twins, so Alice was never subjected to the gene-altering that Leisha was, making her a Sleeper. This made things... strainged between the two sisters (to say the least.) At the beginning of the book, I thought Alice was a real bitch, but I understood WHY she was a bitch. As the novel progressed though, so too did the relationship between these two sisters change and evolve. It was all so complicated and messy, and ultimately, it ended well, which made me happy. I really wanted to see these two reconcile, and for the most part, I think they did.
So, the first two parts of the book (which constitutes about half the novel) was all fine and dandy. It had a lot going for it: a mostly likable protanist, some interesting philosophy, some fairly complicated ethics and ethical questions, and a court case that had enough intrigue to keep me glued to my e-reader.
The third and fourth parts of the novel is where things really started to sloooww down for me.
Don't get me wrong; there's quite a bit to like about these next two sections as well, but I find they were dragged out a little too much, and I found myself wishing that the book would just END ALREADY.
I liked some of the issues brought up in the second half; the whole idea of there being another tier of Sleepless who are even more powerful (mentally) than the first batch of Sleepless was interesting, though very, very predictable. I found it quite obvious from the get-go that the Sleepless were going to start discriminating against the Super-Sleepers, are least start trying to exert some kind of control over them, which is exactly what happened. I predicted that these Super-Sleepers would notice and resent that and would in turn rebel and cause a shit-storm of epic proportions, which is exactly what happened. However, I liked Miranda's character, which certainly helped matters.
Another qualm I had was with the villain of (most) of the novel, Jennifer Sharifi. She definitely wasn't one-dimensional, but she was just... too evil I guess? I get that she was just trying to keep her people safe, but I don't know. She goes to the extremes sometimes, and by the end, she went a little over-board. I guess that was the point though; we're supposed to watch her spiral out of control, from having a fairly reasonable idea and just taking it way too far.
Ultimately though, this second half really, REALLY suffered from the length. I can't stress that enough. It's very likely just a personal thing, but I loved the first half of this book so much that I really was sad to see it lose steam in its second half. There were some interesting bits, but it just felt too weighed down by the length.
Final Verdict: This is a bit of a tough call. I *really* liked the first half of this book. It's really engaging (especially the first part of the book, though the second part was pretty good too, I thought) and the awesome premise pulled me right in. Kress paints a very realistic picture of how things would probably turn out if people could be born as Sleepless. Leisha is a bit naive and on the verge of being delusional, but she's such a nice and compassionate character that I couldn't help but like her anyway. Her strained relationship with her sister was also really well done, and I very much enjoyed reading about that and watching it change and grow. Where the book *really* faltered for me was in its second half. I'm not sure why, but it just felt LONG, despite introducing a great new character (Miranda) and presenting different philosophical and ethic ideas concerning the Sleepless. However, I found many of the events in the second half of the novel to be fairly predictable, and for the most parts, things played out just as I predicted they would, which made the plot feel even longer than it really was. So yeah, it wasn't ALL bad, but compared to the AWESOME beginning, I felt a bit let down and disappointed. I would still whole-heartedly recommend reading this though, but perhaps just the novella form (which was only the first part [out of four] from this novel), as it was definitely my absolute favorite chunk of the story. (less)
**spoiler alert** I read this title for calico_reaction's September Dare. I had never heard of Barzak before, but I was immediately sucked in by the c...more**spoiler alert** I read this title for calico_reaction's September Dare. I had never heard of Barzak before, but I was immediately sucked in by the cover and the premise of the novel.
I have a hard time articulating how I feel about this novel. It's strange, and while I mostly mean that in a good way, it was sometimes a little discomfiting how this book breaks away from common conventions and presents something really slow-moving, but equally eerie. Was it a good book though? Most definitely. (Spoilers behind the cut!)
So this book is about poor Adam, a teenager with a dysfunctional family (and not the lighthearted, funny kind of dysfunctional, but the really depressing kind), a recently-crippled mother, and a ghost of a dead friend/acquaintance (they never became very close, but there was a lot of potential that it might have) named Jamie following him around. As Adam clings to Jamie, he slowly spirals out of control.
One of the first things that struck me about Adam was his sexual orientation and the ambiguity surrounding it. Adam describes his budding friendship with Jamie (before its nipped in the bud on account of Jamie getting murdered) and there was some definite chemistry between the two. After Jamie's death however, Adam meets a girl named Gracie and the two of them have a stab at romance. Also, a lot of the interactions between Adam and ghost-Jamie are very physically intimate. Of course, it's completely plausible that Adam is bisexual and is perfectly comfortable in his bi-sexuality, so his intimacies with both characters, despite being the opposite sex, was comfortable and never something he felt the need to question or self-reflect upon. Either way, neither romance ever felt weird or out of place; they worked, and they worked well, so kudos to Barzak for that.
As far as characters go, the whole cast is fairly well developed. Adam is of course the focus, being the first-person narrator, and he's your not-completely typical angsty teenager. While I was reading, I remember thinking a few times that Adam reminded me of Holden Caufield from The Catcher in the Rye; they both have a lot of angst and a lot of self-reflectiveness. I'd say that Adam is a little more on the apathetic side though, while Holden is a lot more pessimistic. Also, Adam has a lot more reason to be angst-y and depressed than Holden Caufield ever did. The secondary characters were well-drawn too: Gracie, from her upper-middle class family whose got her own angst and baggage; Jamie as a ghost, who in some poignant scenes you can really feel just how desperately he doesn't want to move on, and come back to life somehow; and Adam's family, who are in equal parts sympathetic (his mom, and one scene in particular with his father) and infuriating (his druggy brother and macho father). Barzak infuses a lot of life into these characters; even poor Jamie, who's ironically dead the entire time.
Now for the plot; it's hard to describe my feelings towards the plot. At times, it was riveting and haunting and mesmerizing and all kinds of other -ings, but other times it felt kind.. slow. Adam does a lot of running away and hiding from people, and while these scenes are important (they really are), I still found them to be kind of dull sometimes. Once in awhile something interesting would happen to spice things up, like Adam burning down the town ghost's house, or Adam having an encounter with some of the supernatural that come around every so often, but other than that, I was a little bored. The pay off with the ending is really great though. Barzak presents a pretty positive ending, though I wouldn't go so far as to say it's happy. It's definitely hopeful though, and watching Adam go from being at his lowest to finally going home to try again and for things to look that optimistic made me feel good inside. It was very gratifying.
There's quite a bit of supernatural stuff going on in the book too, aside from Jamie talking to/haunting Adam and Gracie. Jamie brings Adam to some place where the dead seem to inhabit, though only certain people seem able to see them, and there's one part where Adam and Gracie accidentally stumble into the place as well. The beings in this dimension are pretty chilling. There's also some supernatural "rules" of sorts that we get to see in play every once in awhile, such as Jamie taking Adam's words in order to stay alive, or Jamie burning off his memories from when he was alive in order to stay warm (he complains of being constantly cold); it's because of this burning/purging of his memories that Jamie is never able to reveal the identity of his murderer, which was a bit of a shame, but never really bothered me. Anyway, these supernatural rules/world are never explained, but this never bothered me; the "rules" were always consistent and we get to see enough of it that it never needs to be explained -- it just IS, and Barzak gives us enough that I never felt confused as to the workings of this inner world. Besides, it's the supernatural, and thus shouldn't really be explained to begin with.
I can't end this review without commenting on Barzak's writing, because guys? IT'S REALLY GOOD. It's that special kind of writing that's lyrical without going purple, angst-y without being whiny, and just a perfect amount of whimsy without being pretentious. The writing is easily one of my favorite things about this book and what kept me mostly hooked throughout the novel (even those less than riveting scenes mentioned above).
Final Verdict: This is a really strong novel that has some of the most beautiful writing I've come across in a long time and interesting plot that takes quite a different direction than I thought it would (but this is definitely not a bad thing.) While I found the plot to trod a little bit at certain points, the well-drawn characters and stellar writing more than made up for it. Also, these scenes ARE important to the novel as a whole, which also makes it easier to forgive. I also really like how Barzak handled the supernatural elements of the novel as well as the romance ones. Jamie and Adam's romance is very unconventional, but it was good. I think fans of The Lovely Bones might like this, though be aware that these stories are VERY different. Anyway, overall? A definite recommend from me, and I'll definitely be checking out Barzak's only other novel, The Love We Share Without Knowing (which also has an amazing premise, and I trust Barzak to fulfill this potential.) (less)
Why I Read It: Kobo was having a Boxing Day sale so I browsed what titles they were discounting and came across this for $1.99 CAN. Since its release in 2009, I've heard a lot of good things about this series (especially this first installment), so I picked it up and read a big chunk before my e-reader went and died on me.
I haven't read a whole lot of Southern Gothic fiction. Actually, I haven't read a lot of Gothic fiction period (save for Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights). But I like the IDEA of the Southern Gothic. It sounds eerie and atmospheric and AWESOME. However, I know for certain that I am NOT a fan of Paranormal Romance. I try reading it and I've tried to shake this bias, but the truth of the matter is, it's rarely my cup of tea. And that's okay!!! I'm not saying PNR is bad, it just doesn't usually work for me. So it was with equal measures of excitement and trepidation that I started this novel.
Unfortunately, I was underwhelmed.
One of my problems was with the voice of the narrator, Ethan Wate. At first, I appreciated that the novel was doing something a little different with the PNR by making it from a male perspective instead of a female one. However, when you get right down to it, this still reads like every other PNR YA out on the market right now: x person meets y person and is instantly attracted to them. In this case, it's just the boy who meets and falls for the girl instantly. Yeah, it takes them forever to admit that they're dating and they don't profess their love for each other until the very end of the book, but the point still stands that Ethan was attracted to Lena from the get-go. So in the end, it's really not that different. At all. At least Ethan had some sort of reasoning for being instantly attracted to Lena -- to the fact that's different and not from Gatlin and therefore doesn't have the small-town prejudices that Ethan believes almost all of his peers possess -- but it still all felt too reminiscent of instal-luv (or in this case, insta-attraction I guess. Whatever.)
So yeah, about Ethan's voice as a first-person narrator; it didn't really gel with me. He didn't really come off as a BOY to me. He read more like some kind of wish-fulfillment, what girls WISH boys were like inside their minds. I'm not saying that boys aren't allowed to be sensitive and caring, but Ethan's voice just didn't feel genuine to me. I honestly think Ethan and Lena could have gender-swapped and it wouldn't have changed the story in any real significant way.
Also, I was disappointed at the lack of atmosphere. I know the novel isn't marketed as horror, but it IS marketed as a mix between fantasy/paranormal and Southern Gothic, so I wanted it to be creepy!! Eerie!! Spooky!! Something. But it never really was. Yeah, there was the mystery surrounding Ravenwood Manor, but that mystery was quickly solved as Ethan is allowed entrance there fairly early on and we get to meet in the infamous Mac Ravenwood. Actually, the world-building in general all felt kind of off. I understand that this is the first in a series, but when you're clocking in at almost 600 pages, you really do have a lot of room to flesh out your world. I seriously didn't understand the world of the Casters very well though. They're kind of witches/warlocks, and there are different categories of Casters (like, for example, Sirens who are able to persuade people to do almost anything) but I never really understood Lena's category, which was called a Natural. Does that mean she's capable of doing almost anything? Or do they mean the weather (she inadvertently messes with the weather quite a bit throughout the course of the story)? or what? Also, there are little things, like Casters being separated from their parents at birth in case they go Dark, so the parents don't have to go through the pain of watching their child become evil. But one of Lena's cousins (Ryan I think her name was...) ISN'T separated from her parents and when Ethan asks why that's the case, Lena just shrugs and says she's a special case. That's it? Then why even have that bit in your world-building? Also, we find out that there are OTHER beings who are paranormal besides Casters, such as Ravenwood. But I never did figure out just WHAT he is. All we ever find out is that he sustains himself on people's dreams like a vampire sustains itself on people's blood (and oh yeah, vampires exist in this world apparently). Okayyy...?
Speaking of the whole Potentially Turning Evil Thing (when Casters turn 18 they either go Light, where they stay good people, or they go Dark, which means they become Eviiillll), could you be any more cliche? I also had a hard time feeling worried about Lena going Dark because the people who ARE Dark (such as Lena's cousin Ridley) didn't feel very dangerous. All Ridley does and strut around, bearing a lot of skin, seducing dudes and cousin a bit of mayhem, but never anything extremely harmful or dangerous (except when she tries to get Ethan's dad to jump off a building -- now THAT'S dangerous and kind of freaky). And the reveal of the villain at the end of the novel who's also Dark? It felt so corny.
I was also incredibly peeved off at the depiction of a lot of the Gatlin citizens in this novel. Yeah, I get that it was set in a small town and that people from small-towns tend to be more prejudiced and small-minded and yadda yadda yadda, I didn't have a problem with that. I had a problem that all the girls at the school were all dumb and stupid and unlikable because they were all girls who cared too much about their make-up and are cheerleaders and are therefore superficial. I am so tired of girly-girls being depicted as bad guys. And this isn't even a personal thing -- I was a tomboy for the most part growing up and I still don't wear make-up to this day, but I still get incredibly irritated when girls are seen as vapid and stupid people because they like wearing make-up and are on a cheerleading squad. That's more of a pet-peeve than anything though.
And the pacing!! IT WAS SO SLOW. Seriously, we spend almost a quarter of the novel watching Ethan pine after Lena while she continues to rebuke him, then reluctantly starts to let him in her fold. Then we spend another huge chunk of the novel watching the two of them worry over Lena is going to go Dark while the people of Gatlin treat Lena like shit because she's "different". There's some Caster stuff here and there, but like I mentioned above, I found most it confusing and unsatisfying. So really, the whole thing felt pretty slow, though it DID pick up a BIT of steam once Lena tells Ethan about the Caster stuff.
I do have to say though that I really liked Link.
Final Judgment: I feel like this review has just been one long rant, so I want to stress that I did not HATE this book. I just really wanted to love it and I'm kind of bitter because of my disappointment. I did manage to read it until the very end though, so that's gotta mean something, right? At the end of the day though, would I recommend this book? Probably not... not unless you were a hardcore fan of YA paranormal romance. Am I going to read the rest of the series? Maayyybbeeee, though probably not. From reviews that I've read of the second novel in the series, Beautiful Darkness is even slower than this one, and I already found THIS book really slow. So, all in all, it just wasn't for me.(less)
**spoiler alert** This book has been all over the YA blogosphere since its 2009 release and it was also in the spotlight when it was challenged and ev...more**spoiler alert** This book has been all over the YA blogosphere since its 2009 release and it was also in the spotlight when it was challenged and eventually banned from the Republic, Missouri school district. I never picked it up because my TBR pile is mountainous, but when I was perusing the Kobo store the other day, it was on sale for $3.00, so I couldn't resist. I brought my Kobo with me to a lodge where I was staying one weekend for a family wedding because I didn't feel like packing 2-3 books and had time to read it all in two sittings.
I think one of the most striking things about this book is how misleading the title is in relation to the content between the covers. At first glance, this book looks like a light beach read, rife with scenes from the beach, big parties and boys, boys, boys (twenty of them, apparently). But this really isn't that kind of book at all; it's a book about grief, friendships, and secrets. Despite its heavy themes, this is more of a quiet book, and one that is most definitely character driven.
One of the reasons this book caused such a ruckus in Missouri was because of the sexual content. The main character, Anna, is put on a quest by her friend Frankie to lose her virginity while visiting her summer home in California for a month. It's also Frankie's mission during this time to woo twenty boys (which is where the title derives from, obviously). This is all a means for Frankie to deal with the death of her brother though; Ockler's text/Anna's narration never condones Frankie's behaviour, but it never judges it either. Anywho, I want to get back to how the sex was handled in this book, because Anna *does* lose her virginity. Anna speaks of her feelings towards sex very frankly, and she doesn't romanticize them. Her virginity *is* important to her, and she doesn't want to give it away to just anybody who comes along, but it's not something she treats like the end-all be-all of her existence either. (view spoiler)[When she does give it up, she doesn't ignore that it happened, but it's not earth-shattering either, which I think is good -- her and Frankie's story is the focus of this novel, and Ockler never loses that focus.
The way Ockler wrote her characters was also well-done. Frankie is a little frustrating at the beginning of the novel; she's a shallow and seemingly vapid girl who's way too interested in clothes and receiving male attention. However, it's also made clear from the get-go that Frankie wasn't like this before the death of her older brother Matt, so it's obvious that her new personality is a means to deal with her brother's death. I wish I could've had a better sense of what Frankie was like before Matt's untimely death, but really, there was no way to do this unless Anna were to describe it to us, or to have flashbacks, and I'm kind of glad Ockler didn't opt for either path.
Anna was definitely a likable character -- I felt for her when Matt died at the beginning of the novel. To be in love with someone for that long, and to finally have them, only to have them ripped away so shortly after really is very sad, and watching Anna deal with that grief privately even sadder. She never told Frankie about her and Matt's relationship for fear of upsetting Frankie, and a year later she *still* hasn't told her because she doesn't want to diminish Frankie's grief in any way, or entitle herself to be as upset as Frankie about it all. Her unwavering loyalty to Frankie is really admirable, despite the very obvious shift in Frankie's personality, and her dedication to helping Frankie in her time of need. I also really liked that she never stresses and moans over her crush on her Potential Boy (can't recall his name) -- I thought that she might have a lot of inner-torment over liking another boy, like she might be betraying Matt or something, but she doesn't. She tries to keep herself from being interested in Potential Boy, but not very hard, and when she realizes it can't be helped, she rolls with it without casting Matt completely aside. It was a perfect balance.
Frankie's parents also play a semi-important part in the story, in that the readers also get to see how they deal with grief over the death of their son. Unfortunately, this was one of the only threads that I found was kind of underdeveloped. They don't change too much over the course of the story, and the tension between Frankie and her parents is never really resolved, or given any kind of closure. It's a thread that was left dangling and I wish it could've been addressed further.
Final Verdict: Don't let the cover of this novel fool you; this is no easy-going beach reach. Rather, it's a character-driven story about two girls dealing with grief, and their road to recovery. The way Ockler deals with these two teen characters (from their reactions to the death that launches the novel, to the sex) was dealt with delicately, but still realistically. My only problem with the novel was I found the thread in the narrative dealing with Frankie and her relationship with her parents was left unresolved, which I thought was a shame. I would definitely recommend this to fans of contemporary YA, especially for people who are looking for a book with more heavy-duty themes without being "issue-books". (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Why I Read It: I've heard great things about this series around the YA blogosphere and it sounds kind of fun: Victorian England, mystery, teenaged spies!! So when I found it in the kobo store for $2.99, I couldn't resist picking it up. It sat unread in my kobo for awhile, but I had plenty of time to read while on vacation, so read it I did. :)
You know when you read a book and you feel completely and totally ambivalent about it and then you go to write a review and you really don't know what to write? That's how I feel right now. Now, I didn't DISLIKE the book, but this was definitely a case of Like Not Love, so I apologize in advance if this review is really vague.
I think I'll go over each aspect of the book individually: characters, plot, and writing and just make some general comments.
So, the characters. Mary Quinn is definitely a strong and able heroine, though she's not without her flaws. While she's incredibly intelligent, she's also a little too quick to action and takes matters into her own hands when they should left in more able ones. I mostly liked Mary. She's fairly well-rounded and she's never completely UNlikable. She has some moments with James when I kind of wanted to shake her, but they were few and far between. The romance between her and James was above par, and there were some moments that had me chuckling a bit (like when she punches him in the face -- that was funny), but the two drove me nuts sometimes. I'm also glad these two didn't have a Happily Ever After, but it wasn't a tragic affair either when they kind of had to end things. The one thing that was kind of disappointing about Mary (for me), was that I already knew a pretty important detail about her that's kept secret for a good chunk of the book so that when it was finally revealed, I was surprised that I wasn't supposed to know that already. But that's obviously by no fault of the author.
As for side-characters, we have the family that Mary is assigned to spy on. Angela, coming from a rich family and all, was obviously a brat and she treats Mary pretty horribly at some points (though there's a bit of a bigger reason behind WHY she's mean to her that you don't find out about until later), and while they don't dislike each other by the end of the novel, they're not BFFs either, which I kind of liked -- it felt more realistic. There are a few other supporting characters, but I don't want to say too much about them at the risk of giving too much away.
The plot of the story is I think where the Like (as opposed to Love) really comes in. It's a mystery, which is nice to see in YA because there's not a whole lot of it, but it's kind of slow moving. Mary has a bit of a hard time finding out clues in regards to assignment, and while she IS finding things throughout the course of the plot that later become important, they don't feel important at the time, thus they feel trivial, thus the plot itself feels kind of trivial and tedious. It WAS kind of neat how a lot of things came together in the end though -- I just wish it had been slightly more exciting getting to that point. Thankfully though, the mystery was not ridiculously easy to solve. Like I said, there are clues peppered here and there that get to cranks turning, but it never felt obvious to me.
One of my other niggles at the plot was the issue of suspending my disbelief, mostly in regards to The Academy. See, it's run by two principals who also run an all-girls school where they foster these women to be independent and educated. While all this is well and good, it's also just a vehicle and kind of cheap plot device to make it plausible to have a character like Mary Quinn: a girl who goes against societal expectations of what women are expected to do and be capable of. BUT, it does make for fun and light reading, and I'm all for girls wanting to be independent and to NOT want to be housewives or teachers or whatever.
As for the writing, it's nothing spectacular, but it gets the job done. It's very transparent and to the point which is perfectly fine for this kind of story, so overall, no complaints.
Final Judgment: I'm not exactly sure why, but this book was a Like Not Love reading affair. However, don't let that deter you from reading this, because it really is a fun and fairly breezy read. It's got a pretty cool heroine and she has a pretty cool love interest, and their romance was mostly cute and fun to watch even if I wanted to shake the two of them sometimes. The plot itself is a fun mystery that never felt super obvious to me, but I found it a little slow-moving in the beginning. However, all the small little details that felt trivial at first DO become important later on, so it wasn't all for nothing. While I found the idea of The Academy fun, it also felt kind of like a cheap plot device to make Mary more forward thinking than people from her time would typically be, but it didn't ruin my enjoyment of the book either. I recommend this to those are looking for a fun historical fiction YA.(less)
Why I Read It: In the YA sphere, Australian YA has been picking up a lot of steam. And somehow, despite not even being available in the US, this book in particular has been getting a lot of attention (despite being published two years earlier.) I know some awesome Australian bloggers were mailing out their copies to other bloggers and having them "tour" in a manner of speaking, which definitely got some word out. Either way, this book kept cropping up everywhere and getting very favourable reviews, so I was curious. While physical copies are not available in North America, you CAN buy an e-book version from Kobo, which I did and read while I was on vacation.
I don't understand copyright issues and all that jazz, but this book SERIOUSLY needs to be brought to North American shores. I think it was one of the best books I read in 2011.
The story follows Carly, an avid and passionate surfer. Having dropped out of university and kicked out of her home, she lives on her own and surfs by day and works as a cook by night. The reason Carly surfs so much isn't completely clear in the beginning (though you'll know what it is if you've read any reviews for the book) but it quickly becomes apparent that she's a rape victim, and it wasn't pretty. At all. The surfing is to help her forget, or at least a distraction.
I think one of the greatest strengths of this novel is in how subtle it is. Really, the narrative is pushed forward by Carly's daily activities which are essentially just surfing and working, surfing and working, etc. You'd think that would make for a slow and boring book but it really doesn't, because over the course of Carly's routine, she slowly starts to let people trickle into her life despite constantly trying to push people away. It's these interactions that slowly change Carly, and that's what makes this story so compelling -- watching Carly transform and start on the path of healing, even while she doesn't realize it's happening.
When reading reviews for this book I constantly came across reviewers praising the relationship between Carly and Ryan. Because of this, I thought this story was focused on them and their reluctant romantic relationship, but that's really not the case. Ryan is present from the beginning of the novel, but him and Carly don't actually get together until more than halfway through the novel. I really loved that because it allowed the reader to get to know Carly before she becomes embroiled in a relationship. But when their relationship does roll around? It's awesome. It's steamy, but heartfelt and touching at the same time. Also, I really felt for them, having to live far away from each other, having been in a long-distance relationship myself for the past two years.
I was really impressed with how well Eagar nailed the psychology of Carly's character. Writing about rape victims is something that's obviously not to be taken lightly, and it's apparent that Eagar did her research and wrote about it well. Reading about Carly's reaction right after IT happens was heartbreaking -- the shame, and how she felt she couldn't tell because it would justify all the things her father said about her -- which again, is an accurate psychological portrait. That's probably WHY it felt so heartbreaking; it wasn't contrived, and felt authentic, like it could (and it does) happen to other people.
And how can I not talk about the surfing? It's an integral part of the novel and I'm not sure if Eagar is a surfer herself, but regardless, she knows her stuff. There is surfing lingo abound here, and while I didn't understand half of it, I didn't care. When Carly's describing the waves I didn't understand half of that either, which made it hard to imagine scenes sometimes, but she talks about it with such passion and fervor that I felt myself being swept away anyway.
Final Judgment: This is a beautiful book and don't let the cover deceive you -- there's some very heavy stuff here that makes it hard to read about sometimes, but the pay off is really good. This is an amazing portrait of a young woman trying to get over something horrific, and watching Carly's healing process was touching and also very relieving -- by the end of the novel I felt like a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders, very much how I imagine Carly might've felt. There's a lot of surfing and surf lingo, but don't let that deter you. Even when I didn't understand half of it, I still loved reading about it as it was something that was important to Carly, and because I cared so much about Carly, I cared about her love of surfing. The romantic relationship in this novel is also really well done and felt as really and authentic as Carly, as we watch her and Ryan try to get over their own demons. I highly recommend this, though be aware that it's probably for the older spectrum of YA.(less)
As you can see, I read this novel for Dreams and Speculations' Women of Sci-Fi book club (click the button above for more information.) I've also been wanting to read Connie Willis since reviews of her latest novels, Black Out and All Clear, have started cropping up. It seems like a really interesting mix of sci-fi and historical fiction, and I like both, so I figured it would be my cup of tea. Overall, I liked this title as a whole, but I do have quite a few nitpicks as well. Of course, I liked it for a reason, so I'll go over the good stuff too. ;)
I guess I'll start with the stuff. Well, for one, time travel to do historical research is kind of awesome. This really appealed to me; I'm not an all out history geek, but it's my second favorite subject (next to English.) While the rules of the net seemed to be a way-out to avoid a lot of the troubles that come with time-travel, I still appreciated them because they kept the whole thing uncomplicated.
I also liked pretty much all the characters all right. Actually, no, not that's not true. I absolutely *hated* some characters, like Mr. Gilchrist. That man was so IRRITATING. And Mrs. Gadsbury (I think that was her name?); she was equally annoying, but at least her shenanigans provided some funny moments courtesy of Mr. Dunworthy. Aside from those two though, I liked everyone okay. Mr. Dunworthy, while a worry wart, was really just a concerned old fellow, and I found his concern for Kivrin touching. Kivrin wasn't anything spectacular, but I liked how normal she was; she's just a girl who wants to see the Medieval ages. I think my two favorites were Colin and Mary. Colin was very charming, and he takes everything that happens to him in stride (such as having a shitty mother and having his great-aunt die. :( ) Mary was very in control, and level-headed, and I loved her down-to-earth attitude.
I also loved how gritty this novel was. Well... maybe gritty is the wrong word for the present-day story line going on, but it definitely applies to the Medieval story line. It is not glamorous, and by the end of the novel, everything is VERY grim. The ending was probably one of my favorite parts of the novel as a whole, which sounds kind of bad, considering everyone is dying left and right, but it was all very visceral. I was surprised by how unaffected I was by it all though; I'm a huge wuss and I get very emotional very easily, but I didn't shed a tear during any of this. I still can't decide whether there was something missing, or if I had just become emotionally numb to the whole thing because it was one thing after another. No one was spared during the present-day story line either; a lot of people die, one of which was Mary (which broke my heart by the way!! Still didn't cry, but I was super sad for Colin, who took the whole thing so well, and for Dunworthy as well, who was unconscious when it happened.)
Now for the stuff I didn't like as much.
First off, the page count; I don't have problems with long books, but I think this one could have been snipped. I felt like there was A LOT of repetition. Kivrin ponders at the functionality of her translator when she lands in the Medieval ages ad nauseum; Dunworthy similarly worries for pages and pages about Kivrin, oftentimes repeating the same thoughts and worries for paragraphs and pages at a time. This one I was a little more willing to accept, because when one worries about something that badly, you do repeat to yourself. BUT, it still grated on my nerves sometimes.
Also, the way they withheld information drove me insane! Badri kept getting interrupted when trying to say what was wrong, and I was literally shaking my e-reader going WHAT THE HELL IS IT!?! I guess they had to keep it a secret though so that when Kivrin realized she was in the wrong year, it was all the more shocking. Still drove me insane though.
Those two things, along with the annoying-ness that was Gilchrist and Mrs. whats-her-face, were the only things that bothered me about this novel.
Final Verdict: Despite being repetitive in some regards, and having two of the most annoying characters I've ever read, this was an overall good reading experience. Time traveling historians is an awesome idea, and made for a good mix of historical fiction and science fiction (though I honestly think the science fiction is sort of lacking -- these people don't even have cell phones; I know this book was written in 1992, but Willis didn't foresee portable phones in the 2050-something?) There's a good cast of characters (despite the aforementioned annoying ones) and while there isn't a lot of action, there's still a lot of tension to keep you turning the pages. It was also very visceral, especially the ending, which packed a good (albeit sad) punch. I think overall I enjoyed Kivrin's plot-line more, but the Dunworthy's was still good too. I'll definitely check out Willis' other works. :)(less)
**spoiler alert** I read this novel for the Alphabet Challenge over at calico_reaction. Like the other challenges I've participated in this month, thi...more**spoiler alert** I read this novel for the Alphabet Challenge over at calico_reaction. Like the other challenges I've participated in this month, this is a title that I don't think I would've picked up on my own. I have a friend who is absolutely in love with Bujold, but she likes her sci-fi stuff more, so I've actually never even heard of this one. Overall, I would say my first experience with Bujold has been a positive one.
In his novel, Bujold presents the readers with the very broken character that is Cazaril. This guy isn't a knight in shining armor: he's been through hell and back. He has his weaknesses (physical and mental) and I appreciated him all the more for that. It made him a little three-dimensional for me, and he broke the mold of typical fantasy heroes that I've encountered in the past, which is the young lad who goes off on an adventure and is destined for greater things. Caz IS destined for greater things, but it's to support other people who need to fulfill their destiny. He's there to help them out, and he does so with a sincerity that was absolutely heartwarming.
Which brings me to the secondary characters: for the most part, I loved them. I thought Iselle was a great mix of being lady-like, but still feisty at the same time. Her best friend Betriz was a cute romantic interest for Caz. I like how, when he first started expressing interest in her, he realized it was a little more on the lustful side. They get to know each other for the better part of a year though, which I think is plenty of time for characters to fall in love. :) It wasn't the focus of the story, but it was a nice aside. Also, despite the age difference between the two, and despite him not being the best looking guy, he's so sweet and nice! I think I would fall for him too. Anyway, all this to say, I thought their romance was sweet, and I think Bujold put in just a right amount.
What really made this novel for me was how I ended up caring for the main cast. I mean, I was *upset* when Caz decided to sacrifice himself to black magic to save Iselle from a horrible wedding arrangement. While I was touched that he was so determined to keep Iselle from such a horrible fate, I was still think "NONONO what are you doing!?!" That wedding arrangement Iselle was almost forced into broke my heart as well. The villains were a little two-dimensional, but that is explained away with the curse on the family ruling Chalion. It's implied that they didn't start out being such horrible people, but the curse has tainted their soul and made them as such. I'm still undecided if this was a lazy method to explain away how flat they were, or if it was legit. Either way, it didn't bother me enough for it to impede my enjoyment of the novel.
The plot itself is very slow-moving. I can see this being a fault for many people, but I didn't mind. This fantasy is a lot more of a political-intrigue and no, a lot doesn't happen, but I found Bujold's prose carried the story along well, and there's usually something important that happens in each chapter so that things clip along, even if it isn't the fastest pace.
The religious aspect of the novel is also probably one of the only blatant fantastical elements of the story. There's references made to the gods from the beginning of the story, but they don't really come to light until further in the novel after Caz attempts to use black magic to save Iselle. Until this point, I didn't realize just how literal the gods were and how REAL they were. I thought they were just deities made up by the people for them to worship, but they're actual... I don't want to say "beings" because they're corporeal at any point, but let's just say that they're very present within the story. This was a neat and different approach to gods and I don't know if it's been done before. I also appreciated that Caz wasn't a religious person at the beginning of the novel, but his experiences and very close encounters with the gods obviously change his mind.
Final Verdict: This is a much slower-paced fantasy that relies more on political intrigue and the characters to carry it through. If you want adventure and travel a la Lord of the Rings, you're not going to find it here. I think Bujold's characters are greatly realized though, even if the villains fell a little flat (this is explained away with a plot point though.) Overall, I really enjoyed it. Caz and "his ladies" (as he likes to call them) completely won me over, and I found myself invested in what happened to them and felt an emotional reaction to their actions. This book has a sequel, Paladin of Soul, but it focuses more on a minor character who didn't really do anything for me, so I don't think I'll be checking out. Bujold is an author I want to read more of though, and I'll be doing for the Women of Science Fiction book club! :) (less)
As you can see with the little banner above (click if you want more details), I read this book for The Women of Fantasy bookclub. :) I've been wanting to read work by Cherie Priest for awhile; her steampunk novels (The Clockwork Century series) seems to be really popular on the internet. This is a little different, being more on the Horror and Paranormal side, but I was more than happy to sample Priest with her debut. And I have to say, for a debut, this novel is *awesome*. After reading this, I can't wait to read more Priest.
First off, Priest's writing: it's amazing. The first half of the novel, where the reader follows Eden through her childhood and young adolescence was really engaging. It was also really creepy. I'm not scared easily when it comes to watching horror movies, or reading scary stories; they usually bore me actually. But this book gave me chills. Especially the scene where Eden and her friend go to the bathroom at the summer camp.
The second half of the novel was considerably less chill-inducing, but I think that was because Eden was a lot more accustomed to the paranormal things happening around her, and that comes through her first-person narration. Eden still gets freaked out every once in awhile though, and those scenes still got to me. The scene at the abandoned mental hospital where Eden's mother died comes to mind. That was another scene that had me gripping my e-reader quite tightly. It is too bad that this second half loses that... creepy feeling that permeates the first half though. It's still good of course, just not as good. The tension remains pretty high throughout the course of the entire novel, and even when you think all the secrets have been revealed, there's another layer to be revealed, which keeps the pages turning.
I have to say that I really appreciated how Eden is a character who is actually afraid at times. For the most part, she's pretty fearless, but some things still get to her, and I liked that. I'm really picky when I'm reading kick-ass heroines, because I find a lot of them come off as bitchy, or their toughness and arrogance just irritates me. Eden was a strong and capable young woman without coming off as the annoying kind of tough girl (she did have her moments though; at times she would say kind of corny lines in the face of danger which made me cringe a little -- nothing *horrible* though.) She's also not perfect; she likes to be difficult sometimes just for the sake of it, but come on -- she's in her early twenties and has got some serious shit to cope with. Of course she's going to be a little rebellious. So, overall, I really liked Eden.
Kudos to Priest as well for the setting. I've never read any southern gothic before, but after reading this, I would read more in a heartbeat. The deep south felt so right for this novel, especially the swamp. I didn't think swamps could be so creepy.
Final Verdict: This review is shorter than what I normally write, but I really don't have much more to say. This is a great debut that has great, atmospheric writing, a likable heroine, tons of family secrets and intrigues (Eden's family history will make your head spin, but it's very engrossing), a great setting and will gave me chills because of the overall creepiness permeating the novel (which is hard to do -- I don't scare easily, especially with paranormal stuff.) The second half isn't quite as good as the first, but that isn't to say the second half is bad. Reading about Eden's childhood was just more engaging for me than her adult years. I wholeheartedly recommend this, and I can't wait to get my hands on the next two installs, Wings to the Kingdom and Not Flesh, Nor Feathers. Also, my brother owns Boneshaker, so I'm going to have to get reading that as soon as possible. ;) (less)
**spoiler alert** I love that I've decided to do these book clubs this year, because I'm already reading stuff that I never would've picked up on my o...more**spoiler alert** I love that I've decided to do these book clubs this year, because I'm already reading stuff that I never would've picked up on my own otherwise. I've seen Elizabeth Bear's name floating around (I work in a book store) but I've never actually heard a lot about her or her books. Well, she was the January selection for the Women of Science Fiction book club being hosted at Dreams and Speculations. While I have some conflicting feelings regarding this book, I'd say my overall feeling towards it is, in the end, more favorable.
I'm no writer, but I know one of the biggest and most important rules of writing is "Show, don't tell." Not being a fan of info-dumps, I agree with this rule, but Bear really takes the "showing" to an extreme. She plunks her readers right in the middle of the action and doesn't really give us a minute to get our bearings. Little to no explanation is given for anything, and I found myself floundering at the beginning of the book to get a handle on what the hell was going on (I especially had trouble with the segments involving Dust and the "angels" of the ship -- those had me completely lost at first, and even still a little bit at the end.) This progressively got better as the story moved along, thank goodness, but it was really discouraging at first. While this kind of annoyed me, I also applaud Bear for not taking the info-dumping route, and letting me learn the workings of her world slowly. It was also more rewarding when I made sense of something. Now, the reason I might've been confused with a lot of the things going on is because I am not a connoisseur of science-fiction, especially "hard" science-fiction, which is definitely present here. Veterans of the genre might not have as much trouble as I did. Despite the confusing at first, the world-building was in the end very well done. It had a neat blending of religion with science that was really cool. The second plot line of the angels competing for control of the ship was really confusing at first (more so than the main plot), but it was worth it for the neat dichotomy of science and religion.
With that being said, that was another problem I had: when I read a book, I like to see it in my head like a movie. Depending on what I'm reading, I get frustrated when I can't imagine what's going on in my head, and I end up getting kind of lost in the prose, which is when I find myself having to re-read passages. I found this happened to me a lot while reading Dust. Again, because I'm not super knowledgeable on the sci-fi genre, a lot of the techno jargon that was being thrown around liberally had me baffled, and made some scenes hard to visualize when said techno jargon was integral to the action at hand.
Bear does a lot of interesting things with gender and sexuality in this novel (which, I hear, is not uncommon in her work.) If you're really sensitive to sexual taboos (this novel deals primarily with incest), than stay away from this book. The two main characters are half-sisters who are in love with one another, but Bear uses the science fiction elements of her world to make this issue a non-issue in the frame of her story (they're not the only incestuous couple in the story.) To be honest, while the lesbian-incest-romance really threw me off at first, once I got settled and a little more comfortable in Bear's world, it became a non-issue for me as well. Bear handles it all with a deft hand, and again, I have to applaud her; the woman obviously has skill. Gender is also dealt with in an unorthodox way, also with the conventions of the science found in her world. We have a character who is genderless (though s/he is a minor one) and a hermaphrodite. Experimenting and playing with gender views is not unheard of in science fiction, but this is my first encounter with it, and it was an element to the story that I appreciated.
I'm still having trouble discerning how I felt about the characters. I didn't dislike anyone in particular, but I also didn't feel any kind of connection to anyone either. Rien and Perceval (the half-sisters) are obviously well realized (though I've read better; this is more in relation to the rest of the cast), and I also found myself really enjoying Gavin's humor, but other than that, no one else really did anything for me. They seemed like they were just there to move the plot along, and at times, the names could've been interchanged and I don't think I would've noticed the difference.
As indicated above, this is the first book in a trilogy, which has since been concluded. Do I want to read the sequels? I kind of do. Now that I have a better handle on the world Bear has created, I think I would be able to immerse myself in the next two books a lot more easily than I did with this first installment. If I were to read the sequels though, I would really like to read this title against beforehand; I think I would understand A LOT more a second time around. However, because I have so many other titles I want to read at the moment, I don't think I'll be re-reading, or reading the next books in this series any time soon, but it isn't because I don't WANT to. A big part of me does, just to catch things I definitely missed the first time around.
Final Verdict: This is definitely not a book for beginners in science-fiction, unless you're really looking for a challenge. This book was most definitely challenging for me (to the point where I actually almost gave up at the beginning, but I pushed forward because it was a book club pick) but I'm glad I read the book the whole way through, because in the end, it was really gratifying. While I think the story suffered from slightly underdeveloped characters, it definitely makes up for it in the lush world that Bear has created, even if it takes awhile to get settled in said world because of the confusing narrative. The gender and sexuality themes brought up were a breath of fresh for me. though they might bother others who really don't like that kind of thing. With all this being said, I would recommend it this title, though not without hesitation. This isn't a book for everyone, though a book I think everyone who is a fan of sci-fi should try. If you're not a fan of the genre, you have been warned. Try it out if you're looking for something a little more challenging.(less)