Well phooey. I loved Soulless, I really quite liked Changeless, but I just wasn't pleased with Blameless. It was missing some spark that the other twoWell phooey. I loved Soulless, I really quite liked Changeless, but I just wasn't pleased with Blameless. It was missing some spark that the other two had in spades. Part of it has to do with what I felt was an unnecessary location change and part of it had to do with Alexia herself, who had the opportunity to be a stronger and more interesting character (aka just staying as she was) and Carriger opted not to take the story in an interesting direction for the sake of a tidier ending. If you haven't read the second book in the series, Changeless, then stop reading this review now if you hope to have the ending of book #2 unspoiled.
In Changeless, we learned that a mummified preternatural had a shocking range for the whole nullifying supernaturals thing, thus reducing any supernatural in a certain radius mortal. This provided Alexia etc. with the surprising information that preternatural bodies seemed to keep their soul-sucker/curse-breaker abilities when mummified -- good thing that no one knows how the Egyptians mummified folks. Should word get out, though, surely renewed efforts might be made to relearn this trick and at that point, Alexia becomes worth more dead than alive. Alexia was able to dispose of the preternatural mummy, thus returning her husband's old clan (who were in possession of the offending mummy) back into their usual werewolf selves, but her personal life took a significant hit when what should be a happy event (the discovery of her pregnancy) turned ghastly. Her husband raged, insisting it couldn't be his, as immortals could no longer procreate. He flew off the handle and Alexia was forced to abandon Scotland post haste.
Maybe I'm crazy, but I thought this was a *fantastic* cliffhanger ending. It made me feel that Gail Carriger was really being faithful to the true natures of her characters (and hence, my anger at the end of Blameless). Of *course* Conall Maccon might flip out and overreact when faced with information that suggests his wife was unfaithful if everything he's ever known about supernatural reproductive capabilities is true. What made it truly awesome, though, was that he was so venomous in his denunciation of her. His language towards the woman he is supposed to love was completely horrifying. I loved the dramatic position it put Alexia in at the beginning of Blameless. She has a loyal band who believe she's telling the truth and what they have on their hands is a miracle indeed (even if they know next to nothing as to how this is possible), but Lord Maccon is initially convinced of her infidelity (even if we all know he'll realized the truth soon enough) and his complete and utter overreaction is unforgivable. It's awesome.
Once he's been completely sauced for a few days (quite a feat for a supernatural), Lord Maccon was bound to come around and realize that his Alexia would never cheat on him, but the damage is done and eventually he'll need to figure out how to get her back, if that is, indeed, possible. Alexia, meanwhile, would simply seek refuge in the home of her friend, Lord Akeldama, but apparently Lord Akeldama and his drones have completely disappeared. So Alexia takes off for Italy and we begin to suspect all new things of Floote's capabilities and what services he might have rendered for Alexia's father. Italy turns out to be a colossally bad decision on several levels (sure, the Templars will protect her, but they'll also want to use her and experiment a bit with her) and unsurprisingly, the main action of the book has to deal with escaping their clutches (while still surviving vampire attacks, as a price has been put on Alexia's head by the vamps). Back in London, Professor Lyall is trying to hold the pack together (and fighting off challengers who would see Lord Maccon in a precarious position) while simultaneously attempting to sober up the Alpha and drum some sense into his head. Lyall is also almost entirely alone in trying to figure out what plots are afoot that would drive Lord Akeldama into hiding.
What results from the London intrigues is a wonderful plot twist... but then everything goes wishy washy in Italy. It's spoilers from here on out, folks, so consider yourselves warned.
In London, the storyline about Biffy is actually quite excellent -- Biffy is one of Lord Akeldama's drones who is kidnapped by the potentate. Lord Akeldama flees the city (or at least goes into deep cover hiding) as he's clearly being threatened and yet we assume he's doing something to get Biffy back and not just relying on poor stretched-thin Lyall. Just when it appears that Conall and Lyall have rescued the chap... Biffy gets shot. The only choice is to let him die or try to turn him into a werewolf (though as a drone of Lord Akeldama, clearly he hoped to be a vampire). The twist here is really quite wonderful, and yet this doesn't make up for the inconsistency in Alexia's actions and lack of imagination with regards to that plot ending.
Alexia does manage to achieve one thing with her trip to Italy -- she finds the proof she needs to prove the baby is Conall's. Preternaturals cannot tolerate the presence of other preternaturals to the point that no preternatural female has ever been able to carry a child to term. They inevitably miscarry and the only way preternaturals can pass along their abilities is when males procreate with human females; and preternaturals always seem to "breed true," thus resulting in preternatural babies. The key here is that they can procreate with humans which doesn't quite qualify when Lord Conall Maccon is concerned, even if he is, essentially, human when touching Alexia. But because of his supernatural state, a preternatural and a supernatural procreating would create a child with some soul, so the child is not a preternatural. Alexia finds an account of a preternatural/vampire offspring known as a "soul-stealer" which is apparently even more fearsome than a preternatural. It could be interesting, but it's all terribly convenient. Ah well.
Truth be told, my real issue is this: I feel that Carriger did not properly keep to Alexia's character with the ending of this novel. In England, Conall publishes a public statement insisting that Alexia's child is his and in Italy, Alexia ends up inadvertently finding this out (a little unlikely, but fine). She bursts into tears (hormones, whatever) and when he shows up later on, she forgives him with the only "stipulations" of that forgiveness hinging on gifts. Alexia, our proud and strong preternatural, completely forgives her husband for saying horrifying things to her face and completely doubting her word and trust... and she does this so easily, with the gifts being only, really, a bit of humor? I'm sorry, but I was hoping Carriger was a better writer than this and could have seen the possibilities that come with Alexia refusing to forgive Conall (at least for now). To me, this shows that Carriger herself is too in love with Conall and is willing to forgive him anything, but quite frankly, for the way Alexia is established, I would assume that his error was far too extreme to simply be forgiven on the spot. It's not like his agreeing to purchase her requested items are a serious factor here and we know it, so I won't make any irritating comments about her being bought off, as we know it's not true. Alexia simply misses her husband and is willing to forgive him... but I honestly believe her character up to this point would see her as too stubborn to just give in. It's more than the public humiliation, it's the fact that he immediately assumed she'd been unfaithful and didn't even try to entertain the possibility of trusting her before flying off the handle. HIS character held true, but Alexia's yielded as soon as she might get her husband back. I was expecting her to appreciate his apology but refuse to return to him on principle. Clearly, this was a major issue for me and rather ruined the novel on the whole, even if I thought things were a bit dull anyway (at least for Alexia in Rome).
It's all quite unfortunate, as the novel was perfectly passable up to that point -- amusing, even if not quite as great as the first two. This hasn't turned me completely off of the novels, but I really do hope that Carriger returns to something delightful in book four or I'm going to think she's quite lost the fresh sparkle that charmed me so much in Soulless....more
The second installment of Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series, Changeless is a fine sequel to an excellent beginning. Lord Maccon has marriedThe second installment of Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series, Changeless is a fine sequel to an excellent beginning. Lord Maccon has married Alexia Tarabotti (despite her being very headstrong and half-Italian) and the now Lady Maccon is learning just what it is to be the Alpha female of a pack... and still deal with her damned Scottish husband who means well, but is either under her petticoats or nowhere to be found. With her marriage giving her a certain level of propriety (an unmarried lady, apparently, just wouldn't cut it), Alexia was offered a place on Queen Victoria's Shadow Council (as England's preeminent preternatural), which means she argues weekly with the potentate (a rogue werewolf) and the dewan (a rogue vampire) over supernatural matters concerning the crown and greater English populace. It certainly helps that her husband is the head of the BUR when it comes to gathering information, but still, no one really tops her dear friend Lord Akeldama and his host of fashionable drones.
While London has a reasonably tolerant atmosphere towards supernaturals, it doesn't mean that everyone is delighted with them (as evidenced by the last book where scientists with a radical bent were intent on wiping out most supernatural creatures) and so the question of a way to fight/control supernaturals is always buzzing about... most particularly after a period of time in which all of London seems inflicted with some kind of normalizing effect that renders werewolves unable to change and vampires incapable of showing fang. This is highly unsettling, indeed, but perhaps more unsettling for Alexia is the fact that her husband takes off for Scotland to figure out the source of this normalizing (and deal with a few matters pertaining to his old pack) without so much as a by-your-leave! And with a full regiment of werewolves camping on her front lawn, to boot!
Unsurprisingly, Alexia ends up following her husband, though she comes with a large train of hangers-on including her best friend Ivy, her husbands top claviger Tunstell, her annoying sister Felicity, and a French milliner/inventor named Madame Lefoux who appears to be flirting outrageously with Alexia even if we can't quite be sure whose side she's on. Alexia is learning all kinds of new things about her husband, including his past history, what made him leave his old Scottish pack, and his political beliefs... but it won't be politics that ultimately prove the most shocking reveal for this couple. Admittedly, the big reveal of the ending is rather predictable... but the response to it is certainly not and makes for some excellent drama. Thank goodness Blameless has been published already so you can immediately reach for that to see what happens next.
If you liked the first book, you're almost guaranteed to enjoy the second, if only because it provides more Alexia and Lord Maccon, though I'll note that it's not quite as delightful (as it no longer as the new and fresh feel of the first). There's also more Professor Lyall, who might be my favorite character, though Lyall has to hold down the fort while everyone else seems to skip off to Scotland. Madame Lefoux is an interesting character (though I doubt Carriger is risque enough to do anything truly fascinating with her) and I assume we'll see more of her, if only because Lady Maccon will need a somewhat more mobile female sidekick than Ivy, though I feel like Madame Lefoux keeps getting knocked out at inopportune moments. Hm. This is, however, another fun installment of the series and it's well worth the read if you got a kick out of the original. ...more
Anna Godbersen sets her latest series at the end of the roaring twenties, a time of prohibition and loosening morals when everyone who wanted to be anAnna Godbersen sets her latest series at the end of the roaring twenties, a time of prohibition and loosening morals when everyone who wanted to be anyone flocked to New York City. Cordelia and Letty are no different -- two girls from Ohio convinced that they're bigger than their small town. Cordelia is practically forced into marrying her high school sweetheart after being caught doing things with him that no good girl would do before marriage, spurring her decision that it's time for the girls to leave. They skip the reception to hop on the only train that goes direct to New York City and so begin their epic adventure. Letty (who ditches her last name and re-christens herself "Letty Larkspur") has stage aspirations and while she might be naive, she has the vocal talent that just might make her dreams come true. Cordelia, meanwhile, simply appears to be supportive of Letty's plans and doesn't confide in her friend that she believes she has figured out the identity of her father: the notorious bootlegger Darius Grey.
After a night on the town and a loud fight, the girls get kicked out of their hotel for unmarried women on their very first night and go their separate ways. Letty is taken under the wing of a cigarette girl who invites her to live in a small apartment with her and two others, and even manages to secure Letty a steady job while Letty circles newspaper audition ads that she hasn't the courage to go to. Cordelia shows up at Dogwood, Darius Grey's estate, on the night that he's throwing himself a birthday party... and after tricking her way in, is welcomed with open arms by the father who always missed her (even if her new half-brother isn't exactly thrilled with her appearance). Cordelia befriends Astrid, her new brother's girlfriend, and Astrid proves to be a young woman who has grown up privileged, though the situation has always been somewhat precarious as her mother goes through husbands rather quickly. Bright Young Things entwines the stories of these three young women, destined to play a role in each other's lives, and sure to live quite an adventure before "one would be famous, one would be married, and one would be dead."
I'll admit that since I haven't read The Luxe and its series, I wasn't quite sure what to expect -- yet Bright Young Things exceeded whatever those expectations were. Godbersen's ability to create a historically sound atmosphere makes for a charming read, as what New Yorker hasn't imagined the bygone days of the 1920s? It's full of jazz and illegal liquor, of course we've imagined it (even before Boardwalk Empire helped us with the details.) As a result, it's a great time period for a series, particularly one that doesn't seem fixated on just providing the point-of-view of the wealthy. Letty's storyline is a touch more realistic (including the struggle to make ends meet and naive notions dashed in dramatic ways), whereas Cordelia is whisked off to luxury and a Montague/Capulet family feud, realized a bit too late for her romantic nature. Astrid, meanwhile, deals with the many sides of both wealth and romance -- which makes her come off a bit one-note in the beginning and she develops depth as we go. Astrid's presence is a little surprising at the start -- though one assumes she'll be folded into the main story and come to know Letty and Cordelia. Her position as girlfriend of Cordelia's new half-brother and Cordelia's new best friend is an interesting role, particularly as her friendship with Cordelia seems very situational. As a result, she remains a bit of an outsider, allowed her closeness with the absence of Letty, and so the next books will likely play upon her tenuous bond.
The three girls are all unique in situation and attitude, though I hope we don't lose the perspective that's placed on the less-than-upper-crust scene. The glitz and glamour might be with the high society types, but the peek at how the rest of us might have lived is quite fascinating indeed (and certainly bears a resemblance to young adults of the modern day, just out of college and floundering around in the big city). As the first in a series, Bright Young Things certainly shows promise and while that whole "one would be famous, one would be married, and one would be dead" is ridiculously over-dramatic, it does certainly have the reader guessing as to the fate of each girl....more
The backstory of this novel is something out of a young bookworm's dream. Thirteen-year-old Ross Workman sent a fan email to his favorite author, WaltThe backstory of this novel is something out of a young bookworm's dream. Thirteen-year-old Ross Workman sent a fan email to his favorite author, Walter Dean Myers, and then Myers wrote back suggesting they collaborate on a book. Kick is the result of that collaboration and it's worth reading if only for the knowledge of how it came to be.
The basic story centers on teenage Kevin Johnson who tried to do something to help a friend and wound up in deep trouble. The son of a cop killed in the line of duty, Kevin is one of the star players on his high school soccer team, but any chance at glory is jeopardized one night when he's found at the wheel of a crashed car, a crying female classmate in the passenger seat, and no story that he's willing to share that can explain any of it. The car belongs to the girl's father and while he decides whether or not to press charges, Sergeant Jerry Brown takes an interest in the case based on the fact that Kevin has no record and his dad used to be on the force. As the real story unfolds, Kevin and Sergeant Brown learn to trust each other and just maybe this means Kevin can salvage his bright future while not betraying the trust of his friend.
Clearly geared towards boys who might not otherwise read unless there's sports or a whiff of trouble, Kick is told from two perspectives passed back and forth -- Kevin's (written by Workman) and Seargeant Brown's (written by Myers). Knowing the background of the novel, it's really quite an interesting experience to see the back-and-forth perspectives, knowing how the two authors collaborated. With years of writing for teens, it was a pretty wonderful move on the part of Myers to reach out to a teen for a fresh voice to spark the young man's career, or at least give him material for a pretty fabulous college application essay. Kick is a good choice from the 12+ boy who might require some sports in his books to make them appealing. The ending is tidy, but it's better to give hope to kids who make a mistake. Another fabulous book from Walter Dean Myers.
Note: I can't claim total subjectivity on this one, so take what you will from this review....more
Rusty, a common house cat, decides to abandon his "kittypet" life when he's invited to become an apprentice warrior with Thunderclan, one of several CRusty, a common house cat, decides to abandon his "kittypet" life when he's invited to become an apprentice warrior with Thunderclan, one of several Clans of feral cats that hunt for their food and fight for their territory. Yeah, that's right. Clans of fighting cats. I think we have to chalk this one up to "things adults will probably never quite get" and accept it, but if you want more detail, here we go. To describe this book, I'm going to imagine a conversation with a friend of mine who would take a good amount of joy in subtly mocking me about this book while asking more and more questions so he might relish the ridiculousness.
Um... Alana? I notice that you're reading a book with a cat on the cover. Now, it doesn't look like nonfiction, nor does the cat appear to be intended ironically... would you care to comment? Yeah... this is the first book from that insanely lucrative "Warriors" series that's so popular with the kids these days.
Oh really? What's the series about? Well, it's about Clans of cats who live by a warrior code and battle for survival in the wilderness. Imagine warrior knights loyal to a king... but with fur... and tails. The first one is from the perspective of a house cat named Rusty who joins up with the Thunderclan and proves himself worthy of becoming a warrior as he protects the Clan and his friends.
... Seriously? Yes, seriously.
So all the characters are cats. ... Does Rusty fight along side Fluffy, Rocketship, and Mittens? Actually, once Rusty joins the Clan, his name becomes Firepaw. And all the clan cats have these double names like Tigerclaw or Spottedleaf or Bluestar.
... Are you making this up? I promise you, I'm not making this up.
Okaaay. I'll admit, I've heard of the series, but I don't think I really realized everything that it would entail. Get it? En-tail? You're hilarious.
There's a lot of these books, aren't there? There are approximately a zillion books in this series.
A zillion? A zillion books about anthropomorphic fighting cats? Who on earth is reading these? In the eight to twelve age bracket, it's more a question of who isn't reading them. It's a series that actually appeals to both girls and boys and here's why. One: it's about kittehs (which means all girls will read this). Two: they fight (which means lots of boys will read this). Three: have you ever heard of a little thing called Redwall by Brian Jacques? Now all the geeks will read this.
Hey! Don't knock Redwall! I'm not knocking Redwall at all, because Redwall is awesome, but you have to admit... while Redwall fans were not necessarily popular as children, they are voracious readers and if you had run out of books about mice, otters, and voles and you saw this series sitting right in front of your beloved Brian Jacques... well, cats aren't looking so crazy now, are they?
Well played... to the point where I'm wishing I had come up with this idea. I could be making bank. What mastermind conceived of this evil plan? The author is listed as Erin Hunter, but "Erin Hunter" is the pen name used by four women who write/edit this series. The idea was originally suggested to the editor by the publisher, who wanted a series about cats, and it all took off from there. The surname "Hunter" stems from the combined desire to come up with something that fits the series (and "Hunter" works pretty nicely) and the goal to tap into the Redwall market by simple shelf placement. It also means you don't break up the series by an author's last name if they were to all be shelved according to the individual author.
Okay, but really, while the book premise might seem wildly ridiculous to adults, I can totally see the appeal for children. Epic stories, a return to tales of rather knightly topics of honor and loyalty, a huge cast of characters... yes, it's talking animals but the plots aren't focused on silly adventures. There's actual fighting and death, which means kids don't feel like this is some pandering story about kitty-cats where everything turns out okay in the end and Miss Whiskers is just sleeping. Young readers learn moral lessons about being dedicated to achieving their goals and rising above taunts and prejudice.
I'll admit that I may have, at times, wanted to insert various lolcats as illustrative aids and shout "Thundercats! Hoooo!" when the Thunderclan went into battle. My significant other refers to this as the "laser cat" series. And no, there's no way I would be caught on the subway reading this book by another adult but that's the thing... I'm not the intended market; kids are, and as long as they're entertained, I'm totally fine with any epic series that keeps them reading. Sure, "Warriors" doesn't seem quite as literary as Redwall, though it's gotten nominated for various awards, and there's a really large cast of characters, but that only seems to invest kids in learning everything to conquer it all and diving into this new world. It's not another planet; the cats don't wear clothes. A kid could read this and very easily look at the family cat in a whole new light. Yes, the cats seem to have an impressive knowledge of herbal lore at their paw-tips, but to just injure cats in battle and then leave them to fester and die would be far too gruesome. Rusty/Firepaw is a fairly likable hero who certainly grows in skill and logic as the book progresses. His eventual path towards leading Thunderclan (which I'm guessing at right now) seems pretty clear. This is obviously set up for a series, but this has to have surpassed the wildest expectations of the publisher, given the huge fan base and large number of participating members on the fan message boards.
Here's the thing. Unlike some other young reader books, I can't really say that I would recommend this to other adults -- there seems to be an age limit for the obsession. Honestly, I would suspect there's an age limit from any true pleasure taken from these. After a certain age, if you're going to read about anthropomorphic animals, you want a little more from them. However, Warriors could prove to be a key stepping stone from much simpler young reader books to other, more intense fantasy worlds and giant epics. Hey, it might even help to improve the attention span of children if they manage to read all these books and remember the family trees and so on. Clearly Warriors has lots of fans and despite my good-natured teasing, this old-fogy can see how kids today might find this to be a truly captivating series.
Oh, and one last thing. Thundercats! Hooooo!
UPDATE. Okay. I finished writing this review and then went out to dinner with my significant other. We sat down and almost immediately, my significant other's eyes locked on something beyond my elbow. "That's yours, right?" "What?" "That." With his head, he motioned for me to turn and look. Behind us, an elderly couple sat and beside the older woman, a copy of Warriors sat with a bookmark in it. It was book six of the first series. "I love it," she insisted when we asked. "I have cats and I'm a big animal lover. I think these books are wonderful." So I yield the point. Evidently adults do read these books for their own enjoyment. She wasn't even reading it to engage in a shared interest with a grandchild (as had been my hypothesis). It takes all kinds, evidently....more
Once upon a time in Miami, there lived a boy who dreamed of making shoes...
Aside from the whole Miami bit, it sounds like it could be straight out ofOnce upon a time in Miami, there lived a boy who dreamed of making shoes...
Aside from the whole Miami bit, it sounds like it could be straight out of Hans Christian Andersen or the Brothers Grimm, right? Well, Alex Flinn is leading the charge (or at least she's up there in the front lines, holding a really big heraldic banner or something) in transforming fairy tales for the modern age, mashing them up to create fun new stories. With their origins in older fairy tales, books written by Alex Flinn always feel like you've read them before, back when you fell into her targeted demographic (or maybe it's just that she makes anyone with an appreciation for whimsy believe that they are, once again, in her targeted demographic), and that makes them feel cozy. Cloaked is her latest and it's quite charming.
Johnny and his mother run the shoe repair shop in a posh South Beach hotel, across from his best friend Meg and her family's coffee counter. Dad disappeared years ago and with financial difficulties aplenty, Johnny and his mom work night and day to keep themselves afloat. His dream is to become a famous shoe designer and he spends his free time (or what little there is of it between repair jobs) sketching masterpieces on heels. He's no flighty kid, though; Johnny knows that there's no such thing as magic and it's hard work that will get him someplace... hard work and maybe a lucky break. Enter the much-photographed partying Princess Victoriana. If she got photographed wearing his shoes, he could launch his career and she's scheduled to check in to his hotel, but how to get her the shoes? As the hotel prepares to cater to the princess's every whim, nothing could prepare Johnny for the Princess singling him out to ask for his help. She invites him up to her room and tells him a secret: her brother, the crown prince, has been turned into a frog by a witch. If the princess agrees to marry the evil son of a rival monarchy, the witch will change the prince back -- otherwise, the prince is doomed to be a frog until he's kissed by a girl with love in her heart. The princess insists that she can't even trust her personal bodyguards, as she fears that one of them is spying on her, and so she needs the help of one who is hard-working and loyal. Johnny is about ready to declare her totally insane when he accidentally makes use of a magic cloak given to him by the princess which transports him to any location he wishes. Suddenly, the world is full of magic and used-to-be-humans turned animals -- and Johnny will need a great deal of help from six swans, a rat, a fox, and his best friend Meg if he hopes to save the prince and achieve happily ever after... but is "happily ever after" even close to what he might expect?
For Cloaked, Flinn draws upon a number of classic fairy tales, many of which have fallen out of popular knowledge: "The Elves and the Shoemaker," "The Frog Prince," "The Six Swans," "The Golden Bird," "The Salad," and "The Fisherman and His Wife." It's unfortunate that the Disney movie The Princess and the Frog came out before this book, but so it goes. Little girls already knew the whole princess-kissing-a-frog outline and this simply returns to the roots of the tale. The other stories are threaded in for a delightful mix of flight and fancy, with the ultimate moral being that it really is hard-work and a good heart that will triumph over all. Meg is a wonderfully competent girl while Victoriana proves to have a great deal more substance than the paparazzi would have folks believe. Johnny is a winning hero, even if he isn't the stereotypical male lead that one tends to find in YA novels. (He isn't a brooding paranormal creature, for one.) Johnny is a young man who means well and works hard... just the kind of guy that those of us older than the intended teen readers would encourage our younger selves to sigh over, as he's sweet and caring even if he (like most boys) can be a little clueless. He's the stereotypical male best friend who too often doesn't get the girl... cute and sweet with a heart of gold and his only real stumbling comes from (a) trying to do the right thing or (b) having issues expressing his real feelings. Ah if only they were all so easy in real life... and all liked shoes to this degree.
Overall, the best description for Cloaked really is "charming," and I hope young adult/older-than-young-adult readers agree. This book is perfectly fine for even the younger teens, as there isn't really any objectionable content. Flinn's got a knack for updating classics (just check out Beastly, her previous book which is being made into a movie that hit theaters this past weekend) and I'm already looking forward to her next creation.
Please note that this isn't an entirely impartial review, as this book factors in to my professional world, but this is still a truthful review written in my personal space, so weight my opinion as you will....more
Beauty and the Beast comes to modern Manhattan in Alex Flinn's Beastly. When rich and popular Kyle Kingston chooses to embarrass a werido classmate atBeauty and the Beast comes to modern Manhattan in Alex Flinn's Beastly. When rich and popular Kyle Kingston chooses to embarrass a werido classmate at a school dance, he realizes that he's tangling with magic just a little too late to save himself. The weird girl is really a witch who curses Kyle to life as a beast unless he can find a girl to love him within two years. His famous (and famously handsome) newscaster father essentially banishes his newly horrifying offspring to Brooklyn and Kyle gives up on any hope of breaking the curse. Instead, he changes his name to Adrian, becomes obsessed with his greenhouse of roses, spends all his time watching the world go by from the top story window or from a magic mirror left by the witch, and lives like a recluse with only his blind tutor and the Colombian maid for company. He's set to live out his days in this pattern, reading books and hiding from the world, until one night when he catches a drugged-up thief in his greenhouse. In exchange for his life, the junkie offers his daughter, Lindy, to the beast. When Adrian looks at the girl through his magic mirror, he recognizes her as a smart scholarship student from his old school and believes she might be his last chance at breaking the spell... plus, anyone would be better off away from a father willing to trade his daughter to some kind of monster. Adrian prepares for Lindy's arrival... and unsurprisingly to everyone except Adrian, she's not exactly thrilled to be there or have anything to do with her new jailer. Don't worry, though. This is paranormal romance. Love will blossom as sure as the roses.
If you know the Beauty and the Beast story, you know the outcome here, but Beastly's appeal rests in the modern setting with updates aplenty. While banished to Brooklyn (and as a Brooklynite, I suppose I could take offense at this, but whatever, it's better here anyway), Kyle/Adrian's world expands through the internet and between chapters, the readers sees a "transcript" of chats that he participates in with other magically afflicted individuals (including a mermaid looking to become human, a frog that needs to get kissed, and so on); unsurprisingly, it reads like many teenage chat room transcripts though perhaps that's what makes it a refreshingly different addition (though they don't go on for ages, at least, unlike most teenage chats). The reader gets to see selfish Kyle become thoughtful Adrian, a kid who devours books and comes to care about those around him, focusing on their needs and ultimately yielding to Lindy's request to return to take care of her father. His transformation is somewhat unbelievably quick, but Flinn does a nice job of capturing Kyle/Adrian's feelings of isolation without wallowing in it. I did like the fact that Kyle recognized New Yorkers will pretty much ignore anything, so he can wander around a little bit without eliciting too much suspicion. I also rather appreciated that Flinn made some follow-up observations post-happy-ending-transformation where Lindy actually was somewhat uncomfortable with her new handsome boyfriend, given that it would spur her own self-esteem issues.
Flinn makes the injecting of the fairy tale into the real world look easy-- and while critics might argue that this requires some extremes of reality (an ultra-wealthy father to provide a brownstone/castle for his beastly son, a junkie father willing to trade his daughter for his own life, etc.), one might also point out that fairy tales themselves are geared towards rewarding those who do deal with extremes. Most of the deserving souls in fairy tales are poor or otherwise downtrodden... or are wealthy folk who need to appreciate what truly makes one rich (and very little is magical in the middle class). One rather uncomfortable detail is the blind tutor, whose handicap is unintentionally likened to a curse that can be lifted... it makes the tutor come off as someone who isn't whole and needs to be fixed. It's hard to make a perfect transition of all fairy tale details into the real world, I suppose. a
All in all, Beastly is a pleasing little volume whose value rests primarily in the idea of it all. It's a quick read -- and anything longer would have certainly been to its detriment -- and it's a sweet little amusement. It's slated to be made into a movie (released March 2011), but the trailer suggests significant alterations were made to the details. In the end, though, no matter how the little things change, it's a tale as old as time... (Sorry. I had to.) ...more
We've all been there: we're at some a casual party and the guest list makes for an interesting combination of family, friends, even colleagues... and,We've all been there: we're at some a casual party and the guest list makes for an interesting combination of family, friends, even colleagues... and, of course, there's just one kid who could very well be the spawn of Satan. His parents adore him and he's spoiled rotten (in indulgent behavior if not in material items), so everyone knows there's no hope of getting his actions in line; we all simply have to endure the experience and hope he just doesn't start screaming or hurt someone. In Christos Tsiolkas's novel, The Slap, just such a situation takes a controversial turn -- the brat makes a movement that could potentially be seen as threatening to another child and that child's father intervenes to slap the offending brat. The rest of the novel resounds with this slap as it reverberates in the lives of every attendee. As the next few months play out, eight different perspectives are used to further the story along and explore the massive amount of tensions within the lives of those involved.
There's no easy way to summarize the novel -- like life, everything is tangled up and has become too complicated for simple summaries. The Slap is set in Australia and tensions abound. There's racial tension, cultural tension, religious tension, generational tension, classist tension, sexual tension... it's a society where everyone is allowed to have a valid opinion, no one's existence should be negatively impacted by another's, and yet there are very few relationships (friendships or otherwise) that are not strained as a result.
Since the book is all about the relationships between people (and a bit about what those relationships say with regards to society at large), the best way to explain things is to give a cast list. The book opens with the perspective of Hector, the son of Greek immigrants, who seems to compensate for never having found a career passion by being a bit of a philanderer, despite having a beautiful Indian wife, Aisha. They have two kids and are the hosts of the fateful barbecue alluded to above. Hector is sleeping with a teenager named Connie who works in his wife's veterinary clinic (she's eighteen, it's legal). Connie's best friend is Richie, another teenager just coming out of the closet, and they're both trying to figure out their lives as they potentially move on to university. Hector's cousin, Harry, is the guy whose child is threatened and who does the slapping. Harry has a temper and a fierce prejudice against people who simply do not pull it together to do right by their families (like the family of the slapped child, he believes). An excellent father, Harry has a successful car repair/garage business (he's even lenient in dealing with an employee who is stealing from him), a beautiful home, and an excellent relationship with his wife... and the mistress whom he supports (and who has kids that are probably not Harry's).
Meanwhile, the child who was slapped is named Hugo and he really is quite dreadful. Hugo's father is Gary, a struggling (read: failed) artist who drinks a great deal and gets blamed for a large number of his small family's issues (and the legal drama that ensues), but is not necessarily always at fault despite appearances. Hugo's mother is Rosie, one of Aisha's oldest friends and after being a somewhat wild child/wild young adult/wild adult, she has settled down and made Hugo her world. She's still breastfeeding him at age four. Let this single observation tell you all kinds of things about her. Rosie and Aisha are also dear friends with Anouk, who doesn't have children and so doesn't quite understand Rosie and Aisha at times, though she also chooses not to tell them when she realizes she's pregnant (by her much-younger-than-she-is television star boyfriend) and decides to have an abortion. Aisha is torn in her allegiances on the slapping issue as a result of the fact that it's her best friend versus her husband's family. Hector's parents (Harry's aunt and uncle) are Manolis and Koula, who think the kid deserved the slap and are not thrilled about Aisha's inability to totally stand with the family (though really, Koula refuses to even say Aisha's name). Also within the circle are two married, converted Muslims who, if the Muslim-conversion-thing wasn't enough controversy as it is, are an interracial couple -- he's Aboriginal and she's white.
I think that includes all the major players. An ecclectic bunch to be sure, and Tsiolkas is covering a great deal of ground by including such complicated people in his novel. It means that the topics touched upon range far and wide -- though perhaps the one thing Tsiolkas isn't writing a novel about is child abuse. Instead, everyone seems to acknowledge that hitting a child is a wrong thing, but the issue of a person snapping is a much more accessible moment... and can be illustrated in the daily lives of us all when we reach a moment that pushes us into a decision we might not otherwise make. Personal allegiances and beliefs muddy the waters here as characters are forced to choose sides or awkwardly defend their neutral status. A moment like this, where a child is struck by an adult, is supposed to be a clear-cut situation -- physical violence in polite society is supposed to be completely unacceptable. Instead, a single instance of breaking this carefully maintained control on one's physical impulses calls in to question the numerous other sins hidden under the guise of a "civilized" state as impotent desires seethe and burn under our skins.
Tsiolkas may be making a statement about Australian society (and indeed, many of the racial slurs and classist issues within the story were surprising elements of Australia that had previously been unknown to me), but his larger themes include more than that single continent, enveloping a number of modern cultures that must deal with differences that are not allowed to be treated as differences. Certain voices rang truer than others and there were certain similarities in tone, but on the whole, I found Tsolkas to present interesting narrators who might not be likable but could never really be pushed entirely into the truly detestable camp. Even the "good guys" make wrong choices or do less than ideal things.
We read this for my book club and we had a rousing discussion -- I always enjoy books that provoke different reactions from people, as it allows us to delve in to the reasons we felt as we did and what caused the splits of opinion. The Slap was really an ideal read, given its multiple perspectives and strong societal themes at the heart of its narrative. Some people might be horrified by the graphic sex, drugs, and various behaviors. Maybe I'm just a dissolute and profligate New Yorker, but I thought even some of these things had incredibly positive and redemptive elements to them -- perhaps it really is all about perspective....more
Well, there's certainly no shortage of paranormal literary fun out there these days, and for those of us who haven't abandoned the genre quite yet, IWell, there's certainly no shortage of paranormal literary fun out there these days, and for those of us who haven't abandoned the genre quite yet, I am here to let you know that there are still some creative reads out there. I'm a little late to the game on the "Parasol Protectorate" series, which kicks off with Soulless, but ever since seeing the fun steampunk cover a while ago, it's been on my to-read list... and the contents are far more entertaining than the cover.
Alexia Tarabotti is soulless. It's not that she's cruel or mean or anything... she simply has no soul. This state manifests itself in a complete inability to dress with style (even if she can precisely imitate a fad, there's just no flair), a very methodical and scientific thought process, and the ability to neutralize supernatural creatures upon direct contact. You see, in this alternate 19th-century steampunk world, vampires and werewolves have been integrated with society (or at least they have in certain countries) and while there can be some tensions, Britain enjoys a rather progressive view on the matter of supernatural races. Of course, that doesn't mean that society is any less rigid on the truly important matters -- like a ladies' reputation, the proper apparel for a carriage ride, and a gentleman's assets (including his human versus supernatural state) as they reflect upon his eligibility as a suitor. Alexia is one of the very rare beings known as a preternatural, which earns the epithet "soul-sucker" from vampires and "curse-breaker" from werewolves. Unlike other paranormal hypotheses which would suggest such creatures lose their souls, in this world, it is a person's excess of soul that allows them the ability to survive the change into an immortal creature, should they make such a choice. (Otherwise, it seems that an excess of soul can lead to becoming a ghost upon death, which is not a permanent situation, as ghosts eventually get a bit batty as they fade away.) Alexia's touch would negate the supernatural abilities, rendering the supernatural mortal (no fangs, claws, or special final-death rules apply)... or resulting in an exorcism for a ghost should she touch its corporeal body.
The fact that Alexia is soulless, however, is not what makes her a bit of a societal outcast. That fact can be attributed to the fact that her father was unfortunately Italian (rendering her complexion unfashionably dusky), her nose is too large, she is a total bluestocking, and she doesn't give a fig for the usual feminine obsessions, though she does like more meaningful gossip. Her mother remarried when Alexia was young and so Alexia has two very silly sisters (the Misses Flootwill) to provide her very silly mother with some solace for the fact that her eldest was deemed a spinster at age fifteen. Alexia had long since resigned herself to this fact (and indeed, never minded in the first place) and so when some kissing occurs in the course of this novel, she's completely unprepared and has no idea what should be done about the matter. (More on that later.) Alexia does, at least, have two good friends on her side: Miss Ivy Hisselpenny has an atrocious taste in hats but is Alexia's only real girlfriend, and on the immortal side of things, Alexia has entered into the good graces of Lord Akeldama. Lord Akeldama is the most fashionable vampire in London -- a useful fellow to know should one need to know anything about anyone, as the young men who serve as his drones might appear to be silly, foppish dandies, but they are in actuality a most effective information-gathering network.
When the novel opens, Alexia is quite rudely attacked by a vampire who has no idea what Alexia is (otherwise he should not have tried something as foolish as an attack on a preternatural) and when the situation leads to some grappling and Alexia eliminating said vampire, Lord Maccon shows up to investigate. Lord Conall Maccon is a supremely eligible bachelor, despite being both Scottish and a werewolf; not only is he the Alpha of his pack, but he is the head of a government agency entrusted with supernatural matters. He's boorish, stubborn, gorgeous, a good two hundred years Alexia's senior and constantly at odds with our heroine... such strong emotions unsurprisingly lead to impressive passion (hence the kissing mentioned earlier). Lord Maccon manages to keep her name out of the papers with regards to the vampire incident, but nothing is quite so easy as it seems and before long, Alexia is mixed up in their concerns over randomly appearing and disappearing vampires that has Alexia becoming deeply involved in the supernatural worlds.
Gail Carriger is really quite fresh, witty, and charming -- and one can really only value that after enduring a few instances of writers who simply *try* to be fresh, witty, and charming, but fail. Her sense of whimsy is delightful and she revels in ridiculous situations. Alexia, meanwhile, muddles through them with... well, not grace, exactly, but she does at least retain her humor. While she doesn't have much self-esteem when it comes to her appearance, Alexia Tarabotti has no question about her own capable intelligence and ability to suss out any problems that come her way. Coupled with insatiable curiosity and a refusal to admit that something interesting might not concern her, Alexia is sure to be a fantastic heroine for many books to come. Soulless is one of those books that is rather perfect for my Nook, as I finished the first book and immediately purchased, downloaded, and began to read the second (and the third, for that matter, once I finished the second). I challenge you to resist a similar temptation -- when you finish Soulless, just see if you don't immediately consider how to best get your hands on a copy of Changeless. Do yourself a favor and have it waiting....more