This book reminded me a lot of one of my favorite books: Where the Red Fern Grows. It has that same feel: young boy hunts a lot and has a bond with anThis book reminded me a lot of one of my favorite books: Where the Red Fern Grows. It has that same feel: young boy hunts a lot and has a bond with animals, and there's an animal-related tragedy at the end. And what's strange is by all rights, I shouldn't even like this. I don't care for animals or hunting myself, have never wanted pets (and only just kind of tolerated them when they were in my house as a child), and would never dream of wanting a life like main character Jody's. But I could still vicariously enjoy what he enjoyed, especially since the immediacy and intensity of his experience was established so early in the story. I could see right there with him through the lush descriptions that didn't feel like they were trying too hard; because they were what Jody saw and valued, I could understand why they were important.
You definitely get an idea of what farming in a half-wild area of Florida would have been like; they deal with hard work that can be torn away in an instant because of a panther or a bear destroying their ability to be self-sufficient, and even something like water is a resource they have to work for. But it's not just the day-in/day-out experience of scratching out a living on Baxter Island; it's Jody's impression of it, through his childhood eyes, dressed with magic and newness and enthusiasm. Sometimes the words bring you so close to his experience that you can taste the food, hear the sounds of the animals, smell and appreciate what Jody smells (even if you think it would stink). There was a lot of leisurely rambling in the story as every detail of hunting trips and food preparation and dealing with snakebite is revealed, and I think the choices of where to begin and end chapters was really bizarre (some were dozens of pages long, while others were only a couple pages at a time, ending abruptly), but I still felt like it was building toward life lessons for Jody without ever feeling like it was too preachy. (Okay, there were a couple places that I could have called out for being framed to Tell Us Something, but it wasn't too bad.)
I thought Jody was left wanting for a creature to be his own just long enough that it wasn't annoying yet but felt like a relief when he finally got his fawn to coddle, and I also thought the dialect was handled well; that's something that's difficult to get right without getting obnoxious, and it didn't feel like it crossed the line or seemed inappropriate. Furthermore, Jody SOUNDED like a little kid when he talked, with the way he begged praise out of his parents for how awesome his pet was and with the way he dropped observations in a tender, childish way without shaving the edges off to be cute, and his parents had distinct voices too. I liked how each character gave off a feeling, and I thought Jody's relationship with each one was well done. The bits about Fodder-wing made me so sad. He reminded me so much of my friend Mike who passed when he was just 20--he also had a disability and loved creatures and had observations nobody else could follow. I kept thinking of him while reading about Jody's friend.
All three of the things I expected to happen in the story happened--without getting spoilery, I expected what you usually expect when a child has a pet in a touching story, when a wild animal is repeatedly menacing a family and they develop a vendetta, and when a sick boy is precious to the main character--but I still followed the action raptly through those parts and found them satisfying, and I was proud of Jody when he learned to do certain things, endured what he didn't think he could, or got something he wanted.
Overall I just liked the mood of the thing--how sensory and believable it was, and how everything filtering through Jody was made up of things a child would notice. How he hangs onto every word in the tall tales others tell, and how he struggles to privately decide where his loyalties lie whenever someone does something to someone else and complexity eludes him. He steals moments of pleasure and delights in small things, and that's part of what transported me. I did, however, find myself wondering why the hell his dad didn't just get him a dog. Their existing dogs didn't like him or didn't want to play with him, but dogs and men get along fine and can be trained not to get into the mischief Flag got into in the story. Jody just wanted something of his own, and that's not something a boy has to grow out of to be a man; the men in this story have lifelong relationships with their dogs. It didn't have to be a fawn, you know? Get Jody a dog.
And now here are a couple complaints. One: There must be tons of editions and reprints of this thing, and it's a classic; you'd think by now they wouldn't be printing versions of it with typos and inconsistencies, right? Some are just things my editor brain noticed and got irritated by (inconsistencies like sometimes they'd write "demijohn" and sometimes it was "demi-john," and once the horse Caesar's name was written as Cæsar), but some were outright mistakes: I found "thougb" instead of "though," and the sentence "The had worked" instead of "He had worked." Seemed unnecessarily sloppy.
Two: So why can't they mention Ma Baxter without telling us how fat she is?
It got really obnoxious. Everything about her was always associated with her being big or heavy or ponderous or girthy or bulging or fat. Like, we get it. She's a big woman. There is honestly no need to keep telling us that, especially since sometimes it's contrasted with Penny or Jody in situations where she looks like the bad guy and her fatness is used as a shortcut to make her less sympathetic. (Usually it was just offered neutrally, but it was constant, and just frustrating to read.) There was even a time when her sweating because she's fat and it's hot is contrasted with Jody and Penny being "clean" because of their slimness or whatever. Bothered me.
Three: Anti-lady stuff abounds.
I don't know if the female author of this book was trying to make the narrative seem more authentically male by having the male characters (including our protagonist) viewing women as silly, useless, ridiculous, petty, or to blame for awful things, but the amount of slurs toward ladies was awfully surprising. (There were some references to blackness that seemed odd too, but it seemed mostly the mother whining about how "black" another family was on account of their very dark hair and the fact that they had lots of body hair--their darkness was automatically evil and off-putting.) But anyway, Jody's most hateful moments seemed to all be toward girls and women--he throws potatoes at a little girl for no apparent reason and when he's asked to justify himself he says "Because she's ugly!" and rants about how he just HATES Eulalie's face. He later seethes with hatred over his friend Oliver going away with Twink and fixates on how he will NEVER forgive that old Twink, and how disgusting she is to him and how she's "causing" these fights between the men who are literally fighting each other over her. And his mother and the woman he calls Grandma (but isn't related to him) hate each other and spend their only real scene together trading catty barbs just to show how petty womenfolk are, requiring slick words and mollifying from Jody's dad before they'd behave themselves. At one point they say that female fawns have scattered spots and male ones have spots in rows, and that it's because men make sense and are in order while women just have no rhyme or reason to them, ho ho ho. Jody was also shocked and appalled that men ever cleaned a dish at the Forresters', given that there was one woman and seven men living there but hey, cooking and cleaning is a woman's job right? It's pretty accurate for the time I'm sure, but it seemed weird for Jody to buck against so many of the things expected of him but be perfectly cool with the boys-will-be-boys mentality.
Overall I really enjoyed it and liked seeing Jody grow from being "a yearling" into a young man, because even though his fawn is ostensibly the title character, you know by the end that he never was....more
Cute--I've never read an ice-skating book before! And I tend to love what I call "inspirational sports books"--where people compete and learn life lesCute--I've never read an ice-skating book before! And I tend to love what I call "inspirational sports books"--where people compete and learn life lessons. I love that books like this dive into the context in which these kids learn about friendship and honesty, so you can sort of get this individual sense of what they're doing in what environment, and you can sort of feel like you're there even if you know nothing about ice skating (like me).
I think I'll start with what I liked less or thought could have been better about this book, and then I'll list my praise. First off, sometimes the present tense storytelling was really well-done and invisible, but other times it felt weird like the story hadn't completely settled into that tense, and I found myself wishing it was in past most of the time. And sometimes I truly forgot that it was a first-person story because I felt like it was more about Kaitlin than told by her. There were certain plot points that really, really felt contrived for plot purposes, which was interesting to me partly because Kaitlin herself would explicitly say she felt like someone who wasn't her was talking with her mouth or making decisions for her, and that was what it felt like sometimes, with her being puppeted by the plot so certain things would happen to, say, make her get in trouble for storytelling purposes. I thought that group of things was probably the book's biggest set of flaws, and it's why the book didn't get five stars from me.
And this may have been because, well, Kaitlin is twelve, but I didn't feel much chemistry between her and Braedon. Their interaction was mostly "ooh, he has cute hair" and "ooh, he's tempting me into doing things I know I shouldn't do over and over and over again even though we don't actually do much that I enjoy when I give in to him" and "ooh, he calls me cute nicknames and is a bad boy." There were a bunch of bits where Kaitlin has to interact with Braedon and there's some kind of embarrassing accident, some kind of interruption of her life so he can make her pay attention to him for no apparent reason, or some kind of unnecessarily bold action by him that leads to disaster and makes me think Kaitlin really shouldn't care about this person. I just didn't really "get" them, though probably braiding in a bunch of tingles and passion and hot-and-bothered-ness would have definitely been too explicit for the age group.
Occasionally the narration was a bit blunt when I thought it could have been subtler. When I read children's literature I do usually read stuff that's more YA, less MG, so maybe the straightforwardness and reiteration is more common in that category, but I got a little weary sometimes when Kaitlin expressed at least half a dozen times that her initial outburst that basically wrecked her life "just happened"--that she didn't feel in control of her mouth. Same with very explicitly stated observations Kaitlin made about what it meant to switch to another club, which we probably would have felt more sympathetically if she had synthesized and expressed instead of just dropping her thoughts in a lump.
And just a couple details that felt weird to me: I thought it was incredibly weird that Braedon interrupted Miyu's party just to "talk to Kaitlin" and she went climbing out of windows for him, but then THEY DIDN'T DO ANYTHING, like, why did he go there just to talk to her and then not really even talk? It felt like he was just trying to see what she would do for him, like he was trying to manipulate her and got some kind of thrill out of making her break rules for him. And there was an incident where a $500 fee for a party room made everyone lose their minds--like OMG WHERE ARE WE GOING TO GET THIS MONEY, THIS IS A CRISIS THAT WILL CAUSE US TO GET KICKED OUT OF SKATING but I'm pretty sure almost every pampered ice-skating student there MUST plunk that kind of cash down regularly for their multiple lessons and costumes and travel--I can't imagine that people with skates that cost more than a grand couldn't maybe talk for five minutes and have ten of those party people toss in fifty bucks. (Plus the $500 was supposed to cover not only the room but the use of the electronics and FOOD, and to be honest, that's cheap. I've spent half that to feed a dozen or so friends at a Halloween party, and I didn't have to pay for the use of my living room. Felt like a weird detail is all I'm saying.)
And finally I didn't understand Addison's motivation. She was snotty pretty much the whole way through and immediately took a disliking to Kaitlin, going as far as to immediately target her and subtly (and aggressively) bully her. She was ostensibly motivated by the drive to be better than everyone else and didn't want any upstart to outdo her, but she consistently wore her "antagonist" face which made her feel like she was saying and doing these prickly things just to cause conflict to push the story's pacing.
But now I should say all the things I really liked. Kaitlin was easy to root for . . . the fact that she was finally realizing that what SHE wanted mattered was a tiny bit heartbreaking after spending her life SINCE AGE THREE taking ice-skating lessons, being ordered around by her coach and her mother, not being able to go to regular school because homeschooling could accommodate her skating better, and spending her overscheduled life getting her computer privileges and phone privileges yanked away at the slightest hint of disobedience. But her mother, as a Skate Mom, was actually not completely unbelievable like most caricatures of pushy moms are in books like this. There was some subtlety to her, like how she would rephrase her desires as "you don't want that to happen, DO YOU?" to make Kaitlin feel that they were her own desires, and how if Kaitlin was, say, using a computer to look for new coaches, her mom would immediately appear and go OMG WHAT R U DOIN and sit down to take over and do it herself. Kaitlin wasn't being forced to skate--she legitimately loved it--so her mom just being very LOUD about it didn't cross the line into abusive, but she was appropriately grating and I liked how that manifested for Kaitlin's character.
I love that there's such natural anticipation whenever Kaitlin has to skate in a competition. You're praying for her not to fall when she does her jumps and you're breathing faster in sympathy when that official wanders over and posts the scores. You can feel her frustration when she doesn't get what she wants and her desperation when she craves mastery, acceptance, attention, and friendship.
I liked that Kaitlin was so sparkly. This is literal and figurative; you see quickly that she has a flashy style and likes glitter and sparkles on her accessories and that she has a flamboyant streak in her, which is why it's kind of funny that she insists she's more the balletic type for her program style even though everyone (including the reader) can see that she needs to be feistier. That sparkliness translated to her aesthetic in choosing and making gifts for others, and how doing something nice for other people was just natural for her even though some of the people she gave gifts to were still jerks to her. This was consistent throughout her character without being saccharine, and I loved that.
I liked the glimpse into ice-skating culture and rules. Like when we understand that there will be multiple people on the ice even when a skater is practicing their routine, but that it's other people's job to get out of someone's way if it's their program music playing. (And how that sometimes figures in to show personality conflicts.) I was a little thrown by how aggressive the other skaters were in harassing the Fallton skaters (especially when someone CUT A HOLE in a character's skating outfit for no apparent reason), though I would expect some elitism.
I was really invested in Kaitlin's personal growth. She's really just not allowed to ever just be a kid and other people control just about every second of her life, and her major skating issue in the book--not being emotionally connected to her technically near-perfect skating--reflects that. I loved that her new coach asked her what moves she wanted to put in her program and that she was so baffled by being asked for her opinion before reveling in it a while, and I was so irritated at her mom for giving her the "WHAT'S GOTTEN INTO YOU, WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOU KAITLIN" speech when Kaitlin is caught acting out after having her ENTIRE LIFE UPROOTED. She lost the coach she'd had for eight years. She'd been going to the same skate club since she was three. And suddenly she was being plopped into a new environment with new coaches who had new agendas AND she had lost contact with her so-called friends AND Fallton has a terrible reputation and substandard facilities AND she has to deal with making new friends. And her mom asks her why she isn't herself? My head would be spinning for months. It's like she thinks her daughter is a robot. I'm glad she reacted realistically to all the changes, and I loved that Miyu's easy friendship softened the blow.
And finally, I appreciate that the book didn't fall into the inspirational-sports-story trap of connecting everyone's competition results to their character. In stories that do this wrong, bad guys and snotty people ALWAYS lose, people who were mean to the sympathetic main character ALWAYS experience a downfall, and the protagonist is ALWAYS rewarded with triumph at the end. And even though Kaitlin did eventually get what she was aiming for, there were two characters who were terrible to her who also did well in the competition, and Kaitlin had a moment of appreciably complex mixed feelings when she was annoyed at Addison but just couldn't bring herself to wish failure upon her. I like that Kaitlin could be given her own personal triumph without her enemies necessarily having to perish spectacularly on the ice....more
This is the second book in the Queenschair series, and I enjoyed it about as much as I enjoyed the first one (a good deal). Make sure, though, that yoThis is the second book in the Queenschair series, and I enjoyed it about as much as I enjoyed the first one (a good deal). Make sure, though, that you don't dive into this one without reading the first one. And make sure you're prepared to read five books. Because this one definitely has that feeling of being part of the story, not a whole story in itself. If you're cool with that, you'll be cool with the series.
So here we have a missing and presumed dead King--good old Ebreyon, who's managed to get himself ambushed and knocked off a cliff right after he gets engaged. Nice going, Ebrey. Okay, okay. It's not his fault that he doesn't necessarily know who to trust. Who does? The betrayal that affected him kinda blindsided everyone, and now none of his friends or relatives know what happened to him. His twin sister Selana believes he's alive--she thinks she'd just know it if he died, and doesn't think even a band of determined assassins could take her brother the war hero--and of course we the readers believe he's alive as well. It's not really a surprise that the central character of the book did not actually die in book 1. What IS surprising is what's happened to him. I won't spoil it, but I was really impressed that the author had the guts to let Ebreyon's fate happen; too often in fantasy stories the hero gets hurt and experiences only temporary inconvenience and minor scarring that makes them look sexily tough and rugged. All I can say is Ebreyon is extremely far from unscathed, and in a nearly hopeless situation besides. I wish there'd been a little more of Ebrey in this book, but there were so many characters to visit.
Let's go into that too. The book bounced around between a ton of characters. I respected that so many perspectives were pulled in here--it gave off a delightfully confused, sometimes disjointed view of what was going on, since time did NOT stop marching on as you turn the pages--but sometimes that barreling forward feeling made me feel like I was stumbling to catch up, running behind someone's horse or something. What now? Okay, what's happened since the last time we were in this character's head? WAIT WHAT HAPPENED SINCE I TURNED THE PAGE? You don't ever completely lose track, which is great, but there were so many people to come back to throughout the book that it sort of had a restless feeling about it.
While I'm whining, I'll also say the exposition is unusually invisible almost all of the time in this book (that is a good thing), but there were a couple places where background information felt weird showing up carefully constructed for the reader's consumption, and almost all of these bits were somebody's dialogue. And there was a certain writing idiosyncrasy that the author applied throughout (in the first half more than the second); narration will relay the character's perspective and opinion, and then end with a directly quoted italics thought. There are tons of these in the book, with quoted thoughts cinching the central point of what the character was dealing with, and it happened enough that the rhythm sometimes felt repetitive. In the first half there's at least one of these on nearly every page.
I think the only other thing I have to complain about here is that there was a peculiar tendency for some of the characters to guess each other's thoughts and intentions by a "look in their eyes" or an "expression on their face," and I don't remember this skill being in anyone's repertoire to a standout degree in the previous book. There's not any kind of magic or special abilities that would make people able to glean this sort of thing with confidence, and I would have just assumed it was a character trait if it happened for one or two perceptive people (Tibbyyyyyyy), but I saw so many characters doing this in this book. Arsaya knows her father's guilt. Rahna knows Juros has been told her secret. Chanyn knows Jebriel's being truthful. Etc. It's not really framed as a guess--they can just read each other's faces and hidden information is theirs, which they act on. A bit peculiar, considering how heavily guarded some of this information was.
But now I have to ramble about all the things I really liked. Let me start with the Amalors. Now, in the previous book I felt toward Arsaya Amalor about the same as, say, Rahna did. (Rahna gave Arsaya bruises during a brawl at a formal event. You do the math.) She pissed me off in a love-to-hate way. I still dislike Arsaya and her whole nasty family, but she was definitely more sympathetic in this book--and that's a huge accomplishment, considering the things we know to be inside her head. I could just imagine being lost and caught up in the web she's in, pushed to lie, twisted into the truth, abused by the father that never dared to touch her before, and basically still expected to be super fake and perfect. Dude. Arsaya, I still don't want you to marry the King, but I feel for you, girl. And I love your insulting nicknames for everyone. Hahaha.
Chanyn Arbreth I always love, and it makes me so mad that her country (especially her family) is getting fingered for the King's disappearance and likely death. I like that she is truly grieving over the King because she actually loved him and cared about him, not just because he promised to marry her. And I like that she acted impulsively and emotionally (the stuff that happened to Jebriel when he went to Chadarun was really crap), and that she came to her senses and really tried to avoid going to war (though whether she's going to succeed will be answered in another book, it seems). I just love Chanyn. I wish we'd gotten to see more of her.
And what can I say about Rahna. She's angry and brash, as always, and getting some more layers to her in this book but man, it's refreshing to have someone who's just kind of pissed off all the time and isn't doing a whole heck of a lot of calculating. I LOVE that she was pissed off over rumors that Ebreyon knocked up another girl and she's like "oh, he's going to WISH he was dead if that's true." And how she fondly remembers pounding Arsaya's face in--the way other people might reminisce about that time they went to the beach. Ahhh, violence.
Selana. I warmed up to Selana a lot in this book, though I didn't dislike her in the last one or anything. She's portrayed as kind of a bumpkin who embraces her bumpkin-ness, but now she's having to pull together a regal mentality and be the public face instead of the behind-the-scenes cleaning-up-Ebrey's-messes kind of gal. Her self-deprecating thoughts that nevertheless never floundered in deep dark depression, her goofiness when she bantered with Jebriel, her crushing responsibility in donning the Marin mantle, her way of healing from and dealing with her new disability, her refusal to admit her brother is dead but her ability to say on with the show, and her diplomatic way of dealing with her messengers is all very entertaining and fulfilling to read. She's got so many layers and I love her. She's a totally different kind of reluctant ruler than Ebreyon, but you can see a similarity in how they deal with things.
Niwa was a new face in this crowd. I liked her and her backstory, though I wasn't super attached to her and I thought the way she set up her conversation with her adoptive father made them both seem more disposable than the rest. I think we'll be seeing some surprising things from Niwa in the next couple books.
How about Sharalenne? Okay, now she was almost sinister sometimes in the previous book, but I really like Shara in this one. Especially since she came with her own mythology that was extremely relevant to the lives of the royals, but even she didn't know the whole story of her heritage or what it means when the full truth is way more than she bargained for. I like her fearlessness and her devotion to her poor lost brother. And her badassery doesn't hurt. Dang, Shara.
And I have to say when I hit a chapter that opened in House Dorelvin, I said it out loud: "TIBBYYYYYY!" This series would just not be what it is without Tibby. She's full of mischief and riddles, but that's not all she is--she's brilliant and observant and notices EVERYTHING. I love how she figures Rahna out in a split second and absolutely calls her out on it, and how she later has a mini-tantrum when Lelan accuses her of having a crush on the King. This kid needs her own fan club, and I'd be glad to manage it, but I wouldn't dare babysit her.
Random other observations:
When Jebriel was getting sent back to Trisala after his imprisonment in Chadarun, I really enjoyed the little soldier-bro moment between him and the guy who gave him advice. It's so cool when people on opposite sides of a fight can find their common ground.
I do not like Hanjior. I don't like that he got an appointment to the Trisala Knights. He irritates me and I hope it's just youthful machismo and overconfidence, because the way he talked to Selana was way too forward and it weirds me out that she shut him down and then later let him in. I don't trust him, though. Rawr.
I like that Zeydric Amalor can be such a dishtowel and still be the kind of person who deserves trust. Complicated characters make me happy.
I like that even though others refer to the kin of Yoljen as beasts or monsters, when we're in Shara's head she refers to her heritage as "more than human," not less. Hooray for consistency and refusal to internalize narratives that cast her as subhuman.
I love that Rahna knows she's no genius. She accepts that her strengths lie in fighting and attitude, but nevertheless doesn't want to be underestimated. I like that she respects that Juros Dorelvin will lie and keep their alliance but not lie to her.
I thought it was interesting that Selana and Arsaya both can't use their right hand because crap that happened at the end of the last book. That whole similarity and frustration was neat to see, though of course Selana won't be getting better from hers.
Niwa tutoring Lelan on Xadeian calligraphy. Making comments about its lack of readability by foreigners. Discussing how it's an art in itself. Rendering Jubain names in phonetic characters because foreigners' names can't be assigned those characters. Well, it's settled. Xadeians are basically Japanese. Not that the author tried to mask that at all, haha.
And finally: I love that at the beginning we get this parade of names and associations and loyalties and it all starts to blur together, but the convolutedness of it all is relayed very well through this WHILE we get the sense that Selana understands it all. SHE'S not confused, though she's overwhelmed. I like that the author manages to show you how complicated it is and confuse you a little without making you feel like you're going to lose your place if you get a little lost. Keeping track of royal affiliations and who's double-crossing who is not my strong suit, so it's great that I can still enjoy it and expect just enough context clues to reasonably keep the galloping horse in sight.
Y'all need to read this series and get all immersed and caught up in these characters. You won't be sorry. Except now I need Book 3--I can't wait to see some of the reunions and confrontations that must be coming!
My book club picked this book and assured us that even though it was number 9 in a series, you didn't have to read the other 8 to get it. I'm not sureMy book club picked this book and assured us that even though it was number 9 in a series, you didn't have to read the other 8 to get it. I'm not sure if that's partially responsible for the huge disconnect I had with this book, but it's possible. What I felt like is that maybe everyone's grown to love these characters over other books and already had some kind of connection that I missed completely, because I couldn't get into these caricatures of humanity or believe in/enjoy anything they did. I wondered for a while if the unbelievability was intentional to increase the hilarity, but since that would have required the book to be funny, I didn't see that working either. Mostly I just saw overly constructed characters firing and missing at humor like a drunk redneck taking potshots at a road sign.
Serge Storms was obviously supposed to be the heart of the humor in this book, and his associate Coleman was his always-inebriated sidekick. Now, Serge felt obnoxious to me while he was forced to be read as charismatic to everyone in the book. Authority figures fold in his presence assuming he's supposed to be in places he's not allowed to be, allowing him to get away with nonsense and dumb pranks. Coincidences allow him to reap rewards, have run-ins with annoying people who cause minor inconvenience to Serge and pay with their lives in "hilarious" murders. Women are not important in the story except for when they practically wet themselves to be allowed to have sex with Serge--three different times various women throw themselves at Serge and frequently narrate (out loud) how many orgasms they're having as Serge ravishes them without seeming particularly interested in what he's doing. You see, he's so amazing that he's pumping these women and driving them to the best climaxes of their lives, but it takes very little of his attention and he can do stuff like drive a car hilariously, talk to his associates while banging, and even share his random thoughts on Florida history.
The Florida history thing. He was constantly dropping buckets of exposition about Floridian trivia, OUT LOUD, and lovable old Coleman pipes up to say "Serge, you're doing it again!" Why does he do his? Well, because he's craaaaazy! Ho ho! Real example from the book (YES, THIS IS DIALOGUE):
"A few miles above Venice, the Tamiami Trail takes a pair of jogs as it wings past Marina Jack's and the bridge to Bird Key, home of lifestyle pace-car and AC/DC front man Brian Johnson. The road continues north toward the international airport as part of something designated 'Florida Scenic Highway,' a route singularly characterized by a dense concentration of endangered mom-and-pop motels clinging from the fifties. Many had already been demolished, while others were converted to a variety of mixed-density operations selling live bait and sex toys. The most tenacious kept the neon buzzing: the Seabreeze, the Sundial, the Cadillac, the Galaxy, the Siesta, the Flamingo Colony. . . ."
"Serge," said Coleman, "you're doing it again."
". . . In the middle of this stretch is a small, easily missed concrete building set back from the road in a nest of palms and island vegetation. Above the front door, in Tahitian lettering: BAHI HUT. What do you say we take a peek inside?"
"Serge, we're already inside. You're talking to yourself at the bar."
". . . The lounge's interior was aggressively dark and Polynesian. Wicker, bamboo, tiki gods, wooden surfboards. The kind of place criminals might hatch schemes in early episodes of Hawaii Five-O. I advised Coleman to try the hut's signature drink. He ordered two. . . ."
This kind of thing happened a LOT in the book--while driving, while sitting around, while setting up plot points. People would narrate what they were doing, and other people would prompt them or explain what they're doing and ask dumb questions about why they're doing it so we'd know it was happening ("Why's that guy shaking?" instead of telling us someone is shaking), and the dialogue was often so absurd that it was all contrived to lead to some half-baked punch line. Every character's speech revolved around letting Serge say something offensive or clever, literally set up like a knock-knock joke. This enables him to offend the priest constantly (even though priests in confessionals don't announce how offended they are or express outrage as a way to keep people saying even more offensive things), or to stir up a crowd through absurd manipulation, or ask out-of-context questions to push the dialogue along so Serge can throw a snarky zinger. Which would have MAYBE been more tolerable if the climax wasn't some half-baked Dad Joke that's so overplayed I've been seeing its cousins on Internet forums since 1995.
And here's another weird thing about the way everything about the book felt staged. First, when a character is introduced, the narration will give you a photograph of them, basically--tell you what they look like, tell you what kind of person they are, frame them in the context of the story for you. And THEN . . . you get to see that actually revealed in the story as examples of it play out for you to establish character. And THEN . . . later in the story the character will EXPLAIN THEMSELVES TO OTHERS to establish character AGAIN. This happened with Coleman. With Serge. With McSwirley. With Mahoney. For example, McSwirley is introduced by the narration with expository whinging featuring him in a psychiatrist's office telling the doctor about how he's been on the cop beat for three years and can't stand talking to survivors and it's destroying him, but BECAUSE he feels so much pain over survivors' tragedies, he can often get exclusives and be welcomed by survivors, leading to his ability to sensitively render their stories in the paper and make his boss not want to take him off the cop beat. Then you actually get to see McSwirley arriving to a crime scene, crying and puking on things, being huddled around by survivors who basically want to comfort HIM, and playing out exactly what McSwirley described in the doctor's office. And later, he explains everything about his situation to Serge and cries a lot while doing it. Like . . . we get it, all right? How about just letting us see ONE of these things in action and have it be funny when it keeps recurring, without explaining it to us?
This book is basically an excuse to show Serge driving around in hurricanes, murdering people because they're terrible but doing similar things himself when it suits him, bantering with Coleman about his mid-life crisis, watching Coleman be incompetent because he's drunk or high and doing zaaaaanny things like spray-painting his legs with furniture polish to keep evil elves away, and following Mahoney doing his noir schtick that leaves everyone baffled and McSwirley being so hilariously mild-mannered that he can't even get angry at people who deliberately set out to ruin him and harass him. Everyone's a construction for the joke. Everyone's a comedy routine. Everyone does off-the-wall things so we can stage another joke, with alternating lines of dialogue being rendered in italics because it goes on so long devoid of real voice that it's otherwise hard to tell who's talking. Every woman is a random sex-bot who is so blown away by sex with Serge that they are humped into exhaustion and subsequent hibernation, which allows our heroes to abandon them without a problem or do something grisly they're left to find--they're all shallow and exist to be manipulated, and even though Serge is a madman, it's clear his "how to deal with women--let them think they've won and just don't argue" advice feels a little less deliberately sexist in a book where literally every woman behaves irrationally and cares only about petty things. Broads are so silly and vapid!
In general I was just frustrated by how empty of content the book was. Occasionally there'd be an absurdity that would make me laugh or a phrase/idea that made me think it was a bit clever, but everything around it would have bent like skinny trees in hurricane winds to accommodate this scene happening. Ho ho, the Party Parrot randomly shows up in the background of all the news stories. Ho ho, the news room is a sensationalistic tourist attraction that has tours coming through every fifteen minutes. Ho ho, Coleman is drunk again and fell off his stool after Serge gave us a page and a half of exposition about the signature drink. Ho ho, a clipboard makes people think you're the boss and they'll let you uproot and steal the ATM from the convenience store. Ho ho, noir detective insists on wearing his fedora and calling people by code names like "Mongoose." Ho ho, a truck driver arrives in a remote location during a hurricane and needs something from our heroes just in time to become their decoy.
Being a Floridian and living exactly where this book is set, it was kind of interesting to see places I know and see some of the hurricane stuff framed in the story, though I was surprised at how thoroughly he made the Tampa Bay area sound like a dump. That's not entirely untrue, though, I guess. Florida certainly is a special breed of weirdville populated by weirdos and full of absurdity. It makes me wonder why this felt so strained if there really is so much actual weirdness in this state to draw on. Based on this, I definitely would say Carl Hiaasen does a much better job capturing the Weird of Florida without spending the entire book creating excuses for his characters to recite stories about it.
So this is what excellent author Mallory Ortberg thinks various literary characters would say if they were able to squirt their ridiculous brain-droppSo this is what excellent author Mallory Ortberg thinks various literary characters would say if they were able to squirt their ridiculous brain-droppings into the digital world through text messaging. It's charmingly weird pretty much throughout, has individual bright spots of hilarious phrases, and is especially funny if you're intimately familiar with the context. There were some where I had trouble figuring out who the characters were talking to (sometimes it was unnamed and not clearly someone from the story or historical era), because even though the text messages were shown in little bubbles like they are on many phones now, there were no headings to say who was talking. You can still read and be amused by the ones that are drawn from works you're not familiar with, but it'll just seem weird . . . probably a lot like the text conversations many of us have with our loved ones.
Circe complaining that she has no idea why there are halfbreed monsters all over the island because it was like that when she'd gotten there, and suggested the REAL problem is why Odysseus's men are so turn-into-pigs-able.
John Donne sharing ridiculous sex poems and whining that the message receiver will not have sex with him even though she's willing to get bitten by the same flea as him.
Don Quixote slaying kitchen appliances despite being implored to desist.
Rene Descartes going off on a tangent about how everything his text partner says is probably what a demon forced them to say, which had this ridiculous feeling like logging onto Tumblr and looking at everyone's nightblogging.
Sherlock Holmes and the mystery of how much cocaine he can fit in his face.
This exchange in Moby Dick: Do you ever worry that the whale is like a metaphor / a metaphor? / yeah / Sometimes / me too me too . . . do you want to nail stuff to the mast / yeah / ok / be there in five
Miss Havisham texting everyone about how she can't attend their events because she's too busy being jilted and it takes up all her time--and sending them all save-the-date invitations and photos of wedding dresses.
Edgar Allen Poe describing how he cannot leave the house because a bird is looking at him, to which his texting partner replies "that's. no. that's never happened to me."
The entire conversation between Heathcliff and Cathy about how in love they are and how they plan to express it.
Hamlet texting HE'S NOT MY REAL DAD WHY DO YOU EVEN LIKE HIM
Marius from Les Miz being a clueless git and texting Eponine about which bracelet she thinks Cosette would like.
A conversation between characters from The Outsiders in which they try to figure out how "Soc" is pronounced. And all the discussion of the particulars of their hair and eye color, which is hilarious because that drove me up the wall when I read that book.
Everyone in the Baby-Sitters Club hates Mallory and makes references to Claudia's terrible fashion. I appreciated Karen gluing rhinestones on her homework.
Fight Club was somehow made actually more insane. Including Tyler's threats to piss on the narrator's pants.
The Lorax trying to convince his text partner to switch to the Diva Cup to help save the environment. That and falling asleep in her purse.
Peeta texting Katniss about a "frosting emergency" while she's busy hunting.
And Ron falling for a Nigerian prince scam because he doesn't understand how credit cards and technology work, resulting in an epic facepalm from Hermione. It was great how Mallory pointed out that magical folk don't have a basic education and can't do math, which was something I complained about in the Harry Potter series.
All in all just so much fun to read. You'll laugh if you "know" these folks....more
I'll start by saying this book isn't my usual fare. I generally prefer first-person books or at least books without too many points of view, and thisI'll start by saying this book isn't my usual fare. I generally prefer first-person books or at least books without too many points of view, and this one has like a dozen. On top of that, it's about a war hero who's kind of at the center of his own weird harem anime because he's the king and a bunch of different girls want to marry him, right? Not the kind of thing I usually go for at all. BUT.
J.C. Fann knows what to do to make a story like this personal, believable, intimate, and real. On the surface, it's about a reluctant king who kinda gets pushed into ruling a country even though all he's really good at is war, and about how he's badgered into slowly pursuing marriage even though he'd probably rather nurse his broken heart and bitterness over losing his original fiancée to someone else in an ultimate betrayal. But beneath the surface it's way, way, WAY more. I got really into the characters' individual dramas, diving into their personal worlds, getting invested in their private desires and needs. It's an epic, with history that can be felt, and generations of bad feeling and good alliances that aren't played like thin little violins, but it's still about PEOPLE. You're in good hands with this writer.
Ebreyon Marin, our befuddled king, finds himself having to choose between Arsaya Amalor--a beautiful brat of a girl from Hyrona--and Chanyn Arbreth--an angry, proud woman from Chadarun who doesn't even like him. I love that neither of the girls is madly in love with Ebreyon and they're all well aware that this is more of a political marriage situation, and that despite that he's able to find some common ground with both girls. Arsaya, surprisingly, isn't just a snotty ball of pretense wrapped up in a gorgeous sociopath. She's had her heart broken too, in a way that wounds her to the core, because she wasn't able to get what's come easily to her in every other path in her life--the only thing she ever wanted. And she has this nasty little habit/talent: She can draw. She draws people she hates and destroys the drawings so no one will know. It's sort of incredible. I love weird little quirks like this about characters. Chanyn, for her part, is also sort of a weird ball of rage and way too proud to be someone's prize, and comes off as bratty toward the beginning because she's just so pissed off about everything, but she learns to grow a mature appreciation for her mother's wishes and her own future, finds common ground with Ebreyon, and gains some traction in their relationship (even though some of it is admittedly fueled by wanting to beat Arsaya). It's so intriguing how these two ladies are major characters in a fantasy book but there are aspects of them that could be at home in a YA love triangle (which I mean in the best possible way).
You'll love the other female characters too--so many delightful ladies in a fantasy novel, woohoo!--Selana, the king's sister with different-colored eyes and a protective disposition; Mahalla, a relative of the king who becomes the victim of a horrible plot; Erinya, the king's mother, with her gentle and knowing wisdom; little Tibby, my secret fave, who can kick some butts with a slingshot and is way smarter and more observant than most people expect little girls to be in her world (and she miiight have a teeny crush on the king, even if she's not old enough to be a contender). And of course Rahna. She's probably the closest to a cliché character that the book has--you know, spitfire warrior princess with red hair, a beast on the battlefield and in the sack--but even she's got dimensions, and you haven't heard the last of her when you think you have. As I read along, I developed this weird soap-opera-ish feeling, like "okay, what are these people I know so well going to do next?" It didn't feel orchestrated by some outside planner. It felt honestly conducted by its players. It's a relief to read something of this scope that's written so authentically.
The political stuff went over my head sometimes, but I think Game of Thrones and other epic fantasy fans will eat it up. I could still follow it even though my primary fascination was with the character webs. I occasionally felt like the background history and mythology was heavy and then other times it was so subtle I didn't pick it up, but overall it gelled well enough that I could get the big picture. It does have some very mild fantastical elements, which weren't super obvious upon reading, say, the first half, but that made it especially interesting to me; I should say for the benefit of those wanting recommendations that people who don't like fantasy very much might find this a good stepping stone into reading low and high fantasy epics, since the fantastical stuff isn't front and center. And I personally appreciated the fact that this isn't White People World; it's an explicitly ethnically diverse alternate world that isn't just some Alt-Europe Clone, and I enjoyed how female-friendly it was as well. I'm excited that this is a whole series, because I want to hang out with these people again.
Also: Team Chanyn. Had to say it. Team Chanyn all the way....more
What's weird is I didn't care for the book's content or characters, but I thought it was very well written, so I couldn't give it less than four starsWhat's weird is I didn't care for the book's content or characters, but I thought it was very well written, so I couldn't give it less than four stars. As a writer, editor, and critique partner for other writers, I am frequently in the criticism chair, and it was nice to just forget and read, knowing immediately that I was in good hands with an author who knows how to spin a yarn. There were no tricks, no manipulations, no pulled punches; just good straightforward cop stuff as the multidimensional Lucas Davenport chases maddog killer Louis Vullion. So happens I don't care for that kind of stuff, and I only read it for book club, but people who do enjoy these types of books are really going to like this one.
First, Vullion, the killer. He's gross for a lot of reasons that have nothing to do with the fact that he gets off on murdering women. The entitlement, ego, and power trip that flow off of this guy made me think he was actually pretty sloppy with his choices; some of the descriptions of this book paint Vullion as some kind of genius who manipulates the cops and pulls a bunch of puppet strings, but that's not actually how he comes off in the story. He plans pretty well, and knows a lot about how cops catch criminals because he's a lawyer, so he knows what not to do. But he's incompetent in a ton of ways--admits several times in the story that he's not accepted as being good at his job, gets tricked and manipulated not only by Davenport but by news media and one of his own victims, panics fairly frequently, claims to have no patterns but sticks to his patterns even after they're called to his attention. He slipped by the police a few times that the story literally calls out as luck. Somebody happened to be downstairs getting a snack while on surveillance when he went by, or somebody's dog tried to eat one of the cops chasing him, or a dispatcher screwed up the order of some emergency procedures. He got away because of luck way more than he got away because of skill. He was not the gamesman Davenport was.
Now, Davenport. I liked that he had this other games thing going on--being a game creator and using his imaginary scenarios to show that he understood how to manipulate his audience--but even though he was pretty damn smart, it was refreshing to see how often HE got snookered. Not just by the killer--again, most of the time he failed to catch Vullion due to other people's incompetence or bad luck--but he got manipulated by women, by media, by lawyers. I appreciated not having a complete mastermind at the helm here. Made it more interesting.
And I'd like to say the focus on the media was eye-opening for me. The cops seemed to care as much or more about how their handling of the crime was spun in the media as they did about actually catching the criminals. There were also several other crimes braided in that Davenport blew the lid off of while pumping his contacts for info and tracking down links to the maddog. I liked how one of them realistically got dropped when the cops thought they found the guy and then nobody followed up, but it led to some pretty important stuff. I have to say, though, I'm kinda confused about how everybody seems to know who's having sex. They just observed people and assumed--rightly--that the people they were looking at had been or were currently sexually intimate with each other. I thought that was kinda weirdly convenient because people think that ALL the time when it isn't true. I've certainly had it thought about me, and I don't sleep with anyone.
My favorite thing about it was when Davenport figured out how to push Vullion's buttons and manipulated the news into making unflattering claims about the killer so he'd maybe get sloppy and/or target the talking head making those claims. It's pretty awesome that it was as simple as a boring old male ego that's predictably infuriated by someone claiming he's repulsive to women or impotent. Way to pretty much literally insult his penis. Go Davenport.
Some of the storytelling choices were pretty interesting. Third person--most of the time staying with Davenport, but occasionally bouncing into the heads of victims and spending maybe a sixth of the time in the killer's mind, with a couple notable longish passages that appeared to be more disconnected omniscient--worked well for the story. There were many chances to interweave details, like when and how we found out the killer's name, his occupation, his hair color, his car's make and model. That way, unlike with most detective stories or straightforward mysteries, we could actually watch some of Davenport's discoveries play out and enjoy watching him figure out the truth when we already know what it is. Sometimes we know the next victim ahead of time, and wonder what they're going to learn about him based on clues he may have left. And it was clear from the way the story was told that Davenport had a past; he'd killed five men before, and he had reputation and past experiences that came out in his interactions with the other policemen, the reporters, and some of the additional characters. He had a series of successful game sales that were just kinda part of his existence, and he enjoyed reading poetry. Sorta well-rounded guy.
That said, what I usually like best about a book is character connection and interaction, and I didn't get attached to any of the characters, nor did I find their interactions compelling (though I did find them believable). The distant third person made their inner lives a little inconsistent for me, which kept me out instead of pulled me in. I definitely never forgot I was reading, always felt like a spectator watching something play out, and while it played out well and was presented masterfully, I never got lost in it. I recommend it, nevertheless, wholeheartedly for people who like police procedural novels and squicky whodunnits....more
This was my first book by Rowell and I was really blown away by how gorgeous it was. The writing was evocative without trying too hard (very difficultThis was my first book by Rowell and I was really blown away by how gorgeous it was. The writing was evocative without trying too hard (very difficult balance to hit), and the way she executed both characters' home lives and relationship with each other was incredible. Eleanor may have had the worse home situation, but I loved how Park's relationship with his parents was kind of screwy too--how his dad was always policing his masculinity and how he sort of bullied him while he was learning to drive. Eleanor's was a heartbreaking portrayal of living in an abusive, poor family, and the author did an amazing job connecting that to Eleanor getting bullied at school (some of the "poor fashion choices" she made were just because she literally didn't have anything else or her clothes were falling apart), and how the only spot of privacy she had was a box she kept on her bed, and how the bathroom didn't have a door so she couldn't even take a shower without worrying that her stepfather or someone else was just going to barge in and see her.
But what was best about the book was the relationship between Eleanor and Park and how realistically the author portrayed its evolution as they both dealt with being teenagers. Very few authors can honestly NAIL that *feeling* of being a teen--of scraping your way into individual identity and still lacking the power to have true agency in your life. Not that I had even marginally strict parents, but I remember that feeling of knowing they (or someone else's parents) could just take away one of my friendships by forbidding me to talk on the phone with them, or when certain music could be termed trash and confiscated and since you were a kid and couldn't just go somehow get another one without getting a ride to the mall and money to sneakily buy the tape again, you'd accept a dubbed copy from your friend exchanged at your locker and you'd label it something else. Your parents and teachers and other adults could control every aspect of your life, making it so the times you have with your friends and crushes or even with your personal projects could feel like they were being borrowed or gouged out of your own life--something that wasn't yet granted to fully belong to you--and you had to scrape for these moments with some pretty incredible desperation sometimes. Eleanor and Park almost never successfully got time alone because of stuff like this, which made the almost panicked way they behaved when they were alone seem utterly real. Like they were trying to suck every shiny little moment out of the togetherness oasis so it would tide them over to the next time--if there was one.
The way these two evolved into liking each other was really special too. It's funny, because I usually can't buy the "hate at first sight" thing turning into love, but like many other aspects of this book that would usually be annoying, the execution was flawless. Park judged Eleanor like everyone else did as soon as he saw her, but because he's a good guy and his good-guy-ness outweighs his need to be marginally accepted by the bullies so they'll leave him alone, he let her sit with him on the bus. And he kept a distance between them because she seemed like "a mess" and he didn't want the harassment she was going to get. She felt similarly about him--resentment over what he said to her when he invited her to sit, resentment over him looking "perfect," resentment in general. And they bonded over comic books, which was really cute, especially since she was surreptitiously reading them when he was on the bus, which led to them discovering similar tastes and being able to talk about literature and music. I loved how they both admitted, during their first phone conversation, that they had begun to look forward to and "live for" each other's company. The book did such a great job perfectly walking that line between "pathetic teenage 'love' obsession" and "realistic teenage infatuation." I mean, it doesn't go overboard and make you sick, but it does make it clear that in some ways these kids are typical kids. Some of the descriptions of how they felt while holding hands or what they were holding back when trying to decide how to touch were so well executed and unique; it really made me think I need to find ways to bring similar freshness and ingenuity to my few-and-far-between but important romantic scenes in my writing.
There were only two tiny things I didn't like about the book; one was that I guessed immediately who was writing disgusting things on her book covers, so the revelation of who was doing it didn't blow my mind (though Eleanor's reaction to it was appropriate), and the other was that I wasn't a fan of how Eleanor's black friends spoke. (It just seemed like the dialogue was trying too hard to incorporate AAVE phrases into just about everything the two girls said, and while some incorporation of dialect-specific phrases and words is of course appropriate, it felt a bit like it was too often and felt like reaching.) I also was surprised to see the phrase "I know, right?" in the narration when I'm pretty sure that wasn't a phrase anyone was using in the previous millennium, when this book was set. I love the references to 1980s life throughout, though.
This book was simply wonderful to read and I'm definitely going to buy and read everything this author has written....more
Having seen the movie like most kids of my generation, I wanted to see what more there was in the book, and honestly I found there was a bit of a mismHaving seen the movie like most kids of my generation, I wanted to see what more there was in the book, and honestly I found there was a bit of a mismatch between my tastes and this book's storytelling. I did like the ideas, somewhat--it's compelling to imagine a world where human imagination is pretty much the strongest thing that can exist--and I thought it was a bit deliciously unusual (though some of the freshness may have been because it was translated from German and came from a culture that wasn't mine). What I didn't really get into was the way the story was presented with a feeling like someone was just telling you about it after the fact. It didn't have a "right here, right now" feeling to me, and that does have a time and a place, but it's not really something that grabs my interest most of the time. I didn't care for any of the characters really--didn't get attached to anyone--and of course I couldn't get rid of some of the iconic images impressed on my memory by the film even though the book directly contradicted them in some cases. (Dude, Atreyu has green skin.) One thing that irritated me, though, was that the chapters corresponded to letters of the alphabet, with a word starting with each letter in order being the first word in the chapter. Of course, whenever anyone does something like this, you wonder in what cheap way they will incorporate the letter X. Enter a character named Xayide. I found her annoying and hoped the story would have reason to get rid of her soon after her first appearance, but since X is the 24th letter of the alphabet, I knew she'd have to be relevant until at least the tail end of the book, and that felt almost like a spoiler....more
I went into this book with high hopes because I knew it contained two of my favorite things: an alternate fantasy-based modern world, and elemental maI went into this book with high hopes because I knew it contained two of my favorite things: an alternate fantasy-based modern world, and elemental magic. Furthermore, the fact that it wasn't the old standbys--Earth, Fire, Water, and Air--was kind of a cool concept; instead, we have Stone, Ice, Air, and Fire, and an apparently new mythology attached to them that doesn't draw inspiration from what's already been done. Golf clap!
That sorta originality and a couple of the quips made by the main character influenced me to settle on a two-star rating. I actively disliked this book and was constantly groaning at its sloppiness throughout, so that's about as high as I can go here.
So why did I hate it?
First and foremost, I cannot believe how repetitive the writing was. The author has favorite phrases that she leans on over and over and over again, which left a stiff and unoriginal sheen on the entire thing. I'm sure just about everyone who read and even liked this book will have to nod a little bit and admit that yeah, being reminded of everyone's eye color every fourth paragraph was obnoxious, and that it became tiresome right quick to have the protagonist and her love interest share a gaze that was either "gray on gold" or "gold on gray," but I doubt too many people thought it was noteworthy enough to quantify.
Well, when I saw "my gray eyes" a second time within the first couple chapters, I chuckled to myself and thought "I'm starting a count to see how many times she tells us her own eye color."
Ladies, gentlemen, people, the count was TWENTY-EIGHT.
Who tells us their eyes are gray twenty-eight times in a book?
I didn't bother to count how many times she mentioned Finn's GREEN eyes or the James sisters' BLUE-GREEN eyes, and three colors for Donovan Caine's eyes were used interchangeably. Amber, gold, and hazel. The first occurrence was "hazel," so when she started describing them as gold I got confused. Most people don't consider those terms interchangeable, though I guess that's arguable for amber and gold. Hazel, not really.
But let's get away from the eyes and maybe talk about something else. There were a bunch of absurdly repetitive phrases in this book and I don't understand why an editor didn't cut them out.
Gin's five-point arsenal:
Just in case you were wondering how Gin prepares for battle: two knives go in her boots. Two up her sleeves. One against the small of her back. She tells us this as if it is new information FOUR TIMES in the book. Just recites it out just like that, sometimes rambling a bit about the knives.
Gin is horny:
Besides the fact that she pretty much can't look at a hot guy without the narration commenting "Mmmm," there was a very peculiar phrase used twice. The first time she observed Donovan in the book, she saw him from a balcony and got hot and bothered. The phrasing for this involved her breasts "tightening" and a mention of a pleasant ache settling between her thighs. Later, she sees him again. You guessed it: "My breasts tightened, and a pleasant ache settled between my thighs." Really, Gin? Do you not have any other way to tell us you're into him? (For the record, I don't read a lot of smexy fiction, but I have to say I've never seen the "breasts tightening" thing from looking at a hot person.)
Donovan's boss is a chubby middle-aged giant:
Page 119: "a giant with pale eyes and stubby salt-and-pepper hair whose once trim physique was going to fat."
Page 255: "the other guy was a giant with salt-and-pepper hair and a bulky frame that was slowly going to fat."
I used to think the cut-and-paste scenes in V.C. Andrews's romances pasted into separate books with the names changed were lazy and tasteless. But this is in the same book!
Mab Monroe. The fire elemental. The elemental. The fire elemental.
Maybe it's just a pet peeve, but I get irritated when people use "the [attribute]" or "the [occupation]" almost exclusively instead of their name and they think that's helping make the narration more varied. What's even more aggravating is that the characters do it too.
Other more minor infractions involved having the protagonist "hiss at the pain" twice within a page of each other, having Gin recite that Fletcher "took her in off the streets when she had nowhere else to go" constantly whenever she remembers him or feels grateful for him, having people described as "planting themselves" on furniture twice within a page of each other, having her "rifle through his pockets to pull out a wallet and cell phone" at least twice and maybe it was three times described exactly the same way, and a bizarre dependence on describing people's skin with a comparison to food. And though I've already mentioned the problem I have with the absolutely overwhelming number of times she describes the characters' eyes, there was another aspect associated with eyes that just killed me: emotions were almost exclusively relayed through "desire in his gold eyes" and "hate burned in her blue-green eyes" and whatnot. You really can switch up how emotions appear on people's faces and in their body language instead of just lazily saying "hate" is "in their eyes." It's so, so, so repetitive and difficult to read.
So. Repetitive narration. But beyond that, you say, what about the content? What did I think about the story?
I think I tripped over the exposition too many times to even get running, guys.
This is kind of a harsh and almost unbelievable thing to say about a successful book with a following like this has, but I felt like I was reading a book by a beginning author who was still learning how to build a world and set up natural reveals. I gritted my teeth at the beginning and figured eventually it would stop shoehorning the exposition in, but it literally didn't stop until the last page, and there were a few times when the story paused to tell us background information IT HAD ALREADY TOLD US. I just felt so baffled reading it.
Gin is hired to kill a shrink, and gets herself committed to an insane asylum so she can have easy access to her target. What does she do?
Explain in great detail, out loud, in dialogue, to her shrink that she is a famous assassin called the Spider, because lol no one will believe her anyway since they're in a crazy house. (Then she kills the shrink and the guard. But not before she's given us a soliloquy about her profession and her history. How in the world did anyone think it was a good idea for her to give her real working name?)
Gin walks through a rough area of town before going to the Pork Pit, where her handler and mentor Fletcher works. There are a bunch of seedy ladies around. What does she do?
Gives us a long explanation of why so many vampires are whores, of course. Good thing she passed them on the way so we could get this explanation and it would feel gritty. The fact that some vampires can feed on sex and/or emotion in addition to or in place of blood was not only stated here, but then squeezed in again in a very similar way later in the book--the narration stopped the story to tell us this irrelevant aspect of vampires' feeding habits. Okay?
Gin enters the Pork Pit. Fletcher is inside--a man she's known since she was a child and considers to be something like a father. What happens?
We get an externally directed narrative about what he looks like ("an old man") with no suggestion that she even knows him. This enables us to sneakily get the particulars of his appearance. It felt terribly uneven.
Gin receives a drink and complains that the drink is warm, but Fletcher's out of ice. How do we solve this?
Fletcher reminds Gin that she has ice powers, after which she's like "oh yeah, lol I can do it myself!" and we get to watch her put magical ice into her drink. Followed by explanations of how this is a secondary ability after her Stone powers and a bunch of junk about her skills. I tripped over this solid block of exposition so hard I think I chipped my tooth on the Pork Pit counter.
Gin has occasion to mention someone who has Fire elemental powers. What next?
After dialogue has already done a pretty decent job revealing that Mab Monroe is a powerful Fire elemental, we then get "by the way, Mab Monroe? She's a Fire elemental. That means she can do this. And that. And this other thing. Here is her history. She is this way. In case you didn't catch the reference about her 'burning people up,' btw she does that with her powers when she doesn't like you. And in case you're curious, here's some more stuff about how elemental magic works and which ones are polar opposites of each other. Don't worry if you don't remember this stuff right now though. I'll drop it again in indulgent narration later when I think you might've forgotten."
Gin encounters a rune. What?
Explanation of what runes are. Rambly philosophy on what they're for and what Gin's relationship with them is. Angsty discussion of the rune-shaped scars burned into her hands. Angsty discussion of the runes she associates with her dead family, based on paintings she did of their runes, which she's looking at "daydreaming" in the narration. Also, runes.
Gin is trying to assassinate someone, but another assassin corners HER. What does she do?
Pause the action while she gives us a long explanation of who Brutus is, what kind of respect assassins have for each other, what his code name is, and a kind of long diatribe about how being an assassin works. This is literally WHILE HE HAS A GUN TO HER HEAD. We are in narration exposition land WHEN HE IS ABOUT TO SHOOT HER. Way to kill the momentum.
Gin is driving between Northtown and Southtown. So?
How about some history of the town, description of its demographics, and where/how each "side" lives? That's definitely not something you could pick up from context if you just showed it, right? We need it in a nice little package that doesn't seem to be tied to anything Gin is thinking.
Gin goes to sleep after something bad happens to Fletcher and the narration says she dreams. What's next?
She has an expository dream about Fletcher and their first meeting, of course. Dreams are never irrelevant.
Gin visits Jo-Jo. We see her "drama mama" setup through some description of the place. And?
Of course, now is a perfect time to tell us what Jo-Jo does for a living, what she does as a side business, and a whole bunch of unnecessary history. Seriously, none of this would have been hard to braid into what they were already talking about. But wait, should I suggest that dialogue be a good vehicle to deliver exposition?
NO NO NO because when she does do that it's even worse.
There are at least four or five scenes where people eavesdrop on bad guys who just happen to be discussing the last job they did so Gin can get the details or the bad guys just answer the heroine's questions about their motives. There are literally "and this was my evil plan" conversations in this book. And when bad guys don't know they're being overheard, they still peculiarly include names and full context so our heroes can put the pieces together. Yo, let's have a Very Detailed conversation about how the police chief got roped into working with the bad guys. Of course it's blackmail! And of course he's a disgusting pervert, and we'll make reference to the whole story of how he got blackmailed and what over, right here, in our private room containing only people who already knew this whole story. They're also sloppy whenever it's convenient for the plot, such as a minor bad guy having a hidden identity but happily giving his REAL business card to a hot girl (so Gin can go get it after he leaves).
And there is even a painful "as you know, Bob" conversation when they're driving in a car. Gin, Finn, and good-cop Donovan are driving together after their uneasy alliance has been established, but the poor good cop knows very little about our protagonist and her seedy life. In this conversation we "naturally" drop sexual history, Gin's name, and oh yeah hey remember that one assassination we did together where we'll provide complete context so the guy in the backseat can gather information? That was awesome. Gin's pointlessly slow reveal of her elemental powers is annoying too. I don't know why she's revealing some things and not revealing others.
A ton of the recitations would have actually been fine if they'd been connected in any way to Gin's actual observations or attached to believable dialogue. But they pretty much never flowed naturally from what was going on. We had to stop the story, have Gin explain things to us with a little bit of dark sulking or grit thrown in, and then we'd have her startle into the present or return to the action. And a ton of the extra explicit material was already very clear in the story without having any author hand-holding us. I am just really curious why no professional editor sat down with this author and tore this apart to put it back together without the raging, glowing beacons of exposition that make the book so uneven.
But even when I wasn't coughing on repetition dust or tripping over exposition, was there anything plot-wise or character-wise that I could salvage to enjoy?
It felt predictable throughout, and that was pretty disappointing. If you see Gin setting eyes on a sexy man and basically moaning to herself and describing what her sex parts are doing, you know that he is the love interest and they will have sex later. It is not edgy or exciting to have her being the criminal and him being the good cop to cause friction, either; that's more or less the most predictable arrangement you could choose, and all the manufactured angst from oh noes we're on different sides here but we're forced to work together and OMG you're so HOT!! fell between the cracks like whoa for me. And of course she is nearly undone by her only weakness: a sexy man.
Narration frequently told me things I did not need to know because I could already see that they were so. After pages and pages of making it clear that Donovan is a "good cop" who's mysteriously like the only person who isn't corrupt on the police force--that he's a guy with morals and standards and lines he won't cross--we get into a pointless aside where Gin feels she has to explain to us that our boy here is very idealistic, and explaining again why/how that manifests and how it would crush his illusions if he knew what a jerk his murdered partner was. I mean, if you have not noticed all this about Donovan by this point, you're not even paying attention to the book. I wonder why no one ever suggested to this author that she might want to trust the reader just a little?
And what is with the obnoxious tendency to make Gin's assassin targets just happen to be incredibly bad people? Oh, right--so you can sympathize with Gin and feel like even though she's so cold and an assassin, she actually only ever kills people who really deserved it. That one's a child abuser. That one's a rapist. That one had sex with ten-year-old girls on his daughter's soccer team. You basically don't have any innocent people here. They all have to be shown to have thrown puppies off a bridge so we'll want them to die.
There's a scene where Gin bangs a bad guy on the head with the hilt of a knife and he stays unconscious for AN HOUR. But wakes up just because cold water is splashed on his face and she slaps him a couple times. Honey. You give someone a head injury and they lose consciousness for more than like five minutes? You have probably caused brain damage/traumatic brain injury and this is probably a coma. This is one of many details that made me--a person with no real understanding of crime--feel like the whole assassin thing was phoned in. There was very little detail of Gin's strategy in killing people, though she got really stabby a lot and then people got really bloody. Occasionally whatever artery she'd severed was mentioned, and twice people pulled out the implement she'd stabbed them with to the tune of her mentally remarking how stupid that had been because now they'd bleed out.
Another of my pet peeves was employed: The villain is doing the villain things because SHE'S CRAZY. That's really it. I mean she has a motivation but mostly she's just lost control and she's crazy and "driven mad" by her own magic, which is what makes her take ridiculous risks and overestimate her skills while fighting Gin. I'm so tired of "crazy" bad guys. It smacks of "this doesn't really make sense, and we know it, so we'll just make it so the perpetrator of the nonsense has no perception of reality. Then people will swallow it." Nah, I choked.
And finally, there are these almost unforgivably full-circle completions that do their best to provide closure to the story, but they left me thinking "Did you really just do that?"
Make it painfully clear that Gin's name is "more or less" her real name. What are the chances there will be a "reveal" at the end about what her real name actually is?
Make it painfully clear at the beginning of the book that Gin's been dying to know Fletcher's secret sauce ingredient for years. What are the chances that Fletcher's parting gift will include giving her the recipe?
I can't feel the emotions attached to this under all that cheese.
The only time I actually did feel something, a little bit, was when she lost her mentor and had some real-sounding grief reactions, but what's weird is that usually I love when people carry their grief with them after a horror occurs in their family, and with Gin, it felt forced and repetitive (like the narration, I guess). I felt she would have been more believable if we saw the effects of her losses, not so much the constant pause of the narration to tell us she's sad and gritting her teeth over her murdered family or her murdered mentor. I also found ONE expository part where I was not annoyed by the detail: Gin was actively gathering information about a place where she was going to have to perform a service, so the ramble about the location's structure and population was natural there--the kind of thing she'd be noticing in the here and now, in a place that was unfamiliar to her. The problem was that this kind of narration was everywhere, unconnected to her observations--just relayed to us in disconnected, unnecessary description.
I wrote as much as I did here because I wanted to make it clear how comprehensively the problems proliferated in this book, and instead of just rambling about repetitive narration and untidy exposition, I thought I'd give you examples. A friend of mine loves these books really hard and I usually trust his judgment; I'll have to ask him how in the world he was inspired to pick up the second book after this one, because I definitely won't be doing so....more