WELP. Looks like this book is joining THRONE OF GLASS on the books-that-made-me-lose-friends shelf.
After reading some of the five-star reviews for this book, I'm reevaluating how much I trust some of my friends. This was a terrible book. I don't think I've been this disappointed since picking up FLAME IN THE MIST or THRONE OF GLASS. What the hell were you guys reading? Is there a "good" version and a "shitty" version? What happened?
I specifically chose to read CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE after AMERICANAH because I thought they would complement each other well and lead to some interesting parallels that I could discuss in my review. AMERICANAH is a book that discusses the racial and cultural issues of real-life Nigeria, and CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE is a book that discusses racial and cultural issues of a fantasy-inspired country based on Nigeria. I loved AMERICANAH and I was so sure that I would love CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE because it's exactly what so many readers have been asking for: Diverse Fantasy!
CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE is a fantasy novel inspired by Nigerian mythology, specifically focusing on the Orisha. In this world, magic is forbidden and those who are descended from the maji are called "maggots" and systematically oppressed, if not killed outright. It's narrated by three characters, Zelie, who is a maji and a target of these genocidal tactics employed by their ruler, and also Inan and his sister, whose name I can't remember, who are the children of the evil king, but also maji, so uh-oh, nobody better find out or anything because that would be awkward.
Zelie runs away, accompanied by that sister, and Inan hunts them down while fighting his unwanted (of course) attraction to her. Because he can see her in dreams. *eye roll* All the people saying this book is action-packed must either never read good fantasy, are reading a completely different edition from mine, or are lying outright, because this was the LONGEST 500-something pages I've ever read BECAUSE IT'S SO SLOW-PACED, OMG. I didn't care about any of the characters. When the climax happens, we're supposed to be so worried for poor Zelie, but I didn't care because her voice is completely interchangeable with the other two. Characters appear whenever it's convenient for the plot, and there's a romance thrown in haphazardly because what's a YA without mediocre romance?
Because that's what this is. Just another generic fantasy story with cardboard cut-out characters and a tepid romance that lacks chemistry. The only thing that sets it apart is the setting and mythology.
I want to close with these thoughts. I get why so many people are excited about this book. It's thrilling to read books about people who are like you and have a narrative that you identify with. I emphasized that (more nicely) in my review of TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE. Even if I thought it was a bad book, I can appreciate the meaning and importance it has for people who are seeking out those stories. Fantasy novels are notorious for having bad rep, and when you do see characters of color, they often fit neatly under the cringe-worthy Magical Negro umbrella, which is not cool. That's a huge reason behind why I was so ready to embrace this book: I want those diverse stories too. Stories that give a new perspective and delve into territories that aren't explored nearly enough.
However, I have seen people on Tumblr and Goodreads posting status updates about how they don't think people should be allowed to write negative reviews for diverse books because the intentions of the author supersede the quality of the writing itself. I am 100% NOT OKAY with that, and here's why: if you do that, you're going to create a culture of mediocrity, where people will feel comfortable churning out poor-quality books while using diversity the way you might use a checklist. I'm not saying that TYLER JOHNSON and CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE fall into that category, but by shutting down valid criticism and enabling poor story-telling, this is going to be a problem.
Part of me kind of wondered if the publication of CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE may have been rushed so the release date coincided with that of Black Panther. That could explain some of the problems. I wondered the same thing about CARVE THE MARK (a book that was seemingly inspired by Star Wars) and the closeness of its release date to Rogue One. For reference, CARVE THE MARK was published January 17, 2017 and Rogue One was released on December 10, 2016. Likewise, Black Panther came out on February 16, 2018 and CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE was published on March 6, 2018. From a marketing perspective, it's a brilliant move, but a rushed release date could explain some of the pacing issues and the not-so-great writing.
I apologize if this seems harsh, but I am a book blogger who has always tried to be 100% honest even if that opinion is not popular. I have had people tell me that they will or won't buy books based on my reviews because they know I won't deceive them or sugar-coat. I rate on a purely entertainment-based rubric and don't take things like literary merit or the author's intentions into account. CHILDREN OF BLOOD AND BONE had wonderful intentions... but I thought it was a really sloppy, generic fantasy novel, and I am rating it as such. Maybe you'll get the "good" version everyone's raving about. ;-)
I guess you could say this is the second time she's won the popular vote. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
LOL I see that I lost a few friends over this review. You know what that means! Time to add this book to the books-that-made-me-lose-friends shelf. >:D
My dad used to tell me not to get near a scared animal; that it couldn't understand what your intentions were and since you couldn't exactly explain to said animal what you were doing, in its overstimulated state it might bite out of fear. That's a lot like what happened in this election. People were afraid: afraid of change, afraid of progression, afraid of foreigners, afraid of the future, afraid of losing their jobs - and so they bit, and they bit down hard, and logic be damned. The entire country suffered because of some scared, angry people who couldn't be bothered to sort out the facts, and relied on pure emotion, and the sheer, misanthropic pleasure of "shaking it up" while voting in this election.
WHAT HAPPENED is appropriately named. The title is a call-and-answer, all rolled into one. It asks "What happened?" while also explaining exactly what happened, in her words. I don't expect this book to change people's minds. If you hate Hillary, you'll probably just hate her more after reading this, because you'll convince yourself that she's a) lying or b) the embodiment of the demon-worshiping caricature you've made her out to be in your mind. If you love Hillary, this book will make you love her more, because she's the thoughtful, articulate, compassionate, intelligent, go-getting, invested candidate you wanted - in spades.
I've almost forgotten what an actual president sounds like, because I've been bombarded with xenophobic, Islamophobic, transphobic, bigoted, juvenile rhetoric for so long.
Before I get into that, though, let me just clear up a few things.
But what about her emails? There was an investigation. She complied fully, and was duly exonerated. For those of you crying about the remaining 33,000 personal emails, and why she wouldn't want to share them, hmm, why don't you think about some of the emails you've sent to doctors, to relatives, to ex-girlfriends. I'm sure you sent some pretty embarrassing things. Things to which you wouldn't want the general public having access. In fact, since Clinton is a notoriously private person, yours are probably worse than hers. Also, Clinton's email server was later proven to be secure, whereas Trump White House officials were tricked by this email prankster into divulging some personal information.
I've seen several reviews for this book and many of those reviewers have attempted to be politic and inoffensive about their review, to great success. Well, I'm not going to go that route, and if it costs me a friend or two in the process, that's what my books-that-made-me-lose-friends shelf is for. I was not happy with how this election went, and I find it hilarious that members of the Tangerine Tyrant's fan club are burning their MAGA hats because their fearless leader dared to compromise with the Democratic party about DACA.
In WHAT HAPPENED, Hillary discusses her election and its catastrophic (or triumphant if you're part of that crowd) results. She describes how crushed she felt, seeing what was supposed to be certain victory being taken from her by a man who seemed incredibly unqualified. She had to wear the suit she planned to travel to DC in as president-elect to her concession speech, and her first order of business was ensuring that her staff would get paid and they would all have healthcare. Meanwhile, we have a president who allegedly doesn't pay contractors if they don't do a good job.
Hillary describes the rigors of campaigning, and the close bonds she developed with her staff. She writes about her love for her daughter, who she clearly admires and feels so much pride for, and her close friendship with Huma Abedin, who Hillary refused to fire even when it became clear that her personal scandal might negatively impact her campaign. She writes about her husband, glossing over the scandal that rocked her marriage in the 90s, but she does say that she struggled with the choice to stay or leave and ultimately stayed because she did love him - and then she writes about how moved she was, when before one of her speeches, he said, to everyone, "I married my best friend."
But what really got me was how much she clearly loves the U.S. Her willingness to sit down and listen to everyone - even the people who hate her, protest her, and threaten her - and hear their stories, and try to find a way to make things work really got me. I'm sure her critics will say, in the immortal words of Joe Biden, that that's all a "bunch of malarkey," but I have a pretty good BS detector and it's hard to fake sincerity and passion - at least with the fervor that Ms. Clinton displays here. She seems genuinely saddened to have failed Middle America, and her inability to address their concerns properly. She acknowledges her privilege, and how diligently she has worked to try to understand what it is like, being unable to provide for your children while living paycheck to paycheck. She wanted to bring jobs back to the U.S., was supportive of Black Lives Matter, and wanted to create better relationships between minorities and the police in high-crime areas. She was constantly looking for solutions and successful ways to implement them.
I cried several times while reading this book. Her anger at the roles that racism and sexism played in the election; her frustration at coming so close - twice - and failing each time; her fear for the future, not just for our country but for our allies; and the deep and personal responsibility she feels towards all the people who gave their all to see her get elected and felt that failure right alongside her. In many ways, Hillary reminds me of my own mother, who I love so much. Seeing Hillary fail was like seeing someone I cared deeply about fail. Her failure got me more engaged in politics, so I could learn more and become more informed, and help others become more informed because in our current political climate "fake news" has become synonymous with "news I don't like that I'm going to pretend isn't real because I'm a jerk who likes to live in an alternative facts-ridden landscape."
I've noticed some concern from the Bernie Bros that this book basically blames them for Trump's election. And while I think that it is at least partly your fault if you either a) lived in a swing state and didn't vote, or b) lived in a swing state and voted for a third party to "stick it to the man," Clinton is much more generous and diplomatic about it (which is why she was able to come so close to winning president-elect, and I will never be running for office). She does suggest that third parties played a role in Trump's victory (though she seems to blame Jill Stein for this more than Sanders), but she also acknowledges Bernie's (admittedly tardy) concession and support of her campaign. She also points out why he was so much more popular with reluctant voters: marketability. His statements were full of panache and sounded good in a microphone. I was Hillary from day one, but even I could admit that Bernie sounded good. He just didn't seem to have a solid plan. Hillary did have solid plans, many of them, but it's hard to compress intelligent, thoughtful ideas down to a sound bite. And of course, there's also the fact that Hillary is a woman, whereas Bernie is a man, and our country, which is so advanced in some ways, can be rather outmoded when it comes to the role women play in various leadership roles - particularly those of the political or corporate variety.
Someone asked why so many men hated Hillary under the questions for this book, and this is what I responded with: "I think [men hate Hillary Clinton] because there are a lot of gender biases coded into society. We're taught- implicitly or explicitly, and from a young age- that women are not supposed to be loud, aggressive, brash, dominant, confident, or forceful. Hillary is all these things, for better or for worse, and that threatens the status quo. Anything that threatens the status quo is going to be rallied against by people who have a stake in the system staying the way it is."
If you're interested, Vox did a lengthy interview with Hillary that relates tangentially to this book. I recommend it. She details a lot of her policies and it gives great insight into what she's like.
Lastly, I just want to issue a caveat: this is a review, and not an invitation to a debate. I don't want to debate. I sat through way too many debates already in the last two years, and I've heard all the arguments before. When I was younger, yeah, I loved arguing on the internet, but now I think it's a waste of time. It's not going to change anyone's mind and it's only going to sow discord. You're welcome to write all the anti-Hillary stuff you want in your own review space, but if you post it here, I'll delete your comments, and if you do it again after I delete it, I'll block you.
That said, I heartily encourage anyone with an open mind to read this book. She was brave to open her heart and share her story, when there are so many people who are so eager to tear her down.
I have a love-hate relationship with Stephenie Meyer's work, and I think a lot of other people feel that way, too (even if they won't admit it). I'll start by saying that, yes, I do like TWILIGHT. The book, that is. Not the movie. I read it almost ten years ago, and I was at the perfect point in my life where it actually made a lot of sense to me. Because of that, I will always have fond feelings for Bella and Edward's admittedly self-absorbed world.
Now, I love THE HOST. It's morally complex and features these creepy aliens straight out of the Animorphs series. (In fact, I've always said that the Souls are an awful lot like the Yeerks.) I've read it several times, and I'll be the first to admit that while the story has its problems, the writing and world-building make up for it. I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that we're still desperately waiting on those two sequels. I mean she wrote four unnecessary follow-ups to TWILIGHT, as well as a gender-swapped retelling and part of Edward's POV. Come on!
When I found out that Stephenie Meyer was writing something new, my first feeling was disappointment. Like, "Oh, so you're too busy to work on my precious HOST sequels, but not too busy to publish a 500-page tome, I see." But my second feeling was excitement. This is the first completely new thing that Meyer has put out in years. Of course I couldn't wait to get my hands on it. I counted down the days to its release date feeling giddy.
The premise of THE CHEMIST is interesting, and completely different from Meyer's usual work. She abandons her trademark first-person narrative style for a removed third-person retelling, featuring a retired female assassin who tortures and kills people with various poisons and chemicals (hence her eponymous nom de guerre, The Chemist). One day, she ends up getting roped back into her old career. Her assignment? To stop a potential terrorist from spreading a man-made plague.
This plot should be the bomb-dot-com. Female assassins? Political intrigue? Deadly missions? Yes, yes, and yes. Unfortunately, it was not bomb-dot-com. More like lame-dot-org.
Despite a compelling opening, the plot of the chemist sinks hard and fast. It's boring. There's a marked lack of conflict. When the heroine encounters the love interest, she pretty much falls for him instnatly, even though she's not supposed to (surprise). Despite the fact that they meet under less than ideal circumstances, they have no misunderstandings or lack of empathy. This sounds like a good thing - in fact, I'm sure you're shaking your head at me, thinking, "You're actually complaining about a relationship that doesn't have any misunderstandings or lack of empathy?" - but it is not. The heroine tortures the hero, and he doesn't even care. Doesn't blame her, doesn't hold a grudge about it.
Second, despite having a plot revolving around assassinations and bio-terrorism, there's pretty much no drama. The heroine and the hero make out. A lot. They talk about dogs and food. A lot. At one point, the heroine gets a makeover and becomes best-fray-frays with Alice's psychotic, non-vampiric twin. Then there's these long periods where pretty much NOTHING happens. All those scenes that the reader takes for granted and shouldn't have to be written into the story? Meyer writes about them.
There are some unintentionally hilarious lines in this book, though. Like this one:
"Um, is this some kind of fetish fantasy thing? ...I don't really know the rules for that stuff..." (14%)
^Is Meyer kind of throwing shade at FSoG here? I wonder.
She snagged the warm, bloody finger off the floor and backed to the bathroom, keeping her eyes on him as he writhed in his bonds; even the best zip ties weren't foolproof. She made sure he was watching as she dropped the finger into the toilet and flushed (46%)
^I literally have no words.
"I don't need any satanic help to do what I do....And virgins aren't useful for anything" (64%)
Don't ask me how it ended. I started skimming at the 75% mark. Honestly, I would have DNF'd probably, except for the fact that so many people were asking about this book, wanting to know how it was and whether I liked it. I'm genuinely sorry to say that, no, I didn't. I was hugely disappointed by THE CHEMIST because everything about it, from the romance to the plot, was utterly devoid of substance. There would be flashes of good writing or clever dialogue, and I would sit up a little, hopeful, only to be disappointed again and again. If THE CHEMIST has any redeeming features, it's that it made me want to reread TWILIGHT and THE HOST, to see Meyer at her best.
Hopefully her next work will be better. If you're new to her work, don't start with this one, please.
Edit: Lost a few friends over this book, so on it goes to the books-that-made-me-lose-friends shelf, where it can party with my feminism and anti-Trump reads. #NeverthelessSheKeptReviewing
Sarah J. Maas is basically the Taylor Swift of books: they are both among the most well known (if not THE most well known) in the genres they create work for, and have cultish fan bases that believe they can do no wrong. And both, in my opinion, are over-hyped.
I originally started THRONE OF GLASS three years ago. I hated it, and wrote a scathing one-star review of it filled with swear words and vitriol. That original review was actually deleted by me, along with about 3000+ books I rated and reviewed between 2009 and 2016, for a variety of reasons, which I discuss here (and will touch on as well at the end of this review). I originally planned to read and review the entire series, but the first book put me off so much that I never attempted the series again - until now.
I had so many people ask me to review this book series that I decided I might as well give it another shot. I try to keep an open mind when I review books, and even though I'm very critical and snarky, I try to be fair as well. I was also feeling somewhat optimistic, too, as two books that I fully believed I would hate due to what I viewed as excessive hype - THE SEVEN HUSBANDS OF EVELYN HUGO and THE CRUEL PRINCE - actually ended up becoming some of my favorites.
Spoiler: THRONE OF GLASS did not end up becoming my favorite.
Although honestly? I didn't hate it as much this second time around. I still didn't like it (and the hype escapes me), but I've read so much worse. THRONE OF GLASS does have some things in its favor: an interesting world where, like POISON STUDY, magic has been suppressed and outlawed, and using it is punishable by death; likable secondary characters (Nehemia <3); and fairly decent writing that, at times, can be lyrical (at other times, cheesy - but hey, I'm a lover of bodice-rippers, so sometimes that pompously-written purple prose has a time and a place: just ask Rosemary Rogers and V.C. Andrews). Also, speaking of bodice-rippers, I loved that Celaena was reading some in her room, cheesy prose and all. Based on the writing, it totally sounded like a Johanna Lindsey viking novel.
So, let's talk about where this book went wrong.
*draws in a deep breath and inflates like a balloon*
Reason #1: The heroine. Celaena is a terrible heroine. She reads like the self-insertion character in a fanfic. She has all the boys, all the powers, all the talents - and none of the characterization or skills to back it up. It got to the point where I would roll my eyes every time she admired herself in the mirror and listed off her features or humble-bragged in the narrative about how beautiful she used to be until she wasted away in the stupid salt mines. When she's not doing it, the two love interests are doing it for her, either while pining outside her window (seriously), pining over her playing the piano like Christian Grey did while watching from a shadowed corridor (SERIOUSLY), or pining over her looking up all tragically at the sky while being carted away to her "terrible" fate (OMG).
What makes this even more irritating is that she is supposed to be a strong female protagonist, and yet she is basically the total opposite. Not only is she incredibly vain and arrogant, she's also a total jerk. She insults everyone around her, especially the people she shouldn't be insulting (read: the people who are in charge of her fate and could send her straight back to those salt mines with a flick of their wrists) and other women. Celaena loves to slut-shame other women, especially in the beginning.
I mean, how can you like a heroine who says stuff like this?
"I hate women like that. They're so desperate for the attention of men that they'd willingly betray and harm members of their own sex. And we claim men cannot think with their brains! At least men are direct about it" (70).
And then there's the fact that she doesn't really live up to the "assassin" part of her attributes until the very, very, very last possible moment of the book. For the first however many pages there are in the ebook edition that comprise the first 85% of the book, Celaena will tell everyone who will listen (well, everyone who knows who she is) about how deadly she is, and in the narrative she's constantly making stupid makeshift weapons out of hairpins and soap (!), but she never gives me the impression that she's someone who's particularly qualified. People sneak up on her all the time, and she isn't a light sleeper because on several occasions she wakes up, surprised to see someone standing over her.
And then. And then. There's this line:
"Candy!" A large paper bag sat on a pillow, and she found that it was filled with all sorts of confectionary goodies. There was no note, not even a name scribbled on the bag. With a shrug and glowing eyes, Celaena pulled out a handful of sweets. Oh, how she ADORED candy! (234)
This is probably the stupidest moment in the entire book because in Celaena's competition to be the King's Champion, someone is killing off the other competitors. Also, one of the Tests they did shortly before this one involved poison. So obviously, someone wants her dead and even more obviously, there is poison lying about somewhere on the premises that someone could probably steal (if they didn't already steal some from the competition). And it never once crosses her mind that someone might have dropped off a batch of poisoned candy to her bedroom knowing her insatiable lust for sugar. Never. Once. Crosses her mind. I face-desked pretty hard at that. How do you come back from that?
Reason #2: It's boring and slow AF. This book is very back-heavy. Not much happens until the end of the book. You would think that a competition between a bunch of thieves, murderers and soldiers for a high-ranking position in an evil kingdom would be exciting, like, the Medieval Times' version of THE HUNGER GAMES. But no, these scenes are vastly overshadowed by much more important scenes. Like Celaena going to the library. Celaena debating about how much sugar to add to her oatmeal. And Celaena looking into a mirror and admiring her fiftieth sparkly, low-cut dress.
I liked the scene with the poisons. It kind of reminded me of that scene in Harry Potter, when Harry has to go through all of those trials before he faces down Voldemort (that, and the flying keys). The Tests had the potential to be so much MORE, and it was so frustrating to read about all this pointless stuff when what I wanted was action, adventure, and showmanship.
Rule #3: Book-pandering. One of my biggest pet-peeves is when authors make their characters love books in an attempt to get us to like them + to add "character" or "personality" where there is none. Liking books is not a personality trait, please, and thank you. This is something I mention in MY LADY JANE, as well - a book, incidentally, that I disliked a lot more than this one. There's nothing wrong with writing a character who reads, but when it's their only hobby and seems like it's just an excuse to give people quotes to make them go, "OMG! I TOTALLY RELATE! SQUEE" it feels cheap. That's just my personal opinion, but it bothers me a lot, so I'm mentioning it.
Chaol and Dorian were fine. Chaol had the personality of a fence post, but he had that tall, dark and brooding vibe down that I'm a sucker for, although Valek from POISON STUDY did it better. Dorian is the typical womanizing bad-boy rich-boy stereotype, and I didn't care for him much at all, especially what with his "you're not like other women" attraction to Celaena. Boy, bye.
Nehemia was honestly my favorite character in here. She's powerful, cool, mysterious, intelligent, and courtly - basically everything Celaena was not. I also think it's ironic that Nehemia and Celaena had much more chemistry than Dorian and Choal did with Celaena combined. Too bad this wasn't an F/F fantasy romance. I would have totally shipped them. They were cute together. Celaena was almost tolerable when she was with Nehemia. *coughs* Almost.
I honestly felt bad for Kaltain - probably because it felt like we were supposed to hate her. But hey, I was tired of Celaena, too, so I can't really blame her for wanting to be rid of Lady Special Specialton, Eater of Suspicious Candies and Bragger of Little Merit. She was honestly one of the more tragic characters in here, and her narrative ARC reminded me a little of Anne Boleyn's. Ambitious women are rarely treated well in YA, particularly if they're sexual and/or beautiful. THRONE OF GLASS does its damndest to distance Celaena from such "unlikability" by making her childlike and sexually inexperienced, which I found extremely irritating and boring.
I can't really remember why I hated this book so much when I first read it. Maybe because I went in expecting more, whereas this time I knew what to expect? Or maybe because I've read several particularly awful books this year that made this one seem better by comparison? I don't know. But this time I actually found some redeeming facets of the narrative that made me sigh and go, "Well, I suppose it could have been worse - and I did like this thing and that thing, so there." The funny thing is on my first review I got all these irritating comments telling me that if I read the book again more carefully, if I even really read it at all (omg, how dare u), I would love it. Condescending comments aside, I did actually "like" the book more this second time around, although I still think it's pretty bad (although I'll be trying to give the other books in the series a shot because damn that curiosity).
Lastly, since this book has so many passionate fans, I would like to issue a caveat:If you leave me rude comments, I am going to delete these comments and block you. It is not personal and it does not mean that I hate you, or harbor any ill-will towards you.I just have zero interest in interacting with people who don't distinguish between criticism of a book and ad hominem attacks of an individual. Part of the reason I deleted all my reviews back in 2016 was because I was getting a lot of nasty comments on about five reviews and I made the novice mistake of arguing back with them and giving them that satisfaction of a response. I've grown up a lot since I first started using this site and now have little interest in arguing or fighting with people. I would rather spend my time and energy on writing snarky reviews or having positive interactions with my friends and followers.
In sum, THRONE OF GLASS was not a very good book in my opinion and at times was incredibly annoying. I have heard that the second book has more action and fight scenes, and since those were the parts of this book that I enjoyed the most, I will be reading CROWN OF MIDNIGHT soon (probably this week) to see if it's enough to compensate for the glorious bore that is Celaena.
I did have a lot of fun posting snarky status updates for it, though. ;-)
Also, this meme I made w/ MS Paint for my status update of THE BLADE ITSELF seemed relevant.
You could say that I'm a hardcore Labyrinth fan girl. I love the movie, Labyrinth, and have seen it many times, glitter-dappled set and cheesy puppets aside; it's an interesting story that's clearly inspired by Celtic faerie lore, and (you could argue) the allegorical tale of a girl's coming-of-age through the use of symbolism. In fact, many of the reasons I love the movie are less because of what's in the story and more of what's explicitly left out.
Because of that, I was a little skeptical when I heard that there was a book coming out that was inspired by Labyrinth - skeptical and also bouncing-off-the-walls excited. Because another book came out this year that was also inspired by one of my favorite stories: RoseBlood by A.G. Howard, which turned one of my favorite antiheroes into a psychic vampire who owns a rave club.
I was not pleased with these developments.
WINTERSONG starts out okay. It takes place in historical Bavaria, and is about a selfish brat named Elisabeth who only cares about music. She spends most of the book whining, feeling sorry for herself, and being jealous of her siblings. Then one day, her sister, Kathe, is kidnapped by the Goblin King, and Elisabeth is forced to go Underground to save her because if she doesn't succeed, her sister will be gone forever. The integration of The Goblin Market and Der Erlkonig were interesting, but I've seen Labyrinth fanfiction writers run with this concept before. In fact, one of my favorite authors, Subtilior, has a Labyrinth fanfic called Erlkönig that runs with this concept beautifully. Likewise, Viciously Witty has an excellent Labyrinth fic set in Ireland that is based off and called The Goblin Market.
I get that there's only so many famous works of faerie lore, so the possibility of overlap is high, but that just makes it even more important to set your work apart from others' and go the extra mile to make the story interesting and the characters compelling. The Goblin King in WINTERSONG was not compelling. He did not feel like the King of Mischief; he felt like a nervous guy at prom who is afraid that his mean girlfriend is going to embarrass him in front of all his friends. He even blushes and stammers. He's also apparently a christian, or follows christian tenets, since he goes to chapel in his free time and talks a lot about God (especially in the last quarter of the book). This was really jarring to me as a reader, because many of the faerie lore is based on Celtic mythology that predates Christianity by centuries, so it doesn't really make sense that the "Elf King" would go to church....
I looked on the author's profile, and in one of her "Ask the Author" questions, when answering how she was inspired to write this story she says she "
decided to write 50 Shades of Labyrinth." So I don't think that it's a stretch to say that WINTERSONG reads like Labyrinth fanfiction, and not even particularly good or original Labyrinth fanfiction, since it primarily relies on ideas that have already been explored by many others in the fandom. Even the sex in this book - arguably the selling point of the premise, since I'm sure many of the hard-core fan girls of Labyrinth wish that there was an alternative telling of the tale when Jareth and Sarah really did end up together - is uninspired and whiny. Elisabeth whines about the sex, that there isn't enough of it, that he doesn't really want her. There are some truly well-written passages in here, but then you also get ridiculous passages like these: "I dip my quill into the inkwell once again, and join up my teardrops into a song" (204).
If this book is 50 Shades of anything, it's 50 Shades of a Whining Heroine Who Never Shuts the Hell Up. She is one of the most unlikable protagonists I've encountered in a while because all she does is complain and whine and cry and talk about how ugly she is. The only thing that sets the heroine apart are her musical abilities (a similarity it shares with RoseBlood), and she's even a brat about this. She sets her brother's face on fire out of jealousy because he is able to study music because he's a boy and she isn't and gets mad at the Goblin King for obtaining her a klavier because - she says - it's too beautiful for her and that makes her feel bad, basically. I'm sorry, you want me to root for this twit?
This was a huge disappointment for me. The only upside is that it made me want to go watch Labyrinth again and revisit some of my favorite fanfic to read when I was in college.
Curious (and polite) people kept asking me if I was enjoying CARVE THE MARK while I was reading it. For the flippant response to that question, please refer to the opening of the song "Nobody But Me" by The Human Beinz. Or, you know, check out my star rating. (But my way is more fun, and you get a fun song out of it, too!)
I was one of the few people who did not like DIVERGENT. Part of that was the world-building that didn't make sense, and part of that was what I perceived as jarring anti-intellectualism. You might say I'm being oversensitive. Maybe. Or maybe the author's choice to make the intellectual faction into what were basically a bunch of fascists did not sit well with me. And no, I'm not just saying that because I scored as "erudite" in that stupid faction quiz. (Well, mostly. *sniff, sniff* I'm not a fascist!)
When I heard that Roth was penning a new series of books, I was skeptical. Especially when it was being blurbed as a cross between Star Wars and DIVERGENT. I liked one of those things very much, but would space opera and the compelling promise of vengeance and battles be enough to compensate for the DIVERGENT similarities? And, more importantly, how would her style evolve? Or would it be more BS about smart people wrecking society and brave people jumping out of trains?
CARVE THE MARK is a very weird book - and, to its credit, is a very different story from DIVERGENT. It's about the Thuhve, a "peace-loving" people, and the Shotet, an opportunistic and war-like people who are ruled by a "tyrant" and who carve marks denoting their kills into their forearms. Akos, the Thuhvian, is taken capture by the Shotet's ruler, Rhyzek, along with his brother, because his brother has the power of prophecy. Cyra is Rhyzek's sister, and has the ability to cause people incredible pain - or even death - upon physical contact. Rhyzek uses her to do his dirty work and to put fear into his people.
The power source in this book is something called the "current," which from what I gathered is like a cross between the "Lifestream" in Final Fantasy VII and the Force in Star Wars. It's a physical thing of immense power that people can draw upon, creating "currentblades" (e.g. lightsabers) and being born with "currentgifts" (e.g. the Force) that manifest in different ways to do different things.
Okay, cool. A little derivative, but hey, super powers aren't exactly a novel concept, and I'm always down to read about them if done well. What's 100% original these days, anyway? Exactly.
But I could not get into CARVE THE MARK at all. It felt very amateurish. It was too long, and the characters were not developed at all. At least Tris had some emotional complexity to her and the romance between Four and Tris was compelling (and arguably the best part of the story). On the other hand, the romance between Cyra and Akos has zero chemistry, and when they start talking about being in love with each other it comes totally out of left field because, again, zero evidence for it (that I perceived - by that point, I was skimming pretty heavily, and I may have missed a telltale "clue").
CARVE THE MARK read like a very bad debut for me, with shoddy world building, a cliche and cowardly villain, and two heroes who don't really have any interesting personality traits or conflicts. I'm honestly shocked by how unpleasant the experience of reading this was, and if I had read this without knowing who the author was, I might have thought that this was a cleaned-up self-published effort or a debut tentatively put forth by a first-time (and very young) author.
I'm honestly disappointed because I love space opera - it's one of my favorite genres - and I was hoping to see a mainstream author write a glowing example of it, because if space opera boomed like the dystopian genre did in the late 2000s, I'd be one happy gal.
Maybe it will, but let's not make this book the poster child for the movement.
edit:11/10/17 I'm deducting another star from my rating. I read this months ago and barely remember it all (not a good sign). All I can recall is that it failed to do the topic of gaming/game culture justice, the unconvincing love story, and the main character cheesing me off.
When I first read the summary for this book, I thought, "Wow, this sounds a lot like WarGames." Unfortunately for this book, and for me, it was more like Spy Kids 3: Game Over. I think my biggest qualm with this book, apart from the heroine Emika, who I spent most of the beginning of this book wanting to slap, was the fact that it reads like it was written by someone who has never really played an MMORPG. I gamed pretty seriously for about fifteen years, so when I get a book about video games, I judge them based on that. I think WARCROSS desperately wanted to be like READY PLAYER ONE, but the author appeared to lack that firsthand knowledge and passion for the subject, so the NeuroLink and WarCross came off as a rather pale and weak imitation of OASIS. (God, what wouldn't I give for a real-life OASIS.)
The summary is pretty simple. Emika is a teenage hacker who is poor and uses a bootleg version of WarCross to access the site. HMM, DOES THAT SOUND LIKE READY PLAYER ONE? I THINK IT DOES. One day, she accidentally blows her cover by hacking one of the championship WarCross tournaments. The inventor of the game, Hideo Tanaka, takes an interest in Emika after that, offering her an opportunity to spy on the game to catch the perpetrator of a major security breach.
Emika ends up competing in the tournament under cover and ends up bonding with her teammates while also getting to know the elusive Tanaka more. But as she chases the evil hacker through the games, she quickly learns that morality is not as black and white as she thought - particularly not when it comes to the virtual world and, especially, technology itself. Because, you know, all books about technology have to talk about ethics. I'm not being facetious. The internet has changed a lot of rules about what is and isn't okay. It's like being in international-freaking-waters all the flim-flammed time. Emika herself is acquainted with vigilante justice because the "criminal record" she keeps bragging about happened when she doxxed a bunch of kids (and teachers) at her old school who picked on this one girl. That was actually something I took issue with, because the book kind of goes like, "Well, this isn't okay, but also isn't Emika sooooo awesome for doing it, anyway?" And I kind of side-eyed that, because no, I don't think two wrongs make a right. I don't like vigilante justice. In fact, one of the most powerful moments in this book I'm reading right now - Diana Gabaldon's DRAGONFLY IN AMBER - occurs when Claire has the opportunity to get revenge on this girl who wronged her in the previous book, but she doesn't take it - because two wrongs don't make a right.
I also didn't really buy the romantic chemistry between Emika and Hideo. I didn't understand why he liked her so much (maybe because I didn't like her). I thought Hideo was interesting - I'm a sucker for brooding intellectual types - and I'd be excited to learn more about him, but Emika was not a very good character. She changes, too. In the beginning, she's edgy and angry and desperate, and then as soon as she gets involved in the games she becomes a blushing, chipper, go-getter, and I'm just like, "I DON'T KNOW WHO SHE IS." Both literally, and also Mariah Carey style, because F U, Emika.
Now that I've gotten the complaining (mostly) out of my system, let me talk about what worked. I loved the setting. I just got back from Japan, and Marie Lu portrays Shibuya as the futuristic, commercialistic mecca that it is. I was so overwhelmed by the sights and the crowds, and remember: this is coming from someone who spends all their time in San Francisco. Shibuya is so crowded and insane that even people who are used to big cities feel properly intimidated. Such is its marvel.
I also liked Hideo, and most of the secondary characters, too. There's great rep in here - tons of people of color (including both the heroine and the love interest); LGBT characters; one of the characters is in a wheelchair; and of course, I love the fact that the heroine is in STEM. I've started collecting stories about female characters in STEM, because I think that's so important. (If you want to check out what I've got so far, check out my stem-heroines shelf on Goodreads.)
Lastly, despite rolling my eyes at this interpretation of a cyber-world - I mean, she literally has the "dark net" in this book set up like an actual pirate bazaar LOL, with drugs just set out on tables like a frigging roadside stand and people betting on illegal things in virtual bars like they're picking out racehorses - the action sequences are very engaging. I wish this book was more reminiscent of typical MMORPGs...but oh, wait, I'm complaining again and this is supposed to be the "positive" section, ha. So yes, the action sequences were great, and despite my hang-ups, the pages went by pretty quickly once I got past that awful beginning. If the game parts themselves are like something out of Spy Kids, I'd say the rest of the book is 1/3 The Matrix, 1/3 The Hunger Games, and 1/3 Ready Player One.
It wasn't bad, and I'd read the sequel when it comes out. I guessed one of those twists (the big one), but not the more sweeping one in scope that came right before that. How Orwellian.
It's not easy being Queen of Literary Trash. Between YA and bodice-rippers, I read more "bad" books than most elitist snobs will see in their entire lifetime. But then, I consider myself a connoisseur of the so-called trashy arts. There are two kinds of "bad" books. There are the books that tell good stories and while they aren't highbrow literature, they are still fun to read and if you can let go of your snobbery long enough to enjoy them, will perform quite serviceably as quality entertainment. Then there are the books that are just bad, and have no redeeming value at all.
I had friends warn me about SHATTER ME. It's apparently infamous for the "creative" metaphors that the author likes to use. It's also yet another attempt to cling to the coattails of THE HUNGER GAMES (although it's more like DIVERGENT than THE HUNGER GAMES, which if you know my thoughts on DIVERGENT, you will know is not a compliment, coming from me). The premise is pretty undeveloped. Juliette has been in captivity for just under a year when she accidentally killed a boy by touching him. Her touch, you see, is deadly. She's like Rogue, from X-men. One touch, and your life force is hers.
It's set on a dying Earth but why and how it's dying are incredibly vague. We've apparently allowed a fascist-tolerant (if not outright fascist) regime to gain power, which I would say is not really giving the world a whole lot of credit, but on the other hand I'm a liberal living in the United States right now, so on the OTHER hand, maybe future Earth is totally stupid enough to do that. It seems to happen a lot in YA dystopians, to the point where the reader begins to wonder if all it takes to start a fascist regime is a kickstarter and a special license. What matters is that resources are thin and there is not a lot of food and there are parts of the world that are radioactive(?) and for some reason, some people (especially Juliette) have mutant-like powers for Reasons and this is the world we live in.
Both love interests are, conveniently, immune to Juliette's power. Because I guess it wouldn't be much of a romance if the book took the MC Hammer "Can't Touch This" approach to courtship. There is instalove up the wazoo in here, and even when Juliette finds out that Adam was put in her cell to spy on her under the guise of being a fellow prisoner, she forgives him stunningly quickly, and is constantly telling us how much she wants to touch him. She wants to touch the villain, Warner (I'm sorry but I can't take you seriously when I'm picturing the dancing frog mascot of the WB), too, although it's a traitorous body sort of desire to touch, the I-love-to-hate-how-I-hate-to-love-you type. Warner was the biggest potential sell of this series to me because I love villainous love interests but he's too creepy, even for me. Between the constant unwanted pet names and the really disturbing "I could just take a bite out of you"-type comments, this dude was about one villain notch away from singing a Tim Curry song.
Then there's the writing itself, which can be broken down into three categories: OMG, WTF, and LOL.
Every organ in my body falls to the floor (68).
I want to rip up the carpet and sew it to my skin (163).
My jaw is dangling from my shoelace (310).
I'm wearing dead cotton on my limbs and a blush of roses on my face (6).
There are 15,000 feelings of disbelief hole-punched in my heart (40).
My throat is a reptile, covered in scales (172).
I'm blushing through my bones (326).
I wondered if your eye color meant you saw the world differently (151).
My heart is parasailing in the springtime (286).
The author also makes two other attempts at being creative, which are overuse of the strikethrough tool and overuse of numbers, written as numerals instead of being spelled out. Which, if you ask me, is 1 bad idea because not only does it look unprofessional as 0 other writers do this, but 2, comes across as overly gimmicky and makes you feel like you're reading cast-offs from a teenager's poetry journal as she tries - and fails - to channel Ellen Hopkins and/or Rupi Kaur.
If you like this book, good for you, I guess. I personally couldn't stand it. It felt incredibly derivative, and from the woe-is-me beginning to the yay-I've-got-a-hypersexualized-supersuit ending, there was just way too much I ended up side-eying in this book for me to enjoy it. I don't think I'll be reading the sequels, not even for the lols.
Woodiwiss is often credited with creating the first bodice ripper or the first "modern historical romance novel." I would actually disagree with both of those remarks - especially since they mean very different things. I wouldn't actually classify bodice-rippers as "romance" novels; they're more like anti-romance novels. The hero in these types of books is usually very similar to the villain, distinguishable only by a very thin and wavering thread of morality that usually ties into a sense of obligation and ownership of the (virginal) heroine & his (usually forced) deflowering of her.
If we're going to talk bodice-rippers, I believe they were heavily influenced by the smutty, exploitative pulp fiction of the 50s and 60s that influenced Quentin Tarantino's Django Unchained. Christopher Nicole, author of the Caribee of the Hiltons series, is one of these authors, and so is Lance Horner, author of the Falconhurst series. The most famous in this genre is probably MANDINGO, and that is the book that comes to mind first and foremost when I think of the first bodice ripper, although Margaret Mitchell's GONE WITH THE WIND would be a close second. If we're going to talk about modern historical romance novels, I think FOREVER AMBER or GONE WITH THE WIND are better examples, since both still have a very modern feel & have similar formulas to that of many romance novels that are still being published today. If that's not modern, what is? Anya Seton and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro are other authors whose romance novels transcend time and who also preceded Kathleen Woodiwiss by decades.
Regardless of its alleged feats of being the first of its kind (or not, depending on how you feel about it), I don't feel that THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER survives the times it was written very well. Our heroine, Heather, is under the care of a fat and abusive aunt (because fat and ugly people = villains in this book) and a thoroughly hen-pecked uncle whose dusty balls lie forgotten in the depths of one of Wicked Aunt's purses. The aunt has sold all her niece's clothes & belongings, and she wonders around in clothes "twelve times too large" that gape open to reveal her amazing bosom. It is worth noting that Heather's amazing breasts have more agency than she does, thrusting desperately against clothing as they seek out male attention, declaring their arousal on behalf of Heather (who, you know, just sits there passively and chastely, relying on her breasts to act as liaison with sexual partners) and constantly threatening to pour out of her clothes; Heather's breasts are the true main characters in this book, and it is sad when a heroine's body parts seem to receive more narrative description and action verbs than she does.
Her Aunt is tired of having Heather around and sends her off to be with her brother, who has plans to rape Heather and then, when he's tired of her, it is implied that he will give her to a Madam. Again, since this Uncle character is evil, he is fat and ugly. Heather manages to escape with her virginity intact (by making Uncle William "fall on a knife" dead), still clad in the revealing gown he put her in, and the servant to a rich and arrogant sailor spies her fleeing around the docks. Thinking her to be a prostitute, he kidnaps her and presents her to his master, who he assumes will be pleased. The master, who of course is the hero, since he is the only good-looking in this entire book universe we've encountered so far, is very pleased, and proceeds to rape Heather. The fact that she is a virgin surprises him, but he assumes that she just has her Whore Training Wheels™ on and he was the lucky gent who got to ride the bicycle first. When he finds out the truth, he does a lot of posturing and villainous laughing, basically telling Heather that if she didn't want to be raped, she should have tried to enjoy it more, before raping her a few more times. He then tells her that he intends to make her his mistress, and she should be pleased.
Heather ends up getting pregnant right away from Brandon's efforts, and when she returns home, her Aunt does not shirk on the opportunity to decry Heather's heritage (not only is she Irish and a Tory, but she's also a slut). Heather's well-meaning friends host an intervention where they blackmail Brandon into marrying Heather and taking responsibility for what he's done. Brandon does not take kindly to being told what to do, and drops a bunch of threats about how miserable he's going to make Heather, and oh, by the way, NO SEX, EVER. I have to admit, I laughed. How arrogant do you have to be to imagine that depriving the woman you raped of your magnificent Penis Magic™ is the worst possible punishment you can deliver, ever? If you just said "Gee, seems like the only person that would hurt is him," you would be right, and Brandon spends the next three hundred pages ruing this decision as he quickly comes down with the world's most serious case of blue balls.
After the two are married, Brandon decides to sell his ship and take Heather to his plantation. Here we meet the sexually autonomous, villainous Other Woman, a cringe-worthy Mammy stereotype, the heroine's brother (an updated version of the hero that's still in beta-testing), and all of the jealous, spurned women and their mothers who were vying for Brandon's hand and are bitterly resentful that this girl - who doesn't even go here - somehow managed to snatch him up for herself and get impregnated with his child. The next two hundred pages consist of OW, Louisa, getting into verbal catfights with Heather while trying to seduce Brandon; Heather crying and flinching and seething in a froth of vindication and traitorous lust; and Brandon, who is starting to realize how ineffective his "punishment" is and concocts a new, ingenious plan to win her back that quickly goes awry because the last thing that most women want to do in the late stages of pregnancy and then immediately afterwards is have rough, passionate sex. Brandon abandons this plan, too, and announces that the two of them henceforth are going to have sex every night, whether he has to rape her to get it or not, because damn it, he has needs. Heather goes for this, puts on a sheer blue nightie to seduce him, and after this it's a whole bunch of "I love you" "No, I love you, Pooky-Kins" nonsense, and since Heather is breast-feeding that means that her breasts are always out and everyone, from the hero to his brother to the other woman, has to stare at them in admiration/jealousy and comment on them. The last twenty-five pages attempts to cram in another plot line, introducing a partially-realized murder mystery. It's pretty obvious who the villain is, and this only serves as an excuse for yet another man to lose himself to mad passion and attempt to rape Heather (I think this is rape attempt #5 if we're counting based on unique perpetrators and not actual attempts, in which case it would be closer to rape attempt #20).
This book is ridiculous. One of my friends called this a handbook to having a relationship full of domestic violence, and I have to say that I agree with that sentiment. I don't normally mind reading about rape, but the way it was romanticized in this book made me really uncomfortable. I don't really want to read about all these pastoral scenes of domestic bliss if all the sexual interactions between them border on (or in some cases are actually blatant acts of) rape. This goes away towards the end of the book, but only after the heroine realizes that it's pointless to resist him further.
Heather is definitely a wish fulfillment fantasy and I could see why she might have persisted throughout time. Every man who sees her wants her. Every woman who sees her is jealous of her. She's beautiful no matter what she wears, whether it's rags or a beautiful gown, and her rapist husband is constantly buying her gowns and presenting her with jewelry (when he's not yelling at her, making her cringe, throwing things, or threatening to beat up men for looking at her). When she gives birth she loses her baby bump immediately and the author is quick to reassure us that there are no stretchmarks or unsightly skin folds, either. When she's not making people cream themselves in jealousy or sexual lust, they're falling over in their charmed admiration of her & doing everything they can to make her life better. Heather is the ultimate woman, and doesn't have to lift a finger to achieve it, because expending any more effort than it would take to stomp a foot far is too intimidating in a heroine.
Other things that made me wince/side-eye this book:
-In an attempt to woo the hero, Louisa slathers her nipples in rouge and wears a see-through copy of the gown Brandon raped Heather in
-Lots of uses of the word "Negress" and stereotypical portrayals of the happy slave
-One of the rape attempts occurs because a man visiting Brandon's plantation sees a dirt- and soot-covered Heather and assumes that she's black and a slave (winces)
-When going into labor, the heroine refuses to go anywhere until her husband changes her into a blue gown, because she's sure she's going to have a boy and the baby has to match her gown!
-Dresses tear like tissue paper in this book. It inspired me to make a new shelf on Goodreads for heroines with clothes that tear like wet Kleenex.
Honestly, this book is pretty formulaic, and with the exception of a few odd details (see the above) it follows the usual bodice ripper plot to a T. I've read and enjoyed another book of Woodiwiss's (COME LOVE A STRANGER), so I know she can write better, but this first, unfettered attempt was not my cup of tea at all. If you're going to read it, read it for science: observe it impassively, without any expectations, with the intention of reporting back your findings to others. Otherwise, it might just make a foot-stomper out of you, too.
My first order of action: I'm starting an "I hate Taryn" club. If you want to join, just comment below and you'll receive instant membership status. It is the hate that binds us.
Edit: I made a badge with MS Paint. >:D
What would happen if you combined Hana Yori Dango with Game of Thrones? This book.
I'm kind of surprised at how much I enjoyed THE CRUEL PRINCE. It was receiving a lot of hype, and normally that turns me off, because so much of the hype surrounding books these days seems so manufactured. I'm really sick of seeing everyone post aesthetic pictures of certain books and say, "OMG! THIS IS SO GREAT! LIFE CHANGING! WOW!" and then I go, "Oh really?" and pick it up, like a sucker, and find out that the book is not great or life-changing but incredibly mediocre or, worse, bad and just basically more of the same.
THE CRUEL PRINCE is that 1book out of 100 that deserves all the hype. Faeries are portrayed as they're supposed to be: not Greek gods with convenient magical powers that spend all their time acting like life is one big fat reality TV show, but actual scary, power-hungry creatures who are terrifying as they are beautiful to behold. Jude and her sisters, Taryn and Vivi, find that out the hard way when one of them bursts into their door in the mortal world and murders both her parents. It turns out that their mother was previously married - to a fae - and he didn't take kindly to cheating.
But leaving behind orphans leaves a sour taste in Madoc (jealous faerie ex-husband)'s mouth so he brings back all three of them to be reared in the world of faerie, where they're treated in his household like minor Gentry and resented by pretty much everyone else. Including the Elite 4 - *cough* - I mean the Faerie "Plastics": Nicasia, Locke, Valerian, and Cardan. Jude, not knowing when to stand down or keep her mouth shut, ends up bearing the brunt of their humiliations and intimidation tactics, and instead of learning a lesson, she ends up feeling nothing but rage and a desire for revenge.
For about 1/3 of this book, it felt like another YA fantasy drama with a mortal girl who ends up biting off more than she can chew with a side-romance that feels tepid. Then about 2/3 in, things start to get really crazy, with court intrigue, espionage, betrayal, murder, poison, and yes, okay, illicit romance. The last 100 pages of this book got even better, and the last fifty had me going "OMG!!!!" I received an electronic copy of this book for review, but rest assured, had I been holding a physical copy, I would have been white-knuckling it in a death grip even the most dedicated wrestler would admire.
I think this book's biggest failing is actually the genre. It's forced to dial down the cruelty, the sexuality, and the violence, so sometimes the tone feels a little off. THE HUNGER GAMES, as much as I loved it, had the same problem. YA is still very puritanical, with good reason, but sometimes when authors try to push the envelope within the confines of the parameters set by the age group they're writing for, certain topics can feel either unexplored or disconcertingly tame. I almost feel like this would have been better written for an adult audience, with older characters.
That small qualm aside, I really enjoyed THE CRUEL PRINCE. I enjoyed it as much as I enjoyed THE HUNGER GAMES and VAMPIRE ACADEMY. I loved that Jude started off selfish and kind of petulant, and gradually learned to hone her cruelty and her callousness into a very successful weapon. I like it when heroines are powerful and dangerous and morally grey, and given roles typically given to male characters in the genre. I also loved the dark prince, Cardan. He and Jude have a real "Reylo" dynamic, and I foresee a "Fifty Shades of Fae" sequel somewhere down the line for them. #Yaass
P.S. Still not sure if I mentioned THAT I HATE TARYN A LOT? :D :D
P.P.S. Not sure if I understand all the need for subterfuge in the court. Everyone made a big deal of how faeries can't lie, so why not just line everyone up and say "Are you scheming against me or participating in schemes against me, either directly or indirectly?" and then kill anyone who says "yes" or refuses to answer? Why go through all the rigamarole of involving extra spies? See, I'm a mortal and I'd make a better faerie ruler than half these losers. #ACourtOfSmutAndCommonSense
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
Have you ever looked at the reviews for a book and wondered if you accidentally read a completely different book? Like, maybe some devious book gremlin sneaked into wherever books are sold and swapped the book jackets of a bad book and a good book? That's kind of how I feel right now: like I've been book-pranked.
ALL THE UGLY AND WONDERFUL THINGS is a romance between a twenty-four-year-old man and a thirteen-year-old girl. Wavy is the daughter of abusive, mentally ill meth dealers. She's shunted from home from home for a while, from a grandmother who loves her but dies, to an aunt who doesn't love her and is afraid of the influence Wavy will have over her own girls, before being returned to her completely unfit parents.
Jesse Joe Kellen/Barfoot is a Choctaw man who is the child of alcoholic parents. His family is either dead or in jail. He currently works as a runner for Wavy's father, transporting drugs and sometimes beating people up if necessary. One day he has an accident, and Wavy is there to help him. She's eight-years-old and he's struck by what a beautiful child she is and how lonely she looks and how she doesn't seem afraid of him like everybody else. He feels bad about the way her family treats her, and ends up immersing himself into her life, stepping in for her parents. Sort of.
Here's the thing. Wavy is thirteen. When they meet, she's eight. But then they start having lots of physical affection between them that is inappropriate - kissing, touching, hand-holding. It turns sexual when she's thirteen. Some people have said that their relationship wasn't sexualized but I really did not get that impression. It felt very sexualized. He calls her breasts "little tits." When she gets dressed, he calls it "a strip tease in reverse". Even when Wavy is 21, she's still described as child-like. Her roommate says she looks like a "child prostitute" when she's wearing makeup.
At first, I thought I was going to like ALL THE UGLY AND BEAUTIFUL THINGS because the writing and story are good, and even though it employs the use of multiple POVs, the story kept moving at a decent pace. But Wavy and Kellen's relationship made me very uncomfortable and I cringed reading it. What Kellen did was sexual abuse, because he took advantage of a very lonely, abused, and neglected child. It doesn't matter that Wavy consented to what he did and even sought it out; she was not in any emotional or psychological state to say yes because she was thirteen.
I really did not like that Wavy's aunt was demonized for calling the cops on Kellen either. Yes, he got sent to jail for six years. Because he did sexual things with a child.
I will give the author props for writing a controversial book that will stir up dialogues about abuse, consent, and sex. I'm sure it will draw inevitable comparisons to LOLITA, too. But I actually think I liked LOLITA better than this because Humbert was so unambiguously the bad guy, and that wasn't quite as clear in this book. Maybe that makes it a more compelling read for some, but that was what turned me off of it, and it disturbs me a little how many people are shelving this as "romance."
As I get older, I find myself being tougher and tougher on YA. I'm not sure if it's because I find it more difficult to relate to the characters, or if the characters are just becoming more bland. In either case, I'm a jaded dame who's hard to please...and who's also a glutton for punishment. It's a dangerous combination.
THE RAVEN BOYS wasn't a book I set out to read. I'd heard of Maggie Stiefvater before, but her work didn't sound like it was for me. Then THE RAVEN BOYS became popular, and I began to see that black and white cover flooding my feed, accompanied by glowing reviews praising the book as magical and original.
Then the book showed up for $1 at my local used bookstore. I couldn't say no to that, you guys. Peer pressure...for $1.
I am such a sucker.
I would like to start by acknowledging the book's obvious strengths. It is very well written. The author has a great vocabulary and she knows how to string words along, like beads on a bracelet, so they look all nice and sparkly and pretty. Sometimes, however, she uses too many beads, and you end up with something way too chunky for convenience. But at least the beads are pretty.
The obvious failing is that this book doesn't know who it wants its audience to be. It's a book about older teenagers written for preteens, and sometimes that shows in the writing, which is so tell-not-show that it's like being beaten over the head with a skateboard (spoiler). I felt like I had Stiefvater holding my hand the whole time I was reading the story, telling me, "Okay, so for this part coming up, I want you to feel scared, okay? And you can tell you're supposed to feel scared because the characters are scared and scary things are happening, so it's okay for you to feel scared, too."
It also really didn't help that I hated Gansey and Blue. Gansey was condescending as all get out, and I got tired of other characters in the book saying that it was because he was rich. There are plenty of rich people who don't go around making others feel stupid about themselves. Being rich may be something that you can't help but condescension is a life choice.
Blue I didn't like because she was such a little twit. The way she treated her mom annoyed me. She was selfish, easily offended, and completely self-absorbed. I suspect I was supposed to think that she was quirky and sarcastic and funny and independent. She's basically the Scrappy Doo of heroines. And everyone knows that Scappy Doo is a major Scrappy Don't.
I kind of guessed that I wasn't going to be a fan when I found out that the outcome of this story hinged on whether or not the sixteen-year-old heroine kissed a boy.
This book was everywhere. Comedians were talking about it. Politicians were talking about it. Magazines and newspapers were talking about it. Trump was talking about it. Even the Grammys got in on it, with Hillary Clinton making a special cameo, during which she read excerpts from the book. It was supposed to be game-changing. Scandalous. Dishy. Controversial. It was making ~waves~. Hell, I even got unfriended by several people after posting status updates for this book! It was that #edgy.
Naturally, everyone wanted a piece of that sweet, sweet edge.
I'm a bit late to the game, since I got my copy from the library (curse you, waiting list), but I did eyeball some of my friends' status updates as they read the book, and their lack of "OH MY GOD, NO WAY!" was a tip-off that this book probably wasn't going to be the ##BIGSCANDAL it was being hyped up to be. Things rarely are. I think we all remember how disappointed we were when Rachel Maddow went on TV claiming to have a copy of Trump's tax returns that she was going to reveal, live, and it was just an old, already released copy from 2005. I was expecting that.
FIRE AND FURY has two major problems: unprofessional writing and lack of cited sources. The former makes sense. The author/publisher apparently received a cease and desist notice regarding the book, and in a sweeping gesture intended to support the first amendment and the free press, they sped up publication, thus putting the book into the public's hands faster and thumbing their nose at the president (and also garnering a fair amount of publicity and demand, as well). But it means that the book is riddled with typos like this (although maybe not quite so unfortunate): Bannon was making his first official pubic [sic] appearance of the Trump presidency (130). The writing itself is a bit breathless and sensationalistic and kind of reminds me of GAME CHANGE, the book that detailed the campaign between Clinton, McCain, and Obama. Both books take an omniscient third-person narrator approach that makes the reader wonder, "How many liberties are they taking with the story?"
Which brings me to the second point. I'm a chronic Googler. I like looking things up. When reading nonfiction about a subject I find interesting or relevant, I immediately jump to the sources listed in the book, for further research. It's how I was raised: to question, to be skeptical, to gather data in the search for truth in the face of salient evidence. In the back of my edition of FIRE AND FURY, there is an index - but no page numbers, and also no bibliography or list of sources. The lack of footnotes concerned me, as many documentaries in book form have footnotes after quotes or data that are then indexed in the back by chapter with a list of the websites, articles, and interviews that the author gleaned that information from. This book did not have those things, which I found troubling.
As far as the content goes, it told me nothing I couldn't have learned from watching Seth Meyers or Samantha Bee, or picking up a newspaper (God help me). If it did anything, it only reinforced the suspicions I already had: that Trump appears to be a childish, inexperienced, paranoid, petty, narcissistic man who needs to be fed praise constantly and obsesses over any negative statements about his glorious personage the same way Ebeneezer Scrooge greedily counted his coins; that Bannon appears to be a crude and nasty man who dreams of isolationism and wants to take down the liberal party with the same sort of elaborate schemes that Bond villains used to try to take over the world; that Jared and Ivanka appear to be trying to play Good Cop to Trump's Bad Cop in a pitiful effort to out-class the sinking ship that is the S.S. Alt-Right Party, but are in it for themselves as much as anyone else. It's freaking ridiculous, and not a day goes by when I wonder, "How did we get here?"
I'm as liberal as they come, and live in one of the most liberal places in the entire United States, but I will be the first to admit that this book had problems. And while I can appreciate the publisher wanting to support free speech and the free press, the move did appear a mite publicity-driven. I'm glad people are reading this book, and I hope that it will encourage them to ask questions, too, and maybe think extra hard about the people who are affected by such gross changes in government, but at the same time, I think that the typos and sloppy writing make it way too easy for the points that this book makes to be dismissed, and that feels like it's going to be a big mistake in the long run.
In case you missed it, I recently read this fantasy romance from the 80s called SUMMER OF THE UNICORN. It was from Kay Hooper's backlist (she only writes romantic suspense now), and I probably never would have discovered it if it hadn't recently been rereleased for Kindle and Netgalley hadn't subsequently approved me for the ARC. The book was so trashy and so bad, like, picture the worst science fiction book you've ever read from the 70s (probably written by Robert Heinlein, probably TIME ENOUGH FOR LOVE), only with a whole cartload of wtf, unicorns, and sexy bathing scenes thrown in for lols, and that's SUMMER OF THE UNICORN. It was, objectively, not a good book, and yet despite my better sense, I enjoyed it, being the trash queen I am, because if a book is so bad it entertains me, I give that spit a good rating, even if I take the mickey out of it in my review.
I've been working my way through Sarah J. Maas's Throne of Glass series over the last few months, and my thoughts on the series kind of mirror my thoughts about SUMMER OF THE UNICORN. I don't understand the purpose of the book, because presumably it was written in a good faith attempt to be a serious fantasy novel, but on the other hand, it also has a whole cartload of wtf, unicorns, and sexy bathing scenes (except with the ToG series, replace "unicorns" with "dragons" and "sexy bathing" with "sexy biting"). This is, objectively, not a good book, and yet I had such a good time making fun of it that I find myself becoming slightly fond of the series. It's like hating a dog that drools and pees everywhere but desperately wants to be your friend. That dog is annoying. That dog's mess is all over the place. But that dog also really, really wants you to like it. It's hard to hate that dog.
***WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AND SNARK AHEAD***
I think Throne of Glass's biggest problem is that it is gloriously uneven in terms of quality. There are parts of the book that are good, and then there are parts of the book that have me skimming like nobody's business. Durian's relationship with Fanta? Don't care. Raisin beating up Celery, over and over and over, until I wonder if I should be playing Tom Lehrer's Masochism Tango in the background? Don't care. Kale feels so bad about betraying Celery's feels? Don't care. Celery whining over and over about how she contributed to Queen Bae's death? Don't care. (Also, eff you, Celery. Your "I want to read books and sit on my butt eating cake in between having sex with Kale" was what led to that whole situation in the first place. It's just yet another episode of PoCs Dying to Make White People Give a F*ck, and that spit's so old that at this point, it's all reruns. Give it a rest.)
On the other hand, this book also had some redeeming factors that were not present in the first book. I actually like Onion Ass-river. Mutton Blackberry isn't too bad either. I'm 99.9% sure that somewhere in that girl's room is a shrine to Daenerys Targaryen filled with hair and toenail clippings and she probably stands in front of it while practicing shouting "WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS?" But honestly, I really liked her relationship with Drogon - oops, I mean, Abraxos. He was cool. I kind of pictured him as looking like Toothless, from How to Train Your Dragon - a movie, incidentally, that Mutton really should watch, because this is something that she really sucks at.
I think the worst thing about this series is the heroine, Celery, AKA Addledstar Galactica. My feelings towards her have been evolving across the series steadily. In THRONE OF GLASS, I wanted to slap her. In CROWN OF MIDNIGHT, I wanted to slap her and maybe push her off a cliff. In HEIR OF FIRE, I wanted to push her off a cliff into a lake filled with a celery-eating Kraken. She is sooo annoying, and honestly, there is only so much you can read about how perfect a character is before you start to picture some RP-er being all, THIS IS MY ORIGINAL CHARACTER, YOU GUYS. SHE HAS RAINBOW HAIR AND SIX DIFFERENT KINDS OF MAGIC POWERS. If you thought that Miss Assassin was **SUPER SPESHUL** in the last two books, just wait until you get to this book, where you find out that she isn't just a queen, she also has a magical fairy form, and two different kinds of magic powers, which leave just about everyone who witnesses them in ~awe~.
Also, Maas isn't content with the Kale/Celery/Durian love triangle in the last two books, plus the maybe Finnick O'Dair knock-off. No, in this book she has two more dudes fighting after her magical ladyparts - enter Rowan, who I'm pretty sure is knockoff Rhysand from the ACOTAR series (he even has magical fairy tattoos), and Onion Ass-river, who was Celery's childhood BFF. The Raisin/Celery ship is totally forced down the readers' throats in this book, and I'm just like, OKAY, what was the point of Kale and Durian at all in the first 2 then, if you're just going to make up new love interests when you get bored of them? Is Celery going to dump Raisin in the very last book of the series for some even more depraved, hotter dude with even better magical powers? Is she going to - *gasp* - date God Himself, because only He in all his glorious gloriousness is worthy of the holy sunlight that beams from the sanctity of her nether regions? I do wonder, because this spit is ridic.
Also, also, what's with that line about not being able to hurt your soulmate? Celery reasons that this is why Kale and she are not to be - because she scratched his face up in the last book. BUT WAIT- didn't Raisin do the exact thing to you - MANY MANY TIMES? He bloodied your face and bruised your eye, and made you fight creatures so evil that you LITERALLY peed your pants in front of him. And then at the end of this book, suddenly you're soulmates? I'm SORRY, but by your logic, this relationship you have should be the opposite of soulmates, because HE HURT YOU BAD. #NotCool
Then we have Onion.
I actually liked Onion's character, but the problem I have with him is endemic in the overarching themes of the book itself. I joked at first about the sexual tension between him and Kale, but by the end of the book, I was like, no, wait, there is actual tension here. It's like how Kale felt with Celery before, you know, she beat him up and ran off to be with someone who beats her up (ugh). Onion and Kale had actual great chemistry - the same way Celery had great chemistry with Queen Bae. I'd seen others complain about the queerbaiting in this series, but HONESTLY, it feels legit. You have all these characters who seem like they'd be LGBT+ and have these potentially awesome ships with same-sex characters, ONLY to have SJM be like, "Naaahh," and push them into cis-het relationships with characters who they previously had ZERO chemistry with in the previous books.
Take Durian's relationship with Sorscha. WHERE THE HECK DID THAT COME FROM? Out of nowhere, that's where! Last I heard, he was mooning over Celery, but now he's just consorting with the servants - and then he decides, ALSO OUT OF NOWHERE, that he loves the servant to the point that he'd offer ~anything~?? Um, wait? Also, he legit says "I love you" to Kale and there's that sexual tension, which makes me feel like Kale might possibly be bi, but I BET YOU THAT THIS IS NEVER ADDRESSED, and that Kale ends up in a cis-het relationship with some rando who SJM just arbitrarily decides he's **meant** to be with in one of the later books.
You also can't convince me that Queen Bae and Celery weren't OTP OTP, because in my mind, they totally were. The way Celery feels about Nehemia in this book is less like a dead friend and more like a lover who must be avenged. Not only was her death totally pointless, but I also felt like her relationship with Celery wasn't fully explored. The bond they had totally trumped anything Celery had with Kale, Durian, or her precious, precious Raisin; it was healthy, pure, and built on love.
On non-relationship-related notes, I feel like there was way too much random wandering around, and too much time spent on Celery and how great she is. Her priorities continue to be way screwed up. One of her crowning moments in this book is that, while imprisoned, she once more agonizes over her figure and WHILE IMPRISONED, plays around with tying her sash so as to emphasize her assets and breastets. Also, ONCE AGAIN, people die to to Celery's incompetence (this time thousands instead of, you know, just the one) and she is like OMG it's all my fault! NAH, YOU THINK???
I can tell that this is going the Girl of Fire route from THG, and Celery is going to be the figurehead for some grand revolution, but I don't like Celery nearly as much as I like Katniss. She feels way too manufactured and perfect, and apart from weeing in her trousers that one time from fear, we really don't get many human-like responses to things. She grandstands a lot and tosses off a lot of quotes that people seem to really enjoy quoting on Goodreads about how she's going to "rattle the stars", but she doesn't strike me personally as being particularly realistic or relatable. She's a Barbie in armor with magical powers, and that's hardly a 'strong female protagonist.' Particularly when stuck in an abusive relationship with some jerk who likes to tattoo all his mistakes in life on his arm. #lame
All that said, I do think this is an improvement over the two previous books, even if it gives off "I desperately want to be the next Game of Thrones vibes." The writing is better, and the parts of the book that don't involve Celery were interesting. It's Celery herself who really poisons this series and makes me want to take my Snark to Warp 5. She's just such an idiot and everyone's thoughts revolve around her, and I can't help but think of that quote from 10 Things I Hate About You where she's concerned, where Patrick asks, "What is it with this chick? She have beer-flavored nipples?"
I'll read the next book because I'm invested now, and I hear book 5 is a raging fustercluck of wtf that dissolves into bodice-ripper territory (and you know HOW MUCH I LOVE THOSE). Who knows? Maybe I'll actually love it. I hear copious amounts of smut are involved, and I am the Mother of Smut (the Unrepentant, Breaker of Convention, etc. etc.). WE SHALL SEE~
As always, you can credit this review to my friends who enjoy "encouraging" me to read books they think I'll hate, and also to the people who come onto my reviews thinking it's OK to tell me to STFU, because ha ha joke's on you, that only makes me want to post MOAR reviews. For the record, if you, or one of your friends, take issue with the way I review books, feel free to reach me at 1-800-GIRL-BYE.
I don't think I've read a book that was so mystifyingly over-hyped since FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. Every time one of these books comes out, my feed is immediately saturated with them for weeks. I realize that in reading these books, I am contributing to the problem, but I never said I wasn't a hypocrite. (Actually I probably did, but then again, how very hypocritical of me.) I read the first book about three years ago, and did not like it, but morbid curiosity inspired me to do a brutally honest reread of THRONES OF GLASS. The feedback was surprisingly positive (although I did lose a friend or two along the way, and even had some people block me). No hard feelings, though. You know what they say - those in glass castles shouldn't cast stones. Or something.
***WARNING: BIG SPOILERS AND SNARK AHEAD***
CROWN OF MIDNIGHT is book two in the chronicles of Celiac. I mean, Cellophane. I mean, Celery. Yes, let's stick with Celery. It's much easier to say than Celeana. In the last book, Celery partook in a Hunger Games-like competition to be the King's Champion for the hit new reality series in Adarlan, "Keeping Up with the Sardothiens." Everyone watched, agog, as a tiny, skinny girl inexplicably kicked the butts of men twice her size and strength, including me. It's almost like she hadn't been malnourished and imprisoned for years. Muscle atrophy, like smelly farts, bad hair days, and actually having to work at stuff, is something that just doesn't happen to Celery, Queen of the Mary Sues.
Unlike the rest of us pathetic mortals. *eye roll*
In this book, Celery is the King's Champion, and the obviously corrupt king is having her kill his dissenters. Only sucks for him, because Celery is totes Scarlet Pimperneling him, faking their deaths and mercifully allowing them to escape instead while bringing back the severed heads of scavenged corpses. (It's almost like she isn't good at her job as an assassin or something.) ((Also, girl, what's up with the weird severed head fetish? It's like my girl Celery thinks that they're Pokemon cards and she's gotta trade and collect 'em all.)) At the same time, she's trying to decipher the secrets of the Wyrdmarks, with the help of Nehemia, AKA Queen Bae.
Nehemia was the best thing about book one and also the best thing about book two, and she and Celery had way more chemistry than Celery did with either Kale (because he's overrated, like the vegetable kale, and often appears when not wanted) or Durian (should be obvious, but because he stinks. Like durian). So what does Maas decide to do to Nehemia? Kill her off, obviously. I'd been warned about this beforehand - because people have no self-control when it comes to spoilers in this series, it's like GAME OF THRONES (guess how I learned about the Red Wedding?) - but it still totally caught me off-guard and made me angry. To understand why this plot twist made people so angry, it's because it's totally an example of the Magical Negro trope. Fans argue that Nehemia's death was important, because it was the catalyst to Celery finding out The Truth - but that is literally the exact definition of the "Magical Negro" trope. To quote the wonderful TV Tropes wiki: "[they] have no goal in life other than helping white people achieve their fullest potential; he may even be ditched or killed outright once he's served that purpose" (emphasis mine).
And here's what Nehemia says about her fate when Celery raises her from the dead to ask her for secrets and also lamely apologize: "I knew what my fate was to be, and I embraced it. I ran toward it. Because it was the only way for things to begin changing, for events to be set in motion" (290).
YOU SEE. YOU SEE THAT.
RIP, Nehemia. Cause of death: lazy writing.
After that, Celery sulks over Nehemia's death while also seeking vengeance, blames Kale, runs back to Durian, and stalks the Finnick O'dair knockoff, Archer, because of his possible involvement with the rise of the lost Terrasen queen, Attlestar Galactica (or, you know, whatever). Turns out Kale didn't mean to kill Nehemia and she blamed him mostly falsely, but that's okay because he's a saint. Turns out Durian has magic and so does his evol father, but that's okay, because Durian's a saint. Turns out Finnick O'dair was the bad guy, but that's okay, because Celery still has two other love interest to ping-pong between, so screw him, he's no saint. Oh, but the bestest part of all is the grand reveal:
CELERY IS THE PART-FAE DESCENDANT OF AN ACTUAL GODDESS AND THE LONG-LOST QUEEN. It's like, you thought your girl Celery was a Mary Sue in the last book with her "I'm so beautiful, don't hate me because I'm amazing" "I can kick butt and you'll never see me break a nail doing it, but let me list out my murders like I'm a DnDer listing out my character's statz" - hold the phone and let's take these Mary Sue levels from 1 to "This is my Original Character from my Crossover fic about TWILIGHT AND HARRY POTTER." She even has magical eyes that are blue ringed with gold and we get this line that actually made me laugh out loud, because it totally sounds like something someone writing a crossover fic about TWILIGHT and HARRY POTTER would say: "I somehow inherited the ability to shift. Between my Fae form and my human form" (312).
I'm also super confused. Did she know who she was all along? Lose her memory? I feel like this wasn't really foreshadowed that well at all in the first book. You'd think that if a reveal like that was planned, there'd be more hints so readers wouldn't be all, "holy literal deus ex machina, Batman!"
So, apart from... THAT... how was the book? The writing was significantly better. If the first book was a one-star review that had been bumped up to a 2, this book was a three-star review that had been bumped down to a two. The action sequences were better, the writing was tighter, there were fewer moments where I wanted to hit the EJECT button that would catapult Celery from the narrative so I would never have to lay eyes on her smug little face ever again. There's still a lot that's really frustrating, though, and I think the biggest technical problem of this story is that rather than the characters driving the story, the story drives the characters. Their characterization is inconsistent, especially Celery's, and they will fluctuate between very different personalities whenever it's convenient for the plot. Add to that the fact that Celery's "abilities" are constantly getting stacked on top of each other, like a very special game of Mary Sue Jenga, and that shtick gets old, fast.
I'll be continuing this project with HEIR OF FIRE, so stay tuned for more updates!
Did the people who read this book read a different book than the one I read? Because I did not get a romantic, action-packed adventure. I got a slow and plodding story with wooden characters and writing that was rife with purple prose. It wasn't even the fact that I went in with high expectations; despite the fact that Mulan is one of my favorite movies, I really did not like this author's other book, THE WRATH AND THE DAWN, and that was based off one of my favorite faerie tales. So I went in with extremely low expectations and somehow, FLAME IN THE MIST managed to be worse than TWatD. How does that happen?
Also, let's talk about the Mulan thing. I noticed people were saying that this book was a retelling of Mulan, and I wasn't sure if it was the publisher saying that or other reviewers saying that (because reviewers say a lot of things that publishers aren't and shouldn't be held responsible for), but when I went to the Penguin website, they appear to be blurbing the book as "Mulan meets Throne of Glass" and the author herself appears to be citing her love of the movie as an influence in writing this book in this Bustle interview. That made me give this book the side-eye, because Mulan is a legend from China and this is a book about Japan. China and Japan have totally different cultural legacies and at several points throughout history they have clashed in very unpleasant ways. It felt extraordinarily insensitive to me to brand a Chinese legend in new, Japanese packaging. To give a Western example, it would be like taking the struggles of the Scottish and rebranding them as English.
"Be as swift as the wind. As silent as the forest. As fierce as the fire. As unshakable as the mountain" (244).
I really don't like it when I feel like I'm being pandered to. Especially when it feels culturally insensitive. I'm sure that wasn't the author's intention, but I think that sometimes people forget that Disney stories are often based off actual folklore from actual people.
FLAME IN THE MIST is about a girl named Mariko who is the daughter of a samurai. She's on her way to be married to her betrothed, but her litter and attendants are slaughtered before she can reach her destination, and Mariko herself is saved only by sheer luck. She ends up lost and wondering, and after escaping a would-be rapist, decides to disguise herself as a boy. Lucky for her (again), because Mariko ends up in the camp of the very men who she believes were trying to kill her, a group of bandits called the Black Clan. She decides that she's going to gain their trust and learn their weaknesses so she can kill them in revenge, but this being a YA novel, she falls for the ringleader.
Mariko is no Mulan. She's one of those "strong" female characters who prove their "strength" by whining about how much it sucks to be a girl. She is constantly shooting off her mouth, even when she shouldn't (especially when she shouldn't), and of course her would-be enemies think this is so hilarious and endearing and are won over instead of gagging her and/or throwing her off a bridge. Also, the plot is very similar to WRATH OF THE DAWN in the sense that Mariko, like Sharzad, has a lot of reason to hate the leader, but never does, at least not without conviction, and gives into her lust way too quickly. Her emotions do not feel real - it's like she has an internal switch that flips whenever it's convenient for the plot, and also, what is going on with the plot of this story? It was so slow. I skimmed, and it still felt way too long. The writing does not help. Ahdieh makes an effort to write poetically, but instead it just feels blocky and convoluted and weird.
But the egg - that simple egg - was so wonderful. So perfect.
How could anyone who would take such care to prepare a simple egg truly be bad? (106)
Also, negative points for that line. Because apparently people can't be bad if they can cook eggs.
Whoa, you know a book is **edgy** when you lose a few friends every time you post a status update for it.
TOO FAT, TOO SLUTTY, TOO LOUD; THE RISE AND REIGN OF THE UNRULY WOMAN is written by a BuzzFeed writer who also published another work of nonfiction about the scandals of Golden Age Hollywood. TOO FAT also focuses on Hollywood, but Hollywood in the present day: in particular, it is a rather scathing and critical look at how various women are treated by the media when they choose to openly defy various gender roles, and what that means for us, as a society.
I really liked the structure of this book. TOO FAT is divided into segments, with each chapter focusing on a typical gender norm and a famous woman who does not follow it. There are ten chapters, plus an opening and a conclusion.
Chapter One: Too Strong // Serena Williams
This was one of my favorite chapters in the collection because I thought Serena Williams was so cool when I was a young girl. In the 90s, most "cool" female celebrities were very girly, like the Spice Girls and Britney Spears, and while I loved those ladies, too, and happily played their music for hours, I was a tomboy, so it was very cool to see a woman - a young woman - being praised for being strong and athletic and basically the antithesis of the pink bows and sparkly flowers that were being crammed down the throats of girls at the time.
But all was not as rosy as it seemed in my various issues of Preteen Monthly. TOO FAT talks about how Serena had to work every step of the way to become recognized in a sport that was rife with double standards regarding not just her gender but also her ethnicity. Her critics frequently wrote about her with coded language mocking her beaded hair and her temper tantrums, focusing on her with an intensity that simply did not happen for her male (white) colleagues. I thought this was a very thoughtful piece and it reminded me why I admired the Williams sisters so much growing up.
Chapter Two: Too Fat // Melissa McCarthy
This was another favorite chapter of mine, because I love Melissa McCarthy and live for her Sean Spicer sketches on SNL. This was also a very well-written essay that discusses how overweight and plus-sized women are treated by the media (read: mocked) and how the accomplishments of women are recognized differently than the accomplishments of men (read: they aren't - at least not as effusively, nor to the same extent). Women are supposed to deflect and be demure - they aren't supposed to openly acknowledge their accomplishments; it is really amazing to me how quick people are to tear women down when it seems like they're "too confident." I also thought it was interesting how McCarthy's persona on stage is apparently so different from her real-life persona. As someone who's also quite shy in real life, I thought it was kind of sweet that McCarthy sounds like she's soft-spoken and actually super girly off-stage.
Chapter Three: Too Gross // Abbi Jacbson & Ilana Glazer
To be honest, I have no idea who these people are. They're from a show called Broad City, which I don't watch (I don't watch a lot of TV). But the point the essay makes is clear: society has definitive ideas about what women are permitted to joke about, and women are often mocked for or excluded from participating in raunch humor or slacker humor. There was one quote in this book that summed up this idea really nicely: According to this logic, men's bodily functions are funny - but women's bodies are fundamentally obscene (86)
It actually reminded me of the Eat, Pray, Queefepisode from South Park, which does a great job of poking fun at the double standards when it comes to bodily humor and gender.
Chapter Four: Too Slutty // Nicki Minaj
This was another good chapter that talks about the catch-22 situation that many women find themselves in when deciding whether or not to show skin: is having a "sexy" image in the public eye merely catering to the male gaze, or is it owning one's sexuality? Can it be both?
Like the "Too Strong" chapter with Serena Williams, Too Slutty also talks about how women of color, specifically black women of color, are hypersexualized and held to different standards than white women when it comes to beauty and sexuality (read: the shortest short end of the stick). This is a topic I've seen mentioned a lot lately, and I was pleased to see the author mention it, and defining why this double standard is so problematic in such clear and precise terms.
Chapter Five: Too Old // Madonna
"Too Old" is one of the weaker chapters in this book, in my opinion. It's about age discrimination with regards to sexuality specifically, and how older women are expected to give up basically all sexual agency and just become celibate, demure, and matronly as they grow older. Using Madonna as an example, Petersen shows how women are shamed and portrayed as pathetic and desperate when still attempting to convey a sexual and youthful image post-middle age.
Chapter Six: Too Pregnant // Kim Kardashian
This was one of my favorite chapters, which surprised me because I'm really not a fan of Kim Kardashian. But this chapter surprised me, and it actually made me like Kim a little more. In this chapter, Petersen talks about Kim's pregnancy with North and how Kim totally went against the "cute pregnancy" standards set by people like Reese Witherspoon or Kate Middleton by wearing tight, unflattering clothes and complaining publicly about her discomfort and ambivalence of being pregnant instead of yapping about how great(!) and amazing(!) pregnancy is.
I liked this chapter because, like the Too Gross chapter, it shows that women can't always be neat and cute and clean all the time. Maintaining such a pristine image is hard work and not everyone has the resources or the will to manage such a time-consuming illusion. Kim Kardashian chose not to buy into that and showed us that even famous people have bad moments - and that's OK.
Chapter Seven: Too Shrill // Hillary Clinton
I think this might have been one of the chapter updates that caused me to lose some friends, because I said that I thought Hillary Clinton should be president instead of certain **other people** and that it was a shame she wasn't given a chance. Well, I stand by that. And Petersen did a great job talking about some of the obstacles female politicians face, being mocked for wanting power and accused of being bitchy, aggressive, and shrill for the same attributes that their male colleagues are praised for.
Chapter Eight: Too Queer // Caitlyn Jenner
"Too Queer" was an interesting chapter. Most of the other chapters have a tone of "praise" or at least "admiration" but in "Too Queer" I felt the tone was more critical. Here, Petersen talks about the subject of heteronormativity (or having heterosexual norms being the de facto standard for a society) and how coming from a position of privilege can color or shape the perception of inequality for someone who is within the marginalized group in question (in this case, not realizing how bad things are for other trans people if you are a rich, gender role-conforming trans person who "passes" easily).
Chapter Nine: Too Loud // Jennifer Weiner
MY FAVORITE CHAPTER IN THE WHOLE ENTIRE BOOK.
Jennifer Weiner novels were the staple of my young adolescence and after Bridge Jones, were basically what got me into the whole "chick lit" genre. I related to everything in this essay so hard. As a reader and writer of romance, I cannot tell you how often I have been denigrated because of my choices of reading and writing material. (One phrase that sticks out is "articulate" - I feel that is the go-to code word for people who want to find a way to tell you that they think you are an idiot if you write intelligently. Like, "Oh, you're articulate, but everything you think and feel is trash.")
I do not think it is a coincidence that the genre that primarily caters to women receives the most criticism from both within and without the industry - especially (although not always by) men.
Honestly, I would read an entire book about this topic (need a future book idea, Ms. Petersen?).
Chapter Ten: Too Naked // Lena Dunham
Ugh, my least favorite chapter. I just don't like Lena Dunham and I don't like Girls and have little interest in seeing Girls (which is a feat in and of itself, given my mad Adam Driver obsession). I thought about skipping this chapter but I wanted to read it anyway just so I could write a well-rounded review of the book...and it wasn't that bad. Basically, Lena Dunham asserts herself by flaunting a body that most people don't find attractive or "worthy." ...Okay? I think this was the least effective chapter because it was basically a combination of the "Too Fat" and "Too Gross" chapters from the beginning of the book, so I didn't really feel like we were covering any new ideas. I think a "Too Confident" or "Too Smart" chapter would have been better, because my God, have you ever noticed how quick people are to tear women down for daring to feel...good about themselves?
Overall, I really enjoyed TOO FAT, TOO SLUTTY, TOO LOUD. It helped that I already liked most of the people the author chose to write about, but the writing stands on its own. This book covers some very important topics about how women are treated by society. Even though we are moving towards true equality, there are still many areas that need improvement, and I would suggest this book to people who insist that society is equal or smugly call themselves "equalists" because TOO FAT does a great job highlighting not just where the last bastions of inequality exist, but also why they exist, and why it's important not to null these groups out.
Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!
+: This is my EIGHTH YEAR ON GOODREADS, you guys! I joinLast year was a more eventful year in both a good and a bad way. So far, 2017 is pretty chill.
+: This is my EIGHTH YEAR ON GOODREADS, you guys! I joined in April 2009. Next year will be my ninth year on the site. The year after that will be my tenth. To put it in perspective, I was just out of my teens when I first signed up here. On my tenth anniversary, I'll be turning 30.
+: My romance group, the Unapologetic Romance Readers, has grown so much over the past year. We're currently sitting at almost 1,000 members 1000+ members, with three other hard-working moderators who do so much behind-the-scenes stuff to keep everything running smoothly. I'm so lucky to know such an intelligent, kind, and quirky group of people. Stay amazing, you guys. <3
+: I've made some new and interesting friends, and stayed in touch with some old ones (I've known some of you for eight years! My God, that's incredible). I always love making friends, so it's never not delightful when someone sends me a friend request (unless you're a troll or a spammer - then not so much). FYI, I don't send requests anymore since I know people are leery of author requests, so 99.9% of the time, I wait for others to take the initiative. (In case we've chatted and you're wondering why I haven't added you - that's why.) If we're friends, thank you for being my friend. I'm so honored to know you. The bookish nerdy little girl inside me rejoices every day at FINALLY being able to connect with people who love books as much as she does.
+: I published my first book of poetry, The Pocketbook of Sunshine and Rain. Incidentally, unless I miscounted, I believe it's the seventeenth independent work I've published.
+: Sovereign to the Skies will be my eighteenth published work. I'm currently serializing it for free on the website I used to publish on as a teen: https://www.fictionpress.com/s/330185... . I haven't really felt like writing fiction in a while, so this is a big step back towards the treacherous waters of the #WriterLife.
+: I made it back to the top 50 best-reviewers list! #26, most recently. Thank you!
I suppose I'll update this review again closer to the New Year, but these are just some thoughts for now.
09/28/17: This book is currently $1.99 for Kindle (and so is the sequel!)
Huge thank yous to the author and publisher for putting this book up on Netgalley. It's probably one of the best books I've received for review from that site this year. I'm rather desperate to get my hands on A WOUNDED NAME now. Authors who excel at doom and gloom are so few and far between
But Hutchison does. Oh, boy, she does.
I would be very surprised if Hutchison never read John Fowles's THE COLLECTOR - the parallels are numerous. Both are about obsessive men who compare women to butterflies and see them as sexual fetish objects to be owned and collected. Both are about women held captive who are desperate to escape. That said, I am not implying that THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN is derivative in the slightest. It is possible to be influenced by other work(s) and still make your story your own - something Hutchison does with great skill. Honestly, it reads like Gillian Flynn decided to rewrite THE COLLECTOR as a dysfunctional harem in the style of James Patterson's Alex Cross books, and it's darned good.
Maya was taken from the Garden. FBI agents Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison are interviewing her to find out about the other girls and also about the man who called himself the Gardener. As the interview unwinds, we are left with bits and pieces of the story. The Gardener kidnaps young women and tattoos butterfly wings on their backs. He keeps them locked away in a glass harem, until they turn twenty-one-years of age. All the girls are marked with death the moment they come into his "care."
Maya had a dysfunctional childhood that forced her to become street smart at a young age. She knows how to read people and how to manipulative people, and she's not above using either of these skills in order to help escape. But as she gets to know the women she's trapped with the walls come down, and she finds herself more emotionally involved than she ever wanted to be - especially when some of her friends end up dying.
The writing in THE BUTTERFLY is gorgeous. The pacing is also really good. I found myself reading large chunks of this at a time without getting bored, which is often a good indicator of how good the author is at spinning out tension. I also loved the gritty realism in this book. One of the reasons I love Gillian Flynn's work, for example, is because she isn't afraid to write flawed female heroines or anti-heroines. Hutchison is much the same - she's damaged and can be a little cruel herself, which I appreciated, because given what she's gone through, why shouldn't she be?
I also really liked how The Gardener wasn't a stereotypical villain. He had moments of kindness, and even though he murdered and did terrible things to his Butterflies...it was chilling, because you could tell that he didn't think he was doing anything wrong. He really believed what he was doing was love. His sons, Avery and Desmond, were also interesting characters - Desmond, especially.
Anyone looking for a good psychological thriller/mystery will do well to read THE BUTTERFLY GARDEN. It's clearly influenced by a lot of great writers, but does an amazing job standing on its own two feet. Would love to see a movie version of this book one day! Think of the costumes!
UPDATE: Did anyone else see the film trailer yet? What are your thoughts? I'm actually concerned. Based on the footage they showcased, it looks like the film version is going to have little to nothing to do with the actual story. Instead it looks like it's going to be a total #PanderFest, like Spy Kids 3D or Pixels. What do you guys think?
There's a magical formula you may have noticed. It's been going on all around you and has been for years. I call it "The Twenty Years Formula." That's how long it takes for things to become popular again, through the warm, pleasantly fuzzy lenses of nostalgia. When that happens, marketers, TV producers, and writers all sit up and take notice. That's when you start geting reboots, relaunches reproductions...and, of course, READY PLAYER ONE.
I think it's pretty obvious that I'm a nerd, so I'm not going to pretentiously reel off my "nerd cred." But READY PLAYER ONE was written for people like me, who were born in the 70s and 80s and grew up in the 80s and 90s, and who like nerdy, retro things. One of my favorite movies (Ladyhawke) and one of my favorite bands (The Alan Parsons Project) are mentioned in here, as well as a whole host of other things I really like.
When I'm describing READY PLAYER ONE to people, I tell them that it's a love story to the 80s with a big heaping dash of "Willy Wonka and the Video Game Factory." The story is set in the near future, in 2044. We're in pretty dire straits, with overcrowding and limited resources. An eccentric gamer named James Halliday created a place where people could take a break from their horrible reality, a fully immersive MMORPG called OASIS, which is completely free to use after you pay a simple 25-cent sign-up fee (bar any in-game purchases, of course).
One of the best things about this book is how OASIS is structured. Cline does a really great job of showing how appealing this world is. Poor Wade doesn't have any money of his own, so he spends all his time stuck on the noob world or the world where he goes to school, but plenty of third party developers have created code within the world for planets based on books, video games, and various other themes, where players can do anything from buy valuable items in-game to playerkilling to taking virtual tours of real or fictional places in an elaborate virtual landscape. Doesn't that sound amazing? I want to link in to OASIS. It sounds pretty freaking amazing.
But the game's creator eventually dies, and he isn't content to go quietly. In a viral video will, he announces that he's leaving his vast fortune, as well as the deed to OASIS itself, to anyone who can solve a series of incredibly complex puzzles, riddles, and games all revolving around 80s pop culture. At first, everyone goes crazy. People create clans to seek out the treasure in teams, and a nefarious government enterprise called IOI creates a division dedicated to finding the answers to the riddles themselves so they can privatize and monetize OASIS, forcing players to pay to stay.Years go by without a winner, however, and gradually the public loses interest as everyone assumes that Halliday was either mad or just trying to get a final laugh in at everyone else's expense.
And then, one day, Wade figures out the answer to the first riddle - and nothing is the same.
I read READY PLAYER ONE about four years ago, after checking it out from the library. I loved it so much, I bought my own copy and immediately read it again, this time paying more attention to all of the pop cultural references and looking up various facts, songs, or details that I found interesting. This is my third time reading the book, and I got to be more introspective this time, because I'm reading it for a book club, with people who are just now reading it for the first time, and I want to think about why READY PLAYER ONE resonated so strongly with me so I can explain that magic to everyone else. The book appeals to our nostalgic memories of childhood and our desire for wish fulfillment on a chillingly efficient level, to the point where it's really hard not to root for the main character or put yourself in his shoes. He wants his passions to make him special, and he wants a way to "check out" from the terrible things happening around him. Who doesn't relate to that?
I enjoyed READY PLAYER ONE almost as much as I did the first time, although this time, I did notice a few minor things that kind of annoyed me. Somehow, I didn't notice how selfish Wade was the first time around. When they're talking about what they plan on doing with their winnings, Art3mis says she wants to give a lot to charity, to help give food to people who have none. Wade seems incredulous at this, and when pushed, says that he supposes he'd charter a spaceship and create a new planet somewhere else. This struck me as a very selfish, defeatist way of thinking. I guess it makes sense that growing up in OASIS might make him very used to instant gratification, since planets are easily coded and terraforming isn't an issue at all, but it was still interesting. I found myself wondering if he would really squander all of his money away on a spaceship if he won. Personally, I think if you have more money than you could ever conceivably spend in a lifetime - such as the billions up for stake here - you have a social and moral obligation to give back to society. Certainly, that seems to have been James Halliday's intent here. He created a game that he could have charged anything for, and instead made it free, and then gave away all his money, too. It made me think of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the original one) when Willy Wonka gives Charlie that one final test to make sure he has the moral fiber, the character, that he desires for the person who continues his legacy. The lack of parallelism here was really striking in that regard, especially considering the many other similarities to Willy Wonka that were left intact here. We're shown how evil the IOI is with their capitalistic agenda and greed, but apathy can be just as cruel, and just as devastating to a society.
The other thing that bothered me was the ending. It felt anticlimactic. If you've read the book, I'm talking about that final scene when the outcome is revealed. I was expecting a huge standoff with the IOI, or at least with Nolan Sorrento. A kind of "gotcha!" at gunpoint moment.
Those two peeves aside, though, I really enjoyed READY PLAYER ONE. It's a great story, with decent characters, and a fascinating world that I could happily explore for hours. (Really, A Song of Ice and Fire has five books out and this is a standalone? I'll take OASIS over Westeros any day). I'd even go so far as to say that it's worth reading for the pop cultural references alone. It's a love story for the 80s and an ode to geeks everywhere. I relate to both those things, so of course, I adored it.
So this is going to be a tricky review to write, because opinions have really diverged on this book. Looking through the reviews of THE PRINCESS SAVES HERSELF IN THIS ONE, you immediately see that some people adored this book and others found it deplorable. Age seems to be the dividing factor - this book is a hit with younger readers, and I think the generational gap has something to do with it. The Tweet-sized snippets of text remind me of the emo blogs that were so abundant on Xanga in 2005. That probably betrays my age, though. People in the "know" are calling it "Tumblr poetry." I can't vouch for that, though - this fogey-in-process doesn't have a Tumblr.
Anyway, Andrews McMeel is going to publish this book, and I'm sure the fact that the author won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Poetry has something to do with this book deal. Andrews McMeel is a quirky publishing company that does a lot of novelty books, comics, cookbooks, and poetry. Since I've loved pretty much every book Andrews McMeel put out, I jumped when I saw this title appear on Netgalley. The fact that this book won the GCAs did make me more interested in reading it, even though poetry really isn't my bag, baby, and when one of my favorite publishers acquired it, that was the final painted nail on the elegantly manicured grabby hands. To my surprise I actually liked most of the "poems" in this volume, even if I can't really bring myself to call them that.
THE PRINCESS SAVES HERSELF IN THIS ONE is divided into four sections. Each one appears to address a different topic, and as far as I can tell, they are organized as such:
"the princess" is about how she grew up and came to be the person she is
"the damsel" is about suffering and how she almost lost sight of who she is
"the queen" is about healing and how she came to love who she is
"you" is directed towards the reader, and full of advice on what it means to be a human, and also a woman
There is a lot of suffering in this book, which is part of what makes it so raw. It's hard to get mad at someone who was brave enough to put their words to paper and then put that paper out into the world. We can mock how she chose to do it, but the fact of the matter is, she did it. Good for her. If writing this book helped her achieve cathartic release, as she claims at the end, then that is a good thing. If reading this helps others gain comfort through their suffering, that is also a good thing. Some of the "poems" are a little sappy, but there are also some great insights in here as well about self-harm, death, grief, rape, empowerment, feminism, and body dysmorphia.
At the end of the day, your opinion is your own. I'm not condemning the people who didn't like this book, because poetry is such a sensitive and subjective thing that is so deeply personal, expecting poetry to be universally beloved by all is ridiculous. Reading THE PRINCESS made me nostalgic about the blogs I kept as a high school student, which also got me through some angsty times. If you ever subscribed to "emo" culture, had an angsty blog, or the whole "chicken soup for the ____" phenomenon, read THE PRINCESS SAVES HERSELF IN THIS ONE. It'll warm your heart.
Thanks for the advanced reader copy Andrews McMeel/Netgalley!
This was an intimidating book to start. Go on its Goodreads page and you'll be greeted by a teeming sea of four- and five-star reviews. Also, it's expensive AF. I was really interested when it came out but the ebook was $9.99! $9.99! That seemed way too excessive for a book that not only wasn't in print form and therefore couldn't be lovingly toted around by me to and from my daily battles with big city public transportation, but also meant that I would be out almost $10 (that's two and a half small lattes from Starbucks!) if I didn't like the blasted thing. Luckily, it went on sale last year for $1.99 and I decided that the price was right.
The reviewers, however, were wrong.
I almost DNF'd this book at the 100-page mark. I couldn't believe it when I was greeted by halting, overwrought prose and a raging Mary Sue of a heroine named Agony (not her actual name, but her narrative induced throes of agony and it's close enough, so) who put even Queen Special herself, Addledstar Galactica, AKA Celery to shame. And then, when she finally meets the fearsome Dragon himself, instead of eating her...he makes her do CHORES?!
If I hadn't been invested in my buddy read with Elena, I would have dropped this potato so fast.
One thing that well-meaning fans do that really actually kind of gets on my nerve a little is tell me that a book is "going to get better" and that I should stick out my misery to get to the amazeballs ending that will be a total game-changer. I know they mean well (most of them, anyway), so I try not to get too annoyed about it, but it's a really frustrating thing to hear - "wade through this festering pile of boredom and inaction, there's an amazing ending four hundred pages down the road!"
Also, 9 times out of 10, they're wrong.
This is the 1 time out of 10 that the fans are sort of right. Around the 200-mark or so, when Agony and Dragon encounter the Wood, it starts to get interesting. Mostly because it stops feeling like a Medieval Guide to Domestic Drudgery and starts feeling like a classic horror novel. The heart-trees are freaking terrifying. I have the flu right now, and in the midst of a fever dream last night, I thought that the coat I had hanging on my closet door was a sprouted heart-tree, come to drag me into the woods. I almost screamed. It was so terrifying. It made me thing that Novik ought to give up fantasy for a while and try out writing an atmospheric horror novel instead. I haven't been so creeped out in ages. The magic system was interesting, but not very well-developed. It actually reminded me a lot of another fantasy novel I recently read, called THE BURNING SKY, where shouting foreign-sounding words Makes Magic Things Happen. That book also had a rather slow start and dreary protagonist. I felt like there was a five-star book buried in the heart-tree of this novel, screaming to get out, but it was utterly bogged down by the pacing, and the tell-not-show of the first person narrative.
One thing I did really like was the ending. It actually reminded me a lot of Moana (if you've read this book and seen the movie, you'll know what I mean). There is a definite feminist bent to this book, too. Agony's friendship with Kasia is more developed than her attraction to Dragon, and in many ways, I felt like Kasia was a stronger heroine than Agony was. I also liked the Moana-like twist I hinted at earlier, and I also don't think it was a coincidence that Agony, a female mage, was the one to do what she did. It reminded me of this Tweet I saw written by a survivor of abuse, who said that when she watched Moana, it made her think of the healing women can give each other in the aftermath of abuse, and the powerful bonds that form because of that sympathetic relationship. If Moana is an allegory for that, I think you could argue just as easily that UPROOTED is, as well.
That said, this book still had a lot of problems. Ultimately, I am glad I finished it, but it won't be topping any of my favorites lists, and I'm a little bewildered by all the unequivocal positive ratings. I'm intrigued enough that I'd be willing to check out her companion book set in the same universe, SPINNING SILVER. Novik has a style that's very similar to old school Diana Wynne Jones, and even though DWJ's books didn't always work out for me, I usually appreciated what she was trying to do.
I don't like sports. I don't play sports, I don't watch sports, & I don't tend to lust after the guys who play them. Or I didn't, until I read Elle Kennedy's THE DEAL and realized that maybe athletes could be hot after all - not because they're athletes, but because of what makes them athletes. It's hard not to admire a man who is that passionate and dedicated about something.
Joe Rutherford is the right winger for a hockey team. And since I am not a hockey fan, I'm going out on a limb here and assuming that right winger is alluding to something other than his political leanings. He's passionate and dedicated, and the other men on his team look up to him. It's why their team manager has asked him to be the mentor-slash-roommate to a newly recruited player named CJ.
Cristina Caspary is a stage actress of Hungarian descent. She's kind, hard-working, and very much in love with what she does. She is involved with a charity called Grant A Wish, and has kept up with one of the kids she worked with named Lexi. Lexi might be having a relapse of Leukemia, and since she likes the Barracudas, Cristina decides to try and use the celebrity phone tree to shake out a Joe Rutherford for her favorite girl.
The chemistry the two have is immediate. Cristina admires Joe for being charitable and mature, especially when she pegged him as some big-talking hot-shot. Joe thinks Cristina is very pretty and, being a closeted fan of musical theater, really admires her talent on the stage. Their courtship is enjoyable to watch at first, as Cristina gradually picks up hockey terminology and starts to appreciate what he does more as she learns about how the game works, and Joe tries to think of how to seduce her in ways that make her mind explode and where to take her on fancy dates.
The problem actually comes because of their careers. Joe's is on the downswing. He's in his mid-thirties and his health is starting to adversely affect his hockey performance. He's getting less play time and when he gets injured on the ice, it takes him longer to recover. Cristina, on the other hand, has nowhere to go but up after receiving a job offer on a cable TV show that's comparable to Game of Thrones. Even more infuriating to Joe is the fact that she isn't using a body double, and one of the men she'll be doing love scenes with, her co-star, is actually an ex of hers who wants her back.
I thought Joe's jealousy was relatable for a while, even if I didn't like it. Too often, romances paint a picture perfect ideal of what love is like, so it was nice to see a couple actually struggle with realistic obstacles and unpleasant compromises. But then Joe says some pretty cruel stuff to Cristina. He repents immediately as soon as he realizes what he's said, and what it means, but that epilogue was pretty shady. It made me think that maybe he hadn't really learned a lesson at all, and was just resorting to even sneakier means to get Cristina to change her life for him.
UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT is a pretty good romance, though. I'd definitely recommend it to fans of THE DEAL, especially fans who liked the romance and the hockey aspects, but who would have liked to see slightly older protagonists. The sex scenes were very well done, and I liked the banter between Joe and the other hockey players. Hart, the gay one, was one of my favorites. I loved that the author didn't define him by his sexuality, or play into any stereotypes. I really hope the author writes an M/M story about him and how he met his partner, Jeremy (assuming she hasn't already).
Joe won't be making it onto my exclusive list of book boyfriends after all, but I have to say that this was a really fun read, and I couldn't put it down. Carina, you devilish fiend, you've done it again!
I'm an introvert. A lot of people don't think I am because I'm very involved in a lot of things - I'm in a lot of clubs, I host a book club (IRL and online), and I like to plan parties for people. But I am an introvert, because too much socializing exhausts me, and I need a few days to kick back and just curl up with a book to recover. It's not that I'm antisocial, it's just how I am. I love being with people, but I can't do it all the time. In middle and high school, I also had social anxiety, to the point where I would sometimes try to call in sick on days when I had oral reports. As soon as I got up in front of everyone, I'd shake so hard I could barely stand upright. I would sometimes skip lunch so I could sit in the library and not talk to anyone.
Writing empowered me to find something in myself as a young teen that made me feel really special and talented. I didn't have the best self-esteem growing up, so every review I received on my works when I posted them online made me feel really good about myself. Sometimes, I'd have a bad day, and then I'd read something really nice and then suddenly everything would be all right again, because someone had read something I'd written and found it meaningful in some small way. Connecting with the reading and blogging community also let me find people who shared my interests and reinforced that my opinions mattered. I joined Goodreads as an older teen (19) and quickly, it became a place where I felt that I could be myself. Now, nearly ten years later, I feel perfectly secure in who I am as a person. And while there are many factors that contributed to this, such as finding a good job and earning my own income, and going to a good school, I also credit my writing and my friends in the blogging community as well to contributing to that developed sense of self and self-confidence. When I read the summary for FANGIRL, I was excited initially because FANGIRL was about an introverted, socially phobic girl who found empowerment in writing and in her fandom. I am also an introverted girl who found empowerment in writing and in her fandom. I even wrote fanfiction many, many years ago - Inuyasha, if you're curious - although obviously (wink), I gave that up and switched to original fiction. I thought, "This is going to be a book about a character who is just like me! There is no way that this cannot be good! I am going to read this and feel all the feels and it will be great"
Reader, this book was some serious, mega kind of BS.
I have not hated a character as much as I hated Cath in a long time. I think the last time I encountered a trash person who achieved Dumpster-Grade status was in Molly McAdams's SHARING YOU, another book that let me seething. The difference between the two is that SHARING YOU doesn't pretend to be anything other than what it is - a guilty pleasure sort of soap opera 'romance' - while FANGIRL basks in its own inflated self of self-importance, featuring a selfish, whiny, genuinely antisocial main character who is so far up her own rear end that she couldn't find her way out with a spelunking team and a searchlight.
Cath whines nonstop about going to college. She whines about her sister, Wren, not rooming with her. She whines at the idea of being forced to socialize. She judges the heck out of her roommate, Reagan. She locks her roommate's friend, Levi,out of their room, leaving him outside to wait for hours in the hall but not before she basically calls him 'rapey.' She whines about her sister not wanting to read or help her with her stupid fanfiction anymore. She describes somebody like this: "He looked like someone with a steerage ticket on the Titanic. Somebody who'd be standing in line at Ellis Island. Undiluted and old-blooded" (31). She whines about her fanfic readers being too demanding and when she's not acting like her fic has a greater place in her life than her education or even her friends, seems totally ungrateful about her 30,000+ readership. She turns in a fanfic for her ORIGINAL FICTION class and is SHOCKED when the professor gives her an F. Then she argues with the professor over what constitutes original writing. This is a professor who has already allowed Cath to take a class that isn't generally open to freshmen, by the way. She makes fun of someone for reading a "kids' book." She bursts into tears every time someone insults her fandom, acting like it's completely off-limits, when she uses it as an emotional crutch to compensate for her lack of healthy relationships or hobbies. She is upset when her sister gets her t-shirts for Christmas and the shirts aren't fandom shirts. She makes out with her roommate's boyfriend and then says "I'm not that kind of girl." She voluntarily helps this guy in her writing class with his stories, but is condescending AF. Then when she finds out he plans on turning it in for his final assignment, she tries to stop him because it's "her" work too. Then she rats him out to her professor, he gets fired from being teacher's assistant. Oh, and guess what? At the end of the book, his story gets considered for a magazine but the professor (the same one Cath argued with) won't let him publish it unless Cath agrees. Cath refuses, while all of her friends smirk and jeer at him. Which is pretty ironic, considering Cath has her sister help her on her precious fic, and even though Wren is credited on their past works, I don't believe she isn't credited on the most recent story. Cath gets into another argument with her professor over original work, and even though her professor gives her a chance for an extension, Cath considers throwing that all away because she wants to finish her fic before the author of her precious fandom publishes the last book. She gets into a fight with Levi over it, who threatens not to talk to her until the book drops. She cries, but of course, Levi ends up relenting. I would have said sayonara, but that's me. Anyone who's willing to throw their life away over fandom doesn't have their priorities sorted out. She calls Aretha Franklin a "diva" and yet says this of herself: "[W]hen I'm writing Gemma T. Leslie's characters, sometimes, in some ways, I AM better than her." To her professor.
Oh. Oh. Oh.
And the BEST PART OF ALL? Cath decides last minute that maybe she shouldn't completely screw herself on her creative writing assignment, so she writes a last-minute story about her mommy issues (which are also done really badly, and feature a lot of Cath-whining). Her last-minute story ends up winning and getting published in the same magazine she blocked that guy in her creative writing class from publishing in. ISN'T THAT BLEEPING GREAT?
So what is the moral of this story? You can treat people like garbage and be considered adorable, quirky, and eccentric as long as you make sure to tell everyone you're an "introvert"? That all introverts are whiny, nasty creeps? That writers are high-strung, arrogant butt-clowns who should throw out all their opportunities in life and hold their craft above all their relationships? That people involved in fandoms are all using their fandoms as emotional crutches and are highly dysfunctional people? That you can do all this stuff and STILL have everything in your life turn out exactly the way you want it because the world isn't fair and life is one giant, gosh-darn wish fulfillment fantasy?
I don't know what this book was trying to say, but I HATED it with a passion - as a writer, as a fangirl, as an introvert, as an ex-socialphobe, and as a reader, who was hoping to find something to get fangirly about and instead encountered a big, festering planet of garbage populated by The Queen of the Trash People Herself: Cath Avery. Oh, and guess what - you can read Cath's fanfic now because it was published as a book.
I'm honestly shocked that more people aren't complaining about the unflattering portrait of introverts in this book. I was completely disgusted.
I consider myself an unofficial expert on celebrity memoirs. I haven't read all of them (although I would like to - even the stupid ones, because I am incredibly nosy and devour celebrity gossip the way other people devour Dorritos or fake news), but I've read a fair amount, and they usually follow a typical narrative arc. In BORN A CRIME, Trevor Noah takes that arc, flattens it out, and beats you over the head with it.
I love Trevor Noah. I love what he brings to The Daily Show. I think he's incredibly funny, intellectual, erudite, and charming. I also think he's cute, but that's neither here nor there. I actually first learned about him through his (in)famous video with "she who shall not be named" (no, not Voldemort's sister - but close). I was really impressed by how he went about the interview. That could have been really ugly - but it wasn't; it was a somewhat civil discourse between two opposing views, about why the political beliefs of a certain demographic can be incredibly problematic.
When I found out that this Trevor Noah person, this cool political cucumber, had a memoir out, I immediately put myself on hold for it at the library. Unfortunately, so did about a billion other people. It took two freaking months for me to finally get my hands on BORN A CRIME. Normally, when I wait that long, I start to lose interest and by the time I get the book I sometimes forget why I even bothered to put it on hold in the first place. Not so, here.
Trevor Noah's memoir is not like other memoirs because he doesn't talk about his "famous" life at all. BORN A CRIME is about Trevor Noah's childhood growing up in South Africa while it was still under apartheid. He talks about slavery, segregation, racism, poverty, domestic violence and abuse, and all manner of other troubling topics, but he does it in a way that, while not exactly unpleasant, never becomes so graphic or unpleasant that I had to put the book down and take a deep breath. At times, he even manages to make the terrible situation he's describing funny, which is truly a testament to his amazing sense of humor.
There's a lot more I can say, but most of it would just be recaps from the memoir and more praise about Trevor himself. I really, really loved this book. It kind of reminds me of another memoir I read about a biracial man, THE COLOR OF WATER by James McBride, but I feel like BORN A CRIME is going to be a lot more accessible because a) he's a pop-cultural icon, b) Noah's book is broader in scope in terms of topics discussed, and c) he's a millennial so his language will resonate with a lot of people, especially the young bloggers, who are reading and reviewing this book.
Read this book. It was totally worth waiting for two months for.
Mastubatory fantasy for the disaffected intellectual who thinks Harry Potter needs less friendship and more Ayn Rand and Bret Easton Ellis. If the idea of reading about a bunch of self-congratulatory little assholes learning magic appeals to you, then by all means, pick up THE MAGICIANS.
I should point out that my qualm itself is less about the characters and more about the stilted writing and the lazy portrayal in which they are framed. I can handle unlikable, morally grey protagonists - just don't bore me.
I just read Amy Schumer's GIRL WITH THE LOWER BACK TATTOO, and if you follow me, you'll remember that I had some complaints. Mainly that comedians, for whatever reason, write unfunny memoirs that are either a) self-promotional, b) long, shopping lists of gratitude, or c) boring & dry. It's like they have to prove a point - that they're not just the funny man or woman, they can be serious, just you watch. But...that's not why people are going to buy your memoirs. It's not why I buy your memoirs.
Phoebe Robinson's memoir is not like that at all. It opens with the history and the politics of "natural" hair and why it's rude to ask to touch it. Robinson discusses how different hairstyles can make a statement if you're a woman of color, the hours and effort that go into maintaining natural hair, and the frustration she and other women feel when they are othered based on their appearance.
After this, as a bit of a wind down, she discusses some of the famous (black) celebrities who contributed to the pop cultural lexicon of black hairstyles. This section includes pictures and commentary, and I really enjoyed seeing the evolving looks.
The middle section is a bit about Phoebe herself, and some of the things she loves, as a sort of belated meet-cute before she gets into the heavy stuff. Try not falling for this woman, I dare you. She's so charming, and funny, and self-effacing. She drops pop culture references and slang like a pro, and her voice is so strong that you really get the feeling that you're having a dialogue with her - right now.It can be surprisingly difficult to capture a "voice" on paper, and she does it really, really well.
After the meet-cute, Phoebe gets into the Deep Stuff. Race. Stereotypes. Bigotry. Guilt. Othering. Coded language. Privilege. The stuff that will send a small population running for the hills (or their laptops), screaming about rabid SJWs. But Phoebe discusses these topics in a really great way, supporting her points with examples that help give you an idea of what she feels and why when people use insensitive words like "exotic", "urban", or "uppity", or why she got so angry when a woman burst into tears after Phoebe was forced to read aloud and then later criticized her offensive lesbian master/slave love story and claimed that she - a white college student - felt "picked on."
Phoebe gets right to the point. Even now, decades after the civil rights movement and about a century after the end of slavery, we are still pretty damn discriminatory as a society. And discrimination doesn't have to be overt. You don't have to say the N-word to discriminate. Discrimination can be as implicit as designing camera film for white skin, treating your black friend like they're the ambassador for all people of color, or only carrying lighter shades of foundation at a drug store. Buzzfeed did a few role reversal videos (1, 2) that help illustrate what things look like from the outside the privilege zone, but the fact that it feels so ridiculous just goes to show how heavily integrated such stereotypes are within the structure of society, and why we still need change.
The book ends with Phoebe writing a series of letters to her young niece about what it means to be black, biracial, and a woman, and the importance of being an authentic, compassionate individual who is open to new experiences but also not afraid to stand up for her principles. She brings up some more great points, too, but after the previous section, it feels a bit anticlimactic. I can see why Phoebe chose to end her book this way, though. You don't want to leave your readers on a note of moral outrage (for better, or for worse), and it helps bring the memoir full circle, as Phoebe starts out talking about the politics of the parts of the individual, and ends with the politics of the whole article.
This is probably one of my top 5 favorite female memoirs, ranking right up there with Felicia Day's YOU'RE NEVER WEIRD ON THE INTERNET and Tina Fey's BOSSYPANTS. It made me cry out, "I relate to that!" "I am interested in that!" "I am outraged by that!" and "I want to be your friend!" by turns. I love memoirs that are passionate, and political, and energized, and this book was all of those things. It was also thought-provoking, and honest in a way that a lot of memoirs these days aren't (I think you've probably heard me complain that too many celebrity memoirs are too "nice"; nice is nice, but it isn't controversial and it doesn't make a statement and it doesn't get you talking, either).
I loved that. And I love Phoebe. (And now I'm off to check out her comedy and stalk her on Twitter.)
People have been asking me to review THE SELECTION for years. Years. But whenever a book gets this popular I tend to back off, because at that point, most of what needs to be said has been said - and by reviewers who are far more creative and hilarious than me. Case in point, I only just this year reviewed BEAUTIFUL DISASTER, and that ship sailed a looong time ago. But then my library got a copy of THE SELECTION, and I thought, "Why not? Let's give it a whirl." My friends' opinions are split pretty evenly on this book, with half shipping it and even participating in role-playing games about it, and the other half expressing a strong desire to use it for kindling in the fireplace.
So, what did I think? I have so much to say, it's hard to figure out where to start. I didn't like the book. Obviously. It didn't make me sizzle and pop with rage, although after reading it, I'm a little puzzled as to why it's so popular. Nearly every aspect of the book held some sort of flaw for me, from its stilted dialogue all the way up to its shelving as a dystopia.
Let's start with the genre itself. I'm a fan of dystopian fiction. When done properly, it can be an excellent way to highlight the flaws in a society by taking a reductio ad absurdum "what if?" scenario to show how our many excesses and our hidden or subtle cruelties can destroy us. THE SELECTION, on the other hand, is basically The Bachelor set in a very tame, very unfrightening "Hunger Games lite" universe. America, the heroine, lives in a bizarre version of the United States that has been invaded by both China and Russia, and is now called Illea after the general who saved the country and later became king...because reasons. For some reason, the United States has also become striated by a rigid caste system that starts with one (royalty) and ends in eight (homelessness). I was trying to figure out the professions that went with this system, because one of the girls who works on the farm is a four, manual laborers (like movers) are six, and America's family, a bunch of performers and musicians, are fives. This seemed weird to me for several reasons, but the one I'm going to get intonow is that performing arts are an activity of leisure generally associated with those who are middle to upper class. Why? Music lessons cost a lot of money. Instruments are expensive. Practicing costs time - time that would be spent doing other things, like having a part-time job. Who are their family's clients? What do those numbers mean? If this is a criticism of society, it would be nice if what it is criticizing had been laid out better, and if those being oppressed by the system actually seemed to feel some sort of real pressure or fear.
Poverty itself is a bit mysterious here, too. America is supposed to be fairly poor. At one point, she tells the prince that she has had to choose between food and electricity. But she doesn't seem to be hungry or desperate. In fact, she saves most of her meals for her poor six boyfriend, Aspen, and manages to do this without fainting. I might be more convinced by her plight if she got her clothing from the garbage of twos and threes, or if she often walked around feeling dizzy and sick. But no, she seems quite comfortable - enough to be flippant about her position. If she's that poor, why would she have fashionable dresses (albeit from an outmoded season) that don't have any rips or tears? Why can she afford makeup? Makeup is freaking expensive, and yet another thing that is often associated with the upper classes. This is the most gilded example of "poverty" that I have ever read about!
Gender roles in this book are another aspect of this book that felt very strange. Obviously, if you have thirty-five girls fighting over a boy there's going to be girl-on-girl hate. I didn't sign up for this book thinking I was going to get a feminist treatise on why you don't need a man in your life to be validated as a person. But at the same time, the sheer number of "boys are this way" and "girls are this way" stereotypes was a little surprising. And while the thought did occur to me that this could be part of the "critique" of this dystopian society, it really didn't feel that way to me. America, our heroine, dishes out some of these gender role stereotypes while instructing Maxon on how to treat women. One of the first things she tells him is that women don't want you to fix their problems when they cry, they just want to be consoled. And in the beginning of the book, Aspen breaks up with America because he's angry that she's been saving money for him, because - and he actually says this - men are supposed to be the providers, not women. America totally buys it! She feels bad. At one point, while contemplating her future with Aspen, she actually says: "If only I could sit and patch [up his shirt and jeans] for him. That was my great ambition."
I will give the author props for attempting to write a decent male lead. This was written when junior alphas were popular, and I think Cass really tried to write a decent beta hero with Prince Maxon. Again, props for the effort...but it wasn't a successful one. Maxon mostly just comes across as wishy-washy and bland. Originally, I gave THE PRINCE - the part where he meets America, except written in his POV - a two-star rating, but I deducted it, because apart from just being a POV-swapped rehashing of the events in this book, Maxon's head is a terribly dull place to be. When he's not dull, he's affected and smarmy. In THE PRINCE, his fear is that he'll fall in love with all the girls and won't be able to choose just one. He calls them all "my dear," and says this quote at one point: "You are all dear to me. It is simply a matter of discovering who shall be the dearest."
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the dearest of them all?
In my review of the "prequel" to this book, THE PRINCE, I expressed a desire for some trashy reality TV style entertainment in THE SELECTION. I didn't pick this up expecting Nicholas Nickleby, but I did expect to be entertained. I'm not above watching reality TV or soap operas, and I was hoping at the very least that the girl-on-girl fights would be colorful or interesting, with catty but funny insults, hair pulling, and even some well-executed social coups a la Sae from Peach Girl (my favorite two-faced witch-with-a-B, hands-down). But no, one of the rules of THE SELECTION is that girls are expressly forbidden from sabotaging or striking one another, or they will be disqualified. Somebody does actually get slapped in this book, but the slapper gets disqualified and nothing comes of it. Someone's dress gets torn, too, but only a sleeve - and nothing comes of it. The sexually confident girls are universally loathed by America and everyone else, and some catty remarks are made, but it's all very G-rated, and, again, nothing comes of it.
This is what passes for drama in this book:
"That was it. I slapped him. "You idiot!" I whisper-yelled at him. "I hate him! I loved you! I wanted you; all I ever wanted was you!"
Ironically, the YA books I read before and after this one were very similar concepts that did it better. The one before was Amy Ewing's THE JEWEL - which actually suffered many of the same problems: odd gender roles, bad world-building, girls competing for a "honorable" role that is actually mired in sexism (in one, decorative wife, in the other, surrogate to rich women). The difference is that THE JEWEL was not afraid to be dark. It was no 1984, but at least I got the sense that there was real oppression in this world and dire consequences for those who flaunted it. The book I read after this one was THE FALSE PRINCE by Jennifer Nielsen, which is similar in the sense that it has a bunch of commoners competing to fulfill a "royal" role. The difference is that a) it's all boys and b) failure means death, so the competitors have more than enough motivation to do well. I think that's what I expected going into THE SELECTION: I expected more hunger, more desperation, with a heroine who had to choose between love and death in a world of darkness. Instead, I got someone who thinks poverty is only getting to wear makeup when you go out and drama is having the sleeve of your dress half-heartedly ripped off when you refuse to swap outfits.
My intention was to read through the series and see if it picked up like THE JEWEL did, but it looks like my library has copies of every book in this series except book TWO. I'm not about to skip a book, because I might miss something important (wink), so it looks like I dodged a literary bullet. I'm in no particular hurry to dive back into this world and find out what happens to Maxon and Aspen and America, either. Who will she choose? What will she wear? Who will be queen? (Listed in descending order of importance, obviously.) Look, I get the fascination with royalty. Disney princesses, Kate Middleton, The Princess Diaries. It's a position of incredible power that seems feminine but isn't intimidating. Ask most little girls what they want to be when they grow up, and I'm sure a fair amount of them will say "princess." Capitalizing on that, and using it for social commentary? Brilliant. There was a great idea buried somewhere in here, that could have been used to highlight gender stereotypes, misogyny, double-standards, social inequality, and reality TV. There were dozens of possibilites! But making the U.S. a constitutional monarchy of a caste system that feels like a learn-to-count episode of Sesame Street while everyone twirls around in ball gowns probably wasn't the best way to go about it. But that's just my opinion.
Elizabeth Hoyt is a name that frequently appears alongside other famous regency "brand names" like Lisa Kleypas and Courtney Milan, which just makes it all the more criminal that I haven't read this book until now. Because DUKE OF SIN...is incredible.
DUKE OF SIN is a bodice-ripper of the modern age, with an icy, tortured, dangerous gamma hero who wouldn't be out of place in an Anne Stuart novel.Valentine Napier is a hedonist and a ruthless blackmailer. He flaunts conventions, bedding men and women alike, and the only reason he hasn't been kicked out of polite society is because he has them all scared shitless that he'll reveal their secrets.
Bridget Crumb, his housekeeper, is working for him precisely because of that. Her mother is just one of many people the Duke has blackmailed, and she's using her vocation as an opportunity to search for the letters in his possession that will ruin her mother.
I wasn't expecting to love this book as much as I did. But Valentine is the epitome of everything I love in a romantic hero (and the fact that the author herself says that she imagines him as Tom Hiddleston certainly doesn't hurt!); he's clever, and ruthless, and sexy, and dangerous, and utterly capricious and mercurial. His back story is probably one of the darkest I've ever seen in a romance novel published after 1990, and brought me to tears at several points because of how broken he was; and he doesn't really angst about it - what's even more heartbreaking is that he doesn't realize that he's missing a vital part of what makes him human. He takes it completely for granted as being part of who he is. It's Bridget who realizes what's been done to him, and she who feels all the pain.
And let's talk about Bridget. I loved her no-nonsense ways, and her kindness. She was able to win over people by being very level-headed and calm and personable, so the fact that everyone was naturally drawn to her didn't seem Mary-Sue-ish at all. She made an effort. Her interactions with Valentine made me laugh and cry, by turns. The sexual chemistry between them was amazing - and surprise, when they finally do have sex, she isn't at all passive. In fact, she even initiates and takes charge on several instances. I can't tell you how much that shocked me (among other things).
I have a confession here: a huge reason behind my love for this novel is that Valentine really reminded me of Jareth from Labyrinth, so if you love the cool commanding hero who's witty, and totally in control, but who falls hard for the heroine in a way that borders on obsession, I would definitely recommend this book to you. DUKE OF SIN is a book that was made for Labyrinth fangirls. He's so regal and utterly absorbed in himself, that you don't question for one minute that he's of noble blood. The fact that he flaunts society's rules is testament to this.
And on that subject, I want to talk about the hero's bisexuality, because apparently that's got some people real mad. Yes, the hero is bisexual. He has sex with men. It isn't explicitly shown, but it's heavily implied, and you know that it probably happens behind closed doors. Some people were mad about that - and other people seemed to be upset that his bisexuality seemed to be included in his litany of perversions to show how depraved he is. I chose not to interpret it that way, although I can see how others would: rather, I saw it as the Duke wholeheartedly embracing who he was and what he wanted, selfishly, yes, but unapologetically using his sexual desires to fill the emptiness inside.
For those of you still on the fence, picture Tom Hiddleston masquerading as Jareth, while wearing a purple silk robe with a dragon on it...and nothing else.