Thursday, January 31, 2013

"Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets," by J.K. Rowling

The Protagonist: Harry "Parseltongue-In-Cheek" Potter. The boy. The legend.
His Angst: As Slytherin's Heir stalks the school, Harry worries he may share more in common with the Slytherin Alumnus Who Shall Not Be Named than he originally thought.

New Characters:

Gilderoy Lockhart: A handsome, foppish celebrity wizard who just edged past Snape in the swimsuit competition to become the next Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher.

Dobby: The Comic Relief Character Who Shall Not Be Named.

Colin Creevey: The first-year student voted Most Likely To Have a Creepy Harry Potter Love Shrine in his basement.

Ginny Weasley: Ron's younger sister. Currently annoying because she's too young to think about in a hot way.

Aragog: A giant granddaddy spider on loan from The Lord of the Rings central casting.

Tom Riddle: An unexpectedly hot teenage memory-ghost hidden in a magical diary he wrote himself. Remind me never to buy any copies of If I Did It from the Knockturn Alley Barnes and Noble.

Angst Checklist:

  • Am I allowed to drive a flying car if I don't even have my Learner's Permit yet?
  • I'm being stalked by a self-mutilating house slave
  • An obsession with snakes in pipes that is exactly what it sounds like and nothing more
  • Arachnophobia and why it's an entirely rational fear
  • Racism
  • Bullying
  • The price of fame
  • Being an Evil 16-Year-Old Wizard-Memory-Ghost forced to read about Girl Problems twenty-four seven, ugh! 

The Word: This is the second in my seven-part series of re-reading J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. While I'm too close to the series emotionally and psychologically to truly review the books (automatic A, baby!), I will be presenting certain analyses about my reactions to aspects of the books as they continue.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, being an early book in the series, is significantly lighter in tone than later instalments. In the first three novels, the final victory is celebrated with a grand feast, some harmless ribbing and a nice train ride home - compared to later books, where the ending is celebrated with the death of a beloved character while fate rips out Harry's heart and pees in the hole it leaves.

That's not to say that Chamber of Secrets isn't a gripping novel that examines some pretty hefty themes.  Harry learns that society's fascination with the different and unusual can easily turn into resentment and fear. The unusual background that makes him famous in the wizarding world also leaves him a target for suspicion as students start to wonder whether he's the Heir of Slytherin who's sending a Giant Racist Snake against the mudblood students.

The importance of choice is also raised by the discovery that Harry and Voldemort share remarkably similar backstories - both were orphans raised by unloving Muggles until they were invited to Hogwarts. While later books in the series examine their similarities in more depth, Chamber of Secrets poses this interesting question first and it resonates through every following book. Does coming from similar circumstances mean sharing a similar fate?

The novel examines this in a more understated way with the characters of Hagrid and Filch, as both of their backgrounds feature into the history of the Chamber of Secrets. Both Hagrid and Filch were denied a magical education for reasons beyond their control (Hagrid was wrongfully expelled at the age of thirteen, and Filch was inexplicably born without magic), and both were forced to watch everyone else graduate around them as they worked as custodians at Hogwarts. While Filch allowed this to embitter him into a thoroughly unlikeable villain, Hagrid focused on grabbing joy wherever he could find it (and successfully wrestle it into a cage), leaving no room in his life for self-pity or resentment. Similar backgrounds, but entirely dissimilar characters.

Moving on to the concept of the Chamber of Secrets, this plotline always made me wonder - why do they still have a Slytherin house at the end of the novel? I mean, not only does Harry Potter learn that Salazar Slytherin was a crazy wizard-racist, but he intentionally smuggled a deadly creature into the school for the sole purpose of killing students!

If your school was founded by John, Paul, Ringo, and Hitler, and three hundred years later, you found out Hitler had hidden a giant Nazi snake somewhere in the school to hunt down and eat unsuspecting Jewish students - would you really want to keep Hitler's name attached to your institution of learning? Think about it. Why couldn't they rename the house after Nicholas Flamel or Cornelius Fudge or something? Who would object? The Slytherin alumni are all in Azkaban!

Slytherin House represents my biggest beef with the Harry Potter series - the fact that Slytherin has always been blatantly depicted as the "evil" house, with its highest virtue (ambition) muttered as a sly innuendo while the other three houses and their virtues (courage, intelligence, diligence) are depicted as legitimate distinctions. Everyone sorted into Slytherin is a jerk and a racist, the Slytherin Quidditch team is all-boys, literally everyone hates Slytherin except for the Slytherins, and they even have their freaking common room in a dungeon. Who wants to have their common room in a dank, dark old dungeon? Oh, right - ugly, stupid, jerky old-wizard-money racists do.

I was also troubled that the dubious virtue of the "evil" house is ambition. The drive to get ahead, to excel, to discover, to rise above one's circumstances - at every opportunity the virtue of Slytherin is tied to the corruption of power, to the empty pleasures of money and fame, to the abandonment of morals in the pursuit of superiority.

To me, however, the demonization of ambition with the depiction of Slytherin carries the whiff of the status quo, of the idea that everything and everyone has its proper place and that attempting to rise above one's destined station in life is a breach of some unspoken social contract. It's a very British idea, really. Look at the depiction of the house elves (barring one extremely irritating exception) who are bred to love servitude and duty. Are there honestly no sassy Thomas and O'Brien house elves scheming away in the kitchens of Hogwarts?

Heck, look at the Sorting Hat - a magical object whose entire job is to label people based on certain personality traits and settle them into the "proper" houses, determining their entire future identities in the blink of an eye. And not always fairly - nice job sorting the impoverished Muggle-born Snape into the house full of Old-Wizard-Money Racists, Sorting Hat. Full marks.

To be fair, in Chamber of Secrets Harry Potter represents someone who actively chooses his place in Gryffindor over Slytherin, defying the Hat's attempt to determine his future for him, but Harry also isn't a very ambitious character. He's very much of the Everyman mould - average grades, average intelligence, no real dreams or hopes for the future beyond surviving the shit Voldemort throws at him.

However, these are only my opinions with regards to the wizarding world depicted in the first three or four books - a world that is understandably idealized by Harry as he still has a dreary Muggle childhood to compare it to. As the series matures and Harry sees himself more as a wizard in his natural environment and less as a shy newcomer, he starts to realize that wizard society is just as susceptible to weakness and fear as Muggle society.

Even a slender volume like The Chamber of Secrets can inspire some pretty big thoughts. Next time - Prisoner of Azkaban!

A (a.k.a. 10 Points to Gryffindor!)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Most Frustrating Characters

Now, I don't always participate in the Top Ten Tuesday memes going around, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. But this week's meme caught my eye - The Top Ten Most Frustrating Characters Ever.

Now that's an interesting discussion - because frustrating could be used to describe characters I hate, but it could also apply to characters I wanted to like more but didn't, or characters I still loved despite how difficult they were at letting me love them. So why not go for it this week?

These are, in no particular order, my Top Ten Most Frustrating Characters

1. Dobby from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels.
I am currently re-reading Chamber of Secrets and good Lord do I hate this annoying little shit. He takes an absurdly long time to get to his point, he's crazy-annoying, and he's perpetually almost-murdering Harry in his bone-headed quest to save him.

And then he tries to play on your sympathy by saying he gets death threats "five times a day" -  maybe the problem isn't them, DobbyIf you're the Taylor Swift of House Elves and every track on your album is about how your masters threatened to kill you because you were ironing your hands instead of the wizarding robes that actually needed to be ironed, maybe the problem is you. Constructive feedback, Dobby - learn how to take it! Then maybe John Meyer won't make you hit yourself with a lamp.

2. Bee Hassi Barahal from Kate Elliot's Cold Magic.
This is the Kate Elliott book that I almost put down after 100 pages. There are a lot of things that annoyed me about this book - the infodumping, the As You Know Bob Dialogue - but most especially the heroine's BFF Bee, who is the human embodiment of Nails on a Chalkboard. And to top it all off, she's a Plot Device character, so she'll likely be in future books, too. An insufferably unrealistic cartoon of a woman, she's basically used as an Emotional Yardstick - always present with FIERY RAGE or FLOODS OF TEARS or UPPITY INDEPENDENT WOMANHOOD to easily telegraph to the dimwitted reader how they are "supposed" to feel. I sincerely hope in the next book she's quickly dropped down a well so that we can focus on the characters who act like actual human beings.

3. Hannah Baker from Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why.
Yes, I know you committed suicide, Hannah Baker, and that's sad, but that doesn't erase the fact that you're a horrible human being who intentionally set out to psychologically scar a bunch of people for life for their petty emotional crimes against you. Sweet Fancy Cheeses, woman, you drew MAPS. You made a SCAVENGER HUNT. Couldn't you have applied that same energy and dedication to, I don't know, NOT KILLING YOURSELF?

Not to mention the fact that you kept the hero's nuts in a vice for three hours' worth of tapes even though he wasn't actually ON your horrifically vindictive list of people to torture. Yes I know your life was sad, but the minute you decided to intentionally blame people FOR YOUR OWN SUICIDE and then blackmail them from beyond the grave, you lost my sympathy. You're horrible and I hope you're burning in the Fictional Hell I read about in Sanctum for being a terrible Fictional Character.

4. Olympia from Laura Kinsale's Seize the Fire
"Stupid is as stupid does," my dear, and what this Stupid does is almost get the hero violently murdered approximately 1,449,974 times in this 538-page novel by being a flamboyantly incompetent crybaby moron.

5. Hyacinth Bridgerton from Julia Quinn's It's In His Kiss.
Regency England's Best Argument for Birth Control, the last Bridgerton child proved that the eighth time really isn't the charm. After Lady Bridgerton produced seven fully-fledged romantic protagonists, there weren't really any character traits left in her heroic ovaries except for Rampant Narcissism and Contrived Over The Top Wackiness. The result is a screamingly annoying heroine whose brothers are fanatically eager to marry her off to the first hero stupid enough to confuse her outrageous craziness for "Charming Self-Confidence."

6. Malta from Robin Hobb's Liveship Traders Trilogy.
Okay, so Malta's frustrating because I love her by the end of the trilogy, I do, but she spends a great deal of the first two novels as the most evil little brat in existence. Stealing money, lying, manipulating others to gain more attention for herself, and propositioning on her aunt's 25-year-old boyfriend - and she's only thirteen!

7. Margo Roth Spiegelman from John Green's Paper Towns.
Oh good, a selfish, entitled, pretentious manic pixie dream girl who runs off without any thought for consequences or the people she leaves behind. I'm so glad you emotionally bulldozed over so many people so you could teach us a valuable lesson about how People Are Not How They Seem. You're Holden Caulfield with boobs. GO AWAY.

8. Clayton Westmoreland from Judith McNaught's Whitney, My Love.
A walking cesspool of misogynist fail, this guy sexually assaults the heroine to punish her for insulting him, beats her with a riding crop to punish her for cheating at a horse race, and rapes her to punish her for cheating on him (which, surprise! She didn't do! Because he discovers she's a virgin mid-rape!). The frustration with this character comes from the fact that everyone in the book (and the thousands of readers who inexplicably loved this book) thinks he's such a misunderstood romantic charmer.

9. Ellysetta Baristani from C.L. Wilson's Tairen Soul series.
This just in: drop-dead gorgeous and magically powerful redhead who believes she's ugly, unloveable and worthless accidentally saves the world - while all the beautiful, confident, ambitious women in the book turn out to be conniving, promiscuous, shallow villains. Because apparently, real women aren't allowed to think they're worth more than human garbage unless a man tells them otherwise.

10. Burrich from Robin Hobb's Farseer Trilogy
Oh, Burrich. You are another character I am frustrated with, and yet I love. LOVE. You are kind, and selfless, and a wonderful father-figure to the hero - and yet you are also a stuck-in-your ways bigot whose prejudice against Wit-magic emotionally cripples the hero and drives your own son away! Yes, you frustrate me, because Robin Hobb makes you a wonderful person and yet gives you this BIG GIANT FLAW that does not magically go away!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

"Sanctum," by Sarah Fine

The Protagonist: Lela Santos. Despite a horrifically abusive upbringing, she found a friend in Nadia, a popular but troubled girl at her school. Their friendship finally convinced her that life is worth living.
Her Angst: But then Nadia kills herself, and Lela's convinced her spirit was sent to a horrible place known as the Shadowlands where suicides are punished - a place Lela's dreamed out since she attempted suicide years before. Can Lela possibly get Nadia out, or will she fail her best friend a second time?

Secondary Cast:

Malachi: The Captain of the Guard of the Shadowlands. Dedicated to ridding the dark city of the Mazikin - demons who possess the bodies of suicides. He's been at this for more than seventy years, waiting for the time when his service will earn him the place in the Countryside he was denied when he committed suicide back in the 1940s.

Ana: Another suicide who serves on the guard with Malachi. A kick-ass warrior, she helps Malachi and Lela track down Nadia while fighting off the Mazikin.

Nadia: Lela's friend - overcome with depression, she became convinced she was an unloveable fraud and killed herself to escape. Instead, she wound up in a grimy underworld to endure punishment for her act.

Raphael: A mysterious, powerful personage who helps the Guard as their healer and doctor.

Juri: An evil Mazikin who has it in for Malachi - every time Malachi kills his host body, he possesses another one to continue their battle until the bitter end.

Angst Checklist:

  • Surviving Sexual Abuse
  • Exploring love and sexual desire after surviving sexual abuse
  • Depression and mental illness
  • How people apparently deserve to be punished for depression and mental illness
  • I escaped the Holocaust and all I got for it was Indentured Servitude

The Word: First of all, I owe an apology to the author, Sarah Fine. She was kind enough to send me an ARC of this back in the summer, but when I was moving my bookshelves around, the book got lost in the shuffle. I found it this month and was mortified at how late it was. I am so sorry for the delay.

As part of my apology, I might suggest to Ms. Fine that she not read this review, because not only was I more or less unimpressed with the storytelling, the worldbuilding sent me spiralling into a pretty heavy rant that I'm pretty sure she would not want to read.

The Review

The novel starts strongly - with the fantastic heroine of Lela Santos. A tough, jaded teenager with a thoroughly calloused soul after years of abusive foster care, she manages to befriend Nadia, the Queen Bee of her latest high school. To Lela's surprise, Nadia is kind and welcoming, and the two develop a wonderful bond of friendship that finally convinces Lela that she has a future, that she's worth something, that she's worthy of love.

The two flies in her ointment: one, Lela still has recurring nightmares of the horrifying hell dimension she witnessed when she tried to kill herself as a child; and two, she can't seem to stop Nadia's inexorable slide into depression - which eventually culminates in her suicide.

Lela is devastated. Worse, now her nightmares include Nadia, lost and alone, wandering through that dark city rife with misery and riddled with mysterious predators. Somehow, Lela realizes these visions are real and that her friend didn't obtain the escape she longed for. While trying to figure out how these visions work, Lela falls off a cliff (for reals) and winds up in a heavenly Countryside where she feels warm and loved and at peace - but bordering this land is the same dark city she witnessed in her dreams. Despite the Countryside's loving embrace, she can't rest while she knows her friend is suffering in that horrible afterlife, so she sneaks past the Suicide Gates to try and rescue her friend.

Past the Suicide Gates, Lela emerges in a horrible place called the Shadowlands, where suicides live in helpless torment. The place is also patrolled by guards who keep the suicides from escaping - and also combat the strange demons known as Mazikin who have started infesting the city in ever-greater numbers. It's here that Lela runs into Malachi, a former suicide and captain of the guard. Malachi is first shocked, then fascinated that anyone would willingly give up the Countryside for someone else - after all, he has been working to earn his way out since the 1940s (as indicated by the tell-tale string of numbers tattooed on his arm). As they work together to find Nadia, they develop a passionate bond that, unfortunately, ends up slowing the pace and cluttering the storyline with purple prose as each protagonist tries to out-martyr the other to prove their love.

On top of the story losing steam and devolving into a gooey, angsty teen romance version of the "oh no, after you" "no, no, I insist, after you" joke, I had serious problems with the worldbuilding.

Now we have The Rant (and spoilers)

Now, I knew the setting would be a dark underworld reserved for suicides going in, so I swallowed my repugnance at the idea because I wanted to see what the author would do with it. After all, there is a huge mythological and religious basis for the idea that suicidal people go to a different afterlife. Who knows? Maybe the worldbuilding will be clever enough to explain it in an interesting way.

Except not. We get some basic world building, but the ultimate purpose of the Shadowlands is left in the, well, dark. It's a hellish dimension where everyone walks around in endless cycles of misery. No one helps these people. No one reaches out to them. In fact, some of them even commit suicide again, several times, only to reappear outside the Suicide Gates to start over.

The only bright spot in the entire city is the Sanctum, where the Judge resides - the omniscient being who can free people from the Dark City and send them to the Countryside. But she only does it for people who are "ready" - or **spoiler** to support her own personal agenda when she frees Nadia to gain Lela's service. So really, the whole "they need to be ready before they leave" is bull crap because she can free people whenever she wants. She just doesn't, because she's horrible and this book is horrible. *spoiler* 

The only message that sends to me is that people who commit suicide - and this includes the mentally ill (depression is brought up) - deserve to be punished. People who die "regular" deaths (like Lela, initially) go immediately to the lovely Countryside. None of them are delayed or asked to "work out their issues" before they reach their heavenly destination. Despite the fact that people who die of natural causes or accidents can have just as many issues as people who wind up taking their own lives.

Meanwhile, the world in this book deems suicides unworthy of a happy afterlife and sends them to a hellish underworld where they are expected to fix themselves (which worked SO well when they were alive) before they can be free to join their families and loved ones in the Countryside. **spoiler** Despite the fact that the Judge can send ANYONE SHE WANTS TO THE COUNTRYSIDE whether they meet her bizarre requirements or not. **spoiler**

No. Just - NO. I can't think of an uglier or less compassionate idea.

I tried to get over this revolting worldbuilding to focus on the story, but the further I got, the worse it got - especially with Malachi's backstory, in which he was told by the Judge that his horrible suffering (in Auschwitz) didn't "earn" him a "free ticket" out of the hellish dimension he apparently deserved because he was "weak" enough to consider death-by-electric-fence preferable to being shot by the Nazis.

Part of the reason for this rant is because the novel is so vague about what the purpose of the Shadowlands is. Why are suicides sent here? How is this supposed to help them? Or if this is punishment - why do they deserve to be punished? For all I know, the Judge and the City could turn out to be villains in the next book - but part of that should at least be reflected in this novel by the characters' attitudes. Lela, initially, does think the city is horrible, but she is slowly convinced by Malachi and the others that this is just the natural order of things, the way things are meant to be, and that the suicides somehow need this for some unexplained metaphysical reason.

Which, I'm sorry to say, is not enough to convince me that the world of this book is anything less than disgusting.

Sanctum has an awesomely strong, developed heroine who is more than capable of taking care of herself - but not much else. Even without the heinous "suicides need to suffer before they can get to heaven" plotline, the story is bogged down by tedious training sequences, overblown InstaLove, underdeveloped villains, and an inconsistently portrayed setting.

If you still want to read this, Sanctum is available for Kindle.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

"A Matter of Class," by Mary Balogh

The Chick: Lady Annabelle Ashton. When her parents tried to wed her to a wealthy, but ugly marquis, she ran off with a coachman.
The Rub: Unfortunately, she didn't get far, and now she's ruined and her family is bankrupt. The only one willing to marry her now is her lower-class neighbour Reginald Mason.
Dream Casting: Romola Garai.

The Dude: Reginald Mason. When his extravagant ways play on his father's last nerve, he's ordered to marry an Earl's ruined daughter or be cut off from his inheritance.
The Rub: His family's merchant class - and his fiancee's family's as blue blooded as they come. Getting his future father-in-law's approval seems just about impossible.
Dream Casting: Charlie Cox.

The Plot:

Annabelle: Oh crap, my elopement plot failed.

Reginald: Darn, I spent too much money so now I have to get married.

Their Parents: WE ARE INCREDIBLY DISAPPOINTED WITH BOTH OF YOU ... we just don't feel like expressing that in an interesting way. Let's just all be nice to each other for the next hundred or so pages.

Annabelle and Reginald: Cool. Let's have an adorably bland flashback.

Adorably Bland Flashback:

Baby Annabelle and Reginald: Hey. We have opposite genitalia and our parents hate each other. Let's have sex in a field!

Just as Bland Present:

Annabelle and Reginald: *married*

Annabelle and Reginald: Cool, we totally lied to everyone and faked having personalities so that we could trick people into letting us get married! Surprise! WE HAVE NO PERSONALITIES! HOORAY!

Romance Convention Checklist:
  • 1 Interclass Romance
  • 2 Unhappy Pairs of Parents
  • 1 Inordinately Handsome Coachman

The Word: **spoiler warning - there is a "twist" at the end of the novel, and I plan to spoil the hell out of it because it is stupid. You have been warned.**
I knew it had to come eventually. Every author is going to have at least one dud book. Heck, even Laura Kinsale had Seize the Fire.

And while Mary Balogh has had more "Good" than "Great" books with me, her books have always been so consistently Good With a Capital G that I've always loved reading her. I knew I could trust her to bring an excellent story and some nice drama to the table with whichever book she presented me.

Except for this one.

A Matter of Class angered me for several reasons - 1) while I appreciate the narrative risk Balogh took, the twist at the end is ridiculous as hell and ultimately compromises the entire book, 2) I bought this book in hardcover. HARDCOVER. FOR A NOVELLA. I expect quality when I buy hardcovers!

Of course, at the beginning, everything looks interesting. Our hero, Reginald, is a Feckless Spendthrift who fills his closet with expensive boots at the same time he empties his father's metaphorical closet of Paternal Patience.

Meanwhile, our heroine, Annabelle, is an Impulsive Eloper who dashed off with her handsome coachman to escape an arranged marriage to an Ugly Bald Marquis, but was caught at an inn when her servant-class beau jumped out a window. She has since destroyed all chances of marrying any marquises, bald or not, and her Earl father's estate is swimming in debt.

On top of all that, Annabelle's and Reginald's fathers are neighbours who have shared a massive, bubbling cauldron of Hate-orade for each other for years due to Annabelle's father being a Haughty Aristo and Reginald's father being an Upstart Coal Merchant.

However, when Reginald's father hears about Annabelle's plight, a lightbulb goes off in his head - or else the coal-powered Regency equivalent of a lightbulb. With Annabelle ruined and the estate bankrupted, the Earl can't exactly be choosy with regards to her suitors, so Reginald finds himself ordered by his father to propose to and marry Annabelle - or else be cut off without a penny.

Annabelle's father, the Earl, is appalled at the notion of giving his daughter to a commoner to pay for his mistakes, but he doesn't exactly have many options besides putting a bell around Annabelle's neck to keep her from traipsing off with the first handsome wage slave she encounters.

So, despite nearly everyone Secretly Hating the Idea, Reginald and Annabelle find themselves engaged to be married.

Now, all of this sounds interesting doesn't it? It certainly seems as if there are endless opportunities for drama, misery, misunderstandings, acrimony, prejudice, and humour, doesn't it?

Oh, but how Mary Balogh loves fooling with people's expectations!

This novella was as dull as ditchwater, except for when it was Stupidly Ridiculous Beyond All Reason.

First of all, there's no real conflict. Reginald's father is so happy at the prospect of gaining a family connection to the aristocracy that he promptly turns in his Antagonist Card, while Annabelle's father spends his time whining and sitting alone in a corner. Meanwhile, the novel wastes unnecessarily large amounts of words insisting that the protagonists' parents Are Really Good People At Heart despite that one time they tried forcing their kids into marriage to serve their own ambitions. Oh, yeah, and the twenty years they spent actively hating each other.

Second of all, our protagonists, despite their gaudy Eloper and Spendthrift costumes, are bland and colourless underneath. They spend most of their time together exchanging a few weak barbs with the predictability and false liveliness of two cuckoo clocks fighting to announce the hour first. The novel tells us at the start just how Feckless and Impulsive they are - but none of this is shown in their actions or behaviour. Nothing is explored about their impulses, passions, and motivations - you know, who they are as actual people.

Thirdly, instead of actually developing the protagonists, we get treacly, intrusive and utterly useless flashbacks to the extremely infrequent times they met as children and teenagers. You know, to show us how empty and predictable and cliched they were then, too.

By the eighty-percent mark of this novella, nothing was making sense. The protagonists' families 20-year feud ended five minutes after tea. Our Spendthrift wasn't thinking about spending and our Eloper wasn't thinking about Eloping. Our flashbacks showed that, despite their extremely infrequent meetings, our protagonists fell in Sweet Savage Love with each other at the age of twelve and fifteen. So what happened?

And that's when we get "The Twist" that turns this story from boring to flat-out nonsensical.

After a hundred supremely boring pages, our hero and heroine get married - and then reveal (tee-hee!) that they miraculously engineered this whole situation in order to overcome their class differences and their parents' disapproval to get married.

Yes, our hero pretended to be a Feckless Spendthrift to intentionally provoke his father and our heroine pretended to Impulsively Elope with her coachman (who was really an actor accomplice) to intentionally ruin herself.

Because just running off to Gretna Green is apparently TOO DIFFICULT FOR THESE PEOPLE.

I don't even know where to start with how monumentally dumb this "twist" was. First of all - it's a complete character cop-out. Neither of our protagonists are developed at all beyond their initial markers of That Chick who Eloped and That Dude Who Really Likes Designer Boots. Take away those basic characteristics, and who the hell are these people? I have no idea. There is nothing definite or memorable about either of them.

Well, no, that's not true - we do learn something about their characters. We learn they're the kind of people who are willing to defraud, publicly humiliate, emotionally manipulate, and exploit the financial hardships of their own parents for personal gain. Annabelle permanently ruins herself in the eyes of society and makes her father a public laughingstock to be with Reggie.

Because, somehow, carefully choreographing a fake elopement with an actor is easier than performing a real elopement with the person you actually want to marry. 

Yeah, didn't make sense to me, either.

You can purchase A Matter of Class here, but don't say I didn't warn you.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"Warm Bodies," by Isaac Marion

The Protagonist: R. A zombie who lives in an abandoned airport, he wonders wistfully if this is all he has to look forward to in the undeath - until he has the opportunity to rescue a human girl from being eaten.
His Angst: Um, he's a zombie. Not a lot of positives there. Also, the girl? He totally ate her boyfriend.

The Secondary Cast:

Julie Grigio: The daughter of the General of the local fortress-city of surviving humans, she is rescued by R and finds time to examine just how flawed humanity's survival strategy really is.

Perry: Julie's boyfriend, who is killed and eaten by R - although he continues to live on in R's head as R absorbs his memories.

Nora Greene: Julie's best friend, who helps out Julie and R as they try to convince others of the possibility of a cure for the zombie virus.

General Grigio: Julie's rigid and unstable father who will defend humanity at any cost - even though he ultimately believes humanity is beyond saving.

M: R's zombie friend who also slowly evolves thanks to Julie's influence.

Angst Checklist:
  • Being undead
  • Daddy Issues
  • The meaning of life
  • The difference between surviving and living
  • My Boyfriend Was Suicidal So Eating Him Was Totally Okay
  • Every problem can be solved with the Power of Love
The Word: I decided to pick up this book when I saw the trailer for the upcoming film, which made it sound charming and original. A zombie romance? How droll!

Sadly, while the novel is beautifully written, it is also bleak, dull, poorly-developed, and is - essentially - a retelling of WALL-E, but with zombies.

R is a youngish zombie who's in better shape then most. He shuffles and groans around an abandoned airport, occasionally making raids with his zombie compatriots to catch and eat the living humans foolish enough to venture out of their fortified shelters.

The zombies have even formed a sort of society - with emaciated elders known as Boneys who marry zombies, allocate zombie children to worthy couples, hold primitive religious services, and violently defend the status quo. 

Poor R is slightly different from the other zombies in that he has a brain and is capable of higher reasoning - even if he's almost incapable of expressing it beyond a few groaned syllables. When he and his friends go on a raiding party and he bites into the brain of a young man named Perry, he absorbs the boy's memories, particularly those of his girlfriend, Julie.

When R realizes that Julie is also present at this raid, he protects her by covering her in zombie blood and takes her to his makeshift shelter in a jet at the airport. There, he gets to know her better - not only by communicating with her in his limited way, but also through Perry's memories as he secretly continues to eat the remaining pieces of his brain. 

Through Perry's memories we learn that the human race is not in good shape. Thanks to the zombie curse/plague that took over the world, humanity has shrunk itself to fit small, fortified lives - surviving, but at a high cost as many have felt forced to jettison "needless" activities like art and personal expression in order to serve the greater good of just getting through the day.

But as R and Julie's mysterious connection seems to indicate a natural cure to the zombie plague is indeed possible (although that cure is veeeery vaguely developed), many of the humans have become too hardened and jaded to consider taking the risk to live instead of only survive.

So. This novel.

I could tell it was trying to convey some sort of deep message, but it failed in its execution because it stayed too damn vague to be interesting. Humanity apparently ruined itself and somehow created this plague (curse? Evil spell? NOBODY KNOWS) by becoming too - arrogant? Greedy? Apathetic? The narrative waves its hands around humanity's "badness" in a hipsterish way without really getting into it and giving it an actual reason.

Honestly, Marion does a better job demonstrating how humanity is currently killing itself in the present - buying more time to live by abandoning the very things that make life worth living - than he does with his rather pretentious jabs at humanity's unworthy past.

And then the whole problem is solved with the Power of Love. I'm not even kidding. Just like the Celine Dion song!

Warm Bodies turned out to be the type of novel I really dislike - one that takes a science-fictional or fantasy plot and uses it to tell a greater literary message, but without developing the science fictional/fantasy aspects into consistent elements of the story. It's the same problem I had with Gregory Maguire's Wicked

You cannot make a zombie story, and then base the origins of the zombie curse (and its cure) on a metaphor. THAT MAKES NO SENSE. You don't get cancer by not appreciating life enough, and you can't cure disease with The Power Of Love - unless you clearly develop your fantasy elements to indicate this. But everything else about Warm Bodies is based on a hard type of reality - with heavily described passages about humanity's struggle to survive, the mental toll on the survivors, the intricate and interesting societies that both humans and zombies have built out of the ashes of the apocalypse.

And then the novel indicates these well-depicted, realistic and sympathetic problems would all be solved if we just Loved Life More. What the hell?

It wouldn't have been at all difficult to create a developed fantasy aspect around the novel, with its own internal consistency and logic, that would have achieved the same message without compromising the reality of the narrative. Fantasy authors do it all the time! Just read Left Hand of Darkness - it conveyed a powerful message about gender, while still having a well-realized science fictional world that was interesting and made sense.

That being said, Marion's novel does have some lovely language, and I appreciated where he was trying to go with it. I still might see the movie (although I'm very concerned that they whitewashed a character by casting a white actress as Nora), but for the book? I recommend a single shot - straight to the brain.

You can purchase Warm Bodies: A Novel here.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Weekly Wanting (22) and the Power of Blogging

I thought I would turn this particular Wanting into a bit of a post on the importance of blogging.

Not all blogs are created equal - if they were, I would have no time to eat, sleep, or tentatively type a few words of my novel before fleeing in terror. I'd just be blog-hopping all the time.

I realize that blogging, for many people, is a personal activity. And it should be - you should blog about what you want because you want to. But it does mean that the standard of writing in blogs can vary widely. This also means that different readers react differently to different types of writing.

Over the years, I discovered I gravitated the most towards blogs that were exceptionally well-written. The blogs that read as if someone spent time considering what to write about a particular book instead of spewing their raw opinions across their keyboards.

I recently had to unfollow a longtime blogger because her reviews were just terribly written - garbled syntax, non-specific blanket statements, lazy descriptions. And she's actually an author! That boggled my mind - why wouldn't you apply the same standard of writing to your blog that you do to your books?

I realize writing well doesn't come easily to everybody. I feel this is the point where I should clarify that this isn't a post about how bloggers should write, but rather an explanation of the type of blogging I prefer to read. I am a pretty insignificant person in the larger scheme of things and writing does come very easily to me so I tend to take the ability to write well for granted. I also realize that other people prefer blogs with clearly effusive or condemning writing styles. They feel passionately about books and they want reviews that demonstrate how out of their mind AWESOME a book was. Capslock-awesome! Glitterfont-awesome! 

And "good writing" can vary. For me, good writing means that it falls under the hazy categories of "easy to read," "fun to read," and "effectively gets the point across." To me, that means I actually enjoy the occasional .gif-using review because hey, it's funny, and it very clearly gets the point across so long as it's not overused.

And all of this is a roundabout explanation of why I finally decided to add this novel to my Wishlist:

This novel was mentioned freakin' everywhere and wound up on a huge number of Best of the Year Lists and for the longest time I just couldn't bring myself to give a crap about it. I read review after review, and I got to the part about "angsty girl with a musical secret plus dragons" and a switch in my head would just go "nope nope not interesting at all nope." 

So the more reviews that came out about this novel, the more I skimmed over them. Nothing about them really explained to me why I should find this novel interesting. Even reviews from other bloggers I love and admire! It just didn't hit my buttons.

Until Janine's review from Dear Author. Somehow, the way she explained the intricate worldbuilding and the gorgeous writing, and the way the heroine's musical talents actually related to the dragon plot instead of being some random Mary Sue affectation, parted the clouds, removed the scales (heh) from my eyes, and made me realize that yes, this is a book I must have. Now. At any price. Please please?

Now, this isn't a wagging-finger at the other bloggers who loved this book. This is just an indication of how important writing and blogging can be - that even one review, one special review, can sell a book to a reader where dozens of others have failed. And I just thought it would be meaningful to try and explain that this week instead of going with my usual format.

What books are you eagerly wanting this week? And which bloggers have changed your life and made you want a book you'd never thought of before?

Friday, January 18, 2013

"Speechless," by Hannah Harrington

The Protagonist: Chelsea Knot. Chelsea will do, and more importantly, say anything to stay in her popular best friend's good graces. So when she discovers a schoolmate is secretly gay, she rushes off the share the details with her - and accidentally informs the whole basketball team, too.
The Rub: When that gay classmate winds up in a coma, Chelsea becomes an outcast when she comes forward. Learning the hard way how powerful speech can be, she takes a vow of silence.

Secondary Cast:

Asha: A sweet-natured social outcast who befriends Chelsea after her vow of silence. Loving knitting and working at the local diner.

Sam: The best friend of Noah (the gay bashing victim), he's paired with Chelsea in art class, and the two bond over their mutual friendship with Asha.

Andy: Noah's boyfriend. Still angry at Chelsea for outing Noah, he's also angry at himself.

Noah: A classmate of Chelsea's, whom she outs after she catches him making out with Andy. Is attacked and hospitalized by two basketball players.

Kristin: Chelsea's former best friend and the most popular girl in school - she is a ruthless, conniving, and, yes, stereotypical Queen Bitch who makes Chelsea Public Enemy #1 after she rats out Kristin's boyfriend to the cops.

Lowell: A thuggish basketball player who starts bullying and harassing Chelsea for ratting out his teammates.

Angst Checklist:
  • Homophobia
  • School bullying
  • Personal responsibility
  • Bitchy Frenemies
  • The importance of speech
  • Popularity (and the lack thereof)
  • Tuna Melts

The Word: This was an interesting novel to read because although I really didn't like the writing style, um, at all, the story was interesting enough to keep me absolutely addicted to it.

Chelsea Knot is living the high life as the best friend/minion/personal Gretchen Wieners of Kristin, Grand Lake High School's vicious Queen Bee. Sure, she always has to play second fiddle and cater to Kristin's exacting moods and personal style, but the ensuing popularity is all she's ever wanted. Chelsea is incapable of keeping a secret and is one of the biggest gossipmongers at school, a trait she maintains because it entertains Kristin and keeps her in the popular girl's inner circle.

When Chelsea drunkenly walks in on a male classmate, Noah, making out with another boy during a party, she stumbles off to share the scandalous details with Kristin - and blurts out the deets in front of half the basketball team as well. That very night, two basketball players attack Noah and put him in a coma, and for the very first time, Kristin demands Chelsea keep her mouth shut.

But Chelsea is horrified at what she's done, and makes the hardest (and ultimately best) decision of her life: she goes to the cops with her story, resulting in the arrest of her school's star basketball players - one of whom is Kristin's boyfriend. She then makes the second hardest decision of her life: to take a vow of silence to atone for her formerly loose lips.

Chelsea becomes a pariah overnight - half the school despises her as the traitor rat who crippled the basketball team, the other half are eager to kick the Queen Bee's sidekick now that she's down, and her teachers have no idea what to do with a student who refuses to speak. The only people who reach out to Chelsea are the people she least expected - the quirky, unconventional social outcasts who knew Noah personally.

There were a lot of things I didn't like about this book. The voice, for one. The writing style is juvenile and simplistic in a cliched way - it doesn't come across as immature because it's the voice of a teenager, but because it sounds like an adult trying too hard to imitate the voice of a teenager. I also thought the villains' comeuppance at the end was disappointingly lame considering the huge amount of build-up the story bestows upon Chelsea's "brilliant" revenge scheme. As well, I was kind of annoyed by how little "screen time" both gay characters in the book received. The Inciting Incident of the novel is a gay bashing - but it's used to illustrate the story of a sad, straight, privileged, white girl while the actual victim is only present for ten pages or so. However, one could also make the exact same argument about Lauren Myracle's Shine, and that book rocked my socks like a laundry machine hurricane.

But what did this novel do well? Despite the clunky writing and the disappointing payoff, the character development is amazing. I loved reading about Chelsea's progression towards being an independent person. I loved how her voicelessness helped develop her self-awareness, especially regarding her friendship with Kristin and her own personal value. Chelsea starts the book as a stereotypical Popular Girl - obsessed with clothing, gossip and boys and terrible at schoolwork. Once Kristin destroys their friendship and Chelsea starts to make friends who don't require that she constantly praise and entertain them, she has time to explore things she'd always convinced herself weren't important because they didn't keep her in Kristin's good graces. Chelsea's grades improve significantly, she gets a job, and she finds a way to interact with the community without having to speak.

As a character novel, Speechless is incredibly effective and well-paced and explores some excellent themes about the power of words and a person's contribution to their community. If you can tolerate childish writing and a weak ending, you might want to give Speechless a try.

You can purchase Speechless here.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Birthday Musings and the Weekly Wanting

Happy birthday to me! I'm another year older and presumably wiser. I say presumably because my mind seems determined to remain permanently seventeen and in high school.

Last year my novel writing suffered but my non-fiction writing soared. I've been writing more and more for Heroes and Heartbreakers and have been enjoying it immensely thus far.

And I've finally gotten off my butt and made some travel plans for this year! Sarah from The Smart Bitches invited me to the RT Book Blogger Con in Kansas City, Missouri, and I've decided to go! It's only for one day, but I get to meet all these cool bloggers and actually talk about blogging at an event THAT IS ACTUALLY ORGANIZED BY BLOGGERS. The BloggerCon at BEA last year was a very weird experience, and beyond getting to meet some of my blogger heroes (like The Booksmugglers), I found it terribly boring and it missed the point of blogging by a solid Canadian kilometre. 

So I'm looking forward to that. Next up - the Wanting! Okay, so one of my New Year's resolution is to spend less money on books (right after I spent my Christmas money burning through my Wishlist), so I'll be waiting to get these books at the library. Hopefully. If I can manage it.

Genre: Romance, Historical.
Cover Snark: Does - does your man really sleep like that? And should you really be posing that way if he's trying to get some shut eye? Did you pose him while he was sleeping? Man this cover unsettles me.
The Story: Our heroine is determined to make a high match in Society to help her family overcome the stigma of their father marrying an actress - until our hero (at her father's request) arrives to try and dissuade her. 
Why Do I Want It? Another year, another Cecilia Grant novel! I hate that her books come out so slowly, even as I realize that the extra time spent on them is why they're so lovely and perfect! But I want this book now! NOW!

Genre: YA, Contemporary
Cover Snark: Oh look, a blurry-female-figure cover that explains nothing about the story, what a novel concept.
The Story: Our heroine's life was changed forever as a child when her family won the lottery, but now her eighteenth birthday is a week away and her family has spent nearly all their winnings. Well, except for the money in her enormous trust fund, which she'll be able to access in a week. She's just about to hand the money over to her parents when another family crisis erupts - who will she choose to help?
Why Do I Want It? First of all, props to the blog Great Imaginations for introducing this book to me. I love the interesting and original storyline for this novel - what would it be like to live in a family that spent 10 years living extravagantly but on borrowed time? It also sounds like an excellent way to examine the true value of money in regards to family and love. 

Genre: Fantasy.
Cover Snark: I whip my hair back and forth!
The Story: A new spin on the Snow White tale that suggests that a bitter Rapunzel is actually Snow's despicable stepmother. 
Why Do I Want It? I love fairy tale retellings, and with an awesome hook like that, how can I refuse?

So what novels are you eagerly wanting this week?

Sunday, January 13, 2013

"The Bridal Season," by Connie Brockway

The Chick: Letty Potts, a.k.a. "Lady Agatha." When her former partner in crime burns down her house and everything in it to get her to rejoin the con artist game, she flees into the country with a stolen identity in order to lie low.
The Rub: She quickly earns the attentions of the attractive bachelor Sir Elliott March - but he's also the town magistrate, and she's working under an assumed name.
Dream Casting: Jessica Chastain.

The Dude: Sir Elliott March. Since returning from the war, losing his fiancee to another man, and almost losing his beloved father to a heart attack, Elliott's become the unofficial spokesman for polite emotional reserve. However, he takes an instant liking to the unconventional Lady Agatha.
The Rub: This Lady Agatha doesn't act the way a refined duke's daughter should - can he love her if he doesn't quite trust her?
Dream Casting: Benedict Cumberbatch.

The Plot:

Lady Agatha: *drops train ticket in a swoon of pre-elopement bliss*

Letty: Sweet! Free train ticket!

Townsfolk: Oh "Lady Agatha!" Come stay in our wealthy home with all of your expensive things while you help us with our society wedding!

Letty: Sweet! A featherbed and free stuff!

Bride-To-Be: I'm being blackmailed!

Hero's Bitchy Ex: I'm threatened by you for no reason because I love attention!

Letty: Wow, angst. Not so sweet.

Sir Elliott: Pardon me, ma'am, but I'm in love with you. Don't you find my emotional restraint and respectful behaviour dead sexy?

Letty: Dead sexy? You're about half right. *seductively pokes*


Letty: Sweet! But does it matter that I'm really a thief, con artist and music hall singer?


Letty: You're right! Let's get married!

Sir Elliott: HOORAY!

Romance Convention Checklist:
  • 1 Secret Identity
  • 1 Bitchy, Attentionwhore Ex
  • 1 Stolen Train Ticket
  • 1 Relationship-Aiding Pet
  • 1 Case of Blackmail
  • 1 Obsessed Villain Suitor
  • 1 Inconsistant Limp
  • 1 Fabulous Hat
  • 2 Nosy, Matchmaking Servants
The Word: The Bridal Season, ultimately, isn't the best romance in the world, but it was still utterly charming and the perfect balm after reading the brilliant but visceral creepfest of Gone Girl. There's nothing like well-constructed fluff to make up for a searing psychological examination of a marriage gone bad.

The book opens with a cute little mini-romance - the staid, respectable wedding planner Lady Agatha, on her way to arrange a wedding, is confronted by her French paramour who eventually talks her into eloping with him. As he whisks her away into a blissfully married future, Lady Agatha drops her train ticket bound for Little Bidewell - a ticket that is quickly snatched up by Letty Potts. 

Letty Potts is the novel's actual heroine, and she's in a terrible bind. After years of petty thievery and con artistry against callous noblemen, she was forced to end her partnership with fellow con artist Nicholas Sparkle when his schemes began to depend on vulnerable, middle-class widows who could ill-afford to lose their savings. Nick responded to her two weeks' notice by burning her house down. Penniless and wearing only the clothes on her back, she sees this train ticket as the perfect way to escape and lie low. 

When she reaches the tiny country town of Little Bidewell, however, she is mistaken for Lady Agatha and hailed as a saviour. Angela Bigglesworth, a wealthy but untitled girl, is engaged to marry the Marquis of Cotton, and the Bigglesworths are desperate for Lady Agatha's services to ensure the ceremony pleases the Marquis' infamously stiff-necked aristocratic family. They inform her that they have a room waiting for her, filled with the expensive luggage she'd sent ahead.

Letty initially plans to stay only long enough to get a decent night's sleep in a feather bed and make off with as many of Lady Agatha's possessions as possible. However, she is stymied by two things: her sympathy in spite of herself towards Angela Bigglesworth's plight, and her sudden and unwise attraction to Sir Elliott March, Little Bidewell's magistrate and most upstanding citizen.

This novel has very little in the way of depth but a great deal in the way of charm. Letty is delightful - she's full of guilt for her past and guiltier still for her current lie as the townsfolk worm their way past her emotional defences, but she never gives up her bright sense of humour and can-do attitude. And Sir Elliott is a deliciously far cry from most of the Alpha Males cluttering up the historical romance scene - he's a scrupulously polite, kind, and gracious man who continues to squire his spoiled, bitter and married ex around town because he's too gosh darn nice to turn down her constant attention-mongering. 

Yet the author ably demonstrates just why he needs a firm shaking up from the loosey-goosey Letty. Being polite is all well and good, but good etiquette will get you nowhere if you can't express your emotions sincerely. Letty spends a good portion of the novel teasing him and twisting him into greater and more elaborate knots until he inevitably snaps - in the good way!

The protagonists definitely have chemistry, the townsfolk are adorable, and the author even attempts to add layers to the bitchy ex and obsessed villain suitor (with varying results). That being said, the novel is definitely a bit of a lightweight in the realism department. Towards the end, everything resolves itself far too easily and the heroine turns into a bit of a mopey sop. But as a pleasant, easy diversion, you can't get much better than this.

You can purchase The Bridal Season here.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

"Gone Girl," by Gillian Flynn

The Protagonists:

Nick Dunne: A laid-off writer who now owns a bar in Missouri while he cares for his ailing parents. Comes under suspicion when his wife goes missing on their 5-year anniversary.

Amy Dunne: Nick's wealthy, charming wife who hasn't adapted as well to Missouri life as Nick - and then she vanishes without a trace.

The Secondary Cast:

Margo "Go" Dunne: Nick's twin sister who helps run his bar. A loyal confidante, even as things start looking grimmer and grimmer for Nick.

Desi Collings: Amy's high school boyfriend who took their breakup extremely badly. Has remained obsessed with her for years.

Marybeth and Rand: Amy's parents - child psychologists who made their fortune off a children's series they based on their daughter, called Amazing Amy.

Rhonda Boney: One of the detectives handling the investigation of Amy's disappearance. Despite the mounting evidence against Nick, she retains an instinctive belief that Nick is innocent.

The Word: I think for the purposes of this review, I will have to divide it into a spoiler-free review and a spoiler-irific review. While I do think I can generally review the book without giving away the twists, I also want to examine my own reaction to this book and I seriously cannot do that without going into a little more detail about how completely, addictively messed-up this book is.

Spoiler-Free Review
One of my friends started reading this book and got bored halfway through. "It's not exciting enough," she said - and true enough, the book's pace is remarkably slow for a mystery.

Except, Gone Girl is not really a mystery, or a thriller, or a horror story. Rather, it's an examination of a marriage and how well two people can know each other - an examination that borrows from mysteries, thrillers, and horror stories to convey just how twisted a couple can be. People going in and reading it like a mystery or a thriller will likely expect a faster pace, more thrills, a dogged investigation, but take it from me, readers, and slow down. You'll thank me.

The novel starts out by alternating between the first-person POV of Nick Dunne and the diary entries of his wife, Amy. Nick is working at the bar he co-owns with his sister in his hometown of North Carthage, Missouri, when he gets a call from one of the regulars informing him that his front door is open and his cat is loose. Strange - since his wife should be home. Returning to check on her, he discovers signs of a struggle in his living room and no signs of Amy at all.

The police are called, they investigate. The only thing she left behind was a little blue envelope, for the romantic treasure hunt she planned for Nick to celebrate their anniversary.

Oh, did I forget to mention that Amy goes missing on their five-year anniversary?

As the investigation proceeds, Nick is asked questions he'd rather not answer - even as evidence starts to build up against him. Was their marriage happy? Were they in a good place? Nick knows the husband is always the prime suspect in a missing-woman case and is unwilling to own up to how estranged he and his wife have become. The author also hints that Nick is lying to and omitting important information from the reader, as well - such as where he was for two hours that morning.

While the frantic pacing at the start of the novel gives the book the air of a mystery, at heart, Gone Girl is an intriguing and horrifying examination of a marriage and how it can go terribly, woefully, violently wrong - especially as we read Amy's diary entries, written throughout their marriage, that paint an entirely different (and quite possibly malevolent) portrait of Nick than the one he shows to the cops and the news cameras.

Cleverly, this is used as a plot device to examine Nick and Amy's souring relationship. Who is the real Nick? Who is the real Amy? And are these the same identities they wore when they first met? Both Amy and Nick, in their respective narratives, express a dissatisfaction when the person they married turned out to be somebody else, as the identities they each constructed for their courtship fell apart after marriage.

The novel, of course, takes a drastically sharp turn at the midway point, where we learn the truth: Amy engineered her own disappearance in order to frame Nick for her own murder and punish him for cheating on her. As we start to read things from her real point of view, we discover she's a far cry from the naive, optimistic identity she's put forward in her diary (which she's conveniently left for the police to find).

Instead, Amy is a phenomenally brilliant sociopath with a monstrously vengeful streak. As Nick looks into people who might have wanted to hurt Amy (a high school stalker, a man accused of date rape), he discovers Amy's past reveals a devious pattern of intricate revenges unleashed upon people who've wronged her (or people Amy's perceived to have wronged her). Nick gradually realizes that in order to lure Amy back and clear his name, he's going to have to play the game by her rules, and from then on, the novel gets even better. And infinitely creepier.

This is not a happy sunshine book. I don't think it's even a book I'd want to read again. But it is an incredibly clever and amazingly written novel about identities - the ones people are born with and the ones they construct around their families, their romantic partners, and the media.

You can purchase Gone Girl: A Novel here.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

My ReRead Rollout - The Results!

Okay, sorry this post is a little slow, but my Year End post took longer than expected, and I've been working longer hours at my Paying Day Job.

So during the month of December I decided to reread some of my favourite novels (or novels I perceived to be my favourite), and the results were thus:

Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery.
Did It Hold Up? Yes. Yes it most definitely did! Anne is still awesome, Diana Berry is still a bosom friend, Matthew still makes me cry, and Josie Pye is still a bitch! It really amazed me how many layers this book has, how many more different things I noticed about this book reading it as an adult. I may now have to read the other books in the series again!

The Secret Pearl, by Mary Balogh.
Did It Hold Up? Yes. This time around (since I'd already written a review), I focused on what I felt to be the most powerful aspect of this book: the villains. Well-developed, creepy, tragic, they were so memorable and contributed so well to the romanticism and drama of the novel, I figured they deserved their own examination.

Fitzpatrick's War, by Theodore Judson.
Did It Hold Up? No. Not really. I think the reason I enjoyed exploring the novel the first time was thanks to the unique formatting of the story as well as the detailed world building. However, rereading the novel when I already knew the plot allowed me to notice how incredibly slow and overdetailed the story was - how much more time was wasted on minutiae than the plot, which was far more simple than I'd remembered. Still, if you love detailed, original settings and military stories, you might still enjoy it.

Beauty, by Robin McKinley.
Did It Hold Up? No. I reread this one with a little impatience - probably because I already know how the fairy tale goes so I found the lead-up (which explains Beauty's family and backstory) to be a little top-heavy, while the part that matches actual fairy tale was disappointingly bare of the elaboration or character development (especially on the Beast's part) that I was hoping for. However, McKinley apparently plumbed the Beauty and the Beast well another time for Rose's Daughter, so I might try reading that, someday.

The Birth House, by Ami McKay
Did It Hold Up? Yes! I still enjoyed this novel just as much as I did back in University. Interesting themes, great characters, fabulous historical details, strong feminist undertone, and a gorgeous writing style. Even though her second book wasn't nearly as good, I'll be keeping this novel on my Keeper Shelf for a long time to come.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, by J.K. Rowling
Did It Hold Up? Yes indeedy - enough to make me want to re-read the whole series!

Private Arrangements, by Sherry Thomas.
Did It Hold Up? Better! I really enjoyed the novel the second time around, and I tried to figure out why I loved it now when I was only ambivalent towards it before. The only explanation I can really come up with beyond My Tastes Have Matured is that Sherry Thomas' style was so different (read: better) than a lot of what I was reading at the time that I didn't connect to it the same way. Now that I'm used to (read: adore) her style, I was able to truly enjoy coming back to her debut novel. What can I say? I'm a hopeless fangirl.

I must admit, I might have to do this again next year. There's just something so relaxing about reading a book that you've already enjoyed. So, dear readers, have you taken to rereading any of your favourite classics lately? If so, which ones?

Friday, January 04, 2013

2012: The Year In Review

Happy New Year, readers!

And what a year it's been. I am happy to announce that I have recovered my reader's mojo - and then some. 2011 was my slump year, in which I managed to read only 38 books! This year, thankfully, I blew every previous record out of the water by reading an astounding 90 books - even more than 2010 (76 books) and 2009 (63).

As per my usual format, I will group my Best and Worst lists due to letter grade - it really wouldn't be fair to have a top 5 when I had, for instance, 12 novels that wowed me this year. Were all these books published in 2012? Nope. While I probably read more 2012 books this year thanks to BEA, I'm still the person who reads what she wants to read, when she wants to read them.

However, I won't be including reread reviews (from my December Rollout) in the top best of the year. My best and worst lists are for first-time reads only.


A Lily Among Thorns, by Rose Lerner. Romance, Historical. A+
I realize it's almost unfair to put this as one of my ultimate favourite novels, since thanks to Dorchester's perfect storm of publishing fail it is apparently nigh impossible to get one's hands on another copy to share the love. All I have is my own copy - and I'm guarding that with my life!
That being said, Rose Lerner's sophomore novel is a fantastic, well-realized romance that overturns so many gender roles that have become ingrained in historicals. In this novel, it's the heroine who's sexually experienced, financially independent, and possessed of powerful underworld contacts - and it's the hero who's emotionally supportive, can sew a straight seam like a mofo, and mixes a mean cup of hot chocolate.
Pair all of that with a surprisingly poignant secondary romance between two hot gay spies and you have a fantastically clever and original romance.

Freak Show, by James St. James. YA, Contemporary. A+
Freak Show is a vivid, electric novel that mixes absurd parody and emotional poignancy with skill, panache, and sequined flash, and all with the help of its singularly fabulous protagonist, teenage drag queen extraordinaire, Billy Bloom.
Billy just wants to fit in at his new ultra-white, ultra-conservative prep school - but not if it means giving up his flapper dresses and 12 layers of false eyelashes. When the school's football star comes to his defence after his classmates' violent bullying goes too far, Billy takes his newfound popularity (or notoriety) and seeks to use it to change things at his school for the better.
I loved this book primarily because of Billy's amazing voice - he's always creating, inventing, moving forward, refusing to let the prejudice of his peers and the tragedy of his past to catch up with him and slow down his progress. 

The Dovekeepers, by Alice Hoffman. Fiction, Historical. A+
Oh Alice Hoffman, how do I love thy books? Her novels always have amazing female characters in them - such as in this novel, which follows four women whose paths lead them to Masada, the last Jewish stronghold against Roman invasion. Together, they tend the gentle birds whose leavings keep the fortress' orchards fertile enough to feed Masada's warriors and their families, all the while observing the petty politics and feuds that can overcome a community in crisis.

Shine, by Lauren Myracle. YA, Contemporary. A+
This novel was probably my biggest surprise of the year. Let's face it, I already knew Rose Lerner's and  Alice Hoffman's books were going to be awesome, but I had no idea who Lauren Myracle was until I picked up this book and spent the next 24 hours in blissfully frantic reading. 
This achingly perfect, painful novel follows a damaged girl named Cat as she leaves the safety of her self-imposed isolation to track down the man who gay-bashed her former best friend into a coma. In the process, she reconnects with the friends and classmates she abandoned and begins healing from her own trauma.
Simply exquisite on every level, from the bruise-black depiction of an impoverished backwoods town to the river-deep characterization of Cat and her friends and neighbours.

Ain't She Sweet? by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Romance, Contemporary. A+
Ain't She Sweet combines everything I love to find in a contemporary romance - deep backstories, a vivid setting, a perfectly imperfect heroine, and oodles and oodles of drama. 
Sugar Beth Carey used to be the queen bee of her small Southern town, and she wouldn't let anyone forget it - especially not the illegitimate half-sister her father loved more nor the pretentious young English teacher who refused to cut Sugar Beth a break due to her wealth and family connections.
Years later, she returns to her hometown divorced, disgraced, and broke - and nearly everyone in town can't wait to line up to kick her now that she's down. 
She refuses to give in, however, and that same young English teacher (now an author) finds himself crushing on his erstwhile student something fierce. If only she could win over everyone else that easily...

A Gentleman Undone, by Cecilia Grant. Romance, Historical. A+
Cecilia Grant hits another home run with her sophomore effort, a novel concerning a guilt-ridden and cash-strapped young war veteran who needs to win a fortune at the gaming tables and enlists the help of another man's mistress who just so happens to be a talented cardsharp. Cecilia Grant's skills at thoughtful characterization and historical detail, and her marvellous writing style have not decreased a wit since her last success, A Lady Awakened. Grant earns additional props for giving us a heroine who enjoys sex - with a man other than the hero. Le gasp!

Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor. YA, Fantasy. A+
I barely know where to begin with this one - this novel is just so endlessly inventive, so unabashedly romantic, so colourful and unique. Teenage Karou studies art in Prague by day and runs errands for her adoptive family of monsters by night. Her plans go awry when she meets a young angel named Akiva and becomes embroiled in a centuries-long war between angels and monsters. This book effortlessly juggles vastly different tones and themes (such as the contemporary YA feel of the beginning, the urban fantasy tone of Karou's journey to save her family, and the epic high fantasy of Akiva's backstory) while maintaining the consistency of the ultimate narrative.

Delicious, by Sherry Thomas. Romance, Historical. A+
In Thomas' lush follow-up to Private Arrangements, a talented chef with a notorious past reunites with the man who stole her heart and proposed marriage to her ten years before. The only caveat? He has no idea because he never sees her face. Okay, yes, the fact that he miraculously never recognizes her until the very end is a little silly - but the drama and the romance are so tasty and the overall theme so clever (with the heroine's cuisine representing and reawakening the passion the hero's long denied) that I found it easy to forgive the contrived misunderstanding.

Persuasion, by Jane Austen. Romance, Classic. A+
I've slowly been reading my way through Jane Austen's books, and by my current estimate, Persuasion is by far my favourite. The characters are flawed, yes, but humanly so. The characterization is more subtle and realistic than in her previous books and the morals less black and white - for instance, Lady Russell could have easily been painted as a villain for the crime of persuading Anne to break her engagement with Wentworth - instead, she remains a positive and well-intentioned figure. Persuasion has no real villains and Austen demonstrates how even those who believe they are of the loftiest character (like Wentworth) can fall prey to weakness, arrogance, or short-sightedness.
And along with all that, Persuasion also has one of the most swoon-worthy reunion romances ever.

Every Day, by David Levithan. YA, Fantasy. A+
One of the most powerful and original novels I've read this year, Every Day explores the nature of love, gender, identity, morality, and adolescence with the adventures of A, a genderless entity who wakes up every day in the body of a different teenager. A maintains a fluid identity until A meets and falls in love with Rhiannon while inhabiting the body of her jackass boyfriend - and then A develops independent desires and ambitions and has to measure them against the desires, ambitions, and rights of the body A's currently inhabiting.
This novel is heartbreakingly emotional while also fiendishly clever, a book that poses dozens if not hundreds of thorny questions about what truly matters in a relationship. Is physical appearance truly immaterial? What about sexual orientation and gender identity? While Every Day doesn't really have the time to deal with or answer all of these questions, I think it's enough that this novel takes the time to ask all of them in the course of telling a fantastically entertaining story.

A Season to be Sinful, by Jo Goodman. Romance, Historical. A+
After reading two duds from Jo Goodman I was beginning to wonder if I'd have to turn in my Goodman Fangirl Card. Thankfully, I can retain my membership with A Season to Be Sinful, which chronicles the relationship between a recently retired spy hero and the damaged street thief heroine he rescues after she botches an assassin's attempt on his life.
Lush writing, great dialogue, an incredibly dark heroine backstory (I should probably put a trigger-warning somewhere), with a twisty and clever spy subplot thrown in? How could I not enjoy this?

The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller. Fiction, Historical, Fantasy. A+
Last but certainly not least, we have The Song of Achilles, a gorgeously-written historical fantasy about Achilles' role in the Trojan War, as told from the point of view of his devoted lover, Patroclus.
Juggling the weighty themes of the inevitability of fate and the nature of heroism, Madeline Miller crafts a beautiful and romantic story, but by far her best narrative decision is to make Patroclus the narrator. In a story bloated with famous historical figures, gods, demigods, centaurs, and mythic warriors, Patroclus is, well, ordinary. He's not particularly talented, clever, or handsome, but this makes him the perfect observer of the devastation, destruction, and petty vindictiveness that can too often get lost beneath the veneer of an epic narrative.

And those were my favourite reads of 2012.
However, for every good book - there is a, shall we say, less good book. For this one, I simply took every book that earned a C- grade or lower.


Dark Lover, by J.R. Ward. Romance, Paranormal. C-
This book made the list because, despite how entertaining this novel is when read as a parody - it's not one. And its themes and ideas and storytelling are pretty terrible. In this world, the vampire citizenry are protected by the tattooed, fanged equivalent of One Direction - an easily-marketable boyband of vampires who each come equipped with their own personal brand of Romantic Angst.
In this first installment of the Blackstreet Daggerboys Brotherhood, their King, Wrath, falls in love with a half-vampire reporter named Beth, all the while abusing and neglecting his tortured vampire wife.
Meanwhile, all his bros lurk in the background, cracking their knuckles, making rape threats, and having gay eye-sex with dogged police officers.

Undressed, by Kristin Cook. Romance, Historical. C-

This hilariously awful historical romance (with its inexplicably chicklit cover) is an astoundingly hot mess of nonsense - but what would you expect from a novel whose plotline validates child abduction? Self-righteous Scottish lass Brenna discovers she's an English aristocrat who had been snatched from her cradle by the people she lovingly considered her parents. Transplanted to England, she has trouble adapting to British society, which is comprised entirely of Evil, Thoughtless Jerks - with the alcoholic, gambling-addict hero as the sole exception. An entirely contrived plot, a heroine who swoons or turns an ankle at the drop of a hat, and cartoonishly rendered characters (both good and evil) combine to make me wish Undressed was Unwritten.

Accessible Love StoriesAnthology Review. Romance, Special Interest. C-
Unlike Undressed, the cover for Accessible Love Stories is entirely apt. The expression on the cover model's face perfectly captures my reaction to this disorganized and lacklustre set of stories that range from only okay to absolutely the worst thing I have ever read. A couple of stories are decent, but the organization of the anthology's theme (physically disabled people in love) is piss-poor, the proofreading and editing are absolutely abysmal, and the opening story reads like a romantic comedy as written by the cast of Jackass after taking one too many blows to the head. Read at your own risk.

Motherland, by Amy Sohn. Fiction, Contemporary. C-
Everyone in the novel is selfish and makes ill-advised decisions, a fictionalized Jon Hamm acts like an asshole, and one of the main characters winds up accidentally having sex with his own daughter. Now you don't have to read this pretentious, ugly drivel. You're welcome. 

The Kingdom of Gods, by N.K. Jemisin. Fantasy, High. C-
Part of this novel's low grade was sheer disappointment - the first two novels of of the series (The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms) were so good, and yet this concluding volume of the trilogy was so confusing, inconsistent, and incoherent. Following child-god Sieh and his fumbling attempts to regain his identity now that his godly parents have made up (or are just about to), he befriends a pair of siblings -- with some truly bizarre and incomprehensible results. Not entirely bad, and certainly not offensive, it's nevertheless a disappointingly sad mess to put at the end of an otherwise stellar series.

Crewel, by Gennifer Albin. YA, Science Fiction. C-
The best kind of misogyny is internal misogyny - which can be found in spades in Gennifer Albin's offensive and derivative dystopian novel. Our heroine is capable of weaving the fabric of the universe, so she's whisked off by the Big Bad Government to become a Spinster and live in a gilded cage of luxury while doing the Big Bad Government's dirty work.
Every female character who is not the heroine can be easily checked into one of following categories: Vapid Twit, Power-Hungry Slut, Easily-Manipulated Lackey, and Token Lesbian Character Whose Defining Characteristic Is Her Violent Death To Teach The Straight Protagonist How Hating the Gays is Wrong.

Darkfever, by Karen Marie Moning. Urban Fantasy. D+
People in the romance and urban fantasy community go bananas for this novel about a Georgia gal who heads to Ireland to solve her sister's murder and discovers a secret fairy community, and I can't for the life of me figure out why. The plotting is lazy and inconclusive with an inconsistent future narrator who gives away the endings of scenes before they occur, the heroine is a TSTL bimbo who needs to be constantly rescued, and the "hero" is an abusive misogynist who holds the heroine captive. I have a fever, and the only prescription is .... fewer books like these.

The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell, by Chris Colfer. Middle Grade, Fantasy. D+
I'm a fan of Glee and Chris Colfer's acting, but unfortunately, if The Land of Stories is any indication - he shouldn't quit his day job. This Middle Grade novel revolves around a pair of twins who are transported into the land of fairy tales by a magical book left by their grandmother, and need to assemble the pieces of a powerful Wishing Spell in order to get back home. This solid concept is unfortunately crippled by passive, amateurish writing, overly-convenient storytelling, inconsistent world building, and an insipid, childish tone that patronizes readers.
Not to mention, it ends with the message that murdering and torturing people is okay so long as you do it because you're in love.

Wake, by Amanda Hocking. YA, Fantasy. D+
What's that? More misogyny in my YA novels? It must be my birthday! Amanda Hocking's newest novel concerns a trio of girls who are gorgeous, wear skimpy clothes, and travel in groups - therefore they must be evil creatures who use their slutty feminine wiles to lure unsuspecting boys. The whole novel is steeped in slut-shaming - if someone is beautiful, they must be shallow, or evil, or anorexic, or otherwise morally inferior because how else are we to feel better about ourselves? They are clearly predators out to take your men! Run away! Run away!
...and I haven't even mentioned the fact that they are Sirens who actually eat people!

Seize the Fire, by Laura Kinsale. Romance, Historical. D+
A Laura Kinsale novel on my Worst list! How has it come to this? Unfortunately, Kinsale's trademark gonzo plotting and historical detail are no match for a supremely incompetent twit of a heroine who's made Almost Getting The Hero Killed her life's work. Continually whining, eternally useless, and bereft of any talents or ambitions beyond Wringing Her Hands and Crying Helplessly, this pathetic princess spends 500 pages being dragged out of dangerous situations by her hair by the exasperated babysitter hero. I'd rather seize the asprin and give this book a pass.

Wickedly Charming, by Kristine Grayson. D
Wickedly Charming asks the question, "What if Snow White's stepmother wasn't evil - just monumentally ignorant, judgemental, shrill, and unpleasant? Not to mention stupid?" The result is a vapid trainwreck of a novel with a heroine who wants to ban books (!) paired with a hero who's more mouse than man - and not in the enchanted way.
Add to that a wholly hypocritical and misogynist theme - the Stepmother rails against fairy tale fiction for demonizing older women, and yet who's the novel's main villain? Oh, right - AN OLDER WOMAN, a dried-up Cinderella who tries to wish her own children out of existence because she's a frivolous attention whore. Yeah, because that doesn't propagate negative ideas about women, now does it?

Sins of a Wicked Duke, by Sophie Jordan. Romance, Historical. D-
In this delightful tale of woman-hating garbage, a rebellious duke and his cross-dressing footman heroine teach readers how an orgasm counts as consent, sexual assault is always the woman's fault because her hotness just drives rational men crazy, and a man can molest and exploit his female staff as much as he wants because his manboob snake-tattoo, his artistic hobbies, and his charity towards male street urchins obviously indicate that he's really a sensitive baby angel at heart - so you should really stop tempting him with your Womany Wiles and just let him screw you already.

And AnimeJune's Number One Worst Read is....

The Blessed, by Tonya Hurley. YA, Fantasy. F
In this ugly, incomprehensible and disgustingly sexist mess, three hateful, selfish girls spend the novel slutshaming each other, fighting over the same hot guy, impaling themselves on medieval torture implements, burning their eyes with hot wax, setting themselves on fire, and almost getting raped - for Jesus!
So - if you're into female characters being constantly punished and victimized in the service of a barely-explained pseudo-Catholic paranormal storyline in which all the powerful characters with knowledge and influence are men - get the hell off my blog. Seriously.

The Best of the Rest:
Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery (reread). YA, Historical. A+
Pros: Literally almost everything. Cons: Except that bitch Josie Pye.

The Broken Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin. High Fantasy. A
Pros: Kick-ass heroine, fab redemption storyline! Cons: Bit of a downer ending.

Five Quarters of the Orange, by Joanne Harris (reread). Fiction, Historical. A
Pros: Richly detailed setting, lovely food description. Cons: The younger heroine is a nasty little shit.

The Fault In Our Stars, by John Green. YA, Contemporary. A
Pros: Smart, inventive and challenging writing style. Vivid characters. Cons: A little too constructed.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart. YA, Contemporary. A
Pros: Bitchin' heroine, creative feminist commentary, no obvious love triangle, unconventional ending.Cons: Plot kind of jumps all over the place. Heroine, while bitchin', is also occasionally kind of a bitch, too.  

A Precious Jewel, by Mary Balogh. Romance, Historical. A
Pros: Unconventional characters, particularly the hero. Lovely writing. Cons: Hero is an ass and heroine is a martyr for much of the novel.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There, by Cathrynne M. Valente. Middle Grade, Fantasy. A
Pros: Endlessly creative setting, excellent characterization, gorgeous wordplay. Cons: Uneven pacing, occasionally cluttered language.

The Light Between Oceans, by M.L. Stedman. Fiction, Historical. A
Pros: Absorbing moral debate, well-developed characters, magical setting. Cons: Slow pacing.

Sacred Hearts, by Sarah Dunant. Fiction, Historical. A
Pros: Excellent period detail, thoughtful Catholic themes, engaging characters and conflicts.Cons: Pacing is a little slow.

Days of Blood and Starlight, by Laini Taylor. YA, Fantasy. A
Pros: Excellent worldbuilding, compellingly ambiguous themes, excellent writing. Cons: Kind of a bummer book.

The Birth House, by Ami McKay (reread). Fiction, Historical. A
Pros: Effective combination of thoughtful themes and developed characters. Cons: The ending is a little disorganized and convenient.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, by J.K. Rowling (reread). YA, fantasy. A
Pros: "Yer a wizard, Harry." Cons: Only six more books to go!

Private Arrangements, by Sherry Thomas (rereview). Romance, Historical. A
Pros: I like it this time! Cons: Secondary romance is still really confusing.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post, by Emily Danforth. YA, Contemporary, LGBT. A-
Pros: Fantastic, nuanced characterization. Detailed environment. Engaging coming-of-age storyline.Cons: Slow pacing for the first two-thirds. Occasional overabundance of detail. Some narrative loose ends.

Sex with the Queen, by Eleanor Herman. Nonfiction, Sexual History. A-
Pros: Excellently paced, lots of details and scandals. Cons: Author's attempts to inject romantic conjecture into the nonfictional narrative fall flat.

Zombies Vs. Unicorns, Anthology Review. YA, Fantasy. A-
Pros: The zombie stories. Cons: The unicorn stories. And Justine Larbalestier's commentary.

Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone, by Kat Rosenfield. YA, Contemporary. A-
Pros: Lush writing, good suspense, excellent setting. Cons: Inconsistent characterization.

Beguiling the Beauty, by Sherry Thomas. Romance, Historical. A-
Pros: Gorgeous writing, intriguing themes, exquisite period details. Cons: Asshat hero, heroine is a bit of a doormat in the latter half of the book.

The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman. Science Fiction. B+
Pros: Solid themes, bold plot twists. Cons: Episodic story structure, pat ending.

Unveiled, by Courtney Milan. Romance, Historical. B+
Pros: Original plot, fine characterization. Cons: Hero is an selfish ass for way longer than necessary.

On the Way to the Wedding, by Julia Quinn. Romance, Historical. B+
Pros: Not nearly as bad as the last Bridgerton novel! Cons: Hyacinth still makes an appearance.

Silent in the Grave, by Deanna Raybourn. Mystery, Historical. B+
Pros: Well-developed historical setting, engaging protagonist. Cons: Slow pacing.

Range of Ghosts, by Elizabeth Bear. Fantasy, High. B+
Pros: Unique worldbuilding. Great characters. Even greater lady characters. Cons: Some contrived plot points. Unclear goals. Romance seemed a little tacked on.

Jellicoe Road, by Melissa Marchetta. YA, Contemporary. B+
Pros: Fascinating mystery. Yummy hero. Fantastic supporting characters. Weepy ending. Cons: First fifty pages are remarkably frustrating. Most of the adults in the story are STONE COLD JERKS, y'all.

I Now Pronounce You Someone Else, by Erin McCahan. YA, Contemporary. B+
Pros: Increasingly layered storytelling. Bright, bubbly heroine. Great voice. Cons: Worst Mom Ever. A little cutesy.

Divergent, by Veronica Roth. YA, Science Fiction. B+
Pros: Interesting worldbuilding. Tough heroine. Human drama in a futuristic setting. Cons: Slow pacing. Sudden "Mwahahaha!" Evil Villain Master Plan.  

The River King, by Alice Hoffman. Fiction, Contemporary. B+
Pros: Alice Hoffman is da bomb, yo. Cons: Not her best - meandering storyline, little payoff.

Throne of Jade, by Naomi Novik. Fantasy, Historical. B+
Pros: Amazing worldbuilding, fantastic bromance between man and dragon. Cons: Slow slow slooooow pacing.

The Wild Marquis, by Miranda Neville. Romance, Historical. B+
Pros: Delicious hero, interesting book collecting subplot. Cons: Heroine is a bit of the silly type who sometimes ignores sage safety advice for the plot to go forward.

Tigers in Red Weather, by Liza Klaussmann. Fiction, Historical. B+
Pros: Excellent changing perspectives throughout the years, nice details, interesting story. Cons: A little bit of "Rich People's Unhappy Lives" Syndrome. 

Not That Kind of Girl, by Siobhan Vivian. YA, Contemporary. B
Pros: Multifaceted female characters, excellent message and theme. Cons: Heroine is a bit of a bitchface - that's the point. But still. Bitchface.

Where It Began, by Ann Redisch Stampler. YA, Contemporary. B
Pros: Interesting mystery, hilarious hilarious voice. Cons: Heroine is completely passive in her own story.

Chocolat, by Joanne Harris. Book-to-Film Review. Fiction, Contemporary. B
Pros: Mmmm, chocolate! Beautiful writing too. Cons: Very unclear themes at the end. Super-creepy villain. 

The Cellist of Sarajevo, by Steven Galloway. Fiction, Historical. B
Pros: Detailed setting, subtle characterization, strong female protagonist. Cons: So very definitely NOT a happy fun-times feel-good book.

When the Duke Returns, by Eloisa James. Romance, Historical. B
Pros: Bubbly writing, good description, swift pacing. Cons: Future Couples hog too much screentime, hero is a selfish ass.

Fitzpatrick's War, by Theodore Judson (reread). Science Fictional, Alternate History. B
Pros: Rich and fascinating setting and history. Amusing format. Cons: Too much time spent on the world details and too little on the story.

Untie My Heart, by Judith Ivory. Romance, Historical. B-
Pros: Sex in a chair! Cons: ... not entirely consensual sex in a chair.

Duke of Shadows, by Meredith Duran. Romance, Historical. B-
Pros: Original setting in the first half, beautiful language. Cons: Flabby Big Misunderstanding and cheap suspense subplot in the second half.

Tiger Eye, by Marjorie M. Lieu. Romance, Paranormal. B-
Pros: Gorgeous writing, original setting. Cons: Mary Sue Heroine, paltry romantic tension.

Catch and Release, by Blythe Woolston. YA, Contemporary. B-
Pros: Excellent writing, subtle characterization. Cons: Unsettling and unsympathetic male protagonist, directionless ending.

The Vicious Deep, by Zoraida Cordova. YA, Fantasy. B-
Pros: Great depiction of Coney Island setting, hilarious hero POV, great family dynamic, strong female love interest ... Cons: ...strong female love interest exhibits strength by doing stupid things. Magical mermaid setting is less well developed. Sloppy and unresolved ending.  

The Girl Most Likely To..., by Susan Donovan. Romance, Contemporary. B-
Pros: Layered characters, nice backstories, emotional beginning. Cons: Lots of male entitlement, too little romantic conflict, plus a total whackadoodle deux ex Real!Father ending.

I Kissed an Earl, by Julie Anne Long. Romance, Historical. B-
Pros: Self-aware heroine, intriguingly complex financial storyline, strong writing. Cons: Heroine is a loathsomely spoiled idiot for the majority of the book.

Cold Magic, by Kate Elliot. Fantasy, Historical. B-
Pros: Intricate alternate world, gripping actual plot. Cons: Infodumps out the whazoo, irritating characters.

Beauty, by Robin McKinley (reread). YA, Fantasy. B-
Pros: No singing candlesticks! Cons: Not enough Beast characterization.

Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins. YA, Science Fiction. C+
Pros: Engaging first half, solid themes. Cons: Cheap cop-out second half too derivative of previous book.

Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins. YA, Science Fiction. C+
Pros: The last 100 pages. Cons: Literally everything before that.

Never Love a Lawman, by Jo Goodman. Romance, Historical. C+
Pros: Detailed setting, excellent Western-style action scenes. Cons: Evasive characters, slack pacing.

Origin, by Jessica Khoury. YA, Science Fiction. C+
Pros: Interesting themes, colourful setting. Cons: Unbelievable insta-love romance, ridiculous ending.

What's Left of Me, by Kat Zhang. YA, Science Fiction. C+
Pros: Interesting concept. Cons: Piss-poor worldbuilding and repetitive pacing.

Crazy for You, by Jennifer Crusie. Romance, Contemporary. C
Pros: Some humour and complexity. Cons: Having your villain descend into mental illness only to call your novel Crazy For You is not the most sensitive of choices.

Storm Glass, by Maria V. Snyder. YA, Fantasy. C
Pros: Layered heroine, solid worldbuilding. Cons: Useless love interests. Too many stories at once. Really boring after about halfway through. 

Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher. YA, Contemporary. C
Pros: Fascinating look at how a myriad of small actions beget large consequences. Cons: Ugly central concept and the suspense aspect is wasted with a cheap cop-out on the part of the male protagonist.

Crazy for Love, by Victoria Dahl. Romance, Contemporary. C
Pros: Solid writing, lots of drama. Cons: Hero's serious anxiety disorder is shrugged off, unrealistically. Muddled romantic obstacles. 

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. Fantasy, Contemporary. C
Pros: Original storyline, detailed setting. Cons: Dull characters, scattered and unfocused narrative.

Not Proper Enough, by Carolyn Jewel. Romance, Historical. C
Pros: Lovely writing, excellent depiction of setting. Cons: Booooooring as hell. No actual plot.

The World According to Garp, by John Irving. Fiction, Contemporary. C
Pros: Fascinating exploration of themes of gender, sexuality and art. Cons: Very long and boring, "tell over show" writing style.

The Virgin Cure, by Ami McKay. Fiction, Historical. C
Pros: Good period detail, lovely writing. Cons: No real plot, cop-out ending.

Demon Moon, by Meljean Brook. Romance, Paranormal. DNF
Pros: Intricate world building. Cons: Overly-intricate worldbuilding, boring romance, confusing plots.

Tempted by His Kiss, by Tracy Anne Warren. Romance, Historical. DNF
Pros: Um, competent English? Cons: Completely unoriginal characters and plot. Heroine with no sense of boundaries. Weird almost date-rape scene. Cutesy prepackaged sequel bait family members.

Scoundrel's Kiss, by Carrie Lofty. Romance, Historical. DNF
Pros: Good description and use of setting.  Cons: Boring! Inconsistent themes. Annoying heroine. Super boring. Lifeless action scenes. Did I mention boring?

The Heir, by Grace Burrowes. Romance, Historical. DNF
Pros: Hero and heroine are respectful, sensible people who like to talk out their problems. Cons: Over a hundred pages of talking about their problems without actually encountering any problems! ZzzzZZzz.... 

Throne of Glass, by Sarah J. Maas. YA, Fantasy. DNF
Pros: Um, it's got a nice cover? Cons: Cliched writing, cliched love triangle, cutesy inconsistent mass-murdering puppy-saving heroine, no subtlety or complexity at all (which makes me cringe whenever it or another review brings up the WHOLLY UNFOUNDED Game of Thrones comparison).

Ravishing in Red, by Madeline Hunter. Romance, Historical. DNF
Pros: It looks like the story gets better after 100 pages. Cons: Those first 100 ages really aren't worth it.

Lord of Ice, by Gaelen Foley. Romance, Historical. DNF
Pros: Saucy heroine (only at the beginning). Cons: Uninteresting and unoriginal plot, violent hero, "Innocent" Heroine used as Tylenol for Man Pain.

Other Reviews:

The Hunger Games. Film Adaptation, Science Fiction. A

Brave, Animated Film. Fantasy, Historical. B