Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Weekly Wanting (5)

Hey y'all! It's Sunday, and you know what that means! Time to see what lovely pretties my blogger friends brought to my attention this week!

Genre: YA, Mystery
Cover Snark: Someone left her cake out in the rain...
The Story: A social outcast at a wealthy prep school is determined to find the person who killed her popular, party-girl friend.
Why I Want It? Props to the ladies at Dear Author for bringing this to my attention. Basically, it sounds a lot like my Current Favourite Book of All Time, Lauren Myracle's Shine, only in more fancy and less crystal-meth-y surroundings. 

Genre: YA, Romance
Cover Snark: Get a room!
The Story: A retelling of the Romeo and Juliet story - only from the POV of Rosaline (that random chick Romeo dumped before shacking up with Jules) in the modern day.
Why I Want It? Honestly, I wasn't too interested in this story at first, because, let's face it, I'm not a fan of Romeo and Juliet. Those were two crazy-ass kids who really needed to SIMMER DOWN and, like, chill with a nice glass of Peregrino before choosing to take the Poison Train to Tragically Crazy In Love Town. Also, from the original description of the book, it sounded like one of those sappy "You Belong With Meeeeee" type of stories where the pure, wronged Rosaline longs after poor Romeo caught in Juliet's slutty cheerleader clutches.

But I would be wrong. Several blog reviews later, the one from Forever Young Adult sealed the deal and cleaned up that misconception. It's not actually about how Rose (who is actually popular and well-liked!) tries to win back her best friend Rob while the narrative slut shames crazy-ass Juliet. It's really more about how Rose gets over depending on guys and becomes her own awesome person.

Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian, Romance
Cover Snark: Holy crap, lady, EAT A SANDWICH!
The Story: In a world torn between those who reject technology and those who esteem it, a noble girl and the lower-class man she initially rejected reunite when a secret emerges that could rock their whole society.
Why I Want It? I had literally never heard of this book or what the plot of it was before coming across Pure Imagination's review. Did I mention it's a science fiction retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!

Genre: YA, Fantasy
Cover Snark: "I killed a man with a trident!"
Story: An arrogantly hot lifeguard discovers he's secretly a mermaid prince. *cough* Sorry - merman prince!
Why I Want It? Chalk this one up to another awesome Booksmugglers Review. It sounds awesome - a blond, hot surfer dude who's way more in love with himself than he should be finds out he's the heir to an underwater throne, and he has actual responsibilities! The only worry I have is that this is published by Sourcebooks, and the last mermaid book from them I read - hell, EVERY book from them that I've read with the exception of Laura Kinsale's latest has been redonkulously stupid. Maybe they're better now?

What books are you looking forward to?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

"Accessible Love Stories," Anthology Review

There's a popular cliche out there that says, "Put your best foot forward."

Okay, so maybe that's not the best metaphor to use about an anthology of love stories with wheelchair-bound protagonists.

What I mean is, is that first story in an anthology is a crucial one. It's supposed to set the tone of the collection, it's the face of the anthology, and it's what's meant to draw the reader in to read the other five stories of people who "have already been swept off their feet by disability" and encourage us to "join them as they release the brakes on love" (from the back cover blurb).

Honestly, many of these aren't romance stories so much as stories where love eventually occurs in the narrative (and in one story, it doesn't even do that) - because of that, I've chosen to eschew my typical romance-reviewing format.

But what we need to ask is, does this first story present the anthology's best, brightest face?

"Bad Hotel Art," by Christy Leigh Stewart
In a word (screamed at the top of my lungs from the highest building in my hometown until my voice is hoarse): NO.

This story nearly sent me off the deep end by opening the collection with a tale that is, hands down, literally one of the worst things I have ever read in the more than two decades I've been capable of reading. There aren't enough Fs in the world to convey how terrible this story is. It's not even that it's terrible from a story perspective (although it is), or that its characters are heinous caricatures (which they are).

No - this story fails because it represents a complete lack of competency with the English language and how to use it properly. I am appalled at the horrendous number of glaring errors and syntactically-garbled gibberish that made it past the editor.

Our heroine, Ophelia, is an eternally-patient personal assistant to a foul-mouthed, relentlessly offensive Random Rich Dude named Abbott Hall, who's trying to op en an art gallery. To give you an indication of the quality of writing to come, the story begins while Ophelia is trying to hold a phone conversation with Abbott over the sound of a woman making a violent, apparently acidic bowel movement in an adjacent bathroom stall.

Ophelia feels eternally victimized by the world for being in a wheelchair, most especially by her cartoonishly awful mother who allows people to confuse spinal injury with autism. The only place she feels strong is at work, and that's because she and Abbott conduct all their business by phone, leaving him unaware of her disability. All that ends when Abbott flies down to see her in person because he's in a doozy of a situation - his Dead-By-Plot-Device-Grandfather altered his will to leave everything in his company to Abbott's drug-addicted uncle if Abbott doesn't marry within a year of Granddad's death. And who better to have a married-in-name-only arrangement with than his slavishly loyal personal assistant whom he's never seen?

Ophelia is a thinly-veiled slab of cardboard - completely empty of nuance or real personality until the plot demands a response of righteous indignation. Abbott acts like a 14-year-old boy - his snap judgements, immature behaviour and constant flow of swear words and offensive terms make him seem like a child trying to act like a grown-up rather than an actual adult.

He's also an unadulterated, 100-proof asshole with asshole friends:
"...Can she have sex?" Reznik asked.

[Abbott] "I'm marrying her, not fucking her."

"It doesn't really matter, I guess," Reznik ignored him. [AnimeJune's note: by the way, "ignored" is not a valid speech tag] "It's not like she's the dude; even if she doesn't feel anything you can still have sex. What kind of sex life would that be though? She could suck you off and shit but I doubt she will. If you can't even get her off I doubt she'd go for it."

"Shut the fuck up."

"Act offended, dude, but you can't say you aren't thinking it."

Abbott wished he could truthfully deny it. - page 15
As well, the writing is just abysmally bad - misspelled words, misused words, and typos abound. Points of view jump around from scene to scene.  And let's not forget labyrinthine phrases like:
The idea that there could be [mothers] unlike his own [mother] always perplexed him a little; the idea that he was the same species as someone who's [sic] life had been first held in different arms and first hopes and dreams, and pride had been crushed by someone else's painful words and eyes. - page 18
What the fuck does that even mean? How about:
"Oh, my God!"  Abbott wasn't sure how many of the other two women that came from. - Page 19
Also, is that a misplaced comma in that exclamation or are there some minor deities in the house? Or:
Anger can only stayed dormant for so long. - page 27
All your angst are belong to us? And finally:
She shivered. The subject of death or had he chilled her with the cold of his body. - Page 30
Having this anthology open with such wretched garbage seems a terrible choice - I almost put this book down, and would have if not for a) the fact that this was a review request and b) my masochistic curiosity.
My Grade: F Minus Times a MILLION

"Meet Cute," by D.C. Graham
This story starts off much better, but honestly, the nutritional information on a can of Whiskas cat food would read like Shakespeare after the steaming bucket of fail that is "Bad Hotel Art."

To D.C. Graham's credit, this story is written in perfectly serviceable English, and is about an adorable, virginal paraplegic named Daniel who falls in love with Patrick, the new partner in his doctor's practice. While Daniel is nervous about entering into a relationship because of his disability and his sexual inexperience, such hurdles are quickly overcome by Patrick, who is a loving and compassionate gentleman.

Nothing in this story is offensive or terrible - but nothing is really interesting, either. Much of Patrick and Daniel's budding romance is told instead of shown, and Patrick is honestly Too Good To Be True for there to be much conflict. The two points of this story that stick out are a) the fact that this is the only story in the anthology that actually depicts a sex scene and b) a throw-away comment about Daniel's sexual experiences with a bowl of mashed potatoes. 

Yes, this story is rather bland and sweet - but that's usually just the sort of food one recommends to settle one's stomach after eating food-poisoning-inducing sewage, isn't it?
My Grade: C+

"To Stop Now," by Jess Gulbranson
This story is an inexplicably pointless, unromantic and unpleasant short story about a guitar player who was recently paralyzed and likes to play angsty music and passive-aggressively slutshame his girlfriend to get over it. Given that this is supposed to be an anthology about wheelchair-users who find love, but this jerkwad doesn't find love and barely mentions his wheelchair, I'm baffled as to this tale's inclusion.
My Grade: D

"Fire on Babylon," by Amanda Dier
This was a nice and well-written (if slow-moving) tale about a waitress named Susan who finds herself falling in love with her brother's embittered, recently-wheelchair-bound best friend Lisa. Lisa is unsure of both her own attractiveness as a disabled person and Susan's apparent switch in sexuality, but decides to give it a shot. The story takes on an episodic structure as they weather the numerous tragedies and events that befall them, with a sweet little ending. While the brevity of the medium requires some telling over showing, Dier managed to get me invested in both characters.
My Grade: B

"Why Not?" by Esther Day
While "Fire On Babylon" was okay, "Why Not" edges past it as best story of the bunch. This sweet tale of friendship that turns into more starts when Seth, a hard-working and self-sufficient man paralyzed from birth, is forced to ask his good-natured neighbour Reed for help when he unexpectedly becomes the guardian of his 3-year-old nephew Luke - not knowing that Reed has been insanely in love with him for months.

I liked seeing how Seth, a disabled person who was perfectly capable of taking care of himself, has trouble asking for and accepting help - even when the most-abled person would find themselves out of their depth with a new baby. Reed practically falls over himself to help out Seth and Luke,  even as he worries what will happen when Seth gains his footing (so to speak) and no longer needs his assistance.

Was this story perfect? Nope - the Surprise! Orphaned Nephew is a complete contrivance - a plot moppet (copyright Smart Bitches) who's the product of a sister Seth never even knew existed, and her mysterious not-existing-until-the-plot-demanded-her-baby is never explained. She must have sprung fully-formed, pregnant and already tragically dead from the head of Zeus. As well, Seth's attraction to Reed is told instead of shown and only at the very end, and there is no indication of his sexual orientation one way or the other until then. I get the impression the author was trying to leave Seth's true feelings for Reed as a question mark until the end, but dude. This is a romance story. We all know how it's supposed to work out. For the majority of the story, his appreciation is entirely platonic, so his sudden "well, I'd always kind of felt that way for Reed" admission at the end seemed tacked on. Otherwise, it's a strong story.
My Grade: B

"On Saturday Afternoon," by Ruth Madison
Ending this anthology on a surprisingly good note is this intriguing story about Em, a pathologically shy hospital intern who falls for a disabled speech therapist named James. James is easily the loveliest hero in the entire anthology - and, interestingly, the one with the most severe disability (he has no leg mobility and very limited upper mobility). James can see through Em to her truly kind spirit and YOWZA - despite the fact that Madison doesn't actually depict any sex, the tension and the implications of what they do alone are realistic enough and yet also sexy enough to convey how well they work together despite James' limitations.

However, Em kind of ruins the story by being such a doormat she can't even refuse her smarmy prick of a boyfriend's smarmy proposal even after she and James have had sex (she actually begs him for a week to think about it!) and she ends up screwing both guys over. As well, the ending was kind of lacklustre.
My Grade: B-

You can imagine my surprise, dear readers. The majority of the stories in this anthology were decent - none of them were awe-inspiring but they were still interesting stories. But still - "Bad Hotel Art." Who let that one in - and who decided it should be first?

Honestly, that's part of why I'm ultimately giving this anthology a lower grade, because I have to review the whole as well as the sum of its parts. The anthology's theme is shaky (why was "To Stop Now" in there?) that first story was mind-bogglingly terrible, and the editing was just substandard. Even in the decent stories, I noted errors and typos that should have been caught before the book went to print.

Yes, there are a couple of good stories, and if you're interested enough in them for themselves, by all means get the collection. Ultimately though, as a story collection, Accessible Love Stories isn't worth your time.

"Divergent," by Veronica Roth.

The Protagonist: Beatrice "Tris" Prior. Raised in Abnegation, a faction that reveres selflessness and helping others over all else, once she turns sixteen, she will be asked to choose which faction she'll belong to for the rest of her life.
Her Angst: Should she choose the faction that raised her, despite the fact that she's not as selfless as she wants to be, or a faction that calls to the true passion she's been forced to repress? And what's wrong with wanting both?

The Secondary Characters:

"Four": The trainer for the Dauntless initiates. Has a Sexy Mysterious Past, and insists on training initiates despite being offered a higher-status position.

Christina: A Candor-raised girl who chose Dauntless, and now trains with Tris and the others. Pretty nice person - loves Will.

Will: Another transfer from Candor, he's friends with Christina and Tris, but he and Christina might share something more than that.

Peter: The boy who is to Divergent what Cato was to The Hunger Games - a ruthlessly evil, murderous scumbag asshole who bullies the other Dauntless initiates. He unfortunately does not end the book eaten by bioengineered manwolves.

Eric: "Four"'s superior, and a completely creepy dude. Very obviously The Villain.

Al: A large but sweet-natured Dauntless initiate who, despite his size and strength, has trouble adapting to the Dauntless way of life.

Caleb: Tris' brother, who also abandoned his family and faction at the Choosing Ceremony to become part of the Erudite faction.

Tris's Mum: A total fucking bad ass. You'll find out.

Angst Checklist:
  • Making Hard Decisions
  • My Family Doesn't Understand Me.
  • I Have to Hide Who I Am
  • Mysterious Sexy Pasts
  • Who am I as a Person?
  • Redheads are the Devil
  • Thrillseeking
  • Selflessness
  • I Get The Sense That Constantly Being Injected With Needles Is Going To Mysteriously Backfire Later On
The Word: I gotta hand it to the publishers - they certainly know how to market this series. When I first saw this book, I was turned off by the cover, thinking it was just another Hunger Games clone. However, thanks to the hoopla for the upcoming sequel (Insurgent - what's the third title going to be called? Detergent?) where bloggers choose a faction - I got wrapped up in the excitement and decided to see what all the fuss was about.

In post-apocalyptic Chicago, society is divided and ruled by five factions: Amity (the peaceful), Candor (the honest), Erudite (the intelligent), Dauntless (the brave), and lastly, Abnegation (the selfless). Every citizen has their personality assessed when they are sixteen and chooses a faction. You can only choose once. Your faction supports you. Your faction is more important than your family. Those who don't choose or who fail their faction initiation become factionless - impoverished outcasts dependent on charity.

Beatrice "Tris" Prior, our protagonist, has been raised in the self-denying life of Abnegation. However, she's never felt like she fits in. She wants to be as good and selfless as her family, but she can't help but wish for something more for herself. When her personality is tested by the Poorly-Explained Plot-Propelling Scientific Doohicky (more on that later), her performance produces a rare inconclusive (or divergent) response. The well-meaning test administrator encourages Tris to lie about her results and choose a safe faction, for people identified as Divergent tend to come to Mysteriously Bad Ends.

The Choosing Ceremony arrives, and Tris scandalizes Abnegation when she chooses Dauntless as her faction - a decision that essentially cuts her off from her family and the only belief system she's ever known. As she's thrown into the brutal, unforgiving Dauntless initiation process, she discovers that she might be a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll - and that defining yourself by only one positive trait can come with some pretty disastrous downsides.

Given the release date, the dystopian setting, and mock-Mockingjay-ish cover, I feel the comparisons to The Hunger Games are inevitable. However, I felt that Divergent avoided many of the pitfalls The Hunger Games fell into.

While Divergent does share some things in common with The Hunger Games (such as a tough, independent heroine who has to scrap her way to the top of the heap in a dystopian setting despite having all the odds stacked against her), I felt it shared more DNA with Lois Lowry's The Giver, a novel that also included a society in which people's roles were more or less permanently decided for them.

I actually enjoyed the worldbuilding in Divergent far more than The Hunger Games for this reason. Like The Giver, while the world Tris lives in has lost its original purpose and has fractured as a result, you can still see and believe the original benevolent intentions behind the political and social structure. The idea of grouping people together based on common beliefs and personalities and giving them sole responsibility over specific tasks makes sense (at least in theory). 

With The Hunger Games, the entire societal structure was built on pretty blatant, black-and-white tyranny. There really is no "good" reason for the Hunger Games. Because of this I had a harder time believing the majority of Panem allowed their children to be butchered for seventy-five years, whereas I understood why people in post-apocalyptic Chicago still trusted the faction system, even though it bred ignorance and resentment that the Villains in this novel are quick to exploit.

As well, despite the futuristic setting, Divergent's storytelling relies far less on Poorly-Explained Plot-Propelling Scientific Doohickies than The Hunger Games does. There are a few (like controlled, hallucinogen-induced simulations injected into people), but ultimately it's pretty technologically low-key, which allows the characters' decisions and the consequences of these decisions to have more meaning and weight. Nothing is healed by a never-before-mentioned super-healing serum. No monstrous creatures are bio-engineered at the drop of a hat for a single purpose. No magical rubber balls drop out of the sky and eat people. That sort of thing.

Finally, I felt the characterization of Tris and her character arc to be more realistic and compelling than Katniss Everdeen's. *dodges stones* I'm serious. Katniss starts out as a badass and continues to be a badass by the end of the first book - I never felt she really developed or changed as a person in any significant way beyond her affections for a particularly studly baker. She was always self-sufficient - The Hunger Games simply allowed her to demonstrate that on a larger scale.

I really enjoyed how Tris came to explore and discover new elements to her personality as she changed factions. The factions focus so hard on supporting certain traits (honesty, intelligence, etc.) that they repress others, so changing the focus of her ideology allows Tris to realize the bravery, compassion and intelligence she's carried in herself all along - as well as the pride, selfishness, and cruelty - while still acknowledging the selfless part of her that was nurtured in Abnegation. I enjoyed the novel's theme that people can't always be checked into neat little boxes. I also enjoyed that Tris is allowed to experience moments of actual joy without being a constant Angsty McSadPants.

That's not to say this book didn't have flaws. I felt Tris was a little slow on the uptake on a couple of points that I thought were obvious, the pacing sags pretty disastrously in the novel's middle parts, the world-building could have used a little more detail, and the ultimate Evil Plan does depend on a Poorly-Explained Plot-Propelling Scientific Doohicky, resulting in an incredibly violent, rushed, and abrupt ending that kept me at a distance.

That being said, Divergent is a uniquely entertaining vision of a not-too-distant future that doesn't allow the science-fictional elements to overpower the very human development of its realistically-drawn characters.

Buy Divergent here!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

So Your Favourite Blogger's A Plagiarist

As you may or may not have heard, the book blogosphere exploded of late when it was discovered that a massively popular YA book blogger had plagiarized six posts from a group of style bloggers. I'm not going to recap the situation, since those involved in the situation, Dear Author, and the Smart Bitches have already done pretty excellent jobs at that already.

No, this post comes from reading the comments and arguments that erupted in the comments section of this plagiarist's apology post. I found there were an overwhelming amount of uninformed or else willfully blind opinions on the exact nature of plagiarism and how bad it is, and I realized a little educational session was in order, and that perhaps the super-fans of this blogger need to be invited to my Internet Counsellor's Office for helpful words and pamphlets.

Listen up, my fragile, hurt ducklings:

1. Plagiarism is wrong. I know it sounds like this should be obvious to everybody but clearly a few people need a little more education. It's okay to like or have liked this blogger (you can actually count me in that group), but that doesn't mean you should sugar-coat or ignore the implications of what happened. She willingly plagiarized another person's work and if she had been doing so in any professional field she would have been fired.

I've seen commenters frantically hand-waving it by saying, "Oh, well, she just copied Blog Tips and Tricks - none of those are original to begin with." Um, she didn't just copy tips and tricks - she also copied the format, the page design and also the sentence structure and syntax - things which naturally tend to vary from person to person and are what differentiates one writer's style from another's.

2. Plagiarism is a BIG wrong. Intellectual property is ephemeral and incorporeal, but that doesn't mean it isn't important to those who toiled to create it. It's easy to hand-wave it when it comes to bloggers, who do their writing for free, because it doesn't feel as though you're taking someone's livelihood away - but you would be wrong. From my own personal experiences as a writer, and I'm sure thousands of others' experiences, my writing and my ideas MATTER to me and whether or not I'm getting paid for them is irrelevant.

3. Plagiarism is not less wrong if "everybody does it." Do I really need to bring the "if everyone jumped off a cliff" argument out of my grandmother's handbag? Really?

4. Plagiarism is not less wrong if "it happens to lots of people." I particularly enjoyed the "Well, that's Chinatown" argument, as if Bloggerville was some lawless pioneer town on the unexplored frontier of the internet. You know what happens to a lot of people? Poverty, murder, torture, famine - those happen to millions of people. Does that make these things less wrong? Does the fact that they happen to a lot of people lessen how awful they are?

5. Plagiarism is not less wrong if the blogger apologizes. Don't get me wrong, apologies are great and absolutely necessary when someone has committed an error. And to forgive is divine and all that - but that doesn't mean a person is freed from the consequences of their actions. This wasn't a "victimless crime" (which is one of my LEAST favourite terms, right next to "diet cheese"). Other people were injured in this case. They had their rights infringed upon. They had their content displayed by someone else under that someone else's name. While the blogger may have apologized, that doesn't make the consequences of her actions go away.

While reading the comments section following the blogger's apology, I noticed the argument "not everyone would own up to plagiarism" was tossed around in her defense. Congratulations, you owned up to a mistake you made four months after it happened and only once your actions were publicly outed, instead of continuing to deny the allegations. You're a special snowflake.

6. Plagiarism isn't something that "could happen to anyone." It's not like farting in an elevator, where if you don't clench hard enough or you sneeze, you end up accidentally blowing stolen content onto your blog posts. Plagiarism requires intent and agency. Nothing happens to a plagiarist. In the act of plagiarism, they are not the ones acted upon. They are making an active decision. So really, plagiarism isn't something that strikes you when you aren't paying attention - it's an active decision that requires intent and action.

And let us all remember that not all mistakes are the same. "Mistake" is a pretty convenient umbrella term that some of the commenters are using that allows them to play up idea-theft as if it's no big deal. But consider the word "mistake." Leaving your umbrella at home during a rainstorm is a mistake. Having a few beers too many and deciding to drive is also a mistake. The difference between these two mistakes are the consequences. With one, you get wet. With another, you hurt (or risk hurting) other people.

Not all mistakes are created equal. You forgetting your umbrella does not put you on equal moral terms with someone who steals other blogs' content - and vice versa!

7. Plagiarism is not less wrong than BRINGING UP PLAGIARISM. Clearly, this blogger tried to go the "silent but deadly" route but misjudged the amount of clenching required to pass a bubble of rights-infringing flatulence. But the ones who smelt it are not the ones who dealt it. But tell that to this commenter on the blogger's "Apology" post:
This, dear readers, is what is known as victim blaming. The people who had their CREATIVE CONTENT STOLEN are depicted as being hostile and unreasonable when the plagiarist "gave them what they wanted so they demanded more" - more being the demand to have their rightful creative content, which had been taken without their permission, off the website. What divas!

Worse, this commenter flogs the plagiarist's victims for being so unclassy as to "create drama." It's bad enough you were so ungrateful as to be angry when a popular blogger stole from you - but you had to make a stink about it, too? Why can't victims just shut up and be quiet? Why do they have to speak up and make us think about bad things when we'd rather be thinking about Hugh Jackman on a unicorn?

I could go on about how the completely heinous victim-blaming is not only RUDE but 100% inaccurate, but the stylish chick at Grit and Glamour gives her own (and far better) explanation.

It's not like I don't get it. I used to be a huge fan of this blog. I don't want to think about her having done something so awful and monumentally wrong. But attacking the people SHE HURT for making YOU realize that someone you admire did something wrong does not make that fact go away. Sending hate e-mails (I wish I was kidding) to people who had the gall to protect their rightful intellectual property doesn't do you or your favourite blogger any favours.

You're all going to have to deal with this in different ways. I can't tell you to not go to her blog or to stop reading her posts, obviously. But the comments section made it pretty clear that people need to be educated on why plagiarism matters, and why it doesn't suddenly not matter when it's perpetrated by someone you admire and care about.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

"I Now Pronounce You Someone Else," by Erin McCahan

The Protagonist: Bronwen Alexis Oliver. An energetic and expressive brown-haired high school senior who can't understand how she came from such a wacky blond family.
Her Angst: When her boyfriend proposes, she has the chance to belong to a "real" family that believes in her - but how will this affect her future, her college education and her prospective career?

Secondary Cast:

Jared Sondervan: Bronwen's boyfriend and then fiance. Super-sweet guy. Likes to come up with jokes. Has a great family AND a bitchin' beach cottage. Kind of hasty with his life-changing decisions.

Whitt: Bronwen's stepfather. Loving and supportive, but he's let down Bronwen once before - can she trust him again?

Mrs. Andrews VanHorn: Bronwen's mother, who is so AWFUL HORRIBLE TERRIBLE BAD that I don't want to waste any time re-reading her scenes to find out what her actual first name is.

Kirsten: Bronwen's bestest friend - until Bronwen's wedding foibles come between them.

Laurie: Jared's sister, who is also getting married - very welcoming, but also willing to dole out some hard truths about what marriage really entails.

Angst Checklist:
  • Dead Daddy Issues
  • Unfortunately-Still-Alive Mommy Issues
  • Stepdaddy Issues
  • Ketchup Issues
  • Crazy Family Issues
  • Fantasies of Being Switched at Birth
  • Teen Marriage
  • People who insist on passing ketchup to people who really, really don't like ketchup
The Word: 18-year-old Bronwen likes to pretend she was switched at birth - a very Anne-Shirley-esque trait. She is artistic and expressive and brunette - while the members of her family (particularly her mother) are blond, superficial and strictly polite. She and her mother have never seen eye to eye, and while she likes her stepfather, Whitt, she has issues with him that keep her at a distance. For years, she preferred to imagine that her "Real" non-crazy brunette family (whom she dubbed the Lilywhites) would eventually come and take her away and leave a perfect, blond homecoming queen in her place for her mother to fawn over.

Then she meets Jared Sondervan, an old classmate of her brother's. He's sweet and romantic and considerate - but not only that, he comes from a big, noisy, loving family who quickly accept her as one of their own. At last, Bronwen finds people who understand her, who aren't afraid to express their emotions and ideas and listen to hers in turn. So, after months of blissful romance, when Jared asks Bronwen to marry him, she says yes.

I Now Pronounce You Someone Else starts out light and bouncy. The story is told entirely from Bronwen's POV and she has a hilarious, relatable voice. She's more than just a teenage snark machine, however, and her characterization deepens the more we move forward and learn about her personal disappointments.

More than anything, Bronwen longs for an identity - and for most of the novel she believes that who she is depends on other people. She doesn't just want to be, she wants to belong. It's the reasoning behind her daydream of being rescued by her "real" family from her vain, appallingly selfish mother. It's the motivation for her hasty engagement to Jared - where, she believes, she'll finally belong as a wife and a daughter- and sister-in-law to the supportive Sondervans.

However, as the date draws nearer and nearer and the stress piles up, Bronwen will have to decide - is she willing to sacrifice all that she could become on her own in order to belong to a family right away, or should she work more towards discovering who she is as a Me before jumping into being an Us, but risk doing so alone?

Bronwen's story is supported by a strong cast of secondary characters - particularly Jared, who is an absolute sweetheart. You couldn't ask for a nicer guy - but the author also does an excellent job demonstrating how he's not a good enough reason for marriage after one's barely graduated from high school. Bronwen's mother, despite how SERIOUSLY AWFUL a person she is (wait until the end!), is also well-depicted. She's not Disney-Villainess evil - she's just monumentally self-centred and oblivious. She's all the more horrible because you know that there are people out there, mothers out there, who are probably exactly like this.

Another thing that impressed me with the storytelling is that while the novel ends with the heroine's main issue resolved, it doesn't magically clean up everything in Bronwen's life. For instance, scales don't magically fall from her mother's eyes, bringing on an "I always loved you" moment of familial bliss. And Bronwen doesn't completely heal all of her fractured friendships. I appreciated that - too many stories (not just YA!) have endings that work like a positive domino effect - once the main issue is resolved, all the other little problems and issues are magically resolved as well.

As to the writing style, it's funny - although, at times, the style is so quirky (sometimes just for the hell of it) that I discovered my eyes skimmed over certain passages just on instinct, searching through the jokesy wordplay for an actual point. There were also a few moments where I was confused about the temporal placement of the narrator - sometimes it seemed like Bronwen was narrating from the here and now, and at other times she made allusions that suggested she was speaking from some future date - and if so, why was she narrating? And why from that specific point?

As it is, I Now Pronounce You Someone Else is a solidly enjoyable, well-paced and -characterized YA novel with a witty and engaging narrator.

You can purchase I Now Pronounce You Someone Else here!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Weekly Wanting (4)

Hope you all are enjoying your weekend! I had a pretty nice week. I actually bought books this week, which I haven't done in a while due to a) Poverty, b) Rediscovering the Library and c) my Huge TBR. Okay, I'm not poor - I'm just on a reduced budget until I go to Book Expo America. But rediscovering the library has been fun. I live within walking distance of the main one in my hometown, and now that I've gotten more and more into YA, I've found that the library actually carries those books in its online catalog.

Honestly, that's why I used to spend so much money and buy so many books when I was exclusively into romance - because our library, while it carries romance, doesn't put paperback books into the online catalog so people can order and put holds on them. Their excuse is that the average paperback only withstands about 70 rotations (people borrowing it) before falling apart. Which means if I'm looking to borrow romance, I can only pick from the titles currently in my particular branch. Now that I'm reading in a genre that publishes in hardcover, I'm finding it easier and easier to just take books out from the library for free. It's a bit of a novelty after so many years of buying.

Anyhoo - my mum and I both bought a copy of Divergent by Veronica Roth so that we can read it together, and after selling a buttload of books at the second-hand bookstore for a whopping $15, I also bought a copy of The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller after a FAB review from The Booksmugglers. So I'll be reading both of those soon ... if I can only stop impulse-borrowing from the library!

Anyways, the books I'm crazy excited about this week are as follows:

Genre: Children's Fantasy
Story: The continuing saga of September, the girl from Nebraska who travelled to fairyland and discovered all was not how it seemed.
Why I Want It? Because the previous book, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In a Ship Of Her Own Making was crazy awesome! As well, Valente's books are just awesome in general. See: The Orphan's Tales. Unfortunately, it's not out on shelves until October 2nd, 2012.

Genre: Literary fiction
Story: A woman in a small Southern town in WWI-era America comes across a mysterious stranger, but their growing love ends up earning them the ire of the townsfolk.
Why I Want It: I read a review of it in Entertainment Weekly and it sounded just my type - a gorgeous period piece, in a small-town setting, with tragedy and secrets and beautiful writing. Bring it! 

Genre: Fantasy YA.
The Story: The only dude in a family of man-eating mermaids sets out to seduce a human girl so that his family can revenge itself upon her dad. Naturally, a budding romance gets in the way.
Why I Want It? You had me at "man-eating mermaids." Also, the possibility of a genre-swapped Little Mermaid story has me very excited! Too bad it's not out until June 12th! I found out about this book from A Life Bound By Books.

And that's it for me! What books are you guys excited about?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

"Undressed," by Kristina Cook

The Chick: Lady Margaret Ballard, a.k.a. "Brenna Maclachlan." A Scottish landowner whose parents recently died, leaving her in command of their significant and prosperous estate.
The Rub: It turns out they weren't her parents - but the people who stole her from her real family, a snobby British clan who want her to come back to London with them. But how well can this Scottish lass fit into upperclass British society?
Dream Casting: Bryce Dallas Howard.

The Dude: The Honourable Mr. Colin Rosemoor. A genteel aristocrat whose reputation and standing in society are ruined when a scoundrel falsely accuses him of cheating at cards.
The Rub: He meets and is instantly smitten with Brenna - but should he risk tarnishing her innocent reputation by association?
Dream Casting: Ryan Kwanten.

The Plot:

Brenna: Och! What are ye doin' on mah lahnd?

Lady and Lord Danville: Surprise! We're your real parents!

Brenna: WTF.

Lady and Lord Danville: Come back to England with us! We missed you so much after those people kidnapped you!


In Britain...

Lady and Lord Danville: Omg ugh we're gonna be stuck with this old maid Scottish daughter forEVER, can't anyone just, like, take her? We've got a huge dowry and everything!


Colin: 'Sup - I've been kicked from society for cheating at cards so I conveniently sympathize with all your problems, also I'm hot.

Brenna: Sweet!

Evil Brother: Jolly good thing we did framing Colin for cheating, care to marry my sister?

Evil Villain: Only if I get to rape her first!

Evil Brother: Tally ho, my good man! Wot wot!

Brenna: WTF, the sequel.

Brenna and Colin: *accidentally compromised into marriage*

Colin: Well, solved that problem! What's left?

Brenna: Your drinking problem and our inevitable separation where I run away to Scotland and you come after me and save me and my cat from a burning tower.

Colin: Let's not and say we did?

Brenna: HOORAY!

Romance Convention Checklist:

1 Morally-Handwaved Baby Abduction

1 Annoying Brogue

1 Case of Culture-Clash

4 Useless Parents

1 Evil Brother

1 Entire Nation of Snobby Jerks

1 Accidental Compromisation

1 Angry Cat

The Word: If I've learned anything about my reading habits this month, it's that the worst thing to read isn't a bad book - but a boring one.

Hence why I DNF'd these slogs, but continued to read Undressed, Kristina Cook's lazily-written, bluntly contrived crazypants novel to the very last page. I hated this novel - and was also mightily entertained by its hatefulness.

Here are the three things I learned from Kristina Cook's Undressed:

1. It's not morally repugnant and evil to abduct a baby from a loving family as long as you wuv her vewy much.
The gist is this: 26 years ago, two wealthy, childless members of the Scottish gentry crept into England, stole Lord and Lady Danville's infant daughter Margaret, and then high-tailed it back over the border to raise her in the True Scottish™ Way as Brenna Machlachlan, their daughter and sole heir who speaks with an annoying phonetically-spelled Scottish brogue.

That is, until a timely deathbed confession of an accomplice brings Lord and Lady Danville to Brenna's door (conveniently after a fever has removed both babysnatchers to the, ahem, warmer regions of the afterlife), and a tasteful birthmark in the shape of a fleur-de-lis on Brenna's right thigh (of course!) confirms her identity. However much she dislikes the English, Brenna is still mourning the death of her abductor-parents, so the chance to know her real ones (as well as her long-lost twin brother Hugh) convinces her to return with them to London.

Try as I might, I couldn't stop tripping over this appallingly mishandled and offensive set-up for most of the novel's first half.

It helps to explain the historical (*snort*) worldbuilding - in this novel, the subtleties of Scottish-English relations in the 19th century are sensitively and respectfully recreated by rendering everything Scottish good and everything British bad.

Therefore, the Scottish parents who stole a child from a loving family for their own selfish ends are the Awesomest People In the World, who raised Brenna in the True Scottish™ Way, whereas the British birth parents who had their infant snatched from their arms are depicted as shallow, hypocritical assbags who, two seconds after rejoicing at the return of their long-lost daughter, are fanatically eager to get this shamefully Scottish old maid off their hands as soon as possible with the first suitor who comes calling.

The only thing I like more than a storyline that trivializes child abduction is one that implicitly victim-blames the family who lost their daughter because of their culture!

2. Literally every man and woman of British descent is evil - or at the very least a pompous jerkbag.
But enough about Stealing Babies For Fun and True Scottish™ Profit - while all this is going on, our hero, a delightfully flouncy and sullen gentleman named Colin Rosemoor, is falsely accused of cheating at cards and is therefore socially ruined. He spends a number of pages swirling his greatcoat and storming in and out of buildings shouting "my father won't stand for this!" and "this is an outrage!" - making repeated pit stops for brandy and a hand of cards. While he has no proof, he's convinced a scumbag named Sinclair framed him. He runs into Brenna on his way to present his case to his friend Hugh (her brother), and later on at a ball, where they trade the usual repartee that ends up sparking undying attraction.

Brenna initially assumes the worst of Colin - not only because of his tarnished reputation, but because he's English. Brenna is a beacon of True Scottish™ Self-Righteousness whose favourite leisure activity is "keeping her ledgers" - which apparently makes her a highly-prized party animal in True Scotland™ instead of a boring old stick. Despite how often the book tells us she's a Strong True Scottish™ Woman, she's really an Old-School Damsel in disguise - the kind that swoons, flees in tears, and turns her ankle every time she puts a foot wrong - the better for our hero to rescue her. Bah!

I tired very quickly of the whole Rah-Rah True Scotland™ attitude - it'd be believable if it was just Brenna who believed this, but the whole novel perpetrates the cartoonishly black-and-white idea that people raised in True Scotland™ are pure and hard working and devoid of all faults or sins (except, you know, an unfortunate tendency TO STEAL BABIES), whereas people raised Ye Olde Evile England™ are just naturally predisposed to turn out asshats.

See: Brenna's birth family. As it turns out, Brenna's brother Hugh was in cahoots with Sinclair the whole time to frame Colin for cheating, in order so that Hugh could court and marry Colin's sweetheart, Honoria. Very conveniently, Brenna overhears a conversation between the Evil English™ conspirators where she learns what Sinclair expects in return: her hand and enormous dowry in marriage, consent-optional. Yes, because Evil English™ dudes are totally fine talking about Raping Each Other's Sisters. That is not contrived or wildly unrealistic at all.

Brenna flees from this Not Contrived Or Wildly Unrealistic Conversation to discuss this revelation with her new BFF, Jane Rosemoor (Colin's sister), but a Series of Lazily-Written Coincidences conspire to place her in Colin's bedroom with a shirtless Colin and her skirts up around her hips just in time for Colin's mum to pay an unfortunately unannounced house call - whoops!

As it turns out, a Hastily-Arranged Marriage is our Evil English™ villains' one weakness, and they slink impotently into the background after a few catty remarks and are never heard from again until a Random Background Character exposes their scheme and undoes their Evil English™ work at no cost or effort to our actual protagonists. Lovely.

3. Alcoholism and gambling addictions are sensitive issues that deserve to be treated with subtlety, realism, and respect.
With the Evil English™ Villains' plot foiled, there isn't much much left for Brenna and Colin to confront - except for Colin's drinking and gambling problems, which were exacerbated by the aforementioned stressful events.

Astoundingly, in a novel where every other plot point is contrived, exaggerated, distorted, and basically handled with all the delicacy and shades of gray of a child's finger painting of Edward Cullin, the depiction of Colin's descent into addiction is actually clever and subtle!

The book never actually comes out and says that Colin has a drinking or gambling problem until about two-thirds through the novel,  and suddenly the constant mentions Colin makes to brandy, the way he downs flutes of champagne in social situations when he's stressed out, his desire to go out and play cards after a particularly disheartening day - it all comes together to make a fully-realized picture of casual drinking and gambling taken too far that actually makes sense.

It develops slowly, gradually, but persistently - until (and I'm not making this up) he yells at his father during an argument and his father literally has a heart attack and dies in front of him. Now, Colin is suddenly coming home plastered, with no memory of what happened the night before, and spending days ill in bed after abstaining from the brandy he thought he only imbibed socially. Because of the gradual development, Colin is completely unwilling to face the fact that he has a problem - a completely understandable and reasonable development! - until he hits rock bottom and drunkenly gambles away a parcel of Brenna's land to an Evil English™ landlord who intends to clear out the innocent True Scottish™  tenants to raise (presumably Evil English™ ) sheep.

Horrified and betrayed, Brenna leaves him and returns to True Scotland™.

Sadly, the sensitive portrayal ends there. The power of True Love helps Colin overcome his addictions by himself thanks to his Awesome Self Control and he tears off to True Scotland™ just in time to save Brenna when the tower she's in catches fire after it's struck by lightning (for reals) - even though Brenna nearly does herself in by staying in the burning tower to save her cat. These two goons deserve each other.

Yes, this novel was Insane In the Membrane, poorly-plotted, lazily-characterized, and pretty offensive in terms of how casually and thoughtlessly it handles Babysnatching and Scottish-English relations - but at least it was entertaining.

If you really want to, you can Undressed here.

Friday, April 20, 2012

"Jellicoe Road," by Melina Marchetta

The Protagonist: Taylor Markham. Thanks to her experience at the Jellicoe School, her senior classmates elect her as the leader in the upcoming territory wars against town kids and military school Cadets - a position she doesn't particularly want. Still, she'll do the best job she can.
The Angst: When two figures from her past reappear at the same time the only person she's ever trusted disappears, she discovers that her own very mysterious history connects her not only to the tradition of the territory wars, but the people who started it 15 years ago.
Secondary Cast:
Jonah Griggs: The leader of the military school Cadets, he and Taylor shared a revelatory experience years ago, but does anything of that sensitive, tormented boy remain in this violent, cunning opponent?

Raffaela: Taylor's second-in-command, and the closest thing to a friend she has.

Chaz Santangelo: The leader of the Townies, he grew up with Raffaela, with whom he shares a quasi-romantic history.

The Brigadier: This mysterious figure tracked down a younger Taylor and Jonah when they ran away from Jellicoe school, and now he's returned, and his unfathomable interest in Taylor seems as strong as ever.

Hannah: When Taylor's mother abandoned her, Hannah arrived to pick up the pieces. Taylor's relied on her ever since - until she mysteriously disappears.

Jessa: A younger student in Taylor's house, she continually dogs Taylor and tries to befriend her. Despite Taylor's rebuffs, Jessa and Taylor may share more in common than either of them realizes.

Angst Checklist:
  • Drug abuse
  • Parental abuse, neglect, and abandonment
  • Depression
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Boys Who Wear Mullets and Think They're In a Band
  • Territory Wars
  • Leadership Responsibilities
  • Trust Issues
  • Prophetic Dreams
The Word: It's interesting that the heroine's story begins when she wakes up out of a dream, because that's pretty much how the narrative of this novel is structured - the beginning of the story is bizarre and disorienting, with large gaps of information and backstory, and only slowly do pieces of the story start to come together one by one.

But with Jellicoe Road, that's kind of the point. The protagonist, Taylor Markham, has lived at the government-owned Jellicoe boarding school in Australia for five years, ever since her drug-addicted mother abandoned her at a 7-11 when she was a child. She has no family. She keeps to herself. The only person she really trusts is Hannah, the woman who rescued Taylor and volunteers for the school.

Then events start to unravel. First, the departing school seniors select Taylor as their new leader in the six-week-long territorial wars that have traditionally taken place between the students of the school, the kids from the nearby town (Townies), and the Cadets - the military school students who camp in the bush by Jellicoe property every September as an outdoor experience exercise.

Secondly, Hannah mysteriously vanishes, refusing to tell Taylor where she's gone or when she'll be back.

Thirdly, two people from Taylor's past reappear with the Cadets: Jonah Griggs, the troubled boy who helped her escape from Jellicoe School years ago only to betray her to the authorities, who is now the leader of the Cadets and her sworn enemy in the territory wars; and the mysterious, slightly sinister figure of the Brigadier, the man who caught up to Jonah and Taylor all those years ago and dragged them back.

All these events come together to force Taylor to confront the mystery of her past, a mystery that is somehow bound up in the fates of the five teenagers who started the tradition of the territory wars at Jellicoe more than 15 years ago. 

It was very difficult and frustrating to get through this book at the beginning. The mystery and the constant allusions to things I had no knowledge of kept me at a distance from the story - I didn't understand the heroine or why she was voted leader or even what genre this book was (more on that in a bit). All I knew was that she didn't like or treat other people very well and yet everyone seemed to trust and expect a lot from her - which didn't seem to make sense.

That being said, as the bits and pieces of the narrative knit together, an emotional story emerges. The mystery is intended to delay the gratification of the reveal, but it's not a puzzle. Frankly, the main reason it's a mystery is because a surprisingly large number of people in Taylor's life believe in keeping her ignorant for her own good, and at several times in the book this came across as contrived. In terms of tone, I found it similar to (if not as good as) Lauren Myracle's Shine - while the ultimate conclusion is a positive one, it's built on a history of deep and terrible tragedy.

As the story unfolds, characters are unpeeled layer by layer. Taylor and Jonah Griggs start out unlikeable (and in Griggs' case, outright malevolent) but in their determination to uncover the secrets of the past they have to sacrifice more and more of their certainty and their emotional armour. Taylor's development is particularly rewarding. In a move that is metaphorically mirrored in the territory wars between the students, the Townies, and the Cadets, Taylor has to give ground in the small battles in order to succeed in the larger war. In this case, it means socializing, relying on her lieutenants and the students in her house, and surrendering her isolation to trust in other people, in order to learn more about the secrets a surprisingly large number of people are keeping about her life.

While this novel is primarily contemporary, the style of writing and the reveal of the mystery kept me wondering if there was a fantasy element. Several characters have seemingly prophetic dreams and speak to dead people, and there's the fact that a couple of characters are described and referred to by archetypal terms (the Brigadier and the Hermit, to name a few). There was definitely a mystical element to the mystery, even if there was nothing outright fantastic. 

Ultimately, while the beginning of the story was frustrating, and more than a few plot developments relied on contrivances and miraculous coincidences, Jellicoe Road is an enjoyable and emotionally rewarding story that successfully juggles different timelines, numerous subplots, and a sweet and surprisingly passionate romance.

Purchase Jellicoe Road here.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

"Range of Ghosts," by Elizabeth Bear

The Protagonists:
Temur: Fleeing from a murderous uncle intent on destroying all potential usurpers of his own usurped leadership, nomadic prince Temur must come out of hiding when his lover is kidnapped by ghosts.

Samarkar: The Once-Princess of the Empire of Rasan, she relinquishes her earthly power in return for the magical power of wizardry - and discovers more strength than even she knew she had.

The Secondary Cast:
Hrahima: An enormous, philosophically-struggling tiger woman who serves Temur's maternal grandfather.

Brother Hsiung: A monk working beneath a vow of silence who accompanies Temur and Samarkar on their journey.

Al-Sepehr: An evil leader of a murder-cult capable of harnessing the ghosts of the unshriven dead to perform his bidding.

Edene: Temur's lover and the mother of his unborn child, who is kidnapped by Al-Sepehr in order to ensure Temur's obedience.

Shahruz: An evil minion of Al-Sepehr who's capable of psychically communicating through his twin sister, Saadet.

Saadet: Shahruz' twin sister who carries his messages to their leader, Al-Sepehr. Both of them were saved by Al-Sepehr when their parents left them to die of exposure.

Bansh: A Very Special Horse. Of course, of course!

Fantasy Convention Checklist:

Several Unhappy Ghosts

2 Giant Birds

1 Magical Ring

Several Scientifically-Improbable Celestial Bodies

Several Prophetic Dreams

1 Murderous Worm
The Word:
In the middle of the steppe, young Temur, one of the last remaining grandsons of the Khan of Khans, is left for dead with a massive throat wound after a climatic battle between his brother, the rightful (but now sadly deceased) heir to the Khaganate, and his bloodthirsty uncle, Qori Buqa. Only barely surviving, Temur has no wish to take up the crown but knows his uncle will not rest until he is dead - and as long as Temur's moon still shines in the sky for all to see, he will be hunted.

Abandoning the fight, he latches on to a ragtag clan of survivors, only to run into worse horrors: his new clan is attacked by the hungry ghosts of the dead from his last battle. When his lover Edene is spirited away (sorry for the pun, couldn't help myself), Temur is determined to rescue her.

Meanwhile, in the Citadel of Tsarepheth, the widowed Princess Samarkar is initiated into the world of wizardry. While becoming a wizard exacts a high price (all wizards must sacrifice their reproductive organs) - Samarkar is willing to trade her fertility in return for a life in which she is no longer a bride to be bartered in the power games of her brother, the Emperor of Rasan. Free now to pursue her own power, she is immediately sent on a mission by her master to the mountain city of Qeshqer. There, her story intersects with Temur's and reveals the truth about a looming war in which even the dead must fight.

Range of Ghosts is a highly enjoyable read, due mostly to how it effortlessly mingles old-school narrative structure with original worldbuilding. Its narrative foundation is the much-beloved quest-based epic fantasy that I greedily devoured in my teens - two plucky protagonists are sent on a quest and collect a motley band of interesting and original characters along the way.

However, Elizabeth Bear builds upon that foundation with fantastic worldbuilding - instead of going with the standard pseudo-European setting, Bear borrows from Asian and Middle Eastern cultures and adds the fantasy element of a skyscape that changes depending on political and geographical boundaries (certain countries have suns that travel west to east, and the night skies of Temur's steppe have as many moons as there are surviving descendants of the Khan of Khans).

Bear creates a panoply of cultures that, realistically, bleed into and influence each other. I remember reading fantasies as a teenager where it seemed like the moment a character crosses a geographical border, all the people suddenly have vastly different physical features and languages. Bear's are much more complex than that, particularly in regards to Temur, whose nomadic exposure to different cultures contributes to an open-minded, culturally sophisticated personality that's a far cry from the stereotypical "barbarian" cliche.

Samarkar's an excellent character as well - after surviving a disastrous political marriage, she seizes control of her own destiny with both hands. She's a fascinating mixture of experience and innocence - years of political intrigue as a Princess of the Rasan court have left her with excellent diplomatic skills, but in terms of her magic - the first power she's held that's truly her own - she's still learning her strengths and limits.

It's interesting to note how much I came to care about Temur and Samarkar (and Hrahima and the others) - I tried reading Elizabeth Bear before, with her sci-fi novel Hammered. I left that book profoundly disappointed because, ultimately, I didn't click with any of the characters and I wasn't invested in the outcome. However, I've since come to discover that I frequently respond to science fiction stories with this sort of detachment, whereas I come alive and become involved with fantasies. I could write an entire essay as to why that is, but I would like people to continue reading my blog, so I'll refrain.

That being said, there were a few developments that I felt were rushed (the rescue of a pregnant princess came entirely out of the blue), and a couple of times I had to page backwards to remind myself of the goal they were currently questing for - but perhaps that is simply because I'm out of practice reading epic fantasy.

Either way, if you're a fan of old-fashioned (in the best way!) quest narratives with an unconventional descriptive flair, definitely give Range of Ghosts a try.B+

Purchase Range of Ghosts here.

The Weekly Wanting (3)

It's that time of the week again! Time to talk about which books I discovered that I've totally glommed on!

Kill Me Softly, by Sarah Cross
Genre: Fantasy YA
Story: A teenage orphan with mysterious parentage returns to the town of her birth and finds that it's full of dark, creepy fairy-tale characters and ancient curses.
Why I Want It? I love fairy-tale retellings!
I saw this around the blogosphere, but I wasn't sure what to think about the pretty, but still cheesy-as-hell cover. But reading the description from a Booksmugglers' Radar post sealed the deal. Sounds like what Once Upon A Time would have been like if it wasn't trying to suck up to the Disney channel.

Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins
Genre: Contemporary YA
Story: A Southern girl is unexpectedly shipped off to a boarding school in Paris, and has a lovely romantic adventure.
Why I Want It? A buttload of fabulous reviews.
Honestly, I've seen this book EVERYWHERE on the YA blogs for a couple of years, but I really wasn't all that interested in it. The cover makes it look fluffy and insubstantial and the plot didn't sound like anything special. HOWEVER, so MANY blogs have picked it as one of their favourite YA titles that maybe I should find this one at the library and see what all the fuss is about.

Bumped, Megan McCafferty
Genre: Future Dystopian YA
Story: In a world where everyone over 18 becomes infertile, teens are hired by the old to have babies in return for wealth and status - and two sisters have to struggle with whether or not they should.
Why I Want It? Intriguing idea, also - humour!
Look, I've been mainly avoiding the current YA craze of dystopian fantasies, with a few exceptions. I do like dark, layered, conflict-driven stories, but there is a thin line between dark and layered and A TOTAL DEPRESSING BUMMER (think the last two books of The Hunger Games. Do not want!). However, I was attracted to Bumped by a review for its sequel, Thumped, from Pure Imagination. When I looked up the review for the first book at Forever Young Adult (now one of my fave blogs and right up there with the BookSmugglers as my Foremost YA Review Authority) where it mentioned that it's more of a satire, with a comedic future view of a world where teen pregnancy is cool and everyone's doing it! The comedic nature made me want to check it out.

Fury, by Elizabeth Miles
Genre: Horror YA
Story: Two flawed teenagers in a small Maine town find themselves terrorized by modern incarnations of the vengeful Greek Furies.
Why I Want It? A great Booksmugglers review.
*sigh* I love the Booksmugglers - when they mentioned their excitement for Envy (the sequel), I looked up the review for the first book. Normally I'm really put off by horror and psychological thrillers, but I love Greek mythology as well as dark small-town settings.

Enchanted, Alethea Kontis
Genre: Fantasy-Romance YA
Story: An overlooked seventh daughter of a seventh daughter befriends a frog and bestows a kiss upon it - unfortunately she leaves before he changes back into a Prince! Now that his toes are no longer webbed, how can he re-woo the girl who looks on him as a stranger?
Why I Want It? Another fairy-tale retelling!
Chalk this up as another one for Pure Imagination! I read the review of it and I knew I wanted to read it! I've always loved The Frog Prince story - it's kind of a role-reversal of Beauty and the Beast, where the one who's enchanted is actually brave and valiant, while the Princess is the one who is spoiled and selfish. It doesn't look to be quite like that in this book, but it has princesses and magic in it so I'm sold! I just have to wait until it's released on May 8th, 2012.

What books are you looking forward to?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

"Scoundrel's Kiss," by Carrie Lofty

The Chick: Ada of Keyworth. After enduring terrible torture in England, opium was the only thing that soothed her nightmares to carry her through the night. Now, it's the only thing that'll get her through the day, too.
The Rub: When a patronizing, hypocritical but devastatingly sexy monk tries to help her with her addiction, can she overcome being wholly vulnerable with a man she barely knows?
Dream Casting: Felicia Day.

The Dude: Gavriel de Marqueda. A novice in the Order of Santiago, he is charged with helping a drug-addled, obviously fallen woman achieve salvation as his final task before taking holy orders.
The Rub: He needs to get into the Order, because he believes it's the only way to hide from his brutal past - but Ada is not going to make it easy on him, or his vows of chastity and pacifism.
Dream Casting: Tom Welling.

The Plot:

Gavriel: I really really want to get into the Order of Santiago so I'll stop wanting to kill people!

Evil Monk Master: Here! Cure this feisty, spirited girl of her opium addiction!


Three Days Later..

Ada: No!

Gavriel: Don't you WANT to be cured of your addiction?

Ada: Not if it means being held hostage by condescending men of God! I won't take that lying down! However, if you're interested in what I WOULD take lying down...


Suspicious Guards: Somebody order external conflict?

Gavriel: Crap! I need to defend you but I took a vow of pacifism!

Ada: Vow shmow!

Gavriel: GOOD ENOUGH FOR ME! *takes weapon, kills a bunch of people* Crap, now I have killer's remorse.

Ada: ...I think that's just regular remorse.


Ada: Okay, okay...

Gavriel: Just let me self-flagellate first.

Ada: Wait what?

Evil Monk Master and His Henchman: Time for more evil!

Gavriel: Yeah, I'm done with this angst. More sword fighty killing goodness!

Bad Guys: *killed and be-handed*


Romance Convention Checklist:

1 Inconvenient Addiction

Several Sequel-Baiting Side Characters

1 Almost-Romantic Scene in a Flaming Bathhouse

Several Bouts of Self-Punishment

1 Evil Monk

1 Very Bad Dad

The Word:
I honestly can't believe it.

Three books in a row.

Maybe DNFing that first one was like a gateway drug. Maybe making it easier on myself to put a book down when it's not entertaining has made me less tolerant of books that drag.

At least this book started interestingly enough - our heroine is Ada, the bitchtacular sister of Meg from Carrie Lofty's debut novel, What A Scoundrel Wants. The hero of the previous book (Will Scarlet) was responsible for Ada landing in a dungeon for fabricating false jewels, where she was later tortured by the villainous Sheriff. When Meg refused to renounce her relationship with Will, Ada cut Meg off and skedaddled to the Continent to make her own way.

Unfortunately, her own way led her down the treacherous path of opium addiction, and she winds up at a slave auction in a brothel in Spain to cover her debts. There, she is rescued by Gavriel, a novice who seeks to take holy orders with the Order of Santiago. His master, Pancheco, informs him that his final trial - the task that will determine his acceptance into the Order - is to bring Ada back to the path of righteousness.

Gavriel's life depends on that righteousness, for he's on the run from a dark, murderous past of his own and he believes acceptance into the Order will shield him from the enemies he made in his old life as a soldier as well as repress his own violent, vengeful urges. However, Ada refuses to be under any man's power ever again, and when Gavriel defends her against an oblivious and insensitive physician, they wind up kicked out of their shelter and they have to fend for themselves. This includes fighting off suspicious amounts of well-armed bandits and guards, leading them to discover they're both embroiled in a dangerous conspiracy of courtiers and kings.

It all sounds lovely and interesting on paper, but the pacing takes a nosedive after Ada and Gavriel are kicked out of the shelter. The fight scenes are overly wordy and lifeless, the protagonists' banter is flat and inconsistent, and the ultimate conspiracy is a McGuffin that doesn't require any emotional investment.

I found I couldn't connect to either character, and one of the reasons was the conflicting themes. Gavriel serves under three vows in the hopes of being accepted into the Order: obedience, chastity, and pacifism. Three vows that, quite honestly, aren't anything new or outrageous within holy orders, but for some reason Ada views them as especially egregious and horrid and spends most of the book tempting Gavriel to break them.

I wasn't bothered by Ada's opposition to the vow of chastity - Gavriel's a hot piece of half-Berber ass and taking a vow of chastity in a romance novel is like painting a bull's-eye on your junk with glow-in-the-dark paint. However, Ada continually links Gavriel's identity to one of violence - she's always saying that he isn't a monk. She sees him as a warrior, and believes his vows repress his true nature. Given how much her fear of violent men caused her to retreat from life and become addicted to opium, I couldn't understand her opposition to the hero's pacifism.

Ada's perspective is certainly limited and flawed, and that's okay, but Gavriel had reasons - entirely justified and admirable reasons - for giving up violence. I actually respected him more when I thought he was a hero who shunned combat. Nonetheless, he returns to it really easily. So violence is good?

However, fighting hurts Gavriel's soul and increases his mental anguish. So it's bad, now? Which is it? Is Gavriel suppressing his manly-man fighting spirit by abstaining from violence or is he saving himself from future hurt?

It honestly seemed like both a cop-out and a lost opportunity - one aspect of the book is how Gavriel's intelligence is constantly underestimated. It would have been interesting to watch Gavriel come up with cunning and strategic ways to defuse situations without resorting to violence. Instead we just read how easily he succumbs to temptation and picks up a sword again - all the while being incredibly mopey and angsty about it, and that's not interesting to read about at all.

Around page 209, I started skimming. Thankfully, it doesn't look like I missed much - there is a surprisingly large amount of sequel baiting in the final quarter of the book along with self-flagellation (!), the evil guys are evil, and Gavriel does the self-sacrificing thing and muddies the thematic waters even more by violently defeating the villains, only he doesn't do it AS violently as he would have a year ago. Progress?

I tried with this one, really, I did, but it looks like I've just had a run of terrible luck with books. This next book, however, I SWEAR I'll finish. You can hold me to it - with pitchforks and torches.

You can purchase "Scoundrel's Kiss" here.