Tuesday, December 02, 2014

I'm Late! I'm Late! Drive-By Reviewings

Okay, my bad.

I fell a little behind on reviewing. Okay, a lot behind. For several reasons, some of which weren't my fault but most of which totally were.

I was promoted to a new position at work (the day job), I've become (officially!) an editorial assistant at Entangled (a second job), I signed up for NaNoWriMo, and I discovered obsessively-absorbing role-playing video games.

The result: not a lot of time or inclination to review. After a stressful day of new-job training and reading manuscripts, I was more in the mood to explode darkspawn and romance knights in Dragon Age (which I will also be reviewing soon!). Now that NaNo is over and I have a bit more time on my hands, I'm just in time for my Annual Re-Reading Month.

But for now, let's recap the books I did read in October and November that aren't super-special enough to merit their own reviews:

Just Listen, by Sarah Dessen.

Yes, I finally read my first Sarah Dessen. From what my YA-focused blogger friends tell me, she's kind of the First Lady of Contemporary YA.

My first impression wasn't wholly strong - her language seemed too bare and simple for my taste, but she slowly and surely hooked me in so by the midpoint, I was pretty strongly invested in her heroine.

Our protagonist, Annabel, is someone incapable of speaking her mind for fear of hurting others. She experienced a terrible trauma at the end of the previous school year, but she can't tell her family - with them so focused on her older sister's recovery from an eating disorder, and her mother's history of depression, she can't bear to add to their burden or risk undoing her mother's progress. But the truth is eating her up inside.

The novel is all about truth-telling, and believing you're important enough to be heard, and Dessen aptly conveys how difficult it is for Annabel to speak up for herself and put herself above (or at least on the same level as) others. The novel has a deceptively simple start that reveals itself as more layered later on. However, it wasn't a perfect book. I felt the romantic interest's obsession with honesty was a little over-the-top and unreasonable, even with the novel's theme, and the treatment of rape and rape victims seemed a bit simplified by the novel's end, but otherwise, I understand where Dessen's fans are coming from.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, by Leslye Walton.

I had to read this novel for the FYA Bookclub, and let's just say this book sparked a lot of ... debate. And by debate, I mean rage.

The story explores three generations of women all leading to Ava Lavender, a girl born with wings. The story meanders along through unreliable narrators and magical realism - Alice Hoffman levels of magical realism. Spells, ghosts, girls with bird parts, all that jazz.

Walton is a splendid writer, and 90% of the novel is fine, if unfocused and a bit derivative. The ending, however, absolutely kills this novel - spoiler and trigger warning: the climax (not the conflict, but the climax) of the novel comes when Ava is brutally raped and mutilated by an obsessed stalker. And all of her family's  problems are solved by how they rally around and care for her.

Nothing in this novel - not the story, not the tone, not the theme - suggested or fit with a brutal rape. That event doesn't fit organically within the plot at all. Moreover, the rape is used as a disgusting plot device to better the lives of other characters, not the actual victim. Ava's character doesn't change or progress. In fact, she recovers and gets a boyfriend within the span of the epilogue and gets magical new white wings FOR SOME REASON. WTF. Mindbendingly stupid and offensive garbage.

Please, please, let's not make Magical Rape a trope.

Ravishing the Heiress, by Sherry Thomas

I'm still a general fan of Sherry Thomas, and this novel wasn't terrible, but that's about it.

This novel - wasn't terrible. It was interesting enough but it didn't grab and wow me like her earlier novels. Our heroine, Millie, is a merchant-class heiress whose parents arrange for her to marry a debt-ridden earl named Fitz. Millie falls for Fitz immediately, but discovers Fitz is deeply, passionately in love with another woman - someone he now has to give up in order to save his family from ruin.

Fitz ... does not take this well. He's such a flamboyant ass about what a terrible SACRIFICE he had to make by marrying Millie, that Millie spends the next six years of their marriage keeping her feelings under wraps and allowing him to pursue his various emotionless, extramarital flings. However, when Fitz learns that the former love of his life is now widowed, he plans to leave Millie to set up a household with his ladylove - but not before "fulfilling his end of the bargain" and giving Millie a baby.

There were certain things I liked - Fitz finds it difficult to reconnect with his former love as he slowly comes to understand how meaningful the last six years of marriage with Millie have been to him. His attraction to Millie grows out of their deep and abiding friendship rather than instant lust. But their actual romantic development is remarkably spare on the page, and Millie is almost pathological in her emotional repression (not that I can blame her). It was a pleasant and even a relatively original romance, but I feel the romance was lacking.

The False Prince, by Jennifer Nielsen

Here was another extremely-hyped novel that just underwhelmed me. Sage is an orphan who's picked up off the street along with two other orphans by an unscrupulous, obsessed noble determined to save his nation at any cost.

The nobleman reveals that the king, queen and crown prince were recently poisoned by an unknown party. The truth of their deaths is not publicly known yet, but once it gets out, their nation's enemies will waste no time in taking advantage of the political chaos. However, if another viable heir to the throne is discovered in time, the crisis may be averted. The noblemen chose orphans who best resembled the long-lost second prince who was supposedly killed by pirates years before, and he plans to train them to impersonate the kingdom's last heir. The most convincing fraud will accompany him to the capital - but the other two will become dangerous loose ends.

None of the characters here were particularly interesting. Sage was kind of a smarmy know-it-all, and the "twist" near the end of the novel had me rolling my eyes at the ridiculousness of it. The novel was just boring from beginning to end and there's not much else I can say about it - I read it a while ago and nothing else remained memorable enough for me to recall today.

And that's it for now! More reviews to come later.

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