Monday, December 31, 2012

"A Song of Ice and Fire" and Feminism

I would like to start by saying that I have read A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings and so far, I absolutely love A Song of Ice and Fire. I love the huge cast of characters, and the intrigue, and how Martin isn't afraid to be unflinchingly cruel, to the point where I actually believe that no character is safe. I love Arya Stark, and I want to have Tyrion Lannister's babies. If either of them dies (don't spoil it, please!) then I will go lock myself in my room and mourn for the rest of the week.

Also, this post contains un-hidden spoilers for both books, so if you haven't read or watched the first two books/seasons, then you might not want to read this.

With that said, there is something that may or may not be problematic about the series: its representation of female characters. Let's consider all of the major female characters in the first book, A Game of Thrones:

-Catelyn Stark: Devoted mother and wife, but also intelligent, brave, and practical. Probably the most positively-depicted female character in the series.

-Sansa Stark: The girly-girl. She's loves pretty things, romantic stories about knights, and is obsessed with Prince Joffrey. She eventually grows more disillusioned over the course of the first two books.

-Arya Stark: The tom-boy. She can hold her own in a fight and isn't bad at underdog strategy.

-Daenerys Tagaryen: Starts out in a position where she is brainwashed and forced around by her brother and the other men around her, but grows into a strong and capable leader.

-Cersei Lannister: The femme-fatale. Pretty, manipulative, and cold, but also a mama bear when it comes to protecting her children.

-Lysa Arryn: Paranoid and kind of insane.

Out of all of these characters, only three are generally positive: Catelyn, Arya, and Daenerys. Considering that they represent half of the characters listed above, that's not a bad ratio. (Not to mention that ASoIaF has no shortage of male characters who are weak, stupid, arrogant, manipulative, traitorous, or cruel.) However, Daenerys is very much at risk of slipping to "villain" territory. She has been raised to believe that her family is the true line of kings and that Robert stole the throne through savage cruelty (which is not entirely untrue.) Therefore, it is her duty to reclaim the throne. Even after Ser Jorah Mormont explains to her that the people don't really care who is king--they just want to be left alone (and she acknowledges that he has a point), she doesn't back down from her quest to reclaim the throne. (Not an entirely wise course of action either, considering that she won't have any heirs.) I just hope that she manages to stay sympathetic (and alive, please!) throughout the course of the books.

It's hard to say whether Sansa is a "positive" character or not. Throughout most of A Game of Thrones, she is naive to the point of stupidity--which is somewhat forgivable, considering that she is only eleven years old. (Although the actress they cast to play her in the television series is well into her teens, which makes her a lot less sympathetic.) She does have some moments of capability, like when she negotiates for her father's life, but for the most part, she is very much a damsel-in-distress. (Also, she's bad at math.) I hope that she goes on to play a more active role, rather than remaining a victim to the status quo.

So basically, the only unquestionably positive female characters are Catelyn and Arya. However, since Arya acts like a boy and rejects anything feminine, it's difficult to call her "a positive depiction of femininity." One criticism of modern feminism is that in order for a female character to appear "strong," she has to essentially act like a man (see this video by feminist vlogger Anita Sarkeesian). I really hope that this series doesn't continue to put out that message. So in that sense, Catelyn is the only character who is unquestionably an example of feminine strength.

Overall, I think George R.R. Martin's female characters are much more developed than in several other media that I can think of. And for that reason, I would like to continue to see more than damsels-in-distress, femme-fatales, and women who have no personality whatsoever. I look forward to reading more into the series (and of finding a way to watch the TV series without having to pay a ton of money), and I really hope that I don't come out disappointed.

Friday, December 28, 2012

"New Adult" Project 2012 Wrap-Up

Since I'm sick, I decided to forfeit book writing today and to focus all my energy on this blog post. I've been wanting to do a wrap-up post for the "New Adult" Project for a long time, so here goes:

In 2012, I reviewed 13 books featuring characters in the "New Adult" age bracket (18-25). Out of those 13, I read 12 of them in 2012 (The Magicians was the only book I didn't read this year.) and read 11 to completion. I read across various genres, from contemporary, to thrillers, to science fiction and fantasy, to heavier literary-type books.

Books I Enjoyed

Out of all the books I read, these were the ones I enjoyed the most:
-The Secret History by Donna Tartt
-Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard
-Hushed by Kelley York
-Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
-Tempest by Julie Cross

I also thought I should include Spring Break, The Nanny Diaries, and Just Remember to Breathe as books that might appeal to other people who don't share my speculative fiction and/or literary biases. The Magicians might appeal to people who are looking for something a little more cynical (even though I myself had several issues with it). Also, although I didn't review it in 2012, I still feel like I should throw in a shout-out for I Am the Messenger.

Books That Best Encompassed the "New Adult" Experience

Not all of the books I read featured elements that were central to the "New Adult" experience. Some of them merely starred characters that were within the 18-25 age range. For that reason, I decided to make a separate list of books that most encompassed some aspect of the "New Adult" experience:

The Nanny Diaries: This is the only book in the "New Adult" project that significantly dealt with getting a job. The book centered on Nanny trying to balance fulfilling her employer's expectations and standing up for her own rights.

The Magicians: Disillusionment is a huge part of the NA experience, and no book encompasses disillusionment better than The Magicians.

Wanderlove: In the Absolute Write forums, Kirsten Hubbard herself mentioned that this book might fall into NA territory, so I feel justified in including it. In Wanderlove, Bria learns to be both practically and emotionally independent, something with which many of today's new adults  continue to struggle.

The Secret History: The Secret History takes a group of spoiled rich kids who isolate themselves from the world with their study of obscure classical texts and, through an act of manslaughter, drops them right back in the real world.

Psych Major Syndrome: Borderline NA. This is the only book I read that actually depicts the college campus experience. However, Leigh has the naivete of a sophomore in high school, something that doesn't exactly improve by the end of the book. Also, casual hookups are a common thing in college, so slut-shaming should have no place in this book.

Just Remember to Breathe: Another borderline NA. A veteran trying to return to normal life is a very NA topic. However, I would have liked to see more Alex's life as a college student in addition to the romance.

Now that's not saying there is no place for the other books in NA--after all, many of today's young adult books are all but irrelevant to the teenage experience. I would like to see more books with 20-something characters and college students, regardless of whether the NA experience is at the center of every book.

So what are my views on "New Adult" in light of the growing acceptance of the market?

In my intro post, I said that I didn't think we needed a "New Adult" shelf--just more "New Adult" books. I have somewhat amended that view. Since NA is being more widely recognized, then it might make sense (at least in the future) to have an NA shelf. However, I don't think that every book I've listed should be shelved there. A book should be shelved where it will find the most readers. Ready Player One and The Magicians were both very successful on the SF/F shelf, and I see no reason to move them. And many of today's NA readers would be incapable of getting through books like The Secret History or The Sound of Blue.

You also might have noticed that very few of the books on my list are "the most talked about" NA. I haven't read big indie hits like Fifty Shades of Gray, Beautiful Disaster, Slammed, Thoughtless, etc. There are three reasons for this: a) I am not a huge fan of romance b) these books are not available at libraries, and very few of them appeal to me enough to justify paying money for them. (although I do want to read Tammara Webber's Easy), and c) some of these sound appalling--I do not believe in paying money for books that glorify or romanticize abusive relationships.

I am very happy that New Adult is finally being recognized and that more writers are gaining the flexibility to write about this age group. However, today's NA seems to center on romantic contemporary, erotica, and Twilight for College Students. Personally, I would like to see more fantasy, science fiction, and thrillers. I would love to see magical/futuristic universities, college students who care about more than boyfriends and sex, characters who struggle with job hunting, protagonists who are not afraid to have multiple partners or casual sex, and of course, much darker plots. I can only hope that as the New Adult market grows, these books will become available.

I have also decided to continue the New Adult Project into next year. My reviewing will probably slow down or stop around August, when I start med school, but until then, I'm still very invested in seeing where this market goes. (I have Hold Me Closer, Necromancer sitting in my car, and I also found a lesser-known book called Ovenman that I will need to re-read. Enchanted, Inc. and Easy are also on my to-read list.) As always, I am open to recommendations.

***

Full list of "New Adult" Project reviews

Book Recommendation: "Shadow and Bone" by Leigh Bardugo


Have you ever read a book and then felt somewhat uncomfortable because it shared some unexpected similarities with the book you were writing? This year, I've actually been seeking out books that had something in common with my book, but the similarities in Shadow and Bone snuck up on me in a mildly uncomfortable way. For one thing, there was a couple of characters who have magical abilities that are uncannily similar to a couple characters in my own book. (And both of them were powers that I congratulated myself on inventing.) In addition to that, there was a major plot twist that was also very similar to a plot twist in my, erm, series. And while, yes, yes, I know, nothing is original, everyone treats this story element differently, blah, blah, blah, it still made me a bit uncomfortable.

Maybe that's why I had reservations about enjoying this book. Back when I read Wanderlove, I recognized that it was a very good book, but because of certain insecurities that I was facing at the time, it was a bit difficult for me to enjoy it. I guess something similar happened with Shadow and Bone. It's a good book. It really is. But because of the similarities to my own book, I felt like I was judging it with much higher standards. The story overall is very good--good characters, good plot twists, interesting and unique world-building. But there were a lot of smaller issues that I had with it.

1) The magic and "powers" felt inconsistent. This is kind of weird to explain, but it seemed like there were no underlying "rules" regarding what kind of magic was and wasn't possible. While it was mostly X-Men style (ie, each character has one particular type of power), it seemed to work along the lines of following the author's whims. ("Okay, I need this kind of thing to happen, so I'm going to throw in this other random ability.") Like, for example, there's this random power called "the Cut" that only the most powerful Grisha characters have, and that's in addition to whatever power they have. Also some of the powers just felt silly (one girl has the ability to make people pretty). And what about Alina's power? How exactly does everyone recognize it if she's the only person in the world to have that power? Have there been Sun Summoners before her? The only other alternative I can think of is a prophecy, but the former seems much more likely. (Then again, this last part is something that might be explained in future books.)

2) The Grisha school (don't remember what it was called). I usually don't like  high school type settings because they're rife with unrealistic stereotypes. I mean, seriously, does every book need to have a token mean girl?

3) Alina's actions in the end were somewhat hypocritical/nonsensical. She is against the Darkling killing people, but she has no problem abandoning a bunch of innocent foreign ambassadors when she leaves the Fray. Also, I don't understand why she didn't tell Mal about the amplifier.

So as you can see, most of my criticism is over small things. But this is an enjoyable book, and I definitely want to read Siege and Storm. Especially since we get to learn more about the Darkling.

Edit 3/21/2013: Kendall at Blogging for YA picked up on a lot of problems that I missed. And now I realize that I completely agree with her. So maybe I wasn't just experiencing competitive high standards. (I still want to read the next one, though.)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

"New Adult" Project review: "Blame It on Paris" by Laura Florand




Goodreads Summary:

Can an insecure American woman find happiness with a sexy Parisian waiter---
even if she doesn't like the French?

Laura has spent most of her adult life avoiding serious relationships, flitting around the world, and keeping her romantic expectations comfortably low. The last thing she wants is to have her globe-trotting ways curtailed by a messy emotional entanglement. As far as she's concerned, chocolate is just as satisfying as true love--and a lot less complicated.
So how, in the name of all that is romantic, has she managed to get involved with a dangerously charming Frenchman named Sébastien? And only weeks before she's scheduled to leave Paris for good?
Everyone knows that Frenchmen are chain-smoking, manic-depressive, faithless, male chauvinistic, perfectionist snobs. What's worse, they live in France.
The cultural differences alone are enough to kill any relationship, even if Laura wanted one. She's from small-town Georgia. He's a sophisticated Parisian. They go together like grits and escargot.
But Sébastien isn't just any Frenchman. He's a gorgeous, sweet, sexy, graphic artist who seems to find Laura adorable for reasons she can't begin to comprehend. As the days slip by, she's finding it harder and harder to say adieu.
Unless she comes to her senses soon, she could end up ruining her life with a beautiful romance. . . .


***

Usually, when I dislike a book, I come up with a nice long list of everything I hated about it. But this book? Not even worth the trouble. I kept trying to pick it back up, but I had to give up about 160 pages in because I was bored out of my mind. The characters were not nearly interesting enough to make up for the lack of a plot.

Oh well, I guess I should have expected this from a book that largely consists of date scenes. (Actually, I did sort of expect that. When libraries do not carry a large selection of easily discoverable “New Adult” books, you sometimes have to dig in places where you normally wouldn’t venture.)

Maybe if I were more of a chick-lit reader, I would have appreciated this book, but alas, I wasted far too much time trying to get through it.

Also: Using your protagonist’s name as a pen name for your first-person novel? Tacky as hell.

***

Full list of "New Adult" Project reviews.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"New Adult" Project Review: "The Sound of Blue", by Holly Payne


Goodreads Summary:

Sara Foster has left America for the adventure of a lifetime--teaching English to the sons and daughters of statesmen in Hungary--but her idyllic adventure instead reveals a dark world of pain and redemption when she ends up teaching in a refugee camp. Sara discovers that one of her students is a celebrated composer and soon finds herself crossing the border to his war-torn homeland, determined to exonerate him for the death of his brother.

In a journey that takes her to Dubrovnik, a magnificent stone city on the Croatian Riviera, Sara contemplates her own identity, struggling to understand why the region's ancient and extraordinary beauty belies a history of grief. As Sara unveils the secret of the composer's escape, The Sound of Blue reveals poignant truths about the quests for refuge we all pursue.

***

Like The Secret History, The Sound of Blue falls more into the “literary” end of New Adult. It follows a girl (woman?) named Sara, who, after getting rejected from Harvard Law School, ends up teaching English in a camp full of war refugees. There, she experiences the distance that comes from living alongside people who have suffered in ways she cannot imagine and becomes fascinated by a Serbian violinist named Milan, who experiences seizures and synesthesia and who may or may not have killed his brother.

I knew nothing about the Yugosavian Wars of the 1990s before reading this book, and I appreciated the chance to learn a little bit about that conflict. However, I think a different writer could have handled this book a lot better. It was the prose that bothered me the most. While there were some pretty uses of language (“eyes shaped liked crescent moons”), I mostly found the language emotionally overbearing and chock-full of purple prose. It’s very difficult to relate to the refugees’ pain when the author constantly overemphasizes their suffering.

I would recommend this book to more patient readers who like books about emotional journeys and coming to terms with your past.

***

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Book Recommendation: "Cracked Up to Be" by Courtney


I don't even know what to say about this book. I read it on Wednesday night, even though I had to wake up at 2:00 AM to catch a bus to the airport. The characters were incredibly complex and multidimensional, to the point where they felt like real people. (You hear that a lot, but never from me.) And just like with real people, there were times when I related to them and times where I wanted to scream at them. I felt things. Like feelings. And I'm one of the most detached readers you will ever meet.

And something I respected? It wasn't just that Parker was one of those "complex and unlikable" characters I've been looking for. It's because the text and the author never forced me to feel a certain way about Parker.

Here is a quote from Courtney Summers' amazing post on unlikable female protagonists:

"That is why reader response fascinates me; being told by people exactly what they think Parker and Regina do and don’t deserve is probably one of the most gratifying things I’ve experienced in having these books published. I don’t think anyone is wrong in what they feel about either of those girls, whether they hate them or they don’t. But I love when they feel strongly about it and I love when they feel strongly enough about it to tell me.

Finally, do I think readers should like Parker and Regina? As I said, that’s up to the reader and that’s all there is to it. As I said, I have hopes that people will respond to my work whether they like it or hate it (indifference is what terrifies me!), but the last thing I will do is tell someone how they should respond. There are no “right” or “wrong” ways to feel about Parker and Regina."

I couldn't say whether or not I "dislike" Parker (as a character, I found her compelling and and very relatable), but there are certain actions she takes that are more than just bitchy--they're downright selfish. At the end of the novel, it is revealed that although the murder was in no way her fault (and that there was no way she could have prevented it), she never told anyone what she knew about the night Jessie disappeared. Think about that from the point of view of Jessie's family, who must have been desperate for any news regarding their daughter--in not saying anything, Parker did a horrible thing. That's not saying she's a bad person--it was a big mistake, though somewhat of an understandable one--but I did appreciate how Parker wasn't given a 'get-out-of-jail-free' card.

I don't know how I've gone this long without reading a Courtney Summers novel, but I'm going to go buy all of her other books. Like, right now.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Book Recommendation: Cinder, by Marissa Meyer



Is Cinder a good book? Honestly, I have no idea. It suffers from mediocre writing, a one-dimensional villain, and a major "big reveal" that anyone who has ever read a book can predict within the first fifty pages. It also suffered from a problem which I like to call "arbitrary discrimination." I was never exactly clear on why cyborgs are treated as second-class citizens in this society. Sure, if you have machines in your brain, I could understand why people would think you're inhuman or incapable of emotion, but what about someone with a robotic limb or vital organ? Even nowadays, nobody discriminates against people with myoelectric arms (geek moment: look up the iLimb hand. Sooo cool!) or pacemakers. So how is it possible that the whole society was okay with the government's project to draft cyborgs for medical experimentation?

But despite all of these problems, I really liked Cinder. The plot was brave and twist-y and I couldn't put it down. I also loved Kai. As other reviewers have pointed out, he was a character first, and a love interest second, something which made the romantic development more than just believable.

The second book in the series, Scarlet, comes out pretty soon, and I can't wait to read it.

***

End of the Year Review Checklist:

Keturah and Lord Death (audio)
Cinder
The Sound of Blue (New Adult)
Shadow and Bone
Blame It on Paris (New Adult) (DNF)
A Game of Thrones/A Clash of Kings
The Spirit Thief

Friday, December 7, 2012

"Origin" and Disabilities


A few months ago, I posted my less than positive review of Jessica Khoury’s Origin. Last night, I experienced some lingering thoughts regarding this novel. And no, these are not the “Wow, I was probably too harsh on this book” kind of thoughts. The opposite, actually--I don’t think I was harsh enough.

I’m not going to repeat what I said about the demonization of scientists or the poor characterization of the love interest. In some ways, these are ‘harmless errors’ in that they don’t deeply offend me. Well, okay, there is something kind of offensive about the way Khoury portrays scientists as sociopaths, but at the end of the day, that’s something I can just laugh off since it’s further evidence that I’m smarter than she is.

But the thing I want to elaborate on, the thing that is truly offensive, is the author’s treatment of cerebral palsy. It is revealed in the story that one character’s motive for working for the “evil scientists” is so that they will cover the cost of her sister’s medical care (or something--it's been a while since I read it.) This sister, as you might have guessed, suffers from cerebral palsy--or so the author claims. To anyone who actually knows a thing or two about cerebral palsy, it’s very obvious that Khoury didn’t do so much as a Wikipedia search on this disease. Origin didn't give much information on the sister's disease, but the impression I got was that she was perfectly healthy until--bam!--cerebral palsy hit, and then it was downhill until death. Some background info on cerebral palsy: It's a disease that originates very early in life, often before or during birth. It's a chronic disease, but not something that worsens over time. Moreover, it is not fatal.

I’ve seen interviews with the author in which she discusses all the research she did for this book--and it shows in the vivid details with which she describes the rainforest. So why couldn’t she even take two minutes to do some research on cerebral palsy?

But that’s not fair. The book is set in the rainforest. The rainforest is at the forefront of this story--but the little sister? She never even shows up on the page.

And that is exactly what bothers me. The little sister with cerebral palsy is not a character; she is a plot device, meant for no purpose other than to motivate the actions of an actual character. Since the specifics of her disease have no bearing on the plot, it’s okay to lump her in with every other person under the “dying and helpless” umbrella.

But what does this imply? Nothing good, obviously. It's like saying that sick and disabled people are not characters in and of themselves. They aren’t worth the time to develop and research because they only exist for the sake of the healthier, stronger, and more ‘ideal’ characters.

I’m not saying that ‘weaker’ characters shouldn’t be used to drive the main character into action. After all, Katniss entered the Hunger Games to save Prim. But Prim got some backstory and an on-screen presence. More importantly, she got a personality. She even got to make decisions!

When you’re compiling your list of characters, think about your minor characters: Do they have personalities? Do they have goals, problems, and values outside of their relationship to the protagonist? Do they get to grow, change, and make active decisions throughout the course of the story?

And along with that, think about what message you’re sending to groups who are already marginalized. People who suffer from illness and disabilities probably wouldn’t be able to beat up a hoard of thugs while simultaneously hacking into a bank vault (oh wait, you probably couldn’t do that either), but they still deserve respect. They are people, after all.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Your characters are only as smart as you are

Have you ever read a book where the main character was supposed to be smart (or even a genius), but all of his or her "brilliant plans" seem like something that anyone with half a brain (or a good working knowledge of action movies) could have thought up? I don't feel like naming any examples here, but I've read (and writte) many a review where the "smart" character comes across as anything but.

There are two ways to fix this:

1. Think up smarter plans. (Hint: If you saw something like it in a movie, you should probably try to be more original.)

2. Stop telling us how "brilliant" your characters are. Let your readers decide for themselves.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Stating the obvious


Dear person who wrote the "war on men" article,

I am one of many women who has career aspirations. More specifically, I aspire to a mixed career consisting of medicine, science, and writing fiction. Contrary to popular belief, my interest in these careers does not stem from a desperate need to "equalize the playing field between men and women." Rather, it stems from the fact that I like medicine, science, and fiction. In fact, I like these things enough that I am willing to dedicate a big part of my life to pursuing them. Yes, I acknowledge that, in order to be successful in these fields, I will have to compete with men (and other women). However, I am not pursuing these things for the sole purpose of competing with men.

You tell me that the reason that I won't find a husband is because I am interested in these things. I should give up my futile war against men career aspirations and accept that I will be happier living a balanced life as a housewife and mother. Except that I've done that. Well, okay, not the "wife" or "mother" part. But I have spent almost a year of my life unemployed, and a large part of that was while I was living in a house with small children. And you know what? I didn't enjoy that. Sure, there are other women who do, and I have no problem with that, but I wasn't happy.

You're telling me that by having a full career and pursuing my own happiness, I'm driving men away. Men want to feel like the providers, so I should sacrifice my own happiness in order to satisfy my husband's insecurities. So in other words, what you're telling me is that a) most men don't want me to be happy, and b) most men are insecure.

Now tell me this? If that is true, why the hell would I want to marry someone who is insecure and doesn't want me to be happy? Especially when I have tons of better options?

So please, stop going around blaming me for the "war on men." I am not at war with anyone, unless of course they try to tell me how to live my life. (Oh wait, you're doing that right now.) If a man doesn't like the fact that I have a job, that's his prerogative. However, it is also my prerogative to not date that person. Instead, I'm going to date a person who finds smart women sexy...because, you know, they exist, too.

Sincerely,
-Someone who shouldn't have to state the obvious

Oh wait, fuck. I just noticed that the article was written by a woman. (And no, I won't link to it, because that kind of bullshit doesn't deserve any more traffic.)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Road Trip Wednesday: Holidays

Notice how I never do YA Highway's Road Trip Wednesday anymore? I stopped when I started working in the lab (7:30 AM lab meetings, guys. Not fun.)

But now that I'm on holiday vacation, I suddenly have all this magical free time. I can write my book, write my blog, read some stuff (A Clash of Kings, ftw!), run around St. Louis, drink too much, sleep as late as I want, and still have loads of time to waste on the internet. Best of all, I don't have to sit through Jersey traffic, so when I get home from whatever the hell I'm doing, I'm not too pissed and tired to be productive.

But don't I have to spend this time doing holiday and family things? Like cooking and cleaning? (Nope. We go to friends of the family for that.) Or traveling across the country to visit relatives? (My family breeds like rodents, so we save all our frequent flier miles for when somebody just had a baby.) Or going to Church? (We're Jews.) Or going to Synagogue? (We're not very good Jews.) Or watching parades and fireworks? (Patriotism is for sheep.) Or football? (I lack the attention span for a game that pauses every ten seconds.)

So, no, holidays do not get in the way of my writing.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Audiobook review: Keturah and Lord Death, by Martine Leavitt


Have you ever had those moments where you hate, hate, hated a book, and then you get to the last chapter and it's suddenly awesome? That was my feeling about Keturah and Lord Death. A big part of this was when I read it on audio, the last chapter or so was unintelligible due to static. I was all prepared to write a terrible review, and then I went to the library and found a print copy of this book just so I could at least know how it ended. And that ending? Brilliant.

Anyway, let's start with my initial reaction: As I was listening to this, all I could think was "So the moral of this story is that if you're pretty, vain, and selfish, you can have whatever you want?" The vast majority of this book involves watching Keturah be a special snowflake while simultaneously trying to understand why all the characters are so enraptured by her. Death grants her a temporary reprieve because she's...brave...because she argues with him? Are you really expecting me to believe that Keturah is the only person who has ever argued with Death? I mean, for Christ sakes, if you're about to die why wouldn't you argue? It's not like you have anything to lose! But anyway, then she has to go home and save her town from the Plague and fall in love so that Death won't marry her. But then other people are dying, so every time someone needs to be saved, she goes back to Death and promises that if he saves just one more person, that she will marry him--unless of course she falls in love first. And the way she keeps putting off her death are ridiculous: she pulls a Scheherezade (telling part of a story every night so that he can't take her until he finds out how it ends). Because, apparently, Keturah is known for being such a good storyteller. Except that her story isn't exactly a story, but more of an underwhelming diary. And you can feel Death losing his patience, but he loves Keturah so much, because she's so brave and so pretty, that he just about gives her whatever she wants--and if you're anything like me, you're probably starting to smell an unhealthy relationship. You know this girl's a selfish bitch when all you want to do is give Death a hug and tell him he can do better.

So by the end of the story, it becomes fully obvious that Keturah's going to get everything she wants. Everyone is saved, she's going to win the pie competition and marry the handsome young lord, and even her friends get to fall in love. And Death is going to have to shirk back to his lair, having been completely taken advantage of by this random village girl. And then--bam! I don't want to spoil the ending, but let's just say that Keturah completely proved me wrong.

So do I recommend this book? Fuck, I have no idea. If you like something with a fairy tale feel and a small bit of introspection, then Keturah and Lord Death would probably be up your alley.

***

End of the Year Review Checklist:

Keturah and Lord Death (audio)
Cinder
The Sound of Blue (New Adult)
Shadow and Bone
Blame It on Paris (New Adult) (DNF)
A Game of Thrones
The Spirit Thief

Sunday, November 18, 2012

New Adult Project: "Just Remember to Breathe" by Charles Sheehan-Miles


Goodreads Summary:


Alex Thompson’s life is following the script. A pre-law student at Columbia University, she’s focused on her grades, her life and her future. The last thing she needs is to reconnect with the boy who broke her heart.

Dylan Paris comes home from Afghanistan severely injured and knows that the one thing he cannot do is drag Alex into the mess he’s made of his life.

When Dylan and Alex are assigned to the same work study program and are forced to work side by side, they have to make new ground rules to keep from killing each other.

Only problem is, they keep breaking the rules.

The first rule is to never, ever talk about how they fell in love.

***

This book is my first venture into indie publishing. My deciding factor in picking up this book was the PTSD element. The author, Charles Sheehan-Miles, was in the army and currently works with disabled veterans, so I trusted him to handle this topic with the necessary depth and realism.

On that front, I wasn't disappointed. Dylan's trauma, both from his experience in the army and his difficult past, manifests in several different ways throughout the story. His physical health, mental acuity, emotional stability, and interpersonal relationships are all affected. This book, while written as a love story, is equally about his journey to self-acceptance.

However, I often felt that Alex wasn't quite so well-constructed. She's a driven pre-law student who grew up in a large family that values intellectualism. What's wrong with that? The fact that I didn't learn about any of those elements until at least halfway through the story. At the beginning, her entire existence and thoughts seemed to center on men--her relationship with Dylan, and her near-rape experience. (The first half of this book would not have passed the Bechdel test.) There were several moments where she came across as clingy, a problem that might have been avoided if she appeared to value something other than "the boy who broke her heart." That's not saying she didn't have a good arc though--she also did develop a sense of personal strength, and it was refreshing to the way she put her foot down with Dylan.

There were also moments where I wondered if this book had ever been edited. For instance, Joel's name first appeared as "Josh," which made me wonder just how many guys Kelly was currently dating--not that I would have a problem with that, but I'm pretty sure that wasn't the author's intention.

I would recommend this book for anyone who likes stories about romance and personal growth.

***

Interested in this book? Goodreads is running a giveaway here.

***

Disclaimer: I received a review request and my copy of the book from the author. (Thanks, Charles!)

Other New Adult Project reviews

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The problem isn't her argument; it's how she frames it (AKA, some YA bloggers need to chill the fuck out)

Start by reading this.

And then read this. And this.

I will start by criticizing some things in the original article:

"I actually believe in manhood as something that’s real, that’s inherently different than womanhood, and that is, potentially, awesome. And I don’t find a belief in manhood to be reactionary or antifeminist — indeed, to blame the distrust of men on feminism would be wildly wrong, a cruel characterization of an optimistic movement. What feminism has made possible is an ability to have hope for new ways of integrating gender into the world. And I refuse to conflate a critique of the way male power is sometimes — even often — abused with a sweeping dismissal of manhood itself." 

One of the main issues with Mesne's article is she keeps trying to put things into boxes. (ie, that "manhood" = "power" and that the two are somehow separate from "womanhood."). The same applies to how she makes sweeping generalizations about YA lit and male presence in YA lit. Obviously, teenage boys in young adult literature span a wide range of archetypes and personalities.

But...

...what about the author's actual point?

"Well, Mesne's point is that boys in YA lit aren't manly enough." Or something.

*shakes head*

Yes, the author does say this: "Why is it that in YA literature — a genre generated entirely to describe the transition to adulthood — there is so much fear and ambivalence surrounding manhood?" But I don't think ranting about YA literature or males in YA literature was really the point she wanted to make. Sure, that is essentially what came out, but I think the gross generalizations she made were more of a frame for her argument than the argument itself.

Mesle's actual argument is here: "But YA literature shows us that in our cultural imaginary, morality has branched off from male social authority." And here: "I think that strength and compassion can be linked, that leadership is a responsibility, that privilege doesn’t need to be apologize for if it is generously used."

Whether or not Mesne is correct in attributing this observation to the majority of YA books, she still makes an excellent point: heroism doesn't have to mean throwing away your place in society. Power doesn't have to corrupt; rather, it can be used to enact necessary social change.

I don't agree with every element of that argument (more on this later) but it seems like several of the responses to the article neglected to even address that point. Mostly, I've seen a lot of "Leave my  genre alone, you ignorant tourist!"

I understand people getting reactive. YA is always getting shit upon by literary snobs and uninformed journalists. However, in this case, the backlash is unfair. For one thing, I have trouble seeing Mesle as a "YA Tourist." She gives several examples of modern YA books, and her examples span at least three or four different genres. She also mentions that she teaches courses about YA literature and gender theory (or at least that was what I understood). And while I think this article was poorly written, that the author needs to stop making sweeping generalizations about the entire YA genre, and that it was completely unnecessary to gender-ize this argument, I think that her ideas about coming of age, morality, and embracing power are worth a mature, civilized discussion.

And now that I've said that, it's time to address the author's actual argument:

As I said earlier, I don't think this needs to be a gender-ed argument. Yes, I acknowledge that males in our society have more power and privilege, but this topic would apply equally well to any type of power.

Basically, Mesne wants to see more portrayals of teenage males people who learn to embrace their social power and use it to better the world around them. In other words, why do we keep romanticizing (double meaning intended) the rebel/outsider? After all, real world rebels usually suck at actually accomplishing anything. So why can't we have heroes who, rather than rebelling, actually try to change the system from within?

Three reasons:

1. That's boring.

2. YA lit means they have to be teenagers. I suppose we could have a novel about a dystopian hero (or heroine) who works hard, studies hard, sucks up to bigshots and attracts supporters with his (or her) years of political experience and fine-tuned charisma, and then gradually transitions the society into a well-fed democracy...but wait. If this takes years, chances are these characters will no longer be teenagers by the end of the novel.

3. Rebellion is an important part of the teenage years--which means YA literature can't exist without it.

And now that NAlitchat has started, I'm ending this post. But I'm not finished with this argument. Point #3 is important enough to me that it's getting a whole post of its own.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Three Things To Do Before You Vote

(This is mostly all common sense, but it never hurts to re-iterate it.)

1. Learn about something other than the presidential race! The presidential race is the issue everyone talks about, but in reality, it's the issue that should mean the least to you. Unless you live in a swing state, your individual vote won't make an ounce of difference. (Thanks, electoral college system.) However, your vote does count in other matters. Who is running for Congress or Governor in your state? Learn about these people. What are their opinions, or, more importantly, their political experience. What about ballot initiatives (ie propositions and amendments)? The ballot initiatives are the only means through which you can have a direct voice. When you get to the polls, they will ask you about things like cigarette taxes, partisan/nonpartisan judge assignments, and other weird things written in lawyer-speak. Learn about these ahead of time so that you know whether or not you want to vote for them!

2. Check the facts. There is a lot of false or misleading information out there, and it's your responsibility to know the truth behind them. I recommend factcheck.org. Also, before you go around bashing things like the Affordable Care Act, you probably want to take a look at what's actually in there.

3. Dress appropriately! If you come to the polls wearing a shirt that endorses a particular party/issue/candidate, you will be turned away.

With all that said, my stomach is kind of knotty. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for tomorrow night.


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Like I Said...

..."I might toss that project tomorrow."

Basically, the day after I decided to do NaNo (1200 words in), I woke up and realized I didn't want to do it anymore. It wasn't so much because of the 50,000 word panic. Rather, it was the idea of spending a whole month working  on a story that I, quite honestly, didn't give a shit about.

The whole "whatever" premise of the story was what first made it appeal to me: that I could spend the next month writing whatever the hell I wanted--as opposed to The Temple Well, which I absolutely love, but is somewhat of a hot mess. (I've been stressing out about the same scene for the last two months.) So I decided to take a break and try NaNo. I came up with a basic idea of a character and a premise, and it was moderately fun for about an hour. But by the time I went to bed that night, I realized how much the whole thing bored me and I threw it out the next morning.

I'm glad I tried NaNo, but this very brief experiment was enough to help me decide that it isn't for me. I'd rather spend the rest of my life slaving away and obsessing over a project I care about than half-assing something that means nothing to me.

For those who are continuing with NaNo, good luck to all of you! As for me, I'll still be here with that unfinished ten-year project that I sometimes call a novel.

***

Also, life update: One of my roommate and I are moving next month. Currently, we are subletting a rooms in a three-bedroom in Jersey City. Due to our apartment being kind of shitty (with slow wifi) and our other roommate (read: the guy who gets our rent money) being kind of a sketch-ball, we have decided to move. Yesterday, we looked at a place in Ironbound (the nice section of Newark) and fell in love with it.

I'm already planning our housewarming party!

(I am kind of sad about leaving Jersey City, though. I love Jersey City, or at least as much as I could love any part of New Jersey.)


Thursday, November 1, 2012

NaNoWriMo

I have decided to do NaNoWriMo this year. I made this decision two hours ago and since then I have written just over 500 words.

Note that I may retract this decision at any point during the next month. I might toss the project tomorrow, or even tonight.

Mostly, I just needed to get myself writing, but on something that wasn't The Temple Well. Or another project that was meaningful to me in any way. I need to write something that I can chug straight through without caring about whether I need to improve it or write with any certain goal in mind.

I'm doing this for the sole purpose of perfecting that essential "butt in chair" technique that I seem to fail at doing.

So Happy NaNo to all of you. If you're interested, my NaNo name is breaking_burgundy.

With that said, I have 1100 words left to write tonight.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Review of Beta, by Rachel Cohn


This book came out about two weeks ago. I got an ARC through a giveaway at Live to Read. Thanks again, Krystal!

From the minimal research I did on Rachel Cohn, it sounds like all of her other books are contemporaries. This doesn't come as any surprise. Beta reads like a science fiction book written by someone who, quite honestly, half-assed all the science fictional elements. This is very clear from the world-building. In order to design a unique, futuristic world, you have to be able to think outside your own boundaries. How would growing technology and mass-scale wars and disasters change cultural mindsets? How would the world be different?

The world of Beta isn't that different from ours. This book is only two steps away from being futuristic Gossip Girl or Desperate Housewives. The rich people have the same hobbies, problems, and mindsets as they do in most contemporary literature. When I hear about an island paradise where people are practically drugged into relaxation, I think about people lounging around by the pool all day, not people studying to get into top universities or training for the military. And how is it that this world's views on gender are nearly identical to our own? Then there are the little things. Does the author really expect me to believe that people in post-polar meltdown dystopia eat the same food and use the same slang and idioms as I do? Language is supposed to evolve, dammit!

Now, that's not meant to diss the book as a whole. There were parts where I actually liked this book. The characters all started out very well-rounded and interesting. I liked the 'whiny teenager' aspect of Mother's personality, and how Greer, as the archetypical slut, still seemed far more intelligent and observant than most of the other characters. Unfortunately, the subtleties in their characterizations fully disintegrated by the end of the book. Greer and her interesting complexities all but vanished off the page, and Ivan's seeming 'meathead with a heart' demeanor descended straight into, well, just plain meathead.

There was, however, one aspect of the plot that stayed successful throughout: Tahir. I don't want to spoil anything, but his arc was both brilliant and unexpected, and I loved his family.

Elysia's own character development was excellent. I loved seeing her coming into her own as a person and beginning to assert her own identity and freedom. But, once again, I found myself disappointed at the end.

And this is where the spoilers begin:

Elysia's journey to asserting control over her own body and her own destiny was completely undermined by the decision not to abort the pregnancy. Note that I'm not criticizing a woman's choice to keep a baby who was conceived through rape; that decision is the woman's to make, and I respect it. However, the decision to keep the baby was never Elysia's. It was the Aquine and M-X who made that decision for her, and Elysia merely accepted it. The fact that Elysia never rebelled or even displayed open resentfulness at that decision completely went against her new-found strength. I did some research on the author, and it doesn't seem like she's anti-abortion in any way. I don't think she meant this book to have a contradictory message, but unfortunately, that's what came out.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

An Announcement

To those who are following me for writing and book-related reasons, this probably won't mean a whole lot, but it's a big announcement nonetheless:

I got into medical school.

I don't want to say too much about where I got in, since it's still very early in the process. I'm still waiting to hear back about a particular program at this school, and then there are other interviews and another school that might get back to me within the next several weeks. Suffice to say, I will have a more definite decision sometime in March.

But I can say the following:

1. I loved this school, and I'm very happy about getting in here.

2. This school is not in New Jersey--and that's a good thing.

3. I will start medical school sometime next summer.

So that's my news! I hope everyone else has had an awesome day, too!

ETA 3/27/2013: This is where I'm going to medical school.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Overdue Bloggerversary Post

So it's been (over a) year since I started this blog, and that probably merits a post. Actually, that probably merited a post back in September, but I didn't have the time/motivation to do it until now.*

*Actually, the real reason I am blogging right now is that I came across an article about TV Tropes and rape, and I suddenly had the urge to scroll through that list myself. But as everyone knows, TV Tropes is the black hole of the internet, and I still have to make my room look presentable before my friend comes into town. So this post is, more than anything, a way to get my mind on something other than "I will not go on TV Tropes. I will not go on TV Tropes."

Anyway, I don't have very much to brag about blog-wise, as I only have 37 followers, and I suspect that most of them haven't looked at this blog since they clicked the "Follow via GFC" button all those months ago. But honestly, I'm okay with that. I'm not nearly at the point in my writing career where I need to start advertising myself.

I know a lot of people treat their blog like a second job. They blog regularly, and make sure all of their posts are neat and polished, and have rating systems and cutesy signatures. And that's a big part of what makes them good bloggers. But I didn't come into this wanting to be a "good blogger." I just wanted to have a place where I could share my thoughts and maybe meet some other people with a similar interest in books and writing.

On several occasions, I thought about creating a blog schedule or running a book giveaway to gain more followers. But I don't want the kind of followers who only subscribe to my blog because of the possibility of getting free stuff. I will admit, there are some blogs that I follow for no reason other than the fact that I can win free books--and that's something I'm not ashamed to admit. Those also aren't the blogs that I read. Occasionally I'll skim a post or two, but I usually just scroll through them on my RSS feed.

The blogs that I do consistently read are the ones that are more than book reviews and repetitive writing advice--they're the ones where the bloggers have opinions and ideas, and who occasionally let pieces of their own lives slip into their posts. The bloggers I enjoy are the ones with whom I would like to have a conversation.

And that's really what a blog should be: a forum for discussion (or at least that's what I want my blog to be.) If I have any goals as a blogger (other than to post more often, and be better about checking spelling and grammar before I hit 'publish'), it's to receive more comments. I love hearing what other people have to say, whether or not they agree with me. To all of you lurkers: if you have something to say, feel free to say it! I promise I won't judge you or wonder "who are you and why are you talking to me?"

(Not that I'm begging for comments in any way. If you don't have anything to say, that's okay. The best comments are the insightful ones, not the ones that were just put there for the sake of stroking a blogger's ego.)

***

Anyway, now that I've given you my whole shpiel on blogger philosophy, here's my checklist for the reviews I need to finish:

-Beta, by Rachel Cohn (ARC)
-Keturah and Lord Death, by Martine Leavitt (audio)
-The Sound of Blue, by Holly Payne (New Adult)
-Cinder, by Marissa Meyer
-Blame It on Paris, by Laura Florand (New Adult)
-Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo
-A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin

Sunday, October 7, 2012

ARC Review: "Time Between Us," by Tamara Ireland Stone


Goodreads Summary:

Anna and Bennett were never supposed to meet: she lives in 1995 Chicago and he lives in 2012 San Francisco. But Bennett has the unique ability to travel through time and space, which brings him into Anna’s life, and with him a new world of adventure and possibility.

As their relationship deepens, the two face the reality that time may knock Bennett back to where he belongs, even as a devastating crisis throws everything they believe into question. Against a ticking clock, Anna and Bennett are forced to ask themselves how far they can push the bounds of fate, what consequences they can bear in order to stay together, and whether their love can stand the test of time.


***

This is another ARC I won through a giveaway at Live to Read. (Thanks, Krystal!)

For the most part, I enjoyed this book. It started out rather dull, but Anna was a great character, and her relationships to the other characters were very well-realized. I usually don't like romance-heavy books, but the date scenes were more than just steamy and romantic--they actually sounded fun.

One thing I especially loved was how Bennett was more than just a love interest for Anna--he was a chance for her to experience the adventure she always craved. And even more than that, I loved the book's message: you can't depend on another person to make your life an adventure. One of the big problems with YA paranormal romance (and yes, this book would count as PNR) is that many female protagonists are so boring that they might as well not even exist without their Sexy Supernatural Boyfriends. This book refuses to take that route.

Unfortunately, I felt that the last chapter of the book somewhat undermined the message of self-reliance. (Not to mention the fact that I don't understand how he 'fixed' his time travel rut in the first place.) There was also an occasion where Bennett passionately argued for something that I had trouble believing would matter to him. Also, I was disappointed that I never found out what happened to his sister.

But I still recommend this book. And I'm very excited to see what other books Tamara Ireland Stone has to offer.

***

Time Between Us comes out October 9th.


Saturday, October 6, 2012

Imagine my hilarity when I came across this

Yesterday, YA Highway's weekly link roundup directed me to this page: http://io9.com/5948206/here-are-the-fifteen-professions-that-drink-the-most-coffee-guess-whos-number-one

Apparently, it's a new travesty that writers aren't #1 on the list of coffee drinkers.

Oh, writers. Sometimes you guys just remind me of those thirteen-year-olds who think they're so sophisticated when they order frappaccinos at Starbucks. It's just so...adorable.

I've lost track of all the writer/book blogger accounts where the title or "about me" section mentions something about loving coffee.* Bragging about your caffeine addiction is such a writer thing to do, and it's not hard to see why. After all, the cafe is the center of the 'intellectual lifestyle.' You're not a 'real writer' unless you hang around in cafes with your laptop. And you're not a 'real writer' unless you have internal struggles and addictions--but alas, the days of bohemian writers are long gone. Nowadays, writers want to make art while simultaneously managing stable, loving families, which means that an addiction to anything more serious than caffeine is a big no-no. (Also, it is now considered unprofessional to brag about your drug use on your blog. Unless you're a really obscure visual artist, and then it's only okay if you're using said drugs as 'inspiration.') In other words, caffeine addiction proves that you're a 'real writer.' (Even though, in actuality, all caffeine addiction proves is that you're an average American.)

Now scientists. Scientists don't brag about their caffeine addictions. Why? Because it won't impress anyone. If you work in a lab, your caffeine addiction is already assumed.

*That's not saying I'm judging those writers who talk about coffee in their profile. I know you're not doing it to impress anyone--you really do just love coffee. (Some of my favorite bloggers do this, actually.)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Book Recommendation: Living Dead Girl, by Elizabeth Scott (audiobook)

I'm sick today, and oddly excited for the chance to blog again, which just goes to show how off my priorities are. (I swear, my SAT classes end on Thursday and then I'll be here more often!)

This was another book I read on audio during my summer road trip. I don't even know why it took me so long to get this review together, as I loved this book.


A little while before reading this book, I was speaking to a friend* who used to do therapy work with sex offenders. He has a theory that there is a difference between child molesters and pedophiles. Child molesters know what they're doing is bad. Oftentimes, they resort to alcohol or drugs to get past the conscience barrier that prevents them from carrying out their urges. But pedophiles? They don't think they're doing anything wrong. They actually believe that their actions are an expression of love towards the children.  And out of the two groups, pedophiles are the really scary ones.

As I was listening to Living Dead Girl, I couldn't help but repeat this conversation in my head. Ray, without a doubt, is a pedophile. He actually believes he is in love with Alice--that he is taking care of her, teaching her to act the way she should, doing anything in his power to maintain her youth. Of course, there is no tenderness in this care--there is only threats, violence, and domination. But while you never sympathize with Ray, you can never stop seeing him as human.

Alice is even more well-realized. You can see the way her five years with Ray have warped her mind.  She sees Ray as an all-powerful, all-knowing figure, and even when she does overcome her own feelings of helplessness and plans to escape, her thoughts and priorities never veer from "fucked up." It's even more disturbing in the way she views other people: she barely feels sympathy for the girl she plans to help Ray kidnap, and even though she wants to protect her family, she never thinks about the possibility of returning to them after escaping. Instead, she hopes that she will be locked in prison, where she will be safe and be allowed to grow fat enough that no one will want to touch her again. Even in her moments of strength, she never stops being a victim. There is no heroism here, and that's what makes this book so real. Alice's potential "saviors" are a drug-addled teenage boy and a cop who knows something is wrong, but still hasn't put the whole picture together yet. (Some people might take issue with Alice's immoral decisions or the way she sometimes implies that her kidnapping was "deserved", but honestly, I think Elizabeth Scott does a very good job with the nuances of Alice's mentality. To present Alice's situation as something that could be easily overcome by a virtuous protagonist would be nothing short of offensive towards those who still suffer the scars of kidnapping and pedophilia.)

Another thing I noticed about this book is the way it sometimes seemed to touch upon our own society's obsession with youth. I don't think the author was going so far as to suggest that pedophilia is a result of this obsession, but as someone who is afraid of growing older (I just turned twenty-four and am only now beginning to see myself as an adult), this book hit a little too close to home.

Stylistically, this book was beautifully written, and Kate Reinders was the perfect choice of audiobook narrator.

Needless to say, I highly recommend this book.

*I really should give credit where credit is due. My friend is John Minus, whose writings can be found here: http://exiteleven.blogspot.com/

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Review of "Origin," by Jessica Khoury


I probably wouldn't have picked up this novel, except that I won an ARC in a giveaway at Live to Read. It hit stores a few days ago, but due to the fact that I had it shipped to my family's house in St. Louis rather than my new apartment, I didn't get a chance to read it until I met my mom in Vermont.

Other than the prose, there is only one element of the book that was well-done: Pia. Her thoughts and emotions came across as very real, and never once did her actions feel forced.

But as for everything else? Ugh, where to begin? We'll start with Eio--a romantic hunk and too stupid to live. Sure, I get that he's in love, but some of his actions are just bona fide idiotic. I mean, what the hell do you think you're going to accomplish by throwing yourself against an electric fence? And his conversations with Pia? The progression of dialogue is far from realistic. And it doesn't help that his community is full of the archetypical noble savages. None of the Ai'oans actually felt like real characters. Outside of their relationship to Pia, the scientists, and the mythical immortality-granting flower, these characters hardly seemed to have any identities of their own. Oh yeah, and the way they welcome Pia into their community as a savior, despite the fact that she's an outsider? They knew about the scientists' experiments on immortality flowers, as well the deep, dark secret behind that immortality. Their response to meeting her shouldn't have been "Oh, hey, an immortal girl came to save us!" I'm thinking something more along the lines of "Fuck, fuck, fuck. This girl was made immortal by crazy scientists who discovered the deep, dark secret!"

Oh, and speaking of crazy scientists, what's the deal with all of these books portraying researchers as cold, emotionless wannabe robots? Or at least that's what I thought by the end of the first chapter. But by the time I finished the book, it was very clear that the scientists here go beyond simply "cold." In fact, in order for Pia to become a scientist in the Immortis project, she has to pass what are called Wickham tests, which basically measure how much of a sociopath you are.

Some background on real-life scientists: We're not sociopaths. We're not emotionless eugenicists. We have quirks, feelings, and familial affections, and yes, we listen to music. Some of us are religious, and believe it or not, we even have morals! (Two of the principle investigators I have worked for were vegetarians, even though both worked in labs that performed research on animals.) And although we do kill and maim animals, we try to do it painlessly, and with a greater good in mind.

The scientists in Origin claim they follow a similar "ends justify the means" philosophy, but while the book makes it very clear what the "means" are, I'm a little hazy on the "ends." From the sound of it, all the Immortis project is meant to accomplish is to prove to the world that SCIENCE IZ TEH AWESOME. They will not be saving lives, curing diseases, or even making any money. (And this also brings up the question of why they need to create a whole race of immortals? Isn't just one immortal enough to suit their purposes?)

I expected this blog post to come out very angry like my Insurgent review did, (at least Insurgent tried to show examples of decent scientists) but the anger has passed and now all I'm left with is a feeling of puzzlement. I still can't wrap my head around the fact that somebody actually wrote this.

But while I'm at it, let me point out a few more things: a) What's with delaying the big reveal? Sure, it's more dramatic, but would the characters actually do that? When I want to warn someone of great evil and impending doom, I don't get all cryptic about it. I give them the details, and I do so as quickly as possible. b) Pia can't bleed, but she can bruise--which doesn't make any sense, because bruises are caused by internal bleeding. c)  I'm fairly certain Jessica Khoury has no idea what cerebral palsy is--a problem that could have been fixed with a two-minute Google search. (If you're really going to throw in a token fatal disease without doing any research, just use cancer.)

Don't waste your time on Origin. Or, if you insist on being masochistic, just get a copy from the library rather than spending actual money on this anti-intellectual tripe.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

September Preview

Hi everyone.

As expected, I'm still behind on reviews, but now that I am done with applications, I should have more time to review. Actually, no I won't because I'm teaching four days a week this month.

Upcoming Reviews:

These are the books I'm going to review this month:

Origin, by Jessica Khoury (ARC)
Living Dead Girl, by Elizabeth Scott (audiobook)
Keturah and Lord Death, by Martine Leavitt (audiobiook)
The Sound of Blue, by Holly Payne (New Adult Project)
Cinder, by Marissa Meyer
Blame it on Paris, by Laura Florand (New Adult Project)
Shadow and Bone, by Leigh Bardugo

Currently Reading:

I finished Shadow and Bone last night and started Origin this morning. I'm also (finally) reading A Game of Thrones. (It took me forever to find a copy. I looked in no less than six libraries and four bookstores. I finally found an audiobook version, and then when I went to Vermont and every bookstore had a copy. Apparently, it's only New Jersey that sucks.)

Blogoversary:

This month is also my one month blogoversary, so I guess I should do a post about that.

Other posts:

-I really want to do a post on characters who grow up through a series. It's something that's relevant to my own writing, especially since my characters start out in their late teens and end the series in their mid-twenties.

-I also want to write a "tropes that annoy me" post.

-One of these days, (NOT this month) I should do a post about spinal cord injury and fiction.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

New Adult Project Review: "The Nanny Diaries," by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus (audiobook)

With all the talk about New Adult, we often forget that there's one genre that has been embracing twenty-something protagonists for a long time: chick-lit. The Nanny Diaries is a great example of a New Adult success, especially considering that in addition to hitting the best-seller list, it was also made into a movie.


Goodreads Summary:

Wanted:

One young woman to take care of four-year-old boy. Must be cheerful, enthusiastic and selfless—bordering on masochistic. Must relish sixteen-hour shifts with a deliberately nap-deprived preschooler. Must love getting thrown up on, literally and figuratively, by everyone in his family. Must enjoy the delicious anticipation of ridiculously erratic pay. Mostly, must love being treated like fungus found growing out of employers Hermès bag. Those who take it personally need not apply.

Who wouldn’t want this job? Struggling to graduate from NYU and afford her microscopic studio apartment, Nanny takes a position caring for the only son of the wealthy X family. She rapidly learns the insane amount of juggling involved to ensure that a Park Avenue wife who doesn’t work, cook, clean, or raise her own child has a smooth day.

When the Xs marriage begins to disintegrate, Nanny ends up involved way beyond the bounds of human decency or good taste. Her tenure with the X family becomes a nearly impossible mission to maintain the mental health of their four-year-old, her own integrity and, most importantly, her sense of humor. Over nine tense months, Mrs. X and Nanny perform the age-old dance of decorum and power as they test the limits of modern-day servitude.

***


I sort of cheated with this one, since I actually saw the movie a few years ago. So as I was listening to this book, I couldn't help but compare them.

And while I did like the book, I thought the movie did a few things better. (The movie took several liberties with the adaptation. They changed the character from a college senior to a recent graduate, changed her name, her college major, and her family situation, and even added a best friend and love interest.) For one thing, the movie did a much better job at incorporating this character's outside identity (her family and interest in anthropology, for example) into the story. In the book, however, you don't get too much of a sense of the protagonist as being anything other than a nanny. Her major is in child development, and until you see her writing her final thesis near the end of the book, you practically forget that she's a college student. I also didn't understand the authors' choice of names in the book. A nanny named "Nanny"? Really? And Mr. and Mrs. X? Another thing I liked about the movie was that there was a reason for the Xs' anonymity. (The whole story was an admissions essay for an anthropology program, and it would be inappropriate to reveal their real names.) I also thought the movie did better with pacing.

One issue I had that was specific to the audiobook was the choice of narrator. Julia Roberts' tone often felt too flat, so Nanny's irritation didn't come across as well as it should have.

If the above description makes this sound like your kind of book, then I would definitely read it. But if you're on the fence about it, then don't feel guilty about skipping straight to the movie. It's a lot better.

ETA: Turns out the audiobook is actually abridged. I wonder if that's the source of some of my problems.

***



Thursday, August 16, 2012

Audiobook Review: "The Alchemist," by Paulo Coelho


This book has been on my to-read list forever, even though I knew absolutely nothing about it. (It was mostly the title and it's 'presence' that attracted me. As in, "Yay, a literary book about an alchemist!") So when I saw this on the shelf of the library, I knew I should check it out. On the way from Cleveland to Cincinnati, I popped it in my car, and the mythical prose, read by the voice of Jeremy Irons (Scar in The Lion King), began to carry me away.

Emphasis on "began." Probably the only thing that this book did well was its prose. The protagonist is rarely (or never?) referred to by name. In this way, the author does manage to create an air of legend about the story.

But beyond that? This book is nothing more than faux-intellectual masturbation. The characters spend most of their time discussing vague philosophy: destiny and 'personal legends' and alchemy and 'the Soul of the World' and love and fear and blah, blah, blah. This book goes on and on about not being a victim of Fate and choosing your own destiny, but it's very hypocritical in that the main character hardly ever plays an active role in choosing his destiny. Usually, it's either luck or some mystical figure that prompts him to action. And the love? This is insta-love at its worst. As in "their eyes met and they were in love." Not kidding. And this amazing love interest whom he was always destined to meet has no personality or presence beyond "I love you and want you to pursue your destiny, because that's what REAL MEN OF THE DESERT do." Her entire existence is centered on wanting the man she loves to pursue his destiny. Does she get a destiny too? Fuck if I know, because she's only in the book for about five minutes.

If you're the kind of person who's inspired by vague, semi-hypocritical fictional philosophers, then this book might be for you. But if you're looking for, you know, an actual story with actual substance, don't waste your time.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Sunday, August 5, 2012

ARC Review: "The Boy Recession" by Flynn Meaney


Goodreads Summary:

Where have all the boys gone?

Down-to-earth Kelly is always the friend and never the girlfriend. But as her junior year of high school starts, Kelly is determined to finally reveal her true feelings for her long-time crush and good friend Hunter - that is, until the Boy Recession hits.

Over the past summer, an overwhelming number of male students have left Kelly and Hunter's small high school class. Some were sent to private school and others moved away. Whatever the case, the sudden population shift has left the already small Julius P. Heil High in desperate shape. The football coach is recruiting chess champs for his team, the principal's importing male exchange students to balance out school dances,and Hunter is about to become an unexpected heartthrob.

Content with his role as the guitar-strumming, class-skipping slacker, Hunter is unprepared to be the center of attention. Desperate coaches are recruiting him for sports teams, and the drama teacher casts him in the lead role of the school musical. Even the Spandexers, powerful popular girls in tight pants, are noticing Hunter in a new light - with a little work, he could have potential. He might even be boyfriend material...

In order to stand out from the crowd and win Hunter's heart, Kelly needs a "stimulus package" in the form of cougar lessons from a senior girl who dates hot freshman boys and advice on the male mind from her Cosmo-addicted best friend, Aviva. As if dating wasn't hard enough without a four-to-one ratio!

***


A while ago, I wrote about a review I was dreading, because I didn't want to bash an already under-publicized book. Ultimately, I decided that I am an honest reviewer, and that I'm not going to hold back on my opinions.

Lucky for this book, I ended up not hating it. In fact, I kind of liked it.

I'll start with the criticism, since that's the first thing that came to mind. The concept of a "boy recession" was probably meant to be original and clever, but I found it silly. It's kind of surprising, since Flynn Meaney's first book (Bloodthirsty--no, I didn't read it) actually had an awesome idea behind it ("Some vampires are good. Some are evil. Some are faking it to get girls.")

In a lot of ways, this book felt juvenile. The characters seemed more like stereotypes than actual people. And if you're one of those people who hates when all "other women" are written as neurotic windbags, this is probably not the book for you.

But The Boy Recession did get better as it went along. While the style was nothing to write home about (it sometimes seemed like the author was trying too hard to sound like a teenager), there is no doubt that Hunter and Kelly's voices were distinct. And many of the side characters who first appeared as stereotypes actually did display some idiosyncrasies. Darcy, Eugene, and Aviva turned out to be really fun characters for example, though some of the others never did break out of "neurotic whore" mode.

And, well, the story and the romance were really sweet. Both Hunter and Kelly grew on me, and I "awwed" at the end. Oh, and there were some really hilarious moments.

So while The Boy Recession is not good for those who like thoughtful, serious reads, it's perfect for those days when you're looking for a sweet, funny, light-hearted contemporary.

***

The Boy Recession comes out on August 7th. My sister's roommate lent me the ARC.

Also, for those who are interested, Goodreads is hosting a giveaway here.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...