Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The New Adult Project: "The Secret History" by Donna Tartt

"This is the only story I will ever be able to tell."


Goodreads Summary:

Richard Papen arrived at Hampden College in New England and was quickly seduced by an elite group of five students, all Greek scholars, all worldly, self-assured, and, at first glance, all highly unapproachable. As Richard is drawn into their inner circle, he learns a terrifying secret that binds them to one another...a secret about an incident in the woods in the dead of night where an ancient rite was brought to brutal life...and led to a gruesome death. And that was just the beginning....

***

In the last couple months of working on the New Adult Project, I've read across several "genres." So it's fitting that, in addition to fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and contemporary, I include some more literary fiction. I should add that I didn't choose this book for the purpose of seeking out something "literary" (nor is it the first book in the project that could be called this--I Am the Messenger uses techniques that break the fourth wall, for example.) The reason I point this out is that this book will appeal more to readers of "literary" fiction than to those seeking a quick, fun, plot-centered read. I loved this book, but it is not the sort of book you can devour in a single day. The best way to enjoy this book is by taking your time.

And when you do take your time, you realize just how masterfully Donna Tartt handles the story. She has an incredible talent for creating atmosphere. Take this passage:

"Though, at the time, I found those dinners wearing and troublesome, now I find that something very wonderful in my memory of them: that dark cavern of a room, with vaulted ceilings and a fire crackling in the fireplace, our faces luminous somehow, and ghostly pale. The firelight magnified our shadows, glinted off the silver, flickered high upon the walls; it's reflection roared orange in the windowpanes as if a city were burning outside." (85)

If you're a regular follower of this blog, you might have realized that I don't quote a lot. Sure, I will often mention a writer's talent for prose, but I'm usually too lazy to actually search for a quote. But I would be doing this book a severe disservice if I failed to include a bit of text.

But this book is more than just good prose. Tartt's characters are incredibly well-rounded. You might recognize some stereotypes among the minor characters, but they have personalities and quirks far beyond these typical roles. And as for the primary cast? We start with a group of pretentious intellectuals. Most of them are rich, and they seem to exist in their own bubble of privilege and fantasy. But it is only when they decide to experiment with madness--the ultimate break from reality--that they are forced back into a world of practical concerns, where finances are limited and mistakes actually have consequences.

And it is through these consequences that we start to see just how fucked up all of them are.

***

Full list of "New Adult Project" Reviews

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, by Michelle Hodkin


There were a lot of things I heard about this book--creepy, funny, sexy--and really, when I finally discovered a copy in a nearby library, the last thing I expected to take out of this book was boredom.

It wasn't just a "sagging middle" sort of boredom. I was pretty much bored throughout. The "mysterious" elements were fairly predictable, and far too much time was spent on lukewarm romance. And don't get me started on the romance. (Too late.) Remember that list I compiled a while back? (Things I never want to see in YA romance again) I wrote that list while reading this book. And it's guilty on all counts.

We can start by discussing the first: "Girl meets boy. Boy starts off acting like a jerk." My problem with this book isn't the "douchebag, semi-abusive boyfriend" trope. At least that would have a sense of consistency--as in, guy acts like a jerk because he is a jerk. Is Noah a jerk? I have no fucking clue. Sure, we're supposed to believe this at first, but by the end of the book, he might as well be a fucking preacher. In which case, he has no plausible reason for acting like a jerk.

My main issue with Noah is that he has no consistency. Sure, nice guys sometimes act like jerks, (and vice versa), but his change in behavior seems to follow nothing more than the author's whims. His entire character feels like a bunch of wish fulfillment tropes thrown into one:

1. Nice boys are boring, so we can't just have a love interest walk onto the page and help the protagonist carry her books. No, we need to show that he's a bad boy. Because bad boys are hot.

2. But of course, he's not actually a bad boy. He has a heart of gold. Animals love him, and he cares about his family, and he would never take advantage of the protagonist. Oh yeah, and he's a virgin (if I remember correctly.)

3. And of course, Mara is the only girl he ever cared about. So it's okay that he's a jerk to the token jealous bitch-slut and a handful of other girls he dated, because they're all air-headed bimbos who don't deserve a guy's respect.

(Note: There is mention of him doing something really dick-ish to this one girl, but the story is never fully resolved. Despite being previously pissed at him over it, Mara seems to forgive him after almost no explanation of the incident.)

4. Oh and he's hot. And rich. And British. And multilingual. And funny. (I will give him that. Noah is occasionally hilarious. But the occasional funny quote is not enough to redeem an otherwise boring relationship.)

5. And just for kicks, we'll throw in an angsty past.

And the other characters? I already mentioned the token jealous bitch-slut who apparently has nothing better to do than bully the protagonist. And then there's the token multi-minority best friend who had the potential to be a great character, but was conveniently dismissed about halfway through the novel.

The only well-formed characters in the book were Mara's family. Especially her older brother. But that was about it.

As to the ending? It was a mixture of "cop-out" and "to be continued."

So in short, this book involves sitting through 400 pages of boring dates and cliche high school drama just to come to the very obvious conclusion that Mara can [insert River Tam quote here].

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Random Update

It's been a while since I've updated, and I just wanted to let people know I haven't been eaten by bears.

I'm currently reading The Secret History for the New Adult Project, and while I really like it, it's not exactly the sort of thing that begs to be picked up every time you have a spare moment. I've been reading it since the end of January, and I have to return it to the library next week, so I will try to finish it this weekend.

I just realized that it has been a month since I read The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer, and I still haven't posted my review. I will try to get to it either tonight or tomorrow. (Warning: Rant ahead.)

Also, I noticed that a few of you are wading through the query trenches right now. I don't want to say too much about this right now, but I'm going through more-or-less the exact same thing with med school applications, so I do feel your pain.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The New Adult Project: "Spring Break" by Kayla Perrin

Note: Before I get into this review, I just wanted to mention that Macmillan Audio sent me a clip of the Tempest audiobook. If you like audiobooks, you should check it out here.

***


Goodreads Summary:

“Help me . . .”

These are the last words Chanetelle hears from her friend Ashley, in a static-filled phone call that soon goes dead. Their trip to the island paradise of Artula started the way any trip should, and soon Chanetelle and her friends find themselves in sun-drenched days and party-hopping nights. The vacation is not without its conflicts, however, and old rivalries and new jealousies come to light as the week passes. But no one expects things to turn as ugly as they do. No one expects that they won’t all return. And no one expects that murder might be the ultimate souvenir. 

When Ashley disappears, the question is asked: Was it a random act of violence? Or is something more sinister going on? And is Ashley really dead, after all?  

With a breakneck pace and cat-and-mouse twists, Spring Break is the ultimate beach read.

Note: I really couldn't review this book without some spoilers. The plot spoilers are minor, but there are a few comments in here that will change the way you view the characters, which will in turn affect your expectations.

So if you haven't read this book yet, but think you might want to, here is a quick, spoiler-free review: Good mystery, good pacing, meets feminist approval, respectful towards rape survivors, romance a bit on the insta-love side (but not overwhelming), crappy style.

***

I don't read a lot of mysteries, so I'm probably not the best person to judge them, but I did like how this one played out. There were so many different elements to the mystery, and even though I was able to predict some of them fairly quickly, I kept reading on to see how everything came together. So in that sense, the mystery was well constructed.

Another aspect of this book that I respected was the author's treatment of rape survivors. I've seen a lot of readers complain about rape culture, victim blaming, and pointless rape scenes in books. Spring Break has none of that. Rape affects the characters long after the fact. The trauma changes them, but it doesn't become their entire character.

Actually, something interesting about this book is that it shows a very realistic contradiction in how the main character views sex and dating. On one page, Chanetelle is excited about the possibility of spring break hook-ups. However, when she and her friends actually meet guys, she reveals her more cautious side. Same goes for how Chanetelle views other women. When she sees a girl in skimpy clothing on the arm of her friend's creepy ex, she describes that girl as a bimbo. Obviously, that's an unfair assumption (I mean, it's not like that girl knows he's a creep) and it's a little hypocritical, considering that Chanetelle and her friends are doing their own share of dressing up and flirting (isn't that the whole point of spring break?), but never once did this feel like "slut shaming." The evil, bitchy slut who is practically a staple in girly novels (Psych Major Syndrome, The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer) never appears here, and despite the fact that Chanetelle expresses concern and disapproval over her friends' amorous decisions, she never loses respect for them.

The romance was a bit too insta-love for me, but it didn't overwhelm the plot. Chanetelle's search for answers and her concern for her friend were much higher on her priority list, and these weren't forgotten every time her love interest walked into the room.

Stylistically, this book was pretty bad. The exposition and "telling instead of showing," were worse than Tempest. I was also bothered by how one of the main characters walked off the page about 2/3 of the way into the novel. I think this character could have been a lot more developed.

I'm still on the fence over whether to list this one as "recommended" or not. This book was satisfying, but not impressive. However, Chantelle was very relatable, and this book is a fun, well-paced read.

So yeah, come to think of it, I do recommend it.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

Review of "The Adoration of Jenna Fox" by Mary E. Pearson

As I mentioned earlier, I'm a bit behind on non-New Adult book reviews, so it's time to start fixing this.


Like, Never Let Me Go, some people call this book dystopian, but it's more science fiction than straight-up dystopian. Most of the world-building is related to medicine and crop genetics, but otherwise, it isn't very different from our world, so the "dystopian" label might be a little misleading.

But the world-building, as limited as it was, is definitely the center of the story. And it was a very interesting world. While it was brimming with pseudoscience, I did appreciate how the author brought attention to some very real medical threats, such as rapidly growing antibiotic resistance. (Some scientists predict that antibiotics will be ineffective in as little as ten years.)

But outside of presenting a world that is simultaneously medically-advanced and medically-screwed, the book didn't do much else. Sure, there is the mystery of who is/what happened to Jenna Fox, but that counts for very little in the way of plot. Hardly anything really 'happens,' and the ending doesn't really feel like an ending.

I liked the writing style. I'm still not sure how I feel about the characters. They were okay, but most of them were pretty forgettable. I did like Alice and Lily and the neighbor (forgot his name), though.

Given my "meh" feeling about the book, I normally wouldn't pick up the sequel, but Suzanne Collins blurbed it, so that has to mean something. (I'm sure every YA dystopia author in existance is pounding on her door, so this one must have been good if she decided to blurb it. Right?)

The Girl on Fire

My sister-in-law was asked to cater a couple of office parties recently. Two of her friends were over tonight, and she was making biscotti for them. At one point, she joked about how she had a new name for her "company." She brought out a magazine and flipped it to a page advertising some Italian chocolate. "I will call it 'Dolce Vivere'" (the name of the chocolate).

On the opposite page was an ad for "Capitol Colours," the nail polish line inspired by The Hunger Games. I was glancing down at the ad when I heard my brother screaming. My sister-in-law had been reaching over a set of tea lights, and her bathrobe caught fire. Embers were spreading across her sleeve and back, and they didn't go away when my brother slapped at them, so he pulled the robe off of her and stomped out the fire.

The thought that popped into my head right then: I'll rip off your cape if you'll rip off mine.


(Oh, and my sister-in-law is fine, by the way.)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

In which I reveal just how much of an awkward person I really am

A couple of you guys have given me this little thing. (Thank you Donnelle and Victoria!)


The rules here are 1) post ten random facts about yourself, and 2) pass it on to six other bloggers.

It's that second one that leaves me a little...eh. It's not that I don't love other bloggers. I love you guys, I swear! But to publicly announce my stalking habits...

Me: Congratulations to [Awesome Blogger]!
Awesome Blogger: Do I know you?
Me: Um...

Still Awesome, But Invisible Blogger: Why didn't I get one? Do you not love me?
Me: *curls up in a ball*

Voice of Reason: You know it's not that big of a deal right? It's just some silly internet meme. And there's nothing wrong with plugging blogs you like.
Me: STOP JUDGING ME!

(When I was in college, I was in a co-ed service fraternity (Alpha Phi Omega). At one meeting, we divided up into families and had to guess each member of the family's answer to certain questions. Of course, my question was "Who is the prettiest member of your family?" And I could have merely given an answer, but what if I hurt everyone's feelings by saying they're not the prettiest? And what if the person I pick gets all creeped out? WHY MUST YOU MAKE ME DO THIS? (I ended up choosing the girl who was head of Fellowship Committee, under the guise of being able to joke about "Can I get a free fellowship hour?" But I made the mistake of over-emphasizing the "fellowship hour" part. You know, so that it would be very clear that I wasn't actually making judgments on people's appearances. But that just made it more awkward, because fellowship hours are really easy to get, and the only people who would need a free one are those who have no social life...)

Speaking of awkward, a girl in my lab recently introduced me to Socially Awkward Penguin.


(Okay, enough procrastinating.)

Anyway, there was also a problem where some of the people to whom I would have given this already received one of these.

So fuck the rules. (As I've said before, chain posts make me feel like a sheep.) Instead, I am going to list some blogs that I like and that you should check out. If you're on this list and haven't received a Kreativ Blogger Award, feel free to give yourself one. (I decided to limit this to people who had less than 200 Followers, since those blogs don't really need the boost):

A Little Dversion: Illustrated novels FTW!
Ash Uncharted
Confessions of a Twenty-Something Fiction Writer: Yay, fellow "New Adult" person!
The Raven Desk
Zap's Lobster Tank


Individual posts I really liked:

Athena Franco: "february challenge: a month of letters"
Blogging for YA"A Visual Representation of My Editing Process"
CP Slayer"What YA Fantasy Means to Me"



And, finally, a special plug. Why "special"? This one isn't a writing blog, but actually an artist blog. Rachel Krislov is a very good friend from college, and her talents extend to printmaking, costume design and makeup, fanart, and a bunch of other cool stuff.

This one is my favorite:


Also, Donnelle, I think you guys share a lot of interests (anime, Dr. Who, Tim Burton, Terry Pratchett, cats, creepy stuff.) So you guys should be friends or something.


Oh yeah, and onto the ten facts. I already gave you that tl;dr APO story, so I'll just do nine random facts.

1. I became a serious writer when I was thirteen. My first (and only) completed novel was Harry Potter fanfiction. (This is why I can't appreciate fanfiction.)

2. I love reading bad reviews of books I found overrated. (Ask me anything about Twilight. I've never read a single book, but I know the entire series just from 1.5 movies and following all of the online hate!)

3.Strangely enough, the people who wrote these books often tend to have the most addicting blogs...

4. I'm a vegetarian. And I have killed countless innocent mice in the lab. (Painlessly, of course.)

5. I'm a coward by nature, and I hate myself for it. Therefore, whenever I get the chance to do something even remotely badass, I do it. I have climbed aboard a moving freight train, ridden on the roof of my car, climbed up a rocky ledge, fallen ten feet out of a tree, dunked full-body into the freezing ocean in Cape Town, stripped onstage, climbed to the roof of my university's power plant, and spent two days living with a village of hippy squatters in London. (That last one merits its own post.)

6. I shaved my head in college. It was for a cancer fundraiser, but I was mostly just curious to see how it would look.

7. Pasta strainers are for the weak.

8. It weirds me out how many YA authors get married in their early twenties.

9. If I ate myself to death on Nutella, I would die happy.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The New Adult Project: "Tempest" by Julie Cross (+Audiobook Clip)


Goodreads Summary:


The year is 2009.  Nineteen-year-old Jackson Meyer is a normal guy… he’s in college, has a girlfriend… and he can travel back through time. But it’s not like the movies – nothing changes in the present after his jumps, there’s no space-time continuum issues or broken flux capacitors – it’s just harmless fun.

That is… until the day strangers burst in on Jackson and his girlfriend, Holly, and during a struggle with Jackson, Holly is fatally shot. In his panic, Jackson jumps back two years to 2007, but this is not like his previous time jumps. Now he’s stuck in 2007 and can’t get back to the future.

Desperate to somehow return to 2009 to save Holly but unable to return to his rightful year, Jackson settles into 2007 and learns what he can about his abilities.

But it’s not long before the people who shot Holly in 2009 come looking for Jackson in the past, and these “Enemies of Time” will stop at nothing to recruit this powerful young time-traveler.  Recruit… or kill him.

Piecing together the clues about his father, the Enemies of Time, and himself, Jackson must decide how far he’s willing to go to save Holly… and possibly the entire world.


This book has only been out for a few weeks, and like Hushed, it's a new release I'm happy to recommend. Well, mostly.

If I had to describe Tempest in one sentence, I would call it a great story that is badly written. The prose is amateur, in some cases even bad. Not only that, but the dialogue doesn't always feel natural, and over-exposition and info-dumps abound.

But despite this, I really enjoyed this book. The fast pace and the constant barrage of questions kept me reading--and not reluctantly so. But more importantly, I loved the characters. Adam was awesome, and I loved Jackson's relationship with his deceased sister, Courtney.

And Holly? She's probably one of the best love interests I've seen in, like, ever.

I never love the love interest. They're usually boring (Ethan from The Adoration of Jenna Fox), or too pure-hearted (Evan from Hushed), or simply jerks (Mwita from Who Fears Death.) Even if the love interest is likable and the relationship believable, romance is usually something I tolerate in books.

But Holly was awesome. She's funny, and quirky, and flawed (there are a few hints about her insecurity). Normally I hate date scenes, but Holly made them fun. I understood exactly why she was so important to Jackson, and I cared about their relationship.

I'm still not quite sure how I feel about Jackson. I like him enough, but Cross seems to make him too powerful. (Was it really necessary to include the photographic memory part? It wasn't even necessary for the plot. Not to mention learning advanced combat techniques in less than five minutes.)

I was also a little annoyed by Cross' portrayal of Holly's roommate. The man-hating-lesbian stereotype is not only anti-feminist, but also untrue. (Lesbians don't date women because they think all men are pigs. They date women because they like women.)

So yes, this book has a lot of flaws, but I had a lot of fun reading it, and I happily await the sequel.

***

ETA:

Esther Bochner from Macmillan Audio recently sent me a clip from the audiobook version of Tempest. Check it out here:


video


Thursday, February 2, 2012

My First Audio Book: Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro


I spent fourteen hours alone in a car on the way from St. Louis to Montclair, and I wanted something to listen to other than the CDs I'm all too familiar with. So I took my first plunge into audio books.

In some ways, this was the perfect book to read on audio. Rosalyn Landor has a beautiful voice, and she does a really good job making the characters come to life. However, this book is told in the format of a series of anecdotes, and it often jumps from one story to another. Given that I have a very limited attention span when it comes to listening to things, this often made the narration seem confusing. (Sure, I sometimes wander off even when I'm reading off the page, but it's much easier to back up when you're reading than when you're listening.)

But what about the story?

If I had to classify this book, I would call it a "science fictional story of love and growing up."


It's hard to rate this book, because it excels in some areas and fails in others. The science fictional premise was not entirely successful, in my opinion. It centered on several ethical and philosophical questions which had the potential to make this book very intriguing, but they weren't as well executed as I would have liked. This is largely because of the way the story isolates the characters from the rest of the world. We don't get to see much of the semi-futuristic world, and as a result, everything is explained in a huge info-dump at the end. I spent a large part of the story going "Well, what about _____?" and it would have been nice to see Ishiguro sneak a bit more worldbuilding into the actual story, rather than in the info-dump. There was also an enormous plothole: Why did no one even consider running away? If I knew my future involved a series of life-threatening surgeries, I would jump on the next bus and vanish.

However, as a love story, and especially as a story of youthful reminiscences, the novel is tragic and beautiful. The style and descriptions were absolutely gorgeous. More importantly, the three main characters were all flawed and well-developed. I was especially impressed with Ruth. She is the sort of character who constantly surprises you. There are moments when you're shocked by just how much of a bitch she can be, but then she turns around and surprises you again with acts of true friendship.

The best way to read this book is without expectations. While yes, it is science fiction, it's the sort of science fiction that appeals more to people who like philosophical questions and character-centered novels. Keep that in mind when you read it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

What About POST-Dystopian Novels?

I started working in the lab last week, meaning that I actually have something to do other than check my blog stats all day. (Oh, come on. Don't pretend you don't check them on a daily basis. Or at least weekly?)

I absolutely love my lab. The people are awesome, and I'm finally researching something I'm really passionate about. My P.I. and I have already discussed a potential project involving nerve injury and neuropathic pain.

Of course, real life also means I have a back-log of blog entries I want to write (including three book reviews). So now that I am adjusting to my new schedule, I will try to catch up on posting things. Starting today.

***

This post is actually a response to Francesca Zappia's post on dystopia. (This was originally supposed to be a comment to that post, but it was getting long, so I decided to post it here instead.)

Basically, one of her main points is that she doesn't want to spend an entire book reading about someone discovering that -gasp- choice is good!

It isn't realistic for dystopias to present us with an entire society that follows the rules without question. Sure, totalitarian societies do exist in the real world, even benevolent-seeming ones. Think Communism--everyone is equal, everyone eats, education and health care are free. Some governments even sponsor the arts. Obviously, this is all very theoretical, and I'm not sure you could really compare it to a society like that in The Giver, where the government actually does take care of everyone. But my point is that most people living in a totalitarian government are not blind to their society's problems. I don't really have the authority to speak about this (seeing as I've never lived under a totalitarian regime), but life experience tells me that people tend to find reasons to get angry or upset--and when other people make choices for them that they don't like, they will get upset. And I have trouble believing that people living in totalitarian communities follow the rules because they wholeheartedly believe in them--they follow the rules because they're afraid of the consequences of breaking them.

The real world actually seems to have the opposite problem than the one most dystopias present. People DO want freedom, but once the regime topples, they often discover that they don't know what to do with that freedom. This is why it's difficult to establish a stable democracy in a country with centuries of tyrannical leaders. Freedom means making choices, often about things you have no clue about. Choices mean it's a lot easier to screw up. Not only that, but choices sometimes require a lot of courage.

You know what would be a nice change? A POST-dystopian novel. Everyone wants to write about the rebellion, but what about the after-effects? Not only do you have to rebuild an entire world, but you suddenly have to teach an entire population how to navigate their hard-earned freedom.

Beth Revis' A Million Suns sounds like it falls into this category. Are there any other books you can think of?

Contact Page

[My blog doesn't have a contact page yet, so I should probably add one.]

Email: yael_itamar (at) live (dot) com

[Well that was anti-climactic.]
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