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5/5. So I was sufficiently disappointed in The Bishop's Wife that I started reading bits and pieces of Lost Boys to compare, and I ended up snarfing almost the entire thing down — all the bits that referenced the LDS church, in any case.

This is a book I can't think rationally about at all, so, you know, I love it very very much and you'll just have to take that with all the grains of salt in the world. It's a formative book for me. I read it first in high school, when I had no idea about anything involving marriage and kids, and it has informed the way I think about relationships and families in a deep way. Like, there's a passage where Card — I mean, Step Fletcher, the narrator, although you can tell this is a book where the characters are deeply identified with Card and his family, where the pain of the characters is pain from Card's own life that has been transformed and transmuted (compare e.g. a lot of his early work, where he just enjoyed torturing characters just because) —

Cut for length: Marriage. Kids. Church. Writing and the ward prophetess. )

Also, you know, for this book: basically all the trigger warnings IN THE WORLD. Seriously, if you have any triggers (including bugs) I would not recommend reading this, at least not without talking to me first. And the whole thing makes me bawl. I mean, on rereads I can barely get through a chapter of it without bawling (partially because the themes of the ending are shot through the entire book).

But if you want a primer to LDS life, to what it's like to live as an LDS family in an LDS ward, I can think of no better, more heartfelt, or more true example than this book.
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3/5. Okay. So. I thought I was going to adore this book. Then I read the first chapter. Then I thought I was going to hate and despise this book. Then I read the rest of it and decided it was okay. Its principal problem is that it's not the book I wanted it to be, which isn't its fault; a related secondary problem is that it doesn't fully engage with its (LDS) environment, which may not be the author's fault (more on that on a bit) but which I think is a flaw in the book. It's also got some other subsidiary flaws.

The book I wanted was a mystery-sleuth-esque version of Orson Scott Card's Lost Boys, which as far as I'm concerned is the book describing what it is like to be a practicing LDS living in an LDS ward. I don't know of any other book that does it nearly as well. What I wanted was for this book to do for LDS women what Lost Boys did for LDS wards as a whole: show the fabric of the cross-connections, the friendships (the feuds, for that matter), the acts of service and love binding together the women of the ward (and, heck, the acts of pettiness and obnoxiousness, and how they're dealt with) -- which is THE thing that I find most wonderful and valuable about the LDS church -- and use that as a jumping-off point to solve the mystery.

The book I got was a mystery that sort of tangentially took place in a space created by a religion that was similar to but utterly unlike the LDS Church I know, with almost nothing in the way of cross-connections between women (heck, it only barely passes Bechdel), no sense of that fabric binding the ward as a whole. Linda, the main character and titular Bishop's Wife, is some sort of brave soul all by her lonesome forging those interpersonal connections one agonizing link by link by bringing baked goods and for the first time opening up to other people who open up to her because she is The Bishop's Wife.

Baked goods, hierarchical inaccuracies, Miss Marple, Heroine Validation. )
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3+/5. Godwin is a very good writer, and this is a very good book which I didn't like all that much. It's about a friendship between a misunderstood teenage girl and a woman in her 40's. The friendship helps the teenager blossom and opens up her world, until it explodes into catastrophe.

...This is the exact plot of (the first two-thirds) Madeleine L'Engle's A House Like a Lotus, a book I have lots of good child-memories of and thus love very much (though as I've said before I usually skip the last third because of embarrassment squick), and I kept thinking about it while reading this one.

The difference between the two books is the relationship between the teenager and the older woman. Even though they could both be described by the above description, they're very different. Poly and Max, in Lotus, have a relationship that is, overall, healthy. The boundaries are clear; Max is not her mother, she is not her sister, she is not her owner; she is Polly's mentor and friend.

Justin and Ursula, in School... have a relationship that squicks me out. Ursula seems to get a kick out of baiting Justin, out of manipulating her, out of setting her up to show that she's the superior one. Ursula then tops it off by professing that Justin is like her own child (which... I mean... one can say that without it beings squicky, I've heard adults say that and thought it was lovely instead of weird, but Justin and Ursula have known each other for ONE summer, have seen each other maybe a couple of times a week, and the context of wish-fulfillment and Justin's hero-worship of Ursula just does make it squicky, trust me) and even worse, asking Justin to judge Ursula's actions when she was about Justin's age, which JUST NO. If you feel like you are in a parental or mentor-like role to someone, you do not ask that person to pass judgment on your actions! I mean, she probably will anyway, but you don't put that weight of responsibility on her!

I am convinced Godwin did this completely on purpose -- it really is a nuanced and interesting portrayal of an unbalanced relationship between two finely-drawn characters -- although it is weird that grown-up Justin, from whose point of view the novel is written, doesn't call her on all of this. Because it's really quite... in-your-face. And also, I didn't like the book very much because of this dynamic. (What can I say, I generally like likeable characters and likeable relationships!)
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The Rosie Project (Simsion)

3+/5. This book was charming and hilarious!

It is told from the POV of a professor, Don Tillman, who pretty clearly has (undiagnosed) Asperger's. Whether the author does this well/believably I can't judge (though would love someone else to weigh in), but I didn't find anything that pinged me the wrong way, at least. It's a very good-natured book, which I liked a lot.

I should mention that the narrative is constructed to be in the style of a romantic comedy movie. It's not obvious (at least to me) in the beginning, but as the book progresses it becomes more obvious and signposted, complete with misunderstandings (though these misunderstandings, naturally arising as they do from two very different worldviews, bother me much less than most rom-com misunderstandings), situations that become more and more absurd (it did not trip my embarrassment squick, which is more sensitive than average -- although there was at least one scene where I did have to fast-forward to make sure it wouldn't get tripped -- but it probably would for someone whose squick was more sensitive than mine) and a proposal at the end. (I don't consider this a spoiler because I already said it was a rom-com.) In a normal book the proposal would bother me a little (it seems to come a little out of left field)... but it's a rom-com, so.

There's a mystery, and the solution to the mystery is, I think, a slyly pointed critique at writers like Agatha Christie, or maybe I only think so because I read so many Christies as a child where she used the exact same McGuffin that's being critiqued.

My sister did a character interview with Don Tillman on her blog which is super hilarious and you should all go check it out.

Can you tell us a story about your most memorable student?
No. I am forbidden by the Dean and the University legal department from discussing the Gender Misidentification Disaster.
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Yeah, this book is that good that I just wanted to TALK about it!

5/5. I adored this book. It basically hit all my buttons it possibly could: seventh-century Britain; a carefully researched milieu that felt real; prose that felt real (sorry, Guy Gavriel Kay, I like your books but I cannot take your prose seriously); politics and more politics; three-dimensional characters, all of whom are political beings and none of whom are one-dimensional heroes or villains; consideration of the webs of power with both women and men; a powerful woman protagonist whose power is intertwined and rooted in being female while the fact that she is still in primarily a man's world is not ignored; women friendships; friendships (of all gender-flavors, whee!) complicated by sex and friendships explicitly not complicated by sex; thoughtfulness about religion and how it is complicated by power; a way of looking at the world that shifted from the old religion to Christianity that rang true to me (in particular, the way that Hild thinks is not at all the way that Paulinus, for example, thinks); the twisting relationship between observation/deduction and prophecy/religion; even a number of shiny things! So, you know.

Minor general spoilers; tried not to be specific. Comparison to Cherryh and Mantel whom I haven't read; formal lifelong platonic female bonds and authors making up stuff; shiny things; warnings. )

Anyway. It's the kind of thing that I would super-recommend to many people, and would not recommend at all to others. I don't think my sister, for example, would like it at all (she doesn't really go in for Cherryh or Byatt).

I need to go back and read Bede again!
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4/5. This book was lovely. This book had some rather odd flaws. I adored this book. I wanted to slam this book against the wall (one advantage of e-books, I guess, is that I can’t ever give in to that temptation). I love this book madly. I don’t know that I recommend it to any of you. Then again, I don’t know that I don’t recommend it.

…Right. So. This book is about Portia, an admissions officer at Princeton, which by itself pretty much guaranteed I would read the whole thing; my entire high school career was basically my parents (successfully) gaming the college admissions system. (That’s right. The craziness these days? You can blame, partially, my parents.) Every so often there are these little lectures about the admissions process, which I could see someone else being a little taken aback by but which I ate up like candy. All the people in the book (except maybe Portia’s friend) are mildly unlikeable, including the main character. Usually this turns me off, but about a third of the way through I had identified so strongly with Portia (character-wise and in our response to college; our upbringing and life events and current status were/are totally different) that instead of thinking “She’s mildly unlikeable,” I was thinking, “Huh. I identify with her so much that I wonder very much now if I’m mildly unlikeable.”

Dante is referenced in the book, which obviously made me fall in love. (Though I found the literary referencing, in general, to be a little off-kilter. Some of it was tossed off lightly and well, and some of it was extremely heavy-handed.) The writing is good; I suppose it’s probably no better than other writing in the mildly-literary-writing-about-the-upper-middle-class category, but after coming off of a spate of YA first-book writing it was very refreshing, let me tell you. Possibly the best thing about the book are the little excerpts from student admission essays gracing the top of each chapter; these are hilarious. They range from the sublime to the terrible and everything in between, with bonus snipes at a couple of common grammar mistakes.

There are some weird oddities in the book. One is the two-chapter (I think?) flashback that happens late in the book, which — I see why she did it, but I’m not sure it completely worked structurally for me. Another completely random thing is that Portia is (at least genetically) Jewish; whenever this came up (which it did, being a minor plot point) I would sort of do a double-take at her name being Portia. Her mother is such that it is totally believable that she gave Portia this name on purpose (neither Portia nor her mother is in the slightest culturally Jewish), but this is never addressed AT ALL, including the part where the meaning of her name is dissected.

So now let me talk about why I wanted to throw the book across the room. First, I need to tell you a story. Let me make clear that E, my lovely three-year-old, is the light of my life and quite obviously the best and cutest and most lovable kid that has ever existed. (Don’t worry, that’s not the story.) She was a very much planned and wanted and wished-for baby. When I was pregnant with her, everyone told me, “It’ll all be worth it when you hold her in your arms!” and “You’ll love her more than anything in the world as soon as you see her!”

She was born. Childbirth sucked. They put her in my arms.

And I didn’t feel like I loved her. I didn’t feel like it was worth it at all. (I did, for the record, feel a deep sense of responsibility for this helpless little thing, which might well have been love. But it didn’t feel like it.)

I felt like a complete failure as a parent, as a mother, as a human being. Because any real human being, any real mother, would be totally in love with her newborn baby, right? That’s what everyone had told me!

I will never forget that my cousin called me up to see how I was doing, and she told me that she’d had the same reaction. I will never forget that. I will also never forget a totally random friend at church, R., that I talked to a month later. Most of my church friends said things to the effect of, “Oh, aren’t you ecstatic to have such a darling little baby?” (She was a darling little baby, for the record. She was. But I wasn’t ecstatic about it.) R. asked me how I was doing, and I said something noncommittal, and R. said wryly, “Yeah, at this point I wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep my son either.” That floored me. That it was okay. That it was okay to say, hey, you know what? I didn’t feel like I loved my baby when she was born, and that’s okay. It doesn’t make me a bad mom. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me. It doesn’t mean I can’t love her, or that our relationship isn’t going to be strong and awesome.

But it means that whenever I see that expectation that mothers will fall desperately in love with their babies as soon as they see them, I get really, really upset. (Not to say that they won’t! Many do! Oxytocin is a wonderful thing! But it’s not everyone.)

Spoilers; no more spoilers than in the preview of the movie based on the book, to be honest, but then again the movie previews pretty much spoil the book; on the other hand I read the book knowing the plot and it was fine, it’s not exactly a plot-heavy book )

I… kind of want fic for this book. From Helen’s POV, ideally. She gets so little to do in this book, and we never get more than the one-dimensional portrait from Portia’s standpoint, with only very vague hints from other characters that there’s more than that… But I suppose I’ll never get it.
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If I Lie (Jackson) - 3+/5 - So this book surprised me over and over again -- it very much exceeded my expectations. On first glance, what with the title and all, and the fairly familiar tone of the first-person teen girl narrator, I figured it was your typical high school book. Then it turned out it was a high school book With a Secret. Then I figured out the secret, which didn't take that long. Then I thought I was going to be bored through the whole book as the author ham-handedly built up to the Big Secret Reveal. Then, a couple of pages later, the author... revealed the secret. Almost casually. Then I thought the book would be about how she was triumphantly vindicated. And then it wasn't. It's about how people are complicated. And then I thought it would be about Teen True Love. And it wasn't. It was about how people can love and hurt each other at the same time.

The one thing that Irks me about this book is how one character decides something is "wrong" or "messed up" with another character because he doesn't ask for sex even after they have dated for two whole years. IN HIGH SCHOOL. Um... I've dated three people for more than two years, two of them atheists, and none of them asked me for sex in the first two years. So there. I mean, yeah, I understand that you're maybe trying to deal with one set of messed-up expectations? But doing this by switching to another set of messed-up expectations, uh, no?

Ready Player One (Cline) - 3+/5 - Someone on my reading list said something along the lines of "This is basically an excuse for the author to talk about his obsessions from the 80's," and that's... just about right, in a way that's surprisingly entertaining, but that is probably more entertaining for those of us who lived through the 80's. The writing, even laying aside the nonsensical premise, is curiously full of flaws -- infodumps, telling-not-showing for large chunks of the action, random deus ex machinas showing up from time to time, somewhat cardboard characters, the usual cardboard dystopia-world-building (no worse, I suppose, than your usual dystopia YA), some totally random rants against religion (what?) in the beginning that seem unrelated to the rest of the book -- and yet the enthusiasm for the random 80's video games and so on is so genuine that I often found myself charmed despite myself. For example, the climactic puzzle of the book is kind of... silly; the way it's presented doesn't make any sense -- but it uses a song that was such an integral part of my geeky childhood that although the absurdity of it totally registered with me, I was still smiling with glee that it had appeared at all. So... the rating here is me trying to assign one number to one aspect I'd rate very high and another I'd rate rather low.

The Fault in Our Stars (Green) - 3+/5 - So apparently there was this whole thing where copies were released early and Green was terrified that people would GET SPOILERS OH NOES. Which strikes me as kind of hilarious, because around a third of the way in I refused to read any further UNTIL I got spoilers. Since I was reading a kindle version, I looked online, but if I had been reading a print book I would have flipped right to the end (and the middle). Anyway. I frequently have this problem with Green's books where I feel slightly, I dunno, detached from the characters, and I felt a little this way about this book too, but I found it much more moving than An Abundance of Katherines. I liked it a lot, although I definitely was glad I'd looked up the spoilers.

Incarnate (Meadows) - 3/5. Eh. I suppose it's not the book's fault, not totally, that its central conceit (a fantasy, or possibly a SF-fantasy-feel, that people get reincarnated and remember their past lives -- although how this is physically possible is not entirely clear to me -- and that there is a romance between an 18-year-old and a 5000-year-old. REALLY. Hey, you just hit my squick issue! (It's rather more the book's fault that the 5000-year-old came across as, maybe, a thirty-year-old at oldest.)

Some books

Sep. 26th, 2012 09:08 pm
cahn: (Default)
...I still do read books sometimes. Really.

The Lion Hunter and The Empty Kingdom (Wein): 3+/5. So obviously these were great books, very readable, and Telemakos is awesome, and AWWWW Telemakos-Athena sibling-partners-in-crime FOREVER is my OTP. Also OH TELEMAKOS, as I figured would happen. ...And what happened at the end? I felt like there was a lot of buildup to... not much at all? Half of it was glaringly obvious from practically the beginning of TEK (what Abreha meant by marking Telemakos), and half of it made no sense and/or was kind of anticlimactic (the whole archipelago subplot, so, it was all for nothing in the end, is that what you're telling me?).

Bad Boy (Myers): 3+/5. The YA author Walter Dean Myers talks about his experience growing up. If you like Myers' other work, you will probably like this too, and if not, probably not. It reads a little disjointedly, with many important parts of his character arc elided or completely absent. However, I'm rounding up instead of down because it did give me a perspective I hadn't had before, and that's worth something to me.

Bathsheba (Smith): 3-/5. Third in a series of the Wives of King David, and the one that was available at my local library. Some of my low rating is personal. For example, I disliked that Abigail died at the beginning of the book, which is obviously personal preference given that my headcanon has taken over my head... but in general I felt that the author shied away from doing anything that would require, oh, engaging with the material and the character interactions. Not recommended, although I understand the author did a lot of research, and you could certainly do worse for what seemed from my quick read like a fairly true-to-the-source-text, if superficial, retelling of what is a cracking good story in the source text.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone (): 3+/5. A recommendation from my sister! The writing style and worldbuilding in this one was pretty awesome. It introduced and then sidestepped some of my major squicks, which, points! (However, there was the Love at First Sight thing, which is not a squick of mine, but is something that does turn me off a bit, and I thought the middle was a little slow because of it.) The ending cliffhanger was great. I can see the sequel either going with cliche or not, although given this book I'm hoping for not. We'll see. I'll pick up the sequel and let y'all know ;)
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5/5. So [ profile] julianyap told me I absolutely positively HAD to read this book. And then, after he had recommended it in the highest terms possible, I didn't read it for a month, during which everyone else on my reading list did and also really liked it. And then, finally, I read it. And of course I loved it. And now I am here to browbeat you into reading it, assuming you haven't already.

I know now, though, why it took me a month to read it even though I knew that anything julian recommended that highly was bound to be brilliant. Because I'd read The Winter Prince (also highly recommended), and I knew that Wein does intense. And this, if anything, kicks up the intensity of Prince up a notch. (And also, honestly, just a little, because I was a little afraid of how she'd do the 1940's, only ever having seen her do that series, but I need not have had any fears on that score -- pitch-perfect.)

I went in blind - knowing almost nothing - and I really think that is the way to go, with this book. I did know something about the narrator that at least two other reviews I read thought wasn't a spoiler, but I would have preferred not to know even that level of meta because I am not a highly critical reader, so no description here. Comments fair game though. Please, don't even read descriptions of the book. It's better that way.

I will say one thing, because I cannot help it, but I think it is not at all spoilery. One of the things that is just amazing about the book is the level of detail. In the afterword Wein talks about how basically every event in it was inspired by something that actually happened in real life. In general, the book has been very meticulously put together. It's the sort of book that as soon as I finished it, I wanted to read it again, slowly. (I haven't yet -- see the note below about hard copy, and also above on intensity.)

(And when you're done, go read [personal profile] skygiants's (spoilery DO NOT READ THIS BEFORE READING THE BOOK PLEASE PLEASE) review because she makes a quite interesting point, I feel, about one of the characters' literary ancestry (and which, Julian, I think plays into why the two of us had a particular spoilery reaction we did).

One thing - I read a kindle copy, and this is one of those books where I would really, really have preferred a paper copy (a lot because it's one of those books where it really pays to be able to flip back and forth, but also because I just prefer paper for good books, darn it). And now I'm going to buy a paper copy so I can reread that one. I could have saved myself the money by just doing it that way to begin with... If you prefer e-copies, then get an e-copy, but this is one book I'd recommend in paper if you at all prefer paper copies.

(Also, why is the British cover two zillion times better than the American one? Not fair!)
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Thirteen Reasons Why (Asher)
3-/5. Hannah, who committed suicide, leaves cassette tapes behind for the thirteen people who affected her decision.

Look. I generally think books on suicide are useful. And I generally find books about how, especially as a teen, one's actions have an impact on other people not just useful but also really interesting and valuable. I love Chris Crutcher and Sarah Dessen and Melina Marchetta and Cynthia Voigt and all those authors who are tackling these kinds of questions.

So I thought I would like this book, but I bounced hard off of it instead.

I think it might have been the near-complete lack of characterization. The only thing I learned about the narrator (Clay, the kid listening to the tapes) during the entire book is that he thinks he is very shy. Oh, also, he has a mom. Hannah herself comes across as whiny and entitled, and although we're clearly supposed to feel sorry for her that all these horrible things happened to her, it was kind of hard for me to care. I kept wanting to be all "Just stop complaining and get a grip, Hannah, geez!" which is exactly the sort of attitude the author was trying to lambast. It obviously just didn't work for me.

I actually think this is a natural problem of the way the story is told (the narrator listening to the tapes interspersed with the contents of the tapes themselves) -- I see how it's a narrative hook (and an effective one; after reading the description I did want to read the book) -- but it's very hard for a character to consciously tell her story (that is, not just first-person narration, but actually being conscious of writing it down (or speaking it) for an audience) without coming across as a little solipsistic (heh, see also In Spite of Everything, this might also have been my problem with that book) and very hard to complain in a conscious narration without coming across as whiny. I think this is because in such a conscious story, it's really hard to show rather than tell. You can't show by showing other people's reactions, because the story is being told by you, and you can't show by showing your own reactions without coming across as seriously over-self-analytical. So you just have to describe what you felt. "I felt like everyone was ignoring my pain." And that is not writing that's going to resonate.

Oh, and also, everyone gets to be very two-dimensional. There's Nice!Guy and NiceVeneerButActuallyCatty!Girl and Doesn'tRespectWomen!Guy and so on. Again, problem with the narrative structure. Of course from Hannah's perspective they're only going to be 2D, and she, of course, dies, so she never figures out if there's anything more to them. (Contrast, say, To Kill a Mockingird, which is consciously told as an older woman looking back on her childhood, and so she can see things that she wasn't able to see as a child.) Indeed, there is no character development in this book by anybody. Everyone's pretty much the same throughout the entire book.

(Hm, on second thought, I can see how this could have been helped. Since there are effectively two narrators, Clay could have been used to give another dimension to all the characters. But he wasn't used that way.)

And I think this is a problem. The whole point of a book dealing with suicide is to humanize both those who have committed (or are thinking about committing) suicide and those who may unknowing have contributed to that person's problems. It is to elicit compassion in the reader as well as thoughtfulness about our own actions, a sense of empathy that hopefully we will take out into the world. (In addition to the authors I mentioned above, Before I Fall, though I do not particularly recommend it, did a far better job in these respects.) If what you're instead eliciting is a sense of "Stop whining," you have failed.

Also, my pedagogical rant-o-meter going off: the English classes at this school seriously read a (bad) anonymous poem by one of their own high schoolers in class? And it was seriously compared to reading a poem by a famous dead person? I... don't even know where to start. The utter wrongness of this is never addressed, perhaps because Hannah had so many other things to complain about.

No idea why this book has been so recced around. I suppose they haven't read Chris Crutcher.
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4/5. Mystery. (Male) cop and (female) priest, and together, they fight crime! Okay, that's a very simplified summary, but this is what D got out of my slightly hysterical summary of it late at night after finishing it.

I... really liked this book. Part of it was how it pushed all my buttons; the story of an abandoned baby that gets hung up in Department-of-Human-Services land, and the drama involving the would-be adoptive parents (possibly singled out by the birth mom, but was she coerced?) who also become suspects once some murders get added into the mix -- well, I have two friends who recently adopted out of foster care in what was (in both cases) a long-drawn-out custody battle with the clearly-unfit bio-relatives, and not to mention my friend L. who made the decision not to adopt out of foster care (possibly because of our mutual friends' experiences) and who is still hung up in the whole adoption system (though happily she is now pregnant), and so I was going to get drawn into the story anyway.

But the central emotional core of this book is of two people that are thrown together, and get to know each other, and spark off each other's minds and souls, and learn more about themselves from each other. And this is a story that gets me every time. It's the way relationships (romantic, friendship, whatever) work, at their best. It's what I like to read about, whether it be through friendship, family, romance, whatever. (For extra bonus points, friendship-turning-to-romance-to-family!)

And... maybe they're falling for each other. And he's married. And, ow. And I am pondering whether I can last the week before I can get back to the library to get the rest of the series, or whether I am going to have to buy them so I can read them Right Now. (this is all [personal profile] lightreads fault!!)
cahn: (Default)
3+/5 (reread) Okay, so, you guys, there's a lot of fanfic out there, and some of it is quite good. And some of it is terribly, terribly indulgent. (These two categories are not mutually exclusive, though they tend to be somewhat.) Now, especially when I'm busy, sometimes I get in a rut of reading extremely indulgent fanfic. And I was doing this recently, and in the middle of it started reading The Fountainhead, which I do every five years or so, because I like it (the non-(stultifyingly-boring-and-a-little-silly)-philosophy parts) and because it's an easy fast read (when you skip the philosophy), and because of another reason that I articulate differently every time. Last time I said the reason was "it's a great red-headed trashy romance."

This time, I will say about that same reason... The Fountainhead totally struck me, on this reading, as an incredibly indulgent fanfic of itself. Seriously, it totally reads to me as if there were some ur-text somewhere with a perfectly nice reasonable Peter Keating, Howard Roark, Dominique Francon, and Gail Wynand, having vaguely realistic characters and interacting like grownups and stuff... but who somehow got twisted in an extraordinarily indulgently fanficcy sort of way into AlphaMaleGaryStu!Roark, BetaMalePuppyDog!Keating (I swear to you, if Ayn Rand lived right now and knew about slash, instead of living decades ago and being homophobic, Keating would be so slashed with Roark), MakesNoSenseButIsTragicallyBeautifulAndLivesForHerMan!Dominique (who actually poses for a goddess sculpture halfway through the book, yes, thank you for that subtle symbolism Ayn!), and TragicallyFlawedAndEvenMoreTotallyRoarkSlashyThanKeating!Wynand.

With, of course, that awesome Roark-Dominique-Wynand love-friendship triangle With Oodles and Oodles of Angst, mostly on Dominique's side (and notice how Dominique is the only one who is called by her first name? Yeah, I did too), and a Manly Man Friendship that is just so girly. (Well. Roark mostly grunts or Is Concisely Wise, as befits an Alpha Male Superman, but Wynand is all about talking about his feeeelings! In a manly way, of course!) Ayn Rand also wrote all the deleted scenes another book might have left out (part of the reason the book is freaking 1500 pages -- the other reason is all the Objectivist junk, which I always skip, it being not useful for the indulgent reading I'm looking for). It turns out pretty much no one has written any actual fanfic for this book (oh, the research I do for these posts!), and my theory is that it's because Rand already wrote it.

Anyway. I find this book hilarious, as you can tell. As super-indulgent fanfic goes, it is well-written and quite entertaining. As original fic, of course, I'd recommend a whole load of other stuff rather than this, but sometimes what you want is the super-indulgent fic, and this hits all those buttons.
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-Why did no-one tell me that the voice of Quasimodo in Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame is Tom Hulce, who played Mozart in Amadeus? Did everyone else know this but me? It's... a weird mental image in my mind, now.

-The Murder at the Vicarage (Agatha Christie) is, I think, not one of the better Christies, but the one thing that made it hilarious to me was that one of the characters is a mysterious "Mrs. Lestrange." I spent the entire book, whenever she showed up, inventing ways to reconcile the character with Bellatrix Lestrange. (Alas, she did not, in fact, turn out to be a sociopath Death Eater. But that would have been awesome!)

-Tangled is a much more entertaining movie if you watch it thinking of a sort-of alternate Eugenides (from the Megan Whalen Turner books) as the main male character. (I know i'm not the first to think this. Still.)

-I was rereading Tam Lin, which I adore (I blame it for leading me to believe everyone in college spouted random Greek and Shakespeare -- turns out, not so much for physics majors), for various nefarious reasons. I think when I first read it, in high school, I might have found the college sex hijinks vaguely titillating. This time around, I was all "OMG ARE YOU PEOPLE SERIOUSLY NOT USING CONDOMS AND USING HERBAL TEA BIRTH CONTROL WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM?" Okay, yes, it's set in the 1970's when people didn't worry about HIV, but still! I was rather amused by my change in reaction over the last twenty years (as well as slightly appalled that it wasn't my reaction as a teenager :) )
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4/5. I must confess that I read this book for the wrong reasons. It's a memoir of a woman, a journalist, who had an affair with another (married) journalist, who eventually divorced his wife and married her. Some years later, he died of cancer. That's the book I thought I was reading.

The book I actually read had that basic plot, but it was about love and building a family (and breaking one, too), and most of all, life. And it had that quality of truth, of both telling the truth and discerning the truth, that makes me fall in love with a book.

Here is one example, something that just hit me as yes. Yes, this is the way things are:
The next day he slept late, and I left the house early, determined to find fresh sorrel leaves. I had recently bought a cookbook, my first, and in it I had come across a beautiful photograph of cream of sorrel soup, green and elegant in a gilt-edged cream-colored bowl. I had never even heard of sorrel. I can't explain it now -- I couldn't explain it then -- but I had this idea that if I could just make the perfect bowl of cream of sorrel soup, then I would be the kind of person who could fit into this new life, I would be competent and know the things it was important for adults to know.

This book is somewhat excruciating to read. I mean, refer to the first paragraph to see why. But it is extremely lovely.
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3+/5, 4/5 - I can't find it (I wish I could), but in one of Sheila O'Malley's awesome book excerpts she talks about how when you read some books you identify completely and totally with the protagonist, so that reading the book is a terrifying and cathartic sort of experience. The book she said this about was one I read later and didn't actually like that much (one of the reasons I can't find the quote), so another lesson is that what resonates deeply with one person may not with another.

There is a class of YA books where, I think, one's mileage can vary widely. I don't know how to describe them, exactly. I don't want to say, high-school-issues book, because that doesn't seem to quite describe it; I shall say: they are the YA books that touch on the basic themes of life. For example... Chris Crutcher's books are about sports and abuse, yeah, but they're about... his best stuff is about the painful process of loss, loss of people, of one's illusions about people, of one's certainty of being right, of one's certainty of being able to do the right thing. And, you know? Some people need to hear that. And some people don't. (I think I had to hear the parts about losing one's illusions about people and losing one's certainty of being right.)

So: Saving Francesca and Just Listen. For me, reading Just Listen was basically like getting hit by a ton of bricks. I wrote a whole long thing about why that was so (because on the most superficial level the narrator of Listen and her experiences are nothing like me and mine), and then I decided I was not comfortable hanging all my issues out in public. Saving Francesca, which is actually a very similar book in a lot of ways, didn't flatten me. Because I didn't identify with the protagonist and what was going on in her life in the terrifying and total way I did with the protagonist of Just Listen. But I can totally see how it could be the other way around; how someone could get smacked in the face by the Marchetta and be lukewarm on the Dessen. (I think I'd actually be rather surprised if someone had a strong reaction to both, because while they are similar books they, I think, speak to different conditions.) I've also read other Dessen where I was all, okay, that's nice, whatever. Because those weren't my issues either. But this particular one cut me to the bone.

But I am sure as heck going to make sure my kid reads the books of both these authors when she gets to be that age, because I won't know necessarily which ones will speak to her.
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4/5. Romance. I hadn't been expecting to like this -- I'd tried a couple other Heyers with no success. And after the first chapter, which admittedly was pretty funny, I was sure it was going to be a straightforward reform-the-rake story, which I don't especially like, probably the specific subvariant No-Reform-Is-Actually-Necessary-Because-I'm-Just-A-Misunderstood-Nice-Guy, or possibly the extremely overdone and pretentious Once-I-Confront-My-Tortured-Past-I-Shall-Be-Reformed subvariant.

...I wasn't expecting Jane Austen Lite. Oh, it doesn't have the incisiveness of Austen (and there are a couple of major flaws; in particular I was unconvinced by half of the love story) -- it's a fluff piece -- but as a fluff piece it's pretty awesome. I was giggling the entire time. There's even a Mr. Bennett character, only he's more awesome than Mr. Bennett. (D's hero is Mr. Bennett. Who is this Darcy guy you speak of? he says.) I shall not say any more for fear of spoilers (though comments are fair game) -- this was definitely one where I appreciated coming in with no foreknowledge but what I already knew of romance tropes.

Got it free on kindle. It's not free right now, but amazon has a habit of frequently re-running their specials.
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A Sudden Wild Magic (Diana Wynne Jones) 3+/5 - Well, DWJ. Therefore, I liked it. I liked this one less than average, though, and wow, the romance was even worse than usual -- and i don't have very high expectations for DWJ romances.

What I Saw and How I Lied (Blundell) - 3/5. Teen after WWII finds all is not as it seems. I have nothing to say about this book, either good or bad.

Hybrid (O'Grady) 3/5. It was like The Passage, only with better medical jargon, and less with the woo-woo vampire mysticism. But the physics was just as bad. Also, maybe it was the Kindle version, but the ending was really abrupt. I mean, not even in the "plotlines didn't get wound up" way, but in the "it feels like this was cut off in the middle of a chapter" way. I'm betting the kindle version is missing a couple of end pages.

The Passage (Cronin) - 3/5. Oh yeah, I read this too, I forgot. Like Hybrid, only with woo-woo vampire mysticism. I really have a very hard time with vampire Ponzi schemes. Has someone explained exponential growth to Cronin? A quick calculation assuming each vampire needs to eat two people/day and the chance is 0.05 that person will become a vampire yields less than 300 days until the entire US is vampires...

Hawk of May (Bradshaw) 3+/5. Arthurian. A book from my childhood, and better than I remember. The first half was quite wonderful, and the second half had some nice surprises but overall lowered the rating. (Okay, in particular, that whole interlude with Lugh was a little... weird.) Also it is nice when your entire plot does not hinge on something that is super obvious if you have ever read any Arthurian stuff ever. However, overall passes my Arthurian test of "Bradshaw knows more about Arthurian mythos and Irish history than I do," though this is admittedly easier to do now than it was ten years ago. I'll definitely be picking up the sequels.

Edited: D points out I CANNOT DO SIMPLE EXPONENTIAL CALCULATIONS, bah. I have changed the numbers accordingly.
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3/5. I really wanted to like this book -- it is about the experience of a young Hong Kong immigrant girl, which is a subject that interests me for obvious reasons, and it was touted as an Asian version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which is one of my favorite comfort reads.

And Girl was an entertaining read, and full of all sorts of interesting details about what it's like to be a really poor Asian immigrant in a predominantly white milieu. The kinds of details made it clear that the author had gone through many of these things (confirmed by an interview with the author). And I got to the end, and I felt quite disappointed.

It took me a while to work out why. The biggest obvious potential reason was the romance, which is quite unrealistic and clearly tacked on for Young Adult Interest Woo. Also, I hate saying this (because I think of it as a meta-spoiler) but there is a Surprise Twist Ending. I bring it up here because a) I don't think enough of the book to mind meta-spoiling it, and b) usually I like Surprise Twist Endings, but here I thought it was a flaw, because it hindered development of what could have become some deep and interesting conversations. What was her life like after the Surprise Twist Ending? How did she feel about it? And so on. Oh, and c) this kind of book (fictionalized memoir) really depends on a sort of honesty between the reader and writer, and it's broken by the sudden revelation that, oh yes, there is a Surprise Twist. Although that honesty has already been broken by the dishonest romance (dishonest in the sense that it isn't thought through, it doesn't belong, it just doesn't fit), so maybe I shouldn't give it extra dings for that.

But those are just symptoms. (And honestly, Tree has a pretty weird romance with the Lee character -- who is apparently based on someone Smith knew later in life -- but that was a correspondingly smaller part of the book as well.) The real problem is that there is no character arc and no deeper understanding of the characters -- these things are related, and they're crucial to this kind of book. Kim is spunky and good at school and A Good Person and brave and stuff, I guess, and she's all those things at the end. The aunt is jealous and petty and small-minded, and she's all those things at the end.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn has empathy and understanding of all the characters, from the deadbeat dad to the pretty-turned-harsh mother to the promiscuous and totally awesome aunt. (Seriously... this may be the only book I read during my childhood where the woman with the most lovers was also the most awesome woman in the book.) Francie herself, while she doesn't have the sort of arc that can be said to have a definite beginning or end, grows and changes through the book; her experiences do things to her. She, you know, grows up.

So go read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn if you're looking for a kiddie-lit comfort read (think House on the Prairie or Anne of Green Gables, only with dirt-poor Irish ghetto dwellers in the early 1900's, and less shy with respect to sex and death -- it's all PG, but Tree is conscious that sex and death exist, it's not swept under the rug as it is in Wilder or Montgomery), and I'll keep waiting for the Asian equivalent.
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3+/5. I loved this book, because it manages to be a romance novel involving two Randian-heros (by which I mean, are awesome business CEOs and good at lots of other things too and terrific lovers and etc.), a Mormon bishop and an ex-prostitute, that manages to be true to both characters and not quite Mary Sue-ish. That is, the ex-prostitute businesswoman, Cassie, does not have a heart of gold, she has the heart of a human being and does a fair amount of humanly stupid things along with the smart ones; and the Mormon bishop is neither a secret guilt-ridden Dimmesdale or a tall dark husky interchangeable knight in shiny armor, but again a human with some human failings. (For example... being Mormon, he doesn't believe in extramarital sex -- which screws him up when he gets horny, too, in which has got to be one of the funniest scenes of the book.)

And wicked points for this kind of thing in a romance novel:
"She has her own [career/money] and if all she wanted was a meal ticket, she wouldn't have stopped being a prostitute. That's a lot more honest than a woman who marries for money."

And double, triple points for having that come out of a Mormon Bishop's mouth. Yeah. Awesome!

And wow, bringing out all the favorite Mormon characters from my own life, if my life were a novel. The openly gay Mormon, who has given up relationships to serve what he thinks is a greater good. (And no, that greater good isn't Mormonism, which he is understandably rather angry at, but rather all the people under his jurisdiction who are hurting, including gay kids.) The woman who sees everything clearly in the ward and sometimes has to use her knowledge like a scalpel, to heal. The teenager who doesn't believe but loves his dad enough to go through the motions cheerfully until he leaves town. The dad who knows his son doesn't believe and lets him live his own life. The girl who is stuck in a dysfunctional Mormon family and is trying to get out, not always figuring out the healthiest path for it, but eventually finding her way there. And the community. Oh, the community. (Why yes, have you noticed I'm a sucker for community?) That sometimes has problems and issues, but also friendship, and bonds of love, and working together to solve the problems.

The only thing that really bugged me was that Cassie, who as I've said is a tough CEO ex-prostitute who likes to beat men at their own game, cries about every chapter or so for no very good reason. I cry a lot more than average, but I never cried that much and with the kind of impetuses that make Cassie cry except when I was post-partum. I mean, I know, it's supposed to represent her inner vulnerability blah blah, but it's just too much. (Especially for a CEO type... I can only imagine what sort of reputation I'd have at work if I cried as much as that, and I'm not even management. Or not much, anyway.) Lose the crying.

Note that I do not recommend this book unless at least one of the following applies:

-You like romance novels.
-You are Mormon, or at least interested in reading about Mormons.
-You liked The Fountainhead because it was such a great red-headed trashy romance.

and the following applies as well:

-You don't object to any of the above, even if you don't have any particular predilection for romance or Mormons or Ayn Rand.

(I am Mormon, and do not object to romance novels though I am not particularly fond of them, and I do like the Fountainhead as a trashy romance though find it rather silly as a political tract.)
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College books, boarding-school books -- I have a great and abiding love for them. The first one I can remember offhand is The Great Brain at the Academy, and Tom Fitzgerald's hijinks as he struggled to make money and not get kicked out, often at the same time. At the time I was really small, and this idea of going away for school was, well, only something Older And Glamorous people did. Perhaps something of that has stayed with me all this time, because I still love the things. Let's see... there was Tam Lin, which raised my expectations of college to way too high a level (turns out, if you major in physics, you don't get people quoting Greek at you as often), and And Both Were Young, a slight L'Engle and not one of her best works, but lovely all the same, and I'm sure many others I'm forgetting.

One of the things I love most about boarding-school books is that the basic idea is that you get all these unrelated kids together, and they have to gel into some sort of community. (Community and partnership, of course, being one of my button-presses.) The best example I know of this (thanks to [ profile] sarahtales) is Autumn Term (Antonia Forest), where the main characters form individual friendships, but then the class as a whole comes together for a triumph: a very successful class alternative to having a really inferior booth at the school fundraiser. One of the arcs I really like is that of one of the girls who has a not-ideal personality-- she's spoiled rotten and is very passive -- but it turns out she has some talents, and becomes part of the group in the end; the great thing about this is that it's done not by making her oh-just-kidding-she's-actually-fantastic -- she still has all the traits that caused the girls to dislike her, though admittedly has grown out of them a year's worth -- but simply by her decision to be part of the community project, and do it well.

I like fantastical boarding-school books even better, because the tropes seem to work together really well. The boarding-school trope already incorporates the idea of everything being new and fresh and exciting, which turns out to be a great way to showcase exciting magical things (a la Harry Potter, or even Mercedes Lackey's Arrows of the Queen -- I think I liked both these books (which were problematic in a lot of ways) much better than I would have in the absence of the boarding-school motif). Fantasy tends to benefit a lot from being able to do fantastic things within a known structure and known character-community-development arcs; for example, Diana Wynne Jones' Year of the Griffin is my all-time favorite DWJ novel because of the friendships and community (and plot!) that naturally grow up within the boarding-school structure.

This is all to say that I really, really, really wanted to like Ally Carter's I'd Tell You I Love You But Then I'd Have to Kill You -- boarding spy school for girls! What's not to love? And for the first several chapters, I did love it. Lots of interesting things about the school... a new teacher... female friendships... a new student who doesn't fit in... exciting classes... all the good, familiar tropes.

But what I wanted was a book that was about school-and-character-development first, some sort of external plot second, and maybe a romance third. Or the external plot could have been ditched, seems a shame in a book about spies, but okay. But what I actually got was a YA romance with the school-and-character-development relegated to second place, or maybe third. No external plot. And the romance was the worst kind: being a spy, she treats the relationship as an espionage mission, and lies to the boy. A lot. We know how this story ends; I didn't have to skim to the end to find out. Grr.

Anyway... any boarding-school books (don't have to be fantastical in any way) that you would recommend? There is, of course, Stevemer's College of Magics, which I've just never got around to reading, but which I'm kind of interested to read. I hear Jo Walton's most recent book is a boarding-school book; is it any good? I'll probably pick up the later books in the Ally Carter series as well to see if it gets better -- seems like there are some external plots in the later ones.


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