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3/5. Third book of a trilogy of Assassin Nuns, Literal Daughters of the God of Death. The first third was rather boring. It mostly consisted of the main character, Annith, repeating several variations of "Abbess, I don't wanna be Seer for the assassin nuns! I wanna be an assassin! I really don't wanna be Seer!" Every chapter, we'd check in again and she would still be angry at the Abbess and still wouldn't want to be Seer. Finally, she ran away (...and this took her so much of the book why?) and met up with Love Interest Balthazaar. The fact that he is the Love Interest is not really a spoiler, given that as soon as he shows up it is clear: he is described as "breathtakingly handsome in a dark, almost broken way. He wears his hair long, and his jaw and nose are strong and sharp, as if chiseled of the finest marble by a master stonemason." Uh. Okay, guess we're in a Harlequin romance, who knew?

The second third was fun -- lots of action and intrigue, and we got to see Ismae and Sybella, the heroines of the first two books, which was nice. Except I would constantly get slammed out of the story every time anyone mentioned "Rennes" or "Quimper" because all the characters acted like twenty-first-century Americans instead of medieval Bretons. Whyyyyy was this book not written in vague fantasy-world where I could be somewhat impressed at it vaguely following history instead of frustrated all the time? Ahem. Anyhow. This is a pet peeve of mine. Also, Annith continued to get sucked in to the Abbess' emotional manipulation and it was never really clear why she didn't just break off with her like Ismae and Sybella did.

And then I read the last third.

OH ROBIN LAFEVERS NO. Love interest spoilers and at least one fairly major plot spoiler. Five-year-old souls do not equal twenty-year-old souls, sorry! )
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...And visiting my sister means more exposure to wacky YA-dystopia hijinks!

Mind Games 3/5. Two sisters, a blind seer and an assassin, are forced to go to Evil!School to learn villainy. I am a sucker for assassin-school stories. And this one had some great ideas and it had an entertaining ending, and of course I always love sister stories. I liked a lot of things about it, but I could not get past the point where the blind sister was as dumb as rocks. Basically, her lack of learning from her mistakes, thinking things through at all, and steadfast lack of communication were the plot drivers for the entire book, and that annoyed me.

Vicious (Schwab): 3+/5. Okay, this one I liked. It's a dark take on superheroes (called EOs -- ExtraOrdinaries -- in the book). It suffers from the same problems I had with Soon I Will Be Invincible, which is that when your characters are a bit on the cartoonish side, even a grim cartoon, it's hard to be all that sympathetic. But the writing is good, the action ramps up well, and some of the sly tropes really amused me (such as how all the characters are centered around One Town even though they clearly had the whole world to play around in). One minor note: I found their university extraordinarily unconvincing. Everyone -- of different disciplines -- has to take a thesis prep class where each person announces the proposed thesis subject? Is this a thing in other universities that I don't know about? Or a superhero trope I don't know about?
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Okay. I think Busy Month is over, yay. Of course, now I have to go back and do all the things I was supposed to be doing last month and was putting off, which by this time has stacked up to be, well, a lot of stuff. So, yes, I probably owe you a call or email or comment.

But instead of my actually doing any of that, here, have some nattering about books!

Eleanor and Park (Rowell)
3+/5. This was good. This was very good, and accurate as to what it was like to be an adolescent in love. (It is not at all the book's fault that it's sort of painful for me to think about (my) adolescent relationships, which this book very much reminded me of — not that my adolescent relationships were anything like this one, but the feel is right.) I was so afraid, as the book went on, that it wouldn't stick the landing — but it totally did.

Digger (Vernon)
4/5. This was awesome. It took me a while to get into it. I was in Chapter 3 (which, given that there are a total of 12 chapters, is fairly far into it) before I got utterly hooked. But yeah. [personal profile] nolly made me read these after I said I liked Gunnerkrigg Court, and although there's something about Gunnerkrigg Court that pings my unconditional love button, I do think Digger is better written and more tightly plotted.

(By the way, D read this long before I did, and kept pestering me to read it, which he never does.)

One of the really neat things about it is how most of the main powerful-knowledgeable-plot-important characters are casually female, in the same way that most main characters are casually male. The main character is a (female) wombat who grumbles about engineering a lot. Can I tell you how many main-character female engineers I have ever read about? *thinks* Zero, maybe? And the warrior hyenas. I kept thinking they were male and having to check my assumptions at the door. Very well done.

Interestingly, E has already internalized this: she found the book and kept calling Digger "he." *rolls eyes* So… good thing we have Digger to counteract that. (For some reason she finds the opening pages absolutely hilarious. "It is a digger." "We will eat it." "Yes." "Yes." sends her into paroxysms of delight. It may just be because she can read all those words, and she's not used to Mommy's books having things in it that she can actually read. But I think for some reason she also thinks eating it is some sort of joke.)

Zelda (Milford)
3+/5. Really interesting biography of Zelda Fitzgerald and, of necessity, F. Scott as well. I was always aware that they were in kind of a co-dependent dysfunctional relationship, but this book made it really clear. Also, it was rather hilarious to find out exactly how much of their lives made it into Scott's books. I mean, I knew it already about Tender is the Night, but I didn't know how much… and I confess I laughed when I found out Zelda dated a handsome Ivy-League football star of whom Scott was tremendously jealous. (Hi Gatsby and Tom!)

Sequels

Jul. 24th, 2013 01:49 pm
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So I was commanded to read some sequels, which were surprisingly not bad!

Dark Triumph (LaFevers), 3+/5, is the Assassin!Nuns! sequel to Grave Mercy, and is much much better than Mercy. The pacing is better, the characterization is better, the narrator (Sybella) is better (hilariously, Ismae, the narrator of Mercy, seen through Sybella's eyes, is a very sweet nice kid, even though she wants to act all tough in Mercy), the ubiquitous romance doesn't drag out quite as much. It's still not the Assassin!Nuns! book I wanted, but perhaps that's my fault for wanting something else; this one is a solid Stephenie-Meyer-esque YA that reminds me more of The Host than Twilight, while the first book was the other way around. Unfortunately, you kind of have to read the first book to read the second, and I am not really sure it's good enough that it's worth slogging through the first book. Maybe if you skim it, or read a plot synopsis. It also bothers me unduly because the style and the characters are so twenty-first century, while they're supposed to be fifteenth-century. I'm not asking for perfect congruence or anything, but rubbing my face in twenty-first century mores and style kind of irks me. It didn't bother me as much in the first book because I could pretend they were in generic fantasyland instead of solidly situated in 15th-C Brittany, but in this book there are enough references to England, France, etc. that it was harder to get away with it.

A Million Suns and Shades of Earth (Revis), 3+/5: I have to give these books credit, as soon as I finished Suns I wanted to go on to Shades. It's probably the best YA dystopia I've read for quite a while; on the other hand, as you know, that's not a huge bar. They are very readable books. The worldbuilding is pretty good for YA dystopia but has various gaping holes, and some of the plot (including the big plot twist near the end) is frankly kind of unbelievable, with characters shuffling hither and yon solely in support of the plot and not because they would actually do that. Shades also has this totally awesome line, spoken by the chief scientist on the mission (!):

"I talked to Frank, the geologist. He says there are minerals in the soil he's never seen before. We're talking about whole new elements to the periodic table!"

(And no, highly unstable radioactive soil is not a plot twist. Though that really would have been awesome.) Oh authors, why not get a science beta? Just one person who has actually taken chemistry in her life? Would it be so very hard?
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Note the first: I apparently always want to add an extra e to Sutcliff's name. Sigh.

Note the second: Oh, hey, by the way, rarewomen happened and ALSO DIDO FIC, including SF Dido!AU!(Here is where I squee about it — if you don't know the Aeneid, it's okay, you need only this post and this to read them — and here’s my reveal post and more nattering on about the Greek Myth SF AU (spoilers!).)

4/5. This book sat on my shelf for a month because I’ve only read Sutcliff’s Roman stuff (uh, two books) and I was kind of side-eyeing her taking on a Celtic subject. Um. Sometimes I’m kind of stupid. This was totally amazing: gorgeous prose and the research I expect from her and allllll my tropes as usual (loyalty, friendship, partnership, hard choices, etc.) and what the heck it’s a retelling of Y Goddodin. (I am thick. I did not realize this until Aneirin showed up.) WHAT. I think the last half of the book I kept on going !!!! Y Goddodin!!!!

I mean, I guess that if one looked at it rationally, one could come up with a lot of things that might be slightly obnoxious. There’s essentially no plot. The plot, such as it is, is, well, the plot of Y Goddodin, which is to say the plot of every Welsh poem ever. (Hint: The Welsh don’t make poetry about their awesome victories and how they totally crushed the other guy, dude. They just don’t. This is not a super-feel-good book.) The prose is sort of partially Welsh-reminiscent and partially Roman-Britain-reminiscent, which might bother someone who was a little more involved with the era than I.

But I don’t look at this book rationally :)
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I feel like I need to add in a percentage: how far I need to get into a book before I’m utterly hooked, which I think is a function of the writing and of how idficcy it is for me. For example, Sutcliffe and Card and Bujold all clock in at under 5%. These books…

Grave Mercy (LaFevers): 3/5, 75%. I actually quite liked this book when I was able to block out what it wanted to be versus what it actually was. What it wants to be is a historical worldbuilding fantasy alternate history of Brittany, something on the order of Kushiel’s Dart or Curse of Chalion, with assassin nuns. What it actually is, is something a little more like Twilight, with assassin nuns, and a little more politics. Which, y’know, is quite entertaining as long as you’re not looking for anything more. But man, I wish that I could have had the book about assassin nuns with Curse of Chalion-style careful worldbuilding.

Cinder (Meyer): 3+/5, 50%. I thought this book was hugely entertaining: Cinderella as a cyborg! In future!China! I mean, come on, really, how could you go wrong with this? It took a while to seriously get into — the storytelling is competent, and so is the cyberpunk!worldbuilding (which by its nature doesn’t have to be as detailed or careful as historical worldbuilding, or at least not in the same ways), but nothing super-special on either front (I’ve started the second book in the series and so far the storytelling seems to have improved), and the love story was frankly kind of unbelievable, but the cheerful outrageousness of the worldbuilding kept me entertained even before I got hooked.

The Silver Branch (Sutcliffe): 3+/5, 5%. I really, really liked this one while I was reading it, and a couple months later I could not tell you what it was about. Still, Sutcliffe is all kinds of awesome. I’m really glad — I’d started worrying that I’d lived past the age where I could be swallowed up in a book (see also the above), but Sutcliffe is consistently proving me wrong.
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So first: I am reading the Aeneid! Slowly, but I am totally doing it. I plan to post on three (or so) of the subbooks (there are twelve) per week, which will make me actually read it. So far, I quite like it, although it's definitely, umm, quite different from Les Miserables.

And now for something completely different... I have never read any Sutcliff, unless you count probably having read one of her Arthurian retellings (but if so, it was so long ago I'm actually not sure!) So [personal profile] sineala posted a review of Frontier Wolf that made me decide I had to read it! (Note: review has massive spoilers which I did not read; I just read the first part, which only has spoilers for Bujold's Memory and Diane Duane's Deep Wizardry, both of which I've already read.) But since it was in transit, I went to the library and got Eagle of the Ninth while I was waiting.

Reading this book was a very odd experience. It was as if someone took basically all my most-loved tropes ever (friendship-partnership, family, gruff relative with heart of gold, honor, sacrifice, setting what you love free, have I mentioned friendship? that instant when you connect with someone and know you're going to be friends) and wrapped it in language that both reminded me of all the books I loved as a child and all the books that have moved me since, and set it in Roman Britain, which also, you know, is one of Those Things in my life due to a misspent youth of reading Arthuriana...

That is to say, I adored this book and found myself getting all emotional every chapter or so and I am not sure I could even tell you why. D walked by near the end, when my face was all screwed up with intense emotion, and he said, "Sad book, eh?" and I said, "No... no... not exactly..."

"Really bad book?"

"No! It's really good! If it were really bad, I'd be laughing..."
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Rot and Ruin (Maberry) - 3+/5 - Well, the best zombie book I've ever read, for sure; and its worldbuilding is head and shoulders above the vast majority of the dystopian YA I am fed. It got a bit preachy at times, and a couple of the plot twists were telegraphed pretty heavily, and Benny is a bit much on the obnoxiousness. But I liked it! And it gets major points for sidestepping a lot of irritating things in the (small number of) other zombie books I've read.

A Severed Wasp (L'Engle, reread) - 4/5 - Another yuletide-reread. The best adult book L'Engle ever wrote, where she works out her thoughts on love and marriage and work, but always in the service of the story. I really, really like this one.

Little Brother (Doctorow) - 3+/5 - Doctorow is rather like Ayn Rand to me, in that I am not entirely sure he had a lot more to say in this book than he had in the last Doctorow I read (which I quite liked, don't get me wrong). The government is evil; don't give up your privacy rights. There, now you don't have to read it. Also I was highly entertained by Doctorow taking great pains (and here he is unlike Rand, who lived in a white world) to include Two Non-White Sidekicks. Who give Moving Speeches About Their POC-ness and then... disappear from the narrative. Clearly I have been hanging around social justice wank for too long...

Elementals (John Antony) - 3/5 - Antony's a quite good writer, and I was tickled to see that this YA dystopia is set in North Carolina, which never happens. I think though that this book was trying to do too much (dystopia AND magic powers! AND young boy who must discover his destiny AND threatening danger! AND love triangle AND family drama!), and as a result I spent most of it a little off-balance.
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2/5 to 5/5. So I read maybe half the stories in this book. The half I read, I quite liked. The half I didn't finish, I obviously found super-boring.

And the last story is by Elizabeth Wein. So, I said, you're not going to fool me again! I'm onto your tricks! I'm armed against death-and-destruction, torture, mental head-game torture, and torturous love-hate familial conflict, and any of those things will just make me scoff cynically! And I was prepared.

...The story made me all sniffly anyway. Darn it!
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This was one of the later L'Engles that I read -- I had the hardest time finding it as a child -- and as a result I had built it up in my head as The Book Where Vicky Meets Unicorns. I cannot tell you how disappointed I was to find that there are no literal unicorns. This time around, I liked the book quite a bit better because I didn't have those expectations.

It was interesting to reread this. On one hand, L'Engle does the rapidly shifting POV and it sort of gives me whiplash. Did people do a lot more of this in the 80's? Because if I were reading a book like this now for the first time, I'd probably put it down and go away. I guess I've become a limited-3rd sort of person?

On the other hand, [livejournal.com profile] nolly once pointed out to me how completely awesome the families in L'Engle are, and that was kind of borne out for me, and is triply as interesting to me now that I have a kid of my own. In a relevant point, I think the title is awesome, but I also think that in a lot of ways this is not really a YA book, or at least it wasn't a book I was ready to read as a teenager, when the title completely went over my head and just left me with a lingering sense of betrayal that Vicky didn't meet unicorns.

On the third hand (foot), every time I read L'Engle I am reminded that she just really loved science, especially physics, and really just had no clue about it. Here there's very little explicit science and therefore fewer opportunities to get it wrong, but I was rather amused by the idea of a medical doctor being the World Expert on... lasers.
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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
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...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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I first read The Winter Prince yeeears ago because [livejournal.com profile] sarahtales told me about it, and I loved it, and I crashed hard on Coalition of Lions.* (I blame sarahtales for not warning me!) But I really wanted to reread all the books in this series because Code Name Verity was so awesome, and I'm now going through all five of them. The first three:

The Winter Prince (reread) - 4/5. I had completely forgotten about this book before rereading it except for one detail which does not actually show up in this book at all.* And this book about Medraut (Mordred), King Arthur's son, is totally and completely awesome. Can we say intense?

* I will now do all of you a huge favor and tell you that there are NO SEQUELS to this book and under NO CONDITION should you read A Coalition of Lions right after reading this one. (Although you should read it, and the other books in the series too, because they're really good, just not right after this one.) Yes, it says it is a sequel. It is not. It takes place in an alternate universe that happens to be very similar to but IS NOT THIS ONE. DARN IT. THIS IS MY POSITION AND I'M STICKING TO IT.

A Coalition of Lions - 3+/5. This is not a reread, because the first time I tried, I gave up on it about two chapters through because OH MEDRAUT. Because, as I mentioned, NOT A SEQUEL to Winter Prince. Except, you know, that it has the same characters and backstory and stuff. And Goewin's the POV character, which is totally cool.

Anyway, the second time through I knew the punchline of the first chapter (hint: remember what actually happened in Arthurian myth?) and it allowed me to get through without dropping the book in despair. And it's a really good book! I JUST. OH MEDRAUT.

The Sunbird - 3+/5. This one's from the POV of Telemakos. OH TELEMAKOS. Are you sensing a theme?

Stay tuned for the other two books in the Telemakos series. I have a feeling that there will be more OH TELEMAKOS to come.
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5/5. So [livejournal.com 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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3+/5. I... didn't dislike this as much as I was prepared to. Which, um, is better than it sounds? I did like it! It's got a bunch of things going for it -- a not-quite-your-typical-whitewashed-medieval-Europe-vaguely-Spanish-based society. The writing seems good -- less clunky, more polished, than a lot of first books I've been seeing lately. Elisa, the heroine, gets to win through bravery and interesting plotting, which is kind of nice. I also liked that religion is treated as a Thing, even with different sects, though I suppose I've been forever spoiled for in-depth religion world-building by The Curse of Chalion.

And yet... I don't know... a lot of things rubbed me just a little the wrong way, culminating in a feeling of restless annoyance. The big thing, I think, was the narrator Elisa's whininess. Oh, no one likes me. Oh, my sister hates me. Oh, I'm fat. (I'll get to that one in a moment.) I mean -- I'm all for family conflict and insecurities, I enjoy reading it, but I have to have more to work with than "So my sister's mean!" (which is basically all we're told about her, until we're then told that she isn't in fact mean -- I have no idea what their relationship entails, no idea of what lies between them). And I prefer not to get the anvils to the face. Like, in The Perilous Gard, Kate has a whole boatload of insecurity with respect to her sister, but she doesn't say so very much explicitly, and I don't think she ever thinks that Alicia is mean -- the issues come across more in the way the two of them are treated and the way she responds to things, not because she whines about it constantly, like Elisa does.

Okay, so, the fat thing. Elisa is fat, and therefore ugly, I guess, at the start of the book. I don't know, this rubbed me the wrong way too. In general I didn't really understand why she had to whine about it so very much. I mean, she's a Chosen One, she's always known she has to make a dynastic marriage, she is taking classes in lots of things (oh, another thing that annoyed me... apparently she's smart? Smarter than her sister, whom Elisa thinks is the smartest person Ever? But we aren't shown examples of this, or how this might have come to take place, or how this is a natural outgrowth of how she grew up, we're just told so, by fiat, when Elisa does smart things) -- doesn't she, like Kate, have other things to worry about? And then we find that walking miles in the desert handily gets rid of this "problem." I don't even... I mean, I knew about this before I read it, and I was prepared to dislike this more than I did; I appreciated that it was a fairly minor subplot (the main plot is about how Elisa makes interesting plans and is brave and so on), and I did like how it was making a point at the end about how people respond to looks, but I don't really see why it needed to be as big a part of her personality as it was, and that irked me.

I really, really wish that the ending had been different. Fairly major spoilers: )
cahn: (Default)
4/5. OMG THIS BOOK I HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS BOOK FOR YEARS WITHOUT EVEN KNOWING IT IF YOU WERE SQUICKED OUT BY TWILIGHT LIKE I WAS GO READ THIS RIGHT NOW

...ahem. Let me calm down a bit and issue my standard disclaimer, which is that I would probably read a laundry list if SRB wrote it, because she would contrive to make it hilarious. So. Keep that in mind. But still, this book is awesome, a little perfect gem of vampire satire meta that nevertheless is its own thought-out world and its own book. The first chapter ends,

"A vampire who wants to go to high school?" I said. "That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."

Which turns out to be both a commentary on you-know-what and an important statement in the book in its own right. SO good.

I was wondering how the collaboration thing would work out, and the answer as far as I'm concerned is really well -- I haven't read any JL, but I'm going to have to now. I can see some of SRB's exuberance, and quite a lot of her meta, in the writing, but the sometimes over-distinctive style that occasionally got distracting in the Demon trilogy is smoothed over a little here, which makes the whole thing flow quite well.

I very much appreciated that some care was taken to think through how the vampires and humans would co-exist. YAY. I love the vampires, by the way, especially Camille. LOVE HER. I also have a sneaking fondness for Francis. I think it's awesome how the authors managed to paint them as Other and yet human in so many ways.

(Okay, now I feel like after all that squee I have to think of something non-squee-like to say about it, so: It's too short! No, really, that's my chief complaint, and not just because I wanted more. The plot is fairly straightforward -- I didn't twig to it, but probably only because I was too busy squeeing over all the WIN of the book-as-meta (which was intentional, I think; go team JL-and-SRB); the characters of Anna and Ty are just not fleshed out enough to make them worth my time, especially Ty, who appears to be The Character Who Is Diverse and Sometimes Snarky and who isn't fleshed out much more than that. I mean, points for that, and major MAJOR points for having the narrator be American-born Chinese, which is awesome, but I think I would have preferred either much less Ty or much more. I also never was completely sure about how emotions worked in vampires, although I think I see what they were getting at. And there are all kinds of hooks about family and friendship that I know they had more to say about, but couldn't within the confines of this particular book.

That being said, I don't want a sequel -- this book was wrapped up nicely. However, I would totally read anything these authors ever collaborated on again.)

The thing I possibly love most about this book is that, like all the best books, it isn't really about vampires (or, you know, wizards, or thieves, or crazy short admirals, or whatever). It's not even about romance, even though romances occupy a key part of the book. (I LOVE that it's not about romance, by the way. Whyyyyy must all, or most, YA be about romance?) It's not even, in the end, about satire. It's about friendship, and the choices we make, and about when we hate the choices our friends make, and about when we and our friends grow up to be different people, and what friendship still means when that happens.
cahn: (Default)
(3+/5) - Heroine hair color: red. So this is an awesome book -- the writing is very good, rather better than most YA I read, and it's about evil horses! Yay! (Having been brought up reading about Valdemar Companions, I now in reaction have a total weakness for books about evil horses. See also Cherrryh's Riders duology.

The only thing is, the ending vaguely bothered me, and I am not sure I can articulate why. Not that this has ever stopped me from trying to do so! Cut for spoilers. )

Holly was totally cool, though. I'd so read a spinoff with him.
cahn: (Default)
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.
cahn: (Default)
4/5. So I thought Cashore's first book, Graceling, was pleasant enough for me to pick this one up from the library, but not more than that. This book, I quite liked.

I also had the feeling while reading it that this was the book Cashore actually intended to write when she wrote Graceling, as in many ways it functions as a Graceling clone. Awesome female heroine who can dance circles around the men, check. Said heroine angsts About Her Powers And Using Them For Evil, check. Possessive, emotionally-clueless would-be boyfriend, check. Not-so-clueless-equal-partner romantic lead, check. Cute kid, check. Except that the execution of all the above is far better technically than in Graceling. Cashore has learned a lot since that book.

In particular, Graceling had a very limited set of relationships; several months after reading it, I cannot remember any of them except the major love interest and the would-be love interest (and the kid, a little) and their relationship to the heroine. But Fire is all about the relationships, familial and friendship and romantic all three, and not just the relationships involving Fire herself; and a major focus of the book is how Fire grows as a person through her participation and growth in those relationships. It says something about Fire that many of the most compelling relationships in it are not the romantic ones, including the relationships powering what (to me) was the most intense scene.

Also the plot was more interesting. Honestly, the plot was still a bit of a weak point, not least because this is the second book in a series, so there's the whole "we have to at least loosely tie it to the first book even if it holds up the action" thing, but at least there was a plot besides "big bad: go!"

It also reminded me very much of what I wanted the last book of the Hunger Games trilogy to be. Mild spoilers: Fire spends the first, oh, two-thirds of the book getting crushed down. That is, around the same fraction of the time Katniss is crushed down. They both have Issues resulting from this. And Fire fights back (partially because of that support network referred to above), whereas Katniss sits around moping (her support network mostly being dead at that point, I guess?). Not saying that sitting around moping isn't what someone in that situation would actually do, but it's just not interesting to read about, and I also don't find people without meaningful relationships interesting to read about as a rule. Fire was interesting.

Also, interesting stuff about reproductive choices. If I remember correctly, Katsa didn't want marriage or reproduction; Fire doesn't want (5-25-12 EDIT: this should be DOES WANT) marriage, but has very good reasons pulling her in both directions as regards reproduction. And I really liked that the text engaged with the fact that there are reasons both ways, and one can feel a strong pull in one direction without nullifying the reasons in the other directions.

(Also see [personal profile] lightreads's review (grr link fixed), which I had to go back and hunt for after reading, and which I found quite interesting.)

So. I won't say it was perfect (there were still places here and there where it was a bit unsure of itself, or things didn't flow quite the way I'd have expected from a more experienced author, and although the beginning is light-years better than Graceling's it's still somewhat clunky), and you do have to read Graceling first unless you want to be mildly spoiled for it, but I do recommend it. I am really interested to see what Cashore does next, and I will definitely be picking up anything else she writes.

One more thing: [personal profile] julianyap reminds me that this is to be classified under heroine-hair-color: red.
cahn: (Default)
2/5. So the terrible thing is, I actually liked this book. Rozzlynn has the bones of a good, if shallow, story in here, the outline of a YA-dystopian Revenge-type deliciously catty backstabbing sort of story that I quite enjoyed from time to time. (And teen angst OH WOE IS ME! which I didn't enjoy, but whatever.) Unfortunately, it differs from Revenge in the execution, which in the case of Revenge is polished and pretty, and in the case of this book... really isn't. Rozzlynn self-publishes, and this book is a walking advertisement for WHY EDITORS ARE NEEDED FOR SOME PEOPLE. (Note: I do not mean to imply this is necessary for everyone who self-publishes, e.g., see below.)

I mean... I suppose it could be a lot worse, but the grammar just destroys my story immersion. Every time she says something like "with Avery and I," bam, my head goes against the wall (I don't mind nearly as much in speaking, and have been known to do it myself on occasion, but in writing that should have gone through beta it really bugs me), and she has severe, severe comma problems at least once a page. And quite a lot of telling-not-showing when she gets tired of writing conversations and needs to transition to another plot point; this is especially bad in the interminable first few chapters (the book doesn't really pick up until you get into the fast-tracked society).

It was interesting to read this about the same time as Graceling (YA hitting the same target audience) and Timepiece (not the same target audience, but also YA-ish and self-published), because while Graceling and Timepiece are also first novels and it's easy to tell this is the case, at least for Graceling (Graceling is a bit simplistic, has its own structural issues, and a bit unsure of itself from time to time; Timepiece is much more consistent throughout, but also has fairly simple arcs), and all three books have somewhat compelling storylines with spunky heroines, Graceling and Timepiece are just so much better in terms of craft and skill.

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