Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Slump

I know you've gone through them--those periods when nothing on your TBR stack is catching your fancy; when none of the hundreds of books you have seem appealing; when every book you do manage to read leaves you profoundly underwhelmed. Or maybe you don't, but it seems to be a regular thing for me. I'm going through a slump right now and it's not because I'm not reading good books. I've read a lot in the past couple of weeks that I know, objectively, are good books. The problem is that the only books giving me profound feelings are the ones that I want to fling at the wall and then jump up and down on in anger and frustration. And, I hate this feeling. I hate feeling like I'm reading books because it's habit and not because there's something that I just can't wait to get to. And even the books I've been excited by haven't lingered with me for long, no matter how good they were from an objective point of view.

I want something that makes my heart sing. Or that makes me laugh out loud. Or that makes me weep like my world is ending. I want to feel big, teenager emotions. I want book crush. I want to feel the way I did when I first read Andrew Smith's Winger or Ernest Cline's Ready Player One or Neil Gaiman's American Gods or Lish McBride's Hold Me Closer, Necromancer or any of the myriad other books that have made me give a little squeal of happiness and hug them to my chest and maybe do a little happy dance around the apartment (though I admit to nothing).

And it's not the books, it's me. I know that. I mean, one of the books I just finished was Scott Westerfeld's upcoming Afterworlds which is really fucking good. I could write a wordy discourse on its razor-sharp observations on publishing and its keen insights into the life of a writer and its seamless integration of two separate novels into a cohesive whole and how perfectly it captures the highest highs and lowest lows of that first young love. But, I can't rhapsodize over it like a teenager discovering John Green for the first time. I'll be recommending it to friends and colleagues and my sixteen-year-old niece, but my skin won't flush and my eyes light up with evangelical zeal when I do. Which is not due to any shortcoming of the book itself. I'm just feeling oddly flat about everything I read right now.

Have you ever felt that way? I'd think it was symptomatic of something deeper, but it's only books that are leaving me (not) feeling this way. Movies, TV shows, toy-like things, really good stinky cheese--any of these can still make me giddy and excited and desirous of sharing my "discovery" with everyone who crosses my path. It's just books.Maybe I need to go back and re-read some old stand-bys. Maybe that would shake me out of my slump. Or maybe I need to read a book that I know I'll enjoy but that I can read completely non-critically. (Mmmmm...brain candy.)

Or maybe I'll never have that giddy, book-crush feeling again. Maybe I'm doomed to a life of readerly maturity. Maybe I'm becoming,,,a critic.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Did Not Finish

So, if you're coming here looking for in-depth reviews and blurb-worthy pull quotes, I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed. I've given up all my noble intentions of finding something nice to say about every book I read and trying to be thorough and coherent in my thoughts. Instead, I'm just going to write about books the way I talk about books, which is all emotion and little thought.

Okay. So, there was this book that I was looking forward to reading because it was a fantasy/sci-fi hybrid about a girl who falls in love with a (male) harpy, which sounded like something that would entertain the hell out of me. But, what this book really and truly was was something completely different. Have you ever read one of those awful Native American romance novels from back in the day? You know the ones where the innocent white girl ends up living with a Native tribe and falling in love with the Alpha Warrior (usually after a bout of "lovemaking" that is really rape), but she can't love him because her mother was kidnapped and.or killed by members of this same tribe and her father (and the entire town) believes the Natives to be brutal inhuman killers but her love for the Alpha Warrior is enough to build a bridge and make the villainous villagers realize their mistake? THIS IS THAT NOVEL. Only the Native Americans are replaced by "harpies", which aren't even really harpies, but a species indigenous to the planet that has been colonized by earthlings sometime in the future. Oh, and the harpies are brown, except for the Alpha Harpies, which are golden. This is a seriously racist, imperialist, sexist piece of garbage and I could only get through about a third of it before I gave up in disgust. (Had I not been reading it digitally, I would have thrown it across the room, then ripped it into pieces and tossed it in the recycling. Pushing the <Delete> button just isn't nearly as satisfying when a book is this offensive.) Maybe the plot got better. Maybe the heroine stopped being so very Mary Sue. Maybe all of the racist bullshit (that isn't really racist bullshit because these are fantasy creatures, duh) got justified or rectified or something later on. Maybe something happened in the 200 or so pages that I didn't read that made this story brilliant. But, I wasn't going to finish, even if none of the (very, very, very serious) problems I've already mentioned hadn't existed because the prose was gods awful. It was all short declarative sentences and not a contraction in sight. Remember those stories you wrote in first and second grade? Remember the prose "style" you employed because you were seven and didn't know any better? This whole book was pretty much written in exactly that style.

I'm not sure if I should name the book or not. A couple minutes of Googling would probably lead you right to it. I mean, I'm sure the author spent a shit-ton of time writing it and it's her baby and she's probably really proud of it and although it's a really, really small possibility, there's still a possibility that if I name the book the author, or someone from her publisher, will come across this and read it and it'll make her feel bad, which would make me feel bad. On the other hand, that's a miniscule possibility and naming the book may keep someone from wasting their money on it. Grrr. Okay. A compromise. I'll name it, but I won't link to it. The book is 'The Flight of the Golden Harpy' by Susan Klaus. It;s got an average of four stars over on GoodReads, but the reviews seem to be fairly evenly divided into the five-star and no-star or one-star camps, so I'm not the only one who had issues. Apparently, though there are some serious fangirls out there and gods bless them. It just goes to show that the right reader is out there for every book.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ahhhh...That's Better

So, Queen of the Tearling didn't really work for me. But, shortly after completing it, I read The Kiss of Deception by Mary E. Pearson, and everything that didn't work for me in the Johansen was "fixed" in the Pearson. The plots of the two novels aren't really similar at all and, if they weren't both fantasies that I read close together, I'd likely not be comparing them at all. But, I did read them close together and, while I didn't hate the Johansen, it was a deeply flawed novel, in my opinion. The Pearson isn't perfect (I don't think there is such a thing as a perfect novel), but the elements I found troublesome in the Johansen--world-building and character-development chief among them--were so well done here as to create, for me, a startling contrast.

While very, very different in their approaches to creating such, both novels take place on a post-technical Earth, in a society vaguely medieval in nature. However, where the world-building in QotT was vague, with only sporadic clues as to how the old world ended and the new one began TKoD without spending excessive page count on back story, still manages to convey exactly why technology no longer works in her world and how society first began to rebuild itself. The characters in Kiss are fully-realized; her women are strong and capable without sliding into Mary Sue territory; both male leads have their attractions,but also some big, big secrets and flaws; her "villains" seem less like over-the-top mustache-twirlers than deeply committed, possibly misguided people whose agenda doesn't necessarily align neatly with that of our heroine. If you're looking for a sweeping fantasy of a post-tech human society, I can't recommend The Kiss of Deception highly enough. It is a YA novel, in contrast to the Johansen, which is being marketed to an adult audience, but it is, in my opinion, far more mature than QotT and worth the read.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Adieu, Jay Lake

I had started a post on a book that was an antidote to 'The Queen of the Tearling' and had planned to finish it up and post it today. But, as soon as I got to work this morning, I heard that Jay Lake had died and my plans changed.

I didn't know Jay well--we met a handful of times and attended the same haggis party once--but the few interactions I had with him made me realize he was genuinely good people. I am deeply grateful that I had the opportunity to get to know him, however slightly. I feel as if my life was made just a little bit better for having crossed his path. I know that my reading life was made a whole lot better for having read his words.

My heart goes out to his family and friends. If I, who hardly knew him, am feeling this grief, I can't imagine how much worse it must be for those who were close to him.

Good bye, Jay Lake. You are missed.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Bitch is Back

Hey, kids, I'm back. I know it's been more than two years since I last updated this. My original plan was to use this as a log of what I'd been reading. Of everything I'd been reading. But, let's face it, I read too damned much for that to ever be realistic. But, I got to where I was missing pontificating about books to anonymous strangers, so I'm back. Things will be a bit different this time around, though. I'm only going to post maybe once a week and only when there's a book about which I feel I have something that I need to say. And, yes, I have such a book in mind. The book is The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen and it's a book I wanted to love. Hell, it's a book I should have loved. But, it had problems that left me feeling disappointed that it never lived up to its full potential.

Here's why this book should have been right up my alley: It's a fantasy novel with a female protagonist and set in a land where sovereignty is handed down matrilineally. The crown princess has been in hiding her entire life and the book opens on her nineteenth birthday when members of the Queen's Guard come to fetch her back to the castle so that she can take the throne.Road trip? Hidden princess? Women in power?Yes, please. Count me right on in.

But, sadly, things started to go wrong for me quite early on.Well, from the beginning, really, with the princess's name: Kelsey. Yes, just like Kelsey Grammer (and you're more than welcome for that mental image). Kelsey is not the name of a princess, unless she's in one of those books where you can have your child's name inserted as the main character. Kelsey is the love interest in a contemporary YA romance or the plot moppet in a breezy chick-lit. She is not the hidden princess in a fantasy novel set in a pseudo-medieval post-apocalyptic (I think, but that's another issue and we'll get to it soon enough) world. Her mother was named Elyssa, which works for the type of world that Johansen is trying to create, but Kelsey was just too jarringly contemporary and casual.

And, about the world-building: I don't get it. There was a mention of Christmas quite early on, but it was before Johansen had in any other way intimated that her world was populated by humans descended from, well, us. Instead of reading as a clue to the origins of the society, it read as lazy storytelling. It wasn't until much later that the use of "Christmas" rather than Yule or Solstice or Longest Night or whatever made sense. But, by that point, not much else of the world-building really did. I know that the world is populated by descendants of Earth, but I'm not clear on whether they're still on Earth, or whether they're somewhere or some time else, or maybe both. There was a lot of talk of ships, but, contextually, it doesn't make sense for them to have been ocean-going vessels. I assumed they were space ships and that the seafaring terminology was used metaphorically, but I'm not sure. There seems to have been some disaster that forced people to flee, but if one goes strictly by what is explicit in the text, it would seem that the survivors just fled across the sea to some unpopulated land, which, what? Is there still a place on Earth that is sparsely populated enough to support a large influx of refugees? So, I had to assume that they had fled to another planet or an alternate Earth or back in time or some such, because it was the only way I could make it make sense.

And, there was magic, but the magic system wasn't really explained in any way, so it was more the magic of fairy tales than that of good fantasy fiction. And the Red Queen, who is the villain of the piece, was some slapdash mishmash of every Evil Queen ever, built on a foundation of A Song of Ice & Fire's Melisandre. The central conflict of the plot was almost too over-the-top evil and the book ended in a way that felt weird to me: Kelsey took an action which should have spurred the Red Queen to march to war on Kelsey and her "kingdom" (which is not what you should call a land historically ruled by Queens, but whatever, even though it bugged the ever-living jeebus out of me), but the book ended with Kelsey's coronation and seemingly no immediate consequences of her actions. This is the first of a proposed trilogy, so I'm sure there will be consequences to follow in the subsequent books, but I'd have liked more of an inkling of them here--maybe an epilogue which showed the Red Queen's spy in the crowd at the coronation or her troops approaching the castle gates or burning a village or something. Instead, the implication was that all would be puppies and rainbows now that Kelsey was Queen.

And, yes, I'm totally pounding on this book, but for one reason and one reason only: It could have been awesome and I'm taking my disappointment out on it. The potential is there for a truly amazing fantasy epic that would appeal to a broad spectrum of readers. But, the finished product feels like it got very little editorial attention or that it was edited by someone unfamiliar with fantasy fiction.I wanted nothing more than to take a red pen and "fix" what I saw as its major shortcomings. There was nothing wrong with this book that a strong and honest editorial hand couldn't have fixed.But, in the end, all I was left with was disappointment at what might have been.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

My New Year's Resolution

I am not going to freak out if I don't update this as often as I probably should, Nor am I going to allow myself to be frozen in fear by the huge number of books accumulating on my list and allow myself to continue to get further behind. This is not a life or death type of thing and I need to just let it happen as it will. Sometimes I'll feel like sharing my thoughts on what I've read and sometimes I won't. No big deal either way. That being said, this is likely to be another long post while I try to whittle down the list at least a little bit.

'Glamour in Glass' by Mary Robinette Kowal--It's nice to be starting out with a personal favorite. I was wondering how Ms. Kowal would follow up 'Shades of Milk and Honey' since that first volume ended with a pretty definitive Happily Ever After. So, what did she do? Spies! I love spy novels. Plus, she took an honest look at how two people who don't really actually know each other all that well adapt to being married. There was a lot of relationship negotiation--trying to find the right balance of power--which I really liked. Additionally, she added new twists to the magic system she had established in 'Shades', so the whole book was full of new discoveries for both the reader and the characters. It's not always easy for authors to successfully explore what happens after the HEA, which is why so many romance series have new protagonists for each volume, but Ms. Kowal has given readers of 'Shades' a lovely new chapter in the lives of Jane and Vincent.

'Bitterblue' by Kristin Cashore--Another favorite. I obviously had a week where I got really lucky in what came in the mail for me to read. I liked 'Graceling'. I really liked 'Fire'. I think I pretty much loved 'Bitterblue'.  It not only brings back characters from the first two volumes in the saga, but introduces some great new ones. It ties both of the first books together quite nicely and sets up possibilities for at least one--and I sincerely hope, more--books about this world. When I had finished the book, I wanted nothing more than to go back and re-read 'Fire' and 'Graceling' before starting 'Bitterblue' again from page one. I'm just afraid I'm going to have to wait too long to find out what happens next.

'BZRK' by Michael Grant--Grant is the author of the YA "Gone" series, which is one of my favorite YA science fiction series of the past few years. And, while this was good--well paced, with interesting characters and intriguing technology--it just didn't grab me the way the "Gone" books did.

'Girl Meets Boy', edited by Kelly Milner Hals--Like any collection of short stories, this one has some winners and some runners-up. The book has an interesting premise: stories of teen relationships told from both sides. And, just like relationships, some of the stories just don't work out, no matter how much you might want them to. But, several of the stories and characters have lingered with me in the weeks since I finished reading (especially the closing story), so, overall, I'd call it a success.

'The Rogue Pirate's Bride' by Shana Galen--The third volume in a series about three displaced aristocratic French brothers. Shana Galen is one of my favorite recent discoveries and this series has been fantastic. This third volume doesn't pack quite the same emotional wallop as 'The Making of a Gentleman' (which I realized I had somehow skipped and will have it's own little entry sometime later), but it had PIRATES and I am a total sucker for a pirate romance. Especially if we're talking fantasy pirates who bathe and have teeth and aren't suffering from scurvy. And, of course, there was the requisite reunion of the brothers and a healthy dose of derring-do and rescuing from certain death and a satisfying Happily Ever After.

'Wonder' by R.J. Palacio--I didn't expect to be as charmed and captivated by this book as I was. Often, when a child with any sort of disability is the central character of a book, he or she is somehow preternaturally wise or magical and ends up dying in the end and changing the lives of everyone around him or her for the better. Not here, thankfully. Auggie is a normal kid who just happens to have some physical problems. He's sometimes bitter or petulant or selfish and he's not always nice and that made me like him all the more. Bravo to Palacio for avoiding all the "special child" cliches and making me like this book in spite of myself.

'Before the Poison' by Peter Robinson--Not an installment in his Inspector Banks series, this is, instead, much more akin to a Gothic novel. Not a ghost story, but a story about a man haunted by metaphorical ghosts, it's also a mystery and a bit of a romance and, c'mon, it's Peter Robinson. Of course it's good.

'Secrets of an Accidental Duchess' by Jennifer Haymore--'Confessions of an Improper Bride' was one of my favorite Romance novels of 2011 and I never expected this one to match it. It didn't, but it was still damned good. Haymore is just amazing. I think this is the first time I have ever read a novel with a heroine who is suffering from malaria and having to cope with the occasional flare-ups of symptoms. And a hero who isn't scared away by it but doesn't get all overprotective and coddle-y, either. And, there's a little peek into book three at the end of this book and--yay!--missing and presumed dead sister isn't dead at all! Of course that's going to lead to a whole lot of confusion, but I know that Haymore is more than capable of keeping it from going completely off the rails.

And, okay. That's it for now. Back for more tomorrow? The next day? Next week? Next month? Who knows?  Sometime, though. Probably.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Still Catching Up

I'm nearing the home stretch. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I can catch up by the end of the week.

'The Invisible Tower' by Nils Johnson Shelton--Another good but not great book for younger readers. And I had such high hopes. I mean, any book where Merlin is still alive and is the proprietor of a comic book shop is going to pique my interest. Sadly, it felt like it was trying to hard to be nerd-cool at the expense of being fun. Of course, I'm far outside it's target audience and there are probably hordes of ten-year-olds who will really get into it.

'The Garden Intrigue' by Lauren Willig--Another charming installment in her Pink Carnation series. I keep waiting for there to be a clunker in this series (it seems to happen to even the best authors), but there has yet to be one. I dread the day when she decides to tell Jane's story because I'm pretty sure she's holding that one back for the very last. Until then, I look forward to every new book.

'Bloodrose' by Andrea Cremer--This is the final volume of her Nightshade trilogy and it was an excellent ending. The action never let up, there were a couple of heartbreaking deaths, and the resolution was one that I should have suspected might be coming, but didn't. And, although it left me wanting to read more from this author, I am perfectly satisfied to leave this world she created just as it is.

'Unclaimed' by Courtney Milan--A really, really lovely historical romance which will join the list of those titles to be placed in the hands of those who claim the genre is nothing but fluff. If reading novels like this one doesn't change their minds, then they're just stubborn.

'Sex, Gossip, and Rock & Roll' by Nicola Marsh--A contemporary series romance, which I rarely read mostly because they're too short. I quite enjoyed it, but wished it had a few more pages to further develop some of the supporting characters and their stories.

'Night Hawk' by Beverly Jenkins--I used to read Beverly Jenkins fairly regularly, but haven't read any of her books for a few years and I'm not sure why. Reading this one reminded me of all the things I enjoyed about her work and I've since picked up a couple of her older titles to add to my TBR pile. I love not just that she writes about non-white heroes and heroines (which is huge), but that her research is thorough and exposes me to historical events that I probably wouldn't otherwise have learned about.

'The Snow Child' by Eowyn Ivey--Oh, how I loved this book. It's just simply beautiful. I picked it up because I love fairy tale re-tellings and grew up reading books about frontier days. This is a re-telling of a Russian folktale set in Alaska in the '20s and it was just so, so wonderful. I think this is likely to make my Best of 2012 list, even though it will publish in February and there are ten months more of books that may knock it from its perch. Oh, just, wow. Read this. Please.

'Pure' by Julianna Baggott--This is being marketed as an adult book, but is clearly YA dystopic fiction. It's true that there is a segment of the adult reading audience who misses out on a lot of great fiction because it's shelved in the "Kids" section, but this maybe isn't the book to try crossing over. It's okay, and to an adult reader who hasn't read a lot of YA dystopic fiction it'll probably seem fresh and unique. I just don't think it's worth the extra seven or eight dollars the publisher is going to be able to charge by marketing it to an adult audience.

'Fever' by Lauren DeStefano--This is the second volume in her Chemical Garden trilogy and I think I liked it ever better than the first volume. Usually, the middle books in trilogies feel like "bridge" books and are weaker than the first and third volumes. This one bucked the trend. It's still very much a bridge book, but it also added new elements to the story and has gotten me really excited for the third volume.

'The Mirage' by Matt Ruff--I really liked this topsy-turvy look at the events of 9/11. In Ruff's world, the attacks take place on 11/9 and it's American extremists who take down the twin towers in Baghdad. It's clever and smart and has an interesting take on who some of the central players would have become if things had played out differently. Oh, and Rummy got his, so extra super bonus points to Ruff for pulling that off.

'Incarnate' by Jodi Meadows--Another book that I absolutely loved. It's a YA paranormal, but there's not a werewolf or vampire or fallen angel to be found. It has a wholly unique mythology and a heroine who is so broken that you can't help but ache for her. An absolutely wonderful book.

'Cinder' by Marissa Meyer--Another fairy tale re-telling, this being a Cinderella (natch) story set in the future and featuring a cyborg Cinderella. It took me a while to get into, but, as soon as it started clicking with me, I couldn't turn the pages fast enough.

The rest of the catch-up list is now less than 20 titles, so I feel like I've made some progress. I probably won't be able to post tomorrow, but I won't have a lot of time for reading either, so I shouldn't get myself further behind.