I chopped a good five or six inches off my hair yesterday. It’s the shortest it’s ever been now, I’m pretty sure. This is what it looked like when the stylist blowdried it. It, uh, doesn’t look like that when I blowdry it. But whatchagonnado?
Two very different books this week: historical romance and contemporary YA.
Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase
I was really looking forward to this one — I’d already read two of the Carsington Brothers series (Lord Perfect and Miss Wonderful) and found them charming, but both of the people who’d recommended them told me I’d like Mr. Impossible best, because a) it’s basically The Mummy in prose form (without an actual mummy) and b) Rupert is a charming scoundrel.
Basically, the book is about a scholar named Daphne, who has to pretend it’s her brother who’s the genius because no one will accept a woman who’s smarter than they are. But her brother gets kidnapped as they’re studying ancient Egypt, and the only one around who can help is Rupert. She and Rupert set off together and through a series of adventures, they fall in love. He thinks her smarts are hot, she thinks his hotness is hot (and it is!), and they have lots of good sex. Hooray!
My one complaint is that it’s set up very clearly at the beginning of the book that Daphne is the brains, where Rupert is the muscle; Daphne is logical where Rupert is rash. But Daphne spends a lot of the book bursting into tears and missing the obvious, while Rupert picks up on clues and does the actual mystery-solving. While Daphne’s smarts showed through in her scholar-ing (that’s a word now), when it came to the plot itself, it was very much an applied attribute. That said, I loved her character growth as she came to terms with being smart and not being ashamed of it, and began to embrace who she is. And I loved the romance (which is, obviously, kinda key to enjoying the book). She and Rupert are delightful, and I would read a million more books about their adventures.
Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers
I’m honestly not quite sure what to say about this one. It’s really not my genre; while I read lots and lots of YA, very little of it is contemporary and of that, basically none of it is stories about mean girls and social hierarchies, because those are not things I particularly want to read about. But I adore Courtney — her twitter is super fun to follow if you love Lady Gaga or hate werewolves (or both!) — and despite it not being my genre, I enjoyed her debut novel, Cracked Up to Be, quite a bit.
And I can’t say I didn’t enjoy SGA. I read it in one sitting, and stayed up quite a bit past my bedtime to do so. It’s compelling. But it’s definitely a story about mean girls being mean. And not in the Lindsay Lohan-movie way. The book is brutal: it kicks off with an attempted rape, and the antagonists laugh about it and use it as a way to torment the protagonist throughout.
Speaking of the protagonist, Regina: she’s not nice either. She’s not a good person who’s dealing with bad things happening to her; she’s not sympathetic. She was one of the mean girls until she got frozen out, and Summers doesn’t shy away from the fact that Regina is basically exactly the same as the people tormenting her, she’s just on the receiving end for a change. It was definitely interesting; one of the main themes of the book was that everyone revels in being a bitch sometimes. It would have been dishonest if Regina hadn’t been, too. But that made it hard to root for her. It felt almost arbitrary that she was the protagonist and the girl she hated most was the antagonist; without changing much of the story before the very end, only flipping the point of view, it could have been about Kara getting back at Regina for a variety of horrible things Regina had done.
So ultimately, I’m not sure what to say. A few months ago, Courtney posted a very interesting blog entry about mean girls and writing SGA; looking through the comments, what I wrote in response was:
I really wonder if my own completely weirdo high school existences are why I don’t read much contemporary stuff and am much more drawn to sf/f. Hmmm. There wasn’t really a lot of bullying or cliqueishness in my school (that I was aware of); I never felt bullied or that I had to find a way to belong with my equally-weird friends. So I rarely see myself reflected in contemporary stuff and I rarely identify with the characters on either side.
Aside from the fact that I evidently wrote “existences” instead of “experiences,” I think that’s the best I can do to sum up my feelings on SGA. It was a good book; it just wasn’t a book for me. But Summers’ writing is compelling — I read both of her books cover-to-cover without stopping. So I would absolutely recommend to people who are into mean girls-style stories.
A few weeks ago, my very smart friend Jen mentioned on Twitter that she was reading Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. My reactions, in order, were, “Awesome!” and, “Really?” Because (aside from superhero stories) Jen is not much for my beloved scifi/fantasy genres. So while I’d classify The Hunger Games as “book that you should read regardless of genre,” it wasn’t something I’d have recommended to her.
We had the following exchange:
Me: Ooooh. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts, though I probably wouldn’t have recced it to you.
Jen: I love dystopias! And I loved the movie of Battle Royale. So I think I will like this.
Me: How did I not know that about you??? (I guess I think dystopia = scifi = not so much your interest?)
Jen: I don’t see dystopia as sci-fi; if anything, it’s the reverse of historical fiction, which I also love.
Me: That is really interesting! I tend to think of it as just a sf subgenre, but I can see why you don’t.
Interesting thought, filed away for “things to think about later,” though I never really did. Until I ran across this post on io9 in Google Reader. I clicked over because that was the first time I’d seen a cover or title for the final book in Wasserman’s Skinned series — which I will definitely buy in hardcover as soon as it comes out — and the actual post turned out to be a question of whether or not YA has moved on from scifi.
My initial reaction is, um, no, especially not given the fantastic success of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, as well as Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy, and a handful of others. But the post posits that the argument for YA not being big on scifi right now is based on not counting dystopias like the ones I just mentioned as science fiction. Interesting, especially because almost all of the YA scifi I can think of — at least published recently — is very near-future, is dystopian, or both.
Innnnnnteresting. So if you have thoughts, please throw them out in the comments! Do you consider dystopian novels part of a larger science fiction genre, or are they their own beast? Does it depend on the story? (Any recs? Because I need a longer reading list…)
So, speaking of what is big in YA, an interesting link: Girls Just Wanna Have Fangs:
Twilight is more than a teen dream. It’s a massive cultural force. Yet the very girliness that has made it such a success has resulted in its being marginalized and mocked. Of course, you won’t find many critics lining up to defend Dan Brown or Tom Clancy, either; mass-market success rarely coincides with literary acclaim. But male escapist fantasies — which, as anyone who has seen Die Hard or read those Tom Clancy novels can confirm, are not unilaterally sophisticated, complex, or forward-thinking — tend to be greeted with shrugs, not sneers. The Twilight backlash is vehement, and it is just as much about the fans as it is about the books. Specifically, it’s about the fact that those fans are young women.
I’m no fan of Twilight, but that’s not really what the article is about. It isn’t a question of whether Twilight is good or bad, it’s about why Twilight fans are greeted with sneers and disdain. Hint: because girls like it. And quality and content of the novels aside, that’s not an okay reason to dismiss them.
And continuing in that vein, tween stars. Jen (the same Jen as above) passed on a link she realized would be relevant to my interests: Smells Like an Ethnically Divided Teen Star System
The editor who chose to display the photos in this manner might argue it was simply artful to play up contrasts. And it’s not to argue that the “ethnic” stars have particularly dark skin (this is Hollywood, after all), just that they are racialized as not exactly white, and the positioning next to “whiter” stars makes this assertion stronger. Moreover, the juxtaposition eerily echoes the way in which leaked gossip in 2008 characterized Selena Gomez and Hannah Montana actress and singer Miley Cyrus (the arguably All-American daughter of country singer Billy Ray Cyrus) as unfriendly rivals and ultimately positioned Gomez and purported BFF Demi Lovato, another Disney actress and singer also of half-Mexican heritage, in a separate camp from their more EuroAmerican counterparts at Disney. Is the conglomerate thinking of teen celebrity promotion in relation to ethnic blocs?
Interesting stuff. There’s also a good point in the comments; most of the ethnically ambiguous actors you see on Nick and Disney and even the CW are female; with the exception of Taylor Lautner and his Amazing Abs, the young, male heartthrob ideal remains pretty freaking white. I can think of a few other Disney kids who are ethnically ambiguous, and a few who are non-ambiguously African-American — but they aren’t kids who are being set up to follow the Zac Efron mold, either, which makes me think Lautner is an exception that proves the rule.
And now, because it is a lazy Sunday, I think I will take a nap. (Translation: I have no idea how to conclude this blog post.)
Book #2! The short version is: I enjoyed it. It’s YA fantasy, and conveniently, I have a whole blog to review those, so the long version, which also consists of “I enjoyed it,” with a pesky “but…” is over here.
Incidentally, I have finally given in and set up a GoodReads account. So… friend me and say hi?
Last year, I tried (elsewhere) to keep track of the books I read. I gave up in February when I could no longer type: banishment from the computer meant I was able to read more, but not record titles or my impressions. (Handwriting is not good for sore wrists either, for the record.) Basically I gave up three months into the year.
This year I’m trying again, though I’m weirdly nervous about it. What if I lose track and slack off and this tag only ever has this one entry? What if the internet judges me based on what I read? Or, for that matter, what I haven’t read yet? I was a serious bookworm growing up — less so of late, though I hope keeping track of what I read will encourage me a bit — but I never read much that could count as The Classics. The classics I did read were mostly for English class, and that sort of damaged the joy of reading them for me.
Case in point: Pride and Prejudice. Now, basically all of my friends swear by this book. Several swoon over Mr. Darcy. But I read it for A.P. English and detested it. Which, looking back, was unfair; it had nothing to do with the book itself, and everything to do with the teacher. This was a teacher whose favorite Shakespeare was The Taming of the Shrew — LOL spousal abuse, I guess? — and when we read it in class, who declared, “Becky, you read Kate, because you’re a shrew.” Not so much my favorite teacher. So I have been studiously avoiding Austen and all things associated with her ever since.
Like, in this case, Sense and Sensibility. Which I have now read! My sister put the movie on a couple of months ago, and I looooooooooved it. We actually ended up watching it twice in 24 hours. So I decided perhaps I should get over my admittedly irrational avoidance, so I picked up the book, put off reading it for awhile, and finally started it on vacation a couple weeks ago.
And okay, yes. I loved it. Jane Austen: A++, would read again. It was a bit more challenging than most of what I read, because I am very accustomed to modern pacing and structure, but once I fell into the rhythm of the book I quite enjoyed it. I loved both Elinor and Marianne, and I really enjoyed Edward and Colonel Brandon. I didn’t get all of the satire because I don’t know much about what was being satirized — I know just enough to know what I don’t know, basically — but once I shrugged and accepted that the various friends and relations running around and being ridiculous were, in fact, meant to be ridiculous, and stopped worrying about keeping track of who they were related to and how all the supporting characters related to one another, it was delightful. It took me a couple of weeks to read the first section, but once I got sucked in, I sped through volumes two and three in a few days.
So in the end, I feel thoroughly enriched and glad I read it. And now I’m going to watch the movie again, because that sounds perfect for a lazy Sunday, lying-on-the-couch viewing.
A couple of weeks ago, a friend pointed me towards this post by Mad Marvel Girl. The post basically asks, what are your three stories — the stories of your heart? The stories that grip you and don’t let go, which you could read or watch over and over, and why? It’s not about how good the text is, it’s about the actual story, the part that makes your heart happy.
As one very smart friend of mine paraphrased, what are the stories which, if every other story was a riff off them, you’d still be pretty happy with?
I’ve been thinking about this on and off since. I’ve managed to come up with two.
Star Wars. (If I must be more specific, The Empire Strikes Back.) There are a lot of general things I love about the trilogy: the space opera backdrop, the rag-tag band of rebels taking out a much more powerful enemy, the epic scope of world-building, the fact that the movies are fun before all else. But let’s face it: for me, the big, big thing is Leia and Han. I love Leia and Han. Or rather, I love Leia, and am in love with Han.
About my love of Princess Leia: I love that she’s making serious contributions to the rebellion even before the movies start. She’s a leader, and she’s good at it. Once captured, she remains defiant (“I should have recognized your foul stench when I was brought on board.”). Even when she’s the one being rescued, she’s still perfectly able to grab a weapon and kick down an exit where one doesn’t exist. She can run around and do the action hero thing, as well as the pretty, dress-wearing, traditional fantasy princess thing. She’s smart, she’s angry, and she kicks ass. I adore her.
Han… well, he’s my fictional type. Smug. A rogue with a heart of gold. Not necessarily nice, but certainly nice to look at. He can do bad things, but generally does the right thing in the end. And smug. Did I mention that? My first fictional crush, when I was about five, was Peter Venkman in the Real Ghostbusters cartoon; I have no idea how I was wired to find smug jack-ass-ery particularly attractive, but it is absolutely typified by Han Solo.
Beyond anything else, the story of the two of them falling in love while snarking at each other and having adventures speaks to my soul. The Empire Strikes Back is my idea of a perfect romance.
To sum up: a kick-ass woman and the smug guy she loves (and often rescues). If they starred in every story, I would be a happy camper indeed.
My other story is Arrows of the Queen by Mercedes Lackey. I’m amazed it took me this long to realize that, actually, as I’ve read that book at least fifteen times. I first read it when I was in fifth grade, and even though, as an adult, I can spot plenty of flaws in it, it’s still among my all-time favorites and I reread it every couple of years.
In it, our hero, Talia, runs away from the home where she’s always been unloved and unappreciated, gets Chosen, is swept off to Valdemar’s capital city and thrust into circumstances she doesn’t fully understand. But once she’s there, by way of tenacity and hard work (plus being super-duper-special) she overcomes the odds and makes it, proving to both herself and the world in general that she’s truly deserving of her new-found status.
Or, in other words, a girl who feels awkward and out of place — particularly because she’s bookish and none too feminine — is just sure she can do and be more than anyone realizes, if only she gets the chance! And when the chance comes, even though it’s hard, she’s plucky and determined! And in the end, she succeeds! Hooray!
It isn’t a complex story, but look, there’s a reason I not-so-secretly love Mary Sues. The story, simply as a story, speaks directly to my id. But it gets me in Arrows of the Queen in particular, I think because when I was 11, I identified so strongly with Talia. Ultimately, I don’t need the story to be about someone bookish, or even about a girl, because it’s the I’m-something-more leading to plucky determination leading to success! that gets me. I could happily read that over and over again. I have read that over and over again.
I think, if it came down to it and I absolutely had to pick one character archetype over the other, it would be Leia over Talia. But maybe that isn’t a surprise, either. I identify with Talia in ways that reflect who I am: someone who often feels awkward and out of place, who wants to do and accomplish more, even though I don’t know how or even, really, what I want to do. I want to be part of something important, something that matters, even though I haven’t figured out what yet. But that’s where Leia already is, where she starts her story. Maybe it’s just that ultimately, I’d rather read stories about what I aspire to than what I am now.
Especially if I get Han Solo in the end. Just sayin’.
(Unrelated ETA: upgraded WordPress, fiddled with plugins. Threaded commenting should now exist. And possibly automatically posting to Facebook. So if this shows up there… Hi!)