Moved, go here.
So here’s a fun hobby I’ve developed since moving to New York, four-ish years ago: planning what I’m going to do in case of sudden apocalypse. Because if there’s anything I’ve learned from action movies, it’s that there’s a really good chance it’s going to happen here.
Unfortunately, I’m about 97% sure my role in Manhattan’s demise is going to be “casualty.” If nothing else, the odds are against me being one of the few survivors, when there are 8 million other people on this very small island. I’m also small, don’t work out, have bad feet, and am terrified of physical pain. So things don’t look good for me. My real plan in case of, say, zombiegeddon, is to get bitten and learn to love the taste of brains, despite having been a vegetarian for well of a decade.
But on the other hand, I was a Girl Scout for, like, eight years; I can start a fire and sort of cook over it, pitch a tent, sew if I must, and know basic first aid. If I can get off the island — that’s the big barrier to survival, I think — I’d say I have at least a sporting chance. So if I do happen to escape, I’m striking out for my parents’ house upstate. They’ve got plenty of canned food, the neighbors all have guns, and my mom can spin her own yarn. I think these are all things that will be useful when it comes time to rebuild a society.
Anyway, the point of all of this is to say that I reviewed The Forest of Hands and Teeth, zombie horror by Carrie Ryan, over at Active Voice today. And it scared the bejesus out of me.
Let us be up front about this. You know I’m going to love any book where the acknowledgement section ends with, “I’d like to close by thanking Mariano Rivera. Not because he helped with this book or anything … just for existing.” The book is a series of autobiographical essays by Span, some about her experiences as a sports writer covering the Yankees and the Mets, but most are more generally focused around being a baseball fan. (Span is a Yankees fan, who is Mets sympathetic, and the book actually spends more time on the Mets.)
I loved this book for a bunch of reasons, the first of which is that I giggled aloud almost the whole time I was reading it, and kept stopping to read sections to my sister. The anecdotes are delightful — trying to interview Pedro Martinez, but waiting for him to put on pants first, only to have him never put on pants, for example — and there were plenty that made me laugh out loud while reading on the subway (the look back at the Mets’ them “Our Team, Our Time,” if only because I remember listening to that the first time and laughing so hard I cried).
It’s also the only baseball book I’ve ever read where I actually identify with it. That’s mainly two reasons: Span focuses mostly on the teams starting around 2003, which was the year I actually started watching baseball, so I’ve got a much better idea what she’s talking about than in most baseball books I’ve read — I remember Kevin Brown breaking his own freaking hand after a bad start — but also because the way she describes watching baseball is something I identify with:
When I first got interested in baseball, and stopped treating it as background noise and actually focused on it, it was the characters that drew me in, the personalities, and the drama, more than any inherent beauty of the game. I didn’t really care what kind of pitch someone threw or whether a batter had shortened his swing; I just wanted to see if Paul O’Neill was going to beat himself up all night, cursing his perceived failures in the dugout, terrorizing innocent water coolers. I wanted to see how the rookie replacing Tony Fernandez might overcome what I assumed had to be a bad case of nerves and succeed in the big leagues. I wanted Bernie Williams to do well because I wanted a shy, awkward dude with glasses to win one for sky, awkward people with glasses everywhere.
And just, yes, that’s it exactly. People complain about the slow pace of baseball, but for me, watching my first game when I was 20, it was perfect. The fact that it’s one guy batting at a time makes it much easier to figure out who’s who, and gives plenty of time for the announcers to speculate wildly about his mental state, personal life, and whatever else seems interesting. The moments of human drama were more interesting to me than the game at first, and gave me an entrance point that got me watching and kept me interested.
Finally, the book is also basically a love letter to New York. My hands-down favorite essay is “Frankie Furter, Chorizo, and Guido,” in which Span travels to Milwaukee to see a Mets-Brewers game. The thrust is that it’s lovely: the stadium is nice, and cheap, and the people working there are helpful and friendly. The Brewers fans were also nice, and totally welcoming to out-of-town fans, happy to give directions, and cheerfully inviting Mets fans out for drinks after the game. And, as she enjoyed herself there, Span realized that she wouldn’t trade in the hurried, rude, dirty, crowded New York experience for anything:
Let me just say here that I understand why people from other parts of the country get annoyed with New Yorkers’ refusal to see their city as anything other than the center of the world. It’s obnoxious and dismissive, this attitude towards the rest of America, grudging respect for L.A. and (maybe, sometimes) Chicago aside. There are lots of great cities in the United States and plenty of sophisticated people between the coasts.
That said … come on. If New York isn’t the center of the world, what is?
And you know I’ve been a New Yorker for awhile, because of my nodding agreement. (Sorry, entire rest of the country.)
Span touches on lots of other subjects, ranging from the near-and-dear-to-my-heart topic of being a female fan (and female sportswriter), to watching broadcasts of American baseball games while staying in Taiwan, to stats and why people are still arguing over how accurate they are, and so on. It’s a short, quick read, extremely smart, and extremely funny. It’s going right on to my reread list, as soon as I’m done loaning it to everyone I know.
So Nickelodeon’s trying to mimic Disney; the network partnered with Sony to put out albums for some of its up-and-coming stars, using wacky TV shows as launching pads. (Or so Wikipedia tells me.) The first was Miranda Cosgrove of iCarly, a pretty decent tween show; the second was the boy band Big Time Rush of Big Time Rush, who I immediately loved; and the third… the third is Victoria Justice of the brand-new-last-week show Victorious.
The show was incredibly, offensively bad. Sidekicks who make sexual assault jokes, a protagonist with no personality, an antagonist who only cares about the boy in her life, on top of generic, mediocre writing. Wow, I really, really did not like it at all.
I don’t remember when I first heard about The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (henceforth 100K), but it was a few months ago — long enough ago that the book wasn’t out yet the first time I looked for it in a store. It definitely has a buzz online; a bunch of review blogs I lurk at had praised it. And I eventually put together that Jemisin is one of the contributers to Alas, A Blog (linked in the sidebar) which I’ve been reading for years; and I began lurking around her site for very smart commentary on race in writing and sf/f. So pretty much the day it came out, I grabbed a copy and stuck it in my TBR pile. And finally got around to reading it, huzzah!
100k is epic fantasy — ish. It is certainly epic in scope, and hits plenty of traditional epic fantasy tropes. The protagonist, Yeine, is a reluctant chosen one. The plot has two major pieces to it; one is a war between the gods, which obviously has spanned eons and is now coming to a head; the other is her own family history, which, in some ways, is how the gods are acting out their war. So it’s a story that’s got generations of backstory going in, and its outcome affects the whole world. Pretty freaking epic.
But it’s also missing a lot of tropes: there isn’t really a quest, or a lot of walking around. There’s no Scooby gang assembled, though it also isn’t exactly Yeine Vs. Everyone, either. So: it’s definitely fantasy, it’s definitely epic. But is it epic fantasy?
Another point worth discussing: one of the ways this didn’t feel like traditional epic fantasy to me is that Yeine is female, and the romance in the book is a huge part of the plot. I feel like a lot of epics tend to have romances, but they don’t get a lot of focus. But then again, I also feel like a lot of traditional epic fantasies have female characters, but they don’t get a lot of focus, and since Yeine — the first-person narrator — is female, that isn’t the case here either. This was a book where the writing felt very woman-centric to me. Actually, it brought me back to something I’d vaguely pondered a few years ago:
With that said, as I read the book I kind of felt like it was written by a woman. I think that’s because I’ve spent a lot of time in fandom, a largely female-dominated space, and there are a few things fandoms tend to latch on to … This book has all of those in spades. It didn’t read like something that came out of fandom, but because of those associations, despite being a series that’s heavily weighted towards male characters, it read to me as though it had been written by a woman.
… I kind of feel like fandom/the internet (the combined force) is creating new tropes for genre fiction, based more heavily on female desire and female readership. For me, the disconnect between a guy writing the sort of stuff I associate with female readers was pretty big.
Obviously, not all of that is accurate to 100k (a very female character-centric story) but it had that same sort of feel. I think this is a great example of what I described as “broadening the genre.”1 So my vote is yes, it’s epic fantasy; but it’s a broader take on the genre.
(Incidentally, that question first occurred to me because Jemisin herself raised it. Interesting stuff.)
Okay, so beyond that, I really loved this book. If completely blew my “would I rather read this or play Bejeweled on the subway?” litmus test away — I read it on the way to and from work, during my lunch break, and in the evening sitting on my couch. I loved the not-quite-linear, non-traditional narrative style. I loved the scope, and the world building, and all the backstory. While the romance in and of itself didn’t do it for me (broody badboy isn’t my preferred romantic archetype) it was a strong plot and piece of the story.
I had one… hm, qualm isn’t the right word, and neither is disappointment, but I had one sort of note about the ending, which I wanted to talk about enough that I installed a spoiler-tag plug-in just for this. (Unless you’re reading via RSS, in which case I don’t think it’ll work). Basically…:
And after all of that, I’m really curious to know what the next book in the series will be about, and whose POV it will be from. (Okay, there are hints in the “extras” section of the book, but I want mooooore. Basically, I want the sequel. Rightnowplease.) This is an instant favorite for me, and one I know I’ll reread, and I’ll be waiting for other novels from Jemisin, too.
(HEY! Did you notice I skipped a number in my book reading list? That’s because it turns out I had two #5s! Whoops.)
- Wow, I’m pretentious sometimes. Hey, how about I quote myself some more? It’s awesome when I do that. ↩
I almost never actually link to the stuff I write on Tweenage Wasteland, huh? That’s mostly because it tends to consist of stupid pictures of Zac Efron accompanied by very little actual writing, but heck, sometimes I bother with more. Like yesterday: I accidentally stumbled across a new-ish Nickelodeon show, Big Time Rush, and was baffled for about five seconds until I realized it’s just The Monkees wearing tighter jeans. Seriously. And since boy bands and wacky hijinks are among my favorite things, I was entranced despite some sexist fail. Here’s hoping the show improves.
Other fun at Tweenage of late: Jess on fashion at the Kids Choice Awards, and (a couple months ago now), Jess, Rachel and I watched Disney’s Starstuck, and man, it wasn’t good at all.
Moved, go here.
The fourth and final of Loretta Chase’s Carsington Brothers series, this is the one with the secret baby. I’m fairly new to romance and actually had never read a secret baby novel before, only know about it as a trope, so I went in curiously. Basically, as a teenager Charlotte was seduced by a rake, had a secret baby (while he abandoned her and then got killed a duel), and gave it away — no one knows but her step-mother. Meanwhile, Darius is a heartless rake obsessed with logic and science, whose father tells him he can either manage a piece of the family’s property and make it profitable within a year (an impossible task, since the property has been abandoned for a decade and is totally unliveable) or he can marry an heiress. Of course he takes up the challenge, but meets Charlotte and falls for her — and then discovers the secret baby.
So, how did I feel about the cliché? It delighted me! The whole book did, rather. I tore through it; it took me awhile to warm up to Darius, but when he sat down and realized that yes, then logical thing to do when he’d screwed up was to apologize and ask for help, he won me over. (Hey, I’m easy.)
The weakness of this book is that there’s literally nothing to it but the secret baby. They meet! They fall in love! He finds out! He marries her anyway! The end! There’s sort of an antagonist, in that there’s another guy who’s in love with her, and he finds out about the baby and assumes Darius is nothing but a rake and she’s going to end up in trouble again, so he…tells her he knows, proposes, and she says no, and that’s the end of it. He doesn’t really do anything antagonistic, now that I think about it. At all. There wasn’t even a big misunderstanding; at one point there was a set up for one, but then Darius and Charlotte talked it out on the next page instead of not speaking for weeks and crying about it. So the book was rather light in the plot department, but enjoyable all the same.
Because I’m the sort of person who likes to list and innumerate things, having read the whole series, my favorite is definite Lord Perfect, in which the, well, perfect oldest son needs to learn to loosen up and that it’s okay to fall in love with the wrong woman. I think that Mr. Impossible is my second favorite, followed by Not Quite a Lady; I like Rupert and Daphne better as characters, and enjoy a lot of elements of that book more — but it also had a pacing issue, looking back; it wasn’t really about the plot, so that just wandered all over the place awkwardly and dragged things out. Sort of the opposite of Not Quite a Lady. (Which leaves Miss Wonderful in the last-but-not-least slot; it was fine, but neither of the characters, nor the set up, particularly interested me.)
Well, I was going to wait to link to this review until Jess and I got up all of the info about what will be our awesome Active Voice Third Birthday Thingy, but since that’s not done yet and I’ve already finished another book, I figured I probably ought to post this regardless. Anyhoo: The Shifter by Janice Hardy. Very enjoyable YA(-ish) fantasy.
I’ve been sick for four days now. Actually, longer, with something else; as that something else went away, a cold descended, and I’ve spent the last four days lying in bed and on my couch, going through whole boxes of tissues, drinking a ridiculous amount of tea. Blehhhh.
I’d like to say the upside was that I got some reading done while I was home sick! But I didn’t. It was the kind of sick where just breathing makes you tired, and so doing anything that requires thought is pretty much out of the question. So no reading, and basically no writing, including this blog entry for a book I finished early last week: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.
I’ve read TKAM before, in my ninth grade English class, and we know how I feel about assigned reading. But TKAM is a little different, in that I remembered really liking it, but for the life of me couldn’t remember why. Or anything about it, except vague impressions of Boo Radley, and something about a trial, and a fire, which I thought was the book’s climax. (It isn’t.) Curious about what ninth grade me had enjoyed so much, I grabbed a copy off of PaperBackSwap, and dug in.
And hey, it turns out the reason that I really liked this book — the reason it’s a classic, even — is that it’s really, really good! You know, you’re lucky to have me around to share things like this.
But seriously, it is.
I feel like I don’t need to go into a lot of detail here, because it’s a book that just about everyone has read, and it’s pretty much universally embraced as awesome. But I loved it; I loved how it dealt with racism (and sexism, for that matter) in a way that was completely moving, not preaching, and not talking down. Especially that last one was impressive: a lot of stuff goes over Scout’s head, but the reader picks up on it, and there’s no hammering it in. It’s just there, as part of a perfectly-crafted story.
But what really got me is the prose. From now on, when I think “narrative voice,” I will think of this book, because it is beautiful. That might be a quirk about me as a reader, actually; considering how much time I spend reading and writing, I almost never notice the actual artistic side of things. I read for entertainment; I zero in on story and character, but hardly notice the prose itself unless its particularly bad or particularly good. This is good, obviously:
Maycomb was an old town, bit it was a tired old town when I first knew it. In rain weather the streets turned to red slop; grass grew on the sidewalks, the courthouse sagged in the square. Somehow, it was hotter then: a black dog suffered on a summer’s day; bony mules hitched to Hoover carts flicked flies in the sweltering shade of the live oaks on the square. Men’s stiff collars wilted by nine in the morning. Ladies bathed before noon, after their three-o’clock naps, and by nightfall were like soft teacakes with frostings of sweat and sweet talcum.
It’s perfectly evocative, and so well painted that even someone like me, who rarely pauses to notice imagery and has basically no visual sense when I’m reading — I hear the words clearly in my brainvoice, but don’t actually picture things — can see it all clearly. I was actually taken aback by its loveliness, and I’m glad I stopped to pick it up.
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