First things first: I bought an e-reader! Specifically, I got B&N’s Nook, original black and white flavor. Technically, I bought it back in November, and Ash was the first book I read on it, but I bring it up now because once I had it, I checked out the Baen Free Library. The library offers some of their books as free e-books, and I noticed On Basilisk Station among them. I decided to give it a try because one of my good friends loves the Honor Harrington series, and hey, it was free.
I let her know I’d downloaded it, and she said, essentially, “Great! Uh, there’s a lot of technobabble in it, FYI.”
And oh boy, was she right.
The thing is, I really wanted to enjoy the book, and there were pieces I really did. As a character, Honor was fine — heck, a determined young leader who’s going to do what’s right no matter how much pressure there is to give in to corruption? Who wins the respect of her crew that way, and turns a rag-tag bunch into an elite force to be reckoned with? Those are all things I love. And make it a space opera? Heck yes!
Unfortunately, all the things I liked about the book were buried. This got a little long, so have a cut: Read this article »
Last week, I listed a bunch of books YA books that I’d read planned to review later. Well, later is now, at least for two of them, lumped together for no other reason than they’re short, and they’re both sequels.
Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld is the sequel to the awesome steampunk Leviathan. In this installment, Deryn and Alek go their separate ways in Istanbul: Deryn’s got a secret mission to help the Darwinist powers hold the Dardanelles out of Clanker hands, while Alek’s looking for allies to help him end the war.
Blue Fire by Janice Hardy is the sequel to The Shifter. In it, Nya and her friends are still wanted by the Duke for some nefarious purpose — and when her friends are arrested, Nya has to sneak into enemy territory to try to get them back.
Both books are great — and you can read why I thought so in one convenient entry over at Active Voice.
So here’s a fun thing about me. Recording all of the books I’ve read this year has led to me, I think, reading a bit more, which is great! Hooray! Except I’m pretty bad at writing timely reviews, which means that now that we’re getting close to the end of the year that means I have a whole glut of books to tell you about. So instead of my usual, kind of lengthy review, here’s a list with some super short reactions (though some of these will get reviewed properly at Active Voice in the next few weeks).
#41: Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld — this is YA steampunk, so I’m saving it for AV.
I loved this! I think by this point it’s pretty clear that I rarely read anything that isn’t either YA/MG or SF/F, so this was a bit of a departure for me. My sister handed it to me as highly recommended, somewhere between historical and literary fiction. It’s (sort of, roughly) about Carter the Great, a Vaudeville magician accused of conspiracy to murder President Harding.
The structure nerd in me loved this. It went back and forth through Carter’s life a lot, in lengthy chunks that painted pictures of his rise to fame and everything leading up to the show before Harding’s death, and then its aftermath. It’s incredibly rich, long enough to sink your teeth into, but with very little drag. I will say that the Mysterioso sub-sub-sub plot felt a little tacked on, but the climax was pretty great. I also wish there had been more women, as only two played major roles in the book (and the first was there for only about a third, and the second for only about half), but those are fairly minor quibbles. Overall, it’s probably one of my favorite reads of the year.
#43: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi — it’s post-apocalyptic YA, so I’m saving this one for AV.
#44: Blue Fire by Janice Hardy — MG fantasy, so I’m saving this one for AV.
#45: Ash by Malinda Lo — YA fantasy, so I’m saving this one for AV. (I’m really, really behind on reviews over there…)
Another of my favorites from the year, and another historical novel, although this one is YA. It follows Ida Mae Jones, a young, black girl during WWII. Ida is a pilot who hears about the WASP — Women Airforce Service Pilots — and because she’s fairly light skinned, she decides to try to pass as white so she can fly for the army.
This one is really, really good. The voice is really strong, and the way it deals with race is really well done. (For example, a heart wrenching scene where her mother has to come visit to deliver bad news, and she has to pretend her mother is her maid; or her general anxiety when a white man asks her to dance. She wants to, but she knows that she can’t have any kind of relationship with him in the future.)
The book is actually pretty light on plot, but I would happily read hundreds more pages about Ida’s missions during the war and what happened after.
I’ve written pretty extensively about my love of Bruce Coville before. A few weeks ago I found myself in the mood for something spooky (no idea what brought that on) so I grabbed this off my shelf. It is, like all Coville books, pretty much delightful.
I definitely didn’t get the “My name is Ishmael, but don’t call me that,” joke as a kid. (I’d go so far as to say it doesn’t actually fit with the tone very well, even.) And while I love the worldbuilding, there was quite a bit that goes unexplained — not in a plot-not-wrapped-up way, but it feels like part of a much larger folklore. I’d love to read more about Granny Pinchbottom and Igor, and even where William came from, and lots and lots about Fauna — her life before meeting William, what she does after, and so on. (She’s so intriguing, but there’s so little about her!)
As a whole, everything about this is weird and funny and kind of spooky, but still infused with Coville’s usual humor. It practically begs to be read aloud and reread on Halloween.
I’m sick. I’ve been sick for about five days, though recovering steadily for the last two. This is better for me. It isn’t better for my roommate, for reasons illustrated in this graph:
In short, as I start to feel better, I become insufferably whiney that I’m not all-the-way better yet. At my sickest, I dope up on cold medication and mostly sleep; as I get better, all I do is complain.
Translation: Whiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine. Today, it came as a relief that I had enough energy to do things like wash dishes and run laundry. And I hate washing dishes and running laundry.
Oh, and just barely enough energy to (almost) catch up on book reviews.
See, this is how far backed up I am. I reread Catching Fire the weekend before Mockingjay came out, because I’d devoured it so fast the first time I didn’t actually remember anything that happened, or any of the new characters who’d been introduced. So I reread. This time, the book’s few weaknesses bothered me a little bit more, but overall the story and writing are so compelling that I once again devoured it. Luckily, I didn’t have enough time to forget anything, because Mockingjay came out the next week.
(Wait, you wanted an actual review? Last year, at Active Voice. Of course.)
What is there to say about Mockingjay that hasn’t been said? I was at the release party and got to see Suzanne Collins read the first chapter; that was awesome. (BTW, did you know Katniss has an Appalachian accent? I didn’t! But it was cool.) I took the next day off work to read (because the awesome thing about being a grown up is that I can do that), and it took me a long, long time to gather my thoughts on the book. There’s so much there.
I’ll sum it up like this: I wanted to like it more than I did. It does justice to the first two books in the series, for sure. It was fairly well put together, definitely. But getting that isn’t the same as liking it. More on this one, too, is over at AV.
Oh, Bloom County. I grew up reading collections of the strip, over and over, even though I was pretty young when it was canceled. I’ve occasionally joked that everything I know about 80s politics, I learned from Bloom County, but it’s not actually much of an exaggeration. What was really brilliant, though, is that the rhythm and the characters of the strips are so great that even as a kid, not getting about 65% of the jokes, I found it hilarious anyway. So I had not only read a lot of these before, I’d memorized them.
Getting a look at some strips I’d never seen before was great. I also enjoyed Breathed’s commentary. In fact, that was one of the reasons I liked Volume Two better than the first. The first had a lot of annotations about the events of the time, and very little commentary from Breathed; the second had fewer annotations and more commentary. (Don’t get me wrong, having some of the context for stuff that happened when I was a toddler was useful, but a lot of it was also pretty obvious just from reading the strips.)
This book, sigh. I’ve mentioned in a few other reviews that I often have issues with classics, because I’m so accustomed to (and more easily engaged by) modern pacing. This is the sort of book that shows just how much that limits me: it took me awhile to get into it, to pick it back up when I put it down, but it would have been a real shame if I had let the pacing put me off. The book is lovely.
It’s the journal of Cassandra, a young woman in the 1930s, living in an English castle (but also living in complete poverty). Her goal is to be a writer, so she strives to record all of her encounters and emotions honestly — to capture the castle in writing, you see. The story of the book also takes you through Cassandra’s first love (and the first time a boy likes her) and her family relationships, in a way that’s so real it’s almost painful. The prose is beautiful, but above all, it’s the emotions that the book gets right.
(Are those all the books I’ve read? No! But is it time for me to go take some more medicine and whine some more? Yes! So that’s it for now.)
Normally this would be a Lazy Sunday post, but as I actually did a book review yesterday, and today is a holiday, we’ll fudge it just a little. Here’s some miscellanea:
#32: Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey
This is a really good book. It’s YA fantasy that takes place in New Zealand and centers around New Zealand’s native mythology. Healely went out of her way to make the cast diverse and inclusive — including characters of color and characters with non-hetero sexualities — and she also went out of her way to be respectful of the mythology she used. (Well, okay, that shouldn’t be going out of her way, that should just be How Things Are Done, but sadly, that often isn’t true. Either way, she wrote a really interesting blog post about working with cultural consultants.)
Since this is YA fantasy, of course, you may be expecting a link to a full review over at Active Voice… and there is one, but I didn’t write it. It just seemed silly for me to write a whole review of a book when I could basically sum it up as, what Jess said.
I’ve had some of these links saved for ages, so… uh, apologies for the out of date conversations? All still interesting, though!
And realizing that Yoko wasn’t to blame for the Beatles breakup makes you ask a question. Why does the myth persist?
I had come to believe that most Beatles historians and true, educated fans had wised up enough to see the Yoko charade for what it is. So imagine my disappointment when proven wrong. Earlier this year, I finished Bob Spitz’s biography The Beatles, which is arguably the most comprehensive Beatles biography in existence. The book starts out amazingly, but about halfway through inexplicably begins to decline rapidly in the number of details provided once the Beatles become famous. That was annoying. But far more so was the unabashed, unapologetic and shameful smearing of Yoko Ono — made even worse by its presentation as fact when so clearly Spitz’s personal opinion. And this opinion is indicative, I think, of the opinion of most Yoko haters ….
So who is the main purveyor of the Yoko myths? Can we pin it on historians like Bob Spitz? Certainly, they hold part of the blame and need to be called out on it. But no, I blame someone else entirely for the bulk of the treatment and misogynistic cultural perceptions of Yoko Ono, as did John. In the first/next part of this series, they are the people who I’m going to discuss. And their names are Paul, George and Ringo.
Indeed. It was heartbreaking for me to realize, as I went through my Beatles Phase, that they were actually kind of dicks, and definitely abusers. Trying to reconcile that with my emotional investment in them, and their historical significance… well, I still struggle with that. It sucks to realize that people you idolize aren’t perfect, and can be outright nasty.
Anyway, all the Yoko hate out there started to bother me a few years ago, and it took awhile for me to twig to why. This pretty much sums it up — plus the cultural narrative that women ruin and destroy (see also: Eve, Pandora). Definitely worth a read.
Talk about out of date. Apparently last October, some jackass wrote an essay about how scifi is being feminized and that’s ruining the genre and also the world! Because science! You see, if girl cooties get into genre fiction, no boys will want to be scientists, and then there will be no scientists. If only the BSG remake hasn’t made Starbuck a woman!
Need I say that the Smart Bitches takedown is great?
The thing is, I can’t get past the feeling that focusing on the love triangle somehow dismisses the central point of the series. Sure, it’s a very commercial, mainstream series that is clearly meant to be a page-turning, engrossing experience. But it’s also about war, violence, mortality, and inequality. I’m a fan of The Hunger Games because of the way the books deal with these issues in such a readable yet thought-provoking (and gut-wrenching) way.
I’ve been trying for ages to put my finger on why “team” terminology bothers me when it comes to YA fiction. I don’t care, like, at all about Twilight, but that actually is a romance, but for series like Hunger Games and or Scott Westerfeld’s Pretties, both series in which I’ve seen this (and I’m sure there are more), it’s really bothered me. I know romances are compelling and even necessary for some readers (I enjoy them but don’t find them necessary to enjoy a story, personally) but to me that feels reductive. These stories aren’t about which guy the heroine ends up with. In life-or-death adventures, it really bothers me that the narrative around girls is romance, no matter how much ass they kick.
Basically, Malinda Lo says that. But way more eloquently. Totally worth a read.
Contest! That I’m entering!
The last time I entered a contest by linking from here, I won! So what the heck, I’ll try it again for the giveaway of an ARC I really want to get my hands on:
Part fugitive, part hero, fifteen-year-old Nya is barely staying ahead of the Duke of Baseer’s trackers. Wanted for a crime she didn’t mean to commit, she risks capture to protect every Taker she can find, determined to prevent the Duke from using them in his fiendish experiments. But resolve isn’t enough to protect any of them, and Nya soon realizes that the only way to keep them all out of the Duke’s clutches is to flee Geveg. Unfortunately, the Duke’s best tracker has other ideas.
Nya finds herself trapped in the last place she ever wanted to be, forced to trust the last people she ever thought she could. More is at stake than just the people of Geveg, and the closer she gets to uncovering the Duke’s plan, the more she discovers how critical she is to his victory. To save Geveg, she just might have to save Baseer — if she doesn’t destroy it first.
(In case you are wondering, I loved the first book and highly recommend it.)
Okay, y’all. That’s all I’ve got. Happy Labor Day.
Auuugh, I am so far behind on my book reviews! That was bound to happen eventually, though, as I’m basically the worst blogger ever. So here goes. Perfect Chemistry is another book I won in Cindy’s awesome giveaway, which is great, because I probably wouldn’t have picked it up otherwise, as I don’t read much contemporary YA.
Basically: Perfect Chemistry is a YA romance in which Brittany, all-around perfect rich girl and captain of the pom squad, and Alex, a Latino gang member from the wrong part of town, are paired together to do a chemistry project. (Get the title now? Huh, do you?) They can’t stop fighting, but it’s all secretly foreplay and the sexual tension runs wild. Things don’t go well, though, when Brittany’s family life turns out to not be so perfect at all, and Alex’s gang wants him to take the leap into drug deals and murder. Can two such different people with such different problems ever find happiness together?
I really, really enjoyed this book. It hit on a bunch of my favorite tropes: Alex is secretly very smart and is only in the gang to protect his family, and he’ll do anything to keep his brothers out of it! He’s tough on the outside but has a soft and sweet center, like some kind of gourmet candybar! And, uh, let’s not analyze exactly why rich girl/poor boy (and good girl/bad boy, or in this case head cheerleader/gang member) romance set ups appeal to me too much, okay? And I love, love, love “we bicker because of our sexual tension.” It’s kind of my favorite romance trope of all.1 This book basically gave me everything I want in a romance and was incredibly fun to read.
General spoilers after this cut. Read this article »
- No lie, The Empire Strikes Back is my favorite romance of all time. ↩
Today I bring you two reviews. The only unifying thematic element? Neither one is for things aimed at my actual age demographic. I’m sure, if you’ve ever read a single blog entry here before, you are really, really surprised to hear that.
I realized immediately the first time I saw Big Time Rush on TV that I was going to love them. Because I looooove boybands. Today they played a free concert in downtown Manhattan, and of course I went. It was free! And besides, I’ve never actually seen a boyband in concert before; when the last wave was popular, I was still a jaded, cynical high school student.1
So how were they? … Well, for a band, they’re an awfully good TV show. Actually, they were much better than I expected, but in fairness I didn’t have very high hopes. If nothing else, I’ll be walking around humming “Hey, hey, listen to your heart now,” for the next four or five days.
And then there’s more reading. (This would be #30 on the year.) Remember how a couple of posts ago I linked to Cindy Pon’s awesome book give away, featuring seven novels with protagonists who are characters of color? Guess what? I won!2
Magic Under Glass was the first of the novels I tackled. I first learned about it last year during its own cover controversy, and was really glad to have a copy with the lovely new cover. Overall, it was enjoyable, but I wish there had been more to it. You can check out the full review over at Active Voice.
- I wasn’t, actually, but I was a smart brunet with glasses and the only role model I had on TV was Daria. I didn’t know what else to be, and didn’t realize my love of pop music until college, when said boyband craze had already died down. My youth: so tragic. ↩
- And she’s doing another amazing give away now! Hooray! ↩
Eddie Russet was planning to take his exam, marry Constance Oxblood, never ask any questions, and live a useful life. But then he and his father get shipped to the Outer Fringes, where everything is a little weird, and among other unpleasant people he meets Jane, who (between attempts to kill him) lets him in on the fact that there’s a lot to question in the world… and not just why they’re forbidden to manufacture spoons.
If that summary seemed a bit confused, that’s more or less how I felt reading the book. I really wanted to like Shades of Grey; I very much enjoyed Fforde’s Thursday Next series, and a friend had recommended it to me, so I had high expectations. Unfortunately, it just didn’t quite work for me. But I think that’s in equal parts because of me as a reader as it is about the book itself.
About the book itself, well, I’m not sure prose is the best form for this story. It’s a story about color — specifically, it’s sort of a dystopia, taking place 500 years after Something That Happened,1 and now people are entirely different (I was never quite sure how, but they can see only tiny bits of the color spectrum, one color each, and the society is organized around how much of what color people can see; and there were other things, mentions to how they look at paintings of the Previous and see exaggerated differences between the sexes and creepily large eyes; they have barcodes growing on them, are susceptible to mildew and spores, and often get limbs torn off and sewn back on, so… huh). It’s hard to represent those things, especially the importance of color and how much of it people can see, in a completely non-color, non-image medium. There are also a lot of weird and whimsical elements, which might have worked better visually, too.
But aside from that, I’ve come to realize in the last couple of years that I’m really into structure, and that extends from what I write into what I’m reading. Which means, among other things, I have no interest in stories where the protagonist isn’t actively engaged. If the main character isn’t trying to do something, even just figure out what’s going on, I get bored. I know some characters and some stories don’t require the protag to act in as huge a way as others; the fact that epic adventures loan themselves to, well, epic struggles is part of why sci fi and fantasy appeal to me so much. I get that not every story has that; not every story needs that. But, as a reader, I need something to latch on to — a sense that there’s a story going on, and not just a person drifting through events. Or if the character is drifting, at least a sense that the character cares about the events and would like to figure out why they’re happening.
Eddie Russet spent three quarters of the book not doing that. He wanted to marry Constance, but didn’t spend much time on it — he wasn’t in love with her or anything, she was just the best option, so he was only attempting to woo her because it seemed like he ought to. He did want to pursue Jane, but for most of the book was intimidated out of it. Weird things kept happening to him and around him, but for the most part he wasn’t too concerned about it. His society considers it unacceptable (not to mention impolite) to question things, so he didn’t, just sort of collected awareness of the things going on around him.
The last quarter of the book does pick things up. Eddie finds himself with yet another potential… well, not love interest, but marriage prospect. As he attempts to get away from her, he agrees to lead a dangerous expedition, and in the course of that he figures out a few things, has a few more shown to him, and is finally forced to make real decisions, pick a position, and stick with it. Not shockingly, that was my favorite part of the book!
My other, much more minor, issues: I had trouble keeping track of who a lot of the minor characters were, and I found much of the book just over the edge of Weird For the Sake of Being Weird. Then again, I know a lot of my friends enjoy that a lot more than I do. So basically, it boils down to this: if, like me, you are really into the pacing and structure as elements of what you read, this might not be the book for you. But if you enjoy voice and tone, this book very easily could work for you. It’s yet another case where I don’t think what I’ve read is a bad book, it just isn’t a book for me.
- Significant Caps abound. ↩
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.
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.