Monday, June 30, 2014

Naja No No

I made it to page 86. I was surprised when I saw that number; I thought I must have been at least on page 386. That's how draaaaaged ouuuuuuuut this felt. 

I don't feel like wasting my time writing a detailed review of how utterly bad and unoriginal this was, but just think Jason Bourne meets La Femme Nikita meets a hefty does of French academic prolixity. Naja herself is a non-entity, her mission to rescue her friend is pointless, and I don't even know what happens after that because I quit. I mean, she was prancing around a Central American prison in something that would be a staple of Rihanna's wardrobe (which is only practical if you are Rihanna, but not if you are incognito in a prison). 

The absolute worst part of this mess, however, was the weird digression into the author's personal views on Haiti. "Naja hates Haitians. She could admire their ancestors, slaves who earned their freedom through toil and struggle ... but they used exactly the same purification methods as their former masters, cleansing the island of everyone with white skin." THEN the author quotes Christophe Darigny, a (white) scholar who wroteHaïti n'existe pas (Haiti Does Not Exist or possibly There Is No Haiti). Yes, thank you, Frenchman, for your dismissal of Haitians and their way of life. I thank you for your judgmental attitude, because that totally helps people who are in poverty.Quelle connerie.

Also, the translation of this is really awful. Most of it sounds direct-from-the-French instead of idiomatic English. Eeee.

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Cinderellis and the Glass Hill

I finished the remaining four Princess Tales books by Gail Carson Levine last night.  Sadly, someone seems to have stolen The Princess Test from my library, so that one will have to wait.  I know my last post was pretty harsh on the first book, The Fairy's Mistake.  Perhaps I was in a combative state of mind, or it was just a one-off.  Whatever the case, the rest of the books in the series more than made up for my unpleasant experience with the first one!

Cinderellis and the Glass Hill:  Not only do we have a gender-flipped version of Cinderella, we also have a princess who's willing to take matters into her own hands when it comes to her fate.  Hooray!  Ellis and his two brothers are farmers.  His older brothers Ralph and Burt are best friends, hardcore farmers, and probably the least imaginative people in the kingdom of Biddle.  Ellis is a scientist--he invents all sorts of powders to solve problems.  For example, he creates a flying powder, but things kept going all helter-skelter, so he added a ruler to the mix to help them fly straight!  This sly, ridiculous sense of humor of Levine's really shines in this book.

One night, Ellis feels the earth tremble and rock, and the next morning, all of the hay in the kingdom is gone!  Burt and Ralph take turns trying to catch the goblins they are convinced are stealing the hay.  Ellis, being a scientist, knows by his powers of deduction that it's not goblins, but probably some sort of horse or donkey.  He crafts special horse treats and manages to catch three magical horses: one copper, one silver, and one gold.  Ralph and Burt, of course, don't believe him, so Ellis keeps the horses for himself and they become his friends.

Meanwhile, King Humphrey III (it's a running joke in the series that all the kings of Biddle are named Humphrey) takes a magically-mandated break from questing (he never brings back anything useful, anyway) and decides it's time for his daughter, the Princess Marigold, to marry.  He wants the very best for her, so he devises a test: anyone who can walk his horse up the top of a glass pyramid and receive three golden apples from Marigold, who would be sitting at the top, can marry her.  Aside from her father's single-minded obsession with quests, Marigold is also distressed by the nature of the test.  Being an animal lover, she knows that most knights would be cruel and force their horses to do something dangerous.

When the glass pyramid is unveiled, Marigold disguises herself as a Royal Dairymaid to sneak around the festivities.  Cinderellis also arrives at the castle to see what the hubbub's about, and runs into Marigold.  All of their lives, both of them have desperately needed friends.  Cinderellis never had anyone willing to listen, and Marigold always wanted to know the "why" of things.  Cinderellis uses his scientific learning to explain things, and Marigold can ask him "why" as much as she wants to!  As you might have guessed, they fall in love.

In the end, Cinderellis attempts the challenge, not knowing that Marigold is actually the princess.  He devises a special sticking powder to allow his horses' hooves to adhere to glass.  Unfortunately, he has to wear old, rusty armor that makes it difficult to see or speak.  When Marigold speaks to him, the echoing inside the helmet transforms his voice into a booming, yet unintelligible gibberish.  She's convinced he's actually a monster!  Therefore, she devises a Last Resort to stop the monster from achieving the goal of going to the top of the pyramid.

Of course, everything is straightened out in the end.  This is a hilarious romp through fairy land and mythology alike.  I loved trying to spot all of the literary references!  Obviously, this is a take on Cinderella, but there are a lot of other stories that make guest appearances.  The concept of the impossible task is a motif that appears in many, many stories, from The Twelve Labors of Herakles to Psyche and Eros to Rumpelstiltskin.  The three golden apples recall both the disastrous Goddess Test with Paris, Prince of Troy and the story of Atalanta.  I knew that the concept of the three horses who can only be freed by human touch must reference something too, and I found a really interesting Russian folktale called The Enchanted Peafowl.  In this story, the king's golden apples (!!!) are stolen by enchanted peafowl (peacocks) who are really princesses.

Highly recommended!  Now, if only I could get my hands on some of that flying powder...

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Fairy's Mistake

Ella Enchanted.  My first encounter with the fractured fairy tale.  I vividly remember reading it--even where I was when I was reading parts of it.  Since then, I've tried to read all of Gail Carson Levine's books, but none of them approached the magic of Ella.  My favorite recent book was A Tale of Two Castles--it was just so sweet that I wanted to pinch its chubby metaphorical cheeks!  Okay, and The Princesses of Bamarre was good too.

Poking around in our children's fiction section at work, I spotted the full set of The Princess Tales, which are novellas exploring different princess-themed fairy tales.  They clock in at 100 pages or fewer, so they're very quick reads.  I just finished the first one, The Fairy's Mistake.

Surprisingly for a book by Levine, who generally features strong female protagonists and emphasizes empowerment, the women and men in this book exhibit some pretty disturbing behavior.  I know that this series is written for littler ones, but kids pick up on how men treat women, even if it's in books.  So where does my problem come from?

Here's the lowdown: Rosella and Myrtle live with their mother, a widow, in a cottage.  Rosella is good and Myrtle is nasty.  One day, Rosella goes to draw water from the well and meets an elderly woman there who asks for a drink of water.  Rosella gives her water, and suddenly *whoosh* the elderly woman is now a fairy.

Don't tell me you didn't see that coming.  Pro tip: always give water to someone at a well: they are either fairies in disguise or Jesus.

Ethelinda, the fairy, blesses Rosella for her goodness by making it so that every time Rosella speaks, gems fall from her mouth.  When she returns home, her greedy mother immediately sends Myrtle to the well to receive the same gift.  Well, we all know how that goes.  Myrtle insults the fairy and is cursed to spit out toads, snakes, and bugs instead.

While Myrtle is busy making Bad Life Decisions, a prince wanders by (as they do.  Fairy tale lands have a surfeit of unmarried princes, which seems unlikely) and notices the gems falling from Rosella's lips.  Being a greedy git, he immediately proclaims his love for the maiden and whisks her off to the castle to be married.  Rosella's mother is doubly disappointed in that she lost her only source of semi-precious gems and gained a daughter who necessitates the medieval equivalent of Raid.

As Ethelinda observes her handiwork, she notices that her blessing and her curse are not working as intended--in fact, they are doing the opposite!  Rosella is miserable because the prince forces her to speak all the time in order to fill his coffers.  He even stations servants at her bedside to catch gems that might be generated by sleep-talking.  Needless to say, Rosella can't sleep.  She also sees the poverty of the common people and discovers that the prince just keeps taxing them because, remember: greedy git.

Myrtle, on the other hand, quickly discovered that because no one wants to be visited with a plague of creepy crawlies, she can bully shopkeepers and neighbors into giving her things for free--all she has to do is keep her mouth shut.  So Myrtle gets cakes and fine gowns and many presents while her sister runs around in a burlap sack (it's the only one the Royal Ladies-In-Waiting didn't tear apart because Rosella dripped jewels onto them).

In a slightly strange and rather unconvincing turn of events, Ethelinda gets Myrtle to come to the caste and pretend to be her sister, releasing swarms of bugs, reptiles, and amphibians in the prince's presence.  She tells him that that is what happens when she is angry.  He, being a right dunce, believes her and hides for a week.  Rosella then demands that she use her power only for good (ha ha)--that is, to provide riches for the overtaxed peasants.  The prince demands a 50/50 split and Rosella agrees.  THEN she kisses the prince and marries him.

This is actually a pretty standard retelling of Diamonds and Toads by Perrault--nothing excessively funny or witty here.  I'm shocked at the spinelessness of Rosella.  She justifies giving into the prince's demands by saying that he was "generous" in making her a princess.  He doesn't deserve any of her riches, so the whole 50/50 thing was absolutely ridiculous.  And why would you kiss, much less marry someone who is clearly materialistic, self-absorbed, and emotionally stunted?  This guy is like the worst choice she could have made.  She should have married the poor farmer to whom she gave gems ... anybody, really.  Or go be a nun.  That might work out better.  I thought that in one version of the story the stepmother slapped somebody really hard ... but that might have been a recent book.  I don't know.

Anyway.  I felt really let down by the one-dimensional, listless, and spineless Rosella.  Girls reading this book deserve a lot better than her.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Becoming Naomi León

As I may have mentioned before, when I was younger, I was an excessively picky reader.  Picky to the point of prejudice.  I didn't understand the concept or the importance of reading about characters who were very different from me.  I also created elaborate and mostly untrue stories about books based on their covers, which meant that I missed out on a lot of great books.  My BFF as a tween recommended Shabanu by Suzanne Fisher Staples to me, and gracious, did I love that book.  I vividly remember buying it at our local bookstore, The Neverending Story (now, sadly, closed) where my former fourth-grade teacher also worked.  Right next to it on the shelf was a book called Esperanza Rising.  I asked my friend about this one as well, and she said, "Eh, it was okay."  I never read it.  Looking at the cover, I created an elaborate story about how it was about a girl who floated and was maybe an angel and I totally did not want to read angel books.

This bizarre combination of influences and wrong first impressions meant that it took me at least another decade and a half before I ever read anything by Pam Muñoz Ryan.  I recently finished Becoming Naomi León, and based on the strength of that amazing book, I am going to the library shelf tomorrow and checking out Esperanza Rising posthaste.

Becoming Naomi León is a quintessential coming-of-age story, but it is utterly unique and thoughtful without being didactic.  Ryan's prose sings, especially when describing the vibrant culture of Oaxaca City.

Naomi and her brother Owen live with their great-grandmother Mary (who's really not very old--she's 69) in a trailer named Baby Beluga in California.  Naomi likes to make lists--they give her life a semblance of order and control.  She keeps a notebook full of them.  Her latest crisis is her name: Naomi Soledad León Outlaw.  Kids at school make fun of her last name, Outlaw, which is actually her Oklahoma grandma's last name.  See, Naomi and Owen live with Grandma because their mom abandoned them as babies and told their father never to try and see them.  Ever.  He's living in the state of Oaxaca as a fisherman ... they think.

Owen, it seems, was born with a birth defect causing his body to be a little lopsided.  However, he is an irrepressible optimist and a whiz at strategy and memory games.  When their mother, who's renamed herself Skyla (I know, right?) breezes back into their lives, she makes it very clear that she wants Naomi, but not Owen.  To Skyla, who is an alcoholic and probably also suffering from a mental illness, Owen is "damaged goods."  As Naomi slowly makes friends at school, where she is very shy, she's suddenly threatened by her mother.  Skyla wants to take Naomi to Las Vegas to live with her boyfriend and his child, and wants Naomi to raise this child, whom her boyfriend has rechristened Sapphire (he's the guy who came up with Skyla, by the way).  When Naomi stands up for herself and her brother, Skyla becomes violent and threatens to take them away.

Grandma and their neighbors make a last-ditch effort to find Santiago León, the children's father, by driving to Oaxaca.  It sounds a little extreme when I put it like that, but in the book, it totally works.  As it turns out, Naomi carves creatures out of soap.  It's both her talent and a way to relax.  In Oaxaca, she discovers that carving is a big part of the culture, and that her family is renowned for their sculptures.  Her growth and odyssey in Oaxaca City is believable, touching, and it made me very hungry!

This book has many layers to it, and many deep themes for readers to explore.  The concept of names and meanings is very big here.  Naomi wonders why her name has to be so long and strange.  Soledad comes from a venerated saint in her father's home state of Oaxaca.  León is his last name.  She receives another name, Outlaw, from her grandmother.  Slowly, Naomi grows from being ashamed of her names to embodying them and embracing them.

Naomi's family relationships were messy and complicated--just like real life!  She is fascinated by her mother and her mom's ever-changing hair color and the lipstick that covers the sharp "M" of her upper lip.  She relishes the feel of her mother's hands sliding through her hair to braid it.  At the same time, she is horrified that her mother does not love Owen.  That her mother wants her to virtually work as a slave.  That her mother is so selfish.  But she's still Naomi's mom.  It's a complicated, twisty thing, which is life.

This is definitely one of my new go-tos when kids come into the library looking for realistic fiction.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Contagious (Infected #2)

For some odd reason, I get Scott Sigler mixed up with Scott Snyder.  It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it's excessively annoying and not a little embarrassing.  Both of them write sci-fi/horror, and they're both named Scott ... and okay, so that's it.  Some names just throw me, and these are two of them.

The other embarrassing thing is I kept thinking this book was called Contagion:

Wait, wait.  Gwyneth Paltrow does not die a horrible death in Contagious (although many other characters do).  That's the movie Contagion, which was seriously scary until Elizabeth Bennet (okay, Jennifer Ehle) found the cure but not before Marianne Dashwood (fine, Kate Winslet) died.  

But this is not a post about the confluence of actresses who once starred in adaptations of the works of Jane Austen.  That could be an entirely different post.  This is, evidently, a post in which I ramble and use a lot of italics to talk about Contagious, the second book in Sigler's Infected trilogy.

Warning: Here (and in the comments) there be spoilers for the first book.

Infected, the first book, focuses mainly on "Scary" Perry Dawsey, a former All-American football player whose career ended after injury.  As the book opens, Perry's working as an IT guy (he's actually really smart--no dumb jocks here) and has an itch.  The itch, well, it turns into something bad.  How bad?  How about blue-triangles-with-eyeballs-in-your-skin-that-control-your-mind bad?  Perry eventually develops seven alien lesions, which he nicknames the Magnificent Seven.  As they control him and cause him to murder others, veteran CIA officer Dew Phillips gets put on the case by Murray, the president's highly effective secret-keeper.*  Long story short, Perry has serious daddy issues, is obsessed with being strong and in control and takes a pair of shears (which he names Chicken Scissors) and cuts the triangles out of his body before they burst out (think Alien).  Unfortunately, he's got triangles everywhere.  I mean it.  Think about it.
Dr. Margaret (Margo) Montoya and her CDC team save Perry's life, but he's broken. He can still communicate with other Triangles and their hosts, and he uses this ability to act as a sort of coonhound for Dew and Margo.

This is where Infected picks up.  Initially, I didn't think I would like it as much as I liked Infected.  In the first book, Snyder's characterizations were riveting.  Somehow I both loathed and loved Perry Dawsey.  Dew Phillips is an interesting guy as well--seemingly over-the-hill, yet still ultra-skilled and super-smart.  Infected casts the net a little wider and focuses a bit more on Margo and her team (Clarence, the agent she's dating, Amos, the viral expert, and later on, Dr. Dan).  We also see more of the political scheming and sleight of hand as the new President, John Gutierrez, and his staff learn of the existence of Project Tangram (the military's name for the race to eliminate this alien threat).  Because guess what?  Once the triangles hatch, they converge in isolated areas to build gates.  Big, interdimensional gates.  

It turns out that whatever alien intelligence sent this to our planet sent it in a probe, which has 18 capsules which it can fill with modified strains of the pathogen that develops into the Triangles.  Early prototypes--well, they didn't go so well.  After Perry Dawsey successfully fought the mind control of his Triangles and caused the destruction of a gate, the probe got ticked off (as much as a non-feeling alien biochemical weapons factory can get ticked off).  It creates a nonlethal strain that allows human hosts to network.  By chance, a little Michigan girl named Chelsea Jewell gets the motherload of this strain.  Without going into too many details, Chelsea is one scary kid.  Scary kid books are also good with me, and Sigler pulls this off really well.

Chelsea begins coordinating the construction of another gate, this time in Detroit, and simultaneously Dawsey, Dew, and Margo race to stop her, all while the new President watches, waits, and decides how to contain this threat to humanity.

Sigler's not afraid to kill off tons of characters, which is gutsy, but which also made me sad.  I became rather attached to many of them, and in my opinion, the ones he left over are the least interesting.  But who knows?  Maybe they'll grow a lot in the third book, Pandemic, which I fully intend on checking out tomorrow and just abandoning all my other reading projects at the moment.  I need a nice fluffy sci-fi horror thriller ... as fluffy as that can be, anyway.

Two thumbs up and two words: Chicken Scissors.

BONUS:  When I returned this to the library today (where I work), a coworker picked it up and was going to read it at lunch.  I convinced her to do the whole series.  *fistpump*

Friday, June 20, 2014

Busy Bee

I haven't actually finished a book lately, so it's kind of hard to review.  I am currently reading *checks* FIVE books at the moment.  Although one of them, The Three, by Sarah Lotz, I had to return to the library because someone else had a hold on it.  I'm not sure if I'll finish that one--the concept is interesting, but the execution was a bit odd in many places.  If I review it, you'll know what I mean.

Doesn't that sound cryptic?  Ha.

I'm also at a convention this weekend, so I don't have much reading time because when I get home I am exhausted.  It's amazing how tired you get by just sitting all day.  Although I did also clean windows, so it's not like I was totally immobile.

Currently, my attention is focused on Contagious by Scott Snyder and Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville.  It's probably really twisted to say this, but I'm liking Contagious just a smidge less than its predecessor, Infected, mostly because the driving force in the first book was the main character, Perry Dawsey.  The second main character was Chicken Scissors.  If you've read it, you're shuddering.  If not ... I'll tell you in my review.

Granville's book is quite literary, which is a lovely counterpoint to Contagious (not that Snyder can't write--dude can WRITE--but it's just a different style).  I finally figured out what time period we're in and now I'm hooked.  Plus she's making me exercise my rusty German AND she's into the old-school fairy tales.  I think this is going to be great.  At least, I hope so.  I'll be excessively peeved if it dodders off into Man Booker Prize Shortlist Land.  Not that the Man Booker isn't a valid award.  It is.  It just so happens that I have thoroughly loathed every single Man Booker anything I've ever read or tried to read.

Wait.  I don't want to be too harsh.  I'm currently scanning a document containing all of the winning and shortlisted authors and books.  Okay, it's not true that I loathed all of them.  I liked Ian McEwan's Amsterdam (1998 winner), I LOVE Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go (2005 shortlist), and, um, that's it.

Well, that derailed quickly.  I'm functioning on very little sleep.  Over and out, and back to Scott Snyder.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

What I'm Reading Wednesday

Yes.  I am still reading The Count of Monte Cristo.  Again, my dilly-dallying really has nothing to do with the book itself, but rather my inability to focus on one thing at a time.  Somehow, Dumas has managed to create une histoire encadrée dans une histoire encadrée.  I just like the way "frame story" sounds in French much better.  There are stories within stories within stories.  But he pulls it off, which is blowing my mind.

Also, I am still reading The Sword and the Lion by Roberta Cray.  Now we've gotten into the actual war part of the novel, which is set in an ancient-Greek-esque society, so there's phalanxes and spears and javelins galore.  Two hours on a plane helped me get through a good chunk of this.

With these two books, it's a bit like savoring a delicious meal.  You want it to last.  You take little bites to prolong the pleasure derived from the presentation.

I've also got Contagion by Scott Sigler lined up to start tomorrow.  I like to balance out my longer reads with faster, action-packed ones.  This is book two in a series that began with Infected, which seriously freaked me out because there was a lot of cutting alien triangles out of your skin, and I hate, hate, hate, hate skin issues.  Not on other people--on me.  If I have a rash I am convinced I am dying and I want to cut it off (the rash).  It's totally irrational but ... it's me.  So why am I reading this series?  For one thing, it's exceedingly well-paced.  It's got actual character development (*faints*).  It's really, really, really scary.

I was shelving a bunch of books that were strewn (artfully, I like to tell myself) about my living room and I realized how many I have to read.  Yikes.  Most of them are juvenile fiction, which is great, because it goes a bit faster, but for every j fic I have, I've got Dune and Reamde staring back at me.  Doorstops.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Reckoning (Silver Blackthorn, Book One)

Love it or hate it, you have to admit that Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy is a very, very good example of young adult dystopian literature. The world is fleshed-out and believable, the bad guys are BAD, the populace is sufficiently beaten-down and repressed, and Katniss is a likeable, relatable protagonist. I realized upon my last rereading of Catching Fire that I relate to her--a lot. And really, the whole Gale vs. Peeta thing isn't even that much of a thing in the books--it's something that the fandom stirred up and made larger than it really is. What's unique about Katniss' situation as savior is that it's not something she asked for or tried to do--she was actually kept in the dark and it was something she had to adjust to and take on, even if it seemed too difficult or too much for one girl.

I know, this review isn't about The Hunger Games, but I'm going to be referring to it a lot, so I figured I'd just lead with the outstanding points of that book. Given its success, we have a lot of other YA dystopias out there (some of which are definitely more sci-fi than true dystopia). Many of them skew heavily toward the romantic side of things, as if two hundred extra pages of kissy-kissy-goo-goo-eyes-love-triangle can substitute for plot. If done well, yes, it can add a lot to the book. Most of the time, however, these "romances" are charred husks of instalove that are portrayed as normal and healthy relationships. But that, too, is a whole other review. Yet, at least with many of these romance-heavy dystopias, the ideas are more original and they don't seem to borrow as heavily from Collins.

I'm quite torn on Reckoning, actually. It was enjoyable, but it was quite derivative of The Hunger Games in an almost over-the-top way, and the ending was completely unbelievable (not like, "Wow, that was unbelievably good!" but more like "I literally cannot believe that.").

What I very much liked about Reckoning was the mash-up between dystopian and high fantasy. This is our future--not far future, but far enough away. The oil's run out. There were wars between nations and wars within nations. The people in what used to be the United Kingdom survived another civil war that completely destroyed the country. King Victor, now monarch of the realm, was the charismatic leader that brought peace to the island and devised a way to get rations to the citizens. The whole country is divided into four Realms based on the points of the compass. Silver Blackthorn, our protagonist, lives in the north, in a village called Martindale. Scotland is something they don't talk about (this could be a great plot point in further books!). King Victor rules from Windsor Castle, and the law is enforced by Kingsmen, a class of neo-knights in post-apocalyptic armor. "Everything they wear is made of a thin, flexible metal that no one else seems to have access to. They have black tunics, matching trousers and shiny boots, as well as helmets that arch over their head and ears. Even their thinkwatches are made of the same black material." Thinkwatches are not out of the realms of possibility--Samsung has already developed a wristwatch-phone hybrid. Thinkwatches "remind us of what we need to do each day and when each night's curfew is ... everyone has to use their thinkwatches to enter and exit buildings and pick up the weekly rations." Thinkwatches also serve as displays of your social status: which class you belong to, bringing us to: the Reckoning.

As in all good dystopian societies, the populace is heavily stratified. At age sixteen, everyone must take a test called the Reckoning. It's different for everyone, but it assigns you your place in society: Elite, Member, Intermediate, and Trog. The problem that I had with this system is that the categories are not well explained. They're just ... there. Elites are the best--but I don't know what they're the best at or how they're used specifically in society. What do Members do, and what makes them different from Inters? Trogs, we learn, do menial tasks, but life seems to be pretty dismal everywhere, so I would assume that most jobs aren't exactly easy-peasy. The classes play a larger role in the beginning of the book, and then they just sort of peter out of the narrative, only appearing when Silver has to identify someone whose name she doesn't know: she'll say, "That girl Inter" or "two Elites from the West." Hmmm.

Then, each year, a random lottery (ha) selects male and female members of each group from each Realm to be Offerings. These Offerings are sent to Windsor Castle to serve the king and ... do mysterious, secretive things. They're never heard from again, but no one seems to think this is very suspicious.

Of course, Silver is chosen to be a Tribute oops Offering, and leaves her family and childhood friend/possible crush/future member of love triangle Gale Opie (which is a very unfortunate name choice for my brain, because all I could picture was a wee Ron Howard in a checked shirt, carrying a fishing pole). There are these really big parties in the cities to send off the Offerings because the citizens feel that this is a great honor. Even on Reaping Day Reckoning Day, sorry, the whole town turns out to honor the teens who will be taking the test.

Do you see why this book irritated me? I mean, the Offerings are even transported to Windsor via train, and there is a huge emphasis on feasting and food. Wilkinson's descriptions of the feasts, however, certainly can't touch Collins' masterfully mouthwatering odes to food (those make me salivate even now). Many of the plot points and concepts come directly from earlier dystopians. I'm fine with expanding on ideas, but just plain borrowing them isn't impressive to me.

Silver, too, is a character who had potential, but her individuality disappeared right after her Reckoning. She's a whiz with technological stuff (which is verboten in the Kingdom), but that doesn't stop her from digging through old tech, taking it apart, and tinkering with her thinkwatch in order to get rations for her family. I think it's awesome to portray girls in the sciences so positively in a teen book. However, although Silver's assignment at the Castle also has to do with tech, it takes a definite backseat to Plotting To Escape With The Cute And Sensitive Boy You Just Met. She's a loner and an outsider (naturally), yet has a defiant streak. She also, handily, has a silver streak in her hair (this is where I started getting things confused with The Murder Complex, in which the heroine also has silver hair).

The plot contains far too many instances of the deus ex machina for my taste (would that be dei ex machina? Sorry, I didn't study Latin). Many crises are averted by handy revelations or sudden insights. For example, Silver somehow figures out that borodron, the mysterious metal, overrides all of the scanners that normally require thinkwatches to operate. You'd think that the King and the Minister Prime, as obsessed with control as they are, would fix that GAPING HOLE IN SECURITY. Also, Silver is able to sneak into the Minister Prime's office because "the Minister Prime knew it was possible for someone to walk into his office and use there borodron armour--or a stolen scrap--to access his thinkpad. He knew it could happen--but he was filled with the absolute arrogance that no one would dare. When you have that level of delusion, it's no wonder you don't do something as simple as closing a door."

Wait, what? Everything that happens in the last few chapters is because the Minister Prime is so arrogant he thinks he's above being burgled? It just doesn't fit in with his character or with the kingdom he rules.

However, I will say that the scenes at the castle are suitably horrifying, and in King Victor, Wilkinson has created a villain who frightens, disgusts, and yet inspires contempt because of his weaknesses. He is the epitome of corruption.

There is a lot of promise in the castle scenes, and I wish we learned more about this world rather than hearing about Imrin and Silver's deep conversations. I would read the sequel to this to see how it pans out, but if it ends up being a retread of Catching Fire, I don't think I can support that.

I received an ARC from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Don't Get Mad ...

Get Even.

I have not read Burn for Burn by Jenny Han and Siobhan Vivian, to which many, many reviewers have likened this book. I've added it to my TBR, however. So I can't compare Han and Vivian's work to McNeil's latest outing.

When you are reading a book set in high school where the high schoolers 

a) plot elaborate revenge plots against those who have wronged them
b) have mad awesome skills in different things like hacking and breaking & entering
c) decide that the police department clearly can't find a killer, so hey, let's DIY!
you have to suspend disbelief. 

It's not like this is the only high school revenge book out there. I've not read any of the Pretty Little Liars books either (nor do I watch the show), but that would be another example. I cannot, in any school in the U.S., conceive of any of this actually happening. People mess up and get caught. 

I don't mean to say that bullying doesn't happen. Oh, ho ho. Indeed it does. All of the problems that this book highlights are, unfortunately, par for the course: date rape, fat shaming, cheating, sexual harassment. It's just that ... I can't fathom a group of girls who have no other common interests forming a group to take revenge on those who have wronged them or wronged others. 

DGM (Don't Get Mad) is a vigilante group consisting of four high school girls: Kitty (volleyball champ and class president), Bree (rebel), Olivia (popular girl and drama fanatic), and Margot (loner techie and academic overachiever). The girls are so buttoned into their respective cliques that it's almost painful to read. Bree had a lot of possibilities to be really interesting, but she was the least relatable of the four characters. She was a really flat character, and I didn't understand her motivations at all. I liked Margot the best, but her family situation seemed pretty extreme--a caricature of the overprotective parental unit.

The action in Get Even takes place at a private school in California, run by a priest (?) named Father Uberto, handily nicknamed FU by the students. It's kind of a weird, über-controlling campus: no pop, no sugary snacks, and a squad of meatheads called the 'Maine Men who have been tasked by FU to seek and destroy the mysterious DGM. The pranks that the girls in DGM pull are actually pretty funny ... all up until the new kid in school is found murdered. For some reason, the police (who are professionals), think that the mysterious DGM is behind a murder. If the group had, up until this point, been pulling pranks and humiliating people (who, to be honest, did deserve it), what possible rationale is there for escalation to murder? That's a huge leap. I really don't think that the cops would automatically assume that a shadowy organization or figure at a private school would suddenly become a murdererand be able to evade the police. Based on some of the scenes, there was forensic evidence up the yazoo that the police could use. 

Evidently it's more fun to just have four teenaged girls solve the murder. Only ... *dun dun DUN* they start receiving mysterious photographs intended to make them turn on each other. 

I'm not entirely sold on the concept of punishing people in high school for what they are doing or what they did.  I didn't have a horrible high school experience.  I mean, it wasn't all ponies and rainbows and unicorns, but it wasn't horrid.  I had friends.  I was never humiliated.  I just wasn't into all of the stuff that was going on like sports and cheering and assemblies and all that.  It was just something to get through until I could go to college and be an adult.  Hooray!  

The thing about life, though, is that you can't predict how things will end up.  That horrid girl from high school who taunted you?  Maybe she'll actually grow up one day and realize that what she did was wrong.  Or maybe she won't, and she'll end up getting fired from her job for harassment.  Things work out.  They do.  And even if they don't--what are these people to you?  Honestly.  I barely keep in touch with people from high school.  I don't dislike them--they're just not a part of my life.  Things are so much bigger once you leave high school that the drama is just so not worth it.

However, that teacher totally deserved what he got from DGM.  

So, if you can accept all of that, it's actually kind of a fun story. I was curious to find out who the murderer was, and then THAT ENDING. You have got to be kidding me. Is that what happens in PLL and Gossip Girl? Do you just never know? 

I keep really, really, really wanting to like things by Gretchen McNeil--she seems really funny--but I just haven't connected with her novels. That being said, I will pick up the sequel to this because I have to know what happens. 

I received an ARC of this title from Edelweiss in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Bunker

I've been putting off writing this review purely because I lack the coherency to explain how utterly awful this comic was. It is difficult to review something that I didn't fully understand, not for lack of trying, but for lack of any sort of real plotting on the part of the book.

The premise is that five friends go into the woods to bury a time capsule, find a bunker, and within the bunker are letters written from their future selves warning of an apocalypse that they cause. The letters aim to change history (the future???) by having the past selves ... not do the bad things the are going to do. 

Right. So, my first issue with this is the whole tee-hee-we-are-going-to-bury-a-time-capsule kickoff. These 5 people are, it seems, college students. They are not eight years old. When I was eight years old, I thought a time capsule was the coolest thing in the world. One day, my friend and I went down by the lake (it's a big lake) to toss in a message in a bottle we had crafted from the non-alcoholic bottle of sangria we consumed at our sleepover the night before (note: it was some sort of weird organic sangria, and it tasted hideous, but I drank it anyway because I was a guest). We had these grand dreams that someone would find our message years later and think we were wonderfully clever and witty and so on.

We were eight. Not twenty-two.

So, by panel five, I was already not buying this. And oh, how we plummeted downhill from there.

Generally, reading a TP of a comic doesn't take me very long. This felt like the longest slog in the history of reading comics. Yikes. One the five people find their notes, we find out that one of them develops some sort of plague-thing that causes a global pandemic/environmental catastrophe and the good guy ends up being the President but then he's a bad guy and he's married to the Stereotypical Tough Hot Chick who's also evil and ... stuff. There was literally no point to this. 

AND THEN evil President future-guy shows up in our time (mwah-ha-HA!) and has Ulterior Motives. Wait, what? Where did they get a time machine? If they had a time machine and they really wanted to save the world, wouldn't they just go back and do something to their past selves instead of writing little love notes? In a world that's crippled and destroyed, HOW DO YOU BUILD A TIME MACHINE? WHY? Wouldn't you build a machine that would fix the world that you just destroyed instead of tinkering with the past?

To further add to the confusion, the art in this is just cringeworthy. I couldn't distinguish characters from one another at all, and all the letters from past selves are written in a highly irritating script (not as bad as Comic Sans, but pretty darn bad). The "art" is messy and careless.

I can say nothing other than stay far, far away from this one. I kind of wish I had a time machine to go back and tell myself not to waste my time reading this.

I received a copy of this from Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Half a King Is ALL AWESOME

I want to shout it from the rooftops. I want the hills to be alive with my joy. I want YOU to read this book.

Finally! A fantasy I can wholeheartedly support! It's full of treachery! Slavery! Cruelty! Humanity! Mystery! All those words that end in "y"! I mean, I seriously feel like pulling a Maria and spinning around, arms outstretched, great big grin on my face. Yep, it's that good.

Now, I've not read any of Abercrombie's other works (but am adding them to my TBR as I write), and evidently this is a lot less intense than his other stuff. I would have placed this in the YA camp but it's definitely crossover material, and I think it's being sold as adult fic, which is fine. This style of cleaned-up-but-still-raw sci-fi and fantasy reminds me of Red Rising by Pierce Brown (another revenge novel!). I would have zero qualms about handing Half a King to a teen who already reads YA, because I'm pretty sure there's less cussing in this book than in most YA titles. Also, no sex (hooray!), and NO LOVE TRIANGLE! Abercrombie proves that yes, you can write a book without relying on the crutch of a love triangle to "create drama" (gag me). 

Yarvi is the second son. He was born with a left hand that doesn't work--it's twisted and weak and it's seen as a sign of weakness. He is called "half a man" just because one of his hands (through no fault of his own) is malformed. Yarvi longs for the approbation of others, but quietly works with Mother Gundring, who is teaching him to be a Minister. Yarvi won't be king--he has an older brother perfectly suited to the task. Instead, he'll work behind the scenes as a minister--a sort of diplomat/politician/spy hybrid. His mother Laithlin, the Golden Queen, is an expert at negotiations and trade. Her moniker suits both the gold of her hair and her plan to mint uniform currency for the lands that surround the Shattered Sea. 

One day, the unthinkable happens. Both Yarvi's father and brother die in an ambush staged by their next-door neighbor, enemy, and all-around bad guy Grom-gil-Gorm (try saying that three times fast!). Laithlin moves quickly to position her son as the king. Yarvi is crowned and swears an oath to avenge his father's death. The type of oath he swears is very, very serious. He sets out with his Uncle to raid Grom-gil-Gorm's lands. Then: betrayal. Near-death. Slavery.

Next thing you know, Yarvi is an oar-slave on a pirate ship captained by a woman who's so far in her cups she's mostly sober while drunk. Yarvi disguises his true identity (what use would it be?) and plots his escape from drudgery. It's not that simple. Even when an escape path opens, who should he trust? The man he betrayed? His oarmates? The navigator? The guy who's definitely a bit off but who can wield a sword like no one else? 

There are epic journeys across blasted landscapes. There is some serious Ben-Hur style rowing and slavery. There's plotting, counter-plotting, and counter-counter-plotting, topped off with plot twists galore and fantastic revelations. Betrayals pile up as fast as the body count. Half a King grabs you, chains you to the oars, and drags you along for the ride. You're panting to keep up.

Yarvi is an interesting character. He's not a goody two-shoes, but he's not a bad guy. He's a survivor. Survival requires tough choices. Unpalatable ones, even. But Yarvi's growth is fascinating to watch, and I look forward to more books about the lands of the Shattered Sea.

A note: someone put it into my head (was it Patrick Rothfuss?) that this may not be your standard fantasy world, but the elf-metal and elf relics described may actually be remnants of our own civilization. That's how I prefer to read it, actually, but either way this is a fantastic book. 

I received an ARC of this book from Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Letter 44

I keep wiffle-waffling on Letter 44.  On one hand, it's a fun, speculative science-fiction/conspiracy theory comic.  Yay!  On the other hand, it treads ground worn smooth by legions of sci-fi authors previously.  On the other other hand, it's wonderfully drawn and inked.  Yet it lacks subtlety and some of the action was muddied.

Okay, premise: New president comes into his office and receives a letter addressed to "44" (his number in the Presidential line).  It's from the previous president, a fellow named George W. Bush Carroll, to his successor, a young and charismatic Barack Obama
guy named Blades.

I wasn't quite sure what to think of this.  Is it supposed to be funny?  It sure is transparent.  There's probably some sort of Secret Service rule against writing about the current President unless it's nonfiction.  Why not just say Bush and Obama and be done with it?  Or change their characteristics at least a tiny bit!  I mean, Blades' beautiful and smart wife, his battle to save the economy ... spare me the recent history lesson, please.  You can riff on something and then you can lift something.  I'd rather have a riff, if you please.

That element of the story was extremely distracting for me.  So much so that I almost didn't notice it when the giant-alien-what-is-it? popped into the storyline and suddenly we were out in space with the crew of an American mission to make contact with the aliens and figure out just what they're doing out there around Jupiter.

Hint: Probably nothing good.  But you, being smart, guessed that already.  A crew of several guys and two women are zooming out through space.  And PLOT TWIST one of the women is pregnant, but they don't know the father.  It seems that all the guys made some sort of pact to raise the child as their own, no matter who the biological father was.  This makes me wonder: was this planned?  Is there some sort of race to have the first baby born in space?  WHY would you do this?  These astronauts know that they probably won't survive.  Why would they create another human being who would die with them?  This makes zero sense to me.  None.  Zip.

So ANYWAY.  They're zooming towards the aliens.  Then they get to the aliens, who conveniently have a sort of cloaking device (what sort of self-respecting alien race wouldn't have a cloaking device???  Klingons do.) to cover up their probably-nefarious deeds.  The astronauts decide to EVA because ... I have no idea why.  They have to fix their ship, I think.  The aliens broke it like a wee toy.  So.  EVA in an alien presence?  Great idea, guys!  Wait, what's this portal thingy?  Oh, I think I should just tootle on through there.

Seriously.  Where did they find these people?  Clearly the government picked the most clueless astronauts and scientists to go on this mission.  Hello?  What about the scientific method?  Observation?  How about a little common sense like, "DON'T TOUCH THE ALIEN THINGY!"  It's right up there in conventional wisdom with "Don't touch the hot stove."  Duh.  Two of the astronauts die, although I seriously only remember one of them.  The other guy?  No clue.  I found this action-skip to occur in a few places in the comic.  I am reading an ARC so it's very possible this will be amended.

However, I am tempted to pick up volume two when it launches just to see where the author and illustrator take this story.  It was really well-drawn; I just wish that the story were up to the artwork.  I won't be holding my breath for this one, though.

Monday, June 9, 2014


I love Edith Pattou's fantasy YA novels.  Hero's Song and Fire Arrow are two fantastic Irish-myth-inspired quest books--I cannot resist a good quest book--and East is a retelling of my favorite fairy tale, East of the Sun and West of the Moon.  I sprang on the ARC of Pattou's latest offering for young adults.  It's called Ghosting.  And it's realistic fiction.

*record scratch*

Honestly, I was a bit disappointed that she hasn't continued the Songs of Eirren series.  I long to know more of the adventures of Breo-Saight, feisty girl archer.  Ghosting is a radical switch-up for Pattou, and it succeeds.

This is an ambitious book.  It is a book in verse told from multiple points of view.  This is already very shaky ground, yet Pattou handles it quite well.  I thought that given the subject, verse was a very effective stylistic choice, and each narrator, save the two sisters, have distinctive narrative voices (although, I suppose that the sisters would sound a bit like each other.  But I admit I was confused a bit as to which one was Emma and which one was Faith).  I felt a bit light-headed as the story unfolded--the tragedy alluded to in the blurb isn't what you'd expect, and yet, in today's news, it's frighteningly common.

This is a story about gun violence.  Given the recent spate of senseless rampages involving firearms, this book struck a nerve.  The lead-up to the crisis is exceedingly well-done, and the individual characters' reactions to the tragedy are believable.

Maxie (Maxine, but don't call her that) has come back to Illinois after her father's job move to Colorado didn't pan out.  He's drinking way too many beers and her mom worries about money.  Maxie's into photography, and knows that her childhood friendship with Emma and Felix can't and won't be the same.  When they were kids, they did everything together, earning the moniker "Emfax" from their parents.  Now Emma's the hot, popular girl who gets everything she wants, while Felix deals with his mother's depression and dad's behavior by getting high.

This is as much an exploration of interpersonal relationships as it is a condemnation of gun violence.  Relationships are tricky, tricky things.  Emma has a boyfriend, but does she really love him?  Is it just the idea of being with him that she loves?  Why is pretty Chloe going out with Anil?  Does she really like him?  Does he really like her?  Does someone's attractiveness quotient mean that you automatically must fall in love with him or her?  What do you do when you start dating your friend's ex?

Family pressure plays a huge role in these teens' lives (just as much as peer pressure), but it's in the background, an ever-present weight on their shoulders.  Anil's parents expect him to grow up to be a doctor like everyone else.  Emma knows she can get her dad to do anything she wants--and her mom knows it, too.  Maxie's parents have become strangers since they've had to move back home.  And Brendan, Emma's boyfriend, has a seriously dysfunctional home life.  Pattou peels back the layers of each character's pain gently, yet firmly.  She doesn't excuse their behavior, but she makes us, the readers, understand it.

There were a few loose ends that I would have liked to have seen tied up, but then again, maybe that was the intention.  Life always has loose ends.

Actually, as I write this, I'm trying to find something to criticize other than the sometimes-mix-up of narrative voice.  It's not preachy.  It's not heavy-handed.  It has compassion.  It's ... really good.  Yes.  I recommend this.  Wholeheartedly.

But, you know, Song of Eirren book three wouldn't be sniffed at, either.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Us vs. Them

Been on any social media platform lately?  It's the guys versus the girls in critics' reviews of YA novels.  And things are getting a little insane.  

For me, a book and its author are not inextricably linked entities.  I can love a book but not like the author so much, and I can be charmed by an author but not really like his or her work.  Authors are people who write things called books.  An author is not his or her book.  A book is not its author.  In this world of obsessed fans and authors who are just a tweet away, I think we forget this.  

The only exception that I make to this is any book that overtly promotes an author's personal philosophy.  So, for example, Mein Kampf IS Hitler.  But nonfiction is just a different kettle of fish in general.

Anyhoodles, a big part of this giant kerfuffle is the opening of the film adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars, based on the eponymous novel by John Green.  It's huge.  It beat out Tom Cruise's new movie, for pete's sake.  And yes, I'm probably going to go see it.  Unfortunately, it's also brought out the sexism in film reviewers and a whole lot of oblivious yay-me comments from Mr. Green.  

Let's back up a second.  I unreservedly love the book The Fault in Our Stars.  It is a very, very, very, very, very good book.  It is amazing.  I ugly-cried during that book.  It's the first book about teens with cancer that didn't feel patronizing or like a Lifetime movie special.  We have a family member battling cancer right now, so when I gave this to my mom to read, she just cried buckets.  

I have a coworker who liked it but didn't understand all the hype.  She felt it was fine but not outstanding.  And that too is a completely legitimate opinion.  The scary part is that I know legions of TFIOS fans who would just tear that opinion to shreds.  That's really sad, and very unfortunate.  A lot of these ultra-fans are teens for whom the book resonated (which is completely awesome), but they feel like any criticism of the book is criticism of their opinion (not true).  Many followers on Twitter and YouTube have used the success of TFIOS to build John Green up like he is some sort of literary saint.

I'll also admit to being out of my mind excited to meet John Green back at PLA 2014.  When he signed my book, I managed to croak out "Hi," "fine," and "thanks!"  Then that whole YouTube singer scandal went down and nary a peep from Mr. Green about sexual assault or predation.  Hmm.  

The real issue here (which leads to the bigger issue at hand) is the idolization and fetishization of popular authors.  In John Green's case, he's got legions of young, female fans.  It doesn't hurt that he's pretty funny and charming and relatively good-looking (not my cuppa, but it comes up a lot in articles written by other adults.  His "boyish good looks" and "boyish charm" can't be gushed about enough.  Ugh.).  Authors are humans who say dumb things and who say smart things.  I'm uncomfortable with the idea of expecting diamonds to fall from an author's mouth every time it opens.  I mean, people are calling Green a "prophet."  Moses was a prophet.  John Green is not Moses.  Unless I missed something here.

To be completely speculative, I'm pretty sure Green didn't start writing just so people could hold him up as some sort of literary messiah.  Authors write because they have something to say, something that bubbles up inside and needs to get out.  So, it's also unfair to blame Green for the public's reaction to his work.  

The really scary and tone-deaf articles stem from something that Green literally cannot control: his gender.  Green is a man (duh).  The publishing industry and the book review and awards people praise Green for his work while simultaneously dismissing female authors' books as "romances" or "not real literature."  I am uncomfortable with the white-knighting of Stephanie Meyer's books, as I found what snippets I had to read in library school to be poorly written, full stop.  However, I understand the reasoning.  Successful female authors are to be mocked, while successful male authors get ALL THE THINGS.  One oblivious writer dissed Judy Blume in favor of John Green.  EXCUSE ME.  You do NOT diss Judy Freaking Blume.  The amount of movies made out of your books does not raise or lower your literary worth as an author.  It just changes your bank account numbers.  

So, back to the whole movie thing.  It must be really odd and amazing and mind-blowing to have your idea turn into a book that turns into a movie that turns into a smash hit.  Your brain probably gets all mushy and you say lots of things.  Some of those things might not be, well, the best things to say in this charged YA climate.  Things that intimate that you are a really "brave" person for being a dude who wrote a book with a strong female lead who kisses the guy first.  

Author Lauren DeStefano wrote an impassioned, articulate, and flat-out amazing response to the gender differential in YA literature and publishing.  She points out that all YA authors are peers, and so they had better start supporting one another.  

Look, I still love The Fault in Our Stars.  I don't think John Green is a "prophet" but I also don't think that he is the villain so many people are painting him to be.  He's a guy who wrote a really good book that became really successful.  That's probably my bountiful naïveté speaking, but that's what I want to think.  But why is it still okay to pay women less than men, or consistently focus on a female author's appearance, or to make any sort of insinuation that their books are less influential than those written by a male author?  Because it's happening.  I've read the articles.  I'm not linking to them because they don't deserve any more clicks.  

How about a novel concept?  Let's read the books.  Let's give credit to great authors for great books no matter what their gender (the authors, not the books!).  Let's stop labeling and start welcoming.  

Okay?  Okay.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Murder Complex

I'm an impatient person. Especially when it comes to cooking. I don't want to wait for dough to rise: I want my PIZZA. I don't want to "marinate overnight," I want my STEAK. My inability to wait for yeast to rise or flavors to infuse means that I'm often disappointed in the flavor of the final product. The loaf of bread or ribeye doesn't necessarily taste awful--on the contrary, they're generally quite tasty. However, they lack that special something that extra time would have given the flavor. They're not at their best.

That's a bit how I felt about The Murder Complex. Cummings had me hooked with the first few chapters. The mystery of this clearly dysfunctional society grabbed me. How is it that people have nanites to heal them, yet must apply for rations and live on practically nothing? Why does the heroine, Meadow, have to be such a deadly fighter? Don't worry--most of these questions will be answered, but not necessarily as I would have liked.

Meadow lives with her dad (who is a seriously scary dude--he's almost killed Meadow numerous times in order to "train" her for her "destiny"), her brother Koi (is it so awful that I pictured him as a large goldfish?), and her little sister Peri on a houseboat off the Florida coast. Except, this isn't Florida anymore. This is the Shallows, a rundown city whose inhabitants live in fear of the Initiative (the government) and the Dark Time--when people are murdered. Every night, the streets must be cleaned of the dead of the previous night--there's a lot of them. 

It's time for Meadow to go to the city and pass a test in order to get a job. The better the job, the more rations she gets for her family. This is when I started to question the originality of certain plot elements. In order to get to her test, Meadow must fight hundreds of other people in order to jump on a moving train. Hmm...Divergent? Then, she is placed in a room with another job hunter and they must fight to the death--only one can emerge alive. Hmm...Red Rising??? 

The narrative alternates between Meadow and Zephyr, a ward of the Initiative (i.e., he's an orphan) whose job is the lowest of the low--he's part of the team that picks up the dead bodies every night. He is worth nothing ... yet he has strange dreams about a girl with silver hair (oh wait ... MEADOW has silver hair!) and then randomly decides to commit suicide because, as it turns out, he's actually a secret assassin who kills without knowing why. 

Watch out. HERE COMES THE INSTALOVE. As Zephyr lies bleeding out from his self-inflicted wounds, Meadow just *happens* to be passing by. Even though her father has taught her to worry only about her own survival, in true cliché fashion, she must stop and break her own rule to save this boy. "I should leave now, but I can't stop looking at him. He is beautiful. Shaggy brown hair sweeps across his face, and I am shocked at how bad I want to touch it. Someone who looks like this shouldn't be so weak. Someone who looks like this shouldn't die this way."

Wow. He shouldn't die because he's "beautiful." Newsflash, Meadow dear, you can be "beautiful" and be a psychopath. You can be "beautiful" and be devoid of brains. You can be "beautiful" and still die a horrible death. Death doesn't care about aesthetics. And the instalove just gets so, so much worse from here. 

Zephyr goes to get his rations (where Meadow happens to work) and there she is. "My breath just sort of stops, right there in my lungs. [where else would it be? your kidneys???] Standing behind the glass, staring down at the blood soaked floor with anger warping her face, is the person I swear I've waited my entire life to see." This is seriously unhealthy. "Meadow steps out, silver hair hanging just to her hips. Stars, she's perfect ... Instead, all I can think is I might love this girl." Then they go on a date to a boardwalk (seriously!)

Then: the let's go swimming scene. I'm cringing as I write this--no lie.

" 'We should get back now. Get on the train and head home. It's late.' 'You're beautiful,' Zephyr says. He moves closer. The waves rock us back and forth, andmy heart hammers in my chest. His voice is velvet. His voice is saying all of the things I never thought I would hear anyone say. I'm not sure I want this ... A rogue wave hits me, fast and strong. It pushes me into him. I grab his shoulders, and before I realize what is happening, his arms are around my waist. I can feel his heart hammering in time with my own."

Then, right at the crucial moment, as the strings hold their vibrato and their lips move towards each other, Zephyr is "activated" and attempts to kill Meadow, since he is (remember!) a super-secret assassin who can't control himself. Eventually, they meet again, since Zephyr is still in love with Meadow and follows her like a puppy dog. She's on a mission to find out what her mom was really involved in. That whole job thing where she had to kill that girl? Yeah, not super important. The first half of the novel is setup without background information, which is awkward, and then suddenly things start happening all over the place. Meadow sets fire to her home as her family flees. Pirates are after her and Zephyr. She sneaks into the Initiative compound and finds out that She Is Important. So is her mother (even though Meadow insists her mom was ordinary. Girl, you need to get out more). THEN she and Zephyr find her family, only to be betrayed. Then they find more allies because suddenly this book has become "take down the Initiative and find out its secrets." People who were maybe dead aren't dead and then other people just die randomly. 

The evil in this society really is implausible. It all rests on the idea that a twenty-year-old could figure out a cure for all human disease. Basically, she figured out immortality. The only way to die is to be murdered. 

And how would you think this is a good idea, as a scientist? How do you fix your mistake? If you answered, "Well, I would create a supercomputer, grow babies to become assassins, train them secretly to be superkillers, and then set them loose every night to cull the population," you should be friends with the Bad Person in this book! You think alike!

This deserves some serious side-eye. To add to the implausibility of this scenario, supposedly all of this happened in less than 25 years. Did they kill all the older people? No one seems to understand that they're being controlled, manipulated, and tracked, even though much of the population is old enough to fight back. If Meadow's mom can remember birdsong (evidently birds all died sometime. I don't know.), how has society so completely fallen under the thrall of this totalitarian regime? 

By now, you're probably thoroughly convinced that I hated this. Surprisingly, I did not. Remember how I talked about marinating and dough rising? I think this book needed to marinate a bit more. It needed to be cleaned up and expanded upon and fleshed out. It needed to mature. It also needs all of the instalove bits excised, because that gives teens a really unhealthy and improbable expectation of what love is really like and what a good relationship should be. However, Cummings keeps the action coming like you wouldn't believe, and I was flipping the pages like mad to find out what would happen next. I am intrigued by the overall idea and I would probably read the sequel to find out what happens. Cummings handles the fight scenes really well, and the cruelty of desperate people in an oppressive society is believably gruesome. 

I'm not entirely sure if I would, in good faith, excitedly recommend this to someone. But for fans of the genre, it will work.

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

In Which I Rant AT LENGTH About Anti-Weeders

Generally, going on Tumblr makes me happy.  Well, maybe not "happy,: per se, as in the "I'm-dancing-to-Pharrell-Williams-because-life-is-just-so-gosh-durned-great-and-the-sun-is-shining" type of happy.  Perhaps "less cranky" would be a more apt description.  "Prone to giggling."  "More likely to smile."  Any of those, really.

Yet, it was a cranky, rant-spewing Pamelibrarian who logged off of Tumblr today.  See, one of the accounts I follow reblogged this article:

It's an excerpt from a book wherein a lady named Phyllis Rose decided to read all of the books on one fiction shelf in her library.  She then wrote a book about the experience.  I call this the "Eat Pray Love Effect," to wit: write a book about something ordinary, make it seem extraordinary, and shill it to Vanity Fair.  Book clubs, look no further.  Note: I have not read Eat, Pray, Love, nor do I intend to, but I do not appreciate the slight of hand that the editors played with the story.  The majority of people on this Earth do not have the funds (i.e. publisher's advance) to travel to various countries to have "life-altering experiences."  Many people don't have enough money to eat.

ANYWAY.  Bibliophiles on Goodreads have been giving this high marks so far, but from the excerpt above, I am not inclined to read this book either.

I didn't think it was a particular secret that libraries weeded materials.  Here, I'm talking about public libraries, because that's what I know and that's what I do.  Rose discusses the CREW method and blows it way out of proportion.  It's like in Pirates of the Caribbean (which I have now referenced twice on this blog) where Elizabeth explains that the Pirate's Code isn't really rules, "it's more like guidelines."  CREW is not canon law, although some people may take it to that extreme.  For the non-librarians reading this, CREW is just a way of figuring out which books need to leave the collection due to various factors.  Rose acknowledges this, and then comes back with this gem of a statement:
It is not clear to me that the author of the CREW manual has any idea of how hard it is to determine “high literary merit” as opposed to “durable demand.” 
Okay.  First of all, I doubt that one librarian sat down and wrote the manual.  Secondly, you, a non-professional, are questioning the skills of people who are trained to select books.  Obviously, this Rose person has an exceptionally high opinion of her own taste in books.  Clearly "literary merit," or author ego-stroking, is much more important than "durable demand," or what people actually read.

She claims that "all books are worth preserving."  Really?  You want to think about that statement a little bit?  "Worth" is a strong word.  Is Mein Kampf "worth" saving?  Or is it culturally important to save so that people don't make the same mistakes?  Is something that's blatantly and disgustingly racist "worth" saving so that we can point to it and say, "Hey, that's racist!"?

Then, Rose starts talking about an author named Nicholson Baker.  I have never heard of this person. Evidently he is a writer of literary fiction (see definition of "literary merit" above).  Many (not all!) writers of literary fiction are older white men who feel that their experience of the world is the most important thing to have ever existed and that their viewpoint must be committed to paper so that the plebes can become more cultured.  Or something.  The last "literary fiction" book I read and enjoyed was Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, which is more literary science fiction, but hey.

This Nicholson Baker chap, aside from having a last name as a first name, got severely miffed a few decades (!) ago when the San Francisco Public Library a) got rid of the card catalog and b) weeded the collection.  He decided this was worth of c) a lawsuit and d) an "exposé."  Some nitwit book reviewer compared this "exposé" to Zola's J'accuse.  Has that reviewer even read Zola's letter?  Somehow, I just don't think that the wrongful punishment of someone because of being Jewish equates to libraries weeding books.  I have already decided I will also not waste my time reading anything by Nicholson Baker.  HOWEVER.  That does not mean that were I in a collection development position, that I would not purchase his books.  I would.  Especially if they had good reviews and were in demand by the public.

Rose then rambles on some more about how we need to SAVE THE BOOKS from being WEEDED (OMG), especially because some nice old books might get the boot.  She then trots out the old, beaten-to-death argument: "Well, Author X was rejected Y amount of times for book Z."  Her example is Proust and À la recherche du temps perdu and how André Gide (another Big French Author) at first rejected it, and then felt bad.  First of all, we're talking Proust here.  I had to read the first third of Swann's Way in college and I wanted to die.  The famous madeleine scene is really the only thing worth reading.  No wonder he ended up writing in a cork-lined room (true story!).  Anybody who wants to be taken Seriously as a Serious Literary Person name-drops Proust.  Actually, Phyllis Rose wrote an entire book about reading Proust.  I quote from the blurb: "an exhilarating memoir."  "Exhilarating" would be the last word I would use to describe Proust's oeuvre.

The *best* part of the excerpt, however, comes at the end, when Rose exhorts her readers to check out books from the library that they (readers) must be "saved."  She also says it's fine not to read the books you are "saving."  They can serve as "accent pieces" in your décor.

Ms. Rose, you've missed the point.  A book has not been checked out for years.  This means that the public whom that library serves does not want to read it.  It is taking up valuable shelf space. Libraries are finite spaces.  We are not wormholes.  We can only house so many books.  We cannot keep random detritus just because you think it might be important even if you don't read it.  Just like everyone else in the community.  That is a ridiculously selfish thing to do.  It means you don't trust librarians to keep books that we know are important.  So don't go to the library, then.

I'm not here to serve the one percent.  I'm here to serve the community.