Friday, October 31, 2014

The Storyspinner

It's always a slightly disconcerting feeling to rather dislike something that many other reviewers are praising from the rooftops.  I question myself.  Sometimes I even wonder if I'm reading the same book.  Mostly, though, I just conclude that I'm seriously jaded.

Receiving an ARC of The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace was exciting, because it promised high fantasy.  For me, high fantasy is one of my literary comfort foods.  Sometimes, though, you can mess up a comfort food.  Mashed potatoes can glob together and become gluey.  Meatloaf can fall apart.  Lasagne may not set properly and then just splosh all over when you try to serve it.  It's not the dish itself that's defective, but the execution.  Similarly, while The Storyspinner follows a well-known high fantasy recipe--rescue the lost princess/Chosen One--it fails in execution.

The first thing I look for when a book calls itself high fantasy is the setting.  It should be suitably exotic, but it's also fun to have ties to our reality.  So, in Tolkien's novels, Middle-Earth could be any sort of pre-Roman Britain-type place, but that doesn't matter because it's got a varied geography and is populated with various fantastic creatures (orcs, elves, dwarves, etc.).  I've never picked up The Hobbit and said to myself, "This is set in England."

I'm pretty sure that The Storyspinner is set in Brazil.  When the nasty lordling sneaks pão de queijo from the cook, there's incessant talk of mango orchards, and characters have names like Jacaré and Leão, it sounds like Brazil to me!  It's jarring to be tootling along in this fantasy world and then have a character start talking about foodstuffs by their Portuguese name!  It's a fantasy novel!  Make up words!

Anyway, so the story goes like this: Johanna is a Performer, a sort of traveling entertainer.  Her whole family belongs to the Performers, and her father is not only a world-class acrobat, but he's a Storyspinner as well.  This means that he tells stories so well that you almost forget the world around you as they are told.  Unfortunately for Johanna, in the first chapter, her exceedingly talented father falls from his perch and dies.  This causes the Performers to expel Johanna and her family from their ranks because ... reasons?  I didn't particularly understand that part.

Anyway.  Jacaré, Captain of the Elite Guard of Olinda (known outside his country as Keepers), has noticed a glitch in his magic crystal that he uses to track the heir to the throne who has been lost since her father died.  Sorry, that was a long sentence, but there is a lot going on here.  So, in the past, the King of Brazil Santarem wore a special pendant that let the Keepers watch what was going on in his country.  Unfortunately, the King was assassinated, and he gave the pendant to someone who wasn't directly related to him for safekeeping--eventually this pendant was supposed to return to his heir, his daughter.  But *dun dun DUN* she is missing and the longer she stays away from "Donovan's Wall" (like Hadrian's wall but to separate the magical from the non-magical areas, I think), Bad Things Will Happen.  Specifically, everyone will lose their minds and invade Olinda.  As you do.

Because his magical crystal isn't working right, Jacaré barges into the Mages Council meeting and demands an explanation.  This is much more dramatic than asking politely, as I would be wont to do with a mage.  The reason the stone isn't working is because the guardian of the heir is dead, and she has been away for the Wall for too long.  The mage who explains this is Amelia, "head of the Mage council because she was the most powerful magic wielder among the Keepers."

Logically, the most powerful person would be in charge.  Why does this even need to be explained?

Jacaré decides to disobey a direct order from this Very Powerful Person and sneak over the border to find the princess.  He brings some friends: Leão, who's related to Amelia but is much nicer, Tex, a disgraced Keeper, and his sister, Pira.  I made it about halfway through the book and still hadn't figured out what exactly Tex was doing there except that he's supposed to be some sort of woo-woo expert tracker.  Congratulations.  Pira likes Leão.  Pira dislikes her brother's command.  Pira likes to Do Her Own Thing, which is totally NOT safe when you are traveling incognito.  I didn't like Pira.

Meanwhile, in Santarem...

Johanna, now expelled from the Performers' Guild for having lost her father to an untimely and gruesome death, gathers food while her family lives in some wagons in the forest.  There's this big kerfuffle about her shooting this deer and the lordlings of the land catch her.  One, the Lord Rafael (Rafi) is a hot-headed misogynist whose first inclination is to attack Johanna and accuse her of poaching.  Rafi's brother Dominic (Dom) is more level-headed and jovial.  Uh-oh.  I feel tremblings along the fault lines.  It's a love triangle setup; I'm sure of it (but not until the next book, I think).

Rafi attacks Johanna, who is dressed as a boy.  In this mystical land, it's not okay to beat up a lady poacher, so when Rafi and Dom realize Johanna is, in fact, female, they (Rafi) are in some deep trouble.  They figure this out when they try to drag the "thief" back to be hanged.  Rafi sees "Pink lips parted slightly in sleep.  Loose laces exposed a long slender neck, the hard slant of a collarbone and a soft mound of ..."

Yes, the sentence actually ends in an ellipsis because saying "breasts" is obviously just too much to bear.  Although I'm still wondering why it's a mound (singular).  Does Johanna have only one breast?  

Rafi and Dom take her back to their palace-type-place, where their mom scolds Rafi for being a twerp and just whaling on someone, and shuts him down for saying that he only did it because he didn't know the "poacher" was a girl.  I kind of like their mom.    To make some loooooong chapters a bit shorter, because he was in the wrong, Rafi has to be beaten as he beat Johanna.  She, being a sensitive soul, stops the punishment.  Rafi now owes her an even larger debt of honor, which he tries to fulfill by sending her lots of stuff.  

Meanwhile, the Keepers, who have now entered Santarem, are doing a bang-up job of conducting a fruitless investigation.  Pira rages, Jacaré broods, Leão blushes, and Tex ... I have no idea what Tex does.

I do not find this plot compellling, or full of intrigue, or spellbinding, or any of those things.  It just is.  And it bored me.

I also very much disliked the descriptions of women, as well as the obvious romantic lead's initial view of women.

  • Pira is an excellent fighter and a fantastic Keeper, but watching her succeed makes Jacaré want to "teach her a lesson."  Nice.  
  • The trekking Keepers come across a watchpoint whose soldiers have kidnapped a local girl and raped her to death.  " 'Too late for the girl?' Tex asked as he surveyed the scene with casual distaste. 'Isn't it always?' [Jacaré said]"  So you find a girl who's been abused beyond belief, and the reaction is, "Oh, same old same old!"  This is repulsive.
  • When Rafi sees Johanna in a dress, he undresses her again with his eyes.  She is an object.  "She wore blue silk that clung to her chest and hips, revealing narrow curves that didn't belong on any boy."  She, in turn, finds his body "poetic."  Gag me.
  • Despite being beaten severely for his previous behavior, Rafi still thinks it's appropriate to react  with violence to Johanna's behavior.  "Rafi had never raised a hand against a woman--except by accident--but his fingers itched to slap the smug grin off her face."  What does that mean, exactly?  "Except by accident?"  How do you "accidentally" hit a woman?  Jerkwad
  • Well, if he can't hit her, how about offering her his bed?  He feels he's obviously doing her a giant favor by offering some Marvin Gaye-style getting it on.  " 'You have needs, and I think I can take care of them.' "  Ew.
  • Johanna's reaction?  "Lord Rafael unsettled her.  It wasn't fear, exactly.  She knew he wouldn't physically harm her, but there was something in the way that he looked at her that made her feel ... less."  Okay, number one: he already physically harmed you.  Number two: do not fall in love with someone who demeans you.  Oh wait, we're already going down that road...
  • ...because Johanna is soooooo sexy.  She shows up at a ball given by Rafael's family to Perform, and Rafi notices that "her dress was tight through the chest and hips, flaring at her thighs.  It gave her enough room to move, while still flattering her wasplike waist."  What is Johanna, a Gibson Girl?  "Wasplike waist?"  I am mentally stabbing myself in the eyeballs right now.  This dress also accentuates the "smooth scoops of flesh" on her chest.  Breasts.  They are called breasts, Becky Wallace.  Say boobs!  I don't care!  I don't have "scoops of flesh" on my chest!  It sounds like something you'd put on an ice cream cone.
This is not a good high fantasy, I'm sorry to say.  It is a muddly mess of questing with strangely long-lived magical people saving the Lost Princess, who has scoops and mounds of flesh on her chest, which is alluring to the "I wouldn't harm a flea!" lordling who beats people up at the first opportunity.  Healthy relationships all around!

I received an ARC of this from Edelweiss.  Quotes may change.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

What I'm Reading Wednesday

The Whispering Skull (Lockwood & Co. #2) by Jonathan Stroud.  I love British horror.  I love Jonathan Stroud.  I love everything about this series.  It is the perfect middle grade spooky-but-not-too-spooky story.  I hand out the first one at every opportunity, and the same will be true of this one.  I don't even know if I'll review it because dang, it's good.

Erak's Ransom (The Ranger's Apprentice #7) by John Flanagan.  Not as intriguing as the first few arcs of the series, but I understand the purpose of the book.  This is solidly good mild fantasy adventure for middle schoolers.

Cut Me Free by J.R. Johansson.  I am unsure of this one and I'm a quarter of the way through.  It could be exceedingly good or quite disappointing.  Right now, there's still a lot of setup going on, so I haven't learned much about the actual crimes yet.

The Prey

I prey (ha ha ha!) that this doesn't become The Next Big Thing, because if it does, I'm throwing in the towel.  As it stands right now, on Goodreads this book does not have a very good rating.  Say what you will about GR (I love it because a) it makes me accountable for all the books I want to read and b) is a nice spot to collect my reviews and c) gives me real-reader reviews (alliteration!) for when I'm ordering books), when a book's rating is in the solid two-star range, things are not good.  As of today, it's a 2.23.  I mean, even in figure skating, that basically means you slid around on your butt for four minutes (long program).

Aside from the neuron-murdering boredom that comes from attempting to make sense of any sort of plot, much less see the potential for a trilogy coming out of this, the completely bizarre "writing style" (yes, intentional sarcasm quote time) stunned me.  It was kind of like someone trying to write like T.S. Eliot and Cormac McCarthy and Suzanne Collins all at the same time, but failing at all of it. Actually, I probably insulted all of those authors.  My apologies, authors.

Let's just start with the synopsis.  Whoever wrote this seems to be targeting ... I don't know, dudebros?  I fully admit that I didn't read read it when I requested the ARC--it actually sounded kind of fun.  A twist on The Most Dangerous Game, right?  Here's the synopsis:

"A hot debut trilogy and a riveting story of survival, courage, and romance in a future where creating a master civilization is the only thing prized, no matter the method. After the Omega (the end of the end), 16 year old guys known as LTs discover their overseers are raising them not to be soldiers (lieutenants) as promised, but to be sold as bait because of their Less Than status and hunted for sport. They escape and join forces with a girls’ camp, the Sisters, who have been imprisoned and experimented on for the "good of the Republic," by a government eager to use twins in their dark research. In their plight for freedom, these heroes must find the best in themselves to fight against the worst in their enemies."

"16 year old guys" just doesn't sit well with me.  It sounds like how I would speak in day-to-day conversation with my friends, and not how I would professionally describe a book.  That whole second sentence is a monstrosity of clauses all stuck together.  Actually, the third one isn't much better.  And what does the last sentence even mean?  From what I read of the book, the main characters aren't particularly likable or smart--so how are they our heroes?  There's a difference between "hero" and "protagonist."  "Find the best in themselves to fight against the worst in their enemies?"  First of all, for symmetry's sake, I would have gone with "find the best in themselves to fight the worst in their enemies."  Secondly, is that a movie tagline?  The author is an actor, so I suppose it would make sense for him to write something to be adapted.  

**Note: I fully admit that I've been kind of putting this review off because it would require me to go back to the text and relive my reading experience.  You're welcome.**

It seems that the most quoted and maligned line so far is in the prologue: "Blood.  Purpling.  Coagulating before his eyes."  Okay, so those aren't even proper sentences, but what most people object to is the word "purpling."  There is a verb for "to turn purple:" it's empurpling (my crazy brain was like, sure that's a word, empourprer ... whoops, wrong language).  So, word usage=wrong.  Plus it is just Trying Too Hard.

"He wasn't dead, but if we hadn't found him when we did, he would've been.  Maybe within the hour. Then this story never would've happened."  I wish.

"No one didn't obey an order from Major Karsten."  What ... is that?  Double negative?  Why, yes!  You have choices here, and this is not an acceptable choice.  "No one disobeyed an order" works.  "You didn't disobey Major Karsten," although heavy on the negatives, still works.  I think the impression we (the readers) are supposed to get is that these boys are not well-educated, something that is directly contradicted by their reading habits.  

Major Karsten's "anvil-shaped face" may even have achieved minor legend status by now.  For the record, this is an anvil: 
Thanks for the clarification, Photo Dictionary!

I don't think anyone's head could possibly look like that.  If it did, and that person were still alive, we'd be in a science fiction novel, and that person would be an alien.

"Omega, they called that day.  The end of the end."  Actually, omega is just the last letter in the Greek alphabet, so it's just plain "the end."  Even if you're going Biblical, the phrase is "the Alpha and the Omega"--"the first and the last" or "the beginning and the end."  But who cares!  It sounds catchy, right?

So Omega was "one enormous burst of electromagnetic radiation" that fried civilization.  To get an EMP, generally one detonates a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere, which quickly changes the electromagnetic charge and sort of blasts things.  Basically, in this world, nothing works, except for a convenient amount of Humvees and a movie projector, and a lot of the kids have radiation-induced birth defects.

These boys are kept in camps and they're called LTs, which they all assume to mean "Lieutenant" until someone clues them in that it means "Less Than."  Evidently, this is a giant, soul-smashing revelation and we should now sit in awe of its power.

Okay?  We're good?  Great!  As it also turns out, all the girls are twins (I don't know, I'm just repeating what I've been told) and they're in camps too, and the boys never get to see girls and vice versa.  Which means that when a boy comes into the girls' camp, our main female character, Hope, falls madly in lust with him.  She's there because she and her twin, Faith, got themselves captured after a very successful life on the run.  The Evil Doctor is basically Mengele 2.0 and stuff happens.  

So, Book, our male protagonist, goes on a raid-type thing and ends up at the girls' camp, where Cupid strikes again!  "My eyes were drawn to one prisoner in particular.  She was of medium hight with light brown skin--skin the color of tea--and her hair was covered in a head scarf ... There was some undefinable quality that drew me to her.  It was almost like we had something in common--like there was something about her I already knew."  Instalove alert!  Sound the klaxons!  Also, I don't quite understand the "skin the color of tea" comment, as tea can be many different colors.  

Book wants to escape his camp (of course) and get the girl (duh again) but he's afraid because the wastelands that used to be the rest of the United States are full of "roaming gangs of criminals, referred to as Crazies.  Even scarier were the Skull People, a tribe of primitive militants who killed anyone who dared approach their compounds."  I'm sorry, was this made up by a five year old?  "Crazies" and "Skull People"?  That's the best you could do?  

Meanwhile, back at the ranch Evil Experimentation Camp, Hope and Faith suffer at the hands of Nameless Evil Doctor, and Hope has some pret-ty kinky daydreams.  "Although their encounter seems like a distant dream, she lets herself pretend it's Book who strokes her arms.  She imagines him holding her firmly against her chest, the heat from his body mingling with hers."  Excuse me while I go vomit.  Girl, you met him in passing.  You do not know him.  For all you know, he could be a spy!  A psychopath!  Who knows?  But mmm-hmmmm, that body heat!  

I admit that I gave up here.  I had no reason to continue with this book because it didn't really seem to know what it was trying to accomplish.  Some sort of post-apocalyptic escape that's been done already and done much better.

The other thing that grated on me in the extreme was that Book's narrative was in past tense, and Hope's was in present tense, even though they are occurring at the exact same period in time.  Is this some sort of exercice de style?  Does the author feel like he has something to prove?  Because ... it didn't work.

I know I didn't touch on some of the other "major themes" this book purports to discuss, because it's pretty pointless and you know where this is all going anyway.

There is literally no logical or literary reason for this book to exist.  

I received an ARC from Edelweiss.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

A Week of Oh Noes!

Not really.  It's just that out of the last three books I finished, I didn't finish two of them.  Er, what I mean to say is it's sort of like I finished them, given that the mental effort to progress as far as I did felt like finishing ten books.  So this week, I'll start off with some cranky reviews, and see if I can manage to review un livre qui m'a complètement bouleversée ... The Count of Monte Cristo.  It's really, really difficult to review something so wonderful.

The Thirteenth Tower

Oooh, fantasy!  I say that a lot.  It's abso-tively posi-lutley one of my favorite genres to booktalk as a teen librarian.  I'm willing to try lots of different types of fantasy, as well (high, urban, dystopian, whatever), so I put in a request for an ARC of The Thirteenth Tower by Sara Snyder on Netgalley.

Much as I said in my review of The Murder Complex, some books need to marinate.  I now feel as though I need to revise my rating of TMC, because while that one may have just needed some tweaking, The Thirteenth Tower needed a good three day brining, much like a Thanksgiving turkey.

It's not an awful book.  It just needs more editing, more development, and more detail.  In short, just plain more.

Snyder's fantasy world is interesting in that the magical aspect (referred to as the Art) is more of a scientific practice than anything arcane.  This treatment of something that is usually esoteric reminded me of the magic using geometry and mathematics in Brandon Sanderson's The Rithmatist.  The magisters (magic users) have towers all over the land where they do their studies and, presumably, also kill puppies and such.  They're regarded with deep suspicion by the inhabitants of this country because the magisters came from the south, bringing their beliefs with them and imposing them on the populace.  This is a great jumping-off point for a discussion of imperialism or religious conversion or what have you, but it's not fully explored.  Let's get to the story, shall we?

Emelyn is a drudge in the Mansell househould.  Abandoned as a child, she's considered a pariah by most people, since in Fallow, to be abandoned means that you cannot be loved.  "Love could never be anything more than an unattainable idea, a fanciful feeling of which the likes of her would never know." (more on this later, promise)  The dictatorial Miss Cook raised Emelyn, and the young lady longs for a family to say they love her.  But she's a realist, too--so every morning, she gets up, stirs the fire, and squares her shoulders for another day of hard work.  Only, this day is different.  It's the Harvest Festival, and if she gets all the chores done in time, she might slip off to attend the dancing, music, and feasting.  But things go very wrong, very quickly.

In a nice bit of foreshadowing (as you can tell, it's heavy foreshadowing), Emelyn meets a strange girl while running a household errand.  "The girl had long, dark  hair and wore a dress of rough leather with colorful little beads that clicked when she moved ... Her eyes were grey like the clouds overhead, much like Emelyn's own.  They looked striking against her dun-colored skin.  Emelyn had thought her own skin dark, but now felt fair by comparison."  I am a bit confused by the use of the word "dun" to describe the girl.  It's a a word generally used as coloring for horses (I was a MAJOR horse fanatic as a kid, and dun was not my favorite coloring.  I preferred chestnut.  Anyway.) and not for people.  Merriam-Webster defines dun as a color as "a nearly neutral slightly brownish dark grey."  That is the most equivocal "definition" I may have ever encountered, but no matter.  I do not think that people, in general, have dark grey skin.  They may have cool-toned skin, but not grey.  Hmm.

Moving on, Emelyn returns to the house and does her chores, and as Harvest Festival approaches, fears she won't be able to go.  But suddenly everyone in the village begins acting very, very strangely.  Citizens who are normally taciturn or even downright grumpy are laughing and dancing at the festival.  A Pied-Piper-esque figure lures the townspeople into revelries.  At the town square, "The men were clad in well-tailored black waistcoats, the silvery chains of pocket watches glinting in the firelight.  Below the waist the men were unclothed, their erect [note: it is extremely hard for me to type this without cringing] penises protruding from thatches of thick, dark hair."  I suppose this whole revelry scene reflects debauchery even in the clothing of the fae participants (I'm assuming the men and women described in this scene are fae), but whoa.  That came out of left field.  In fact, I think that little paragraph is an escapee from a 50 Shades wannabe a few books over.

Normally, descriptions of nudity feel most natural for me in, say, a police thriller, where detectives are looking at bodies and so forth.  My particular issue with this strange description is that it doesn't fit with the tone of the rest of the story.  No one even kisses any one else in this story--that's how unromantic it is.  So it's not like The Thirteenth Tower is a fantasy brimming with sexytimes.  No.  Plus, the reaction of Emelyn, the main character, isn't believable.  She gasps and runs away, but promptly forgets about it.  When the magisters she ends up traveling with assure her that her friends will be okay, she believes them completely.  Lady: You just saw people driven out of their minds and committing acts with strange people who eschew pants!  You need to be more concerned about this!  I need to shake you!

Actually, Emelyn's entire course of action can be summed up as complete passivity.  As she runs through the woods and is attacked by small, lecherous men, she's saved by a complete stranger.  What does she do?  Trust him!  Argh!  Anyway, his name is Callum, and as they run, they encounter two other strangers who are none other than the highly jerktastic Grand Magister Percival and his slightly less jerktastic apprentice Aldren.  They tell Emelyn to come with them because they know her parents.  What do you think she does?  If you answered, "Run the other way screaming," you would have been sane, but wrong.  She goes with them, even though Callum warns her that magisters are dangerous and full of schemes.   But he comes along too.

The rest of the story is a series of scenes where they traverse the landscape, a revelation is made, Emelyn totally doesn't get it, and they keep going.  We have a classic example of the Chosen One syndrome here, complete with the character's disbelief in her abilities.  But it's more than that.  There is a scene where the younger magister has a very long conversation with her about how she has natural abilities in the Art (think untrained Jedi, okay?) and explains that she must train.  Instead of considering this utter reversal in her fortunes, "Emelyn did her best to keep busy, mostly tending to Ferrin in the stables.  She tried not to think to much on what Aldren had said about the Art ... It was all too much to take in at once."  Gah!  After speaking with Percival about her abilities, Emelyn pitches a fit and is practically comatose for days because ... learning that she can do cool things is somehow traumatizing.  She just wants to go back to being a plain ol' drudge!

Anyway, the whole point of this journey is that the magisters must confronts someone warped by the Art in the far north.  They get there eventually, and there is a battle, in which Stuff Happens, and after which Emelyn decides to be her own person, although who knows what that really means, with her track record?

All of the in-between stuff is either Major Foreshadowing or strange filler, like the insertion of a magical cook-dwarf named Cobbe and the woeful tale of Callum's family.

I also noticed a lot of strange word usage and just plain odd conversations.  For example, when Callum and Emelyn are running away from some bad guys, Callum tells Emelyn, "We've been heading south, though.  You can tell by the trees.  The moss tends to grow thickest on the northern side."  This only applies if they are in the northern hemisphere of whatever planet they're on.  If it's the southern hemisphere, moss grows more thickly on the south part of the tree.  There's a hilarious scene in an old Scooby-Doo episode with The Creeper, where Scooby and the Gang are lost in the woods, and to confuse them, the Creeper reaches over to the moss on the tree, rips it off, and sticks it back on another side.  That's instantly what I thought of during this scene.

The prose alternates between pretty normal and Trying Too Hard, although there are some good creepy bits when Emelyn encounters some dangerous creatures on the road.

Overall, I wasn't impressed with the story as it now stands.  Given a few more go-rounds of editing and fine-tuning, this could be amusing.

I received an ARC of this from NetGalley.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Fables #19: Snow White

I admit it: I cried at the end of Cubs in Toyland.  I felt strangely hollow inside.  Although it wasn't a pleasant story to read, it was a good and important one.  Different, too, from the usual tongue-in-cheek referential humor of Fables in general, but still powerful.

And then dangit, Snow White comes along and whoosh.  The readers are swept back into a hodgepodge of stories that are so short that it's impossible for them to have any emotional resonance.

Going into this volume, I already knew what happened at the end, and while sad, it didn't actually make me feel sad.  Intellectually, I knew, "Well, that sucks.  Sadness."  Emotionally, I said, "Meh.  Fables return.  Wait a few volumes."

As I mentioned, the main issue with this is that we have a lot of storylines going on and not enough space in which to expand upon them.  A good chunk of the book (maybe a third?) is spent wrapping up Bufkin's story in Oz.  There's a revolution and blood and weird body morphing and pumpkinheads and ... stuff.  I just ...

Finally, we meander back to the main story arc, wherein Briar Rose spends several pages talking to Bigby about her magical car that runs on the blood of the innocent, and since Bigby can't drive, Stinky goes with him.  They're off to look for the cubs who disappeared during Cubs in Toyland (Therese and Dare).  

Then THEN Prince Brandish, who is Snow White's sort-of first husband (I guess making a vow to marry someone is like actually getting married, according to Fable law), turns Grimble into a bluebird  (as you do), and kidnaps Snow White, locking her in a tower and verbally assaulting her with the most hideous mélange of misogyny and just plain vileness that I've heard since the last Gamergate tweet.  Meanwhile, Rose and Cole are running around like "Ahhhhh," which, really doesn't help things, thanks, and Leigh Duglas is enjoying herself immensely.

Meanwhile, Beast is trying to figure out how not to become slave to the Blue Fairy for an impossibly long time (confession: I do not remember why this would happen but I do know it has to do with her beef with Gepetto.  Personally I'd just tell her to take him away, but...).  He actually pulls off a rather clever stunt, but the appearance of the Lady of the Lake is rather foreboding, although she mostly just wants to talk wine vintages.  

Something's up with Brandish and Snow where anything that hurts him hurts her as well.  I must have completely forgotten that from a previous volume, or maybe some of my pages were stuck together.   That was tossed in there just to make the situation even hairier.

I was quite disappointed in the final fight scene as well, because it was chaotic in a bad way.  I had no idea what was going on.  Figures moved from top to bottom to side to top in successive panels.  I suppose this denotes "quick movement" but it just looked like every third panel was missing.  The ending itself was horribly anticlimactic.  

Look, I do really enjoy the Fables series and universe (I may be the only person on the face of the mundy Earth who actually enjoyed Jack of Fables), but this was not the strongest volume, and it should have been much better, given the type of impact it was supposed to have on its readers.  If you read Fairest as well, you already know what happens in Snow White, so I would say just skip it or maybe read the last few pages just to say you saw it for yourself.

A deflated balloon in an otherwise fun and intelligent series.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What I'm Reading Wednesday

I'm down to the wire on The Count of Monte Cristo, and it is a serious page-burner-turner.  In addition to that, I'm currently reading:

Erak's Ransom (Ranger's Apprentice, Book 7) I love these books.  They're the sort of comfy-cozy quasi-fantasy adventure books that make me feel at home.

The Prey by Tom Isbell.  I requested this from NetGalley because "Oooh!  Pretty cover with laser beams!" and then I started it and felt mildly bemused.  Then I checked Goodreads and as of today, it has an average 2.10 star rating.  Ouch.  It's not the worst thing I've ever read, but it's really the "prose" that kills it.  Wondering how much farther I can make it in search of fun quotes.

The Storyspinner by Becky Wallace.  Right now I'm like "Hmmmmmmmmmmm."  And that is my only thought.

I started Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn a few nights ago.  The first few chapters were exceedingly intriguing!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Blogging, Security, and All That Jazz

"I ate a lot of candy and engaged in some light stalking."

By now, I feel like everyone in the book blogging world has heard about this, and I wish even more people knew.  This isn't just a writer problem, or a blogger problem, or a book problem, but a fundamental human problem.  

I'm talking about Kathleen Hale's obsession with a Goodreads user and book blogger who gave the book a one-star rating.  Hale's account of this can be found here if you haven't already read it (don't worry, I used donotlink so you don't give The Guardian any more hits).  I came across the original article thanks to someone I follow on Twitter.  There I was, early Saturday morning shift, checking the social media channels and book blogs that I use to keep myself updated on teen books, and wham.  As I read the article, I just kept saying to myself, "This can't be real.  Why was this even published?"

I recognized the author as a relatively local author (one from my state--who lives less than an hour away from me) because I try to keep a list of authors I could possibly contact for future teen programs at the library.  It's easier to convince someone who lives an hour or an hour and a half away to trek to your library than someone who lives in, say, San Diego.  Dude, if you live in San Diego, stay there and do not come to Wisconsin.

I mention this because a lot of the issues brought up in Hale's article can be either refuted or confirmed just by looking at Wisconsin State Law.  Caveat: I am not a lawyer, but I am a librarian!  Hale says that Blythe, the blogger in question, was "catfishing" her.  "Catfishing" very specifically refers to assuming an online persona in order to pursue a romantic or emotional relationship with someone on false pretenses.  Hale conflates writing reviews and blogging under a pseudonym with catfishing.  For this to be catfishing, Blythe would have had to pursue some sort of relationship with Hale.  The article shows that the opposite started to occur: Hale became emotionally involved with Blythe and her life, even admitting that she still checks her Twitter to see if Blythe ever responded to a private message.  

One of the criticisms Blythe had of Hale's book was that had an insensitive portrayal of rape.  In her piece, Hale muses, "But there isn't rape in my book."  I do not own the book, nor have I read it, but numerous readers have confirmed that the sixteen year old protagonist of the book has a sexual encounter with a man who is almost fifty.  In Wisconsin, that is statutory rape.  The author doesn't even seem to realize that she wrote a statutory rape scene.  Worse, if she does, then she doesn't think that statutory rape is rape.  Listen: rape is rape is rape.  No ifs ands or buts.  

Hale also visited a website called Stop the Goodreads Bullies (STGRB) which has infamously divulged book reviewers' personal information (addresses, phone numbers, real names) and called on other to harass those "bullies."  Look at your name: stop bullies.  Look at what you're doing: bullying.  I don't disagree that some people on Goodreads take things way beyond what's necessary; but doxxing someone (divulging their personal information) is neither appropriate or mature.  

Many bloggers who write much more eloquently than I do have explained the issues with this whole situation succinctly and powerfully.  I just wanted to point out that per Wisconsin State Law on stalking: " 'Course of conduct' means a series of 2 or more acts carried out over time, however short or long, that show a continuity of purpose, including any of the following:

1.  Maintaining a visual or physical proximity to the victim.

2. Approaching or confronting the victim.

3. Appearing at the victims workplace or contacting the victims employer or coworkers.

4. Appearing at the victims home or contacting the victims neighbors.

5. Entering property owned, leased, or occupied by the victim.

6. Contacting the victim by telephone or causing the victims telephone or any other persons telephone to ring repeatedly or continuously, regardless of whether a conversation ensues.

6m. Photographing, videotaping, audio taping, or, through any 
other electronic means, monitoring or recording the activities of the victim. This subdivision applies regardless of where the act occurs.

7. Sending material by any means to the victim or, for the purpose of obtaining information about, disseminating information about, or communicating with the victim, to a member of the victims family or household or an employer, coworker, or friend of the victim.

8.  Placing an object on or delivering an object to property owned, leased, or occupied by the victim.

9.  Delivering an object to a member of the victims family or household or an employer, coworker, or friend of the victim or placing an object on, or delivering an object to, property owned, leased, or occupied by such a person with the intent that the object be delivered to the victim.

10. Causing a person to engage in any of the acts described in subds. 1. to 9."

Very interesting.

 I spent the past few days telling myself that this was a scary situation, but that I wasn't scared.  But when I sat down to write this blog post, I realized that I am scared, and that makes me very, very angry.  I shouldn't have to worry that someone is going to obsessively follow my Instagram photos (mostly dorky selfies or pictures of books), or my tweets, or my Facebook posts, or anything, just because I didn't like his or her book.  I don't use a pseudonym when I blog or write reviews, mostly because I'm not coordinated to consistently use another name.  Also, my pseudonyms are exceedingly silly or obscure.  Since I am a public employee, I know that my records can be requested by someone in the community.  This is the career I've chosen and I'm okay with that.  But that is my job.  Reviewing and blogging are hobbies.

Finally, I want to point out that I honestly don't understand the obsession with this particular blogger in the first place, or even with her review.  I write a lot of negative reviews, but they are negative reviews of the book, not of the person.  They are book reviews, not author reviews.  Heck, I've written negative reviews of books written by authors of whom I think highly.  Proper book reviews do not resort to ad hominem attacks, and as far as I could tell, Blythe's review was solely about the book.  Just because she cursed in her review does not negate the validity of it, either.

I still can't believe that The Guardian published this, as it is a stamp of tacit approval of the author's behavior.

Some bloggers feel threatened enough or wary enough that they are considering ceasing their blogging activity.  Please don't go.  Readers need bloggers.  Librarians need bloggers.  We need opinions, negative and positive.  A world without negative opinions is a world of self-censorship.

My apologies for the rambling nature of my post.  I still feel befuddled, bewildered, and just plain angry.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Mini Review of Princess of Thorns

I managed a whopping 9% of this before I gave up ... well, I had to read the ending first, right?

This book and I just didn't get along.  A lot of other people loved it, so maybe I'm just really harsh.  Sometimes, though, harshness must be the way of the librarian, because the librarian has eleventy-billion books to read, and many must be ruthlessly culled.

From the title, you'd guess it's a retelling of Sleeping Beauty.  Well, sort of.  Here's the lowdown: the Sleeping Beauty was awakened by a guy named Stephen who was already married (okay, so that's better than one of the original tellings where she was only awakened by childbirth because the prince had raped her in her sleep instead).  Stevie kept his two wives separate because his first wife was barren and his own stepmother was an ogre.  Rose and her twins, Jor and Aurora, are kind of randomly sentenced to death by the ogre queen, but not before Rose bestows a fairy gift on Aurora.  This part was weird, because Sleeping Beauty received fairy gifts, but was not herself a fairy, so how could she give Aurora a gift?  Anyway, fast forward, and Aurora is masquerading as a boy while Jor lives on the other side of the world.  They can never meet because then ... Bad Things Will Happen or something.  I don't even know.  Prince Niklaas, also of a cursed family, comes along and frees her from some bandit-type people, all the while thinking she is her brother Jor.  We all know what will happen: they will have adventures and she will reveal that she is a girl but they will be in love and they will defeat the ogre queen yay!

At least I'm pretty sure that's what happens.  I didn't get that far.  I do know that the love story is a definite go, however.  It was my utter misfortune to happen upon this line near the end of the book: "Niklaas and I set about deflowering each other with as much tender enthusiasm as I had expected."  "Deflowering each other?"  Girl, what?  That sentence is just all kinds of weird.  Ew.  That is the least romantic, least alluring, least ... anything positive description I could have read about that experience.

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Day of the Locust

About a year ago, I purchased Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust as a Kindle twofer.  I read Miss Lonelyhearts a few months back, and finally got around to reading the longer novel.  Many people love The Day of the Locust, while an equally large group does not.  I'm in the latter group.

When it comes to certain novels, I always wonder if people love it for the sake of saying they love it. There's a certain cachet that comes with tossing out references to slightly-obscure yet classic novels. It doesn't mean they have to be enjoyable or even coherent.

As I think about the premise of The Day of the Locust, I feel strongly that I should have liked it.  The setting, the characters, the premise--everything is there that I would like.  It's a bit noir meets Russian novel meets existentialism.  The novel tells the story of the sycophants surrounding a drop-dead gorgeous 17 year old girl named Faye.  Faye Greening lives in Los Angeles, wants to be an actress, enjoys messing around with men, and briefly becomes a prostitute in order to pay for her father's funeral.  As you do.  The reader mainly sees the story through the eyes of Tod Hackett, an artist working as a set dresser in Hollywood whilst working on his next big painting.  He's obsessed with Faye.

Here is a list of other people obsessed with Faye:

Homer Simpson (yes!): A simple, deliberate man from the Plains who moved to California for his health.  The author is obsessed with Homer's large hands and their disconnectedness from the rest of Homer's body.  I'm sure many theses have been written on the symbolism of Homer's hands, but I interpreted the inertness and heaviness of these usually dextrous body parts to represent Homer's impotence and inability to seize what he wants.

Claude Estee: A screenwriter to whom I do not remember being introduced in the narrative.  It happened (probably), but it wasn't memorable.  Or rather, Claude wasn't memorable.

Earle Shoop: The fake cowboy who is very, very, very tall and wears a ten-gallon hat.  He is also very boring.

Miguel: A Mexican cockfighter who ends up living in Homer's garage.

Abe Kusich: A bookie, criminal, and dwarf who is foul-tempered, foul-mouthed, and serves little purpose in the narrative.

Faye herself.  Noteworthy things about Faye include platinum hair, a habit of running her tongue over her lips, and her breasts that were not small, but "placed wide apart and their thrust was upward and outward."  This seems to be an important detail because later, Tod imagines Faye looking at the stars and her breasts pointing up.  So, just in case you missed it, the femme fatale possesses a levitating bosom.  I'm sure this is also some sort of strange metaphor for her personality but I seriously cannot be bothered with psychoanalyzing the author's description of Faye's breasts.  For pete's sake, all ladies have breasts and they all look different.

Bringing all of these odd characters together could have made for an interesting story, but it's really a slow, sad plodding through the inevitable tragedy and breakdown of the most likable and innocent character.

Well, it's slow and sad except for the horribly violent parts, like the stomach-churning cockfight scene.  Or how about Tod's attitude toward Faye: "Nothing less than rape would do.  The sensation he felt was like that he got when holding an egg in his hand.  Not that she was fragile or even seemed fragile.  It wasn't that.  It was her completeness, her egglike self-sufficiency, that made him want to crush her."  Oh goody.  Rape.  Tod has rape fantasies about Faye often, and this seems completely reasonable to him.  I had to reread that paragraph because I couldn't quite believe it the first time around.  This is insupportable and inexcusable thinking.

I didn't find the prose to be particularly inspired, either.  One serious clunker actually made me laugh, even though it's not funny.  After Faye starts working as a call girl, Tod confronts her and yells at her about it (but also wants to rape her???).  Later, it's stated that "she wasn't angry, but grateful for his lecture on venereal disease."  Is this some sort of joke?  Other reviewers have talked about the humor of this book.  If all of what's bothering me is sarcasm, it's in poor taste and so heavily veiled that it's practically wearing blackout curtains.

The final scene, which involves a rather nonsensical riot, did impress me with West's ability to create a sense of claustrophobia and helplessness in the face of mindless madness.  I felt as if I were being borne along and crushed by this maddened crowd along with Tod.

Hollywood is the enemy here, and I felt that West was trying to do to Hollywood what Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby did for tony New York society, with one vital difference: Gatsby was infinitely better.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

45 Pounds (More or Less)

I'm so torn about this book.  Objectively, I can say that it's an important book to have in a library collection.  Let's start from there.

Ann's tried every diet in the book, and then some.  Whatever she's lost, she's regained.  It's time to buy a new swimsuit and everything is too stringy or too revealing or it doesn't even come in her size. She's a size seventeen and sixteen years old.

Ann's mother seems effortlessly slim, and constantly berates Ann for her height and eating habits.  K.A. Barton does a good job of examining how a mother's perception of herself passes to her children--to Ann, and to her younger daughter Libby.  For example, when pregnant with twins, "she shrieked about how she had never worn a medium in her life and referred to herself as a cow.  Ever since then, I've removed all the size tags from my clothes."  I'll get into Ann and her mom later.

The general plot is that Ann's aunt is getting married to her partner, and they ask Ann to be a bridesmaid.  None of the nice dresses fit, and Ann resolves to lose 45 pounds (hence the title) by the time of the wedding.  She sees an infomercial for a diet program on TV while she's staying at her Grandma's house (fun fact: her grandmother calls everyone "fat*ss," which Ann brushes off.  "Gram calls pretty much everyone fat *ss, especially those she doesn't know or like.  (Never me or anyone else she loves)."  Ann, honey, your grandmother is equating being fat with being worthless, unlikeable, or stupid.  I don't care if it's her "quirkiness" coming out.  It's not the innocent thing you pretend it is.

Okay, veering back on course(-ish) here: Ann purchases the diet system, but of course there's a loophole that means that she has to pay a lot more for her prepackaged meals than she thought.  Time to get a job.  She applies at Snapz! (yes, the exclamation point is part of the name.  Last time I saw punctuation used like that in a store name was dELIA*s, but whatever), but since she can't fit into the largest size they have and all employees have to wear Snapz! clothes, it's a no-go.  However, she does get a job at the Twisted Pretzel, where she starts hanging out with the most normal of the Cool Girls at her school, Raynee.  The Cool Girls are called the Knees, by the way.

Actually, it turns out Raynee is a decent human being, and she doesn't fit in with the nasty other Knees as much as Ann thought.  Raynee makes her own clothes--or alters them, at least, and has a serious case of Personal Style.  She doesn't care about Ann's weight or make comments about it.  I liked Raynee a lot--she's not the kind of backstabber I thought she would be.  That role is delegated to pretty much every other female in Ann's life.

Like her step-grandmother (is that even a thing? Her stepdad's mom.) Regina.

There is no way that that wasn't intentional.  Sorry for the double negative, English teachers.  Regina is sort of like Cruella De Vil, but without the fur addiction.  She's just insanely mean.  Coming in a close second is Ann's own mom, who constantly fat-shames her and tsk-tsks what Ann eats, which makes Ann upset, which means she eats even more to feel better.  Ann's ex-best friend, Raynee's co-Knees, and even Gram, to an extent, are all hyper-conscious of Ann's weight and they treat her like poo.  

So Ann starts this new diet system revolution! and starts losing weight.  Although she takes a few of the metabolism pills, she doesn't like the way they make her feel and she stops.  The food tastes like cardboard or worse than cardboard, but she continues on as her mother makes perfect meals for the whole family but then barely partakes of them herself.  At these meals, Ann begins to notice something odd: her little sister Libby mimics Mom's behavior.  She'll push aside her food and say she just can't eat another bite.  Or she'll tell her dolls that they're "too fat."  Ann resolves to stop the extreme dieting and just live more healthily and teach that to her sister.  

There's also a mild love story here, with a guy who's just a normal guy that Ann finds attractive.  It's not the Hollywood scenario of Totally Hot Dude falls for Normal Girl and Normal Girl is actually a Hottie In Disguise.  

All of the peripherals make this a rather nice YA read.  But I had some problems with it.  Those problems may not even stem from the book itself, but from my own mind.  The book is too tidy and neat when it discusses Ann's weight.  No, she doesn't lose the 45 pounds, but she does realize that she is an emotional eater and that the focus she be on being healthy and not being thin.  That's great--but someone who's struggled with disordered eating probably wouldn't come to that conclusion and put it into practice within a few weeks.  That's the thing with disordered eating: you know it's wrong, you know why it's wrong, but it's just so hard to stop.  I know.

So don't yell at me that I have thin privilege and can't discuss this book.  In society right now, I do have thin privilege.  But I also understand, to a good extent, Ann's dilemma.  When I was in high school, I ate whatever I wanted.  I don't necessarily think I ate copious amounts of food (I've never eaten a whole pan of brownies, for instance, or two value meals, super-sized), but I did eat things that didn't nourish my body properly.  I vividly remember eating powdered Kool-Aid out of a tub because it was sour and sour is my favorite flavor.  I also didn't exercise, mostly because I was embarrassed that I wasn't the same lithe, tan figure as most of the other girls in my class.  Sure, I did dance, but outside of school, all I had time for was homework and A&E book adaptation marathons (back when A&E was, you know, informative).  I won't put numbers here, because I find that triggering, but let's just say I wasn't as heavy as Ann, but I was much heavier than was healthy.  

As a senior, I made a conscious decision to work out regularly and eat more balanced meals.  I did this with my dad, which really helped a lot.  I got stronger and could move around faster and found that I could enjoy my food without tons of frosting or cheese dip.  When I hit college, though, I felt like the only thing I could control was my weight.  So I controlled it.  Technically, I wasn't bulimic, because I didn't binge, and I wasn't anorexic, because I never suffered amenorrhea.  I had EDNOS--eating disorder not otherwise defined.  I'd have a nonfat sugar free latte from the local campus coffee roasters (NOT Starbucks), throw it up, and then go do modern dance for two hours.  I was sick and scared and ashamed.

With a lot of help, I stopped the dangerous behaviors, and now I make conscious decisions not to label foods as "bad" or "fat" (I do have a jar of bacon fat in my fridge, as would any good German girl), but it's really, really, really hard.  I'll never say that I "recovered" from an eating disorder, or that I'm cured.  The thought patterns that the disorder creates never leave.  In the back of my mind, they're always there, circling like sharks and waiting for me to falter while I try to keep my head above water.  This, too, is good: the realization that I have to keep fighting my crazy brain.  If I thought I was "cured," I might not notice if these sharks slide into my mind and eat my sanity (or what's left of it).  I know my triggers, and usually books don't bother me that much.  I think Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls is an extraordinary book, and it really helped me keep my resolve to think of these behaviors as deadly and not as an aid to being skinny.  Other girls and guys, however, might find detailed descriptions of disordered behaviors triggering.

I was really excited about 45 Pounds (More or Less).  Ann is a fun girl.  Pretty much everyone at school likes her--she's not a pariah by any means.  She's weathered a ton of family problems, and she is resilient.  But I found that her account of checking the scale and eating the meals and exercising made me feel inadequate.  I started thinking, "Maybe I'm not eating healthily enough.  Ann probably eats better than I do.  At least she runs.  I'm not a runner," and I almost didn't finish the book.  As someone who restricted like Ann's mother, I started to rationalize her behavior before I realized that my reasoning was quickly becoming unhealthy.  I ended up skimming passages about weight just to get to the end.  Plus, I was on a plane while reading this, so it wasn't like I could get up and clear my head.  Trapped in a tiny seat at 30,000 feet is not the ideal place to have a minor mental crisis.

To be clear: I don't blame the book at all for how I reacted.  I just want people to know that it is a possibility that you'll feel this way, even just a little bit.  I understood Ann's mom and I understood Ann's determination to lose weight.  I just don't think that her sudden switch from disordered eating to acceptance would have plausibly happened so quickly.  

So now you know more about me than a lot of people do.  But know this, too: I want girls of every size and color in novels.  I want to read about all of them because they are all important.  I don't want any girl to feel self-conscious about her body.  I don't care what your body looks like.  Fighting my own messy thoughts has led me to fight against the statements and behaviors that teach girls and boys that they have to think and act this way in order to be thin.  

After all of that, I suppose this means the book succeeded.  It made me think and it made me hurt.  The prose could have been a bit snappier, and the secondary characters less cardboard cutout-y, but overall, this is a very important book to have in any library collection.  You might love it or hate it, but you'll think about it.  And that is a very good thing indeed.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

I like water. I also like books. This is dangerous.

This is probably not the best thing to confess as a librarian, but I've messed up my fair share of books by getting them wet.

Clutch your pearls. Are they clutched tightly? Are you looking at me in an incredulous and disapproving manner?  Okay! That's what I expected.

I'm not advocating spilling water on your books.  I've seen far too many waterlogged books grow blue or pink mold in a day to go so far.  However, all of my beverage containers seem to have a curious fault: when I place them in a bag by themselves, not a leak to be seen.  In a bag with a book, and suddenly the seal is broken and the book is wet.  I try to keep them separate for this reason, but when traveling, it's not always possible.  That is how on my recent vacation I managed to warp two separate books (one on each flight).

These imperfections, however, mark them as mine (and often they must become mine if I do it to a library book).  Kazuo Ishiguro's Haruki Murakami's (my brain is not working, whoops) Underground fell victim to a leaky tupperware container of curtido.  Bastion and The Mill on the Floss suffered war wounds due to the need to remain hydrated while flying.  Abaddon's Gate has a wonderfully artistic coffee stain, but my most treasured book is also my worst-looking book: Pride and Prejudice.  It's coming time to read it again, but I've read it so many times already that the forest green spine is white with wear.  When I was in high school, I'd leave it next to my bed, and in my nighttime flailing, knock my water glass off of the side table and onto the book.  It's swelled to twice its original size, but I still know where to find my favorite quotes on each page.  It is truly one of the saddest looking books I've ever seen, but it is a loved book.  That's the best kind.

Monday, October 13, 2014


It's a Valdemar novel.  Of course I'm going to read it.

But I just spent half an hour attempting to write a positive review.  In vain I have struggled; it will not do.  You must allow me to confess that I did not particularly love this book.

I couldn't write that glowing review because it wasn't the truth, no matter how much I wanted it to be so.

Enjoying the experience of reading a book can occur simultaneously with not particularly loving the book.  That was my experience with Bastion.  Pretty much anything Lackey writes in the Valdemar universe makes me happy.  I love the concept and the expanding mythology and many of the reappearing characters.  And for a horse fanatic like me (although I've toned it down a lot since my elementary school days), the idea of Companions (not-horses-but-better) being bonded with humans takes the cake.

It's a mildly frightening experience to attempt to review a book and all I can come with was, "Ehhh ... meh.  Fine."  That's not a helpful review, but if you read no further, that is an apt description of my feelings for Bastion.

Several years ago, I picked up the first book in the Collegium Chronicles at work (aka the library).  I'd vaguely heard of this author (oh, how young I was in the ways of booklandia), and I knew one of my coworkers was a big fan, so I started reading it.  And I loved it.  Impatient for the next book to release, I began devouring Lackey's other Valdemar books, along the way developing a serious bookcrush on Herald Alberich (so scarred, so harsh, so dreamy).  And each time a new Collegium book appeared, I'd read it and think, "Hmm, so tell me more about the actual founding of the Collegium."  The series title is really misleading, although it does have more of a ring to it than The Slave-Herald Chronicles or The Magsisterium.  If you go into this series realizing that really only the first book talks about the founding of the Collegium, and the rest is about Mags and spy craft, you'll be aces.

As other reviewers have expressed, this series could have definitely been condensed into a trilogy.  Cutting out the miles of kirball (think polo meets capture the flag, but with Mindspeech) descriptions, which sent me into this charming physical state:

would really have slimmed the books down a good deal.  I did like Mags a good deal, since he never felt prideful or overconfident, which happens to so many fantasy heroes.  The supporting characters, like Bear the Healer, Lena the Bard, and Amily, daughter of the King's Own* and spymaster sub rosa, are all nicely drawn and have their own struggles with which to contend.  Unfortunately, Bastion either turns them into completely different characters or just ignores them.

Amily suddenly becomes an archery genius and fighting dervish, while Bear and Lena mostly want to have the sexytimes all the time.  Bear's genius with herbs and medicines pops up a few times, and Lena's Bardic abilities play a mildly useful role, but they're nowhere near the characters they were.

Then there's the plot.  Mags has just been rescued (okay, he escaped and dragged himself across the Karsite border) from two Mysterious Assassins who speak a Mysterious Tongue and use potions and rituals to try and convince Mags that he is one of them.  Mags doesn't know why they've kidnapped him or care about him at all, but he does know that now that he's escaped, they're going to come and get him.  And they'll probably do so by attacking his friends or his girlfriend Amily.  The Collegium masters recognize this as well (finally, some common sense!) so they create this elaborate scheme to send Mags and Herald Jakyr (the one who originally rescued Mags from the mine) on circuit with Bear, Lena, and Amily stuffed into a caravan.  They'll set up camp at The Bastion, a remote series of tunnels that recently housed the bandits who kidnapped Mags, and coincidentally enough, the place where Mags' parents died.

Traveling shenanigans ensue, Mags meets An Important But Probably Untrustworthy Person Who Can Explain His Past, and there is a very compressed epic battle scene.  

Actually, I found out Lackey is going to be further following Mags' career as a Spy-Herald and I did rejoice!  We are done with the backstory and back to the devious plotting, which I like a good deal.  Lackey really takes her time when she's describing setting up a cover and changing disguises and so forth.  Unfortunately, this book had to be rushed off first to tie up the loose ends of the previous four (which could have been dealt with in a novella, but whatever).  

I don't regret reading Bastion, but I am disappointed in it.  The mere fact that it was a Valdemar book meant that I was entertained, but at the same time, I could pinpoint the flaws in it.  It's completely possible to enjoy the reading experience while intellectually noting the writing flaws.  I call this kind of book a "popcorn book" like a popcorn summer blockbuster.  Lackey's novels aren't usually popcorn, and I hope that with the next books, she gets back on track.  

*If at this point, all of this jargon is confusing, go read Arrows of the Queen, and then let's talk.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Rebel Scum!

When I was younger, I wanted a t-shirt or mug or something with "Rebel Scum" on it.  I never purchased anything, because I didn't know where I would wear it or use it.  Clearly, I didn't foresee becoming a librarian, which means I am also a full-time geek.

Yeah, of course I want the rebels to win.  I want to be a Jedi.  But you have to admit that the Empire has some seriously good graphic design.  Stormtrooper style is iconic, and well, Darth Vader.  Instantly recognizable.  You don't know the power of the Dark Side of the Force!

So what does all this gibberish have to do with a book about sort-of-but-not-really zombies?  Well, not much.  It involves rebels ... although these rebels are not fighting a totalitarian Galactic Empire.  No, they're fighting something much scarier: other humans.

In Reboot, Amy Tintera introduced us to Wren 178.  The number stands for the number of hours she was dead before she Rebooted.  In the not-so-distant future, mankind will become infected by a virus. For some, it's lethal.  For others--especially children and teens--it restores them to life after death, making them practically superhuman.  Like your usual zombie (is there such a thing), the are Rules for Rebooting: not everyone Reboots.  The longer you are dead before Rebooting, the stronger and more detached of a Reboot you'll be.  Reboots can only be killed by a head shot or decapitation.  They all have the same color eyes and regenerate at a ridiculously fast rate.

I'm tired after all that info-dumping.  Sorry for that.  Anyway, Wren has the highest Reboot number in her HARC (Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation)training camp--maybe in all of the Republic of Texas.  When she's assigned to train Callum, a lowly double-digit Reboot, she's irritated.  She doesn't think she's human anymore, but their mutual attraction proves otherwise.  This was a YA romance that I didn't mind, strangely.  It was a bit fast but it made sense.

In Rebel, Wren, Callum, and a horde of Reboots from Austin have broken out of the facility, crossed into the desert, and found the Reboots living out there.  Wren and Callum quickly discover that Micah, leader of the free Reboots, is a megalomaniac at best.  His idea of the perfect world is to just get rid of all the humans.  After all, doesn't the Reboot virus create better humans?  Humans who are stronger and smarter than their non-Rebooted kin?  Isn't this natural selection in action?  Wren's logic tells her that Micah's plan makes sense, but the heart that Callum proved that she has feels uneasy.

Unfortunately, I didn't like Rebel as much as I liked Reboot, but it was a good conclusion to this duology.  In Reboot, the plot was twisty and full of monkey wrenches.  Readers of Rebel can pretty much guess the main plot and how everything is going to end up.  The action scenes in the second half of the book could get a bit confusing, with people going between old and new versions of cities in Texas (pre- and post-war cities), people getting captured, escaping, captured by other people, more escaping, breaking in, breaking out--it was exhausting.

I liked that Tintera chose to alternate chapters between Callum and Wren.  Their perspectives on things are often diametrically opposed, so it's interesting to view a decision or a problem from their respective viewpoints.  Callum is a lot more fleshed out in this one as well--he's a strategist.  In a fun twist on the girl-and-guy action-adventure, Callum is the brains and Wren is the brawn.

Tintera brings up a lot of good thinking points about humanity, loyalty, and what it means to be alive. If humans now cannot live in peace with other humans just because their skin color is different, what would happen if a virus created a whole new subset of humanity?  Are they still really human after having been dead?  How much did the virus change them?  Are they simply tools for humans to use, or do they have self-determination?  That's a lot of Big Questions to consider, and in the end of Rebel, no one's figured out the perfect answer.  Which is just as it would be.

However, this is a solid zombie-esque thriller for teens that (praise be!) doesn't have a love triangle and features a strong female protagonist.

So, if I were to totally stretch my Star Wars metaphor, regular humans would be like the Empire, in that they want to maintain total control and create an army of Reboot Stormtroopers to hunt down Rebel humans and Rebel Reboots.  Guess who wins?

Friday, October 10, 2014

I have returned! However...

...I'm pretty sure the battery's shot on my laptop.  Please, let it only be that.

On the upside, I finished three books during my plane ride!  I should fly more often if it means I'll tear through the books like that!  Reviews to come, pending diagnosis of my poor laptop.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Steve Perry won't stop singing in my head

...because I'm off to San Francisco!  Whoaaa oooh whooa whoaa-ooh-whoa!

No posts for a week, unless I sally forth into the dangerous and strange land of blogging from my phone. Which, being the slight workaholic that I am, may happen. 

Time to finish all the ARCs I have on my kindle. 

"I am most seriously displeased."

In my life, I consciously attempt to channel Elizabeth Bennet over Lady Catherine de Bourgh, but in certain situations, Lady Catherine's snarky, tactless, and overbearing statements just feel right.  I've been having a really horrid week, and the books I've finished haven't improved my mood.

I should just stop looking forward to books.  The ones I wish were amazing end up being meh ... or worse, bad.  The latest to fall from grace?  The Wake by Scott Snyder.  And so it goes.

Because I am cheap, forgetful, and work someplace where I can get trade paperbacks of graphic novel or comic runs for free (library, hello), I generally wait for volumes to come out before I read the comics.  I'm a pretty big fan of Snyder's American Vampire series, and although Batman isn't one of my favorite superheroes, Snyder does have me reading the New 52 Batman.  That's no small feat.  I do prefer it when he writes horror, however, so I was really looking forward to The Wake.  I wanted to keep my mind free of any influences, so I didn't read about it as it was being published.  I went into the bound volume knowing the title and the author.  That's it.

From the first few panels, I had a feeling something was up.  There was that uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.  One of our main characters, Leeward, swoops through an abandoned city on a hanglider.  Some of the moves she pulls off made me question whether it was windpowered or steampowered or what.  Her buddy Dash is a super-dolphin wearing a backpack, and they must escape a giant wave that sweeps through an abandoned city.

Cue flashback.

Oh, okay.  Things are looking up.  Secret mission for single mom scientist Lee Archer?  Strange whale noises?  KILLER MERPEOPLE?  I'll go with it, although my brain keeps going here:

"Mer-MAN!  Mer-MAN!"

The pace moves along at a nice clip until we hit Part Two, which is a bit like riding a bicycle into a brick wall.  I have not personally experienced this, in case you were worried.  I'm just using my imagination.

In Part Two, our plucky future heroine gets captured, escapes, finds some pirates led by a dude who looks like Jack Sparrow but with more prostheses, dumps the pirates, and discovers Big Answers to Big Questions about Who We Are As Humans etc. etc.  It's kind of a 180-degree turn from the conspiracy/alien invasion tone of the first part, which was pretty fun, although not without its faults.  The fault, dear Brutus, lies in the art.  I didn't like it.

The female characters all looked the same, and a lot of the male characters had facial features that were so exaggerated that I couldn't tell whether it was supposed to be some sort of future plastic surgery or if Sean Murphy thinks men's jawlines actually look that way.  The evil merpeople had potential, but a lot of the fight scenes were really scritchy (the only word I can think of, sorry!) in that the lines feel hasty, not full of movement.  My eye didn't know where to look and so it was like this blob of merpeople randomly biting human people.

Well, actually, it's not just the art.  It's the giant pile of unanswered questions left at the end.  Like what's up with Dash and his fellow enhanced whale-buddies running commando missions?  Why does he understand English?  Why do the pirates ride around in a giant merman?  Is it a dead one or a fake one?  Why is there so much running in the first part of the book when there's really nowhere to go?  And if someone could explain the eye thing to me, I'd be really grateful.

This was just overwhelmingly underwhelming, which makes me very sad.  Maybe next time, guys.

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.