Wednesday, August 31, 2016

What I'm Reading Wednesday: The "What Is She Thinking?!?" Edition

This post amply illustrates why buffets are a horrible idea for me.  I must have some of everything.  Must.  Have.  Everything.

I haven't actively read Les Misérables in ... a while, but I have actively thought about it.  That has to count for something.

Ever the Hunted by Erin Summerill: This is ... okay.  It has a gorgeous cover, though.  I really wanted to love this, and I still have that chance, but things are going to have to hustle through a major turnaround.

Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan: I'm listening to this on audiobook.  The audiobook ... I have Thoughts about it.  The story is wonderful but overlong when being listened to.

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor:  I started this a few hours before the Hugo winners were revealed.  It's utterly fascinating and now I have an odd desire to visit Lagos.

Max by Sarah Cohen-Scali: Yes.  That is a Nazi fetus.  Yes, it's as terrifying as you would think.

And The Trees Crept In by Dawn Kurtagich: This is what I was hoping The Mark of Cain would be.  Ultra-classic old-British-house-of-death horror.  Yum.

Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King:  I am savoring this.

Hoodoo by Ronald L. Smith:  Exceedingly delightful and with a strong sense of place.  I haven't gotten to the creepy bits yet, but I've been assured they are there.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

ARC August: Iron Cast

After the end of the Great War, the entire world was in turmoil.  Everything we thought we knew as a society had been upended.  Boys mown down with automatic weapons, faces burned off with poisonous gas, young people struck down with the Spanish Influenza while the elderly survived.  The world went completely topsy-turvy, and so it's no wonder that logic took a break from society as well.  The passage of Prohibition isn't something that the Founding Fathers saw coming, I'm sure.  But the legislation to make hemopathy--magic from the blood--illegal?  Well, that goes right along with the nation's history of intolerance and fear.

But wait--magic isn't real.

Is it?

Welcome to an alternate version of 1919, one in which girls still bob their hair, the rich and famous still get their kicks slumming it, and some people perform illusions because their blood is different.

Don't worry--the magic performed by hemopaths has nothing to do with the whole sacrifice-a-virgin-on-an-altar type of blood magic that you might expect.  This is something special from inside each hemopath that still mystifies the science of the day.

But even in this atmosphere of gin, jazz, and magic, Iron Cast pulls off a rare feat: the friendship between the two main female characters, Ada and Corinne, pushes any display of magic to the side with its strength, authenticity, and power.  I long for a friendship like theirs, forged in the midst of mistrust and fear, but now stronger than anything, even the iron used to break and torture hemopaths.  Even better is the fact that neither girl gives a fig about the other's skin color.  Ada's mother is from Kenya, and her father, currently wrongfully imprisoned, is Portuguese.  Corinne's family is white and blue-blooded, living in an austere mansion and concerned with the oh-so-important task of keeping the family name untarnished.  And while Corinne recognizes the prejudice society has against her best friend, that doesn't mean that she buys into it.  No way.  Corinne and Ada are a magical machine by night, and an experienced con artist team by day.

What?  A girl's gotta make a living.  And why not charm idiot politicians into thinking that there's a bridge simply teeming with elephants in the middle of the day?  Why not steal from the rich to distribute among the poor and oppressed?  Besides, it's a heck of a lot of fun messing with the minds of their marks.

Cor and Ada live at the Cast Iron, a club that provides hemopathic entertainment sub rosa, since the consumption of hemopathy by non-hemopaths is now illegal.  They're under the protection of Johnny Dervish, one of the two main players in underground entertainment.  But not even Johnny Dervish can keep the cops from arresting hemopaths and taking them to a special asylum.  When one of Johnny's men is killed, tensions in the underbelly of the city stretch to their breaking point, and Corinne and Ada must discover the murderer before all-out war erupts.  In addition, they have to stay one step ahead of the cops, out of the asylum, and away from their families.

Fresh from her stint in the asylum, Ada isn't willing to trust their friend Saint, a talented artist who broke during police questioning and turned stool pigeon.  Gabriel, Johnny's newest hired muscle, seems earnest enough, but irritates the ever-loving heck out of Corinne.  In the end, alliances are forged and broken, confidences are shattered, and it turns out that Ada and Corinne are playing a very dangerous game.  It might cost them their freedom and even their lives.  But they can't fight their blood or its power, so why not embrace it and dance fast and loose in life?  Death comes for everyone, in the end.

Iron Cast is one long con, with twists and turns that will keep you guessing.  The undisputed stars of the show are Corinne and Ada, with Corinne creating illusions with poetry and Ada manipulating your emotions with her violin.  Step into the Cast Iron, order up a gin fizz, and let this story weave its spell of illusion.

I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.

This post is part of ARC August, hosted by Read.Sleep.Repeat.  Check out my other posts in the series, and find other bloggers participating in the challenge on Twitter using the hashtag #ARCAugust.  Slay that ARC pile!

Monday, August 29, 2016

ARC August: The Bone Witch

A review in which I utilize far too many parenthetical asides for my own good.  I apologize in advance.

I am trying to pinpoint when I first started being aware of bookish comparisons in reviews (i.e. "Book X is The Fault in our Stars meets Twilight!"), but I cannot tell you when that happened.  It feels like a relatively new (last decade or so?) phenomenon in YA, at least.  While it may be helpful for some readers, it does a great disservice to the book.  And sometimes, as in the case of The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco, the comparisons are so on the nose that you suddenly cannot focus on anything else in the story.

The promotional copy for The Bone Witch calls it "The Name of the Wind meets Memoirs of a Geisha" and that is literally, exactly, completely what this book is.  It's like paint by numbers, but with a YA fantasy novel.  And here I thought I was getting something fresh and exciting, when I've actually read this book before (twice, actually, if you count both titles in the comparison), and done a lot better (note: as a grown-up reader, I fully understand the myriad issues in Memoirs of a Geisha, but as a high schooler, I thought it was pretty good stuff.  Forgive my untutored teen ways, O Booklandia). But seriously: Patrick Rothfuss and Arthur Golden deserve some of the royalties from this book.  That's how close it is in style and content.  

Let me break it down:

The Bone Witch has a frame story: Tea (yes, like the drink) of the Embers, the titular bone witch, tells her life story to Bard, a ... bard who found her in exile and wishes to tell her story.

The Name of the Wind has a frame story: Kvothe tells his life story to Chronicler, a bard who happens upon him in a self-imposed exile.

Both Tea and Kvothe were once revered, with great power, but have since fallen from grace.  Both Tea and Kvothe are ultra-powerful and talented.

After Tea's magical powers are discovered when she accidentally raises her brother from the dead (oopsie!), she's taken for training to the Willows, a sort of dojo for asha--sorceresses who also serve as spies, entertainers, and companions.  They also are tasked with running around and periodically killing daeva, which are these demons that are already dead, but which become restless if left dead for too long, so the asha have to bring them back to life and then kill them.

Asha attend different schools that are aligned with different talents.  Once Tea arrives at the Willows, the book suddenly transforms into Memoirs of a Bone Witch, complete with a cruel mistress, infighting, tea ceremonies, and lots of fashion tips.  All of the promise of the early chapters--dead people, fighting monsters, freaking out the common townspeople--bleeds away and leaves the reader with a plodding account of the minutiae of day-to-day life as an asha-in-training.

Which leads me to my second complaint:

Aside from the lack of originality in structure or content, The Bone Witch fell into the LaBrea Tar Pit of writing: too much description.  Generally speaking, details in a fantasy are crucial for world building.  However, if the description takes over the narrative and turns into a litany of flowery descriptive phrases, my mind turns off and wonders when things will start happening again.  I'm talking a full page describing the colors of someone's dress, or three pages detailing the correct and incorrect forms of address for ranks of nobility.  Unsuspecting adjectives walked by and got sucked into the sticky tar of this book, vainly struggled to escape, and then died there.

Do you enjoy reading paragraph after paragraph detailing the exquisite embroidery on an asha's hua, with each color described in such painstaking detail that your eyes will bleed and your brain will dribble out of your nose?  Then this book may be for you!  Otherwise, literally nothing happens in the entire middle section of the book (about 70% of the narrative) other than parties, political training, hua descriptions, catfights, and more hua descriptions.  There's a sort of half-hearted romance attempted, and a secret enemy to be found, but why bother advancing the plot when you can talk about hairstyles instead?

The frame story also means that we know how Tea's life turns out (spoiler: badly), but the last book in the series will probably detail her attempt to wreak havoc on the kingdoms that cast her out.  Revenge of the bone witch!

I apologize for my incoherency in this review: my brain doesn't seem to be functioning properly, plus the utter disappointment I feel in this book has broken me just a little bit.

I received an ARC of this title from Edelweiss.

This post is part of ARC August, hosted by Read.Sleep.Repeat.  You can check out all my other ARC August reviews with the tag ARCAugust, and check out what everyone else is reading on Twitter using #ARCAugust!  Happy reading!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

ARC August: Stalking Jack the Ripper

This is a highly anticipated book for the winter.  It's already gone straight to acronym status: SJTR! AEITA! DFTBA!  SONAR!  NORAD!  Look, I can barely remember most people's names most of the time, so all this acronym stuff does not help.  However, the acronymization of a title is indicative of hype, especially in the YA book world.

So, the burning question is: does this book live up to the hype?

Friday, August 19, 2016

Why did you use that word? A review of Lucky Strikes

I was enamored of this.

I was.  Until I hit one word.  One word that broke this for me.

Lucky Strikes is historical fiction, and I understand that characters in historical fiction might use words that are offensive to use today.  But I would argue that they don't have to.  Especially not if their character has no prior history of using slurs.

The main character and narrator of this book, Melia, has a tongue like a whip with poisoned barbs on it, so her sass has venom.  And yet, she's never truly unkind to anyone except for the despicable Harley Blevins, the no-good nouveau riche self-styled oil baron who's trying to run her out of business.  I will grant you that the setting of the novel is very white: it's poor, white Appalachia during the Great Depression.  But I still felt blindsided when I read this:

"It wouldn't have surprised me none if some old darkie servant had answered the big brass knocker."

Would a character of Melia's age living in the 1930s use that word?  Probably.  Did it need to be said in this book?  Absolutely not.  In fact, the rest of the narrative would have held up perfectly if that sentence were simply omitted.   Melia is supposed to be likable in spite of her prickliness, but the addition of that one thought--that one word--makes me immediately peg her as racist.

Now, this is the part where everyone comes out and says, "But people back then talked like that!  How can you write historical fiction if you don't use accurate vocabulary!  They didn't know any better!"  And it might be true that kids wouldn't know any better than to not use that word (maybe).  But the author certainly does.  The white male author knows better.

The first time I ever encountered that word was in Laura Ingalls Wilder, which I read at a precociously young age.  I had no idea what was going one when the "darkys" showed up for the minstrel show.  I'd never heard that word before.  I assumed they were like, tan people.  Or some mysterious historical group I'd never heard of.  My brain didn't even connect that word to a slur against black people.  It was only after I got older, reopened the book and looked at the illustration that I understood.  And I was horrified.  It's blackface.  Laura's Pa uses blackface.

It makes me sick to my stomach that the author chose to leave this sentence in Lucky Strikes.  Up until that point, it was a five-star read for me.  I can't tell you how many times I burst out laughing at Melia's sass or her younger siblings' quirks or the descriptions of the people in this sleepy mountain town.  I didn't mind that the villain was a bit one-note.  It suits the story.  And now all I can think of when I cast my mind back over the book is that word, sticking out like a rotten limb that needs to be hacked off.

I went back and checked the reviews for this, and while Kirkus notes that the cast of characters is all-white due to the geographical location, this word didn't ring any bells.

What it comes down to, for me, is this: when an author thinks it's more important to be "historically accurate" and utilize a racial slur than it is to be compassionate and consider the hurt that the word will cause to many readers, we have a problem.  This problem is endemic in children's and YA literature.  In the case of Lucky Strikes, I would have had a hilarious, smart novel about family and resilience to had out to my teens if the author would have just snipped out that word.  As it stands, I can't, as a librarian with a duty to all of the patrons I serve, recommend this.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

ARC August: The Smaller Evil

I have expectations for certain authors, because I know I'll get a specific set of results.  With Stephanie Kuehn, I know that I'm going to read something wholly original, stealthily mind-bending, and deliciously disturbing.  And that's just how I like it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

ARC August: Replica

I've not had much luck reading Lauren Oliver before.  Granted, I have not tried Before I Fall, but both Panic and Vanishing Girls didn't really grab me.  However, if Replica is any indication, Oliver should really run with the sci-fi/contemporary mashup, because this was engrossing, compelling, and frighteningly real.

This is one of those cool books that is two, two, two books in one!  Actually, it's one story told from the perspectives of two very different characters: Gemma and Lyra.  In addition to being a fantastic story on  its own, Replica also explores how we all perceive reality a bit differently.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Olympic Book Tag!

My friend Emma over at MissPrint published a post with this super-awesome Olympic Book Tag and I knew I had to participate!  Because I don't have a TV, my Olympics viewing has been severely limited.  I wish that they would release footage on DVD like they do with Super Bowls!  I would buy all the Olympics to watch!  Okay, whatever I could afford.  So like, two.  But seriously: this would rock.

The idea and these seriously awesome graphics come from It Starts At Midnight!

It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini.  I can't say anything more except that this book finally let me see myself in fiction.  Even if it was in the mind of a teenage boy.  Thank you, Ned Vizzini.

I just realized that I am deficient in road trip books.  I spent enough time on road trips as a kid and teen to put me off them forever.  So ... how about Replica by Lauren Oliver?  There *is* a road trip involved.  Promise.

Um.  So, I have this thing about love triangles.  I really generally dislike them.  BUT I adored the triangle between Helen, Carlston, and Selburn in The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman.

White Space by Ilsa J. Bick. This one was just too bizarre.  I had no idea what was going on at any point in the story.  Oof.

Wild Swans by Jessica Spotswood.  You guys.  You know I'm not super into contemporary YA.  But this book?  It blew my mind.  Go read it now.  I mean it.  Now.

I had no idea what to pick for this one that wasn't The Hunger Games.  So ... Terrier by Tamora Pierce.  Beka whales on a lot of people in this trilogy.  Excellent.

The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma.  Your brain will be tired but happy.  And also thoroughly freaked out.

Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse.  Absolutely stunning.  Wear waterproof mascara or just go for the artistically smudged look.

The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch, Vol. 1: At the Edge of Empire by Daniel Kraus.  This book is huge and it takes its time getting there (wherever "there" is), but it's a journey well-worth taking.  Unless reanimated corpses freak you out.

A Horse Called Wonder (Thoroughbred #1) by Joanna Campbell.  I loooooved this books as a kid.  Looooooved.  

Chomp by Carl Hiaasen.  I'm due for a reread of this.  My favorite part is when the fake naturalist puts the underwear on his head because he thinks he has rabies.  Yes, I am secretly seven years old.

The Door That Led To Where by Sally Gardner.  Normally, I adore Gardner's books.  This one felt so different and disjointed that I just couldn't connect with it.  I finished, but I don't recommend it, sadly.

Exit, Pursued by A Bear by E.K. Johnston.  Because every Hermione needs a Polly.  And if that sounds like a nonsense sentence, you need to read this book.  Actually, you need to read this book for its sensitive portrayal of rape, but also the female friendships.


Monday, August 15, 2016

ARC August: Caraval

If I could give Caraval a one-word review, it would be, "Oh."

So many emotions and reactions can be expressed by "Oh."  We have "Oh no!" and "Oh boy!" and "Ohhhhhhhhhh" and the surprised "O!" and the mitigating "Oh."  When I started this book I felt like "Oh boy!" and then I was kind of "Ohhhhhhh" and then "Oh no!" and I landed in the middle of the book with a resoundingly dull "Oh."

This is a book in which things happen, but nothing really happens.  Do you know what I mean?  The characters perform actions.  Said actions create reactions.  Ergo, there is action.  However, all of this action doesn't lead to a satisfying conclusion, nor does it grab you and drag you along with it as it is played out.

This is also a book in which the main character, Scarlett, spends 99% of her time talking about how scared she is to do something.  "Maybe I shouldn't do that."  "Oh no, what if my dad finds me!"  "Oooo, we have to hurry so I can get home to my arranged marriage to a guy I've never seen but I'm sure he's aces because AT LEAST HE'S NOT MY DAD!"

Dang, girl.  You have to work on your priorities.  And also your entire concept of marriage.  And your self-worth.  I mean, this is way more than I can help you with.

The conceit of this book is that Scarlett and her younger sister Donatella* are basically prisoners on their father's island kingdom.  Actually, it's not really even a kingdom, since it's been subjugated by a bigger kingdom, but theirs is no mere issue of sovereignty.  Ever since their mother left, their father, the Duke, has been the textbook Evil Father.  There's lots of beatings and ... yeah.  It's not good.  So ever since she was litle, Scarlett has been writing to the maestro of the mysterious and magical Caraval, hoping to get tickets for herself and her sister and to escape their life of misery.

Only, when she finally does get the tickets, Scarlett doesn't really want to go because a) she might get in trouble and b) she's getting married to some old guy in a week and that's definitely a better shot at freedom than playing a game to win a wish.

Wait, what?

But then Tella sneaks out and convinces this random sailor to help them.  He is, of course, devastatingly handsome and Scarlet takes an instant dislike to him.  All three of them get off their own island and head toward Caraval's island.  Once there, Tella disappears, and it soon becomes apparent that finding her is the object of the game.  They play, there are betrayals, then more betrayals, and then the setup for a sequel.

When this book was being pitched to me, I kept hearing over and over that it's about sisterhood and not romance.  You could have fooled me.  Scarlett consistently makes selfish decisions and only later wonders what would have helped Tella.  We all know what's going to happen between Scarlett and Julian, the sailor.  Their witty, romantic banter falls completely flat and becomes painful to read.

Parts of the story are there just because they are popular in other books.  In Caraval, Scarlett receives an enchanted dress that changes itself to suit the occasion, but is always beautiful and always puts her assets on full display.  Front and center.

However, I'm unsure as to how everyone made it into Caraval in the first place.  As I understand it, you need your ticket to get in.  As they are rowing to the island, Julian and Scarlett (Tella was dropped off first) notice that their boat has a leak in it!  Oh noes!  So they jump in the ocean, but the water drags Tella under because of the weight of her dress.  Julian pulls a Captain Jack Sparrow and cuts Scarlett out of her corset.  Theoretically, the paper tickets should either be lost or soaked, but they later just ... show up and everyone gets into Caraval just fine.  Where were they keeping the tickets, exactly?  Wait, do I want to know?

I'm not sure if I could even categorize this as fluff, because it's not really "feel-good" either.  It's a conglomeration of many fantasy fiction tropes that have been done before, and done better.  The hype far outweighs any actual merits this book may possess.

I received an ARC from the publisher.

*Admittedly, my issue with the name Donatella has to do with my silly brain and nothing else, but I kept picturing the young and lovely Tella as the orange and leathery Versace variety.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

ARC August: Dark Matter

I often wonder how authors come up with blurbs for other authors' books.  It seems like it would be a trying task--perhaps even more difficult that writing an actual book (caveat: I have done neither, so it's not like I have any real weight here).  Think about it--you have to convey your enthusiasm for a book in a sound byte that appeals to your readers and somehow *sounds* like you in so many words. And I would guess that the publishers only take so many "excellent"s and "wow"s.

Regarding Dark Matter, Blake Crouch's new novel, Lee Child said, "I think Blake Crouch has invented something new."  Hyperbolic?  Yes.  Intriguing?  Well, yes, particularly considering Crouch's track record.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

And Now for Something Completely Different: The Batman Vs. Superman Movie Review

When it comes to cinema, I have a high bar and a very low bar.  I employ each bar in specific situations.  For example, if I'm going to see an action flick or if I'm just doing laundry at my parents' house (this is only because I have no washer/dryer in my tiny apartment and I have a fear of laundromats) and they're watching some SyFy Original, I don't really care.  I'd rather laugh at how silly something is than constantly bemoan how it's not ART.  The high bar I reserve for classic movies and Star Wars.  No, the prequels did not pass.

I'd heard a lot of negative criticism of Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, but when my brother rented it, I watched it with the family.  And because I'm used to seeing things like Sharktopus vs. Pteracuda, I pulled out the low bar.  And you know what?  Some parts of the movie were actually pretty good.  Unsurprisingly, all of these parts featured Wonder Woman.  You'll notice that the DVD cover art has Wonder Woman in the middle, even though the film is ostensibly about the two dudes.  It's like they know that she's the only saving grace.  Bless.

So: Batfleck versus Superabs.  Here we go!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Where are these magical "sick days" where you can watch all the Netflix and read all the things?

Honestly.  I really want to know.

Since I have an autoimmune disease, I get sick a lot.  Well, more than most people.  It's not like I'm Pigpen and go rolling around in germs, but more like germs love me and want to snuggle with me.

Yesterday, I was slammed with a virus.  I mean, oof.  I tend to use the French word assommé(e) in my mind, because that's what happens to cows at processing plants.  It's when they fall as they're being slaughtered.  Another delightful definition is "being poleaxed."

Okay, yes, slight exaggeration, but when you feel like you're dying, nothing seems impossible or ridiculous.

But what I want to know is where all these cultural images of "catching up on your reading" or "catching up on your Netflix" while sick came from.  Have these people never actually been sick?

I'm looking at my bullet journal to see all the things I was supposed to do yesterday (write like three reviews was part of it), but I was too busy a) sleeping or b) wishing I were dead because honestly, why would I want to live like that?  HA HA HA!  I got nothing done.  I contemplated watching some more Stranger Things but that would mean sort of sitting up in bed and paying attention and that wasn't gonna fly.

So.  Today I am not dying.  I hope to complete at least one review and finish this silly Lincoln Child thriller about enigmologists or whatever word he's come up with (basically, it's a much less rage-inducing version of Robert Langdon).  But seriously: when people are sick, it's not like a magical day of productivity.

Depending on your definition of productivity.

Sorry, we just overshare in my family.  I'll show myself out.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

ARC August: Kingdom of Ash and Briars

Oh dear.  I'm afraid I'm going to get kicked out of this blogging challenge.  I'm zero for two on my ARCs in August ... but it's good to know what you don't like, right?  Reader, know thyself.

I tried.  I tried so hard to love Kingdom of Ash and Briars.  I wanted to love it.  But when I realized it was a Star Wars fanfic dabbling in Sleeping Beauty and general fantasyland warfare ... I was exasperated and frustrated and many other negative -eds.