Saturday, February 22, 2014

Fathomless: In Which I Speculate on Trans Werewolves

It's official: Jackson Pierce is here to stay. You know how I know? Because her books get better as time goes on.

Is it odd to say? That this series gets better with each book, I mean? For book bloggers, that doesn't seem to be much of a recommendation, yet for some reason the series that got talked about the most are the ones that deteriorated over time. Is it because high-profile books get more scrutiny? Or is it the opposite, that we talk more about stuff that provides us with the material?

Why am I even on this tangent? 

Probably because, had it not been for the 2014 prequel/sequel challenge, I would have never looked at Pearce's novels beyond Sisters Red. Despite the beautiful covers and the intriguing synopsis, I would have classified them as sequels to that book with the problematic portrayals. (So thank you, Novel Heartbeat!) That said, if you did read "Sisters Red" and you decided that this series is not for you, I can understand that. But I'm personally glad I gave this one a shot.

Because "Fathomless" is easily my favourite of Pearce's retellings so far. A modern take on the Little Mermaid, it follows Celia, youngest of a set of psychic triplets, the one who can see people's pasts, and Lo, an ocean girl with no memories of her life before the sea. The two meet after they save handsome Jude from drowning, but Lo being unable to stay on land for long, disappears before anyone can pose questions. Celia, feeling guilty because she's forced to take all the credit for saving Jude (and earning his affection) offers to help Lo remember her past. 

Like "Sweetly", "Fathomless" isn't so much a direct sequel as it is a companion novel. The characters and conflicts are different, the only thing connecting them being the Reynolds family and the overarching mythos. The latter is one of the stronger points of the series - Pearce takes ideas and develops them until they're fully integrated in the mythos. In this case, we discover what happened to Naida Kelly.

Remember Naida? Sophia's younger sister, the one the Fenris took away? Yeah, that one.

Remember Sophia? Boy, I sure do. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Review: Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

The timing of this review is coincidental. I swear.

I had been meaning to read a Rainbow Rowell book for a while now, but for whatever reason, I only got to do so two weeks ago when my local library got a reserved copy for me. It looked interesting on Amazon, but I was in no hurry to read it because... I don't know. I guess it was my YA burnout talking. Much of my current interests are focused on the "big deals" of yesteryear, the dystopias and paranormal romances. Contemp... eh?

I should probably say something about what everyone seems to be talking about, aka the John Green effect and whether male authors are more privileged in publishing but... to be honest, I'd rather talk about the book instead. 

"Eleanor and Park" are two teens who fall in love in the 1980's. Park is half-American, half-Korean, who tries to reconcile his identity with what his veteran father thinks should be his identity; Eleanor is the eldest of five who tries to make it through high school and keep out of her stepfather's way.

That's it.

But wait, you say, what about...

No, that's it.


That. Is. It.

And it's enough.

In the grand scheme of things, an abundance of plot lines isn't exactly a bad thing for a novel, but it can get quite exhausting for this reader to keep track and get invested in conflicts which are either left unresolved or hastily tied off in the end. Some stories make it work in under 300 pages, but honestly, to me 5+ plot threads only work in epic fantasy. 

"Eleanor and Park" is a love story, which packs sufficient punch to make you read it until the little hours of the night. There's sweetness and geekery in spades, interwoven with darkness and tension, and I liked it. I liked it a lot. 

Would it have gotten as big as it did without John Green's review of it? I don't know. Maybe it would have. Strange of me to say this, given some of the other things I've written, but "Eleanor and Park" is not the only novel I've seen endorsed by this particular author, and it's certainly the one I have heard people talk most about. While it might have helped some people pick it out among all the other things available in the contemporary YA market right now, there is a good reason why it's so largely loved. It's a damn good love story.

Is it perfect? No, not really. But I liked it, and I want more of this. I want more dual POV books where the protagonists don't repeat everything the other person has said verbatim, but actually contradict each other. I want more realistic villains who are undoubtedly terrible people, but still buy thoughtful Christmas presents. I even want more musical chair antagonists because it helps keep things interesting if we have a long interlude of perfect happiness for our young couple.

I want more heroines with different body types and realistic baggage.

I want more genuinely good, but human heroes. (Yes, your girlfriend does look rather good in a polyester jumpsuit. Glad to see you're human, mate.)

Most of all, I want stories that were written for the sake of the story - not because buzzwords and markets and what's selling and stuff. They're not mutually exclusive things, but I appreciate a story a lot more when it's clear the author loved the characters and loved penning their story.

We need more of those.

Note: Image via BookLikes. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Review: Because It Is My Blood by Gabrielle Zevin

Y'know, despite the fact that the premise of this series hinges on the fact that there is such a thing as a chocolate prohibition, I have to admit, it's a good choice of a substance to prohibit. Like chocolate, I liked this book, gobbled it up, and then was left feeling with a vague sense of queasiness.

Anya is let go from juvie, but her brief stint there has left her with more enemies than friends. Forced by circumstance to flee to Mexico, she learns more about cocoa farming, why chocolate was prohibited, and a little about herself as well. Then... more stuff happens.

Quite honestly, even if I literally just finished reading this, it's hard for me to come up with an adequate summary. Anya remains as reluctant a protagonist as ever and while there are books where that's a good thing, here it means she doesn't so much as come up with solutions as she stumbles onto them. Frankly, the whole series so far has felt like one big story that has been split into three book, which is weird because I don't think I've ever encountered a YA where dialogue has been condensed so often.

That's not to say it's a bad story - like I said, I gobbled it up, staying waaaaaaay too late on a Sunday night because I wanted to know what happened to these characters, how they would solve things, etc. Not just Anya, either - Nattie, Scarlett, even Gable add to the experience. And Theo! Oh, Theo! (Get used to this exclamation.)

I guess what I really love about Zevin's writing is how controlled it is. There is lots of unpredictability, but it doesn't veer off into ridiculous territory, which is a harder balance to strike than it appears. The characters never feel out of character - even when they throw curveballs your way, you're not surprised that they have, it just feels like something they might do. I like how Anya has only one love interest, despite the plot lending itself to all sorts of geometrical configurations. I like that Gable is seen as a mixture of sweet and horrible, and how realistic he feels (despite being a disgusting privileged little snit.) 

I like how the book portrays a close friendship between two people of opposing sexes and genders without it devolving into a romantic relationship. I like how it hits a few beats on how hard it can be when a family pushes their expectations onto you. I like how we have a male character whose feelings towards a girl don't start and end with "How do I sex this thing?" (oh, Theo.) I like that we have a character who is self-depicting and funny and deliberately ridiculous, but who doesn't need to pat himself on the back for every semi-intelligent thing he says.

I even like that Anya is portrayed as religious. I didn't realize it until I read this series, but YA is quite... agnostic, isn't it? Lots of the paranormal series of yore were quite careful to skirt around the G-word and kept religious references down to sexy angels and the occasional odd motivation tactic to prolong the chastity porn in Twilight  (well, among other things.) The only series that I've read so far and were right on the bat with their religion were Halo and Angel, with varying degrees of success. 

But the Birthright series is not a PNR, it's... speculative/dystopian fiction. Anya's religion is a personal choice, motivation, and while it does fuel some chastity porn in the first book, it's clear that she is honestly committed to her religion in more ways than one. Also, throughout the books, she has been forced to re-examine her stances on certain things, and reflects on how the events of her life hold up against the teachings of Catholicism, and hey, look, intelligent character building! I like!

You know what I don't like, though? Stereotypes. Despite having some pretty memorable main and secondary characters, Because It Is My Blood also features such stereotypes as the deceiving viper, the sainted mother, the over-protective Mexican family, the tye-dye wearing, pot-smoking activists... seriously, why did the Cocoa Now movement have to be such a joke? In a book full of interesting, nuanced characters, why did this group of characters need to be like that?

All in all, it's a good sequel, and I'm curious as to what will happen in the final book. 

Note: Image via BookLikes.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Review: Rebel Heart by Moira Young

You know, I lament how 2013 was such a dry spell for me, reading-wise, but I think I can appreciate the distance it has given me now. There is a point when one becomes so immersed in something, be it a hobby or a genre or whatever, that you kind of lose the taste for it (after all, if we ate chocolate every day, we'd eventually get sick of it.)

Looking back on my old review of Blood Red  Road, most of my objections towards it seem more like a by-product of my overall frustration with the genre, and not much to do with the story itself which, as I said back then, is pretty solid. The same objections could have been applied for the sequel, but I find myself having quite a lot more patience with the plot and with the characters than I used to. 

That said, I don't think my love of this book is entirely based on "there's a lot worse out there." In fact, Rebel Heart has confirmed for me what I already knew - that the Dustlands series is awesome, and in large that's because it has an awesome cast of characters. And when I have a spare moment, I think I'm going to re-read Blood Red Road, which for a blogger is a pretty big deal. 

I love Moira Young's writing. There seems to be a split among readers on whether the dialect and the phonetic spelling is distracting or not, but I immerse myself quite easily and it added something extra to my experience. 

But the real strength of this book is the characterization, and not just of Saba, but everyone involved. It really carries the narrative through, because in terms of plot, this story is pretty straightforward - Saba goes west, doesn't get along with her brother, gets a message from Jack, races back, stuff happens. That's pretty much the barest bones of the plot, but the hook is in the specifics - how Saba and Lugh interact after being apart for so long, how each of them tries to cope with their pain, how the world around them is changing and  they can either change with it or they can be swept away by the tide... you know, complex stuff.

In fact, complex is a word to describe the character transformations of nearly everyone in this book. I don't think I've been nearly this frustrated with fictional people since... well, since Scrivener's Moon (appropriate, since the first time I saw Philip Reeve, it was on a joined event with Moira Young.) Some of Saba's actions really can't be rationalized, but I found myself sympathizing with her more often than not, and angry with other characters for being so tough on her. Despite the dystopian setting, this is one of those stories that feel like they could have happened in real life.

The complexity extends to everyone - Emmi and Jack and Maev and DeMalo. Especially DeMalo, whom I personally despise but whose relationship to Saba is understandably conflicted and complex. I especially liked how the heartstone from the first book was used here - not so much as a plot device or a useful shorthand, but more as a metaphor for the changes Saba is going through and her growing awareness of the complexities of the world.

And that cliffhanger.... ugh! (Okay, maybe not entirely a cliffhanger, but still!) When is Raging Star coming out again?

Note: Image via BookLikes.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Review: All These Things I've Done

Late To The Party is my next band name.

With that out of the way, I'd seen this book around on GR but it wasn't until I saw the final book in the trilogy in one of the videos of Misty from the Book Rat that I really got interested (also, it was mostly because of the title. I mean, "In The Age of Love and Chocolate?" Damn, that's some major naming envy I've got going.)

Sadly, the book left me a little bit cold. In fact, I think my major problem with this was the exact same problem I had with Angel. But more on that below.

"All These Things I've Done" is set in a near-future America where chocolate and coffee are banned (along with a whole lot of other things, and there are also plenty of restrictions going on.) Our MC is Anya, daughter of a deceased Russian mafia boss who handles the black market for chocolate. Anya is a tough lass who tries to keep her two siblings in line, not attract attention, and live life as normally as she can. Sadly, forces outside of her control intervene, she falls in love with the son of the deputy district attorney of New York just as her family's chocolate supply becomes contaminated with a dangerous toxin. Drama! Mafia! Action!

Think Holly Black's "Curse Worker" series in a dystopian setting rather than an UF one.