July 9, 2015

7/1/15 - A Book From My Childhood

Wink, wink. That book I mentioned in the RYFBM? That's this one. The first day of July, and thus the first day of RYFBM, collided precipitously on the challenge of A Book From My Childhood, and thus I give you: Two Princesses of Bamarre, by Gail Carson Levine.

If you're a girl and of a certain age, there's a huge possibility that you've read at least one Levine book. She was the fairytale lady (at least until Shannon Hale came around and made it into the fairytale pack). Maybe, like me, you might have read many of her books. Most people get into Ella Enchanted first. Me, Bamarre was my first Levine experience.

Two Princesses is a simple, straightforward story: there's a sickness across all the land, the Gray Death. The eponymous princesses are polar opposites. Meryl is strong, foolhardy, a fighter in every sense of the word; Addie is timid, cowardly, and delicate, preferring needlepoint to swordpoint. Meryl wants to quest to find the Gray Death's cure; Addie wants her to stay at home, where Meryl will be safe with her.

Meryl gets the Gray Death. Addie goes on Meryl's quest, armed with fabric, shoes, and flowers. Not even being facetious.

It's a wonderful, precious little story. There are dragons! There are elves who tell tales! There's an Beowulf-ish sort of hero/origin epic that impacts the story in amazing ways! There's an adorable wizard love interest! There's sister bonding! Suck it, Frozen. (Just kidding. I love Frozen. So sue me.)

Levine's particular style of writing for this story is dead-on. Addie's perspective is unique, real, and heartfelt, a far cry from the brashly artificial Strong Female Charactery(TM) kind of heroes that get all the street cred. She grows in courage for her sister, and yet never gives up the things that make her Addie. I love Addie. I also love Meryl, and Rhys the young adorable wizard love. I even love Vollys, the dragon. 

And I love Drualt, that Beowulfy hero guy in the poem. That poem is great, too, by the way: Rise up, Bamarre! Go forth, Bamarre, the timid with the strong! I get goosebumps.

Quaint, precious, nearly perfect. If you ever need a good fairytale, read Two Princesses of Bamarre.

July 1 - RYFBM!

It's July 1st! (Pretend for my sake.) And we all know what that means - or, if we don't, we're about to find out!

My BFF Persy and I run a sort-of monthly review blog over at the Moonlit Library of the Underworld.  A while back, Persy started a tradition - Reread Your Favorite Books Month, every July! (It used to be something else when we were a little more innocent. It's RYFBM now.)

Anyway, it being July now, the tradition continues! It continues a little more slowly for me, since I have two challenges, a tower of library books, and three stacks of unread owned books, but continue it does.

Every week, along with my Challenge Book and occasionally the Month Book, I'll be rereading a favorite book or two. Sometimes these books might even be the Challenge Book! (Hint hint. Look out for the next review.)

It doesn't matter if all you read are old favorites this month, or if you're only able to get around to one or two. The idea is to have an excuse to enjoy your darlings all over again! Just have fun with it.

What books are you rereading for RYFBM?

Joyous Reading!

6/24/15 - April Book

Are you ready for a rant, kids? Because that's what we're getting for the April Book review!

I already wrote a full review on my Goodreads page, so I'm just going to give you a few of the highlights. If you want to read it, go check it out! (And friend me, too! I can never have too many reading buddies.)

Maybe it's because I'm a huge character person - I could not care less about plot as long as the characters are delightful - but nothing about these characters made me root for them. At all. Elias is a whiny, self-righteous pig 90% of the time and I have no idea who he's supposed to be the other 10% of the time; Laia is like a sheet of cheap watercolor paper that you accidentally sprayed too much water on and now your floor is wet and it's all disgusting and floppy and even when it looks right it looks... wrong, and when you try to paint on it to make it pretty, it looks like inappropriate body parts. Keenan - who the heck is Keenan? He has red hair, I can tell you that. And he's got some kind of pain. Because... ??????????????????? Helene was the best character in the entire book - a tough survivor with a general's brain, sort of like a leveled-up Annabeth Chase. But she still gets sidelined as the Incomprehensible Beautiful Single Female in a crowd of BOOOOYYYZZZZZZZZ and Tahir never. lets. us. forget. that. she. is. a. female. You would think Helene was a mop of shining beautiful curling silver-blond hair on a broomstick, from all her descriptions.

Helene's treatment makes me particularly angry. This is the closest thing to a real character that we have in the book - a good, well-rounded character, with thoughts and motivations of her own - and yet she is constantly downgraded to nothing but her gender. The flippant and casual threats of rape are tossed around her just as much as they are around Laia, a slave girl. One of her major conflicts is dealing with a psychotic rapist antagonist, and yet Helene - a girl literally raised for violence, courage, and hardness - is reduced to fear and cringing? BULLCRAP. Her "pretty blonde hair" makes her less intimidating when she's furious? BULLCRAP! She gets hormonally jealous of a slave girl when Elias is 20 years old and has probably been fooling around with slaves and prostitutes for years? 

It's all the same shtick we've been forcefed for 10+ years. It's the "I see sparks fly" line from the T-Swizzle song set on repeat for seven hours. For all the attempts that are made in the name of Beauty and the Beast, in the name of "love comes from the inside," all I hear is a lot about how beautiful Laia is (she has to cover herself up with a cloak or else she'll get raped) and about how strong Elias is. Laia can apparently see the "hard lines of Elias's stomach" even while he is clothed and "at a distance," presumably at night at a town festival of sorts. Anatomy, man. It's a conspiracy. 
Nothing ever comes of the mythological bent. Some wraiths are part of the Trials that Helene and Elias go through, but Elias doesn't fight them. It sounds like the Commandant (the kick-ass Main Villain who actually WORKS, God bless) has a business agreement with one of the creatures, but that's tacked into a verbal info-dump in the last 100 or so pages and promptly forgotten. And, most inexplicably, Laia is plagued by... fear wraiths? Anxiety wraiths? Guilt wraiths? I don't know. They're just there and they torment her until she just can't bear to hear... words. And she lays screaming on the ground or in corners. I don't know why. I mean, it's not like everyone else in this godforsaken world is free from guilt. Good grief, Laia's wraiths made me want to stab myself because it was so mind-bogglingly unimportant! Nothing came of those flipping wraiths! They made no difference - if you took them out the story would be the same - I'm so angry at those dumb wraiths for causing maybe twenty or thirty extra pages of USELESS ANGST for a character I couldn't care less about! In fact, the wraiths made me hate Laia even more. 


I stopped updating at about 70%. My will had left me. It probably goes without saying: I do not recommend this book.

6/22/15 - A Book With Nonhuman Characters

I admit it. I am a Loki fan. But wait, hear me out - before you peg me as a simple crying fangirl (which is hardly the whole truth), let me regale you with the hipster chorus of the centuries: I liked him before he was cool. Or at least before he was Tom Hiddleston (sigh of appreciation); I think Loki has always been cool at the mythological table in the reading cafeteria.

Anyway, a handful of years back, I was way into Norse mythology. I have a ton of books - both Eddas, Padraic Colum's retellings, Kevin Crossley-Holland's retellings, Roger Green's retellings... I was a fan. If there were any story that could make me laugh every time I read it, it was Thrym's Wedding. (Bruce Coville, Thor's Wedding Day. I have it.) I also read Runemarks, which is not a novelization of the web game, but Joanne Harris's middle-grade (but still hefty) story about the Norse gods in the present day. At least, I think it's present-day. Present-ish? Old but not ancient times? Anyway. Harris wrote Loki as a significant side character in that, and, as I recall, he was pretty brilliant.

So I was excited when I found out that Harris had a new, adult project coming out that focused primarily on the legendary trickster. With gods and strange Chaos-demons as the main characters, it well fit the category of A Book With Nonhuman Characters.

(If you can, get the first edition cover; it's much nicer than the one I got here in America at the library.)

As I said in the last review, expectation is a significant mood-killer when you're reading something that you've been dying to get your hands on (for over a year, in this particular instance). With The Gospel of Loki, I was expecting something along the lines of Runemarks - a new take on an old tale, a cool new adventure for the old gods. Something unexpected for my Loki passion to chew on for a while.
My experience with Norse retellings, however, came back to bite me. Harris retells the stories of the Norse pantheon from Loki's point of view... with almost no alterations. There is, of course, Loki's larger-than-life personality to account for it, and the look into his brain does cast some small original light onto the events. But, at the end of each chapter, it's just the stories that the Eddas have told and that the others have copied.

Don't get me wrong - Harris can write. And her Loki voice is nothing if not consistent, and consistently tricksterly. There's an amusing blend of archaic and modern, which I know grated on some Goodreads reviewers, but which I found suitable for a god telling his story in the modern day. The book was hardly a pain to read; I enjoyed it, sometimes quite a lot. (I still laughed at Harris's version of Thrym's Wedding.)

But it's a small book, not even 300 pages, and they're almost all dedicated to retellings. 

What I did appreciate was the ending, even if it did skim more than I would have liked. It finally, finally gets at Loki's psyche, the emotions behind his actions during Ragnarok. It was new, it was unique! And then the real ending - wow. That was a good ending, and more than made up for the lack of real punch in the previous chapters.

So, all in all, it's a recommendation. If you're for Norse mythology, have at it! If you're not so much for Norse mythology but want to attempt it, have at it; this is not the worst place to start. If you love Loki, have at it! Really, just have at it. Don't set your originality hopes too high, but otherwise, have at it.

6/18/15 - May Book

Due to complications with the reading schedule, you get the May Book review before you get the April Book review. Surprise!

Take a story with a fascinating premise, the promise of graphic novel panels as well as ordinary novel pages, and then give it a title like I Am Princess X, and you have instantly raised the expectations for your story.

Look at that cover! So modern, so in-your-face, so rad. I've heard of Cherie Priest, though I've not yet read any of her books. I'm working on that. I know she writes mainly for adults, so I'm holding out the hope that her adult work is better. Because, sadly, Princess X was a bit of a let-down.

I expected something QUIRKY with capital letters, something atmospheric and mysterious and engaging - something like a more polished version of The Kneebone Boy, maybe. If you don't know the gist of the story, you should check out Goodreads's summary. But, as it turns out, I Am Princess X is more like a simple mystery-slash-scavenger-hunt than a vaguely postmodern experimental story. Spoiler alert: there aren't even any supernatural/paranormal aspects to it! Sad day. 

Sometimes resisting the call of "supernatural explanation" is very, very good for stories. Dragging in the paranormal can easily turn into getting an easy out. But the thing is, I don't think it would have been, for this story. The graphic novel part of the book, the comics that the MC and her missing best friend, has an incredible dark fairytale feeling to it; the art is good, the storyline is better, and the elements of the tale are the best. Creative, striking the perfect balance between unique and traditional - I loved these sections of the story.

But none of the story actually translated to the real-world mystery, except in the most mundane of ways. That was the biggest letdown.

Maybe it's my fault that I didn't enjoy the story more. Expectation is often the biggest killer in a book-reader relationship. But something in me still says that the story could have been more. You know that feeling you get when you're watching The Wizard of Oz and they pull back the curtain, and there, instead of a GRAND AND MAGNIFICENT WIZARD, it's just a little old man in a phonebooth?

Yeah. I Am Princess X is that little old man. Read it for the graphic novel; leave the curtain untouched.

6/17/15 - A Book Over 500 Pages Long

I had planned on reading Les Miserables for this one, because that's the longest book I can see myself reading, even during the summer. My attention span is not what it used to be.

Then I picked up The Stand, which I had gotten at a charity booksale for 25 cents. Understandably for a 25-cent book, it's small - a cheap early 90s paperback of the variety you'd see in the FREE bin at the library instead of the sale shelves. I underestimated the sheer size of its contents.

My copy of The Stand is just over 800 pages long.

The Stand is, to me, a shining example of why the post-apocalyptic book scene - mostly in YA, since that's my corner, but probably in adult fiction, too - sucks. Okay? It does. It sucks. You wanna know why? Because no one wants to write good post-apocalyptic books. You wanna know why? Because they have to be 800 pages long. After they've been excised by publishers. 

And very few people want to write a 1,100-page book. You see 500-page books not infrequently - good gosh, I don't want to think about how bleeding long Divergent was - but that's pretty much the maximum. Five hundred pages are when all normal, healthy brains start smoking out and sending off "we need a climax" signals.

No one has ever said that Stephen King has a normal, healthy brain.

And that's good! Because The Stand is what we need. We need a good example of post-apocalyptic fiction done, in the most realistic way that post-apoc can be done when you add in supernatural dreams and a villain who's second-cousin to some kind of demons. 

I don't really feel qualified to judge The Stand. It's not contemporary, so it's hard to judge it by today's standards, even though, I believe, that it stands up fascinatingly well. (I saw a quote from this book on some pretentious Tumblr aesthetic blog the other day; at least some bits of the book have survived, even if they were taken brutally out of context. Par for the Tumblr aesthetic course.) Also, it's Stephen King. I have read so few King books, and there's such a reputation to get around.

Not to mention the book is so dang long. I forgot the details of the first 400 pages because I was too wrapped up in the last 400. And then I forgot most of those 400 pages. Oops.

There's also the matter of the ginormous cast of characters. I'd say about half of them end up very, very dead. (Including my favorite. Insert every single weeping gif.) None of the deaths are your everyday, run-of-the-mill meaningful deaths, that serve as closure for that character's arc. No. There is no closure. There are only corpses. It's brutal, and it makes it all the more shocking when some characters die - because nothing pointed to their death, because they're senseless. But this is post-apocalyptic spiritual warfare, and senseless is how the game is played.

It's a very serious book. Very heavy. I would recommend it wholeheartedly, though not to the faint of heart (or to those short on time). But if you want a King book that won't really scare you so much as make you know the meaning of dread, The Stand is a great place to start. 

6/3/15 - A Book at the Bottom of my To-Read List

We've a bit of catching up to do, haven't we?

In the same week that I read The Wind in the Willows, I also read a book by Vivian Vande Velde. This book has been in my stacks for at least a year and a half. I'd bought it on sale, because it was a Velde book - and Velde is awesome! - and also because it was Arthurian mythology. No ordinary Arthurian mythology, but about a villain. Yes, VVV wrote a book called The Book of Mordred.

Awesome! I'm into the whole uncovering-the-person-behind-the-villain craze - I was more excited about Maleficent than most tween girls, I'd wager - and while Mordred was written before it all really got into mainstream swing, it still counts.

Unfortunately, Mordred didn't pull me in. A lot of it was that Mordred was barely in Mordred at all. For all it's a book about telling Mordred's side of the story - which I desperately wanted to hear - Velde focused more on the three women who were telling snippets of Mordred's life.

Look... there are some things that a good author should not do to their readers when they've promised them a story about someone like Mordred. One of those things, at the very top of the list, is to sideline the promised character to allow three unrelated characters - two-thirds of them original characters! - the chance to... if not shine, then at least try to. It's not fair to the reader.

I mean, sure, Mordred was cool. Great. Cute, apparently. Okay. He also had some issues with his parentage. Understandable. But this is The Book of Mordred. I want to know him! I want to get into his head. Not three random women's heads. (Okay, Nimue isn't random. But she's not all that connected to Mordred. Why?)

Maybe I wouldn't have minded that much if the three MCs had been more interesting. Alas. Alayna is boring, with no depth or endearing qualities to make me glad that I was in her head instead of Mordred's. Nimue is a little more interesting, but Mordred only comes into her story when it's over halfway through, and she's not that interesting. Keira is that "spunky young female protagonist" that litters this kind of literature - in other words, she's dead boring.

Also, what happened to Velde's writing? She writes so well in other books (Well-Timed Enchantment, anyone?). But her prose her was stiff and just as numbing as her protagonists.

All in all, a disappointment. I'm sad now.