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Monday, January 30, 2012

Bloodrose by Andrea Cremer (Nightshade Series #3)

Let me start off by saying that i thoroughly enjoyed the first two books in this series, before I start ranting smacking things with common garden tools. And this is a huge spoiler.

Deep breath now...

Here we go...

First off, Ms. Cremer built up a wonderful romantic tension by creating a love triangle scenario between Calla, Ren, and Shay. For the entirety of the first two books, i was wondering exactly how things were going to go down in the end; who she would choose, the reaction of the one she didn't, and the aftermath of it all. But then she decided to ruin it all. She kills off Ren near the end of the book (more on this, lots more, to come) leaving Calla with only one choice. This is literally the biggest cop-out since twilight. (read: literary equivalent of sliced bread) I can just imagine, “I don’t want to actually have to think about how to wrap this book up in a realistic way that will leave my readers satisfied with Calla’s choice. I think I’ll just kill off Ren and make it easy on myself.” All the time she spent in books one in two making the choice between Ren and Shay difficult for Calla and the reader: completely wasted.
Let’s revisit Ren, Silas, and Cosette, the notable characters who died during this book.
In the final battle, Ren dies while attacking his father. Now you may be imagining some fight scene of epic proportions, but sadly, I was disappointed yet again. Paraphrasing Cremer, Ren was really angry at his “dad” (the not biological one) because he was making fun of how great it was when he killed his biological dad. So in his anger, Ren leaps, but he leaps too high, allowing his fake-dad to slide reposition himself, leap up in the air to meet Ren, and snap Ren’s neck.
As an alpha, Ren would absolutely have known how to manage his anger during battle so that it didn’t affect his judgement, or else he would have died way before the first book even started. Cremer just did not want to have to deal with making the choice between Ren and Shay, so she just killed Ren. If I were her editor I would have given her at least a 10 minute time out to think about what she’s done. Additionally, Calla only spends a paragraph mourning before Shay drags her on to the real final battle, thereby rendering his death insignificant, which it isn’t.
Silas, the searcher also has an insignificant death. He dies while Calla and crew are trying to get the water part of the badass sword thing. One moment they are standing in the water, and then suddenly a cloud of darkness descends on them, and then Calla and crew (it just rolls of the tongue so easily) are in the water, but silas is dead because the vampire bats that dropped down were “magically” (read: plot device gone wrong) transformed to be part piranha so that they were able to shred Silas to bits in a timespan of 2 lines of text. Even though he was kind of annoying, that’s the second worst way to have been killed off by Cremer.
Cosette takes the gold for worst way to get killed off in a novel. Sabine is going back to the town in order to spy for the resistance, and the other Keeper is glad to have her back.
Cue paraphrasing…
Sabine: “Where’s Cosette”
Evil Keeper Guy: “Oh. Her. She hung herself a week after you left because she was a weak frail wolf and couldn’t handle being my sex toy like you could”
Time taken to kill her off? Plus or minus 1 line. Sidenote: I was talking with a friend about this book earlier today, and I had forgotten that Cosestte died at all because her death was made so insignificant and meaningless.
Now: the 3 temple/challenges/mini-climax plot points.
In the earth cave/temple/plot-point, Calla and crew are walking/padding along, when Calla nearly falls into an invisible, seemingly infinitely deep hole.
Shay: “OOOH! There’s a giant hole in the ground! Let me just be a badass super character who can do anything and just traipse across it like it was a hole a toddler created in the sand. Because I am the F-ing scion, so I can do all sorts of crazy stuff like that.”
Can anybody say “Deus Ex Machina???”
And then again in the fire cave/temple/plot-point
Ren: “AAAAHHHH!!!! I’m about to get toasted by this unstoppable fire wolf thing from the nether!!!”
Shay: “Nope! I think I’ll just miraculously save the day again, with no warning or plot development to suggest that I managed to find the last piece of the elemental cross, which is conveniently the only thing that can kill the fire-wolf. You’re Welcome!”
Since “Deus Ex Machina” worked so well in the earth temple (or rather, didn’t) Cremer decided to do it again.
And yet there is still another one.
When Bosque Mar summons up a magic hedge maze to divide Calla and Crew, Calla is isolated from everybody else with Adne. They are cornered by a wraith, and Shay, the only one who can kill wraiths, is on the other side of the hedge. So Adne “asks” the earth to remove the hedge, her reasoning being that it is an unnatural hedge, so that Shay can once again play the super-awesome-badass-hero guy. Completely unexpected. Adne is one of the few characters that I really like. Too bad she isn’t developed more.
Anyways. It would have been way cooler if Calla like grew some sort of super power and kicked the wraith's ass, maybe because when she and shay had sex from out of the blue it infused her with scion essence. Way better explanation than having Ariadne become a super mage writer person.
Another deep breath, I’m almost done.
In the beginning, Calla seems like a nice, respectable, half-lupine, girl. But she is actually a closet slut. When she first rescues Ren, she decides not to choose between them, romantically that is. But then one night Shay stops by her room.
Calla: “I’m feeling conflicted, I don’t want to choose between either of you…”
Shay: “Whatever, just have sex with me.”
Calla: “Okay, I’ll just rationalize it by calling it a mistake…”
Last point.
So at the end of the book, Shay is told that he has to seal the portal to the nether, which means that all the Guardians will revert to their true wolf forms permanently. Shay ends up doing it, but because he is also part Guardian, he is like, “Bye mom and dad, I know I just rescued you, but I’m gonna go be a wolf with this chick I met less than a year ago. Good bye forever, love you!”
What a crappy ending. Everyone has to say goodbye to half the people they each love.
Furthermore, the reason Shay has to close the gateway is that he could theoretically re-open it if he didn’t perma-seal it. What are the chances that Shay decides to turn traitor exactly? Also instead of sealing it, Calla and Crew could have just gone on another epic quest to destroy the elemental cross, so that the portal couldn’t be re-opened, not even by shay. Alas, Cremer fails us again.
Overall I have to give this book not one, but two shovels to the face.
Read this book if you’ve read the first two so that afterwards, you can rant about how crappy closure that book gave, which is extremely cathartic.
Finally. I think I covered all that I need to say.
Chris McKinney

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Long Lankin

Fans of gothic horror will find a lot to like in Long Lankin, by Lindsey Barraclough. Told on three voices, the story starts at creepy and ratchets up the tension with every chapter. Set in rural, post-war England, Cora and her little sister, Mimi, are sent to live with Aunt Ida in the decaying family manse, Guerdon Hall. They soon make friends with two brothers from the village, and the mystery as to why every window in the house is nailed shut, begins to build.
Ghostly children, tidal swamps, long dead priests, cemeteries and the legend of Long Lankin creep and prey as the children play, and work to decode the curious saying scrawled in unexpected places
Cave Bestiam.
A terrific and most satisfying read.

As a food I would rate it as New England clam chowder. Thick, slightly salty, creamy and buttery and warm with layers of flavor and sudden bits of chewy clam to squeeze between your teeth. A book to savor in a well lit kitchen with family nearby, because otherwise it is too scary. 4 stars.
Publication date July 2012.

This quick book trailer will help pique your interest!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

'Bitterblue' by Kristin Cashore

This long awaited sequel to 'Graceling' is, to some surprise, not about Katsa, Po, or even Fire, but about the Lady Queen Bitterblue. In all honesty, I was quite happy about that. Another book about Katsa and Po would probably end up dull and flavorless, and I didn't especially like 'Fire'. Anyways.

'Bitterblue' is about, well, Bitterblue - the 17-18 year old queen of a nation broken by her father. She's surrounded by papers, advisors, lords, secrets and other queenly stuff. In other words, she's stressed and bored out of her mind. So, naturally, she sneaks out of the castle one night and builds a life for herself as Sparks, the daughter of a royal baker. She meets, in her city, a Graced thief and a young printer, both of which hold their own secrets, and provide opportunity for romancing. Meanwhile, in the castle, Bitterblue is encountering betrayal, horrifying stories, epiphanies, and other things left behind by her father. Added to the stress of rebuilding her country.

This book was very well written. It's a good balance between sweet, humorous, loving, terrifying, bloody, and simply sad. It may have even surpassed 'Graceling' in that respect, and everyone knows it's hard to make a good sequel to a good book. The characters are well-illustrated, with depth and feeling and motivations. Their interactions are fun to watch (well, read) and their betrayals and deaths are felt deeply. The only thing I regret about the characters is that so many were... depressed. Bitterblue herself was pushy, stubborn, and didn't believe in herself - wonderful, complex character flaws. Each character had their web of lies, and their good and bad sides.

The plot, I won't say too much about, but I think it was a little bit rambling at times. There were so many times that Bitterblue sat down to do the same thing, or sent someone else to search for the same thing that it got a bit repetitive at times.

And, before I give away too many spoilers, I hereby dub this book a 4.5 - a meringue. Fluffy and sweet, but also hard and brittle - full of beautiful contrasts. A little too much air and not enough substance.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

'Chime' by Franny Billingsly

Oh, god. The drama that occurred over the National Book Awards. For those of you that haven't heard of it yet, 'Chime' was nominated for the award - but someone misheard it as 'Shine' and accidentally released 'Shine' by Lauren Myracle, a novel about a teen investigating a hate crime about homosexuality, as the nominee. Then, when the mistake was realized, Lauren Myracle was asked to withdraw to protect the integrity of the judges and the award.


Anyways, the real review. I read this before all that drama, so my review should be mostly untainted.

'Chime' is about Briony who believes not only that she is a witch, but that she should be burned at stake for it and that she deserves the worst punishment (but she doesn't turn herself in). Her crimes are of killing her stepmother and making the mind of her sister strangified. It's no surprise that she believes this - she can see spirits and speak with the Old Ones, a power that no one but witches have.
Along comes the electric Eldric, humming with golden energy. He is the catalyst to secrets unfolding, about Briony's past, the true nature of her 'crimes', and what Briony really is. Oh, and some romance. I believe I've already mentioned that, for the most part, I skip romantic parts?

I had some trouble with the characters. Briony was an interesting character, but she seemed too, I don't know, predictable? Her narrative was a strange mix of self-hatred, darkness, some mother-like feelings for her sister, insecurity, oddities, and general depressing-ness. It's a little off-putting, not by any means enjoyable, but definitely... interesting to read. There are good quotes, though, as Briony's plucky. For example:
“'You mind your tongue!'
'Oh, I do,' I said. 'I sharpen it every evening on your name.'”

A side-effect of this type of narrative, plus the plot, is that it's terribly difficult to read the book. There's a lot of jumps, where you'll suddenly not understand anything. The sequence of events is just a mess, like a train of thought trying to teleport through a jellyfish. Makes no sense, right?

Then, there's the romance (Did I say I skipped it? I lied). Without this kind of romance, I definitely would have loved this book a lot more, as there's a great plot and setting, and very decent characters (Briony, although a slightly depressing narrator, was one of my favorite characters). However, the love-rectange-lines-jumble-thing just messed everything up. I can deal with a love triangle, and I can deal with true love between Eldric and Briony. But... a strange, enchantingly beautiful woman that is obsessed with Eldric (and the obsession could be mutual)? A determined, crazy suitor for Briony? I'm stretched a little thin here.

So, this book gets a 3.7. It's like trying sushi for the first time - some exotic flavors, new flavors quite unlike anything you've tasted before. Not disgusting, but... not completely enjoyable either. There are different textures and contrasting flavors, some of which you dislike, and some that are simply amazing, and you're not quite sure what you're going to bite into next, or whether you'll like it or not.

Monday, January 9, 2012

'Stork' by Wendy Delsol

Firstly, I must mention that normally, I'd never read, not even mentioning picking up, a book like this. If I hadn't gotten it for free (thank you), I don't think I'd ever read it. In terms of manga, it's unarguably shoujo. I tend to dislike those - the fantasy romances that always have a happy ending. This book was pretty interesting, but... well.

It starts with the blatant, oh I'm a new girl moving in, everyone hates me this is a dumb countryside. Blegh. She has a
cool name, though: Katla Leblanc. The mishmash of two different languages. She's trendy, bold, and attracting attention - and her head itches, badly. It turns out that she's part of a secret society named the Storks, or something like that. They deliver babies. In a magical way. And there's an old lady.

There's plenty of romance. That I kind of skipped in my brain. I can't give a summary of that.

There's a shocking secret about Katla's past, including ice, amnesia, and that cute farm boy that always is showering attention on her. Yaaaaay.

To be honest, when I saw the galley in the racks for a sequel, I was pretty shocked. I mean, it's a decent book, but it's not really series, or even trilogy material. I just... the plot isn't that good. Plus, I can think of a zillion better books for a sequel - I mean, better suited for a sequel
. Like 'The Night Circus'. Maybe 'Divergent'.

Quote time! “I was drinking in the surroundings: air so crisp you could snap it with your fingers and greens in every lush shade imaginable offset by autumnal flashes of red and yellow.” Y'know, too perfect and everything. You can just see the potential battle scene. Hey, I don't remember - maybe there is one.

Overall, this book is a 2. I guess you could read it, if you like this sort of thing. I would say (ohgod must think of a white food to fit the color scheme) this book is... a bread bun, like so:
Pretty bland, no real substance. Some people eat it right up, though, but in the end, it'sjustfiller food for the wait until the next delicious meal. (That said, I actually love those kinds of buns in the picture, so perhaps it wasn't the best example. Oh well.)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Girl of Fire and Thorns

Rae Carson

      This galley sat, neglected and outdated, on our ARC bookshelf. Finally, I got around to reading it. The cover is beautiful, and I'm not about to turn aside a recommendation from Tamora Pierce herself. The back promised a story full of adventure, rebellion, magic, and romance. I was hooked, and I bit.
      Unfortunately, great stretches of this book left a foul, foul taste in my unsuspecting mouth. Don't get me wrong, there were parts I really liked. Parts that were witty, smart, beautiful. If I had to describe this book with one word, though, it wouldn't be beautiful. It would be objectifying. This book, ladies, gentlemen, is objectifying.
      I was quite happy with the main character at first; she was large, in an overweight way, and she knew it. She complained about it. She ate lots of food. I was OK with this. I was happy with this. She's smart, witty, a touch insecure... realistic, in a word. I loved her for it. She was happy, so I was. (You're probably checking the cover next to this right now. Overweight? She looks fine! No. More on this later.)
      For reasons I shouldn't go into, for risk of spoilers perhaps, she finds herself abruptly in the middle of the desert. She travels across this desert. She makes it across. She survives.
     But wait. She takes a swim in a nice, cool desert pond and, just before putting her clothes back on, she realizes something about herself. She has lost a lot of weight in her trek. The clothes given to her no longer fit her. They are twice as big as they need to be now. Ok, I admit that this is still slightly realistic. I still loved her here. What happens next and for the rest of the book disgusts me.
     Now that's she's some slim dame (her newly found sex appeal is both hinted at and explicitly stated) every guy wants to sleep with her. She suddenly has choices, suitors, lovers... At this point I got very disillusioned with her proclaimed intelligence. She's a brilliant girl, really, bilingual(not that that necessarily means much) and all that, but this made me doubt her. She takes her new image and runs with it. It's carefully documented, by the way, that she can do more physical exercise, feel less hunger pangs, and eat significantly less with her new weight.
     Weight and body image has been a growing concern of, well, a lot of people from every walk of life. The most vocal proponents of improving body image and moving away from the Hollywood standard of 90-pound-women are authors and celebrities. J.K. Rowling, for example, wrote a moving editorial on body image in teenage girls. Tamora Pierce (the one that recommended this book in the first place...(?)) regularly writes about the stereotypes associated with women; fighting chauvinism and body image, for example. I could go on forever. To quote a great review on Goodreads: : "And frankly, though I am not one to believe that young people are so impressionable that books could sway them in a negative direction, I think this book sends the wrong message to young girls."
    Incidentally, the cover doesn't match the main character at all. I'm dead serious. The girl on the cover is some random model, wavy hair arranged artistically, pale skin going nicely with a silky blue dress. Her silhouette is slender and emphasized; she is turned sideways for the camera. Unfortunately, it's bracingly obvious that it's just that: some random model.
    The main character is described a lot in the book. Obviously. I like to think I have a good idea of what she looks like. Overweight, if you'll recall... Pretty features, yes. Another feature that Rae Carson chooses to emphasize quite a bit is her "dark" skin; this is ambiguous in book, but I'm interpreting this as some sort of dark-tan color. Carson states that it is unusual for her race, and this race lives in a Spain-like climate with jungles. So it stands to reason that abnormally dark skin is, well, dark. Not the moon-pale skin of the girl on the cover. This leaves me with an unfortunate conclusion... it's the old let's-put-models-everywhere-to-sell-a-product. I've never seen it employed this brazenly in literature before. It's depressing, honestly. Maybe I've just read too many of Pierce's editorials.
     For the rest of the book, content-wise... yeah, it's good. It's not stellar, but it was good enough to make me want to at least see a sequel. I wouldn't call it a guilty pleasure, but yeah, it was good enough to read. It's pleasant enough, descriptions are good, if shallow and one-sided at times, and her mental journey is unbelievable to the point of driving me insane with every new jump she made. And you're probably wondering why I haven't mentioned her name yet--it's Lucero-Elisa. Her sister's name is Juana-Alodia . Everyone had unwieldy, albeit pretty, Spanish-sounding names that I eventually got used to and like. I just abhor the thought of typing her name out thirty times. Oh, and the religion is jarring, shallow, and too close to by-the-book Catholicism to give me any chance at liking it.
   Speaking of which... this book is religious. Deeply. The girl has a Godstone embedded in her stomach, a living Godstone, one that marks her out for a great Service of unknown identity. This stone, as I said, is alive, and throbs contentedly for absolutely no reason every once in a while. It kind of creeped me out, even before all the really creepy stuff started happening with it. Oops. It does more, though. It warns her of impending danger (this is pretty cool) by cooling rapidly and sending icy chills through her body. When she prays, it warms up. These two would be great if they remained uncombined. Let me explain, but first preface the following: I'm not religious, but I know religious people (they're eeeverywhere) and my family is mostly religious. I understand (sometimes) religion. So it was extremely irritating, in this book, that Rae Carson abused the religion of the world.
   When the main character got into dangerous situations, like she did a lot in the latter part of the book, she feels the need to pray obsessively and continuously for the sake of staying warm. As the cold recedes, she only needs a quick prayer in the morning to warm up, and when she is out of danger, she only prays to feel the buzz. This makes praying a mechanical, thoughtless process that, I'm pretty sure, doesn't jive with the way one is supposed to pray if one is religious. Like, with faith and reverence and all that.
   This book is a 2.7, I guess. I'd like to give it a deal lower, but there were good parts, and those deserve decidedly higher. So this is my compromise. Food-wise, it's a burrito that steams and wafts enchantingly, shredded pork, light cheese, and sour cream spilling out of it--until you bite down and discover a pig's hoof inside. It's too big, to sharp, too jarring to ignore. And then there a few more. Your burrito just turned into a dead-pig-bones repository. Bon appetit!

FOLLOW-UPs (Because this book at least deserves them.)
  • This woman agrees with me! . She also give a more comprehensive explanation of the plot, in case I haven't scared you off yet.
  • Rae Carson's personal website informs me that she was a cheerleader in high school in order to get over being unpopular. She says it worked. (This does not surprise me, honestly. Not to get personal or anything, but this jives with how she writes and portrays her characters. The cavalier must-be-popular attitude.)
  • She also wrote an essay about weight and self-image (like a lot of the other authors I mentioned). . I would like to say that it contrasts dramatically with her portrayal of Lucero-Elisa.

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