katewrites: (Default)
There are things to like here. Mostly, it's an entirely unique take on a fantasy novel. I loved seeing a Spanish/Arab based fantasy with attention to the details of their life and where it wasn't about white people who lived in a pseudo-Spanish culture. It also dealt with the idea of white people more gracefully than "Silver Phoenix". Instead of being idealized, they were the big bad. The universe itself is well realized - countries have depth, the religion in the novel is about several different sects that worship the same gospel. The descriptions were great.

I think my main problem (and this seems a common theme among reviews) is that Elise's weight was not simply an issue, but a sign of her laziness - both mental and physical. I say this because while it is not explicit in the text, there are a range of different subtextual cues throughout the book that not only is Elise's weight her fault, but also a character flaw. Her older sister, seen by Elise as strong, competent and queen-like is slender. Her romantic rival, also seen as competent, knowledgeable and attractive, is thin. Her kidnapper is seen as stronger, more skilled and much fiercer (both in the Tyra Banks sense and in the Jason Borne sense) than Elisa. When Elise becomes slender (due to starvation and a brutal trek through the desert) she also becomes a strong leader that people begin to look up to.

On the one hand, a theme throughout the book was to stop relying on "fate" and make fate for yourself. On the other hand, it's really gross to me that so much text was devoted to how unattractive people find her when she's overweight and how attractive, competent, and strong she becomes once she loses that pesky waistline.

Religion is a major theme in the book. It was very, very true to the idea of setting a book in fantasy-Spain (as opposed to fantasy-England or fantasy-Scandanavia). On the other hand, prayer and worship of a clear Christian-cognate is constant in this book. Do not underestimate the weird Catholic-mass-flashbacks you will get. A major point is made of Elise questioning her own destiny. The "why me" question is interesting, but also really, really weird for someone with knowledge that not only is God real (she feels his response to her prayers) but that Godstones indicate that the wearer will do something amazing.

I kept wishing that instead, the book had been about a Joan of Arc like character. Someone who was chosen by God, but instead of being worshiped and feeling unworthy, was questioned and doubted and came to their own religious doubts not out of a deep sense of inadequacy but out of being persecuted by the very people she saved.

Doubt is also another thing I wish had been given the same attention that was given to the scenery. Elise never for one second appears to waver, although the text tells us that she does (there are a few show-not-tell things here). It's surreal. For someone who feels as unworthy as she does, it's bizarre that that never translates into a moment of questioning whether she was chosen, whether there is a God.

Overall I loved this book. It's a totally unique thing when it comes to settings. It has an interesting premise and despite a few flaws, was a quick read.
katewrites: (Default)
I had an urge to reread this recently, so I checked it out from the library and OH MY GOD. I had forgotten 90% of the book, but it immediately took me back to where I was when I first read it.

Oh, man, this book spoke to the young me in SO MANY WAYS. The message of "someone out there will respect and love you for who you are" is so universal and in a lot of ways it doesn't speak to girls now but to other youth - LGBT or other marginalized/bullied kids.

this got a little long )
katewrites: (Default)
This is from the school of books that says that high power jobs are life killers and that you will be MISERABLE FOREVER AT THEM and that all you need is to pare down and either move to a small town or get a job as a (and this is where the books vary) gardener, small business owner (books, clothes, antiques, etc). In this case, she decided to be a housekeeper.

Moreover, the jobs that the highly educated/stressed people take are always presented as idyllic rather than stressful in their own ways. Being a domestic, where someone can literally order you around can be so stressful. You are not a person! You are a thing! But this doesn't seem to matter to Samantha in any tangible way. The closest she gets is being annoyed at a law student who doesn't ever drink the coffee Samantha continually brings her.

I am not saying that overworked people don't need to take a break, but this is kind of an odd school of thought - mostly because highly paid lawyers make anywhere from 10 to a google as much as housekeepers. This is kind of addressed in the book, but not really. No one in this book is struggling for money, even the people working 3 or 4 jobs (I was a little confused how many jobs the gardener was working).

The book tried to deal with this in some ways. It had her think and rethink the fact that she was giving up the salary of a lifetime in order to be "the help". It also addressed the fact that this was not a statement on feminism or women in general, but rather a single person. However, a big deal was made out of the fact that she charges 500 pounds an hour at her law firm, but really she never addresses if it's feasible for her to live on 11,000 pounds a year.

Also, I'm still trying to figure out why anyone would be interested enough in a lawyer quitting to create a media frenzy.

This was a kind of charming book, and I really bought that Samantha was stressed out, but I didn't quite buy that 1: it is that easy to become a master chef (a couple of weeks?? REALLY???) or 2: that money was an issue only in how BAD it was to make a career choice based on it.
katewrites: (mr chang's neighborhood)
Zoo City is set in an alternate universe where after a "zoo plague" people who commit murder (or, as is implied, feel the guilt for a murder) are gifted with an animal. That animal gives them special powers.

Zinzi December is gifted with the ability to find lost things. She doesn't find people or weapons at the start of the story. However when a client is killed and she's confronted with the enormity of her debt to the criminal underworld, she takes on a missing persons case.

This is essentially a noir story set in an incredibly rich, detailed and respectful South Africa, told from the perspective of an ex-junkie, ex-reporter, current-spam writer. It's incredible how familiar tropes are new and exciting.

One of my least favorite tropes in noir detective novels is the self-destructive attitudes. They drink, they destroy relationships around them, they're violent and mouth off to police. My favorite part of Zoo City was how self-aware Zinzi is. She spends the whole book carefully aware of herself - as both an ex-junkie and as a human being.

Even when she does bad things (like playing an active part in Nigerian money scams) she's aware of herself and aware that part of her likes it.

I also can't explain how much I love reading a novel where Africa isn't all one huge country, isn't the exotic, isn't a collated amount of facts from Hollywood movies about Africa.

As a side note, the digital version of this book was really well put together. (And I was surprised to find fanfic from her first novel, Moxyland, in the back!)

As an additional side note, I at first classified this as "science fiction" before reading that it was categorized as fantasy.
katewrites: (Default)
The Spirit Thief is the first of the Eli Monpress series. Eli Monpress is a thief whose goal in life is to have a 1 million bounty on his head. He will rob, kidnap and threaten to get that bounty.

And he's utterly hilarious.

The magic of this world works because spiritualists (wizards) have agreements with different spirits where the spirits do spiritualists' bidding in exchange for some of the wizard's power. Eli Monpress gets spirits to do what he wants by flirting with them until they are giggling and do whatever he wants.

The book starts with Eli kidnapping a king, and then follows Miranda, the cop sent to catch the thief and the king's evil exiled brother. All of the main characters and all the supporting characters are really fun. I want to be Miranda with her fierce sense of moral direction and her training and her loyal spirits. At the same time, Eli and his gang of a master swordsman and a demon are really fun to read. We see them care about each other and respect each other. It's very fun to read them.

The only downside was that parts of it read like an anime. Fight scenes especially had Eli's master swordsman moving epically slow only to meet the incredibly fast enemies. That sort of awkward one character is going slow, but is actually faster than the fast characters only works in anime and magna, I think. In writing it doesn't make any sense.

Similarly, Eli's gang and the villain are all larger than life. Eli is the best theif ever. Josef is the best most amazing warrior ever. Nico is so powerful and frightening that literally every soul in the world would die trying to kill her. The villain is manipulative and evil and yet completely beatable when it comes down to the line.

It's a quick read and a ton of fun. I will definitely be reading the sequels, but I kind of hope that the characters become more... human.
katewrites: (Default)
Whoever told me I'd love Frederica? *waits an ominous pause*

WAS RIGHT. It was so my kind of book - competent heroines who don't need the heroes AT ALL, but the heroes JUST WANT TO HELP.

spoilers are spinsters at the age of 22 )

Frederica is a book about two families. One wealthy, greedy, and bored of EVERYTHING. This is Alverstoke's family.

The other family is the Merrivales - Frederica's brothers and sisters. They aren't penniless, but their estate has been mortgaged to the hilt and their eldest brother doesn't show a penchant for managing it well. So, their oldest sister, Frederica has taken charge of everything, including her siblings.

The cast is the Marquis of Alverstoke, who would spend the whole book like this if he could get away from the Merrivales long enough.

Frederica who is, as previously noted, competent, awesome, flawed in that occasionally she is SO FED UP with being a middle aged spinster aunt at 24. (or 22, I can't remember.)

Jessamy, the second son who thinks he wants to join the church and so is REALLY SAD whenever anything bad happens, and blames himself. Everyone else is like, "SHUT UP, JESSAMY. It was not your fault!" And then Jessamy makes a sad!Charlie Brown face and declares he's unfit for a life in the church. If Jessamy knew about global warming, he'd think that was his fault, too.

Felix who is obsessed with steam technology and stows away aboard a steam ship and then aboard a hot air balloon and convinces Alverstoke that it's an amazing treat (for Alverstoke) to visit a foundry that uses steam technology.

Charis whose angelic beauty makes Frederica think that all she needs is a season in London to land a good husband.

The whole plot is essentially:

Frederica and Alverstoke have flirty conversations and are interrupted by...

Jessamy!
Jessamy: I have done this TERRIBLE, AWFUL THING. I will pay you back when you tell me how much money it cost you.
Alverstoke: It is not that terrible.
Jessamy: It is the most terrible awful thing that has ever been done. Also, for real. Tell me how much money I owe you.
Alverstoke: It is not that bad. And stop talking about money.

Felix!
Felix: You want to take me to see machines!
Alverstoke: How about my secretary takes you?
Felix: But it is a TREAT. FOR YOU.
Alverstoke: Ugh. Fine.
Felix: =) =) =) <3

Charis!
Charis: I am participating in Romeo and Juliet with a guy who is also my pseudo-cousin, but it is SECRET AND NO ONE KNOWS.
Alverstoke: You are so boring. It's a pity you're so beautiful.
Charis: I am in loooooove. And it is tragggic! Alverstoke is trying to deny our loooooove.
Frederica: Everyone knows, Charis, stfu and marry someone who can support you, not our penniless pseudo-cousin, ok?
Charis: You are trying to deny our looooove. You are evil! No you aren't! But you're trying to break us apart.
Frederica: *facepalm*

If that has not convinced you, then let me remind you WHACKY FAMILY SHENANIGANS. 'nuff said.
katewrites: (Default)
This book was somewhat charming in that typical YA way, except I couldn't help compare it to Ella Enchanted, and it didn't measure up. The main character (Aza) is very ugly and unlike most YA where ugly isn't ugly, she's described as actually not attractive. And then she spends the whole book obsessing about how ugly she is and wanting becoming pretty. I knew almost nothing about her character other than that she hated being ugly.

Which... I mean, I guess that was characterization? But I didn't know a single thing about her other than that she sings really well (but so does everyone else) and that she hates being ugly. After 350 pages, the self hatred started to get grating. I don't think main characters always need to like themselves, but in general it's boring to read about a character who experiences no growth at all in a novel.

One of the awesome things about Ella Enchanted was that GCL showed us Ella and the Prince falling in love. We saw what attracted them to each other, we saw how she made him laugh and how he tried to impress her. In Fairest, I had no idea what attracted Aza to the Prince. Was it because he was handsome? Was it because he was funny? We saw so few of their interactions that I had no idea of their chemistry.

Essentially, they loved each other because GCL said that then they were in love, which was incredibly disappointing.

Finally, the plot was random and kind of forced. I was annoyed because the plot of Ella Enchanted seems to flow naturally and everything makes sense. Here, there wasn't any payoff, the people who were mean to her never get punished and the resolution is a giant Deus Ex Machina.

I'm curious to read another GCL book to see if it is more like Ella Enchanted or Fairest.
katewrites: (chuck and piemaker)
I'm not going to lie, this book is a hard read. I'm not saying that it's hard to read, but it starts off with a child of rape and details why she's hated and how she came into being.

One of the great things about this book is its sense of place. You get a feeling for the culture and the people and the environment. There is no sense that this is set in a vague, fantasy setting. The author knows exactly where this book takes place.

I also liked how it took the tropes of golden age and modern fantasy and turned them on their heads. The book doesn't have the "everyone but the girl's mentor is sexist!" or "the mentor is so enlightened he doesn't care she's a girl!". Instead, we see what real misogyny looks like. Her mentor enjoys turning down her requests for mentorship because he thinks women are lower than men. He refuses to see that she's more powerful, that she's a sorcerer. Even when he does accept her, he's still sexist.

And she calls him on it. All the time.

Aro: Listen, you're ugly and beautiful. Ugly because you're a child of two races, but also beautiful. Your boyfriend can't be expected to resist you. So you have to stop having sex with him.

Onye: Ok... that was incredibly sexist. Women aren't these irresistible things. Boyfriend and I are both people, so we'll both work on the not having sex thing. Stop treating me like I'm different just because I have a vagina!

Also, the boyfriend! I was so in love with reading a book where the main conflict between a couple wasn't "will they get together, won't they get together (but let's face it, you know they will)". The main conflict was their relationship!

It was keeping themselves together! It was the fact that he was jealous of her powers, and they constantly addressed how sexist it was for him to want to be the center just because he was the guy! And he supported her a lot! And he took care of her! And he loved her unconditionally and she loved him unconditionally.

There are a lot of reasons to love this book. The fact that it is a fantasy set in Africa, dealing with genocide and rape as an act of war is... weirdly, a huge selling point for me. In a lot of ways this subverts the idea of "big evil" by taking away any sort of vagueness about what evil really is. This isn't Voldemort with his larger than life badness, or Sauron who seems almost glorious in his badness. This badguy is evil because he uses religion to rape and kill an entire race.

Also, it was just a really engaging book. Onye makes mistakes, but they aren't stupid mistakes or ones of incredible arrogance, they're just mistakes.
katewrites: (Default)
This book reminds me of that person who you're talking to and they're telling you about going to the store and then all of a sudden they say something like, "And then Mark ran naked through Florence and of course he got arrested." To which the only response is, "What the fuck?"

This is a book about 3 guys (and a dog) who go on a boat trip. That is the whole plot. The rest is just stories that JKJ tells that kind of relate to what's happening (or not happening) on the page.

It is hilarious. It's a completely unreliable narrator who is essentially shitting the shit with you for 200 some odd pages. It's the ultimate road trip story and no one learns any life lessons.

The only bad thing about this book is that it's a narcoleptic. I couldn't get through 5 pages without falling asleep.
katewrites: (Default)
This book is like really surreal A Little Princess fanfic.

One of the charms for me about A Little Princess is that it's super clear Sara Crewe is a little weird. She's charming and polite and perfect, but all that perfection makes her seem really, really weird to her classmates and a lot of the adults around her.

Then she loses everything and has to deal with indentured servitude, but rises above it. I have to admit I have a major weakness for that type of thing in fiction.

In this book the main character, Anna, starts out as a perfect Russian Countess, becomes a perfect emigree in light of the revolution, and then becomes a perfect servant, then a perfect alternate love interest, then a perfect Countess again. She never once expresses fear or hopelessness or even desperation. In fact, going to work as a maid seems to kind of be a choice. As in something she doesn't have to do.

And unlike Sara Crewe, only the evil, bad characters find her perfection off putting. Everyone else finds her charming and perfect and adores her, because she's so perfect.

I spent the whole interview thinking about that job interview question. What would you say is your greatest flaw? Oh, I work too hard. Only that's never anyone's greatest flaw. Their greatest flaw is pride or hubris or greed. The working too hard is a result of those flaws.

Anna works too hard because... she works too hard. It's not even explained as she's used to being perfect so in her new role she tries too hard to be perfect. She's just the perfect employee.

When you're reading a book about a character that starts out perfect, there's nowhere to go from there. As a character they can't develop because they're already effectively at the end of their journey.

Also, every woman in this book who isn't Anna is either a: detested for husband hunting (while the book refuses to acknowledge that this wasn't a time when women of gentle breeding could get by without one), b: a servant (and thus, strangely asexual - none of the servants had relations with each other or had spouses), or c: physically handicapped.

While there were strange touches of reality - the mention of the number of men lost to WWI - there was this sense of complete disconnect as well. We were supposed to root for the Russian countess who was fleeing from the revolution without even a hint of acknowledging the social problems that caused the revolution. Instead we were supposed to feel bad for all these Russian emigres, robbed of their titles and jewels.
katewrites: (Default)
Halfway through reading this, I realized I was halfway through the book and had yet to meet the Beast. That in itself wouldn't have been a problem if I had liked Belle herself at all.

However, early on, Dokey sets this up as a tale about Belle being Not As Pretty as her sisters and her Issues With That (god, why the hell are heroines clearly described as beautiful always considered "plain"?). This device was gross to me for a couple of reasons. One, she's described as "plain", but evidence is to the contrary because the actual description of her is of a pretty girl. Two, she decides (without actually confronting her mother or anyone else she thinks sees her "plainness") that she must be so out of tune with her name that she needs to never go out into society ever. Because it's not like plain girls would like social functions. After all, being plain must be like being a social outcast.

Oh, and three? Because then Belle - you know the heroine? The one I'm supposed to think is strong and interesting? Spends over half the book thinking about how pretty she is or isn't. Which, I'll put this out there, is really boring. If I wanted to read that book, I'd read an ugly ducking romance novel. At least there, I'd meet the hero in the first ten pages.

So, five hundred pages later, they all move out to the country. Instead of being interesting, Dokey decided to say that Belle can carve. She's got a magical carving ability instead of a personality. About 80% of the way through the book (I was reading on Kindle), we finally meet the Beast.

And this is where the book went from boring to kind of surreal. Because as a kid I read Robin McKinley's version of "Beauty: A Retelling..." alot, so when certain scenes began reading as familiar, I went with my gut.

Whole scenes, whole pieces of dialogue are essentially cut and pasted from Robin McKinley's book. Except where in that one they'd been used to show an at first acrimonious, then slowly becoming warm, then slowly becoming love in this book they're just... there.

For example, in Beauty, the two bond over reading books. I think she reads to him? Because his claws make it hard. In this one, he shows her his claws and says he likes reading. Later, Dokey says they have conversations about books, but we never hear them, since she thinks we should just believe they're falling in love without any proof. This is, after all their love story. Why would we want it shown instead of told?

Instead of asking her to marry him, the Beast asks her to look at him for five seconds. Interesting! However... not really. She's so desperate to escape, but she doesn't try, not even once. At least in "Beauty" as she grew to love him, the idea of saying she couldn't marry him became painful to Belle. In "Belle", we don't have an idea of what their relationship is like. As she refuses to even try to look at him, it becomes clear that that's a metaphor for how Dokey sees their relationship.

She shouldn't have to try to write it for us. We need to take it on faith that it's there.

Oh, also, the whole carving thing was one long, unshot Checkov's Gun. It had absolutely nothing to do with the conclusion.

It must be hard to write a version of Beauty and the Beast after Robin McKinley did it. However, this one decided to either copy or do the opposite of whatever McKinley did. Instead of making this one a unique, interesting book, it just left me with a craving for the original.
katewrites: (Default)
I love this book so much. I loved it when it started with a pair of siblings chatting about whether they should rescue the young, eloping heiress in the next room from a drunken suitor. I loved it more when it turned out there was crossdressing. I loved it MORE when Prudence got to be awesome while dressed as a man and her suitor loved her not "despite" her pretending to be a guy but because she did so with aplomb and sheer awesomeness.

Plus, once Dad shows up, every scene can be summarized like this.

Lord Tresomethingorother: I'm the long lost Lord of Tresomethingorother!
Pru: Oh, my god. You're going to get us all hanged.
LT: No, for real this time, I really am.
Robin: Yeah, remember when you made us be JACOBITES? Or when you had us crossdress in polite London Society?
LT: I'm SO AWESOME, why are you questioning my AWESOME.
Pru and Robin: *eyeroll*
Tony: I want to take your daughter away and marry her and keep her safe.
LT: PSHAW. You don't need to keep her safe! I'll keep her safe.
Robin: Actually, Pru will keep HERSELF safe. Or I'll take her away to France.
Pru: Tony, I can't marry you! I'm an ADVENTURESS! I'll drag your name into the dirt!
Tony: I don't care!
LT: Why are you DOUBTING MY BRILLIANCE. BECAUSE I"M BRILLIANT. STOP HATING.
Peter: Yeah, I mean, after you having so many scares, why would we question?
LT: HATERS GONNA HATE.
Pru and Peter: *duitifully follow father*
Tony: !!!
Pru: Listen, he always gets us into messes and then gets us out.
Me: *cracking up*

There's a scene where someone tries to blackmail their father and he literally talks him out of it by OUT NICE-ING him.

Blackmailer: I have something very dangerous for you right HERE. *pats chest*
LT: In your heart?
Blackmailer: No! In my pocket!
LT: Oh, an inside pocket! I have to get one of those, how forward thinking of you!
Blackmailer: ...

I am in ecstasy over this book.
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